Flower on the forehead !

Well, we in India have this love affair with flowers. And it is not the bouquet giving. That is very western. Living in a small town, giving flowers always meant a garland ! And the precincts of the Meenakshi Amman Temple used to house some of the best smells and wonderous garlands ever made !

Nevertheless, here are some pictures of flower marketers in Matunga. In Mumbai. Many years back, my dad published a book on ‘Flower Marketing in India’. Today, i guess the market dynamics would be markedly different.

These are two pictures from Matunga ! The flowers, the colours, the smells and of course the public who walk by to pick that odd garland is a sight to behold !

And ofcourse, many garlands end up caressing radiator grills. How hot the grills would be of course, depend on how old the make is !

Sometimes they caress headlights too !

But to me, the ensuing snap is the ultimate evidence, that ‘the flower’ is part of us, our roads and our living. If you don’t like a garland or a bouquet..you still can do with one flower. Or two ! As you can see here.

‘A flower behind your ear’ in Tamil colloquial parlance signifies a fool or a dimwit ! But a flower on the forehead (to the best of my knowledge) is yet to be defined. And a flower two feet above your head..on a suspended aerial…well..that indeed is taking it to a different height !

A different suspended height !

Saturday Lazing : Staying Tethered.

Walking by a lane in Matunga is indeed a sight. For one, slippers that hang by a string, kiss flowers hanging at the next door store.

Well, almost !

But what a sight they are. Neatly ordained. Well, merchandised. And the slippers managing to catch the attention of those that would walk in to buy flowers. Ditto with the flowers catching attention of the slipper buyers.

Isn’t it ironic ?!?

At a temple, the slippers are left far behind. Right at the entrance. While the flowers go on to adorn the deity ! So is the case with homes. And every other place where they are used.

But at the place of purchase, they seem to be fountainhead of communism and equality ! Just hanging on with so much elan and showcasing a commercial value, functionality. ‘Meaning’ and emotion are not here !!

So that strings that hold the slippers vie with the strings that hold the flowers. But here is a difference : when you purchase the flower garland, the strings go along ! Needless to say, the strings don’t come along when you buy a pair of slippers.

So…eureka. eureka. ( A zillion light year far cry from the brilliance of Archimedes, I am all clothed and still sitting in front of computer !) But here is my thought…Here is my lazy Saturday hypotheses :

‘It boils down the string !’

A string alters meaning ! A string of slippers can have other uses. Like this one. But without the string, well….

So, there it is. My eureka discovery and prompt discourse for the weekend: ‘ Find your string. And tether yourself to it. And hold strong ! It shows you in a different light !’

The moment you are untethered, you fall to the ground. Be it a slipper. Or a flower !!

And i guess one can still fly, yet stay tethered. See this decoration piece that hangs from the side view mirror…..

Phew !?! That’s one string full for what began as a lazy Saturday post on a snap that stayed on the hard drive for some time.

But that discovery (sic) has my head spinning…phew..I am stopping. Excuse please!! How do you copyright this..!! The commercial possibilities are mind boggling. I want to copyright this ‘Tether philosophy’ ! Oh yes…

My head is spinning at double the speed.

‘OK. OK. Get me a rope. I want to stay tethered.

I want too want to hang’.


My day today. When Mumbai was beseiged.

Late last night, oblivious to all that was happening in the same city that is home, under the same sky, i blogged, read, chatted and went to bed. Only to be woken up very shortly later, by a call from my boss. At midnight you don’t expect your boss to call. ‘All well ?’, he asked, and proceeded to check if i knew of people in our organisation who were traveling to Mumbai.

My sleep drenched hand searched for the TV remote. As i absorbed the images. numbed for sometime,i took in heavy heaps of air, as much as my lungs could fill. I distinctly recall the slight quiver in his voice. And the tremble in my heart.

‘Is there anything that i can do ?’ I asked. He replied in the negative and hung up. It was an uncomfortable call.

‘Is there anything that i can do?’ is the question that stayed with me through the night as i shifted and turned uncomfortably.

After a stern night, i wake up early, switch on the TV, only to realise that night might have been over. But ‘stern’ was far from. I decide to step outside home to gather some fresh air. Not great dare devilry but just a walk within the precincts of the apartment complex.

At the entrance, is the security guard. Actually, an ordinary middle aged man, wearing an uniform. Nothing more. A gent who chats up rarely, but watches carefully. I doubt if he is trained on combat or whatever. But he still is there.

On other days, i greet him. Today, i walk past. My mind absorbed with the images on TV. I stand there and look into the sky, to ask ‘why’.

Today, he tells me as i step out : ‘Take care. But do go out. I am here to protect. Nothing will happen.”

I look at him for a stupefied second. I think : Forget RDX. This gent wont last a ricocheted bullet from a pistol. But that didn’t stop him from saying what he did. And doing so, held my attention. It seems that i don’t have to look any further for answers to the question that kept me up for most parts of the night.

My eyes moisten, and i tell him, ‘You take care too’. He nods his head.

We stare at each other. We are just two plain men. With a shared skyline, a wounded psyche and a determined spirit. The silence lingers for a while. His presence comforts me. In the ordinariness of his form and but the power of those simple words that touch me. Just letting me know that grief was not mine alone. He was with me. And so were many others.

Many hours later, i am at home. Wielding the remote. Jumping from channel to channel. Rejoicing in small mercies and wallowing in a strange syncretic grief. Offices have been declared closed today.

My hair is disheveled with hands running through them as i answer calls and watch TV. My heart is at multiple places. South Mumbai. In the shoes of all those held hostage. In the pall of gloom that would pervade the homes of slain police officers. In the anxiety of friends and relatives of people close to action. And so on.

I write. And that appears to resonate with people like Sundar, sitting many miles away.
And then, the doorbell rings. Breaking the footage monotony of policemen, rabid media & gun shots. I wonder who it could be.

I open the door, to find the courier boy delivering mail. A trifle surprised that this mail delivering was happening as the city was held to ransom, i collect the mail. And just as i am set to close the door, i tell him, ‘ Take care’. I swallow hard.

And he stops. A trifle surprised. Lingers for a while and states with a nonchalance of a commando.

With a straight chin, a fulgent gleam and a young mind , he speaks. ‘Nothing will happens sir. We just need to be more careful. And besides i have mail to deliver & much work to complete. I cant be afraid of these people, sir’.

I keep staring at him. As he disappears into the lift.

I close the door with a strange resolve. I switch off the TV. And open the laptop. And begin work. I am a Mumbaikar. I am Indian. I am a citizen of the world. I am not going to be cowed down by terror.

I know we will get them. I know we will win. At the nucleus of that victory will be this spirit. This spirit of labouring on, spreading the message and just going forward immaterial of whatever happens.

And friends call. There seems to be a resolute need to do something. And their anguish spills out as war crys and oaths, strange resolutions and ideas emerge. ‘Form vigil squads’. ‘Learn martial arts’. ‘Basic weapon training.’ ‘Spreading the message of love’. ‘Lets galvanise action and people’. ‘Lets blog more’. Etc. Etc.

I realise, ‘ I want to do something’ seems to be a core message. There is an educated mass, able, willing and wanting to do something.

Somewhere between the resolute yet concerned quiver of the first call, and the spirit of the security guard and courier boy, and the anguish ridden restive energy expressed by fellow men and women : i realise, that we need to carry on with our work, yet seek out and do what we can, in our spaces.

We are hurt. And perhaps bleeding. But still not dead. Never will be. The soul is new. And tomorrow, when the same sun lights a new dawn, and when we get back to work, we will not be wallowing in questions of ‘why us’.

It rather will be ‘From here, where ? How ?

I seek your help. We seek your ideas.

We Will Get You

So you had another swipe at us again. Like you did some months ago. And some years ago. Like you did at some other place. Ok.

But lest you rejoice that you won, i just wanted to write and say, we’ll get you. I may be a little perturbed today. My fingers sport a slight tremor as i type this. & the soul reeks of anger like a broken perfume battle. Images on TV are indeed depressing. But make no mistake, we’ll get you.

Three police officers & many innocents lost their lives. They fought you & in their life time, got many of you. And there are many others who still will fight on. The might of our nation resides in the glory of our history and the possibilities for our future. We will not let those possibilities be still born. Mark my words, we’ll get you.

Our politicians are infirm. They are out to exploit every crevice to establish a valley. And you have thrived by opening new crevices and fronts. But for the man on the street, the one who gives a day long toil a hard sinew, these crevices dont matter. And with the strength of that twisting sinew & noble thought of the men, women and children on the street, i promise you : we’ll get you.

For long now, we have remained silent. Our ministers spoke the same speeches with different suits. Enough. Enough. Its time to stop all of this. And dont even hesitate to think, ‘if’ we will get you. We sure will.

You may wonder where i get such confidence from, when you have struck with impunity.

My confidence stems from what we have inside us. The strength of our spirit, the resilience of our soul, the grit of our grip and of course, the blood that has dripped by on the floor, all far easily outweigh the combined might of all strings of bullets and the stream of bombs that you can muster.

We will get you.

PS : I have been dwarfed by the depth of concern and voices of support from the world over. Friends, relatives, people who just passed by this blog and of course fellow bloggers, who i havent met at all. The phone has been constantly ringing or beeping. The mail box shows ‘new mail’ almost as a permanent addition. Thank You !

For an inconsequential chap like me, this is overwhelming enough. It seems to me that the weight of the world, measured in gold backs us up. That to me is the strength of the spirit.

I can almost hear the keyboard cringe in pain, as i key in each alphabet with emphasis and force :

‘We Will Get You’.

Posting to Give… !

Call me a pedant if you wish, but there are certain things that i cant connect to. One such is the ad that i saw. And such ads attract the click quotient of my finger and the blog quotient of the mind.

So here it is.

An ad that beseeches me to buy Pepsi and pop corn, because of which Rs.10/- would be donated to the education of a girl child.

Would you buy that Combo offer of Pepsi and Popcorn? ( And that too called Classroom Combo) Just because, a grand sum of Rs.10/- would go to educating a girl child as you you burped and munched. If I were you, i wouldn’t.

What can such ads do, at the least ?

Perhaps, reduce the volume of the protests made by a conscience deep inside you.

‘Aerated drinks are bad’
‘Popcorn adds to calories’
You just had two ice creams. Post dinner.
This movie is not going to be worth all of this.
Anbumani Ramadoss will be angry with you’

and such other choruses would be drowned in one line : ‘after all this is for a good cause’ !

That idea seems to serve the devil, who wouldn’t know the difference between Pearly gates and Watergate. Perhaps.

Peddling junk food in the name of learning & charity is as low as it can get.

That too with a bold a tag line, as bold as ‘learn to give’! Making a virtue of every post Pepsi burp and pre-consumption burst of corn. And does it not sound as though, folks who stay a good planet away from such jumbo double whammies, are loathsome misers who will guard Rs.10/- with the might of a certain Raj !!!

Filled with a certain degree of malignant ill-feeling, I write. So, even as the poster cooed ‘learn to give’, i just had to write this to equalise. In my own Lilliputian world, I just had to give it back to Pepsi and Popcorn !

Explosive memories !

Clicked from home. Neigbourhood kids at Ganesh Puja.
Mumbai. Sept ’08

Deepavali as we used to call it, is here. Over here people call this festival Diwali ! And i guess this will be acceptable to the mo-text-gen. ‘Mobile phone – messaging – generation’ to the uninitiated !

A day filled with oil bath, prayers, new clothes, and fire crackers ! ‘Fire-Crackers’ then started sharing space with Television programs. But the essence of my recollections of Deepavali of the wonder years, revolves around fire-crackers.

They came in many shapes and sizes. Of inordinate length. And of course, the essence was to produce the loudest noise that had the potential of bringing the neighbourhood down ! Who cared about the neighbourhood, it had to be louder than the neighbours fire-cracker ! Looked forward to, with a great degree of excitement the purchase process brought endless levels of delight.

I don’t recall when the change started to set in. Mine and my brother’s interest in the fire-cracker started to wane. To a point, where every burst of a cracker was greeted with a grimace usually reserved for a divisive politician.

Today, when i see youngsters queuing up to set off fire-crackers, ( especially at odd times) an urge to talk to these kids emerges from somewhere. To talk to them about simple living, about good over evil, about pragmatic thinking, about making a difference, about having fun without causing inconvenience etc etc.

I guess i wear on my sleeve, whats on the mind. At least, that’s what the data indicates , from my wifes responses. And of course, she knows my pet peeves !

Today, as she serves dinner, she cocks her head and asks me, ‘what would you have done, if somebody told you to live a simple life etc etc, when you were all set to burst a cracker?’. I laugh and say, at that age i perhaps would have burst a louder fire cracker !

‘Old man, do you think we can afford more noise’ she asks. I get the hint. Suddenly whats on the dinner plate seems interesting.

Somewhere below, a fire-cracker goes off. I can hear it. Loud and clear.
And that sound segues me into my wonder years. I see in my mind, vivid scenes. Of me setting of loud crackers in brand new clothes and raw happy energy.

Perhaps the kid who set off the fire-cracker will remember this night, many years laterr, just like i did today. Triggered by a cracker from somewhere, grimacing at the noise and smiling at the memory of his wonder years.

And of course, his wife’s dinner !

Diwali is here.

Another City. Same Tunes.

Work had me travel to Chennai.

Chennai is like any other Indian metropolis. Only more familiar to me. Thats because, I can read whats written on the walls. Those posters and graffiti scream for attention and my mind hoovers up, before you could say hoover up !

My eyes rest on the road and sees whats abuzz. The strife for more, the constant stretching of limits, an existential reality that is so typical of all big cities. And Chennai is no exception.

We drive on & I see the St.Thomas Mount Shrine, atop the hillock. I vividly recall my times there. Beautiful, serene and pristine place, the ‘mount’, soothed frayed nerves in a tough time, many years ago.

As we drive on i spot a BMW showroom ! Ah. I think. I smile to myself. The object behind many a prayer, i think !! Self chiding auto-starts. ‘Devious Mind’ !

Forcefully wanting to switch attention, i close my eyes. The ears come alive. ‘Suryan FM’, the local FM Radio station, is on. Perhaps the drivers favourite. ‘Blade No:1’ is the program that is on, with a gent who calls himself ‘Blade Shankar speaking non-stop, as though stopping would get activate a nuke or something !

For now, this program has listeners call in and narrate a PJ ( PJ stood for Poor Joke. I don’t know what it stands for in the modern times). And this gent himself has a few PJs up his sleeve.

‘An Elephant walks on the road and come to a signal. But he doesn’t cross the road. Why?’, asks someone. My eyes are happy to remain shut. Half in disbelief, half in mild-amusement. ‘Because it is a Zebra crossing’, someone else says ! A Siamese twin combo of ‘sigh and a smile’ escape escape my pursed lips.

Interspersed with such prolific thinking, are ads for various products. One such is for ‘aruna kayiru’ ( RTT: a black string tied around a toddler’s http://www.buyambienmed.com (usually) waist. I think i had one tied around my waist when i used to crawl. As a kid, that is. So they say).

This ad goes ‘buy 1000 metres of ‘aruna kayiru’ get 5 metres free’. I wonder, why on earth would anybody buy 1000 metres of that string ? But thats the ad.

My eyes remain closed.

In a short while, there is a movie song that is being played. A male voice croons :

Paal PappaZhi,
Nalla Takkazhi
Own Kootazhi
Ennai Samali


Milky Papaya
Good Tomato
Your friend (me)
try handling me !!

I shake my head in disbelief. lyricist are working real hard, i think ! And almost as if on cue, the young driver says, ‘ nice song saar’ ! My head still shaking, i tell the driver ‘I have been away for long’. Not in the least sounding as though my presence here would have caused the songs & lyrics themselves to be any different. But my ‘bearing quotient’ would have been !!

The car stops. My eyes open to see.

We are at a toll gate. There is a signboard for a ‘reserved road’ which says, ‘Govt Vehicles and extra wide vehicles only’ ! I wonder why would they want to make that distinction !! Govt vehicles with their occupants automatically are extra wide. Aren’t they ?

My eyes involuntarily close. My ears become alive again. Suryan FM has a contest going now. This ‘Blade Shankar’ chap asks for an equivalent tamil word for ‘Election’ and provides viewers with numbers to call in with answers.

I wonder, since when ‘election’ or its tamil equivalent hit such nadirs that they become subjects for arbid quizzes on a show titled ‘Blade No : 1’. The chest thumping on ‘we are the largest democracy’ must have rubbed somebody right. Or wrong. somewhere.

I shudder to think of the possibility of some bloke calling in with a wrong word.

Thankfully we reach our destination. And i don’t know, what happened. I hope people got it right. Hope springs eternal. They say.

In Chennai too.

The Length of Shadows

Id from my balcony. Mumbai. 2nd Oct 08
The morning ushers with it a holiday on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti. And Id. And as i part the curtains to draw in the morning air, there is an Islamic preachers cadence which floated through ! Rather noisy. That’s my first reaction for the day.

I stand there, soaking up the morning and all that it has to offer : the birds chirping, the first rays of the sun hitting the opposite building. And more importantly, the relative silence that a ‘holiday’ morning offered. Free from honks, bus engines and an inherent Sisyphean buzz.

In a few minutes, i became aware of young Muslim men, characterised by their caps registering in my eyes. They seem to be returning from prayer. Or wherever. Bright clothes and a sprightly walk characterise their today. Today is Id. After a month of fasting, today, is celebration time.

And as they walk towards in the direction of the Sun, i see their shadows lengthening. They segue from slow to a brisk walk. I wonder whats the hurry. Perhaps breakfast. I think.

I wonder how they feel, to be identified & labelled as a Muslim. Victims themselves. Either of terrorism, propaganda or bias. A lump sits in my throat. The birds continue to chirp.

The religion surely must be rich. And i am sure there must be dimensions of which the rest of us don’t understand fully. Maybe someone needs to demystify and help the world understand the Koran, i think.

We need to accept ‘them’ as one of ‘us’ i think. And then, a smile escapes my lips. ‘Us’ & ‘them’, my mind thought 10 seconds ago.

I ask myself, ” aren’t ‘they’, ‘US’ ?!?”

The lump gets bigger within. I wonder if the biases, that i think rests with the rest of the world, rests in me as well. Unconscious sleeper cells? I wonder.

And even as i wonder, i hope thats not the case ! A full minute later, the ‘sleeper cells’ are still introuvable. Thankfully. I hope they never existed.

Far below, the boys themselves, don’t seem to be bothered. With animated chatter, they are now sauntering on. And as the Sun’s rays get brighter, their shadows get lengthier.

In an hour, i am at my breakfast table. Muesli and honey. I wonder what the boys who walked by would be having for breakfast. A few images appear. My mouth waters. Many years back my dad told my mom, half in jest, ‘the way to a man’s heart is through the alimentary canal’.

Out of nowhere that comment makes a propitious appearance. And stays too. Silly. I think. But, it continuous to stay. I wonder why.

I saunter to the window. A new set of boys with the same caps walk by, on the same path. The Sun is up in the sky.

The shadows, however, are shorter. Much shorter.

Happy Id !

That Revolving Light !

Cochin. 22nd Sept ’08
That name plate and revolving light with a siren on, has so much going for it !! The common man bows. The traffic gives way. Prospective (rich) fathers-in-law will kill, for a son-n-law with that kind of light. The District Collector in essence, is the administrative head of the entire district, and hence is entitled to the privilege of the blue siren !

Many years ago, the allure of the civil services beckoned me as well. Teachers told me, that ‘for your IQ’, i would get through easily. That was in class six. I took them seriously. A few years later, i realised that they were kind souls, and certain acts & words were out of kindness. And nothing else !

Well, to be fair to them, i did score some decent marks and was an above average quizzer. (Those were different days. The closest i come to quizzing these days, is the quizzical look that seems to keep me perennial company )!

Constantly egged on by relatives, friends and family, i thought i would have it too. The revolving light atop the car and unmitigated power. Besides which, the thought of ushering in change & a new way of doing things and making a difference did lurk. I swear. (And i have a strong feeling that Obama somehow took that theme from me)!

In that hope, there were issues of Competition Success Review that were picked up with great regularity. Profiles of people who did make itto the civil services were analysed. Idolised. We also had a few neighbours from the IAS. Talking to them helped stoke a fire too. ( If they could do it, i could too )

And then, one fine day. I gave it all up. To put three years of life ( assuming that i cleared the exams etc) on the line, for a distant promise of power, a revolving light & possibilities of impacting society…. didnt quite add up.

With a promise to stay socially engaged and strive for change, in whatever i did, i walked away. Much to the dismay of many. Till date.

The MBA came along. Life took a different turn. And I didnt have regrets. Still dont. That revolving light dream was firmly on the rear view mirror. What remained for a few years, were the old dusty issues of the Competition Success Review ! With reams of material on how to give interviews and group discussions ! And those profiles of people who made it. Idolised once. Dropped then !

These days, however, a revolving light passes by, an apparition of possibilities turn up. Maybe i could have done a better job, i think, than all those who made it ( perhaps by continuing with Competition Success Review )!!

But that thought refuses to linger. Am happy here. I didn’t have to stick to that magazine and read arbid interviews and come face to face with BSRB question papers !

The road forked long ago. And i took the one more traveled. And am glad i did. My life has evolved in a very different clime ! In a different light ! My calling has been elsewhere.

A Migrant’s Balcony

‘A balcony with a view’ , friends used to say. The airport was visible from here. That was until sky raises started coming up close by. In some days the view would be gone completely.

Everyday i stand and watch the sky rise, get closer to the sky and workers working on them, get to new floors ! All, On the way up ! Today, the sun is yet to arrive. There is a slight breeze which nudges the odd discarded polythene pack into aimless movement.

I look emptily into the sky & in that ever coalescing clouds, just like my future ! A shape now. A different one the next minute. And a new one tomorrow. I look into my tea and tea mug. My tea mug says, ‘SMILE’.

Some distance away, migrant ‘labour’ work to do their part in man’s quest for development. A couple of incomplete floors below, on an incomplete balcony, their cloth line catches the breeze and flutters.

I wonder what hopes and tales the breeze holds. These clothes seem to flutter, only when they are off these workers!

I wonder what drives these men. The thought of a family ‘back home’ and their ‘upkeep’ provide the fuel for such providers. Perhaps. Perhaps the allure of ‘big city living’ is the fuel. Perhaps it is that phase in life where the every muscle is stretched to ‘do something’ ‘worthwhile’, that is proving to be the fuel.

I think. Did they know, when they played with carefree gay abandon in their fields, that someday, they had to trade those open fields, small streets, talkative neighbours, interested friends, simple conversation to such a borrowed high rise living. I wonder.

The clouds have already taken a new shape. My imagination runs riot, trying to affix objects to the shapes out there. The clouds seem to recognise my attempt and move faster.

Down below, another worker is on his mobile phone. He has been on it for sometime now. He now sits down to talk. His animated movement of hands for a while now, ceases. He sits. One hand on the phone. Phone pressed to the ear. Head in the other hand.

From where i sit, i see him clearly. My eyes remain fixed on him. The only occasional move is to sip the tea. The tea mug continuous exhort me to ‘SMILE’.

In about five minutes, he completes the call. Long after the call is done, he continues to sit on the mound of sand he has been sitting on. Phone in his pocket. Hand holding the head. Staring into the sky. I wonder who he could have been speaking to.

Perhaps it was the wife & an assortment of lost feelings. A lonely parent & a bundle of timeless dreams. A child and tons of possibilities for the future. . Perhaps. He seemed to look up into the clouds. The same clouds & their coalescing shapes.

My eyes dart to the clouds too. In the new shapes that emerge, i seek answers. I see open play fields, carefree play, a fathers presence and mothers care. I wonder if he sees these shapes. In a while, i notice that the mound of sand continues to stare at me but the worker has moved on.

To play his part on building that sky rise. The labourer and the mound of sand would soon be gone, leaving the sky rise to kiss the clouds.

Up above, the clouds remain focused on creating new shapes with gay abandon. Complex shapes, this time around. Some questions for me, perhaps.

The neighbours’ Worldspace radio, with BOSE speakers blasts the song “it wasnt me’.

The clouds seem to pounce on that and ask : ‘Really?’

I stare vaguely into nowhere. A stronger breeze flutters and moves more clothes on the cloth line below. The empty tea mug continues to exhort me to smile. The Sun has arrived. I begin drawing the curtains.

Far away, another aircraft takes off.