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!

[Reflections] As you beckon with love…

The everyday death; the fountainhead of life; the doctor of troubles; the priest of desires; the undertaker of the past; the foreteller of the future – What would we be without you, O Sleep! 
Isn’t it often said that one must forget sleep to make dreams come true? Do you think so? Don’t we find our lives going for a toss, if we do just that, no matter how aligned we are to our dreams. Perhaps, the saying is just to remind you that just dreaming won’t get you what you want. Perhaps, sleep here is the kind of sleep we do with eyes open – in refusing to do what’s good; In refusing to give up what’s not right.
What happens when one has to lose a lot of sleep, all the time? Volcanoes burst in the head at the merest trifles. It’s like setting a forest fire to light a lamp. On the other hand, after a night of calming sleep, even mountains seem moveable. Winds of serenity and waves of creativity flow within the soul.
An image of a classroom pops up. It’s the dreaded afternoon hour after lunch. The professor is going on about some little facet of study that is going to be of no use in another three years. They must buy his voice for those sleep lab demos. Instant soporific! Our friend, after a night of late-night partying in the hostel, seems to be tightrope walking between conking out and keeping eyes open. There, gravity wins and a head suddenly plonks on the desk! Next instant, a chalk lands on his head. Bulls-eye! They must ship off the professor to ISRO. What a precise launch and landing! A wave of muffled laughter pulses through the class. Another image of a conference room and a comatose colleague flashes by. Sleep sure has entertained us in more ways than one!
It’s my guess that the lack of sleep somehow has a huge role to play in half the wars happening around the world. Speaking of which, among warring couples, one might have the philosophy that says, ‘Stay up till you finish the fight!’
And, the other may say, ‘No talking in the night!’
‘How can you sleep now, with all these issues burning? one rages.
‘How can you want to talk, when your mind can’t find meaning?’ another responds.
This second speaker, no matter what his/her flaws may be, has won the argument hands down. Best thing would be to set a calendar reminder for the next morning to finish the fight and take one’s troubles to one’s own counselor, Dr. Sleep!
Isn’t sleep the one territory in which one reigns supreme? In spite of Inception The Movie, I don’t think there’s any way to enter another’s dreams, no matter how much one may want it. The only way is to be around a person, in a good or bad way and that person’s mind will decide if you make a difference enough to be let in and either way, you never know if you have been let in. In there, lies many valuable lessons. If, in sleep, when we have no control, we let no one into our minds, then why do we, when we are conscious and in control, let people and their words, actions and thoughts affect us? Why not learn to let it all pass like a dream even when awake. And, when a day of this is done, remember not to keep that lover called sleep waiting…

[Random] All in a Day’s Work

Outside a clinic, hangs a board with smiling men and women in white coats. The text proclaims ‘Athena White’. A woman and a man in their thirties approach the clinic. They walk at a balanced distance, not as close as lovers, not as far as strangers, at the point of convergence called marriage. A receptionist with a dazzling smile greets them. He nods them in and asks them to wait in the reception area. He tells them, ‘The hygienist will call you in once the room is ready.’ The man meddles with his mobile while the woman takes in the atmosphere. The place looks as if it’s been refurbished since she was last here. Her eyes fall on the date flashing on the wall – 28/12/15. 
After some time, the man gets a call on the phone and just then, an attender arrives to call them in. The husband gestures to his wife to go in first. She enters a room and sees hi-tech medical instruments – probes, scrapers, polishers and other assorted unnameable ones. The hygienist starts her work. She peers inside and says, ‘You have some deposits. Not much. But watch out for the sensitivity’. With her probing eyes, she picks up an sharp instrument. An attender stands close by, with a long tube to suck in the waste the hygienist dislodges. The hygienist painstakingly scrapes off the deposits. 
‘When was the last time you were here?’, she asks.
 ‘In May’, comes the reply. 
‘The sockets should be tighter. But they have loosened a bit. Add a massage routine everyday.’ she advises. The woman on the slanting couch, nods her head silently. As the hygienist proceeds, she squirms a bit as a sensitive nerve is touched now and then. The cleaning goes on nevertheless and finally, it is done. The woman scans around and feels it to be fresh and clean. Satisfied, she walks out and sends her husband in.
Taking a look at the man, the hygienist tells herself, ‘This is going to be a dicey one. At least his wife took some pains to routinely clean. He has been slack.’ It’s a painful, bloody affair, as the hygienist works her way around. But meticulously, she makes up for his lack of care and attention. Months of sediments peel away. Deep inside, the healthy and the unhealthy have gotten intimate and it’s hard to get them to break up.
‘Too busy a life he leads, no doubt’, the hygienist tells herself. After a long and soul-searching effort, the cleaning is complete. In spite of all the bleeding, she acknowledges the inherent strength. A lot of wear and tear but he’s essentially strong, she decides. 
‘He certainly bites more than he can chew’ she quips to herself. While all these theories go on in her head, as a true professional, she gives nothing away. Done with her work, she smiles and recommends that it would be better for him to meet another specialist. 
He comes out and his waiting wife sees traces of the strain and asks, 
‘How was it? What did she say?’
‘Not a single problem. So perfect and fine!’, he replies.
They both start laughing.
She makes a face at him and asks, ‘How do I look?’ 
‘Great, as always!’, he replies.
The receptionist hands out the bill, with a even more dazzling smile. The woman settles it and they both get ready to leave. Just before she opens the door, as if she remembered something, the woman turns and asks the waiting hygienist, 
“Your name? I want to recommend you to a friend. When did you join this place?’ 
The hygienist points to her badge with a smile, and says, ‘2114’.
It reads, ‘Mana, Mental Hygienist’.

[Reflections] An Ode to Philia

Who is a friend? Someone who first comes to your mind when you see those hilarious Whatsapp memes? Someone whose face flits by when you are feeling down in the dumps? That one person who has been there for a long time? One of those many people who were there at different points in time? Someone who lives only in your memory? Someone you are living with, everyday? Someone you play a badminton game with? Someone you have long arguments with? Someone you laugh with? Someone on whose shoulders you cry on? Someone you felt an instant connection with? Someone you lost over the years? You’re right! There is no single answer, rule, logic or formula to have or be a friend. Even when nothing much is happening in the here and now, a friend still inspires that inexpressible feeling that makes you feel you’re alright.

Meeting and making a friend is as miraculous as being born, as falling in love! How did you happen to be at a place and time and with a certain attitude and mood to attract such a person into your life? What are the odds of something like that happening? Perhaps even the smallest, most irrelevant decision at some point in life could have made you meet or lose someone. It’s hard to imagine who we’ll be without that friend who was maybe there only briefly. What we know not, we cannot miss. What we know, we cannot bear to miss!

At one point in life, we couldn’t imagine a day passing without meeting a certain person. With that same person, months and even years now pass without a single word. When life seems to squeeze us from all directions, sometimes we decide reaching out to friends is more than we can handle. One lives life like a modern Robinson Crusoe, self-marooned in a concrete jungle. Yet, even when everything is going well, there seems to hang an air of desolation. An emptiness yearning for the echo of friendship!

Some friends are lost to distance and some to time. Some bridges have broken down beyond repair and the chasm seems too wide to cross. Perhaps, all you can do is to send a silent wish: ‘Our lives have got in between us. But I wish you well for the good you once did.’ Some other bridges are still hanging in there… by a few strands. You know that because those luscious once-upon-a-time memories are getting vague like an uncared-for painting with color fading, contours mingling and just a blur of the old glory remaining in your mind.  

As one finds many such bridges giving way, winds of loneliness swirl through the gaps and the mind seems to torment in a thunderous voice, ‘You are all one. You will always be alone’. You cannot reign over your mind if you fight it as if it were a devil in disguise. But if you can see that it’s a little child, a little you, throwing a tantrum, crying for a real friend, then you have hope. Go on, write that letter, make that call and you will know, how that act can change you around. To see dreams like yours hidden within one; To feel the joy of togetherness in another’s family; To bask in the affection of a long-forgotten voice; To hold one’s hand in listening to an ordeal faced; To celebrate the miracle of being blessed in trying circumstances. Feel yourself become so very light and rejoice in your capacity to love beyond your flesh and blood and watch it ripple outward to all of humanity.  

[Random] Gushing river!

A blank page;
A barren land;
Whatever flows flows.
No barring the surging waves;
No stopping the sprouting seeds;
Will this river reach the ocean?
If it didn’t, would it be a river?
Will it make deserts flower?
Will it make mountains cower?
Why not let it be what it will be?
Why not a symphony of serendipity?
Why pain for the past?
Why fear of the future?
Why seek to find something?
Why not find whatever was found?
Why is any path, the wrong path?
Because it should be somewhere, elsewhere?
What if it didn’t go all the way?
Because of this dead end?
Either ram it with all there is,
Or turn back and find another way.
Brave enough to choose either!
What flowed in isn’t what’s flowing out!
That’s all the meaning there is.
The change within, the destination!
Every mistake made, was to be.
Every path trod on, was to be.
Flowing words flood the soul!