Light : A journey : Part I

The final act in itself was a very normal one thought Ravi. By the act what he was thinking of was the moment when he jumped dimensions from the living to the dead. For you see, Ravi Nair had kicked the bucket about five minutes ago when his car met with and said hello to a truck. They call these trucks ‘Tipper’  in Kerala. While the name makes you think of a happy go lucky kind of a personality, the reality is anything but that.

Now for a bit of background about Ravi for you will have to travel a while with him. Ravi is the kind of guy whom you meet a dime-a-dozen in Kerala. He is what the media would adorably call a ‘Techie’. This means he did complete his studies in engineering and went to work for a software firm. Now now, I am not going to tell you a sob story of how he grew up from poverty or how he battled insurmountable odds to climb up in life. He was as ordinary as it comes. Father and Mother who took good care of him and his elder sister and gave them a quiet family life. He had his share of heartaches and triumphs and on a strict weighing scale, would have come up as a happy person.

Ravi has now been working in his office for close to six years. He is thoroughly an unremarkable person at his workplace. The kind of person you would be happy to stamp as ‘the workforce’ in Corporate lingo. This is simple English means that he is just another face in the crowd. The one who puts in a lot of work, gets appreciated at times, gets promoted and retires doing his job & one who is treated more or less as a wall. One that you know you can lean on and will not collapse under your weight. In short he had nothing in him that made him count as a star but he was very much an unavoidable cog in the machine. So much for his work space !

The day on which Ravi was to die was a Sunday. As was his usual schedule, he rose late and sat through a sleepy half hour before making a move. Sundays was the usual time he went out to spend some time with Liza. Liza worked in a different company and if you were to ask him Is she your girl friend ?  or Is she your love interest ? or Is she your friend ? , he would have wrung his hands and grinned in a sheepish way. The truth was he did not know what relation they shared. It was just one of those where all that matters is the presence of the other person.

As for the condition now, Ravi was dazed. He could see his car and he could even see himself slumped on the seat. But what he was unable to figure out how he could be seeing all this. All that he remembered was coming out of a pocket road, hearing the blare of a horn and a loud noise. He was more or less coming to grips with the fact that he was now dead  but surprisingly there rose in him no emotion at this thought !

The world as he saw it now was like looking at things through the mist. Everything was visible with a cloudy look to them. The people running up to watch the accident scene. The rubberneckers who pulled out their mobile phones and took videos of the entire scene and in seconds went uploading to Facebook with updates that read : The accident I saw now! Ravi walked around them all and took in the conversation. The unmissable fake sympathies, those who kept on saying that it was Ravi’s fault alone and those who blamed the truck driver. For a moment he looked at the truck, the driver did not seem anywhere around and orphaned the vehicle stood in the middle of the road holding up traffic.  The police arrived and soon the babble was proving a little too much for Ravi, he was also too confused as to what was next for him. Then he saw something that even in his dead state make him grow uncomfortable. It was Liza.

Liza was riding her scooter on her way to meet Ravi when the traffic was held up. Having a scooter helps in traffic snarls for she wove in and out through even the smallest gaps consciously ignoring the angry blare of horns and swearing. She was behind the truck now and slowly but stealthily she was leaving the mess behind when she saw a familiar color of a car through her mirror. It can’t be him she thought, he is just too slow a driver to be caught in a crash. Still there was a nagging pull that made her stop the scooter, get down and walk over to watch what it was all about. What she saw made her stop breathing for a while and made her want to scream out aloud. All that came out however was a whimper which not even the ones standing next to her heard through all the din.

Ravi or what was left of him was now near Liza and he looked at her for a long time. He noticed the expressions of shock,revulsion and horror cruise through her face. It made him feel stupid not knowing what to do at such a time. Finally he thought maybe just maybe if I will it enough, I can make her feel my presence. He lifted his hand put it on her shoulder but it slid through her hand again making him think of mist. He kept trying the same gesture each time thinking the same thought to himself as to making her aware of his presence.

‘I am afraid it doesn’t work that way’ a voice said behind him. Ravi was startled for a moment with the clarity of the voice. Till then the voices he heard sounded as if coming from a tunnel or from behind a closed door. This time though it was a clear,firm voice. He turned around slowly and stared.

Behind him and leaning on an electric post stood a man. He was tall and wiry with a full head of hair that was combed into place despite the heavy breeze, a face that spoke of  travel and something that resembled tough leather. A dark but handsome man, his eyes were unlike any Ravi had seen till now. They were black and not the kind of black that speaks of a starless night but a black that speaks of the absence of light. Also what set him apart was his attire. With the heavy humidity in Kerala, this man would have stood out like a sore thumb. He was dressed in a white shirt, dark trousers, a suit coat and loafers to match. He looked every bit like the corporate honchos that Ravi was accustomed to but there still was something unsettling about his presence. Ravi could also see that the man was clearly visible and in sharp focus than anything else around him.

‘It doesn’t work you know. Trying to touch people, talk to them or making them feel your presence. You are beyond all that now’ said the man with a poker face.

‘Wh…who are you ?’ asked Ravi.

‘Take a guess. It is not as if you have a lot of choices’

‘You are death ??’

‘Don’t I look the part ?’

‘Well you look like something out of a corporate board room. I was thinking…’

‘Big guy with a curved moustache on a buffalo or skeletally thin one with a scythe. Was that it ?’ asked the man.

‘ More or less’ said Ravi.

‘Times have a profound influence on me. I appear in the form that you want to see me in’.

Ravi still could not get over all that he had been through in the last few minutes. He said ‘Forgive me for not being afraid of you and all that, but I am still a little shocked as to what just happened over here’.

‘ Understandable’ said the man. ‘You feel afraid only if you truly want to be. It does not make a difference for me either way’.

In the meantime an ambulance had arrived. The police and the people had pulled out Ravi’s body and were taking it away. Liza sat by the wayside with a blank look in her face.

‘ Am I not supposed to be angry ? Screaming at the injustice of it all and tearing my hair apart at the sight of the woman I care for sitting a few feet away in such a state’ Ravi was looking at Liza as he spoke.

‘Only if it helps you’ replied death.

‘You are not helpful in conversation are you ?’ Ravi asked turning to the man.

‘ I am not known over the world to be a helpful person’ replied death absent mindedly flicking away an invisible speck of dust from his suit.

The crowd had slowly started to dissipate now that the entertainment was over. Liza shakily got up and walked to her scooter. She looked back at the bloody scene and bit her quivering lower lip. Then like slipping a mask over her face, she put on her helmet and rode away into the traffic.

‘It’s really a sad thing to see someone unable to express their grief. The weight of such a feeling can be very destructive’ said death staring after the receding scooter.

‘She cared for me’  was all Ravi could think of saying.

Death said nothing but kept looking absent mindedly at the traffic around them. He then took a look at his watch and told Ravi.  ‘Time we got going’.

Ravi honestly had been dreading that question. He looked back and asked ‘Where ?’

The only reply to that was a wry smile on Death’s face and with a slight nod of his head he said ‘You’ll see’.

End of Part I

An Image : Part II

Sleep has been more evasive these nights. It takes a lot of tossing and turning on the bed before sandman arrives. One such night in that twilight zone between wakefulness and sleep came an image. I wanted to splash more colors on to it and make it a bit more round about the edges. So here goes :

The moon had risen and all around me was awash with light that had a faint tinge of blue. I had started walking half an hour ago or thereabouts. It took some effort to slip away unseen from the camp but it definitely is rewarding. The forest at night is quite a marvelous sight with the orchestra of countless insects and birds to provide the backdrop to it. Tiny pinpricks of light, the little lanterns carried by fireflies fluttered all around me. I breathed in deep, the rains in the evening that brought the scent of fresh earth still lingered in the air. I kept walking. It is a dream come alive to walk in a forest at night. I have always found jungles to be enigmatic with their own sense of charm. While travelling through them, I happen to look deep in to the foliage as if asking What secrets do you hide ? This in essence was the first time I could experience the wilderness and that too alone, quite an effect ! I had reached a clearing of sorts beyond which lay a lake and an old dilapidated fortress far away on the other side of the lake. I sat down. I had no doubts on my ability to find my way back, after all we had come by this way a couple of times in the day.

It had been a good trip so far. To escape from the madness and frenzy of a bustling life, we take some time to cool our heels. This was one such trip and it had been a stroke of luck to cover this place during this escapade. Tigers have always been one of the most favored of animals for me and glad was I when the others in the group agreed to the place. What I have done here tonight could be a prime example of wanton adventurism but still nothing beats this sight before my eyes. I watch the night birds swoop down on the lake and witness logs floating in the water which are but the Indian crocodile. A breeze wafts across bearing with it a scent of astounding familiarity. One of those moments when you can almost put your finger on what is so familiar about it flits across my memory. There begins in me a sense of unease, one that knows no source.

In a second, there is a change in the environment around me. The birds fall silent, the cicadas stop their conversations and everything goes to mute. I glance warily around as I get up. There is this uncanny sense that tells you when you are being watched and that sense of mine was in overdrive now. A few hundred yards away in the tall elephant grass there is a flutter , out of it stretches a striped paw and the King steps into view. My insides turn to water and I have the most overwhelming feel that I will empty my bladder where I am standing.  The tiger meanwhile has not fully emerged into the clearing. He/she is still keenly looking at me. Even when my mouth has gone bone dry and my legs shaking under me I can’t help but gaze with open wonder at this magnificent beast who could kill me with a swipe of its paw. The moonlight makes is look more eerie than it already is for the tiger appears blue with black stripes and the eyes intently looking at me. The breath of the animal comes out in plumes of smoke for the mist plays its games too.

This is it ! The end of the line and the travel of a thousand miles will end up in the King’s stomach are the thoughts along with cries of help that tumble into my mind like clothes from an unkempt closet.  The animal bares its fangs at me and the shaking from my legs spreads all over me. It sniffs the air and grunts, a sound like rolling thunder and one that reverberates in my bones. In my state of extreme terror, I imagine I hear my name being called. Wait ! that is not imagination I did hear it. It is directly behind me  somewhere in the forest, maybe they came looking for me from the camp. The animal’s ears are cocked too and it seems to glance in that direction. There is a crash somewhere close by as someone falls and a loud chain of swearing and laughter. It maybe that in the frightened mind of the prey-to-be this occured but the animal for a moment looked amused . It grunts again and in a sinuous motion without another glance vanishes into the underbrush where it came from. I can’t believe it, what the hell was that all about ? As the first of my rescuers tumble across the clearing and shouts my name mixed with a chain of obscenities, I collapse on the ground. And yes, my trousers indeed are wet. Need I tell them about the tiger ? Fat chance that they will believe it.

After a lot of admonishments from our guide and the forest officials we begin the trek back to camp. All faces are sullen but beneath that is the genuine relief of finding me alive. I being the last person to leave look back at that brush again. I imagine its eyes still following us out of its terrain, like burning embers those eyes might be looking at all of us and telling us ‘ Stay out of my territory’. The charm seems to be have been lost for I feel an overwhelming sense of tiredness and a craving for a bed and dreamless slumber.

The image was of a tiger at night in a clearing. The rest was more or less a flight of fantasy.

O Handwriting ! Where art thou ?

I like writing and writers. I really admire this trait typed I sometime ago to someone I know. After sending the email on the way, I stood up and stretched and up pops this question When was the last time I put pen on paper ?  The reality is that it was a long,long time ago and in my rough calculation it should have been as far as five or six years. Other than form-filling or signatures, the writing process is more or less  extinct for me. At the work place I do jot down a to-do list at times but to a team member who chances upon it, it is more of an exercise in crypto analysis to understand the language.

It is frightening to introspect on how reliant I have grown on the computer. When I commence writing, the words are there : I know how they sound, I know how they spell and I know what they mean but I never am at peace until I run spell check. Then again there is the tricky job of trying to write in malayalam. Forget the fact that I read it every single day when the time comes to write, there are seconds long delays when I try to debate with my mind asking  Hey, is this what this word looks like ?

I guess the real art of writing is disengaging from me paving the way for the keyboard to do its job. There is a small thread of similarity to that of a love affair : after a long while of being in love, the inevitable slip of taking your partner for granted enters the picture. Only when it slowly starts sliding downhill does the full effects of what was going on registers in the caverns of the mind ! I make no resolutions. No pledges of  I shall write five pages from now on or anything of that sort. As in many of my previous posts, this is but an observation of sorts. Someday I would like to explore this in more detail.

Musings on a soporific festive day !

Another Onam day passes by, without making too many ripples or changes in the general scheme of events that surround me. A few calls wishing ‘Happy Onam’ & SMS’s with the wishes extended to me and my family. While it did take time to reply to all of them, it is surprising to know people remember not just you but your families too on this day. The TV blares from the next room where actresses in their heavily accented malayalam ( make no mistake, it takes effort to bring in accent to malayalam, applause for her please !!) wish us Happy Onam. As one of my cynical friends put up as a status message in facebook : Do I really care if you have a Happy Onam ? The answer is No.

Be as it may, the idiot box did give me a good half an hour in the evening in the form of a documentary that served as remembrance. Remembrance of one of my favorite authors in malayalam, VKN. I guess it has been close to five years since my love for the VKN brand of satire has been in effect. By nature, Keralites are a very sarcastic lot. Every thing you do will be viewed through a cynical eye, selflessness rarely if ever registers to the  malayali’s eye. It is this crowd that VKN’s characters laughs at through his books. They laugh at the rat race for power, money and positions, the unbridled lust for the female body and the things we see but turn a blind eye at. What is so special about him you may think & the answer is complexity for VKN’s humor is quite unique in the way it moves. I have read in places that authors like James Joyce have created new words in English through the course of his novels but it was relatively unknown in Malayalam till he came along and started doing it. It was his way of turning the traditional and hide-bound language on its heels that left people with their mouths agape.

I started reading his books two years after he had his last laugh and moved on and it was a tad saddening to know that I could never get to see this man alive again. Sometimes such little losses make us listen and watch with rapt attention when related topics come up. I have in the past years found out and read his books from whereever possible still basking in the glory of his inimitable landscapes and characters. In case you my reader ever feel about knowing a bit about him, here’s an article.

In other news, the latest book at hand is one on the teachings of the Buddha. Nirvana is not as easy as it sounds !

The City of Joy

Another book arrived today :  Dan Simmons’s  Song of Kali. The first I heard of it was from Goodreads as a World Fantasy Award winner and then it went to some shelf inside my mind & I never thought of it again. The next time I recollected the name of this book was when I stood outside the steps of the renowned Kali Ghat in Kolkata.

Kolkata is a city of contradictions. In the words of an acquaintance who is a resident of the town, it is a place where you see a Merc & a handcart trudging along at the same pace on a clogged road. What is more interesting is the fact that the handcart might suddenly decide to offload all its cargo while stopping in the middle of the road and the Merc and its owner will have to wait all the while. While driving along, on your one side are the swanky apartments & malls while on the other side sit the hastily erected huts of the common man ( the word ‘common’ here is an understatement).

Kali Ghat and its surroundings again changed my perceptions. It was through a narrow road that we walked to reach the temple’s premises. The old residential blocks towered high above bloating out what little light came from the sun strangled among clouds ! All around the temple is an explosion of color in the form of pictures,trinkets and  adornments of the holy kind.You walk through the mud and slush in which lie dogs and donkeys & humans. I remember seeing half naked children staring expectantly at a game of cards played out on a makeshift cardboard box. While walking back we stopped by the wayside to light up a cigarette and look at the surroundings. We could see eyes peering at us from shops and doorways. Stares that were devoid of warmth or friendliness. Dogs skirted about our legs and one of my friends pointed to something behind me. Turning around, I did not see much beyond a lone dog lying by a doorway that was lined with iron rods making it more of a cage. When eyes adjusted to darkness the image slowly swam into focus, there was an old woman lying on the floor inside the room at the same ground level as the dog and facing its rump. She was covered with a blanket that was more tatters than cloth. The eyes were open staring out at a grim world and the body was covered with flies. I turned away and looked up to see a Banyan tree growing out of a house’s top floor with the gnarled roots digging deeper into the walls. There was a man looking down at me & one whose face I could not make out. None of us had the appetite for that cigarette anymore…

The description of this town will never be complete without the other face of Kolkata : the one of the pubs and hangouts, the one that the Indian middle class loves to call ‘Metro’ & the works. While this face is something akin to many a city in India, the grimness of the other Kolkata was something I never expected. I remember what I told my friend as we climbed back into the car It’s an unsettling place. 

Tell me a story !

Fairy tales are more than true ; Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten – G.K. Chesterton

I spent a good few hours with Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys today. As with most of the other books by the same author, this treads one of my favored territories : fairy tales. Reading experiences for most children begin with fairy tales : animals talk, good triumphs over evil, rightful heirs rule kingdoms and other such idealism’s.  Unknowingly, through subtly placed situations and dialogue these tales instill a lot of the so called “values” into the younger readers. While most of them don’t realize it then, hefty words like honor & courage are dropped into the open boxes inside their minds through such little stories.

Do we remember the little pieces of candy we ate as children ? If in case, we now come across one such candy and pop them into our mouths the taste that we perceive could be different than what it was all those years ago. It is the same thing with fairy tales : the perceptions begin to change : the seven dwarfs weren’t as good as you thought, the darkness just outside the comforting light of the lantern hides monsters and other such little things you never saw as children or simply overlooked. But I must add that these little nuances brought in a great deal more of interest into my reading. I relish fairy tales these days for I find much more excitement in them than the tomes have otherwise robbed me of.

The more you read them, the more you come to realize that it is all one huge story. Interlinked and interconnected, told by many lips the story continues to weave its charm and hold us readers mesmerized !

 

An image

The last human habitation was a good thirty minutes ago and many miles behind. The jeep trundled over the mountain path and climbed through the hills. Mist poured down and enveloped the vehicle and the surrounding landscape . I sat huddled with a few others in the second row of seats by the door and stared out at it all. We had left the little hamlets and the army outpost behind and there were just the woods surrounding us.

As the jeep traversed an uphill curve, a boulder by the wayside came into view and perched atop it were two ravens. The mist plays strange games for the second raven kept appearing and disappearing through the swirls of it. It wasn’t much but the birds looked us over with glances that bespoke boredom and monotony. They disappeared as the vehicle went forth into the forest preserve. There were still boulders all around the road ; some as small as soccer balls and others bigger than the vehicle itself. In the midst of a grassy knoll a midst a rock formation that was reminiscent of the stone hedge was a horse contentedly clipping on the grass. With the mist playing games again, the horse appeared more of a sketch than flesh and blood.

Up we climbed and the river could be seen far below. The recent showers had swelled the river and the shade of water seen from above was turquoise. In the hillsides appearing and disappearing in the mist were herds of yak, those mangy mountain bison that frequent the high altitudes of this region. In those isolated vales were also shacks of the herders, the ones who lived among so much silence broken only by the voices of their beasts.

It really serves to be a matter of relief when an image is transformed into words.