Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thriller Night

It was the second time in three years that was in the US during Halloween. The first time it was exciting to see it as a grand masquerade ball that spilled over to the streets, a party that everyone was invited to, and a time when candy sales reached an all-time high in the US. It was like watching a thriller movie the first time. You get lost in what’s happening without trying to figure out why it is happening.
The second time however is different. You want to look into the details. You want to know how it all began. You want to know why.
And this time, that’s where Halloween took me.
Celebrated on October 31 each year, Halloween comes to America from a mix of ancient Celtic practices, Catholic and Roman religious rituals and European folk traditions. Blended over time, modernized and made fun for children it is today one of the most celebrated and enjoyable community-based children’s holiday in the US.
Straddling the line between fall and winter, plenty and paucity and life and death, Halloween is a time of celebration and superstition. Halloween has long been thought of as a day when the dead can return to the earth, and ancient Celts would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off these roaming ghosts.
Perhaps Michael Jackson's writer Rod wrote his words for Thriller after Halloween night. (I quote them below with a link in case you want to go down nostalgia lane!)
Halloween is indeed a day when good triumphs over evil. It’s a time when the wicked are laughed at and (literally) scared away. The fact that Halloween came right between Dassehra and Diwali put things in a newer perspective for me. Having just left India with the smoke from Raavan effigies still spiraling up the sky, it was a kind of repeat performance out here for Halloween.
So houses are decorated with the traditional Halloween pumpkins, black widow spiders, ghoulish mummies, skeletons and scary witches in black hats. Dark devious decorations to ward off the evil. Out there in India, lights decorate every house. A riot of light that lets in no darkness. Eventually everything is the same. New ways of tricking the devil, a different way of fighting evil, the triumph of good and the celebration of the goodness over wickedness and finally whether you scare the evil away with mummies, skeletons, witches or black cats or you welcome goodness with a riot of lights, it ends up being the same celebratory spirit east of the US or west of India.
Pics of Halloween party decorations that David Cronnin, realtor from Indiana kindly allowed me to take to represent Halloween. Thanks David.
Thriller lyrics
Songwriter: Rod Temperton
It's close to midnight and something evil's lurking in the dark
Under the moonlight, you see a sight that almost stops your heart
You try to scream but terror takes the sound before you make it
You start to freeze as horror looks you right between the eyes
You're paralyzed

'Cause this is thriller, thriller night
And no one's gonna save you from the beast about strike
You know it's thriller, thriller night
You're fighting for your life inside a killer, thriller tonight

You hear the door slam and realize there's nowhere left to run
You feel the cold hand and wonder if you'll ever see the sun
You close your eyes and hope that this is just imagination, girl!
But all the while you hear the creature creeping up behind
You're out of time

'Cause this is thriller, thriller night
There ain't no second chance against the thing with forty eyes, girl
Thriller, thriller night
You're fighting for your life inside a killer, thriller tonight

Night creatures calling, the dead start to walk in their masquerade
There's no escaping the jaws of the alien this time
(They're open wide)
This is the end of your life

They're out to get you, there's demons closing in on every side
They will possess you unless you change that number on your dial
Now is the time for you and I to cuddle close together, yeah
All through the night I'll save you from the terror on the screen
I'll make you see

That this is thriller, thriller night
'Cause I can thrill you more than any ghost would ever dare try
Thriller, thriller night
So let me hold you tight and share a
Killer, diller, chiller, thriller here tonight

'Cause this is thriller, thriller night
Girl, I can thrill you more than any ghost would ever dare try
Thriller, thriller night
So let me hold you tight and share a killer, thriller, ow!

(I'm gonna thrill ya tonight)
Darkness falls across the land
The midnight hour is close at hand
Creatures crawl in search of blood
To terrorize y'alls neighborhood

I'm gonna thrill ya tonight, ooh baby
I'm gonna thrill ya tonight, oh darlin'
Thriller night, baby, ooh!

The foulest stench is in the air
The funk of forty thousand years
And grizzly ghouls from every tomb
Are closing in to seal your doom

And though you fight to stay alive
Your body starts to shiver
For no mere mortal can resist
The evil of the thriller

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Old Lady with the French bread

It’s raining.
It’s cold.
And it’s windy.
She seems to be struggling with her groceries and shopping as she gets out of the butcher’s shop in the background. A passing car slows down, the driver obviously feeling sorry for the elderly lady. But as he moves closer he realizes she doesn’t really need any help. She’s fine the way she is.
She is one of the lifesize and lifelike structures that the Carmel Arts and Crafts District has, in Indiana.

The Carmel Arts and Crafts district sports a number of these sculptures. Each one equally riveting. A little girl watering flowers. A father setting his daughter off on that first bicycle ride. A policeman motioning you to stop. Then there’s one of a couple just out on the street, the man juggling an umbrella against the gusty winds so common here. A lady on a bench eschewing on what to write next.

The first one I saw was the policeman. As our car whizzed by I realized he had not moved. Later I saw the gentleman on the park bench reading the newspaper. Now I was excited. The little girl watering the plants appeared round the corner. And then the street musician, rapt in playing his violin with the case open on the floor outside a music shop. My eyes hungered for more. And I saw her. The lady with the French bread loaf sticking out of her grocery bag.

The sculptures are fascinating in their realism and surreal in the fact that they were absolutely in the midst of daily life. The sculptor, himself is interesting. J.Seward Johnson Jr. is the grandson of the founder of Johnson & Johnson. A realist sculptor he is often known as the Norman Rockwell of sculpture. Says J. Seward Johnson, Jr. , “I use my art to convince you of something that isn’t real. You laugh at yourself because you were taken in, and in that change of your perception, you become vulnerable to the piece and intimate with it in a certain way.”

It’s positively refreshing to see art brought out on the streets like this. If there is some relief to a hectic life that all of us lead today, it’s the little joy that a ‘thing of beauty’ brings. Somewhere in the olden times, kings and subjects alike knew that it was art that would keep them going. That’s why going back to the ancient times, temples were decorated with intricate carvings, palace walls were adorned with art, churches enshrined stained glass art, even mausoleums were inlaid with delicate designs and semi-precious stones in marble. Somewhere along the way art and craft gave way to technology. Today a computer screen gives greater joy than a canvas, a joystick more excitement than a chisel. And along the way comes stress and all that modern technology brings with it.

So it’s wonderful when hurtling down the road with an errand to run, you are suddenly taken aback and you stop for a moment and think, “Wait, what was that I just saw?!”. And you realize the figure you stopped for has actually stopped for you. It’s motionless. But it puts into motion a whole new train of thought in your mind. You pass the old woman in the street with a smile and when you come to the one that really stops you: that dramatic one, a representation of the iconic photograph of a World War II soldier kissing a nurse.
There! Isn’t that another story unfolding in your mind?!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sunset Love


Sometimes love comes to you in your sunrise years. In the dawn of youth. It’s a wonderful feeling. You bask in its early morning warmth. Then the heat rises and passion takes over. You sizzle in the afternoon Sun of love with a burning desire. And fan its flames with the sultry winds of the day. And for some, the flame grows, casting its bright light on all others, blinding others as it grows to encompass all that comes within its reach. And then it’s evening and there is a cooling down, a simmering flame that now needs to be tended with care protecting it from the evening gusts that could well blow the flame out completely.
Sometimes love comes to you in your sunrise years. Sometimes it stays with you, growing, glowing in the warmth of the day and into the sunset years changing from the warmth to the heat to the sizzle to the burn to the simmering flame till your very end.
Sometimes love in your sunrise years does not last. It sets with the evening Sun. And you can see it dipping down below the horizon. You plead, you beg for it to stay but as inevitable as the setting Sun you see the last arc of it disappear down the West.
Sometime the sunrise years don’t bring any love. Or if they do, you don’t recognize it in the blazing light of the day. Perhaps you are blinded by youth. By arrogance. By beauty. By naivete. By foolishness. By intelligence. By love itself. There are so many reasons. Perhaps you are restricted by some dark spots in the Sun. Sometimes where there should be light, there are shadows. And in that fragile moment, in the glorious sunshine of youth, love passes you by, and when you realize it, it’s too late.
But sometimes love waits. Till you’re done. Waits till the day is done. And the Sun is on its way down. Dipping down into the horizon. Casting a reddish pink glow in the sky. The kind that lovers sit on embankments by the sea watching wordlessly hand in hand. The kind that brings a smile on your face. The kind that creates a kind of hush all over the world.
There it is, standing in the dark street corner that you’ve always avoided. In those shadows that you’ve not noticed. In those nooks and crannies that you’ve forgotten to dust. In those crevices of your mind that you’ve chosen to ignore. In those memories, like old photographs that are so faded you don’t even want to try and make out the shapes anymore.
From there emerges love. Not on horseback. Not with great fanfare. Not with great guns blazing. Or a triumphant trumpet call.
But a quiet, gentle stepping out of the shadows. A light tap on the shoulder. A fragrant zephyr that tenderly plays with your hair. A butterfly kiss on your cheek.
And before you know it love encompasses you like the soft rays of the evening Sun. Bathing you in the rosy light of the evening glow. Like a Sun that has lost its fury but not its passion. A Sun that does not blaze but glows. A Sun that does not burn but shines.
And it’s that glow that will take you into the twilight. Into your twilight years. A gentle flame that warms the heart, bringing you the joy that you thought your sunrise years lost out on. And you walk confidently into the darkening sunset knowing that this flame will take you into the deepest, darkest night with a light that will shine on in your heart for as long as you live.
It’s sunset love.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sign Language

The best part about visiting a new place is not just the sights and the sounds but the signs. And Indian cities/towns/villages have a fair share of these amusing signs. Here's a small collection. Needless to say, there's much to be added here.

Fast downloads? Fast food? Look no further! This one is in Imphal!

And Jane is blessing?

Half the hotel was under repair and parts occupied by the army - that included the lawn. The name seemed appropriate.

Till I went to Jaipur, I was vegetarian. After Jaipur... "Pavitra"!

Udaipur gave me this view of the lake cold! Coffee was just a byproduct!

And the sign language continues...

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Udaipur... More than a kingdom

So you're off to Udaipur. You're excited. So is it going to be a lake that you want to see? Or is it going to be a palace? Or both???

One thing that strikes you about Udaipur is the amount of lakes there. After all, its not got its title as The Lake City for nothing. Every picture that you see of Udaipur is a that of a lake or a palace and sometimes, breathtakingly, a palace on a lake - right in the middle of it.

We did visit the City Palace. There's enough on the net about the City Palace to bring it up here. Needless to say as we wended our way through passages and open courtyards, fountains on the upper storeys, trellised marble carvings, inlaid work and as usual a 'Sheesh Mahal' a mirrored inner sanctum for the women, what hit you through the aged marble was the sheer opulence and the grandeur of those days.
Gold, gilt, semi-precious stones, legends of bravery, descriptions of rare beauty all resound in the hallowed walls of the rambling palaces. The regal tales never end. But there is more to a palace than just that.
The calmness, the serenity and the tranquility a palace on a lake far outweigh the opulence that a palace would represent. Somehow just seeing a palace on a lake gives you a feeling of owning the world.

Which brings me to think that royalty in those days really knew what they wanted. What was far more important than conquering other kingdoms, winning the most beautiful women and amassing riches exceeding one's imagination? What was that one thing that really made you all-pwerful, all-dominating?

Isn't it the power over Nature?

Imagine creating lakes in the driest of regions. Imagine having a body of water surrounding you, granting you peace and tranquility in your most troubled moments. You now have power over Nature. And you get back from her unconditionally. Peace. Tranquillity. A sense of ownership and paradoxically even, a sense of belonging. What else can give you so much? What else can make you feel more like a king? And what greater kingdom would you want?

If you go to Udaipur, feel the way not just the kings who sat atop the throne felt, feel the way every citizen of Udaipur must have felt... one with Nature. A sense of kinship. A sense of kingship. With a water kingdom of one's own.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Valley, a Lake and some Football

48 kms from Imphal is the largest fresh water lake of the region. Having learnt that, one of the key things I wanted to do when I came to Imphal, the capital of Manipur, was to visit and see the Loktak Lake.
Imphal is where the Senior Women’s National Football Championships are being held. 890 metres above sea level, this is the perfect altitude to be at if you are spending an afternoon watching football. It’s very pleasant, breezy and if you take your eyes off the football field, you see blue-green hills in the distance no matter where you look. The temperatures range between 9 and 29 degrees Celsius and even at 12 noon, if you are in the shade you are happy to have a jacket on.

Imphal Valley as it is called, is in the furthest north east corner of the country. It feels good to be here after being in the furthest west corner of the country at sea level. It’s laidback, rustic, and… military controlled. There are soldiers everywhere in a variety of uniforms. And there’s a wide choice of armed and armoured vehicles. Army trucks, armoured trucks, gun-mounted gypsies… the works.
But the people of Imphal are the most peaceful you’ve ever met. They are not wont to fight or even raise their voice. They are smiling and soft-spoken and their language sounds as sweet as the sounds of the valley. So what the military is doing here is not really obvious to the lay tourist. Loktak Lake is situated about 48 kms from Imphal. A bit of mental math tells me that would take 45 minutes.

But this is Imphal. And 48 kms is not really all ‘road’. And of course we have chosen to take an auto-rickshaw with an extra smart and a bit presumptuious driver to lead us to our sightseeing paradise.

Trundling along what is supposed to be NH 150(it takes you south to Mizoram) we pass cavalcades of army trucks, other cars, jeeps and of course auto-rickshaws, scooters and cycles. We reach Loktak lake, after a few hiccups and false stops, about an hour and a half later. It’s a non-touristy place looked after by the army. There are traces of the army everywhere.

A road winding up the hill takes us to a breathtaking view. The hill is actually in the middle of the lake and the lake stretches on all sides that the eye can see! It’s truly beautiful, serene and…. sadly, neglected.

Apparently a part of the lake has a floating national park. However most of this place is underdeveloped and difficult to reach simply because you don’t know how to get there. There’s so much natural beauty in India and sadly between politics and corruption we don’t value it. With these thoughts I came down the hillock and we proceeded back to Imphal in silence.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Understanding Fear

The day I really understood fear was many years ago.

That night I came home from a long day at work to an empty flat. I unlocked the door, stretched my hand, and flicked the light switch on. Nothing. Darkness. The light just didn’t come on. This particular flat was notorious for blown fuses. I pressed a few buttons on my cell phone to allow me to use the light to check the fuse box. Sure enough, the fuse had blown. Although smart enough to figure that out, I was not smart enough to be able to repair a blown fuse. It was close to 11 pm in the night. Too late to call someone to sort this out, I thought. I’d have to manage the night in darkness.

Luckily it was one of those winters in Mumbai where the nights were pleasant. So not having a fan or an air-conditioner on was not a big deal. With the help of my cell phone – it was too late to even bother looking for a torch, I managed to get by and in a few minutes was in bed, and asleep. In any case, what else did you need at night, but darkness, I thought wryly.

Then it happened.
Right in the middle of the night. A thud. A thump. A creak. Cre…eak. Soft padding sounds.

And roused from really deep sleep, I was gripped with fear.

It’s black. Dark. Pitch dark. Deepest-dark-of-the-night black. Like a thick-black-blanket-over-your-head dark. Like the blackest-hole-you’ve-never-seen black. It’s fear.

It’s a lump-in-your-throat feeling. A dry-mouth sensation. A pit-in-your-stomach moment. A sudden-wrench-of-the-heart spasm.

It envelopes you in a shroud. Clasps you with a death-like grasp. Renders you immobile. Leaves you blind with eyes wide open. You cannot see because all around you is black. And all inside you is blacker. And your mind is paralysed. It cannot think, it cannot do. It’s cold. It’s sub-zero. It’s frozen with fear.

Fear comes to us from a strange place. From within. Nothing external. Nothing tangible. Nothing you can touch. But something that touches you, all over… grips you in a stranglehold, and never lets you go.

I know when fear grips me. It’s like my hands are tied behind my back. My body pinned against the wall. My eyes blindfolded. And all of me covered in a cloak. I cannot move. And it takes everything I have to shake myself of the iron shackles that I am bound in, to break those deep black handcuffs, to free myself of the blindfolds shake myself loose of the deathly shroud and … and take one small step forward into… freedom.

Which is what we don’t realize.

The opposite of fear is not bravery. It’s freedom. It’s freedom from fear. Freedom from the shackles of paralyzing terror. Freedom from the binding grip of fear. Freedom, sheer freedom to do your will without nothing, no one, not even a thought stopping you.

So here I am. Alone. It’s pitch dark around me. It’s frighteningly scary within me. Fear has taken hold and I struggle to break free. The soft sounds continue. And then a thought occurs to me.
And I smile.

My cats! It’s just the cats, I think, playing hide and seek at night, their time to play. Ah freedom! I casually turn to one side and fall asleep.
And time and again when in grips of fear, no matter what the situation, I find a ‘just the cats’ explanation. And then…
I am free.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


It’s late and I am leaving from office. For one moment I am tempted to leave it all (all = laptop) behind. Walk out the door, not look back, go home, eat comfort food and crash. But no, the pull is too great. I turn, look at it longingly, I calculate something quickly in my mind and I hurriedly pack up my laptop, sling the bag over my shoulder and rush home – almost the way I rushed to work this morning.
My mind is ticking. No, clicking. There is work to be done.
I have to harvest the potatoes, then plow the fallow land, seed it again for the next harvest, milk the cows, collect eggs, (phew) and of course there are a whole lot of gifts to be sent. I really don’t have time, if I want to be a successful farmer!
So off I go home, eat dinner in a hurry (gobble like the turkey in my farm?) and am off to my farm.
The cows are waiting to be milked.
Click. Click. Click.
The goats are waiting for the mohair to be collected
(I haven’t used words like mohair and fallow since school!).
Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
The trees waiting to be harvested.
And oh no… I need a new fence.
A new cowshed.
A new chicken coop…
Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
Now my eyes are bleary!
But a lost kitten turns up on my farm. I need to announce it to the world.
Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
Just as I am about to log off I am told that a friend’s farm needs fertilizing. Now I can’t leave without doing that, can I? So off I set fertilizing farms till I run out of fertilizer. Phew! That’s quite some bumper crop we are going to get in the neighbourhood, I think, and it’s all my doing.
Proudly, I plan to log off. And then casually glance at the clock on the base of my screen! Horror! I’ve been farming for well over an hour! Wow! I guiltily try not to think of all I could have done in that hour (including sleep) it’s almost 1 am now! I quickly shut down and leave my farm to grow on its own. It’s satisfying but it’s tiring!
I decide I have a busy day tomorrow and will not have time to go to the farm. Sure enough the next day is demanding and I come home after a meeting ready to collapse. But something in the brain pings. No, make that clicks. And mentally I change into my farmer’s overalls and there I am… farming.
Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
It’s more than a week and I am bleary eyed. I am obsessed with my strawberries withering away. I worried about the wandering kittens in my farm. (Besides, I am constantly rearranging them. For once, these kittens listen). Now there is a clumsy reindeer too. I am trying to figure out where to put the additional cow shed. I am hankering after a brown cow so it can give me chocolate milk! (This is just plain ridiculous… chocolate milk? I don’t even like chocolate all that much! ) And I am anxiously waiting for the ugly duckling to turn into a swan!
Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
Phew! This has got to stop.
Then one night when I am really really tired, and the rice crop is ready, I convince my daughter to do the harvesting for me. She does it unwillingly, accusing me of engaging in child labour. I turn over guiltily and fall into a dreamless sleep. Farmers do get really tired.
It took me some time to realise that like a whole lot of others I had fallen prey to the charms of a farming life. Now it was time to strengthen my resolve and get out of it. But it wouldn’t let go. New tentacles wound around me like the tendrils of the grape vine. Christmas was nearing and suddenly a whole lot of surprise gift packages began to arrive. Oh no! I moaned. And succumbed.
Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
I finally did give up.
A New Year resolution never made before was now carved in a (Halloween)gravestone. I was giving up Charmville. I was not going to spend quality time growing virtual crops, milking virtual cows, expanding my virtual farm, spending virtual money to make more virtual money. I was coming back to reality.
So I abandoned my farm heartlessly on 1st of January 2010. The peach trees beckoned. The cows mooed. The clumsy reindeer ground his hooves. The chickens fluttered around. The cats purred sinuously. But no, I was as firm as a farmer without real land can be.
And as I abandoned acre after acre of my farm and found new quality time for myself, I gave it another name in my mind: Harmville!