‘Come out in the balcony mummy, right now!’
‘What’s the matter? I am in the middle of cooking lunch.’
‘Come out in the balcony, just for two minutes. You don’t want to miss this!’
The excitement in my voice was at its peak.
Eventually, she came and found me wearing a strange pair of goggles and staring at the sun.
‘Eclipse goggles? Is it a solar eclipse today, son?’
‘Yes! Here, have a look,’ I said and helped her wear the eclipse goggles.
For the next minute, I saw my mother smile for the longest duration I’ve ever seen in my life.
As she shared what she saw through those tinted glasses, I came to know she hadn’t ever seen a solar eclipse before.
It came as a surprise to me since she had devoted 35 years of her life in service to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).
She shared how in her childhood, people in the village used to watch the eclipse’s reflection in a shallow puddle of cow dung, for eclipse goggles didn’t exist back then.
In that abiding minute, as I watched the sheer awe on my mother’s goggled face, I felt a sense of peace dawn in my heart.
I’ve often felt guilty about travelling far and wide on my bicycle trip, but never really taking my mother to any place for a tour. However, sometimes, you needn’t leave your home to travel.
Watching that eclipse transported us deep in a world full of wonder.
This incident left me thinking –
Exactly how far away does one find a sense of wonder?
How far does one need to go to find a silent rush take over their being?
Most likely, it is just one person away.
The distance between a sense of weariness and a whirlwind of wonder is in the breadth of our openness for a fresher perspective.
And considering the fragile state of the world within us, isn’t sharing those fleeting moments of fascination with the people around us, an act of compassion?
And, as a corollary, doesn’t opening your mind to perspectives of others offer an avenue to understand, and at some level, love the people in the world around you?
Have a friend who’s frustrated with the rising binaries of political narratives worldwide?
Share with her how a binary language helped us achieve a technological revolution.
If she’s still vexed and the discussion ends with her saying, nothing will ever change, perhaps bring her a goldfish named Nemo, or a cute bonsai to keep by her windowsill.
When she finds herself tending to those, despite proclaiming that nothing will ever change, she might find some answers in those quiet moments spent still caring.
What if you find a foreign element in your morning cup of tea? Take a deep breath, spare your maid the usual reprimand, and share with her how a little grain of impurity has its own place in the world. How a minuscule amount of cobalt helped your chai-cup gain that royal blue hue. The emerald chandelier on the roof owes its splendour to strains impurities of iron oxide. Perhaps with that joy of learning something new, the maid will be more careful with cookware and your chai might be tastier in the evening.
Want to feel truly alive? Remove your earphones, don a stethoscope, and hear the sound of your child’s heartbeat. Help her listen to her throbbing heart.
Isn’t that a picture-perfect moment?
And while you are helping people see the world differently, be generously open to the perspectives of people around you.
Maybe that story recited by a child, that’s teeming with imagination yet happens to never end, might help you be at peace with the idea of writing a story, even if you don’t have the end in mind.
Before you dismiss the devotion of a village lady as superstition, try circling a banyan tree thrice, sink in its grandeur, and see if you feel a sense of gratitude that’s worthy of worship.
The way we see anything is the way we see everything.
We often forget to realise the magic in our world, its breath-taking complexity, its delicate balance, its poetic perfection beyond our perception.
Once we begin to see the world around us with a shared sense of wonder, we begin to accept our own existence with a similar sense of awe.
Lend me your lenses and let me lend you mine.
For once we learn to do so, we will only be kinder to ourselves, each other, and the world around us. We will realise the value of the time and space we’ve been graciously leased out by dear life.
Keep your mind open to perspectives, and an eye out for the skies.
Maybe when you hold your head up high, with an eye for wonder, it will rain a thousand blazing meteors.
It was another bad day at work.
After all these years, I couldn’t understand whether it was the work that was bad, or was it I who was bad at work. Nevertheless, the pay was good, and that had kept me going.
My mind was a scramble since morning in my cubicle and I couldn’t wait for that hallowed half-hour of repose – lunch-time.
After a hurried lunch, I walked up to the chai shop across the street for the sake of maintaining at least one habit unfailingly.
It was a cloudy day and the usual clamour of the street was a bit subdued. As I sat under the Neem tree, rationing miserly sips of hot chai, a faint, evocative melody fell upon my ear.
Happy to have heard some music on the street, I looked around to find its source. Soon, I saw an elderly flute-seller walk up the street with a playful air.
He wore a black turban, a faded yellow kurta and flowing black pyjamas. A stick that leaned on his left shoulder was festooned with a bunch of flutes of different sizes. His traditional leather footwear curled back in at the front, much like his sinuous moustache.
With an easy, graceful gait, he approached the chai-shop. He played a familiar filmy tune that most of the generation on the street had grown up listening to. We measured our age with the breadth of the smile that the prized piece of nostalgia brought forth on us.
He slowed down his advance near the chai-shop and with that timeless melody, he slowed down the pace of the street.
Once he finished playing the tune, the hum of the traffic resumed, as a poignant, practical applause.
He gave himself the reward of a content smile.
Having subconsciously judged his petty life at first glance, I felt perplexed by the quiet complacency in his demeanour. Or should I say, a bit envious.
I waved at him and asked,
‘Aye, bansuri-wallah, chai?’
He nodded as if he saw the invitation coming.
As I offered him a cup of chai, I asked,
‘What’s your name?’
He gently swayed his head, like the topmost branch of a young tree, as if in no hurry whatsoever.
After a sip of chai, with a nod of approval, he said…
‘Kanha…My name is Kanha…’
‘Kanha, tell me, why is it that you keep playing this old filmy tune? Is that the only song you know?’ I asked with a hint of disparagement.
‘I can only play what people are ready to hear, Babuji.’
I felt I heard a part of me in his answer. How I had learned to sell what people were willing to buy, thinking that was the only way.
But what separated him from me? I couldn’t remember even a fleeting instant from my life when I was as content as this flute-selling fakir.
‘Why don’t you play something new, something original for me? If you do so, I might buy a flute,’ I said.
‘I have been waiting for a pair of ears that pine to hear a new message through music.
Do you think you are ready?’ he asked in his throaty voice.
‘Yes, I am,’ I said on the behalf of the street.
They say that the value of any thing is in the way it alters your perception of time and space. Whoever has been in love, has lived this truth first hand.
As he began to play, perhaps it was love that he weaved in those ennobled breaths.
The whole street stood entranced. All involuntary work suddenly lost its relevance. Hawkers, pedestrians, spent cows, orphans on the street; felt magnetically drawn to the caress of that tune. The wind flowed with a gentler hiss and the sun peeped ever so little to shine a spotlight where it was due. Just as lost as the street was in the music, so was Kanha, the seraphic source of those mellifluous moments.
The thousands of questions people had in their mind were answered, all the pain in their hearts was soothed, and everyone, for that hallowed span of time, learned to smile again without longing for a lasting reason.
As he held the final note on his bansuri, the clock began to slowly tick again.
He opened his opal eyes and invited me to lose all my guards. I looked into his eyes, those fabled tunnels with a blinding light at the other end.
I submitted to a hypnotic spell, and let him read the maze of my mind.
He blinked twice, and I began to sense my surroundings again.
‘Did you enjoy the music?’ he asked humbly.
‘Yes…Yes…It was… the truth…’
‘To answer the question on your mind, Babuji…
That’s the value of my breath.’
He had read my mind like a book. And I was glad he could read the script that I’d begun to forget.
He reached his hand to one of the other flutes in his collection and pulled out one with a pink thread at its end.
He handed me the flute and lovingly said,
‘Go find the value of your breath.’
I took the flute in my hand and looked at it with a hope that I’d thought I had given up on long ago.
Slowly, I looked up. Kanha was already walking away with his easy, nonchalant stride.
I couldn’t bring myself to ask him,
How much I owed him.
There’s a mountain that has been growing steadily over the years in the outskirts of the city. Marooned in a corner beyond sight, this is where all of the city’s discarded things live. Welcome to the city’s ever-rising landfill, where unwanted people rummage through the unwanted refuse of a million people to make ends meet.
This burgeoning arena, is the pit stop on the journey of garbage, en route the mystical place called ‘away’ where we assume we throw our waste. The stench is unbearable, yet, should you ask a rag picker if it bothered her, she’d ask,
People have lived their entire lives here, picking and sorting waste. One among these indistinguishable many is Fareed. He celebrated his 60th birthday a month ago, and there were pastries to go with the celebration. After 5 decades of living in the rubble, he knew where exactly to find what. Finding the place where the garbage from the bakeries was dumped was a piece of cake for him.
He still had a few childhood friends in the dump-site. Most were the lucky ones who hadn’t succumbed to occupational hazards over the years. Many of his friends had while working at the landfill. His father died when a dump-truck accidentally buried him under a pile of garbage, muffling his screams forever. A woman he’d fallen in love with got poisoned by lead at the site. He still remembers her blue face, her lifeless eyes, when they took her away for cremation. It all felt like yesterday. But between yesterday and today, he’d lived his entire noxious life.
He loved to talk. Being one of the seniors at the site, he’d often find a huddle of young rag pickers around who’d plead for stories from ‘back in the day’. He didn’t complain of the sporadic bouts of attention he’d get in an otherwise punishing life.
Often, he would be heard saying his signature quote to youngsters,
‘Remember, half of the waste that comes here is still good. It’s usable. Yet under the weight of this labyrinthine landfill, even a good piece of ripe fruit starts to emit a foul odour.
Half of every person’s heart is good too, yet in this damned place, if it starts to rot, you should learn to forgive him and save the part that’s still good.’
The people found his unlettered wisdom and undeniable honesty endearing. Despite the resignation to fate, he still worked with pride, for he worked hard to earn a dignified living.
But in his quieter moments, away from it all, he still latched on to the hope of finding a treasure chest buried in the mound, a ticket to retirement.
Who can stop a man from dreaming?
Two days before, on a typical day at work, he had climbed up to the corner of a narrow stretch of the peak. On either side lay steep valleys that led deep into the whirlpool of waste. He sat down on an old computer monitor with his plastic bag of collected waste and took a good look around the place.
Generations of scavengers flew in circles over the landfill, as if waiting patiently for him to die. Flies preferred to perch on putrefying organic matter nearby, sparing him the discomfort. His mismatched shoes oozed gunk. For as far as he could see, it looked like a museum of the failure of civilization.
He narrowed down his vision and looked around to find anything he could sell for a good value. Magnets from speakers, metals, IC chips…
Scanning in this way, his eyes fell on a shapely hand jutting out of the mass. An eagle let out a shrill scream as if expressing Fareed’s horror. Amid the disgusting pile of garbage, the hand of a beautiful woman buried in the rubble only added to the wretchedness of the surroundings.
‘Who could she be? A victim of a drug war? A pregnant teenager? A trafficked girl from the village?’ he wondered.
Gingerly, he stepped closer. He saw a gem-studded golden ring on one of the fingers.
His eyes lit up. It was mid-afternoon and there wasn’t anyone around. He knelt and pulled the ring out of her finger. Her hands were cold as an ice-cream cup.
He quickly pocketed the ring. He looked around again. There wasn’t anyone within sight.
‘Maybe she’s wearing a necklace too. Perhaps this is the jackpot I’ve been working towards all my life.’
In his mind, he had already pictured himself in a tuxedo, away from a lifetime of filth.
He held that cold-lifeless hand buried in the garbage and tugged on to it. He pulled as if his life depended on it. But the weight of garbage doesn’t even let the living people loose, what fate did the dead have?
Amid his desperate act of pulling with all his might, he managed to loosen the body out of the rubble. Suddenly, the garbage under his feet loosened out and he fell back and rolled down into the valley, still with the dead woman’s body in his hands. Both bodies fell as lovers in a romantic movie, deeply attached despite the illegitimacy of their bond.
And then there was suffocating darkness.
Hours later, Fareed woke up to such blinding whiteness that for a moment, he felt he’d died and reached heaven.
As his eyes adjusted to the lights in the hospital room, he saw the face of Sabi, a young rag picker who’d been working nearby when he fell.
He tried to speak but he found himself unable to. His head felt heavy from all the bandages. He blinked constantly.
Sabi wore a crescent smile on her face and said something, but Fareed couldn’t hear her.
On Sabi’s right arm, he saw a small bandage. Sabi pointed her eyes towards the pouch of blood hanging high on the right side of the bed. In moments, Fareed realised that he was being administered Sabi’s blood.
Old Fareed felt a sickness inside. He found a rotten part of him that had become selfish merely with the thought of a possible escape from his life at the landfill.
But he remembered his own quote that he would share with young rag pickers often –
‘….Half of every person’s heart is good too, yet in this damned place, if it starts to rot, you should learn to forgive him and save the part that’s still good.’
Somewhere between deep sighs, he found the heart to forgive himself for that lustful moment of pure selfishness.
With great difficulty, he moved a bit and felt the left pocket of his pants. The ring was still there.
He peeped into Sabi’s eyes as if asking for forgiveness.
Fareed pledged himself to give the ring in his pocket to Sabi.
He smiled. Sabi did too and held Fareed’s hand gently.
Sabi’s hand felt as warm as life.
Fareed remembered that the last thing he had held before his downfall, was a cold, lifeless hand.
Deep inside, he felt recuperated.
Little did Fareed know that the ring in his pocket was a cheap piece of imitation jewellery. He also didn’t know he had fallen from the top of the garbage pile, holding the hand of a mannequin.
But, in Fareed’s story, a fake gem and an ever-lifeless body, helped him find the jewel in his own heart, the gem of a person Sabi was, and, in some way the good part of in both their souls, that was still worth saving.
A spout of nectar
The lavender flower
In a tender surrender
And I watch
Have I ever been a bee
And droned my arrival
To the elixir of life
Have I ever been
the lavender bloom
That summons the buzzers,
with a silent passion
The wind whispers
With its motion,
Of being comfortable being invisible
As long as it makes itself felt
As long as it is in motion
There is a world
Right in front of our eyes
That informs us
Of a quiet fire
Untouched by aggression
Unblemished of pride
That works silently
That I can witness this
In rare moments
Is enough to kindle
A fire within.
Little Samay had begun to feel betrayed by the weekends. Usually, these two days were reserved for playing with his father. But lately, his journalist father had been swarmed with work. The casualty – their play-time.
Gingerly, he stood near the door of his father’s study and peeped in with his puppy eyes. He waited to be noticed. But work had worked a spell on his father. He wouldn’t look away from his laptop, as if the whole world around him had disappeared.
‘What are you doing, Papa?’
‘Samay, I am writing a review for an autobiography.’
‘What is an autoto….’
‘Yes! Very good.’
‘So, what is an autobio…?’
‘graphy…..An autobiography is the story of someone’s life.’
‘Anyone can write an auto..bio…graphy?’
‘Good! Well, yes, anyone can write it. Usually it is written by people who have done great work in their life, so that people can read and learn from the writer’s life.’
‘Do you have an autobiography, Papa?’
‘No son, but someday I might write one.’ added the father, still clanking away on the laptop.
‘Hmm…Does Grandpa have an autobiography?’
‘No, son, why don’t you help him to write one?’
‘Yes! Good idea! Can I write my autobiography also?’
‘Sure. Why don’t you help Grandpa write the story of his life? And then you can write the story of your life too!’
‘Yes! Auto..Auto…Autobio….’ sang out the 7-year-old and ran downstairs.
After a couple of hours there was a knock on the door.
‘Yes, Samay, it’s me. Open up!’
The little boy hopped across the hall and opened the door for his mother.
‘Ah, mom, your hair is short now!’
‘Yes, I got a haircut.’
‘I also want a haircut!’
‘Okay, next week, I promise.’
‘I am writing my autobiography, Mom. I am helping Grandpa write his autobiography too..’
‘Oh goodness, who taught you this big word, Papa?’
‘Yes, but Grandpa fell asleep. We only wrote a little until now. We will continue after lunch.’
‘Hmm…he doesn’t sleep before lunch usually. Maybe he is tired after telling you his story.’
‘Maybe. But we only wrote a few lines”
‘That’s okay. Now go call your father for lunch.’
The family chose to not wake up the eldest member for lunch. They let him rest in his room.
After a hurried lunch, as Samay’s father was rushing back to his study, his wife said,
‘Can you check in your father? I think he fell asleep in his wheelchair in his room.’
‘Sure,’ he said and walked up to the room.
He tried waking his father up. But, he was past the earthly plane. Seated on the wheelchair still, the dead man had a peaceful smile on his face, as if he’d accomplished everything he’d aimed for in life.
There was a note that rested in his lap.
Samay’s father took the note in his shaky hands and tried to read the squiggly handwriting.
‘ MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY’
Yesterday, I was a little child.
I have grown up so fast.
I enjoyed playing in life. I am happy.
It will be lunch time soon.
I am going away…’
And the teary-eyed son couldn’t tell, if this was his son’s autobiography or his deceased father’s.
On a lost hill in the Western Ghats
There grows a silent shrub
that even the bees
have deemed as vile weeds
But there comes a day in 12 years
When the lost mountain finds itself
And the silent shrub finds utterance
In its breathtaking bloom of blue buds
And history remembers it as Neelgiri
The Blue Mountain
On a gurgling ocean floor at depths marine
There sleeps a hermit oyster
That even the sunken ship
Has deemed as lifeless.
But there comes a day in years
When it’s done nursing that grain of assault
And as a diver pries open its ageing curl
It smiles shining a star-studded pearl
And the world remembers the oyster
For its lustrous autobiography
Should you find yourself in the atelier
Chiselling away with blunt tools and calloused hands
Remember it’s going to take a while
But as you find the art in you
Also find the heart in you
To forgive those who press to rush your symphony
Remember the golden meteor shower
On that moonless night
That dazzlingly informed you
Of the value of all those nights spent working
The world may call you lost
Do not let that din drown your song
Do not borrow their myopia
As they question your departures
For when you’ve nourished your calling
To its deserved destiny
The world will exalt you
The universe will absolve you
And like the beautiful bloom of blue flowers
Like the lunar charm of that priceless pearl
You won’t have to drum-up your arrival.
If there were any godliness in cleanliness, then the sorry state of our rooms have long proclaimed us as non-believers!
Isn’t it fascinating, how a room that feels perfectly habitable to our eyes is deemed as an uninhabitable island by our irate mothers?
Perhaps the bias is in the perspective, for we often fail to see the disarray around us. We see the overflowing laundry bag as if it had an undeniable aesthetic relevance in the room. It takes another pair of startled eyes to make us realise that sooner than later, we must wield the broom.
And once we decide to wield the broom, how deeply do we wish that we were the menacing witches in cartoons who could leave behind immaculately clean premises while sailing under the ceiling on their magical wooden brooms. Alas, such witchcraft eludes us.
But isn’t the discovery of the resolution to start cleaning magical enough already?
We look around and wonder where to begin!
That complacent colony of cobwebs, a civilization that was weaved with an unremitting trust in our lethargy, tries to hide in plain sight. The ceiling fan ails for our attention. It curses its distance beyond the reach of our outstretched hand, a moot justification we’ve been humouring us with for its dirt ridden dilapidation.
We are reminded of the day when we stopped looking under the bed when we learned that there were demons dwelling in that dungeon. And today, after aeons, we must finally confront that neglected underbelly. We pray for bravery.
We begin our ungainly dance with the broom and are faced with our diminishing range of motion. Amid thoughts of the apparent endlessness of the task, a cool bead of sweat plummets from behind the ear, and we know we’ve switched to the right gear.
A newfound zeal snowballs, and we get the rare feeling of wanting to dust the carpets out. We move around the furniture and try reaching corners that haven’t seen sunlight in years. We dwell in the archaeological wonder of finding the old museum of lost articles behind the study table – a forgotten batch of stationery, an old sock, a toy we believed to have been stolen all these years and that dinged up orange Ping-Pong ball that doesn’t smell of camphor anymore. If there were a zip code for all things lost, this would be it!
We shift our gaze to the shelves. The books feel moved as we touch them after ages; as if still nursing the wish that we’ll keep the word of lending them our time. We find a layer of neglect on the bookshelf. We think of dusting the room after we’ve swept the floor, leaving no doubt how little we know of the chronology in cleaning up.
Once we’ve dusted the room, we catch a breath. A shaft of sunbeam pierces through an opening and the dust motes dance a slow waltz. Intermission.
With a heave, we get up again, step on a stool and glance the corners of the room for gossamer. As the ceiling fan feels close enough to us, we do what’s due, and it relishes in a rare clean-up.
We change partners and now it’s time to dance with the mop. After moving about so much, this feels easier now. The aroma of the disinfectant makes us feel a sense of cleanliness. We choose to believe it.
After we’ve been through it all and we put everything back in its place, we sit back and wonder how we could do it all.
And we realise a presence in the room – the presence of the room itself! We realise how we’d allowed morbidity seep into the living entity our dwelling place is. We regain intimacy with our room.
In the stillness we find after cleaning up, we wonder what exactly it is that we did.
All in all, we’ve swept away a few grams of dust, a layer of grime evaporated away with disinfecting water, a few tufts of hair that swirled in the corners have reached the bin, and the shelves shine a shade deeper…
In material terms, we’ve displaced merely a fraction of matter that existed in the room.
But the workings of cleaning happen on a psychological, and dare I say, mystical paradigm.
We feel uplifted from the slow release of happy hormones. We bask in the feeling of potency once we see we’re capable of changing the world around us. Depression melts away, and the energy within and without buzzes with positivity.
The act of cleaning burnishes the soul. The arena inside feels airy and light. A tide of tidiness tip-toes on our shores. We feel consecrated, just as our revived dwelling-space.
But after all that cleaning up, we feel a bit dirty. We resist the invitation of freshly laid bed sheets and jump into the shower.
When we’re back into the room, with droplets dotted as dewdrops on our body, we turn on the switch to the beaming ceiling fan.
A torrent of air fills the room.
The water on our body disappears slowly, leaving behind a cool sensation.
We smile. We feel rewarded. We sense purity.
We feel good.
Isn’t that akin to godliness?
ये कलयुग है ये कलयुग है यह रोना रोते नहीं थके
अपने पापों का बोझा हम जो ढ़ोते-ढ़ोते नहीं थके
इस भीड़ में भी रीढ़ कहाँ काणों में अंधे हैं राजा
जो स्वार्थ के तलवों तले हम सच कुचल बढ़ते चले
ये साधु सभी ये संत सभी क्यों आँखें मींचे बैठे हैं
मन-परिजन की पीड़ा पर क्यों पर्दे खींचे यह बैठे हैं
कलयुग के कोलाहल में अब करुणा की भी कौन सुने
ईमान की नीलामी से सिक्के हम ऐंठे बैठे हैं
कोई धोबी हो या धर्मराज, लत जुए की सबको है प्यारी
इस अंधकार की वर्षा में हम ढूँढ रहे हैं गिरधारी
नेत्रहीन नृप कईं हुए, देखे हमने धृतराष्ट्र कईं
पर न्याय की यह नायिका क्यों बन बैठी आज गांधारी?
चाहे कलयुग हो या हो त्रेता नारी का हर-पल हुआ हरण
हर राजभवन की छाया तले होता आया मर्यादा-मरण
चीर का एक छोर आज भी है हथेली में तेरी
ज़रा मन टटोल और खुद से पूछ, तू देव है या दैत्य है?
संकट है ये, विकट हैं ये, पर छोड़ना ना तू आशा
पिछले कर्मों पर क्या रोना, है व्यर्थ ये निष्कर्म निराशा
रौद्र राग को त्याग तू भज हौंसले की हंसध्वनि
है दृष्टिकोण का खेल सब चल बदलें कलयुग की परिभाषा
तू स्वयं में ही ढूँढ़ कृष्ण न मूरत को मान बैठ मुरारी
तेरे चित्त की चिंगारी से रोशन हो यह दुनिया अँधियारी
जो हर मानुष ढूँढ ले अपने भीतर दसवाँ अवतार
तो सत्त्व की सरस्वती से तृप्त होगी सृष्टि सारी
There’s a good chance, that the first time we wrote ‘Once upon a time’ on a piece of paper, or the time we traced our left palm with the right hand during school, our foray into the world of creation was enabled by our dainty dear friend – a humble pencil.
It has seen us grow from compulsive scribblers who loved to run across the hall while tracing the path of the furthest reach of our dominant hand on the freshly distempered walls, to inspired artists who could enliven a piece of paper with controlled strokes, as we captured the beauty of worlds without and within. From joining the dots to make a frog (that most likely had a name) in a children’s book, to sophisticated geometric constructions in high school, hasn’t the pencil aided us throughout on our learning adventures?
The most pleasant trait of a pencil, is its forgiving nature. For little children taking the first steps towards literacy, it serves as an agreeable companion that lovingly makes allowances for mistakes along the way. A misspelt word or a miscalculation doesn’t feel fatal, for there is always room to erase and make corrections instantly. The eraser seldom leaves traces of the error and all seems well by the end of the page. The eraser does loose its sleek edges with use, but it still preserves its saintly white colour despite all the ashen taints through erasures over time.
A pencil and an eraser share fascinating chemistry. Even though an eraser wields the power to expunge everything written down by a pencil, one could never imagine an enmity between the two. The pencil, a suave dancer with black heeled stilettos, and the eraser, a chubby doll draped in snowy white, while being opposites in shape, footprint, and function, never seem to have nursed any conceit inside. They willingly share the bed and sleep side by side in their camper home shaped like a compass box. They serve as enablers, to each other and to the tiny fingers that are just learning how to draw and erase.
A pencil and an eraser – a paragon of a perfect partnership.
Pencils feel like our friends, and erasers too, through association, are a chum in our directory. So entwined is their existence that pencils and erasers are usually branded under the same name by manufacturers. And at times, the pencil dons an eraser as a headgear on the non-writing end, further coalescing their identities. The composite unit reminded one of an elegant ballerina swirling on the icy white rink of a notebook. I guess my bias for imagining a pencil as a dancer is influenced by the famous brands of pencils that were named after dancers from Indian mythology, Natraj and Apsara.
Part of the romance we feel for the pencil could be because the first thing we did with it was to draw. Our first instinct as a child was to give a tangible form to our unfettered imagination. A pencil invited playfulness, for all mistakes, inadvertent or deliberate, offered the latitude for correction. It isn’t surprising then, that on discovering that we’d have to switch to the unforgiving pen in Grade 5, a pall of dread surfaced on our chubby cheeks and dimpled chins in Primary school.
The non-judgemental and accommodating air of the pencil further helped us develop trust in it. It leaves little doubt that every literate generation’s first love letter was scribbled in pencil, its amorous carbon footprint still resting solemnly in the yellowing graveyard of an old middle-school textbook. The pencil, perhaps, was the only one privy to the surge of emotions at the cusp of adolescence in our little heart. And after all these years, should that love have proven to be a mistake, it still offers you comfort and closure through a cathartic erasure.
The way we perceive the age of a pencil is peculiar. Somehow, it never feels old to us. Every time it emerges from the cavern of a metal sharpener, it seems new and empowered. It leaves an elegant woody carnation behind, that we’re pained to throw away for its fleeting artistic value.
With each visit to the sharpener’s den, we can see its life shorten, which perhaps adds some animation and verve to its material form. It works as a translator that conveys our intentions with sincerity. Unlike the pen that speaks in one colour, one thickness, blots the paper in one fashion; the pencil lends its usage depending on the mood of the artist who wields it.
It is easy to shade and tint even with an HB pencil, and there are many gradations of pencils available for people who fancy the shady business. The pencil can render a bold streak or a meek ruffle on the paper depending on the effect desired by the artist. And if one uses colour pencils, those 12 fountains of magic can transform a grayscale world into the Technicolor extravaganza as seen through the eyes of a mantis shrimp.
A stoic calm is the hallmark of a pencil’s character. It never breathes a word about its diminution. It’s often chewed up at one end, treated as cheap and dispensable, relegated, neglected, but the moment you need it, it’s around. Despite being taken for granted endlessly, it is ever forgiving, just as a mother.
A pencil invites sparks of creativity. That doesn’t come as a surprise, for it is anatomically designed to aid that electric flow. It has a perfect cylindrical conductor wrapped safely in a wooden insulator that ensures a safe and ceaseless torrent of electric ideas, as if all the creative electrons are just waiting for the moment the lead meets paper, thereby completing the circuit of creation.
As we grew up and embraced ink, the pencil kept showing up in the guise of a pen. It began with a lead-pen that held a rod of graphite with a forceps-like end. Then came the pen-pencil (clutch pencil) that remains in vogue to this day for its sleek design. And remember its exiled contemporary? The hideous florescent-cased 10 lead wonder, where you could remove a spent lead casing and push it at the back of the pencil and bam! –you had a fresh lead. Loud as it was in design, it also ushered in the woeful world of disposable stationery.
For the record, pencils have always been sustainable, way before it became a buzzword. Think about it!
And a pencil is reliable, for the ink never dries up, it doesn’t smudge the fabric, and it gives a fair warning about its life cycle, unlike a pen that can whimsically put its papers down in the middle of an exam paper. A pencil is an elegant device, that’s foolproof, has no moving parts, and has an infinite shelf life. It is indeed, a design marvel.
The tragedy in the tale of the pencils is that nobody remembers its end. They either meet with oblivion, or a speculated theft, or some mystical transmigration. There must be a better home, a parallel universe where they enjoy their ripe old age, a place teeming with stories about the art and artists they enabled thought the times.
A theoretical physicist would be well advised to keep equal attention to both his cosmic ponderings and the coy pencil resting on his ear. The proof of a parallel universe lay either in the appearance of a theory through the pencil, or in the mystical disappearance of the pencil to that speculated parallel realm!
In the era predating backspace, pencils were an accountant’s right hand, an illustrator’s weapon of choice, a carpenter’s indispensable tool. But with changing times, technology has started to offer attractive alternatives to our loyal friend. An array of styluses and touch pens have been accepted by the tech-savvy pioneers in the industry. Learning has transitioned online, needing kids to smudge their fingers on a screen instead of engraving their lessons with a pencil. And with most of us used to typing our feelings rather them writing them down on paper, backspace has become the de facto eraser.
There was a magic in the transference of whatever we wrote down with a pencil into our memory. Think of the first script you learned as a child. Whether such a transference exists with our digital swipes across the screen remains to be seen. It’s an experiment that’s underway without the subjects having the faintest idea they’re part of it. Will our departure from the freewheeling friction between pencil and paper leave us with a fainter memory, a blander romance with the nostalgia of learning?
Is the slow disappearance of ads about pencils in media a sign of their impending oblivion? Can the genius of its design become irrelevant in the times to come? Perhaps.
But when the ink runs out of our digital pens, or the touchscreen runs out of charge, the pencil would still be waiting for us where we’d forgotten it.
Most likely behind one of our ears!