A Step At A Time…

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The last few chapters arrive for correction. The artist has done a spectacular job. As I edit, snipping a word here, adding a comma there, I stare at the divine pictures.

The journey has come to an end: Sundar Kanda- 156 pages, 50 chapters.  And quietly a book is born.  The end is  actually a beginning. As always in life.

But I cannot leave Hanumanji alone. The journey with Him has changed my life. How can I let go now- when the joy of describing everything about Him has got me addicted? It is like inhaling camphor in the temple. So I promise myself that the next book on Him is going to be Kishkindha Kand. The thought energises me. Another journey to look forward to. Great!

What have I learnt in the presently concluded one? That I am never alone. That the shield of divine protection encompasses me and my loved ones at all times. That one can achieve seemingly impossible tasks with His blessings. That detachment  is not just a philosophy but a very strongly protected forcefield. If the focus is on Him, everything meaningless falls on the wayside- what remains is what is meant to remain. Fair enough for this life journey.

***

 

Chasing Christie

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My little girl asks me whether I can guess who the murderer happens to be.   I am yet to finish the book. The novel is ‘Sleeping Murder’ by Agatha Christie. I have experienced enough of this world and read enough of Dame Christie to venture a serious guess even at the middle of the book. I suggest a name and she sniffs: ‘ So you did read the ending!’ I laugh.

I tell her that Winston Churchill had guessed the murderer by the middle of  the play ‘Mousetrap’. His wife Clementine apparently sniffed:’Of course not!’ Guess who turned out right at the end. Yes, your hunch is as good as mine.

The fan club of Miss Marple is steadily increasing in my home. From Bertram’s Hotel to A pocket full of rye, Miss Marple’s sharp brain has my child fascinated. And I am glad.

Miss Marple  subtly teaches the importance of  classical literature to young readers. From the Duchess of Malfi to The Lady of Shallot, there is a  literary clue in each of her books for the prescient reader. And a practical approach to life and love and all that is good and bad. I find Miss Marple formidably intelligent when it comes to second guessing human nature with all its foibles.

I tell my kid that her granddad introduced me to Agatha Christie. I was thirteen. She laughs that Amma was too old when she started Miss Marple. I agree humbly.

She knows all about the episode of Agatha Christie’s mysterious disappearance and come back. She had watched it in a Doctor Who episode. I let her interpretation stay magical.

‘Which is your favourite Miss Marple novel?’ She is quizzical now.

Without a moment’s hesitance I answer: ‘ The mirror crack’d from side to side.’ I have loved the book and all the various visual depictions of that true classic.

‘ I liked it too.’ She nods her head.

Great.

‘ May the old dames win’, I grin.

**

Walking in Beauty

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She is bubbling with her enthusiasm about Mathematical Physics. Half of what she is  telling me- especially about  the Calculus classes -goes above my head. I watch her animated face as she speaks about a senior who is enrolling for a Masters in Perimeter Institute, Canada ( her dream) and has deferred his PhD admission to Stanford by a year. “One day, Amma, I will be there!” I have absolutely no doubt that she speaks her destiny.

‘My child, I wish to tell her, keep this faith alive. For every naysayer who had dissuaded your dreams in a thousand ways by not supporting you, by laughing at girls dreaming big, by mocking you for ‘not fitting in’, you have always had those few critical people who stood by you like a rock. In life, for every hundred people who could not care less about you, you will find one  genuine well wisher. That solid love is more than what the little green sapling needs to thrive in this world. Every battle won with sweat and tears of dedication creates way for a wonderfully tasting feast of celebration. But the warrior needs rest and recuperation too.

Do not get caught in the fancy trappings of what ‘success’ is acclaimed to be by the world. The quiet scientist who toils away in her laboratory and advances the cause of Science, leads a life which illuminates the way for humankind. Perhaps her coat is stained and sweaty. Perhaps it is not. Perhaps she is not known outside her circle. Perhaps she is.  These are irrelevant.What matters is that when she sleeps at night, there is a joy of having another beautiful day to wake up to and live her dream.

May learning light up your way. May your dreams come true. May you remain humble and grounded. May you always think of leaving this world a better place with the gifts that you were born with. May you follow your bliss and your true calling. May the right teachers appear at the appropriate time. May you always remain my bubbling and happy child.

Tremendously grateful for the gift of hearing you passionately describe your Calculus classes and your wonderful professors. Stay blessed. May your light brighten the life of all whom you meet in your life path.’

‘Amma, you are not actually listening!’ She pouts.

I smile. ‘ Your Amma still has nightmares about her engineering maths.’

‘ Yes! You should have studied Byron instead. No issues! Ok so you know what professor…’

She walks in beauty, like the night

Of countless climes and starry skies

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes…

Ahhhh, Byron. You did get that one right.

**

 

That Ghost In The Cupboard

 

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Yet another suicide by a brilliant young man studying at a premier institute. I will no longer ask, why. Life has taught me enough to write the answer to that one. Because we are human. No animal would commit suicide.

At so many stages in life, at so many points of decision making, the dream of escaping it all easily appears: like a tantalizing mirage. If only, if only…It is that precise moment which one has to survive. Perhaps the faces of your loved ones will appear to caution against the decision. Or it could be a determined voice from within which stubbornly says: “I will not give up.” The survival instinct will definitely kick in, and one reaches for a way out. The instinct to destroy is unfortunately strong too; and it will resist that friend or help that is a call away.

One of the most ignored areas, at least in our country, is mental health. Depression, nervous disorders, eating disorders, suicidal tendencies- all are whitewashed into one heading: Needs Rest.

Some deny it actively, some mock at it aggressively, some escape into parties and alcohol, some become detached and cocooned, some pretend it is a ghost in the cupboard and occasionally face it in their privacy, and some kill themselves.

**

If there is anything which has helped me face different apparitions of intolerable pain (which sits within me and mocks that  I am better off dead at times), it has been a fierce determination to crawl out of darkness every time. I reach out for my quotes of Vivekananda and try to fill my mind with thoughts of power and service. Typically I visit Missionary sisters and try to talk to the poor and disabled that they serve so selflessly. When I see a five year old orphan child suffering from HIV, and who cheers up on getting a chocolate, I feel that my troubles are so pitiful and meaningless. Truly has Vivekananda said that the way out of your own troubles is to serve someone who suffers more than you. When “I ” become too much for me, I visit a hospital. By the time I return, the ” I ” is usually replaced by a sense of immense gratitude for the good health that I take for granted.

My mother often tells me that tears are a way to getting closer to Him. It shakes you out of whatever ennui and makes you go down on your knees, seeking help. And help has always, always, always come.

If I could tell something to the bright student sitting in some top institute, depressed and angry at himself and the world, it is this:

Stop thinking of yourself for the next half an hour. Get out as fast as you can from your room.  Go to the nearest hospital, or any place of pain and tears and helplessness. Please help by volunteering there: buy someone medicine, help a mother carry her sick child, read a prescription to an old man.  Visit an orphanage. By the time you return, my dear friend, you would have so much power within you that you will live for another day. Whether you choose to live that day well, will be a blessed option left to you.

The way out of your own apparently interminable darkness is the light you will be kindling in another unfortunate’s life. I do not know why it works every time, but it always works for me. Maybe by giving another a bit of your life energy, you have shooed off the ghost in the cupboard for yet another day. For the time being, it is a battle worth having won.

***

This Lovely Herbarium

‘Herbarium’ by Sonia Rafeeq, is a debut novel which has won the DC Literature Award in 2016. It depicts the relation between life and nature- like the amniotic fluid of a mother’s womb- through the story of a little boy who suddenly loses his mother. The child has grown up in Dubai and his mother, who loved the earth and mud, trees and insects, has always struggled to create an island of green on her Dubai flat’s balcony. Tipu’s Ummadu, is an earth woman: the one who breathes in and out the simplicity and depths of Mother Earth herself. But she is lost one day.

The child comes to his maternal home and discovers what is nature. From a life of playing with tablets and video games, he gets into  a world where a ‘chicken’ in KFC is actually a haughty rooster who pecks around worms in the sand. There is a grand Peepul tree- splendid in its canopy and width- reigning gracefully within a snake grove. And the child sees through wonder struck eyes a wriggling white worm which emerges from within a mango seed, as the ripe flesh is cut into pieces. Apparently, it has eaten up all the food meant for a baby mango sapling, in its greedy feasting adventures!

I am at page 63 of a 231 page novel. And it has been simply delicious till now! I could not resist writing a paen!

Extraordinary observations connecting human emotions with nature!

We have a phrase in Malayalam: Tottavady pole- like a Touch-Me- Not plant! It is used to describe very sensitive nature in human beings. Men and Women and Children, who cannot withstand any unexpected disturbances in life. It is a phrase which cautions – not to be like the touch me not plant which folds and shrinks up in terror when touched at random!

Tipu happens to glimpse a school senior- a teenager- jump to his death  from the flat because he has lost top marks in two subjects at school. He sees his mother- enraged and upset- to see that wasted life.

She mutters: ‘Why do children turn into Touch Me Not plants ?’

***

Trying to translate a stunning paragraph.

The notes left behind by Fatima, turned her into a stranger to Asif. He could not fathom her: he had not known her. Inside her had been an island which he could never reach. It was inaccessible by ships or aeroplanes. He was in a sojourn to reach that island by deciphering her notes….

One of Fatima’s Notes:

This cot too had been part of a tree at some point of time. A tree that was green and vital: its roots sunk deep into earth. Ah… trees, such enchanting symbols! They lay dead- in multiple formations- in our bed rooms and sitting rooms, carrying their own biers. If  one casts a glance at the kitchen, one can notice a bigger cemetery. If you open the refrigerator, you can see solid evidences of ruthless killing obscenely gloating at you: in the form of fish and goat and rooster. Then the dead seeds stocked in the bottles of the kitchen racks might shock- beans, mustard, pulses. There are more dead bodies in crushed forms too. A real graveyard. And I am the keeper of the graves.

****

Strong recommendation to pick up this green book. The author is a postgraduate in plant pathology and worked as an Agricultural Officer before shifting to Dubai.

Her dedication reads ( In translation)

To the earth that no longer emits fragrance,

To the dead trees,

To the rivers which have sunk deep,

And to children:

Who carry the gift of God’s imagination

To rebuild, re-create everything.

***

 

ChumaduTangi: Burden Bearer ( Poem Translation from Malayalam)

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Chumadutangi by Lakshmi Devi

( Translation from Malayalam)

The Burden Bearer:

Here, in front of the inn

Meant for wayfarers-

On this  Burden Bearer Stone,

Let me heave the bundle carried

By my weakening body till

Now.

The shoulder bone has

The greatest capacity to bear

Burden, it seems;

And Destiny again shoves

Unbearable weight onto

That today.

For a moment, I ponder

What it is that I carry, stumbling

Struggling onward,

Wrapped within the bundle.

Old sins, virtues

Or both equally divided?

Unknown it remains,

The Fate has filled up my bundle

For me to bear unquestiongly.

There is a bright lamp within,

The fragrance of camphor

As my dreams get enflamed,

The pains unabated, stirred deep

Leaving an oily drop beneath

The forbidden is inside, and the

Whiplashes for those mistakes

Committed unwittingly

The drops of tears which flowed

The red of a fresh wound

A Sun of a baby smile

The chirp of a bird, the breeze

In a shade so green…

I can no longer keep

My load on the stone

It is getting late.

Closing the inn’s door

The watchman too has

Hastened away.

The lonely road that stretches

Long, calls me quietly-

Walk on, until

You fall, losing

Your footing.

Darkness all around me-

Yet  I can listen  to those

Who are ahead of me:

‘ Move without fear!

Beyond the sooty darkness

Of this tunnel,

There might yet be light.’

***

In the olden days, Kings used to construct inns for wayfarers and also stones for bearing burdens. Without anyone’s help, the  heavy load on the villager’s shoulder could be heaved onto the heft of these stones.

Today, I watched again a classic  Malayalam movie called, Amritangamaya.

It is a line from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad…From death to eternal life ( Mrityoma Amritamgamaya).

In the movie,  one character was reiterating that the human shoulder bone is the strongest- designed to carry the Holy Cross of one’s life burden.

Flipping casually through an old vernacular magazine, I ended up opening the poem page where the sentence was repeated for me.

And then, I picked up a crayon, and a pen. These help in shouldering responsibilities with grace. Truly Burden bearers.

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lord Loves Us Fools

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Some books create themselves. One just acts as a medium. It happened with Sundar Kanda. My publisher sent me a beautiful draft of the book today. It is an English interpretation of Tulsidasji’s Sundar Kanda.

I was trying to understand the beautiful lines of  Sundar Kanda- a much loved canto in Sree Ramcharit Manas of Goswami Tulsidasji. Every one of my colleagues seemed to know it by heart. My friend, a great Hanuman bhakt, typically started all her training sessions with Hanuman Chalisa- a forty line devotional eulogy by Tuslidasji . And one day, another friend told me that he found it difficult to understand the various nuances of Sundar Kanda, when his aged mother recited it during pujas.

I had no difficulties with the stories of Ramayana. I had grown up with them. The only question was, whether SreeRamcharit Manas would be accessible to my understanding. The Lord, I believe, has a great liking for fools like me. We rush in where angels fear to tread.

I remembered, a vernacular line on Krishna’s preference, often quoted by mother : Melpathoorinte vibhaktiye kaliha, Poonthanathin bhaktiyanennikishtam!( I prefer Poonthanam’s bhakti to Melpathoor’s vibhakti). 

The story is about Melpathoor Bhattathiry, who wrote the sanskrit classic Narayaneeyam during his prayer-penance for curing his rheumatism. He was staying at Guruvayoor temple in Kerala, acclaimed as the Mathura of the South. He was cured of his disease and praised by all for his exemplary mastery of the language.

Poonthanam Namboodiri, was a poor Krishna Bhakt, who wrote a vernacular paean to Lord Krishna called, ‘Jnanapana.’   So Poonthanam decided to get his text corrected by a scholar. He respectfully approached the learned Melpathoor. The sanskrit scholar condescended to speak to the poor amateur writer of vernacular. But there he stopped. He sniffed that he did not have the time to waste on vernacular writings.  Poor Poonthanam was heart broken at the contemptuous treatment of his labour of love.

That night, Melpathoor’s rheumatism returned with a vengeance. As he groaned in desperate pain, a laughing Krishna, cute and sweet in his Bal avatar, appeared in his dream and told him amidst much home truths : Melpathoorinte vibkatiye kaliha Poonthanathin bhaktiyanennikishtam. ‘Hey, Melpathoor- compared to your Sanskritic grammar and vibhakti pratyayam, I prefer Poonthanam’s devotion to me.’

( Note : I have often wondered whether this anecdote was the satirical rebuttal of the vernacular writer towards their condescending brethren who wrote in upper-class Sanskrit language! While there were poets who wrote in pure Sanskrit, taking pains with the severe rules of structure and syntax, they were also those who – like stringing  beads of mani and pravala in a string-combined words of malayalam and sanskrit like pearls and rubies, to create a mixed language of creation. Then there were those like Poonthanam who wrote in the simplest of Malayalam language.)

Melpathoor sent a word to Poonthanam (He could not move!) and apologised profusely. He corrected the draft and Poonthanam was gratified. Melpathoor’s rheumatism disappeared as subtly as it came-having laughed at the human pettiness of considering one language superior to another.

Anyway, fools like me gain confidence due to such anecdotes. Hanumanji was going to help me in this journey across the word-sea. He knew what a dunce I was when it came to Hindi grammar. How I mix up my ka and ki in every sentence.I guess, Hanumanji, that great bhakt of Sree Ramji- Lord Narayana himself- took pity on me. In fifty days, he helped me sail across Sundar Kanda and blessed me with a sudden official tour to Chitrakoot, where Tulsidasji wrote his master piece.

My relation with God is very personal. He is friend and philosopher and possesses an  irrepressible sense of humour. He does not scare me. He is my best friend. Also, I prefer that He remains He. Though I love Him being Her too. Somehow, growing up with a mother who would say, ‘ My Krishna’ while she bowed before Devi herself, set the basic infrastructure of my devotional growth. It is very fluid, my family’s version of bhakti. You just call. He answers.

I do not have a dedication page for this book. But in my heart, it is for that divinity who exists beyond any narrow human perspective of language or culture, colour or religon, creed or country. The One who just loves us.

Blessed Be! Jai Hanuman Ji!

***