The silence of the hills

The little I saw of Dehradun as we drove out from the Railway Station, headed to Uttarkashi, was nothing like I had remembered. And why not? I had, after all, visited the town more than two decades ago. I was struck ‎by a pang as I left the town. There is a very visible impression , perhaps scars, that humans are leaving on earth. No doubt mountaineering has contributed to it too, and significantly in the recent times.

The rest of the drive was very different. The 140 odd km we had to cover was mostly through the hills. At dawn, it was all a misty grey of various shades. At one point, I noticed that a valley we were crossing was brightening up. When I look to my rear, I found a hill, hiding the sunrise on one side. Consequently, half the valley was painted golden yellow and it was slowly spreading as we drove. 

For the next hour or so, that was how it was. The hills were part yellow, part dark, depending on where the sunlight fell. It was a sight to behold, and for a change, I just soaked in, rather than reach out to my device to click pictures. 

Slowly, it brightened up, and by mid morning, the sun was shining bright enough to make me squint at times. The sights all along, until we reached our desti‎nation, was alternatively brown and green. The hills closer to us looked dark green where there were trees. At some places, it was shades of brown.

“Winter would be here soon‎. The pilgrimages shut down. And water will become scarce, ” said Omkar Singh, who was driving me to my destination. It was apt that my driver had to be named so. My earliest memory of this place goes back to a time when we were motorcycling. I had stopped for a cup of tea and had enquired about riding in the night. The rules prevented it, I was told; but otherwise I had nothing to fear. “Not even the animals harm you here. This is Dev Bhumi.”

As I mull over these thoughts, I do feel an unmistakable sense of divinity in these parts. And then, out of nowhere appears my first sighting. The snow capped Himalayas. This time, we stop. I take a picture, but in those moments, all my thoughts seem to cease. A calmness descends upon me as I stand there, watching in silence. ‎

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I am here, for you.

I have been meaning to write more, this year. If the last few years were to go by, then I may have written a bit more in this year, owing obviously, to that month long posting challenge that I had taken up.

I have also been meaning to write, in particular about the tree. I don’t have one particular tree in my mind as I write this. I am sure I would recall many of them, if I thought enough about it, but that isn’t the idea.

I am absolutely fascinated with the three. And no matter how many I see in the different places that I’ve been blessed enough to go to, my fascination with it doesn’t end. Sometimes, it is small, at other times, bigger than you first think it is. It isn’t until you stop and stare, crane your neck up and all around, that you realise how really vast it has grown. You wonder how old the tree would be, for it to have grown so big.

The three doesn’t need much. Save the initial days when someone must water it and protect it, consciously. Once it is on its own, the tree just lives with the help of precipitation, and without doubt, help from all the other creatures that come together in this wondrous phenomenon called nature.

Now, here’s the best part. It isn’t just there. It is fascinating how it can be such a vast, yet quiet living being. It is life! We may not perceive it as we may perceive life, in say, a dog or a human being. Not only does it live, it seems to support life too, in many ways – it cools, is home to other creatures & is helpful in many amny other ways.

I can not imagine how many times people may have sought shade under its branches. I have done it countless times, and I admit that I haven’t been conscious of it always. As a kid, I have my fondest memories associated with the tree because I would find every chance to climb on it. Among other things, it gave a wondrous sense of adventure to climb a tree. The sense of victory, after having climbed the most difficult one, was an unspeakable emotion in those days. I can not describe it adequately enough, save to suggest, that if you haven’t done it yet, I would strongly recommend that you do it. And your children do, too.

The tree is truly a miracle. If you don’t believe in God or miracles, surely you derive joys in the wonderful workings of nature? I wish that you and I are kind to it. The tree.

Crazyvians

There is one person who loves dogs and cats so much, that strays outside of our office are fed and groomed. Those not exactly fond of quadrupedals need to be wary of these furry friends lounging at the entrance.

Yet another young chap will be kind enough to inform you before the start of the meeting, that he needs a break – to  run down the street to grab a cup of tea. “I’ll be back in ten”, he’d say only to never return, leaving some of us to wonder if he is alright. A phone call would reveal that our man, in his absent-mindedness, forgot about the impending meeting and settled down for a conversation with someone at the tea-shop.

Some don’t seem to go home at all; they are hanging around till late every evening. Others’ routine unfolds with clockwork like precision. They are in on time, and at the stroke of their exit time, they are seen leaving. It is so precise, that I could calibrate my watch with their entry and exit, if I needed to.

Some are sports geeks, the latest fad being running a marathon. A lot many are foodies, always ready to partake any food that is presented to them. Some are engineers, others social workers, yet others ex-teachers, and not to mention the management graduates. While EZVians may be a very diverse bunch, in terms of their education, their personalities, the languages they speak or food they prefer, there also seems to be some common things uniting them. For one, I have never seen anyone shirk work or frown at the prospect of a task. In fact it is always the opposite – people are always enthusiastic about pitching in. This is despite the fact that the best of our ideas seem to creep up in the last minute, and involve significant effort. And significantly, all of them (save me, perhaps!) are of a pleasant disposition and are in general smiling.

I am thankful to EZV for bringing in a diverse, passionate and genuinely warm set of people into my life. Every single one of them inspires me in different ways – something that I seem to need, quite often.

Home is where the heart is

As children, we would ask each other, ‘What is your native place?’. I did learn eventually that it was not appropriate usage and that the correct way to ask the question is perhaps, ‘Where do you come from?’ or ‘Where do you belong?’. In India, as I travel and meet different people, I find it quite commonplace to be asked questions regarding my religion, caste, and even my marital status, leave alone where I am from.

My paternal grandfather was born in Lalgudi and grew up in Pollachi. His wife was from Coimbatore. My own father was born and grew up in Mettupalayam. My maternal grandmother was from North Paravur, while her husband was from Alwaye, while they both lived most of their life in Coimbatore, where my mother was born. And I was myself born and raised in Pondicherry.

So where I am from? In this talk, Pico Iyer raises this interesting question about where one’s home is, and says, ‘…home means less a piece of soil and more a piece of soul…’. A lot of people have strong feelings towards places. They like some places a lot, and I have observed people vehemently talk about disliking some places too! I have never been able to relate to the latter, of disliking a place. Of all the places I have ever traveled to, I have not disliked any of them. I am able to relate to every one of them in unique ways, be it the food, the sights, the customs or the people – one or the other thing resonates in me and I take with me a piece of it wherever I go. Like my friend Rani.

Every time I am asked where I am from, I think of the following verse written by one of the greatest philosophers from this country –

माता पार्वती देवी पिता देवो महेश्वरः
बान्धवाः शिवभक्ताश्च स्वदेशो भुवनत्रयम् ॥ *

For more than a decade now, I have lived in one of the oldest modern cities of this country. For those who aren’t from here, it can get annoying. The night life sucks and the booze, even more so, they say. The weather is warm & humid, and sometimes, it gets warmer. It has had a reputation of being ‘conservative’, which I have failed to understand fully well. Like any other place, I have grown to like this city. While I am still unsure about the idea of ‘home’, I am grateful to EZV for having afforded me to soak into Madras, a city that is unique like any other.

* – My Mother is Devi Parvati, and my Father is Deva Maheswara,
My Friends are the devotees of Shiva, and my Country is all the Three Worlds.

Getting better

Despite my poor memory of most of my childhood and adolescence, some aspects remain deeply etched. Some of them relate, in particular, to my grandfather. He would do most of the house work himself, and that included washing and drying the clothes. When I was around, I would lend a helping hand, though I soon realised that I had to be careful with it. He was very particular about how it was done. The clothes had to be hung out in particular ways, ensuring they weren’t creased, that they were well spread out, that pegs were attached to either end and what not. He would scream at me if I got it wrong!  Back then, I had not understood why he was so finicky. Be it drying clothes or cooking or even something as simple as affixing stamps on mail – he had particular ways of doing it, and they were efficient, effective & neat, to say the least. Irrespective of the task, when he would finally finish the job, it showed. One would know just by looking that it was my grandpa who had hung out the clothes. Unbeknownst to me, I grew up with some of these ideas deeply ingrained. And this was starkly in contrast with what I saw in the years to come. Mediocrity seems to be the order of the day in today’s world.

In such a milieu, EZV makes a pleasant departure. Here, we are encouraged to do everything in the best possible manner. What we do, doesn’t matter as much as how we do it. Even in a simple letter, we aspire to leave a distinctive stamp, a flavour that is ‘EZVian’ as we call it. Are we there? Is our performance in the superlative all the time? Tough to say, and in many cases, perhaps we are a long way off. While we are pretty dan good at what we do, our benchmarks can be so high that there is always room for betterment. And it is precisely this thought – that we can do better, and that we must – that actually spurns us. We like to say, our only real competitors are ourselves – we outperform ourselves every time, get better at what we do, and keep at it.

On many such occasions, when Chitra pushes us to do better, I am reminded of the old man. I look back now, and realise that in his simple life, in the smallest of things he did, thatha looked for excellence. I am grateful to EZV for having brought back the pursuit of excellence strongly into my consciousness.

If God could see

“Saar, nalla irukkiya?” #, he would ask. His countenance would bear a wide, semi-toothless grin. Whatever teeth he had, were heavily stained. Among his meager possessions was a pouch – of betel nut and leaf that he would incessantly chew. He had a mild squint, and it took me a bit of getting used to. Initially, I wouldn’t really know who he was talking to. Whenever I went back to that building in which we had spent a few years, I would feel welcome, and mostly because of him. He would, almost always, greet me with a warm smile.

Saamikkannu * was his name. I always thought his parents had given him a beautiful name. Even if in this case, it was a bit ironical. For he couldn’t see much, or hear, for that matter. If someone called out from the building, he would look everywhere else except in the direction where the call came from. He was a tiny, frail looking man and I suspect he wasn’t as old as he looked. His apparent frailty made him look like he was in his seventies. I had never bothered to ask him how old he was. Now, I would perhaps never know.

The life of a ‘watchman’ in this city can be cruel. They are mostly old men, retired from their active professions, whatever it may have been. In most cases, they may be a ‘burden’ to the family and they are perhaps trying to earn some money and respect along with it. The people in the buildings seldom want to pay well, and that’s the reason why there are mostly old, practically infirm men, employed as ‘watchmen’. In reality, their job is mostly to open and shut the gate a hundred times in a day. Sometimes, in the middle of the night when people wake them up, honking incessantly. And then they are also used for odd jobs – to buy something for someone in the apartment, to take messages and so on. Their primary job – of providing ‘security’ to the building – is mostly a joke.

Life didn’t seem particularly kind to Saamikkannu either. He slept in a little nook just near the gates of the apartment building on most days. He would buy his breakfast from a nearby tea shop. His lunch would be delivered in a box to him, apparently from his ‘home’. One meal a day. Dinner would be from the tea shop again, unless one of the tenants were kind enough to give him the leftovers from their lavish kitchens. It was, quite literally, a nook. In the summer, he would sleep outside on a mat. During the rainy season, it would be particularly difficult for him. His nook had a roof but was pretty much just that – it was open on three sides, the fourth being the compound wall of the apartment, thankfully. And the windy rains here would make it impossible for him to sleep there, as the nook would be flooded. During those days, he would carry his mat and sleep inside the building, near the stairs. I tried persuading the others in thee building to make him a decent room, but to no avail.

Owing to his poor eyesight and hearing, people weren’t too kind to him. Not that we needed a reason. He was only a ‘watchman’. A kid in the block would call him ‘Spiderman’, perhaps because he would wear one of those ‘monkey caps’ even in the slightest chill here, and that would make him look even more comical than he was. One would hear him being screamed at almost every other day. Once, a car parked right outside the apartment complex had its windows smashed and the battery stolen and our man was sleeping sound until the morning, when the theft was discovered. Imagine his plight when in the morning, the owner of the car wouldn’t stop screaming at him!

Why am I writing about him? I heard today, that he had died. When the news came to me, I found myself crying. I am sure he would be missed now that he is gone. I wondered how people discovered his death. I felt a deep sadness imagining finding him on him dead one fine morning, on that mat beside his nook. Thankfully, it was not to be so. He had apparently died when he had visited his son.

There was something genuine about his grin, every time I visited after having left the building. In a world where just about everything is measured in monetary value and efficiency and whatever else, he stood nowhere. He served very little ‘purpose’. Yet, when I am asked about people in general, something makes me look into their ‘heart’ as much, if not more, than the ‘head’. Kindness is rare these days. He was always kind to me, and I am certain I did not deserve it. I can only be grateful now. I am glad life was kind to Saamikkanu atleast in his death, in whatever small way.

# – Hope you are doing well

* – God’s eyes

Madira

I don’t remember when the first sip

touched the young, unassuming lip.

With the years, the memories fade,

with every passing day a beaten mind that jades.

 

The first time it tastes bitter,

leaving you with not much to titter.

You take another one, entirely by yourself

and suddenly you realise, that you are hardly yourself.

 

With time it becomes easy

and you don’t feel any queasy.

It starts always, with ‘just one’,

and without you knowing, moves to a ton.

 

Slowly and really, it tightens its grip

on our mind and body, sip by sip.

Before you know it, it stops feeling like pain.

And every effort to wean away only goes in vain.

 

Don’t ask me to share with you my drink,

it is not what you think.

For we must reap what we have sown,

my happiness is all yours and my sorrow, my own.

 

They say it is bad to drink,

and that it pushes you to the brink.

Yet, what one doesn’t know or think, is that it is sorrow –

that veritably causes you to sink.