Monday, December 28, 2009

Izz Aal Well?

There are so many I would love tos in me, listed every time and then as easily closed. There is also an If I would have which keeps lurking somewhere in the abstract abyss of my thoughts. These two incomplete expressions often remind us of the halves in us; one half that is bursting to come out and the other half that smothers it, being the more submissive one. This unreal half is always answerable to a system that is run by a set of shallow protocols. But it is the other half, the real one, that writhes and wriggles in all of us, where we all want to live. I have wanted to be so many people at so many different times -- a singer wishing to sing a Gulzar creation, sometimes a National Geographic photographer, a Himalayan explorer breathing the pristine mountains every day, and most of the times a brooding poet. Once there was also a juvenile ambition of becoming a doctor which I had to let go for my growing indifference to the world of science and figures. How we are always taught that passion is only fit for the dreams, in actual life it is practicality that works and earns. I have always believed a life lived fulfilling expectations is mere existence. The current B-town rage Three Idiots was a very heartwarming fare. Once again all the Ifs and Could haves lunged at me. In actuality there are very few Ranchos who rebel against the system and still live to see their name on the top of every list. It is such a rarity to see an idiot succeed. But the message that Rancho's character conveys is loud and clear, and worth pondering for a while. Our country is a bagful of idiots who have given up the call of their dreams for a stable and humdrum existence. But the hypocrisy of our society is such that we seldom hear these individuals complaining. Talents are let to rot and die, gathering dust and neglect, while minting money and following the wheel rut remain the eternal mantra.

Another year rolls past and a fresh year is waiting to flower and shower its surprises and shocks on the world. Peace talks, the raging consequences of global warming, recession graph, the Vancouver Olympics, the much awaited Harry Potter film, every possible sphere will once again make waves, waves of victory and defeat. And amidst this somewhere in some neverland an idiot will still be wishing for a handful of stars, just like this picture here. I just hope his heart beats croon the new confidence mantra Aal Izz Well!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Bee

It buzzes past the myriad mazes
of a ticking, restless mind.
Maze after maze, it searches for nectar,
that dewy, lusty taste of life.
There is a forest of grey and white,
a forlorn winter scape.
High walls and claustrophobia
guard this haunting world of nonexistence.
The bee hovers and beats its wings aimlessly,
willfully hitting itself on the dank walls.
With each passing day,
there are flakes of gossamer wing
tumbling down like the hopes of a spring,
of blossoms abundant.
And then, there is the bee,
floating and gliding in a vacuum
without any wing, without any spring.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A darling pet python???

I remember odd bits of a childhood memory when father had once told me about a certain tennis star who had a python for a pet. I can recall the tides of fear and astonishment that had surged inside my little head then. Now almost after 20 years, Sam tells me about an American colleague of his who once had a pet baby python. At first I just brushed aside the conversation as another inscrutable aspect of the American culture. In India we do have domesticated snakes but once the snake charmers catch them, their poison tooth is pulled out which leaves them perfectly harmless. Over centuries and civilizations people have been fascinated with the domesticating of animals and birds, but a pet python simply sounds like a classic oxymoron. But eventually the incident turned out to be quite riveting. This particular python, while a baby, would feed on mice and infant pigs. But as it grew older it refused food and sulked inside its glass cage for days. Its concerned owner took it to a vet to check if everything was alright with the otherwise healthy and happy creature. The vet observed that the python was growing up and wanted more food to satiate its equally growing appetite. As a means of food mechanism, the python scales an image of the shape and the size of its prey as a comparision with its own bulk. This hungry python was actually starving itself so that it could feed on its owner!! The horror struck man was advised by the vet that he should leave his prized pet at the care of the zoo keepers. After this appalling end I could feel a little chill down my spine. Perhaps it's one of those little culture shock moments.

This episode further rings a bell about a certain short story of Khushwant Singh "The Mark of Vishnu" where Gunga Ram, a domestic servant dies a painful death from snake bite. Gunga Ram was illiterate and was therefore unreasonably religious and superstitious. He considered all life forms as sacred, especially the snakes. He regarded the snakes as the choicest of God's creatures and therefore they should not be harmed or attacked. And thus he revered the King cobra that lived in the house yard and every night left a saucerful of milk near his hole. The young boys of the house would often poke fun at Gunga Ram's absurd ways for they knew their science lessons well enough to be fooled by such blind beliefs. One fine day the boys manage to mangle and finally capture the King cobra in a box with the intention of parading him as a mark of their bravado in school. When the science teacher unfastened the box, the hurt and angry cobra darted out in a hissing fury. Gunga Ram, aware of King cobra's fate, had followed the boys to school in order to beg for forgiveness from the snake god. He presented the frenzied snake with his usual saucerful of milk and bowed down as an apologetic gesture. The cobra, furious in its urge to freedom, hissed and then frantically bit Gunga Ram all over his head. Ultimately his veneration for the deadly snake cost him his dear life. Before I digress once again, I would like to observe that it is logical for any creature, when provoked or denied its need, to adopt a defensive behaviour. It is in their very nature to do so. There is always a certain amount of risk involved when one tries to tame harmful creatures. A pet python starving to devour its owner or a captive King cobra paralysing its ardent devotee with his poisonous venom is only natural. Even my cat does not think twice before giving me one of her signature paw marks when I try to get too cuddly with her. She can and does a Garfield at such times! Let animals be animals then...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The spice jar

"Take this with you, but careful -
Don't lose it in the vastness of the Atlantic."
She meant her words, my mother,
a simple woman with little desires.
True, losing 'things' across infinite miles is easy.
I have learnt it well, bit by bit.
A dear dear uncle, a cousin...
Ma told me how the sad, hungry ocean swallowed them all.
And I just stared, defeated and distanced.

The glass walls of the small jar looked familiar,
choked with cloves, cardamoms, cinnamon sticks, pepper pods.
A very Indian smell, guardians of my world.
I've emptied it into my days and nights,
into my morning tea, flavouring the curries,
always searching for that familiar aroma.
The aroma of Ma's palms,
of ginger garlic, of love and sacrifice.

Everyday I see it, the half filled, half emptied jar,
sitting mute in the disturbingly neat white kitchen cupboard.
Perfunctorily, I refilled the jar today
with imported spices from the India bazaar.
Spices that have traveled across the proverbial seven seas
shedding some skin of originality on their way.
And so I mixed them all, the Was and the Is,
letting my world unhinge into an unknown territory.
But deep inside my labyrinthine thoughts
I am scared, as if I have lost my only defense.
For the Was and the Is never meet.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

An eternal love

It all started in the summer of 1998. My parents took me to Shimla, the old British summer capital, as a treat that befitted a fifteen year old who had just gone through the harrowing experience of the Board exams. I never had the foggiest idea that this journey would cling on to me as one of the most prized nostalgic recollections. We took a toy train from Kalka to Shimla for a panoramic view of the scenic Himalayas. The train rumbled on with puffs of smoke as it snaked the steep hills, brushing past the coniferous greens and the wild roses that grew carelessly on the hill slopes. Such was my first prelude to an everlasting romance: the hills. This towering side of nature mystified me to a great extent. A feeling of immense happiness and calm reverberated in me. It felt like a bizarre dream where a perfect bliss and harmony ruled the world. With a strange awakening, I returned back to my land of sun and palms.

Thereafter I nurtured a hope that someday I shall return to the hills, once again to be awed and mesmerised by their sheer stoicism. But time does play its elusive little tricks! After a vast stretch of ten years Darjeeling happened, the shinning jewel of the North Eastern Himalayas. This experience was more poignant and deep, for this time I devoured the pastoral beauty of hills with an adult eye. The balmy smell of the oaks and the pines, and the fog clad hills rekindled a lost fire. But what actually augmented the trance was the exotic North Eastern culture. I felt far removed from the India of tropics, from the India to which I belonged. This little tourist town with the omnipresence of the hovering Kanchenjunga in the azure sky, the striking patterns of silver jewelery and the mouth watering momos was the perfect escape that one could indulge in to forget a mundane city existence. I fed on every bit of the rustic hilly charm. On the day of leaving I could sense an odd feeling of loss, as if I had left little bits of my soul scattered everywhere, among the pine clusters, in the tea gardens, on the hilltops, and finally amidst the people.

Ever since I was a kid I have always savoured Ruskin Bond's stories which abound in tales of the sleepy Himalayan towns of the pre-independence days. No other writer has been able to capture the grandeur and the simplicity of the hills at the same time like him. After these Himalayan escapades, I would often read these stories with a touch of sentimentality. Months later, after our short and memorable holiday in Darjeeling, I had to fly to Seattle, the emerald city of America. The grief of leaving behind my home and my people had allowed me no time to delve into the topography of this foreign land which was to be my home for sometime. All I could gather from here and there was that it rained nine months of the year there. And with such prepossessions I found myself in Seattle in a late spring afternoon oohing at the blood red rhododendrons and the dark tall pines that thronged the avenues. The nostalgic air of the hills at once hit my senses. There was a countryside charm in the blinding greenery and the soothing clean air. As if God had at last heard me! Redmond, our neighbourhood, might be a prominent dot on the globe for being the Microsoft capital and the home of the great Bill Gates, but to a nature gazer like me the experience of living each day in this sylvan quietude was overwhelming. Visiting the picturesque Mount Rainier (in the picture above) remains the creme de la creme of my Seattle memoirs. Shrouded by pines and maples, it looked like a piece of magic, too surreal to stand on its own on this earth. The innumerable melting glaciers on its slate gray crest resembled locks of dishevelled white hair on an old man's face that has stiffened with age and experience.

And now, my mulling over these greener times on a hot Texan day, makes them grow fainter as if they belong to a long lost world. I have been longing for a bit of the proverbial 'mountain air' for my worries to melt away like the snow on the slopes of Mount Rainier. The haunting words of Rudyard Kipling keep playing in my mind - "The smell of the Himalayas, if it once creeps into the blood of a man, he will return to the hills again and again and will love to live and die among them."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Zeroes

An abstract round
that crawls and spreads its wings
into a larger round of nothingness.
An emptiness that looms large
over a room wearing a vacant expression,
it's corners squirming and inching away.

This big lump of roundness,
dances in concentric circles
like a spider's web, like the fringe of a smarting wound.
In its core I have stored some carefully plucked mistakes.
Mistakes of many colours and patterns.
Earthy reds and azure blues.
I try to kick them hard,
so that they spill out into a sea of namelessness.
But they spring back boomerang-like
rebounding, reappearing.
This time devoid of all colours.

The circles now resemble the gnawing hollow
of sunken cheekbones and beaten desires.
A cluster of full bloomed zeroes,
zoomed and magnified in a photographic lens.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A singular tale

I often hated being an only child when I was a kid. I secretly wished for a younger sister, so that together we could weave innumerable tales of childhood and growing up. But alas, this was not to be! And to add to the woes of my solitary existence, my parents manipulated me into following a long list of dos and don'ts. They worked hard to inculcate the virtues of sharing and kindness in me so that I grew up with a humble head on my shoulders. Sometimes I grudged them for my so called single syndrome in spite of my mother's countless attempts in making me see the glamour of being the 'special' one. But it was very obvious that she never meant a single word of it even though she tried hard to be sincere and tactful at it. Her sternness would always give her away at the end. And I was to follow the wheel ruts again, and behave. But technically I was a single child and so I would anyhow retain certain single child traits. My juvenile thoughts often turned to how my parents wanted me to suffer alone, especially when my friends had siblings. While I befriended people effortlessly, I also loved cocooning up in a shell of my own. As I grew up, I realised I was a failure when it came to handle comparisons in a positive way. My father, who happens to be my worst critic, discouraged my complacence which was growing in leaps and bounds during my adolescence. I would get lost in an emotional maze and would take aeons to come out of it. Quite often I would get touchy about my 'situation', most often just so because teenage angst was always in vogue! Like any other belligerent teenager, I too loved to bask under a rebellious halo. Now, years later when I look back at my foolhardiness, I can't help laughing at myself!

The world has always been a little prejudiced regarding the only child. We are often stereotyped as spoiled, selfish and bratty. But this is just a twisted truth like the patchy outline of a story. Time and again I have been complimented by my close friends for having a flair for understanding people and their plight. Ah! God bless the friends! Contrary to the universal belief of we being apathetic, I have always been a concerned ear for my friends, no matter what the day or hour is. Strangely, the world loves to operate in contradictions. I have come across certain people who possess the temperament of a single child in spite of having siblings. But the trauma does not end here! When the "oh she's the only child" tag gets carried over to one's matrimonial realm, it results in more than one pair of raised eyebrows. The air swells with questions of adjustment, acceptance and tolerance. At such hapless times I have found it alarmingly difficult to fight these preconceived notions which are mostly groundless.
This eternal urge to make oneself understood and unscrambled sometimes takes away the cream from one's life. But as they say, certain things about the world hardly change. It's an old, stubborn place after all, strewn with age-old customs and dead conventions. And so the battle continues...

Monday, August 31, 2009

And she continued searching...

Kya karen zindagi, isko hum jo mile
Isski jaan kha gayi raat din ke giley.

Raat din giley....

Yet another soul searching number from Gulzar saab in the latest Bollywood hit Kaminey. How many times has the man done it? Weaving poetry and sense from everyday words and scenes... Before I get too carried away with my Gulzar-mania, I must restrict myself to my purpose. Such ordinary lines (and here I go again) and there opens a window to our endless war with life about shattered dreams and thwarted desires. And why not? For one is yet to meet a man to have tread the earth who would say "I've got whatever I wanted from my life, I am actually happy." Why should the realisation of happiness be so difficult? The other day I was watching Woody Allen's recent Academy flavoured Vicky Christina Barcelona and as always it happens after watching a signature Allen film, I was left thinking, thinking hard this time. I was intrigued by the character of Christina who is a nonconformist and is introduced by the narrator with these lines -- "If you asked her what it was she was gambling her emotions on to win, she would not have been able to say. She continued searching... certain only, of what she didn't want." In real life, we all are Christinas, in one way or the other. We all share her predicament and are very sure of what we don't want. Miraculously, it is a cakewalk listing out the I-don't-wants in life. But who can define what is it that we actually want? Ah.. if only! Now there lies the real sting!

Again there's this universally acknowledged truth that when one part of our life flies high in the sunny blue skies, the other spectacularly crumbles to pieces with a loud thud. How often the 'all's well with life' is just a flicker of a moment! The moment when we realise we have all we need, the conviction is lost and so is the moment. Even Facebook has quizzes that have the brains to calculate how happy one is with one's life. Probably because we humans have always calculated it in the negative! Jokes aside, how demanding can it be to put aside the blame games and the complain conspiracies and be peacefully content with one's share? Of course, it is often convenient enough to hurl the nameless acquisitions at life and call it unfair, but isn't it time we learn to be a little at ease with ourselves? Definitely soul searching can be very enriching as an experience, but at times it is just wise to resist the alienation from reality. May be it's time to kick out the whining void of wants and let in some fresh air. Christina, go take a walk!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Autumn therapy

Wings of feisty yellow and fiery red
flutter elfishly on the earth's mosaic-ed face.
A subtle pattern here, a mellow contour there
a delightful burst of life all around.
The greens of yesterday have emptied the sun,
having drunk its moods and colours, sip by sip.
Maple reds, Birch yellows, Oak golds....

Sure, there's a spell I can hear!
For this surreal, painted landscape --
Can this be real?
Must be the heady smell of the ripe, plump air!
Or perhaps something with the sun kissed colours
that nudge a nostalgic nerve of lost, forgotten years.

The flaming canvas ignites a soothing warmth
in the cold, dark chambers of my mindscape.
This golden panorama rekindles
a lost sense of tranquility.
Maple reds, Birch yellows, Oak golds...
Yes, colours can cure.
Sure enough, autumn does heal.

Thanks for everything

Two souls snuggled
under a lone umbrella,
their cloistered world peopled with raindrops outside.
Rain, the divine intervention, as someone had once called it!
The umbrella is a shield.
It muffles the unpleasant worldly advice of caution.

Rain or tears...
Who drenched me?
I would not know.
I could not feel.
Could only hear a defeated, hesitant whisper....
"Thanks for everything".

My eye lids felt tired and heavy.
The dream sitting on them had left.
But the rain was there, still hitting hard as ever,
chilling me from skin to bone.
As if to remind me of the reality clock ticking away...
Ah! So it was a dream after all!

I kept thinking of the faceless stranger under my umbrella.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Maid of the Mist

Some legends live forever, spinning the tales of a magical past and its incredible splendors. Tirelessly told and treasured over generations, they uphold the essence of their once credible past. During our recent visit to the Niagara Falls, we chanced upon the various stories that have associated themselves with the intriguing history of the magnificent falls. After watching 'Niagara - Legends of Adventure' in the park's IMAX theatre, it felt as if the raging waters of Niagara carried an altogether different meaning. The daredevilry of people in the past who challenged the fury of the falls is indeed stomach churning. From the French rope walker Charles Blondin who walked across the perilous river on a tight rope to the 63 years old school teacher Annie Taylor who of her own volition chose to tumble over the thundering cascades in a barrel, the mysteries and myths of Niagara are astounding. What is even more fascinating is that these bravehearts not only survived the ordeal but also lived to recount their moment of glory. However Lelawala's story was the one that had a lasting impression on my thoughts.

Hundreds of years before, when the place was chaste and untouched by the European explorers, an Indian tribe by the name of Ongiara dwelt on the banks of the Niagara river. The Ongiaras worshiped Hinum, the God of thunder who lived with his two sons in the caves behind the falls. Every year the Indians offered the fruit of their harvest to appease their thunder god. But there came a time when many of them died for unknown reasons. The Indians were wary and thought of ways to curb the mishap. Instead of sending the annual canoes laden with fruits and flowers down the river, they decided to sacrifice the most beautiful maiden of the tribe every year to please Hinum. One such year Lelawala, the daughter of the chief was chosen. On the day of the ceremony Lelawala was bedecked with flowers and a doeskin garb. After the ceremonial feast, she stepped into a canoe and rowed towards the caves of Hinum. She plunged into her death as the canoe tumbled off the edge and cascaded down the turbulent falls. Hinum's two sons caught Lelawala in their strong arms as she fell and were mesmerised by her beauty. Each of them desired her. She promised to accept the one who told her the reason behind the unexpected deaths. They told her about a giant snake that poisoned the water once a year to get near its victims. Lelawala remained loyal and returned as a spirit to warn her tribe about the monstrous snake. As a consequence, the villagers waited for the snake and mortally wounded it when it visited the river banks the next year . The snake returned and lied limp across the river dying, with its head on one side and the tail resting on the other, forming a semi-circle. This later came to be known as the Horseshoe Falls. It is said that Lelawala's soul still lives in those caves and it is she who creates the spectacular mist and reigns the Horseshoe Falls. Since then she has been called the Maid of the Mist.

This story might be just like any other mythical folklore that leaves one in an imaginary realm for a certain time. Of course the reason behind the mist is quite obvious. The Horseshoe falls is 53 meters (173 ft) high and when the voluminous waters crash on the rocks beneath, they give rise to a gorgeous blanket of mist. But when you are there, amidst the hovering gulls in the misty breeze and the deafening roar of the falls, you might just as well keep the facts at bay. Because it, definitely, is an experience of lifetime. For only a maiden so beautiful and pristine as Lelawala could conjure up the resplendent, foggy mist that veils the caves behind the falls. To leave such a place with a feeling of being enchanted and intoxicated is certainly much more enriching than it is to analyse it as a factual piece of wild nature. Call it a nature lover's eye after all!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Little somethings

An unexpected drizzle in a summer afternoon, a falling autumn leaf, the wafting aroma of ginger tea, a restless squirrel scurrying up and down the tree, the surprise of a perfectly golden dawn... These are just a few of such countless everyday scenes from regular life. Yet there's a little something in all of them. Yes, the little somethings.
What is it exactly that often catches us unawares? Like magic we travel across borders of time and space with a fuzzy, warm feeling in the stomach. I, for one, get ecstatic whenever I would manage a little jig in the rain, or see a new bud popping out on my frail potted geranium. Such moments witness an abandonment of the cares, as if a world bustling with urgency and responsibility could always wait! At times like these I often find myself wrapped in high spirits and aboard Aladdin's magic carpet. Of course, I'm an incurable romantic! But there is certainly a lot more to it. These otherwise mundane happenings spread a certain positivity and hope. For some blessed moments it feels that the world around us is forgiving and innocent. That it actually has one single, straight face. Hypocrisy seems like a myth that has gathered dust over years of neglect. A mellowed tone blankets my thoughts, which otherwise normally take an erratic course on foggy days. An incredible feeling cracks me up from inside. A voice sings to me - "life is beautiful... tra la laa laaa..."
But sad it is, that quite often we brush aside these innumerable eloquent moments as mere insignificant trifles. In the name, or rather excuses, of aims and ambitions we nudge the beautiful slideshow of life with a cold, indifferent shoulder. If only one knew then that once gone, they go away for ever. For the flowers do have a mind of their own, never the bird will sing the same song again and not always a morning rises up with rosy, golden hues. So carpe diem, my dear friends. Seize the day!
Perhaps I should turn to Gulzar, who always does perfect justice to my incoherent thoughts --
"Choti baatein, choti-choti baaton ki hai yaadein badi,
Bhoole nahin beeti hui ek choti ghadi."
(It is the little things in life that are remembered the most,
And I haven't forgotten a single such moment spent...)

A summer rain

Pomegranate blossom in rain

The rain waltzes in with the august company of myriad hopes.
The oozing odour of the wet earth
unhinges my complete being.
I strip myself of the much accumulated worldliness
to partake in nature's pagan celebration.
My thoughts march ahead and rest on the rain drenched greenery.
Green... the harbinger of optimism!
Isn't rain cathartic?

I watch the quivering leaves flinch,
feverish with the weight of the promiscuous rain drops on them.
The droplets dangle precariously,
queued on the edge of the leaf,
as if to leave would mean the end of the world!
But, isn't life all about holding fast?
To someone, to something?

I can hear the rain seeping into my head.
I can feel my vision blur.

I am all that I have

Gigantic spruce and pines engirdle my vision
watchful, stern as armed guards.
Rhododendrons of a bloody hue
proud of their plump bloom,
flank a choking-green yard.
Shivering thistle leaves promise a good summer.
Only what kind of summer, I ponder...
Unknown birds sing unheard tunes as if,
their lyrics were potent enough
to germinate a belongingness!

Strange, a nature so unscathed and unmarred,
everyday bruises my identity!
These hardly seem mine...
the trees, the flowers, the birds.
All beautiful, in such proximity
and yet so much distanced!
They can charm and excite,
and yet fail to captivate the 'me'...

A foreign me
that searches for trails of known-ness.
For sunny, tropical faces
For spices wafting in the air
For the known cacophony of crows, of blaring honks.
This frozen, alien nature,
this unaccustomed earth...
This is not mine.
Only, I am all that I have.

P.S. This was written with certain pre-conceived, foolish notions of a hopeless romantic about her initial experiences of being the 'foreigner'. Even the sylvan abundance of Seattle had failed to soothe her homesickness back then!

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