Thursday, July 14, 2011

Check your privilege


I am in need of music - Elizabeth Bishop

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!

There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.

Monday, June 6, 2011


I am sure this is ubiquitous and every one of you would have faced it some time or the other. I am talking about that `mild sense of disapproval’ exhibited by your fellow denizens towards you on various occasions. There are several layers to it and I will explore some of them. You will soon become immune to your spouse’s ‘MSoD’ whenever your daughter throws a tantrum or refuses to eat healthy. And also when he opens your wardrobe and finds it in frightful disarray or makes that occasional visit to the kitchen to ‘prepare tea’ and finds it in its usual pell-mell. Not that you mend your ways and become a supermom overnight – you can’t; you either become defiant and give that look of ‘It’s your daughter too’ or ‘it’s your kitchen too’ or you develop that useful thick skin. The second option comes in handy on several other occasions.
Like when your Mother-in-law exhibits MSoD when she sees you not wearing bangles anymore or that sacred mangalsutra. At times your mom and mom-in-law would together exhibit MSoD when they talk about their good old days when there was no domestic help and they did all the household work themselves including fetching water from the well and taking care of a brood of children and yet miraculously being far more healthy than ‘you’ when all you do is just cook a sparse meal and go to office.
By now you would have got used to your mother’s high standards of excellence but you still can’t escape being distraught when she shows acute MSoD when you are immobile in the hospital after surgery. The old lady in the next room too had a surgery like you yesterday and she already had her breakfast and is walking in the corridor, she would say. You somehow find the energy and launch into explaining the difference between laparascopic surgery and open surgery.
And then there are colleagues in office who get the sickness of MSoD when you try to discuss something you read in the newspaper that morning. ‘Do you find time to read the paper in the morning’ – such an innocuous question but there is a slew of underlying accusations – you shirker, how can you not feel guilty being outside the kitchen in the morning – you have your priorities all mixed up and so on and so forth. And listening to their discussing their culinary skills, housekeeping skills and parenting skills would give you a major inferiority complex, forget about their MSoD, when you talk like an ignoramus in those areas.
Then the feeling encompasses you when the boss walks into your cabin and invariably finds you talking over the phone or when the gymnasium instructor gives that look which says ‘how do you think you would shed weight if you make occasional visits to the gym?’
Well all is not lost. You can counter them by exhibiting MSoD yourself at all of them, if you remember and if you get a wee chance. And then there is your angelic daughter for whom you are everything. Hmmm..... not really. You realize that the day is not far off when she too would be inflicted with MSoD – but as of now she is only curious as to why I don’t apply make-up or atleast lipstick like X‘s mom or why can’t I bake a Barbie cake or why I scold and shout at her while Y’s mom is always sweet.
So the all permeating MSoD is here to stay and the sooner you get used to it the better it is for you. Maybe this sense of disapproval stems from the universal feeling of ‘My way or the highway.’ And with delusion of being an evolutionary biologist I try to trace the origins of MSoD. It is the remnants of evolutionary pressure of organizing ourselves into a society for survival. The individual who does not conform is shoe-horned to fit or else viewed with suspicion and treated with scorn.
Whatever it may be I have devised my set of ways for dealing with it:
1) Act as if you don’t get it. This robs them of the pleasure of seeing you affected.
2) Confront directly – saying in so many words, what is left unsaid.
3) Put on the face of a martyr – this would irk the other person and make him forget his MSoD.
4) Talk blandly – shorn of all feeling and you would be slotted as a ‘Gone case’ beyond redemption. And that is wonderful for you.
5) Exhibit sense of humour if you can find the stomach for it – tickle their ribs and they will forget their MSoD, if only for a while.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Of cloudless climes and starry skies.....What imagery.

SHE walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that 's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

- Lord Byron

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Clarity or Confusion?

He did not remember when the transformation took place, nor what the trigger was. No one looking at him would guess the turbulence raging across his mind. He was sitting in the verandah of the temple leaning against a pillar. He looked so serene - a fifty year old man, chief priest of that famous temple, displaying the appropriate accoutrement of his religion and venerated by those who visited the temple. The courtyard had a few trees - the neem tree was his favorite. He had seen it growing right from when he was a young boy and used to accompany his father to the temple. The fragrance of the neem leaves and jasmine flowers wafting in the gentle breeze lulled his senses and took him back to bygone days.

His father was the priest then and till his adolescence he would enjoy tagging along with his father during his school holidays. His teachers said he was a brilliant boy and that he would go places. During his teen years he stopped visiting the temple - his studies and cricket with his friends occupied most his time. When the time came to enter college he chose to study Physics as it was one subject that never ceased to fascinate him.

And then one day his father died. That was it. The family had no means of survival. He had to take up the responsibility and well-meaning family friends advised him to follow his father's footsteps to take up the readily available mantle of the priest. It was god's plan, they said. All that he knew was that he had to earn money to keep his family going. So he became the priest of the temple. Slowly he lost contact with his friends and went deeper and deeper into himself. His natural intelligence and talent for organization came to the fore and he invested all his time and energy in the temple. Slowly the temple grew and attracted devotees from far and near. There were 'more gods' in the temple now catering to the needs of the people and on festive occasions it was difficult to control the crowd. He became the chief priest and there were 3 or 4 junior priests under him.

Before he knew, years rolled by and he was already 50 years old. All that would happen in the life of a normal Indian male had happened and now his son was studying Physics in a College. To everyone he was a person to whom they could go for counselling, clarify whether a day was auspicious or not, to learn what was the appropriate puja to appease a god and so on and so forth. His calm demeanor and soft voice was soothing to the regular devotees of the temple. But inside he was highly agitated by his growing self-doubts and uncomfortable questions.

He tried to remember when the seeds of doubt about the existence of god was sown in his mind. Probably when the arrogant village headman who enjoyed trampling on those who worked under him showed keen interest in adorning the deity with gold and silver. Or when the corrupt bank officer insisted on making a large donation for the upkeep of the temple. Or when the other priests distributed 'prashad' dripping with ghee to the well-fed devotees when the village urchins stood outside the temple and watched longingly. Or maybe when he started studying his son's books and was intrigued enough to stay awake night after night studying when everyone slept.

Whatever it was, now he no longer believed in a theistic god who answered prayers, who enjoyed particular foods, who demanded offerings for appeasement and who was whimsical in doling out favors and was quite tolerable about misdeeds. The concept of an omnipotent, omniscient and beneficent god did not ring true given the happenings around him. He turned agnostic and was repulsed to see people everyday who acted as if they were the centre of the universe and prayed for petty things selfishly. He loathed getting up in the morning and having to go through the motions of adorning the deity, paying obeisance to it and performing pujas. He hated it when people came and requested him to perform a puja for their new car. He could not stand it when women - young and old, in shimmering silk sarees approached him to ask about the auspicious time to break their fast. Some days all he wanted to do was scream and shriek.

Torn between his conscience and his economic necessity he was at a loss to decide what he could do. Unfortunately he had not gained any employable skills other than learning a few sanskrit verses. But going through the charade was killing him slowly every day. He wondered how many more were there like him in the small temples dotted across the country as well as in the huge money spinning temples. He was resigned to his state and decided to perform his duty with a sense of detachment. When a group of noisy devotees entered the temple 'the agnostic priest' got up with a sigh and entered the sanctun sanctorum to perform the role he was supposed to execute. No time to think now; he would do that later. And he wondered where his thoughts would lead him....

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Crumbling Sugar Cube.....


If I should have a daughter.......

If I should have a daughter, instead of “MOM”, she's going to call me Point B
because that way she knows that no matter what happens
atleast she can always find her way to me.

And I am going to paint Solar Systems on the backs of her hands,
so she has to learn the entire universe before she can say
'Oh, I know that like the back of my hand.'

And she's going to learn that this life will hit you,
in the face,
wait for you to get back, just so it can kick you in the stomach.

But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs
how much they like the taste of air.

There's hurt here that cannot be fixed by Band aids or poetry
So the first time she realizes that Wonder Woman isn’t coming
I'll make sure she knows she does not have to wear the cape all by herself.

Because no matter how wide you stretch your fingers,
your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain you want to heal.
Believe me, I've tried

And baby, I'll tell her, don't keep your nose up in the air like that
I know that trick, I've done it a million times
You're just smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail
back to a burning house so you can find the boy who lost everything in the fire
to see if you can save him.

Or else find the boy who lit the fire in the first place, to see if you can change him.
But I know she'll anyway, so instead I'll always keep an extra supply of chocolate
and rainboots nearby.

Because there's no heartbreak that chocolate can't fix
Ok, there's a few heartbreaks that chocolate can't fix
but that's what the rainboots are for, because rain will
wash away everything if you will.

I want her to look at the world through the underside of a glass bottom boat
To look through the microscope at the galaxies that exist on the pinpoint of a human mind
Because that's the way my mom taught me.
That there'll be days like this
There'll be days like this my momma said 

When you open your hands to catch & wind up with only blisters and bruises
When you step out of the phone booth and try to fly
And the very people you want to save are the ones standing on your cape
When your boots will fill with rain and you'll be up to your knees in disappointment
And those are the very days you've all the more reason to say thank you.

Because there's nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop
kissing the shoreline no matter how many times it’s swept away.

You will put the wind in winsome ... lose some
You will put the star in starting over and over.

And no matter how many landmines erupt in a minute
Be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny place called life.

And yes, on a scale from one to overtrusting, I'm pretty damn naive.
But I want her to know that this world is made out of sugar
It can crumble so easily
But don't be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it
“Baby,” I'll tell her, “remember your mama is a worrier
and your papa is a warrior,
and you're the girl with small hands and big eyes who never stops asking for more.”

Remember that good things come in threes and so do bad things
And always apologize when you've done something wrong.
But don't you ever apologize for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining.
Your voice is small, but don't ever stop singing.

And when they finally hand you heartache,
when they slip war and hatred under your door
and offer you handouts on street corners
of cynicism and defeat,
you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.

Sarah Kay

Friday, March 18, 2011


It was fascinating to watch her tear-filled eyes with the droplets beginning to roll down her cheeks. She appeared to be very sad yet surprisingly she also looked very beautiful and serene. I saw her sitting in the front seat of her car gazing out of the window while waiting at the signal this morning on my way to office. I was intrigued and my imagination took reins.
The calm handsome man driving the luxury car should be her husband. He was focused in his driving and was skilfully manoeuvring his vehicle unaware of his wife’s state. She looked simple and elegant in her sky blue cotton saree. I was observing them now for quite some time and was curious about what could have moved her to tears. It looked like she was more careful about her husband not noticing that she was crying, so much so that she did not mind strangers seeing her in tears. She tried to wipe her tears imperceptibly.
What could have been the preceding chain of events....Maybe the couple had a fight and the husband said something harsh to her. Or maybe she was regretting something she had said or did. Or were they listening to an old hindi song which made her wistful about the good old days? Was she thinking about how they had started their life filled with hope and enthusiasm and then forgot about living being caught in the web of their energy-sapping mundane activities?
Maybe today was a special day in their lives and her husband was oblivious to it making her sad. Or had she lost a loved one recently? Was she thinking of the lost opportunities in life and was consumed by regret and remorse? Did she long for her husband to comfort her while she rested her head on his shoulders? Probably she was wondering where she went wrong and lost the wonderful rapport she used to share with her husband. Familiarity surely has bred contempt in him, she must have thought. Though they were seated next to each other, they seemed to be far removed from each other.
I was tempted to smile at her and tell her, “Don’t worry; this too shall pass.” I also wanted to call her husband’s attention to his wife’s state of mind. Whatever was going on in the minds of these two individuals, I wanted to tell them , “Think of the bigger picture... Remember the shared joy and experiences of yore. Nothing is worth this sadness and don’t wait for the other person to make the first move. So bridge the gap and celebrate your life of togetherness...After all life is ephemeral and would slip away at the blink of an eye....”
The moral of the story is “Don’t think you should be idle while stuck at a traffic signal.... you can make a film, albeit in your mind, out of the hapless characters you see around you. Let your imagination run riot and give wings to your fantasy."