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The River – by Nikhil Idiculla

This is a poem written by Nikhil, my nephew who is about 8 years old. Besides being an intelligent kid who loves to read and play, he’s an awesome big brother to the impish 2 1/2 year old Sanjana.

The River

It squiggles and wriggles
And houses many fish

And at dawn and dusk
It reflects the sun

It makes the land around it fertile
That so many plants can grow

But if you throw any old toy or shoe
You can cause a lot of woe

Be careful and take care of rivers
It is a very precious thing

If we let anyone spoil the river
It can affect the whole world!!!

A Decent Burial

I have mentioned before about the fact that most of my fond memories revolve around my brother who is about six years younger than me. He’s a very special child sensitive and intelligent with unique interests.

One of few things that he is passionate about is wildlife – for years I never saw him watch anything else on television beyond National Geographic, Discovery and Animal Planet. He devours pages after pages of books on animals and birds and rattles off their Latin names and their unique behaviours in an excited tone equivalent to “everyone on earth has just landed gold”. He has always had birds as pets at home and brings up their babies and their babies’ babies with tons of love and affection. I can still remember the excited glint in his eye as a middle school-er when he discovered the first batch of eggs his friends had laid, his crushing disappointment when a clutch failed and his over whelming joy at the sight of new born chicks.

It’s amazing to see him interact with his birds – they respond to his voice, play with him, communicate their worries as parents when a clutch of eggs are laid, let him clean and monitor the health of their new born babies – birds can be so much more personal and attached than one can imagine.

When we moved into a flat of our own in Bangalore after years of travelling through cities and various neighbourhoods, one of first things that we did was to convert his balcony into a well equipped aviary complete with rounded mud pots for nests, nesting material, lovely bowls for food , a smallish tub for them to have a bath and a smaller private area for those who need some space alone because of sickness or injury or plain simple maladjustment.

One of the biggest things that this lovely relationship has taught my brother is “death”. He experienced his first encounter with this heart wrenching separation when he was about 12 years old. One of his birds had fallen very sick and no amount of care could nurse Maco back to health. It almost broke all our hearts to see Maco’s partner hover around his body, trying to wake him up. Its a scene that’s burned in my memory like no other.

After some time when Maco’s partner had reconciled, my dad went ahead to take Maco out of the aviary and proceeded to wrap him in a newspaper and a plastic bag to “dispose”.

“Dispose”??!!!! My brother was extremely angry – now combined with the sadness of this loss you can just imagine how red his face could have gone. In his own words he wanted a “decent burial” which was “respectful”.

And so this Sunday morning was spent performing Maco’s last rites. After a few minutes of searching my brother and my dad zeroed in on a burial spot on an empty plot of land. My dad dug up a small grave while my brother put Maco in. They offered a fist of earth each as a token and said a few silent prayers before covering the grave with earth. To end the ceremony, they planted a small sapling of a bush nearby over Maco’s grave.

Losing a loved one is very sad, but giving a “decent burial” full of love and respect is indeed one of the best treasures of life. It’s a lovely acknowledgment of their moving on in their journey; an acceptance of their passing into another world and a higher plane.

HahaHeheLol

Not so long ago laughter – voluminous, throaty, uncontrolled – had not really been an incessant part of my life. Yes, I was happy and did have “32 sparkling teethy peals” but then HahaHeheLol would become one of my greatest friends and treasure in life only in the December of 2003.

Although it may seem fairly recent if one compares it with human lifespan, I know that the events that took place in the winter of 2003 will remain one of the most QTOLish moments of my life. Just to clarify, I was doing my masters at TISS in Bombay which doesn’t have much of a winter – so this had nothing to do with the weather.

But then it had everything to do with the spirit of Christmas. Having spent three years previously in a Catholic College that gave me the joy of being a part of all the fun and festivities, I was feeling sad about missing out on all of that in TISS. Thankfully though, the campus did have Christmas celebrations and most importantly everybody seemed tuned into the Secret Santa game. “Yippie!!”, I thought and smiled to myself. “Some things in the world continue to be sane”.

Masters in Social Work turned out to be much much harder than I had thought. Apart from tons of assignments, academic pressures and blues of being away from home, the atmosphere was extremely tumultuous. The world suddenly seemed a little too upside down for comfort (note: it already was, which is why many of us were there at TISS – ‘to change’). Each day presented a bunch of new realities that we were supposedly being trained to analyse and develop strategies for – from communities living on garbage dumps to facing an eighteen year old lecherous boy as a ‘child with rights’. By the mid of first year the meaning of ‘develop strategies for’ on campus emerged as endless nonsensical debates, generous amounts of ambiguity and extremely polar ideas. TISS at this point was like being in the company of an eclectic group of beings who’d have issues with the fact that something was a ‘non issue’. The most cliched question of the moment was always ‘But who decides?’, indicating the ever lasting ambiguity of individual freedom versus working in the interests of people. In short every single conversation would begin and end in concentric circles. Now if one adds a dollop of hostel woes, ranging from ‘smoky reeking corridors’ to ‘sleeping with bright lights and loud noises’, to this already confusing and tumultuous situation – you’d understand why I was yearning so much for a game of Secret Santa.

So on this lovely December 2003 afternoon, in a rather unpleasant DH (Dining Hall), we all had to pick small chits of paper with names of people who we were to adopt secretly – and send them gifts, goodies and letters, or torture them till Christmas eve. Soon I became a temporary mother. But then there were unfortunate souls whose names had not been picked. An ominous poster declaring their orphanhood was put up, requesting people to adopt. The idea of two children dint appeal to me, so quite frankly I still don’t know why I adopted ‘HahaHeheLol’. It just took a small suggestion from rather cute and diminutive neighbour Chandni and I had a daughter who was going through as much of a cranky bad patch as I was. Perhaps, this is what is called destiny.

Over the next few weeks, I don’t know what got into me, I sent my child loads and loads of handmade gifts with lovely handmade paper in numerous varieties. Even a small silly note would be laboriously made, I spent hours together each night getting my act to make each day special for my child. It was midnight oil burning at its best. No , this wasn’t a competition, and I dint even know ‘HahaheheLol’ – in fact we had not even exchanged pleasantries. But somehow her booming laughter, excited ‘show off of gifts’ in class, her small notes drizzled with a hundred ‘lols’ – these smaller things just made my day. This world of sheer joy, laughter and child like excitement seemed so far away from endless debates and assignments. And yet it was so truly life like and so much ‘human’ in essence.

I even sent her an embroidered handmade paper folder!!!

Neha and I got to know each other pretty well through that game and we’ve shared a lovely friendship ever since. We’re so connected that one would think that perhaps there is a mini device that aligns our wavelength and thoughts together. We go crazy over little things, laugh like raccoons over frivolous stuff, love the quaint and argue like children. The Internet’s biggest boon has been the fact that I have been able to share the same amount of space and time in spite of the distance – over email, IM or this blog. I continue to receive virtual or sms notes splattered with dozens of smileys, hahas, hehes and lols.

Thanks Neha, alias HahaheheLol, for all the laughter and joy you bring into my life.

The Unbreakable Synchronicity!

For all the mechanical boringness of machines, there is something inherently beautiful about how cycles of ‘a day’ keep churning themselves over and over again! I am someone who would find routines absurd and boring and yet there is a simple beauty in certain kinds of synchronicity!

Yesterday when the rains kept pouring down, the sky felt like an excessively HUGE water bag which had just burst open and kept emptying itself. I was standing by my window spacing out on the rain and noticed something. In that chaotic rain day when perhaps a lot of us would have stayed home I saw the Milk Man coming on his cycle, completely geared in his rain wear, stopped in front of building next doors and was off for the deliveries in the building. (A lot us on a heavy rain day might wonder how we may reach work by bus/car/cab but how many of us doubt that whether the milkman who comes on his cycle may not be able to make it?)

Then on my way to work, I noticed a garbage truck. The men in the middle of fighting the heavy downpour were busy emptying the bags dolled out to them from the entire line of restaurants on the streets, dumping them and moving on.

For all the milkmen, the garbage men, the vegetable sellers, things that we are so used to just ‘being there’, do we even realize how awesome these guys are? Most of the middle level management in this country might suffer from not turning up on time and having the lazy (Indian standard time) attitude but have we noticed how punctual, on time and perfect most of our milkmen and dhobis (Laundry men) are! If they had to be the ‘standard’ for ‘Indian Standard time” we definitely would have a different definition doing the rounds!

I use to always wonder as to how my dhobi manages to collect clothes from some 50 odd flats in my bundling, remember each and every one of them and return them in exactly the same way without misplacing or mixing up a single one! I have the same fascination for my Milkman who comes every evening to all the houses, takes orders (which may vary on a day to day basis about the amount of milk to be delivered the next day) and delivers the exact number of bags the next day! I have still not figured out how they manage this! (And we tend to assume, mundane regular jobs don’t require skills!)

Sometimes I think these jobs are the ones that need the most skill and discipline and enormous amount of creativity to not get bored with the same thing day in and day out!

I was smiling at the beauty of how regularly these cycles keep turning themselves…not a single error and no single delay. I burst out laughing at imagining what would happen the day….the milkman would turn up late .. followed by no garbage being collected… to the dhobi coming late… and the dabba wala never turning up! 🙂

So cheers to these guys out there! And the cycles which keep rolling out, hoping that one day I shall come close to that level of efficiency.

I am sure all of us if we looked at our days had many more of these people and things that decorate our lives and make sure our days stay under control.

Which are your favorites?

What would you do? Which cab would YOU take?

You see a line of cabs parked at the end of a lane, the regular black and yellow ‘Premier Padminies’ (Fiats). (For all the non-bombayites, all cabs are the same fiat model). At the end of the row you see a black and yellow colored car, it’s a cab! But it’s not a Fiat. It’s a Hyundai Santro!

What would you do? Which one would you pick for your ride?

Over the last year, there have been a few of these Santro cabs that have been around Bombay. Whenever I see one, I get really excited and always run to get into one! It just seems like a fun thing to do. It’s a regular cab, same rate, just a Santro rather than a Fiat!

The fun is more with the kind of looks you get as you take your ride. Most people on the streets with expressions of… “Oh that looks different!” to “Do you think that might be costing her more!” to “Oh what’s that thing?” to “Oh what fun!”

When I was in one of these rides today I got thinking of how these simple things are somewhere connected to whether we see the different things that ‘pop up’ out of our otherwise routine canvas as “quaint” and “fun” or just “absurd” and “weird” ! Would you like random changes and take detours or just prefer routines?

Just in case any of you are thinking I am cooking up a baseless theory of ‘sameness’ and ‘difference’ based on a simple ‘cab ride choice’ I have evidence to back this! 🙂

To quote one of my friend with whom I did have this conversation, she told me she had left a Santro cab just last week cause she thought it looked ‘different’. So that at least makes the two of us, one on each side!

So what would you do? Big theories are always made of small gestures! I hope there were more random out of pattern cabs, buses, or thing we use everyday to choose from! Wouldn’t they add that random variety to life!

P.S: That reminds me of another random conversation I had with a group of friends a while ago, when the topic of discussion was, “Why does a refrigerator always have the freezer on top?” Given that actually we use the lower section more and keep bending down to get things. Wouldn’t it be more convenient to have the regular section on top, so things you use everyday will be at your regular height! None of us could really conclude whether this design was for any scientific logical reason or just a pattern we got habituated to. Not only as ‘users’ but as ‘designers’ would you defy a set pattern?

Disconnectedness

I migrated to the world of techies about a year ago, joining my husband in running our small software startup. Before this I worked in a happily “disconnected” environment with a million woes of technology that one could crib about.

Technology woes can be super magnified within the environs of those proclaimed to be “not for profit”. No, this isnt because “social workers” aren’t tech savvy – we surf the net, understand words like “server” and “trojan”, understand blogging and widgets, know what a bluetooth transfer is, understand how wifi works, are plugged into the iphone hype and the rest of the related blah. Rather this annoying jinx with technology is a result of the complicated measures that somehow seem to plague even the simplest of IT solutions in an NGO setup. For example in my previous job, we used Microsoft Exchange Server for email and (ahem) collaboration. Combined with strange connectivity and virus issues that seemed to be confined to the periphery of the organization along with troublesome server settings that seemed to magically change with every single breath, we did anything but “collaborate”.

Most of us were in a perpetual state of “where is this file” , “where is that folder” , “oh that mail dint come” and “all my mails are bouncing back”.

But the QTOL thing about being in such an environment is the fact that one can continue to resemble “humans of this age and time”. Yes, we could all afford to miss the bus of evolution resulting in ” the next generation of humans” and enjoy the bliss of “disconnectedness”.

The happily disconnected lot – surf, use the mobile and perhaps even blog – but they:

1. Do not open a million browser windows (with a zillion tabs within each)

2. Do not need maps for directions in India

3. Do not need something like Twitter to tell the world that they are bored, or super smart, or sleeping or yawning

4. Can do without reading their emails for a week and can stay off their IMs without falling into social isolation

5. Do not substitute Google with plain simple “hellos” and “business cards” in a social gathering

6. Do not get into depression because there is no internet or mobile connectivity

7. Do not need “a Second life”

There are several other such lovely traits of this happily disconnected lot – the fact is that they are so well connected to the presence of living forms through the traditional medium of “air” that they do not crave for the modern “connected” mediums like emails, IMs, tagging, scrapping, linking and the blah.

At a recent conference that I attented, face to face interaction dint seem to suffice and people wanted to get online on their super cool laptops (almost compulsively) to browse, even though listening could have given them the very same information. I swear I could see antennas growing out of their heads, so you can imagine their need to “connect” virtually with the mere whiff of the presence of such a network.

I am happy to say that in spite of being a part of a software startup, I am still miles away from growing an antenna. I blog because I love writing and its a free and convenient way to communicate what I write, I use IM largely to save on phone bills. I recently bought my mobile on the internet because it took me less than 10 minutes to do so, as against several tiring hours negotiating the crowd at UniverCell. More importantly I avoided the mental fatigue resulting from trying to choose between many many models with a zillion features presented by “as a rule I shall be unhelpful” salespeople.

Yet I am not hooked or addicted. I am not in love with the virtual connections and I can live without it.

My happiest moments continue to be random moments that crowd the monotony of life – like puris puffing into full sized balloons and bobbing on the surface the very first time I make them. And I’d exchange “a lifetime of connectivity” for the feel of a vast green virgin beach (minus the “meen fry”, “mulagai bajji” and “xxx chaat” of course).

I am proud to be still swimming in the bliss of “disconnectedness”!!

The Parallel Reality! Magic!

In some of  those pondering moments, when one wonders whether there is a heaven and if there are magical alternative realms, I realize that  there is one parallel reality that I drift away into almost on a daily basis – I drift into the reality of things beyond the earth!! Something you can see everyday and yet it’s an endless fascinating world of its own, which you realize only if you looked at it as often as you noticed the road you walk on.

I am talking about the world on top of the horizon! The sky!

Today morning as I was on my cab ride to work with the sky dotted with a few rain clouds, my mind wandered away. Like a flash of having a dejà vu, I was thinking of all the awesome things that the sky keeps treating me to. I don’t know if any of you guys love staring at the sky but I do, and these are the kind of things that I love staring at on random afternoons, evenings and nights.

Do you follow any of these? Or do you have any more to add on to my list?

Have you ever followed clouds and tried to see everything in them? From animals, to people, to chariots to the big elephant breaking away into smaller bears. As they drift and move, disintegrate and merge into one another, they seem to tell so many stories! And have you ever tried looking out of the aircraft? It’s when I just want to go hopping and jumping on all the clouds hanging in the middle of nowhere .They seem like little rocks in a pond which you could jump on. The sight of absolutely nothing hanging in the middle of air is perhaps the most beautiful sight ever.

And have you chased the Birds around? All the mad groups and the lonely ones, the ones fluttering in circles and the ones taking such long flights that they disappear out of your sight. The pairs of birds that seem to follow one another, its almost as though you are flying around with them.

And then my personal favorite – have you felt like creating your own box of colours to capture all the shades that come up at the sunset and the sunrise? The purples, the oranges, the blues, the yellows. Wow! I really can’t ever stop marveling at them. I know for sure, every day it’s a new colour, although it may seem the same shade its always different. I am forever fascinated by the million shades that exist in the sky. It  feels as though the sky is a massive multicolored screen which keeps throwing these different shades at you. I am sure there is a very ‘scientific’ explanation to this, but my imagination thrives at seeing the sky as a canvas with colours being splashed on it rather that seeing it as a set of molecules and atoms and because of light refraction creating an illusion of colour! Lol. 

And of course how can we forget our stars, the moon and the sun. The moon is by far my favorite. The part that’s most fascinating is when the moon and the sun keep playing their hide and seek with the clouds. I  feel like I am part of their team sometimes! The light emerging from behind when the clouds have completely covered them….and  when this happens over the ocean with the reflection on the water…..I haven’t really found a more fairy tale magical moment than this! 🙂

So here’s a loud cheer to the parallel magical world that’s as real to me as my world on the ground! Who said you had to go to Hogwarts and Hogsmead to get into the magical world of the wizards? We muggles seem to have our very own magical land, if we only let our imaginations have some fun. So here’s a to all of us discovering our private magical lands! We can all give company to Alice for creating and discovering more of her wonderlands in our very own backyards.