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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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…

 

 

Chase possibilities, not outcomes!

 

This blog is my world. Private, solitary and uncelebrated. Like those ordinary, tumbledown houses that passers-by overlook because there is nothing unusual or extraordinary about them. Behind its walls, unseen to the world, I live. Celebrating the richness and splendour of this life in quietude. The world does not see me, but there is so much that I see and feel. So much that I am in constant conversation with myself. I write to myself. And that keeps me going.

Occasionally, there is a visitor. When the doorbell rings, my heart soars because there is somebody at the door! Perhaps somebody who needs to warm themselves, somebody who has a story to narrate. There is nothing that I would like more than to usher them in, make them comfortable and listen to their story. There is nothing that I would like more than to see them leave with a full heart, happy and content.

This is how I feel whenever there is a new reader on my blog. The reader is a possibility. My words are only tools to explore their minds- the aesthetic potential of their minds. I like to explore the aesthetic dimension of this ‘writer-reader’ relationship to its fullest. And that is what excites me about my blog. My blog, in itself, is a possibility. I can never predict what it might bring at my doorstep! That is how I feel about my book too. Writing is a beautiful means of engagement with the world. It makes inroads into the minds of people, and I think it is through writing that I met some of the most beautiful people in my life.

That sets me thinking on how I have always been driven by possibility, and not by outcomes. I like the mystery, the suspense, the uncertainty and the excitement that surrounds a possibility. ‘You never know what you may find’ is my guiding factor in all my engagements with the world. The more emphasis there is on a specific outcome, the more rules there are to abide me, the more compelled I feel to step out.

The exploration of possibility is at the heart of my personality. When I was in kindergarten (the earliest illustration of my personality, in my mother’s words), the other children would be in class and I would be missing. Where was I? I was at the far end of the campus, waiting eagerly to catch sight of the train as it passed by the bridge, chugging along to some unknown destination, the fleeting glimpse of faces peering out of the windows creating a lasting impression on my young mind. While my teachers were looking for me all over the place, I was lost to this perception. I couldn’t get over the emotion that the train had evoked in me. There was something inexplicable I had felt- a certain magic in it. There were unspoken questions in my mind about this mysterious, overpowering structure that appeared out of nowhere, and that disappeared into the unknown after having briefly touched me with its magic. There was endless possibility in the magic of this perception.

At other times, when the school peon arrived to take me on his bicycle to my mother’s school, I would be missing. Where was I? I had gone off with a friend to her house, oblivious to the fact that people would worry about me and panic. I was perpetually lost, exploring the new. That earned me the reputation of being the ‘most mischievous and restless student’ in school- a teacher’s nightmare. A parent’s nightmare too.

Then there were my vacations in Kerala. Kerala was a land of endless possibility. Nature and culture offered infinite scope for possibility, and so, it was a child’s paradise. Besides, there were no teachers to stop me from exploring and there was no studying to do. Every day, I would wander endlessly, not knowing what I might find. I would run through lanes fragrant with the scent of flowers new to me- the pala and the chembakam. I would sit by the pond, watching turtles and crabs crawling out of it or an occasional big fish diving on its surface, or sometimes, young boys fishing. There were tiny offshoots of the pond and I would watch rows of guppies swimming on the surface of the water. In Kerala, every little patch of earth teemed with life. I would watch mangoes ripening on the trees, milkweeds floating in the breeze, water lilies blossoming in the fields, caterpillars hiding in the barn and woodpeckers drilling into coconut palms. Every morning, I only had one dream. To wander, to uncover and unearth every possibility. I turned every leaf, moved every pebble. And so, nature let me into her private world- into her secrets that she whispered only to those who promised not to break her reverie.

And then there were my maternal uncles and cousins. Ours was a world of fun, laughter, mischief, games, adventure and music. They were unpredictable. They would abruptly make up their minds about taking us all out to the beach or to their friends’ places where we had lots of fun. Or they would play badminton and chess with us. As for music, it was a constant presence in the house. We were all either singing or listening to music. We even had a keyboard that they used to play. Music bound us into one; in those moments, I experienced the aesthetic potential of perception and of oneness. They instilled in me a deep love for music; they were my gateway to the power of music as an inroad into the world. Into the infinite possibility of music.

Back in Bangalore, I was high on books and play. The books we read as children and the cartoons we watched- they helped me see the infinite possibility in life. To this day, I can pick up and Enid Blyton and awaken the child in me- the child that sees infinite possibility in the world, and does not know what it feels like to be depressed.

When I grew into adolescence, there was a sudden constriction of my world- a sudden self-consciousness overtook me. I was high on friendships and relationships for the most part of my adolescence and early adulthood. I was in awe of the dimensions, layers and the aesthetic potential of human relationships. It was of utmost importance to me to explore every human interaction to its utmost potential, and to revel in what unfolded. In all my formative years, I never really had the opportunity to ‘know’ my mother because she was always so busy- busy making our lives. It was only after my dad passed away that she could afford to spend that kind of time with me. It had always been my deep desire to explore our relationship, and I am grateful to God for all these years he has given me with her. My mother surprises me. She has grown so much as a person, merely in order to be able to understand what ticks me and why I am different. She would read books and revel in the realization that I was different for a reason- that my inability to conform to systems had a reason. Today, we have built layers on top of the fundamental layer that forms the mother-daughter relationship, and I am truly content. It has been likewise with my brother. For so long, he was away and distant. But over the last several years, I have had the opportunity to know him too, and to breathe life into our relationship. It is only my father who has disappointed me. I love him the most because I know I mirror him. But on account of the suppressed personality and the illness, he was unable to emotionally indulge with the world. He never gave me an opportunity to build on the father-daughter relationship; never let me build inroads into him. And yet, I know every ounce of his mind through me. But while we were together, he was distant and inaccessible to the people in his life. And there was no possibility in our relationship- he was indrawn and withdrawn into some deep abyss from which nobody could rescue him. Yet, those few moments of limited emotional display are immortal in my mind. I love my mother, but I am indebted to my father. For the beautiful mind he gave me. The beautiful mind through which I am able to see and feel this world.

Over the years, I have realized that the human mind is God’s masterpiece for it has the highest aesthetic potential. Its possibilities are infinite, though not obviously visible. And so, every engagement that brings its potential to visibility has been enriching. That is the reason I love teaching, writing, reading, healing.

I am sure life has been happy with me in the last six months, after I quit my regular job. The possibilities suddenly opened up, and I am living every one of them, justifying my life in totality.

So create possibilities- inroads into the universe. Our motivation is rooted in these possibilities, not in their outcomes. Open the doors to possibility- in your living spaces, in your work spaces, in your relationships. Don’t mould them towards outcomes. Keep them open. Surprise people. Make somebody’s day. Write letters to children for them to read at different points in their lives. Take walks. Sit in a park. Talk to nature. Tend to animals. Watch the sky. Feed the birds. And the possibilities just open out….

Set me free

Yes, I am capable of being in love,

But do not harness me to marriage.

Yes, I am wonderful with children,

But do not ask me to be a mother.

Yes, I can write my heart out,

But do not ask me to be an author.

You see, I am in love-

With people, with children…

With the animals and the birds,

The bees and the butterflies.

I am in love

With the dead and the living,

With nature, with earth…

With minds.

With poems, lyrics and stories

With melodies and songs.

With light and with darkness,

With shadows and reflections.

With cities and villages,

With fields and forests,

With rivers and monuments.

I am in love with seasons,

With the wind whispering across mountains,

And the trees soaked in rain.

I am in love 

With fact and fantasy,

With Science and History.

I feel so full of love…

And there is so little time.

The clock ticks by,

And I have infinite letters to write.

To the Universe and to its children.

I must let this love flow out of me

Before I leave this temporary abode.

Allow me then,

To only love…

To pour this love into my words…

So I can leave them behind…

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….

I am not a writer!

I love this blog. It is one profile that I have been able to maintain consistently over the years. I have never felt the desire to quit. And so, it has grown old with me. With the passage of time, it has assimilated a lot of me. It is probably one space where different facets of my personality have found expression. If people read this blog, they would be able to read into my life. Into my mind. This blog is proof that I lived. I lived, with my heart and soul. This blog is my legacy.

This blog has no rules to abide by. There is no profile to live up to. That is what makes it unique. And so, it is as peculiar as I am. An odd mix of components that don’t really seem to belong in one place. Perceptions and recollections. Imagination and Analysis. Fragments of my life and fragments of the lives of other people. Fact and fiction. Science and Literature. It is hard to find a demarcation. An odd confluence. A directionless blog without focus. Unpredictable. Free.

Free. That is the only defining feature.

I don’t want to be taken seriously as a ‘writer’. The word brings with it an expectation. Expectations intimidate me, bind me. I like to be free. I like to create freely, without worrying about publishers and readers. I don’t like to sit with any of my creations for long. I like them to flow out of me first hand, free flowing, raw and crude. Then I fly on to newer pastures. There is so much more to write, so much more to savour. The past alone stretches as an infinite canvas. Will I ever finish bringing all of it to visibility?

Some of my friends from Literature write beautifully. When I read their work, I feel certain that they must have published many books by now. Because their work has so much perfection, unlike mine. I am shocked when they reveal that they haven’t published a single book. The reason being that they will not settle for anything less than the best. The perfect book, with the perfect publisher. Flawless. A treat to the senses. This thought frightens me because I can then see how it binds them. It can never work for me. I admire their commitment and patience, but I am secretly relieved that even if I wanted to, I cannot attain that kind of perfection. That awareness sets me free because there is nothing to aspire for.

My writing has always been like a wild brook that has no time and cannot afford to wait. My writing is automatic; I am never careful or meticulous about it, never serious about it. And once the words are out, I can never bother with them again. I can’t find it in me to work on them, refine them, rephrase them. Literature, in my dictionary, is a very broad term- unbound by rules and dictums, defined by its natural flow, its spontaneity, its inherent spark. As long as my writing has captured something of life in it, it is beautiful enough for me.

I do like to leave it somewhere though. This blog is my favourite place because of the freedom it provides. A writer is not what I have aspired to be. It is ‘me’ I have aspired to be. If you are looking for a ‘writer’ here, let me warn you- you won’t find one. If you are looking for me, I promise you- you will find me 🙂

Vinu

I remember the driver of the bus I used to take to work when we had first moved to Kerala. Those were days when I was going through the worst phase of my life- loneliness, lovelessness, exhaustion and fear. Whenever I travelled, I desperately wanted to protect my anonymity, and so, my earphones were my defence from nosey strangers who seemed to be all over the place, and did not mind intruding, inquiring. Every day, I would board the bus, sit at the same place, plug in my earphones, and look out through the window. I completely ignored the stares of the passengers and hardened the expression on my face, if I perceived the slightest threat of intrusion. However, the evening trips were different.  A bunch of school kids would board the bus, and the bus would be lit up with their din. I was particularly surprised by the way the driver interacted with the kids, becoming one with them. 

He was a young chap, in his twenties perhaps, and he was brilliant with the kids. He knew each one of them by their names. He poked them, taunted them, played pranks on them, made them laugh, and they in turn, responded to him in the same language. I found myself smitten by the magic of these moments- this picture of oneness that I saw, unfolding in the spell of those moments. The bus would transform into an abode of happiness. Though I pretended to be detached and distant, the truth was that I was soaking it all, and revelling in these moments of uncorrupted happiness- the only happiness in the darkness of my life at that point in time. But I never dared to be open about it. For one, I was not sure if they would accept me as one of them- I was so different, both in appearance, and in my ways. And secondly, I wasn’t sure what people would make of such involvement, especially since I was a woman. So I sat quietly, secretly enjoying every moment.

One day, the driver was not to be seen. In his place was another person who demonstrated no affinity for the kids, no affinity towards this journey. When the children boarded, the feeling was not the same. They sat scattered, and though they talked and laughed amongst themselves, the oneness was profoundly absent. It was then that I realized that the driver had been the soul of the bus. He had brought each one of us under one umbrella of emotion- he had awakened the inner child in each one of us, and that was the power of his spirit. I was saddened by his absence. That day, I did not plug in my earphones. Instead, I just looked out of the window gloomily. 

“Are you not listening to music today?” a voice asked me.

I turned to see a plump, wide-eyed girl peering at me through innocent eyes. I remembered her as the primary target of all the pranks played in the bus when the driver was around. 

“No. Today, I don’t feel like it”, I replied to her with a smile.

My reply helped her find the courage to ask me more questions. She wanted to know everything about me. Who was I? Where did I live? Where did I come from? Where did I work? The questions were endless. By then, all the other kids had surrounded us. They were holding on to every word I said. I was amused and I patiently answered, realizing children were so much more accepting of differences, as opposed to adults. 

Finally, the wide-eyed girl asked me,”Can I touch your earrings?”

I laughed. 

“Sure”, I said.

I could see they had accepted me. The wide-eyed girl’s name was Akshita. Her rival was a lean, outspoken boy called Mithun, who never missed an opportunity to take a dig at her. Suddenly, they were all talking to me at once. They told me their names, gave me a description of their homes and families, and also let me into their little secrets.

“So where is your driver- the regular one?” I asked them.

“He is down with flu”, they replied.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“He lives in our neighbourhood”, they replied.

“So you know him for a long time now?”

“Yes. From as far back as we can remember!”

“Hmm. What is his name?”

“His real name or his nickname?” Mithun asked, his eyes twinkling mischievously.

I laughed.

“Both”, I said.

“His real name is Vinu”, Mithun said aloud. Then he drew me close to him and whispered something into my ear. I couldn’t make out what he said, but I guessed it was the nickname they had given him.

“Don’t tell him we told you”, he said.

“Of course not”, I promised.

By the time Vinu got back, the character of the bus had changed. I had become one with the children. I still wasn’t sure how I ought to react to him though, especially because society is so conservative in these places. So I avoided talking to him directly. He took the cue and did the same. I could see he was amused by this unexpected change in my behaviour, and also perplexed by what had triggered this change in his absence, but he just flowed with the change. So the bus was once again alive with taunts, pranks and laughter, just that this time, I too was a part of it all. Remarks we made were sometimes meant for each other, but we never had the courage to address each other directly. We always addressed it to the children. We also avoided looking at each other directly. Though it felt awkward at the time, in retrospect, those were the most beautiful moments from that phase of my life. In that silence between us was something so pure, so beautiful, so sacred.

I was profoundly attracted to aspects of his personality-the inherent happiness of his nature, the freedom of his spirit, the inner child in him that dominated his personality. I wondered how it was possible for him to be so happy. I desired to know everything about his life. But we never spoke to each other. It was an unvoiced rule we had made for ourselves.

And then, he disappeared again.

“He has gone to Sree Chitra with his sister. She has a heart valve problem”, the children said to me.

That night, after all the chaos at home had settled, and I was all by myself, I sketched him. I had never sketched anybody from imagination; I had only imitated. But at that moment, there was something of his spirit that came floating into my mind, and I tried sketching his side-profile, so that the features didn’t have to be clear. I tried projecting the attitude instead- him, sitting by the wheel, his chin up, the eyes looking straight ahead, and the self-confident manner in which he sat (quite unlike the self-conscious me).  I was surprised at the outcome; there was a strong resemblance. 

Next day, I hesitantly took out the sketch and showed it to the children. They instantly recognized him. They were thrilled and before I could protest, Mithun had snatched it from my hands and tucked it into his bag. He refused to give it back to me.

Next day, Vinu was back at the wheel. But he was unusually silent. I was anxious. Had the children given him the sketch and was that the reason for his silence? Or was it something to do with his sister’s ailment? I looked at his face and tried to find a clue. He suddenly turned around to look at me. I flushed.

To avoid further embarrassment, I asked him, “So did you take your sister to Sree Chitra?”

“Yes, she needs an operation”, he replied.

This was the first time that we had directly spoken to each other.

Subsequently, when the bus had stopped, Mithun took out the sketch and gave it to him.

“She drew you”, Mithun said, pointing at me.

I was distinctly uncomfortable. What would he make of it? What would he think of me? Why did I do this? At that moment, I wanted the earth to swallow me. I saw him studying the sketch, smile, and then fold it and put it in his pocket, never once looking at me. Nor did he say anything. He just drove on, as if nothing had happened. I wondered what he would do with that sketch. Preserve it or throw it?

But after that day, there was a change in his attitude to me. A care, a concern that he demonstrated rather subtly, but I could sense it. Little things like making sure I had crossed the road safely after I had alighted, or waiting until I had seated myself. Little things like that which he had never bothered with before. He had mellowed down, and the kids took advantage of it. They roped me in and played all kinds of pranks on him, with me as their leader. He would smile and laugh, but he stopped reverting back aggressively. He liked to lose. I could sense he didn’t want to ‘defeat’ me, even though these were mere games.

One day, the kids invited me home. Vinu was surprised when he saw me get off the bus with them. The kids were excited; they wanted to show me off to their families. They made me a celebrity and I had to visit every house. The whole village seemed to know that I would be visiting and at every house, people had gathered to see me. Old grandmothers held my hand affectionately and fed me unniappams. People had endless questions to ask me, and the children would finally come to my rescue. I had no more space for unniappams, but I didn’t want to disregard their sentiments, so with Mithun’s help, I stuffed them into a paper bag. They were simple village folk, and they reminded me of the people from my childhood- warm, affectionate, and soulful. The children took me to the pastures and showed me places where turmeric grew, where water lilies blossomed and where the goats grazed, bleating occasionally. I felt like Heidi, sitting with Peter on the top of a mountain, delighted at the wild flowers, the wild berries, and the splendour of the sun rays that bathed these mountains. They also took me to Vinu’s house. His house was full of people- parents, grandparents, cousins. I spoke to his sister about her ailment. Suddenly, we heard some noise up in the trees. We looked up to see a pack of monkeys. “Your brother’s friends”, I remarked. She laughed.

When I returned home that evening, I thought back to the day. They had treated me as if I was a celebrity- a star in the sky. But they did not know that they had everything that I could only dream of. They did not know the horrors of my world- its loneliness, its emptiness, its darkness, its numbness. They did not know that there were things that money could not buy. They did not know how empty life was in the absence of human connection. I was so grateful to them. For that one day of warmth, togetherness and affection. For helping me feel the joy of life flooding through my veins again.

The next day, I was quiet. I was still reeling from the contrast of our worlds. 

“I am not very responsible, am I?” Vinu abruptly broke into my reverie.

I looked at him with a question mark on my face.

“I know I am a monkey”, he said.

I couldn’t stop laughing. 

“Please don’t stop being one”, I said to him.

We lived many more beautiful moments in that bus. But all along, I was aware it was all coming to a close. I knew the end was inevitable. But I had no complaints. People had started to interpret our association, and I wanted to withdraw before people could colour the sanctity of what we shared with the ugliness of their minds. So we slowly faded away from each others’ lives.

“Don’t ever change”, he said to me….