Posted in Anecdotes, Musings

Expected

Yesterday was one of those days. My mind was a web of cluttered thoughts as messy as my room, and although the right thing to do was to get to work at cleaning both up, I found myself reaching for my keys. A lonely ride around town at night seemed like a great idea. I did not know where to, but then, the beach and the streets of White Town are all that Pondicherry really has to offer at night. So I rode slowly in that direction, gathering my thoughts.

I had never been to the beach alone before, and it felt rather strange. More disconcerting than soothing. Among all those people around me, armed with friends, lovers or families, I felt I must make a sorry picture, alone at the beach close to midnight, with not even a bottle or a puff to keep me company. I perched on a rock and began to stare at the sea, seeking tranquility. The waves crashed much like my ruminations – anticlimactic, recurring brilliant pieces of frothy white light that dissipated just on the verge of formation.

Suddenly I heard a call behind me.  Two young men stood precariously close, and I started, as any average Indian woman would.

“Don’t be afraid”, one said. “It’s our friend’s birthday.. he’s rather shy.. so, here you go”.

One of them extended a piece of Black-forest cake (incidentally, my favourite) as the other stood by, sheepishly. I was not quite sure of what to do. If this were to happen in the Western world, and if I am to believe what I’ve seen on television, the ideal response would be a beaming smile and to extend a hand, or a hug perhaps, wishing the ‘birthday person’ warm greetings from your part. As a cautious female, I did nothing of the sort. After choosing to pinch off the tiniest fraction of the cake I could manage (lest it be poisoned with the date rape drug) and muttering a hurried thank you, I went back to staring at the sea with even more determination. Sure, I was currently in apparently one of the safest cities in for women, and was surrounded by more than a hundred people, but one doesn’t want to take chances. To quote a poem I recently came across on YouTube, “we don’t want to be another of India’s daughters, do we??”

So I sat there with my back to the world till it occurred to me that perhaps I had been rude. They had not really seemed like trouble. I decided to walk up to them and say a proper birthday wish. As I stood up and turned around, I realized they were gone.

I remembered his first words. Don’t be afraid.. And then it hit me. Perhaps, like any average Indian, my response was exactly what he expected anyway.

 

Posted in Musings

Being Myself??

Live in the present. Live in the present..

The trending phrase, alongside Be Yourself and Follow Your Heart. What do these mean anyway? Abstract words strung together to give you the satisfaction of owning an identity that is as unique as a drop of water in the sea or another pebble on the shore. The pebbles that come together to make the land and the drops that form the masses that separate, dissolve, that encompasses the reality of all that cease to exist with green pastures playing on the other side; that draw us in with excitement and drive us away in exasperation, when the colours fade and turn grey overnight.

I do live in the present, I do follow my heart, I am myself. Once I am all that I am supposed to be, what next? When the goal is reached, what then? 

I laugh easily, talk pleasantly, make merry with all who surround me and make no efforts to reach out over to the past to where old bonds lie; when new branches shield me from the maze of roots beneath me, am I to content myself with the knowledge that I am happy in the present, or bemoan this fickle heart of mine that forgets in seconds all it held close and fails to remember fond matters of old? I live in the present.. Does that make me self centred?

I follow my heart. I fell in love with one and then with another, and each time it felt right and resonated with the sure leaps of my heart leading me on a path contrived of red roses and bliss; and as each came down with surmounting misery, I chose to flee into the warm welcoming arms of solitude. I followed my heart, followed its bloody trail of fluttering whims and fancies, the short leaps of faith and the chasms of chance encounters, revelling in ecstatic escapism. Yes I followed my heart.. But what if I churned others’ in the process?

I am myself. Who else can I be? The one that delves into deep spirituality and calls oneself an agnostic, the one that chides others for superficiality and checks the mirror for blemishes, the one who looks down upon blind beliefs and chooses to walk on criss cross edges of the patterned tile floors for good luck, who plays grammar Nazi and hopes to be forgiven for mediocrity in another tongue. 

I am who I am, we are all who truly are; the hopeless lists of contradictions compiled into human form, strutting about in self denial and pretending to be something we are not – capable of change. Is not the ability to change another factor keyed into our existence? The ability to hold fast to beliefs or to adapt like a chameleon, is that not engraved into our spirits?

So if I do live in the present, if I do follow my heart and I do proclaim to be myself, what does that make me? The all encompassing ideal of the universe or another misled soul lost in a world of definitions for rightful living?

Posted in Musings

Homecoming

As I walk the streets of Pondicherry, I am reminded of another existence from two years ago. A familiarity in the town I’ve never before visited, the lingering of shadows of the distant past.

A hint of recognition as I pass green SETC buses emerging from littered bus stands being swept clean by ageing ladies wrapped in striped cotton saris, as I watch twin nose rings glinting on either sides of dusky faces, as I see simple women on the streets selling red roses and jasmine, their own hair adorned by the same.. The good natured smiles that greet my hesitant eyes.. The loud uncouth remarks that are part of regular merriment on a public bus ride.. The gentle breeze that prevails through the day, weaving its way through neem trees to bring me news of the sea calling.. 

Unknown to me, I have returned.. to a land I vowed never to. Thoothukudi. Tuticorin. The shore of love, devastation, and my deepest regrets. I wander as in a dream, through the strange streets, and encounter the ghosts of others well loved at a time. A place that brought me nightmares and bitter memories, like sweetness that turns sour overnight; like dark bile that creeps up one’s system even as you pretend to push it down.

I had made peace by making myself believe in my hatred for everything about it. But now, as I encounter Tuticorin on these new streets, I realise she is but an old friend. I feel comforted and welcome the memories that I’ve fought too long. I cry in her arms and smile in the warmth of her glow. 

I am no stranger to this land. This is homecoming.

Posted in Musings

Don’t Read This

Statutory warning : this is going to be a deeply insecure post filled with tragic ruminations about my present crises. This is not a drill.

I am moderately depressed. 

I say moderately because mild doesn’t cut it and it doesn’t qualify as severe/major due to the absence of suicidal ideation. The much awaited results of my entrance test are out, and contrary to expectations it’s not great. I’m not bothered so much by the rank as the puzzle behind it. It was a relatively tough paper but I had come out feeling like I had aced it. If only I knew what went wrong, I’d feel better.

The results were already out on another exam I had written, one conducted by a prime institute in the country, and there is a possibility that I may be able to get into that one. May be, because they only take in limited candidates. With some luck, I may make it. I hate being at the tip of this precipice, not knowing which way I might fall, especially now that the other result has let me down. 

I was rather numb yesterday, perhaps in early denial. After a sleepless night, I’m still wide awake and still in my pajamas. I missed breakfast and lunch and am still not hungry. Classic signs of a depressive episode plus, anergia and apathy.

My laptop is still dead, because I never got around to fixing it. Now, what with the counselling in 5 days, I don’t know when I’ll be able to. There’s no time for anything, and still I don’t feel like getting out of bed. Wifi expired as I forgot to pay the bill, so no Netflix. The idiot box hasn’t helped. 

All of a sudden, I don’t seem to have anyone to call and talk to. Maybe this why people get married.

And to add to all that, all my blogging ideas seem to have disappeared into thin air, and I’m left to rambling away my time on this hideous post. Yuck.

I hope things get better soon.

Posted in Musings

Grandfather, Remembered

My paternal grandfather passed away last year. He was someone I knew only from afar. In my memory he is but a cheerful greeting and a pat on the back that came with summer visits after every school year.

Our visits were brief but looked forward to, as he lived in the hills. He taught at a school there and refused to leave the place even after retirement. Reaching him meant hours of exhilarating travel up steep winding roads lined by forests on one side and a precipitous drop on the other. I remember how we used to roll up the windows, for fear of monkeys that resided in the area. It was not uncommon for them to swing off low branches and latch on to slowing vehicles to grab food from unsuspecting passengers. Once night set in, there were chances we might come across wild rabbits, deer and even herds of elephants. The memory of a lone wild elephant spotted one night still fills me with awe. Another vivid memory is that of a glorious sunset witnessed once, the sun a large ball of fire in the blood red sky, playing peek-a-boo from behind the thick foliage as we traversed the sharp bends.

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A view of the valley and the road traversed as we near the top

Large tea estates awaited when we reached the top. The shrubs trimmed to perfection resembled green crocheted carpets strewn over either side of the road. We’d pass a couple of small sleepy towns, punctuated by wilderness and estates. I remember I always kept a look out for an ancient tree shrouded in mythical mystery. Every year I’d gaze upon it with wonder as my mother pointed it out and recounted the legend.

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The tea estates 

When we finally reached, the first to welcome us were large clusters of pink flowers that fell from vines that grew along the walls. All my life I have associated Rangoon Creepers with my childhood vacations in Wayanad. Grandpa would lead us in with his typically flamboyant pleasantries. In a corner of the hall lay his faithful sheepdog, oblivious to our presence, blinded partly by age and partly by the unruly mane over his eyes.

Most of my time there was spent going through his collection of books, usually abridged and illustrated classics in orange paperbacks. Every year I’d scourge the shelf for new classics, exalting in the discovery of previously unread ones. Otherwise I would explore the backyard up to where a small stream ran. An unused grinding mill stood there, surrounded by thick layers of rice husk coughed up over the years, replacing soil. There were guava and mango trees nearby which bore fruit in the summer, and I’d munch on freshly plucked ones happily if the monkeys did not get to them first.

While books and nature always engrossed me as a child, people seldom did. I don’t remember ever having a real conversation with my grandfather. This is partly due to the fact that my visits dwindled after high school and ended once I went off to college. Me coming home became a rarity in itself, and travelling to meet him was out of the question. I was too busy growing up to notice he was growing old.

Last year, I made the journey again after nearly a decade. The place has undergone drastic changes in the last years. The climb up is not as steep anymore, the roads having been widened to facilitate the growing traffic. Wayanad is now a hot spot for people seeking ethnic enclaves and picturesque getaways. Large billboards boast of ostentatious resorts that cater to every need. Institutions have sprung up in between the tea estates. My fabled tree of old is easy to make out now, as the area around it has been cleared and fenced to mark its existence.

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The Chain Tree

A great many people showed up for the funeral. I knew my grandfather as a teacher, a retired Headmaster. But everyone who gathered had a lot more to share. I was intrigued to discover he had been instrumental in turning part of that isolated village into the town it is now, using his ties with the ruling political party to erect the first schools there and the first bus depot. He had been President of a regional bank. He had a degree in Law in addition to Literature. My ideas about Grandpa faded, and in its stead I saw a curious young man, charismatic and fascinating, alive through all who had truly known him.

As the stories poured in, I felt a deep sense of loss. In all those years as I scourged for orange paperbacks, I had missed out on this particular classic.

Posted in Musings

Wildflowers


The universe is a precious gift adorned with roses and ribbons of all kinds, wrapped up under layers of glittering paper. But I’ve often felt we are so fixated on opening it up that we tend to not notice all the work that went into it, the little details meant for our delight, and quite often the glitter paper and the ribbons are barely noticed and tossed aside. 

The way the sky lights up with every sunrise. The agility of a squirrel. The giggle of a rivulet. The incessant chatter of crickets giving one company on a lonely night. The flight of a bird. Rain on the roof. Smell of wet earth. The sheen of new leaves. The crunch of old ones under your feet. Climbing vines. Lines of wisdom on an ageing tree. A butterfly waltzing to the rhythm of the breeze. A wildflower in bloom.

I love wildflowers. I love how they brave birth in the wilderness, seeking approval from none. How the frailty of their petals do not hold them back from facing the sun. How the brevity of their existence does not stop them from achieving glorious perfection and every intricate design right, even when destined to wilt by sundown, unnoticed.

I like to believe that the secrets to happiness are scattered all around us, waiting to be discovered if we’d care to stop and take a look. Where do wildflowers fit in the scheme of things? Maybe they are little angels sent to line my paths when I am lost.

Watch us, they tell me, watch and learn. You too are a little lost soul in a world bigger than you can fathom, facing trials you never foresee. You may feel unwanted and out of place; your actions inconsequential. Your lifetime is but the tiniest fraction of eternity, a slice of today and tomorrow, before you fade into inevitable oblivion. Why then, you ask, should you blossom at all? Why colour your cheeks with brilliant hues when you are meant to wither away anyway?? 

Because, dear child, even your trivial existence holds the power to make a weary traveller smile. 🙂

 ( The drawing was made long ago by my arts teacher from school – a treasured gift)

Posted in Anecdotes, Musings

Have You Ever Touched A Bird?

Have you ever  touched a wild bird?

I have. Once.

It was the softest thing. I used to think kittens were the finest creatures, but how wrong I was! As I touched the delicate feathers they felt creamy, almost liquid, as if they did not exist entirely. It was surreal.

I believe it was a sparrow. We were in our school dormitory, my friends and I, chatting about everything and nothing. It was late in the evening, almost twilight. Another  weekday. It was then that a flutter was heard and a flash of brown seen flying across the room from the window. Before we could locate where it was even, there was another flutter as it flew in panic away from us towards the ceiling fan, and then a small thud. It was all so sudden. The tiny thing lay on my bed, quivering.

Have you ever held a dying bird?

I have. Once.

I saw its little brown feathers up close. So perfectly crafted, so captivating in its shades. The white underbelly, softer than a kitten’s, softer that anything I knew existed. And underneath, a tiny heart beating. I felt like my hands held the spirit of nature in them, so precious, and so much more beautiful than anything we could envision. The twitching ceased. All was quiet. It was still warm. And soft. Alive one second and gone the next.

I touched a wild bird once. It died in my hands. Afterwards I stood there for a while silently, willing myself to remember how I felt at that moment, treasuring the touch, the warmth and the sorrow, lest I should one day forget how sublime and vibrant life is, and how evanescent.

Posted in Musings

A Tribute To Letters

My best friend and I write letters to each other.

We met for the first time close to 8 years ago via a mutual pal and our friendship ran an interesting course alongside the rapidly changing social media trends of the twenty first century, with Gmail as our starting point, evolving through text messages on our emoji-free Nokia phones,  Orkut, Facebook, Hangouts and finally Whatsapp. It was some months ago that I received his letter for the first time. It was a nice surprise, to say the least. He suggested that we ought to “use technology to share lives, but letters to share thoughts”. I agreed.

It has been the most wonderful experience. Technology keeps teaching us to make things simpler, easier, aiding us to the point where we cease to be self sufficient, till we become utterly helpless without our little gadgets. Phone numbers and birthdays are no longer remembered, and addresses never jotted down in memory. The success of enterprises like Twitter and Inshorts is evidence of our rapidly shrinking attention span. Emoticons replace words and make conversations all the more easier to the point where we forget how to converse in real life. Emails and texts are constantly checked and responded to; any delay in delivery makes us tense, anxious. There is always the need for instant gratification.

Introduce into such an existence the endangered, if not extinct, art of letter writing and you’re blown away by what it entitles. A letter I post typically takes four days to reach him, and there are the four days till his reply gets to me, bringing my wait up to a little more than a week. A side effect is that we tend to forget the original content of our respective letters and once in a while an envelope gets lost in the mail, but other than that we enjoy being in a time lapse, as he puts it. There is something fascinating about pouring your heart out onto a piece of paper and letting it fly away unguarded into the world. In an era based on passwords and end to end encryption, I am sending him my thoughts unrestricted, with the possibility of them being intercepted or destroyed at any point, but also with the possibility that they will reach him unharmed.

I cannot help wondering about the times when this was indeed a necessity. Wives awaiting word from their husbands at war or at work in distant lands, children writing to their parents from boarding schools, intimate letters passed covertly between lovers.. How exciting and frightening at the same time! The wait was not only agony, but also hope; the prospect of having some more days to live in the happy notion that the ones you care about are safe. Harsh realities took their time to rock your world. I am reminded of what Celine tells Jesse at the cemetery in Before Sunrise about how, if your loved ones do not know you’re dead, it is like you are still alive in a way.

Writing to someone is very different from having a conversation with them. In his words, you are entirely on your own, unaided by cues or interrupted by opinions from their part, free to put your point across with much greater clarity. In every day conversations, we often wait for our turn to speak/type rather than listening to the other; writing gives you a means to effectively do both. And when the writing involves letters and not electronic mail, it becomes extremely personal.

Pale blue sentences in ink written in a running hand gives me a mental picture of him sitting on his bed or at his table, and his hand moving over the page, punctuated by thought. I sense his mood from the curve of his signature. I know the words he struck out, the mistakes he made in spelling and grammar and the places where he rambled, for they are not erasable or auto corrected. They help me understand the real him a little better.

Letter writing is a lost art that needs to be revived at an age where communication is so easy and the world brought so close together by technology that we are beginning to lose all perspective.