Monday, August 31

The matchless...

‘Adwaitya’, that is what people called me.

I came as a toddler to this Zoo. Hence, I don’t remember much of my infancy. I have only heard my story from the people who had come to see me all my life. I have heard them say that a group of British Sailors picked me up off the cost of Indian Ocean Island of Aldabra. They brought me to Sir. Robert Clive. He was big man at that time. The year was 1757 and the land was India. Since then, I was with the British in India. They were my guardians. In addition, they gave me a room at Alipore Zoo. I lived all my life there.
Adwaitya means “the matchless” or unique. Yes, I was unique for a simple reason: 250 years of my life on earth was quite a long one. Isn’t it? I was perhaps the longest living animal in the world. Therefore, I wouldn’t mind anyone calling me anything. After all, people come and they go away!

I remained in Alipore to see the rise and fall of many nations... to see many moments flicker away and many dreams come true. I heard lots of stories repeated across generations by humans. Some of them I cannot forget: A man arrived at Galapagos (another island like my parent’s home) to change forever the way people looked at evolution...I heard men speak of world wars, assassinations and bombs... it said that world was a little cruel to some. In my times, I saw people opening the use of a machine called tractor to till their lands... One day I heard about a thinly clad slim man walking about this great land of mine, winning its freedom using a novel method called ‘Ahimsa’...Later I also heard of a tricolour flag unfurled in the ramparts of the Red Fort, declaring this great nation’s freedom...They called it a ‘tryst with destiny’. I saw my own guardians changing hands... new guardians taking me over. Then, a new social order called communism arose in Russia...I saw pictures of men ascent Everest...and a nation 7-seas away reaching moon...they called it ‘...a giant leap for mankind’. I saw men quarrelling over cast and religion...they also kill each other due to this! Then they discovered vaccines to keep themselves alive. Somewhere, a game called Cricket emerged... and men and women went on to break sports records in an event they call Olympics. I was amazed when bells rang in offices and people talked to each another through wire-connected ‘phones’. In my times, people changed the way they painted pictures and wrote music... they changed the way they dressed and groomed. A little later, I saw men tapping keyboards and they called it a computer... a machine that ‘programmed’ to work for them. Then an unknown port clerk from Europe, skilled in mathematics, formulated a relation between mass and energy... people at Alipore talked about that too in a big way. All on a sudden, a young woman emerged from the streets of Calcutta to pick their poor and the dying. Later people told me of the fall of a big wall in Berlin and the collapse of communism. Thus, the world around me changed every day... and it goes on changing. Hence, dear friends, I have a long story to tell...only if you will listen.

I was the heart of the zoo...the star of the zoo. Every eye at zoo saw me and spoke of me. Hence, in 1994, I got a larger room... a centrally located octagonal enclosure. Because of the glass enclosure, I couldn’t hear much what people spoke. But I saw them come and go. I saw them amazed looking at me... looking at my longevity. I wonder why no one asked me the secret of it! I loved to tell them all my secrets...secrets of the blue oceans I travelled...secrets of the ages I saw and heard...secrets of my longevity!

My octagonal room was my last home. I remained there for long, until I left you all forever.
Pictures : From my collection of commemorative stamps, sheetlets, special post-cards and maxim cards on Adwaitya, the Aldabra Giant Tortoise issued by the Department of Posts, India. The stamp is unique in that they are hexagonal. The perforations have been arranged in the sheetlet in such a manner that the star shaped sections can be taken out, dedicated to Adwaitya, the star of the Alipore Zoo.
Adwaitya left his home forever on 22nd March 2006 after 250 years of journeying with times!

Wednesday, August 26

An irony...

When it rains, it is my joy to watch the gushing waters of the rivers. In Kerala, the Monsoon Rivers are rapid flowing. As the waters just gush its way down, they do it as if there is something quick for them to accomplish.
I spent hours, watching and listening to these rapids. The sight of rapids tells me many things. Even after I come home from the riverbank, the sound of those waters beat my ears and hearts. Then I go back to it soon.
O Henry, the famous short story writer once said that every city has its own voice. Listening to the torrents of Monsoon Rivers, I believe every river has its own voice...its own direction ...its own pace. To a discrete listener, they tell of many things.
Looking at the surge of waters, they remind me immediately that every drop in them is ocean bound. Looking at the ferocity at which they flow to their final destination, I ask if I too have any such ferocity to flow towards my own destination. No... many times I even forget my destination! And since I am created to flow unto the Creator, do I accomplish it with vigour? Like a river that hurries-up to the Ocean, do I portray my exigency to flow to God daily in my living? Holy Bible says that God created us for His own glory. I forget to think it that way.
Then, there is something common between these fast flowing rivers and me: like them, I too carry all sorts of daily pollution... all sorts of solid wastes...all sorts of floatables to my final destination. My life’s rivers can be busy with little tugs, pleasure yachts, heavily laden freighters, garbage scows and debris. I got them all! And often, unlike the rapids of the monsoon, I am carried away by what I carry! That is an irony!!

Saturday, August 22

Rain's comeback...

Today the rain seems to have made a comeback.

The beach looks empty.
Where have all the joggers gone?
Where have all the walkers disappeared?
Where have all those morning fortune-tellers vanished?
The Rain has put them off. The beach looks empty.
How quickly people put-off their daily routines!
And suddenly, the loneliness looms around.

“Welcome solitude, to my empty beach”, I said.
Rainwashed solitude in the cloudless sky,
rainwashed solitude in an empty beach.

I see raindrops hanging here and there.
I see raindrops hanging on every periphery...
on my favourite beach bench and
on the fancy light posts guarding the coast.
Raindrops hanging like diamonds of moisture,
Glistening in the morning sunrays.

Today the rain seems to have made a comeback...
comeback leaving all my distracting friends home...
comeback with my precious hallowed solitude.

Photo location: Favourite bench by the beach

night thoughts...

This mountain is my mother,
My father is the sea,
This river is the fountain
Of all that life may be...
Swift river from the mountain,
Deep river to the sea,
Take all my words and leave them
Where the west wind sets them free.

So, piper on the lonely hill,
Play no sad songs for me;
The day has gone, sweet night comes on,
Its darkness helps me to see.
(‘night thoughts’... a poem from the Ruskin Bond’s Mini Bus)

Photo Location: Sunset at a camp on the way to Roopkund, Himalayas.

Thursday, August 20

A difficult lesson...

It is a difficult lesson to learn today. To leave one’s cell phone, friends and family and deliberately practise the art of solitude for an hour or a day or a week... it is a difficult lesson. For me, the initial breaking-in is most challenging... once broken, then the days fly by and the solitude takes effect.

And yet, as the solitude takes effect, I find there is a strange quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. All the emptying that I do... all the egos that I forfeit... all my daily masks that I drop off... all the pretentious ‘I am’ that ‘I am not’ ... all the sins I think of and confess...they empty me incredibly. Yes...solitude lighten me!

Soon, as I accost my life in the lower plains, the Life (the God) rushes back into the void heart of mine. The Life easily finds a specious room in me. The Life finds that room richer, more vivid, fuller than before!

Photo Location: Hills around Pookodu, Waynad

Tuesday, August 18

A dance in gloom...

I always think how I react to dark days and moments in my life.

When the sun is shining and when everything is sunny, it is easy to live. We seldom think of a day without money to bank on, without a job to earn or without a family to love. And on a cloudy day... a day when some of our planning really goes wrong... when some unexpected crashing news calls at us , we go sad.

Years ago, I remember a day when I felt too lonely in the college hostel. There wasn’t anything glad to think about. I decided to bike off to a lonely place... decided to look at my loneliness and talk with God. A dam site far away was my destination. Silent pool of water and the hills surrounding this great dam was best to beat my loneliness. My hopes and dreams seemed to take shelter in the hills. But soon, there too, the dark clouds began rolling down and following me. It was going to rain. I took shelter in a zoo near the dam. With a mood dampened by a drizzle, I was strolling down the zoo. Soon, my eyes caught the sight to a peacock. What amazed me was that he was making those dances near his mate. I have only read that peacock dance. And here I was seeing one!

The dance of a peacock is actually a mating dance in nature. Gloomy dark sky calls them to dance. May be that it was created by God to dance in gloom. I ran my camera to get a couple of shots. Difficult it was. I had to put my camera lens before the iron-grills and shoot.

Today, what remains of that effort is a photo. Each time I look at this photo... look at the dance of this peacock, it reminds me of a little life lesson: to dance in gloom.

I biked back to college with a tang of joy. God did talk to me that day...talked to me about a dance in gloom!
Photo: From my old collections

Friday, August 14

The Seashells

Pick up this life of mine from the dust.
Keep it under your eyes, in the palm of
your right hand.

Hold it up in the light, hide it under the
shadow of death; keep it in the casket
of the night with your stars, and then
in the morning let it find itself among
flowers that blossom in worship.

....Tagore (Crossing XVII)

Each time I see a fresh shell washed up on the sands,
it reminds me of birth, life and death that are integral to nature all around us.
But the beauty of seashells is that,even in death,
they leaves behind somthing of splendour
that tells of its short presence on earth.


Wednesday, August 12

The Bike...

I remember my bike’s younger days. He was then glittering with shine and he smelled fresh-burned petrol. In his typical RX-100 tone, he thundered all through my salad days. Time and gas were cheap then. 23 years later, today, I have only pleasant memories of all those great bike trails.

My wanderlust has ta
ken him to valleys and sacred many beaches and beautiful sunsets. Together we have travelled to famed churches in Kerala... we have prayed prayers that God wouldn’t listen. Still, we love each other. In all those lonely motoring days, never has he stood still to tell me that he wasn’t fine. Moreover, he has never left me in the middle of a road to soil my hands and hours with a spanner on a flat tyre. Between me and my bike, we have always shared the best of us together and seldom the worst.
Like the faces I have failed to the blessed moments that I love to cling on to, my bike and me are inseparable.

Then, there are many pedestrians who have come forward to ask me if my bike is up for sales. What a strange thing is it to hear that! They do not know what they are asking. They do not know what they are doing. They are coveting another man’s property. “That is a sin, my dear friend!” I would whisper to them in my heart.



Saturday, August 8

“Swamy assails Sanjay Stamp”... a peep into history.

I collect stamps. ‘Philatelist’, they call me. From my childhood, stamps fascinated me. Even now.

One of the most interesting aspects of philately is to track the history that stamps tell before its publication and post publication.

I looked at an old stamp... not so old...that spoke to me lots. It is the picture of late Sanjay Gandhi that I hold in a 1981 stamp. Today, the story of this young man is history. It is said that he brought Suzuki Motors to India that changed the drive of this nation. It is also said that he run what was known the ‘Sanjay Effect’— a sterilization measure that rocked the foundations of this nation’s ethos. It was crafted such that a sterilization certificate was to be produced by every young man if he were to apply for a rural credit! Even the prisoners weren’t spared. They were to go under the knife if they were to enjoy a parole.

What bemuses me is a press cutting from 1981 Indian Express that tells: “Swamy assails Sanjay Stamp”. It reads: Janata Party leader Subramaniam Swamy on Saturday criticised the Government decision to issue a postal stamp to commemorate the first death anniversary of Sanjay Gandhi and said his party would cancel it IF returned to power. “We would also recover the cost from Mrs. Gandhi,” he told reporters.

Janatha Party never returned to power. World would soon forgot about Sanjay’s controversial stamp. No one got the money back from Mrs.Gandhi for printing these stamps! Mrs. Gandhi continued to rule India till her heroic death in the hands of trusted bodyguards. And, she still keeps her legacy alive through her grandson!!

How much the world has changed!

Friday, August 7

...those forgotten sights.

There is a looker-on who sits behind my eyes. It seems he has seen things in ages and worlds beyond memory’s shore, and those forgotten sights glisten on the grass and shiver on the leaves. He has seen under new veils the face of the one beloved, in twilight hours of many a nameless star. Therefore his sky seems to ache with the pain of countless meetings and partings, and a longing pervades this spring breeze, - the longing that is full of whisper of ages without beginning.
.... Quoted from Tagore’s Lover’s Gift.
Photo: 'those forgotten sights'... Made in 1987 on a tour to Dehli.

Thursday, August 6

Came home empty handed...

Today, as I strolled through the beach, I saw this family of starfishes. I wanted to pick one of them home. Then one of them spoke to me : “Till death do us part”.
So, I came home empty handed.

Wednesday, August 5

Suddenly something...

Photo Location: Beach, Calicut

Tuesday, August 4

I lift up my eyes...

“I lift up my eyes to the hills –
Where does my help comes from?
My help comes from the Lord,
The Maker of heaven and earth.... "

(Quoted from a song of the ascents of the Bible, Psalm 121:1)

Monday, August 3

The magic show...

There is always an excitement in seeing a magician perform. The manner in which he pulls off a rabbit from his hat and uses his wand to bring parrots from the air has always electrified me. What excite me most are the wide-open eyes of the children who witness these magic… without them both the magic and the magician cannot have the day.

Sometimes when we stand on God’s creation and admire it like children in a magic show, what a thrill it will be for God to see our eyes glittering with awe and excitement! The Master Magician goes on and on, making everyday a magic for us … And how sad it will be for Him when we miss to recognize His magic in our life.
Tagore puts it like this…”God waits to win back his own flowers as gifts from man’s hands.” (quoted from 'Stray Birds') . God needs our smiles and cries…like children in a magic show.

There is a singer in the Bible who tells God thus:

"God, When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.

O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth"
Photo Location: Cloud formation at Didna camp at Himalayas

Sunday, August 2

The Chess Game...

"When the Chess game is over, the pawns, rooks,
kings and the queens go back to the same box" ... an old Italian saying.
In God's creation, when the work is done, when all the moves are made and
when life on earth is all over, we too sleep in God's precious Hands
for our journey to etarnity.
Photo Location: A sunset in one of the camps at Himalayas.
Photo Credit to Mr. Saurangshu, whose capture of these precious moments has enabled me to evoke Himalayan memories again and again.