The Value of Friendship

pexels-photo-298297

How do I define,
The bond that I share with you?
Admiration, friendship, a protective,
Shield that I use to shelter you?
When others mocked,
I stood for you.
In your darkest hours,
I was there for you.
Just as a passive listener,
Who would absorb all your insecurities,
And still hold your hands,
And wish you the best.

Would you know,
The number of times,
That I have prayed for you?
The candles that I lit for you,
The sacred offerings that I made for you,
Praying that the mental and physical demons,
That plagued you would go away.

You will never know,
All these things,
As new friends and BFFs, and besties,
And God knows what other term is being bandied,
Surround you with fake smiles and gifts,
And praise you to the sky, moon, and stars.
You will never know, what is it that runs in their minds.

You know – what hurts the most?
This blatant arrogance and veil,
That you choose to cover yourself,
In judging me to be a no-good loser,
Based on what someone told you,
The no-good parasites that just cause havoc,
The calculating, conniving, cunning, minds,
That wear a smile with ease,
And get their priorities sorted out,
And use you to their convenience.

You will learn in hindsight,
When they stab you,
And then you will realize,
What the value of friendship truly is?
If you are reading this,
And somewhere in your conscience,
If there’s a gentle prick,
Then fear not,
It is meant for you only.

I really hope,
Only good things,
Come your way.
May each successful peak,
That you surmount,
Be another gem in your crown.
So long and farewell,
The door remains open,
When self-realization happens,
You will be back.

 

Image Courtesy – Pexels

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Bathing Amma

Her skin is brown,
Scars and marks,
The surgeon’s stitches,
Leaving a gentle trace,
Memories of a Caesarean delivery,
That allow me to type,
And share this today.

The water is hot, scalding hot.
I start by pouring a bit,
On her feet, she says – “It’s hot”.
I mix tap-water and then ask her,
To touch and feel the water,
She says it is just right!
We start slowly.

She sits patiently on the stool,
Like a priest in a temple,
Who bathes the stone idol,
Of the merciful and all powerful Goddess,
I pour the water slowly,
The fragrance of Hamam soap,
Permeates each pore.

Memories of a childhood,
Of happier times,
Of a life, when worries,
Had not begun to erode,
This body and mind,
Of oil that would be applied to the head,
And we would be given the customary Saturday bath.

How time changes everything?
I see her crumbling,
Bit by bit in body and soul.
But we have to remain strong.
She has fought enough battles all her life,
This is a battle that the two of us,
Are fighting together.

I am sure she shall come out victorious.

Hospital Memories

It may seem strange, but I do recollect the hospital where I was born after a marathon struggle that my mother and the operating doctors underwent – Portland Hospital. It is said that I was still-born and there was no response and the doctor as a last try whacked me gently on my butt and I broke into a wail, announcing my presence!

My next memory is that of my maternal uncle returning one evening from work, perspiring abnormally and clutching his chest. We proceeded to admit him to a hospital where he was treated for a massive cardiac arrest.

The next memory of a hospital is a pleasant one of seeing my aunt’s son being born!

This is followed by my nephew being born in a nursing home and my sister all smiles but tired.

After this, every single memory of a hospital has been nerve-wracking and physically and emotionally full of turmoil. From losing friends, from seeing friends having a close shave with death, of having multiple close shaves with death myself and somehow escaping the Grim Reaper; these all remain as distinct memories. The devil within the brain, does not let me forget the smallest of details, each memory is full of pain.

The past few years have seen me rushing to the hospital with unfailing regularity with my mother seeking deliverance from a variety of illnesses. From fluctuating sugar-levels, cardiac issues, a broken arm, the list never seems to end. Last year was fluid build-up in the chest and lungs and almost a cardiac arrest-type of situation

This past fortnight was terrifying as we could not pinpoint what the core issue was and the reports from the labs found nothing significantly out-of-the-ordinary. Whatever she ate, she would vomit; she would not be able to stand and fall back onto the bed and complain of extreme dizziness.

Finally with some assistance from the cab-driver, managed to put Amma into the cab and proceeded to Sundaram Medical Foundation. En-route in the cab she vomited, then in the hospital’s emergency ward, she was put on nutrients, tests were run, some food advised to be given, which she again duly vomited after one bite. Tests were run and as is the usual protocol, the nurse would come out and call ‘Sharada Attender’ – A list would be given or a bill for a test and I would keep making the payments at the relevant counters. Finally, an ENT said it is the ears that have been severely infected and there is a pressure imbalance leading to the dizziness. Slippery sensation in the feet, linked to Diabetes and would need due course of correction later. Ears cleaned, medicines given and finally dinner she ate without vomiting and said food is bland! I was here thanking God that something went in to her stomach and she says – ‘Uppu illai’ /’No salt’!!!

Then doctor said let us do a CT-Scan and cross check if there’s any other issue in the ears or the head that may be affecting her and causing dizziness. Finally at around 12:30 AM the cleaning staff cleaned the floors of the sitting area outside the ECU Ward. People began to spread sheets and lay down, I managed to lie down on the steel-chairs and found a place under a fan and went into a disturbed sleep and nightmares that keep haunting me every night; of the inevitable, painful truth!

Nurse came in by 4:30 AM, some more tests and some medicines to be bought! As dawn broke, like a gigantic robot, the hospital began buzzing with life, even as in various parts of the hospitals, life was being created, in some corner life snuffing out after a battle; the hospital awoke!

After a lot of discussion between the main doctor, a lady who was about 50 years old and who for some strange reason reminded me of Indira Gandhi and the ENT specialist, I was informed that we can leave for now and return on Tuesday for OP-review. Vertigo the reason for these problems!

We returned home and after a simple lunch and some rest, she vomited again and my helplessness continued. Medicines given, dinner given, fitful sleep, the next day dawns and vomiting again! The Gods are propitiated, rituals conducted with rice and requests to spirits of the ancients to safeguard us. In the interim, Amma’s friends from the nearby temple who are equally old and tired, call upon her and add to the moodiness and gloom and leave.

So far the lunch of samba ravai kanji has been consumed in portions.., don’t know what the evening and night holds in its wake; keep my mum in your prayers.

Till we meet again…

A Sense of an Ending – Life-Lessons in Free Verse

This trend to follow fads,
To add prefixes before names,
To crave for attention,
To pretend to be busy,
To choose to ignore,
The ones who care for you.
With practised ease,
Charm your way,
With white-lies and gossip,
How easy is this life?
Where is the value,
Of friendship in these troubled times?

I thought I knew you,
I now know,
That I hardly know myself.
Of groups and groups within groups,
Of name-calling.

The morbid need
To vilify others,
To mock others with rabid writing,
And lamest of lame jokes.
This is not what friendship is about!

As people find comfort,
In the company of like-minded geniuses,
I look at some pictures.

Some pictures that Facebook’s algorithm,
Chooses to pop-up on the screen,
Where are these people?
Where are these friends?
What changed in them?
What changed in me?
Where did I lose my identity?
Why did I surrender to self-pity?
Eventually, they all go away,
Best friends to good friends,

Acquaintances to strangers.
The transformation is complete.

No bitterness, no anger,
A sense of calm,
A sense of truth,
A sense of an ending,
That true friendships,
Can never exist,
Someone or something,
Will always come in between,
And when hubris grows,
It is pure self-destruction.
May God grant you light!
And please choose to do,
What you deem right;
I no longer have the strength to fight,
For you, for others, for myself!
I no longer care!
This had to get out of the brain,
Or I would never be able to set the demons free!

Soar high, make your dreams come true.
Good luck as always!

Everyone Leaves

Eventually, we bid goodbye,

To friends, family, loved ones,

Treasured possessions, jobs, colleagues,

Books, pets, memories,

We bid goodbye!

The parting at times, is pleasant!

Most often it is extremely bitter!

Eventually it all boils down,

To one pertinent question.

Did you make a positive difference,

In anybody’s life, with your words and deeds?

Did you just take,

Without sharing and giving?

Everyone leaves,

One day or the other,

Everyone leaves us!

Someday we will also leave,

Everyone else, leaving memories,

Of times well-spent and of angry spats.

Eventually we all bid goodbye to each other!

 

Kochi Biennale – 2016-17 — The Sum does not add up the Parts — Thoughts on a Trip!

Q-What is ‘art’?
A-A popular definition says – ‘Art is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.’
The ‘visual arts’ as a term covers – music, drama, film, photography, dance and performance arts.

Q-What is the Kochi Muziris Biennale?
A-Muziris is the ancient name of a port that existed in Kerala in an era gone by which had strong connections with Egypt and Rome. The Biennale called popularly as KMB was the brainchild of contemporary Kerala artists – Bose Krishnamachari and Riyaz Komu and had the backing of the Kerala government. Modelled on the Venice Biennale, the first edition was held in 2012. The third edition is ending in a couple of days.

All my friends who visited the place – went on and on about the place and put it up on a pedestal that my interest was piqued. So before the Aadhar card turns mandatory for booking train tickets via IRCTC, I booked tickets to travel to Kochi and just my luck, a day before I was due to travel, I had a bad fall and hurt my foot, with my right foot swelling up. As even walking became painful, I thought I have a bad sprain or worst case a hairline fracture of sorts. Started a bit early from office on Thursday and saw a doctor who gave medicines and said there was no fracture. Worked from home on Friday hoping all along that the leg would heal in time. I was not going to waste my chance on a solo-trip because of my foot. Thankfully pain came down substantially and with a pain-relief medicated strip covering my leg fully, I took the risk of travelling. The biggest plus, we have a neighbour, and the lady who worked earlier in a hospital gave Amma the insulin injection.

Train left at 10:30 PM sharp from Central Station, by about 11 AM, I was in Ernakulam South Junction, walked out, took a bus and headed to Fort Kochi. Bus fare – Rs 13. Got down at Pattalam Road stop and walked to Paul’s Home Stay where I would be staying overnight. Comfortable accommodation and a courteous family manage the property. Shout out to Deepan and Bragadeesh who stayed there earlier and recommended the place.

A quick bath, change of clothes and a snappy bus-ride to the Fort Kochi stop, from there another five minutes stroll down the road to Aspinwall House, tickets at Rs 100 a person and I explored the renovated building, which used to be a trading house for spices, coffee, tea, etc.., in the pre-independence era. Since friends who already visited the Biennale had posted a fair number of photos, I had a clear idea of what I would be viewing and to a fair extent the surprise element was gone.

I will be honest, if art is creating paintings, sculptures, etc.., I am a big fat zero and the struggles I faced to complete my Botany and Zoology record notebooks in high-school remain proof of my drawing skills. A lot of stuff went just way beyond my head, there were passages of explanations, there were poems, animated videos playing, all in different places of the property. Everywhere the young ones were busy taking selfies and it was becoming just damn exasperating to actually focus, relish and savour the fragrance/feeling of art for art’s sake.

I scribble stuff that I pass on as verse, a DSLR or a fairly decent smart phone camera lets you shoot photographs, does it qualify as art?

As I walked and walked and explored the sights and sounds of the old Jew Town area, I just had two thoughts that kept coming back!

What is art? Who is an artist?

If the idea was to promote local art and artisans and artists – why bring in so many people from abroad to feature their work here and half of it can’t be understood by the general public!

Why not promote the work of local artists? India has some great fine arts colleges, works by the staff and students needs proper coverage, not a name’s worth token gallery space.

TM Krishna concert and a concert by Thaikkudam Bridge complete the festivities.

Well organised, good opportunity for sales at the cafes like the Kashi Art Gallery and Cafe. Sell cakes and pastas at a price that’s not too high, nor too low, generate good business for local shops, autos and the premier heritage hotels as well as the small back-packer hostels and homestays, everyone gets a share of the money-pie. A good initiative indeed!

As I said, I do not understand art, the concepts, the ideas, portrayed.

A painting or a sculpture should hold my attention and I should understand what it is all about without a two-page guide to what it is all about. I guess art-loving people know a lot more and they can relish the experiences that the Biennale offers.

I am a commoner, I just visited as a normal tourist. I was left with a feeling of emptiness at the end of it all. Art did not inspire, elevate or nurture joy in me. I was left with a vast void and I realized that the entire premise caters to two diverse categories – those who understand the intricacies of art and cherish the place and the other group that goes about posing and clicking selfies. I felt like Trishanku or rather a shunyaku who could not fit in any bracket.

See you two years down the line, hopefully, I might grasp a drop’s worth of learning about the ocean of art!

Maanga-Oorga {Mango-Pickle}

I started a novel called Rangu – This is an independent short story starring Rangu that will hopefully be a chapter in the novel somewhere in the many chapters in my mind and hopefully will get typed or written in a a notebook.

The summer would start in its intensity in early March itself. If we were lucky, the rain-gods would shower a bit of their bounty in the end of February, a gentle calm before the intense summer-wave that would envelop us for the next four months. Once those showers in February would cool the earth; we would set out to the ‘maan-thoppu’ – the mango orchard. The zamindar’s property stretched across the length and breadth of the seven villages to the east of the River Bhadra. The mango orchard was strategically placed right at the end of the boundaries of our little village. Meena and I would go to the orchard. Shambu thatha was the caretaker at the orchard, he would break into a smile on seeing us and say “Rangu Swami, Meena yaejamani vaango’ {Come Rangu Sir and Princess Meena}.

The rains on the gentle earth, the fragrance that linguists now call ‘petrichor’ would permeate the air. There were flowering shrubs of hibiscus, jasmine and some wild forest-flowers as well. We had the permission to pick all the fruits that had fallen down in the overnight rains. I had a sack that I would stuff with the green mangoes, some would have ripened and the sweetness of the fruits as we bit into them and talked and walked back home.

Once Meena would be left at her house, I would walk down to our humble hovel.  Amma would wash all the green mangoes in luke warm water. Then I would wipe them clean in an old white veshti that belonged to Appa; a memory of which I had no proper recollection. The mangoes would be wiped dry and then Amma would hand me the ‘aruvamanai’ a slicer set in a wooden frame. You need to slice the mangoes in a specific way and ensure that the seed did not get into the way of the sliced mangoes. It takes practice and having observed Amma slicing them for so many years, I naturally set about assisting Amma in the kitchen. Studies did not work out, the fees, the situation, the need to cross the river to reach the town; were all too many troubles for a young widow and her son. By Mama’s grace we were allowed to set up a tiffin stall outside the temple and I would help Amma there and also assist in cleaning the temple premises, ringing the bell, washing the temple vessels and other such stuff that kept the fire running in our kitchen. Every day and night Amma would tell me – “Rangu, you are destined for bigger things; keep working hard, Eashwaran will show us the way!”

The mangoes would be sliced and then be placed in a huge jar of salt and chilli powder. The jar would be sealed tight with a white cloth and for five days the sun in all its intensity would bestow goodness to the jar of sliced mangoes. On the sixth morning, Amma would get a huge cast-iron cheenchatti (heavy-bottomed cauldron). The sesame oil would take its time to heat on the wood-fired oven. Amma would then add mustard, as it would crackle, then she would add freshly ground red chillies, fenugreek seeds, turmeric and asafotedia and stir the potent mixture and then would come the moment of glory when the sliced mangoes would be added. Then my next task of gently stirring the mixture with a wooden stirrer would start. The smoke would be cumbersome but the fragrance of the spices and the green mangoes would be enough to bear all the smoke and water that would seep out of my eyes. Amma would know the exact time when the mangoes would have been cooked sufficiently and she would supervise the stirring at intervals and tell me when to stop and ask me to extinguish the fire. After a while the cauldron would be removed from the oven and kept to cool, covered with the banana leaves. The steam kissing the banana leaves and then again returning to the mangoes in the cauldron would impart a distinct flavor to the pickles. They would then be packed in glass jars. As per custom, the first three bottles would go to Zamindar Ayya’s house and Amma would give the first bottle to Meena. Then the remaining bottles would be sent to the houses from which the orders would have come for Annaporani’s pickles. Amma was fondly known as Annapoorani. It was a matter of pride and common knowledge that no one had ever left hungry from our house, in even the most desperate of times.

FAST FORWARD TWENTY YEARS

Zamindar Ayya had sent us an invitation and I was happy to know that I would be able to meet Meena after all these years. The little pony-tailed girl has grown into a beautiful princess, college-educated and a doctor. A matter of great pride for all of us! The first person from our village to have become a doctor. The wedding is in Madrasapattanam, people say the city is called Chennai; but for old-timers like me it will always remain Madrasapattanam. The blue coloured-nool-pattu saree with the mango pattern was ready to be gifted with the sacred kumkumam from the Devi-Sannidhi. What else? What else could I gift her??

I looked at Amma’s portrait in the swami-room. I kept the invitation next to the portrait and spoke –“Amma, Meena’s getting married! I could almost sense her presence and all of a sudden I could smell mangoes cooking in spices! Yes, that’s it, I would give her a bottle of pickles as well. Let me see, if she remembers me!!

The wedding was conducted at a massive mandapam, there were over 4,000 guests and it was a busy affair with all the big city-people talking on their mobile phones and clicking selfies. When I reached the mandapam, the rituals were already underway and at the appointed auspicious moment the thaali was tied. Meena looked resplendent the bride all attired in the ceremonial yellow silk saree and gold jewellery. The groom was a doctor as well and the couple looked lovely together. The big city folks and the family-members handed over their gifts to the newly wedded couple. Zamindar Ayya spotted me in the crowd and beckoned me to come up on stage. I felt a bit embarrassed; the country-bumpkin with his yellow cloth bag and khadi shirt and kaavi veshti. Ayya asked Meena – “Do you remember him?” Meena stared at me befuddled. I took out the mango-pickle bottle and a rush of memories flooded through Meena’s eyes and her eyes turned moist as she said – “Rangu!!!  Maanga Oorga”