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.