We live in times strange, of false claim
Of calling all we own with our own name
How far have we strayed from who we are
No we aren’t our jobs, we aren’t our car
A layer of garment that’s fit to size
Becomes a part of elegant lies
Until fickle fashion changes its way
And those perfect dresses are cast away
Isn’t it the same with that gadget too
How it brings you a thrill and becomes you
Until they come out with a newer range
And make you believe it’s time for a change
With changing trends, it only gets tough
When they say what you own isn’t you enough
And we retire our respect for all good reason
Lest we commit an economic treason
If your identity is determined by all the rest
Your power will be the easiest to divest
And if all this tamasha feels odd and absurd
The time is ripe to steer your course inward.
Beware of that hypnotic popular call
You feel momentarily big, but, forever small
Seek instead that priceless core
Set out, discover, and bring it to the fore.
It won’t be easy as all forces seek conformity
As your deviance is deemed a deformity
But follow you must, beyond all fuss
The undeniable light of your inner compass
And though you might wear an old-fashioned dress
And wield tools that might fail to impress
You will shine in glory, and get way far
In the journey of discovering who you really are.
There is a bird I’ve known for far too long
Only and only by its silken song
As much as I’ve tried to find her perch
I’ve ended up with a fruitless search
It sings melodies like a bamboo flute
While picking and eating berries and fruit
A nameless friend that brings such joy
Yet I know not if it’s a girl or boy !
But one fine day when it stopped singing
My voice, my words, they went missing
For all the penmanship, everything I wrote
Was a quote of the birdsong note for note
With a longing ear, its song did I seek
I waited for a sign many a week
In agony I wondered ‘Did I lose my muse?’
And in mourning I penned down my blues.
With that outpouring, painful and tragic
Emerged an element of elegant magic
I heard its voice note for note
The bird sang the blues I just wrote
It said, I am sorry to have disappeared
I grew afraid of thoughts you too feared
Was my spirited song, a daily drivel
Was there meaning at all in tales I tell?
Bird, I told, you are timeless art
Each of my word is a dipping dart
Aimed at pinning the essence in your song
The pursuit of all artists all along
As bright as you imagine my feathers to be
Your words are light that invite me to see
The silent surrender to art in pursuit
The beauty in song that’s beyond refute
And so we mirrored each other’s thought
Together did flow past the creative clot
We traded our thoughts as we must
And never argued about who stopped first
And we found a vision along with our sight
The bird sang aloud, fearlessly did I write
To tell tales in tandem became our resolution
And I named the nameless bird,
There are times when I have got nothing to say,
And nobody to share that nothingness with.
The sun hides behind the clouds.
The rain falls, pitter-patter.
There sits a lonely dove on the cable
I fly to that brooding bird
All the truths she knows already
Again and again,
Of that feeling,
Of silently sauntering in the shimmering summer sun,
Of a restless retreat over raging rivers on a run
Of tumbling like a torpedo towards the tarmac turf
Of soaring in the sky on a slow, shy surf
Of the festive fervor in foraging for fruit
Of loving lentil left by the lintels to loot
Of picking the perfect twig for a nest
Of the relief in repose, of relishing rest
Of being in love yet being lonely
Of being lonely yet being in love
The curvy cable eavesdrops
On our candid confessions
Coated in collegial camaraderie
The wire weighs down with
the weight of two birds
It hangs low between posts,
As if smiling
The sun shines,
The rainbow smiles back
At the smiling cable
Lifted in spirit
Melded in meaning
Of those two
Two pairs of worn out slippers cushion the brisk onward march of two petite girls.
Sudha and Radha, dressed alike in maroon polyester sarees are on their way to work.
Sudha used to help with household chores at her employers house earlier. Now, she works as a hospice for her employer’s wife who is terminally ill, lying in a comatose state at home.
Radha is a cook. A pretty good one in fact.
She has been the in-house cook for a wealthy family in a posh locality for a year now.
The sisters ended up in Delhi in search of work a couple of years ago. Sudha was just 16 then and Radha a year younger.
They decided to work so that they could send their little brother to school so that one day their family could finally climb out of the valley of poverty they’d dwelt in ever since they’d known life.
And life wasn’t easy for the young girls. They slept in a little makeshift room in the workers ghetto behind the railway station. They would spend the majority of the money back home for family.
They could afford only one meal a day,
But they were happy, for they were working for something larger than themselves.
Radha would often feel tempted to eat the food she cooked for the family. She had great culinary skills. The whole locality would be able to guess what was cooking whenever she cooked.
But since the food was so delicious, there would never be any left over food for her to enjoy the next morning.
Sudha’s employer (who she calls Sahib) was a hopeful man. He always believed that his wife will spring back to life and vitality the next morning.
He made sure Sudha prepared a bland Khichdi for his wife every single day,
Hoping that when his wife wakes up, she will savour the food.
But for the past one year, the woman has been on the bed, not blinking, not moving.
Sudha cooks with hope everyday still.
But her hope is different from that of her Sahib.
At the end of the day,
When she’s heading home, she gets to carry the uneaten meal of Khichdi which she prepares for the patient every morning.
That khichdi is the meal both sisters share in the evening as their solitary meal of the day.
Their lives have been running on the monorail of this monotony for the past year.
But something changed in both their lives in the past 24 hours.
Yesterday, Radha’s employer had a party at their home. She was asked to prepare a Biryani with Raita for the 30 odd guests expected. Radha, adept at her skill, cooked up a fragrant Potful of Biryani with a delicious Raita to go with it.
Today morning, when she went to work she found the aroma of the biryani still lingering around.
She checked the pot to find some leftover Biryani from yesterday.
She scraped the whole pot clean and filled up a polyethylene bag with the Biryani.
She scrubbed the pot clean and got to her usual work.
Singing to herself as she worked, her happiness knew no bounds. She couldn’t wait for dinner time when she would finally be able to share a good meal with her sister Sudha.
She had had enough of the bland khichdi Sudha used to bring every evening.
After finishing work, Radha quickly headed to her quarters in the workers colony. She heated up the biryani over a kerosene stove, laid out a plate and waited patiently for Sudha to come home.
‘Sudha! What took you so long !’ she cried out once Sudha entered the room.
‘Come , sit, we shall have something different for our dinner today !’ Radha exclaimed.
Sudha sat down solemnly.
‘What happened Sudha, you look gloomy’
‘Let us eat little sister’ Sudha spoke feebly.
Both of them took a morsel each of the fragrant rice. Radha waited in anticipation for Sudha’s appraisal but she wouldn’t speak a word. She ate quietly.
‘What is the matter Sudha ?’ Radha enquired comforting her with a touch.
‘Sahib’s wife passed away last night.’
There was an unsettling silence in the room.
Both took another morsel of the delicious biryani.
But all they could taste,
was the hunger that awaited
the next evening.
Source the words from the head
Yet don’t mistake the head for the source
Don’t let the words get into your head
For the source is beyond all words said
‘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!
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.
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.