Sunday, December 30, 2007

Vincent's moonflower

Yellow, was the colour that was splashed till the edge of the horizon. This vast sunflower farm was in full bloom right next to the river. The breeze tickled yellow ripples & the wind ruffled yellow waves in this vast ocean of yellowness. Such magnificence lay spread in this remote village of Amsterdam, that no artist could have resisted the urge to be here and paint the canvas yellow. These sunflowers were the yellow-equivalents of daffodils that had evoked such a strong outburst of joy in Wordsworth.

A painter did indeed visit this farm often. Villagers called him Vincent. He acted a bit strange. He seemed engrossed in thought, looked shabby, cared little for his attire or for food and was often depressed, wonder why! He also looked frail & unhealthy due to his ignorance, but little did he care. A short tree besides the river cast some shade & served as an ideal spot for the painter to setup his wooden-stand & unfurl his canvas over it. Master strokes of yellow paint were cast over this canvas with such finesse! Some bold, some subtle, some pure, some shaded, some smooth, some broken, some distinct, some overlapped. All in all, they rendered such a magnificent effect that often one couldn't tell what was more adorable... the farm or the canvas!

Vincent, was a little known artist of that time and was often cash-stricken. He relied heavily on his brother for expenses and support. He went thru' acute bouts of depression. People felt that his solitude & unreciprocated loves aggravated his suicidal tendencies. He befriended the prostitutes and quarreled with his kith. Very few realized the value of his work and the calibre of the artist within him. Not many befriended him as all that they saw, was that he was different.

A sunflower bud right next to Vincent's tree acted weird too. It had been quite a few days since its birth but it hadn't bloomed. It looked pale & white. Most felt it was stillborn but her mother was wishful. The neighbouring sunflowers sympathized with her father who had nearly given up hope. These sympathies became a burden upon her mother whose hopes hadn't died just yet & she didn't let these sympathies overweigh her spirit. Everyday she prayed her heart out to the sun-god for her daughter's well-being.

The sunflowers have been ardent devotees of the sun. So much so that they all wake up to the first golden rays of the dazzling orange disc rising over the horizon. They are so awe-struck by this yellow ball that they seem to ignore everything else! They follow it's path right till it gets incandescent-white overhead at noon & then mellows to it's yellow & soothing orange as it sets in the west. The sunflowers detest the night, as it engulfs their god. Over time, they have grown superstitious & tabooistic regarding the night. The night, they believe, brings evil spirits & the moon & stars are friends of the devils as they appear when their god is away. The night belongs to the demons, they believe, and all droop and sleep tight till the next morning when their god once again salvages them from their cold slumber.

One night, the mother sunflower woke up to the soft melodious words being hummed next to her ear. At first she was startled as she too was wary of the spirits of the night, but was courageous enough to open her eyes. To her joy, her little bud had bloomed & was singing! It seemed as though all her prayers had finally been answered. The moonlit bud seemed awe-struck by the moon as she sang to him. Now this was queer! "Sleep, sleep child" patted the mother in vain as the little moonflower hummed all night. She was different!

The next morning all the fresh dew-sprinkled sunflowers tossed their heads up and marvelled at their god, whilst the pale white moonflower was fast asleep. But her mother was happy that she wasn't stillborn but was different. She marvelled at the moon instead of the sun, that's all. Soon, word of mouth spread and all sunflowers got to know about the weird habits of this moonflower. She seemed to grab more attention than the priests of that farm!

The elders felt defied. They were the most stringent advocates of the sun-god & would not tolerate the birth of any other deity or any other religion. "What's a moon, Pa?", enquired another young sunflower who received a tight slap on his cheeks. "There's only a sun", replied the disgruntled father. By now, the elders grew wary of their younger generation questioning their beliefs & feared that they would stray along the forbidden paths. They decided to stay awake that night & see for themselves the queer behaviour of the moonflower.

It was a glorious full-moon night & a spectacular moon loomed over the horizon. The stars looked like pearls strewn over black velvet. The delicate twinkling of the stars was occasionally rivaled by the soft sparkles of stray glow-worms. It was glorious, but the sunflowers were conditioned to hate it! As expected, the moonflower woke up & sang the prettiest of words a poet could pen. To everyone's surprise, the same artist was there that night too as he painted 'The starry night'. All looked on as the two master artists poured out their art that night. One sang whilst the other painted. But all that the sunflowers saw was that they were different! These artists were good for nothing burdens & seemed to have a bad influence on their ingenious younger generation. How they wished both were dead!

The next morning a meeting was called by the sunflower priest to determine the fate of the rebellious moonflower. The moonflower, as usual, lay drooped & fast asleep. The priest accused her of defying their sun-god and converting to a parallel religion. He also alleged that the good-for-nothing depressed painter had an evil influence on her & thus she was squandering her life away in the pursuit of worthless poetry. Such people are a burden to the ingenious society & deserve to be taught a lesson! He emphasized that the moonflower had brought disgrace to their community. "What punishment do you'll recommend?" asked the priest with the grandeur of a moral-policeman! "Cull, cull", yelled the thoughtless gullible mob. The 'honour-killing' of the moonflower was executed that afternoon, much to the wails of her inconsolable mother.

The painter too never returned to that sunflower farm again. News was that the depressed bloke had shot himself in the chest and had succumbed to his injuries. An artist was culled, whilst the other had killed himself. The world had been relieved of two burdens to mankind.

Peace and honour seemed to have been finally restored in that sunflower farm. All sunflowers got back to the rituals of their religion as they tossed their heads up and marvelled at their magnificent sun-god. A major cultural calamity had been averted by the considerate elders and order had been reinstated. Everything seemed to be back in harmony. Yellow, was the colour that was splashed till the edge of the horizon.

Acknowledgments - 
Painting illustration - Jonathan Wold (

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Amongst birds & bees there was cheer & delight
A beautiful blue-bell had bloomed last night!
'twas a miracle for the garden that lay barren all life
A beautiful blue-bell had bloomed last night!

This bud lay hidden & had gone unseen
Till last night when it bloomed & created this scene
The birds, the bees, the breeze & the light
All visited this bud that had bloomed last night!

The morning breeze that caressed her cheeks
Swore she's smooth as butter & soft as fleece
Beauty & grace had been packed so tight
In this bud that quietly had bloomed last night!

But clouds so black did gather that noon
All whispered that the blue-bell would perish soon
For the blizzard that kept gathering all might
Would butcher this flower that had bloomed last night!

All the birds and the bees then gathered to pray
For the blue-bell to survive that fateful day
Between prayers and curses began a gruesome fight
To save or kill this bloomer of last night!

Ruthless were the ways of that blizzard
Many perished & the garden lay all battered
But lo! A miracle never-seen was in sight
The delicate blue-bell had survived that night!

This one was for pure fun... Game was to have at least 1 word starting with 'B' in every line... Hence the name 'B-hive' - too many B's :)

Acknowledgments -
Painting Illustration from -

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The lakeside surrogates

John and Janice were a newly wed crow-couple that seemed to be in some sort of a frenzy off late! They were expecting & hence were building their first nest together. These first timers were both anxious and apprehensive at the same time.

Janice was a well bred female from a respected crow family of upper ranks. John, however was from a humbler background with no prized possessions. Somehow he had managed to sweep Janice off her feet with his honesty, ingenuity & humour she rarely had seen in her family. He showed great prospects that Janice's family failed to see & hence disapproved of him. They thought that he was a good-for-nothing roadside-romeo wasting away his life. Experience had made Janice's family practical; whilst love had made Janice hopeful. She had defied her family in getting married to John against their will & hence was disowned by her folks. She had willingly embraced their wrath for being with the love of her life. In a way she had parted with her past to be with John.

Janice and her unconditional love had a magical transformation on John. Love does that to fellow-beings. This good-for-nothing bloke had been transformed into a handsome responsible crow who had neatly slipped into his new responsibilities of a loving husband & a diligent father-to-be. He had set on a tireless search for a prime location for their nest & was glad he had found just the right place. A few miles away was a blooming fruit orchard right next to a lake. Dense mango trees provided an ideal hideout for the nest & Janice was more than glad to be here.

Now John poured all his ingenuity & creativity into building their nest. He flew miles & brought back the choicest of acacia thorns that would make the outer layers of the nest. He thought that this would pierce the heart of any predator that would creep into it with evil intentions. Later for the interiors, he laid the softest of feathers & cotton that he had picked from the farm just beyond the lake. The thick canopy above protected the nest from the sun. A safe cozy home was ready! In a way the nest resembled John... crude from the outside, but soft within! Janice was swept off her feet all over again. She knew the effect she had over John and his ingenuity of this calibre vindicated her choice of a mate.

One fine morning they were four! Two little eggs were perched neatly over the cotton and the proud parents were delighted beyond bounds. It was summer and the mango-season had just set in. Delicate reddish-brown flowers were all over the mango trees & cuckoos sang all over the orchard. Janice took over the responsibility of perching softly over the eggs to provide them warmth whilst John became the sole provider of nourishment. When John was away, Janice used to speak sweet nothings to her eggs & wished her chicks, from within the shell, would be hearing the melodious songs sung by the cuckoos in the distance.

All was well, when one day Janice realized that a black bird with blood-red eyes was perched very close to her nest. She felt threatened. New mothers panic too early and perceive every stranger as a threat to their child. It was a male-cuckoo who little did seem to budge. She raised an alarm but in vain. John wasn't around & the proximity of the male cuckoo was really getting to her nerves now. Motherly protective instincts overwhelmed her & she decided to teach him a lesson. Off she darted from the nest & chased the cuckoo with vengeance! The cuckoo was fast & took off in a jiffy. Janice followed him for some distance when she realized that she had strayed pretty far from her nest. Worry made her forget her vengeance & she turned back for her nest. As she closed in, she saw another spotted grey bird hurriedly leave her nest. Janice's heart was in her mouth & she feared the worst. She could hear her heart pound as she perched to inspect. The nest looked ransacked but at least the eggs were intact. She was terrorised & was trembling with anxiety but took solace in the fact that her chicks were alright. It took her time to calm down & she decided not to narrate the incident to John and pass on her anxiety to him, who she thought was already overworked from the past few days. As she perched back over the eggs, something felt different. Something had changed but she couldn't quite tell, what...

Time healed Janice's terror & soon she got over her anxieties. John's company soothed her. Then one day the two little chicks popped out of their eggs and a whole new world opened up for all four. Ecstacy took over John & Janice that day.

Now John & Janice were all sucked up in fending for the chicks who seemed to be eternally hungry. Days of feeding frenzy saw the chicks transform into young birds that were now ready for flight! Janice thought it was a bit too early, but John was convinced that they could. He once took them to the edge of the branch, sought their complete attention & then took off. The chicks perched at that edge were enchanted with this magic. They wanted to imitate, they wanted to try! Instinct took over them & both whiffed their wings & felt that slicing the air was such a fun experience. They then took off over a short distance & made a shabby landing at the next branch a little distance away. The whole family rejoiced their maiden-flight that evening. The parents felt a sense of completion whilst a black bird with blood-red eyes saw all the drama from a distance.

From the next day onwards, the parents let the chicks stray to the edge of the branch. They knew they were safe & could fly now. The chicks gladly took off & enjoyed the joys of flight.

One morning Janice saw the chicks perched at the edge of the branch. This was routine by now, but what wasn't was that they weren't in the same frenzy to take off as before. They sat still as though hypnotized by something... Janice moved ahead to inspect, only to see the same black bird with blood-red eyes sitting right across them. She flurred with anger & was about to attack the male cuckoo again when she realized that the chicks actually seemed to like his company. They enjoyed his antics & imitated him. This time John swooped upon the cuckoo & drew him away. The chicks seemed to dislike that, as though their favorite toy had been taken away...

The adamant male cuckoo kept re-visiting day-after-day & by now the crow parents had become tolerant of him. After all he wasn't harming the chicks. Janice scolded the chicks when she saw them follow the cuckoo & the chicks obediently returned to the nest. However one-day the chicks just kept following him. Like the hypnotized mice following the pied-piper... They didn't look back & seemed to ignore all warnings from the parents. Only when they were out of sight, did John & Janice realize that something was not right. They frantically searched for the chicks all over, but they had simply vanished in thin air! Janice's worst fears had come true & she relived the nightmare that she had gone thru' long ago, when the chicks hadn't even hatched out of their eggs.

The frantic search continued for a few days whereafter the harsh reality dawned upon the crow-parents that the chicks & the cuckoo had indeed gone for good! Janice wept inconsolably as she felt that it was nature's way of letting her know of the pain a child causes when it walks out on it's parents as she had done the same to her's. John wondered where they had lacked as parents in raising the chicks. Both were dumbfounded and were lost in introspection as they perched at their empty nest, besides the lake...

Monday, October 01, 2007

Joshua's kite

Joshua, the baker's son, was a dreamy-eyed tiny tot who had recently started mixing with the kids from his neighborhood. Shy as he was, it took him time to open up to the worry-less world of children. They played games, flaunted their new dresses, told stories that the elder ones had narrated to them, chased butterflies, built their own sand castles and engaged in all kinds of activities that seem so meaningless to adults.

Joshua didn't gel all that well. The bakery wasn't fetching good business & Joshua was exposed to worry, uncertainty & poverty too early in his life. At too tender an age had he seen his mother weep silently as she patted him to bed. He knew he lacked somewhere... He didn't have the pretty dresses that the kids around him wore & his meals were humbler. Very rarely was he allowed a morsel from the goodies displayed at his dad's bakery. The other bakers were doing relatively better. They mixed substandard flours to the dough and cut better margins. Joshua's family suffered his dad's honesty. This honest foolish guy worshiped work and was a man of principles.

It was the harvest festival that day, when all the kids were gifted pretty toys by their parents. Joshua had cried his heart out for a toy before falling asleep sobbing. The next morning his heart-ached grandpa borrowed a few pennies from some old pals & took Joshua along for some toy-shopping. Joshua's eyes had lit up! Never had he known luxury of this kind... Balls & carts & tops & kites... It was a 'Neverland'! Joshua was living a dream.

Kites were the cheapest of them all. After all, mere paper stretched over 2 sticks wouldn't be all that expensive. Grandpa had waved his arms in an act of flying and Joshua was convinced that it was the best toy he could have. Grandpa always had a calming & convincing effect on Joshua. Joshua's grin had reached ear to ear. In pseudo grandeur, grandpa ordered the shopkeeper a whole trunk full of kites for Joshua to chose from. The trunk arrived & Joshua pounced upon it like a kitten over a saucer of milk. The kites at the top were the expensive ones. They were made of glazy gold paper that bedazzled in the sun & had sleek chiseled sticks. Grandpa put his arm right at the bottom of the trunk and pulled out a simple violet kite made of modest paper. This was to be Joshua's kite.

Joshua's kite had laid in this trunk with its rich cousins for quite sometime now and had developed complexes of its own. The glazy gold & silver kites had bullied it and had mocked at its humble existence. Joshua & his kite had lived the same life. Joshua's kite had cursed its own existence and yearned to get out of that trunk and fly freely. Pain strengthens the desire for freedom. It sparks off the rebel in the modest of minds & frailest of bodies. Deep in it's heart it knew that given a chance it could fly higher than its richer cousins. They were jazzy & would crumble under their own weight. It had also nursed a secret desire. It was a revenge of sorts... If it could get high enough, it would beg the dark clouds to drop a lightning on its string & set it free! It no longer wanted to return to the land that had so looked down upon it and made it feel so little.

Joshua couldn't sleep that night. There had been an addition to his family! He marvelled at his new toy. He caressed it with his soft tiny hands like a lover! No one had so lovingly embraced the kite as Joshua did. The kite was overwhelmed with this new feeling & touch! It was the touch of love & reverence. Joshua's world had been transformed into a mere square piece of paper!

The next morning Joshua stuck a tail to the kite & tied a string to it. Grandpa held the string while Joshua held the corners of the kite & walked backwards all the while looking at grandpa with widened eyes. The kind that puppies have when their master is about to throw a stick. The dreamy eyed boy was hypnotized anticipating the kite's flight. After he reached a distance, grandpa yelled "Let go!". Joshua pecked the kite and jerked it high into the air. This was the moment that the kite had been waiting for all its life! Off it soar, into the vast blueness.

It soar and soar and never looked back. Grandpa handed over the string to Joshua. It was Joshua's first responsibility & he was ready for it. The clouds greeted this new violet visitor with glee & Joshua could barely see the kite. It had nearly disappeared into the open blueness. Though he did feel its presence at the other end due to the tension in the string. Now the darker desires of the kite started popping out. Too much freedom brings out the darker side of a repressed soul. It was heading straight towards the dark cloud to beg of it to drop a lightening over its string and set it free.

Just then Joshua jerked the string. He pulled it back a bit as he felt that the dark cloud would harm his new friend that he so cared for. This feeling of love, caring and worry did reach the kite that was so out of its mind so far. It was the same touch that it had felt the night before, when Joshua had embraced it. A single touch of concern has a greater calming effect on rebels than a thousand words of advice.

The kite paused. It's darker desires of revenge had evaporated. Just the sense that somebody cares had given a new meaning to its existence. It was so full of energy that it tossed its head and engaged in a sprightly dance of glee & harmony. The soft white cotton of clouds caressed its face and nursed away any lingering hard feelings of malice. It turned back to have a look at Joshua & from that height saw a mere dot at the other end of the string. The kite's world had now been transformed into a mere dot!

Acknowledgments -
Painting Illustration : "Boy With Kite" - Ruth Keller Hoodwin, 1961, Michigan City, Indiana

Friday, September 07, 2007

From this end to that...

The other day, I was hunting for a b'day-gift for a friend's 1-year-old-to-be daughter, Zarah. After visiting quite a few toy-stores & gift-shops, I landed up at a children's-only exclusive gift-shop called 'Bonsai', just round the corner. I was so impressed by the myriad of cute little things specially crafted to engage these curious little minds. Some sound, some run, some flash, some move, some tickle, some bore... I couldn't help thinking of how privileged these kids of today are! My eyes kept roving over all these goodies when involuntarily they stopped. They were fixated over something... An abacus!

The sight of this abacus had tickled such sweet memories from my childhood, that had nearly been erased over the decades... I had this class teacher called Sr. Emilia for my pre-primary class. A fair elderly swiss nun with silky white hair and kind blue eyes. The radiance of those soft blue eyes beamed peace of some rare kind... The calm that yogis attain thru' penance & knowledge, when the secret of this world dawns upon them!

It was she who had first introduced me to an abacus.
One summer afternoon, she had slipped a shining bead over its silver line, slowly, as though guiding a child across a hurdle. And when the bead reached the other end, she had looked at me with those beaming blue eyes thru' the silver lines and said "Ten"! It was magical! I didn't quite understand the meaning of the act, but it had enchanted me, nevertheless. The same act, but over the upper line, made her say "Hundred"!

Higher the achievement... higher were the rewards... The beads got rarer as the lines got higher & had greater value. One bead accounted for thousands & lakhs, values that made no sense then! Higher achievements were rarer, hard to come and extremely invaluable! The movement of one higher bead stunted the motion of so many lower ones!

Don't know why, but nothing else interested me thereafter... I packed this one in pretty gift-paper, though it said "Age-group 3-7". I know for now, it won't interest Zarah. She will be too enchanted by the sounds, colours & movements of other things that'll be gifted to her. But as she grows, one calm summer afternoon, her mom will slip a bead over its silver line, from this end to that & say "Ten"!

It'll enchant her then & way later, she'll realize the meaning of the act. It's then that she will have crossed 'from this end to that'.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Yellow or white?

I've ponder'd much, without a clue...
'Bout sunlight and its complex hue!
Is it yellow, or is it white?
How I've wondered day and night!

All my childhood when I drew
The clouds were white & sky so blue
And used just yellow for sun's hue
Did all that change as I grew?

Now wise-men talk of the prism's might
To scatter a rainbow by a ray of white
Blank is my mind, miserable my plight,
Knowing 'colours' are 'bending of light'!

Complex theories n' heavy jargon...
But yellow, not white, is my sun!
How do I gulp all that they say?
When I see that yellow, not white, is the ray.

Snow-peaks glisten in the morning sun
White are the peaks & the rays golden
Or is it that they're trying to claim...
That yellow & white are much the same!

Then I begged my mom for her to explain
This little puzzle that's causing me such pain
With a smile on her face, twinkle in her eyes
Something deep, she did philosophize...

"There's more to life than meets the eye
And all u see could be a lie!
Amidst silence there's a lot to be heard
And so much could be said without a word"

I couldn't grasp all that she said
But now when the sun-rays are spread
It troubles me not as it used to before
And I enjoy the magic all the more!

Acknowledgements -
Painting illustration - "Sunset Lake" - Anthony Ulinski

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Landing Mrs. Daisy

It was June 23rd, 2007 & I was glued to my TV-set at the wee hours of that morning... Space shuttle, Atlantis (carrying Sunita Williams), was to land! An event of great pride, achievement & historic importance to science, technology & womankind, per se!

Having the TV on wasn't enough for me... I hated it when the news channels went in for commercial breaks or for other news telecasts! What could be more important than Atlantis at this hour! So, I was constantly checking the NASA website & other related news-sites for any updates. I was hungry for information & nothing seemed to quench. Mom had pestered me to have dinner & sleep early as I was to wake up at 5:30 a.m. the next morning, but I didn't care. Food & sleep were nowhere on my priority list at that time... In fact, nothing else was. They were landing Sunita & that's all that mattered!!!

It was getting exciting by the minute & by now I had 10 windows open on my desktop all giving the latest updates regarding Atlantis' progress. I so wanted it to be a success. Kalpana's earlier Columbia disaster was haunting me & I was making effort to get rid of those thoughts as I optimistically watched & surfed on...

I was all sucked up into a frenzy, that I had no control over.
Just then the g-talk window popped up with Daisy (name changed) saying "Hi". She was online & initiated the chat.

Daisy has been a very close friend of mine for nearly 10 years now... I've been a confidant of sorts for her... We've been with each other thru' our ups & downs. Two years back she got married to a handsome guy working & settled in the US. It was an arranged marriage & Daisy left for the foreign land with her partner. She was both, excited & apprehensive at the same time. After all, she had quit her job and was leaving her family for an unknown land to be with this new person in her life.
A strange kind of glow of maturity shone on her face then... She had grown overnight!

Women, I feel, have this uncanny ability of growing fast to adapt to changing situations. Men are more lethargic and take longer. She had realized that now she had a family of her own, a new relationship to nurture, greater responsibilities & commitments to fulfil... She's slipped into her new role pretty well and is comfortable with it now. She has a few months' old daughter today & they symbolize a neat, happy, well-settled family :)

Well, I was a bit irritated then, as I was in no mood to discuss the typical "how u're doing" stuff... Greater events, I thought, were occuring which I didn't wanna miss. I was in no mood of telling her that my job sucked & I was contemplating quitting or that I had a football match to play within the next few hours. But then, at times courtesy & decency have made me do things against my will & I blame my upbringing for that ;)

"Hey, what's happening? U up so late?", she enquired...
"Oh, nothing... Just time-pass", I replied, knowing she does not share my interest for astronomy & space.
"U know, Suzy might be going around with this guy...", she said.
Girls need no 'preface'. They can delve into the middle of a conversation even with their very first sentence!
"Oh, I see", I replied. I was more interested in 'Suni' than Suzy's love-interests.
Then she sent me a link to her daughter's photos. They were cute, I must admit. (No courtesy here :))
"She's damn cute", I replied, ALT-TAB'ing to check some photos of Atlantis too...
"And what about me, u think I've grown too fat?", she asked.
Girls have this perpetual doubt that they are looking fat. And "no" is an answer they take with great skepticism!
Now I hadn't seen her photo before closing the link, but then have an idea of what a new mother-of-few-months-old would look like. So I replied diplomatically, "Isn't pregnancy-flab supposed to stay on the mother for sometime, but where's yours?"
"Liar!" was her reply.

By now, I had devoured most news-updates regarding Atlantis & nothing new was coming up on the net. So Daisy's statement "I wanna discuss something, that's bothering me" caught my attention.
"U have my complete attention", I said, a bit dishonestly.
"I feel like coming to India & taking up a job", she said.
"What!!!" was my reaction.
"U see, I couldn't work last year & this year I've not appeared in the random-selection list for the H1-B visa quota. That means, I can't work for yet another year! And the year later, there are no guarantees either...", she explained.

"First two attempts to land Atlantis were unsuccessful due to bad weather" read a news-site.

"I mean i feel i am wasting my skill sitting at home... I can gain experience n' money. I just want to work for a year in India & get back", she continued...
I was a bit blanked out by the pace at which she was throwing ideas at me. I was busy analysing the impact of her actions, more than analysing her situation.

From the time NASA had decided to launch the Atlantis for a trip to the ISS, it has been a roller coaster ride for the authorities, crew as well as the people down on Earth. Now, Atlantis was all set to return along with astronaut Sunita Williams.

"U see, I quit my job, left my family & country to be here", she started rationalizing...

Initially just after the space shuttle docked to the space station, the crew and the authorities at NASA found that there was a little damage to the thermal blanket that protects a space shuttle during the re-entry.

"But now I'd also feel guilty if my daughter gets neglected if I work. She needs me", Daisy went on.
"Child is the couple's responsibility, not just mother's", I told her. "Keep the whole guilt-business out of this... These are decisions & choices that all modern day couples & mothers have to make... All can be worked out with understanding & cooperation... These r genuine issues & can be worked out rationally... Just have patience...", I tried to calm her.

"Also, I'm really missing home", admitted Daisy.

"I have been spending a little more time than usual looking out of the window (of the space station). I got another overwhelming feeling of wanting to land.", said Sunita.

By now I was equally enthralled by Suni & Daisy. Both had set on a mission, both were still in orbit & both wanted to land so desperately.

"My hubby sulked the last time I introduced this topic", Daisy kept narrating.

The weather was still not clear for Atlantis to land.

"But can't u search for a job while staying in US itself?
Maybe something like an onsite contract project that Indian companies would anyways want to hire on B1/L1 visas...", I asked.

The landing would be done at the Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, California in case of poor weather conditions around the landing-strip at the Kennedy Space Centre, Cape Canaveral, Florida, said the latest update.

"It's not that easy looking for that kind of job, whilst being here", she said... "Everything is so uncertain & murky. I wish it was clearer... Or maybe, I could drag this way for a year & then see...", she went on...

Norm Knight, Flight Director said, "Obviously, I would like clear skies, unlimited visibility and little wind, but unfortunately those are not the cards we’re typically dealt. Atlantis has enough supplies to stay in space until Sunday if necessary." He said this at the Johnson Space Center.

"But u could at least give it a try..." I coerced...

"Hmmm... I think i'll give it a try. Hope something works out. Chalo, me logging off now", she said.
"It definitely will. Good bye & take care.", I reassured her.

After enormous hurdles and hours in the sky trying to safely land the Atlantis, the astronauts finally managed to do so at the Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, California at 0119 IST. Sunita ‘Suni’ Williams and shuttle commander Rick Sturckow were amongst the seven astronauts who landed safely.

Finally, the moment of glory that I was so desperately waiting for. I was so proud, relieved and happy.

But something was missing... It didn't feel complete.
Suni had landed, but Daisy's still in orbit. She's helpless at times, but she's fighting on... Optimist that the weather will clear soon & things will fall in place...

I'll do all that's in my power for her & will look forward & follow-up with the same frenzy for the 'landing' of Mrs. Daisy.

Acknowledgments -
Painting illustration - Ali Spagnola

Thursday, May 24, 2007

'Milk-eaters' of Kumar's

Sunday mornings are dear to me as I can catch up with those extra hours of sleep. But that Sunday was a little different, a little peculiar. I woke up to a shrill cry from the neighbourhood. It was a female voice. So many emotions were bundled in that single cry. I could sense loss, pain, agony, astonishment, betrayal! Some lady was duped, cheated or had lost something very dear to her... something had been snatched away from her against her will or something evil had befallen...

Startled as I was, I scampered out of my bed. Fearing the worst, I rushed to the door. With apprehension, I pulled it a little & peeked thru' the gap. I could see a visibly shaken lady looking down and lamenting. It was Kumar-aunty, our neighbour. Her glass bangles looked intact & hence I assumed that her man was alright. So was it her kid?... God! A chill went down my spine at this thought as I stepped out to check what the matter was.

'Plop', sounded my foot as I stepped out. I realized that unexpectedly I had stepped into a pool of... er... milk. It took me seconds to realize what the situation was. A healthy pack of milk, that the milkman had left at their door-step, had been strangulated at it's neck. It had laid unattended in that devoured condition for quite sometime now & had no hope of survival. My first impulse was to draw a chalk border around the mutilated body of the milk-pack, but then I decided not to interfere with the crime-scene. The sharp canine marks all over it clearly indicated that it was the work of a seasoned ruthless murderer. A killer was on the prowl!

The Kumar kid had to go without milk that day. Three days later, the killer struck again! It was as though it was playing games with the Kumar family & was enjoying every bit of it. This time the Sharma's lent a consoling shoulder. They also claimed to have seen the beast earlier. It had looked old to them. Was that the reason for it to have turned into a 'milk-eater'; now that it could hunt no longer & was incapable of fending for itself? Whatever the reasons, every attempt to spot it so far has been futile. It's always been a step ahead.

Various attempts have been made to track it down but this perpetrator of crime is still at large. Kumar uncle had been glued for an hour to the eye-hole of their door for 4 consecutive mornings with a fat stick in his hand. It was on the 5th day that terror struck again... and Kumar uncle was branded a late-comer at his office. Cages with mice placed strategically at their door have been swept empty without a snap! Small white paw marks made by dried milk can be distinctly seen going down the staircase. There appears to be no fear in those pug marks but just a whiff of arrogant confidence from a sadist serial 'milk-eater'. Aunty claims to have glimpsed a shining green pair of eyes at the dawn of one fateful morning, but uncle is convinced that it was just an illusion. The Kumar's are a haunted lot!

We have no idea of how it looks. We don't even know if it's one or many... We just know that they strike with no warning. Mysterious is their modus operandi & fatal is their blow. Rarely has any pack of milk survived their attack. The kid in the Kumar family has thinned a little and a frantic search is on for the all elusive... 'milk-eaters' of Kumar's.

Acknowledgements -
Painting Illustration - "Utah raptor" ?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Morse code...

Was watching this documentary on Discovery, regarding 'Morse-code' & I wondered how we humans have always had an urge and a need to communicate.
My mind then slipped into thinking on the how's of accomplishing this, had we no speech or hearing.

I pondered over whether it was possible to maintain a meaningful relationship with someone, if we never communicated. After all, how important are words?
This answerless query lingered in my mind for long, till today when I stumbled upon my answer.

Today was a typical dull sunday morning when weeks of postponing had finally obligated my visit to the barber. It's the same salon I've visited for years... a nameless one-room of an excuse for a salon. Had it not possessed those peculiar 'adjustable' barber's chairs, it would have been mistaken for an empty room with mirrors. It's called Kasim-bhai's den, aptly after the owner of the shop, who's a stout middle-aged man with red hair & mouth always stuffed with betel.

The place is crowded on Sunday's. Not because he's an accomplished 'scissor-hands', but due to the loyalty of customers like me, who hate travelling distances for something as meagre as... er... cutting hair. Men are more accepting of their destinities in this regard. Those who don't, make it to the movies. Rest of us realize that the mane is gonna wane, anyways.

Men, unlike women, aren't fussy about who cut's their hair. I've always believed that women have a million ways to style their hair for the simple reason that they can communicate with their stylists. That's not the case with us. More often than not, our barbers aren't in a position to talk due to the heavy stuff of tobacco under their lower lip.

Kasim-bhai acknowledges my arrival with a nod & points his eyebrows to the empty 'waiting-seat', I need to occupy till my turn comes. This excruciatingly boring wait is slightly eased only by the dim tunes of a radio and a handful of glossy magazines lying at a hand's reach. They are Bollywood gossip magazines that are 3 years old. These dog-eared magazines with loosened pages indicate the vast number of bored fingers that have flipped them!

I'm bored with going thru' mine & also a little embarrased at often turning the magazine to the angle that best appreciates the photographer's view ;).
I look up only to see Kasim-bhai looking directly at me. The vacant barber's seat next to him indicates that i'm the chosen one! I proudly occupy the throne & am wrapped with the holy cloak! He looks at me thru' the mirror & raises his eyebrows. "Medium", I reply. It's the same answer I give to the local 'Bhel'-walla when he raises his eyebrows at me. Most male choices can be summed up with just this one word (except at bars & permit rooms, where the answer is invariably "large")!

A snip-snip here & a snip-snip there and it's all done. I look up to check why Kasim has paused, only to see him holding a smaller mirror behind my head.
I can barely see the reflected back of my head, as I'm not wearing my glasses, but nevertheless, nod with approval. A quick head-massage follows wherein at one point, he holds my chin with one hand & with the other placed on top of my head, raises his eyebrows at me thru' the mirror again. He's asking for permission to turn my neck with a jerk, apparently to relieve its muscles. Faint-hearted like me say 'NO!' while others go ahead.

Swish-swash... my neck is powdered & brushed, I pay the bill & I'm out! Light & fresh!

Throughout the process, I realized that not a word was uttered by the barber and yet so much was communicated!

Enterprises invest so heavily on improving communication amongst its employees & relationships go sour due to the lack of it!
Girls walk out on their love interests for he could never muster courage enough to utter those 3 words...
We are flooded with magazines, newspapers, channels & sms'es all eager to reach out to us & communicate...
Advertisements & bill-boards yell at us like hawkers on streets.
Unsolicited advice, heartless sympathy, unasked opinions all do influence us, some time or the other.

Communication is vital, life-saving at times. But all the yada-yada that goes under its name can be overwhelming. The din is too deafening for us to hear the delicate tune.
Amidst all this din, what we often fail to appreciate is our own thoughts, our own feelings, our identity.
What we often fail to hear is the silent "dhuk-dhuk... dhuk-dhuk" morse-code of our own hearts!

Acknowledgments -
Painting illustration - 'The Barber' - Nikolaos Gysis (1842-1901)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The female of the species...

Never do I crave more for a sister; than when my mom calls out -
"Sagar, will u accompany me to buy my saree..."
"Nahi ma... got work...", i dismiss...
"But u do so much for your friends... & when I... ", she annoyingly protests.
"Ok fine... let's go..." I cut short her sentence & sheepishly submit.

Now begins the ordeal...

She has a handwritten chit of the address to a shop that's newly opened in some corner of the town. Vimla mausi's friend's daughter has shopped there & she has spread the secret word amongst the female circle of how exquisite the collection there is...
"Why not Shopper's Stop", I mumble inaudibly...
"U said something?", she enquires; disinterested in my answer.
We leave...

After finally reaching the place, we r greeted by a middle-aged man who leads us to the hidden treasure. The shop's decently big & has all male employees! Duh... so much for saree shopping!

I cannot but emphasize the patience of every employee therein! Had these guys applied the same kind of patience at penance, they would have been 'maha-yogis' by now.

"Yes?", enquires our attendant.
"Sarees", my ignorance blurts out at this shop exclusively meant for sarees!
"Paithani", my mom corrects, after giving me a grim look & refining my reply.

One by one the guy unfurls a 100 sarees in front of us.
My mom's unimpressed & she shows no sympathy for the guy who so patiently is trying to understand what her mysterious mind is unable to distinctly vocalize...

"Which one do u like more?", she asks me, holding 4 similar looking sarees in front of me that differ only by a slight bluish hue.
Too much of a choice for a guy who buys only jeans & that too in just 2 shades - light blue & dark blue.
"Errr... this one", I point out randomly.
"Oh! I liked the 3rd one more"
"Hmmm... Let me look again", I say to shorten the decision process.
"On second look, the 3rd one does look better. Good choice", I persuade her.

"By card", I wave my debit card to the owner, who forgivingly ignores me.
Experience has taught him that fickle is the mind of a lady.

Now begins the acid test for the 4 short-listed ones.
The fabric, the borders, the embroidery, the glaze, the shade, the price...
All have to align... an event, rarer than the alignment of the heavenly bodies to cause an eclipse...

Finally, the attendant wears all! Disgusting & funny is the sight of fellow brethren wearing lady's costume to please a lady! The long stare & a raised wrinkle on her nose still indicates her disapproval.

Finally, after what seems like an endless ordeal, she does finalize one.
Still unsure, she asks the attendant to hold it in 'natural light'. The fellow sensing near victory, leads us to the door of the shop & unfurls it there. Now this time, I'm embarrased. Too conscious of other onlookers. But oblivious is the woman who has her heart set on something!

Finally she nods, they pack, I pay & we are out of the shop. I now know the kind of joy experienced by the overworked, overdragged & exhausted crew of Columbus' ship on sighting land! I dare to look back, only to see attendants to other ladies holding a saree in 'natural light' at the doors of the shop! This time a chuckle escapes me... the first time in the last N hours...

I am more than glad to be back home & my mom has realized that the colour of the saree she just bought resembles one of those she already possesses. She will be visiting the shop again tomorrow to exchange it!

Wonder if an experience of this kind inspired Kipling to pen down his poem, "The female of the species, is deadlier than the male"! I fully empathize, Mr. Kipling.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The march of love...

I've been an ardent fan of the animation series called 'Pingu', depicting the everyday chores of a penguin family. So when the movie, 'The march of the (Emperor) Penguins' was released here on Friday, I decided to catch up with some 'real' cousins of 'Pingu'.

It was a typical National Geographic classic documentary, a story of survival against all odds... But I must say, I was moved by what I saw.

Thousands of flightless souls walking 120 kms. to reach their breeding grounds, many perishing on the way due to extreme exhaustion & hunger, their absolute fidelity for the season & the hardships they willingly embrace to raise their chicks!

What touched the most was the utter unquestioned trust these lovers have for each other & how much they are willing to risk & sacrifice for the little kid!

Once the egg is laid, the mother, after repeated rehearsals, transfers it to the dad & then proceeds to the sea to feed. Thereafter for 4 months the father stays back, goes without food, carries the egg on his feet & walks on his heels to protect it from the ice-cold snow below. He braves temperatures of -68C & icestorms on its back to protect the egg. After 4 months the chicks emerge & miraculously moms return well fed. The dad then transfers the chick to the mom & leaves to feed himself. These sequences are repeated till the chick is able to fend for itself.

Casualties are many, but the survivors surpass this count. The victories are of the spirits!

It's painful to see infidelity ripping off human families & the growing impatience, distrust & indifference amongst human lovers.
All afternoon soaps claiming to instill family values, & individuals lecturing endlessly about love & sacrifice, need to watch this 'March of love'.

Acknowledgments -
Painting illustration - Michael Skidmore