Friday, 30 October 2009

‘Left’ enlightened

Bangalore Mirror. Monday 02 November 2009.
http://www.bangaloremirror.com/index.aspx?page=others&do=epaper


The city’s rather exuberant traffic has given me more than a fair share of Bangalore Bombaatness to revel in. The timing of something that happened recently, still cracks me up.

Fade in: RT Nagar traffic junction just after the Hebbal flyover. I was among the first line of vehicles. Having just caught up with my friend soon after my recent return, I was relying on the movement of other motorists around me instead of paying attention to the traffic lights ahead.

As engines started to rev., I pushed the pedal and inched forward before noticing that the green light was still off. A good few vehicles had sped past and I hesitated, though way ahead of the stop line.

As a driver still outsmarted by continually reformed and ill-marked roads, my perplexity was mounting to near panic. My friend had gone completely quiet and I was effectively solo.

Never to be beaten, this is what ensued between me and the policeman who sprung up from nowhere.

Me: (pointing to the lights) ‘not working?’
The policeman was now by the side of my car. I lowered the window.
Me: Sorry sir, lights out of order?
PC: (Huffing and all worked up, yet thoroughly pleasant) No madam! This no America. You not go to straight.

From the corner of my eye I see my friend turning maroon. I continue earnestly.

For the life of me, I have still not figured out why I felt the need to level my English with this man’s.

Me: Sorry sir. I was looking for green light (pointing up ahead). No red light also. Other people all going.
PC: (still panting) No. No. This no America! Here you not look front! All here. You look LEFT !

America? Left?!! My confusion was beyond gauge. My car is almost at the centre of the crossroads. My friend is bursting at the ears, her eyes fixed ahead and lips dangerously stretched. This has to end fast!

My resolve turned to steel. After attaining a driver’s license despite relentless trials and inexplicable agony at the hands of the notoriously stringent licensing authority of London, I was not about to get myself a police entry in India just because a traffic light can’t be kept functional at one of the busiest junctions of Bangalore!

I persisted with this enthusiastic English-speaking police constable, who was simply too amusing to offend and, I insist, way too nice to try.

Hoping to strike a comfortable chord, in my now (very slightly accented and shamefully) amateurish Kannada, I persevered.

Me: But Sir… I no… naanu America ...?! sigh! ... Leftalli enidhe? Traffic lights front alli idhe, alla.
PC: Iyaaa! Light no work! You look LEFT!

Again! Left?!

Me: (Beyond confused now and struggling with the ever-so-composed stance). Sir, leftalli en idhe?
PC:I’ madam! ‘I on left’!

Silence... My friend is really worrying me now. Just how stupid could I get! What was I thinking looking for the traffic lights ahead to guide me, when I should have been peering LEFT, trying to locate the friendly policeman directing traffic from some invisible gap between crowds of people constantly moving under the shade of trees lining the under-re-construction pavement! Preposterous.

Me: (dumbfounded and attempting a hasty exit) Ah! Aithu aithu. Thumba thanks Sir. Hogla?
PC: (In Kannada! Finally! And as pleasant and as breathless) hogi, hogi.
Fade out.

We drove off, my friend lifting her shaking frame, every pore, the darkest shade of red I’ve seen on any human. Had my charming tete-a-tete carried on a sentence further, we most certainly would have been booked, albeit for a different offence.

Relieved at being let off, incredulous laughter burst forth and tears streamed down flushed cheeks. But just how close were we really?

The malfunctioning traffic lights were relegated to the miscellaneous as we somehow got embroiled in an intense discussion on how today, more than ever, proficiency in a particular language, defines a person’s self-worth.

To me, as a domicile of the state, being conversant in Kannada is paramount to my sense of belonging and pride in being a Bangalorean – specially now, that the lack of practice shows.

To the friendly policeman, speaking in English with me was his moment of prestige. I am not sure what lead to his (flawed) assumption that I was accustomed to American ways, as I was turned out just as casually cosmopolitan as anyone else of my background. Also, I had not spoken a word to him until then, to give away any accent – my English (or demeanour, for that matter), thankfully, bears no British influence.

Whatever it was, he slighted my valiant attempts at claiming my rights to the vernacular, while he flourished his modest linguistic prowess over a language (imported, essentially) he clearly looks up to.

A complete win-win situation, nevertheless. We both got our fill. Comedy was rife and Kannada ferver, however battered, reigned. Happy Rajyotsava, readergale :)


~http://www.bangaloremirror.com/index.aspx?page=others&do=epaper

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Moon hydrograde Earth and other Article-ations.

Bangalore Mirror. Friday Oct 23, 2009.

With all this talk about Chandrayaan finding water on the Moon and others finding ways to challenge its potability on Earth and still others ever more determined to blast the last rocks there to squeeze out whatever it can from the regolith, the gushing vision of life-saving hydrant pouring down from the heavens above, for the time being, stays hypothetic.

Wonder what a vaastu expert’s take would be on this. To which direction of the orient would the moon be of us earthlings? Whatever the order there, Mr (or Ms depending on your parent culture) Moon has been quite a talking point nevertheless. And with my little boy on the watch, the cosmic forces always point to one plane – entertainment. There must have been some strong lunar vibrations even on that day then, when on his first solo net crawl, he happened to land on a web page on, who else but moon-man, Neil Armstrong!

That week at school, the topic of exploration in English was the Articles, a, an and the. We had completed an extensive worksheet and other exercises, by the end of which my son was quite a little master of their usage.

This is what beat me. Son in front of laptop, laments in high pitch: “This is wrong. He does not even know about Articles!" Puzzled, I looked at the screen. In bold italics was a flash image of Neil Armstrong’s first words on the moon: That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.

My little boy was still frowning. He couldn’t have. My 2-day old Master of Articles couldn’t have! He exasperated, “which man mamma, and why is the man kind, anyway?” Sigh!

But however the little guy understood it, the fact remained: Mr Armstrong, astronaut of astronomical significance, physical visitor to an astrological site, first man on the moon, indeed seemed to have missed an Article! Not the particular kind NASA would provide but the one indefinitely used in a singular context and preceding a consonant sound in a sentence articulated by English speaking earthlings - blame it on ghore mangal dosh !

My task for the day, now, was this: distract my impressionable child from the grammatical gaffe* of the first man to land on the moon and do Planet Earth proud. I had to impress upon him, instead, the greatness this man had achieved in completing a mission that would reconfigure the course of space travel and scientific scope thereof (40 years hence we have found semblance of water! mangal less, mangal‘maye’ more like).

Astrospeak or agnostspeak, I would have to reiterate that at seven ‘he’, my son, would have to be absolutely sure of his a, an and the. To rocket to the moon, he would have to simply wait ‘for ages’ until he ‘grew up’ – by which time, of course, I would not have to worry about how he would quench his thirst up there.

At that precise moment though, I had to answer the question, “ ... and why is the man kind, anyway?” Yin was not in supply and Yan would have to be spared for someone older. So I immediately agreed that as per what was taught in school that week, in omitting the Big A, Mr Armstrong indeed seemed to have uttered a contradiction as his opening statement to Moon. I have to say that the three inch smile beaming up at me was worth three times as many lunar landings!

But he is little, see? So information had to be trickled gently. And only what he would soak in without any explosion, could be imparted. Suffice to say, I survive. As does (thankfully) his grammar teacher at school.

*There really was no error. Bad radio transmission blotted out the quickly uttered ‘a’ before ‘man’ in the first half of Armstrong’s line (nasa.com)



~http://www.bangaloremirror.com/blogs/post/Moon-hydrograde-Earth-and-other-Article-ations.aspx

Friday, 21 August 2009

Time tides over

Emirates Parent Plus. March 2010.

Smiling through nothing more than a snooze after an entire week of exasperating sleep deprivation, I looked at my son, smart in his crisp whites, chin-up and thrilled to be back in school after a long and well-deserved break.

Having beat the rush hour, we reached school unexpectedly early that morning and with all room doors still shut and maintenance staff only just trickling in, there was not much else to do but wait.

The virtually empty school building worsened the heaviness in my eyes as we sat there, just the two of us, my little boy leaning on my knee. It’s been a year since we officially started life in Bangalore and one question repeated itself through the fatigue weighing me down into the cold steps outside the classroom: “Is there anything I wouldn’t do for my child?”

Again, I looked at his beaming face, now bobbing up and down along the row of floor tiles, when my eye caught the poster on the wall behind him. Boldly calligraphed was: “Many parents are so anxious to give their children what they didn’t have, they often neglect to give them what they did”.

My heart skipped a beat. Was the occurrence of my personal thought and the quote-spotting immediately after, mere coincidence? Or was it the simultaneous and sudden rumble of students pouring into classrooms and stairwells that startled me? While the bustle shook me out of what could well manifest as Monday morning stupor, a tirade of conflicting emotions and feuding arguments had set to work inside my very tired mind.

The moment did pass though, but those words lingered on in my head through the drive back home. The heavy traffic slowed my commute just enough to sketch out an intense mental process ... some people were about to receive a few calls.

I often think about my childhood. Between Dad’s vast army campuses and rich daily life, well-organised holiday travels and the annual Coorg break at Grandma’s, my growing years were a dream. What I had, far outweighed what I did not. And what I did not, I have to crane my memory to remember. What I do remember is this: smiles and grit. Whatever the situation. In trying to give my child all that I did have, I am left astounded at my parents – how did they manage it all?

On the surface, life today is easier than it has ever been before. With the amenities available (some even affordable), the opportunities accessible and information as ample as one’s intellect can take, a dream is the first step to achievement.

While most of our parents and even some of us, found inspiration in success stories only handed down or splashed across newspapers, our youngsters cross paths with the movers of our times. Sharing a stage with Bill Gates on invitation, shaking the hand of Vladimir Putin on a regular working day or enjoying the chance (and eventually, journey-long) company of our own Mr Narayan Murthy on a routine flight, certainly make great stories. But they are our own stories. And the more we tell them, the more lurks the prospect of another girlfriend recounting her days in college with Dr Manmohan Singh’s daughter (an inspiration in her own right).

As urban professionals, this is the kind of profile we share today – successful, effective, robust and possible as long as there is the dogged will to ‘make it’. If we don’t find it by chance, we seek it consciously. If we can’t secure the one kind, we will grab its image. For us, and eventually for our children.

On the inside, these very advantages come entrenched with a silent moat. The still waters keep a close watch and run deep with expectation. Anything that falls in creates a splash. The waves, however gentle, stir something within the ramparts inside. The pressures only build. And its intensity we alone, as individuals, will understand.

That is why, while at play, when the frustrated primary-schooler stamped on a newly acquired and obviously expensive electronic console, his parent very sympathetically waited it out. Getting another one of those gadgets was easy – who’s more valuable, the child or the gizmo? And after all, we are officially out of recession, you see. In contrast, reasoning with the child would require ‘time’ (this doting parent had just another 45 minutes of bonding time remaining) and winning back his favour after he had been drastically upset, would demand resolute ‘patience’: both premium commodities in corporate lives and understandably scarce in the increasingly dwindling personal.

As a doting parent of the other kind, questions and answers, perspectives and inferences, actions and reactions, events and evidence, transgressed relentlessly in my horrified senses. Did I dare confront that preoccupied parent? No. What business was it of mine, anyway? Well, here’s why it became my business: My child was an attentive witness to all of this. And however subtle its manifestations, none of us is oblivious to the power of negative influence.

So now that I, for no folly of my own, had been left the daunting task of ensuring that my child would never take his blessings for granted, should I have taken it up with the other parent?

After deep consideration, I believe, no. Why? Because I had something she did not – the luxury of time with my child. And my child had something his ill-tempered play-mate did not – the security of being with a parent for most of his time away from school. If I had upset my child, I had days upon days to explain my reprimand and the vices of unacceptable behaviour. I had the option to make it up to him in ‘time’ what the other parent would have to make up for in ‘kind’.

The rampant accusation we face today is that as parents, we are ridiculously ambitious for personal gain. As a result, we are becoming irrevocably indifferent and materialistic. Worse, we are passing this sentiment down to posterity. The usual show-cause validates part of the script on the wall as our permissiveness pans across the wish list irrespective of what we can provide personally. The full-time maid is always at hand to rub pain off a hurting elbow, the handy chauffeur will procure the last available batch of doughnuts from the exclusive confectioner and the friendly septuagenarian next door will be only too happy to play chaperone for the first show of Ice Age 3. We did not have, but we give. We can’t give so we have it given. All demands met, all expectations catered to, satisfaction levels among our youngsters should well be absolute. Right? It seems: Wrong.

So, really, is the inverse true of what we did have? I think it is a difference of realities. I can vouch for the carefree approach we had to everything back then. Cycling to school was a thrill, a sense of pride (even the secure Shaktiman trucks gave us, Army kids, a fair air of superiority). We had what everyone else had. What others did not have, we shared. Everyone around, meant something in our scheme of things. I can safely say our wants were simple. Our parents were with us through most of our ordeals. They did not have to trade an arm or a leg or stented artery to make us happy.

We came from a conservatism grounded in actuality and reason. What we could not have, we did not have – some showed rationale and others called it strict discipline. But that was enough because opportunities then, allowed contentment of this sort. We just did not know what else there was to get. As a society, the combination, I dare say, worked.

But today, the entire universe awaits our enterprise. Chameleon-like perspectives of success and blinding contention have rendered the finish line out of sight. Celebrity endorsements and ‘wish karo’ slogans, though motivational in themselves, personify the attitude of an entire generation that is racing mad. That this race is an unrelenting relay where even batons are designer-ware and every runner carries the dream of the passer, is a truth that gets lost in the frenzy of the very race. Everyone is out there for themselves. There is no time to stop and turn around. There is no time to think, let alone put up with thinking and its resultant tantrums.

It is a time to do. Our children are ticks on our goals-sheet and they live our unfulfilled lives. They have all the toys we wanted and all the pastimes we enjoy. In not realising all our dreams, we have already lost time. Now while we want to hang around to see our children achieving our triumphs, the sand is only sifting.

We are aware only of the quiet ripples closing in. Everyone is disturbed and every corner harbours threat. Our child is not free to roam the streets. We are not free to guide them through it. What we cannot give to our children from our childhood, we attempt to give from our present situation. We cannot create a safer world singlehandedly – we can only keep our children safe in the one we live. If we had the freedom to be, we give our children the freedom to be able to be. So what if a few moments of their happiness are mail-ordered or bought off a shelf? This is the contentment that we can afford to hand down, irrespective of any constraints. Indeed, we do not neglect to give our children what we did have, we give them as much as is possible and whatever aspect of it is applicable.

In the plethora of opportunities that open several doors today, though we should teach our children integrity and diligence, I am dismissive of depriving them of any reasonable advantage that we can add to their prospects. Time defines action and we have to recognise the call.

In building their resilience to life, however, and what it can throw back, I tend to agree with the indispensability of personal attention and importance of quality time – like many, I have the good fortune of showering them on my child. But for how many more of us, do individual aspirations and commitments allow this blanket freedom?

Our country did not gain her independence by staying content. We did not become a nuclear power by closing our eyes to progress. We are not a self-reliant generation by wishing less. Our children, irrespective of where they come from, dream big because we can go out there and build the launch pads.

Yet, the truth facing us is that a lot of our children lack regard for what has been given to them on a platter, that they keep wanting more and cannot endure reality; that as parents we are really not there for them enough. That’s a tough one for those of us who are doing the most we can. And against such odds, even parents like me, who actively strive to nurture humane values in our children and devote maximum time to them, are looking at an equally grim battle ahead.

What’s right, is open to judgement. And as adjudicators of our lives abound, our options attract harsher scrutiny. Can what our parents gave us, fortify us against this assault?

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Article-ations

I never know what will bolt out of Space when my little boy is on the watch.

Under his visor, this week, was a web page on Neil Armstrong. At school, having covered a short chapter on the astronaut, it so happened that my son’s first internet search on the man, coincidently, presented itself on July 20, exactly 40 years to the day Mr Armstrong first stepped on the surface of the moon.
Small step. Beat 1.

In the Language part of the same subject, the current topic of exploration is the Articles, a, an and the. We had completed an extensive worksheet and other exercises, by the end of which my son was quite a little master of their usage.

This is what shocked me earlier. He repeatedly intoned: “The-is-used-with-a-par-ti-cu-lar-noun-or-with-the-name-of-some-thing-that-is-one-of-its-kind. The-is-called-the-de-fi-nite-arti-cle. The-in-de-fi-nite-arti-cle-is-used-be-fore-a-common-noun-that-is-sing-ular-in-num-ber. A-is-used-bef-ore-a-con-so-nant-and-an-is-used-be-fore-a-vowel-sound. They-are-called-in-de-fi-nite-arti-cles”. Then he went on to the examples. Wait! He is seven. Should he even know these qualified definitions? Isn’t it just ample to explain the basic rule and get the kids to practice the usage? But I guess this needs to be addressed in another piece altogether.

Back to what beat me. Son in front of laptop, laments in high pitch: “This is wrong. He does not even know about articles!" Puzzled, I looked at the screen. In bold italics was a flash image of Neil Armstrong’s first words on the moon: That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.

My little boy was still frowning. He couldn’t have. My 2-day old Master of Articles couldn’t have! He exasperated, “which man mamma, and why is the man kind, anyway?” Sigh!

Well, I would just have to sit down with him again and go over, definitely, the indefinite, and particularly, the perfect. No problem.

But however the little guy understood it, the fact remained: Mr Armstrong, astronaut of astronomical significance, first man on the moon, indeed seemed to have missed an article! Not the particular kind NASA would provide but the one indefinitely used in a singular context and preceding a consonant sound in a sentence articulated by English speaking earthlings.
Giant Leap. Beat 2.

My task for the day, now, was this: distract my impressionable child from the grammatical gaffe of the first man to land on the moon and hence do Planet Earth proud. I had to impress upon him, instead, the greatness this man had achieved in completing a mission that would reconfigure the course of space travel and scientific scope thereof.

And then I would have to reiterate that at seven ‘he’, my son, would have to be absolutely sure of his a, an and the. To rocket to the moon, he would have to simply wait ‘for ages’ until he ‘grew up’.

At that precise moment though, I had to answer the question, “ ... and why is the man kind, anyway?” Of course, I also had to agree that as per what was taught in school that week, in omitting the Big A, Mr Armstrong had indeed uttered a contradiction as his opening statement to Moon. I have to say that the three inch smile beaming up at me was worth three times as many lunar landings!

But he is little, see? So information had to be dispensed suitably. And only what he would agree with without collision, could be imparted. Suffice to say, I survive. As does (thankfully) his grammar teacher at school.

Aside. Subsequent hearings of the transmission and accessible transcripts (nasa.com) have proven that Mr Armstrong did, in fact, articulate the a before the ‘man’ − bad radio signals between Moon and Earth had eclipsed the quick utterance. Can you imagine the gravity of the situation, had grammar, of all things weighty, let a moon-walking spaceman down?! End of aside.

But the week was still young. My teesra tigaada hadn’t struck. And culturally, it is common knowledge how No. 3 is considered, well, inauspicious.

Two days after the 40th anniversary of mankind obliterating all doubts about ‘a’ man (two, actually) conquering the moon, the moon was to obliterate the sun in totality. My once-in-a-century opportunity to personally witness this phenomenon was eclipsed by a long night of many questions and further articulations that indefinitely preceded the definitive event, early on Wednesday morning a fortnight back. In ‘consonance’ with all predictions prior to the event and its effects yet to follow, we still await eclipse No. 3 in this particular celestial triumvirate. What is to come?
Beat 3. Or third time lucky?

Incidentally, we are the third ball from the sun. And numeric placement wise, auspicious or not, it is a pretty, happy place to be, I say.

Monday, 13 July 2009

A truly poetic extravaganza

Deccan Herald. Sunday, June 14, 2009
http://www.deccanherald.com/content/7909/a-truly-poetic-extravaganza.html

Why pull a page out of history when you can step right into the book? And in a repository of such eminence, every single step I took bore the entire awe and reverence of my being.

The art connoisseur’s fantasy, the historian’s paradise, the devotee’s sanctorum and the cynic’s crucible, this sovereign city-state, seat to the catholic authority − the Holy See − contains itself within two succinct square miles of the city of Rome.

Like a jewel, Vatican City stands, tucked within its impenetrable walls, in the middle of all the din and razzmatazz that the Italian capital is famous for. Inside, its serenity is as imposing as its flamboyant opulence. Where the present is a breathtaking legacy of yore and the past just eyefuls above, the psyche becomes a humble melting pot of emotions that linger on forever.

In this vast conglomeration of museums beyond compare, each sculpture, painting and tapestry, passionately delivered and blindingly precious, recites its legend. I drifted into a sublime state of consciousness when it sunk in that these works of art, panning walls and ornate ceilings, even to this day, bear the actual touch, hold the actual breath and have witnessed the actual toil of the great men who created them. I was not turning the pages of a sacred book, I was part of the air these greats shared. And around me, were original testaments of a history and lore that continue to mould our modern destinies.

How fitting then that this history, chronicled thus by those venerated for their mastery in an ancient era, should find tenancy in our times with the pious chaperones of a puissant contemporary faith − its own emergence woven with eclat within the very walls under its surveillance.

Could that be why the Vatican museums command such piety – the faith, the direction and the many secrets held within? Or is it the fiscal benefaction that every Pope-in-reign is endowed with, along with the parallel tradition of increasing his fold of (the religious faithful aside) collectible splendour and heritage, that demands the subservience of those fortunate enough to behold it all? Because, the pecuniary visage is staggering too. Or would it simply be the overwhelming confluence of art, that one might not otherwise chance upon within the merit of an area covering all of two miles parameter to parameter, that inspires the soul?

It is, truly, a poetic extravaganza to the romantic soul. Every artifact is an academic’s oasis. Even the less eclectic would struggle to escape the magnificence of imagination contained seamlessly within its tactile forms. While intellectual prowess dominates each work, as a lay person I am marvelling, as much now as I did then, at how such precision in line, light and colour could be achieved at that scale, with only manual dexterity and physical resilience to count on!

As I type this piece into a pulse-less, sanitised and virtual space, I look outside into an equally apathetic and dispassionate jungle of concrete and tempered glass. I look at the local art gallery window-dressed with paper prints of classic Monet framed in suitable imitations of gold foil craft. With all the gadgetry at the disposal of our workers of 'modern' art and architecture, there is always a suspicious 'artiste's freedom of expression', the inevitable corniche off the joint, an odd nail-head out of loop. And I sigh at the complex muddle of aspiration, yearning, emotion and dogmatic practicality that our lives have become translations of.

Pulled back into the aisles of my current realm of obeisance, the trance only gets deeper. From periods of defining hues to renditions in white lime with lines as transient as the rays of sunlight that strobe in on them, a journey has already transpired. An age cart-wheels into the next and then again, as Baroque, Renaissance and Medieval reflections transcend each other. New regimes cast their shadows, political commentary dons the veil of artistic expression and the likes of Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael become objects of ardent devotion.

Time is simply not enough to fully appreciate all there is to absorb. It has, in fact, been speculated that even if only a single second is committed to each piece in the museums, it would take years to cover its inventory. So vast is the Vatican and such is the greatness of the treasures it houses.

Deep within the entrails of these papal corridors, when I was beginning to panic that I might have missed my raison d’ĂȘtre, a dark recess opened ahead. A quiet sanctity emanated its stoic power and suddenly all voices dropped. We were entering the inner-most chamber, most famous for its vaulted ceilings and Michelangelo’s greatest enterprise.

The Sistine Chapel, sacred to believers and astounding anyway you look at it, is a vision in every sense. While my eyes took a brief moment to get accustomed to the dimness, mellow beams of the sun danced in from the window opposite me. Motionless, in the natural spotlight, I gazed, mesmerized, at what greeted from above.
Nine breathtaking frescoes by Michelangelo, illustrate the story of the biblical origin of man from the Book of Genesis. Starting from the creation of Adam and Eve, his fine detailing narrates the saga of the Apostles and ends with the tales of Noah and resurrection of Christ. This masterpiece resulted in three thousand figurines, immaculate in their scenic proportion and reality of perception.

Hoisted atop scaffolding and lying on his back for four dedicated years, little would Michelangelo have thought about the magnitude of his contribution to world culture and heritage or how he would be worshipped for his talent, in posterity. That he could not eat properly again or see very well for a year after completing the ceiling, seems a small price to have paid.

His genius brings together in one close space, an astonishing imagination, a thorough sense of form and grandeur of style. To a large extent, this is also true of all the other artists showcased in the papal palaces.

The immensity of wealth, religious domination and bounty of knowledge are simply too overpowering to walk away from. This supreme convergence of master craftsmanship, unconquerable, remains a prevailing remembrance in the pages of my mind.

Past-present-past-future thought cycles that have never departed since, leave me entwined − this was not a flying visit. I never really left.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Alternate, still mostly modern

Deccan Herald. Sunday, May 24, 2009. Edited as : An Alternate Modern Twist www.deccanherald.com/content/4122/an-alternate-modern-twist.html

It was cold. And rainy. And grey. With the BBC weatherman promising cloud upon cloud for the next three days, spring-time London couldn’t hope to get more Londonesque. To beat it, we couldn’t find a better time to get more ‘un’Londonesque. So while most Londoners travelled away to the respite of holiday lands, we stayed put to enjoy the city-in-respite without the crowds, inching traffic and congestion charge.

Destination: Tate Britain. Now before you tense your forehead, let me also add that we had in tow, our excited son full of seven-year-old beans. Yes, I am still talking about ‘the’ Tate, and what was expected to be a rather sombre journey through 500 years of British art and situational history, quickly turned into an invigorating little excursion, most enjoyed by our delighted little boy.

Time has certainly moved on fast. If we are here in a day when children are being welcomed into worlds ear-marked for the erudite, Art, once an exclusively mature indulgence, was also moving on.

It was the Tate Triennial and with the fourth one on show, a new movement was being debuted – it’s name, as ambitious as the idea of bringing in yet another group dynamic to what has already become quite a nebulous system of classification. It is not based on documented historical periods (largely European) or cultures that progressed within those designated number of years anymore. Seeing as our histories have, for the last few decades, after all, been a series of concurrent contemporariness, this new groupism, apart from crushing all boundaries of structure and medium, also devolves all divides of region, its reach as centric as it can be omnipresent. And though we are, in fairness, at a new temporal point globally and politically, I cannot debate convincingly whether or not its art deserves another definitive term. Parisian curator, Nicholas Bourriaud, however, has taken the opportunity of Tate’s Triennial and christened this era of absolute freedom of form and more encompassing world culture, ‘Altermordern’.

In marking a formal end to the age of post-modernism and its numerous veins, this is the ‘new’ new age of art where alternative perceptions of occurrences find credence in forms that are individualistic and illustrative of an understanding and ethos that is the artist’s own, be it cultural or academic. Altermodernism thus envisages itself as a kaleidoscope of sorts, a cannon of modern expression that is borne out of the various differences and multiple realities that lie across geography and the parity of thought and intention that the relative comparison of these very differences have brought about.

The situations and themes are essentially the same as before and with the culture-clock formally sounding its last on modernism and post-modernism, my confusion with this whole dynamic of altermodernism, is possibly on par with yours.

But Subodh Gupta’s show-starter, Line of Control, makes me ‘want’ to understand this term. Also quite the show-stopper, from what I could see on the day, this extraordinary work is decidedly free of all boundaries as we know them. As one steel tiffin-carrier after bowl after ladle after tumbler fused together to explode in a giant mushroom cloud into the Duveen galleries above, my own desi sentiments flared in rapid action.

An unexpected work of art would produce the expected reaction of intrigue. But what transpired thereafter was anarchy, one, cleverly constituted and held together as cohesively as the stimulus itself. Layer upon layer of shining steel pots and pans quickly turned interest to amusement, until my eyes moved up to the mushroom-top and a dark realisation of what this work was iconic of came home.

Like a storm, an onslaught of variously calibrated emotions evoked quaking images of carnage, injustice and suffering. But this work rendered thus, also invoked another stream of thought − and that, I suspect, was the specific intention of this fantastic piece.
While my mind did its cartwheels through the deep and frivolous, my little boy squealed at every kadai he spotted and rejoiced at every katori he recognised before, of course, worrying about the adhesive logistics of it all. My husband was completely ‘blown’ away by the concept, the more practical scale of the project and how many man-hours this immaculate instantiation would have commanded.

In true altermodern spirit, a familiar stimulus provoked surprising reactions. This hugely inspiring piece of art turns grimness on its head, as Indian steel-ware explodes through a prestigious British museum. Its ascent depicts a gruesome western plot reverberating reminders of exploitation, human limitation and helplessness. In its completion, it magically exudes the very eastern philosophies of forgiveness, re-creation and fulfilment.

What started as the symbol of a heinous nuclear disaster, in gaining girth, dissipated, instead, a medley of contradiction. Phantom aromas of exotic foods, the warm promise of imaginary hot clay ovens and the divine satisfaction of the gustatory palette, settled the senses replete with visions of creativity and eagerness bustling forth from traditional Indian kitchens.

Momentary though these mental images were, the very quirky steel mushroom explosion set off some shining emotions of hope and contentment. Contemplating the sequence of action, reaction and consequence, what struck me was this − the darkest cloud is suspended within the silver lining of light and infinite possibility. Nothing lasts forever. Change will revisit. And therein lies the future.

Though my mind was in a thought-trance of human will and response (and its various hues and tints), I was also bursting with pride. An artist of Indian origin had, through the medium of Indian implements and astounding originality produced the signature piece marking the beginning of a new movement in time. In placing it at the centre of the pantheon of British art − the Tate Britain − Indian sensibility stamped its indelible mark in yet another realm of world panorama. It further succeeded in moulding positivity in anyone that gave this piece even a little attention. I assure you, no one walked past that giant cloud of Indian kitchenware without consideration, or, in the least, amusement.

How many of these purveyors dwelled in thoughts of war and depravation and how many were stirred by simple memories of home and happiness, would make interesting anthropology in itself, but John Millais’s frightening Ophelia, William Blake and his troubled ‘visions’ and the Clore Gallery – the room dedicated to JW Turner, awaited an equally mesmeric audience. We had to move on.

And this is where staunch Tate Britain really broke all boundaries. At the end of the very first gallery, stood two colourful kiosks filled with art and craft items. Tate had taken it upon itself to keep even the littlest visitors enthralled – in their own art. Children sprawled on the floors right through the galleries, amidst numerous strings of colourful fluff, straws, ice-cream sticks, strips of paper and cloth. The intention was to draw inspiration from any of the famous artists adorning the walls and create their own work. Supervision was the onus of parents but no one was complaining. As for our experience, our son proved to be a true altermodernist. Drawing stimulus from John Linnell’s darkening landscape of The Windmill, my little boy’s bright and sunny rendition was a sailing success.

Outside, it would have taken a lot more than British cold and rain, to dampen our Indian spirits.

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/4122/an-alternate-modern-twist.html

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Let’s turn over a Neem leaf

Deccan Herald. Sunday, March 22, 2009. Edited as : Turning over a neem leaf
http://www.deccanherald.com/Content/Mar222009/sundayherald20090320125295.asp

In a reversal of roles, the hunter becomes the hunted and clambers up a leafy tree to escape the tiger. Night falls and the tree remains his sole refuge. Fearful and hungry, his restive fingers incessantly pluck leaves off the branches, dropping them below. By day break, the tiger is clearly out of range, so the hunter lowers himself to the ground and spots a heap that the leaves he had been dropping through the night, had made. He also spots that the tree that gave him shelter was a Bilwa tree and the heap of leaves had made a mound on a Shivalinga. Instead of foolishly defying the animal or running aimlessly in sight of it, he trusted his instinct and gained succor of a tree that shaded him from danger. His adversary at bay, he walked into freedom. Little did he realize, then, that his hunting days were over, and not just instinct, but bounty, prosperity and a grand life awaited him. His night-long Shiva-pooja with the Bilwa-patra, even if unintentional, had reaped its rewards. Of the utmost importance, in a worship to Shiva the destroyer of evil, the Bilwa leaf is considered to be more significant than any amount of luxurious offerings put together.

Ganesha’s Gharike hullu (type of grass) holds a similar sanctity. If meadows of it make for happy grazing for one beast, a single blade of the grass is believed to hold the power of a divine missile against another.

Very few are unaware of how sacred the Tulsi is to traditional Hindu homes. The religious manifestation of alchemy, the Tulsi leaf transforms all impure (base) to pure. Essential to Krishna-pooja, its quality and, hence, power gains more relevance in our day today.

And with the advent of Spring, as the colours of Holi fade into the gentle riot of brilliant natural hues, another tree sprouts new leaves. The Neem, revered for its medicinal prowess, cleanses the air with its aroma and germicidal properties. An excellent example of paradox in nature, the Neem is as unpleasant in taste as it is curative in action. To modern naturopathy, the Neem’s invincibility over disease, is indispensable in every new formulation.

To the religious Indian, it is a firm reminder of life and the way of life – our Hindutva. While the bitterness of Neem is symbolic of unhappy turns in life, it also generates an immunity essential for survival. And just like in life, when its bitter sting is closely followed by saccharine repose, it becomes easily swallowed. The unpleasant turns to pleasant and the pleasantness lingers on, allowing the former to contour its sway, positively influenced.

Every year on Ugadi, when my mother gives us a closely supervised pinch of crushed Neem leaf to chew, and dad, myself and my little boy wolf down cubes of jaggery soon after, I am reminded of this symbiotic bitter-sweetness of the catalyst that’s life. As the New Year begins in the Deccan calendar, so does another saga of day-to-day.

Sorrow and disappointment keep us grounded and mindful of the preciousness of God’s gifts to us, making us realize their singular importance to our every day. Sadly, many times, this realization only comes at a loss. But because it comes, it paves the way forward, to new thought, new endeavour, new beginnings and a new day. And every new sun-ray brings with it, in good measure, all the sweetness that makes life worth living. The measure of how much we take of it, decides the extent of bitterness that will melt away and what our hope will bring back.

A faint memory of the pain, however, stays on. It is this part of the sorrow that strengthens the resolve to persevere on the path of improvement – be it of self or situation. That is the way forward, and that, I believe, is the true message of Ugadi. In praying that all bitterness turns to sweetness and all evil turns to good, we are in effect, nurturing a re-bonding of minds and people. At tumultuous times like ours today, this is the sort of out-look that needs to be nurtured and this is the kind of resolve that needs to be furthered.

Among those that follow the bevu-bella custom of Ugadi, these sentiments are ingrained quite early on in life. My earliest memory goes back to when I was a little girl, staying with mum in temperate Sagar of otherwise hot and humid Madhya Pradesh. Dad’s uniform took him to places far and perilous. Mum’s prayers to turn bad intent into good and wishing evil ineffective, was, therefore, a very personal and intense experience, both to indulge in and observe. Mostly away from the familiar comfort of home and amidst the enduring loyalty of friends, our extensive family, Mum’s practice of religion was always more instructive and based on humane conduct than one of blind conformity. I was taught similarly. So when there was a bunch of excitable kids to flaunt new clothes to and share goodies with, what could a little drop of bitter Neem juice spoil?

When I place this bitter-sweet phenomenon in the perspective of our current era, I realize how far I have come away from the innocent beliefs of my childhood. Then, a bad taste in my mouth could be washed down immediately with ample water (or jaggery on Ugadi). Simultaneously, I would be content that the drop of Neem ras would be fighting chocolate induced germs in my teeth and any virus threatening a cold. It didn’t take much coaxing to push it down my throat – besides, the jaggery was always in sight. This was the truth literally and figuratively. But I was barely six then.

Today, decades later, I see the truth through a filter. I understand now that the bitter drop will not just magically disappear – it is the sweet that will overpower the nastiness. I always wanted just the sweet then, and want the same even now. But now, I understand so much more. So even my prayers have changed.

On Ugadi this year, as I chew the Neem through squeezed shut eyes, I will be remembering that as a country, we have been chewing on bitterness for too long now and as individuals, we have allowed it to happen. While the Neem sets to work in my system and the taste will only serve to contort my expressions and tease my mind, I will be joining millions more in prayer for the one largest blessing: respite.

I pray now, that as Spring prepares for its veritable feast, evil sees the truth of futility in destruction. I pray that once again, the Bilwa of good faith opens Shiva’s third eye, destroying all thought that will destroy what mankind has worked so hard to achieve. I pray that the Tulsi of reason sets Krishna’s Sudarshan Chakra spinning into all purposes that impede harmony. I pray that the Gharike of positive intent urges Ganesha to remove all obstacles in the way of progress. I pray that soon, we again start to joyously celebrate life rather than merely surviving it.

If one leaf has the power to invoke God, I believe that natural instinct is nothing short of God’s own direct intervention in our lives. I pray that the heavens bless us this Ugadi, with the will to listen to our inner voice, so we initiate the springtime of awakening that will take human potential forwards into a new world of careless laughter and promise. For our children, who are yet to deal with tomorrow, I pray, earnestly, for the sweet solace of peace, happiness and goodwill.

I wish you all good health and a Happy Ugadi.


~ http://www.deccanherald.com/Content/Mar222009/sundayherald20090320125295.asp

Monday, 16 March 2009

Is trust just a listed word?

Deccan Herald. Sunday, March 15, 2009 (ref: Full circle )http://www.deccanherald.com/Content/Mar152009/artic20090314124029.asp

A love-struck adolescent dished out 45 rupees for a single stalk of red rose. There were more in line for larger numbers and even gallant bouquets. Some others hovered ever so romantically about their belles while I simply watched with a smile in my heart. Inadvertently, though, I was also darting my eyes around protectively, just in case there was a vile party pooper, eagerly waiting for his hapless victims to make the first mistake.

To my relief, even the black cat decided against crossing the road and walked tamely along the pavement. What I also saw was an undeniable fear relegated to an external cache, certainly not accessible for that day.

In another part of the city, the Aero India show zipped ahead. The crowds on the ground thronged with a gusto overwhelming enough to match the daredevilry of fighter pilots manouvering their supersonic toys through heart-stopping flips and loops in the skies above.

Stringent security cordons ensured that all roads were safe and all checks secure. All hell, would have to wait for another time. But over the last few days, the more I’ve talked to people, the more I’ve heard of how many more would have liked to strut their charm and how many succumbed to voices that kept them wary of large or media-covered events, however tempting and fantastic they might have been.

I can’t but take my mind back to the new year’s eve party that I dared to attend – the crowd was unsettlingly sparse for an evening like that. I would mark it as the start of a year that spells continuous fears from various threats and equally consistent fight-backs to banish them. Inspite of the impenetrable security inside, outside the Ball, the unnatural quiet that heralded 2009, the general lack of enthusiasm to change that and others’ surprise that we chanced the venture out, testifies a rather sadistic victory.

And what makes this victory so very dangerous, is that it has paved the path for more such. Mumbai was not enough for these mongers of hatred; we now have to deal with a self-styled moral police with their most backward and outrageously sexist agendas. Our enemy is, again, the ill-informed religious fanatic, rooted in misguided faith, propagating monstrously deformed objectives.

Screaming out is one latent truth: a lovingly nurtured social framework, has come unhinged.

This realisation makes me sit tight and listen when my parents fondly reminisce about the times when I was growing up. Like a child at bed-time, I lose myself in far-away tales and mental pictures of well-attended picnics, walk-in neighbours, outlandish-houred dinners-on-demand, ten people in one kitchen fretting over the precise boil in the pickle on the hob, multiple attendants at a sick friend’s bedside, impromptu stay-overs and streets bustling with familiar chatter. A time when smiles rode over and above hurt. A time when people brought over other people just because they were around. A time when trust was not contemplated, it simply happened.

That was the time ‘communities’ thrived. Communities of people who shared interests. Communities of children who played because they were together. Communities of well-wishers who stuck by the other. Communities where everyone knew each other and if they didn’t, a new friend was quickly made.

C o m m u n i t i e s. Not ‘communal groups’. Not ‘ethnic affiliations’. Not ‘religious factions’.

“… finally, in response to India’s dossier of evidence. India refutes …”, runs the news channel’s bottom line across the television screen and the past instantly recedes into its designated crevice in memory. One order of gun-totters took it upon themselves to make a statement to the entire world. One body of ‘patriots’ retaliates with more bloodshed. One wing of moralists resorts to assault. India suffers anew.

As one line of division shows signs of erosion, another erupts afresh. The larger picture condenses to fit the microcosm of our little lives. Trust is just a listed word. Our neighbour stands suspect. We are watering a snake-pit under our organic turf. But think about it. How often do we find the pesky rodent in a well-tended garden?

Our busy lives, our exclusive lifestyles and our secluded life-scopes have left little room for anyone else. Within our unit-living, how much do we know about each other? What is our teenager thinking? Why is the spouse ill-at-ease? Who is talking?

I so often hear ricocheting claims of how members of the same family, living at the same address, catch mere glimpses of each other. So when does any productive exchange happen there? And when was the last time you looked into the adjacent garden to enquire about the ripened strawberry?

Our self-contained, high-walled existence has not only removed us from the larger world we live in, it has also made us disdainful of it. Anyone asking after our wellbeing, is an interference. Someone else walking on the same pavement, is an infringement. That friendly offer to alleviate trouble, is audacity.

This is our day. And this is what we learn: you are nice because you are not good enough to be bad, you are helpful because you don’t value yourself and if you value another, it’s because you don’t have a life!

When I moved to London, this level playing field of sorts gained more plinth. I was advised against any contact beyond basic courtesy – it would seem too desperate. When new neighbours moved in, I was to refrain from cordial welcoming – that would be intrusive. If that same neighbour got locked out, I was warned against assistance – it would be downright offensive!?

Policy: Live and let live. Method: Solitary confinement. Duration: Life.
Did I change that? Of course, I did. Was it appreciated? The people, who continue to wish us from across the seas on our special days, are the ones who were thrilled to share an afternoon over a cup of tea and smile while at it. What worked? Natural instinct, channeled pleasantly.

Back home, I look across and find that we (specially the current generation) are now at that point in the circle from which the West is quickly moving forward. While they have waded into a new circuit, we are dragging along the curve where our insular lives have rendered us susceptible to detriments of our own making. The West has lived it, suffered it, seems to be learning the lessons and is moving ahead. We need to head back.

Blame history, but in spite of it, I have found that there is little aversion to knowing the other. What there is, is fear. We are afraid of what the response will be. We are afraid of offending. We are afraid of defending. We are afraid of mistaken integrity. We are afraid of intention. We are afraid of who our new acquaintance could turn out to be.

It is not just the lack of time, then, that is the culprit because a quick ‘hello’, takes but a second. It is the uncertainty of what we don’t know. But how will we know, if we shy away from knowing? In the little community that I have around me, I smile at someone and they know me. Together we talk about unfamiliar faces and choose to let them know that we are there.

And terrible as this comes across, not for companionship, not for camaraderie but for sheer safety, now more than ever, we need to share the sugar bowl with those that are close by. It keeps them in check and keeps us aware. Who knows, this awareness could well re-build a cohesive and inclusive society where motives become selfless. Where humanity binds us once more. Where community takes another birth and we actually start caring for each other. And again, all ends well.

I live in that hope. I dream of a place where my child will delight in pleasures of the togetherness that I enjoyed. Maybe one day, in the future, when I tell the tales of him growing up, instead of drawing contrasts with elders, the way I do now, my child will be laughing ‘with’ me.

I am glad we’ve shown the courage to join in and enjoy our happy occasions. I am happy that unhappy hauntings failed to draw any victory on the psyche of at least the few of us that were out there, either regaling or serenading. I am grateful to the police and the defence forces for maintaining ‘normalcy’ inspite of the grave threat and foreboding uncertainty that hangs in the air.

In the last few days, we have refuted fear and beat those that perpetrated it. We need to do it again, as discriminators and merchants of hatred plant new seeds.

Beauty-crown-winning and easily understood as ‘world peace’, the only way forward lies right here, within us. It is as ancient as time. It is as persistent as life itself. It is as inevitable as childhoods of a few decades ago. It embodies itself in the tapestry of ‘community’. It is defined in the words: respect, compassion and regard. Throw in love, and we have laughter back in our lives.

~ http://www.deccanherald.com/Content/Mar152009/artic20090314124029.asp

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Paradox of poise

Deccan Herald. Sunday, 22 February, 2009.

ref: 'Whim-bledon'

Turn left off Wimbledon Broadway and take the 4th right into Effra Road. Tucked away at # 124, the temple priests piously go about their daily rituals - intermittent jingles of the holy bell soundless, outside double-glazed parameters.

For the uninitiated, a Hindu temple in the middle of this quintessentially English town, is the ultimate paradox. To those home away from home, it is a charming microcosm of a vast envelope that is the Indian subcontinent. A cozy bubble that will not burst.

Hands folded and eyes closed in humble resignation to the remover of obstacles, I let the calm radiate through my being, disentangling my thoughts and revealing the way forward. Every once in an infrequent while, when my world closes in around me with conflicting desires and hazy identities, I look to my sanctuary - an oasis that keeps me from wilting, sound and proud in the knowledge of who I am. I leave its threshold, reconnected to my soul and poised for another day.

Back now in my own country of birth, I stare in bewilderment at the apathy that is tearing lives apart. Racial perpetrators dock, unsuspected, and mock all anticipation. Where there is no will, they force their own way! Peaceful neighbourhoods are lamenting in anguish as faith finds new enemies – its deity desecrated and refuge brutalised. For a country that thrives on its diversity and prospers because of it, this inferno of hatred dangerously snaking its way into susceptible minds, is too frightening to comprehend.

My thoughts wander back, across the seas, to the little nook of tranquility that sustains my own immigrant uncertainties. In the comfort of its quiet dignity, thrive a people who uphold their faith and spirit, undeterred, in a foreign land as much home as the soil that remains dear.

The amalgamation is complete. Tough roots nurture a community that keeps generations wrapped close. Family values hold and propagate their resilience down the line. The allure and proximity of a lifestyle more permissive than native contraptions notwithstanding, new blood toddles on, finding its way through the labyrinthine melee of culture, cross-culture and opportunity.

The custodians, spread far across the city of London and beyond, bring their flocks together regularly, to regale in festive fervor and reiterate their cognisance in a country unnaturally theirs.

What with the bustle of an unstoppable high street in the skirting, the swift drive up the hill into quaint Wimbledon Village replete with chic boutiques and top-end chains, the fabled serenity of Wimbledon Common with its sprinkling of woods and water holes and the all-imposing tennis with resident reverend Centre Court - the contrasts are unflinching.

Yet, an institution, ethnic in stance, prospers. And a country, staunchly protestant, revels in the multitude of colours as foreign as those who bring them in.

Constantly, silent and sure, mindful and determined, considerate and considerable, a new wave tides in and out of this idyllic suburb. Like clockwork, the priests chant their verse, the temple bells ring and the incense wafts its scent.

And every now and again, for redemption, blessing or on a whim, a little temple in classy Wimbledon, gets a visitor ■

>> http://www.deccanherald.com/Content/Feb222009/artic20090221119918.asp

Friday, 30 January 2009

Shikari Shambhu phir phansa!!


Shikari Shambhu’s all worked up:
he’s seen some felines prowl.
His cuppa tea still steams the cup
But Shambhu’d rather growl.

All geared up from head to boot,
Rifle on shoulder, he’s ready to shoot.

One look to his left,
he glints to his right.
He huffs and he puffs-
oh! what a brave sight!!

Behind that bush…
Right down the hill…
He tweaks his mush
all set for the kill.

Slowly and slowly
he goes all the way.
He thinks of nothing holy
while barging through the hay.

A whisp in his ear,
an ant up his leg,
a shriek from the rear,
makes him stumble on a keg.

Pinned on the ground
there’s a brief coloured pink,
with hearts inside round
and squares and in link.

But Shambhu is now blind
with a rage young things dread,
unless they’re the kind
that yearns for his tread.

Back-up comes quite soon enough,
with bricks and bats in place.
They pounce on pairs whose luck runs tough
and rejoice in their disgrace.

But the Ranger finds this errant boy
and pulls his dipped hat straight.
Not spared, were those who worked his ploy
when bars reigned in their gait.

The story ends, you might have thought
but a lady had dared to say:
Incarceration’s not our lot –
we are free, come night or day.

Small minds some, challenged, most,
picked their knits in what she said
and dropped it down like buttered toast.
How sandy was her bread...

Now as she awaits Matilda’s Waltz
or a robe that’ll stay her count,
the rest of us ponder the faults
of a woman that will take account.

So what if she dares?
Or are ‘his’ whiskers scarce?
What is the cause?
Does he really give a toss?

For a day Shikari Shambhu, cools his heels;
his cronies, toes in line.
The roses bloom and hearts still feel
and want and dream and pine.

And what’s all this about a Hindu state?
All saffrons have a home.
It’s these stick-weilding stooges of hate
that need a shackled dome.

Oh! Shree Ram! We beg for calm:
your Sita’s pride’s at stake.
Ravana looms to harm
your name, oh! how we ache!!



Full circle

Complete with song, dance and fabulous midnight fireworks, we bought in the new year, even this time, with much frolic and fanfare. Against my own expectations and to the surprise of a few others, the undeniable (thankfully waning) fear set in our consciousness was relegated to an external cache, not particularly sought after.

While the DJ unleashed his music and our facial contortions suitably magnified heroic gesticulations, many minds were thinking the same thought: the crowd turnout was less than half of what has hit the dance floors on this evening every previous year. Though it gave us more room to flail about, it was also perturbing to a point − would the evening be reported as merry in the morning papers and would the New Year truly be Happy.

At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world hardly slept, a geyser of fireworks lit up the sky and bouquets of colourful sparks drizzled over the larger grounds beyond. Stringent army and police cordons ensured that all roads were safe for those returning home and no miscreants or reveling pedestrians came in the way. All hell would have to wait for another time.

Outside the Ball, the unnatural quiet that heralded 2009, the general lack of enthusiasm to change that and the surprise that we dared to venture out, testifies a rather sadistic victory.

The numerous violent racial clashes that have plagued us time and again in recent years, ‘Mumbai burning’ and the many co-ordinated bomb blasts that ripped our country before that and now, the self-styled moral police and their horrific assaults on women, resound one latent truth – our famed and lovingly nurtured social framework, has come unhinged.

A realization, that makes me sit tight and listen when my parents fondly reminisce about the times when I was growing up. Like a child at bed-time, I lose myself in far-away tales and mental pictures of well-attended picnics, walk-in neighbours, outlandish-houred dinners-on-demand, ten people in one kitchen fretting over the precise boil in the pickle on the hob, multiple attendants at a sick friend’s bedside, impromptu stay-overs and streets bustling with familiar chatter. A time when smiles rode over and above hurt. A time when people brought over other people just because they were around. A time when trust was not contemplated, it just happened.
That was the time ‘communities’ thrived. Communities of people who shared interests. Communities of children who played because they were together. Communities of well-wishers who stuck by the other. Communities where everyone knew each other and if they didn’t, a new friend was quickly made.
Communities. Period. Not ‘communal groups’. Not ‘ethnic affiliations’. Not ‘religious factions’.

“… India sends evidence to….”, runs the news channel’s bottom line across the television screen and the past instantly recedes into its designated crevice in memory. One order of gun-totters took it upon themselves to make a statement to the entire world. India suffers anew.

As one line of division shows signs of erosion, another erupts afresh. The larger picture condenses to fit the microcosm of our little lives. Trust is just a listed word. Our neighbor stands suspect. We are watering a snake-pit under our organic turf.

But think about it. How often do we find the pesky rodent in a well-tended garden? Our busy lives, our exclusive lifestyles and our secluded life-scopes have left little room for anyone else. Within our unit-living, how much do we know about each other? What is our teenager thinking? Why is the spouse ill-at-ease? Who is talking?
I so often hear ricocheting claims of how members of the same family, living at the same address, catch mere glimpses of each other. So when does any productive exchange happen? And when was the last time you looked into the adjacent garden to enquire about the ripened strawberry?

Our self-contained, high-walled existence has not only removed us from the larger world we live in, it has also made us disdainful of it. Anyone asking after our wellbeing, is an interference. Someone else walking on the same pavement is an infringement. That friendly offer to alleviate trouble, is audacity.

This is our day. And this is what we learn: you are nice because you are not good enough to be bad, you are helpful because you don’t value yourself and if you value another, it’s because you don’t have a life!
When I moved to London, this level playing field gained more plinth. I was advised against any contact beyond basic courtesy – it would seem too desperate. When new neighbours moved in, I was to refrain from cordial welcoming – that would be intrusive. If that same neighbour got locked out, I was warned against assistance – it would be downright offensive!?

Policy: Live and let live. Method: Solitary confinement. Duration: Life. Did I change that? Of course, I did. Was it appreciated? The people, who continue to wish us from across the seas on our special days, are the ones who were thrilled to have someone to share an afternoon cup of tea with and smile while at it. What worked? Natural instinct, channeled pleasantly.

Back home, I find us at that point in the circle from which the West is quickly moving forward. While they have waded into a new circuit, we drag along the curve where our insular lives have rendered us susceptible to detriments of our own making.

Blame history, but in spite of it, I have found that there is little aversion to knowing the other. What there is, is fear. We are afraid of what the response will be. We are afraid of offending. We are afraid of defending. We are afraid of mistaken integrity. We are afraid of intention. We are afraid of who our new acquaintance could turn out to be. It is not just the lack of time, then, that is the culprit because a quick ‘hello’ takes but a second. It is the uncertainty of what we don’t know.

But how will we know, if we shy away from knowing? In the little community that I have around me, I smile at someone, and they know me. Together we talk about unfamiliar faces and choose to let them know that we are there.

And terrible as this comes across, not for companionship, not for camaraderie but for sheer safety, now more than ever, we need to share the sugar bowl with those that are close by. It keeps them in check and keeps us aware. Who knows, this awareness could well re-build a cohesive society where motives become selfless. Where humanity binds us once more. Where community takes another birth and we actually start caring for each other. And again, all ends well.

I live in that hope. I dream of a place where my child will delight in pleasures of the togetherness that I enjoyed. Maybe one day, in the future, when I tell the tales of him growing up, instead of drawing contrasts with elders, the way I do now, my child will be laughing ‘with’ me.

I am glad we had the courage that evening to enjoy a happy occasion. I am happy that unhappy hauntings failed to draw any victory on the psyche of at least the few that were out regaling there with us. I am grateful to the police and army for maintaining ‘normalcy’ inspite of the grave threat and foreboding uncertainty that hung in the air.

That evening, we refuted fear and beat those that perpetrated it. We need to do it again, as discriminators and mongers of hatred plant new seeds.

Beauty crown winning and easily understood as ‘world peace’, the only way forward lies right here, within us. It is as ancient as time. It is as persistent as life itself. It is as inevitable as childhoods of a few decades ago. It embodies itself in the tapestry of ‘community’. It is defined in the words: respect, compassion and regard. Throw in love, and we have laughter back in our lives.