Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Location: Orphanage named ‘Our Home’ in Hyderabad
Agneya Reddy (Agy) – an entrepreneur who also runs an orphanage with 12 boys and three caretakers.
Aditi (Adi) – newly-wed wife of Agneya
Savitri – Agy’s and Adi’s housekeeper.
[The incident is told by Aditi in first person]
Walking towards our bedroom, I heard Savitri charged up on the phone. “Seems something’s wrong,” I said and volunteered to check, when she came out, “Sir, baba fell down.”I thought that was too succinct for her reaction I overheard on the phone.
“Anything serious?” he asked stopping in his tracks.
“Nothing. Small fracture in right leg. He is back from hospital.”
“Umm” he said walking back, when she added, “They were playing.”
I stood looking at both, and felt Agy was not happy with what he heard.
“Who’s baba?” I asked him.
“The youngest child at Our Home. He’s fondly called baba. So, madam, may I ask for a slight revision to our plans. We’ll first visit him and then proceed on our walk.”
Two hours later we were at the orphanage. The atmosphere was unlike what I saw over the weekend when the boys had jumped over Agy. Today it was quiet, I was told it was study time between 5pm and 8pm. I found the boys at their desks in the hall. It seemed like a mini classroom. Two of the caretakers were in the kitchen and one nursing the 6-year-old boy, who was lying in bed with a plastered leg.
The caretaker woman stood up seeing Agy and started convincing he is absolutely fine. “The doctors said, nothing to worry. Small fracture only…”
“When did it happen?” Agy cut her short.
“Evening Sir, after he came from school.”
“How”, he asked flashing The Agneya stare. She began stammering and recounting what happened incoherently, when the other two caretakers joined us in the room. One of them chipped in, “Sir, the boys were playing. Running around, he fell down. So weak he is.”
Hearing the noise, I presume, the cute little boy opened his eyes, which was swollen and reddish from crying. Agy sat beside him, his tall frame bent over the tiny little one on the bed. So very feebly he lifted him on to his lap, cradling the child. “Your hands have muscles, that’s why nothing happened here,” he said pressing his small arms. “Now you need strong legs, too.”
“Paining,” he sobbed.
He ran his palms over the little one’s plaster gently and then planted a kiss on his forehead and said, ”You’ll be fine in two weeks. If you be a good boy and take medicines what aunties give you, then when the doctor removes this plaster, you’ll see muscles inside. Biiiig muscles!....”
It was another Agy I saw there. Caring and protective and oh so soft!
He will make a wonderful father!
When I returned from my imaginary family world, he was still conversing with the little boy, who was now cheerful and protesting at something. “No, you ball, I will bat.”
“Ok. Done deal,” Agy said and gave the little one a high-five. He precariously laid him back and kissed him again.
“Has he eaten food,” he stood up and asked the caretaker woman standing still beside me. I wondered if she even breathed. I noticed the other two women were missing.
He walked into the hall and the boys simultaneously looked up. Some sat smiling at him, while others acknowledged his presence and quickly returned to their books in front of them.
“How are you guys.” How can anyone exude such authority with so much ease, I wondered. The playful Agy I saw just moments back metamorphosed into the controller.
 “Fine.” I heard a collective reply.
Even in his track suit, T-shirt and running shoes, once he stands upright and holds his chiselled chin up, he can ooze attitude effortlessly. Hands in his pockets, he panned the room for a few seconds and said, “I will be out in the veranda. Those of you responsible for Amir’s fracture will come and meet me within the next 10 minutes.”
He walked out. Turned at the doorway and tapping at his watch, repeated, “You have 10 minutes.”
I saw the boys sneaking glances at one another. So innocent-looking children.
Gosh, what is he going to do!
He was seated on a chair in the veranda, facing the door, when I joined him after quickly checking on Amir. The little one saw me peep in and smiled. His angelic face scooped my heart. I went over and hugged him.
“He’s so cute,” I said sitting on a chair beside Agy.
I couldn’t read his expression. It was definitely not angry or irritated. But it wasn’t soft as when he was with Amir either.
“What are you going to do?”
He didn’t reply. Instead he looked beyond me asking, “Yes.” I turned to see the three caretaker women huddle near the door.
“They were playing, Sir,” said one of them. “Yes, Sir,”chorused the other two.
“You’ll said that already. Anything else.”
They pulled away meekly.
Shit! He’s one hard task master!
“Will you punish the boys?” I was anxious.
He didn’t reply. Turned his wrist to see the time and crossed an ankle over his opposite knee. I looked for the groove on his chin, and heaved a sigh of relief on not spotting it.
A little later, a tall lanky teenager, about 14 years old, appeared at the door. With his head bent down, he was looking up at Agy and me alternatively. The tension in the air was building up. Agy was holding the same incomprehensible expression, but now his eyes were rested on the boy. But the dark pair was not steely as it were in the morning nor was it narrowed like when he was talking to me a couple of hours before. Which means, he is not angry or irritated and neither he is impatient or desperate.
“Yes, Aditya, what do you have to tell me,” he asked after what seemed eons.
“Aa..am..amir…threw my bag…I..he…didn’t listen…my book tore…he again…pulled my bag down…
“Are you speaking to the floor or to your feet, Aditya.”
Gosh! Let the boy just say it!  
I felt pity because he looked up at Agy and continued stammering. “I tied a rope…behind…across...the kitchen door…called him…told to see…a snake…he ran excited and tumbled over the steps…I didn’t…I didn’t want to hurt him…but…his ankle swelled up…I …I was scared…
Agy put his foot down and stood up, still holding his gaze.
The boy mumbled “I’m sorry”.
Please, don’t do anything to the boy! I prayed but couldn’t gather the courage to say it loud.
Agy walked towards the boy and he dropped his head again. He stood looking down, shoulders drooping, fear etched on his face. I once caught him glance up at Agy as he went closer. He repeated, “I’m sorry.”
Agy patted him and said, “You are courageous. You have become a big man this moment.”
The boy’s face brightened up. “It takes a lot of courage to own up one’s mistake. You have done it. I’m proud of you.” And he hugged him. He held him for a few seconds patting his back, when I realised the youngster was weeping. “Hey, men don’t cry.” Agy smiled, straightened his shoulders and said, “What reward do I give you being so courageous. You can ask me for anything.”
The boy stood, eyes widened. “Go ahead, anything.”
“Can I have a green Nike shoes. All my friends in class have.”
“Call your aunty.”
He took two notes from his wallet and told the caretaker, “Take Aditya to Central Mall on Sunday. Buy him the shoes he wants.”
The teenager was so excited, it was hard for me to believe it was him who stood fearfully just moments back.
“Ok Aditya, now what’s the punishment you will choose?”
Shucks, leave him be! Agy please, I pleaded silently.
The colour from the boy’s face drained in a jiffy. Bewildered he stood looking up at Agy.
“You are helping nurse Amir back to health. Clear.”
He nodded, a slight smile appearing on the young face.  “Amir will get restless because he will not be allowed to walk. Once you return from school, you will carry him around. No play time for you until Amir walks. Clear.”
“Yes, Sir,” he replied happily.
“Happy? Do you think Amir will trust you?”
The boy’s face clouded immediately. “This is your chance to gain his confidence back. You need to spend time with him. Alright. He is the youngest kid here. You are a big man now. Shouldn’t you be protective of him.”
The youngster nodded. “Go. And study well.” He patted the boy once more and smiled.
Aditya took two steps and turned back and hugged Agy.
My man! I felt so proud at the way he handled the issue. As I got up to leave, I heard him tell the caretaker woman, “I want to meet you’ll. Call the others.”
I sat back. When the two others came, he asked, “Do you’ll have my mobile number?”
“Yes Sir,” said one immediately reciting the digits.
“Yeah, we have,” said the other two.
“Then why the hell was I not informed of the incident.”
Shit! I noticed the groove partially forming on his chin and my heart started racing.
“That’s one. Secondly, you three should be leading by example. I will not tolerate lies. If any of you intend repeating it, ensure your bags are packed.”
“Anything else I need to know.” His eyes now bore into them.
“No sir,” they chorused.
“Good night.” He snapped.
He took my hand, said, "Let’s go baby."

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Kamala Das hides behind winter's mist!

I straighten my back, heave out a guff of air and close my eyes. I am tired. No, it’s just my eyes, I tell myself and cut two pieces of cool cucumber, place it over my eyelids and sprawl out on my mattress.
Ahh! That guff of air again blows out of my mouth. No, it’s not my eyes. I take off the cucumber pieces and lie staring at the ceiling. I am exhausted. Yes, I tell myself and stretch the length of my body and lie still.
Ufff! My chest is again gulping in air to blow something out of my system. I sit up, utterly confused about my feelings. I am not tired. I am not exhausted. But it is aching. An aching within to know a great writer. She took me there within her. She ripped open her soul to me, but I couldn’t see. Or did I see?
I’m longing to wipe the mist and see clear. I want to know Kamla Das aka Madhavi Kutty aka Kamala Suriya. Who is she? Apart from being one of the greatest Indian writers and poets, who is the real she?

Most of them love to hate her and the others love to judge her. I love her for her boldness. I always believed she was a woman ahead of her times. But I didn’t want to judge her. And so when I got her memoir “The Love Queen of Malabar” – by Merrily Weisbord, I dedicated four days of my life only to her.
When I turned the last page over, I had more questions than when I had four days ago. The memoir is Kamala Das’s emotions in raw blood. You can smell them. But you can’t name them.
A woman who called out to females of the world to fly out and see their hearts dance, meekly played the docile housewife, enduring an abusive marriage, calling it her “destiny”.
She’s a hypocrite, I scream.
I continue reading when she says, “I gave my dead body to him [husband] not my mind.” Then why didn’t she come out clean in her autobiography ? ‘My Story’ is anything but transparent. “To protect my children. They respect their father.”
She’s orthodox and timid, I scream.
That’s when I read her claim to have “unshackled” herself from orthodox, puritanical morality. She sanctions infidelity for women in loveless marriage. Yep, the jigsaw puzzle seems to fall in place. Her passionate love poems are a testimony to her relationships!
She was attempting to lead by example, I say.
But then she soon complains, “Talent is an abnormality, like a sixth finger”.  So what do readers decipher? She was abnormal? How can someone who published poems before age 15, who read the likes of Oscar Wilde in early teen be abnormal?
She lacks clarity, I fume.
She goes on to justify her sexual desires to that of Lord Krishna’s antics, and I’m rolling my eyes. “I traded sex for love,” she says and I’m holding the edge of the table.
She’s a pervert! I scream.
“In my culture women cannot admit that they enjoy sex,” she says and I feel she’s ordering me to shut up and stop blowing my top off.  “It’s the woman’s body, but the man’s bed, the man’s home. But I can’t do that, I want the bed to be mine,” she explains.
She, indeed, has a mind of her own! I nod.
How else can one define her religious conversion? In order to live with her lover, a person born into an ultra-orthodox Hindu family adopts the Muslim faith in her 60s calling the ire of her family and the community at large. And she names her conversion a “sexual awakening”. Now that sure demands some gumption!.
Hats off! Kamala Das, I salute.
But my jubilation does not last long. When she says, “I worshipped the men I fell in love with,” I close the book and try to recollect what I read in the early chapters. Yes, she did say “I hate sex”.
Then what was the awakening she felt when she converted causing religious riots in her home state and exposing her own life to unlawful fanatics by falling in love with a younger Muslim man?
She’s a liar, fucked up her own life, I resign.
When she fires a blatant salvo. “My writings are confessional.”
Oh my! This woman is taking readers for a ride! I scream.
But I soon see her apprehensions when she fears for her grandkids’ lives; her excitement of flying to Canada to meet her ‘sister’; the thrill she exudes talking to elderly women like girls understanding their puberty; the trepidation of making politically correct statements to protect herself from religious maniacs; her stark description of a widow’s voidness… “I am not a family property,” she says and adds that she has responsibility to her readers.
That’s a hallmark of a great writer! I acknowledge.
I confess a hundred times over because she excites and inspires readers – one and all. A lay person who just wants to frolic in ether on her words; or seekers who want to emulate her; or critics who are tasked with analyzing her words; or librarians who are duty bound to categorise and label her… she disappoints none.
But why did I read her memoir? No. I didn’t read. I grabbed and voraciously savoured it. Because I wanted to know her. Understand the person behind the artist. The soul behind the writer. Through her conversations with the author, she took me inside her. She guided me through to her darkest nooks…but alas! she left me stranded staring at her soul.
All I can say with conviction is she took each new incarnation to its outer limits. She disliked organised religion, even as she sung paeans to Lord Krishna. She hated sex even as she admitted she waited for more than six decades to know what a man’s touch is. She believed love is divine and should be practiced but adhered to social norms.
Kamala Das had conflicting loyalties.
Even when she gave the author permission to go ahead and write about her intimate and dark secrets initially, she contradicted in the presence of her brethren later.
Why? I scream. As if in answer, she says, “Life has been a game for me”.
She was cheated of a normal life. So she created a persona through whom she could celebrate life. “I detached myself from this body and watched this persona move towards this lover, observing myself in the role of a lover, the role of a woman loved , as though I was another person,’ she says.
That says it all, I assume.
When she says, “I am a remarkably successful fake”. “I want to tell them [readers] that I am a fraud”.
I can see her smile through the pages and even imagine her large eyes crinkle at me, when I’m reminded of her beautiful couplet…
I hide behind my dream/ Like a mountain does behind winter’s mist
Kamala Das experimented with life to write. So even as she strayed away from social norms of her times, she clung on to the defiant cultural bonds. And when her soul took wings she let it soar but camouflaged it in colourful hues.
What hues are those, I saw
When you took me in

I saw the flesh and smelled your blood
I heard your cries and felt your breath
I stepped to touch and you pulled away
I saw you smile and guard your door

What hues are those, I saw
When you took me in

I shut my eyes to capture those hues
But see colours different each time I try

What hues are those, I saw
When you took me in!