Saturday 22 November 2014

[Poem] Splintered Nights

My house collapses, then vanishes completely;
A hitherto undiscovered room
materializes, giving joy.
A friendly ghost wanders across darkened rooms
A loved face gets close then disappears.
A whiff of happiness, I smile.

A baby cries fearing the lofty swing of the sling in a tree.
Frantic running up and down a stairway
I sprint across fields of corn and sunflower,
then chased by a man who freezes into a scarecrow,
Scythe in hand, I wake up,

The sun beats down on me
lying motionless in the desert sand;
A loved one, long dead,
Comes to the rescue.
In stormy seas, in a capsizing boat,
next flying to safety in a hang gliding float.
Standing silhouetted at a precipice,
a long fall to wakening.

I live many lives, I paint other lives,
All within one night,
Enactments in a mind scape                                     
night after night-
not for me the wait of many births.
Events of waking life,
re-lived as I will - them.
Arguments lost are now won.
Fears surface, regrets too
tears fall and it is safe to cry.
I pen amazing songs,
Think up fantastic plots
Only, they are lost in waking.

Innumerable incidents,
half remembered snatches
of events dismembered,
Reassigned outcomes.
My sleep life more exciting,
more intriguing
by the boredom of waking.

Tuesday 2 September 2014

[ Short story] Strangers in the Sand

There are times in our lives where we experience encounters in the least likely of places that brings perfect strangers close as they collaborate for survival. In an instant all the barriers that divide us - such as language, religion, creed and custom are broken and we interact as human beings – we may part and go our separate ways later, but the memories are etched forever in our hearts and we carry these to our graves.

It was late afternoon as I stepped out of the car, the sun was still bright and there was a balmy breeze. I did a quick check before I locked the car – pedometer, headphones, iPod and a bottle of water. I did a bit of spot jogging and stretches before I bent down to tighten my shoe laces in readiness for the jog.

This was my routine on most weekends. I was here in the Middle East on a yearlong assignment, in the bank I worked for. My regular workday included long hours of work and indiscrete food choices. It was so easy to pile on the pounds. I had hit upon this routine, (reluctantly at first) but now I really looked forward to these moments alone with myself – alone with my thoughts, perfecting strategies as I jogged along at a slow pace listening to my favourite music.

The beaches in this part of the world are breathtaking. Everything is so tastefully and neatly laid out. The deep blue sea is abutted by a vast sandy beach. A large beautifully tiled promenade forms the third tier. Lining the promenade are landscaped gardens with luscious lawns and beyond these grassy stretches are the parking lots.

The beach usually had a large turnout in the weekends, where people came in large groups armed with grills, tents, cushions, carpets, chairs and partied in the open, till the wee hours of the morning. Children brought along their toy bikes and cars, which they rode on the promenade even as their parents watched over them from the lawns. Today, though the beach was bereft of activity except for a few people – I was surprised, but I was not unduly perturbed, as I now had the place all to myself.

It began rather imperceptibly at first… Circular waves of sand that moved inland blown by the winds from the sea- it was so beautiful to watch and quite unlike anything I had ever seen before. I was even considering taking a picture on my phone, but the sand haze intensified and I realized in that instant that I was in the midst of a sandstorm. Now, ever since I moved here, I had witnessed sand storms before- from the safety of my car of course and it usually happened in short spells, where visibility dimmed a little and the sand hissed shrilly against the tyres of the car and eddying on both sides of the road. I thought this too would be short lived and jogged on, but was puzzled by the fact that the woman jogging a little ahead turned hurriedly and began running back. I also noticed the few others scurrying to their cars after hurriedly packing up their picnic mats and baskets.

All of a sudden, I realized why… the circles of sand began to gather momentum and density and in no time the visibility around me became next to nil.

I stopped in my tracks as needle sharp sand particles pierced my skin and eyes. I couldn't breathe as sand began to enter my nostrils and I hurriedly fumbled in my pockets and covered my nose with tissue paper. Yes, I was caught in the middle of a sandstorm with absolutely no clue about how I should protect myself.

Now, I understood the reason for the sparse turnout that day. Maybe there was a warning, which I had missed. I regretted my decision to continue jogging, even after noticing the others leave. I froze in my tracks, as I could not see even a few inches ahead of me mostly from the haze and the dust in my eyes, which were now watering …

My mind was in a daze as I quickly weighed and discarded the options before me. I was not sure which way to proceed as I had lost my sense of direction. I fumbled for my phone and with head bent low and a hand uselessly covering my eyes I tried to open the compass application, but I soon realized, I had never used it in this location and so I wouldn’t be able to use the information effectively. My only option seemed to be to turn around on my heel, switch on the torch in the phone and plod along through the haze of sand, wind and fear. I even contemplated lying down flat on the ground- waiting for the storm to pass but was afraid to do so as the storm showed no signs of letting up. With my eyes nearly shut, I kept on walking slowly against the wind not even sure if I was keeping a straight line, praying not to ram into anything…

Suddenly, I thought I heard faint footsteps. I turned eagerly and called out - but my voice was lost in the wind and the sand entered my mouth. I was somewhat comforted by the bobbing light that was now advancing towards me … I was unsure of what or whom to expect – but I did feel greatly relieved!


He emerged from the haze, light from his phone bobbing through the dust.When he was close enough, I realized he had a carpet over his head, which protected him somewhat better than me from the storm – he muttered something is Arabic that I didn’t understand. He grabbed my hand and put the carpet over my head. He signaled me to squat down and I slid down slowly waiting for the ground to come up to me. We sat there in that tiny tent, barely inches from each other -- In any other time and place I would not have felt the comfort I felt now.

He was using his turban to cover his nose and he now extended it to me. I held it over my head and nose gratefully and opened my eyes a little more to see his face – but it was fully spattered with mud – he was a strange sight indeed but I was so glad that he was there.

We tried opening the mat further and creating more room for ourselves, it was herculean, but we finally managed to make a little tent for ourselves, pulling down the ends with our hands and feet to prevent the carpet from flying away. We laughed like children every time the tent threatened to lift up. We would have stayed there for what seemed like several hours, but which I later found to be three-quarters of an hour and the whirling and hurtling sounds began to die down.

The air cleared finally and we pushed the carpet away and stood up. There was dust everywhere – on the ground, on the trees on the lawns making the place totally unrecognizable. He said something to me in Arabic and began sprinting towards the parking lot and I was seized by an urge to retreat to the safety of my car, so I followed suit. Only two cars remained there, mine was closer than his, and both looked a muddy brown. I opened the car and began to clean the windows and the rear view mirrors ineffectively with facial tissue– that’s when I noticed how terrifying I looked! I hurriedly took out a bottle of water and began washing my face vigorously- to my dismay I found that there was a lot of sand in my hair (which I had only washed that morning) and my clothes. My shoes looked almost black. I turned to look for him, and found him cleaning his car. I got into the car and parked it alongside his. I got out and said the only word in Arabic that I knew-

“ Shukran! “ I said, and hoped my voice would convey my gratitude much better than my paucity of words…

I waited for him to finish and held out my hand for a handshake and he offered his grimy hand, rather hesitantly. He said “ Maa salamah,” which I knew was goodbye and signaled me gallantly to drive away first.

As I waved and drove away, I realized I didn’t even know his name, or what he did for a living. I also knew that in all likelihood I would never meet him again. But none of this mattered. I had been through a crisis, and I had shared that moment with a complete stranger, which had forged a unique bond between us. I knew that he would be an integral part of my memory of this event and that I would recall his face distinctly every time I spoke or thought of this adventure in the desert.

Thursday 21 August 2014

[Poem] Slavery

People's reaction and stances with regard to slavery always echoes political correctness. But we can hardly begin to imagine the stark reality and the extreme inhumanity of this curse on mankind. The film 12 Years a Slave brought the plight of slaves to centre stage. It is one of the most moving films that I have seen in recent times.This poem was inspired by the film.

Beaten into implicit submission,
Men, subjected to constant tyranny,
Women, stripped and brutalized,
Children, torn from a mother’s arms.
Mute spectators to barbarity each day,
Anesthetized to their own, and another’s pain,
Deprived of dignity,
Sold and resold like bonds,
Bound by endless bondage,
Each day – a palpable Hell,
Each night -a waking nightmare,
Where death becomes the highest hope...
This is slavery – Mankind’s greatest Shame…

What gives one race the right over another?
What gives one man absolute power?
How does a heart grow stone cold?
How can Human spirit
Be lauded in one,
Derided, in another?

Political doublespeak declares slavery's death.

can slavery ever die?
Can the human heart ever be rid of its desire for dominion?
Can mere indignation
Purge the soul?
Can learning, and belief
Tame the power hungry monster that lurks within us all?
 Each day is witness to new forms of tyranny,
New means of exploitation.

Slavery shall live on
as long as there is will to exploit, deceive, intimidate...
Slavery shall live on,
 where human dignity is devalued
 slavery shall live on,
in the persecution,
 in the exploitation of the poor,
the disadvantaged,
the voiceless,
the innocent,
and the tame...

Thursday 14 August 2014

[Short Story] The Mirror does not Smile Back

Savithri amma?" I asked, in half hesitation and half excitement, of the frail form in a faded cotton saree who answered the door. She nodded her assent and looked at me keenly, before asking me to step in. There ended my search that had gone on for more than an hour, first driving up and down a now very unfamiliar road and painstakingly entering each multistorey apartment block, checking the names of the occupants. But the search for Savithri amma began almost thirty years ago in a manner of speaking...

I woke to the mild strains of Hamsadwani played on the veena that floated in through the open window. It was summer time and for a seven year old, it was bliss time- no pressure to wake up early and rush to school. I could play for hours in the yard and no one would care. I could have lain there, half awake, soothed by the music, but an unkind sun, streaming down through the high window made me squirm and pull myself up. I gave a frustrated shout and got up. My mother stood over me grinning and said,
"Good for you! Now roll up that mattress, brush your teeth and come and have breakfast!
I know, once you go out to play, I won’t be able to catch you!"

I lumped up the bed as neatly as I could and placed it atop the pile of mattresses in the corner of the room. I ran to the backyard to quickly finish my morning routine. I loved to splash the cold water kept in the pail drawn out from the well. I had the day's events planned out really well. I would collect the baby mangoes that fell off the large trees in the backyard, which my mother pickled. I would hunt around the front yard for 'treasures'. In the afternoon, I would 'cook' food in my little earthenware pots and pans. My evenings were mostly spent in visiting temples with mother. I got to eat tasty 'prasadam' and listen to very interesting musical narrations of Hindu mythology that were performed there regularly.

I drank the glass of milk in three straight gulps and rushed out. It was a typical hot summer day, but I was rather comfortable, shaded as I was by the large neem tree in the front yard. I was quite busy, talking to myself, playing with the odds and ends- the 'treasures'- I had found in the vast spaces around the house - bits of stone, pieces of broken ceramic tiles and plastic jewellery. Green, bitter neem berries fell around me from time to time. They resembled grapes so much in appearance, that I was always tempted to bite them. And every strong breeze brought down a tingling cascade of the soft, tiny, cream coloured neem flowers, with their distinct smell. Then all of a sudden I heard the tinkle of an all too familiar bell. I knew instantly, it was the sonpaapdi seller with his cart. I ran to the kitchen window and called,
"Amma, amma!"
"The sonpaapdiwala is here, please, please, can I buy some at least today?"
I looked pleadingly at my mother, who came to the window.
But as expected, she shook her head.
"Oh, Devi," she said, "You know appa, will not like it... look here,
I will make peanut candy for you this afternoon, ok .."

"But, amma!..." I trailed off as my mother turned and moved away from the window.
I returned crestfallen, to the neem tree, when I heard someone call my name softly at first, then again. I looked up, through the leaves and I could make out aunt Savithri standing at her window.
"Devi," she said,
"Do you like sonpaapdi so much?" I nodded my head in assent.
"Can I buy you some?"
I was quite confused. I wanted it, but was afraid.
"Amma, will not like it," I said, in a meek tone.

She said, "Wait," and was instantly in the street, talking to the vendor.
The cart had a large, green, bell shaped glass jar and as always, the flaky sweet filled less than a quarter of it. I loved to watch the way the vendor would reach all the way to the bottom of jar, sift and loosen the flakes and arrange these in a piece of newspaper torn into neat squares. The passers-by, stopped around him, and I watched eagerly from the gate as aunt Savithri bought some. She came up to me and handed the paper carefully through the bars. Temptation got the better of protest and I ran to the play area and sat down and ate slowly, savouring each mouthful of the tasty sweet.

Thus began my interactions with aunt Savithri that summer. My mother had specifically warned me not to speak to aunt Savithri. Having been 'bribed' in this manner, I never breathed a word about this incident to my mother. I did ask her several times, as casually as I could, why I was not allowed to speak to aunt Savithri, but was only reprimanded on each occasion.

But, unknown to my mother, I made several stealthy trips to aunt Savithri's house. I found myself drawn to her. She was rather tall, with a fragile build. She wore her long hair that almost touched the back of her knee in a neat braid. She wore very few ornaments - and I loved her delicate wrists that were adorned by a simple pair of gold bangles. But she sported a large diamond ring on her ring finger, which stood out from the rest of her jewellery. I always found her dressed is simple cotton sarees. She had large kind but sad eyes and a smile lit up her face, whenever she talked to me. She spoke softly, and most of all, I liked the way she looked into my eyes and spoke. Sometimes I felt she was as much a child as me and as I didn't have a play mate other than my imaginary one, she became my play mate in a sense. Her music kept me company all the timeas I played in the yard.

One afternoon, we had guests over and my mother was lost in the melee, shouting something to her, I rushed next door in a trice. She was playing a soft raga on the veena. She smiled, and asked me,
" Devi, what raaga is this?"
Now this was a game we played all the time. She would play popular ragas for my benefit and then quiz me about them.
I asked her shyly "Is that Abheri?"
"Sabash!" she exclaimed.

I asked her hesitantly, whether I could play the veena too. And she smiling sat me on her lap and guided my fingers over the frets. I winced as the strings almost cut my fingers, and I was disappointed with the choppy wooden sounds that now ensued from that magical instrument. Seeing my absolute disappointment, she comforted me by saying,
"It sounded that way, when I started too ... you will improve if you practise more!"
So saying, she gently held me and planted a kiss on my cheek. I enjoyed that kiss, and the nearness it brought.

I was struck by her gentleness and warmth and I was puzzled why my mother was so antagonistic to her. Since, I couldn't ask my mother, I decided to ask her instead.
Aunt Savithri had begun to leave her front door ajar for my easy entry and I had flitted into her house to have a quick drink of water from the earthen pot near the door. I looked at her pensive face even as she sat on the large wooden indoor swing, lost in thought. I asked her shyly, "Can, I swing with you?" She jumped out and led me gently to it and seating herself next to me, she began swinging gently with me. I found her nearness so comforting and I suddenly asked her, " Why doesn't my mother like you? "
Aunt Savithri somehow seemed to know that the question was coming and she said,
"Paru is actually a very nice person, she is only punishing me, because I have done something bad... you know like when you've been naughty ... "She struggled, to find the right words and she said, speaking more to herself,
"I should have been more responsible, but mistakes are inevitable I suppose, my dear!"

One day, I was in her house, trying to match my stride to the large tiles that patterned her living room- with each stride, I almost fell as I had to stretch a great deal to place each of my feet on the sides of the tile... I had covered about half of the room, when I heard a strident ringing of the doorbell. Savithri hurried to the door and I overheard her urging the tall stranger who stood there to keep it low as I was inside. She hurriedly took him to an anteroom and very hesitantly asked me to leave. I sensed her agitation, I wanted to stay, to be by her side, but was also scared of the tall swarthy man who had entered so impertinently into the house.

The rains came and with it the start of school and a new class to sit in. I couldn't visit aunt Savithri anymore as my days were packed. I would often stare longingly at her window and I would wave eagerly if I spotted her there. I had grown more bold and despite my mother's glares, I waved to her.
I thought of her often, in the midst of homework, while at school, recalling her face, her smile and her tone.

Within a couple of months, however, my father had a job transfer to a different city. I was upset and extremely disturbed. One evening, I was very surprised to see my father at aunt Savithri's house. He was standing at her doorstep and Savithri was saying something earnestly with folded hands, my father mumbled something, turned abruptly and walked out of her door.

(To be continued...)

Tuesday 5 August 2014

[Translation] Ghalib's Yeh Na Thi Hamari Qismat

Mirza Ghalib's (1797-1869)  ghazal Yeh Na Thi Hamari Qismat is one very dear to me. This song has a wistful yearning for the beloved which is very appealing and so is the doting, forgiving tone that pervades the entire ghazal. An interesting aspect of this ghazal is that each of the couplets here are designed as conditional clauses.

Yeh na thee hamari qismat keh wisaal-e-yaar hota
Agar aur jeete rehtey yehi intezaar hota.

Tere waade par jiyee ham to yeh jaan jhoot jana
Keh khushi se mar na jaate agar aitbaar hota

koi meray dil say puchey tere teerey neem kash ko
ye khalish kahan se hoti jo jiger ke paar hota

Kahoon kis se main keh kya hai, shab-e-gham buri balaa hai
Mujhe kya bura tha marana agar ek baar hota

Huye mar keh hum jo ruswa huye kyun ka gharq-e-dariya
Na kabhi janaza ututha na kahin mazaar hota

Yeh masaael-e-tasavvuf yeh tera bayan Ghalib
Tujhe ham wali samajhate Joh na badaa khwar hota. 

 To meet you in this lifetime, was never in my fate,
 If granted more years, would have spent those in this wait.

A life lived on your promise, would have been but a charade,
Would I not have died of happiness, had there been of hope, but a trace.

Had some one inquired of my heart, of your drawn dart,
My heart would have felt no pain, even if your arrow pierced it hard.

With no participant in my joy and grievance, I spend my evenings in silence,
I do not dread death, had it, but come, all at once.

Disgraced as I shall be in death, why not I drown in the sea?
Fated, as I am to not have a funeral, nor a tomb erected for me. 

These lofty pronouncements and these confessions O Ghalib,
Could have conferred upon you sainthood, had wine not crossed your lip.

There are many versions of this song, but I liked the rendition by Habeeb Wali Muhammad the most!

Tuesday 29 July 2014

[Poem] இறையோடு ஓர் உரையாடல்

இதயத்தில் கேள்வியை உதிர்க்காதே
கேள்விகள் அறிவுக்கு தீனி
ஆனால் அவை நம்மை பிரிக்கும் பிணி;
அறியாமை வளர்க்கும் கேள்விகளால்
இங்கு யாருக்கு பயன்?
கேள்விகளை அநாயசமாய் எழுப்பும் மனம்
திசை இல்லா படகாய் இங்கு தத்தளிக்கிறது.

உன் உண்மை பற்றி ஐயுற செய்யாதே!
ஐயம் ஒரு பேய்,
அது தரும் தற்காலிக ஆற்றலால்
நான் மதியிழந்து தவறிழைக்கிறேன்.
நற்பாதை விட்டகல்கிறேன்.
நான் யார் என்ற உண்மையை என்னை உணரச்செய்
நீ உண்மையா என்ற கேள்வியை எழுப்பாதே.

நினைவை உன் பாதம் விட்டு அகலச்செய்யாதே,
பொறுப்பு என்ற பேதமையால் திசை திருப்பாதே!
உன் அடி,
அகலகில்லேன், அகலகில்லேன்
என உருகிய மனம்
ஐந்தடி அகன்ற பின்         
உரு மாறுவது ஏன்?
ஏன் பித்தாய் திரிகிறது
இவ்வுலகின் பற்றுக்கள் பின்?

மாய உலகம் எதற்காகப்படைத்தாய்?
இங்கு அனைத்து போகங்களையும்  எதற்காகச்சேர்த்தாய்?
இதில் வாழும் பேற்றை  ஏன் வழங்கினாய்?
நானே அசையும் பொருள்,
நானே அசையா பொருள் என்கிறாய்;
பின் மெய்ஞானத்திற்கு ய்ம்புலனையும் அடக்கு என்கிறாய்;
மாய உலகின் மாயங்கள் மறந்து, ஆன்மாவை நாடு என்கிறாய்;
நான் அடங்க நீ என்ன வழி செய்தாய்?

என்றும் உன் முன் நிறுத்து என்னை,
அந்த கணத்தில் தான்
ஏன் அறியாமை செயலிழக்கிறது,
ஐம்புலன்களும் அடங்குகின்றன,
நீ காட்டும் பாதையில் வழி நடத்திச்செல் என்னை.

இதயத்தில் கேள்வியை உதிர்க்காதே,
கேள்விகள் அறிவை வளர்க்கும்,
ஆனால் அமைதியில் மட்டுமே ஞானம் துளிர்க்கும்.

Friday 27 June 2014

[Poem] விடை தேடும் காலம்

This is a philosophical poem in Tamizh that I wrote based on the basic tenets of Hindu Philosophy.

விடை தேடும் காலம்
 வாழ்வின் விடை தேடும் காலம்.
இரை தேடும் பறவை போல
பொருள் தேடி, துணை தேடி
ஓய்ந்து இறை அடித்தேடி
வாழ்வின் பொருள் தேடி
அலையும் காலம்.

இருள் சூழ்ந்த பாதை
பல கண்டு, திசை மாறி, மருண்டு,     
பின் சுடர் கண்டு இடறி,
இறை அடி ஒன்றே குறி என்று
விரையும் காலம்.

சிதை கொண்டு போகும் முன்னம்
விடை காண விழையும்
எந்தன் மதி ஏங்கும்
விடியல் இங்கு வாராதோ?

Thursday 26 June 2014

[Poem] The Return

I must walk up those steps once more.
Not, with book laden hands,
Not, lost in talk with friends,
Not, with a theory crammed head,
Not, bogged down with paper work.

 Walk, in slow languid steps
Savouring being in the present- the sounds, smell and view.

I must walk up the flights,
The Flights, that fuel my fancy.
No prereading,
No assignments,
No presentation-stress.

Wander the vaulted corridors aimlessly,
Where the sun glances in, occasionally.

I must linger in the dark recesses,
Run, my hands on the cool stone perches
Worn smooth with the years.

I must peep into the libraries, at the silent spectacle
Of bowed heads sunk over books,
 Immobile researchers at carells, with books piles every where.

I must sit in at lectures,
Fall in love again
with Homer, Shakespeare and Donne.
Read Tennyson and Eliot,
And experience, the many Meanings of Life.
I must sit once more, in the tiered benches,
The desks carved many times over by numerous occupants,
Smelling of dust and mildew.

I must lie on the green lawns,
Where, we talked, laughed and crammed before exams.
Get baked in the sunlight, go tea crawling to all our favourite haunts.

I would like to return
to those stone steps,

 Relive the days we climbed them, all together.

A golden threshold to One doorway,
that led to endless pathways
 Life carved out, to each, in turn.

Sunday 15 June 2014

[Poem] Loneliness

Voices in the room
Conversation runs
In a meandering flow-
food, clothes, politics;
Light laughter, delightful banter,
and the politics of my exclusion.
A bubble in a free flowing stream.

The occasional look or word my way
- An awkward halt,
then an embarrassed silence,
Me, a boulder in a free flowing stream.

I fix you in my stare,
I long 
To ask about the sadness in your eye,
the gloom you try to hide-
Was I not your friend once? 

Life’s little irony –
Those you want, want you not,
Those who seek you out,
You, Dread most!

 A translation of this piece in Tamizh done by CR Venkatesh:

மூலம்: புவனேஷ்வரி ஷங்கர்
தமிழாக்கம்: வெங்கடேஷ் ராதாகிருஷ்ணன்

அறையில் பேச்சுக் குரல்கள்
உரையாடலோ ஒரு ஓடை போல்
வளைந்தும் நெளிந்தும்
அனைத்தையும் உள்ளடக்கி.
என்னைத் தவிர.

நீரோடையின் வேகம் தடுக்கும்

அவ்வப்போது என்னை நோக்கி
வீசப்பட்ட பார்வைகள் சொற்கள்
உரையாடல் திடுமென நின்று
ஒரு அசௌகரியமான அமைதிக்குள்.

நீரோடையின் வேகம் தடுக்கும்

உன்னை என் விழிகளுக்குள்
சோகத்தின் காரணம்
விசாரிக்க விருப்பம்.

ஒரு முறையேனும்
விடை வேண்டும்.
நட்பு எங்கே தொலைந்தது?

வாழ்க்கை ஒரு
முரண்பாடுகளின் மூட்டையானது.

விரும்புகிறோம் விலகுபவர்களை
விலக்குகிறோம் விரும்புபவர்களை.

Saturday 31 May 2014

[Poem] The Piper

The trees in the park shimmer,
Everywhere, an even green,
the sunshine- clandestine!
 Formless lovers on rickety park benches;
leaves slither amid
supine, mass strewn, lawns,
Children run,
 past old swearing men
Summer draws them all in...

The faint music of a pipe
pulls me inward --
There, by an old stone pool
sits a piper...

People pass,
none look his way--
holding mobiles, bikes,
-- chasing dreams
Children lost, in Life's maze...

In all that shunning,
he pipes his song
eyes closed.
Composure in a fevered world.

A few small coins
dot the open case.
Is this all he plays for?

If you can close your eyes,
he will take you places,
You can ride the wave of his dreams.

He dreams,
Only, not like you and me;
He smiles as he knows the truth,
Life is never drawn,
With your own crayon.

I stop and revere
the unaffirmed sage.
I listen,
as the music stills the senses.

Life is still,
the world is still,
in that moment-
I know peace...

 A translation of this piece done by Srinivasan Balasubramanian:

பச்சைக் கம்பளம் விரித்தது போல பறந்து விரிந்த பூங்கா,
ஆங்காங்கே பளபளக்கும் மர(கத)தொப்பிகள்,
 இச்சை மிகுதியாகி இழைந்து கொண்டிருக்கும் காதல் ஜோடிகள்,
இடையில் நுழைய முயன்று தோற்றுப்போனது காற்று,
இலைகளினூடே எட்டிப்பார்க்க முயன்று ஏமாந்த சூரியனும்,
கட்டை பெஞ்சுகளில் மரக்கட்டை போல் கிடப்பவர்கள்.
எந்த இடத்திலும் விளையாட இடம் தேடும் சிறுவர்கள்,
இங்கேயும் இந்த இடைஞ்சலா என முணுமுணுக்கும் பெரியவர்கள்;
இப்படியாக இங்கே கோடைக்காலத்தின் தாக்கம்
குளுமை தேடும் மக்கள் கூட்டம்.

அத்தனை ஆரவாரங்களையும் மீறி ஆங்கே ஓர் குழலோசை
என்னை இழுத்தது, என் இதயம் நனைததது --
குளக்கரையில் அவன்,
அவரவர் கை பேசிகளுடன், வண்டிகளில் அமர்ந்தபடி,
ஆட்டு மந்தைகளாய் ஜனங்கள் கூட்டம்
தத்தம் கனவுகளைத் துரத்தியபடி
எவருக்கு இங்கே நேரம் இருக்கிறது இன்னிசை கேட்க?

ஆரையும் மதியாமல் அவன் ஊதுகின்றான் தன் குழலில்
கண்களை மூடி, தன்னுள்ளே ஒரு சுகம் தேடி
அலைபாயும் அந்த உலகத்தின் நடுவே, அமைதியாய்
அருகே உள்ள தட்டில் ஐந்தாறு காசுகள்
இதற்குத்தானா இந்த தெய்வீக இசை?

விசை கொடுத்தால் இயங்கும் பொம்மைகள் போல்
வீறு கொண்டு நடை போடும் மானிடனே!
உன் வாழ்வெனும் சித்திரம் உன்னாலேயா தீட்டப்பட்டது?
எதற்காக இந்த ஓட்டம், பரபரப்பு ஆர்பாட்டம்?
எத்தனை ஆட்டம், எத்தனை கூச்சல், ஏன் இந்த பரிதவிப்பு?

கண்களை மூடி அவன் இசை கேட்டீர்களேயானால்,
கனவுகள் விரியும் அவன் காணும் காட்சிகள் தெரியும்.
இந்த இரைச்சலை மீறி அவன் இசை அலையினில் ஏறி
பயணம் போகின்றான்; அவன் பல உலகம் காண்கின்றான்;
இயக்கங்களை நிறுத்தும் அந்த இசையில் மயங்கி,
அந்த இசை யோகியை, மனதால் வணங்குகிறேன் நானும்.
இந்திரியங்களின் இயக்கத்தை நிலைப்படுத்தும் இசை,
 சஞ்சலிக்கும் மனதை சாந்தப்படுத்தும் இசை,
 கண்ணனின் குழல் கேட்டு கவிழ்ந்து கிடந்த ஆநிறை போல்
மதுவை மிக உண்டு மயங்கிய வண்டு போல் -- நானும்
இயங்க மறந்து கிறங்கி கிடக்கிறேன்,அவன் இசையில்.
காலமும், இவ்வையகமும் கூட ஆங்கே கற்சிலை போல!

Saturday 3 May 2014

[Play] For Children: Krishna Sudama

Krishna Sudhama

This is the story of two boyhood friends – Krishna and Sudhama. The play focuses on an important event in their lives that extols the greatness of friendship. We begin with a glimpse into their childhood at guru Sandipani’s ashram.

Guru: Today I am going to speak to you about the importance of friendship. This virtue you must learn to carry all through life. In this gurukula we have children hailing from rich families as well from poor ones, studying together. Take for example Krishna he is a Yadava prince and Sudhama here comes from a modest home, yet they share the same food and sleep on the same floor without any differentiation. They are a shining example of good friendship which all of you must emulate. I dearly wish that their friendship lasts forever.

So children will all of you promise to be good friends?

Children: Yes gurudev, we promise that we will always be good friends.

G: Very well, now children you can go for your lunch – guru ma has prepared something very nice for all of you.

Children (together standing up) pranam gurudev.

Guru mata: Krishna and Sudhama come here,.

K&S: yes mother

GM: My dear children after you finish lunch, I want you to go to the forest and bring me some firewood. I don’t have much left. I know you are responsible children, so, I am asking you to do this for me.

K&S: Yes mother.

GM: (giving them a bundle) Here is some puffed rice to eat in case you come back late.

K&S: pranam mata.

Narrator: When the children were in the forest, there was a storm it became very dark and there was water everywhere- Krishna and Sudhama climbed up different trees to take shelter for the night. As Sudhama felt very hungry he ate up the puffed rice which was with him without saving anything for Krishna. At sunrise, Guru Sandipani came to know about this, he rushed to the forest and seeing them, said:

San: Sons, you have borne a lot of suffering for me. Everyone wants to protect himself, but without caring for yourselves, you have served me. I am very pleased with you. May all your desires and ambitions be fulfilled!

Narrator: Years passed the children grew up- Krishna went to Dwaraka to become king. Sudhama married Sushila, a pious lady. They had 27 children and it became increasingly difficult to feed the family with his meager income. One day…

Sudhama: Sushila, I am very tired. Can you give me something to eat?

Sushila: Swami, Please drink this rice gruel.

Sudhama: Is this all? Is there nothing else to eat?

Sushila: Swami, the grain we have will not last much longer…. But swami, If you will listen to me I have a suggestion.

Sudhama: (Sits down. ) What is it? Sushila.

Sushila: I have always heard you speak of your childhood friend, Krishna. Is he not now the king? Can we not approach him for some help? Would he deny us help if you asked him?

Sudhama: (Smiles) Krishna!! My friend Krishna! But how can I ask him for help. It will not be right.

Sushila: But look at the way we are living now. If not for me at least for our children’s sake you must change your mind.

Sudhama( thinks) moves a few steps) What will my friend think of me?

Sushila: Ok, lets do it like this. It’s been a long time since you have seen him. So why don’t you just pay him a visit.

Sudhama: Alright. I will call on him. I also miss him very much. I will leave right away.

Sushila: Wait, Swami. I will pack something for your friend. (She ties up some puffed rice in his upper cloth)

Narrator: Sushila knew that the lord would understand Sudhama’s plight and bestow upon him favours without being asked specifically for them. Thus set out Sudhama to meet his dearest friend the king. Sudhama wondered whether his friend would remember him, whether he would recognize him now with his haggard appearance and tattered clothes.

(song )

After a few days journey he reached Krishna’s palace.

At Krishna’s palace-the guards stopped him.

Guard: Who are you? What brings you here.

S: I want to meet the king.

G: The king! (Looking at him up and down) What possible business can you have with him?

S: He is my boyhood friend; I thought I would pay my respects to him.

(Noticing the commotion Krishna comes running.)

Krishna: Sudhama, Sudhama!! Is that really you? After all these years you have chosen to remember me? (hugs him)

Narrator: The mere touch of Krishna's body was a transcendental experience for Sudama. He was rendered further speechless by all the attention that Krishna showered on him.

Krishna: Come inside Sudhama. You are an honoured guest. (Rukmini Enters) Krishna: Rukmini come! Look who is here, this is Sudhama my friend.

Ruknini: Dear sir, welcome. I have heard my lord speak so much about you. (Signals to get a pitcher and a plate and flowers) (Together K & R wash his feet)

Rukmini: Let me go and make all arrangements for his comfort.

Narrator: He is bathed with sweet smelling perfumed oils, is given rich clothes and after a feast, the two friends sit down to talk. The ever playful lord knew the purpose of Sudhama’s visit yet chose to play upon him.

Krishna: What is in that upper cloth you are hiding?

Sudhama: Nothing, Krishna, it is really nothing.

Krishna: Come on, "I know my sister-in-law, Suseela, would not have sent you empty-handed. Give it to me at once!"

Narrator: Sudhama was too ashamed to give the Lord the small, tattered bundle of puffed rice! The mind reader that the Lord was - is He not the Antharyaami, the Self within every soul - he divined Sudhama's thoughts and the sense of shame and the simple, guileless devotion that went with it. He knew that it was this humility, deep-rooted in the soul of Sudhama that was preventing him from offering Him the bundle.

Krishna: "So, Sudhama, you do remember that I like sweet puffed rice the most. You must have told this to my sister-in-law. That is why she has sent 'so much' of it! Sudhama, do you remember the puffed rice incident during our gurukula days?"

Narrator: When Krishna eats the first mouthful, Sudhama’s hut is transformed into a palace. After the second mouthful the palace is filled with riches and the clothes and adornments of his wife and children are changed. When he is about to take the third mouthful ….

Rukmini: (Holding his wrist) that is enough my Lord. Should I also not have a share of what your friend has brought for us?

Narrator: Rukmini prevented him from taking the third mouthful as she is Lakshmi Devi herself and by this act of Krishna she would have been forced to leave him and stay in Sudhama’s palace. (pause)

After a few days of ecstatic stay with his friend, Sudhama left with a heavy heart to rejoin his family. In his journey back home he smiled a lot to himself recalling the several incidents that had occurred in the palace. But as he neared his home he remembered that he had not fulfilled the actual purpose of his visit. He was pondering over the possible excuses he could give his wife. He is pleasantly surprised to see his hut transformed into a grand castle.

Susheela: (decked in jewellery and finery) Swami, Look at the magic, your friend has accomplished. He has showered upon us untold benevolence.

Sudama: Oh, now I understand the significance of what transpired in Krishna’s palace and the ways of the lord, my friend.

Narrator: Despite all the wealth bestowed upon him, Sudhama chose to lead an austere life for the rest of his days.

[Play] For Children: Dhruva Charithram

 I wrote this play a few years ago for children to introduce them to the legends of Indian myth.
Dhruva Charitham
Narrator: The story of Dhruva who attained the greatest exaltation serves as an inspiration to young children all over India. The play you are about to witness on the life of Dhruva appears in the Bhagavatham and took place a very long time ago. In that great age the king Uttanapada ruled over the entire world. He had two wives named Suniti whose son was named Dhruva and Suruchi son was called Uttama. Unfortunately the king showered his affections on the younger queen Suruchi and her son. The play focuses on one incident that took place in the young Dhruva’s life which changed him forever.
(Opens with the king and Suruchi seated on the throne the king playing with Uttama.)
Uttanapada: I must be the most fortunate king in all the three worlds. I have a beautiful queen and a wonderful son- do you know Suruchi – all his acharyas say that Uttama is a clever boy… (Picks up Uttama, places him on his lap and begins to hug him)
Enter Dhruv: (who comes running excitedly to his father) Father, father look what I found.
(The king does not pay any attention)
Dhruva: (in a pleading voice) father, please look at me for a moment! Father ...
(He tries to push Uttama away and tries to sit on the king’s lap)
Suruchi (getting up angrily): What do you think you are doing Move away you unfortunate child, can’t you see that the king is busy playing with Uttama.
Dhruv: But mother I only...
Suruchi: How dare you call me that way - to call me mother you should have been born to me. Now you will never be able to climb on to your father’s lap or for that matter onto his throne. If you want your father’s love, go pray to Narayana, that, in your next birth, you may be born as my son. That is the only way your father will ever love you.
(Dhruv begins to cry and runs out.)
Narrator: Suniti sits in prayer in front of an idol of Narayana. She is sad as the women of the palace had already told her of what had taken place in the king’s court.
Dhruv: (cries and buries his head in her lap) Mother is it really wrong to want to be with my father? Is it wrong to ask for his affection?
Suniti (tries to pacify the child) Sh sh don’t cry my child. This indeed is the result of sins in our past lives. The king your father has no time for me and treats me below the maid servants in this palace.
 Dhruv: But why did mother Suruchi speak to me like that?
Suniti: I am afraid that Suruchi is right my son. If you want to be treated like Uttama, if you want rule the world someday, the only person who can help you is Narayana.  
(They both sit in deep thought. The mother saddened by the events of the day.)
Dhruv: (getting up suddenly) If it is Narayana that I must seek, so be it. I shall leave right away.
Suniti: Wait Dhruva.... listen to me. This is not the right time ... Dhruva..
Narrator:  As the boy left the city, not listening to his mother’s entreaties, the sage Naradha perceiving his intentions came to meet him.
(Enter Naradha from one side and Dhruv from the other)
Dhruv: Pranam, gurudev.
Naradha: (keeping his hand on Dhruv’s head) Narayana Narayana, ah my little prince, may Narayana shower his blessings on you.
Dhruv: Gurudev, I need your guidance for what I am about to do.
Naradha: I really appreciate your spirit oh young Kshatriya. You are but a child yet you choose to venture into the wilderness then swallow the insults of your stepmother. But tell me my child, where will you go? Life outside the palace and that too in the forest will be abominable.
Dhruv (in astonishment): How did you read my mind gurudev? Tell me how I can live here after mata Suruchi spoke to me like that and my father... my father never said a word to stop her.
Naradha: Know this my child that honour and dishonour are but mere perceptions. You are but a child. You should be playing at this age not choosing the path that sages tread. Besides , the happenings in our lives are the results of past karma. You should be content with your life.
Dhruv:  But gurudev, even my mother said that I must seek out Vishnu..
Naradha: Remember my child that the god Vishnu is very hard to please. Rishis who have done penances in life after life still do not find him. Dhruva you have set out on a journey that you know nothing of. Go back home, this path is not for you.   Perhaps when you are older and when your heart is quieter you may seek the lord.
Dhruv: O gentle sage, my heart is broken beyond repair. I am a Kshatriya a wild and proud spirit. I am ambitious and now I want to be greater than even my ancestors. You are the son of Brahma , you travel through the worlds, please show me the path to attain my wish.
Narrator: Hearing the child’s sweet voice, seeing his resolve, Naradha was moved to tears.
Naradha: I can see that you are not one to be dissuaded. To find Vishnu you must go to Madhuvana on the banks of the Yamuna, he is always there. Sit in a yogic posture and worship him with this mantra – repeat after me – Om namo Bhagavathey Vasudevayaa
(Dhruv repeats after him. They both freeze in the posture of guru and shishya)
Narrator: Naradha described Vishnu’s form to Dhruv- how he was blue like the rain clouds, and wore a yellow silk robe. That he carried in his four hands the shanka the chakra the mace and the lotus. That his eyes were always slightly red and how his presence had a calming effect on people.
(Dhruv falls at Naradha’s feet and proceeds to Madhuvana.)
Narrator: Dhruva reached the Madhuvana and after bathing in the waters of the sacred river Dhruva began chanting the mantra.  He controlled his breath and thought of the form of the lord that Naradha had described to him. He found it easy to meditate thus. The first month he ate fruits that he found in the forest once in three days, the second month he ate on every sixth day grass and dry leaves. For the third month every ninth day he had a sip of water. The fourth month he neither drank nor ate anything. Soon he breathed once only every twelve days.
The devas were dismayed by his penance as it sent waves of fire into their realms. They tried to distract him but in vain. By the fifth month the child stopped breathing and only the chant of the lord’s name held his life to his body. As he stopped breathing all the gods as well as the creatures could not breathe anymore. They pleaded with Vishnu to rescue them.
So Vishnu appeared to the Young Dhruva within just six months of penance to no one else has the lord appeared in such a short duration.   
Vishnu: Wake up O brave one, you have indeed pleased us.
Dhruva: (falling at his feet) tries to speak..
Vishnu: How amazing indeed that one as young as you has sent the gods in the three worlds quaking and running to me...
Narrator: Dhruva was so overwhelmed by the presence of the lord that he kept on looking at him and the emotional swell in his heart was so much that he was unable to speak. Realising that the child was speech less, Vishnu gently touched his cheek with the panchajanya. At this the child began to sing the praise of the lord.
(A song is sung at this point)
Dhruva: I am a simple perishable being lord bound by my desires while you are the paramatma, primeval, changeless, birth less and deathless too.
Vishnu: (smiling) I am pleased with the beautiful hymn that you have sung in my praise.
I know why you began this penance, Dhruva you shall have what you wanted. But I shall give you more. One day I will give you an eternal place in the sky, higher than the Saptharishis . The Sun the moon and the galaxies will orbit around you. Even when the kalpas end and pralaya engulfs the world, your position will be spared.
Oh Dhruva, but this not why you began worshipping me. King you will be and rule over your father’s kingdom for 66thousand years.
Narrator: So saying the lord disappeared from his view. Dhruva stood there for a long time, awed by this encounter. Slowly he began the journey back to his kingdom.   
Narrator: Meanwhile king Uttanapada was sorry for his treatment of Dhruva. The sage Naradha went to meet him.
Naradha:  Why are you sad O king, what calamity has befallen you?
Uttanapada: Oh I am sinner Naradha; there is no man more heartless and weaker than I am.
Naradha: (smilingly) what is the matter my lord?
Uttanapada: How savagely I have treated Dhruva. He saw me playing with Uttama and all he wanted was a bit of my attention. But I cruelly banished him to the forest. I shall never see him again as by now a wolf or a tiger must have surely eaten him.
Suruchi enters excitedly:  What a joyful day it is... I just heard that our son Dhruva has entered the palace gates... They say he shines as bright as the sun himself....
(Suniti too enters the stage at this point)
(Dhruva enters. The king rushes to him and hugs and kisses him. Dhruva touches his father’s feet then touches Suruchi’s feet first)
Suruchi: May you live long my son.
(Uttama comes up ad embraces him)
Suniti: (after he touches her feet raises him up and hugs him) my darling child you have returned in such glory carrying with you the grace of the god of gods.
(Touches the feet of Naradha)
Naradha: You are no ordinary Kshatriya... which other person could hope to achieve what you have in one lifetime even in a hundred lifetimes? 
(Everyone freezes)
Narrator: It is said that a beautiful palace sprung up from nowhere that was to be the abode of Dhruva. It had pillars of gold and floors paved with precious jewels.  It had crystal walls inlaid with green emerald.  When he reached manhood his father crowned him king.  Dhruva always carried the image of lord Narayana in his heart and ruled the earth justly for 36 thousand years.  Later he was transported in a vimana to occupy the highest position ever -a jewel among all the worlds a constant star in the northern sky.  It is around his station in the firmament that all the planets revolve. 

[Translation] ஆண்டாளின் நாச்சியார் திருமொழி - கற்பூரம் நாறுமோ

    What form does bhakti take? In deep veneration it evokes intense spirituality. Can one express romantic love towards the divine? Great s...