Sunday, 29 June 2014

Happiness Loves Company

I still remember the first time I reached the gates of the home for the destitute and dying run by The Missionaries of Charity. I must have been nine or ten. A relatively big enclosure located on the outskirts of Pune city, guarded by tall red painted walls.
“How much longer papa?”
I asked my father as I did not enjoy being awoken early on a Sunday morning.
We drove about an hour from home to reach those red gates. As we approached , the gates were opened by a seemingly old flail figure with dark glasses and a bent posture. And on his face was that one singular expression of satisfaction, and hands folded in a Namaste . An expression that I probably have never had since I grew up from being that ten year old boy falling asleep on the car seat.
As went further inside, more and more people came with that beautiful smile. Some couldn’t walk, some did not have a hand. Some just watched from their wheelchairs. But all of them had that one gracious expression. The kind that resonated with the innocence of a child or the kind that you see a virtuoso musician have after playing the most difficult of pieces. That feeling of being completely at peace with yourself and all the facts of life.
And then walked out the sister who was in charge that day. An almost motherly figure, clad in a blue bordered saree, she came to be the figure I associate with selfless service. In those two large and impeccably clean rooms with about fifty beds, the sisters took care of those who were dying and did not have anyone to take care of them. In those rooms were scenes of pain, of joy and most of all, of dignity.
She asked us to put the clothes we had brought for the inmates in the nearby pile and asked us to come into the office to sign for them. I walked into that small office and my father filled out that register of donations which always seemed to be empty.
Sister asked about me.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”, she asked me.
Like any Indian boy I could say doctor or engineer.
“Doctor.” I replied.
“Then when you grow up, you can come help us out with the patients.”, she said.
“Okay but not on Sunday. Sunday’s I sleep.”, I replied as much innocently as sleepily.
Sister laughed and said,” All right help us on the rest of the days. May you get what you want.”
Turning to my father, she said ”Next time can you please bring in some soap for the inmates? We are really running out and we need to keep them clean to avoid diseases.”
“Yes surely, we will bring it in the next month.” , My father replied.
As sister walked us to our car, many of those poor , abandoned and terminally ill patients waved us good bye and thanked us as though we had cured them of illness. Those faces of contentment were the happiest faces I have ever seen.
Years passed and going to the sister’s home for the dying became a monthly practice. Each month we would go with whatever the sister asked us to bring in. Sometimes it was rice, sometimes dal, sometimes bandages.
A lot of those faces wouldn’t be there the next month. And gradually new faces came in.
When I was about fourteen or fifteen , one new face came in. Sometimes  we would go in and talk to the patients. Sister said that sometimes a kind sympathetic ear can be a great medicine too.
 There was this relatively old man whose body seemed to tremble in this rhythmic, almost dance like motion. A long receded hairline, a sparse white beard and trembling hands. He called me towards him. He was sitting up on the bed with his back to the wall.
He folded his hands and said” Namaste “ just as the sisters had taught him.
I too responded with a Namaste.
He began talking to me and asked me my name .
“You look just like my son.” He said as I sat on the stool next to the bed.
“ I have three sons .” He said , ”But no one comes to visit me .”
I was at a loss of words. I had never really known what real pain looked like. I just could not find in my head nor heart , a suitable reply to give to that frail , trembling figure whose words seemed to have rendered me quiet.
My mother came to my rescue. “ Don’t worry baba, we will visit you every month and the sisters will take care of you.”
And I just couldn’t say anything.
Our monthly visits continued and I always went first to that old man. By now I just referred to him as ‘baba’  By and by in that progressively incoherent speech of his , he told me of his home , his family and life. One day he pulled out this dusty looking box of sweets and offered me a piece of it.
“No ,no!! that is for you baba !!” I said.
“ But I asked the saved it the for you . I know you come on the first Sunday every month. I saved a piece for you . It is for you.” He replied.
I reluctantly took that one last piece. And if that was not the sweetest thing I have ever had!

Time flew and I finished school. I had to leave Pune and go to medical college. I visited the place once before leaving .
I finished my first year and was back home for the vacations. I had by now grown up and seen some of the world. And in that grown up world of backstabbing and problems was another world behind the red gates where one is always greeted with folded hands and smiles of satiety. I had in my own way experienced pain and sadness. And somehow that is what I found myself thinking of.
And  once again I found myself at the red gates of the sister’s home. After filling out the registers I asked the sister about baba. She said he was getting worse. These were perhaps his last days. He was losing much psychological function. Some delusions and a lot of depression. Huntington’s disease I was told. I reached that still impeccably clean ward. I spotted baba still seated with his back against the wall and walked towards him. There were so many new faces but he was there, slowly moving towards that singular fate that awaits us all. I sat on the same bedside stool as I had when I first met him.
He was trembling even more now. His whole body shook like he was in some great pain.
In a slurred speech he said. “ I have three sons . No one visits me.”
And yet again I found myself at a loss of words.
Somehow, I managed to say,” I am here baba , remember me? You saved me the last sweet that day? You remember?”
“I have three sons. No one vists me.” He repeated.
Memory had betrayed my baba.
I tried talking to him, but I could not get him to remember me.                             
“ I had three eggs today.” He said waving three fingers in my face.
He said it with an expression of amazing grace and satisfaction that I too had when I was a ten year old visiting that place for the first time .It almost felt that death could not dare touch that face of satisfaction. The same child like happiness betraying the age old trembling.
I was not sad that he could no longer recognize me anymore. After all, a sympathetic ear is a powerful medicine. I was company to him. And happiness loves company, and it follows us. Whether we acknowledge it or not , whether we can physically remember company or not, happiness somehow always follows company. If we just gave up trying to find reason’s to be dissatisfied, to be miserable we could be so happy. Maybe that is what pain really does. It makes us even more susceptible to life’s little joys. The little joys that we otherwise take for granted. Maybe that is the big lesson behind these red walls.
I rose up to leave and baba’s trembling hands once again went into a Namaste .
I too folded my hands , knowing well that there may never be a next time.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

How Could He?

“Could you still love me like this?”
He asked her memory
Could you, he cried
Not close that door on me?
Could you , he sighed,
Help me out of my misery?
Could you, he sobbed
Look beyond my faults?
As he slid the knife in his forearm,
He whispered with brimming tears,
Could you help me stay alive?
Water tainted red,
Eyes closed shut,
It was the end

When he was gone,
No one cried.
She too joined the pack

And asked, ‘how could he?’

Sunday, 22 June 2014

My City, My Muse

My city, my muse,
 How beautiful you are when you sleep,
Poets call you a display of neon lights,
Hedonists use you like they use everyone else.
But no one has seen you in the night's glory.

My city , my muse,
The day is not good enough for our musings,
You are always echoing with the million dissonant throes,
And my mind is always delving into man made tones.
But the night is ours, my confidant .

 My city , my muse,
The gentle nightly west wind blows through ,
Clouds of dreams, deep, dark and blue.
Breaking the clouds and the peeping moon ,
Gentle rain kiss me just once.

My city , my muse,
If only they saw you at night the way I do,
If only they saw me the way you do,
If only we saw them , the way we see each other,
If only everyone just saw and no one spoke.

My city , my muse,
Do you hear me tonight?
In my cries , in your tears?
Take me where the west wind first blew,
Across clouds of dreams, deep, dark and blue.

Thursday, 19 June 2014


I have a bubble
of music
swelling inside:
the silent walls,
the cold
structures of silence.
It is a tiny
flame of sound,
a flickering leap
upon the smooth
slabs of concrete.
I saw the rain
fall today
like an army of silent
white deaths.
And I wanted
to join its
fragile drops.
A minor chord
yes it resonates,
inside a minor heart.
I pressed down
decadently on
the guitar fretboard.
The dark is draped with echo.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

In Formaldehyde

When I’m done with this place ,
Don’t give my body to science.
Give it to poetry.

Muscle , tendon and nerve,
Are same in me as in everyone.
But not my words, so sparing, so different.

I want my words dissected,
My dark corners resected.
I do not want to lie, in formaldehyde.

When that grand anatomist of souls,
Finds vestiges of hope in my bones,
Cluttered with the melancholy beauty of an unwritten verse.

When he finally reads in the crimson of my blood,
The verses I stole from a hundred setting suns,
Orange , red and scarlet verses dissolved in the crimson of blood.

They must know as they count the last of my ribs,
I too had a story to tell.
I too was a poem that was never read.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Exile on Main Street

“I am alone in the midst of these happy, reasonable voices. All these creatures spend their time explaining, realizing happily that they agree with each other. In Heaven's name, why is it so important to think the same things all together. ” 
― Jean-Paul SartreNausea
The world is very loving in the way that it wears its heart on its sleeve. It tries to accept you and all it asks for is the proof of conformity .Conform and be loved. That is the unwritten social contract. But you were probably not one of those who have conformed.
 It all started out in school when you were being welcomed to the machine. When you were being made fit for an unfit society. You had your teachers filling your head with concepts and ideas of others. When your parents seemed to be so much more fond of that cousin of yours studying in those colleges that you were supposed to reach as well. But your head was full of ideas of your own, things that interested you , things that you found so gorgeous, things that were not  enough proof for the world to love you. All in all, all you ever wanted was to be truly loved, but the world kept asking for proof. When you were in school it asked for marks and grades. You were degraded to a number with a percentage sign after it, and all traces of identity washed away like sandcastles on a beach. But of course you try to hold on to those fleeting castles of sand only being lead deeper into that vast unforgiving sea. You were a black rose in a world that loved gardens of red roses.

Then school was out and you were out into the big world. You saw so many of your friends give the world that proof , you saw them turn their black roses into a crimson that you just couldn’t imagine. You wished you were like them , easily amused .Puberty hit and you began to notice the opposite gender. And then she came, the other black rose. There was that one moment of two dark hearts scarring darker together. But how many of such black roses turned into crimson and how many faded. All they left was their own fragrance on you, making you a different flower every time.
Then you found yourself your Rock god and let his music fuel your own angst. All of those long haired rebel poets who seemed to hit your black rose heart in the most soothing of ways. You probably liked that one Kurt Cobain a lot. More than anything you liked the fact that he escaped this world of red roses into one where black was loved , just like you had dreamed of so many times. That utter madness and chaos of distorted guitars and pounding drums with a thousand other misfits like you raising their fists to celebrate their awkwardness gave you the greatest outlet you had ever known.
Then you reached college, probably the one where the herd led you .And there you saw the people you so pathologically hate, the pretenders. You struggled so hard to protect your identity , to be the black rose in the world trying to pour crimson on your petals. And there were the others , bathed in that worldly crimson. You let one of your rock god’s anthems be the requiem for such pretenders , deriving strength from the maddening chaos of fuzz pedals and snare drums. ‘ What if I say I’m not like the others, what if I say I’m not just another one of your plays , you’re the pretender!! What if I say I’ll never surrender?!’ you had to hear it every night and every morning to survive in this monarchy of red roses.
And so the summers slipped away and you got a job. And you were expected to buy your own happiness. You had to buy gifts, so others loved you. You had to have possessions so people respected you and loved you for possessing them. But you just didn't have the heart to buy the red rose, you just loved your own shade of black. This not belonging or reclusiveness or non-conformity that you old in such esteem are the price you paid for being the solitary black. You had to learn to be on exile on main street. But now your black rose has blossomed , much more than those other reds will ever hope to.
So now you have two choices. You can buy the proof that will buy you love or you can continue your exile on main street. This is where one of your rock gods would sing ‘ There is room at the top they are telling you still. But first you must learn how to smile as you kill, if you want to be like the folks on the hill.’
Take my word, don’t be like the folks on the hill. Do not look for the proof for love and acceptance. Be the black rose you are and let other wild flowers leave their scent upon you. And then you shall blossom much more than you could ever think.

After all , why does love have to be a red rose? Isn’t love about the blossoming and not the flower?