Sunday, 30 August 2015

Much Ado About Love

Sometimes I feel Love is , of the entire spectrum of human emotions, perhaps the most overrated and the most over-hyped.  I know my opening line is sure to draw flak, but I am going to stand firm. Oh I know all the counter arguments: love makes the world go around (I wonder then what gravitational force does?), love makes us human (the ferocity of love between my two Labradors is enough to dispel this one), love is the antidote to hatred ( don't you think this supposed anti-dote is proving rather ineffective against all the senseless violence infecting our world ?) and so on and so forth. Ponder this: what does love give you: broken promises, unfulfilled expectations, heart break, pain, loss, tears, loneliness, envy, insomnia, anger, violence, crime, punishment, shame, psychoses, neuroses, stomach ulcers , heart disease , the works........ ! But then perhaps we cannot help it, perhaps because there is within our genetic make-up, entwined tightly, woven deeply, something that draws us irrevocably towards this emotion in spite of the very high and very real risk of being burned to cinders. The analogy of the ‘shama’ and the ‘parwana’ in that Anand Bakshi/ Kishore Kumar song describes it best; how the flame warns the little insect that it will surely burn in its fire and so should move on; but the tiny creature is un-heeding, as mesmerised by an unknown pull (love?) , is drawn to the flame and to its invariable death.

There is a composition by Tagore on this particular line of thought and though I find it a little duplicitous on part of the Poet considering the fact that majority of his writings revolved around this emotion of 'love', the words themselves ring so true and the little advice woven in it sounds so relevant, that I think I should overlook this slight and rather insignificant duplicity. Tagore himself did suffer the pangs that love brings throughout his life. His love and his muse, his sister-in-law committed suicide at an early age and his remaining life was peppered by losses of people he had loved. Yet surprisingly, in most of his works, joy and hope course through like a lifeline.How did he achieve this joie de vivre? May be the answer lies in the words of this song.
Here, the Poet asks, tongue firmly in cheek, 'What is this thing called ‘love’ that you obsess about so much? Why do you waste your entire life running after it, this thing called love that brings you only pain and suffering and tears?' 'Come to me instead,' he says, 'and I’ll show you how to live without this ‘love’ thing, I’ll show you how to be happy sans it, how not to be enslaved by this fatiguing emotion.' 'Come to me,' he beckons, 'For I, who have taught myself to be joyful despite all the pain, to draw joy from things far removed from love, to not depend on love to keep me happy, will then teach you the same.' 
My paraphrase has deviated a wee bit from the original in the interest of maintaining the rhythm and metre as also conveying the spirit behind the words more effectively. Do forgive these trangressions.
Sakhee, bhabona kahare bale.
Sakhee, Jatona kahare bale.
Tomra je balo dibaso-rajanee bhalobasa bhalobasa-
Sakhee, bhalobasha kaare kai.
She ki keboli jatonamoi.
She ki keboli chokher jol? She ki keboli dukher shwas?
Loke tobe kore kee shukheri tore emon dukher aash.
Aamar chokhe to sakali shovon,
Sakoli nabeen, sakoli bimal,
Suneel aakash, shyamol kanan,
Bishodo jochona, kusumo kamol- sakoli aamari mato.
Tara kebali hase, kebali gaay,
Hasiya kheliya marite chai-
Na jane bedan, na jane rodan, na jane sadher jatona jato.
Phool se hasite hasite jhare, jochna hasiya milaye jai,
Hasite hasite aaloksagore  aakasher tara teyage kay.
Aamar maton sukhee ke aache.
Aay sakhee, aay, aamar kaache-
Sukhee hridayer sukher gaan
Shuniya toder jurabe pran.
Pratidin jadi kandibi kebal ekdin nai hasibi tora-
Ekdin nai bishad bhuliya sakole miliya gahibo mora
What is this thing you rant of, All day- This thing called love? This thing Called love! Is it only of pain and care, A play- This thing called love? This thing called love!
This ‘Love’, this thing- If only tears, hurt and sighs It bring- Then tell me friend: What pleasures from it ascend That despite the sorrow You still want to wallow In this thing called love? This thing called love!
Come instead to me, The world from mine eyes see: Where all is new, all is clean The skies blue, the groves green. The moonlight’s bright, The blossoms a delight Where you can keep this‘Love’ Well out of sight......
Like me they laugh, Like me they sing And want to die On laughter’s wings! They know no ache They know no tear, Pains of desire Nor do they fear......
The shedding flower Laughs as it dies, The fading moon Laughs its  goodbyes. Into the bright Milky Way The stars drown laughing With the dawning of the day !
So come to me, My lovelorn friend Listen to my happy song And be happy again!
Forget Your sorrows, For just a day, Forget your tears, Come, be gay. Come join me As I sing today: My songs of joy, My songs of joy!

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Ditch the Dye.....

My blog audience is flagging. So, when I sought advice from Other Half, like any good PR guy, he told me: Write something with a bit of masala.... Now I am well aware that ‘Masala’ and controversy are bedfellows. I am, on the other hand, a peace-loving, controversy-fearing kind of chap, the kind whom debates and arguments find taking shelter under a metaphorical dining table with the same speed with which my older Labrador seeks the cover of a real dining table on hearing thunder peal in the distance. But succumbing to the need of restoring my flagging blog popularity, I have attempted a masala infused post (though I confess that I have serious doubts as to the levels of its spiciness). But we all know that practice makes perfect; so I am sure that over time, the masala-metre of my posts will increase.
This one’s about whether to dye or not to dye, one’s head of hair that is.. (Or what’s left of it). With these new fangled ideas of 40 being the new 30 and 50 being the new 40 and so on and so forth, I find men refusing to grow old. Trust me gentlemen, these taglines are created by those cocky ex IIM advertising guys whose sole aim is phising at your wallets. Oh, those ads for hair dyes are clever, subtly showing this actually 20 something model (pretending to be a 40 year old) running his hands lovingly through his head full of lush, silky, deep black dyed hair while a bevy of long legged beauties make sheep’s eye at him....Bull!
Ever paid attention, actually paid attention to what a middle aged man with dyed hair looks like? Here’s an unflattering but truthful description. The typical gentleman that I am targeting is the one who has either entered the dreaded fourth decade or is already in his fifth (I am not considering those in their sixth both out a sense of deference to their age as well as the fact that if a man is confident enough to think he can fool people into thinking his hair is naturally black even in his sixties and beyond, I feel you must grant it to him.....). Age, biology and hormones have ensured that his hair is gray, if not the whole of it, then most of it. Biology has also ensured that the number of hairs on his head has diminished, usually in an unflattering empty patch at the top of his head that makes a point to draw attention to itself with its sheer luminosity. In those slightly luckier, the loss of hair is more discrete in the form of a receding hairline but in them too, the receding wave of hair has left behind a sandbank of a scalp that glistens attention to itself. Then there are the signposts of age: wrinkles. Due to the manly habit of never ever ever using umbrellas even under a noon day sun, the UVAs and UVBs and UBCs have had their play on his facial integument, leaving it crisscrossed with wrinkles, making it look like a reproduction of the Google map of the Sundarban Delta.
The above was a description of the base canvas on which the hair dye is painted on. Now, once dyed, let’s see what the effect is like. But first here’s a clarification: everyone knows that one grays as one ages, it’s a ‘Truth’ like any other ‘Truth,’ say like everyone has to die one day or that the earth revolves around the sun or something similar. When one looks at a man well past his prime, one knows and expects that he will be graying. So when he dyes his hair, the first unconscious impression that an onlooker draws is, “Achhaaaa, he dyes ......!” So what, you will say... Fine by me but you see that rather extended ‘acchaaa’ signifies many conclusions: “This chap is trying to look younger, this chap is insecure about his age, this chap is faking.......” and all of these are drawn by, mind you, female onlookers. So take note, gentlemen, take note.
Never mind these esoteric thoughts; let’s look at more earthy issues like appearances, that is, what a dyed guy actually looks like. I’ll not mince words nor will I go in for flowery descriptions, I’ll simply sum it up in a single word: incongruous. The head of artificially blackened/browned hair on that canvas of wrinkle bedecked skin is my friends, the definition of incongruity. Adding to the oddity is the fact that dyeing one’s moustache is a difficult proposition. Hence, either one leaves it gray ( adding to the comic effect of a jet black head of hair and a snow white moustache line) or one removes it completely; the latter action actually diminishing the gentleman’s SA amongst the feminine moustache fan brigade. Then arrives the time when the much dyed hairs in protest grow shining white from their roots.....resulting in black tops with white unders that scream, ”I haven’t found the time to visit my barber/saloon/salon oblique I am just saving up on the dye expenditure!”
Instead of the embarrassing portrait painted above, picture this contrasting situation: A man, middle aged or more, graying graciously, completely at ease with his age , his wrinkles and his gray hair, secure in the knowledge that his gray hairs do not define him, rather his demeanour, his carriage, his achievements, his humility and his experience  do....! He knows youth is just a passing phase, a brief tumble in the hay, the real ‘Life’ starts only later they say the best is yet to come. A man such as this does not waste time and money on trifles such as hair dye. Think Amitabh Bachchan in his present day avatar, the modern day Sean Connery or better still Daniel Craig...Umm dishy!
So ditch the dye, pals and followers and see your oomph factor rise....And keep me posted on the progress.

PS: The above advice is only for the men. Women, please continue to do just as you please because this post was meant for middle aged or older men and we women never age beyond 26!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Missed Calls ( Methinks its a good title)

I had called you last night.
Did you not hear
Roof hung icicles

Crash night long:
Incessant SMSs
Breaking into your dreams?

                   I had called you last night.
Did you not feel
Winds at dawn 

Rage today:
Wet and heavy
Soaked in yester-night’s tears?

                   I had called you last night.
Did you not see
Pale almond blooms

Wind ripped, lie:
Forgotten letters
Fading, on your door step?

                 I had called you last night.
Did you not feel
Snowflakes slip 

Cold, through your fingers:
Neglected memories
Melting into oblivion?

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Butterflies over the Water

The boat wound its way over the water cautiously, the men at the helm prodding the depths to see if we had enough clearance from the creek floor. I found it strange that there was so little water in the creek , when barely 36 hours prior, it was said that the ocean itself had swept inland, inundating everything in its path. It was bizarre how all the water had simply vanished; as if the ocean, like a criminal retreating from his scene of crime had tried to make sure it did not leave behind any incriminating evidence. But it had failed, for evidence lay strewn around aplenty: carcasses lying on the creek banks, floating in the water, filling the air with the stench of rotting flesh........
It was October 1999 and coastal Odisha had just been ravaged by the Super Cyclone. I had arrived in Cuttack the morning prior and had been to Paradip the same night. I had found the port town in complete darkness. However, unlike the dark of a normal night, when though night, some light is always perceptible, whether it be the light from homes, shops or streets or the light of the moon and if not that, then at least the faint light of the stars, this darkness was absolute, as if light had died that night in Paradip. And it was not just light that was absent; there seemed to be a complete absence of sound too. It was deathly dark and deathly quiet.
The vehicle lights illuminated the long empty stretch of a road ahead but beyond the limited reach of the headlights, there was absolute blackness and it seemed to me as if we were driving over a road floating in space. The areas on either side were ostensibly villages and fields, had been that is; now they were only vast shallow pools of salt water that glimmered eerily when the headlights shone on them. Slowly as my eyes got used to the darkness, I realised that the highway was not really empty. Rather it was full, teeming with people who with their homes having been washed away, had sought shelter in the only high ground available to them, the highway. It was a sea of humanity that was camping that night on the both sides of the highway. But as I said before, it was a sea of humanity rendered dumb with shock and despair. A few policemen standing guard approached our vehicle and having reassured themselves that we were not some highway robbers, advised us to go back: “You never know when these people might attack,” they said, explaining further, “You see, there is no food and water here!”
That was yesterday. Today we were on our way to Erasama, said to be the worst affected. As we drove through the block, I realized that Erasama had been in one word, flattened. Nothing with height greater than a foot or two was standing upright, neither homes, nor trees nor electric poles. Only the coconut trees stood upright, that is, if you can call being ripped bare of all green from your branches and bent at a demeaning obtuse angle ‘upright’! As far as eye could see nothing ‘stood’, only empty ochre fields which lay drying in the sun, covered with dirty brine water and the rows of bare coconut tree trunks, all bent uniformly in a single direction as if forced to pay obeisance to the sea and the wind.....  And the stench...........! It was just as our Man-in-Charge, in a moment of utter horror had described: “ all pervading stench of death.....!” We found bodies everywhere, in the fields, on the roads, in the creek.....! In the water, the bodies floated back up and head immersed, bloated into grotesque shapes that defied description. The process of rot was so quick and so unforgiving that many times we were unable to even distinguish whether the corpse was that of an animal or a human being.
And so we went floating down the Hansua, a former creek now turned into a large reeking nullah with knee deep water and floating corpses; our goal to reach food, water and medical aid to the villages situated right on the sea shore, they being the worst hit and the most difficult to access. We sailed daily, our boat laden with relief material sent from all over the country: sacks of rice, blankets, clothes both old and new, and of course medicines. We even had packets of milk that we would ourselves buy from the Cuttack bazaar. We did this for nearly the better half of a month, every single day without fail. And so our routine became fixed: wake up at five, rush to the waiting vehicles, then the long dusty breathless drive on empty roads (and empty stomachs for who would prepare breakfast at that unearthly hour!) to the banks of the Hansua, load supplies rapidly onto the boat, set sail, reach a village or what was left of it , dock on the banks, go ashore, distribute the food and clothes, set up a make-shift dispensary cum clinic and see patients by the hundreds. People rendered ill or injured by the cyclone itself were minimal for the storm had been ruthless; killing mercilessly, taking no prisoners. Those who had to die were already dead now, their nameless bodies rotting in the fields and gullies; those who survived carried only minimal physical scars, may be the odd sprained foot or abrasion, or arm muscles stiffened by cramps bought on by clasping on to a tree trunk for eight hours straight as the ocean waters swept them, hundreds of miles from their homes and beds. As for the scars on the mind, there was no time to tend to those. I would get hundreds of patients at each stop, most of them routine illnesses unrelated to the cyclone. In these villages where in normal times there was no medical setup, no doctor, not even a pharmacy, to have a doctor come to your doorstep bringing free medicines was a novelty and most of them gathered simply to watch me work. The moment we landed I would be surrounded by people, few of them actually in need of medical aid, others simply gathering to watch as there was nothing else to do, no fields to tend to, no boats with which to go fishing, no food to cook, no firewood to light the kitchen fire, and for some no family member left to feed.
Because we came almost every day, soon the survivors in these villages came to recognise us well. At first we were treated as messiahs, life savers, deliverers...but as the days passed we degenerated into being only providers....It was as if the entire onus of ensuring their survival had been transferred to those carrying out relief work. A kind of apathy had set in over the people, a lethargy probably brought on by what I now, thinking back ascribe to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The virtue of initiative had dried up in these people. All they did throughout the day was to wait for the relief boats to bring them food. They did nothing else, at times even their make-shift shelters had to be erected by the relief teams. Things came to such a pass that one morning when we landed at a village, we found a human corpse lying on the Hansua’s banks, right there at the point where the relief boats docked. When we asked the villagers about it, they calmly replied, “Sarkar dispose karegi....!” For our Man-in-Charge, that was the last straw. He gave an ultimatum to the villagers that unless they disposed off their dead fittingly, no relief sack would be offloaded from the boat that day. Hearing this, a young boy broke away from the crowd, got a piece of rope, tied it to the ankle of the corpse and dragging it to about 50 feet away from us, shoved it nonchalantly into the waters of the Hansua. He returned and without a word took his place at the line of men gathered to haul the relief material from the boat. Stunned by this blatant apathy, our Man-in-Charge could do little and resignedly issued orders to offload the relief material.
This happening was kind of a last straw for me too. In the beginning there had been only the horrors of the aftermath, the endless destruction, the massive loss of lives, the corpse infested waters through which we travelled daily....Though at first shocked and horrified, because the human mind has such a remarkable ability to adapt, I was soon so inured that I never gave a second glance to the next corpse that went floating by the boat. Death had become to me more commonplace than life. But it was not nature’s cruel hand that was affecting me negatively. It was what people were doing (or not doing) that was eroding my morale. As the days passed, I became aware of so much happening all around that was not correct: the unchecked pilferage of relief material, the apathy of the relief givers and of people in authority, the blatant scramble for publicity by relief agencies,the ennui afflicting the cyclone survivors.... I found myself turning kind of cynical and losing my youthful ideas of selfless service... Outwardly I was fine; I worked diligently, did my job with the same old dedication but inside something had broken. All that enthusiasm powered by youthful ideas of altruism had receded into the background. I was not exactly despairing but I was feeling what one could call a lack of hope, hope for the survivors, for Erasama and for humanity in general. And it was probably the same for all of us in the team.
It was in this frame of mind that we landed on Dohibor. Outwardly this village was the same as any other, brown saltwater filled fields, headless bent coconut trees, total absence of human dwellings and rows upon rows of expectant people lines up on the Hansua’s banks....But as we landed and begun our work, we felt a difference, subtle at first, then as the day worn on, more marked. Though this village had been affected as badly as any other by the cyclone, the people, for some unexplained reason had not lost their initiative. This was manifest at every step of the way; how they had organised themselves into neat shelters which they had erected on their own, the orderly lines of people queuing up for relief supplies, the efforts to secure clean drinking water by utilising our chlorination kits, absence of unclaimed dead bodies which I presumed they had disposed of properly all on their own, the orderliness and the organised community effort in the midst of all that chaos, loss and scarcity...and to surpass it all, an aura of positivity which I could not for the life of me understand how they managed to wear in the face of so much destruction and loss.
And that late afternoon, as we sailed back from Dohibor, I saw on the Hansua, hundreds of pale yellow butterflies hovering over the water. I do not know what these creatures of colour and sunshine were doing over that reeking creek of death but they became a symbol of sorts for me, a symbol of the faith in humanity that the villagers of the tiny hamlet of Dohibor had rekindled in me.

Monday, 3 August 2015

A Short Tale about a Tall One....

That day there were two of us at the Clinic: a young colleague and myself, a rare occurrence but definitely welcome. Two means that not only is the OPD over quicker, but that we can take a breather now and then and indulge in a little light-hearted chatter; unlike those ‘single’ days when patients come and go in such a breathless, endless rush that there is no time to look beyond the next patient and his physical woes. Of course, even on that day, the long line of patients had not really diminished even with our double presence and so they continued to stream in, men, women and children seeking succour for myriad real and perceived ill health issues. As patients, men I have noticed, tend to be rather brief and to the point, the description of their ill health limited to two or three precise sentences and even on prodding do not elaborate much. The women on the other hand need only a little encouragement to launch into a long litany of complaints, the milder the complaint, the more detailed the description! As majority of the clientele in that little clinic are women, our time was spent more in giving a patient hearing to our patients rather than in any major medical diagnostic efforts.
As she entered the consultation room, it was me who spotted her first, as the entrance was in the direct line of my vision. The first thing that struck me was her height for she was really, really tall by Indian standards, towering at probably 5’ 10” or so. Lithely built with the sinuous grace of an athlete, she looked a little incongruous with the dupatta draped demurely around her head and the two children in tow, one a baby in her arms and the other a toddler fiercely clutching her free hand. She looked to be either from rural Haryana or Rajasthan, her accented Hindi coloured by the native roughness of the Jat tongue. As she was settling down on the patient stool opposite the Younger One, I couldn’t help but remark aloud about how tall the she was. For a few brief seconds, both Younger One and me marvelled at her height and her physique and then as my attention was claimed by the patient sitting before me, I momentarily forgot all about her. But my attention was reclaimed by the woman when my current patient departed and I was free for a brief moment. The woman was talking animatedly to the Younger One about how the baby, though eight months old, was still exclusively breast feeding. Exclusive breastfeeding beyond six months is a paediatric blasphemy and when admonished, she good naturedly replied that she was not aware of this and now that Doctor Madam had told her about it, she would definitely start weaning the baby. I had no other patient at the moment and so as she and her Doctor Madam continued their consultation, I spent my time observing the lady.
You may have noticed this in your life too: sometimes there are certain people whom even at first meeting you instinctively like, without any apparent reason. This woman was proving to be one such person. She was young, probably in her twenties, with a fresh, happy face. ‘Get rid of that asphyxiating dupatta from around her head,’ I thought, ‘and put her in a pair of denims and a T shirt and she would be no different from any college going youngster......’  As I watched her interact with the Younger One, marvelling once more at her height and physique, I suddenly had this vision of her in a military uniform, belted, booted and capped, striding boldly forward on parade..... So I asked her if she had been an athlete ‘shaadi ke pehle’. She smiled a tiny smile and echoed me ‘Shaadi ke pehle.....’ Then, perhaps emboldened by our interest she explained, ‘Gaon mein to ladkiyon ko zyada padne nahin dete... nahin to Madam, main bhi pad likhkar aapke jaise ban jaati...Meri to 17 saal mein shaadi ho gayi....’ Remembering my vision of her in a military uniform, I asked her whether she had seen those women BSF soldiers who march at the Wagah-Attari border in Amritsar. She would be perfect for that job, I told her, with her height and her physique.... Encouraged by both our attention and interest, she opened up a little, “ Main to abhie bhi jaa sakti hoon, Madam, mera umr to bas 24 saal hai” Hearing this, my first reaction was – what about the children, who would look after them then?  She laughed in reply, ‘Dada Dadi dekh lenge dono poton ko....” We laughed back and she left. But before leaving, she turned back once to ask us, ‘Aap log mujhe dekhkar itna hans kyun raheen hai?’ She was correct to an extent, I had been smiling but of course not at her. So I clarified, “Aap hamein bohut achhi lageen, isiliye!” Reassured, she smiled and left.
You may be wondering why she has become a subject of this blog. Like I said before, there are some people, who for some unknown reason tug at your heart strings... Most of the time you are at a loss to explain why. But sometimes, like in this case, if you think deeply enough, you are able to pin point the reason why. After she had left, I thought for long about this girl, about why she appealed to me and I realised that the answer was simple actually...You see, throughout our interactions with her the one thing that shone through was her perpetual good spirits....Never once did she rue her fate, or curse it. Hope rang true in her voice as she talked about the opportunities still available before her... She was happy with what life had given her till now and she was confident that what she wanted in terms of personal fulfilment as a career woman, she could achieve in the future. She was at peace with her present life and full of hope for her future....She had in short, achieved what many of us in ostensibly better life situations are still struggling to achieve, that perfect harmony between satisfaction with our present life and our innermost aspirations. And perhaps it was this peace that was sensed by my subconscious, attracting me to her.

And so I can see her now, clearly in my mind’s eye, impeccably uniformed, marching with strong, measured steps at the gates of Wagah while her sons cheer proudly from the visitors’ stands....... 

Alu and the Crown God

I had rolled barely a hundred metres down the road when I spotted her gambolling in the adjoining park. "Heyy Alu," I called ou...