Thirsting for more…

Posted in It's all about the soul with tags , , , , , , , on October 23, 2013 by Shry

Your sojourns in far-away lands will bring you face-to-face with hundreds of people. These people will be fellow travellers, tourists, drivers, guides, kids, locals, photographers, newspaper vendors, caretakers of your accommodation, maids, street urchins, etc etc etc.  They pass by you like the gentle breeze. Unseen, but pleasantly felt. If you are a traveller, no experience of yours can be complete without such people. No matter how many places you see, or how much money you spend, none of it will matter if your memories don’t touch upon a soul that touched you in its own way. There must always be that core within you where you safeguard those cherished whispers of the world that were muttered to you through words, smiles and glances.

You come across these people. People you wish you could spend more time with. Perhaps sit down over a meal or a hot chai and talk endlessly. Hear their stories, steal a peep into their lives just as you allow them a few into your own, laugh with them about their wonders, cry with them about their sorrows, contemplate with them about the purpose of life or even why India’s cricket team lost to Australia! It is all a part of our journeys, and the journey of life. It is an insatiable hunger, nearly a lost cause, because you have to forge ahead. You cannot stay at one place for too long. Your wanderlust keeps pushing you and you keep chasing it. But none of this takes away that feeling within you that someday, you must stop and dance before the music ends. Someday, you must sit down with Tashi, your driver in a small kingdom, who drove you around with a gaiety that you are not used to in your part of the world, a hopping walk as he came to you when you beckoned him, him randomly singing along with a song on the radio, and his shy goodbye as he blushed when you gave him a hug for being a sweetheart. Someday, you must sit down with Karma, a mother of 3 working round the clock to make ends meet and to fulfill her lifelong dream of having her own small hotel. Someday, you must sit down with the old, bespectacled caretaker of a guest-house who personifies Tennyson’s “…men may come and men may go, but i go on forever…”.  Someday, you must sit down with another Tashi in another part of the world and laugh in utter amusement and merriment as you see how books and cigarettes can form a bond among strangers in the most inhospitable of terrains! Someday, you must sit down with Torton and perhaps watch him play with his colouring book, feeling your heart melt under his angelic smile. Someday, you must take a walk with the old saadhu and listen to his monologue on religion and modernism…And the list is endless. The Tashis, Karmas and saadhus of the world are many. Everyone has a story to tell that is unique and remarkable in its simplicity, and yet intriguing in its endless diversity. It is upto you to sit down with the patience that travel doesn’t permit, and enrich yourself. You MUST thirst for more.

There is so much more to a place than just the tourist spots. People constitute culture, and the culture makes up a place. And this is undoubtedly the real essence of real travel.

The thirst must remain. To seek more, to know more, about people, about places, the why and how of everything and anything. Because only this thirst can propel you forward towards new frontiers, new shores.

Only this thirst can someday complete you.


Woh canteen wala Baccha…

Posted in It's all about the soul on May 23, 2013 by Shry

He is a young little thing, not more than 10. I know nothing about him except the fact that he is a helper in the hostel canteen. It’s easy to not even notice him, lost as he is in the multitude of scrawny, barefoot kids running around the shanties of the labour which is out in full force as the construction of the campus continues. I must have seen him a dozen times handing out the dishes ordered by perennially hungry students over the canteen counter. But like I said, you can easily forget the fact that he exists.

But last night, I did manage to acknowledge his humble existence. It was dinner time and I thought that a helping of yogurt might make the tasteless food easier to consume. So I sauntered over to the small canteen nestled in a corner right outside the main mess, and without looking, asked for a cup of yogurt. Or so I thought. Because though a voice answered my query, I couldn’t see anyone. I arched an eyebrow at this divine intervention in my quest for yogurt, but just then, I spotted a pair of big brown eyes staring up at me from the other side of the canteen counter, and a sheepish smile. He was so tiny that he couldn’t even reach the top of the counter without standing on tiptoes, and then too he barely managed! I couldn’t help but smile as I repeated my query. He replied, “Haan didi, dahi hai na!” and padded over to the mini refrigerator in the other corner of the small room. If the counter had been high for him, the topmost shelf of the fridge was nothing short of the Everest summit! I watched in amusement as he stood, then stood on tiptoes and finally began hopping in an attempt to see whether there was any yogurt, though with the typical innocence and bravado of the young, he had declared that what I wanted was very much there. But I also suspect that he has been taught to Never give a direct NO for an answer, as the loss of a customer is a loss of a tiny bit of the revenue the canteen generates. For someone who is still in the single digit bracket of age, and who cannot take anything in life for granted, least of all money, this is nothing short of a big calamity. From where I stood, I could see the neat line on yogurt cups on the shelf, and I said the same to him. Upon hearing me, he stopped hopping and turned to look at me with bewildered eyes that clearly seemed to ask, “But how do I reach there?”. I took in his small frame. Big brown eyes set in a dark-skinned face, a shock of brittle brown hair running in all directions on his head, parched lips, and small limbs seeming all the more thin in a frayed maroon sweater, grey trousers and sandals, all of which had seen better days. But it were his eyes and smile that defined him in my memory. The pure innocence, not yet corrupted by the ways of the world, the easy smile, the expressions of happiness, surprise, bewilderment, confusion and concentration that went through his eyes like the ever-changing colours in a prism…

As he faced his nemesis i.e. the topmost shelf of the fridge, I could see a mix of everything mentioned above reflected in his cute eyes. Luckily for him, the man who runs the canteen came to his rescue and took a cup of yogurt and handed it to him. He again padded back to the counter where I stood, and meekly placed the cup there. I put the money in his tiny brown hands, the harshness of the winter evident in the form of dryness of skin, and he quickly brought back the change. I smiled and thanked him. Again those eyes shone and his lips broke into a merry, happy smile as his smile replied shyly. I took my purchase and headed back to where my friends were sitting in the mess. I tucked into my dinner, but my thoughts were still at the canteen counter.

I see him everyday, doing his chores, running around, getting yelled at by the canteen-man. I see him in his maroon sweater everyday. Tomorrow, I might ask him about his parents. I might ask him where he’s from, I might ask him how he ended up here. I might ask him whether he goes to school. I might even offer to help him with his alphabets and numbers.

But Today, I will ask the canteen wala baccha for his name…

Radically Insane!

Posted in It's all about the soul on May 23, 2013 by Shry


DRACONIAN- The term Draco refers to an Athenian lawgiver from around 620-630 BCE who was noted for a very strict code of conduct, with swift and disproportionately harsh punishments. Rather fitting for the name Dracos, which refers to a constellation in the northern sky, representing a dragon.

Oh how I love this word! The sense of peace I feel when the media and civil rights groups use this word for a law is unmatched. As a citizen, I appear to be empathizing for the wrong party here i.e. the government. But I cannot deny that I hold an inherent disregard and disdain for the self appointed guardians of the moral, ethical and human rights in the society. The anti government rants which are becoming more and more anti-national with the passage of time, the high pitched shrieking of holier than thou men and women with the sole aim of enforcing their agendas, their misleading of the poor, ignorant masses that have started thinking of strikes and dharnas and blockades as some sort of a national past time- a draconian response, a legal draconian response is what all this really deserves.

The argument of democracy and fundamental rights also falls flat on its face. These are doctrines nay phenomenon that have been misused and abused so shamelessly by those charged with honouring them, govt and citizens alike, that they have been reduced to mere clichés, especially in a country like ours. Freedom of expression! Right to speech! Media freedom! Constitution! Ooooooooooooowww!! Such terrible, terrible follies of the human mind! Having been an ardent supporter of true democracy and everything which it entails, today I really cant help but wonder about the sagacity of this argument. Freedom but to what extent? Rights but where are the corresponding duties? Unabashed hunger for power and wealth but a complete annihilation of national interest. This is the corruption of present day society and that is why any absolute liberty to citizens needs to be given a raincheck. Excessive power in the hands of the not so common common man has hollowed the very foundations of this society. Common man is no longer a term used for the unheard voice, the silent sentinel who keeps doing his work with a bowed head. The true common man has been consumed by the pseudo victims. And this great opera of rights and liberty and other fancy terms that these creatures keep espousing only diminishes the idea behind these truly once-great concepts. Rightly said. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

And this is why TADA, POTA (now repealed), ESMA, AFSPA, UAPA, NIA Act, MCOCA, etc (just to name a few) are amazing statutes with some genuinely strict provisions that must be enforced to their last letter. Draconian they might be, but laws come into existence only on the basis of factors existing in the society. So if these statutes exist, it is because we as a people asked for them to be brought into existence. Today, the exact conditions of their genesis might not exist and that’s why certain safeguards can be placed in the system, but to do away with a statute entirely especially without a suitable replacement is an invitation to more trouble. A draconian law is what will shut up such radically misconcept laden masses and bring them back to sanity, even if by force because that force will give way to a new dawn of logic and reason. Once the national past time shifts from crippling the administration and constitutional machinery of the state to fulfilling ones obligations and duties, we WILL start moving on a path of true development. Inclusive, holistic development. At no point of time, there needs to be a suspension of that much harped about freedom and liberty, but the fear needs to be instilled that nothing can be taken for granted and nefarious activities against the state will be met by an iron response. The slumber that we are in, well this might be the only thing left for the government to do, not that there is anything even remotely good about them. But well we put them there.

People get the government they deserve. We might as well abide.

A Letter to My Teacher

Posted in It's all about the soul on May 23, 2013 by Shry

pg-31Respected ma’am

You definitely would not remember me as back then, i wasn’t worth remembering as a student of English. I was 7 years old in a city in northern India, with Hindi as my mother tongue. I was your student in class 3 and you were my class teacher, and more importantly, my English teacher. Those days, English wasn’t as common as it is today. In the mid 1990s, it was still something restricted to the ‘elites’. Needless to say, i was not fluent with the language at all. Hindi was the language i spoke at home, Hindi was the language my friends spoke and it was the language i thought in. Now, as a teacher, you were supposed to ‘teach’ students. You did, but only those who found favour with you. Somehow, at the tender age of 7, i was made to feel useless and retarded by you. And this was only because i couldn’t speak fluent English and i needed to mentally translate whatever English i read or was heard  into Hindi before my mind could process it.

I remember reading from my English text book in halting English, trying very hard to keep up a brave front under your condescending gaze. 14 years later, i still remember the disdain in your eyes as i would participate actively in the class discussions which never mattered as my unforgivable fault was that i offered my answers and thoughts in that damned Hindi and not your angrezi. Time passed and i became a fan of reading. Whatever i might have been, i definitely was of moderate intelligence and it didn’t take me long to progress from simple picture comics to longer novels. And that’s when i started leaving my deficiency behind. I never looked back. Towards high school, i found the teachers i had always looked for. They observed, brought out and then honed my writing and oratory skills in YOUR language to the point that English became my adopted mother tongue, where my mind started thinking in English and would often need an English word to understand the Hindi i would read or speak. I think i should tell you that today, i have written articles for this country’s leading newspapers, i have won countless writing and debating competitions and have had my ‘command’ over the language appreciated by one and all. I can read and process data in English at great speed, and most importantly, i have learnt to not feel small because of someone’s condescension.

Ma’am, i have had the privilege of being taught by some genuinely amazing teachers, ‘gurus’ in the truest sense of the word. You are definitely not on the list, and i can only hope that you have mellowed down with time and have not allowed something as simple as your command over a language to eat into a young soul’s self-worth and confidence. A mind scarred at that age never truly heals. Mine didn’t, because sub-consciously, you were always there in the back of my mind, taunting and laughing. Now that the day is here where i would willing spar with you over and in this language, all i can say to you is- Thank you. Had it not been for your superior ways, i might never have gotten the kick on my backside that would go on to change my life.


The Student who wasn’t Good Enough

O What A Night!

Posted in It's all about the soul on May 23, 2013 by Shry

It seems as if the Gods are unleashing their pent up fury. The dark night sky is barely robed by a few wisps of cloud. The moon, diminished in its appearance, seems to be hiding behind them as if only interested in taking a peek at our land. The grey outline adds to the intrigue. The thunder is deafening, and lightening streaks the blanket of the night like thousands of volts of electricity coursing through the veins of the sky, ripping everything in its way apart. The wind howls its way through, as lamp posts reflect the rain being slanted by its force. It’s all so strangely beautiful and mesmerizing. I can’t take my eyes off it, though the chill makes me shiver. Sleep tugs at my eyelids, my bandaged hand hurts, my muscles plead for rest, but it’s as if I am rooted to where i stand, incapable of moving. Till today, I have never been able to understand my fascination for Nature and its antics. It’s just amazing how insignificant one truly is in the scheme of things in our universe. In front of Nature’s forces, nothing can stand and sustain. This is an unseasonal storm tonight, destroying the crops and throwing daily routines in a tizzy.

But its torment is its beauty. Its shrieks are its melodies. Its presence is divine.


Carnival of Rust

Posted in It's all about the soul on May 23, 2013 by Shry

As I stand in this little balcony attached to my room, breathing in the mysteries of the night, I feel something tugging at my heart endlessly. I feign ignorance. It doesn’t stop. I try to shrug it off. It sneaks up quietly behind me and taps me on my shoulder. After further struggle, I finally give in with a sigh. And standing uncloaked and unrobed, shameless in its audacious bareness, is Memory. That damned little creature that does not allow me a moment of respite. I look beyond the boundary walls, at the dark fields where uncut crops stand like silent sentinels in the night, forced into gentle motion by the coy breeze. I look at the distant lights, flickering yet unmoving, imagining the lives that lie beyond. I look above, from where the stars shine down. I look above at the stars where it has all been written. They seem to look down, and not just metaphorically, at my insignificant little existence.

I do this every night. Usually for brief moments, at times at length, oblivious to everything else. And at these moments, as I feel the chill on my skin, and breathe in those inexplicable scents of the night, when my guard is down and vulnerability is high, those Memories strike.

Sometimes it’s all vague and formless. Shapes pass by. But usually, the agony is more profound. There are places and colours and scents, and always that Face. I cannot block it out. I don’t even try. As I inhale and gaze at the stars and the fields and those distant lights, time comes to a standstill. I go back in past to far away places where at this particular moment, I was living in another world. Riding a back. Standing atop the ruins of an ancient fort. Traveling in a bus. Gazing at the moon. And always that one Face. It’s endless.

I think of what was, what could have been…but what IS. And then the connection breaks. It’s like waking up from a fantasy.

The construction- a sign of life, the bright street lamps, the cool breeze, the laughter emanating from a room, the green sentinels- none of them can provide relief. I stand, and suddenly, quietly, I start laughing. It’s low, it’s bitter. I burn in the agony. It’s painfully beautiful. And I just laugh, as I look at this moment. At my Carnival of Rust.

The Punjab I Remember

Posted in It's all about the soul on May 23, 2013 by Shry

Buried somewhere in my bloodline is the sublime earth of Punjab. DSCN3553

As a young girl staying in southern India for the better part of a decade, I would always conjure up visions of endless green fields, flawless blue sky, gaily dressed people and irresistible food whenever I would hear someone mention Punjab, or pick up strains of a conversation in Punjabi (a rarity in South, obviously). I had moved from the Punjabi capital to the Andhra Capital at a tender age of 8 and the cultural shock for me in the initial few months was a huge setback. The language-barrier was the most immediate problem, but there were so many facets of everyday life that would leave me confused and often apprehensive. Suddenly I had become the ‘North Indian’ who received shocked stares for not knowing what a half-saree was, for not wearing a bottu (bindi), for not knowing how to eat with my hands, for not knowing the language (obviously, though little did they know that my Punjabi was as bad as my Telugu!), for considering dosa a special dish, for not eating non-vegetarian food (this defect of mine haunts me wherever I go) and for doing this mad, loud, energetic jig with hands in the air and feet thumping (popularly known as Bhangra!). However, this is not to suggest that my stay in Hyderabad was a disaster. On the contrary, the time spent there were the best years of my life till date. Aur waise bhi, all these instances occurred when I was 8 or 9, hardly setting any precedent for the time I had once I grew older. Anyhow, coming back to the point, random events would trigger off waves of nostalgia. News bulletins, call from a relative, bollywood songs (!) and even the sight of a turbaned gentleman on the street! Sometimes, I would long to return to what I liked to call ‘my land’ and live with ‘my people’. Time, luckily, took care of all these stupid notions of ‘yours’ and ‘mine’ and I simply grew out of them. Life moved on.

Nearly 8 years after having moved to the South, I was informed that it was time to bid adieu to the city and move, lo and behold, back to Chandigarh! Sad as I was to be leaving behind people and the city I had come to love, I was simply ecstatic at the prospect of returning to ‘sadda Punjab’. All the images I had ever painted in my head came rushing back in all their glory and I couldn’t wait to start school, meet new people and just soak in the culture to which ‘I belonged’. The return of the prodigal daughter, it seemed to me.

However, eight years is a long time. Long enough for a lot of change to quietly creep in. The eight years that I had been nestled in a Southern city had seen India usher in the IT boom, the popularity-explosion of cell phones, the attack on the Indian Parliament, change of central government, urbanization and globalization at an unprecedented rate and many many other events. Needless to say, I hadn’t bothered to figure in all these factors as I dreamt away to glory. I have no memory of the initial days of my return to Chandigarh, but gradually all the illusions I had possessed of Punjab slipped away. The green fields remained, but many had paved the way for huge residential and industrial units, the folk music had undergone a ‘remix transition’ and was now nothing but loud noise, the musicians and artists coming forward as representatives of the state’s culture were fake and often obscene and about as Punjabi as Bill Clinton. The quiet, tree-lined roads of Chandigarh were still there, in fact the city more pristine and modern than ever, but now there were Audis, Mercs and what-nots everywhere, with loud music blaring, often with the ubiquitous lal battis, some with BKI stickers (though these people weren’t even around when militancy had torn the state apart), driven by chimps in expensive clothing and expensive shaded (some real, some fake), drawling in a fake Canadda-wala accent, believing in the might of the Gandhi-stamped paper, many ruined by unabashed abuse of alcohol and drugs, the remnants of what had once been a vibrant, resourceful and formidable generation. As is often the case with those young fools whose pedestals come crashing down, the love I had for this place and its people started turning sour. I didn’t want any of it! Not the accent-infested language, the remixed music, the obscene flaunting of wealth not earned but inherited, the gaudy lifestyles. And yet, I had to stay. Where else could I go? In my head I created a place where Punjab was how it used to be. I am not stereotyping anything, but the following lines are really how I remembered the first few years of my childhood in Punjab and the sights and sounds that came my way whenever I visited my relatives back in the pind of my forefathers. People who toiled hard and fed the whole country, the land of the five rivers and also the rivers of milk and ghee, the unforgettable taste of lassi and the mouth-watering sight of the traditional maaki di roti and sarson da saag with heaps of butter, people who were known the world-over for their resourcefulness, ability to withstand adversity, the home of the martial race, the villages where at least one son from each family was sent to the army to serve the nation, where the gurbaani rang out in the wee hours of the morning from the village Gurudwaras scenting everything with holy hues, and also where the people distrusted the government, public administration was often inefficient and tardy, liquor the soother of all wounds and raucous fights over the smallest of provocations. All these images would flash in my mind as I would sit in the balcony of my comfortable sarkaari makaan, staring at the distant light of Kasauli.

Today, I might have left those images and illusions far-behind, today I might have grown old and mature enough to understand the intricacies of one’s heritage, but I have come to accept that people simply change. And since people constitute a state and its culture, it is inevitable that the other two entities will also change. The move from Chandigarh to a town in the heart of Punjab taught me a lot. Yesterday was Baisakhi. It needs no description. The fields around me were abuzz with folk-music, the roar of tractors and threshers, the aroma of earth and freshly-cut ‘fasal’ ripe in the air. Today as I stood at the window staring at the sun setting gently over the golden fields, I realized that this part of Punjab will never fade away, come what may. The waist-high crops quietly camouflage the thin roads criss-crossing from one village to another, the machines of agriculture amble along as they have been for centuries, strapping men in brightly coloured turbans toil away under the sun, repeating the actions that countless before and after them undertake, a distant gurudwara sends out the same peaceful hymns…this is how Punjab will always stay within me. At this moment, I see the fields swaying gently in the breeze, the dark clouds gathering in the sky for yet another unseasonal shower, the sun off to rest.

I feel at home.