Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Fiction: The Missing Ingredient

You're always in control of fiction...or are you?

He slowly rose from the sofa and put the folded newspaper on the centre table. The wife had announced that lunch would be served. For 5 years now he had been enjoying lunch fresh off the fire instead of from a steel box, where it used to lay packed for 4 hours before being consumed. He walked by the dining table in the kitchen to wash his hands and took in the smell of the curry that would accompany the hot phulkas the wife would start making as soon as he sat at the table. He was already smiling with satisfaction at the thought of the meal that awaited him. He wiped his hands and proceeded to settle at the table at his usual place. The plate had already been placed there and the glass already had water in it. As soon as he sat down, the wife gave him a knowing smile and started rolling the first phulka on the board. In a few seconds she placed it on the heated iron pan and came by to serve him the curry and some pickle. In her habitual way she also served her preemptive comment – I don’t know how the curry has come out today. And then she returned to rolling phulkas

As the first hot phulka came off the pan and straight into his plate, he tore the first piece and put it in his mouth along with some curry as the wife rolled a phulka and another phulka got heated on the pan. The curry was delicious but something seemed amiss. The salt was perfect and so were the spices. He tried eating the next piece with the pickle; it was a taste he was familiar with since many years. But it wasn't the same either. He felt unsettled. He tried to convince himself that the food was perfectly good but chewing on the next morsel the feeling worsened. He wondered if he had acidity. He didn't feel any less healthy than the previous day though. He chewed on half-heartedly, forgetting to tell the wife how the curry had come out, like he usually did. His thoughts were interrupted by her question – how is the curry, you didn't say anything? He mumbled something about it being good; he couldn't put a finger on what was wrong with the curry, or even the same pickle that he had eaten the previous day with a phulka and had seemed perfect. He finished the second phulka and told the wife he was full already. He couldn't carry on eating like this. She walked up to him, concerned. She asked if he was feeling ok and why he wasn't eating the usual 3 phulkas that day. He lied and said he had acidity and didn't feel like eating. She bade him to relax on the divan, stopped making phulkas halfway and made him some sweet buttermilk. He sipped on the buttermilk and contemplated on what exactly was missing in the meal. Meanwhile she made herself some phulkas and sat down to eat. He finished the buttermilk and went to the kitchen to keep it in the sink, taking the newspaper with him. He absent-mindedly sat at the table next to the wife as she ate lunch. And then he saw her hands and arms.

Her gold bangles and gold wedding ring were missing. He panicked. He held her hand midway to her mouth and asked her where the bangles and ring had gone. She gave him a perplexed smile and asked him not to worry; she had put them in hot water in a bowl to clean them and they were next to the gas stove. He asked her to put them on immediately as her hands looked strangely empty without those. She finished her third phulka, put away her plate and put the jewellery on after washing her hands. She then asked him if he felt better and would eat another phulka. He was a tad hungry so he said yes.

So she started to roll the phulka for him and that’s when it hit him; it was the sound of the bangles occasionally clinking, of the ring constantly moving against the rolling pin as she rolled phulkas, that had been missing in the meal. The sound that had become an integral part of every meal at home as she rolled out phulkas for the family for 40 years. The constant rat-tat-rat-tat of ring as her hands deftly rolled out phulkas. He smiled a satisfied smile at the discovery and waited for her to get his plate. He took in the first morsel with much anticipation and this time, the meal was complete.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Resetting Meters

It’s exactly a month since I aggravated a muscle injury in my leg by cycling with a strained muscle. And it’s been a month of mostly hobbling around with crepe bandages around my knee, applying ice packs and Diclofenac to the injury, restricted movements and missing cycling. Some days, even 3 weeks later, my knee hurt so much that I wondered if something wasn’t horribly wrong and if I’d cycle again. 

But it did heal. And I did cycle again. For half an hour today, after a month. 

So I reset the cyclometer on my cycle today. I am starting afresh. A month’s break from cycling basically brought me to where I was before I started cycling, as regards my stamina and body condition. This is essentially starting from scratch except I already know I love cycling. It’s going to involve building on stamina again, a kilometer at a time and getting back to where I was a month ago, more carefully. So I reset the cyclometer.

And today while cycling I realized that I can reset the meter and go back to square one at any point in time if I so wish. I can start from scratch whenever I want. I can build from the ground up as and when required. Whether it’s cycling or life.

The last few months, actually this year from the word Go, have been tough. I didn't lose anyone close to me or run out of money or have a food shortage or get struck by a fatal disease or anything. So yes, it could have been much worse and, truly speaking, life’s very good if I take a bird’s eye view right now. Nonetheless, it has been a tough year. And yet, the one thing that is right with life right now is that I’m alive. 

And because I am alive, I can start again. I can reset the meter. I can take another chance at life. I can renew hope’s lease. And that’s the good thing about being alive. You can choose to start anew. You can embark on a quest any day you wake up and feel like it.

I wonder if it is Sisyphean, this having to go back to the start and try again. To live, to learn. I wonder if it is the curse of living. Or is it endless opportunity. But whichever way I look at it, starting again seems to be the only feasible thing to do, even if it is to retun. We are not aware of our curses and ignorance is bliss. 

So that’s exactly what I’m going to do. 

Start again. Cycle again. Hope again. 

Until I'm alive. And because I’m alive.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Chains That Bind

We walk together,
Inseparable by design.
Left with no choice,
To our fate we resign.

And yet there is my ego;
I have an identity,
While the one chained to my side
Is nothing without me.

I have a name.
To go with it, a face.
I have ancestors,
Who came from a certain place.

I have this lineage
And a handed religion and caste.
The one chained to me
Has no sense of its past.

I have hopes and dreams,
Things to look forward to.
It has no future to worry about;
No aspirations, nothing to do.

Even when I am gone,
I will be a memory.
But this chained companion of mine
Will have no such luxury.

I am defined,
It is just an outline.
I am continuous,
My shadow exists only at a point in time.

With no identity to uphold,
No tags of religion and caste to bind,
No past to define it,
Nothing in the future to find,

My shadow lives only in the present,
Free from all that defines me.
It is then that I realize - 
I am the one who is chained, she is the one who is free.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Pocket Change

I emptied it on the table
Pocket Change.
It clinked as it fell
And then settled
Into a silence.
An assortment of coins
That adds up to a lot
But looks worthless
One piece at a time.
In the age of plastic money
It is unnecessary
Weight in your wallet.
Belonging best in beggar’s hands.

Are like that too.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Summer Afternoons & Seaside Towns

Their food-smeared fingers kept drying in the mild afternoon heat, in the draught from the ceiling and table fans. The half-turned banana leaf, held down by a steel glass, fluttered but did not particularly distract them from the conversation. Beyond the realm where a common language facilitates an exchange, it was one that was driven purely by will and a willingness to share and understand. Words and phrases tumbled out haltingly, sentences were a luxury. But they talked, at leisure and length. 

Of families. Some large and some small. Of family members. Most here and some gone. And then a story was told, of influence and ideologies. And of a fight against it all. 

Of first borns. The first few years. Fond thoughts. Food habits. Facts and feelings. And of home life. An exploration of common ground and uncharted territories. An attempt to inform, to infer. 

And their fingers still kept drying in the mild afternoon heat of a seaside town. But it didn’t matter. Between broken words and silences, they talked of each other’s lives and of an object of affection conspicuous by absence, an invisible thread tying the phrases and silences together to make sense. In its need to understand and be understood without the crutches of language, it was a conversation as complete as any other. And that’s what mattered on that summer afternoon in that seaside town.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Delayed Friday Fiction: Get Well Soon

You're always in control of fiction...or are you?

She lay in bed staring out the window to her left. It was a rather nice day to be outside. But she felt too weak to even step out of her room much less outside and consoled herself with only the vision of sunny blue skies. She then noticed the bunch of Gerbera flowers on the side table. Her best friend had brought them to cheer her up. They were a day old but still looked fresh, a nice healthy pink colour. She looked at them absentmindedly for a while. Then she slowly picked a Gerbera from the vase and started thinking of him. As if she had stopped thinking of him at all.

She plucked a petal…he loves me.
Of course he does! Last time I was sick he had come by and sat for so long, fussing over me and straightening the pillow and asking if I needed anything. He’d been really sweet.
He loves me not.
So why hasn’t he even called this time then? We have never not spoken for so long!
He loves me.
Maybe he is busy. I’m sure he’s busy. Why else would he not even so much as ask why I hadn’t called in two days?
He loves me not.
Does he not know I am sick? How can he not sense these things after we have been together for so many days?
He loves me.
But just the last time we met everything was fine. We sat on the pavement talking after the movie for so long. And he had said I looked very pretty too. And he had held my hand. Why would he do that if he didn’t love me?
He loves me not.
Maybe he holds everybody’s hands like that. What’s the big deal about holding hands anyway? That isn’t proof that he loves me.
He loves me.
But I know he does! I can see it in his eyes when he looks at me. It is impossible to miss these things! I know he loves me.
He loves me not.
Maybe he doesn’t. If he loves me, he should also care for me. Ask how I am and call if I haven’t called. Is love only about watching movies together and roaming about town aimlessly? What about care? Does he even think about me when I am not around?
He loves me.
I do remember he said he missed me when we hadn’t seen each other for long the last time. Wasn’t that when he had gone on a week-long trip? Surely that means something when he says things like that? Surely it means he loves me?
He loves me not.
But I miss my friends when they are not around. That is in no way proof that he loves me. Does he miss me more than everybody else? If he misses me equally and not more, there is no way he loves me.
He loves me.
It’s hard to tell anymore.
He loves me not.
I can’t believe that.

As she plucked the last petal, her fever soared and she fell back into her pillow resignedly. Why couldn’t he just call and end her misery? She wasn’t going to call; it was she who was unwell. If only he would call and she could hear his voice. But he hadn’t. In two days.

So thinking she picked up another pink Gerbera from the vase and started the game all over again.

He loves me…

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Paging Joe Fox

Some days I miss Joe Fox. Correction, I miss MY Joe Fox. Like today for instance. When I need him to make me some tea with honey in it even if I am in this low mood with my gunk-filled and bleeding nose. Maybe get me a bunch of bright yellow flowers just to brighten me up. And then when my head feels fuzzy and my legs are wobbly, wrap a comforter around me and let me blabber some more. And oh yes, hand me a box of tissues when I have exhausted the current one with the incessant emptying of the nose.

But I am sitting in this sub-zero temperature of the office and sniffling no end, trying to get better asap and discreetly so that the parent does not have a mini panic attack hearing of nose bleeds. Not that they’re uncommon, just that they’ve not happened in the last 5 years. Bangalore is that hot right now people. It’s causing bloody noses to bleed.

And that’s why it’s worse to have a cold right now. One that I have to get through myself. Parents, as much as they care for you, can never objectively listen to your health concerns without thinking somehow your life is in danger. Siblings are really your own little ones that you don’t want to bother. And that is exactly why one misses Joe Fox on such days. A peer who has willingly agreed to be around on your bad days as much as on your good days. Someone who likes you just the same when you are wearing your pyjamas and blowing your nose as when you are all dressed up and sitting in a cafĂ© somewhere looking charming (to Joe Fox anyway). Really someone to rightfully bother with all that’s on your mind.

Right this moment though, I don’t need him to do any of those big things. I just want to bury my miserable head into his side and be told it is going to be ok. Mostly one deals just fine with the bigger struggles of life but it’s the little things that make life difficult, when one really needs someone around. One has the ability to weather most anything alone but that doesn’t mean one wants to. After a point, one wants to be with Joe Fox.

And I want to watch this film today evening with a bowl of soup in my hand (made by Joe Fox of course, duh!) after having watched this scene on repeat all morning. If nothing else, the least he can do is to bring me a copy to make me feel better.

Paging Joe Fox. It’s about time already.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Magician And The Prestige

“Watch!” he says…a magician who is going to show his audience a trick. He doesn’t pull a rabbit out of a hat or pop flowers out of the end of his wand. It’s usually much simpler than that. And yet, it’s no less fascinating…maybe BECAUSE it’s much simpler.

He takes the stage animatedly, his face beaming with a secret he can barely hold any longer. But there’s got to be a flourish, the essential three acts. And so he proceeds to The Pledge. Quite the storyteller, he builds the anticipation well, with expressions and gesticulations. The audience is already leaning forward by the end of it. And he really calls them tricks, what he is going to show them. That's when he says, “Watch!”…once the stage is set.

Then he takes a mechanical contraption from the good old days, a technique if you may. And he proposes a harmless looking idea. He gives the contraption to the audience to work with while he takes the simpler tool. And as both work the tools simultaneously in The Turn, he suddenly jumps to The Prestige leaving the audience in wonder. It’s true that the idea is intuitive, simple beyond belief. But there still is a priceless look on their smiling faces.

Even if a felt-tip marker and a white board are the only props he will ever use on stage, he's probably one of the few who have understood that

the audience knows the truth: the world is simple. It's miserable, solid all the way through. But if you could fool them, even for a second, then you can make them wonder, and then you...then you got to see something really really don't know? was the look on their faces…

And that it applies to classrooms as much as to magic shows.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Fiction: On The Edge

You're always in control of fiction...or are you?

He sat at the edge of the cliff and his legs dangled from the ledge. It had been so long his feet had worn anything but symbols of corporate citizenship and been in anything but stale conditioned air. Today the open wind tickled his sole and there was a sense of freedom in the air. He looked at the valley below and saw a steadily flowing stream in the deep distance. He looked up and saw the space between him and the sunset in the horizon covered by the forest. He had forgotten what colour sunsets were in his part of the world. And so he gazed intently and took in the many hues in the sky. He took in a deep breath and it felt like it was the first time. 

How many times had he ever caught his breath in the mad rush of routine in the last few years? Those automatic mornings that started with the shrill alarm and a race…to get out of the house on time, to get out of traffic on time, to get out of the elevator on time. He was always chasing something…a deadline, numbers or people. Today it felt like he had been running after something elusive all this while. Was it money? He had enough of it and more. Was it success? In his place in the hierarchy of things he could hardly say that. Was it happiness? If he had the money and the success, happiness should have followed by itself. Wasn’t that what he had told himself the day he started work? A greenhorn out to conquer the world. He must be happy. He should be happy.

But then why did his world suddenly feel empty? Why did it feel like he didn’t know the people he shared a roof with? Or that they didn’t know him? Why did a beautiful sunset and open air suddenly seem to bring him more joy than all those perks and promotions? And why was he alone in this moment of serenity? Where were the people who cared for him? The people he cared for?

It was then that he remembered he had never cared for anybody but himself. He saw the pieces fall in place…and his life fall apart, a self-sabotage. It was now too late to go back and change anything. And where would he even begin?

The sun was now lower than before, almost taking on a crimson hue. The birds were returning home, a term he had forgotten the meaning of. The wind was picking up. He wished it would take him away with it, that he could fly home too. 

Just then he heard what sounded like the shrill call of a bird and he looked downward in the direction where it came from. In the deep distance, the building watchman was frantically blowing the whistle and flailing his hands in the air. There was a fire truck standing and firemen were running towards the building. A crowd had gathered and the steady stream of traffic had now come to a halt. While he had been reflecting on the very meaning of his existence and his family sat completely unaware in one of those matchboxes, the preservation of his life seemed to have become important to a bunch of complete strangers…the irony. He stood up on the ledge and had a headrush…of thoughts and emotions. He was still stuck…the call, concern and consolation of nameless strangers still carrying its daily and dangerous appeal…would they applaud his decisions now, the way they did in the board room? He spread his hands but even with the emptiness inside he found it impossible to be lifted by the wind to freedom. And he finally started to laugh…at the joke his life had become.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Pit Stop Dreams

On summer nights like these, I dream of 3 am pit stops by the roadside. 

Dead wind and the Doppler sound of trucks rolling by...I love that sound. A small tea shop by a yellow and white milestone and a dose of stimulant for the next leg of the journey. Cramped legs relishing a chance to stretch. Sodium vapour glow, the headlights of the occasional truck, a small oil lamp in the shop and the orange flickering on a set of wheels. And a one way conversation…only the highway talking.

I dream of an aimless trip around the country. The direction set by instinct and intuition. A trip on which to know oneself, the other and the land all at once. A light backpack with some clothes, books, a notebook and pen and a camera…and oh, a map. A lighter heart with spare space…for each other and for experience. A rightful place for silence as much as conversation. A perfect journey on divergent paths but where two lives converge. 

The set of wheels can vary…two or four. The more wind in the face, the better. As long as we are moving it doesn’t matter where. We’ll eat in obscure places and stay in some too. We’ll meet no name faces that we’ll talk about for the rest of our lives. In the process, hopefully, we’ll meet each other too. We’ll collect souvenirs for the walls and corners. And we’ll collect memories too.

And when we come back home, we’ll dust our clothes and bags and settle down in the sunlit corner sipping on some coffee to recount tales from the trip…or talk about the next one.

Someday I’ll embark on that journey…an exploration of uncharted territory…within and without.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Oh Deer!

It was almost 4 pm on a Saturday. Daddy would be home soon from the bank; they closed early on Saturdays. He would very likely bring hot samosas with him and the whole family would eat the early- evening snack together. It was special but that’s not why we looked forward to Saturdays. 

When we were growing up and I was about 8 years old, Saturdays were for visiting the Deer Park. In a children’s park spread atop Seminary Hills in Nagpur was a small zoo with just a few varieties of deer and a leopard I think…oh yes, a bear too. But the most numerous were the Chital Deer. They had a huge enclosure too and they rarely came close to the fence. One could see them graze away in their sanctuary. And it was better that way since if they came close to the fence people would feed them popcorn and what not. But not my father. 

On Saturdays, after the snack, Daddy would get his daughters dressed up and head out to the Deer Park in Seminary Hills. We would always stop by this one vegetable vendor on the way and pick up spinach…lots of it. And then we’d be off to feed spinach to the deer.

The first few times it took a while before the deer even came to eat and we had to wait quite a bit but after a while, they would almost instantaneously come close to the fence when we landed with the bunches of spinach. I didn’t know for long that my father had taken permission from the zoo authorities so that we could feed the animals. Even today I remember how beautiful the whole experience was…deer clambering for the fresh spinach, small ones and big, and us hurrying up to pluck from our bunches and feeding them through the wire mesh. The crowds wouldn’t arrive until almost 6 so we got some good time with the deer. Easily an hour or more would pass without any of us saying too much and just feeding the deer. It was satiating and always left us happy when we were done. And we would always be more eager than before to come back.

After the deer-feeding Daddy would sometimes buy us juice, sometimes popcorn and sometimes we would get a horse ride in the play area. But by far the most special part of our Saturdays was feeding the deer.

Looking back, it wasn’t all about fun, feeding the deer. In his own way, Daddy showed us the importance of small personal rituals, ceremonies and traditions. He showed us the importance of giving each other the gift of time; even if we were not talking to each other while feeding the deer (my father was a man of few words anyway), it was one of the most meaningful interactions I had with my father. Most of all, my father taught me early on about being kind to animals. And to this day, our ritual of visiting the Deer Park and feeding the deer is etched in my memory as one of the most real experiences ever.


This post has been written as an entry for The Kissan 100% Real Blogger Contest organized by Indiblogger and Kissan. Head over there to share your own experience with us all.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lost And Found In Transit

In the winter of 2008 I crossed India’s borders for the first time; I hadn’t even been to Nepal or Bhutan until then. My primary emotion pertaining to this travel was that of excitement. But when, at the end of the first phase of the travel, I missed my connecting flight to Bangalore from Frankfurt with no tickets available till the next day due to Christmas rush, that excitement was quickly replaced by apprehension.

Now I like to think of myself as an avid traveler who has even travelled alone in India since that day. But that day, I was tired, sleep-deprived, on my way home and was in no mood to be stranded in transit in Frankfurt. There surely was a moment when I felt it was serendipity, this opportunity to be in and see a bit of Germany. But then I had heard that Germans don’t speak English even if they know how to. How would I get around for one whole day? How would I get to the town from wherever the airport was? What would I eat? And did I have the money? How expensive was Germany anyway? Suddenly, the thought of being couped up in my room at the airport hotel and catching up on sleep after nearly 30 hours seemed more tempting than exploring a new country. Frankly, I felt a little lost.

And so I collected my alternate tickets from the Lufthansa desk and stepped outside to look for the shuttle bus to the Intercity Hotel. There were many Indians waiting alongside but I was too drained to try and initiate a conversation although usually I am the one who starts talking. I just wanted to get to my hotel room and lock myself in. Just then I heard a question: “Have you missed your flight to Mumbai?” 

He had missed his flight to Mumbai, an elderly gentleman of Indian origin, who was on his way to Baroda, I learnt. In the course of the introductory conversation I realized that he was Gujarati by origin and had migrated to Australia many years ago where he was a Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering in Canberra. I brightened up on hearing this; I was an Electrical Engineering graduate myself! I decided to address him as ‘Sir’ from then on since that is how we addressed all our professors in college. He didn’t seem to mind either.

We reached the hotel and while checking in, Sir asked me if I wanted to go see the town post lunch. Whereas I should have jumped at the opportunity of being able to see Frankfurt and not necessarily on my own, I found myself saying that I hadn’t slept in 30 hours and needed to catch up. It’s unbelievable in retrospect. But Sir told me to consider it; if I wasn’t coming back to Frankfurt in the near future I might as well see it while I had the chance. And yet I only said I’d think about it!

Thankfully good sense prevailed and I called Sir in a bit to ask if we could go to town. He happily obliged and we asked for directions at the hotel desk. We were told that the Christmas market was a must-visit for that time of the year and were even handed over free tickets for the train! And we set about to explore Frankfurt.

For someone who enjoys a good conversation more than most other things in life, a conversation with Sir that evening was a fitting close to the first phase of my travel abroad. Sir is a learned man with a broad spectrum of interests and an open mind. He was curious to know my perspectives about a whole range of things in India, just to gauge how much India had changed since he left. And we talked…of art, culture, philosophy, India, Australia, academics, the development of language and Sanskrit and all that I can’t think of. We also spoke of our families. He asked me how old I was at one point, and told me that if he had got married before his Ph. D. he would have probably had a daughter my age. He asked me to think of him as a father-figure and not to hesitate to ask if I wanted to buy something from the market. And I happily got him to buy me a big bag of Caramel popcorn! 

We returned from town at dinnertime but the conversation continued. Being from my parent’s generation, Sir gave me his perspective on certain matters that had been bothering me especially relating to conforming to societal norms regarding marriage and such. His unbiased opinion helped me to put my thoughts in order. At the end of the day, it felt like I’d had a conversation with a wise relative who knew exactly what it felt like to be in my place. More than the opportunity to see Frankfurt, I was thankful for the opportunity to talk to someone as wise as Sir and find a good friend while stranded in transit. 

While taking his leave that night, I had felt the sudden urge to touch Sir’s feet like one would of one’s own elders; the conversation I had with him was one I would have liked to have with someone from my own family but their concern and worry would always come in the way. Sir and I still keep in touch and our conversations remain the same – Sir trying to gather perspectives from me on the India of today that he only reads about, me trying to gather wisdom from him like one would from a wise uncle. He sends me songs that his son has composed and gives me feedback on my writing. It really is like having a family elder in a far flung land. But I had known that already, when he had blessed me that night as I touched his feet and told me to head to Canberra whenever I felt like visiting since he and his family would be glad to host me. I had left knowing he probably WAS my family in another lifetime and had been sent to take care of me while I was lost in transit that December day in Frankfurt.


This post has been written as an entry for the Around The World With Expedia Contest organized by Indiblogger and Expedia

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Summer In The City

The air.
The trees,
And bare.

On the streets,
Vacant eyes 
By the wayside.
Their reveries
Have evaporated,
The emptiness
They hide.

Above the stratosphere,
Droplets of dreams collect
And clouds form.
And tonight 
The city
Dreams of a dust storm.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

In Memoriam

Seven years
And a sense of loss
That refuses to go away,
With every passing year,

It creeps up
On unsuspecting days
Like these
When the flowers are blooming
And the world
Seems to be at peace,
A nice summer day.

But maybe
That’s the point.
All these things
He couldn’t see,
That he will miss
In the years to come,
It breaks my heart.

Miss him
All I want,
There is no way
To tell him
Just how much,
No way
He can see
Me smile
All the joys,
See me cry
On quiet nights,
No way
He can be
He should be…
By his daughter’s side.

That time is a healer
Is the biggest lie,
The pain never goes away,
All you can do is cry.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Keep Talking

Have no fear for giving in
Have no fear for giving over
You'd better know that in the end
It’s better to say too much
Than never say what you need to say again

Even if your hands are shaking
And your faith is broken
Even as the eyes are closing
Do it with a heart wide open

Say what you need to say

John Mayer has obviously never been in that position himself. Or it’s always worked out well for him. Lucky guy. For people like me, the above simply translates to constantly saying things and verbalizing feelings and emotions about anything and everything. So we just appear like talking heads after a while. It doesn’t matter what we are really trying to say, the core of it. It becomes cheap talk instead of a conversation. We just say stuff all the time anyway. And the words just bounce against empty walls and become noise after a while…cling and clatter.

Too many voices
It won't take long
Which one's right
Which one's wrong 
Yours is most likely to be misunderstood

Contrary to how it appears, it takes courage to put yourself in that spot where you will be seen as someone who wears his heart on the sleeve. And there is a risk of appearing the fool yet, sometimes it is the only way. What other defence do you have against transience? Of moments, of lives? And I have learnt that the hard way. By losing people. 

At 20 years of age, I gathered all my courage and told my ailing father how much I loved him, in a letter…because he had gone deaf due to side effects of medicines. I said it in plain, simple and straight words. It wasn’t common in our family and love was shown more through care. It was implied and assumed. Nobody ever said it to anybody else. But I am glad I did it anyway. He started replying but was hospitalized the next day. And then he passed away. Now all I have is his unfinished letter and the contentment that at least he knew.

When equations between my best friend and me changed after her marriage, we lost all communication for a while and I missed her sorely. But it was clear we would never go back to where we were and so I told her how much she had meant to me when we were together. And that’s what brought us back together; she had assumed that it made no difference to me whether she was around or not. I am glad I had the courage to ask for closure and say what I needed to say, for that admission is what brought us back together.

I don’t think there is anything worse than being ordinary”, that’s what Angela said in American Beauty. For me, there is nothing worse than being replaceable. For your uniqueness to be lost on others and your individuality reduced to a role that can be played by someone else. And essential to making someone feel irreplaceable is to let them know how special they are, and what they bring to someone’s life.

The question to ask is, how much do people value knowing that they mean something? In a world filled with hate, does one person’s love make any difference? And if it doesn’t, there is no need for words, to say what one needs to say. And John Mayer can write that down.

But if it does make a difference, then maybe it is worth every bit of putting yourself out there and being vulnerable. Maybe for some of us, the only way to become irreplaceable is to tell others how special they are and then trust we make a difference, whether or not we hear it back. Maybe there is nothing else that makes us special.

And hence it must be said when it must be said. Whatever the consequence. Whether or not it comes back. Words, after all, are arrows and not boomerangs. The only thing we can decide is when to send them forth, not when they will return.

And so, Pink Floyd and Stephen Hawking…keep talking.

For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. 
Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. 
We learned to talk 
and we learned to listen...

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted

In some ways I am glad January is over. I was sick in January. And upset a lot. And symbolically indeed, a few realizations hit me yesterday morning just as January 2012 made an exit from the calendar. If yesterday were a song, it would most definitely be Clarity by John Mayer.

I worry, I weigh three times my body 
I worry, I throw my fear around
But this morning, there's a calm I can't explain 
The rock candy's melted, only diamonds now remain.

The only place free from any illusions in life is the core of your heart from where your inner voice emanates. Unfortunately, reaching that place is like undertaking an expedition to Mount Everest but on the inside. Once you reach there, the air is pure and there is crystal clarity about everything. Once you reach there.

I was there a few weeks back. In that place. Hearing my own voice. And echoing it. It was the happiest time of my life. Because I knew what I needed to know. And nothing else mattered.

But then I opened that place up and guests came in. And in the noisy banter that ensued, my voice disappeared. And because it was coming from that place, I mistook that noise to be my own voice. And I became miserable. 

It took me a while to realize that it was someone else’s voice that was talking within me and then I started to frantically search for my lost inner voice. And it was painful, the noise was still echoing in that empty cavity. And I didn’t know where to start looking for what I had lost, the voice that had been right for a very long time now. I lost my way. I was standing on someone’s else’s path to happiness and mistaking it for my own. And I didn’t know how to go back. And I became more miserable.

It took a few reminders from the past to find my way and voice back. And I realized where exactly my view had got corrupted. Love and happiness are different destinations for different people. And hence, the milestones/landmarks they see on the way are different too. Letting anyone tell you what landmarks you will pass by on these journeys is like driving up NH7 and looking for landmarks from NH6…they’re essentially different roads that may or may not meet. Happiness for some is on mountaintops and for some it is by the seas…and the same goes for love.

The worst part is that I had always known that. Always. And still, I lost my way…because I opened my heart to too many people. All that overflowing happiness had to go somewhere after all. The problem with having an open heart AND sharing happiness at the same time is that you become vulnerable and your heart starts to get infected. And your inner voice takes sick leave. Sometimes, it is necessary and important to keep your heart and its special place closed and reserved for only those that reside in there. It is necessary to protect all that is fragile. 

Precious and fragile things
Need special handling
My God, what have we done to you?
We always tried to share
The tenderest of care
Now look what we have put you through.

Precious by Depeche Mode on Grooveshark
(Such a perfect song that is for this moment!)

In the end, there are no templates for anything in life. Because each of us is unique. And hence our interaction with each individual is also unique. Our life stories are unique, sometimes very special. No one else knows our history like we do. And hence they can never possibly understand or begin to fathom what our hearts know about us. Of course there are always good intentions. But even good intentions can kill sometimes.

I spotted my voice yesterday just as I finished what was almost a journey for me. I am currently busy convincing it to come back home to that place of love and stitching my open heart so it doesn’t get infected again. Only residents of my heart will have access now and trespassers will be prosecuted.

While January hasn’t been the best month, it was necessary that it put me through all this so I could come out wiser. And here’s sending a note of thanks out to it as I bid adieu and begin February on a fresh clear note!

(Discovered this song this morning on YouTube and thought it was apt background music while I wrote this. Love the video too…in the end, there’s nothing more to life than love, is there?)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Of Steinbeck and Stereotypes

This letter came to me as a mail forward last week and I haven’t been able to get it off my mind ever since. It was written by the Nobel prize winning writer John Steinbeck to his young son in the year 1958. I found this to be so beautiful that I went ahead and ordered John Steinbeck: A Life In Letters after reading this. 900 odd pages of letters written by this man. Should be good reading for when one craves to read a letter.

New York
November 10, 1958

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First—if you are in love—that’s a good thing—that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second—There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness and consideration and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply—of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it—and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone—there is no possible harm in saying so—only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another—but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.



Source: Letters of Note 

Anyway, so when I got this letter, I sent it to some of my girl friends but not to even one guy. Please note that this letter was written by a man to a boy. And I still didn’t send to guys. It is not like I don’t know any guys who have fallen in love. But still.

Because I didn’t think they would understand. I could almost anticipate this coming back to me with the typical banter that guys throw at girls when they think we are getting too girly. I could almost see them finding it mushy beyond tolerance. I imagined them rubbishing the whole thing. Because it in today’s world, it is girly to talk about love in general. Writers/artists are allowed a little leeway, but very little. I think over the years the stereotypes have hardened and not dissolved and unfortunately men are expected to conform to them (as are women). And in the entire process, tenderness has made an exit from real life and been kept alive by silver screens, if at all.

I remember this one incident so clearly that it surprises me. I was sitting with a group of bikers a few years ago on a lazy afternoon and after exhausting stories about bikes, someone brought up the topic of one of the guy’s engagement. This guy, apparently, had first asked a woman biker in the group for some help with picking a platinum ring so he could propose marriage to his girlfriend and then he had memorized+rehearsed a Johnny Cash song to sing when he proposed. He had gone down on his knees, sung that song and asked the girl to marry him.

If I had been in that girl’s place, I would have cried. The whole thing was so beautiful (notice I am saying beautiful and not cute). Clearly the guy was going out of his comfort zone but he was doing it willingly so he could make that one moment special for the woman he loved. But the bikers made a big joke out of this. They called him pansy and said they couldn’t come to understand how he could have done all this. The topic changed, eventually. I, however, have still not forgotten about it…it left me that appalled. What kind of friends deny someone his feelings! What kind of a world are we living in where a man cannot tell someone that he loves him/her without being called pansy! 

The more surprising part is that most bikers in that group married the people they had fallen in love with. So it is not like they did not understand love or feel it. But expressing it was another matter altogether. It was heart-breaking, the whole episode.

I read Kim by Rudyard Kipling recently and one of the most striking things about the book is how openly men expressed their love even for other men, young and old, back then. It was so pure, that expression. Unadulterated by modern day terminologies and judgments. People – men and women – telling each other how they really felt and not trying to mask their feelings to protect themselves from getting hurt. Where have all those real people gone and whose value systems are we living by these days?

If only we understood that being in touch with your innermost feelings is a sign of a complete human being, whether it is for a man or a woman and no person should have to mask that for the fear of being ridiculed by people who don’t seem to understand the first thing about feelings. Unfortunately, only Raymonds seems to understand that in the present day and only their model seems to be allowed to express his feelings openly without a group of guys jeering at him.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Boat Ride To Remember

Exactly a month ago I was on one of the best vacations in my life, by the waters of the Arabian Sea. There were many things special about it and one of those things was a boat ride to see dolphins. We went far enough to lose sight of the shore and then all that there was, was the vastness of the ocean around us. In a rickety motor-boat we sailed towards where the dolphins were playing. It is something that will stay with me for a long time, watching pairs of dolphins glistening in the morning sun as they swam around in the open waters. 

What will also stay with me for a long time is how excited our boatmen and their children got upon seeing the dolphins. I had thought that what was going to be a novel experience for us must be commonplace for them, since they practically went out to sea every day. But they were as excited as us, if not more, upon spotting the dolphins. One of them remarked excitedly about how intelligent those creatures are. It was infectious, childlike enthusiasm that amazed me. Was it their simple lives that allowed them to maintain simplicity in their selves? Had we made our lives too complicated with awe-inspiring technology and advancement? These people were happy and it showed. And I wondered what it took to be that happy.

We visited an island after watching the dolphins and our boatmen’s enthusiasm never fazed as they showed us sea creatures and explained their peculiarities. It was such a good feeling to be around these people who were in touch with the child inside them, who were genuine and who meant it when they smiled. On our way back we were surrounded by that vast body of water again for a while and I suddenly felt small and insignificant. How much I let the trivial thoughts in my head worry me on some days when there were bigger and more beautiful things out there that could instantly reduce you to a speck in a blue sheet. The whole experience was so overwhelming that a spontaneous tears rolled down my cheek. And only one line from the song ‘I Hope You Dance’ kept coming back to me:

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean.

I did. And I was glad for it. And I hope I will always feel that way.

This song is dedicated to those boatmen, that beautiful experience, the memory and to many more such vacations...I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack.

I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack on Grooveshark

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance 
I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin' might mean takin' chances, but they're worth takin'
Lovin' might be a mistake, but it's worth makin'

Don't let some Hellbent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to sellin' out, reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along)
(Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder, where those years have gone?)

Writers: Tia Sillers, Mark D. Sanders

20 Questions With Amrita Suresh

This edition of 20 Questions brings you insights from Amrita Suresh, author of 'When A Lawyer Falls In Love', a witty well-paced and funny love story that is receiving favourable reviews from all over. Read on to find out more about the creator of this work herself.

When did you take to writing?
As a twelve year old, I had already made up my mind that I wanted to be a novelist and I’ve been working towards this dream, since then.

Where do you usually write? What is your favourite setting to write in?
I’ve come to believe that writing ought to be like meditation, you should be able to practice it anywhere. Hence, I’m not too particular about any setting.

Do you have any rituals/superstitions as a writer? Something you like to do before you start writing? A favourite pen?
I read somewhere that Chetan Bhagat likes to read 20 books before he starts writing his next novel. Personally, I’m not superstitious about anything that concerns my writing. 

Typing or writing on paper? What do you prefer and why?
Jeffery Archer says that he is most comfortable writing rather than typing and the same goes for me.

What was your first piece of work ever? Do you still have it?
I used to write these poems as a ten year old and some of those poems are still with me. They make me feel nostalgic…

Who are your inspirations as far as writing is concerned? Any writers you would highly recommend to readers?
Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard based professor has written this book ‘Stumbling on Happiness’. It is both informative and hilarious. Basically, I am partial to humour writers and so I like Dave Barry, Bill Cosby, Martha Beck and Eric Weiner. Among Indian writers, Chitra Divakurni Banerjee and Advaita Kala are pretty good.

What inspired ‘When a Lawyer Falls in Love’?
Being in college, I remember thinking that I ought to pen down the magic there is during an inter collegiate festival. So attending college festivals like Saarang and Mood Indigo of IIT Madras and Mumbai respectively, made me sure that I wanted to write this book.

We all know that while the author is solely responsible for an idea, the execution of the idea is impossible without the support of people who believe in the idea and the author. So who are the people behind ‘When a Lawyer falls in love’, other than yourself?
I would like to specifically thank three people. Firstly Archana Suresh, my sister and the true force behind getting this book on to the national platform.  Shobit Arya, my publisher from Offshoots, (an imprint of Wisdom Tree) for making this miracle happen and my husband Raj Konduru for being the wind beneath my wings.

Did the story of ‘When a Lawyer falls in Love’ come to you easily or did you find yourself stuck with writer’s block sometimes?
I’ve come to believe that writing a novel is like a tight rope walk from one tall building to another. As long as you are looking ahead and walking that’s good, but the moment you look at the ground below, you are petrified. I think it’s very important not to take long breaks of weeks and months while writing a novel, the flow gets lost. That worked for me. Fortunately, I didn’t go through any phases of writer’s block.

What is your personal most effective way of getting over writer’s block, if it ever strikes you?
If writer’s block ever strikes me, I usually read something that I am interested in. Taking a break and then getting started on one’s writing has worked for me. The important thing is to keep those creative juices flowing.

Do you agree that there are always autobiographical portions in any writing? Are there any in ‘When a Lawyer falls in love’?
I don’t necessarily agree with that although I have read works of many authors who base their writing on that premise. Having studied in a convent school and college all my life, the co-education kind of life described in the book is purely a figment of my imagination. 

Can you describe the journey of ‘When a Lawyer falls in love’ in short? How do you feel now when you look back on the entire creative process?
When I wrote the book, I went with the flow. I think that when there’s a certain innocence in the writing, it strikes a chord with the reader. That and the humour in the book are the book’s biggest USPs. The creative process was enjoyable more because the writing came from the heart! 

How easy or difficult was it to get the book published?
Let’s just say that the team at Offshoots (an imprint of Wisdom Tree), has been God sent. There is no denying that it is difficult for a first time writer to come onto the national platform and I hope that this book serves as an inspiration to many young writers out there to come forward with their work.

Do you agree that any author also has to be a good marketer? Or are there mechanisms that can take care of the marketing bit, allowing the author to concentrate solely on content?
It is absolutely imperative to market one’s book. I am fortunate to have an elder sister and husband who are taking care of that aspect. Courtesy them, I have the liberty of just concentrating on my craft. In this day and age of social media and news at the click of a button, it is very important that different channels of the media be targeted to let the world know of one’s work.

What is your advice to writers out there who might be looking at getting published? Any helpful pointers?
In my experience there are no short-cuts. Young writers need to do their research on publishers out there – be it by joining their groups on Facebook or just reaching out to their editorial teams through mails. I remember sending the first few chapters of the book to potential publishers to give them a preview of my work. The effort boils down to two words- discipline and perseverance. I’d advise writers to keep polishing their craft and hang in there. They must not give up!

What is your message to anyone who is considering picking up the book for a read? What can he/she expect?
If you are in the mood for a few laughs and want to refresh memories of your college life again, this book is for you. It is definitely an easy read and one or more characters in this book will remind you of people you’ve met in your life.

Who is ‘When a Lawyer falls in love’ dedicated to?
This book is dedicated to my mother, Mrs. Renu Merani Suresh, my sister, Archana Suresh and AR Rahman. My mom and sis have put up with my writer mood swings for many years now (laughs) and Rahman’s soulful music played a big role in driving away the blues when I was looking out for a publisher : )

Do you have more stories to tell us already that we can expect in the form of books soon? Are you working on something?
I have some ideas that I am working on. As and when they crystallize, you will hear from me again in the form of a book : )

Apart from writing, what else keeps you busy? What are your passions/interests?
I have been an ardent dog lover for as long as I can remember. As an active member of Blue Cross, I try and take time out to pitch in with any help for stray. I was so glad when Mrs. Amala Akkineni, founder, Blue Cross Hyderabad agreed to launch my book in October 2011. Apart from that, I love reading, cooking and indulging my little niece.

What is the one thought you would like to leave people with when they think of Amrita Suresh, the writer?
I would like to be remembered as a writer who was entertaining at the same time who created characters that lingered on in one’s mind, long after the book was read. 


So that was Amrita Suresh and her book  'When A Lawyer Falls In Love' can be ordered here.

I hope you enjoyed getting to know Amrita as much as I did. Until the next edition of 20 Questions, keep reading...