Wednesday, February 27, 2013


There comes a time in February every year when the Hyderabadi's heart throbs with dread. The winter - our version of it, that is - was barely here, we have not used even half our winter clothes and already there is a mix of currents in the air. Now and then, a certain warmth meets the skin, although the mornings are cool and delightful, the west facing rooms are reminded of the presence of the sun and its awful potential.

'It is only February,' we say to one another meaningfully. There is March to come, April after that and then there is May... a parade of escalating hardship. Slowly talk veers around to summer plans. 'Shall we get a big desert cooler?' my dad asks. 'Depends on the water situation,' I tell him. He grimaces. No water, no water cooler. It is like that.

Everyone is upset that the dark filters have been stripped from their car windows - it will make a difference to how much we get out. Already courier delivery men have started to request a glass of water after they have gotten their signatures. I have made enquiries among neighbours, asking to be given coconut fronds to line the terrace with. It makes a mess and I can't stride about the terrace as I'd like but the 3-4 degree respite in temperature is worth it.

But the good thing is that few summers are actually as bad as they appear in February. Once the season begins, it comes to us a day at a time... the koels sing, jasmines bloom, mangoes get bought... there are power cuts and a blessed silence reigns everywhere.

There is something very compelling about summer in our part of the country. It is our most extreme season. Look at me, it says. And we do. The cycles of nature that we brush aside as inconveniences that get in the way of our lives... summer breaks that idea. It is awfully inconvenient but it shows us how big it is, and how ineffectual our ways of taming it.

In the last week of May, I will probably write to complain of the heat but here, now: YAY!

Friday, February 15, 2013


I had a birthday last month and it has been creeping up on me these past few years that I'm in the middle of my life. No, I'm not about to wring my hands over the passing of youth or energy, the appearance of white hair, the onset of Hyperopia or the fact that I've had more medical tests this year than I've had in a long while. Right now is a good space.

This haiku, which I thought nicely appropriate, sounds more dismal than it is really. Youthful dreams have faded, written over with what actually took place. Some have been achieved perhaps, or they have mutated as you changed. Some dreams haunt still... the phrase 'some day' is alive, raising its head now and then, giving you a distant hope that you will some day have it THAT way. Some desires you have transcended, leaving you shuddering in relief that they did not, after all, manifest.

But it is midlife. There is some room to manouver still, there is potential yet, something out there that we could catch if we put the antennae out at the correct angle.

my car radio
on scan
-Christopher Patchel

I love the apparent everydayness of this poem. Driving to work... a motion that has been gone through many times now. Many, many times. If you're inclined to be bored, there is a mind-numbing sameness to the exercise. But the scan is on.

While on the theme, I have always appreciated the advice in this sher, where the poet suggests you dream, but lightly:

Ankhon mein jo bharloge toh kaanton se chubenge
Ye khwaab toh palkon pe sajane ke liye hai

आँखों में जो भर लोगे तो काँटों से चुभेंगे
ये ख्वाब तो पल्कों पे सजाने के लिए हैं

Fill your eyes with them and they will hurt like thorns
These dreams were meant only to adorn the eyelids

Friday, February 08, 2013

Something fresh

I need an industrial-strength fan to blow into my mind today - come, take away these merry-go-round thoughts, the debris that flutters here and there, never going anywhere. Blow away the stale air, rip away the faded but persistent scenes that line the walls.
Blow in something fresh, dewy and fragrant... something with a rose in it, or jasmine. Cool breezes would be nice, a change of scene. Or a challenge. A puzzle, a task. Anything. But something fresh. 

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Awwal, akhar

When I was reading the Gita for the first time a couple of years ago, this passage (Chapter 8, Verse 5) stunned me. Krishna says:

अन्तकाले च मामेव स्मरन्मुक्त्वा कलेवरम्
यः प्रयाति स मद्भावं याति नास्त्यत्र संशयः

anta-kāle ca māmeva smaranmuktvā kalevaram
yah prayāti sa mad-bhāvam yāti nāstyatra samsayah

And whoever, at the end of his life, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.

So, essentially, on your dying breath, you had to remember Krishna. Ok. It sounded doable. Obviously, there was a catch: the pun notwithstanding, what was it? And thus, we fell through the yawning chasm between bookspeak/theory and the actual doing. A lifetime – no, several lifetimes of Krishna Consciousness don’t apparently prepare you adequately for ‘smaranam’ at the ‘anta-kala’. “Me alone”, the god-man says, “mameva”. Pure awareness.

I am a smidgen more aware of the difficulties of awareness now. When you go to sleep, see if you can be aware of the last breath as you pass into sleep. Once my head touches the pillow, I go to sleep fairly quickly but I understand the romance of pillow thoughts. Mine are diverse. Pleasant things, mostly. Often a prayer, sometimes a flower, a story or a fantasy. All very nice, but what is needed is single-mindedness.

And we must go to Khwaja Ghulam Farid for that.

meda ishq vi toon
meda yaar vi toon
meda deen vi toon,
iman vi toon

you are my love and also my friend*
you are my belief and also my faith

meda jism vi toon
medi rooh vi toon
meda qalb vi toon

you are my body
you are my soul
you are my heart

Then he lists exhaustively: you are my ka'bah qibla, mosque, pulpit, the holy pages and the Koran, my duty, responsibility, pilgrimage, alms, fast and also my call to prayer…

meri zohd, ibadat, taqat, taqwa, ilm vi toon irfan vi toon
my asceticism, worship, power, virtue, learning and knowing

zikr and fikr
my remembrance, my contemplation

aas umeed te khattiyan wattiyan, ve te takiya raat taman vi toon
hope, wishes, gains, losses are you, and the night's contemplation is also you

He goes on, but I always linger a moment here. Takiya raat taman vi toon… the translation calls it ‘the night's contemplation’… it's possible I understand it imperfectly but is ‘you’ the all consuming focus of Farid’s pillow thoughts as well? Why not? After all, ‘you’ are also the tilak on my forehead, sindoor in the parting of my hair, my coquetry, my fortune, my henna, mascara, collyrium, rouge, tobacco and my betel-leaf.

Mera andar bahar
Mera awwal akhar
My inner, my outer, my beginning and my end….

I think Farid would’ve thought of ‘You’ on his last breath, don’t you?

*I’ve used the Coke Studio translation of this poem as basis, though I’ve altered a couple of phrases here and there. The original is here at the song Rabba Sacheya.