Coz you see best when your eyes are closed.

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Think of Me

I am what you aim for
Do not question me
I am what you’re proud of
Do not doubt me
I am what will come to you
Do not run after me
I am what is yours
Do not fight for me
I am always with you
Do not search for me
I am what you are for
Do not let go of me

When you can’t see the road ahead
Trust me
When you can’t see the road behind
Believe in me
When you can’t understand others
Understand me
When you can’t feel complete
Feel me
When you can’t think of answers
Think of me
I am your life
Live for me.


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The hollow in a cupped palm

“We have our own little tent”

As a kid, I always had a game that I would play alone. It would invariably be in the afternoons when dad was at work and mom was taking a quick nap. The house would be silent except for a slight indistinct hum of an unknown bug or the chirp of a sparrow. I would crawl out of my comfortable bed and collect a few basic things I would need – a pillow, a blanket, a torch,  a toy cup, spoon and a book. Taking them all in my arms at the same time, along with a doll, I would crawl under a blanket terrified. I would crouch and sit there alert to save myself if someone attacked. That was the make belief. We were under attack and had run away from our home. We being the doll and me. I had quickly grabbed as many things as I could hold and run away to this tent under the blanket. It was dark here. But I had got a torch. I would light it and my tent would glow in a warm, smiling, yellow light. “You can breathe easy now. It’s all ok. We are safe here. See?”, I would urge the doll, who on some days would be my sister and on some others my daughter. Mostly, the latter. The blanket on top of us would surround us cosily. Its walls would be almost in our faces. We liked that. We felt secure in the little enclosure. I would make food for the doll in the toy cup and then lay her on my lap. I would also read her the book. My mind would never register what I was reading, but I wanted her to feel that things were normal. Like they used to be when we were in our house. She would slowly drift to sleep while I would worry about how we would survive the next day.

The game had variations. At times I would forget to bring the torch. So I would seat her in the tent and then duck and run outside, amidst gunshots, to fetch the torch and hurry back inside, panting as much out of scare as the exertion. But, no matter how many times I played it, I would never be able to come up with a practical way of saving ourselves inside the tent. I began to realise slowly that I would have to come out, earn and get food and materials to save the doll. The mere thought would make me cringe. It felt against my comfort to leave the secure tent. It was cold outside. It was too big an open space. So, I would skip that portion and pretend I had gotten food for her. I would wake her up, feed her and talk to her, holding her close to my chest. I would reassure her, soothen her. “Am there for you. We are together. No matter what happens, we will be together. How does it matter where we are. We will talk, play, sing, hug. We have our own little tent.” And she would smile. I would smile too and cuddle her.

It was a game. It had to end. Either when it got very suffocating inside the blanket or when mom got up. The objects would be returned to their respective places and I would be back tidily sitting on the sofa of a large living room with a high roof. Somewhere deep inside I would be relieved. The legs did hurt in that crouching position. But I would miss the cosy atmosphere. Several days would pass before I would get the urge to play that game again.

As I began growing older, I slowly started to avoid the game. The tension was becoming too much for me. The acids that churned in my stomach when I was in the survival mode took a long time to neutralise. There was too much sadness in the game. And I knew such dramatic events would come in life. “Why live them before they befall us,” I would think. Playing the game had prepared me for such times. So, that was a gain. Now that I had a rough idea of what to take with me, what all I would need in that little tent, it was time to let go of the game. But, for many years later, I kept wondering why I liked the game so much.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)


Rain, rain, fall, fall. Pitt-chi Pitt-chi Chap-pu Chap-pu

Grave of the Fireflies is a movie written and directed by Isao Takahata under the Studio Ghibli production banner. The movie is set in Japan at the time of World War II and tells the story of a young boy Seita and his little sister Setsuko as they lose their home and their parents to the war. They initially live with their aunt who grudgingly accommodates them in her house. She however shows no inhibition in giving them a step motherly treatment and declaring them a burden on her. Seita soon leaves the house for a shelter which is nothing more than a roof in the wilderness by the river. Seita and Setsuko begin their life afresh at the shelter, filled with hope and joy. There’s freedom there. There’s love there. There’s freedom to love there. They play at the beach and sleep with the fireflies. They breathe life. But, soon the supplies begin to get depleted and they have to struggle for food and medicines. The movie beautifully takes us through their emotions while gently canvassing the entire war time scenario.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Why do fireflies have to die so soon?” – Setsuko

I have often wondered why I liked the game so much. It has never been a proud wondering but a disconcerted one, one where you anxiously wait for a troubling answer to your question. It seemed most plausible that I had with me, some sort of an insecurity, some fear of losing my home and loved ones. The way I would hold onto the doll, the way I would sit huddled inside the blanket, hinted at it. At an age where children play in the garden or want a big house and a big toy, why would I feel so content in the close walled tent with one cup and spoon? There’s a thin line between insecurity and fear, the latter not always leading to the former. Maybe it was just fear of facing catastrophes. Probably as I grew, through movies and books, I began to realise that life wasn’t a smooth walk. It had struggles, pain and loss. People were homeless, injured and dead. Maybe it was my way of preparing myself mentally for such situations. I still do that often when I become very comfortable in a zone. It keeps me away from becoming dependent on the comfort and saves me from the shock when I am thrown out of the zone. So maybe that’s how I grappled with growing up. Through the game, I came to terms with survival and death. Or maybe it was just a sadistic game that I would play. Imagine-you-are-homeless scenario. With the warmth of house-house and thrill of hide-and-seek. I had never really reached a satisfactory explanation for what I gained through that game.

As I watched Grave of the Fireflies, a knot began to form in my stomach. Sitting through the later part of the movie was one of the most mentally excruciating experiences for me. I was emotionally moved by what I was witnessing. The movie does that to you. But there was a guilt that was building inside me. A guilt of having made a mockery of a painfully humbling scenario. A guilt of having even attempted to visualise what it felt to be in a tent with nothing to eat. A guilt of having enjoyed a situation which makes people writhe and die.

But, there was no denying the fact that I had felt the survival instinct. I had felt their fear, their weakness, the urgency, the helplessness. And despite those feelings, I had felt secure in the tent. Even when faced with death, I did not feel like finding escape routes. I felt like caring for the doll, being loved by it. There was freedom beneath that dimly lit blanket. There was love in the air. It felt like home…

And that’s when it hit me! It wasn’t an insecurity of losing my home. There was no fear in sitting inside a cramped tent. It was nothing to do with my surroundings. It was a craving for the love I sensed inside the tent. A love that needed no objects to express itself, a love that lay unfazed on my lap even at the time of crisis. The love gave me strength, support and  faith. I enjoyed giving it. I enjoyed receiving it. The make believe attack was just to highlight how pristine the love was. I always wanted to be around such love. I felt at home. No Nintendos or Barbie dolls or fancy sketch pens could have sated this appetite I had for love. It was a deep rooted craving that was surfacing, eager to make me identify it, nourish it, express it. I watched Setsuko and Seita lying in the shelter, dimly lit by the fireflies. Heart wrenching scenes these were. But, the writer did not portray them as pitiful souls. In fact, there was no gloom around. There was grief but there was faith. There was loneliness but there was peace. The sound of Setsuko giggling kept ringing in my ears as the visuals turned to something more familiar:

Years before, I lie huddled on the double bed with mom on the other side. The room is dimly lit from a distant streetlight seeping through the curtains. The door has been shut and locked, windows tightly latched. We both lie with hesitant breathing, afraid to make even a single noise lest someone hears us. There are people outside ready to attack us, or so we feel. We barely move and are reluctant to let our guard down. Slowly I ease myself into sleep, silently comforting mom that we are alone but safe. That we are together. Come what may. This is our own little world. We are happy here, secure here.

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So, how did you get there?

It’s a relatively common question in Science when you present the questioner with an answer. You never really know whether it implies your answer’s right or not. All it says is – you need to explain your method, irrespective of its outcome. Maybe that’s why when someone voices his opinion, I invariably end up asking, “So, how did you get there?”

When I first began to interact on social networks, I realised that some words seemed to occur very often in user profiles or descriptions. One such word was (no, not procrastinator) opinionated. There was pride in the acceptance of the fact that one was closed to hearing other points of view. An attempt to portray a confident and substantial self. An asset in today’s world where you are bombarded with convincingly expressed contrasting views from all sides. There is so much pressure on expressing one’s views vehemently that a mere allowance of the mind to think along a different line is a betrayal of one’s own opinion. I remember the advice debaters of our school would get, “Do not accept the logic in an interjection. Politely acknowledge it and then rubbish it.”

I see two treatments meted out to people – one is a stubborn insistence by the headstrong ones, and the other is a passive acceptance of anything you say by the accommodating ones. There’s a supposed benevolence about allowing contrary views to coexist in a sphere. But, where in both these treatments do you figure? Obstinance seems rude, accommodation seems nonchalant. Does anyone try to understand your view in the light of the direction you are going along? When they find you arriving at a different destination than theirs, do they pause in their tracks, turn their heads and ask, “So, how did you get there?”

Teachers often struggle to make their students learn a method. They repeat themselves endlessly but the student still returns incorrect answers. The procedure would be so much more effective if only they could ask the child “how” he arrived at his answer. If they understood the method he was adopting, they could point out flaws in it and change his route. This not only equips the child to henceforth walk by himself but also convinces him that he is on the right path.

Conviction is what confidence looks like when spelled right. On one hand if it’s our responsibility to understand a different view in its own right, on the other hand it is our duty to convince others of the view we hold. Our thoughts are valuable only to the money makers. For everyone else, it is our thought process that’s important. We seldom realise that listeners are looking to trust our opinion. They are eager to be convinced, irrespective of what their preconceived notion is. While expressing our views through the verbal, visual or written medium, it is only courteous of us to acknowledge different aspects of the issue, explicitly consider them and take the listeners along on the path we followed. They may disagree with the path we chose, but they will understand us, trust our view given the line of thought. A difference in direction may lead to disagreement, but a difference in destination leads to hurt.

Every perspective has a view attached to it. The idea is to find the apt perspective for a given goal and then arrive at a view consistent with the perspective we choose. Merely supplying reasons is not enough. Reasons make you defend when you aren’t even being attacked. What the listeners are looking for is a path woven out of these reasons, a mental journey that they can embark on. After all, an opinion needs to be formed of your opinion.

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Until the Next Rain

It had been a rainy day. The weather was cooler now with a light breeze blowing. Ajay walked out to his courtyard followed by Gaurav. It was one of those lazy weekends that had been further spoiled by Ajay’s mother with a sumptuous lunch for the boys. Ajay cleared an area of water and stretched out on the concrete. Gaurav plopped down on the garden chair with a burp. “It was awesome food buddy. Heavenly,” said Gaurav, with the early signs of a post lunch nap beginning to appear in his eyes. Ajay gave a half smile, knowing Gaurav was not looking for a response. He began to gaze around slowly, relishing the newness that the rain had brought. Everything had been freshly bathed and cleaned. The leaves on the trees looked like little kids whose parents had forcibly bathed them. After attempting to gently coax them into bathing, when they still went back to sleep with childlike adamance, Mother Nature abruptly began to rain a vigorous stream of water on them, jolting them to alertness and getting them bathed. The leaves were now clean, fresh and energetic. He smiled to himself and began to gaze away as if allowing the little leaves their space to play and enjoy. He looked at the buildings of the society, the strong walled structures that asked us to stay inside, almost always convincing us of the merits of a claustrophobic security as opposed to a threatening freedom. He recalled how dull they had looked the previous day, worn down by the sun through the summer, dusty, hardened, indifferent, detached. Even though the rains had discoloured the walls in patches, he found them more alive now. As if they too had a heart, as if they too enjoyed rains, as if they too sensed happiness.

Gaurav, slouched on the chair, opened his eyes a crack to see what Ajay was doing. There is a duration of silence that men maintain in order to not sound too eager to chat, in order to sound substantial and in control, in order to not sound like women. The period of silence had gone beyond that limit and ventured into thoughtfulness, invariably interpreted by men as worry. “You ok?” Gaurav asked. Seeing Ajay lost in his thoughts, Gaurav opened his eyes wide to scour the area. Concern had now become curiosity. His eyes scanned the surroundings till he spotted a young lady in a courtyard in the opposite complex. An instant smile lit up his face, the prospect of teasing his friend making the afternoon complete for him. He nudged Ajay. “You can stop smiling and go and talk to her,” he said. “Huh?” Ajay replied, disoriented from his thoughts. It took him a second to notice the teasing glint in his friend’s eyes. He swiftly turned in the direction he had been looking at earlier and spotted the woman. He turned back to Gaurav with an irritated look. “You know you look more intelligent asleep?” he said. “Yes, my friend. I know you would like me asleep now,” Gaurav replied with a grin, geared up for making most of this opportunity to pull Ajay’s leg. “She does look pretty,” Gaurav continued, scanning the target. “A simple cotton kurti with chudidhar. Neither too ethnic, nor too trendy. A pair of simple yet attractive earrings. Smart body language. Looks like a no nonsense kind. I think she is just your type. Hey, really, yes man. She fits perfectly,” he said, excited that the prelimnary assessment had turned in favour of her.

Ajay left Gaurav to do his own analysis. A beautiful evening of raw natural beauty was making its way and he had no intention of adding masala to it. He tried to go back to his earlier stream of thoughts. As his mind fumbled to pick up the thread, his eyes darted a quick glance in the direction of the lady. There was something weird in what she was doing. She wasn’t lounging around in her courtyard. In fact, she was standing at the gate of her house, her fingers tightly clasped around the bars of the gate. He had initially thought she had come out to see the rain drenched greenery. But, she was too alert for that. Her eyes were far too open and her back far too straight for her to be soaking in the beauty of nature. “Did she have a fight? Is she standing outside to cool off?” he thought to himself. He looked at her face intently. There was no sign of anger or aggression. In fact, her face was serene.

An uncomfortable restlessness began to build up in Ajay as he searched for an answer. Unable to curtail it, he asked Gaurav, “Why do you think she is standing at the gate?” “Hmm… She is standing at the gate? Must be waiting for someone then,” Gaurav replied with his back reclined and eyes shut. Ajay shook his head. “Can you at least look at the scene before commenting on it? Such arrogance man!” he said. Gaurav opened his eyes, yawned and sat up. “It is not arrogance. It is experience,” he said. “I know how these women function. They have a fight and the man walks out. She stands at the gate and waits for him. It is some special occasion, she will wait for him. As if waiting will make him remember to come. Such girls will barely take any practical measures to correct the situation. They will do crazy torturous stuff and pretend to be helpless to do anything else. Why doesn’t she just call him or check out the places where he could be instead of standing here like a statue.” Ajay mulled over what Gaurav had just said. He looked at her face again. There was no anxiety in her eyes. Neither was there helplessness. There was a deep set to her eyes. A sense of determination. A sign of strength. But, yes, there was wait. Her eyes had a fond longing in them. They were focussed on a pebble on the road. She wasn’t looking at a distant tree and dreaming. She was looking at a nearby pebble with focused thoughts.

His eyes wandered once again to her fingers. “She doesn’t look like one to pretend Gaurav. Neither is she weak. Look at her hands. They are holding onto the gate purposefully. She isn’t leaning on it, or even holding on to it for support. It’s more like she is holding the bars up,” he said. “Oh ok,” Gaurav responded. “Then it is curbed-at-home syndrome. She wants to be free but her family isn’t letting her be. She stands at the gate and wishes she could go out. But after having wished and dreamt and lamented, she will go back dutifully and stick to the restrictions imposed on her by the family and the society.” “So, she isn’t waiting for someone to come in. She is waiting for an opportunity to go out, is it?” Ajay asked. This seemed to make better sense. “Yup,” Gaurav replied, eager to shift to a more interesting topic than sad and gloomy girls who seemed to be doing nothing with their lives. He picked up a wet fallen leaf from his chair, wiped it off a few drops and dismissively threw it aside. Ajay felt better. “Yes, she wants to go out,” he thought to himself. “She wants to be free. Lack of freedom is probably the worst punishment one can give another human. Poor girl. How much she must wish she could do whatever she felt like. Be with people she liked, go to places she wanted to, live life her own way. Wish I could do something for her. Feel sad,” he thought, the last line coming out aloud from him. “Sad? Huh?” asked Gaurav. Ajay turned to him with a smile. “Nothing. We are lucky buddy,” he said. “This I agree with. Awesome life I have,” said Gaurav, raising his arms in the air and stretching out lazily on the chair. Ajay’s smile widened. “Trust Gaurav to live a life fully and enjoy every moment of it. Eating, sleeping, travelling, bungee, drinking… There isn’t a single thing which Gaurav has wished to do in life but hasn’t gone forth with. He is a source of motivation for the people around,” thought Ajay. “You never have a dull day, do you?” he asked. “I do,” replied Gaurav with a humble nod. “But, I don’t worry. Worry is for those who don’t have the courage to use their freedom.” Ajay nodded, more so looking at the girl than appreciating Gaurav’s quote. “Well, I don’t think am going to have a nap today. Tea?” asked Gaurav. “Yes, lets go in. Let me show you some pics I took in LA while the tea gets ready,” said Ajay.

As they got up to leave, a movement caught Ajay’s attention. A small kitten had got caught in the bush it was hiding in to save itself from the heavy rain. It had probably slept off but it was only now that it had realised the rain had stopped. The lady saw the kitten unable to entangle itself. Her hands confidently left the bars of the gate and pushed the latch open. She then opened the gate comfortably wide and walked out. She crossed the lane onto the other side and went over to the kitten. With delicate hands which knew where the kitten’s legs were in a knot, she methodically untwined the twigs. Within a few seconds, the kitten gave a squeal and trotted off. Ajay thought he caught a glimpse of her smiling then, but he wasn’t sure. She turned back, retraced the path she had taken and went back to her house. She closed the gate with the same decisiveness with which she had opened it. Her hand didn’t waver, didn’t linger. Ajay realised she was neither scared nor longing to be free. “Then…?”, he wondered. After she had firmly put the latch back in place, she gripped the bars once again and stared at the lane. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Slowly she opened them back and turned around to go back into her house. As she walked down the courtyard to the door of her house, she turned once to look at the lane. There wasn’t a dream in her eyes, but a promise. As if she was reminding herself of a pending goal. A task that had to be done. Maybe now wasn’t a good time to stroll in the lane. To roam around basking in the beauty of nature. But, these were things she would love to do later. And there in her eyes was the promise that the later would indeed come. “It isn’t that she cannot open the gate. Or she isn’t allowed to open it. She very well can. I just saw it. But she has chosen not to. She has wilfully latched the gate and gone back in. She has opted to do so. Isn’t this freedom?” thought Ajay. “Latches are not always a restraint. Wonder why I thought she was caught inside. Latches are, at times, a symbol of freedom – a freedom of choice, a freedom of not being dominated by our urges, a freedom to live life our way, a freedom to be free from the confines of ‘me’,” he realised. Ajay imagined the courage it would take to close an open gate and wait patiently for a suitable time to open it again. One had to be free from the fear of death to have faith for such a time to come in the future. He walked into his house with an imprint of a little girl excitedly waiting for the clock to strike midnight so she could open her birthday present. A blurred image of his mother, tired from an incomplete nap, doggedly serving Gaurav tea and snacks, crossed before his eyes. Ajay didn’t notice them as he silently willed the clock to strike 12. He imagined the smile on the girl’s face even as he heard Gaurav munching on the cookies saying “This is life!”

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The Little Man Who Wasn’t There

The poem is titled ‘Antigonish‘ and written by Hughes Mearns. It also goes by the name ‘The little man who wasn’t there’. A seemingly beautiful wordplay at first, there seems to be more to it. There’s a haunting aura that lingers behind. Not the haunt of a frightful nature but one of a remorseful nature. Read on with your own interpretation of it.

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away…

When I came home last night at three
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door… (slam!)

Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away