Hungry, Dirty, Cold and Loved….

Usually the conversation starts with, “where are you from?”

“Pune”

“..Meaning Mumbai, right?”

My imagination zooms back to the two monster-cities that are growing cancerously, almost into each other, Sigh, “Uh, yeah, close enough…”

“Are you here for a holiday?”

I definitely do not look like a jolly tourist, not with frizzed hair and smears of gober on my ragged cloths, “No. I work here.”

“What work?”

“I build”

“What is there in the hills to build?!” accompanied with laughter.

I silently look out for the direly awaited, late night bus to show up.

“Who are you travelling with?”

I feel like saying, “With myself” but I am not hungry or nasty today, so I say “Nobody.”

“How much do you get paid?”

“Nothing, so far… But with time, there will be something.” now really trying to sound polite.

“Are you from an NGO?”

“No.”

“…then?”

“I work for an Architect.”

A long awkward pause, while I do my best to ignore that top to toe scrutiny….

“…married?!”

“No.”

“How old are you?”

“Um… 27…”

I can almost catch them sigh this time, oh…there is no hope after all…

Mostly by end of this question they classify me solidly into some category and start feeling comfortable….almost sympathetic! Then the rapid fire round takes a turn into checking my ancestry up….

Often my skills at shamelessly sleeping through any bus journey save me from this endless interview. And with time I have learned that albeit strangers, most of them are simply good natured and curious about this strange woman travelling alone at night. Their questions, too probing and unnecessarily personal, actually harm me in no way, but might open a new world of possibilities that they have never even considered…. I have seen some of these random interviewers drift into a silent musing, trying to relate with me… mostly, they shrug the thought out with an anxious jerk and fall back into their comfortable, sympathetic zone!

But yes, I admit, there was a time when I used to fire up and fume inside, being judged by strangers like that… Once an over-smart, ten-year old looking me up and down, had asked his mother, “Is this how a spinster looks like?!” I had felt a jumble of emotions varying from violent rage to careless laughter and then, squirmy pity….

This is not about questioning the conventions… or rebelling for or against anything… that activist in me knows that there are far graver things than facebook relationship status, to fight against.

Relationships and their social contexts have become far too controversial and debatable issues lately, for poor me to even dare writing upon.

Do I wish to be in a relationship with anyone or not? If yes, then with whom and why?

To start with, does a relationship (let us call it matrimony, if it comforts) truly complete my life?

For those who bother to raise such questions, these are too personal choices to generalize broadly into socially acceptable frameworks that we live within…. This is about those who silently choose to live their lives by their own rules, without preaching others to do the same… without setting out to destroy the very fabric of our faiths and subsequent comforts.

With time, now I have come to a point where life has started weaving into a beautiful, melodic rhythm of its own. Although delightfully unpredictable like a dance sequence, life has continued to gift me with moments of grace, beauty, warm affection and lasting friendships…. It has brought me to believe that any day that has not been driven by the utmost love for life, is not lived at all.

Life of this 27, single woman, travelling architect is full and satisfying…. Filled with immense questions and challenges sometimes beyond her strength! There is color, glamour, beauty and humor along with mistakes, blunders, failures and massive goof ups!

They have said that I am wasting my life, that I am taking all the wrong decisions…. They have said that this path that I am choosing goes nowhere…. And I promise, this nowhere is so much more beautiful than anywhere! Through this chaotic, rattling bus journey of life, my closest ones have always stood by my silly decisions….

My exceptionally cool-headed father with his flawlessly practical advice, offered only when asked for…expecting me to make truthful and honest choices in life, and nothing more, in return of all the emotional and financial investments he has continued to make…

Friends of family and families of my friends, who have unexpectedly risen to help, guide and shelter me in the worst hours of life….

Teachers who have patiently watched me fumble over the easiest of lessons!

My best buddies who have watched me fall and get back to my feet… taught me to use phones and tracked my crazy travel itineraries… laughed at me and lightened up my gloomy moods!

Silent admirers who have defended and protected me, from a distance, without hurting my independent spirit….

I have always known how much courage it has cost them all to watch me struggle. I know how uncomfortable they have felt late at night, in their comfortable beds, when they knew I traveled, hungry, dirty and cold out there….

For me, they represent love like nothing and no one else…. They give me strength and hope for the great times…. many beautiful futures that we will be building together….

Along with women of exceptional courage and character, many of them are men of varying backgrounds and age groups. They have loved me in their own ways…. Accepted my fussing, hangry, eccentric way of loving them! And they have never offered me a humiliating choice that most women are often offered, sometimes subtly, sometimes openly, between being an object and being everything else. And at every moment, if there was such a choice, they have laughed and nodded, as I chose wholeheartedly and in complete consciousness, to remain hungry, dirty, cold and loved as I am!

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Achievement…

Do you feel sometimes that the world is a big laboratory and somebody is performing a complex experiment on us all….?

On one side we have our dreams and aspirations….. And we chase them, we fight for our dreams… and what we achieve is not always exactly what we really wanted…. The nature of that achievement always changes by the time we reach there…. Does someone up there tweak the things before we get them?!

Often, by the time I get it, I do not want it anymore…. It looks too dull in comparison with the vibrant journey I experienced, to reach there…. If it is possible, I must be more in love with the path than the destination, and guess it works the same with many of us….

Also when we gain something, we lose something on its way…. There is a cost of everything in life, nothing, nothing ever comes for free. Sometimes, what I lost in my path leaves a gaping hole in that glorious achievement….. I do not want glorious achievements anymore. I never started out to gain fame and applause or money…. But the world often takes it for granted that I must want all that….and gives me just that! I am wordless and helpless if it comes to explaining that “I do not want it! What I am looking for cannot be bought with money, because it does not exist! I must build it, create it myself…. It cannot be offered like applause, nor spread out like popularity! I wish I could explain what I am looking for…. It is some quiet place, beautiful in its presence, surrounded by love and warmth and wisdom….peaceful and conscientious at the same time.”

Not that we do not respect what we get. We are extremely grateful for the journey and wisdom it brought to us…. But “now what?” is the question that pops up every now and then, edging us to embark on a fresh journey all over again!

They say we lack stability…. We say we lack inertia! Stability for us arises from quiet industriousness. Stability will dawn upon us, for now, we simply do what we are doing; we live in here and now…. That in itself is a wondrous state to achieve…..

 

Homes That Die

A home should be capable of death just like those who live in it…..
Like a faithful pet or rather like a soul brother, the house should die with us, for we do not wish to litter this earth with too many monuments of the dead.
Death is a beautiful companion herself…. I wish I could learn to not fear her…. to befriend her instead….
Then the homes too will become fearless and benign…..

Built with Love….

Years ago I used to dream…about erecting tall skyscrapers in my home town. I dreamed of watching this city from a lofty terrace up there…. I was young and eager to build a new era for this city. I loved this city.

But something has gone wrong in last couple of years. No…I still love this place, I call it home…don’t I?! But I do not want any skyscrapers here….not anymore. Me and my friends…we have lived here for generations. But we will neither afford a house in those… nor the lifestyle that must be bought as well.

I know who will afford it all…. Those few people for whom we toil day and night. They will buy what was rightfully ours. They will show us a dream…. that if we work harder someday maybe we can be like them…. Maybe! And someday we will really afford it all…but we’ll be too old and worn out with hard work, to enjoy it. We will be acutely aware of those who were robbed of living so that we could buy some luxuries…..and the plushness will feel so vacant somehow. We will learn to not notice the emptiness…not feel too much, not even pure happiness.

It is a cruel joke… such dark humor that I feel not like laughing at all. But the glamor-dressed reality of the building trade has taught me something. The people that I slaved for will never let me change the fate of this city. They will offer me a glorious chance to build my dream city on their terms…just a few compromises! I would build it on any terms… as long as I get to build. But it will be them who own my dream. They will sell it piece by piece, to those who can afford to buy. I will stay in a cubbyhole for the rest of my life and watch the skyscrapers with pride…. “I built it!” I will stand in the long queues, suffocate in jammed roads and I will look up to the skyscrapers once in a while, coughing and retching, “I built it”. Poor will become poorer, rich will become richer, I will watch them rob each other in turns…. I’d want to look away…to the skyscrapers… “I built it”

Ten years down the line I do not want to think that I built it all…I helped them build this horrific world. I know they will build it anyway…much worse without me. But now I do not want any part of it. My home is about to be destroyed. And I am going to run for my life. Many have fled before me. I laughed at them, called them cowards. But now I must run too…jump off from this sinking ship.

Lucky for me I know how to build. I will find a secluded island somewhere… and build another home there… a home that will not be built on the corpses of my fellow brothers…a home that will be an ascetic’s cave…. and nothing more.

I know there are more like me…. They will come too. I will build for them… I will build with love. The land will heal and blossom under my touch. I will blossom with her…someday to die in peace and return back to the sweet earth.

Sarang of the Water Lily….

They all said in their singsong accent that I haven’t seen the real Kerala if I haven’t seen the backwaters. I only smiled at the stranger mallyalis knowing that my tour schedule is governed by a headmaster and does not permit me to decide much!

And then the God decided to surprise me in his own country!

Our return railway tickets remained unconfirmed till the last day. Now I have no other choice but to spend a night on a house boat in Vembanad Lake, Kumarakom, Kerala, until my return commute is arranged! Yeey!!

A seen-in-pictures type “kairali” houseboat stood swaying serenely at the jetty, with its dried coconut leaf mats and a bronze plate bearing name “water Lily” gleaming in the evening light… Mr Thomas Abraham greeted us with a toothy smile and a pet name longer than his first name, “aniyan Kunju” meaning little brother.

This little brother owned a few paddy fields in the backwaters along with a houseboat (costing app. 40lakhs) his plain white mundu and modest smile did not hint about being rich!!

While we settled aboard, a silent boat crew of two burly mallyalis took the sailor wheel. I was too occupied with the coconut orchards and tiny houses tucked here and there, that were passing swiftly behind as our boat sailed away from the jetty…into the wonder filled enchanting world of the Lagoon….

Standing unaided on the top deck, feeling soft moist wind and glow of setting sun on my face….. I could almost imagine what Jack Dawson must have felt… like being the king of the world!!

These boats are highly equipped for luxurious stay which probably means a dish TV and air conditioned bedrooms with smart compact attached toilets, fine upholstery and a hidden kitchen! Dinner on a houseboat is a long event, with finest fish fries arriving at the table, wine glasses glinting and conversations that last a long time. Finally I could smile and bid a goodnight to everyone and escape from the dinner deck….

The top deck was bathed in moonlight…. I could see the entire lagoon rippling and throwing slivers of moonlight in many directions… like molten silver holding the boat afloat! There was soft mist around the silhouettes of coconut trees at some faraway shore…

Last few savory sips of wine and a book of Kairali short stories was left completely forgotten beside me. I was non-existent, molten away in the moonlight…. Flowing in the rippling lagoon….swirling in the misty horizon….There was an unexplained mysterious smile depicted in my surrounds and I smiled in reply, smiled at the way I was brought here….to this night on a deck. Knowing that the beauty of this night came not from the water, moonlight or the boat… but from something within me….

I just sat still…..not knowing if my eyes were closed or open… not knowing if I was awake or asleep… till the dawn touched on eastern horizon… leaving a dreamlike night in my misted memories for lifetimes.

The morning was fresh and strikingly alive with all kinds of birds chirping trumpeting around the boat. Ducks, herons and many water birds had started out their day. And a solemn looking bee-eater sat on a dried twig taking an apparently random unexpected flight once in a while and returning to his perch with a fat dragonfly in its beak!

The sun was glowering by the time our wafting coffee mugs were empty and taken away. It was time to head home… a painful reminder that this wasn’t a home after all!

I descended to the sailor’s deck, where our boat crew, Sajjivan and Antony had prepared the boat for its return. I asked Sajjivan the word in mallyali for the boat-driver! He replied, “Sarang”.

Sajjivan gave the sailors wheel in my hand, teaching me to move the propellers the right way, winding through the small islands of waterweeds. We chatted about the life on and off water… He loved his job and life on a lagoon. His family lived in Kottyam. His daughter “Anusree” was attending one of the engineering colleges, (which are abundant throughout the kerala!)

The “water Lily” swayed back into the jetty under expert hands of her “sarang”… And as I stepped on the terra firma, I had to smile with an effort, waving a goodbye to the smiling pair of Sajjivan and antony standing on the deck.

I was left with Sajjivan’s parting words,

“Sarang… The one who steers…”

Sarang… the one who steers me into a torrent of experiences, revealing his silvery self reflected in the vessel of the world….

No wonder saints often described God spiritual literature as,

Sarang… The one who steers the boat of spirit, from mundane of earthly life into the depths of divine love….

Divine Abode of Ambadi God’s House at Thekkady

Munnaring Tourist A Stroll through the hills of Munnar

Divine Abode of Ambadi…

Thekkady is famous for its pretty location on the fringe of Periyar tiger Reserve. Gigantic bamboo clumps forming an intricately towering canopy over roads will welcome you to Thekkady. An occasional Malabar giant squirrel scampering overhead can be spotted here if you prefer gazing into the thickets than in tourist shops!

Our next stop was Ambadi resort in Thekkady. Ambadi literally means the home of Lord Krishna. (ref: our headmaster tour guide) Though I don’t see any historical trace to it, I can gladly accept this beautifully designed hotel as Krishna’s own home!! He’d love the stone pathways, fine-carved, polished wood paneling, and excellent designs of timber-joints in sloping roofs! Warm earthy brown terracotta flooring and heavy wooden furniture with witty lights twinkling through bamboo lamp shades!

What a divine home it was!

The headmaster had whisked away every other tourist to boating and some spice garden cum shop. I bunked to stay in this divine Ambadi and took a long luxurious Abhyanga bath! My little cottage was silent… allowing only the squirrels to chirp relentlessly! There was a cozy sit-out in the front facing a wild cluster of bamboo… Lounging with a hot cup of “kaapi” I watched the sun showering its last flecks of gold for today from behind the dark silhouettes of arching bamboo….wrote notes for the blog, feeling like I was already sharing the happiness of being alive with you all, my loved ones!

Slowly the sky went dark and lights from the pathway started to illuminate the bamboo upward… Rested and “coffeed” comfortably I set out to stroll around the tiny settlement. I just walked on roads, met strangers, and made friends with little girls selling heaps of jasmine….

There were little shacks of art studios and local restaurants with excellent appam-sambaram menu! Beautiful pieces of wooden artwork lined the roadsides of a bustling market. I watched a wood artist at work, wearing a traditional white mundu wrap, his face austere with tense, intent thought behind is sharp sparkling eyes…. It was like walking into some timeless world where the artists chiseled gods into existence… I swayed back to my cottage feeling like an audience of some enchanted magnanimous movie that was being set on the world stage….. The glimpses of thekkady will always jump at me at the mere mention of kerala…. Surging like a living element inside me, never letting me succumb to a lifeless life.

Sarang of The Water Lily A night on a lagoon

Munnaring Tourist A Stroll through the hills of Munnar

Little Silly thought….

Every day I am falling in love afresh, with you and your wonder filled world.

How could I not love each lush green leaf and every clear raindrop…. Every gush of wind flying up the valley and rushing rapids jumping carelessly off the cliffs….

They are all your moods and shades enwrapped around me. And I am a little seed germinating in your soft sweet earth….

However ethereal and formless you may be…. I have seen you in broad daylight, touched you in warm wet soil. I am drunk with your clear sweet rains….

And how could they say you did not exist, when I am holding on to this dream-life just to watch you exist in every cell….in every little bit of me…

Now that I have lost all the contests, given up chasing everything else….I see no other reason but you. I see not this world, but you. Every word I say has blossomed into a prayer that I must’ve offered you. My dazed chains of thoughts are nothing but fragrant garlands…already yours even before you arrive!

I am not conscious I know… But you are… all that exists, I exist not anyway! There is just little silly thought, slowly fading away… Who will welcome you…if I become you in the end?!