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

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Ripple in my Life

I should have expected this, the kind of sentimental fool that I am. But I never thought I will fall in love with her; at least not during the first few months of our acquaintance. But now that I have decided to leave her for good, perhaps simple nostalgia or sympathy or the habit of cohabitation with her for the last one odd years has changed my feelings for Alleppey from one of intense dislike to mild affection.

Alleppey is a town with an inferiority complex. Decades of neglect by the authorities and the townspeople themselves has made the town a shabby, ragged place. As a fellow blogger once recalled his sojourn here for four years as a student decades ago, Alleppey is a dank place, infested with mosquitoes and stagnant canals and decadent, crumbling old buildings. Other than as the gateway to the backwaters, Alleppey has no significance for a visitor. The irony is that Alleppey is comparatively a young town, a planned city. Built by the Dewan of erstwhile kingdom of Travancore, Raja Kesavadas, in order to attract and facilitate trade with foreigners through a harbour, Alleppey now is the ghost of the once beautifully laid out town. f I had it in me, I would have spruced up the town. All it needs are a few implements - a scythe, a broom and a swipe.

During my stay here during the last 15 months, I have explored the nooks and corners of Alleppey on my bicycle. Still there remains much more to see, much more to document. The main constraint was that my ramblings on the bicycle is limited to an hour or so, three or four days a week. Having to sit late at work, I have missed the evenings in Alleppey. In the mornings when light breaks in from the east, I could only imagine how the views would be in the light from the opposite, the west. I also could not observe and photograph the people of the town. When I leave Alleppey, I am sure to regret what I have missed, just as I missed a lot at Kottayam.

If a year ago you had predicted that I would come to love this town, I'd have called you crazy. In addition to the cityscape, I had disliked the Alleppey accent, its seemingly rough and loutish people. Alleppey is like a mushroom, a fungus. Wherever you may go in Alleppey, your senses would tell you that you are not far away from water - undrinkable, unbathable, that is. It is in Alleppey that I have come to interact with a large number of Muslims in my hitherto life. And they are not terrorists. Many of those simple people are cultured, decent and fiercely honest. Some of their women are just oomph. The farmers of the outlying Kuttanad region may look dark and tough and and shout at the top of their voice, but they are the salt of earth. Farmers and fishermen are closest to mother earth. Their professions are the noblest, feeding the world. Surviving in the harsh environments as they do, it is no wonder that some of them may lack the superfluous gentility of others.

What urges me to take VRS and leave Alleppey is the pointless existence, the hours that I spend in the Bank. True, I need a livelihood; I have been at it for 32 years. In another 4 years, I will retire. I could grind my teeth and cling on till then, but as years pass, I am more and more aware of what I am losing because of my profession. I wait, impatiently to tie up the few loose strands and then it will be goodbye to the Bank.

But I must say that Alleppey has been kind to me. Unpretentious, the town is indifferent to its shortcomings as well as the epithets thrown at her. She offered whatever she could - and I am thankful for all that - the beach, the old buildings, the dusky skinned women. When I leave Alleppey, all I will take from her is a few photographs. There are no too fond memories; nothing bitter either. I am not going to miss this place, or its people. Perhaps later when I pass through, I might look out for the landmarks that have become so familiar to me, shrug , sigh and turn aside when I realize their erasure. Alleppey has been just a little ripple in my life; and to Alleppey, I am just one among the millions who took shelter under her wings for a while and left.

Whether a town or a person, relationships are like that. None are meant for ever. Change, whether in oneself or others has to be accepted calmly. Regret, sure to be, but that will pass, eventually. Alleppey is another chapter about to come to end, so are the relations I had built here. In retrospection, one can say that it had been good while it lasted. Friendship is also like that. Nothing lasts forever. One can always look back and muse on the lessons learnt, for one is always evolving. Just as the town will change, so shall I. Both, I hope, will be for the better.

************** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 25.11.2012

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Face to Face

At the bar, nursing a Romanov - or two
Sometimes three or four
I am forced to look into myself -
Not a pretty sight.

At the barber, as he twists my neck
Left and right, up and down
And then firmly upright
I am forced to look at myself -
Not a pretty sight either!

********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 15.11.2012

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Monkey in the City

It was early; around 0630 hrs. I woke up to the yelps and howls of Sancho and Sally. This is the second time in the past one month that a monkey appeared here. The little patch of greenery that surrounds my house - the tamarind, the mango, the jack - trees offer shade and bring down the temperature a notch or two, is a resting place for the birds. Being right in the core of the city - my house is just 5 minutes walk from the Rly station/Bus terminal, guests who enter my house always marvel how cool and quiet the place is.

He is a Bonnet Macaque; he is a bit middle-aged. His right forearm is missing. The way it looks covered with fur would mean that he has survived with his handicap for some years. He is a long way from home. Crows have spotted him already and are cawing and flying around, pecking at him. The monkey jumps from the Tamarind to the coconut palm and then hops on to the 4th floor balcony of the hotel next door. I don't see him anymore. The fading away of the cawing indicates that the monkey has moved further away.

I wonder why the crows hate the monkey so much. Sancho and Sally - I am sure they would kill him if they could. I have seen them trapping and mauling a mongoose, how they revel in it! But they are not much different from human beings, are they? It is usually so pompously said that animals kill only for food. No, they also do it for the same reasons that Homo sapiens do - for fun, for domination. There are some documentaries that show the life of chimpanzees - cannibalizing and wantonly killing a rival group. Primates!

Sancho runs up to me and yowls. He is frustrated that the monkey is gone. I hug and hold him tight.

*********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum 04.11.2012

Saturday, November 3, 2012

'Tenzing' of Alleppey

Alleppey district has a curiosity that it is the only district in Kerala which has no forests; not to speak of mountains. Cuddled between the backwaters and sea, Alleppey in parts is below sea level. Hence the hackneyed fact of only or one of the few land masses where farming is done below sea level. In Kuttanad, the region of Alleppey called the Rice Bowl of Kerala, you see waterways with bunds built on either sides and the swampy paddy fields extend to the horizons. In the narrow strips of land, people survive, with scarce drinking water and electricity and mobility restricted to boats. It is this strange topography that attracts tourists in hoards to this country; and they are amply rewarded with scenic beauty.

Yet here in Alleppey lives a man who has climbed Mount Everest - twice and Kanchenjunga once and some other peaks too. A man who has shaken hands with Edmund Hillary, a man who has taken great photographs of the mountains - I shook his hands the other day.

Sureshkumar joined the ITBP ( Indo- Tibetan Border Police) long ago. When the ITBP planned an ascent of Kanchenjunga, they needed a photographer - Suresh dabbled in it and he was straightaway sent for advanced mountaineering course, which opened up his path to the skies.

An article had appeared in a magazine a few months back - ever since then I wanted to meet him. His house is somewhere in a narrow lane in the town. Clutching a copy of the magazine, I cycled around, finally hunting his house down. A charming, unassuming man, Suresh greeted me with open arms.

A man who has climbed Everest and Kanchenjunga - even touching his feet would be a privilege! I open-mouthedly listen to Suresh. In the sitting room, a showcase full of  memorabilia - souvenirs of his ascents; on the wall of the verandah, two framed photographs - one with former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and another with the present, Manmohan Singh. Suresh was part of the elite SPG ( Special Protection Group) that guarded the PMs. I am awestuck. I ask him, how, how, could he be here, living in this modest house, unknown even among his neighbours. Suresh smiles - he says that there were some family problems like the death of his in-laws which compelled him to take voluntary retirement and come home. Today, the man who climbed the highest peak in the world works as a Home Guard on daily wages of Rs.150/- or so, directing traffic in the busy junctions of Alleppey. Suresh says he has no regrets. I am speechless.

Suresh apologetically tells me he has to go for duty; he would be happy to meet me again some other time and tell me the stories. I request his daughters to pose for a picture with their dad. I shake Suresh's hand warmly. I tell his younger daughter jokingly - 'Do you know what I did just now? I shook the hand that touched Everest'!! She smiles. She glances proudly at her father.

*********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 01.11.2012