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

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Solo Ride

It had been quite some time since I went for a long ride in my bike. Those who are not familiar with long distance motorcycling would not know the pleasure, the sense of elation that riding a bike gives, whether on express highways or mountainous roads. Unlike in a car where you are boxed in and without the direct experience of the surroundings that you pass by, a ride in a bike, despite its comparative lack of comfort, is an exhilarating experience.

Last Saturday I went to Kodaikanal on a solo ride on my bike. The destination was not Kodaikanal per se, but a village called Mannavannur about 32 km further from Kodai. Other than the solo ride, the objective was to scout for some land for our Nature Conservation NGO. We are looking for suitable locations in different parts of the Western Ghats to establish Field Stations to conduct studies, monitor the forest area etc. We already have started working at Attappadi and in Peppara Sanctuary in Kerala. Being partial to cold weather, Kodai was a choice.

I started off at around 1500 hrs from Trivandrum, rode to Madurai via Nagercoil, over a distance of about 330 kms. Reached Madurai in about 6 ½ hours, met up with the other two friends who had come in a 4 wheel drive and went to Mannavannur on the next day, which is nearly 200 km from Madurai. Over the next three days we went around looking for suitable plots. The land is too expensive, quoted at Rs.5,00,000/- per acre. But more than that what was most despairing and shocking is what Tamil Nadu has done to its forests.

What seems as forests are not natural; they are just plantations of Eucalyptus and Wattle. These once grasslands and natural forests which had served as the source and catchment area for rivers have been now sucked dry. The only shrubs that you find in these forests are the exotic weeds such as Lantana and Eupatorium. Almost all mountains are covered with it; the rest have vegetable cultivation. There are hardly 7 or 8 species of birds in common sight. The only wild mammals are the Gaur ( Bison), Wild Boars or a few Sambar deers that stray into the farm lands. The landscape is a cold desert, green in colour. I pity those tourists who throng to Kodaikanal. The government has retained small patches of natural vegetation in the key tourist areas. Anyway, what do the tourists care?

Our contacts at Palni Hills Conservation Council, an organization which has been working on conservation of Kodai and surrounding areas told us of the disturbing situation. The Government is hardly interested in conservation and look upon forest land as only a revenue generating resource.

Three days later I rode back, not even stopping at Kodaikanal. I took a different route –via Betelgundu, Perayur, Rajapalayam, Shenkottai. It is shorter and much more scenic than the Express Highway from Nagercoil to Madurai. I took exactly 12hours – which includes 1 ½ hours of butt (bum) breaks.

Riding bike with time constraint means less photos. Yet I took a few, just to note the different landscapes – the highly windy, dry route through Nagercoil – Tirunelveli; the monoculture- cursed mountains of Palni Hills, the rich farmlands beneath the shadow of Western Ghats – and then Kerala.

As I paused at the bottom of the Ariankavu Pass that separates Kerala and Tamil Nadu, a few drops on rain fell on me. Malayalees take their land for granted. I don’t think there is any other part of the country as endowed with natural beauty as Kerala. Yet we continue to destroy and plunder it, in the name of tourism and development.

6 -lane Express Highway

Old railway line near Ariyankavu, Kerala

Farmlands en route Rajapalayam




Sheep Research Farm, Mannavannur 

A respite 

Kerala! Near Ariyankavu

Common House Sparrow - nearing extinction

Forests of Tamil Nadu! 

Klavara Village - the mountain sides are full of Eucalyptus and Wattle
A Dog &  a Doc ( Dr Sreenivasan, my friend) 


Looking for Land

Jungle Crow
********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum , 23.06.2011

Friday, June 17, 2011

Five Ways To Kill A Man

I would like to share with you a poem by Edwin Brock.

Five Ways To Kill A Man 
There are many cumbersome ways to kill a man.
You can make him carry a plank of wood
to the top of a hill and nail him to it. To do this
properly you require a crowd of people
wearing sandals, a cock that crows, a cloak
to dissect, a sponge, some vinegar and one
man to hammer the nails home.

Or you can take a length of steel,
shaped and chased in a traditional way,
and attempt to pierce the metal cage he wears.
But for this you need white horses,
English trees, men with bows and arrows,
at least two flags, a prince, and a
castle to hold your banquet in.

Dispensing with nobility, you may, if the wind
allows, blow gas at him. But then you need
a mile of mud sliced through with ditches,
not to mention black boots, bomb craters,
more mud, a plague of rats, a dozen songs
and some round hats made of steel.

In an age of aeroplanes, you may fly
miles above your victim and dispose of him by
pressing one small switch. All you then
require is an ocean to separate you, two
systems of government, a nation's scientists,
several factories, a psychopath and
land that no-one needs for several years.

These are, as I began, cumbersome ways
to kill a man. Simpler, direct, and much more neat
is to see that he is living somewhere in the middle
of the twentieth century, and leave him there.

Edwin Brock 
Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 17.06.2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wrapper Info

‘Are you a homosexual? No medicine, no shock, H.R.T. Brainwave therapy!! Dr.T (USA) HRT Sexologist Psychologist, Tiruvalla Phone No. 94472 xxxxx.’ I am not going to give free publicity to this quack.

The above is a classified advertisement that had appeared in a Daily. Sometime ago I had written about society and homosexuality;consequent to the Delhi High Court verdict legalizing homosexuality, which was a watershed judgment in the history of this country whose hypocritical morality stinks like the sewers of its cities. We are only too familiar with the instances of molestation of women but what the moralists pretend not to know is the rampant prevalence of homosexuality. Anil has written about this in detail.

However, this post is not about sex; it is about the wonderful mine of information that I call ‘Wrapper Info’. In Kerala –I am sure as elsewhere in India – shopkeepers wrap up your goods in old newspapers. If I have time, I religiously pour through these pieces of paper. Invariably I find tidbits I had missed; the love affairs of a Bollywood heartthrob, part cleavage of another, the arrest of the local hoodlum, tragic road accidents, an obituary of someone I knew – and then the kind of advertisement as above.

In 2004, there was one of a different kind. No, the news is as ordinary as anything else, but it has kind of stuck to me, like a piece of molten steel, stuck to my heart. Every time I think of it, it burns. I have kept a copy of that newspaper dated August 24th, 2004 in my old black steel trunk. K calls it my treasure chest; on the rare occasion that I open it ceremoniously, he too would sit with me eagerly, looking at the innumerable souvenirs and bits and pieces collected over years .

Paper, Thin

News, old, on paper wraps
Of Parattas, warm, with fried beef on top.
Old news, like leaves, dead, withered,
Scattered away by winds of time.

On August twenty-fourth, I discover,
Between two pieces of beef turned over,
The eyes of a beautiful girl,
Smiling, with warmth, up at me.

Below the picture of Olympic runners,
Above an ad for a condom,
Caught between a train and a ditch,
Sheeba fell – and died.

A photograph is a moment,
Just one-sixtieth second long
Aperture at five point six,
A flash lights up - and dies.

Sheeba would’ve seen the rushing train,
Heard the rails rattling, felt the wind whooshing,
When it hit, a flash would’ve lit-
A shutter clicked - forever, on life.

The oil in the beef
Now spreads o’er her face.
The thick red oil,
Like thick red blood.

Thumping death-death-death,
Wailing woe-woe-woe,
The train would’ve passed with a huff and puff.
I chew-chew-chew my leathery beef.

Oil now obliterates her face.
It seeps, it spreads, it doesn’t stop
Over the grass, drips o’er the stones,
An ant now scrambles o’er her eyes.

Balachandran V, Trivandrum 10-06-2011

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The pronunciation of pronunciation

“The pronunciation of the word pronunciation is not pronounciation but pr-nun-see-ayshun”, so would quip the smart-ass in our class. It was sometime in the high school that I heard this first.

Conversing in English was rare in my school or college days. We could read and write decent English, but whether you studied in English medium or Malayalam medium, spoken English wasn’t that easy for the urban – impossible for the rural – Malayalee children of the 60s and 70s. In those days there wasn’t any school that would punish students if they talked in any language other than English while at school. BBC and News in English from AIR were the only way we could listen to good spoken English; and of course the occasional English movies.

One of the reasons for the oft ridiculed ‘Mallu- English’, is the emphasis on clear enunciation in Malayalam. Clarity and accentuation of syllables is very important in good Malayalam; this is why most non-Malayalis say that Malayalam is the most difficult language to learn. With Sanskrit as the root of grammatical Malayalam literature and Tamil as the root of spoken Malayalam, the potpourri of Malayalam vocabulary and the diction is beyond the ken of aliens.

But it pains to listen to Malayalam TV newsreaders and anchors. For example they’d pronounce Bhaarya as Baarya or Khedam as Kedam. Worse are the young things with fake anglicized Malayalam accent and the snobbish Valluvanadan ( Trichur and beyond till Palakkad) accents.

I personally have difficulties with the subtleties of ‘O’. God, dog. Love, cloak, poke, spot, sport, joke, rock, mock - K has often tried to correct me, but in vain. And the more I am conscious of my ‘O’, the worse it turns out to be!

Therefore all I could do to console myself was to – write a poem!

O, dear!

Mind your Ps and Qs!”
But I always had a mind of my own!
I never did get my Os all right,
My phonetics was always trite.

The O in love, like O in lost? Or O in loath?
Like O in loin? Or O in lonely?
LOud? LOusy? Or lOnging in the heart?
I never got the hang of love at all.

My Ts were quite all right.
Like the T in trust.
Like the T in true,
Trundling along, trudging alone.

Never did I ever, fuck up my Fs.
The F in faith, F in freedom,
F in fair and fun.
Weren’t I a fool, though, to let the girl go?
******************* Trivandrum 09.09.2004

Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 11-06-2011

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Toilet issues

I wrote my first poem sometime in July 2004. In the last 7 years I have written more than 200, published a collection of 50 odd poems, many others published in a magazine, in my blog and in a poetry web site.

Looking at the poems over the years, I realize that the inspiration to write a poem, that sudden rush of thoughts and a fervour that compels me to express the thoughts in words, was as much intriguing and exciting as writing the poem .  In the post ‘My first poem’ and in another one ‘Falling’, I have shown how I came to write that particular poem.

Having nothing else to do and the privacy offered at my seat in the office, I read through a document where I have kept most of my poems together. I note that the situation that led up to writing each of them itself is a fascinating study of the evolution of thought and its channelisation into the often very brief, often too long, often crisp, often erudite pieces of verses I call poems.

You may think it gross or coarse but some of my best thoughts and poems were born while sitting shitting. I am not the kind who takes along a newspaper to read while relieving at the toilet; on the other hand, I would like to finish off the business as quickly as possible. But the western commode is comfortable and relaxing- with a cigarette in hand to mask any noxious odour that may emanate during the process, one can spend a little more time than necessary.

The tiny bath cum toilet/potty/lavatory/can/crapper/john in my lodgings at Kottayam was such a place. Being the sole occupant of the particular room with attached toilet, I would walk around in the nude (the room was on the third floor and no buildings on the window side, which was curtained anyway) as soon as I was back from the office. The 10x8 room gave me a sense of security and happiness which I have rarely felt elsewhere. Maybe it was due to the fact that I was very happy at Kottayam. In that little space that held a cot, a table, two plastic chairs, I had my PC on the table, my suitcase beneath the cot – there was no cupboard – everything else was somehow neatly and tidily arranged – I even had a pot of Money Plant for the sake of a little colour.

At the john I could sit with the door open, smoke and let my gaze wander and think about nothing in particular. Notwithstanding the pleasure of emptying one's bowels, as one sits there, there is a kind of filling emptiness in the mind; empty, but strangely, utmost gratifyingly, peaceful, full. And then every thing l looked at came up razor sharp – mind did not hold on to the viewed – it flitted like a flea or – like 'Insignia's monkey- how I love that monkey!

That was the state of my mind when the following poem took birth. Even the mundane act of defecation - if you observe closely, move the images slowly, d-e-l-i-b-r-a-t-e-l-y - has spiritual undertones that culminates in ecstasy!!!

 In Transit

 A toilet- one’s own   
Gleaming white ceramic
Shining seat sans blotches
To lower oneself and relieve
In comfort, cleanliness and peace.

Clean, well-lit toilet
Like a restaurant to eat
Or drink- always to meditate
My home is a room and toilet.

Sharpness of senses
In solitude –
Obsessions, at the brink of neurosis.
An ant on the floor, a stain in the sink
A spider on the wall, a blot on the mind.

And the art of relieving, cleansing, emptying self.

12/8/04 Kottayam
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Balachandran V, Trivandrum 08-06-2011

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Homo sapiens Iddlianensis

The judge hrrrumphed. In deep thought, he dug deeper into his nostrils and extracted certain glutinous material which was subjected to close examination for its colour, consistency, density, fragrance and then was rolled into a minuscule sphere and stuck it to the side of his desk, presumably for further investigation. Thereupon he hrrrumphed once again, positioned his pince nez over his beaky nose and deliberately lifted a sheet of paper and pretended to read it. After an ominous pause, the judge spoke: ‘ Mr Balachandran, you have been found guilty of gluttony. By the powers vested upon me by the laws of this country, I hereby pronounce my judgment: You are condemned to survive through the rest of your life by eating only one – I repeat, one – kind of food. However, you may chose a delicacy of your wish; but remember, only ONE KIND!!

I didn’t have to think twice; how about you? what would be your choice? Chicken 65? Gulab Jamun? Parathas? Payasam? Mine is crystal clear and unwavering – IDDLI!!!

Consider the Iddli. Forget its nativity – Wiki says it is South India /Karnataka– search the net for more info. Iddli or Iddali or Idly – the safest, tastiest, blandest, most unpretentious delicacy in the whole world!

A batter made of the finest white rice and lentils steam cooked. Look at it. The demure dome of brilliant white looking so perfectly content and settled; smell it – fragrance that recalls memories of boyhood when iddli batter was spread over white cotton cloth laid on the pans inside the steaming vessel, iddlis of innumerable places – the tiny shacks in villages, those little hotels in Tamil Nadu where when you go to eat tiffin in the night, they drop piping hot iddlis with chutney, sambar, and podi. The oh-so delicious Vengaya chutney, kara chutney, Pudina Chutney and so on.

On the occasions when P is away and I have to feed myself, I buy ready-made Iddli- mavu or Iddli batter. I make exotic chutneys to go with it. The chutneys are usually so good that I end up lapping it up and the very last remnants in the bowl is swiped up by a piece of Iddli. I can make 24 iddlis from one packet. Spread over the day 8 x3 = 24. No kidding, I eat iddlis in the morning, iddlis for lunch and for supper. In the evening I sometimes warm them up in the microwave or if time and interest prevails, I make Iddli uppma. Pouring boiled water over the iddlies, I squash and squeeze the Iddlis until they are one big mashed lump. In the frying pan, instead of coconut oil, I throw in a tbsp of ghee. Over the spluttering mustard seeds, I add chopped onions, ginger, garlic, red chilli and curry leaves. Sometimes I add cubes of tomatoes, finely chopped carrots, peas… oh well, the list and combinations are endless, depending on the contents of the refrigirator and my mood.

K has left for Bangalore; Between P and I, we are not too  fussy about food; we manage. Yesterday evening, there were leftover Iddlis. P said she’ll make dosas for herself, she isn’t keen as I am about Iddlis. Soaking the iddlis in the pale green coriander leaf chutney, fishing out the broken, toasted pieces of red chilli and squeezing or popping them to let the brown coconut oil and filaments of the chilli mix with the chutney and watching the mustard seeds, each with little halo of oil around it float and picking  them one by one with my forefinger and biting them and savouring the whole process of idyllic Iddlis, I speak kindly to P. ‘Parvati, look at this Iddli. Chaste white in colour, soft and pliable, dignified, delicate, hygienic, highly digestible, nutritious ( all that protein and carbs), accomodative (you can add anything to it), adaptable ( goes with anything) – why, Iddli is angelic, it is the symbol of all things pure and good in this world, Iddli is what humanity should aspire to be…”

P discards the idea of making Dosas. Instead she spreads mixed fruit jam onto slices of whole wheat bread and between bites mutters- ' I will never eat another Iddli happily in my life...'
Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 07-06-2011

Monday, June 6, 2011

Himalaya by Proxy

In the air-conditioned chill of the office
In the desktop picture of Mount Everest
In  passwords like Ganga, Yamuna
Badri, Kailas or Manasarovar -

Leafing, surreptitiously,  through the books on treks
To Himalayas and wilderness
Dreaming meandering through
Rhododendrons and snow bound paths-
I imagine the sips of water from my bottle
To be that of the streams in the mountains.

It is really so easy; all I have to do
Is to get up from my seat
Leave the complaining customer
Walk over to the window at the rear of the office
And look up at the skies…
******* Balachandran V, Trivandrum 06.06.2011

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Monsoon Depression

In the night, listening to the sounds
Of rain drumming on the tin roof,
To the crashing cymbals
Of dried branches of the Mango tree falling,
To the shattering boom of coconut
Dropping like a cannon ball -
And the wail of the wind
And the croak of the frogs –
The patter of rain on the cemented courtyard
And to the sour, sullen silences of the night -

Looking, mind empty of thoughts, looking
At the seeping water dripping
Through the cracked tiles on the roof
And running down the wall -
At the puddle growing, moving
Slowly like a serpent across the floor -

Looking at Sancho and Sally sleeping
Close together, on the torn piece of an old quilt –
A friend’s wedding gift many years ago…

Listening, looking, thinking about nothing
In particular -
My parents, no more now
Come with the chilling winds that blow.

I imagine myself dead
I see the faces of grief
Of family, friends
The crowd that stand around
Some silent, some socializing
Some looking important, giving directions
The lamps, the burning incense -
My dogs - inexpressible would be their grief,
Quite likely shut in my room, away from people.

The pain of death, I rue, is not of the departed;
What hurts is not the pain
Of having to leave,
But the pain you leave,
Leaving sorrow, only sorrow, to the deprived.
******** Balachandran V, Trivandrum 02.06.2011

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Monsoon Moods

These dark clouds in the sky... and the incessant pouring.... fear of fever and floods... the roads of the city have turned into a nightmare...

Rains are welcome after the intense summer, but along comes a host of other problems. Sitting before my netbook, I listen to the pitter-patter of raindrops... I feel listless. Somehow the damp atmosphere seems to have dampened my spirits too... I don't feel like writing... maybe, tomorrow there will be a break in the rains and sun would shine bright... I wonder whether we will be ever really happy! When it rains you long for the sun, and when its hot and dry, you wish for the rains...

June was the month when my father passed away 40 years ago... June 5th, 1971. June was the month my mother passed away... June 30th, 2004...

What else do you do, but brood, when it pours. Tears have long dried up in my eyes...
********* Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 01.06.2011