Standing On His Own Legs

October 29, 2019 at 9:15 PMOct (Activism, Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Lokesh (29) who sells sim cards outside of Government Degree College, Ananthapuramu in Andhra Pradesh is an avid Telugu film viewer and unlike the larger mass of Telugu film viewers, Lokesh prefers romantic films over action films. Prior to the digital revolution Lokesh would regularly visit the cinema hall but now prefers downloading films on his mobile and watch them on his handset. Neither his taste nor his preference of viewing is inseparable from his polio affected leg which at the age of three left him orthopedically handicapped (OH).

Born in Guntapalli, a small village adjacent to a forest, Lokesh was affected by Polio since his, “Parents were not aware of the mandatory polio drops for children.” Both his legs got affected “because of ignorance.” Coming from a family of farmers Lokesh was, “lucky to have kind parents,” who he says did consider sending him to school despite him being an OH.

Education began quite late for Lokesh mainly because of him being OH. It happened also because the government school was just half a kilometre away from his residence. His father, he remembers, would carry him to school and also bring him back carrying. For class three Lokesh was made to join an English medium school in Gorantla a nearby town, where he had to stay in the hostel. The hostel experience at Gorantla was not a pleasant one for Lokesh. The rest of the students would be busy in sports and other physical activities which made Lokesh feel left out and out of place. But more of a trouble was the using of washroom in the hostel. “The washrooms were not designed keeping in mind people like us,” tells Lokesh before explaining how people like him have the lower part of the bodies are weak which makes him and the kinds of him difficult to control urine and motion for long. “Someone or the other would help me in the morning time but at night the matters would be nightmarish,” he recollects. Since hostel life was making him dependent quite a lot on people he was “not very close to,” Lokesh would frequently go home. During exams he would avoid staying in the hostel and travel to college from home. Lokesh’s father on those days of exam would ferry him on a bullock cart to the college and bring him back. These inconveniences made Lokesh shift back to the Government school in Guntapalli for class four.

“These inconveniences were not just a physical hurdle in day to day affairs but also a hurdle to my studies,” says Lokesh and explains how most of his energy and time would go on these things and would leave him with less time for studies. “Also, it creates a dent in the morale,” he says, which in his opinion is more crucial in affecting his performance in studies.

Lokesh had to drop out from studies after class five since the school was far from home and his experience of staying out of family had been no good. Also ferrying him to school every day was practically impossible for his father who is a farmer. For a year Lokesh was at home. During that period when he had to get his “disability certificate” done, he was told about a hostel for the specially abled in Ananthapuramu, a district head-quarters, where many like him stay and also pursue studies. The following academic year Lokesh enrolled himself in the Government High School, Anantapuramu and started to live in the Govt Hostel for the specially abled, specifically for those with OH.

Shifting from Guntapalli to Anantapuramu was a major turn in the life of Lokesh. “With around 90 people like me,” he says he felt more belonged and less left out. “A sense of community,” was formed according to him in the hostel. The helpers in the hostel being trained to assist the OH people made a significant difference for him and his fellow hostel mates he recollects. Also the washrooms being friendly for the specially abled brought in a new confidence in him, he says, by making him feel he can be less dependent on others and more independent. This boost of morale and new found community helped him focus more on his studies and his performance in studies also started to improve he says.

In comparison to his life in Guntapalli and Gorantla, says Lokesh, in Anantapuramu he felt less lonely. From the classmates of Guntapalli or Gorantla nobody went to became friends with Lokesh. He had his first set of friends, he says, only when he moved to Anantpuramu. The classmates and hostelmates he had in Guntapalli and Gorantla were kind of to him, he remembers but the ones in Ananthapura loved him and treated him with affection, he explains.

On being asked what kind of conversations he has with his friends in the Anantapuramu hostel, Lokesh very casually says, “normal talks like normal people.” The hostel is a space for Lokesh where there is no possibility of any insensitive comment being passed at him. In all other places he can expect an unwanted comment being passed at him and it does happen occasionally. “But this insensitive attitude is more in the villages than in towns and cities,” he says. Recollecting his own experiences of being humiliated for his state of being, he says with teary eyes, “Nobody should be born as disabled,” and stresses again, “Nobody.” As he says this he adds, “But what I had to face is nothing in comparison to what some of my other friends have had to undergo.” On asked if he and his friends in the hostel make fun of those considered abled, he says, “No,” in a tone which is dismissive of the idea of making fun of anyone and demeaning them.

After his high-school and intermediate schooling Lokesh got himself enrolled for B.Com. He opted for distance education so that he can also work and earn to meet his small expenses. He started to work at a mobile shop initially and after a few months on the insistence of the shop owner he started to sell sim cards outside the Govt Degree College, near the gate that is adjacent to the bus stop.

Lokesh since three years now has been peddling the special cycle (he got through the Government scheme) to the gate of Govt Degree College every day and working there between 10:00 and 17:30 hrs. In these three years he has completed his B.Com degree and now is preparing for competitive exam. When asked if having to work outside a college make him fee complex or make him uncomfortable, he answers in the negative. Within no time he says, “There are people who see me and tell me that in comparison to me they feel useless for they do not work hard the way I do.” That, he says, makes him happy. With an ear to ear smile he repeats, “Very happy.” Such “encouragement,” adds to his strength says Lokesh. He goes on to say that there are also people who try to be cocky with him and at such moments he avoids confrontation. “All I expect,” says Lokesh, “is people to speak with love.”

One of the troubles Lokesh faces while working is that of a comfortable public washroom. The public washrooms being constructed in the last one to two years have been taking into consideration old people and that has made it relatively easier for people like him, he says, and hints at our idea of space not being inclusive of the specially abled. This is seen, says Lokesh, also in the way the buses are designed. “There are reserved seats for us. But to get to the seat is a task in itself because nobody has given a thought to design the stairs of the bus in a way that it is easy for us to get in,” he says. In comparison to buses, says Lokesh, trains are friendlier towards people like him. “There are wheelchairs available in railway station but not bus stations,” he points.

In his free time Lokesh loves to read novels which are “Love stories.” Even in films he prefers love stories the most. As an avid film viewer he earlier used to go to the cinema halls to watch films. But now prefers to watch them on his mobile phone. Partially the reason for this shift he says is the difficulty involved in navigating the space of cinema hall, which are not friendly towards specially abled ones. “Earlier there was no other option. But now I can download the films and watch them,” he explains.

When asked if he has been in love ever, Lokesh blushes saying he wants to be in love and feel loved. But, he claims, that hasn’t happened ever. He says that he wishes to get married within a year from now. “To marry I need to have a good job with a good salary. I am waiting for that,” he says and asks “How can I get married without being economically stable and independent?”

Speaking of love and marriage, Lokesh recollects a wedding he visited recently of a friend. “The friend is also OH and so is the girl he married,” says and his eyes light up when he says, “It was a love marriage.” The parents of the girl objected to the marriage but the girl stood her ground, says Lokesh appreciating the girl. The marriage was held in a nearby village and attended by around 70 his friends all who are OH, he recollects unable to control the joy the memory of that event brings. On asked how 70 of them travelled to the nearby village, Lokesh in a matter of fact way says, “Among our OH friends circle, there are six of them who run autos. They drove all of us to the wedding.” Showing some photos of the wedding, Lokesh says, “We enjoyed a lot there,” repeats a couple of times, “It was fun. Great fun.”

(Interview conducted on 19 Nov 2018. Special thanks: Sandeep Nayani)

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Nightmare Version of the Nightmarish World

July 29, 2019 at 9:15 PMJul (Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

This morning I woke from a strange nightmare, feeling quite uneasy.

In the nightmare, my parents lived elsewhere and I was visiting them for the first time. I reached there late in the evening and spent a while alone by the sea, wondering why my mother never told me they had a house by the sea. I forgot to ask her on returning home and I went to sleep early being tired by the long journey.

When I woke up the next morning, the sea was not to be heard. I went out of the house and the sea actually wasn’t there. I wondered if I had dreamt about the sea. The surrounding now looked almost like the paintings of Dali.

I asked my mother about the sea and she casually said, “Nothing here is the same every day. Everything changes each day.”

It was a strange land where the sea vanished overnight and a volcanic mountain emerged in the same place the next morning. People there, my mother said, ate fish when the river flowed and ate fruits when the forest popped up. The children swam when the lake surfaced and played soccer on the surface of the earth when it slept bare bodied for the day. People crossed the hill by foot to reach their offices one day and the next day drove their cars on a flat land clothed in well connected roads.

How do people live in such a world, I couldn’t understand. I felt claustrophobic there. Gasping for breath I broke away from that world and woke up.

After few minutes, still recovering from the nightmare, anxiously I opened the curtains to see if the coconut tree still stood by my window. As I laughed at my own thoughts and action, I realized the nightmare was nothing but Earth’s version of the techno-centric world we live in today- uncertain, unreliable, unstable but also quite eerily amusing with its unannounced flips and back-flips. A spectacle though spasmodic. Each day is new though not fresh and each day a challenge though the night doesn’t prepare anyone for the day to follow.

When such a world is grounded on earth by humans, it is development and prosperity. But if the Earth models itself in the same spirit, on the same principles, it is nightmarish, it is catastrophic.

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A Separation

July 24, 2019 at 9:15 PMJul (Friends, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

A friend who recently visited Coonoor sent a photo from a graveyard there. A cemetery angel standing in the center of the frame. The cloudy sky had filtered the light to give it a melancholic touch.

Speaking about the cemetery angel, my friend said the eyes of the lady had been gauged and the wings of the idol had been vandalized. These destruction, my friend told me, made the angel look scarier than the graveyard itself.

Had my friend not pointed out, I wouldn’t have noticed the missing wings of the angel. But when my attention was drawn to it, in a flash of imagination I saw the angel getting her wings back and she flying back to where she came from. When the flash of imagination disappeared, before my eyes stood this angel without eyes, without wings.

May be if she had wings she would have flown away. But sadly, some angels are damned and tied to the earth. Probably she looks scarier than the graveyard because being separated from one’s world permanently- not by death but while still alive- is more deathly than death. Probably dying is easier and better than having one’s wings chopped off and being separated from one’s heaven. May be.

 

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The Unbearable Loneliness of Being

June 30, 2019 at 9:15 PMJun (Friends, Literature, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

There was a boy in our college in Manipal who is the loneliest person I have known in my life. For now let me call him Mr. A. When I joined the college for PG he was in his undergrads. People used to avoid him saying he is too creepy. There was one story which his classmates would recollect to all newcomers and warn them to stay away from him. The story goes like this: The entire class in their first semester first month were asked to visit the anatomy museum which is nearly a kilometer away from the college. It began to rain while they were all walking to the museum. Not everyone had an umbrella since most of them had no idea about the erratic Manipal monsoon, since they were new to the town. But our man being a local boy was carrying an umbrella. One of the girls asked him if she could join him under his umbrella. Mr. A let Ms. M share the umbrella. When the two reached the museum, we were told, Mr. A dropped the umbrella, held the hands of Ms. M and asked, “Will you marry me?” Not just Ms. M, the entire class freaked out. But eventually for them it became a story to be told, a joke to be laughed at. When I was first told of this, I too found it quite strange and I too had laughed. But over the years while interacting with Mr. A, I have regretted having laughed once about that story of a monsoon walk.

How lonely could one be if he has to ask you to marry him after walking ten steps together under the same umbrella?

Once the same Mr. A was with a classmate of his in the canteen, discussing an assignment which the two of them had to do it together as a team. This was the second assignment the two were doing together. At some point of the discussion Mr. A and this other person began to have some disagreement and Mr. A asked the other guy, “macha, why are you getting angry macha? Am I not your friend?” The other guy coldly said “No,” and there was a sound of glass breaking and blood on the table! Mr. A had crushed the tea glass he had held in his hand! He had to be taken to the hospital, he lost the only person willing to do group assignments with him, more people found him scary and he became more isolated and more lonely.

How lonely can a person be if doing two assignments together (when the entire class refused to work with him) makes him feel his co-student is a friend? How lonely he must be to be holding that person so close that he would crush a glass in his hand on being told that he is not a friend?

It is easy to say he is scary, it is sensible to suggest to him counselling etc. But can we understand that loneliness?

Loneliness has brutal ways in which it makes us function. Had read somewhere that Vincent Van Gogh used to consume yellow paints to get rid of his sadness and get happiness inside of him. While the world can wonder what relation does the yellow paint have with happiness, the man saw some relation and was willing to try it out as a way to happiness and out of sadness. In that passage the author opined that if one was terribly unhappy and equally willed to get rid of it then s/he would certainly give even the maddest of ideas, such as consuming yellow paints, a shot. Going ahead the author pointed at how consuming toxic yellow paints was not much different from taking drugs or falling in love to find happiness. They too run the risk of causing overdoes or heartbreak, like yellow paints can damage the internal organs! In the concluding line of that passage the author remarked, “Everybody has their yellow paints.”

In our loneliness we are capable of reaching out to much more harmful yellow paints than what we would reach out to in sadness or a prolonged state of melancholia.

Loneliness, sadly, doesnt get answered even if we surround ourselves with people, books, work etc. Loneliness demands love from life itself and life, especially when lonely, is unkind. Loneliness makes us do things we otherwise wouldn’t do, which we would regret later on, which hurts ourselves and others too. One can’t help it. One can’t escape it. Loneliness is an invisible decaying of life and life source itself.

To my mind, loneliness is the actual opposite of love. Not hatred. Not indifference. While love bridges the ‘self’ and the ‘other’, hatred doesnt break that bridge though sets fire on it. Indifference turns the bridge irrelevant and meaningless by making the ‘other’ invisible to the point of non-existence. But loneliness making the ‘self’ and ‘other’ significant, blocks the ‘self’ and the ‘other’ by making the ‘self’ do things which makes it more and more unlovable to both; itself and/ or the ‘other’. Also, loneliness begins with the point of the ‘self’ feeling/ being unloved.

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Songs For Dark Times

May 30, 2019 at 9:15 AMMay (Activism, Literature, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy, Uncategorized)

Bertolt Brecht, the German dramatist and poet, in a poem asks if there will be songs in the dark times, and answers the question as, “Yes there will be songs about the dark times.” Nada Maninalkur who now is on an all-Karnataka journey asks and also answers the possibility of turning songs into light, not just to walk cutting through the dark times but also to fight the darkness.

***

As Nada Maninalkur sings the song by Janardhan Kesaratti which asks the listener to cleanse the dirt accumulated in the mind (manssiganTida koLeya tikki toLeduko) he pauses to ask, “How many of you feel healthy?” and the high-school students raise their hands. “Do you notice that all of you have raised your right hand?” asks Nada and the students wonder what is so unusual about it. When Nada follows it with, “Why do you raise your right hand always when you have to ask a question in the class or know the answer to a question asked by the teacher?” the students are pushed to think why for the first time. Nada helps them to find the answer when he says, “We have all been schooled to think that right hand is superior to the left, like white is superior to black. This hierarchy and discrimination is taught in the form of culture.” The students are visibly unsettled by the new thoughts but also have started finding such hierarchy wrong.

Nada Maninalkur has been travelling across all the districts of Karnataka since August, 2018 with around 50 songs which speak of various issues like gender, caste, superstition, social inclusion, pluralism etc. When Nada announced his ‘Karnataka Yatra’ on social media, individuals, organizations, educational institutions from all districts invited him to come perform for them and promised audience too.
In a B.Ed college, a set of students who earlier walked out of the concert by Nada come sit by him while having lunch post-concert. They say, “We disagree,” in a self-guarding tone. Nada smiles and continues to eat. Later when he is about to leave the campus the same students come to him again and say, “We have been thinking about it. But still we disagree.” Nada says, “I am glad you are thinking,” and continues to say, “My job is done.”

The back story of this story goes like this:

At this particular B.Ed. College, Nada decided to begin the concert by singing kalisu guruve kalisu, a song which originally is a letter that Abraham Lincoln wrote to his son’s teacher. Like the method he employed for this journey, this song rendition too was paused for conversations after every stanza. At one point the conversation moved to the popular Kannada folk song govina haaDu (song of the cow) which tells the tale of a tiger killing itself after witnessing the truthfulness of a cow named Punyakoti who it wanted to eat earlier. Nada Maninalkur, referring to this song, spoke about poetic imagination and its politics which made some among the audience uneasy and restless. Next when Nada sang the song, namma elubina handaradallondu, (There are places of worship- temple masjid church- and Gods in our skeleton) a bunch of students got up to say, “This song is unscientific. How can there be a temple or a masjid inside us?” Not satisfied by the question they raised, the statement they made the students also walked out of the concert. Later at the mess he met the same set of students who came to him to register their disagreement yet again.

Recollecting these episodes Nada Maninalkur says, “Change is a process. When the first stone is thrown it stirs the water and muddies the water. But slowly it also creates ripples.” He continues the conversation to say, “Songs by themselves are inadequate. But they can initiate a dialogue in a much effective manner than a lecture or a sermon. Hence I use songs while the most important thing for me is to have a dialogue with people.”

Nada Maninalkur who started Arivu, an NGO, in 2012 arrived at this understanding slowly through personal experiences. The one major incident that made this realization dawn on Nada was a series of programmes they held after an infamous rape incident of a young girl in the Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka. The Arivu team visited college after college and discussed body politics using theatre, songs and literature. That made students open up, though it made the lecturers uncomfortable. “Education is left with no space to think alternatively and think rightly. This space needs to be filled and songs can become an effective and immediate way to build bonds and initiate a dialogue,” says Nada and recollects another story from the same time period.

A lady teacher who came from a conservative family came in contact with Nada and team while they were working with some of her students. Over a period of two years the teacher who earlier would insist on purity of food, water and not share her food or water with anyone, eventually cast off her casteist worldview and now holds a liberal outlook. This was possible, according to Nada, only because of a continuous interaction with humanistic ideas and continuous dialogues with fellow humans, outside the boundary of caste class and gender. Now the same teacher helps over 200 students a year to shed off their biases and reinvent their ‘self’, says Nada.

In Nada’s opinion, “In our growing up years we spend most of our time in educational spaces and hence it is important to speak in educational spaces.”

“Working with ‘Self’ is important,” opines Nada and elaborates on it. During this ‘Karnataka Yatra’ at a school in the district of Shimogga when Nada sang a song on menstruation, the dialogue with students arrived at the issue of Shabarimala. During this discussion a student said, “Respecting belief and practice is a part of our democratic values.” Nada spoke the importance of respecting people’s faith and practice and went to speak about the beliefs and practices which harms human, like caste etc and also narrated the story of Nangeli. The student then agreed with Nada when he said, “We need to get rid of beliefs and practices when they do not respect human dignity and doesn’t believe in equality.”

In other schools, Nada remembers, whenever he sang the song on menstruation, the students would either giggle or put their heads down in embarrassment. In a school, he recollects, a girl who spoke about menstruation covered her face with a scarf while speaking. The girl said that this issue is not discussed in a normal way even among girls. “We are made to believe that it is a shameful thing,” Nada says and adds in a firm voice, “We haven’t worked on ‘self’ and hence we fail to build on the idea of rights and justice. First we need to realize and make people realize that the dignity of ‘self’ is of utmost importance.”

Though most of the concerts of Karnataka Yatra have been in schools and colleges, Nada as a part of this Yatra has also performed in Temples, Masjids, Central Jail. He has also accepted invitations of activists, youth groups, journalist circles etc. In all these places, he says, he would first asses the audience and on the spot makes a choice of the songs to be sung for them. He has been singing 4-5 songs in each concert from his archive of around 50. Most of these songs are from contemporary Kannada poets. But his archive also includes verses by the 12th century Vachana movement and of saints like Shishunala Shareef, Kabeer etc.

Even when Nada is in the last leg of his Yatra, to his credit, not even once he has been stopped from singing or discussing in any of the districts of Karnataka. But yes there have been discussions of high voltage, which is okay according to him since there is still dialogue happening there. This, he says, is the power of songs. It makes you introspect, he opines, and it doesn’t have the aggression which one way communications such as lectures and seminars carry. Songs make space for a dialogue, for conversations to take place, opines Nada. The proof, he says, is seen in the invitations he got from teachers in several schools to teach the same songs to the students and also the invitation he received from some teachers to come stay with them for that day. The students, he says, either openly come and talk to him or write letters to him or tag him on social media and thus express their acceptance of and appreciation for the pedagogy he employed.

Nada also has some funny anecdotes to share like instances where people considered him to be a religious saint and would come and offer dakshinNe (money offered in kindness) and a particular instance where someone equated him with an extreme right wing speaker saying, “You too travel to inspire the youth, like him.” Nada’s reply to this person was simply, “I am not here to inspire youth but to sensitize the youth. That is the difference. Also, he speaks politics and I speak about humans and human self.”

A friend of Nada suggested him to bring out a CD of these 50 songs with which he travelled across Karnataka and Nada politely rejected the idea. His reason for it is spelled out like this: “If brought out as a CD, these songs will turn into a commodity of entertainment and it will just become one with the innumerable songs of this world which some sing and some remember. To me the dialogue that these songs initiate is important.” That is precisely why Nada says that when he was asked to teach these songs, he suggested a one month residential workshop, “because it is not just about learning the lyrics of the song in a particular tune and singing it in a melodious manner. It is not about songs but responding to the times and holding a dialogue. For that one needs to be trained in things other than music.” Nada himself isn’t a trained singer nor is he trained to play the two stringed instrument he plays.

“When I started this journey, I started with great despair. But this travel has made me hopeful. I have learnt during this journey that there are innumerable human beings out there in the world who are doing several work in small scale which is making a positive impact on some life. There are unimaginable number of people who in their daily lives are keeping the spirit of humanity alive. This they are doing not because they think it is their duty but because it is their default nature,” says Nada before he continues with his journey with songs in his pocket.

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GR the lion

April 3, 2019 at 9:15 PMApr (Activism, Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Two years ago when a circus company arrived in Udupi, I was keen on seeing a show but was not getting company to go with. One day when my friend Sahamata called to say she was coming to Udupi for some work, I suggested we could together go watch circus. She agreed but never came. I was disappointed.

Around the same time, I got a call from G. Rajashekhar. He had called to ask if he could borrow my copy of Teesta Setalvad’s autobiography. I agreed to lend him my copy on the condition that he would take me along when he goes to watch the circus. Not many who know GR as our conscience keeper and his remarkable life of activism and literary criticism that he has seen all the circus shows that arrived to Udupi in his lifetime. Since I knew of this, I was sure he would be going to watch a show that year too. So I made this offer on listening to which he said, “I usually sit in the Gandhi class and watch circus. I am not sure if that would be okay with you.” I said it was fine with me and in the following week GR and I went to watch circus.

That night I promptly called Sahamata and told her I had just returned home after watching a circus show. “Nice,” she said and asked if I had gone alone. When I told her I had gone with GR, she laughed aloud saying, “People go to the circus to see a lion. But you went to see the circus with a lion.” I too joined her in the laughter.

Photo: Kuntady Nitesh

Within a month after this, we all comrades of concern had gathered at the clock tower in Udupi for a protest. I was talking to GR who was sitting besides the flag post with the national emblem. When I saw another friend (Idrees, if I remember correctly) come join us I went to greet him, who stood on the other side of the the flag post. While I was talking to Idrees I could see the three lions in the national emblem of India and behind the emblem was GR. At one moment GR turned back and it looked like the fourth invisible lion in the national emblem had turned around to look back!

I remembered what Sahamata had said and in that moment I imagined the fourth lion of the national emblem looked like GR. Even if not so, I dont think it would be any unfair to see GR as the invisible lion in the national emblem for he has dedicated his life to defending democracy.

Today is 3rd of April. GR turned 73. Happy birthday, Sir!

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Hug

March 20, 2019 at 9:15 AMMar (Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

A friend who met after long hugged me tightly, while about to leave after our brief meeting. The hug lasted a bit more than what the usual “okay bye” hug lasts. “Are you fine?” I asked and the answer came, “I just wanted to be hugged.” It immediately reminded me of another friend who had once mentioned of the intense desire felt to be just cuddled to sleep.

On both occasions I just wished I could be comfortable enough to effortlessly express my desire, the way my friends did; to be held, to be embraced, to be cuddled.

For some reason we are culturally conditioned to believe that to seek love, to seek affection is a sign of weakness and hence not good. As a continuation of the same, we are unconsciously made to feel guilty for wanting to be held, to be hugged, to be loved. ‘Desperate’ becomes the word to label such a harmless need. It stems from a feeling of disgust towards vulnerability which the society shames and has taught us to look down upon.

In a society that celebrates only strength but never prepares humans to accept vulnerability, sadly, embrace becomes just a photo-op and a formal gesture of networking.

A warm hug to all of you who are reading this. If we cross paths ever in life, please come give me a hug. The chips of this unbearable loneliness of being might just erode to some extent when held, when embraced.

PS: Kindly don’t use the cheesy expression ‘jaadoo ki jhappi‘ when you come hug me.

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Liberation from the Past

March 16, 2019 at 9:15 AMMar (Cinema, Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

The eldest brother asks the youngest brother to take him to a therapist. The middle one is lying in a secluded place with the lady of his love, holding her hands. The two threads are inter-cut. The perpetually fighting brothers, for the first time in the film, begin to speak of the long shadow of past that is cast on the present causing friction between the two; one to the therapist and the other to the girl he is in love with. The stories unfold & both make way for the frozen tears to flow down their cheek. Both feel relieved with the unburdening of their hearts. The middle one holds his lover to his chest and the elder brother puts his hand around his youngest brother’s shoulder as they walk out of the clinic of the therapist.

To outgrow one’s own past one requires help from outside in the form of therapy and solidarity in the absence of love. In love the healing happens from within.

Even over couple of weeks after I watched Kumbalangi Nights, I haven’t been able to get over this sequence.

Finally, in the film, it is love which liberates all (men in the film) from their past and strengthens the solidarity.

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At the saloon…

March 11, 2019 at 9:15 PMMar (Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

There are a few things that I grudgingly have to do regularly. Going to the saloon to get a shave and haircut is one such thing. I conveniently avoid getting a haircut and shave no matter how long the hair and beard grows. If asked I just say, “When I have a beard I look less ugly. This is my social service,” and avoid further conversation. But then there is one thing that I cannot avoid; mustache when it grows long! It makes eating and drinking quite difficult and it is only when the mustache comes in the way of my food and me that I finally drag myself to the saloon.

Today was one such day.

From the past one year I have been going to this particular saloon at a walk-able distance near my house. The only barber of this saloon, a no nonsense fellow, left for his home town in Uttar Pradesh few months ago and he was replaced here in the saloon by his cousin Sameer. I happened to be the first customer of Sameer in this saloon and by the end of that haircut and shave, Sameer and I became friendly with each other.

My usual conversations with Sameer and prior to him with his cousin is a reflection of the complexities of this society about which I will write some other day. Today is about what happened today.

Sameer had just mopped the floor of the shop when I entered today. As always he greeted me with a warm smile asking how I have been. As I took my seat he asked, “kitana choTa kardun?” (how short should I trim your hair?). Not being in a good state of mind, I said, “aapko jitna sahi lagta hai utana karo.” (As much as you think is neat enough.) He immediately exclaimed, “yeh bhi koi baat huyi?” (What are you saying?) to which I said, “aap pey bharosa hai.” (I trust you.) Sameer took a pause to register and extended his hand to pick up the machine saying, “Theek hai.” (Okay!)

After shortening my hair he looked at my quite a long beard and asked, “kitana?” (how short?) raising his eyebrows as he asked. I just made a face indicating an ‘I dont know’. He stared at me and smiled. “aap hee ko nahi pata toh kisko pata?” (If you yourself dont know [what you want], who else will?) came words from between the smiling lips. “aapko jo sahi lagta hai woh karo,” (Do it however you wish to do it) I said to which Sameer said, “Theek hai phir,” (Okay then…) dragging his expression of “Theeek.” That dragging of the word made me fear he woul do some funky stuff which just wouldnt go well with me. So i immediately said, “ek kaam kaaro French beard rakhtey hai. aadha kaTega toh maa khush, aadha rahega toh main bhi khush.” (Lets keep a French beard. It will make my Mom hapy for I am not completely bearded and I will also be happy because I am not completely shaven.) Sameer quickly said, “poora shave kartey hai phir. maa ko khush rakhna chaahiye.” (Let me give you a complete shave then. One should keep mothers happy always.) I laughed and said, “khushi mukammal kisi ko nahi milti. na unki pasand na meri pasand, chalo French beard final hai.” (Happiness never arrives unwaxed. Neither her choice nor my choice, let us go for a French beard.) Sameer agreed saying, “Theeeek hai.” (Okay!)

Taking another machine meant for cleaning the beard he got to work. He trimmed the bread with the machine first then took a scissor to shape it a bit and then asked me if I wanted a clean shave on the remaining parts of the cheek or if I wished to have very short remains of the beard for the texture of it. I was in no mood to think about it all. So I went back to what I had told him earlier; that I trust him and he could make the decision. Sameer, this time, said “Theek hai” but did not drag the ‘Theek’ and was firm i his expression. It seemed like he had decided to take complete charge! He let a short turf of beard remain on my cheeks and shaped the French beard around my mouth neatly and looked at it, moving my head once to the right and then once to the left, sharpening the focus of his eyes. “baraabar?” (is it alright?) he asked me in a firm voice and I answered raising my thumbs up!

When I put down my hand on the handle of the seat and was about to push myself up from the seat Sameer instructed, “baiTho,” (bea seated/ dont get up) and continued to say, “face wash kartey hai.” (I will give you a face wash.) I immediately refused. But Sameer tried to convince me by saying, “bahut time baad thoDa chehra dikh raha hai toh face wash achcha rahega.” (After long a portion of your face is seen. So it is better to get a face wash done.) Very hesitantly I, the fashion illiterate, asked Sameer what does face wash include?” To the ignorant he explained as an elaborate wash of the face. This time I was the one who said, “Theek hai” dragging the “Theeeek”.

Sameer got to action quickly. He changed the cloth spread over my body, pulled my hair back, put a band around my forehead, brought tissue papers, tucked it around the collar of my shirt. Then he went to the corner of the saloon where he has a cubboard kept. Stadning there he asked me, “kaunsa flavour?” (Which flavour?) I felt uncomfortable realizing this face wash to be some fancy thing. I said I dint want to get a face wash and explaned to him I had never indulged in such things and that it is not something that intersts me either. Sameer came to me pushed me back to my seat while I was about o get up. “poochna he nahi chaahiye tha. agar koi particular nahi ho toh aise bolo ki kuch bhi chalega,” (I shouldnt have asked you in the first place. If you are not particular about the flavour say that anything would do!) said Sameer and brought a small box of some cream and neatly took out a scoop of it with his finers and started smearing them on my face. “kuch der aankh band karke baiTho,” (close your eyes for a while) instructed Sameer. I just followed the instruction.

As Sameer kept giving me a face-wash I struggled with all the dark thoughts in my head which I couldn’t avoid with my eyes shut. When he was scrubbing my forehead I also asked him quite melodramatically, “wahan jo bhi likha hai ussey miThaa do.” (Erase what is written in my fate) Sameer just laughed at it and continued doing his work. As he continued to do his work I struggled to keep my eyes shut. Couple of time when I tried to open my eyes Sameer said the face wash material might get into my eyes if I opened my eyes. I politely told him I had work (of course a lie) and did not have much time to spend on face-wash.

Sameer quickened his actions and in a while was wiping my face with a wet cloth. He was done in a while. “ab aankhein kholo,” (now open your eyes) he said and I did. As I looked into the mirror to see what had been done, Sameer said, “pata hai log ghanTo lagaatey hai inn sab cheezon mein.” (You know, people invest hours together for this purpose.) Not knowing what to say Isaid, “unka bhala karey bhagwaan.” (May God bless them.) Sameer laughed and said something interesting. He said, “log jitna achcha dikhney mein mehnat lagaatey hai utna mehnat achcha ban’ney mein lagaatey toh ya baat hoti.” (It would have been so nice if the energy people invest into looking good is invested into becoming good humans.)

I was moved deeply. I paid Sameer and while leaving promised him to try and invest more energy in becoming a good human being. Sameer guiltily siad, “woh aapke liye nahi bola tha.” (I was not referring to you while saying that.) But I know it is something that I need to tell myself and listen to.

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A Speech Prepared and Rehearsed

January 31, 2019 at 9:15 AMJan (Friends, Literature, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Three years ago when the West Indies cricket team won the T20 World-Cup naturally they were celebrating their success and everyone were watching it with not much involvement. Later that day at the press conference the Captain of the WI team revealed of the economical constrains they had faced during the run-through to the World Cup, despite which they won the Cup. His words won the hearts of the people and people saluted the team of West Indies for their victory against odds. After the captain at the press conference the team member who won the man of the series title addressed the press with his legs placed on the table. This behaviour irked many and called it arrogant and indecent.

All of this made me ask myself if our indifference, compassion, intolerance everything, are they independent?

Do people of certain colour, caste, country, class become worthy of our attention and compassion only when there is a miserable touch to their existence? Why are we not understanding of the anger of the very same people? Is anger and pride permitted only to a few with social capital alone? Why the pride of some people comes across as indecent behaviour to us? When people deprived of social capital are discriminated based on colour, race, caste, class, religion and identity, have their guards high and their personality forms rough edges, why do we not understand it but only judge the behaviour of theirs? Why is this roughness largely unavoidable? Why does it become unacceptable while self-pity or imaging of self in misery becomes acceptable to an extent? Why striking a balance between self-pitying misery and rough edged pride/ arrogance to establish dignity becomes so difficult? How is one to achieve this balance?

Though not very deprived socially and economically, in the course of my journey of life love, basic human respect and social acceptance was quite absent. I spent a major portion of my life battling with depression, indulging in a sort of self-pity and in this battle, in order to protect my self-respect and the idea of self-worthiness, also have displayed arrogance thanks to the rough edges that got formed in my personality. Both these cost me quite a bit, in terms of my social life and my own development. It also created a dent in my emotional health.

Writing did help me a bit in striking the necessary balance between self-pity and egotism or roughness. It is true that I had to face discrimination, insult, and intolerance even because of my writing. But it did not break me like it did earlier. This was majorly because slowly writing had strengthened my ‘self’ to some extent.

Saying all of this, that too on the day of the release of my book is not to say I have answered life and the world for what I was made to go through. I say this just to remember what writing did to me and celebrate this journey for a moment. As life continues the efforts to strike this balance and uphold dignity will also continue. It is never ending because the shadows of certain experiences are cast on our entire lives.

The reason to have this book release on this very day is because today my father completes 70. All through my life he has supported, sheltered and encouraged me like most fathers do. But more importantly he has constantly redrawn his own boundaries in his attempt to understand my eccentricities, my madness and be by me in all of this. That is rare or not I know not. But I know the significance of it. So as he completes 70 what else can I gift him other than an attempt to tell him that in this life I have managed to weave words, managed to strike this balance between self-pity and egotism to some extent, managed get a hold of myself to an extent, managed to not lose my mind completely, managed to earn some basic human respect which was denied in several ways, and earn friends like you all who are a part of all my seasons! Within my limitations this is the least I could do in life which I can present before my father. Hence the book launch is scheduled on this day.

Akshata Hunchadakatte, Publisher Aharnishi Prakashana \ Dr. Vijay, Pricipal, MGM College, Udupi \ G. Rajashekhar, Cultural Critic and Kannada Writer \ Rajaram Thallur, Former Journalist, Writer, Translator and Media Critic \ Your’s truly \ K. Phairaj, Writer-Activist. (Left to Right)

(Speech I prepared and rehearsed several times in my mind for the release function of my book ‘baaLkaTTey’ on 27 Jan 2019, which in my nervousness couldn’t deliver as planned)

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