Saturday, January 10, 2015

Find Your Own God

Violence in the name of god, stories interpreted, reinterpreted, misinterpreted... Is this the purpose of
religion, of seeking god, of reading the scriptures?

I want to quote these lines from Vasishtha's Yoga:
"Not by the study of scriptures, nor by hearing the instructions of a preceptor, nor by charity nor even by the worship of god is the direct realisation of the supreme truth realised. Because that is beyond all these. However, I shall tell you how these, though not the actual means, have come to be regarded as the means to self-realisation. By the practice of the precepts of the scriptures, the mind becomes pure and transparent; then, without even wishing for it, one sees the supreme truth."

The other means are mere stepping stones, like the bath water, to be used to clean oneself and then discarded. If as individuals, we keep wallowing in the water, the result is what we see in our society - violence in various degrees. If the scripture does not make us feel pure, then it is not the right kind of water. It is already sullied. But if it does, for you, as an individual, then it has served its purpose. Never mind it did not work for some one else.

Even two siblings do not behave the same way, like the same things, take the same path. Then why should it be true of people from disparate backgrounds? Why cannot two people hold different views and yet find their truths? If it applies for religious fanatics, with due respect to intellectuals, it applies to you too. If a woman finds a stone divine, so be it. The problem is not that she finds the stone divine, but that she tries to beat you with it, forcing you to bow to it.

And when you do not like that stone that is divine to her, and try to turn it into mud, then, well... Aren't you doing exactly what she tried to do to you, though in a different way?

Utopia, I sigh, living and letting live. But if we dream enough, if we focus on our personal development, of connecting to the divine within without worrying about who else is following the same path, maybe we will stop killing each other, doubting each other and there will be more peace.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Brush with Bushsh (Children's Story)

Udit stopped the car. Or so Sulekha thought. but it turned out that the car had stopped on its own. Their 8-year-old twins - son Param and daughter Manya - looked at their parents sleepily. "What happened?" they asked in unison.

"The car stopped. Let me check what's wrong," Udit said, getting out of the car.

Sulekha looked around and didn't like what she saw. They seemed to be outside a housing colony - the blocks of houses looked old and unkempt. She could see no one around, and though it was dusk, there were no lights on.

She frowned. Were they in a ghost town?

She smiled at the foolish thought. She looked at the time in her mobile phone. 6.15. Maybe lights will come on shortly. She looked at her sulky children. "C'mon, let's explore," she invited them.

Udit looked up and said, "Don't be a fool, Sulu! We don't even know where we are!"

She waved indifferently. Caution was his middle name. Adventure, hers. She winked at her kids whose eyes widened in excitement. It may all turn out to be boring, but hey, it was better than being stuck inside the car.

"I can see nothing wrong," Udit said, peering in again. "Can you start the car?" he asked Sulekha. She grimaced at the premature curtailment of a possible journey in exploration, making her children giggle. She got behind the steering wheel and turned the key. Nothing. She looked at him and shook her head.

"Did you turn it on?" he asked, irritating her.

"Of course," she replied.

He dived into the bonnet again - figuratively, of course. She quietly got out and gestured to her children to follow her. He looked up, hearing the car door shut. "Hey, where are you going?"

"You figure out. Param wants a bathroom break," she lied smoothly. Her son nodded obediently.

"Don't stray off," he cautioned. Manya snorted in an attempt to control her laugh. Sulekha pretend-glared at her.

They entered the colony and looked around. It was spooky, the way there was not a soul in sight in this large complex. No security, no random resident, no visitor...

"Mom, I do want to use the bathroom," Param said shortly as they moved through the passage between two buildings. Sulekha's heart was beating fast. In the near dark, she saw a drain, partly covered. "Quick, do it there and let's get back," she urged.

A sudden 'bushsh' sound made them look closely at the drain. White foam rose from the gap. It started small and fluffy. It was so incongruous, so unexpected that the three chuckled involuntarily. The foam grew bigger and bigger, and suddenly it was not so funny. The bushsh sound had amplified and it filled their ears. They saw two foamy limbs pushing itself up from the drain even as it kept growing in size. A scream froze in their throats as the foam became their size and then grew bigger, towering over them menacingly.

Mother's instinct kicked in and Sulekha reached out, pulling them to her. The foam bent towards them as if examining them. Sulekha felt suffocated. She heard her children scream, "Mommy, mommy!"

She turned to run, dragging her children with her, and bumped against something hard. A pillar... Where had that pillar come from! Something touched her, the foam, she was sure, for she could hear the 'bushsh' in her ear. She flailed, felt bushsh collapsing on her, making her wet. She threw up her hand and the bushsh changed to 'owww!' as her hand connected to something surprisingly solid. Bushsh shook her like a leaf even as her children cried 'Mommy, mommy! Wake up!'

She was so scared that she closed her eyes tight. But she was being shaken. She opened her eyes and was surprised that she was inside the car, Udit and her children were staring at her in an incredible mixture of wonder, fear and amusement, an aerated drink in their hands - Manya's half empty. Her dress was sticky and wet, and she knew where the remaining drink was...

"Ewww!!!" she said, and then looked around. They were outside the dark, abandoned building, which didn't look so abandoned now as the lights had come on and she noticed the telltale signs of human inhabitation. "Where is bushsh?" she asked and regretted it. For throughout the rest of the way, her children and husband teased her about her antics in deep sleep, as she lived through the nightmare hitting out at them in her imaginary battle with the foamy monster.

All she could do was sulk in a corner and wonder why the fizz from the bottle had been transformed into a foamy monster in her dream. Would some dream interpreter attach any importance to it?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Making Sense of Nonsense

I am silent
I don't comment
I don't like
For I dislike

Extinguishing lives
Young and old alike
Driving through the hearts
Sharp shooting spikes

Can one even start to think
Of explaining all this stink?
Of hatred that runs so deep
That it has its own course to keep?

In the name of God, they say
Playing Devil's advocate
Revenge for our hurts, it seems
Hurting so much that heart weeps

Soothing can these words be?
These smooth, double-edged swords?
Raking wounds, reminders of loss
Reminders that it could be any of us all

In routine we find solace
In denial there is paradise
Just mind your business, friends
And we will be rid of this nonsense

And so we shout
And so we complain
Then get back to our lives
Till new irritants arise.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Man in the Mirror

He rolled down his car window for some fresh air. It was late in the night, less traffic, clearer air.

He saw billboards splashed with faces of leading actors and actresses dotting the skyline. The commercial capital ran on the wheels of commercial art - the cinema, he thought with a wry smile.

He turned the corner and inhaled sharply. The face of Jay Surana stared at him, face angled flirtatiously at the camera, a shining burgundy blazer stylishly draped on the shoulder, black trousered legs at an angle to indicate he was just walking away.

He couldn't help admiring the perfect expression on the handsome face and imagine its effect on the women in the room. He knew women loved that expression, had heard enough and more about it, seen several articles discussing just this very look threadbare. Jay Surana. He had used that very look to reach the top in the tough world of cinema.

He shook his head in disgust and rolled up the window. Popular actor but critics' pet peeve. "No stuff, all fluff" - sobriquets that Surana had brushed away with seeming ease. Women would die for a look from him. But the intelligentsia looked beyond that and saw only a man cool and calculative.

He tut-tutted. He knew Jay inside out, knew his guts, his hardships, his hardness - the armour he had cultivated over the years to get to the top and remain there. It needed ruthlessness. It was futile to discuss that point.

He grimaced in disgust. He turned the air conditioner dials to make it cooler. His mobile rang. His wife's name splashed on the screen. Mechanically, he turned the Bluetooth on, and spoke briefly. "On my way."

"You are late," she reminded him.

"Yes, it got late. Technical glitches."

"She was there?" she asked in a more hesitant tone.

He chuckled. "Of course, I told you."

"You are coming home, right?" she asked softly.

His chuckle swelled to laughter. "What a question! What did you think?"

"Nothing... I am waiting."

His smile died as the call ended. He became more aware of the pain in his chest. Not his a way, it was his heart, but not the organ.

She had been there - Shreya Samarth; the no-nonsense Shreya who did not suffer fools lightly and whose straightforwardness could cut through swathes of lies.

The moment she set eyes on him, the fire in her eyes died and they turned cold like icebergs fractionally before she turned to face her fans with her characteristic animation.

Oh they carried on with the show - Jay Surana and Shreya Samarth, Rekindling the Magic. They were veteran actors, acting was in their blood. They could rekindle the magic and make it look natural enough.

And it had strained every nerve to not show how much the fire was consuming him - striking the right balance of intimacy and yet the respectable distance of talking about a co-star. Reviving memories...

Was that a tear, making its way out? Did he still have it in him to cry?

He reached home. His wife came eagerly forward and scanned his face. His cool look was back. He patted her cheek. "I am tired. Would like to hit the bed," he said and left her behind to enter the bathroom.

When Shreya and he broke up, something else broke inside him. Or did she break up because she saw that nothing would break him, that he was beyond caring?

He looked at the man in the mirror. He realised that when he met his eyes in the mirror, the fire died and there was only coolness.

Jay Surana did not like meeting Jay Surana.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Finding Her Way - Children's Short Story

Ammu lived with her two young sons in the fringes of the forest. The elder son, Somaiya, was all of 10 and acted all of 20 - responsible and helpful.

Rangaiya, though, was a brat and at age 5, needed to feel the stick on his back before he quietened down. For a while. Then his mischief would begin - climbing trees, hiding behind pots and pans, toppling them in a hurry to escape his mother's wrath.

Ammu tried hard to remember that Rangaiya was just a child. But at the end of a hard day, it was difficult. Though their needs were minimal, even to meet them, she needed to work in other people's homes when they needed her help in exchange for food or old clothes they gave her as payment. The days there was no work, she would venture into the forest nearby to collect wood, fruits and trap small animals.

At least one good thing was that Rangaiya also went to school, giving her respite. But taking the boy through the forest to reach the nearby village for the school was a nightmare in itself. He fearlessly tripped ahead of her, sometimes hiding behind trees and jumping from branch to branch to boo her from behind. Even Somaiya seemed tempted to follow his younger brother's lead, sometimes running away with him.

One afternoon, when the boy continued being high spirited despite a supposedly grueling day at school, she stopped half way. Glaring at her younger son, she said, "Will you stop it?"

The boy didn't even seem to hear her as he ran ahead and turned left suddenly. Something snapped inside Ammu. She retraced her steps silently, dragging her elder son and warning him to be silent. She took a circuitous route back home, sure that her son will find his way back home.

But all through the way, she started imagining the worst. Leaving Somaiya behind at home, she walked through the regular trail and panicked when she found no signs of Rangaiya. She paused at the point she thought Rangaiya had turned, but did not find him there. She wove her way back and turned into the clearing she had taken. She was relieved to see her son lying under a tree, and then she panicked, wondering if...

She ran to him, crying out his name. The boy got up with surprising agility, though it took him a minute to realise who was calling his name. Running to her with a laugh, he said in his baby voice, "Oh, I am so glad to find you. Did you get lost? Were you scared?"

Stunned, Ammu paused in the process of lifting her son up and stared at him in disbelief. Then she laughed, pure joyous laugh and hugged him tight. "I am very hungry now," he declared. "Do you know the way to the house?" he asked like a grown up, drawing a bigger smile.

"You guide me and I will follow," Ammu replied gamely as she carried the little bundle in her arms.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Rose-Tinted Glasses

"When I was growing up in a village, during weddings, the family would not have to buy much. Coconuts would come from whoever had a coconut grove, someone else would bring fruits, somebody would contribute with labour for cutting vegetables, etc." an octogenarian told me in some context.

I was editing a book on Rajasthani rituals, where it was mentioned that along with the invitation for the wedding, a request for the brethern to help in the preparation would also be sent.

In modern times, contractors and money play a big role. Even if friends have loads of turmeric and betel nut sachets going waste, we still go to the market to buy fresh stock. Forget about contributing materials, even the packing of the return gift, where younger cousins would sit together as they readied the bags, is being outsourced. Many close relatives visit like guests and probably are among the first to leave, yours truly included. Children don't know how they are related to the rest of the family, even the first cousins, sometimes.

When I bring up the image of the relaxed chatting and laughter of the men and women working together and children running around to  bring a wedding to fruition, I feel we are missing something crucial in our lives. We go on holidays, but even there, we are "intent on having fun" rather than spontaneously enjoying simple joys. We have money, but we are poor in love and compassion. We have friends, but we rarely let our hair down.

We cannot turn the clock back. We cannot leave the rut we have fallen into. But at least on special occasions, we should drop everything else to be with people with the single goal of enjoying simple tasks that is made interesting because of warm company.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Don't Play with Fire

The stranger in the bus stop turned and smiled at her. Rinku inhaled sharply, stunned at how the curve of his nose looked just like Pratul's.

She looked away, chiding herself for being silly. She was always seeking Pratul in every man she met. Sometimes, even in women. In their smiles. In the colour of their eyes. In the shape of their teeth!

She really must stop this obsession. It was going to drive her insane. If she was not already one, Rinku reminded herself as she hailed an auto and gave directions.

As always, memories of Pratul drove a knife through her heart. She could not forget the pain he had caused her before going so far away that he could never give her any joy any more.

She had known him since childhood. He was a couple of years older, but because they lived next door to each other, it was inevitable that they should meet everyday, several times. They hopped in and out of each other's homes on work, or just like that. They had such a lovely time growing up together. How her friends teased her about him. His friends too, she knew, teased him. A soft smile played on her lips as she recalled those wonderful days.

And then, the dark cloud had cast its shadow. A new neighbour had moved in and their stunning daughter seemed to win everybody's heart, including Pratul's. It was hard to see him smile in a special way every time he saw Mahima cross. Rinku consciously kept her distance, but that was a mistake, she realised later. Because Pratul and Mahima became friends, and since Rinku had been obviously indifferent, she found Pratul dividing time between Rinku and Mahima.

They seemed to have all the fun. They started going out to all fun places while Rinku strove hard to maintain her steady, 'I am waiting for you' image. Either he did not understand or did not care. No, that cannot be true. It was Mahima who did not give him the space or the time to think about her. Rinku's lips pursed in disapproval. Oh, how she hated that girl! Always buzzing around Pratul like a bee around flower.

"We are in love, Rinku. I want you to be the first one to know," Pratul had told her.

She had slapped him affectionately. "Of course I know, you silly," she had chuckled.

"Of course," Pratul had laughed good naturedly. "You know me inside out. Probably you knew before I did that I was in love with Mahima." He had hugged her, not knowing how her world had crumbled.

The auto stopped at the entrance to her home. She looked up sadly.

Life changed after that. It seemed as if happiness forgot her, working full time at Mahima and Pratul's homes. And the worst was being his confidante, seeing his eyes shine thinking of another woman, his lips stretch in a wide smile sharing trivial nonsensical stuff.

How could he not know how her heart burned! Didn't he know her every mood, her every look? Didn't he really not know that she loved him?

"Hey," he slapped her on her back. "You fall in love soon and we can celebrate a double wedding!"

It was an insult to their relationship. She realised that he was blinded by Mahima's physical beauty. What was beauty? Just skin deep. If that vanished...?

But for it to vanish and Pratul to realise the truth, she would have to wait a long time. The more Pratul spoke of Mahima, the more eager she was to shake him up and make him see the truth.

She went out of her way to befriend Mahima. They visited each other. It burned her to have Mahima share intimate moments. She wanted Mahima to burn in pain too.

She invited Mahima to her house for tea one evening. They entered the kitchen with a warm laugh. "Go ahead, you make tea. I am in a mood to be pampered," Rinku gave Mahima way. When her attention was turned, Rinku sneaked up and let Mahima's dupatta catch fire.

Feeling the unnatural heat, Mahima squealed and threw the dupatta with a stronger flame. She threw it mindlessly away from her. It fell on Rinku's kurta and her synthetic top burned faster, the flames reaching up to her face even before a shocked Mahima could help her new-found friend.

"It's a miracle that she survived and her organs are not damaged," the doctor seemed to have assured her family repeatedly.

"Beauty is only skin deep, Rinku, You are my best friend forever," Pratul went out of his way to assure her, sitting with her after every plastic surgery to reconstruct her face.

He waited, he promised her, for her to get back to her feet. And then he married Mahima and left for Canada. Way beyond her reach. Leaving her alone to deal with her scars.
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