Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Chasing shadows

It's May, that paradox of a month when it's green and just the right amount of pretty on the other side of the globe and all we are left with is a big, blazing, burning sun that never shies away from showing off its summer might. Unfair!
As I sit at the kitchen table and watch the morning sun flood the apartment in rays of gold, many things scamper and skid through my mind. Off late, I have been chasing shadows a lot, of all shapes and kinds. Some go years back in time, when the sun was mellow and seasons were a part of life, and some very recent whose bodies are too patchy to give a name to them.

In such times, I came across Kamila Shamsie's Burnt Shadows — the heroic story of a woman, spanning decades and their history, who wears the scars of her past on her skin, literally, and carries their ominous shadows across the length and breadth of the world. Hiroko Tanaka, a brave, resilient Japanese woman, miraculously survives the horror of the 1945 Nagasaki bombings and trails her journey across the world, mapping her life through the troubled territories of Delhi, Istanbul, Karachi, and New York, in turn witnessing more death and disaster brought on by man upon man. Battling her own ghosts, she sees it all  the waning years of the British Raj in India, the bloody partition of India and Pakistan, the rise of terrorism in Pakistan, and finally the harrowing episode of 9/11 in New York. She sees it all, living and losing through each of these catastrophes. But what pestered me through the pages is this nagging question — whether the shadows just announced themselves wherever Hiroko arrived, or it was she who kept chasing shadows relentlessly all her life?
Some people have a reputation of casting shadows wherever they go, after all. Just like some carry a legacy of brewing storms in picture-perfect calmness.

Friday, May 1, 2015

May flowers

Yesterday, while buying some flowers for a friend's housewarming, I came across two little girls with eager smiles and deep, searching eyes. As I stood inside the florist's air-conditioned shop, they were watching me keenly through the glass doors of the shop standing in the scorching sun outside. When the florist took the selected flowers out to chop off their stems and other straggly bits, the girls rushed towards him, pointing to the blood-red carnations in the bunch. I could tell from his hesitating smile that he had politely turned them down before stepping inside the shop to give the finishing touches to the bouquet. After I paid and was almost on my way out, I noticed the girls were still standing there with their faces pressed to the glass door, their gaze lingering longingly on the fresh-cut flowers in the buckets. Already late and a little bothered by how muggy it was for a day so bright, I rushed back and grabbed two yellow gerbera daisies, tossing a twenty-rupee note to the shop assistant. When I handed them each a daisy, the girls' puzzled faces lit up instantly breaking into broad, beaming smiles — a sparkle that outdid even the blazing noon sun. "Thank you, madam!", they chirped together in sing-song voices. I smiled and asked them to pose for a picture which they quite enthusiastically did. 
As I slammed the car door shut and turned on the air-condition, I realized how little it takes to make someone happy. A kind word here, a warm smile there  and that's how the world keeps spinning day after day, everyday. I also realized that, perhaps, in this unexpected exchange of smiles, I ended up being the happier one. Sure, they took the daisies home but I came back with a memory and much more.

In the wake of the very recent Nepal tragedy*, it is these little gestures of give-and-take that one must remember to share. Thousands of lives smothered under the rubble of now lost spaces, centuries' old temples and stupas battered into incoherent halves, priceless heritage pounded to nothingness, and villages 'flattened' beyond recognition — such horror of horrors!
Whenever the world is struck by a disaster, which, sadly, is so often these days, and I'm overwhelmed by a crumbling sense of doom, these lines come back to me again and again:  

"Because the world is so full of death and horror, I try again and again to console my heart and pick the flowers that grow in the midst of hell".

~ Hermann Hesse

*If you are interested to contribute to the Nepal relief efforts, here is a list of the organizations that are are soliciting donations. 

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