“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Friday, August 27, 2010

20th Anniversary

On the day of Onam, Anil had invited the two of us to his house for the feast. The feast (saddya) was secondary to Anil and me; we looked forward to spending some time together and of course, liven it up with a drink or two. P and I had planned to go in the morning itself so that P can assist C and Anil’s mother in cooking.

Then I discovered that my wallet is missing. The eternal scene once again erupted; rummaging, cursing, turning stuff upside down, intense effort to remember where I saw my wallet last. It didn’t turn up. Frantic calls to Credit Card, Debit Card, etc etc. I moan about the old, old 1 rupee, 2 rupees and ten rupees notes I had kept in my old, old wallet, photos of P and K. I curse the curse of old age and sigh. My Onam ruined with a capital R.

Then by 1100 hrs we get to Anil’s place. His first comment – “Well, well, well! Both in matching dresses!” P and I look at each other; I wearing a dark green shirt and the traditional dhothi (Mundu) and P in a traditional Kerala sari with dark green and gold borders and dark green blouse. We look at each other and laugh. It is an oft replayed scene, the coincidences of cohabitation. 21st year running.

Yesterday, the 26th August was our 20th wedding anniversary. Usually I have a nightmare trying to remember it. I get it confused among 20th, 23rd and 26th August. Last year in an effort to ensure that I won’t forget it, I bought a new watch for P and presented it dramatically – on 20th!!

With K away, neither of us was in a mood to celebrate the anniversary. I was not feeling well, so ‘the night in the forest’ idea was dropped. Finally we thought, OK, we will take a photograph and then have a dinner out. Evening came and we were too tired for a photo session. But we went to a quiet restaurant and had dinner together.

Over the ice-cream, I venture into my favourite hobby of mulling over the past. We concluded that our one mistake was that we never planned for the future; like, you know, 5 years hence, 10 years hence, 20 years. We lived as it came, day after day. Didn’t care to save much, had lots of fun. There have been many things we could have done, we should have done but never got around to doing it. There were opportunities missed and gone forever.

Sitting beneath the glass dome painted in beautiful patterns in mauve and red, Parvati and I gaze at each other and smile. Not much of a life, but hell, it had been our life and we haven’t made a big mess of it. A few dents here, a few scratches there, but no major disasters, touch wood, so far. Still there is a lot of affection, love and respect flowing between us. And of course, the comfort of knowing that there is another person around who cares about you.

Back home, with Sancho lying all four feet up between us, we watch something in the TV.

Our life is moving along.

*********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum 27.08.2010

Post Script: My wallet was there in the pocket of my trousers I wore the previous day, right where I had searched a dozen times! J

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Dog in the Deserted Island

For the last 10 days P was away. First she flew to New Delhi to attend some conference then for a week she was at M G University, Kottayam, attending a programme in Environmental Studies. She got back home today and told me the following story.

One afternoon the participants were taken to Pathiramanal Island. It is an uninhabited island in the backwaters of Vembanad Lake and near the internationally famous tourist destination, Kumarakom. I used to go to Kumarakom a couple decades back for bird watching. It had marshes, inundated paddy fields and then the vast backwater lake, Vembanad. Backwater is a kind of intermediary water body between the land and the sea. Pathiramanal Island is a haven for migratory birds.

When P and her friends got out of the boat, they were greeted by an emaciated dog and an equally dreadful looking cat. It seemed to P that they were marooned – probably dumped by someone. P asked around for some tidbits or biscuits; none had any.

One of the qualities some humans share with animals is the ability to recognize friends. I have it, I believe! And sure did this mongrel, for he immediately came to P, wagging his tail. All P had was a few chocolates which she gave them both. The dog followed her around all through the walk. As they were about to leave the island, P asked the boatman to take the dog and the cat along with them to the mainland. The cat being a cat, avoided getting caught and ran away. P’s friend, Christopher, took the dog in his arms and brought him aboard.

As the boat moved away, the dog trotted up to the bow and stood up on his forelegs and enjoyed the breeze. P could see he was happy. As soon as they came ashore, the dog jumped out excitedly. People smiled at him for all the joyous howling and wagging he was doing. A fisherwoman threw him a couple of fish. The dog was home.

This was one dog in the world for whom this Onam is special. To be back among friends, to be with the ones who love him. That is the spirit of Onam. May this Onam bring you all good cheer.

Balachandran V , Trivandrum, 25.08.2010


Photos courtesy Internet

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Accused of Sentimentality

Many friends have accused or hinted at me for the sentimental nature of my writings, be it poetry or prose. I therefore look at what I write critically and I find that I am to be blamed of honesty, emotion, frankness and titillating sentiments. But in the simple, straightforward narration, I scatter little crumbs of self-realization ,which I think the readers might find useful too. I find meaning in the too ordinary, mundane matters of living. I write about personal matters, of my family, friends and my take on many issues. Invariably, there is a lot sentimental stuff in it. I stand accused and plead guilty.

But I ask thee, my judges, why are you afraid of sentiments? Why are you trying to hide the true nature of your feelings? Why are you afraid of being judged? Sentiments. Passion. Come on, sirs, let’s have it. I know a friend who refuses to comment on my posts, who denigrate them for being sentimental. I sense his fear. Fear of opening up.

I read the blogs of many. In several I find this reluctance to display their true selves. And there is a kind of smugness – Ha, I am not a sentimental idiot!

To be sentimental is to be human. To be sentimental is to laugh, to love, to cry, to be angry , to be passionate and to be wise. . To be sentimental is to respond from the heart. Robots do not have hearts.

For those who wouldn’t mind reading or glancing through a rather long article, I reproduce here one from New York Times, on Dickens.

*********** Balachandran V , Trivandrum, 18.09.2010

In Defense of Sentimentality


WWell over a century ago, Dickens gave his first public reading of "A Christmas Carol"--it was just two days after Christmas and 2,000 people gave the author their rapt attention (and frequent applause). The reading took three hours, though in later years Dickens would prune "A Christmas Carol" to a two-hour performance; he liked it well enough that first time, however, to repeat the reading three days later--to an audience of 2,500 almost exclusively composed of working people, for whom he had requested that the auditorium be reserved. He thought they were his best audience. "They lost nothing, misinterpreted nothing, followed everything closely, laughed and cried," Dickens said, "and [they] animated me to that extent that I felt as if we were all bodily going up into the clouds together."

I wish I could have been there. I try to imagine it, every Christmas, when I watch the new and old television versions of "A Christmas Carol"; some are better than others, and in some I can imagine Dickens himself--who loved to act--taking the part of Scrooge, or playing the Ghost of Christmas Past. Dickens might have enjoyed the mesmerizing popularity of television, though he surely would have detested the lifelessness of television's language; it was at his insistence that the price of "A Christmas Carol" was held to five shillings--so that it might reach a wider audience.

In his biography of Charles Dickens, Edgar Johnson writes, "'A Christmas Carol' is a serio-comic parable of social redemption, and Scrooge's conversion is the conversion for which Dickens hopes among mankind." Indeed, it is the hopefulness of that inspired dream of a book (Tiny Tim is spared, and Scrooge sees the error of his ways) that makes "A Christmas Carol" ever-appropriate for Christmas. "Against Scrooge and the orthodox economists," Mr. Johnson writes, "Dickens insists that no way of life is sound or rewarding that leaves out men's need of loving and being loved."

And, in the spirit of Christmas, who could fault "A Christmas Carol"? "Who can listen," Thackeray said, "to objections regarding a book as this? It seems to me a national benefit, and to every man or woman who reads it a personal kindness." It is surprising, however, how many readers reserve Dickens--and hopefulness in general--for Christmas; it seems that what we applaud in Dickens--his kindness, his generosity, his belief in our dignity--is also what we condemn him for (under another name) in the off-Christmas season.

The other name is sentimentality--and, to the modern reader, too often when a writer risks being sentimental, the writer is already guilty. But as a writer it is cowardly to so fear sentimentality that one avoids it altogether. It is typical--and forgivable--among student writers to avoid being mush- minded by simply refusing to write about people, or by refusing to subject characters to emotional extremes. A short story about a four-course meal from the point of view of a fork will never be sentimental; it may never matter very much to us, either. A fear of contamination by soap opera haunts the educated writer--and reader--though we both forget that in the hands of a clod, "Madame Bovary" would have been perfect material for daytime television and a contemporary treatment of "The Brothers Karamazov" could be stuck with a campus setting. Dickens took Christmas risks all year round.

"I must make the most I can out of the book," he said, before beginning "Great Expectations"--"I think [it's] a good name?" he said. Good, indeed, and a title many writers wish were free for them to use, a title many wonderful novels could have had: "The Great Gatsby," "To the Lighthouse," "The Mayor of Casterbridge," "The Sun Also Rises," "Moby Dick"--all great expectations, of course.

Yet the hopefulness that makes everyone love "A Christmas Carol" draws fire when Dickens employs it in his best novel; when Christmas is over, Dickens's hopefulness strikes many as mere wishful thinking. Dickens's original ending to "Great Expectations," that Pip and his impossible love, Estella, should stay apart, is thought to be the proper (and certainly the modern) conclusion-- from which Dickens eventually shied away; for such a change of heart and mind, he is accused of selling out. After an early manhood of shallow goals, Pip is meant finally to see the falseness of his values--and of Estella--and he emerges as a sadder though a wiser fellow. Many have expressed how Dickens stretches credulity too far when he leads us to suppose--in his revised ending--that Estella and Pip could be happy ever after; or that anyone can. Of his new ending--where Pip and Estella are reconciled--Dickens himself remarked to a friend: "I have put in a very pretty piece of writing, and I have no doubt the story will be more acceptable through the alteration." That Estella would make Pip--or anyone--a rotten wife is not the point; they are linked: happily or unhappily, they belong together.

Biographically, it is difficult to resist the association of Pip's trapped worship of Estella with Dickens's own sad adoration of the young actress, Ellen Ternan. Although the suggestion that Dickens revise the original ending came from his friend Bulwer Lytton, who wished the book to end on a happier note, Edgar Johnson wisely points out that "the changed ending reflected a desperate hope that Dickens could not banish from within his own heart." That hope is no last- minute alteration, tacked-on, but simply the culmination of a hope that abides throughout the novel: that Estella might change; after all, Pip changes. The book isn't called "Great Expectations" for nothing. It is not, I think, meant to be an entirely bitter title.

In fact, it is the first ending that is out of character--for Dickens, and for the novel. Pip, upon meeting Estella (after two years of hearing only rumors of her), remarks with a pinched heart: "I was very glad afterwards to have had the interview; for in her face, and in her voice, and in her touch, she gave me the assurance that suffering had been stronger than Miss Havisham's teaching, and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to be." Although that tone--of self- congratulation and self-pity--is more modern than Dickens's romantic revision, I fail to see how we or our literature would be better for it.

The revised ending reads: "I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and, as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her." A very pretty piece of writing, as Dickens noted, but eternally open--still ambiguous (Pip's hopes have been dashed before)--and far more the mirror of the quality of trust in the novel as a whole. It is that hopeful ending that sings with all the rich contradiction we should love Dickens for; it both underlines and undermines everything before it. Pip is basically good, basically gullible; he starts out being human, he learns by error, he keeps on being human. That touching illogic seems not only generous but true.

"When people say that Dickens exaggerates," George Santayana writes, "it seems to me that they can have no eyes and no ears. They probably have only notions of what things and people are; they accept them conventionally, at their diplomatic value." And to those who contend that no one was ever so sentimental, or that there was no one ever like Wemmick or Jaggers or Bentley Drummle, to name a few, Santayana says: "The polite world is lying; there are such people; we are such people ourselves in our true moments, in our veritable impulses; but we are careful to stifle and hide those moments from ourselves and from the world; to purse and pucker ourselves into the mask of conventional personality; and so simpering, we profess that it is very coarse and inartistic of Dickens to undo our life's work for us in an instant, and remind us of what we are." Santayana is also brilliant at defending Dickens's stylistic excesses: "He mimicks things to the full; he dilates and exhausts and repeats; he wallows," Santayana admits, though he adds, "this faculty, which renders him a consummate comedian, is just what alienated him from a later generation in which people of taste were aesthetes and virtuous people were higher snobs; they wanted a mincing art, and he gave them copious improvisation, they wanted analysis and development, and he gave them absolute comedy."

Christmas--or any other demonstration of giving--is no time for "a mincing art"; we should learn that there is really no good time for such cramped elitism. "God bless us every one!" cried Tiny Tim. But this Christmas, since we're so familiar with "A Christmas Carol"--in its several versions-- we might well read "Great Expectations"; it is a book many of us read last when we were in school, when we were too young to appreciate it. For its Christmas spirit--its open-hearted and forgiving qualities, and its feast of language--it is the best of novels by a writer of no mincing art.

And when we writers--in our own work--escape the slur of sentimentality, we should ask ourselves if what we are doing matters.

Copyright The New York Times Company

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Seasons change. Again, in the next year they will come, along with birthdays and anniversaries and festivals. 26th August is my 20th wedding anniversary. We haven’t planned anything; maybe the two of us will go to some forest and spend a quiet day. I wish we could spend it with K, but he is away in Bangalore and will have to miss his classes if we went there.

In our busy lives, we do not get time; rather, we do not provide time for reflecting on the past. Something which I often do (as you very well know!) because I have ample time as I reduce my activities to the minimum. It puts life on the cruising mode, and I feel like I am riding my bike on the mountain highways. In between, I pause and look back at the way I have come, and with a smile and shake of my head, I move on.

K called the other day. He and his friends were chatting idly as they sat in the college park. His friends opened up their hearts and spoke of their personal problems. At 18 or 19, some of them have lived more life than I. K said – “Acha, you wouldn’t believe, (P says ‘you wouldn’t believe’ is a favourite phrase of both father and son) these guys have had so many sad and unfortunate incidents in their lives that I nearly went crazy listening to them. I raked my mind to tell them some problem of mine, but hell, I couldn’t find one!”

I asked him, “Do you realize that you are actually complimenting us?” “Yeah, I know”, he said.

I hold the mirror to my face. As a parent, I haven’t done so badly. I have loved my son, gave him decent education within my means, and guided him to be an independent, truthful, fearless, cautious, kind, reasonable and decent human being. My limitations are many, I could have done better, but whatever I did have been okay.

Till K spoke, I always had nagging doubts about my decision not to pursue a career and to stay with my family. Now, K at 18, I have been with him from the day he was born and still am. I love him and respect him too, as my son and as an individual with his own identity. I feel vindicated, happy that I did the right thing.

That’s what seasons are for. To look back and feel happy and to look forward to many more seasons.

My true wishes to all of you, my friends, the very best in this season of Onam and the seasons to come.

************* Balachandran V, Trivandrum 15.08.2010

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The first one

The boy had finished writing his answer paper. He pondered for a while on what should be done next. Shyly, he asked the girl sitting next to him – he hadn’t noticed her before – all he could see was a bobbed head bent on to the desk, writing furiously – ‘What do I do now?” The girl raised her head and looked at him, the boy who had joined the school recently, and answered- “you fold it lengthwise like this and on the back of the right fold, write your name and class”. Then she went back to her writing. The boy saw that she wore glasses and was fair and beautiful. I don’t know what went through the boy’s head, but he did as was told and left the class room.

This happened sometime in 1965. The children were studying in 4th standard. The year after next, the boy left the place to far off Trivandrum and all he had was a group photo which said : “Standard IV Railway Primary School, Olavakkode, Palghat 1965-66. That boy was me and the girl, R.

I have never met her again, but I did not forget R. The only time I talked to her was at the above exam. I do not remember whether I thought of her then or tried to talk to her; unlikely because she was in another division. But when years later, in 1974, I met my old friend from Palakkad, one of the first things I asked was about R. And he even now teases me about it. Last year we had a reunion – classmates from 4th std – and we recollected our old days and laughed (See my post, ‘The Reunion- October 2009). Unfortunately none of the girls came for the two-day gathering. Guys ribbed me about R and said, “Eda, R is a grandma now”!

I look at the old group photo and think of R and my old classmates fondly. Some of them are no more. Most of them are alive and lead a reasonable life.

I do not know why I should still remember R with such affection. Was she my first love? At 7 or 8 years of age? I do not know. All I know is that even now when I look at her picture, it all comes back in a rush and I feel happy with my memories. They are mine, you see. They shall remain with me as long as I am alive. Then, along with me, they will be erased, forever.

************* Balachandran V, Trivandrum 14.08.2010

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Conference under the Sun

A weed, an insect and I

In a conference under the sun.

On the Lantana, flowers.

Pink, white and violet

They snuggle in bunches

Looking up at me like children

In awe of a giant.

Thorns prick my fingers

The stalk taut, lean like a whip

Refuses to oblige my hands

Trying to clear a path.

Then, glinting in the sun

This little Ladybird on a leaf.

Legs drawn up under the shell

She sits still, as if hoping

I wouldn’t see her.

Ah, little one! Not to notice you?

I would be blind!

*************** Balachandran, Trivandrum 09.08.2010

Saturday, August 7, 2010


Did you notice how, suddenly

My voice thickened with pleasure?

My eyes softened with happiness?

My words brimmed with pride

My eyes shone with love -

As you crossed the threshold

I pointed at you and said -

“That’s my friend”!

********* Balachandran, Trivandrum 06.08.2010