Wednesday 30 April 2014

Guest Post - Chaddi: A Case Study, for Purba Ray

As if you don't know already who Purba Ray is!

If you are reading something A-Musing like nothing else for miles around, you know it is written by her. Satirical without being condescending and creating humour sans mockery, Purba Ray writes about our life and our times - to shock, surprise, tickle, tease, and basically make us have a good laugh, post-after-post. Rumour has it that because the velvet darts are thrown with such skill and style, many would pay to just get featured on her blog, even as a butt of her jokes (and end up falling in love with the very same jokes of which they form the butt. She is that good!).

I did not pay. But I did offer thanks to the powers above, for a most fortunate day in my blogging life had dawned. Purba had asked me to write a guest post for her space. I have never understood what 'you have arrived!' means, but I think I felt that on the left side of my chest, first, when she asked me to guest blog and then, when she loved the post I sent.

It is called 'Chaddi: A Case Study' and really, you should not judge a post by its title. Or its picture...

After you have picked your favourite one from my collection above, read the post at Purba's blog. And listen, spare me half the laughter you gift her, and I tell you I will taste Nirvana.

Here is the link then:

Monday 28 April 2014

Early birds and night owls

They say an early bird catches the worm. But it had to take more than a wriggly worm, not an object of my desire at all, to tempt me into becoming an early bird in my school days. It took my mother. 

By some divine coincidence I would always forget that exams were round the corner, as if they were one-eyed monsters dragging their many hands and feet towards me and my neck. Well, they were, but who wanted to believe that before the results were out, warts and all? So, for the most part of my school days, and especially for classes we hauntingly called ‘Boards’ (such a hoax!), my mother was more serious about our exams than me or my kid brother were. And she also believed (show me the person who told her this, by God!) that no time like early morning to study. Sometimes, very early. 5 am in those “crucial” days. It was almost like she was messing around with my whole genetic make-up, by forcing me to open those leaden eyes and mutating me into an early bird when my very genes were protesting to tell me (quietly of course) that you have been adopted, without doubt. I am sure I could sue her for this in a Court of Science. But I had my own science to study. 

So, with the valley stars still out and the gardeners and sweepers yet to come, the light in my room would be the only one switched on till all the way to Mussoorie, and me and my brother would be staring into the space between the two pages of open books. You know, the spine area. For it would be the safest place for the head to drop, without crushing the letters printed. Oh the tricks we tried! I would lie down on my tummy, rest my face between my hands with fingers in blinker-position, and snooze. Eyes tightly shut but ears totally open for footsteps coming to remind me of those monsters I had to pass round the corner, and with flying colours no less. My brother, the smarter one, discovered super smart angles to study. Where even closed eyes seemed open. I had a feeling one morning that he had painted his eye lids with black dots in the middle to confuse people around, but I can’t be too sure. My eyes were tucked inside my own lids, lids the inside of which I especially loved to admire those times. 

Needless to say, and since I am a safe distance away from those days, not a wee bit did we study in those wee hours. Or maybe he did, for now he’s a doctor, but I’m going to drag him into this without his permission. There is comfort in numbers. Plus, I know he used to sleep on open books. I know! If there is anything I could know in those days of sleeping with eyes open wondering why the ureter and the urethra look the same or why I need to know that ethyl alcohol cannot be drunk or how unfortunate that I cannot calculate my escape velocity, it was this it was this it was this. 

But college changes everything, this being one of the loveliest cliché. 

Add to it a hostel full of girls and every atom in your body gets a makeover, much like those black and white pegs in the board game ‘Othello’. Black becomes white. No, wait! White becomes black and the person in the mirror transforms into a being she would not have recognized one of those early-bird mornings from school. Here, she is a night owl. Here, all good things happen at night. All good things. 

You are productive soon as the sun sets, dinner had, mess exited and rooms entered – your own or another’s. Usually, another’s. A two-seater transforms into a train’s top with girls sitting wherever they find enough space for their derrière. And then discussions happen, serious ones. Warden and matron, princy and that-other-mahila-college. About cranky calling on the yellow hostel phone and who stands in a queue for receiving their after-dark fantasy calls. There is midnight hoot-hoot-twoeetohoo everywhere. Also, a no door policy, where you walk in and walk out of rooms asking ‘I need your iron. Is it still hidden in the bin after the last check?’ or ‘May I borrow a packet of Maggi? Promise, will give you a packet back tomorrow’ or even ‘Hey, will you put my bucket in the hot-water-geyser-tap line early morning? I have to study till late!

Study. Or something like that, needed no mother-figure to enforce. Actually, needed, but there was none. So from 10 pm to 2 am we would be seen with books around us and 30 days to go before those badly-printed university question papers graced us with their presence. While we did not have mothers, we needed company – as constant support against the the mosquitoes, the sleep, the hunger and the heat (Delhi is closest to the Sun in university exam months). In the common room we’ll study as one, motivating others and getting motivated in return - was our motto! Some walked around at sonic speeds slightly swaying as they read, others closed their ears to the buzz turned their backs to everyone else. Some, sans books, would be seen mumbling to themselves and others borrowing papers, critiques, odomos, tea, pencil, tuck, tweezers, erasers, rubber bands, books. It was a Study Carnival, and one which promised us good hostel days to remember, if not university marks.  Ahem!

But that was so many years back. You see …

Oh dear, I just heard the ‘rise and shine’ alarm going off. I better go shake my lazy 3-year-old up. It's 7 am already. You see, next week he takes his exams in the play-school. Colouring, tearing paper, stringing beads, identifying means of transport, and the usual S for She-becomes-her-mother. And no time like early morning to learn it all up! 

Isn’t it?

P.S - Mummy, I can explain. Bhai, this is a test to see if you read my blog.

[Written for WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts aimed at posting at least once a day, based on the prompts provided. The prompt for today was - Your time to shine - Early bird, or night owl?]

Saturday 26 April 2014

The Oranges

Nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all
The needle returns to the start of the song
And we all sing along like before

And we'll all be lonely tonight and lonely tomorrow

Her green bangle broke as she scrubbed the collar. Three pieces. The dirty soap water carried them to the drain cover, where they sat. Waiting as if to go below, and drown. She looked at her brown wrist with a gaze full of vacuum. The shirt collar in contrast gleamed white under it. After madam’s last tirade she was making sure the laundry was done properly. But, her bangle had broken, one from among three her husband had gifted her a certain Teej. Her husband who… She got back to the clothes. Scrubbing knees of jeans and seats of pants with new-found fury in her hands. Holding cuffs in both and rubbing them. Suffocating the dirt off them. The plastic brush lost some teeth, which joined the exodus near the drain. She didn’t notice. For the sound of the tap running had filled the bathroom. And her head. And in came that pain her constant companion. And its lover, tiredness. Oh how they screamed now, the two left bangles. Going in and coming out from the sea of water in the bucket. Rinsing. But as if being murdered. Being forced into a watery grave. Clips bit into the wrung clothes now hanging in a line. Hanged with care.  

2:30 pm. She could hear madam, shouting on the phone at a tele-caller in crisp English and so had to wait for her to finish. To leave. To take bus number 199 to Mangolpuri. To her husband … lying in his watery grave. Drunk. Always. Angry beyond measure for today she was late.   

Nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all
The needle returns to the start of the song
And we all sing along like before

And we'll all be lonely tonight and lonely tomorrow

Every day he was made to sit in the middle. They did not give him the window to breathe. As if intentionally. As if he was dead already with sorrowful faces sitting around him. Taking him … home. The cab full of tele-callers turned corners lit by twilight. Speeding. The driver in a wakefulness full of hurry. But he sitting behind him, sitting as if in a syrup. Half-asleep and half-aware of leaving the maddening buzz of telephone calls behind, for a day. The Chris the Bob the Alex that he had to be. Day after day. ‘Hello, would you like to buy a credit card?’ and the ensuing abuse. He remembered the bitter lady on the other side today. In crisp English she had dis-robed him. Of his mask which did not pay. He closed his eyes, and his hands around his neck-tie. No way to set his self free from the computers clicking and targets hitting. Bills and mortgages, EMIs and rent. Too much to think about. So little left to dream. The cab climbed a flyover and the metro bridge loomed large. Larger loomed the advert of a car with a smiling family of four. Like a dream. He felt his gorge rising, the faux silk noose tightening, the faux leather belt squeezing him into a tiny sphere. Of monotony, and meaninglessness. Fake accents and mechanizations. Of missing … 

The driver shook him awake with a strange haste. He had missed his home stop today. Last one dropped. That much less time to sleep away, in a home empty of any more dreams. Empty. But home still. But empty.  
Nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all
The needle returns to the start of the song
And we all sing along like before

And we'll all be lonely tonight and lonely tomorrow

He could barely see. Except, the calendar next to the clock. They said it was a miracle. It must have been, to be able to see through the cataract. No longer did he know when his drawstrings hung low to the floor. No matter that spittle dribbled down his lip as he mumbled. To the winds. About his loneliness. His hands too he could not see. To feed to clean to hold the stick and sit outside his room in the old age home.  But he always knew the date and time. When his son would come. This evening, for instance. To see him dressed in his cleanest. Oranges in one hand and a hug in the other and 'how have you been, papa?' on his lips. Once, when he said he saw things heard voices, they put him here. Love remained, but he scared the kids at home. His son’s. His son is a driver. ‘Oh, he will find his way here in time’ said the old voice to the bench beneath him. Tick-tock-tick-tock-tick… The wrinkled hand loosened its grip. The stick fell. His son was too late to reach. Too late. Forever. It just so happened.

He had to make a detour, to drop a man who slept off and missed his home stop. 

The oranges lay at the back, suffocating silently in the bag. 

[Written for WordPress Daily Prompts: 365 Writing Prompts aimed at posting at least once a day, based on the prompts provided. The prompt for today was - Earworm - What song is stuck in your head (or on permanent rotation in your CD or MP3 player) these days? Why does it speak to you? I picked Del Amitri’s ‘Nothing Ever Happens’. The song has always spoken to me of a post-modernist angst that individuals are living.]

Thursday 24 April 2014

Book Review - Collection of Chaos by Tikuli

From chaos emerge new paths’, says Tikuli, as she introduces us to her poetry and her book, aptly named, ‘Collection of Chaos’. When you begin reading the verses contained within, you understand why this name. Not just because the author admits it was the ‘swirling chaos’ of her personal life that gave birth to this poetry, but also because each verse penned manages to bring forth the exact turbulence that it intended to. Such is Tikuli’s skilful style and thus rendered the emotions and moods behind each piece. 

The book ‘Collection of Chaos’ carries an unconventional structure. None of the poems have been titled and one page flows into the next, as if in seamless continuation even if the theme of the next poem is different from the one before it. Perhaps, this signifies chaos? Imagine, a battalion of verses coming at you without any method, without any reason to make you pause. Like a chaos of thoughts themselves, one after another. Similarly, the form of individual poems is unconventional too in keeping with the disturbance around. Single words as whole sentences, or even whole paragraphs. Six words as a poem or a sudden 60 traversing two pages. In this unpredictable structure lies one of the most important ways in which Tikuli paints Chaos in our minds. And to get the moods-behind-the-poems across. 

What are the poems about? About the dark underbelly of city life and the dreariness of the country’s. Poem after poem, Tikuli explores bitter truths of social existence. She shuttles between controlled rage and uncontrollable empathy to draw vivid but disturbing pictures of conflict and chaos – both within beings and around them too. The poetry is not pleasant, and neither is it kind. It was not born to delight but to shock you out of your comfort zone. Her recurrent imagery is of black crows, crushed flowers, shadows, solitude and silence. Tikuli writes about refugees and loneliness, martyrdom, mad women, farmer suicides and honour killing. She removes the veil off wifedom and even shows us the mind behind prostitution. There are labourer women and those being abused in plush settings. Old age and widowhood. Emotional infidelity, divorce and even rape. Yes, like I said, these poems are not kind. They are too real to care to be polite. Much like some of Jayanta Mahapatra’s poetry. Like his ‘Hunger’, for instance, which I read so many years back but which refuses to leave me for the stark reality it threw at me, and which this poetry reminded me of.

Some things I found particularly interesting, and you may too. The placement of Children, the over-arching feminist angle, the use of Nature and finally the play of Contrasts. 

It is interesting how Tikuli brings in children into her scenes. In a poem about ‘bone coloured sky’ and ‘parched earth, baked brown. Fields, dust bowls’, a scene of drought, perhaps, she says:

‘On a scorched tree –
A body hangs.
A child’s striken eyes,
Not really understanding,
keep a watch.
A vulture
awaits his chance.

In another place, 
A little boy stands alone
On the banks of Ganges,
his head shaven clean
Waiting for a crows touch,
for deliverance of his father’s soul’

In Tikuli’s poetry, children are neither the perpetrators nor the direct sufferers. They are mute spectators to violence and blood, rites and rituals and aspects of society they either don’t understand or know not how to respond to. Is the poet trying to remind us of our Tomorrows’ eyes watching the carnage, with the incipient fear that they may carry it into the future? 

The second idea is the predominance of the female presence. Tikuli’s poetry makes no attempt to veil her inclinations – that of creating verse upon verse to poetically document the Female Experience. Women – their wronged bodies and broken hearts, suffocating roles and helpless lives – are what keeps the poet’s pen occupied. So much so, the men automatically become conspicuous by their absence. Actually, they are not absent, but are present – as the perpetrators, the deceivers and the wrong-doers. The poems are sung by a female voice and aim only to give voice to women. Somewhat like Adrienne Rich?  

If we were to divide the book, roughly, into three parts, we see how the first and last part is only dark and chaotic whereas in the middle lies bright sunlight too. Tikuli gathers within her painting the world of animals too. You know, somewhat like the technique of Pathetic Fallacy, attributing human emotions to all things that make up nature too. These handful of verses right in the heart of the book stand in direct contrast to what the reader has witnessed till now. And all of them are deliciously imagined and penned. A banyan tree ‘standing tall … holds the cosmos in its canopy, a centre for life – insects, snakes, birds and humans’ and where ‘children play’. To nature we can turn for relief, seems to be the message in the riot of green introduced within all the grey, all too suddenly. Unlike the Romantics, who deified nature largely, Tikuli celebrates aspects of it which lie in our kitchen slabs or grow in our gardens. An organic whole of which humans and animals are part and parcel. Such verses are full of visual beauty and flowers, fruits, ‘marmalade skies’ and ‘sunburst margarita’ seem to signify fertility and growth, satiety, love and even happiness, actually. 

Love and Happiness? Not something one would imagine to find within the folds of this book, wrought with a lot of imagery from bad marriages, separation, infidelity and even sexual abuse. But Kris Saknussemm does prepare us for ‘a powerful sense of hope at work’ in her introduction to the book. Throughout the book, as you go from page to page, you see how for every 5 lines full of despair, in comes one pointing to hopefulness. Usually a fleeting sense of bright, but there. A woman is killed by a mob, like a witch hunt maybe. Tied to a tree she is stoned to death. And ‘her eyes closed forever, relieving her of the misery of being a woman’, and there is positive deliverance in death. A mad woman is always mocked near the village square, but ‘she rejoices in a life well spent,’ rising above the crowd, mocking their lives in turn. A labourer woman, mother, poor, but ‘in her vacant eyes an abstract dream of four walls and a roof,’ daring to dream. 

And this leads me to the play of contrasts in 'Collection of Chaos’. Tikuli admits the poetry was born out of chaos, thus metamorphosing chaos itself into something that can feed creativity, or give birth to poetry…

From the
Incessant dust
From the doors
Closed forever
Poems burst forth

Remember Blake’s ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’? He said-

Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.”

Rich and poor, city and village, fertility and barrenness, chaos and creativity, and finally a breathtaking spiral downwards between words and silence near the end of the book are just some of the contrasts Tikuli works around. The poetry in this book arises from and breathes between them. Like:

Canvas of snow
A raven adds colour
Yin and yang

How ‘contraries’ are important to move ahead, to understand, to assimilate, perhaps to even realize the good parts of life, to celebrate. Why, I can almost imagine Yeats’s Theory of the Gyres – how in the death of a civilization lies the very seed for its birth too. And this to me remains the most beautiful aspect of this book.     

I see two problems with the compilation though. One, even as the title-less format adds to the effect of the mood the book is talking in, it can become confusing. Most poems begin and end on a single page. But some don’t. Which means, you may close the book not knowing the same poem continues on the next page. I wonder how many will find this format convenient to read the book over multiple sittings. Secondly, the idea of men being the perpetrators in multiple situations comes to me too strongly, and if I may say so, bordering on the prejudicial. The book voices the feminine, only, to the extent of silencing the other side of the story. I continue a little disturbed on this front. 

The poetry in ‘Collection of Chaos’ must be read. For those who enjoy structural unconventionality in poetry coupled with bold issues usually made invisible, this book offers a most mature poetry. For those who like it lyrical and light, the verses on nature will leave a permanent impression on your minds. And for some others who like to take it slow, to read a poem a day, know that each poem of this book is like a world in itself – offering you thoughts to think and maybe ideas to pen even. I got mine! 

The last verse of the book: 
Unlit words
In the shadows
Of your silence
Luminous within

… points to an awakening. A sense of something to come. A fire smouldering to burst forth. Perhaps, another collection, Tikuli?

Titile: Collection of Chaos
Author: Tikuli
Publisher: Leaky Boot Press

Thursday 17 April 2014

Why I blog, you ask?

How daring of you to ask why I blog! Who do you think you are, Modi’s kurta-pajama maker? Don’t you know my deadly IndiRank? Or my bust-line and views punch-line and page-views? Or even that I am on speed dial with BlogAdda’s dadda whom I send a carton of alphonso to every Diwali? Badey aaye!

But now that you have asked that question, dumb as a nose hair it may be, I will answer. Even if you are blogging bloke-ing sitting on the 11th planet, for you have to be far removed from blog-o-sphere to ask anyone like me why I blog, I shall answer. What goes of my Swarovski studded pen? 

Once upon a time on a cold winter night, when my umbilical chord was cut came a divine voice which announced – ‘The Writer has been born’. Swear! Such power in that voice and such truth there was, the doctor fainted, then quit doctory and is now a best-selling author himself (He writes self-help, for himself, but I digress). Now, that lovely voice was heard by all, including my newly-opened ears. Which meant, I had to write for I was born to write. 

The divine itch to write something would strike me by surprise and in amazing places. Really! I was 5 when I wrote my first word in my convent-created school diary. It was F … whatever. But it felt so good. To have written something meaningful. Something worthwhile and something I could pass down generations as my own F… anyway! My itch to pen had to be taken care of at every stage in life. When it loomed large, it was larger than the one which rears its head the moment you step into a bus, all sweat and grime and slime and no B-tex. Passionately I scribbled ‘Roses are red, violets are blue, what features you have, what jaw-line too’ sonnets for good looking pahari waiters on restaurant serviettes and etched biological haikus behind monuments. I wrote here and I wrote there and I wrote everywhere when my talented hands yearned to write the gloriously wonderful things that came to mind.

And then one day, bhagwan ka shukra hai, I discovered blogging. Tailor-made for hands such as mine, like a glove. My blog was born, a cross between a c-sec and a natural birth, and I felt reborn somewhere ‘Between Write and Wrong’. And simultaneously was born a desire to take it to the next level, all my writing power and prowess. To practice, for it makes a 10/10 woman even more perfect, and to experiment. After my first post, a tribute to all the <3s and the ‘F’s and the smileys I had been writing, I lay back on bed, imagining myself waking up to a butler asking me to sign copies of my books for the crowd downstairs. Or sitting on a news panel to blah-blah about topics from women to politics to mitochondria to leather soles to diaper rash to lycra to anything. In short, to be a celebrity writer like Honey Singh Freida Pinto. Toh you see, to reach that one fine butler morning in life, I blog and blog and blog.

However, ab jhooth kya bolna. I also relish the attention. Here in the world of blogging, age is no bar at all, to anything, and neither is writing skill. ‘Kudos’ and ‘brilliant’ flow as free as pee after two bottles of Budweiser. Such doses of generosity, over-wired support and sense of oneness that no one will leave without saying ‘well written and poignant’, even if the post was a happy photograph no more and even if photograph was spelt Photograff. There is ample gas to make you fly like a hot air balloon and start planning your Booker book after post no. 16, ‘brilliant’ no. 160. Such love and encouragement that you don’t even need to open the dictionary to learn how to spell ‘encourazement’. Fark hee nee painda! As long as you are nearing what they call a ‘pro-’ vitamin B5, teens hosiery, relief balm Blogger status.  

And no better exercise than to blog away and share with all 7 continents the bhadaas that networking sites or neighbourhood networking pants up inside you. Typing all the frustration down in one breath and sans susu-breaks, extra !!!! marks and what the hale, you have a healing post ready. I have experienced it often. I wrote and wrote and wrote, forgot to blink, sweat came and fingers cried, but I wrote and wrote and that witch and what does she think and have you seen his hair and who you calling rude, dur fittey muh and I was going yes, oh yes, ohhh yessss and a … release. It ended. What catharsis what freeing. What a ‘powerful’ … rant post ready! More power to me!

I’m hungry, which reminds me. Some of life’s biggest pleasures come in the form of big mounds of biryani served to you in star-rated crockery, for free. Just like all hostellers are poor, well, so are we. Hence the blogger meets look like mini-Kumbhs except no one is a sadhu here, or naked (Sigh!). I blog so that I remain forever eligible to walk into a gathering of fun-loving people who love free food, free drinks, free face-to-face networking, free birds and freebies too. Being contest-crazy needs hard work, sometimes 4 times over. And while hard word breeds satisfaction, at no point does it match the sated burp of three kinds of cheese cakes settling in your stomach's wall. For free. Free!

Ab bolo, got your reasons why I blog ya you need more? Or did you also just get the reasons why you blog? That or this, time to press ‘Publish’. 

And go dream of that one fine butler morning. It will happen, you see!

Jai Mata Di!

[Written for WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts aimed at posting at least once a day, based on the prompts provided. The prompt for today was - Million-dollar Question – Why do you blog?]

Saturday 12 April 2014

The Salon

The same telephone call. The same words. 

Late, meeting, you eat. Her mind veiled the ears from listening any more … or caring? The ‘bye’ by him was spoken to the wind, for the receiver was already half-way down to where it usually stood. Undisturbed. A lethargic movement of her hand and the quietest click. Like a tear which falls unnoticed. That soft that insignificant. Equally sad.

She sat with her hands in her lap for a few seconds that seemed to stretch like a movie in slow motion, thumb playing with the 23-year-old ring on a certain finger. As if looking for something around it. As if it itched. The fingers on the other hand tapped in rhythm with the clock. Tapped on the thigh thinking, with deathly stillness. As if looking for ways to part the velvet curtains and jump out … no no, only fly out and return later. To something new, or maybe to a new self? 

A new self.

She slapped her thighs with new-found energy and got up, with a decision made so impulsively that it took her red and white bangles by surprise. Made the red bindi on her forehead hang precariously, so frowned-with-determination the brow seemed. Salon. Let me go to the salon

She started getting ready. In the mirror she saw a face adorned the same way since she was 23, as she combed her frizzy hair nervously to re-do the bun. Those magazine girls from the expanse of her free time in the confines of her 4 walls came rushing to her mind – lips painted red, eyes smoked grey, those arms and legs gleaming with sheen and hair so stylish, she wanted to pick up the scissors and cut off her tail instantly. Sinfully. With every thought, her heart beat faster, as if she was going to run away. Forever. But she was simply going to go to the salon, right? Two blocks away. Oh how she wanted to ever since it opened, but how the feet and mind refused to take her there. Kept her lust in check. Like a schoomarm’s conditioned birch rod. And ... He says I don’t need to be touched up, so pretty I am. That no foreign hand need rob me of Simplicity, the true jewel a woman can wear. She who belongs at home.

Is it? 

With every stroke of the brush, she noticed herself anew. The shadows under the eyes had got darker. The cheeks seem to sag and in place of the lips she saw a mouth tightly shut. For after all, not all thoughts found freedom in breath. Actually, most did not. How much can you talk to the ladle in the kitchen, or the vacuum cleaner? Or even to the flowers, no matter how fresh the arrangement? Once, she caught herself talking to the sparrow which often came to perch itself on her kitchen window. A few words, but she checked herself in time. Am I mad talking to a bird? She had turned the television real loud that day, drowning out the ‘What do I do? What can I do?’ spoken to the bird long back, but lingering in the air around still. Heavy with guilt. 

Am I going mad?

Her pulse kept pace with the fastness of her hands. The last knot was tightened with a tenacity which shook both the earrings. Like a quake with its epicenter inside her body, somewhere. She will go to the salon today. She will. Let him come home later to a surprise. Will he like it? Will he get angry? With one sweep of her hands settling the dupatta in place, she swept those questions away. Her feet moved like a little girl’s on her prom night. Free, somewhat, and following the voice in the gut. Dancing free style to visions of another face in the mirror. A new face she wanted to see. Perhaps, the face of a voice?

The bag could hardly breathe, she held the straps that tight. It almost fell off in protest, or was it her shaking hands? She turned the door knob and the door acquiesced. Oh, I should leave a note! But what will I say? But what if he worries? But .. and in she turned to scribble her impulsively made decision on a post-it. If only she had just left … without caring. The phone rang. ‘On my way’ and ‘the meeting got cancelled. Keep the dinner ready’.

The door closed on her face … with the quietest click. Like a tear which falls unnoticed. That soft that insignificant. Equally sad.

She woke up from her Awakening. Threw the dupatta on the dining chair, got the stove burning. Drowned the rice in a bowl and ripped the eggplant to roast. The juicy red of tomatoes flowed on the chopping board. The sound of the knife shadowed the sound of those pretty giggling girls from her magazines’ folds. The jingle of small freedom could not compete with the cooker’s siren.

She wiped the sweat her forehead was oozing, as she watched the pots and pans, the smoke and the gurgles, the waste. In the bin. What was I thinking? Salon? At this age? After all these years? Plus, what is the point? He says I don’t need to be touched up, so pretty I am. That no foreign hand need rob me of Simplicity, the true jewel a woman can wear. She who belongs at home. Is it? 

Of course it is!


[Written for WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts aimed at posting at least once a day, based on the prompts provided. The prompt for today was - Decisions, Decisions - How are you more likely to make an important decision — by reasoning through it, or by going with your gut?]

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Through the Green Lens; A Photo Story

When you say ‘Nature’ to me, no poetry born under a cherry tree comes to mind. No tune composed by the river or lyrics of a song the winds on the dunes sang. No quotable quotes either. When I hear ‘Nature’, all connections in my neurons go blank, except one. The one which zips me back to where I belong, and how. In the Doon valley, you grow up making tree houses and befriending squirrels-next-door. You play fetch with your dog in a kitchen garden which grows the family’s vegetables and you ride a scooter on roads so thickly lined with old Fir trees, the mountains on all 4 sides have to vie for a little attention. My home town where my memories with Nature converge is a picture every 5-year-old draws in the name of ‘Scenery’.

Mountains big and small standing arm in arm, drawn in crayons. A sun with glorious rays peeping from between the two in the middle. Smiling. Two birds like the letter V flying randomly and a river flowing down the tallest peak. A small hut, driveway, tree to one side and bush to the other. Maybe a pond with a few ducks. And three stick figures – father, mother and child – with arms upraised, as if saying Hurrah to the delightful surroundings. When you say ‘Nature’ to me, this comes to mind. 

A picture of Friendship with Nature. A bond that develops over time and is unlike any other. No strings attached here, no self-interest. No obligation or customary to-dos. None. A symbiotic coexistence in its purest form. In its most real form. One hundred percent.

I was inspired to befriend Nature as a girl, then introduced to the marvels of the wild as a married woman and today, encouraged as a mother to egg my own child into this friendship. Three phases, and I let my picture collection tell you about them.

Phase 1
Friends of the Doon Society, and me

I had barely learnt to differentiate between a moth and a butterfly in school when I was asked by my parents to ‘start contributing’ to an NGO they had been a part of. FODS was founded nearly three decades ago by 5 concerned citizens of the Doon valley towards the protection of this ecologically fragile belt. It was this NGO which played a pivotal role in shutting down the lime quarries in the Uttarakhand hills. I was initially enrolled in ‘NEAP’ – Nature and Environment Awareness Programme, which meant I was to visit schools and conduct informal sessions on environmental topics I myself knew enough about. And that was just the beginning, with no looking back to doing my tiny bit. While work made me relocate out of the city, FODS, with my parents as its core members, continues strong and committed. Nature trails and quizzes are organized in schools across the valley, as are bird-watching and nature camps. Under ‘Trees for Doon’, FODS asks citizens for land to plant trees on, providing free saplings and seeds for whoever volunteers a patch to be greened. A Citizen Action Group has been formed in collusion with other NGOs in order to deal with the civic problems of the city, in coordination with the government machinery.

FODS in the city
But the largest project running successfully remains ‘The Elephant Family’, with its primary aim of protecting the Asiatic Elephant. In order to reduce the dependence of humans on Rajaji National park, its natural habitat, FODS adopted a village, Rasulpur, to keep the locals self-sufficient and aware through alternative livelihood options and workshops, respectively.

Activities in the village include promoting new farmer techniques like poly-tunnels through workshops, creating compost pits, adult education classes, free health camps, computer education centres, looms for women, distributing solar lamps, cycles for girls to reach far flung schools, artificial insemination in cattle, etc. 
      Needless to say, this is how I was inspired to become Nature's friend, as a "friend-in-need". When I was shown not just how beautiful and fascinating it was, but also how vulnerable and how fragile. And how it needed us humans to intervene for its well-being and ours. Yes, even a youngling like me!

Phase 2
Into the Wild - Me and my husband

I did not marry a cave man, but I did find one who believed in wild honeymoons. Before your mind races like a cheetah, look at the picture. In the first year of our marriage, we left no stone unturned to traverse National Parks and safari across Wildlife Sanctuaries. Enjoy Forest Reserves and live on a boat to visit mangrove forests. From tuned-n-tamed nature before marriage, I was swept into nature growing wild, and in the wild. These were no resorts with manicured lawns and imported palm trees. Here, nothing stood between you and an angry animal except a man-in-khaki. Where wild boars were wild, not animated creatures out of ‘Madagascar’. Where mosquitoes bit like bees, and bees if upset could kill. Wild tuskers could chase you like toys and crocodiles snap your anchor into half. And where a beautiful bird song could be one asking you to step out of the way, for the tiger-in-stripes was walking that way. 

Some of the sanctuaries and reserves we visited - Buxa Tiger Reserve, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, Sunderbans Tiger Reserve, Gorumara National Park, Chilla Forest Reserve, Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary  
It was through many such honeymoons scattered over a year that I discovered the ‘wild’ side of the lover in me. The lover to Nature, of course, growing free far away from what I had come to call 'home' but as marvellous as creation can be!

Phase 3
Paying it Forward - Us and our child

Life happened. Out went the wild and in walked the domestic every day. The green side of our hearts had to make do with a few pots of plants and a handful of sunshine, as we earned the other kind of green to survive. It is now that I became an addict, of Facebook’s Farmville. Sowed and reaped pumpkins. Put an alarm to wake-up at odd hours to collect the harvest. The phone bill came, we were left bankrupt and I was detoxified. I bought myself an extra pot for a bitter gourd vine and forgot all about reliving and recreating an expanse of green in my apartment-life, like the green times I had left behind. Little did I know then that all I needed was a child to take me back to being my Nature’s friend again.

And my son arrived. 

How the first introduction to Nature is in the form of cuddly toys, and expanses of greens and blues and browns which make no sense, but still invite their tiny minds. From Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary to Bangkok's Siam Ocean World, from Bhimbetka caves to a Mughal window in the Red Fort, my son was saying his first hellos to Nature even before I taught him how to.

And when his feet allowed him to walk, it was time to go a step further in this friendship. Run and fly pigeons in Jaipur's Albert Hall, or take orange sweet-peas for a ride in Lodhi gardens. Show us how flowers bloom or talk to fake peacocks in Surajkund. And stand mesmerised babbling with beautiful white ducks. No surprise then that the first book he chose to buy was called 'My First Hundred Animals'.

But when language is learnt, Curiosity learns to ask questions. Why is the feather so soft? How come these leaves are so thin? You hug a tree reliving 'Chipko Movement', whispering an I love you. Run amok on the green with stranger children. Stare intently at pieces of natural history in a museum or even talk to a twig the grass was hiding. Why, you even start imagining you are Atlas, shrugged! And you ask, on and on and on and on, the why what how where how come. 
About Nature.
He's a 3-year-old boy now. I always tell him – when life gives you lemons, go look for the lemon tree. There may be pretty white flowers you may get to see. Something new, entirely! Or something wondrous and miraculous, waiting to make you gasp. And he understands, already. Feeling one with nature takes nothing and gives so much in return. Calm on a stressful day or something new to discover in the mundane. Sowing a seed in a pot and enjoying the sapling grow as if a fairy waved a wand or soaking in the sun and making mansions out of imagination. Admiring the tree and understanding growth, or the waves and thinking of change and flux. And what better way to teach my child the important idea of Respect – not just about touching elders’ feet but also letting the tiny ant crossing his path be. Safe and free, just like he likes to be. 

And gradually, through nurture and nature, our Friendship with Nature evolves, grows and gets sealed. For a lifetime, at least! Just like ours, as a family!

Thursday 3 April 2014

The Tamasha of Birth and Death

When your child is born.  

You go through it all. Your insides tearing, just like the screams renting the air. Apart. Some so strong they die the moment they take birth. In the throat itself. Shrouded in the silence of decorum you were taught to maintain. You try behave. Cooperate, as you get killed to be born in the form of your child. You heed the doctors, the nurses order you. Sit-up and spread, now push a universe out. Exposed but all sense of shame lost somewhere in the crowd of pain. Earth-shattering. Every vessel in your body threatening to explode. Exploding. The only truth? You, what’s inside of you … and the struggle. And then it comes, looking blood and sweat but with your nose, or maybe eyes too. An out of body experience for the pain leaves you. Suddenly. Your body is yours again. Cleaned and cherubic, wrapped in pastels, your baby comes into your arms.

And then the world takes over. Hospital or home. Your child no longer yours. The oldest around occupies the throne, orders the next in line. Instructions from Stone Age. Some wise, most otherwise! Don’t count the toes thus, stop the camera, you fool! Black dots on foreheads, black thread on the ankle.  Face North and recite a mantra. Sleep, don’t sleep. Don’t drink, why eat. Praising your child you evil mother? Pour kohl into those tiny eyes. Ugly. What do the doctors know? Honey, have you got honey? Bind them in wool in summers, as tightly in superstition too. Sense sits suspended. You can hear the commands and commandments. You can hear another scream rising. In a throat still swollen sore. Yet to recover from pain they too felt, once, when they delivered theirs. You wonder. Did they? Teeth gritted you curse, silently. Oh the shame! A newly made mother cursing. But you care not. You want to just be. With your child. After an eternity of wait. 

But the world creates a circus around you. Of dos and don’ts. Of grey hair versus young curls. Of utter obsoleteness donning jeans or progress even in salwar-kameez. The contrasts and contradictions, the fake ‘Oh so sweets’ and the frivolous banter. Hurt. Your child reduced to a weight-at-birth. Curiously asked. As if the .3 was your doing. Your child an object, to be done with as they please. Puppet bodies, both of you. Neither to be claimed as yours. Taken away from you when they fancy fun. Or you feed, and the world watches. And you, reduced too to a wounded bag. Blood. Bones. Breasts. Bull shit. You. The mother. The epicentre of the tamasha of birth.

And then when death visits. 

Its claws, long ones, you cannot escape. And neither the talons of those who come prey on your loss. You see the extra effort they touched up their eyes with. And time. To pick a pretty white for the occasion. You are crying inside, smiling in their face. Returning smile with a ‘What can we do?’ But longing. To be alone. Assess. Assimilate. Adapt to an Absence. They? To mark Attendance. To meet friends and family they come like white sheep. A flock. To sit back and study clothes and jewellery. Catch up on lost time. Gossip. Look forward to the meal. How oily! Tea anyone? You walk around empty, but offering full cups of tea. Sugar? I have diabetes you want to kill me? 

The ‘body’ arrives from the morgue. The calculated tears, and cries begin the show. Set dialogues spelling RIP. Another scream rising in your throat. But this no time to rage, for you still grieve. Wait. Eagerly. For it will be over soon and they will leave. To live their lives, maybe stop by at a drive-in and pick something special for the night on their way homes. And when it comes, the moment called space, those lists of rituals and lists of rites need your time, your attention and your heart, a bit of which expired that morn. In details you are lost. In arrangements for the rites of passage you cannot find yourself. You cannot. Meticulous precision of everything and everyone around the ‘body’. Daughters don’t touch. Keep off. Who are you to say? But no time to say this. Bathe and make ready for the final exit. This hand first that foot next. All female eyes watch the naked ‘body’. Who puts the coconut first? Or the final shawl? Politics! You, keep the child in. No, get him out. The elders war, some curse the bad tea, one eats biscuits in peace looking for the pista. The priest does his thing. And you wait. For your time to be with what may be nothing but a memory, already. Smoky. But at least alone, for then you can grieve. Away from the tamasha that death brings inside your home. Your head. Around a ‘body’.

Is there no escape? 

There is. Your voice. Through a swollen throat, or one saline with crying. And a palm up front saying ‘stop’. Show them the fatigue, and the guerilla fatigue. From under the hair matted with sweat. Post-delivery. Or post-death in the family. Say ‘shh’, politely. Then ‘Stop the show. Of meaninglessness.

No other way out. Your voice they should not own.

So, I say Stop! To escape.

The only way I know.

[Written for WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts aimed at posting at least once a day, based on the prompts provided. The prompt for today was - Escape! - Describe your ultimate escape plan (and tell us what you’re escaping from)]

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...