Miracles

My elder daughter loves Rhonda Byrne. She follows most of the principles of Byrne’s great book, The Secret, and advises me to do the same.Her mother being an old curmudgeon ( yeah, she will tell me now- ma, you are making yourself into one  by spelling it out so! ), ok middle aged curmudgeon , with her own take on realities of life, is often half sceptical.

But recently, just a few episodes have confluenced so beautifully that I am re-reading Byrne’s latest: Hero. It uses Jospeh Campbell’s great metaphor of the Hero’s Quest and “Following Your Bliss” principle. It also has Liz Murray, among others, sharing her  fantastic  journey from the streets as a homeless orphan to  excelling at Harvard University.

On a particularly trying day, I found myself staring at an article in the newspaper’s spiritual column about different forms of service: physical, intellectual, spiritual, et al. An Aha moment happened to me.

Here was the answer of a deep query in my mind. Of why, it is so important to answer your true calling.

It all started making sense. Because, only service leads to peace. And if you do not serve, when given the calling of service-well, trouble starts brewing. Until you realise that your inner truth is stronger than any prejudice the world might be having. And you step right back to your original path.

“Try practising Gratitude ma. It is a free pass through life’s obstacles, ” my young adult advised.”Miracles happen, if you visualise goodness and say thanks,” she smiled. She had “Hero” in her arms.

My daughter switched on Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger..”What doesn’t kill you , makes you stronger,  stand a little taller, foot steps lighter, what doesn’t kill you…” I rather liked the lyrics.

Recently when I talked with my friend, he said the same: ‘I feel so thankful most of the time, for what life has given me! ‘

“Imagine you are sitting on the moon and looking down, and look at your own little troubles from that perspective…”, advised a mentor lately.

All of what they were saying, were like guideposts for me.

Yes, thank you for what I already have.

Frankly, You have been very kind towards me!

May I never lose the faith to whisper a thanks , at least once a day…

For truly my cup runneth over with love, joy, opportunities and grace…only make me a more deserving receptacle of thy blessings.

****

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The Human Reality

htimes trafficking

There is a couplet , which, roughly translated goes:

I kept cleaning the mirror

But the dust was in my own eyes.

It speaks about perspective – and how things look clean or bright or beautiful or not, depending on our vision.

To each, his own.

*****

The stories are shocking. More so, because they are the stark, raving truths. It must have been a woman who said, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”

In the past few years, in the course of my work, I have encountered human evil of such vast proportions, that it took all my resilience not to buckle over and weep.

I have sat grim faced and pale, staring at the post mortem reports of minor girls ravaged and murdered by perverts- some were sleeping innocently , by their mothers’ sides, when lifted off by terrible perverts. Many were tricked with chocolates and sweets. School going children did not return home.  They became “unknown” statistic- victims of human trafficking. Sold off for prostitution, child labour, organ trade, camel races, domestic labour, you name the horror..

This is a world wide silent trade- next in commercial success only to the trade of drugs and guns. Probably the most organised of crimes.

Oh, bestiality is a human creation.No animal will ever  trade in brethren or kill or ravage for money or lust.

Three year old and six year old children trafficked, sold off to brothels for money by their own uncle. Hormonal injections to make children “grow”. One stops believing in the human race after events like these.

A half mad fourteen year old found wandering in the railways station, speaking of umpteen horrors that she was subjected to- breaking into dance and song of the obscene kind, as the demons keep coming back to haunt her.

A school going teenager, enticed by “love”, lost in  the chain of brothels. Over a flicker of an eye.

If I had not known these at close quarters, I would have flicked that page and not ruminated much. The human mind, as Eliot says, cannot take in too much reality.

The hope is in the network of good- citizens, police, officers, educationists, lawyers, NGOs, Judges et al.. who stand together to fight the traffickers.

For what is needed for evil to thrive- is for the good to do nothing.

*******

When I turn on the TV and then see the “commodification” of female bodies- both young and old, I sit back and think of the crimes I encounter every day. The tears, the complaints, the faces that speak of the horrendous after effects – when human beings are viewed as “bodies.”

It is time to teach our young daughters, that they are brilliant human beings, gifted with talents and capabilities- to make the world a better place.

If they have been gifted with beauty as well, cool. But  let them stay cautioned about getting entrapped within that honeyed poison- the beauty trap.

There exists a world, beneath the veneer of silk and smiles, where rot lurks- where your age, talent, beauty, birth, family, education has no meaning. You are just a “body” there- to be sold and bought.

Awareness , then, becomes your fundamental strength.

Excel in your life, using all available opportunities. But when you sense abuse, exploitation, within the family or near-about, raise your voice.

Say- NO.

*****

Read an article by Damayanti Datta, India Today, on the human trafficking horror after Nepal earthquake.

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/the-tremor-of-trafficking/1/455225.html

A Touch of Grace

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The book I just finished reading is “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. It is a memoir by a young woman, who, losing her mother, goes on a destructive spree and regains control of her fast unraveling life, by undertaking an excruciating one thousand one hundred miles trek across the Pacific Crest Trail. As she crosses the mountains and deserts with her “Monster” backpack, losing toenails and skin and handling the most challenging of routes, one step at a time, she masters the inner demons. She becomes the woman that her mother had always wanted her to be.

A lot of women walk through life, with symbolic “Monster” backpacks of burden. For some it could be psychological baggage, for others perhaps emotional issues, financial deprivations, lack of support from near and dear ones at critical points of life. You can extend that metaphor quite widely. But a lot of us are blessed that we have strong women and men to inspire us, guide us, love and nourish us at the time of our need. Certain institutions do that too- they nurture us by supporting us publicly.

Appreciations came to team Barabanky on several occasions- when we received the national level award for implementing Rashtriya Swasthya Bhima Yojana (RSBY) in 2013. It was followed by Late Rajeev Narayan Foundation award for public service in 2013. When Hindustan Times chose me for HT Woman 2014, it was a moment of sheer bliss for the whole team. It was our team effort which was being felicitated. It was a moment of pride to be in the Public Service.

The initiatives my team tried at Barabanky in the period of 2012-2014, were primarily focusing on women empowerment. It was a woman prisoner, who when I did my routine Jail inspection with my colleagues, asked for “some occupation.” She was a qualified MBA,  and wanted “books” to teach other inmates. Perhaps I am too much of a movie aficionado, but ‘Shawshank Redemption’ has always been my favorite. The young woman was booked for murder, by the way.

That request led us like a Kindly Light. We ended up with Project Sahas– with prisoners both male and female, stitching high quality uniforms for girl students studying in Government residential schools. We extended it to the women undertaking “knotting” of scarves and stoles for the thriving local industry in Barabanky; with the help of local entrepreneurs.  Soon tasty’ buns’ were being fired in the British era ovens that went to feed the poor patients who were admitted at the Government Hospitals , sponsored under available hospital  funds. A library with more than 1000 books was set up,  with the kind contributions by good Samaritans and literacy classes began in full swing. An eye camp ended up with effective cataract operations and hundreds of spectacles being distributed.  I was blessed with highly efficient ,  enthusiastic team members of the district administration in this joyful endeavor. I should mention the warm support of the Judiciary and Corporates, who pitched in, in a most heartening manner.

That made us courageous to replicate the “Mahoba ” model by setting up a sanitary napkin production and distribution unit, staffed by poor women in the locality. Project Subah was sponsored under the funds available with the Panchayati Raj department and the consumers were the young girls and women in Government schools and hospitals. We simply copied a best practice that DM of Mahoba had started, and we had our successful unit up and running in six months time.

Another very satisfying pat on the back came from the Honourable Election Commission , when we received on the Voters Day,  2014 January 25th, an appreciation for the work the district did for increasing the gender ratio among the voters. When a woman goes out to vote, she has her Voter Id, an identity, a voice, a say in the future of her country. I remember my team, brain storming on ways and means to tackle the low gender ratio- often sitting late with sheets of data , working out the finest details to encourage more women voters. For two consecutive years 2014 and 2015, team Barabanky won the Election Commission award, for work done to empower voters, especially women.

HT Woman 2014 was a turning point for me as a woman and also as a professional. Like all women, I had carried my share of the ‘Monster baggage ‘ – the burden only strengthening me in the journey. The HT Award was a ‘Touch of Grace’. It has made me a better person, determined to be authentic and be unapologetically, her own true self. My determination to work for women and the oppressed has been reinforced by the award.

I am looking forward to publishing my first two books in Malayalam this year. One is a spiritual poetry translation from English. The second is a translation of Sri RamKrishna Upanishad from Hindi. The first is dedicated to a father figure and the second to my late teacher. Without the blessing of loving souls, no woman is complete.

I wish HT all the very best in their constant endeavor to nurture talent and service. May your tribe increase!

Thank You.

* (This article was published by Hindustan Times, Lucknow a week before their HT Woman 2015 awards.)

Moonlight Splendour

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Chandramathy, Professor of English and bilingual writer of rare wit and verve, I admire deeply. Somewhere long ago, I read about her trying  to get an appointment with Harold Pinter,  at his residence. Apparently ‘ Moonlight’ was being dramatised in town, and she had tried to explain that her name was synonymous with Pinter’s Classic! I quite forget the denouement.

In Mathrubhumi’s July 11 issue, is her satirical short story, ” Ningal Nireekshanathillanu” aka ” You are under observation”! The irony dripping from her pen is scathing, exposing the warts of the hypocritical society- the rot, literally thrown up. I enjoyed the story and ruminated over how her style of writing has changed over the years.

In the collection of her stories, ” Chandramathyude Kathakal”, published by DC Books for the first time in 2009, the writer blooms under the loving gaze of her reader.

From stories of Devigramam, women searching for understanding, her stories of 80s have changed shape and hue as she traverses modern times. ” Bonsai”, for example is a pithy little shocker! ( 1993).

But my gaze remained on ” Kavithayude Katha” ( Story of a poem) as she beautifully portrays the dual world of men and women and their aspirations. As Sushma, the ubiquitous housewife writes a poem, daring to dream and reach out to a vital flame in her heart, the parallel world of the man is revealed.  The poem gets destroyed in the end, and  as she steps to greet her normal life, I thought that this story is timeless- across countries, across ages, across genres. It is written with remarkable ” kaiyothukkam” as we call it in my mother tongue- with exemplary word control and brevity.

I could relate it to the YouTube hit ” Moonamidam”, relate it to the present age of easy access to forbidden frontiers. ” What”, I found myself wondering, ” if Sushma were to be living today- with means to reach out? Would she still put the phone down, after listening to a voice at the other end and shut down memories of a rain filled day? ”

Now that, would make another beautiful short film.

Chandramathy , Professor and writer, is also a survivor. She battled cancer and won the fight. A perceptive story, about that time, when apparent well wishers flooded her with their false sympathies stand starkly apart in that compilation. “Negative Energy”, is full of deeply pained laughter. The reader cannot laugh, for she is choked up by the reality of it all. It happens everyday, in everyone’s life.

The simplicity of this moonlight splendour, I adore. I wish it will grace our lives, for a long, long time with its divine aura.

******

Best Seller

Gita listened as the peppy young instructor was explaining the ways to write a best seller. The instructor was on the bulky side, and wore a green dress, freckled all over with yellow dots. She reminded Gita of a pickle bottle. And of a slightly plump parrot.

” Pace and action. Plot! The Plot! It should grip the reader from the word go! Get it?”

Having paid fifteen thousand rupees from her hard earned money, for a creative writing workshop, nodding timidly was all what Gita could do.

” You, madam! Do you agree? ” The young lady was all flash and fire. Unfortunately, the fire was aimed at her.

Gita tried to hide as the other participants looked at her. The group mainly comprised of young women and men in their late teens and early twenties, yearning to be the next hot name in best seller fiction. A middle aged woman, she looked quite incongruous in their midst.

” I have been offered a three book series contract for Love is Luscious. I worked on my heroine, hero and the villain painstakingly, without losing the plot,” the pickle bottle lost interest in Gita and turned to face the others.

Sighs of envious upheavals in many female bosoms were heard from Gita’s vicinity. The male bosoms were heaving after watching the pickle bottle’s own luscious bosom wobbling all over the place.

” Now, let us do a quick exercise. Each of you should create a plot of what you intend to write. Basically capture the entire theme in three or four lines. Then we will discuss how to make it into a best seller.”

Papers rustled all around. One or two started typing on their laptops and Ipads. Gita sat still, just looking.

” The whole story in three lines,” screeched the pickle bottle, with the tone of a parrot. She then sipped Pepsi. ” You are free to discuss and share, guys!”

” Er, do you think I should put it down that my heroine is a vampire in the first sentence?’ asked a young girl to her neighbour.

” I really would not know! You see, I am into mythology not vampires and stuff. I am writing about Abhimanyu,” he said, smirking.

” Love is like a chocolate cake,” said a third girl, writing furiously on her sheet. ” Love sells, only love sells!”

Gita looked at her paper. Her pencil needed to be sharpened. She asked the chocolate girl to give her a sharpener.

” He was a liar,” Gita wrote and blinked. ” He had many women. One of them finished him off.”

She put her pencil down.

” You guys. If you are done…hey, remember, this is a quick thinking exercise! Write down a title. NOW!”

” Gorgeous!” sighed the first young girl. ” Gorgeous in Twilight.”

” Chocolate and Honey,” giggled someone.

” The Pride of Yadus- Abhimanyu,” said the young man.

” Murder. Murder by Deceit,” thought Gita to herself. She took her pencil up again.

” Okay, now name your characters. Sweet sounding please, you guys!” laughed the instructor.

” Magnolia Harrison,” said a voice.

Gita stared at the paper.

” He has no name. He has many names. No one really knows his true name. He is like Rumpelstiltskin,” she thought. ” Perhaps that is a better choice for the title. Rumpelstiltskin.,” she mused.

” Okay, guys, guys!” said the instructor. She, in spite of her best seller prowess, seemed sadly dependent on limited words for her vocabulary.

” Now develop the chapters. Chapter titles. What happens in each chapter.”

Groans started emanating from the room. This was tough!

” Hey! It will be fun. Just try a few samples ! The chapter heading can reveal it all,” she suggested.

” Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl’s father angry. Girl elopes with boy…and then?’ wondered the Magnolia inspired gorgeous one.

” Prowler at large. Devastating effect on the naive. Series of hapless moths around his flame. Contemptuous of all he conquers. One got away. Came back for the kill,” wrote Gita.

” Describe the mood of the protagonist…how did she feel? How did he react? I would like to know your word power guys!”

” In the beginning there was light and froth. Bubbling joy of sunlight. Then came the brown tones. The black of belittling innuendoes. Before long, it turned dark and black. Devastating horror of a tortured mind,” Gita scribbled on.” Dylanesque effect,” she wrote and scratched it out.

” Okay, now we share! Who will go first?’ the parrot fluttered its colourful wings.

***

The murder had happened on an ordinary day. The setting was so simple, that the instructor would have been appalled by the way it lacked colour.

The tea shop was buzzing with flies and he had been annoyed.

” You did not find any other place ?” he had snarled. The eyebrows had drawn together like a lasso being knotted.

” Sorry. I did not know that it will be so unclean. I wanted to it to be quiet, you know,” she said, her tone, one of grovelling apology. Apologising for God-alone-knows-what. She had plied him with alcohol and money. With a room for rent. With a computer for his writing. With her aging body, whenever he felt like it. But he always found her at fault. She was never good enough for him.

” Did you send her my request? What did she say?” he asked eagerly. Whenever it came to discussing his own interests, he was full of focus.

” Sorry. I could not get through. Last time she said, the idea lacked credibility,” she said softly, trying to lessen the effect.

” What the hell do you mean? No credibility? Who the hell is she to decide that? It is a brilliant, out of the box idea! She is another stupid woman, who got to where she is, because of her father’s money!” he spat out.

She did not tell him that her own father’s money was feeding him throughout the day. She waited for one word of praise, to soothen the agony rising in her heart. It did not come.

There is nothing more pitiable than a plain woman, in love with a cruel, worthless man. Of course, this has been a story written over decades, in all human cultures. It usually starred the same characters. One man- handsome, worthless, extraordinarily self centered, lying and manipulative. Many women, trying to be the “one” who will redeem him and show him the path of luscious love, full of chocolate and honey and jasmine blossoms. The man knows only to demean those who reach out to help him. The women, enjoy their martyrdom. The man plays hot and cold. The women enjoy changing between furs and summer dresses to meet his mood. Until one day…

” Do you think I should ask her out?’ he grinned evilly. He leered infact.

She shuddered.

” She will fall for me, don’t you think? Maybe not as fast like you! But then she is classy!” he sipped his coffee.

She smiled at him, as always. Her eyes stared at something beyond his head. Her coffee cup suddenly fell down and distracted his attention.

She slipped in the powder, even as he screamed at the waiter.

” Take your coffee. He will bring a new cup,” she smiled sweetly at him.

He had sipped his death, grimacing at the unfairness of it all. He was a hero, treated like dirt, by the world. How could it be so unfair?

When they had discovered him, cold dead in his flat, they had no other reason to suspect than suicide.

He had rented out the room for his creative work. Apparently he wanted to make a movie. Some men and women used to come to visit him at regular intervals. No one had bothered with them in the city’s mad life whirl. All the rent and bills were paid from his account. The account had regularly been replenished by someone called Mr.Ganpathy. They could not get any further details because his family was Christian and did not know any Ganpathy. They presumed he had been depressed and since none in his family complained, left it at that.

It was one month later, that the police received an anonymous letter using the word “murder.”

***

” Not too bad!” the Parrot said in a bored voice.

“No one reads short stories any more. Can you make it into a forty thousand word novel?” she suggested.

‘ It needs , of course, lot more work. Like for example, which poison works after few hours? There is no atmosphere! What was her name? What was she wearing? Who was that last woman? What about his family? Who wrote the letter?”

The participants tittered. They had lost interest already.

“Jasmine blossoms,” announced the young woman. She had changed Magnolias into Jasmines over the last one hour.

As Gita gathered her papers together and left her seat, she bumped into the young man.

” Abhimanyu learnt the art of entering the Chakravyuha before birth,” he was explaining to a eager faced young girl.

” But he had not known, how to get out of it,” he finished with a flourish.

” Oooh, so groovy. Whatever is this Chakra business?” she asked.

Gita thought that she had seen the young man’s expression, somewhere before. The intent of a eagle to swoop down on a prospective prey. Full of focus and energy.

“She will fall for me, do you think?”

That moment, she remembered well enough. The poison meant for her own death had changed its destination.

Not much of a story to it, but still that Parrot could have appreciated the truth behind it all. Well, Fifteen thousand rupees down the drain. She moved past the door, into the mild sunshine.

There was a smell of jasmines in the air.

Sacred Territory

“So do you know what Ron said, when he saw Hermione?” she giggles.

I wait, with bated breath, knowing the answer.

“She is a nightmare!” She hoots with laughter.

This is an eight year old Harry Potter initiate, stepping across the sacred precincts of the first book. She has already finished one fourth in the first couple of hours. I had to threaten a total book black out, because school started early and she would be groggy. But the addiction had set in, with intermittent giggles emanating from the bed.

“Ma, do you know why Harry could not be killed by Voldemort?”

Aha! I grin in the darkness. She wants me to tell her the last book ending, right now.

I clear my throat.

“Did you ask chechy? What did she say?”

Chechy had missed a Harry Potter quiz award by an inch (of a Phoenix’s feather tip) in her time.

“Sit and read all of the books! Lazy goose!”

A sniff comes.My little girl is very honest and pretty observant about the finer details of that conversation.

I take pity on her.

“Ok, it has something to do with the power of love and…well, a little of Voldemort’s life left within Harry..” I peter off lamely.

“Eh?”

Correct. Absolutely perfect response.

Eh,eh,eh?

One critical moment passes- like a woman waiting for the lover’s response that will break or make the relationship- forever.

The little loved one passes the test. She cannot care less about Voldemort. And the Sorting Hat is far more interesting at one fourth the first  book journey.

“Ma, I  think you should be in Ravenclaw and I want to be in Gryffindor.”

I humbly register my gratitude for the compliment.

“Did you know what Ollivander muttered?”

Blimey! Not at midnight with the alarm set for six o’clock.

“Brother wand…the Phoenix who gave a feather for Harry’s wand, you know had given another feather..you know..”
I cut her short, without remorse.

“Sweetheart- I know, I know…can we discuss that strange phoneix phenomenon tomorrow?”

Five minutes of silence.

“Ma, what is phenomenon?”

Reading Harry Potter is a phenomenon. Watching a child reading with pleasure is a phenomenon. Recollecting how another one stepped across, many years before, with the same joy is a phenomenon. … I start muttering like old Ollivander himself.

“I totally understand the secret now . Or I think I do,” she speaks. The clock ticks past midnight, slowly, and steadily.

For a moment I am stunned.

“Only a brother wand can defeat another brother wand,eh?”

I am silent.Children are a phenomenon. Daughters are a phenomenon.Precocious daughters are a challenging phenomenon.

And how blessed am I,  like the mothers of all Potter fans, to watch them grow.

*****************

Paint Stains

1.image

The brooding face

Hard to capture,

Black crayon strokes

Mask the inner being.

Yellow soothes the pain-

I know, do I not, it whispers

The agony of being?

(On seeing a picture of Satyajit Ray)

2.

image

Rain touched moments,

An old poem about

Night rain and  a mad woman.

Let the hand rest awhile

On tired knees, having walked

A long, long way

To her own self.

And that,

Is the sanest moment

In this rain.

3.

She laughs,

A beautiful rose flower.

Is there any sight prettier

Than a child reading a book?

It is life seeing life –

Word by word,

Symbol by symbol.

Entering a world of beauty,

A secret world, whose password

I pray,

She will remember forever in her life.

And bequeath as a Gift,

When the time arrives,

Being the mistress

Of her own dreams,

To the next eager starry eyed one.