Category Archives: India

It all seems sweet …

Tera Kiya Meetha Lage    

Whatever you do seems sweet to me, Oh God. The good, the bad and the ugly are all sweet to me as you are the source of everything.

I take it all as your blessing.  amrit

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Faith

“I wish I had Hamid’s faith,” I texted to my friend after watching the film titled Hamid on Netflix few days ago.

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Image credit: Yoodlee films

Hamid got this year’s National Award for the Best Urdu Film and  Talha Arshad Reshi (who acted as Hamid in the film) got the National Award for the  Best Child Actor (He shared it with two other child actors). After getting the award, the director rued the fact that due to the current situation in Kashmir, he had not been able to share this news with young Talha. I hope, Hamid akka Talha now has now received this happy news of him getting the best child actor award.

I am not a qualified film critic so I will not get into that territory of dissecting Hamid through the lens of cinematic language, vocabulary and expression. My canvas here is different.

Hamid touched me for its sheer gentleness, for the poignancy of a story set in Kashmir and the universality of human pain, loss, longing and hope too. Life is a juxtaposition of brutality and tenderness. And that’s why there can be no greater fiction than life itself. But beyond this, as I watched Hamid, I yearned to have faith like little, adorable Hamid had in Allah. His intense love and longing for his father moved me to tears. As Hamid hopes for his father’s return, he seeks the help of Allah through a mobile phone.  And like life, the story unfolds in myriad ways.

Life’s brutal and in course of time, Hamid realises his father would never return. He will never see his father again. But he wants to finish the wooden boat (his father was an artisan and a poet too. Hamid wants to follow his father’s footsteps).

He realises that Allah will not bring back his father. But he moves forward in life and holds on to gentleness in his own sublime ways. In the end, when he receives two metal containers of red paints for his boat by parcel (I will not share the details of how and why here), he says to his mother with a smile, “Allah ne bheja hai “(Allah has sent it).  And then in the end, he takes his  mother on a ride in this beautiful boat painted in deep red. A boat made by his deft yet tender hands. The magic of human hands.

Kashmir with its ethereal physical landscape, bruised emotional landscape has been captured beautifully in Hamid.

As an adult negotiating through life, I often wonder about having a child’s faith and innocence. Hamid took me to that world.

And if there’s one gift I would want from life, I would like to ask for Hamid’s faith.

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The film has a beautiful song titled Hukus Bukus — my favourite Kashmiri folk song.  My Kashmiri friends always talk about this beautiful song with a smile. In happiness and pain, the song gives them a sense of home.

(Below) You can find few lines from the song with a little English translation in the end

“Hukus bukus telli wann che kus
onum batta lodum deag,
shaal kich kich waangano,
Brahmi charas puane chhokum,
Brahmish batanye tekhis tyakha.”

(The Teacher corrects:)

“Itkayne ne Itkayne
Tse Kus Be Kus Teli Wan su Kus
Moh Batuk Logum Deg
Shwas Khich Khich Wang-mayam
Bhruman daras Poyun chokum
Tekis Takya bane Tyuk”
Tse Kus Be Kus Teli Wan su Kus

(Who are you and who am I then tell us who is he the creator that permeates through both you and I)

In the end, THERE IS NO OTHER.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘You have cried, so have we’

How does one divide a land? And how do you tell this story to generations who have no idea of the deep loss and grief  millions of people experienced  when the partition of India happened in 1947?

Who decides what story to tell? When to tell? How many stories to tell? Who decides how should we tell the history of a nation to its younger lot? How can we tell these stories so that subsequent generations know the real cost of  hate, prejudices? 

 

partition

During my recent visit to Amritsar, I spent an entire day at the Partition Museum, the only one of its kind in the world. To be there is to be on a pilgrimage. It was deeply moving and engaging to be there. The Partition of India saw  the largest migration in human history and around 20 million people were affected. Yet, for many decades these stories have not been shared. The Partition Museum is all about people and their stories. They have opened their hearts, shared their gut-wrenching experiences and while sharing their stories they have once again lived the horrors of those times. But they have chosen to share their stories. That’s the beauty of the Partition Museum in Amritsar.

Here I am sharing some notes I took while I was there. Photography is not allowed inside the museum (barring at one place) which I think is a fabulous idea.  The physical space of the museum strikes a chord with your inner self. The haunting sound of a train passing by and the installation of an anonymous railway platform stays with you for a long time. This nameless platform is in memory of all those innocent ordinary people who lost their lives in train attacks  and all those who survived this intensely traumatic train journey without food/water as they fled from the land that was their home.  You come closer to stories of loss, grief, betrayal and also the story of hope and the indomitable human spirit to build lives from the ashes.

THE PARTITION … THE LINE THAT DIVIDES 

Sir Cyril Radcliffe had six weeks to draw the border line. He was commissioned to equitably divide 4,50,000 km sq of territory with 88 million people. Radcliffe had never visited India before and he had no idea of its people, landscape and culture. He arrived on July 8 and completed his report by August 12. In an interview later, he said, “I had no alternative, the time at my disposal was so short that I couldn’t do a better job. Given the same period, I would do the same thing. However, if I had two-three years, I would do it differently.”

Following the mindless violence the partition saw, Radcliffe did not take any money for the work he had done. He said, “The people who died, their blood was on my head.”

 

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YOU CAN’T READ LOSS 

Loss is personal yet in many ways it’s universal too. Sudershana Kumari and her parents had to flee their home one evening while they were preparing their dinner. They just jumped from one terrace to another in desperation and left everything that was once theirs. Sudershana was eight then. Decades later, she recounts that horrifying night as tears flow continuously from her eyes. In an extraordinary gesture, she has donated a ‘KARI GLASS’  (among other things) to the museum. She explains, “When you respect a guest, you offer them milk/lassi in a kari glass. As the polish never goes off, it was considered precious.” Her sense of belongingness lies in that glass.

Major Jagat Singh’s family and their village did not migrate initially because they assumed Lahore will be with India. When finally their kafila moved, they were attacked. Singh had just crossed the Ravi river, when he looked back to see his father and many others killed on the other side of the river.

(Radcliffe had said, “By population, property, standards Lahore was originally in India. But then there was no city left for Pakistan. So I took Lahore from India and gave it to Pakistan. From East Pakistan, Calcutta was coming to India.”) 

In Thoha Khalsa village in Rawalpindi, women jumped into the well to protect the honour. In the museum, when you see the well (an installation) under the subtle light you feel a knife cutting through your heart.

THE POOR ALWAYS SUFFERS THE MOST: There were many with no other means came by Kafila, walking miles and miles in the scorching heat and the torrential rains of heavy monsoon. They were particularly vulnerable to attack by mobs. They walked without shelter, sanitation, food and water. Thousands especially the elderly, the sick, the children perished from exhaustion, starvation. They started the journey but never made it to their destination.

WHO CARES ABOUT DALITS? Very less has been written about the Dalits and Partition. To be honest, I myself have not thought about this aspect of the Partition earlier. Dalits could not stay in the main refugee camps and they were also cut off from getting access to clothing and food rations. Rameshwari Nehru, the head of the committee to rehabilitate dalits notes that the land compensation policies excluded dalits as they were viewed as tillers not owners.

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HOW DO YOU DIVIDE CULTURE? 

The tragic consequences of the Partition were felt in music, literature, cricket and heritage. In an absurd matter of fact effort at equity, ancient necklaces belonging to Mohenjodaro were broken and an equal number of beads were given to India and Pakistan. Even giving either country one extra bead had to be discussed and put formally on file.

TOWARDS HOPE, LOVE AND LIGHT

The Partition Museum shows us that — We can never win against hate. Hate will consume all of us, sooner or later. Empathy is the only answer.

The last segment of the museum has a tall, elegant Hope Tree. You can leave a message on a piece of paper which is in the shape of leaf. History can be our greatest teacher if  we are willing to learn from our history.

Facing the Hope Tree, there is a board which has following lines of Sufi poet Bulleh Shah. “Entire universe is contained in a single point. The God is found not by those who follow rites and rituals but by those whose hearts are pure.”

Let us move away from hate, prejudices and stay closer to love and empathy. If not now then when?

Farewell

Kashmir… I love the sound of it. It’s my elusive lover. Four times, I have come close to Kashmir but I could never meet Kashmir. A land is like a lover, you might be ready for your lover but the lover is not ready to embrace you. There’s nothing you can do about it till it’s the time. I have my own imagination of Kashmir. Before the onset of every autumn (my favourite season), I always travel to Kashmir in my heart. Today, the whole of India is talking about Kashmir and the scrapping of Article 370. Beyond politics, there’s poetry. Agha Shahid Ali is one of my favourite poets and he was from Kashmir. He died at a young age but his poems are his legacy. He is there. Even in his absence. Here’s the poem titled Farewell by Agha Shahid Ali. 

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FAREWELL

At a certain point I lost track of you.
They make a desolation and call it peace.
when you left even the stones were buried:
the defenceless would have no weapons.

When the ibex rubs itself against the rocks,
who collects its fallen fleece from the slopes?
O Weaver whose seams perfectly vanished,
who weighs the hairs on the jeweller’s balance?
They make a desolation and call it peace.
Who is the guardian tonight of the Gates of Paradise?

My memory is again in the way of your history.
Army convoys all night like desert caravans:
In the smoking oil of dimmed headlights, time dissolved- all
winter- its crushed fennel.
We can’t ask them: Are you done with the world?

In the lake the arms of temples and mosques are locked in each other’s
reflections.

Have you soaked saffron to pour on them when they are found like this
centuries later in this country
I have stitched to your shadow?

In this country we step out with doors in our arms
Children run out with windows in their arms.
You drag it behind you in lit corridors.
if the switch is pulled you will be torn from everything.

At a certain point I lost track of you.
You needed me. You needed to perfect me.
In your absence you polished me into the Enemy.
Your history gets in the way of my memory.
I am everything you lost. You can’t forgive me.
I am everything you lost. Your perfect Enemy.
Your memory gets in the way of my memory:

I am being rowed through Paradise in a river of Hell:
Exquisite ghost, it is night.

The paddle is a heart; it breaks the porcelain waves.
It is still night. The paddle is a lotus.
I am rowed- as it withers-toward the breeze which is soft as
if it had pity on me.

If only somehow you could have been mine, what wouldn’t
have happened in the world?

I’m everything you lost. You won’t forgive me.
My memory keeps getting in the way of your history.
There is nothing to forgive.You can’t forgive me.
I hid my pain even from myself; I revealed my pain only to myself.

There is everything to forgive. You can’t forgive me.

If only somehow you could have been mine,
what would not have been possible in the world?

Amritsar… after 25 years

“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” — Pascal Mercier

I went back to Amritsar after 25 long years. I went there to honor my mother’s memory, I went there to heal myself. To liberate my inner self from loss, pain and longing. To celebrate happy memories and seek strength to move forward with a sense of joy and lightness. I hope, there will be a new beginning.

final

 

Some experiences need to be only felt deep within your heart and expressing them in words will be diluting them. So, I will keep the ethereal experience of kneeling down and praying in front of the Holy Guru Granth Sahib to myself only.

“Is it your first visit to Amritsar?”

“No, I am coming back to Amritsar after 25 years.”

“Oh, my God… 25 years. That’s really long. Can’t believe it. Amritsar has changed so much.”

“Yes, India has changed, Amritsar has changed. I too have changed.” Civilizations, nations, cities, lives, narratives … all change. Change is the only constant element in this universe.

I also feel, in those moments of deep silence, tranquility and prayers, I found what I had left behind 25 years ago.

“Time is how you spend love,” I remember reading this somewhere. For me, Amritsar is all about love. Love for my mother, love for my father, sisters, little nephew, young nieces, love for my dearest soul sister carving her own life in Dubai,  love for my friend’s father who is confined to his bed for the last four years following a brain stroke, love for India, love for India’s diversity, love for humanity, love for service….

Love meeting love. Love embracing love. That’s Golden Temple for me.

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India waits…

Like millions of Indians, I am waiting for the election results to be announced on May 23, 2019. I feel that rush of anxiety in my heart. I don’t think that I was this anxious even for my exam results. Human emotions are strange, actually.

It has been a bitterly fought election in 2019. Too much of mud-slinging, character assassinations and hate speeches.

Even as I am waiting for the results, in my head I am planning a nice dinner for myself irrespective of the result. Earlier in the day, I tweeted : Notes to myself: This too shall pass. #electionresults2019

Five years ago, on May 19, 2014 the then general election results were announced. It was a gruelling summer day in Ahmedabad. I was trying to make a sense of the path ahead for India (well, I  am still trying to). But at the same time, I didn’t want to be consumed by the political climate. I had ordered a plate of biryani and caramel custard just to feel better.

Let us see how India swings.

 

One way ticket…

(‘Desh’ (meaning country) is how my mother-in-law refers to Kerala whenever she talks about her years of growing up there. I always tell her, “India is your country. Why are you referring Kerala as your country?” But she refuses to listen to me. She shifted to Gujarat when she got married almost 50 years ago. This piece first appeared in an anthology titled ‘People called Ahmedabad’. I am sharing this here as we celebrate Gujarat Day on May 1. This is about leaving home, finding home and also about love and longing)  

mummy

(The Matriarch… )

More than fifty years ago, Sowbhagyabati Menon arrived in Ahmedabad from a small village in Kerala as a young bride. She started a whole new chapter of her life in this dusty city which is so very different from the lush green village of hers dotted with beautiful houses, swaying coconut trees and paddy fields. Today, she starts her day with a cup of tea and two Gujarati newspapers. And she loves her eclectic mixed neighborhood of Khanpur, in the walled city of Ahmedabad.

She looks back at her Gujarat journey with a sense of nostalgia and fondness. “It was my first train journey and everybody in my family thought that I was really going away too far. We all had heard of Ahmedabad only through news.The first house I stayed in Ahmedabad was on rent. It was a small house but I was surrounded by wonderful neighbors who wholeheartedly welcomed this young Malayali.”

Gujarati language sounded more or less like Greek or Latin to her. But she was hell-bent on learning the language. So, she sought the help of her neighbour’s school-going daughter. With a paper and pen, they moved around in the kitchen to note down the names of vegetables in Gujarati. Later on in the day whenever she found some free time, she diligently practiced on her own, saying it gently and slowly, “bataka (potato), dungri (onions).”

In Kerala, she was used to having boiled rice and in the initial days of her arrival here, she just couldn’t stand the smell of basmati rice in her friends’ houses. In the beginning, she stayed with her Gujarati friend for a couple of days. Her loving hosts were feeling miserable that their guest just refused to touch any of the Guajrati delicacies they offered to her. Then one day, her host friend went to a small south-Indian restaurant to pack a meal of masala dosa, idli, vada for her.Probably that South-Indian platter was more precious to her than any piece of gold jewellery she was wearing.

But she has come a long way since then. Today, she loves her share of thepla, methi gota, sukhdi, khichdi, poori-aam ras and undhiyu. In fact, her children and grand-children now especially ask her to make Gujarati khatti meethi dal and every Uttarayan, she gets up at 3 am in the night to prepare lip-smacking unidhiyu. From her kitchen now comes a regular spread of both Kerala and Gujarati cuisine.  

She loves being in Ahmedabad which has given her a home, friends and beautiful memories to go back to. With a sense of love, she says, “Gujratis are nice,warm people. They are affable and made me feel at home from the beginning.”

So, what has she enjoyed the most about her life in Ahmedabad? She says, “I feel a sense of freedom in Ahmedabad. Here, I move around freely with my friends, have gone for late night movies. There is no restrictions on movement like I had in Kerala and I have enjoyed the freedom to explore life. My neighbours have taught me the art of saving money. They have taught me the art of compounding interest. So, that has definitely made my life better now.”

“I have also enjoyed celebrating festivals like Diwali, Uttarayan, Navratri and Bestu Varash (Gujarati New year).  And yes, I was a true blood Malayali before, having my share of cooking in coconut oil. After more than four decades in Gujarat, I have lost my taste for coconut oil.”

Does she miss Kerala? “Oh, I miss Kerala’s magical monsoon. Even after so many years, Gujarat’s dry, arid long summer feels really tough. In these months, I long for Kerala’s rains. I also miss the fabulous celebrations of Onam in my village. Though I try to cook an elaborate sadhya on Onam but it just doesn’t feel the same.”

But then she trails, “Many of the people with whom I grew up in Kerala are gone now. The ancestral house of mine needs constant attention. Life in Ahmedabad feels much easier now. And did I mention about the uninterrupted power supply in Ahmedabad?”

Well, home is here only.