Archive for December, 2009

Streets With No Name

Posted: December 31, 2009 in Poetry

 

Passing cars, spewing smoke

Skidding tires and signal lights

Traffic jams and vacuous stares

Pale lights and neon signs

Skyscrapers and falling shacks

Grimy façade seeming heartless

Potholed streets with gaping eyes

Lose a step and totter down

Stench of death and muddied thoughts

Selling a dream to anyone around

Shadows of the night beckon

Raw, untamed the human spirit

Looking up for benefaction

Rounds of gunfire and lost lives
 Walking on with sole less shoes
Hole in the heart and grimy too
Pinch me now, shake me up

Here today, gone tomorrow

All that’s left of a yesterday

Just a few more nameless streets

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Urban Serengeti

Posted: December 31, 2009 in Poetry

 

 

 

Walking down the streets of life

I take a turn first left, then right

I cross the street and run

Run some more faltering

The vertical boxes and

Zebra crossings, trapping me

And daring me…

 

Neon signs and halogen lamps

Casting shadows big and small

Just sitting by the sidewalk

Staring at cars whizzing by

Shouldn’t I be in one of them?

Just driving down the

Winding road…

 

Just me and my self

And a thousand thoughts

The music blaring and

Passing milestones

Just free as a bird

Taking me away, to secret places

Away from this urban life…

 

Where life stands still

And time is just a frozen word

Where night blends into day

And stars shine with the sun

No questions asked

Nor answers sought!

Ghost of Chemannu House

Posted: December 27, 2009 in Fictional stories

 

     Grandma carried the lamp in her frail hands to the courtyard. She placed it gently in front of the holy Basil plant. Bowing her hands and closing her eyes she whispered

Narayana! Narayana! Narayana!”

   She started to sing a religious hymn and soon the other members of the house joined in. The melodious hymns wafted gently out of the house into the surroundings. The twittering birds were flying back home as the approaching sunset filled the skies with various shades of red. A couple of parrots lingered on, atop the giant Tamarind tree and squeaked in tune. They seemed to be enjoying the songs and didn’t want to leave for the day. The evening seemed magical and a divine peace enveloped the house like a comfortable blanket.

 Grandma finished singing, bowed her hands and walked around distributing vermillion to the rest of the family. This was the daily routine and calmed everyone down before bedtime. It was also the favorite time when she enthralled her young audience with interesting stories. With bulging eyes and rapt attention the grand-kids sat around her captivated.
The occasional mosquito was slapped away in a hurry and parental calls were ignored. The youngest of the kids, five-year-old Manu refused to attend even nature’s call, for fear of loosing the thread of the story. He usually ended up wetting his pants at the conclusion of the story. Grandma’s story- telling abilities were legendary. Sometimes the parents joined in ignoring their chores. On other days, the neighbors walked into the courtyard and sat around in the porch listening to her stories.

Grandma drew a long horizontal line on her forehead with the vermillion and sat down on the floor leaning against the pillar. She usually enthralled her audiences with stories from the Ramayana or Mahabharata. Today she was in no mood for that. She looked around and asked

“Do you want to hear a different kind of story today?”

The kids clapped their hand in delight. Any story from grandma was welcomed by them. Grandma cleared her throat and started her story:

“Long time back the Chemannu house in the corner of Singari estate, on the banks of the river, had a large joint-family living in it. The head of the family, the matriarch, the daughters, sons and their spouses…then their children…six children…shared one roof. The Chemannu house was very famous then. They were the descendents of the Dewan of Travancore. They were very wealthy and also very generous. Every day, several people, mostly the laborers, stopped by and waited for the matriarch to step out and donate food, clothes or money to them. The matriarch was Parvathiamma. People revered her and sang her praises.”

  “Temple elephants stopped by and blessed the house after the nirapara* was filled at the doorstep. The Temple oracles offered vermilion to the inmates after invoking the Almighty’s blessings. Some evenings, Kathakali performances were held on a makeshift dais. The villagers were also invited on those nights. Those were the glory days. Parvathiamma gradually succumbed to illness and eventually died. The Chemmannu house lost their matriarch and it was as if the sheen of the house vanished.”

“The responsibility of managing the house and serving alms fell on Sunanda. She was the youngest daughter and very beautiful. People sometimes waited just to get a glimpse of her. She was not only lovely but very compassionate. She made no distinction between the castes and usually ignored the hierarchy that was so omnipresent during those days.” Grandma walked over to the spittoon. She resumed her story.

 “On one such day as she was handing out alms she met Vasu who worked in their coconut plantation. Vasu was mesmerized with Sunanda and Sunanda was captivated with Vasu’s simplicity and honesty. The admiration soon turned romantic and before they realized they were engulfed with love and passion for one another. Their secret rendezvous went unnoticed initially. Eventually the word spread near and far that the lady of Chemmannu house was dallying with Vasu of a lower caste.
Sunanda bore the brunt of snide remarks both from her family and outsiders. She was ex-communicated from the family and soon the whole village was talking about the affair. She was often barricaded in the attic, a price she had to pay for sullying the name of the clan. Vasu was chased out of the property and later from the village by the family henchmen. Nobody heard of him later.

On one fateful day the body of Sunanda was fished out of the well. She had killed herself unable to withstand the indignities unleashed on her and the inability to see Vasu had almost driven her insane. The family was ruined and fate took a strange twist. Bad luck descended on the house and destroyed the family. The villagers say they used to hear laughter from the ruins of Chemmannu house. Several of them had seen a yakshi in white robes with long tresses floating around the ruins on a full moon day. They say it was Sunanda’s restless spirits. Nobody even wanted to buy the property after that.”

Ammooma’s story had the desired effect. The petrified children huddled close to their parents and nobody stirred. Manu looked around the nalukettu in fear and promptly wet his pants. Savithri, ammooma’s daughter chided her for telling scary stories

Endina verude Pedipikkunada?”*
The neighbor reluctantly prepared to return home in the dark after lighting up dried coconut-fronds for a torch.

  Ammooma stood up and faced her audience. She said

“There’s a reason why I said this story. My uncle’s son was Vasu. He was a half-brother of sorts to me. So this is part of our family history and I want you all to know the truth, before you hear it from elsewhere.”

Grandma’s story shocked everybody in the family to silence. In those days it was customary in Kerala to have more than one wife and also a mistress tucked away somewhere. So Vasu was indirectly linked to the family and also to the Chemmannu house which was now in ruins.

Grandma slowly walked into the innards of the house, relieved of the burden that she carried around with her for several years.

 ‘Now I can die in peace’ she muttered and closed the door of the pooja room. The tinkling of the bell and the religious hymns from ammooma’s prayers filled the house once again.

——————————————————————

Nalukettu* :    Open courtyard in the middle of the house

Chandanam *: Sandalwood paste

Nirapara *:  Metal barrel filled with rice and fresh flowers
of the Coconut tree. 

Endina verude Pedipikkunada?”*: Why are you scaring them?

 

 

Another Day in Paradise

Posted: December 26, 2009 in Non-Fiction

 

 The battleground is quiet; the din of warfare is lulled by a silence that is deafening. The bodies lay strewn all over. Some perished without a prayer on their lips. The others had time to gaze at the sky and welcome the momentary silence. A few just stared as their glassy eyes looked around at their fallen brethren, thinking why it all ended this way.

The same place was rattled by sabers a few minutes ago, the place where a thousand bombshells had unloaded itself with all its might, another invention to maim more. The battle-scarred returned to fight yet another war, to go home and regale the ‘alive’ with their deeds of bravery.

 The canons rested with a few wisps of smoke, lazily finding its way out into the air that was loaded with the stench of death and vulgarity. The men had fought for a piece of land that they each claimed to be their own. When did the land they lived on become so much a possession to fight, maim and kill worthlessly? The malediction is here to stay. Out there in the horizon I see the sky turning crimson with the blood of our ancestors and our today.

 The sharp edge of the knife cuts through the body of another and a war cry pierces the night sky. Another abode torched while yet another explosion rocks the surface, in a distance and in the daylight we see a glimpse of the tortuous cycles, vanquished and erected on a monument of what is called faith.

 Awake and alive yet seeing this beautiful world going into pieces is not what was envisioned while growing up. When the sweet innocence died out and questions stopped asking, since answers were hard to come by, then the mystery no longer appealed. Waking up every morning unsure what is in it for some and others.

 The circle of life incomplete for most; as they inhale the fresh air in the morning and find themselves blown to smithereens in a second. An undignified end to human passions and survival, handing it out on a platter for another to extinguish in a second, is what it has come to. And so we wear blinkers in an effort to mask and see only what we want to see. Our life on hold we cannot put, for it goes on. And whatever happens in it, around it and to it, is a summation of that existence taking choice cuts and dumping the rest in the sea of humanity, obliterating memories that cut deep.

 Cauterizing the pain, pushing unsavory scenes behind us,  into the recesses of our minds, re-write history books and change the geography of our hand–drawn maps, segregating people into little demarcated territories, telling them ‘you stay within that’. Cataclysmic events everyday throwing us off-track from a neatly conjectured and pre- ordained life and sometimes written out in our heads all jumbled up.

 We walk around, doing our tasks, in a stupor, part of our brain seeing, feeling, touching, and reaching out at a distance to all, yet unable to touch, Somewhere in between the hand freezes as walls are erected in the fog, a  defense mechanism to avoid hurt and pain. An act from one human to another with strings of understanding their pain and a desire to mitigate it and see them happy as everybody should be.

 A deep rooted desire to achieve balance and equilibrium, to find one’s own centre of bliss, in harmony with the world, not wanting to become a  robot, de-humanized to the plight of what goes on around us. Not wanting to walk away from the stench of human life getting wasted, holding our nostrils high and away to ignore the scent of life, as it turns putrid and assails us. Trying to seek retribution for every soul out there, taking on more than one can handle, yet wanting to be a part of it all to avoid obfuscation between ‘feeling’ and being ‘dead’ alive.

 And so I turn the TV and the radio off and toss the headline news in the trash, trying to get the circulation back in my head, as I hike up the mountain, the nearest thing to heaven, far away from all that I don’t want to see but stares at me gaping, grasping, beckoning me into its merciless currents and I am saying I don’t want any part of its madness as I scramble higher and higher, breathless but sane.

 Then I halt to smell the wildflowers and inhale the crisp air that has been around the world thinking, “Who the heck has seen paradise? Paradise is wherever and whatever the mind wants it to be.”

 So I rush back and hug my little ones, thinking ‘hopefully when our generation passes away you will still have a wonderful world to live in.’

 

——————–

Guns and Roses in Life

Posted: December 25, 2009 in Fictional stories
Tags: , ,

 

“Mark Atkins!” “Mark, attention boy; we are on the roll again!”

 

 The voice thundered and boomed in his head. The intonation of it was not lost on him. He woke up with a start and stared around him. The darkness of the room hit him like an opaque wall. His eyes peered desperately for any sign of life around him. The ticking of the clock was all he heard. He fell back on the pillows and slapped his forehead with his palm and willed himself to sleep. After an hour of tossing and turning his tired mind blanked out and passed out into a deep sleep.

 

 This was his third week after his return from deputation in Iraq. He was physically present at home but mentally far away in a distant land that was not only different in terrain and people but a world apart in culture and beliefs. He was so used to walking around in his army fatigues with a rifle slung on his shoulder and heavy soled shoes. His eyes were constantly on the watch. Every time his army cavalcade moved around the troubled hot spots the brain was in high gear listening, watching, and waiting for the sound of gunfire and an ambush. His nerves were frayed. Two weeks back an army cavalcade was ambushed and he had lost his dear friend Sgt. Steven Miller. Steven was from the 2nd battalion, 16th infantry, 4th brigade combat team the news had announced that night. They had returned his body home, with full honors with the country’s flag wrapped around the coffin. Mark had died on that day and every other day when another innocent was killed. Some days it was his men, some days the innocent people of the land who just wanted it all to end.

 Peace was nowhere in sight and those who battled on were loosing their confidence steadily. Nobody knew why the war was being fought anymore. The clarity of vision was lost but patriotism towards their homeland drove them on. They were soldiers.. They had to fight no matter what. There was no room for negotiations. It was to do and die. They had chosen that path and it was a matter of honor. They were duty bound. They saw it day in and day out. The innocent were being killed, life disrupted, a lack of order, children unable to attend school, men of the house unable to work regularly for fear of being killed in a bomb blast and as if this wasn’t enough they lost their friends one after the other . The coffins did not stop going home.  They weren’t even featured in the eight-O-clock headline news anymore. Of course! The rest of the country had to eat their dinner in peace while watching TV. It was only the mothers and the nearest of kin who would suffer for the rest of their life. There would be state honors and an epitaph that spoke of another brilliant soldier who gave up his life. A widow, an orphan, a child without a father or mother would be the consequence, just like any other war. They would cope eventually and move on.

 Mark’s wife Linda snuggled closer to him and held him tight. She hadn’t seen much of him since their marriage. He hadn’t seen their new born either. Linda had managed with help from relatives to bring up their little one. Frequent calls and letters were their only means of communication. She had forgotten how it felt to be holding him close and cuddling with him on a cold winter night in New London. She had forgotten how he smelt or felt for that matter. So had he. But life had not gone back to routine and it wasn’t easy for either of them. Marks recurring nightmares had disrupted their life and he had become strangely aloof. There were times when he felt like a social outcast. Memories, mostly harsh ones of his friends dying in his arms and seeing torn flesh and gory blood had numbed his senses way more than he had imagined. Linda was a stranger to him now and he was coping, knowing her and loving her all over again. Linda had to be excruciatingly patient and helpful with him.

 

 Mark’s steady breathing calmed Linda’s mind. She looked into the darkness and wondered who the stranger in her bed was. Where was he? Somewhere in Iraq she had lost her husband and had to reclaim him all over again. Tears flowed down her cheeks silently wetting the pillow. She held him closer, like a mother protecting her child. She wanted him back so badly that it hurt.

 

 A strange guttural sound emanated from Mark and he sat upright screaming in agony. His hands flailed in the darkness, shielding his eyes. He was mouthing something in a language Linda did not understand. Linda jumped up and turned on the light, flooding the room with its intensity. She tucked Mark’s head into the curve of her shoulders and patted him gently whispering his name. This was a routine now. Those nightmares wouldn’t go away. Mark opened his eyes and looked at Linda, the realization dawning on him. His body racked with sobs as he silently shed tears. He held her and cried.

 

 “I am sorry baby! I can’t help it!” he said.

 “It’s okay! Its okay,” she said calming him.

 

 A child’s cry from the nursery brought them back to the awareness of another person, whose needs were more urgent. Linda disengaged herself and left the room to attend to the little one. Mark crashed back on to the pillows and stared hard at the ceiling numbed and spent.

 Days passed on into months and somewhere along those days that stretched endlessly, a life had to come back to normalcy. Mark coped, learned and re-learned to be human again. The pain was evident occasionally but time had made those memories more hazy and bearable.

 There were others who had lost a limb or had lost the fight to survive. But he wasn’t giving up easy. Not tomorrow or ever. He owed it to his family and to himself. He had to find his bearings and un-become the Zombie that he had come to be. He had to make the rest of his life a bed of roses to protect his sanity and for the rest of his family. It was a hard climb but he did so eventually just like those before him and after him. The personal hell he had gone through would stay tucked away in him memories and safely in the fissures of his mind.

    ————————————

 Note: The views and opinions here are personal and not meant to offend anyone’s sensibilities about the war.

 

 

Somewhere

Posted: December 24, 2009 in Poetry

Somewhere

 

Somewhere it traveled on…I saw entrails of a past

Somewhere the road ended…I saw lost tracks running

Somewhere the track stopped…I saw they twisted out

Somewhere there I was standing and watching

 

Somewhere in the sanctuary…I ran in wild abandon

Somewhere in the recess of my mind… I danced a song

Somewhere in the path to success…I stopped a minute

Somewhere there I glanced and smiled

 

Somewhere out there a light…I closed my eyes

Somewhere in my sleep I dreamt…walking on the edge

Somewhere along the journey…I saw serenity

Somewhere there I stopped to breathe

 

Somewhere in a deja-vu…I erased it all

Somewhere in my ethereal self…I slipped again

Somewhere winding through…I found the reason

Somewhere there the tracks ended

Crossings

Posted: December 24, 2009 in Poetry

Crossings

 I walked this path before

I tremble as I see it

I know the destination

But I turn around again

It’s a sign they say

Seeing a shadow on the wall

It’s a path they say

Seeing the faith written out

But I don’t see it that way

So I walk away

Yet another time

The gates are open

Calling me in smiling

I take the other route

And find my own garden

A place I rest before I start

Yet another journey

I smile and say goodbye

An unchained spirit

My world is what I see

And a path stretched

Much beyond me…

—————

(On religion )