Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What's on my mind??



You really don't want to know what's on my mind this morning, Facebook. Trust me, you can't handle it. You're like a kid who runs off to tell the world everything, because you are a 'global citizen'. You consider it your duty to broadcast what you heard to the planet, and to aliens if any be listening. You want to impress everyone. You, with your wide eyes and pretentious heart, want the world to think that you are honest and sincere and trustworthy.

What's on my mind are dark and brooding and nasty thoughts; and you know very well that thoughts mean action. If I put my thoughts into action, you know what will happen? Annihilation. Go, Google that word. You being the loudmouth that you are, you would want to go to the cops or FBI or whoever you think can handle it, so that you can sit back and call yourself 'law-abiding.'

No, I'm afraid you can't handle the truth!

So, I am sorry, you are not going to hear a word of what is now clogging my mind, threatening to explode my head.

Be content with the sunny beaches and vacations and children's award photos and happy families, and you'll be fine. Stop nagging me about what's on my mind, cos I'm never gonna tell you. No one in his right mind is going to ever tell you what is actually on his mind.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Choices and Sacrifices

Every mother has a story to tell:
Of stepping back when children are young,
Of letting go of career and passion,
Putting a pause on certain dreams.

She would not call it sacrifice, though,
As she reiterates to herself and others-
The dilemma is same for all mothers, and
Her choice is right, her path is true.

If she had to let a part of her life go,
She had chosen the right one to lose.
She's doing it for none but herself
But don't let her attitude deceive you.

You would not a hear a deep sigh
Let out in the darkness of her solitude
A suppressed sob or a lonely tear
If she ever allows it to escape.

For opportunities lost, others gone ahead;
She finds strength in reassuring herself
She's done her best, given circumstances-
Her choice was right, her path was true.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

മേഘപാളികള്‍ക്കു മുകളില്‍

അതൊരു വാശിയായിരുന്നു. എങ്ങനെയെങ്കിലും അയാളുടെ ശ്രദ്ധ പിടിച്ചു പറ്റണം. എന്നെ പരസ്യമായി പുച്ഛിച്ച അയാള്‍ എന്‍റെ മുന്‍പില്‍ മുട്ടു മടക്കണം. ‘കൊള്ളാം’ എന്നു സമ്മതിക്കുകയെങ്കിലും വേണം.

പിന്നെ എല്ലാ ശ്രമവും ആ ദിശയിലേക്കായി. എഴുത്തിന്‍റെ ആയുധം പുറത്തെടുത്തത് അയാളോട് മല്ലിടാന്‍. ആരുടെയൊക്കെയോ കഥകളില്‍ നിന്ന് ഊര്‍ജ്ജം കൊണ്ടത് അയാളെ തോല്‍പ്പിക്കാന്‍.

പേനയുടെ തുമ്പ് രാവും പകലുമെന്നില്ലാതെ മൂര്‍ച്ച കൂട്ടിയതും അവസരം വരുമ്പോള്‍ അയാളുടെ നെഞ്ചിലേക്ക് കുത്തിക്കയറ്റാന്‍.

എഴുത്തിന്‍റെ മനോഹാരിതയെപ്പറ്റി മറ്റാരും പറഞ്ഞത് എന്‍റെ ചെവിയില്‍ കൊണ്ടില്ല. കുറവുകളെ കുത്തിപ്പൊക്കിയതും ഞാനറിഞ്ഞില്ല.

അതുവരെ വായിച്ച കഥകളില്‍ ഒരാള്‍ക്കു വേണ്ടി മാത്രം എഴുതിയ എഴുത്തുകാരെ ഞാന്‍ പരിഹസിച്ചിരുന്നതും സൗകര്യപൂര്‍വ്വം മറന്നു.

ഓരോ തവണ എഴുത്തു ശ്രദ്ധിക്കപ്പെട്ടപ്പോഴും അയാളുടെ കാതുകളില്‍ അത് എത്തിക്കാണുമോ എന്നു മാത്രമായി ചിന്ത. അയാളുടെ പാദങ്ങള്‍ ആ വഴി കടന്നിട്ടുണ്ടാകുമോ എന്നറിയാനായി എന്‍റെ കണ്ണുകള്‍ പരതി.

പുസ്തകങ്ങള്‍ വിറ്റഴിഞ്ഞപ്പോഴും അതിലേതെങ്കിലുമൊന്ന് അയാളുടെ കൈകളിലൂടെ കയറിയിറങ്ങി കാണും എന്നായി പ്രതീക്ഷ. വായിച്ചെങ്കിലും ഒരിക്കല്‍ പോലും അക്കാര്യം അറിയിക്കാന്‍ ഒരു വരി എഴുതില്ല എന്ന് ഉറപ്പ്.

പുസ്തകങ്ങള്‍ പേരുകേട്ട ആളുകള്‍ പുകഴ്ത്തിയതും നാട് മുഴുവന്‍ പ്രശംസിച്ചതും ഞാന്‍ ശ്രദ്ധിച്ചില്ല... അവസാനം ഒരു ദിവസം ആരാണ് നിങ്ങളുടെ ‘മ്യൂസ്’ എന്നു ചെറുപ്പക്കാരിയായ പത്രപ്രവര്‍ത്തക ആരാധന തുളുമ്പുന്ന കണ്ണുകളോടെ ചോദിച്ചപ്പോള്‍ മനസ്സിലൂടെ മിന്നിപ്പാഞ്ഞു പോയത് അയാളുടെ മുഖമായിരുന്നു.

ഉത്തരം പറയാതെ അവളുടെ മുഖത്തേക്ക് നോക്കി ഇരുന്ന എന്നെ അവള്‍ മെല്ലെ മറ്റൊരു ചോദ്യത്തിലേക്ക് കൂട്ടിക്കൊണ്ടു പോയി...

പിന്നെ അവിടെ പറഞ്ഞതൊന്നും ഞാന്‍ അറിഞ്ഞില്ല.

ആ മുഖം... മുപ്പതു വര്‍ഷമായി കൊണ്ടു നടക്കുന്ന ആ മുഖം... അതിനോടുള്ള വാശി... വൈരാഗ്യം... അതു തന്നെയല്ലെ യഥാര്‍ത്ഥത്തില്‍ എന്നെ എഴുത്തുകാരിയാക്കിയത്?

ഇതെന്തു ഭ്രാന്ത്? ഇതെന്തൊരു ഒബ്സെഷന്‍??

അയാള്‍ എന്നെയും എന്നോടു പറഞ്ഞ കുത്തുവാക്കുകളെയും മറന്നിട്ടു കാലം എത്രയായിക്കാണും!

അതില്‍ നിന്നുയര്‍ന്ന തീപ്പൊരിയാണിന്നു കാട്ടുതീ പോലെ ആര്‍ത്തിയോടെ എനിക്കു ചുറ്റും ആളിക്കത്തുന്നത് എന്ന് അയാള്‍ സ്വപ്നത്തില്‍ പോലും കണ്ടിട്ടുണ്ടാവില്ല.

ഒരിക്കല്‍ പോലും പിന്നോട്ടു നോക്കാതെ അയാള്‍ ജീവിതവും അതിന്‍റെതായ സന്തോഷങ്ങളും ലോകയാത്രകളുമായി എത്രയോ മുന്‍പോട്ടു പോയിക്കഴിഞ്ഞു.

ഞാന്‍... ഞാനിവിടെ കത്തിയെരിഞ്ഞ്‌...

അപ്രതീക്ഷിതമായാണ് പുസ്തകത്തിന്‍റെ പ്രകാശനത്തിന് ആ മുഖം വീണ്ടും കണ്ടത്. ഒരു ചെറിയ ബുക്ക്‌ സ്റ്റാള്‍. വിരലിലെണ്ണാവുന്നത്ര ആളുകള്‍. എല്ലാവര്‍ക്കും നന്ദി പറഞ്ഞു കൈ കൂപ്പിയപ്പോള്‍ പിന്നില്‍ ഒരു പരിചിത മുഖം. നരച്ച മുടി... മുഖത്തു പണ്ടെങ്ങും കണ്ടിട്ടില്ലാത്ത പക്വത.. ജീവിതത്തില്‍ വിജയവും പരാജയവും നഷ്ടവും ഏറ്റു വാങ്ങി എന്നു വിളിച്ചു പറയുന്ന കണ്ണുകള്‍... ഞാന്‍ തിരിച്ചറിഞ്ഞു എന്നു മനസ്സിലായപ്പോള്‍ ആ മുഖത്തു വിരിഞ്ഞ ഒരിക്കലും മറക്കാനാവാത്ത ആ പുഞ്ചിരി...

പിന്നീട് മുന്നില്‍ വന്നതും ഇതു വരെ എഴുതിയ എല്ലാ പുസ്തകങ്ങളും വായിച്ചു എന്നും അതില്‍ പലതും വളരെയധികം ഇഷ്ടപ്പെട്ടുവെന്നും പറഞ്ഞത്...

മണിക്കൂറുകള്‍ കഴിഞ്ഞപ്പോള്‍ അതെല്ലാം വെറും തോന്നലായിരുന്നോ എന്ന സംശയം...

പിന്നെയുള്ള ദിവസങ്ങളിലെ എന്തെന്നില്ലാത്ത ആനന്ദം... ഈ ഒരൊറ്റ നിമിഷത്തിനു വേണ്ടിയാണല്ലോ വര്‍ഷങ്ങളോളം നൊന്തു നീറി പ്രയത്നിച്ചത്...  

തിളച്ചു മറിഞ്ഞിരുന്ന കടല്‍ തെളിഞ്ഞ മഴവെള്ളം പോലെയായി.

അതിനു ശേഷം മനസ്സിലേക്ക് ഇരച്ചു കയറിയ ചോദ്യം: ഇനിയെന്ത്?

ഇനി ആരെ ബോധിപ്പിക്കാന്‍?

എത്തേണ്ട സ്ഥലത്ത് എത്തിച്ചേര്‍ന്നല്ലോ.

പുസ്തകത്തിന്‍റെ അവസാനതാളില്‍ എത്തിയാലെന്നതു പോലെ എന്‍റെ കഥയും ഇവിടെ അവസാനിക്കുമോ?

പേനയും വെള്ള കടലാസും എടുത്തു വച്ചപ്പോള്‍ മനസ്സില്‍ ഒരു മതില്‍ കടന്നു കയറിയതു പോലെ.. വാതില്‍ ആരോ കൊട്ടിയടച്ചതു പോലെ...

കൈയില്‍ മുറുകെ പിടിച്ചിരുന്ന വാക്കുകള്‍ പറന്നു പോയതു പോലെ...

മുന്നിലെ വഴി അടഞ്ഞു പോയതു പോലെ..

എഴുത്തു നിര്‍ത്തി പിന്തിരിയാന്‍ സമയമായി എന്നു വരെ തോന്നി.

പിന്നീട് എഴുതിയില്ല. 

കൈവിട്ടു പോയി എന്നു തന്നെ തീരുമാനിച്ചു.

ആഴ്ചകളും മാസങ്ങളും കടന്നു പോയി.

ഒരു ഞായറാഴ്ച രാവിലെ മൂടല്‍മഞ്ഞിലൂടെയുള്ള സൂര്യോദയം നോക്കി നില്‍ക്കുമ്പോള്‍ അവ ഓരോന്നായി തിരിച്ചു മനസ്സിലേക്ക് ചിറകടിച്ചു വന്നു. മനസ്സിലെ മതില്‍ക്കെട്ട് ഉരുകി വീണു. ചിന്തകളുടെ കോട്ട താനേ ഉയര്‍ന്നു വന്നു. ഞാന്‍ വീണ്ടും സഞ്ചാരിയായി.

നിലത്തു തന്നെ ഉറപ്പിച്ചിരുന്ന എന്‍റെ കാലുകള്‍ക്ക് ഉയര്‍ന്നു പൊങ്ങാന്‍ ആവശ്യമായിരുന്ന ശക്തിയായിരുന്നു അന്ന് ആ വാശി.

പരിചയമില്ലാത്ത വഴികളിലൂടെ, അന്ധകാരത്തിന്‍റെ ഭീതിയിലൂടെ, പരാജയമെന്ന വെള്ളപ്പൊക്കത്തിലൂടെ എന്നെ നടത്തി അക്കരെ എത്തിച്ച ധൈര്യമായിരുന്നു ആ വൈരാഗ്യം.

മേഘങ്ങള്‍ക്കു മീതെ പറക്കാന്‍ എന്നെ പഠിപ്പിച്ച കരുത്തായിരുന്നു ആ... പ്രണയം...

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Consequence of Dreams

It was the enormity of his dreams that terrified me. And why would it not? He was aiming for the highest of the branches - higher than even the best of us could achieve.

I look into his eyes, they are burning with excitement. I see stars shining in them. His optimism is heart-breaking. No one has done this before, he says. In his eyes, he is a winner already.

I've been there. So I know.

But what I know about him makes me cautious.

I know oh, so well, the path is long and the journey is not easy. Years would pass before we reach anywhere worth mention. But if the journey has to begin, one has to first get into the vehicle. Or start walking. Take baby steps. It is easy to conjure dreams; it takes a great deal of effort to make them come true. The struggle is romantic only in stories or in movies. Or in retrospective; after you've made your mark.

He is a dreamer, always has been. But he forgets the hard work that has to go with it. He makes excuses.

True, some of our dreams are absurd. They have to be. But what makes them remotely possible is the effort that we are willing to put into it.

Do I tell him that his dreams are too fantastic? Do I advise him to be more practical, and take one step at a time? Do I warn him about the Rejections he is going to face?

Will that destroy his motivation? Was that even the right thing to say? Or do I encourage him to keep his eyes on the distant goal so that he can work towards it? No one can ever tell which way a creative person will swing on the face of criticism. That, I know very well too.

Who was I to judge or advise? Not so long ago, I myself, bursting with excitement at my first 'success', was confronted with the ridicule, "Have you nothing better to do?"

I took weeks to recover.

Crushing dreams is a simple enough job. A flick of the finger, a snap, a mocking laugh, an unkind word - sometimes these are all it takes. It is up to the dreamer to find the strength to shake it off, rise from the ashes of despair, pick up the tools again and fight the constant fear of failure. And display the confidence that one does not feel.

Weighing everything in mind, taking the cautious route, I ask: Have you started working on it?
My heart sinks at his answer.
No, he says. But one of these days, I will.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Rejection is a frightful thing, people.

It is devastating enough when it is unexpected. But even when you know it’s coming, in the most pessimistic depths of your heart, when it comes, when the person who holds your fortunes in his hand (whether he knows it or not) delivers the bad news – brutally or kindly or subtly, it does not matter - you are jolted out of your very existence.

You may say, for appearances’ sake, that ‘I tried and I failed; but at least I tried.’ Or that ‘failure is a stepping stone to success.’ Or that some great scientist ‘had failed nine thousand times before he discovered the light bulb’. You utter all that crap (and then some) that you hear daily. None of it helps. The fact of the matter is that you’re rejected. To add insult to injury, you hear that someone else was selected. Why was she chosen whereas I was not?

Was I not ‘hard-working‘a good learner’, ‘dedicated’, ‘promising’? Was I not good enough?

As Owen Wilson says when Reese Witherspoon leaves him for someone else (and describes Owen as a ‘great, funny, amazing guy’), “all the hot words.” 
But.

Rejection is rejection, however eloquently it is delivered.

The blow doesn’t land right away, though. The numbness stays for a while. By then you start believing that you are immune to it, that you have taken it so well despite it being so inhuman and unfair. Then it hits, like thunder gradually following lightning. Much of the beating is taken by your self-confidence.

Once it happens, it is hard to shake it off. It just stays with you forever. Even when some day, you have found your own little successes.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Waiting

Our paths have crossed, knowing, unknowing,
Across the globe, coming and going.
Sometimes deliberate, sometimes not,
I refuse to see how far we're apart.

You know my fear - I fear you've moved on.
Am I too stubborn to accept you've gone?
Of my many flaws, it's not strength I lack-
I am still hatching plots to win you back.

One thing I'm sure of: I've no regrets, none.
Though our journey wasn't strewn with fun,
Call me proud, but I'm sorry for nothing
It was all done with a great deal of thinking.

Seems strange to me that I am still here, waiting
Trying to conjure some sense for my being.
Time marches on, even nature is new,
Seasons have changed, I'm still waiting for you.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Death: An Important Conversation

Originally published in The Hindu, June 28, 2016

I opened the topic with my mother while I was reading Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. “By the way”, I said, as though I were going to talk about the weather, “when I die, I want this-and-this to be done, and I don’t want that-and-that to be done.” Then I asked, “What about you?” Amma wasn’t offended. She told me easily about what she wanted done when her time came. It was not a long, detailed discussion; it was over in ten minutes. I said, “Okay” and went back to my book.

Later I said to my father, “By the way, I had this discussion with Amma. She said this-and-this. What about you?” He told me his preferences too, promptly enough. About funeral arrangements, about the material things that we leave behind, about end-of-life care, and other things.

Ever since I was introduced to the terms ‘palliative care’, ‘end-of-life care’ and so on, I had been reading about the importance of having conversations with our family about our wishes surrounding death. This was a conversation I had been postponing for long.

What struck me was how quickly the answers came. There wasn’t much reflection or thinking needed — clearly because the thinking had already been done, over and over many times. It just had not been discussed with me. Well, who knew which one of us would be the first to leave? That’s why I told them my wishes too. I am glad I had this conversation, because though I was aware of their ideas in general, there were some finer points that I had not thought of — which they both had obviously considered down to the last detail.

Continue reading in The Hindu

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Power of Faith a.k.a The Human Will

I happened to read two books almost back to back earlier this year. (The titles are not relevant.) At one look, there is nothing common between the two. You probably cannot find two stories that are more dissimilar.

They take place at two different times - the first, a hundred and fifty years ago and the second, less than a decade ago - and at two different places - almost on opposite sides of the globe. The men follow different religions. Their lifestyles are poles apart. Their circumstances are incomparable. But if we look deeper, there is something that connects them. The protagonists of these tales are thrown into the worst possible situation - that of a slave's life (Indeed, what suffering can nature inflict that is worse than what we do to each other?) - and they survive merely because of the strength of their faith. One prays to Jesus, the other to Allah. At the end, their suffering is over - the one finds peace in death, and the other returns to a life of freedom.

Both stories are not 'real' in the true sense of the word; but based on real people and real incidents, as the authors have explained elsewhere.

I was struck by the common theme that seemed to prevail - every time something happened (in every page, things only got worse, never better), the protagonist said to himself, It is God's wish. And that gave him the strength to endure it. Every time he waited for the suffering to end, he said to himself, God will end it when it is time. One read his Bible, the other knelt and prayed.

Every day they wait for a miracle. However, nothing throughout the story - nothing - happens, which could be termed an intervention from God. He does not move a leaf or give a sign to these people to show that He is with them. On those days when their hearts weaken, they look up to the indifferent sky and wonder, How many more days?

They firmly believe that this suffering has a purpose, and that it will end some day. That God had some plan for them. That we are all travellers tossed into the tumultuous ocean, having to fight our way to the surface day after day. That even in the midst of such torture, if they could lend a hand to one other person, their life has attained some meaning. When they look around, they see other victims, and in their tiniest way, they try to be kind.

Finally, when deliverance does come, it comes of their own efforts, through a chain of events that they themselves had set into motion.

If we change those stories, and remove the suggestion of God from it, say, we make the protagonists atheists, then what would happen? Would they be able to survive the hardships? Probably, yes. Merely by the strength of their will. But the chances are high that they would have given up, long ago.

The Human Will is powerful as well as creative; just look around to see its infinite capabilities. But it is also lazy; we have enough evidence of that around us, too. It would rather be idle than create. It needs to be awakened. It needs to be called.

Which is why, I think, we need God. We need the idea that someone higher than us has the power to change our miserable lives. That there is a purpose to this suffering. If we are told that there is no one up there giving a damn about us, that every thing we do and endure in this life has no meaning whatsoever; we have nothing to struggle for. Not all of us are made with a will of steel. The moment our boats begin to rock, we give up and surrender to our fate. There will be no struggle, no effort to save ourselves. Most of us would perish within no time. If we have faith, we can convince ourselves that He is watching. He will help us. He will save us. 

Which brings us to the conclusion that wise men have arrived at, long ago. There is no God but the one that resides in ourselves. God is the thread that we invoke to find the strength that is already within. When we are afraid, we chant God's name, and wake up the courage that was dormant inside us. Did God do something? Yes, and No. Might I even go so far as to suggest that the notion of God developed as an evolutionary requirement to make the species strong enough to survive? I suppose God and Science aren't on opposite sides, after all. One could very well be the by-product of the other, a tool to ensure survival.

Which is also why it is meaningless to go seeking God, or to argue whether He exists, or to fight over Him.