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

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Glimpses of Beauty

In 1980, I joined the Bank at a place called Chidambaram, in Tamil Nadu. Chidambaram is very famous for the Shiva temple - the Dancing Shiva is the main idol there. I was 22.

In the searing hot winds that scream across, raising clouds of dust, where in corners you see miniature whirlwinds or twisters lifting up garbage and waste paper, in the evenings after office, I used to cycle around listlessly. There was nothing much to do in Chidambaram except to go inside the huge temple complex behind the high walls, sit beside the large beautiful temple tank with granite steps and feed the fish. On holidays, I would take a book and lie down in the cool corridors around the tank, read, smoke, go for a coffee, come back and read.

Sometimes I would cycle to the Annamalai University campus which was about 5- 6 kms from where I stayed. With a borrowed ticket, I would browse in the library of the University. In the evening I would go to the small railway station, never much of a crowd there, sit beneath a tree and read or watch people.

One day, I was riding by. In those days, Chidambaram moved on bullock carts or horse ( mule) carts. Not many cars. In front of me, there trotted along a bullock cart with a Muslim family inside. A young girl, purdha-ed except for her face sat at the rear, facing me. Though her head was covered, I could see her dark eyes, kohled. A tip of the purdha was pulled across the lower face with her hand. She had such beautiful long fingers, so smooth and fair a skin. Mesmerised, I tagged along behind, hoping to see her face. She knew; and held on to the mask, though I could see her eyes were laughing. The tandem must have gone on for a couple of kilometers; she would give me an occasional glance. Nobody else seemed to notice us. Then came the junction where I had to turn off. She must have sensed it in the way I slowed my bike, the disappointment clearly writ on my face.

As I slowly stopped and gazed at the cart moving away, perhaps a kind breeze would have come; or perhaps the girl would have felt some sympathy - the mask was let off from her hand for a fleeting moment and I must have stared open-mouthed - for it was a face of such beauty, I remember her full red lips, the aquiline nose and the eyes that spoke of an inexplicable sorrow. Just a glimpse, just a moment - 30 years later I still can see her...

Perhaps she must have been a wife to the old man sitting up front; perhaps - I don't know; I will never know. I will never ever know where she is, if she is still alive.

I sometimes wonder why such trivial moments stay with us. One forgets so many things; names, faces, important happenings, dates - why, sometimes I have to think twice to remember my wedding date!

Like a dry leaf taken up by the wind, this incident too has gone, never to come back. Tapping at the keyboard, I make a garland of my memories...
*********** Balachandran v, Trivandrum, 30.05.2009

In the sunshine of my love

Love is like a many-coloured rainbow.

Many more shades, many more hues,

Than the sky could ever paint.

In one end of the spectrum is the love of self

The other end eyes never ever can reach.

Each shade, each tinge, each glint of light

Gleams for each that gave me their love.

But, my love, do not ask me how I glow for you.

And ask for whom else I do

And whether it shines brighter for you.

Do not, please, compare

Do not, please, ask if I love you more.

As the light of my love falls on your beautiful face

Drawing light into you like a prism

Instead of scattering, you converge

Me into a single beam of light

Of the stars

Of the moon

Of the sun

That shines forever and ever.

Then think no more of the myriad of colours

Just close your eyes and bask

In the sunshine of my love…

******** Balachandran V, Trivandrum 29.05.2009

Friday, May 29, 2009


“Behold, Ladies and Gentlemen, the heart!”

The venerable doctor professor said, holding up

The bleeding heart in his hand, fresh,

Of the young man, dead, on the table.

“Now, I cut it laterally into two,

Observe the atrium, ventricles, aorta etc.”

The heart still throbbed, blood dripped,

And thought to itself;

How little these men know!

They see the chambers and think them

To be empty.

Empty they are now, but he,

My dead man would remember

The hopes, the dreams, the loves

He held in them not so long ago.

‘I am not just a piece of flesh and blood’,

Spoke the heart, aloud,

‘Do not think of me as just a functional utility.

I am, said great poets and thinkers

The seat of love sublime.

I break, when life crumbles

I beat louder and faster in happiness and anger

I ache when you are in pain’.

I ache when you are in pain

I ache when you are in pain’

Chorused the hearts in unison.

As the amazed venerable doctor professor

And the aspiring student doctors watched

Their hearts broke out through their mouths

Spouting blood in showers

Spreading across the floor

Where it sprouted roses red.

************** Balachandran V, Trivandrum 28-05-2009

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Almirah

Somewhere in your corners deep,

Lies my love's first letter to me.

Somewhere in your corners deep,

Lies my dreams smothered dead.

Somewhere, hidden, swaddled in clothes

Trembles my fears, dark and black.

Somewhere, among the faded silks

A chempaka flower, fragrance faint.

These books that you hold for me,

These clothes that you keep for me,

These souvenirs of my forgotten past

These remnants of my self, uncared for.

One day, not long after have I left,

Somebody would sweep it all off,

Give you a new coat and polish your glass.

New clothes, new dreams, sparkles of a new life

Will light you up, so blessed are you!

Someplace for me, God, someplace for me

To rest , to keep my weary life

And someone, anyone -

To fill up these bare, empty shelves!


Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 27.05.2009

Sunday, May 24, 2009

50 Paise

In the not too long ago past, Thycaud and the Residency area of Trivandrum was a thick patch of greenery. Huge trees, bamboo groves and bushes were home to birds and small mammals. Jackals took a quick morning stroll in these woods. Mongooses scurried underfoot. Racket-tailed Drongos whistled and cackled. Earth was dark and cool and mysterious. Boys skulking classes at the nearby Model School and Intermediate College ( now Govt.Arts College) feasted themselves on the mangoes and cashews. In the winter mornings, mist hung around, reluctant to leave even at the behest of the sun.

In the place of jackals, now roam the human political animals at the Govt. Guest House. Bamboo groves have been cleared off to give way to multistoreyed buildings that house the Railways and Yatri Bhavan. The beautiful old Residency from where once the British Resident surveyed his protectorate, now houses the state tourism institute. Scraggy old trees remain like weary ghosts of the past...

By the side of the road where the garbage collectors dump their collect, there is a Milma booth from where I buy milk often. It is difficult to hang around there long, because the stench of the decaying wastes throttle the passer-by. Today morning I was passing by and bought a litre of milk and a half litre of curds, which cost me Rs.32.50. I gave the man-in-charge a 50 rupee note and 3 rupee coins. He gave me Rs.20/- and said – No change, Sir, you remind me the next time you come, I will give you the balance 50 paise. I said, leave it, what difference would a 50 paise make? No, he insisted, I will give it to you next time, there is such a shortage for 50 ps coins. I am exasperated and reply that its OK, don't bother.

The man hurrumps and says - “Sir, maybe to you and me and the ordinary folks, 50 ps wouldn't make any difference. There are even people, poor people, who return the coin saying, 'Annuh, you keep it, maybe next time it become one rupee or two rupees you can give it to me'. But, Sir,” he pauses significantly – “you know, I am an ex-army man, 30 years in the Army, served even in the Himalayas, but I can't understand the rich people who come here in their air-conditioned cars who would either wait till I give them 50 paise ( this was when half-a- litre costs Rs.9.50) or when I say no change, would dig around in the car and after 5 or 10 minutes come up with a coin. I am telling you Sir, I am seeing a lot of life sitting inside this booth. These people would have their cars running idle all the while and don't they know they waste petrol waiting for my 50 paise? They think I am like the bus conductors who don't give the small change back.”

“Only the rich care about the little coins. Maybe thats how they made their money, uh? They would spend lakhs on their cars, thousands for their drinks and luxury life, but man, they wouldn't let a 50 paise go!”

I smile at him and reflect on the ways of humans. I have a theory that we humans are basically what we do not want to be; and the virtues that we extoll are just ideal states to which we aspire. Basically, we are filth. I gasp for breath and give a vicious kick to the bike and drive away.

************** Balachandran V, 24.05.2009, Trivandrum.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Smug about Signature

Some people admire my signature.

I too do.

The sweeping strokes

The V like the prow of a racing snake boat

The aerodynamic slant to the right –

It looks like a Roman galleon

About to ram into the midriff of an enemy ship.

I love to scribble my signature.

In bits of paper, in office vouchers

In letters to the editor and beg to submits.

Every signature reflects my mood –

Angry, tense, happy, sleepy, sad, content

Confident, shaky, casual, sharp -

The swirls and whorls, the strokes and strikes

Wax and wane in the tides of my mind.

Every signature screams - look at me, look at me

Vanity, trying to impress in vain.

Not much changed in the nearly forty years

Since its inception.

Neither have I, much.

Not much

In a signature.

*********** BalachandranV, Trivandrum 24.05.2009

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Waiting

Through the cracks in the roof
shafts of sunlight
like arrows piercing my heart.
In the beam, specks of dust turn golden.
I hear the doves' wings flapping
and the cooing of the lovers -
I remember him.

Bats hang motionless, waiting for the night -
how docile they look, like he did,
before he savoured the sweetness of my blood!

The wind has died.
Fallen leaves do not chatter.
The doves have left.
Bats are stirring in their sleep.

Night approaches-
I wait - listening for his footfalls...
********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum 18.05.2009

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wooden Furniture

How many times, weary of life

Have I slumped betwixt your arms!

How many nights, dreary of life

Have I sought support of your top!

On you, my table, I rested my head

As if you were my lover's chest!

I gripped thee, in anguish so great

As if you were his shoulders broad!

I pressed my breasts, raking with sobs

Hard you were, silent to my woes.

I leave you now; this note, my last,

Let not the winds sweep it off.

***********Balachandran, Trivandrum, 16.05.2009

(Thanks to Kalpana Parashar for the idea)

The Deathbed

I slept on it, dreamt, planned my life

Here is his name I scratched, in madness of love.

This stain you see is my blood

Shed, in hope that he would love me more.

I take leave, my bed, let others sleep on thee,

Give them the love and life you gave me

But tell them not, the secrets we shared.

Tell them, if you wish, that I once laid on you

But tell them not I lost myself on your posts.

I take leave, my bed, may thee be host

To lives worthy more than me - here, a toast to thee!

************** (Balachandran V, 16.05.2009, Trivandrum

(for Kalpana Parashar - thanks for the inspiration!)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Bible and the Fishwife

In the sultry heat, the Cherry tree looked like a crestfallen school kid punished to stand outside the classroom.

Saturday afternoon; my fish buying is a weekly routine. I switch off the bike at the beginning of the decline and slide to a stop at the fish vendor’s stall, scantily shaded by the Cherry tree. As usual, I glance at the price list displayed, sigh at the expensive Neyymeen, Aavoli etc and hope the cheaper Choora, Ayala or Matthi would be available and be fresh.

There is a misconception that fat people are jolly. Actually, I suspect that they pretend to be jolly, as if laughing at themselves for their fatty, blubbery physiques, as if in an attempt to pre-empt the ridicule and mockery by the fortunate, slim world. In fact, they are hiding the dullness, the unwieldy heaviness of their corpulence, the palpitation, the sweating, skin problems and a host of other discomforts. I know, I carry a few extra pounds myself.

The fishwife, whom I am acquainted with for the last 6-7 years, is a jolly fat lady. In the burning heat, sweat soaks her blouse and saree and glistens on her sun burnt, black skin. I give my order and she weighs the fish. I make a usual desultory comment on the weather and she commences – ‘sarammarkku entherariyam?’ 'What you big bosses know, uh? You guys sit inside air-conditioned rooms. Look at poor people like me, melting away in this tin shack, you know what, sometimes I pick a couple of ice cubes from the freezer and rub it over my face, I stink of fish anyway'.

I am very polite with the fishwives of Trivandrum. Very. Very respectful too. Anybody would be, unless he is another fishwife. They have such scathing tongues that a self-respecting person will never dare to bargain or to make a derogatory comment on their wares.

I remember them from my boyhood, there were no transport for them, they used to come from places like Shankhumughom, Kovalam, walking, on an average, 30- 40 kms everyday. They would have this huge ratten baskets on their heads, filled with fish. A ball of rags would cushion the weight. Pieces of palm frond cut lengthwise would serve as the run-off channel for the melting ice. A smaller vessel kept on top of the other would hold their money, betel leaves, luncheon box etc. As a boy I used to watch them, fascinated at the speed they scamper, it was almost a fast trot, their taut behinds swinging in rhythm. Their firm breasts would be juggling, the towel thrown across the blouse failing to cover them modestly. Most of them were inveterate pan-chewers, the red spittle dribbling off the side of the blood-red lips. The nose-studs they wore, cheap glass, would glitter in the sunlight. Their bodies were so strong, sinewy, veins would be bulging in their biceps. I have never seen tougher women, mentally or physically. The fishwives of Trivandrum is a unique element in the human landscape of the city; none of the air-conditioned chain stores with their aproned, scoffing hunks wielding chopping knives can ever replace them. Yet the rhythmic tumbling behinds of the fishwives is history. They still live in the coast, at Shankhumughom and Kovalam etc, but nowadays they have Fisheries Co-operatives who transport them in buses.

I like this woman. She reminds me of the big black mammas of the South, typified in so many Hollywood movies. She reminds me of Queen Latifah, whom I adore. You feel so secure if she is around. She is like the women in Shaggy's song, 'Strength of a woman'.

I like to make small talk to her. I say – 'What now, fish getting so expensive, what?’ Milady rolls up my fish in a paper, puts it into a plastic carry bag and looks at me as if I am the dumbest idiot she has ever come across in her life. ‘Saare! Paperonnum vayikkarille?’ 'Man, don’t you ever read the newspapers? No fish in the seas! The seas have been polluted and fish die. It is a sea of oil not water. All these big trawlers come from other countries, sweep away even the eggs and what is left we sell to you and you complain about the price?' Suddenly she whirls around and dumps a big Bible in front of me. ‘Saare, I will show you. All this has been predicted long long ago in the Bible. Vayichunokkanam, read it, will you?' I am enchanted. I tell her, no, you read, I have to dig around for my glasses. She ruffles through the well thumbed, well underlined Bible, stops at a page, clears her throat and it comes, like waves rising:

She is Lady Moses; she holds the Bible in her left hand, follows the lines with her right forefinger. Gone is the coastal Malayalam accent, the twangs and tilts, the shrieks and shrills. In her voice, in her gestures, I see her passion for the Lord.

She takes up the Old Testament, Hosea 4:1 – 19.

Hear the word of the LORD,

you Israelites because the LORD has a charge to bring against you who live in the land:

There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgement of God in the land.

There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery;

they break all bounds, and bloodshed.

Because of this the land mourns,

and all who live in it waste away;

the beasts of the field and the birds of the air

and the fish of the sea are dying.

I am speechless. I am aware of what is happening, here in the middle of the city, on a hot May afternoon when it reads 360 C, I am fuming in the heat, sweat pours down from my bald head into the small of my neck and I am listening to this magnificent woman preaching. She confides to me after a pause – 'Sarre, we have an inttterrnational (sic) organisation. We go from house to house preaching the Good Word of the Lord'. I mumble - 'Hmm, Hmm, its great, but see, start practicing instead of preaching, will you? The government is cutting down trees, they are letting in foreign trawlers, they are letting our own people fish in the breeding season, and what about your big greedy muthalalees ( businessmen) who export all fish to other countries? Your organisation should make some noise about that'. She is silent for a while. Then she asks me how old I am. I tell her I am 52. She says she is 48. Then she asks me my name. Is she a tad disappointed to note that I am not a Christian? She is Elsy. 'Do you go to church, Sir?' I say no. Not to temples either, except those which has murals or carvings that I love to look at. Or which has huge compounds with shady big ficus trees and where cool air flows gently like a stream...

We Malayalees take much pride about our 100% literacy. Very true, of course. The man on the street knows all about from global warming to implications of economic recession. Nature conservation? Elementary. But the average Malayalee is the most indifferent, selfish, uncaring member of an Indian community. Unless and otherwise he is directly affected, he would be the last to raise his/her voice against the issue. Like the tree-felling in the city. In a city of I don't know how many hundred thousands, there were hardly 20 of us to make a hue and cry about tree-felling. Elsy is knowledgeable and concerned about the alarming depletion of fish in the seas; however, as a true Christian, it is only a re-affirmation of her faith, more reason for her to spread the Good Word rather than to look at the true cause.

I tell Elsy that I have two Bibles at home, and have read parts of it. I tell her to ask the leaders of her organisation to look into the causes of fish depletion and take it up along with their Lord's work.

In this hot, humid day, two individuals have shared a few moments; a bond has been built. The next time I go to Elsy, she would have a special smile for me; and I, in gratitude of her friendship, would bow to her.

************ Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 12.05.2009

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Girl in Love

There is a twinkle in her eyes

That would be the envy of stars.

Lips would almost break into a smile

Instead, it shines on her glowing cheeks -

Love, oh, to be young and in love!

In her voice, bangles clink

Her mischievous curls, spring-like, tease

Fingers restless, entwine, tremble

As they would, through his hair -

Love, oh, to be young and in love!

Happiness is a breeze

that sways her in grace

Her feet dance, they fly

For she is in love with a boy -

Love, oh, to be young and in love!

*** Balachandran V, Trivandrum 09.05.2009

Monday, May 4, 2009

To Remember

One of the gratifying moments of one’s life is to learn that somebody remembers you. Perhaps that is why we yearn to leave behind our footprints or our statues or streets named after us. Whether it matters to us after death is an open question; in our fear of the mercurial and insignificant nature of our lives, we hope there would be an afterlife, that we would be rewarded for the good deeds in the present life etc. I do not know whether Mahatma Gandhi would be swelling with pride that he has the most number of roads named after him. He surely would be ashamed of all those grotesque statues and statuettes, flung far and wide across the country.

One of the most embarrassing moments in life is when you are hailed across the street by your name and you give that dumb smile while he is asking so many personal questions and all the time you are racking your brain for a clue to his identity. And there is that hurt look on his face as he realizes you have failed to recognize him. To be forgotten is the cessation of existence.

In my late twenties, I worked in Ernakulam for about 3 - 4 years. It was the best time of my life. I didn’t have much money, but sufficient to keep me independent. I was young, unmarried and passionate – among other things, about Kathakali. Many were the days in the festival season that I would scooter off to some village or town to watch a Kathakali performance which would start around 2000 hrs and come to an end in the wee hours of the morning next day. There were monthly programmes at the Ernakulam Kathakali Club. I was obsessed with Kathakali. But the programme at the Club had its attractive fringe benefits.

The Kathakali club programme was a monthly social event for the aristocratic, old Menon families of the city. In the evening they would come, young and old – for the young women, it was a kind of debut day. Many were there, pretty young things, nose-in-the-air kind. One attracted me more than the rest. Not only she was quite a good-looking Menon, but there was this air of nonchalance about her, slightly tomboyish. But the bonus was that she was a Kathakali dancer, a member of the local women’s troupe. Now, this factor, for me, overshadowed the rest, and combined with the other bountiful assets, she became my primary objective of attending the programme.

I saw her on and off – at the Club, at some other Kathakali performance, waiting at the bus stop on her way to college – I discovered her house to be near my office and in the early mornings, would jog past her house up and down, though it was a good 3 kms away from my residence. Needless to say, I built up strong legs.

Our society – or rather her society was quite conservative those days. In all those three years I have never seen her looking my way, a smallest possible hint of acknowledgement of my interest, my existence. And for myself, having got scalded quite early in life in matters of the heart, couldn’t bring myself to ask her affection. It would have been impossible not to notice me, though. I wasn’t bad looking, muscular build – and there were other Menon girls giving me the occasional eye.

Years have passed. More than 20 years.

The other day, my AGM calls me. He was my colleague at Ernakulam; now a very senior officer. We shared the passion for Kathakali; I for the dance, and he for the music. We often used to attend the programmes together. AGM says – ‘ Balan, I have to tell you this. Yesterday my niece called me from Ernakulam. You remember Miss. X ? Of course you do. She was your ‘love interest’ back then, ha ha. Well, she is a friend of my niece, you see, and they were together when she called. Suddenly, she said – 'Chittappa, my friend X is with me, would you like to talk to her?' And then my niece tells her friend - ' It is my uncle, he is with Punjab National Bank, an old fan of yours'. She hands over the phone to her and I could hear her voice asking me - ' Hello, is it Balachandran?' !!!! The AGM giggles loudly. ' See, she remembers you, Balan!'. For an infinitesimal bit of a second, I went back 24 years, remembered the red blouse and silk skirt, bright big eyes, full lips and Dusshasana doing the Kalasam ( dance) in the light of the big Kathakali lamp... I heartily join my AGM in the laughter, he can't contain himself for another few minutes. ' Well, I had to, I had to tell you this, oh, oh, I haven't had such a good laugh for a long time', and all the while I could hear the strains of a tragic violin in the background.

I remembered Miss X, the first time I saw her near the Pallimukku Bus stand and thinking, 'Wow!'. Like in a fast forward run, images whizzed past in my mind....

Suddenly, I am aware of my shabby dress. My gray wisps of hair, bald head, the threateningly bulging paunch. I look around – 52 year old middle-aged man, a supervisor in a Bank, slogging it out for the last 29 years. There was a time when I too was young, considered handsome in a macho way and with some effort and good luck, a comfortable and presentable future ahead. Materially, I haven't achieved much, if one were to compare with my peers. But then, there are the lesser fortunate – I, at least, still dare to dream my dreams...

Outside, there is a break in the summer sky and it pours. Earth's thirst has been quenched, though only for a short while.

**************** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 04.05.2009

Friday, May 1, 2009

Song of the Tree

You who stand beneath me,

Look up at me for a while -

While you smell, breath in deep

The fragrance of my little flowers.

Did it hurt when the flower fell

On your head, my humble gift,

Here, I bend a branch of mine,

Hold, pluck the succulent fruit

For your child, a present from me.

Lean on to me, though my skin is rough,

But feel my heart that throbs for you

My veins full of the blood of love.

Here, I fan you with my leaves,

Lest you feel tired in the heat.

Did it hurt when you cut

Chopped off the branches

And sawed off the trunk

Did it pain when in vain

Pulling at my roots with so much strain?

I miss them, Sir,

The birds who nested in my hole,

The songs they sang for my soul.

The squirrels who ran, tickling my heart

Your child who played beneath my shade.

Forgive me Sir, I am just a tree

Fated to die, faithful to men.

When in the night, freezing cold,

As to embers my body burns,

They glow in love, for you alone

And your child, warm, asleep -

Think of me – lest your heart turn to stone.

********* Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 01.05.2009