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

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Two cups of coffee

There are certain moments in life that causes a kind of distress, an indefinable grief. I am just talking movies here, don’t worry.

The other day evening after the PC session, I switched on the TV. Movie channels are my favourites, especially Lumiere and UTV. Sony too shows good movies at times. I caught Paris, Je Taime’ ( Paris, I love you) somewhere in its middle. It is a collection of 18 short films, each of 5-10 minutes or so. The one I want to talk to you about is about the black man. The movie's name is Place des fêtes.  

The film opens with a close-up of a black man’s face in his late twenties or early thirties. He is so handsome, so masculine. There is a gentleness in his face that you cannot really confine to an adjective, a gentleness that comes from much suffering. You can see that he is sitting down leaning back to a wall. He groans as if in pain. As the camera moves slightly backwards, you see the back of the head of a woman, with braided hair. She is squatting, head bent towards the man’s midriff. She is doing something. The man groans. He opens his eyes and looks at her. ‘You came, finally’. The girl glances at him and says nothing. Now you see her face; a beauty that escapes description. In her eyes you see concern. The black man looks at her. ‘What’s your name’, he asks. ‘Sophie’. He smiles. ‘Will you have a cup of coffee with me? She looks at him and then turns and asks somebody nearby to bring two cups of coffee. ‘Do you think coffee is good at this time?’ asks the unseen person.

The black man sings an African song, softly. He says, - ‘It was different in Nigeria’. ‘Where are you from?’ She gives the name of another African country.
He asks – ‘ Would you like me to massage your feet?’ The girl smiles slightly. ‘Why should I let you massage my feet?’ ‘Because’, the man says, ‘ you were running in my dreams’.

The scene cuts to an underground car parking area somewhere in Paris. The man is a cleaner, sweeping up the place. In the semi-darkness, a car comes in fast, and takes a wrong turn. The man shouts at the driver- ‘ You are going the wrong way!’. The driver turns the car around, parks and runs up to the elevator. We see that the driver is the same girl. She throws a smile at him as she passes. After some time she returns, running towards her car. She starts and drives off. The man runs after the car, shouting, Mademoiselle!, but she cannot hear him. The supervisor is angry with the man for leaving his station and threatens to chuck him out.

The scene shifts to the man sitting by a pavement side, playing a guitar. He plays beautifully. Passersby drop a coin or two or a currency note. He is uncaring, immersed in his song. Walking away later, the man suddenly notices a group of young persons standing; the girl with her back to him seems like the girl in the car park. He goes over and touches her shoulder. He is dismayed and apologizes for the mistaken identity. As he leaves, a gang of rowdies approach him, forcefully take his guitar and runs away. As the man begin to pursue them, he is knifed by a rowdy.

We are back at the first scene. Now we see that he is not far from where he had fallen stabbed. As the camera moves backward we see the full scene. The girl is a paramedic. She is trying to stop the bleeding and readying the man for the ambulance. The man is now silent and sits with eyes closed. We then hear the voice of another paramedic who has brought the two cups of coffee. Camera is close on the left profile of the girl’s face. She looks at the man. His face is slightly out of focus. The girl holds a cup of coffee; as she looks at him her eyes well up with tears. It flows down her cheeks and drips into the cup of coffee. ‘First time in the streets, uh?’ asks her colleague sardonically.
*********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 21-01-2011

                                                                        Seydou Boro                Aissa Maiga - 'Sophie'

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

‘How’s Life?’

Today, Viswan, an old colleague of mine telephoned. We had worked together at Kochi in 1984. It was strangely an all-bachelor branch, except for the Manager. We used to call each other the intimate ‘eda, poda, entheda’ etc. Every Friday evening after work, the 6 or 7 of us would gather in the basement of our office and have a party. By turn, one of us would contribute Rs.100/- and the balance expenses would be shared by others. Our head peon who previously had been the cook of the bank’s then GM, would whip up fantastic salads. We usually bought a couple of bottles of rum. The old Manager would sit at the head of the table; he would be content with a double. After the usual banter, we would swing into song session. V was an excellent singer; during festival seasons, he would go with music troupes as a lead singer. His repertoire consisted of Malayalam and Tamil; and Yours Faithfully supplied the Hindi section. Now don’t you laugh, my voice may not be great, but I made it up with a lot of passion into my singing and I had all my Mukesh and Hemant Da and Talat; anyway, after a few drinks, nobody cared much about the finesse of one’s singing.

The session would last till midnight. If the spirits diminshed, it would be immediately replenished from the nearby shop; our spirits soared high with the sentimental, romantic songs and the cozy camaraderie of young men – of modest means we were, yet we reveled in our freedom.

V is retiring tomorrow. I had met him only a few times during the last 26 years since we parted company; he had done reasonably well in his career. V still sings professionally. Family is fine. Two boys, one got married a few months back. Wife is an officer in our Bank.

I wish him all the best. I urge him to take up his musical interest with vigour. I tell him now is the time to start the real life, doing things which you always wanted to do, but never did. After the initial burst of conversation, it kind of tapers down. Pauses, hum-mings, how’s the family – and then it comes – “so, how’s life?”

How’s life? How many times, to how many people have we asked this, how many times people have asked us the same! And we reply – ah, angine pokunnu, appidiye pokuthu, chalta hai yaar, OK not bad, a shrug, a smile, a shake of the head – how’s life?

‘How’s life, my friend? How I have been, how I am, is that what you want to know, or- do you really want to know? Would you really care to know it all, my joys my sorrows, my fortunes and misfortunes?  

V is quite likely to disappear from my horizon. Of course, even now we retain that fragrance of friendship we had shared for a few months in the past. But we are like two pieces of flotsam that flowed together long ago and now drifted apart. If you watch the flowing stream as it takes us along finally to disappear behind the bend and to be lost from sight forever, what else is there to do but to turn away and walk back into the woods?

It is Hartal today in Kerala. Endosulfan issue. Hardly any customers in the Bank. Quiet day. I listen to old Hindi movie songs. Pankaj Mullick sings – ‘ Jeevan naiya behti jaaye, ai ho ai ho….
********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 29.04.2011

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Self and I

Those of you who have been following my blog might be amused to learn that long ago I nearly became a monk. It was a tumultous period in my life; I had been reading up a lot of philosophy and spirituality – I was in my early 20s, the age when one comes face to face with the harsh reality of life and hardly equipped to face it – disillusionment led to seeking help in spirituality.

I was working in the Bank at Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu then. I saw this advertisement – A Call to the Enlightened Youth of India – Vivekananda Kendra of Kanya Kumari was inviting applications from young men and women to become missionaries – not religious but service to the backward sections of the society. They would give training for 4 years during which time you cannot go back to your previoius life. After completion of the course, you will be send to their missions at Arunachal Pradesh and other North-East states. You will have to work there, teaching, helping etc.

In the frame of mind I was then, the appeal appealed to me. I applied. They wrote a kind letter thanking me and asked me to reassure myself the genuineness and earnestness of the commitment I was about to make. They said you should not discard your present life only because you are disenchanted with it – the missionary work is not an escape from anything. Join us only if you really want to do service. I said- Yes. They wrote back asking me to attend a one-month programme at Kanya Kumari and decide after that. So, in early 1981, I went there.

There was nothing Hindu about the entire thing. They had discourses on Vedanta, philosophy. We had to practice Yoga getting up at 0430. Vegetarian food, good people, Bhajans from Vedas and Upanishads, no picture or mention of Hindu gods or godesses except for talks on the philosophical aspects of Ramayana and other Puranas. The participants were asked to give a small talk on something spiritual. I was perusing Bhagavad Gita those days. There is one sloka /stanza in Gita which struck me as the very essence of conduct of life. Even now I think of it, brood over it ; I think I gain strength from it every time I remember those lines:

I quote the following from a page I found in the net:

uddhared AtmanAtmAnaM AtmAnamavasAdayet

Atmaiva hyAtmano bandhuH Atmaiva ripurAtmanaH

Bhagavad Gita 6.5


One should raise oneself by one's Self alone; let not one
lower oneself; for the Self alone is the friend of oneself,
and the Self alone is the enemy of oneself.

This verse has a general application to human life. It may be
understood to express the well-known truth that every person
is the shaper of his/her own fortune. It may also be taken to
represent the popular english sayings: You are your own best
friend and you are your own worst enemy.

The mind is the one that grasps the external sensations. Our
intellect, buddhi, interprets these sensations and creats one
of several pairs of opposites that comprise the jagat: I like
this, or I hate this; it is enjoyable, it is dreadful; etc.
If a thought repeatedly makes a visit, it becomes a huge tree
in the mind with its own sub-branches and it becomes very hard
to dislodge. In these cases, AtmA (here, I interpret AtmA as
the buddhi) is the worst enemy.

The intellect, buddhi, is your best friend, when these pairs of
opposites are not generated. That is, the intellect has almost
reached a perfection stage where it can distinguish real and
unreal, that is, it has nityAnityavastuviveka. In that case,
AtmA is a bandhuH, that is our biggest asset.

Swami Shivanandaji comments on this verse "... Friends and
enemies are not outside. It is the mind that makes a friend
an enemy and an enemy a friend. Therefore, the Self alone is
the friend of oneself, and the self alone is the enemy of
oneself. The lower mind or Ashuddha manas (impure mind) is
your enemy because it binds you to the saMsAra, and the higher
mind or the sAttvic mind (shuddha manas or the pure mind) is
your real friend , because it helps you in the attainment of

To me, moksha is release from bondage of the mind. As long as you are alive, you are bound to your body and all the physicality of life around you.

For us ordinary mortals, it is so easy to find solace for our misfortunes in life by blaming others. How often have we heard; My parents didn't do that, my brother didn't help me, my friends forsook me, life has not been kind to me, I am so unlucky etc etc. If we sit down and think it all over for some time, we would realize that we really cannot blame anyone or anything else for the fluctuating fortunes of our life.

In my solitary travels to the mountains where I could be with myself, I often rote these lines from Gita. Rather than pray to some entity, I let myself loose into the strong, cold winds that sweep by me and in that state of lightness, that state of freedom, that state of total understanding of myself, I bow to the currents that made me who I am...
PS: In this connection, I would like to share with you a poem that has influenced me since my teens; influenced in the sense that I chose it as my dictum.

Invictus - by William Ernest Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul. 
Balachandran V, Trivandrum 20-05-2011

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My first poem

I was on a train, the legendary Venad Express, from Trivandrum to Kottayam. A little away from where I sat, a young woman stood, alone among a group of men. There are certain women who may not be ‘beautiful’ or ‘pretty’ in the conventional sense, but they emanate a certain aura of attraction that is irresistible. It might be due to their physique, grace, sexiness, eyes, a body language that signals promiscuity, a promise of abandonment and great delight. Men are drawn towards them by the pull of an ‘animal’ attraction. This young woman was of that kind. After the initial yearning in my loins and then the realization that I am too old to desire her,  compared to the young hulks hovering around, I decided to observe the men instead of the attractive girl.

Some gaped at her; some pretended not to notice her but every now and then stole a glance at her with so bright a glare of lust in their eyes. Middle-aged men with hair and whiskers dyed in black, practically salivated.  There was a pregnant, awkward silence there, where each man seemed to envy the other or would even fight each other for having to share the privilege of just devouring the woman with their eyes. It was a morning train and most of the passengers were daily commuters. Men who moved through the aisle tried to brush past her; those who stood around her glared with hostility and silent warnings of suppressed aggression. The aisle was too crowded that she couldn’t shift from where she stood. Were the men pawing her? The train moved along and the passengers nodded and jerked in rhythm. Are the men swinging too close to her? The men around her had impassive countenances.

Then I looked at her and our eyes met. I could see fear in her gray eyes. She was frightened. She seemed to burn in the heat of lust that enveloped her. She looked at me with tremulous eyes that spoke of helplessness; a helplessness of her sexuality that she knew was affecting the men. She is lovely, I thought, if I were younger, I’d whisk her away to some secret island and live and love forever. In me, a mixture of love and lust twisted and coiled and rolled like snakes mating, and convoluted themselves into inextricable thongs of passion.

In my rooms at Kottayam that night I brooded over the girl – over a couple of whiskies. And lo! I wrote my first poem!

I, Your Eye

Where do thy eyes look?
Into my heart?
It skips a beat –
He stirs.

Behind the grayness
Lurks passion wild
Men smell heat- they sweat-
Lurch - an offering- of manhood.

Care! Mine  has
My heart in it, hold -
Close to thy cheek -
My heart, you.

July 2004
**********  Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 17-05-2011

Monday, May 9, 2011

Bicycling by

Cycling on a Sunday Morning
Laboured breath, squeaking knees
Crunching pain in the lower back
Stench of garbage ride up the nose.

Passing by people, sleepy dogs
Newspaper boys whizzing by
Cycling, cycling, cycling
Cycling on a great Sunday morning.

Old men on cycles pedaling by
I could love them, warts and all.
Sticking up my nose at the bikes and cars
Cycling, cycling, cycling
Cycling on a good Sunday morning.

Smells of the sea wafting by
Drone of the jets sweeping by
Caw of the crows flying by
Roar of the waves lashing by
Laughter of the children playing by.

The Klaxon squealing peee-yo peee-yo
The bell a-peeling ting-a-ling, ting-a-ling
Cycling, cycling, cycling
Cycling on a lovely Sunday morning.
********* Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 09-05-2011

Death of a Banker, foretold

Drowning, choking, slowly killing
In the swirling waters of currency notes

Beneath the debris of credits and debits
Settling down
Into the mud of greed, of breach of trust,
Of bribes and frauds and distrust
Into the quicksand of speculations

Hopes of life bursting like bubbles of my breath –

I dream -
Of snow-capped mountains…
****** Balachandran V, Trivandrum 09.05.2011

Sunday, May 1, 2011


 Floating downstream
I turn my head to watch
A wreath of flowers by my side -

On whom had it lain last?
******** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 01.05.2011