Monday, December 25, 2006

capturing the moment

if nothing else, poetry captures the moment and stretches it in a way that can be held, felt and wound around oneself... recollections from a morning walk:


The bird
a black shadow
on a still
colourless cloudless blue sky;
A wing flutters
as it swims
across my upward view.
The tree stump
in patience, hope
and a certain
sense of fatalism
(or fatality?)
for a new twig
to burst into leaf.
There's a quiet
in the crisp crunch
of footfall
on gravel.
Heads nod
hands rise
in a hello;
Morning walkers
breathing in
and out
and feet
move on
another mile.

Monday, December 04, 2006

accident of birth

I read the other day about a rally organised in New Delhi to protest female foeticide and call attention to the deteriorating male:female ratio, particularly in the states of northern India. Just reminded me of something I wrote a long time fact, much before I became a mother, perhaps in response to a similar discussion in the eighties, perhaps recalled from 'the depths of neo-natal' memory...? But I must say that memory and imagination are partners in a writer's mind, and empathy often makes curious turns into the space usually occupied by experience, and in doing so, touches memory with a brush that recalls feelings unfelt!

A daughter is born


Dredged up
From the depths of neo-natal experience
A memory stirs.
While head and hands groped for life
In the womb-darkness
Of pre-birth,
Tiny feet found
Their first breath
In the bright hospital air.
A little body
Inched out into
The adult world, defined
By adult-set hopes.
Before even,
The baby eyes saw
Their first rays of light,
The voices fell—
“It’s a girl”.

Monday, October 23, 2006

losing people, gaining memories

It seems like I've been talking a lot about the past, about people and times passing. Perhaps that's the way it is when you get to a certain age. There's more to talk about what one has done and seen rather than get breathless about plans for the future! But this year has been more about loss than any year before. Since the beginning of the year, I have lost three people I have been associated with closely, people who have been engaged in my life at different points and have made differently-shaped dents in my personality.

One was a fellow student who later turned into a colleague, an intense young man who became an even more intense adult, whose intensity lingers in his poetry and his sharp visual sketches, some of which surface, unexpectedly, on the Internet when one is browsing late at night looking for traces of a past that seemingly has vanished but has found a nook in some strange corner of this realm called cyberspace.

The next to go was a gentle presence who just barely touched my life before she was gone, victim also to the same cancer that claimed the other friend (and yet another before him). Smiling quietly even when she was making a point firmly, ensuring that her lightness of touch was not mistaken for a frailty of will, she showed me how firmness could be accompanied by a laugh, that affection did not have to be rationed like some commodity in short supply.

And then there was my friend Ja, someone I first bumped into on the stairway to my newly-married academic campus home, someone who showed me how the "other half" lived or did not live, whose thirty years on me disappeared with a shared thought, a shared smile, who showed me that friendship did not have to be packaged in any way, that it was a free-flowing thing that simply took up residence in one's heart, yet remained weightless and formless.

Perhaps it's just the age I'm at...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Relative relations

I sometimes wonder at our capacity to handle such a wide variety of interactions, each with a separate set of parameters, expectations, obligations and rewards (or otherwise). In each we are a different person, or show a different side of ourselves. Inside, we may feel quite complete, but those who watch us across contexts often find that we turn unrecognizable as we move from one to the other. We are able to move across ages—we are children to some, parents to others, lovers with an infinite range of visages and friends with an even greater range of faces, and all the shades of no-name relationships in between. So many people within each person.

Do any of us have a true measure of ourselves as people? While we may outwardly marvel at how little we know of others, and how they constantly show us different sides of their selves, we usually explain it away by attributing it to a latent schizophrenia in the other—and only half jokingly! The person most of us know the least, because we observe her/him the least, is oneself. We measure ourselves by others’ reactions to us, not by any sense of who we are. We judge our success or failure at relationships based on how well we are able to hold on to other people’s interests or affections, not by the intrinsic nature of the relationship and what we bring to it.

But beyond this there is a question that puzzles me…and I’d be happy to hear thoughts on this…how is it that we are able to sustain so many different kinds of relationships, in so many ways, and yet have so little tolerance for differences outside of ourselves?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

school and all that

Here's something that came to me by way of a text message from a friend--

Those ‘night outs’,
those ‘midnight coffees’,
those ‘birthday bumps’,
those ‘old torn jeans’,
those ‘late night walks’,
those ‘long chats’, those
‘pinches ‘n slaps’,
those ‘crushes on pals’,
those ‘getting kicked out of classes’,
those ‘struggle for marks’,
those ‘writing on desks’,
those ‘fights with teachers’,
those ‘tears for love’,
those ‘fake project reports’.

Just everything that’s in all of us that’s called school life.

I call it Heaven.

(from Lakshmi Rameshwar Rao, aka Buchamma, August 1, 2006)

Got me thinking about that special space within us called childhood...or as it may be, not so special place, for some. I was myself relatively untouched by major trauma in school, but again, school does mark us in certain ways, for good or bad. For those of us who went to convent schools, there was the dark fascination with the concept of SIN and eternal damnation, and many of us lived in fear that we would never be saved if we prayed (or did not) to any gods other than the ONE we were told gave us the Word. And for others, I'm sure there were different but comparable fears and hopes that were dished out with the daily lesson plans. Ultimately, what we remember from school is more the 'sense' of learning rather than the content. The nice (or not-so-nice) things our teachers told us, the sense of self-esteem that we did or did not develop, the friends we made or failed to keep...these are the things that make our patchwork of memories from school, not the history or geography or science or maths lessons. Those were merely the context within which life happened. And now, as a teacher myself, I find that the things students come back to me with are rarely the debates we had in class, or the questions we grappled with about this theory or that. Instead, they come back with memories of the things we said around our lessons, the smiles, the frowns, that gave them a good or a bad feeling, the talks about life, rather than about the texts that they were required to read. Those are the lessons they keep and take with them, and bring back to me, for me to learn from, all over again. And each time I interact with a person who was once my student (and continues to be, in a way), I am full of gratitude for these moments of shared learning. It's great to be a means, always, to be a learner.

And that's a long walk from a little text message that came in on my mobile phone!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Wednesday, the 'hump' day

My friend Gina (and roommate from another age, another era) called Wednesday the 'hump' day of the week...the day that was right in the middle, the day when you were just over the weekend euphoria and not quite into the anticipatory haze of the approaching friday. The day when, perhaps, it hit you that you were already into the middle of the week and your "to do" list was not even halfway checked!

I think Wednesday could just as easily be designated 'slump' day...if you're the kind who comes back to work on Monday feeling all energized and motivated after a refreshing weekend ("What kind of strange species feels energetic on Monday?" I hear you mumble, through your own mid-week mind-haze. Monday, morning, you walk into your work space, and you look at all the bright little post-it notes on your desk top and in various strategic locations around your desk (if you're lucky enough to have one that doesn't get swept off every morning but an over-enthusiastic housekeeping lady with her extra long broom), feeling, "okay, now I am going to deal with those post it notes, one by one, systematically and ruthlessly". You sit down, turn on your computer, open your diary, and begin on "to do" note number 1. The phone rings and a colleague begins to drone about how his weekend just did not go as planned....before you know it that bright little post it note has joined a bunch of its companions in the trash can, crumpled by frustrated fingers that could not bang down the receiver to cut off that drone. And that was only resolution number one.

So the days progress, from the Motivated Monday to Try-to-keep-the-tempo Tuesday and before you know it, it's the middle of the week, and you're in the middle of a slump. It's Wednesday. Another two days to go before you can even begin to smell the distant dream of a weekend...

Of course, all that means is that the cycle will begin again...and again...

Moral of the story. Get rid of all those post-it notes Friday afternoon before you leave work. Better still, get rid of all those blocks of post-its that you bought from your last indulgent visit to a stationery store (where you had gone, in the first place, just looking for a card for a distant relative).

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

old friends

There's something about the monsoon that triggers memories. As i was driving home yesterday trying to avoid the puddles on the road in case they were cover-ups for deep potholes, I passed by several carts of tender corn, makka buttas, and as the aroma of charcoal and slightly burning corn kernels followed me, i remembered....

Mahrookh and i used to walk along Parade Grounds on rainy afternoons, with fifty-paise coins given by indulgent mothers, fifty paise to buy whatever we wanted with. And what could fifty paise buy, in the mid 1970s? well, a lot, really. anything from ten sticks of vanilla ice cream to two 'rainbow' ice lollies to a few guavas sliced and peppered with chilli powder and salt, and, in season, tender light yellow buttas, the blonde strands of their fibrous coats still stuck to the cobs. "Kanvla wala dena," Mahrookh would insist. Until then, I had assumed that the darker the gold, the bigger the cob, the better the butta. But no, it was the lightest, smallest ones that were tender and almost juicy. And when roasted and smothered in lime and pepper and salt, they were the most delicious. And so, with our fifty-paise roasted buttas in hand, we would continue our walk, nodding at the old Parsi aunties who occasionally passed us by on their weekday promenade, chatting about this and that, complaining about our teachers and groaning and moaning about homework yet to be done. It was a great time to be fourteen. The world had not yet discovered the Internet or multiplexes. Television, if I remember right, had not yet made a space for itself in our living rooms, and of course, public spaces still belonged to the public at large. This meant that children could run and play in places like community gardens without fear of being 'scoped' by 'antisocial' elements, and teenagers could take long walks or ride their bicycles around town without fear of being knocked over by speeding lorries or MPVs.

I'm sure accounts of idyllic pasts before technology-as-we-know-it-now abound and I don't want to add to that, except to reiterate that things were simpler, joys were easier to discover, and parents had fewer fears about letting their children out to roam the streets!

But the rain tends to do that. It makes you wistful, nostalgic, and sometimes, just plain maudlin!

And as I write this, all traces of rain have vanished from the Hyderabad sky. Where has the monsoon disappeared? It continues to lash and nourish (depending on where you are placed and how you look at it) different parts of the country, but here, it has taken a temporary leave of absence.

Listen to the falling rain...

Listen to the falling rain, listen to it fall...

For those of us who grew up in the seventies, this song by the visually impaired singer Jose Feliciano may bring back many memories of monsoons past. Having just returned from rain-lashed Bhubaneswar, and inundated by reports of a rain-battered Mumbai, the sound of the rain brings a mixed bag of memories.

A good friend said that the sound of the rain is the same, no matter where you are, so it's hard to forget. But I wonder. The rain has a different rhythm at different times of year, when it falls on different surfaces, and when it curtains different landscapes. The rain on a beach in Goa is both poetic and devastating, coconut palms bending submissively to the force of the lashing sheets of water. The rain that washes the PVC hoardings that otherwise beam seductively at distracted drivers on the main roads of Hyderabad is a harsh reminder of the transcience of urban desire. And the rain on the slushy, potholed roads of Chennai's vegetable bazaar is messy and therapeutic, forcing us to drag our mud-soaked heels through waste of various kinds.

And of course, the rain in Mumbai will forever raise the ghost of July 2005, when children were held hostage in schools, when old people who had beds drew their tired and fragile feet up to their chins and hoped for a reprieve before the water reached the base of the mattress. And the old people who had no beds lay back and hoped for escape, or rescue. When mothers searched and fathers and brothers and sisters searched under the deluge for news of their loved ones; when people held hands to draw neighbours and strangers to safety, when memories were washed away, only to rise each year with the falling rain....

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Another morning, another day...but I am yet to feel comfortable with this new space. Writing into oblivion is a strange feeling. Your words go out there, and someone, somewhere, whose only link to you is a few strokes on a keyboard, reads what you write--maybe--or comes upon it by an accidental detour on the streets of cyberspace. And you create a sense of who you are through your words.

So, if you've actually stayed this far on this page, here's something to think about... this is from my own archives, a quarter of a century old (imagine, before this space came into public use!).



My mirror forms
an image in my mind
I draw myself
in colours I want to see.
I am
a figment of
your imagination,
as you are too,
of mine.

Monday, June 26, 2006

breathless beginnings

I guess I have today's terms. I now have my own few square feet on that strange space called the Web. And what will I say? Will what I say make sense--to myself, to others, both known and unknown?

Perhaps a good way to begin is to talk about what's uppermost on my mind. Being a wordsmith who takes on different avatars--biomedical editor, teacher, writer of features and fiction, and of course, that something that is closest to my heart--poetry (I can see some of you cringe--"oh, no, not another of that sort!")--it seems particularly fitting to subject my readers to my most recent exploration of emotion in verse.

Caregiving for people of various ages is a challenge, and it's important to remember some basic human truths--which is what this expresses.

For my grandmother and yours…

In the half-light of
The naked light bulb
Shaded only by
The clouds in your eyes
And the tears in mine,
We float
Through times past and present
Wondering where our selves are lost
While we, trapped in these bodily prisons
Rue our physicality.

When you look at me,
Do you wonder
What I am thinking,
How I am feeling—
As I turn
Your tired and twisted body over
To give the skin on your back
Another lease of life?

Do you ask yourself
And, with those silent eyes, ask me—

“What do you see, as you hold my
Gnarled-wrinkled-spotted hand
In yours?
Can you feel the love
That cooked-washed-cleaned
For children, grandchildren
And sundry others?
Do you sense
The unyielding, unending patience
That tied us together, you and I and many more
Disparate, distracted,
So that they would be knit
Into a fabric of memory, caring
And commitment?
Or do you only feel fatigue,
A mind-numbing tedium,
And are you just waiting
For the inevitable release
Hoping, yet afraid to voice hope
That it will be sooner
Not later?”