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

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Fair Skins, Dark Souls

" Last month two guys had come to see me, Balan Uncle, and both said no. I am too dark for their taste, it seems." She laughed mirthlessly over the phone. "Guess I should have fallen in love or something, found someone on my own."

I am silent and depressed. I ponder over the nature of men ( and women) of my country who shamelessly proclaim their preference of the 'fair, wheat-complexioned' of their would-be bride.

X is the daughter of a close friend. She is a postgraduate, speaks fluent English ( now, that is another criterion), very intelligent, pretty, charming, an excellent cook, well-read, has a good job. She is around 23/24. Possessed with an attractive physique and sparkling wit, she can charm the grumpiest of men and women. I would have been proud to be her father - her real father is no more. I know her so well, I can vouch for her character and integrity.

"Anyway I have decided that I won't do this anymore, this parading of myself before suitors. I am nothing less than a whore if I do it." I agree.

One has to only browse the matrimonial classifieds across the newspapers of the country to discover how specific are the 'Bride wanted ' boxes about the 'Fair skin' of the female. I don't know if anybody has done a study about it, but I think this phenomenon is unique to India. We Indians are neither fair like the White nor dark like the Black ( forgive me for my political incorrectness). Is it because in our hearts we are still awed by the white rulers of the past? Why is black/brown ugly? This preference of fair skin is not intra-religion or intra-culture. Whether you are a Hindu or Christian or Muslim or Sikh, hey you gotta be 'wheat-complexioned'.

Do we Indians think /hope that a fair skin conceals a fair mind? Or is it that we cannot stand the darkness of our own souls? Is that why we continue to abuse, scorn, smirk and spit upon the lesser privileged? Is that why the upper castes loathe the Dalits? But then our Christians and other communities are no less behind in their deprecation of the dark-skinned (X is a X'ian). The unfairness is perplexing.

Now, I don't know if our women also prefer fair-skinned men! Looking at the pictures of the hunks that appear in undergarment ads in 'Vanitha' ( THE most popular womens' magazine in Malayalam) that display their six-packs and the outline of  genitals , I guess dark skin could be sexy too. Don't ask me what men's 'undies' have to do with women's magazines.  Read the line - 'Who are you inside?'   Tickling, isn't it?

As I have mentioned before in my posts on Alleppey, for a connoisseur of feminine beauty, Alleppey offers its bounty of dusky skinned women. How smooth, how alive, how healthy and soft is their skin! From a glance at their figure, you look up to meet dark, khol-ed big eyes, defiant and  inviting. There is this stirring deep inside, but one smiles ( and sighs!) and looks away. :-)

The obsession with fair skin is amply exploited and fanned by the cosmetic industry and the media. Look at the fashion models - how many dark-skinned girls do you see on the ramp or in the advertisements?

The adage that beauty is skin-deep - I think we Indians have taken it for the solemn, literal truth! Along with 'fair skin' come the question of dowry, caste. If you think casteism is the bane of Hinduism only, you are mistaken. A perusal of the matrimonial classifieds would reveal the dozens of denominations in Christianity. It is laughable that many of the Christians in Kerala still trace their genealogy back to Nambuthiri Brahmins or Nairs and denigrate others as Scheduled caste convert or Ezhava convert. One cannot imagine a RC or Orthodox hobnobbing with a Pentacostal or Salvation Army.

I doubt if there is a one time solution for these ills of the society. Sometimes I wonder what is this 'modern' society. We seem to be as barbaric as our prehistoric ancestors! As individuals we can fight to some extent, but the marriage market of the country will remain the same. The cosmetic industry, the film, advertisements, and other media - all thrive on this absurd, petty nature of the Indian character. To expect the society to transform is just an impossible fantasy.

PS: You can find a 'scientific' study on this subject, written by a dermatologist(!) here. And couple of other sites, if you are interested


Balachandran V, Alleppey, 05-12-2012

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Secondhand Wisdom

Time and again, I have written about the simple pleasure in hunting - for books. In the last few years, most of my pickings have been second-hand/used books. It suits me because, the longer the hunt, greater is the pleasure - both in the hunting and in the sudden discovery of a gem among the trash.

One of the blessings of my posting at Alleppey is that I have to go to Eranakulam on official business at least a couple of times in a month. As soon as the work is over, I grab a snack and then dive into Kerala Books, the secondhand bookseller ( at Warriam Road and Chittoor Road) and spend the next couple of hours happily. Oh, you may not recognise me, if you know me only as the Banker; I undergo a metamorphosis, I become a different person just as I do when I touch down in the Himalayas.

Every visit to the shops end up in spending an average of 600-700 bucks, nearly the extra diem allowance I get officially. So I splurge with no qualms!

I generally am not keen on pep books, the motivational, the how-to-win-friends-and-influence-people, the chicken soups and the like. I am yet to learn of anyone who could turn a new leaf by reading these so-called self-help books. As far as I know, it made Dale Carnegie a billionaire - and didn't he kill himself? But then, among the heaps of unbelievable trashy works of fiction, I chance upon this book - ' Touchstones Daily Meditations for Men'. It is a collection of 365 quotations - I was about to put it back, but something caught my eye - Sit loosely in the saddle of life - R L Stevenson. Every quote is followed by an explanatory, motivating text.

In my younger days at Mavelikkara, there were professional readers of the Ramayana. If there is an ailing member in the house, usually old and near death, we would hire one of these readers. After the puja and other ceremonies, he would reverently open the Ramayana at a random page and read from there. It is usually believed that the verse in the opened page will have some significance as to the dying person or the family.

The 'Daily Meditations' - I found it different from the usual books of quotations. The quotations have been chosen with care. The book, I gathered, is meant for those who are withdrawing from drug/alcohol addiction.

Strangely, I am stirred whenever I open this book at a random page and read the quote:
Change and growth take place when a person has risked himself and dares to become involved with experimenting with his own life - Herbert Otto. Hmm, I think. Herbert could be talking about me.

We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin. - Andre Berthiaume

I have never for one instant seen clearly within myself. How then would you have me judge the deed of others? - Maurice Materlink.

In my friend, I find a second self. - Isabel Norton.

Quite thought provoking, quite reflective. Yet, these are opinions of individuals like ourselves; it is the essence of their life experiences. They could be right - or wrong. Yet we all say things with a certain finality, with a firmness that what we say is correct and inviolable. Whether it is a view of life or of another person, we believe that our perspective or judgement to be absolute. We assume we know life. We assume we know the other person. Yet do we realize that life as we see it is tainted by our vision? In whatever we see, hear, smell, touch or say, there is always the I behind it. To look at a mountain and say that I love it requires the prerequisite of love for mountains inside us. One has to have an ear for music to love it. One has to have a liking for the fragrance of a rose and a dislike for that of a rotting corpse, to like or dislike it. One has to have the love for children to love the softness of their cheeks.

But then - we can outgrow our senses. Only then we can look at and understand life, sans bias, sans judgement. In that state of mind we can be aware of and love everything, without our personal bias. 

Like the last line in Richard Bach's 'Illusions', Everthing in this book maybe wrong. It may be right too.
*********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 02.12.2012

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Ripple in my Life

I should have expected this, the kind of sentimental fool that I am. But I never thought I will fall in love with her; at least not during the first few months of our acquaintance. But now that I have decided to leave her for good, perhaps simple nostalgia or sympathy or the habit of cohabitation with her for the last one odd years has changed my feelings for Alleppey from one of intense dislike to mild affection.

Alleppey is a town with an inferiority complex. Decades of neglect by the authorities and the townspeople themselves has made the town a shabby, ragged place. As a fellow blogger once recalled his sojourn here for four years as a student decades ago, Alleppey is a dank place, infested with mosquitoes and stagnant canals and decadent, crumbling old buildings. Other than as the gateway to the backwaters, Alleppey has no significance for a visitor. The irony is that Alleppey is comparatively a young town, a planned city. Built by the Dewan of erstwhile kingdom of Travancore, Raja Kesavadas, in order to attract and facilitate trade with foreigners through a harbour, Alleppey now is the ghost of the once beautifully laid out town. f I had it in me, I would have spruced up the town. All it needs are a few implements - a scythe, a broom and a swipe.

During my stay here during the last 15 months, I have explored the nooks and corners of Alleppey on my bicycle. Still there remains much more to see, much more to document. The main constraint was that my ramblings on the bicycle is limited to an hour or so, three or four days a week. Having to sit late at work, I have missed the evenings in Alleppey. In the mornings when light breaks in from the east, I could only imagine how the views would be in the light from the opposite, the west. I also could not observe and photograph the people of the town. When I leave Alleppey, I am sure to regret what I have missed, just as I missed a lot at Kottayam.

If a year ago you had predicted that I would come to love this town, I'd have called you crazy. In addition to the cityscape, I had disliked the Alleppey accent, its seemingly rough and loutish people. Alleppey is like a mushroom, a fungus. Wherever you may go in Alleppey, your senses would tell you that you are not far away from water - undrinkable, unbathable, that is. It is in Alleppey that I have come to interact with a large number of Muslims in my hitherto life. And they are not terrorists. Many of those simple people are cultured, decent and fiercely honest. Some of their women are just oomph. The farmers of the outlying Kuttanad region may look dark and tough and and shout at the top of their voice, but they are the salt of earth. Farmers and fishermen are closest to mother earth. Their professions are the noblest, feeding the world. Surviving in the harsh environments as they do, it is no wonder that some of them may lack the superfluous gentility of others.

What urges me to take VRS and leave Alleppey is the pointless existence, the hours that I spend in the Bank. True, I need a livelihood; I have been at it for 32 years. In another 4 years, I will retire. I could grind my teeth and cling on till then, but as years pass, I am more and more aware of what I am losing because of my profession. I wait, impatiently to tie up the few loose strands and then it will be goodbye to the Bank.

But I must say that Alleppey has been kind to me. Unpretentious, the town is indifferent to its shortcomings as well as the epithets thrown at her. She offered whatever she could - and I am thankful for all that - the beach, the old buildings, the dusky skinned women. When I leave Alleppey, all I will take from her is a few photographs. There are no too fond memories; nothing bitter either. I am not going to miss this place, or its people. Perhaps later when I pass through, I might look out for the landmarks that have become so familiar to me, shrug , sigh and turn aside when I realize their erasure. Alleppey has been just a little ripple in my life; and to Alleppey, I am just one among the millions who took shelter under her wings for a while and left.

Whether a town or a person, relationships are like that. None are meant for ever. Change, whether in oneself or others has to be accepted calmly. Regret, sure to be, but that will pass, eventually. Alleppey is another chapter about to come to end, so are the relations I had built here. In retrospection, one can say that it had been good while it lasted. Friendship is also like that. Nothing lasts forever. One can always look back and muse on the lessons learnt, for one is always evolving. Just as the town will change, so shall I. Both, I hope, will be for the better.

************** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 25.11.2012

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Face to Face

At the bar, nursing a Romanov - or two
Sometimes three or four
I am forced to look into myself -
Not a pretty sight.

At the barber, as he twists my neck
Left and right, up and down
And then firmly upright
I am forced to look at myself -
Not a pretty sight either!

********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 15.11.2012

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Monkey in the City

It was early; around 0630 hrs. I woke up to the yelps and howls of Sancho and Sally. This is the second time in the past one month that a monkey appeared here. The little patch of greenery that surrounds my house - the tamarind, the mango, the jack - trees offer shade and bring down the temperature a notch or two, is a resting place for the birds. Being right in the core of the city - my house is just 5 minutes walk from the Rly station/Bus terminal, guests who enter my house always marvel how cool and quiet the place is.

He is a Bonnet Macaque; he is a bit middle-aged. His right forearm is missing. The way it looks covered with fur would mean that he has survived with his handicap for some years. He is a long way from home. Crows have spotted him already and are cawing and flying around, pecking at him. The monkey jumps from the Tamarind to the coconut palm and then hops on to the 4th floor balcony of the hotel next door. I don't see him anymore. The fading away of the cawing indicates that the monkey has moved further away.

I wonder why the crows hate the monkey so much. Sancho and Sally - I am sure they would kill him if they could. I have seen them trapping and mauling a mongoose, how they revel in it! But they are not much different from human beings, are they? It is usually so pompously said that animals kill only for food. No, they also do it for the same reasons that Homo sapiens do - for fun, for domination. There are some documentaries that show the life of chimpanzees - cannibalizing and wantonly killing a rival group. Primates!

Sancho runs up to me and yowls. He is frustrated that the monkey is gone. I hug and hold him tight.

*********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum 04.11.2012

Saturday, November 3, 2012

'Tenzing' of Alleppey

Alleppey district has a curiosity that it is the only district in Kerala which has no forests; not to speak of mountains. Cuddled between the backwaters and sea, Alleppey in parts is below sea level. Hence the hackneyed fact of only or one of the few land masses where farming is done below sea level. In Kuttanad, the region of Alleppey called the Rice Bowl of Kerala, you see waterways with bunds built on either sides and the swampy paddy fields extend to the horizons. In the narrow strips of land, people survive, with scarce drinking water and electricity and mobility restricted to boats. It is this strange topography that attracts tourists in hoards to this country; and they are amply rewarded with scenic beauty.

Yet here in Alleppey lives a man who has climbed Mount Everest - twice and Kanchenjunga once and some other peaks too. A man who has shaken hands with Edmund Hillary, a man who has taken great photographs of the mountains - I shook his hands the other day.

Sureshkumar joined the ITBP ( Indo- Tibetan Border Police) long ago. When the ITBP planned an ascent of Kanchenjunga, they needed a photographer - Suresh dabbled in it and he was straightaway sent for advanced mountaineering course, which opened up his path to the skies.

An article had appeared in a magazine a few months back - ever since then I wanted to meet him. His house is somewhere in a narrow lane in the town. Clutching a copy of the magazine, I cycled around, finally hunting his house down. A charming, unassuming man, Suresh greeted me with open arms.

A man who has climbed Everest and Kanchenjunga - even touching his feet would be a privilege! I open-mouthedly listen to Suresh. In the sitting room, a showcase full of  memorabilia - souvenirs of his ascents; on the wall of the verandah, two framed photographs - one with former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and another with the present, Manmohan Singh. Suresh was part of the elite SPG ( Special Protection Group) that guarded the PMs. I am awestuck. I ask him, how, how, could he be here, living in this modest house, unknown even among his neighbours. Suresh smiles - he says that there were some family problems like the death of his in-laws which compelled him to take voluntary retirement and come home. Today, the man who climbed the highest peak in the world works as a Home Guard on daily wages of Rs.150/- or so, directing traffic in the busy junctions of Alleppey. Suresh says he has no regrets. I am speechless.

Suresh apologetically tells me he has to go for duty; he would be happy to meet me again some other time and tell me the stories. I request his daughters to pose for a picture with their dad. I shake Suresh's hand warmly. I tell his younger daughter jokingly - 'Do you know what I did just now? I shook the hand that touched Everest'!! She smiles. She glances proudly at her father.

*********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 01.11.2012  

Sunday, October 28, 2012


The cartoon strip I love best is 'Peanuts'. Time and again I have used Charlie Brown or Snoopy the Beagle in my posts to highlight certain qualities I uphold - or wish to uphold. 'Peanuts' is not really a cartoon strip for children - or rather it is for children who can think like adults. But one can enjoy Peanuts at any age, though the philosophical implications might escape the notice of many.

One of strips that I find unforgettable and that I go back to from time to time is given below. Sometime in the Eighties it had appeared in a Weekly - I had cut it out and kept it in my treasure chest. When K came from Bangalore last week, as usual he presented me with a secondhand copy of Peanuts book bought from Blossoms. To my great delight, I found the strip in it. I would like to share it with you.

Balachandran V, Trivandrum,, 27.10.2012

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Blue Rock Pigeons

Dear reader, if perchance you happen upon here now,
Move on, with a casual click to somewhere else -
I have nothing to offer, other than a word, 
On a pair of dead pigeons.

Move on then, but with a briefest thought
Of the beauty of life that linger even in death
Of the parting of ways that you and I will, one day
Remind yourself that this is how it all ends,
Not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Pigeons that you fed
Pigeons that cooed, cozy beneath your roof,
Pigeons that rose with a flutter
To the sky as blue as their wings.

That's all, my dear reader, move on, as I did -
But before you do, step aside as I did
Gently picking the memories up and laying them
By the side of the road...

************** Balachandran V, Alleppey 04.0.2012

Monday, October 22, 2012


Today there appeared this huge hoarding right in front of the YMCA. She has one of the loveliest faces I have ever seen. Even in this soft morning when only a few pass by on these streets, it would be odd for an old man like me to gawk at a pretty girl's picture. The line - 'Daughters are totally worth it' , struck a painful note somewhere inside. Long ago I used to fantasize being the father of a pretty, intelligent, artistic daughter, but fate had it otherwise.

As one grows older, one is aware of the increasing number of attractive women all around. I am interested in beautiful, intelligent and sexually attractive women like any other man, but in recent years, I have noticed that by and large, I look at young girls in the age group of say 17- 23 with a queer mixture of love and affection, not lustily, but quite aware of the sexuality of the young women in full bloom.

And young ladies of the said group abound. They flutter around me like butterflies. They swoop down from the skies at me, pass me swiftly, leaving the fragrance of their beauty and youth. They are like young does, jumping and hopping and kicking up dust. I see them, on their way to schools and colleges or offices, in buses and trains, in the streets and beaches. Their gaiety is infectious. Beauty is all around me and I am enchanted by it.

I am typing this sitting in a train to Trivandrum, my weekly commuting to home. Facing me sit two of the above kind. I watch them openly and I can sense this kindly smile on my face as I observe every little thing they do - munching Lays, talking over the mobile, excited gestures and giggles, the way their eyes dart. I also notice the soft hair on their forearms, glinting in the sunlight. I admire the gentle swell of the breasts, the pale skin and the beautifully shaped neck. Their earlobes are soft and pink, their fingers long and graceful, with a life of their own, a language of their own. The girls share the songs of a single mobile phone, plugging one earphone to each. I eavesdrop but can't make much sense of their conversation.

Until recently, there were four young girls in my office. All of them in their early 20s, fresh graduates/ PGs, excited at their first jobs and thrilled to be independent. Joined the bank in the space of last one year, they offered a hilarious contradiction with us, 4 middle-aged, gray- haired men. To us, they were like our daughters. We loved to teach them the rudiments of banking practice, teased them, shared their concerns, hopes and happiness, reassured them if they were in a flutter. 3 of them stayed at a local working women's hostel, one commuted from Cherthala, about 20 kms from Alleppey. One Monday, back from home I gave them a bottle of P's tomato pickle and how they loved it!

But within the span of last couple of weeks two of them were transferred to their home towns. Waving goodbye, I knew it was unlikely that I would ever meet them again. They were likely to settle down and get married, go for promotion and lead their lives. Who were I, this man who had passed through their lives for a brief one year? I remember those old officers and peons in Chidambaram, way back in 1980. Very likely they are dead and gone and what had been them, to me? Except figures, faint in my private memories? So too, I shall pass.

We don't know much about each other - other than about the immediate family, where we live, etc. In spite of the fact that we spend every day together, from morning to evening, we hardly know anything about our personal problems, other than a very occasional mention of something.

At the railway station today afternoon, N, one of the four, came up to me and asked - 'Sir, is there any truth in astrology?' N confided in me that she wanted to marry someone but her family was against it. She was miserable and then went to an astrologer who said there was some Dosham and according to the stars, the proposed marriage would not succeed. She looked all twisted and about to break down. 'Pappa and Amma are against it, so is my sister I hate her now she used to support me'. So I tell her gently to have confidence in herself, discuss the matter with her fiancé, listen to the objections of her parents and convince them. I tell her, no astrology is not true or anything don't BELIEVE in it, but sometimes it is a salve for wounds, sometime it offers hope when nothing else can, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't, but the main thing is to have conviction in oneself - it sounds so hollow even to me. If one knew oneself, one wouldn't need the crutches.

Perhaps it is the 'paternal instinct', perhaps it is the diminishing libido, perhaps it is the onset of 'andropause' - I am feeling so fatherly to all young girls. Or is it because of the realization that I would be interesting to girls of that age only as a father figure?

As the train slows down at Trivandrum, standing near the exit, I glance at the mirror above the wash basin. I am amused. I nearly burst out laughing because what I see is the profile of a man who could be in his mid-60s. But, no Sir, no ridicule. I am happy being what I am. I am proud that I don't pretend to be what I am not. whatyouseeiswhatyouget. I think that is quite an attractive feature.

**************** Balachandran V, Trivandrum 22-10-2012
This is a poem I wrote a few years ago.

  Sunlight Slants

Sometimes, in the corner of my eye,
I see a shadow flitting by.
A little girl in ponytail,
A pinafore hangs in the sun to dry.
Raindrops on petals, roses so pink,
A pair of hands cover my eyes.
A drop of water drips from the still wet hair,
My daughter asks me to tell her name.
The tinkle of your anklets,
The tingle of your laughter,
The scent of love in your touch,
My fingers grope for your little face.
Who are you, my unborn child, my unsung song,
You with the soft curls that tickle my ears?
Why did you chose to remain in my heart,
Tease me not with your hide& seek.
Sunlight slants- evening is here
Doors are open, I wait for thee.
Come, let the brilliance of light
Glow your hair and warm my heart. 


Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Temple Tank

I have been getting up rather early these days; it follows early to bed. The dreariness of my job wears me out and unlike the old days when I could sit up late night, I now go to sleep by 2100 hrs, wakes up at around 0300 hrs, try to sleep again and doze off after half an hour or so. Mind in turmoil, wringing the thought of taking VRS, the pros and cons, the foolishness or brilliance of the decision to change the course of my life. At 0600, I straddle my bicycle and with the camera in the basket, I roam the town, pedaling slowly and then come to this temple tank near the Tirumala temple.

It is quiet here. A heron, stalking in the shrubs, skulks away. A Little Cormorant, sedately swimming is annoyed and streaks across the water and flies away. A few feet from where I stand, a Mongoose scuttle across and at a safe distance, pauses and looks back at me before diving into the bushes. A smart dog runs up, smells me curiously in a friendly way, thinks twice before marking my bicycle with his pee and trot away as if to attend to some urgent business. I click. In the warmth that breaks sweat from my body, I sit quietly. Far away, I can hear the traffic on the highway. Two pretty teenagers, so lovably conscious of their beauty, pass by, probably for a morning private tuition.

I could live like this, in a daze, till I die - or take my future into my hands and chart a course into unknown territories. Some might say I am too old to launch new adventures, but in howmuchsoever life is left for me, I would like to wake up every morning, not dreading the dreariness of predictable, dull routine, but to days, each different and fresh, finally loving every moment of my life, everything I do.

******* Balachandran V. Alleppey, 18.10.2012

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Passing Scenery

 Courtesy: whotalking.com
While in a train from north to south,
Past the paddy, the groves, the lagoons,
Past where pearls glitter in sun,
Someone I love passed me by.

In a train from south to north,
Past the streams, the ponds, the lakes
On the tracks west to where I sat,
In that train fleeing past,
My son, my uttermost love, passed me by.

In that train that flew past me,
In the blur of faces that swept past me,
One was my son, my uttermost love.

I, in a train running north to south,
My heart in a train running south to north.


K was home for two days; that was his surprise birthday present to P. I couldn’t be with him today, I had to be at work. Then, in the afternoon, I rode this train from Alleppey to Trivandrum; and K in a train from Trivandrum to Bangalore.  Somewhere near the bewitchingly beautiful lake at Paravoor, our trains crossed, going in opposite directions. I strained to look the fast moving train, hoping to catch a glimpse of K’s face. How silly! I know, but I was awed; I wanted to tell the guys who sat near me, ‘Look, look, my son is in that train!’  Then as we crossed the Paravoor Kayal, the water was silvery and pearly and the sun was so radiant and the breeze was so cool and my eyes were wet and I  got a glimpse of the vast sea beyond.

************** Balachandran V, Trivandrum 22.09.2012

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Key Factors of Life

Life is a bitch; take it from me, I've had 55 years of it. Well, I'd agree, maybe in general. Or maybe not. But - sitting in a bus that took me oh-so-slowly from Kollam to Trivandrum, squeezed between two gentlemen of considerable girth ( that makes it three gentlemen), the sweat of one's armpit drawing bizarre patterns on my left shoulder and the right serving as a pillow for the other man who seems not to have slept for the last one week - it struck me - zen comes in the most unpredictable moments - that one's life has mainly two set of factors - those that can be controlled and those that cannot be. So? So, when you can't bloody well anything about the uncontrollable factors, what the f*** are we doing about those that can be controlled by ourselves?

Say, take my smoking. I can easily stop it anytime. Like Mark Twain said, ' Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in life; I know, because I have done it several times'. My smoking could be the cause of many of my discomforts; sore throat, cough, palpitation, giddiness - and whatever my ECG says I have. All I have to do is to chuck the horrible habit. Long ago, just after marriage, I quit smoking for two years! I kept on reminding myself that with every cigarette, I lost 5 minutes of my life. Life that could be spent with P and K and walking in the mountains.

Yeah, my Mr Hyde would then say, 'Listen pal, just think about the moments of great pleasure that Gold Flake King Size has given you. Just think of the poems you wrote, drifting in and out of the smoke. Think of the moment when you paused at the top of the hill and lit one'.

Or - shall we talk about the 32 goddamn years I've spent working in a bank? Oh, yeah, I had all sorts of weird dreams about doing this and doing that and - Ok, I've realized a few but many many are left unattended. Actually, I could do something about them - like going to Tierra del fuego or Scotland or wandering in the Himalayas - but that horrible interruption called 'priorities' intervene and my dreams are left in the lurch.

What are the things that really makes you feel that life is a bitch? Laziness. Procastination. Cowardice. Dullheadedness. Indifference. If one starts analyzing the whole rigmarole that makes up one's life, one can straightaway come to the conclusion that the Controllable factors are more than its opposite. Climate Change? Corruption? Accidents? Deaths? Pollution? Deforestation? Ageing?
The question that we should pose to ourselves is - What the F*** have you done about it?
Excuse me, folks, while I light a cigarette....
****** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 23.08.2012
P S . Just wanted to share a poem I wrote long ago:
Gone up in Smoke
Crackling cellophane
As the packet opens-
Aroma of tobacco.
Fingers a- trembling, brain a- tickling.

The glowing butt, curling smoke
As the tip touches one’s lips-
Tingle! Deep intake of smoke
Seeps in settling, satiating one’s blood.

Rings dancing in the air
Wafting away into nothingness
Only a fragrance remains-
Then that too, like you, is gone forever.

************************ 31.08.2004

All India Bank Strike!

Two-day strike, but I reached home only in the evening of the first day. Wasn't sure if the Strike would be held, so has been the history of bankers in strike; left Alleppey in the morning, attended a marriage at Kollam at noon. Today, on the second day of the strike, I am short of cash and go to five ATMs, of different banks, including mine. They all say, 'REGRET'; probably cash in the ATMs must be fully exhausted. As I leave the fifth, a man standing outside asks me- ' Got money?' I shake my head and he clucks sympathetically and adds - "Those ---------ers! Striking for two days in this Onam season! ----ers should be thrown out!" I nod - whether it was in concurrence or not, I hope he could not recognize....!

******************** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 23.08.2012

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Har Har Mahadev! Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim! Independance Day musings

Satnam Singh

Walking along M G Road, Trivandrum in the morning, wondering at the daily changes that happens to it as the old tiled two-storyed buildings give way to multi-storyed shopping malls and regretting that I did not photo-document the old City of the 70s and 80s, I am shaken out of my reverie by the sound of blaring horns and revving motorcycles and racuous cries. A procession of a dozen or more motorbikes piloted and followed by four-wheelers, blinking lights and waving the flag pass, blocking the regular traffic. The drivers of the cars have their doors kept open; boys sit on the window frames. The bikers have no helmets; some boys stand up on the pillion seat. They ignore the traffic lights. They pass Police vehicles - security is beefed up today - and the police just look at them.

Typical of Indians that the boys should celebrate Independence Day by flouting the law of the land. Freedom, to Indians, is to be free of law. Otherwise, how do one explain the political murders, where people who defy the Party are hacked to death or the death of a mentally deranged youth at the hands of the devotees of the 'Amma' or the Police or the mental hospital staff?

Satnam Singh was found dead inside the lavatory of the Govt Mental Hospital at Trivandrum. Satnam had crawled through the corridors of the hospital and licked up the water on the floor of the lavatory before collapsing to death. Satnam was 23, from Bihar. He had been missing from home since last May. Satnam reportedly suffered from Bipolar disorder. Before the incident at the Matha Amritanandamayi Math, Satnam was at the ashram of Muni Narayanaprasad at Varkala for 20 days. According to Muni Narayanaprasad, the one prayer at the All Religion prayers offered at the Ashram that Satnam was fond of repeating was 'Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim' , In the name of Allah, Most gracious, most merciful'.

On the fateful day, Satnam rushed at Matha Amrithanandamayi, shouting 'Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim'. The security guards and devotees detained him and later handed over Satnam to the police. According to a newspaper report - "The math office-bearers detained Singh and handed him over to the police. The police subjected him to a medical exmaniation before they produced him before a magistrate and got him remanded in judicial custody. The police said the doctor had reported serious injury on Satnam at the time they assumed his custody".

The video footage at the Math showed Satnam being manhandled by the people there. Later, Satnam might have been subjected to further physical torture at the hands of the Police and at the government run mental hospital.

Enquiries have begun; at the same speed they are being hushed up. Attendants at the hospital are in custody. Doctors who gave false certificates could not be indicted; the Medical Council threatened strike.

Perhaps one cannot expect more from the law or health institutions in this country. But what is more painful is that Matha Amrithanandaymayi - Amma to the millions of her devotees - she could have saved Satnam's young life. One word from her would have given a young son back to his parents. She could have been a bit 'graceful, a bit 'merciful'.

One cannot really help being cynical about the icons that we carry in our hearts - be it the nation or living Gods. Happy Independance Day, fellow Indians!

                 Satnam's father
************* Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 15.08.2012

Friday, August 10, 2012

Close encounters of the Exciting Kind

I was in a poorly lit hall in Alleppey where a book exhibition was going on.  I had passed her a couple of times before; maybe it is the dim light or my failing eyesight, I did not notice her at first. Then, on the third time, I stopped by - and. as I always do, began  fondling her. Suddenly, I froze - one has that instinctive feel, that arousal, that pounding of the heart, that innate knowledge that one has found it - folks, I am talking about the exicting discovery of yet another book, poems that have captured my heart.

The poet lives in my home town, is already well known in the literary circles - I had heard her name, but I am ashamed to admit that I hadn't read her. Reading Anitha Thampi and her second collection of poems, 'Azhakillaatthava-yellaam ( All that are bereft of beauty) is like watching a storm outside as you sit dry and warm and alone, inside. After reading her poems over and over, I google her. Translations never do justice to the original, but you can read a few here.

What struck me most is the lean crispness of the words. Emotions pour forth, not uncontrolled, but with a startling nakedness, bereft of pretensions. There is such precision, such clarity and overwhelming directness that left the reader trembling. The language bear no laundry bags from the past. The thoughts hits you direct and straight, puncturing your heart like a rapier. Those of you know Malayalam would find Anitha Thampi very close to you - very close. Non-Malayalees will have to be content with the translations.

There is enough information about the poet and her poetry in the web. My words are inadequate. 

കളഞ്ഞു പോയ ഉടുപ്പ് 

കഞ്ഞിപിഴിഞ്ഞു വിരിച്ച ഉടുപ്പ്
ആര് കൊണ്ടുപോയി?

എന്റെ അളവിനെ 
എന്റെ മാത്രം അഴുക്കുകളെ 
അത് കൂടെകൊണ്ടു പോയി

കണ്ണ് നിറഞ്ഞാല്‍ തുടചിരുനു
വാക്ക് തടഞ്ഞാല്‍ തെരുപ്പിടിച്ചിരുന്നു
എന്റെ തണുപ്പും പൊള്ളലും എത്ര കാലം പൊതിഞ്ഞിരുന്നു. 

മൊരിയും വിയര്‍പ്പും ഒപ്പി
ഉള്മരങ്ങളുടെ പൂമനങ്ങളെ ചോര്‍ന്നു പോകാതെ കാത്തു
കാറ്റുകള്‍ക്ക്‌ പായ്മരമായി
ഉത്സവങ്ങള്‍ക്ക് കൊടികൂറയായി

പല കറകളെ പേറി 
പുഴുക്കങ്ങളെ പൊറുത്തു

പാതിവാടിയ ഇലകളുടെ നിറമായിരുന്നു
ആര് കൊണ്ടുപോയി? 

എന്റെതല്ലാത്ത ഒരു അളവില്‍ 
അതിന്റെ ഇറുക്കങ്ങളില്‍ 
ഒരു നീലകുപ്പായതോട്  ചേര്‍ന്ന്  നിന്നതിന്റെ 
ഇനിയുഒരു കുപ്പായതോട് ആ വിധം ചേര്‍ന്ന് നില്‍ക്കാനാവുമോ?

ഏതെങ്കിലും തിരക്കില്‍ 
എന്നെകടന്നു പോയാല്‍ 
എന്റെ കളഞ്ഞു പോയ ഉടുപ്പ്? 
കടലിന്റെ അടിത്തട്ടില്‍ നിന്ന്

നിന്നോട് സംസാരിച്ചു കൊണ്ട് 
ഞാന്‍ കടലിനു മീതെ നടക്കുകയായിരുന്നു.

എന്റെ കാലടികളെ ഇക്കിളിയാക്കി.
കാറ്റ് ഉടലിനെ പായ്മരമാക്കി 

വിശ്വസിക്കൂ എന്ന് പറഞ്ഞു 
ഞാന്‍ തിരിഞ്ഞുനോക്കുമ്പോള്‍ 
കണ്നെതുന്ന്ടതെങ്ങും കരയില്ല,
കര തേടുന്ന കടല്ക്കാക്കകള്‍മില്ല.

ഇത്രമേല്‍ ആഴത്തില്‍ 
From the depths of the sea

I was walking over the sea
talking to you. 

Tickled my feet
Wind turned my body into a mast. 

Trust me, I said
And turned around -
You were not there. 
No land wherever I looked
No seagulls searching for land either. 

That's how 
I am now all alone
in the great depths
of the sea. 
*****  ( My poor translation) 


പ്രിയ അനിതയ്ക്ക്. 

പേര് പരിചിതമായിരുന്നു എങ്കിലും, വായിച്ചിരുന്നില്ല. ആലപ്പുഴയിലെ പുസ്തക പ്രദര്‍ശന ശാലയില്‍, 'അഴകില്ലത്തവയെല്ലാം' വെറുതെ ഒന്ന് മറിച്ചു നോക്കിയപ്പോള്‍ ഹൃദയത്തിന്റെ മിടിപ്പ് പെട്ടെന്ന് വര്‍ധിച്ചു. മലയാളം വായന പരിമിതം - ഭാഷാജ്ഞാനം കുറവ് - ഭാവന ശുഷ്കം - എങ്കിലും കൈകള്‍ വിറച്ചു. ഹൃദയത്തില്‍ എവിടെയൊക്കെയോ ഒരു കത്തി കൊണ്ടുള്ള കോറല്‍. 

ആലപ്പുഴയില്‍നിന്നും തിരുവനന്തപുരതെകുള്ള തീവണ്ടിയില്‍ ഇരുന്നു പലവുരു വായിച്ചു; എന്റെ മുഖം അടുത്തിരുന്നവര്‍ ഇടക്കിടെ ശ്രദ്ധിക്കുന്നുണ്ടായിരുന്നു.  വീട്ടില്‍ വന്നു ഭാര്യയെ ചിലത് വായിച്ചു കേള്‍പ്പിച്ചു. കളഞ്ഞു പോയ ഉടുപ്പ് - എന്റെ മനസ്സിലെ വിഹുഅലതകള്‍ ഞാന്‍ എങ്ങിനെ പറഞ്ഞറിയിക്കാന്‍? മനസ്സ് വിതുമ്പുന്നു. കുട്ടനാടിന്റെ പച്ച!  ചാഞ്ഞും ചരിഞ്ഞും ആകാശത്തിലേക്ക് നീണ്ടു മേഘങ്ങളില്‍ മറഞ്ഞും പടര്‍ന്നു പന്തലിച്ചും, ഭലവും തണലും സ്നേഹവും വാരി വിതറി മരങ്ങള്‍! ഓരോ ചെറു തിരമാലയിലും മാടി മാടി വിളിക്കുന്ന കടല്‍! 

ആര് പെണ്ണെ നീ? ഓ, വരില്ലത്, തെരണ്ടിരിപ്പാണ്, എന്ന് വായിച്ചപ്പോള്‍ പാര്‍വതിയുടെ മുഖത്ത് എന്തോ മിന്നിമറഞ്ഞു. 'തുലാത്തില്‍' വായിച്ചപ്പോള്‍ മാവേലിക്കരയിലെ, എഴുപതുകളിലെ എന്റെ കൌമാരം ഓര്മ വന്നു. കൈലി മടക്കികുത്തി കുനിഞ്ഞു നിന്നുകൊയ്യുന്ന   പെണ്ണുങ്ങളെ കൊച്ചംബ്രാന്‍ ആയി വരമ്പത്ത് നിന്ന്,  കൊതിയോടെ നോക്കി നിന്ന എന്റെ ചെറു ജന്മിത്വം.  കടല്ക്കരയില്‍നിന്നും പിന്നോക്കം നടന്നു പോയത് ഞാന്‍ ആണ്. ഒറ്റക്കാക്കി, ഒറ്റയായി ...

ഓരോ കവിതയിലും ഞാന്‍ മനസുടക്കി മറിഞ്ഞുവീണ് , വീണ്ടും എണീറ്റ്‌ - കാറ്റിലൂടെ, മഴചാറ്റിലൂടെ, നിശബ്ദനായി ...

ഞാന്‍ വീണ്ടും വീണ്ടും - വീണ്ടും കളഞ്ഞു പോയ ഉടുപ്പ് വായിക്കുകയാണ്. 

ഭാഷയുടെ ശക്തി - ലാളിത്യത്തിന്റെ പ്രഭ - അത് സത്യതിന്റെതും പരിശുദ്ധിയുടെതും  കൂടിയാണ് - നന്ദി. 

************ Balachandran V, Trivandrum 10.08.2012