“A pile of rocks ceases to be a pile of rocks the moment a human mind contemplates it as a cathedral.”
I hope you stay with me through this journey.
When I look at the world from high vantage points, my perspective claws out the minute details of the sprawling scenery, pecking at the edges of distant shapes, discerning objects and bringing to focus the complex intricacies that lie below. Perched alone atop the terraces of biology lab in the enervating heat, I didn’t see much that overwhelmed me. An ordinary day decorated by bland taste, a few withering plants here and there and a cloudless sky that held a ferocious sun.
Beneath, a technology infested world talked back. I watched it move minutely, but with such great hurry and heavy deliberation. Everything so immediate, purposeful and directional. Every motion planned, every move, systematic. The busses were prompt. The students wasted no time. Their sharp urgency became my amusement. As I watched technology rumble and tumble all around me, spilling and whizzing away with dignified solemnity, I felt suffocation. Where were they all headed to? Why the need for hurry? Why is the world that rapid? Why can’t we relax and take time off to breathe? Sitting there, I perceived the environment as an organized chaos, a mad race of people, machines, purposes, secret intentions and ambitious desires. But surveying the world around me certainly didn’t make the perspective clear, no matter how hard it tried to identify. Maybe intentions and desires aren’t as easy to separate as physical objects. I felt disgruntled.
I was hardly keeping up with how the world was improving. The fluid passage of time, the smart quickness that governed life, the fact that I was getting older by the day…they were hard to deal with, a source of bother, of perpetual unhappiness. How much harder should I run to keep up? The world was moving! Clearly, my lazy bones had some work to do, and maybe I would finally discover order and comfort in this chaos that surrounded me. A disturbance was building within me, expanding to a din. Watching the chaos, I felt abandoned. I felt horrible, like humanity had overlooked my presence, like this space had left me behind.....
We gently sloped into the woodlands, where the redwoods grew to heights that thrilled. The familiar moisture that lived under them healed my prickly skin. I looked to the trees, and they stole me. “They last so long that you could almost believe it could be forever…” the teacher was saying. I stared from my little nook, the one which wasn’t a vantage point. On the loose soil in the untamed wild, I saw a perfectly still world. Silence, apart from a few distant bird calls. Unchanging trees, that would always stay, fixed and firmly rooted. Secure and timeless. Everything that I ever wanted. This was my inner peace, staring right back at me. Everything that my elevated view that stared upon all of humanity hadn’t shown me.
“Wake up, and get ready…”
She’s fussy over a ruined dream as grandmother bathes her, and she finishes her prayers dutifully right after. When that’s done, Granny hands her a tumbler of milk, meaning to be a small reward for following up. But she sees punishment in that tumbler of milk, distastefully gulping it down in one go. Few things off the checklist. Her day has just begun—orderly and planned.
The coconut oil is cool on her scalp, and her hair has been quickly plaited for school. She likes it that way, presently. She likes staying by Grandmother’s side, clinging. There is a secret joy she derives from following her commands. When she earns the “good!” from the slightly critical Grandmother, she knows that this means a job well done. There is happiness in doing her Granny proud. The wooden swing in the Verandah, the stashed evening papers from Grandpa’s reading, the framed paintings of a variety of gods above her head, the sweet incense from the Puja Room, her favorite black dog Blackie who’s still sleeping upstairs, the guava tree in the yard, the traditional prayers she knows by-heart, the cheerful Rangoli drawn up front—they are all part of her world; sights, sounds and colors that define home, define her zone of comfort. But stepping out of it is what she forebodes every single day.
School, is not her special place. School is where the reprimands are serious, and tantrums never get her anywhere. Numbers and language. Much of it seeps past the disinterested brain, confusing and muddling and irritating in the process. She uses pencils that she doesn’t know how to sharpen, to scribble symbols which she doesn’t even understand. The wood of the benches isn’t as comfortable as that of the ancient swing which rocks her, making her fly. No, School can never be that special place.
The blue school bag is waiting. The lunch is packed. The mind is brainstorming excuses. Granny is ready to walk her. They start off, hand in hand. Her little hands find granny’s and hang on, not wishing to ever let go. She knows the moment must come, but she suppresses the pangs of cold terror that course through her at the thought. Grandmother is talking as they step into the wide outdoors, and she feels insecure.
“Eat your lunch,” says granny. “And bring back the homework. We’ll do them all together.”
The “Right Place” for the Banana peel had been behind the verandah doors of Grandmother’s home. She cannot think of where else they could belong. After her daily banana was consumed she would place it behind doors without thinking about alternative “right places”. The maid picked up all her garbage the next day, inviting her to fill up the space behind doors with more peels. But school doesn’t have verandahs. She doesn’t know what to do now. This adds to her her resentment.
School looms closer and the staircase that leads her to her hell looks threateningly tall. Grandmother’s hand squirm out of hers and she encourages the child with big smiles. Panic invades. The six year old stays rooted though, hoping, like every single day, that her escapist tendencies might suddenly create a way out. But the Ayah is near, ushering her to the staircase. Every step takes her away from comfort, love, and warmth and she is screaming to run back to it. She desires a release.
As her attempts fail like every day and she unwillingly turns away, tears are birthed at the edge of her eyes. She can’t control the hollowness, and she looks back to granny who’s still watching. She clutches the railing hard, making this a very difficult job for the Ayah...the tears are over-flowing now. The little heart flutters with a whole range of emotions and the eyes strain to hold her favorite person close as long as possible. Instructions echo sternly “Put the Banana peel in the right place”.
“Come back, Ajji,” she silently prays within her head. This prayer is more sincere and fervent than the verses she recites every single morning. Her horror and deepest fear is not spotting Grandmother among the crowd when it’s time to go home. Without Granny’s able hand, knowledge and guidance, she doesn’t know to manage life, the way home and unfinished homework. So far, Grandmother has always kept her promise. And even though she is being propelled into a world which she can hardly comprehend, she finds respite in the thought that Grandmother would keep her promise again today. She knows she is loved, and granny would solve all her problems. That is her sanctuary.
The little creature frantically searches for the grandmother after a few hours, the blue school bag hanging limp on shoulders after the classes are dismissed……..panic is building…..her eyes are continiously searching.......and Happiness explodes in her heart at the moment of recognition, and the face bursts into a smile. They walk back together, light-hearted at the end of an ordeal. She beams at Grandmother for once again saving the day.
“Did you eat your lunch?” questions Ajji affectionately.
The six year old prefers not to answer. She has a chore to complete. Excitedly, she rushes through the doors into the cool interiors, and takes out banana peels from her lunch box which she never discarded in school. Triumphantly, she throws them to behind the doors of the Verandah. She giggles as her heart wells with contentment. She is back, and the peel is behind the Verandah door. All things are finally in the “Right Places,”
She is home.
Imagination was young, and alive. The heart was untouched by thoughts more confounding than pure wonder. Why I wrote the story, I do not know….but I would have probably allowed the whimsical tale scribbled on cheap paper to flap away with the winds. It would have been another incomplete thought, wasted emotion escaping through the window of the train into the yawning void if my mother hadn’t persuaded me to hand it over to her.
I looked away, ashamed to show my face to her as she scanned my beginning struggles with story writing. Thoughts that had been trapped within my mind were staring at the world through the rusty windows of a speeding train. When I worded them, it was some form of insane liberation. But that knowledge was supposed to have been my little secret.
To be honest, I never regarded my stories in a favorable light. I wrote them to pass the time. And then mindlessly threw them out of my brain or available open windows. I made them paper-planes, allowing them to fly to heights that I believed my words could never reach. That story should have been discarded.
But it had passed many hands instead. Several eyes read through them.
I was the girl who imagined vigorously, but always allowed it to die down. I never considered my thoughts worthy of an intelligent audience, because they sounded so bland and ordinary….even to me. Being the highly de-motivated, self-involved and hesitant high-schooler, I assumed that life would always throw my stories out its window…..unheard, unvoiced, and unnoticed.
Unworthy of attention.
When the author herself rejected her own words, carelessly dismissing them, who else would find them more appealing?
But a phone call had come, with the warmest sort of encouragement I have ever received for the story that should have flown away….If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be writing this 100th post today.
This 100th post wouldn’t have happened if my grandfather hadn’t praised a pathetic attempt at fiction by an unsure, hesitant teenager who hid all her imagination in the last few pages of school note books, and the back of her fantasizing mind.
Stories would have been voiceless, mute and ordinary…if not for the magic that ignited the writing fingers.
That magic, I’ll call faith.
His faith in me. My parent’s encouragement. Silent stimulants. Blogging has changed me, in more ways than one. It has become part of who I am. It's become my story.
It has 100 chapters to it today. I never thought it’d grow to such proportions. An Amateur’s Attempts is the creative oasis where the anecdotes that should have swept away, the secret notebook pages that should have fragmented in paper mills….have been safeguarded.
They have found voice. And a very appreciative audience. Thank you all.
I’m glad for my blog….my respite, my oasis, my identity. This blog is like my little beanstalk...a growing strand of an evolving thought process...cherishing, remembering and chewing on all that has been, is or will ever be...and I am extremely indebted to my readers.
The teenager who didn’t know how to talk wrote these three years ago:
"I have been labeled as a girl who doesn’t talk, and that is a natural trait of mine. Or I was labeled so. You see, this girl is talking. She can now talk through her writing; she is finding new means to express herself. I have realized how deeply there was a need for me to talk, and all those emotions, thoughts, feelings that I had bottled up, memories that I had stored over the years are pouring out. I am not the same girl anymore—something is changing, it is something that is very difficult to define….."
Back then, I didn’t know what I was………or who I was going to be.
Much of that still hasn’t changed. The truth uttered that day by my frank immaturity still holds.
I still don’t completely understand why I feel such a great need to write.
But all I know is that it allows it to let go and set something free. It allows me to express like never before. It allows me to become different people---The shy dreamer who regards the world in quiet wonder, a sensitive adolescent who turns irrationally emotional, the pseudo-philosopher when completive, and a frenzied poet who is overcome by a maniac enthusiasm to play with language….and often the casual writer who simply translates feelings to words.
It allows it to be……me.
(Thank you for reading the stories that would have flown away. Thanks for all the support, love and encouragement. Special thanks to GVK sir for so whole-heartedly making me a member of MBP. And of course, everybody on Mysore Blog Park for being so supportive! A warm thanks to all of you!)
She would come every day with her brows furrowed deep, looking thirsty and resolute. Brown wrinkled skin that had slogged incessantly under the Indian sun for many summers, a stooping aged frame that shook to her mercurial tempers….receding white hair that she was obnoxious enough to colour an abnormally thick boot-polish black with cheap dye when she managed some extra money....that was Lakshamma for me.
She faught with my brother all the time.
It would start with a thump. Dropping the broom to the floor, she would proceed to argue in her throaty high-decibel squeak. I would leave them to it, knowing that it would conclude sooner or later. Sure enough, she would stomp out of the room irritated, her small frame shaking to her temperamental tantrums. My cheeky brother’s continuous stream of harsh criticisms were what caused this. They would constantly irk her to no end. She would show her anger on the broom, sweeping in a maniac frenzy, her ageing frame bending over.
Lakshamma was never impeccable in her chores---a fact that she wouldn't accept even if the evidence stared at her right in the face. There was coarseness to her shabby work, completed with hasty impatience. She was the busy-bee who always has too much to handle on her stooping shoulders and she never cared enough but to reply with a very blatant “no” if we occasionally complained about the quality of her work. Of course, her work wasn’t anything exciting, she never received promotions. Lakshamma was just the typical housemaid—tough, quick with a mercurial temper, shabby, hasty and gruff.
But nothing I’ve ever seen is more beautiful than the innocent heart of hers.
She was the somebody that had never grown out of childhood. Happily unaffected by the complex chaos that was the world, she had developed into a very pure-minded individual with clean hands. Her mind held the same childlike wonder towards the world…..although she never made any sincere attempt to learn. There would forever be that curious kid in her--- the one who looked at vehicles as marvels, and who didn’t know why aero planes flew or how many continents there were. For her, the world was just a very big puzzle not worth solving. She would admire from afar when god granted her the time. When he didn’t, she would get right back to work, following the bland routine. She would stare at walls and think deeply when we handed her the filter coffee in a steel tumbler. I often wondered what she thought about that much.
It was true life had been unfair to her. Her husband ran away, leaving her to face her world alone. She had seen hard days. And had survived through raw grit and endurance. Life had given her her blows very early and she had accepted the challenges. One thing that stood out about her personality was that she wasn’t the resigned, fatigued spirit who moaned about the injustice in her life. She was ignorant, that is true, but certainly not pessimistic although she had every reason to be. Every single day was survival for Lakshamma. And she knew that she had to work very hard to maintain a crumbling family. Burdened but never submissive to the ways of the world, she would slog under the sun, ignoring the weather. She was a fighter.
I shared my name with Lakshamma. My food. My dreams. I shared a lot. Although she gave me absolutely bizarre advises (like tattooing symbols on my forehead, for example), she sometimes slipped me snippets of her life. I found her a fascinating person to talk to. Her simplistic, honest-on-the-face and gruff habits pleased me in the weirdest of ways. And her antics were even more amusing. I had grown with the house, and Lakshamma has been part of the house ever since I can remember. She, in fact, has been part of my life ever since I can remember as well. She has seen me grow up, but she hasn’t for me. I might grow taller by the inches, but she’ll always look taller to my eyes. Somethings don’t change.
As I unveil my soul scrolls, I see that I have shared quite a bit with this woman---she’s integral to everything that defines home….she somehow has to be there in the background of any significant memory….because she’s always stayed there.
She was my first pillion rider, (that’s a story I would someday share in much more of a detail), and such an amazing flatterer. It was utter delight when I accidentally spotted her walking with those furrowed brows in Hawaii slippers down familiar streets. “There is somebody I know” I would say, if anybody asked. Doing that made me feel warm.
“Lakshamma!” I would scream, no matter if she could hear me or not. Acknowledging her presence in my world has always seemed important to me.
Ultimately, my brother’s criticisms weren’t unjust you know. She was inefficient. She was hasty. She was sometimes really stubborn. But she was also somebody who didn’t give up. She was my friend.
I don’t get to meet her often anymore. She doesn’t work for us from the time we moved here. But if I do get to spot her on the streets, I wouldn’t forget to frantically call to my first pillion rider and acknowledge her presence in my life and growing up.
And I know that she’ll turn right back to smile at me, unforrowing her brow with recognition and throw a friendly wave at me before her Hawaii slippers carry her stooping, aged figure into the streets, her mud-caked feet disappearing into the common masses.
It takes little time to get used to the faint sunlight of the early March days and the very fickle winds. But things were different in autumn before the winter had set in. Autumn’s magic had a different flavor to it. The unusual trick of the stubborn autumnal October days had been an extraordinarily inconsistency in the weather. October had pretended lovely summer with splashes of unexpected rains in between. And as I passed the same tarred parking lots that were once slippery after rainy days, I remembered a very photographic journey from 4 months ago....
It is an autumnal day that has come with the rains. I open my eyes to see the raindrops collecting on the panes, knocking invitingly. I rejoice, evasively slipping out with camera in hand. The rains persist pleasantly, and the damp earth is thriving to the rare autumnal rains—a celebration of epic proportions. A key was unlocked, and a door yanked open. A bike is pulled out enthusiastically and then the world was pulsing to my rapid rhythm. I peddle relentlessly, a lone cyclist in the deserted gloom of the wide outdoors. A panoramic view of the hills add to the experience. The same roads. The same bike. The same person. And a different world.
If there was one thing I;ll never grow tired of, it is biking in the rains. Although it is an activity I thoroughly enjoy and savor, it is like that rare treat one has to anticipate. Firstly, it doesn’t rain every day. Secondly, it is very hard to evade my very guarding parents. I have never fallen sick because of biking in the rains before, not that I am very scared of the possibility of falling ill. It is the moment that matters and to see one slip away being locked up warmly at home is absolute anguish. But today is a lucky day indeed. The knowledge smiles on my lips as I peddle away.
The maples shiver helplessly, succumbing to the mighty force of the steady rains. They litter the street side, the beautiful tawny standing out against the black of the tar. The bike skids to a halt and I crouch next to them, the rain dripping off my very long hair. Believe me, those of you who haven’t seen the beauty in the webbed vein of a maple have missed out on much. I pick a soggy one up. It clings limply to my palm. The rain is like dew, collecting in very different ways on each maple. The fearless camera finds its food. It has become a moment which has stayed picture perfect.
Further along the road, I find something curious. A rose petal is quivering tenderly as the rains splatter mercilessly. It looks like the brutal winds haven’t managed to kill the little petal yet. She is the coy pink of an early bloom, stolen by the winds and tossed unfeelingly to the ground. It is a pity she has to find an end this way. I watch her suffering, feeling delicate myself. I’m forced to leave her there, tremulous and weak under the rains. Abandoned, she cries alone under the weeping skies. I have no choice but to walk away.
The bike is wet, the hair is damp and tangled. The far side of the fence is dancing to the rain, and the heart is enthralled. The ear is enjoying a melody and the mind is awake. Wide-eyed, I gaze at the bleak horizons and the planes which are hardly visible. It feels like nature’s little secrets lie just beyond, and that I’m unable to grasp it.
As time crawls steady, the rains subside and comforting, sleepy lull descends. The thirsty ground has been fed, and is yawning loud. The dreamer in me also retires and creativity is slowing. Understanding that the euphoria is evanescing with the rains, I turn back. I return home shabby as an old dog to receive an earful for my mischief.
But the mind is elsewhere, wandering in and out of the autumnal rains, reliving.
The heat waves shiver off the tar and travel. The afternoon is still, and the sun is most impolite today. I feel his wrath on my prickly skin. The afternoon is scorching and I squint. I am most unresponsive otherwise, and quietly disregard. Although the coolness of red-oxide would feel much better on my bare feet, I choose not to move. The world inside is dark and shadowy, and has fussing adults walking around. Right here, in the wide open—absorbed in my own sleepy reverie, all is quiet, if not exciting. As the heat tickles my bare feet, and my skin starts to boil, the irritation grows. Inside my head, something else is growing. A gorgeously fantasized winter wonderland. How would it be if a beautiful, snow-covered meadow would replace this dusty street side? Within the blink of an eye, my imagination melds with reality and I perceive the street side covered to an inch thick with fresh snow. Within the next blink, the vision has evaporated, and the irritation has grown even more acute. A south Indian late summer is never the best time to start thinking about snow, but I’m too young to know that. How I wish it would have snowed right here…..
“Snow is nothing but small fluffy pieces of clouds, which are torn apart sprinkled around by playful angels,” had been the most scientific guess of a friend in response to my question of why it snowed up north at all, and it had soon become everybody else’s scientific guess when I was seven. The belief stuck, and soon, I had claimed the hypothesis as my own, confident of proving it right someday. The primary subject for the deep thinker had been things like these—and they provoked further discussions with our group of intellectual young scientists. Well, leaving that apart, the day had proven to be most unfruitful. I had wished for snow, and it hadn’t appeared, and it turned out to be another day systematically wasted in fruitless dreams.
The weekday moved on, and the ritual too, continued, as more and more of my friends shied away from the hot summers, into the curtained comfort of the sweet indoors. To lure them out into the streets became more and more of a difficult task to achieve as the days progressed, and more of the world wilted away into the dust. The frustration grew stronger, and I started wishing that the angels up in the skies would look this way too. There seemed to be a justice to my claim. Why did they always have to exist in the north? Didn’t we deserve some wonderful snow right here too? Maybe if they could tear apart some more clouds and sprinkle it down on Bangalore, I could take a day off and frolic in the fresh snow.
Or maybe if the angels granted me the power, I could be the one tearing up the clouds, or waving the magic wand. The shared yearning for something so improbable became the most central of all my desires, until I learnt to conjure snow out of useless things. I finally got to wave my magic wand. I discovered the secret formula for making it snow, even in mid-summer. And the idea soon became the biggest hit among all my friends, suddenly sky-rocketing me into instant popularity.
No snow? No problem! We could conjure them from thermo coal. Rub the thermo-coal on rough surfaces, and they would fragment so quickly into tiny pieces that floated about. When it was windy out, it would prove most effective to walk down the streets with your thermo-coal and rub it vigorously on all possible rough surfaces. Those were the best days—the days when we had plenty of discarded thermo coal in hand, and endless possibilities in the air. The noisy brood would walk about the streets bare-foot, letting the fake snow invade every nook and corner. And as the scorching summer had turned into gusty august and September days, the habit had persisted in all gusto. The small band of faithful followers would come behind me and the inventor of the fake snow would walk about the roads, announcing my triumphant victory by quick demonstrations if anyone asked.
“Rub, rub, rub,” they would scream encouraging, as the quick hands moved and they would thrill, laugh or allow the fake snow to cover their lashes. And I would grin, and laugh the afternoons off, feeling like I had accomplished something. It had been considered particularly ingenious at that point of time, and I had gleefully enjoyed all the stardom that had accompanied my accidental discovery. Together, we had made it snow like never before in Bangalore. Even though it could never mach up to the standards of experiencing snow for real, this fake snow was enough to satisfy us. If I had continued, they would have probably nicknamed me the “thermo-coal” girl, or something equally loony. Aha, if only life had such wonderful fairytale endings.
Then, the complaints had come, and they had been quite severe. The aunties with the broomsticks were annoyed. The children had created so much of debris that it was impossible to clear it all in a week, if not in a day. If you’ve ever tried to sweep at thermo-coal pieces, you will get at what I mean. The poor souls had slogged to remove all the thermo-coal off their front yards, and just when they had thought that they were done, the wind would blow all the particulate matter back to them. Every morning, they woke up to remove more and more and much more would dirty their yards every single day. It had thoroughly infuriated them, and they had caught us at the act next time, and reprimanded.
And that day, the little band had dispersed quickly and fallen apart, and the ingenious inventor had been seen as a cause of a mess so big. The aunties had suddenly changed my fate---I had gone from being the angel with her magic wand to the annoying brat. The carefully built up stardom had fragmented as fast as the frayed thermo-coal, and much had disappeared down the bend.
Although I later found other means to win back my band of friends and even coffee bites from the very same punishing aunties (courtesy of chubby cheeks), I had been disallowed from conjuring fake snow again. And although I had learnt to adapt to the scorching summers, somewhere in the back of the heart, I had felt a nagging resentment. I would never get to experience snow for real. And I was doomed to face my summers over and over again without any such grand respites. Would there ever come a day when I could walk in my winter wonderland which was very much real and not made up?
All this came back to me as I watched it snow for real this December, through my car window. I saw some very admirable things, and frolicked in the freshly gathered December snow, very much for real. I fulfilled my childhood ambition but it felt like nothing too great. And as I stared at the snow fall—cold, wet and beautiful, I thought back to my fake snow that I had conjured up just to satisfy my yearning, many summers back.
“Rub, rub, rub…..” a faint voice echoed so distantly within the dreamer’s head as I watched it snow.
This snow was beautiful, just like I had always thought it would be. But somewhere, for some inexplicable reason, it had been the Thermo-coal snow that had always been much better.
The words spinned in my head and grew more defined as I whizzed away towards another impending holiday experience. I lulled myself into a reverie, my thoughts moving without a tail, but my eyes constantly registering. As we moved, I gazed at horizons, rolling pastures, and other cars on the freeway full of cheerful holiday goers. Life felt beautiful. A nice long 6 hour drive gives you just the sort of time to reflect, relish, enjoy and just be yourself.
The skies were a rich purple as evening neared. And my world changed. Snowflakes gently descended, breathtakingly beautiful and soft. It was the sort of nameless, silent invitation into all that was going to occupy my next three days. I squeaked and clung to my frosty window now gathering the flakes. I traced my little masterpiece on the window, in childish delight. The exact happiness that accompanied that moment of simple joy cannot be explained. It was nearing night and the city lights glimmered in the far distance, a connected network of neon blues and fiery reds sitting snug amongst all the snow. I reflected endlessly on how civilizations and nature can live in this harmonious co-existence. In the darkness, the fresh white of snow was piercing my eyes. Yes, I was about to walk in my winter wonderland….there was something about the way that snow was quietly gathering that made me clear the moisture on my frosty window again and again for better views…..and Taylor Swift screamed my classic country favorites from my i-pod:
“A don’t think that the passenger seat has ever looked this good to me….”
I agreed with her, in between flickering lights and racing shadows, whirling colours, and late night snow.