Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas and ‘The gift of the Magi’: Sacrifice and joy amidst suffering.

O. Henry (William Sydney Porter), was a writer par excellence who could put across his message powerfully. It is indeed seen in the short story ‘The gift of the Magi’1 which is a story about a couple, Jim and Della, who love each other so much but are too poor to buy gifts for each other for Christmas because of the difficult times.

Even in trying times and the poverty which can’t be wiped away, the young couple decide to sacrifice the only things they truly own. Jim decides to sell his pocket watch to buy Della a comb set and Della decides to sell her beautiful hair to buy Jim a chain for his pocket watch. In every sense O. Henry makes each one of us think about what celebrations like Christmas are all about. Are they times to flaunt our wealth, or are they opportunities to sacrifice what we have for others?

Jesus makes a similar reference when he says that the contribution of the poor widow has much more significance than other contributions. It is important to understand how some people spend a part of their income and others have to make significant sacrifices to be a part of a celebration. In every sense Christmas and every other celebration should be just this. It should be a celebration of love, sacrifice and the importance of living beings rather than anything else.

Go here to read the entire story.

Picture from

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wishes for Christmas

Life is a mix n’ match of the good and the bad
It’s about just misses and unexpected kisses
The scales are tilted from one side to the next
Swinging in one feverish mishmash

One day you’d call me God and dog the next
You’d thank me for the rains one moment and curse me the next
Like a silent spectator I would get hit
In the violent cross fire and fighting

Then again I would be hailed during Christmas
Brought out from the manger into the glossy churches and homes
The cries of the children would be camouflaged by the hymns n’ crackers
The world would celebrate the celebration

What then is Christmas? Is it just me and you?
Is it doing good in a time of evil and closing wounds?
Feeding the hungry and sharing the loot?
Thinking how we can play our parts during Christmas?

Let there be peace, love and justice
Let human respect human and celebrate life
Let far become near and many, one
Let us congregate in the manger

Christmas wishes

Friday, December 19, 2008


(Picture: MailOnline)
I never really understood why?
Why shoes n sandals n slippers
Were kept out of worship and high places
Keeping our eyes on the shoes and not the idol

I thought they would scratch the marble n tiles
Making the investment a second fiddle
And take the shine off the fable
Leaving the heart in shatters of cradle

The light then shone from the box of rituals
Stark pictures of the shoe in flight
The powerful bowed before the powerless
Missing the target by a whisker’s helplessness

It then struck me like lightning
That shoes were kept out of powerful places
To save the powerful from acts of survival
Coming forth from the shoes of repulsiveness

(The poem is a result of the (by now famous) shoe throwing incident at President Bush and Dr. Rudhran who blogged on the same)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Time up: Stop writing!!!

We are running out we are told
Of time and opportunities galore
Socks they have to be pulled up
Equipped to shake away tranquillity

There’s no time for growing up anymore
We are born with fighting qualities you know
What is the need to test and grow
With all the fun and 20-20 in tow

Waiting and curing, that is but past
Today we build, tomorrow we blast
Who cares about nature and her cast
Tomorrow will iron out today fast

Time is but used now to measure our speed
Of what we can quickly achieve
Wiping clean our slow and steady life indeed
With fast and quicker laps to feed

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Humans are story tellers: The power of the narrative and the Mumbai attack.

‘Tell me a story mummy’, she said as she was being tucked in to sleep. And then her mummy did just that. Every night it didn’t matter whether the story changed a lot. Mummy just had to be sure that there was a twist here and a turn there. As children we loved to hear stories from our parents. Mostly our sweet mom’s would take the burden upon themselves to entertain us. It is a fact that we like and love stories, that everything of essence which is of value to us, is in the form of a story. Our scriptures, our history, our talks are all story telling.

The November, 2008 Mumbai attack has brought everything into the open for a reluctant but precise post mortem. The media joined the elaborate exercise only to realise that it could not escape from being the object of scrutiny. The allegations against the media are that it made the attack into a soap opera, it sensationalised this particular event while ignoring others, the emotion of the people was commoditized and it put the army and commando’s at risk.

I won’t go into all this but would rather like to talk of what humans like to do and want to hear. My journalism teacher Fr. Michael Traber would keep reminding his class that ‘humans are story tellers.’ Keeping the initial objection to this aside, we realised that it was indeed true. As preachers and teachers it helps a lot to tell people stories as they want to hear them and relate with them.

The coverage of the Mumbai attack by the media was also a case of story telling to entertain and make us think as well. The story teller has mainly two things on mind. One to make sure we listen. Two to give a message. For this, tried and tested narrative formula’s are used. The Mumbai attack coverage followed a simple formula. One, the attack itself, the hostages and the pain, tension and sorrow related with it. Two, the wait for justice through a saviour/s. Three, the coming of the saviour/s (in the form of the black clothed NSG commando’s). Four, tilting the balance again in favour of good as over against evil. Five, debating the lessons uncovered from the narrative. (This could take any form).

It is then true that after we criticize the media we should also look at ourselves. There is a saying in Malayalam which is translated as ‘What the patient desired and what the doctor prescribed is milk.’ So, we have to debate the collective responsibility we share in the running of our country rather than blaming one group after the other and then forgetting all about it again. It is also a time for studying the stories and narratives we propagate and whether they serve the purposes that we need or whether it is time to think about counter narratives and stories.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Achuthanandan: Yesterday’s hero, today’s zero???

(Picture: India Today: Saurabh Singh)

If ever the media needed a quote, he was there. If ever the media wanted a controversy, he was there. If ever the media wanted a winner, he was there again. Kerala is a state which is a table tennis match between the Left Democratic Front with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) being a major constituent and the United Democratic Front, with the Congress party of India being a major constituent. For five years the ball is in one court and for the next five years it is in the other court. There is no alternative.

Two years ago, it was the turn of the LDF to come to power. But the UDF was not willing to let go easily. The LDF needed a face, a sure score winner. The leader of the opposition, V.S. Achuthanandan and his one liners became the darling of the media. Achuthanandan was denied a ticket initially but the public outcry changed that. Not only did he lead the alliance to victory, he then became the only choice for the post of the chief minister.

In the more than two years, Achuthanandan’s defining moment came in the form of the Munnar action plan, where illegal land holders where evicted and illegal constructions where demolished. (Mind you the illegal evictions did not include the small land of the poor). One of his most trusted and controversial lieutenants was Suresh Kumar, a bureaucrat who helped him implement this action plan.

The rich and famous cried foul. The enemies grouped together to form a formidable alliance. The action had to be stopped and the plan was dismantled. Many of you would have been introduced to Achu mama (as he is fondly called in Kerala) in the context of the Sandeep Unnikrishnan controversy, where it was reported that Achuthanandan made a statement saying if not for Sandeep not even a ‘dog’ would look in the direction of his house. This after a so-called rebuff by Sandip’s father which also included the use of the three letter word. But Achuthanandan is much more than the three letter word.

In this context it is understandable that people inside and outside Kerala look at Achuthanandan as an insensitive, old, and foolish man who is running things with a coterie rather than in a democratic way. (His own party has come up with this allegation). In the haze of all these allegations and counter allegations, one must not forget that a majority of the people in Kerala saw him as the leader they wanted. He did what no one dared to do, by taking on the rich and the powerful in Munnar. In a matter of months he has become a monster.

The media are hand in glove with the powerful, be it the politicians or others. Many are created and then pulled down with a few words. It is a much larger plot which we should see through. Many are working together to pull Achuthanandan down and this is a result of this. Yesterday everything he said was good, because the media wanted him to be a hero. Today everything he says is quoted out of context, because he must be made into a zero. This is a construction in which the media also has it’s own part to play. We should go beyond the newspaper reports and see the truth of it all. I am not saying that politicians are good as a group. What I am saying is that this man needs to be seen in the context of something else and not on the level of a three letter word.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Shame (less)


How long will we celebrate?
How bad can we get?
Who all have to die?
Where will we end up?

Today I cry for my mother
My land and all the people
Women, men, children of all colours and castes
From all states and religions

I can’t say what is wrong and what is right
I won’t take sides and preach
But I’ll fight for what I’m worth
To prevent blood shed and destruction

What is a structure worth you may ask?
Isn’t it just lime and brick?
It is till our roof is slick
Intact with our blood, life and memories in sync

(Dec 6 is the anniversary of one of the most terrible days of Indian democracy. As we mourn those who lost their lives in the recent Mumbai attacks we should also make sure that the lives lost to communal violence should be remembered and worth their weight in gold. It also asks for a response from us to go beyond our religious, caste, class, and geographical identities and be more responsive to human life).

Friday, December 5, 2008


(Picture from Brisbane Times)

Serious and vilifying through tried and tested genres
Predictable and yet dramatic in presentation
Strong one day and fading away the next
Fighting for space and TRP ratings

Loves to fiddle in the muddle
Throwing muck on white mettle
Confusing and dividing right down the middle
Playing pied piper to all who are doodle

Tricking is indeed an art perfected
Used to arm twist the weak
And give a short in the arm to the strong
All the while making us cry wrong, wrong

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Tera kya hoga kaliya?

(Picture from

The year 1975 has been etched in the history manuals of Indian cinema. That year Ramesh Sippy’s ‘Sholay’ (Flame or Embers) was released and ever since the movie set and broke records in India and all over the world. It grossed in atleast 60 million U.S. dollars and ran for five years consecutively in the Minerva theatre in Mumbai. Truly it is a movie which has been unmatched in it’s public acceptance.

The movie as such is about hero’s and one specific villain, Gabbar, played by Amjad Khan. He is on the one hand a dacoit, a rule unto himself and feared by the nearby villagers. In the absence of a rule by law, he himself becomes the rule and the law. My aim here is to see the commonalities between Gabbar and the present mode of functioning of the government in India by highlighting four critical dialogues in the movie. In the event of a public outcry in our country in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, it is noteworthy (in a satirical way ofcourse) how we can draw a similarity.

Gabbar’s henchmen get beaten up by two people (played by Dharmendra and Amitabh) and they come back to the dacoit's den with their heads hanging in shame. Gabbar questions them and is angry that they were beaten by two, whereas they were three in all. He points his gun at the main person in the three and tells him, ‘Tera kya hoga kaliya?’ (What will happen to you Kaliya?). Kaliya the dacoit answers, ‘Meine apka namak kaya.’ (I have eaten your (salt (literal)) food and remain loyal to you). Gabbar answers, ‘Ab goli ka.’ (Now, eat my bullet). After shooting all three men, Gabbar says, ‘Jo dar gaya, samjo mar gaya.’ (Those who are afraid (fear), will die. Death is imminent if fear overcomes you).

The Mumbai attacks have opened a can of worms. Everyone is blaming everyone else. But who thinks of the common person? The one who can’t even complain because of fear and lack of resources. The common person who is used in every election for votes and to stand in big crowds and clap for the leaders. The silent ones who listen to every bid of their so called masters. After a life long following and unrelenting loyalty, there comes the time when they need help from the ones that have used them so much. In true Gabbar style, the politician/leader will say, ‘Tera kya hoga kaliya?’, followed by the frantic cry by the commoner, ‘Meine apka namak kaya.’ After an eerie silence the leader says in total disrespect, ‘Ab goli ka.’ And then the electioneering will continue and people will be galvanised and ghettoised with the war like slogan, ‘Jo dar gaya, samjo mar gaya.’

Monday, December 1, 2008

World AIDS Day

Luke 6:20-22
Blessed are you who (have)1 are (AIDS) poor , for yours is the (fellowship) kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who (have) are (AIDS) hungry now for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, exclude you, revile you and defame you
For surely your reward is great in heaven (and earth)

Yesterday I was a fortunate person with friends and relatives
Yesterday I glowed with pride, my accomplishments did with me lie
Yesterday I dreamt of a life, of happiness, love and care
Yesterday I had everything…today I have memories of yesterday

1 Brackets mine.


(Picture by Anoop Negi)

What is a colour by itself?
Does it have a name or an address?
Will it by itself do anything or harm anyone?

And yet we give it different names and attributes
Attach it to violence and hatred one day
And peace and harmony the next

Huge is the weight we put on it’s head
Much more than it can carry on it’s own
Hanging in the burden of it all

When will we take our portions?
How will we weigh our actions?
Who will anchor the pain?

Colours will always be there
In shades of red and white and green
Taking on the responsibility which never was to be

Thursday, November 27, 2008

You can hurt me but you cannot destroy my spirit: Mumbai will survive

Every violence, mental or physical is attributed to the skewed understanding of supremacy of a particular group. By resorting to violence the group thinks that others will toe it’s line and it will emerge victorious. Maybe this is true with regard to a building, a hotel or a monument. But is it true when it comes to the mind, the spirit and the resilience of a people?

Mumbai has seen it all in the past twenty hours. Shooting, killing (of civilians and police personnel), hijacking and military action. Should we call the culprits gunmen or terrorists I do not know? What I do know is that this is a time to reach out to our sisters and brothers in Mumbai.

You can bomb me and terrorise me all you want
You can take my life and my belongings
But what you can never claim or take away
Is indeed what makes me who I am

The spirit of resilience, determination and survival.

"Aye dil hai mushkil jeena yaha
Zara hatke zara bachke yeh hai Bombay meri jaan"

(From the Hindi movie CID. Sung by Mohammad Rafi and Geetha Dutt)
It is difficult to live here. Move a little, look out and take care…this is Bombay my dear.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Watch the door sign…Please do not disturb???

All of us value our privacy and the quality time we get to spend with our families. Many would silently wish for a sign on their door which says ‘do not disturb.’ Nothing wrong with that I guess. After all we are all working on tight schedules aren’t we? I won’t move to question this but would rather look at the word disturb.

In a culture where we are expected to be near to perfect, being disturbed and not-too-perfect then is not acceptable (to whom is another question!!!). I have distinct memories of being castigated and asked to ‘gather up my act’ and ‘get on with it.’ This state of life underwent a change when a teacher of theology once told me that it is okay to be disturbed as it means that we still have a heart inside us which reacts to what we hear and see. The teacher said that it is thus perfectly normal to ‘feel like shit’, to ‘be ashamed of oneself’, ‘to cry’, as it reflects the humanness inside us coming to terms with what is happening.

The other day I happened to watch a Hindi movie ‘Bombay’, on T.V. It was not planned, an accident I would say. The initial part of watching was nostalgic because I remembered the first time I watched the movie in a theatre when I was in college. But the nostalgia was immediately replaced by a deep and profound grief in what I saw. The violence and death in Mumbai after the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 disturbed me no end. I felt overwhelmed and sat in my seat not knowing how to react to what I was watching. I was crying inside but the ‘please do not disturb’ attitude froze the tears as they came out.

We have to come to terms with the word ‘disturb.’ Is it okay to be disturbed? Does disturbance lead to something? Should we ignore the disturbing things in our country and hope it will go away? Is education disturbing one’s state of mind or conforming to established and traditional understandings?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Networking in resurgent India: “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours???”

It’s the magic word used in presentations, job analysis reports and brain storming sessions. “Wake up people…start networking.” We have communication networks, information networks, and company networks all over the country and it’s seen as a very powerful word in a new world. India is also perceived (by a few) to be in a new dispensation. It’s a resurgent, energetic and powerful India that is being showcased in business magazines and world economy reports. One of the words that we can then put to test to figure out how much of this hype is true, is ‘networking.’

What then is networking? One definition is the practice of linking together computer devices. Another definition is joining together with someone to achieve a common goal. I would like to look at networking in India as ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.’

“What will you do for me?’ asked the government official sitting across the powerful and official table. “What do you mean?” I asked. The official replied, “You know that expenses in India have increased so much and a government salary is not enough these days. So, I will do your job for a consideration.” Is this then the networking that we are talking about in India? You do (scratch my back) something for me and I will do (scratch your back) something for you?

Coming to think of it, wherever we go, this is what we come across. The local news covered in the media is usually of people who keep the reporters happy. Strong and powerful middle men fix deals in a package. Everyone from the minister to the one at the bottom gets paid, each according to his/her position. What a wonderful network indeed! Networking is indeed a powerful word. Powerful when it is used to attain a common, public and good end. Otherwise, all it means is the network that attaches a deep and dangerous chain of corruption, discrimination, and wrong doing.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

‘Statutory warning: Cross at your risk’ India’s aggressive development model vis-à-vis India’s aggressive roads

I waited to see if I would be cared for
Whether someone would stop and let me be
The wait continued in a forced anonymity
Till everyone else called ‘break’ in magnanimity

How many of us have felt paralysed in the course of trying to cross a road in a city (towns also these days)? My recent experience in Bangalore was indeed an eye opener.

It’s not just the fact that there is a dramatic increase in traffic or more cars in proportion to two wheelers, or narrower roads handling huge volumes, but the psyche that rests behind the steering wheel and the handle bar and the traffic rules. Both systemic apathy and individual ‘I care a hoot’ feelings come together to crush the aspirations of the foot bearer.

Does this signify anything? Does it mean that India is on the move and vehicles are bound to increase? Does it suggest that we are in a competitive jungle and ‘survival of the fittest’ is the norm? Does it bring about the age of the ‘fast and furious’?

My concerns go in the direction of the aggression we experience in the new India, the crazily developing India. It’s not just a question of increasing deadlines, swelling pay cheques (which is now zigzagging like the share market) and changing life styles. It is also about being impatient, impolite, selfish, and doing whatever it takes to achieve one’s goals.

This aggressive push however totally forgets India’s underprivileged. The poor, the discriminated, the old aged, the have-nots, and even the silent environment (including the trees and the natural flora and fauna) are out of the picture. It’s not about crossing the road in a city but it’s about being left out of India’s so-called push for progress and development. Those who want to be a part of this are only given the option to follow the industrial-information-labour-share-automobile dispensation while others can wait for the time when the dispensation rests, the time we are served out mercy from the plates of the haves. If we flaunt existing un-written rules and venture to cross…’Cross at your own risk’…

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Questioning the question: Guru= shishya…shishya= guru???

The early concept of gurukulam in which a guru (teacher) teaches and guides his (sic) shishyas (students) was one which was tried and tested to a great extend in the Indian context. Even now it continues to rule the roost in many institutions. This concept even made perfect sense. The message would travel from the guru in the direction of the students with minimal disturbance, since the students would usually sit in rapt attention of their teacher. Any alteration would be dealt with sternly. Feedback was not expected since the guru was the authority on the subject.

Students who dared to question what was taught would be ousted and some of them were creative and brave enough to start their own schools. These days the balance of power has shifted. Information is available (not for all in India) and this, when converted into knowledge can put an individual in a position of privilege. The traditional model of communication therefore stands exposed in it’s weakness. A relevant model would then be a criss-cross between two centres of knowledge, where the distinction between guru and shishya is blurred.

This would make perfect sense to many. But there is a catch here. The feedback and two way communication is only between two power centres. What then happens to those who can’t catch up into the realm of these power centres? In effect they are left out of the process of communication. This converts the guru-shishya into the insider-outsider. (Interestingly the outsider is a construction of the insider)

The democratization or the new face of education is then a new face of discrimination and neglect. What then could be a solution to this? One of the answers could well be the disruption of the communication process. Small centres of protest will form human chains of protest to prevent a skewed and selective communication. This will last till we accept every shishya as a guru in his/her capacity or moment (This is a very popular usage these days) rather than accepting a selective phase of blurring where selective gurus and shishyas switch into each others domain.

The true guru?

Oh great one, when will I know, who will I ask?
From where will I receive the sign of definiteness?
How will I understand it’s time to stop and search no more?
For the one I have been searching for?

How should I mark and what should I draw?
Why should I infer that which I do?
If there is a beginning, shouldn’t there be an end?
Will I reach then from where I began one end?

Is whom I seek a what?, and what I seek a whom?
Whom shall I send and who will go for me?
Will this cycle of thoughts then turn obsessively?
Slowing down to speed again?

Who or what then is the true guru(1)?
Is it my teacher and my guide, the one with whom I side?
The answer that comes to me is simple but complex!
‘The true guru is but the true shishya(2).’!!!

(1) Master, teacher.
(2) Disciple, student.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Exposing the replacement bluff

When the time comes for someone or something to go, we put on our thinking caps and debate who is going to replace them. For the purpose of replacement we dig out people or things with similarity and construct a narrative which suggests just this. Going further and deeper, even Gods are replaced and the latest and the new, burst into popular culture as finished products of an all-knowing mind.

But is this something which we should adhere to and accept, or pause to think and challenge? The euphoria behind the 2-0 test series win against the Australian cricket team is yet to die down for the Indians. With this win we have got our hands on the Border-Gavaskar trophy and the second spot in the ICC world ranking for test cricket. But along with the euphoria comes a slight nostalgia and pain. Two of India’s most respected and successful cricketers, Saurav Ganguly and Anil Kumble have retired from international cricket. Saurav Ganguly in the past twelve years has accumulated an amazing record (38 centuries) in both versions of the game and can even be credited for bringing in a positive aggression into the game. Anil Kumble, the silent assassin is India’s most successful bowler (619 wickets) to date in test cricket.

With their retirement an era has come to an end. India has been lead and lead well by these two men who have given their all for the country. But with their retirement also comes the obituary and the search for replacements. Do we have replacements for them? The whole usage of replacement can be seen as a capitalist usage of getting on with it, because individuals don’t really matter. Everything is seen as a set of skills which can be duplicated and thus replaced by anyone at anytime. But life is not all about a few skills and replacing people.

Life is in essence a tree. Leaves fall and will never come back again. New leaves start growing but not replacing the old ones. The old leaves already have weaved memories and stories around us. That cannot be replaced. The new leaves will weave new memories and stories around us. Let us then wait for new lives to be lived, stories to be told and games to be played. Until then let us pay tribute to the old who will never be replaced and will forever live on for each of us.

Falling leaves

My eyes became moist the first time I saw them fall
It looked like the great hold of security had given way
The leaves had been ‘the’ part of the tree
Giving it it’s grandeur and pride among everything else

I waited and watched every day
Wishing the leaves would get up and join the tree again
My thoughts of a miracle did fade with every day
With every moment which made the leaves wither away

As the leaves withered I noticed new ones sprouting out
Giving the tree a new look and a new chapter to play
I kept wondering whether they could replace the old ones
And bring back the ones withering away

With time the old leaves disappeared into the background
And I knew there was a reason for this way
The new leaves didn’t replace the old ones
Instead they taught me a whole new story to say

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The truth shall set you free: The Obama-isation of American society

(Picture from
Forty five years later, Martin Luther King’s vision has come true. His now famous speech in which he said “I have a dream” has found resonance in the American people. Senator Barack Hussein Obama has been elected as the 44th president of the United States of America. With a Kenyan father and an American mother he not only represents Afro-Americans but goes beyond by bridging the black and white divide.

For several people, King’s dream has come true. Their dream has come true. Forever they have lived under the shadow of racial discrimination and unequal opportunities. In it’s bid to change all that, America has indeed voted for change through Obama. The “change we can believe in” slogan has echoed all through, with hundreds of thousands of people congregating and supporting this chance for change.

Like in all countries, truth has been distorted in the U.S. for the benefit of a few and therefore truth itself has lost it’s meaning and importance for ordinary people. But nevertheless truth still maintains the scope of changing and setting free. The same truth which has been used to keep people in bondage has the immense power to set people free. And this is what comes out strongly in the U.S. election.

What does this mean for us? After all the Obama chanting and celebrations, we have to come back to our context and use this result as a source of inspiration. Just as the blacks, hispanics, the Asians and numerous other groups hope for a change in the way society treats them, we have to work towards change in Indian society. Change which will give every single citizen of this country equal rights and opportunities to live life in fullness, independence and security.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Truth lies!!!

‘Don’t look at her. She’s bad.’ I still remember the few doctrinal-like words which were injected into me at a young age. Like any young one who would twitch and twist at the very sight of a shining needle, I too twitched and twisted, but stole a look nevertheless at the woman. Along with foundational letter recitals and rhyme learning, I was also told, by not only my mother and father, but also by the unending list of uncles and aunts that some people were good and others, more importantly, were bad. Like a cloth absorbing water into its parched self, I, too, took in everything that came my way. I was being the good student, the one who would accept everything and make others happy.

This was followed by the phase where I would imbibe whatever I saw, still staying in full view and control of elders and advisors. I noticed that certain people could not sleep on beds that we slept in, could not drink from the same cups and glasses that we did. I did find it a bit strange but who was I to question the cultural diktat being implemented by the rich and the fortunate ones?

Years later, with the guidance and help of numerous people and books I learnt that I was part of a huge conspiracy. (Not the one that the politicians in our land talk about!!!). I was a discriminator, lock, stock and barrel. I had discriminated against the woman I was told not to look at. I had discriminated against those with whom I had not shared my bed and my glass. It was a time when I felt sick of myself and confusion added to the predicament. All my life I thought I was doing the right thing, following the truth word for word.

The media too are like our parents and family, telling us who is good and who is bad, what is fashionable and what not. Our perceptions of different people are based on what we read and believe. We think we are adding on to the big reservoir of truth that we update everyday. But are we? What is truth? Is it what someone constructs or is it what we have to learn for ourselves? Is truth conditional and made up?

The same struggle to understand truth continues today. ‘She is a loose woman’, ‘Stay away from him.’, ‘That community is illiterate’, ‘This group is violent’... The clichés are unending. But on the other hand, what is true for me is the reverse for someone else. Truth itself keeps changing with time and place. What then is truth? Is it what keeps us together or is it what keeps us from keeping together?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Handling truth

As a child I was kept away from reality
From the fire, water and the truth
Growing up in a vacuum of protection

As a teenager I learnt true and false, right and wrong
What I had to do and what I should avoid
The words that were absolutes and the others that were taboo

As a youth I re-defined what I was told
Broke them down and build them up again
Breaking free from a cage of responsibility

As I went further I realised that truth was what I thought it was
True one day and false the other
Worked up by one and denied by the other

As I live on each day, the only truth that gains visibility everyday
Is the truth I can handle in my own way
While I sort reality in shades of grey

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rainy thoughts

The night was so hot that I perspired as if my body was doing a reverse osmosis. As if the water in my body was being rejected and told to get out. Maybe that would have made me a specimen for the world of medicine and not to mention make me famous as well. The flash bulbs and camera lights made me uncomfortable. But let’s come back to the perspiration. The reason I was sweating was because it was mighty hot. I was warned. Chennai will be hot, hotter and then hottest. It didn’t matter that it was dark and the sun was playing hide and seek.

When humans come to desperation they congregate like hens and do one thing…pray. With my body covered in sweat I figured that prayer would not only lead to good tidings but maybe relax my body as well. I closed my eyes and imagined what I wanted from God. Rain drops…lots of them…as much as I could get…as much as God could spare. When you lose water, you also lose your mind!

Many sweaty days later, I thought I heard the sound of pellets striking the ground. Was it war? Was it music? I almost tore off the window curtain to investigate. It was…rain…finally. I felt a tickle, a nudge and smelt the dust rising from the ground. My past was switched to the future. The sweat on my body beat a hasty retreat, as the rain drops were too big to mess around with. I felt sane again. I had got what I wanted.

After enjoying the initial rain shower with my coffee cup in hand I could not stop myself from going outside to feel the water that had risen in protest. Equipped with a water resistant sandal I marched out. The cool breeze greeted me. I was in for a treat. I took the water walk ahead, thinking how lucky I was to have rain to rescue me from the heat. The initial stroll was soothing, the cool water kissing my feet.

But as they say, the longer you search, the more you find. I could see a hut in water, the children standing out and staring into the sky as their home was transformed into a river tributary. Another man was squatting in front of a shop roof extension, smoking a beedi and staring at the smoke. Maybe he wouldn’t be able to find work anymore because of the rain. An autorickshaw driver was pushing his auto which got stuck in the fast-mini-flood of water that had accumulated on the road. Wonder whether his day’s savings would have to be spent in an auto workshop? I felt sweaty again……….

Friday, October 24, 2008

The first drops

Drops fell in batches and then all together
As welcome news they broke the unrelenting heat
The dust rose in sacred salute
Filling the air with nostalgic thoughts

I rushed to see the clouds pierced
And the drops settling on the earth
The sound of the pellets on the ground
Took me far to memories stashed away

People were scurrying for cover
Some just enjoyed the cool moment
Children kicked at the small lakes and puddles
Elders let a smile escape from their jaws

The beginnings are always such
They lead us into such ecstasy and joy
It doesn’t matter who we are and what we are doing
The first drops will overwhelm us all

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Role reversal

We all have our roles to play or that is what we believe. How many times have we heard that if we stick to the role we are given, everything will fall into place and there will be harmony and peace? Depending on which role is played by whom, this makes sense to a few but unfortunately not to everyone.

As a child I was clearly told what I was supposed to do, what role I was expected to play and how. I had to take care to study and get a good job with a nice pay packet. I was not supposed to enter the kitchen and cook food, nor was I expected to do anything in the house. The lines were clearly drawn. As a boy and a man my scope of work was outside the house. Who then was to care of the house? The woman of course. The mother, daughter, wife, whoever fell on the other side of the sex genes!

India is trying hard to shed the old image of cows on the road and poverty, and trying to project sky-scrapers and the sophisticated image. But what usually gets conveniently forgotten is the equality of the sexes and how important this is to reflect the progress that a country makes. The parliament is divided over the arithmetic and caste issues of 33% reservation for women in parliament. First pass the bill, implement it and then think of how it could be made all inclusive! (It is a shame that even in the west many men still expect women to be house makers and fulfil certain roles)

What then is the role of women? Is it to be a house maker, a maid, a cook, a piece of the house furniture? To understand this, we have to come to terms with our role in life. Who am I and what is my role? Am I the king, the master, the lord, or God? Can I go beyond this and can I swap my role with a woman- my mother, sister, wife, friend?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Do I (eye) care?

The eyes tell a thousand tales they say
And so I looked and looked again
But no matter how much I looked
I could not gauge the eyes almost bereft of expression

She had run away from her house they said
Far, far away had she run in fear for her life
She hadn’t taken anything coz I saw nothing
Maybe she had nothing to take, no clothes, no happiness

Have you seen anything like it, the eyes which say nothing?
I knew I could not get anything from her eyes
But I kept staring at them hard
Because I could not get them away, from her expressionless way

Just when I thought I could not stare forever
She looked right into me, with those eyes that said nothing
I felt choked and ashamed, that I looked away
Far away from the gaze which had me looking one way

All of a sudden I felt I was the one responsible
For the eyes which said nothing and died away
Coz I hadn’t said anything to the men who acted on their women
And caused their eyes to fade away……far, far, away

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My name is nobody!!!

Those who work in private offices and corporations will be aware of the never ending push to do well and climb the corporate ladder. We as individuals are responsible for our life and future and so we should work hard and do well in life. Even though this is a straight forward statement and gives oodles of encouragement for the weak soul, secrets lie hidden for those who are willing to scratch (not one self but the ground).

Although we are made to believe that success will be ours to toy with as long as we are willing to work, reality is entirely different. Those who are willing to work are not allowed to do so in the field they want to because they are told, “Your father was a scavenger and so will you be!!” How do we see such people? Do we think of their welfare, their income, their work? Or do we think that our work is much more specialized and deserves better salaries than sweepers, scavengers and those who do the most menial of works?

All through history there have been movements to give recognition to ordinary people and communism has also been one such movement. Kerala created history when the first communist government (the first time anywhere) came to power in 1957 through democratic elections, the first after the formation of the state. But the old goosebumps and the excitement which accompanied the movement has died down. Now even the party is after money and the poor are left out in the cold.

The poor are lapped up by parties (especially during election time) based on religion, caste and class only to be dumped once they come to power. They are given names during high profile election campaigns only to be forgotten conveniently afterwards. These then are the people, the faceless and nameless people whom we use and throw. ‘We want them but we can’t marry them!!!’ would be a good way to put it. If we ever come across someone like this and ask them their name, perhaps we will get the answer……My name is nobody!!!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The goddamn philosophy of life!!!

Why do people go hungry?
Is it because they laze around and do not more?

Why do people live in poverty?
Is it due to their predestination and fate so ill?

Why do people exist on streets and roads?
Is it coz they never inherited property galore?

Why do people eat so much that they can eat no more?
Is it because they have so much to finish and so gorge more?

Why do people live in richness?
Is it due to their good luck and hard work as well?

Why do people have huge mansions and farm houses?
Is it coz they got huge inheritances to support them from door to door?

But what if I told you that it’s not this way
That we have to see it all another way

People go hungry, because we choose to keep them so
People are poor, because we become rich by doing so
People exist on streets and roads, because we snatch every inch that they own

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Food for thought

Every culture has something or the other in common which bring people together, under one roof. We may have our differences but there is this one act which makes people crowd together. Every function in the house-hold is followed by this and without this humans cannot survive. Whenever we go visiting, we have to follow the customary act of drinking and eating what we are offered.

A wedding can be spoiled with bad food, relations can be made or broken with food, a husband can impress his wife and vice-versa with good food. This need for food is ever so strong that we cannot go against it. But do religions attach importance to food? In Christianity for instance the verse ‘Human does not live by bread (food) alone’ is very much a part of the understanding of the essence of life. Yet, on the other hand, food has this great quality of bringing together and bonding people.

Should we then critique food in Matrix-ian terms? In the movie everything that is worldy is an illusion. So, is food also an illusion? Something which is there but not there? The media is also totally into the commerce of food with lifestyle and cooking shows and reality competitions. Is food to be used to engage hunger, is food a statement, or is it part of a status symbol?

The people of Kerala won’t forget Rappai so easily. He is dead but anyone who has seen him devouring 700 idlis or 10 Kg of Halwa (a sweet dish) in a single sitting will never be able to wipe out the image from their minds ( & Rappai loved to eat and he would eat in competitions and in hotels, sometimes egged on by the public. But then he had to control his diet because of diabetis and he died at the age of 63.

So on one side, we have those who love food and a culture that does everything with food. On the other side we have religion's that tell us food is not everything in life. Coming to think of it, we try to build the future with something that goes stale in a few days!!

Monday, October 6, 2008

The art of eating

I sat with insatiable interest, straining my tired eyes in one quest
Our eyes met and our thoughts were wet
With imagination and in anticipation of the grind quite yet

The stage was set and I placed myself in quick stead
Before me was placed the green and clean set
To accommodate what I would then upset

Vada, dosa, idli, sambar, chutney said he with no hesitation
All there was to do was to place a designation
For what I wanted to demolish in quick agitation

In no time the steaming idlis were soaked in hot sambar
Only to be squeaked and squashed into resignation
On their way to a bigger dispensation

Sat then I in total realisation, that the idlis were in combustion
Sipping my coffee and gauging my position
Only to prepare myself for further demolitions

Vada is shaped like a small doughnut and made of dal, lentil or potato. It is fried in oil. (

Dosa is a South Indian crepe made of rice and lentils. (

Idli is a small white cake in circular shape made of rice. (

Sambar is a vegetable stew made of toovar dal (pigeon pea). ( )

Chutney is a mixture of sweet and spicy condiments. (

Saturday, October 4, 2008

No-smoking please!!! Banning the practice or doing away with the attitude???

October 2nd is celebrated in India as the birthday of the leader of the nation, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, known as Mahatma Gandhi. He is credited with gaining India independence from the British without the use of violence.

But trust the babus(sirs) and the netas(leaders) in power to spring a surprise and steal the thunder. October 2nd will thus be known with a new tag, ‘no-smoking in public places.’ Thus from October 2nd onwards a ban on smoking in public places has come into effect in India.

Those of you who watched television in India on Thursday night would have noticed that every channel was trying to analyse whether this was good and whether it would be successful. I could not help but notice something I thought was interesting. The ban does not include parks (as long as no one is standing near us) and more interestingly, public roads.

Does this suggest the mind set of the ‘Indian’ that public roads are not our homes and therefore can be treated according to our whims and fancies? Who will clean up the mess that we create? The poor sweepers of course! As we become more health-conscious, shouldn’t we also make sure that public places remain clean as our houses?

I do not intend to mince words and confuse the reader. The ban is good and the need of the hour. The argument that this ban is an intrusion on our individual freedom does not hold good. But let us simultaneously work on our collective attitude. The health ministry while initiating the ban should also network with other departments so that people understand the need to respect the presence and the space of others.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Liquory dickory dock!!!

“Excusheeeee meeee madam, can you help me pleasshhe?” One need not even look to know where this comes from. But I was curious and also a bit concerned that this was a sound directly in front of my house in Thiruvalla, Kerala. My mother took it upon herself to address the situation at hand but that didn’t mean I was out of the equation. I held my breath and listened to the conversation that ensued.

“What do you want?”, my mother asked to the man who had come to our house. “I am a poor man and I need help to marry off my daughter.” My mother’s detective instincts must have worked over time as she replied, “You are stinking of liquor. How can you lie using your daughter’s name?” After a few attempts at denying the charge the man finally said, “Atleast give some money in the name of the service I am doing for the government.” “And what is that?”, asked mother. “I am drinking and through that making sure that the government is getting excise revenue. So you see, I am helping the government!!” Maybe I should let go of what happened afterwards and get to the issue at hand.

The previous blog was about the famous drunkard of Kerala, who has managed to even become a hit with spectators of cultural programmes and a few movies. This is the person who people like to laugh at. But laughing wont take away the gravity of the situation in Kerala. It is not the fact that Kerala has the highest per capita consumption of liquor in the country but the fact that twelve and thirteen year olds have started drinking and it affects their formation as individuals and even leads them to indifferent acts. Road accident deaths numbered 3,066 and 51,352 people were injured in 41, 306 accidents in 2004. (1)

The church as always has been in the forefront of asking for a total ban on liquor. (2) A.K. Antony, a former chief minister of Kerala even banned the sale of country made liquor (arrack) in 1996. (3) But the sale of Indian Made Foreign Liquor continues and the natural toddy drink available in Kerala is now adulterated by an illicit liquor lobby. The church has not thought of a different way of looking at the situation yet.

The writing on the wall is very much visible for those who care to read it. 1. Drinking in Kerala has increased over the years and the minimum age of children who start drinking has decreased. 2. Christians also form a good part of this number and schools run by Christians also have students who start drinking early. 3. Is liquor the problem or is it the way we use it, that is the problem? 4. Will the church ever consider preaching ‘responsible drinking’ to it’s members? 5. The people of Kerala (including me) are comfortable to make fun of the poor drunkards while we remain quiet to the excesses of the rich who drink and drive and cause accidents and death. 6. Will having open talks on drinking and driving, responsible drinking and legal age limit for drinking, remain a taboo in Christian schools, similar to sex education?

Maybe it’s time to discuss these things in church? Maybe it’s time we opened our eyes to what is happening in the world around us? Maybe it’s time we accepted where we are today?

(1), viewed on 1-10-2008
(2), viewed on 1-10-2008
(3), viewed on 1-10-2008

Monday, September 29, 2008

Hic..hic..excusheeeee meeee!!!

I swirled from East to West, then stopped and thought
Only to swirl again from North to South.
I grinded my teeth and gripped the ground
Unsettling the sand with my unsteady feet.

Some watched in amazement, others laughed
As I thrust my tongue upward and blew out the stench.
My vision was multiple, my eye lids almost closed
But whatever it was, I refused to drop my clothes

They call me by many names in Kerala
Drunkard, alcoholic, anti-social element and the like.
But I am just an ordinary man, who is in pain
And doing his best to fill the government coffers plain

I work hard at day time, with the sun almost piercing my flesh
And then when it’s evening I go out for a swig.
My wife curses me, tells me I am of no use
My children crowd around my wasting body.

I want to change but just don’t know how
Many buy me a drink and then say they wished I changed.
I hope one day I’ll change, go home early and sup with my family
Till then the roads of Kerala will be my stage…………

(Kerala tops the per capita liquor consumption in India ( During the festival of Onam early this month, there was a record sale of alcohol in the state ( There are several concerns which arise out of this and I will be dealing with them in the next blog. Therefore I request the reader to restrain from making any conclusions (either way) at this point of time. The person referred to here is the one who is absolutely drunk and then literally staggers home).

Saturday, September 27, 2008

India in 1977…Amar, Akbar, Anthony…Hindu, Muslim, Christian.

Religion is under the scanner in India. The reason is that violence and terrorism are threatening the peaceful existence of people, and religion is being blamed as one of the main perpetrators of this. One or the other religion claims superiority and tensions arise. One wonders whether India on the run (Upward and downward depending on how one looks at it.) has become impatient and shuns harmonious living?

Indian cinema has been dominated by the North Indian lobby, which has adopted Mumbai (Bombay) as it’s home. In India thus, Hollywood becomes Bollywood and cinema is swamped by Hindi cinema while other languages make their mark in regional, national and international markets as well.

One of Hindi cinema’s most successful movie’s is ‘Amar, Akbar, Anthony’(10th on the list of top 100 all-time hits at the Indian box office.). It was a movie which had a simple theme (Simple in Indian terms.). Three brothers are separated during their childhood and they are brought up in different households, one as a Hindu, the other a Muslim and the third a Christian. Manmohan Desai, the director managed to weave together successfully a movie that on the one hand was absolutely unbelievable but on the other hand striked a chord somewhere in the mind of the Indian psyche.

Of course Desai managed a coup by having Amitabh Bachan, Vinod Khanna and Rishi Kapoor along with Neetu Singh, Parveen Babi and Shabana Azmi act in the movie. But the silent message was conspicuous. Three religions living side by side and eventually coming under one roof!

31 years later it would help to look back. Maybe it’s time to think of plots which bring people together and not the other way round. Watching old movies may not be something the present generation would want to do but maybe that is exactly what we should!!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lord in your mercy.....hear our prayers

To go to places people avoid
To understand the struggles faced
To mitigate the sufferings traced
To ensure justice with proper haste

We pray for those affected by violence in all it’s ugly forms. Let those who use religion and community to foster hatred and cement people on a set social position, be exposed and brought to justice. Let there be justice for all and not for a select few.

We pray for those families and individuals who have borne the brunt of communal violence, bomb attacks and mob fury in India. Let them experience a healing for their bodies and minds which have been mutilated by mad acts of insanity.

We pray for peace in times of turmoil and suspicion. Let there be communities of peace who work in the midst of violence. May we be able to think first and act later and not the other way round.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The violence of the lambs

I prayed for love and got hate instead
Looking at me and egging me on to retaliate

I wished for peace and got riots for it
With the smell of flesh and the uneasy calm

I craved for warmth and cold did I feel
Piercing my skin and heart alike

I begged for normalcy and branded was I a traitor
Abandoned in unknown territory

I looked for unity and in me was nurtured disarray
Confusing me into utter insanity

I searched for an answer and covered was I with questions
Leaving me clueless and confused

I prayed again for the violence to fall
The violence of the lambs which over came one and all

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Help, I'm old !!!

Kerala finds itself staring at more than 3 million people who are above the age of 60. Many have been thrown out (either physically or by being a nobody in their own house) of their homes and some live at the mercy of relatives or old age homes. Even that is a luxury and some end up on the streets with nothing.

But life wasn't always like this for them. There was a life of happiness and content. A life with a loving wife or husband and the fullfillment of bringing up one's children and caring for them. But what was the epicentre of their lives then shatters all expectations. Mother's and father's are taken care of and then conveniently disposed when the time comes. Some are put up in huge mansions constructed by the children who work in the middle east, the U.S. or Europe, and the parents also become a part of the furniture, to be showcased to the public. Without any community support the old are left to fend for themselves or live a life after surrendering every bit of their integrity.

Society itself makes the aged feel unwanted. Everything happens so fast and changes faster that the mother's and father's can't even cross a road or shop in peace. The railway's and banks give special incentives to those above 60 but how will these people reach a railway station or a bank? How is it possible to do anything when one feels they could be mauled down any minute by the traffic.

This is not the case in every house hold. There are children who go the extra mile to take care of their parents, sometimes even overdoing it a touch. There are those who age gracefully and die gracefully. But they are the exceptions. What about those who are pushed into solitude? What about those who feel the carpet has been pulled from under them? When will we assure and give dignity to the aged? These then are the questions before us.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Aging into solitude

How much I wished to know what it is again
To breathe the fresh air and welcome the sun

How much I longed to see and talk to them
To call their names and hold them close

How much I prayed for a painless existence
To move as I wished and do what I want

How much I imagined I were dead and alive again
To see and talk to God and come back again

How much I wished that I could wish some more
To be happy and content and wish more and more...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The dichotomy of smell

The Orthodox Christian tradition believes in the use of the five senses for worship. Sight, smell, touch, hearing and tasting all come together to act on the aesthetic sensuality of the worshipper. Worship in that sense becomes a 'whole being' act of participation. Without being one with one's body one cannot participate (Specially abled people though are discriminated against as they may lose out in this sense and the church sadly does not take cognizance of this fact.).

India is the land of smell, albeit the smell of the opposites. On the one hand we can find the affluent in their homes filled with the fragrance of manufactured aroma therapy products and fresh and expensive flowers and on the other hand you can find people living in their huts with the fresh smell of cow dung (even though the affluent see this as disgusting, the truth is that cow dung has special qualities of being an insect repellent and a thermal insulator for walls) spread on their walls. The even more unfortunate are those who have to bear the smell of the combined by-product of a consumer society, i.e., it's waste (Large numbers of people live in places which are the dumping grounds for various municipalities and corporations. The waste interestingly is produced by the rich but dumped on the poor!.).

What for one is beauty is for another a dream. What for one is bad is for another a reality. Which smell should the church go after? The smell of the affluent few or the smell of the vast majority? The scented candles and fragrant incense or the fresh earth and the water puddles? What then is aesthetics and what is beauty? What is smell?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The smell of destiny???

They said I smelt
Of the unwashed clothes and the dirty soil
Of the unclean body and the feet oh shoddy

They said I smelt
Of my belligerent past and the time that passed
Of the history of my caste

They said I smelt
Of the unmet dreams and the wishes oh unreal
Of the times that I had lost

They said I smelt
Of the failures to avoid and the lives which were void
Of the successes that they had claimed

They said I smelt..........

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Laughter is the best medicine???

Stand up comedy in the West is quite popular and is also a platform for citizens to use humour as a way to publicize issues of public interest. Recently I watched a programme on Arab Americans who were trying their luck with stand up comedy. Their views came together on the issue stating that this was a way to awaken the senses of people to issues that affect them.

In Kerala the last fifteen years has seen the rise of ‘mimicry’ groups. They are groups of five or more people (again largely male) who perform on stage mimicking actors, politicians, and highlighting social issues which are of importance to everyone. It is satire, comedy and acting all rolled into one. So prompt and creative are they that weekly television programmes, which are now a rage, cover the latest topics in the state.

Laughter is good for health. Various studies have even suggested that it helps to reduce stress and lower our blood pressure. It elevates our mood, boosts our immune system, improves the functioning of the brain, protects the heart, brings about instant relaxation, connects us with others and makes us feel good. In India and around the world there are official and registered laughter clubs. A concept called laughter yoga is also popular.

My concerns on this vary. One, the church shies away from laughter, sometimes even treating it as inappropriate and lowly. To laugh with the congregation is seen as unprofessional. Two, why don’t we use comedy to bring out strong messages of concern to all? Three, how will we bring it to a level of judicious action after awakening. How is it possible that people act after they are introduced to reality and just don’t have a good laugh and forget about the siutation?

Making people laugh is an art. Making them laugh and understand a message is an even better art. Maybe as a start, we should begin to laugh at ourselves and use this potential ridden art for better sermons which are self reflective and not judgemental.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The god of hope vs the god of the market

Come Onam and it’s not only the colour and the celebration one notices but the over flowing of television sets and fridges and every appliance you can think of, onto the market place. Shops start stocking stuff outside the parameters of the shop because they don’t want to miss out on the big sale bonanza benefits!

The same goes with all festivities. Festivals and celebrations are constructed anew by greeting card companies who will create a craving which then will have to be satiated by the people (us) when they buy the products of the concerned company. This leads us to the question, what are festivals like Onam supposed to be? Is it a time of hope or a time of celebrating our wealth (which in many cases is only perceived wealth because we buy using loans!)?

Therefore Onam which is supposed to be a time of rekindling the hope that society has in equality, justice and peace, is over shadowed by advertisement gimmicks and sops meant to take our minds away from the God of hope and make us allign with the god of the market. So stories of hope have not disappeared. It’s just that they are now given good competition by the stories of celebration and festivities.

I searched for a story for my children
Not archies, or cartoons nor pogo
I strained to tell them about Onam
And Mahabali and Keralam
Little did I know what I was up against
And open mouthed was I when they said
‘Isn’t that the guy who stands outside the shops
Begging us to shop till we drop?’

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Onam, it’s Onam…

Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
The land brought forth they say, by the axe of Parasuram
Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
Known for the generous rule of the Asura (demon) king Mahabali

Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
The result of Vamana tricking Mahabali
Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
Because the humble king granted three steps of land in a jiffy

Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
The Gods connived to preserve their supremacy
Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
Bow down did the great king in all humility

Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
Ask of Vishnu did the king in sobriety
Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
To visit his people yearly

Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
With great expectation thus comes Mahabali
Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
To meet his people one and many

Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
What then do you and I have to offer the ‘great bali?’
Onam, it’s Onam in the land of Mahabali
Apart from our common excesses, injustices and our fake supremacy?

(Onam celebrates the visit of one of Kerala’s most just and generous king’s, Mahabali. Jealous of his popularity, the Gods entrust Vishnu, the preserver to put an end to this. He presents himself to Mahabali as a poor Brahmin (Vamana), begging for three steps of land. Once Mahabali agrees, Vishnu is restored to his original size and the final step ends up on Mahabali’s head. Before this, Mahabali seeks permission to visit Kerala once a year and Onam is the time of the visit. People of all religions get together to celebrate this time of celebration, colour and festivities. The question that remains is whether Kerala now has anything to show in terms of justice, equality and peace to it’s most famous and loved king, whose governance was known for all of these?)

Friday, September 5, 2008

In touch we trust!!!

One of the eye catching pictures of Jesus that adorns many buildings and homes, is surprisingly not the one on the cross. It is one in which Jesus is holding out his hand. What used to be a cute picture in my childhood, is now a thrilling canvas of colour, pregnant with meaning, both silent and loud. What does it mean to be touched by someone and is it important at all?

While we are usually obsessed with the miracles of Jesus we forget a simple act which is always a part of the script. His touch would have meant much more than the miracle per se. Wouldn’t we feel happy if we were kept away from the main stream of life, and one day someone would come to touch us and bring us back where we belong.

Humans like to be touched when it matters. In joy and in bereavement we would appreciate a warm act of a loving touch. But somehow our attitude towards touch in society is skewed. If a man touches a woman or vice versa, whatever the situation, we like to judge it from our delicate glass house existence. Therefore, situations of happiness and sadness are left alone to find their way, isolated and deeply numb.

The church now faces the question, “to touch or not to touch?” The previous day’s poem suggests a scenario where constant isolation of people who are in need of God’s touch, will lead to them withdrawing into their own shell, leaving the church as a picture on the wall, a picture of a man with out stretched hands.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Touch me not

All my life I wished to be touched
Every time I saw someone I thought of their touch
Time and time again every movement and moment became a disappoinment

What was wrong with me?
Was it my looks, my colour, my clothes or lack of them?
Was I not capable of attracting anyone to me?

Hope turned into despair
Hard feelings turned to excruciating pain
Life turned into death

So desperate was I for touch
That I would go into the fields and run my fingers
Over the grains and flowers, spread them on the soil and dip them in the streams

And then someone came
But so distanced was I from anyone’s touch
That I ended up muttering ‘I don’t want your touch’, ‘I don’t want your touch’

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

For Mary’s sake!!!

I was seventeen years old and the rebellious nature of teenage spilling over to the youth was evident in me. Church became a place where young boys and girls like me trickled into to “look at one another.” Not that we would say anything or give our parents sleepless nights by holding each other’s hands. No, no…we would just look at each other. And if we were lucky, someone would smile at someone. (I am aware that this has undergone a sea change over the years.:))

And therefore it was no surprise that everyone would look forward to the festivals in church as that would again be a time to congregate. I remember my sweet mother, who would stand in church with a candle and pray for a long time. Mostly it was in front of the picture of St. Mary, and she would be joined by other women in church as well.

Fast forward………Fifteen years later, I was leading the intercessory prayers and songs to St. Mary in church. I was not a teenager anymore but a full blown priest leading his congregation into a prayerful mood of contemplation. Everything had changed. The church was renovated, the paint was not a white wash where you could scrape the surface away, but liquid emulsion paint. The traditional mundu (dhoti) was replaced by pants and fancy shirts, the white chatta and mundu worn by women was replaced by cotton, synthetic and silk saris (a popular garment worn by women, measuring six to nine meters in length) with full neck, low neck as well as sleeveless blouses and the new addition churidar (a two piece garment including a pant and a top) came in all fashions and sizes.

But one thing didn’t change. The women were still holding candles and interceding to St. Mary. They were crying and talking to Mary. It looked like they were in their own world with Mary. This has been one thing that has not changed in the Jacobite and Orthodox churches. Come September, and the women folk of Kerala will flock to their churches to intercede to their favourite woman saint, St. Mary, the mother of Jesus, the mother of God. (The interpretation varies between the clergy, laity and the faithful, who may even belong to other religions) September 1-8, the eight day lent (ettu nombu in Malayalam), commemorating the birthday of St. Mary thus remains a non-erasable part of a woman’s calendar.

A woman knows another woman’s pains and sorrows. A woman can listen to another woman when she pours her heart out. A man cannot take the place of a woman!!! This rather than being a clear direction for the church instead becomes the complexity of the church. The eight day lent of St. Mary is a lent which has much more meaning to women than men. And yet, women do not play any role in the festival. They help in preparing the sweet dish (nercha) on the final day (even that is sometimes denied to them), but what is their active role in church? Maybe it’s time to ponder over this now. If not for the sake of the leadership which consists of men like me…… least for Mary’s sake!!!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

My (our) Mother's face

Mother, it was your sacrifice that brought me here
And yet through the stepping stones of my life
I forgot this momentous truth of 'here' for 'there'.

Filled was I with greed for my own survival
Lived did I in a manner of denial
That seldom did I notice how life was snuffed out of you.

When will your hard work be noticed?
When will the world give you your place?
When will your children accept your kind face?

This indeed is the problem we face
Our memory of our mother is but laced
With lies and fiction in their place

Try shouldn’t we to displace, the path of disgrace?
And bring back our mother to grace
To the land and thoughts which will give her back her face?!!!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Beware of dogs!!!

One of the greatest days of a seminary student’s life is when he (unfortunately not ‘she’ yet, in a majority of Kerala and India) gets to wear the white robe of power. The white cassock which will open doors, attract people, and be a new life in itself for the person concerned.

The new pastor/priest who gets to wear the inferred cloth of greatness, many a time gets carried away with the concept. It is used to grab power, impose rules on a hapless people and erects a human being over and above everything (the concerned bishop would of course disagree:)).

My gaze turns towards one such pastor/priest. “His wait was over. What he had prayed for, and worked for was finally his. He felt a great transformation. In his white-y white cassock (maybe bluish white, because of the special cloth whitener used for washing it) he could feel the world was now revolving around him.”

As is customary, the mighty pastor/priest took his rounds to meet his subjects. He sometimes went un-announced, sometimes called to say “I am coming”, and sometimes went as an after thought, when the sexton (church assistant/helper) told him, “That is also one of our houses.” He thus “came, saw and conquered.”

What according to the pastor/priest was a very successful campaign so far then took him to a huge house with a huger gate. On it was a board, “Beware of dogs.” The sexton was sceptical but the pastor/priest would have nothing of it. “I have conquered the seven seas, all the people have bowed before my power, what is a dog going to do?!!”

Saying this he marched into the compound. There was silence and then………Aiyo..aiyo..aiyo (a Malayalam usage suggesting “Oh my”, or an alarm call). The pastor/priest, followed by the sexton, were running back towards the gate, the pastor/priest holding up his cassock and the sexton with his ‘mundu’ (dhoti)folded up. Following them with loud barks was a full grown Doberman, with its teeth exposed in full ferocity.

In one act of aggression, albeit not planned, the pastor/priest was brought back to earth from his heavenly existence. In one moment he understood that a cassock does not give one indemnity from all things in the world. An animal thus taught the pastor/priest what no human ever imagined to do……………………………………………… (Background score………. “Who let the dog/s out….woof… woof.. woof..woof.”)

(This is neither purely fiction nor purely reality. The young pastor/priest could be "me"......or "you.")

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The hollow man……..woman

Every beginning in school and college has always been accompanied by the mandatory introduction, “I am so and so, from so and so state, denomination and background.” The start of anything of essence is thus accompanied by the laying of an identity, which will be the sign board of our existence as long as we are in an institution or any other place of study or work.

Our journey mostly revolves around the shaping and reshaping, as well as safeguarding of this identity. Why does one need an identity? Is it for the purpose of convenience to differentiate people? , or is it our effort to be part of a community? India is for this purpose divided into North, South, East and West in a broader sense and then into other divisions as well.

As a theologian it has intrigued me no end to understand the need and essence of identity. What was the identity of Jesus? Did he have an identity or was he given an identity by the identity hungry humans?

When I started my theological pursuit way back in 1997, the main people I knew were the Keralites, the people who inhabit the state of Kerala in India. For me Kerala was a country, Kerala was the world, Kerala was the only thing that mattered. I just about happened to know other parts of India and also had my own perceptions about other Indians.

Therefore it was no surprise that my first day of theological studies started with a problem. There were too many foreigners in college. And they mainly were from China or Japan, or so did I think. Little did I realise that the people I saw and judged were my own people, my country men and women, my blood!

My perceptions started changing. I understood that India was not only the land of the Keralites, but it was the land of the Kannadigas (people of Karnataka), the Tamils (people of Tamil Nadu), the Telugus (people of Andhra Pradesh), the Bengalis (people of West Bengal), the Nagas (people of Nagaland), and the Mizos (people of Mizoram), to name a few. This was when I felt hollow inside. Hollow because I felt I wanted to lose my self bloating identity and be a part of all the identities that were part of the world I lived. And so comes a de-learning and a re-learning, a self emptying, the feeling of the man and the woman....the hollow man......woman.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

“Death, who are you???”

Death, you can never claim victory
For I was dead the day I was born
When I was claimed by one, and kept away from another
Sanity was forced through, with insanity

Death, you can never scare me
For I was scared and scarred by all the injustice and the hatred
Scared numb that I am scared no more
Fulfilling and conforming not, to what I was ‘meant’ for

Death, you cannot take me away
For I was never accepted here anyway
Isolated and ‘islanded’ was I in existence
Pushed into a corner of subsistence

Death, don’t ever smile at me
For I was always smiled and laughed at
Seen was I a burden, a blot in the land of eden
A blot which could with a smile, be conveniently done away

Death, don’t draw any conclusions
And never write me away
For however I sway, I will have my way
In my land, I will, in all happiness lay

(This poem is dedicated to the people of the earth, who are deprived of land, humanity and basic amenities, in the name of development for a 'few'. It salutes the spirit of the people who fight on for their rights, even in the midst of the violence and injustice leashed out against them.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Where are you going?

The ethereal feel of the evening didn’t last long. Who was I to escape the coconut-ty query, “Where are you going?” My spirit was shattered and my eyes strained to decide whether the question I heard was an oasis of opportunity or a mirage of hopelessness.

But why bring in the coconut into philosophical enquiry one may ask? Not if you were a Keralite, a Mallu, a Malayali. For the people of Kerala, one swears by the coconut. Never the less, it makes me uncomfortable because of its structure. Every bit of a coconut can be used to make something or the other; it’s husk, shell, the nut, everything. So a coconut-ty question is one which you can’t figure out, one which suggests the husk, the shell or the nut!

Anyone who has been to Kerala or to a place inhabited by Keralites would have experienced the moment when someone passes by and asks in one swift swish of the famed Mallu blade (tongue), “where are you going?” Alterations of this are “when did you come?” or “when are you leaving?”. Harmless queries one should say but like the coconut, it leads to countless questions in one’s mind.

Where am I going? It’s another matter that by the time we are ready with an answer, the person who asked is long gone. In several cultures these are the questions which are not meant to be answered. Those who try to answer them resemble those who will plunge into the depths of the ocean not wanting to come back to the surface because of the lack of an answer. So tell me……”Where are you going?”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The silence of my name.

I waited for God to call me, to yell out my name
For I thought that was my aim
I cried to God to call me, to shout out my name
Because I thought in it was no shame
I pleaded with God to call me, to sputter out my name
In it I saw my fame
I argued with God to call me, to bring out my name
Thinking that was the game
But maybe it’s not my aim, or fame, or game
And in it I find my answer, in the silence of my name