Random musings of a wandering soul

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Random scribbles from a beautiful morning

“Let two persons go out for a walk; the one a good sketcher, the other having no taste of the kind. Let them go down a green lane. There will be a great difference in the scene as perceived by the two individuals. The one will see a lane and trees; he will perceive the trees to be green, though he will think nothing about it; he will see that the sun shines, and that it has a cheerful effect; and that’s all! But what will the sketcher see? His eye is accustomed to search into the cause of beauty, and penetrate the minutest parts of loveliness. He looks up, and observes how the showery and subdivided sunshine comes sprinkled down among the gleaming leaves overhead, till the air is filled with the emerald light. He will see here and there a bough emerging from the veil of leaves, he will see the jewel brightness of the emerald moss and the variegated and fantastic lichens, white and blue, purple and red, all mellowed and mingled into a single garment of beauty. Then come the cavernous trunks and the twisted roots that grasp with their snake-like coils at the steep bank, whose turfy slope is inlaid with flowers of a thousand dyes. Is not this worth seeing? Yet if you are not a sketcher you will pass along the green lane, and when you come home again, have nothing to say or to think about it, but that you went down such and such a lane.”

That was John Larkin, quoted by Alain de Botton in his book, ‘The Art of Travel.’ I had just finished reading it before a solo trip to Himachal two years ago. Sitting beside the stream on the third day of the journey, these words came to mind as I struggled to bring my thoughts together in an attempt to write. The small note book was kept aside somewhere after my return and forgotten under corporate struggles and domestic travails. Until last week, the red cover splattered with doodles stared at me from under a few other dust laden ones and asked, “remember me?” As if it knew the time had come. My scribbles from  one of the seven mornings on an idyllic holiday…

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It is a single note at first. The gentle roar of the river. Separate notes emerge as you listen, slowly. The gentle lap of the small waves against the shore, as if a mother is carefully washing the soft skin of her first born. A stream that slides over a flat rock only to hit itself over another one and jump right back at the first. A playful gurgle, like kids splashing rain water from a puddle with an expert kick of their foot. There is a dip at the bottom of another rock, three streams seem to join as one. The first one comes straight over it, one part of it diverted in between and coming back in a gentle curve into the same meeting point and the third one going around it only to be guided back by another rock one the way. Three notes joined as one, gently flowing down into a small pool, just as a stream of holy water is poured on to the cupped palms of a pilgrim.

Rivers are a lot like us, humans. The first steps are tentative. As the meaningless gurgles turn into chatter, the steps turn sure. Wild laughter, playful banter with the shores, gushing joy, adolescence is pure madness. Youth matures, but the spirit is bright and beautiful. When does the light dim and the steps slow down? As it flows, what is around seem to have more impact than what comes from within. Have you noticed them in cities? The very essence of life seem to have been sucked out. The once vivacious young girl is now expected to take in all the filth and sins of everyone around her, without as much as a whimper. Just as the tears dry up even as the pain sharpens, the river starts drying up. Until the next rain. As the silt begins to shift, the season ends. And she is thrown back into her emptiness. Again.

Patience has its virtues. I finally catch sight of the owner of the mellifluous voice above my head. A tiny beauty that could fit into my daughter’s palm with enough space left for its parter. Yellow under and green on top, perfectly camouflaged among the green and yellow leaves of the trees around. The trees themselves remind me of Ruskin Bond. Of his island of trees. I give up trying to capture the little one on my camera. Either the camera or my eyes need a fresh pair of lens. ” I am like the elusive words in your mind,” she seemed to say. Some you capture on paper, some just float away.

Butterflies, in abundance. Black with yello dots, brown patches in black, pale yellow, milky white, a group of sky blue ones that looked like someone tore away some clouds and a few pieces of sky came along with that. They looked liked school kids who had bunked classes en masse. I decided to keep the camera away and just sit there, watching their joyous dance. “Why do you not stay still?” I ask. They answer in an instant, “We are like your thoughts, when did they ever stay still?”

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I continue to sit still. A sudden movement across the river catches my eye. There is an odd shape on the embankment. A grey gecko. The feel is ecstatic. A little more than half an hour, and I feel like Princess Jasmine on Aladdin’s magic carpet. A whole new world seem to open itself out for me.

p.s. even after two years, I can remember that day, almost minute by minute. Some days and places are like that, isn’t it? Your special place  to go back to, some days just to have that feeling of peace and pure joy, some other days to run off and hide. 

 

 

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Ini Aanandame!

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She sent me a message one morning, “Peramma, please pray. I’m going for an audition.” “Did your parents allow?” was my first question. “Yes, they don’t think I’ll get through,” she laughed. The next action was in reflex, dialing my sister, “Di, you did allow her?” ” She’s always wanted to be in movies, she says. Let’s see. Will decide if she gets through.”

The uncertainty continued till the last round. The debutant director had spoken to the brother in law by then. What turned it around was the other kids and their parents. Educated, from similar families. And what clinched it finally was a name – Vineeth Sreenivasan. He is the brand Tata of Malayalam film industry – trusted, ethical. The sacking of the Chairman and the controversies came later, Vineeth is anyway a brand by himself now – for his groundedness, quality and turning the ones around him into their own brands. If he has put his faith in this new guy, he has to be good, the movie had to be good, was the thought. ” Vineeth alle producer? Onnum kaanaathe cheyyumo? Athum his first venture into production,” was the general concensus.

As the kids got together and the schedule started, it was as if I was seeing a brand new version of my sister and her husband. They are the most down to earth, graceful people you would ever meet. True spiritual beings and I don’t mean it in a religious manner. The spirit of their land has infused into their souls – gentle, true, one with the nature. Their home is a haven for tired souls and bodies. Never would I have imagined they would embrace their daughter’s wild dream so whole heartedly. There were other skeptics in the family, many of them asked ” did they really allow her?” Yes, there were moments of angst, even anger. At the end of it all, they stood by her, trusted her enough to travel alone with the group, visiting her now and then. And to ignore the words of some nay sayers.

The kids came to life for us as the shoot progressed, we met a few of them in Goa. Roshan (Gautam), who has been tirelessly following his dreams, dropping out of engineering and then a course in Physics, if I remember right. He had moved onto Mumbai, on the way to becoming a successful theater artist. Yes, he had acted in two movies by then, I’d watched both and for the life of me couldn’t remember this guy. Soochimon, you will not be forgotten anytime soon, that’s for sure. Visakh (the delightful Kuppi), the one who actually held the movie from beginning to end – a mechanical engineer who had quit his job in Chennai for the movie – was a theater artist as well. Arun (Varun) my favorite, of course after the niece. His sensitive nature reflects in his eyes, so vulnerable and he doesn’t even attempt to hide it. The boy wears his heart on his sleeves. Destiny, it was for him. He was auditioned three times, apparently. Anarkkali (Darshana) the silent beauty in the movie. Her eyes speak thousand words, in poetry. In her second year of graduation, she is very clear about where her future lies. Thomas (Akshath), the quintessential cute boy next door. Innocence coupled with unstoppable energy, again doing his graduation. Siddi (Dia), the live wire in the movie, as in life. And my niece, Annu (Devika aka Tattoo mol). First one in her generation from our side of the family,  naturally our special one. I knew she wanted to be on stage, but that movies was her dream was news to me. And the director, Ganesh. He has been honing this story and script for more than three years! Along with him a slew of other debutants as well, including the musician Sachin Warrier who has added that fresh bout of liveliness and soothing melodies to the movie.

That we would watch the premiere along with her was a given. That’s when the other side , or should I say the real nature of these kids came to light. As with every generation, the elders tend to feel and say, “this generation, they neither love nor respect their elders.” And as with every generation, the kids prove the naysayers wrong. The collective excitement and anxiety was palpable. They had seen the movie, but the audience was limited to them. How would everyone react, especially their parents? Annu was even more tense, how would her amma react to the ‘scenes?’ She refused to sit next to her mother. The mother was very clear, though. “It’s a movie, isn’t it? You were acting, right?” Wise woman, my sister is.

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All of them, without a single exception had decided to watch the first day first show with their parents. Rooting for each other, hooting and howling as each scene unfolded, it was an experience of lifetime for me. The camaraderie was unbelievable. They had become friends and supporters for life. The seeds do not fall far from the tree you realize. As we met parent after parent, it was not very hard to see where the kids had inherited their values and nature from. Hats off to the parents who dared to dream and believe, along with their children. They are as much, if not more a part of this success as their children are.

As the movie came to an end, all the faces wore huge grins of success and relief. They had arrived, as individuals and as a group. ‘Team Aanadam,’ the brand was made. And it is here to stay. Three weeks hence, the movie is a roaring success. And it has just been released in the rest of India and soon to be in other parts of the world as well. As the team continues their journey, inspiring kids in colleges across Kerala, the collective euphoria is palpable. What this team has done is far more than make a movie. They have set fire to the hopes and imaginations of thousands of kids like them. Our nine old daughter said it best, “Now I really know dreams do come true. You just have to believe. Annu chechi’s did.”

We now talk of these kids as part of our family. It is Lal Jose’s words that come to mind while wishing them well. The team was officially introduced during the 100th day celebrations of ‘Jacobinte Swargaraajyam’ The entire group struggled for words, they were greenhorns, literally. And Lal Jose wished them, “may this stage fright never leave you, even as you become established actors and super stars.” That’s what I would wish for them as well.

Success, happiness, more dreams come true! While at that, may you remain grounded, always connected to your family and friends!

p.s. for those of you who ask how the movie was, who watched it? I had eyes only for my niece 🙂

* Ini Aanandame -only happiness, henceforth 

Finding Fireflies

imageAnother lazy Sunday evening in Bangalore, the place that is now home. We were watching ‘Queen’ for the umpteenth time when power went off. The curtains were not drawn, it was pitch dark for a moment. Lights came back almost instantly, rest of the family promptly went back to Rani and her drunken antics. Not me, I had travelled miles by then. More than six hundred kilometers away. Where the moon throws her silver anklets into the river and she smiles coyly in return, flowing gracefully, like the languorous moves of a Mohiniyattam dancer.

Is it when you cannot have something anymore, that you yearn for it endlessly? In moments of ecstatic happiness and soul breaking sadness, I go home. In my mind and spirit. To Kavalam, to those days that are gone forever. The house wears a forlorn look, like that of a mother who longs for her kids who are far away. My home, where I go in search for my soul as it keeps wandering back. It just refuses to let go.
Our grandfather must have longed to be a school teacher. That’s how he built his home, one long line of rooms, with an endless veranda that went around. With doors in the front and back and endless windows. Not the tiniest bit of sunlight nor the gentlest breeze could escape, they went in and out the whole day. Nights were special. And those hours of power cuts, official and unofficial. One tiny candle shedding its light in the sitting room, we would all gather on the veranda, one of us would be walking up and down the yard. Talking about nothing in particular, or something serious.

And those silences in between. They came creeping in with the sound of the crickets, gently wafting in with the aroma of tender mango flowers. The rustle of the coconut leaves and the thud of falling mangoes now and then, the scary howl of wind and an owl here and there, sometimes the satisfied grunt of the cows from their shed as they stirred in their half sleep, those were the lullabies that would lead us into half stupor. It was on one of those evenings that darkness totally engulfed me.

The night was pitch dark, unusual even for a village where the only public lights were those blinking ones mounted on a tree trunk. The leaves were still, the river lay placid. Even the fishermen were silent, their boats just floating along, the oars gliding smoothly through the water. Going through a particularly difficult time in life, the darkness was seeping into my soul as well. As I lay supine on the thatched mat, my eyes slowly drifted beyond the yard. From the silhouettes of the trees, up above the coconut trees, searching for some light within and out, my glance turned, as though guided by a divine force, to a group of trees that grew up together and were the best of friends even in their old age. One tiny light among the branches, it slowly spread and split into hundreds and then thousands, as if the stars that went hiding from the sky that night had come down to meet me. To lift me up, to show me the path, to remind me that even a tiny star can give solace to a wounded soul.

And that it is in our darkest hours that we see the magic of fireflies.

 

picture courtesy : fireflyexperience.org

Those Saturdays of August

The sleepy town slowly opens its eyes as the fury of monsoons turn into a pleasant  drizzle. The angry rivers have calmed down and the churning lake lay placid. There is a bright sparkle in those eyes that is otherwise stoic. The rhythm of a land starts reverberating in their steps. It is that time of the year, when the heart of a land beats in perfect rhytm to the clarion call of its boatsmen, “Aaarrrrpppo, Irrrro, Irrrro, Irrrro.” And for us kids, the culmination of an year of wait.

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The story goes back to the wars of yore between the small water logged kingdoms of Chempakassery, Kayamkulam, Thekkumkoor and Vadakkumkoor, parts of today’s Alapuuzha and Kottayam districts. The king of Chempakassery was a worried man after continuous defeats. He did a root cause analysis and arrived at the conclusion, his war boats were too slow and ill prepared. So started a search for an aashaaari, or a boat craftsman, that zeroed in on one Koduppunna Venkitanaryanan Aashaari. The rest, as they say, is history. The Aashaari crafted a long, sleek boat that could cut through water and carry more than hundred warriors at the same time. The long boats that were more than hundred feet long were called ‘chundan valloms’ after their pointed sterns. Wonder who translated it as ‘snake boats’. The helms supposedly looks like the hood of a king cobra. I’ve always thought it looks like the decorated trunk of an elephant.  Anyway,  the king of Chempakassery never had to look back again. The bollywoodesque epilogue has a dashing young guy sent as a spy by the king of Kayamkulam to learn the art of boat building. Seducing the aashan’s daughter and with promises of marrying her, the roguish spy learned the secret and promptly disappeared to build similar boats for his king. Alas, when it came to the proof of the pudding, or payasam as you would have it, his boats were nowhere near the original aashaari’s. The master craftsman was a crafty one, for sure.

The snake boats must have continued to be used as boats of war, but no particular stories seem to be recorded till our first Prime Minister decided to visit Allleppey and Kottayam in 1952. Around ten such boats accompanied him as he traveled in a motor boat across the water and a race was organized for his enjoyment. And enjoy, he did! Apparently, he was so excited that he jumped into the winner, the ‘Nadubhagom Chundan.’ He went back to the capital, but the excitement stayed with him. He had a replica made in rosewood and sent it back to Kerala and thus was born the now world famous Nehru Trophy Boat Race.

There was a time when I used to literally detest my village. Those were the days of youth and foolishness, when fast was better and slow was looked down on. Imagine a place where you could reach only by boat, that too after travelling for more than an hour and half. Wow, you say? Bah, would have been my retort. There were no roads, the only mode of transport was motor boats or the ones that someone had to row. Years had to go and the place turn distant for it turn into longing. Anyway, let me get back to our yearly wait.

The second Saturday of August needed no reminder in a calendar. It is etched in stone in the heart of every true Kuttanadan / Alleppey-ian. And like most of the other homes in the town, it was a day of festival when all the friends and relatives would descend in droves and walk as one to Punnamada Lake. No GPS was needed, the genes were grafted into the feet at birth.

Our family was large, especially on my mother’s side. Between my grandfather and his three siblings, there were thirty kids. And many of them were  just a few years elder to me. Yes, my uncles and aunts were more like my siblings. Led by my normally stern grandfather, at least fifteen of them would arrive by ten in the morning. Our young feet would be tapping in impatience if they were late even by minutes. The fire in our kitchen would have been burning overtime for the past few days, ending up on  a dining table that had not even a single inch uncovered by food. Off we would go, after a sumptuous lunch, with packets of crisp cutlets and bottles of water in hand, obediently like school kids out on a break, with grandfather in lead.

The Punnamada Lake borders the town of Alleppey and its canals lead to the largest lake In Kerala, the Vembanad Lake. The otherwise quiet waterways comes to life from early July, the time when the season of traditional boat races, or vallom kali, as it is called, starts. This was years before tourism and its by product, the house boats, became ubiquitous. Temporary galleries would come up, made of the trunks of arecanut trees and firmly held in place by sturdy coils of rope. Made in Alleppey, it was, totally.

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Spending money on fun was anathema, but this was life itself. And my grandfather would have only the best seats. By default we would, too. Another wait started. We had to claim our seats by 12, first come first served was the norm and the races started at 2. First would come the procession, all the participating boats out in full splendor, the boatsmen rowing in slow rhythm, the oars against the water as one, to the tunes of the traditional boat songs, the vanchi paattu.

The races started with the prelims or ‘heats’ as they were called. Four to five  rounds each and four to five snake boats in each round. The winners of these would compete in the finals. But in between, would be the others. Veyppu vallams, used for cooking, or veyppu, as it is called in  Malayalam, the Churulan vallams, that finds its name from their curved ends, and the Iruttukithi, literally meaning one that traverses darkness. The last one was supposedly used by pirates and hence the association with night. Then there was the customary round of woman’s boat race, usually in the Churulan variety. These were but mere interludes, when we feasted on cutlets and watched the antics of drunk guys frolicking in water.  The navy helicopters would come and we would watch in awe as the troopers parachuted down, dutifully bursting some colourful powder into the atmosphere, whence the very same copters would come back for rescue.

The fun started in all seriousness after that. First round after the interval was all the fourth place holders from the heats, then the ones that came third, the losers final and then the race of the day. The Nehru Trophy Finals. Yes, we had our favourite clubs and boats too. The sleek Kaarichaal, the stately Nadubhagom Chundan, the legendary Kavalam  Chundan whose heydays were over by then, the famous Jawahar Thaayamkari, the rebuilt Aanaari Puthan Chundan, were names that were etched in our hearts. And the last fight would almost always be between two stalwarts, UBC Kainakary and Kumarakom Boat Club.

The starting point was far away, for the track had to be that long for boats that were more than 100 feet long. The small transistor that grandfather carried came into handy to know who was leading. The whole gallery would move as one. Glistening bodies arching in rhythm, hundreds of oars cutting the lake as one, a single beat in those hearts and in ours, the ‘hee haw’ of the helmsmen, anything could change in a matter of seconds. The boats well oiled in sardine oil the previous day, glistening in the evening sun and gliding across the waves, and the quintessential nail biting finish. The winners raising their races in a unified salute, was a sight that filled our hearts to the brim and sometimes made it overflow, irrespective of who the winner is. I have goosebumps all over even as I watch this.

We grew up and apart. One after another, the family dispersed. Living room couches took the place of those makeshift galleries as Keltron TVs moved Punnamada Lake into our homes. As other interests and life interfered, Nehru Trophy turned into a news item in Malayala Manorama. As I read the Sunday newspaper announcing Jawahar Thaayamkari as this year’s winner, it doesn’t take even a moment to get transported back to those second Saturdays of August. And I realize, it is no more the races that I miss. It is that feeling of togetherness, of being connected. That seem to be lost, forever.

(photos courtesy – The Hindu, The New Indian Express)

The Santa Magic

SantaDear Santa, how are you? Please send me a ring and three candy bars this year. Thank you.” The note is folded and kept near the window in all solemnity. Not for a moment does she doubt the existence of the benevolent grandpa in the red suit and cap.

The smirk on her brother’s face is evident as he chooses to ignore the warning signal in my eyes, “You think Santa will go to all houses across the world in one night?”  

My heart skips a beat and I pray, “Please, let her not be logical, for once.” I start ruing the loss of innocence as she replies, logical as always, “Yeah, I know.” A smile starts spreading across my face as she continues, “That’s why he sends these notes to the parents. If he is busy, they will get it for us.”

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