Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A pass to the past

You do odd things to get even. I don't know about you. But, that is me. Especially when turbulence hits the soul. This time it’s not been very different.  

Most parts of the last few weeks have been whisked away by the desire to latch on to every memory. Perhaps a quest to seek new meaning, draw lines in the mind to what seemed to be faint dots faded by time and the vagaries that ‘gainful employment’ has brought over years. 

So, I went looking for places that my feet aimlessly shuffled around while locks of hair bounded the forehead of my wonder years! Hopeful of catching the smell, feel and sights of a time that seemed distant yet close. A time that often looks like its within arm’s reach of clear recollection and then slips away almost like a mirage that chooses to go into hiding upon seeing me.  

My journeys took me to the small village where we spent many summers challenging the Sun to beat us down with his rays, while we soaked much of the open air, green fields, braying donkeys, cows, goats and of course the languorous rhythms of easy village life. 

It then took me to the club that I hung out with classmates.  The courts where I played tennis in. The roads that I took my walks on. The small shops that sold silly candies. The bungalows that held allure. The College that was privy to adolescent dreams, hopes and expansive aspiration.  

It wasn't a well orchestrated journey of sorts. Three quarters lead by happenstance and the meager rest by careful plotting. Most of the times carelessly retracing steps, upon a whim, on a road that brought alive last remnants of a clinging memory. Of a glance exchanged. A smile passed around. A word uttered. Sentences not spoken and conversations that spanned the world. 

In sheer gluttony of consuming far more than what the present had to offer and in the ever expanding search to relive a memory, occasionally I reached out To DO the things that I did when it was “in those days”.

No memory of growing up in those times in the intense climes of Madurai, can be complete without memories of what continues to be called ‘Paal ice’ ( Milk Ice). 

Proffered usually by a man with a hoarse rhythmic voice that arrested your attention no matter what you were doing. It caused you to run to your dad, mom, grandma, uncles or whoever that would be around and usually willing to spend a grand sum of one full rupee on you. 

I saw the “Ice man” again. A couple of weeks ago. 



Imagine the delight of seeing a memory come alive and stroll ahead of you.  The narrow lanes of a Sun beaten village served as a poignant backdrop as a man sold ‘Paal Ice’! Before I could say yes, my brother bought it, for a grand sum of Rs.5/-. In a short time, the collective memories stretched to ask “Do you have Semiya Ice?” 




Another grand sum of Rs.5/- left the wallet, even as the ice creams disappeared from the flimsy sticks that’s held them. Not a word spoken about hygiene or if it was made from ‘mineral water’ or some such urbane stuff. For it wasn't quenching taste buds. It was satiating a part of me that was parched beyond parched. As the ice cream went down the throat, a million memories were resurrected, rejoicing a thirsty mind and a thrifty soul.  


The “ice man” moved on. After being bemused by us, for a bit. Tapping the box to announce his arrival in the neighbourhood and supplementing it with his arresting coarse voice.

I clicked a few more snaps vigorously.  In the future, if I needed a pass to the past, this was it. 


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Sunday, April 06, 2014

Family Picture

Children are magic. Their laughter surreptitiously dispels vacuity. Bland walls become vivid. And in their being themselves, they do so much more to the average adult than an average adult can ever realise. Except when there are poignant magical moments of reflection. One such is when this is getting penned.

There are many things that get the daughter excited these days. Topping the list, is helping her draw and imagine stuff on something that was called “Magic Slate” in my wonder years. Much coveted those days. Perhaps more coveted, now. 

Two diametrically opposite sketches bring her untold joy. One is that of the ‘cat’, made by drawing a set of circles. And another, a pencil diagram that represents our family.  The realisation that ‘diametrically opposite’ is a neat pun, came much after it jumped off the keyboard. So, unintended. 

A set of fat circles is all it takes for a cat to jumps to life.  One for the head. A much larger one for the body. A couple more for the eyes. A couple of triangles make the ear and then I pause for a poignant moment for her to shout out “SMILE”, to begin sketching the mouth, of course with the smile. Its a great fun till the time she asks for the repeat of the picture for the 267th time, which is when it gets a tad boring.



The pencil thin family picture is an all time favourite that I can go on far beyond the 267th time.  So can she. The ‘pencil thin’ holds substantial allure for all of us. Me, the missus and the daughter. 

For me and the missus, ‘pencil thin’ it is a perpetually moving target. Moving farther and further away, not only from spheres of possibility but almost also from allure! I have been telling people “Not being pencil thin is OK. “Pencil think” is worrisome”, I say often. With an emphasis on the first half of the sentence! 

There is no part in that pencil image that resembles us. Those of you that pause and point to my fast balding head, well, you guys are smart, knowledgeable and very sharp. And bloody cruel! 

But what gives me hope and lightens the soul in proportions that can mildly be described as ‘epic’ is this: the daughter doesn't care.  Every time the family makes an appearance on the magic slate, there is incessant clapping and the occasional roll-on-the-floor laughter. I roll on the floor laughing too. At times, I wonder why she laughs like that.  But these days, I nip these thoughts in the mind even as they appear. 

This is a golden age. She is two years and a few months. Every dear friend, acquaintance, passerby and the dhobi have told me in no uncertain terms, repeatedly, that this time defines ‘time of life’!  Of course, I have taken this seriously. Or at least, tried to. 

Occasionally, my thoughts dart to wonder where our leaner selves went. Consumed by an inexplicably unbeatable combination of inviting diets, salubrious slumber and accouterments that many of you know only too well. Life’s experiences get us to bloat! While the bloating in the body is obvious, what happens in the mind is a bit of magical treachery! 

It hurts going down that road. 

Am turning right back there in this post, to turn the spotlight on an already bright area: reckless vivid imagination in a kids mind. That rich uncorrupted pure terrain, which imagines well and implicitly, trusts everything that is offered, without judgement. 

And these days when the daughter laughs at the picture, I laugh too. Sometimes at the end of it all, I feel lighter.  At times I wonder how wonder it would be if all the laughter helps dissolve some fast growing fat.  Only to realise quickly, that it does dissolve some silly accumulations in the mind.   

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Monday, March 31, 2014

Movement & momentum

There are more thousands and thousands of photographs in my hard drive.  Some that are very special. For the ‘special’ element of moment captured or more simply for the emotion triggered by a memory that lies pregnant in that image.  

Here is one such.

 
A young boy who suddenly started running, with a posture that befits an accomplished runner.  I balanced myself at the open door of a moving train to see if I could get a picture. Truth be told, I was trying to get a clean shot of railway tracks, for some reason. Through the camera lens, I saw the boy start to sprint and changed my focus! 

After about 100 meters of sure footed sprinting, he stopped and started walking. Still smiling. The train I was in, kept pulling away at greater speeds and the last I saw of the boy, he was still walking.  I hope he still is, with the smile intact.

The intensity in the stride, the surefooted in an uneven terrain and kept me captivated for long after the journey was done. . 

That is my wish of all of us this week. To run with joy. For movement begets its own momentum. With momentum you never know where you could end up at. 

Every time I look at the photograph, I get a dose of raw energy that suddenly courses my veins. Of course the boy doesn't know. Which brings me to the other point: Do you know who you inspire to action / reflection? 

Do you realise that you may never know that what to you are 'simple routines of daily living' could be deeply inspirational to many. When the lens changes, the action takes a different meaning.  

"You dont have to get it perfect. You just have to get it going" said Gary Halbert. Perfection is an elusive target that will stay elusive forever. Getting going, will get us all closer to perfection

I wonder what you think of the picture. What stories come to your mind? You never know how inspiring your stories can be. Share. Somewhere! 

Have a great week people. 


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Monday, March 24, 2014

Whimsical streams

How long back did you do things on a whim?  If you point to buying a chewing gum or a magazine that was carefully placed by marketers, near the cash counter to induce a ‘whim’, well thats not counted.  You know what I mean, don’t you? Just on a whim, ‘doing’. No, don't count ‘impulse buying’!

A friend in the village had invited me over.  I had to drive through a set of small villages. I was late but getting there as fast as I could. 

Apartment complexes gave way to single houses.  First dense back to back constructions. Then, a house amidst a set of clutch of mud walled huts. Then, huts and houses amidst green fields. Not very long after, plain green fields. They came at me unannounced, redefining ‘pristine’ and causing me to slow. 

In sometime, they went as unannounced as they came. A few barren patches, stood alone, amidst a some construction activity. 

I watched the landscape change as the roads got narrower and finally trickled down to a pathway that would barely accommodate one cycle rickshaw.  At some places potholes and patches made the road, and a semblance of a road that was there sometime back, would make an appearance now and then.  The perfect setting to elicit a set of indignant tweets and blogs if this was the state of roads in a big city! 

The road itself cared less. 

The narrow road curved and suddenly only to reveal a stream striving hard to flow. Not a soul on the road on either side. A struggling stream that was struggling to flow, yet managed to stir up a quiet breeze. A few coconut trees on the other side lent themselves and swayed just a bit. 

The promise to the friend beckoned. But nature painted such a picture of allure that a meditative trance enveloped every pore. In the next five minutes, the last remnant of mobile signal was used to call up the friend. The voice kept breaking which I took for an ominous indication of the immersive pretty picture I was in, didn't quite like intrusions. 



I sat down beside the stream and realised that there is something to sit down beside a stream. And that it was  a long time since I had last sat beside a stream and lost count of time. Memories of sitting by more sparkling streams that were in a rush, rushed in. Every stream is its own, I realised. The state of the mind caused the real flow. 

Cows, mopeds and villagers passed me by. First dishing out a dismissive look of comical curiosity and then, ones of a mild anxiety.

In the calm of the limited flow, the stillness of the air and the jutting trees in the horizon, the beauty of the moment brought lightness that is beyond description. The load seemed to evaporate, slowly getting untethered from my soul, leaving in its wake a wistfully empty light space. 

As the stream continued to struggle and the distant trees did a mild jig in honour, a few things came alive for me. One of them, was this : Do things on a whim. They have a charm that charm can’t fully explain!  



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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Death Of A Dad!

“You look occupied”. He had said. And then added, “You must take time off from work. Spend time with all of us.  Read. Drop your computer and office. Write your book..” and almost as an afterthought added, “don’t keep peering into your phone so much”.

I laughed. For all his illness, he had the knack to pack a punch into every feeble statement that escaped the stiffness of his lips. I looked up from my phone that I was peering into and smiled. 

I was in a playful mood too. “For how many days should I follow that routine”, I asked. “Seven”. He said. “One week”.  The “At least” that he said after the ‘one week’ didn't quite translate into sound. But by then I was used to getting by with the occasional capability to read his lips when the movement of his lips didn't translate to sound.  

I smiled. Put the phone aside.  His message had reached my head. That was on Christmas day, 2013.  

Monday last.  I am making a few notes and planning the week ahead. The mobile rings piercing the stillness and breaking the silence of the early hours. The clock silently speaks as the eye darts to catch it says: 4.31 AM. It is my brother on the line.  A sundry thought assortment race up and down as the simple ringtone sounds shrill and tears into the morning. Perhaps, an accidental touch of the redial button or the nephew’s playing some game. I think.    

I pick the up the call to what seem like muffled sobs.  And then the sobs erupt in victory, beating the vain attempts to muffle them.  He says in-between the quiet sobs, “Appa is gone”.  My dad was no more.

Tears. Almost like a cloud burst triggered flash-flood, flow down my cheek. A sudden cold envelops my body. In less than ten seconds I shoot a set of rapid fire questions. “what are you saying?” “How is amma?” “How do you know” and such else.  

He composes himself and explains. In a short time, we quickly regain composure to discuss, as two pragmatic adult men would, the practicalities of getting to Madurai as soon as possible. Before hanging up, he says, “You take care. And you don’t get worked up.”

Since that moment, life has been a fast whorl.  Dad was central to our lives. If there was one person who I could look up with awe, regard and love, he was gone. If there was a purpose to the spirit of the daily fight, it was deflated. If there was an over encompassing hand that would soak all our troubles up and then set us free with energy, that hand was missing. If there was a compass to our lives, it needed resetting.

Born into a rural family with a dozen brothers and sisters, the rich beats of rural traditions were close to his heart even as a quintessentially modern outlook stayed as his most preferred lens. For the longest time I can remember. 

The last week has been an emotional roller coaster ride. The only seat belts we have had on us have been memories of earlier times, unconditional love from family, relatives, friends, well wishers and lots of people who I wished I knew better. At least their names, for a start! My phone and mail box reek of condolence messages and calls (several that went unanswered). All loaded with love and peppered with care. If there was a lifetime of debt that I was to carry, well, this is it!   

It may just be me. When the plot or a protagonist reaches a point of inflection, in a book that is well written, I pause the reading and put the book down for a bit.   Chewing and digesting what the lines say and what the spaces in-between them mean, invariably resisting the ever so compelling urge to turn to the next page and get on with “what happens next”.  So, I pause. Most times, reflect. Sometimes read passages all over again. See meaning that had escaped me. At other times, I even write, just to express what is running on my mind.

That is a habit my dad held dear. And amongst the stuff that I inherited from him, that habit stands tall. Amongst the most practiced!  

In that spirit, there will be a few blogposts this time. Not eulogies. But more descriptions of what happened since that call at 4.31 AM on a fateful Monday morning.  Maybe an incident here. A story there.  Memories all over.  And maybe from it all, there will be an inference or two. About our times, our cultures, of recalcitrant sons and a very different father.   

Truth be told, it is just my way of dealing with his death. Of loss. Even as peaceful sleep remains elusive these will be attempts to make sense of all whats on my mind. The struggle to piece our lives together and limp back to its regular rhythms is only matched by the acute awareness that our lives will remain inexplicably changed.      

And so, we consign his body to flames that very Monday.  Our heads tonsured, barefoot, our dhotis dripping wet, garlands around our neck, we walk back to the car.  The result of death taking him and we letting a rich paraphernalia of rural customs and traditions flow, and take charge of us.  A relative from our village walks close by in company.  

He hisses in my ear. “As part of our customs, you can’t go out of home or do your normal activities ‘like computer’ and so on..”  I turn to look at him in surprise and he understands my question before I ask it. “For seven days” he says. 

And then adds “at least”.  I hear the ‘at least’ loud and clear. 

My dad always had his ways. Only this time, it needn't have been this way.  
  

PS : The last time I wrote of him is here. And I think it was better written!  


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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Twinkle Wrinkle


The two cups of hot tea that he makes for us, two weary travelers, on a cold Udaipur morning fills the air. As the chill of the morning seeks renewal with a fresh gust of cold air, every sip of his tea seems to set the system right. 

He speaks, well, succinctly. He doesn't need to speak a lot more. For his tea does the talking. It is both hot and crisp and with a sting of something like ginger. Keeping us awake. 

As the tea sinks in and the eyes see more of the man, the wrinkles became apparent. First, some. And then, some more. As he adjusts the apology of the woolens that's on him, even more become visible. 

Ten rupees gets passed on to him. 

He searches for change of which there is none. He searches some more, rummaging through what seems to be a sheaf of yesterdays newspapers. Perhaps he has some cash there.  After another hurried ruffle, looks up and with an apology laced accent, says, “I don’t have change”.

“How much does it cost?  How much do you have to give”, I ask. 

The combination of abundant chill of the winter morning and the travel induced weariness that seamlessly envelop every bone, checking for the price of his tea before drinking it, was missed. Besides, this is a roadside stall. How much could it be!?! 

“Nothing”.  “I have nothing”. He says falteringly. “Actually, I had, but can’t find it”.  

Sheepishness announcing its presence through a substantial drop in the decibel level of his voice at the end of each sentence. 

“Doesn’t matter”. I say.  And move on.  Not bothering to stop and check with him. After all, It was ten rupees. Not a million.  The old man with the wrinkles indeed made a very genuine attempt and seemed sincerely out of change.  

As I get into the cab, the old man shouts out. “Wait”. He says running  as fast as his wobbly feet can bring him. “Now, what did I miss”, I wonder and hurriedly get out of the car. 

He grabs my hand and passes on a pack of biscuits to me. “For the five rupees”. He says. “Your balance”.

“It doesn’t matter”. I repeat. 

“To you”. He completes the sentence. And then adds, “It does matter. To me.” With a firmness that befits a commander at war. 

I smile and accept his biscuits. The wrinkles on his face stretch in sweet surrender to a smile that sprouts from nowhere. Perhaps to announce a quaint victory. Maybe in satisfaction of preserving what is dear to him: his pride. 

I swallow hard. The lesson stays. I say "thank you". We look at each other for a few seconds.  He smiles. Suddenly, the twinkle in his eye outshines every wrinkle on the face. I smile too.   



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Sunday, February 09, 2014

Smiling Neigh #WINS


These horses hold their sway at a small temple in the interiors of rural Tamil Nadu.  They convey colour and sense of raw presence through the lens of the camera. 

Through the lens of the eye, the statues almost jump at you with a neigh of a horse in motion. Especially when you see multitudes of people thronging the precincts with hope and fervour. Cooking the traditional pongal , dancing to hard beats and an alien but alluring tune.   All in reverence. In honour of the lord.

For the ill to be warded. A child to be cured.  Or even a prayer of thanks, for all that has been and in subtle way, asking for the ‘nice’ to perpetuate! 

Today, for some reason, these horses with their vibrant colours and reverberating neighs come before my eyes as I review an assortment of thoughts that I want to share at #WIN 

There are a heap of real cool people coming in today. I have had great fun putting my thoughts together, not to mention dealing with the countless memories that came rushing back of Sundar, Ghost Particle, Manu and several others! People who I aspired to hang out with on blogs ten years ago and who went to become wonderful friends. Yes. Its I hope My Story will resonate with a few that come. 

Follow #WIN on twitter today. And of course, wish me some more luck! 



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