I was aching to talk. To listen, and to talk. But the language all around me was so alien. This was not how we used to talk in those days. Ours was a different language. It was the language of the heart. We used to weep and sigh, giggle and shriek. Even as adults, we were wrapped up in the innocence of childhood. Professionalism had not invaded our personal spaces. Professionalism at work was still connected to ethics and to humanity. We devoured the world with beating hearts. We were never embarrassed by our poverty, struggle or hardships. We had the ability to be comfortable with being a nobody- an insignificant human being, happy in his small universe. We never thought much of ourselves- we were happy just lighting up our small universe. Our needs were simple, and we knew nothing of strategy or manipulation.
The simplicity and magic of that beating, throbbing world is now replaced by an alien nature. Human beings have imprisoned themselves in complex mazes. The world now talks in the language of business. Our lives are business models, governed by lifeless processes, meaningless goals, business strategies and soulless communication. The human being within us is long dead. We build business stories that sell, but the story of our lives is empty and vacant. Our experiences are business stories; but the experiences that are nurtured by an emotional engagement with the world, and that connect with the wisdom of life, are dwindling. We have nothing interesting to tell the world, apart from our success stories. In the scheme of life, the stories of failure and adversity win the greatest medals. The philosophy of business so often conflicts with the philosophy of life. When we transform our lives into businesses, we move closer to depression. After all, successful businesses so often thrive on a certain ability at numbness- erasing out the ability to feel is an essential quality in business.
To meet human beings, to revive the ability to feel, and to hear the language of the heart, one has to revisit the past- through books, through movies. We meet real human beings here. This is where I spend most of my time. Perhaps this is how I have preserved my ability to feel intensely, despite the world. And thereby saved myself from depression!
I once wrote that the most intimate stranger I have known is my mind. I house my mind, but the moments when I catch a glimpse of my mind, with nothing intervening between us, are very rare. I can always feel my mind, without any barriers. However, these feelings are only the emotional layer of my mind. They are not the seat of my mind. There is something deeper where the essence of my mind resides. An essence of instincts perhaps, that propels me. That is where my motivation resides. These instincts are automatically propelling me towards the creative purpose of my life.
However, the material world is also propelling me. The material journey is more visible, and we therefore pay more attention to this journey. The spiritual journey reveals itself on occasion, and if one can increase one’s sensitivity to this journey and bring it to awareness in progressive steps, the conflicts between the material and spiritual journey can also perhaps be resolved.
In this context, I cannot help contrasting city life with life in the villages. Solitude in city life so often breeds loneliness and emptiness. Within the four walled apartments, within the confines of a cab, within the walls of the systems that imprison city dwellers, the easiest way out of misery is to be busy. The best way to be busy is to work. Work comes in as a relief, even if it means opportunistic capitalism at its worst. Corporate work spaces create an additional prison- they provide all the conveniences within the confines of the office space so that people are motivated to spend most of their time in office. They provide a lifestyle that can easily buy people. What we fail to realize is that once we have pledged our time- our leisure, our personal space, we have given away the most valuable aspect of all that constitutes ‘us’. The spontaneity that is necessary for our instincts to propel us, is restricted by the extraneous forces that are now steering us towards a different outcome- a destination that is not perhaps ours.
Solitude in the villages, is a different story. There is the companionship of nature. It is here that we truly learn to engage with ourselves. One does not feel the compulsion of being ‘busy’. A small village can actually provide an educated individual plenty of opportunity. Education can become a powerful tool in these villages. Villages are perhaps platforms where one’s education can be put to real use. This may not be an easy task, but if one is willing to work at the grass root level and identify the deficiencies, the lacunae, the challenges, and gauge where one fits in best, the skills learnt in the city can be valuable. The meaning that one derives out of such an endeavor that amounts to social transformation and human empowerment, is far beyond what can be achieved in our corporate offices. There is more scope for real innovation and creativity in such endeavors, quite unlike many corporations where ‘innovation’ and ‘creativity’ are mere wall art.
The greatest challenge is perhaps in helping the majority become aware of the prisons they have unknowingly locked themselves into, and in breaking the cycle of material addiction. This is perhaps the need of the hour. The creative purpose of our lives is aligned to the integrity of the planet. A step in this direction can save us as well as the planet.
I was beginning to enjoy this routine of work and play. When I worked, I liked to put into it all my creative energy. Towards the weekend, I would look forward to connecting with nature and rejuvenating.
That weekend, Sangeeta was coming down. Since she had already met Babu ettan, I felt his company would add to the quality of our time with nature. He was to join us and we were to visit the snake park and meet Riyaz. But instead, it turned out that Babu ettan was in Tellicherry and would take time to get back to Kannur. He told us that he also wanted to stop over at Dharmadam to catch a glimpse of the ship that had been stranded there. I remember mom telling me about this 500 tonne Maldivian ship that had been grounded by the torrential rain and heavy winds earlier this month while it was being brought to the SILK unit for dismantling. My interest was aroused and I changed my plans. I told Babu ettan that I would drive down to Dharmadam. So I picked up Sangeeta and drove down to Dharmadam.
Dharmadam is a very beautiful place. There is a lone island and a beautiful beach here. At low tide, one can walk to the island. Now, there are boats that take you across. The place is more commercialized now, as opposed to a few years ago, when there was more natural beauty to it. In those days, it had the feel of a private beach, with only the sun and the sea for company. The backyards of the fishermen’s houses looked on to the beach, but the beach barely had people, save for the fishermen in their boats, and occasional visitors. However, it does feel a lot safer now, with more people visiting the beach and the police patrol in addition.
We stopped over at an open shack for some tea, and what I enjoyed the most was the homely feel of the shack, with chairs and a bench laid out for customers, and a roof made of braided palm leaves. We sat on the bench, enjoying the sea breeze, and the distant sound of the waves. There was the feel of the ‘chayakkada’ of the good old times. I suppose I have a natural inclination for the outdoors- I like to spend most of my time outdoors, even if that just means exploring the orchards and groves that our houses were attached to in the past, or being seated in the poomukham, being able to feel the outdoors. I become miserable when my connect with nature is severed. So much so that I sometimes wish the classrooms where I teach and the office spaces where I work, were blended into the outdoors. This is perhaps why I become miserable and sink into depression when I live in apartment spaces (something I hope I never have to do again!).
Following that, we walked towards the beach, enjoying the feel of the sand beneath our feet. I couldn’t tell what made me happier- the proximity of nature or the company of the people I loved to be with. We were a strange combination of people- from totally different walks of life, and yet, we had so much in common. It was so easy to be myself. Sometimes, I feel hindered by the company of people, especially when I am in the company of nature and it is important that nothing come in the way of my perception of my surroundings. But in the company of such people, the conversations and the silences are equally comfortable. I can feel what I want to feel and experience. The best company is always when none of the personalities interfere with each other’s expression. There is a great sense of oneness in such company.
We caught sight of the stranded ship, but she was quite a distance from the shore and we couldn’t get too close to her. There she stood, riveted to the sands beneath, perhaps reminiscing her rich journey through tempests and stormy seas, anchored to diverse ports, steered by different captains. I wondered where she was born, where she had first sailed from, her journey thereafter, and how old she was. I felt sad that she was living her last days and would soon be scrapped.
Our attention was distracted by a bunch of sea canoes that emerged from the lone island. The paddlers paddled with great excitement, competing with each other. They seemed to be enjoying the sport thoroughly and they seeded in us the futile desire to pursue the feat ourselves. One of the canoes overturned as it approached the shore and the paddler had to swim to the shore. It was great fun watching them and I felt childhood had returned!
We walked back to the car slowly, and I insisted that we take a picture with Sangeeta’s pretty umbrella- it was blue in color, frilly at the edges, and matched my attire.
We then drove to Kannur, stopped for lunch, and then drove down to the snake park. The drive to the snake park was full of conversation. We recounted interesting experiences, talked about cinema and laughed at Sreenivasan’s signature dialogues and Mukesh’s stories of his college days, and I felt I was re-experiencing the joy and bliss of my college days. We finally arrived at the snake park and met Riyaz.
Riyaz was just about to get into the cubicle where they housed the snakes, but it so happened that one of the pythons had vomited and they had to clean up the place. So we caught up with Riyaz.
The snake park has undergone modifications to its structure and design since we last visited- it is a welcome change as the comfort of the housed animals/birds is being given more attention now.
Riyaz got into the cubicle and locked himself in. Through the glass walls, we could see him nudging the snakes gently with the stick, until the cobras raised their hood, alert, with their eyes chasing Riyaz’s movements. Riyaz started his demonstration and as he talked about poisonous snakes and about cobras, the cobras continued to gaze at him with great concentration, swaying occasionally. Babu ettan whispered to us- “The cobras are paying great attention to the class.” We found ourselves tickled with laughter. When Riyaz talked about cobra bites, we couldn’t help laughing, watching the cobras sway, as if in great agreement about the power of their venom!
Following the session, Riyaz joined us. He took us around and this time, the king cobras were both coiled up in one corner of the area where they were housed, apparently sleeping.
Riyaz narrated his exciting experience with the project they had undertaken on conservation wherein villagers had spotted the nest of a king cobra and the the mother had gone missing. The details of the project are here:
We learnt that the king cobra is the only snake that builds a nest using dry leaves that it gathers from the forest and that it meticulously stacks up in layers, using to its best ability the two ends of its body. This is usually from late March to late May. The eggs apparently need protection from sunlight and are not damaged by small amounts of moisture. However, too much of water can destroy them. The eggs hatch after incubation periods of 66 to 105 days. During this time, the female cobra fiercely guards the nest and starves. Just before the eggs hatch, she leaves the territory and goes in search of food.
Riyaz has promised us a trip to Aaralam sanctuary next time. I can’t wait for it. We went around and had a look at the other animals and birds. The baby owl that had been very friendly during our last visit, had grown up and she refused to come down. There was a kite that had been rescued after an electrocution- she looked a little dejected and couldn’t fly. I was glad they had brought her here. The peacock was delighted when Riyaz called out to it and it promptly spread out its feathers for us to see. In the monkeys cage, a baby monkey was getting too mischievous and an older monkey pulled his ear, quite like how we humans do! We finally sat down to some coffee and had a chat. We bought some postcards and bid goodbye to Riyaz.
On our way back, we sang songs and had a great time. I remember wishing the day would just not end. But end it did, and I came back home feeling a happiness I couldn’t describe.
I am a little sad as I return to Bangalore this time. Of course, I am sad every time I leave because I leave a part of me here in Kerala, but this time, there was something different about the time I spent here. It was more fulfilling, more meaningful- closer to the kind of happiness I have always aspired for. Sublime and holistic. I felt I was beginning to understand what happiness encompasses. I felt awareness had liberated me from some of the fears and insecurities I harbored with regard to my career. What must my career path be? How could I earn my livelihood, stay relevant professionally, and yet live out my dreams, doing all that I long to do? I felt I was getting closer to these answers. Awareness had liberated me from the prisons that organizations build, and I felt I was ready to take ownership of my craft. I felt there was so much within me that was throbbing to flow out, something larger than a designation, a job profile.
One of the best decisions I took was to reconnect with teaching. I had all along felt the pain of being away from Physiology and teaching- both of which I loved deeply. I was guilty about having mastered a craft, only to abandon it. So I was delighted to get back to freelance teaching. I made a celebration out of this. Like the good old days, I drove down, intentionally taking the route that traversed rural terrain. Nothing had changed in these laid-back villages- the fields, hills and streams were the same. They made me intensely nostalgic. My mind grazed on this beauty that nature and agrarian life offered, and it connected me to the old world Kerala that I loved as a child, to the early days of my life in Kerala as an adult, and to the sanctity of those years.
I couldn’t have enough of this engagement with my journey. I celebrated the lonely village trails, the cover offered by the cashew plantations spreading out infinitely on either side of the country lane, the comforting silence of the hills- broken only by the rustle of the leaves and the song of the birds, the tranquility of the serpentine stream that the earth contained in a hollow carved out by the surrounding hills, shimmering like mercury in the distance, the farmhands with their sickles, toiling in the fields, the occasional abandoned tumbledown shacks with wooden planked shutters that must once have been a shop, and so much more. Every day, these elements of nature weaved a new story for me. I could never tire of them. I had built a relationship with them- something I found hard to leave behind.
Teaching was equally fulfilling. I would be unaware of the hours passing by. I never had to struggle; there was never a moment when I felt irritation, exhaustion, frustration or stress. I promised myself that I would never abandon teaching completely again. At the very least, I could certainly take out a few hours whenever I had time off from my job.
The return journey was more exciting as I didn’t have to rush. There was this little clearing in the hill that overlooked the planes and presented a panoramic view of the surrounding hills. Sometimes, I would stop here and breathe in the beauty of what I witnessed. I was blown away by what the sky and the earth had to offer here- it was as if the earth was in deep conversation with the sky, and the splendour of this conversation had taken the form of the profound beauty that lay before me- this interplay of the sun, clouds, hills, trees and the stream. Sometimes, the wind blew, and the leaves rustled on the trees- I could see them rustle on every hill. It was as if the wind was leading a choir while the hills and leaves responded in unison with their melody. I felt a part of this secret choir- a privilege that was conferred on me by nature. It is at such places that I feel nature’s love. An ancient love that my whole being responds to. I feel the life and power in nature, and this gives me hope, strength and courage. I also felt a strange familiarity about the place as if I had stood here before- in a past life. It was as if the hills, stream and trees knew me from a past life- a life that was now only an unconscious nostalgia within me.
The other place I loved to stop by was where the road cut through the fields. On either side, the fields stretched out infinitely. One day, there was a surprise in store for me. Who should I see, but a peahen! I parked my car and walked towards the bird, hoping it wouldn’t fly away. However, it didn’t seem particularly frightened by human proximity. I was fascinated by the bird- it somehow looked so beautiful against the backdrop of the lush green of the fields. I couldn’t make up my mind on what I loved more- the sight of this bird or the sound of its call.
I feel that nature agrees with me- with the choices I have made in life. I feel that nature holds out itself in reward to these choices. The abundance of nature in my life is perhaps the greatest wealth I can aspire for.
I hadn’t expected Sophia to join us. But there she stood, accompanying Anita. They hopped into my car and we took off. Sophia had settled quietly in the rear seat and she made herself as inconspicuous as possible. She gazed out of the window, lost to her thoughts. There was something strikingly beautiful about her melancholic silence.
She chose to dress in sober colors and hardly wore any jewellery or make-up. But the tiny drops of perspiration on her pale, translucent skin gleamed like diamonds and made her face radiant. She was inherently beautiful, and only simplicity could carry off such beauty.
I was meeting her for the first time. She was Anita’s best friend, her saviour. She had pulled Anita out of self-destruction. Sophiya had almost nothing to celebrate in her life. She had lost her father when she was an infant; she had no memory of her father. Her mother had taken up a job as a home nurse so as to raise Sophiya and afford her education. She had remarried eventually, but Sophiya’s stepfather turned out to be yet another complication in their already complicated life. Yet, Sophiya never complained. She was always matter-of-fact about the circumstances in her life. It was Sophiya who had taught Anita to come out of her shell.
When Sophiya was studying for her graduation, she developed an anxiety disorder, characterized by unexplained phobia and panic episodes. This was when Anita put her through to me. We used to talk on the phone and exchange mails. I had tried my best to get to the roots of her phobia and in the process, there was much that I learnt about her life and her personality. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the nature of her circumstances. People live all kinds of lives while some of us are blissfully unaware of the horrors outside our protected world. She had gradually recovered from her mental state and moved on. I don’t remember being in touch with her for a very long time. She had made a card for me and I am yet to collect that card from Anita.
She sat quietly and I could see her in the rear view mirror, a tiny trace of a smile lighting up the melancholy in her eyes. It was as if she was silently excited. She came across as somebody who felt every emotion, but had learnt to contain it within herself. Someone who never had the luxury of a family- of people she could share her emotions with. I was intrigued and fascinated by her because she was all that I was not. Her silence, serenity and acceptance was a sharp contrast to my volatility. I was reactive and would dissipate all my emotions.
It was a beautiful day that we spent together. We spent the morning idling about at the lighthouse, gazing dreamily at the sea, talking about the humdrum of life- the stories of workplace toxicity, human exploitation, career opportunities, and whatever concerned us. It was a beautiful feeling, sitting at such a height, the sea several feet below, a gentle breeze lulling us. We felt unrushed and so free. Free to feel, to contemplate and to dream. There was something so honest and truthful in our conversation that I almost wished we could do this every Sunday.
Towards noon, we took a tour of the lighthouse museum and slipped a little into history.
We then went out for lunch. Over lunch, Sophiya asked me about why I chose to be single. She seemed confused about the significance of marriage in life. She found herself caught between her emotions, circumstances, obligations and choices. She was dispassionate towards the idea of marriage- there was none of the inclination, longing or desire in her that girls of her age demonstrated towards companionship and courtship. Life had robbed her of much.
I brought them home and she seemed thrilled by the trinkets and decors in the living room. She admired it all in silence. The way a little child would admire something that she knows does not belong to her. With longing, but with the awareness that these things were never meant for her.
When I dropped her back to the hostel, I deliberately took the route through the countryside, and she took in the sights- the panoramic view of the hills, the river that glistened in the distance, the fields we passed. It was as if she was holding on to this last stretch of the journey. When we arrived at her hostel, she stepped out reluctantly. She turned back, struggling to find the right words. “A day that gave me much”, she finally said. Her face was flustered- it was as if she was overwhelmed by the fact that somebody had bothered with her.
Her face would slip into my mind from time to time for the next several days. Some of us have so little to celebrate in life that the tiniest gesture of kindness or companionship can feel like rain in a desert. There are many who struggle silently and expect little from life and from people. Perhaps these are the people worthiest of love.
All writing is born from being moved- by something larger than oneself. By a ray of sunshine, by a scientific discovery, by a work of art, by a tragedy that has unfolded, by a personality one has met. By the little things and the big things in life.
When you discover in the drab grey rocks of life the crystalline sparkle of an uncut diamond, you are moved. But it is a private moment- you are all alone, with only the rocks for company, and the sparkle of the diamond. You long to scream with joy, but there is not a soul in sight. You cannot let go of this rare moment of revelation. That you found it where you never expected to, that it lay where the earth stood in a gesture of hopelessness, made it precious. What can you do, but write?
It is a moment of not just your individual experience; it is a moment of human experience. The journey was your solitary journey, but what you discovered was something that was relevant to mankind as a whole. And so, your story transformed into a milestone in the history of mankind. Your story was no longer your individual story, but the story of mankind.
It is this realization that propels me through the darkness of the tunnels, the steepness of the cliffs and the hopelessness of the deserts in life. The realization that I must walk and climb and continue to move forward for I do not know what I might discover. The possibility that I might discover something of value to all of mankind, propels me.
The journey is private. I take it alone and there is nobody to capture it. It may not lead me to any treasure. I may not come out with a story worth narrating. I may come out with a story, but the world may not be interested in my story at that point in time. And yet, I take it because I am a Traveller by nature- true to my journey, true to its purpose. The purpose being the journey in itself- the exploration, the adventure, the possibilities, the hardships, the excitement, the novelty. I am moved every minute. How can I not write?
Adversity. When it strikes, it exposes without warning the face of life we have been hiding from- the face we deny in the course of our all-too-comfortable lives. I agree with what my beloved writer friend, Hashim ikka, professes:
‘Life, beneath all its dynamic layers, is pain’.
He believes that pain is the organic fabric of life.
Pain finds its way all too easily into a fragile mind. The outcome of being easily traumatized, is variable. In my case, I have started to see pain differently. There is a crucial role it serves in our lives. Pain is its own antidote.
Sometimes, when I dwell upon the real stories of suffering in the world, I realize how insignificant the day to day battles so often are. That odd colleague at work. The boss who refuses to understand. The friend who misunderstood. Sometimes, these tiny challenges take up so much of the precious space in the mind. We let ourselves be affected, but in the larger scheme of life, such attachment is futile.
If we learn the art of filling the precious space of the mind with the kind of sorrow that really matters in the scheme of life, we can overcome the stress caused by day-to-day affairs.
I do that sometimes. When I have had a stressful week at work, especially stress caused by people whose temperament and values are different from mine, I give myself a dose of authentic sorrow over the weekend. I watch a particular movie that helps me experience the real hardships in life (that we so rarely experience in these times). I listen to melancholic music. I read books that have captured sadness in all its beauty. Sometimes, I also go into a reminiscence of the sorrows that I experienced in life- the ones that truly qualify as sorrow. I build a mood of sorrow and immerse myself in it. Contrary to what one might expect, I start feeling alive and soulful. The issues that seemed to have played out so big in my mind until that point, suddenly appear pale. I realize how drab they are, as opposed to the melancholic beauty that characterizes real sorrow in its final analysis. The most potent antidote to pain is indeed pain.
I feel there is an important message here. It is crucial to make room to experience unpleasant emotions we choose to brush off and ignore in the fast paced course of our lives. It is of utmost importance to find time to connect with one’s emotions, and make peace with them. To enable them to evolve and mature so that they eventually transform from a painful experience to a soulful experience.
Depression is not an excessive dose of sorrow within oneself; it is the inability to feel, to connect with one’s emotional essence.