Author Archives: thesepeoplehere

About thesepeoplehere

Amateur birder, book-stalker, interpreter of melodies, naturalist, writer-watcher, spice sorcerer, doodler, walker, yoga teacher, struggling novelist...

Where to Now?

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The clock on the wall is on most days just a mute witness to the goings-on in my room. It does its job, its two hands moving quietly in the background, as I bang away on my laptop or sit in front of the laptop screen and stare at it or flit from one virtual window to another, biding my time before beginning to write. But, some days, the ticking seems  louder, more audible, a constant reminder of time passing by. And you sit upright in your chair, straighten your spine, and begin to wonder whether the life you’ve lived has been worth the while. 

I wish I could honestly say that there are no regrets the way people often proclaim in their interviews, but cannot. I am aware of the words I could have said or written differently, choices I could have made more prudently and hurts I could have avoided. One did the best one could in those circumstances. In retrospect, perhaps the best too was not good enough, but the bygone cannot be undone; one can only learn from every such experience and try to make amends.

So, what does one do with one’s life? Last evening, I read a Marathi essay by the same title: ‘या जीवनाचं काय करू?’,  by social activist and researcher, Dr Abhay Bang, who, along with his wife Dr Rani Bang, has revolutionised healthcare for the poorest in the Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra. It was a stinging eye-opener to the myriad possibilities that exist to reach out and make a difference, but which we fail to explore, because we don’t look beyond our own selfish needs or existence. While it’s understandable that not everyone has the wherewithal to be a social reformer, or to work selflessly and tirelessly at the grassroots level to effect a change, the fact is that there do exist spaces where, while living the life of our choice, it’s possible to contribute at least a wee bit to causes that require support, if only we took cognisance of them. I plead guilty here. 

Dr Bang elaborates on how it entails not following the herd or participating in the rat race, and how it means bypassing the hedonistic to embrace the spartan or at least the temperate, to really look at the world with different eyes, and to step out of one’s comfort zone. It helped that Dr Bang spent his childhood in Gandhi’s Sevagram Ashram at Wardha with Mahatma Gandhi’s foremost disciple Acharya Vinoba Bhave, and was exposed to Gandhian thought at an impressionable age. It shaped his character, and he could easily refuse the lucrative job offers that came his way to choose untrodden, tough terrain, and with no regrets whatsoever. 

Exposure is a potent transformer. It adds several remarkable dimensions to one’s persona, whether one is an activist or a writer. In an interview in Storylines: Conversations with Writers, author Mangala Godbole avers that her outreach as a humorist would have been far more comprehensive if she would have had greater exposure. Unfortunately, she had to restrict her repertoire to the domestic. It’s another matter that the column which she wrote for almost a decade resonated with her readers, and accorded her the privilege of being among the very few female humorists in Marathi literature, perhaps the  only notable one. 

Hands-on exposure is obviously way more life-changing than say reading, though the latter too is a fairly effective metamorphic tool. It provides enough fodder for reflection when one is at crossroads or looking to make a far more meaningful contribution, if not through participation at ground zero, then at least through the tools at hand. Presently,  writing holds that promise. One word. Then another. The possibilities are endless. 

At the moment, several books lie scattered on my desk. There’s Bama’s interview in Storylines that I can’t wait to read. There is Dr Anil Awachat’s ‘जिवाभावाचे’, in which he writes about those who hold a special place in his heart. In one chapter, he talks of the conversations and meals (the dosas, the saboodana khichdi, the poha), he has enjoyed at authors Virupaksh and Uma Kulkarnis’ warm home. The couple is renowned for translating the works of eminent Kannada writers like Dr Shivram Karanth and  S L Bhyrappa.  It makes me yearn to visit their home, and be a part of the camaraderie. It makes me wonder about the companionship of  writer couples, and partners working towards a common cause. What is a day in their life like? Where do they get  their energy from? How do they unwind? Do they ever? That calls for an exploration of a different kind. Some day, I shall know.

For now, it’s a day filled with reading, writing and hope. 


Climes: Today, it’s cooler than yesterday. The skies are grey, but the sun’s rays have found their way through the clouds. There is always a silver lining.

I agree: ‘When there is pain, there are no words. All pain is the same.’ – Toni Morrison

Menu: Got fresh springy green spinach at the local vendor’s. Small finds make great meals. 

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The yellow colour burst stopped me in my tracks

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Close Encounters of the Furred Kind

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 I was out for my regular morning walk, and suddenly, a gentleman walking ahead of me stopped abruptly in his tracks. I saw that a cat was crossing his path. The man was contemplating whether to walk on or turn back, probably unnerved by the superstition that a cat crossing one’s path brings misfortune. I remembered how, as children, my friends and I, influenced by the juvenile belief in prevalent superstitions, walked seven steps backward, as an antidote to cats crossing our paths. On spotting a cat, we stood rooted to the spot, held hands, while one of us counted aloud, ‘One, to, three,’ and all of us retraced seven steps, our feet moving in unison in a backward march. Satisfied that we had circumvented the impending misfortune,  we then went our way, the cat forgotten.

None of us ever thought of questioning our actions or the rationale behind the belief, following it blindly, perhaps more out of amusement than conviction. I couldn’t help smiling at how naive and foolish we were, as I looked at the gentleman whose face was now lined with anxiety. He was probably weighing the possibility of whatever task he was set out to do getting thwarted by feline intervention, against the probability that it was such a preposterous thought to entertain.  He did begin walking with rather unsure steps, the domestic animal having captured his mind in a way it was not even aware of. Someday, hopefully, he would acknowledge the  irrationality of it. 

I remember how, one day, when I was in college, my friend and I were travelling in her car from Cuffe Parade to Matunga to a shop to buy something she had seen and fancied earlier. Halfway through our drive, when the car stopped at a traffic signal, a white cat with black  patches crossed our path. The driver instantly turned around and declared, ‘Aaj kaam nahi hoga.’ My friend and I looked at each other and laughed aloud. She scolded the driver, ‘All that I have to do is pick up the item from the shop. There is no question of it not getting done.’ The driver shrugged and said, ‘I’m telling you it won’t happen.’ We ignored him. When we reached Matunga and were about to park the car outside the shop, we noticed that the shutters were down. So were the shutters of all the adjoining shops. It was a Monday, the day the shops in the area remained closed. We had forgotten all about it. The driver looked at the shutter and at us and with a smug smile, wagged his finger and said, ‘I told you so. We should have turned back when the cat crossed our path.’ He then went on to narrate a few other incidents when cats had supposedly aborted his missions, and warned us never to pooh-pooh such beliefs. No amount of rationalising could change his mind, and he continued attributing superpowers to the cat instead of blaming us for our oversight. 

I remember how the residents in my Matunga neighbourhood avoided  walking down the footpath that skirted a building, in which a lady who lived on the ground floor, had several pet cats that loitered in the compound. One of them, a back cat with silky smooth fur and green eyes, just like the  ones associated with witchcraft and sorcery in stories, sat on her window sill watching the world go by, stretching and yawning now and then. I saw people cross the road at that point so as to avoid its gaze, and walk hurriedly past on the opposite footpath, and discuss in hushed tones, how the lady was probably practising black magic secretly, and how perhaps everyone should get together and have her evicted. I remember how, one day, I mustered the courage to walk past the house and make eye contact with the cat, and after surviving it, repeat the act on my daily rounds in the neighbourhood. Later, I befriended one of the most adorable black cats I’ve ever met. Pepper was my closest friend’s pet cat, gentle and affectionate, with sparkling peridot eyes. I soon got used to her rubbing her body against my legs, purring softly, as I stroked her.   

Recently, our neighbour’s  cat walked out of the house and did not return. The distraught neighbour put up a notice in the lift and the lobby, and posted the photograph of the grey and black cat on  all WhatsApp groups. I could only  imagine her distress as I found myself scrutinising all the cats I spotted thereafter, to see if they matched the picture. I have no idea at what point cat-love had crept into my heart, but I am kind of smitten by them now. Luckily, the cat returned on her own after a few days, and the neighbours are now  far more careful about keeping their main door shut when visitors or service personnel arrive.

As I write this post, a brown striped tom cat prowls about in the garden. A late walker crosses its path. The cat does not stop. It does not retrace its steps. It mews nonchalantly and in one graceful leap, bounds over the compound wall, and goes to the other side. It knows better  than to be anxious that a human being had crossed its path. 

Today’s dilemma: To complete reading ‘पुढे जाण्यासाठी मागे वळून पाहताना’, a book based on the transcript of interviews with Dr Anil Awachat, Dr Abhay Bang and Dr Anand Nadkarni or to watch the YouTube interview.  

Spotted: Cartfuls of litchis. A treat is in order. 

Today’s Quote: 

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Our Heart, the Akshaya Patra

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The events of the last few days have brought me face to face with the bestiality that we, as human beings, are capable of. Almost every day, the newspapers  reported incidents of domestic abuse and violence against women and children, the most horrendous being the unimaginably brutal rape and murder of eight-year-old Asifa, on whom were perpetrated the atrocities one never thought human beings are capable of. Actually, that’s not true. How could one forget the Holocaust or the wars that have been fought over the years or apartheid or casteism or communal riots, where nothing human remained?

At such times you have to, despite witnessing the outpouring of hate, and the spill of blood and venom, remind yourself that this is not how we are at the core. We have hearts, we have minds, we have love. What we choose to employ as we go about living our lives decides whether we rise as human beings or sink to the deplorable depths of inhumanity. During the moments when deep compassion wells up in me, when I have affectionate interactions with the people around me, when a smile lights up my being spontaneously when I meet a stranger, when my hands reach out to steady a wizened old lady who has stumbled while walking, when I do a random act of kindness with no expectation whatsoever, the sense of expansion in me is so phenomenal, it intrigues me that we can be so wayward at other times. Surely, this harmony, this affability, this natural upsurge of love is what we need to harness, to focus on. And yet we allow our small minds to take over, to exaggerate and emphasise upon our differences, instead of celebrating the fact that we live in a world that has this fascinating diversity. It’s so much easier to embrace it. All it takes is an instinctual opening of our hearts.

Today is Akshaya Tritiya, considered to be one of the most auspicious days in the Hindu calendar. Jains believe that the first Tirthankara (Rishabhanatha) ended his one-year asceticism on this day, by consuming sugarcane juice poured into his cupped hands. Some also believe, that on this day, Ved Vyas began reciting the Mahabharata to Lord Ganesha. On this very day, Lord Krishna is said to have blessed Draupadi with the Akshaya Patra, a vessel that would give unlimited food every day, till she had had her meal. Other legends talk of Surya, the sun-god, gifting it to the Pandavas. Fascinating myths and folk tales abound around this day, considered perfect to make new beginnings.

Come to think of it, our hearts are quite like the Akshaya Patra, with a never-ending supply of love. We can dive deep and come up with more. And it never gets empty. So through all the rhetoric that is flying fast and furious, all the malice and hostility, if we can connect with our true nature, make a fresh start, and negate the divisions that separate us from each other, we could overcome the vulnerable moments when despite the warnings of our conscience, and the inner voice that tries to stop us from indulging in rash, illogical acts, we choose not to draw from our innate wisdom. In the end, it’s a choice.

As I write, the birds are twittering away, the sky is a clear blue and a new day has dawned. It’s full of promise and hope. There is a prayer on my lips. May Asifa get justice. May goodness prevail. It’s not too much to ask for.

Rain, Ravan, and Books

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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?

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Holi, and Why I Abided By the 7 pm Curfew

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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. 

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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. 

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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

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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)

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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:

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…