Random musings of a wandering soul

Pieta

pieta

Oh Gabriel,

I was just a a girl

A naive one, at that

You knew it, didn’t you?

Mother of God, you said

And blessed am I, you added.

Dreams of angels playing harps

Shattered by Herod’s armed ones

,

Bed of roses I looked for

And a manger lay in wait

Shepherds for courtiers

Donkeys singing hymns

Three kings came and went

Gold, Frankincense and myrrh they brought

Of the first I know not

The other two, burnt and spent

The child born of me, was never mine

Yet a mother, I had to be

Agony of a son gone missing,

What would you know of that?

Three score years with me

And a man  he called abba

Life was but a chimera

Of that we knew not, yet

,

Of a son lost,

What would you know?

He cried for the world, wiped their tears

Did he  see the drop that refused to fall?

Laying hands on the sick and sinned,

Did he feel these trembling hands?

Anointed in oil by Mary the Magdalene,

Did he forget a heart that bled for him?

,

On a donkey, back he came,

Hosanna, shouted the world

The silly heart, it skipped a beat

Jumped in joy for a moment or two

He broke bread with his friends

Turned his blood into wine

Promised them everlasting life

And was betrayed, in return.

,

Son of God, crowned in thorns

Dragging a cross, whipped on his back

Nailed on a cross, stabbed on chest

Gasping for air, thirsting for a drop

Limbs broken, life escaped

Shattered, he lay across my lap

Gathering him into my arms, I said

Blessed am I among women.

Following Fish*

kuttanadMemories are strange creatures. It pounces up on you like lightning at times, shocking you out of your self imposed reverie. The thunder that follows shakes you up, the accompanying rain then leaving you in a safe, cool cocoon. Some of them are like naughty children, tantalizing you with their pranks and leaves a stupid grin on your face. Yet others are like those nasty relatives and bosses, never letting you forget,  opening up wounds the moment they start healing and the blood keeps dripping. Some float in,  as gentle as a breeze, ephemeral, fleeting moments of rapture and peace. Then there are those, deeply ingrained in your souls, the very core of what you are and have been, always. Do memories define us? The ones that we keep going back to, those that leave a languid smile on our face, where we go hiding from the world, the shelters where we feel as safe as a mother’s womb….those must be the real us. Where we are shorn of our masks, where we dance in abandon and pure joy. Yes, they speak about us, than a million words or zillion gestures ever could.

Samanth Subramanian is an author who I discovered recently. His second book came to me first – This Divided Island : Stories from the Sri Lankan War‘ is a collection of heart wrenching stories of a race battered and bruised by a useless war . He had written about an old bungalow with open verandas and where sea breeze came gentle, cool and unhurried. Suddenly, I was transported back to Alleppey, the place I grew up in. The recreation ground, the old Rest House watching over kids and grown ups playing cricket and the road that led to the beach. The old ‘kadal paalam‘* and its broken wooden planks, the countless packets of ground nuts roasted in sand, and the sea, sometimes calm, sometimes serious and then at times black with anger during the rains. Memories, they are strange , popping up at the most unexpected of times. The lines in the book are now long forgotten, the feeling of connect, still as fresh as the time the words passed through my eyes and into my soul.

Falling in love is not easy for me. But if I do, it is all encompassing. And there is this deep longing to know everything about my love. And I was in love, with this Tamilian boy and his writing. Alas, there was only one more book to know him. The moment I read the title, it was epiphany. This was a love for life. To the Kuttanaadan spirit in me, it is the food of the gods. Ambrosia. ‘Following Fish,’ did you say, Samanth? Oh yes, I will, to the end of the world. Starting from Kolkata and its Devi like Hilsa, on to Hyderabad and its miraculous fish-y asthma cure, to the Tamil Nadu village of St. Francis Xavier, he finally reached Kerala. To be precise, Alleppey. We started feeling like a ménage-a-trios. Alleppey, Samanth and me. Sounds quite romantic, doesn’t it? Yes, fish does that to me. Give me a pot full of fresh kallu, a plate of translucent, steaming kappa and some blood red mathi* curry any day. I would gladly trade that for anything. Well, almost anything.

A boat full of memories. Of worms unearthed, ponds, canals and rivers, of fishes caught, broken metal buckets that leaked like love from a grandmother’s heart, of country boats that capsized, floods that cried into the courtyards, of earthen pots and brick stoves, fire wood and chimney smoke….. of childhood, happy and free.

The lone coconut trunk lay supine, its youth spent, days of glory gone. The young feet took a few tentative steps, as if to make itself sure that the bridge would hold and not turn her over midway. Not that she  minded. A splash in the water would have been a welcome break from the warm summer. To call it a shop would be stretching even the imagination too far. A corner in a room, a few glass bottles over a table, half filled with mithais* in yellow, orange and white. The eyes never rested long on the colours, though. The fingers drummed on the metal lids and the old man smiled with a knowing twinkle in his eyes, as he tried to shake the drawers open. A few hooks and two rolls of tungsten. And at times a tiny plastic packet of salty lemon pickle. Just like that.

The tungsten tied expertly to of a long and sturdy branch, hook in place at the end, a coconut shell with muddy sand in it, the search begins. Patiently , delicately poking the sand with a twig at first. Then at a frantic pace, unearthing those wriggly, slimy pink forms, their rings glazing in the sun. Squirm they would, even after being chopped into two or three pieces. Everything was matter of fact. Being kind to animals stopped at feeding the hens, ducks, cows and calves. Worms were for fishes. Life was so simple, straight. It couldn’t but be, for we were the ones who would outrun the chickens, catch them and watch in pretended horror as someone slit their throats with an expert nick of their knives.

The rod held firmly in the right hand, the left hand tests the worm on the hook. A perfect arc and the bait would land safely in the river. And the wait begins. The breath was baited, as the hands longed to be pulled in. The trick was never to pull the line in at the first bite. Let the fish test its food, taste it and get hooked. A swift movement of the hand and a  fish danced in the air. The grip had to be gentle but firm. The hook slowly taken out, the catch would go into a ‘puttu kudam‘ half filled with water. Why was it always this narrow necked container, I wonder. Must be the neck. No scope for escape. Did the fish know it was us kids who caught them? The big ones never came to us. It was always the smaller ones. Did they think they were being invited to play with us?

There were others who went after the fish. Not the hard working ones with an oily sheen of sweat on their half naked bodies. These were the languid ones. A small net, or better still a hand made bow and arrow. They would come by at any time of the day. With eyes as sharp as Arjuna’s , they would stare into the water, seeing things we could never find, sensing movements we could only imagine. Whoosh! The arrow would fly. It was never free though, the poor thing. Always tied to the end of the bow, the arrow would be dragged in along with the fish. No sympathy, for the heart that was pierced. That was life.

The river flowed past, basking lazily in the sun in the mornings and rushing past in a huff as the summer showers slashed it mercilessly in the evenings. Water was everywhere, in all forms. The river, the small canals, a pond in the backyard, a well at the side and the remains of the rains in pools everywhere. And the fish. The huge karimeens that were delivered to order, the tiny ones that played with our feet and bit us as we kept still in the water, the yellow ones that frolicked in the pond, the red ones that rushed up as we threw them rice, the fierce looking kaari, the slimy koori, the tiny pallathi, the ones we caught between the ends of a thorthu, the njandus that walked liked drunkards and disappeared under the huge cauldrons. Shards of childhood, covered in mist. Like the melodious ‘kooiiii’ of the men casting nets as they fade away into the distant night.

Thank you Samanth, for bringing them a little closer , before they disappeared altogether.

* (‘Following Fish: Travels around the Indian Coast’ written by Samanth Subramanian is an anthology of real life observations as he travels along the coastline of India.  A chapter on Alleppey took me back home, to memories of long ago)

*

kadal paalam – bridge over sea

mathi – sardines

mithais – candies

puttu kudam – a pot with narrow neck used to make the traditional Kerala breakfast puttu

karimeen – pearl spot

kaari – cat fish

koori – mystus

pallathi – young pearl spot

thorthu – towel made of hand spun cotton

njandu – fresh water crab

 

 (Image courtesy – manoramaonline.com)

 

 

 

The Year through the Reads

Originally posted on Reminiscing the Reads:

Resolutions and promises are alike. The intention is always good, unless it is to kill someone . The year started with a resolve that in hindsight sounds lofty. To write a review on each book that I read. That reminds me of another challenge that I took up on myself. To read 100 books  against 80 last year. If you get the drift of how most things in my life turn out, suffice to say the well begun things still remain half done. In fact, that was one proverb that has confused me no end as a kid. If you begin things well, would it always remain incomplete, my young brain used to wonder. Not that it has got better with age. The brain, that is. Anyway, if not all, let me make an attempt to run through some books that I enjoyed, a few that I loved and certain others…

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Ode to Fallen Cakes

Originally posted on The Weekend Kitchen:

The fruit cakes were turning out perfect, lemon and vodka soft and fluffy, orange and rum inviting…..in short, life was good. Well, I will not talk about work here. So, there I stood staring out of my kitchen window, a dreamy smile on my face, anticipating another batch of picture perfect beauties. And then, the inevitable thud that follows a dream run

imageNone of the rescue tricks that I knew of worked. “You have hits, then you have flops, all part of life,” I tried to console the baker in me. And I threatened the chocolate and red wine that was finding its way into the oven, “don’t you dare fall on me.” 45 minutes later, it came out, with its skin as soft as a baby’s bottom and as taut as Madonna’s midriff. The preening smile was back on my face.

Cakes are like children. They pretend to be…

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Just Another Morning

imageSleep late on weekends? No sir, not me. I am a soccer mom, you see. Handsome hunks as coaches and glamorous moms fawning over them, did you say? Only in movies my friend, only there.  Sigh!

The weekend special shouting match commences as the mother gets up early in the morning and starts trying to wake the son up. After three ‘two minutes, amma’ the sound pollution meter in the apartment almost blows up. The mother gets into the lift in a huff and the son follows with a puff. Things are almost back to as normal as it can get by the time we reach the football grounds.

Age has made me quite cantankerous. I don’t take hollow smiles and pointless banter too easily. As an after effect, taking  a walk around the apartment complex is anathema, unless it is midnight and all around are hopefully in bed or at least couched in front of their rectangular flat boxes. Pizza boxes are square, aren’t they? Anyway. So, the early morning football coaching for son is kind of a Shangri la for me. It’s a very reluctant sun that greets me the moment I step out of the car. The rays peep out hesitantly as though they are scared the cool  breeze will chase them off. The leaves sway gently and tell them there’s nothing to worry, and the gingerly steps gain confidence. I start my weekend walk.

A rugged pathway with age old trees to guard and refresh you, cricket on one side, football on the other and a small walk down, horses and people learning to ride them, the place is as happening as it is calm and peaceful. Nature is an instant pick us up, isn’t it? However tired I am, a few minutes under the trees, the feeling is as if you are in another world, where the worries and travails of the daily toil seem to disappear magically. A strange feeling of awareness start seeping in.image

As I walk forward early in the morning, the occasional sound of a vehicle comes in through the left ear while the right ear slowly catch the sounds that has by now become unfamiliar. A lone cuckoo on the branches somewhere above, calling out to its lost love, crickets screeching out the arrival of another morning, the bright chirp of a sparrow , the bark of a stray dog probably marking its territory; the more I listen, the more voices I discern. Oblivious to all else, I can even hear the rustle of the leaves. The horses from the riding school saunter languidly , their riders as elegant as the animals they mount.  Wild flowers strew the path here and there, are they fallen stars, I wonder. Towards the end of the path, there is a small grove of sappotta (Chikkoo) trees. A treasure trove of organic fruits, for they grow wild and in abandon.

Watching people around you can be the most interesting pastime. Parents come in different hues. There are those who stay put in their vehicles with the day’s newspaper. The diligence with which they seem to scrutinise each letter makes you wonder what exactly is it that they are searching for in there. Interestingly, there is a only a small group that spend the waiting time with their gadgets. Among those who do, mothers are a majority. Subject for a study, I guess. Most of them come prepared though, in their track pants and walking shoes, trudging along around the ground. A few like me prefer the canopy of the trees to the warm rays of the morning sun.

We cross each other on our walks, almost every Saturday and Sunday. The distance between us is a few yards, the individual worlds we inhabit are light years apart. We see each other week after week, but never meet. The mischievous spirit in me takes over one day as I try to stare out a smile from at least one. The first one is a svelte girl child, always on a trot, with the customary ear phones tucked in and her gaze fixed on a moving point somewhere far in the horizon. She is an easy target, the return smile is instant and it lights up her face. A beauty, she is.

Next is the athletic couple. They are on a jog, perpetually. A serious look of concentration on their sweat stained faces, feet in tandem and like a true bhartiya naari, the wife always a few steps behind the husband. I wouldn’t even dare to attempt a smile at them, the expression on their face is that fierce. Then comes the father daughter duo. I love this two. The girl must be about ten, the father obviously a veteran at this morning run thing. It’s obvious that she finds it difficult to keep up with her father. She just doesn’t give up though. The high pony tail swinging  from left to right in perfect harmony, she completes the forty five minute ritual. I would love to eavesdrop on that gentle post run talk that the two seem to enjoy so much. The smile is rather indulgent now, not necessarily at either of them.

The runner / walker comes next. It’s difficult to figure out how to define that gait of his. The feet doesn’t seem to touch the ground. If Jesus Christ had walked fast on water this is exactly how it would have looked like, apart from the apparel, of course. Then there is the expat couple who goes around the ground, never changing their trajectory, obviously enjoying their unhurried walk, always chatting, sharing a smile now and then, it’s a pleasure to watch the easy camaraderie. So engrossed are they in each other, there is no point in even attempting a smile.

imageThe two guys jogging down the track now are the types that I feel like running off from. The intense look on their faces, the perpetual appendage in their ears and the bytes of conversations that I pick up in passing is enough to discern the only language that they could possible know – the high brow corporate ones. Smile? I frown and walk as far away as possible.

The father and son looks exactly alike except for the color of their hair. The well fed cheeks, the round nose,  bushy eye brows, the heaviness in their walk, even the paunches are mirror images. They walk for sometime, then play cricket or football or whatever is the fancy of the day. And, they seem to be losing weight month after month. I am so envious that the smile would seem too contrived. No smile there.

1, 2, 3….is someone learning numbers at this age? And who is that lady running away? Ah, they had gone missing for the past few weeks. The couple who arrives with their personal trainer. I am not making this up, maa ki kasam. They try, or at least their trainer does. At times, I really have to fight that urge to go join them, just for fun. As for the smile, yet to figure out whether the top of a head would smile back, the only time I pass them by is when they are bent….errr…in a bending position.

The hefty gora comes trotting by. Geoff Bush sans the belly, that stiff upper lip has to be British. Smile? No way. Few other couples, a girl who has a strong resemblance to one of the girls who presents a Malayalam comedy show, the old expat who always has a smile on his face, the mother who drives a Tata Safari as if she is maneuvering a multi axle truck, random smiles are offered and some returned.

Now comes my favorite, the sage. Gandhi in a track pants, his face reflects an inner glow. He walks unhurried, taking in the essence of the morning air. He seem to be content by himself always and I was surprised to see him in deep conversation , or rather listening deeply to a new face. My ears turned long as I heard ,”the story starts there.” The enthusiasm seeped into their pace as well and I could catch only a few words here and there as we passed each other in the next few rounds. Finally, the sage opens his divine mouth, “Atheyo?”

The smile on my face turns into a huge grin……they are everywhere, these bloody mallus!

(p.s. ‘Atheyo’ is a Malayalam word = ‘is it?’ in English)

Originally posted on Reminiscing the Reads:

islandThe abbreviation IPKF, loud speakers blaring some mumbo jumbo and the name Rajiv Gandhi resonating in our ears in the early morning hours from a hostel room, the disbelief, shock and painful pictures that followed and years later, the portly figure of Velupillai Prabhakaran with the marks of a gun shot on his forehead, the war in Sri Lanka could very well have been summarized in these fleeting pictures. Strangely, it was the names of the places that had stuck on – Jaffna, Killinochi, Vavunia, Mannar, Mullativu, Batticaloa – were as familiar as a Fort Kochi, Ambalappuzha or Changanacherry. The newspaper statistics were something to be read like the daily weather report. Until I read this book.

For most of the world around, the war in Sri Lanka ceased to exist when Prabhakaran was shot dead. The silence that followed was eerie when you think of it in retrospect. Samanth…

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Leftovers are good :)

Originally posted on The Weekend Kitchen:

I’ve always been a lazy mother, letting my kids be, finding their own way and telling myself that I’m teaching them to be independent. Never in my dreams could I have thought I was a horrible one as well. Well, what else do you call a mother who has neglected her child for almost two years?

Let me tell you my child, you’ve never been far from my mind. In fact, you should see the stuff that I’ve been making for you all this time. Cakes and breads and what not! And did I tell you, people are willing to pay money to get this stuff? So, let me shower some attention on you, my dear blog.

Life has changed over the past two years. But this mother hasn’t much. I still find it difficult to stick to norms and exact measurements. There is an itch if something extra is…

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