When the bird met Sunny Deol

I am sure I have said this before. This is an old piece of thought. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating piece of truth.

The relationship between me and my mind, is truly extraordinary. My mind is like a bird, and I am the tree.

The bird often leaves the tree, flying across uncharted territories, reveling in the profound beauty of the terrains it travels. And when it has had its fill, it returns reluctantly to the tree, its heart throbbing with the beauty of what it has experienced.

For a brief moment, the bird is still, and it shares the beauty of what it has witnessed, with the tree. It shares its extraordinary journey with the tree. The tree is enchanted, and records it all. The tree is delighted that the bird helps the tree experience what it would otherwise never be able to experience, for it cannot fly. This is exactly the relationship between me and my mind. I have a mind whose natural instinct is to fly. I have a mind that has wings.

Of the terrains that my mind has witnessed in the course of its flights, the human mind has been the most beautiful. My mind loses itself in the infinite shades of the human mind- in its aesthetic potential. I find personalities very attractive. I am drawn to who people are beneath what is visible on the surface, and to what drives them. I lose myself in the beauty of a personality.

I celebrate people a lot more than I celebrate myself. Through people, I get to experience the pulse of life. And so, I am always on the lookout for a personality I can be fascinated and intrigued by, a personality I can be addicted to, a personality I can immerse myself into, just so that I can come out emotionally richer. I collect in my mind not pictures of people, but imprints of personalities. Within my mind is a collage of personalities- the imprints of extraordinary minds that I have unraveled during the course of my interactions with people and that I have carefully tucked into my mind. These imprints are deep; they are now a part of who I am.

People give themselves away easily. This is particularly true of the extraordinary ones. Innocence and a certain self-consciousness/shyness are ingredients of the extraordinary mind. As we move into a world that is dehumanizing itself constantly, I am all the more on the lookout for extraordinary minds. For they have become an endangered species and one doesn’t sight them too often. I turn to art when I don’t find them in real life. To biographies and autobiographies, to cinema, to interviews. Sometimes to fictional characters. To wherever the mind is deep enough to absorb my thirst for life, for beauty, for wisdom.

It is this drive that led me to individuals across the world- from artists to scientists, across time. Deep within, I believe that I have met them all. For our minds have communicated, and that is the most real, most truthful interaction to me.

The latest addition to this list of personalities is Sunny Deol. I can’t really remember how a perception brewed itself into a fascination, an obsession. But the trigger was a movie. I watched his film, The Hero: Love story of a Spy, where both the characters (that of Sunny Deol and of Preity Zinta) truly attracted me. From a character perspective, I was more attracted to the character of Reshma, played by Preity Zinta, for she portrayed an ordinary village dweller who demonstrated a potential for the extraordinary; her ability to demonstrate strength and commitment where one initially only saw the innocence and vulnerability of a village girl, was profoundly attractive. I have always been drawn to characters who demonstrate this combination of vulnerability and strength, and it wasn’t surprising that I was attracted to the character of Reshma.

However, I am not sure what drew me to Sunny Deol’s character. Perhaps it was his ability to see the worth and value in Reshma’s character, and to provide a platform that was conducive for her personality to freely express itself. He demonstrated the ability to accommodate her spirit, to let it flow freely. I think that is a very rare trait- the ability to accommodate a child-woman personality into one’s life, and to celebrate her spirit. Of course, this was only a movie. But there was something that was so real about the way these two characters unfolded in the movie that I couldn’t disregard them only because they were fictional characters. This aspect of Sunny Deol’s character had such a powerful impact on me that I found myself watching this movie everyday- a phenomenon that is no longer surprising to me because now I understand why I have to watch the movie repeatedly. Each time I watch the movie, though the suspense is broken, I move closer and closer to the personalities, into the mood of the movie, until I have lived the movie, lived the personalities, lived their minds. Until I can no longer differentiate the experience of the movie from the experience of my own life, at an unconscious level.

I think it was this character that implored me to seek out all his films- the older ones, for I realized that there was a fundamental essence of his personality that one could taste in the characters he played. He had to believe in the truth of the characters he played; it was otherwise impossible to have created the impact that he created through his characters. Though I did like the fundamental character he played in Gadar and since the theme of partition has always been a theme I hold painfully close to my heart, I felt the plot of this movie evolved into a more dramatic and sentimental narrative in its later sequences, and it lost its appeal of realism towards the end.

Sunny Deol’s versatility in Gadar

Since most commercial movies drew away from realism (unlike parallel cinema), I found this a deficiency in most of his other movies. However, in all his characters, however unreal, I liked the innocence and the honesty they portrayed. There was something so Indian about his characters- it was perhaps a reflection of the essence of his own personality.

What does the term ‘Indian’ mean to me? In very simple language, I would say it represents someone who is very close to life. So close to life that he has accepted his own self, with all its vulnerability (or what the world labels as “weaknesses”). Someone who is therefore capable of being accepting of life, without the powerful need to prove himself to the world. Without the powerful need to deny one’s own personality so they can fit in. I have always maintained that the most beautiful people in this world are the ones who have a very realistic concept of the self, and accept themselves as they are. It takes immense strength of character to be able to do so. And from whatever I could gather of Sunny Deol, I felt he came across as a self-actualized person.

I found it imperative to watch interviews and videos where one could get glimpses of the real Sunny Deol. I jumped in glee when he admitted that he had always been a little shy, a little self-conscious. As I watched more of his interviews, I saw an individual who still retained the essence of a beautiful bygone era, of his roots that were fragrant of the character of old Indian villages. I saw an individual whose heart was into all that was emotionally rich and meaningful. An individual whose dreams are very much rooted in his childhood. I think the luxury of growing up in the India of those times was that we grew up in the outdoors, and experienced the world as a beautiful place that gave us freedom and fantasy, and a joy that nourished the soul. This was especially true for those of us who grew up in urban India, and spent our vacations in the villages.

I was a little confused when I read the news that Sunny Deol was contesting for the BJP. However, I like to believe that we perhaps need more artistic minds in politics and move beyond party politics. Perhaps if writers and film makers could utilize their mass appeal for the cause of humanity, our political parties may get cleansed in the long run, though I do realize this is wishful thinking and even if it were to materialize, it would perhaps take decades. Sunny Deol as a politician may not be able to achieve much. However, as a human being, there is so much that he has to offer, irrespective of the field he is in. He is so grounded, irrespective of the mountains he has scaled. Quoting his own father:

You may be scaling mountains, but if you fail to be a good human being, you stop mattering. You may be a nobody with your feet on the ground, but if you are a good human being, you matter.

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Airports do not give away the character of the cities they belong to. And so, as we waded our way through the airport, I was unable to form an opinion on the character of Singapore.

S was waiting for us outside and though I was glad that we didn’t have to break our head over finding our way around this new city, I also felt awkward. It has always been that way with S. He builds in me a certain expectation- an image I cannot live up to. When we were younger, I did not understand these sort of identity issues, and I used to feel inferior in his presence. However, with the understanding of personality and behavior, I now feel sorry for him. It must be so limiting to live as somebody you are not, and to expect the same from others. To suppress your natural instincts and to subscribe to an identity you worship. To the point that you deny your own roots, your own self. There is so much you miss out on. You suffer every minute, without realizing it.

I remember feeling very excited. As we stepped out of the cab, I looked at the street that our hotel overlooked. It was beautiful. The streets were clean and tidy. It wasn’t an overcrowded city, and yet, the streets felt safe. I was drawn to the antique buildings across the street, to their multicolored windows, to the flowery festoons on the lamp posts. There was something so floral about this place. Everything reminded one of spring and of a garden in bloom. This has always been my closest perception of earth. Earth, as a garden that God gifted us. A garden of sorts. We destroyed those gardens and lost all the joys that came with gardens.

I had a good mind to take a long walk, exploring this place. I couldn’t really bring myself to wait until morning to get a feel of this place. I wanted to feel the air, take in the sights, observe people, and lose myself into the magic of it all. But with S, it was hard to voice out this urge. So I held back. We got ourselves some toast and peanut butter for dinner.

Up above the world so high…

The 18th of February, 2019, was an important day in my life. It was a day to remember. A milestone. A milestone that marked my freedom from the confines of the small world I had embraced ten years ago. A freedom from the shackles of physical and mental confinement. I was traveling again. I was stepping out into the big, wide world again. What had been weeks of struggle, stress, paperwork, anxiety and exhaustion, gave way to excitement and joy on that beautiful morning of February 2019. We were finally travelling to Singapore.

This was my first time at the new airport in Bangalore. We were early and we had checked in. So we had about an hour to sit down peacefully in the lounge and let the feeling sink in.

I looked out through the terminal gates at the aircrafts stationed outside. With the colored logos on their pretty wings, they gave an impression of uniformed school children, lined up in the school assembly. Indigo, Air India, Malaysia Airlines, Jet Airways, Silk Air, Air Asia. They stood like responsible house captains, patiently waiting for their turn to hit the skies. I almost smiled at them for I was as excited as a child flying for the first time.

When we finally boarded the aircraft and took our seats, I felt what I have always felt during take off and landing. Awe and reverence. After all, this aircraft was the outcome of the dream, imagination and intelligence of the human mind. Of the Wright brothers. Of people before them. Of people after them. A bird-like object that could fly and carry us across countries and continents, across oceans and mountains. Distance had suddenly lost its meaning.

My fascination now turned to the pilot- the invisible man who would maneuver this machine and carry us across the skies. I wondered what thoughts crossed his mind at this very minute- nervousness? Anxiety? Excitement? Or mere calmness?

As the aircraft taxied through the runway and gained momentum, I bid a silent goodbye to land that I was leaving and waited for that moment of transition from land to air. We then rose higher and higher, and land was now distant, with the buildings and trees looking like toys.

“I can now see the whole country”, a child screamed in excitement. She was probably the only one as excited as I was.

I held on to the fading vision of earth, a million questions swarming in my mind. Where exactly was Bangalore city? What were those mountains? Would we fly over Kerala? Would we see the Western Ghats?

We passed forests and occasional human settlements (some were perhaps cities), but I had no idea of what cities they were. I wished somebody could take me on an aerial trip and educate me on the terrain below. And then, I saw the coastline. I have never seen the coastline before. It was exactly as we see on the map- a rugged line, marking the separation of ocean and land. Goodbye, land! Goodbye, human settlements!

We then flew over the ocean. I couldn’t distinguish the sky from the ocean- their blue merged into one another. Clouds formed beautiful patterns around us and there was the feeling of gliding through heaven. No humans, no garbage heaps, no traffic. No roads, no rivers. Nothing that suggested a direction, a destination. Only clouds in random patterns. And a sense of infinity. I had the feeling that I had died and my soul was taking this trip to heaven. On a pretty, red-winged aircraft. I was happy and free. With me was my mother. So there was no remorse of leaving behind a dependent on Earth. I wondered if the journey after death bore any similarity to this journey through the clouds.

For a long time, we did not see any land at all. It was miles and miles of sea. I wondered if we were even moving, when in reality, our velocity must have been tremendous! It fascinated me to think that at that velocity, there was the impression of being still and stationary.

I love eating on a plane. The tray and the plastic cups remind me of the toy cutlery and crockery we used to play with when we were children. I absolutely relished my meal, especially the slice of cake that reminded me of the home-baked cakes people used to bake in the good old days.

Five hours is not a long time. Especially with this excitement, these thoughts. At one point, I spotted a colored object on the sea- it stood out distinctly as a man-made object, the only man-made object in this part of the ocean. In all likelihood, it was a ship. I thought about the sailors in that ship. They were so far away from land, in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps they were comforted by the sight of a tiny airplane passing by.

The sky changed color. From the brightness of daylight, it transitioned into the dark shades of dusk. The clear blue was now giving way to orange and black. The wing of the aircraft assumed a surreal quality as it glided through this show of light and color. Back in India, it was still evening. But we were moving ahead in time, catching up with the setting sun.

As night set in, I could see land below, with shimmering lights. What country were we passing? At times, we passed what might be cities, lit up by a million lights. At other times, we saw occasional lights.

There were now flashes of lightning. To travel through skies lit up by lightning, was surreal.

I can never forget my first view of Singapore. I had no clue of what to expect and so, I was totally bowled over by what I saw. I saw this beautiful island with its port, with numerous ships anchored to the port. The ships looked so tiny. They were lit up, and they gave the feel of tea lights floating on water. I felt I was seeing not a city, but a work of art.

For some strange reason, they also reminded me of Kannur harbour. Harbours fascinate me. They have an old world feel to them. It is almost as if history is trapped in them. They speak of ships and voyages, trade and commerce. In this most beautiful view of the port, I could also sense a certain oriental quality- I could see an old Chinese harbour.

The announcement broke my reverie. We were landing at Changi airport shortly. I hugged myself as the aircraft entered the final leg of its journey. As we alighted, I bid goodbye to the aircraft that had carried me all the way.

Hello, Singapore!

What is your motivation?

I have often asked myself this question- What is my motivation, and where do I really fit in the larger picture of the universe? This has been a difficult question to answer, but it was in the course of a recent conversation with a friend that I found the most satisfactory answer that essentially captures my motivational instincts.

My greatest inspiration comes from day to day life- from the awareness that somebody lived, because of me. That somebody could be anybody- my mother, my colleagues at office, my friends, a random stranger, a child, an animal.

I do not believe that I have the calibre or capacity to contribute to society on a very large scale. I do not have it in me to be an Arundhati Roy or a Mother Teresa or a Karl Marx or a Che Guevara or a Nelson Mandela. But in everyday life, I find ample opportunities to make a difference.

It is a suffering world that I see. Every day, I meet people and creatures who are struggling and suffering silently. Irrespective of whether they are rich or poor, people suffer. Sometimes, you could be rich, and yet have a mind that is vulnerable enough to feel. You could suffer from the adversity of your circumstances, from loneliness, from not being understood. Everyday, I meet people whose suffering goes unnoticed to the world. I like to make it easier for them.

I feel my greatest strength is with minds. I like to interact with vulnerable minds that suffer from turbulence, anxiety, fear or sadness and know them. I like to make them more comfortable, more relaxed, and happier. I like to take the stress and anguish out of people’s lives.

I like to understand what motivates different people, and then I like to connect them to their motivation. This invariably makes people happier, and I like to see the happiness on their faces.

I am also inspired by knowledge. I have a great reverence for nature and for the people who dedicated their lives to understanding the mysteries of the universe. I am very careful and meticulous about how I transfer knowledge; it is very important for me to ensure that I do not dilute its essence or aesthetic beauty. I am particularly drawn to the mysteries and intricacies of the human mind. I am fascinated in general, by health and disease.

That is me. I don’t believe I am capable of big miracles. But I use all my potential to create small miracles in the lives that cross paths with mine.

I feel that one needs to be deserving of all the comforts or privileges one has. One needs to earn it. And I earn that by being a very good human being- to the best of my capacity.

I don’t really care about being acknowledged or appreciated. But I love the gratitude that people demonstrate because that helps me realize that I have truly made a difference.

But with children and animals, I don’t even care about this gratitude. I love making their world better, providing them with everything that the process of ‘development’ seems to have robbed them of.

Letters to yo(U)

I cannot tell you how grateful I am, for providing direction to my thoughts through our interactions. After every conversation we have had all along, I have changed a little- a transformation that is of utmost importance to me.

I have always seen myself as a student of life. I am deeply touched and inspired by life, and I find myself naturally drifting to wherever life reveals itself to me in all its truth, enabling me to become more aware of its essence. Our interactions have always led me to such awareness, and I absolutely cherish that. It is from such awareness, from such ‘knowing’ that I respond meaningfully to life. I want to be able to do that all my life- to respond meaningfully.

The responses to my posts on social media, are not exactly enriching. I feel that I am writing for an audience that is not really in need of these words. I suppose for them, it is mere entertainment. Like how one is briefly enthralled by any object of beauty. I don’t think my words permeate beyond that for them. My words do not awaken in them the humanity that was awakened in me when I was writing those words. For me, those words would be a moment of revelation. But for them, there is no such revelation. I sometimes wonder if this is because there is not enough power in my words, or if it is because they do not have the experience of life that is perhaps necessary to awaken one’s consciousness.

But when I blogged or even when I wrote my book, the experience was different. It may have been due to the anonymity of the platform. The reader on both these platforms, has always connected to me out of a necessity, an inner urge to connect.

I distinctly remember the first post I wrote on my blog. It was probably the very first time I had transcended the boundaries of my personal life and captured a common ground with humanity. Why did that happen?

It happened because it was the first time that I was out of the comfort, safety and security of the protected world I had always known. Life had silenced me- there was no one to cry to, no one to complain to. It was then that I had seen people I hadn’t really seen until that point in time. The nomads who lived in tents by the river and made a livelihood from fishing. The migrant workers who lived in make-shift houses by the railway track. The beggars, the mad men, the vagabonds. For the first time, I found common ground with them- I was connected to them by my suffering. I felt part of their world, and I felt the need to follow them, to observe them. It was then that I saw how much courage it took to live the sort of lives they lived. I was eager to understand how they could laugh and smile, despite the harsh reality of their lives. I was eager to understand what drove them on.

For me, life had always been about collective happiness. Until that point, collective happiness had never been difficult. But now, that wasn’t the case. My environment was colored with violence, oppression, abuse and loneliness. The cruelty towards women, animals and nature. I was shocked beyond words. I could never shut myself away from the horrors of their lives. And in a society where humanity was an alien word, my rebellion did not achieve anything for anybody. I realized in those years how powerless I was.

The only difference I could make was in the lives and minds of the victims of such a society. I could help them endure, I could help them find their potential, I could help them see their worth. I could sometimes offer them protection. I could stand by them. But against the ruthlessness of society, I could not even raise a finger. It was this inability that sometimes drove my writing. These were the years that helped me understand the purpose art is supposed to serve. It is for the same reason that I have no admiration for some people who write beautifully, but are detached from the concerns of humanity.

Shouldn’t writing be one of the fingers of the mind- one with which we feel the world? Shouldn’t a writer be one who aspires to live the lives that are less privileged than his? Shouldn’t a writer be a nobody so as to be able to embody a universe? Ironically, the very people who are meant to know what literature is all about, are unable to recognize a true work of art. They are unable to recognize the essence of such a piece that has the ability to transform. They have become the very forces that prevent true art from finding its way out into the universe.

But that is never the case with the true artists. Van Gogh, Frida, Che Guevara, Arundhati Roy, Lalithambika antharjanam, Sugadha Kumari- their lives were/are symbolic of the philosophy they stood for. Their lives lived up to their art.

I was briefly attracted to a movement called humanist movement. I found the philosophy attractive, especially when applied to a rigid and conservative society like Kerala. However, the tragedy was that as I got deeper into it, I realized that like all other things in Kerala, the people involved in the movement were not into it in a true sense. For them, ‘humanism’ was yet another escapism from the challenges of life.

It is very late into the night. I am glad that this post doesn’t need to have a perfect ending. I have the freedom to abruptly end it and sign off…

The truest version of life

The truest version of life is the life we live in our minds, isn’t it? The most realistic version. Not the life we construct in our minds from the fantasies we create, but the life we construct from the essence of the reality that has touched us. Touched us deep. When reality touches us that deep, even sorrow attains a certain beauty. Suddenly, sorrow is so much more beautiful than happiness for it is so much more real. Happiness can never stir the soul as much as sorrow can. Suddenly, we find the darkness beautiful. Our sorrows and losses burn like candles in the darkness, imparting a certain melancholic beauty to the night. Suddenly, our sorrows and losses take the form of a wayfarer’s melancholic song, echoing through the lonely streets of a village, breaking the silence of a long night. The mind is still, and in its stillness, there is something achingly beautiful about this picture of solitude and sorrow. There is man, and there is something that glistens beneath his melancholy. There is God. In that stillness, in that acceptance of sorrow, there is God. These are man’s private moments with God. He is not even praying, and yet, God comes to him. When man prays, God is outside of him. But when man embraces sorrow, God is inside of him. Such moments have been my most beautiful, most sacred moments in this mortal life.

During the day, I live a different life. I work. I set goals. I meet people. I talk to them, laugh with them. I listen to their stories- from household conflicts to Apple watches. But when I come home, I shut doors to that world. I open the doors of a traditional world. I identify so much with that world; I must be an anomaly of time. But in this traditional world, I find all that I was meant to experience as a mortal. I immerse myself in the richness of the lives people led in that era. The richness in their poverty and struggle. I immerse myself in their soulfulness. I immerse myself in classical music. In stories of unrequited love. I rediscover myself.

And then I cry. Out of a certain inability to express the beauty and sanctity of what I feel in these moments. Like Navya Nair in Nandanam, I say to myself,”Njan mathrame kandullu!”

A sunbeam

Something glittered in the semi-darkness-
it was a sunbeam.
It danced on the walls of my room.
A golden glow- now here, now there.
My sleepy eyes couldn’t tell
if this was fact or fantasy,
if I was awake or dreaming.
Fact or fantasy,
dream or reality,
this little beam of gold
lit up my heart,
flooding it with a warmth
I had not known for ages.
In it was the warmth
of a long-forgotten world-
the bliss of my childhood…
the tenderness of my first love…
the radiance of my youth…
the nostalgia of an old melody.
In it was the warmth of life-
Life that had once graced this planet,
but could no longer be found
in the cold, lonely hearts
that walk this planet today.
Life that perhaps hid
behind the sealed doors
of a mad man’s mind-
the key to which lay fallen
in the paths we had walked,
trampled upon and buried in the dust,
never to be found again.