Friday, December 15, 2017

A VACANT PLACE



 A VACANT PLACE

I come to Hyderabad every winter as it is pleasant and a bit cold which I like, unlike Chennai where I stay. For the past four years I have been doing this since my daughter moved over here and the best thing is, it is relaxing and I love my morning walks in the garden near the house. I do fifteen rounds and it takes me about fifty minutes to complete and then head back home.

There are regulars and there are new faces I notice though I do not stop to talk to any of them except perhaps a ‘Good Morning’ or a smile of recognition, a courtesy I extend to a select few I have had the pleasure of seeing the previous years. I know some would have wondered where I had vanished the rest of the year leaving a place vacant in the garden. One of them did venture to ask ‘What happened? Where were you?’ I replied I live in Chennai and come only at this time of the year, a seasonal bird. I know what thoughts arise when one notices an absence be it of a man or material. Common to both would be the premise that they have shifted elsewhere, the most positive thought that could occur. But something of a more serious conclusion in respect of the man or woman especially the older variety would be that they have ceased to exist. Well that exactly how my mind works also.

Though I walk alone, for I like to be with myself or listening to the music on my Ipod, I do notice things I pass – the trees, the flowers, the birds, the stray dogs, the monkeys and of course the people. Each one of them inhabit my world of walking though I choose to remain silent. Over the last four years if there is one recurring image, it is that of the old man. You may think that I am obsessed with old people and old age especially if you have read my book ‘Darkness and Beyond’. But one can never deny the fact that as you age, you inch towards thinking more of the beyond.

But other things aside, I could not help notice the vacant place on the bench which I had passed so many times during the past years. In the Chapter on ‘The Old Man and I’ I had related something similar but the setting was different – I quote

“As I walked out of the park, I turned back to see him, a lonely figure on the bench as the dusk settled. The night was slowly creeping in. That’s what life is all about – the dawn, the light of the day, the twilight and then the all-consuming darkness.”

Now here it was a different scenario – the sun was slowly rising, clearing the morning mist and the day had just begun. But to me it appeared that the darkness which had preceded had consumed something and thus the vacant place on the bench.

I write this a month after I noticed his absence and therefore I have come to the conclusion that he had passed away to the beyond. He was a regular, at least eighty years and odd, impeccably dressed and a sweater to keep away the cold. Of short stature and a crop of white hair on his head and a cleanly shaven face, he reminded me of Jiddu Krishnamurthi. He would walk slowly towards the bench dust it with his napkin and sit erect. As I passed him on my rounds he would be busy with breathing exercises and then slowly get up from the bench stretch his arms and legs stopping only when someone passed him by. He would then move on to the lawns and stand facing the sun. the last thing that I would hear as I made my way back to the gate to leave I would hear his laughter loud and clear repeated rhythmically.

This was what it was over the three years but was missing this year. Though I find others occupying that bench, for me without that old man it was a vacant place. I knew that he was a permanent resident, not a visitor like me who was just a periodical occurrence.
That day as the thought struck me that he may have passed beyond and I was slowly walking towards the gate of the garden I met the young man and his wife both regulars in the garden. While the young man would be exercising vigorously, his wife would be taking her walk. The last time I was here I saw them walking hand in hand taking their rounds in the garden. She was pregnant and I guessed in an advanced stage. So now I was pleasantly surprised and happy to see a young toddler in between them holding on to their hands and taking his first steps in the garden. I waved at them and smiled.
I quote once again the last words of the old man from my book ‘Darkness and Beyond’ –

“You remember that the last time I met you I said that the night is creeping in. I know that it will soon envelop me and take me to the ultimate darkness. I do not know what lies beyond, but since light fades into darkness and the darkness melts away with the dawn of a new morning, I believe that there does exist something beyond this darkness and that is the hope I carry with me.”

Yes, life goes on – A Vacant Place and A New Hope


   

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

AND THEN I BECAME BALD




AND THEN I BECAME BALD

I don’t remember when it happened. It was so subtle, strand by strand, hair by hair, and then, there was nothing. In case you are still wondering about what I am talking about, I do not blame you. It happened to me also, I did not realize what was happening. I still cannot say when I became bald, but now I know I am.

Once upon a time there was a clean-shaven youth with a crop of luxuriant hair on his head. And that was the face his wife saw before she married him. All earlier attempts to grow some hair above his upper lip were shot down by a glance of disapproval from his mother, after all how could a boy from an orthodox brahmin family grow a moustache. If he had been born in an earlier era he would have been forced to shave the front half of his head with long tresses of hair at the back rolled up to a knot ubiquitously called ‘Kudumi’ and the three horizontal lines of the sacred ash ‘Vibhuti’ spread across his forehead. Well I guess I was lucky I missed that era.

Remember the Rishis of yore who never had the time to crop the hair on their head or face as they were deeply immersed in penance. Of course, that did not stop the scantily clad Apsaras from dancing in front of them and upsetting their spiritual quests (pardon me for any blasphemy on my part, but that is not my fault for I have grown up watching all those mythological films and led to believe that was how things were in the realm of the Gods, Devas, Rishis and the Kings who always seemed to hold court to the swaying of the dancing girls). And then there were the monks with not a hair on their heads also on a spiritual quest. I then understood that the quest for spiritual enlightenment was all about hair, with or without.
There was a time when premature baldness was the subject of ridicule until a smart bald man came up with the catch phrase ‘Bald is Beautiful’. Those were the days when ‘Bold and the Beautiful’ was being aired on the television. While this was catching on I came upon an article about five years ago which reaffirmed my belief that baldness is not only beautiful but also sexy (you can very well imagine why). I quote the first few lines and that was enough and I did not proceed further for fear of finding something to the contrary –

“Think of Bruce Willis, Andre Agassi or Michael Jordan, and you’ve got three famously strong, masculine men with plenty of female fans. They also have something else in common: they’re bald.

It’s often said that bald men are more virile. The popular theory is that they have higher levels of the male hormone testosterone, which makes them more masculine and increases their sex drive, but they lose their hair at a younger age than average as a result. The truth, though, is a little more complex.”
Since it said the truth was a little more complex I did not proceed further. I did no further research and since that day I have had long conversations with my beard while gently caressing my pate late into the night.

But of late when I go out shopping, to movies, to parties or just a stroll, I find Rishis and Monks (with finely chiseled French Beards) once again, and of course the Apsaras are there.

It all happened one fine (?) day ten years ago when I was in Mumbai. I have always been proud of my beard, so I thought keeping him good shape would contribute to my well being both physically and mentally (yes, I would keep worrying when the remaining strands on my head would disappear). I bought myself a beard trimmer and proceeded to ensure that he had a decent and uniform growth (nothing like the Rishis whose beards looked unkempt and unwashed). Well I did succeed for he looked real smart – uniform and the right length as desired by me. Happy that the trimmer had done a fine job I cleaned it by brushing off the remaining strands of hair on it and kept it aside. It was only when I looked in the mirror to admire my well groomed facial hair that I noticed the uneven growth of hair on my head (at that time I did have some noticeable growth on the sides and the back of my head: I still do, but to a much lesser extent). To set this right I picked up the trimmer and ran it through those portions I felt were not uniform. After the first run I noticed to my horror that there was a patch of ‘no hair’. In my hurry I had forgotten to clip back the depth adjustment cutter on the trimmer. I now had no option but to run the trimmer as it was, through the remaining hair on my head. And that was when I first became completely bald. Of course, when I came out of the bathroom, my wife had a curious look on her face which did not need any words to translate “So where has all the hair on the head gone?”


You see I had long ago made a compromise in my spiritual quest (Whisky or Old Monk) and took the mid-path to realization by becoming half a Rishi and half a Monk. So, what would you call me now – Rishimon or Monkrish? I wouldn’t mind for now I am at spiritually elevated levels only three pegs down.

Friday, December 8, 2017

SECRETS OF THE SOUL – 17 DELIVERANCE



SECRETS OF THE SOUL – 17
DELIVERANCE

I seek the secrets of the soul,
From within the depths of the ocean,
The pearl within the oyster,
Emerging headlong through the tunnel
Into the light, from the womb,
The first cry, the first sigh of deliverance,
And the umbilical separation,
Freed into a world of conflicting emotions,
To find its way, through the chaos,
Through this labyrinth of relationships,
To grow, live, to ultimate decay and deliverance,

But the ghost it continues to stay.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

SECRETS OF THE SOUL – 16 FROZEN MOMENTS





SECRETS OF THE SOUL – 16
FROZEN MOMENTS

I seek the secrets of the soul,
From the secrets of her heart,
Where lie the frozen moments of the past,
Long buried and forgotten, frightened,
To be consumed in the heat of my desire,
The glacier moves to warmer climes,
To melt and merge with the wide expanse,
Giving form to rising tides,
As I wait to be swept away,
To far off shores, to be alone,
With those moments long forgotten,

The flame still burning in my heart.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

BOOK REVIEW – TEN SUTRAS FOR A GREAT LIFE by R.A.KRISHNA



BOOK REVIEW – TEN SUTRAS FOR A GREAT LIFE by R.A.KRISHNA

In the preface to the book the author says “To tell the truth, I am a fledgling seeker of Truth and my Understanding, and articulation, of the concepts of spirituality could well be severely wanting. However, I have gone ahead guided by my devotion to Lord Krishna and have been able to complete this book”.

This is a small book of 95 pages (Kindle edition) but one which packs within it the wisdom culled out from the Hindu scriptures – The Bhagavad Gita for the major portion. The author has tried to condense the essence of the Holy book of Hinduism in Ten Sutras or a collection of aphorisms in the form a condensed manual or text. It is not that the author is found wanting like he has said in the Preface to the book, for it is not an easy task to interpret the Gita or any Hindu scripture in a such a shortened form nor can they be interpreted in a general way. Every individual finds his own interpretation and meaning and in this one can find shades of the author’s own beliefs regarding the conduct of one’s life and the search for the truth. We should laud the author’s sincere efforts to make it as intelligible to the layman or people who have not had the opportunity or the inclination to go through the wisdom contained within these great works of Hindu Philosophy.

There is not much of a storyline except for the fact that a despondent Vishal meets the Guru Vishnu the epitome of wisdom and who in a series of meetings at different locations in Bangalore pulls Vishal out of the rut in which he had fallen into and teaches him the way to a better and more fruitful life. One can note that the author has chosen to name the Guru as Vishnu, a reminder of Lord Krishna and in my own interpretation the name Vishal would signify and embrace within it, the whole of mankind.

I like one quote from in the book which has been mentioned by the author – James Thurber’s “Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness”.

There many passages of the author in the book which I have highlighted on my Kindle for ready reference and as a source of inspiration. I can appreciate the efforts of the author in putting down these Ten Sutras of wisdom for a great life and the passion with which this has been written. Whether everyone agrees with some of the interpretations this is a must-read book and does not take much time to read it. I would classify this under the category of self-help books. Expecting more such snippets of wisdom from the author.  
  


Monday, August 7, 2017

MY JOURNEY AS A WRITER – 2



MY JOURNEY AS A WRITER – 2

It was in October 2009 when I first took to blogging trying to revive what I had left many years ago, and what better way to start then posting some of my earlier writings. Maybe it was the thought that I had just eight months to retire and it was time that I prepared for my journey into retirement from the mundane world of banking and finance which to be truthful never did invade my psyche despite all those 35 years I had spent there earning my living. But to be fair, those years spent in that world had ensured that I retired in peace not having to sink into a morass of making both ends meet. Within the space of three months till December 2009 I had made nineteen postings on the blog. But the entire 2010 drew a blank as I was busy wrapping up things and preparing for my second daughter’s marriage. 2011 was active again except a brief period of six months when I was recuperating after a surgery. Thereafter I have been active. It is interesting to note that the very first post that I made on my blog was titled ‘Anonymity’, for that was the last thing one could expect while entering the public domain. This was something I had written long ago in my diary and reflected the mood I was steeped in on that particular night in October 2009. I reproduce that here -

There is solace in this anonymity,
in the gentle hiss
of the summer breeze,
the rustling of leaves,
and the walk
through a dimly lit avenue.
As the darkness beyond beckons,
the spurts of sound
from speeding lights
on the distant highway,
move in and out
of my memory lanes.
And one moves through this darkness,
through this silence,
oblivious of an earthly existence.
Nothing stops the soul,
its flight to freedom.
But the approaching lights
of an automobile,
makes me move to the side.

On 20th February 2013 in my 100th blog post I wrote –

Initially when I became active on my blog it was more an inward journey and more for myself. But a few inputs from some of my well-wishers made me realize that when I write something which I place on the public domain, it must have a certain interest to the reader. I was and am interested that people read what I write. Why, I shall come to later. My elder daughter was the first critic with whom I spent those six months. She said “Appa, you write very well but most of it goes over my head”. She used to diligently read them after all she was my daughter. Another valuable input came from one of my senior colleagues in the bank, quite senior in fact, who had retired long before, a person whose views I value a lot. He said nearly the same thing but in a different way, he said “Subbu you write well but most of it are philosophical excursions, the only thing I can say is that I like them by way of comments but that does not really mean anything. With your varied interests, you should be able to write on things which the reader can connect with”. I took him seriously and changed my approach. I found in the process that I could explore all those things that I have been passionately interested in like art – painting and music. I found that slowly the number of page views increased and knew that I was now connecting. Now I record my introspections separately elsewhere.

It took me three more years to reach the 200th post, but in the process, I learnt my lessons as a published author. Though I had vented my frustration as an author trying to break through into the literary world through a series of light hearted posts – ‘The Writer’s Dilemma’ and the ‘The Travails of an Aspiring Author’, I realized that for me writing was a Celebration of Life. I wrote –

Now, when I am on the verge of reaching the next milestone on my journey, I pause to reflect on what I have seen and experienced and what I have understood of life and what it means to live. I ask myself the question whether it is vanity that forces me to write. Maybe it is there in some measure but to be truthful I have found that my writing is a mirror I hold in front to understand the lessons that life has taught me. It has taught me that each day is a celebration. As you wake up to see the sun streaming through the windows and you stretch your limbs re-enacting the very process of being born again and to live one more day, it is a celebration.

‘I am just An Ordinary Man’ was a very personal journey and though laced with allegorical anecdotes and projections into the future, places it in the realm of a fictional autobiography and that is how I like it to be read for I wanted the reader to connect it with his own journey through life. I was happy when I found that it did, but the measure of success is different, isn’t it?

‘Darkness and Beyond – A Medley of Many Lives’ was a journey into the external world of all those who have gone through the darkness of living and still find hope in living and an authenticity that defines their existence. In fact, from the quotes I have used in the book these two really describe the essence of what I have tried to get across –

“In three words, I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on.” ― Robert Frost

Each day is a little life; every waking and rising, a little birth; every fresh morning a little youth; every going to rest and sleep a little death. - Arthur Schopenhauer



Saturday, June 3, 2017

MY JOURNEY AS A WRITER - 1




After seven years of blogging with 230 posts and nearly 50,000 views and two books published during the last three years and in the process having keyed in close to 3,50,000 words this has been a journey through a labyrinth of a world of words. This defines my life post retirement and though it is not a full-time occupation it has been a meaningful one and helped me through the process of exploring my inner world and coming to terms with the external web of relationships surrounding me. I am a better person now.

I have grown to appreciate and empathize with people, things and events, which in the past would have just passed me by as I was too preoccupied with all things centered around my own existence. Maybe I have more time now but that alone is not the reason for this empathy. Ever since I started putting my fingers on the keyboard (like the good old pen on paper) I found the words give shape to experiences and people populate the pages of the word document. There are stories out there back in our world which still lie undiscovered waiting to be given form. Though I have an image I do not have a plot when I start of and I write as the story unfolds. This is very much in evidence in my second book ‘Darkness and Beyond – A Medley of Many Lives’ the characters developed as I continued writing and when I look back now I feel happy that I have done justice without resorting to over emphasis and melodrama, making them feel more real. Writing without a plot has made me grow along with the characters and make their experiences my own. It has been more exciting and adventurous this way. I felt like a reader myself waiting for the next piece to fall in place.

It is when darkness falls and I am at my work table with only the table lamp on that my explorations start. I retreat into that world where things past and people whose lives have crossed mine, emerge. Not that I wallow in nostalgia and ache for things gone by, it is when they become characters on the pages, taking shape on the screen in front of me.

My journey started nearly forty-four years ago on a winter day which by no standards can be called winter in Bombay but for the fact that it was in December. The Introduction to my first book Í am just An Ordinary Man’ gives an account of this –

It was in 1973 that I first started to write. Since then I have reread what I wrote from time to time whenever I felt I was being swept away by the mundane existence of an inconsequential life. Now as I hold the diary in my hands, a possession forty years old, feel the pages which have more or less turned brown, and as the whiff of an ancient fragrance burrows its way through the corridors of my mind, I am transported through the years to that day in December 1973. I was shaken out of a stupor into which I had fallen. It all happened in the bus you may say. As I sat in the bus, a good two hours’ drive to my destination, I was riveted to my seat without being aware of what was happening around me. I am still unable to comprehend what it was, but maybe it was something which had been building up inside over a period of time, spilled over. When the bus reached its final stop, I got down and rushed home. I took out an old diary and started to write. I penned down a few lines in verse, which when I look back now does indicate the angst that had been haunting me then. I called it Ghosts. Though the ghosts have long since been exorcised, they still lurk in the background.

For the next three years, I wrote with an intensity that only youth can shower. There was rebellion, there was romance and there was angst, filling the pages of my diary more in verse initially and a shift to prose gradually. I filled up nearly two diaries with my writings during that period. The writings ranged, though largely unstructured, from deeply introspective to the romantic. These later served as the building blocks for my blog and my books. This was also a time when my reading peaked and a habit which I have retained to this day.
Stephen King in his book On Writing says-

If you want to be writer, you must do two things above all others; read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.

Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex, and work.

My early reading has had a lasting influence on my thought process. Though I read all genres the ones that left an impact were the existentialist writings of Camus, Sartre, Kafka, Dostoevsky and the works of Hermann Hesse.
Maybe I was reading Camus’s The Rebel, I am not sure, but I ended writing some pieces when the Emergency in India was declared and the day the papers went with a blank first page as a symbolic silent protest -  

Cobwebs
People don’t be blind,
You are hurting me,
But I don’t mind.
Just open your eyes
And you will find,
I am beside you.
Your eyes are now open,
You still don’t see;
Well it’s the darkness,
The cobwebs cut the light out.
Raise your hands
And you will find,
The cobwebs are above you:
It’s the top that needs a cleaning.
The air is foul, you cannot breathe,
Cause the cobwebs cut the air off.
Stop hitting me,
Here’s my back,
Climb, reach for the top,
Clear the cobwebs once for all,
For it’s there,
That needs a cleaning.

Why are people scared?
Why are people scared?
I wonder, they wonder.
Is it mounting frustration,
That has given rise,
To a weird hallucination?
They walk as if in fear,
With their eyes closed,
They do not speak nor hear,
Led, as if by an unseen force,
They walk the road,
Heedless where it goes.
If there were a pit,
They would fall into it,
Without a word or a whimper.
Why don’t you open your eyes?
You’re not blind
Wake up from the trance;
With all your strength, you should try,
Only then there is a chance.
If you take the trouble,
To use your mind,
To question or to answer,
From the front, never behind.

I also wrote –
Batons shall not beat us back,
And even though our skulls do crack,
We should fight with all our might,
For what is just and what is right.

My writing abruptly stopped or rather pushed to the background as I felt myself immerse deeper into the humdrum of a normal existence with its attendant gains and pains. It was not writer’s block, but only changed priorities. I have come a long way since then.

(To be continued)