Bowing The Head…

My article published in a ten part series : Translating India

http://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/it-all-began-with-that-dinner-where-the-milk-played-truant-translating-india-8-118021600502_1.html

***

“Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.”
― Mary Oliver, Evidence: Poems

The Cascade Effect

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Gargi checks the whatsapp message again: “Your silken curls, cascading like a river, are giving me sleepless nights! When do I get to bury my face in that garden of fragrance?”
She rubs her eyes and looks again at her greying old phone. The beep had woken her up from a rather deep sleep.
The message reads the same.
She checks the sender information.
There is no display picture. No pompous one liner or any other detail. Just an unknown number sending her this romantic stuff at one in the night.
‘Well, well,” she mutters to herself, “if it is any of my old admirers, I would like to shake him up for not sending this to me fifty years before! Could have given the Urdu poetry quoting Colonel a run for his money!”
She does not reply.
But when she goes to bed again, she cannot help smiling to herself. There is a song in her heart.
“Keshav should get that river side plot. He is struggling in his business now… This plot might help.” She thinks fondly of her younger son. He reminded her most of her late husband, the Colonel.
She caresses her long, thick, white curls, as she drifts off to a happy sleep.

**
Lakshmy giggles as she reads the message. Trust Krishnan to send her this syrupy sweet nothing at one in the night. Did he get drunk by any chance after doing all that Maths?
How did he get her number?
She caresses her silken black hair, cascading like a river, and imagines him hiding his face in that garden of fragrance.
Trust him to look all serious, the quintessential Maths teacher, and trying poetry to charm her at night! And except for looking deeply into her eyes in the staff room, he has till now never dared to express any emotion.
Was this his number? Ever since he had joined their school last month, she had been desperately trying to get it. Sheena , her friend, had mercilessly teased her about her crush!
Well, she will not respond now! But tomorrow, during the tea break, she will ask him whether he liked rivers and gardens!
She dreamily stares at the moon outside and is filled with inexplicable joy.
If only tomorrow arrived now!
**
Dr. Alice reads the message and wipes away the sudden tears.
When was the last time her husband sent something so nice?
And especially after a big fight? When she has almost decided to call it quits.
But this was not his normal number.
When he stomped out at ten in the night, she had thought it had ended.
Memories came flooding back: their college romance, their youthful days when George tried to create his business, the birth of their daughter…the recent fights over his drinking bouts, the extravagance…
‘ We will pull through… will go for a vacation together…a place somewhere far away, with rivers and gardens…He still praises my long hair! Lord, how I remember his courtship in college, quoting his favourite poets!’
Alice dials her husband’s number.
He picks up. A disappointed, frustrated man.
‘ Honey, come home. You know I love you,’ she says. Her sincerity makes her voice wobble.
There is a gasp from the other end. As if someone could not believe his ears.
‘ Alice, is that you for real? What..I mean…I love you too darling… I am reaching in ten minutes time!’
The man, nursing his drink and contemplating various ways of ending it all, feels as if the Lord has given him a wake up call.
He shakes his head and laughs at none in particular.
**
‘ You forwarded it to three numbers unknowingly? What do you mean, you idiot? The first thing you do in my brand new phone is to whatsapp lines of my new song to our grandmother, the family doctor and my English teacher? Arrghhhhhh….’

‘Shut up children! It is night one o’ clock. Get into bed!’ An extremely irritated mother calls from her bedroom.
A fifteen year old’s attempt to create a song for impressing his girl friend, fades off slowly, to the tunes of a screaming younger brother who is getting his ears mercilessly boxed.
Of course, the mysterious cascading effect of his creativity was slowly rippling through the neighbourhood even then.
**

 

 

 

Thirteen Years Later…

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Scene One: Conference Hall in a beautiful heritage hotel…There is a banner which says ‘ Giving Back to Society: The Innumerable Ways !’

People milling around. The smart youth, in latest fashions. Camera men, journalists, participants with their ID cards.
A sudden flurry of activity when the Chief Guest arrives.Bouquets , flashes of camera, voices…

Cut to back of the room…A tall man, in his late twenties, sits quietly. He is looking at the speakers on the podium. He gazes at one face and is lost in memories.

*
On the podium.

Compère: ‘And now, we would like to invite Mrs. Karuna Menon to share her experiences as a counsellor and rehabilitation specialist dealing with juvenile delinquents for many decades.’

A young woman steps forward and manoeuvres a wheel chair towards the mike. There is a poignant sigh rising from the audience. The woman in the wheel chair is around seventy, with a shock of white hair. She is radiant and cheerful.

Mrs Menon : Dear friends on the dais and beloved members of the audience! Thank you for giving me a chance to highlight the need for sensitivity towards juvenile delinquents. No child is born a criminal…As members of the society in which she or he lives, we are responsible for nurturing that soul to the proper heights it can aspire to. For that, we should stop looking at juvenile delinquents as evil. We should learn to open our eyes and see them for what they are: children fighting for survival.

Then she continues with her speech.

Back of the room. The man, lost in memories…

The Q&A session begins.
Raised hands: hyper smart questions, cynical queries, opinions disguised as questions…Mrs.Menon answers with grace and humility.

Slowly, the man raises his hand. He gets up.

Compère: Yes, sir… please ask your question.

Man: I stand here as a testimony to the great work of Mrs. Karuna Menon. I was a drug addict in my teenage. A very dangerous juvenile delinquent who stole his own mother’s jewellery. This lady, she saved my life. When the whole world hated me, she opened her home to the likes of me. Madam, thank you.

There is a ruffling sound, as many heads turn to gaze at the man. Slowly, someone begins to applaud. Mrs.Menon, in her wheel chair, stares unbelievingly at the tall man.

‘ Thank you, thank you,’ she murmurs, overwhelmed. She beckons the man to come forward.

He moves. He climbs the steps to the podium. And hugs the woman in the wheel chair.

Mrs.Menon: Ravi! Where were you, all this while?  How many years, now? Thirteen, fourteen? You never got in touch!
Man: I had to do something worthwhile before coming back to you, right?

Compère: Sir, the audience would like to know more!

The audience is on their feet now. It is a standing ovation for both the mentor and the protege.

Man: There is nothing more to tell. I was lost, she saved me. I have started a company which is into skill development. We actively work with prisoners released from jails and delinquents who are released from Homes. We help them get dignified employment.

Compère: What is the name of your firm?

Man: ( Smiles) Karuna, or Compassion.

He bends and touches the lifeless feet of Mrs.Karuna Menon.
*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unexpectedly…

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‘ 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…
**
End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going Home…

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What ‘lights’ you up? The answer can be different for every human being. Maybe there is more than one answer. Usually, that is the truth. Meaningful work, loving family, hobbies…writing, singing, sports, or just sitting in solitude and watching the sunlight. Each of us has to find his/her own answer to that question.

Recently I was watching Elizabeth Gilbert- author of Eat, Pray, Love – speak about her journey home. Home was the term she used to describe something which she loved more than anything. ‘Writing’ was home for her.

After the stupendous success of Eat, Pray, Love, she faced a great fear. She was scared of writing again and failing to meet the standards of the first.She shared that she was happy when the next book flopped, because she could finally get back home without any more fears…She could get back and simply write for the sheer joy of writing. She went on to write many more beautiful books.

The challenge, in her perspective, was that we tend to give up our right to reach our own ‘ homes’.  There are many pressures preventing us from doing so. We have to find what gives us joy ( lights us up) and stick with it, without allowing anyone/ anything to dislodge us from that sacred space with their judgement of us.

In one way, this is what the great Jospeh Campbell spoke of in his iconic writings. ‘ Follow your bliss…’ The Hero’s journey belongs to each of us. Every adventure need not be heroic. It could be just the insistence that one has to have an hour every day, to be alone: to just be.

Even that could be a small heroic victory. Because, it could be your idea of bliss. That could be your ‘sacred space’ to rejuvenate yourself.

One of the things which lights me up is enjoying words in any form.

Is there some written rule anywhere that only successful people can write? Only those who are published should dream? Only those who are famous should indulge in imagination?  Or that only when you are supremely talented, you should dare to put a pen on paper- that too in only ‘specific’ human languages?

Who made all these rules? If I get joy in writing / translating from vernacular languages, who defines the ranking or stature of my happiness? Why would I justify my ‘home’ to anybody else?

*

Even today, when I hear some people discuss with great authority on the how/ why/ what of another human being’s choices, I cannot help a smile. What do they know- these so called experts- on what makes another person’s heart beat rise? Perhaps it is work. Perhaps it is love, perhaps it is a pet. Perhaps…million choices…Instead of wasting precious time trying to find fault with another, they would benefit, if they were to discover a ‘home’ for themselves.

**

Inside my book shelf, I encountered a few books created during my journey home. With every passing day, I am getting there. Unapologetically.

**

A Breathing Space

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In a world where success, happiness, perfect bodies, fame, money, popularity, smiling faces are all  considered synonymous and mixed together in a pot-pourri, sometimes an ordinary human being might stand bemused- wondering at it all… When faced with the onslaught of seemingly unjustified hatred and virulent bias or enemity, one might get apprehensive about the futility of it all…

Pray, where is my place in this melee? Is it that I have no place at all?Do I have a right to breathe the air too, eh?

From the lives of the most inspiring people I have met in my life journey, I have observed certain hometruths that they live quietly by.These have helped me in tough times as well as in normal times, to find a breathing space of my own.

1. They are full of gratitude for whatever they have in life, including their life experiences.

In a recent example, when I looked at the radiant and compassionate face of someone who has literally been to hell and back, he smiled, ‘I am so grateful for that experience because of what I learned in that time!’  It made me feel foolish for the number of times in my life when I slipped into a complaining mode!

(Let me count my blessings…and by God! The list is so big!)

2.  They focus on ‘ giving ‘ than taking. They are hard working, unassuming and grounded.

The Missionary Sister, whose face comes to my mind as I type, is always thinking of how to coach the poor school children better, how to get toilets constructed for the suffering patients, how to organise a small function for the orphans…I often tell her that she is my ‘ mood elevator medicine’, because her spirit of service is so infectious!  I am yet to meet a more unassuming or hard working person than her. And I wonder, if she manages to  sleep for four hours a day!

3. They enjoy living every day

From enjoying a good coffee, a movie, a book , theatre,  or sports or dance or walking,,,, such people have a capacity for enjoying life’s simple pleasures without unnecessary show or ado. I do not find them boasting about their hobbies or activities, and instead take intrinsic happiness in their choices.

4. They are good,  loving and kind

I find myself attracted to these qualities and have found these people to have spring wells of love and kindness which never dry up. Always, they are there to cheer you, to be proud of you, to egg you on, to tease you…Getting in touch with such souls make you heal and smile.

5. They do not compete with you or anyone else

These people compete with their own selves- to become better than they were yesterday! I find them self confident, not jealous of any one, and very pleasant to be around. They do not bitch or gossip about another’s life over their tea and do not snack on someone’s pains as an accompaniment to their drinks. I find them empathetic, humble and non judgemental.

6. They have a strong trust in a ‘ Higher Goodness’ whether they call it God or by any other name. Some do not call it any name.

They do  not believe in  any categorisation or  differentiation between human beings and go by a compass of ‘ goodness’.

7. They bring out the best in others in their  workplaces

The best bosses I have had, had the gift of bringing out the best in their team members. The best leaders that I have seen, were not quick to find fault but always ready to counsel and guide when needed. Above all, they practised what they preached.

They led from the front and never trained their authoritarian power guns on their team members to cow them down or degrade them. It is only when one encounters different leadership styles that one recognises the blessing of having had such mentorship early on, to set a benchmark by.

8. They never compromise on their dignity or self respect. They  also actively try to avoid harming anyone to the extend they can.

They walk a fine balance between respecting themselves and others. But the most inspiring people I knew never tolerated abuse from anyone. They also never went out of their way to retaliate or harm anyone to showcase their stance.

9. They are genuine to the core

Some of the most inspiring people I know are ordinary people who  are genuine to their core. They are not hypocritical and you do not have to watch your back with them. They will not tell you something and mean something else. They are refreshingly honest with themselves and others. I do not mean they are paragons of  virtue, but they are simply themselves without being apologetic about it.

10. They believe that they are stronger than the circumstances that they face currently and are always hopeful about the next cross roads.

The ultimate humility! They know and believe that they have their own sacred space on this earth and no one has the right to take that away from them.

This I would say is a greatly life affirming belief and gives courage to handle many unfortunate events involving people and circumstances beyond our control. The ditto they follow is that ‘ This too shall pass’, and that the journey must go on…

**

No Disclaimer

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If I could direct a short film, I will base it on  the theme ‘Respect.’  In the Canterbury tales, in her answer to what a woman truly wants, the old crone says, ‘autonomy over her life’. That is the version which has come to my notice anyway. To put it simply, ‘Respect.’

Going by my own life lessons, that was the toughest examination question that life posed: ‘how long will you stay without respect?’ It happened many times- in both personal and professional relations. Every time, the litmus test was the same.

Every time I made the fundamental mistake of being naive and expecting that the world was full of respectful people. So from one situation to another, I would march right on, without ever pausing to check the environment first: the subtle learning forgotten-‘find out what you are getting into.’

Why the Universe  had to expose me to the same  lesson multiple times has become clear to me by now. I was the  quintessential poor student, who kept failing every time and the Universe had no option but to force me to retake the examination many  more times: in different circumstances, with different characters playing in the scenes, but with one underlying core test.

‘Can you understand why you are in the midst of this drama?’

Now after a series of failures, I am confident to state the answer .

‘I know, sir! Oh, yes. Because I was dumb enough to not check the waters first. There is no respect anywhere in the treacherous vicinity, M’Lord! And every second I stay, my lifeblood will be sucked out by the negativity and pettiness. I shall now check carefully the environments where I invest my life and time and never compromise on my self respect.’

And thus I take up my pen . To write a note for those who might benefit from my mistakes.

Cardinal Rules of Life:

1. There is no love or growth without respect. It can be anything else, but disabuse yourself of the falsehood that love or growth thrives without respect. It does not.

2 . If someone gets a kick out of seeing you play small, making you look small, ensuring you stay small, either get ready to be a bonsai or step away. To grow into what you were meant to be.

3.  If you have tasted gutter water all your life- metaphorically speaking- you will find ‘respect’ a strange sort of drink at first! But get used to this heartening elixir, and you find yourself strong and alive again. For that, pick work, friends, and environments carefully. Else that old addiction to gutter water can take over and you will again find yourself in circumstances where respect is a word that is banned.

4. Nothing matters except your dignity. No one has the right to humiliate you or degrade you. No hidden agendas are powerful enough to hurt you; if you can see through the elaborate set up. The game of thrones is always at play in the friendly neighbourhood of one’s own life; but a wariness about the intentions of the other  actors might make you less vulnerable to hurt. You can step away, detached.

5. Be graceful as you step away from abusive environments. But listen!If needed, fight hard . If someone reads your quietness as weakness, and tries to harass you, do not hesitate before taking action. File a complaint.  Have your lawyer’s number on your speed dial.

**

All life’s lessons are totally my own. No disclaimer.