Odiyan

I am still working on the Pambattu piece. So in the meantime, here is something else from Kerala. This story (in fact there are two stories – I really should learn to write shorter posts!) too was handed down through the generations, with a few embellishments added along the way. I have also noted the cultural and social references to the best of my ability to give you a more well-rounded view of the history behind the myth.

In Kerala in the olden days, most tharavadu (family/clan) homes were spread over many acres and stretched across hills, forested land and fields. The area was dotted with traditional homes of the family and the extended family. Each home would be situated in splendid isolation, surrounded by vast tracts of wild land. Family members co-existed happily with domestic animals like cows, goats, and hens. It was a safe environment. As long as one stayed close to the homestead and farms, and did not venture out after dark. This was drummed into every child’s head. You ventured out after dark at your own risk… because, then you could meet a wild animal or worse, a paranormal one, like the yakshi or the odiyan.

Malayalee folklore is replete with dark elements that can make your blood run cold. The yakshi, chattan, kuttichattan, gandharvan, and marutha have featured prominently in our grandparent’s tales. The most popular of these characters, in my opinion, was the odiyan.

Odiyan was the word used to describe people who practiced odi vidya (a form of black magic) that allowed them to change form. The odiyans, known for their physical prowess, were the product of a vicious caste system, black magic and thirst for power. The members of the Panan, Parayan, Pulayan, and Velan communities were the ones often accused of becoming odiyans. Poor, uneducated and downtrodden, they made ends meet by making chool (brooms), paya (mats), kuda (umbrellas) and morams (dustpans) with dried coconut fronds and selling it to the wealthier upper caste folks in the community.

Odi vidya was usually practiced by the upper caste men and they used a potion and black magic to turn a man from one of the above downtrodden communities into an odiyan. A magical hired gun who would do their bidding, which usually involved the murder of a rival tharavadu or family member.

The legend goes that the method of preparing the potion (marrunnu) was a secret held by the upper caste folks. An appalling yet important ingredient in the making of the odiyan marinnu, according to the stories handed down, is an unborn foetus. Pregnant women were lured from their homes and their foetus stolen. The woman would then make her way back home. The next morning, she would be found lying peacefully in her bed without any injuries – but stone cold dead. As a result of these fears and beliefs, pregnant women were not allowed to travel alone and forbidden to step out after sunset (as the odiyan only attacked when one was alone and usually in the dark).

In odi vidya, after the performance of some rituals, a pouch containing the marrunnu was placed behind the ear of the chosen man. This enabled the man to turn into an animal like an ox, buffalo, fox, dog or wolf, or trees or even an inanimate object like a wicker gate. These animals or things would however have an imperfection – like a missing tail or limb or eye. At the conclusion of the puja, the odiyan would break a little stick which represented the intended victim’s spine. The rituals were meant to literally break someone’s spirit. Most of the victims died of sheer fright.

The odiyan, who was usually out only during the dark could see clearly in the night. He also had the powers to become invisible and change his form as per his choice – as long as the marrunnu pouch was behind his ears. The upper caste men would however never place the marrunnu behind their own ears, as it was believed that the man who became an odiyan would die soon.

Some believe that the odiyan could revert back to his human form only when the upper caste man or his helper would knock the marrunnu pouch off, with a stick, from behind the odiyan’s ears.

Rationalists believe that the legend of the odiyan was created by thieves and murderers to scare away people and to ensure their own safety. They argue that in the past when Kerala did not have access to electricity, stepping out in the dark was a frightening proposition because even a harmless plantain leaf hanging oddly could resemble a Yakshi or the shadow of a strange animal. As regards the pregnant women who were found dead in their beds, female mortality rates were high especially in the case of pregnant women, and these stories were a way of coping with and controlling something that was beyond the understanding of the people in those days.

In Kerala, in the late 19th century, my maternal great-great-granduncle was the karanawar (head) of the Adikarakunnath tharavadu. He was highly respected by one and all in the community. People from near and far came to him for guidance and even to settle fights and disputes. His word was considered final and no one ever went against his decision.

He was also unique in that he was not afraid of the odiyans. He was in the habit of walking through his property and its thodi (front and backyard) at any time that he pleased – day or night. It was a habit with him to walk in the thodi, and even in the woods surrounding his home, after dinner. He would often sleep outside on a charpoy (wooden cot). The people in the community believed that he too possessed certain magical powers.

One day some men came to him and asked him for some food and veraggu. Usually, a generous man, on that particular day, the karanawar was in a foul mood. He shouted at them and asked them to get out of his compound.

The men were enraged and decided to teach him a lesson. That night after everyone had gone to bed, four of them entered the compound. They had used their magical powers to take on the shapes of a wolf, a fox and two huge dogs. When they saw him fast asleep on the cot, they smiled at their luck. Silently, the walked to the cot in the dead of the night and then moving as one, lifted the cot with the karanawar still sleeping on it. The odiyans then headed to the woods nearby. Once in the woods, they planned to wake him and scare him with their appearance.

When the odiyans reached a thickly forested part of the wood, they decided to put the cot down. But they couldn’t put the cot down! They thought it may be because the area is too thickly wooded and they didn’t have space to manoeuvre the cot around. So they walked on to a place with a little bit of clearing and tried to put the cot down. To their surprise, they found that they could not put the cot down. They tried to put the cot down several times, but they could not.

For the rest of the night, the four odiyans carried the karanawar on his cot, trying to put the cot down every now and then, but unable to. Their arms and legs were hurting and they felt that their muscles were on fire. But no matter what they did they could not lower the cot on to the ground. They even tried to shake their hands and fling the cot down, but they could not even remove their hands from the cot’s legs. It was as if the cot was stuck to their hands!

The sun was about to rise. Tired and scared they were near tears, as the karanawar woke up. It was not yet light and the odiyans were still in their animal forms. The odiyans had by now realized that they had crossed paths with someone who had even more powerful magic in him than them. They cried and begged for his forgiveness.

He then ordered them to take him and his cot back to the place from where they had picked him up. The odiyans carried him back to his front yard. And this time when they tried to place the cot on the ground they succeeded. The odiyans fell to the ground in sheer exhaustion. The karanawar sat up on his cot and with a stick lying nearby knocked off the marinnu pouch tucked behind the ears of the odiyans. The odiyans reverted to their human forms.

The karanawar then made the odiyans promise him that, henceforth, no odiyan would ever trouble or scare any member of the his tharavadu. Feeling that the odiyans had learned their lesson, the karanawar then ordered his servants to give the odiyans rice, vegetable and clothes and then sent them off.

Another oodiyan story that was handed down to us involved my paternal grandfather, achachan. The story goes that he was returning home from work and had stopped at a wayside shop (shaap if you want to sound like an authentic Malayalee J) for a bite. As he stepped out, he was stopped by a poor man who said, “Thamburane (lord) what about me?” Achachan initially snapped at him, but on realising that the man was hungry, asked him to come home and get something to eat.

Achachan then walked home (again at quite a distance) and on reaching, sat down on his favourite chair near the thinna (flat wooden veranda railing where one can sit and even lie down – almost like a window seat). His second eldest daughter, Bhargavi, came out to give him water and she exclaimed, “Acha! There is a huge black dog behind you!” He turned around and indeed there was a huge dog in the thodi on the other side of the thinna. Achachan loved dogs, but this one looked wild. So he took a stick lying nearby and shooed the dog away. The dog was quite stubborn and reluctant to move but finally, he was chased out of the property.

The next day as my grandfather was returning from work, he saw the poor man again and asked him why he had not come to the house to get some food. The man looked affronted and said, “Thamburane, I had come. But you chased me away!”

Go figure!

While the stories relating to the odiyans are fascinating, they expose the ugly underbelly of the caste system that was even more prevalent in those days in India. These were men and women who were branded untouchables. They suffered a lot at the hands of the society’s rich and powerful. They had no access to education and had no money whatsoever. They made ends meet by making household goods with dried coconut fronds and selling it to the upper caste folks. Since they were untouchables, they were not allowed to enter the homes of the upper-caste people. They would stand at least 50 meters away from the house. From there they would call out to the residents of the house and the servant would step out and give them some rice or vegetables as payment for the chool or paya. The odiyans also use to help clear the animals that had died on the homestead. Some say that they would eat the meat of the dead animals and save the skin and make things out of it.  Some of them would use these skins to disguise themselves while committing petty thefts thus lending to the mythology of the odiyan.

Today, surrounded by electricity and information, it is hard to believe that people could believe in yakshis and odiyans. But even as recently as the mid-to-late 20th century people were extremely superstitious and scared of anything and everything that they didn’t understand. Education and development have helped in the emancipation of communities like the Panan, Parayan, Pulayan, and Velan. The practice of odi vidya has died a slow death with few or no takers for this practice. But even today, when you are in Kerala and you step out into the thodi or the street and see the looming trees and the weird shaped shadows they throw, a tiny part of you can’t help but feel the cold finger of fear and wonder – does the odiyan really exist?

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What Lies Beneath…

I love holidays and I love traveling during holidays. Usually, I manage to write right through my travels. However, this year a combination of poor to no wi-fi connection in places as far flung as Mussoorie and Palghat, and an itinerary that included covering 6 states in 5 weeks, meant that my writing took a backseat. I am now back to my routine.

Recently I got commissioned by a friend, to put down on paper a story that a grandparent told me growing up. It got me thinking. My grandfather (whom I called Velliachan – big father) was full of stories. It should have been easy but it took me a while to think of a few stories that he did tell me. You see, what he really loved to tell me were stories about our home, the incidents and events that shaped our family ties and bonds, and the tharavad (family) history. As I mine my mind to remember particular details of the more traditional stories that he told me, my mind is also busy remembering all the other not-so ‘traditional’ stories he told my cousins, my brother and me.

Velliachan was like any other grandfather in the world – totally unique.  He did not have any pet names for us and believed in talking to us six grandchildren as adults. His favourite method of bonding with us, when he was not playing the fool with us kids, was to take us for a ramble amongst the trees in our family home in Malappuram, Kerala.

I loved those walks. He would patiently tell me the local names of the plants and trees over and over again, year after year. We would check if the hedges needed trimming and if the mangoes and jackfruits were ripe enough to be eaten, and the coconuts ready to be felled. My grandfather was a man who was very good at creating atmosphere. His stories brought the past alive for me.

As we walked down to the front gate, I would ask him to tell me about the well that we no longer use. This well, could be seen from the side porch of the house – the porch that ran along a bedroom wall and connected to the kitchen. Along the open porch, there was a tap and this was where my brother, cousins and I liked to brush our teeth – in the open looking at the greenery around and enjoying the early morning sounds of the birds mingling with the sounds from the kitchen where my grandmother, mother and aunts would be cooking. At least once during this early morning ritual, my eyes would run over the well (Actually the part of the grounds where I knew it was. One could no longer see the well itself) and I would feel a frisson of fear.

The house that my grandparents stayed in was built in the 1960s. The original family home, in which my grandmother grew up, was a few meters downhill. Her aunt and family were still staying in that house. During one particular summer, (I think it was while I was still an infant), my grandparents, parents (who were visiting) and uncles heard a commotion from the old home. They rushed to the old house and heard cries of ‘pambu pambu’ as they neared it. Snakes are a pretty common sight in Malappuram, Kerala, especially during the monsoon.

Entering the house, they came across an ashen female relative who somehow managed to tell them that as she had opened an old almirah (cupboard) she had seen a huge python curled up in its recesses. She had run out screaming.

All the men rushed upstairs to the room where the said almirah was. One of the men pulled the door open as the others raised the thick wooden sticks they were carrying. The almirah was empty. The fear spread thick and fast amongst those in the room. There was a python in the house and no one knew where it was hidden. This meant that no one could rest in peace until it was found. There had been quite a few incidents in the district where the pythons had feasted on goats and calves.Would it eat a human being? My grandmother’s aunt was tiny enough.

The men spread out around the house, carrying the sticks and carefully searching for the snake. But search as they might, there was no trace of the snake on the first floor where it had been originally spotted. They extended the search to the ground floor of the old house. Every single room in the house was searched. So were the cupboards and all the nooks and corners of the old house. And there were many. By then it was nearly two hours since the first cry of ‘pambu pambu’ was heard.

Defeated the men gathered together in the main living room downstairs. At the foot of the stairs leading upstairs to the bedroom, there was a very old wooden trunk. It was so heavy that when it was built, they had just decided to leave it on the ground floor instead of lugging it upstairs! Someone asked if anyone had searched the trunk. Another man laughed and said, “There’s no way in hell the python could have got in there!”

But the snake was not to be found anywhere else in the house. So, my grandfather, father, uncle and a few other men stood around the trunk. They were hoping that it was there and the search could wind down, and yet praying that it was not there as no one wants to deal with a scared and disturbed python that was strong and clever enough to get into that trunk. One of them gingerly raised the lid of the huge wooden trunk. And there it was! Coiled comfortably at the bottom of the case. My grandfather says that it was big and dark.

I don’t like snakes, but I can’t help but feel for the snake that must have had a pretty rude awakening as the men beat it to its death. They say that even three grown men staggered as they carried that snake out. It was getting dark and they were wondering how to get rid of the dead snake. There was an unused well in the land. I think it was unused, because it tended to run dry in the summer months, and the family had dug another well in the backyard. The old well lay neglected and run over by wild shrubs and weeds. I am still not sure as to why they decided to give the python a burial in the well. But there you go! Since then, no one has ever used the water from that well, even though there is water in it.

As we walk to or from that gate, we can barely see the well, hidden as it is behind shrubs and trees. The whole area has an eerie feel. In my mind’s eye, I can still see a python lying curled up in its water, waiting for some poor sucker to draw water from that well. The house and the grounds on which the well stood have now been sold, and I wonder if the new owners have been told about the well.

In the next post, I will tell you about Pambattu Kaavu (the family shrine dedicated to… you guessed it – the snake God.)

“Do you believe in true love?”

Do we exist in a landfill of relationship debris or is there some magic left?

Binu SivanThis last weekend, I met a young friend – someone who had got engaged a month or so back. This is the sensible generation or maybe they are just scared. They are looking at a longish engagement. I asked her, “Why?”

She said, “We need to be sure.” I almost laughed out. You are never sure. Nearly 14 years after getting married, I am still not sure. It doesn’t matter how long you are engaged. Your husband or wife will turn out to be a different person to the one you were engaged to.

As I mulled over her answer, she asked – “Do you believe in true love?”

Now, why the hell would she ask me that!

The first unthinking words almost out of my mouth were – No! I don’t. I think it is all a lie. There is no such thing as true love. Just look at the disillusionment that you find in almost all the relationships around you! We are surrounded by a landfill of relationship debris.

Even as I thought these words I knew I was missing the point; because despite the disillusionment and the neglect there was something else.

Despite my desire to be untouchable in matters of the heart (a direct result of believing that I am as cool as Clint Eastwood in his cowboy avatar), the fact of the matter is that I do believe in love. Not the Valentine’s Day shit with its cards, candlelight dinners, and roses. I don’t even believe in the we-will-grow-old-together kind of romance. Tomorrow and old age are not guaranteed.

I thought about how in today’s world a growing cobweb of disillusionment and neglect anchor and hold up the photo frames of our relationships. Relationships and marriages, in particular, seem to be made up of what is missing – small acts and gestures that we forget to, or are too lazy or angry to do for each other.

Every expert on relationships has been crying himself or herself hoarse trying to tell us that we got to work at love. ‘Falling in love’ does not guarantee ‘staying in love’. You got to work at it to keep it alive. There is no happily ever after. At best you have a “we like each other enough to want to grow old together” ever after.

So is that all there is to love?

I am not an ace at this. I never was. Time, drudgery, disillusionment, neglect, taking and being taken for granted have taken their toll. Yet I am not just a victim. I am a killer too. Love doesn’t die at the hands of infidelity and violence alone. Its butchers are many.

Like pretty much most young women who get married, I believed in true love or rather the mirage of true love as spoon fed to us by our film industry. My ever after. My one and only. A few heartbreaks and disappointments later (both parties at fault) I revisited my notions of love.

Was love the intense feeling that swept over me as they placed my new-born daughter on my chest and I knew in my bones that I’d kill for this little one’s safety? I have never felt anything close to that for anyone else.

I am married to a guy who is in finance. He loves math. I love words. He watches Bloomberg and cricket for entertainment. I watch travel shows on NG and Discovery and love to read. More than a decade of marriage hasn’t blurred these differences in our case. In fact, we can still only manage a polite curiosity in the other’s interest.

In the initial years of our marriage, he got me watches (expensive, branded ones) for three of my birthdays. The third time I got a watch, I sat him down, showed him my watch-less wrist and told him in clear terms, “I don’t like to wear watches!”

To his credit, he has been learning and has stopped getting me watches.

We live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. A combination of health issues and sheer frustration at juggling a highly demanding job and a growing child made me walk away from regular employment. Now I am a stay-at-home-mom and a freelance writer working on my first novel. A move I could not have made unless my watch-buying, math, and cricket-loving husband had not agreed to finance our lives.

So is this love?

Love.  In my mind, it is a gentle, soothing breeze… something that underlies and supports, and is supported and nurtured in turn by consideration, kindness, generosity and passion. A breeze that wipes away our tiredness and soothes our tired eyes and heart. A breeze that brings with it anew a slow bubbling hope. A breeze that needs a soul to brush against, slowly raising its shrouds… awakening it to the joy, peace, angst and pain that is the accompaniment to love.

A breeze that blows against a rock face or wall will not raise any shrouds. It will just be a weak wind that falters and fades away. Love is like that. One day you are the breeze, the next day… hopefully, your partner. But if you, or he or she, are the rock all the time, then eventually the breeze will die.

When young, due to my movie and Mills and Boons fueled notions of love and romance, I believed true love can be achieved only with one person. Now I know better. You can fall in love deeply many times over. You can be in love with more than one person at the same time. Love can evolve into like, hate and indifference. You can fall out of love with a person and yet love that person.

The magic of love can touch you at any time, across the labyrinth of space, age, societal mores, and even reality. You can be in love in your mind and the world would have no inkling. You can even be in love with an imaginary personification of all that you desire. This love of the imaginary person (that you are yet to meet or may never meet) is like an underground spring that waters your soul and keeps you alive.

You could be in love with a woman’s never-say-die spirit, a man’s kindness, that woman’s smile, that stranger’s eyes… you know that nothing will ever come out of it. For a few weeks or maybe just for a few days, they will add an extra spring to your step, a smile to your lips, an ache to your heart, and a song to your heart. You are not going to disrupt the status quo of your life for this smile or eyes. But just for that magical little while, love and romance brush by you again and you are alive. Just an intense crush, but for those few hours, days and weeks, this imaginary love-story in your mind is stronger than any relationship that actually exists in your ‘real’ life.

And then one day you wake up, freed from the bondages of this crush… you are out of love.

So what the hell is love? To be honest I still don’t know. I am constantly redefining it.

Do I believe in true love? I don’t even know what the hell true love is! But I can tell you this – I am a romantic.

The word romance conjures up different images for most of us – usually dictated by our age and experiences. In our teen years, it is a red heart-shaped balloon and a misspelt love note. In our 20s a public declaration of everlasting love on Facebook and Instagram. In our 30s, a partner who is willing to wake up to take care of that baby who is hell bent on driving you to an early grave.

But now I am in my 40s, and for me romance has broken the limiting walls of relationships. Let me explain…

I had always liked to think of myself as a realist – someone who sees the world for what it is and accepts it. But the truth of the matter is that I am not a realist. I don’t see the world for what it is. For me the world we see is an opaque veil, that conceals the truths that I instinctively believe in, and even know to exist. Even my personal religion and concept of God is based on this.

I believe without proof. Yet I also believe in the theory of evolution and have a deep respect for science and the fantastic mind-bending journey it, and we are on. Maybe because of this respect (and not despite it) I also believe in things I cannot see.

So how can I not be a romantic!?

Not just a believer in romance in its most commonly understood sense… but also the romance of life itself. When I smile instinctively at another person during my walks and they smile back at me, when my daughter walks into my room early in the morning and cuddles up with me, when I watch two young lovers trying to maintain decorum and distance as they walk together, jostling against each other with every step… I am more in love than I have ever been. Not with another person. But just in love.

When I read the wistful, elegiac words of poets like Rumi, Parveen Shakir, Keats, and Ghalib, I cannot help but wonder… How can this feeling, this aching yearning for another even arise in our hearts, if there was no romance!? How can it exist if there was no quest for that one love? How can someone write words that reach out across centuries and lands and grab my heart with such intensity and force? Am I not falling in love all over again when I read them?

Then there are things in this world that make me believe in a love that feels deeper and truer. When I am walking along a deserted beach, when I am watching a full moon shine brightly on snow-capped mountains at 2am, I sense something rare and fragile to my touch, just out of my reach… brushing delicately against my fingertips. It teases me into being more aware. An almost ephemeral awareness, it is by its very nature of being elusive that much more valuable and worthy of being pursued.

Right now, as I learn to live consciously and intentionally, taking steps towards certain dreams, instead of just waiting for them, my notions of love and romance are abstract.

I believe in the romance of the moment. It is a fleeting moment – sometimes submerged in the minutiae of life, buried amidst the debris of our busyness and distractedness. But that one fleeting moment can keep that flame of magic and life burning. And it is not necessarily a moment with your partner or spouse. It is the kind of romance where you are in a moment, either with your spouse or a friend (whatever be their gender) or your pet or a stranger, and you are with that person fully. It is the kind of romance that inspires you even when you are alone.

Right now, love is this very moment.

My newly engaged friend stared dazed at me as I went through my disjointed spiel. “So does this mean you believe in true love?”

“Yeah, yeah I believe in true love.” She will have to figure this out in her own way and time anyway.

 

 

Time To Say Thank You!

A few months ago, when the issue of OROP (One Rank One Pension) for the Indian soldiers, was still headline-worthy, a leading news channel hosted a discussion with a panel of retired defence personnel and a few family members of military martyrs. The focus was not just on the problems relating to OROP but also about what exactly a soldier feels in the face of such political and bureaucratic manoeuvring. A retired air force man spoke about izzat (honour) and respect.

A word like honour can sound archaic – something more befitting a feudal lifestyle… though in India, we never wander too far from our medieval roots. However, this retired pilot was not talking about honour the way, say, a khap panchayat would interpret it. No. He was talking about something more basic. Something, neither he nor any other soldier, retired or otherwise, should have to beg, ask, protest or fast for. This is something that should have been a given.

He was asking for acknowledgement. Acknowledgement for what they have done… for us. The sacrifices they have made. The price they have paid. For being the kind of men and women who realise that being a soldier entails a very real danger of being torn apart by bullets or bombs, and yet sign up for the job.

Acknowledgement not just from their fellow soldiers and family members but from the government and the people of the nation. And it is not just our soldiers. It is our cops. Our teachers. Our municipality workers. It is our parents. It is our watchman.

The world has always been divided along class and linguistic lines, but a lack of time and even worse, lack of empathy have exacerbated the problem. And, while it’s true that not all of us have the wherewithal to change the world we live in, we can change one small thing by acknowledging the fellow human beings who pepper our lives. There is a story behind every face and a hero, a mentor, and a guide hiding in the most unassuming of people.

Listening to that retired soldier speak, I wondered how many times I have bothered to acknowledge, honour and celebrate the people who have impacted me. The answer did not reflect well on me. So I decided to do something about it. Being a writer, pretty much all my ‘doing’ is done here – so here is my rather sorry attempt at acknowledging three of the people who made the greatest impact on my life.

My Mother – The Survivor

I never had to look outside of my home for positive role models. They had dinner with me every single day of my childhood. My mom got married young. When she was 17. She wanted to study and become a doctor. Her dad, my grandfather, however, felt that it was important that she get married before she became an old maiden. She rebelled by refusing to write her 12th school-leaving exams. She rebelliously declared, “If you are not going to let me study then what is the point of my writing any exam!”

She was 18 when she had me. When I was in my grade 10, my mother decided that she was going to get her college degree before her daughter did. We were in Chennai (then Madras) at that point of time. She appeared for an examination that was the equivalent of her Class 12 exams and passed and went on to graduate in B.A. Literature from Madras University… two years before I completed my degree in commerce. She then went on to do a Diploma in Computers at Loyola College, Chennai. In her 30s, she started working. And she worked till she was nearly 55. She worked right through her cancer and resultant surgery, chemo and radiation. It wasn’t an easy journey and there was resistance from many quarters. However, she hung in there.

If today, I have the luxury of being an independent and fiery thinker, it is because of what she taught me.

My Father – The Soldier

Growing up in Chennai, many often mistook my dad for a cop, because of his moustache and deep voice. Then they would get to know him better, recognize what a softie he really is, and start laughing with him about the misunderstanding. In today’s world by all standards my father is an ordinary man. His identity today is of a retired airforce man in his 70’s who still continues to live life independently with my mom.

However, scratch the surface and ask him about his youth and the stories begin to flow. Like all soldiers, Daddy loves to tell the stories from ‘his war’. But only to those who ask and show interest. Even then, he will not tell the stories that really matter. The stories behind why he a JWO (which means he was the ground support staff and not a pilot) was awarded the Vayu Sena Medal (a medal usually reserved for the airborne) for gallantry during the 1971 war. His act of bravery involved stepping out into the airfield when it was being bombarded by enemy aircraft and helping Indian fighter planes land and taxi in. He encouraged others to ignore the danger to their lives and do the same too. The medal is discreetly displayed on a bookshelf at home. For many years, he was happy to keep it locked in a cupboard until my brother and I took it out. The photograph of him receiving the award is proudly displayed in my house.

Sometimes when I see him interact with a shopkeeper, or a waiter, or his own grandchild, I wonder if they know that they are talking to a man who displayed exemplary courage and devotion to duty in the face of extreme danger.

My Teacher – The Task Master

I was in Class 5 and even then English was my favourite subject and Christella Ma’am, my class teacher was my English teacher. Halfway through the year we had, each, to work on a project. I had to do something related to verbs or tenses… I don’t remember. What I do remember is breezing through my work and submitting it the next day. I knew… just knew that mine was the best project work in class. I could see the others struggle.
Christella Ma’am took in all our submissions.

The next day we were told our marks. Another kid in class had got the highest marks. I don’t remember if I came in second or third or fifth. I remember I didn’t come in first. To say I was taken aback would be an understatement. So immense was my feeling of being unjustly treated that I marched up to Ma’am and asked her, ‘Why!? Why am I not the top scorer?’ Ma’am looked at me and said, “Your work may have been the best in the class, but it was not your best.”

In that moment, she taught me one of the biggest lessons of my life. Anything worth doing is worth doing, not just well, but the best that you can make it.

It took me many more years and a tryst with a job in a stock broker’s office (for all of a week) before I realised that I wanted to write. But the seeds were sown by Christella Ma’am.

 

The Municipality Worker – This man did not impact my life choices, but he did teach me a couple of things about attitude.

There is this guy I met while visiting my brother-in-law’s family in Nerul, Navi Mumbai. He is, what we all collectively call, the kacharawala. An ironic tag for someone who clears the kachara (garbage) created by us. I don’t know his name. But of all the people I met during this last holiday, he had the greatest impact on me. Why? Because of his attitude. He always greeted us with this big, friendly smile and said ‘Hello didi!’ He didn’t grumble. He didn’t whine. He didn’t look like he hated what he did. And if there is a job that is easy to hate, it is his! Maybe he did hate what he did. Maybe he never thinks about it. Or maybe he is the kind of human being who does whatever he has to do with dignity… a throwback to the kind of human being Gandhiji extolled all of us to be.

On India’s Independence Day (August 15), he greeted us with a ‘Hello didi! Aap clubhouse nahi gaye? Janda lehra rahein hai aaj. Achcha hai.” [Translation – Did you not go to the clubhouse today? They are hoisting the flag. It is good.]

Above all, I remember the vibe he spread. He was a happy man and it made me happy to just say ‘hello’ back to him.

There you go – that is my list for now. Do write and tell me about the people who have impacted you. If nothing else, definitely spare them a thought and a prayer.

 

 

 

Excerpt 2 – A Dialogue

Excerpt 2

 

My second excerpt from Second Chances. It is the working title of my novel. Manna (short for Tamanna) is my lead. What do you think of this dialogue? Do let me know if it resonates with you or if you find it clunky. Does it give you any insight into what kind of a person Manna is? Do share your thoughts.

 

 

My Post Won IndiaHikes’ March 2016 Blog Contest!

12799411_10153375733901583_8840689304820313377_n I have some great news to share with you guys. My blog post, When the Mountains Calledabout my trek to Chandrashila Peak, won IndiaHikes’ March 2016 Blog Contest. Check it out at  http://indiahikes.in/march-2016-blog-contest-winners/. Thank you for all your support. Do keep reading. You can find this post at https://binusivan.wordpress.com/2016/04/09/when-the-mountains-called/