City-dweller’s requiem

City-dweller’s requiem

Long corridors with pale yellow walls, down which dry leaves come hurtling by.

Desks with chalk marks, blackboards now greyish white.

The faint sounds of laughter and conversation.

Snatches of Shakespeare. Discussions on Dickinson.

Just behind walls, faces that could have mattered to me.

In another life, another time.

If I had chosen to push open these gates.

 

Instead, I have chased yellow butterflies across three states.

I have eaten creamy pasta and touched a napkin to my lips.

Past glass-fronted cafes, I have walked,

surreptitiously checking my reflection and adjusting my stole.

I have spent hours in cold storage, surrounded by others in similar boxes.

All of us being conveyed at a funereal pace to larger, colder storage boxes.

We don’t age. We don’t wrinkle. We don’t feel the wind in our hair.

We don’t speak our native tongues. The words live and die inside our throats.

 

Sometimes, on evenings such as these, I look through the glassed-up windows

(Oh, why is there so much glass? Glass, glass everywhere.

Showing you what you are missing. But offering no reprieve.)

I see, unseeing, the thousands of twinkling lights.

The dark, shadowy outlines of building tops.

(No canopies here, swaying in the breeze).

I smell the smell of rain on the earth.

I close my eyes and bite into a banana chip.

If I keep them shut, I tell myself, I can go anywhere.

 

Pretend worlds of green and brown spring forth around me.

Now I am walking down corridors paved by slanting rays of sun.

My hands drag across the wall, the peeling paint rough under my palm.

I slip into a room, where they are talking.

Five men and women on two shaky benches.

I slip in, unseen, unheard.

An engineer’s ghost in a literature class.

Soaking up greedily the words and their sounds.

Here, no bells will ring. No peon will come in, shuffling papers.

I can stay for as long as I like.

Perhaps even, forever.

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The scent of loss

  1. Will you not tell me your pain?

An empty hall. My stroke-stricken grandmother sleeping in the other room, with her home nurse dozing by her bedside. Neelu had come home crying, limping, her leg bandaged from knee to ankle. She’d had a bad fall, and my uncle and aunt had dropped her off here for a while. I didn’t know what to do to cheer her up. So, I sang this song instead, accompanied by a ridiculous dance routine.

“Manikyaveenayumayen manassinte thamara poovilunarnnavale, paadukille, veena meettukille, ninte vedana ennodu chollukille?”

You who took form in the lotus of my heart with your magical veena, will you not sing? Will you not play the veena? Will you not tell me your pain?

Dressed in nothing but a petticoat and with my hair standing on end, I would have presented an absurd little figure. She sat on the window seat, laughing so hard that tears rolled down her cheeks. Every time I sang “Will you not tell me your pain?”, she would take swipes at me from her seat, shouting “Yes, come here, I will tell you!” and I would dance out of her reach…

I can still hear the laughter.

2. Daisy

“Ormathan vaasantha nandana thoppil…”

In the garden of memory, only one flower remains.

It was Achan’s cassette. He used to play these songs on Sunday mornings on our old, fat two-in-one that sat on the bench in the terrace outside our bedroom, while he shaved, and Amma oiled our hair.  Daisy sounded like a happy song to me. I used to sing along, shouting “Daisy… Daisy…” along with the chorus.

Years later, Amma, Nandu and I lay in the dark, night after night, listening to this cassette. Somewhere along the way, I stopped wondering who Daisy was and listened to the lyrics instead. It was a song of love and loss. Funny how I’d never noticed.

To this day, I cannot listen to the happiest song in Daisy without feeling disturbed.

3. The fragrance of memory

“Ormakalkkendu sugandham… en atmavin nashta sugandham…”

Oh, the fragrance of memory! The scent of my soul’s loss!

Something was choking up my nose and throat, pricking my eyes, threatening to spill out. Thankfully, I was squatting on the floor with my back turned away from everyone. I stared blindly at the screen, scenes flashing through my head. I wanted to whimper, but I didn’t. I just sat unmoving, my hands clenching my knees…

And then abruptly, the song changed. The jingle of an advertisement for soap or biscuits came on. When I eventually turned around, I saw Amma disappear behind her paper, her cheeks wet too.

4. Gold, not mud

“Chandrakantham kondu naalu kettu, athil chandanappadiyulla ponnoonjal!”

A naalukettu (house) built of moonbeams, in it a swing of gold with a sandalwood seat…

I was sitting on the Hero Honda, in front of Achan, a trophy clutched in my hand. We were returning triumphantly from a painting competition conducted by Nirmithi Kendra. I had won the third prize.

As a filler during the prize distribution ceremony, they had played this song and it was stuck in Achan’s head. On the way back home, he kept humming it.

“Chandrakantham kondu naalu kettu, athil chandanappadiyulla mannoonjal!”

I interrupted him, laughing, “Acha, mannoonjal alla, ponnoonjal!” (The swing is made of gold, not mud) He shrugged it off, smiling.

Nearly fifteen years later, SR and I were listening to this song. And as SR hummed “mannoonjal” instead of “ponnoonjal”, I burst into tears.

Don’t Be Evil!

Don’t Be Evil!

In one of his recent blogs, Seth Godin has talked about making money and understanding its value. As someone who has recently decided to make more money faster, I took his words to heart. A few days later, I came across an opportunity to write content for websites. It was a work-from-home job that would bring in about twenty thousand rupees a month for a couple of hours of work every day. I felt quite enthusiastic about it  – I can write; so why not channel my talents to make some cash on the side?

Then the job poster shared the instructions and the next steps.

I would be given a source article, which I must rewrite in different words, keeping the meaning intact. My language and grammar had to be good. But the content did not have to be great. All the articles would have a common objective – convince people to take loans for various purposes. According to the job description, this was an ‘easy, simple’ writing opportunity. I checked one of the attached sample articles – it urged people to buy a UPS for their homes. Why? Because having power backup is important. And oh, UPS loans are dirt cheap and readily available. There were a few more in the same vein. Buy a washing machine to do your laundry at home. (washing machine loans are dirt cheap and readily available). Buy a second car because you don’t have to depend on your spouse to ferry you around. (car loans are cheap and readily available too).

As I sat at my desk skimming through these articles with growing disbelief, I realized something.

That contrary to my own belief, I am not yet ready to sell my soul.

I didn’t take up the job. But I did mull over it, and realized that I was disturbed by more than just the soul-deadening nature of the work. There is an ethical side to it too.

We all rely greatly on the internet to give us relevant and useful information. We all know how frustrating it is when we come upon crappy web pages and pointless articles. So don’t we also have a moral obligation to contribute something back to this open source? Something valuable and helpful to other netizens. Even if we don’t edit Wikipedia pages or write reviews of products and services we have used, we can at least be responsible and refrain from adding to the mess.

I think that is something web content writers and webpage owners should think about. This will also make business sense in the long run – if you are sharing great content, more people will come to your website on their own. You don’t have to hoodwink them into doing so.

As Google says – Don’t Be Evil.

🙂

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The Self-absorption of an Artist’s Soul

The Self-absorption of an Artist’s Soul

“No one can make the same album they made 10 years ago with a straight face: one is you change as a person. To be a true artist, I have to be true to who I am now and write that way. And the second is, these are different times.” – Brad Paisley.

There are two kinds of artists: the kind that breathe and thrive on the response they get from their readers, audience or listeners, and the kind that find peace and soul satisfaction just in the process of creation. To me, the question of which of these is right, is very confusing!

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I suspect that much of what I write – or think of writing –   would have no appeal to a reader. So should I even write it? It will only become another unread, unliked, uncommented post on my blog. But if I have a topic, or a deadline, or readers, I am more motivated to write. There are plenty of helpful books and resources available for those who want to expand their blog readership base. From what I can see, the underlying principle seems to be ‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours!” So there are people who regularly read others’ blogs and comment on them, and the authors of these return the favour. At some point, this stops being a favour and becomes a pleasure in itself. You decide which blogs you want to follow – and since most writers are also readers, this does not feel like a task.

I still remember those days in 2006, when a bunch of us would blog everyday and read and comment on each other’s blogs. I was much more regular with writing then, and looked forward to getting ‘feedback’ for my works. Unfortunately, like all social fads, this too died a natural death. I dare say that the quality of my writing has improved since then; but it was the praise and encouragement I got in those days that motivated me to improve my mediocre writing; today, my style and creativity seem to be stagnant. Like an actor who keeps playing the same role week after week. He is doing it well, but keeps hoping for inspiration, for a different role.

I feel a little ashamed about this vulgar craving for an audience – isn’t this ignoble? Perhaps I do not have the soul of a true writer. Or perhaps I am that pathetic tragedy: a cue-giver with the soul of a prima donna.

May

May
I cannot tell you how it was;
But this I know: it came to pass
Upon a bright and breezy day
When May was young; ah, pleasant May!
As yet the poppies were not born
Between the blades of tender corn;
The last eggs had not hatched as yet,
Nor any bird forgone its mate.
I cannot tell you what it was;
But this I know: it did but pass.
It passed away with sunny May,
With all sweet things it passed away,
And left me old, and cold, and grey.
: Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)
Christina Rossetti is one poet whose works I love without exception –I can’t say the same for Keats or Shelley or Browning. Her poetry is temperamental but still, beautifully poignant. The simplest, most unadorned phrases make so much meaning. Like Sylvia Plath said about her tulips, Rossetti’s words are like little hooks that catch onto mind and don’t let go.
I read “May” for the first time today and the variety of emotions she has managed to express through these two stanzas amazes me. There is love and loss… joy and sorrow.. fleeting nostalgia and bitter beauty… It has always amazed me that a human being can feel so much –such a myriad of emotions –to be able to put pen to paper and re-create them for others to share is truly art beyond measure.