Criminal Instincts

This stack of bricks lay in front of my house for more than a month, it is gone now, but not without leaving me a little unsettled about my latent tendencies.

Whenever I see a pile of bricks like this, I want to sneak real close to it, and steal a few of them. I know nobody will catch me — they’re always unguarded, these bricks are. I could use them for several things at home. Grow moss on them. use them as sturdy bases for the umpteen tin boxes my parents have stored on my rooftop, put them somewhere so that I could admire their colour. Well, I do like their colour. It is exciting to know all that one could do with stolen bricks. Gloating on one’s criminal achievement is another extremely handy pick-me-up.  Continue reading

Shelling, and then hoping

The oysters weren’t quite done yet. Noon breeze caressed him gently, bringing with it the aromas of something yummy. “Something yummy” in Jeremy’s dictionary was oysters. He especially loved the ones they made at The Drunken Crab. Jeremy lazily drew whorls on the outside of his beer mug. He was enjoying the breeze more than the beer. And since it was only very seldom that he allowed himself to enjoy, he was taking his time. Or rather, he’d put it on hold.

Jeremy Y was a strange man. He grew up in a suburban mansion with two parents, two dogs and many goldfish. The latter gave way to many of their kind over the years, but there were always many of them. His parents, Emily and Wilfred, were rich heirs of very rich people who liked to live big. But these things were not that made him strange. It was his incongruous existence at the mansion viz a viz everything and everybody; in fact his incongruity every where. He did not fit in. No, he wasn’t a square peg in a round hole. He was a football trying to snug it in inside a highway tunnel.

Jeremy was home-tutored. And that made things worse. He didn’t have to meet anyone except the tutor who was — to Jeremy — a non-entity anyway. You see, Jeremy did not like people. He did not like places or things or people. He did not like being. He did not like.

But he was sitting here, smelling oysters, the only exception.

And he was wondering whether it was really true. Had he really got married last week? He found himself startled each time this question sneaked in. Kathy was a sweet girl, and was everything his parents would want in a daughter-in-law. Well-groomed, and rich. It didn’t take them long to decide that the two should get married. Jeremy wasn’t asked. He was told. He was always told the next thing to do, so he listened this time as well, and obeyed. Somehow, he was certain Kathy wouldn’t have had it any different than them either. The rich people they lived with and around were clever in ensuring their richness got replenished with every occasion — weddings, funerals, birthdays, anniversaries, divorces. This knowledge relieved him of any trace of guilt that might have visited him about having married a girl without intending to ever be a husband.

Unsuspecting, Kathy walked in.

“Hi! Did you see the rainbow?”

He could never have seen one if it pounded drums in his ears.

“Umm, not really. Well, yes. On TV.”

Kathy’s laughter reminded him of the tinkling bells in this mother’s charm bracelet. There were times when he really listened for something that might take this endless cold out of his chest and every time it was the bracelet that rang in his years, but only to be dumbed by Emily’s sticky-like-toffee laughter.

“Where’ve you been living? Come out here,” chimed Kathy with a sunshine-y tinkle.

He reluctantly got up and even more reluctantly put his hand in hers. Together, they stepped out of the trendy coconut-leaf shack. The drizzle had just given way to a downpour. The rainbow to their right was fading rapidly, and would vanish before he could think of coming up with an excuse to get inside. It, the rainbow, was not going to permit him a view just yet.

Jeremy was in any case interested in other things Goa had to offer. He hadn’t picked it for his honeymoon for rainbows. He had other plans.

“Yeah. There it was. I saw it,” he obliged. And then mumbled a wry “Pity, it got washed away.” Kathy’s enthusiasm was made of stronger stuff. She cried with childish pleasure at the sight of fishermen coming out of the ocean, hopefully with prized catches. She ran towards them and called for him. Jeremy shuffled along the formless sand, glad that the Goan rain had gone as soon as it’d come.

The fishermen were prepared for enthusiastic tourists from the western world.

“Hello, Miss,” said a youngish sea-farer, his skin the color of sun-baked earth.

“Hello to you! Did you get some good catch?”

“Not today, Miss. Just some pomfret and a lot of oysters.”

“Lot of oysters, hmm? Isn’t that good?”

“Not much demand in this season.”

“Can I pick one?” Jeremy’s curiosity got the better of him.

“Yes, yes. Try one, no.”

“Try one?”

“Yes, yes. Open and put in mouth.” He washed one in the sea and handed it to Kathy. She pretended to pry it open to put the smelly meat in her mouth. She didn’t have the stomach for this.

Jeremy, on the other hand, worked it like he’d been doing it all his life. He’d eaten oysters, of course. But this was different.

When the meat dropped in his mouth, he felt an animal surge of triumph. The sticky flesh nudged the insides of his mouth, the weighty smell clung to his throat as he slowly, deliberately chewed the flesh.

“Mm. Very nice.”

Kathy looked at him, surprised. “You know, this is the closest you’ve come to appreciating something? What is it about this oyster?”

“It is a whole world in a shell,” he said as he glanced at her astonished face. Turning away, he was surprised to sense that animal in his chest again. It howled. Just for a bit.

“Thank you,” he said to the fisherman and began walking away. Kathy threw her still unopened mollusk and caught up with him.

“You say strange things.”

Jeremy shrugged and led the way to the Drunken Crab.

Josef, the restaurant’s very young chef, was looking around with two plates in his hands, “Ah, there you are Mr. Y. Thought you’d chickened out. Oysters aren’t for every one. Here, oysters in white wine and celery sauce.”

Kathy, sitting down, looked at the sea and said, “I’ve change my mind. I’ll have your pomfret masala after all.”

Josef didn’t seem much bothered. Probably there’d be more takers of wine-and-celery oysters, “Sure, right away,” he boomed and weaved gracefully through the tables. Kathy couldn’t help following him with her eyes. Jeremy was looking at the sea, his sandy hair protesting against the breeze, his mouth thoughtfully churning the sea-juices.

Picking up the beer pitcher, Kathy poured herself a generous pint, sipped at it, and, licking the froth mustache, pointed out a motorcyclist, “They seem to have a lot of those here. They’re available on rent. The bikes.”

“Hmm,” said Jeremy, doing nothing to hide his disinterest.

Kathy’s enthusiasm had finally caught up with the rainbow. “Did you marry me for any reason other than my father’s money?”

“Hm? Yes, of course,” he made some effort to focus his eyes on hers. “My parents wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Kathy looked away, unable to believe what she’d just heard. And what it implied.

<> <> <>

As a child, Jeremy was quite remarkable. He was inert. So inert, he could be the rug underneath his mother’s Chippendale, and no one would notice. But even more remarkable was his persistent, insistent need to keep away. Jeremy Y was painfully suspicious of everything and everybody. He was quite adept at shrugging off people because he’d practiced over the years to build an impenetrable barbed shell around him. Well, almost.

During a holiday at Aunt Josephine’s ocean home, where his parents had sent him with a hope to soothe his frightfully morbid nerves, 10-year old Jeremy was looking at the deep ocean, stretching out to eternity.

The sea did soothe him. He looked endlessly at the endless troughs and swells, allowing the whispering breeze to lull him out of his apathy. He was so engrossed in this therapeutic daze that he didn’t notice a boy about his age approach him. By the time he did notice him, the visitor had almost sat down next to him. Jeremy’s armor was back up.
“Haven’t seen you around before.”

The sea must’ve made the armor rusty. The normal Jeremy would have kept mulishly quiet, but this day was different “I am visiting my aunt here,” he nodded towards the house below.

“Ms. J’s your aunt? She’s one swell lady.”

Jeremy’s grunt was non-committal.

Marty didn’t seem to notice Jeremy’s disinterest, “You ever fished for oysters?”

“No. I’ve never fished,” said Jeremy and continued to look at the sea. Much to his own surprise, he added, “Seeing an ocean for the first time. It is… very different.”

Strange things happen. It was strange for Jeremy to volunteer more conversation than necessary. He hardly ever got beyond monosyllables and callously truncated sentences. It was probably the stress of this new interaction that became so overwhelming that he got up to leave.

“Hey! Wanna join me help my Dad unload oysters?”

“Where?” Jeremy found himself saying.

“Right down there. Race you,” the boy ran down the gentle slope, Jeremy jogging behind him with no intention of racing, his eyes on the deep blue below. He could feel something changing in him; something filling the empty depths inside.

The friendly new acquaintance won. His dad’s boat was about to moor at the pier. Jeremy saw a pile of brownish green shells on the boat. Oysters were served often at home, but given his general disinterest, he’d never tried them.

The boat was a bright traffic-light green. Her name, Sally Flier, was painted in white along the hull. The boy waved to his father, “Hey, watcha got?”

“Guess you were right about the mood, son. Didn’t get much.” He was now tying Sally Flier to the pier. They chuckled at some secret joke, father and son. Jeremy tried not to look at them. It was embarrassing to see such warmth.

“Who’s your friend?”

“He wants to help me help you. He’s visiting Ms. J, aren’t you umm..?”

Jeremy gave his name and heard himself saying, “Yes sir, I’d like to help.”

“All right then, heave ‘em out and help me load ‘em on the truck. Marty, show how.”

Marty got on the boat and told Jeremy to lift out the load. Jeremy heard the sound of oysters rubbing against each other, he felt the salt-laden air cover him with a crisp blanket of life. As he stood beside Marty’s father, mostly useless, because his partner’s sure hands and muscular body didn’t require much from him, he felt surer and more secure than he’d ever been.

They got the load on the truck; and while he was removing sand from inside his shoes, Jeremy saw his reflection on the rear-view mirror. He was smiling.

Marty came around and picked a couple of oysters, throwing one at Jeremy.

“Open it.”

Jeremy turned it over. He wasn’t quite sure how to, but was reluctant to ask.

“Here, lemme show you,” he pried one open and held it out for Jeremy to see. The pink flesh looked too raw. He’d never seen anything like it. Pink, and gooey. Inviting, somehow.

“Dad says they have an entire world in them.” Marty had begun eating them in a sort of meditative tempo. Jeremy was still, meditatively, on the first one. The raw meat was leathery and soft – a marshmallow with more masculinity than you could ask for.

The rest of the day was a fog in Jeremy’s head. That one oyster opened up a whole new world for him. The sea was bluer than it was in the morning, Aunt Josephine less meddlesome. His parents seemed like specters from a world that didn’t matter.

Jeremy was one with the sea and the oyster’s world was no longer a clammed-up non-entity. It nourished him.

<> <> <>

Evening had set in. The waves had found a deeper urge to embrace the skies. They poured in, one after the other, as Kathy, a solitary figure, walked the beach. This was something she had planned for her honeymoon. But she had not thought that the do-nothing days would be alone.

Marriage wasn’t something she was trained to expect anything from. She knew it had to be with someone her parents would eventually find. Sweet Kathy was never the kind to argue or question, she just accommodated. When she saw Jeremy for the first time, she was impressed with his haughty, disinterested air. She smiled with her girlish fantasy, wondering how his expression would change when he knew her more. His expression hadn’t changed. He hadn’t bothered to know her. What she thought was aristocratic pomp for the benefit of the masses was in fact what Jeremy Y was — a cold fish. Would her marriage be what everyone had promised her it would be, after all — strange lives, hand-in-hand, roboting their way to fuller coffers? That is not what she’d secretly dreamed of. Where was her knight? Even a rusty armor would do.

Jeremy leaned against the wooden pillar, arms tied in an unrelenting cross. Those who had been around him would have thought he was looking as usual at the sea. But those who had been around him did not know him. He wasn’t looking at the sea. He was looking at his wife’s lonely figure drawing whorls (he assumed) on the sand with her toes. Her pretty skirt with periwinkle flowers flagged gayly in the breeze. Her auburn hair flipped. She had movement around her. Quite different from his mother’s well-coiffed hair and crisp dresses. He was watching movement. Something he wasn’t accustomed to doing.

And it scared him.

Even though she was far away from the cottage pillar where he was, he thought he could smell her mild gardenia scent. His mother always used a spicy musk. Musk. Why was he thinking about musk when gardenia was something he’d found himself getting drawn to for as long as he could remember? Why must he always look at what he did not like? Always the same things. Pretension, sacrifice, force, manipulation.  Musk. And here she was, this almost-free figure in white encased in a soft, gentle perfume, so far from all those things that made him crawl into a mother-of-pearl case he hated so much, but stayed on in because it saved him from all those things. She was so far, and she wasn’t a cage.

He shuddered and it wasn’t the Goa breeze. It must’ve been the sudden invasion of emotions he knew had no use in his world. But hadn’t they? Should he go out there and help her tame her unruly hair? He made to go, but thought otherwise and looked at his watch instead. Time for dinner. Oysters. The word brought new energy in him. But what was this new feeling? Did the word just bring some impatience within him? A sort of boredom that the rest of the world made him feel? Surely not the oysters!

This was turning out to be very different from what he’s planned for his honeymoon — spend a day or two in Panaji with Kathy just to keep up the charade, and then catch a bus to south Goa to the bungalow he’d taken special pains to purchase. And then vanish from the world that had Chippendale furniture and indecent cacophony. He’d arranged for everything. And yet, here he was, with Kathy, still in Panaji after four days. Why?

He found himself walking towards her. Before he even realized his unusual action, he was close enough to her. She looked up at him and then looked away. Was it the setting sun or a strange something that made her eyes reflect the ocean? He was mesmerized.



“I…um. Will you.. um.”

“Will I what?” Kathy spat with surprising ferocity.

“I came here to invite you for dinner.”

“Oysters again.”

“Actually, I was wondering if you’d like to order tonight. Anything. As long as it isn’t clammy.”


Of living, eating, and forgetting

It is raining as I write this. And it was raining when I took the pictures below. And it will continue to rain indefinitely until the monsoon season decides to leave this country. A land at once sated, and harassed. Patience is a virtue you might wish to keep a good stock of while you visit this blog in the coming days, for it will have more of rain. And of the places I visit. Today, feast your eyes on life, as the world lives it. The levels of struggle, the extent of including the unnecessary, may differ from communities to communities, species to species, but the world does live on these — struggle for comfort, struggle for food, and the occasional indulgences.

Adat bazaar at Nainital -- the place we will see today. Adat means a wholesale market for vegetables and fruits, and sometimes grains.

Sitting on a high perch, I looked at the intense interest people have in the one thing that is arguably the basis for all life -- food.

Wholesale vendors look for bulk sales, retail vendors look for the best bargain.

Like these mangoes, most vegetables come to Nainital from the outside. The terrain of the town is such that not much can be grown here.

This lady is oblivious to the sounds of haggling, rain, triumph at a good bargain, despair at the grumbling stomach. She reads her newspaper among her ivy and geraniums.

This man under the umbrella has deft fingers.

To fill this carton with carrots....

... he chops off the unnecessary with a knife. Sometimes two, or three carrots at once. Where do the scraps go? We'll see.

This porter is one of the many, who make life in a hill station like this livable. They carry anything from grocery bags to fridges to homes that are right up on the mountains where no vehicle goes. Where these young boys in their Adidas shoes will not dream of going in slippers.

These women were probably devastated. Outsiders, they did not know it could rain; and the steep climb didn't add to the comfort. But there's always a shoulder to lean on when you're with friends, no?

Though I love the normal fuschia, I am beginning to like these with a white bottom. They display the contrasts so well.

Forgive me for adding the unnecessary. I just love the look of wood. If only we planted more trees to make up for the ones we fell.

This police woman was careful to not let wet splashes ruin her kurta. Holding the umbrella with one hand, she grabbed the flailing cloth with the other. What would she do, if she had a handbag, I wonder.

This young lady was enjoying the drizzle, for it had become a drizzle by this time. Showing off her ponytail (or was it happiness radiating through the ponytail?), she looked around with great interest.

These people don't look too happy, now, do they?

Ah, a lawyer. Walking to the High Court nearby. I love his pinstriped trousers. Don't you?

Jalebis and pakoras. And copious amounts of oil in the middle kadahi. 🙂

These school kids were wondering if they could leave the tiffin boxes their mothers had packed for them somewhere around here, and, when they needed to eat during the school recess, they could sneak into the canteen outside of their school. Tiffin boxes a cumbersome to carry.

Another unnecessary picture. It is here because I love letter boxes. Much more than the email inboxes. And I love the canisters for milk in the background, too.

The clouds were closing in again, the wind vane surprisingly silent.

This fruit section of the market attracts few people. It is expensive.

Our sparrow friend hopped on this electricity line, obviously pleased at the short-term respite from the falling water.

It never ceases to amaze me -- the incredible amount of wires and cables and lines we have to depend on. So many connections, such ugly ones. And so necessary.

Sometimes ugliness has a virtue -- of being quaint, and most of all, of being useful. Someone has tied wires around this tired gutter. It is almost as good as it needs to be!

This monkey stole a roti (chapati) from a shop nearby. By the time I could divert my attention from the drain, he had already tried his loot. And got bored with it, for some reason.

Moving on to the rooftop, he did something more exciting -- got himself de-liced.

And then, returned the favour. The pleasure was doubled, for as he discovered subsequently, lice are tastier than rotis.

Potatoes. The one vegetable that everyone HAS to like. Oh? You don't? Think of all the wow-energy it gives you! For cheap, too. Hill people in India love this vegetable, for it is one of the few things they can grow, it is tastier than the ones found in the plains, and it is comfortably priced.

Grain sacks, brooms, shoppers and wealth. Of sorts.

A local mithai shop. Sweetmeats. The brown thing is chocolate barfi. A favourite among the tourists.

Back to what drove me to sit on this perch in the first place. The sheer energy of this place!

And all for this.

A porter carrying apple cartons to I do not know where. I wonder what they do to their drenched clothes once their day is done. Once it is time to settle in wherever they settle in for the night. Do they have spares?

This caller was calling for gourd takers. He has a humungous task. People usually do not like gourds.

And look at this, this feat of mankind. Standing here for at least a century, defiant. Though it might seem like it is neglected by the successors of the ones who made it, it is simply a matter of choosing aging over botox. Oh, chuckle all you wish. It is indeed so. The day you become as wise as I am today, you'll know.

Laugh at my foolishness. I'll laugh with you. Things are meant to be maintained, of course -- so that they don't leak, look good. But if things are functioning well the way they are, beauty can be found anywhere -- so that the resources can be saved.

Speaking of which, I wish we had not discovered the virtues of a CFL. It is inelegant, and gives off the worst light possible. What resources are we saving?

For whom?

I wonder if these tomatoes will go all pulpy by the time this person takes the sack to his small roadside shop somewhere in the other end of the town. Do you know?

These are more patient witnesses of this bazaar. They might.

This person kept coming up to adjust the plastic roof above his shop.

And here comes my favourite part of the outing!

His master directed him carefully through the veggies.

But not carefully enough! Ha! What a catch! He got one big potato, all for himself!

After he unloaded the wares, the master didn't forget to cover our potato-lover with a sheet of plastic. It helps against the rain.

And now, he's found a tomato!

But this man could use some chai. And an umbrella. Shivering like he could shake off the cold, he kept looking for mangoes.

And here's our scrap user. Remember the scraps from de-greened carrots? This man's companion was collecting edible waste from all the stalls, dumping them here. But the man couldn't wait for her to come back to sit with him and eat. He began his feast without her.

She's got her week's requirement. And is now looking for some fruits. Eventually, she just went away. Perhaps they were not to her taste.

There is such a difference between use and misuse, wouldn't you say? A few years back, this bazaar scene would have made me furious. Why is there so much disorganisation? Why can't they make proper shops? What about the ones who see food in front of them, but have to eat the waste? There are so many questions that probably need no answering. Or perhaps they are answered without words.

Like everything else, everything that is not else, lives. And life is about survival.

But what about reaching for the sky?

What about achieving that one extra inch of height, so that you are higher than the others? Better, efficient, creative, beautiful.

I do not know. But I do know that with time, and harsh drops of rain, only the one who focuses on the necessary will win. In their own right.

I leave you with the images of these birds, who wouldn't say "I lose", no matter the intensity of the rain.



Each dealing with the rain in their own way,

Some patient, some otherwise,

Some wishing I'd stop analysing.

This is for you, Rosie.

A Saturday trip to the Eternal Land of the Yogis

Lakshman jhula -- the bridge joining the eastern and western banks

Well, not just the yogis, but pretty much everyone.

Neha, my friend of a number of years, is in Rishikesh for almost two months to learn yoga from a visiting teacher from France. Since it is just an hour’s drive from Dehradun (where I live) I decided to pay her a visit and see the historical town. Finally.

Rishikesha, meaning Lord of the Senses, is one of the thousand names of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver in the Hindu Trinity. The town today justifies the name in many ways; it preserves several kinds of sensory experiences, and propagates them. If you are a seeker of divine presence; a practitioner of yogic forms for a more fulfilled life; an enthused wader of the waters of the sacred Ganga at a place where she leaves the laps of the Himalayas to embrace the hot plains; a lover of cheap hallucinogens; or an intrepid traveller interested in trekking, mountaineering, river rafting, Rishikesh has it all for you. And more.

The town — its air, its dust, and indeed its waters — has the ability to make you see divinity, if you let it. At least that is what many people believe.

The Hindus come here to see their beloved Ganga in its final mountainous avatar, to pray at the famous Triveni Ghat, and visit the numerous temples. As most Hindu pilgrim sites are wont to, however, the river bank, the temples, the ghats, all nurse suppurating wounds on propriety and respect. This might be one of the biggest mysteries in this land. We uphold propriety and respect for others as the supreme virtues, and yet have precious little to show for it. Waste lies all around, people defaecate and urinate at the most inappropriate of places and allow the animals to do the same, shop-keepers throw their discards on to the road sides. No nook, no cranny is spared. Not even the ever-loving, ever-patient Mother Ganga.

Curious People from the Worlds Afar come to seek a kind of peace they feel only India can provide: by way of its ancient, mysterious wisdom, or through its sometimes happily lax policies for weed. Some pick a wave from the veritable tsunami of ashrams and schools offering courses in yoga, meditation, ayurveda, and many more concepts most of these schoolists know zilch about, and ride it. (The ones knowing something worthwhile normally don’t accept pupils just like that. And most don’t make inflated promises on signboards in front of their dilapidated huts.) Still others take their yoga mats along the banks of Ganga and sit and try to meditate. Its enormously normal-looking waters promise a quietude they don’t seem to find at any other place. And then, there are those people that mostly inhabit the Tapovan part of the town, who are living an extended rush of the 60s.

Rishikesh is a heady mixture of everything you’d want from a quickie vacation. Or, more accurately, a mixture of things you might seek and things you are bound to hate. My time there was spent catching up with an old friend, who is sure she has found what she was looking for most of her life — yoga. It challenges her, fulfills her, settles her. She is happy. As are the many I couldn’t help noticing even as I drifted in and out between conversations with Neha and with Rishikesh. There are people running booming businesses by milking spirituality; some are seeking their long-elusive dreams. All find some connection with whatever they wish to get connected to.

When I was driving back to my home, to my reluctant-to-let-me-go husband, and to our ever-welcoming dogs, I thought it might be a good idea to tell you about this ʻstrange placeʼ I had heard about, and have now seen. A few hours is of course nothing to gauge a place, but people and places radiate vibes; they either feel good, or bad. Rishikesh, despite its strangeness, felt good. Give it a try some day. It is one of those cliched things — you can hate it, or love it; but it never allows itself to sink unnoticed.

This is the only place around the Lakshman jhula, Ram jhula area where Ganga warbles a little. Everywhere else, it is calm and quiet, like it is for the rest of its journey through the plains.

Another view of the river, Lakshman jhula, inhabitants of its banks and aspiring rafters

An unsure woman, taking a dip in the water sacred to a billion and more

This man was standing with his arms spread wide over the water for a long time. By the time I could decide to take a picture, he'd begun wringing a piece of his clothing

For a long time, I kept looking at these rocks and thought they were elephants taking a welcome bath. I need new glasses. And while you are looking at the faux elephants, try not to see the waste on the hill-side.

One of the big ashrams with a lot of promises

Just about to hit the partially 'white' waters.

Lakshman jhula -- the bridge we took to go for 'the best meal in all of Rishikesh'

Neha, taking a picture of me as I took one of her

Two of the many places for seekers of wisdom of all kinds

Mother monkey, keeping an eye on the people, for the good ones throw goodies

So that they can then pick them up from the bridge floor

But their best performance is as rope-sitters. Windy weather doesn't threaten their perch one bit.

I don't know why he was rubbing these bamboos clean, but he was.

I heard this sadhu saying "Thanks" as we walked past.

The first thing across the bridge is this. A very 'India' place. Every corner has a bit of its very unique identity. The sign on the round-about under the statue of Lord Shiva says "Please take off your shoes before you climb."

This modern dude didn't flinch when I "shoved the camera at his face", as Neha put it.

One of the many fascinating shops, selling Indian-ness

This beautiful building is reminiscent of the ideal architecture for this heat. Most houses are now a silly mixture of confusion. Sad.

Finally, The Little Buddha Cafe aka Buddha German Bakery. We had awesome Tomato and Garlic Bruschetta and Watermelon juice. Rishikesh is a strictly vegetarian, alcohol-free zone. But such places do offer tuna and Ganga-trout, and eggs, too. And pot, should you be brave enough to ask for it.

A glimpse of the ghat, the place where people gather to pray, to bathe.

Seekers of something, all.

But these boys know what they want, now, don't they?

He looked like the sadhu who thanked me for taking his picture. But then, all sadhus look the same.

This photographer stands underneath a lemonade stall umbrella. No takers for either. The signs warn of many things,including photographers like him: "Please check the photographer's credentials before allowing him to take your picture." Another sign reads "Please only give food materials to the monkeys at one side of the bridge. Do not harass the monkeys. Put the food only at the stipulated places."

A man posing as 'monkey-god' Hanuman. He tricks passers-by into putting a tilak (vermillion on the forehead) and then demands money.

My favourite thing in the whole trip. These bright orange Hanuman car-ornaments. They promise all that is good (and beautiful, I think)

But this young man looks completely unimpressed...

Of muddled webs and letting in the light

I joined a professional gym recently. When all the sweets and cheeses and fried goodies showed no sign of leaving my languishing-under-the-strain body, I had to. There were many reasons for having done this instead of trundling along on my own regimen. The most predominant one is — I simply cannot have a self-imposed regimen. If I could, I wouldn’t need to look at discarding the security of my own home and wobbling my hitherto hidden bagsful of jellied anatomy in front of people. It does have its advantages, though. For one, you have someone else imposing the regimen on you. The second is a little trickier to explain — it puts you in a blissful cocoon.

Yesterday, as I thomped on the treadmill, the boom-boom blast of the skilfully remixed songs egging me on, I noticed that the deep staccato drove out everything from my thought-mist. At home, on my elliptical trainer and with a modest music system, the effect isn’t half as effective. Here, the mind wanders towards that cobweb next to this wine-bottle plant, or the dish-washing detergent on sale, or those cute boots I simply must have. There, inside that sprawling gym room with struggling ex-indulgents and ambitious muscle-developers, everything gets squished down under the boom-boom. It is almost like a divine hand, blotting out distraction. Yes, everything gets drummed thin. Even those cute boots.

That must explain the blissfully blanked minds of the youth listening to boom-boom. It’s as if nothing else matters. For me, the focus gets beaten in for the remaining 23 minutes of atrociously horrid stationary biking. For the boom-boomed youth, it must be the this-second gossip on Justin Bieber. Whatever it is, the drums succeed.

For weeks now, my thought-mist has been playing muddle-you with me. I read blog posts reminding how worlds are crumbling, the Human is now struggling, now succeeding; of the Devastating, Terrifying, Seemingly Commonplace, and the God-please-don’t-make-me-open-my-eyes. It is too much to handle. Especially if you have to retain the strength of your mind to remind yourself that the two dollops of sinfully chocolatey ice-cream are not for you. Not fair, wouldn’t you say?

I read on. And keep feeling like that tiny speck of floating seaweed, now waved there, now sinking, now waved here. And now on the top of my swinging world. If someone explores this possibility to somehow aid calorie-burn, they will make history.

But discovering ideas and people and being overwhelmed with the depth of a number of emotional journeys is not restricted to reading-a-blog habit. At least that’s what I think. There is a smooth muddling of our lives in general.

Since it is a muddle anyway, let me introduce a tiny Light without any preamble.

Years back, in 2006, a movie called Rang de Basanti (Let there be Yellow (the colour of spring, revolution)) took the Hindi-speaking world by storm. People, in swanky cars, smelly buses, the literate and the illiterate alike, thronged the theatres to watch it. Regardless of the tremendous profit it made, it brought in a much needed sense of doability among people; the youth especially.

Sue McKinley, a struggling British filmmaker comes across the diary of her grandfather. He was a jailer with the Imperial Police during the Indian independence movement. Going through this diary, Sue learns about  five freedom fighters. She can’t resist the intensity of the passion these men must have felt and generated, and decides to make a film on them in India. Her friend Sonia helps her cast four young men, DJ, Karan, Aslam and Sukhi to portray the revolutionaries. These four typify the typical disgruntled youth, who has no belief in the system; seemingly no direction whatsoever.

They are not enthusiastic about a film on a drab topic like the independence movement, but Sue eventually manages to convince them. Laxman Pandey, a political party activist, joins the cast later. He is unpopular among the team members due to his anti-Muslim beliefs and contempt for Aslam, a Muslim. During the filming, these young men begin to warily appreciate the revolutionary heroes they are portraying. They gradually begin to realize that their own lives are quite similar to the characters they portray in Sue’s film and that the state of affairs that once plagued the revolutionaries continues to torment their generation.

Meanwhile, Ajay, a flight lieutenant in the Indian Air Force, Sonia’s fiancé, is killed when his plane crashes. The government claims that the crash was caused by pilot error and closes the investigation. Knowing that Ajay was an ace pilot, Sonia and her friends do not accept the official explanation. They know that he went down with the plane to avoid ejecting and letting the plane crash over a heavily populated town. Restless, and looking for some justice, they begin to ask questions. Soon, they come to know that a corrupt defence minister had signed a contract in exchange for cheap and illegal MiG-21 aircraft spare parts for a personal favour, thus making the plane that used these parts unreliable. When they also learn that the person who got the deal through was Karan’s father, they are enraged. And Karan is heartbroken.

Peaceful rallies and seething anger does not seem to help this bunch. (Does it ever?) DJ, Karan, Aslam, Sukhi, and Laxman decide to take a leaf from those very freedom fighters they had enacted, and resort to violence to get justice.

They kill the defence minister. Karan, in the meantime, shoots his father, realising he can’t be reasoned with.

The media says that minister was killed by terrorists. He gets a martyr status. Not outdone, the five friends decide to announce the real story to the public through a radio station. They forcibly take over the station premises after having evacuated its employees. Karan goes on air and reveals the truth about the defence minister and his wrongdoings. Still on air, they are all killed by the police and military commandos.

When they are at the radio station, this song plays in the background:

Here’s a video of the song.

The conversation between the little kid and his father in the video:

“Come, Bhagat Singh.”

“What are you doing, father?”

“I am planting a mango tree. Plant one, reap a thousand.”


This morning, when I reached the gym and told my trainer, Rahul, that I simply didn’t have the strength to lift any weights, he said, “We’ll see.”

And then quoted a famous cricketer, “If your day’s bad, make it good. If it is good, make it great.”

I ended up exercising more than I usually do.


Note: I pasted the movie’s story from Wikipedia, and modified it a little to suit my convenience. Is that plagiarism? Sorry.

Only greed

It is only greed. But it ruins.

Let it be known, I am not just thinking of that 4th bar of chocolate. And who am I to tell you of your choice of poison? I just know from experience that Greed is a clever sneak that waits for you to feel insecure with what you currently have. And then, it pounces, ravaging your promises, resolutions, values and scruples. It is not easy to fight it. You know it, don’t you? But is it impossible? Adidas thinks there is no such thing as impossible (Impossible is Nothing, the adverts scream). No wonder it is admired the world over. Even if it isn’t, it’s doing good.

Greed and I have been reluctant companions ever since I can remember. Well, reluctant me, at any rate. Ankur’s birthday party is engraved in my mind even though it’s been 30 years or so. (I must’ve been four or five). There was nothing remarkable about the party, no not even the cake. But his room, where I’d ventured during my exploration of his home, had the most wondrous collection of pencils and erasers and sharpeners. The best in the world, surely. And it was inhuman to let him have it all. My enthusiastic companion pounced. The frock I was wearing had no pockets. I had to think of something, and quick, because the voices from the party zone told me that someone was going to come looking for me. I gathered all that I could, picked up my frock to my chest and shoved them all into the temporary pocket this ingenious trick had created. Walking gracefully, as I am wont to, I said my ‘byes to an aghast Ankur, and ran out of the door. Or almost.

“Priya! Stop. Would you like a bag to carry that?”

“What, aunty?”

“There’s something you’re holding along with your frock.”

“No there’s nothing, aunty. I just feel like walking like this.”

“It’s not a good idea, Priya. Let that frock go.”

I usually manage to attend parties without being the toast of it. Or even be invisible at the point where the light occasionally limes. They call it limelight, I think. But at that moment, all eyes were on me. If I said no and ran away, my mother’s teachings of listening to elders would all go wasted. If I listened to Ankur’s mother, I’d lose the treasure. The choice was difficult. After a moment’s hesitation, my hands let go of the frock. The pencils and erasers and sharpeners fell at the doorstep. I had lost the treasure.  And I ran back home as fast as I could. Greed lost.*

Unbridled desire to own more, and apparently better, had succeeded in pouncing, nevertheless.

I now keep my frock well in place, thank you very much (the ingenious ideas have advanced with age), but I do find myself greeding after less interesting things like a quiet night under the stars. How do you get that? How does one steal a quiet night under the stars? But that’s not a part of this essay. The question I wish to ask is, how does one stop feeling greedy for the inaccessible or the extra cheese? Or why stop at all (for the more adventurous)?

This sin of excess wouldn’t have survived as long as humans themselves (we know our propensities) if it were easy to eliminate it. Who’d want to get rid of a thing that gives the kind of joy it does? However ruinous it may be.

Sadhus and saints talk of meditation. Sit, and think of what greed does to you. Concentrate on the evils of excess. Focus on the one energy that makes this world worth living in. Thank God there’s more of us walking the planet. It would’ve been such a moderate world if these killers-of-joy had been allowed to have their way. There’s no possible way to stop the Devil from throwing in carrots when I am trying to look at the One Energy. No, sorry. Perhaps meditating on the sins of excesses is not such a good idea, after all. At least not in my opinion.

Try focusing on what you have, if you ask me. And while you’re at it, it’ll answer the “Why stop?”

* If you are wondering about what happened after that, here’s the rest of the story:

My mother was surprised at my early return. Ankur was my best friend and it was surprising that I came back so soon. I just made some silly excuse and hid my pounding heart. The next morning, Ankur and his mother came with all the things I’d coveted from him. He wanted to give them to me, his mother informed. He ran away after putting them on my lap (I was sitting on the verandah floor). My mother later asked me if I wanted to keep them. Strangely, I did not. So, I went back to his home, and gave him all of them back.

It took much toing and froing, as you see, to realise that I did not want to overcrowd what I already had.

The word ‘aunty’ needs to be explained here. Aunt, as it is used in the west, precedes the name and is always capitalised, like Aunt Pinktoes. The same goes for ‘Uncle’ — Uncle Browneyes. But you don’t need me to tell you that.

In India, the British legacy has been customised a little. First, everyone who’s much older to you is an aunt or uncle, regardless of whether there’s love lost or a relation thrust. Second, the word always follows the name. And it is always aunty and not aunt. Like Pinktoes aunty. And Browneyes uncle, of course.

Only jealousy

It is only jealousy. Just a little liquid sensation that fills up your tissues to perk up the senses, you know? I first became a ready and keen practitioner of this emotion when Anita showed me her collection of glass gems and brilliant stones. I was a collector myself, but realised (or so I thought) that the ones I had weren’t half as brilliant as the ones she’d so painstakingly gathered from here and there. We both kept them in our separate plastic boxes. Mine was lined with a sumptuous layer of cotton (my mother had told me this would protect them from scratching each others beauty dim). Hers wasn’t. But they still glimmered beautifully. I had a dull green one I loved best. Yes, I know it was dull and not brilliant, but still. There was something very devil-may-care about it. And something elegant. Anita’s box had a deep purple one I wanted to steal. Each time she went out of the room, I felt my fingers inching towards it, as if they had motor senses of their own. Each time, a little girl perched in the withins of my heart threw a heavy stone that fell right to the depths with a thud. It hurt.  And to add to the trauma, this heartless  connivance somehow defuncted the motorability of my fingers. They had to limp their way back to where my cotton-lined box was. She would come back with lemonade or orangeade, and some biscuits. And we’d discuss the glass gems against the incandescent bulb-light of her room. The drink invariably melted the stone the devil-girl had dropped, which  helped me lift myself up without a heavy stone grinding me to the ground. I’d get up and go home. After just a little glance at Anita’s collection. Oh the purple, purple dream!

Once home, I’d open up my box, ask my mother to come and look at the coloured treasures with me. She’d help me look at the various facets, the play of light, pointing out how each was differently beautiful. “But Anita’s purple one is the most beautiful..”

“Really? But how about this pink one here? I love the tens of sides it has.”

“But that colour, Mummy.”

“I like purple, too. It reminds me of the peacocks we had at home.”

“See? She has a better one.”

My mother usually allowed me time to find out just how I wanted to deal with feelings that made me unnecessarily adamant about stressing the unfairness of the world. And I usually did.

But jealousy, the green, green feeling is something else.

The beauty of this emotion is that you usually get enough opportunity to cover it up with seemingly plausible excuses, and give yourself a chance to feel like you simply must catch up. Of all the emotions I have written about in this category and the ones I  intend to write about, this one makes me feel like I really know it, inside out. I can dive into its icy hug and feel the cold grip me enough to say “I do not have this. And she/he does.” For those moments, it’s as if nothing I have counts. No, I am not an envious witch, who  isn’t happy with what she has. But like most of us, I feel a desire for things I know I do not have (and probably don’t really want). If a small voice inside me says there’s another gem I could stash in my plastic box because She/He has it, I see green. Sometimes it lasts a few seconds, sometimes even a few days. But eventually, thankfully, the stone-dropper drops the stone.

Ours is a world that readily provides easy-to-acquire models with which to mould ourselves. Everything is within reach, the best looking eyebrows, the hottest pout, the coolest car. And the most amazing book ever published. Or that tinkling laughter coming from the other end of the room, reminding you that just this morning your son said your laugh made him nostalgic for Shrek. In this deluge of things you’ll never be or have, you forget that your child painted you a picture for Christmas, your wife once told you how she loved the feel of your fingers against hers. Or how the letters you write to friends make them keep asking for more. What is it that you have that the world doesn’t? A dull green glass gem that may be dull, but shines with brilliance nevertheless. And everyone has a devil-may-care stone-dropper.

Loving, and how.


I discovered Etheree at Dan’s blog a few days back. It is a concept so beautiful, I am still in raptures. And the name? Etheree. Wow. To make matters more delightful, Dan’s poem added such calm, petal-like softness to its already simple beauty. Perhaps this is what encouraged me to write an etheree myself and see if I have it in me to make it a regular in this blog’s Poesie category.



the cup

and come here

closer to us,

me and the fire bright.

Walls are warm, my heart too.

Close that door behind you, do!

Look, the fire’s ablaze with the wind

the door’s let in oh-so shamelessly.

Come now, the cup overflows so, my love.

An etheree comprises of 10 lines. It begins with a one syllable line, increasing one syllable per line until the last line of ten syllables. The syllable count of the entire poem is 55. The syllabic structure, therefore, is 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10, and is unmetered and unrhymed.

Dreaming of a White Christmas, and Green Eyes

As an Army child, I had the good fortune of celebrating the festivals of many prominent religions and cultures as long as my father was a part of a large regiment. The entire cantonment got together for the celebration. The mood was festive all around, since the entire community was involved. It not only made us aware of the sensibilities of other religions and cultures, we also got to have a lot of fun doing things we wouldn’t have otherwise done. Being a Hindu, I would never have known to bow down at a Gurudwara or hang the Christmas stockings. Christmas. It is somehow a very special festival. We got wrapped gifts. I got to do what I loved best in household work at that age — bake. And Santa was a dear friend’s father, usually (at every different posting, each new station).

My first memory of Christmas is looking under the community Christmas tree for a gift that had the brightest gift wrapping paper on it. If I remember right, I loved the ones with blue and silver diagonal stripes, or the ones with candy canes printed on them. The gifts weren’t named, of course, because there were so many children. There was no way for giving customised gifts unless the organisers were resourceful enough to employ elves, which, I am certain, they weren’t. But they were generous in their choice of gift wrappers, and I wasn’t complaining. Cotton was the customary substitute for snow. It was strewn on any tree of choice that served as The Tree of the Evening, fairy lights glittered on it and around. And  the manger scene on the side was never forgotten. Thoughtful people added a lot of toy cows and calves on the straw. I loved the eyes of these animal dolls (many had pink cheeks, somehow). I loved the smell of straw. I loved Christmas. And before I forget,  I loved the confetti. It was a mixture of straw and confetti on the floor, usually.

My first memory of caroling is of a much older me. The second school at which I taught had a British heritage. Besides many other things, they caroled on Christmas Eve. This is by far the winner in my list of Thank-Someone-I-Worked-In-This-School. The old tradition  (the school was founded in 1837) was to walk around the campus and come into the School Chapel to sing more. By the time they got around to employing me, the carols were just sung inside the Chapel. Another tradition that remained intact was that  it was the teachers who sang. We were green carolers, most of us. But Val did a good job in training us.  And she included some songs as well. We sang. And swayed. And loved it. We shone those nights. This is where I first got introduced to White Christmas. To aid us in understanding  the ‘feel’ of it (as a musician friend put it), she made us listen to Frank Sinatra’s rendition (or could’ve been someone else. But not Bing Crosby). This song transported me to new worlds. Of white blankets of snow. Most of all, for some strange reason, eyelashes full of snow flakes. The voice haunted me with the dream of a childhood that had seen snow, but never snow fall.  I remember un-snowing strawberries at a place we were visiting. Snow had visited just the previous night. We  were left with the reminders. It was many years later that I could reach the town (another one) in time for her arrival.

White Christmas is probably so important because when I imagine white snow with green, and red things and yellow lights, I can, in a way, live those fairy tales I read as a child. It is such a magical feeling. Unlike many people whom I’ve subsequently heard talking of waking up to a white day on Christmas, I imagined myself standing next to a Christmas tree, wearing a green scarf, seeping it all in. And lo! There’s snow. Falling down on everything, everything holding on to it like a sheath of happiness. Everything including my eyelashes. Soon, there’s White Christmas like no other. The vision is just a thought now, but it is a dreamy, magical one.

Snow obliged me at my husband’s home town, never fear. It wasn’t Christmas, but I can boast a new-found joy. Of having seen the flakes glide down, so carefree, so sure they’ll find just the right spot to rest. Beautiful.

I will wait for the day it snows on Christmas day at the place I live in. Wherever I am at the time. For I will not travel for the experience. It will have to come to me. Like the joy of seeing calf dolls with pink cheeks.

Like the Green Eyes, too. As lil’ Priya, I was sure I would wake up one day, look at the mirror, and see that my eyes had turned green.  Every morning, I’d go and stand in front of the mirror with my eyes closed and open them with the hope that the eyes had turned green. They never did, of course. But I never stopped hoping for it either. Not wishing, but hoping. I enjoyed my daily morning ritual for a number of years. Until I forgot to look in the mirror for them.