The touch-me-not in my mind

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There are places we become attached to because they reflect something of us. We personalize them over the years and then there is something so palpably ‘us’ in those spaces.

I feel that about my house.

Something beyond the visibility of the photographs and posters that adorn its walls…

Something beyond the collectibles, presents and trinkets it guards for me…

In the perceptions and memories that this house guards, I can see my own reflection. There is something in the way my house communicates with nature that mirrors the essence within me. It is a structure whose essence is built from my emotions. Over the years, I also seem to have projected my thoughts onto it. There is something of me that it now reflects- something that will remain with the passage of time. Something that will be retained even in my absence.

It is a place that has evolved with me.

I have felt this connection not just with physical spaces, but also with virtual spaces such as the films and the books that I deeply love, and with this blog here.

That mental bridge I build with all these spaces is what I leave of myself on this planet- the invisible part of me that is immortal.

This is what makes this blog very special to me. It gives me the feel of a house in the woods where I can be alone with myself, and dig out a few truths about life and about myself. A house in the woods that nobody knows about, save for the trees and the birds. A place where I have the luxury of solitude, with only the chirping of birds and the humming of bees penetrating the silence that I feel within me.

 

Last evening, I watched the film ‘Karunyam’. These days, I go hunting for Lohithadas films. Lohithadas was a psychologist without degrees and affiliations; he only had his work to prove his ability as a psychologist. And so, I am now addicted to his films. In all of his films, there is a deep message to humanity. And that message can be arrived at only through perception. I treasure such perceptions. Perhaps because they are so palpably absent in the real world.

Monsoons are the best time for perceptions. The darkness all around and the sound of the rain alienate one from the chaos of the external world. It is in this solitude that one becomes sensitive to the light within- a little light that beckons to you. Like the flame of a little lamp on the courtyard of a temple, burning relentlessly, on a cold and dark night. One is automatically attracted to that light. Perhaps this is the reason why monsoons bring out the best in writers. Especially monsoons in the tropics.

 

The film revolves around a school headmaster, Gopi Master (Murali) and his conflicting relationship with his son, Satheeshan (Jayaram). Gopi Master is a man whose self-esteem is rooted in his social role as a school teacher and headmaster. It is a role that has fetched him a livelihood, social respect and recognition. He projects his identity onto his son and aspires to see his son following his footsteps. However, his son is unable to fulfill this expectation. Satheeshan tries his best to live up to his father’s expectations and makes a wholehearted effort to secure a job, but fails. Gopi Master fails to come to acceptance of this reality and continues to be in denial of the predicament of his son. His denial is expressed in the sarcastic remarks and verbal humiliation he metes out to Satheeshan on multiple occasions. However, at all the moments that Satheeshan is in trouble or in pain, Gopi Master drops his defenses and transforms into the father who has a deep love for his son.

Such moments expose the affection, tenderness and protectiveness of a father towards his son.

Thus, the film takes us through the deep vulnerability that lies at the core of a human being. Beneath the principled and firm exterior of Gopi Master, we see the bleeding, tender mind of a father. Beneath the happy-go-lucky and humorous exterior of Satheeshan, we see a fragile mind that is struggling with its feelings of worthlessness. Lohithadas strips the garbs of defense of each of his characters, exposing their deep vulnerability. But he does this with love and compassion. And thus brings out the immense value in that vulnerability- the enormous strength that has enabled its survival. This was his signature that made his films unique.

 

Watching his films always makes me cry. They are not tears of sadness. They are tears of realization- the sudden, acute awareness of deep vulnerability within all those layers of defense I have built over the years. The awareness of having survived, despite the vulnerability…

The awareness of what it took to survive.

His films have the feel of sitting by a warm hearth on a cold night. As the warmth penetrates awareness, feeling returns. It is a welcome respite from the numbness.

In the modern world, we are all losing our ability to cry. This reflects the degree of defense we have built within ourselves, refusing to let go. And so, I find it very important to set aside moments for idle perceptions. In these idle perceptions, we may perhaps discover ourselves-

Our forgotten selves…

The self we have lost to survival.

They may bare us of the masks that we learnt to wear in order to survive, without realizing that these masks now shield us from our own selves-

From that vulnerability that longs to be loved and wanted…

A longing that we learn to deny.

I suppose people had always loved my defenses. They loved the picture of strength and confidence I portrayed. They loved the smile that would never leave my face. But when they got close enough to see the vulnerability within, I was rejected. It seemed to mirror their own vulnerability- the very vulnerability they were running away from. It was when I was convinced that my vulnerability had no place in relationships that I decided to adorn a permanent mask in all my relationships with people. I never bared my vulnerability and it was therefore possible to keep my self-esteem intact. But this defense came at a price. The awareness that the emotions fed by my vulnerability had no place in real world interactions, motivated me to find spaces where I could stay connected with my vulnerable self. I did not want to lose it to survival.

For it was the only thing that made me human…

That made me feel alive.

And thus, I found my respite in all the spaces that I have talked about earlier in this post. In the house I live, in the films I watched, in the books I read, in my association with nature and animals, in the blog on which I write, I preserved my vulnerability.

Most people I knew had learnt to survive by denying their vulnerability. But in the process, they had lost a precious part of their own selves. It was impossible for me to feel anything in my interactions with such people. They were incapable of love, compassion, kindness, empathy or any of the feelings that were once integral to us, simply because they had lost the ability to love and accept their own selves. They had nothing to give their own selves. Where was the question then, of giving to another person? I felt an uncomfortable sadness in my interactions with such people for I could feel they had permanently lost themselves and destroyed all the paths that led them back to their own selves.

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However, there were a few people I met- particularly rural characters who stood out in this game of survival. They were the real gems. They saw through my masks and loved the vulnerability. Simply because it mirrored their own vulnerability- a vulnerability they had learnt to accept. And so, they loved me with a purity and fierceness that I regard as my greatest wealth on this planet.

They saw not my vulnerability, but what it had taken for that vulnerability to survive.

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Only with such people, would I reveal the needs of that vulnerable self. With the rest, I was guarded for I was always traumatized by the abrupt rejection they were capable of. That they didn’t want me as sincerely as I wanted them, was difficult for me to deal with. That they didn’t miss me as painfully as I missed them in their absence, had hit me hard. In that darkness, I had realized that parents were the only truth. And in that, ‘mother’ was the greatest truth- the only truth that nature herself acknowledges.

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Who needs me?’ is a question that has always played high in my mind. At some point, I had realized that only my parents had made me feel truly wanted. It was this realization that motivated me to create a ‘want’ for me. My vulnerability was a blessing in this endeavor for it helped me empathize with people. I started realizing that I was most needed where there was pain and suffering. And so, I would always find myself drawn to pain and suffering.

That engagement with pain and suffering was the greatest paradox in my life. I had embraced just what I had always feared. I realized that the only key to another person’s darkness was the darkness in your own life. And thus, I took the journey with people who were suffering-

Suffering mentally.

I worked with them, more out of curiosity, love and empathy, rather than out of any defined objective. The more I worked with myself and with people, the better I became at understanding the processing of pain by the human mind. In my association with animals, I witnessed the mute suffering in their lives and realized how fortunate we humans were.

Awareness and learning strengthened me and transformed me. They tempered my vulnerability. My thoughts translated my vulnerability into experience and wisdom. That was my strength.

In my quest for understanding the motivational drive of the human mind, I realize that I am driven by beauty. The beauty of perception. I have found much beauty in this world. In the rain forests and in the deserts. In the skyline of cities. In the rivers and in the mountains.

But I think there is perhaps nothing as beautiful as the vulnerability of the human mind.

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The unwritten memoirs

They had moved with me to wherever I had moved.

They had flown with me to London. They had accompanied me to the rented house in Thalassery. They had moved with me to this house in Kannur. They had kept me company during my post graduation at Manipal and Mangalore. They had also moved with me to Calicut. Now, they are back here. They are inseparable elements of my life for they carry within them a part of me-

A part of me that I cannot locate within myself anymore.

 

I look at the dust piled up on them. And the cobwebs that spiders have woven around them.

My diaries…

They span the years from 1994 to 2008. In 2008, I had started blogging. There were no diaries thereafter.

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I took them out from the shelf. I wiped away the dust and the cobwebs that time had woven around the fragrant memories that I had tucked into the pages of these books. It struck me then that I had not read them for many years now. The only year I had revisited was 2002. And perhaps 2006.

I was still not comfortable with the fragility that was palpable in my entries before 2002. Particularly 2000 and 2001.

 

However, today, I read through a few entries. I started with 1994. They were childish narratives. I read a few entries from 2000 and 2001. I wrote so differently back then.

In those entries, I was the centre of my world. I was the theme around which everything revolved. There was a simplicity to the emotions that I had poured into the words. Those entries were raw and highly personalized. But today, it is perhaps impossible for me to retain that tone. Somehow, a whole lifetime creeps into the spaces between my words. Today, I can only write from a broad perspective. A perspective wherein life replaces me as the central theme.

As I read the entries, it is possible to feel the vulnerable self that I lost to survival over the years. I love this feeling of briefly being in the shoes of someone I used to be once upon a time. It is a bitter-sweet feeling- this feeling of missing one’s own self. To the writer in me, this contrast is precious- this contrast between what I used to be and what I am now, between the vulnerability then and the numbness now.

It is in these moments that I am alive.

A spans the entries from 2000 to 2001, and then fades away towards the end of 2001. 2001 is in 3 volumes. My relationship with A is the central theme in those volumes- entries that represent my persistent effort to make sense of my feelings for him. All those entries radiate an anxiety and uncertainty I felt for I was baffled by the nature of our relationship.

So was he.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever hear from him again…if I will ever see him again. In 2001, it would have been impossible for me to imagine that it was possible to lose someone who mattered so much…that they would disappear permanently from your life. It was impossible to imagine that you would see them in a different light as time went by…that you would see your relationship with them in new light.

It would be interesting to meet him after all these years. I wonder what changes time has etched onto him. I wonder if life has hardened him further or if it has managed to mellow him somehow. He was a rebel when I had known him in school and thereafter, but I could always spot the vulnerability and sensitivity beneath his defenses. His mother had expressed on many occasions her anxiety about his personality, but I was too young to understand then.

Between us, we had a strange chemistry. The verbal communication between us was always disastrous. He was fast, witty and brash, with interests that were different from mine. I was slow, dumb and shy. However, the non-verbal chemistry between us always perplexed us. There was something beneath the language of words that moved synchronously and in perfect rhythm, creating a strange bonding between us.

I loved him unconditionally. There was a certain sadness that I could feel in his heart that I wanted to heal and pacify. That sadness was not acute; it was deep seated and had therefore lost its fury. It was a sadness that had lost its voice, but was still needy. A sadness that responded to love, briefly silencing the rebellion in him. But then, it had been left on the burner for too long.

Those years lit up as I turned the pages of 2001. These pages bore the nostalgic fragrance of our relationship. I closed the diary and put it back in its place. There was a strange sadness within me- the sadness of melancholy. It had replaced the numbness of the years.

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I suppose there is not much that a second person might identify in those words. The entries may sound silly. Entries that can only be brushed off as the impulsivity of adolescence. But having walked those paths, it is an altogether different story for me.

To me, these entries are my life. Life that somehow escaped me, unnoticed.

These diaries are sacred to me. For within them are people, places and the emotions that once connected me to them. People and places that would have changed with the passage of time. And so, it is only in these pages that I can find them again- the way I knew them to be…the way I want them to be.

These Paths-8

I catch sight of a farmhand in the distance. She has a sickle in her hand. She clears the narrow mud trail that forms a path across the woods. I pause in my footsteps, unsure of what her reaction might be to my intrusion. She catches sight of me and looks at me with a question mark.

I was walking up on the road and couldn’t resist the temptation of exploring these beautiful woods as my eyes fell upon them’, I explain to her.

 

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I walk in front and she walks behind me. She is silent. I do not know if she is amused by my answer.

Where are you from?’, she asks.

My house is in Kannur. But I work here in the medical college’, I reply.

Oh! So are you a doctor?’, she asks.

Yes. But I don’t practise now. I teach medical students’, I reply.

Whose land is this?’, I ask.

In reply, she points to a house in the distance.

Why do you ask? Do you want to buy it?’, she asks.

I laugh. Her question brings out the essence of human behaviour-

For most of us today, natural resources translate to opportunity. Opportunity that translates to wealth. Wealth that translates to money.  

If I had the money, I would have bought all this land. Just so that I could preserve its integrity forever!’, I reply

If only earth belonged to a few people who could preserve its wealth, nurture and enhance it and differentiate between need and greed!

 

A pretty pink flower catches my attention.

Oh! That pink flower by the canal. It’s been so long since I have seen that flower. It used to grow wild in the paths we walked as children when I visited Kerala for my vacations’, I exclaim.

That is the Airani poovu’, she replies.

You must be amused by my excitement’, I say.

Not really! There was a girl from Bombay. She would take with her arecanuts, manjadi seeds and the likes when she went back to Bombay’, she replies.

 

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For us city dwellers, this is paradise. I grew up in Bangalore, deprived of this proximity with nature. And so, I chronically missed nature. The separation with this green paradise that I would be briefly exposed to during my vacations, was a chronic heartache. That probably explains my current excitement. An excitement that I will never outgrow!’, I explain.

Yes, I understand. For us, this has always been our world. The only world we have known’, she responds.

That makes you very fortunate’, I reply.

It is a lot of struggle’, she muses aloud.

I do understand that it is a lot of struggle. But I still feel this association with earth and with nature makes us more humane. It teaches us life. Something that is palpably absent in the current generation. Look at my students, for instance. They are so distant from the realities of life. So fragile when confronted with challenges. I suppose there is a need to reconnect with nature. It could solve a lot of issues pertaining to the modern world’, I reflect.

The woman is silent.

Alright then. I won’t keep you. See you around!’, I say, unsure of what she thinks of my statement.

Wouldn’t you like to meet the other women in my group?’, she asks.

Other women?’, I ask.

Yes. We work for the ‘thozhilurappu’ NREGA scheme by the Government. There is a lot of work on these lands in the summer. But with the monsoons, it is impossible to do much. So we restrict ourselves to clearing the paths and small work like that. I will introduce you to the other women in my group. Follow me’, she says.

I am delighted. I follow her and soon, I can hear excited voices and laughter in the distance. I can see a group of women labourers. It has been a very long time since I have seen a group of human beings talking to each other with warmth and intimacy. Most of these women are elderly women.

At last, I get to see the human species. Truly endangered’, I think to myself.

 

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The women look up as I approach them. The farmhand introduces me to them. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, we talk about the medical college. I am aware that the local population harbours intense antagonism and hostility towards the college. And they have their reasons for it. I feel sad. A medical college should ideally parent the villages in its neighbourhood and cater to the quality of life of the villagers. After all, health is a crucial aspect of quality of life. Instead, the institution seems to only have robbed the villagers of the quality of life they enjoyed prior to it coming up. An elderly lady voices her despair:

The land was all estate. Cinnamon plantations that once belonged to the East India Company. Cinnamon was exported in those days to England.  This is Asia’s largest cinnamon plantation. This is a heritage site, passed on to us by our forefathers. We led a peaceful agrarian life, uncorrupted by the germs of development. Many of us were employed at the plantation. It was our livelihood. A few of the villagers were in favour of the medical college coming up here. It would save us the trouble of travelling miles for seeking treatment. However, most were against it. And they were right. The college is profit-oriented. Services are poor. None of us seek treatment here. We would rather travel miles than risk our lives. The college has only brought with it pollution, disease and disturbing intrusion. Many students are into drugs and alcohol, and that has been a bad influence on our children. The cinnamon plantations were ruthlessly destroyed and many villagers were robbed of their livelihood.

I click her picture as she speaks up. I am enlightened by what she says.

 

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Education is a business today. And there is nothing that we can do about the people who run such businesses. I work for such an employer only because it is my livelihood. There are many like me. However, I suppose there is much we can do if the employees and community work together as a team. There is much that a community like you could teach our students. Especially in terms of human values and self sufficiency. And there is much that they can do in turn, as service to the community. So, if we create a mutual interdependence and exchange our wisdom, we can sow the seeds for a better generation. What do you say?’, I ask of them.

The students come to the PHC for their Community Medicine postings’, one of them replies.

Yes. Those are the 2nd year students. I would like to bring the 1st year students along too. We could divide them into groups and allot them families. They could maintain a health folder for each family. Also, many community activities and campaigns can be organized. It would serve to inspire them and to bring in some humanity into our future doctors. We have to teach them to love nature and mankind. And that is impossible without your help’, I tell them.

As I am speaking, a woman takes my picture on her mobile.

The generation today has no far-sightedness. They want easier and shorter ways to a goal, and they want instant solutions. They would rather make quick money and buy a bag of rice than toil in the fields and grow that rice’, a woman tells me.

I am impressed by the consciousness they demonstrate towards ‘change’.

But that would never give them the joy of the intimacy that comes from toiling together. The sight of all of you together, talking and laughing, fills me with joy’, I reply. I click a picture of their togetherness.

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They take me around and give me a little lesson on the shrubs and herbs that are of medicinal value. They tell me about the significance of some poisonous plants. And they tell me about the sowing and harvest season. About the age old rituals that are followed when paddy is first harvested.

A woman leaning against an areca palm suddenly screams. The trunk has given way and the tree crashes. We all move away just in time. There is chaos and excitement for a little while and then the women chop the trunk for firewood.

 

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It is then time for their brunch. They take respite in the house that lies on these premises. Some occupy the chairs put out on the verandah while others make themselves comfortable on the floor. They offer me food, but I refuse politely. One of them gives me some payasam from the temple. I click some more pictures. Somehow, I am drawn to the life they lead. I suppose one is always sensitive to those aspects that are missing in one’s own life. This togetherness is palpably absent in my life today.

 

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Somehow, over the years, the concept of family faded away from my life for multiple reasons. I missed the feel of a family so much that I started identifying myself with the strangers who could reunite me with the family structure, albeit for a limited span of time. I would envy and admire the nomads who led a community life, oblivious to its value. There were days when I would watch with envy the homeless labourers who cooked their gruel on open stoves, sitting by the fire, talking and laughing. In fact, my earliest pieces of writing centred on this personal poverty that contrasted with the richness of the lives of the poor. It reminds me of Mother Teresa’s words:

The greatest poverty is the poverty of being unloved, unwanted and uncared for.

I look at my watch. It is a good one hour since I have been here. I thank the women and bid goodbye to them.

On the way back, I decide to hunt for Geetha’s house. I am told I can get fresh milk there. I am a little worried about packet milk these days. I take the idavazhi on the left. Someone directs me to the house. It is a grand old house done up in rosewood. It is impossible to build a house like that in the modern world.

I am sorry we give all the milk to the Society. You could try at Rama’s house though. She lives on the other side. You have to walk across the fields’, Geetha tells me.

I walk across the paddy fields. A man working in the fields looks up in surprise. He guesses I must be from the college, but he cannot imagine what I am doing in these fields.

He points towards a row of houses when I ask him about Rama. Unfortunately, when I get there, people are confused. They aren’t sure. So I decide to give up and walk ahead, hoping this route will lead me back to the college. A cow moos. It sounds very close. I follow the sound and find myself at Rama’s house. She agrees to spare some milk for the evening.

Is there an easy way to the medical college?’, I ask her.

She takes me to the backyard of the house. I see a road there (an idavazhi). I take the path and find myself at the gates of the college in no time! I am thrilled by this whole adventure. The cow mooing just as I gave up, is miraculous to me. The fact that the house is just a few metres from the college gate is a blessing.

This day has been beautiful. It has given me a dream. It has given me memories. What more can I ask?

These Paths-7

The rain has stopped.

A shy sun peeps hesitantly from behind the clouds. I decide to take advantage of this brief spell of sunshine.

This is vacation time for my students.

There is nothing to do in college. To punch in at 9 am and to punch out at 4 pm dutifully, I make that long trip to college. On most days, I sit at my desk, churning out blog posts or scanning the posts on Facebook or reading Arundhathi Roy’sListening to Grasshoppers’. It is with relief that I pack my bags at 4 pm. By then, my body is stiff and sore from sitting. I look forward to getting back on my feet.

Today, I decide to break my routine and go to the bank instead. I have to collect my card. I decide to walk. I finish my work at the bank and as I walk back, I pause.

The road is a wide mud-trail, at an elevation from its surroundings. On the left, it looks on to paddy fields. The paddy has just been sown. There are woods on the right. There are steps leading from the road to the woods below. The steps are ancient. The earth has claimed them. They are overgrown with moss and ferns.

 

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I look around. A few people are walking on the road, but they are in their own reverie. I muster the courage to take the steps, praying that none of my fellow faculty pass by in their cars and spot me. I walk down the steps confidently, so as not to draw attention to myself.

As I walk down the steps, I feel like Alice disappearing into the rabbit hole that houses a fantasy land.

I heave a sigh of relief as I realize that the woods conceal me and I would not be noticed from the road. I drop my guard and look around.

I hold my breath as I take in the sight that greets me.

This is nothing short of a forest. Rows of coconut palms and areca palms, mango trees and jack fruit trees, wild shrubs and herbs flaunting pretty little flowers- flowers that I had almost forgotten, wild creepers coiling around the trunks of the trees, touch- me-nots that are not shy to flaunt their leaves. Worms and insects crawl out of their homes deep in the earth. It is rich tropical wilderness that surrounds me. I can only exclaim in silence. There is not a piece of earth that is bare of life. It is so alive! To me, each element of this wilderness is a precious memory. A memory from a childhood that represented nomadic freedom and the happiness that came with it.

 

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It is impossible for me to come to terms with the spontaneity of this wilderness. There is the feel of an invisible presence. I almost expect somebody to appear and ask me:

What are you doing in my garden?

I take a few breaths, overwhelmed.

Whose creation are you?’, I ask of this wilderness.

In answer, the woods stretch out infinitely.

My heart throbs with joy and excitement. Is it possible for such beauty to exist without the aid of some divine hands tending to it?

Here, it is impossible to differentiate plants from weeds. Every plant has its place here, irrespective of the status we humans confer on it. Nature does not make such distinctions. Every plant is in its full bloom. This is a world in harmony where the plants grow wild and coil into each other, but do not interfere with each other’s growth. These woods accommodate this wilderness with ease.

 

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A bright orange flower beckons to me from the heart of this wilderness. It is the wild pagoda. But it is hard for me to get to the flower for it is carefully guarded by the touch-me-nots and thorny plants that surround it.

Nature has its way of protecting beauty.

I wave to the flower and walk on. Butterflies flutter about, unperturbed. I feel like an intruder in a world that is the outcome of somebody’s passionate love and deep dedication. The trees blot out the sunshine, giving the feel of a lid that conceals an enchanting world in a deep recess of the earth.

 

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My ears awaken to the sound of water gurgling as it makes its way through the canal that steers a wild course through these woods. I love this sound. There is more music in nature than there is in the songs we compose. The water is in a hurry. It rushes past, to an unknown destination. I wonder about its origin. I learn later that it comes from the rain water that has percolated down the slopes of the hills yonder. I love this story…

Of rain water that trickles down slopes of enchanting hills and rushes into the plains.

In the terrains it has travelled, it assimilates its story. It is this story that it sings along.

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My daughter

There are days when I log on to Facebook to find a series of ‘likes’. All the likes are from Swathi. I smile.

Swathi is 15 years of age. Too young to understand the meaning implied in many of my posts. For her, the like is about her feelings towards me- a mix of love, adoration, admiration and trust. The unconditional love that is so rare in the modern world. Like her mother says, I am her gold standard. If I say something, it must be beautiful. That is her perception of me. She doesn’t question it.

 

When she comes home in the evenings, she has a pile of worries from school. She has only a few minutes with me, but in those few minutes, she unburdens all her worries.

I still haven’t managed to get my completion for Physics practicals!

I am fed up of tuitions!

I don’t know which course I should take up!

Aishwarya didn’t talk to me today!

We had our class photograph taken today and this pimple on my nose chose this very day to erupt! My friends made fun of me.

Her worries are centred on a multitude of issues ranging from trivial to serious.

For the child, they are all equally disturbing.

 

I have nothing much to say in reply for her mother is already screaming at her. But there is something in our interaction that comforts the child.

Why isn’t your teacher helping you out with the practicals?

Tuitions are such a pain, aren’t they?

These are the only answers she needs to feel lighter. She likes her feelings to be acknowledged. She likes to be reassured that it is quite normal to feel angry and sad.

 

Look at the sky! It is so beautiful!’, I exclaim.

She turns to look at the sky.

I love that part of the sky. That spot beyond those branches. Where the sun sets. The colors are most beautiful there’, she replies.

We talk a little about sunsets and bird baths and fireflies.

Her mother screams.

I better go’, she frowns.

But as I watch her walk towards her house, I realize she has already forgotten her worries. She is in that other world of beauty-

That world where sunsets, bird baths and fireflies replace tuitions, practicals and pimples.

She walks in gay abandon, a little smile on her face, her eyes lit up with the perceptions we have just talked about. She hastens as her mother screams again.

 

Now I understand why my presence is so important to her. My reciprocation to her feelings sets her free.

Free from the mundane.

Free from the troubles of her little world.

Free from all the prisons that lock up her childhood and prevent the free flow of her personality.

My reassurance is the security she needs to convince herself that it is alright to break free from these prisons-

These prisons where one’s worth rests on accomplishments, achievements and pimple-free faces.

The child finds in me a source of positive regard that dispels her feelings of worthlessness.

 

Sometimes, she shows me pictures she has clicked on her mobile. Pictures of flowers and birds. She swipes and her picture comes up. She is quick to change it.

Let me see that’, I tell her.

I don’t look good in that. My face looks very tired. Mother said the pimples are very obvious’, she blushes in embarrassment.

I take a look at the picture.

I love your hair. Such a cute expression you have here!’, I smile.

She looks at her picture, a little surprised that there is something of beauty there.

She does this often. There is this fear that her appearance is flawed. The fear of criticism. In truth, she is beautiful. There are dreams in her eyes, and her hair is wavy- like the cascades of a waterfall. She is tall and she carries both Western and Indian outfits well. But her sensitivity to criticism has made her focus on the undesirable aspects of her appearance. In her mind, her pimples are a calamity-

A calamity no less than small pox.

On some days, I see her riding a cycle. Clad in a T-shirt and jeans, her hair tied in a high pony, she looks beautiful. She reminds me of those young girls riding horses on meadows in 19th century England. She is totally oblivious to her beauty. And that is perhaps what makes her most beautiful.

 

I am surprised at how fast time has gone by. I cannot believe Swathi is a beautiful young girl today. To me, she will always be that little child who hid behind the computer monitor until the traumatic kidnapping scene had passed in the movie ‘Kakothi kavile appooppan thadikall’.

That little child who believed that the dog by the blue gate was grinning at her when it showed its teeth.

That little child who couldn’t imagine cats and dogs having no beds to sleep in.

That little child who was very disappointed when a glass sheet was put over the skylight in my house.

Until that point, she had savoured the open view of the sky from within the house and she had dreamt of soaking up the raindrops from within the house. For her, it was a fantasy come true- the outdoors captured into the house.

I always feel nature is walking into your house’, she would tell me.

 

Once, when the bulbul had made its nest in our garden and we had accidentally discovered it, the birds had demonstrated panic. They had already laid eggs and they were concerned.

We are not going to harm your eggs, birdie’, she would say to the birds.

And the child would refrain from going near the nest so as not to alarm the bird. She also kept it a secret from her brother who liked to destroy things. Swathi was quite the opposite. She never liked to disturb the integrity of her world. When the pigeons fed on the grains, she would walk with quiet steps, scared that she would frighten them. In her beautiful mind, she had a regard for all the creatures on this planet. She could never be happy alone.

Her happiness was rooted into the happiness of all that surrounded her.

 

The child was very good at sketching and painting. Once, she drew a girl dancing. I watched her and realized how spontaneous she was. In her eyes, there was the perception of what she wished to draw. And I saw her sketching with her mind. A few strokes, and there was a dancing girl. It was full of imperfection, but it had conveyed that perception of gaiety that she wished to convey. I was spellbound.

 

As she grew up, I saw less of her. Tuitions had started to fill her leisure time. Also, her mother was not very happy with my influence on her. Her mother wanted her to get serious with academics and think more about exams, scores, tuitions and career. She was exasperated by the child’s interests and inclination. The child talked about the eagle teaching its children to fly.

They start by 7 am. The children sit on a high branch. The mother flies to another branch and the children follow her. Some fall, and she makes a desperate dart towards the child, guiding it towards a branch’, she would recount.

We would hold conversations from our bedroom windows at night. Into the silence of the night, she would shout:

What color is your Krishna? We bought a blue colored Krishna. But father didn’t like that shade of blue. He painted it all over again. Now it is a deep blue. Did you buy garland for the Krishna? We bought marigold garlands. But I like Tulasi garlands more.

Her mother was fed up of these ‘childish’ conversations that had no place in the scheme of reality. Over time, she tightened her leash on the child and our interactions dwindled.

 

It was now limited to birthdays when the child eagerly waited for her present. She knew that I would gift her something beautiful. That was easy for me because I knew that she would like everything that I liked. Whenever I found something enchanting in a shop, I would buy two of the same. One for me, and one for her. It always delighted her.

 

Facebook was a ray of hope that came her way. Though her access to Facebook was restricted, she loved the fact that she could stay connected to me on Facebook. Also, my absence has always been traumatic for the child. When I was doing my post graduation in Mangalore, she would wait for weekends and for holidays despite the fact that we wouldn’t get to meet. But the fact that I was within reach, offered her a strange comfort.

Isn’t Valentine’s day a holiday? Why don’t they give a holiday for Valentine’s day?’, she would frown.

When I had finally completed my post graduation, she was delighted. My job at Calicut had disappointed her. And now, when I am finally back for good, she is the happiest. Every evening, those few minutes that she gets when she comes to collect her house keys, are most precious to her. On some days, when I am not around, there is a sudden worry in her eyes:

She won’t be going away, right?’, she asks my mother.

Swathi is the daughter that I would have liked to have. She is nature’s very own child. She is not an individual; she is a world. We communicate in a language that is our secret, and that bypasses all the constraints that come our way. Between us is a bonding that is created out of our love for this planet and for all its creatures. And that language communicates more powerfully than the language of words. It is for this reason that her ‘likes’ to my posts on Facebook are most precious to me despite the fact that they come from a mind that has not understood anything about the content of those words.

But then, it has understood something far beyond what those words have to say!

 

 

Mere khayalon ke aangan mein

It was an afternoon class.

I was teaching a small group of students. It had only been a few weeks since they had started with the course. They were anxious-

The anxiety that marks the early months of medical schooling until every student finds his own means of coping with the stressful curriculum.

 

I feel the first year of medical school demands the most intense mentoring. The transition from secondary school to medical college is a huge transition for the student. Most students do not even know what to expect. The syllabus is vast and complex. The environment is unfamiliar and intimidating. From the protected world of secondary school where they receive individual attention and ample guidance, they suddenly find themselves insecure in an environment where they are expected to be independent. Dissection is a nightmare for many. Anatomy, Physiology and Biochemistry start off simultaneously, and before the students have oriented themselves to the curriculum and to their new environment, they are already into the second term. In most colleges, the orientation programme is only a formality. It does not really orient the students to the curriculum. Many students fall prey to stress and anxiety. It reflects in their performance. However, mentorship is never given the necessary priority in medical colleges in India.

 

Every new batch takes me back to my own MBBS days. I remember how frightened and lost I had felt in my first year. However, there was more human touch to life in those times. And so, with friends who were empathetic and sensitive, we managed to scrape through our first year. That ceases to be the case today. And so, it pains me to see our children end up as victims of depression, anxiety and personality disorders by the end of the curriculum.

This understanding has moulded me as a teacher. I mentor them in my own capacity. I make myself receptive and approachable, bring in warmth into my interactions, and focus on making learning an enjoyable experience. I teach them to love their subject so that they lose fear of it. I help them set goals, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and overcome the obstacles that come in the way of their goals. In my role as a teacher, I am inspired by Randy Pausch’s perspectives. His book, ‘The last lecture’, is a book that every teacher must read.

Students are like clay- raw and mouldable. It is up to us teachers to carve them into something beautiful.

 

So, as I addressed my students that afternoon, I tried to be as interesting as I could. For this was the worst hour for a class- right after lunch. They listened and responded.

All, except J.

J yawned. He distracted me because he was so restless. I could tell from his eyes that his mind was far away. Occasionally, he looked around or fiddled with his pen. All in all, he was completely disinterested.

Could you tell me why, J?

The mention of his name made him snap out of his reverie. He hadn’t heard the question. He hadn’t heard anything at all. I repeated my question. He gave me a blank stare.

Sleepy, after lunch? Or is the class too boring?’, I asked.

He only smiled.

Any way I can make this more interesting?’, I asked him.

And then I continued. Following the class, when they were doing the experiment on their own, I went to J’s group. I concentrated on him and asked him questions as he continued with the experiment. I encouraged him at all the times he did something right.

I suppose it is very difficult for you to sit still and listen. You like to be on your feet all the time, right? Too restless!’, I said to him at the end.

He smiled, amused. I could see that he was surprised that I had taken note of his restlessness and inability to sit still. He was grateful for that understanding.

In the subsequent class, I stopped to ask a question to the class.

So, where is my favourite student?’, I asked.

Everybody laughed.

Yes, J. By now, I am sure you know that I am referring to you’, I said to him.

He answered something, and I nodded, correcting him subtly.

It worked. J loved this attention and he lived for my classes. I was amused to see that he was more attentive than the rest in my classes. When they had to divide into groups, he would come running to the group that I was to take. Over time, I grew very fond of J.

He would respond to all my posts on FB and I could sense that I had become his hero.

J did well in his final exams and made it to second year.

J was passionate about photography. He was a true artist at heart- he could never subscribe to systems. I had seen the photographs he posted on FB, and I could see the artist in him. He had been doing portraits at that time and one day, he asked me if he could click me.

‘I would make a very poor subject, J. I am very camera conscious’, I said to him.

But he insisted. That evening, he turned up with his girlfriend, and we had dinner together.  Over dinner, he tried taking a few pictures. But I was very conscious. Following dinner, we walked out and he managed to get a few pictures. His girlfriend left for she had to get back to her hostel on time.

Could we take a walk?’, J asked.

Of course’, I said.

We walked. Like I always say, cities are very pretty by night and I love walking their streets at night when traffic has thinned.

That was the beginning of our friendship. Until then, I had only known J as a student. I knew little about his personal life. We spoke a lot- about childhood memories, about parents and grandparents, about movies and songs, and about a million other things. When it was time for me to leave, he looked at me and said:

Today, I feel so happy. You are really special.

He was trembling with excitement and happiness.

But what makes me special?’, I asked.

I don’t know. You are different. When you teach, you always have that little smile on your face. You are in love with the things you talk about. I love your happiness. I always wonder if it is possible to be this happy. You are not like the rest’, he replied.

I smiled.

You are special too. After all, you are my favourite student’, I said.

Yes. And I hope it will remain so forever. I couldn’t bear to see someone else take that place’, he said.

I smiled.

That night, he put up my portrait on FB and tagged me. I was overjoyed.

I shared very special moments with J. We loved walks and we loved conversation. There was something very special about our relationship.

I thought about it one day. I was aware that our emotions had stepped out of the confines of a student-teacher relationship though we had never expressed this to each other. However, I had to be mature enough to handle the relationship very carefully. It is one thing to feel, and it is quite another thing to act upon it. I could sense that he was going through the same conflict.

He voiced this to me one day- his discomfort pertaining to the nature of his emotions towards me. That was the most difficult moment in our relationship. Until the moment the truth of our emotions had not dawned upon us, our relationship was effortless. There was no worry surrounding our relationship. However, the moment the emotions permeated consciousness, we were uncomfortable.

What is it I feel for this person?

This was a question that troubled both of us. While we both loved each other’s companionship, we did not wish to long for more than companionship and complicate the scenario. And yet, the plane on which we related to each other in our interactions, made it easy to feel that way for each other. We related so effortlessly to each other that it was hard not to fall in love.

Eventually, the worry dominated the joy we derived from our companionship. He stepped back. He brought a deliberate distance between us. This was very uncomfortable because it took out the life from our conversations. When we chatted, we were both careful to keep the conversations rather formal. We would strip the conversations off their emotions and talk. We had to think before talking.

This process was so disturbing that I decided to step back a little further. And so, we distanced completely. We stopped talking to each other. I shifted my focus completely to my career. It was very hard initially because my interactions with J meant a lot to me. However, it was necessary.

Two years later, he texted me.

How are you, ma’m?

I replied to him. We had a conversation.

I am so relieved. I feel so happy we spoke’, he said.

I smiled to myself.

Images from the past flashed in my mind.

J yawning in my first class.

Walking on the streets on moonlit nights, holding hands and talking about childhood memories…

Holding hands and running on the beach, the waves lapping up our feet…

Looking into his eyes when he sang for me- ‘Mere khayalon ke angan mein koyi sapnon ke deep jalaye’…

To this day, I have not found the right words to describe our relationship. For it was far beyond conventional definitions of relationships. It was a relationship where I was loved unconditionally. I could be a child, I could be a woman. I could be dishevelled and ugly. I could be immature and stupid, I could be mature and intelligent. I could be all that I was capable of being, without worrying about not being loved.

The relationship was less about us and more about all that we loved. It was always about the enchanting world in which we lived.

 

What was right? What was wrong? Was it wrong to hold hands and walk? Was it wrong to look into each others’ eyes and sing? Could somebody delineate the boundary between right and wrong? Where does one draw the line? I still do not know the answer.

 

However, what I do know is that in the realms of the mind, there are no barriers. I like to keep J as a beautiful perception and memory in my mind. And I am aware that he feels the same. That is all we both ask of life. And of love. There is nothing that we ask of each other in real life.

And that makes our relationship special.

 

 

The Rhythm of Life

The first imprint of rural life when I moved to Kerala:

 

This is life! Lost in my own paradise, resplendent with the simple joys of life…

Every morning, a tropical sun awakens this sleeping child from her dreams. On the way to work, a clear blue sky greets me. The trees that stand tall and proud, sway, as if in greeting. The river gleams in the golden rays of the sun.

 

Ajk22

 

With the river, my chemistry is very special, probably because it is so dynamic.

Sometimes it is still, as if lost in quiet reflection of a bygone era, of better times. At other times, it is caught up in its relationship with human life…

A slow-paced relationship with a distinct melody and tempo.

The storks position themselves in shallow waters of the river, stiff and grim, like soldiers on guard. The row-boats move at a slow, steady pace, and the fishermen cast their nets into the river. They are all in perfect harmony with each other- the sun, the trees, the breeze, the river, the storks and the boats, painting a picture of oneness.

 

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I sometimes feel that we humans are the odd ones out- completely out of rhythm. We rush towards some invisible, formless goal. We rush, oblivious to all that surrounds us, oblivious to our own selves.

Many a time, we forget to live.

That concrete building that happens to be my workplace is only a false sense of security, contentment and happiness. It is powerful and imposing. It takes away my time from me. It takes away my freedom from me.

Money, traded for time and freedom.

When I leave that prison, there is a song in my heart. I drive slowly, embracing my freedom. I listen to my friends from nature, as they narrate the stories of the day, and they smile. I smile back and thank someone up in the skies, for those few hours of oneness every day!