of thoughts in ebb and flow

Words, unthinking words

I walked from the kitchen to the dining area carrying a pot of steaming hot sambar. Worried about someone bumping into me accidentally, I kept up a steady call of `Baaju, Baaju’ until I reached the table and lay down the pot.

“Have you noticed servers in crowded places in Kerala?” my father suddenly said, peering over the rim of his ever-present newspaper. “Or.. perhaps people carrying unwieldy stuff through crowded streets?” he added.

“Er.. yes, I suppose” said I, wondering where this was going.

“They say `Vayi, vayi, vayi’. Is it nicer somehow?…” he trailed off, disappearing behind the paper again.

I reflected on the two words. `Vayi (Malayalam word) means `way’. So, when you say `vayi vayi vayi’ it sounds like a request to offer you a way forward. ‘Baaju‘ (Marathi word), meaning, move aside, sounds more like a peremptory order to `get out of my way’. The way they are uttered could change their palatability I suppose. But still…`Vayi’ does sound more polite.

Is there another Marathi word that is generally used in this situation? I don’t know. But for now, time for `baaju’ to make way for`vayi’ in my vocabulary!

I wonder what other words we use unthinkingly in mundane, everyday situations pack an unintentional sting in their tail.

I like to think I am not swayed by physical appearances. That my behavior is unbiased; at least in so far as looks are concerned. 

The (un)friendly neighbourhood pigeons came and cooed all morning outside my window. Cooed is too good a word for the sound they make.. more like incessant moans of pain, a friend once complained. I couldn’t agree more. But this pair seemed less in pain and more in an amorous mood. Ha. Maybe they were already anticipating the coming relationship pains. Smart.

Anyways, I said nasty things and aimed little pellets of mud at them to chase them away. Next thing I know you will be making your stinking nest here and I will have to contend with feathers and eggs and fledglings and … Go. Go do your romancing elsewhere.

As I stand at my kitchen sink rinsing the coffee mugs I see a little speckled brown bird swaying on an errant cable right outside the window. Oh, wait a minute. It’s not alone. There is another one sitting and softly chirping away on the water pipe a few inches away. How cute. Wait a minute .. they are building a nest. Right here. An inch from my window. They chose my window, of all the windows in the world, they chose MINE to make a home. OMG! That is tho thweeet!


And I called everyone at home to come see.. Hey, come see what a lovely pair they make. Shhhh.. don’t scare them. They are so, so little and look so fragile.

Uh. Oh. Wait a minute. What did I just say?

Did I hear an accusatory coo? I think I should be ashamed of myself. At least a little bit. What do you say?

When is `art’ born?


Is it art because it started off under that name in a studio or in the mind of someone who is considered an `artist’? Is it art because it is something that serves little `functional’ use? When it is `purposeless’? Is it art because it moves one?

I have no definite answers. Doubt I will ever have one. But here are some interesting ways of looking at it.

  1. Every piece of art has three `intents’ – the artist’s, the viewer’s and that of the object of art itself. When two these intersect..art is born. When all three intersect ..great art is born. That’s when we see something and go ..`this speaks to me’
  2. Any object can become art. When a viewer of the object finds herself projected into the piece… when she throws her emotions, her memories, her feelings into it.. at that moment is art born. She may feel herself inexorably drawn into the object … her hair may stand on end, her skin prickle, and she may lose track of her surroundings and time. That is the moment art is born. art q1Art is thus made, by the viewer and the artist together. The creativity belongs to both. Both of them invest equally to transform `object’ into `art’.
  1. When the creator moves beyond the minimum functional aspects in what they are creating, when she adds something more or puts it together differently .. for aesthetic pleasure or making a statement or conveying a message ..then art is born. Whistling in tune rather than a plain blast to hail someone – art, embellishing that plate of food with sprigs of herbs – art, making a lattice to hide the drain-pipes on the building façade – art

What do you think?

The elections for the Municipal Corporation are only a few days away. The conscientious citizen in me went to the `Meet your (potential) Corporator’ session organised by the local Vikas Mandal. I went with the objective of figuring out who to vote for… or at least, who not to vote for.

The session was not very well-attended – either by citizens or contestants. If it were perhaps I would have been better informed now on who to give my vote to. Nevertheless, here is what I learnt:

  1. This time, in Pune, wards have been grouped into `panels’ (called `prabhag’ in Marathi). There are four groups/categories (gats) in each panel. Each party fields four candidates – one in each group.
  1. Each voter casts a vote for EACH GROUP. So a voting is complete ONLY when you have cast FOUR votes. Else it is invalid.
  1. At the polling booth there will be multiple Electronic Voting Machines (EVM’s). As many as are required to contain the entire list of all candidates for each group. Each group is color coded – white, pink/red, yellow and blue. So pick one person in each of these color coded blocks
  1. To choose a candidate, press the button next to the persons name and electoral symbol. When you have pressed four buttons (one in each block) a buzzer will sound indicating all four presses have been registered and your vote is done.
  1. The order in which you go through the blocks picking your choice is not important. Any order is fine. Whenever you are done with the fourth, the buzzer will sound
  1. It is not necessary to choose candidates from the same party across groups. You can vote one from say, BJP, other from Congress, third from NCP and so on.
  1. Each group list will have a NOTA (None of the Above) button at the very end. You may choose this in one or all of the groups. However, while that captures your disgruntlement, it is a sub-optimal choice. This, of course, is my opinion and you are entitled to feel otherwise!
  1. There is much confusion around polling booths and who is allocated where. You may end up having to go to multiple booths to figure out where you have to vote. If you are lucky, you will get a slip from one of the parties beforehand identifying it for you else you will need to approach one of the help tables that parties will likely set up on election day. So, budget some time for this activity
  1. I got no clear answers to questions on how the four elected candidates (the new Corporators from each zone) will work together post-elections. Will responsibilities be geographically defined? What is the ward to group mapping? Is this mapping already done? How will budget-allocagtion and management happen? What about accountability? My understanding is, no one has clarity on these issues yet.

Anyone who can bring more information to the table please do. Also, please correct anything that I have mis-understood and/or communicated incorrectly in the list above

A few observations on the meeting itself:

  1. There were very few citizens present. Many of those present seemed to be there just to express discontent with the whole electoral process and insist that NOTA was the only option worth considering
  2. Only one candidate turned up. That too rather late. Perhaps this consitutency is not important enough to the parties or perhaps they had already made an assessment of numbers and attitude and found more worthwhile meeting spots. After all there are hardly any days left to D Day
  3. Even the one candidate who did come did not have a clear plan of action, other than the general `in-the-air’ promises. If he did have a vision, I was unable to comprehend it from what he spoke
  4. While the behaviour of the candidates (in terms of not turning up) was poor, the citizens too were a little high-handed in their language and attitude towards the party representatives. Enjoying the `power’ of their vote perhaps?? But, finally, that is simply counter-productive

I hear there are some wards where such meetings have been very useful. In another ward a friend attended and came away with a very good experience. Candidates from all contesting parties were present, they addressed the citizen charter of demands clearly and within the time – frame given. We wondered why there was so much difference between our experiences and here are some points that I came away with:


  1. Ensure the event has been well-promoted among citizens and much in advance
  2. Have a clear agenda circulated before hand. Each candidate in the meeting was given five minutes to go over the citizens charter of demands and given an opportunity to speak followed by Q&A
  3. Have some ground rules clearly explained before the meeting begins… e.g. in this meeting they had clarified that no English was to be used, Hindi would be used for all verbal communication. One of the other rules they had was no arguments, no criticism of any candidate or party. Listen and clarify. Not a forum to keep pushing till you get all your answers.

In the interest of getting the most out of these initiatives still on the anvil it might be useful to reflect on these.

Wishing all of us a peaceful election process and a Municipal Corporator(s) we deserve :p

And Baby Jesus smiled

So the three wise men set off with gifts for Baby Jesus. Gifts!! The little eyes around me shone with excitement. “What gifts did they take?” asked one. “Toys” “Clothes” “Sweets”… voices yelled. “Nah” I said, “They took gold… and frankincense… and myrhh” The faces fell. They were not impressed. What silly gifts, the eyes said accusingly.

The littlest one piped up sadly… “Baby Jesus will feel cold without clothes”. Her slightly older, slightly wiser friend came to the rescue with “Oh! I know! They can cover him with hay. He won’t feel cold then.”


          Original Image Credit – Webweaver

Another had been pondering a life without sweets and said in a less-than-convinced but hopeful tone… “He is too little to eat sweets. Maybe someone will give sweets later.”

“But without toys how will be play?!” they chorused. They looked at each other, stumped. Wise little one burst out excitedly, “Arre, his father is a carpenter! He will make toys out of wood!!”

Everyone went “Oh! Yaaaaa…

Crisis averted. Happy faces. The sun shone again.  Baby Jesus smiled in their world – covered in hay, happily clutching a wooden toy. The three wise men stood in a corner with their big-people gifts.

Life with `surround-sound’

We are a loud people. This is brought home to me almost every day. But of late it is being brought home in a very literal sense.

I sit down to breakfast, newspaper in hand, looking forward to this quiet interlude in the cadence of the day. And suddenly, `Ye re manaa..manaa..ye re manaa…’ floats up from the terrace below mine… “hmm..kaku’s classical training shows …nice…” I think as she sings along to the record being played.

The song ends. …and begins. Again. She continues to sing. When she does it a third time my thoughts about her are not so charitable. Don’t get me wrong. I am not averse to listening to Hindustani classical music. But I draw the line at listening to the same song over and over with live voices joining in … for well over two hours and counting.

Even while she is giving it a go with full gusto for the fifth time I hear the beats of the mridangam picking up speed. Looks like mama, over in the next building, has begun practice. Gulp. The irregular beats his students are hammering out merge with the ye re manaa and I try drown out both by nosily slurping my tea.

But wait, I am not alone in misery.. a plaintive cry `Jab koi baat bigad jaaye, jab koi mushkil pad jaaye…..’ issues forth from my next-door neighbour’s television set. Ye re manaa, the thumping of the mridangam and Kumar Sanu pleading `tum dena saath mera o hum nawaa…’ all merge into a crescendo. No one is giving saath to anyone here. That’s for sure!

I take a deep breath, drawing on my hard-earned reserves of good-will and calm (one hour of early morning yoga and meditation, no less!). The perils of living cheek-by-jowl. One’s brand of music becomes  OPM..Other  People’s Music. Sigh.

But I shall have my revenge. Soon.  When the son practices his singing I shall exhort him to be louder and make sure the windows are all open. Ha!

What to do? We are like that only! 😀

I have nothing against `moral’ stories. I grew up listening to them, reading them. Every story invariably ended with the moral of the story is… and here is where I would dis-connect from the story. The moral seemed as much fiction as the story itself. An ideal world that did not resonate with what I experienced around me. The Lion and the Mouse, the Ant and the Grasshopper, Cinderella, Snow white….

Now, I am on the other side of the story-time. The story-teller. And am faced with a dilemna. Some days it is easy. When David kills Goliath it was easy to go with the `We should never say I can’t; we should always try’ that one child proffered.


Original Image Credit padhokhelo.com

But, when the tortoise wins the race against the hare, `hard work always succeeds’ raised a sense of unease in me. Just as it had done all those years ago. When I was a kid their age, listening to the story. I had suspected then that hard work did not always succeed.  Today I know it does not. Not always. Tough luck. Deal with it.

It is all very fine in an ideal world where rules are fair, they are transparent, they are followed and are impartially enforced. Would the tortoise win in the real world? Should it not have played smart rather than plodding along to defeat (except in the story, of course)? Shouldn’t THAT be the moral of the story?

Will telling these stories with unrealistic morals set these kids up for dis-illusionment?   Are we preparing them to handle it then? When they `adapt’ their behaviour to the requirements of this world will they be left with a vague sense of unease, of being `bad’? Is that okay? On the other hand, is it good that they have the moral compass these stories shape even if they can’t live up to it all the time?

I have not settled on any answers yet. But my story telling sessions are becoming a little more `grey’ on the learning bit.

In an episode of Friends, Phoebe tells stories to little children at a school. The parents are horrified by her stories but the kids – they lap it up and come looking for more from the `lady who tells the truth’. I would like to bring a little, just a little bit, of that truthfulness into my sessions.

When Vaman crushes Mahabali one voice piped up – the moral of the story is that bad people will always be punished by God. I groaned inwardly. One voice asked ` So was Mahabali bad?’ I clutched at it like the proverbial straw by the drowning man. `What do you think?’ I countered. `He gave so many gifts to people’, `But he was so proud’,`He wanted to rule all the kingdoms’, ` He fought God’,  `The people liked him that is why they want him to come back every year’. Confused faces. No clear single answer. We settled on  ` He was not bad. He did some bad things. We all do bad things sometimes. But God punished him so that everyone knows it is bad to be greedy. And proud’

I am not entirely pleased. Not even entirely sure what message this story can convey to eight year olds. But I am happy because I think moving away from labeling someone bad to recognising the good as well as the bad in their actions is progress.

What do you think? Do you know stories that serve as good springboards for nuanced understanding of the world? Do tell…..

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