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

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Pencil and the Eraser

A friend sent me the following story today. I would like to share it with you. He said he got it from a newsletter of Sivananda Ashram.

Pencil: I'm sorry

Eraser: For what? You didn't do anything wrong.

Pencil: I'm sorry because you get hurt because of me. Whenever I made
a mistake, you're always there to erase it. But as you make my
mistakes vanish, you lose a part of yourself. You get smaller and
smaller each time.

Eraser: That's true. But I don't really mind. You see, I was made to
do this. I was made to help you whenever you do something wrong. Even
though one day, I know I'll be gone and you'll replace me with a new
one, I'm actually happy with my job. So please, stop worrying. I hate
seeing you sad.

I found this conversation between the pencil and the eraser very inspirational.

Parents are like the eraser whereas their children are the pencil.
They're always there for their children, cleaning up their mistakes.
Sometimes along the way, they get hurt, and become smaller / older,
and eventually pass on. Though their children will eventually find
someone new (spouse), but parents are still happy with what they do
for their children, and will always hate seeing their precious ones
worrying, or sad.

All my life, I've been the pencil. And it pains me to see the eraser
that is my parents getting smaller and smaller each day. For I know
that one day, all that I'm left with would be eraser shavings and
memories of what I used to have.


Balachandran V 26-12-2010, Trivandrum

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Kitchen Zen

Mustard seeds spluttered on merrily for a while and then tapered to an occasional apologetic cough. I broke a few red chillies and threw them into the pan. Curry leaves, chopped garlic and ginger waited their turn. As a symbolic protest to the spiraling high price of Onion, I had left them alone in the shelf.

Home alone and too lazy to go out to eat, I was in the process of making ‘whole wheat uppma’ – I don’t know its English equivalent. I had scoured the ‘fridge and kitchen shelves for the embellishments that I usually add – tomatoes, cashew nuts, coriander leaves, green chilles - in fact, I don’t cook to a recipe - I innovate, adapt; I improvise.

As P was away for a few days, the vegetable trough in the fridge contained only a few sorrowful looking pieces - of cauliflower, a cabbage of uncertain d.o.b, tomatoes ready for trash and a mixture of others who had transformed into strange shapes. I salvage a few; a piece of beetroot, carrots who had left its birthplace long long ago.

Lightly frying the vegetables in butter (I love butter), I waited in anticipation; I was hungry. Finally the wheat uppma began to take shape. I scatter grated coconut over it. Using the spatula, I create a dome of the uppma in the deep frying pan. It looks like a pie. A spoonful of Amul butter is dropped on the uppma and like a mason smoothening the thick cement paste, I lovingly spread the melting butter (what an aroma!) all over the dome. The flame simmering, I cut a tomato in the shape of a lotus and place it on top of the uppma. I garnish with wilted coriander leaves forming a design around the tomato. I close the lid and light a cigarette.

Sancho looks up at me for a piece of butter; we share similar tastes.

Not bad, finally. With lemon pickle and tomato sauce, I make a meal of my uppma. Life, I tell my uppma, is like you. Improvising with the leftovers, I bring in whatever colour and taste to it that I can. Life, I muse, is all about making do with what you have.

My friends! Thank you for your patience and tolerance of my rambling thoughts all these days. You have been a comfort and an absolute joy. I have always looked forward to your comments; never a day has passed without someone among you dropping a word or two. For even those who did not leave a note, I am content by looking at their exotic locations that I see in the feedjit widget; thank you for noticing me!

Its Christmas time. K will be home for vacation day after tomorrow. I will take a couple of days off, just to sit with him and perhaps we will watch a movie or discuss life.

May I wish each of you great joy and happiness in this season. May the New Year bring you a lot of cheer! And peace.

******** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 23-12-2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Methodical Life

There is a method to starting a bike.

A deliberateness, a pause, before every step.

Keenly detecting flecks of dust, dried droppings

Of crows, of oil leaked and sticking like paste

Mixed, with the finest of grains

Wiping it all clean.

Flipping back the stand, inserting the key

And turning it right, assured of the green light,

You depress the lever; throttle closed,

Carefully pressing your foot down on the kicker

You pause – again, before bringing it down again

Gently, but firmly and swiftly,

Listening to the plug catching a spark.

As the engine sputters to life, you listen to the thuds, even.

With such intimacy, with almost love, you listen

To the throb; your bike is alive.

In the mornings,

waking up, unwilling to let go my dreams,

Listening to my breath,

I wish I had a method

A deliberateness, an awareness

Of my life

The way I started my bike.


Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 20-12-2010

Holiday Chores

Sunday- the day when you can be

Yourself- and not let be ruled –

A day to do what you wish to do

And not what others want you to do.

Sunday – the day one could read

Even the most insignificant ad

A day you need brush your teeth

Only when you want to eat.

I have a little duster, of soft

Synthetic bristles – to dust

The books, tables or the shelves

And an old torn shirt to swipe them clean.

There’s something about cleaning,

Dusting, tidying up and swiping.

A fleck of dust, a blotch of stain,

A crack that weren’t there before.

Today, I took on the showcase shelves

Souvenirs, scattered, of a life gone by.

A fan from China that my uncle brought

A medal my father earned for service with merit.

Glass flower vases, my mom’s valued prizes

Headless dolls my sister and I played with.

A bowl my granny used to fill with fruit,

Statuettes of dogs and such other stuff.

I clean them, dust them and keep them back,

Wondering what value they have.

What would they mean to my wife or son,

These worthless pieces, when I am gone.

In the stillness of days and nights

When I am gone, the winds would blow.

Specks of dust would settle and stain

White dustsheets would shroud my life.

Forlorn, forgotten, fritted away

My life, like a photo fading away

Where colours give way to meaningless grey.

Then one day-

Torn or crushed and swept away.

**************** Kottayam 27-12-2004

(Unpublished poem, now unearthed)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Secret Life of Balan Mitty

“That’s it! We are done for!” Dhoni’s voice broke. “7 wickets down, 30 runs to win in five balls! Good bye, World Cup!” It was the finals of the One - day World Cup - between India and Pakistan. All the big-hitting batsmen were gone. “Well, don’t lose hope, we still have Balan”, said Tendulkar who had been out for a duck. Dhoni caught the note of sarcasm in Tendulkar’s voice but didn’t reply.

There had been a lot of controversies for bringing Balan into the team at Dhoni’s insistence. “What do you mean, Captain, that old boozing has-been?” the chief selector had asked incredulously. But Dhoni was quietly insistent. “It’s a gut feeling. Balan saab has been always underrated by you people. He has never been given the opportunities he deserved, you know that well.”

Indian Cricket was rampant with parochialism. The southies, especially the Mallus, were always at the receiving end. But Balan, the veteran all-rounder, they could never ignore. They always looked out for the smallest reason to throw him out of the team. But, now into his mid-forties, Balan still astounded the Cricket world by his consistently brilliant performances – that is, until last year, when shattered by the loss of his wife, Balan took to drinking heavily. The cricket loving world mourned the loss of their greatest player; his rivals celebrated Balan’s downfall.

As final selection for the team for World Cup came to a close, Dhoni, who had learned the finer points of Cricket from Balan, fought for his inclusion – and won. But Dhoni regretted it now. Balan’s game in the matches that led to the final was lacklustre and far from inspiring. Dhoni knew well that he will have to answer many questions once the tournament was over.

“Wish me luck, Cap!” Dhoni looked up at the voice. Balan was tightening up the pad straps. ‘Do your best. Blast the Pakis,” said Dhoni.

Balan, walking up to the pitch, wryly smiled to himself, looking at the packed crowd that had gone silent. People were already getting up and leaving the stadium. ‘My countrymen never could take a defeat gracefully’, he thought. ‘This could be as well your last game, buddy’, he told himself. ‘You are a write-off. Well, let’s give the buggers something to remember, uh? Get ready for the swan song, old man.’

At the non-striker end stood the Sardar, frowning and shoulders slopping. The body language was sending out loud and clear messages. “Well, well, look at the old duckie wading in”, smirked Aamir, the Pakistan captain. Balan paused and looked at Aamir – and smiled. This boy! Balan remembered how once Aamir ran out of the crease, frightened out of his wits at the bouncer he had thrown.

As the Pakistani supporters roared and Mexican wave-d, the TV cameras zoomed in on the gloomy countenances of the Indians. Wasim Akram spun the ball, waiting calmly for the umpire’s signal – the signal for the kill. And then – Akram began the run-up.

As the crowd watched with bated breath, Balan stepped forward calmly. He stood there, like a colossus about to fall. As the ball reached him at 150 kmph, he swung the bat - as the stadium watched, the ball soared and soared, arching, as if resisting gravity and then fell deep outside the boundary. 6 runs; 24 to go.

And then new history was written in the annals of Cricket. Hitting, hooking, driving, slashing – breaking every convention in batting, Balan made mincemeat of –

“Didn’t that doctor tell you that you shouldn’t eat meat? You are eating too much beef these days, B! You should check your cholestrol. And when was the last time you went for a walk?” Before she could remove the plate, I grabbed the remaining pieces of the fried beef , rolled them into the last Paratha and bit into it.

Far away, I could hear the fading cheer of the Indian fans, as I walked slowly back to the pavilion, bat and a stump in hand, taking in the delirious joy of my countrymen… Balan, the living legend of Cricket, the greatest ever all-rounder of India...

******** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 16-12-2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Middle Finger Jerk

The screen suddenly went black. Power failure. My friend Rahul and I were sitting in the ‘Reserved’ class of the movie theatre. Reserved class is at the farthest end of the auditorium; behind us, the door opens to the hall outside. This was way back in 1977; Sreekumar Theatre was yet to have a standby generator, probably because power failure was not very common those days. It was an afternoon matinee show; the door behind us was flung open and people casually got up to stretch their legs, till the show started again. Sitting near the aisle, we could see our silhouettes on the screen. I raised my hand; in the white screen, my shadow too raised its.

We were in our early twenties; still in the shadow of our adolescence. Rahul said – “Dey, lets give a middle finger jerk! The arseholes don’t even have a generator. The entire audience will notice it; but wouldn’t know who did it”. I said – “No, that’d be crude; it’s indecent.” Rahul turned to me. ‘Don’t be such a prude! Indecent, indeed! You’re just scared someone would bash you. You and your f- ing principles!”. I retorted that it is not because I am scared, but I feel it to be wrong. It is lack of culture, like some bums, to show a middle finger jerk in public. Rahul started mocking me- “ You are scared, but instead of admitting that, you are bullshitting with your principles. You have been taught that you shouldn’t and you are just afraid to break the rules”. I said you are wrong; if that is our society’s values, I have imbibed it, because I too feel that it is wrong to show obscene gestures in public. Even if I am bold to do that, I wouldn’t, because such values are mine now. Thus ensued, one of our usual hot arguments over silly things.

Which came first, the fear of breaking society’s rules or making your own rules, whether they agreed with that of the society or not? What is decency and indecency? What is obscenity to you? Is it what you would not do in public only? Is it based on ‘Do not do in private what you would not do in public?’ Are we all, basically crude, gross human beings who are just kept in reins by the values and norms of the society? Or aren’t we intelligent enough to distinguish the dos and don’ts, aware of the limits of individual freedom and the requirements needed to be a member of a society? Where do we draw the line in morality? Does conformity to one thing indicate conformity to everything else too? Can’t we have our own set of rights and wrongs, what if some agrees with that of the larger world? Rebelling without a cause, what is it’s point?

This post is for you, Dr.Antony; thanks for your inspiration through your post, Yes Sir! http://heartbeatsandruns.blogspot.com/2010/12/yessir.html

Insignia commented : Profanity? Uttering it without having any intent is much better than not uttering but having the intention. I disagree. Restrain over one’s words is a quality of self-discipline; we owe that much to society. We mock at discipline, thinking that lack of discipline is freedom. Only a right blend, a balance of individual rights and individual responsibilities would make a good society; history has shown and continues to show how human society has fallen into decadance, not only moral, but environmental, cultural and political, whenever they have leaned too much, either way. The question as Dr Antony raised is not whether you should call your teacher by the person's name or address him/her as Sir/Ma'am. The question is how much respect you have for the other. It is an acknowledgment of order in human relationships, that is natural and necessary for harmonious co-existence.

*********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 13-12-2010

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Chaurasia’s Flute

Silly it is, I know. But sometimes I wish I were somebody else. There are certain individuals whom I respect and admire greatly; not the entire persona, but the attribute that is unique to them, the attribute of making others happy. That’s what makes me wish I was like Hariprasad Chaurasia.

I hold the reed pipe to my lips, my fingers grip it awkwardly, searching for the holes to cover. I take a deep breath. I blow. Nothing except a harsh noise of air comes out. No music.

Chaurasia-ji’s flute woke me up to Hindustani Classical music while in my teens. Long before I listened to him at live concerts, I had tapes of his music. The sound of bamboo flute has this magical quality of soothing your troubled mind, flowing over you like a gentle stream.

The friend opens his leather case carefully. It holds several pipes, of bamboo and steel. He picks up one gently; gazing at it with love in his eyes, he fondles the flute like a baby. I look at him with awe, watching his expression changing. There is a serenity in him that I could envy.

Today afternoon was sultry. In addition to that, the power was off. Our office, designed to be air-conditioned, but not, can be really unbearable in humid conditions. It was around 1630; I was winding up work while listening to Chaurasia playing Raag Malkauns. Then something strange happened.

In the banking hall stood a man, looking around vaguely. Thin, dark-skinned, hollow-cheeked, the whites of his eyes glared bright. I make my usual rapid assessment. Mid-30s. Bihari/Bengali/Oriya. Muslim. Labourer in Technopark? No, too emaciated for manual labour and too poorly dressed. What does he need? Banking hours are over at 1600 hrs. I notice the Cash Pay-in slip in his hand. I am sure our Cashier, a horrid, crass female, would send him back. I listen to the usual refrain – “Cash is CLOSED!” Then the follow-through – “ What do all these people THINK?” blah blah.

I beckon him over. I am always a little extra kind to people like him. They are poor and illiterate, barely managing to etch a letter or two in Hindi, presumably their signature. Far away from their villages somewhere in the Ganges delta, Kerala is heaven for them. Turning down the volume, I ask him – ‘Kya Chahiye aap?’ What do you want? (This is a regular opportunity to brush up my Hindi). ‘I want to remit some money, saab. I am living a bit far from here, so couldn’t reach before 4 PM.’ I take him in, his shabby but clean shirt, cheeks sunk in too deep, dark skin taut over his face. I check the account he want to send money to; it is somewhere in Bihar. The name is Saliman Khatun. I check the scanned image of the account holder. Two women, head covered, squint at the camera. The photo is very poorly printed, you can hardly make out the faces. Beside the photo, image of thumb impressions. Illiterate. I turn the monitor towards the man; it had the desired effect – his face lit up. ‘Who are they?’ ‘Amma’, he says, ‘Amma aur behn’.

Malayalees too call their mothers, Amma.

I tell him that I cannot send the money today. But he cannot come tomorrow, he says. I ask him what does he do here. He looks at me and says humbly – I sell flutes. I look at him for a while, silent.

Have you seen them in your cities? On a pole, the cheap reed flutes, stuck like a fan, spread like a peacock’s tail? The men would be playing a Hindi song, over and over. Pardesi, Pardesi, jana nahin, mujhe chchod ke, mujhe chchod ke, is one of the commonest refrains I have heard.You can see them wandering aimlessly, at the beach, at the zoological park, in the busy streets.

‘How much do you sell them for?’ ‘Ten, fifteen, twenty. I make a hunderd or two hundred rupees at the most, a day.’

Looking at him, I raise the volume of the PC speakers; Chaurasia-ji is on the Drut taal. The beats of the accompanying Tabla, reverberates. ‘Suna hai kya, aise bansuri vadan?’ I ask him if he has heard music like this. The man glances at the speakers and shakes his head. ‘Nahin’. ‘This is Hariprasad Chaurasia, mahan kalakar!’ He is silent, listening to the flute. I cannot play like that, he says. My reeds are of poor quality.

I play the music, while filling up his pay-in slip. I assure him, don’t worry, I will keep the money with me today and send it home, the first thing tomorrow morning.

The Bihari glances at me. Somewhere deep in his eyes, I notice the shimmer of gratitude.

Tomorrow, somewhere, in a dark dusty village in that medieval land called Bihar, the shame of India, an old woman would walk up to our bank, affix her Right Hand Thumb Impression ( Left for men) on a Withdrawl slip and with trembling hands, receive 2000 rupees. I wish I could be there, watching her happy face.

************ Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 11-12-2010

Thursday, December 9, 2010


There! I have lit a star

Beside your name!

I scroll down my Inbox

Where stars twinkle next to you

Every time, every time you wrote to me!

Every little message, every little word

You wrote

Is a thought – of me!

In this dark and silent night

I read you, over and over

And you light up, once again

My room, my lonely heart!

I wish I could make a garland

Of all the stars one day.

I will keep it ready

For the day you’ll come –

Though I know you won’t, ever...

******** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 09-12-2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Flower and the Butterfly

Pause awhile, butterfly,

Alight here, on this wilting Rose.

Young flowers, I know, are beckoning you,

But stay with me, just for a while

And leave me with memories fresh.

There! Now you poise, ready to take to wings

You flutter – and a petal


***** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 08-12-2010

Sunday, December 5, 2010

When Youth is all about Dyeing

Fiona was all of 22; bubbling, attractive and with the British accent I love to listen to. She and her friend Rachel were with us for a month when they had come down to research on livelihood practices of the indigenous peoples of India. They stayed with us for a month. One day Fiona said that she envied us; even the very old men and women had jet black hair. Her jaw dropped in surprise and then she burst into a giggle when I told her that it was due to dyeing hair in black; not only hair on the head but eyebrows, facial hair, even hair on the chest.

You see them all around you; the old men and women with sagging, wrinkled skin, potbellies ( the most disgusting sight in the world is the old women who think they are very sexy, tucking in their sarees so low, revealing their balloon-y, ‘C’ section scarred, post-partum wrinkled midriffs with pothole-like navels) walking around in colours and designs that the real young would be embarrassed to wear.

This obsession with retaining youth is more evident in Kerala than anywhere else. Some have atrocious wigs (toupees) and they strut around as if they are still in their teens.

The other day when I attended a marriage, an old lady, a former colleague , appraised my bald head and wisps of grey hair and advised me with concern – ‘ Your skin is still good, Balan, you should dye your hair’. Being polite, I just glanced at her hair reeking black dye and said I am too lazy.

Why do we pretend? Nobody is fooled into believing that we are younger than our real age. I can understand staying slim and exercising; that is good for health, but this chemical paste that you apply on hair can cause severe allergies ; it can even be carcinogenic.

Age that we must; but let us do it with dignity and cheer. Let us not pretend and be an object of ridicule.

********* Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 05-12-2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Man with the Cane

If God is someone who hovers in my background and raps me on my mental knuckles with a cane whenever I indulge in self-glorification, then believe me, I am a believer in God. It has happened so many times in my life that I am inclined, albeit reluctantly, to believe in the existence of God.

Take today, for example. There was a heavy rush of customers and internet connectivity was down from 1000 to 1200 hrs. Irate customers, embarrassed colleagues, the tension of passing cheques without really knowing if there is balance in the accounts, pacifying the VIP customers, telephoning the chap who looks after the connectivity blah blah, attending to this that this that - the old machine was working smooth – too smooth that when I got a respite, I told myself smugly, ‘you old goat, you! Still can do it, uh?’ and felt quite good. Mind was sharp. Then connectivity was restored and whoosh, went the machine, fingers flying over the keyboard, pen shooting off a dozen signatures with élan (I am vain about my signature, the way it races across the drafts and papers), hands flying this way and that way, sending off directions left and right, rapping out instructions – yea, I am on a roll – or so I thought, till something happened.

The rap on the knuckles came a couple of hours later. I had issued 10 drafts each for Rs.100/-. The customer was a VIP (millions of rupees) so every thing had to be done as quickly as possible. I signed the drafts with a flourish and glowed in the ‘Thank you’ of the customer. The party went away and after an hour called to say that there is a mistake. One of the drafts was wrongly printed for Rs.400/- and I had missed it.

I immediately canceled the draft, made another one, sped away to the customer’s office 6 km away. But I couldn’t redeem my deflated ego.

It has happened many many times; when I pat myself after a spell of skillful biking, a pothole would appear from nowhere right on my path. When I stand back and admire a poem I have written, the next glance would show a glaring mistake. This old man who hangs around me behind me with a cane and waiting for the chance to pounce – sometimes I am grateful to him, because I have learned to be cautious and remind me not to be too happy about myself. Sometimes he is like Jerry hitting Tom on his head and hammering him down.

One of my blogger friends, Sreejith Thampi, has written an excellent poem on similar lines. (See http://huggingmyself.blogspot.com/2010/11/i-am-scared.html)

It is reassuring to see the old man’s shadow in the slanting sunlight of the evening. He is like the Guru that Kabir sings about; the guru and chela (disciple) within ourselves…

********* Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 03-12-2010