Sunday, September 30, 2007

Poor Pedestrians!

Kerala during the rainy season is a tribute to nature. Even so, nature is not something that hangs out as poignant as a pedestrian’s predicament here. The economic boom comes at a cost. Indeed the cost the pedestrians pay for it is dear. They seem to have lost their right to walk! With the roads getting congested and pending litigations preventing widening of roads, the pedestrians’ track has become more redundant than ever. Wherever widening is done it is at the cost of foot path which disappear altogether. Also, perpetual coagulation on roads forces the motorists to use every lane to reach the destination a couple of minutes earlier. Lack of maintenance and unabated torrential rains have reduced the road space by half. This too puts a pressure on the pedestrian’s path. While these are unavoidable there are others that could be avoided.

Automobile drivers use roads as some kind of racing track. Particularly the red town buses rocket down the lane or what is left of the roads, lurching this way and that way madly, without a head to the hapless passersby. They survive by managing to jump into any cranny to avoid the tons of steel goring through their entrails. And they manage just by the skin of their teeth! It’s high time the police became proactive to troubleshoot such problems.

The motorists tend to park along the roads and not in some parking areas. They claim the parking areas are not there in the first place. What I have witnessed in other urban areas is the administration levies a parking charge. Here that is not there too. The cash strapped administration can collect sizable amount from these motorists and half of the street parking will stop instantaneously!

Another hassle a walker has to face is the rain water. Excess and torrential rains spill water over to the roads. The sewage water from the clogged drains also mixes with the surface runoff. The decaying residential garbage left on the roadsides thickens the street effluents. If the poor pedestrian tries to avoid such a puddle, a row of automobiles speeding down will honk out his brains. If he gives way and stands aside awkwardly, the speeding automobiles will send sprays of the putrid water which will drench the poor soul! Proper drainage maintenance is all that is needed to avoid this.

What about crossing? Police is seldom there to help them. The speeding motorist never heed to them. Even at zebra crossings they wait patiently often spending 20 to 30 minutes waiting to waddle across. Why can’t the rules be enforced? Aren’t those that walk also humans?

Whatever man-made or natural significance this coconut land has, the Malayalies tend to be more selfish, uncaring and insensitive to the victims of their own creation. My heart goes to the poor street strollers. I deplore the indifference and callousness on the part of the city planners, traffic cops and the motoring public towards the pedestrians. I wish a day would dawn when walking along a street would be a lot more pleasant than it is now.
My Little Granny

She was small and myopic but a great lady. In my family the women folk had guts of steel. And my granny had tons of it! She lost her husband early and her only son, our silver tongued ‘Humko Mama’, died of a horrible accident in the prime of his youth leaving behind a young widow and two bonny children! Those did falter her steps, but she didn’t indulge in the misery, instead she immersed herself in work and more work.

I remember her as a cherubic, buxom and witty lady always ready with a smile and chirpy laugh. She would tell us crazy stories and help us in our studies with equal passion. Mind you, she was a professor at the reputed Banares Hindu University! Yet she was so down to earth and such a jolly good person that all of us loved her.

She was the one who named me ‘Samudra Guptan’ after an illustrious warrior king who invaded dozens of kingdoms and brought them under his rule. Don’t be under the impression that I was a warrior of any sort. Far from it, I was a timid one. Very Very timid indeed. Yet she named me after him because I used to move around in my sleep and kick the hell out of the unfortunate one who happened to sleep near me. In my teens I grew up in my uncle’s place. So at night all of us cousins used to sleep lying one next to other. Our little Granny would also sleep with us. During one unfortunate occasion, she was pushed out her pillow and came to realise that I was conquering her. Till her death, may god bless her soul, she used to refer to this embarrassing part of my life much to the delight of the audience, whenever there was a family gathering.

Her tutoring of one of my cousin was a classic example of the tenacity she displayed. He used to be in 4th or 5th year in school and it was mandatory to learn the multiplication tables by heart. Well, that was for every student except my cousin. Fed up with his poor marks in math, li’l Granny took it on her to drill it out my cousin, who was very enterprising and found some way to escape the torture. But granny was adamant. Loud sessions of chanting multiplication tables would reverberate in the study hall. She would ask, “Eight nines are?” and the sad boy denied playtime would scratch his head as if the answer was stored there. He would repeat, “Eight nines are. . . eight nines are. . . eight nines are. . .(all of them in different tones). Then granny would shout, “Tell me what eight nines are?” Purposefully, as if he knows the answer my cousin would say, “Oh you want eight nines huh? Well eight nines are,” “Are?” expectantly granny would urge. “Well eight nines are. . . hmmm . . eight nines are . . .lemme see (biting his lower lips and hiding a smile). . ” Granny would chide, cajole, beg and plead but my cousin would play her around his thumb no matter. Finally she would yell at him and ask him to get lost. Next day, again the hungama would be repeated without much variation and the next after that and next. But in the end we were amazed because my cousin did manage to learn the whole tables by heart every way; up down or centre. My granny had the last laugh.

She sharpened her skills in linguistics till her end, helping family relatives and neighbours master English. Indian history, yoga and kids fascinated her. She doted on us and was always obliging. We played with her, disobeyed her with impunity for she would never resort to punishment, took delight in her and sometimes even ridiculed her. Then, her greatness was taken for granted. Now, we feel ashamed for mistreating her at least sometimes by denying and disobeying. However we cherish the poignant moments we spent with her more.

Everything good has to stop someday. So did our li’l Granny. Till the end she was passionate about her chores. She stood dying as she prayed to the deities. I was fortunate to put her to her death bed noticing her awkward stance and give her last drops of life as she breathed her last. I will never forget the scene of stunned inaction, when slowly the fact of her departure sank in our mind.

That was the end of her physical existence, but her memories and legacy lives on.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

RAIN

It rains and rains and rains
In the valleys and the plains
On the road it spills o’er drains
And snakes up the tarred lanes

It makes puddles of strong tea,
which grows into a big sea!
The frogs gather for the party
There they orgy in real frenzy

Its little droplets march up to wind
Like smart regiments soldiers they sprint
In crazy gale they wrap nature in chintz
They tickle and play on the tamarinds

Cloudy by day and starless at night
The sky mourns draped in dark hide
Of her dear darling- the short-lived spring
All in its glory smiling and giving

Nevertheless, drizzles come tingling
Cloudbursts then come gushing
Sometimes hail go clamoring
Surely storms descend menacing

It sprouts the seeds and plants all green
On farmers’ beaten face a smile is seen
Once or twice it turns a violent sheen
It stays for a while and leaves the scene

Sulking rain stays up as dark brooding clouds
When happy it just drizzles diamonds around
And jovial hails laugh out much too aloud
When angry storms come hurtling down

Late or soon, the monsoon
To the parched earth is a boon
Wild goes the beasts’ platoon
Pops up the new born mushroom

Rain is a pain but also a gain
It enriches and ravages lives again and again
It bathes nature and yields grain
It breaks the knots of the complacent chain
In the Twilight

She didn’t say a word
But all of it he heard
In the dark their eyes flamed
All alone in a crowd

Her hair, he did brush with
His hand all boney and veined
She did heave a sigh of anguish
His moustache in tandem bristled

They sat huddled in the twilight
Huddled in the dusk of their life
A pair of wizened mortals living
The fleeting images of the past.

Gone were the days of their blossoming
Gone were the excitements of living
Gone was the confidence from winning
their spirited wars and coveted glories.

They started young toiling with soil and tears
A hut they had and it grew with passing years
Amina, Rafeeq and little Abu were born
And came the harvests rich and strong.

Happy were those days of honest sweat
In a Hindu neighbourhood they stayed
Nature’s bounty, with all they did share
and got cheerful welcome and lots of care

The Khan siblings grew up frugal in comfort
Yet they did have sumptuous meals in concert
Rafeeq grew to be an officer in the Indian Army
And, Amina was wedded to a youth from Ranchy.

Abu had grown to be a nice teenage boy
In his school he was first, yet he was coy
All coveted his role in the drama about a seapoy,
which he did so well to everyone’s joy.

Some years gave plentiful yield early in May
So the Khans saved some for a rainy day
They dug up canals and watered the crops
and built tanks to harvest rain on hilltops.

Then they started losing out on yield
Abu stopped studies to work in the field
Costs and pests doubled; beasts died like crazy
And many men perished in communal frenzy.

The battle raged; the dead littered with fleas
The leaders brokered a hurry-burry peace
Pain and fear nibbled everyone on and on
The Khans survived but their spirit was all gone

One day, a meeting was called to order
Big companies were coming to their border
More jobs and lots of money they promised
Factories plundered the soil they had toiled

The air and water got smelly like the loo
Few got jobs, but most had nothing to do
Machines pounded and clanked in chorus
Trucks and wagons made noisy ruckus

New creed called developers descended
They smiled a lot and talked so sweet
Those that got in their way quietly vanished
Their land was taken and they were vanquished.

Abu and father packed their bundle
At night they left their valley off to the town
Rashid waited at the station to pick them up
To his crowded flat they all went.

Three of Rashid’s kids and his begum
Welcomed them with open arms and loud talk
Abu got a job in the army garage and
Khan opened his small shop on their Street

Months ate up days and years months
One day Rashid came in a coffin amid loud wails
The Khan clan grieved silently and prayed
Officers came put a wreath awkwardly stood and left

Time healed the wounds; like it did always
But more grief was in store for them
Abu died in a fire wifeless and issueless
Amina’s husband left her a childless widow

There were other tragedies they had to brave
Nature killed many and brothers killed brothers
Death lurked everywhere reveling in ecstasyRavaging people’s lives in a mad orgy

The Khans were peace loving and law abiding
They raised their kids to be kind and generous
But their wretched fate was indeed reckless
What did we do wrong the Khans wondered

And wonder did they until their twilight
Sun had lost most of its golden glory.
They sat huddled facing the twilight
They sat thus defeated and sorry.
Fait Acompli

He was good looking, suave and bad and was the most important link in the Sri Lankan Felix syndicate, which ran several clean front organizations. But money came for the syndicate from several other unclean hidden agencies. One of them dealt with girl trade. JS was the lynch man for that operation which spread its tentacle to a good dozen countries. JS traveled extensively. His passport identified him as a Sri Lankan male, 28 years old 6 ft 2 inches tall and 60 kilos heavy. Neat! That part was true, but the rest of the information in his passports (he had several) were fictitious.

Angela was in late teens studying in Stella Maris, a reputed all women’s college in Chennai, when she met JS in a lending library. Then such libraries were popular. She fell flat for him. He was charming, talked with a sexy accent and had those dreamy blue eyes that ensnared girls in his trap with such succession that it even surprised him. He was the bastard of a Swedish diplomat stationed in Colombo. The blue eyes and the Caucasian appearance he inherited from him. But his mother was a Lankan.

JS was seen with Angela in cinemas, malls and one or two occasions even night clubs. For the orthodox household of Angela, this was all unthinkable. If they had got a whiff of what was going on, it would have brought the house down. But Angela cared less and was a lot luckier not to get caught. The fact was she couldn’t help herself. Through her JS met several pretty girls, who would all one day fall into his trap and end up in a Sheikh’s bedroom or a business magnate’s.

In a typical operation, Angela would have landed there first, but she didn’t for some strange reason. JS assured himself Angela would have to go eventually when the girls started disappearing so that no one should be there to corroborate with the cops. But JS kept delaying. On a wet Monday he got a call from one of his contacts in Mumbai. Then it was called Bombay.

Next week Angela disappeared. She was last seen by her friend Kaushalya. The city Commissioner of Police, Mr. Balakishnan, gave a brief statement to the press in which he claimed he was following certain leads after questioning the missing girl’s family and friends. Nothing would come of it, for JS too had disappeared. The police fed up with the investigation not yielding anything, concluded that it was a case of eloping and hurriedly closed the case.

Had they dug deeper, they would have hit the murky waters and linked her disappearance to two other girls who had vanished equally suspiciously. Angela and JS had left by air on a Sunday. For Angela, who was still in her teens it was all so romantic. She couldn’t guess the terrible plight that was waiting for her. On landing at Bombay, they checked into seedy hotel, where a night squad of police raided and took the two into custody. Later JS would mysteriously disappear and Angela would smell rat but it would be too late. The squad would beat her up and Angela would lose all hope of a rescue when dramatically a kind old lady would appear, persuade the officers to relieve her. Naturally, the na├»ve girl would go readily with the good Samaritan.

JS would not be in a hurry to reappear in Chennai. Instead, he would cool it for a while and then resurface elsewhere, when the hunt was off.

But it did not happen that way. Until the appearance of the old lady everything fell into place according to the script. But the old lady failed to appear. The police would later discover her in a suburban train bleeding and near death. To cut the story short, one bad link led to the other stinking one and soon the cops were on hot trails of JS. Eventually he was caught literally napping in a cosy suite of an international hotel.

As for much shaken Angela, she was returned to her parents who whisked her away from limelight. After a battery of tests and a series of counseling she rises up like a phoenix and wins accolades in her later life. Only she knew how lucky she was.