Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A letter of ninety four years

The fresh aromas of filter coffees in steel tumblers was wonderful to my nostrils. It was coffee time at the bunglow.  Mr. Dinaker , so very humble since I have known him, will ask why I flatter his place so, but I would not hesitate to call it a living museum, a bungalow is a only a modest appraisal. His very talented daughters were in conversation with me. I stared at the very tall ceilings and the ancient grandfather clock ticked omniously, calmly shoving the heavy wheels of time onwards.

I had always been in love with this place, and kept coming back to discover where my friend Disha stored our favorite comic books, or to look at pictures of the species that frequented their birdbath or maybe share a cup of filter coffee on their terrace, reminiscing on the Mysore that was. The fact was, there was always something.  Always something to discover, to learn, to delight in. There was beauty to this place. The lovely pictures of the purple lilies in their little pond by my friend Aditi  will vouch for that much.

That day, I was callous on their wooden swing. I drank my coffee deep and made mention of the fact that I loved looking at old letters. I wistfully talked of their charm, and not surprisingly, I was rewarded with a small tin box full of various letters, most of them of fairly antique worth: they were easily more than a hundred years old. I held each letter delicately.

I then read of world of times past. I read life, a hundred years ago. I read of plague, and I read of history. I read of love, and I read of strife. I read of utter grief, disparities and commerce. I read of economy, machines and horse races. I read counsel, decision, fear and fact. The letters were legacy, and I held each word with tenderness, with caress of a lover. Writers are a dangerous group of people, we configure emotion to paper, texture and slant of hand.

I found many a yellowing paper addressed to the great grandfather of Mr. Dinakar, then the commissioner for the princely state of Mysore, serving under the king of the time. Letters had visited the commissioner from  Cambridge, London, Switzerland, Chitradoorg, Karwar and Bangalore. There were numerous hands that scribbled life stories to him, and they opened the veil to the life of a hundred years ago, voiced in first person. I lived the lives of the many, and I heard their stories and trifles, their hopes, achievements and star-struck rambles. Some wrenched my soul, some ignited my imagination and some made me muse.

The time ticked on to the pleasant ambiance of a Mysore evening.

I sifted through the papers. One letter caught my eye. Written in 1918 by one mister C Srikantaiah. It was an interesting letter. The hand was elegant, but resounded with such utter grief that I couldn’t tear my eyes off it. Each paragraph was riveting. 

“I could never imagine one so noble, contented, loving, dutiful, accomplished and enthusiastic….Everything in me and around me reminds me of her every moment. Older people ask me to take courage and seek refuge in philosophy. Well, the one thing that I hate is philosophy and my education never trained me to be philosophical. I had an even career of life so far but now my mind is ruffled. Calamities—they are around us, calamities are all around the world, but such as mine, it is impossible to bear.”

In fine ink on paper, haunting even ninety-four years after it was penned; it bought tears to my eyes. It was a touching letter, and a page was missing, but one didn’t need to scavenge for the forgotten alphabets to be able to feel the uncompromising sincerity in the emotion. The emotion had spelled itself in the personal letter and spilled itself free in every anguished paragraph.

“But false death has left its havoc incomplete, leaving me here and slaying the more sweet.”
There was poetry in his grief: a grief so intimate that it collided with me. I held the letter against the last of the light and questioned it.

This man, C Srikantiah was addressing his father-in-law upon the death of his dear wife. The letter had remained incomplete with the missing page, but I could fill in the blanks. The wife whom he loved dearly, named Thungamma had been close to everything to him. She defined his existence that much was clear. In the letter, he mourns her and emulates her, respects her and considers her forever.

His love was evident even in devastating grief. In the closing paragraphs of his crushing letter, he comes to a conclusion: to donate in the name of his beloved, his life and his purpose.

‘During her stay with me for the last four months, I had given her 300/-, I would like the above amount to be added onto yours, and the amount endowed to the Mysore University for funding a scholarship in her name.’

In Mr. Dinaker’s words,

CS later thought of a benevolent fund in Thungamma's name in Mysore University that had started in 1916. No idea if it was materialized. CS later went to Zurich for studies and was great friends with my grandfather. I remember seeing his body when he died in around 1965 or so. I was 7. The house was in Yadavgiri. He went to Japan also in the 1930s. There are so many items in our showcase that his daughter later gave me when I was very young. I cherish a car in particular.

A bit of history from Mr. Dinakar helped me see with insight.

I had to stare at Mr. Srikantiah's letter. I could only imagine him, his voice-- a faint echo of a past dissolving.

His words struggled, questioned, re-questioned and asked me again:

‘How can I forget her?’

Unanswered from 9th December, 1918.

It still remains to be found what happened to Thugamma's fund for Mysore University. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


I sat on a boring bench for modest lunch. The strong sunlight littered the pavement, but I was too lazy to move to an artsy arboretum today. The boring bench would do.

‘A gorgeous day, isn’t it? Surely the best place to sit and eat lunch is here!’ she exclaimed.

I had seen better, but I didn’t mouth the disagreement.

‘May I sit here with you?’ she asked, pointing to her brown lunch bag and chips. I moved my mustard sweater in invitation.

She looked at my blue medical scrubs and surveyed me slightly.

‘You work here?’

‘No, I intern,’ I said. ‘What do you do?’

‘I’m a caregiver.’

That explained her costume: nothing as uniform as medical scrubs in a hospital environment but something as girly as cheerful pink with white fluffy clouds printed over it: something a child would fancy. It was surely odd in a nice way.

A caregiver. I had seen plenty of those. Why, hadn’t I chanced one in the bus stop the other day? She had told me she had just filed for a position and was hopeful to get in.

‘Please, you will tell me no? If there is anyone be needing caregiver? Good care, I will give,’

I had consoled her that there must surely be at least one person who would require her help in the future and that it was a promising career.  

Most caregivers I had seen had been older women with a certain motherly quality about them, greyed, fragile themselves and usually a little poorer than your average maid. They were often immigrants with tales to tell. I was almost always perplexed by them.

This one to me seemed typical with her wisps of grey hair, eyes drooping and slight freckles on her skin. But I liked her friendliness. We started chatting.

 ‘Who are you caring for?’
‘A cancer patient’
I froze. I learnt of her patient’s cancerous lymph nodes. It had metastasized to her lungs and doctors suspected cancer elsewhere too. She was a test patient for a new type of chemotherapy and plans to save her had backfired, devastating her chronically:  instead of being killed, the cells had grievously and aggressively multiplied, invading her. She was utterly alone without much family to take care of her, and the irony was this: she was a professor of molecular biochemistry who didn’t need her medical condition described to her. 
I have seen corridors of cancer patients: bald, weak and helpless. I have spent months looking at their fight, only an observer. But I can tell you this much. Cancer patients have a lot of problems. They make heart-breaking patients.  Often, after chemotherapy, they can’t get up and even go to the bathroom. Sometimes, they give caregivers a headache. But this caregiver refused to complain. She had only deep admiration and a sense of selfless devotion to her patient, and nothing else. Just a pure sense of service-mindedness, and loyal sympathy. 
‘My patient is remarkable. She has an arm that hurts so much every time she moves and she used to keep telling me that it felt like her limb was literally 150 pounds to her. She was in tremendous pain. And you know, I could see from her perspective. I was not surprised when she opted to get the arm amputated. People thought she was metal, crazy, even to get rid of a perfectly functioning arm…but you know, I can feel for her. You can’t simply anesthetize pain like that. That thing that feels like 150 pounds has to go…after all the pain it caused…I can imagine. And you know…she is a woman of such incredible dignity. She is in such pain, but she never shows it. You can see it clearly in her eyes though, but she never shows it. She is one of those people who does not believe in causing a fuss and inviting people to gape at her. She bears the burden of her pain with such dignity…I have to respect that.’
I listened with awe.
‘One day, she called me over and asked me to move her arm an inch. Every time I moved her arm, the pain was like fire to her. I stood there and said I didn’t want to be her caregiver anymore.’
‘Why, Annie, Why?’ the old professor burst into tears, ‘Why? Even you are leaving me? You are the only thing closest to me like this, please don’t leave me! You can’t handle me can you? Do I ask you to do too much?’
‘It’s not that, god bless your soul, ma’am!’ I said, ‘Don’t mistake me. It is this pain that I can do nothing to help you that is affecting me.’ 
It was a touching moment. 
‘Any patient—be it somebody with cancer or Alzheimer’s, is a person. And he should be looked upon like a person. He is a person, and you should once at least try to put yourself in his shoes. The simple act of sympathy, you know, is not so difficult at all. You don’t need to see someone in trauma and on his death-bed to be able to feel for him or see from his eyes.’ she said, and chewed her lunch, as I chewed on her words.
‘True,’ I nodded.
‘Take for instance, just today…a woman was anxiously waiting outside the OR for her husband, he was a neuro case and they had cut open his brain. She couldn’t take it, so she went outside the premises and started smoking a cigarette to calm her nerves, and this insensitive lady walks by and says, ‘whatcya doin here standin smokin like that? Don’t.’
That woman almost had tears in her eyes and said, ‘If you knew what I was going through, hell, you’d smoke a thousand cigarettes, so butt off.’
“ Now, if someone is legally smoking outside and if someone tells you that, you’d better take a second and try and deduce why she is thinking like that, maybe a lot is going on in her life, right? But this lady just can’t see from her perspective and tries to pick on the poor ol’ woman who is so stressed and is devastated to see her husband like that…and she chooses this moment, this moment when she is trying to calm down to pick a fight. This world is full of morons like that. So I went up to the distraught woman and said, I did—hey, go on and have another cigarette by all means, if it calms your nerves. Nothin’ bad’s gonna happen, and don’t pay attention to people like that. I can understand what you are going through. You see—people need support like that.
It often takes just simple words to convey big things: Nothing is going to happen. I can understand what you are going through. Clearly, Annie knew that in her simple acts of kindness.
I was utterly blown and I didn’t know what to say. I just stared at this wonderful person. This world needed people like her. 
It was time to go.
‘I’m Annie by the way,’ she shook my hand, ‘And now I’m going to go have a cigarette some place nice, if you don’t mind. My own nerves sometimes need calming too, you know. To work like this can be interesting, and I work long hours.’
And here she is, helping everybody out, and nobody is here to ask her if her nerves are calm too, I thought. She was an unapplauded kind of hero in this space. But of course, she didn’t mind that. She was satisfied where she was, and that made her heart beautiful.
How many Annies have you seen in your life?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

When I learnt instead

There are some people you know—whose dim presence is always there in the back of your mind, even when, possibly, they are half the globe away. You do make friends in chance encounters and you do tend to think—how will this person impact me for the rest of my life? You do smile and exchange a few hellos here and there, and then forget. But you know, a few people have a way of coming back, a few people have a way of startling you, a few people are framed with remarkable strength and grit. And every time the beauty of the human spirit reveals itself to you, you are left with a quiet fulfillment of understanding, of a blessed thankfulness of having to have seen that side of them. Because, truly, people have the ability to startle. Brilliantly so.

I do have a friend you cannot quite call a high-schooler, simply because her fortitude is much beyond her years. She, I think, is one of those rare individuals who have successfully understood the value of human life itself, and such things are yet to find me. I take life very much for granted, not inserting the ‘I love you!’ at the end of all conversations, not calling people beautiful, or letting people know exactly how much they matter to me. I forget to call home every once in a while, so they pick up the phone and query, ‘Do you honestly care?’ I laugh it off like it’s not an important question. But you know, I do care. I do worry for family, and I do love them with all my heart. It’s just that I do not verbally communicate that, or even in my actions. Sometimes, I end up feeling paradoxical as I sit with this noise and try to figure myself out.

 How much does one value life? How much does one value people for all their worth? And how much does one regard them once they are gone? She knows the answers to these questions, and learning from her has been eye-opening to me.

She was always a sprightly teenager full of dreams, and I saw much of the same mellow timidity floating in her eyes that I saw in me at sixteen. She was a purely creative soul, reveling in the music that composed this world. She recognized the beauty in art quite early, and was a poet of remarkable virtue.  I guess that is how we bonded, through poetry. And what was merely a common ground came to occupy much more of my life than I thought possible. She became that sister I never had.  I loved her for everything she was.

Something happened last month. She lost the most important man in her life, her father—a sudden and terrifying encounter of loss.

How does one handle that?

The mail came to me very early in the morning, when I was in a study room talking to people about consolidating my future plans. I was all worried about my future, and the only questions that seemed to matter were what I would do after graduation. I was in my own selfish realm of contemplation; all I could think of was me. The mail awakened me to the uncertainty of human life, and how dramatic a turn life can take. It knocked the breath out of me, an important mail hiding between all the useless Facebook notifications. My father is in the ICU, here is the exact medical condition, do you think he’ll survive?
The question was weighty, a whole human life hung by it.

I had access to expert opinion, and when I could obtain it, it was a clear no. But how do you break it to a little girl who is just about opening her eyes to the world? I didn’t. I didn’t have the heart to. I did not tell her, but she knew what to do. She spoke to him every single day, even if he would not respond. She somehow knew he was listening.

An extreme agitation ate at me for the next few days, when I knew the certainty of the outcome but could not share, when I felt like swearing, multiple times, at the fragility of life. And I could not believe something so big could affect someone so young. It was agitation of the unexplainable variety, and I squirmed until I learnt of his passing. An unbelievable grief enveloped me then, even if I had never seen this man in my life. I saw the event as something absolutely cataclysmic to the tender-hearted dreamer of a girl, an upheaval for someone who saw so much beauty in the world. I feared it might destroy her immense vision and creativity, thaw the high aspirations and change the sweetest of personalities into someone encrusted by grief, malice and depression. It is hard to see the beauty of this world when it has robbed you of your greatest treasure.

I spent those days talking long walks. I wrote to her many letters. I walked on those sorrowful days, catching and capturing brilliant sunrises of awakening summer mornings. The beauty of the world was still in evidence to me, and it distilled to my space and acted as my healing. I made these experiences pictures and songs and constantly bombarded the internet with them, in order to prevent her from forgetting the very real raw beauty that existed in this world. I was worried she wouldn’t recognize this—maybe she saw it only as an unreadable component of a previous life. I was more than bothered.

I talked to her yesterday, and she recounted the incident vividly,

My uncle came and we left for the hospital. On the way, near Domllur, I saw something beautiful. The sun was still at the horizon. The sky was red and yellow. I saw it. It was beautiful, so beautiful. I knew my father was dead. I still couldn't help but appreciate the beauty, and I knew he was in a better place now. I saw him there, and I saw my reflection on the glass.   I saw us together.   I share half of his genes.   I am a part of him, and I will live. And do what I am meant to do here.”

That one second, I was proud of her. I was proud that these words came from just a teenager. Such remarkable resilience to the human spirit, I thought.

You will be legacy,’ I told her.

I turned away, knowing that my work here was done. There were only one thing that remained to be said…a grateful thank you! to her for living so beautifully.  And I felt like singing, like the poets we are:

It permeates this space and unburdens our souls.
It lightens your rummaging heart with dazzling sunshine, 
and puts to rest an unrest, furthermore,  
Here, all are together and I love you.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Calendars for a Cause

Bereft as I am in many other ways, I have fortunately never missed the company of the creatively inclined. They have a spark in them that could make them agents of change, they are thinkers who could possibly innovate something of marvelous value. I recognize that potential: these people are both valuable and priceless. They inspire my shying creative side to break a shell and speak a little louder. They’re interesting creatures who toil in company of constant criticism, a little bit of encouragement and mostly, a sense of passion and purpose.

Kiran Ravikumar, Aditi Dinaker and Ashwin Dange are little more than photographers. I heard about ‘Calendars for a Cause’ when it was just an idea in its initial stages. The thought was to design a calendar for 2012 and sell it. Nothing extraordinary in that, except for the fact that all the money collected by selling calendars goes to charity. I found it selfless and beautiful, how talent can be transformed into something that can give back to the society.

The money collected is channelized for the financial needs of the poor. It not only goes to a school in Ramabai Nagar, Mysore, where 300 kids from underprivileged families study but also to towards building a library in KS Garden Slum for underprovided kids. These are highly inspired twenty- somethings trying to make a change, and they only ask for a little help.   

The photographers have worked really hard to make this calendar happen. The pictures chosen are captivating. They’ll surely light up your room or your work space.  It is indeed remarkable to see these people come up with such a splendid calendar in a matter of less than a month.

It takes much dedication and commitment to make something of this proportion manifest itself in such a short period of time. And I personally think they've worked very hard, and all for a good cause, in true spirit of selflessness and intelligent thought.

“I tried encouraging people to buy a calendar,” a photographer friend said, “Nobody came forward. I guess people just appreciate art, when we talk financially, they don’t value it that much.”

Well, we should change that, shouldn’t we?

Participate in the change. It takes a simple act of buying a calendar.

So this new year, choose to be kind. Buy a calendar and pass the word.

To learn more about the cause:  http://www.calendarsforacause.in/about-this-cause/

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I bellow my flames: An incident of fire


What jumps to your mind? A blue tongue of a Bunsen burner?
For me, a phenomenon jumps to mind.

I was witness to a phenomenon.

Don’t mistake me to be pyrophobic to be uttering words with such a solid emphasis, but it was a phenomenon. It was the sort of flame that I have not seen this close, this destructive, this completely capable of altering my insight. Small scale was a word I would not use, even if it seems appropriate. It wasn’t small scale for me. For me, it was a phenomenon.

The day started uninteresting enough. I was stressed for my final exams, and studying was going nowhere. Unable to juggle my academics, being home after so many days and the radio show, I was clearly collapsing under the strain. I gave up trying to reason things out and decided to take a nap in the hopes that it would alleviate the mild signs of stress that were beginning to descend, hallmarks of the final season. I woke up late and grumpy. I wasn’t exactly saying thanks to anybody this season. Exams? No thanks. There was nothing to be thankful for.

I woke up to a phone call. By the time the mobile phone was off, I heard mother: ‘there seems to be a fire’. I rushed to the balcony. A fire was raging outside, spitting up flames and smoke was roping its way to the night sky. It was a sight to see. I stood up on a balcony chair for a better view as I heard brother repeat that he was scared. The fire was truly terrifying. I couldn’t ascertain if it was spreading, my brain was just numb: all I saw was a definitive presence of the fire. The chair was not balancing me well enough, and as I wobbled in the night air, I heard strict instructions.

‘Hey, get down!! Get down NOW and head out to the front. We’re trying to control the fire.’ It was a Police Officer with his flashlight. As I rushed inside to let everyone know, my heart was throbbing.

‘Quick, fire, evacuate.’ What do you take with you?

What becomes important? In that one second, everything had changed. As I sensed the importance of the moment, nothing mattered more than family. My family, a cell phone and—at the last instant, a camera. That’s all that mattered as I rushed out of the house, following many other residents with backpacks, running away. The moment was eerie. There was only a raging fire in the background and small lamp posts. The rest was darkness and the babble of people. The rest was all of footsteps and shadows. Faces didn’t matter, what mattered was being calm about this.

Many people walked away, in many directions, huddling in groups. But the interesting thing was—there was another group. Another group of people that wasn’t quite running away. They lingered. They lingered with fire in their blood. They lingered to witness something they knew was not ordinary. They wanted to stay and see what happened. They were not the confused lot; they were at the forefront, spectators of the fire with their mobile phone cameras and video recorders. The police had cordoned off the area, but they tried their best to stay within limits as the terrifying evening unraveled itself. These everyday people became journalists in that moment: they became the photographers and the media professionals. And the firefighters became the true heroes worth watching.

As I tried to push myself into the bunch that lingered, I thirsted to record everything. It was a new, acute sort of excitement—a realization that this wasn’t an everyday phenomenon, and that this was worth recording. I didn’t feel a sense of danger, for I knew I was at a safe distance. There was only that much I could do. I couldn’t run into the fire and help them calm it, but I could at least witness it from a safe distance. Now, I was completely awake and caught up. The adrenalin rush induced by the gripping atmosphere as we collectively stood witness was something beyond description. I was more than alive, I felt acutely conscious of every tiny detail. I knew the people around me without knowing them, my mind memorized where all the apartments were, what was burning, and how everyone was moving. The atmosphere was charged and shifting. The undaunted fire was recorded from various different angles until the police sternly warned me to stay back.

As the fire got slightly out of hand, we were further instructed to completely evacuate even the lawns and move to the high school ground next door. The cold night air held uncertainty as people shifted about, talking loudly. The parking lots were full of people. As we rushed to the car to get out of here, we heard that there wasn’t a way out for cars. Forced to park them in our lots, we stood around, waiting for further instructions. The Sheriff’s car was here, and the fire truck was flashing its bright lights in the distance. I suddenly felt lonely, even with family. If the fire spread, it would hit my apartment in minutes and everything that we have ever bought could be reduced to ashes within seconds. The fire now was a fierce, undaunted orange glow in the distance, blazing off the rooftops—that was all I could see. I moved to the high school grounds for a better view, simultaneously updating my facebook and twitter with updates of what was happening. It was not a foolish thing to do. I wanted the world to know currently, this part was not safe. Please, stay away. It was the inner journalist in me awakening.

I watched the fire blazing from the grounds, now from a farther distance. It was all a nebulous glow. I only felt the cold night air settle on my skin and make me shiver. I shivered not just with the cold, but also in fear. My brother and I had split apart here. I was looking for him. He called my cell phone.

‘Come up to the stadium, you can see much better from here. You can see everything that’s happening.’ I took the cue and rushed there with the rest of the family. The stadium held only a handful of people who seemed to have discovered its benefits. They were high up, privileged by a vantage point that unraveled the entire dynamic scenes before them. It was something that looked like it was from a movie.

Smoke everywhere. The fire truck, the firefighters. The hoses and the water. The endless fire engulfing and burning the wood down to ashes. Everything was visible here, a panorama, a terrifying landscape unlike anything I had ever seen. As I stood there, high up with a dozen others, I felt I was part a shared fate. As the scene before me changed from millisecond to millisecond, clearly visible and dangerous, I recorded it all. It was something that was truly unfortunate, but an unforgettable experience nonetheless.

The cold night air hit us as we stood high up there, in a solitary world that seemed to be somehow distant. We were spectators. My hands fumbled in the cold, but I was beginning to grasp the severity of the situation. We stood there till the fire was calmed a little. There was such insight to the moments I stood there. Many, many thoughts flashed through my mind. I perceived life as a gift. I felt special. I felt fortunate. I felt fear. I felt insecure. I felt thrill. I felt anxiety. I felt awe.

As the night air became a blur of smoke, I knew the fire was calming. The police had cut off the electricity connection; all apartments were bathed in darkness. Multiple phone calls were visiting us and puncturing my involvement. A kind friend offered to be host. We were all shivering in the cold, and there was nothing more we could do. We walked to his house, away from our apartments, shaken by how unbelievable this evening had gotten.

A while later, as I calmed my nerves to Hindustani music and tea like nothing had ever happened, I looked at myself. I was replaying the photographs I had taken just now, they were reminding me how fragile life was. And just this afternoon, I had been thankless for my situation, my existence—worried about exams. My perception was so shallow. Right now, I was simply grateful to be alive and unaffected, as must have everybody in our apartment.

I’m back home now. It’s been five hours since the fire. It’s nearly midnight. The power is back. But the damage is apparent. My internet is not working. The parents are calling Vonage phone connection. There is a deathly calm, like an aftermath. A couple of police are hanging around. And I know that most of us have gone home.

Many people proved to be courageous tonight, and I’m proud of how they’ve behaved. I’m thankful for how nobody was hurt, and how nobody died. I am thankful for the immense courage of the firefighters. But most of all, I am thankful that everyone who matters to me is alive. Sometimes I forget that that—just that, is enough for a lifetime. I’ll not forget this evening. 

 My account of the incident: 12:33 AM on November 26th 2011

Update: The cause of the conflagration was a kitchen fire that engulfed and invaded an apartment. The fire massively spread to the neighboring apartments soon afterwards. Nobody suffered injuries, the only injury is to property, thanks to the timely manner in which the fire was handled by the fire department. I'm grateful to them. The videos I took were released to ABCNews Channel and aired.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Not so Verdant, but pink

Pink is framing the horizon. She socializes there with the lavenders and blues, tempted to flirt to some romantic poetry. She is neither the moody haze of an indecisive shopper nor the brooding shyness of a wallflower. No, she is the unearthly, catchy enchantress. Mixing, she thinks she rather not be insignificant. She unravels herself in a bold, attractive display, so that the skies are all her, and even the somber, undisturbed waters hold her entire in every glowering molecule of every shimmering droplet. The blues and the lavenders of a late evening wither away, cowering before her sudden courage, and the egrets are awed. They survey her expansive brilliance on the late evening on their stilted legs, reasoning why they have turned victim to her flamboyant moods. The decision of pink is an unearthly demeanor for the skies to wear this season.  And slowly, with the ripples that affect these waters to a sudden disturbance, suspiciously like in response, the egrets lift their feathers and rush to the horizon on wings that hold earnestly: waking, enthusiastic, infatuated. They rise, rise, rise and rise above, in a transcendent love.  From a fleeting train, the beauty of the moment is witnessed, recorded and smiled at.

I have never seen a pink so bold, or marshlands so absolutely Moorish. I have never seen this from a train home, travelling alone, with just me, the marshlands and vagrant dreams for company. The writer scribbles a little into her books, but even the books don’t attract her like the skies outside her window do. She tries to sleep, but even repose cannot coax the tempted mind into opening her eyes to witness more of the melting pink, now persuaded into thawing. The egrets are still there. Surveying, stilted and out of the waters. Now, they are part of the skies, rising free. The waters have been painted, and the skies frozen in the cold. The writer is refusing to scribble anymore. I look outside, in a mild sort of way. Here, there is healing.

It helps to be young. It helps to be thirsting. It helps to find the wanderlust. But it’s best to go home. The flatlands run away, fleeing me like they were repulsed by my passivity, panicky sprints into the past I do not see. I do not tamper with their feelings; I only want to get lost. I remember the earlier shades of me: the somebody who used to get excited over random scenes like these. But yes, this is I, returning to her earlier self. Because the music on the hills await. Here, outside my window, there are endless, balding hills severely colored by pink’s fancy moods. Not so verdant, but pink today. Here, the egrets know their ways, and in this world of auspicious beginnings and soaring heights, there is an unburdened eye that collects an understanding. This is a sight I have been waiting to see. This is the sight. Because these pictures are not glaring computer screens, these egrets are not mechanized human beings, but much more than just postcards. Taking off into the eternal sky that holds everything and beyond. And as they rise and as they fly, that is what they tell me. That is what they tell me. 

Evening trains and side lanes. Always lazy. I wonder the stars. I hear the telephone lines droop with the weight of all the conversations they carry, with the winds and sometimes with people's chitter-chatter, ferrying the whispered talks, burdened in between. A whoosh of thought. Then, I forget. The window, the lazy trains and I. Homeward bound. The world here in solitary, windy and rising free. And soon, I will be home.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Since the Book

The heart held the visions gingerly, like they were the most breakable things in the world, for when fortunes dropped them, they would shatter into shards that flew everywhere; and then the soul couldn’t dream again. It held them with a shimmering hope. Not slightly, but gripped secure with clandestine intent: wanting. Whereupon, I dwelled, in prevenient contentment of a lost somebody; in illusions now bullied to the forefront, in sporadic creativity of late-night reverie.  

I will not tell just anybody, but I will publish a book. Because Amma said that someday, it would be possible. Because someday, I will be an author. I will sit on a proud chair and sign those copies. Because I will give a speech, and tell everyone that I have always wanted this. There will be a podium, there will be people, there will be journalists who have come from far and wide, and photographers from somewhere in the dark, visible only in sudden flashes on happiness, like the moments of the past.

I typed a book that month. It was 80 pages, and it was named The Heart Remembers. I was the only person who ever read that book. Starry-eyed, I saw it in paperback. Delusions met the pride, and then, I harassed the printer to translate the abstract into tangible solidarity on loose A4 size sheets. Yes, 80 pages. 80 pages of grammatically incorrect, stupid collection of childhood stories that didn't quite match up to "mildly interesting". Yes, 80 pages of senselessness with only a teenager to vouch for its credibility. Yes, that book would be a best-seller. Definitely.

I don't know why the brain gripped so hard at that delusion. It was just something I very clearly wanted, without knowing why. I could not cleave the reasoning or philosophize it. It was just blunt wanting. I want to publish a book. 

Every year for the past five years, I have lived with that thirst. I, who typed on computers on January nights, saw these stories on paper. I, who typed each and every blog post weaved this into a grand dream; everything would be a book. Nothing would go a waste. People would hear me as I called out from the podium of my mind. Imagined applause listening, waiting to explode. People would hear.

It was no small dream. So they consoled me then when I presented the manuscript; they assured me then, when I edited it and presented the manuscript again, they told me they’ll publish it then, when I was still a teenager and hoping---repeated on a late night as I typed; when I bought up the topic, when I was depressed, when my eyes spoke the uncertainty, when I said I wanted this so badly, when stuffed away those 80 pages knowing that it will never visit the printing press. Replayed last summer, and the summer before that, and the summer before that. The 80 pages yellowed and crumbled away. 

But still the dream grew dangerously, I was still gripping the vision. I want to publish a book.

It was very very uncertain that it would happen, and the dream was on precarious ground. Why then, was it not swayed by dejection? Why not, by the sullen moods that extinguished every other rampant desire? It was unscathed by any such poison, it always endured.

Even after teenage ended. With every blog post. It has always endured. It did not just exist, it burned. Like an immortal flame for five years. Even if it would never happen, it would be the grandest dream I have ever envisioned. And it burned on, bright, blazing, beautiful.
I saw these people there, on plastic chairs. All waiting. Only the very few who even cared. I saw their eyes meet mine, and that was resplendent to the festivity of my heart. I sat with my head bowed, when unjustly eloquent praise was heaped on me. I talked a nervous speech. I heard the applause from five years past sounding exactly the way I had envisioned. The heart slacked on the dream now materializing. I saw flashes of light, like the past grazing the pastures of the certain mind, and it was the most glorious thing I had ever seen.

No gift has been better, no recognition more amazing. No degree more meaningful, no journey more compelling. And at the end of the day, happiness to me is this: to be a writer. To be turning the pages of An Amateur’s Attempts, and finding in myself the hope, the courage, the grand dream that heart cradled delicately in its insomnia that dark day. Peace had finally found me, seeping life into these struggling, difficult ambitions that had finally made it's words a book. 

I was a writer.

(Photo-credits for these pictures of the book release to Vijay raj of IClicked Photography ;
. For more pictures of the event, go here. )