Saturday, 20 February 2016

Speak out and be heard

When i was a child, I was told I was too young to know what’s good for me.
I was told life is too short to make mistakes and learn from others
When I grew up, I was told my focus should be studies and I believed it.
When I went to college, I was advised to stay off politics as it is a ‘bad’ thing.
When I started working, I put my soul into following orders, even ones that I knew were wrong.
When I questioned anything, my seniors said I was too big for my boots and needed to be shut down
Now I am told to keep quiet or face the consequences.

I have kept silent enough and now I know I must speak up now or die.
Because my silence is equal to the permanent closure of all my thoughts
It is the shroud over my ability to think and to decide for myself.
I dare you to tell me what is right and wrong and whom to follow and who not to.
I dare you, because, it is as much an insult to my intelligence as to yours.
I believe I can make an informed choice, even if it goes against what the majority believes
I believe I will be right even if my decision is wrong for me.

This is a promise to myself, today and hereafter.
Your voice will not quell mine.
Your stares will not blind me.
Your abuses will only make me stronger
And your selective silence will only convince me that I am doing something right.
It is not the time to wait for understanding and compassion
It is the time to stand up for what I believe in and stand up I will. 

#StandWithJNU

Monday, 18 May 2015

Aruna's Song


The night sings the elegy
Holding your head lightly upon its lap
The farewell song hums
Tears gently flow.
Confined to a bed,
Condemned to live your death
You served the sentence second by second
While the fiend escaped unscathed.
You lay limited by four walls.
While he roamed the streets.
You like to listen to the radio they said.
They who breathed life into you morsel by morsel.
I listen to the radio along with you.
Praying for you to pass.
Wishing you peace.
Wishing you release from this strange life you were forced to lead.
Stomach churns to hear the words you may have spoken.
Heartbeats pause to catch your wasted smile.
Eyes hurt holding back the pain you have endured.
It's time to let go. Gently may the night take you home.
(11.45 pm. May 15, 2015)
She died two days later. Hope she finally found the peace that was eluding her for so long. 

Thursday, 9 May 2013

My article on Tsutomu Yamaguchi ... So that it doesn't get lost in time

Would you call him the luckiest or unluckiest man alive? (Published in Mail Today on 23 August 2009) Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who miraculously survived despite being at ground zero in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when US bombers used atom bombs in August 1945, does not know the answer to this question. But what he does know, and repeatedly acknowledges, is that fate had a plan for him. At 93, Yamaguchi’s battle with cancer, probably caused by exposure to radiation sixty-four years ago, has become a way of life. Recuperating in a hospital where he was admitted on August 8 this year, he said he spent every anniversary of the two “fateful days” praying. “This has been like the 128th anniversary in these 64 years,” he told Mail Today. In March, he became the first person to be officially recognised as a nijuu hibakusha — a dual A-bomb survivor. The recognition comes towards the end of a life of bitterness, a constant effort to water down the blow dealt by fate, and a late reconciliation with the role he could play in ending war and nuclear proliferation. After all, one does not often meet a person who has been through hell twice, within the space of just three days. Yamaguchi survived while more than two lakh people around him succumbed. In August 1945, Yamaguchi was a 29-year-old shipbuilding engineer with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. A resident of Nagasaki, he was in Hiroshima on a three-month assignment. He and two other colleagues were scheduled to return to home on August 7. Destiny had other plans. On August 6, Yamaguchi was on his way to the shipyard a little after 8 am when he heard the familiar drone of a B-29 bomber. In wartime Japan, this was a noise one grew used to. But what happened next was unprecedented. “The ground was filled with a white light that sparked midair and I saw a ballooning giant fireball,” he wrote in his autobiography published in 2007. “I saw a pillar of cloud growing high above the sky in the shape of a mushroom.” At least 90,000 people were killed that day in Hiroshima. Yamaguchi partially lost his hearing and suffered burns. But what affected him most was what he saw around him. “The river that till yesterday had reflected peace was now filled with bodies clumped together… The river kept flowing yesterday and today. But a single bomb forever divided them into completely unrelated days,” he wrote. After spending a fitful night in Hiroshima, he managed to return to Nagasaki on August 8, almost as if to keep his date with fate. On August 9, he went to work and tried convincing his manager that one single bomb had destroyed an entire city. Even as he was being called a madman by his disbelieving superior, the atom bomb dropped over Nagasaki, about three kilometers from where they stood. “The same mushroom cloud I saw in Hiroshima was growing tall as if to sneer at me,” he wrote years later. Five feet in diameter, 11 feet in length and over 9,000 pounds in weight, the bomb called Fat Man killed nearly 70,000 people in Nagasaki that day. Even after all these years, the images of destruction and pain he saw refuse to leave Yamaguchi. “I remember the pain in my body. I saw people evaporate like mist, people lying on the street burnt to charcoal, barely recognisable as human bodies,” he told Mail Today. The bitterness towards the Americans caused by the experience still finds voice in him. “I cannot forgive them because this hell is a result of a well-planned attack,” he said. Despite the anger, Yamaguchi did not participate in anti-war activities. Nor did he make it a point to get official recognition of his status as a dual survivor. He carried on with life, taking up a job as an English interpreter with the US Navy and later as an English teacher in a Japanese school. A few years later, he returned to his job as an engineer. But his family’s constant struggle with illnesses and the effects of exposure to radiation prompted Yamaguchi to come out of his shell. When his son died of cancer in 2005, he felt the need to voice his anguish and tell the world about what millions of A-bomb had gone through. Yamaguchi finally penned an autobiography in his eighties. He was also featured in a 2006 documentary Nijuu Hibaku. He attended a screening of the film at the United Nations, where he urged the audience to fight for the abolition of nuclear weapons. “As a double atomic bomb survivor I experienced the bomb twice and I sincerely hope there will not be a third," he had said. For Yamaguchi, the official recognition as a nijuu hibakusha on March 24 this year was a hope for the future. “My double radiation exposure is now an official government record. It can tell the younger generation the horrifying history of the atomic bombings even after I die,” he told a local newspaper. Asked what he would most like to change about his life, Yamaguchi’s answer was simple and direct — “Everything on wars.” Yamaguchi’s faith in the Buddhist concept of insei mijyou (the impermanence of everything) kept him going as the pain of his past threatened to consume him. Now, finally at peace with what fate had in store for him, Yamaguchi made an example of his life. “Life or death, there are only two choices for human beings. I wish young people choose life as their purpose,” he signed off, hinting that hope too may have survived Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Charting my own religion

I wrote a section for the May edition of Discover India and the edit team massacred it. So, here's the full version


A brimming, wild river; a silent moonless night echoing off overbearing mountain sentinels; a warm summer sky reflected in still green waters – different shades of the river of life as seen from a quaint yet oft-visited town.
Nestling in the lap of the Himalayas, Hrishikesh is fed by the raging Ganga before she bounds into a ritual-ridden, polluted phase of her long winding journey into the Bay of Bengal. In this pristine town, the pride of place is occupied by two suspension bridges named after the immortal divine brothers – Rama and Lakshmana. Numerous temples dot either bank, with some no more than an idol under a tree, to others that are at least twelve storeys high.
At any time of year, devotees throng the town’s temples and bazaars, queuing up for a dip in the holy river or just the right of passage on the swaying suspension bridges. Backpackers, both Indian and foreign, jostle for space with mendicants dressed in saffron along the river’s banks and near the eating joints. The more adventurous move northwards towards Shivpuri for the adrenaline-rushing rafting points. A few others relax their minds and bodies through India’s most famous export of several centuries – yoga.
Hrishikesh means many things to many people and several things to me.
I associate this temple town with two things – a sense of overwhelming peace juxtaposed alongside a madly rushing river and a vegetarian foodie’s heaven. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to convince my non-vegetarian friends to make a food trip to Hrishikesh. They laugh off the idea because meat is a strict no-no around the temple towns of Hrishikesh and Haridwar. I’ve not given up though. Now I just try to sell the idea with other unbeatable delicacies added to the platter.
Yet, my most lasting memory of Hrishikesh has nothing to do with food OR peace! It is the image of me jumping off a 23-ft high rock into a placid pool formed by the gushing river below. I recall trying to choose between staring across the river to the opposite bank and looking down into the seemingly bottomless pool beneath the craggy rock I was standing on. The split-second, spine-chilling feeling of being suspended in air ended as fast as it began. It left behind the sweet taste of victory as I recalled conquering the fear of standing on the edge of a precipice with adventure-crazy fellow rafters and of making the jump without chickening out.
Several summers later, of course, a colleague and I bunked office and spent a weekend on the banks of a placid Ganga, leaving the bank only to grab regular bites at the German bakery near Lakshman Jhula, dessert at the Chotiwala restaurant near Swargashram across Ram Jhula, and back for more at the German bakery. Brownies, plum cakes, rasmalai, mushroom quiche, pasta, chhola batura, lassi – we gave our stomachs a tough time, I’m sure.
A birthday trip to Hrishikesh with someone special took me to Muni ki Reti, a quieter part of town, in winter. Loads of photo-ops, the green gurgling waters, the cold, misty mornings, the splendid aarti at Tapovan Ghat in the evenings and the windswept launch rides between the sun-kissed banks gently jostle with the memory of long walks along winding lanes and of cutting a black forest pastry as the clock struck twelve on a moonless night.
The most recent trip, however, is more of a vision than a memory. It is rain-washed and mixes with the rising mist and the descending clouds. Getting caught in Hrishikesh in the monsoon is not the best of things. And two young women barely staying dry under a single ‘borrowed’ umbrella is definitely not the idea of a perfect holiday. But it was a whim we carried to fruition by spending a large part of it with steaming cups of lemon tea in an eat-out called Rainbow near Lakshman Jhula. That, and the yum omlettes made to order, the alu parathas through the day and the view of a mist-covered Ganga from the terrace of a fourth-floor hotel room, made it as perfect as a muddy, monsoon trip in small-town India can get.
The rain clouds parted at will to make way for a confluence of the mist rising from the surging waters and the fog settling down upon it. In the distance, ghost lights from temples across the bank, giving me my first glimpse of the divinity of Hrishikesh. I felt like I was in the midst of the misty, cloudy, heaven scenes conjured by tele-serials on Indian mythologies or the ‘Dream Girl’- type Bollywood romantic numbers.
After numerous visits to Hrishikesh in every kind of weather, sunny, windy and wet, I finally found myself brooding on the nature of religion – on the faith inspired in millions by the Ganga. I wondered why I felt bereft of such a ritualistic devotion that would make me wake up at un-Godly hours to perform rituals to appease our pantheon.
As the rain pitter-pattered on the roof of the restaurant and the aroma of apple pie and omelette played with my taste-buds, I realised my passion for the mighty river that I could only sense below the blinding mist was no less. And knowing that my love did not demand that I feed the river with greasy lamps, plastic bags filled with flowers, incense sticks, vermilion pastes and plastic cans only eased my conscience.
I looked on at the overpowering vision building before my misty eyes, remembered the strong current of this river that had almost carried with her two people I loved dearly and murmured my gratitude for letting them go. And in that vast moment, I was entwined not just with an immortal river but for centuries of its existence, the lives it has made and destroyed and the unimaginable faith people have in its miraculous powers.
And I surprise myself when I realise that if there is one place I’ll keep going back to, and one where I’d like to take everyone I love, it has to be this temple town! I’m sure it has many more shades to be unravelled and I’m raring to go.

By Anusha Chandrasekharan

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Four of us going to watch a play...I think this is a first. Good I didn't say together

Saturday, 22 January 2011

It's after a long time that all four of us are together at home. It feels good in a way. A feeling of familiarity creeps in providing security to a heart that's flown the nest.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

One long holiday that won't end and life that won't begin. What, where, when?