The return of the lamp

First thing that happened in my maternal home is the lighting of the lamp.

Why was the lamp lit? Who did it? I have no clue.

Since getting up early in the morning is not one of my traits, I never got a chance to see it being lit. But sometimes, when many years later I would get up early hoping to help out in the kitchen, I would see one of my aunts light the lamp. This I thought must be because of my grand mother’s instructions and left it at that.

While I was always mildly religious and ritualistic, I was a little reluctant to be overtly enthusiastic in the matters of the realms above. After my marriage into a family that I believed was spiritual, I was astounded when my husband and my mother-in-law claimed to be ‘far too superior to mere mortals’. It was difficult to reconcile with the pettiness of living while still being on such a moral high ground.

I completely distanced myself from the so-called ‘spiritual’ and focused instead on nurturing my child,teaching my students and donning my many mantles to keep the family going and these I found far more interesting and engaging.

Later when my marriage collapsed soon after my brother’s untimely death, I almost quit lighting the lamp, temple-hopping and various other associated rituals and practices.

Recently though, I feel an overwhelming need to bring in the light, keep the lamp burning, practice meditation, revise the Sanskrit shlokas, take up yoga and perhaps recreate the peace and calm I felt in my grandmother’s home while watching the flame slowly burn out in the morning or in the evening when watching the tulsi plant glow in the light of the solitary diya.

Perhaps it is sheer nostalgia, perhaps it is a yearning for what is not, perhaps its just age.

But as of now, I find it calming and elevating to light the lamp first thing in the morning, do the yoga, meditate, have breakfast and leave for work.

What I would like to add here is writing in the wee hours and do some reading too, oh! what an accomplishment it would be to be able to do that!

The lamp returns

brightening my mornings

meditating over my evenings

as the universe oversees

in her many gentle ways

a life often turned awry

and holds close a course

of living channeling in giving

for love, for peace, for happiness

beyond what is and what is not.

Evening sat quiet

Evening sat in a corner

feet tucked neatly beneath

drooping shoulders and drowsy eyes

a coffee mug was desolate

a fan blade turned askew asking

the breeze at the window

said, ‘you there?’

‘I miss’, said she

‘free falling sheets of wetness

the presence of a hand

a shoulder to lean

a heart to hear

random musings

the feet dangling out into the sun

the wind riding next to me

birds snooping on to our words

the grass listening in’.

Her eyes moist

her voice cracking

the night came quickly enough

gathering her to quietude

and that was that.

Whose water is it anyway?

In the busy bye-lanes of R T Nagar in Bengaluru, tanker lorries jostle for space on the small roads where small business owners, push carts and pedestrians try to make their way. As the summer peaks, the tanker lorries do brisk business, the demand for drinking water rises with the rising temperature.

After all, none of the apartment owners or tenants have bothered to follow the BBMP diktat of installing rain water harvesting or ground water recharging mechanisms. With money that the flat registration agents ask for greasing palms to get the papers moving, a lot of such mandatory laws can easily be ditched for good.

A gentleman who is lucky to own a plot with has access to ground water in abundance is perhaps earning in crores but neither his residence nor his style of living shows much improvement may be to avoid unwanted attention . Tankers after tankers leave his premises day in and day out and no body questions, the locals are either ignorant that if water is pumped out regularly it is going to affect everyone or just don’t care until their own bore wells run dry. A happy coalition of ignorance exists while milking the earth for personal benefits continues unabated. It makes sense not to improve the water connections or the PWD work as the scope for sale of water is not affected. Water mafia is a reality!

Happily dumping the garbage into the lakes which are already shrinking, disappearing and contaminated the common man is contributing as much as he can own disastrous end!

So far so good! The Chennai water body has run out of water! Bangalore will soon follow suit. Soon cries for water will raise from every part of the country. Where do we turn to then?

Monsoon rains are not harvested where it is aplenty.

In other parts of the country, there is ignorance and callousness.

Temple eco systems which consisted of a network of ponds and trees are lying unattended to. Perhaps reviving the culture of sauntering out in the evenings, gathering beneath peepal trees and diving into temple ponds and lakes will help in reconnecting man to earth and help us realize the need to protect our surroundings.

If any thing the current generation and their immediate predecessors will have to own up to the sin of causing irreversible damage to the environment without any care for the future of their own children or that of the planet.

Water, water everywhere not a drop to drink! is already the norm.

It’s time we got out on the weekends to build the community, clean a lake, pond or a well.

Let’s get started. We are too late already!

Of heroes and hero worship

Growing up I never had posters of heroes or heroines adorning my wall. I could never picture myself getting worked into a frenzy for an autograph.

Perhaps Leander Peas would kick me up into storm of action as I am still in awe of what he did to the cause of Indian Tennis or may be A R Rahman, whose autograph I did get but managed to misplace and lose!

I always wanted to meet the ethereal looking Gabriela Sabatini, the grunt queen Monica Seles, the irrepressible John McEnroe and the beautiful Steffi Graf and the handsome hunk Andre Agassi.

Yes of course, I would love to shake hands with the legendary P.T. Usha, Mercy Kuttan, PU Chithra, Milka Singh, Saina Nehwal, Sania Mirza, get a selfie with Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath.

I would love to meet Sugatha Kumari, the Malayalam poet, or S. Radhakrishnan of the famous ‘ Munpe Parakkunna Pakshikkal’ or MT Vasudevan Nair. I always wanted to meet ONV Kurup but now he is no more! Javed Akhtar, I would swoon on meeting or Gulzar, oh! what writing!

I would stand in queue to meet Vandana Shiva, the fire brand eco feminist and Medha Patkar as I am reading more on her now.

Or maybe Tabu that beauty from South Indian Cinema. I ran into a former model who I looked up to while growing up when I was in Mumbai and went on to share my excitement to which, Mehr Jessia replied rather disinterestedly, ‘but that was so long ago!’ She is India’s first super model!

If it were writers I would love to meet Manu Joseph of ‘The illicit happiness of other people’, Anita Nair, Jhumpa Lahiri, Amitav Ghosh, or Richard Bach for his Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I would love to meet Greta Gaard for her writings on Eco Feminism. And Gurucharan Das for his book, ‘The difficulty of being good’. Yeah, I would love to meet M J Akbar to settle a score, nothing controversial there, but I am keen to meet Piyush Goyal for how he is transforming Indian Railways and perhaps Rajyavardhan Rathore.

But mostly I would spend a fortune to be with my family, my darling daughter, my friends from school or college and a certain friend by far too dear.

The real heroes in our lives are well, in our lives!

Sisterhood of souls

Sitting there amidst what is green

bright and beautiful

timeless one evening

amidst soft wafts of coffee

sweetness of cookies

free and freeing themselves

they sat simply gazing

girls hanging out together

in simple girlie times

of talk, laughter and much leg pulling

looking out for each other

holding on and strengthening

claiming new territories

climbing on to walls, rocks and some rough terrain

a pat, a hug and a smile

bonds formed,renewed and released

over mehendi

a cup of tea

a shaking of hips

an outing to the films

a picking and some haggling in the flea market

over some small talk

of how do you dos and how are yous

sealed later in funny selfies

and fb posts

sisterhood of souls

reach out over books or drinks or fun and games

spread cheer

share love

cheers to that!

To a dear friend, mentor and philosopher

Gentle in your ways

master wordsmith

you win others every time

your stories connect the hearts

awaken emotions

sharpen resolves

drive to excellence

Yes, the world is not often kind

even if you are

not understanding

even if you are

nor trusting

nor fair and just

What is loved and respected

is, believe me, also loathed

at least by some.

Dear friend, mentor, philosopher

trust me when I say

it takes a big heart to know other

give time

never give up

surge ahead

forging new ties

the world looks to thee

for guidance

even if it does not know it today

it will, for it has to.


PS: Thou shalt win

Auto wallah & the skin specialist!

It’s a non-working Saturday but I am up and ready to go to work. In fact I had already reached the bus stop when my colleague reminds me that it is a holiday.

Having taken a few days off, maybe I was over anxious to compensate!!! Funny!!!

Red in the face and light in my heart, I decide to eat out before heading back home.

A masala dosa and a hot cup of filter kapi later, I board an auto. I ask as usual, ‘kitna loge?’, in Bangalore, one is free to speak any language. But even before he replies, I said, ’30, hai na’. The auto wallah laughs affably, ‘are madam, you ask the question but you decide the charge as well!’ . I keep quiet.

A little while later, the auto wallah peers into the mirror in front of him and asks me, ‘these pimples on your face….’

I am like, ‘what????’

‘Yeah, he continues, ‘these pimples, they came recently right?’

When I don’t reply, he continues, ‘ don’t use chemicals madam. My son has it too. Apply besan powder mixed with milk and let it dry on your face. It will be cured soon. Don’t use others towels etc. My mom does it for my son, that is why.’

I look at him and smile.

Funny how auto wallahs have turned dermatologists!

His sincerity in advise cannot be ignored but I am reminded of something I wish to forget.

As I reach my home, he speaks again,’Don’t feel bad about my talking to you like that madam. Just use the besan powder and see the difference. No need to go to the doctor’.

Unsolicited advice definitely, but was not offensive somehow.

May be it is his tone or his attitude.

Its is amusing how random strangers try to connect and sometimes do that well!

Thank you, I tell the auto wallah in my mind.

Like many others, I too have had long associations with the auto rickshaw drivers. In fact, they were my best friends while I was in Indore. At PTMs or annual functions when we had to stay back at school, my friends would ask me, ‘so how are you going’, ‘with the auto wallah,’ I would joke.

Well mannered and eager to help I never had to think twice before taking the help of an auto rickshaw driver and that too irrespective of the time of the day, especially in Indore.

One day when I chanced to appear in the local daily with my colleagues, I reached the auto stand to be shown the news paper, ‘Madam, they said almost happily, this is you!’

That sealed my friendship with auto wallah brothers forever!

Saalumarada Thimmakka: A True Karma Yogi

The World Environment Day was being celebrated and we were lucky to get a nod from the much awaited guest.

Since the confirmation came late, there was a lot of last minute hustle. Some things needed to be sorted out but as the word got around, there was curiosity, then interest and a surge of affection.

I listened to my students who exclaimed in surprise and enthusiasm, ” She is coming! really! ”

” We know her”.

“I have been to her village a colleague said.”

“I come from her place’.

As the car approached the entrance, we hurried to receive the guest, the Chief Guest, a frail thin woman bent with time but spunky with a spark and a will that one could sense even at a distance.

She is Saalurmarada Thimmakka, the 106 years old environmentalist, tree lover, the mother to many trees, an icon and recently the winner of the highest civilian award in the country, Padmashree.

In her address to the audience, seated at the edge of their seats, the lady spoke at length for about 10 minutes on the subject she knows the best, her life.

Thimmakka got married very early as was the custom in those times. Many years after marriage, she could not conceive and this invited ridicule for her and her husband. Infact her husband was feeling depressed about the issue when Thimmakka came up with a radical suggestion.

‘Why not adopt trees? Plant a few saplings and then nurture them. They even live longer’.

Her husband agreed and together the couple watered, nurtured as many as 800 trees in the village of Hulikkal.

Though the villagers laughed at her initially, they realized the significance of her actions later and applauded her.

In fact the state syllabus had a lesson about her role in conservation of trees and this led to a curious student landing up at her house. The young boy went back to school and shared that he had met the lady who planted trees and then the meetings and sharing began. People invited her to events and gatherings and soon she became very popular in the state.

But what I wanted to share here is the aura that her presence in the campus brought.

After the event, many of my colleagues shared, ‘ there was something different about the place in her presence, did you notice that?’

I had not shared with anyone how I felt overwhelmed and was tearing up every now and then while listening to her.

Men and women who were much accomplished rushed to her side, the illiterate, strong willed woman who engaged their souls with unspoken magic and some how forced them to behave like small children seeking attention.

Yes, there is something about the souls, I realized again. Something that is deep and connecting. Something draws you from the inside, it has to be the power of her being, the purity of her intent, the greatness of her actions, the sincerity that drove her to love each tree, each sapling and make the planet better for everyone including her beloved children, the trees.

The Karma Yogi

Powerful in simplicity

Books and images

It is almost 20 years since I first read ‘The Scarlet Letter’ by Nathaniel Hawthrone, yet the shock or the feel of anger at the injustice to Hester Prynne is felt even today with the same intensity.

When I happened to read about the writer somewhere recently the bright red letter A stamped on to Hester’s chest is what came to my mind.

Books do leave indelible imprints on our minds. Who could deny that it is the picture of Oliver’s ‘stretched arms pleading’ Please Sir, I want some more’ is what comes to their mind when they think of the novel, Oliver Twist.

When I think of The Great Expectations, the haunting image of the lonely Miss Havisham is wants comes to my mind before anything else. Little Pip standing uncomfortably in front of Miss Havisham in her lonely grotesque mansion.

I remember reading the Autobiography of a Yogi with great interest and I must say it is the image of the yogi’s levitation that springs to my mind as I think about the book.

I happened to chance upon the biography of Einstein and I remarked how in A Personal History by Katherine Graham, she recollects having heard or seen I don’t remember exactly of Einstein going around in circles in a canoe for hours together. Did I make that up? Don’t think so, this is my most enduring image from the book.

How do writers manage to etch these images into the readers mind? What supreme ability to express must lead them to do this or is it mere practice to perfection?

I will conclude this by mentioning an image from a long and often told story of Ramayana.

The Sage Valmiki was a petty robber who looted pilgrims, saints and others who crossed a forest for his livelihood. One day he stopped a few saints and asked them to empty their purses. The saints instead of merely following the instructions of the thug confronted him with questions. They said, So, you live by looting others for your family, but do they partake your sins too? Assured of family support for his profession, Valmiki said, ‘Yes, of course, they do’. The saint asked him to go and get a reality check. The poor robber was pretty disappointed when none in his family came forward to own up or partake his sins. He came back dejected and confessed the same. The saints asked him to chant the name of ‘Rama’ which he did. This led to his realization.

I like this story and the picture of the thief going from his wife to his children seeking support for his nefarious acts brings it alive in my eyes.

So what books have you been reading and what images have stuck in your mind?

Isn’t it interesting how a sole image from a book conveys so much about the story?

സമാജ സേവാ

കുട്ടി കേട്ടുവോ രാമേട്ടൻ പറഞ്ഞത്
ഇല്ല എന്താ പറഞ്ഞതാവോ
ഇല്ലാത്തതുണ്ടാക്കാൻ നല്ല മിടുക്കാ അയാൾക്ക്‌
ഹും നീ അയാൾ പറഞ്ഞാൽ കേൾക്കില്ല അത്രേ
പിന്നെ വീട് മുഴുവൻ വീണു കിടക്കുന്ന മുടി ആണത്രെ
അയാൾ വന്നാൽ നീ എണീറ്റ് നിൽക്കില്ല ന്നു
ചായ കൂടി ചോദിക്കാറില്ല അത്രേ

നിങ്ങൾ ചോദിച്ചോ ചേച്ചി അയാൾ എന്ത് കുന്തമാണു ചെയ്തിരുന്നതെന്ന്
ഇല്ല അതിപ്പോ
ഞാനെന്തു ചോദിക്കാന് മോളെ
നിങ്ങടെ ജീവിതം
പിന്നെ ഇത്ര നേരം ഇച്ചേച്ചി എന്താ എന്നോട് പറഞ്ഞോടിരുന്നത്
അല്ല എന്തിനാണ് ന്നു
ഒന്ന് പോയ്യെ ചേച്ചി
സ്വന്തം കാര്യം നോക്കി നടക്കു
ഒരു സമാജ സേവാ വന്നിരിക്കുന്നു