Thursday, August 30, 2012

The coconut tree and the people of Kerala

There is this coconut tree somewhere in the dense mythical realm of Kerala - every Malayali knows it exists, but no one has seen it, no one knows where it actually is. Every Malayali speaks about it, every Malayali knows the man who climbs it, every Malayali also knows that the man springs up the tree for the flimsiest of reasons, but no Malayali can recall the story behind it.

For the sake of each Malayali on Earth, the man clambers up the tree and stays there, sometimes frequently, sometimes rarely, and for every single Malayali he has stayed atop the tree at least once.

If you are a Malayali, you know by now that the name of the coconut-tree-climber is Sankaran, and that his job is to climb up the tree whenever a Malayali finds himself or herself back to square one.

One of these days I will cut down that darn coconut tree.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Everything we do has a purpose

... We may not see it immediately, perhaps, but some time. Sooner or later. For sure.

A couple of days ago, I was helping a colleague understand how Google Analytics works; she wanted to analyse the hits and visitor data at the website. After I lectured for about ten or fifteen minutes, she asked, "How do you know this? What made you spend so much time on understanding Google Analytics??"

I told her about my blog, this blog: the beginning years, when the only hits came from visitors who strayed in from Google looking for something else, and leaving quickly because this was not what they wanted. And some, staying a little and reading a little and leaving - or not - comments behind.

I told her about the hours I spent daily on this, following an isolated guest back to where he came from, to his country, to his state, to his city... wondering, and trying to find what brought him here. And a flicker of delight when I noticed that a visitor has returned.

She remarked at the end of this flash-back: "It's good that you once did all those exercises; today they have come in quite handy for us."

Yes indeed, all exercises we do, though they seem like a waste of time today - evoking snide, nasty comments from people ("Vere pani onnum ille? Have you nothing better to do?") - would eventually become useful tools, to us or to others, some day... The lessons we learn today - without even realising that they were lessons - are stepping stones that shape our future.

Everything we do has a purpose, a meaning, a reason. As long as we believe in it, even if it is as small as fiddling with Google Analytics...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Midnight's Children

At the very outset, I have not read The Satanic Verses. I plan to, but given the fact that the book is banned in India, it may not be easy.

After years of hearing about the Rushdie controversy (which has a habit of popping back up every couple of years or so) I finally decided - and I do not know what finally clinched the decision - that I wanted to read his books, at least one. In fact, now I wonder why all these years I never thought about reading them, even the ones that are not banned.

I cannot now recollect what I was prepared for when I started Midnight's Children. I surely had some kind of expectation about it. But one week and 647 pages and 60+ years of Indian History later, my original expectations are as blurred as (perhaps) the memories of my infancy.

The book gives us a glimpse into what the Satanic Verses could hold: even if I do not know what "religion-bashing" (to use the phrase a friend employed to explain why the book is banned) could be contained in it, I could form a fair idea from Midnight's Children. I could perceive who could be offended and why. But I do not want to venture into it: religion after all is a dicey topic, and the Who-talks-about-it part is more important than the What-they-said.

But by God - forget what the plot is about, forget what the author tries to convey about history, geography, politics, mythology or religion (oh, yes one could take offence all over the place) - what totally blew me over was his style: I didn't know you could write like that! The book defies every (almost) writing rule I have come across, and yet stands firm on its feet. It left me reeling in its wake.
How can you have the first person (I) and third person (he/she) narrative in the same sentence, referring to the same person - for that's how the narrator, Saleem Sinai, tells us his tale: going back and forth from first to third, and the reader does not even notice when the 'I' became a 'he', and then became 'Saleem' and again back to 'I'.
And, man, where are the commas, why are they not where they should be? And why is it that I did not even feel odd (after the first such occurrence) that they are not there?
And when did Saleem switch from past tense to present, even while describing the same scene, from the Bombay (or Karachi or Kashmir) of years ago?
What about  repeated statements, wandering phrases, incomplete sentences that begin and end in thought-provoking dots... words tumbling and cascading over each other in their mad rush.
And so forth.

The first page of the book left me raising my eyebrows, which could mean anything: I was surprised, but was curious to read more, and a little wary (after all, the author is banned in several countries), perhaps sceptical as well. But after page 4 or 5, I caught myself gaping, astounded that such writing was possible, that it was allowed.
And a little disheartened that I would try to call myself a writer in a world where such writers exist.

Enjoying a book is all about deciding what you care about - the literature, plot, characters, theme, premise, backdrop? What captures your attention inevitably stems from who you are, what you are,where you come from, how you see life, what you expect of yourself. Right after I turned the last page of Midnight's Children, I took up another book by a good (perhaps, brilliant) author, but the first couple of pages seemed too plain, linear, ordinary, lifeless, that I put it back. I need more time to get past the hangover. I post this before I have second thoughts, Time always dims our first impression and tries to force its own convictions on us.

Students of literature may claim that similar writing styles have been experimented with by others before or after - I do not know. I haven't come across any. And, as I write this, I am still in a state of shocked disbelief.

I will just say this: after reading 647 pages of Saleem Sinai, my writing can never be the same again.

Monday, August 20, 2012

We leave so much to Faith

It's alarming how little attention we give to the safety measures in life. And I am not talking about the government or others in responsible positions, though they are included as well. I mean each one of us. We know things happen, we read about them daily, yet we have this strange and unreasonable faith that nothing of the kind will happen to us.

On our way to the hospital one day, we saw a truck ahead of us that was tightly packed with concrete bricks. It was easily slipping in and out of traffic. My first thought was, what if the driver hit the brakes suddenly or something happened to dislocate the bricks, they would fly off the truck and crash on to the rest of us right behind it. When I made this statement, my husband said, "No, nothing of that kind will happen. There is no danger."

I said, How do we know? We believe the bricks must be carefully packed, and nothing will throw them off the truck. And that the driver will be careful. I knew I sounded paranoid, and it was no doubt from reading the newspaper too much.

The discussion did not go any further till we reached the hospital where I happened to pick up the day's newspaper. In page 2 there was a news of a building collapse, and the sub heading: "Builders ignored safety regulations..." which led to the collapse. Everyone involved must have assumed that others will take care of it so that no accident will happen. Yet it did happen.

When we eat shawarma from hotels we really don't expect to die within a few hours, do we? Nor do we expect to land up in hospital with severe poisoning after a chicken biriyani. Yet these things happen, and we continue to eat those. We easily use products beyond expiry date saying "Oh, it's fine... just a day or two won't do any harm." Not to mention the compromises we (are forced to) make on matters of hygiene.

We see school bus drivers overspeeding on the roads and the best we could do is place our hand on our hearts and say, "God, please keep those children and others on the road safe." We read of train and bus accidents, yet we continue to travel hoping that someone will be more careful this time.

We believe someone else will be careful so that the rest of us are safe. And yet so many accidents happen because of neglect and carelessness. Because no one gives a damn about what happens to others. We leave so much to Faith.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Somewhere a dream has fallen...

Somewhere a dream has fallen
And melted into dew...
Somewhere a pair of gentle eyes
Has picked it up for you.

The morning mist has cleared,
The sky is golden hue;
The day holds forth promises
Of a miracle overdue.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

You'd better be running. Or should you?

Once, not so long ago, I had this text pinned near my work station. My gaze would fall on it when I sat down to work in the morning, and when I got up to get my tea or to leave for home in the evening.
It inspired me more than anything else.

But now, I beg to differ.
Running is not for me.
Running is for lions and gazelles. Or maybe for Usain Bolt. And others whose survival depends on their speed.

For me, it is Persistence.
Persistence sprinkled with luxuries like afternoon naps, stops to smell the roses, getting drenched in the rain, taking evening walks,...
And then getting back to work.
It's about getting depressed once in a while. Getting mad at the world. Feeling pleased about a small encouraging email. Or sharing a laugh with a close friend. Or making plans that would never happen. Dreaming about getting even with others.
And then getting back to work.
It's about taking a break from work one day because I am tired. Or lazy. Or because I just don't feel like working.
And then that day will pass and I will get back to work.
It's about attending to chores in the house - grumbling. Swearing out loud when I can't take it anymore. Hugging my son just the way he likes to be hugged.
And then getting back to work.
Slow, perhaps, but steady.

For me there is no running. And no prize that comes with the race.
But there is persistence.
Because I have dreams, too. And the wish to make them come true.
I don't want to race after my dreams.
Because I know, if I am persistent enough, they will wait for me to catch up.