Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Lively Waves

My God!" I mourned. The clock showed 7'o clock when I woke up from my siesta. If I had slept more, I would have really regretted it. Without going out on the weekend, it is not possible to start afresh on Monday. There would be some mental block, some disappointment. Already the day had passed by without any fun for me, cooped up alone in my room. My room mates had gone to spend the holidays at home.

The tea was not good. Though the warmth helped me to shake away the drowsiness caused by a heavy lunch and nap. I wore a casual shirt and formal trousers (have to wash plenty of clothes, no water!).'

Marina,' Chennai beloved beach, was filled with charm. It was 8 p.m. but still I could see a good crowd, a blend of rich and poor; young and old; men and women; people of all religion. It is the only place where fun is assured for all, whatever their socio-economic status. Where people do not exhibit their status. Where all the entertainment comes free of cost. Everyone keen on having fun without worrying about the people around them or what they did.

I started walking along the beach. Passed big families sitting on bed-spreads, eating home-made delicacies, gossiping, laughing, kids monkeying. Passed tiny families, couples on romantic tête-à-têtes unmindful of what their children were doing. Passed gangsters teasing passers-by and fighting among themselves. Passed boys playing volleyball. Passed ice cream vendors and 'fast-food stalls.' Reached that dark area reserved for pairs. Some looked married, some unmarried, some decently behaved and some indecent (may be I am old fashioned).

Bought a cone of boiled peanuts. Nibbling on them, I walked among the crowd, sometimes casually looking up at the sky or looking at the waves, sometimes even closely watching what the pairs were doing. As I am used to seeing such scenes, I was not disturbed by them, though I couldn't help watching them deliberately. Yes, it might be a little crass, but I am curious. If they are not shy of making love in public, why should I feel embarrassed to watch what they do? Passed those pairs too.

Walked farther with the ultimate goal of tiring myself out. As a software engineer, I had to physically tire myself out at least once a week, to get good sleep and maintain good health.

I bet I was the only one alone on the beach. Recently I have started worrying about the loneliness. I am used to spending time alone, even entertaining myself. Never before have I missed company. Back home I would go to movies and parks on my own. When those memories struck my mind, I turned towards the sea. I decided to have some fun on the shore and walked fast. I walked almost 2 kms. Breathing fast I sat down on the shore. There were people sitting on the shore, on the catamarans (I have a deep desire to travel on one of them) and playing with the waves.

"Sir, sundal," a hawker disturbed me. A "No" came from my subconscious mind.

The waves were too quick. The sea was a little ferocious. I haven't seen the sea like that before. The wind blew with great force. The new moon day was only a couple of days ago. There was an even trail between the darkness showered by the sky and the 'floodlights' from the roadside. I finished my peanuts. I could no longer just watch the marvelous scenery. I entered the inviting waves. Every wave was overcome by a successive one. But the waves were not high enough to touch my knees. I moved further into the water. I felt like I was being healed. After a while, I thought it was time. I decided to walk back to the lighthouse.

To immerse myself further into the joy, I chose to walk along the shore. I always enjoy walking on the beach bare-footed, my footwear hanging from my fingers. It feels like mild acupressure. The waves touched my legs and receded. Again they reached me and departed from me. Only then did I see the crackers lighting up the sky, with some attention. The people of the nearby colony were celebrating Vinayaka Chathurthi. The flowers of fire appeared suddenly with great thuds and made the stars look dim, then slowly submerged into the sky.

This time I passed the scattered people playing enthusiastically with the waves, trying to go into the water, neglecting the warnings of elders. The sea was fierce then. I walked through the crowd again. This time with a smile on my face, a symbol of a satisfied mind. For no reason I smiled at the kids and cuddled them in my mind. Reached my room. I could still hear the sounds of celebration from the beach. I had to cook myself some dinner.

The FM radio beside my pillow was still playing when the newspaper came flying through the window!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Sound of Life

Translation of “Uyirosai” by S. Ramakrishnan, published in Ananda vikatan dated 12.10.2003. It is one of the articles from the collection, 'Thunai ezhuthu'.

Durga has come to chennai for the third time. She was married to a Bengali engineer just four months ago. When they had been to Andaman Islands for honeymoon her health failed. Medical results showed that she was pregnant. That drove her to Chennai for the first time.

Doctors detected that she was carrying triplets. The state-of-the-art mediscan showed three small dots throbing. The doctors said that her children might be born with congenital defects, as she was weak. They advised her to be very careful.

Without expressing her grief, she went to ASTALAKSHMI temple in the evening. Unlike her, her husband showed deep sorrow in his face. He paid homage with shivering hands. Both meditated at Sai Baba temple.

At night, she was not able to eat. Her husband asked her, “What are we going to do?” She answered biting her lips, “ 'am scared.” They didn't sleep the whole night. They consulted another gynecologist the next morning. She underwent the same tests. There were three foetus. “The mother as well as the children will get affected,” the doctor's statement made them phobic of medication. Nonplussed, they returned to Kolkata.

Durga's parents prayed to Goddess DURGA. Her husband's family came forward with many suggestions. They consulted an astrologer too. With great hesitation her husband told Durga that the doctors told him that there was only one solution for their plight.

“One of the embryos can be killed.”

“Which one?” she asked in perfect panic.

To decide that, they had come to Chennai again. All the three had grown equally. Her health condition was not fit to carry three. Doctors warned her that the children would become handicapped if continued in uterus. Durga went to Kabaleeswarar temple. Prayed earnestly. She gave fistful of coins to each beggar.

Before starting to Chennai for the third time she prayed to all the Gods known to humankind, to forgive her sin. She asked excuse to the baby that would leave her before birth.

When she entered the hospital she thought, “Should I return to Kolkata without taking the treatment?”, though she knew about the risk for her life if she would fail to take the treatment. But she was not courageous to tell that to her husband. Her sister-in-law and mother-in-law were accompanying her. Another scan was taken on that day. In anesthesia she could hear the doctor. In few minutes one of the three embryos was cut, as easily as breaking the edge of a thorn. She was admitted for two days at the hospital. Everyone were delighted.

Among the three which one was that? How to know that? What would have been its name? Male or Female? Why did the life end for that baby so early? How did the doctors choose that particular one? How does an embryo emerge? Its felt that embryo grows in pregnancy. But where does a life come from? Depression increases as she continues her thinking. With her tired eyes she cries through the whole night thinking of her unforgivable sin. The other two creatures are still throbbing. The next day she decided never should she visit Chennai again.

What's happening around us, indeed? The phobia of advanced medication seems to be of higher degree than the fear caused of ignorance or helplessness. Does any other creature destroys its own embryo? A pomegranate grows with hundred seeds in it! Has mercy been sacked of this world? Is a life so cheap? She is scared.

Durga will not come back to this city. But it is the city of her unborn child, isn't it?

A story... written by Re. Fradry of America.

A woman gives birth to a female child. It is a city affected by nuclear radiation. Her husband hurries with excitement to see the baby. The baby, placed in the cradle looks like an aluminium sheet. So weightless! Like a sketch on a paper, she has small eyes… small mouth... He is able to feel her breath. Only her breathing announces that that is a living object. They fear even to touch the infant with the tip of their fingers.

After few weeks they carry their baby to home. They always keep her in the cradle covering the infant with a cloth. She does not cry, does not laugh either. Instead she makes a little sound that the pen makes with the paper. Although, it is their first child... isn't it? They name her. They dress her with new garments. They bring her up happily.

Several months pass by. Suddenly one day they hear a whistle like sound from the cradle. They understand that it is from the baby, but they are not able to console her.

A doctor comes to diagnose. He tells “your baby started speaking and this is her language. Listen to her whistle keenly.” The mother learns the whistle sounds daily. She understands which sound is for hunger and which one is to express happiness. She whistles similarly. The baby replies with another whistle. The whole family learns to whistle.

They have learnt a new language from the baby. There are no words in that. As the baby grows they stop talking among themselves. The whistle sounds are enough for them. One rainy day the child gets hyperventilation. They pray to God day- and-night. Alas! The baby passes away. They are greatly depressed with grief. Time moves on. Then they never speak a word between them. Seldom they whistle to each other. But, there is no one to identify whether that means hunger or happiness.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Gorgeous festivals

I just stepped out of my home. Everything looked dim as if I was wearing dark spectacles. The sky appeared in dark-blue. It was 5’o clock in the morning. Some contours in red announced that the sun was rising. I happen to see these beautiful dawns once or at-the-max twice in a year. It was a Diwali day and that’s why I had got up so early.

My neighbors had started the celebrations already. It was very colorful. Every adult and child glowed with happiness and looked bright in new garments. Their faces wore a special kind of smile that is unique to the mood of celebration. The children, not necessary to say, were thrilled firing up the crackers. The fire sparkles, smoke, early morning light and the mist of winter, all together produced a unique atmosphere.

As I was entering my home (going in doors), I noticed that the right side of our house was still calm. There were no sign of any celebration. It was a slum.

I was an adolescent then. Naturally, my interest in crackers was deteriorating. Neither was I interested in following the ethics of celebration, like taking an oil bath early in the morning, praying to God and bowing to elders to get their blessings. These practices were meaningless to me.

A boy appeared in the door when I was watching television after having breakfast. “Anna Pattasu, ”* the boy from the slum called me. He was not begging! In fact I was a vendor, a cot-vendor. Cot-Vendor? Yes, I spread crackers on a cot and place it in front of my house and sell crackers in retail. In this context “retail” has a different meaning. We used to sell crackers as individual pieces. You can see many such cot-vendors during Diwali season in small towns and in villages. He bought 10 bijilis for 2 rupees. I wondered if one would buy such a small amount on Diwali day. Was that enough for his celebration?

I was new to this small business. The children start firing the crackers few weeks before the actual date. My goal was to sell crackers on that pre-Diwali celebration days, not for the big day. I could not imagine that someone would buy crackers from my small shop ( shop?) for his Diwali celebration.

As the day was passing many boys came and bought crackers for small amounts. They usually come as a mob but only one of them would buy. In the evening a couple arrived. They might be newly married. The ecstasy in their faces showed that it was their “Thalai Deepavali.”** They bought 3 pieces of flower-pots, 2 pieces of ground-wheels and 8 pieces of sparkles. I was extremely shocked.

Suddenly I thought about my childhood days. I was very much interested in crackers. Our family was a lower middle class family. After finishing up our crackers we would move to our rich neighbor’s home and would watch. We would see a variety of crackers. They always had plenty. Sometimes the elders would call us and ask us to participate in the celebration. I don’t know even now, whether they did so in sympathy or by generosity or for courtesy. The situations become further worse during my transition to adolescent from child. My dad took many loans and we became poorer. We could not buy new clothes or crackers for Diwali.

My past experience made me perfectly understand the situation of the children from the slum. Every time a boy bought some crackers others would just watch him with curiosity & envy, mixed equally. Even such small amounts were uneconomical for those boys. And their parents could not hide the shame that they had, because of their inability to satisfy the desires of their children.

As I thought seriously I developed a philosophy. I told my self “Festivals are great disasters to the poor. It makes them envy others. It violently hits them by teasing them of their buying capabilities. It makes them to loose their confidence and makes them to feel inferior to others.”

Thereafter, ‘FESTIVAL’ means good grief to me.

* “Anna, Pattasu!” -> “Brother, Crackers!”

** Thalai Deepavali -> The first Diwali festival for a married a couple.