Holy Memory


This incident happened nine years before, during a Holi.

I had recently taken charge as the District Magistrate/Collector in a remote district . Villagers stood in long queues to meet the DM and get their grievances redressed. The powers granted to the post being very significant, the poor and the needy travelled many miles -from far flung villages- to meet the officer holding the position.

There was a small ruckus outside, and I heard someone scolding a woman. ‘ Why do you come every single day? Your letter has already been forwarded,’ the chaprasi/ peon said; trying to stop a woman from moving ahead in the queue. When I enquired about the matter, a woman in advanced state of pregnancy was ushered into the room. She was dressed differently, with the dress and jewellery associated with nomadic tribes. The first thing she did, was to try to touch my feet.

A pregnant woman, bending down to touch my feet? I sat dumbstruck, scalded by that sight. I managed to get her seated by my side with some effort. She burst into tears as I asked her about her problem in my limited Hindi.  In her peculiar dialect, she made me understand one thing: ‘ I do not want to give birth to another child, when my first one has been denied to me!’

She told me that every single day for the last few months, she had been travelling from her distant village to meet the officers with her plea. Her little son had been kidnapped.

I felt as if struck by lightning: who had kidnapped her first born? And how come no one understood the burning pain which made this woman- in the last stages of her pregnancy- travel thirty odd kilometres in rickety vehicles to meet the Powers-that-be? How come no one had bothered to listen to her till now?

The office clerk , in charge of grievances, referred his register and updated me on her case. Her application had been marked on such and such a date to the Circle officer in charge. More than thirty copies of the application, to be precise.

When I called up the police officer, he said that the woman belonged to a tribe which was notorious for indulging in bootlegging and thefts. Her husband was in jail in some theft case. The woman’s elder child, hardly three years old, had gone missing a few months before from her house. They were ‘ investigating’ the matter. No case had been filed as yet. And yes, all the marked applications were there in his office; as duly forwarded by the Collectorate staff.

‘ I know the man behind this. He is in jail with my husband. He had a tiff with him, and he got my son kidnapped. I know my child is in his village in Bihar.’ The woman sobbed out her story.

I asked the officer over phone whether he had ever bothered to talk to the mother. He had not.

‘ Madam, these are criminal tribes!’ He said, as if that should let the matters stay.

I lost my cool.

‘The mother who lost her child is a criminal in your eyes? How dare you say that? What relevance does her husband’s deeds have over her agony as a mother? You never even bothered to speak to her after thirty applications?’

I do not know to this day, what came over me- but with all the language skills I could manage, I told him that he should take this case as a personal priority and report the progress directly to me. His success and failure would have significant impact on his career. Well, at least that was what I tried to convey – in my grammatically wrong Hindi, empowered by outrage rather than diction.

I told the woman that she should not harm the unborn baby with her constant travels and that we should give some time for the officer to work out the case.


On the day of Holi, early morning, hardly three weeks later, I woke up to the Police Officer’s phone call from the landline.

‘ Madam, I have retrieved the child! He was in the village in Bihar. The woman was right. I went personally to trace him. Please talk to the mother. She is holding her son.’

I heard what sounded like laughter mixed with a heart rending cry, through the phone. A giggle of a child could also be heard.

‘ Thank you,’ she said, ‘ My blessings with you.’

I hugged my little girl,  who was sleeping next to me, speechlessly.

I wrote a personal letter of appreciation for the good officer’s efforts.


When great danger has tried to trip me up,  whenever harm has bared its nefarious teeth, from somewhere, would arrive protection. Always, always.

I was only doing my duty as an officer, but  I know for sure that  the mother had given me a shield/ kavach of her blessings. It  has  singlehandedly held back many poisoned arrows that came my way often, in my life journey.

If there is a lesson, it is this: never under estimate your power to do good. It will return thousand times, in a circle of blessing, to keep watch by your side.  I can vouch for it from my life experiences.

This Holi, as I remember the past, amongst the colours, I can imagine an unseen child- of  my young daughter’s age – enjoying Holi with a sister or brother. Anklets jingle nearby, colourful skirts twirl, as a laughing mother sprinkles colours over her children.

It is an honour to listen. It is an honour to serve. It is the greatest honour, to be blessed by grieving hearts.


In case the article comes out as a pride filled boasting of a braggadocio, I beg for forgiveness. It is actually a prayer of gratitude. That He chose me as his instrument at that point of time.






‘ People do not have enough time to read or watch anything long. So , can you write something interesting, which is er, let us put it this way, amenable to quick enjoyment?Especially now that all are writing love stories, can you try one?’ My friend sipped her coffee.

‘ Can I write a murder mystery instead: very short?’ I wheedled. Wry cynicism is more my nature than  a naive trust in happily-ever-after. Give me  short films like ‘Chutney’ any day with Saki’s stories as accompaniment!

‘ Later…we will try that later. You have half an hour,’ she said.

She is like a sister to me; and sisters have the right to demand anything.


Love In a Train


Sound of rain…and a train whistling…The story unfolds in a train compartment

Young man: Damn! The train has stopped again! Someone must have pulled a chain..The phone has no range in these parts…where are we, in the middle of jungles? Who lives in such places?

Old Man: ( Coughs) I guess, people like you and me.
Young man: I did not mean to be rude.But see, there is no internet or mobile range.
Old man: Girl friend? Urgent call?
Young man:( laughs) Oh, no! No time for all that…Besides, I am yet to find someone that special.Just my mother…wanted to tell her that the train is running late.
Old man: Since we are alone in this compartment, may be you will like to listen to a story?
Young man: Oh, yes…there is nothing else to do, anyway! I mean…please tell me…
Old man: It is a love story…
Young man: ( curious) Really?

Old man… It began in a train compartment like this …some fifty years ago
Young man( Old man’s younger version) voice: Oh, blast this rain…and this train is moving through jungles! Who lives in such places, I wonder…Ah, not again…another station?

Sound of a luggage being dragged
Young man( whisper) My lucky day! What a beautiful young woman! That must be her mother…or aunt?
Middle aged lady: Beta, can you help with the luggage? We are drenched…

Young man: Oh sure…here we go..Where are you going?

Middle aged lady: Oh this girl works too hard and has fallen sick! I am taking her home for a vacation…
Young woman: ( laughs) You exaggerate greatly auntie..

Young man: You work here…in the jungles? It must be terrible…What are you doing…I mean ..Are you teaching? You should try for a job in the city..There must be options…
Young woman: These are tribal areas…and people are much nicer than in the cities…I am a doctor.
Middle aged woman: She is a good medallist. Did her higher studies in England but insisted that she would work for poor tribals….Works with a missionary hospital here…
Young man : ( Utterly flabbergasted) Really! My God! I feel so stupid…I am sorry…I mean…
Young woman: It is alright….I hear that a lot. It is my choice and I am fine…What do you do?
Young man: I have my own business…

Cut to modern train scene…train chugs..whistles..

Old man: I told her that I was running my family business in the big city. I had just opened a new factory in a nearby town…I was trying to impress her…You see, I had fallen in love.

Young man: Whistles! ( It strikes him for the first time that old men were once young too!)

Old man: We got married eventually.My wife started her own hospital in the tribal region.Later we started a school too…
Young man: Wonderful! Where is ma’am now?
Old man: Sighs…Love is such a gift…but sometimes it is snatched away fast…The memories remain.She passed away five years before…
Young man: I am so sorry
Old man: Don’t be…We had a beautiful life together.Today, our only grand daughter took over as the new head of the hospital…she has just returned from England with a gold medal…like her grand ma…I went to bless her.She wanted someone to accompany me back.I refused.There is strength in my old bones still.Besides, I wanted to travel in a train back…for memories’ sake…

Young man: I am speechless.
Old man: My phone is buzzing….the range must have come back…Hello…hello dear…I am fine…I have a travel mate…a young man in the compartment…we are having a good time chatting….Yes, I shall take my medicines…don’t worry…What…ok, will give the phone to him…One second..
Young man: Hello, yes…Ensure he takes medicines before he sleeps? Oh sure, I will remind him..May I know, your good name? Ah..lovely name…sorry, I mean…yes, sure…Shall look after him…

Old man: ( Laughs) She is as stubborn as her grand ma…By the way, what do you do beta?
Young man ( respectfully ) I have my own tea plantations, sir.
Old man: Ah…a businessman…I like that…








Letting Go


And then, the  lesson:

Letting go.

Bemused, I observe

How the stone of Destiny falls-

Unhampered by my not letting go.

Free fall.


Wind rustling sideways,

Whoosh of life whizzing past,

The stone drops.

And I wonder,

Why did it take me so long

To learn this chapter?

The Master laughs from somewhere:

Next lesson coming tomorrow,

But before you enter the classroom,

I will verify-

Have you let go?


It is back to teaching you

The lessons past,

Still not mastered.

I sigh:

My Lord, four decades of that same lesson-

Perhaps I am a slow learner.

But I will try

To let go, let go, let go.


Pondering on * Nishkama Karma. Reflecting on Hanumanji and the lesson of absolutely letting go.



Searching For A Shore: Tat Ki Khoj By HariShankar Parsayi

Tat Ki Khoj-(Searching For A Shore) is a slim novel by Hindi’s renowned writer and satirist Harishankar Parsayi. Written originally in 1998, it has been reprinted many times.  The theme it explores, of a woman’s place in society, is as relevant today as it was in 1998.

Sheela is a brilliant, motherless college student. Her poor, honest government pensioner father is distraught at his lack of wealth which makes it impossible for him to give dowry for his daughter’s wedding- which consequently becomes an unfulfilled dream. Meanwhile a supposedly progressive young lecturer called Mahendranath makes his interest known to Sheela. But a strange quirk of fate exposes his inherent cowardice before a hypocritical society- the one which considers a woman’s virtue to be a  fragile glass plate that can shatter at the mere presence of a man. Shocked by the turn of events, Sheela finds  that her god has clay feet.

The latter half of the story is  about the temporary  emotional shelter the innocent girl obtains from her friend Vimala and her brother Manoharlal. The arrows of prejudice against an orphan girl whose chastity has once been questioned, prove too bitter  a venom for the rest of  Manohar’s family. Finally, Sheela leaves in search of a dignified life- where she wants to be her own person, without being dependent on any other.

The story line by itself is simple: but the  sly sentences that the satirist par excellence weaves in his narrative can excoriate the false ego and hypocrisy of every one of us.

What is the status of a ‘tainted woman?’ Even if she is totally innocent, why do we revictimise a victim? Why is it always her fault? How come the man gets away scot free? Is wealth the only solution  for removing a woman’s agonies- by purchasing  a husband, by buying the comforts of a respectable life, by buying silence from a rabid society?  Why is the girl objectified and paraded before prospective grooms who get to balance her on the scales of their greed? Why do values, which people write about and shout about heroically, become very hard to practise when the time demands it? When a woman decides not to commit suicide  in utter desperation and instead chooses to live with dignity, should we not be applauding her?

Let me translate a few striking observations of Parsayiji.

“Ve sab log haath mein taraju liye the, jiske ek palve par bete ko rakhe the/ Mucche, mere samast vidya,buddhi aur saundarya ke saath doosre palve par rakhkar dekhte,to har baar mera hi palva halka pathe/”

All those people had in their hands a balance: on one of the scales they would  have their son seated  and on the other- me with with all my education, intelligence and beauty. However, every time my scale would be the  one lighter in weight.

“Main jaanti thi Ki yeh photo maal Ke namune Ki tarah kisi vyapari Ke paas beji javegy/parantu doosry or se kabhi chitra nahi aaya, kyonki kharidar hi maal Ki parakh karta hain; maal kharidgar ko nahin dekhta/streepurushon ke sambadom mein yehi darsan sab jagah charitarth hota hai”

I knew that this photograph ( of mine) would be sent to some buyer like the sample of a good on sale.But never did any photograph come from the boy’s side- after all it is always the buyer who gets to see the good, not the other way round. In every place, this view about male and female relationships remains in vogue.

“Kabhi kabhi prem ki apeksha khrina ka sambandh adhik majboot hota hai…lagta hain, khrina aur prem mein koyi visesh andar nahin hai”

Sometimes, compared to relationships based on love, those based on hatred seemed stronger…I feel that there is not much difference between hatred and love…

“Kyonki purush ko yeh sochkar bada garv hota hai ki naari ne uske prem mein atmahatya kar li…”

Because a man feels great pride in the fact that a woman committed suicide because of her love for him….


I can only shake my head in wonder at this iconoclastic writer’s penetrating observations and  their scorching truth.

Maybe I will conclude by translating the author’s foreword for the latest edition.

Foreword: By Harishankar Parsayi

I still find it hard to understand about how I ended up writing ‘Tat Ki Khoj’, all those years before. This is a story which can be called a novella. My poet pal had narrated the original story to me. He was extremely emotional. My age was also that of being drenched in emotions. I was also a romantic. Logic was not my strength then. At that time I had been asked to contribute  something for the Deepawali special of ‘ Amrit Prabhat’. I was in a hurry. The incident that my friend had shared with me was still troubling my mind. My sensitivities were aligned to the girl in that story. I stayed up for two nights consecutively and finished writing this story.

After writing it, I felt regret. When it was published, I regretted more. Now that it is getting republished by Vani Prakashan, I am still regretting it. I can no longer face this creation of mine. One third of my creations are such that I find myself petrified on facing them. Anyway, I am giving the go ahead for the republication of ‘ Tat Ki Khoj.’


Oliver Twist, Fagin, And Others


I was fortunate to attend a seminar on child friendly policing initiatives, with other stakeholders working on the issue.

The seminar started with a theatrical performance.The group of young boys who performed  a powerful play about caring for every child, were erstwhile juvenile delinquents who had been successfully rehabilitated.

They were orphans who had been forced into  petty crime for survival- lucky enough to have met good police officers, good NGOs, good human beings…The results were before us. One was the school topper, another the swimming champion, the next was going to give a TeD Talk! The play itself, all song and emotion- was a cry to help others like them out there; without prejudice.

I thought then of pampered children, over cosseted and over adored, brought up to believe that they were so entitled in life that the world existed to serve them. We read of them often enough in newspapers- for the wrong reasons.

Both are children- the first  lot  who are denied chances totally- pushed into labour and crime for survival,  and lucky if there is an escape route like the young performers; the second lot that I see daily, overwhelmed with life’s best opportunities yet brought up to seek only self centred pleasures.

Of course, the system perpetuates itself -invariably leading to the creation of more children of the first lot. The cycle continues, smirking malignantly.


I heard about a young child, porn addict at the age of twelve, his parents terrified of him. He has four servants at his service and his poor mother is terrorised by him .Whatever they are trying to do to help him, is only serving to keep his devilish side happy. He throws tantrums if anyone touches his iPad.He hits people.He gets away with it all.

So early in life, he has decided that he is  very much entitled to be bad. Bad means, all perversions and pleasures are obtained! Not bad, eh?

Furious, I asked the acquaintance, of why the parents had not sought professional help and got rid of the instruments of addiction. Apparently, they were scared .

Scared of being found out? Scared that in the eyes of society, they have a child who requires to be corrected with discipline? Scared of their own child? So scared that they were buying silence by overindulging a budding criminal?


“Certain situations are like facing snakes unexpectedly,” said the speaker, “snakes are scary because humankind has not mastered the art of taming them.” As we gazed with wonderment, he continued, “A dog, even if potentially more dangerous, we are not afraid of, because we have a history of taming their kind.”

“If the situation triggers an inherent repulsion-unless we learn to think beyond the obvious reactions, we will not be able to adopt new approaches. Fear will paralyse us- prevent us from taking any step for bettering the existing circumstances.”

It made sense, of course. I thought of the kind police officer, sensitive enough to trust, and see a potential school topper in the shivering child who stood in front of him.  He sees the innocent Oliver Twist, used by a ruthless Fagin.

The first words of kindness are uttered , paving way for  a change. The counsellor who guides, the NGO who helps, the school which enrolls him…the network of good acts to empower and help the child trust his own potential.

I wonder then on the cure for over indulgence. The loving nurture of budding criminals in many homes- over cosseted, over loved, over protected, allowed freely to be self indulgent, to be self centred, to seek riches and pleasures  and to broadcast it all- with exclusive focus!

We reap what we sow. The season for planting and pruning and watering and adding fertiliser is so short and precious. Done the right way, even the most dried up and deprived plants thrive to be fruitful. And if overdone, the most promising young plant will degrade, decay and stink fast. ‘Lilies that fester, smell far worse than weeds.’

Charity, indeed, begins at home.






Pick Up A Book


Why do we read? So many brilliant scholars have debated on that topic; from the time that humans started reading. In a couple of interesting articles in Arts and Letters Daily, the topic has been visited yet again.

To recognise oneself ( self understanding), pleasure, to be enchanted ( lost in an imaginary world) were a few reasons. There were articles on how the souls were no longer part of the reading experience since the minds were benumbed by cynical, reductionist critical reading !

(Wow! Now I understand why I had always hated those erudite essays that tore to bits a nice novel by linking it up with Derrida and Defoe and Confucius and Faust- all in four consecutive sentences.)

There were such interesting comments in the readers’ section of an article by Julian Barnes on how he has started liking E M Forster in his er, evening years! The article was witty, the readers were more so!

All of which led me to ponder on why I read…whatever it is that I manage to read…when I can do it.

1. It gives me immense joy

2. I forget my breathing problems in winter, when I have a book to bury that red nose into. Even the wheezing stops until I return to earth. Then it hits back with full vengeance, making me burrow back again!

3. It increases my self esteem that I know meanings of Bildungsroman ( he he!), exiguous, plangent and camply. (Yeah, it is not comply and Julian Barnes himself used it, so there! )

4. It is the best baby sitter around. If you want to watch an old sixty flick with hardly a groan emanating  from near vicinity, try giving a dog eared copy of ‘Upper Fourth At Malory Towers’ to a  little busybody!

I really do not care of what they say Blyton does to little children’s cerebrum and cerebellum along with their multi cultural sensitivities; I think she is great fun! Besides kids get to read words like pensive and candid, melancholy and malicious!

5. I remind myself of the vast universe of books unread in multiple languages;the thoughts, wisdom and laughter hidden from me . It is like getting a momentary glimpse of one’s utter ‘smallness’- so to say- of where one stands,in the vastness of the scheme of things.

Ozymandias comes to mind! That leads me to..

6. I feel great when I can relate or recollect a poem or a novel or a story and interconnect it with a picture or film or music or another book. Yay! Serious pleasure, totally self centred, by the way.

7. It improves my endurance capacity in the routine of daily living. To know that even when one is in a boring meeting or a crowded place, one can, forgive the analogy, like Hannibal Lecter, escape into the archives of memory and entertain oneself with some thing read in the past! Serious!

8. Knowing that in the most totalitarian of regimes, what they silenced first were reading and writing among women, I enjoy and toast the sheer power and freedom to enjoy the most fundamental of my human rights!

9. It teaches me, that there is a world beyond myself, my face, my body, my aspirations,  my wants, my dresses, my likes, my selfies. A lesson which helps me, whenever ‘I’ become too much for me.

10. The giddy  promise  I have made to myself that in case God asks me for an option for my after death assignment, I might get to work in his divine library. Even dusting around the Books would be so worth it! I might end up seeing Dahl!


( The Twits: Roald Dahl)

Trin Saman Trailokahi Ganahim(46): They Consider The Three Worlds As Insignificant



The Spy’s Story (Sundar Kanda Continued)



Ki bhayi bhent ki phiri gaye shravan sujasu suni mor/

Kahasi na ripu dal tej bal bahut chakit chit chor//

Did you meet them(the mendicants)? Or did they return after hearing about my great fame?

Why don’t you tell me about the strength and prowess of the enemy’s army?Your mind seems to be intimidated!


Nadh kripa kari poochehu jaisem/manahu kaha krodh taji taisem//

Mila jaayi jab anuj tumhara/jatahim Ram tilak tehi sara//

(The messenger said-) Lord, with the same kindness with which you asked me questions, please give up your anger and bestowing patience, listen to me ( trust my words)

When your younger brother went to meet SreeRamji,  He anointed him as the King


Ravan doot hamahi suni kaana/kapinh baandhi deenhe dukh naana//

Shravan nasika kataim laage/Ram sapadh deenhem hum tyaage//

Hearing that I was Ravan’s messenger, the monkeys tied me up and tortured me a lot

But when I took the Name of SreeRamji, they let me go!


Poochihu Nadh Ram katkaayi /badan koti sat barni na jaayi//

Nana baran bhalu Kapi dhari/bikatanan bisaal bhaykari//

Lord, you asked me about SreeRamji’s army, it cannot be described even with one crore faces(tongues)

It is an army of innumerable bears and monkeys of different colours, their faces intimidating, with monstrous bodies and totally fearsome


Jehim pur dahevu hatevu sut tora/sakal kapeenh mah tehi balu dhora//

Amit naam bhat kadin karaala/Amit naag bal bipun bisaala//

The One who burnt the city and killed your son, his strength is so little compared to others!

They are of so many names, such mighty and terrible warriors!They have the strength of multiple elephants and are gigantic in size!



Dwibidh Mayand Neel Nal Angad Gad Bikataasy/

Dadhimukhi,Kehari,Nisad,Sad,Jamavanth balraasy//

Dwividhi, Mayand, Neel, Nal, Angad, Gad, Vikatasya,

Dadhimukhi,Kesari, Nishad, Shad and Jambavan- they are all epitomes of might!


Ye kapi sab Sugreev samaana/inh sam kotinh ganai ko naana//

Ram kripa atulit bal tinhahim/trin samaan trailokahi ganahim//

These monkeys are equivalent to Sugreev in strength, and there are crores like these, who can count them all?

Due to SreeRamji’s blessings, they are unmatched in strength, and they consider the three worlds as mere speck of dust( they consider them insignificant)


As mai suna shravan Daskandhar/padum adarah juudhap bandar//

Nadh katak mah so kapi nahim/jo na tumhi jeetai rann mahim//

Hey Dasagreev! I have heard that eighteen ranks comprise  just of Generals of the monkey warriors!

Hey Lord! There is not a single monkey in there who cannot defeat your army in battle!( They will defeat yours in battle)


Param krodh meejahim sab hhad had/aayasu pai na dehim Raghunadha//

Soshahim sindhu sahit cchash byaala/poorahim na ta bhari kudhar bisaala//

The warriors are all flexing their muscles and hands, but SreeRamji has not given them the go ahead as yet

‘We will dry the ocean up along with its fishes and snakes, else we will part it  by filling it with huge mountains-


Mardi gardi milavahim Dasseesa/aiseyi bachan kahahim sab keesa//

Garjahim tarjahim sahaj asanka/manahu grasan chahat hahim Lanka//

And we will crush Ravan and mix him with the dust’, that is what all the monkeys are speaking,

They are fearless by nature, they are roaring and stamping their feet, as if they want to  crush Lanka



Sahaj soor kapi bhalu sab puni sir par Prabhu Ram/

Ravan kal koti kahu jeeti sakahim sangraam//

All the monkey warriors are  naturally valorous , besides at their head ( as their leader) they have SreeRamji

Hey Ravan! In a war, they can defeat a crore of DeathGods( Kal)!