Sunday, February 03, 2019

And Then, The Cashew Tree Shed a Dozen Leaves

The courtyard that once regaled in our antics has fallen mute. Thorny bush and fallen twigs now hold the space to ransom. No laughter, no rejoicing, as the house in the middle draws a deep breath as I walk towards it. The disappointment, I gather, is due to the fact that it is just I, not We, that walk towards the house that have seen four footsteps run in and out in unison, for long.

I stop. The terrace above beholds, beckons. The terrace I would never want to climb on to! The elevated platform, just a flight of steps above the ground where we once planted tapioca stumps and bowled against with tennis balls. The cursed space where he lay lifeless!

A call away lay, as if breathing her last, the pond that let us swim into her womb. The post-harvest paddy fields where we shed all teen inhibitions to sprint, jump, dive, climb, swim and fight, shed tears as I look yonder. For, they all had expected Us - both of Us together - to have come calling.

But then, it is just I from now on. Us together, has turned impossible. For, he decided not to go sportive anymore. The cricket stumps we planted have sprouted leaves and borne fruit. The paddy plants have withered into oblivion. Death has taken their place in the form of rubber trees.

The twin goddesses of the temple that stood at long-off, on our cricket field, have left for good. The pond seems to have been wailing all along. Tears have run dry, leaving green moss to look up to me with woe. The sweating path under the afternoon sun, call me back as I look up to the terrace where he lay. I long-whistle to him twice, as I used to, when we were kids. The response always used to be a third return-whistle that announced our gaming schedule for the day. 

The cashew tree behind me has a better view of the terrace, and she prompts me to turn around and go back home. He would never be back, she whispers in my almost deaf ears. I decide to walk back. The grass clad path brushes against my toes, in a bid to make me feel better. For, it knows, I have lost a brother.

A brother who I left behind as I went pursuing my dreams. When I was back on home terrain, he walked off, never to return. Up there, from atop the terrace, he must have surveyed the pond, the paddy fields, the cashew branch, the courtyard where he and I regaled as kids, once upon a time. And then, the final journey must have come about.

The terrace is now empty, with just the courtyard's heaving sighs echoing once in a while. The cashew branch we sat face to face munching on those juicy cashew apples, shed a dozen leaves.  And, they drench my soul. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Making of an Actor

ACTORS are not born. They evolve. They experiment with their choice of scripts. They delve deep into the conscience of the character they are chosen to play. They are mavericks when it comes to the learning process. They play around with the character in a bid to lure the character’s soul to themselves. They perfect the art. They behave. They evolve. This is what Suraj Venjaramoodu too has done with the Joselet Joseph-Jean Markose script while getting into the skin of Plachottil Kuttan Pillai. And, right from the word go, we don’t see any trace of Suraj Venjaramoodu. 
Kuttanpillayude Sivarathri, Jean Markose’s second outing as director, is technically a flick that runs less than two hours on screen. Watching Kuttan Pillai for these couple of hours is like diving into unfamiliar waters. The recent slew of characters Suraj has played on screen vouch for the potential he holds. With characters in films like Perariyathavar (for which he won a National award), Varnyathil Aashanka and Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, he has proved his capabilities. Kuttan Pillai takes a giant leap forward on that terrain.
Kuttanpillayude Sivarathri is Suraj’s own. The actor in him has evolved to blossom. On screen, Suraj goes missing the moment Kuttan Pillai makes his presence felt. From then on, it is the partriarch of Plachottil doing the rounds. The senior police constable who would go to any extent to safeguard the large jackfruit tree on his backyard, is safe in the actor’s hands. The way he enacts the role is magical.  
A relevant theme wrapped in the conscience of Kuttan Pillai’s character converses well with the audience just the way the director envisages it to be. The interweaving of half a dozen different tales into the script is done to perfection. And, Suraj lords over it all as Kuttan Pillai, most of the time dominant, and then as vulnerable as it could be.
Supported by a handful of actors who don’t sport the star tag, Suraj takes Kuttan Pillai to heights no one would have ever imagined. He is seriously witty, excruciatingly rude, and flawlessly matter of fact. He puts himself in the driver’s seat, drives through unreal terrain, and makes things happen the way he wants them to be. In his vulnerability phase too, he is adamant and tough. He wants his jack tree to live even after his life is snuffed out by destiny’s cruel joke. He has for company the many souls he used to fearfully spot when he was alive. His aversion towards crackers has a reason, and he stands by his stance. He doesn’t want death to come calling all of a sudden, as he has already seen the worst.  Kuttan Pillai is what you and I are, and should be.
Playing with fire could mean playing with life, Kuttan Pillai exhorts through his fear for anything that bursts with a noise. Suraj plays the police constable with panache. Apart from his wife, it is the jack tree on his backyard he trusts the most. Ironically, it is this tree that renders him lifeless. And yet, he lives on to see his tree survive when his partner in life stands up to save the tree from the blade that would have brought it down. The class actor in Suraj blossoms to the core here, as the camera captures the very essence of what he was supposed to do in that final scene. This is where Suraj stamps his authority over the script and the role he was chosen to play. He breathes life into the role as no one could ever have. This man, has evolved to be a film maker’s dream. This, for sure, is how an actor should be.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Father’s Mind

CLOSE to two decades ago, a postal envelope came looking for me at my Mumbai home. The envelope was handed over to me by the postman, and curiosity made me open it in a jiffy. Out came the manuscript of a poem in Malayalam, a few lines penned in blue fountain ink.  Amused, I looked for the address again, wondering if the postman delivered it at the wrong door. The address was indeed mine, and I tried to find out the name of poet who had sent it to me who had no inkling whatsoever as to what verse looked like!
Worse, I couldn’t recognise the name that preferred to stay hidden in the form of a signature beneath the poem. After much investigation, I managed to decipher the name, and yes it was the retired gentleman, an acquaintance who my father had great regards for. I had learnt from my parents that he had this habit of writing poetry, and that he nursed a passion for words.
The piece of paper with a smattering of chaste Malayalam finely crafted in blue fountain pen ink transported me to the few occasions I had met him. The first time we met, it was my father who told him I had developed an interest in journalism and had gone to the university to learn the basics of news writing. Another time I met him was when I had written a few news and feature stories for the Kerala Kaumudi after the newspaper took me in as a cub. He seemed happy that I was pursuing journalism as a career.
Later on, as a journalist at the desk at the Business Standard in Mumbai, I carried on reading, learning, editing, writing headlines and creating pages, night after night. Reading was limited to just the corporate and money stuff so that editing financial news reports came easy. I never had the faintest thought that an elderly gentleman, a poet no less, had collected my Mumbai address to send me the latest poem he had written. Privileged indeed I was, to have a manuscript send to me so that I would spent time reading it. Our short discussions, whenever we met, were about Malayalam literature (of which I know too little even today) and the changing trends in journalism (much before the web and round-the-clock news television made their advent in Kerala, or Tamil Nadu for that matter).  So, obviously the chat was about print, and print alone, and I remember I had enjoyed those short discussions, seated between the poet and my father.
As I began to read and imbibe the poem that had landed on my palm from miles far away, I realised how important a place the poet had given me in his heart. It was then I remembered, he had once said I should consider reviewing his works for the Malayalam paper I had worked for then. As I knew I wasn’t qualified enough to review eminent verse, I had pushed it to the backburner of my thoughts. But now, I heard him speak to me again from the piece of paper I held in my hand. And then I decided to review it in my humble words. After a week or so, I send it to him, and totally forgot about it - I still don’t know why!
And then one day, on my annual visit to my parents, an uncle, my mother’s elder brother (whom I respectfully address as Kochammavan) narrated an incident when a bunch of relatives came calling. Kochammavan recalled the pride in my father’s eyes when the poet showered his love on me and my father, while waxing eloquent on how I had interpreted and penned a review of his poem. 
He recalled the instance, an annual meeting of the Malayala Samajam at my place, where the poet, Sri Narayana Pillai, went on stage to address the audience of office bearers and members of the Samajam after he was honoured on the dais. He held out the latest issue of the monthly magazine of the Malayala Samajam and started reading out from a page. It was the review I had written. My father too was in the audience.
Kochammavan’s words still play out in full HD quality on the big screen of my mind. I imagine the pride in my father’s eyes and the smile he had in his lips. While recollecting Kochammavan’s words that I had made my father proud with that simple gesture, I can imagine how my father must have felt that day.
I write this today, after so many years, as I feel so immensely proud watching my daughter Shreya’s first Bharathanatyam recital on stage. I had never imagined that she was so passionate about dancing, and the way she imbibed the intricacies of what her able teacher taught her astonished me big time. She has indeed a long way to go, but her best, for me, is her first stage outing. Pride, for me, is the moment when she was on stage dancing her heart out.

I now realise how my father must have felt when he heard the poet read out his son’s lines on a public stage years ago. 

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Thursday, July 06, 2017

The Day Saffron Ceased Being a Hue

WHILE in school, we had a teacher who was assigned the task of teaching us Hindi, the national language. Even before he had been appointed in our school, this teacher was so popular with the students who hailed from his hometown. The hype was so huge that we, I included, looked forward to being taught by this gentleman. He came, we saw and listened to him, and soon he was successful in conquering the hearts of many of us kids. However, that was not to be in my case.
Though this teacher was to teach us the national language, he went a huge leap further and started narrating tales from history whenever he had a chance. History had been one of my favourite subjects, simply because my dad was also a history teacher. History, contrary to general belief, was not a boring topic to explore. That’s what I had learnt during conversations on the subject with my dad.  History was more about facts to me, than fiction. All recorded by famed historians from across the world, in fact.
However, this new young teacher of ours with the red tilak on his forehead, went the extra mile to narrate to us tales from history, and soon I found, he was distorting facts. Whenever he told us tales of Mughal rulers, this teacher of ours made it a point to try and convince us that the Muslim rulers who held the reins of power in Delhi and elsewhere, were plunderers who spilt Hindu blood as a hobby. For this teacher of ours, Akbar was the most cruel, despicable, hate-worthy wretch who called himself the Emperor.  Which, was not the case, as all those who have run through the authentic pages of history would know.
I soon found out that this teacher of ours was a die-hard swayam-sevak who had this inbuilt hatred to anyone from a religion other than Hinduism. His classes were, I realised, just extensions of the RSS shaakhas which he presided over in the evenings.
As a kid who learnt to salute the tricolour and stand up in respect for the National Anthem, this came as a rude shock to me. I, the son of a teacher who believed Hinduism was a way of life and had nothing to do with blind faith, was shaken. When this Hindi teacher of ours who ventured into distorted terrain in the name of teaching history, I had the first taste of how the messengers of Hindutva (not Hinduism) tried to misrepresent facts for their own gain. And it was then, while in school, I started staying away these self-proclaimed apostles of Hindutva.
Later on, the first day of my college life saw a group of seniors drive us like a herd of sheep to an open ground and make us stand in line and listen to utterings in Hindi (or was it Sanskrit?). I, God Almighty knows how, was picked to walk up to the front and repeat in chorus to what one of those senior students uttered in a very strong, intimidating tone.  The whole scene looked make-believe, and was forced on me, who arrived in college from a school that had taught me the umpteen merits of secularism.  
I soon realised I was in a college shaakha meeting, a ploy the ABVP (students wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which was just beginning to crawl from infancy to toddler status) had charted out to lure the new comers to vote for them when the next college elections were declared. I started loving to hate the saffron, which for me until then was a bright hue. My displeasure for the men and women who wanted to create a Hindu land in a Secular India grew manifold when they forced on me the rakshabandhan thread saying that it is a Hindu symbol. Until then, for me, the rakshabandhan thread had more to do with sisterly love and heaps of sweets. The day it transformed itself into a Sanghi symbol, I decided to shun it for the sake of my secular motherland.
Years have come and gone, and I now live in an era where saffron holds the all-important reins. I still believe in my country’s secular credentials, and nurture the hope of brotherhood. However, I do not know why, fear stalks me as I tend to ignore the so-called messengers of the 33-crore pantheon.
I still make it a point to visit the deities that I believe are man’s last resort of hope. But then, the saffron robes, the discourses that spew venom, and the loudspeakers that proclaim the supremacy of the religion I belong to, suck the energy out of me, leaving me maimed. I have been taught by my dad to respect every religion, celebrate every festival and walk alongside everyone who walked along side me.

I had taken the pledge that I would consider all my countrymen as my brothers and sisters. I had sang aloud the Anthem of my nation, and it still reverberates in the sanctum sanctorum of my soul as I pen this down. But then, I realise, Hindutva has taken over, while Hinduism as a way of life has faded into oblivion. Will I be able to hold hands with my Muslim and Christian brethren anymore without fearing for our lives? I know not. 

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Forget the Bear Hug and the Eulogies, Here’s What Makes Me Adore a PM on Tour

MORE than two-decades-plus-a-little-over-6-years ago, as I sat down in the entrance examination hall that would pick 21 candidates who would, for the ensuing two years, learn the ins and outs of journalism, I had no idea as to whether I would get myself enrolled for the same. For, journalism was nothing more than The Hindu, Sportstar, Frontline and the Illustrated Weekly of India to me till then. These four publications were more than the world to me, who hailed from one of the remotest, godforsaken corners of Tamil Nadu.
Having born in the cusp of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, known otherwise as Kanya Kumari district, I inherited a mother tongue that was alien to the Tamil brethren who went to school with me. Malayalam was the spoken tongue at home, while the nuns-run convent school I went to, made sure I spoke, dreamt, and imagined things, only in English. The convent school, manned by the women in Christianity’s divine robes, taught me how important English was, and will be, in the days to come. And, thus these four publications were ushered into my home, soon after I outgrew Uncle Pai’s Amar Chitra Katha series of awesomeness.
Years later, as I sat down to write the entrance test that was to be my gateway to a journalism career, these publications and the nuns who guided me with their Anglo-disciplinarian agenda, came handy.
Writing in English, till then, was attempted only in the form of answering questions at the school, pre-degree and graduation levels.  And, suddenly when a journalism question paper arrived to taunt, it was akin to a rookie tail-ender bat facing Michael Holding in an all-important Test match. With no clue on what the answers would be for every question that was thrown at me, I took my stance to a ball bowled to me round the wicket by an University that had already earned its name for its never-legible googlies.
And then, there was this question prompting me to profile Rajiv Gandhi, the young Prime Minister of India. Rajiv Gandhi had, over the past few years, nestled in my soul’s sanctum for his dynamism and vision for an India poised to be launched into the millennium.  As luck would have it, one of the tasks that looked up at me from the University stamped question paper was to profile Rajiv Gandhi. The man, who I had heard talk to India from the ancient Philips valve-radio many a times, stood tall and clear in front of me as I attempted the question.  And, then words flowed, first in trickles, and then as a torrent, filling the white sheets with the story of a man who was “young, and had a dream too”.
Borrowing heavily from stories that had earlier mesmerised me on the pages of The Hindu, Illustrated Weekly and the Sportstar, I went about analysing Rajiv as a young Indian looking to the future through the eyepiece of technology, his vision of a new India and his mellowed but committed voice that made even the global fora stand up and applaud.
A video doing the rounds on social media of late, suddenly takes me back to the Rajiv era, for once.  I know I’m risking myself on a space where I could be called a Congress fellow-traveller, when I’m not. I do not know if there is a fiercer critic of Rajiv’s son and wife than me at this moment. I detest the hordes of spineless gentlemen and women in Khadi who pay obeisance to mommy and sonny, day in and day out, even as they know that the undeserving lot play kings and king makers in a democracy known for its secular credentials. I rue their stance of squandering away the best opportunity to play the bravest, India-minded Opposition when it really mattered. That, however, is a story waiting to be narrated later.
Coming back to my current topic, let me tell you, the Modi wave that is made to lash global shores, and the make-believe efforts that the so-called bhakts undertake to portray their leader as the first ever man to charm America and the rest of the world, appear to me as efforts so futile even as they continue to tell the world that this man with the now famous 56-inch-chest and the screaming voice is a unique phenomenon. However, for, me, and I guess for the men and women of my generation, there used to be this gentleman-politician man who charmed the world by just being there and putting words into real action. The manner in which he has handled the foreign media, the elected representatives from all over the world and the various international fora is worth emulating, and he has done things realistically and in a gentlemanly fashion all the time, every time. 
As I write this, the video that prompted this piece plays for the umpteenth time on my laptop. This, yours truly believes, is a reminder of the times India used to be held in high esteem for reasons so genuine. Another video that came up added to the respect this man commanded. If you are charmed by the much-published and publicised bear hug, the Indian-American crowds singing eulogies for no reason, and the bhakts that crawl when they aren’t even supposed to kneel, it is time for a serious rethink. If these two videos launch you into rethink mode, Jai Ho!  For, I’m charmed for the millionth time. Click play, to watch for yourself.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Customer, No Care!

This Sunday, when petrol dealers decided to stay at home leaving vehicle owners high and dry along the highways, we (I, wife, kids and  a cousin brother) were among many who were calling up to the heavens to help our cars push a few miles more before the fuel tank ran dry. 
The Civil Supplies Corp-operated fuel pumps had also exhausted stock by afternoon, and for the first time since I started driving, we just hoped to see at least a Reliance fuel station somewhere on our way (someone had told me that they aren’t part of the Sunday Shut Down). But that was not to be, as the last one (as per the World Wide Web) on our way was somewhere in Alappuzha and we had rode past it already. (Hope Mr Ambani realises he has a good business opportunity on Kerala’s highways! Go for the kill, dude.)
And then, suddenly, the yellow indicator screamed out to me that I was on reserve fuel. Tension started building up and we were making plans to check into a hotel en route and resume journey the next morning. But then, as cousin bro suggested, we quickly dialled the Maruti Customer Care to know how far the remaining fuel would take us.
Excerpts (not verbatim, though) from the conversation that followed:
Us: Hello, Is this Maruti Customer Care?
Them: Yes sir, how can I help you?
Us: Okay, we just wanted to know what distance would an Ertiga petrol vehicle travel on reserve fuel after the low fuel indicator lights up?
Them: Oh SORRY, we won’t be able to tell you that as it depends on each city.
Us: We just need an approximate number. You may give us an approx. distance as it’s a must that we know from you.
Them: Sorry, I’m afraid we won’t be able to help you. We don’t have the figures to tell you.
Don’t have the figures even after so many years of ruling the Indian road? Just a question included in your umpteen feedback calls to new Maruti Suzuki car owners would have given you the numbers for each road and highway! One driver’s feedback could be another driver’s bible, at least in times of a crisis. And, after all we asked you for only the approx. numbers, didn’t we?
Convinced that the Customer Care is manned by aliens from another world, we continued to drive on. In the meantime, wifey looked up the Net to know what other Ertiga owners thought about the reserve distance that the vehicle would run. The answer was of course there. User reviews on the Net had provided the info. We were glad to find the Ertiga would easily run 39 to 40 km on reserve fuel (petrol, in this case). And we drove on.
Lady Luck and the local deity Parabrahmam seemed to have conspired to get things right for us and soon we spotted a petrol station along the Ochira-Kollam highway awaiting us. The vehicle had its fill and we drove home in gay abandon, with the air conditioner and music player switched on.
The hilariously silly add on to the above narrated story happened the very next morning. As the customer care was contacted from the cousin brother’s phone, he started getting calls right from the next morning.
Maruti dealers from umpteen spots in south Kerala have been making it a point to call him, offering him a good deal on the new Ciaz awaiting buyers in showrooms. He had to keep on explaining to them that the call made the previous day was related to an urgent fuel enquiry, and not because he was planning to buy a new car. But then, they never wanted to give up.
The calls continue to land on his phone! He just called me to say he has gone mad and tired of responding to Ciaz sellers!
Hey Maruti Suzuki Guys, if you are somewhere out there and sane, stop offering carrots when someone asks you for a sip of water, and that too, after 24 hours have run past you!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Tolerance is What 2016 Taught Me

On November 9, the morning after Prime Minister Narendra Modi unleashed the DeMo demon among his subjects, I, like any middle class citizen wasted no time to lash out at the move which, I believed, wreaked of foolishness. Rendering 85 percent of the currency in circulation was as foolish, if not more, than any other such act piloted by the man who makes it a point every time and all the time to proclaim that he is the “Prime Servant” of the people.
As soon as I made my thought vocal, came a retort, in the form a question, from none other than a friend for several years. His question ran thus: “Tell me how many sacks do you have?” Obviously, he meant how many sacks of black money I had at home. I laughed with an embedded shock, as he went on talking of the benefits of demonetisation, which was already taking the form of a real demon for people like me.
I asked him: What would people who earn their daily wages do to gulp down at least a black tea before settling down to rest that night? Pat came the answer: Why can’t they use their debit cards to pay for their tea? My heart skipped a beat. As soon as I recovered, I tried to control my pain, telling myself, “Oh sorry, I never knew I was talking to a bhakt”. I should have realised that the depth of foolishness can never be gauged when it comes from the prime servant’s servile lot.
As year 2016 rushes to let go of its earthly existence, I tend to rewind on this episode, time and again, and again. Every time the episode plays on the back of mind, I realise nothing is more stupid that talking to a bhakt. 
And, that is what 2016 taught me, and the gratitude for making me learn that, goes to the man who unchained DeMo to inflict pain on you and me, making us all stand in long winding lines in front of banks to lay our hands on the currency notes we earned the hard way.
2016, to me, has been a year of realisation. A year that upped the benchmark of tolerance in me. If I weren’t so tolerant, just imagine the plight of a sanghi who advocates the use of plastic money by menial labourers who get paid in Rs 500, Rs 750, and Rs 1000 after toiling all day under the blazing hot sun.
Prime Minister Modi is, no doubt, an honourable man. He left his home and family to serve the people of this vast country. The gallons of tears that have flowed down his cheeks stand testimony to the fact that he cares for his countrymen. His tears never stop. Whenever a new policy springs up his hat, tears well up in his eye cavities, so as to let his people know that he lives, and weeps for his people. When tear drops start to take shape in his eyes, his sevaks in various parts of the country, and outside of it, huddle up together with the Achche Din chant reverberating inside their souls. Unity in diversity, in the most challenging of times, indeed.
All images sourced from the web
So, what we see now is that DeMo from NaMo has made India unified. Look around, and you see plastic money and Internet money hollering from all around about how they have helped the Prime Sevak realise his dream of a cashless existence. The saffron glasses I'm forced to wear reveal around me the good new days that have dawned. Virtual reality has taken a giant leap. Mankind, in turn, has been very grateful to the whims and fancies of the man who’s seen the world - well almost all of it.
As the vision fades following the dumping of the saffron-hued pair of spectacles, reality plays in full force in front of my eyes.  The daily-wage labourer seldom goes to work as his master doesn’t have the change to pay him by end of day. Shops that thrived on the not-so-frequent sale of chai and snacks have downed shutters. The old man who worked all his life to save money has been left spending hours in the sun waiting for his turn at the ATM door.  He collapses before his turn arrives, and yet, DeMo is manna from Dilli for the bhakt.
As I tend to counter the Parivarwala Dost yet again, he reminds me of the sacrifices of the soldier standing guard at the border. Before he finishes lecturing, he bumps into a soldier on vacation standing in queue for the money he has earned risking his life at the border.  He changes track and tells me how the reputation of Aamir Khan, a Muslim, should be made to bite the dust through a well-orchestrated beating down of his latest film. He tells me again on how important his boss in Delhi is, and would be, for years to come. He goes on to narrate the manner in which his Khakhi-trousered brethren have been protecting my nation from being hijacked by the external powers swooping in from all around. He reminds me of surgical strikes, and how they call for obeisance to the Delhi deity from Gujarat.
And yet, I smile. I graduate later to laugh him off. I have turned tolerant to the core. My tolerance level has reached a new high that the bhakt who spat out all these nonsense, remains a friend. Dear 2016, I thank you with all my heart, for making me tolerate stupidity.
Even as I wait for 2017, I hear of a calendar with the deity’s face engraved on all pages coming in to all our homes. 2017, I know Achche Din aanewale hai. Even as I stay hopeful of seeing new multi-hued, graphic rich currency notes, and the megalomaniac calendar, and listen to the umpteen number of man ki baats, I wish I could stay smiling when the next bout of "mere pyaare deshvaasiyon" call reverberates all through the new year. Pardon me if I laugh out loud.

Here’s wishing you bahut achche din ahead!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Sarva Bhuvana Janahithaaya Sarva Mangalam

BORN into a family of exceptional singers, I have always found myself in the lap of morning ragas, sandhyavandanams and lullabys that kept flowing out of each room in my ancestral home. The wooden walls between rooms never stood in the way of celestial Carnatic raagas and keerthanas as they breezed past in gay abandon every morning and night. I then regretted the fact that I happened to be the only soul around who couldn’t sing or understand music.

Apart from the hushed bathroom croons that never came close to what a song would be like, I never had my bit of stardom whenever there used to be a family get together. Every year, when granny celebrated her birthday, all uncles would drive in, families in tow, to celebrate the aging soul. After lunch, everyone would sit together in one of those large rooms and sing. From the broche va revaruaas, the harivaraasanams, the praanasakhi njan and sangamams to the old time Mukesh and Salil Chaudhury numbers that made their appearance one after the other, music turned out to be the flavour of the afternoon, every year around. I, as a kid, slowly learnt to appreciate good music not because I knew all about the ragas and the lyrics, but thanks to the beauty of the voices that flowed around. After they all left by dusk, the music lingered, making me croon putting my crude vocals into play, and at times inviting the wrath of my Carnatic music-oriented mom.

I wanted to sing. I still do, but can’t even risk the ire of those around. Tape recorders were rare those days, but one day Dad came home with a brand new National Panasonic piece that belted out songs in the most admirable voice. As if to add to the excitement, he unwrapped two cassettes that had figures of two famous musicians on their covers. One was of course, the one and only K J Yesudas and the other, totally alien.

The Yesudas tape started playing that night, and I still remember the night I dozed off to Thaaye Yeshodaa and Adri Suthaavaraa. As dawn broke the next day, the tape was still playing, but this time it was Ksheera Sagara rippling down my soul in Yesudas’ melodious voice.

I wondered why the second tape never got a chance to demonstrate itself.  I didn’t have to wait too long. It was a Sunday, and after lunch when everyone dozed off for a light afternoon nap, Achan, plugged in the tape recorder and inserted the second tape. Unlike the chaste Ksheera Sagara rendition by Yesudas, this one started belting out Entharo Mahanubhavulu Anthariki Vandanamulu in a voice so unmusical. I slipped in close to the easy chair where Achan reclined with a smile, which broadened with each second. I too started to lend an ear, and that was a voice that seemed too different coming out of the Panasonic piece’s speakers.

I started falling in love with the voice that flowed out of the tape recorder, and Achan was happy to introduce me to the world of Dr M Balamuralikrishna, even as the music grew in me, subduing me. Ever since, this great man has been part of my inner soul.  Achan made it a point to bring home new cassettes soaked in Balamuralikrishna’s voice, his experiments with the Carnatic way of singing and his soul.

The manner in which Achan, who never sang or had been acquainted with the Carnatic stream of music in his early years, immersed himself in Carnatic music’s stalwarts like Dr Balamuralikrishna, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, K J Yesudas, and the like, every Sunday afternoon, was encouraging for a lad like me who could never sing. And I joined in to listen, but not sing, so as to feel the cold breeze of melody whiffing past the hot afternoon.

Dr M Balamuralikrishna was always a staple diet dished out on those Sunday post-lunch afternoons. From the Sri Ragam-enriched Entharo Mahanubhavulu to the Abheri-straddling Nagumomu to the Saama laden Manasa Sancharare and many more, the legend continued to enthral.

Years have passed, and this evening, the news channels brought in the news of Dr Balamuralikrishna’s passing. Dr Balamuralikrishna has left behind Carnatic songs and his unique experiments for me to stay captivated. Here’s my Mangalam, to the legendary singer who infused a sense of love for music in me. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

What the Kilippaattu taught me

DECADES ago, when my grandma realised her eyesight was failing her, she called up to me to read out the Ramayana to her. I obliged, as I had been told by my father that the best way to learn the Malayalam language was to recite Thunchath Ramanujan Ezhuthachan’s Adhyathma Ramayanam Kilippaattu at least once.  So, after my return from school, I was summoned before the sun went down every evening, to read the Ramayana.
I began reading it to her, and it continued day after day and stopped in time for mom to light the lamp and usher grandma to the pooja room complete with the Sivakasi printed pictures of all the gods in the pantheon.
Reading out poetry penned in chaste Malayalam, and that too aloud so that granny wouldn’t stop me in between and ask me to re-read a passage or two again, became a daily evening task. Ezhuthachchan was too much to handle for a small town boy attending the fifth standard. Convent education had forced me to speak English at school, and coming home to some chaste Malayalam every evening was a pain. However, with granny halting in between passages and elaborating on why Lakshman’s sacrifice was to be seen as ultimate and why Urmila was destined to stay single even after being married, gave me much energy to go on and seek more characters of their ilk.
The daily exercise came to a halt when the Ramayana limped on to the last page. But that was not to be.  A fortnight later, granny called out to me again. The task was the same. To read the Ramayana yet again. The tough shlokas and the language that gave them their shape stood as hurdles in front of my little mind.
But then, there wasn’t any escape route. Granny added importance to my task by telling people that this tiny kid of hers reads out the Ramayana every evening so that she can sleep in peace. I too saw an importance being thrust on me, when neighbours and visiting relatives looked upon me as someone special. The pride grew when they spoke to their children and grandchildren to learn from my act.
The second reading too ended soon afterwards and I too was feeling a bit comfortable with even the toughest words and phrases in the language.  Father was right, I was transforming myself into a Malayali who dived deep into Malayalam’s most precious epic.
And then came the third reading, as granny wasn’t ready to let go of her evening pastime. I started over again, reading Ezhuthachan’s opus the third time around. This time I was familiar with the characters and what they felt and uttered. I made friends with Hanuman and Lakshman, I felt a sense of sympathy to Urmila, and Shurpanakha. I wanted to hug Mandodari for what she was. I shared Bali’s pain, I started detesting Vibheeshana’s selfish act.  I began applauding the heroics of Meghanada and Kumbhakarna, and I felt sorry for Jatayu. I felt helpless when Sita was abandoned by her husband.
To the dismay of my granny, I started developing a hatred towards Rama, who killed the valiant Bali by treacherous means. I began disliking the man who was otherwise called Maryada Purushottam. I disliked the manner in which he abandoned Sita for no fault of hers. Granny told me it was royal dharma on play, which I never wanted to subscribe to. I saw in Rama a coward, who could kill or despise someone to attain selfish gains.
Ravan, Kumbhakarna, and Indrajit played heroes in front of me. I looked for negatives in them, and could find none. To me, Ravan, the villain of the tale, proved to be noble to the hilt. Kumbhakarna and Meghanada were epitomes of valour. To me, Lakshmana was godly than his elder brother.
Years later, when the Babri Masjid issue started taking centre stage, Rama was doing the rounds. Building a temple in his name by razing down a mosque came about as another nail in Rama’s coffin to me. Having been taught in school to be a citizen who would keep the secular pride of my country alive till death, I wasn’t ready to attest to the idea of building a temple by bringing down a mosque. Rama was at the centre of all that.  My hatred grew.
It still does, when Ram sevaks of the ongoing era swear by this so called Maryada Purushottam. I wouldn’t build temples for such a man. I wouldn’t want my kids to seek solace in him. Give me Lakshman or Ravan any day. Or Mandodari, or Urmila. I would fall at their feet. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Good Day, Ugly Days

It’s December yet again! Icy nights and hot afternoons have dawned. Heralding the birth of a fresh new year, the culmination month of 2014 has started galloping toward a new sunshine. The dying year is already wrapped in the best of costumes and carried to the funeral pyre. The good, the bad and the ugliest of happenings came unto us over the past 12 months. We patted ourselves for being at the centre of it all. We also rued the mishaps that over ran our conscience. We stayed neutral when certain elements posed the threat of hijacking our very lives. And yet we lived on, so that we could stay witness to yet another sunrise.
And, the sunrise is just round the bend. But as we look back, we are sure to recall the highs and the lows that became part of our lives. Looking at the past 12 months through a kaleidoscope, I find myself in a maze of all that’s good and bad. The ugly too walked in unawares once in a while.
So, how do I rate year 2014? It’s been sort of hobby for me to rate the years I have lived through every time the death knell is sounded. It is now time for 2014 to start its final lap. What a year it has indeed been!
2014, unfortunately enough, is the year that forced me to live the life of a citizen ruled over by the men and women I loved to hate. Over the period, I had to be witness to a phenomenon where the color of Indian psyche faded steadily through the year to somewhat saffron. I’m not against the color, as such. But when the hue reveals the tears of my brethren writ large over it, I tend to worry.
I was also witness to a handful of messiahs parroting the phrase achche din aa gaye over the past few months of 2014. Even as I dig deeper, I fail to find one. I keep digging.
On the global arena, and in my conscience, I had to stay muted even as gunshots took the lives of innocent school kids.I curse myself for being part of this planet where even our children are dragged into the ugly quagmire of religion.
Closer home, I saw the people I voted to power go bonkers over wine and women. It was fun watching the circus where people in power totally banked on a couple of not-so-adorable women and a few cases of not-so-vintage wine for their existence. The drama has been entertaining, to say the least. After all, the Kerala tradition has been such that an existence sans wine and women is highly improbable.
On a positive note, I watched from my living room the way my nation took wings to kiss the surface of an alien planet. It gives me immense hope as I ride into a New Year in a short while. On a sadder note, let me also add there wasn't a second instance of a good deed before or after the Mangalyaan adventure. The moral of the story, for me, thus turns out to be this: When you are beaten down in the political, cultural or the financial front and are forced to lie low, look skywards – there could be glimmer of hope blazing through the clouds with a lonely planet out there as destination.

On the personal front, Year 2014 brought to my lap the happiest and saddest moments in quick succession. But then those are personal stories, I’ll keep them to myself. Here’s wishing you all a 2015 where Hope hopefully would help you live on.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Man Who Told Me More about the Mahatma

It was late evening, and that night too, when everyone in the family had sat down for dinner, the Gandhi name cropped up yet again. This time it wasn’t about another episode from The Story of My Experiments with Truth.  It was about a life translated on celluloid.

My father, who had the chance to watch the movie running in a cinema in distant Thiruvananthapuram that morning, had already made plans to take us all to watch it the next day.  Father was all awe when he narrated the story of a man who successfully toppled the reign of a nation so large and powerful wielding the power of non violence. He had told us many a tale earlier too, but on that day, the significance of his elaboration was the celluloid narration that kept him over awed.

Quite naturally, he wanted his family to watch the film. And so, the very next morning, we were in the train to Thiruvananthapuram to catch an early show so that we could return home before dusk. In a while, Gandhi was on celluloid before us, shaking up my conscience.

The story of a man who sacrificed all he had, to bring the smiles back to an entire nation, was being retold on the screen that stood large in front of us. From start to finish, I, as a student so naïve, watched the visuals that brought to life a man called Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, reel after reel.

The gunshots and the He Ram chant reverberated in me as we caught the next train that would take us back home. It was all silence, as no one spoke all through the journey. It was as if we were all in mourning. It was as if we all had travelled back in time. We were part of the massive crowd that followed the Mahatma as he led us all, walking in front, swift and strong, wielding a long staff that would support his gait. That evening, father told us that the film was directed by an Englishman called Richard Attenborough.

Years later, as a communication student, when I secured access to the British Library in Thiruvananthapuram, one of the books that called out for my attention from the racks was the detailed screenplay of Gandhi, as laid out by Lord Attenborough.

The book was a revelation. It had shot-by-shot accounts of how Lord Attenborough conceived Gandhi before translating it into the masterpiece it turned out to be. The realization that this great film maker had understood and imbibed the Mahatma brought in me a sense of pride. For, Gandhi was still unknown to many Indians around me.

Years later, Lord Richard Attenborough opened up in front of my probing eyes from the pages of Google. The internet brought to me more about this man. Actor, director and social being, Sir Richard Attenborough played out all roles in front of me.  More movies, literature and citations explained to me what this man was all about.

As I continued to learn about the great actor - filmmaker, many more celluloid creations played in front of me. From The Great Escape to Chaplain to Shantranj ke Khilari to Jurassic Park, Lord Richard Attenborough continued to hold an entire generation of film goers in awe.

A genius on any count, Lord Richard Attenborough lives within me as the director of a movie that narrated to me who Gandhi was! The effort, as I learned later, was stupendous. The hurdles he faced to put India’s most significant pages of history in their true form on celluloid make him stand out as the essential film maker of our times.  

His sense of commitment to his work had come out in the open when he had to produce Gandhi, his dream project, himself, after a reluctant Hollywood producer predicted that there would be no audience for “a little brown man in a sheet carrying a beanstalk.”  Lord Attenborough, of course, proved the producer wrong.

As Steven Spielberg, his Jurassic Park director, paid tribute on his passing, the world now stands in an endless line of those who completely adored him. I too am in the line.  And beyond all that, a tear rolls down my cheek as I remember the cute old Englishman who spurred a big bunch of incorrigible and arrogant Indian morons to realize the Mahatma in a half-naked man called Mohandas. 

Lord Richard Attenborough, India will miss you forever! 

Pic courtesy: LA Times

Friday, May 16, 2014

Bhai, Where Do We Go From Here?

Dear Mr Narendra ‘Bhai’ Modi,

Congratulations on managing a convincing win and here’s wishing you the best as you pack your bags to 7 Race Course Road.  Kudos to the way you managed to spur a nation to dream of a stable government, sustainable development, eradication of inequality and what not.  
When you walk up to the highest office of my country, I can only congratulate you for the excellent public relations exercise you had triggered over a year ago. The strategy has paid off, and enticingly well, indeed.
But then, Mr Modi, though I congratulate you, I do it not from the bottom of my heart. For, whenever, I see you smile, the weeping souls of 2002 appear, soaked in blood and tears, in my conscience. Whenever you address my Muslim friends out there as bhais, I know you don’t mean that at all.
The whole of India is now reverberating in joy on your election and what a massive one it has turned out to be. But then, does that mean the whole of India is celebrating? When you thank the voters profusely for giving you the mandate to rule, have you ever thought of what secular India has been thinking of?
In case you haven’t realized, Mr Modi, life in secular India has ceased to exist. And through that, secular India is dead and gone too.   I, and many like me, who have always taken pride in calling ourselves the children of a secular India, are in mourning mode.
 I’m sorry to say that you and your parivar have now put an end to the secularist beliefs that have helped my nation survive. When your cronies start to talk of building the Ram temple at Ayodhya, it gives me the jitters. A secular nation that we are, why do we need temples or mosques that build boundaries among brethren?  Why do we need a Hindutva way of thought when we are all Indians?
In case you didn’t realize, your parivar folks have been out in the open doing all sorts of things possible to make sure that we all love you. Frankly, I did try. But my conscience doesn’t let me speak good of you. Simply because, I find the goodness to be spoken about missing in you!
 Now that you have become PM, my hopes go for a toss. My hopes of India being seen as a secular nation take a backseat. I find it difficult to mingle with my Muslim brothers as they see me as just another Hindu.  Till recently I was one among them.  And now, see how things have changed. I’m a Hindu in Modi’s Hindustan. I’m just another thread in the saffron fabric. I hate this existence.
Will Modi give me, and the secular India I belong to, something to be happy about? Or, are you bound on following the Sangh Parivar’s way of fanning Hindutva thoughts in my secular nation? What we need are not temples, or the trident sporting kar sevaks that will now come out in the open with renewed vigor.
I’m a Hindu and I’m of course proud of being one. But more than being a Hindu, I feel myself proud of being a secular Indian. This is something you or your men may not understand in its essence. For, you have always thought through your mind that has been programmed to be partial to the Hindus. But then, you need to realize, India is a country populated by not just Hindus.
Mother India has provisioned space for all to live comfortably once they are born in her lap. Bharat Mata, as you would love to call her, is also mother to the Muslims, Sikhs and Christian who are born or brought up on her soil. Refusing to wear a Muslim skull cap, while readily putting on any other variety of headgear whenever possible, doesn’t sound secular to me.  
Even as the 2002 riots were raging, while working in Mumbai, I had played host to a Hindu friend who had to run away on a night train after being confronted and threatened by armed Hindus in your state just because he sported a beard. I recall with fear the agony on my friend’s face on that night.  It is then when I decided to stay away from you and your beliefs.  You have, unfortunately, done nothing to sweep away such fears from my mind with whatever you did ever since.
You are now PM. Congratulations. But my heart goes out to the hapless souls out there who think their existence is now worth just another question mark. Do you have anything for them, something that will make them feel better?  

Anyways, history will provide you with a seat in its pages. We now have a new PM. Wishing you all the best! Wishing my brothers who aren’t Hindus, also the very best!  As for me, I hate this moment. 
Yours truly, bhai
Secular Indian

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Signing Off, to Stay On forever

Every evening after school, as we (my sister and I) walked close by you as you propelled us toward the 6 pm train that would take us home, you narrated to us the day’s happenings around the world in a nutshell. From Rajiv Gandhi’s first press conference as Prime Minister to Sir Richard Attenborough’s epic  re-narration of the Gandhian tale, you kept us engaged with all that was happening around us in a world we never knew in full.
More than the Pythagoruses, Lincolns, Grays, or Edasserys who played to full potential in the class rooms, your narrations of the world’s tale triggered the spark that led us to explore more, each day, every minute.  Stopping in between for a hot cup of tea and snack before the railway station showed up yonder, you provided us with much food for thought, before the train finally chugged on to the platform where we waited.
Once settled comfortably inside the train, you gave us the latest Amar Chitra Katha or the Balarama to imbibe, and that was where the mythical beings and the social reformers performed in front of us. Anant Pai soon turned out to be my hero, and you made it a point that I graduate to Rajaji on a solid base of Uncle Pai. Karna, Bhima, Duryodhana , Kunti, Draupadi, and later on Panditji, Patel, and the Mahatma checked into the sanctorum of my mind, offering companionship whenever I wanted.  
Later on, after the pre-degree hurdle swayed to stoop, you told me how the world around was dancing to the Engineering tune. But, when I uttered journalism, your eyes lit up, as if slamming the stamp of approval on my decision.  That was when you actually donned the role of a hero to me.
The treasure trove that stored the hundreds of back issues of the Illustrated Weekly of India was thrown open in front of me to explore and excavate. Along with them came Readers Digest and fresh issues of an awesome magazine called the Frontline. From Dharkar to Nandy to Ram, many stalwarts wrote in an amazing language that enticed my soul. I always knew you enjoyed it when I strived to emulate them.  I was proud, so proud to be doing what I wanted to do, and your silent approval of whatever I was doing helped me do better in the world of news writing, thus spurring me to have a go at everything that took me to the path of good journalism.
Whenever we got to sit or travel together, you told me tales of how the wise men changed the world with their simple lives. You narrated stories of Mahatma Gandhi’s experiments with truth, how one frail old man walked so fast and alone to extinguish the pride of an empire that never saw the sun set on its terrain until then.
You kickstarted my thoughts on how Hinduism stood tall as a unique way of life than a religion where men faked the existence of a 33-crore member pantheon.  You reminded me of how even the gods were classified as Class One and Class Two by the many men and women who always looked at bronze, concrete and stone idols as profit-machines. You warned me against men and women who posed as God Incarnate so that they can dupe everyone who had a wavering mind.
You read, chewed and digested whatever text that was thrown at you, and emerged out of the heaps of letters with a clear opinion that was uniquely yours. You even told me how vulnerable the concept of astrology was, by listing down examples from the Ramayana.  That, in fact, prompted me to look at age-old beliefs with a critical point of view. You made it a point to prod me to lend my eyes and ears to great men who spoke sense. You watched and listened to the Bhartadarshanam series of Thuravoor Viswambharan with amazing regularity, to dissect and explain to me later what the learned man said and how to interpret things. The manner in which you adhered to ideals that were sane made you someone worth looking up to. You know, I always did.
The manner in which sacred groves were pulled down to make way for concrete temples pained you and you never hid your ire. You slammed the ones that wore vermilion and saffron to pose as messengers of celestial beings and told them how bad they irked you. You tried to tell them the significance of Hinduism and the contributions of the Hindu way of life in the making of India, long before saffron turned out to be a community mascot.
Significantly enough, you never preached. You acted the way you spoke and believed. You never shied away from calling a trident a trident. You even went to the extent of believing the trident was better in Lord Shiva’s hands than in the arms of a saffron clad kar sevak. You never stopped short of leaving the novice in me amazed and yearning for more. You sketched the way I thought, lived and wrote, minute after minute.  You guided me through the maze of life with your way of life.
My teacher, friend, guide, you continued to be. Every time I came home to be beside you, you told me something new.  One day, you told me everyone has to die someday and when the soul leaves a body, what remains is just useless junk and there is no point whatsoever in mourning over a dead body. You even reminded me of the Bhagawad Gita verse that said a soul leaving a body is akin to how a man changes his soiled clothes to wear a fresh new one.  You made life look so easy and simple.
The day you made me sit beside you to warn me against cutting down a full grown tree to burn your soulless body is still fresh in my mind. You never wanted to kill a tree to gift yourself heaven. When you wanted your earthly remains to be confined to flames with just a bunch of firewood that a firewood vendor would sell for his livelihood, you made sure a tree was not cut down. 
As you now start your journey to a world unknown to me, tears rush to my eyes, blurring my vision. But then, I know you aren’t happy about that. For, you lived and died a happy man. You just do not want anyone to weep over your passing.
I wouldn’t want to say good bye. I never can. No one who knew you would want to either. You continue to inspire. Your way of bidding goodbye while in the midst of your daily routine, watching television just before sleep perched on your eyelids, was indeed unique. You always had your own unique style of doing things. In your passing away too, you made sure you had your own style.
Looking back at the night of March 18 gives me the shudders, as I realize I wouldn’t be sitting beside you listening to your anecdotes and tales of people who changed the world.  You wouldn’t be voicing your disagreement with the people that ruin lives and the environment anymore. As I come to terms with the fact that you aren’t beside me to tell me what is good and what is bad, I realize it is just your physical presence that is absent.  

I’ll never miss you, dear Acha. For, you continue to live within me, and I now have the privilege to call upon you anytime. I know you would be more than willing to walk up to my soul any time now and extend a hand  that I can hold on to forever. I can sense your presence around me now, more than ever before.  

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Past Tense; Future Imperfect

So, it’s an end to a year that threatened to do away with the planet altogether. If the Mayans had forced us to believe that everything would end in a jiffy, what actually ended was the cricket god’s ODI outing – though not many bothered. India, in the meantime, was out on the street protesting the end of a life mangled by vultures in men’s clothing.
Magnanimity is Mother Earth’s trait. She too seems to have thrown prophesies to the wind so that the sinners would be forced to live, and die, here. The year, however, saw such beliefs too die, when one man, ‘revered’ for the most sinful deeds, lived happily and died happily. Another one experienced the noose sans any pain.
Pain came only to those who lived in the midst of all these sinners. Sinners were many - right from the ones who swallowed billions in the name of serving the people who voted them to power, to those who promised to make the aam admi live in a corrupt-free nation. And, all of them had the guts to tread over the billion heads that bowed before them in anticipation of a happy existence.
Pain also came to many who spent months together to see the Supreme Leader utter something – at least something! Pain also came unto all those who saw the betas and the jamais call the shots even when the nation was on the verge of sinking.
Even as the New Year gets set to dawn, pain threatens to ride the crust when massacre specialists in development messiah’s garb promise to lead the nation to paradise.
Heaven or hell, pain continues to rule. Mediocre leaders, more mediocre subjects and even more mediocre hopes tend to take the nation to a much more mediocre existence when the New Year waits to bloom. Marauders of sane minds get ready to climb on to the nation’s treasury to make a killing.
Year 2013 isn’t going to be any different. There isn’t absolutely any hope out there, whatsoever. But, we as a nation would spend time on social media channels scribbling down the most inane of thoughts. We will continue to bow before monsters that act as monks. We have grown to be a nation that would accept anything lying down and make fun of ourselves on Facebook.
We, as a nation, would topple the life of the farmer who gave us our daily bread, so that Wal-Mart and others of its ilk rob us of our daily bread. We, as a nation, would spend our lives singing eulogies to those who garrotte us.
We would build 14-storey buildings to live in, but will not, just because the Vaasthu practitioner says no. We would continue to gun down tigers in their habitat claiming ownership of the land they actually own. We would make contributions from our hard earned money to build temples and mosques.
We would throw our kitchen waste on to the neighbours’ backyards just to prove we don’t care. We would continue to shout slogans so that the most criminal of beings get to rule over us again.
We would also go gaga over children born to celebrities and make them look like young super stars. We would tweet, re-tweet and write loads about them so that we feel blessed to have them in our midst.
We would, but, never feed a hungry man on the street. We would never do our bit to see children go to school, at least to have a morsel served for lunch. We would also never try and help the miserable old farmer out there live. Never would we think a minute about the days when the frail old man fed us, after fighting continuous battles against the weather, machinery and the babus.
As 2012 gets going into oblivion, we are the only ones that would refuse to change. We are like this, as we excel in seeing mediocre men and women rule our minds, existence and all that we are. 2013, do we have a tear in store for you too? Or, should we expect something new this New Year?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

It is that time of the year yet again, and I’m forced to travel down blog-memory lane and look at what I had written two years ago. Time tells me nothing has changed – and nothing will. I have this urge to write again on this, but I guess it would be better to bring back the same post of February 2010 so that you will also realize nothing has changed. So here goes!)


What spurs faith? Decibel-spewing loudspeakers? Or sweat stinking bodies in a traffic-jam-inducing crowd? Sad, temple festivals are fast taking out the little faith I seem to have in the gods.

Year after year in the place where I live when the crowds arrive, I experience a chill down my spine. Anywhere is offering space for the faithful, it seems. Bus stations overlooking drains, railway tracks stinking of human waste – offerings are made to the goddess anywhere. And, we take pride in proclaiming to the world the greatness of a women’s congregation.

I woke up early today after my deep slumber got snipped by the roaring loudspeakers. I’m pretty sure the gods they sing in praise with those high decibel sounds have long gone. Not even the gods, leave alone lowly humans like me, would stay on after being subject to such torture. The legal system has long back abhorred of such loudspeaker torture, but who cares?

The festival day is close to a month away, and in a few days, when I venture out on to the roads I will be confronted by heaps of bricks that would transform themselves into makeshift ovens to cook the boiling effervescent offering to the goddess in a matter of a few hours. Don’t I have my right of way, when festivals unfurl. Population explosion is a fact, I tend to believe when I see the whole of Kerala descend on to a single spot in the name of faith and the goddess. Can anyone tell me where faith resides in these men and women who strut around restless armed with a mini-kitchen under their arms. They are unmindful of whoever comes their way or even a slight sense of civic behavior. You call it faith? I disagree.

Blocking traffic in the name of God is not faith, I call it criminal. Shouting chartbusters into my eardrum and wrecking my physical and mental balance is not faith, I call it irresponsible behavior. Burning hundreds of fluorescent lamps in the name of festivals all through the night in the name of God is not faith, I call it arrogance. Mind you, we are a State where electric power is rare commodity.

If this is faith, I can’t have it even if I need to. I wouldn’t want my gods to shower blessings on me only if I wake up people in the night with my blaring loudspeakers. I wouldn’t want my gods to smile on me for blocking traffic and causing a poor soul in a rushing ambulance to die. I wouldn’t want to be burning electricity 24x7 in the name of god and push my fellow beings to worrisome nights when global warming is already giving them sleepless nights. Faith isn’t what loudspeakers or traffic jams can bring to me. They never can.