Monday, July 16, 2012

Holding a Handful of Happiness.....

Memories of my summer vacations spent at my Mom’s native village are still vivid in my mind. Those days of sheer guilt-free existence would never come back and that’s what makes them precious memories. Our native place is near the Vembanad backwaters with the swaying palm trees and lush green mangrove wetlands.

My dad loved to drive us down to our native place, a comfortable 222 km drive in our good old Jeep. Dad and Mom used to sit in the front row, while my brother and I used to fight it out in the spacious back rows with pillows and a set of suitcases for ambush. As our vehicle winds through the Sree Krishna Swamy temple square with its towering Ficus tree, familiar faces lazing around under its boughs, greet us with waves and hails of welcome. Dad always reciprocates with a customary smile. This marks the entry into our village. Another mile and it’s time to turn from the asphalted road to the red-soil paved village path along the sacred grove into our ancestral house. Guarded by 7 ponds and numerous trees, the house with its red tiled sloping roof seemed like a ruby nestled in an emerald jewel box.
The adults tend to slip off into a siesta during the summer afternoons, giving us kids enough time to explore the ‘un-ending-gardenlands’. The garden had a lot of flowering shrubs too, tropical flowers in all hues and shapes one could imagine.
Among all the memories that I hold onto so fondly, a particular ‘seed’ of a tree holds a special place in my heart. The Manjadikuru a shiny, tiny red drop of a seed. I don’t remember when did I actually start collecting them.

As a child, I used to clutch my mom’s hand as we go for a morning walk along the cleared path to the sacred grove in the mornings. On the way she used to tell me stories about the plants and the butterflies and the fruits and the rocks...sometimes even the botanical names of plants. Maybe my innate interest in Landscape Architecture, my present profession probably was shaped during those lazy summer days. On the way was a not-so-beautiful tree with clusters of dry, brown pods. From those pods dripped these beautiful seeds which we collected and stored in a glass jar. The glass jar was always kept above the wooden cupboard lest my younger brother, who was too small, then would swallow them. 

Manjadikurus are the seeds of a leguminous tree Adenanthera pavonina (often called Red Sandalwood, even though red sandalwood is another tree, Pterocarpus santalinus). The generic name Adenanthera comes from the word ‘aden’ (a gland in Greek) and ‘anthera’ (anther), which is probably due to the presence  of small glands on the anthers of the flowers.

Guruvayoor temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna, the naughty boy God of the Hindu mythology. In front of the dark, cool, moist black stone paved sanctum sanctorum is a large brass urn filled with red ‘manjadikurus’. The children are encouraged to pick them up with both hands, cusp them and leave them back in the vessel. Nothing from the temple should be taken out of it except for the ‘prasadam’ (holy offerings) that the ‘pujaris’ (priests) give you. It was always a hard part to see and play with so many ‘manjadikurus’ in one vessel and eventually leave them all behind for more kids to come and try their hands. It is believed that the kids who indulge in this game would be blessed by the Lord and would help them be clever and naughty, like the Lord himself. Don’t know if that’s true but the scientific fraternity does support the fact that cusping these seeds and playing with them in childhood, does have a positive effect on the finer neuro motor co-ordination of the palm and fingers. A visit to the temple was always fun owing to the chance to play with these manjadis.

Bottles and bottles of Manjadikurus collected during the childhood days have gone missing ever since I left home for higher studies. Thirteen summers in Delhi and I almost forgot about those tiny shiny beads. But as they say, ‘it is all a matter of time’. Recently, on one of our visits home, Shalini and I spotted a Manjadi tree which bestowed us with a collection of Manjadikurus which we collected like small kids running all around the tree. Little did we realise that there was an old lady who sat in the nearby bench smiling at our excitement.

Those seeds are now securely stored on top of a shelf in Manipal, lest little Vedant might wanna try playing with them. Am sure, he’ll grow up to discover the tiny jar hidden away from him (for the fear that small children tend to swallow them) and definitely ask Shalini to give them to him so that he could play with them. Am sure, he too shall fall in love with those tiny red seeds, just the way we’ve all been through. The cycle will repeat itself. A whole new generation will play with them.

I don’t know if that Manjadi tree still exists at my native place, but if it does then I know where to look for our little one, once he grows up, during our summer trips to the village home. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Art in the Flights of Fantasy

Travelling has always been a passion for me.
As a child, I used to love clutching on to the handle bar of my Dad’s scooter looking around at the everyday life of Trivandrum, a verdant city in the southern tip of the Indian peninsula. As I grew up, the distances of my travels increased and Great Indian Railway trains became the mode of travel.  
Train journeys every vacation from Delhi to Kerala and back became an integral part of my life. These journeys which often lasted more than 54 hours were a test of patience, if not for my friends travelling on the same route or other fellow travellers who always made these journeys interesting and worth remembering.
As I metamorphosed into a professional from a college student, I almost stopped travelling by train, mainly owing to the fact that half of the holidays get spent in the train and I end up spending lesser time at my destination. That’s when Aeroplanes came to my rescue. The number of flights that I’ve been taking in the recent years can easily qualify me to all the frequent flyer memberships, but what use can collection of virtual numbers ‘reward’.

During our childhood days, whenever we used to take a flight, my brother and I would fight for the window seat. Eventually our parents found the magic solution for avoiding this combat- always ask for 2 window seats. Peace of mind while in the air was important to them too. Even now, I find myself rushing to the check in counters early with the hope that the attendant will ask me sheepishly “Would you like a window seat or an aisle, sir?” The answer to which goes unsaid.....

But many a times I find myself a victim of the ‘oh-so-tech-savvy-crowd’ who’d web check in or self check in into all the available window seats even before I could reach the counters at the crowded Delhi Airport. It is during those flights that I tend to get lost in thoughts, splashing through a kaleidoscope of memories. Sometimes I tend to document these intangible thoughts into sketches.
There is no better medium than a tissue napkin or a paper cup to doodle around aimlessly. The only tough part is parting it when the cabin attendents come over for cabin clearance. I guess it is the ephemeral nature of their existence that makes them so beautiful for me. So many of those impromptu sketches have disappeared, but of late I’ve started clicking them before I drop them into the waste bag.

Flying amongst the clouds gives me a rush of adrenalin. It fills my heart with a sense of joy and peace. No cellphones to ring. No calls to take. Completely detached from the worldly’s just me and my thoughts. Truly, taking a flight is therapeutic for me. It gives me time to think, to search for the loop holes in my life, ponder over dreams, visualise the moments I want to-the way I want to....Flights for me are times of Fantasy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Years shall run like rabbits.....

Today I turn 30 !!!

Well...the dreaded 30 as I had always imagined it. As a kid, 30 year olds seemed like uncles and aunts to me. I somehow couldn’t really imagine myself in their shoes. Even the Fairytale Princesses and Princes never turned 30! They only ‘lived happily ever after’.

Never thought one day I’ll also turn 30.
And when I turned 20, I did realise that sooner or later (well, a decade later to be precise) I’d turn 30. But then 10 years was a long time to go and so why bother was my instant stand, every time this uneasy thought cropped into my mind.
And now that I’ve actually turned 30, I am compelled to ask myself over and over again about how I really feel about it.
The only thing that I can remember right now is a particular scene from the movie ‘Before Sunrise’, in which the character played by Ethan Hawke recites the verses from a poem ‘As I Walked Out One Evening’ by W.H.Auden. As he says those verses in the backdrop of a European Town Square with his beloved by his side, I was mesmerised...
“The years shall run like rabbits,
   For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
   And the first love of the world.'

But all the clocks in the city
   Began to whirr and chime:
'O let not Time deceive you,
   You cannot conquer Time.”

And today when I am already there, I don’t really feel dread...not even an iota of fear...Because I know that life is designed to be like that. I do remember my parents in their thirties and now that I am thirty, I only feel that it is as natural and normal as it can be.
May be it’s all these past years which have given me the maturity to understand this, or maybe I am still in a self-denial mode. Well well, no....I choose to believe the former. Turning thirty wasn’t difficult and definitely my life did not end at the strike of the midnight clock, as I would have imagined it to be when I was younger. On the other hand, Shalini and I are really looking forward for the days to come, when our lives will change....change for the better.
As each day passes by, I realise the importance of ‘living’ and not just ‘existing’. Each day gives way to a new day ....and in the end as Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 1865) had once said; it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thus spake the Butterfly....

Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.  

~Nathaniel Hawthorne
It came to Shalini while we were strolling on the white sands of Coral Island in the Pacific. The powdery white sand, the azure blue waters, the cool breeze and the sound of the rolling waves on the coral reef were enough to transcend one to a dream world. Her pursuit of finding the most beautiful shells to carry home as memorabilia led her to one of the simplest yet beautiful creations of God-the Butterfly shell.  (Scientific name: Donax variabilis, Common name: Coquina)
She ran to show us the shell, while we stood around it admiring its beauty, I couldn’t but notice the similarity it had with the butterfly.Holding it against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, I wished if it could speak to me.

If it could speak to me, may be it would have spake thus… 

"Just living is not enough," said the butterfly, 

"one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower."  
~Hans Christian Anderson
I do not know whether I was then a man 
dreaming I was a butterfly, 

or whether I am now a butterfly 
dreaming I am a man.  
~Chuang Tzu

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bidding Bye by the Bay.....

Gajanana , the Elephant headed God ,
Vighneshwara, the slayer of obstacles,
Ganapati, The chief of the ‘Ganas’
Kshipraprasadi, The instant bestower of wishes

Known by a thousand names as is the case with all other Hindu Gods, Ganapati, is one of the most playful Gods in Indian Mythology. Vinayaka Chaturthi or simply the Ganesh Utsav in local parlance, is celebrated every year towards the end of the Monsoons in reverence to Lord Ganesha when the idol of the God is installed in either the household or in the locality in decorated Pandals (Pavilions), worshiped by the devotees and finally the statue is taken through the streets in a procession accompanied with dancing, singing, and cheering to be immersed in a waterbody symbolizing a ritual see-off to the Lord in his journey towards his abode in Mount Kailash while taking away with him all the misfortunes of his devotees. This act of immersion, also known as Visarjan marks the end of the Festivities.
Hailing from the southern coasts of Malabar, I’ve never been a part of the Ganesha Festival since the cradle of this festival is the Konkan coast, mainly Maharashtra and the neighbouring states. The city of Mumbai pulsates with vibrant energy during the Ganesha Utsav.
Last year, I got an invitation from a dear friend who lives by the sea to join him for the Ganesha Utsav at his native place, a quaint old seaside hamlet in North Goa. Having known Amay since my college days, I didn’t think twice before embarking on this journey. Interestingly, his name itself means Lord Ganesha in Sanskrit.
Touching down at Goa on a monsoon afternoon, I left to his native place, riding pillion on his scooter, travelling through the fresh green paddy fields wafting in the wind like a silk scarf pegged loosely in front of a table fan, white washed church spires jostling for space among towering coconut palms, temples hidden like precious gems wrapped in the vines of the sacred groves, sloping winding roads running up and down the tropical forest covered laterite hillocks. The birds and the breeze hinted the presence of the sea even though the roads discreetly kept us away from the seashore.

The village of Chapora, is as interesting as its name might suggest. The towering ruins of the Fort guard the village from atop a rocky promontory jutting into the sea, the Chapora River meets the sea at the foot of this hillock. But before it meets the sea, the river spreads out to form the Chapora estuary embracing the land almost like a parting gesture to their eternal friendship. The waters of the river then mix up seamlessly into the sea. On the bow shaped banks of this estuary lies the fishing hamlet of Chapora. Truly, a setting befitting a fairytale.

The tiled roofed cottage where I stayed with its lovely rain drenched garden overlooked the estuary and the sea beyond. The setting sun used to peep in through the Balcao-verandah into the house before taking a dip into the molten gold of the sea water.
The Ganesha Idol of the family was kept in a decorated pandal  at their ancestral home with its red-oxide flooring and laterite walls. The Idol was decorated with fresh flowers, festoons, fruits and other offerings. The pujas and the aartis were sacred moments when the air gets filled with the fragrance of camphor, incense sticks, flowers and rose water.

All the members of the family got together to perform the daily puja rites and ate their meals together. The leaf platter was filled with heaps of rice and curries cooked in coconut based gravies and flavoured with the choicest of spices. The food was lovingly served in copious servings and saying ‘enough, I don’t want more’ was considered almost a taboo. The taste of the carefully cooked dishes still linger at the tip of my tongue as I punch in these words , a year later.

The highlight of the trip was a ride through the various villages of Goa with Anup  and Amay on a 'Ganesha-spotting-spree’.

 The pandals were put up in various places and decorated specially for the festival, using decorative items like flower garlands, lights, etc. Some were theme based decorations, depicting a mythological story or religious themes or a current event.

An eco-friendly Ganesha made out of ‘willowing-pans’ used to willow the chaff from the rice. These are locally made out of dried palm leaves.

An angry Ganesha cursing the moon, a tale from the mythology.

A Ganesha made out of spices, cereals and grains. Indeed, edible.

A Mythological diorama replete with the Kailash mountain and the river Ganges. Another story is being played out with moving statues of the Gods, while the localites walk through them and pose for snaps.
The evening of immersion was a moving experience as I watched people from neighbouring villages bringing the Ganeshas idols from their households in a procession one after the other with cheers of “Ganapati Bappa Morya….Mangal Murti Morya…Pudhachya Varshi Laukar ya" (Hail Lord Ganapati, Come again soon Next year). Groups of devotees carrying their Ganesh Idols walked down the winding roads from their respective villages all the way to the bay where they would immerse the idol.
One by one the processions from the neighbouring villages proceeded towards the bay, the idols of Chapora were also carried out with loud cheers and fireworks, lighting up the atmosphere with an electric frenzy. And then, as if it was pre-decided by the Gods, it started to drizzle…..the drizzle soon grew into a rain. Despite the pouring water, the idols were carried to the bay with all the people following it with chants and cheers hailing the Lord Ganesha. Fireworks competed with the thunder and lightning vying for attention. So infectious was the religious fervour that the shyest person would also get enraptured by this triumphant display of energy. Initially I was shy to shout out the cheers , but as I walked along in the rain with fireworks and Ganesha Idols all around, I found myself getting soaked in this electric frenzy. Soon I too joined the cheering group as we walked past the paved road, entering the wet beach, walking past the mud flats into the water. We paused there, the fireworks and the chants reaching a crescendo.

A few men carried the Idol walking into the waist deep water unfazed by the gushing rains, the waves, the slushy, slippery ground. My friend too joined them. The idol was finally immersed, alongwith the misfortunes of the year gone by. The crowd shouted loud hails of praises inviting the God to visit the village and bless all the coming year too. As we stood there, content and emotionally cleansed, Anshu, the little boy with a twinkle in his eye tugged at my arm diverting my attention from the statues settling gently into the water. He wasn’t sad to see the giant elephant head disappear beneath the waves since he probably knew that Lord Ganesh had not really left him.

“Ganapati Bappa Morya….Mangal Murti Morya…Pudhachya Varshi Laukar ya" he shouted out smiling triumphantly, almost as if to remind me that Lord Ganesh would return year after year, unfailingly to his small hamlet, to play with him.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Memoirs of a Rainy Rendezvous.....

To find someone who will love you for no reason, and to shower that person with reasons, that is the ultimate happiness.

~Robert Brault

And when that ‘special someone’ urges you to revive your blog just so that she can read it sitting miles away (probably during a well earned break after a hard day’s work)....what would you write about? Well I couldn’t think of anything else but about those vivid memories of a rainy rendezvous with a ‘near stranger’ who’d soon become a ‘far companion’.

It happened almost a year back. The Monsoons were at their zenith and I decided to travel down south the Indian peninsula to fulfill a promise given to this someone special. The otherwise dry Deccan landscape was covered in a green tapestry of brimming life. The sun beams split into a myriad spectrum of colours across the cloud laden sky, almost like an impressionist watercolour. There was a nip in the air, hinting that the rains were there to stay.

The anticipation before meeting up with someone is probably the best and the worst part of actually meeting that person, and especially so, if you’ve been planning to give her a surprise. Well, as it turned out to be, in the end there is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved.

As I walked out that rainy evening with her, climbing up a ridge to the so called ‘End Point’ which overlooks a magnificent valley, little did I realise that it was the beginning of a journey of a lifetime. A lifetime of happiness and sorrows, of light and shadows, of hopes and dreams....

The rain drenched streets wore a new hue that is actually difficult for me to pin point that i captured it in celluloid and believe me, that colour was all I could was everywhere....

On the petite petals of a lone flower in a fern covered swale....

On the smiling faces of a happy family of lilac blooms....

On the fresh foliage of the plants in the park...

Splashed on the monsoon evening sky....

Even the evening light had that mystic glow....

Was it pale Indigo ? Or a Purple haze? it was Sheer Lilac...or was it Mauve?

May be it was Twilight Lavender....indeed the light had a tinge of Amethyst like glow...

Almost as if I was looking at the world through fuchsia tinted lenses....

We walked through the undulating lanes, carefully stepping around the puddles of rainwater reflecting the azure sky , gazing at the valley below us lying outstretched till the horizons. My camera conducted its ‘unassigned role’ well... that of being the ‘conversation piece’. The ice breaker....

As we watched the sun set behind the clouds and felt the first few raindrops on our faces...we knew it was time to return back...back to the world of family, of friends, of relationships, rules and realities.

With so many words left unspoken...

so many dreams left unshared....

so many thoughts left suspended....

we walked back to part ways to the worlds where we lived our separate lives. As I boarded the overnight bus to Goa, I looked out of the window once again, for one last glimpse of her which I could treasure in my box of memories and that moment I realised, she was wearing a lavender coloured dress.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Stopping by the Alley.....

It's been quite some time since I last strolled down this alley. Stopping by the alley, I am reminded of the time when I had started blogging...

The world has changed or rather evolved since then...

....Laptops have given way to tablets...

.....The good old Windows XP has given way to Windows 7...

....Wi fi has become a household term...

....Blogs have been taken over byTweets...

Indeed my life has also changed....

....Sharing one’s life with someone has acquired a new meaning....

....Perspectives have been realigned..

.....Life's mantra rewritten...

.....Memory boxes defragmented...

Yet the enchantment of strolling down this alley never ceases to surprise my still ‘juvenile’ mind.

Yesterday was Vishu, The festival of renewed hopes and new dawns, a festival which promises better tomorrows as days go by. One of my first musings in this alley of dreams was about Vishu and the memories attached to it.

Memories of those carefree childhood summer holidays spent without an iota of guilt for 'doing nothing'....the excitement on the eve of Vishu day to collectbunches of Konna Flowers(Amaltasin Hindi, Cassia fistula) to auspicate the dawn of the New year... To peek into the puja room for a sneak preview of the auspicious Kanni (coiffured ‘Omen’) which mom and the other ladies of the house would have carefully arranged ....helping Grand Dad polish the old traditional bronze lamps until they shine as if dipped in molten gold...watching the blue green mangoes ripen in the mellow sunlight...counting and recounting the money gifted by the elders on the day of Vishu (the only day when cash is legitimately and willingly gifted to kids by elders as a token of prosperity). Time and distances have of course mellowed down the glitter of the festival but the memories it brings are still as fresh as the fragrance wafting from the burning Camphor flames.

Reclaiming one's life’ is a cool catch phrase which has been doing rounds now-a -days. But reclaiming one's own life isn’t easy when it comes to putting it into practice. The tendency to get stuck in the cobwebs of one's mundane thoughts and tiresome actions is so strong that repelling it becomes another task of its own. At times I feel that it is indeed a bliss to lose oneself in one's dreams, disconnected from the chaos around, like a kite that has just broken free from its thread, willing to lose itself to where its fate and the wind takes it to.

Recently, I happened to read a thought provoking quote on one of the most unlikely places....scribbled onto an aging tattered diary in my own handwriting with its carefully articulated cursive hand (which the nuns at school used to enforce) which I thought had gotten lost in those growing up years.

The quote was by none other than Mark Twain and it read like this

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do.....

So throw off the bowlines.....

Sail away from the safe harbour...

Catch the trade winds in your sails...


...and here I am yet again trying to light up my alley with lanterns of stardust hanging in the frail threads of memories.... Indeed memories are like the shade of a cool glen...they are inviting enough to run into from the heat and burden of realities.