Thriving Mindfully

Author: Sreenath Sreenivasan (Page 2 of 27)


किलकारी से आज मन का भर गया है झोला
देखो आज पालना भी झूम कर है डोला
आंगन में अब तो गूंजे है मद्धम सी लोरी
जो जन्मी है घर में अपने प्यारी सी छोरी

समय की करवट के साथ जन्मा भाई छोटा
नानी बन बिटिया झूमी जैसे हुआ हो उसका पोता
दूध के दांत भले टूटे नही हो पांच
रक्षा करे ऐसी भाई को आने ना दे आंच

थी उसके साये में कुछ ऐसी निर्मल छाया
पापा की डांट से मानो हर रोज़ ही बचाया
जो माँ की ममता अगर कभी पड गयी अधूरी
अम्मा बन हरदम की हर कसर है उसने पूरी

और भाई की मुठ्ठी में ताक़त कुछ ऐसी समाई
जो बहन की राखी से सज गयी उसकी कलाई
फ़िर भाई के रुतबे में लग जाता ऐसा तड़का
कि आंख उठाने से डरे मोहल्ले का हर लड़का

पर पलक झपकते ही देखो बड़ी हो गयी लाड़की
दुल्हन बन बैठी है आज, सज गयी है देखो पालकी
पीछे छोड़े अपने कई आँसुओं के अम्बार
ससुराल चली बन्नो बसाने अपना संसार

पापा बोले जा बिटिया रखना सबको हरदम ही ख़ुश
तू जन्मी थी तो ही उभरा था मेरे भीतर का पौरुष
तेरी ज़िद्द न होती ऐ बहना तो मैं पैदा न हुआ होता
बोला भाई, अब सूना हो गया देख तेरा नन्हा पोता

नारी की महिमा हैं यह, उसकी कोमल सी ममता
हर नर में परिवर्तन लाने की अद्भुत सी ये क्षमता
अगर ना होता नारी का वो निर्मल पावन प्यार
मानो ओझल हो जाता इस संसार का ही सार

हो धागों के ये रिश्ते या हो ममता के अटूट तार
इस प्रेम की पतवार से ही होती है नैया पार
नारी का अस्तित्व ही है मानो देवी का अवतार
आओ मिलकर इस शक्ति का करें हम जयजयकार

Who is a friend?

‘Oh no, not again!’ I hear my little five-year old neighbour shout out in anguish.

I don’t need to peep out of the window to know what’s spoiling her evening. I’ve seen her grow into the angel she is. I know each inflection, every giggle, every whimper of her animated self.

I go to my backyard and get a long bamboo stick. I open the front door, and she’s already there, waiting for me.

She needn’t speak.

I prop up the stick and reach for the shuttle-cock stuck on the flower-studded Champa tree by the street. After some poking in the lush canopy, the florescent shuttle cock falls down in tandem with the little girl’s squeal.

She is back at play with her mother on the street. Her reclusive mom wonders about this telepathic understanding between her daughter and me.

While at play I hear her tell her mother,

‘I told you. He will come to help. He is my friend!’

And that gets me wondering too.
When did we become friends?
What does it mean to be a friend anyway?

Soon, I realised the most sincere of definitions of a friend.

‘A friend is someone who cares about something with the same love and passion as you do.’

Think about it.

The interruption in play from the stuck shuttle cock is as much a matter of concern for the little girl as it is to me. We both care about the continuance of childlike play.

And I come out to help.

And we are friends!

We both find it inconceivable to not dance in the first shower of rain.
We care about the experience equally.
And we are friends.
Without ever needing to say a word.

A childhood friend cares about you almost to the same degree as you care about yourself.
Your emotion for them is exactly the same.
There’s an element of truth in that relentless reciprocity.

This mirrored magic of caring is what sustains childhood friendships for a lifetime.

If you make a friend later in life, chances are you are interested in similar things. You care about the similar political and philosophical ideas. You are passionate about the same thing in some manner.
Or you make something with them in some work context. And that leads you to care about a common idea or product or art.

The hours spent together, help coalesce your conceptions of friendship and soon, you start opening up to each other.

All friendship is a measure of how much we care about the same thing.
All brotherhood is a deed in trust.

Sometimes going out in search of friends doesn’t help.

All one can do is open up to care.
Care for someone, or something, or an idea with deep passion.
And let a friendship manifest around that commonality of care.

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make a friend.

Sometimes all you have to do, is to make the stuck shuttle cock fall down from a tree.

Once you’ve done that enough times, a little girl might call you a friend.

Is there an honour bigger than that?

With that thought, I wish you a happy friendship day!

Half Pants

Little Manjunath could not think about anything else but his brand new half-pants. Having lived in a single pair of half-pants ever since he remembers, the new pair was a luxury.

And he had worked hard to deserve them too.

One day at school, all kids had assembled in the kitchen courtyard to have their mid-day meal. A stray lump of glowing coal had slipped out of the stove, lending the haystack nearby a reason to burn.

As the flame raged into an inferno, the kids screamed and ran helter-skelter in search of a safer shelter. Manju, on the other hand, ran up to the well and fetched a bucket full of water to douse the fire.

How could he let the pot full of halwa get consumed in the flames!

Soon, the teachers at school came to help and the fire was extinguished.

He became the hero of the third standard that day. All teachers celebrated his bravery. Everyone celebrated with the sweet halwa salvaged from the fire. But what little Manju remembered most fondly was the gentle way in which Dhaara teacher, had ruffled his hair.

Dhaara was Manju’s class teacher. She was a charming lady in her mid-20s who taught her students with deep involvement and affection. Manju loved her in the most guileless, young-boy-like manner possible.

The principal of the school had taken note of Manju’s bravery. He had announced a gallantry award for Manju, to be awarded on the 15th of August, India’s Independence Day.

Manju wished to receive the honour in a new pair of clothes. His clothing situation though was a bitter irony. While his father was the local village washerman, who dealt with clothes all the time, he could hardly afford two pairs of school shorts for Manju.

But on learning of the bravery award to be conferred on Manju, he had borrowed money to buy a new pair of navy blue half-pants.

It was the night of 14th August. The new pair of half pants were swaying to the wind on the clothesline near the village pond. Manju could hardly sleep that night.

‘What if the half-pants get stolen? What if they are blown away into the pond?

What if they fall off and get muddy?’

A hundred things could go wrong, and all of them pestered him equally.

The whole household was fast asleep. It was midnight. Manju heard a deep rumble from outside. And, another worry entered his mind,

‘What if it rains?

I won’t be able to go to school with wet pants!
And I won’t be able to receive the award from Dhaara teacher!’

He longed for his hair to be ruffled again, just like the day of the fire in the kitchen.

The rumble was back again. It felt as if the clouds were forewarning about a sudden spell of rain.

Manju had to do something.

Quietly, he left his own house like a seasoned burglar. Guided by diffused moonlight and his villager instinct, he made his way to the community pond nearby.

He knew where his father always hung the clothes of the family. The topmost clothesline from the bank, near the banyan tree.

The fact that he was more afraid of missing out on Dhaara Madam’s gentle ruffle than any dangers lurking in the dark, led the little 8-year-old through the eerie theatre of the night.

He needed little searching. He got hold of his half pants and felt the damp fabric on his cheek.

‘Would it dry by morning?’ he wondered.

He didn’t want to receive the award with wet pants!

The rumble of the night got intense. Manju tried to listen for the source of the sound.

A pair of luminous eyes shone at a distance near the pond. A padded tail, curved like a bow, dangled high above the patch of grass.

It was a big cat.

A leopard.

Manju gulped all his screams.

Just as stealthily he had come out of his house, he climbed up the Banyan tree to be at a safe place, away from the feasting Leopard.

He wondered whose cattle shed in the village was one sheep short that night.

He prayed to Lord Hanuman, under his stifled breath.

Manju sweat his shirt wet in the half an hour spent in cover on the Banyan tree. Once the Leopard finished eating, he walked past the tree slowly.

Now, both of Manju’s half pants were wet.

Satiated with the kill, the Leopard sauntered into the thicket under the guard of the night.

Manju fell unconscious hugging a thick branch of the mighty Banyan tree.

The following morning, when Manju opened his eyes, he saw the angelic face of his class teacher.

‘Is this a dream?’ Have I reached heaven?’ he wondered in delirium.

He saw the faces of his relived parents on the adjacent side of the bed. He had a warm quilt around his body.

‘You’re fine Manju. Don’t worry.

We are all proud of you,’ said Dhaara teacher.

‘Good morning, teacher’ he mumbled.

‘We were worried when you didn’t come to school for the ceremony. Then the school gatekeeper told us you were on a Banyan tree the whole night.’

‘I hope it wasn’t one of our sheep. The leopard….’

‘Sshh… Don’t worry about it.

Here, I have your medal for you.

To the bravest child in our village!’

Dhaara teacher lovingly put the medal around a supine Manju.

She ruffled Manju’s hair affectionately. The gentle sweep of her fingers was worth a thousand badges of honour.

Everything seemed to be ending well for little Manju.

A bravery medal home delivered by his loving class teacher!

Everything seemed perfect.

Just the warm quilt gave him an irresistible itch on the thigh.

He slowly reached for the spot under the quilt to scratch that itch.

That’s when he realised,

He was wearing no half-pants!

Manju slept through the whole afternoon, naked under the blanket, without a worry in the world.

Both his half-pants fluttered slowly on the clothesline by the banyan tree next to the pond.

Magic Moringa

It would be safe to say that during the testing times of the pandemic, it was the drumstick that became my saviour.
No, I am not talking about the slender pieces of wood that help me make music on the drums. I am speaking about the drumstick hanging like muted chimes on the Moringa tree in my neighbourhood.

Also known as Saragvo in Gujarati, Muringyakaya in Malayalam, this hardy fruit-bearing tree made sure my family never went to bed with an empty stomach during the lockdown.
As the days of scarcity, and uncertainty reeled on with subsequent lockdown extensions, the majestic Moringa tree in the park assured us of our food security.

The moment the sun beamed its first rays into our locality, my mother would silently make her way to the park with a long stick in her hand. After some hustling, she would be back home with a few drumstick pods and a bunch of moringa leaves.

Come lunch and we’d have a spread of sambar and rice. Without the succulent drumstick soaking in the lightly flavoured stew, the dish would pass off as dal. But its pulpy goodness, and the satisfaction of sucking on the last drip from its fibrous remains made us feel a sense of plenitude in times of utter scarcity.

However, the spice shelf soon ran out of the indispensable ingredient of sambar – tamarind.
But has the creativity of a mother ever failed us?
Each day, we’d get to taste a different kind of tanginess in our ‘sambar’. We tasted the flavour of dried raw mangoes, dehydrated amla, Malabar tamarind, lemon, or even Kokum, as a replacement for the usual tamarind spiced sambar. And each dish would outdo the one served a day earlier.

The drumstick leaves started featuring in plenty in our dishes, sometimes as saag,at times as a poriyal with grated coconut, as a leafy accompaniment in dal, at times just raw as a garnish on a cucumber and pomegranate salad.

It’s safe to say our home was suffused with the aromatic blessings of the Moringa tree.

Since we were consuming so much food from a single tree, we wondered if there were any side effects to it.

After some searching online, my mother said,

‘They say it’s a superfood. Do you know anything about this? What is a superfood?’

I could have looked it up. But after the generous care given to our family for two months at a stretch, could I deem its superfood status merely to some magical combination of micronutrients?

Towards the end of May, the drumstick on the tree began to dry up. Only a few dozen drumstick remained near the canopy. But when my mother’s height failed her to reach the topmost fruit, my father’s resolution helped bridge that slender distance.

We derived as much as we could from the tree, until the day it rained for the first time in the season. With a grateful heart, we let the tree heal and recover with the spells of rain to follow.

From the last few drumstick, my mother managed to grow a few saplings. They’re growing well, one each on either side of the entrance to our home.

I remember how during the summer months, our city would be full of drumsticks hanging from the ubiquitous Moringa trees. But all of that fruit dried up every year, without ever receiving respect through our consumption.

The dried seed pods would fall on the concrete pavements. Not one seed would manage to break the opaque, unyielding shield of modernity and reach a longing layer of soil beneath.

I haven’t been out on the streets lately due to the pandemic.

But I only hope that all other Moringa trees have been utilised as abundant treasures in times of scarcity. I hope all of them look like the resurgent tree in our park, one that’s grateful of having served its cause, of having saved a few lives.

And if there are other seeds that have blossomed outside the houses of our unknown neighbours, the hapless seedlings have finally found a fertile place in our heart.

Two prayers

‘Rain rain go away,

Little Johnny wants to play…’

Little Johnny was singing this rhyme, wishing the rains away.

‘It’s vacation time. Why does it have to rain now?’ he thought.

While little Lola reached her hand out of the window to catch the falling droplets of rain.

She was delighted to feel the heaven-sent shower on her palm.

‘Johnny, it is nice weather. Come let’s sit in the porch and listen to the rain,’ said little Lola.

‘I don’t want to listen to the rain. I wish there was a big Umbrella that could shield the playground from the raindrops,’ said a brooding Johnny seated on his black and white football.

‘But the rain is nice. The plants need it. Animals need it. We need water from the rain too.’

‘It can rain in the night when we are asleep. Why does it have to rain in the day?’

‘So that you can see it, silly! Don’t you like to play in the rain?’ asked Lola.

‘I am a big boy now. I am eight years old you know. I like sports. Not dancing in the rain!’

‘Too bad for you big boy. I am still a little girl. I love the rain.’

‘Then why do you raise an alarm when you see a millipede walk into the house at night after the rain?’

‘Did you see a millipede?’ asked a terrified Lola.

‘Ha ha ha, foolish girl. If I had one wish, I would pray for the rain to go away right now!’

‘No, Johnny! Let the rain go away slowly. I still want to dance in the drizzle.’

Johnny let out a big laugh.

‘Ha ha ha, I will use my secret powers, and pray for the rain to stop in 10 minutes!’

‘No, No, Johnny!’ Lola pleaded…

Oh almighty sun, let the clouds part…Let me see your shining face….’

Lola, in turn, prayed to the clouds,

‘Dear clouds, don’t go away too soon. Let there be a drizzle as you move to other places.’

The rain began to lessen in intensity. The earth was gravid with fresh water. The seeds in the earth awakened. Soon, a gentle glisten of sunbeam spread on the soft surface of the earth.

Lola jumped out in the puddle outside her house. Her brother Johnny, flung his football into the puddle. He jumped right in and the whole neighbourhood knew the kids were at play.

They walked to the little bridge near their house. The water in the canal was ripple dotted with the falling droplets. A lotus bloom moved languidly with the gentle flow.

‘You see the Sun is out. My wish has come true!’ said Johnny looking at the emergent sun.

There was no answer from Lola.

She was looking eastward, away from the setting sun. She was entranced.

‘Johnny…’ she tugged on his sleeve and pointed to the sky in the east.

Johnny turned around and looked at the sky.

A majestic arch of seven colours shone feebly on the blue sky. A faint assembly of colours sat on top on the arch, just in the reverse order of colours.

It reflected in the freshwater flowing in the canal.

‘What is this Johnny?’

‘Some magic. Did you pray for this Lola?’

‘No, I just asked for a little drizzle.’

‘And, I asked for a little sunshine.’

The brother and sister duo, watched the sky in awe, as the sun sunk in the western sky.

Millipedes dug their way out of the moist earth. Lola never noticed.

There wasn’t any fighting between the siblings anymore.

And both prayers were answered, in nature’s own sweet way.

On the good old Lunchbox

Remember that calamitous moment in school, when the class teacher asked for yesterday’s homework with a cold steel ruler in hand? And you slid your hand ever so slowly inside the school bag, feigning to reach for the unfinished homework. How you imagined the cold slap of metal on your tender hands on a cold winter morning. And somewhere between all of this, your hands touched the stainless steel lunch box inside your bag that nursed your hands with the reassuring warmth of homemade comfort food.

And we felt all was well in the world. We found the largesse to convince ourselves, ‘This too shall pass’ and we dared to imagine beyond the pain, about the feast that awaited us at lunch time.

The lunch box is the closest substitute for the warmth of a mother. It’s the quintessential pacifier for growing kids who need to be weaned off their mother’s constant companionship. The weeping kids at pre-school find some consolation in the taste of the lovingly prepared meal by their darling mothers. The lunch box somehow convinces us that we are still not too far from home.

In school, lunchtime was the much needed pit-stop we needed for a quick refuel, before we headed out to play in the carefully budgeted lunch period. Lunch was a substitute for a visit to our friend’s home. And more often than not, we visited them all in that hurried limited buffet in the class room. And how discerning was our sense of taste! We might have not even seen a friend’s mother, but we could recognise her from a blind tasting test!

Amid the sharing of lunch all throughout school, we also grew up with a conundrum that’s unsolved to this day.
If everyone ate only out of their own tiffin, everyone would be full. But if everyone shared with each other equally, nobody ever felt full enough!

And as we shared our meals, we took our stomach on a gastronomical Bhaarat darshan. Our lunch comprised of two spoons of Upma, Half an Idli, quarter a Paratha, a slurry of curd rice, a handful of Poha, a disfigured cutlet, and assorted snacks that we trusted to be edible. Sometimes we scooped a fistful of Maggi, a dollop of pasta, a morsel of samosa on that odd special day. A random piece of lime pickle, a smattering of ketchup, and an odd dip in the green chutney, all washed down with hurried gulps of water.
The stomach was prepared for resilience right from school days.

But there were also days when we forgot to carry that lunch box, or someone hid it to have fun with us. Who could we blame when all pilferers pleaded victimhood? But the hunters often become the hunted too, and in the end nobody ever learned a lesson!

There is something crucial that we did learn at lunch hour though – the difference between civility and savagery. All we had to do was observe how girls and boys share lunch among themselves.

Boys would remember being injured with their finger cut from a stainless steel dabba grab-fest, juggling a hot paratha, getting their fingers pierced by forks, and all the pushing and shoving involved in the pursuit of one mouthful. On the other hand, girls would sit in a circle and eat with grace, while finding amusement in the public display of desperation from the boys. Girls always wondered why the boys acted this way. And the boys could never fathom why girls seemed to be growing faster when it was the boys who displayed a more ravenous hunger.

The weight of a full dabba has a gravity of its own. On a long journey away from home the dabba binds us to our roots, giving us comfort in each redolent morsel.
The dabba has always accompanied us regardless of our age. The dabba meant that you’re still cared for. That someone at home still called you by an adorable pet name, no matter how old you were. In a busy city like Mumbai, there’s an intricate web of Dabbawallahs who promise to deliver home-cooked food to your office doorstep. That speaks of what we long for through the dabba.

While most of us have experienced the joy of a dabba full of delicious food, only few among us have experienced the unspoken joy of a mother who washes an empty dabba late in the evening.

She knows that despite her proscription, her daughter did share the ghee and nuts laden halwa with her friends. She’s happy still, knowing that her daughter had the heart to share a delicacy with friends.

Until the dawn of the millennium, tiffin boxes were made of stainless steel, the most iconic of them being the three-floored skyscraper of a dabba, a familiar cousin of the indestructible Hero cycles. We have come a long way from that era. Moulded plastic lunch boxes have replaced the heavyweight champion. In fact, lunch boxes have become modern and stylish. Kids carry Tupperware as lunch boxes, something that was unthinkable in the late 90s. There are insulation lined lunch boxes that keep the food warm until lunch time. I remember the only way to achieve that back in the day was with the aluminium foil, something that only classier kids could afford. Looking back though, I’m glad none of our friends could afford that, else in the grab-snatch game at lunch hour, we’d all have accidentally ingested foil for food at some point.

However, most mischievous kids ensured that they had their lunch warm by finishing it when it was still warm, just after the first period.
Who needs foil, they’d say!
Their marginal moustache almost always bore signs of ingestion, in stark contrast of their staunch denial. Need one explain the genesis of the old Hindi saying – chor ki dadhi me tinka?

Just as the design of the box is changing, so are its contents. Toasted bread, cheese sandwiches, reheated pizzas, biscuits, and convenience foods are increasingly featuring in the lunch boxes of the school going generation today.
The advertising industry has been convincing us into using factory-made substitutes of what we believed to be indispensable, healthy meals. And given the pace of life today, one can empathise with the overworked mother who rationalises the temptation of sending a peanut butter jam sandwich for lunch.

Not only this, the rules in the school are changing too. There are schools that decree students to not share their lunch. It’s every man to himself here. Some schools have a kitchen and cafeteria, which comes as a relief for working parents. All kids eat the same meal. There’s no avenue to share. As we dish out these convenient measures we end up promoting a mono-culture that’s individualistic and unsavoury.

What will happen to the sisterhood found through sharing food?

We are what we eat.
In my school days, my friends and I ate almost exactly the same meal (give or take a morsel) as we shared food uncompromisingly at every lunch hour. Perhaps that speaks for why we still feel oneness with those who we shared our school lunch box with.

But with the culture of being kept from sharing food with friends, or having to eat the same meal in the cafeteria (without having to share), one wonders how it will affect children in the future.

Where is this headed?
We can only wait and watch. But don’t be surprised when kids aren’t as eager to share as they once used to be. They’re the least to be blamed for this change.

However things shape up, we can be glad to be a generation that still savours the good old charm of slinging a lunchbox to work.
And if we still carry a lunch box to office, we can only feel grateful.

Forbidden Love

I felt the tender touch of her hands on mine. She was scared, but I could sense the excitement in her quivering fingers. It was the first time we had held hands in public. And that too, with her parents standing right next to us. But we were standing in the planetarium, and the lights were dim. The shadows were our cover. Gradually everything was enveloped by a darkness as deep as interstellar space. A beam shot out of the projector and the story of the universe began. The roof of the planetarium became the theatre of creation.

‘It all began with the singularity…’

I felt a big bang in my heart as our fingers flirted. The gulf of intense longing was finally bridged. The darkness in the theatre helped us submit to pleasure that though innocent was forbidden. She was the only girl I ever thought about that way. I had loved her ever since I saw her for the first time. She was my best friend, my neighbour, my school bench partner. She was my everything.

I could feel her racing pulse. Our hormones fired in harmony. We clasped each other’s hands tighter, as the loudspeakers aired trivia about nebulae and supernovas. I cared least for the movie screened at the planetarium. I had found my universe in those fleeting moments.

Her shapely nails felt cold to the touch. Her slender fingers were every bit artistic. I dreamt of adorning it with a ring one day. There was a spiritual electricity between us. Our longing was magnetically mutual. We were the twin star systems projected on to the ceiling. Love was our gravity.

Her hand was slightly bigger than mine. And she was taller by a full four inches. I was still waiting for my puberty to hurry things up while she had begun to show signs of womanhood. I compensated for my fledgling manhood with an assertion in my grip that I believed girls loved to submit to.

When they began to project pictures of the moon landing, all I could think of was the nights we had spent being lunatics in our respective balconies, yearning to see each other in school the next day.

Her eyes had a lunar charm. And she’d teasingly call me a loon. I would always think that one day I would have the courage to tell her that I will love her to the moon and back.

On the ceiling, I looked at Armstrong hopping on the moon and felt that he’d fallen in love. He looked at me and felt as if I’d landed on the moon.

It was a mystery how a beautiful thing like her could be the daughter of the most uptight, unpleasant Uncle of the neighbourhood. If I had one wish, it would be for him to disappear forever. Could he float away beyond the solar system like the Voyager probe?
But imagining the grief of my beloved, I had never wished ill on him.

However, I also wondered how her charming mother could fall for such a crude, average looking man. That’s what happens when others arrange for who you must love, so I thought.

I trusted their daughter’s choice to be better than theirs.

Slowly the movie zoomed back to life in our solar system. The frigid extremes of Neptune, the hoola hooping Saturn, the Giant Jupiter, the traffic congestion of the asteroid belt, the red planet Mars and finally, to mother earth. They showed the evolution of life on the blue planet, the oceanic life forms, the first plants, glimpses of the Jurassic age, the meteor strike, ice ages, the age of the Neanderthals, the rise of Homo Sapiens, and finally vignettes of life in our current times.

I wished the movie to last longer. They could show a 3-hour movie and I’d watch it happily standing in the planetarium. I could finally understand what Einstein meant by relativity. Time had flown past like a happy memory. And in that mote of a minute I had found all the meaning in the world. I was the expanding universe.

We held on to each other’s hands. We felt reassured of the mutuality of our longing. Caressing gently, we sunk in the final moment before parting.

But the lights came on too soon.

Right opposite me, I saw my girl struggling to stay afoot. She fainted and fell on the floor once she saw me in the act.

Her flabbergasted father looked at me with the consuming gravity of his twin black hole eyes.

I looked to the left and pleaded innocence.

I was holding the hand of her mother.

Fearless Poetry

In an intimate moment
To a poem
I asked,

Tell me dear, of your solemn sanity
your grace, your poise and equanimity

Why nothing ever makes you dread
What makes you ever so unafraid.

The poem, ever silent,
she sipped on some ink
And revealed gently,
In a lettered link

I am the psalm of life, thus she said,
I’m worth that testing pursuance
I am artless art, born
At the confluence of all influence

And until every word, every influence
Has come together in an effortless stride
I have witnessed my laboured making
Without that senseless shred of pride

And what do I tell you
Of the incubation inside
A young poet’s doubting mind
That imaginary prison
For an imagined work of love
How needlessly does that cage bind!

How testing were all those years
I’ve waited as a footprint on paper
In the suffocating darkness where
the sublime sublimates, into a withering vapor

But in all those moments
Spent without any clout
I’ve never let inside
A flicker of doubt

I’ve believed in myself
To the heights of delusion
When nobody knew of
My spirited resolution

At times when nobody was ready
To pull me out of the shelf,
I have spent those nights quietly
Reading myself to myself
In the voices of all those
who might find some consonance
With faith in all words
That might find some resonance

I have heard voices that
have exalted me to the heavens
I have endured the voices
That have relegated me to hell

In all those pageants
Of my own imagined discovery
I have felt
anguish and agony
beauty and belittlement
curses and caresses
doubt and desparation
exasperation and emancipation…

In those murmuring moments
I have heard
Every possible reaction
Of a possible reader
From myself
In those lonely nights
Spent memorizing myself

And hence
Having been through
The game of long waiting
The test of self-hating
That dry run of delusional self-love
I’ve earned the freedom of a fluttering dove

And so,

When a poem
Finally reaches you
It has
No fear.

The Miracle of Indian Immunity

If a palmist were to read a common man’s hand today, he’d be baffled.

We have rubbed out the lines on our palms through the constant hand washing and sanitised our future of any trace of filth. As it stands, for a change, it’s the palmist who’s been made to feel insecure and desperate. With no lines to read and no customer who’ll rest their palm into a stranger’s hand, the palmist and his pet parrot are worried about their own future.

In fact, we are all worried about the future.
The pandemic has changed us fundamentally. Remember our sheer nonchalance towards basic hygiene? Well, as hygiene conscious we have become lately, we’ve virtually become ( hygienically speaking) indistinguishable from who we used to be.

Let’s take a trip back to those carefree days of our childhood.

We are the kids who’ve unfailingly danced in the rain every monsoon. Did we ever pay heed to mother’s shouting through the sibilant rain shower, asking us to get back home?
And today, we fret to set foot out in the open during a drizzle. We fear we’ll catch that dreaded cold. Alas, every little sneeze has now become questionable.

We are the kids who used to run behind the fogger that fumigated the whole neighbourhood with plumes of DDT. We’ve lived our dream of being a Bollywood superstar on a smoke-infused stage on those fumigant-clouded streets.
But in the past few months, some of us have had to sit in quarantine rooms, as health workers sprinkled disinfectant all around the house to contain an outbreak.

We are the ones who used to fall sick once a year from the irresistible indulgence in golgappas. We used to drink that mint and tamarind infused paani to relieve an ailing stomach. (as if secretly seeking the pleasure of golgappas in instalments)
And how soon did we head to the golgappe wale bhaiya again, once we felt fit!
The mother’s hand nourished us, and the bhaiya’s hand, just on that odd occasion, made us sick to our stomach.

We assumed the tangy paani to be a herbal sanitizer that effaced every trace of bacteria from those hands that have strummed at every questionable place.
That placebo only failed us once every year, and that, we’d all agree, is not a bad record after all!

Can we imagine having golgappas on the street today? Even the bhaiya is back in his village in U.P. anyway!

We are the kids who have trawled for chunks of clay in the sand. Our fingers did squeeze a few funky objections now and then, but we had the heart to condone it in search of a greater pleasure.

Today, we can’t imagine sending children out to play the same way.

We are the kids who have, once in life, run naked on the streets. We are the kids who made a mockery of the five-second rule for determining the edibility of a fallen piece of food. Remember dropping a paratha on the classroom floor and asking your friend, ‘Raam ya Bhoot‘?

A swarm of flies has never deterred us from downing a glassful of sugarcane juice.
Remember how we used to casually ingest that chemical-laden ice gola sherbet?
How, we mocked each other with pop-coloured tongues, as the food colour dyed the entire alimentary canal in a similar hue.

We are the generation that used to drink tap water from every tap there was in the locality. As they would say in earlier times, we have tasted ghaat ghaat ka paani.

I remember once while staying at a hostel in Bangkok, I’d casually gulped a glassful of water from the kitchen tap to the horror of my traveller friends. The water was only suitable for washing needs in their eyes. They’d predicted I’d be running laps between my bed and the toilet the following morning.

Just for the record, I bicycled a 100 kilometres every day for the next seven days. The only explanation my traveller friends had for this miracle was,

‘Well, he’s Indian!’

What could explain the Indian immunity?

Nonchalance for basic hygiene has kept us in good stead until now. But apart from our habit of enduring questionable hygiene practices on the streets since birth, there could be a positive reason as well.

Think of the Indian Kitchen, where each spice used, each condiment pairing, has a logical culinary significance. The simplest of examples being the simplest of dishes, Aloo Jeera. While it is a delicious food pairing, there’s some science behind it too. The generous use of Jeera (cumin) relieves us from the flatulence inducing Aloo (potatoes).
Ginger ignites the digestive fire, lemon adds a dash of immunity boosters, and turmeric with its anti-bacterial properties finds a place in almost every Indian curry. We’ve never stepped out of the house for seasonal illnesses.
The spice shelf is our medicine cabinet.

Remember that painful needle prick we had in childhood? That dreaded booster vaccine. That moment when the first existential enquiry entered your head –

‘Why would someone willingly inflict pain?’

I wonder if the vaccine was named ‘booster’ because it only boosted the congenital immunity conferred to us by the virtue of our Indian-ness.
(Apart from the legitimate medical reasons of course!)

Being a nation founded on faith, it doesn’t come as a surprise that faith healing and quackery still flourish in the country. What else could explain that Himalayan Jadi-Booti waalah’s tent, the white-bearded Hakim, and the peacock feather waving tantrics who even claim to be capable of scaring spirits away!

We’re innocent, optimistic people who take the problem of population density as an opportunity to ensure herd immunity. And given the allowance of casual, affectionate touch in our culture, we spread pathogens with alarming frequency. Our body learns to become a well-prepared army that is well-stocked with arms and immunitions.

And with the diversity of healing methods available in India, the country seems to be in good health.
Apart from chronic constipation and premature ejaculation of course, something that we blatantly advertise without a trace of cultural self-consciousness. Take a train ride to North India, peep outside the window, and the writing on the wall is bright, loud, and clear.

But it’s one thing to be cocksure about our own immunity and another when the government leaves us to the strength of our internal mechanisms to fight deadly diseases.

The magnitude of the tragedy grows in proportion to the callousness of the state. How else did we achieve pan-India malnourishment, a worrisome infant mortality rate, the anaemic state of women in the India beyond the reach of traditional media?

We boast of the most polluted cities in the world, of drains for rivers and a haze for what should be a clear blue sky.

While we’ve been genetically endowed by good immunity, we might just be pushing our limits here.

Even with the confidence in our immunity, the healthy spices in our food, the presence of a wide array of schools of medicine, and our long-practised herd immunity, we are, for the first time worried about falling sick.

The pandemic has scared us into a habit of hygiene. That is one positive change that has arisen out of the current state of emergency. Has it woken up the ailing governance system to regain its health?

We are a nation that believes in taqdeer, fate, destiny.
For how long could we be locked inside our houses? We will undoubtedly step out of the house soon, wearing our taqdeer on our forehead, a mask on our face, ready to face anything on the way. We need to help the economy back on the rails too after all. And given our acumen for jugaad, we will find a way to live with, and hopefully, win over the pandemic while we conduct business while minding healthy precautions.

Hopefully soon, life will limp back to normalcy and we will be able to stroll in the park again.  And as we walk past that familiar crossroad, we might find two tents of the Himalayan Jadi-Booti wallahs instead of one.

Both tents might already have a Himalayan immunity booster advertised on a chalkboard.

And I bet, one of the tents is run by the enterprising, out of job palmist!

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