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Ek Putla Mitti Ka

This is the post excerpt.

 

एक पुतला मिट्टी का

फूंक कर उसमें

कुछ दिन और साल

भेज दिया इस दुनिया में

पर डोर रखी अपने पास।

 

मेरी उडान बेफिक्र थी

उसकी मुस्कुराहट धीमी

वह धागा बुनता रहा

अब्र  तक मैं उडती चली।

 

पंख  भारी हुआ  गुरुर से

वह नाराज रहा दूर से

पाँव की डोर अब कसने लगी

उडान मेरी वहीं  गिरने  लगी ।

 

आसमाँ ने भी मुँह मोड लिया

मिट्टी फिर जमीन से मिलने लगी ।।

 

(Ek putla mitti ka

Phoonk ke usme

Kuch din aur saal

Bhej diya is duniya mein

Per dorr rakhi apne paas.

 

Meri udaan befiqarr thi

Uski muskuraahat dheemi,

Woh dhaaga bhunnta raha

Abrr tak mein uddati firri.

 

Pankh bhaari hua garoor se

Woh naraaz raha door se

Paon ki dor abh kasne lagi

Udaan meri vahi  girne lagi

 

Aasmaan ne bhi munh moad liya

Mitti phir  zameen se milne lagi……)

 

 

 

 

 

Baramulla Chronicle – A tale of two fairs.

My school, St.Joseph’s at Baramulla ,would hold an annual fete in it’s large grounds, on and off through the seventies.An event,which we all looked forward to excitedly. The small town had limited attractions but this definitely was one of them. It was called’Fun Fair’ in the earlier years and later on,towards the end of the decade it morphed into ‘Bal Mela’.(Children’s fair)

As the name suggests, it indeed was fun and quite a fancy affair for those times. The nuns from the adjoining convent would put up huge colourful stalls in the big ground, giving it a festive look and attract large crowds.
There were stalls selling dainty needlework, home made cloth dolls, knitted scarves and many other knick knacks ,all a product of the nuns’ talent and handiwork. There were the mandatory food stalls and games were aplenty ,a particular one I remember is ‘dropping-a-coin -in the water pail’.

However, the two things that still hold a strong recollection for me are the Hoopla Stall and The Cake.
The nuns would bake a largish cake, which to my young eyes seemed like a lump of brown mud.I now realise it must have been a chocolate cake. This cake would be put on a large platter and handed over to a couple of senior girls from the school. They would then go around in the crowd asking people to guess the correct weight of the cake. This would go on till the end of the day. I would follow the cake and the platter around and get impressed when uncles and aunties would hold it assessingly, put a serious look in their eyes and say ‘ 3.75 kg’ , ‘ na ji na,it is not more than 3.25 kg’ and another would declare ‘3.9 kg’ and so on. How I marvelled at the precise metrics measuring capacity of these hands and how I longed to be senior enough one day, to hold the platter! The winner was declared at the end of the day. The burly uncle was given something as a prize and to my astonishment the cake was also handed over to him. So many hands and surely some dust?

Coming back to the Hoopla Stall, it was a big tent put against the outer wall of the school. There were four or five rows of white cloth covered school benches, stacked in tiers. For a eight year old , it seemed like a heaven of delightful gifts. There were painted vases, colourful pencil boxes, books and toys but the thing that really caught my attention was a cap, bright orange in colour and covered with twinkling sequins. I could not take my eyes off it. There was a whole line of children in front of me trying their luck and how I wished and prayed that none of the hoopla rings went around it. There were screams of joy when somebody landed a coveted prize and murmurs of dissent when somebody missed a mark…’uh these rings are small’ ‘the rings are heavy’.
I held my 3 wooden rings anxiously. The cap was blinking invitingly. The first ring refused the invitation. The second ring sailed away, up towards the second row only to sail down and neatly settle around the cap. I forgot to breathe, such was my joy !
This cap became my prized possession. I don’t think that I ever actually wore it but it remained with me for many many years till the orange faded to a pale yellow and shed the sequins. Always a reminder of my first success.

Now during this period, I have to mention here, we lived as tenants in a huge, double storey, E shaped house called Bhimsen Building, complete with a garden and an orchard.This house was as generous as its owners and housed around eight families. This meant growing up around 18-20 kids. The evenings were noisy and dusty as we scampered around the courtyard, unknowingly weaving threads of love and friendship which were to stand the passage of time and bind all of us together till date.

I was ten by this time and probably one of the oldest amongst all the kids at home.We went to different schools but all of us would attend the annual fete of my school.Such was the fascination for this event that it was hard to wait for another twelve months for it to happen. I was getting impatient and held counsel with the other kids,’ Why don’t we hold our very own fun fair? We can put up tables in the garden adjoining the orchard and invite all the parents and maybe the kids from the neighbouring houses’. The idea caught on, it seemed so exciting till a voice chimed in ‘ How will we buy the gifts and the prizes, we have no money!’. This was the harsh truth. ‘How about contributing two rupees from each family, take advance pocket money from the parents?’ Yes, this was doable.
Ravi was set up as the treasurer of our meagre finances, Bhola and I were the think tank, the organisers of this gala affair who also had an eye on making some profit out of this. Dimpy and Pami had to collect the gifts bought from the market, I vividly remember a pair of pink plastic soup spoons. Other kids were to set up the games and arrange the 3-4 tables.

A Sunday was fixed for the home fair. Parents were duly invited. Entry was set at Re 1 and the charges for the games was set at 25p per person. We were happy with the maths.

Two days before the fair,Bhola, Ravi and I decided to take a stock of the preparations . We realised to our dismay that we were falling short of several items, there were not enough things for the hoopla tables. I so very much wanted the hoopla to be the star table. We called in the other kids and told them that the only way out now was to contribute some of our own toys etc..The kids obediently started getting their toys and some other small items from home which they thought were to be discarded.
In all this excitement, none of the kids thought of informing their mothers about this squirrelling. I also took off with my mother’s silver soormedaani . I had never seen her using it and as the silver had anyway turned black, I felt completely justified tossing it in the fun fair bag.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny. The small garden looked festive, the bushes had been draped with colourful dupattas. The tables looked good and neat. We looked clean. The younger kids could not stop chattering. We,the older ones tried to look important and worldly wise. Parents were on time. 1 rupee notes were piling up and Ravi was clinking away the coins. Scraps of paper substituting for lottery tickets were sold out. The water pail game was a big draw and so was pinning-the-donkey.There was a game with balloons too, I do not remember the details now but there was good cheer all around in the small garden.

Now was the time to unveil the two hoopla tables, the last activity of the morning. The parents had been a real sport, happy at our efforts. They ambled towards the hoopla tables, rings in their hands. I and Bhola were standing proudly behind the tables.

That was the moment when I realised the difference between fathers and mothers. The fathers were amiable,ready with the rings when suddenly one mother exclaimed,’ ‘This is my cream jar…Afghan Snow!’. Another one picked up the Vicks inhaler from the table and claimed she had bought it the week before. One aunty recognised her half used sindoor bottle (which we had topped with crushed red brick!) and another one her set of knitting needles.My mother too marched forward and was suitably shocked to see her silver soormedaani and a hand- painted plate put up as prizes.
One mother spied her son’s brand new  toy aeroplane, gifted by an uncle visiting from America.
Poor Pappi, the slap resounded around the garden.

None of us had anticipated this end. We all were crestfallen and huddled together, dreading a severe scolding, I and Bhola the most.
Some innocence must have shone from our faces though, for a couple of Sikh uncles suddenly clapped their hands and shouted jovially ‘ Koi na ji koi na….badi raunak lagai, balak sher hain ji sher..’ (It doesn’t matter, the kids have brought cheer, they are brave) The fathers started laughing, ‘hamara maal humko hi bechenge…’. (They are selling our stuff back to us). Mothers were recovering but did not let go off their possessions.

We too recovered immediately and inspite of the hoopla fiasco,we had made a profit of ten rupees, all by fair means.
A lesson had been learnt and now was the time to rush into the orchard, whooping and shouting and celebrate with some till-ke-laddo. All is well that ends well.

The Blue Pain

The smudged black

The white  blurred,

Grey and only grey

His shadowed world.

Breathing in doubt,

Breathing out dread.

Angels in his heart,

Demons in the head.

 

His mind in tatters,

Blue, blue the pain.

Shunned and caged ,

The world of insane.

Mutes of  the dusk,

Dawns of  half dead.

Angels in his heart.

Demons in the head.

 

Oh ! The temptation

Of  the fatal bait.

Hold him,save him,

Heal the cracked fate.

Uphill, the difficult  good

Downhill, the easy bad.

Angels in his heart.

Angels in the head.

The god on my wall

 

‘Hero’,the original movie, was screened in Srinagar in the summer of 1984. I had just finished the gruelling first year mbbs exams , the results were out, the decent score warranted a treat.
Friends recommended the new movie and the new hero. So off we went, a giggling group of teens.And there , slowly, in the darkness of the Broadway theatre, I ,along with my friends, like millions of other girls in India, lost my heart to him and his bandana.

The Jackie sickness seemed to be contagious, spreading through all floors of our hostel, sparing only a few stoics. How many times could one see the same movie, without making a hole in the purse ? Those were not the days of Internet , the movie stars did not appear through a search engine.

I remember going to the far end of the Residency road to scout for a suitable poster. Jackie Shroff was much in demand. It was very difficult to choose from the multiple Jackies, each one smiling back shyly, with those warm eyes and the colourful bandanas. I was tasting the madness of a celluloid crush,so much so that I didn’t think twice about shelling out ten rupees, a substantial amount in those days, from my limited monthly allowance.

Fulfilling this mission of securing Jackie, albeit in a 2D , 2’x 2′ ,glossy format, my roommate and I felt very pleased with ourselves. The matador ride back to the hostel was primarily spent in discussing the best place in our room to put up this tall god.

Once back in the room, after much deliberations and to my happiness, the god chose to reside on my side of the room, on the wall just above my bed. If anyone of you has read the funny account of ‘Uncle Podger hangs a picture’ you don’t need me to spell out the engineering of the next half an hour. Friends from the adjoining room were roped in so that each one could hold a corner, perfect and straight. The tallest one was given the important job of taping the corners to the wallpaper beneath. For additional measures, so that the god could not slip, small nails were hammered in the four corners.
Oh, how could I forget to mention the pocket pinching,additional expense of the audio tape of this movie’s songs. Every hero needs his music. Life was perfect. Jackie was smiling down tirelessly, day after day, beard and bandana looking more alluring than ever. Summer filled our room, the sun was shining down from the wall, we knew each song by heart, word by word,more than our lessons.

Winter struck suddenly, in the form of my mother’s unannounced visit to the hostel. Amidst the joy of seeing my mother, I completely forgot about the indulgence on the wall. I sat on my bed, with my back to it while mom sat on the chair, facing me. After the initial pleasantries were over, mom looked over my shoulder and asked sternly ‘ Yi kuss chu ?’ ( Who is he?). I had no words, only embarrassment. I willed it to disappear. I took a wild chance, without a twitch, ‘Yi chu Swami Jaikishen ‘ ( he is Swami Jaikishen) hoping the beard and the beatific expression would carry the lie. Trust mothers ! And it didn’t help at all that my roommate started to have a fit of unstoppable giggles.

Did I realise that I was supposed to be studying hard? Yes mother, I did. Did I know that good girls did not put up posters of men in their rooms?
Does it exclude the males of the religious variety, I murmured ,only to invite another lesson about signs and symptoms of the shareef girls. The happiness of the maternal visit was dissipating fast , with the clock also choosing to run slow.

The game was up, the idol had to step down. Down in the bin, along with waste paper, pencil shavings and bits of heart.

4:30am

The mad city lies silent,

It’s raspy breathing,deep.

The air hangs languorous,

The roads stretched out in sleep.

 

The day buried under the stars

Snug in the moon shadow.

The night readies to melt away,

A prayer hummming on the car radio.

 

I lean back and close my eyes.

I  hear my breathing , nothing else.

I have no thoughts,nothing.

This cocoon, this vacuum, a bliss.

 

A lost quietude is finding me

I do not know the reason why

I want the car to turn around

My wings no longer want to fly.

Baramulla Chronicle ….The Ravan who refused to die.

Dussehra 1973.

The dusk hour was approaching fast, bringing with it a sense of heightened anticipation.Men,women,children, Hindus,Muslims, Sikhs , all were making their way to the local Ramlila ground . It was lovingly called the ‘Dandh Ground’ in the local language ( Ground of Bulls ),all the year round except on Dussehra when its status got elevated to ‘Ravoon Ground’.

‘Ravoon zaalun’ was an event looked forward to eagerly , irrespective of age and community. There were no shackles of internet, social media or video games to bind people to their homes in those times. This was the live coverage, the breaking news.

Baramulla had a vibrant Punjabi community, wealthy fruit merchants who along with the local Kashmiri Smiti, organised and participated in these cultural events with vigour and flair.

Like all the previous years,we ,a big group of 8-10 year old kids,scampered to find the ringside view of the proceedings. Our favourite activity was to spot our friends in the Ramlila parade. Of course the only part that came their way at that age and size was that of the monkeys in the Vanar Sena. We would yell in unison and point fingers at a morphed friend and cry ‘Dekho dekho bandar! ‘and burst into giggles. The said Vanar would refuse to recognise us, threaten us with his cardboard mace and spring away.

Dussehra 1973.
As narrated by my friend, Vijay Dhall (a veteran of several Ramlilas and an important Vanar in the Sena).

This is almost 43 years ago, seems like yesterday. I have vivid memories of taking part in the Dussehra festivities as an energetic Vanar. Painting the Vanars with red paint on the faces was huge fun. Some of them were even given red langots to wear, to bring in authenticity of red bottoms.

The opposite team of the Ravan army ,in contrast, would generously use the black eyeliners to ring the eyes and put frightening marks on their faces.

The Ravan for the day was one Mr.Bhola. Now ,as it happened,this Bhola had consumed Mandrax ( sedative/hypnotic)and a quarter of a whisky,earlier in the daytime. Thus, in this highly intoxicated state of his, Ravan marched to the battle field. He had also procured a real,rusty sword from somewhere.The Hanuman to this Ravan ,was played by one Motilal , a well known merchant of the town. Hanuman was fortified with a cardboard mace having a plywood handle.

Ravan/Bhola was in a ferocious mood. As soon as he entered the ground, he spied Hanuman some feet away and lunged at him , hitting him on the head and knocking down his Mukut, catching him completely unawares.
Hanuman was still finding his shaking legs when Ravan waved his real sword and tore apart the cardboard mace of Hanuman. The warrior of the moment had been unarmed in one stroke!

Nothing was going according to the script. Lanka Dahan was forgotten by the beleaguered Motilal. Somebody quietly set the sunheri cardboard Lanka on fire. This angered Bhola the Ravan even more. He started roaring into the crowd, ‘Come come who dare touch me?
Ram shot off the final arrow as per the script but Ravan would not take the cue, he refused to fall, he refused to die.
Instead, Bhola kept on roaring ‘Come come who dares?’ He held the crowd’s attention, the villain was becoming the star of the show.

All participants including Sita, played by a Sikh boy, Ram, Laxman, the Vanars and even the entire Ravan Sena circled , the completely out of control,Bhola and started shouting desperately ‘Bhole Mar, Bhole Mar !’
But Bhole was in no mood to please them, he was in no mood to die….the whole ground erupted with whistles, claps and laughter. Finally some seniors watching from the sidelines,rushed in from behind, overpowered and dragged away the rusty sword brandishing Bhola.
The Script was restored.

 
I was smiling while penning down this narrative but it also brought home a fact.
Evil refuses to die easily, even today. It is easier to burn the mute and powerless effigies.

(*Some names have been changed)

My Mirrors

 

My house is full of happy mirrors
Crystals of joy sharing my years
Big, small, tall, round and square
Breathing here, there and everywhere.

Mid stride , I slowly halt to admire
The soft turn of my shoulder bare
The red jhumka sparkling in the light
And a glimpse of my sari pallu, bright
Silken folds sweeping, caressing the floor
Caught in the naughty mirror on my door.

 

Now this one at the turn of the stairs
In its gloomy darkness, it hardly cares.
Till I step in front and touch its silver gently
My lips curve ,it smiles back at me slowly
And that mirror on the wall, tilted on its far side
Got drunk on my laughter, reckon it almost died.

 

The round one ,resting on my desk,for long
Winks at me as I tunelessly sing another song.
This big one over the bed, this is the nanny one
Frowning at the night hair spilling out of my bun.
Sassy cluster of small goldens , over by the window
Tease me ,a curve of the cheek,a hint of the brow.

 
Ah this sweet li’l one, I pick up in my hand
My trusted,truest, all time pearly friend
I raise it up , close to my face, it never lies
For it shows me the world behind my eyes.

Unedited.

 

When I, from the wisdom

Of ages, heard,

Two halves

Have to come together

And only then

Can a whole be,

A voice whispered softly

My sweet, it is contrary.

 

We don’t breathe,

Only in halves ;

Neither, we

In bits and pieces

Do love or yearn

It cannot be then

Just a half of you

And a half of me !

 

With a  fragmented soul,

Complete, you cannot be

And neither would I.

I am and I remain

The whole earth,

To your whole sky,

Embraced and enveloped

For ever  by your entirety