Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Ambi retires

My wife Ambika retired from service as a college teacher today, after putting in a long service of 33 years, two months and twenty-seven days.

It was I who accompanied her to the college on January 1, 1980, when she joined service. That was 45 days after our wedding on November 16, 1979.

Her first appointment was at the NSS college at Dhanuvachapuram in Thiruvananthapuram district. I was employed in Coimbatore then and both our families were in Alappuzha. The two of us were leading a suspended animation kind of married life then, neither here, there, nor together. Both of us were just 23 years old, which is hardly the age at which one sees anything seriously.

We married because we were in love (from school in my case and from college in hers) and her mother, after objections all through, suddenly insisted that the wedding ceremony be gone through immediately.

My pop, as you know, was as casual a person as one can ever imagine. He went with it and, virtually right out of the blue, without warning, we became husband and wife.

It was just after she had completed her post graduation in Calicut University and I was into my second year of employment straight after my graduation, trying to get ready to set up a home with her by the time she finished her studies.

We were classmates and she was the most brilliant student in the class.

Ours was a surprise wedding. Surprise, because it had looked so complicated that when the script changed direction, it changed so drasticalky that the marriage happened just as though it was the most natural thing to happen. One moment it was all overcast and there was no hope at all in the horizon, but suddenly the sky cleared and the sun was shining like the Dickens.

I was earning Rs.630 a month in Coimbatore then. Of this amount, I used to send Rs.300 to my mother because my home required support and Rs.300 to my wife in Thiruvananthapuram. Although she got a job immediately after our marriage, her monthly salary started coming only two years after her joining service because of the red tape none can escape at the university.

What I mean is, we had struggled quite a bit in the beginning and also later on. There was a time when I used to survive on an allowance of Rs.10 earned on alternate days by doing overtime work. I could do the overtime work only on alternate days, because a friend of mine was in a worse situation than me. The overtime responsibility at the office required the services of only one man and we used to split the loot between us.

Ambi and myself used to meet only once in two months at Alappuzha (where both our parents were living those days) so that we can save on bus fares.

I know she had struggled more than me, getting pregnant also in the meantime and watching every paisa she was spending. She used to resist the temptation to go to the then Trivandrum Hotel, near the hostel where she was staying, to order a ‘Butter Roast.’ The ‘Butter Roast’ was a special thing at this hotel those days and she somehow often used to get the temptation to have a ‘Butter Roast’ during the time she was carrying my daughter Lakshmi.

As I mentioned before, I had accompanied her to the college on the day she joined service. And, today, when she retired from service, I was there at the gate to take her back home. My right foot is still in plaster cast because of the injury already referred to in this blog and so I cannot drive; but I phoned up a friend to drive the car for me so that I can be there at the college gate to bring her home on the date of her retirement. My son Vishnu (who doesn't drive though he is 24) too was in the car.

In fact, Ambi does not believe in any such show of sentiments—she is a down-to-earth lady, who does not believe in display of sentiments. All the same, I felt I should not miss this opportunity to be the HIM who was with her on the day she began her professional career and also the HIM who was with her on the day she finished her long professional career as a highly respected teacher.


Monday, 11 March 2013

Thoughts in times of silence

There are times when one finds time standing still.

I have been experiencing it off and on these past few days.
For more than a month now, I am at home with my right leg in plaster cast from toe to knee.
I will be in this condition till the first week of May.
Three months of forced sitting.

The mind is quiet.
I am not under the shadow of work worries.
I don't have to buy vegetables and drive around the city keeping appointments.
I can't go to the Cellar, where we friends nightly unwind over a few drinks.

I am free from my all my routines. There is no running around to keep time. I am just sitting.

I look out of the window.
In this silence, there is no observer, only the observed, when the seeing takes place.
I vanish. Only the sparkling rectangle of the view through the window is there.
There are tall coconut trees lit by the sun and two goats grazing in the small green valley there.
Only the sparkling rectangle is there and everything in the rectangle is breathing.

I mull over the question 'what is Mu' and finally find it a squeaking object, like a clammy wet frog suddenly in my pocket.

I start hearing the squeaking sound of Mu in the cawing of the crows, the bleating of the goats and the whisper of the wind. I smell it in an orange my wife had left by my bedside before leaving for her work. I eat it at 11 a.m., as she had advised.

I think of my face before either my father or mother was born.
My face looks exactly as it looks in the mirror, but neither me nor the mirror was there when my father and mother were born. There is no need to check the dates of manufacture.
I am up against a clueless mystery...

Who am I, anyway?
Who is typing all these things on the blog?
Whose thoughts are they exactly?
Who is this chap here before the computer thinking about a way to end this piece, his right foot in plaster cast, from toe to knee, taking three months' rest?


(P.S.: Thinking over the question through lunch and sleep,
with the answer one wakes up in the evening:


Monday, 4 March 2013

What is 'Mu'?

What is 'Mu'? What is 'Mu'? What is 'Mu'?

I know it deep down I know it!
As though, in a forgotten dream,
In a forgotten time,
I had known it very dearly.

In fact, only just now have I placed it somewhere.
I am all wrong in grammar!

Can I say,
It is shaped somewhat like this...
But I cannot tell you its shape...

The day's mail,
This month's telephone bill:
Is it 'Mu'? Is it 'Mu'? Is it 'Mu'?

Is 'Mu' me or you,
Or a combination of both?

Is it negative, affirmative,
Or just an adjective, a colour, a smell?

Or, is it the ticking of the clock?
The clock, the clock?..

Or, is it the Hindustani Raga
Chaliye Kunjanumo,
Soft on the DVD player,
Honey flowing over each note?

Or, is it,
By any chance,
A black mole under the left ear,
Slightly to the back side of the neck?

(I am flabbergasted by the wondrous coincidence:
It is something from my SSLC book!)

"What is 'Mu'?" is a koan Zen masters usually assign to monks at a particular stage in Zen training.

A monk one day asked Zen master Chao-chou (Joshu), wanting earnestly to know: "Master, tell me. Has a dog the Buddha-nature, or not?"

Joshu retorted: "Mu"!

This is the background. Training in koan involves asking the novice to think over this answer day and night, as though their very life depended on finding its meaning.

There are other koans also that are assigned to the novice during Zen training. One such koan is: "How did your face look like before your father and mother were born?"

Solving koans is seen by the masters as a way to break you out of your habit of seeing things only from within the limitations of logic and reason. It is about transcending the realms of thinking.


Murali Nagapuzha

Given below is the link to an article, which appeared in the metro plus page of the Delhi edition of The Hindu today, about the memories of 1960's evoked by the paintings of Murali Nagapuzha, my friend. 

Friday, 1 March 2013

movement of thought

it is interesting to lie quietly in a silent room,
in a silent home,
all through the silent day
just the movement of thoughts.

thoughts are of two categories.

the first type of thoughts are the ones that come and go and are fleeting in nature.
they have a beginning and an end...
like bubbles, on a stream, they pop open and are suddenly there.
they flow with the flow, for a while,
and then vanish into the air, without leaving a sign.

the other type of thoughts are persistent in nature.
they are not fleeting like the bubbles,
but represent the steady flow of the stream itself.
the stream carries with it the tumult of all the waters it had gathered upstream.

if you watch the movement of thoughts in you,
by and by,
you feel like sitting on the bank of the stream
and watching the flow...

and you realize you are not the flow you see.