Monday, December 12, 2016

Solitude, or the absence thereof

When was the last time you sat down, alone, without any gadget in hand, without a TV or laptop before you, just staring out into the distance, eyes unfocussed, mind unoccupied, oblivious of time?
When was the last time you did nothing for hours?

Remember those idlers by the roadside, hanging out, chatting, passing remarks at the passers by and laughing? Well, they are extinct - or on the verge of being so. Look around - at the corner of the road, near the tea shop, beneath the tree, by the isolated park bench. They're there all right, but they are all gazing at their handsets, huddled together or alone. They're sharing jokes through their phones, they're listening to songs, they're laughing.

So what, you ask. You're a true child of the age. What's with the idle mind, the silence, the gazing into nothingness? What am I talking about?
Does anyone remember solitude in its raw, original form?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Why I'm tired of working from home

Believe me, working from home is the best thing that can happen to anyone. You don’t have to expose yourself to the mad traffic, the sweltering heat or the inconsiderate humans on the road.

But I am not talking about those who choose to work a few days from home and a few days from office. I am talking about some of us who work solely from home, day in, day out. I’m talking about me.

I need not get dressed or wash up in the morning. I can work in any shabby outfit, hair unkempt, seated in my favourite corner of the house. When I’m bored, I can go sit in another corner of the house – just for the heck of it. I can sleep at 11 a.m., just because I am sleepy, and sit through the night with my work. I can re-organise my work so as to catch a favourite movie in television, and work during the commercial breaks. I can have my food in front of the television or the balcony looking at my plants if I wish, and if I decide to skip meals, I can do that too. I am my own boss, and no one can demand anything of me. No one sees, and no one cares.

If it is so great to work from home, why do I say I am tired of it?

I have been working from home for seven years now. I will give you a moment to heave a sigh and let that sink in. Seven years – in which I have been pretty much confined to home. As a mother, it is a great thing. I can see my son off to school, and I am at home to receive him. I don’t have to plan my “household chores” (that lovely name for a load of tiresome daily tasks) around my working hours. I don’t have to ask my maid to come before I left for office or after I return. She can come at any time because I am “always home”.

All that sounds perfect until you actually try it, and allow seven years to pass.

The household chores can be done at any time, which means that half an hour into my work, I remember that laundry needs to be done. Oh! The plants have not been watered either. There is no rush whatsoever; everything can happen in slow motion. Once I get the laundry and plants out of my way and settle back to work, the maid comes to clean the house and her walking around the place distracts me. By the time she leaves I need to prepare lunch – which is when I remember that I have not eaten my breakfast. Have you any idea how much time we waste daily for food – the preparing and the partaking of it? If we could just walk around with an IV line attached to us for nutrition, we would save so much of our time.

In other words, finding a couple of hours of uninterrupted work is a challenge.

Everyone assumes that I am at home so I must be available. I get calls at any time during the day from people who just decide that they need to chat. When I used to work in an office, people would call only in an emergency and would cautiously ask, “Can I talk to you for a moment? Are you in a meeting?” Or at least they would think twice before calling. Not now. Some people just call and start talking. How many times can I tell them I need to get back to work without sounding arrogant? I once told a person I have a meeting (I meant a conference call over Skype) and the response was like “oh, you’re just making that up.” Whatever you think, my friend, whatever you think.

“You can drop in at any time; she is always at home.” I hear that so frequently about me. Some people think me claiming to work is cute. As though their work is real, mine is not. No sir, I am at work. My time is precious too. I need to work eight or ten hours a day too. I get paid for it, contrary to what you may think. I like it that you all can count on me, but don’t take me for granted. I may be at home, but I am not always available. I may choose my working hours, but that is my choice, not yours.

If I wanted to add a touch of sexism to this, I would comment that men working from home may not face this much of interruption or distraction. “Oh, he is busy; don’t disturb him.” I have heard that as well, oh-so-many times.

Someone (a very busy professional) I meet at least twice a year asks me every time, “So, what do you do all day?” “I work.” “Oh! You work?” Again, the next year, “So. Don’t you get bored sitting at home all day?” “Err… no, I am busy with work.” “Oh! You mean you have to work all day?” The year after that, “I can’t imagine being a housewife like you and doing only household chores. I would be so bored.” “Yeah, well, I do have my work to keep busy.” “Oh! Indeed? You get work daily?”

Then there are the sympathies. Oh, the sympathies just kill me. The sympathies of the sympathisers and the advices of the advisors. It's all I can do not to turn into a defensive, fierce, fearsome, ferocious tiger. I am happy, dammit! Eleanor Roosevelt apparently said that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Madam, you have no idea. I don’t know where you came from, or what you had experienced, but there is a limit to the amount of slander you can take from the people around you. After one point, you stop resisting. You start wondering if what they say is true. Then you struggle to convince yourself that they don’t know anything about you. You begin to distance yourself from them, because that is the only way you can hold on to your peace. What you don’t hear doesn’t hurt you. When you decide to distance yourself from certain people, you avoid opportunities to meet people. This is a vicious circle. You’re back in your prison.

Now that everything gets delivered to my door, I don’t need to go out at all. Which means I need a real, solid reason to get out the door. Soon I will become like Jodie Foster in Nim’s Island, an Agoraphobic writer. She is afraid even to open her door or step outside. She goes through a severe panic attack when she needs to open the door to get her mail. Yes, that bad. And that day is not far in my life; I can already spot it in my horizon.

This all sounds very twisted, I know, because who is stopping me from changing my dress and walking out and going shopping or meeting friends or something? The answer is Me. I am stopping myself from doing these. Because, of course I have work to do. There is always pending work from yesterday. There is that damn novel I have been clawing at for two years. Which are just excuses, as everyone knows. My life is more or less confined to the rooms in this house. I talk to the furniture and the plates and my plants, for God’s sake. This is a weird kind of self-imposed imprisonment.

Having said all this, I do know that people working from office have their own share of problems too. After all, I did work from an office once, and I should know. Many of my friends yearn to abandon their offices and work from home. They ask me if I know of any opportunities. It is a grass-is-always-greener-elsewhere world.

Every time I tell myself, working from home is the best thing for me. And I keep quiet. One must not tempt fate by declarations that have the potential to make matters worse. But seven years is a long time, I say. If you haven’t been here, of course you wouldn’t understand.

And that’s why I hate working from home, as much as I love working from home.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Experiencing the extremes

Everyone should experience poverty at least once in a lifetime, if you ask me. Not the extreme kind, necessarily, like sitting on the pavement having to beg for every rupee, enduring the sympathetic and hateful glances of the passers-by, though that would be ideal. Also not like old Bruce Wayne who goes underground to "understand" his people's suffering. That is no real experience, when you know that Wayne Enterprises is just where you had left it, right around the corner, waiting for you to shed your rags and walk in.

No, I am talking about the kind where you have barely enough to survive, month after month, week after week, day after disappointing day. You worry about where the next rupee is coming from. It will come eventually, trickling down a drop at a time, but by then you are panicked out of existence. You live on that meagre amount arriving on the first week of every month, which seems to leave your hand the moment you touch it. Twelve or fifteen days left in the month, and you are broke already. How do you cross that wide a chasm?

You learn to ponder over every rupee before spending. Do I really need to buy this? You argue with the man who buys old newspapers - you ask him for one rupee more than he is offering per kilo. If he agrees, you get about fifteen or twenty rupees more. You calculate in your mind that it will get you some onions or potatoes for two days. And you are happy - exhilarated, even - that you gleaned twenty rupees from the poor man.

You go to a supermarket and you comb the items you want back and forth, back and forth, to find the cheapest of the lot that will last the longest time. Sometimes by the time you are done, you decide that you don't really 'need' it, and that you could go one more month without it. All the while pretending to others that you aren't trying to save money.

When the shopkeeper gives you the balance of five rupees, you receive it and check, pretending to have forgotten that in your better days you used to generously let him "keep the change."

You see the poor cripple by the roadside, you decide to part with the five rupees you had just saved, and you sigh.

You don't dream about pizza. When you're starving and tasty cheesy pizza bursts into your thoughts, you tell yourself it's a luxury you don't really need, and a banana will satisfy your hunger, and that you will save a bit so that six months later, you can afford a regular size pizza. I'll get there, dontcha worry, you tell your hungry self.

You love your job but lately you are not happy with your pay which has reduced you to this state, and your dissatisfaction affects your performance. Or, you hate your job that doesn't even pay you what you deserve, but you're afraid to quit lest you should remain unemployed for a long time.

And imagine this, for a long, uncertain period of time. That is important. If there is an end in sight, it doesn't become an ordeal. You must hit the rock bottom, so to speak.

Why do I insist everyone must experience it?

Probably because it breaks my heart when I hear someone say that "I buy only expensive ones of the best quality which actually lasts for a long time," or "I bought something extra, just in case."And they are not talking about groceries or basic necessities, they are talking about luxuries.

They don't know. They haven't been there. They don't know such a world exists. It's right next to them. They don't see it. They don't know what they are missing. That's why it's important.

Once you have touched that rock, and surfaced - as hopefully everyone will - one of two things could happen. Either you would forever become careful about every paisa you spend, or you would start throwing money on unnecessary luxuries to make up for that long, unforgettable spell of poverty.

Everyone must also be allowed to experience a period of lavishness where they get to stop worrying about money, spend it on what they want, when they want, how they want, and so forth. Maybe an all-expenses paid sight-seeing trip to Europe or Africa.

Sadly, life isn't made that way. Most of us are stuck in one side or the other, and our journey takes us a little this way or that, and comes to rest in a place we are familiar with.

Unless we get to experience the two extremes,is life even worth living?

To my friends and family who are wondering: Don't.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

തലവേദന, തല പൊട്ടും പോലെ...

ഒരു തലവേദനയ്ക്കു വേണ്ടി മോഹിക്കുന്ന ഒരു കാലം വന്നു ചേരുമെന്ന് ഒരിക്കലും ഞാന്‍ പ്രതീക്ഷിച്ചിരുന്നില്ല. എന്നാല്‍ അങ്ങനെയും ഒരു സുദിനം വന്നെത്തി.

പൊതുവേ, മൈഗ്രെയിനിന്‍റെ സൈക്കൊസിസില്‍ നിന്നു തുടങ്ങി നാഗവല്ലിയില്‍ എത്തി നില്‍ക്കുന്ന ഭയാനകരൂപിയായ തലവേദനയാല്‍ അനുഗ്രഹീതമാണ് എന്‍റെ കുടുംബം.

അയലത്തെ പറമ്പില്‍ കൂടി തലവേദന ഓട്ടോ പിടിച്ചു പോകുന്നു എന്നു കേട്ടാല്‍ കട്ടിലിന്‍റെ കീഴില്‍ അഭയം പ്രാപിക്കാന്‍ താല്പര്യം കാണിക്കുകയും അതില്‍ അഭിമാനം കൊള്ളുകയും ചെയ്യുന്ന ഒരു കുടുംബം.

അങ്ങനെയുള്ളപ്പോള്‍ തലവേദന വേണമെന്നും മറ്റുമുള്ള തലതിരിഞ്ഞ ആഗ്രഹങ്ങള്‍ എങ്ങനെ?

സംശയം സ്വാഭാവികം.

എന്നെ ഉള്‍പ്പെടുത്തി, എന്നാല്‍ എന്നോട് അഭിപ്രായം ചോദിക്കാതെ, എനിക്കു താല്പര്യമില്ലാത്ത ഒരു പരിപാടി കുറെപേര്‍ കൂടി പ്ലാന്‍ ചെയ്തതാണ് കാരണം. എന്നെ കുറ്റം പറഞ്ഞിട്ടു കാര്യമുണ്ടോ?

എന്നാല്‍ തലവേദന എന്നോ മറ്റെന്തെങ്കിലുമോ ഒരു നുണ പറഞ്ഞു രക്ഷപ്പെട്ടു കൂടായിരുന്നോ എന്നു നിങ്ങള്‍ ചോദിക്കും. അല്ലെങ്കില്‍ ‘എനിക്കു താല്പര്യമില്ല’ എന്ന ദുഃഖസത്യം തുറന്നു സമ്മതിച്ചു പിന്‍മാറിക്കൂടെ?

ആവശ്യം ഉള്ളിടത്തും ഇല്ലാത്തിടത്തും 'നോ' പറയണം എന്നു പ്രസ്താവിക്കുന്ന ഒരു സമൂഹമല്ലേ ഇന്നു നമ്മുടേത്? പിന്നെന്താ നോ പറയാന്‍ ഇത്ര സഭാകമ്പം??

ഉത്തരം എളുപ്പമാണ്.

വെറുതെ നുണ പറയുന്നതില്‍ എനിക്കു തീരെ താല്പര്യമില്ല.. ശരിക്കുള്ള ഒരു തലവേദനയുണ്ടെങ്കില്‍ സത്യസന്ധമായി നുണ പറയാമല്ലോ – തലവേദന കാരണമാണ് വരാന്‍ കഴിയാത്തത് എന്ന്. സായിപ്പ് പറഞ്ഞതു പോലെ... ലൈഫ് ഈസ്‌ കോംപ്ലിക്കേറ്റഡ്...

പിന്നെ, നോ പറയല്‍ അത്ര എളുപ്പമുള്ള കാര്യമല്ല എന്നു നമുക്കെല്ലാം നന്നായി അറിയാം. "നമുക്ക് അരി മേടിച്ചു തരുന്നത്" ഇവരാരും അല്ല എങ്കിലും... പലരെയും ചൊടിപ്പിക്കാതെ ജീവിക്കുക എന്നത് നമ്മുടെ ഒക്കെ ഒരു ആവശ്യമത്രേ...

ഇങ്ങനെയൊക്കെ ആണെങ്കിലും, ഉല്‍കണ്‌ഠയോടെ കാത്തിരുന്ന ആ പരിപാടി അത്ര മോശമായിരുന്നില്ല എന്നതാണ് സത്യം. മലപോലെ വന്നത്... അതങ്ങനെയാണല്ലോ. നമ്മുടെ ഭയമാണെപ്പോഴും യഥാര്‍ത്ഥ്യത്തെക്കാള്‍ പതിന്മടങ്ങ്‌ ഭീകരം. ഒരു വിധത്തില്‍ അതു തീര്‍ന്നു കിട്ടി എന്ന സമാധാനത്തില്‍ ഇരിക്കുമ്പോള്‍ പിറ്റേ ദിവസം ദാ വന്നെത്തി... ആറ്റുനോറ്റിരുന്ന ആ തലവേദന... വിത്ത്‌ അപ്പോളജി:

സോറി ഫോര്‍ ദ ഡിലേ...

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Hope is a Sunrise

I am perpetually amazed at how Hope works. It appears in the form of the tiniest spark - say, a one percent chance of something happening - which you try to extinguish with every possible tool you can find, but it persists, determined to catch your eye, and gently it begins to light up the darkest space in your mind until that burning ember is all you can see. A person who has been stewing in frustration and misery and depression for a long time; a person who has forgotten how it is like to be on the upside; a person who thought nothing good is ever going to happen to him again; begins to feel the glow. The almost invisible spot of light at the corner spreads, warming him, lighting him, until it floods his mind, until he forgets the darkness that had always been a quintessential part of him, as though his misery had never existed.

Hope sets you on fire - even when in your heart, you know it might come to nothing.

As long as you have something to look forward to, today, tomorrow, the next week, the next year, there is Hope.

And as long as there is Hope, there is tomorrow.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Why can't you stay at home?

The highway was more or less clear of traffic. A few two-wheelers darted here and there as though they were in a video game. From his elevated seat, the driver could see far ahead. Someone was crossing the road. But they would be gone by the time he reached. He shot ahead. He could win this video game.

The old couple was crossing the road, slowly, carefully, taking one step at a time. The woman, her back bent, her eyes failing in the brightness of the day, her body responding too slowly to her will, looked to her right. A huge lorry hurtling towards you on the highway is one of the most terrifying sights. She froze, grabbed her husband's hand tight and stared.

"Walk on, walk on," said her husband, pulling her forward. A few scooters and autos sped past them through either side.

The lorry driver groaned and hit the brakes. The vehicle came to a stop a few feet away from the still gaping old woman. She looked up at the driver and in her eyes he saw plain terror. "Why can't you just stay at home?" muttered the thirty-ish driver under his breath.

She saw his lips move and she knew what he thought.

The husband dragged her forward and they slowly crossed to the other side.

The driver let out a sigh and released the brakes. His own old age was too far away and remote, but he did wonder if he would be bent and slow and frightened as the old woman.

Where was she going, anyway? If she can't walk, she should have stayed at home. Probably going to the doctor or to get some medicine. Who knows what was in store for him some day? He forgot about them soon.

But the old couple weren't going to see the doctor or to get some blood test done or to buy medicines. Not today. Today, they were going to the restaurant across the road, owned by Tamilians, to eat masala dosa. No one can make masala dosa like the Tamilians, she always said. For that matter, no one can make lemon rice or curd rice like the Tamilians, she added, but I am not particularly fond of those. I am a fan of their masala dosa.

I will bring you a parcel, her husband had said.

You always do that, she replied, but today I want to go there. It's been a long time since I went out. I want to see the road and the people. I want to sit there, drink the hot tea, hear the chatter and smell the smells - even a nauseating mixture of sweat and cooking oil and many other things. I don't want to sit at home and be safe. And dosa wrapped in a parcel does not taste half as good as dosa freshly served. Her mind was still eager for adventure though her body wasn't.

They sat in the hotel for a long time. She ate hot masala dosa and vada, and had tea. Life around her moved swiftly, with people occupying and vacating seats, someone yelling across the hall, waiters rushing back and forth, plates clanging in the kitchen. Before retirement, her life was like that too. Speed defined her days. She had been the one rushing back and forth, yelling at someone, and clanging plates in the kitchen. But now she had the luxury of stopping and enjoying the sights, being a part of it, even when she was not a part of it.

The world may have turned its back on her, but she had not turned her back on it. The world may try to confine her to her house and scare her into obeying the 'rules' but she would break free, in small ways, whenever she could, if only for a few stolen moments of happiness.

When they came out, she held her husband's hand as they came down the steps one at a time. An auto driver stepped forward. Can I drop you home? he asked.

I will walk, she said to him with a smile. Now she had the time to stop and acknowledge the gentleness in his voice. He wasn't looking for fare, he was genuinely interested to help. She was in no hurry. She did not have to say 'No' and run any more. Life was slow and precious, and every moment counted.

She looked up at her husband for approval. Can we walk?

He nodded. The auto driver held her hand and helped her cross the road. When he saw a vehicle approach from the distance he raised his hand to stop it. The car and the scooters stopped as the couple crossed the road, slowly, carefully, on their way back home.

Monday, September 12, 2016

ഒരു കന്നഡ ടാക്സി യാത്ര

ബാംഗ്ലൂരില്‍ താമസം തുടങ്ങിയിട്ട് തുമ്പ കാലമായെങ്കിലും കന്നഡ മാതാടുന്ന കാര്യത്തില്‍ വളരെ പുറകിലാണ് ഞാന്‍. ഇവിടെ മിക്കവാറും പേര്‍ക്കു ഹിന്ദിയും ഇംഗ്ലീഷും മനസ്സിലാവും എന്നതു കൊണ്ട് കാര്യങ്ങള്‍ എളുപ്പത്തില്‍ നടക്കും. അതുമല്ലെങ്കില്‍ നമ്മള്‍ ചെന്നു കേറുന്ന സൂപ്പര്‍ മാര്‍ക്കറ്റ്‌ ഒരു മലയാളിയുടെതാകാന്‍ സാധ്യത വളരെ കൂടുതലുമാണ്.

കഴിഞ്ഞ ദിവസം അവിടവിടെ തട്ടിമുട്ടി കുറച്ചു വാക്കുകള്‍ എടുത്തു കാച്ചുന്നതു കണ്ട എന്‍റെ സുഹൃത്ത് (ആന്ധ്രാക്കാരി) “ജീനയ്ക്ക് കന്നഡ അറിയാമല്ലേ?” എന്നു ചോദിച്ചപ്പോള്‍ നന്നായി സുഖിച്ചു. എങ്കിലും കുറ്റം സമ്മതിച്ചു: “ഒരു പത്തോ പതിനഞ്ചോ വാക്ക് അറിയാം. അതു വച്ച് ഒപ്പിക്കാവുന്നത് ഒപ്പിക്കും. സ്റ്റോക്ക് തീര്‍ന്നു കഴിയുമ്പോ ഏറ്റവും അടുത്തുള്ള മറുഭാഷയിലേക്ക് ചാടും.”

കന്നടയിലും ലാലേട്ടന്‍റെ ഹിന്ദി പോലെ പാളം തെറ്റാന്‍ തക്കത്തിന് കുറെ ഗ്രാമര്‍ ഉണ്ട്. അതു കൊണ്ടു തന്നെ എന്‍റെ കന്നഡ പ്രയോഗം തുടങ്ങി ഏതാനും നിമിഷങ്ങള്‍ക്കിടയില്‍ ഇങ്ങോട്ടു ചോദ്യം വരും: “മാഡം ഹിന്ദിയാണോ?”

മുഖത്തെ മഞ്ഞളിപ്പ് മറച്ചു വച്ച് അന്തസ്സായി പറയും, “അല്ല, മലയാളം.”

കഴിഞ്ഞ ദിവസം സിറ്റിയിലേക്ക് പോകാന്‍ ടാക്സി വിളിച്ചു. സുമുഖനും പ്രസന്നവദനനും, അതിനു ചേര്‍ന്ന പേരിന്‍റെ ഉടമസ്ഥനുമായ ഒരു ചെറുപ്പക്കാരന്‍ ഒരു വെളുത്ത കാറുമായി എത്തി.

രാവിലെയായതു കൊണ്ട് ട്രാഫിക്ക് ഉണ്ടോ എന്നു കന്നഡത്തില്‍ ചോദിച്ചു. അറിയില്ല, ഞാന്‍ വീട്ടില്‍ നിന്ന് നേരിട്ട് വരികയാണ്, വീട് ഇവിടെ അടുത്തു തന്നെയാണ്, എന്നു മറുപടിയും കിട്ടി. ആദ്യത്തെ പ്രശ്നോത്തരി പാസായതു കൊണ്ട് ഞാന്‍ ധൈര്യം സംഭരിച്ച് ട്രാഫിക്കിനെ പറ്റി ഒന്നു രണ്ട് അഭിപ്രായങ്ങള്‍ നിരത്തി. ഉടന്‍ തന്നെ “മാഡം ഹിന്ദിയാണോ”, “അല്ല മലയാളം” എന്ന സ്ഥിരം ഡയലോഗ് ഞങ്ങള്‍ കൈമാറി.

ഒരല്പം ചമ്മിയെങ്കിലും വിട്ടു കൊടുത്തില്ല. കൈയിലുള്ള പത്തു വാക്കും എടുത്തു പയറ്റി. പിന്നെ കുറെ നേരം ഫോണില്‍ നോക്കിയിരുന്നു. മുക്കാല്‍ മണിക്കൂറെടുക്കും എത്തേണ്ടിടത്ത് എത്താന്‍. അതു വരെ ഈ പത്തു വാക്കുകള്‍ കൊരുത്ത് പ്രയത്നിക്കാന്‍ കെല്‍പ്പില്ല.

അയാള്‍ ഇടയ്ക്കിടെ എന്തൊക്കെയോ പറഞ്ഞു. കണ്ണാടിയില്‍ കൂടെ എന്‍റെ റിയാക്ഷന്‍ നോക്കി. അയാള്‍ ചിരിച്ചപ്പോള്‍ ഞാനും ചിരിച്ചു. ഇടയ്ക്കു തലയാട്ടി. ഇടയ്ക്കു “ഹാവ്ദാ?” എന്ന് ആശ്ചര്യത്തോടെ ചോദിച്ചു. ദൂരെ പാലം കടന്നു നീളുന്ന ട്രാഫിക്ക് നോക്കി അയാളെന്തോ പറഞ്ഞപ്പോള്‍ ഞാനും ‘ശോ, എന്തൊരു ട്രാഫിക്ക്’ എന്ന അര്‍ത്ഥത്തില്‍ തല കുലുക്കി. അടുത്തു കൂടെ കടന്നു പോയ വിലകൂടിയ വണ്ടി ചൂണ്ടി കാണിച്ചിട്ട് അയാള്‍ പറഞ്ഞു, എല്ലാര്‍ക്കും ജാഗ്വാറും ബി.എം.ഡബ്ല്യുവും വേണം, റോഡിലാണെങ്കില്‍ സ്ഥലവുമില്ല. അങ്ങനെ തന്നെയാണോ പറഞ്ഞത് എന്നെനിക്ക് യാതൊരു ഉറപ്പുമില്ല, പക്ഷേ അതു പോലെയൊക്കെ തന്നെ തോന്നിയതു കൊണ്ട് ഞാനും നീട്ടി മൂളി.

കുറച്ചു ദൂരം കഴിഞ്ഞപ്പോള്‍ പ്രസന്നവദനന്‍ കണ്ണാടിയില്‍ നോക്കി എന്തോ പറഞ്ഞിട്ട് ചിരിച്ചു. ഞാനും അങ്ങോട്ട്‌ നോക്കി നല്ലവണ്ണം ചിരിച്ചു കഴിഞ്ഞപ്പോള്‍ എനിക്കൊരു ചിന്ന ഡൗട്ട്.

“കുറെ നേരമായല്ലോ ഞാന്‍ പറയുന്നതും കേട്ടിരിക്കുന്നു. ഒരു വസ്തു മനസ്സിലാകുന്നില്ലെങ്കിലും തല കുലുക്കി ഇരിക്കുവാ അല്ലെ” എന്നായിരിക്കുമോ അയാള്‍ പറഞ്ഞത്? അതിനും ഞാന്‍ നല്ലവണ്ണം തല കുലുക്കി ചിരിച്ചു കൊടുത്തിട്ടുണ്ട്.

പിന്നെ കൂടുതല്‍ നാണം കെടാതെയിരിക്കാന്‍ ഫോണില്‍ സഹപ്രവര്‍ത്തകനെ വിളിച്ച് ഒന്ന് രണ്ടു കാര്യങ്ങള്‍ മലയാളത്തില്‍ ചോദിച്ചു. പിന്നെ ഫോണില്‍ നിന്ന് തലയുയര്‍ത്താതെ ഇരുന്നു. വാട്ട്സ് ആപ്പില്‍ പോലും ഒരു മനുഷ്യന്‍ മിണ്ടുന്നില്ല. എന്നാലും അതും നോക്കി മുകളിലേക്കും താഴേക്കും സ്ക്രോള്‍ ചെയ്തു കൊണ്ടിരുന്നു. എനിക്ക് ഒരുപാടു പണിയുണ്ട് എന്നു തോന്നിക്കാന്‍ മുഖത്ത് ഗൗരവഭാവം വരുത്തി. പുറത്തേക്കു നോക്കി ആലോചനയില്‍ മുഴുകി.

ബാംഗ്ലൂരില്‍ സ്ഥിരതാമസമാക്കുന്നതിനും എട്ടോ പത്തോ വര്‍ഷം മുന്‍പ് ഉഡുപ്പിയില്‍ കുറച്ചു നാള്‍ താമസിക്കാനിടയായിരുന്നു. ഒരു ദിവസം മുടി വെട്ടാമെന്നു കരുതി ഒരു പാര്‍ലറില്‍ കയറി. പെട്ടെന്നു തീരുമാനിച്ചതായതു കൊണ്ട് തലയിലെ എണ്ണമയം കഴുകി കളഞ്ഞിട്ടില്ലായിരുന്നു.

ചീകി തുടങ്ങിയതും മുടി വെട്ടുന്ന പെണ്‍കുട്ടി എന്തോ എന്നോടു പറഞ്ഞു തുടങ്ങി. കന്നഡയില്‍ എനിക്ക് അക്കാലത്ത് ആകെ അറിയാവുന്ന വാക്ക് ‘ഉഡുപ്പി’. മുടിയെ കുറിച്ചാണ് ഇവര്‍ പറയുന്നത് എന്നു മാത്രം മനസ്സിലായി. ഞാന്‍ മുന്‍പിലുള്ള കണ്ണാടിയിലൂടെ അവരെ തന്നെ തുറിച്ചു നോക്കി. എന്‍റെ മുഖം കണ്ടാല്‍ ആര്‍ക്കും മനസ്സിലാകും ഞാന്‍ ‘കുന്തം വിഴുങ്ങി’ ഇരിക്കുകയാണെന്ന്. പക്ഷേ ഈ കുട്ടിയാണെങ്കില്‍ എന്നെ നോക്കുന്നതേയില്ല. കുറെ നേരം എന്നെ ഉപദേശിച്ചു. “എനിക്കൊന്നും മനസ്സിലാകുന്നില്ല” എന്നു പറയാന്‍ പോലും ആ പെണ്‍കുട്ടി എനിക്ക് ഒരു ഗ്യാപ്പ് തന്നില്ല. അവസാനം ഒരു വിധത്തില്‍ മുടി വെട്ടി തീര്‍ന്നു. പൈസ കൊടുത്തു ഞാന്‍ അവിടെ നിന്ന് ഇറങ്ങി. കുറെ നേരം കഴിഞ്ഞ് ആലോചിച്ചു നോക്കിയപ്പോഴാണ് മുടിയിലെ എണ്ണയെ കുറിച്ചുള്ള ലെക്ചര്‍ ആയിരുന്നു അതെന്നു മനസ്സിലായത്. പത്തു പതിനഞ്ചു മിനിറ്റോളം തലകുലുക്കുകയോ മറുപടി പറയുകയോ മൂളുകയോ ചെയ്യാത്ത എന്നോട് അവര്‍ നിര്‍ത്താതെ വര്‍ത്തമാനം പറഞ്ഞതിനെ കുറിച്ച് ഇപ്പോഴും എനിക്ക് അത്ഭുതമാണ്.

45 മിനിട്ട് കഴിഞ്ഞപ്പോള്‍ പ്രസന്നവദനന്‍ എന്നെ പറഞ്ഞ സ്ഥലത്ത് എത്തിച്ചു. എന്‍റെ കൈയില്‍ ചില്ലറ ഇല്ലാത്തതു കൊണ്ട് രണ്ടു രൂപ കുറച്ചാണ് കൊടുത്തത്. അതു മതിയെന്നും, അങ്ങോട്ട്‌ ഡോര്‍ തുറക്കുമ്പോള്‍ വണ്ടി വരുന്നുണ്ടോ എന്നു ശ്രദ്ധിച്ച് ഇറങ്ങണമെന്നും പറഞ്ഞ് സന്തോഷത്തോടെ അയാള്‍ യാത്രയായി.

അയാള്‍ എന്നെ കളിയാക്കിയതല്ല എന്നും കൊച്ചു വര്‍ത്തമാനം പറഞ്ഞ് യാത്ര ചെയ്‌താല്‍ ട്രാഫിക്ക് ഒരു മുഷിപ്പായി തോന്നില്ലല്ലോ എന്നോര്‍ത്തായിരിക്കും എന്നും എനിക്കു നല്ലവണ്ണം അറിയാവുന്നതു കൊണ്ട് ഞാന്‍ അയാള്‍ക്ക് ടാക്സി ആപ്പില്‍ അഞ്ചു സ്റ്റാറും കൊടുത്തു.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Walk in the Past

Wandering the corridors of memory
Seeking the footsteps long faded
The streets of our childhood
The people of our youth

The bushes have been cleared
New plants have now sprouted
The roads have been paved
And houses freshly painted

The past has been broken down
And rebuilt for the future
Lost is it that once was
Moments precious, every day.

Over the layer of newness
Below the splendid pavement
I strive to find the old signs
That we had left behind

Our yesterdays, our life,
Chipped and shaped anew
The familiar paths, buried,
Beneath the burden of Today.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What's on my mind??

You really don't want to know what's on my mind this morning, Facebook. Trust me, you can't handle it. You're like a kid who runs off to tell the world everything, because you are a 'global citizen'. You consider it your duty to broadcast what you heard to the planet, and to aliens if any be listening. You want to impress everyone. You, with your wide eyes and pretentious heart, want the world to think that you are honest and sincere and trustworthy.

What's on my mind are dark and brooding and nasty thoughts; and you know very well that thoughts mean action. If I put my thoughts into action, you know what will happen? Annihilation. Go, Google that word. You being the loudmouth that you are, you would want to go to the cops or FBI or whoever you think can handle it, so that you can sit back and call yourself 'law-abiding.'

No, I'm afraid you can't handle the truth!

So, I am sorry, you are not going to hear a word of what is now clogging my mind, threatening to explode my head.

Be content with the sunny beaches and vacations and children's award photos and happy families, and you'll be fine. Stop nagging me about what's on my mind, cos I'm never gonna tell you. No one in his right mind is going to ever tell you what is actually on his mind.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Choices and Sacrifices

Every mother has a story to tell:
Of stepping back when children are young,
Of letting go of career and passion,
Putting a pause on certain dreams.

She would not call it sacrifice, though,
As she reiterates to herself and others-
The dilemma is same for all mothers, and
Her choice is right, her path is true.

If she had to let a part of her life go,
She had chosen the right one to lose.
She's doing it for none but herself
But don't let her attitude deceive you.

You would not a hear a deep sigh
Let out in the darkness of her solitude
A suppressed sob or a lonely tear
If she ever allows it to escape.

For opportunities lost, others gone ahead;
She finds strength in reassuring herself
She's done her best, given circumstances-
Her choice was right, her path was true.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

മേഘപാളികള്‍ക്കു മുകളില്‍

അതൊരു വാശിയായിരുന്നു. എങ്ങനെയെങ്കിലും അയാളുടെ ശ്രദ്ധ പിടിച്ചു പറ്റണം. എന്നെ പരസ്യമായി പുച്ഛിച്ച അയാള്‍ എന്‍റെ മുന്‍പില്‍ മുട്ടു മടക്കണം. ‘കൊള്ളാം’ എന്നു സമ്മതിക്കുകയെങ്കിലും വേണം.

പിന്നെ എല്ലാ ശ്രമവും ആ ദിശയിലേക്കായി. എഴുത്തിന്‍റെ ആയുധം പുറത്തെടുത്തത് അയാളോട് മല്ലിടാന്‍. ആരുടെയൊക്കെയോ കഥകളില്‍ നിന്ന് ഊര്‍ജ്ജം കൊണ്ടത് അയാളെ തോല്‍പ്പിക്കാന്‍.

പേനയുടെ തുമ്പ് രാവും പകലുമെന്നില്ലാതെ മൂര്‍ച്ച കൂട്ടിയതും അവസരം വരുമ്പോള്‍ അയാളുടെ നെഞ്ചിലേക്ക് കുത്തിക്കയറ്റാന്‍.

എഴുത്തിന്‍റെ മനോഹാരിതയെപ്പറ്റി മറ്റാരും പറഞ്ഞത് എന്‍റെ ചെവിയില്‍ കൊണ്ടില്ല. കുറവുകളെ കുത്തിപ്പൊക്കിയതും ഞാനറിഞ്ഞില്ല.

അതുവരെ വായിച്ച കഥകളില്‍ ഒരാള്‍ക്കു വേണ്ടി മാത്രം എഴുതിയ എഴുത്തുകാരെ ഞാന്‍ പരിഹസിച്ചിരുന്നതും സൗകര്യപൂര്‍വ്വം മറന്നു.

ഓരോ തവണ എഴുത്തു ശ്രദ്ധിക്കപ്പെട്ടപ്പോഴും അയാളുടെ കാതുകളില്‍ അത് എത്തിക്കാണുമോ എന്നു മാത്രമായി ചിന്ത. അയാളുടെ പാദങ്ങള്‍ ആ വഴി കടന്നിട്ടുണ്ടാകുമോ എന്നറിയാനായി എന്‍റെ കണ്ണുകള്‍ പരതി.

പുസ്തകങ്ങള്‍ വിറ്റഴിഞ്ഞപ്പോഴും അതിലേതെങ്കിലുമൊന്ന് അയാളുടെ കൈകളിലൂടെ കയറിയിറങ്ങി കാണും എന്നായി പ്രതീക്ഷ. വായിച്ചെങ്കിലും ഒരിക്കല്‍ പോലും അക്കാര്യം അറിയിക്കാന്‍ ഒരു വരി എഴുതില്ല എന്ന് ഉറപ്പ്.

പുസ്തകങ്ങള്‍ പേരുകേട്ട ആളുകള്‍ പുകഴ്ത്തിയതും നാട് മുഴുവന്‍ പ്രശംസിച്ചതും ഞാന്‍ ശ്രദ്ധിച്ചില്ല... അവസാനം ഒരു ദിവസം ആരാണ് നിങ്ങളുടെ ‘മ്യൂസ്’ എന്നു ചെറുപ്പക്കാരിയായ പത്രപ്രവര്‍ത്തക ആരാധന തുളുമ്പുന്ന കണ്ണുകളോടെ ചോദിച്ചപ്പോള്‍ മനസ്സിലൂടെ മിന്നിപ്പാഞ്ഞു പോയത് അയാളുടെ മുഖമായിരുന്നു.

ഉത്തരം പറയാതെ അവളുടെ മുഖത്തേക്ക് നോക്കി ഇരുന്ന എന്നെ അവള്‍ മെല്ലെ മറ്റൊരു ചോദ്യത്തിലേക്ക് കൂട്ടിക്കൊണ്ടു പോയി...

പിന്നെ അവിടെ പറഞ്ഞതൊന്നും ഞാന്‍ അറിഞ്ഞില്ല.

ആ മുഖം... മുപ്പതു വര്‍ഷമായി കൊണ്ടു നടക്കുന്ന ആ മുഖം... അതിനോടുള്ള വാശി... വൈരാഗ്യം... അതു തന്നെയല്ലെ യഥാര്‍ത്ഥത്തില്‍ എന്നെ എഴുത്തുകാരിയാക്കിയത്?

ഇതെന്തു ഭ്രാന്ത്? ഇതെന്തൊരു ഒബ്സെഷന്‍??

അയാള്‍ എന്നെയും എന്നോടു പറഞ്ഞ കുത്തുവാക്കുകളെയും മറന്നിട്ടു കാലം എത്രയായിക്കാണും!

അതില്‍ നിന്നുയര്‍ന്ന തീപ്പൊരിയാണിന്നു കാട്ടുതീ പോലെ ആര്‍ത്തിയോടെ എനിക്കു ചുറ്റും ആളിക്കത്തുന്നത് എന്ന് അയാള്‍ സ്വപ്നത്തില്‍ പോലും കണ്ടിട്ടുണ്ടാവില്ല.

ഒരിക്കല്‍ പോലും പിന്നോട്ടു നോക്കാതെ അയാള്‍ ജീവിതവും അതിന്‍റെതായ സന്തോഷങ്ങളും ലോകയാത്രകളുമായി എത്രയോ മുന്‍പോട്ടു പോയിക്കഴിഞ്ഞു.

ഞാന്‍... ഞാനിവിടെ കത്തിയെരിഞ്ഞ്‌...

അപ്രതീക്ഷിതമായാണ് പുസ്തകത്തിന്‍റെ പ്രകാശനത്തിന് ആ മുഖം വീണ്ടും കണ്ടത്. ഒരു ചെറിയ ബുക്ക്‌ സ്റ്റാള്‍. വിരലിലെണ്ണാവുന്നത്ര ആളുകള്‍. എല്ലാവര്‍ക്കും നന്ദി പറഞ്ഞു കൈ കൂപ്പിയപ്പോള്‍ പിന്നില്‍ ഒരു പരിചിത മുഖം. നരച്ച മുടി... മുഖത്തു പണ്ടെങ്ങും കണ്ടിട്ടില്ലാത്ത പക്വത.. ജീവിതത്തില്‍ വിജയവും പരാജയവും നഷ്ടവും ഏറ്റു വാങ്ങി എന്നു വിളിച്ചു പറയുന്ന കണ്ണുകള്‍... ഞാന്‍ തിരിച്ചറിഞ്ഞു എന്നു മനസ്സിലായപ്പോള്‍ ആ മുഖത്തു വിരിഞ്ഞ ഒരിക്കലും മറക്കാനാവാത്ത ആ പുഞ്ചിരി...

പിന്നീട് മുന്നില്‍ വന്നതും ഇതു വരെ എഴുതിയ എല്ലാ പുസ്തകങ്ങളും വായിച്ചു എന്നും അതില്‍ പലതും വളരെയധികം ഇഷ്ടപ്പെട്ടുവെന്നും പറഞ്ഞത്...

മണിക്കൂറുകള്‍ കഴിഞ്ഞപ്പോള്‍ അതെല്ലാം വെറും തോന്നലായിരുന്നോ എന്ന സംശയം...

പിന്നെയുള്ള ദിവസങ്ങളിലെ എന്തെന്നില്ലാത്ത ആനന്ദം... ഈ ഒരൊറ്റ നിമിഷത്തിനു വേണ്ടിയാണല്ലോ വര്‍ഷങ്ങളോളം നൊന്തു നീറി പ്രയത്നിച്ചത്...  

തിളച്ചു മറിഞ്ഞിരുന്ന കടല്‍ തെളിഞ്ഞ മഴവെള്ളം പോലെയായി.

അതിനു ശേഷം മനസ്സിലേക്ക് ഇരച്ചു കയറിയ ചോദ്യം: ഇനിയെന്ത്?

ഇനി ആരെ ബോധിപ്പിക്കാന്‍?

എത്തേണ്ട സ്ഥലത്ത് എത്തിച്ചേര്‍ന്നല്ലോ.

പുസ്തകത്തിന്‍റെ അവസാനതാളില്‍ എത്തിയാലെന്നതു പോലെ എന്‍റെ കഥയും ഇവിടെ അവസാനിക്കുമോ?

പേനയും വെള്ള കടലാസും എടുത്തു വച്ചപ്പോള്‍ മനസ്സില്‍ ഒരു മതില്‍ കടന്നു കയറിയതു പോലെ.. വാതില്‍ ആരോ കൊട്ടിയടച്ചതു പോലെ...

കൈയില്‍ മുറുകെ പിടിച്ചിരുന്ന വാക്കുകള്‍ പറന്നു പോയതു പോലെ...

മുന്നിലെ വഴി അടഞ്ഞു പോയതു പോലെ..

എഴുത്തു നിര്‍ത്തി പിന്തിരിയാന്‍ സമയമായി എന്നു വരെ തോന്നി.

പിന്നീട് എഴുതിയില്ല. 

കൈവിട്ടു പോയി എന്നു തന്നെ തീരുമാനിച്ചു.

ആഴ്ചകളും മാസങ്ങളും കടന്നു പോയി.

ഒരു ഞായറാഴ്ച രാവിലെ മൂടല്‍മഞ്ഞിലൂടെയുള്ള സൂര്യോദയം നോക്കി നില്‍ക്കുമ്പോള്‍ അവ ഓരോന്നായി തിരിച്ചു മനസ്സിലേക്ക് ചിറകടിച്ചു വന്നു. മനസ്സിലെ മതില്‍ക്കെട്ട് ഉരുകി വീണു. ചിന്തകളുടെ കോട്ട താനേ ഉയര്‍ന്നു വന്നു. ഞാന്‍ വീണ്ടും സഞ്ചാരിയായി.

നിലത്തു തന്നെ ഉറപ്പിച്ചിരുന്ന എന്‍റെ കാലുകള്‍ക്ക് ഉയര്‍ന്നു പൊങ്ങാന്‍ ആവശ്യമായിരുന്ന ശക്തിയായിരുന്നു അന്ന് ആ വാശി.

പരിചയമില്ലാത്ത വഴികളിലൂടെ, അന്ധകാരത്തിന്‍റെ ഭീതിയിലൂടെ, പരാജയമെന്ന വെള്ളപ്പൊക്കത്തിലൂടെ എന്നെ നടത്തി അക്കരെ എത്തിച്ച ധൈര്യമായിരുന്നു ആ വൈരാഗ്യം.

മേഘങ്ങള്‍ക്കു മീതെ പറക്കാന്‍ എന്നെ പഠിപ്പിച്ച കരുത്തായിരുന്നു ആ... പ്രണയം...

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Consequence of Dreams

It was the enormity of his dreams that terrified me. And why would it not? He was aiming for the highest of the branches - higher than even the best of us could achieve.

I look into his eyes, they are burning with excitement. I see stars shining in them. His optimism is heart-breaking. No one has done this before, he says. In his eyes, he is a winner already.

I've been there. So I know.

But what I know about him makes me cautious.

I know oh, so well, the path is long and the journey is not easy. Years would pass before we reach anywhere worth mention. But if the journey has to begin, one has to first get into the vehicle. Or start walking. Take baby steps. It is easy to conjure dreams; it takes a great deal of effort to make them come true. The struggle is romantic only in stories or in movies. Or in retrospective; after you've made your mark.

He is a dreamer, always has been. But he forgets the hard work that has to go with it. He makes excuses.

True, some of our dreams are absurd. They have to be. But what makes them remotely possible is the effort that we are willing to put into it.

Do I tell him that his dreams are too fantastic? Do I advise him to be more practical, and take one step at a time? Do I warn him about the Rejections he is going to face?

Will that destroy his motivation? Was that even the right thing to say? Or do I encourage him to keep his eyes on the distant goal so that he can work towards it? No one can ever tell which way a creative person will swing on the face of criticism. That, I know very well too.

Who was I to judge or advise? Not so long ago, I myself, bursting with excitement at my first 'success', was confronted with the ridicule, "Have you nothing better to do?"

I took weeks to recover.

Crushing dreams is a simple enough job. A flick of the finger, a snap, a mocking laugh, an unkind word - sometimes these are all it takes. It is up to the dreamer to find the strength to shake it off, rise from the ashes of despair, pick up the tools again and fight the constant fear of failure. And display the confidence that one does not feel.

Weighing everything in mind, taking the cautious route, I ask: Have you started working on it?
My heart sinks at his answer.
No, he says. But one of these days, I will.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Rejection is a frightful thing, people.

It is devastating enough when it is unexpected. But even when you know it’s coming, in the most pessimistic depths of your heart, when it comes, when the person who holds your fortunes in his hand (whether he knows it or not) delivers the bad news – brutally or kindly or subtly, it does not matter - you are jolted out of your very existence.

You may say, for appearances’ sake, that ‘I tried and I failed; but at least I tried.’ Or that ‘failure is a stepping stone to success.’ Or that some great scientist ‘had failed nine thousand times before he discovered the light bulb’. You utter all that crap (and then some) that you hear daily. None of it helps. The fact of the matter is that you’re rejected. To add insult to injury, you hear that someone else was selected. Why was she chosen whereas I was not?

Was I not ‘hard-working‘a good learner’, ‘dedicated’, ‘promising’? Was I not good enough?

As Owen Wilson says when Reese Witherspoon leaves him for someone else (and describes Owen as a ‘great, funny, amazing guy’), “all the hot words.” 

Rejection is rejection, however eloquently it is delivered.

The blow doesn’t land right away, though. The numbness stays for a while. By then you start believing that you are immune to it, that you have taken it so well despite it being so inhuman and unfair. Then it hits, like thunder gradually following lightning. Much of the beating is taken by your self-confidence.

Once it happens, it is hard to shake it off. It just stays with you forever. Even when some day, you have found your own little successes.

Monday, July 4, 2016


Our paths have crossed, knowing, unknowing,
Across the globe, coming and going.
Sometimes deliberate, sometimes not,
I refuse to see how far we're apart.

You know my fear - I fear you've moved on.
Am I too stubborn to accept you've gone?
Of my many flaws, it's not strength I lack-
I am still hatching plots to win you back.

One thing I'm sure of: I've no regrets, none.
Though our journey wasn't strewn with fun,
Call me proud, but I'm sorry for nothing
It was all done with a great deal of thinking.

Seems strange to me that I am still here, waiting
Trying to conjure some sense for my being.
Time marches on, even nature is new,
Seasons have changed, I'm still waiting for you.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Death: An Important Conversation

Originally published in The Hindu, June 28, 2016

I opened the topic with my mother while I was reading Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. “By the way”, I said, as though I were going to talk about the weather, “when I die, I want this-and-this to be done, and I don’t want that-and-that to be done.” Then I asked, “What about you?” Amma wasn’t offended. She told me easily about what she wanted done when her time came. It was not a long, detailed discussion; it was over in ten minutes. I said, “Okay” and went back to my book.

Later I said to my father, “By the way, I had this discussion with Amma. She said this-and-this. What about you?” He told me his preferences too, promptly enough. About funeral arrangements, about the material things that we leave behind, about end-of-life care, and other things.

Ever since I was introduced to the terms ‘palliative care’, ‘end-of-life care’ and so on, I had been reading about the importance of having conversations with our family about our wishes surrounding death. This was a conversation I had been postponing for long.

What struck me was how quickly the answers came. There wasn’t much reflection or thinking needed — clearly because the thinking had already been done, over and over many times. It just had not been discussed with me. Well, who knew which one of us would be the first to leave? That’s why I told them my wishes too. I am glad I had this conversation, because though I was aware of their ideas in general, there were some finer points that I had not thought of — which they both had obviously considered down to the last detail.

Continue reading in The Hindu

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Power of Faith a.k.a The Human Will

I happened to read two books almost back to back earlier this year. (The titles are not relevant.) At one look, there is nothing common between the two. You probably cannot find two stories that are more dissimilar.

They take place at two different times - the first, a hundred and fifty years ago and the second, less than a decade ago - and at two different places - almost on opposite sides of the globe. The men follow different religions. Their lifestyles are poles apart. Their circumstances are incomparable. But if we look deeper, there is something that connects them. The protagonists of these tales are thrown into the worst possible situation - that of a slave's life (Indeed, what suffering can nature inflict that is worse than what we do to each other?) - and they survive merely because of the strength of their faith. One prays to Jesus, the other to Allah. At the end, their suffering is over - the one finds peace in death, and the other returns to a life of freedom.

Both stories are not 'real' in the true sense of the word; but based on real people and real incidents, as the authors have explained elsewhere.

I was struck by the common theme that seemed to prevail - every time something happened (in every page, things only got worse, never better), the protagonist said to himself, It is God's wish. And that gave him the strength to endure it. Every time he waited for the suffering to end, he said to himself, God will end it when it is time. One read his Bible, the other knelt and prayed.

Every day they wait for a miracle. However, nothing throughout the story - nothing - happens, which could be termed an intervention from God. He does not move a leaf or give a sign to these people to show that He is with them. On those days when their hearts weaken, they look up to the indifferent sky and wonder, How many more days?

They firmly believe that this suffering has a purpose, and that it will end some day. That God had some plan for them. That we are all travellers tossed into the tumultuous ocean, having to fight our way to the surface day after day. That even in the midst of such torture, if they could lend a hand to one other person, their life has attained some meaning. When they look around, they see other victims, and in their tiniest way, they try to be kind.

Finally, when deliverance does come, it comes of their own efforts, through a chain of events that they themselves had set into motion.

If we change those stories, and remove the suggestion of God from it, say, we make the protagonists atheists, then what would happen? Would they be able to survive the hardships? Probably, yes. Merely by the strength of their will. But the chances are high that they would have given up, long ago.

The Human Will is powerful as well as creative; just look around to see its infinite capabilities. But it is also lazy; we have enough evidence of that around us, too. It would rather be idle than create. It needs to be awakened. It needs to be called.

Which is why, I think, we need God. We need the idea that someone higher than us has the power to change our miserable lives. That there is a purpose to this suffering. If we are told that there is no one up there giving a damn about us, that every thing we do and endure in this life has no meaning whatsoever; we have nothing to struggle for. Not all of us are made with a will of steel. The moment our boats begin to rock, we give up and surrender to our fate. There will be no struggle, no effort to save ourselves. Most of us would perish within no time. If we have faith, we can convince ourselves that He is watching. He will help us. He will save us. 

Which brings us to the conclusion that wise men have arrived at, long ago. There is no God but the one that resides in ourselves. God is the thread that we invoke to find the strength that is already within. When we are afraid, we chant God's name, and wake up the courage that was dormant inside us. Did God do something? Yes, and No. Might I even go so far as to suggest that the notion of God developed as an evolutionary requirement to make the species strong enough to survive? I suppose God and Science aren't on opposite sides, after all. One could very well be the by-product of the other, a tool to ensure survival.

Which is also why it is meaningless to go seeking God, or to argue whether He exists, or to fight over Him. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

The seventy-five year old and his daughter waited for their turn. Their contact person within the system had sneaked inside and moved their file to the top. An hour of waiting later, the name was called. Both went in.

The room was small, and two young doctors were seated in one corner by a table. One of them was tapping away on the computer. The patient and daughter stood respectfully before them. There was a chair but it was pushed away to the other corner of the room, to be used perhaps only in very rare cases. The daughter wondered why the doctor did not suggest moving the chair forward and seating the patient on it. If for nothing else, at least because the patient was a much older man. We do generally pride ourselves on our Indian sense of respect for elders. He instead discussed the illness, asked about this or that relevant to the case and the patient answered politely, his body language conveying respect. The doctor sat back, threw his arm over the arm rest, and seemed to have an air of superior knowledge. He might have made himself more comfortable but the tiny room did not permit much luxury. His knowledge was superior, without doubt. The patients who visited him were ordinary people, who knew nothing about human anatomy. If the doctor said the blood test had to be repeated, the blood test had to be repeated. If he said the heart had to be taken out, it had to be taken out.

A few minutes later, the daughter, barely concealing her annoyance, pulled the empty chair from the other side of the room, and said, "Sit down, Dad."

Nothing changed in the doctor's countenance. Whether he regretted not asking earlier or whether he found her action unnecessary was not clear. He continued talking. The discussion was over quickly enough and they were given a form to sign. As they left the room, the next person was called and two men of forty-five or fifty years of age came in.

The daughter, leaving the room, observed in part-astonishment, part-understanding, that the men who went in had left their footwear by the door. She had earlier observed the same outside the laboratory door, and other doors in this hospital. In some rooms, for certain tests, it was necessary and there would be a notice asking patients to leave their footwear outside. But everywhere else, people were doing it just because of their tradition. One did leave footwear before entering a house or a temple. Why should a doctor's room or a lab be any different?

A few minutes later, realising that she had dropped a certain important document at the doctor's room, she went back to find it. She saw that the two men inside were standing and listening attentively to the young doctor. The chair that she had pulled forward was ignored and they were clearly not asked to sit. She said nothing, picked up the document and left the room.

Dear Doctor, those men took off their chappals at your door, not because they were idiots, but because they revere you. Show them some kindness, ask them to sit, speak compassionately. One of them has complaints of the heart, for God's sake.

With great power comes great responsibility. Spiderman may have been the one to popularise this quote, but it is certainly not limited to him. We all hold power over something or someone. Doctors certainly do hold a lot of power over many of us. More than anyone else, doctors are the ones we visit the most.

As a very wise man once said to me, we must remember that every single person we meet is superior to us in at least one thing. He / she is an expert at something that we have never been able to master.

Friday, June 3, 2016


The visitors had informed prior to their arrival. So there were snacks and tea waiting for them.

The old woman sat by the television which was switched off, her back supported by a pillow. The guests observed her without blinking and watched for any change in her behaviour. The old woman watched them without blinking, her eyes running from one to the other.

She asked each about their families, their children, their sick parents, their dead grandparents, their estranged siblings and their divorced spouses without any apology. She had always had the authority to ask questions. Now she was as old as she was, her authority had become her right. They replied, as carefully and blushingly and mildly as they could, sometimes keeping their eyes away from each other, sometimes trying to change the topic. The old woman made sure her questions were answered. Sometimes she pointed to the biscuits and asked them to eat.

They left after an hour, their duty as relatives done; they could visit now when she died and speak about how lucid and coherent and healthy she had been at their last visit, despite being so old and withered.

“She has no memory problems,” they said.

“I think the daughter had just made it up. She was asking us all about our families, and the people she had known long ago. She has no problems.”

“I suspect foul play.”

“The daughter doesn’t want to take care of her, it’s the same story with all old parents. Pathetic.”

“But what does spreading stories do? She has to take care of her anyway.”

“Yes, but it will make others think she’s doing a sacrifice.”

“What was that she said something about the girl being locked up?”

“I didn’t get that either. That was after the television was turned on for the news. I couldn’t hear.”

“Yes, me neither. But I thought she said, the girl is locked up and she cries at night to be let out.”

“Which girl might that be?”

“Her own grand-daughter. Who else?”

“Oh, no.”

“I didn’t see the girl anywhere.”

“The daughter said she had gone out.”

“Could be a lie for all we know.”

“Oh, come on.”

“Well, I don’t think the old woman is lying. Why should she?”

“Anyway it was a difficult and unpleasant visit, I am glad it is over.”

Continue reading >>

Monday, May 23, 2016

Beyond the Point of No Return

When I turn to leave
The glimmer that rises and falls
In your eyes -

Make me wonder
If there is still hope;
If there is a door... at the end of the tunnel.

I go forward; every step
Making it difficult to
Ever turn back.

If we retrace our steps, far enough
We would encounter ourselves
Making the same mistakes

That would one day lead
to today, but nothing
would we change, nothing.

For what is destined,
has to happen, no matter
Which route is taken.

The vacuum grows, that
No voice will ever penetrate
No cry for help will ever be heard.

A growing chasm, like
An apology that has become
Impossible to make;

When I sped away
The light that rose and fell-
I know now - it was relief...

There is no answer.
There is no door.
It was all over long ago.

It is only human to pretend
That at the end of a dark road
There's a sunrise, waiting.

It is our strength, this hope;
Also our undoing; nonetheless
It exists; and so we do.

Friday, May 13, 2016

A Purpose to Our Days

In Being Mortal, Atul Gawande writes about a woman who had been living independently for years and who in her old age, was forced to move to a nursing home. "The things she missed most, she told me, were her friendships, privacy, and a purpose to her days."

The reference to Being Mortal is by the way. Apart from the fact that it is a brilliantly written book that everyone should read, I have nothing to add. But Dr Gawande's phrase 'a purpose to her days' clung to me and refused to leave - as though it was the precise phrase I had been searching for, for a long time.

It is not only about the old woman in a nursing home counting her last days. We are all consciously or unconsciously seeking a purpose to our existence. When we are young and busy, this search is outside our view. Our mind is clouded by the daily routines, priorities and hurries. As we grow older, we let go of some of those activities, give more importance to the real priorities in life and then the road springs to view.

Where are we headed? Why are we headed that way? Which of my activities have some meaning to me? Which of those are my mere duties to others? Which of my life's purposes have I sacrificed? Why am I here?

What thought excites us when we wake up in the morning? What will happen if nothing I do comes to fruition? What if none of my dreams ever come true?

Why do I get up each morning and make sure my family is on their way to attain their priorities and happiness? Why do I sit before my work and strive to derive some satisfaction from it? Why do I dream about miracles that may never take place? Why do I look at the road less travelled and tell myself, 'No, I am not at liberty to pursue it today'? What if tomorrow when I am ready for it, I am not healthy enough? What if one day I find that I have nothing to wake up for?

What is the purpose of my days?

Friday, April 29, 2016

Gazing at the Stars

We are all looking at the stars,
And some are content just with looking.

For it's easier to look than to dream
It's easier to dream than to act

It's easier to stop than to struggle
It's easier to flow than to resist

It's easier to drown than to survive.
But why should one settle for easy?

We are all but dreaming of the stars
A few are content just with dreaming-

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Wasp behind the glass

There was a wasp at the kitchen window one day. (Not the usual golden kind of wasp, this was smaller and sort of greenish. Perhaps it wasn't a wasp, but it did remind me of one.) It was stuck at the mosquito net, unable to go out. Must have come in through one of the open doors. I wasn't particularly keen on electrocuting a wasp with a Hunter racquet (and paying the price) so I gently opened the corner of the mosquito net and tried to coax it outside. Wasps are more difficult to convince than say, mosquitoes or flies. The reason being the obvious bite factor  - the wasp may not quite understand that my intentions are honourable, and it may decide to take the offensive.

One pane of the kitchen window was open and the other closed. As luck would have it, the corner of the net that I had pulled aside was at the closed pane. In my defence, that was the closer corner to the wasp. Somehow I urged the wasp to make its way out of the gaping hole. You should have seen it. It was like a little child being dragged to school. It reluctantly, hesitantly made its way to the other side only to encounter the closed glass pane. It looked lost at the new obstacle.

Then it began to explore the new shiny, slithery surface. One could tell that it was by no means comfortable. It crawled up and down, left and right. The open window, the path to liberty, was a few inches to its left. I waited. There must have been a slight breeze blowing. I hoped it would take the hint and go looking for whence the wind blew. Escape was just an arm's length away. Minutes passed. The wasp kept searching. I began to panic. You're free, I thought, but you think you are still imprisoned. You think I sent you to a harsher jail whereas my intention was to set you free. You aren't seeing broadly enough. Your vision is limited. Look around, look around. The door is wide open. Can you not see the blue, blue sky and the trees and the miles and miles of open space?

It came close to the edge - I held my breath - and it went back. Did it not see the open window? Why did it go back to the slithery glass pane?

The truth (or my version of it) began to dawn on me. What if it doesn't want to go out? Maybe it's weary of the world around it. Maybe flying isn't all that it is cracked up to be. Maybe gliding up and down the glass was fun enough. Maybe it had decided to live in my house, spending its days exploring the mosquito net or the glass pane. Why should it go out and get caught in the wind, trapped by the leaves or lost in the vastness of the sky? What did a lifetime of trying give it, any way?

I went away, perplexed; unable to decide whether the wasp was so short-sighted as to not see freedom one step away, or if it deliberately chose to stay behind the glass despite everything. Much much later, I returned and found it gone.

But it is a fact that the next day, I found a wasp (absolutely no way of knowing if it is the same) behind the glass at the very same position, calmly gliding up and down. Did it get lost again, or had it returned to its retreat for a sniff of peace? I guess I would never know. I like to think it was the latter.

Because, sometimes - not always - I like that too. To peek at the world from behind the barrier through a pane of indifference; to admire the sky and the moving clouds, the rustling leaves, the cars and people, but not to wade in any of it. As though none of it belonged to me. Nor I to them. On those days, I would rather be safe behind the wall of glass than to expose myself to the fury of life. And when it is time to come out from hiding, to face reality, there would still be the memory of the glass pane to keep me from breaking to pieces.

Thursday, April 14, 2016


There is a Santa Clausian presence to my memories related to Vishu. Most of our summer holidays long, long ago were spent with grandparents. We would be woken up at four or five in the morning, and we would be walked with our eyes closed to the hall.

When I open my eyes, I would see the hall transformed. I was supposed to be looking at the Gods and the kani, but in reality I would be wondering, where have all those framed family pictures gone, which used to hang from the wall? Where did these Gods come from? And all these vegetables and konnappoo and the assortment? Who did all this during the night? (If I had known about elves I would have given them the credit.) For a long time I thought there was some kind of magic behind this transformation until it began to sink in that the magician was my own grandfather. I suppose I believed that my parents and grandparents also woke up and found the Vishukkani ready.

So after the kani kaanal was over and we got our kaineettam (beginning at twenty paisa or twenty-five paisa) from the elders, we would quickly go back to where we came from - our beds. No point in wasting more sleep. The coins and notes would be scattered on the bed when we woke up. The next step was to pick them up and compare.

I used to see the same wonder in my son's eyes when he was still tiny enough to think that there was something quite miraculous behind the brightly-lit lamps and the pictures that made their appearance on Vishu morning. Now, at ten, he is a grown up. He asks me if he can help me arrange the kani. Then he thinks for a while and says, "Or maybe not. You arrange it. So it will be a surprise for me."

The transition from the world of magic to a world entirely without, and the clinging to the old memories of wonder.

Read: Vishu then and now

Friday, March 18, 2016


I had not realised until recently that bravery is not an absolute truth. It is a perception.

I suppose we all figure it out in our own ways in our own time, but it never struck home to me in all its clarity until now. It is somewhat similar to physical beauty. Beauty is not absolute. A person is considered 'beautiful' when some basic guidelines and expectations are satisfied. The impression varies from person to person, and even changes with the viewer's developing mind. A picture you consider beautiful today may not appear so gorgeous five or ten years later.

Bravery is not a fact. It is not set in stone. It is an idea that comes out of a person's actions. It satisfies some predefined principles. A brave person does not go around the world calling himself brave. (Then he becomes something else!) It is his actions that make him appear brave to us. On the other hand, if he goes around the world repeating, "I am not afraid," then yes, the world does conclude that there is something to him.

Being afraid is not the opposite of being brave. Fear is a very human aspect. Everyone has it. Time and again, I have heard people say "He is not brave. He is afraid." The speaker even seems to gather some satisfaction from that statement. Of course 'he' will be afraid. Because it is human to be afraid. The only difference is how we go forward, despite being afraid. How others see us going forward with that fear. Bravery is just a label, like many other things.

Bravery is about how well you conceal your fear and display courage. You are quivering inside, but you put up a 'brave face'. (If your tell-tale fingers tremble, you are done for.) You keep the terror from appearing on your face, from your eyes. Everyone else calls you brave. If you confess that you are afraid, they call you weak. Afraid. Not brave. If you confess you are afraid, but smile and laugh when you say it, they call you courageous. But don't overdo it. The difference is subtle.

I said, "they call you". Because that is what bravery is. - How your actions are seen by the eyes of the world around you. God did not write on the wall that "this woman is brave" or "that man is a coward" for us to see. We made that up. From what we see. From what it appears to us.

A lady told me she was afraid of what was coming. Why did this happen to me? she repeated. Her face was drawn and tired. She was sad and miserable. She began to withdraw. Nevertheless she took each day as it came; some were rewarding, some were punishing. She cried, she smiled, she talked, she sighed, she got angry, she swung from this extreme to that. She didn't run away - but only because there was no way to run. There was only one path - forward. I do not know if she is brave or not. One day, someone told me in confidence that this lady "was afraid, she was not as brave as..." This judgement came just because she had admitted that she was terrified and she did not put up a show of defiance or bravery.

There was another person, who had a rather terrible fate. He chuckled even when speaking about his situation. I thought he was handling it rather well, considering that his life had just turned upside down. Days later, his son tells me, "Father is not as brave as he pretends to be." No one is! I wanted to say. It is the pretension that helped him get over every single minute of his never-ending misery. It was his way of telling himself and others that he wasn't beaten yet. Probably he just hated the show of sympathy from us. Is that courage, or is it a weakness? Anyone in that state would be horrified, because there was no revoking that fate. It had happened. Life, however unbearable it had become, had to go on. The best he could do, despite everything, was to appear cheerful in front of others. And he did. Was he brave? I do not know. People who saw him smile said he was. His son, who saw his lonely, gloomy interior, said he wasn't.

Think of a person you consider brave. What makes you think she is? Her actions? Her reaction to a situation? Is she "really" brave, or just good at handling her fear? What's the difference? Aren't they two sides of the same old coin? How do we define bravery then?

Everyone is brave. Everyone is afraid. Everyone does some or other act of cowardice, and some or other act of courage.

There is courage in putting up a bold face. There is courage in silence. There is courage in weeping. There is courage in losing control. But the only bravery we see and accept is the one that is well-contained.

Sadly, what is perceived is what lasts. You need not be brave. You only have to appear to be. And only if you care about what the world labels you.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Women's Day message from history

I don't think any adult could have put it as well as this fifteen-year old did. From the Diary of Anne Frank, dated 13 June, 1944. (Please click on the images to enlarge)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Limited Time

When you know you have limited time-
I am not saying
Your time is limited (which it always is)
But that you have limited time
(which is slightly different)-
You see each day as new...

Suddenly it begins to make sense;
Each full moon-
How many of those will we get to see here?
How many more monsoons?
How many more sunrises and sunsets?
How many more times
would we get to complain
Of the hardships and the struggles?

The conveniences, the comforts
Spring to view, brilliantly.
Today is not the end, but
The countdown has begun.
The ground we had been standing on
The once-firm, rock-still, earth
Is giving way beneath our feet.

Things may never get better
We might as well get used to the "new" normal.
Lest some miracle should happen.
But miracles are shy; they don't
easily come to us.
We must go looking for them,
Dig the ground and drag them out
Scour the skies and dive into the ocean.
Then we call them fruits of labour.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


There were these three badges when I was in fourth standard (which un/fortunately I never had to wear) - each a different colour, for first rank, second rank and third rank. I suppose one was green, another red and the third orange or yellow. My memory fails me, I just recall that they were colourful and attractive and jealousy-invoking. After every term exam, when the results come out, the badges were given to the first three rank holders, and they got to wear it on their shirt. Proudly.

I remember the first and second rank holders, they were always the same people, just that they kept exchanging their badges every term. But the third rank holder's name or face evades me.

A few days ago, my son came home with a badge, his face brimming with pride (but struggling not to show). It was the badge of the school "Safety Marshal" - the children who were responsible to maintain the "safety" of others at school. Whatever that may be, his badge reminded me how much I had longed for one of those three rank badges, but how I never got any close.

Anyway, during my son's PTM, the teacher did not seem very concerned about his grades and I quickly asked if they were okay, and she said "Yes, Yes, he has good grades for most of the subjects; he is doing well." Funny how the focus has shifted so far away from red, green and yellow. It's good of course, no pressure on the kids, and no pressure on the parents, but then I began to wonder if things would come full circle again and one day the teachers would find out that the students have lost their competitive spirit and it would be good to give them some boost with red or green badges. I must insert here that except for a little envy for those girls wearing badges, no amount of competitive spirit was awakened in me when I was ten.

I do not know what happens in my son's school, what he thinks, what he feels, and he sure has no inkling of how I survived mine. That's the best thing about the generation gap. We don't understand each other and we get to explore everything new. One day someone would come up and say, Look, I think we should give colourful badges (or whatever is the latest fad) to children who perform best in class, so that the others can aspire to be like them. Besides, it is good to encourage the hardworking, talented lot. Now we ignore the performers, say that everyone who participated is a winner, and so those who actually have done outstandingly well will get demotivated and think, "Why should I do it? I am considered the same as that kid who knows nothing." Wow, what an idea. That would so motivate them to perform. Let's bring in the badges.