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…

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…

My miniscule world

The  display of sarees and salwar kameez stared at me from the shops. Some hung loosely under the eaves while others were draped on mannequins. As they danced to the breeze, they resonated with a nostalgic charm and stirred something dormant within me…

Something girlish and romantic.

Something profoundly Indian.

Something long-forgotten.

Something left behind in the alleys of history and tradition.

Like a beautiful silk scarf that had dropped off the shoulders of tradition, only to be trampled upon by the horses of ‘globalization’.

I could no longer see the people on the street. All I could see was fabric.

Deep shades of green, blue and red that contrasted with pastel colors. Bright shades of yellow and orange that contrasted with dusky shades of brown and black. Georgette, chiffon, crepe and silk that gleamed against crisp cottons. Transluscent flowery designs that veiled opaque fabric. Embroidery, sequins, zari and beads that glimmered against the backdrop of plain fabric.

Most of the shops here belonged to Muslims. Some of the embroidery was handcrafted. It was exquisite and reminiscent of traditional Islamic embroidery. The kind of embroidery that I had only seen in salwars designed in North India. The kind of salwars that traditional Punjabi women wear.

I remembered that evening long ago when I had walked the streets of Southall, amidst shops that specialized in zari embroidered lehangas, salwar suits and wedding sarees. Amidst eateries that served North Indian sweets and savouries. Amidst makeshift stalls that sold Bollywood CDs.  Amidst signboards in Punjabi script. I remember the disbelief I had felt at what I saw. This was a slice of Punjab, transported to a different continent. A Punjab that was reminiscent of the pre-independence province of Punjab- a province that was as much populated by Sikhs as by Muslims. It was hard to tell the difference. Here, people appeared to live as they had lived for years in their motherland, before the partition. The border did not exist in the minds of the people here.

And that takes me to the serial I have been watching lately. Buniyaad. Who can forget the delicacies that Doordarshan had served us in its early years? That was a different era altogether.

I have always found myself drawn to the Punjab province and to the story of its partition. It may be on account of the numerous Punjabi friends we had when I was a child. Many of these families had their personal tragedies buried in the story of partition. It was as if they had been uprooted from their motherland that contained their most precious memories…as if they had left behind a precious part of their own self on the other side of the border. Films, books and serials that were centered on partition, added to my sentiments.

It is therefore not surprising that Buniyaad resonated with me and with the minds of many Indians, particularly the ones whose past lay buried in the Punjab of pre-partition times.

I watched the first few episodes, and felt a bout of nostalgia and heartache. The Punjab of those times. The houses that were homes. The community life of Indian villages, the open air, the slow paced life, the warmth and intimacy, the raw human beings. Those infinite moments that made one feel alive.

I was drawn to the manner in which love unfolds in the minds of the people in this serial- as a free-flowing emotion that is to be felt.

A gentle, slow awakening. Sublime. Spoken more through the silences than through the words. That irreplaceable feeling awakened for a person that permanently changes something within, never to be reversed.

As I watch the women in this serial, I am reminded of who I used to be. I had never longed for independence. I had only wanted to be a woman- a woman bound to tradition. A woman who was comfortable veiling herself in the garbs of tradition. A woman secure in the companionship of a strong man by her side. I had only wanted to dream; I had nothing to prove to the world. I was happy in the anonymity and privacy of my world. My dreams, I had wanted to keep to myself. They were secrets I did not wish to share with the world. In my moments of solitude, I wished to stroll aimlessly, and feel. I wished to talk to the trees and call out to the birds. I wished to chase the butterflies and the gurgling brooks, and I wished to lay on the soft grass and sleep under the skies. I wished to write poetry and prose, and hide it from the world. I wished to sing and dance, and I wished to soak up the raindrops, reveling in my perceptions. This world within me, was my secret. My only dream was to nurture it.

But life had other plans for me. I had to run away from my traditional garb in order to survive. Nothing feminine can survive in a world barren and devoid of love, and so, I put on a man’s shoes and walked. I adapted to a man’s ways, but deep within, these contrasted and conflicted with the feminine nature of my personality. But the need to survive propelled me in this new role.

It amuses me as much as it saddens me to think of the garbs we wear in order to survive. Anything, just to survive. These garbs of masculine aggression, of insanity, of feigned numbness. These masks that we learn to wear permanently and that eventually become our identity.

All that I am today- the roles that define me and the roles that I have learnt to revel in, is the outcome of the need for survival. The need for rising above the emptiness and loneliness. The passion for physiology, for teaching, for writing, for psychology- they were all born out of the emptiness and loneliness that caused me to find a higher meaning in life.

But beneath all these roles, is a woman. An Indian woman who unseen to the world, appears in the solitary and private moments of my life. Within her are all the soft feminine emotions that can no longer find a place in the world. She lives, somewhere within me. I can feel her at times- in that occasional throb of girlish excitement, in that occasional shimmer of a dream that crosses the eye, in that occasional quietude that fills the heart.

I can see her, somewhere in between the pages of the books I read, in the emotions that unfold on the screen as I watch these old serials and movies…in the words scribbled in my diaries. I am left with a longing to go back to her, but then I realize that there is an infinite distance between us now. And that longing then transforms into a mute helplessness…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You have mail!!!

I get back from work, unburden myself of the bags I carry, and sink into the sofa. An assortment of envelopes stares at me from the table- they have arrived in the afternoon post. I go through them disinterestedly, and find a telephone bill and some letters of official significance. I make a mental note of the things they demand of me, and place them back on the table. In a couple of weeks, during the course of a dusting-cum-cleaning session, they find their way into the bin. An occasional greeting card or a parcel breaks the monotony of these mails.

I think back to the days of inlands, airmails and telegrams….

To the days when the ring of the bicycle bell in the afternoon saw us waking up from slumber in a fit of hope and enthusiasm….

To the days when the postman carried on his bicycle a bundle of scribbled emotions, and greeted us with a knowing smile when he had a ‘gift’ to deliver….

To the days when the sight of letters peeping from the slits of mailboxes brought with them an abrupt shower of joy in our hearts.

Letters addressed to my parents were received with less enthusiasm, but if a letter was addressed to me, I would hold it close to my heart and speed off to read, as if I had just won a lottery!

The immature handwriting of a friend or a cousin stared at me from the address, and I trembled in excitement as I slit open the letter. I am sure I read each of these letters a hundred times, and I read them for days on end. I would enthusiastically hunt for an inland at home, and if I was lucky enough to find one, I would set out on the joyous task of writing out a reply, the very same day. Next morning, on my way to school, I would promptly drop it into the mailbox, and shove it extra hard to make sure it went right in.

And from that moment, commenced the impatient wait for the reply. The postman in his khaki uniform, with the ring of his cycle bell, was such a welcome presence in my life.

We had pen friends too. I was proud of mails from friends in Bhutan, Malaysia, Finland and America. My Finnish pen-friend sent me a beautiful postcard, and also a picture of her, and they fetched me the envy of my friends.

Over the years, the culture slowly faded away, to be replaced completely by revolutionary technological inventions in the form of the internet.

The last hand-written mail I received was from a classmate from school, while we were both in college. It finds place with older letters I had preserved, as an antique that I am proud of.