Antarctica – Window to Then, Now & Ever After

How illuminating it is, to realise that we have a place in the world, where the past is preserved for thousands of years! In the ice sheets that cover the giant rock of this white continent, the history of the world has been written layer upon layer and preserved for posterity. If you so wish, you can look backwards a million years or more and see how the world has been changing over the years. While Antarctica has this power to make the past come alive, there is another aspect of Antarctica that roots you completely in the here and now. Here, I hope to share with you, these moments of meditative now, experienced in the continent of awe.

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In Retrospect

Looking back, how did I find myself some 15,000 km away in this land, different in every possible way from the city I call home? Places and people have fascinated me as long as I can remember. I have always been happy to dash off with Tintin or Asterix or Somerset Maugham, to some corner of the world. On these escapades, I prefer to shake my hands off the mission for moments, few and simply soak in the place and people I encounter, dreaming about being there someday. When I was finally working and living on my own in the US, I made it a point to travel as much as I could and was happy to find in my partner, Madhan, the same love for cultures and places. When our child was born, we both decided that as soon as he was old enough, we must travel with Haiku. 

 

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Being true to the promise we made ourselves, when he was all but one and a half, we visited our first continent, Africa. From then, we decided we would go to a place in a different continent, every successive year. And the final destination would be of course the mysterious Antarctica. Six continents have been covered and this year arrived. As a fortunate coincidence, Haiku’s school holidays happened to fall in November this year, as against the usual December holidays. Why would November be so promising? Because it was the start of the season to visit Antarctica. The land was emerging from a dark winter that welcomes no visitors and it was being born again in the long light of summer. At the same time, it was not yet a full-blown tourist season and therefore, perhaps a wee-bit more affordable to visit. 

In the minds of our ancestors, Antarctica was this theoretical destination, as in there’s the Arctic, and to balance, there must be the Anti Arctic! So imagined ancient Greek philosophers. A concept of the mind purely! Indeed, it was astounding to read that the first time Antarctica was spotted and stepped on, was as late as 1820, a mere 200 years ago. Now, contrast that to the native people have been living just a thousand km away in the Tierra del Fuego region of Argentina from about 10,000 years ago.

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The stunning thing about these native settlers was that when the Europeans first arrived in the tip of Argentina, they were surprised to find these Yamana/Yaghan people, living in this frigid climate without a shred of cloth on them. They had no need for them! They had learnt a way of surviving this cold clime because of their diet and other lifestyle practices. But the Europeans not knowing this, wanting to civilise them, covered them in clothes and fur and next thing, you find them dying because of this seeming act of good intention. I learnt in my travels that the last of this tribe is a lone woman who lives in Punta Araneas, Chile. How could a thriving tribe be decimated like this? It may sound impossible to us, at the moment. But, that has been the reality in many remote corners of the world. What knowledge we have lost because these people were not handled with humility. There’s a humbling lesson in that, even before we begin our journey to Antarctica.

Most of what I was reading in history of Antarctica seemed to be claims by exploring teams from different nations that this land or this cove or even the entire continent belonged to their nation. One party would go land in a spot and plant a flag. Soon enough, another expedition party would arrive, remove the previous flag and plant their own. And on and on, goes the struggle to say this land is mine. Made me think of predatory animals marking their boundary. Then, there was the race to reach the south pole. In many of these stories of extreme adventure to be the first, one fact caught my eye. It’s well known that the first man to reach the South pole was the Norwegian Amundsen, who beat Scott, the British explorer by a mere 35 days. What’s not so well known is that Amundsen had previously explored the Arctic and he had lived with and learnt from the native people of the Arctic, the Inuit, all about their ways of life and how to manage the extreme cold. I believe it was this trait of putting aside notions of superiority of oneself or one’s race and learning from the wisdom and knowledge of the past, of people who have endured for centuries. If this kind of feeling had been shown to the Yamana, perhaps we would have learned so much more, even ways of adapting to the impossible with so little!

Taking a leaf from Amundsen’s life, I too tried to read about the stories of my contemporary travellers, who have had the dream of travelling to Antarctica and been there. So, thanks is due to all those bloggers and guides, who having sharing their experiences made this journey possible for us. Thanks to their guidance, we found a well-managed travel company in Freestyle Adventure Travel, Ushuaia and they in turn, made our journey possible on Quark expeditions ship Ocean Diamond, on their 10-day Classic Antarctic itinerary, which takes visitors to the Antarctic Peninsula and Subantarctic islands. Perhaps, the universe responds to inner intentions in mysterious ways but this intuitive decision ended up being one fortunate choice after the other.

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In all the brochures and welcome manuals, the cruise companies make something clear: Do not come with expectations of what your Antarctic journey must be like. Do not make hard and fast rules for all the things you want to see and do, for Antarctica makes its own plans!

Drake Shake and Landing Lessons

This part of the world, being a land of extreme weather, all one can do is try to snatch moments of wonder in between. The first trial is by sea, through the Drake Passage, the roughest sea in the world, which separates the tip of Argentina and the Antarctic Peninsula – They say the Drake could be a ‘shake’ or a ‘lake’. Most probably, it will be a shake, punctuated by humungous waves and if you are extra-lucky, something of a still lake, perhaps. Crossing this is considered a rite of passage for Antarctic travellers. For people who say a strict nay to seasickness, there’s the flight to whizz past. And yet, not the same experience! In between all the rocking of the Drake, the expedition team used it smartly for interesting presentations and seminars.

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The first seminar, which is mandatory for every person wanting to land on Antarctica, is the IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) Guidelines for visitors: All the dos and don’ts for people visiting the place. It’s heartwarming that we live in a time of such sensitivity. We should at this time accept that this sensitivity has come forth after years of atrocity against wildlife. Who were the first people in Antarctica and why did they come? The Sealers, who came to hunt for seal fur and then the whalers, who came to extract oil from whale blubber and now and only now, it has become a research outpost of the world. Demand from business had been driving all this and it was man and his needs at the centre of the endeavour to reach Antarctica. It’s great to have humans move away from the centre and to see wildlife there. 

Laudable is how the cruise took care to meticulously remove all possible pollutants and native species from our clothes to make sure this pristine land remains undisturbed. I looked with respect and admiration, at the expedition team, with their vacuum cleaners sucking out the dust from our backpacks and any used shoes or outerwear we’d be taking ashore and even opening the little Velcro fasteners on all our outerwear to scour out seeds or alien life that may be hiding there. Not just that, every time before we landed and before we entered the ship, we were instructed to wash our boots in Virkon, a chemical that wipes out traces of microbial life. Will such microscopic attention to detail wipe away those years of disregard for other life? Perhaps, we are like Shakespeare’s Macbeth trying to wash away our inherited guilt!

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As the ship nudged its way into colder water, the first iceberg was spotted. Sounded like drum roll, echoing the arrival of a much-awaited star!  The iceberg seemed like a cross between a bus and a rhino and looked quite handsome in profile. Further on, there were amorphous ones too, as if having an identity crisis and deciding to be unformed, in the traditional ‘fit-into-a-shape’ frame of things. 

The sea was a dark, greyish blue and the birds were dancing along the ship. Whenever I looked out through our room’s window, many a petrel would glide past elegantly. A strong wind whistled about all the time and even a few minutes out on the observation deck meant running noses, as if I was a sea bird myself, filtering the salt in the water through my nostrils!

After a day and a half at sea crossing the Drake, the first good news was that the weather was cooperative and we had made it in time to do an additional landing at Aitcho island.

Aitcho Island and Penguin Welcome

The Aitcho/Barrientos islands are on the South Shetland group of Subantarctic islands. The expedition geologist says they are all connected by the same rock underneath and so it’s indeed Antarctica already!

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As I waited to finally set foot on the white continent, my thoughts kept going back to the Yamana, who could survive this cold without a single layer of clothing. Here I am, sitting in three layers and still needing more to step out. With those thermal, fleece and outer waterproof & windproof layers, not to mention the muck boots and personal floatation device resting atop, this was literally heavy dressing. It was a terror to wait wearing all those clothes indoors, in the heat of the ship. You just wanted to run outside. Thankfully, it was time for us to disembark and then we went on a zodiac, an inflatable boat that enables teams of ten people each to land on tricky terrain. There’s a rule that only 100 visitors are allowed at a time on Antarctica and ours being a ship of 180 passengers, we were split into two groups. One group would land on the island/peninsula and the other group would cruise around in the zodiac and then about an hour and a half later, it would be time to swap places. 

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The first day, it was our group that did the first landing. Penguin country was calling! Before I landed, I half expected to see a Penguin immigration officer. The penguins, however, were busy mating and building their nests for the coming young one. Speaking of young ones, Haiku was excitedly pointing out to chinstrap penguins. These little chaps in white and black could be nicknamed Policeman Penguins. There were also Gentoo penguins, with their red beaks and white blankets on their heads. Their names have an Indian connection in that it’s a combination of Gentile & Hindoo, symbolising the monks of yesteryears, who covered their heads in white! The penguins could be seen religiously picking little rocks to present to their partners and prepare for the arrival of their little ones. I learnt that the mother and father equally care for the young and they are indistinguishable, right down to the split in the middle of their bodies, which helps keep the eggs warm, taking turns between them both. Dad giving mum a bit of a rest and vice versa! Good pointers for human families with newborns perhaps!

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We made our way back to the zodiac to do one hour of cruising and got to view these towering basalt rock formations soaring to the sky, in neatly packed columns. It was dark brown and we were told that it’s a volcanic rock that contracts after years of cooling into those arty shapes before us. 

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Looking further ahead, there seemed a chunk of extra-blue ice. Seemed quite close by but when we rode the zodiac, it seemed to go on and on. Perhaps the chilly winds and Einstein’s theory of relativity of sitting on a hot stove inverse! But when we got close enough, was it a sight! Such a calming, radiant blue! I learnt it’s that way because of the way the O and H molecules are packed so densely in the ice and that the way they stretch absorbs all the red of the light, letting out just the blue to delight your eyes!

Then, after dinner, there was this prolonged sunset starting around 10 and extending all the way into the wee hours of midnight. As I stood in the chill wind, the sky seemed to paint and sing for me. The glow of orange and red warming the coldest corners of the heart and making me come alive in every cell.  This white world is a blank canvas… An inviting canvas! The birds are white, the wildlife is white and it’s up to the sun to stir some magic and scatter colour in the air. Warm strokes of the sun’s love in the sky above!

Hydrurga Rocks and Pole Path

Anywhere one lands, there’s so much to see that your eyes and brain seem to struggle with all the new information. This is a place epitomising the word ‘exotic’! No matter where we go in the world, blue skies, green trees and smiling people are something to be expected. But whereas here, there’s none of the familiar!

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This day was to be at Hydrurga rocks, a small island populated by the last of the Chinstrap Penguins. Further down, we are not going to see anymore, we were informed. The snow was so white that it was quite a struggle for the eyes. There were some fur seals lazing about on the beach snow. They were not mature to be breeding apparently and were sunning their backs and willing themselves to grow. Then, there was the snowy sheathbill, which apparently eats penguin poo and is perhaps the only Antarctic bird that does not prefer to fly and also, has no webbed feet for a swim in the ocean too. Land-bound little one!

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It was here on the island that I had the curious experience of observing the expedition team filling up the holes made in the powdery snow, because we treaded on it with our heavy muck boots. I found it enthusing to see this care endowed to make sure little penguins are not hurt by falling into these holes. All this care for wildlife, taken for granted for all these years, is the true progress of humanity.

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Afternoon saw us go to another spot called the Portal Point, the first stop on the Antarctic Peninsula. Apparently, from here, someone could walk all the way to the South Pole. So, for the sticklers who distinguish mainland and island, this was the real Antarctica! Seeing the sea was a surreal experience. Broken, jagged chunks of ice of all sizes and shapes floating under an unbroken blue canopy! There were these lovely coves along the way, where I thought one could play hide and seek. ‘Nowhere to hide’, someone on the zodiac remarked! Crabeater seals were lazing around, hugging and crooning with each other, jumping about in the water and having a true vacation! The landscape was spectacular. Sweeping views of snow clad curves everywhere. The sun was a little sharp, strengthened by the echo of the white snow and the hole in the ozone, right above.

The night ended with an inspiring talk reflecting on ‘Where are all the women in the story of Antarctica?’ The talk narrated the odds and opposition women faced when aspiring to come to Antarctica. Learnt this interesting detail that man got to the moon before a woman could reach the South pole! Times have changed a little. Stories of women scientists like Ema from our expedition team, of her life working in remote, inaccessible regions, doing cutting-edge research in her field of study, as well as reading about Indian scientists in Antarctica like Aditi Pant, Sudipta Sengupta and the many who followed them, were truly inspiring. To add support, recent studies have found that women are actually well suited to explore and research in Antarctica, thanks to their higher body fat and better emotional perception. More power to women scientists, wanting to make a mark in this corner of the world!

Cuverville Island and Baleen Ballerina

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The following day took us to Cuverville Island, swarming with Gentoo Penguins. As we were cruising around the island, there was drama all around, with penguins pushing each other on their way to the top or down to the sea, cackling loudly and making animated gestures with their flipper wings. The land was no less dramatic! Cragged faces of the ice mountain towered around. There were a few pyramidal shapes too. It was a beautiful sunny day at 5 degrees C with just 5 knots of wind. When it was time to get on to the island, there were these krill-coloured penguin highways and snow-coloured human highways, bordered with red flags, marked by the expedition team. We could go right or left or to the top. Our choice was the path to the top, with some spectacular views of ice in water. The whole sea seemed like a dark blue drink on rocks! With ice mountains extending their frigid fingers to take a sip now and then!

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Walking in the snow with all those heavy clothes is the hard part of an otherwise moderate trek. Some Gentoos would come very close and with a curious look, walk away. After a bit of rest, it was journey to the next stop – Water boat point and Chilean station. The weather suddenly turned uncooperative. It was snowing and windy but amidst the dark clouds of bad weather, was a silver lining – the sighting of a humpback whale! A dainty dancer of distinct dimensions indeed! Seemed to me like the world’s largest ballerina, as it moved its fins and puffed out air bubbles and then ended the dance routine with the flourishing finish of its tail fluke in the air!

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Looking into the water during the cruise, I found that some fragments of ice seemed to be different from others. As in, some were crystal clear and transparent like the ones in our refrigerators and the others were white, typical Antarctic glacial ice. Just as I was wondering, the expedition team member driving the zodiac, fished it out of the waters and spoke a little about it. Learnt that this transparent ice was simply frozen water and the other was compressed snow. 

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As we cruised along, we also spotted a very rare seal for this time of the year, an elephant seal, which is not supposed to be there at all. Mom has abandoned it and it has somehow found its way to the south. Big yearning eyes that made you want to stretch your hand and pat its head! I asked the expedition member whether they help such abandoned pups. The answer was a strict no and that they would let nature take it course, whatever that may be. 

There is so much more going on between air and water in this part of the world. For instance, in air bubbles moving up a glacier and leaving snow prints all around and also the dance of the wind that carves intricate patterns and renders ice sculptures of floating ice. An artistic romance between the elements! 

Danco Hill and Deep-sea Dwellers

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Day 4 found us at Danco Hill Island. All that snow and ice in this place was sort of blanking my vision. Perhaps, it’s the true therapy to see life clearly! In Danco Hill, there was a route up leading to a summit. It was an excruciating zigzag walk but led us to the view of serrated glaciers, sawed off from the glacier cliff. The weather was a ‘warm’ 7 degrees and so the Parka actually felt hot making us sweat in our thermals. ‘Sweating in Antarctica’, oxymoronic though it may sound, is not so uncommon, given the layers of clothes we wear and especially when the weather decides to melt us with its smile.

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The walk afforded us crossing Penguin highways. As instructed, we would never go close to the penguins but they would walk curiously close to us, look at us as we look at them, and then decide to walk away, satisfied at having got the human tour. Sliding penguins, diving penguins – there were penguins in all sorts of motion freeze!

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It was such a mindful experience observing these penguins, quite like watching children in a playground! I recollect seeing one young traveller, lying stretched out on the snow, head resting on the her hands and gazing at the penguins for hours on end!

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In the cruise afterward, a lot of wildlife said hello. There was a leopard seal pup hanging out there in the water all alone, which was again said to be a rare sight this time of the year. While we were floating back, someone spotted a cool jellyfish, bobbing up and down, a creature from the depths, soaring above. And then little ahead, there was another expedition team pointing to a loofah-like creature bobbing up in the water and Dr.Phil, our expedition team member, remarked that it’s even rarer to see such creatures than a whale or a dolphin in these parts. National Geographic from the deep comes live indeed!

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On the afternoon cruise, saw blue-eyed shags nesting on the rock face as well as copper deposits leaking from rocks above, painting graffiti on the grey walls of the ‘malachite’ rock. An avalanche happened right ahead and only missing event was an ice shelf calving. No luck there but we did get to see a female adult elephant seal. A huge one, lying so resigned on that rock. As if she either had given up on life or she had understood all about life and feeling no push to go on. The final sight of the day were two mating Antarctic terns, decked up, one on the other. 

With that, we headed back to the evening recap, which features seals and whalers that day. The history of the whaling industry was rather graphic and disturbing when we came to understand how hundred thousands of whales were killed for their blubber. All those acts of darkness just to light up lamps in the human world! As we sat there with somewhat dejected expressions, Ali, the expedition leader remarked that we must perhaps not be too judgmental on the whalers of the past and see that they were responding to the demands of their time and they did not know better. I said a silent prayer wishing that a generation hundred years from now, would not turn away with the same dejection at some seemingly harmless thing we may be doing today!

Lemaire Channel and Dive of Insanity

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And it was the last day of excursions. There was a lot of doubt as to whether we will be able to sail through the Lemaire channel, as the path was narrow and probably filled with ice. Our ship was an ice-strengthen ship and not an icebreaker. If we were able to make it through, we would be the first ship of the season to do so. The ship that came the same way, the previous day, had to turn around and take a circuitous route. Will we, won’t we, the question was echoing in the air. But the captain was quite the miracle worker! As we all got to the bow of the ship to admire the channel in between the overhanging rocks on each side, the captain steered the ship through the channel. All the passengers and expedition members got to the bow of the ship to click a picture together. A moment that made me feel that this gathering was not of people from 24 different nationalities, but one world!

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The final landing and cruising was to be on Petermann’s island. Surprise, surprise, a colony of Adelie penguins, the newest kind of Penguins we could see. We had gotten used to seeing so many Gentoos, we were like ‘Oh, it’s only a Gentoo’, if we spotted a penguin afar. This last day, the weather went berserk. The landing was amidst a blizzard. The snowstorm was a little extreme for Haiku’s blubber-less body! But he was determined to see the Adelie penguin, which was promised to be on Petermann’s island. After a bit of cruising, we landed on our final spot in Antarctica. The blizzard was pouring into our eyes. But, the Adelies beckoned. We trekked for a while, reached the colony and saw them, for a minute or two. It was quite a curious sight to see those hunched-up little penguins with brown beaks and a white circle around their eyes, co-existing with the Gentoos.

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DSC_0123.jpgIn spite of the inclement weather, I decided to walk up the saddle mountain, the last path on this island. Because I could and I didn’t think there would be another time. After pausing a few minutes to celebrate the rugged beauty of Antarctica at the very top, took a walk back, as I saw the expedition team do a sweep of the area, picking up all the flags they had planted and cleaning up behind me. On the walk back, I was entertained by varying shades of penguin intimacy! Truly love was in the air, as it came to be seen that two engagements and one wedding happened amidst our cruise group, in those 10 days! A final wave to Antarctic soil and back to the ship!

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The next event of the day was the polar plunge at Pleneau bay, a place so reassuringly called as the ‘Iceberg Graveyard’! This meant complete suspension of one’s sense to take a dip in the freezing Antarctic waters! I was oscillating as to whether I should do it or not. Then, with Haiku’s ‘Amma, you must do it!’ decided to go for it. As I was about to step off, the expedition team member standing there remarked, ‘This must be the craziest thing you have ever done!’ And it was, right there on the top of my list! With folded hands, in respect to the ocean, I jumped. The cold water bit like a thousand scorpion peppers on my skin and the sea’s salt, so intense, was flooding my taste buds. When I stepped out after what seemed an eternity, every cell in my body felt alive and kicking! A little adventure to have faced something bigger than myself, even if it was for just a moment!

The evening ended with a meaningful toast by Ali, that acknowledged what a privilege it was to be here and to the wild land of Antarctica, that has inspired so many over the years.

Drake Back and Mind Travel

All the sights that we could see, we had seen in Antarctica. Now, it was time to embrace the two days crossing the dreaded Drake and being completely in the ship. I understand many cruise ships are a destination by itself, with their gigantic swimming pools and tennis courts. But in a destination such as Antarctica, the transport tends to pale in comparison. It’s more like a mother, a haven of safety, in the exploration of an extreme land.

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In this ship, I experienced many moments of connecting with other minds from other places. I love these little bubbles of time when I conversed with members of the expedition staff, knowing about their lives, where they come from, why they chose this line of work and many other little things. I saw cultures colliding and emerging, as in the comment of a Chinese member about the American candidness. ‘They are so open! Do I really need to hear such intimate details?’ And then in the conclusion that their nature does make travel so much more fun!

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Lunch on few days had a special surprise. Basheer, the hotel manager of the ship, who hails from Chennai, gave us this bottle of mango pickle. Outside there was snow and ice and on our plates, curd and rice with hot mango pickle! Home came to the seas of Antarctica, thanks to this gesture of brother Basheer.

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It was the practice of having expedition team members join a free seat at the dining table. This was their way of connecting with the travellers and this led to fascinating insights about the lives of these members. Some moments that flash by: Discussion with Dr.Phil on the ethical dilemmas in tourism; conversation with Camille in a journey that waltzed through careers, computers and cultures; Jiayi’s poetic and introspective questions; story of Ema’s life as a microbiology researcher and the reasons she chose to work here over being a scientist; Nick’s witty and engaging delivery of wildlife knowledge; Nat’s humour and spontaneous translation abilities into Mandarin; Pato’s amusing narration of ‘Toby, the Polar Pig’ – So many enthralling memories of travelling through the minds of people and trying to see the world through their eyes!

In the presentations on our way back, learnt some curious facts. One, that Antarctica and Tamilnadu shared a coastline, just 180 million years ago. You could walk to the present Marina beach and step into the water and only, it won’t be the Bay of Bengal, but Antarctica, a tropical landscape with dinosaurs roaming about. Another fact, that a small dog-like creature from Pakistan, ‘the Pakicetus’ was said to be the ancestor of the mighty whale. Came to understand that beneath all the ice, some of which is 7 km deep, underground lakes and rivers flow. This is of special importance in understanding possibility of life in other planets or moons as in Europa, for instance, which has the same geographical features. Lectures on history brought forth Shackleton’s journey that left him and his crew abandoned on Antarctic ice for two years and the story of how he managed to return with all his men intact. No matter how many new pieces of information and knowledge I was able to absorb, in the end, it just made me reflect on how little I know. A mere molecule on the tip of the iceberg!

In Prospect:

Antarctica belongs to no nation. The Antarctic Treaty declares that this is a region of peace, in which no territorial claims of the past shall be recognised, where no wars shall be fought and where science is the only priority. As of today, 53 nations have come together to exist in harmony in this corner of the world. If it’s possible here, why not everywhere, is the question that echoes in my mind. After all, Antarctica is a part of this world and inspired by this model, why can’t nations put aside their wars for territories and boundaries and embrace the limitless possibilities of working together? 

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Every year, the snow keeps falling in Antarctica as if to say, ‘Write afresh on the pages of history!’ Will our generation take up the challenge and choose to write a greener, cleaner world, so that thousands of years later, if people then were to take an Antarctic ice-core, they could find that this generation did choose better words and ways than the past? Antarctica’s snow waits to stand in witness for time eternal! 

ஒரு தீப்பொறியும் இரு பொறியாளர்களும்…

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கலைஞர் என்ற பெயர்
கருவிலிருந்தே ஒலித்துக் கொண்டிருந்தது…
என் தந்தையின் கரகர குரல்வழி…

தமிழ்க் காதல்கொண்ட பொறியாளர் அவர்.
கலைஞர் தமிழால் தீட்டிய கதைகளை
பகுத்தறிவு எண்ணங்களை என் தந்தை சொல்ல
அதைக் கேட்ட இரட்டை பின்னல் நாட்கள்…
மின்னலாய் கண்முன்.

என் வாழ்க்கையின் திருப்புமுனைகள்
அவரால் அமையும் என்று
அறியவில்லை நான் அன்று.

முதல் சந்திப்பு:

அண்ணா பல்கலைக்கழக மாணவியாக
கணிப்பொறிப் பூங்கா நிறுவிய அவர் முன் நின்று
இன்னொரு இளம் பொறியாளர் கொடுத்த வாக்கு
என் காதுகளில் ஒலித்தபோது.

“எங்கு சென்று படித்தாலும் வேலை பார்த்தாலும்
நாடு திரும்பி,
எங்கள் அறிவை தமிழ்நாட்டிற்கே தருவோம் ” என்று.

வாக்கு தந்தவர் நாடு திரும்பினார்.
எனையும் காதலால் வரவழைத்தார்.

எங்கள் கைகள் சேர்த்து
தன் குடும்பத் திருமணமாய் கொண்டாடியவர்
உலகம் வணங்கும் அப்பெருந்தலைவரே!

என் தந்தைவழி என் வாழ்வில் ஏற்றிய தமிழ்த்தீ,
என் கணவர்வழி, சுடர்விடக் காண்கிறேன்.

மனதில் மலைபோல் நிற்பவர்க்கு மரணம் ஏது?
என்றென்றும் எழுத்தாய் எண்ணமாய் என்னில்.

On the shore of my life…

On the shore of my life
when time stood still,
like a toddler crying
for mom in the next room,
I thought…
that the wave would never return.
That wave which had receded
was gone forever, my mind declared.
Those moments of misery,
so long and unending they seemed.
Indeed, mere dots in the expanse of eternity.
Still, universal truths shatter
in the universe of one’s thoughts.
Then, one day, ten years ago,
that wave washed again on my shore.
A miracle of life
that love’s magic wand whisks at will.

Roared you did
and pulled me into the fountain of the future.
I let go of all that was holding me back
and rushed into your arms.
Arms, that were not merely going to protect me
but push me, propel me and play with me.
A ripple in my timeline
that changed the course of my footsteps.

Walked we did
through ragged rocks
of unshared memories of the past
through burning beds
of misunderstandings and misjudgments
through grassy fields
of interests alike, to delve into minds and places
through lush jungles
of dreams different, to reflect our best to the world
Through it all,
remembering to hold hands,
in the sun and rain of pain and pleasure.

Was it all a walk in the woods
with a breeze strolling by to befriend?
Nay! rather, a scuba dive into the deep.
Learning to breathe different.
Learning to communicate simply.
Just a few signs.
As if my life depended on that.
‘I’m okay’
‘I’m going down’
‘I’m going up.’
‘Stop.’
Not chatting away ceaselessly
without a break in breath.
Just a focus on being,
breathing in and breathing out.
Gently.
And… what wonders have come my way
when I learnt that I could live a little different.

Graceful fish schools of serendipitous success
Colourful corals of friends and fun
Plentiful source of air in a tank of identity,
that I’m free to refill and redefine.
Learning to be with you,
I found myself
and found myself in a beautiful world.

And now,
when time has speed danced away,
I look back on those days of the past
and remember that wave
which seemed like it would never return.

Not a moment goes by
when I’m not thankful
that I did wait on that shore,
with my flame fluttering
in the fiery wind,
for you to return.

And, you did.
Returned and rekindled the fire
that I now see dancing in these eyes before me,
breathing in the scent of love,
listening to its echo in the heartbeat within,
as they sit by the campfire on the shore,
listening to this song of long ago.

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The Sixth Continent – Quest and Questions

Here we are, in the sixth continent, in a strange little place with stranger stories engraved in its history. A place which echoes with tales of rulers, who came from near and far, to possess this land of extraordinary natural beauty! My eyes are yet to see this, as the world outside is still clothed in dark. But my senses are filled with the richness of it all. The breath of life, which dances its way up my nostrils, echoes of an ecologically diverse world. There’s a silence – Not the still-heartbeat-echoing kind I felt in a country in Europe, but one reverberating with the silent submission of human voices before the subtle sounds of nature. The deep and piercing sounds of insects filled the air the night last. Now, it’s the gentlest chirping of birds. I imagine little feathered creatures, shaking their head left and light. The sky is dressed in deep blue, waiting to welcome the sun. There’s the fragrance of leaves and flowers whose names I do not know and smells of foods that my tongue has tasted not.

A cockerel coos loudly at intervals. It may have been brought here by one of the invaders or it could be native fowl. The distinctness of its voice makes me think that it’s the latter. Its note does not blend with the notes of the other birds here, which seem to be in symphony with nature. This cooing sounds like a shocking interlude. It’s the same story of conquest everywhere, isn’t it? Foreigners invade and push the indigenous people to extreme pockets. As I read about the various indigenous people and their practices, it was an amazing insight into the world of the past. Here were a group of humans, who first arrived and found ways to coexist with nature. But then, another invader arrives. First it’s the Incas and they rule for a hundred years. Another, who comes from a faraway world, defeats this invader. And then the indigenous is made ashamed of his practices and his way of life. What if theirs is the right way of seeing this world, the way they naturally evolved with the land and did not let man and his follies dictate their transformation?

The world around me is slowly coming alive. The blue is turning an indigo and lady dawn will smile, any moment. The trees are perfectly still. Not a single leaf moves. There is no breeze or if he is there, he is hiding, slithering about quietly, without touching a thing. The chorus of little birds grows a little louder and the hens too. Through the tree, I can see the city’s lights glimmering. This place evokes a sense of being in the Tamil countryside, where I used to go as a child, a time when I had the privilege of looking at starlit skies in the night. The terracotta roof outside this balcony is the cue for my inner magician to pull those bunny memories out. “Any moment now” – Chirping birds seem to whisper to one another and they get ready to ride the sun. So do I.

This is a new sun I’m welcoming. A sun that ancestors long, long ago saw. How did man arrive here? The migration of the entire human race that took thousands of years to happen, we did it, in a span of 2 days. 27 hours of flight time, yes. But a mere dot in the scale of things. Millions of years, evolution took to happen and tens of thousands of years, man took to come to this continent. I’m remembering the first family, which moved from known shores to explore a new land and call it their own. The entire human race, save a handful of people in Africa, is a family of immigrants. Did life really start at one place and then move on to different regions or did evolution make its mark at all places independently? A fascinating question to ask. I believe in one world. These strange faces that I smile at are long-lost cousins and nephews and nieces. They are me, as much as I am them.

As I sit in this little spot on a faraway corner from the place I call home, I still feel at home only because it was a long-lost ancestor who walked into this land. One who was brave enough to wander and see the beauty of a new land, letting go known faces. This is in tribute to that ancestor who brought man to these shores. Our species will survive only if we learn to hold hands with the ways of nature rather than trying to change nature for one’s own benefits. How can we move away from practices that scar mother nature and how can we lay garlands of love on her body?

DARWIN’S INSPIRATION – IN THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

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A day has gone by. The sights along the way, the unique forests that seemed like out of an alien landscape, with white tentacles extending skyward. Little birds everywhere! Wonder how Darwin’s finches are evolving with all the tourists around. There is plentiful supply of food now. How are they, who are used to fighting a hard battle to procure food, coping with the pain of this abundance? Life’s interesting puzzle! Will they too create art now that their food is guaranteed? Or will they lose the drive to thrive?

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Wonderful laughing with a little Ecuadorian boy who would not stop talking, the barrier of language notwithstanding! Spanish met English and Tamil. The walls of unknown languages were scaled with the able limbs of curiosity and universal affection.

CREATURES OF LAND AND SEA – PLAZA ISLAND AND PUNTA CARRION

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A memorable day. Red and blue would be the essence of it – The turquoise blue of the Pacific at its shallowest and the red of the Plaza island. The darkness-clad marine iguanas and the sun-clad land iguanas, both magnificent in their evolution in this arid landscape.

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The walk of the iguana is something to sit and stare at. The way it moves sends echoes in the air, tom-tomming the long-gone dinosaurs. Playing that ‘stare till you dare’ game, it locks eyes with you now and then and does not move away until it has won.

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Birds were moving flowers in the skies. The magnificent frigate birds whose shape when in flight resembles an M, with their giant yet delicate wings spread in air. Seemingly, these are pirates that do not dive deep for that might break the wings. They steal food from other birds that dive deep to fish. There was the exquisite red-billed tropicbird that had such delicate and slender tail feathers, disappearing in a wisp behind it. Then, there was the bright white bird with brown webbed feet – The Nazca booby. And birds that rested in the day and hunted in the night. I stood like a student hungrily devouring all the fascinating things about these bird friends.

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To tell you more about the life beneath the land, we went to Punta Carrion in the morning. I was a little scared owing to a lack of extensive snorkeling experience. But then, the guide, gauging my attempts as I was snorkeling, hanging on to the boat, told me that I could possibly try it and that I shouldn’t be scared. So after some practice sessions, I got the hang of it and dared to let go of the boat I was holding on to, to snorkel along the corners of the reef, all the way to the end. I saw a fish with a toothy grin that kept hammering the rocks to peck away its food with a smile. Other members of the underwater movie cast were brilliantly coloured purple fish and dozens of Nemos and Dories. Trailing behind were synchronised schools of fish and a harmless little shark, which was dancing around the reef. When I took a moment to pause and take in everything, it took me to different world entirely. The gentle movements of the creatures beneath, living with the sensuous sea all their life, reminded me of the clumsiness of us, the humans. The way they bend and dance to the waves forever and we, keep fighting the tide of life!

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Eating my fear, led by my excited eyes, I kept reaching out to the farther corner of the reef. Snorkeling – This is the thing people come here for. Seeing life underwater! There are many, many pictures and videos of life on land. It’s easy and accessible but to catch a glimpse of the life that thrives and throbs underwater is a special treat for the eyes and mind. It reminded me of the diver we met in Australia who was relating about his many dives and remarking how after too many dives some people lose their senses. It’s the pressure of the sea that lightens you, perhaps a little too much. But snorkeling and being on the surface makes it a little more comfortable. Being close to land that makes us feel safe, whilst exploring our ancient, ancient past. The fish that I saw walking on the rocks could easily be the descendant of the first fish that walked on land and became those magnificent reptiles.

At the Finch Bay hotel where we stayed, I hear the sweet sounds of the eponymous finches that proclaim to the world their story of survival in this arid land. Some with pointed beaks, some with sharp ones and every kind there is. Darwin’s finches flew about, autographing Darwin’s theory of evolution and adaptation. Yesterday I saw a black finch pecking away at the abundant breakfast spread. I again wondered what we humans are doing to the creatures around. A thousand years from now, will our successors consider our actions and nod in disbelief, as we frown upon the actions of those who came before us, who rode the giant tortoises here and ate their meat. What actions of ours will be abhorrent to them, as the supposedly harmless acts of our predecessors appear to us now?

When we were at the Plaza Island, I asked our guide Fabian about why the waters were a turquoise blue on one side of the island and a grey on the other? He replied that where the water is shallow, it’s that colour of blue. I turned to Madhan and said, seems like shallow is pretty and he came back with, ‘pretty and beautiful’ are just what we have trained our eyes to see. It could be the other way. That made me think, how we like to project our lives as beautiful and magnificent to the world but perhaps we are being shallow and the deep sea with its vague grey contains so much mystery and life beneath, that perhaps the world needs to understand our common humanity. That’s what writing is about, I suppose, plumbing into the greys of the mind to show the life hiding there.

THE GOOD OLD LIFE – GIANT TORTOISES FARM AND TORTUGA BAY

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Watching giant tortoises so close was a mystical experience. To look at their gentle movements and their take-it-easy life, it was like looking at a wise old person. The eyes seemed to be all knowing. Just like how a good-natured granny’s eyes would crinkle and smile at you. The way they extend their neck and the way they retreat into the shell, pushing out the air within.

Lunch at the farm was sumptuous. Saw what farm life could be at the Manzanillo Ranch. By the way, Manzanillo is a plant endemic to Galapagos, poisonous to humans but tasty to tortoises. Such is life!

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The visit to Tortuga Bay started with a half-hour walk ending in a rewarding experience of wildlife. Strolling with marine iguanas; Gazing at the sky to catch a glimpse of the frigate birds; Walking with a yellow eyed cormorant, which at first ran away from me and then kept following me; Smiling at pelicans that kept swooshing and pouncing into the water; Admiring red-throated lava lizards scampering about. The place was teeming with life. On an island born of raging fire, how has so much life bloomed?

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Once the wave retreated, holes in the sand spewed out water like lava. I glanced at schools of tiny silvery transparent fish barely a couple of steps from the shore. I have never ever seen this sight in any other beach. True proof that life abounds and thrives here. Perhaps, human footprint is a minimum in a relative scale. Humans have not been here for millennia but just a few hundred years past. Not enough to affect life yet, perhaps. A liberating experience to watch animals in the wild and walk along, smile at them and lock eyes with them.

HARDSHIP AND HEART – FLOREANA

The thing was the two-hour boat ride from Santa Cruz to the island of Floreana was a little too much for Haiku. He kept throwing up. It made him feel sick and angry. But once we landed on the island, he enjoyed the place, running around the maze and climbing the banks. He was his usual self. But, then another two hours of boat ride back to Santa Cruz made him sick for quite some time afterwards. I’m amazed that I was able to face all this without getting pulled down. This was not who I used to be. When even a minor thing went a little awry, I used to feel that everything was a disaster. Now I see it as an opportunity to understand our strength. Yes, it was a difficult crossing but he made it. He showed his spirit in his enjoyment of Floreana. He asked not for mobile phones when in the presence of these creatures of awe, and that’s the best gift we could give him.

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The colorful marine iguanas of Floreana were gorgeous models of nature. So dazzling in their red and blue. Reminded me of the moments in Plaza Island – the red algae and the blue Pacific. There’s a pattern weaving itself over and over. I’m glad to be a dot in this pattern – A dot that sees and reflects this pattern.

This island that was first inhabited has the least population. They are descendants of some German immigrants, I heard. Why did these people arrive here? Why did they choose this harsh land? The animals had no other go. They did not choose to arrive here. They were swept by winds and they rode the winds of time and became masters of this land. Millions of years of evolution, of staying still and changing what needs to be changed slowly, steadily and then, passing on the imprints of these lessons to their sons and daughters, they have thrived and flourished here. But, humans?

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Why do humans seek out such harsh territories out of their own volition? Why do they move away from the known world and try to settle down in remote corners of the world? That’s not the norm though. Perhaps early men were also pushed to the unknown by changing forces of nature. What is life? Just a game of chance?

CULTURE AND ART – QUITO

Today, we want to soak in Quito. Still trees stand all around me. Not a leaf is fluttering. This is a lot different after the fluttering breeze that was omnipresent in the Galapagos – On Plaza island or Floreana or Santa Cruz, the breeze was always there. Here, not so. Everything is still and calm. Everything echoes with a different feeling.

The day started with a visit to the Intinan Museum. Learnt that ‘Inti’ means ‘Sun’ in Kichwa, the language of the indigenous. It’s a museum located not at the geographic centre but actually 250 m off it. The original 0 degree is on the opposite side of the road, on a hill across the highway. Turns out it was a sacred indigenous site. How did the natives know about the importance of the place without any of the measuring devices and precise scientific equipment of this century? Turns out that reality is not just about measuring and seeing. It’s about feeling, as indigenous cultures have proved time and again.

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The museum was great in that, it gave a bird’s eye view of the entire Ecuadorian country. The guides there spoke about the practices of the many tribes such as the skull shrinking tradition of the Shaur, the strength of the Wuarani and stories of an entire house being built in three days. This was the most fascinating part of the day. Must appreciate them for the importance they accord to the indigenous tribes, who have been treated poorly in every part of the world traditionally. The different have always been considered inferior. Have we stopped to ask ourselves why? How can the majority or the powerful dictate the scale of human capability? How much have we lost because we believed that one conquering group was superior to the rest? What human treasures have been lost irrecoverably? How can we recover the knowledge of our ancestors, living this cubicle life? I salute this country for it is recognising the value of indigenous knowledge and culture and making it an integral part of their country.

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Then, we went on to the Basilica to be blown away by the architecture and coloured glass paintings. So extraordinary, but bringing to memory the work we found in some Rajasthan forts. Art seems to weave bridges across time. Taking a view of the old town and a walk by the roads, I caught a glimpse of a lot of people lining up to get their nails done. A big queue ran out into the street from the shop. Apparently, a crucial thing here!

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All over the streets, the Ecuadorians were getting ready to welcome the new year. Apparently, they have a tradition of burning paper mache dolls of various fictional characters, signifying the burning away of the old and welcoming the new. For fire signifies purity, explained our guide. It is their metaphor for clearing away all the blemishes of the past for a new beginning. Here again, perhaps these cultures draw inspiration from the many volcanoes that abound the land. The fury of which now gives them the rich land they feast on.

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Talking about a feast, the fruits here must have dropped straight from heaven! Mangos and bananas make you mesmerised in the richness of flavour. Their mangoes, unlike ours, happen only in one month, that of December and we were so lucky to be there then. Juice of the fruit called banyavana, which looks like wild custard apple, blew our minds with its uniqueness.

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As the day coasted to a close, we headed to the La Compania church. The thing I liked about the La Compania Church was what I heard about the Quito school of art. In this form, indigenous artists hide elements of their land in these seemingly distant depictions of another culture. The suppressed express through art!

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Be it in the wild of the Galapagos or the art of Quito, this place has taught me to understand a little something of the world. We are victims of our times. The world around seems to force a certain behaviour out of us. And we, like the colourful marine iguanas and the ingenious Quito artists, adapt to the emphasis of that specific brush on the canvas of our life. Still, traces of who we are, tries to shine through it all.

Thus ended a journey that revealed a living lesson on retaining one’s essence whilst surviving the changing tides of time.

An Invisible Invite


Should I only see you, o breeze,

In the dance of the trees,

In your kiss on my neck, that lingers,

In the caress of your faint fingers,

In birds that climb the skies,

In the dreaminess of eyes,

In the fragrance of a flower,

In the glimpse of wildfire’s power,

In the simmering pot on the stove,

In the sound of distant voices I love?

Won’t you, won’t you come my way

And smile in words that take the breath away?

Baahubali – On the Mathematics of Evoking Emotions

Have you ever wanted to precisely know why you love something? The first time one experiences Baahubali, it feels like a gigantic wave crashing on the shores of one’s mind. The end-result is an overwhelming feeling of being drenched in awe. But what if you had that little wish to feel every droplet touching your skin? So, I decided to stand with myself another time, with a pen and notebook, and watch as the wave hit me. Every single time I sensed something stirring in me, I scribbled it quickly in my notebook, much to the puzzlement of a ten-year-old girl sitting next to me. Then I saw those droplets and saw them stringing together to paint patterns within patterns. Here, I try to capture in words these images that flashed before my eyes…

Spoilers ahead…

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The Music in the Words

What if you could hear a piano playing or drums beating on just hearing a set of words? And no, it’s not because there’s a rousing score in the background. Just read these words aloud and listen to what you hear:

நீ கூறிய சொல்லால் கூரிய வாளால் உன் நா அறுபடும் என்று அறிவாயா?
nee kooRiya sollaal kooriya vaaLaal un naa aRubadum endRu aRivaayaa?
Don’t you know that your tongue shall be severed with a sharp sword for the word spoken?
வஞ்சகனின் நெஞ்சில் இருக்கும் நஞ்சு கெஞ்சிக் கேட்டால் வராது அரசே!
vanjaganin nenjil irukkum nanju kenji kaettaal varaadhu arasae!
You cannot make a vile man part with the venom in his heart by crooning to him, my lord!
அவள் வாயால் சொன்னதை நீ வாளால் நிரூபித்து விட்டாய்
avaL vaayaal sonnadhai nee vaaLaal niroobithu vittaay
You have echoed her words with your sword!
உங்கள் சாசனங்களை நெருப்பில் எரியுங்கள். 
உங்கள் சட்டங்களை கடலில் எறியுங்கள்.  
உங்கள் விதிமுறைகளை தூக்கில் ஏற்றுங்கள்.
மதிகெட்ட இந்த அரசுக்கு மகிழ்மதி என்று பெயர்!

ungaL saasanangaLai neruppil eriyungaL.
ungaL sattangaLai kadalil eRiyungaL.  
ungaL vidhimuRaigaLai thookkil aetRungaL.
madhigetta indha arasukku magizhmadhi endRu peyar

Throw your charters to the fire!
Throw your laws into the sea!
Hang your rules!
This foolish royalty dares to call itself ‘Makizhmathi’ (Land of Joy and Wisdom)!
பழிதாங்கி உளி வாங்கி
படைப்பானோ எதிர்காலம்?
உதிரத்தில் சினமோடும் 
துளி யாவும் சிவம்

pazhidhaangi uLi vaangi
padaippaanoa edhirkaalam?
udhirathil sinamoadum
thuLi yaavum sivam

Bearing the blame, 
holding a chisel,
will he carve a new future?
In the fury 
of every drop of blood,
all there is, is God.

In the alliterative play of the words above, in the rhythm that resounds, words seem to be singing a seamless tune of exquisiteness and performing a choreographed dance of grace.

The Words in the Music

In a case of reversal, the music could be heard speaking like a seasoned orator. At these moments, you hear a thousand-word description of the character or an in-depth analysis of a situation, in a few notes of music.

Take for instance… the score at the moment Baahubali’s eyes take in Devasena. If you listen with your heart, it will bring back every face you have ever fallen for. It fills you with the tingling sensation that races through all of what makes you and a euphoric joy that makes every pain you have ever experienced, a distant memory. It proclaims in an instant that this is a life-changing moment in not just the life of a man but also the life of a nation, laden with beauty and melancholy.

Contrast this with the score for the first time Balla casts his eyes on Devasena. It’s primeval. It evokes the lustful image of an animal procreating. Something violent, intense and immediate! You understand that this ‘love’ needs no lover to reciprocate it. A classic case to showcase the intensity of unrequited love!

Be it the menacing moment when Sivagami advances towards Devasena or the rousing one when she proclaims the newborn as the new king of the nation, the music speaks to you with an intensity that makes you roar with the crowd.

In the return of young Baahubali, as he soars to defeat his enemies, you hear almost a modern day score, as if the music is speaking in the accent of he who has lived abroad and is returning with the traces of that new nation in his tongue. The music here proclaims that the tide has turned and a new order is born.

Expression of the Outer Elements

Fire, Water, Air, Earth and Sky should be rightfully on the rolling credits! These emote and express the inexpressible. In the ‘Kannan song’, when Devasena, dreaming about Baahubali, showers the lord’s statue with incense water, there’s a dove sprinkling water on Baahubali in the courtyard and when she does the ‘arati’ to the lord, with burning camphor, Baahubali feels its warmth on his face from a firebrand hanging on his window. Here the elements are at their gentlest and romantic best.

In a poetic sequence, when Baahubali and Kattappa enter the Kunthala kingdom, there they see cowherds chasing their oxen with water splashing beneath the hooves. In a stunning reversal a few scenes later, the water under the hooves climbs on as the fire on the horns of the oxen. Baahubali is the master as well as the alchemist of elements.

In a dream sequence of the ‘orey oru ooril’ song, the leading lady starts a storm amidst the waves and this master coolly takes off in air. Like a bird soaring, their love takes a flight of imagination in the breeze.

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In the fight against the Kalakeyas, the earth element comes to the fore. As Kattappa stands on those unforgiving rocks, with tears pouring down his eyes, the fire rages behind him, painting the pain and passion of the moment in the confluence of the elements.

As Balla pours oil to kindle a fire, as Sivagami proclaims ‘நாடே பற்றி எரியும் (The nation will be up in flames)’ and many more moments, one can sense the trope of fire running all through the movie. Perhaps that’s why we don’t feel time passing by at all. Like wildfire, it spreads throughout the movie keeping up the pace and never slacking for a moment.

In the final moment of defeat, as Balla is about to burn on the pyre, the image of an elderly Baahubali as he might have looked had he been alive, bursts out amidst the thundering clouds in the sky and Balla’s earthly journey ends with fire lighting up the sky and earth. Or so you would think. The image of his ego and arrogance, the statue of his head still has to hurtle down a mighty waterfall to signify the final end of hubris at the hands of the elements.

Impression of the Inner Elements

How can you etch the minutiae of love, lust, guilt, disappointment, loyalty, and treachery living in those hidden corners of the heart on so grand a canvas? Is it even possible to marry nuance and grandeur? In style, this happens. In the eyes of the performers, you glimpse it all the time. The guilty thorn that irks the throat of Sivagami even though she knows she has done the right thing is the single foundation for the downfall of that empire. The guilt of having favoured the right one against her own!

Devasena, my favourite character in this mythical fantasy, has so much to inspire a woman in modern reality. Even as you are just getting to know her, you see that she wants to be better than her best. There she is trying unsuccessfully to release two arrows from a bow much to the amusement of her family and royal council, who remark that she is already the most skilled archer in the kingdom. She does not care that Baahubali is an heir to an empire. She walks on his shoulders. She cares not for wealth but only for truth and love. The most intricate exposition of the beauty of her character is when she does not want Baahubali by her side, even in her pain, but wants him to do what is right for the nation. She stands alone and as an equal to Baahubali, in every possible way.

Above all, what stretches like infinity in my mind is the singular image of Baahubali’s arrows whizzing past the dangling earrings of Devasena. Here is power and beauty in an ecstatic symphony!

Snakes and Dogs

In the character of Pingalar, be it in the double-dagger-like moustache or be it the hissing sound of his voice or in the way his fingers creep on Kattappa’s shoulder when he is trying to confuse him about who he owes loyalty to, a snake is what you see and hear. A snake that dances to the mellifluous tune of the snake charmer, Balla.

In Kattappa, an image of a loyal dog keeps popping up again and again.

உன் தாயின் நாய் வருகிறது!
Here comes your mother’s dog!

‘நான் நாய் அல்லவா, மோப்பம் பிடித்தேன்’
Am I not a dog? I sniffed it out!

You see the tail-wagging, loving, protecting friend that you wish you had. He enriches the movie with his playful woofs and fierce attacks.

Triangles and Circles

At the very core, there is symmetry in this saga. I see the plot resting on two triangles. Both between one woman and two men! First, a woman and her two sons; Finally, a woman and her two suitors! Ironically, balance and harmony in the blueprint builds this visual structure of contradiction and conflict.

Then again, the story completes in precise concentric circles. When Devasena walks with a fire-pot on her head bringing to you memories of her mother-in-law taking the same walk, one circle closes; When Balla burns on the fire reminding you of the demon’s statue in the beginning, another circle clicks to a close; In that moment when young Baahubali lets his blood flow on the Sivalinga, in his fight to ease the burden of his mother walking there with a pot of fire on her head, the circle leaps to the first part, to the moment when he lifts and places another Sivalinga under a flowing river to ease his other mother’s burden of wanting to shower the lord with pots of water. And finally, when that statue-head of Balla falls down the waterfall, it brings back memories of another head climbing up the same waterfall against all odds and beginning this story of Baahubali. With the aid of elements and emotions, the movie portrays with mathematic precision that evil has nowhere to go but down when good decides to climb up. In you, in me and in our world! And, that is why I love Baahubali.

One night…

A dark and dangerous forest,
She roams, with happiness, bereft.
Slithering creatures of the night
Whisper sensing her plight,
“Come to me! I’ll hold you tight!”
Lost in thinking of the paths that led her there,
She stumbles into the pit of rumination.
A shattering fall that hurts head and heart!
Snarling teeth and gleaming eyes, up above,
Behold the hounds of Netherville!
Claws itching to tear her guts out,
Towards the night sky, they shout,
Proclaiming that the prey is caught.
“Now to bite into the flesh of hope!
Now to shed the blood of dreams!”
Victory in their grasp, so near,
She stands there, soaked in fear.
From far-away,
Resounding roars of past insults,
Thundering trumpets of failed plans,
Crash against the shore of her now.
Her troubles bang the table for a final toast.
The darkest hour descends.
In the corner of the pit, she finds
Hard rock of conflicting voices turning soft.
Quickly that quicksand sneaks near her,
Trying to pull her down to the depths of no-return.
When around and below, darkness looms,
Far off, her ears hear a little bird,
‘Hey! Fly to me. I can teach you to sing’
‘Nay! I cannot show you the scar of my torn wing!’
With impotent words, she stares downwards.
Still, that birdsong, in her mind, echoes.
The sneaking quicksand, off her feet, she throws.
Unceasing snarling, roaring, trumpeting making her meek,
Tear drops of hurt trickle down her cheek.
A wounded bird falls into the pit from nowhere.
Perhaps, the handiwork of another hound up there!
The bird flutters all around,
Shaking its wings,
Struggling to fly and just then,
A flying drop of its blood colors her tears red.
Touched by that cackling fire on a cold night,
Touched by that caressing embrace after a fight,
She stands up, soaring to her full height.
Eyes burning with fury,
She stares back at the gleaming demons,
Like a possessed one,
The pit she thought she couldn’t climb,
She flies with wings she knew not she had.
With the pride of her belief back,
The lioness pounces on that evil pack.
Looming figures that eclipsed the sky,
As a deck of cards, they fall and fly.
Those roars and trumpets grow dimmer,
As she lets her confidence simmer.
Peering down her pit,
She declares to it,
“With brave words, you, I shall cover,
And not let another me suffer.”
Looking up, the curtain of darkness falls away.
The sky envelops her shivering soul,
With the scarlet blanket of possibility.
A spot of orange laughter,
A shade of red passion,
A dash of yellow friendship,
A coat of violet hugs,
Many, many shades, her fingers touch.
Multi-hued threads of life to cling on to.
Closing her eyes, she senses,
The kiss of the morning breeze;
The fragrance of the blooming buds;
The song of the crooning birds.
Wondering, as she steps into the light,
Is this the end of every such night?
She knows not.
Just a thought,
To inscribe with indelible ink,
Of the night she refused to sink.