In a cemetery I found
A love, lasting and true
A dog sleeps
Next to his master’s grave.
Photo :Ryan Walton
In a cemetery I found
A love, lasting and true
A dog sleeps
Next to his master’s grave.
Photo :Ryan Walton
It was the early hours of the evening. I was seated on a comfortable chair, writing. Somehow this setting reminded me of my school days. Since I don’t write so much with pens and pencils these days, writing on paper took me back in time in a way.
The parting sun lit up my room in a particularly reminiscent hue. One that reminded me that I used be itching to go outside the house to play with my friends as a child at this time in the evening.
Then, all of sudden, I heard an evocative shout.
‘Did someone call out my name from the street outside my house?’ I wondered.
I looked out from the window with hope.
It was the ghost of my past.
He looked into my eyes lovingly and spoke,
‘Remember how you used to sit next to this window sill, waiting to hear your friends call out your name to play cricket in the evening?
Remember those inviting shouts that was once music to your ears?
And do you remember how over years, calls got more sophisticated? How the shouting was replaced by a short high pitched whistle, a clap in a familiar cadence, just to keep all questionable sneaking out discreet?
The sound of the screeching footsteps of a friend, suggesting his arrival from afar, and towards the end of teenage, the gasps of an old handed down Kinetic Honda, which you crashed into a lamppost on your friend’s birthday?
You must at least remember how you’d listen for your childhood crush’s voice that would filter through the songs of sparrows in the park?
Do you remember these sounds, my old friend?’ asked the harmless ghost.
His gentle whisper echoed in my heart all night long.
In that moment, I realised how deprived of these sounds my life had become.
These days, a friend would usually text me from outside my house or place a phone call. The hollering has disappeared.
Earphones keep me distanced from all those sounds my ears were so trained to decipher. My ears long for the high pitched blip of an Instant messenger notification, not for the dying horn of an old Kinetic Honda.
And in all these years, the battle of bandwidths has attenuated the life out of a little sparrow, the background music of my childhood.
As with the sparrow, the sounds of my childhood are also facing extinction.
Maybe, the next time I visit a friend, I am going to shout out for him, just how I used to back in the day.
Maybe, he will come out with a smile laced with surprise, and I’ll smile back, with an invitation back to where we belong.
I long for the release in that holler.
And maybe, in that act, a sparrow would find hope to resurrect, and bring back life and song to my silent little world.
At last, the surprise I’d been longing for years
Elated, I find, myself in tears
The surprise of light and warmth such
Of daylight and a Human’s touch.
I’m a denim, a pair of jeans old
Left years ago in a closet cold
Had I known back then, I would shout
That maybe I would never make it out
But today we meet, and I rest in your palm
And I lead you drifting into an ocean calm
Of reveries and memories from an innocent space
That was left behind with your life’s pace.
I’m blue, patched up, tattered with a bloodstain
I remind you of times of frolic and pain
Nestled safely in each warp and weft
Are stories of how you laughed and wept
Remember how casually you’d check a pocket slot
And in an old crumpled note find a Jackpot?
I’m not a mirror, I show much beyond what can be seen,
Perhaps in disguise, I am the fabled time machine.
And now we’re old, but that’s no reason to be sad,
I’m a friend, a reminder of all friends you’ve ever had.
I am dated fashion, but timeless memories I hold
Could I, for any price, ever be sold?
We do share a longing, as much as it’s pure,
You can’t wear me, and I don’t fit you anymore.
But it’s time to part ways, lay me in the closet again
Come back to me as you feel, the memories I shall forever contain…
And from an ocean of Nostalgia, I summon a tear ripe,
You hold me close and your eyes you wipe
And in that moistness,
In my dark enclosure,
I fall asleep again,
To this emotional closure.
It was my maiden visit to Kathmandu, Nepal.
My country India and Nepal share a common history, ancestry, culture and religion with each other,
ties that can be traced back to many millennia.
So, I wasn’t much surprised when I found as much a sense of familiarity as a deep sense of novelty with Nepal at first glance. The people dressed the same as Indians did, the vehicles on the road were the same as back home and so was the nonchalant acceptance of chaos on the streets.
Even the shops had much of their stock imported from India.
Much to my surprise, I could even use Indian currency to shop in Nepal.
In many senses, Nepal felt like a younger brother to India.
To me, the most lasting cultural experience in a new country is the culinary delights it has to offer. Walking unsuspectingly along a backpackers’ ghetto, I looked around for signs of authentic Nepali cuisine.
I spotted a restaurant where locals were having their afternoon meal. Its warm and inviting energy beckoned me in.
The first dish on the menu was Nepali Khana Set Thali. Without another thought, I placed an order for one.
Within minutes, I had Thali (Plate) on my table.
The Thali was made of a copper alloy, with a couple of small bowls arranged on the side.
The contents looked quite similar to a Thali back in India.
A dollop of steaming hot rice, a bowlful of Dal (Lentil soup), a curry of potatoes and peas, a green spinach stir fry, a dried leafy fermented vegetable preparation, three different pickles and a token salad of one slice each of carrot, radish and cucumber.
By the looks of it, I was expecting a much similar taste as that of a regular Indian meal.
But boy was I wrong !
Each subsequent bite only took me by delightful surprise.
The rice was pearly and mildly sticky, cooked to perfection, tasty even just by itself. The dal was a perfect masquerade, looking every bit like the India dal but having a teasingly peculiar flavor, spiced delicately but by no means spicy.
The potatoes and peas, blended easily with whatever else you chose to eat it with.
The greens were cooked just right, minimally, with the right amount of water retained to keep it succulent. It was the perfect example of how to cook greens, right to the sweet spot.
I was particularly surprised by the fermented mustard leaf preparation called ‘Gundruk’, a flavor reminiscent of Punjabi Sarson da saag but tasting nothing like it.
Then, came the deal breaker trio of pickles. A spiced radish slice fermented just right and nuggets of soybean peppered with chilli and coriander.
As surprisingly flavorful as they were, the icing on the cake was the red achaar on the Thali.
At first I could not even tell what it was made of. Each time I tasted it, it whispered one of the ingredients to my tantalised toungue.
With a base of Nepali tomatoes, it had undertones of local chilli (khursani) , coriander , salt and the soul of Nepal in some way. It had a tangy yet citrus aftertaste, a heavenly blend of ingredients.
Each morsel of the meal had such personality, it felt as if I was having an intimate meeting Nepal with each bite.
Ofcourse, I asked for second portions of each dish and ate as avidly as the first time.
Satiated with this surprise of an experience, with a loosened belt, I sat back wondering..
It is likely that many of the ingredients in this Thaali were imported from India. Yet, each and every dish, can stand on its own,
working together to create an experience even better than the sum of its parts.
In a way, my preconceived notion about Nepal was proven to be wrong within the first few hours.
It was quite akin to the experience of brotherhood.
An elder brother undoubtedly has a deep influence on his younger sibling. And sometimes it is taken for granted by the elder one how his younger brother would imitate much of what he does.
Being a younger brother in real life, I have been through this imitation game.
Hence, I could understand why I expected a Nepal Thali (Say younger brother) would be quite similar to the character of the Indian Thali (Elder sibling).
But it is a moment of great pride to realise how a younger brother has its own individual voice, despite the common background and upbringing.
Through this culinary experience, despite being the younger sibling in my family,
I could feel the elation of an elder sibling when he realises that his younger brother has always had such a distinct and pleasing character.
Much of it has also to do with my lack of exposure and awareness about the Nepali cuisine and culture.
My respect and admiration for Nepali culture has found firm ground in my heart.
I see the Thali in front of me at the moment. I finished everything on the plate but the salad.
Neatly arranged still,
There are three slices of Carrot, Radish and Cucumber,
Shades of orange, white and green,
Reminding me of the Indian flag, feebly hinting at our common culture despite our distinct geopolitical reality.
And deep in my heart,
I know I will have many more Nepali Thalis to relish this unique experience,
Of the perfect blend of
familiarity and novelty.
As an effort to sensitise myself about the unfolding mystery of dawn, I challenged myself to wake up every day before sunrise and write a page about it. To step it up even a bit further, I wrote the whole page with my non dominant left hand.
Since I have been traveling in the month of May, I had the fortune of witnessing sunrises at varying latitudes, longitudes and altitudes. I was at beaches, piers, highways, temples, in bustling cities and rustic hinterlands. Witnessing and documenting the experience of sunrise at all these places has been a great creative journey.
Today, I wish to share what I learnt from the whole experience, which was part of ‘The Power of Everyday’ project for the month of May.
My learnings :
1) The Sky has a Personality
No two sunrises were ever alike. I feel it holds true for ever since the sky has existed. Most of us wake up inside a house and never get to witness a sunrise, but believe me, even if you watch the same sky from the same place on two successive days, they would be quite peculiar.
The sky is alive.
2) We have become color blind
For as long as I can remember, every single landscape drawing of a little kid in school has a blue sky.
But if one takes initiative to watch a sunrise with a kid, they’ll be mesmerised by the range of colors exhibited in the sky. I would only come up with newer descriptions of colors, just when I thought I had exhausted my imagination. Such is the splendor exhibited in the sky.
I had to compare the shades in the sky to popcorn yellow, cashew white, Bunsen burner blue, misty Clementine, scarlet red, princely purple etc.
The experience truly enlivened my imagination.
We should all spend some time transcribing colors of the sky !
3) The Celestial Game
We have grown up to believe that the sun ‘rises’ in the east. But in reality, it is the earth that turns from east to west and experiences night and day in the process.
While watching a sunrise in rural Thailand, I imagined it to be not just ‘sun rise’ but also ‘star-set’.
The countless twinkling stars are outshone by the might of the sun. With the rising sun, stars disappear.
I would see Venus set every morning in the North-West horizon, as the cresent moon rose, only to be obliterated by daylight.
All of a sudden I would see a morning not just as sunrise. I got sensitised to more celestial phenomenon.
4) Clouds- Unsung Heroes
Clouds are the true painters of the sky. The most mundane sunrise I’ve witnessed was one where there wasn’t a cloud in sight. And the best sunrise I experienced was at a sunrise point at Samet Nangshe in Thailand, where I could see a storm in one part of the horizon and spent clouds hover just behind the behemoth of limestone piers as the sun rose. It was one breathtaking experience.
Clouds scatter and diffuse sunlight, infusing the sky with hues of their lively imagination.
They’re the true painters of the canvas of the sky.
The transition from the buzz of insects at night to the rousing awakening of birdsong is a lesson in dynamics for a musician. A simmering symphony of nature orchestrated by the sun’s inevitable advent.
I always wondered what the birds sang about in the morning. Then one day, I realised, maybe they are just singing in surprise of the daily unfolding of colors in the sky. Encrypted in their song are reams and reams of passionate poetry.
6) We are losing our Sky
It was disheartening to witness a sunrise in India. Our bleached skies look pale and diseased. Every single day, we deprive ourself of the wonder the sky could be. Our actions are polluting the sky and if we don’t act soon, we will lose a priceless gift of nature.
Sometimes I wish,
If I Bicycle more, maybe there will be less pollution, and we might see one more star in the sky.
If a billlion of us choose to do the same,
Imagine how a sky with a billion stars would look like?
I hope we all take collective action, and reclaim the sky from our own doing.
Let us celebrate each sunrise with the same enthusiasm as birds and trees do.
And with each sunset, lose ourself in the infinity of the sky.
I leave you with that thought,
In sincere hope of fostering,
I had the fortune of meeting a friend yesterday in Delhi. We used to play a lot of music together until a few years ago.
That was the context we grew closer in.
But despite being far away physically and not playing music together for so long, we both felt our friendship had grown over the years. It was a deeply reassuring feeling.
We made great conversation over a car ride and he dropped me at the metro station.
There I met my old student who I used to help learn how to play drums.
We reminisced about how our classes used to be, full of openness and fun. We used to discuss problems of Mathematics, philosophy, logic and science and learnt drumming in the process.
We both were students in those 40 minute sessions.
Now, I am no longer an official teacher to him. But we’re great friends, despite the distance.
These interactions made me realise how one can make the choice of fostering lasting relationships in life.
We all meet our friends in a certain context. We meet them either in school, college, an activity group, while playing sports or at work…you get the picture.
While we are interacting with them in the context we meet them in,
are we open to share our ideas and beliefs beyond the context of our interaction?
Can we talk about how to live a good life, what our dreams are, what we want to change about ourselves and the world around in the same breath as we talk about say pottery, if we met our friend first in a pottery workshop?
The longevity of a relationship is determined by how resilient is it in the face of changing contexts.
We are all growing, ageing, evolving, getting married, changing jobs, chasing dreams, becoming parents…
Can we still talk about minutiae over a margarita, the profoundness in finding purpose in life?
As they say in evolution it all boils down to
‘The survival of the fittest.’
The healthiest of friendships are ones where there is a constancy in love, care and respect for your friend despite the dynamic shifts in contexts life takes us through.
That in my opinion is a fit friendship,
a lasting frienship
A friendship that would truly,
I opened my eyes to see Buddha’s golden statue glint feebly in star light. It took me a moment to place myself and realise that I had been sleeping in a Monastery the whole night. The toil of the days cycling had anesthesized my wakefulness as soon as I lay down.
Once I awoke, I stepped outside the enclosure. There was not a single artificial light in the vicinity. I was in a remote part of the country, virtually untouched by light pollution.
I looked up, and heard a call,
Of countless clusters of stars , shining light years away, revealing themselves in the absence of moonlight.
Transfixed, I ogled as if I’d found a treasure all for myself.
I clicked many pictures with the lens of my eye, the shutter of my lashes.
I would not move an inch until the sun rose and claimed the sky for itself. A surreal experience from my last few days in Thailand.
A few days ago, I reached Kolkata, India.
I landed at 3am. I felt an excitement to witness the night sky again.
I quickly assembled my bicycle outside the airport and headed out excitedly, to embrace the sky.
But alas, the stars were all in hiding. Lights from sodium lamps blended with the haze in the sky to obscure the marvel of the milky way.
I waited patiently for the sunrise, hoping that it would be treat for the eyes.
But the haze in the sky casually relegated the majesty of the sun.
It was such a contrast to witness these two different night skies in two different realities.
I happened to read a newspaper article yesterday which threw light on the rising pollution in Indian cities that led to respiratory ailments in citizens. I imagined people would go to a doctor to ask for a medicine to help them cope and recover.
It felt as if we are trying to save ourselves from a world of our own making. And we are trying to solve our own individual problem with pollution and letting things be, as long as we can afford to brush the dirt under the carpet.
But what about the dirt in the sky?
One effect of technology on culture is that we do not look too far beyond. We have the world at a distance of half a feet, in the confines of our glowing smartphone screens. Much of our gaze never goes beyond this vantage, to look up and sense, that the we are deserting the sky, effacing a star from our view with each passing day.
While one can go to a doctor to find a cure for his own respiratory ailment,
Where do we go to find a cure for an ailment that inflicts our collective extended being, that includes our view of the night sky?
Maybe we need to rename the institutions that monitor how much further we can push our polluted existence.
Maybe we need a ‘Nightsky Saving Board’ than an ‘ Air Pollution Control Board.’
For we will be reminded of the problem at hand and have to look no further than the sky to realise our responsibility to act as windshield wipers for our dirty skyline.
Sometimes renaming can bring us closer to the reality we must collectively rise up to change.
The most severe of tragedies is when a tragedy becomes mundane and commonplace.
Let’s find a way,
So that our kids don’t get used to
A hazy sky,
A starless night.
The sky is feeling blue.
Let’s find a way to cheer it up !
It was my first day in Thailand. I was sitting in a nondescript street food shop in Bangkok.
Absolutely overwhelmed by the gush of novelty that my senses were bombarded with within hours of arrival, I sat in deep wonder.
Every frame of my vision was a new movie. Towering skyscrapers, the plentitude of seven eleven shops, a pool of people from a different race altogether, zipping miniature motorbikes, tuk tuks and takeaway shops thronging the streets, a bright blue sky painted in between the parallel stretch of towers…
The street had a a whirlpool of odours too. Of colognes that promise proximity, of grilling chicken wings on a charcoal fire, of freshly cut pineapple, of a soupy stock bubbling at a noodle shack, of the moistness in the air, of air conditioning and of a plentitude of people…
It was a kaleidoscopic joyride of novelty for these two senses,
Of sight and smell.
But at one particular moment, in a sudden flash, I felt as if I was right at home. I felt like a six year old, absolutely cosy in a home environment. I wondered why I felt like that.
Soon, a little bird came a rested itself right next to my bicycle. And it let out a soft chirrup.
That was it.
That was the moment.
I felt completely drenched in nostalgia of childhood. All the haze of history cleared up with the coo of the little bird.
You know what bird it was?
A little sparrow.
Most young adults in India have grown alongside the song of the sparrow. But a decade ago, their numbers started dwindling, and as of now, spotting a sparrow is a rarity.
But in Thailand, sparrows are thriving. Everywhere I went, they had a troop posted, for me to feel safe and at home.
I was a child, all throughout my journey.
I have pictures in albums that have tried to capture my childhood best. And I have access to them as I wish. It is great to be able to see what you looked like and the experiences you went through as a child through photographs. But after a point, as we’ve come back to them so many times, we know exactly what to expect. The nostalgia, the memories and pretty much like a re-run of your favourite show. Nothing changes,
you reminisce the same glorious days and feel happy about it.
But in the decade I grew up in, capturing sound was neither a mainstream technology or the preferred way to capture memories. The sound of our childhood echoes in a deep cavern in our heart. While being inside of us, it is still the most inaccessible place in the whole wide world.
Is there a way I can hear the voices of me and my friends playing together as kids?
But, sometimes you find yourself right inside that deep cavern in your heart, one you had absolutely forgotten about, unlocked by the spell of a little bird.
The sparrow brought me back my childhood, when I least expected it, in a land I had never been to before.
Oh the power of unsolicited nostalgia.!
It is the closest one can get to a time machine.
This experience also got me thinking about the way we capture our memories in the present day and age. We are obsessed with clicking images, for it has never been as easy in history. We have a stream of visual information chroniced in our memory cards.
How much of it is imprinted in our memory is another question.
A lost phone, a corrupted memory card, wipes out all the memories we thought we had wrestled from an inaccessible past. Or even while we have all the pictures that we so avidly click, how many of us go back and revisit them ?
Clicking pictures and shooting videos has become an instinct, a reflex of sort.
We have stronger memory cards but our memory weakens as a result.
It is time to reimagine how we capture our memories.
Maybe clicking less and looking more closely captures a memory best.
A memory is an abstraction of things that you cannot individually piece together.
A digital picture of a pajama party in college captures an image.
But does it capture the reverb in the room, the crisp of the chips, the drops of a leaky faucet, the leering orange light of the lamppost, the smell of feet, the feel of the fabric, the warmth in the comfortable touch of friends, the grain of wood, the roaring flame of a bonfire,
the howl of an owl seeking a mate at midnight….?
Sometimes a memory is best captured when hand-picked ,
experienced element after element, that makes for the collective feeling of happiness at that moment.
So, the next time you find a moment worth capturing, fight the urge to just click a picture.
Meditate over the moment,
Engage all you senses,
For you are collecting bits of nostalgia of the future, to be safely put away in that deep cavern in your heart.
And the more you do this, the more unsolicited nostalgia you will find in life, in unexpected places,
Even in the gentle coo of a canary,
Or in the howl of an owl at midnight.
I have a little sparrow in my heart. And it knows all my secrets.
I wish you luck, in finding the bird that holds the spell to the deep cavern in your heart,
That leads you to,
the reveire of your childhood.
you go here. Okay?‘
said Lucky , maybe in her first conversation in English over a phone.
‘Okay, Lucky. You wait for me.
I come to you.‘
‘Chai, chai (Yes, Yes in Thai)’
And I started to ride around the park trying to spot my friend Lucky and her husband Pravee. In case you’re wondering, Sunny is my Thai name which this lovely couple gave me, since it was difficult for them to pronounce my real name!
After a five minute search, we spotted each other. I crossed the road and went to see them. There was such excitement in our spirit to be meeting each other again. But we did not have a common language to communicate in!
Like overjoyed kids we opened our hearts and smiled ear to ear as we greeted each other.
We put my bicycle at the back of their pick-up truck. I went inside and sat on the rear seat.
What a joyride it was for the next three hours !
We managed to communicate using different aids. Sign language, English- Thai translator, exaggerated expressions and of course, unbridled laughter when we would fail to understand a word of what the other person was saying.
There was a childlike innocence in their demeanor. Lucky had a book called, ‘Working conversation to perfect your English -Thai Edition’ which she routinely referred to for asking questions.
The excitement and enthusiasm this couple shared despite the language barrier was adorable to witness.
After an intimate tour of Bangkok, they dropped me back home. They had a long conversation with a chatty watchman which had the word ‘India India’ in almost every other sentence. They would point at me lovingly all throughout their talk.
‘Okay Sunny, Goodbye.
See you India’
‘Yes, In India, you stay my home Okay?’
They left shortly afterwards. I waved them goodbye till they were beyond sight.
I had met this couple by accident at a bicycle rally in South Thailand. And we had exchanged our contacts.
They had so much love in their heart that they wanted to see me again just to show me around. They didn’t speak English and communication was an issue.
But their alacrity to make a new friend was so sincere that nothing could come in the way.
They gave so much love and energy that I came to believe, I was Sunny !
I would happily identify myself with that name.
beyond all barriers,
Is the language of the heart.
Once you communicate from there,
You will find a deep connection no matter what.
My cheeks hurt by smiling so much all throughout the day in their company.
With a new name,
And with the promise of keeping an childlike heart,
I assure myself,
To carry the spirit of friendship on and on.
The shadows were getting longer by the minute. As I passed by milestone after milestone, I found myself still quite far away from the nearest town. It had been a long day bicycling under the full sun.
I was hoping to buy a bunch of bananas for dinner. I only had 29 Baht with me to spare. With no ATM around me on the highway, that was my allowance for food for the night.
On the way, I saw a few shops adjacent to the road selling food. I slowed down to see if any of them had bananas.
Luckily, one of them did. I stopped to catch a breath before I spoke.
But as it happened, I didn’t need to speak at all. A lovely woman stood up and put a big bunch of bananas in a bag and gave it to me.
Since I didn’t have much money, I wanted to ask how much they cost. I took out my phone and gestured her to type in the price in the calculator app.
To my surprise, she spoke back to me in fluent English.
‘No No, you don’t need to pay for this. It is a gift from me to you.’
‘No, I must pay for this !’ I insisted.
She smiled and continued,
‘These bananas are from my farm. Very delicious. No problem for me. You can enjoy them.’
And she put another bunch in the bag for me.
‘What is you name ?’ I asked her.
‘My name is Onn. I live in this village.’
‘Onn, I am from India.’
‘I know. I can tell from your face.’
Her demeanor had a warmth and innocence as if she was trying to make the first friend of her life.
I wished to give her something for her kind gift of a couple dozen bananas.
‘Onn, can I click a picture of you?’
‘This is a special camera. It is called a Polaroid. We will have the picture come out from the camera instantly.’
‘Oh really! ‘ she exclaimed and posed.
I clicked the picture and waited for it to develop in the dark.
‘You like Thailand?’
‘Yes, a lot !’
‘Why?’ she inquired.
‘Because of people like you!’ I shared gladly.
She wore an excited look as I gave her the Polaroid picture.
‘This is wonderful. I like it. Thank you !’
‘You can make it your ID card !’ I joked.
‘Yes yes ! Next time you come in this area, come again, I always have bananas from my farm.’
I joined my hands and bowed down to greet her Namaste.
‘Yes I will, I promise.’
I got on my bicycle and headed onward.
She waved goodbye to me, just like kids on the street do, knowing well that they would never see you again, and not allowing that awareness to quell the exuberance in their greeting.
I’d heard from marketers that to create a relationship with a customer, give free stuff to them when they least expect it. By doing so, you’ll create loyalty around your brand.
But this beautiful village woman, far removed from the context of business, shared what she had, without seeking any business in return.
She was just happy being an embassador of goodwill.
Had I paid for the bananas the usual way, she would have had money and I’d have had the Fruit.
But she chose to be generous,
And both of us have a beautiful memory,
And most importantly the desire to carry the spirit of empathy, compassion and goodwill within us, on the journey of life.
Later in the night, I tasted one of the bananas. They were certainly the best ones I’ve ever tasted.
She was right to not put a price tag on it.
For certainly they are,
© 2023 Sreenath Sreenivasan
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