Sunday, January 30, 2011


my muse deserted me

leaving behind a vacuum

which grows and grows

and engulfs.

how did I frighten it away?

will it ever return?

dwelling in a vacuum

is no fun.

thoughts drift in

and drift away.

like a yo-yo

with the string snapped

i roll away and stop

in some corner

till the cleaner sweeps me off and dumps me

in the waste bin

to be trashed.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Of Sabarimala, Makara Vilakku and Rationalists.

Every disaster is followed by a cacophony of protests. Some of these sounds are those of legitimate, rightful anger, like the ones we have after the terrible Sabarimala tragedy. Nevertheless, I stubbornly insist on including them in the cacophony. Anger, though legitimate, blinds and blind anger usually causes discord rather than harmony.

The stampede at Sabarimala left us horrified. In my case, I just left me speechless. Disasters killing pilgrims has been a common thing. It defied all traditional logic from which we inherit the faith that those who seek the almighty will always come under the cover of His protection. In deep distress and silence I tried to find harmony in this cacophony – but failed. I read angry blogs cursing the State for its carelessness, for perpetuating the myth of Makara Vilakku. Numb with distress, I read furious blogs, letters to the editors challenging the very God concept.

Harmony, I guess, lies in the ears of the listener, and this listener, accustomed to another harmony failed in the effort to tune my ears to the medley of sounds. The notes that jarred most were in those angry tunes which thematised on the dismissal of the existence of God.

I only know one thing. God cannot exist within the rational jurisdiction of human thinking. One must exist outside this field to see God. To say what cannot be grasped by the faculty of human reason does not exist is both arrogant and foolish. To dismiss every phenomenon that does not lend itself to a rational explanation, as superstition and bullshit amounts to circumscribing life within boring boundaries. Life with all its complexities and gray areas and inexplicable phenomena cannot be demystified so rationally, so simplistically, for goodness sake! Only the instinctual man can have nirvanic glimpses into those areas.

Regarding the raging controversy about Makara Vilakku and Makarajyothi – it is ridiculous to claim that only the brilliant malayalees know that it is a man-made fire and that the non-malayalee pilgrims are idiots who foolishly believe that it is divine. What arrogance! The typical disgusting mallu conceit. We should make a survey of the pilgrims from outside the state before branding them as imbeciles with no common sense in their heads. During my commuting days, I used to have Sabarimala pilgrims from outside our enlightened state as travel companions, and I haven’t heard even one of them claim that Makaravilakku is the outcome of divine intervention. In fact, it is from a group of pilgrims from Andhra that I first heard about the “complicity” (as rationalists would have it) of the KSEB in creating the facilities for the burning of the camphor by tribals.

“Why do you still want to witness the Makaravilakku?” asked my friend.

‘What happens at all religious services – be it in Temples or Churches? Aren’t they executed by human agency in the form of priests? Aren’t priests human? Yet we believe in a divine presence and intervention, don’t we?’

That made sense.

Yes. That’s the truth of the matter. The divine presence and intervention happen in the human heart and mind, and not in the external event. It takes a gigantic leap of faith over and outside the Lakshman Rekha marked by the rationalists to experience God. Thus it is that man goes to Sabarimala and Tirupathi and Velankanni and Jerusalem and Mecca. It’s part of that search for God which man has indulged in from time immemorial, and continues and will continue to eternity despite Bertrand Russels and Tsunamis.

Blame the negligence of the state for the disaster. Or the commercialization agenda of vested interests. But not that quest for divine with which man was born.

If anyone thinks that all this hullabaloo about Makara Vilakku and Makara Jyothi will snuff out that lamp of faith in the heart of those who believe, they are mistaken. It takes more than a mere cacophony to terminate that quest for the Holy Grail.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Nurses of Kerala: The Unsung Heroines

Some years back, i was invited to give the keynote address at the graduating ceremony of nursing students. As usual, i went with a well prepared speech. But i hadn’t bargained for the intense solemnity of the occasion, and when my turn came to speak, i couldn’t. I was overwhelmed by the sight of the forty odd graduating nurses dressed in white, looking up at me expectantly, seriously. I suddenly felt a lump in my throat and i found myself questioning my locus standi. My position on the rostrum implied the possession of a level of wisdom and a certain degree of competence which qualified me to advise these young ladies who had made a conscious decision to do God’s own work on earth. I felt humble and wholly inadequate all on sudden. My well prepared speech suddenly looked hollow and lacking in auchitya.

My extended silence must have puzzled the audience comprising the graduating students, and members of the management running the nursing school. I could have reeled out the well crafted speech but something wouldn’t let me. On an impulse, i took the audience into confidence. I told them about my predicament. Now i don’t remember the details of the speech, but i do know that whatever i told them came straight from my heart. And the feeling uppermost in me then was a sense of awe at the nobility of those young ladies who chose a life of sacrifice in the service of mankind in pain.

Recently, i had the occasion to go to the Heart Hospital in Bandra. Almost all the nurses there were from kerala. The patients were raving about them, their efficiency, their dedication and friendly nature. I felt proud of belonging to the state they hailed from.

The contribution of these women to the famous kerala model cannot be overrated. I wonder if we in Kerala realise and acknowledge the role of these professionals in enhancing the economic condition of the state. The Diaspora of our women nurses not only to other parts of India, but to all parts of the planet has brought economic stability to a huge number of families across the state. Many of these families would have gone under in those difficult days of social change when land failed to support them, and unemployment was rampant. Young women from traditional families trained themselves for this noble profession and went far and wide to serve humanity and bring income to their struggling families.

I do not know if the heavy contribution of this category of women is officially acknowledged. I do not know if statistics are available to see how many families have prospered on the hard-earned money of these heroines.

And women taking up the nursing profession is not a recent phenomenon. The trend had started long before independence and increased geometrically after that. When times were bad for the once moderately landed gentry in the interiors of kerala, the brave young daughters took upon themselves the onus of taking care of the families. They did not leave it to the males as was the tradition in the heavily patriarchal society of kerala. They chose not to languish in overprotection that the society decrees for women. Instead they decided to stand shoulder to shoulder with the sons to find a profession for themselves and sustenance for the families.

Today nurses from Kerala are a much sought after category, thanks to these women’s exemplary performance in this field for several decades. The profession has become not only very lucrative, but also a launching pad to go abroad. This has attracted males also to this profession and there is a marked increase in men taking up nursing as a profession in kerala.

Kudos to our superwomen, and big thank you from us in Kerala.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Of Onions and Terrorism

In the late nineties, the price of onions soared, aiming, as it were, for the abode of Gods. We were in Mumbai then, and this phenomenon gave nightmares not only to the government which was on the verge of being kicked out by this bulb plant, and domestic cuisine managers like me, but also to my school going son!

The phenomenon now returns. Looks like the average Indian’s purchasing power has increased substantially – that’s why, Vis a Vis the nineties, no State or Central government is tottering, no deafening protests are heard and no nightmares haunt the common man. The BPL man just decides to go without a food item that is obscenely priced – a piece of wisdom that the middle class has not yet acquired.

I tweeted asking for onion-free recipes. Since no one reads or sees my tweets, I got no help from netavians (don’t look up the dictionary – it’s my coinage). But onions opened my eyes to the truth that one has to be a celebrity to have anyone take your tweets seriously. With the net world deluged by twittering sounds, only the rare or exceptionally harmonious tunes, or those emanating from rare or celebrated species will be heard. So am not grumbling. Griping, after all, is not the privilege of the nonentity.

Recently, with a group of ladies, I took a day off to a resort far from the crowd maddened by the exorbitant onion. But there was no escape from onions. I met a lady in the group who became an instant celebrity with the announcement that her cuisine has known no onions. I put in that extra effort for us to become the best of friends. After all one has to learn to live without onions. The plethora of onion-free recipes that was in her kitty excited me and I resolved to try them out one by one. But, I must confess, I haven’t yet begun. Am waiting for the last of the onions (which I use oh! So sparingly)from my last purchase to get over. Mebbe by then, onion prices would come down, with the raids on hoarders that’s going on and the onion treaty with Pakistan signed though after much hiccups.

Let’s hope Pakistan would not hold us to ransom with onions to let go of Kashmir. Forgive me, but I think for the common man, onions at the moment are more important than Kashmir. Oops, I mean the celebrity Indian, not the common man. I have no way of gauging the mood of the common man on Kashmir – he is not very vocal about it. But celebrities yes, they go up the Himalayas and down the Valley screaming themselves hoarse about setting Kashmir free from the brutal Indian soldier! Of late, they’ve been silent. Guess the onions have got to them too.

Talking of Pakistan and India, it appears as though onions would break the ice between the two countries. For time being at least, Pak has agreed to export onions instead of terrorists. This is the best news we’ve had for two decades. I get a gut feeling that if the people of India and Pakistan take over from the politicians, governments and ISI, and leave the rest to onions, peace will descend on the subcontinent and goodwill will prevail among the citizens of India and Pakistan.

PS. An extract from the conversation I had with my daughter before she started from the US to visit us.

R: Amma, what do you want me to get for you from here?

Me: How much are you allowed?

R: 40 KG.

ME: How much to spare?

R: More than 15 KG. What do you want?

ME: Onions.

R: You crazy, Ma?

Me: Yes. Onion crazy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011


Why do you weep? Did you think I was immortal?
Louis XIV, King of France

A post I read a couple of days back triggered off these thoughts on Death, that only certainty in life.

No one who is, ever asked to be born. I am sure if we were given the choice after being comprehensively informed about the balance sheet of life, many - except perhaps the very adventurous and dare devil types - would have opted out of life. Didn’t someone say more fortunate than the king or the emperor is a stillborn child?

Yes. Life, though beautiful, can be exceedingly painful too.

And sometimes life goes so totally out of our control that we get completely cornered, and walls of despair close in on us and we can only watch on helplessly.

But the irony of it is nobody wants to give up life when that invitation is extended by death.

And, alas! Death is a certainty.

The uncertainties of life are numerous, and the only certainty about it is that we will have to leave it behind someday. It's not a cheery thought even though life can sometimes be akin to a torturing rack. Despite all its miseries, we want to hang on. Some say it's because of man's fear of the unknown - that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.

At the base of the story of science is man's desire to eradicate death. From the time of Adam and Eve who tried eating what they thought was the fruit of life which would defeat death, that effort continues. Medical science tries to do the next best thing. If death cannot be destroyed, it can at least be deferred. And postponing death is gaining another lease of life, ironically, with its baggage of problems! From alchemy to cloning, the goal is the same – destroy the destroyer who has stalked man ever since the birth of organism.

Riding in tandem with science are arts, religion and philosophy, all attempting to terminate death. Their tool of annihilation is lexical. Donne used convoluted arguments, aesthetically worded to establish the victory of life over death. Death be not proud, he sang .

Religions try every trick in the book to convince us that death is not the final curtain but a curtain raiser to immortality. Thus, death defeats itself. Buddha taught us how to deal with death. The best way, he pointed out, was to wipe the smirk off its face, and he showed us how to do it. Don’t be intimidated by it, he urged. There is no gloating for the victor if the vanquished is unaffected. The strategy to achieve this state of mind was so complex that his disciples did not grasp it, and disseminated a simplistic version of his wisdom, doing severe injustice to the great man’s complex philosophy!

The much extolled survival instinct of man, as we know, implies a combat against that foe called death which we know will ultimately be the victor. Go down fighting is the attitude about which much is written and sung but the subtext of all the paeans is that our attempts though heroic are all in vain. That adds poignancy to the death narrative. If we look close enough, we’ll recognize that this is actually a sour grape attitude, which goes something like what if we die so long as we die well, showing no fear of death. Thus it is that we blow up to epic proportions the victory over the bitterness of death of those people who laughed at death in the face – like a Sir Thomas Moore who removed his beard from the execution block because it grew after he was sentenced to death, and therefore was innocent of the crime for which he was being beheaded; or a Karl Marx who hollered at his housekeeper who wanted his last words, Go on, get out, he yelled, last words are for fools who haven't said enough; or that Italian painter Pietro Perugino who refused to take his last sacrament saying that he was curious to find our what’d happen to a person who died without it!

Suicide too is extolled (thought not by the state or moralists) by bards because it is perceived as outsmarting death. The person here grabs the bull by its horns before the bull gets him/her. Appealing suicides, however, happens only in stories –not in life. Shakespeare was one for romanticizing and glamourising suicide. Remember Romeo and Juliet, or still better, Cleopatra (though I can never understand why she chose that revolting reptile to do the deed!).

When people choose death over life for principles or convictions, I guess that’s a true victory. It is a pooh poohing of death. It’s an I’d rather die a thousand deaths than betray the life sustaing rules of precious life type of attitude. Ironically, it’s a choice of life over death! An establishing of the superiority of life over death. It’s the ultimate dismissal of death as an inconsequential phenomenon before which life will not bow down.

I know those post is getting me nowhere, and the only thing I have done is to trivialize the only certainty in life. But then, what else should we mortals do? Shiver and shake before this terminator whom we have known from the moment our existence began, this stalker who seems infatuated with us humans? True, there are no authorities to whom we can appeal to place restraining order on this stalker. But we can at least turn our nose up at it, right? Millions have died before us. Millions will die after us. So there’s nothing unique about death. Therefore, let’s not give it more importance than it deserves.

Sour grapes? :-)