Sunday, July 14, 2013

Airing the Room Upstairs

One of the two doors shrank to become the window. A window with the doors wide open.

The other door led to a path that grew and grew. And then, it seemed as if that too would have to be partly closed. But strangely, having opened the door, it was now not a question of whether it was a door or a window. For the path led me on, curving, undulating, zig-zagging, but always moving further and further - sometimes through dry patches, sometimes through lush green vistas, always exciting and wonderful.

The window? That I thought I could peep at the other world from, seemed to be shuttering up and as the day grew into mid morning and afternoon. It seemed that before night fell, the curtains would have to be drawn with not even a hint of light coming in through there.

There were many reasons to close that window forever. The light was weak, the breeze mild. And yet, those were reasons enough to keep it open - light still streamed in, breeze was refreshing still.

How children love to enter a house through unbarred windows! Opportunities find their way in just like that, taking me by surprise. They invigorate me, tease me with endless possibilities and add variety. The window may now not expand now to become a door. But the path takes a life of its own. It may be short or long, but it is there, for me to see, relish and cherish.

I am glad that I kept that window open.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Protect It Like Wealth

One Earth: Protect It Like Wealth:

Protect It Like Wealth

There was a time when 'wasting money like water' was a commonly understood maxim. Commonly accepted in fact. But today, the consequences of taking water for granted is hitting us badly. Globally there is a shortage of drinking water. Water resources are drying up. And rain flays us or fails us but does not do much to fulfill our water needs.

Because, we use more than we need... more than nature designed for us. We flush water down the drain, we flush waste into water bodies and think that somehow, money is going to find us water all the time.

Having got used to this system, it came as a shock when one retired IAS officer pointed out to me - we shit in water which is considered holy, pour more water to flush it across the city thus adding volume and then try to remove the waste and make that polluted water usable in some form. It has become fashionable to say 'recycle' but not 'stop polluting'.

Ecosan toilets has been tried successfully in some of the regions with high water table and a retired IAS official who had worked with it wanted a book written. After I met her to ghost write the book for her, the comforting sound of a full flush tank emptying itself in my toilet makes me feel guilty. These toilets work on the principle of liquid separation, letting the waste dry hygienically and use it as compost at the end of a period of time. Like in the traditional system, but with hygiene and privacy, it helps maintain the ecological balance and puts less stress on water. As I did some research to add supporting data, other consequences of the sewage system also came to the fore, as also the increasing demand for potable water.

Yes, it needs a huge mindset change. But it is either that, or running out of water sometime soon. Instead of grappling with more and more expensive technology that only addresses water purification after it has been polluted, it is important to look for ways to curtail the polluting habit.

We can no longer afford to waste water. The sooner we realise this, the better.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

But... I Don't!

Namita dressed eagerly.
"Where are you off to?" asked her husband Hrithik.
"I told you, Rustom is down on work and I am meeting him for dinner!" she replied adding a dash of lipstick to her lips.
She saw him frown and felt irritated. But she didn't want to spoil her mood just now. She was bursting to the seams and only Rustom could understand.
"Is it necessary?" he asked in the tone reserved to show his displeasure.
"Is what necessary?" Namita retorted in a tone she wanted to avoid just now.
"This meeting with your friend, whatever his name is..."
"It is Rustom and you know it because you have met him. And yes, it is necessary. He wants to discuss something with me," she replied, adding that little lie.
"You could have called him home."
"Of course, and watched you making him uncomfortable."
"I make him uncomfortable! He makes me uncomfortable, dropping names, showing off..."
"You have a complex," she replied coldly as she draped the dupatta over her shoulder. "He made it in life, you didn't."
"And you like winners," he said coldly.
She shrugged. "Is that not normal?" She picked up her handbag, checked herself in the mirror one last time and started heading for the door when he said, "Aren't you over dressed?"
She rolled her eyes and walked away.
She was early. She found a seat from where she could watch the entrance. Finally he entered 20 minutes later and waved to her as their eyes met.
He was much the same, smarter than she remembered, dressed as men did these days in tight fitting clothes, his hair jet black (dyed?), perfume surrounding them as he took his seat, his after shave adding a lemony tang to the air.
She smiled, hoping she looked just as smart as he did. Now that he was here, her earlier irritation at having to wait vanished. She was eager to tell him her news but didn't want to drop it on him when his attention was still away from her. He was caught up in telling her about his day and she wanted him to get it out of his system.
As he calmed, his eyes met hers searchingly. "You were always so easy to talk to..."
She smiled modestly. "That's what friends are for... Even I have something to tell you."
"Tell me? Yes...?"
He beckoned the waiter as Namita told him of the milestone she achieved unexpectedly. "I am so excited, Rustom! I was nominated for a journalist award at the state level, and I am one of the finalists! I am so excited."
He smiled and then turned to the waiter saying, "We are celebrating. Give us the best food and drinks."
What a thrill shot through her! What a contrast to Hrithik's lukewarm response! There had been no celebrations, just congratulations, some sweets and then life went on as usual.
"I always knew you had it within you," Rustom said, sending a thrill through her. He reached out and clasped her hands. The warmth was comforting.
"Thanks, Russi... It is because of friends like you that I still am able to do what I wanted to... Otherwise, sometimes it all becomes very... you know, overwhelming."
He frowned. "What crap. I am just a gtalk away! How can you get lonely!"
She laughed. "You are a great friend to have around... I wish we lived in the same city," she said.
His eyes softened. His voice softened as he said, "I wish so too..." He continued after a pause, "Sometimes I long to hear your voice..."
She moved back slightly, unconsciously. "You can, anytime you feel like," she said, as a friend should to another.
He leaned forward. "You can't imagine, Namu, how sometimes things become difficult and you look for that someone who will understand you..."
"Yes..." she said. Yes, that's what she had sought when coming to meet Rustom. They had gone to college together, and of the gang of five, only these two were in India. Though they mostly chatted on the net, this was one of the very few times they were meeting. Over a period of time, their confidences to each other had grown. She found Hrithik very unwilling to talk shop at home and Rustom was a good vent. Especially since he understood better where she came from. From the time her name had made it to the shortlist, she had been eager to share it with Rustom, but the moment she heard he was traveling, she thought it would be best to tell it personally, to see him reflect her joy.
"You know how we dreamed, of how we had plans, ambitions... Of other things," His voice dipped.
"Yes," she replied, transported back to those days. She felt his grip tighten around her hands. It brought her back uncomfortably to the present. She slowly withdrew her hand, relieved that the food was being served.
But the conversation kept swinging uncomfortably to what could have been. This was not what she was looking for.
When they got up, she was surprised at how relieved she felt. But there was more to come and completely unexpected. At the gate, he turned to her. "A nightcap?"
She looked at her watch and exclaimed. "I really must go now."
He slid an arm around her waist. "For old times' sake?" he asked huskily.
Her heart beat fast. This was not how she thought of Rustom. A good friend, a great friend, a handsome friend. Nothing more.
She smiled. "Yes, let me leave now, for old times' sake." And made good her escape leaving him to figure that one out.
She reached home to find the house plunged in darkness. She silently let herself in, feeling very disturbed. She stepped into her bedroom and could make out the outline of Hrithik lying on the bed. She changed groping in the darkness, her instinct telling her that there was volcano seething under the bed covers.
She silently slipped in, caught in the conflicting emotions of wanting to be left alone to deal with the evening's developments, and to pour out tears of disappointment on Hrithik's shoulders.
It was an aberration, it will be fine, Rustom will not persist, she told herself. But suddenly there was a message. 'Wish you were here for the nightcap...'
And it continued though she did not respond.
"Switch the bloody thing off," Hrithik exploded.
She quickly did.
"Is it not enough that you had dinner out? Do you have to bring that fellow into our bedroom too?"
She squeaked weakly, "Stop it, Hrithik! I am not responding. If he wants to message, how can I help it?" And she wondered how he knew it was Hrithik! What did he know or suspect? She added lamely, "And why should you think this was Rustom?"
He snorted and turned away. She placed a tentative hand on him. She couldn't bear to have the wrong man paying her attentions, and the Mr. Right mistaking her.
He shook it off and said, "Somethings don't need telling."
She sat up. "You are being unfair!"
"Was it him or not?"
She was silent for a second. "Yes. But I didn't even respond."
"He wouldn't have messaged without you encouraging him," he said bluntly. "Otherwise who messages so late in the night without getting a response."
She felt tears wetting her cheeks as she knew he had reasons to suppose so though she had done nothing to encourage this man.
As if hearing the silent complaint in her voice, he sat up. "Tell him not to message you."
She looked up sharply. "That's not fair! It is embarrassing."
"Why? Do you like it?"
"No, but..."
"Yes, or no?"
"This is not court to answer in yes or no," she said sharply.
"I don't like his messaging you like this."
"But you know him! You know he does not matter to us..."
Hrithik raised a hand. "Does he matter to you?"
"As a friend, yes..."
Hrithik shook his head. "No, you may think he is just a friend. But no... he does not think so, does he?"
She lowered her head. "He has never done anything like this before."
"But he has now." As she remained silent, he lay back and turned away. "I know how guys' minds work."
She turned to him. "Do you also...?" she asked surprised.
"Tch! No! But I move with them."
"How do you know you are right?"
"Your silence was enough." His voice was gentler.
She leaned against him. "But I thought a friend."
Hrithik's arm slipped under her and held her to him. He was silent, but she felt more at peace now.
She didn't know when the equations changed, how the balance tipped. But suddenly she felt that she needed to explore the possibility of making a friend of the man next to her.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Going Into Denial

I made it a habit of talking to plants first thing in the morning. The were lush green, flowering and gave joy to the heart.

Is it the summer? Is it the end of their lifetimes? Is it some negligence on my part?

My rose that bloomed non stop for three months is now leafless and its stem is becoming brown.

My tulsi dried, the next one never took off and the third is on probation.

One strain of money-plant is drying up.

My crotons have dried up. One set of plants I got from my brother died in a day, but the seeds are buried there, and I dread to do anything in a hurry lest I don't give it the chance that it deserves.

Yes, there are some healthy, flourishing plants too in the balcony. But somehow, I hesitate to go to them, to talk to them, feeling overwhelmed and guilty. Do I give them hope of fresh life as the season changes, or do I have to root them out and look for fresh plants?

Is this decision easy? It brings with it the weight of responsibility of caring for another life, of taking a decision on whether it is truly dead or if life is dormant, needing just the right circumstances to spring back to life. It seems easier to step back and wait, not go one way or the other.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Holding My Little Finger

He would return from work and fill every bucket, every mug with water before it stopped after freshening up and before having his evening tea.
And then he would settle down with the newspaper, immersed in the crossword.
Once in a while, I would need some drawing done and he would help me out with that - drawing the entire thing as I went about my other activities, like playing, play acting, watching TV.
He would tell me bedtime stories - he would be reclining and I would be up vertical and I would have to shake him awake to continue with the story.
He would ask me to sing - his only expectation of me - and I would howl in reply, singing through tears.
And then, we shifted cities, shifted homes. I grew up from a child to an adolescent.
I was shaken from my comfort zone - having known only one home for 10 years, suddenly I was taken to a city my family was familiar with but I wasn't. I left behind my school, my colony and my friends. From wide streets, I was looking at rooftops from my 8th floor balcony and unable to make out any trace of even lanes between the congested houses. I felt friendless and alone.
My first entrance exam in one school came to naught and I panicked, fearing his disapproval. He just smiled. "There are other schools, don't worry."
I made it in the next (and ironically, I would go back to the first school to complete my senior school). I struggled with the new school, passing only provisionally to the next class. Strangely, no fire and brimstone rained on me. Life seemed placid with just gentle cautioning. But despite having two brothers in IIT (one, in fact, doing his IIM by then), my poor performance in 9th went almost without remark.
And I discovered other sides to the man I called father. His broad mindedness, his easy going nature, and his Taurean temper that flared up once in a while, but never at me.
As I grew, he became less of my father and more a friend - a person I could tell my deepest secrets to without being judged.
And, even living away from home several times and now for several years, that bond remains - father remains friend, with whom I share my secrets, my joys and troubles. He is the listener every woman dreams of (he is not that with my mom, I know...), who shares my interests, and encourages me with his childlike wonder at what he considers my achievements.
I can be me with him.
Love you dad, though I often don't say it.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Removing Poison

Just as I stood poised to take the bow, be showered with words of praise, for the applause to come,   few random, unexpected words lodged themselves in my head, making all accolades bitter. The casual remark, not even meant for my ears directly, had pierced through several tongues to reach me. And like Rama's arrow that found its mark on Vali's chest piercing through seven large trees.

And yet, what was it? Though it pins me down to despair, can I pin the speaker to those words? For nebulous and ambiguous, the syllables change, the words change, the very meaning changes as different people hold the words in their tongues before pouring it into another ear, adding their own thoughts, words and syllables to it.

Am I that? That which someone implied? Or that, which others suggested? Or that, which I think I am?

When my very character is not the same, cannot be comprehended wholly, can those fluid words have more weight, more character, be understood better?

How then do I dislodge it? How do I let the bullet not poison my blood, my mind, my very soul? How do I swim above the overwhelming waves of grief and disappointment, smile truly, not just bravely, hold the eye, not shy away, nor accuse nor pity?

I remain I knowing I am this, and that, and sometimes even that other.

I remain I knowing through all this I am one - true to myself, and not untrue to others.

I remain I, letting my breath fan the fire of my soul and burn the garbage.

And it is then that the bullet is burnt, dissolved, dislodged and yet the poison touches me not.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

In Search of Perfection

'Murder in the Cathedral' by TS Eliot has several beautiful lines on different aspects of sainthood and destiny. I summarise one of them on saints from memory since I studied this 20 years ago as part of curriculum and am unable to get hold of the book to quote verbatim.

Saints are men who are condemned during their lifetimes;  worshiped after their death; criticised after a few decades; and then completely forgotten.

During that time, for the first time (as I entered the wide world from the smaller one of school), I heard Mahatma Gandhi being criticised (by another lecturer) and these lines struck me as very apt. And I wondered about our deep desire to find perfection in human beings even when we know we are made of malleable clay, changing our shape and colour with the times. But somehow, rules seem to change when we examine others' actions and thoughts.

In recent times, there has been similar mud slinging on Mother Teresa and again the question arises - why?

The question to be asked is, why do we raise people on pedestals in the first place? Why do we need gods and saints, only to tear them to bits and throw them in the dustbin later?

Do we forget who we are, what we are capable of and how limited we are? Do we forget how under stress our own behaviour can change; with maturity, our thoughts ripen; with  circumstances, our emotions transform?

We seek heroes, and then we seek heroes who will be relevant at all times; if the contexts change, their greatness should somehow still be appropriate; but god forbid if they say or do something relevant to context but making them seem like turncoats!

A tall order indeed, but we go through this cycle again and again.

Though not a cricket fan, with so much being thrust on our faces thanks to the IPL scam - to me IPL itself seemed a scam - I see heroes (not saints by any stretch of imagination) again taking a beating - for not speaking, for not saying enough, for not saying the right things...

Why do we forget what and who made them heroes first?

This post is not in defense of those players. But I think, if we pause, we will know that the images of greatness are built in our mind - encouraged by the 'great' people themselves because they were at the right place at the right time saying and doing the right things. Let's leave them there, give them credit for what they did right, and be aware that they can be wrong.

The stress, in my humble opinion, should be on developing our own ability to judge and be detached so that their fall does not bring us tumbling down too. Inspiration and guidance can come from anywhere. Let's be grateful for that and take only the good.

And let's always remember, they are humans too.

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