Thursday, 27 November 2014

Where Ganga meets Yamuna

Image courtesy: Google
I am Ganga. This is not my story alone.

In fact this is the only story I have seen around me and heard from the women of my neighbourhood at the end of a tiring day or while waiting to fetch water in the long queue that snakes around the corner of the tall buildings where the lucky rich people live. Of course, theirs is a different story because they live in houses that touch the sky, beyond the reach of miseries and wretchedness.

I am a working woman.  My day begins at three in the morning when I wake up without the aid of alarm clocks. That’s the time my husband’s day comes to an end and he knocks at the door. On some days he prefers to bang so hard that the wooden planks that I painstakingly gathered and nailed together fall apart. My husband slaps his victory on my cheeks. Sometimes he celebrates by wringing my neck till he squeezes out a few drops of tears from my eyes. A few punches mean that the cheap liquor he had gulped down was not to his liking. On a lucky day he just disappears into the only other room in our house with a younger woman. He ends his day by slumping on the straw mat on the floor, where our daughter sleeps.

 I fear for the safety of my daughter but I have to go out to work. I do not want us to stay hungry. So I cook some food and sit down to make floral garlands that I sell at the local market. This is the best part of my day. I bathe in the fragrance of the delicate flowers that is a magical balm to my wounds. As I thread the flowers together, I weave dreams of a better life. Sometimes, I feel jealous of my Memsab who lives in one of the tall buildings; security guards watching over the queer houses stacked one on top of the other. Her husband is a caring man who never beats her. He pampers her with the luxury he can easily afford. He gives her so many gifts when he returns from places where he travels by plane. They have a beautiful daughter who goes to school, speaks English and dances well.

After selling garlands, I go to work as a maid in a few houses. By evening I reach Memsab’s house. In between my chores I talk to her. She listens patiently to my laments. She seems to understand my problems though she has none of her own. I have dinner at her house, pack some food for my daughter and return home. My daughter and I mop the house and wash clothes. We say a prayer and try to sleep hoping we never hear the knock at the door next morning.

I think about my day as I lie on the floor at night. I did the same tonight. Today Memsahab was not her usual self. As I poured out my heart and the story behind my bruised body, I noticed a stray tear slide down her cheek. It must have been a very heavy one because it dragged itself along, peeling away a few layers of a beautiful mask, so skilfully worn that I never had a clue all these years. Beneath her mask was a similar story veiled by silence.

She is Yamuna. And this is not her story alone.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Food for thought

  • Image courtesy: Akshaya Patra Foundation

     One crisp Bangalore morning as I walked to school enthralled by the warm sunshine and the cool breeze, I was startled by a voice that called out “Vidya Akka!” from somewhere behind me. I turned to see one of my students, a 13 year old boy running towards me. Gasping for breath, he said he wanted to walk with me to school. Both of us were glad to have company during the 20 minute walk and so we talked. He asked me about my daily routine, family and so on. I answered him and asked him the same. He said he played after going home, bathed, did his homework, studied if he felt like and then slept.                                                                                                     
     I felt that he had missed out something. “What about dinner?” I asked candidly. It was only when he stared at me without an answer for two whole seconds did I realise my stupidity. I felt really bad but I couldn’t take back my words, instead chewed the inside of my cheek, trying to change the topic. It was too late. He said “I don’t have dinner Akka. The food we get from school is all that I eat.” I was speechless. Thankfully we had reached school by then. He waved and ran to play with his friends.                                                                                                                                     
    I felt so silly. I had taken for granted everything that life had given me- food, clothing, shelter, loving family and friends, education, career, health and so many other things. My thoughts were interrupted by the school bell to remind us of breakfast time. As the students lined up for a helping of chitranna (lemon rice) I felt so glad that the school provided breakfast, lunch and ragi malt in the evening. It made sure the kids were not hungry in the classroom and could be attentive in class without growling stomachs to distract them.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
     Akshayapatra Foundation of ISKCON provides food to all the students of the school as part of its mid-day meal programme. Along with other factors, the mid-day meal initiative plays a crucial role in bringing many students to school, who would otherwise have landed up as child workers or would never have come to school. Thanks to various other benevolent people, breakfast and nutritious ragi malt are also given to all children from kindergarten to 10th standard. They are given boiled eggs twice a week. Many children like my 13 year old student don’t eat anything after going home. If government schools and NGOs provide basic nutrition to students, it will definitely attract them back to class, prevent drop outs to an extent and ensures that the child is energetic enough to absorb the knowledge he/she is being fed with. It also ensures that more girls are sent to school and not kept at home for domestic work.                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
    I hope I can fuel a child’s hunger for knowledge as a teacher and satiate his/her hunger for food as a blogger. I am going to #BlogToFeedAChild with Akshaya Patra and BlogAdda.
  • (This is an initiative by BlogAdda which will sponsor meals for an Akshaya Patra beneficiary for an entire year for each blog that is written about this)
  • P.S- Don't wait to think. Be the change!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Bored? That’s great!

Image courtesy: Tumblr

I often come across people who seem to be eternally stuck to the assorted gadgets in their prized possession. It really amuses me, how they apportion their time between laptops, tablets, smart phones and so many other gizmos. I fear that a lame joke that someone cracked may actually be true- that we live in an age where phones are getting smarter and people, idiotic.

Why is it that a few seconds of doing nothing makes us feel work-less, worthless and less important than people with ears plugged and fingers in perpetual swiping motion? Even a few minutes of boredom has become so intolerable in this age of the fast and furious where even food has to be “fast”. Next time you are in a public space, just look around you and you will find people torturing themselves by over-stimulating their senses. It’s true. They just don’t realize it. If a shopping mall has free Wi-Fi, even lovers would prefer texting each other while holding hands! That’s the rule. Free Wi-Fi HAS to be used.

Children seem to be as busy as professionals. Wake up, go for sports practice, go to school, come back, quickly snack, go for tuitions, come back and do homework, play, study, watch T.V/browse the internet/play video games, have dinner, sleep. On weekends, add a music/dance/swimming/karate class to the above list. I dread that day when parents may have to take an appointment with their child (after rescheduling theirs) to just hold hands and take a stroll in the park together.

I can’t help thinking about my childhood days when there was so much time at hand that boredom was something that I encountered every day. Being the only child of my parents didn't make matters very easy. I was always faced with the challenge of entertaining myself and coming up with new things to do. Since I was spared of the idiot box (Doordarshan was more depressing than boredom) and the smartest of gadgets, I found myself painting, writing, making my own songs(parodies), making use of waste materials in the house to create new things, cooking up new games and stories and finding my own methods of engaging myself in a productive activity. Things that I made and did, though far from perfect, were at least original and left me satisfied and proud.

 I can’t suppress my laughter when I think of the seriousness with which I hosted imaginary cookery shows, conducted parent teacher meetings, taught maths and English to teddy bears, dolls and sometimes even my mother. My cousins and I even scripted and enacted plays on our cot that served as our stage shrouded by my mother’s sari. I kept a secret diary, had imaginary friends, made my own code language, conducted tuition classes (yes, I earned my pocket money) for kids younger than me and did so many other interesting things on my own. I even made my own brick house (without cement) with a thatched roof in our terrace. You can imagine how bored I would have been to carry nearly hundred bricks up the stairs and make a house!

There have been other times when I just gazed out of the window, looking at the sunset or people on the road, trying to guess their stories or reflect on mine. Even as an adult, I enjoy the bout of creativity that is born after a period of boredom. Though my husband has to bear the brunt of my frustration while I am bored, the outcome is quite rewarding, really. A painting, a handmade card, a new dish, a heartfelt handwritten letter, a new hobby- the outcomes are sometimes unpredictable. Even this blog wouldn't have materialised had I succumbed to the charms of my phone and laptop that promise to entertain me faithfully 24×7.

Of course, I have nothing against technology. I too depend on it every day. I hold no grudge against children who learn different things either. The point is to stop ourselves from being enslaved by them to such an extent that without them we feel empty. Boredom is not such a bad thing. Once while I was taking class about the human digestive system, the students and I got so bored of the lesson (yes teachers get bored too!) that we decided to have some fun. I asked the students to imagine themselves as a piece of bread or dosa or whatever and write about their experience. The answers were so enthusiastically written with a good dose of humour that left us in peals of laughter. A Biology lesson was effectively turned into a creative writing session thanks to boredom.

Empty spaces can be filled with something new, but not a space that is already crammed.  Once in a while let’s take our eyes and hands away from our gadgets find some time and clear the canvas of our minds and fill it with new colours and patterns. The result will surely amaze you. So, cheers to boredom!!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Attention please!!!

Image courtesy: Google

Yesterday was Children’s Day. The numerous posts on social media reminding everyone about the importance of the day made me close my eyes and dream a little. My students in their blue and green uniform. Laughing, chatting, playing....... Then a petite girl in a pinafore with checks of black, white and red, a crisp white blouse and a red tie. She walked along the school corridors, the fingertips of her outstretched hands caressing the walls, leaving an invisible mark of her presence. She stopped and turned towards me. It was myself! Minus two decades. It was a refreshing vision, in the cozy comfort of my closed eyelids. I couldn't help letting out a childish giggle recollecting fond memories of childhood…much before the turbulent teens that would accelerate my metamorphosis into an adult.

When I was in second grade, once for some strange reason I fail to recollect, my friend Vinaya and I decided that we wanted to die. So we kept chewing our pencils, swallowing the lead that painted our teeth a powdery black. Our teacher Mini Miss spotted us sharpening our pencils with great focus, chewing endlessly at their sharpened ends, while the rest of the class paid attention to the lesson. She immediately demanded that we leave the room and wash our mouths if we wished to sit in her class. As we walked to the restroom, we asked each other why we hadn't died. Strange!

The entire class watched us (in awe, I liked to think) as we quietly occupied our seats. We felt like war heroes. So what if we had been caught and scolded. We had “dared” to try and kill ourselves with pencil lead. Now when I think of it, I guess I hadn't really wanted to die. May be just fall a little sick to gain some attention from friends, parents or teachers. An extra helping of love and care, some favouritism I thought I deserved!! May be that’s why when I oooh! and aaaahh! over small cuts, burns and bruises even now, my husband calls me a drama queen. A little bit of drama to feel like the queen of his heart. Yes, the child in me is alive and kicking!

Image courtesy: Google

Monday, 10 November 2014

Beauty therapy

Image courtesy: Google

“You have very dry skin
and a very hairy shin.
A face laden with freckles
and wrinkles on your knuckles.”
“The hair so dry and frizzy
makes me feel so dizzy,
your curls a maddening mane
isn't combing it a pain?”

“Your heels sport many cracks
and below the eyes two dark sacks.
It’s strange you neglect beauty
That’s part of feminine duty.”
I who had never cared
Got so very scared,
wondered if I’d lose my beloved
who I had just recently wedded.

So drawing some courage
from the beautiful image
that my friends painted of me-
creamy, steamy, dreamy and filmy,
I entered the world of mirrors
that loudly proclaimed my errors,
to scrub myself to glamour,
to be my spouse’s charmer.

“Why-o-why you never came before,
dear girl who looks like a wild boar?”
remarked the concerned therapist
about my beauty in a gist.
My nightmare began- waxing,
threading, steaming......taxing.
Massage, pedicure and manicure
and other things too obscure.

I paid a heavy price
with tears in my eyes
Bleached face with rashes
that scorched my skin to ashes
“You've become too different
queer sight, feel and scent.”
His words filled regret in my head
As we lay two strangers on the bed.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Dawn at Dusk

As we stroll hand in hand
along the coarse beach sand,
our foot prints fresh and wet
witness silently each new set
while they fade away
with neither fuss nor delay.
A clean slate of sand
so golden, so grand
awaiting bare feet
of new people to meet,
each leaving their mark
some faint others dark

The whispering breeze so restless
loosening my curls into a mess
impatient, eager to share its tales
as we inched ahead like snails.
The swaying palms painted green
lean low to savour sights unseen.
The mighty giant deep and blue
weaves foamy frills of a different hue.
The golden sun now dons pink
a bright fuchsia before the sink
into the horizon so very vast,
bright daylight will soon fade past

Nestled in nature’s arms,
truly mesmerised by its charms
we feel the passion we always kept veiled
and caged within our tender hearts.
At twilight your words of love
seem like blessings from heaven above.
This love is meant to be
nurtured and celebrated for all to see.
Should silver hair at life’s sunset
strangle our feelings in its net?
So here it is, “I love you.
Let us begin a life anew.”

Sunday, 2 November 2014

If I had known

Image courtesy: Google

If I had known
that you loved me
and truly cared
for my invisible tears

If I had known
that you took pride in me,
in the little steps of mine
that had never been easy

If I had known
that you caressed my cheeks
and said a silent prayer
when I was fast asleep

If I had known
that I was dear to you
when you didn't seem to notice
as I hugged you tight

If I had known
that you would be by my side
when things go wrong
or on a very bad day

If I had known
that you wished only the best
as you angrily spat out
the nastiest of words

If only I had known!
But how would I know
about words unspoken,
of unexpressed love?