Amma

New runners for new tracks

‘Lets tickle the sky’ papa she says. I look up from the book that nestles in my hand. I smile. I wonder where she picked that up from. I put the book away and ask, ‘How do you do that?’ Am genuinely curious.

She doesn’t wait for me. She throws her three year old hands into the air and jiggles her tiny fingers looking up into the sky. I break into a smile and do the same. She smiles. We both laugh. She laughs because she is happy. I laugh with a singular knowledge that everything that needs to be accomplished in the world is done. For if you could tickle the sky, of all things, well, nothing else remains.

‘She jumps on a whim these days’, I tell the missus over a sepulchral coffee. “Tomorrow is her sports day. I hope you remember”, she says. Silence ensues. Her silence is her way of letting me know that I am not as involved as I ought to be.

“Of course”, I say. “Its on my calendar”. After a reasonably pronounced sip of chaste filter coffee, she adds, ‘well she has grown taller’. I want to say ‘I noticed’, but then bite my lip. Some lessons stay. I bite my lip harder. A mute testimony to my growing up.

The little miss doesn’t care about the silly thoughts that run aground our minds, as she jumps of the sofa with an alacrity of a Kangaroo. “Kang-a-loo” she yells. She still cant get the ‘r’. Landing a stingy meter short of the spot where the the settee begins. The missus gasps every time the little ‘Kanga-al-looo’ takes off.

The sports day arrives with nonchalant ease. I finish up as much of the work that I can. As early as I can and land up at the venue. With a nervous twitch of the finger I switch off the phone and look around to see where the little miss is and what all she is upto. From afar, I spot her. Playing with her friends. I smile. I climb on to what seems to be a ledge of sorts and strain my neck to get a better view.

Track

The teachers and staff at her school put up a stellar show. To handle one toddler is a sapping experience for me. To handle a hundred or so, must sure be an ask. But they do a super job. But as sapping it is, the fulfillment at the end of the day is an indescribably happy feeling. A sudden feeling of envy creeps out and weaves itself around the teachers. As they run, jump and lead the toddlers. Smiles hold steady sway over the December morning.

The little miss first is part of an aerobic dance. A dance that is imperfect in synchrony but is enough to set the hearts of all parents gathered there afire. The imperfection is a joy to behold. As wobbly hands and toddler legs balance slender torsos aiming to catch the beat of a catchy song. The little miss is right at the centre. We look at each other. Me and the missus. And smile. No words are spoken.

I rush to another part of the gallery. Whipping out the ipad to record her first performance before an audience. A joyous rush gets the heart to beat faster. I shoot a video. The aerobic dance is over as quickly as it began. So it seems. When you know that you wish for the event to linger for longer, you realise its tugged your heart. Today the gluttonous seeking of happiness remains unsatiated. For, soon its time to go home.

A few hours later. I call up my mom. I speak rather calmly. I try to. So I think. I tell her about the exploits of her grand daughter at her first sports day. A public performance. Plus, two races ‘won’. She speaks with joy. And has a volley of questions about the event. After hearing them all, she says, ‘its like yesterday that I came to YOUR first sports day. How time flies”. Silence engulfs the airwaves. She breaks the silence in a bit. “Do you have pictures?”

“I am uploading a video ma. You can stream it soon” I say. As a tiny trickle sits on the ledge of the eye, threatening to stream down my cheek. Its a wholesome melancholic mixture. Of missing. Of longing. Of celebration. Of hope. Of the future with the past in tow. Or maybe its about the past with the future etching its presence. She often tells us ‘Life is a relay’ with a straight face and sane voice. ‘Me and dad have run our part. The baton is in your hands now’.

I strike the upload button with vigour. Am sure as the video streams down from the cloud, it will make her day. Stuff from an unseen cloud will tickle the sky. Her sky.

There are new runners emerging in the family. New runners for new tracks.

What does it take …?

I run my hands over many layers of bark. They are sharp. I didn’t expect them to any otherwise. The bark is dry. I look up.

For a height that seems insurmountable, the bark and the wood beneath extends above my head. I arch my neck.

Many feet above, there is green.

What does it take to stand tall ? Without being upset with the wind or whining about the sun ?

What does it take to take to the withering that time brings with ease?

How does it feel to grow leaves, shed them every year, and regrow every year.

What does it take to stand tall and provide shade to the child and to the wood cutter with equanimity? Without pausing to think of how much is there to be given.

When the height is immense and the vastness so mighty, how deep must the roots run ? How much grounding is necessary for the height to stay high?

How old yet so full of life. And hope.

Why must a tear form in the corner of my eye. As I run my hands over bark and arch my neck and try to look at its zenith?

Indeed, what does it take to stand tall?


Impromptu words that flowed from a borrowed pen on to a spare tissue paper. Chancing a tree in a deep wood and thinking of appa & amma.

Maths. Gymnastics. Art.

If you walk by a traditional South Indian street early in the morning chances are high that you would spot a lady dotting the front yard with fine white flour, are high !

If you hang around there for a while and look with an ordinary eye, you will see dots emerge in sequence. Dots in proportion. Dots in synchrony and symmetry.

Of course, you can immediately sense that is maths in action. Yes. Math ! 8 dots. 16 dots. right angles. symmetry. Etc etc !


All while the lady, stands up and bends down ! Mega city lifestyles and modern day junk food and leisure lifestyles ensure that such postures befit a great cosmic yogi (at best) or a Russian Gymnast (at the least ). That another story for another time.

In some time, the fine white flour that went into making of the dot slips through the fingers to form simple, straight lines. Straight lines that would look like those drawn with a scale !

In a jiffy the lines become curves. The curves become U turns, with the dot in he middle ! Sharp curves that would get a F1 champ’s adrenalin going.

The lines and curves form a seamless symmetry of art on the floor. A dash here. A dash there. A curve now and then. Suddenly there is a piece of visual delight on the front yard !! Coming to think of it all, to get out of bed at 5.00 AM is something. To get to the courtyard is something else. And then, to alternate between gymnastics and mathematics with ease, is stuff that is beyond me. To do it everyday is super human.

It took me an effort to locate the camera and shoot ! My mom looked bemused and surprised. Initially at my interest, giving me ‘Ah, whats so great about it’ look !

A while later, the household help came in and added some of her own designs and a dash of colour !

I have stayed a mile away from maths. ( Or rather, maths has stayed a mile away from me). And two miles from gymnastics. I always thought so.

Seems i was pretty close ! My mom orchestrates them to do the ballet on the front yard
everyday !

Trophies

Those medals. They hang from his chest. A chest that seems swollen from a distance. Medals that were won in the military. Many years of serving the nation. If these medals had a mouth of a TV newscaster, they would narrate battle tales. Perhaps.

Perhaps. Of war cries and hospital walks. Of wins of territory, and loss of limb. Maybe life. Of bravery amidst blood.

Retirement. An able body. A need for family sustenance. And a clutch of medals. These form a neat concoction that provides him employment as a security supervisor at the apartment complex. On special occasions, he wears those medals. And walks with a swollen chest.

Proud as he is. Of his past. For, every time he wears those medals, the second-grade son of the Vice-President who lives in Flat No : 202, insults him lesser.

These medals, awe.




In a distant small town, an array of medals, trophies, certificates, and plaques adorn an entire cupboard. They keep a lonely mother and father company. They were brought home with great joy by sons, long gone.

When these trophies were first brought home, they were brought with tremendous happiness.

Awarded for many reasons. Ranging from elocution to essay writing. From quizzing to tennis. From topping school to writing complex code. And other prolific stuff including ‘attending school without a days leave’ to ‘blood donation’ !

Each trophy was treasured. Polished. Shined. And till date, enjoys the attention of visitors. ‘These were brought by our sons’. They say, to people who care to ask, amongst the few that care to drop in.

Trophies, tell tales.

On another note. Big city living has trophies that are in vogue. From the air conditioner to the amplifier. From branded shirts to premium underwear. From the luxury car to Luxembourg holidays. From the digital thermostat to hand wound watches. From cat salons to the digital mouse !


The excitement of the acquisition always compensating the emptiness on usage. For, material trophies atrophy.

Simple living. Good health. Shared love. And building a collective future.

These perhaps are the trophies that count. These perhaps are the trophies that secretly awe lead runners and podium finishers of the rat race. These are the trophies that will spawn a million memories. Worth more than all the gold with the RBI.

And these perhaps are the only trophies that come, atrophy proof !


In awe of a plastic pot

I am in awe. Among other things, At the number of snaps of plastic pots that i have clicked.

There are many aspects of small town and village living that the ‘sophisticated’ cannot understand.


Amongst them, is the plastic pot. A very important lifeline to many. They come in different colours. Bright pink. Yellow. Orange. Green. Of course, the pot had to be identifiable in a sea of pots waiting for that trickle of water.

Getting to the tap, before anyone else can is important. At the dead of the night. Sometimes earlier than that. And take a place in the queue.

But that’s not where it ends. That’s where it starts.

It really ends when a pot full of water gets balanced on the head. And another on the hip. And gets home by walk. When home is a perhaps a kilometer or two away. And a flight of steps to climb, by the way. Careful that not a drop drips. For each drip means more trips to the tap.

And as this is getting written, there are other folks in big cities of the world. Who think water and such else, are in perpetual supply like a television soap. And the worst water woe is parked at the doorstep of the municipal corporation. But then, this post is not about them.

This post is about awe. And the plastic pot. The pot that helps carry water. With much love and such else.

I truly am in awe. Of a different life on the same planet. Of daily struggles. Of people. Of water. Of pots.

And of course, of mothers. Especially, one that i know, that carried many pot fulls, from the community tap. And climbed the stairway, many times. As her young sons fought over the plastic ball that each wanted for himself.

And she let them be. And they played, watching their mother amble along for more water in thirsty summers. Those were different times.

And so, the plastic pot opens a dam of memories.

And now, indeed there is awe. Now that i see.
What it would have taken to raise my brother and me.

Footboarding

clicked at Madurai. Aug ’08

This is about a form of travel. Called ‘Footboard’ !

It principally involves having one leg…no. Perhaps one half of one toe on the footboard of a bus, and clutch any part of the bus with an intensity that would do a lizard in a earthquake ridden building, proud. Just hold on.

And gather all the strength from wherever. And of course, you are not alone. There are many others that are going shoulder to shoulder, toe-to-toe with you. Actually, that should be ‘any-body-part’ to ‘any-body-part’ with you !

And of course, there are accidents. Life and limb are lost.

And Tamil movies have eulogised this sequence as one where ‘love blossoms’ ! As the heroine exchanges love struck glances from inside the bus, and the hero stays suspended in air. The movies of course, don’t show the suspension-in-thin-air as a harbinger of what awaits the hero after the marriage. Of course !

You have had many classmates in college doing this routine. Every single day, commuting to college and back. Looking for the most crowded of the buses. To demonstrate how much they can stay suspended!

They ridicule you. For you would never do it. Telling you that you dont have enough courage. You know deep within, that they perhaps are true.

clicked in a village in TN. June ’09

And you meet some of them. Many years later, long after they married. To women that didn’t travel with them in those crowded buses. They are a balded. Have children. They earn a good living. And speak of ‘those’ days with affection riddled nostalgia !

And say. ‘We were plain lucky to survive.’ And one of them casually lets go. “As a matter of fact i couldnt do much with the meagre money my dad made. Life had to be lived. Heroism was the cloak to sport’.

You wince.

He smiles. And goes on. ‘See it made chaps like you envy us !’

You smile a weak smile. And think of your the parent lottery you won when you were born. To the folks that you were born to.

And you see change all around.

And you look at the buses now. And find that some sport a fresh tilt to them. Even now. And now you know, that the tilt has many reasons. Wooing was one. Just one. ”Living'” was the big one that you didn’t think of. Back then.

Living. Sometimes, at the expense of life.

Question D !


I need some help. Read on.

Preserved by a dotting mother who doubles up as a collector of family memories, this chap remains. Many decades after he was slapped, thrown about, trampled all over and sometimes washed up and decorated ! Yes. This chap was my toy !

And i was reacquainted with him last week. And promptly clicked !

And what an aspirational toy ! At that time, there was desire. To wear those bell bottom trousers. For that long wavy hair. And yes. For that bright yellow shirt and sky blue trousers ! For that red guitar and lovely music, that i saw film heroes spew !

And this chap is symbolic of a time when there was innocence in the air and the thinking was as wide as the vast expanse !

As education seeped in, one after the another, the tastes changed. For the whatever remained, reality reared its stark face. The last on that list being ‘wavy hair’ !

More importantly, this chap reminded of a time when you were asked four questions. All the time. Many times over. By new people. Same people. Half people. At dinners. Get togethers. When people visited. When you visited.

a. Which school do you go to ?
b. Which class do you study in ?
c. What is your class teachers name ?
d. What do you want to become when you grow up ?

Of course, there would be a few more questions. And there were those who would ask the same questions all over again, in the same interaction so much so, that you wondered if could make the earth would part ways. Then and there !

The answer to question D, on that list, would vary. Many times according to mood. The intensity of the sun. Of course, on who was asking, and who all were listening. The answers used to vary from, ‘Pilot. Journalist. Prime Minister. Policeman. IAS officer’ and the like. These were my oft quoted.

The more libellous ones were, ‘Film star, cricketer, Astrologer..” Whatever the answer, without doubt, there would be those who would probe further. ‘Why’ they would ask. Or sometimes, smirk / laugh / nod head and say, ‘really?’.

There was one gent who used to be a master at this. He would ask me this question, over many years. And when he did ask me this question, for the 2,33,678th time, i remember, having my hands on my hips and telling him, ‘ Superman’.

The man’s eyebrows widened. And there was momentary surprise. There was a plan. That if at he would ask me ‘Why’, i would muster all courage and state that Superman got to wear blue trousers for underwear and read underwear for trousers. And of course, had a curtain cloth hanging on his shoulder.

His surprise had him mute. There was no need to muster the courage. I remember wanting to go on. And tell him, “Phantom”. “Tin Tin”. “Batman” and each had equally powerful reasons. Surprisingly the 2,33,679th time didn’t come.

This chap with the guitar reminded me of that time ! Now, If you spot a dark chap in a bright yellow shirt and a sky blue bell bottom trousers, with a guitar slung across the shoulder….well, spare a second look ! It could be me, wanting to recreate that time !

Many decades later, the toys have changed shape. Size. But hey, the questions remain too. Slightly different though.

a. Where do you work ?
b. Where do you live ?
c. How many kids do you have ?
d. How much do you earn ?

And this is where i need some help. Can you help me with a ‘superman’ kind of answer for ‘question ‘d’ ‘ !?!

Going Home.

The plane taxis off the runway & kisses the clouds. From up above, i see the Mumbai skyline. I am far close to the sea than i can imagine.

The plane continues to climb. The low cost airline has not been low cost exactly. But it did take off on time. And it did soar into the sky. There is a pilot with a distinct kerelite accent, asking announcing that we should be landing on time.

I peer through the window. And see the receding skyline of the city that i call home now. In about a hour and a half i will be touching down in Bangalore. A city that i used to call home until a year and a half back. For ten odd years.

The books that i have picked up at the airport lounge invite some browsing. Some habits stick. Most, like this one, make the missus sick. But she isn’t here today with me. So.

I am lost in my own world. Memories come rushing back. I think of the next few days. And i have so many things to do. Discussions to have. And just be present. The sun beats down the other side of the plane. God is kind. I think.

And look at the big mountains that appear far too small. Far beyond. Far below. There are announcements for refreshments. I can hear only parts of it. The other i leave it to conjecture. The handlers from Pakistan did a better job, i think. Of speaking into the phone, that is.

Refreshments are served. And charged too. This is a low cost airline. The middle class me, loaded with the guilt of having bought books, keeps me restrained. In the row, just ahead, a family sits. They order sandwiches and juice. Sandwiches and juice and hand, the air hostess announces, ‘thats Rs. 510/-, sir !’ The plane shakes a bit.

I look through the window. Into the mountains. Into a dried river in the distance. I think of the next few days. There is happiness. Anxiety. Purposefulness. Hope. And resolve. The pilot is back again. Announcing something. I hear parts of it. And don’t hear most of it. The air hostess is having a word with the passenger in front of me. In a distance, i see greenery.

Frankly. Nothing matters. For i am flying home. From the new home of Mumbai. To the old home of Bangalore. And then, home ! Home to Madurai.

Home. To amma and appa. Today, nothing else seems to matter. The sun continues to beat down. The other side of the plane.

Defining Images ’08 : Women of the year !

Clicked in Mumbai Sept ’08

There are iron rods that jut out in the incomplete apartment complex next door. Seeming to arch out and reach the sky. Getting closer to the blue beyond and cotton clouds, everyday, a new floor climbed. Hoisted with bricks, cement, mortar, steel.

All in exchange of perhaps three square meals, happiness on a toddlers face and for inflaming the hopes beyond. At lunch time, they take a break. All those who climb those incomplete stairs of the yet to be complete buildings, hauling over bricks and mortar.

There is one lady who i watch today. A lady who hurriedly canters to a small shed. From a distance, through all the din and dust, i hear a toddlers smirk of happiness and a mothers voice.

In a moment they emerge. An elder daughter swinging a discarded bottle follows. She has him on her hip. Sings a song in a language that is alien to me as they walk by. Mother. Daughter. Baby. Unaware of my or anybody elses presence, they seems present in her world. Fully present there.

The lady stops for what seems to be a fleeting second. With one swoop of her other hand and a slight bend, wipes clean construction equipment from the floor and ports it atop her head.

My camera goes click click obscuring the chord that tugs the heart. From somewhere, my own amma telling our childhood stories stream in. ‘kandhalile muthucharam kappathi kattivaithen..’ ( From tatters i saved this string of pearls just for you..), she used to say, repeating lines from a film song.

Today, with an elegance that could compare a Russian gymnast on a trapeze, this lady of this hot Mumbai afternoon sways along. Presumably for lunch. Lullaby on her lip, work load on her head and love on her hip.

Long after they are gone, the alien lullaby & toddlers response still rings my ear. And i do not wonder why.


Image II

Mahabaleshwar ’08

It is around 6.30 AM. Mahabaleshwar. I walk the road to breathe in the fresh air and soak myself in. In some distance, a bundle of quiver seems to canter in my direction, at a brisk pace.

As she comes closer, i see a frail old woman. A bundle on her head. Barefoot. Carrying her slippers along. One on each hand. She seems to canter on. Each step is a struggle, i can see. And it takes a while for her to cross me. Slippers. Bundle et al in hand.

I am curious. To say the least. I turn around. And walk. Following her. In an obscure distance.

From afar i see a young lady approaching us. We walk on. They cross each other, with a greeting and wave. A slippery wave that is ! And the young woman tells her aloud, just as they are passing each other, ‘you should be wearing those slippers and not carrying them’.

She replies, with a panting quiver, ‘Shiri gave this to me. I don’t want to damage this…these will look good on ..( i cant quite catch the name)..’. She walks on. A few seconds later, a louder quiver emerges from the same throat. ‘I can do without these..‘ and as the voice trails off, i realise that the trail leads somewhere where i have no access to.

I drop off the trail. Staring into the sun, and the mist soaked land. I don’t have to look very far for love & promise. I realise.

Pedantic incidents, these may seem to you. To me, these shaped my 2008. Perhaps re-shaped, my mental map about hope, possibilities and women! There are two other women that i wrote about earlier. Do check out Vanita and the other woman that i know for a while now.

PS: On a completely different note, the missus and the mother-in-law are not featured here. Given the fact that they have ‘controlling interests’ in my life and therefore on this blog, featuring them here may involve a certain degree of conflict of interests. So in the interest of probity in public life… !!!