Category Archives: Personal


(for A.S.)

There is nothing I can write about you
Without making you sound like a lost lover

But perhaps that is the truth,
We were lovers the way truth and art have lovers,

In the way you can hear nothing but traffic all day, and yet be a music lover,
See nothing but buildings all day and yet be a tree lover.

And if they should ban song
Or cut all the trees,
What would I be to you?
And what you be to me,
Without that walk in the shade of giant samanias,
Without its memory, set to the music of a lost friendship?

By way of explanation

There are many rich folk in the world,
they all have important things to do.
But someone must do their share of nothing,
for a small fee, I’d be happy to.


Someday I’ll claw my way back to a life in which I have time for this blog.

A sunset

Divakar is no more.

Do they also serve…

December 2006

It is 7 pm. The sun has long set in this eastern seaside city. We are at a bus stop, the evening rush hour blares and glares its aggressive way past us as we cower against a wall. There is no footpath, no shelter, nothing to dignify the daily wait of dozens of commuters. Divakar waits with us, clutching his stick as close to himself as possible, so it doesn’t get in anyone’s way.”What number is it?”, he asks every once in a while. His ability to discern the roar of a bus over the general din is amazing.

When the right bus arrives, Divakar tries to apologise and excuse his way in, but the mass of bodies jammed on the footboard does nothing to help. The whistle is blown and the bus leaves, without him. Until a friendly hand hauls him in, Divakar will wait, patiently and cheerfully. But today, I am nearly at the end of my tether. He has waited more than an hour, while four uncaring buses have left him behind. “Do you know who this man is?” I want to scream. “Can’t you see he needs help?” “How dare you push him!” But it will only embarrass him. So I bite my tongue. Several times over.

A few days ago, Divakar managed to squeeze into a bus, only to step on another passenger’s foot. Perhaps overwrought from a long, difficult day, the passenger burst into a string of abuses, shoved Divakar around, and, emboldened by his apologetic manner, punched him hard. Frail Divakar could take it no longer. “I am very sorry sir, I truly am. But I cannot see. Please forgive me.”

In the silence that swept over the bus, a woman called to the dumbstruck passenger. “Apologise to him, you fool. If he curses you, seven generations of your progeny will be born blind.”

Yet another bus arrives, and this time, Divakar makes it in. He waves in our general direction and we wave back. He would expect us to.


March 2007

Harsha’s parents are sitting silent and anxious when Divakar enters. They can barely bring themselves to be polite to the man who encouraged, in fact instigated their son to quit a Masters course at a leading institute, to pursue what he loved best – music. What kind of teacher ruins a student’s life? But an hour later, Harsha’s mother is insisting Divakar have dinner before leaving. His father is almost smiling at the man’s ineffective refusal.

Divakar teaches Humanities at a technology-centred institute. In a campus where human problems are addressed through better and better technology, Divakar makes it his job to (gently) suggest that the real solutions may lie not in the realm of what we can make, but what we can do without.

With greater strength of character than any of us can gather, Divakar lives his beliefs. He has refused campus accommodation so his aged parents can spend their last days in a home familiar to them. He can afford both a car and a driver, but chooses to change two buses and then walk a bit to get from home to work.

Harsha is not the first student Divakar has led ‘astray’. There is Raju who quit a month before finishing his thesis, to go teach tribal children in a forgotten forest. There is Manasi, who refused an investment banking job and went back to classical dance. And so many, many others.


December 2008

It is 7 pm. The sun has set, but the sky is bleeding a dark purple. Strange. We are on a quiet street in a middle-class neighbourhood west of the city. We ring the bell at a low, rusty gate. A woman comes out smiling and lets us in. “He is very tired,” she whispers as she leads us to his room. “He hasn’t even had a spoon of water in a month.”

Divakar is lying in bed, his head propped up by a few pillows. He has four tubes going into and out of him. I can see each vein, each finger bone; there is a well where his cheeks used to be. “How was the concert?” he asks feebly. It was excellent, sung by a man twice Divakar’s age. A concert he would have attended in better times. We tell him it was good, careful not to use superlatives, they seem out of place here.

We ask him if he has been listening to the concerts on the radio. He shakes his head. “I can’t concentrate,” he says. I almost smile. Music has never been a background activity for Divakar–it is necessarily centre-stage, never something to disrespect through inattention.

A colleague of his arrives. A couple of students have come along as well. The boy says nothing the whole time, the girl tells Divakar the albino blackbuck calf born recently to the only herd on campus is doing well. He is happy, but the tubes don’t allow him a smile. They leave behind a CD for Divakar. Dhrupad. Good choice, bad timing.

We sit, listening to him breathe. It is from his silence that we know he is in pain. The nurse comes in, helps him up, removes the glucose drip and replaces it with something else. “Morphine,” he says. “It helps me sleep.” We rise to take leave. “I am not giving up, you know.” Divakar slowly turns his head to face us. “I will admit, I wish this hadn’t happened. But now I will fight it. Until the end.” He is rasping from the exhaustion of speaking. He takes a few slow breaths, and smiles. “I will see you in Mysore, soon.”


The only thing that could have roused her from sleep

A distinction in a recently written dissertation. Of course no one will believe it if she says it was totally unexpected and perhaps somewhat undeserved as well.

Unwilling to believe the email that has arrived in her POP mailbox, she trudges to the internet to read the same missive online. Still unsure, she logs in to the university website and checks there as well. And then she summons M and makes him read all three.

Now she’s sitting on a large armchair, eating an entire tub of rum-n-raisin (homemade) ice cream by herself. Smirking a little. And licking her whiskers.

* homemade does not mean ‘made at home by her’. the maker is a friendly neighbourhood auntyji who is buttered up regularly precisely for privileges such as this.

but she insists that you be told about her unbeatable mango-ice cream making skills.


She is tired. Weary. It would be untrue to claim overwork. No, even in exhaustion she must remain honest.

Please accept apologies for comments unanswered. Know that they are not unread, and forgive her.

She will return when the sleep passes.

No full stops here

It is perhaps irrational, but my first emotion is anger. As if someone else is responsible and is walking around unpunished. Three days a month, every month, for ten years, I bit my tongue, contorted myself into all sorts of impossible positions, drowned myself in every form of kai vaidyam, kashayam and lehiyam, tried every kind of diet every passing aunty or atthai prescribed, and practised yoga in an attempt not to drug myself into comfort. But nothing worked. Not hot water bottles, not induced vomiting, not massages, professional or those administered by concerned and loving hands.

The extremity of pain meant coming home from school early nearly every month because the nurse there could not handle me. It meant hallucinating from the agony and passing out, more than a dozen times. It meant missing important functions and fun events at college, missing parties, and once, missing an important exam. It would be no exaggeration to say it changed my life.

Born with hugely misplaced pride, I made a point of not crying in public, even as a child, regardless of how badly I wanted to. But the pain shattered all that. I openly bawled in school and college, and once even at work, unable to control myself. Well-meaning but clueless teachers or colleagues had no idea whatsoever how to help.

So I gave up. Contraceptive pills, homeopathy, unani, siddha, reiki, pranic healing. I went on a desperate overdrive and tried them all. With great patience and adherence to instructions and schedules. Nothing changed. Marriage was supposed to fix it. Poor M will testify that it has done nothing of the kind. Initially, I was lucky not to have mood swings and other emotional trouble, but that modest consolation too dropped away a few years ago. Now I am inexplicably teary, short-tempered, insecure and irrational for the entire length of the period.

Finally, Brufen began appearing in the house in industrial quantities. The first thing that did was bring on severe acidity. Which was countered with industrial quantities of antacids. Last month, six years after the first painkiller, I discovered I have drug-induced ulcers.

And in these years the anger has grown. Speaking to a homeopath friend who says that in her many years of practise she has seen the number of women suffering each month rise, while the age at which the pain begins keeps going down, only fuels my frustration. Herself a sufferer, she began researching historical records, both from homeopaths and allopaths in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, not only to see what sorts of treatments have been administered, but to understand patterns.

She says the oldest records barely have a mention of women patients with dysmenorrhea. This can’t be because they were reluctant to report it – dry vaginas causing painful sex are reported, ruling out social taboos about seeking help for painful menstruation. But as the years pass, the numbers swell. She says the proportion of women suffering continue to rise even today. And she wonders if altered diets and the explosion of chemicals in the air, water and food are not responsible for this increase in some way.

She is angry too. That no attempts have been made to find lasting cures. That women are fobbed off with birth control pills that in the short term cause nausea and weight swings, and in the long term screw up natural hormone regulation and make them dependent on HRT and other expensive treatments. That the only other option are broad-spectrum painkillers well known to have all manner of side-effects like ulcers. Which is a double whammy – now you not have to deal with the pain of the period, but also the burning spasms from the ulcer. And these come unannounced, quite unlike the period.

I am lucky to work independently and not have an office or boss to report to. It means I can often afford the day, or two or even three off, until the pain subsides. But what of those who cannot? I know from cousins and friends that they drag themselves to work, quietly popping Meftals and Aleves to keep going. Ruining their health forever. Why is it that when half the world’s population experiences such severe discomfort month after month after month, there continues to be so little research on an effective solution? Why is it that no one cares how this affects productivity of one half of the workforce? Instead they choose to use it as an excuse to claim women are emotional and unhealthy and therefore unreliable candidates for more responsible positions!

Perhaps the anger I feel is not so irrational after all.