When it rained in my mind…

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My most vivid memories of monsoons go back to my childhood when we spent the summer vacations in Kerala. Our summer vacations started in May and extended into the monsoon season. I did not like summers in Kerala because they were hot and humid. They made me feel sticky; it was as if my skin couldn’t breathe. But the excitement of the holidays and the freedom that came with it, drowned my discomfort. In my eagerness to explore the outdoors, I often overlooked this discomfort.

 
As children, we didn’t seem to realize the distinction between the outdoors and the indoors. The doors didn’t seem to exist. We could walk in and out of the house as we pleased. In my ancestral house in Kerala, the doors were also open to fireflies, grasshoppers, millipedes and centipedes! Mice lived up in the attic. Stray cats stepped in authoritatively, looking at us in disdain when we called out to them. They went about with an air of importance, and refused to pay any heed to our calls unless we were at a meal and had titbits of fish to offer.

It was impossible to feel lonely in that kind of house.

Our house stood on a grove. There were wild trees in the grove, with sturdy branches where we could have built tree houses if we chose to. There were fruit trees and pepper vines. The grove even housed a pond. That pond was my pride- it was the treasure hidden in our grove.

That was true wealth- the luxury of open spaces and earth unspoilt by human manipulation. Those houses were gradually replaced by posh mansions where the doors and the gates were kept locked. The outdoors receded, and with them receded our companions from nature. We shut ourselves in these comfortable prisons and called them houses.

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May would slowly roll into June. Thick clouds appeared in the sky towards the end of May. I could then feel the oppressive heaviness of the sky; it ached to rain. Promptly, on the 1st of June, when we changed the calendar to a new page, unseen hands had changed the canvas of nature too, to suit a new month, a new mood.
It rained heavily on the first day of June. We would wake up in the morning to the sound of rain. We rushed out to see what was in store for us. The sky was dark; the sun seemed to be hibernating. The rain descended in huge torrents, until everything went under water. It was like the pent up tears of an entire summer. I loved the way water gathered everywhere until the house literally seemed to stand in the middle of a river. The rain came down heavily on the trees, but they welcomed it with open arms, holding out their branches and leafy coats for it to wet. They swayed in a slow rhythm, and I felt as if they were savouring the rain- its first feel after a harsh summer.

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I was mesmerised by the magic of rain. To me, it was the most enchanting phenomenon that had graced life on earth for it had swept up the canvas of the earth in its magic. What had been dry, parched earth, so devoid of life, had transformed into a canvas of life in its utmost splendour and glory, throbbing and glowing with new life and hope.

The weather had cooled and an occasional wind blew, sweeping up the rain in its arms in sheer glee, taking the rain by surprise until it fell in slanting sheets.

I was enchanted by the melody of the rain…by its differing notes. When it rained heavily, it was loud and powerful; it almost seemed to demand a certain silence of earth. Its loud din as it fell heavily on the water collected in the courtyard, rose above every other sound. We had to shout to be heard. Sometimes it rained heavily for hours. Then, it would mellow down for a few minutes, only to resume. We sometimes sat out in the portico, watching the coconut palms sway in the rain. When our parents weren’t watching, we stood on the steps and put out our hands to feel the rain. We made paper boats and set them afloat on the water that had collected in the courtyard.

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It rained heavily for days. After a week or so, the character of the rain would change. It would take the form of a persistent light downpour. Frogs croaked and birds chirped, and the pitter patter of the rain was a musical accompaniment to the sounds of nature. The tinkle of water as it fell gracefully and gently on little puddles, was musical. At night, we slept to the comforting lullaby of the rain.

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On some nights, we would sit in the portico and stare into the deep darkness of the moonless night. Not a single star twinkled in the sky. But these were the nights that were lit up by the flicker of millions of tiny creatures that appeared to move about with tiny flashlights. They were in the air and on the trees- on their highest branches, like decoration lights. They came floating into the house and flickered, now on a wall, now on the roof. They were the fireflies- the glow worms. We tried to catch them. We often failed, but at the most unexpected moments, they came of their own accord and flickered on our feet or hands. At that moment, I glowed with the inexplicable joy of having touched a fantasy! I could never believe those creatures were real. In my little mind, they were creatures that descended on earth transiently to experience its sights and sounds on nights when the Gods were kind enough to grant them this wish. It was the spell of these monsoon nights that gifted me my first feel of paradise. They taught me the joy of fantasy.

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On these nights, as I embraced the deep trance of a moonless night lit up by the flicker of these magical creatures, the orchestra of the rain and the delightful chill that accompanied the rains, I felt special. I felt nature had let me into her precious secret in these moments. I felt special because even though I was only a child, I knew I couldn’t share these feelings with anybody. I did not have the words then to describe the magic of what I felt. And so, I had to be content, bottling up the magic of what I had felt.

When the rains finally receded, I would be sad.

To me, rains were magic potions that the heavens sprinkled on the earth, until earth was rejuvenated, replenished and made resplendent with beauty. That was why the Gods created rain. The rains were magic potions for a grieving earth and for grieving, lonely souls who needed a little magic in their lives. 


After the rains had bid goodbye, I sought consolation in water bodies. The waterfalls and gurgling brooks were perhaps earth’s reminiscence of the rain. I found consolation in the water that flowed in the canals, gurgling and rushing.

I found consolation in the pond in our grove. I couldn’t swim; so I would longingly watch little boys diving into the pond and swimming as deftly as the fishes. Oh, why didn’t I learn swimming? I suppose I was too shy to ask anybody to teach me. It is an unfulfilled dream.
At the end of my vacation, when I came back to Bangalore, I felt my fantasy world had been snatched away from me. I yearned for it.

 

After experiencing the magic of the monsoons in Kerala, rains in Bangalore were a poor show. They were light drizzles that made the already cold weather colder and gloomy. The city’s garbage came floating into the puddles and I hated walking in the rain. It was a mess, an inconvenience.

This feeling changed a little in my college days when I started to think these drizzles were romantic. It was on a monsoon evening that somebody had professed their love for me. The clouds and the rains had witnessed that moment and I had driven home, singing at the top of my voice, ‘Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain’. The rain had transformed into a companion in those days. It sprinkled into my moments an ounce of the magic potion that made my experience of relationships rather special and phenomenally beautiful.
I cannot forget the adventures either. Nights when I rode back home through desolate stretches of road, shivering in my raincoat, struggling to keep my eyes on the road, struggling to keep the vehicle from skidding. I rode dangerously fast, more from fear and desperation, than from courage. And then that night in Kerala when I had missed the train and had to take a late bus to my hometown. A stranger had stalked me; he had got off at the same stop as me. It was close to midnight, and the bus stop was deserted, the rain heavy. A familiar figure walked towards me and I had never been so glad to see my father! I also remember those rainy nights when I hopped off the bus at Manipal, and I ran the five minutes distance to my apartment, oblivious to the stares of the occasional passers by, oblivious to the rain.

 

Sometimes, I ask myself- Where was the rain? And then, I know that all along, it was inside of me.

It was in my mind that it rained…

Heal the world

It was the first time I had heard him speak. Until then, I had only heard him sing. He reminded me vaguely of people like Padmarajan, Vincent van Gogh or Professor John Nash. He was shy when he spoke. Shy in an adorable way. Shy with a self-conscious smile that reflected a certain disowning of his material identity. Here was a celebrity. And no ordinary celebrity, but the king of Pop himself. But when he spoke, it was a self-conscious child that spoke. He blushed and his tone was far from assertive. The words were few, but they were beautiful. The way only words from a child’s heart can be. When he was ten, Michael Jackson had said,”I sing what I feel and mean. If I don’t mean it, I can’t sing it.”

There are others I know who are shy in a similar way. My neighbour Swathi. One of my ex-students. One of my aunts. And me myself. It was something that always made me uncomfortable; I was always self-conscious. Now when I look back, I realise where it came from. It came from the inability to ‘grow up’. My natural state has always been that of a child- eternally absorbing the environment, reveling in its sights and sounds, losing myself to the fantasy created thus in my mind. Imagination and fantasy defines the natural state of my mind; I am often lost to it. And so, when somebody interrupts this continuous perception and fantasy, I am suddenly awakened from my reverie. Then I don’t know what to do or how to respond. Because this is the only world I am familiar with. The only situation I am comfortable with is when the other person demonstrates an interest in my perceptions or imagination and finds something of value in it. Then I lose the shyness, and metamorphosize into just the opposite personality. I am comfortable talking about the magic of the world within me, but not about me as such. For there is nothing to talk about me. There are only weaknesses and flaws to talk about. I feel I have none of the worldly attributes that most other people have; I lack that kind of skill and thinking capacity. I am an automaton, driven purely by unconscious forces- forces beyond my control. I see the same trait in all the people I have mentioned here. 
“I don’t think on stage. I feel. I am one with the music and that drives my performance on stage”, said Michael Jackson when asked what makes such an introverted, private person a born performer on stage, the inhibitions all gone and replaced by what is nothing short of genius. Yes. It is this automaton in him that responds to the music that he is moved by. After all, genius is the product of the unconscious. It can never come from the conscious. Genius, in simple terms, boils down to the ability to stay raw. The ability to respond as an automaton to what moves us. And thus, to create from within. Create something that is alive…something that overwhelms and moves. 

The creative mind, deep within, is trapped in eternal childhood. It refuses to outgrow this childhood. It is all feeling and fantasy that automatically brews into art- the most beautiful art.

Over the years, I have learned to accept this shyness as an inseparable part of my personality. Now, when I understand the larger picture, I am at peace with it. Of course, it is embarrassing at times, but I have learned to live with this shyness and social anxiety. Also, I can now identify it in others and I find myself bonding to such souls on an altogether different plane.
As I listen to ‘Heal the world’ and the old Jackson 5 numbers, my heart goes out to MJ. He is no more, but he will live on in my mind forever. 

The epidemic of numbness

Apart from all the challenges that children are exposed to in the artificially simulated world in which they live, they must also face the challenges thrust on them by life.
When confronting stress, our children lack both the environment and the equipment necessary to handle stress efficiently.
What is the environment in which a child is placed today? In their fast-paced lives that revolve around endless goals to chase, they have neither the time nor the mental space to allow themselves to feel the impact of a trauma.

The first step in confronting stress involves allowing oneself to feel and internalize the trauma. It is only when we internalize reality and generate without resistance the unpleasant feelings that may be induced by this reality, that our mind is pushed to rise and respond to this trauma.

One must allow oneself to fall when one is wounded. It is when we fall and feel our wounds, that we become aware of their intensity and nature. It is only then that we tend to them in the most appropriate manner. It is only then that they heal and we rise. We rise, learning what we are capable of, and what we are not. We rise, discovering strengths we never knew lay within us, discovering weaknesses that we had never recognized as limitations. We rise with awareness of reality. And this rising is what life calls for. 

But our children no longer have the time or space to allow themselves to feel. They cannot afford to fall, for then they fall out of the rat race. So they run with their wounds, numbing themselves to the urgency of these wounds. Our children learn the easiest way of handling stress- they avoid feeling the pain caused by the trauma. They anaesthetise their wounds and run, not realizing that though the pain is dampened, the wound is a reality. They run, oblivious to the wound that cannot endure much more. Then they fall, unable to get up ever again.

This avoidance response to stress is becoming increasingly common in our children today, causing significant harm to their psychological development. 

In addition to the lack of time and space to feel, our children also lack the emotional resources that are necessary to process negative emotions. 

The most important emotional resources are human beings themselves. Our fellow human beings can teach us much through the sharing of experiences. We unconsciously learn from our fellow human beings the art of dealing with the challenges in life. Family and friends are the most important emotional resources. However, our children no longer engage in heart-to-heart conversations with family and friends. They are taught to build high walls in a competitive world, therefore having no access to other lives. 

The alternatives are stories- our literature and our films. Literature is the chronicling of human experience, and our children have much to learn from stories. But reading is a forgotten hobby. Our children have lost the ability to read anything that exceeds their limited attention span. Also, reading has transformed into goal-directed behaviour. There is no longer the ability to engage with a book, unsure of what one might find. Our children are taught to choose books that aid them in their competition. All other books are tagged as worthless. Once upon a time, there was perhaps not a human being who did not love stories. Today, we are breeding an entire generation that has lost the ability to revel in stories and be moved by them. As for films, our children prefer entertainers over emotionally enriching films.

They refuse to engage with anything that involves slow, meaningful perception for they have lost the ability to savour this category of perception. 

The consequence is that our children resort to practised numbness- a phenomenon that eventually becomes a permanent part of their personality and behaviour. Unable to be enthralled by the simple joys in life, unable to nurture a fantasy, unable to dream, our children resort to instant gratification. Drugs and alcohol are the solutions they take refuge in. Shopping sprees, chocolate binging, addiction to the internet and to gadgets- these are all addictions that our children seek in order to merely ‘feel alive’. They are so numb that they need such high pleasure acts to feel anything at all. The failure of relationships that we see today, is also a reflection of this numbness.

Numbness is the epidemic of the modern world. Even in the context of mental illnesses, where our mental illnesses were once to do with emotional excesses and overt fantasy, today they are to do with emotional deficiency and with lack of a fantasy. 

Depression’ is a fashionable label that science ascribes to such diseases. In the language of literature, depression is the inability to feel the beauty in life- the inability to be enthralled or moved by the simple phenomena in life. If the current trend continues, it wouldn’t be long before human beings are replaced by robots- highly intelligent beings with the inability to feel anything at all. 

What we need is not treatment of depression with antidepressants, but preservation and revival of the human spirit- of its extraordinary potential to feel, fantasise and dream.

So where do we begin?

The answer is stories. We need to preserve and revive our stories first. 

Stories for children and stories for adults…

Stories for life…

Stories through books and stories through cinema…

The Summer, the Desert and the Digamma

The first time that I read this post, I couldn’t read beyond the first few lines. I was speechless and unable to do anything at all for a few minutes. I felt everything that I had prided myself on, until this moment in time, was futile. I felt a strange helplessness…a strange awakening in me.
The last several years of my life have been about self-preservation and survival. While I helplessly watched a beautiful and emotional world fade away from my life, I found myself driven by the need to survive and to protect my self-worth in a world where there was no place for vulnerability. I succeeded in the survival game, but there were nights when I would desperately fight the anxiety that seemed to appear out of nowhere and frighten me. I couldn’t figure out the cause of this anxiety for a long time. It was much later that I realized the anxiety was born out of the numbness that filled my moments of nothingness. My mind was so accustomed to the sublime emotions that had filled these moments of nothingness in the past that it was anxious at the numbness that had replaced them. I slowly reverted to reading and to films. Where else can one find emotions in the modern world? Like Mini describes in this post, the desert within my mind and its longing for the green. For what once was, and now isn’t.
I have never asked Mini why she has never published a book. But then, that doesn’t come as a surprise in today’s world. In a world where formula and market-driven goals decide the fate of art, the artist is uncelebrated. After reading Mini’s posts, it has become difficult for me to easily like anything. Most of the time, I find my own words very hollow. Recently, someone recommended a blog post that they found overwhelming. I couldn’t find anything in it. And now I know why standards are important in art. Art should set very high standards because only then will true essence find its way to the minds of the vulnerable minds that need it. I have realized in the course of my life that vulnerability defines life. And only vulnerability is capable of preserving the beauty that characterizes life. It is the vulnerable souls who need art to preserve their own spirit. The only responsibility we have towards this planet is to preserve the stories- stories that capture the essence of all our lives, in the words we write or the memories we create- the medium is immaterial. Mini, I can never thank you enough for the life your words instill in me- the patch of green that they awaken in the desert of my mind.

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Desert sky

We entered our sixth year saddened and in pain.

Every day my son asks me,

‘How long my father, until we return?

I miss the children of our street,

I miss the taste of our water

And the weather of our gorgeous country.’

Shiva read out the lines to me this morning. Written by Salam Ashara, a Syrian refugee. It was part of an article on refugees in an old edition of Gulf News, one that fell out of a shirt that came from the laundry. The launderers here fold the clothes around newspapers while ironing – perhaps for ‘structural support’ as Appu insists, or, as I suspect, for the fresh, crackling sound it gives off when you touch it.

Just a few lines of poetry, crisp like a starched and ironed cotton shirt. Lines written by a father who wants to keep his country alive for his children. How…

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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.

 

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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!

The halo of a firefly

Night sets in, and there is darkness all around. It is a pitch-dark night with brief spells of rain. There is no moonlight. I feel lonely and miserable as I count the hours.

And then somewhere in that darkness, a tiny halo of light flickers. It is the halo of a firefly. It doesn’t dispel the darkness, but it comforts me.

A soothing reminder of a warm presence.

As I follow its warm glow with my eyes, it lights up the darkness in my heart. The halo is all it has to comfort me.

To make its presence felt.

To offer me something in the way of a palpable companionship.

It makes the darkness bearable. It makes the darkness beautiful.

 

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The worm briefly settles on my palm and glows. I stand still, mesmerized by this tiny creature. The worm resumes its flight and settles on the window. I can see its tiny flicker as it moves on the window sill.

 

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I walk towards the window and draw the curtains. I gasp as I look out. In the pitch darkness of this monsoon night, there are a million fireflies glowing.

They are all over. On the trees, on the bushes, on the grass.

They look like little decoration lights studding the trees.

 

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The lyrics of an old song come into my mind and I find myself asking:

Into whose fantasy were conceived these mystic creatures that lit up the darkness and transformed the landscape into a fairy-tale world?

As I watched these creatures that had transformed this night into fantasy, the truth about contrasts dawned upon me:

It takes the pitch darkness of a monsoon night to bring to visibility the tiny halo of a firefly. In the darkness, I could see the abundance in its tiny glow.

 

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Fireflies are part of my oldest memories. They are part of that beautiful world that fed my young mind with rich fantasy. I remember the times we would catch these fireflies and bottle them up in a jar, feeling rich. To own one of these mystic creatures was quite something! In the morning, we would be utterly disappointed to see unattractive little insects in the jar. It was impossible to believe that this mystic creature of the night had transformed into a worthless, unattractive creature by day!

 

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Stills from the desert

 

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Rajasthan…

A kingdom coloured by the sun…

Rajasthan, baked and draped in gold, copper and bronze…

 

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Rajasthan, an assortment of canvases…

Canvases that are still, depicting the slow pace of life here…

A sun that has diminished the pace of life with its heat…

Slow strides of man and beast, across the vast expanse of sandy dunes…

Man and beast, resigned to the heat…

 

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Women draped in bright coloured clothes- bright kurtas, flowing skirts, bright dupattas framing their faces and covering their heads, bangles adorning their arms generously…

Men in bandhni turbans, some sporting thick moustaches…

They move together in processions, in a silent journey across the desert.

 

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Against the backdrop of a pale desert, these processions constitute images from a canvas, give character to the desert and breathe life into it.