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.

The Book of Life

It all starts with a blank page.
Words get written, struck, rewritten.
What will be the essence in the end?
Can you go back and change things?
What if there are points of no return?
When the last sentence is done,
What will it be worth?
Will it be loved, hated or worse, ignored?
What about the pages of yore?
That of the first man?
What did he do all day?
Perhaps only rub two stones together.
Lo behold! His mindless action lit the first spark.
In its warmth, we all bask!
In follies that one was the centre of the universe,
Pages have been written.
When someone tried to change it,
His life sentence ended.
Many a bloodshed page there has been.
But even in the bleakest of such,
There’s the punctuation of a child’s smile.
Pages written in gold embossed letters,
Silver spoon and diamond legacies.
Not any more interesting than charcoal imprints,
Engine smoke and dirty hands.
Pages that travelled the world.
Pages that stood still at a point.
Pages that moved the world.
Pages that the world moved.
Pages so abstract 
that different eyes read different words.
Pages so simple
that different hands change to different words.
On which strength stands,
There, a page of a mountain rock;
On which freshness flows,
Here, a page of a morning breeze;
On which serenity serenades,
There, a page of a wandering stream;
On which inspiration invigorates,
Here, a page of a shining spark;
Pages are right there to be seen.
But where is the author?
Why hide behind this creation?
Questions arise in surprise.
‘God’, ‘Nature’, ‘Consciousness’
‘The Force’, ‘Genes’, ‘Circumstance’
Answers abound around.
Crashing on the wall of truth,
Comes the resounding ‘You!’
You write your book!
Even though you know not to write.
The world may insist that it be written by another,
The Parent… The Teacher!
The Well-versed… The Knowledgeable!
Resist. Forget not your precious words.
It’s your precious choice!
In the colours of many languages,
Singing the same human song,
Penning the same human story;
In the fonts of many lifestyles,
Living different lives the same way,
Living the same life in different ways;
In the ordered and bordered pages of the developed,
In the overlapping and gaping pages of the developing,
Existing as the solitary word on a vast page,
Subsisting as the ignored word on a cramped page;
Standing in block prints,
Where the individual reigns supreme;
Flowing with the neighbours in cursive,
Where only society makes sense;
Whether as one in a million or one among the millions,
Pages filled as borders dictate;
Bold words fly beyond borders too.
Be it across those eons or these miles,
Every time a page is opened,
There is doubt but also hope.
Claps few; Curses too;
Clamouring voices queue.
‘This will be worthless!’
‘This will be priceless!’
‘Are you sure?’
‘What does it matter?’
‘Why don’t you just stop and end it all now?’
Just be sure to hear the whisper
Of that gentle voice, ‘Keep writing…’

Unfinished Garbage Tales from Chennai

The story of garbage is being written in every home and every street corner. An everyday drama where everyone is an actor! If you take any other issue, say corruption, one may flick it away with a ‘No! I have never taken or given a bribe. Not my concern’. But is there anyone who can say I produce no garbage at all? Maybe because everyone is responsible, we tend to think that someone else will do something about it!
When you exert even the slightest of mental effort, you’ll find that this isn’t some kind of rocket science. There’s a simple solution as has been demonstrated so many times – Segregate, Recycle, Compost. I even heard a development scientist remark that all the research that needs to be done on solid waste management has already been done. So, why then are our streets still in this state? Why hasn’t all that research translated into action and results for the common man? With all these thoughts bubbling within me, I decided that instead of just cribbing, I should actually do something about it. Living in a block of apartments, I wanted to talk about this to the residents. I wanted to at least find out what people thought about this, if at all they thought. Some insights gleaned were the issue of time. When there’s so much to juggle – work, family, children’s education, where is the time to think about this? Some were so busy that they shut the door in my face as if I were just another annoying salesman. Some people did welcome me, but they too filled me with their tales of cynicism and everything else that was wrong in the place. Many also said yes and they would be willing to work on this. But still, there is a stepping back, a lack of drive when it asks for more than just words. 
While the challenges of confronting minds are many, it’s heartening to observe that the floods have lit a flame of passion in people. Many have this burning intensity to do something about this. Maybe because they worked from their hearts selflessly during the floods for strangers or maybe having analyzed in their minds that the destruction caused by the floods was because of human action, they want to change this. I find there are many who want this but they know not how. At the same time, inertia and the comfort of not doing anything is pulling them back. It would take a lot of confident and strong hands to get them to the fighting side.
Many such hands have been and are at work at attacking this problem from angles many. Here are a few that I learnt of…
In the Past…
How can we forget the fervor initiated by street welfare associations of the 90s? Starting in 1989, the organization branched all over the city with the goal of making it green and clean. But why has their presence diminished? Even on their website, there’s hardly any activity since 2013. Have we changed as a city? Have they not been able to keep up with the dynamics of this internet driven world? Any organization working on this problem now needs to look at where this organization went and what they learnt, to continue to make a difference. 
This was an action research organization, which conducted and produced a lot of meaningful results for Chennai. Their research, maps and articles on solid waste management contain a wealth of on-the-ground data and strategy for tackling this issue. They have closed operations as of 2014 but some of the team members are continuing their work through the Citizen Consumer andCivic Action Group.
At the moment…
A social enterprise that focuses on the ‘Recycle’ segment of this cycle and attempts to connect the customers to the nearest recycler. Their aesthetically well done website exudes the freshness of youth and the promise of hope. Their upcykle store is yet to open but it seems the right fit for our artists aspiring to elevate things from the domain of dirt to the realm of art. Especially impressive is their research and mapping abilities which holds the promise of extending it not just to recyclers but also to all other stakeholders involved.
An initiative started by The Hindu, which aims to bring out the various infrastructure problems in the city. As of now, there are more than 500 stories and 1950 activists listed on the site. This forum needs to be appreciated for giving a space for citizens to tell the world what’s wrong around them. I only fear that people may become satisfied with simply ranting and not bothering about taking constructive action. While that could happen, this also holds the promise of ensuring accountability if ways are found to expand beyond reporting towards action. 
Whenever I talk to people working on this area, this name keeps popping up. I have come to learn that they are a group of activists working on various environmental issues towards inspiring citizens to act for their environment. 
Ask the Neighbors…
Siru thuli (a little drop) is an environmental NGO from Kovai, which works towards changing Garbage to Green and is helping communities to close in on the gap to zero waste. 
Daily dump is a start-up in Bangalore that focuses on the ‘Compost’ segment of this cycle. They produce composters for various needs as well as offer services to install the same in households and apartment complexes. They have outlets and franchises in Chennai. The Dailydump site and Youtube channel have many videos and links that makes you say, ‘Oh, that seems so easy!’ 
Sowing seeds of awareness…
Chennai Trekking Club

A group that is well known for its annual Chennai coastal cleanup initiatives.

Environmental Foundation of India

They focus on reclaiming the rivers and lakes, among other awareness programmes.

The Ugly Indian

A quirky initiative which believes in doing and showing by example. Cleaning a street, changing the look of a place, literally illustrating that change is possible. 
In addition, there are pockets of neighborhood activists who have been or are attempting to implement effective waste management even as I write this. An MRC Nagar community, CleanKotturpuram Campaign, Shanti Ulhas from Mahalingapuram are some names I have come across, who make hope burn brighter. No doubt there are many more doing this silently in their homes and apartment complexes. A salute to each and every one of them! You may climb the Everest, you may even fly to Mars but the ultimate challenge lies in changing people’s minds. These organizations and communities need something to feed their passion. What will we give them? Our time? Our money? Our minds? Our efforts? A question each one must ask of oneself, if we want to move to a different tomorrow.
Of our future…
Although the trajectory of today isn’t exactly heading to a clean and green future, can we try to reimagine a different tomorrow? Isn’t it still possible to conceive of a day when…
As you fly into the city, green smiles at you from every rooftop; 
Laughing children fill the groves of what were once the landfills in Perungudi and Kodungaiyur; 
IT employees turn farmers too, all in a day’s work.

Here’s to doing all it takes to get to this ‘The End’!

[Experiences] Day Thirty

A life-changing December for many in my city, it sure has been! Nature’s fury threw us out of our complacent routines and made us focus on the important things in life. Adding an internal layer to this all-consuming external force, this was the month I had taken upon myself to write a blog article every single day for thirty days.
Originally, it was an attempt in silencing some voices within. When you have been ignoring what you love, voices can taunt you saying, ‘You have lost the spark’ and ‘Your words are dead!’ On the brink of believing that, I rebelled and decided to challenge this voice and write, no matter what. Yes, I could have written secret little articles on my laptop, just for my eyes. But, when one writes knowing other eyes will see it, one writes with the power it gives and the responsibility it asks. So, I took this challenge, trusting life. And, without fail, every single day, there was something to move me to write, to create, and to marvel. A few experiences, I went in search of; many, just came my way. I seized it all and made this December, one to remember!
Through sickness of loved ones and the consequent sleeplessness; Through the luxury of inspiration but poverty of time that is travel; Through the ups and downs of everyday life – Through it all, I kept going. But surprisingly, not one day did it feel like a burden. In fact, it felt like a balm, whatever was happening within or without.
As I shared thoughts and experiences, I felt a sense of calm enveloping me. I saw the creative child in me leaping with joy at being given these free reins! As this led me inward to heal those wounds of time that’s there in everyone, it simultaneously made me reach out to the world outside, to my long-lost friends and to people I meet every day, with a new humanity. It was a journey, to thirty different places in thirty days, bringing out a thirty different me.
As I wrote day after day, not aiming for my nitpicking perfection but for a sincere consistency, I found creativity to be an inexhaustible well. As I fetched each pail, I saw new ideas gushing in. Many a time, words that I knew not existed within me, came alive. It seemed like a whisper of the universe and the shout of every atom, all at once.
I see this as an exercise to show not just to myself but also to you, that you can break those barriers in your head and go towards whatever it is you want. You will know if it’s right or not when you get there. I hope, like me, you will come to realize that the only person standing in the way of your creativity is you! Go on, take up a challenge and prove it to yourself you can do it, if you ‘will’ so. Make that promise to the most important person in your life – you!


Now that I have fulfilled that promise I made to myself, I look at the fluttering flag atop this small hill. I turn to look lovingly at every mile behind me with a content smile. As I stand here at this moment, a kinder, warmer voice within says ‘This is not the end!’ It wordlessly points to those rugged mountains at a distance. And, I gaze ahead with hope!