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Friday, December 24, 2010

tears in heaven

It was cold that evening in December but if there had been a thermometer, it would not have been the cold in degrees as we know today. Rather, it was a chill that was thick in the air, a sadness that had enveloped everything. The angels walked about with no cheer, so out of character, their beautiful faces crestfallen and wings drooping. And there was a group of the wisest looking men that sat together, speaking in words solemn that came out of mouths that knew not exactly what to say. The golden streets seemed to have lost their sheen for they lay dull and the bubbling brooks could not flow merrily for everyone was sad. In the big throne sat the saddest of them all, with a countenance that seemed to wish there was some other way things could have been done.

The scene became animated with the appearance of the gentlest of creatures who walked with steps that knew he was leaving soon. His face held a glory unsurpassed by anything a human head could imagine and that glory in an instant drew all about him towards the warm heart he bore inside. Walking straight to the big throne, he appeared to console the greatest of the great. The love between them was impossible to miss. And to the men who were sitting, he gave a smile that seemed to take away the guilt they obviously bore.

For this was Christmas Eve in heaven. And it had come to pass that the light that brings the place alive was bidding them all goodbye. Not because he wanted to go but because he knew he had to. The world below did not yet know that it was soon to play host to the prince of glory, did not know it needed him and would have cared little even if they had known. This was known to him on the throne although the wise-looking men felt they had not done enough during their time on the earth. All they could say to each other, repeatedly, was that they had tried, but each of them felt they might have tried harder. But the Glory on the throne and the brightest star in heaven knew this was not so. That this was to come to pass although everyone wished it were not so.

As he walked about, all eyes followed him. It was a scene that would bring a tear to one’s eye with no words spoken, for every eye was misty and tears flowed freely. The eyes that followed this prince were eyes that said they would gladly change places with him had there been a way to do so. They could not think of tomorrow when he would no longer be there with them; or of the years when he would live like every other mortal soul on earth. And everyone knew there would be pain, suffering and rejection where he was going and they knew he would not deserve any of that.
Yet the glorious man walked, his face showing none of what was seen all about him. The chill had given way to a sad warmth, lighting a fire that would soon go out, the last embers fighting to live for fear of not doing enough for those who needed it so. And when he had passed, he went and wept alone. No man, however glorious, would choose to do what he was about to, even with the knowledge that he needed to. Yet it was love that gave him strength, it was love that could not see a world dying without knowing there was a way.

It was love that brought tears in heaven that first Christmas Eve.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Many Moons

The digital clock on the display screen of my rather boring mobile phone showed 4:22 am when I sat up in bed unable to sleep for reasons I have never learned- the third time this week, less frequent than what they used to be. There was a beautiful light in the room and I saw it was the moon, bright and round showing through a slice of my window the curtains did not cover. It reminded me of the two other moon-shines that have so touched me and thought it fit subject for a Christmas blog, this being my third best moon-shine-

First Moon: In a time that seems so long ago it almost feels like a dream. At Shimla through the window of my prefect cubicle, on a cold October night with soft Hindi film music playing through my earphones. There was this beautiful orb of the brightest white light over the Medical College right across the hill from ours and I could see it clearly with my head comfortably on the pillow. To the young teenager with the most romantic dreams and hopes of the brightest future, there could not have been a more beautiful expression of everything the heart feels that the human tongue has not learnt to express. That was the age when one stands at the fork of a road that only showed a better thing after a good one. Unreal were many of the dreams one chose to have and the knowledge of their illusory nature never made one strive too hard to realize them. If someone had then told me I was good at something I did and if I so choose, I could have had some of these dreams come to life in the lifetime to come, I might have believed them. But believing does not necessarily translate into motivation and the hard work it takes for every hope to become substance. But dream we did and the freedom to do that has remained captive to the First Moon phase.

Second Moon: Many Christmases after the first, when life had taught you lessons, some of which you wish you had not learnt came the second moon. It is no wonder I take pains to make my bed comfortable because my ‘moons’ have always been best viewed with my head on the pillow and this one was no different. In a small town a few hours out of Delhi, with the sound of passing trucks and the slow rhythm of the fan keeping me up, the white beauty looking in on my window seemed to want me for company- and she looked so happy that I was awake. It’s clear now that I had only been projecting what I felt to this star that has spoken to generations of lovers, for that night I was truly happy! There had been friends for company, one closer than the others, who was able to make me feel we could rule the world had we chosen to do so. The teenager of the first moon had given way to a woman who liked to think so hard for herself that admitting she was wrong had become the hardest thing she had ever had to do. Education in institutions had taught her what the world thought was right and life seemed to have said she walked the line rather well; mistakes were allowed and had definitely been made. The best thing though was that the head had learnt to point the all-important finger, never realizing three others usually pointed back. By then, one knew what ABBA meant when they sang “slipping through my fingers” and was grounded enough in reality to know she will always be one among a million, never shining bright enough to fill the moon’s shoes any day soon. But still, the heart was content to shine for one.

Third Moon: was last night of course. With many Christmases having been celebrated, there just aren’t many new ways to welcome the season. Every breath a blessing, every mistake my own, every undeserved praise a warm spot in the heart and all the love received, a gesture one never learns to reciprocate quite adequately. One has now learnt it’s not the novel that makes Christmas special. Like the moon that has never tired of making a tired soul happy, that has been the face of a happy heart and the companion for every lonely heart, it’s the miracle of Christmas that makes it special- old but not aged, beautiful because it shines with the hopes, dreams and the actuality of every life it has ever spoken to.

Monday, November 8, 2010

“You travel alone? Do you know Martial Arts?”

A very valid question, now that I think about it. It was Sam, a guy from Bangladesh whom I met at Howrah railway station who asked me this. I laughed out loud and the laughter was spontaneous, genuine. And now I think- “Gosh! Sam was right! There’s so much that could have happened. I should actually learn some form of Martial Arts!”

It’s almost always been a solo show- my many trips. As a student in Shimla and Delhi, there were times when I had moved with girlfriends and the occasional male companion other than my brother. Most of those trips, however, were born of necessity-the long trip to and from home, the budgeting that had to go into every student’s calculations year- round. My ‘grown-up’ (Ahem!) trips have been on my own and there hasn’t been a time when I have missed the company of a travelling companion except the times when a luggage-watcher would have been welcome. I love friends and company but I recharge on my own, with my thoughts, and these trips have proved to be times when I do that. Of late, I have felt the numbers in my age (I keep saying that, much to the chagrin of my ‘older’ friends-) and the thoughts that are my company on trips have been getting more intense and louder.

Why Travel?

Getting to see new places and experiencing something different is the very obvious answer. But these travels are not just to places new and experiences novel. People, friends and places grow into you over time. They become special and you look forward to seeing them and doing stuff with them. Some things work just right only with certain people. But yes, meeting new people is a big high too. There are people I’ve shared living space with, even shared beds with, whom I’ll never ever see again in this life. Some people whose Facebook profiles are the only things that remind me they were real. Others who don’t even have virtual existences on the Net but whose hearts have reached out to me and proved that we are indeed of a single human race.

People

An old Sardarji in Delhi comes to mind. He drove an auto-rickshaw, the number of which I don’t remember, and whose name I can’t recall. His face is a blur but he was wearing a grey shirt and an orange turban the night God sent him to help us. My brother and I, crazy, na├»ve teenagers lost in the streets of Delhi with no idea how to get back to where we were supposed to be. As it turned out, we were way across the city; a distance he felt was too far for him to cover that late. He took us as far and as convenient as he felt he could, found us an auto, gave the driver very specific instructions on how to get us home and refused to take a penny from our thinly-lined wallets. We had nothing to offer, there must have been a lot he needed and such disparity in demand and supply just don’t work in our commercial world. But he gave; all I can do is remember him with a fond heart. God Bless!
Then there are those whose resilience humbles me. It was in 2004 when farmers in Tamil Nadu were committing suicide and scouring for rats in the face of the famine that struck them unawares that I was taken to one of the most remote and poorest of villages. It was a chance meeting on the bus with a girl studying in Trichy that took me there. I was actually on my way to Rameswaram, doing my tourist bit when we started talking and she told me of how she was going home for a puja. With all the warmth of a giving heart, she invited me along and I was adventurous enough to follow. I’d taken some snacks with me, not knowing how inadequate this would seem once we got there. But the handful of rice that was my portion at lunch that day with a family of 7, and the potato chips (broken into smaller pieces so there would be enough) I shared with them remains one of the best meals I’ve ever had – I cried that day! And I almost did again when a group of migrant workers shared a piece of their home-cooked dinner with me at the railway station in Howrah.

Every day my students come to class, most of them having been fed and clothed and even given ‘pocket money’ for the heart’s desire for the day. In my mind, I see them growing up and learning to feed and clothe themselves and I know it won’t always be pretty. Some will survive, some may not, others might never even know that his parents have aged and that its payback time. It’s when I see old and obviously care-worn people still struggling to pay for their daily bread that frustration and anger play in my head. A man with no legs carves wooden images and sells them, a man wears a coffee machine and serves people at a railway station, a young boy fetches restaurant waste to feed his pigs, another picks old signboards and rags to build his family a shelter. If we all could see, we might be different. For this, one needs no great physical travel, it’s the mind that does the journey.

And its inspiring to see how an entire people can attune themselves to the ‘spirit’ of a place- the people maketh the place, surely! In Rangoon after Nargis, business went on as usual for the star-rated hotels and night life as it existed was still strong. Opulence was clearly there for all to see, if you looked at the right places, that is. Well-dressed waiters served you, even better-dressed hotel staff welcomed you and the glamorously-dressed performers made sure you had a good time. But the ‘spirit’ was that of oppression. When one cared to look closer, there was the unmistakable run in the stockings, the frayed edges of the collar and the almost invisible hole in the sole of well-polished heels. The United States post-recession still appeared laid-back and carefree despite the well-behaved beggar who didn’t push you for money. The streets of New York had beggars sitting down with hats and carton boxes, waiting for your charity, unlike the organized and highly trained ones in India. They did not seem bothered by the obvious affluence of the crowd that shops in Soho because the ‘spirit’ was that of freedom. Those who live under the same sky find their own spaces below. It’s still hard to believe how a man in Washington DC whose phone I’d used came running after me when the number called back, or how a big black woman carried the larger of my bags from the metro station all the way to the hostel because she said I looked so ‘helpless’. Their own worlds are theirs to give, and give is what they did. Not so in Colombo, where I was with great friends and met some really nice people. There it was really all about knowing what you have and selling it. Not oppression, not so much freedom, rather a new peace and the spoils that come with it. “How much can I get off this gullible tourist?” is what I got. But even then, there is the driver who’ll pay for your red banana and the local who’ll take you to a temple opened only two days a year and pay for your entry.

A girl traveling alone survives, because God wills that she be protected and come across people who make a place good, even if she doesn’t know Martial Arts.