Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Distant Memory.

The paths tread and the places seen, the men and women whose path we crossed, saw, befriended, worked together, irresistibly loved to despise, loved and most of all choose to remember and desired to forget!

 It left me wondering the many faces that passed my gaze. The many I may never meet again, the ones I might want longingly to see again. I began to recollect, to rewind, fitfully though from the first day, I could remember back from a long time ago. Some, who fascinated and enthralled me, some who I loved to hate and some who stay lingering in memory poignantly. Yet some who have been instruments of pain and hurt, of disillusionment and deception, of selfishness and opportunism- and to eclipse all that, just instruments of delight. And some who just passed by as non-entities, and stalked as a shadow, often to comeback into memory.

It is assumed by some that a certain person was the instrument of change in them, a harbinger of sort. To me that has been rubbish to this day. I feel, I’m more disposed to my genetic makeup than an external influence of a stranger, a friend, an acquaintance or just some one. That may be a liability of character, because that can also be the reason why I’m incorrigible.

Many may have vanished and eloped into oblivion after enacting their role in a fleeting life that was not out of their volition. What may have happened to them after I saw them last? The ones who may still be surviving- how are they, perhaps will they ever think of me, remember me? Why must they in this melee and frenzy to stay afloat!

I do not remember his name. He was dark complexioned like the many pull rickshaw men in Chennai. He was tall, well-built and sported a khaki half pants and a woven shirt in cotton. There was discoloration of the fabric around his under-arm, obviously the acidic reaction of perspiration from the glands that worked overtime to keep apace in his struggle to eke out. I remember him sporting a towel of myriad colours around the neck- a towel that may have revealed colours that was not meant to be, awash in his sweat and the dust that wedged on it while it was damp with his toil.

I suppose, I give him a name, a typical Tamil name? No, that would be unfair. He will stay as he will in my memory, a shadow of a figure with no name I can think of.  He was the pull rickshaw man who unfailingly picked me from home and put me with care in his rickshaw and lugged all the way to a distant convent school in Thambaram. That was in the sixties and I was in the first standard and living in Thambaram , while my father was stationed at the Air Force base there. When it rained as it does cats and dogs in Chennai, he used to ensure that I was cocooned safe from being drenched and put his tarpaulin envelope around the passenger area of the rickshaw. And then lug the rickshaw to the school in the torrent and along the streets which soon would be a sewage canal. He would then carry me, my school and lunch bags around his shoulder, and like a juggler, handle a rickety umbrella too, so that I was protected from the rain. And he would leave me safe inside the class room. He was affable and pleasant, I can remember, but do not however recall what he had to talk to me all the while- to me a five year old. In the late afternoon after the school, he was punctual at the class room door to take me back home. I must have called him “mama” as it is always so in Tamilnad – a respectful term for an elder, irrespective of his eminence. I can barely recall through the haze of the years that have went by, the bond that developed between the two of us. But that lasted for a year and I was shifted out of Tamilnad.

There is nothing much I can reminisce of him and the time he pulled his rickshaw with me in it. But years after and often I wonder about this man, whose scanty image is etched somewhere and it comes out lingering. Today it did!

That was forty seven years ago. And he would be, I suppose one hundred or there about if he is alive. Else, let he be in peace after a life that must have been hard on him.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Abu, the son of Adam

What that made me wonder and think, was the movie, “Adam inte Makan Abu” (Adam’s son Abu), in Malayalam and that which acceptably won the National and International acclaim. The movie was a well created one with good visuals and restrained performances.

The story line is about Abu an emaciated perfume vendor whose only wish in life is a pilgrimage to the Haj. To fetch enough resources for the journey, he and his wife ends up selling all they had and even almost gave away their bosom house. However still running short of the required money they are offered the means by a couple of good Samaritans. Since accepting money that is not earned or from the immediate ones is forbidden by didactic Islamic scripts, they are devastated and forlornly cast away their savoured dream of the pilgrimage to Mecca.

The fim has many scenes wherein Abu, swears that the very essence of being born is to touch upon the soil of Mecca. The Creator sends forth Man into the world, to be enriched and salvaged by the pilgrimage to the Haj. The reason being born human being is to journey to Mecca! And, Abu nor his wife, though barely eke out living, has no inhibitions or misgivings in throwing away all that little they possess to raise money for the journey of their life.

I was left wondering on many occasions through the movie, that man’s search and straying after a mirage, a faith, and a concept that is allegedly holed up at the top of the golden stairway has no bounds.
The perplexing psyche is to throw away a life in hand and anticipate a much fancied after life that no one has known, seen or come back to vouch. To barter the life to live for a concept of life in what is called “Paradise” as it is made out. The bird in hand is forgotten in the search and fascination for the two that is alleged to be in the bush. Some like Abu crave for a journey to the Haj and would readily part with the little they have for subsistence. Some murder and kill for the promised stairway up into the clouds. It is a strange matter that baffles comprehension. And we call it “faith”!

I do not find reasons to be impressed about what some may call faith , or manifestly “blind faith" and precisely because of the halo given to the term, treat it as holy and beyond impeachment. Sacrosanct that it is impervious to logic, understanding, knowledge and all that is empirical. It is secure against all criticism, argument and opinion. Commonsense is jettisoned as being an unwanted baggage. It is a matter of faith and faith is blind, the argument goes!

Well then what is faith?
 When one is blind, what could one possible see? Which means what is argued as the unquestionable notion or faith, is a state of mind that is arrived when one is blind. And since one is blind one is not sure, if it is a journey partially afloat like a drift wood. It is like a cab driver leaving you some where assuring you it is at the door of everlasting asylum and abode of happiness, while your eyes are closed or you are blind to see where he actually left you. And for that journey, you parted with all that you had and enriched life, the loved ones who made your life a cherished one, and with eyes closed faithfully.

There, then, is no faith that is blind and not, faith itself is blind. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Damp Squib

If I had a world of my own everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because anything would be what it isn’t. And contrary- wise, what it would be and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?  (Lewis Carol in “Alice in Wonderland”).

But Anna Hazare thinks otherwise. Obstinacy and outlandish mindset seems to be driving his cause and demands. Now, he wants the local Grama Panchayats superseding the Parliament. Effectively that will ensure besides anarchy, the rule of the rouges, more pernicious than what we have from the dispensation from five hundred plus elected members of parliament.

I have been a person with pro ANNA leanings. Mainly because the movement that he created in India ,was after the mass agitation evoked by Jaya Prakash Narayan in the mid 1970’s against the autocratic, corrupt reign of Indira Gandhi, the most passionately evocative movement. The cause was inevitable, and the time was nothing but ideal. We are mauled, haunted and sick of corruption, and looting by politician – business nexus. And a mass agitation to incorporate a constitutional law to address the inexorable slide of the country into depths of economic chaos and social upheaval was most necessary.”Cometh the hour and cometh the man”, one may have desperately thought of Anna Hazare!

Anna Hazare seemed to have risen for the hour. And a conscientious team including the super cop Kiran Bedi lined up behind him. The government as expected tried everything in the book and out of the box to scuttle the movement. A Five Star Yogic charlatan was even made a decoy and planted as an alternative cause centre. Allegations of financial irregularities by some members of the Hazare team were made out and leaked out with surreptitious intent. The intrigues and manoeuvrings were obvious and on expected lines, when one considers the criminal legal minds who are in the Congress party, Kapil Sibal, Abhishekh Singhvi and P. Chidamabaram. But the much required provision for benefit of doubt and being the wronged was given to Anna Hazare and his team.

However it seems that the twist to the game Anna and his team made, such as some of the eccentric provisions of the Jana Lok Pal, the obstinacy that Parliament should pass it within a short time frame and to hell if required to the debates and discussion in the house for such a vital proviso of national and constitutional importance all point to one direction,”south” in terms of sanity. And in between we heard Anna Hazare endorse the man who presided over the greatest mass extermination of Muslims since the partition. Narendar Modi.

Then, the much dramatised act, hand in gloves with the right wing Hindu parties. Anna announced that he will campaign against the Congress, which can only mean he will endorse the BJP.   And the BJP cannily scuttled the very same Lokpal bill in the parliament with ulterior design and intent.

And now look at the picture in this post. Constitution of India it says, and has Sivaji, the Maratha warrior King, the Rani of Jhansi ,Swami Vivekananda, Vinoba Bhave and Abdul Kalam Azad. And only the later was related to the drafting of the Indian constitution. What message does this send? Vinoba Bhave while he was alive was apolitical and not identified with the right wing Hindu clan. Sivaji was a local warrior who fought the Muslim rulers of India.. Rani of Jhansi fought for her right to be the queen and have her kingdom not taken away by a weird law the “Doctrine of lapse”. Swami Vivekananda was not a Hindu fanatic, but a thinker and philosopher. But we see Anna and his coterie  , perhaps with the auspices of the right wing Hindu group, usurper  the Rani, the Swami and  the Bhave  into the group of their iconic symbol- Sivaji. Swami Vivekananda has long since been kidnapped by the Hindutva group.

Wonder what these folks have to do with the Indian constitution? The picture cannot be a coincidence of insignificance.

By now, we see the end of the dream that was a mere pipe dream- an effective law to unravel corruption and punish the guilty. There is much for all to celebrate except the vast majority of the   people of India who still long for a square meal a day.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Matter of Charcter

I have not heard about a whole railway passenger compartment being booked in advance for one family. The total members who travelled on the Rajadhani originating in Thpuram and speeding all the way across the paradox called India ,to New Delhi, touched thirty plus. They were off to a Xmas and New Year celebration; call it an en famille sojourn with the youngest sibling and his wife and kids who lived in New Delhi. They even stitched white T-shirts for all to wear on the New Year’s Eve. One of the blokes a good friend of mine got this T-shirt idea as he planned something out of the box to enliven the jamboree. And every one autographed on the t-shirt the other wore on New Year's night. A memorable memorabilia, that memory only can create. It sure must have been a hell of a travel some three thousand kilometres and with six siblings, their spouses, mother and (grand) children.

I mentioned this fascinating train journey to another person, but he was not enthused .I mentioned this as a point to substantiate my contention that there are still families who cherish the oneness and the closeness of being together and are not frivolous. And, is it not a wonderful thing in a world that finds empathy and affection, let alone being together, a nuisance or strange inexplicable words in the lexicon?

He categorically stated that the bonhomie that exists amongst this particular clan is purely because of them all being well in their own choice of living. And character will bare fangs and claws only when situations fall bad for either any of the members. It is a selfish self centred world he emphasised and that expressions of togetherness and affection are superficial. They are always determined by situations that are measured in personal gains and losses.

I did not rebut his opinion, because I sensed that he was talking sensibly with the life that he must have seen on his way in the last six decades of his living.
When I thought more on that, I felt that he spoke with unpleasant candour. And truth always makes a harsh reality of life. Is it not true that situations bring out our true self, in a person?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Stories From Life

Life is a big bore; it is dull and dreary; it is agony to be born and living; it is pain and sorrow; it is grief and it is just fun and happiness which makes it dull too.

This will be what my life and your life would look to another. In the midst of frantic living and utter lust for life, resulting in miserable acts of survival in whatever comfortable way possible, we forget the dullness, the dreary insipid or even rollicking flavour our lives may actually have. And if we were to pen our story, be it the autobiography or a novelette based on our life and our experiences- with the real life characters, places and situations we have experienced what a drudgery and endless tedium that will be to the reader. So be the biography of our life, unless it is compiled by a person who has imagination to provide the touches and finishing, polishing a life dull, sad, fun filled or plain bore like they do to the piece of carbon chunk.

Life retold the way it unfolded and in letters will be vapid and bland. It may be exhilarating to you, can be poignant and filled with stoicism to be rubbished. But to the other who is told about, it can be a sempiternal bore and that is much  asking to endure.

I guess that is why some creations in literature are exemplary in quality of read, and feel. An example of disaffection to a story of a real life hero, whose endurance, perseverance and obsessive purpose has no peers, is in my opinion the story of Lance Armstrong.  It’s not about the bike. My journey back to life”, is perhaps a story of his life written by himself or a ghost writer. Armstrong was diagnosed with terminal stage testicular cancer at the young age of twenty one. The cancer had by then matistised to his brain and lungs effectively consigning him to a world of no return. Doctors gave him a month or more to live. It was from that terminal and utterly depreciated hopeless stage that he came back to living and went on to win Seven "Tour de France". You expect the book to provide you much insight into the life of a rare breed of human being. But the book was tasteless in words and narration it was as bland as a cold meat. I express this with all respect to a man who dwarfed an illness that makes you forget about life outside the infirmary.

“God of small things”, of the onetime novelist Arundathi Roy perhaps is more known because of the Booker prize the book was awarded. Certainly it may not be comparable to much other excellence in literature. But, for a person of her age and generation (including myself), born and childhood spent in Kerala, the book must be fascinating. More because, I could relate to many happenings in the milieu of Mallu life in the Kerala of the later part of 1960’s. Else the book, though narrated in good English, may be dull to many.

Whereas J.M.Coetze’s ,”The Master of Petersburg, I felt was a story apart. Though the plot was based on Coetze’s real life and the agony of losing his son, it was adapted with Dostoyevsky as the protagonist. The story was well adapted and set up by the author, that a real life sage and the experience is mesmerising in content.

I have always wondered how a student of law or of medicine can read through and understand the literature in their respective fields. They are dreary! The convoluted and abracadabra of words Greek and Latin in origin that we see in books on medical science is far too fathomless to many. However the power and artistry in managing words and weaving of ideas and messages with them makes "The Emperor of Maladies" , a book of almost five hundred pages a repository of treatise that a lay man can enjoy. Else how a book on the story of cancer could be so powerfully conveyed to lay people like me and many other? Siddartha Mukherji is a new avatar in story telling based on real life.

The purpose of writing this is to express my opinion that our life as it would be retold, or rewound and played for someone from the netherworld, a stranger, friend or foe, or even a Rip van Winkle, would end up as an eternal famine that will be full of ennui and donkey-work.

Perhaps that must be why there is dearth of empathy in the world we live.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Romance That was Not

Next to Man, among primates Chimpanzees have the general disposition to jealousy. I do not know if jealousy is more a gender specific trait and seen in women than in men, but seems likely so. Men do envy, but some say the extreme feelings are found more in women. And this is a short story of what actually transpired amongst three young people- a man, woman-friend and wife.

Romance, subtle and subsumed is part of academic curriculum. Though in some cases they go overboard and are publicly passionate. And are often displayed in the corridors of the alma mater, to eventually be enshrined in the scrolls as la affaire Romeo & Juliet! Sometimes the philandering consumes the platonic liaison.
It began as a trivial past time and fun for the group. By some odd way the two were declared in love and serious at that, though in reality that was not so. Recess and bunking of classes were in a group and the rest of them ensured to nudge and playfully prod the two as couples in romance. There was eventually a theatre of a wedding towards the end of the college term and was, let me put it, “solemnised”, by another affable chap.The fun and fan fare took place in the college canteen- wedding as if in a cathedral!

She was gregarious, fun loving, exuberant, lively young woman with abundance of laughter and a great repository of good conditioning.

The hero in the dramatics was a frequent and honoured visitor to her home and was considered as one in the family by her parents. They were such good souls that, the small group of her friends all had free access into the house. This gave opportunity for some outings together, with friends and even late in the evenings, of course with her parental approbation. A late evening at an annual fair of flowers was a catharsis of sorts. A fascination to be at arm’s length was discernible. He began to notice somewhere that she was not averse to the much made about peculiar relationship going critical (a term used in nuclear science when atomic reactors go functional, splicing atoms).Which should mean here that she began to like him and can be serious too about. There was love in the air! And it was subtle and quite.

I’m certain that only the duo would know that, without thinking that the other felt alike. He would be keen and willing to acknowledge and reciprocate her fondness. But the will to take a plunge was found wanting in both. Perhaps they were expectant that the other would show the courage. And most of all there was still a way to go to be flying on their own.  Reasons are obvious of a generation that was marooned in conventions and fear of the social controls.

Life moved on and she was married away.

However their affableness and friendly relationship continued. She was gracious to be present as a good old mate at his wedding which took place years later. And she stayed through with her little son and her genteel husband.

As destiny and chance would have it for a while, she moved into an apartment- stone throw from the house where he was with his young wife. It was a remarkable coincidence.
There were a few visits she made to his house, with her toddler son and sometimes together with her husband. It was during those visits and casual meetings on their evening strolls that he began to notice a decided irritation she displayed to his wife. It seemed more like the nagging nudges young kids throw on another. It was inadvertent, he presumed first. And once after a dinner at her house, he understood well and clear that she was fond of taking digs at his wife. Gathering little instances together it was apparently displeasure, annoyance and shreds of jealousy for a still born affair of long ago. It was plain “woman” in the act, nothing more nothing less! And only women can be tongue in cheek and throw subtle digs to make the supposed adversary uncomfortable.

As pedigree and conditioning would have its bearings, her conduct, attitude, and the envy which she may have borne in mind, slowly ebbed to metamorphose into dignified and loving friendship with C.

I once asked C, much later in life, if she ever noticed a petty irritation and annoyance in her during those early days after our wedding when we were neighbours. She nodded in the affirmative. And was also intelligent enough to realise that it was the ghost of a long ago relationship that never was, but could have been.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A winter Evening by the Sea

It was cold winter evening on the beach
The people loitering on the beach or gazing at the blue waters were thin and sparse. The air was whiffing cold and I felt a bonfire would be wonderful to spend the star lit night, gazing in askance,contently or in awe at the sea.The waves of the ocean lashing gently on to the beach, against the sun that was gently hovering down in the horizon, enhanced the wonder of Nature. Sublime, caressing! It seemed like the shore and the ocean were engaged in foreplay. Could the ocean be tranquil as this? The question came back more often to my mind as I left the seaside. By then the sky was heavenly inundated with golden, twinkling specks that seemed like glow worms. They as always reminded me the insignificance of the bipedal ones down on the beach. I left him watching the gently lashing waves, still not quite convinced about my riposte and standpoint. His mind, I sensed was much as not as near calm as the ocean and the tempest was very much alive.

Perhaps that is the way human mind is. It often does not reflect in the facial muscles. Sometime to some it is the opposite, it mastitis in the face and all over the physiological being.

“I’m dispossessed”, was his curt retort to my query about who and where he was from. It was he who initiated and opened the conversation. And was not in my temperament to ask a stranger who he was and where he hailed from. With my characteristic apathy to strangers and discomfiture, I was confined to a good extent and more than often. If I were to be a salesman, which I detest and is unable too, to barge into any, everyone and at all times, it takes a considerable length of time for me to be anywhere proximal to the comfort zone with another. And, I was somewhat offended by his brusque reply.

We chanced to be sitting at the far ends of the disused stone bench which lay on a neglected but quite corner of the beach. I fail to recall who occupied the stone seat first. But it was he who initiated the opening conversation and then exclaimed,”Goddamn ocean this, hardly behaves like one .Look at the damn waves they seem to be of a shallow ces pool.”
“Cesspool”! It was my turn to exclaim and in silence. I looked guardedly into his eyes. This man terms the vast and beautiful ocean, a cesspool?
Tucking my palms into the jacket pockets, I suggested, “Relating this vast confluence with a shallow pool is rather strange. Is it your mind that refuses to see the vastness that is in front?’

He got up agitated, and gesticulating his fingers at me,said in a cold voice, “Man when you wear those leather boots you do not know what frost bite is.” He turned around and walked towards the water.

It was a cold winter evening on the beach!