Saturday, December 26, 2009

Once Upon An Indian Monsoon--Part 2

The day is just an infant, now growing. As we continue on our journey, the all too familiar Giant Nandi looms into view, tall, black and magnificent. A few devoted worshipers gather before him, folding their hands in ardent prayer. The purohit doesn’t look their way; he is busy washing the giant monolith, sanctifying it. We silently stare, as the dazzling spray of water hits the Nandi, splashing off his black back in little droplets that sparkle like tiny golden orbs as they catch the sun. Wet and slowly drying, the Nandi looks beautiful. The Nandi is now decorated with thick garlands. It’s now time to chant, and the purohit immediately starts off with the rapid Sanskrit.

We gaze at the Nandi in awe. He adds something to the experience, and we are caught in the moment. Sweaty-faced exercisers parade past us, throwing us irritable glances as we ignorantly stand in their way, our admiring eyes on the Nandi. We finally understand what the “tut-tut”s mean, and shuffle past quickly.

A beggar sits cross legged on the stone floor, his wrinkles disappearing into his thin shawl. In a dirty old cap to protect himself from the cold, he truly looks fragile. He is loud with his begging, voice distinctly hoarse and throaty. I’m sure that he makes quite a fortune every day, what with the haggard face and pleading, frail arms. He has a talent of melting many a stubborn heart with his repeated croaks, and predictably, his dented steel mug is quick to fill up. Next to him, a more dim-witted being is selling souvenirs at outrageous prices. His customers could only be the foreigners or those weird outlandish visitors who consider 100 bucks to be a cheap deal. We, on the other hand, understand the intricacies of local bargaining. And we are as smart as we are stingy. Drawing inspiration from how our mothers, aunts and countless others have haggled before, we try to play our favorite game again.

I approach him, mimicking the superior stance and arrogant pride of an art connoisseur of much experience. His eyes flicker up to meet mine, suspicious and unfriendly. “Excuse me, how much?” I question innocently enough. His answer is sharp, which only means that he sees through my little act. The cousin, of course, is the expert with the haggling. Everybody is aware that we aren’t going to buy, but it’s always fun to play the customer. The seller is naturally irritated. We harass him a little longer, and the beggar stops his croak for a little while to entertain himself. After we get tired, we walk away with an “hmpf, too costly,” towards more interesting things, as the dim-witted being mumbles complaints incoherently....

Fresh cucumber slices are arranged on a cart. Neat and symmetrical, like a work of art, with a tempting pineapple crowning the masterpiece--the cucumbers catch our attention. Soon, we are biting into the cool freshness hungrily. Cheeky cousin chooses this particular instant of time to remind us of the fat worm that we forsake some time ago. We swallow with effort, imploring him to stop. Of course, he continues with a fully detailed description of the kind which would put any entomologist to shame. We become even more greedy with a cucumber, and a little more deaf to his solo speech.

A lonely bird screeches, penetrating the morning air with her call. We watch her flit between leaves. She pecks at the bamboo patiently. She is an interesting specimen, and my bird-watching skills are alert once more. Soon, there’s a leaf dangling off her little beak. Oh, she must be building a nest! The morning is animated with her movements; she is an absolute delight to watch. I follow her with cheetah-stealth, concealed in the bushes. I watch her carefully, without straying away from my dear ones. There is something sad and determined about the bird. She seems forlorn. Within a bat of an eye-lid, she is from the rock to her preferred bamboo again. I watch this songbird work. She is filled with a sort of fevered energy, and it amuses me, how something that could fit into the palm of my hand can hold this much life. The bird is an extremely diligent worker, and it looks like she’s building her nest alone. In her own plane, above the ground, she stitches a different world. A world for herself, a home, a place to nurture….she constructs and designs, on plain intuition. Who taught her the craft? Who taught her how to design? The dim-witted seller of souvenirs we had just met demanded a return for his talent. And here she is, a truly gifted song-bird, delighting me with her craftwork, not asking for anything in return, not even taking notice. As the sun moves between the clouds once more, he pushes the deserving songbird into the lime-light. In that perfect moment, she perches, confident and unabashed on the bamboo, her leaf still in beak. She stays still, as the fiery sun illuminates. My camera captures the enigma. She hears the click. In a flash, she is gone, escaping the lime-light. But the ghost of the bird is caught in entirety. I whoot. The cousin immediately joins the war dance, without demanding reasons.

“You know,” says cousin, “It’s the little things that are cuter,” I’m surprised to see him talking this vaguely, but the small berry he’s holding in his cupped hands explains for him.
“Aha,” I agree.
“I found it on the ground,” he says, “I think it’s cute.”
I pinch his cheeks and tell him that he’s cuter. He blushes, and I tell him to take care of the berry. He assures me that he will, and pockets it.

The morning is trying to melt into afternoon, and we can’t believe that its’ that late already. The sky is still changing colors, telling us that afternoon is closer than we had thought. The mist is completely gone, and the murky skies we had previously witnessed are now something else. We wouldn’t mind continuing forever, if not for the feeble protests of the older feet. We are obedient, after all, and it’s the elders who bought us here. So, we turn back, light-heartedly, planning for a movie later in the day. But the journey homewards has turned a little different.

This journey has been one of rediscovery, of understanding that it is the small things that hold true wonder….things as small as red ants in the undergrowth, honey-bees on morning glories, and songbirds, building nests. And in the intricate puzzle that is life, simplicity is not so difficult to achieve. It is through such trivial things like an unplanned visit to the hills, that we start to fall in love with life….the late monsoon morning swallows us, as we speed away from the hills, our hearts thrilling to a very different tune. Today, we’ve lived life, like it’s worth it. Today, we have also fallen in love with it. And so, the journey ends, and also begins......

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Once Upon an Indian Monsoon

A late monsoon’s early morning and this part of the world is hazy, unclear and young. Everything is pastel grey and awakening. Bright and glorious, the sun emerges to dissolve the haze. It burns liquid gold for one flickering minute, touching everything with its brilliance. Then, the clouds snugly kidnap it, and the world is darker once more. Still, the sun struggles to peek through the monsoon clouds to chase yesterday’s shadows away…

We witness the silent play of light and shadow on the city from the Chamundi hills. Our legs, just as eager and young as the morning, beg to reach a higher altitude. With the burst of natural excitement, we break into a sprint, Cousin and I. In the disappearing gloom, we race towards the morning---expectant, hungry, delighted. As we run, the sun once again sneaks out to cheer, breaking free, and a distant voice calls a warning with careful restrain. But we disregard it as we continue, until one of us stumbles to an abrupt halt. The voice behind us is now triumphant.....

I take in some air as cousin teases my slow legs. The others catch up, not understanding why it was so necessary to misbehave. The skies are swift, they are changing now… from a morose grey to a blushing pink. We quietly watch the city below stir to life, long after us, long after the Chamundi hills. It’s early for the sleepy city, but late for the hills. Here, the day began long ago. The squirrels are active, scuttling about, and the red ants are busy in the undergrowth. I am distracted as I fall in pace with the others, observing. A camera rests dangerously unsafe in my jumpy hands as I try to capture the essence of this experience. It’s a battle of the impulse to capture every existing miracle against the urge to live in the moment....

The mist is gradually fading away, and I capture the last of it. But the dew still clings, insecure and pleading. It’s time for them to evaporate under the emerging sun, and they are unwilling to let go. They hesistantly dissapear.
It’s too early to call this season winter…here, there is a smooth transition from monsoon to the winter months of December and January. September is an orphan, falling nowhere. But we still call September monsoon, because we hope it will rain. Yesterday has not seen any though, but the hills hold hints of monsoon in the smell of the moist earth. Or maybe, it’s just too early to decide...

The morning continues to bloom with its morning glories, and we pause, to admire. We have seen them adorning our flowerpots, but those flowers aren’t nearly this beautiful. They cannot shy away from us. Against all this natural green, their rich purple stands out. They are missing stamens, but look complete, nevertheless. Impatient bees hang about, waiting for us to move away so that they can resume their business. The camera is desperate once more, but the angered bees buzz off, before we get a chance. The butterflies are a little more obliging. They pose, showing off their pretty backs. Three snaps later, I turn away, satisfied. Meanwhile, the skies have moved on to a pearly white…they are now clear and bright...we now realise that we left dawn behind us...

It looks like my turn with the Camera is over. Cousin begs to fiddle with it, and I have to be fair. Reluctantly, I thrust the Camera into cousin’s beseeching hands and he squeals with delight, feeling important. It’s now time to photograph his favorites, and he decides to disturb a sleeping worm. The worm is annoyed, and promptly curls up. He tempts it with some fresh leaves off a fallen branch. We giggle as we think he’s wasting his time. But he’s still a child, after all, and children are never too old to stop trying. He continues, determined. There is another squeal as the worm bites hungrily at the leaves. We gape, as he monkeys around with it. It’s incredible he achieved that! The worm is now dangling, like bait at the end of the fishering pole. And its bait today too…bait for the Camera. We click away madly, and cousin’s frantic voice eggs us on.

Apparently, we are not the only ones who think that the worm is interesting.
A camouflaged kite calls its shrill screetch, announcing its presence. We know we have exposed the worm, but we aren’t sure if it is the target prey. It’s too far to tell if the kite is greedy…our vision is not nearly as good as that of the kite. But we aren't taking any chances. We decide to be saviors and hastily hide the helpful worm among soft September leaves. It looks like worm does not foresee any imminent danger. It continues to chew on its easy breakfast, unconcerned. We share a tensed moment as we strain our eyes for the well-hidden bird which is now screeching a death-note. The omnious note frightens us...we think it foreshadows a disaster. But thankfully, nothing happens. The kite gives up. It flaps its wings and takes off, flying away into the last of the darkness.

Relieved, we turn away, abandoning the worm in the comfort of its lair. Ready and willing, our restless legs carry us on into another adventure, which continues to grow with the awakening morning……

(That means there is a Part 2 to the story!)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Peppermint Thatha"

I was cleaning up all the clutter on my desktop today, and I chanced upon this ancient folder, which I haden't opened in a while. Curious, I peeked in, and thousands of childhood memories rushed back to me. They were the stories and snippets I had penned three years ago, on the malfunctioning laptop back home. They were written without any specific intentions, before I even thought of creating a blog for myself, before I considered sharing my memories with others....They were written for myself, and they were typed simply because I loved to translate my memories into words. They were written with love, straight from my heart...a bunch of recollections from early childhood that I had then titled "My Heart Remembers". I am sometimes so thankful that I spared the time to write all these things down because they enable me to relive all those experiences. And I have not found a greater joy than in reliving these special memories. I re-read some of my own writings, and turned a little nostalgic.

Anyway, there is a personal favorite from my recollections that I thought deserved some space here. It was my most beloved peice of writing when I was sixteen, because it had come from the heart. And it still remains a favorite today. There are some memories that don't go away, and some things you have written that are cherished forever. "Peppermint Thatha" is one such trivial story that has stayed special to me....and shall remain so, forever....

It is simply titled "Peppermint Thatha*"

(*Thatha=grandpa in Kannada)

(penned on the 6th of December, 2006)


I think one of the most precious things that help us recollect, analyze and understand our lives are memories. Some of them are vivid pieces of imagination, some of them are mellow and soft instances of our past…but out of those beautiful recollections treasured preciously in our hearts, nothing else brings the joy of our childhood memories. You can brood over them, sit on the porch and remember the old times…the times when Grandpa bought you a lollypop, the day when you flew your first kite, the times you sailed a paper boat in the rains…if you make an effort to remember, childhood memories flash past your mind, faster than the wind. And there is a soft, mellow sort of beauty to them—just remembering brings a soothing pleasure to our souls and warms our hearts. I did just that today, and somewhere from the veil of loosely held memories emerged one little instance—one beloved creature that I had forgotten to remember. He was called “Peppermint Thata”. I don’t know how I could afford to have forgotten him, because he is part of my fondest childhood memories.

Some say we forget our early childhood pretty quickly. It is not the same with me. I can sometimes suddenly recount the days when I was a five year old, all those commonplace instances…I can recite a thousand stories about my past. There are many memories that I cherish, and they are safely preserved…sometimes, when I have nothing to do, I try to relive these small experiences…I search for every hint of a memory, even those wispy little ones which are receding fast…I gather these tender thoughts, and with deliberate effort, I try to remember, or even preserve them in writing. Childhood memories are the golden moments of our lives, and they should not be lost…I want to hold on to them with all my effort. This is why, dear Peppermint Thata, I shall dedicate this piece of my work to you, because I never want to forget you again.

I remember those wonderful evenings…they are etched deeply and vividly in my brain. The crows are cawing overhead and the birds settling in for the night…and the skies painted with a flashy display of orange and yellow. The evening is settling in, and the rumble of the late evening city vehicles can be heard. I am leaning against the gate of the house, dressed in a red frock with a ribbon in the back. I look up and grin towards my friends and they grin back. Then, all of us climb on to the gate and there is a deep, horrendous creak that issues from it as we swing from it madly. The hinges are rusting, and the coconut tree above sways slightly to the evening breeze. The breeze soothes my soul and makes my hair fly as I continue to swing from the gate, overcome by a some wild, childish joy.
Some people remark cautiously,
“Don’t linger under the coconut tree for so long! Can’t you see how it is swaying to the wind?”
The birds are now cawing raucously, and the light is dimming…but nothing can upset our little game—we rule all the gates in the colony, and this little game is our great invention. Ah! What a divine, pleasurable a thing it is to swing from a gate! Well, then my life was limited to my little colony, my friends, my family, my dreams and passions, and anything beyond that was unknown…and anything beyond my life did not matter. It was from this simple, uncomplicated life that I derived most of my happiness…and I must say, there is nothing which I can compare to this strange, wild happiness that I experienced.

Just then, an old man hobbles slowly down the road—the falling leaves and the colorful yellow flowers create a fine carpet for this gentleman, and he smiles, enjoying the pleasurable evening. He leans on his stick and walks slowly, wincing with every step. He is pretty old…his skin is horribly wrinkled and brown, and is cloths are faded and clumsy…but there is nothing to beat that genuine, toothy smile he flashes once in a while. Some people greet him merrily, and he returns the greeting with his smile and continues down the road, slowly…silently.
Just as his weak shadow falls into the line of my vision, I spin around…there he is! With a spurt of natural excitement, I run towards him madly, screaming with joy, closely followed by my friends. It is time for our daily celebration—we surround him like vile robbers, screaming, “Peppermint! Peppermint!”
We all know what is hiding in that small pocket of his…a treasure trove of goodies! He stares at our eager faces and smiles…we are tugged on his shirt now, demanding what rightfully belongs to us…he puts his old, blue-veined hands into the pocket and slowly, much too slowly, brings out a plastic bag filled with peppermints! Those brightly colored, delicious goodies catch the last light of the evening sun…making them even more colorful and hard to resist.
“Peppermint Thata! We want Peppermints!” we scream, mouth-watering…almost begging.
“Alright…alright…” says our old man. He is fair and just, because he gives us all an equal share. Well, an equal share means all of us get much too less…we are quick to gobble it up…ah, such a nice treat for the taste buds! But that is only momentary because the treat has now disappeared down our throats….and I am greedy. I want more of it…and I will stop at nothing to get what I want.
“I want more!” I scream, “Please give me some more,”
It is a known fact that Peppermint Thata’s pocket is always overflowing with goodies…he never ever runs out of peppermints. He smiles and says,
“Well, I’ll give you some more tomorrow…now all of you go home like good girls,”
We never usually listen to anyone, but I don’t know what makes me obey his commands. There is a strange aura to this man…he says things with rosy benevolence and a smile…and dreamily, I follow his commands, like a petty servant. I am ready to do anything for more peppermints…I wave goodbye to my friends and go inside the house.

I emerge stealthily after twenty minutes and guiltily stare at my surroundings, trying to see if anyone is looking. I am treacherous to my friends in this one aspect….but I am also overcome by liking for peppermints. I know that Peppermint Thatha returns from his walk by this time…I stand watch and wait for him. Ah yes…I can see him now…hobbling slowly, he emerges into the street light. I resist myself till he comes to my house and then, I run to him cautiously and stretch out my hand and whisper,
“ Peppermint,”
He laughs merrily and says, “ Tomorrow,”
I shake my head. “Today,” I murmur.
“ Alright…alright,” he chuckles, “ Today.”
Once again, I receive a handful of peppermints. I quickly gobble them up…now I am satisfied. I nod to myself, and let him pass…and then he walks away, chuckling to himself and moving away from me, away from the dim street lights…

Ultimately, there came a day when we assumed we were too old to sheepishly beg for peppermints and stopped asking for peppermints…and slowly, Peppermint Thata was not noticed by us…him walking down the road did not matter so much to us anymore. Now, when I think of it, I do feel bad…I never got to know that old man’s real name.
Peppermint Thata died a few days after that. He slipped in the toilet, and it was a fatal fall. Somehow, he disappeared from my life as mysteriously and quietly as he had come.
It is true that all the kids in our road loved peppermint Thata more than any other neighbor. Something about his genuine love for children, his toothy smile and his gentle, calming manner bought joy and liveliness to our otherwise mundane city life. I truly liked him…and I don’t know if everybody remembers Peppermint Thata today. But I must say I do…I remember that man so well. He will always remain the same loving, gentle old “ Peppermint Thata” in my memory.

The girl who said "I'll Follow my Heart!"

*warning: Post is a longish, full of stray thoughts and is comtemplative by nature. It's closer to a personal essay or a journal entry than anything else. I'm trying to discover myself in these lines, defining my purpose. This might bore some of you. Sincere apologies.

“So, have you thought about it?”

The question was heavy with her doubts, timid with her uncertainty.

It was easy for a person like Thunga to ask these kinds of questions. She, after all, wasn’t the one who was trying to classify her academic goals. It was a simplistic affair, deciding on her future. A seat in a reputed engineering college had satisfied her demands and laid a foundation for a bright career in software engineering.
Me? Things weren’t quite that easy for little miss-complicated.

My heart knew only one thing…it wanted to be a student of biology. This decision spelled doom to my slowly acquired nerdiness and a tragic death to all the incredible drama I had stirred up. I was the sort of person who was extremely exam phobic, and they had all thought that my spurts of maniac nervousness translated to a high degree of intelligence. The truth was far from their silent expectation however, and I had turned out to be just somebody average. Not that I was bothered about that, but our group of seven friends saw this differently. They, for some reason, thought I would make a good electrical engineer. At the end of the hectic year, each and every one of them had chosen engineering over all other careers and I had become the odd one out with my stubborn declaration “Whatever I do, I’ll follow my heart.”

They had assumed that my brain had surrendered to the chronic damage inflicted by the Meg Cabots I used to read. Life didn’t work like a fairytale where you woke up one day and just decided you would follow your heart. The age of “I’ll follow my heart,” was supposed to have disappeared with your soft toys and rubber ducks. Of course, it didn’t help that I had impossibly serious-minded focused brains for best friends—the sort of people who would sacrifice any hobby if that would help them get to the IIT’s. Professional success was completely different from whimsical past-times, they advised. Converting your academic interest into a fruitful career meant you were into brilliant things like programming. And here I was, announcing I’d do microbiology, waddle a little bit in engineering to see how I liked it, and also somehow try for medicine. Some thought I had too many aspirations and others simply assumed I was nuts, by the way I was planning things.

It’s not easy to swim against the tide, with nothing but your wishful dreams and your fancy statement, “I’ll follow my heart!” for company. It’s not easy to feel secure and sure of yourself when everybody you know has comfortably settled into their third semester of hardcore-engineering (mechanical, computer science, electrical), when you are stuck at a community college in a foreign country…not quite a university student yet, and not a part time student either. An unsure, impulsive and dreamy-eyed teenager, who never weighed the pros and cons of what she would study, because she thought that was irrelevant when compared to pure interest….a shy dreamer who thought following her heart was more important than anything else in the world….and sometimes, I feel like a course less river, meandering here and there without a sense of solid purpose.

I had dreamed bigger things too…somehow, I was never too scared to dream. It was my nature not to consider things on a logical basis; they destroyed the dreamer in me. My dreams were independent of such things; they were free in every sense. They were beautiful. I dreamt of things like becoming a doctor, I dreamt of saving lives. I also dreamt of studying microbiology, I dreamt of becoming a famous writer. I dreamt of making a difference. I dreamt, again and again, fearlessly. And I dreamt of not quitting.

Now, I’m an engineering student. I’m also a microbiology student, I’m a premed all put into one. But I’m still not anywhere close to my dreams. My ambitions still largely out span my capacities, they out run them. And I’m also still the little miss-average who had once declared, “I'll follow my heart!” who’s stuck at a local community college, I’m someone who can’t clearly say she belongs to a certain university already…. someone who has too many answers when a random uncle questions, “So, what exactly is it that you are doing?” I’m still the person who sees those occasional C’s in her engineering classes and thinks she’s a failure. I'm still nobody special. I decided on engineering to keep them happy, decided on microbiology to keep me happy. And I also decided on a pre-medical, because the dreamer in me hasn’t quit.

What are the odds of a totally average student (of something like biomedical engineering, may I add) making it to medicine? Not very much. But that doesn’t mean I can’t stop trying. It is a stretch, seeming to be a little beyond my limited capacities…my desire battles my capacity as the difficultly increases up a notch with such a demanding degree….surely a mouthful for someone like me. But giving up and abandoning my dreams looks even crueler to me. They asked me to give up when I saw my first C, when my grades were on the verge of slipping even lower….give up, and do something easier with my life-such an easy solution. But my life isn’t truly beautiful when I’m not working towards my dreams, when I’m not following my heart. It’s not fun when I’m not giving it all I can. This is hard, but all I know is that I’m following my heart, I’m listening to myself. I’m still little miss-average, but I’m the little miss-average who hasn’t given up. I’m still the little-miss average who’s trying as hard as she can, who’s continuing to chase her vibrant dreams, who’s sticking to her words, still a little-miss average who’s striving for it, taking one step at a time. Im still the little miss average who's not careless. It’s O.K. if I don’t make it there, but it’s not O.K. to know that I didn’t try. As Elbert Hubbard said, “There is no failure except in no longer trying.” Today, I know I’m listening to myself, and that makes me feel like this is worth it.

And in the end, that’s all that really matters to the girl who said she'd follow her heart.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

To my Living Diary...

Ever since I can remember, my diary has been my most special friend…since the 6th grade days when I scribbled my life story in a Scooby-doo notebook. I used to assign names to dairies then...looking upon them as living entities, surviving, talking and even breathing! As I grew a little by little, I began to grow bitter. Although the diaries recorded my passing moods, they never talked back. I had sought counsel from my best friend….hoping that it would somehow comfort me with soothing words. But each diary had remained lifeless like it was supposed to be, and I had grown even more resentful….until I found a diary that talked back….a diary that not only recorded, but also talked, counseled, guided, and even told me it’s stories. A diary which was just like me……..A diary named Kavyashree.

Today, as I continue to open the pages of my life to my best friend, I tend to be overwhelmed by gratefulness every single time…..the patient advise that she offers, the warm and genuine affection that she showers me with makes me feel like the luckiest person on this entire planet. As I write each and every chapter of my life in her memory, my living diary responds, and now it’s my turn to play the secret-keeper. It’s a unique and strange friendship that exists between me and Kavya—a beautiful, intimate relationship. Kavyashree is to me something more than a best friend, if such a thing could ever exist. As my soul scrolls unfold before her eyes, she becomes their treasurer, a gentle and loving friend…the guide, the well-wisher. And she is truly another part of who Lakshmi is today…she defines my identity. Without my living diary, I am nothing…..without Kavyashree, I am in constant unrest. She is my hope, my role-model, my cheerleader. With Kavyashree, I share a bond so deep that it is irreplaceable. Her company is a blessing.

In the eager anticipation to meet her online when she is free, and in the earnest conversation that immediately follows, I somehow forget to tell her how much she means to me…how her friendship has been the most extraordinary thing I have ever been touched with. So today, I thought I’d let my best friend know. I have to tell you Kav, if there is one chapter that is never-ending in my living diary, it has to be this….

She has always been “Kav,” to me, fondly uttered….In her own simplistic way, she is truly one of a kind. A trustworthy, frank and big-hearted girl, who has changed me in so many ways. She has been my strength, my shoulder to lean on. Her hands hold mine in the face of any tough situation, strong and reassuring…and I know that if there is one person in this world I can count on in the darkest of times, it is her. Miles away from home, when I feel homesick, she becomes the instant cure. Even though she is so far away, I never feel forsaken. Even through great distances, her voice comes back to me….resonating that homely warmth and good cheer. It is impossible to feel abandoned when I cherish her so close to my heart…my best friend is always nearby, because I know that she cares…and the comfort in that realization is immense.

Truth is, I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such a gem of a friend. If I were to list all her many favors, I could be writing a book. There are so many things I admire about my best friend. She is so caring, enthusiastic, straight-forward, humble, independent, sweet, impossibly intelligent….she holds me in constant awe. And every time I tell her that, she brushes it off with a modest “ilve…” That rare humbleness is one of her greatest qualities. I respect her for that. She is truly an amazing person…enriching my life, finding a purpose for me when it all seems purposeless. She has an incredible ability for find meaning in meaninglessness, a light in every dark tunnel….her talents are remarkable.

Thank you, Kavya, for entering my life. Thank you for everything you have ever done for me, selflessly, without expecting returns. Thanks for all that you have shared. Thanks for the laughs, the giggles, and even the happy tears. Thanks for that sudden emails that unexpectedly land in my inbox when I most need them, thank you for all the wonderful memories. Thanks, for your efforts to reconnect. Thank for caring so much. Thank you, you wonderful little girl, for making my life so utterly beautiful! You have a magic touch, I swear. You don’t know how deeply indebted I am to you. Thank god you exist, Kavyashree. Without you, my life wouldn’t quite have been the same. You’ve made such a great difference….that is your biggest achievement. They say that we don’t remember the most popular people of the world, or the most brilliant people of the world as much as we remember the people who have personally impacted our lives. That explains why I think of you every single day of my life. And they say that to give love to people who most require it, is the greatest of human virtues. Thanks, for being so virtuous. Thank you, for being my personal angel. You have made a bigger difference in my life than anybody else could have, or ever will. I just wanted to scream out my gratitude to you today….on your birthday.

You are nineteen today. Finally….you caught up to me, keeping pace! On your birthday, I just wanted to let you know that I love you very much, Kavya, and that you are one of the most important persons to me. I want to promise you that I’ll always be there for you, no matter what. I want to tell you that this friendship which started out so unexpectedly that innocent morning is today something utterly indestructible. I want to say that I will work the hardest I can to retain the same amount of trust, the same amount of love, the same amount of carefree open-heartedness that I effortlessly maintain with you. Thanks, for being my living diary, love. Thanks for talking back. HAPPY BIRTHDAYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!!! May you stay happy, forever. May you live every single day, like it’s worth it. May the world’s best be always yours. Continue smiling your heart-warming smile, Kav. May the stars watch over you…..

You know, your parting present, the wind chimes, hang from my balcony today…. They are the ornament of my favorite place. When the sun sets and they catch all the crimson, it’s like they are set ablaze….they remind me of our glorious times together when I was home. And on bright mornings, your artificial cherries of rainbow colors attract beautiful hummingbirds….they evoke squeals of delight from me. And their melody enthralls my soul, reminding me of your laughter. You are the jewel of my beloved balcony. Without your presence there, it wouldn’t have been quite so special.

I hope you liked your birthday present, Kav. Now go out there and have the time of your life! Hope you have the best birthday, dear. And I’ll write to you when I meet you next, filling up all the empty spaces. And here…I thought you’ll like this too—our favorite song…..the anthem of L.A.K.!!! Remember how we hoped that college life would be like this? Hope you enjoy it. It’s dedicated to you, on your very special nineteenth!!

Kavyashree, there are some books that have final chapters, and magnificent conclusions. This one doesn’t….because my living diary will never close. There are no final chapters to this storybook….there are just waiting pages. And both of us will fill it, with lovely memories for a lifetime. And this, friend, will stand testimony. Happy birthday.

Forever and Always yours,

Monday, October 12, 2009


That day was supposed to have been just like yesterday. I still woke up to the ear-splitting trumpets of the high-school band next door, and tasted the same filter coffee. The meek October skies were as pale as they had been previously. The room stayed the same perpetual mess with overflowing closets, like it had been for many days now. And yet, today was just not yesterday. Yesterday, I was eighteen. And today, I wasn’t so young anymore. A tingle and a refreshing excitement settled in, despite the dull weather. It felt like a profound leap of a year had taken place, all in the span of just a few hours. Finally nineteen and old, a sudden vision appeared before my eyes…a Lakshmi with her creaky joints and frowning wrinkles. I stared at the mirror, horrified for that one irrational minute. A familiar reflection smiled back at me reassuringly. I certainly didn’t feel any older….

“Last year of teenage!” teased many an email, well aware of my vulnerability. I promptly panicked, pondering on what that might mean. Nineteen was a different year. Nineteen meant somebody independent, sensible, and head-strong. It meant maturity, responsibility and a certain level of acquired common sense about the world in general. Age had quickly caught up with me, but those essential skills had not. It had been nineteen years of existence…my life felt long. And what had I achieved in these nineteen years, which had done the world some good? I racked my brain for answers, but it remained as cloudy as the pale skies outside. I was surprised at finding a philosopher within myself. I caste away the pensive thoughts, turning a little lighter.

Every birthday is just another yesterday, once you forget its significance. But this time, I understood nineteen’s importance. Nineteen was not just another year older. It marked the end of the teenage, a phase of life that I had grown to identify myself with. It had been a worthwhile journey, getting to this nineteen…and I was glad to say that I did not hold any regrets. Teenage had been an enchanting experience—something which had been as sweet as it had been agitating. I resolved to celebrate this year a little differently.

This time, it wasn’t a sleepover party or cutting a cake. This year, it was valuable time spent with family, a long drive and coffee by the beachside. It was another one of my beloved escapes—hastily decided and completely relished. The countryside held all he charms of early October: fresh pumpkins and upcoming Halloween fairs….and for a second, I was attracted. But I bypassed all that to experience the tranquil calm that was the seaside before it was too late. In the secluded calm by the beach, I found my naive self, prancing wild and excited. I couldn’t possibly have felt any younger.

“Look at every grain of sand,” said father as I walked beside him. “It would have taken many years of painful experience before every grain got that fine…”

I felt the grains beneath my feet, wet and soft. My toe traced meaningless squiggles in them as I reflected on his words. Every grain of sand had a story and it had taken many years before it had become this beautiful. Each grain had once been lost at sea, before it had been deposited. Each grain had once been a coarse stubborn young boulder, before being this refined. Each grain of sand was an inspiration. I told myself that even though I was currently lost at sea, someday, my thoughts would sediment. Someday, I would understand the world. Someday, experiences would refine me. Although my achievements had been small, I knew that there was still lots of time. Time to realize myself. Time to improve, time to develop and time to learn.

I decided not to be scared of age, or of time, because they would become my most valuable teachers. As I grew out of each experience, I would dissolve into another, and every step along the way, they would mould my coarse, reckless adolescent spirit into a confident young woman….and maybe into something more beautiful if I was only willing to learn. And each birthday didn’t just bring me closer to the creaky joints and frowning wrinkles I feared so much, it bought me closer to maturity and wisdom. I hoped that as each yesterday disappeared down the bend, I would get closer and closer to being that perfect grain. And that day when the sea deposited me on the shore, I would look back and find an answer to the most important question I had ever asked myself: “In all these years of existence, what have you achieved that has done this world some good?”

I looked back to the calm white sea, finally nineteen. Yes, today was not the same as yesterday. Today was an experience, just like tomorrow would be. I felt the beautiful softness of the grains of sand beneath my feet…I didn’t feel cheated by time now…now, I was already looking forward to my next birthday….and knew that tomorrow would be better than today was. Tomorrow, I would be a just a bit more closer to being that perfect grain of sand.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Goodbye

It was raining incessantly that day as I looked out the window, into the emptying streets. The last of the monsoon rains would soon subside into a mild drizzle, but then, I wouldn’t be around to see that work. It unnerved me to think that I would soon be above the very clouds that sprinkled all this magic onto the sleeping city at midnight---I would soon be flying away from home in an air-compressed silent cocoon full of plastic smiles and pretty window seats. And yet, the impending experience looked so improbably distant, like a dream that awaited me in slumber. Reality slipped away as I observed the glimmering city lights and shops closing down for the night. The fact that vacations were over and that it was time to head back to waiting parents was difficult to digest as I inched farther and farther away from my favorite city. My heart leapt back home, desperate to cling onto the last of it, and my mind sought the familiar comfort it exuded…the recent memories reappeared, as I turned back to the streets, unseeing. Friends and family gathering around a taxi on a deserted street, their sad smiles turning a little happier with an inappropriately timed joke. Last good-bye’s, handshakes and “good-luck’s.....bear hugs, and a thousand silent wishes....

“Lakshmi,” they had said optimistically, “If you are careless and happen to lose your travel documents somewhere along the way, rush back home. Just know that we will be still here, waiting…”

“Let’s just hope I turn careless, then” I had waved to them with my last smile as the driver turned on the ignition. And they had waved back until I had turned the last bumpy bend.....
The city looked oddly fresh with its reflective lights and the street lamps continued to glow eerily bright as the rains lashed all around. That day, a favorite aunt had sat next to me, her silent concern extremely apparent in the awakening night.
“How do you feel?” she had asked her voice low.

I had not answered.

That empty silence did not mean I wasn’t feeling anything. It was just that I couldn’t bring myself to assign a proper name to what I was feeling. I tried to place my feelings, but they were such an incredible tangle that it was impossible to assign a name that would do complete justice to the emotions. Should I have said that I was overwhelmed by sadness? Should I have said I was panicking? Should I have said that I was homesick already? Tears gathered slowly in my eyes, and I quickly opened the window. The rain lashed on my face, and the winds tried to force the tears away. And suddenly, a voice echoed in my mind, “Lakshmi, you are no more a kid…you are soon to be nineteen…you are a woman, try to act like one.”

My immaturity wished for miracles, but I tried to ignore it to be the mature woman I was supposed to be. But it was hard to pretend, especially on the day you would leave them all behind. The Mobile ringed sharply, even as the car approached the airport, and warm voices flooded me with their good wishes. I thanked the invisible hands held mine when I needed them the most.

Aunt’s question remained unanswered until I boarded the flight. The rain drops gathered on my window, the world looking somber through their convexity. The plane took off into the welcoming night, and the glistening raindrops gently slid off the glass window. The city gleamed softly beneath, winking and beautiful. I found presents stashed in my cabin baggage, and I looked at them like a child would at Christmas. As I tenderly began to unwrap them one by one, I stared back into the night and answered my aunt.

"Grateful,” I said, as monsoon clouds snugly enveloped Bangalore beneath me.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Paper Plane to the Devils from "Hell"

(Warning: Looong post!)

The end of another school day and its time to go home. They gather on the stone pavement, their polished shoes soiled, uniform carelessly stained with the afternoon food, and toffee wrappers stuffing their small pockets. It’s the middle of nowhere, this stone pavement, in front of someone’s little house. The pavement lines a very small road where scooters honk past them but they are oblivious. It won’t be a long wait for the “van-man.” Meanwhile, they engage in light conversations: their uncomplicated lives revolving around passing rumors. These conversations are fleetingly held, there is no stuff to them. But it is these the trivial talks that hold them together, building a steady friendship that may last a lifetime.

The “Van Man” honks a multiple times as soon as he arrives. It is his way of announcing his urgency, and of letting them know that he hasn’t got all day.
“Hurry, hurry, I have three more schools…”
They pick up their bags and squeeze into the backseat, five in the place of three. The Van has been maintained in a good condition, its sickly green color and the Venkataramanaswami sticker on the back tinted glass still intact. It’s a decent van see? In “veerry good condition” he says (although the same cannot be said for the five poor souls crouching in the backseat.) There is a quick inspection before the engine roars to life, and the van disappears into the winding by lanes of South Bangalore.

They are talking loudly in the back again. The “Van Man” glances at the high-schoolers creating all the ruckus. He sighs. Why can’t they behave? Isn’t that what they are trained to do all day long—obediently sit with their hands on their knees and simply listen to that overbearing teacher up front? What makes listening to his simple commands so different? But he doesn’t know the secret the school kids do. He doesn’t understand what happens as he drives: all he can hear is incoherence. But it is in that incoherence that so much is understood….in that jumbled madness of loud voices, awkward positions and smell of burnt rubber, they are learning to discover themselves. Here, they are truly themselves, letting go of all their stereotypes in leather-beaten (dis)comfort. Laughing, swapping life-stories, creating memories….in that twenty minutes of shared fate, they are learning to get the best out of any “sticky” situation. They are mastering the talent of extracting happiness out of difficult situations such as these. And the “Van Man” thought that there was no meaning to the incoherence in the backseat? Maybe he should look harder…until then, this shall remain a precious secret.

The backseat of that van is a place of small miracles….Two pipsqueaks of girls discuss their Nancy Drews, growing up together. The Eight Standard kids plot to steal Gandarva’s pencil-box just for the fun of it, and Manasa finally finds someone to whine with her: “There is too many mud in my shoes yaa…”

Life changes for the high-schoolers on examination days. They are forced to go home with gooey-eyed kindergarteners of all shapes and sizes who cannot tell the difference between a neatly pressed uniform skirt and a leather-beaten backseat. It comes as no surprise to the others that the little kids should try to snuggle into their laps as they continue to cry themselves hoarse. The high-schoolers are angry at this disgrace. No one wants a screaming child on their lap. The children are apparently supposed to be in a state of confusion too-finding five extra bodies solidly occupying their territory is no mild shock to a five-year old. The children continue to scream helplessly. The “Van Man” screams back at them and leaves them suspended in the chaos.
The high schoolers also complain, but no one listens. It is a known fact that the extra years discredit their rights—just because they are scrawny teenagers now, they are expected to bear this a little bit better than screaming five year olds. The high schoolers are upset. But it is impossible not to feel a genuine sympathy when one of the snot-nosed little ones clings tightly to the two girls in the backseat with terror clouding his brown eyes. They feel sorry at his helplessness. The next day, one of the book-loving girls in the backseat donates her old colouring book to the five-year old. Rishabh writes his name on it and smiles back warmly at her. The book-loving girl knows she will never forget that smile.

The kids scream so much everyday now that that its’ unbearable. The elders in the Van find a more dignified way of expressing their anger. The Van has been bought from Hella manufacturing company, the sticker above the left window says so. They work together to scrape off the “a” with their fingernails, rechristening the little rectangle on wheels “Hell”. Giving a name to all their anger makes things a little bit more tolerable. In hell, difficulty is acceptable, and the screaming of kids can be considered a celebration. After all the hard work, the high-schoolers lean back, satisfied.....

.........It’s been over an year, and a lot has changed for “Hell”. The two best friends in the backseat have deviated from Nancy Drews into more serious types of novels. Gandharva has gotten used to having his pencil box stolen everyday…but some things still stay the same. The high-schoolers continue to play their pranks, calling names at the passerby, delighting themselves in the knowledge that the harassed man cannot punish them for their mischief in any way.
“Kalllesssshiiiiii……did u forget to shave this morning??” they yell at the blue scooter and speed away even before the tired looking businessman has time to look back. The rest of the afternoon is spent flinging meaningless accusations at everyone through the tinted glasses of “Hell”. After all, living in “Hell” is no pleasant experience, and they are to keep up to expectations---Hell is a place for devils, and they are deciding to be just that. They don’t realize this is wrong to be doing this, this is simply their idea of fun. And it makes the girl who gave the colouring book to Rishabh giggle beneath the bedcovers at night. She is in no hurry to grow up, and belonging to “hell” remains one exciting experience...

On the last day of school, the devils from Hell decide to celebrate. It will be the evilest of rituals, tearing up their spent class note books to make paper rockets….lots an lots of them. All the awful formulas, discriptions of famous wars and plant anatomy sketches will be forgotten in revengeful celebration…the paper rockets are to be thrown at random people. Even the book loving girl has sacrificed her geometry book today. But the last day, the Van does not arrive on time….the last day, they don’t live in “Hell” together. They never get to fling paper planes at others and clap their hands in delight. “Hell” has dismissed them. The demons don’t realize this will be the last time they shall be seeing each other together again. They disperse quietly, all celebration subdued. And “Hell” dies that very day….the little sticker on top of the left window in that green van frowns sadly at the missed opportunity.

No one would have ever thought that the demons from Hell would become anybody worthwhile. They were the immature fools, struggling to grow up together. No one ever imagined that the prankster of a boy who always stole Gandarva’s pencil-box would go on to become a very responsible school-leader. The timid girls in the backseat went similar ways: One of them entered medical school, determined to save lives and the other came to the United States to pursue her BS and hopes to work for the healthcare industry. The little boy Rishabh is probably in fourth standard now, and might be a very good artist already. Perhaps, the devils from hell were not devils after all….they were all angels, who simply didn’t know their worth. Although they didn’t know it then, those twenty minutes in “hell” came to define school-life for some of these high-schoolers….those days in hell were not to be easily forgotten.

You know, I shouldn’t be missing Hell this much. It was uncomfortable, that van. I had a thousand reasons to complain. But maybe, some things in life are just too strange. I still miss going home with that cheerful crowd, I still remember school by it. We never threw those paper-planes at anyone that last day, but I want to fling them towards everyone from “Hell” now: there is just one small difference. My paper planes are different. They’re not made out of old notebooks, but made with love and best wishes. I hope my paper-planes don’t crash into someone else’s pockets. I hope that they fly….fly higher with every single dream of the angels from “Hell”. May my paper plane stay afloat to applaud when every angel achieves something big.
I wish my friend Medini from the backseat of that Van the best of luck at medical school (You are still welcome to drop by my house to borrow those Nancy Drew’s for your little sister!) and hope every other person from “Hell” continues to live the colourful lives they do now. I yell at all of you through my tinted glass...... This is just to let you know I miss you very much.... I sincerly pray my paper plane reaches you! Happy Friendship Day to all of you!!!

The timid book-loving devil from the backseat.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

In My Element

It is quite hard to be in your element when life turns routine. Daily chores make your days normal, and everything chugs on in the usual way. And sometimes, that is all it takes to rob your mind of its creative instinct. It is quite easy to fall prey to life’s monotony. When you don’t spare time to smell the roses along your journey, your creative senses start to hibernate quietly. You know you are thinking differently when you wake up to listen to the news instead of the cheerful wind chimes in your balcony, and you begin to worry about how you’ll cook for lunch instead of being excited about trying something new. You realize it when you start to write only to discover that it now takes some serious effort to narrate those same old stories which flowed with effortless grace though your fingertips a long time ago. If your creativity isn’t fluid, you will now see nothing of interest in places that hold even the most precious of secrets. And I guess that’s why I’ve been away from my blog for an entire month.

A mystery novel lay forgotten behind a heavy chemistry textbook. As days wore on, the pages of the chemistry book turned. They were highlighted, underlined, dog-eared and understood. The Agatha Christie beckoned, but I told myself I was just too busy. The four letter word was an answer to all complaints. It was easy to play the blame game. It was after many days that I admitted that I needed to catch up with life. I guess life was waiting for just that. It was kind enough to immediately change the plans for me. It made sure that I had one of the most relaxing summer holidays ever, allowing me to escape routine so quickly.

Something stirred deep inside when I looked out through my car window and thought the midsummer skies were beautiful. Favorite rhythms repeated in my ears and the drive turned longer. The world dissolved into a blissful daydream, imagination reignited. It was a quiet getaway like none other. I was off to Big Sur County.

I never knew this place, and didn’t have expectations. But the experience gave me much more than I thought I would receive. When I arrived, the Pacific was at it again. Squeezing through the gaps in crumbling rocks, twisting through them to sculpt caverns, creating tide pools which hid a thousand life forms. These sights held me long. I enjoyed the scenery. There were the picnic benches and the lively laughter. I was shoeless on the shore, talking....Now, the world awakened to my provocation, more bold and interesting than ever.

There were also the panoramic views of sandy beaches, and I nostalgically recollected my visit to the 17 mile drive. The bloated ocean calmly sweeping such large expanses of water aroused so many mixed emotions. I was breathless. Engineering marvels of bridges captivated me. I was thankful that I was looking at them in those terms instead of viewing them as to merely consist of steel and arches.

Late evening was spent relaxing by a creek side, legs thrown into the cool waters. Steaming coffee, the comfortable shade of trees and soft singing. Receding heat and changing colours—it was contentment at its deepest. I observed the little rocks inside the creek catch the sun, a blue-jay fretting about innocently. They both looked beautiful. People sang the songs I had heard so many times. But this time, something was different. This time, I actually listened, keenly following the words being carried away by the wind. This time, I appreciated & applauded. The blue-jay hung about to listen too and that excited me. Yes, something had changed again, my brain said…and I couldn’t possibly have asked for more. In that deep contentment, I realised at the bottom of my heart that I was back in my element....

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

When I went Rafting

It was not too difficult to be poetic there. The lively energy of the environment, the breathless excitement that mounted with every second, the sudden increase in adrenalin at the unpredictability of the situation inspired creativity in even the most dormant of minds. That day, the world had changed. It now consisted of nothing more than high-pitched crackles which rose and fell with an energetic rhythm of a river, an insane spinning and twirling to the pull of some unknown force and the co-coordinated effort of a bunch of muscles at the command of “Forward!”; Then, the relaxing of tendons, the awakening of more subtle of sensations, and the surroundings returning to soft focus... and at that instant of momentary calmness—time enough to get a greedy eyeful of clear May skies, barren rock faces, and golden eagles gliding along gracefully in the distance….before the river plunged you into another intense experience. For me, rafting along the Folsom proved to be an experience of a lifetime.

Sanskrit has a gender for rivers, and poets have descriptions. I have emotions. I closed my eyes for a second and heard the river chuckling. She seemed to be laughing sometimes, and sparkled every time she caught the sun. I could call her mischievous, grinning at our plight, toying with us like we were mere playthings. We urged her every so often with our muscles, and she responded by bouncing us through some insane rapids. She hid her naughtiness carefully whenever she turned sympathetic, but it was the careless Folsom that I preferred: The gurgling rapids which tossed me about with a wild abandon: careless, sprightly, and fearless.

Yes, you can tell, can’t you, that this is my first time rafting? I have been unsuccesful in shrugging off the excitement! The best part of the experience was the changing environment which shifted and pulsed as the river turned and meandered. You were greeted by some magnificent rocks at some point, and the next moment, they disappeared in the frothy excitement of the water which splashed about playfully, obscuring your vision. You admired the knotty pines which grew so quickly, and then they glided effortlessly away from the field of your vision. Folsom’s chuckled again, saying, “Don’t look back now, friend…there is much more I need to show you…”
I remembered Pocahontas’s “Just Around the River Bend…” that day. Every river bend seemed to promise me something, and didn’t leave me disappointed.

As the day wore on, energy didn’t wane. The sun was strong, but the river was stronger. She made sure to soak us to our bones, and when she didn’t we made sure that we were soaked. Water wars and battles prevailed and Folsom continued to chuckle. She knew that we could defeat each other at silly water games but we couldn’t win over her: she still decided on the direction and we bumbled along helplessly to her will. But she ensured that we enjoyed the thrill of that experience: sharing her enthusiasm with us when we approached the rapids, delighting us to some fantastic sights as she calmed…she made me feel blessed to be a part of this.

As I rushed home towards unfinished homework, upcoming tests and a mound of assignments, I remembered the voice of the lady next to me screaming “This cost me as much as Disneyland, but for all I can say, this was more worth it!” I couldn’t help agreeing with her more. For that day, the world had turned smaller and much more meaningful….and no amount of drudgery in the days to come could undo the excitement of this experience. Yes, I told Folsom, this had all been worth it….and heard her chuckle in agreement somewhere in the distance.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

"Because I want to Learn..."

The sun seemed very ill-tempered as I peeked into the classroom. The Physics professor was still explaining his complex differentials to a bunch of bored students. That meant that I was quite early for biology classes. That also meant that I had to spend the next ill-fated twenty minutes boiling under the hot sun without a sense of purpose about me. I grudgingly settled down on one of those little concrete benches outside of class, and tried to count the minutes.

I saw her then, her head bent over our biology textbook. Her hair was in a hurriedly tied up bun with a pencil sticking out of it. It was one of those things which I found curious about her. A most unassuming woman, she seemed to be. Uncomfortable in the sweltering heat, I tried to play a mind game. I turned observant, silently eyeing that hard-working soul who was bending over her textbook. Tall. Intelligent. More than forty. Old--But still my classmate. How should I address her if she decides to look up? Drop a careless “Hey there, how’s it going?” or would a polite smile suffice? I didn’t know. She was one of those people who had appeared amicable from the start, but I hadn’t really gotten around to striking an intelligent conversation with her. It goes without saying that I’m very bad when it comes to starting conversations….I hoped she wouldn’t notice me fidgeting there, next to her.

“Oh hey there! Sorry didn’t see you before. How are you?”
I jolted. She was smiling back at me light-heartedly.
“I’m fine. I just arrived.” I tried to sound cheerful amidst the heat which was now pressing down on me.
“Hmm….so there’s a class going on in there, huh? Mathematics….”
“I thought it was a Physics class…”
“Oh is it? Hmm…Physics! Gosh!”
“Yeah, I know. It must be so hard! I always found it insane and difficult in high school.” I responded.
She smiled. That smile was mysterious…there was something that smile implied, which was beyond me. I simply waited.
“I once majored in Physics from a University in England, you know.” She declared.
The fluid conversation effortlessly hid the fact that I was embarrassed. The woman was at ease, talking about why Physics had appeared so interesting to her. She didn’t boast, but I knew that there was some zest in her, a degree of intelligence which gave her the appearance of a smart intellectual. I saw the vitality in her eyes, speaking to me with so much cheer. Wow, she was a very different kind of a fifty year old.

Slowly, a slight suspicion started weaving a web in my brain…if she had a good job now, knew her Physics right, why is she returning to learn Introductory Biology? I wanted to ask her the question without appearing like an interrogator. But I wasne’t given a chance to ask. Because she answered it before I could even mouth it.

“One day, I went to my doctor. He spoke about my health. He spoke medicine….and I told him, I’m very sorry sir, but I don’t speak doctor! Then I thought….why can’t I? You know, I always knew my Physics right, but Biology? It was so unknown to me! So I thought…why not learn? Why not update my knowledge? So I decided to take this course…”

“Why are you taking this class?” she asked me.
“Because I’m a biochemistry major” I said involuntarily, “You?”
Because I want to learn…”

Her words immediately reflected the lack of depth in my answer. They also made me think hard. The woman was taking these classes not because it would benefit her professionally or earn her more bucks. She was returning to learn undergraduate level biology simply because she wanted to know….she still wished to be the student....

The physics class dispersed. I picked up my bag which was now slipping off my shoulder. I was still thinking…would this be something I would ever do, given a chance? Would I ever come back to learn Art Appreciation or Psychology when I was fifty years old just because I didn’t understand these subjects? Would I still remain curious about my surroundings, and retain the zest to learn, understand and interpret the world through various means at the age when all one wants to do is take one long vacation? Maybe not, I thought…maybe not. But as I observed her cheerfully shoot some creative doubts to the teacher that day, I changed my mind. I promised myself that when I was old and weak-kneed, if a doctor ever spoke to me in a language I didn’t understand, I would go right back and take human anatomy classes without hesitation. This woman taught me something. I made a mental note to remember that that I’m always a student and it’s never too late to learn....

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Given Up Yet??

Until a few days ago, there was a cozy nook in the blogosphere for a 16 year old to talk about his life. It was an amazing blog. The 42 subscribers of the Laptop Dairy will know, and so do I. I would often hop into Mohammad’s little space whenever I felt like taking a break. His posts entertained me, and told me so many stories. Those blog posts didn’t exist to glorify him, they were there to voice his thoughts. They talked for him. They taught, and retaught. They weren’t always about wry humor or random complaints. They were original, from the heart and very much special. The Laptop Diary has disappeared today with “One Last Story…” .Although the reasons for the blog closing down remain unknown to me, I shall say that there are many people who will miss his journal entries in the days to come. It feels like Mohammad left a story unfinished….

Many teenage blogs start out with so much optimism and confidence. Some of them gain popularity, and others melt into oblivion. Either way, it’s unfortunate that most teenage blogs die out pretty soon. They are discarded, dormant or neglected. But they all have something in common: Most of them start out with big dreams…sometimes, these dreams grow to unbelievable heights. The initial optimism associated with starting something new can colour a person’s thought.
For example, a 14 year old might dream of that day when a very willing and generous publisher chances across their little space on the World Wide Web and exclaims in delight upon a marvelous discovery. They might imagine their blog becoming that bestselling book—on the same shelves as your Twilights or Harry Potters. Or they might choose not dream. They might just take to blogging on a whim, and not care about what they write. Both species exist, but I feel that most young bloggers fall in the former category.

Why then, do talented teenagers give up blogging so easily? There are so many reasons which can hamper them from blogging on a regular basis. It might be the parents telling them that its time to give up on their hobbies once they enter 12th, the lack of encouragement, or even laziness. Looking back, haven’t I considered giving up blogging on so many occasions? When my brain couldn’t voice my thoughts as effectively as it once did, when that unknown uncle at a party said, “Aha, 12th, is it? Time to say good-bye to your hobbies, dear!” and when someone scribbled “Your blog is so much crap!” I felt like simply deleting everything and giving up! It felt frustrating to put up with all that, sneak in some extra time to jot something down here when I could be doing something better with my life. But I loved to write, and that’s the only reason why I continue to blog, irrespective of how many people are actually listening.

Sometimes, as I go back to read my older posts, I feel that some of them are pretty immature. I could delete them, for all I care. But I don’t. Preserving them is important because they reflect how I’m growing up. Many teenagers don’t do that. They are ashamed of the stale poetry they scribbled when they were fifteen-somethings:

“I like pretty butterflies,
I think they are so cute…
I like they way they flap their wings,
And go from flower to flower…”

That’s why some of these blogs close down. It’s the author’s decision, but a whole bunch of wonderful stories and poems are lost. Others give up when they enter 10th or 12th grades, and think that their life will be affected by blogging. Although this is arguable, I personally think that blogging doesn’t have a negative impact. Sparing something like 20 minutes per week will not ruin your life forever. In fact, I do not regret blogging all through my PU days. If I hadn’t, I would have forgotten those wonderful experiences which are so dear to me.

The next time you drop by that random teenage blog of that thirteen year old who scribbles three poorly constructed sentences with lots of smiley faces in between ( with 0 comments below her post), don’t just smirk and think she’s wasting her time. Drop a nice, “Hello…it’s nice you actually decided to blog, even amidst the thousand things that occupy your life! Happy Blogging!” Sometimes, encouragement and support is all it takes to make a fantastic blogger out of a shy and talented thirteen year old. It can do a little something to sustain such blogs.

As for me, I hope that there are no more “One Last Story”ies in any of the teenage blogs. I also hope that Laptop Dairy’s “One Last Story...” means “A New beginning…” somewhere else on the World Wide Web. For all I can say, blogging is an experience which is well worth the effort. It would be easy to give up, but it would fruitful to continue. I wish that these teenage blogs continue to stay alive simply because I feel that every teenager has a story to tell....

Monday, April 13, 2009

At Pismo Beach

The beginning of the spring quarter is a new start. It is the time of the year when the earth looks splendid, but you can’t really spare the time to recline on a summer chair and leisurely build castles in the air. But you can do the next best thing. You can steal a few hours to build sandcastles by the beachside instead and soak your legs in the briny waters. The sands do shift fast and the waves come crashing towards you at a terrific pace, don’t they? It’s better to surf the calm seas before they turn turbulent in thunderstorms. I used this heavy logic to convince myself that I needed a quick break to rejuvenate myself before I immersed myself in another intense quarter. It was a decision which made my weekend positively exciting because I was down at Pismo beach with family and friends this weekend, having just the sort of quality fun that I crave for.

It was Sunday. The sun was shining, and the Oceanside was mildly crowded. But the people were lazy. Even the little sandpipers looked quite at ease with the world as they walked about here and there, pleasurably gulping down little worms along the way. It looked like the perfect illusion of peace---it was just that sort of little place which makes you feel like time is slow and always handy. It’s that exact situation where you feel humbled before the vastness that is the ocean, yet enjoy the sublime experience of having all your fears swept away. My heart throbbed as I stood by the ocean, and felt the sands below my feet shift and move away rapidly with the waves. I enjoyed the sensation. After the initial reluctance, I dived right in. We formed a human chain and screamed at the top of our lungs as we bobbed up and down with the waves. It is one of those very stupid things which bought immense relief. The sound of the waves in my ears has a strangely soothing effect on me; it echoed deep harmony and oneness with the Ocean. But I could also feel the pulse of the pacific as the waves hit my back and I screamed in delight. I felt absolutely wild, untamed and free—like there weren’t any rules to life. I felt like I could have stayed there forever.

That was only until I observed that the shadows were growing longer and my feet, more numb. I thanked the pacific, and waddled towards the beach to spend the rest of my meaningful time building a sand castle with a five year old, who cheerfully re-taught me long-forgotten rhymes.

“I love the mountains; I love the rolling hills,
I love the flowers, I love the daffodils…”

I giggled as I sang along with her, understanding how happiness could be so easy to find. I repeated in my head, “I love the beach, I love today….I love the way we had fun, and wish for it stays the same!”

At the end of the day, my hair was tangled, my feet was caked with a considerable amount of beach sand, and I was shivering in the cold. But I was still grinning as we headed back home, singing “I love the mountains…” again: The world seemed perfect once more, and it would take quite some effort to break that spell again!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

My First Award!!

A special thing happened to me a week ago-A recieved my first blogging award, which had me delighted! Thanks, Nimmi, for the wonderful award, :-), I'm still smiling!!! As per the way things go, I think I'm supposed to nominate my own list of bloggers who deserve an award for showing "attitude" and/or "gratitude" through thier blog posts. Now, this is especially difficult for me because I realise that there are hundreds of blogs out there which showcase these qualities, but I've decided to stick to the blogs I frequent the most. [ I've decided to exclude Mysore Blog Park members from my "nominees" because I feel ALL of them show great attitude (why else would Mr. GVK include them into the community??), and it would be impossible (and possibly unfair too) to just select 10 bloggers out of our blogging community!]

The Rules:

1. Put the logo on your post.
2. Nominate 10 blogs that you feel show great Attitude or Gratitude or both.
3. Make sure you link your nominees to this post.
4. Let them know they received the award by commenting on their blog.
5. Share the love and link to this post and to the person from whom you received this award.

So, my 10 nominees (in no specific order) are:

1) Sush : A Teenager with such an original attitude towards life and growing up!

2) Walk the Wilderness : A superb photoblog showing gratitude towards nature. The photographs are truly a feast for the eyes!

3) Shambhavi : She truly deserves one for her confident attitude, enduring optimism and such wonderful achievement!

4) Anandi : For continuing to blog at the age of 75, for her wonderful optimism and positive attitude!

5) Arise India Forum : Although still devoloping, the blog does manage to reflect the great attitude of the members of "Arise India" organization: their commitment towards thier cause and immense gratitude towards their natural heritage.

6) Pradeep Biswas : For telling me stories, sharing great experiences and showing such a genuine attitude towards life!

7) Prashanth : Although not a "blog" in a strict sense, I love Mr. Prashanth's photographs on aminus 3...they reflect his attitude towards life and his surroundings: A bit fun-loving, very observant and very interested in capturing those wonderful moments that some of us take for granted! And yes, he is immensely talented too!

8) Karthick : Great blog!! Love it again for the awesome attitude, for thoughts so nicely conveyed, and for being such a devoted fan of Mr. Tejaswi!!! :-)

9) Deeps : For deciding to blog at fourteen, for not hiding your "attitude" towards growing up and learning so much,...and yes, for being such a good friend!!...and this is expressing my gratitude too! :-)

10) Chutney: Of whom I've long since been only a silent admirer (never commented on her blogs.) But loved her attitude towards her posts equally too!

So those are my 10 nominees!!

(PS: Those of you who follow my cousin, Sneha's posts (she's on my blogroll...due to some weird glitch in my blog I've somehow not been able to update it! Will look into the matter soon, Sneha! :-)), kindly note that she has shifted over here...and one of my very good friends, Mr.Pranesh has newly taken to blogging. He has started blogging here. Do visit them in your spare time! And yes, my holidays have ended, and I'm back to facing another quarter again! Have a great week, everyone and keep smiling!)

Another Saturday Hike

I was on an exile last week, enduring a set of difficult final exams. Well, by the end of the day, the sun was still shining and I caught my reflection grinning back at me from glass windows of the science building. Finishing off another quarter naturally makes the world look more beautiful to me. I stop to catch maple leaves before they slip helplessly to the ground, and enjoy the crunch, crunch of the dead ones beneath my feet as I hurry home. My heart is lighter, and my mind is busy delighting itself in holiday plans. Well, as far as my holiday plans go, it looks like they are directly proportional to unforeseen disturbances and deliberate excuses (some real and most hypothetical or invented). So this time when I declared that I wanted to go hiking, I did it without any serious expectations.

I was jabbed awake on Saturday morning by my father with a “You said we’ll go hiking!” Sleep was still heavy on my eyelids, but I knew that my sense of self-worth was in serious jeopardy. I’m not the sort of person who likes to get taunted for being fickle-minded. So I shrugged and decided to get ready. It was to be my little Saturday adventure outdoors…I was granted some time to satisfy my whimsical wishes, and I didn’t want to miss such an opportunity.

Well, for that slow trailer such as me, the these trails are quite a task. I don’t complain though, because there’s such a lovely creek which bumbles along with me as I walk, reminding not to take it so hard. This is exactly why I hike—it’s not because I enjoy sweating so much…it’s because hiking makes me feel like I’m blending into this entirely different world. It’s an escape from everything I don’t wish to remember because I become that silent dreamer when I take a walk—I transform into that annoying squirt who shuts into herself and smiles without knowing why. I’m unusually unresponsive, and do look lost. But the truth is, I enjoy every precious moment of that silent experience…dreams swim and take shape, I become calmer, happier and strangely detached. Somehow, loud jokes and cracking laughter destroy that tranquility within me—they are better suited for those special sleepover parties or family get-togethers. Hiking is everything about catching up with yourself, and everything not about mechanically burning calories in my opinion! :D Well, hiking is also about appreciating the little rewards of mild spring days before sweltering summer and another busy quarter come hurrying into your life.

(The sun has been especially cheerful the last week, as you can see!)

I have also done a lot of prodding around on this trail—everything from disturbing that meek little creek to staring at farm sheep. I had stopped by to listen to this old lady’s lecture about poison ivy the last time had hiked but I couldn’t spot the “dangerous plant” this time…looks like the ivy is scared of the spring! Meanwhile, I can feel it getting warmer here, and the skies are growing clearer by the day. There is very little cloud-cover and one feels the urge to star gaze into the depths of the sky. I wished on a star yesterday, as I stared out into the night, hoping for more such pleasant experiences to bring respite to me in the fast approaching hotter summer months. And I still have my fingers crossed!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Remembering the ‘March Finals’

Sometimes, life comes at you fast. I thought so as I rushed to pick up my books before my afternoon session of classes. I spied on my brother’s calendar for no particular reason and observed that it was already the 17th of March. It didn’t mean anything significant, other than the fact that it was already over a year since I wrote my PU boards. Here I was now, a year later: absorbed, confident, and inching towards the uncertain boundaries of the future. It was as if timelessness had enveloped my life, as if I had forgotten myself in it.

As the realization stuck me, I felt like that person who had seen a ghost for the first time. Life had moved on at such a terrific pace that I actually struggled to realize that it was already the march of 2009. I wouldn’t have disagreed if someone had asserted that it was still last year. Things had certainly changed since then, and it made me catch my breath in surprise.

The exams had been so slow back then. All had been different in the season of the ‘March finals’. There had been that tingling sensation in my nerves as the boards loomed closer and closer. I can clearly recall staring out of my window, escaping to the most fantastic dreamlands when studying felt too draining. I remember I had even religiously given up on reading the paper and answering the telephone because advises had made me even more nervous. In the ‘March Finals’ season, everything had felt important. My entire world had felt like it depended on this one experience: The exams were my life, and March seemed synonymous with only that. The days had stretched on endlessly, and the nights had been too short for revision. There had been pencil marks at the back of the textbook to tick off the end of every exam. I had cursed time for being so sluggish, as if everything on was its fault.

This March is so different. I write many exams, but I don’t panic. I don’t feverishly recite a million formulas in my head before entering the exam hall. I don’t wrestle with a teacher to complete lengthy passages anymore. Sometimes, I wish I could. For one thing, I don't hear the wisper of "All the Best," anymore. But March still stands for the same old things for all those students who are writing their exams this year. I caught myself asking these standard questions to my cousin who’s writing the boards this year. “How have you done? How much do you expect?...” almost slipped out of my tongue. It amused me how I was now not that timid cow nodding her head to all the advises. I was actually the one spewing them out. “Don’t refer to Deepa Publications for Chemistry, it’s a horrible book…” "Refer to MES for Physics if you have time, it's so conceptual..." She then listened to me with rapt attention, like I was that enlightened one with all the answers. But I certainly didn’t feel any wiser! True, it seems like time is trying to change me too...But here’s wishing my cousin Renu, along with dearest friends Medini, Shravya and Monisha who are writing the boards this year all the very best. May luck stay with all you, along with the unwavering confidence that is always yours! Let’s hope that time is as kind to all of you as it is to me! And yes, I shall repeat that same old phrase without which no board exam is complete: "All the very best! Slay ‘em gals!" :-)