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.