Tuesday 30 June 2020

The Covid Life - Part 2

Summer vacation has started. It has been a loooong spring and will be a longer summer! The kids have been doing well, extremely well in fact. Ads spends his time doing courses on philosophy, astronomy and physics. Y has started a short online course on fashion design, has learnt Canva on her own and will start a  month-long creative writing course next week. We have been missing our family hikes (correction: S & I have been missing them, the kids are quite happy doing without!) but hopefully, we can do some over the summer. This particular family activity has been replaced by a daily evening dose of shows/movies. Ads has picked out some really good options for us. We are watching episodes of the 'Twilight Zone', a series that ran over 5 seasons between 1959-1964 and it is very very good. We have also watched a ton of movies - some old (50s-80s) and some not-so-old.
It has been incredibly hot but I finally ordered some furniture for the patio so we are able to have our evening chai and snacks outside and if we were a little less lazy, could manage dinner as well.
So life has been somewhat humdrum with none of the usual travel. Guess what, I am actually liking it this way! Maybe I don't have such itchy feet after all :) 

Reflections on a college campus (and some musings on life)

This post originally published on Medium 

Bangalore, 30th March 1997, 1.30 pm. My father and I took an auto from Majestic circle and crossed the portal of IIM Bangalore for my IIMA interview. I didn’t even know where or what Bannerghatta Road was, much less that a leafy paradise existed there. Entering through those gates, all the anxiety about the upcoming interview fled as I gaped at the imposing stone structures, the skylights, the slatted slate-grey roofs that let in fresh sunshine even in cool Bangalore weather. We walked through green corridors and pergolas, lawns and gardens inside the building so that it seemed that we were in the verdant outdoors even when we were inside. Many years later, I watched an interview with its celebrated architect and learnt that he had been inspired by the 16th century complex of Fatehpur Sikri.

We walked up a stairway to reach my interview room, where my nervousness returned with renewed fury as I watched men and women dressed in formals sitting outside the various classrooms, their expressions mirroring my own.

Getting into the IIMs had been a theoretical exercise thus far, the good showing at the CAT only serving to boost morale and ego, and I had not thought much about whether I actually wanted to study at this hallowed institution. Gazing out at the emerald green juxtaposed against the muted grey stonework, trying hard to drown out the muted conversations around me, I realized that more than anything, I wanted to spend 2 years in this building and these serene environs. I wanted to walk these hallways, recline on this grass under the trees, drown in books in that stately glass-fronted library.

The IIMA interview was a disaster. Perhaps, subliminally I did not want to get into IIMA, now that I had seen IIMB?! Whatever, I walked out rather less disappointed than I should have been and determined to crack my next interview. The rest, as they say, is history.

By the time 1999 rolled around, the dramatic campus that I had drooled over, became the customary background. No longer did I marvel at it. Life became an unending mosaic of classes, grades, assignments and caffeine. When friends from the outside world visited, they would gape as I once did, at the beauty around us and I would preen as though it was my intellect that had conceptualised these buildings, my minds’ eye that had conceived that perfect amalgam of space and light.

In the years since then, I’ve seen the dreaming spires of Oxford, punted on the Cam, strolled through the halls of Harvard and many other august institutions. None captured my imagination as powerfully as my alma mater did, that summer day in 1997 (perhaps because I was no longer a romantic 21-year-old with stars in her eyes)!

Often I wonder, at the random events, these rolls of dice, upon which our lives turn. If I had not been mesmerised by the beauty of that campus, if I had not messed up my IIMA interview, if I had chosen to accept one of my other IIM admits, if my parents had not wanted me to stay close to my hometown Chennai……how differently this life could have played out. Instead, I met my husband, made some wonderful friends, spent 2 very happy years working toward an MBA degree I had no interest in! My destiny led me there, to that time and place, that shaped everything that came afterwards. Sometimes, when life feels baffling and mysterious, when I wonder what I am doing and where I am going, I hold on to that thought, simultaneously dispiriting and hopeful, that there is a grand design into which I fit. I can stop trying to interpret and comprehend individual events. They don’t mean anything, but the great tide that sweeps me onward knows where it going and where it will come to rest.

And sometimes, just sometimes, good things come out of being shallow and judging something by its exterior beauty!

Arcadia (poem)

More than 20 years ago, I visited my to-be parents-in-laws home in rural Tamil Nadu. These are impressions from that visit.

The swing creaked, makeshift and lonesome; 

rough twine lashing it to sturdy tree.

It gazed at the rambling house,

all wooden shutters and rattan chairs, 

the very picture of tropical leisure. 

The mansion, proud of its substantialness, 

and consequence, lay suspended like the swing, 

amidst straggling flora, sun-baked grass;  

the gardeners’ hose spluttering and competing 

with the twitter of birds, croak of frogs.  

The jacaranda bloomed, 

scattering indigo carpet on the mud. 

Inside the house, rooms sprawled

hither and thither…

Enticing simian intruders into their sleepy corners, 

or into the kitchen with its cornucopia of goodies. 

They monkey around, jumping from tree branch

to tree branch, swinging and gibbering.

What divine hand fashioned this beguiling abode, 

this enchanting Arcadia, I wonder….

To me, urban child, sadly accustomed 

to traffic, crowds, chaos; 

this was unaccustomed paradise. 

My few days there stolen from my other life;  

suspended, like the house, and the swing

in that bucolic other-world, 

in that ethereal eternal summer. 

Friday 26 June 2020

Last supper (poem)

There were some words 
unspoken between us; 
we left them on the table 
when you asked for the check.

I saw them, lying there. 
They begged to rise onto my tongue.
But I couldn't bear to have them 
come to rest atop my vile bile. 

I think you hesitated too, 
as the waiter cleared away the dishes. 
But perhaps you felt it was better
that we wipe the slate clean. 

We sloughed off those dead years 
We shed our last public tears. 
I knew grief would wrap around me 
later, like that muggy afternoon air.

The exhaust from your bike 
pumped smoke into my face. 
I inhaled gladly, my last fill
of our noxious past. 

Sometimes I wonder, what if
we had lingered, over that last meal? 
Would you have fondly fed me, 
once again with your delicious lies?

Saturday 20 June 2020

Outside (poem)

A poem on all the fauna that inhabits and passes through our backyard :)

The fox saunters, nonchalantly;

a daub of red across lawn-green,  

White tail-tip flashing. 

He (she?) looks up at cerulean blue sky, 

where another flash of red flits past.

A red cardinal alights on a branch,

alongside his drab-hued mate.

The squirrel is an old friend, atleast she thought so, 

as she decided to move into my attic with her little ones.

I wasn’t really ready for this new phase in our relationship.

Scampering, scooting, rustling, 

they made themselves at home 

and invited their friends over. 

Soon the patio and yard were filled

with merrymaking chipmunks, 

fighting for first dibs on the bird feeder.

Amazon claimed it was squirrel proof; 

A spurious claim, for it crashed to the ground 

as the squirrels dangled from it.  

The blue jay waits patiently for his turn,

flitting from branch to branch 

and swooping down to peck dropped seeds.  

I watch a baby hare from my window, 

as it creeps towards the treeline. 

My heart is in my mouth, as I watch  

fearfully, for cruel predators.

It scampers off, seeing a groundhog 

who serenely sniffs the ground, black nose twitching. 

What does he smell, I wonder?

Grass roots and earth, detritus 

from last fall and winter. 

I wish the deer would chomp my weeds

as they move across the yard, all light and grace. 

Doe-eyes scan the house….

They are poised, ready to dart away 

with the faintest sound of my blinds.   

I meditate to the music of the songbirds, 

the rustle of the leaves, the lilt of the breeze. 

The chimes I have hung where the birdfeeder used to be,  

tinkle against the twit-twit of the cardinal. 

I stare up at the cumulus, willing myself 

to tuck these sensations into my being;  

insert these sounds and sights 

into the appropriate slots of the brain.

May they rest there forever, just not ephemeral 

like the fireflies that twinkle briefly

only in the summertime twilight.

Tuesday 9 June 2020

An ode to 20 years (poem)

As the memories flood back, let me just narrate 
what happened to us on this red-letter date.  
The invitations to the relatives and associates 
told them just when and where to congregate. 

For it was on this date that we tied the knot
There wasn't all this technology then, 
No AC in the hall, and believe me it was hot!
Bear with me as I relive it all again. 

I'd been roused at an unearthly hour
for makeup and hair, that important stuff. 
But excitement was the emotion du jour; 
for staving off sleep, it was enough.

The guests yapped, the priests droned;
I was kind of hungry, but demurely I sat.
Outwardly smiled, inwardly groaned,
filling the time with inconsequential chat 

With the future spouse; 
we joked and laughed, eliciting a scold
from the priest who had a grouse;
apparently, we weren't doing what we were told.

The rituals are almost over, we think.
But wait! this is a tambrahm wedding, 
and it simply cannot be this quick.
This is exactly what we'd been dreading.

As the thaali was tied,
my father, with enthusiasm multiplied
pulled my elaborate braid to the side. 
That was the beginning of the sartorial downslide.

The makeup turned oily and smeared
all over my face, which looked purple.
The nine-yard drape crushed, it appeared
like I had been travelling in a Virar local.

My poor bridegroom fared worse;
his dhoti had risen up to his knees. 
This garment, with attitude perverse, 
defying gravity, now resembled a pair of capris.

The photos were hideous, the video hilarious.
Our kids really need to see it sometime.
It beats Noah and Seinfeld, I am serious.
Thusly, we became partners in crime.

The wedding is but one day, for all the fuss that's made.
Picture-perfect or not, how does it matter?
Now our faces have lines, and our hair has greyed.
He is thinner, and I am fatter :(

Its been 20 years, believe it or not
since that sweltering summer's day.
It's fair to say we learnt a lot
as we walked together along life's way.

The truth is, it's been a blast.
We've had our bumps and lows for sure.
But this partnership was built to last;
succeed thrive and endure.

Now that I've used up my limited stock of verse, 
it's time to end this composition.
Though I have been less than terse, 
I hope you enjoyed this disquisition!

Friday 5 June 2020

The questions we must ask - a letter to my kids circa 2020

Why do old men run for President, asked my daughter. 
My innocent one, don't you know?
That's just one question of many.  
Why do white men rule?
Why do black men die?
Why do baby girls get killed in the womb,
or raped and murdered outside?
Why do the poor have to be poor,
when the rich are so very rich?
You know some of your schoolmates have to have free meals.
Why do we treat animals, even worse than we do our own kind?

I hope we raised our children to ask these questions, 
relentlessly, doggedly, repeatedly; 
I hope you are braver than we are.
More empathetic, less apathetic. 
I hope you care deeply and feel strongly.
I hope you protest, dissent, debate and oppose, 
but also give, comfort, agree and respect.

I hope you always feel that you did your best, 
but that you could have done just a little bit more.
I'd rather you sometimes felt honest incertitude in your beliefs,  
than constant unwavering assurance in your rightness. 
I hope you compromise, question, contemplate and endorse; 
but also thwart, confront, negotiate and defy. 

Does it feel like I'm asking too much?
I know you will do all these things, and more;  
your thoughtful questions tell me so.
Our rules and laws and conventions, they
circumscribe us, but your desires and thoughts will be limitless.
When I get depressed (as I often do), that in the same week 
that we launch astronauts into space,  
we descend into hateful depths of racism and bigotry,   
I am comforted by what you will do.
Only in optimism do we move forward.