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

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Smiling face across the flowers…

She was restless all through the night. Thinking if she should do it or not….

What if they catch me? What will they do to me? But I can’t just sit. I will not be able to hold back….

It is a day to express my love…. It is my rightful time to speak what I feel! It is my time to say that I love you! …Flowers! Yes! I will get flowers tomorrow! There is nothing as pleasant as a beautiful flower to confront the love! It brings a smile, makes you agree, even if you are angry with me!

Who will sell flowers on the Valentine’s Day?! I have heard they burn down the shops

It will be very tricky… but I will feel so nice when I will see that smiling face across my flowers, watching me with admiration?!

And with that thought she smiled to herself….laying in her bed, watching vacant ceiling she drifted to sleep with sweet dreams in her eyes….

Morning came with distant bustle of awakening human world….and she woke up from her dream world. Her first conscious thought was the same smiling face across the flowers, watching her with admiration! Again she could not help but smile!

With eagerness of a five year old she got herself ready. As if she wanted to catch the first flower of the season, first ray of that special sunrise, first smiles and first laughter! She changed her dress five times before the mirror….but finally selected the first dress only! She went through breakfast as if it was first time she ate food! And she rushed out in hurry…

Roads were still covered in lazy traces of last night’s fog. As she reached, the florist shop was only opening its shutters… its clean glass doors shining in soft morning light…. There was smell of soft watered earth… And fresh flowers were yet to be arranged. Florist, an elderly man of wise temperament was busy arranging the bouquets on display racks. He saw her approaching with a beaming smile on her face, and he thought to himself,

Here she comes, another fool! She will buy flowers for her lover and he will cheat her first thing tomorrow morning! How many like her have come to buy a red rose and gone home with a wilted face like stale lilies!”

But working with flowers everyday gave him a youthful heart, the one that can encourage love everyday with a new blossom on his display racks! He smiled as she entered the shop overflowing with smiles and so many things to say!

She bought flowers of assorted variety, unlike everyone who was expected to come today for red roses. She got fresh white lilies and sunny yellow roses along with pinks! Even when she was selecting the flowers she could not stop her smiles! What an overflow of zest!!

The florist chuckled to himself and he too could not help the smile that retouched his face! He took the money from her tender, inexperienced hands and noticed that it must have been her hard earned, saved for so long, money that she was spending today…. He looked down at that innocent smile and prayed to God that, “You still not have stopped giving out innocence and love in abundance! Thank you lord, world needs this so very much!”

Unaware of the florist and his prayer, the girl swayed her way out of his shop, controlling her desire to dance into walking steps across the pavement. The roads were almost empty, so unlikely for a beautiful morning like today! She thought for a moment but it could not dampen her joy and she walked on with the bunch of flowers cradled like a delicate baby in her arms… As she saw the flowers, again she melted into the fantasy of the moment when the flowers will be given! And there was the same smiling face across the flowers, watching her with admiration! Again she could not help but smile!

Around next corner she heard voices….as if people following her…. Smiles tucked in…. as if they had never known how to smile….tall and rough… in a moment she was surrounded…. Another moment had realized her flowers, her fresh and beautiful flowers were strewn across the road…torn petal by petal…. She could not concentrate on next moment…. Her eyes were closed… And there was the same smiling face across the flowers, watching her with admiration! Again she could not help but smile!

Her eyes opened to reveal white vacant ceiling…smell of something familiar….like a hospital….. With a tiny shock she looked around… it was not a dream…. Was it?! She was definitely coming here….right towards the hospital…but not to lie in bed! Why was she in bed?!

As she tried to get up, a searing pain went through her stomach…. A soft but firm hand came from somewhere and supported her up, so that she could sit and look around. That was some strange surprise to see her best friend by her side! What a great day it must be! And as her gaze moved around, she saw that old grandpa on first bed with his toothless smile, little foreigner girl craning her neck over the pillow to look at her, Head-nurse aunty in her crisp white uniform, bustling around the beds arranging curtains….sweeper uncle with his broom swashing under the beds smiled at her….

All the smiles that she had been dreaming of from across the flowers were right there! And she remembered flowers! Where are my flowers?! Some distant vague scene of petals strewn across the road…. Was it true?!

“I was getting flowers for you all” She said to the room at large, though her confused and pained look contradicted her words….

“Grandpa, I had got white lilies for you…you said it reminds you of granny…. And for nurse aunty and sweeper uncle, I had got yellow roses…those big fragrant ones….For the little china doll over there I had got pink rose”

She looked up at her friend, “What happened of my flowers?!”

He just smiled as if relieved from great tension. “You are safe, my flower! That is all we need! You are one fool to carry a big bunch of flowers right on the road, when you know things are very sensitive these days! If I had not found you in time, the people who stabbed you would have left you bleeding there on the road!”

His expressions of warm love changed to ferocious anger while he spoke! Late morning light fell across the tall windows, his red angry face glowed in that light…. But his rage could not touch her! She still smiled at him the same way! What could he do?! He had to smile too; such was the intoxicating wonder in her smile!

She was not much disturbed….as if violence never touched her! “Alright, so the flowers are gone you say?! Could we get fresh ones? What do you say? Do you have some money?”

“My dear, it’s the morning of 15th February, 2010! It was not very nice of you to remain unconscious for one whole day and keep everyone worried!” though now everyone was laughing!

He got up from her side and yawned and stretched “Is it okay if I go home now?! You are safe here with all your valentine friends and your parents will come in some time. I will see you later today…. Is it okay?!” she smiled and nodded with the enthusiasm of a fresh daisy swaying in morning wind!

She waved a goodbye to him, and relaxed back into the soft pillow, realizing the small effort had tired her out…. She saw from her bed… grandpa had taken his medicine and was dozing away…. The little Chinese girl was watching the doctors bustling outside the ward. It was very quiet… tranquil place.

Her gaze moved around…..and stopped on a wrinkled shirt, clumsily folded on her bedside table…. She recognized it at once….it was the same shirt he had worn. She knew her best friends shirt so well that she could have closed her eyes and picked it out of hundreds! But it was stained with blood… was it her blood?! She touched lightly on the bandaged wound on her stomach….trying to feel it….remember it…. It hurt for sure, even through the heavy painkiller dose….

She opened the folded shirt…and from its folds fell something in her lap…. A wilted red rose…one solitary red rose… and a note,

“to my dearest flower, you have been my best friend ever since I know you…. You have brought magic and wonderment in my life. You are no less than a magician for me! Would you want to spend your life with me, fill me with your magical love always and forever?!”

She Smiled and closed her eyes…and she saw his smiling face from across a solitary red rose, watching her in admiration!

She was restless all through the night. Thinking if she should do it or not….

What if they catch me? What will they do to me? But I can’t just sit. I will not be able to hold back….

It is a day to express my love…. It is my rightful time to speak what I feel! It is my time to say that I love you! …Flowers! Yes! I will get flowers tomorrow! There is nothing as pleasant as a beautiful flower to confront the love! It brings a smile, makes you agree, even if you are angry with me!

Who will sell flowers on the Valentine’s Day?! I have heard they burn down the shops…

It will be very tricky… but I will feel so nice when I will see that smiling face across my flowers, watching me with admiration?!

And with that thought she smiled to herself….laying in her bed, watching vacant ceiling she drifted to sleep with sweet dreams in her eyes….

Morning came with distant bustle of awakening human world….and she woke up from her dream world. Her first conscious thought was the same smiling face across the flowers, watching her with admiration! Again she could not help but smile!

With eagerness of a five year old she got herself ready. As if she wanted to catch the first flower of the season, first ray of that special sunrise, first smiles and first laughter! She changed her dress five times before the mirror….but finally selected the first dress only! She went through breakfast as if it was first time she ate food! And she rushed out in hurry…

Roads were still covered in lazy traces of last night’s fog. As she reached, the florist shop was only opening its shutters… its clean glass doors shining in soft morning light…. There was smell of soft watered earth… And fresh flowers were yet to be arranged. Florist, an elderly man of wise temperament was busy arranging the bouquets on display racks. He saw her approaching with a beaming smile on her face, and he thought to himself,

Here she comes, another fool! She will buy flowers for her lover and he will cheat her first thing tomorrow morning! How many like her have come to buy a red rose and gone home with a wilted face like stale lilies!”

But working with flowers everyday gave him a youthful heart, the one that can encourage love everyday with a new blossom on his display racks! He smiled as she entered the shop overflowing with smiles and so many things to say!

She bought flowers of assorted variety, unlike everyone who was expected to come today for red roses. She got fresh white lilies and sunny yellow roses along with pinks! Even when she was selecting the flowers she could not stop her smiles! What an overflow of zest!!

The florist chuckled to himself and he too could not help the smile that retouched his face! He took the money from her tender, inexperienced hands and noticed that it must have been her hard earned, saved for so long, money that she was spending today…. He looked down at that innocent smile and prayed to God that, “You still not have stopped giving out innocence and love in abundance! Thank you lord, world needs this so very much!”

Unaware of the florist and his prayer, the girl swayed her way out of his shop, controlling her desire to dance into walking steps across the pavement. The roads were almost empty, so unlikely for a beautiful morning like today! She thought for a moment but it could not dampen her joy and she walked on with the bunch of flowers cradled like a delicate baby in her arms… As she saw the flowers, again she melted into the fantasy of the moment when the flowers will be given! And there was the same smiling face across the flowers, watching her with admiration! Again she could not help but smile!

Around next corner she heard voices….as if people following her…. Smiles tucked in…. as if they had never known how to smile….tall and rough… in a moment she was surrounded…. Another moment had realized her flowers, her fresh and beautiful flowers were strewn across the road…torn petal by petal…. She could not concentrate on next moment…. Her eyes were closed… And there was the same smiling face across the flowers, watching her with admiration! Again she could not help but smile!

Her eyes opened to reveal white vacant ceiling…smell of something familiar….like a hospital….. With a tiny shock she looked around… it was not a dream…. Was it?! She was definitely coming here….right towards the hospital…but not to lie in bed! Why was she in bed?!

As she tried to get up, a searing pain went through her stomach…. A soft but firm hand came from somewhere and supported her up, so that she could sit and look around. That was some strange surprise to see her best friend by her side! What a great day it must be! And as her gaze moved around, she saw that old grandpa on first bed with his toothless smile, little foreigner girl craning her neck over the pillow to look at her, Head-nurse aunty in her crisp white uniform, bustling around the beds arranging curtains….sweeper uncle with his broom swashing under the beds smiled at her….

All the smiles that she had been dreaming of from across the flowers were right there! And she remembered flowers! Where are my flowers?! Some distant vague scene of petals strewn across the road…. Was it true?!

“I was getting flowers for you all” She said to the room at large, though her confused and pained look contradicted her words….

“Grandpa, I had got white lilies for you…you said it reminds you of granny…. And for nurse aunty and sweeper uncle, I had got yellow roses…those big fragrant ones….For the little china doll over there I had got pink rose”

She looked up at her friend, “What happened of my flowers?!”

He just smiled as if relieved from great tension. “You are safe, my flower! That is all we need! You are one fool to carry a big bunch of flowers right on the road, when you know things are very sensitive these days! If I had not found you in time, the people who stabbed you would have left you bleeding there on the road!”

His expressions of warm love changed to ferocious anger while he spoke! Late morning light fell across the tall windows, his red angry face glowed in that light…. But his rage could not touch her! She still smiled at him the same way! What could he do?! He had to smile too; such was the intoxicating wonder in her smile!

She was not much disturbed….as if violence never touched her! “Alright, so the flowers are gone you say?! Could we get fresh ones? What do you say? Do you have some money?”

“My dear, it’s the morning of 15th February, 2010! It was not very nice of you to remain unconscious for one whole day and keep everyone worried!” though now everyone was laughing!

He got up from her side and yawned and stretched “Is it okay if I go home now?! You are safe here with all your valentine friends and your parents will come in some time. I will see you later today…. Is it okay?!” she smiled and nodded with the enthusiasm of a fresh daisy swaying in morning wind!

She waved a goodbye to him, and relaxed back into the soft pillow, realizing the small effort had tired her out…. She saw from her bed… grandpa had taken his medicine and was dozing away…. The little Chinese girl was watching the doctors bustling outside the ward. It was very quiet… tranquil place.

Her gaze moved around…..and stopped on a wrinkled shirt, clumsily folded on her bedside table…. She recognized it at once….it was the same shirt he had worn. She knew her best friends shirt so well that she could have closed her eyes and picked it out of hundreds! But it was stained with blood… was it her blood?! She touched lightly on the bandaged wound on her stomach….trying to feel it….remember it…. It hurt for sure, even through the heavy painkiller dose….

She opened the folded shirt…and from its folds fell something in her lap…. A wilted red rose…one solitary red rose… and a note,

“to my dearest flower, you have been my best friend ever since I know you…. You have brought magic and wonderment in my life. You are no less than a magician for me! Would you want to spend your life with me, fill me with your magical love always and forever?!”

Crisp Winter…

It is crisp winter in the Indian subcontinent. And the Deccan plateau is covered as usual in its multicolored drape of deciduous forests. Here we do not have a single fall season. Every tree sheds its leaves at different time in winter. And the mountains always look covered in different colors all through the winter.

The air is crusty and cool. Though the sun heats up open meadows, there is pleasant cold shade under most of the trees. If you are tired hiking through the sunny countryside, the shady ovals marked under the trees call you to rest, occasionally dropping a solitary dried leaf in your lap….

Winter-scape of Sahyadri

The mornings and evenings stretch till mid day in winters… Except few hours of afternoon the weather is calling you out to run wild in sharp dry streaks of wintry air… You feel like running miles through solid curtains of morning fog hung in valleys, fighting with the chill. As sky grows brighter, sunlight comes to your help. The fogs scamper away and you can locate chirping bird far in the valley….

Then you wish to fly, to chirp, to sway on the treetops, just like the bird…

There is laughter in the air and inside you…. If you look down at yourself you see icy bright light in your body… The winter air lights you from within…. Like a bonfire night….under the deciduous tree, occasionally dropping a solitary dried leaf in your lap….

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