When I read Dickinson

The monkey hangs down the creepy long greens

Amidst the sun kissed leaves

Through the spotted rains

Through the blues of the sky

While Emily Dickinson warms my bed

And the speckled dust hugs my window panes

I question life and death and possibility and probability

I think about her life of seclusion; her life of reservation; of death and of disease

Of words and letters;

I hug my knees

And smugly smile

At the similarity and duality of lives across centuries

I could read a poem and relate to the poet

I could live her life through her work

And see her dreams through her eyes

I could live the melancholy of her life

And the rapturous joy in her life

I could live multiple lives

In a lone solitary life

I could live a million lives

In a lone solitary life!



Posted by on September 10, 2012 in My tryst with poetry


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The finality of death!

She was an embodiment of courage, of affection, of determination, of love! She was a spirited woman. I adored and respected her. The earliest memories I have of her is that of getting down from the train at the Cuttack station, bag and baggage in hand, duly assisted by her husband. The love that they shared was of the no nonsense kind. Yet there was an innocence to it, which did not escape my eyes. He fretted over the minutest details when it came to her and she exactly knew what was running in his mind. There was an effortless communication, which hardly ever boasted of the need for a verbal exchange. I believe they met and had fallen in love on a ship, in a journey that had taken over a month. Their enthusiasm to undertake journeys, even at the age of 80, was palpable.
She unfailingly called on each of my birthdays. She struck a chord with each and every member of the immediate and extended family. She commanded a peculiar sense of respect and warmth. Once, on a visit to Chandigarh, she held me in her lap and related stories of her yesteryears. I vividly remember the stories. Next, she took me to a bookshop and bought me a host of Enid Blyton books.
Her annual visits to Cuttack were always remembered and cherished, long after she left. I remember sitting next to her and watching her seamlessly weave a black bun into her thin, wiry, silvery hair.
Today, while I was commuting, I got a call. She was no more. A sudden sense of grief engulfed me. I brushed away the tears that had sprung up in my eyes. I was shaken. I am still shaken, by the abruptness of the incident.
I was never emotionally close to her. Yet I realized that those seemingly simple annual rituals had forged some sort of a bond, a special one which transcended age and time. I had spoken to her a week ago. She seemed hale and hearty. She was gung ho about her anniversary celebrations and extremely enthusiastic about visiting the backwaters of Kerela. Death, however intruded, unannounced and took her away from us! I hope, pray and sincerely wish that God gives her better half and her immediate family, the courage to stride over these difficult times.

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Posted by on November 15, 2011 in Uncategorized


A blank post!

It takes a bucket full of adrenaline and a head full of randomness to sit down and type out a post when you would rather be sitting at Marine Drive,conjuring images of sea horses, dashing against the dome shaped rocks, scattered all around, in order to give an impression of randomness. However for the lack of like minded company, I sit down to write, with nothing particular in mind. For the past half hour, I have been wondering what to do. Whether to read the half a dozen books I purchased out of sheer curiosity and temptation and never got the time to read, or whether to plug in my earphones, lie down on my bed and daydream or rather night dream, if that can be a word at all!

Its 1.28 am and I can hear the distinct sound of raindrops crashing down on the rooftop with ceaseless vehemence. It’s been the same since evening. Water, in all forms, can either anger you or act as a soothing agent; a calming influence, which in all probability, makes you drown in the deluge of thoughts, of past occurrences, of memories- often buried and never shoveled out.

Am I religious? Perhaps not. Am I spiritual? Very much indeed. The how and why of it unearths itself in layers, bit by bit, inch by inch. I have a deep connect with a certain genre of things. I converse with characters in books; for me they are as real as the Supreme Power is. I converse with the choppy waters; in as engaging a manner in which I would perhaps meditate. This deep connect goes way beyond the idolation that one has for forms of stone or clay, without demeaning the respect attached to the same.

To plonk myself in front of an endless body of water is what I wish to do now. To dream and dream as infinitely as the stretch of the sea is how I imagine myself at this point in time. This piece of verse is dedicated to the morbid obsession I have with water, in any form.

“The azure heaven stretches into oblivion
And merges into your being
As seamlessly and as ceaselessly it could
Empowering you with a vengeance of sorts
To swamp the outlines of a human mind
To delineate joys and sorrows alike

You have been blessed by the Almighty
With the power to induce hideous tears and to bring about a surge of joy
To make the human kind dream
To make them soar high into the sky
To make them crash as smithereens on to rough ground

I unburden my heart, full of woes and take shelter in your bosom
Accept me as a lover would
In the throes of unbridled, passionate love
Adopt me as a mother would
As your blood, as your bones

For you shall throttle my spirit
In jilt and desertion
For I shall have nowhere to go
Neither to cry, neither to laugh”


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The bottomless pit

Its been precisely a week since I’ve walked the corridors of Tata Institute of Social Sciences. One word which students cling on to, once they enter campus is sensitization, which one has the privilege of being subject to, with every stride, with every step, taken.One particular incident which will perhaps be etched in my mind forever, is one that happened today morning.
One of our group activities included dividing the class into various groups, where one of the participants was blindfolded, one had his hands tied and the other had his ears plugged with cotton. The group together, was responsible for coming up with a logo painted on paper, along with a slogan/jingle, in order to depict the ideology of the group, in totality.
The hyper active me volunteered to be blind folded. The entire activity of coordination and formulation of the logo and slogan took us about 15 minutes. Inspite of the policy of inclusion adopted by my group members, I was at a loss to find a medium to engage with the group. The loss of vision, the onslaught of blindness, even for a mere ten minutes was way more challenging than I could have ever imagined. I experienced the emotions of helplessness, irritation and frustration, all at one go. The difficulty of communicating with the hearing impaired(acting) and the physically handicapped(acting), also proved to be a cause of discomfort.
For quite some time after the exercise, I pondered over the activity and the impact it had on me. A sense of empathy towards the blind-definitely! A sense of belonging towards the issue of blindness-perhaps! The realization dawned that the issue of social inclusion is varied and has multiple facets to it. To bring an impaired human into the ambit of normalcy is a daunting task, nonetheless impossible. To converse with them, without having a mental block is however very much doable.
A quick googling of facts revealed that about 284 million people in the world are visually impaired, out of which 39 million are completely blind. One can only imagine the cumulative total of all individuals with some impairment.
Summing up, a small piece of verse!

Oh calamitous fate!
Of grim and bottomless pits
Of darkness in every breath
Of shadowy starless lives
Of somber raven nights

Commiseration I beg
Equity I demand
Doth thou hear
My shrieks,my cries
My dreams, my eyes!


Posted by on June 21, 2011 in Life at TISS


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Eternal Infinity

I have always liked flipping through yellow, moth eaten pages; the ones you have to be very careful with, lest they tear or break away from the parent book.

Background to the post:

Today, one of my best friends, a master chef in the making, had a luncheon at his place. We discussed Bridgestone tyres, Michael Schumacher, the JNNURM buses, the idiosyncrasies of an old lady wanting to stay young, auntie’s obsession with the current Delhi Belly jingle and almost every other weird topic that you can think of. The discussion moved to my current fascination, the devadasis in the Indian temples; during which I discovered that uncle, who was a connoisseur of art in all forms, especially dance, had researched on the maharis and devadasis and had an article to his credit. This got me into a flurried frenzy of rummaging through his room, which housed his belongings in the exact position as it used to be, before he left for his heavenly abode.

Coming back to the post, I discovered archaic letters and diaries stacked neatly, albeit with a layer of dust, in one of the cupboards, slightly cracked with a sliding glass door. Those were his personal musings and letters to his loving wife, which I deemed best to keep away. However, scrawled on one of his picture memoirs, was a verse which read Dec’94 and left me rooted to the ground for a while. I believe he was a man of innate sensitivity and profundity. I would also like to believe that the verse if shared with a wider audience, will fulfill its purpose of having been penned down. It goes it this manner: “One can fathom the true beauty of life, only when lived alone. If you share your life with someone, you can only experience half the world. However, if you do not, the whole world in its entirety belongs to you”.

Vivid flashes of the times spent with him, came back to me, with an urgency, I cannot explain. Needless to say, the feeling of just respect, will be an understatement.

Methodical rows of recorded cassettes graced the sides of the bed. Long playing (LP) phonograph records heightened the creative essence, so prevalent in the space around. Books on various dance forms lined the shelves, almost screaming out to be felt and read and understood. An invitation card for the opening of Nrityagram, the dance school by Protima Bedi, fell out from one of the hard bound books. As I went through the cursive text, I wondered what his thoughts would have been, while reading the same.

A gifted creative soul does not single out one passion in life and hence the multiple engagements he kept himself busy with. The genre moved to books on photography and various international journals on music as well. Various musical instrumentals, enveloped in dusty black bags, laced the corners of the room and bed too. On opening another antiquated trunk, I discovered piles of books, ranging from Animal Farm to Osho’s Golden Nuggets and The Autobiography of Jimi Hendrix to that of Beatles.

What perhaps will always remain with me, however, is a book by the name of Gitanjali. This wasn’t the one written by Tagore. The anthology of poems was written by an adolescent cancer patient, who has described the beauty of life, as she fathomed, through the window of her hospital room. She passed away soon after. A gift to his wife on their first anniversary, the message reading…May your life be as beautiful as these poems, in mirth and in sorrow! I was choked and almost in tears. I can best put into words, my feelings through William Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence” :

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour


Posted by on June 3, 2011 in As I see it


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An unusual memoir!

Bleary eyed, I set out at 5.30 in the morning to my favorite destination yet again. This time though, it wasn’t just for lazing around and getting some me time. It was with a specific intent: to decipher the reasons behind the end of a beautiful culture, the culture of the devadasis, which adorned the courtyards of the Jagannath temple in Puri, for thousands of years. A certain newspaper article about the oldest living devadasi in Puri intrigued me and was the reason behind my visit today.
After a sumptuous breakfast of toast with bacon and eggs, with sausages by the side, at one of my favorite haunts, Honey Bee(done up with bamboo and wicker furniture, mostly catering to the likes of foreigners), I began quizzing the pandas(priests) around the temple, about the whereabouts of the devadasis. After about 20 minutes of whizzing around aimlessly in the bylanes of the temple, I deemed it best to visit the temple office. I discovered that they were two instead of one, of a dying cult, resigned to fate, living in deplorable conditions.
As I ventured into the first lady’s house in Dolamundap Sahi, a young lad of about 15 came running down to me, “Would you like to meet Badama( father’s elder brother’s wife)?”, the tone reeking of an everyday mundaneness. “A lot of people come down to see her. She is very famous. Be careful though, she gets a little cranky these days. You see, she is neither able to see or hear that well”.
We went up a winding fleet of steps, leading to a small ante room, via which we stepped into the room of Sasimoni, a 95 year old tottering lady, who was wedded to the Lord, at the tender age of 7. Arms bare, with an orange saree, streaked in black, draped around her, she was lying prostrate on a pile of tattered cotton sheets put together. The most striking feature though, was the huge blob of red on her forehead and the red sindoor down her parted silvered hair, both the marks of a wedded woman in Hindu culture.
“Have you come to do research on me?” she shouted into my ears. “Yes, I was very keen to know more about you”, I replied.
She inched closer to me and clutched my hand in a tight grip. In a failed attempt to make her shriek sound like a whisper, she told me, “All those who visit me get a token of appreciation. That is God’s wish. What have you brought?
You are a blessed child my dear. Let me tell you a secret. You have been able to visit me after a lot of tapasya, which God rendered successful today. I was saved from the clutches of death not once, but five times in the last 3 years. You know, why! Because, you had to come and meet me.”
After shelling out a monetary compensation for the golden words of wisdom she would share with me, we sat on a reed mattress and spoke at length for about an hour.

“We are all raised by existing devadasis. 16 of my sisters died previously, before I was born. By the Lord’s grace, I was raised by the famous devadasi, Surjyamani, following which, her favorite disciple, Poonamani took over. When I was 7 years old, I was dressed in bridal fineries and married to Jaga. I was extremely happy and thereafter, devoted my entire life to his service. With single minded devotion, comes oneness with the Lord. As his wife and servant, I have experienced togetherness in the most intimate manner. That I cannot express. That, it would not be right to express”.
The golden beads strung around her frail neck shone in comparison to the dreary, dull atmosphere in the house. A string of ochre colored thread was tied around her bare tanned arms. In almost every breath, she looked up earnestly at the idol of Lord Jagannath and sent a word of prayer to him.
“As a devadasi, there were a number of sevas we had to perform. Since I was the most famous amongst all of us, I was given the charge of performing the Nanda Utsav,where I would dress up as Yashoda and carry little Krishna in my arms,” she said with a hint of obvious pride. “I presumed I would be able to do so, till the last breath of life was taken away from me. Alas, 3 years back, I lost my vision and power of hearing. Since then, my wobbly legs have given away and I have not been able to move out of the house. It pains me to an extent, I cannot describe. I can’t help it though. Whatever God deems right, must be right. I am waiting for him to carry me away in his arms, away from the worldly possessions.”

The walls of the room were dotted with the various awards presented to her. Those were the symbol of the magnitude of service she has dedicated, an entire lifetime of service she has offered to her Jaga. She receives a monthly pension of a thousand rupees from the temple authorities, a pittance in today’s world.
Almost always in a peevish mood, she lashes out at the electricity department for having refused her the much needed air and also shouts out to her adopted son, to show me certain literature chronicling her life.
“People from Dilli, Bombay, Allahabad, London and America, come down to visit me. People from the world of dance, also hold me in very high regard. After all, it is we, who taught the commoners how to dance.”
“As a last wish, can you please get two silver ringlets for me from Cuttack? I will give you one of mine, which will help you ward off evil spirits throughout your life and be a harbinger of success for eternity”, she quipped in, convincingly.
I took one last glance at her meager belongings, her proud certificates of recognition and turned away down the stairs, amazed, fascinated and intrigued by the story of her life.
How on earth could one devote oneself, ones whole life to service, to music, to dance, for a husband, who was beyond the human frailties of touch and sight?
She mentioned that looking at another man was crime, was illegal, as she was legally wedded to the Lord. Was the togetherness, she mentioned, a figment of her imagination or did it have some semblance of truth?
With multiple questions in my mind, I left her abode and set out to the second devadasi, Parasumani’s house, 10 years younger to Sasimoni, residing in a rented house, on the banks of the sea. She was a regular at the temple every evening, where she sung the tunes of Geet Govind, calling out lovingly to her husband.
I went into a cemented portico, to find a lady in faded white and red, leaning against the wall. The red was common to her as well, the only difference being, a set of strikingly visible black and red betel stained teeth.
“Today morning, while I was placing the flowers on Jaga’s head, he constantly kept dropping it down. I chided him saying that did he not know how much it hurt my broken hand to place flowers on his head again and again. Was somebody due to arrive or visit me today”, she mentioned in a jocular fashion.
“I have seen my husband, the creator of this universe, in varied forms. Once when I was unwell and wasn’t able to visit the temple, I felt a hand on my brow. Looking up, I could see a salt and pepper colored long haired Jaga standing, consoling me and reassuring me that things would be right eventually. This is just one of the instances. To people who have not felt him, this may seem to be a lie but I swear on my Lord, he talks to me and listens to me, as normally as a regular husband would.”

My visits to both these houses were equally profound and made me see a world beyond the usual. The vastness of the spiritual world can never be questioned. Here are two women, who have braved maliciousness in all forms, to carry a tradition forward, into which they were thrown at an age, where they could not fathom, how the decision would change their lives. They stride forward with sustained veneration and dedication and mark the last of a long lived cult, in the history of the famous Jagannath temple.
My last halt was at the Shri Jagannath Central Library, which houses information on this lost cult in the Puri dham, making it delectable food for thought in the months to come.


Posted by on June 1, 2011 in Conversations Galore



Snap went the bond that begun in great revelry
With the umbilical cord
The bond that was meant to nurture
To care, to love, to understand

The yesteryears were proof enough
That the bond God forged was beleaguered
Bit by bit, Piece by Piece
Unstrumming the strings of my essence
Untying the proverbial knot

Here I am
A tattered soul, a battered self
Yearning for your love
For you to comprehend your own flesh
To make amends
To extend a hand of friendship and of warmth

Green eyed I turn
At the sight of an outstretched hand
Resentful I alter to
At the mention of an Achates turned maternal string
Envisioning my own self
In the footsteps of the blessed child

No cry as loud
No craving as strong
Lacerated I have been
Bruised I have been
Since the bond went snap
Since the revelry died

A glorious death indeed
A million times over
Washing me away in its shores of fury
The wrath exemplified
The sorrow unimaginable

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Posted by on May 26, 2011 in My tryst with poetry

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