Tamil is my father’s mother-tongue. Or do you call it native language? My mother speaks Konkani. Strangely, perhaps ironically and may be even sadly, sarky, I haven’t been formally tutored in either. At school, I learnt Hindi and Sanskrit apart from English of course. I don’t regret it. It is just that I realise it makes life a lot easier to know the language of the people you are surrounded by. I can speak both the languages of course. And read a smattering of Tamil. The latter is mostly a spoken language, I am given to believe and relies on Devanagari for the written word. Knowing it better would give me the added advantage of being able to consume its literature, which I believe is ancient,rich and vast.

These thoughts were running in my mind as I read this couplet from one of the most famous Tamil literary works.Some are put up in buses run by the State Govt. This one, I remembered from my childhood. Reading it in exactly the same manner. It would take me about half an hour to memorise, and in that time I would have completed my journey. And as soon as I reached home, I’d ask my thatha for the meaning. He was an incredible man. He would explain the meaning in his own unqiue way, throw in some references from either Sanskrit or English. Not only was he well read, he was a delightful teacher and had an incredible ability to quote from what he had read. Which was a LOT. Even as a child, something struck me about the simplicity and depth of the couplets even though I hardly knew the language of this text, which is not used in common parlance. 

I must have learnt all of half a dozen of them, that’s all. I never did go back to them in a systematic way. And that holds good for many things with me. I tried my hand at at least two languages, and I realised I might just have a flair for languages. I enrolled for at least three Masters Programmes that I eventually discontinued. My father thinks I am flippant. May be he is right.

I realise that I may lack perseverance. I believe it is perhaps the single most important requisite for excellence, and if one doesn’t care for it, then even success in the conventional sense of the word. 

Today my prayer and wish, for myself and my fellow seekers, is for all of us to cultivate the ability to persevere. Whatever we take up, let us do our best and be nothing short of the best at it. Happy new year. 

The tiny flame

This morning, I found an interesting mail from one of my teammates. This was a simple, yet powerful idea that he had thought of, and implemented on his own, perhaps with help from his Manager. I felt proud that my colleagues had started thinking for themselves, and not just doing what they’re told – something that we’ve always wanted for our organisation.

I was then reminded of a poem by the great poet Subramania Bharati. I looked around for my Grandma’s book. I remember it is signed by her in the year 1955. I wish I had it with me as I write this, I could have posted a picture. It took me a minute or so to search for this particular poem, because he has written a lot. And on such varied topics – nature, romance, human emancipation, freedom, caste, Bhakti, Vedanta to name a few.

I’ll come to the lines, now and they go thus, in Tamizh.

அக்கினிக் குஞ்சொன்று கண்டேன் – அதை அங்கொரு காட்டிலோர் பொந்திடை வைத்தேன் வெந்து தணிந்தது காடு – தழல் வீரத்திற் குஞ்சென்று மூப்பென்று முண்டோ? தத்தரிகிட தத்தரிகிட தித்தோம்

I had only heard these lines and expected more, but to my surprise, I realised that this particular poem ends with just these very powerful. I am aware that translating anything is a tricky business, and quite awkward when it comes to poetry. For my friends who requested, however, I try below, the literal meaning of these lines.

I found a tiny flame & placed it inside a tree-hole. The entire forest was reduced to ashes. When it comes to the power of the fire, what does it matter whether young or old?

Obviously, there’s more to it than the literal meaning. What did the poet have in mind, I wonder. Could it be the power of knowledge? Or, was he perhaps talking of a powerful idea pursued to its logical end? Perhaps he meant the power of intent, sankalpa? I wish I could ask the poet himself.

The loud silence

Her eyes were brimming with positivity. She had the most radiant smile. I believe certain physical attributes like height & skin colour come into play when you want to be an air-hostess, and therefore, many of them are ‘good looking’ in the conventional sense of the word. However, there was something striking about this lady. As I strained to read her badge, I couldn’t help but ask her what her name was.

It is Visachu,” she said, with a twinkle in her eyes.

It was the 15th of March this year. Earlier that morning, as I was driving to the airport, I remember seeing a large signboard – “Do not be afraid of Corona,” it said, in Hindi. My father who had called me once I reached back home, asked me if people were being checked at the airports. They weren’t, not yet. I did see a few people with masks on; though only a minuscule number.

Two days later, some of us at work got together and discussed the matter. We had decided that we would close down the office and ask people to work from home. The government had not yet announced any closure, but there were rumours floating around. Personally, I hadn’t thought much of it. I just went about doing the things I always do – cook, work, read and watch the occasional movie. In a few days, on 22nd March, the government announced a 14 hour voluntary lockdown. People were encouraged to stay indoors. Depending on which side you were on, one either frowned and mocked at or simply gleefully participated in the paraphernalia that came with this voluntary lockdown. Some said this was a preparation for what is to come. And rightly so, when 2 days later, the Prime Minister announced a 3 week lockdown, restricting the movement of 1.3 billion people of the country, as a measure to contain the spread of Covid19 in India. This lockdown would eventually be extended until 7 June, though some restrictions were eased after the initial few weeks depending on where one lived in the country. It was on 8 June, officially termed Unlock 1.0, that services would be resumed in a phased manner. Chennai, where I lived, wasn’t doing very well, and had announced a further lockdown, this time to be ‘strictly implemented’ for a further 3 weeks that ended on 5 July.

Given that I had just traveled before the announcement of the lockdown, I thought it wise right then to stay put and not travel home to be with my parents. I was told that people in their age group were at increased risk of contracting the disease. Little did I realise that I would spend the next 4 months at home and mostly by myself.

Humans adapt fast. And I am a person of routines. Work went on pretty much as usual, sans the travel that came with it. Another kind of routine was set and very quickly. There were designated spots at which you’d find me with my laptop during designated times. Before lunch, it was cross legged and on the floor in my bedroom. After I had eaten, it would mostly be on my dining table. The lack of appropriate furniture was an irritant, especially because it would cause my back and shoulders to hurt. I couldn’t do much, so I’d be conscious of my posture and ensure I workout enough days a week. Once a week, I would step out to buy some groceries, and on the same day, I’d permit myself to pick up some food from outside. At all other times, I’d be home, like a lot many others. My house help couldn’t come as public transport wasn’t available. That meant more work, and so the days became packed. I’d move from one task to another, whether official or domestic, and the days would pass very quickly but sometimes leaving me with a feeling of being perpetually exhausted. I wasn’t reading much, and I was conscious of it. That I was locked in the house didn’t help much, given that I am restless by nature. Work related meetings meant that there was some human interaction and I was grateful for it. At times though, such meetings also gave an artificial sense of ‘busyness’ and I began to be aware of this and reduce my meetings as much as I could. And there was a colleague who lived in the same street, who I’d meet and greet, from a distance of course, once or twice a week, when they would go for a stroll within the colony.

Looking back, I realise that some very good things happened to me. I started waking at least an hour earlier that I usually would right from the beginning of the lockdown. This meant I had a lot more time in the mornings. I would spend this time in exercise and sadhana. Once in a while, I’d go out for a short run too. Apart from keeping the body fit, I’ve noticed that exercise does something to the mind – it makes me extremely happy in the hours that follow. Although not entirely by choice, I also remained sober on most days. All this meant that my body and mind were doing alright, despite the isolation and poor work posture at times.  Given how easily I take to routine, I realise that these two things, exercise and sadhana, had become a part of my routine. I may miss them on occasion, yielding to sheer laziness, but I didn’t let that bother me and would quickly bounce back. That my parents were speaking with me more than once every day was also helpful I guess. Their well-being was at the back of my mind and knowing that they were doing well put me at ease. While I am not on whatsapp or facebook, I decided that I’d call and speak to some of my friends and relatives.

Two days ago, I decided to finally get home. Today, as I as sit in my room in my parents home and write this, I feel immensely grateful for all the help I had received from all quarters. I am a person of faith, and I have no doubt His Grace manifests as help. It may be some time before I leave home for Chennai. Until then, and beyond too, I hope to sustain the practices I have managed to cultivate. I also want to add new ones. Read more, and perhaps write a bit too.

As I reached the last page of one of the books that I have been reading, I saw a hurriedly scribbled note. It was from my flight on 15th March. As I deplaned, I had asked Visachu the air hostess what her name meant, because it was something unique.  Looking back, perhaps it was a timely message from me. I am in awe as to how we receive such messages, and it reinforces to me how Grace is ever present.

The unmistakable twinkle in her eyes grew even brighter, as she said, “It means, take the opportunity and fulfill it.”




Please allow me to introduce my favourite person to you. She is just about the nicest creatures I’ve known. Pa isn’t too bad. (Don’t tell him I said that about him). He’s a good man, really. Over years, our relationship has evolved. Among other things, it has mellowed now.

They’ve both retired after a hectic life as doctors and it is nice to see them relax and do their thing. Pa tends to be a lot more worried, almost paranoid about things, as much as he likes to travel. Ma is of a cooler temperament, one must say. They’ve recently been to London and Edinburgh, and from there, to the US to be my sister. Ma had worked in Edinburgh for a year. This was close to 3 decades ago. For sometime now, she has wanted to go back and meet the friends she made during her stay.

She sent me this note (edited) on email. It says a lot about her.

This was on our way to San Diego. We were in line for security check. The procedure is different in each airport. Here one had to remove foot wear as well. While one person told me I need not remove them, just a little away I was asked to remove them. Already am anxious and there is the difficulty in trying to understand their pronunciation. To my anxiety, my bag was kept aside. A lady opened the bag after scanning with a detector she was holding and picked the objects that one is not supposed to carry in the cabin. Scrutiny was thorough. She then placed all the items, may be 4, inside a plastic bag and returned saying “All yours.” I was so relieved that my articles were not thrown away. When I mentioned this to Nithya, she said the items were returned only because they conformed to the specifications to be met  with and not as any special favour shown to me.😊

Nithya, incidentally, is my sister. Life is beautiful.



Those moments of intimacy

when all I knew was you, 

bereft of any privacy

though souls awake, there were few.

They may see like a long time ago,

if only I could just live on.

For I know I must go,

to the beyond, and on.

Those moments, the oneness

they come back to haunt me

with the sweet smell of togetherness 

that could only be we.

Was it us, I wonder,

now that you’ve turned away,

And I’m torn asunder

by that one sway

that’s come about in my life.

I ask myself, what do I do?

For there may be love, laughter, even strife,

but that’s that life, without you?

What’s that you’re buying?

There’s been some noise around the ban on various single use plastics. I support the ban. I can see others support it too. And others yet trying to make it work. Despite the fact that I have pangs about people losing their livelihood and others being ‘inconvenienced.’ Funny. Plastic was undoubtedly introduced to make our lives more convenient. I had learnt to reduce plastic use early on. I think my parents got it from me and became better than me at it. Or may be they taught me, I don’t remember. Either ways, the problem, though, isn’t just that.

Garbage. I’ve been thinking I should do something about it.

That’s all I do – I think. I don’t ‘do’. I hope to change that, this year. Pick one thing. I’m picking the crap that you throw away. Like I picked the plastic bottle from atop and walked back half a dozen times as I was descending, because I would pause to take in the view, leave the bottle behind and remember only a little later, to go back. I finally dumped it in the first dustbin I found. Sadly, I didn’t find any until I had descended all the way down. Your crap. It was just a plastic bottle. There was more. I could have carried a sack and picked more. I didn’t.

This post is an attempt to get started. I wish I sustain myself. I pray for strength, for perseverance. I wish also for help. Those of you are are reading and wish to get associated with the cause, feel free to write to me. We’ll figure something together. Given who I am, I could do with some help. I can do the physical work. Someone please take up the cerebral stuff, will you?

Garbage. I have two huge bins that overflow, right across the street. I see that at the street corner a dozen times a day. I believe I’ve been normalised, if that’s the right way to put it. I want to change that. I want to stop accepting such things. At least one thing. I propose education, lobbying / legal routes & personal discipline as three ways to work towards it.

Garbage. It increases with consumption. You can’t escape that. The more you consume, the more crap you produce. Ever eat too much? The solution isn’t just banning plastics – because alternatives will easily be developed. They are, already. Soon we’ll have aluminium foil, cloth bags, those seedy cloth-bad like things and God knows what else. If it only a question of money & convenience, then we don’t think of the long term consequences. Money and convenience are as much our friends as they are foes. We have to be taught that, early on. Any single use ‘thing’ by definition is unsustainable. We must work towards reducing consumption of any kind and at least of packaging in particular. For instance, I carry bags when I step out of the house. I have half a dozen of them & I pick one or more according to the purpose. I have one stashed away in my laptop & travel bags, and one in my car. I just use them as much as possible. In fourteen years, I’ve used three phones. The third one is three years old. I am tempted to buy a newer and ‘better’ one. And I put off the temptation. This holds good for many other things. Reminds me of my home grown stalactites and stalagmites. Gee. Am I proud of remembering those terms! I’ve been steadfast in living with this refrigerator, even though it makes me slog. Over the years, with increasing frequency, I must add. Is anyone willing to take it from me? That may be an incentive to buy another one. I promise not to be sentimental about it.

Garbage. We must segregate it first. Then educate others to do it. And then we must lobby with the system for door to door collection at appointed times and in accordance with strictly enforced rules. Garbage can get out of homes only through people appointed to do the job, according to the rules set. People who violate must find rotting garbage left behind in their homes / premises. There’s no other way out. If I can just dump it somewhere, why would I care?

Garbage. Why would people segregate it? That it is collected once a day at the appointed time is the only incentive, I guess. We educate people to make the ‘right’ choices in life. What is ‘right’ can of course vary with time & place, but choice we must make – that’s at once a boon and a curse for the human race. And at this point of time in our evolution, I think this is one of those unavoidable choices. And how we choose can make all the difference. I won’t have anybody after me. I’m hoping the garbage truck will pick me up one day. Not the same for many of you, is it?

That apart, ever think how if there was one thing we could help our children with, it is the ability to make wise choices? Is that the crux of education itself, I wonder.

So please think about it. and unlike me, I hope you act as well.


The road trip

I like the road. I don’t know why. Or may be I do, but that isn’t what I want to write about. Then again, may be it is. For a student of Vedanta such as I am, life is a sojourn. Today, I wished farewell to a friend. We weren’t the thickest of friends. In fact, we were nothing like each other. I couldn’t stand him at times. I am sure it was mutual, given how crass I may have been in his eyes and viewed from his value systems. We had had our good times and bad. The last time I met him, as always, I asked him the forbidden question. He was his enthusiastic self. He promised me that we could meet after he was back from his travel, and his wife reprimanded him – it was festival day and she reminded him also that his health doesn’t afford him such vices.

I had invited a couple of friends to watch a movie with me. I didn’t tell them which one, and they were kind enough to oblige me anyway. I like giving people surprises. I don’t know how they took it. I liked the movie. I’ve wondered what makes me pick the movies that I watch. It is different things. If it is on the big screen, though, it may be the premise. It is the premise – of a black man, hiring a white man from the Bronx, to chauffeur him to the southern states in America in the 60’s – that fascinated me. This wasn’t just another road movie.

The two men form an unlikely friendship. They are chalk and cheese. This isn’t scripted, mind you – I think I saw somewhere that it is inspired from real life. So (pardon the cliche) we have a ‘cultured’ highly educated musician played by a black guy and a crass, cussing friend-chicken eating Italian American. Tony won’t be a man Friday, his job is to drive and he makes that clear. It is interesting, when the porter brings the bags and they both look at each other. Tony won’t make a move, until finally the porter loads the bags on to the car. The porter, interestingly, is Asian.

Dr Don Shirley, on the other hand, hasn’t ever eaten friend chicken – least of all with his fingers; he hasn’t visited the bar downtown and cussing is below his dignity. Regal as he may be, he realises that he needs to drive south. He is on a mission and Tony may be his best bet, in his assessment. There is irony from the word go, and this is as much about class as it is about skin colour.

Don is a musician, and the music in the movie was a highlight for me. More so, because it is accentuated by the visuals – the Don Shirley Trio playing in the most sophisticated places, to the most ‘cultured’ audiences. I was fascinated by the thing that is the piano. It is so massive, and to watch an artist’s fingers dance on it is an experience – those were some of the most memorable scenes for me, coupled with the music in the background.

As they travel, we get to see the racist America that was. Is it still that way even now, only superficially different, I wondered. Their journey together is eventful, and teaches many a lesson. Don, who would look down upon Tony, ends up at his very home for Christmas. And this is the Tony, giving Don a warm hub and welcoming him home. The Tony, who in the opening scene, throws away a pair of glasses because a couple of black repairmen drank out of them.

As different as they may both have been, they both seem to carry their set of values. There’s a certain sense of honesty. And yet, we see them being at odds, and learning, and evolving. After all, isn’t that what life is about – growth and evolution?

I am grateful for having had the company of people different from me. And I wish for more, so that then, I may overcome my small mind and grow to be a better person. When he left, and when I saw that body lie there, I could only recollect the good times we had together. And there were quite a few. After all, we had worked together and he was my neighbour for a few years as well.

Go well, my friend. If we met in another life, I shall wish that we were even more different from each other, and that our paths cross again, to begin another friendship. Until then, the scotch that you so relished can wait.