God’s work of art

As I drove to Anjarakandy today, there was a song in my heart. I deliberately opted for the narrow lanes that led me to the rear entrance of the college for then I could treat myself to stills from peasant life- a life where my heart is.

The sight of a farmer tilling the earth. Of the paddy in the fields, basking in the golden rays of the winter sun. Of egrets gracefully patrolling the fields, like an army of grim soldiers in white uniforms. Of women in sober clothes, gaily marching across the fields with sickles and baskets in their hand, the wind carrying with it the sound of their banter and laughter. Of cows tethered to trees, grazing lazily in the tempered rays of the sun. Of little children clad in school uniforms, pausing to pluck wild flowers as they zealously march to school. Of smoke rising from the hearth of homes. I could hear the wind whispering across the lanes, bringing with it the fragrance of a village- the fragrance of my childhood. This imagery of harmony, of oneness- this was my earliest perception of paradise. This canvas of fields that changed its character in response to the journey of the sun in the sky, and to the play of seasons, now bronze, now gold, now green silk- this was the first work of art I was exposed to. God’s work of art. However long I looked at it, however deep I looked into it, I could never have enough of it. It was a dynamic canvas that was as bottomless as the insatiability of my mind. I could go on digging, and there would still be more to dig. And in that work of art, everything seemed to blend in so perfectly. I still remember the joy I felt when I spotted the reflection of the setting sun in the still waters of the pond that stood in the middle of the fields, like a mirror sewed on to a green robe of earth. As the little pond gracefully embodied the setting sun that ruled the world, something awakened within me. I awakened to this joy of oneness. Everything in my life was subsequently inspired by this perception of paradise. This was the very first perception of beauty I was exposed to.

Today, I could find myself integrating into this picture of oneness, unlike the last one year when I was working here. The ways of the mind are strange. It sometimes takes a certain detachment to attach oneself to a perception all over again. As I have left behind all the ugliness that had coloured my life here in the last one year, I am able to connect to my old perception all over again. To those early years here. Those sacred years. Those beautiful years. Those years when Anjarakandy was like a melancholic story from Basheer’s novel and I was the central character of this novel. Those years when a certain silence had seeped into my life and that I shared with nature. Those paths from my old house to Anjarakandy- they are sacred paths. They took with them a little bit of me. When I visit those paths now, I hear the old voices, the old conversations. They bring back the old times, those perceptions, those memories, those silences. The stillness and silence of solitary nights, lit up only by the warm glow of oil lamps and the melancholic song of a wayfarer. They reflect all that I used to be at that point in time. And there is something so loveable about that phase of ‘me’. I fall in love with myself all over again.

Anjarakandy will always be special to me. It is not so much a place, as much as a perception- a precious fragment of my life. I don’t ever want to lose the purity of this perception again. Kerala, per se, is a perception whose oneness and beauty comes to me only when I detach myself from this land- when I walk its streets as a stranger; when I am shielded by anonymity.

Today, I met Fousiya. There is something so precious about our interactions. I am suddenly reminded of the warmth of a human-to-human interaction. She held my hand and said to me, “No matter where you go, don’t ever forget me. Keep in touch. It is only when you come that I feel something is alive within me again. I feel the magic of life, I feel its beauty.” I told her today that I had finally written her story. And I told her that though I wrote it, the wisdom of the words were all hers. Only because she wasn’t writing it, I was. It takes so little to make her happy. There is something I want to do for her. I have a plan for her. She has no expectations at all. There is so little she asks of life, so little she asks of people. Give her emotions, and she will cherish them, never asking for more. Grateful for the warmth. Grateful for the human connection. She bares life with her words, until life stares at you, raw and naked, and you begin to see it with your inner wisdom. For her, these words are matter-of-fact. She doesn’t realize their magnanimity. But when she sees me basking in the richness of these words, her eyes light up momentarily.

Human interactions fascinate me. I have no awards, but my life is lit up with the joy I have brought to numerous souls. Especially people less understood by the world, less valued, unfairly judged. Within the hearts of all such people, I have discovered the true nature of the human spirit, gleaming like gold. The true wisdom of our species is hidden in these hearts and they go about their lives, unrecognized, unnoticed. I have been most loved for these two reasons. One, because I can spot this treasure in them and make them feel their worth. Two, because I take them into their natural state- that world of pure perception that they are longing to share with somebody. I have often felt like a wayfarer, meant to give company to weary travellers who come from forbidden lands where most of us wouldn’t even dream to step in. There is so muc they have seen, there is so much that throbs within their hearts, and all they want is a listener who can listen to the throbbing of their heart. A companion for a small length of their journey.

I am grateful for this gift of life. I am grateful for this sensitivity. It enables me to feel so intensely. It enables me to allow life to pass through me, with all its richness and glory. This gift of perception is what I cherish the most. Now I understand that sadness too, is a tool to explore the magic of life, and that the possibility in sadness is so often greater than in happiness.

Dear life, I love you so….

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A dialogue between two cities

We moved to Kannur on an unfortunate day in August 2006. It had been raining relentlessly that year- the year there were floods in Mumbai. When we arrived at our new home in Kannur, I felt like a refugee in an alien land. An uncomfortable silence surrounded me, and the cold and hostile stares made me feel unwelcome. I truly felt I had been orphaned. I thought back to the beautiful life I had left behind in Bangalore- a life that had just been uprooted and here I was, unwillingly deported to a land where I couldn’t find the slightest vestige of familiarity or humanity.

Ten years have passed since. I have survived and I have evolved.

Kerala is a hard chapter to write about. It is very hard for me to describe my relationship with Kerala, unlike with Bangalore or London. The architecture of life in Kerala is very complex. It is impossible for me to reduce my relationship with Kerala to a simple ‘love’ or ‘hate’ relationship. Living in Kerala is like being in a marriage, and finding enough reasons to love the marriage, despite all the turbulence that it brings with it. Sometimes, you want to run away to preserve your sanity, you want to severe all bonds and break free, and yet, there is something that holds you back. Something whose worth and essence you cannot deny. But it also means you must be emotionally, intellectually and philosophically equipped to keep this relationship. It also means you must have undying energy within you. You have to somehow preserve the inspiration and motivation. You have to persistently remodel your mind in order to see the aesthetic potential of your journey here. In the absence of such fluidity and dynamism, you would only end up as the victim of a bad marriage. Life in Bangalore and London were more of a courtship. There is no oppression; the relationship with the environment is effortless. One doesn’t have to uncover the layers to find beauty; beauty is in the air. The city in itself is youthful, optimistic, zealous and romantic, and the city infects its inhabitants with these traits.

I had never wanted to settle down in Kerala. I had never really wanted to make it my home. I had always looked at it as transit. But that transit has stretched to ten years. Long enough to call this home. Kerala has slowly grown into me and though I still cannot call it home, I am unable to severe my bonds with it. When I leave, I shall surely leave a part of me here. And I shall carry a part of it with me.

In the past, there were always reasons to stay. At first, it was dad and all the issues surrounding his illness. Then, it was my post graduation. Though I was away in Mangalore, I was only 3 hours away. Never too far to feel the separation. When I completed my post graduation, it was the job that kept me here. It is only now that I am out of my job that I don’t find a reason to stay. It is only now that I feel the pain of separation from Bangalore. From all that was mine…from all that was me.

I can’t stop hoping that at least by next year, I shall be back in Bangalore. I miss my friends every single day. I miss their love, warmth, care and concern. To this day, they pamper me. I cannot wait to relive the old times with them. I miss the heart to heart conversations, the fun, the mischief, the laughter. Khushwanth Singh wrote about Delhi: It is nice to live among a people who have a sense of belonging and pride in their city. A city with a peripatetic citizenry who live in it without being emotionally involved with it are not worth knowing.” I think this was one important factor that connected all of us in Bangalore, and still does. We were so in love with the character of Bangalore that this love bound us into oneness. That is profoundly absent here in Kannur. People are in denial of their true identity. There is nothing that binds them into one. Yet another factor was the innocence. All my friends have retained their innocence. It is that innocence that enables us to feel the emotions that we felt all those years ago, and that makes our friendship so special. We genuinely feel for each other, we miss each other, we care for each other. Here in Kerala, there is nobody who would miss me when I leave. Be it my relatives, my colleagues, my students or my neighbours, they have always made me feel that I am only a dispenser. And once I have served their need, my role is through. Beyond that, there is no relationship. Despite the endless hours I have spent with them, I have failed to grow anything on their barren souls.

ONV’s ‘Oru vattam koodi yen ormakall’ lyrics come to my mind. I cannot wait to go back to all those sacred places that still hold my most precious memories in Bangalore. Back to those people who taught me the aesthetic potential of human relationships. I feel truly fortunate….

Make somebody’s day!

​In the early years of my life in Kerala, whenever I felt lost, I would take a trip to Bangalore. To my world of familiarity. So as to rediscover myself. During these times, I would have lots to write because Bangalore would suddenly reconnect me to all that I had missed for a long time. I would sit at Coffee Day, order a coffee, take out my notebook, and write, completely lost to a world of my own. Occasionally, I would look up to find somebody smiling pleasantly at me, and I would smile back, thinking to myself- Could this ever happen in Kerala? 

I made this a routine and on the third day, as my coffee arrived, I was surprised to hear a voice say,”Ma’m, you always order the same coffee!” Startled, I looked up to see a young boy, barely twenty years of age, holding the tray and smiling at me with twinkling eyes. I instantly liked him. He told me his name was Rupam and he was from Assam. After his schooling, he had sought a job because he couldn’t afford University. He told me he had sought Bangalore because it was so cosmopolitan, and it provided exposure to people from different walks of life. He was eager to learn from experience, and he told me that he never missed an opportunity to talk to people. I was moved by his eagerness to learn; he never let his financial circumstances limit him. Instead, he saw the world as an his platform for learning, with unlimited possibilities. He asked me about myself. When I told him I was a doctor, he was speechless. “A doctor….” he said, his eyes full of reverence and disbelief. He couldn’t believe a ‘doctor’ had found something of worth in him and thought him interesting enough to strike a conversation. I could sense that.

“You have that spark in you. Don’t ever let it die!” I said to him when I bid him farewell.

I can never forget the expression on his face. It wasn’t about what I had said to him; it was about how I had made him feel. It struck me then as to how little it takes to make somebody’s day. To keep their flames aglow. But more often than not, we are bent on extinguishing the flame of their souls, pouring water on it. Many a time, all that a human being needs is an acknowledgement- a validation of his struggle, of the hardships of his journey, of what it has taken him to preserve the music of his soul. Show him his worth, and he is capable of giving much love- to you and to the world.

And so, I always carry a mirror with me- a beautiful one, capable of reflecting the beauty of such souls. I like to listen to their stories, let them unfurl fearlessly, and then hold up the mirror for them to see. My reward is the smile that lights up their faces when they see this reflection. There is nothing that makes people as happy as the awareness that they are beautiful and worth knowing.

A stranger once sat next to me as I boarded the bus from Enfield to Central London. It was a long journey and the man struck up a conversation with me. He was a Black, and I do not know what made him share the story of his life with me- the life of hardship he had left behind in his home country, and the life of hardship he was enduring in a foreign country. I couldn’t help thinking of how fortunate I was, to not have gone through the pain of migration driven by financial and social circumstances. My brother had taken care of all my finances, and he had accompanied me in my initial journey in a foreign country. He had left only after ensuring that I was safe, comfortable and capable of finding my way about. Perhaps this realization made me find the right words to say to him. The man was in tears, and grateful for the empathy. It was all he seemed to want. When I alighted and said goodbye, the man was trying hard at composing himself and putting back his mask, and I could see he had much more to say, given an opportunity. All he wanted was to heal by talking to somebody who could empathise. That day, I realized that the fire within our souls had to have enough warmth for lonely, battered travellers to derive comfort from.

Goodbye…

I still remember how you had put in your face through the backdoor one evening, with a “Miaow?” (“Do you have some food for me?”

I remember thinking why you chose us and where you found the courage to walk up to our doorstep, when you weren’t even sure of what kind of people we were. I remember wondering whether we could get attached to you the way we had got attached to the cat that had turned up last year, and that we had seen into its death.

Nevertheless, we gave you milk. We first gave you biscuits, but you didn’t touch them. So we gave you milk. And then, you turned up every day. Mummy started mixing powdered biscuits in your milk so that you would get some nourishment. And eventually, when we spotted two little bulges on either side of your tummy, we realized why you had desperately begged for food. We bought fried fish exclusively for you since we didn’t eat fish anymore. Every day, two meals of fried fish with rice. And the milk porridge in the morning. And cup cakes. You grew very fond of them. You started to put on weight, and mummy was so happy to see you looking healthier by the day.

We don’t know where you stayed. But you visited us every day, four times or more. You were tall, unlike any other cat I had seen. With a tiny face that easily fitted into my palm. I loved to cuddle you because you would purr in pleasure when I stroked your head, and you would try to rest your head on my palm. We would talk to you in varied tones, and you would respond in equally varied tones. I almost thought you would soon start conversing. 

You feared the dogs badly. I remember how Milky and his friend barked at you once and you tried to run, frightened. You hid under the car and watched me shooing off Milky. And as Milky quietened down, I called you and you reluctantly sat by my side, your eyes still fearful. But you learned that you were safe with me and that I would chase away the dogs. One night, you called us and we opened the door to find you in the portico. You had never come at that hour, and you looked frightened. I could hear dogs barking and you screwed up your ears, all tensed and frightened. I sat with you for a long time, trying to comfort you, and you finally went away.

I once patted you while Milky was watching so that he would understand he was not supposed to hurt you. Milky never growled at you after the first time. He knew you belonged to us. But you were always frightened of the dogs.

We never really knew for sure if you had delivered your babies, but the lumps had disappeared and we assumed you had. And then suddenly, last week, mummy woke me up early in the morning and said to me, “Come fast and get your camera too. There is a surprise”. Mummy usually asks me to get my camera either when she spots the squirrel trying to nibble at the scrapings off the coconut shells or at the sight of some bird. But today, she sounded different. I hurried downstairs, not knowing what to expect. And who should I see, but you, with your beautiful babies. Two of them. Bonny and so beautiful. A replica of you. “All our feeding you has finally shown on your babies”, Mummy said to you. Your kids were naughty and all over the place. And you were trying hard to shepherd them, to keep them safe.

That evening was the last we saw of you. We never saw you again. Nor your kids. We knew the worst had happened, but we didn’t want to believe that. And today, mummy saw what may be your remains. A dog was carrying some body part of what was once you. So much for life.

I don’t know what has happened to your children. I don’t know if they are waiting for you to come back. I don’t even know if they are alive.

What I do know is that life is so fragile. Like a soap bubble. 

“Give me words. Their warmth and their strength. That is all I ask for. Words are all I need to comfort the bleeding wounds of my soul”.

The Death of Culture

As a child, I was closer to my mother’s family. My mother’s family was made up of people who were culturally sensitive, and that made all the difference to the moments I spent with them.

It was my great grandmother who shaped my earliest perceptions of the world into which I was born. My mother was her first and favourite grandchild, and so, she came to take care of me when I was born. My mother was working and I was left to her care in the first year of my life. Though I have no conscious memory of that period, she gave me the very first impression of this world and I am certain she presented the world to me as a fascinating, enchanting place. When she left, I was inconsolable. I was just an year old, but she seemed to have created a deep impression in my mind. My mother recollects how I would look at every grey-haired woman thereafter and cry, “Ammamma, Ammamma!”.

My mother grew up with my great grandmother, and she had instilled in my mother a love for culture. She would narrate to my mother many events and experiences from her life, and she always described them in a cultural context. She had traveled a great deal with my great-grandfather who had a transferable job, and she saw each place and its people in the light of their inherent culture. While the other women exchanged pleasantries and gossiped, she was busy absorbing the difference in culture. She refrained from too much judgement; she loved assimilating, learning and absorbing new aspects of culture, particularly those that appealed to the senses. She infected my mother with this sensitivity to culture, and my mother’s memories were therefore rooted deeply in culture.

Bangalore was not a culturally stimulating place. It was a multicultural community where we were exposed to such broad differences that we had learned to accept difference as the norm. It was when I spent my vacations in Kerala that the cultural ingredients came alive and awakened my senses to the profound beauty in life. My mother’s ancestral house was in itself, a key cultural ingredient that shaped my early emotions. It was an old weather beaten house, and it was a miracle that it had survived the storms of centuries. That in itself, made it special for it was a relic from the past. I was fascinated by its wooden half doors that seemed to let the world in, its patio where we all gathered most of the time, its attic where mice could be heard quarreling, its dark kitchen where the hearth was always warm, and the backyard that looked onto pepper creepers coiling around the jackfruit trees. I loved some of the things that we children were asked to do, and that my cousins seemed to hate. For instance, I loved sitting in front of the lamp, reciting prayer verses at dusk. It was something we didn’t do back home in Bangalore. I loved the feel of pebbles and earth on my feet. I loved earthen floors more than I loved tiled floors. I loved taking bath because it meant drawing water from the well. I loved the sight of jasmine flowers that had blossomed overnight. I would pick handfuls of the flowers and smell them. I loved the wooden reclining chair in the patio where my great grandfather used to sit. I loved the high cot in my great grandmother’s room that served the purpose of a store. From its insides, my aunts would fish out cakes, sweets and savories. I loved the women who passed by our house, sometimes with sickles in their hand, in search of tender grass for the cows. They would smile at us fondly and ask a million questions. I loved the old temples we visited. The stone steps and pillars, the sopanam, the fragrance of the incense sticks, the sandal paste, the temple pond and the serpent shrines. I loved the little lamps that glowed in the dim light of dusk, and lit up the shrine. I loved the oracle’s performance though I was also frightened by his demeanour. I loved the graceful movements of the Mohiniattam and I loved the mudras of the Kathakali. I loved weddings where women dressed up the bride and the bride, clad in spotless white, her hair adorned with the most beautiful and fragrant jasmine flowers, reminded me of a swan gliding through a procession. I loved being part of the wedding processions that walked the bride and the groom to the bride’s new house. Though I was raised in the Hindu faith, and loved the cultural elements of this religion, I was equally fascinated by cultural elements of other religions. I was very excited by toothless elderly Muslim women who stopped to talk to my aunts. I was fascinated by the number of gold earrings that adorned their ears and by the zari bordered headdress through which silvery strands of hair broke loose. Their houses were a delight, and so were their weddings. I loved the boatman who ferried us across the river. I loved the fishmonger who hooted in the mornings and passed by on his bicycle, an army of cats following him dutifully.I loved the tea stalls where old men discussed politics amidst glasses of tea and plates of parippu vada. I loved watching women pound rice; I was in awe of their synchrony.

In those days, the men and women seemed to possess so many skills that we no longer have. People could grow their own food, catch fish and crabs from the streams, chop wood and obtain firewood, make a fire, and cook their own food. They could even build their own house. They could climb trees, swim, row a boat, walk for miles, and labour for hours. My mother tells me about how she would accompany my great grandmother to sow seeds, till the soil, and water the saplings. She remembers how during the cucumber harvest, men would erect a pandal in the fields, light a fire, and stand guard, so as to ward away foxes that ransacked the fields at night. Those sleepovers can never match our modern sleepovers.

In retrospect, I realize that culture played an important role in my formation. It defined the aesthetic framework that was necessary to make all my engagements with the world profoundly beautiful. It taught me to see the aesthetic dimension in all my relationships- with nature, with people, with other living beings, with living spaces. It taught me to explore this aesthetic space in my day to day life, in education, in religion, and in every facet of life I engaged with. The more diversity there was, the more was the scope for such aesthetics. Perhaps that was the reason I loved this country the most. It provided for so much cultural diversity. And so, my memories were rooted in these cultural ingredients.

Sometimes, I am aware that my mind is seeking something from the environment. It seeks familiarity. And that familiarity is to do with these cultural ingredients on which I was raised. When it doesn’t find them in the world, it resorts to the books and movies that have immortalized them.

Today, our lives are so empty. The death of culture is palpable. Instead of the soulful cultural ingredients that once defined our lives, there is just a human buzz- a mechanical buzz with no aesthetics in the monotonous scheme of our comfortable lives. In place of a memory, is a big void. Something that science labels as depression.

Culture is a carefully crafted, time-tested art that has ingredients that nourish the soul. I think these cultural ingredients were largely responsible for the sense of fulfillment that characterized the traditional way of life. Culture comprises of those ingredients that teach us to engage deeply and meaningfully with the natural world, and therefore nourish our souls. As we dissociate ourselves from culture, we are also alienating the mind from soulful ingredients that are necessary to anchor the mind to a fundamental framework of factors that govern life. Cultural ingredients awaken the senses to the inherent beauty in life. All memory and learning feeds on such aesthetic awakening. The definitions of all facets of human life- love, relationships, home, marriage, childhood, womanhood are deeply rooted in culture. Human potential is rooted in such sensory awakening. And so, this era of depression, violence and crimes is not surprising.

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…

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?