Murg Musallam

I remember the fiery smell of garlic and chillies wafting through house that day. I remember the checkered blue apron she wore. A new beginning for both of us. Far away from home, my mum and I were in a new house. Just her and I, with nothing left to say. The living room was filled with brown boxes, Labelled and packed tight, all our memories bundled together with brown tape. Amongst the brown, that day, we found our old pressure cooker. This ‘cooker’ had seen as many days as me, perhaps even more, and on it that day, we discovered a recipe book. Flipping through its yellowed pages, we found ‘Murg Musallam’. I cannot remember why we decided to give it a try. Perhaps it was fate or perhaps it was the enticing statement which proclaimed ‘Pressure Cooking time – 5 mins’. She gathered all the ingredients, removed her gold bangles, and tied her hair up into a bun and then, we began.

I peeled the garlic cloves slowly while she chopped up the onions with vigour. The chicken was bathed in the marinade of curd and loads of chilli. And then we had to wait. So, we took glasses of orange juice, sat on the dining table and did something which felt so foreign to us. We talked. We talked about how the chicken would turn out, we talked about what we would eat it with and we talked all the way back into the kitchen. The entire meal took four hours of labour and gave back four hours of laughter.  When the whistle of the cooker finally went off, we plopped on the sofa and gave a sigh of relief. I am sure we smelled like Murgh Musallam too. But when it was time and we broke a piece of the crispy roti, dipped it in the piping hot masala and took a bite, we knew that it was worth it all. It was like a piece of heaven. As I sit down now and think of that day, I realise that Murg Musallam was more than just a meal. It was a connection.  I had known my mum for years before, but it was that day that I found her.

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The Bolted Door

 

There stands a door in front of me

Big old door, dusty with times gone by

Is it bolted from in or out? I am not quite sure

All I know that it’s been shut for ages now.

 

I pass by the door everyday

Sometimes, the lights are up

Telling me that there is someone is locked

In or out, I am not quite sure.

 

Somedays, it is pitch dark

With the shadows hiding too

Like someone dead is being mourned

The door is shut but why?

I am not quite sure.

 

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Stories and their Eternal Weave

What is the one story that has stood by you as life ebbed and surged in infinite undulations? Is there a tale, so powerful, that it can take you from the throes of unhappiness and plunge you into a world of wonderment? How did children come to look up to the storyteller and seek him as if he were God? Why does a story bind us like nothing else in this world? Why, do we have so many questions and no answer to the one we would all like to know, what was the first story ever told?Perhaps it predates so much back in time, that we can only believe that it is as old as the universe. Adam and Eve come close to being the first characters ever created. The Bible, figures in the Guinness Book of World Records for not only selling more copies than any other book, but to be consistently rated as the number one book to have transformed the lives of millions of people, incomparable to any other body of work.

Voltaire said, “Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.” If faith can move mountains, then what is at the foundation of faith? Is it just make-believe statements or personal accounts that otherwise could not have existed had they not occurred naturally, at least in a partial percentage. For there is a very remote chance that they could have been fully imagined otherwise. These are stories of bravery and valour, of awe-inspiring sacrifices and of triumph of the good over the evil. Stories that have stood the test of time because it was not time that created them, but a willingness to tell a story as it should be told, undiluted and flowing like the words of God himself. Ved Vyas performed the Akhand Tapas in the forests for years. He was so well versed in the Vedas and the Shastras that he was able to segregate them, a near impossible task. Then came his epic of epics, the Mahabharata, a divine gift to mankind. But, ever since business and economy have taken centre stage, there has been little relevance given to ancient texts and teachings.

The question then arises, can matter exist without matter? Water needs hydrogen and oxygen, fire needs a spark to jump-start the flames. Similarly did the Espirit De Corps exist in isolation? Did it come from nothing? No.  It existed in the Ayats of the Quran, in the shlokas of the Gita and in the verses of the Bible. So did unity, diversity, employee motivation and several other modern day teachings. If Krishna can live on as Kris and if fairy tales can be further immortalised by digital technology, it is only a matter of time before other legends and folktales become a part of our everyday lives.

The latest Amar Chitra Katha is right on your desktop, an icon glowing, waiting to explode on your screen. Snow White and Cinderella go about their duties in 3-D even as their evil relatives plot their downfall. Aesop and Grimm too have travelled well beyond the walls of their European homes. Neil Gaiman, that magician with words, says in his book Coraline, “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

So, let us also travel with these stories and see where they take us, for they may lead us nowhere or lead us beyond our destinies, but surely will leave us more entertained and enlightened, than ever before. A thought, before you begin with that next big story!

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The Cycle of Life

It is hard to think of anything else while you and your bicycle are going down a hill at full speed. When all you hear is the rattling iron and all you see is the unending road ahead. With the wind in your hair, you feel you can do anything! Maybe, losing some control is the best way to gain some insight.

Yes! We have bought a bicycle. My friend, AA and I always wanted one. Since the start of college, we had been eyeing every cycle-owner with envy, imagining how it would feel to own such a thing of beauty. We had also been putting it off for the next semester. But after ‘some’ delay we are finally proud owners of our bicycle. We call her ‘Siyahi’, owing to her navy blue colour. And boy! we are in love with her.

If you happen to come down to NITK , and you see two girls on a cycle, one with her hands stretched wide, kissing the breeze and the other trying really hard to balance, while peddling with all her might, you can safely assume that they are us. Who is who, I will not reveal here.

I have spent the past month honing my riding skills, which in my case meant learning how to ride a cycle all over again. To people who say that you can never forget how to ride, I would say… Well…Yes, you can! It is possible! After seven years of staying off the wheel, I was falling into the ditch again. But that’s a thing of the past now. I have successfully conquered that obstacle and I am glad to inform you that now there is more riding than falling involved when I hit the pedal. It has been so long since I learned something. Not just read and later forgot. Like actually LEARN! There is something so pure about the joy of completing a physical task, where its just you and your body, and nobody else. When you are zooming straight ahead, the world turns into a tunnel. Everything looks like a movie being played in fast forward.  Its you and the road. Nothing else matters. You keep going on, hoping that this would never end. This feeling of being the master of your destination - the master of your fate.

After many riding sessions around the campus, I finally feel confident to take her out. Pavinje is a river bank close to our college. AA and I will be going there tomorrow for our first out-of-college-Siyahi adventure. I promise to put up pictures of the sunrise. Hopefully, we will get up on time. For now, here are some pictures of the good times:

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Gill Ma’am

The fans are spinning at full speed, spreading the yawns all around. The desks are neatly arranged in rows with the students sitting in pairs staring at the blackboard, which is now ghostly white, reminding us again of the long day at middle school. I am seated on the third bench from the front, feeling as uncomfortable as any teenager. I look at the ‘cool’ kids around. I feel lost and out of place. Most days at schools were like this. The sun would rise and reach up high, while we sat there staring blankly ahead. But that day, she walked in. Wearing a crisp cotton sari, devoid of makeup with her hair worn really short and her spectacles reaching right down to the tip of the nose, she wished us. Her voice commanded attention and in one ‘Good morning’, we all sat up straight. She would be our English teacher.
She studied the rows and columns, taking everything in with one strong piercing stare. We knew then that her class would be like no other. She taught us poetry, Shakespeare, grammar and William Blake. English had never been taught with so much passion before.

One day, she announced that we would be writing an article about the contrast between the life of an underprivileged boy and a rich boy. The first task would be to come up with a catchy title. ”A good title is never longer than five words”, she said.
“Think hard! Then come up to my desk, tell me what thought of. Surprise me!”.
I remember, I took more time thinking about the title than the article itself. I had to get it just right. When it sounded perfect in my head, I gathered my courage to go up to her. Her persona was intimidating, so I walked as slow as I could.

She was busy correcting into our class notebooks, placing dots above the ‘i’s. She was so deeply immersed that she failed to notice me. I managed to utter a feeble “Ma’am…”. Still lost in her job, she inquired, “What is it, Ishani?”

“I thought of a title, Ma’am.”
“Let’s hear it then?”
“So similar yet so different.”

To this day, I remember her reaction. She put her glasses aside, closed her register and looked up. And then, she smiled. “Well then, go ahead.” I knew that I had done well. I had created beauty. And, she was the first one to appreciate my creation. That is how it all started. That day, I saw the strength in my words.

I have come a long way from there. The last seven years have brought about a tide of change. I am little less awkward and a little more confident. I have met some great people in college, who encourage me to write, even on the days I feel too lazy to do so. ‘The Fishbowl Network’ has given a platform to my writing and I don’t feel so lost anymore. I have often thought of that day and wondered how my life would have turned out if that class had never happened. Maybe, I would have never discovered my love for words. Maybe, I would be incomplete. I had been yearning to meet her. I wished to thank her for all she had done, but always got caught up with trivialities of life. I did go to Delhi quite a few times, but never made an effort. You see, I thought I had time.

This summer was spent in Bhutan. Encircled by mountains, life was going pretty good. My mum’s colleague invited us over for dinner one day. There was good food and great company, chatter and laughter all around. There I met a boy, who was an year younger to me. I found out he had graduated out of the same school. I was overjoyed. I eagerly asked him about her, and how she was doing. He looked straight into my eye, and said, “Didn’t you hear?”

I took a deep breath. Somehow, I knew what he was going to say next.

“She passed away last year.”

I lay awake the entire night thinking about her. Twisting and turning in my bed, I thought of that day again. I thought of her smile, her sari, and her thin glasses. I felt like I had cheated her. In my bubble, I had forgotten about the harsh truth of life - the fact that it is too short.

It is impossible to talk her now but I would like her know that she is big reason that I am a writer today. Thank you, Gill Ma’am. I wouldn’t be who I am today, if you hadn’t looked up and smiled.

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Interpretation of eclipses in mythology

Though the phenomenon of eclipse has a solid scientific explanation, different cultures have developed their own set of interpretations which are rooted in myths and superstitions.

The human race has always believed in a higher power that is beyond their control. It is no wonder that during the evolution from a raw flesh eating mammal to today’s civilized and sophisticated human being, progress was made in terms of culture and religion. During this transition period, mythology gained importance among the masses who needed satisfactory answers to celestial and earthly occurrences.

The myth of an eclipse is one such aspect which is prevalent all over the world, across different cultures. For centuries, man has considered the sun as the source of life. So, it was obvious that when their primary source of light was ‘blocked’ for a period of time, people were driven by fear and insecurity. Various cultures have developed their own explanation for the occurrence of an eclipse.

The word eclipse actually originated from the Greek word ekleipsis, which literally means abandonment.

Mythology and Religion

Since mythology and religion are closely interconnected in India, the root of explanation for an eclipse generally lies in religion. For instance, in Hindu mythology, the entire period of an eclipse is called ‘parvakala’. The Bhagavata Purana(a puranic holy text of Hinduism) has an answer to the occurrence of an eclipse with an interesting fable.

A fierce battle was fought between the Devas(gods) and Asuras(demons) for many years. Lord Vishnu, known as the Preserver among the trinity of gods, arranged a truce between the warring sides and offered to churn the ocean to leverage its benefits. After many rounds of churning, the Amritam(nectar) emerged from the ocean in a pot, which was snatched by the demons. Lord Vishnu, in disguise as a beautiful woman enticed the celebrating Asuras . He managed to steal it and get it across to the devas. But Rahu, a demon, saw through the trickery. While the nectar was being distributed to the gods, Rahu disguised himself and tried to have a sip of the nectar. But the sun and moon gods detected his presence and informed Lord Vishnu, who then chopped off Rahu’s head. Luckily for him, since he too had a sip of the nectar, he will live for eternity as a trunkless demon and his headless trunk is known as Ketu. Apparently, Rahu never forgave the sun and moon gods and as retribution for their action, tries to swallow them periodically.

For centuries, this fable has long remained the accepted reason. So much so that, even in this age of rapid modernization, special rituals are held to ward off the evil demon. During the eclipse period, people bathe neck deep in the holy rivers, hoping that it will give the strength to fight the demon.

Other mythological accounts of eclipses

The Chinese mythology resembles the Indian mythology to a certain degree. The term for eclipse in the Chinese language was “chih”, meaning “to eat”. The Chinese believe that a dragon tries to swallow the sun or moon and this can evaded by the beating of the drums and shooting of arrows in the sky. It is rumored that this practice continued till the late nineteenth century, when the Chinese navy fired its cannons to scare away the dragon that was eating the moon.

The eastern part of the world, generally known as “the Orient” among the westerners, has always been associated with myths and superstitions. However, certain European cultures also fancied certain myths regarding eclipses.

The Greeks consider an eclipse to be an act of the god – Zeus, who unleashes his fury by blocking the sun. Another myth that is associated with the Greek culture is that of Medea, the Thessalian witch trying to overpower Helios(the Sun) and Selene(the Moon). During the day, the sun god - Helios was known to ride his horse drawn chariot in the sky. The same act was repeated by his sister Selene, in her silver chariot, during the night. The witches of Thessaly, most notably the evil Medea, tried to bring down the two gods during their travel by casting magic spells. The lunar eclipse was known as the “red moon” phenomena and it was assumed that the witches cast the spells to extract the blood of the goddess.

In roman mythology, the equivalent of Selene is known as Luna.

The biblical accounts of an eclipse sometimes involve the episode of Jesus’s crucifixion. The episode is named the ‘crucifixion darkness’, a phenomenon which tends to interpret the darkened skies as a sign of God’s anger with the Jewish people.

In Egyptian mythology, it was believed that the sun was temporarily attacked or was ill. Hence, the Pharaohs who considered themselves as the descendants of the Sun, took it upon themselves to maintain the cosmological balance by circling around the palace.

Ignorance and Insecurity: the crux of myths

A common thread to all the myths associated with different cultures is ignorance. A large population of the world has not been privy to the rational and scientific approach of thinking. Throughout the history of mankind, a few influential characters have taken significant advantage of the lurking fear factor among the masses. For instance, it is believed that the priests in India recommended a host of rituals during eclipses, in order to maintain their supremacy in the hugely caste segregated society. Non-Christian observers have disputed the story of crucifixion darkness and consider it as a literary creation. It is also thought that the story of a dragon swallowing the sun was actually a joke played by two Chinese astronomers.

It is quite evident that a lot of mythological accounts originated from being shrouded in ignorance and lack of rational thought. As we move ahead in the 21st century, there is a definite need to put an end to such beliefs and spread scientific awareness.

 

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Black and White

black_and_white_hands

At seven, I used to see
In war, there was the good
And there was the enemy
Black and white would never mix
Every problem had a fix

Now, the world’s grey
The good have gone astray
Everyone just wants their way
War is inevitable they say
Deaths become mere stats
Both lands flooded with tears
Beyond the madness lasts

At seven, quarrels ended with play
Why can’t arguments remain the same?
Not turn into a war game

To turn earth into heaven
Everyone must be seven
When black and white would never mix
And every problem had a fix.

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A BLACK CAT BEING A BAD OMEN

 Traditional and orthodox practices are still very much prevalent in most part of the country. It mostly evolves from the old Hindu families. Unlike all the other religions, Hinduism carries many odd beliefs. A black cat is one such character that proves to be an ill omen. In contrast a white dove is the symbol of peace and is a good omen.

In states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the first and foremost question that old people would ask the survivors of a vehicle accident would be whether they have seen some black cat crossing the road ahead of their vehicle. It has become so much accepted in these parts even the educated youth seems to follow these practices.

But, is there any fact in this? There seems to be none! In fact, scientifically, both white and black cats have the same sort of physical and mental structure that they can hardly influence human beings in entirely different ways. Also, the intensity, and the effect thereby induced on the human eye, due to white and black colours scarcely makes any difference. And most of the people believe that there is nothing like a white cat being superior to a black one.

But, some people claim that there is some fact in black cats being ill omen. Their argument is that due to repeated saying that the black members of the Felix family are not good omens, negative energy is generated in people when they come across black cats. This energy has its own impact on the individual and it can eventually have negative effects. Even in the case of this argument, the fault is not on the part of the animal, but on the part of man, who has tagged the phrase ill omen with the poor animal since time immemorial.

A  remarkably humorous way of characterising black cats are by stating that these beings are the second birth of ‘unsatisfied’ human souls. In short, this argument says that these poor animals are ghosts. In most of the Malayalam films, black cats with shining eyes are the ghosts. Small children in this part of the country get startled and start to cry when they come across black cats.

It is just the outcome of man’s thought process wherein he symbolises white as the colour of new beginnings, positivity and peace. On the other hand black is considered the colour of negativity, witch’s magic and ignorance. This arises from nothing but the thought that darkness is virtueless, while with light (white), darkness( black) is removed. In fact, black is the colour capable of absorbing negative energy and creates positive environment. But, man never tries to understand this and go ahead by conventions.

Poor Felix! What else can be commented on these miserable animals than being termed as ill omens by the ruling species of the planet?

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THE BROKEN HALF OF THE SKY

“Today at work”, she says, “My boss went berserk”
Has all the luxuries of the world,
Except if you see closely,  she has no one.

Beautiful and intelligent she is for sure, but
Rumors tell me she was never chosen
Oh! That’s what happen when you,
Keep postponing it, till it is too late
Everyone has moved ahead fast
Now, no one wants to marry an old hag.

Happily, she walks away,
After a few days, she sits down with me again
“Last night”, she says, “He worked till the clock struck twelve”
Fallen into the cycle of work, she says.

Of course, he isn’t married that’s why
Followed the path his heart desired.

This view of her amazes me and I ask
He isn’t married? Isn’t that his fault?
Empty and lonely, I remember you had said last.

She waves her hand and says, “Oh! Don’t be foolish”
Keen on his career he worked on,
You can’t blame a man for a choice well thought of!

 

This was my attempt at acrose poetry. In this form of poetry,  the first letter, syllable or word of each line spells out a word or a message. In my poem, it spells out the title ‘The Broken Half of the Sky’.

This poem was quite a bit of a challenge, because I first had to think of the appropriate line and still make sure that the poem had a continuity to it.

Hope you enjoyed my amateurish attempt!

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BHUTAN IS HERE

The trees, tall and mighty are saying hello and the yellow flowers which shone so brightly in the morning, are now vanishing at dusk. Everything is alive and moving. But, how do you keep up with things which are constantly changing? I have come to a place which is so different, so new. I find myself looking up and  taking in deep breaths, reminding myself that I have arrived. I am in Bhutan.

Yesterday, we went by the brook nearby and I watched my parents turn into kids again. Our chappals were left by the bank, while we skipped and dipped in the clear water, leaving our worries far behind. I’d like to think they stayed back with the chappals.  My Mum and Dad gleefully collected pebbles along the brook – flat and round, big and small, shiny and dull, a bit of its journey preserved in every layer. With every pebble picked up, I could see heavier bags and lighter smiles. At home, my Dad proudly smiled at his pebble collection. It has been so long since I saw him this happy.

My mom has raised a kitchen garden right in front of our house. She grows everything from potatoes to pumpkins. Everyday, I see her lovingly tending to each plant. She squats by the garden, pulling out weeds, removing stones, or just gathering the earth around for some support. I think we were raised pretty much the same way.

As, I sit here on my front porch, the sun has set, leaving the sky a dull grey. The breeze is fierce, waking everything from the winter slumber. Far away, I can see mountains standing like guardians, looking after the valley. Their blue pines are interuppted by clusters of white prayer flags, mounted on wooden poles. The Bhutanese believe that the winds will carry the prayers, along with them to heaven.

I have just arrived here, and it will take some time to call this home, but when I see my Mum and Dad smile, I know that Bhutan is creeping into our lives, slowing and steadily, but surely….

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