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

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Good Morning, Alleppey!

Like a  Hermit Crab unwilling to get out of its shell, I had so far not moved out of my premises much in Alleppey, though I have been here for a month ( discounting 10 days leave due to Bronchitis and Onam holidays and hartals – which leaves about couple of weeks). The routine is – I catch the 0600 train from Trivandrum to Calicut,  get down at Alleppy at 0830, go to my room at YMCA, breakfast and get into the office at 0900 – 0915, work till 1900-1930, walk around for an hour in the dark and slushy roads of the town and back in the room listen to music and yearn for the day when I can go back home.  From next week, it is going to be full working weeks; no mid-week holidays. I have to settle down. 

Yesterday morning the Hermit Crab crawled out  and went for a walk at 0600 hrs.  After weeks of incessant downpour, the skies have cleared finally. 

The road in front of the YMCA. Alleppey/Alappuzha is coastal, flat country. It is a small town.  In the west you have the Arabian Sea ( Beautiful beach), in the east you have the Punnamada Kayal (Backwaters) , the two connected by several canals. Alleppey is the narrow strip/s of segmented earth in between the sea and the backwaters. 

How is this for a morning view? Of course, you will learn to ignore the stinking garbage on the other side of the road! :-P

Bicycles in front of a Tuition Centre

Flat, straight roads are ideal for cycling.  Alleppey  could be the town in Kerala with highest number of bicycles ! I am planning take mine to Alleppey. It is the best way to explore small towns. 

At early mornings, a thin veil of mist rises from the water. In the open backwaters, in the vast wetlands and hills of Central Kerala, no sight is more beautiful than the winter mornings with mist. Wetlands are fast disappearing, lakes polluted, the morning mists thin out like ghosts...

I don't know for how long I am going to be in Alleppey. It could be a minimum of 1  year to maximum of 3 years. In my vague plans for future, I do not foresee service in the bank for  more than another 2 years. I might take VRS. I am getting old. There are many things to do and places to go before I get weak in my knees. 

In spite of my future plans which are as hazy as a back-lit photograph, I will come to terms with my present; the weekly visits home, the frantic, warm welcome from Sancho and Sally, the hectic work - and this little town. I might come to like this place with its  decadence, its crumbling old godowns,  shops whose interior hasn't changed since the 50s, where bicycles still outnumber motor vehicles, where you find men more in Mundu than trousers - where I will find many new strange things. I will come to terms with my life.  I shall, like I said in an earlier post, glean happiness out of solitude. 

******** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 24.09.2011

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An Old Song

     One of the few sweet memories I have of my mother is about the rare occasions she would bring out her old Veena. Rare? Once in blue moon, rather. In her girlhood, it was mandatory that girls should be proficient in either singing or dancing; my mother took up singing, but her voice wasn't that good so she switched to playing Veena. Which she did so beautifully. I still remember how haunting it was. I would sit before her and watch entranced,  her long, gracefull fingers skimming over the strings, the way she would tease music out of the instrument.

And then there were yet rarer occasions I would catch her humming old Hindi film songs; songs from the 1940s, from her youth. One particular song she loved was - ' Hawa mein udtha jaaye, mera lal dupatta malmal'. As a diehard devotee of old Hindi film songs, it counted among my favourites too. A few years back I got a video CD with this song sequence. The scene was just as I had imagined it always. A pretty lass running about in a beautiful landscape with a stream and open country.

In the early 1980s I started my banking career at Chidambaram, in Tamil Nadu. Those were miserable days but it was at Chidambaram that I first learned how to glean happiness out of solitude.

The following is an unpublished poem which I wrote when I was in Varanasi in 2004. My mother was with me on her very last journey; in a clay pot, pieces of bones and ashes, her very last remains.

An Old Song

The tower of the temple loom up to the skies
Chidambaram, holding the skies aloft.
The mid-day sun, relentless, scorches
The last drop of pity evaporates.

The awnings of the shops like stiff, windless sails
Shiva in temple does his cosmic dance.
Devotees do a jiggle or two
Barefoot, on the hot, stone-paved yard.

In the corner where the jewel shops eat
Into the shops with groceries full
Stands an old woman with a cross, hung
Not Christ, but naphthalene balls and safety pins.

Her hair is dusty with grime and grit
Her ‘chela’ hangs in folds so loose
Her skin and partly exposed breasts
Swing as she turns, like flappy old sails.

She chants something – Paacha chana re?
Probably meaning, saying something
Calling out her wares or calling out to the Lord
Never will I know or couldn’t care less.

The old woman has fine bones still,
Her flesh, once firm, now hangs from it.
She is tall and her gaze scans all
The sky and the people moving about.

Standing in a shade, I watch her for a while
Her wares worth a few rupees.
She doesn’t sell for the while I am there
But still she chants- Paacha chana re?

Naphthalene balls for my moth-eaten life?
Safety pins to pin up the shreds?
A cross, when I am already hung
Rusty nails, stuck into my heart?

Time drifts - the day shifts from noon to dusk
The woman hardly lifts her legs.
I smoke, drink coffee, stare-a-blank
At the girls who pass in nonchalance.

Five and twenty years have passed
I still can see her as I did.
I am old now - so what happens
To the old of twenty, thirty years back?

The old, they drift, like grains of sand
They do not die, they just shift
Their legs from one world to next
Stand in their corners and chant or hum-
Like my mom-
Of her red Dupatta caught in the wind1 .
*********** Varanasi 26/10/04
1. Lata’s old song – Hawa mein udthaa jaaye, more lal dupatta malmal …

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Harleys on Highways

This is a guest post. Nachiketh Balachandran, whom you all know as K,  wrote it . Welcome, K; I hope this will inspire you to start a blog of your own! 

I sit in a class of ninety.

But I am alone
All alone like a man in the middle of the ocean.
I sit here, thinking;
Thinking about my past, my future
And how this miserable present will pass me.

I hope. I always do.
For a better life;
A life of the Angels
The Angels who wear black
Who hear only one sound
The sound of their Harleys.
I will ride with the Angels one day
To the ends of the world I will ride -

To peace, to pleasure, to freedom.

********* Nachiketh Balachandran, Bangalore 17-09-2011

Saturday, September 17, 2011


I look with glazed eyes
At this virtual piece of paper I call my blog
My fingers languish, hovering over the keyboard
What to write, when you are empty, lifeless -
Words dry up, thoughts freeze -
Is this the beginning of a winter?

********* Balachandran V, Trivandrum 17.09.2011

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Amma (1927- 30/6/2004) with K, 1992

Last Wednesday evening I caught a bus from Alleppey to Trivandrum . I couldn't get the train because of the holiday rush. The bus took nearly 5 hrs to traverse around 160 kms. En route, one passes the many small towns on the NH 47, which is clogged with traffic. The  streets of the towns choke with people and brightly lit shops; people are in a frenzy of buying - vegetables, fried chips, dresses, household items. 

P and I spend a quiet Onam. K could not join us, because they don't have Onam holidays in Bangalore. I browsed, brooded and cuddled Sancho.  Wrote a couple of poems(????).  

Browsing through the old  files, I discovered the following poem, which is unpublished - that is, neither in my collection ' Signs of Love' nor in the magazine that occasionally put one. It is a bit old, ( written in 2004) but connected to Onam, so I thought you might like to read it. 

In Kerala, when somebody asks - Engane undu Onam? ( How's Onam?), those who have had a death in the family during the preceding  year would reply - 'O, njangalkku onam onnum illa! ( No Onam for us).  There were two deaths in ours this year. 

But then, that too shall pass. So, dear friends of the blogworld, let me wish you all a happy Onam and a great year to follow!

Onam, alone

Onam*- festivities and happiness,
Dresses in colour, TVs and fridges
Cars and bikes in a spending spree.
Respite from a life, lived mundane.

Onam, my first, without my mother
Forty-six Onams I spent with her.
Her age not counted in mouthfuls of rice1
Her last was a ball for the crow to eat.2

Onam- a week a year, from one to next
Sky so blue and fields so green.
Clouds have gone, weather is mild
Onam will come, the dead will not.

But trees do flower, waters do rise,
Hills turn green, despite the droughts.
They mightn’t be the same, yet they are,
Despite the deaths, life doesn’t end.

Somewhere, in some house, a baby is born,
Somewhere in a newborn, relives my mom.
I wouldn’t know her, I wouldn’t see her,
But somewhere, somehow, we would meet.

I’d hold her hand, touch her head,
Hold her cheek close to mine.
I’d sense her soul from the smell of her skin
The smell, the feel, of my mother’s milk.

I’d tell her I loved her,
Love, neither shown, never given.
I’d talk to her in words so sweet,
Bitter were those unto the last.

I’d hug her, with all warmth and love,
For never did I know the touch of her heart.
I cared for her with all my heart,
But walls did grow, watered with hate.

A horse, whipped, without reason,
A dog, kicked, howling in pain.
Whimpering in fear, uncomprehending,
Yet I took care unto her last.

Ah! Time! Come to a grinding halt,
Shift a lever in reverse mode.
Stop at the day when I sat on her lap,
Gave her a kiss and hugged her close-
And slept- as I did, once, in her womb.
28.08.04. Onam, Trivandrum
*- Onam is an annual festival in Kerala, southwest India.
1. At forty-six, I have eaten forty-six Onam feasts- forty-six mouthfuls of rice.
2. In the Hindu rituals, a ball of cooked rice and other offerings are given everyday till the sixteenth day of death- left on a banana leaf, you clap your hands for the Jungle Crow, the symbol of the departed spirit.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Mirror images

At the fair, at my favorite stall with distorted mirrors
I look at 
A squat me
A fat me
A looong me
A twisted me
A me I think me
A shattered me 
A stretched me - 

the images begin to speak
They raise a finger at me
and says I am you you are me 
I am you you are me - 

I hide a smile - 

They too...

************* Balachandran V Trivandrum, 08-09-2011

What I would love to be but will never be

 Sadhu with dog in Himalaya-1938

In the pages of an old LIFE  I chance upon 
This, the portrait of my innermost me.

A me that I might never be, never see
A self that is the farthest from me
A life that is furthering from me
As I run, run away from me...

************ Balachandran V, Trivandrum 08-09-2011