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

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Eleventh Hour Syndrome

“Are you listening?” The question purportedly directed at P bounced off the front door. “The train leaves in half an hour”. “Told you, I am ready”, replied P, somewhere from the depths of the house. Five minutes of nail biting and wristwatch twisting later, I go in search of her. She is scurrying swiftly from one room to another like a mouse, with a mouthful of hairclips, a dress in one arm, mobile phone in the other, hair at some indefinable stage of coiffure; noticing me, came the cool pronouncement – “All I have to do is to drape on this sari and pack the bag” .

Scenes like this are quite common in our household. I have an obsession, a neurotic fixation, about catching trains and buses. If it is due at say, 1000 hrs, I will be at the station by 0900 hrs. If reserved, I will check the list, walk straight to the compartment, settle down and then, contentedly step down and ogle at people or the racks of periodicals and stroll up and down the platform, shaking my head and clucking tongue at the last minute train catchers, huffing and puffing, suit cases and children trailing at the end of their arms, the corpulent corpora h-e-a-v-i-n-g and groaning. If unreserved, I will be one among the first who vaults into the as the train pulls in. I can’t help it.

Um, you may not know, but Trivandrum Railway station and the main bus stand are about 4 minutes easy walking from where I live. But I make it a point to get ready and be there at the station comfortably early. It has other advantages. For instance, it gives you ample margin of time, in case you’ve forgotten to take/do something.

Now, when it comes to packing for a trip – if it is a long, planned trip to the mountains, I would have packed and repacked at least 5 times before heaving the haversack up on my shoulders. I like it that way. It gives me immense satisfaction to pour over the maps, chalk out the route, establish camping sites, book accommodation, and read up every available fact about the routes and destinations. That I might end up going somewhere else altogether is another matter.

P and I are poles apart in this matter. Whether it is to Alaska or Acapulco that she is going – oh, yes, she will surely reach there intact – by the time she catches her transport, my BP would have shot up a few – whatever is the measure for BP. Like the coming weekend. 2 days holidays, so I decided to visit Attapadi, where the NGO I am part of has an ongoing medicinal plants garden project. I planned the itinerary, booked tickets up and down, all confirmed, pucca. Two days back P exclaimed while at the PC – “Ah, this is a course I would like to attend!”. I went over and saw that the 1-week programme is on Climate change and Carbon Mitigation at – well!, Dehra Dun, up there somewhere below the Himalayas. “Aha, but see, the last date of application was one MONTH ago!” I sympathize. “And the date of commencement is October 4th, next week.” “So what? I will apply anyway”. She immediately sends off an email. Yesterday night a Fax comes – WELCOME! And the show began. Scanning travel agencies for air tickets, discussing trains from New Delhi to Dehra Dun, cheapest flight, this train that train – along with the scare of Ayodhya verdict and its aftermath.

I know. My humble trip to the wild is shelved. I grumble. P takes up the old weapon. “Oh, well, then I won’t go. But it is a very good programme….” I know she has good friends in Dehra Dun. As ever, I relent. I always do. I say – “Yes, it’s a good programme, I can always go to Attappadi some other day…

In spite of our differences on the embarking on journeys, we have always managed to board the ship together. Finally that’s what matters. My deliberateness and her whimsicality – somehow, we strike a balance and hop over.

Compatibility in a relationship is not necessarily based on compatible interests. Like the love for dogs and nature that we share. It depends on how flexible, how accommodative both are. I would not call it sacrifice (I hate that word and its connotations) but giving priority, shifting one’s butt to give the other a little space of their own. It depends on not being selfish, on loving each other, on holding on to each other in the times of cholera. Because nothing is as important as letting the other breathe, live.

P still catches her train by diving in at the last moment. If we are traveling together, we reach reasonably, safely earlier. By myself? Well, I have many things to do if I reach the station one hour before the train starts. Like watching the sparrows’ nests, the mangy dogs, the oh-so-important looking people leaning out of the AC coaches, the tearful parting rituals, drinking apple juice, … just sitting, looking around, happily…


‘What life is this full of care, if we have no time to stand and stare?’

*************** Balachandran V, Trivandrum 29.09.2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Come, Come closer, Malini!

The air was still; the night sultry and humid. The crowd, five hundred or more, sat, lay, stood or just slouched or hung around. Among those who sat cross-legged or knees resting on the chin or legs pulled behind – there was not enough space on the sand-spread ground to be expansive in posture – some slept open-mouthed or curled to a foetus. Those who were awake, looked like zombies, for their eyes were focused on the man and woman on stage, dressed in a totally other-worldly style, The man was beseeching, bidding, requesting, begging, groveling, commanding, lecherously inviting the woman – ‘Come, Malini, come closer to me!’

A quarter of a century ago, my all-consuming passion was for Kathakali, the traditional dance-drama of Kerala. I was fortunate to witness the performances of the great masters of those days – dancers such as Guru Chengannur Raman Pillai, Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, Kalamandalam Gopi, Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair, Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair, Sadanam Krishnankutty, Pallipuram Gopalan Nair, Nelliyode Vasudevan Namboothiri and singers like Kalamandalam Unnikrishna Kurup, Kalamandalam Shankaran Embranthiri, Kalamandalam Hyderali, Venmani Haridas and maestros on Chenda and Maddalam like, Kalamandalam Krishankutty Poduval and Kalamandalam Appukutty Poduval - and many many more. I give their full name and title of their school here out of great respect and admiration. Most of the names above are no more – like my favourite phrase in Malayalam – Kalayavanikakkullil maranju - they have vanished behind the curtains of time.

Kathakali Mosaic by Rahul Sadagopan

The scene described above is typical- could have been any one of the innumerable performances I watched in those days. The programmes began at 2100 hrs in the temple grounds and would go on till the wee hours of the morning. The audience, packed at the beginning would thin around midnight; only the true aficionados (they call us Kathakali Bhrandan – Kathakali Nuts) would sit up wide-eyed, chewing pan or smoking beedis throughout the night.

One such night I will never forget was the performance of Keechaka Vadhom at a temple near Kochi. The main singer was the late Kalamandalam Unnikrishna Kurup. In Act II, before the raising of curtain, there is a Dhandagam or a verse in Sanskrit, followed by the lifting of curtains and Keechaka and Panchali appear and dance for the lines, ‘Harinakshi’. The Dhandagam or sloka, starting ‘Sabhajana vilochanai’ is a favourite among the buffs; and it was Unnikrishna Kurup’s best. The audience sat hypnotized, glued to the rendition. As the final notes sank to a stop, the audience reluctantly woke up from the trance. And then, a wonderful thing happened. In one voice, we demanded an encore. It was totally unheard of. Keechakan, played by the greatest living dancer, Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair, was waiting in the wings. The organizers, succumbing to the demand, requested Kurup to sing it once again. Perhaps that was one unforgettable evening in Kurup’s life too. He sang again; and we, the blessed of the blessed, listened in rapture…

Later, Ramankutty Nair Asan wiggled his eyebrows and sang ‘Guaye…’ at Kottakkal Sivaraman looking cross and bitter, and asked her – ‘Come, Malini, come closer to me!’ ‘O jewel among women, come closer to me! Here, let me massage your worn feet! My humble abode has been blessed today by the touch of your lotus petal-like feet! Come and sit on this bed and let us make love!’

When I visited home at Trivandrum once in a month, I would go to my sister’s. My favourite niece, Malini, pretty as a picture and 5 or 6 years old, would open the door. I would strike a stance like Ramankutty Nair Asan and croon to her – Enn arukil varika nee, Malini!’ Malini, now 34 years old, Senior executive in a 5-star hotel and mother of a boy, would blush and grin happily.

********* Balachandran V, Trivandrum 25.09.2010

Tiny Concentrations of Pain

I would like to introduce a Tamil poet of our times, Sri.Shanmuga Subbiah. Two of his poems, taken from New Writing in India (ed.Adil Jussawalla.PenguinIndia 1974) are given below. Incidentally, my copy of the book was bought at Trichy in1982. It had been lying deep inside the shelves....


On the top floor
Of Parliament House
A dead rat
Stinks. Phew!
Is there no one
To sweep it away
And bury it
Fathoms deep?
In this land
The only thing
That can be said
For the likes of us
We can smell things.
You great ones
Who rule over us
Haven't you the heart
To feel it?


Scratch your head
Bite your tongue
Bow low
Keep your hands tied
Your feet pressed firmly together.

'What's all this?'
You'd better
Ask the belly.
It'll tell you.

Translated from Tamil byT K Doraiswamy.

42 years hence, I do not find a better portrait of our country.

Balachandran V, Trivandrum 25.09.2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Art of War

by Sun Tzu. Translated by John Minford. Penguin Books.2009

Violence is as inherent in man as is the yearning for peace. Ssu-ma Ch`ien, a disciple of Confucius said –‘Every animal with blood in its veins and horns on its head will fight when it is attacked. How much more so will man, who carries in his breast the faculties of love and hatred, joy and anger! When he is pleased, a feeling of affection springs up within him; when angry, his poisoned sting is brought into play. That is the natural law which governs his being....” . Violence resulting from a sudden emotional outburst can be understood; so also violence for the sake of survival. But war is a deliberate act of violence when it is conducted without provocation. The fact that man’s mind more than 2500 years ago was as cold, chilling and morbidly fascinating as today, is proven by ‘The Art of War’, written by Sun Tzu Wu (c.551-496 BC).

One of the best sellers in the last century, ‘The Art of War’ continues to be read and analyzed, not only by military personnel but managers in the boardroom as the ultimate guide to winning. In 13 chapters, each with the briefest possible lines, Sun Tzu Wu, who was a famous General in China, details the deliberations and strategies of conducting warfare. Listen to the very first stanza: War is a grave affair of state; it is a place of life and death, a road to survival and extinction, a matter to be pondered carefully. Chapter headings indicate the succinct and lucid nature of the contents: Making of Plans, Waging of War, Strategic offensive - to the final chapters Attack by Fire and Espionage – it reveals a brilliant, objective mind that leaves no stones unturned in its pursuit of victory and nothing less.

The Art of War, translated by Lionel Giles with copious notes and considered as the most authoritative work, is available as Project Gutenberg E-book. Though the classic translation by Giles is excellent with its notes, it would be enlightening to read it along with the translation by John Minford.

The Art of War takes us into the depths of a fascinating mind; ruthless but detached, broad yet focused, passionate but objective; Sun Tzu Wu’s work is a masterpiece that should adorn the shelves of all who wants to understand the complexities of human nature.

********* Balachandran V, Trivandrum 24-09-2010

City Rider

Twisting and turning

Speeding and slowing

Through the labyrinth of streets

Braving the noise, the crowds

Boxed in by tall buildings

The bike rushes as if to escape-

Suffocated, nearly strangled.

It climbs a flyover

Higher, over the lowly lot

A blooming Gulmohar

By the side, smiling

And then – a patch of sky –

Bright, white

And farther, a deep blue.

******* Balachandran V, Trivandrum,23.09.2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

‘What is a Friend?’

Among the treasures I hauled away from Bangalore, a tiny gem shines brightly. It is a little book, ‘What is a Friend?’, just 62 pages, about crown octavo size. It is a collection of quotes, edited by Louise Bachelder and published by The Peter Pauper Press, New York. The year is 1971 and wow, it is a first edition! Cost? Rs.30/- !

I would like to share with you the first quotation, by Mr Anonymous!

What is a friend? I’ll tell you. It is a person with whom you dare to be yourself. Your soul can go naked with him. He seems to ask you to put on nothing, only to be what you really are.

When you are with him, you do not have to be on your guard. You can say what you think, so long as it is genuinely you.

He understands those contradictions in your nature that cause others to misjudge you. With him you breathe freely – you can avow your little vanities and envies and absurdities, and in opening them up to him they are dissolved on the white ocean of his loyalty.

He understands. – You can weep with him, laugh with him, pray with him – through and underneath it all he sees, knows and loves you.

Those who are gender-conscious may read He as She.

There are many more quotes. Of famous and not-so-famous people. Reading each and reflecting on each, I spend this holiday. It is pleasantly warm outside. P is at the sewing machine, Sancho lies at my feet, asleep. I feel content and at peace at times like these. I think of all my friends and feel so proud that they should consider me as one. I cannot count my blessings; they are showered over me as friends.

****** Balachandran, Trivandrum, 21.09.2010


The tentacles of a jelly fish

The fang of a snake

The stinger of a scorpion,

The barb in your tongue –

They use it for self-defense.

You, however,

Lashes it left and right

Only to hurt others –

And unaware that

Its final victim is you.

Use your tongue - wisely.

********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 21.09.2010

Monday, September 20, 2010


P and I rarely watch TV together because of conflicting interests. Of course, occasionally we do, when something we both like is shown. Yesterday, there was a reminiscence of the late Sri. P Bhaskaran, one of the greatest (to me, the greatest) lyricists in Malayalam movies. During an advertisement break, the former Miss World, Aishwarya Rai swept in. P exclaimed -‘She is really beautiful, isn’t she? Look at her eyes!’ Before she could comment further, I switched channels. ‘Why, don’t you think she is beautiful?’ ‘Of course’, I said, ‘she is beautiful. But isn’t there something more to beauty? Something more than a pretty face? To me, beauty is unpretentiousness. Once somebody is conscious about themselves, they are no longer beautiful. Say, um, like Meg Ryan in You Got Mail? Or Sandra Bullock in While You were Sleeping or Forces of Nature? Julia Roberts? Remember Pretty Woman?' ‘Oh, you and your Hollywood females!’ said P, depreciatingly. I kept mum.

After the programme, I go to my room and mull over Beauty. I am unhappy with dictionaries. But more I think about beauty, the more I am convinced of my definition. Why are all children beautiful? Why is a flower beautiful? Why is a laughing dog beautiful? Why is a landscape beautiful? There are thousands of girls and women more beautiful than A Rai, just because they are not self-conscious. Beauty is not something pleasurable to the senses alone; not something physical alone, but you feel beauty when you are offered a glimpse of the true selves, natural, unpretentious. I lie on bed smoking and extrapolate my concept of beauty. It can be applied to writing. Poetry. Short stories. Natural History. I think of CK Williams, of Hemingway, of Nevil Shute, O Henry, of the many authors in Picador Nature Reader. I wish I could hug each of them and say thanks for showing me what beauty is.

Beauty, I realize, is in being true. I wince. ‘Ow! Fella, now you be in the company of Keats!’

******** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 20.09.2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Revenge

The boy, typical of his age, is restless. He runs the length of the aisle to and fro, climbs the steps to the upper berths. In between he shouts out songs. He interrupts conversations between the elders, asking –‘Which is this station’, ‘When will we reach Kochi’ – queries that are left ignored by them and wander about like the boy himself in the chilled air of the air-conditioned coach.

The boy is the brother of the toddler in my last post. The entire family is either talking among themselves or coddling the toddler. The boy is ignored except for an occasional rebuke – ‘Sit down, Naveen! How many times do I have to tell you not to run about!’ The boy is a child – 7 or 8 years – how could they expect a child of that age to sit? The grandma is crooning to the little girl – the boy breaks in and teases his sister and she sets off a long bawling. ‘Shut up, Naveen, go away!’ cries Grandma. The mother sitting atop the upper berth shouts a warning call – ‘NAVEEEEN!!!’ ominously. The father, pulls the boy and force him down on the seat. ‘Shut up, I say, SHUT UP!!’

The boy sulks for a while. After sometime he gets up and tries to play with his sister again. ‘Sing, sing Waka waka’, he asks her. He turns to Grandma – ‘Grandma, I’m hungry, give me something’. I had noticed a large food container with 6 or 7 sections being carried in. ‘You will get dinner when others eat’.

Around 2030 hrs, the family gets ready for the dinner. The large container is opened and the air is filled with aromas of a dozen kind; fried fish, chicken, vegetable curries and rotis. Paper plates are distributed. Grandma sets the toddler on her lap and feeds her little bits of fried chicken. I take a peek and my mouth waters; I have to be content with the three flaccid, cold chappatis and vegetable curry from the railway pantry.

The boy watches the little girl eating. ‘Can I have mine, now?’ He asks. ‘You can have it when the baby finishes eating’. ‘But I have been hungry for a looong time!’, the boy exclaims. ‘Shut up, I say!’ chides the father.

In time, his turn to eat comes. After dinner he is back in his seat having washed his hands. His elders are still eating. He looks at one and asks – ‘Can I have that Chicken leg?’ He bites into it and finishes it within seconds and wipes his fingers on his jeans. ‘You dirty, filthy little boy! How DARE you wipe your hand on your trousers? DIRTY FELLOW! Where are your manners? Go wash NOW!’ thunders the father, a doctor. I am pained. The boy looks so embarrassed and is on the verge of tears.

Later, the family sits relaxed and makes conversation. They say how much doctors are earning in the States. ‘3,00,000 dollars, I tell you, our Joe is picking, and he is only a dentist. See George, you are a cardiologist, Anna is in paediatrics, between the two of you, you can make MILLIONS!’ Anna, the mother of the children is still on the upper berth. I learn that she is going to appear for an examination for her MD.

Suddenly I overhear the young boy asking his father sweetly – ‘Dad, you know Karate?’ ‘No, I don’t’. ‘Vinu’s papa knows Karate. He is a Black Belt’. A pause. ‘Dad, you know swimming?’ Dad couldn’t care less. He says brusquely – ‘No’. The boy stands up and exclaims- ‘What? You don’t know swimming? You don’t know Karate, either?’

‘This Dad knows nothing!’ The boy declares to the world at the top of his voice. ‘See, my dad knows NOTHING!!’

I smile into the book and bury my nose deeper into Jeffrey Masson’s ‘Dogs Never Lie About Love’.

************* Balachandran V, Trivandrum 18.09.2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sowing Love

In the train home, I share my cubicle with a large family of grandparents, a couple and their two children. In the adjacent cubicle sit the other members of this extended family. They seem to be quite affluent. The couple is in their late twenties or early thirties; I gather from the conversation that both are doctors. The elder child is a boy of 7 or 8 and the younger one, a toddler, less than 2 years old. The entire group’s attention is focused on the little one. The excessive attention and fondling is irritating her. She bawls at the least provocation.

In spite of their constant cuddling and show of affection, she seems to have taken a fancy to me. Gripping her granddad’s trousers, she looks at me with wide eyes and says – “Gahh! Daa!” as if trying to catch my attention. I try to bury my face in the book, but I can’t help glancing at her, for children of her age has a way of staring unwaveringly at you without being self-conscious. She grins at me. I wiggle my ears, eyebrows. She exclaims- “ Aaakghh!!” I perch my bifocals on my forehead, then back over my eyes and pretend to peer at her. She laughs out.

The family looks condescendingly at our play. But I can feel their discomfort. Mom says- ‘Molu, come, its time for chachu ( bed)’. Instead, she walks up to me. I caress her head. To entertain her, I show the book I am reading. The picture in the jacket is that of a dog. I point to it and say – ‘Bow bow’. She presses her little forefinger on it, looks up me – her expression changes – she says –‘Grrrrrr..’. I am shocked. I turn the pages rapidly. There aren’t many pictures in this book; only etchings at chapter heads. I find an etching of puppies playing. I tell her ‘little bow bow’ and smile at her to indicate that these are friendly creatures. She is grim and shakes her head. She says again – ‘Grrrr…’.

By then I am determined to erase whatever fearful images of dogs this child might be harbouring in her mind. I dip into my bag and pick out another illustrated book on dogs and give it to her. It is one of the secondhand books I had bought at Bangalore. I let her handle the book. She flips through it. She presses her forefinger on each page and looks at me, asking, ‘Aargh? Aargh?’ I keep repeating ‘bow bow’ and make funny faces, trying to convey that these are harmless things. After a few pages, I see her expression changing, especially after a picture of a Golden Retriever. She gurgles. She stomps her feet, wags her arms, laughs – ‘ Oooohhhhh! Ghhhh! ’

The young mother is quite fashionably dressed – bobbed hair, jeans and T-shirt. She beckons to the child and says firmly and slightly threatening – Come, baby, COME NOW!” The child doesn’t show any sign of having heard the command. I hold her close and whisper to her – Poyi chachiko, Ammu’ (Go, sleep, sweetheart).

The toddler leaves. I hope somewhere in her innocent mind would lie a seed of love for dogs. I hope, somewhere, in some other age, when a grown young woman kisses the forehead of a dog, a faint, vague memory of an unrecognizable face of an old man would pass through her mind. I hope she will smile at that fleeting shadow and hold her dog close to her.


Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 17.09.2010

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

4. A Gentleman Bookseller

K and I stroll through MG Road, Bangalore. It is a national holiday but many shops are open. It is early afternoon; not much of a crowd. In the Eighties, I had been a frequent visitor to Bangalore and my haunt was M G Road and its surroundings. I point out to K where my favourite pub, Ramdaa, used to be. Pub-hopping and browsing in that excellent bookshop, Premier, owned by Mr.Shanbagh, I used to spend many a memorable evening here long ago. At the first opportunity, I would barge into Premier and sigh deeply in contentment. Though there were other equally well-stocked booksellers like Gangaram’s and Higginbotham’s nearby, I preferred Premier, basically because of it variety, its ambience that was heightened by the presence of its owner, Mr Shanbagh.

There was hardly much space for the customers to move around. Yet how we loved to worm around among the disorderly kept stacks of books! Mr Shanbagh must have been in his mid-fifties in those days; he sat quietly near the entrance. He was a gentleman in every sense of the word and knew about or had read most of his wares. Often when Mr Shanbagh was free, I would discuss a new arrival with him. Those were the days prior to internet. Mr Shanbagh knew my interests and during the conversation he would suddenly perk up and say, ‘Ah! I would like you to take a look at this’ and pull out a book or two. At other times, I would read the blurb and ask his opinion. He would look thoughtfully away for a mite and would say – ‘Um- I don’t think you will like it’. Once, after spending more than an hour, I was disappointed to find anything that I liked; I told Mr Shanbagh so. He nodded sympathetically and said, ‘Don’t worry, it will come to you at the right time’. I accidentally leant on a revolving bookcase and a book fell down (See the picture! The bookcase!). I said sorry and picked it up – it was a book on environment that I had long cherished!

Premier is no more. I don’t know where Mr Shanbagh is now, whether he is still around or not. There was a post on him long ago in The Hindu. My frequency of Bangalore visits tapered off and came to an end in the Nineties except for a one- day /two-day trip when I would be too busy for browsing.

At home, when I go through my library and pick a book at random, I see the legend beneath my scrawling signature – Premier, Bangalore -/-/8-. Mr Shanbagh’s kind, quiet face comes back to me. The pleasant, cool evenings at Bangalore come alive once again.

For me, heaven wasn’t far off.

*********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 15.09.2010

Post Script ; Just before posting this, I googled Premier and came across this great blog http://isharethese.blogspot.com/2009/08/premier-book-shop.html. I have borrowed her photograph of Mr.Shanbagh. It was so wonderful to come across this blog and to discover kindred souls! Do visit the blog if you wish to know more about Premier. Thanks, Indrani!

3. Blossoms of Books

I have never set foot on England, but P has been to British Museum long ago when she was there for a course. She called me up and said, ‘I miss you here. I wish you could be here with me at the British Museum. It would take weeks to SEE at least a corner of this place!’

In Church Street, Bangalore, I have my kind of British Museum. It is a 3-storyed building, narrow column-like, every nook and corner crammed with – books! Books, old and new, on all possible topics. It is called the Blossom book shop.

Stacks of long columns of books all around me. I twist and squirm myself and gingerly step around, gaping open-mouthed and blinking through my bifocals. K grins at my idiotic expression. He knows I am in my element. Like a hunter delving into the great jungles, and parting the long grass to peek at a tiger, I push columns of books to either side to peer at further columns. This musty, heady smell of old books! How seductive, how fatally attractive! Like a Piranha in a feeding frenzy, I gobble up books. In some, love notes; heartfelt wishes, inscriptions, scribbled by someone in a far off country, from an age long past. I feel the pages of the books and think of them, those who gave it and those who read it, those shelves in some places I will never know, I will never see; these books some had held close to their hearts!

Every time my eyes fall on a gem, I utter – “Ahhh!!” Flares of interest flicker in K’s eyes. Not book-besotted like me and knowing that it is one of my disappointments with him, but affected by my infectious excitement, he also picks up a few. I am happy. The final damage is Rs.3,500/- plus. I’d have bought more, but I resist the temptation at the thought of lugging them all the way to Trivandrum and P’s head-shaking. Each of my pick is endearing to me. But the best of the lot is a little book of quotes worth Rs.30.00 - ‘What is a Friend?’

Immense, innocent happiness radiates all around. I look at the youngsters browsing and deeply engrossed in the books; I look at them carrying around shopping baskets full of books. I love them all. K says – ‘Now you have a BETTER reason to come to Bangalore!’. ‘You bet!’ says I.

********** Balachandran V , Trivandrum, 15.09.2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

2. Making Love in the Morning

At the right-hand corner where the lane enters the street, I stand sipping my morning cuppa. Fragrance of hot Dosa from the corner teashop waft into my nose and my mouth waters; I debate over a very early breakfast. A pushcart is parked by the side of the footpath. It looks like a miniature mobile forest; green leaves of several kinds are arrayed on the cart. I recognize Coriander, Curry, Fenugreek and Mint. There are a few more. They all look so fresh and clean and hugely edible. I conjure up visions of green chutneys and then decide I must have those Dosas, even though I am yet to brush my teeth. The aroma of the green leaves is so heady that I tremble like a dipsomaniac aching for his first shot of the day.

The vendor of the green leaves is a young boy of 14 or 15. After attending a customer, he walks back and sits down on a small plastic stool beside me. Street dogs of different sizes, shapes, hues and colours loiter; some investigate the piles of garbage, some sun themselves in the morning light.

As I watch, a mutt runs up from across the street. His muzzle is black and eyes, brown. The copper coloured fur is offset with black floppy ears. Sprightly, he trots up with springy steps, insouciant to the passing vehicles. He runs up straight to the boy-vendor, sits on his haunches and raises his forelegs in a greeting. The mutt’s eyes glitter with laughter. The boy mumbles something. The dog sits down, looks up at the boy and smiles. I could sense the dog’s gurgling happiness. Suddenly, as if he could not contain his excitement anymore, the dog jumps up and humps the boy’s leg, gripping his thigh with forelegs. He jerks vigorously for a few seconds. The boy raises his hand as if to strike the dog, but the dog doesn’t flinch or cower. He climbs down, sits and laughs up at the boy. The boy doesn’t strike him; instead he just ruffles the dog’s head. I realize that this is a morning ritual these two old friends have been playing every day for a long time.

A customer turns up at the pushcart; the boy goes over. I watch the dog. Love, as bright as sunshine, glints in his eyes as they follow the boy. I feel justified in my existence as well as in an early morning indulgence in Dosas.

********* Balachandran V , Trivandrum, 14.09.2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

Vignettes from Bangalore

1. Sunday Cricket

I look down at the street from K’s balcony. It is 0730hrs on a Sunday. It had been drizzling in the night. A damp morning and the sun seem to be reluctant to wake up like K and his friends. On either sides of the street, the parked cars look like street dogs curled up and dozing. Four children are playing Cricket on the street. Wickets are drawn on the tarmac with brick dust. The bowler in his early teens spins the ball in his hand like a veteran spinner. He scrubs it against his shorts front and makes a couple of warm-up swings. Running up a few steps, he delivers a short-pitched ball. The batsman, a rotund boy of same age, takes up a stance. I can see a little boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old and a self-appointed wicket keeper standing close behind the batsman. The batsman swings his bat backward. In the split second before he hits the ball, the bat swinging backward in an arc hits the kid full on his face; in the next one-tenth of the second, the batsman strikes a hook shot. Just as the bat hits the ball, the little kid falls on his behind. As the ball shoots off in a tangent, like a vocal representation of its ascend, a wail shatters the peace of the morning. Hell breaks loose; so does the players from their positions. The fat batsman, full of remorse, kneels beside the hurt party and vigorously rubs his face and ears. The wail rises to a shriek. The other two boys smack the fat batsman sharply on the back of his head. The batsman drops the injured wicket-keeper and all of them jostle for sometime as the wicket-keeper’s wail descends to jerking moans and he too seems to forget his pain for the interest in the ensuing fight. The boys then seem to remember the hurt party. The little kid, his cries again rising to a crescendo, is picked up and carried stretcher-like inside a house.

A cat watches the entire incident from the top of wall at a safe distance. I am not sure, but I thought I could see the cat snickering.

*********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum 13.09.2010

photo courtesy: http://www.bukisa.com/articles/281166_how-is-the-game-of-cricket-played-international-street-games-and-online-flash-cricket-games

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Fundamentals

It was nearly midnight when the telephone rang. It was an old friend at the other end. “Did I wake you up? Sorry, I had to call you”. “It’s OK, I had just hit the hay”. “Er- Balan, um…you know, my mother loves flowers”, he paused. “She gets up early in the mornings and with a towel wrapped around her neck and a flashlight in hand, she goes to the garden and picks flowers, wet with dew”. What the hell, I wonder, waking me up in this unholy hour to tell me about his mother? “ Er .. Uh…Um… see, she passed away last week”. Shocked, I mumble sorry I was ill I didn’t know.

“I want you to do me a favour. Could you ask Parvati to make a list of plants or trees that flower all around the year? And get the saplings? For me? See, I thought I could plant them around her grave and – you know how she loves flowers! Every morning I could go there and see all the flowers lying over her and then I will clear them and – she loves flowers so much!”

Lying on the bed, head propped up with pillows, I ponder about love. I realize that all the maudlin sentiments about love are so true. I ponder about love and the opportunities I had missed to express my love - to my parents, wife, son, relatives, friends, acquaintances, animals, nature – all those who have passed through my life. I think with sadness, of those who deny themselves the need to love and be loved. I realize that there cannot be anything in the world, living or non-living, which cannot be loved. I pull the sheet over my head and go to sleep.

One should sit down once in a while and look over at the fundamentals.

******* Balachandran V, Bangalore, 09.09.2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Respect for Money

It was late in the night and I had to catch the last bus home. I checked my pocket just before boarding the bus; short by 1 paise, for the 15 paise bus fare. I walked all the 6 km, not a care in the world except for the welcome at home I dreaded.
The year was 1972; I was in Trichur, in my 10th. It may seem ridiculous for the younger generation who may not have even seen the 1 ps coin, 2 ps, 5 ps, 10ps, 20ps and even 25 ps which have been since taken out of circulation. Even in 1972, 1 ps was the lowest denomination; I don’t think you could’ve bought anything for 1ps, except the most humble, handmade sweets. The incident taught me to respect even the lowliest amount of money. Because money is energy; and to throw away money is to waste energy.
Somebody stole K’s mobile phone a few days back. Smart thief; he neatly left the SIM card right beside the window through which he took the mobile phone. It was not a very expensive one; 4500+, I think. But K had loved it. I told him to get another phone. K vehemently said, ‘ Acha, I don’t want an expensive mobile, not even the same one’. I said, ‘Fine, you get one yourself’. But even after a week, he hadn’t bought any. He said, ‘You buy me one when you come to Bangalore next week’. ‘But till then I have to call you on your friend’s phone!’
Then K said, ‘Well, I wouldn’t mind the same model, but I don’t want to spend that much of your money either. I am in a Dilemma! I would rather if you bought me one’. I told him, ‘Look, there are much worse problems in the world. I don’t mind if you buy the same model; it is OK if you get a cheaper one, either. And what is this talk about ‘your money’? Its yours too, isn’t it?’
‘I can’t, I just can’t think like that, you know. That’s the way I have been brought up, that’s what I have always seen, you telling Mom about her money your money. I can’t bring myself to take yours freely’.
That hurt a bit.
I composed myself and told him gently. ‘Yes, it is my money, but you are free to spend it the way you want to. But I want you to use that freedom with respect. I have always asked your mother to keep her income separately, not because I see her separate, but I respect her rights as an individual. Her money is the fruit of her labour. We don’t keep an account of how much we contribute to the family kitty and I have no idea how much money she has in her accounts. Sometimes if I am short of cash, I borrow some from her and vice versa. You have every freedom to choose the phone you want; it is a choice you have to make. To buy an expensive one or a cheaper one is a decision you have to take. I have no objection either way. But you have to decide’.
It is quite likely that if I have to buy it for him, I would buy whichever model he wants. But surely, I felt that leaving the choice to him would make him wiser.
Take it from a banker; money can be, at times the most despicable thing. Ironically, the way one handles money is a yardstick to his/her character too.

********* Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 08.09.2010

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Cogito ergo sum

J Pollock- No.5, 1948

Many have become s-e-v-e-r-a-l -

While I remained - I.
Balachandran V, Trivandrum 07.09.2010