Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Once Upon 2.77 Acres

This is something I wrote years ago. I like reminding you about it every few years on this day. - N

Once upon 2.77 acres of land, people discovered God. Some of the people called Him Rama. Some called Him Allah. God smiled at them all, because only He knew that He was in every name, and that He was beyond names.

Sometimes God tried to explain this to the people, but they could not understand. He tried to tell them through the leaves of trees, and through the songs of birds. He planted His truth in the eyes of every child, and He waited for the people to see it. But they would not look, and so they did not see.

The people, however, did love God. They were fascinated by Him. They adored and feared Him, and they chose beautiful ways to worship Him. They did not all choose the same way, of course, because God had long ago breathed into each of these people the gifts of self-expression and choice. So some of the people heard a hymn to God in the striking of a bell, and some heard it in the voice of a man calling them to prayer.

God heard them both. But in time, another sound started to drown out the hymns He loved. It was the sound of the people, quarrelling amongst themselves as to whose god God was.

God bowed His head and wept. And the people looked up and said, “Ah, rain.”

For a time, they were distracted, and they began to speak of weather and soil and geography. But inevitably, they returned to their arguing. And this time they quarrelled about whose land God’s land was.

“Mine,” said God, whispering the word through the rustle of leaves. But the people could not hear the word over the noise of their angers and their fears.

“Yours,” said God, scattering the word through the songs of birds. But the people were too busy gathering evidence to spare any time to find the word.

“Ours,” said God, shining the word through the eyes of children. But the people kept their eyes fixed, burning with hate, upon each other, and did not notice the word.

Nobody knows the exact day when He walked quietly away from those 2.77 acres of land, and nobody said goodbye, because nobody noticed He had left.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Who's crying now?

Georgie Porgie pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry.
Kissed a Sleeping Beauty,
It was a big mistake!
Her name is Bengaluru,
And now she's wide awake!

Saturday, 29 October 2016

The sparkle is gone.

Today, one of my neighbours put me to shame. I'm always cribbing about people on WhatsApp who forward too-good-to-be-true miracle cures, or amazingly interesting videos that do absolutely nothing for my life other than using up a few minutes of it. Thank goodness for "Delete", I always think (but then go on to crib about how much time I must waste pressing "Delete").

Today, though, my neighbour wrote this note: "The pyrotechnics industry truly sucks! The working conditions is absolutely deplorable, with gruesome forms of child labour ruling the roost. I so wish this industry virtually ceases to exist. The images are a stark reality to this torturous trade for profit."

I skimmed quickly through that, but then I saw the pictures that followed, and froze:

I'm sharing them here and I hope there's no copyright infringement, none intended - they are stamped with "Vikatan.com" so I will assume that's who I must credit.

I know all the stuff about crackers being bad. How the noise terrifies and harms animals and birds, and how the smoke pollutes the air. I've seen the scattered scraps of burnt-out fireworks left carelessly all over our streets. I'm aware that bursting fireworks hurts asthmatics, and how Diwali can be a difficult time for heart patients, babies, the elderly, and the sick. I know how rude it can feel to be startled awake in the middle of the night by late night explosions. And I'm aware that children's hands are small and nimble, not just for knotting carpets or rolling beedis, but also for making fireworks. (I have heard so much about this last fact, that I had complacently assumed that it had been taken care of, that the government and the NGOs would have seen to it by now, that children are no longer employed in the pyrotechnics industry. I'm not so sure now).

So I never buy the "bad" fireworks. No bombs, no strings of crackers. Half a dozen flowerpots (fountains or anaar, as some people call them) maybe, because, well, they're so pretty and exciting. A couple of chakras (Catherine Wheels) - not a lot, because most of them whizz out too quickly or in inappropriate directions. I don't buy rockets at all, mainly because I am scared of lighting them, but I ooh and aah with the rest of you when I see them light up the night sky. And so of course, I buy sparklers.

Because sparklers are harmless! A little light, a little smoke, safe enough for a toddler to hold, and oh, it's like holding a shooting star in your hand! Harmless! Right?

But now these photographs, of what seems to be a middle-aged man, busy at work, making those lovely sparklers.

I do not know if he is really middle-aged, or if life has just made him look that way. And then I think about how chuffed I was just last week when someone assumed I was twenty years younger than I am.

I look at his skinny body coated silver like those chubby cherub statues. I wonder how easily it washes off, and how much gets into his pores. And then I think about long I stand in the aisle at Health & Glow, trying to decide if aloe vera or cocoa butter or Vitamin E should be the main ingredient in my body lotion.

I see that he has no shoes, no gloves, no mask. I wonder how much of what is on his outside is getting into his inside, if he knows what a good deep breath feels like, if he can even smell the sulphur any more, how long before his lungs pack up, how many years before he won't be able to work because he'll be dead. And then I think about how I agonise over the effects of the cigarette smoke that I inhale of my own free will, and how I worriedly put the windows up and turn on the AC to filter out the dust and smells when I'm stuck in my car in a traffic jam.

And worst of all, absolutely worst of all, I see on his face a look of concentration.

He is doing his job.

He is doing it to feed himself, and perhaps a family. He is doing it because he knows how, and because it will pay - not a lot, obviously, judging from his physique and wardrobe (or lack of). He is not making a career choice. He's just doing what he thinks he must, in order to survive.

I'm going to put him out of a job. It's a job that's only made necessary by my desire to hold shooting stars in my hand. How will he eat, some may ask? There are other jobs, I should reply, and it is both my job and his to make sure he finds them. How can I ever again laugh with joy as I draw circles in the air with a piece of burning wire, a cheap little sparkler that costs me so little and costs him so much?

Good bye, sparklers. I did so love you. But I simply can't be an accessory to manslaughter. So good bye.

But hey - hello, Diwali! A real Diwali this time, a festival not of noise or smoke or celebrating at the cost of someone else's life, but a festival of light. Some shopping, some sharing. Some mit'hai, some khaara. Celebrating with friends whose festival this is, and bringing a little celebration to those who can't afford it themselves. And two diyas at my doorstep, to symbolise my desire for light and knowledge to enter my home. It could be my brightest Diwali ever.

Happy Diwali, everyone. Let go of the sparkle. Let the light in.


beedi - tobacco rolled in a tobacco leaf and smoked like a filterless cigarette
anaar -pomegranate
chakra - spinning wheel
mit'hai - sweet
khaara - savoury
diya - oil lamp, traditionally made of clay
diwali - rows of lighted lamps (from the Sanskrit deepa + aavali)

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Four words later.

So I went to a protest a week ago - a human chain of citizens objecting to a monstrously expensive steel flyover that would kill over 800 trees and scar our Garden City forever. The organisers suggested we carry signs that simply stated: No.

But somewhere in my head, that old copywriter lurks, and these four words popped into my head. I painted them on a sign, and off I went.


I knew it was a good slogan, but I never expected the response I got. People up and down the chain were giving me the thumbs up, telling me they loved it. The media loved it too - two newspapers used it as part of their headlines, and a few others posted pictures of my sign and me. As an added bonus, the Economic Times described me as "a woman in her thirties" (I'm 51). A few days later, at a public referendum, the historian and author Ramachandra Guha ended his speech with it, praising it as the most brilliant, succinct and moving critique of the flyover issue. Lovely, he called it.

Praise and compliments are great. As is the knowledge that my words resonated with so many people. But the best thing these four words did for me, was to jolt me out of my apathy. They reminded me that I am a writer (who does not write much any more). They reminded me that I had a talent for words that can get people's attention, communicate and convince, and inspire change. They reminded me that 14 years I ago, I left a fun and financially delicious career in advertising because I wanted to use that talent to sell more than luxury cars and fizzy drinks.

So today, along with the #SteelFlyoverBeda protesters, who have been accused of "waking up too late" on the flyover issue, I'm awake too, with that voice in my head repeating clear:  thou shalt write.

I shall.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Four months later ..

and I realised that I have not blogged for ages. I have been busy forever, mostly with taxes. I've also moved home, sort of. And I've been busy organising my high school batch's 35th year reunion (in less than a fortnight, I get to reconnect with girls I last met when we were just 16. Now we're all 50, but judging from the barrage of Whatsapp messages, we're all pretty much still a bunch of giggly girls - at least on the inside!)

Best of all, I've been planting trees!! You're going to hear a lot about them. But not today. I've been up since six and I. Am. Exhausted.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Several thousand words.

Not much I need to say about these, except to tell you that this is where my father was born - the island of Thimmanna Kudru, on the River Suvarna, near Kemmanu, in southwest coastal India. Pretty much unchanged from what I remember as a child, over 40 years ago. A picture's worth a thousand words, it's said, so I'll let them do the talking, and just interrupt here and there with a caption.

View from the tip of the island

Perfect place to just stand and breathe.

Hanging bridge to Thimmanna Kudru

Interracial harmony .. these girls were still hanging out together when I returned several hours later

Coconut tree

Collecting firewood

Someone's got a lovely bunch of coconuts (my cousin, apparently).

Garden well

Things change: heart motifs, a satellite dish and utility lines .. 
also this used to be a thatched hut.

Cashew tree - unripe fruit

Illegal sand dredging - a heavy load

Friday, 19 February 2016

Chalk-white dreams.

I have been collecting old photographs that my father took throughout his life. At first I thought of creating a separate blog for them, but it seems like too much of a hassle! So I've decided to share them here, as everyone knows this blog already.

This picture was taken by Daddy, probably in the late 50s or early 60s.

The Al-Khamis mosque is the oldest mosque in Bahrain, and one of the oldest in the Arab world. The original mosque was thought to be built around 692 C.E. (that's Common Era, in case you were wondering, I prefer not to use the outdated/inappropriate "A.D." which stands for Anno Domini and means "in the year of our lord"). However, an inscription found on the site suggests the foundation dates back to the 11th century.

A mihrab slab found there dates back to the 12th century. The mihrab is a slab of stone (limestone, in this case) that is placed in mosques to indicate "qibla", the direction in which Muslims face to pray, i.e. in the direction of the Ka'aba in Mecca. On the mihrab at the Al Khamis mosque is an inscription of verses 34 and 35 from chapter 21 of the Qur'an.

I have driven past this mosque many thousands of times for the first thirty-odd years of my life, but never thought of going inside. Now I wish I had. I'm not sure visitors are allowed right inside, anyway, perhaps just in the courtyard area where I believe there are also ancient gravestones.

But .. I often dream of this mosque, of climbing up a narrow rough winding staircase of limestone, and going up to the top of the minaret. Everything is chalk white and cool and still. It's one of my favourite dreams about Bahrain, and is just as good, if not better, than a memory!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Dr Jekyll, Driver Hyde.

Ashraf and Luqman on the beach at Byndoor
Don't be deceived by this gentle soul, quietly making sandcastles on the beach with his son. Put him behind the steering wheel and point him in the direction of the highway, and he turns into a force to be reckoned with! I recall at least five or six close reckonings from our first drive together. I don't recall any from the subsequent drives, largely because I kept my eyes shut!

I was later reassured by my cousin and his brother (henceforth referred to as the Schumacher Brothers) that this style of driving is de rigeur on the national highways of India and that "everyone drives like this here". It is, apparently, the done thing if you want to arrive sooner rather than later. (The way I drive, I would probably have taken a whole day to make the one-and-a-half hour journey). I think the point is to arrive while it is still light. Or at the speed of light. Or something like that.

Drivers break the monotony of their long drive by playing frequent car games. Their favourite is one that I call "chicken", but in the local dialect is referred to as "overtaking". It is most often played against large lorries who seem to operate in pairs:  one alongside our car, trying to prevent us from passing, and the other roaring towards us from the opposite direction. The highlight of this game is when your car miraculously slips into the little gap between the two lorries, and carries on going. I simply cannot describe how my heart leapt each time we were blessed enough to experience one of these special moments.

An anti-anxiety pill slipped under the tongue (of the passenger, not the driver) helps a bit, because it makes it easier to close one's eyes and resign oneself to one's fate. Having said that, this one survived several such highway drives, and returned home to Bangalore unscathed. So perhaps the Schumacher Brothers are right after all!

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

From Bangalore to Byndoor

The beach at Sai Vishram Beach Resort, Byndoor
It was supposed to be the worst of times, but it ended up being the best of times. It was neither the spring of hope, nor the winter of despair:  it was late January, and to those of us who flew in from Bangalore, it was hot as hell. But it felt like heaven.

Last week, I took my first flight in fourteen years, to Mangalore, on the west coast of southern India. My final destination was a seaside resort at Byndoor, about 120 km by road.

This was also my first trip to Mangalore and its neighbouring districts in twenty years. This trip was special for me, not just for breaking my non-travelling jinx, but mainly because my father was born here, and I have many relatives living in the region.

The last time I flew in an aeroplane was back in 2002, when I left my advertising career in Bahrain and came to "retire" in India and be nearer my parents. Full of my usual and quite unnecessary fears, I had been dreading the flight. There was an emotional departure from the safe walls of my little Bangalore flat (well, emotional on my part:  the flat remained quite unmoved). I went armed with half a pharmacy, and left my Will prominently on my desk back at home.

The flight was just an hour long, and although it was one of those small propeller-driven planes that had to be landed on one of the world's tougher runways (Mangalore's airport at Bajpe has what is called a "table top" runway), it was a smooth and easy journey.

Then we got into my cousin's car to make the long drive to Udupi. That journey was a whole other story! My fear of flying has now been replaced by a more tangible fear of national highways.

Come back for more tales of this not-so-intrepid traveller's adventures tomorrow!

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Is as does.

Bangalore Mirror, 18 January 2016, page 1

(Note: please see the post-script for a happier ending!)

It takes a special kind of stupid, I thought, after reading this article about a new luxury tax on hospital Intensive Care Units.

No, I'm not trying to insult the politicians who came up with this novel idea to fill coffers (and coffins). All they are guilty of is a large helping of greed, no doubt, sprinkled liberally with India's favourite condiment, corruption.

Stupid is out here, among all of us -- who will read news like this, tut over it for a while, and then at election time, do what we always do:  simply hand back the keys to people whom we know will do little more than drive our city/state/country into the same old rut, again and again.

Bangalore Mirror, a couple days later (forgot the date!)

A Happier Post-Script!

An angry Chief Minister makes me happy - was glad to see in the news a few days later, that our Siddu lost his cool when he heard about the new tax, and ensured that it was thrown out! Good for him.