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

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Flowering Tree

It is spring; a tree flowers. 

You may love it

You may hate it  

You may fail to notice it. 

Nothing matters to the tree;

To flower in spring 

Is in the nature of the tree. 

******* Balachandran V. 27.01.2013

The Pleasure of Gifting

One of the most cherished possessions among my books is the Pleasure Book by Julius Fast. It is a collection of the many different ways, some common, some unusual, acts of humans through which they find pleasure and happiness in life. Like there is one who finds immense pleasure in showering, those  who love to watch the elements, trekking, swimming, bird watching, doing nothing,  smoking a pipe and so on and so forth. One that sticks to my memory is about a person who finds pleasure in gifting. He gifts, not on birthdays or such occasions, but totally without a reason. He painstakingly learns what the other person loves most, and then gifts it, as a total surprise. He says that what gives him the greatest pleasure is to watch the way happiness lights up in the other person's face. 

The other day I gifted a calendar to a close friend of mine. This was no ordinary calendar. I had bought it from Welfare of Stray Dogs group in Mumbai, each costing Rs.160/-. I get them from the group every year, as a gesture of donation, a contribution, an acknowledgement of the great work they are doing. I get 5 or 6 copies and gift them to those friends whom I know love dogs. 

Yesterday this particular friend who is as keen on dogs as I am, visited; I gave him one calendar. I had given him one last year too. Flipping over the sheets, he said that the daughter of his housemaid ( a girl of 18 or 19) has recently started evincing interest in birds and he gave her a book on birds of Kerala in Malayalam. She is interested in birds and animals and stuff like that, he said.  He said - ' I think I will give this to her'. 

I am not sure the feeling of deflation I felt is  remotely akin to pleasure!!! :-D

********** Balachandran , Trivandrum, 26.01.2013

Saturday, January 26, 2013

T shirt Zen

Morning 0630 hrs 24th Jan 2013. As usual on my bicycle. Passing the Dist Court, I espy a man walking towards me. In one swift glance I read his T shirt and move on.   5 secs later, this light explodes in my head and I swerve the bicycle for a 180 degree turn, ride back to the man and pausing, ask - "Excuse me, can I take a picture of your T shirt?'

He tells me he bought it from Trivandrum, no, he is from Alleppey, he is a graphic artist, he would like to look at my photographs some day.

Later in the day, I take a boat from Alleppey to Kollam - by train, it is one and a half hours, by bus two and a half - this boat ride takes eight and a half hours. Leaving Alleppey at 1030 hrs, reaches Kollam at 1900 hrs sharp. Gazing at the life passing by, I muse on the T shirt - 'The difference between who you are and who you want to be ... is what you do.

I smile, content by a day, worthwhile.

************ Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 26.01.2013

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Parting Shots

As the date of departure looms up fast, I fervently go around the town in the morning, trying to take in as much as I can, by way of impressions, memories and photographs. Some pictures taken during the morning cycling expeditions.

A resort near the beach

The mornings are pleasantly chill since the last two days. Bad for good photographs, a haze hangs over the landscape. At the Finishing Point (this is the finishing point of the famous Boat race), tourists climb down from the boats after a night moored in the backwaters.  A lone foreign tourist sips a cup of tea at the corner tea shop and I admire her legs as I cycle by. Three burkha-ed women, plumb and middle-aged, swing their arms and toggle their behinds in an effort to reduce their ample girth. Pretty teenagers overtake me in their pink bicycles to reach their private tuition classes in time and I feel a tinge of regret that I  am non-existent   for them.

I reach the Starting Point  and demand  Strong Tea with a little sugar ( Oru Chaaya, Madhuram kurachu, Kaduppathil) from my regular shop and ogle at the full-breasted foreigner who alights from a houseboat after the hugs and 'Baai, Baai, honey' she proffers to another. I admire the way a local turns around his little kayak, paddling this way and that way and plans to ask somebody to teach me rowing.

Typical entrance to an old  Tharavad

                                                               CSI Church, circa 1818 ( I love this church)

Though I have been haunting these parts for more than a year, I really do not fall into an identifiable  stereotype. I am dark-skinned and look a Malayalee, I move in a rusty old bicycle - but I have a camera in the basket and the way I look at places and people  - why, it is like a prospective customer at a Red Street. Nothing escapes my eye, from the Black Drongo on the wire to the mangy dog on the street, from the crumbling old house to the comely matron on her way to church.  I speak Malayalam with an almost Alleppian accent, but  I am not a local, who the hell is he I can see the question plainly in the eyes of the shop keeper, of the lounging about, in the bleary eyes of the boozer who is waiting outside the local toddy shop, thirsting for his morning shot.  I love it , I am the mystery guy I smile to myself, until I hear the 'Saaarey, evidaa, ravile?' ( Whither goest thou, oh, Sire, so early is the morn) and recognize a customer of the bank.  I have the look of the caught-with-his-pants-down, and I furiously cycle away, deaf to the protests of my creaking knees.

******* Balachandran V, Alleppey, 18.01.2013

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Three temples of Alleppey

In the wee hours of the day that I roam the town on my bicycle, the only establishments open are the small tea shops and  the temples. Improperly attired for an entry into the sanctum ( sweat soaked Tee Shirt, track suit with a week's dirt on it and floaters) and inadequately attuned for a 'darshan', I keep a low profile as I walk around the holy shrines.

The typical Kerala temples are enchanting in their seemingly simple architecture. They are not built to dominate the surroundings like the Christian churches or the Tamil temples; instead they blend with it. Most of them have a open grounds with old Ficus trees. The extent of the ground vary. I will not go into the details of Kerala temples here, but would suggest a book to those who would like to know more about Kerala temple architecture written by Ramu Katakam. 

This is the Mullackal Rajarajeswari temple, almost directly opposite to my workplace. Quite popular, it is here that the famous 'Chirappu' festival during mid - Dec is held.

Kalarkode Mahadevar temple. Most temples in Kerala has large tanks. Many of them have fallen into disuse or filled out. 

The Kalarkode Mahadevar has a substantially large tank. Serene surroundings.

Kottankulangara Devi temple. Actually the one shown here is the Krishna temple adjoining the main Devi temple. The huge facade in front of the Devi shrine is rather jarring. I didn't like to take a picture.

One has to really experience the atmosphere of these places. Unlike the commercially successful temples like Guruvayoor, or Padmanabha swami or Sabarimala, the large majority of Kerala temples have an air of meditation, of an inviting spiritual sanctity about them. Priests don't pester you here; nor do garishly painted and crudely crafted statuettes shock your senses. But the temples have a air of aloofness too. They tell you - ' Come till here. Don't go further.' There is a distance that is to be kept,  that is silently demanded and maintained. 

Everyday that pass remind me of the approach of the day I will bid goodbye to Alleppey. The town and I - we talk to each other silently, one offering and the other accepting, both respecting and giving space to each other.

The other day, a close friend of mine casually announced that his daughter is having her engagement a couple of days later. I was totally surprised when he answered to my questions that the proposal had come two or three months earlier, that he and his wife had gone to visit the boy's place, that the boy's people had come here - our friendship goes back to more than 25 years, before his daughter was born. I was hurt that he hadn't told me about it earlier. Considering how fastidiously we had nurtured our relationship all through these years, considering the fact that how I used to run to him with every problem or every mite of joy or sorrow, I couldn't help this dull pain inside me that he pointedly ignored to invite me for the function or tell me about the wedding plans. Of course, I did not show my hurt, I congratulated both the father and daughter. Later, I reflected on the incident and realized that I shouldn't be feeling bad about it. If my friend didn't want to tell me, if he didn't want me at the engagement, he must have a reason, I thought. P sensed my mood and comforted me by saying that my friend probably didn't want to tell me about the proposal until it was confirmed. Later, the day of the engagement passed; in the evening my friend telephoned me. He was rather apologetic when he said that those present at the function were only the close relatives, which I really appreciated. Why have a sprawling, larger than wedding function for a engagement? I am at rest, but have to admit that slight pain still lingers somewhere. What is meaning of a long friendship if you are not trusted? I don't know. Maybe it is not a matter of trust, it is a matter of keeping the right distance.

************* Balachandran, Trivandrum. 13.01.2013

Friday, January 11, 2013


Thumpoli beach, Alleppey

In the little notepad that I carry around with me I have scribbled such at random:

Themes for blog

1. Coitus interruptus (the mental kind)

2. Ponmudi - sacrilege by ISRO

3. Idea robbers  (forgot the idea!)

4. Alleppey Chirappu festival

5. Boat ride from Alleppey to Kottayam

6. Delhi, December 2012

7. The arrogant male

8. The clean and well-lighted places

9. The Countdown

10. A fallacy called friendship

11. Conduct Certificate

 A mind swirling with thoughts at times; at times a vacuum, at times at peace, at times in a turmoil, joy, sorrow, indifference, hurt, happy... It has been exactly a month since I blogged. As can be seen from above, it is not the lack of subjects but the unwillingness to put them across to you that has kept me from elaborating on them. Every time I open the netbook and look at the blank page, I would wonder - why? What I am trying to tell people? Why do I want to? What difference would it make to the few readers that I have? I was reminded of the late blogger, Ms Kochuthresiamma. She passed away nearly a year ago. Quietly. I sometimes visit her page, almost hoping to find a new post from her.

Looking back at the more than 4 years of blogging, I realize that it has been a journey of self-discovery. Except a few, most of my posts have been about myself; how I react to my surroundings. Couple of years ago, an American commented that he is unable to take anything from my writings because it was all about sorrow and disappointments and such negative thoughts. He suggested that I should think positively. Though I felt snubbed at first, it dawned upon me that what he said is true.  Mark, I think his name was. Now I feel so grateful to Mark.  By thinking, by scraping out bits and pieces of goodness in me, I have been able to change my attitude to life. From the responses of my readers, I could sense that some of the joy of life could be shared with them. 

The countdown has started. If nothing untoward happens, I should be out of the bank by the end of March 2013; I have given the mandatory 3-month notice to the Bank. Already the news has spread through the grapevines and the first question they all ask me - 'So what are you going to do afterwards?'  Explaining is pointless and tiring. So I limit to one word - 'Nothing'. Those who know me would say, 'oh, going to Himalayas, taking up photography, writing etc, uh?' 'Maybe', I say.

One man said - 'Balan Sir, what you are doing is a great mistake, a great mistake'. In some, I recognize envy. In some, I can clearly hear the gurgle  and the thought - ' I hope he is going to regret it, oh how lovely that would be."  Very few share the hopes of freedom. Very few say, 'Good for you, Balan. All the best for the great adventure'.

The way the world is, if I fail or misery befalls me, they would all say, ' I knew it, I knew it, I told you so.'  Only the few who wished me well would continue to support me.

I wait impatiently for the three months to be over.  Honest, I have no plans for the immediate future, except a few visits - Bombay, Calicut, Mussorie and some more. I would  start with tidying up the house, playing with Sancho and Sally ( my dogs) to my fill, pounce upon my old libraries at Trivandrum with gusto, go for  long bike rides with K during the summer holidays, start working on a website on western ghats , work at our organic farm in Attappadi - well, it seems I do have a lot of plans!!

During the last month, I did have a few setbacks, disappointments and instances of sorrow. But I have been able to override all that. I am surprised at the unknown reserves of inner strength in me.


Life beside the backwaters, Alleppey

*********** Balachandran V, Alleppey, 09.01.2013