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

Monday, December 26, 2011

Hometown




At the back of my mind
Lies an undigested piece of thought -
That I have to leave my home tomorrow.

My bike carries me through these streets
Along the familiar scenes, pauses
At the places so known to me -
The coffeshops, bookshops, my haunts -
The libraries, the gardens, my previous office
The corners where I have hung around,watching
The milling crowds, a few faces recognized and nodded at.
Faces from my past, faces that have grown old with mine.

The city has grown, its roads wider and cleaner
Trees and corner shops have given way
To malls and multistoreyed monstrosities.
I try hard to remember what were there before
The old, tile-roofed houses replaced
By towering apartments and star hotels.

I realize what hurts me, this dull ache
In the pit of my mind -
I cannot leave this town, this is my home.

However I may dream and yearn
For the snow-clad peaks and seas of forests -
Destinations to reach and then to leave -
To return to my home, this little corner of the world.
I leave for the hills, lands strange and far away
Safe, in the thought that there is always my home
To come back at the end of the day.

I realize why ghosts linger -
Like me now, in the shadows
Of this garden of my life.

************ Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 19-12-2011


Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Bullet at the Himalayas




In 2007 July, I went to Ladakh in my bike. A short version of the travelogue was published in the Malayalam automobile magazine, 'Fast Track' in December 2007.  The longer version lay idle in my computer. Though a book publisher had shown interest in publishing it as part of a book, it didn't come through so far. 

But recently somebody called me asked if I could share the story in his portal.  It is a web portal in Malayalam called Nalamidam. Rasheed liked the write-up so much that he desisted from editing it and is publishing a 3-part serial. 

Those who can read Malayalam, those who might enjoy reading about an adventurous motorcycle ride into Himalayas and into oneself, can find it  here. To those who cannot read Malayalam - sorry,  I am too lazy to translate it to English! 


Hope you will enjoy the ride. 


Merry X'mas!

**********  Balachandran V, Trivandrum 25-12-2011

Thursday, December 15, 2011

For Dog Lovers Only

KUNCHI ( 1992- 2005)
TOMMY(1998 -  23-4-2010)


SANCHO

(Three generations)


The link given here is for a documentary, 'The Secret Life of the Dog', which sheds light into certain known and unknown aspects of human-dog relation.  Its a fantastic video.  Enjoy! 
************

BALACHANDRAN V, TRIVANDRUM 15.10.2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

One Minute to Save the World



The link given is for an award winning 1-minute long movie on Save the World. 


Enjoy!

*****************
Balachandran, Trivandrum 13.12.2011.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

B+




The boys on the bike were coming up too fast -
Suddenly, right in front of me,
It swerved, braked and came to a stop.
In one swift motion, the boy in the rear
Swung his right leg up, slid off the bike
Said - ' Ta!' and left.

Shaking my head at the frivolity of youth
I look at the boy revving the bike.
Emblazened on his T shirt, across his chest
The legend -
B+
Be Positive.

I press down my foot hard on the pedal
And the bicycle surges forward.
I smile, hum a tuneless song.
I am Balan, my blood, B+.

In a seeming Satori, I realize -
Sometimes, the secrets of life
Are blended in one's blood.

********* Balachandran V, Alappuzha, 10-12-2011

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Right and Wrong, Rong and Wright




Sitting up on the bed bleary-eyed one  depressing morning,
Cursing, asking myself, what the hell am I doing here
Away from home, away from the loved
Ruminating over the past, over the paths taken
The correct and incorrect, the right and wrong
Of the decisions, the choices I made in my life -

Suddenly  I burst out laughing -
There is always some right in the wrong
And some wrong in the right!!

************ Balachandran V, Alappuzha, 10-12-2011

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ant on the Wire



( for Abigail Thomas)

Along the wires
That connect my laptop to the mutiple pins
That connect my mobile to its charger
That connect the speakers to its charger
That connect my camera to its charger -
Wires, looped, coiled,  twisted, splayed like intestines  pulled out -
Along the wires walks an ant.

It could be walking (?) through an unending maze
Entrance and exit confused
A path directionless, destination-less .

What is the ant looking for - food, I presume
Though I would like to fantasize
That the ant is searching for -
Meaning of life? Ho ho ho!

Through the haze of smoke that drifts up from the cigarette
I try to look at the way I am going, the whys and wheres of it.
I wonder what I am searching for, what I am longing for.
Abigail* reminds me gently - there isn't any.
There is just the longing, that's all, just the longing.

****** Balachandran V, Alappuzha, 06-12-2011


I am reading an unforgettable, haunting memoir, 'A Three Dog Life', by Abigail Thomas. ( Harcourt Inc, 2007)



Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Snake in the House





In the background, I could hear the excited barking of my dogs; and voices faint, I assumed, that of my neighbours. Parvati sounded agitated - "There is a snake in the neighbour's house". More noises, the rapping of sticks, the slamming of doors - I pressed the phone to my ears. She said- "I can't stand this, snakes in the house, I am not scared of anything, but snake - ugghgh!!" "You ought to do something about it, why are you silent?"

I chuckle and tell her, well, finally, there is something in the world that scares you - "This is not funny, Balan!" I fell silent, remembering that Rat Snake long ago, slithering silent, scared, over the bed of dried leaves and disappearing into a hole. I remembered watching fascinated, its beautiful yellow head. In this 10 cents of wilderness right in the middle of the city, I have seen snakes, mongooses; a family of Palm Civets live right above my room, between the tiles and the wooden planks. From the small window of my bathroom, I have watched Kingfishers, Crows, Tree Pies, Tailor birds, Sunbirds, Small Green Barbets. Pariah Kites, Magpie Robins, Mynahs and Woodpeckers. Once in a while, a dainty little Shikra pays a visit. Years ago, Sparrows and Bulbuls used to be common; on the Mango tree, Golden Orioles would come and tweet. I still remember how excited I was one day to see a Forest Wagtail right beside the kitchen garden. No, not many birds come these days.

Parvati's voice woke me up - triumphant, she said - "Yes! They caught it and killed it, its a baby snake, I'm sure its mother is around. I can't stand this, I tell you, all these snakes and rats and cockroaches and geckos and mosquitoes and ants -"

Respectful of her phobias, I tell her gently that this is not Mars or the Moon this is Earth, this is our beautiful world with all the mosquitoes and snakes and rats and roaches. This is our world, of good and bad, beautiful and ugly, Hitler and Gandhi. Sad and joyful, this is it, Ammu.  Just as you and I happen to be here, so too are they.

Switching off the phone, sinking into a reverie, I muse - as urban dwellings transform from homesteads and independant bunglows with a little patch of land to high-rise apartments, we grow more and more alienated from nature. Nature and wilderness is something you visit once in a while. Paddyfields, streams, ponds, the verdant greenery all are become rare and remote. Our lives are becoming barren and browned. As the greenery outside diminishes, so does that inside us. We become intolerant of every other being, including humans. Tolerance and acceptance of myself and my world as it is, in full understanding and respect for life, gives some value to our passing existence.

I turn my attention to the beautiful book I am reading, 'The Hidden Life of Dogs' by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.

********** Balachandran V, Alappuzha, 01.12.2011

Friday, November 25, 2011

Smt Kunjamma Wd/o Late Sep Joseph




Cheques, neatly printed, issued in favour of
Smt Kunjamma Wd/o Late Sepoy Joseph
Smt Nalini Pavithran Wd/o Late Sepoy Pavithran
Smt Chandramathy Wd/o of Late Swr Gopalan  and so on and so forth
Cheques of the Army Welfare Board,
Doles, for the survivors.

Scrawling my signature over them, ticking, rapidly glancing
Back and forth at the PC and cheques
At the amounts, dates, and other details
I flip through the leaves
Cursing inwardly at the mounting work
And my aching eyes and having
To fix a glassy smile on my face – suddenly - 

Before my eyes appear the mountains, the deserts
The gullies and ravines
I feel the numbing cold of the snows
And the searing heat of the sands
I see blood and gore and hear
The booming of cannons
And the sharp barking of rifles
And men shattered and blown to smithereens
I see Joseph and Pavithran and Gopalan.

I slow down the speed of my scrawl, pause
And consign the cheques gently into the basket.

**********  Balachandran V, Alappuzha, 23.11.2011

Mannequins





I am getting old,  naked
Eyes cannot focus sharp.
I said, ‘Excuse me’ to a mannequin
That stood on the doorstep of a shop
And blushed to realize that I had talked
To a lifeless doll.

Strolling, alone, through  busy streets
With full of clothes and jewelry shops
Ravenous, I peek at the ravishing
Papier-mâché or plastic or something else
Mannequins that man the entrances.

I like these new ones, what grace,
How lovely, live, how curvaceous are they!
That subtle lift of the breasts, tantalizing,
Teasing you, inside the scanty clothes,
Slim waists with a delicious hint
Of flat, smooth bellies and button.
One can always act as if
Appreciating the modern dresses
While swallowing, ogling hungrily
Wishing the dolls were real.

The mannequins,  in their eternal youth
Don't look at you
But through you, to far away
As if looking in askance why
Life was not blown into them.


Strolling, aimless, through the busy streets
Full of clothes and jewelry shops
I look appreciatively at the young girls passing by
The foreign tourists scantily dressed
Their shimmering golden thighs
Heavy, full breasts and shapely behinds
All for a connoisseur to admire and enjoy.
They don't look at me, but look
Through me, glancing hither and thither
In search of life, pleasure and love.
Youth, for now, for now only, though it seems
Eternal to them.

I slink into the dark corner of a little shop
Lighting a cigarette, realizing that 
for all I care,
The world could be full of mannequins only. 
*********  Balachandran V, Alappuzha, 25.11.2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday Syndrome






In the fleeting moments that fall
In between fleeing from one task to another
At the back of my mind, desparate, I wonder
How to freeze Time to an eternal Sunday!
********** Balachandran V, Alappuzha, 21.11.2011

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Blogger Passeth Away



She was an opinionated, strong- willed, orthodox-leaning lady, no doubt. But she wrote beautiful English. She had a wry sense of humour. She was generous and true in her appreciation of what other bloggers wrote, so long as it didn't conflict with her views. She was sensitive; and loving.

I have never met Ms  Kochuthresiamma P J in the flesh. I met her in the blogosphere.  I learned that she had been the Professor and Head of the Dept of English at Assumption College, Changanassery.  She always commented appreciatively on most of what I wrote, though my post on the Sabarimalai hoax wasn't much to her liking.

After battling with the 'Emperor of all Maladies' for 5 years, she finally succumbed a week ago. In her writings she often mentioned about the battle with the disease; every word shone with her courage and indomitable will.   In her blog, 'Pareltank', the last post appeared, written by her son, a beautiful eulogy on his mother.

KPJ is my first blog friend to pass away. She leaves an inexplicable, disturbing vacuum. I have always wondered at such a situation, where the words left behind by a blogger remain for eternity (?) floating around in the ether.  The late blogger is still talking to you, you listen to him/her with this eerie knowledge that it is deadspeak. 

Someday, sooner or later, so would be mine too. 

************************
Balachandran V, Trivandrum 20-11-2011

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Backwater Cruise




On Tuesday, my old friends from Palakkad turned up at Alleppey. The last gathering with these guys, with whom I had studied in primary class in 1965- 67 at the Railway Primary School in Olavakkode was earlier this year, when we went to Nelliampathy; before that at Malampuzha. The reunion of classmates after 45 plus years was a memorable event. Abe, who is a doctor in the US, had made a short visit home and the old gang quickly got together and went for a day's cruise in the backwaters of Alleppey.

The cruise started only at 1100 hrs. We had hired a 3-bedroom houseboat through my friend Pradeep's contacts; There were about 14 of us. I was more interested in chatting up with the guys and the drinks than taking photographs. Daytime with its bright light is not much good either.

The package included a sumptous lunch, evening snacks, in- between Chicken Fry-s and Prawn Fry-s, dinner and breakfast. The houseboats are large, bulky. They lumber up and down the backwater lakes, ply till 1800 hrs and then drops anchor off some isolated strip. You are dropped back at Alleppey in the morning. With air-conditioning and luxurious beds, one can get a good sleep too. Otherwise the mosquitoes and other flying insects would smother you.

All of us are in our mid-fifties. Daughters have been married off, one guy already a grandfather. Many of us show the diminishments of age; BP, Diabetis, heart. One who was with us in the last reunion passed away a few months ago. Those in Govt. service have started retiring. Long ago we sat together in a classroom as little kids. Time, that eternal long-distance runner, took us through the years, how swiftly it all became past!

There is an old adage among my friends who dabble in photography as either serious amateurs or professionals - Do not mix photography with trekking or pleasure trips; photography should be done in a trip with its sole purpose as photography. So, these pictures are just a record of events. For those who want to capture the serene beauty of the backwaters, they should go to more scenic spots in the region, and that too in the early mornings and late evenings.

I had taken along my old Nikon manual system, but there were too many distractions to focus on shooting pictures. Anyway, the idea was to meet the old boys once again.



**************
Balachandran V, Alappuzha, 11.11.2011



The Outcast's Cradle




I do not know whether they have something like this in other parts of the country, but the one in Trivandrum is near my home and now I saw this in Alleppey. Probably the Child Welfare Council has one in every district.

Once again, the highest evolved species of homo sapiens prove how unique and advanced it is in comparison to the rest of the species. I do not think even the most detestable rodents would do this - leave one's own flesh and blood to the streets...

To those who might not have reallised what it is - it is called 'Amma- Thottil' - Mother-cradle, where women may leave their unwanted babies, incognito. There is an opening beneath the picture, like the cat's passage or little door you see in western countries, inside which there is a cradle... In the evenings, thoroughout the night, a little lamp burns and whenever a baby is deposited, an alarm sounds, to alert the officials.

I try to imagine how it would be like to grow up without ever knowing who your biological parents were. It feels like an aching emptiness... like a rootless, drifting plant...
Is it a matter of irony or an instance of great insight into human nature that India's most revered epic, the Mahabharata has the incident of Kunti casting away her firstborn, Karna? Perhaps the very seed of the Mahabharatha War was sown by that! 
**************

Balachandran V, Trivandrum 13.11.2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

While We were Away

Now that I am just a weekend visitor and K turns up only once in a quarter, P has all the time to herself. She is evermore active than when we were around.  She has enough and more work at the College, what with being the HoD of her dept., etc.  She is involved with a couple of nature conservation NGOs; often she is asked to give a talk or conduct a quiz or preside over a meeting - she commits herself to all these and more with gusto.

And now with the men away, she has discovered new arenas of passion - Saree designing and Jewelry making - and she is making  money too!






Sarees




The photographs were taken by me - sorry, not done justice to her efforts. I've asked P to get a mannequin to drape the sarees on to.

Needless to add, I'm goddamn proud of her!

Balachandran, Trivandrum, 07-11-2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A roof over their heads







I have seen it many times, the silent communication between a couple. Sunithakumari glances at her husband, Shaji; he swiftly moves towards her and she passes something from her clenched fist to his. As I say goodbye, Shaji comes closer and says - ' ith irrikkatte sarrae' ( Please keep this, Sir) and grabs my hand and tries to thrust the contents of his fist - before even touching it, I could see what it was - two or three currency notes of Rs.100/-.

I was the innards of Alleppey town, inspecting sites of prospective borrowers for housing loans. The govt had introduced a new scheme for the urban poor - Interest Subsidy Housing scheme for the Urban Poor - a subsidy of 5% less than the normal rate. As most of the applicants are either BPL ( Below Poverty Line) or EWS ( Economically Weaker Sections), the maximum loan that we were giving is Rs.1,60,000/- per applicant. Even though the quantum of amount is small, the work involved in processing a loan application is as same as a big loan. Bankers, understaffed and underpaid, curse under their breaths at the heavy load of work. I, for eg., have to process 57 applications within a month, that too amidst all the other duties I have.

But I enjoy it. It gives me immense pleasure to interact with these poor people, listen to them, discussing with them and be an instrument that provides succour. I tease their children, admire their little things, nod in agreement with their views; I am a tool, a catalyst in the realisation of their dream, their dream of having a roof over their heads. What I give is more than a little financial help; I give them dignity and self-respect.

" You extend your hand again and I am going to tear your application into two, do you understand?'. You offer me that bribe again and I will ensure that you never get a loan from anywhere'. Sunithakumari is aghast. 'Sir', she says, ' but everybody takes it, Sir, please don't be offended'. 'Maybe they do', I said, 'but not me'.

These are ordinary people; autorickshaw drivers, tailors, manual labourers, plumbers, workers in the coir factories, unpaid volunteers in the SHG programmes like Kudumbasree. People we might interact with everyday, casually. We would bicker and fight with them for the extra 5 or 10 rupees they charge, we would mourn how lazy and crafty they are. People whom we would like to forget. Yet, in Kerala, there is at present a silent revolution going on. Individuals and families who eke out a life are now supported by govt sponsored finance. Grass- root level neighbourhood groups are formed ( Kudumba sree / janasree) and involve in income-generating activities. The large majority of the members are women, who were till now mere housewives with no income of their own. These programmes have been very successful in empowering these women and giving them not only an income, but more importantly self-respect. Of course, there might be cheats and frauds among them, but in my experience with the poorer of our economic classes, I have found  more honest people among them than in  the middle classes.

Below are a few pictures of these families. They have built their dream houses till this level using their own funds and also with financial aids from the govt. And I - I am the last brush which would give their houses a coat of colour; and hopefully to their lives too.



Shaji is a manual labourer; Sunitha is a housemaid. A daughter studies for BSc Nursing, and the kid in 6th standard.


Mahesan is a tailor. Shyamala has studied up to Pre-degree and passed with First class but could not study further because her parents could not afford it. She works as a volunteer for SHGs, literacy programmes and in the National Rural Health Mission - unpaid. Their son is studying for BSc Chemistry. Mahesan proudly tells me that his son had a rank of 4000 in the Engg entrance, but they could not afford to pay the capitation fee. He says the boy is trying again, to get a higher rank so that he can get admission in Merit quota.


Anil is an autorickshaw driver. When he says he own his Auto and that he has fully repaid the loan for it, I can sense the quiet pride in his voice. Sandhya is a graceful, pretty woman; she supplements the family income by stitching Churidars and Nighties and blouses. I tell her about Parvati designing sarees and how she makes extra money with that. Sandhya is open-mouthed and asks me the details. That kid is a smart and lovable fellow.



Sarala works in the local coir factory. Sreekumar is a house painter. They have only one son - he is studying for CA. I explain the scheme to the boy and discuss bank auditing with him. The parents look on, proudly, how the 'Big Bank Sir' and their son talk in equal terms.


Rajesh is an artist. He designs and paints hoardings, works part-time in a shop that makes Flexboards. Sandhya - the way she looks at me, I feel her awe and a kind of worshipful admiration. Two kids, very intelligent and well-behaved.


I have met many more of these people. Each is a story of brave survival, a story of courage in adverse economic circumstances and misery. In their eyes I see the hope and dreams of bettering their lives. When I tell them yes, we will sanction the loan next week, I see that sparkle in their eyes and they have the most beautiful smile I have seen.

They have the confidence and the will; all they need is a little support, a few kind words, and concern and respect. Kerala is on the rise!

***************** Balachandran V, Alappuzha, 21.10.2011