The quest for the soul

Despite it all, there is an emptiness within. Something I am unable to define. What is it that my mind seeks? What is it that I miss?

Something that was omnipresent in the 80s and 90s, and that quietly faded away as we stepped into the next century. Technology and economic prowess bought us over. We live inside glasshouses now, alienated from the world outside. Alienated from experiences. Alienated from the true potential of human interactions. Alienated from those colourful streets and alleys in which one encounters life. Life, in its myriad shades. Like a colourful bazaar that never ceases to intrigue and fascinate. A rich platter of human experience.

I moved from the dark, gloomy life in Kerala to a more vibrant life in Bangalore. But apart from making my life easier, more comfortable, and more positive, it hasn’t really provided me the home that I keep seeking. And that makes me wonder- What is home? 

As I explore this thought, I am reminded of this passage on Johanna Spyri’s book Heidi. Somehow, it seems relevant here.

    What makes Heidi so fascinating? The glorification of the ideal Alpine world, the retention of one’s own childishness are the most commonly named arguments- but they are also the most superficial ones. Analyses often talk of the basic experience the character embodies. The tension between of nature and culture, country and city, freedom and etiquette, a place of security and crippling homesickness can be found in the books. The story of the loss caused by industrialisation and modernisation captures the hearts of people all over the world and makes Heidi, the unspoiled girl from the Alps, an icon of modernity. And it has lost none of its relevance to this day.

    I think this tension/conflict is what we are all experiencing. We are all trying to find ourselves in this transition from the natural world to the artificial world.Where is our soul? We catch fleeting glimpses of it, but somehow we don’t seem to capture it for long. 

    There is no return to the Alpine life. To the natural world we left behind. How then can we find ourselves? Is it possible to retain our raw human nature in this artificial world? To the degree that we don’t lose the connect with our souls?

    I think my next few posts would dwell on this question that is most important to me at this point in time.


    The second innings


    It has been over two weeks since I moved in to this city. I was initially anxious about how my mind would perceive my second innings in this city, but as the days go by, I can see my mind growing happier…

    New leaves sprouting off a plant that had almost withered away. I can finally sense new life sprouting within me.

    I started out with simple things to keep me going. Getting into a routine. Cooking and cleaning. I am surprised by the motivation I derive from these simple things. My apartment is small, comfortable, sunny and airy. I don’t have much furniture. So it is easy to maintain. I only have to cross the street to get my daily supply of grocery and vegetables. I buy small quantities and use them up. And thanks to the dry and cold climate, things stay fresh here for a longer time. So I have not really felt the need for a refrigerator. Cooking my own food has been fun, especially since I never feel lazy or tired here. I am surprised that I haven’t eaten out at all, except for the day I had moved in. That is quite something!

    Though I have many friends here and I do want to visit all of them, I don’t want to do it at this stage. I want to give myself time to get used to being on my own. My main network at this point is the bunch of friends I have in class. I am glad I took up this course because it gives me a platform to engage with the city and integrate into its scheme. I can’t help celebrating the women I meet here, because most of them are true to their nature. It comes from being comfortable with their own selves. And that in turn, comes from being raised in a society where there is no gender bias. Here, I often forget I am a woman. I feel like a human being, without being gender conscious. In Kerala, it used to be very difficult to interact with women because their personalities were largely shaped by their insecurities- the outcome of having been raised in a society with gender bias. I celebrate my interactions with people here, much like I celebrate the climate- the two greatest highs in Bangalore.


    Stories of livelihood. While the lady was deeply absorbed in her work, the child found ample sources of entertainment. On the streets, are the real stories. Of rugged hands and tanned faces. But something still throbs within. Sometimes, appearing as a gleam in the eyes. Sometimes, breaking out as a smile. 

    The other achievement is that I am slowly learning the bus routes and locations. Bangalore is a maze for someone like me because it is full of Mains and Crosses, flyovers and underpasses. And I find all the cross roads similar! Google has been of great help.

    I take the bus to my institute. I like losing myself into a sea of people- that is where one feels the pulse of the city. Today, as I boarded the bus, I couldn’t help feeling the joy of this anonymity- this feeling of going about my life quietly, with the simplest dreams. This dream of being able to manage a house without the luxury of my mother’s care and attention, this dream of being able to find my way about the city, this dream of travelling with the ordinary dwellers of this city, without the luxury of my own car or Uber, this dream of making a livelihood. This whole dream of finding my niche in this city. I enjoy this kind of struggle- struggle that is not damaging, but rewarding. In Kerala, my struggle was characterized by physical limitations and health issues imposed by the climate, and of course, the chronic oppression that was taking its toll on my ability to endure. Here, I walk a lot. I take every opportunity to walk. It feels good because the weather is cold. Besides, it is when I walk that I see the beauty of the city- the beautiful houses, gardens, pavements, trees, vendors, and all the street stories that catch my eye. The optimism and its mellow beauty just seeps into me. This always keeps me in high spirits. In Bangalore, a walk is my solution to gloom.

    Old, magnanimous trees stand by the road and quietly watch the city pass by. The pedestrians, the motorists, the vendors. The changing scenes through the passage of time. Their overpowering presence makes me pause in my footsteps, marvel at their magnanimity, and wonder what has caused them to survive the odds in a fast paced city.


    You see, anonymity is beautiful. It is bliss. When I watch a Lohithadas movie or read a short story by O. Henry, it is not Lohithadas or O. Henry that I aspire to be. I aspire to be those soulful characters that these great artists portrayed in their art. I don’t wish to be the Creator; I would rather be the creation. A little firefly that finds bliss in its tiny halo of light. Life quietly throbbing within me as I allow myself to be enchanted by the aura, mystery and deep darkness of a melancholic night.


    The graph of my life

    People think they know me but they don’t. Not really. Actually, I am one of the loneliest people on this earth. I cry sometimes, because it hurts. It does. To be honest, I guess you could say that it hurts to be me.

    -Michael Jackson

    It is sometimes interesting to see yourself through another’s perspective. For many who have known me since my childhood, the graph of my life would appear to have taken a downhill course. From being an unfaltering rank student, from being a stage figure and a public speaker, from a pedestal of popularity and fame, from being a role-model and reference, how is it that I am a ‘nobody’ today? This is a question that lingers in the minds of many of my school friends.

    “It was you we aspired to be. But today, everybody who was a nobody then, is somebody. The graph of their life is on an uphill course, while yours is going in the opposite direction. It is a paradox. This is certainly not where you should have been!”, they say.

    I suppress a smile. I can relate to what they mean. They painted my future in their minds a long time ago. A future, bright and promising. Like my friend pointed out to me, I never had to work hard. Where my friends put in their hundred percent, I only had to put in half that effort to succeed. For the rest of the time, I could afford to be mischievous and light-hearted, because success came so easily to me. How is it then that today, I am so far away from success? This intrigues them.

    It wouldn’t be wrong to say that I too had dreamt of such a future for myself. In those years, we were so young and naive that we were ignorant of the currents of life or of the hunger of the soul. Our definitions of success were based on conventional moulds. Like my friends, I too believed that I would become a doctor or engineer, travel the world, collect achievements, live a comfortable life, and earn the status of ‘elite’. Though disguised under degrees and lifestyles, these aspirations translated into money and power. But back then, I did not know that money and power could not buy happiness by themselves.

    However, unlike my friends who only saw my external embellishments, I was aware of my limitations and failures. I was aware of those aspects of my personality that would interfere with success. I was aware of my emotional intensity, my inability to commit to paths that could not capture my interest or imagination, and my inclination towards fantasy. I was always lost in the magic of the world, and that interfered with my ability to focus. Perhaps this awareness helped me accept failures and enabled me to expect less from myself.

    All through my medical college, I was an average student. My primary motivation came not from my scores, but from the magic that some of my textbooks and teachers fed into my mind. I could sense the extraordinary element in the ordinary, and this thrilled me. I am grateful to those teachers who made me feel that there was something extraordinary about my perceptions and thoughts. If not for that, my self-esteem might have suffered terribly. Likewise, when I worked abroad, I was lost to the stimulation and novelty of my world. I failed to travel along defined paths, and collected very little in terms of external embellishment. But internally, I could feel the transformation. My consciousness had finally awakened enough to connect to the hunger of my soul.

    It had been difficult for me to leave London, but when I found myself in Kerala, it may have been this element of instinct and consciousness that steered me towards the true purpose of my life.

    “Why do you build small towers in infinite places? Why can’t you build one tower, and then build upon that?”

    It is a question of significance. Any day, it is easier to build one tower. Imagine if I were to do so now. It would be so easy. I would only have to continue with whatever I do now. Live in Kerala forever. Continue with the current job. Get promoted. Some day, I would be Professor and HOD. I might enhance my CV through ‘research’, publications and presentations. On paper, I might narrate the story of my ‘professional growth’ with pride. Internally, my soul might just die. A little every day.

    You see, my heart is not in this image of perfection we create for the world to see, acknowledge and approve. I like the kind of research I do every day. I am addicted to the joy of toying with perceptions and thoughts. They come to me at the most unexpected moments, like when I am walking on the street. I like experimenting with them on a serious note, and finding the real answers. That is how my first book was conceived. It was a book that arose from the questions I had asked myself when I had found myself drawn to diversity of personality. There is more truth in that exploration than the research papers we publish in most institutions in India. I don’t want a high from a prize for a paper or poster; I want a high from the paths of discovery I take.

    I watch the Bee Gees sing. I watch Michael Jackson perform. I read Sylvia Plath’s letters to her mother, Vincent van Gogh’s letters to his brother. I watch the humming bird drinking nectar from the flower. What I see in all of them is their ability to lose themselves to the moment. To the joy of perception.


    I don’t care for long years; I care for richness of experience. How much of life penetrated us while we lived? That is the question that matters to me. I have to be in love. Every day, every moment. With the world. With myself. And I would do anything that it takes to be in love. This principle has been the driving force in my life. If I built one big tower, I would have fallen out of love with myself a long time ago.

    I have captured enough magic from this world within me. Enough to touch others with its spell. Every soul who crosses my path, carries a little bit of this magic in his heart when he leaves. That has been my highest high. I can make anybody fall in love with themselves. With the world. And for this reason, I am loved the most.

    Beautiful moments with my mother, savouring the uniqueness of the relationship we share. Beautiful moments with all the people in my life, strangers included, breathing life into those moments. Beautiful moments in the lap of nature, cherishing this joy of being alive. Beautiful moments of endless conversations with myself, through which I discover the world and fall in love with it. Beautiful moments of exploring myself through work, reveling in what I discover of myself. This perpetual romance has been my greatest achievement.

    Invisible to the world, but very much palpable…

    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….

    The last leg of the journey?

    I am so scared to hope! Is it likely that in a couple of months, I might be back in Bangalore? Is it likely that I might be back- to all that was familiar, all that was home? Is it likely that I can once again walk the streets freely, watching the setting sun, feeling the breeze against my face, smiling at passers by? I am too scared to hope!

    For so long, I have been shut away. Like a prisoner who has resigned to his life in prison and does not dare to dream of freedom. Like a prisoner who can only cry when he is told that he will soon be free. I have missed so much. I have missed so many years of freedom. I have missed the company of people. I have missed feeling the outdoors. From my prison in Kerala, I can only watch the play of the seasons from behind the walls. I cannot run like how I used to, I cannot smell the roses, I cannot chase the butterflies, I cannot sing and dance. I have to be content watching it all from behind the walls.

    It has been so long since I have dropped my defense, so long since I have lived free of fear. Life is so harsh here. Especially on women. Animals and women have no place in the scheme of life here; we are mere slaves. The women here are soft spoken and mellow on the outside, but their hearts are made of steel. Unlike urban women who create an impression of independence and strength, but are soft and vulnerable within. Women in these parts have resigned to the slavery. So they keep up an image of submissiveness, and find their own ways to safeguard their interests. Often manipulative ways. It is ingrained in them; it cannot be learned. After being treated with sensitivity and gentleness all through my life in Bangalore, it has been really hard coming to terms with the treatment meted out to women here. We deal with abuse on a daily basis- from the passers by, from the vendors, from the labourers, from colleagues, from neighbours. Of course, there are exceptions, but such encounters are lost in this ocean of brutality. All my energy is used up in freeing myself from the negativity meted out to me on a daily basis. Whatever little is left, is used to save myself from the harshness of the climate.

    The climate is a calamity by itself. There are no dry days. All through the year, it is humid. Only the degree of humidity varies. Humidity is my greatest limitation. It makes me feel ill all the time; I can’t function normally. I feel like a youthful spirit trapped in an ageing body. My tolerance to exercise is zero. I hardly walk in Kerala. Simple household chores feel like a big burden. I struggle every day with migraine, restless leg syndrome, prickly heat, and sleepless nights. I manage only because of the AC in the bedroom and the AC in my car. The AC feels like a lifeline. It is not a commodity of luxury for me; it is a necessity for me here. This restricted pattern of  life is not me. I am driven by movement; walking and running and hopping and playing is integral to my spirit.

    Somehow, I have survived ten years of my life here. But as freedom becomes a possibility, I cannot bear to think of spending a single day here after my release is sanctioned. I do not know how I survived ten years. There is much that I have lost to these ten years. But I do know that I have grown- in ways I couldn’t have grown otherwise. But, growth cannot be a reason to extend your stay in prison, can it?

    I promise to put to good use the lessons I learned here. I only want to go back to being what I truly am- a child. When I am not writing, when I am not teaching, when I am not mentoring, when I am not into the roles that were carved out from the experience of life, I want to be that naive child I have always been, with not a care in the world 🙂

    Dearest Bangalore, I hope you are not far away…



    Questions to a Writer

    Question: Is your writing autobiographical? Is your writing borrowed from your own story?

    Answer: My writing is like a dish. When you taste a spoonful of a dish, you can tell there is salt in it, there is spice. But even the tiniest spoonful retains the essence of the dish. It doesn’t separate out into its individual components. So is my writing. There are elements of my own life in it. There are elements of other lives that have touched mine. From the past and the present. From reality and fiction. There is recollection and imagination. The final outcome is the result of an unconscious blending of all these components. Of all that I have written, there is perhaps not a single piece that is entirely mine. Yet, ingredients from my own life have seeped into each of these. But if you try to separate out my story from the rest, it is impossible. I  can no longer differentiate between what is mine and what belongs to the world. I think that forms the essence of all writing. A dissolution of the self into the universe.

    Question: Do you believe that a woman has no identity of her own? That her identity is complete only in the presence of a man by her side?

    Answer: A woman is not only a woman. There is a human being within her. There is an individual within her. Each, with a distinct identity of its own, and with its unique place in the world. The human being in her is to do with the inherent nature of her emotions. A being capable of feeling and reacting. The individual in her is the entity that comprehends and analyzes. These entities are independent of a man’s presence in her life. But the spirit of the woman in her is nourished by the presence of a strong male by her side- it could be a father, a husband, a son, or even a friend. Somebody who can offer her strong, unconditional protection and therefore the security that her vulnerable spirit seeks. It is this security that enables the woman in her to unfurl- the feminine nature of her personality to blossom to its fullest. The woman, with her softness, sensitivity, receptivity, empathy, shyness, gentleness, tenderness, sweetness, nurturance, deference, succorance and all the traits that bring out the aesthetic potential of her spirit. The very aspects of her being that the man seeks in her and that make the man-woman relationship unique and beautiful.

    In the absence of this dimension, the woman is a man. And in being a man, she adopts skills necessary for survival in an unprotected world, but in the process, her feminine self is compromised. Her environment is not conducive for the free expression of her feminine spirit; one aspect of her personality, of her potential, is suppressed. This is not ideal because it takes her away from happiness.

    The transformation of our environment is worrying. We have more and more women going into careers that compel them to reject their inherent feminine traits and adopt masculine traits. Also, male children are growing up in an environment where they are not exposed to the vulnerability of the feminine nature (they no longer see this vulnerability in the women in their lives) and are not taught to treat women responsibly. They are thus moulded into success-driven individuals who do not understand the vulnerability of the feminine nature or the joy and beauty such vulnerability is capable of bringing into their lives through its aesthetic potential. They end up rejecting the feminine nature because they associate it with weakness. There is an urgent need to protect the feminine, but that can come only from a change in the mindset of both men and women. That can come only from awareness and introspection. We need media, particularly visual media, to take a lead in this direction, and to project such stories that can create an impact and make men and women ponder about these aspects of change.



    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.