"A profound unmitigated loneliness is the only truth of life"
- R.K. Narayan

20-Dec-2012. 23:30 hrs. Somewhere along the konkan coast, a lonely soul sits up on his bed.

"It's absurd," he thinks, "All those doomsday theories are bull-shit! How could the world suddenly end tomorrow? A meteor wiped out the dinosaurs, but the world has gladly survived. Volcanoes, storms, tsunamis, nuclear bombs, they all tried their hand, yet the world just continues to roll on. How could everything end in one day?"

"But then..." he ponders. He gets up and tries to walk to the hall. His paralyzed legs give way and he collapses to the floor, smashing his nose. He drags his body, crawls into the hall, cranks up his neck just enough to gaze at his dead mother's portrait. "She meant the world to me. She was my arms and my feet. She even supplemented my failing eyesight. Maybe it is right that the world can appear to be destroyed in one sweeping moment." He slumps to the floor beneath the portrait, and urinates in his pants. Blood, tears and urine, all mix their warmth to remind him of his mother's touch.

"Yet the world as such cannot end tomorrow. It is not at all possible. The society is working so vigorously. Everyone is going about their lives. Family ties are still so strong..."

"But then... " he recalls how irrational people have been since his mother's demise. How the neighbours have deserted him. How relatives relentlessly eye the property. How his nurse took a short leave a week ago and never come back. He was losing hope faster than his breath. "Maybe the world should come to an end. Things can't continue like this. Humanity has died already. What is absurd is not the sudden end, but the survival of the world itself."

He continues to crawl and reaches the balcony. He drags himself up the low balustrade and balances shakily on it. He overlooks the glimmering city from his eleventh floor view. "Oh! how beautiful it looks from up here. Those moving jewels of lights on the garland of the streets. Take away the faces and the world is so beautiful. Its contours are so sexy. How I wish this world never ends... never..."

Right then, a blast of warm air rises from the city below and caresses his cheeks, reminding him of the spirit of his mother. A vision of his mother begins to float in the wind. He closes his eyes before she could fade away. He leans forward to feel more of that air.

21-Dec-2012. 00:00 hrs.

A soul plunges to his death. A world comes to an end.
When I was born, I felt so vulnerable. Whenever I tried to speak, I only managed to squeal. I hated seeing my mother naked, yet she forced me to suck at her breast. I couldn't even do my own toilet. My tongue wasn't twisting the way I wanted, my limbs weren't responding to me. People made funny faces at me, and I had no choice to ignore them. I wondered why man had to be born so helpless and fragile. 

And while I kept constantly wondering, it all changed. I grew up...
Oh God! All I needed was an answer, not an escape!

In school, my innocence was torn apart, and ingenuity raped. They forced time-tables upon us, while making me stand on the table all the time. I never ate my lunch in peace, it always had to be shared and fussed over. The only creativity encouraged was in finding ways to fool the teachers. Freedom was something we celebrated only on 15-Aug, standing beneath a tri-colored piece of cloth, which flapped so furiously that it literally slapped the wind. I pondered why learning had to be so tedious.

And while I kept furiously pondering, it all changed. I passed out of school...
Oh God! All I needed was an answer, not an escape!

At work, freedom, again, was only in the choice of beverage at the vending machine. Timetables changed into Project schedules. Friendships changed into partnerships, relationships were built over necessities. Deadlines petrified us more than death ever did! People didn't want to be racists, yet they all agreed life was a big race. I kept speculating why survival had to be so complicated.

And while I kept seriously speculating, it all changed. I got married and a wave of personal life swept over me...
Oh God! All I needed was an answer, not an escape!

Family seemed like an action movie in a dark room - the darkness of delusion lost in the blindness of the noise. Life became a two way traffic in a single lane road- while I made other's wishes as mine own, I also started imposing my own wishes upon them. I had to accept well-wishers that I never really needed. Every decision seemed like a broth made by many cooks. Happiness was a birthday cake that people scraped every bit of, and smile was its cream forcefully smeared on the face. Some joked it was like life in the wild - wild it was, but in a zoo cage. Marriage seemed like innocence getting marred with age. Every move had one of two purposes, either to jumble or to gamble. I questioned why things had to be such a frenzy.

And while I fervently questioned, it all changed. I got divorced and left alone..
Oh God! All I needed was an answer, not an escape!

Life still seems a mystery. Men still hungrily pursue the unknown, while frantically running away from the greatest unknown of them all, death! All our knowledge still seems like a drop in the unconquerable oceans of the world. I still have the same questions, the same perplexed and confused look that was stamped on my face the day I was born. I still yearn to peek around the corner and see what lies beyond. I still keep thinking if death holds answers to all of life's questions.

I am still crazily contemplating, and I don't know when and how it will all change.
But I beg you Oh God! This time, please, lead me on the way to answers, not on the path to escape!
The old woman lived alone, in the home she built with so many aspirations. Her husband had died long back and son was settled abroad with his young family. On many days, she would yearn for activity around the house; for grandchildren to run up and down the hall, for her daughter-in-law to try new dishes in the kitchen. Yet she never tried to pull her son back. He seemed happy with his life; and she still had her solitude to reconcile with.

But when solitude becomes imposed, it turns to loneliness.
One fine day, a ray of hope entered through her door. A blind boy, Santosh, from the boys’ hostel came knocking. She found him a charming boy, full of dreams. He had approached her to be a scribe for his exams. She eagerly accepted. He would dictate and she would write. He would speak and she would smile. He found a dedicated and excited helper in her, and she found a reason to smile again. They made a great team. She cooked for him and read his books aloud. They would sit in the garden for hours at stretch. In the midst of all this, she had totally forgotten to call on her son and it looked like he didn't care either. When she learnt Santosh was an orphan, she was heartbroken and started drawing up plans to adopt him.
But fate, its seems, is not without a sense of irony.

She received a frantic call from her son one day. He seemed greatly worried; his maid had quit and they weren’t finding a replacement. His wife was throwing tantrums and his family was falling apart. He was desperate to have his mother join him abroad. This put her in a dilemma. On another day she wouldn't have second thoughts. It was her own son after all, and she would have eagerly travelled, but now thoughts of Santosh held her back. If she would pack up, it would be like abandoning Santosh mid-stream. She had brought the blind boy out of his darkness, and couldn't see him slump back to his wretched life of misfortune. For her son, she was nothing more than a handmaiden in mother's skin, but for Santosh, she was a fairy god-mother. Her son would probably find another pair of hands, but Santosh may not find another pair of loving eyes.
On one side was a relationship built of blood, and on another, was a relationship watered by love.
A strange sense of despair crept over her. She couldn't sleep the whole night. She kept shivering and sulking. She repeatedly got up and walked around the house like a besotted ghost. Early in the morning, she buried her head in the pillow, and cried! In the evening, when she finally managed to open her swollen eyes, she called a cab to drop her to the airport.
And flying she went... leaving her heart behind; half of it for a borrowed son, deprived of the love that he lovingly claimed but probably never deserved, and the other half for the house, whose halls were built to resound with laughter but were now, probably, locked forever.
Whoever said blood is thicker than water, was probably a vampire that drank a lot of mothers' blood.
Breaking news
  • Series of co-ordinated car bombs heard across Baghdad. Iraq resounds with the wails and cries of relatives and friends.
  • Sporadic riots sparked across Syria. Rebels and army fighting on the streets. Civilians take cover from flying projectiles. 
  • Rockets and bombs rain down upon Turkey. Streets filled with rubble and bodies.
  • Mobs and crowds are out on the streets of Greece. All over Europe businesses are affected, offices and schools closed and normal life thrown out of gear.
It's time for despair.
Blasting news
  • Series of co-ordinated bombs heard across various cities of India. The streets resound with shrieks and screams of its children.
  • Sporadic acts of hooliganism sparked across India. Youth are seen chasing each other, shouting and booing. Elders and ladies take cover behind their house windows. Mongrels seen hiding in gutters.
  • Rockets and bombs spark under the Indian sky. Streets are filled with debris and garbage.
  • Crowds swelling in various towns across India. Businesses closed, offices and schools shut down, normal work life thrown out of gear.
It's time for diwali.
Person A: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Person B: Whose egg are you referring to?

Person A: The chicken's egg, of course...

Person B: There you go! you just answered your own question.

A moment of pride as I take baby steps into the league of published authors. Thanks to the belief and persistent effort of Nivedita (website, blog), from Nivasini Publishers (website, blog), who has been a good friend and a constant reader of my blog, my article 'Oh Calcutta!' is now a part of the book 'Celebrating India' (ISBN 9789350871157)

Celebrating India is an anthology- a collection of short stories, poems, and travelogues by over 50 different writers. Only a few of them are recognized faces; the rest (including me) are unknown names, unheard voices who, in their own way, participate in the dance and drama of this nation. This is Nivasini's attempt to paint the picture of India with new and unseen colors, an effort to see this country through the small eyes of its own common people.

Thanks to Nivedita, and all the folks that never stop inspiring me in so many different ways!

Click on the cover picture to go to the website for online purchase (and also to read details about the book)
"I needed just one sign, just one indication that you weren't what they made you out to be, just one move to prove that you hadn't changed, that you were still the same girl I fell in love with. Just one hint and it didn't have to come to this" he murmured to himself as he watched her from the corner of his eye. As both the lawyers walked over to the judge, he could see her more clearly now. Her face was emotionless, much like what she had maintained for the last 2 years.
The lawyers handed the papers to the judge and waited... it was a divorce that strangely wasn't fought between the two parties as vehemently as the parties fought amongst themselves. Her parents constantly raised a flag and voice warning her not to show any weakness, to fight for her rights and be as demanding as possible. His parents and relatives bitterly besieged him. They admonished him not to be meek; not to give in to her and be extremely tight-fisted. Each side bombastically instigated their candidates, like preparing fighters for a boxing match. It had been a month of hectic planning and scheming.
He reflected upon his 'soon-to-be-totally-dead' marital life. Their courtship had been the best ever, but marriage wasn't such a stable ship for them. How could independent and carefree love evaporate so fast? Why was there a paranoid discomfort like they were being watched all the time? Why did decisions start to seem forced instead of consensual? She had begun to look so unnatural- like a puppet of some invisible force. On the contrary, his parents kept blaming him for being a puppet at her hands. Why did a girl who loved his rich talents start eyeing his rich property? Alas, that's what everyone told she was upto. He didn't believe his parents at first, but she never seemed to prove otherwise. She always seemed to be hung up on a long list of demands:- open fixed deposits, buy gold, purchase a house, buy a car, etc. He also wondered why the same lady, who seemed to ignore everyone but him before marriage, suddenly seemed hooked on the phone with her parents all the time. His folks constantly bombarded him with accusations about her, and he hadn't believed them at first. But, somewhere, seeing her change seemed to make their bitter allegations look valid. How badly he needed a sign- to prove that she wasn't the monster they made her to be. "Please tell me that you aren't after my money," he would plead in silence. He had lost strength from within. His life had become an endless dark tunnel whose only opening was at her end.

They claimed that she had trapped him, but somewhere deep within, he had this strange feeling that only she could free him. 
Finally on the day before the judgment he had mustered up enough courage to confront his parents. He had proposed to give away most of his assets willingly as alimony. Though she never showed any sign, he still loved her as before. It looked like all she wanted was his money, so he would let her be happy with it.

The judge seemed a bit perplexed and the lawyers were given papers for countersigning. His lawyer came back with a pleasantly surprised look on his face. "Congrats gentleman, You are one lucky bum" the lawyer said, "Even though you did a foolish move to give off all your property, you wife seems more stupid. She has signed saying she doesn't want anything. The judge agrees to settle it without alimony. Can you sign here please?"

He was astounded. He could hear his dad chuckle from behind. There was a happy murmur amongst his relatives. He glanced at her once again. She was looking up now, at some invisible point in the roof, with eyes that seemed struggling to hold its emotions back. He beckoned his lawyer to come closer and whispered in his ear, "I don't want the divorce, please withdraw the case" and walked out.
When he saw her sign, he got his sign.

27-Oct: Revised after proof-reading with Lynn (Biabeke).
The world is so full of disparity,
Wondering if it's actually in me.

Why so A.lienated, myself I see?
amongst my own folk and family.
Why U.nderrated, I assume to be?
breaking myself, ever so casually.

Why does T.error habit my ground?
when perfection is not seen around.
Why am I I.rked, like a mad hound?
as they make noise, of every sound.

Why do I go on a S.hivering streak?
when to a group, I have to speak.
Why do I become a M.oody freak?
when into my world, changes leak.

Queer are things, made by He!
Is it the world, or is it just Me?
Every being necessarily and invariably behaves according to its inherent nature
- The Natural Law

It was ordained to be amongst the best of nature's creations. A healthy acorn from the most royal of oaks, it fell from the tree that stood highest on the most sacred part of the temple backyard. Helped by the wind and the ground contours, it rolled over to the soft part of the mud and, soon, buried itself, all set to shine forth as a beaming oak someday soon. The rains, too, fell with a chatter that applauded for its germination.
But as fate would have it, the acorn was buried right above a burrow of rats. Sensing the nutty flavor, the rats soon built a small mole-hill usurping the acorn completely into their territory. Its shell was hard yet so they, too, with their squeaking, applauded for its germination.
In due course of time, just like the other saplings strewn around, our acorn entered into labor. Its endosperms gradually opened wide to let the cotyledon emerge through a slit in its coat. A sweet nutty aroma filled the molehill, but unlike its siblings this sapling wouldn't see the light of the day, not yet. It sprouted in the molehill, enveloped by a gloomy haze,  struggling helplessly against the saliva hardened walls. The rats waited patiently for more leaflets to emerge.
The poor 'oak-ling' knew nothing of its antecedents. It didn't know of its gigantic mother that never failed to scrape at the passing clouds, it had no inkling of the dainty squirrels that would mate and breed on its woody arms or the stately woodpecker that would poke a tickle at its scaly pits, it knew not of the delicate fabric of the snow or the hooting opera of the wind. All it knew was only what it saw around, the filthy pit of rodent-hood. It assumed this was its family, that it was a part and parcel of them. The burrow was its home and the rats its brethren.

Unbeknownst to any, this was a special acorn. A plague had afflicted the oaks that year, and this acorn was immune to it. It was a natural miracle, and its survival was so crucial for the oak species, yet here it lay, belonging to a family of rats.
Blind faith, coupled with innocence, can be a gullibly potent combination, that stands antithesis to intuition. This is when "innocence" becomes "in-no-sense". Natural Law thrives on these occasions.

The rats were quick to nimble up the first stock of leaves. The acorn thought the pain of ratbites was natural. It had witnessed the rats biting each other too. And just like them, it came to accept the life amongst their faeces and slept in their spit. Sometimes, it would sense a strange desire to break the wall and grow beyond, and it was happy the rats protected it by eating away the new growth and never letting it in the dangerous open air. It didn't know why it felt a longing for the sun and rain, the same things which terrified its family. Somedays, the rats would have a quarrel and they would gnaw too deep into the acorn, pushing it to the brink of death, and the acorn never understood why it never felt anger like the rats, why it always felt a feeling of forgiveness towards its aggressors. The family of rats settled with this and never ventured out in search of more food. The acorn's patient innocence and the rats' instinctual frivolity setup a cycle that went on for days with no seeming end...
Somewhere up in the heavens, a God wondered when his plans would materialize. He had destined the acorn to be an imperial oak towering above the horizons of the world. Fate and Nature had conspired against him. He found it funnily tragic that the highest of flora was condemned to be subjugated and lay subservient to the lowliest of fauna. He sighed, but waited on...

PS: Though innocence makes one vulnerable, removing it too early in one's life can lead to disastrous consequences. One should wait for a strong intuitive conviction to develop before discarding the sheath of blissful innocence.
He was a cub, strongest of the lot,
pride of the zoo was he
His roar had a fury, the fire in him
was there for all to see.

They all flocked to see him,
Many a child's breath he'd sway,
King of the jungle, they knew,
he will surely be one day.

A block away, in a corner forgotten,
stuck in bone and flesh,
sat a meditating hermit, searching
and praying for a soul afresh.

Seldom the hermit spoke, very less he ate,
never did his focus give way.
he will surely find his God soon, people
who knew him would say.

Then one day, the zoo felt the cub had grown,
and 'twas time to set it into the wild.
Around the same time the hermit, too, felt light
like God had liberated his dear child.

Children from all over, came to the zoo,
to witness the releasing of the lion.
Devotees from all over, came to the hermitage,
to witness the liberation of their doyen.

But as the cub took the first step out,
it seemed to shudder in fear.
Outside the cage was a life that it
never knew so well and clear.

The cub turned, ran back to its cage,
with fear it didn't disguise,
It wouldn't leave the cage again,
that made everyone, gasp in surprise.

A block away, the guru breathed his last,
amidst chants of people's fantasy,
Then there was a moment's silence,
and then began prayers in ecstasy.

Right then, the hermit gasped back to life,
with a smile, like he'd got a prize.
they hailed it as divine resurrection,
that left everyone, basking in surprise.

Say a person watches a movie filled with rough and intense action, and comes out of the theatre crying aloud that he is tired and hurt and wants to see the doctor for treatment. Wouldn't you find that childish? Wouldn't you ridicule him because he took the images on the screen to be real? Wouldn't you censure him for taking a mere movie too seriously? This is exactly how you should deal with people that commit suicide too - for being harassed and depressed by the merely fleeting and transitory events of the world.
Based on discourses by Swami Sri Paramhansa Yoganandaji

ESPN and Star Sports have just announced 120 days of live, explosive cricket action. On the side, they are already serving generous doses of Football and Tennis. If you don't like that, switch the channel and lo! news media have a new breaking news every hour to keep you hooked. Daily Soaps and Reality Shows come up with new twists and turns every day. Turn off the TV and newspaper beckons you with its myriad columns of glittering words. Throw aside the newspaper, and the mobile beeps with sms from friends or with a scandalous fortune of winning a lottery draw. Switch off the cell phone, and some blaring music from the neighborhood will beg for command your attention. Get on to your laptop to divert from the music, and social networks and email lure you into their dragnet. Bang aside the laptop and go sit in your porch and a neighbor would summon you for some crispy hot gossip. Go out to take a walk in fresh air, and new models of cars and bikes zip by rousing your curiosity and vanity alike. In the little relaxed time that we may find, a tired mind either slumps helplessly to sleep or starts recoiling on the day's tragedies, missed chances, rants and raves...

In today's times, there is always some food for our attention isn't it? No wonder today's kids suffer from attention retention disorder.

Where the hell is the real "Boredom"? The one for which there is absolutely no alternative at all. The one that doesn't offer any options. The one that feels like solitary confinement. The one that frustrates the creative mind so much that the juice of a reflective spirit is finally squeezed out of it. The one that creates so much loneliness that the inner voice can't be ignored anymore..

Boredom was a precious gift from God, created for those who aren't inspired enough to focus their attention on self-reflection, on their own. Today's times took this precious gift away from us.

"Such are the times that even a mirror doesn't show one's true reflection. It only serves to provoke the awareness of how others see us"
"Whenever you are done, please drop off the keys in that box over there. We need to scrub the place after you leave. You will be charged for breakages and stains." and as he was stepping out, she yelled again "and there's an extra charge for deodorising the carpets... to remove the indian curry smells". It didn't offend him anymore, this was his n-th rental in the U.S. and he had heard it all too often.

It was true! the smell of Indian curries lingers long on the carpets, and longer in memories..

He had moved all the "stuff" in the truck, and decided to go around the house one final time. Shifting houses had become almost a ritual for him by now, yet however hard he cleared the place, he always felt like something was being left behind, a sudden bout of weightlessness. His houses, no matter how brief the stay, always had a mystic effect on him- on the one hand, they filled him with a solitude that was reserved for him within their walls, and on the other hand, they had sucked the void out of his heart and transformed into a melody that filled the stillness between ticking moments- the same moments which, now, lay frozen in his handycam.

Every house touched him, like fingers holding a butterfly, which invariably brushed some powder off its wings.

A house was like a sanctuary for him, one that beckoned in the midst of hustle and bustle, with a rustle that was soft enough to put him to sleep, yet loud enough not to be missed. He bared his soul in them, casting off garments of cotton threads, naked, and let the house wrap him up, in threads of its stories. Every corner hidden to the casual eye had a tale- soot under the kitchen shelf, cobwebs in the attic, acid stains on the bathroom mirror, scratch marks under the doormat- all memories of the warmth that the plastered abode shared with families that sought refuge in it. They would make him giggle and laugh, with lofty disdain.

He never stuffed his house with furniture, maybe he didn't want to weigh down the house or maybe he felt loading a house was just a vainful attempt to hide one's own emptiness. It's an excuse to shift one's consciousness from object to object, activity to activity and pretend to avoid the difficult questions of reality. Yearning for a house, filling it up with noises of family, stuffing it with furniture, loading it with light and music, bombarding it with celebrations, fighting to keep its dominion, mulling over plans to expand it- so much a house keeps a man's life occupied.

Men need a house not just as a place to occupy, but also a place that keeps them occupied!

He never felt any of these necessities though. A house, for him, was only a place where he shed his human facade and roamed its corridors like a hungry ghost, listening to echoes that projected an infinite colorful past into the blink of a momentary present, a place where he lived like himself, by himself, with himself.

Every house was different in character, yet they never failed to reflect the same version of his self- one that longed for something to hold on to, with an anxious self-restraint that could never be fathomed. And every single time he came to the brink of getting used to this reflection, it would be time to move on. He never really understood the coincidence- was the house kicking him out, or was he running away in fear- yet when he stepped out of the house for that one last time, he would just lock up and walk away, withough ever turning back, as if to believe, that final question is better left unanswered...

P.S. Though I never consider myself to be an out-going person or someone that loves traveling around, yet due to a strange twist of fate, I have ended up shifting 31 houses so far. The above story could be my own vague recollections..
Jaayenge kahan soojtha nahi
Chal pade magar raastha nahi

Kya Talaash Hai
kuch pata nahi...

Just the fact that Mr. Guru Dutt (real name: Vasanth Padukone) was born in a Bangalore Konkani family could have made a strong case to register him close to my heart, yet the aura of his perplexing persona, left a feeling of deep connection, way beyond all birth-marks.

His were the eyes that aspired, from behind the camera, to scale new cinematic heights and conspired, while in front of the camera, to plunge the unexplored emotional depths. Whenever he cracked the armor of passion, the world hailed his tragedy, yet they failed to 'read between the cracks'. There was an element of defeatist rage in every victory that he seemed to pursue. His legacy is counted amongst the brilliant stars of his generation, yet he spent his final days in solitude and despair.

It is said that we are all like unhatched chicken; we live couched in small eggs of our own and never having seen the outer world, we struggle to adapt to the dark and dank world inside the shells (of the world we think we know). Guru Dutt was probably that chick, which kicked and fret so much that it ended up cracking its world (read: egg) and as a result, catch a glimpse of the 'light' outside. He was probably trying to say something to us. Well! nobody understood.

Some birthdays will be always remembered, especially of lives lived in such a way that, in all possibility, will never again be reborn or recreated in this world...

Happy Birthday, Vasanth!
At that moment, when the world around him melted away, when he stood alone like a star in the heavens, he was overwhelmed by a feeling of icy despair, but he was more firmly himself than ever. That was the last shudder of his awakening, the last pains of his birth. Immediately he moved on again and began to walk quickly and impatiently... no longer looking backwards.
That was Siddhartha, the atypical Indian youth in Herman Hesse's celebrated novel, whose soul searching journeys take him on a spiritual roller-coaster, through twists of fate, sometimes opening his eyes to new illuminating truths, sometimes opening his heart to new benevolent worlds, yet almost always leaving him yearning for more. 

This book reminded me of vodka, as it has a similar effect of giving a 'kick' long after its consumption. Its narrative carries a depth in multiple dimensions, sometimes caressing and sometimes pricking the conscience. It removes masks of comfort and brings out reality in all its nakedness. Its compelling insights need more than one reading to percolate, and guess that's what inspired me write this blog post, as a pretext to feel its after-taste for myself.

The book takes a deeply insightful look of both the spiritual and material sides of life, both Sansara and Nirvana, it digs a skeptical view of the great illustrious Buddha himself (when it says "Wisdom cannot be communicated"), it touches upon the core of Indian philosophy with Atman and Brahman. Love is also dealt with comprehensively - the sensual part, the affectionate part, the blindly possessive part, the inalienable love towards the self, and finally the follies of love in all these forms. The plot transitions beautifully, first taking Siddhartha from an immature spiritual ardor condescendingly into the depths of sensuality and then elevating him back into the spiritual estate. 

The river occupies a prime place in the story. When Siddhartha "saw that the water continually flowed... yet it was always there; it was always the same and yet every moment it was new" it reminds one of the mild Ephesian Heraclitus, and made me realize how ancient Greek philosophy could blend with Indian thought. The river is both at the source and sea at the same time. It meanders lazily through the woods, while also dancing over the waterfalls. It speaks a thousand voices. It swells and roars during the rains, and delightfully trickles into the fields during summer. It is at the river, and with the help of an old ferryman Vasudeva, that Siddhartha finds his ultimate peace.

A book like this happens once in a lifetime, not for the reader but for its author. Herman Hesse may have won a Literature Nobel for his works but the joy of penning Siddhartha, I strongly feel, should have given him an immense fulfillment.

I am that someone
Who doesn’t move in, Neither moves on,
What would you call someone like me?

I am that someone
Who doesn’t cash in, Neither pays down,
What would you call someone like me?

I am that someone
Who doesn’t live in, Neither pulls out,
What would you call someone like me?

I am that someone
Who doesn’t set in, Neither sets aside,
What would you call someone like me?

I am that someone
Who doesn’t run in, Neither runs away,
What would you call someone like me?
"Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks, 'Is it politic?' Vanity asks, 'Is it popular?' But, conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but just because one's conscience tells one that it is right." - Martin Luther King Jr.

As we negotiate the many twists and turns of our lives, we ask questions. Sometimes we are compelled to move ahead without an answer, and sometimes answers are impressed upon us; our belief is pushed into a corner, and conscience squeezed so tight to squeeze all the juice of compromise out of it, and all for what? Just to uphold the most universally misunderstood and acutely bottomless faith that life is meant to be lived and death is supposed to be avoided at all costs? 

Haven't there been situations when death seemed to be the 'perfectly right' decision? Ask the jilted lover who yearns to send a message to his beloved, or that enlightened sage who has attained the bliss of lifeless 'samadhi' (a state of transcendental disunion with the body), or the enamored soldier whose risky move can earn him laurels in the battlefield, or the beleaguered mother whose organs can be donated to her dying son, or the passionate terrorist whose mission is close at hand. Death can sometimes make a greater hero out of people, then Life did. For instance, they say Death came to Gandhi in the most perfect way and left him indelible in the hearts of his people. If he had lived more, who knows, maybe he would have messed up his image?

So how does conscience answer the question of willful Death? Schopenhauer, my beloved philosopher, an advocate of the freedom of the human will underlines that ownership of our lives is totally in our own hands and fully endorses the fact that suicide, the act of taking one's life at will, is completely a decision of the person himself and no law, not even a fundamental right, can interfere with that private space.

For many years, I listened with interest to various stories of suicide in my surroundings - family, friends circle, etc. Below are some real cases that I have witnessed first hand.

An engineering student in our locality hung himself one Saturday afternoon. He was a healthy kid, brilliant in his studies and his parents doted on him. He had been finding his studies a bit of a drag but his parents kept pushing him to top the class all the time. They say he became quite reserved in his final days. He cutoff from his friends too. 
My strong guess: He was depressed, mostly due to the pressure of his studies, and as parents failed to understand him, he gave up.

A teenager, with a normal college going life, killed himself by jumping in front of the Bangalore metro train. In his final moments, he had apparently sent some frustrated text messages to a girl friend.
My strong guess: Extreme frustration of being humiliated in an estranged relationship can make one think irrationally.

An uncle and a cousin, in my own family, killed themselves by jumping in front of the train and hanging onto the ceiling fan, respectively. The former due to family issues and the latter due to a seeming relationship problem.
My strong guess: Wounds that hurt for a long time tend to erode a sense of sanctity that one associates with life.

A young working student, a distant cousin of mine, immolated himself at his home. He nearly burnt half the house in his act. His two sisters had been married recently, and his ailing mother had stepped out to buy her medicines. His mother, for whom he was the only hope, has been living like a zombie ever since.
My strong guess: He had some restlessness from which he sought escape. He didn't leave any suicide note so the exact reason is a mystery. Probably he just waited for his sisters' marriage so he could fulfill his responsibility.

My mother's own brother killed himself by drowning into the Tungabhadra river in his village. He had been visiting a psychiatrist for a few months and doctors had advised not to leave him alone at home. One day, by mistake, he was allowed to go for a walk, alone, and he never came back.
My strong guess: He had attempted suicide twice before. It was clearly a case of psychotic disorientation.

The above cases, and many more, don't seem like an act of conscience. Look at the words - Frustration, Depression, Hurt, Restlessness, Psychosis, etc. It looked like some extreme emotion had propelled the person to a tipping point and one brief spike of dispassion had pushed him over the edge. Somehow until then, the act of will (that Schopenhauer speaks about) did not come out in an act of suicide, until I read about the curious case of a young 'Happy couple' from Goa - the Ranthidevans.

Anand and Deepa were a queerly silent couple. They didn't appear to be living a troubled life. They just liked to be on their own and didn't network with their neighbors much. They probably had some minor family issues (which has nowadays become synonymous with the word 'family') but its not something that would drive a family to such tragic ends. There's was a love marriage. Anand had a bit of IT experience, had traveled around and was a professor at a Goa university. They seemed a peaceful couple in a peaceful town of Goa. One summer afternoon, neighbors found their bodies hanging in their bedroom, fused together due to decomposition, with a suicide note saying, "We have a lived a happy life. We have travelled the world, lived in different countries, made more money than we ever thought possible, and enjoyed spending as much of it as we could on things that brought us joy and satisfaction. We believe in the philosophy that our life belongs to us and only us, and we have the right to choose to die as much as we have the right to live. We leave behind no debts or liabilities." Full details about them can be found here.

The case of Ranthidevans gives a curious twist. All of a sudden, I seem to have discovered a suicide that justifies Schopenhauer's take on freedom of human will. When a person takes a decision, even one as extreme as ending one's own life, under the guidance of one's fully aware conscience, is it considered right?  In philosophy, it is said when a decision is taken under full awareness and full freedom, it endows full responsibility. When a person, acting under full responsibility, does what his/her clear conscience says is right, is it fully justified? As I restart my pondering with renewed vision, I am still hugely baffled by one class of suicides that just doesn't seem to fit in any of my models. The league of the suicide terrorists. But this post is draggingly long already...

How was it to see her in the arms of another man? Tell me, Sasha.. Hordes of ladies go fanatical at your sight, you surf upon waves of love and admiration, you are the darling of the nation, but your darling is not in your life anymore. Don't you cry thinking about it, Sasha?

The same lady that you so endearingly held, so lovingly hugged, who for the first time made you feel like you were not just flirting for fun, but actually finding happiness in the depth of your heart. The one whose embrace gave you more joy than the success of all your films put together. Then how things went awry, you have no idea. You are still dumbfounded, aren't you? You still ask yourself whether it was a break-up or a break-down.

And while you still ponder, she has already found her home in the cuddle of another man. The same man, that you couldn't find respect for, right from your earliest days. The man who you felt came in this industry by birth and not by talent. She lovingly calls him Saifu, yet you know there's nothing 'saif' (safe) about him. He is a dangerous megalomaniac, who trapped her for her fame. It would keep him in the limelight, forever! He is a plotter, a bloody opportunist. He uses his 'silver spoon' to a sliver effect. You knew it, but you couldn't stop her.

She wouldn't listen to you, and if you had tried to stop her, she would have done it even more eagerly. Why did she start hating you so much, Sasha? She was your baby. Is that why you named her Bebo? You both would snuggle up and sleep at nights. Now you sleep alone. You are a 'success story' to the world, but your own mirror mocks at you now. How do you even confess your failures to someone, nobody would believe that you are so weak!

During the days you are a hero, on the sets and the streets, wherever you go, but at nights, in the loneliness of your bed, you choke on your own feeling of uselessness, don't you? Haven't you yearned for the warmth of her body on chill winter nights? Haven't you sought the coolness of her breath on dry summer days? You tried to make friends but none bonded with you so well like your Bebo did - Mimi was just too egoistic, Silk was so slippery she just slipped out one day, Masakali too grew wings and flew out. They all came and went, but Bebo had stayed well beyond the limits of today's cosmopolitan tolerance. The others just tried to carve a place in your heart, while Bebo lived in your veins. Bebo was like your blood, which took life out of your heart and spread it all over your body. Where is all that life gone now, Sasha? Don't you feel dead sometimes?

At nights, don't you miss her even more? Her silken touch, her butter-like body. The way she would spread herself and take you on, life would look like a bed of roses. Doesn't it kill you to think that another man, that rapscallion scoundrel, would be making love to her now? Your rose is adorning someone else's bed, Sasha,  and looks like she left the thorns behind for you. Don't the thorns prick your soul? Don't they deflate your ego, Sasha? But it's too late to do anything now, isn't it? She already has that scumbag's blood in her body. Didn't you read the news about her pregnancy? and then didn't you bang the laptop on the wall? Break all that you want, Sasha, they can all be mended.. but not your heart, not your broken life. Today morning, you broke the mirror in the bathroom, and when you looked into those pieces lying on the floor, which one appeared more shattered? The mirror or your face in it?

You still vividly remember those days 'Jab you Met' her, don't you? How bubbly she was and the life she infused into the early morning and late night shoots. How you both took long walks in the mustard fields and the fun you had playing by the stream. Don't you still recall that evening at the beach, where she had built that sand castle and you had watched the setting sun form a halo around her head and imagined her to be an angel, who descended upon your life, like a blessing from heaven. Today, the same sunset burns your eyes, doesn't it? The castle that she built was swept over by the waves, but don't you still build your castles in the air, Sasha?

You put up a brave face to the world and to your family, but how long can you hold your breath underwater, Sasha? You will keep praying God, not for strength, but for her happiness. You will keep giving hits to the world, and keep taking hits on your heart. You will continue shooting, you will continue to be a star, but you will also continue watching for shooting stars, that will carry your wishes to her.

However big you grow in age, fame or in stature, two things about you will never change, one, being a kid in the eyes of your mother, and two, repenting for understanding the meaning of love only after it was too late. Isn't that right, Sasha? 
10:00 P.M.
He lived alone, yet he crawled ever so silently into the room, as if he was up to something wrong. He stood still for a moment, throwing empty glances on everything around. Then he walked into the bath and shut the door behind him.

10:15 P.M.
The bathroom door creaked open. His hand thrust out of the gap and threw the bottle of pills on to the bed. The door slam shut again.

10:50 P.M.
He came out sobbing, walked over to the desktop and switched it on. As it booted up, a photo of a smiling young man flashed on the screen. "Those were the days" he soulfully remarked, "when everything seemed so fine" and then his voice turned meeker, "and today it seems I am paying a fine for everything."

It was supposed to be the last night of his life, at least that's how he had planned it. He was fed up of being scared to wake up the next day to a new set of challenges, and wanted to end it all that night. The pills were ready but he had felt compelled to vent out in some manner. He couldn't confess to friends as they would interfere and spoil his plans. When in the bath, the idea had come to him. He would create an anonymous blog and dump all his thoughts, his life events, his attempts at succeeding, his eventual failures, his dilemma, everything that had brought him to this edge. The blog would be open to readers and they could comment whatever they like.. they would never be able to trace it back to him. He waited for the computer to boot up...

11:00 P.M.
Computer ready. Website opened. Anonymous Blog created.
He started dumping bits and pieces of his life onto it. He spilled the beans, he confessed all that he wanted to, explored the deepest recesses of his mind, mined the lost corners of his heart, scraped the dust and dung out of every nook and cranny of his being and splattered it all over the blog. Every few minutes, the blog would auto save and every hour, the contents would get auto-published.. out in the world for any eyes to pry on. The soul of a man laid bare on the internet.. yet without a face!

01:30 A.M.
The furious typing had stopped.. the blog was 12 posts big. The 13th post was the process of being typed and he had dozed off. He snored away on the keyboard itself.

07:30 A.M.
He woke up with a shriek. His head was dizzy. He was confused. He looked around and thumped his fist on the table. He was supposed to be in heaven by now.. He grabbed the pills from the bed and was about to run into the bath, when his eyes fell on the blog. The 13th post still lay unpublished, but out at the bottom of the 12th, there was a small bubble which said, "1 comment" Someone had read his blog overnight and left a comment for him.

He clicked on the bubble and the comment read, "Dear sir/madam, My life was doomed and I saw no way out. I came here looking for inspiration and just happened to stumble on your blog. And by God, what a lucky break it was for me. My life is not half as worse as yours has been. With every post of yours, I could see how things were still so much better off for me. It inspires me that if someone in your condition continues to live, then I have hell no right to give up on myself at all. It shows me a way. And the most beautiful thing is that your blog is left tantalizingly incomplete, like there is a lot more to come, and that gives me a great deal of hope, that you are out there, fighting it out somewhere, and will come back to complete the blog with your stories of heroism that will show me the courage to fight my own battles with. I shall wait for your next post, my dear savior angel! Thanks for saving my life!"
His hands were trembling. He slumped back on the chair and wept.

07:50 A.M.
He grabbed the pills and stormed into the bath. There was some muffled sobbing mixed with some loud swearing, and then the toilet was flushed.

Somewhere up in the heavens, an irritated voice boomed, "If its the Net that saves.. then what am I here for?"
There was once a king who fought and lost six successive battles. After the last loss, he ran away in shame and hid in a cave. Famished and desperate, he pondered on his next step, when his eyes fell on a spider crawling haplessly nearby. The spider looked stout, fat from the easy pickings of insect larvae on the floor, yet it struggled to build a web to the roof. He wondered what it sought in the roof after all, yet the king was more interested to see when the spider would give up.

But 'Give up' it didn't. Every time the spider slipped, it got up and tried again. Finally, after falling down six times, it braved a seventh and managed to get its gossamer up onto the roof. It completed the web and hung victoriously for a while. The king, inspired by this act, left the cave... fuming with confidence. 

The spider too, fuming with confidence, climbed up onto the roof of the cave, where a lurking owl quickly gobbled it up.
I would often come to the bridge, especially after they built the new one upstream, as this was now used only by the herders and their grazing bovines. Also, the stream was particularly rough underneath so I loved to sink the noises of my head into the gush of foaming water. The sun was descending over the horizon and within all perceivable reaches of my memory, this was the most pleasant moment to be. Yet! the fading light of the dusk looked merely like a projection of the light of reason fading within me.. 

I have contemplated suicide totally six times in my life, and out of that two times at this very bridge. Today was a record third time. The bridge finally overtook the sleeping pills.

A tribal saying goes, "At day break, we set out in the direction of the rising sun, we hunt whatever comes our way. When the sun is overhead, we sleep in the shade. When the light fades, we walk towards the setting sun, and it brings us home.." Will the setting sun take me home today? I feel like an outsider in this world, Its strange; I am its stranger.

"God is your friend that never lets you down" says my pastor. Quiet obviously, so! Whenever God needs friends, he just "pulls some people up, into his abode". But queerly in my case, he has always let me down. All my 5 previous attempts at killing myself have miserably failed. Or has God succeeded?

Nevertheless, here I am for the 6th attempt.. and the sunset is making me emotional. A flock of birds fly past, looks like they are chasing the clouds. Or are they driving away the clouds so more light falls on me? I look down at the water and try to see the fishes in it. The current is too rapid and fishes dart across like reflection of meteors in the water. Then I look at the grass on the banks, bending and dancing to the water flow. They look so eager to break away and float into the watery world, yet something is holding them back. They latch on the soil, which they share with the slimy moss.

Not to be distracted by these interpretations, I focus my sight back on the golden circle of light melting into  watery frontiers. In the shimmering beams, I see mirages of promises that made up my life. How I started off  with potential energies that never converted into the right kinetic energies. How I grew up so fast physically  that people were quick to place their burden of expectations on me, without noticing that mentally I was still lagging behind. I never dared to open up and speak out my mind. Where the hell was the time? All my childhood was spent fighting over video-games and all my youth, fighting with anxiety and indecision. My life  has been a story all thoughts and no action - a train of thoughts, with no engine! All my experiences total into a sum of hits and misses - Hits that I took due to failed dreams and the various Misses that came in and out of my life - Each 'Miss' that came for 'understanding' and left with 'misunderstanding'. I could not stand under anything that I believed in, for I didn't even understand what I believed in. I took for granted whatever came easily available, and played down whatever came with any figment of love in it. I always waged a war with time, not because it ran too fast or too slow but just because it rang the alarm and woke me up every morning, into a day that I knew I would not be proud at the end of. I kept my parents waiting, until they ran out of time. In the heat of my contemplative moments, I forgot to savor the warmth of their care. In the noises that clouded my mind, I failed to hear the heart beats of the people (and the Miss-es) that loved me. I kept trying to run out of cozy situations, until their patience ran out. I charted a life of my own, fought with dialectic creations of my own mind, fumbled with my heart, stumbled upon my own desires, walked relentlessly into the mist with a vague belief that I am going to get someplace worthy of me.. and where did that lead me.. to this bridge? to this sunset?

Dear Sun! Why are you not setting today? Its been so long since I stood here. Are you eagerly listening to me or enjoying making a mockery of me? Like how I have always pretended to be busy and closed my ears to the music of life.

Every person that loved me saw only a mask of mine, but never my real face. How could they? I haven't even grown a face yet. I don't yet have a clear identity for myself. If I kill myself now, what face will I even show to God?

Dear Sunnie! Though everyone blames you for rising and setting everyday, I know its not you that moves. You stay where you are. It we who turn, we look away from you and then darkness descends upon us. If I look at you with intent and not get distracted, then your light shall stay with me. Maybe that's why you didn't set today?

Like a poet once said,
"Love the stars fondly, and you will never be fearful of the night.
Watch the sunset, and you'll know the world's good.. and love's right"

Thanks Sunnie, for not dying on me this time!
All the books that he could lay his hands upon and all his 'google search', couldn't show him another story like his - nowhere else was there a son, who had wilfully led his mother astray; but he still didn't feel any bit ashamed for it. "Its all a part of life, and I am merely a catalyst" would be his usual excuse but he could not escape blaming himself too.

Nevertheless! there was blame, but no shame..

He had heard there were two dominant forces in anybody's life - one's own Will (as in Free Will) and the sum-total of all other Wills, which we call Nature. Furthermore, the choices made by Nature are called 'Destiny' and those made by one's own Will is called 'Life'. In the night of Reason, Destiny and Life huddle together and use the blanket of Faith to weather the cold of an unknown future. In his case, Life and Destiny fought all the time, and both seemed to win, at his cost!

Ever since his childhood, the only persistent memory was of his father's flaring tempers. When he had heard the description of hell for the first time in school, his dad's picture had flashed across his mind. Misunderstanding, blame-game, Suspicion, Bad-mouthing... anything that tears the fabric of a family, his father had 'been-there-done-that'. The man never indulged in physical abuse, yet most of the time he made physical-abuse look far more bearable! His mom always faced the music and he had always cried on her behalf; But dad would say 'Boys don't cry' and quickly strangle his tide. Over two decades, he saw a decadence of family values. He witnessed his dear 'mummy' go from just a 'distressed partner' to being a 'punching bag' for dad's frustrations. She lived like a maid in her own house. Dad almost treated her like some furniture in the kitchen. She had lost her smile. He saw her suffer in silence, yet how she put all her life and time in keeping the family going. He couldn't find the courage to face his dad but one day, he had mustered the strength to open up to his mother and asked her why she doesn't walk out of the marriage. "A known devil is better than an unknown angel," she had replied, "In our days, divorce was not the solution for a bad marriage. There are issues in all families, yet people live somehow. If I leave your dad, where will I go? Our society is an evil place for a lady without a husband. And whatever your dad does, I shall always be thankful to him for the one priceless gift he gave me... You!" Hearing that, he had fallen in love with his mom, all over again.

A month back, his music teacher visited their house. The teacher was an exponent in his art and a lifelong devotion to music had him given a magical persona. The musical icon had remained unmarried even at his ripe age. 'Mummy' had a lot of admiration for music, and he noticed how his mother had gelled so well with the music teacher. They seemed like childhood buddies lost in their nostalgic discussions. After a long time, he had noticed his mother smiling. From then on, he started making excuses to invite his teacher home and everytime he found his mother swaying to the discussions. A childishness had returned in her smile, It seemed like she had fallen in love all of a sudden; but when the dad returned home, gloom would descend again.

Then one day, he read in a magazine that a woman's heart survives on the food of love. The article said, "A woman can bear any pain in the world if it comes wrapped in love. Men thrive on love, Women survive on it. Love refines a man, but it defines a woman. A woman has many faces, she wears many masks, she will fight, cry, cringe, shout, but a warm hug at the end of the day puts her soul to rest. As is popularly misunderstood, Sex wasn't really made to satisfy the lust of a man, its actually made for a woman, as a charging station, where she renews her vows with love." This passage gave him tremors of a weird kind. Suddenly he saw light at the end of the tunnel - but feared it could be that of an on-coming train. It was still worth trying. Coincidentally, the next day was his parents' anniversary and he saw that as an omen. He had seen his mother enjoy her moments with the music teacher. His mother was sapped of her love all these years and he wanted to give her a way to 'charge' herself. His music teacher lived alone and this was the right setup for his 'plan'. He took his 'mummy' out on the pretext of going to the temple. He suggested they visit the teacher on the way and mom happily accepted. Once at the teacher's house, he waited until their discussion settled into a 'smiling' mode. At this point, he faked a call and escaped out of the house, giving the desiccated beings their privacy. He let the adults take their own comfortable course and just... hoped for the best!

While he waited around the corner, he got a call from his dad and he lied that they were at the temple. Dad had wanted to know the reason, and he was shocked that dad didn't even remember his own anniversary. Anyways, what use of an anniversary when the marriage didn't exist anymore? 

His hands were trembling, his eyes were moist - and he didn't know if it was for fear or joy. He had just done something unheard of, an experiment that a son would probably never do with his mom. If it wasn't for the circumstances, he would never have done something like that.

Nevertheless! there was blame, but no shame..
The old man had woken up early but he didn't get out his bed yet. He smelt the air and decided to pretend to be asleep. He had always suspected his wife and son to be up to something and they were in the kitchen now, talking in subdued tones again, so he closed his eyes, opened his ears strainingly wide and tried to listen..

"Son, you should not... old people are like small children... being close to death makes them insecure... try to understand your dad... he may be foolish... he is your dad"

The old man noted the words 'foolish' and 'close to death'. "So they think I am foolish and they are waiting for me to die," he nodded like he was about to crack a case. He bent forward to listen more clearly...

"But mom, he suspects every... finds excuses to shout at me.. opposes whatever I do... has he ever loved me at all?"
"Son... always good to have a devil's advocate.. gives you another perspective"

Sparks of anger started flying in the old man's heart. "So they think I am the devil". He continued to listen.

"Since childhood.. only rebuke.. he would compare me with other smart kids and never happy with what I achieved... forced me to be an engineer... my dreams were shattered..."
"I know son... wish he controlled his temper... no patience at all... I put up with him all my life and he still treats me like an outsider"
"I don't want to stay... run away from here... scolds me even if I try to open my mouth"
"No son, don't say that... your father after all.. try to send him for a meditation course.. lets discuss tonight... and settle it."

The son got up to leave. Old man continued his pretension, "So they want to settle it for good tonight. I always knew these wicked people were up to something." As the son walked out, the old man felt a slight nudge at his feet. "So this is why he touches my feet every morning, to check if I am awake or not. Sorry boy! I am smarter than you," an evil smile crept on his face, and a fire started blazing in his heart. Nobody could smell this fire though!

He sat up on his bed and reflected on his life. How he had slogged his way through life, caring for his wife and children and they had never cared to thank him for it. How he had dreamt of building a good status in society but his non-cooperating family had never helped him achieve it. They always seemed to have their own dreams in opposition to what he wanted for them. How his wife had completely stopped talking to him in the last few years. They had started treating him like an untouchable - every time he wanted to have a discussion his son would stand quietly, as if it was a shame to talk to his own father. They would make the old man shout at the top of his voice for everything. Maybe they wanted his blood pressure to rise so he would die soon. They were after his money, and he was sure of it now. There was no point living like this. He was frustrated of this demeaning existence. He had to settle it, and he would do it tonight...

The old man was completely at sea, and he didn't want to be a fish strung up on a bait. He would put an end to this all. In the evening when he stepped out for his walk, he went to the corner medical store and bought a bottle of rat poison.

5 days later

They had to break open the door after neighbors complained of rotting smell from the house. The father's body was found on his bed while the mother and son were found lying in the kitchen, their plates half eaten. As all three had died of the same poison, the police registered a case of family suicide.

The case was closed, yet the neighbors were left pondering why the son had registered his father for a meditation course on the same day of the suicide!

She wore gems and crystals,
She used gold to show off her style,
I wish She had realized that
All I wanted Her to wear.. was a smile.
A smile is the most widely, easily as well as cheaply available jewelry that one can wear. Its available on the spot, on the go, drive-through, however you prefer it to be delivered. And what's more - Nature has already custom designed it to suit your face, your attitude, your nature! God's Nature shines all around us, our nature shines through our smiles. Man created countless ornaments to decorate the body with, but all of it fall dull if not backed by the afterglow of a smile.

Your smile is not even a burden that you need luggage to carry it. Unlike market prices, its value never fluctuates or diminishes. It travels with you invisibly, following you like a shadow, accompanying you with every breath, always ready to appear at your summons. By using no energy at all, and engaging just a handful of muscles, its one of the least demanding of bodily actions. Even sleeping or sitting uses more body energy than smiling.

How many times have you smiled today? Not just a perfunctory or forced smile. A natural and frank one.

Smile carries a magic in it. Its a universal language. You can 'speak it' in any part of the world, and you don't need a script for it. In that respect, its synonymous with music, which transcends the limitations of spoken tongues and dialects. Learn to smile frankly, and you carry the music of your soul with you.

A philosopher once said, "Life is a sexually transmitted disease." Well! If life be a disease, then Smile is its most infectious symptom!

The language that we speak changes with times, slangs develop, but nobody ever came up with a 'slang-smile'. There is no dictionary for smiling, yet everyone understands its meaning. If everyone spoke the language of smile properly, there would be no illiteracy in this world, as I would call it. There are no puns, no vulgarity, no satire, no double-meaning, no misunderstanding in a smile. Its meaning can't be expressed yet it carries all the emotions single-handedly, from the innocence of an infant to the charm of an grand-parent.

Go out on an early morning, choose a silent place, stand tall in the chill weather, face the rising sun, close your eyes, open your arms wide, take a deep breath... and smile. You will feel something smiling back at you.. try to guess what it is!
"He was hot! The most eligible bachelor of my college. When we  both joined the same office, I was the happiest girl on earth. I could make some excuse and talk to him everyday. In a few days, he seemed to be attracted to me too. I was a single mother but he never really seemed uncomfortable with it. Why not? I too accepted him inspite of all his countless affairs and break-ups..."

"Then one day, he invited me to his house for dinner. I would have expected him to come to my house first, to meet my kid, but anyways.. I let him accept me totally first. He would, some day, accept the kid too. At his home, we had the most fabulous dinner and then he made the move.. he kissed me! I felt a warmth of acceptance in it.. so I didn't stop him when he lifted me and carried me into his bedroom.."

"Since then, he started making excuses to meet at his house. As often as almost every alternate day. I should say he was quite a wild man. I had the same passion too. When he was close to the climax, he would start singing songs of love. I loved the way he held me, gave me all his attention. Now that his love for me was at a peak, I suggested he come to my house and spend sometime with the kid"

"That night, his tone had changed. He had started giving confused answers, sometimes sounding like excuses. Was he trying to say he wanted me, but not my kid? How cold of him. Lusty bastard... says he would have proposed to me if I didn't have a kid. I can never live with a man who ignores my kid..."

"I couldn't see his useless face anymore, so I quit the job and moved down south. Stayed with my sister for a few days, and then found a new job... where I met this man..."

"At first he appeared cold. Only stuck to his job and not interested in any ladies at all. Where was all his testosterone gone? But then, one day it all changed. We had a family day at the office and I went there with my kid. You wouldn't believe how this boring man all of a sudden changed into the most interesting one. He may not be a lover-boy but he was the perfect father-material. He played with my kid all the time.. and for the first time, I saw my kid hugging him like a kid hugs a father."

"I started making excuses to talk to him, and one day I invited him home for dinner. At home, we had the most fabulous dinner and then he made the move.. he ran into the kid's room and started playing ball. My kid had a whale of a time but the dude never even noticed that I was there too."

"Since then, he started making excuses to come to my house. As often as almost every alternate day. I should say he was quite a parental guy. But he seemed to forget me when the kid was around. He never invited me over to his house. I started wondering if the guy even knew how to show love to a woman. One day after the kid went to sleep, I suggested that we meet at his house the next time."

"That night, his tone changed. He started giving confused answers, sometimes sounding like excuses. Was he trying to say he loved the kid, but not me? I can't live with a guy who shoves me aside like that... never!"

"Why can't I just find a man who's hot enough to give me that warm hug when I feel cold, hot enough to not get cold feet looking at my kid, hot enough to not give my passions the cold shoulder.. but then I don't want a hot-headed guy, he should be cool too.."

"I quit this job too.. and I am moving again.."


The intention, here, is not to evaluate the attitudes of single mothers, but rather an attempt to bring some focus on their condition and vulnerability.

When I say 'single mothers', I would also include those married women, who take care of their families single-handedly and whose husbands are given to reckless and irresponsible behavior.

As long as there are single mothers in our society, we can never claim salvation as a community.
[While traveling in the bus]

The Dad: I have seen really bad days. Gone without food, no money to pay for school. We had a very underprivileged childhood. I will never let my children face any of it.
The Friend: Yes! thats what makes us responsible men, when we fend for our wife and children.
The Dad: Not just fend, I even sacrifice all my comforts so my children can enjoy a comfortable childhood and they should be proud of what their parents did for them..

But more than his children, he was proud about it, and he had the right to be. Why not? Many people in India have similar stories of rags to riches and his was no different. My dad! Biological father! Daddy dearest.. born and brought up in an extremely poor background, but today owned well valued assets. He did not ride any wave of luck nor did he accept any favors. Whatever he achieved was through decades of sheer hard-work. 

[At a marriage function]

The Dad: I have earned so much money that my children could sit at home and eat. They dont need to work and slog and ruin their lives like we did.
The Relative: Wow. what a great parent you have been!

"My kids can sit at home and eat" - that is the sound made by the trumpets of most Indian parents, I guess

[At a family get together]

The DadMy children do not have to worry about their survival. Its all set and done for them. Their lives shall be cozy. They can sit at home and eat all their lives.
The Uncle: Your children are really lucky. They should be so proud of you

[Over a coffee table discussion]

The Dad: You know? I am going to give the most royal life to my children. They will never need to dirty their hands like I did. They can sit comfortably at home and eat all their lives.
The Neighbor: You are a super-star man. How nicely you have planned for your children's lives.

Then one day I completed my studies and came home with my degree.

My Dad: So son, from tomorrow your campus interviews will start. Are you prepared well for it?
Me: No Dad. I am not interested in working. I slogged so much for this degree. I am tired now. I just want to sit at home and eat, all my life.
My Dad: Shut up! Are you out of your mind? You lazy bum. If you want to sit at home and eat, then don't stay in my house and embarass me. Get out!
What if humans were blessed with such long lives that it 'nearly looked' eternal? What if we didn't have a short lifetime (of just 60-100 years) to worry about? How different would our attitudes be if death was never on our minds?

These were the 'side-effects' of reading the history of Jainism, where it is claimed that each of the early thirthankaras lived for thousands of years at a stretch. Maybe in the ancient days, everyone lived a thousand years - so long that the end of life may never have occurred to their minds. Death was probably looked as a punishment from the Gods rather than a logical end of life.

If we lived such ageless years today, would we still have pursued transitory fancies that last but a few years? Would we have even recognized a time period of years and decades like we remember today? Would the happiness that we get in cherishing memories still be with us? Would we still have celebrated our birthdays and anniversaries every year? Would mobile companies have offered lifetime validity plans or appliances come with lifetime guarantee? Would we have invested in an apartment knowing its structural life is only a few decades? Would there be any sense in 'long term' stock investments? Would anyone sell life insurance plans at all? If each of us were to live a thousand years, would we still rush in our things like we do today? Would traffic be less strenous and rules be more relaxed? Would crime disappear totally? Would life imprisonment make any sense at all? Finally, would we even be interested in daily chores like bathing, cooking, ironing the clothes, etc knowing we have to do it a thousand times over?

'If you look too long into the abyss, the abyss starts staring into you', said Neitzsche.

Maybe the ancients transformed over a period of time. When life does not seem to bend in any direction, it starts bending the sense of time itself. Maybe the ancients gradually got 'bored' of relentless pursuits, and eventually lost the excitement of doing something new or even doing the same repetitive things over and over again. Over time, maybe their natural outlook metamorphosed into a contemplative insight.

At that point, some of the wise ones may have decided to stop doing all action (as it leads nowhere but only to more actions) and just spend time in silent inactivity, riding through the tunnel of a still and endless life, looking for the light of something worthwhile and meaningful.

In this pursuit, they may have sat down in meditation and lost themselves into a trance. Their bodies, subjected to the vagaries of weather, may have gradually changed into shapes that can withstand the harsh climate. Some may have changed into mountains, some into trees, and some into the rocks. Maybe the long-lived ancients are still amongst us today, merged into the landscapes of our world, which however hard we try to shape, still essentially remain the same and far from our humane grasp. Maybe Nature is nothing but humans whose life became long enough for them to go beyond being mere human? Maybe the seemingly static world around us is actually seething with our own ancestors and elders, who have transcended the iniquities and exigencies of time.

My forefathers are surely buried beneath, but maybe, just maybe, my ancestors are still around me, still looking for the light at the end of their tunnel. Well, if a mountain gets up one day and starts talking to you, don't say that you weren't prepared for it.. :)


Addendum (16-Jan): If you have meditated on a mountain and felt voices speaking around you, If you have hugged a tree and felt a warmth touching your heart, If you have slept next to a rock and felt protected, then you know what I am trying to say!
Its a day I shall never forget. Every minute of it is still as fresh as the dew that fell that morning. It was a day I felt closest to God; a day when a sharp witness of destiny trampled the fiery dance of death.

Just like any other day, I had woken up on the brink of sunrise and was climbing to our terrace for my usual rounds of surya-namasakar (venerations to the most fiery one). As I passed by Naren's room, I threw a customary peep inside his window and what I saw inside, froze me instantly. Naren, our middle-aged tenant who stayed alone in the single bedroom upstairs, was perched on his stool, sobbing profusely, and with his head firmly inside a noose tied to the ceiling fan. My first reaction was to shout for help but I realized Naren was just a tug away from dangling to death. I had to think calm and think sharp. I could not over-react and trigger a panic.

By the way, It wasn't shocking to see Naren in this state. The last night he had visited a seriously ill friend at the hospital and the doctor had given very less chances of her survival. Along the way, Naren had seen old people begging on the streets, moaning in hunger. Incidentally, he had also witnessed some girls being harassed in the bus and all this had depressed Naren too much. For an introverted man, who lost his parents at a young age, whose dreams of family were shattered by a debilitating divorce, last night's incidents was probably a tipping point.

That morning, from behind the window bars, Naren looked like fiery grilled chicken. His mind had witnessed fiery incidents, his heart had been grilled by it and his soul had chickened out. But there was nothing demeaning in it, for his soul had crossed the bridge of compassion and was looking for that fire of passion. I felt he just needed to be shown the right way.

Naren was like a brother to me and I couldn't let him slip away like that. I was determined to talk him out of that noose. Though he had totally broken down, Naren still had his senses intact. I gathered my wits and gave my first and probably a bad shot at engaging him in a conversation, "Brother, I don't think that's the right way to remove a fan from the ceiling.". For a moment, the sobbing stopped but Naren was definitely not amused... not yet!

A ray of hope soon came forth, when Naren vomited the question that was eating at his heart.

Naren: Why did God create so much suffering in this world? My friend is dying. There are so many suffering in the hospitals. There is so much pain out there.

Me: Naren bhaiyya. I am not so old as to advise you but I definitely know that hospitals are not such a sad place. People go there in pain but they come out smiling. Hospitals are temples that give the blessing of life. Maybe a little suffering helps control our pride. Also, the staff that works at the hospitals does such a dedicated job sometimes. Didn't you read about the heroic deeds of nurses Remya and Vineetha who lost their own lives while rescuing sick patients from their burning wards? Their sacrifice didn't go waste, did it?

Naren was softening now, or maybe his heart was hardening... the noose was definitely loose, as he proceeded to his next question in a more clear voice.

Naren: Then what about the evils in the outside world? There is so much inequality, discrimination, and abuse.. Decent and god-fearing people cannot live in self-respect. Innocent girls can't even walk freely without being harassed.

Me: That is not totally true bro. There is injustice in this world but there are also forces that fight to restore peace and equitable life. I agree that eve-teasing is a problem but we are also fighting to oppose it. It was you who told me the tragic but brave story of Keenan and Reuben, who put a bold face against the teasers. They paid with their lives but then didn't the whole country stand united over it?

Naren's head was out of the noose now. He still stood on the table though. I sensed another question coming so I decided to let him blurt it out before I shouted to my parents for help. I was still nervous about the whole affair, you see...

Naren: What about the old and helpless people? Nobody takes care of them. They are left to die of hunger on the streets...

Me: I can't let you fault on that one, Naren. Old people have the utmost respect in our land. In fact, their guidance is the need of the hour. Just look at who has been the talk of the town for the past few months? Isn't Anna Hazare the grand old man of India who is leading us in such a big and powerful movement? And aren't we following him just like we stood behind another wise old man who gave us independence in 1947? Old people are the wealth of our nation and we are certainly not going to let them down.

I had run out of ideas and had to stop abruptly. There was silence for a minute and then Naren duly got down from the stool and walked towards the door. I did not need to shout for anybody's help anymore. God had heard me...

It is only under very high temperature and pressure that raw carbon turns into diamond. With all his life's experiences, Naren's heart had been into that furnace, and when he was properly cooked, God had chosen me as the chef to pluck the fiery grilled chicken finally out of the oven. Naren had the most refreshing look on his face when he stepped out of the room. He seemed somewhat.. enlightened! Over the next few days, my parents observed a marked change in Naren's behavior. They had never seen him so saintly. They brought up the topic with me, but I feigned ignorance as I had decided to keep that incident a secret.

A week later Naren packed his bags and left. He didn't tell us where he was going, for he probably didn't know that himself. As a thanks for making him smile, he gifted me a small mantle-piece of the smiling Buddha. He had left, just like another great soul had gone searching for truth 2600 years back. Was it just a co-incidence that Naren was driven by the same sights of aged, diseased and suffering, which had compelled the great Buddha? When Naren left, he had promised to write to us but we never heard back from him.

I wondered if, generations later, my family would finally hear about Naren, on some light that he may have shone on to the world...

When the fuel of one's passions,  finds its spark one day,
His life becomes a torch, so others can find their way...

Image credit : Images as well as factual information obtained from Indian news websites. Last image from website - mastermindwithjames.com

n.b. : The main thread of the story is imaginary but is weaved around true events of our times. This post is also submitted to the KFC Fiery Grilled contest on Indiblogger. A note of thanks to the  KFC-Indiblogger team for triggering this thought process in me...