Rain, Ravan, and Books


It drizzled in the morning, as I sat on the wrought iron bench in the garden in my compound. It was an unexpected shower and I looked up at the sky to welcome its unseasonal gift. If only for a few seconds, the ground beneath my feet cooled down, as the drops settled inside the cracks, and the lovely scent of wet earth permeated the air. The koel went on a cooing overdrive. Rain does that to some. Makes them delirious. I sat there with my eyes closed, surrendering to the patter of the falling drops, which wet my hair, washed my face, and made a tiny puddle in the centre of my palms. It takes so little to smile spontaneously.

The kids in my neighbourhood were waiting for their school bus to arrive. Two little girls had their noses buried inside their books, their faces flush with all the mugging up done last night. ‘Last exam,’ they chorused ecstatically, looking up to greet me, the guarantee of the impending relief lighting up their eyes. I remembered the several ‘last-exam-days’ of my childhood, when I drew up long lists of things I would do, only to realise after writing the last sentence of the answer, that all I wanted to do was to rush home, snuggle under a warm blanket and sleep. Play could wait.

Today, I have to make a difficult choice. How does one choose between Elena Ferrante and Karl Ove Knausgaard? Toss a coin? That too, when I’m already thick in the middle of reading Pervin Saket’s Urmila, and have my first Kindle edition of a Marathi book, Shrimanyogi by Ranjeet Desai, waiting in the wings? Not to mention Half of What I Say by Anil Menon, one of the most easy-going, and affable writers I met recently at an unusual book reading by Pervin, which was complemented by a scintillating dance performance, which depicted the narrative of Urmila. The dancers blended Kalaripayattu, Chhau, Odissi, and contemporary dance seamlessly, weaving a tapestry that gave me goosebumps. Lakshman’s suffering spouse would have approved.

On my way back from the performance with my dear friend Harvinder, discussing a few aspects of Ramayan, and setting aside symbolism, I couldn’t help thinking that Ravan was quite a lucky chap really. With his ten heads and ten pairs of eyes, he could have read ten books at a time, placed on a specially designed book holder. Imagine Ravan, with his central processing system, that is the head fixed to his neck, resting on a large pillow, four heads on one side, and five on the other (that’s what probably created the mental imbalance), resting on as many pillows, reading. What would he read apart  from the Shiva Purana? Well, considering that the Ramayana is surmised to have happened thousands of years ago, the question of books in the form we see them now, obviously doesn’t arise. Even if there were any, had Ravan been a reader, perhaps he wouldn’t have embarked on his several misadventures. But, if he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have had a wonderful epic to ruminate on. That brings me to my nephew’s innocent  question, when I told him Sita’s story and reached the part about the Agni Pariksha, her trial by fire: “But, didn’t they call the Fire Brigade?” Innocence and presence of mind. Ram was probably too pulverised by the earth opening its mouth wide to embrace his wife, to react.

I look at the  line-up of books and remind myself that I have one head, one brain, and one pair of eyes. Thank heavens for that. Imagine ten mouths to feed, ten scalps to shampoo, ten heads of hair to comb, ten times the thoughts to assimilate! Calls for one more note in my gratitude journal. So, instead of hopping greedily and aimlessly from one book to another, it’s best to continue engaging in a conversation with Urmila. She has captured my imagination already. I’m not deserting her.





Why Not Paint The Town Rainbow?


The other day, after being forced to jump on a mound of trash to avoid being run over by an over-speeding biker, I saw red. I was fuming. My plight was certainly not one that could have turned you green with envy. I composed myself before I could descend into a blue abyss. Before this degenerates into purple prose, let me explain.

This thought just struck me, as thoughts do when they gatecrash your mind, that in a world painted generously in a million myriad hues, it’s so easy to go off colour, and from one end of the colour spectrum to another.  How did colours come to be associated with emotions? Does a particular colour evoke only a particular emotion or does it have the capacity to arouse a variety of feelings, often contradictory? Also, why do we breathe and feel in colour?


Why is red an angry shade, and also filled with love and passion? Red is volatile, the colour of blood. And it is the blood that boils when you lose your temper. Is that why? Blue reminds me of the sky, the endless expanse, the heights I can reach. Blue is a calm companion. And yet, when you feel blue, sadness has descended on you. In days of yore, orange and saffron, who are siblings, generated optimism, happiness, and energy. Today, where I live, saffron is a belligerent, communal hue. While I love its vibrancy, wearing it could mean inviting speculation about my leanings — hardliner, fanatic, and whatever else that is associated with wearing one’s religious fervour on one’s sleeve. But, it’s a risk I’m prepared to take, as  I don’t have a yellow streak in me.

Today is ‘Rang Panchami’ or ‘Dhulvad’, as they call it. As I write this, I can hear the excited, delighted squeals of children playing with a variety of colours, grabbing each other, and streaking each others’ faces with green, blue, black, yellow, purple, red tints. I can hear laughter, mock protests, a chorus of heightened emotions. Every colour has metamorphosed into joy, a mixture of the diverse and the different, having crossed the boundaries that pin everything down in black and white, as representative of a particular characteristic. The air looks resplendent in flying colours, blended seamlessly.


Nature’s colourful randomness

Isn’t that how it should be? I could navigate the grey area by painting it white, I could be tickled purple while doing so, and I could tell a pink lie. Think about it. Why not grab the golden, no, purple opportunity to look at the world through brown-tinted glasses? You think I’m chasing rainbows? I confess, I am. I do that once in a blue moon (silver perhaps), shake things about, jump out of the box, do the unconventional, embark on an adventure, to ensure that I’m not browned off in my own company.

So, why not paint the town red? Okay, white? Blue? Indigo? Purple? Why not write the story? Yes, why ever not?


Holi, and Why I Abided By the 7 pm Curfew


Today is Holi, the festival that celebrates the arrival of spring. As I write this, across the nation, several bonfires have been lit, and many Holika effigies burnt to cinders. My grandfather narrated several stories from Indian mythology, and I listened fascinated at the supernatural powers of the characters, marvelling at the infinite doors the stories opened. Anything was possible. The characters could get the sun and the moon, if they so desired. Apart from these stories, I got acquainted with Holika, Bhakt Prahlad, and other  characters through Amar Chitra Katha, a comic series that told stories from Indian epics, mythology, history, folklore, and fables, and shared space with the Chandamamas, Enid Blytons, Roald Dahls, and Hardy Boys in my library. 


Picture courtesy: Amazon

Prahlad was an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu, whom his father, the Asura king Hiranyakashyapu hated, following his brother’s death at the god’s hands. While he forbade all his subjects from worshipping Vishnu, Prahlad chanted his other name, Narayana, all through the day and night. This infuriated his father, who plotted to do away with his son. After several failed attempts, he deployed his sister Holika to do the job. Now, Holika had a boon. Fire couldn’t burn her. The plan was to have Holika sit on a burning pyre with Prahlad on her lap, so that while Holika would survive, the little boy would meet his death.

The very picture of Prahlad sitting calmly on his aunt’s lap, with his palms joined in prayer, his eyes closed, chanting ‘Narayana, Narayana’, evoked in me deep respect for him. Here was a child ready to face death with a smile. Such was his faith in Vishnu. As I hoped, Vishnu intervened, and Holika was burned to ashes. While I was overjoyed at Prahlad’s escape, I couldn’t help but feel that maybe the gods could have chastised Holika through placatory means that brought about a change of her heart.  But, grandmother explained, sometimes gods had no choice but to severely punish the potentially dangerous. It was for the greater good. Why gods granted such boons was a mystery. ‘That’s how it is,’ grandmother said. In fact, she informed me that Lord Shiva was the god who could be appeased easily, and who was generous to a fault, while granting boons. But, it was Brahma who had granted five boons to Prahlad’s demon father: Neither a human nor an animal could kill him. Neither would he be killed during the day, nor at night, neither inside the door nor outside the door. No Astra or Shastra could kill him. Neither he would be killed on the land nor in the water or in the air. That made him invincible. 

The news of Hiranyakashyapu’s horrific exploits reached the abode of gods. Gods, my grandmother assured me, don’t let down their devotees, even if it means revoking the special powers of their earlier favoured appeasers, especially when the powers corrupted them absolutely. Gods were adept at devising antidotes that brought the  corrupt to their knees. It so transpired that Hiranyakashyapu tied his son to a pillar and, challenged him to call Lord Vishnu to save him. A picture of tranquillity, Prahlad replied that the Lord was omnipresent, and existed even in the pillar. Hiranyakshyapu laughed maniacally, and smashed the pillar with his mace. Out came Narsimha, half man-half lion, roaring fiercely. He carried the demon to the threshold of a courtyard, placed him on his thighs, and using his claws, disemboweled him. 


Picture courtesy: ISKCON

The last churned my stomach, as it may have, Prahlad’s. As I read the story, I remember quaking, and marvelling at the little boy’s unnatural composure. After all, it was his father whose entrails the Lord had scooped out. I just couldn’t digest the thought of a god who evoked such fear, and unleashed such appalling brutality, when all along, I had imagined him to have kind eyes and a beatific smile. For days I looked for cracks in the pillars of my room to prepare myself for Narasimha’s unexpected arrival, though I was in no danger of any kind. For days I did not spar with my neighbour Narayan, who lived opposite, as his name now evoked awe, and annoying him, I dreaded, could lead to dire consequences. The genial soul he was, he had no idea of his elevation to a pedestal.

Reading Prahlad tamed me in more ways than one. While I broke the childhood rule of returning home by 7pm, every evening , after play, almost every day, twilight now meant the hour that could bring about encounters with strange creatures, even if they were divine avatars. The story impacted me so much that I was back home before the clock struck seven, inviting quizzical looks from my mother, at my rather ‘strange’ behaviour. Time mitigates everything, and I was back to my defiant ways soon after. 

Holi, I know now, symbolises the victory of good over evil, the erasure of the demonic Hiranyakashyapu in us, and the emergence of spring in our hearts. It’s a reminder of the beautiful hues that colour our lives, and the time to meet, greet, play, laugh and forgive. It’s also the moment to sweeten our tongues with scrumptious puran polis, which my grandmother prepared, with a song on her lips, and which she glazed with heavenly, homemade ghee. She too had three boons: She could enchant you with her storytelling, cook the most delectable food, and shower you with unendending reserves of love. 

Happy Holi.  

Picking Up the Threads


Today, I woke up feeling like a warrior. As if I could and should slay everything that holds me back from writing – my moods, lethargy, boredom, and my worst enemy – procrastination. If I gave the impression that I was going to indulge in violence, let me assure you that I’m a peace-loving creature, but when it comes to facing the blank screen, and getting myself to write, I wage a daily battle. Most days, I allow one or the other of my enemies to prevail over my better sense, but today is different. I’m actually posting, after having silenced the voices in my head that were saying, ‘Oh, but nothing special has happened today,’ OR ‘Why post something inane?’  (which would have stopped my overworked index finger, the solitary typist of my right hand, in its tracks),’ OR ‘I have nothing to say’ (well, that’s not quite the truth, it’s just the killjoy in me that rears its head every time I begin to write).

I started by making a new list. Lists shake  me out of my listlessness, and putting down everything in black and white, with some doodles enhancing the page, and pinning it on my bulletin board, reminds me that it’s going to be a fulfilling day. I discovered recently that bulletin boards can be popped up creatively, like the several I saw on Pinterest. (I love owls)

Bulletin Board
Picture: Pinterest

My bulletin board will have the beginnings of a story, writers’ quotes, index cards filled with references and research, colourful post-its with names of characters from my next book (the first is still waiting in the wings, rather impatiently, to find a home), a collage of my writerly life. The thought itself is  invigorating. Well, the best of writers have fought their  way out of inertia to put words on paper. I’m a fledgling aspirant, trying to enlarge and romanticise my daily struggle. And, to borrow J K Rowling’s  words, I’m a muggle. In a writer’s world, Muggles are creatures who need a large mug of coffee (in my case, ginger tea) to create magic on paper.

Today’s Quote:


Picture Quote: Google

I have that longing too. Obviously, Knausgard is on top of my to-read list. (Well, er… I think he looks great too.) So are Elena Ferrante, and a host of classics.

Note to myself: Plan reading. (I get overwhelmed by the pile of books by my bedside, and every time someone mentions a good book, I want to grab it instantly. So I remember my friend, Arundhathi Subramaniam’s sage advice: ‘Read at will.’

Time to scan the bookshelves. To make the choice. To immerse myself in the world of fiction. To read. To write. To battle. It’s going to be an eventful day…


The Milk Thief


Something quite unusual happened last morning. An alarmed neighbour posted on the whatsapp group that someone had made away with one packet of milk, from the three that the milkman had delivered at her doorstep. This was the second time that it had happened. Soon, another concerned neighbour shared a similar, earlier experience. Someone was stealing his/her quota of calcium, protein and other dairy nutrients and leaving no traces behind. No trail of white drops nor the spotting of a visage with a creamy moustache in a nook or corner or in the lift.

There was much speculation about whether the vendor had shortchanged our neighbour. But, most of us wondered why he would axe his long-term prospects of regular supply so foolishly. A phone call to the vendor affirmed that he had delivered the regular number of packets, and the theft had occurred in the hour between the time of the delivery and the pick-up from the bag placed for the milk packet, outside the door, by the neighbour. Strange, considering our building is quite a safe haven. Kids leave their cricket bats, skateboards, basketballs, badminton racquets and even shoes behind in the compound after playing, and find them in exactly the same spot the next day. Wayward clothes swaying on clothes lines dive down, landing flat on their stomachs, and are left undisturbed for days, untouched by human hands, albeit a bit ruffled by the breeze, till the owner locates and claims them.

So, this theft was quite unexpected, and inexplicable.  The suspicion now fell on the hapless delivery boy. Maybe, unknown to the vendor, he was out to make a quick buck, by delivering one packet less and insisting that he had delivered three. Considering that every apartment has a video door camera, whosoever was on the prowl, was either braving being caught on it or unaware of its eyes trained on him/her. Finally, a generous neighbour averred that at least someone was drinking the milk, which prompted smileys from all quarters to flood the chat window. The thief was forgiven, and everyone decided that it was better to instruct the delivery boy to ring the bell, and personally receive the packets of milk, to avoid such untoward incidents in future, and the speculation that followed them.

Now, I have no idea if the milk was cow’s milk or buffalo’s milk. If it was the former, the episode might just take on a political or religious flavour. Lord Krishna, lovingly referred to as maakhanchor, stole butter from neighbouring houses. If at all someone reprimanded him, it was with great affection, and mock anger. Mostly, the women fawned over him for his mischief. With most households buying their quota of salted butter from the local supermarket, and with the process of preparing butter at home becoming almost extinct, the closest a Krishna bhakt can come to emulating the Lord is by stealing milk. And if it comes from a cow, it has extra divine nutritive benefits too. Despite this shining example from our mythological texts, I doubt that if caught, the milk thief will be showered with such unconditional love. He/she is more likely to be left with deep impressions on the back, made by the repeated contact of a rolling-pin with the spine. Milk thieving can be backbreaking.

As I write this, the thief remains elusive. His/her chances have been nixed by the new arrangement of the delivery boy ringing the doorbell to hand over the much coveted milk packets. On an otherwise predictable day, the theft had caused some ripples and much amusement. Much ado about missing milk. The mystery remains.

Today’s quote: “I always know the ending. That’s where I start.” TONI MORRISON

Today, the moon had overstayed. It is in its third quarter. So, there was the sun on my right, and the moon on my left, facing each other. What unfinished business did the moon have to attend to?

Read a sample chapter of Hisham Matar’s book, ‘The Return’. How does anyone cope when separated from a loved one by cruel circumstances? How does one breathe, eat, function, laugh or simply live, knowing that somewhere a loved one is being tortured or is in the throes of pain, held captive in a land which was his own? How does one deal with no closure? This is the book I’ll read next.

It’s the season of the Indian gooseberry: Amla. Pickle or sabzi? Maybe the latter. It’s crazy how just the mention of this sour, astringent, sweet, bitter and pungent fruit, makes the salivary glands go into overdrive :).




The Missing Koel and a Quiet Dawn


It was unusually quiet this morning. The koels have abandoned the treetops that encircled our building.  I miss their crazed, relentless cooing, their jugalbandis. I wait for them to return home. But, do they think it is? They are free birds. They have wings. And, the skies beckon them, as much as other climes and new, strange, faraway lands. Who can stop them? The kingfisher, with his striking turquoise feathers, his ever-watchful gaze, his wedge-shaped, eager beak, poised to hunt for the little fish swimming furiously about in the pond beneath the gazebo, is a silent operator. He perches on the wooden fence which encloses the pond, gazes at the water hopefully, and before you know it, flies off with a wriggling fry held firmly in its beak.

With the koel gone missing, the raucous seven sisters have begun to babble even more gregariously. Such attention-seeking birds they are! I greet them as I walk, and as they hop about. Even their boisterousness doesn’t make up for the vacuum the koel’s departure has created. The sun is shy, peeping out hesitantly, its rays warming up my skin, where the morning chill has settled and made it dry. As it rises, slowly, a glowing ball of fire, I’m on my little terrace, reading aloud from a copy of ‘Asvashtha Shatakaachi Kavita’ by Vasant Abaji Dahake. Rich, metaphorical verse, which I have discovered late. Hopefully, not too late. I could read these poems all morning, if I could, but chores beckon.

A new early morning chore is sweeping the inert bodies of scores of tiny black insects, who had come visiting last night, lured by the fluorescence of the night lamps. They have been arriving at dusk, swarms of tiny black specks, drawn magnetically to the luminosity. They offer their all to their passionate interlude with light, giving up their lives, as they make love to the glow, fall to the ground, and are reduced to dust. More arrive, unfazed, night after night, and are deceived by the very light whose seduction holds something irresistible. They find gaps in closed windows, tap their miniscule mouths on the glass, begging to be let in, and squeeze their bodies inside, to hover about the glowing bulbs, to collectively serenade their common lover. In vain. Or perhaps, it is their chosen way to depart. While in the throes of passion. From light to darkness, and towards light again. Who knows?

Today, the temple courtyard is quiet too. The ektari is silent. The chorus–its collective voice–has been hushed. No kirtans. No bhajans. I should welcome the silence. But, strange as it may seem, I actually missed the discordant morning notes. Chaos has its way of making one get used to it. So, when you get some reprieve, that too requires getting used to. Even as I write this, and I know I’m managing it because these words have come out of the peace that has descended, I’m already loving it.

A raven is croaking. Cr-r-ruck, it goes. It’s time this black, mysterious bird got a chance to make itself heard. Tomorrow, the koel may return…

Today’s #writing quote: “You see things; and say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?” GEORGE BERNARD SHAW

Breakfast: Saboodana Khichdi. Khichdi, yes. Not insipid, convalescent food this. The dish was hot, and soft, and had just the right spice. Seriously yummy. Ginger tea is a great accompaniment.

Today’s alphabet: S: In my encyclopaedia of household things, S stands for Steamer: A three-tier, steel utensil, that has halved my cooking time, as it helps me serve piping hot meals, and retains the crispness and flavour of the vegetables.

On my mind: Marie Kondo and her Kon Mari clean-up method. The wardrobe needs a massive overhaul. Long pending.

Books to read: The racy thriller I’m currently editing, another chapter from: Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, a chapter from Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, and I so look forward to choosing a new novel from my long wishlist.

Thought: I read the headlines today, as I ate my breakfast. The khichdi is my body now; the headlines–brutal, sad, euphoric–have settled somewhere deep inside. They will germinate someday. Some words bloom late. Or only in a particular season. I’ll wait.




A proud leaf and some eyesores


It has been drizzling since morning. The normally shy Bharadwaj is calling incessantly, as if it needs to draw attention to something. It is hiding, but its hoo, hoo, hoo is a resonant chant, impossible to ignore.

The outdoor beckons, if only to catch a few raindrops on my open palms, to know that they have descended from the skies, to savour the taste of the universe in them. How simple, yet fascinating it is, this give and take between the earth and the sky, this rising and melting of vapour, this loving exchange, this eternal connection.


I look into the pond surrounding the gazebo. It is still, but for a sharp-tipped leaf that is circling around itself. Unlike other leaves, withered, dried or fresh, some of which are floating on their backs, and others on their flat, ridged bellies, this one stands upright defying gravity. The defiance eludes explanation till I see an itsy-bitsy translucent fry emerge from behind it. It swims away from the leaf and towards it again, kissing it ever so lightly. I can imagine it giggling joyously as the leaf bobs backward and forward. It advances and retreats several times, nudging the leaf till it starts spiralling and then falls on its back, floats away and settles under a large, supine, brown leaf, which has been a mute spectator all along.


A kingfisher sits still on the fence. Its wings are a stunning turquoise, its belly white and its beak a pale yellow streaked with a deep red. I stare at it unabashedly, awestruck by its beauty, and the imagination of its creator. It stares back. I don’t lower my gaze. Birds don’t object to this open, brazen admiration. I would never have dared to gawk at a human being so wantonly, out of fear of being hauled up for bad manners, or invasion of privacy, or worse, stalking. I can’t but think that I’m invading what could be its silent moment with itself, but I fail to avert my gaze. Then, I do the forbidden, the crass act of stealthily pulling out my phone from my bag. This is the scourge that has affected almost all of humanity, and while I have largely been immune to this compulsive urge to trap everything in a photograph, there are moments when I slip. This is one such. As I aim, it takes flight.

I start strolling telling myself that I was rightly rebuffed by the bird. A squirrel, its tail pointing skyward, scampers across to join a flock of pigeons pecking at grains scattered in the compound. A mynah dips its yellow beak into a puddle of water formed by the parked cars being washed. It trusts the water and drinks eagerly. I think of the RO water purifier installed in my kitchen. When was the last time I had cupped my palms together and drunk water straight from a natural source or even a tap?  Water has become our enemy. It must go through several processes to become potable. We are sold on this fear. We dread what water will do to our intestines. I envy the mynah. As I walk, I spot a large cluster of bananas on the tree in the compound. A deep purple banana flower blooms at its stem and catches my eye.


As I walk, someone throws a cigarette butt out of the terrace. In an instant, my reverie is broken. I’m furious. I look up to chide the uncivil resident for the insolent act knowing fully well that my search for the culprit is futile. Such acts are done under cover. Worse, I almost step on a banana skin flung carelessly by yet another vandal. The banana will soon become the eater’s body but perhaps all the vitamins in it are incapable of refining his mind.  I pick up the banana skin and deposit it in the bin. At least, I tell myself, I didn’t slip on it.

I look up at the clouds to mitigate my anger, but some days are designed to test one’s patience. I almost step on a used condom, flicked casually by an impassioned gladiator, perhaps too spent after his amorous adventure to discard the evidence of his virility in a more socially acceptable manner. A black insect, with yellow horizontal ridges on its body, inspects it, as I step aside. The insect, unimpressed by the trampled remains of exhibited manhood, hurries away. So do I.

I try to focus on the bird calls but the images of the cigarette butt, the banana skin and the condom haunt me. Eyesores defacing a pristine landscape–all reminders of the way we plunder our environment. I sit on the bench in the garden trying to wipe out the images. But, what you resist, persists. As I take a few deep breaths, my anger gives way to momentary resignation. The sun is out. It will soon scorch the trash. It illuminates the edges of the trees, which now have fiery silhouettes. Soon, the neighbourhood will be filled with voices and familiar everyday sounds and the frenzied pace of the business of living. No one has the time to pause or even spot the pollutants on the landscape. Why, who has the time to even notice the landscape?

Life goes on…


In the Slow Lane, Waiting…


Today, the seven sisters, saat baaya, the original twitterati, were at their cacophonous best. They babbled away gregariously, unmindful that they had stupefied the koel, albeit momentarily. They settled on a flamboyant yellow flowering tree, whose blossoms freshly bathed by the night rain, allured myriad winged visitors. The plumeria was generous in her offerings. She had strewn the grass with joyous white blooms waiting to be gathered.


The sky was streaked with gold, the sun yet to come out. These are the mornings when the moment you take an invigorating breath, you feel deeply grateful to be alive. As if in acknowledgement, a flock of squawking parrots flies past, and a wagtail settles on the lush green below, its tail a propeller.


The weather is salubrious and the mood languorous. Ah! Life in the slow lane… Savouring every moment, taking a minute longer to locate the elusive Bharadwaj, watching the clouds do a slow dance and part to make way for the sun, going into raptures as its rays break through and set every pore of the earth ablaze with infinite possibilities… This life chose me. I can’t stop smiling.

There are the books waiting to be read, the stories begging to be written. Can it get better? I open one of my favourite books: These My Words: The Penguin Book of Indian Poetry Edited by Eunice De Souza & Melanie Silgardo. Randomly I read from a Gujarati Folk Song, by an anonymous poet, titled ‘Rain of The World’. Pour down, O rain of the world, Thou art the rain of four continents. The earth, thy beloved is waiting for thee.

We wait. For someone to arrive, for something to change, for some messiah to save the world, for the tides to turn. Seasons change. Waiting is pregnant with both hope and futility. Eyes glued to the door, someone waits somewhere for the departed to return. A battered soul engulfed by dark thoughts waits for first light. A young girl waits for her dream-lover. We wait for Godot.

Closer home, children, dressed in white and canary yellow, sea green and white and grey and white checked uniforms wait impatiently for their school buses to arrive. A six-year-old holding a lunch box bag swings his arm up and down prompting his mother to admonish him. ‘The food will spill out’, she warns. He stops midway and lowers his arm. A minute later, up goes his arm mindlessly, the restlessness of his age overruling his mother’s warning. His unmindfulness exasperates her and she grabs the bag from his hand, inspects it for spillage and keeps it with her.

The buses arrive one by one, and the little ones pile in, waving out to their parents and minders. As the adults turn to leave, I can see that their strides now have an urgency.

A crow caws, breaking my reverie. Slow gains momentum. My feet tap across to the kitchen. The black-eyed beans I had placed in a sieve near the window have sprouted. They have the sun in their bellies. The tiny spearmint plant my new friends gifted me sways in the breeze.  It looks vulnerable, having taken root in new soil. The sambar balli plant, the latest addition to my family, keeps it company. It adds a pop of soothing green to the terrace. I touch the underside of a leaf and breathe in its oregano-like odour. One day, I will dip some leaves in chickpea batter and enjoy the crunch of piping hot sambar balli bajjos. I water the plants. They drink eagerly.



The skies have now changed colour. They are a dark grey. It may rain today. Words too, I hope.

The Celibate Peacock, the Bengal Tiger & other things National


Yesterday, a high court judge, in a state of delirium, perhaps caused by retirement, made two astounding announcements, on the last day of work. In the same breath, he elevated the status of the country’s National Bird, the peacock, to that of a divine feathered creature and declared that the cow was actually the right candidate to be the National Animal.

Unknown to the peacock, he erased its sexuality and its propensity for polygamy and declared it celibate: http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/peacock-dont-have-sex-says-judge-who-recommended-cow-as-national-animal-1706363

It was this virtue of chastity, he suggested, that was responsible for its choice as the avian representative of the country, and for Lord Krishna himself to tuck its feather into his crown.

News reaches the jungle fast. The informer conveyed to the peacock that it need not spread out its plumage or dance wildly anymore, to attract its mate. All it needed to do was cry for no particular reason to enable the peahen to collect its potent teardrops in its beak and impregnate herself. Reproductive science, he said, had taken a giant leap. And, if the peacock wanted to retain his position, he had to abide by the disclosure of this advocate of abstinence, who was himself born out of the very act, from which he had disassociated the peacock. Celibacy was now mandatory to remain the national representative. On hearing this, the peacock started shedding copious tears and the peahen went into mourning for the loss of an active sex life, and refused to wipe the peacock’s tears, forget drinking them. Whatever for should she bear his progeny, when the basic orgiastic pleasure for doing so was no longer hers!

The informer also held a secret meeting with the Bengal Tiger. Asking him whether he had been to the jungle pathologist lately for a routine urine examination, he threw the sinewy animal into a tizzy. When he roared menacingly, the unfazed informer told him that his ferocity was of no consequence. In fact, he was now more endangered than ever. He scoffed further at his qualities of grace, strength, agility and enormous power. They were nothing compared to having traces of a holy river in one’s urine, and the evidence of 33 crore deities residing in one’s stomach. The tiger, he urged, needed a sonography too.

Besides, he was a carnivore and he ate that which should not be eaten, in times when adherence to vegetarianism and subsistence on grass (the green variety, not what you think) were the sterling qualities to be flaunted. He was, in retrospect, such a misfit. What’s more, the new candidate being promoted had miraculous medicinal powers that killed bacteria, enhanced brain and heart power and stopped ageing, while he killed everything in sight and his savagery paralysed the brains and stopped the hearts of those who chanced upon him, and left them with no time to age. Both beast and man were baying for his blood, the former, an involuntary pawn and the latter engaged in a game of thrones. The inevitable coup, he said, was a brilliant moo.

The tiger sat down slowly, extending his paw for the tigress to hold. He was in the middle of a crisis and needed her support. When she slapped it away, he suspected that a certain Melania was responsible for such a blatant rebuttal. The informer had reported that the winds of incipient celibacy were flowing erratically from nation to nation, and influencing even people in high places. But, the tiger mused, he needed sex for both recreation and procreation. His life and that of his yet to be born descendants literally depended upon it. If, thought the tiger, he abstained, his numbers would dwindle further and if he did not, he would perhaps have to abdicate, and nothing could be more humiliating than losing out to a ruminating mammal. He also surmised that the epithet Bengal could prove to be his nemesis considering the growing animosity between the ruling party and its opposing counterparts from the eastern part of the nation, of which it is native.

Last heard, the peacock and the Bengal tiger had joined forces and invited the bald eagle, the red breasted robin, the emu, the lion and the kangaroo, all national symbols, of foreign countries for a conference to take steps to not only guard their sexuality from unfair human predation but to also formulate a joint charter of rights for non-human symbols of national pride. Delirious human beings, they now know, are capable of making strange pronouncements, coining baffling words, and indulging in random public display of rejection.

It is raining in the jungle now. The peacock is dancing unabashedly. The tiger is preparing for the battle to keep his stripes. Both can’t help but be true to their nature. The delirious human being too, as is his wont, has his foot stuck firmly in his mouth.

Petrichor on My Breath


It’s a petrichor morning. The magical medley of wet earth scents invigorates. I breathe deeply. Even the alluring aroma of freshly brewed ginger tea pales in comparison. It’s a day to step out, to open my arms and gather the tidings of the early rains and hold them close to my heart.

IMG_20170530_090926258 (2)

Strangely, the koel is silent today. Bathed at dawn, her madness has been mitigated. Pacified, she sits benumbed, behind a tapestry of mango leaves, her crimson irises drinking in the wet nakedness around her. The rain has stolen her voice. The squirrels are out though, running up light poles, chasing each other on the boundary wall, scampering across the lawn, and leaping from branch to branch.

A speck appears from nowhere on the page I handwrite this post on, its stillness misleading. If my alert eye had not spotted its almost invisible movement I wouldn’t have known that it was a breathing, living being.  Afraid that my breath will blow it away, I hold it for as long as I can.  It stands, almost lifeless, on invisible legs, unaffected by the flight of my pen on the paper, or the black trails it leaves behind or the smell of ink. Suddenly, it shoots up, a tiny tornado, if there could ever be one, its miniscule wings in rapid motion, making me recoil. I am shocked by the energy in its itsy-bitsy body. Yet, I muse, how gentle must be the fingers that shaped this mite’s wings, how full of love! Gratitude wells up. Such wondrous beings inhabit the Universe.

The sun peeps out, looking to its right and left. The coast is clear for it to emerge. As the rays fall on the mango tree, they wake up the koel from her momentary stupor. Her insane call ruptures the serenity of the nippy morning.  She is unmindful of the discordant note she strikes. She revels in her lunacy.

The cool breeze causes the strands of my hair to streak across my face, creating a trellis, veiling my view. The world starts looking different, striated. The frangipani  tree, under which I sit on an iron bench, sways gently as its blooms drop down one by one, like parachutes, to kiss the earth and perish, as they emit a powerful citrusy fragrance.


Soon the grass is strewn with white plumeria–some looking up at the sky, their open yellow cores vulnerable to the sorcery of the elements. Some blooms point at the clouds with the tips of their stems, their faces buried in grass, shying away from the sun. Some lie on their sides beside felled leaves, toasted brown by the sun, as if knowing that they will soon merge with the soil and return home.



There’s the breeze again! It shakes the droplets of water off the leaves of the frangipani tree and I raise my chin to welcome the shower. “Stay!” I implore. “Stay awhile.” I know it won’t. It’s such a vagabond. Its wanderlust won’t permit it to do more than traipse a bit, and twist and turn crazily. And then, the compulsive pilgrim will be on its way, ignoring my pleas. I take a deep breath, and fill myself up with its bohemian spirit.

It’s futile to expect the rains to linger. They’ve arrived a trifle too early, fickle guests, whose bags stay packed, just inside the door, ready to  leave at will. I prepare myself for their departure. The flicker of hope always hides within it the possibility of disappointment.

I could sit on the wet bench forever observing the tremulous dance of the leaves of grass. I could listen till eternity to the ballad of the bulbuls or the ode to the rains composed collectively by the sunbirds, the mynahs, the sparrows, the wagtails, the fan-tailed birds and the Bharadwaj. I could sit here and write till my fingers protest.

But, the mundane waits. It needs to be attended to. In the neighbourhood, someone is frying puris. The sizzle of the oil and the aroma of a spicy curry mingle with the air. My reverie is broken. Petrichor. It had cast a spell on me. I’ve inhaled it.  I am petrichor. I am the speck. I am rain. I am the earth. I’m intoxicated. Words flow.