Bored. Oh, Really?


Three children with muscular dystrophy, and struggling to have access to a toilet! Can you believe it?

My work has led me to believe that any act of reaching out, is like God smiling that day. And God smiled today too. There was a good person, who promised us to coordinate the needful. The children will have their dignity restored soon enough.

When life overwhelms you with boredom, I request you to do a quick assessment of how you can be God’s smile for that day. I promise you that you will not get bored. It is an affliction which strikes us  only when are obsessed about ourselves.

A group of women who make exquisite products out of  reusable things: such beauty from nothing! They need help in marketing. Maybe your gift lies in networking. Reach out…they are present  where you live…

Children from shelter homes need care, financial support and vocational education. Someone who can build them a library, teach music and arts….Can you volunteer your time? Reach out….they are present in your city…

Environment friendly initiatives…an NGO struggling to clean a river. They need sensitive volunteers. Contribute one hour. They need you …Reach out…the river flows nearby…

Disabled people want dignified employment. Differently abled children need special schools. Can you help in any way? Reach out…perhaps a mile away from you is someone in need…

One set of  school uniform,  and a bedridden father with two motherless daughters who go to school. One wears it one day, while the other stays at home. No fiction, but simple truth. Until one day, someone reached out and got a journalist to cover their story. Help poured in. Today, both attend school regularly.

So many opportunities to serve.

Next time you get bored, do me a favour. Reach out…be that someone who makes a change. I bet you will smile better.


Picking Your Battles Well…


What do you need to walk away from——?

You may fill in the blanks with your own life experiences. It could be a bad job, a  terrible boss, an abusive relationship, a splintering family situation …The common symptom is that it makes you want to scream, embitters you, weakens you, depresses you, makes you feel utterly helpless and causes you to indulge in self-loathing.

I have pondered on that particular question at length. And concluded that what is Manna for one could be Poison for another.

You might call it cowardice, I would call it wisdom. You might call it fool hardiness, I might call it discretion. You might call it intelligent, I might call it selfish. You might call it well timed, I might call it too late. You can never please them all. Neither can I.

I have seen  apparent wise men and women fail miserably because they did not have the courage( my terminology) to acknowledge reality for what it was. They pretended everything was absolutely perfect and went grinning to their downfall. I have also seen wise men and women choose discretion as the better part of valour, and pick their battles intelligently.

Recently, one very brilliant doctor asked me, how to avoid unnecessary confrontations and  avoid making unnecessary enemies. I thought of a life time of battle scars and grinned.

‘I  have read somewhere that you should speak up strongly if it is true, kind and necessary. It has to pass all the three tests!’

The good doctor, who was nursing his drink, gulped it down and toasted, ‘That is worth another one!’

Sometimes, as Dr Clarissa Estes so wisely reminds us, one has to have the strength of a jaguar and the heart of a butterfly. You should strive to have sinews of steel and a heart full of compassion.

First of all, be compassionate to your own self. If something makes you want to scream, please do. Scream your heart out. It is not worth killing yourself over an issue which can naturally resolve itself in one blood curdling yell.

If someone or something makes you suffocated, walk out before the life breath is extinguished. Gulp down the oxygen of normalcy before it is too late. Tolerating  anything bad (in any form) can be like inhaling carbon monoxide on a regular basis. It will make you slip into a comatose stage and from there, starts the end of what you truly are.

Will you survive at the end of it all? Oh yes! And shall live to tell the tale another day. Surrounded by warm sunshine and a slight breeze; staring at the blue sky and seeing a bird fly.

Because, when you walk away from oppression, you choose freedom. And if the battle is worth it- true, kind and necessary- then you will live to fight another day. With a sword by your side called ‘Self-respect.’







The Meat Of The Moon : Madhavi Kutty ( Story Translation From Malayalam)

Chandrante Irrachi ( The Meat of the Moon): Madhavi Kutty,1969


Her lover continued to sleep even when it turned eleven in the night. She felt no inclination to wake him up and send him to his home. Whenever he removed his glasses, the natural intensity of his face seemed to diminish. As he slept, she noticed the loneliness of a little boy on his face. A lost soul- no, a soul who had forgotten the way-a lonely little boy, was  tied inside the forest of mortality in that  aging body. She knew that she was deeply in love with him: the one who had witnessed his father’s death, the one who used to go to school in a bullock cart- wearing a sailor’s costume.

Outside that house- situated on the outskirts of the town- the rain was pouring down heavily. Through the ventilators, a breeze from yonder- crossing  the thorny plants and trees on a hillside-entered the room, moaning like a wounded creature.

‘Beloved,’ she called bending low, ‘ It is past eleven- should you  not be getting up?’

He woke up startled: with a wide eyed gaze. ‘ Eleven? Why didn’t you wake me up earlier?’

‘Don’t go tonight. Stay with me,’ she said.

He got up and wearily sat down at the edge of the cot.

‘I am so groggy. How will I drive all that distance?’

Gazing at his body- gleaming like a flame in the light- she gently closed her eyes. Her heart sang: ‘Your body has reached my pyre- no, bed-carrying its secret destiny…I cannot escape now, Your body is like a golden harvest of  ripe grains. It has been created from the meat of the full moon…’

‘Now it will be past midnight when I reach home. What excuse shall I give today?’ He asked her.

‘Why don’t you stay the night with me? Won’t you give me one night?’ She asked him.

‘You know very well that it is impossible. I cannot act so irresponsibly.’ He said.

Seated on the stool before the mirror, he wore his socks. Tied  the laces of his shoes. His hair- a mix of steel and black  curls- reflected on the mirror.

‘Don’t you feel any obligation toward me?’ She asked.’ I am your kept woman, your slave: do you feel no obligation towards this unfortunate woman?’

‘I love you,’ he said mechanically, ‘ I love you even when you tell me about your colleague. I will love you even if you marry him. You know that very well.’

‘What is the cost of such a love?’ She asked.

‘I don’t know,’ he replied.

‘Shall I marry him? Shall I become his wife with your permission? Tell me, do you have no objection at all?’

‘Why should I stop it?’ He asked,’I am a man who is aging fast. A married man. He is young and handsome.Your colleague. I do not think that you will stop even if I were to object.’

He moved towards the door, while she lay on the bed.

She called out to him: ‘ I will give him an answer tomorrow itself. I am greatly relieved that you have no issues with it.I will have to stop seeing you. But eventually I shall forget that pain. My dear, you are so compassionate.’

‘I will see you next week. Call me tomorrow afternoon,’ he said.

At the  sound of  the door banging  shut, she felt that she had been shattered to bits. She was a woman, she was a fragile piece of  glass. She felt that every tiny shard of glass wanted to hurt her, make her bleed..

She picked up the phone from the table, and woke up the young man who was in love with her. ‘Hello’, he said: ‘ Hello!’


‘Who is it? Mini, you?’ He asked.’ How come you are awake at this time?’

‘ Today, you asked me if I wanted to be your wife. I thought I will give you an answer now. That is all.’

‘What is the answer?’

‘ It is not possible.’ Putting the phone back into its cradle, she snuggled under the covers and closed her eyes.

She was convinced that for her- who was accustomed to the arms of a man who was successful in all aspects of life-there was no satisfaction  to be gained from  marrying  an ordinary man.


Note: For the sheer power of the narrative from the other woman’s perspective: not a whiny, complaining tone, mind you- but  that of a woman in control of her destiny- I found this gem of a short story written by Madhavi Kutty in 1969, an iconic piece of feminist writing.

It was when I read Telugu writer Volga’s interview ( She won the  Kendra Sahitya Academy award in 2016 for her book Vimukta:  Translated as The Liberation of Sita, Harper Collins )that I realised  again that the mind’s freedom to question  everything was the greatest gift of existence.

She mentioned about a classic Telugu short story by a famous writer in early 1920s when Sita jumped into Ravan’s pyre instead of stepping into the Agni Pareeksha.  She was speaking of how intolerance has increased in society nowadays, since Vimukta- a series of stories showcasing Sita’s bonding with Mandodari, Soorpanakha, Ahalya et al..was pilloried by some.

Inexplicably, another memory came: Of reading that great short story , ‘Sunstroke’ by Ivan Bunin. Perhaps it was the nonchalance of the women in both  stories which bemused me.

And then, I could not resist translating this gem!



Thank You, Grace!


And thus Penguin presents my dear friend and talented writer K.R.Meera’s latest book. By a great series of serendipitous events, I became a translator too:)

I will paste a quote of  the inimitable Mary Oliver for explaining how I feel!



Panchagni: The Five Fires(Scenes 4-7)

Panchagni screenplay continued:

Scene 4:


The Jail Superintendent’s room

The room is in the first floor of the office block in the Jail Complex.

The Superintendent is past fifty years of age. When he raises his head, after signing some papers,  the Matron, a forty five year old woman, salutes him.

Matron: Indira refuses to have food. It is the fourth day today.

Assistant Jailor and the Jail Doctor at the door.

Asst.Jailor salutes.

The Doctor pays respect in the normal way.

The Supdt is pondering deeply.

Asst.Jailor: Sir, we can charge under Section 45…

The Supdt motions with his head, negating the suggestion.

Doctor: She is very weak

Matron: If we manage to hold her for you, can you not give her glucose or some stuff?

Supdt: No, we can’t do it.

Asst.Jailor: Is her mother’s condition truly serious,  Sir? Has the verification report arrived?

The Supdt nods.

‘I have referred the matter to the IG. Let the decision be from there.’

An orderly arrives,( dressed in the Jail inmate’s dress), with tea for them on a tray

While serving, he comments sycophantically: ‘Too much freedom in the Jail nowadays! This is the result of that!  It was totally wrong to banish whipping.’

The phone rings. The Supdt picks it up,  says, ‘Yes’ , and then his face expression changes to obsequiousness.

‘Superintendent here, Sir! Yes, yes..but Sir! Yes, yes..the Doctor is observing her Sir! Ok Sir!’

He keeps the phone down.

‘The IG has referred the matter to the minister. But  it seems that some journalist has reported about the fasting incident in the Jail ! Hell!’

Scene 5

Jail. Indira’s Cell

The mercury rises in the BP apparatus.

The Doctor examines her as she lies on a bed.

The Matron and a nurse along side.

Scene 5A

Office of the IG Prisons

The IG throws a file to the police official standing in front of him.

‘Refer the matter to the Parole Board.’

Scene 6


The courtyard of the Jail

Women inmates working.

A female inmate: If you get out on parole, do you have to report to the police station daily?

An ‘Expert’:

Hey, no! When I went, it was a good guy- as Inspector! He asked me to come just once a week.

The woman who had spoken on attacking her husband:

When I went on parole, I was  only apprehensive on whether I would end up before that son of a bitch!  I might have grabbed the cleaver again, forgetting  that the punishment could  get doubled  !

The Expert: No doubling ! All that is nonsense. It is not  there in the law.

A long whistle. The women stop work and return to their Cells.

Scene 7

The office of the Jail Supdt

The Supdt takes a typed sheet of  Official paper and pushes it forward

Indira stands in front of him, dressed in the convict’s uniform.

She is totally exhausted.

She signs on the paper.

Supdt: Fourteen days. Please read it.

She looks at him.

The Supdt checks the accounts and the voucher placed in front of him by a clerk.

‘You have some money as savings. You can take that. Also get your dress.’

He rings the bell.

He looks at Indira- she stands silent, emotionless. He thinks for a moment and then with great soberness:

‘ If you start acting as if the revolution has reached the next street…! Hmm..The Government can cancel the parole any time. Up to you’

It is a warning, also an advice.


Carrying The Words Across


The New Year ushers in a  special new book : one in which I have played the translator’s role, translating from Malayalam to English.

If you read quotes about the art of translation, you will find intriguing opinions. From Paul Aster to Umberto Eco, Borges to Rabassa, they all have their views on this mirroring technique. Frost, of course, told us all about what is lost in translation.( But I  seriously disliked that Coppola movie.)

I enjoy translating from one language to another. But my enjoyment need not translate ( forgive the pun) to another’s rating of its quality.Luckily, being a bureaucrat has its advantages- like Eeyore the donkey, we are always prepared for the worst. Nothing really cheers you up. Nothing actually gets you down. We just carry on with the job at hand.

The adventure of getting inside the head of another, checking every jot and tittle(that is from the great Rabassa himself!), being comprehensible, being dispassionate, willingly detached, letting go…the closest analogy would be a spiritual experience.

Here’s wishing more such experiences in the beautiful new year! May we all love what we do. May we all get to do what we love. May we all make our loved ones proud. May we all gain energy from the Nay-Sayers and sceptics. May we all read and grow everyday.




Your Way, My Way


Why is it important for us to follow our hearts? To endure and work hard? To remain stubbornly our true selves ; even when the storms of outer influences try to sway us?

When I was a student, the nuns at school emphasised the need for discipline,  for hard work, for selflessness and simplicity. To live for a cause  beyond one’s own little world was a value instilled at both school and home.

But when we look around today, it is a different world. To live for oneself, to accrue, to hoard, to amass, to preen, to boast, to be cool are the values which are praised sky high. Outer appearances matter much more than what is inside.

In fact the mockery is intense if one mentions simplicity, high thinking, hard work, selflessness.


Yet, I remember the story of the emperor and the Sufi Fakir.

The emperor  laughed at the mendicant mocking him about his lack of possessions.

“You are so poor, and I am so rich,” said the emperor.

The fakir laughed.

“Have you got everything you  need?” The fakir asked the emperor.

“No, there are so many things I would like to have !”

“Poor man! I have everything I need. Am I not rich?” The fakir’s laughter resounded for kilometres.

The story was about redefining richness- from a point of view of needs than mere accretion.


Why is it that we still remember Dr.Abdul Kalam with reverence? Why do we admire him as a karma yogi? I do not think he accrued anything except knowledge in his wonderful life. He lived so beautifully-making every moment of his life matter- inspiring, teaching, leading, writing, following his passion.

Isn’t there a contradiction  in admiring page three performers but folding hands before the pictures of karmayogis?

So what is the anachronism over here? What is the outdated fashion? Living beyond one’s own little world or living only for oneself?

Probably that is why it is important to detach at times and reflect on what makes us truly full of life.  To think of  the sort of people one wants to emulate, to have company of, to aspire to be like.



Matibhram Tor Pragat Mai Jana(22): I See That You Have Lost Your Sense Of Right And Wrong


Hanumanji’s tail is set on fire( SundarKanda continued)
Mrityu nikat aayi khal tohi /lagesy adham sikhavan mohi//
Ulta hoyihi kah Hanumana/matibhram tor pragat mai jana//
(Ravan said) Hey Wicked One!  Your end is very close, You Despicable One! You have arrived to teach me lessons?
Hanumanji said, ‘ The opposite is going to happen'( Your end is close, not mine), Your discretion is totally lost, I have recognised that( matibhram- losing sense of right and wrong)
Suni kapi bachan bahut khisiaana/ begi na harahu moodh kar praana//
Sunat nisachar maaran dhaye /sachivanhu sahit Bibheeshan aaye//
Hearing Hanumanji’s words, Ravan was infuriated, ( He said)- ‘Why not kill this fool immediately?’
Hearing his words, Rakshasas ran to kill Hanumanji, by that time Bibheeshan accompanied by other ministers reached the court
Nayi sees kari binay bahootha/ neeti birodh na mariya doota//
Aan dand kacchu kariya Gosai/sabahim kaha mantra bhal bhai//
He bowed his head and very politely requested Ravan not to kill the messenger, since it was against the accepted rules of royal behaviour ( Neeti sastra is a science in itself)
Perhaps he could be given some other punishment, everyone agreed that the advice was excellent
Sunath bihasi bola Daskandar/Ang bhang kari padayiya bandar//
Hearing this, Ravan laughed and said- alright, let us tear his limbs apart and send him back
Kapi keim mamata poonch par sabahi kahavu samuchayi/
Tel bori pat baandhi puni paavak dehu lagayi//
I am telling you that the monkey’s pride rests in his tail
So, dip clothes in  oil and wrap those around his tail, then set fire to it!
Poonchheen banar tah jayihi/tab sad nij nadhahi lai aayihi//
Jinh hai keenhisi bahut badayi/dekhavu mai tinh kai prabhutai//
When this tail less monkey reaches his Lord, he will accompany him back here
He has been praising his Lord so much, let me also take a look at his Lord’s capabilities