Technology: My gateway to the past

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I must have watched about forty episodes of Buniyaad by now. I have lived the life of the resilient Lajo– from her youth to her old age. The orphan Lajo, who has learnt to take life in its stride, and has learned to laugh at her miseries. “Gaiety becomes ingrained in the character of one whose life is filled with misery“, remarks her uncle when Lajo responds to Master Haveli Ram‘s practised discipline with laughter and gaiety.

Buniyaad digs into the foundation of relationships. Buniyaad essentially explores the factors that shape the human spirit- the factors that nurture the human spirit and awaken man’s humanity, and also the factors that erode the human spirit and take man away from his humanity and from his own self . Buniyaad takes us through the lives and minds of people in relation to their circumstances.

The relationship between Lajo and Haveli Ram forms the core of this story. It is the strength of this relationship that forms a pillar and holds disintegrating family structures together, preserving and protecting humanity against all odds- the partition of India, the homelessness, the economic crisis, the differing motivational drives of the youth of the family, and much more.

The story therefore dwells generously on that phase where Lajo meets Master Haveli Ram, capturing those intricate moments that bind the two into a deep rooted relationship.

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The gentle, somewhat shy and hesitant Haveli Ram, a man of principles, and the high-spirited, playful and mischievous Lajo. Their personalities contrast, and yet complement each other.

Ramesh Sippy creates magic in these moments:

The laid back evenings when Haveli Ram tutors Lajo. The innumerable memories created in that hour that form the foundation of their subsequent relationship. Those tiny moments that may appear insignificant to a trespasser, but that weave the invisible threads of a deep-rooted relationship between the two. The grandfather clock ticks in the backdrop, as if marking these priceless moments in their lives. ‘Vichhovali’- Lajo’s uncles’s house in Lahore, transforms in these moments into a house that harbours the couple’s most precious memories. A house that is eventually orphaned at the time of partition when the family is forced to move out, reminiscent of millions of houses that stood as mute witnesses to the journey of human life- to the unfolding of the human spirit- its throbbings, its pangs, its woes. Houses that witnessed the woes of partition. Houses that witnessed the demolition of the human spirit as the ‘individual’ assumed importance and family structures disintegrated,  and money and power replaced human values.

There is something very Indian about this serial. One falls in love with the traditional Indian spirit, and understands the true meaning of love, respect, mutual regard, relationships, patriotism, womanhood, patience, kindness, compassion and other human values that today, are merely on paper. I think stories of those times dug deep into the cultural essence of our country. Today, the authenticity has been replaced either by blind conservatism or by rebellion and denial.

Take Indian women, for instance. There are women who believe that in their submissiveness to patriarchal systems, they are ‘upholding’ traditional Indian values. Such women are oblivious to the big gap between traditional values and conservatism. Conservatism is only an emblem; an emblem that is to be worn for the world to see, an emblem that conceals the darkness of their spirits. And then we have women who wear the emblem of individuality. Women who do not wish to be looked upon as submissive, and who wish to break free from the chains of tradition. Sadly, many end up denying their feminine qualities in the process. For many young women, abandoning the traditional lifestyle and embracing a western lifestyle, defines individuality. Most find their identity in their lifestyle.

Where are the Indian women who taught us that womanhood was a far superior quality for beauty lay in the feminine? Where are those Indian women who taught us that individuality was about the freedom of mind, and that the mind could find its freedom even beneath traditional garbs? Where are those Indian women who taught us that courage was not about the liberalism with which one dressed, but about confronting the horrors and tragedies of life, surviving them and outliving them? Where are those women who taught us that courage was not about sitting in the company of men and smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol , but about sitting in the company of men, and being able to talk intelligently about the subjects that concern human life on this planet… from politics to astronomy!The women who taught us the difference between rebellion and revolution?

One is mesmerized by Lajo and Veeravali, as they discuss the political scenario of the nation. ‘Somehow, my heart lies more in revolution than in these textbooks of literature and Mathematics!‘, says Lajo when Master Haveli Ram tutors her.

They are all unique in their own ways- Lajo, Veeravali, Mangala, Nivedita. And yet, there is something common to them- that traditional Indian spirit that gleams in their eyes, like a raw, uncut diamond. They are vulnerable and easily wounded. But within them is a spirit that enables them to outlive their personal tragedies. It is this resilience that makes them attractive- their refusal to be victimized by the tragedies in their lives…their ability to be wounded, and yet gather themselves up and walk again.

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Somehow, Buniyaad transformed my world. In this numbness that surrounds me, I always look for emotions. The opportunity to feel. To feel without having to think. To cry, to rejoice. And with the characters in Buniyaad, that is what I have been doing. I cry with them, I rejoice with them. And I find that I am suddenly able to do the same in my life. They teach me to pause in the course of my life, just so that I allow myself to feel…so that I can rejoice, and I can cry. They teach me that its is okay to be wounded…it is okay to cry. Just that you must be able to get up and walk again.

Technology is a boon. For many, it is a gateway to the future. To unknown possibilities. For me, it is a gateway to my past- to the emotional world that characterized my past-

It is a gateway to the forgotten essence of a rich tradition and culture that we somehow left behind.It is a gateway to the forgotten alleys where an ancient Indian spirit lies, trampled by the horses of globalization. It is a gateway to the humanity that once thrived on this planet.

I had never imagined that some day, I would be watching all the TV shows and cartoons that I watched as a child, recreating the magic of my childhood.

I have now moved on to the classic cartoons. I realize that even cartoon characters in those days were inspired by life. As I watch the adorable Pluto who is carried away by his impulses, but is moved to tears by the suffering of fellow creatures, I feel that perhaps these stories that made up my childhood, have played a huge role in shaping my perspective of the world. I strongly suspect that these stories that sowed the seeds of humanity in me and have expanded the horizons of my mind to embrace all living creatures as deserving kindness, empathy and compassion.

The past will never return, but I know that I will always belong to the past. Every step that I take into the future, will always have its foundation resting in the past- a beautiful and fragrant past. A past that has immortalized itself in my soul and that shall accompany my soul in its journey from this world. This beauty and fragrance is all that I shall carry from this world to the next…

What is the color of fear?

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With the practised strokes of an artist, he adds final touches to the mural. The mural is of a fiery-eyed, bloodthirsty demon. 

‘The car is gone’, speaks a voice at his doorstep.

He turns around. It is his neighbour, an adolescent girl whose eyes are still that of a child. She peers at him, terrified of something she has witnessed.

‘When I see that man, I am terrified’, she says. There is the inexplicable fear of the unknown in her words. The abrupt exposure to a world that the child doesn’t understand, but that her instincts mark as ‘dangerous’. 

Sadayam was a film that I was never comfortable watching. I was in school then, and I remember it as a rather disturbing film that left me feeling weak, turbulent and helpless-

The feeling of being stifled, when you actually wanted to scream.

I remember how that film was played once in the bus while we were travelling. I remember forcing myself not to look at the monitor. And yet, I couldn’t run away from the dialogues that sent a chill down my spine, and the background score that knocked louder at the doors of my mind.

That there were women out there, standing all alone, standing naked to the brutal forces of society, was a chilling revelation to my young mind. That I lived a life of dignity while there were women out there who surrendered their spirits to the sheer adversity of their circumstances, opened my eyes to the horrors of being a woman. It struck me that I was bound to them by the commonality we shared- I was a woman too. More fortunate, perhaps. But I couldn’t shed away the fears that crept into my mind when I confronted on screen the brutal experiences that my gender had to confront in life. These women on the screen were my own faces in a different context. This realization was the magic of writers like MT. 

‘What is the color of fear? Is it blood red?’, asks the artist.

The young girl is perplexed by this question.

Those words lingered in my mind. MT’s signature script. Haunting.

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Mohanlal in the film ‘Sadayam’, directed by Sibi Malayil

‘Are you a communist?’, asked my mother.

That is always her question when I wear red. It always makes me conscious. I go and take a second look at myself in the mirror. And somewhere, I feel a little uncomfortable.

Perhaps red is the color of fear. Or of violence. It is the color of blood…of bloodshed.

There is always a certain discomfort I feel when I regard the color of buses in Kannur. They are painted in shades of red and orange and yellow. Like buses that have caught fire. They speed through the traffic, desperate and chaotic, with no regard for all other life.

Theyyams are indigenous to Malabar. They are colorful and vibrant. But in them is an uncomfortable portrayal of violence too. They embody the prominent characteristics of primitive, tribal, religious worship. The costume of the theyyam artists is blood red.

These artists go into trances and transform themselves into forest and ancestor spirits, mythical heroes and flamboyant toddy-consuming gods who leap through fire, roll on burning coal, and accept blood sacrifices of live chickens.‘, reads an article on this folk art:

http://www.natgeotraveller.in/coming-face-to-face-with-keralas-fierce-gods-and-goddesses/

It seemed as if the entire village around the Theyyam artist as he danced in a corridor of wild fire, screaming and kicking flames in every direction; he seized full control over the crowd around him, leading the villagers to scream in ecstasy into the dark night sky as he performed the ancient rituals. There were moments where the artist’s helpers thought he had lost control and would try to stop him from stepping into the fire, but he would violently push them away, throwing himself again and again into the eye of the fire, determined to complete his transformation and embody the God.

http://www.svidensky.com/blog/the-chained-gods-of-india

I have often seen a similarity in the violent expression of the theyyam artists in Kannur and in the political bloodshed here or the violent tones in which the labourers in these parts reciprocate to the more elite. A palpable insecurity governs the life of the common man in these parts- an insecurity that is skilfully utilized by politicians. There is a palpable suppression in Kannur, and that suppression is chronic. It is this suppression that the theyyam artist perhaps liberates in his violent expression. A suppression rooted in casteism. Kannur is populated by people belonging to the Thiyya community- a community lower in the caste hierarchy. This is contrary to the scenario in the more central and southern parts of Kerala where the upper castes are dominant.

The article sheds light on the violent expression of Theyyams:

Ironically, the Theyyam finds its origins not just in the worship of ancestors and forest spirits, but also in a polarised society which once allowed only higher castes to enter temples. This forced people of the lower castes to employ other means with which to engage with their gods. Since participating in a Theyyam is open to all, it created an egalitarian space for the oppressed. They discovered a powerful voice with which to narrate to their feudal persecutors stories of injustice and exploitation. This transformation from man to god that began during the post-paddy sowing month of Thulam (October) also initiated a dramatic status reversal within prevailing social hierarchies.

Somehow, the suppression has trickled through the generations and despite the fact that the caste system has dissolved, the insecurity generated by this suppression appears to have been rooted and passed on. Today, Kannur has become the land of red. Red that is violence for some, and fear for others…

Red, the color of blood that appeases the Gods in these parts.

Beggars: Living Corpses?

It is afternoon, and I walk along an old segment of town that houses educational institutions and a few offices. Rows of banyan trees fringe the road here, their branches arching across the road, shielding it from the rage of the afternoon sun.

Life on these streets has slowed down.

A fruit vendor parks his cart by the pavement, and leans against the trunk of a banyan tree. From across the road, a cobbler looks on lazily from his makeshift shop. A man sleeps under the shade of a tree while not far off, a dog sleeps too, his eyes and ears awakening intermittently to the slightest sound that interrupts the oppressive silence of this afternoon. A few crows splash about in little puddles of water that have collected on the pavement from leaks in the corporation pipes.

Under the shade of an ageing banyan tree, its branches sagging under their weight, sits an old man, his figure sagging under the burden of life he wears over him. He is self-absorbed; his eyes look inward, as if dwelling on his predicament. His is a life that hangs on the edge; he is one among those millions of people who live at the interface of life and death.

His is a world that thrives on the very peripheries of the ‘living’ world.

He is clad in rags. A grey beard, long neglected, descends generously from his chin, and gives character to his face. Like weeds that joyously erupt in a long-neglected garden, abandoned and deserted. A lifetime is carved onto his face; his face is of no one in particular- it is a face that speaks of the stories of that world as a whole- the world that thrives at the interface of life and death. It is an antique face that would perhaps have fetched him a place in a museum.

 

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A faded rag is spread out in front of him, and on it, are coins- 25p, 50p, and occasional Re1 coins that seem to mock at his life-

Static reminders of a life that hangs on the edge.

 

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Starvation, ailments, loneliness and deprivation stare from the battered soul within the frail body, and he carries the image of a man who has no spirit left in him. The last vestige of hope has deserted his soul.

I trace his life back in time, in the realms of my mind, and faces from memory reveal themselves.

Faces of young men and women who flank the municipal tanks and pumps in the early hours of the morning, with the day ahead seeing them in a new form, a new role every day. On some days, they beg. On other days, they sell cheap wares- beaded necklaces, colored threads and safety pins. There are days when they even pick pockets and snatch chains.

Yes! We have all seen this old man’s youth.

I go further back in time, and I remember sooty faces of children- on the platforms of railway stations and bus terminals. You must have seen them walk into the compartments of trains, entertaining passengers with songs and music from their mouth organ or harmonium. On other occasions, you would have seen them sitting on the platform, sharing a miserable looking bun.

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Abandoned and deprived. Shunned and outcast. This is the story of their lives.

At night, you can see them sleeping on the pavements adjoining shops or the platforms of railway stations and bus terminals. That little piece of hard, harsh earth on which they sleep, is all they claim for themselves. Their bodies are draped in worn-out sheets that cover them from head to toe.

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Like rows of corpses, ironically reflecting the malady of their lives, they hold on to the piece of earth that is their bed. Or should I say grave?

The Indian Satire

The 11th of June, 2016: Tree Survey Kannur.

 

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This is a sequel to my post ‘Green thoughts’.

There is a strange disquiet within me as I write this post.

Why are we Indians so laid-back when it comes to matters of real significance? Is it that we are lazy and all our passion and zeal evaporates into thin air when it comes to executing our ideas? Or is it that we do not attribute much significance to the planning and organization that is crucial in the execution of an idea? Or is it just that we do not give an idea the due merit and seriousness that it deserves? Are we perhaps carried away by the other aspects of such a task that are more emotionally appealing to us than the central goal that we ought to be committed to?

I do not know the answer to this question, but what I do know is that these factors revolving around the implementation of an idea are as important (probably more important) as the idea itself.

For in their absence, an idea remains just that- an invisible piece of thought in our minds. It spills in occasionally into the statements we make or the speeches we deliver. But in due course, it dies a natural death. It never realizes its potential in the real world.

 

I still remember our meeting on World Environment Day– the day we officially formed the Tree Conservation Committee. The passion of the committee members had been infectious. They had both knowledge and experience to act upon. My hopes with regard to conserving what remains of the forests, orchards, wetlands and trees of Kannur district, were renewed. It was evident in that meeting that we were here for a common goal and that we were committed to its cause. There could be no vested interest in this.

 

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‘Tree survey’ had been our first step.

I loved the idea. Conduct a survey of the trees in the territory from Chovva junction to Caltex junction- a stretch of road that had once been fringed by trees in abundance. We fixed a date for the survey. Somebody suggested putting up a small post in the newspaper to attract public attention to the act. We could perhaps generate a few volunteers that way. Following the survey, a detailed report would be provided to the District Collector in order to trigger a political initiative for the project that aimed at conserving existing trees and at identifying suitable spots for the planting of trees.

 

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On the decided day, we all gathered at Chovva junction. I was a little disheartened to see a very small group, largely made up of the same individuals who had been at the meeting. The newspaper intimation had been conveniently forgotten. Our group members arrived in a slow, laid-back manner. The whole event had the feel of a chore in a laid-back government office in India. The zeal that characterized our meeting was palpably absent. We made a slow start. We chose a spot where a tree had been recently cut in order to widen the road. That tree had been rooted into our memories of Chovva junction. It was a massive tree with branches that spread out and provided cover to a large area of the junction. It reminded me of what someone once said:

You cannot go to the market and buy shade for one lakh rupees.

 

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We put up a banner and the members took turns to address the public. Some of the speeches were deeply inspiring, but the tragedy was that the public demonstrated no interest. People looked on in amusement as they walked past or sped by in their vehicles, but no one bothered to lend an ear. Also, I was amused by some of our group members who were busy clicking and getting themselves clicked. Eventually, when the speeches ended and it was time to start the procession, many of our group members started to leave. Most of them had only come for the inauguration. They bid farewell and we were now a very small group on our mission.

As we started the procession, I was further amused by what was happening. The group had split into pairs. Only one pair was making a serious note of the trees, their age, location, condition, etc. The rest were busy talking about things that were far more interesting than the subject that we were meant to address. A few older people were at least educating us youngsters on environmental concerns and facts.

A tree stood by a tea stall. One of my friends went into the tea stall and asked for a tea. As the group moved ahead, he said to us, “You guys carry on. I will join you shortly.” I laughed and said to him, “This reminds me of a Sathyan Anthikad movie.” He laughed.

 

Truly, it did. Remember ‘Manasinakkare’? A CPM worker (Sukumari) retorts to her spouse (Oduvil Unnikrishnan):

‘Why should I listen to what the leaders had to say in their speeches? My task was to show the party’s strength by representing numbers. I did that. This was the best opportunity to visit all the temples I had been longing to visit. We had enough time to pray in peace. In the evening, by the time the party vehicles were back to pick us up, we were ready.’

 

I suppose that is what we did in this survey. Many of us proclaimed our contribution by being present. And that was the end of it.

The coordination between us was also very poor. We had no idea what was being recorded and how the main members went about the assessment. I had hoped for it to be educative, at the least. I had hoped that it would at least provide me enough experience to conduct a little survey on my own in a different group in another locality. But we were highly dismantled.

At one point, we couldn’t spot our team members. We called them on their mobile and to my amusement, they had apparently dropped into a hotel. It was half past twelve. Everybody started talking about lunch. I called it a day and went back to work.

At the end of the survey, nobody talked about the observation, conclusion, setbacks or lacunae. A newspaper reporter was informed and he turned up dutifully to take a picture of the team. The report matter was subsequently mailed to him by one of the members.

Wonderful experience, right?’, people said to each other.

Of course’, they replied in consensus.

There could be no disagreement on that. After all, we had made a task list and the first item on this task list could now be conveniently ticked off. In any case, that was all we cared about.

This morning, I was amused by the picture in the newspaper. ‘District tree conservation committee conducts tree survey in Kannur’, it read. It went on to explain the details of the survey in all seriousness and I couldn’t but help laughing!

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These paths….(2)

I applied for the job and I remember feeling happy that there would not be any night on-calls since patients were just picking up. Unsure of what lay ahead, I stepped into my new job. I used to drive down initially, stop at all the places that were phenomenally picturesque, and take pictures. People would stop to watch in amusement, and I would silently pray for them to leave me alone.

 

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The landscape was right out of a fantasy world. I could not believe that this was real.

Never before had I seen such a fiery play of colors….such sharp contrasts.

Dawn and dusk would drape the same landscape in entirely different costumes. The fiery colors of summer contrasted sharply with the rejuvenating green monsoon canvas.

 

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Everyday, I allowed myself to be mesmerized by the changing canvas I was treated to. These images awakened my mind to perceptions I had never felt before.

I felt within me the nothingness and stillness that can only come from witnessing something overpowering.

I ceased to exist, for my mind was brimming with something far more profound than me. It was the first time I felt the throbbing of a universe within me. Work was a blessing for I had plenty of leisure time at work. I would write pages and pages from the beauty of all that I perceived.

I thus discovered my freedom- on new terms.

 

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Rural life also attracted me. I was thrilled by the sight of old houses that stood majestically in the premises of untended orchards. They seemed to be brimming with the stories of generations. Coconut palms and mango trees stood in the premises, perhaps whispering ancient tales that only they had witnessed. Barns and cowsheds stood in the premises, some empty for lack of hands to tend to the animals.

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There was the familiar odour of smoke from the hearth. My heart soared at the sight of silver-haired grandmothers and grandfathers in the courtyard of houses, their faces mellowed by life, their eyes closed in prayer. I loved the sight of men and women toiling in the fields, washing away the exhaustion of their lives of struggle in their togetherness.

All around me, I saw stories.

I saw souls who mimicked the beautiful souls I had seen in malayalam cinema. I stopped paying attention to my life. For the first time, I learnt to be still and absorb the ocean of life that surrounded me. I realized that resilience came naturally to these simple village folk. I admired their ability to ask so little of life- their ability to endure so much. We urban folk take pride in our ability to be bold, but we often confuse it with courage and strength.

For the first time, I understood that the kind of courage and strength that life demands for survival, is altogether different.

Rural life humbled me. It destroyed all the ego I harboured. I allowed myself to be awed by the resilient spirit of my rural patients a lot more than the awe they perhaps felt towards my urban, independent spirit.

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As I dwell upon that phase of my life, I find myself struggling to write. For the stories around me were infinite. My life brimmed with interesting characters and their stories. I loved being a part of their lives. Those characters did not know their worth.

Beneath their ordinary exterior, I could always see the extraordinariness of their souls.

A few faces come to memory. Lakshmanettan, the old driver of our bus who would drive us across the plantation, never losing his composure, highly attentive and sensitive to the comfort of his passengers. Fousiya, the young dark-complexioned nursing aid who had learnt to smile at the complexity and unfairness of the problems life thrust on her, but never come to terms with her dusky complexion. There was not a fairness remedy she had not experimented. She was a girl with a kind and compassionate heart, and I lived on her sense of humour. Fousiya’s grandmother who unabashedly told the doctor that she had put her ECG recording into the chulhaSubeesh, the medical representative, who entertained us with the wildest stories. Fousiya and Subeesh were a deadly combination when it came to humour, and I looked forward to such sessions. Beena, who had lost her father, and suffered a lot of abuse. I was happier than her on the day she got married. Never before had I looked at marriage from the perspective of defense for a woman. The Muslim woman who was battling cancer, and her 10-year old daughter who managed the household. Rosamma Ma’m, who loved plants. The ivy gourd she gifted me continues to give us little harvests. Kunhikannan sir who wore a mask of seriousness that made his humour all the more hilarious. The psychiatrist who gave us many reasons to laugh. Venugopal Sir, who was a father figure to me. The old Muslim patient who touched me with her sensitivity to others. The poor elderly Muslim couple who hesitantly gifted me a toffee as a token of gratitude. Our bus driver Sanesh and the school kids who boarded that bus. The stranger who sketched me while i waited at the bus stop and then gifted me the sketch, taking me by surprise.

And a million other faces….

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These paths….

 

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I had deleted these paths from memory.

I hadn’t imagined that I would ever be taking them again. When I had bid goodbye to them six years ago, I was certain that I had tucked them into my past- a past that I would never reopen. But the dice of destiny landed me yet again on these paths. And here I am, writing the sequel to a book whose story had met its conclusion. That story was the story of my formation. The story of how I broke at a million places and then reconstituted myself from the cracks. Every day, I died a little. To that death, I had surrendered all of myself. When I started life afresh, I had nothing left of the old me. I was a new person with a new perspective of life. I never wanted to connect to the old chapters in my life in a realistic sense because the ‘new‘ me was more adept at survival. But I liked to preserve those old chapters in my mind…

A nostalgic getaway at all the times my defenses for survival drained me.

There is perhaps nothing as rejuvenating as being able to slip from the burden of thought to the comforting shade of a nostalgic memory. A memory that brings back the feel of a precious moment lost to time- a memory uncorrupted by the shadow of thoughts.

Turn pages in the album of the mind…

People, places, memories…

Until a tear rolls down the cheek…

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As I started my journey today, I realized that I had no memory of the route. I switched on the GPS and allowed myself to be guided by it. As I drove, only a few trees appeared familiar. At some point, I left the NH behind and found myself on rural terrain. The GPS guided me through routes that were alternatives. I drove past barren fields, quaint old houses, chayakkadas (tea stalls) that had long shut down and stagnant waters where water lilies continued to bloom rampantly.

Waters in which I could see a collage of old memories.

I drove through solitary narrow country lanes that brought back the feel of the old laid back times. I passed a few village-folk who had managed to preserve their rural simplicity in a sophisticated technology-driven world.

 

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My mind strayed to that day years ago when I had landed in Kerala after 3 years of living in London. London to rural Kerala had been a significant transition, and an unwelcome one. For one thing, I had adapted completely to life in London, and was deeply in love with my independence, my lifestyle in that country , the opportunity to travel and to meet people from different walks of life.

I had become addicted to the intellectual stimulation that country offered.

Also, my life before London had been one of freedom and anonymity. And here I was, in a place that seemed alien to me. I spent a week or two in denial, refusing to step out of the house, spending all my time indoors, crying at my fate. Eventually, I decided to find a job so as to feel a sense of purpose.

Someone had told me about the new medical college at a place called Anjarakandy.

I drove down, unsure of the route. I was a little surprised when I realized that we were heading towards rural terrain. My concept of an institution had always been rooted in an urban backdrop. Here, traffic was thinning out, and there were trees and streams and boats. I was mesmerized by the sight of a wide river that we passed. At long last, we reached a cinnamon plantation. We drove through a mud trail and landed at our destination.

The college was at the heart of the plantation.

 

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There was very little activity there. A few people, most being employees, went about their work in a laid-back manner. I couldn’t believe this could be a medical college. A single building that housed the hospital and college. A bus that transported people across the plantation. The bus reminded me of stills I had seen of sleepy villages in pre-independence India.
London was like a distant dream.

A Parallel World

On most evenings, I encounter a group of daily-wage labourers on their way home, after a day’s hard labour in the heat of the unmerciful tropical sun. As I glance at their faces and figures, there is something of them that holds on to my mind, refusing to leave.

Something unspoken that is communicated.

Something that I attempt to define in my words here…

 

It is late evening, but my day is far from its close. On my task list for the day, there are still chores that need to be ticked off. As I encounter cars and bikes recklessly overtaking each other, I realize that I am in par with the world around me-

 
Rushing, and heedless to the voice of the setting sun.

 

I slam the brakes as the guard at the railway crossing levers the gate into closure. Minutes tick by, and a train eventually shows up, its engine screaming. I see passengers looking out of their windows- people travelling to definite destinations. I wait restlessly, counting the bogies, desperately trying to read the destination painted in block letters on each bogie. As the last bogie disappears from view, I find myself glaring at a stretch of railway tracks that seem to chase this bogie, now a miniature figure in the distance.

 

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The slanting rays of the sun fall on the tracks, and I catch sight of sun-burnt bodies walking on the track. There are men and women, young and old. Some are carrying spades and hoes, while others have cloth bundles on their shoulder. A day’s hard work peers from their faces, against a backdrop of chronic struggle.

 

I hear them talking about the day- the labour of the day, the injuries they sustained, the meal they shared, the betel leaves thereafter, the fight they picked up with the mason, and much more. They talk in shrill chaos.

 
There is the profound absence of ‘tomorrow’ in their conversations.

 

A woman laughs aloud at a joke, while a child wails, crying for a sweetmeat. An old man walks with slow strides- a stooping figure clinging on to the support of a walking stick, his frail structure concealed by a torn blanket that he has wrapped around himself.

 
Only a face coarsened by life remains exposed, and eyes perhaps lost in the sheer truths of reality peer at the ground with unshaken steadiness.

 

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On the horizon, I see the sun beginning to set. The railway track stretches out infinitely, as if tracing a path leading to the setting sun. And on the tracks, these men and women pace steadily, like dismantled bogies of a train, on a journey to the world of the setting sun.

 

PW 4

 

With dusk, the sun seems to play games. It blurs the image of these figures in the distance, almost transforming them into illusions. Have they reached their destination?

Perhaps yes. One night, I see them scattered on a heath, talking and laughing as a pot of gruel cooks on the fire. As they eat from their poor bowls, the sound of their excited voices and laughter resonates in the silence, and I see a world far removed from the world that I belong to.

 
The world defined by the confines of four walls of a mansion, with only the sound of television- a sound that breaks the silence of the mansion, but fails to penetrate the lonely silence of the heart.

 

PW 8