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.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Make a Difference

In the 1990s, hearing of the work done by a charitable organisation promoting computer education in village schools in one of the districts of Tamil Nadu, a European lady desired to see the place. A teacher herself, she sat with the girls during the class and could not but help notice the cramped seating arrangement.

After the class was over, the lady met the principal and asked him how he would spend the donation she made. He told her that he wanted computers for his school.

"What you need is more space for the girls," the lady told him and contributed the amount needed to provide more classrooms and benches for the girls.

A few years later, when meeting another school principal, she saw smoke billowing outside. She was told that food was being cooked for the children under 6 in the two anganwadis nearby. She went to investigate and found that the smoke was due to the firewood. Aware of the need for clean atmosphere for children to grow and develop in, she insisted that proper kitchen with gas stoves be arranged and donated the amount needed to make two kitchens.

The elderly gentleman who had represented the organisation and coordinated these efforts recalled these incidents when I met him recently. But even as he spoke, I was amazed at the lady's interest and insight. She probably made the same contribution she had intended initially, even more probably. But it is the thoughtfulness and the courage to express it which was thought-provoking. If each of us were to take greater care in our efforts to contributing to the society and follow up to see the impact, we will probably see better results, implemented faster.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Ahead of Peers

Disruptive, evidently bored and with loads of attitude, the 13-14 year old boy was a past master in evading activities the rest in his noisy groups were willing to do. Finally, when I realised that it was futile involving him in any activity, and better in fact to let others keep doing their tasks and engage him in conversation (I am a wannabe psychologist too) he asked me quietly, "Ma'am, how did you get your books published?"

Startled, I turned to look at him closely. This was a workshop on writing for children, and though I wondered what I can teach kids of today, to talk of publishing even before writing seemed overly precocious. "Why do you ask?" I hedged.

"My friend and I have written a novel which is part fantasy, part mythology. One of our friend's mothers is a patenting agent and she has helped us patent it. We are trying to get it published."

I was silent and glad when a distraction caused us to break up the conversation. Patenting agent? I hadn't event heard the word till I had started working.

Then he showed me another novel he was writing based on the Wimpy series. I read through a few pages and could well understand why he would have found a workshop on writing a waste of time.

Not everybody had that standard in that class of 52, thankfully. But I wondered, what avenues did such children who were ahead of their age groups have? What coping mechanisms were they being given when they met with disappointments?
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