To My Little One

Posted: November 22, 2010 in Words In Progress

Tanya died today. There was something in the air all of last evening that told me something bad was yet to come. When my mum called out of the blue, I knew there was truth in my intuition. In a way, maybe this was a good thing. She had been sick since the day we brought her home; always one thing or the other, never at peace with herself. On some days, we’d be sure to keep it down if we found she had fallen asleep. On most days, she was a restless little child, too nervous to welcome a guest, too sick to play with her siblings.
When she first came to us, my mum was her haven from the world outside. A raggedy, lost, lonely, little wonder, we found her whimpering under a car in the street. She was barely a month old and ridden with mange. The plan was to keep her for a few days until we could find someone to adopt her. Then one evening while we were sitting outside in the front porch, my mum carefully placed her on the compound wall just so she could look over at the road outside. We couldn’t have turned for more than a few seconds when she jumped and landed on all fours, on the inside of the wall, thank God. She yelped and immediately looked up at mum. I knew then that the latest member of our family had arrived. In typical fashion, our mum picked her up and held her close. “You’re not going anywhere,”she said. “You’re going to stay her with me, okay?” Tanya turned and licked Ma’s nose. I guess that was her way of saying “Let’s do this!”
She hardly ever got better. When my oldest, Patches, was unwell and getting all of our attention, we neglected to notice that she had been scratching herself unusually more often. After a few weeks, we were horrified to see that her misery had been so bad that she had scratched her cornea to blindness. Our vet (and saviour on so many accounts) was able to save the eye and Ma was careful to make sure that it never happened again.
It isn’t often you see a skinny, quite grotesque-looking little mutt getting an oil massage. My mum really knows ho to take care of her children – the one with two legs and all of her other four-legged ones. I remember Tanya looking up at me when I went to India, waiting to be petted but ready to take a chunk out of me if I got close. With the little eyesight she had, she eventually recognized me though. In the two years that I hadn’t been home, she’d lost every one of her teeth as well. Still, when Ma spoke to her or cuddled her, you knew she was smiling. Her entire body sent the message across.
I will never forget that little brown bundle of joy, holding onto her own paw, huddled up, at the end of Ma’s bed. She may not have had 20:20 vision and she may have greeted you more with the stench of her presence than a wag of her tail, but Tanya was an intelligent girl who knew how to get her blanket over herself using her nose and her forepaws. All the while she lived she suffered, but of all the memories I have of her, not once do I remember her complaining. Not a sound, just the quiet rhythm of a difficult breath. She may not have been the most beautiful dog I have known, but it was her gentle soul that made her a part of our family and my mum’s heart.


Chapter 1

Posted: October 4, 2010 in India 2010

Chapter 1 – Coming to India

Sometimes the best gift you can give someone you love is a good surprise. My poor mother almost passed out when I showed up unannounced in her kitchen after two years. That look of astonishment together with pure joy is something I’ve rarely seen on anyone’s face. It was the most honest reaction I could’ve asked for. It was perfect.

My USF sweatshirt wasn’t quite welcome in India. After having travelled for over 24 hours, I eased out of my groggy state and got out of the freezing aircraft only to be greeted by Chennai’s infamous heat. Did I complain? Of course not; I welcomed the familiar feeling of forthcoming dehydration making its sticky way down my back. I knew I was smiling but I couldn’t help myself. Two years is a long time for someone who sometime owned the very streets she was about to step back onto.

My smile disappeared. Authority in India is something I don’t do very well with and immigration was giving me a cruel little smile as its long, decaying fingers beckoned me right around the corner. After scrutinizing my passport and giving me the once over several times, the officer informed me that my rather “sharp” appearance had led him to believe I was working for the police. I was tempted to pull out my FBI badge and flash him, but I reminded myself that I was undercover and kept my cool. It wasn’t easy.

As I exited the airport without customs raiding my luggage, I thanked God and prayed that my ride was close by; for a small person two bags weighing 28 kilos and 8 kilos, respectively, along with a backpack, does not spell comfort. I trudged along, out the exit and a little into the foyer when I heard my name. My cousin and co-conspirator, accompanied by two of her friends, were there at half past midnight to pick me up.

The plot was set in late March. On my last visit to India, I had set my mind to stay away from the country and all else involved for reasons I don’t quite care to share. When I decided it had been long enough, I also decided that the family needed a little excitement in their lives, namely me. So I enlisted a few people in the master plan; my cousin Ayesha Aapa, a few friends and almost everyone in the U.S. The stage was set and my actors played their roles to the tee. Among all the hustle of keeping mum, what was most difficult was keeping my mother in town. I was to visit Kerala and wanted her to go with me, but unaware of the near cardiac arrest situation that she was about to face, my mother was making plans of her own. Which is why it is always advisable to have someone on the inside. Enter Ayesha Aapa.

Living with my parents was the best decision Ayesha Aapa could’ve made. Well, for me atleast. She managed to convince my mother that she may have to go abroad during the exact same time that my mum was planning to visit my grandfather in Kerala, sabotaging her plan and setting mine back on track. The plan was unfolding just as I had hoped it would.

From the airport, Aapa drove her friends and me to Springs, a 24-hour coffee shop. Having been out of the country and off the roads for so long, that first drive out of Chennai International was everything but pleasant. I quietly nursed my terrified heart and kept it from jumping out of my mouth and onto the street when we cut someone off every 30 seconds. After coffee, we proceeded to Aapa’s friends’ place. In the early hours of the morning, I was five and a half minutes away from mum and could hardly contain the excitement. Six hours, five hours, four and a half…I simply couldn’t wait for the sun to rise.

After forcing myself to sleep, I woke up at 6 o’clock, showered and got dressed. I took one more look at my watch. And then it hit me, I was still on U.S. time. In India, it was only 3:30 AM. I smacked the back of my head a few times hoping to beat the jetlag out of my system, got under the covers and went back to sleep. A little longer, Ma. I’m almost home.

Seven-thirty. A quick cup of coffee later, Ayesha Aapa and I were out the door and on our way. In the car, we planned the last part of our little adventure and a short video camera lesson later, we were ready to strike. Once the coast was clear, she gave me the signal to come inside. To my surprise, none of my five canine siblings uttered a whimper. They just stared, no bark, no wag. I reached the back door and slowly snuck inside. My unassuming mother dearest hadn’t strayed from routine. It was a quarter past eight and as always, she was in the kitchen making tea. I made my way behind her.

I couldn’t think of a better gift to give my mum. As vain as this may sound, I mean the world to her and she’s always made every effort to let me know it. Her face when she saw me is an image that I will never allow myself to forget. That morning, I truly felt that my life in this world was worth something. Her disbelief and unfathomable happiness to see me, to hug me was more of a gift to me than mine was to her. The whole time that I was planning to surprise mum, I didn’t realize how much I would get out of it. As always, she gives me more than I can ever imagine. Like I said, perfect.

Every time I read your words
My hope re-emerges
Only to be crushed again
By the truth of your dishonesty

The disguised messages with your every syllable
The hatred that lay within each truth I thought you told
The poison that spilled from your lips
As your hand wrote each promise broken even before being made

Words, my own companion, my sanctity, my saviour, my self
Used against my soul
How did I fail to see through you?
How did I fail to understand that you fell far from home?
How does the thorn of emotion blind the mind without a single touch?

Like the splinter that stays below the skin never to surface
The venom stays with me
Trying my spirit
Killing my soul
For every time that I have risen out of the ashes

This time I wonder
If luck will stand by my side again
And strength will me strong
One last time, one last breath

They always say when you fall in love, you should give it a 150 percent. The sad part is nobody ever tells you what the return on your investment will be. Nobody tells you about the heart-wrenching days of wanting to end your misery when the one person you thought you were meant to spend your life with decides to walk out on you, never turning back to see the damage they’ve caused to the one asset that can never be bought again — your spirit.

So as the sad story of the happiness that lies in love goes, truth be told, love is possibly one of the most intense emotions that we as creatures of the higher sense experience. We write poems serenading love, we write stories talking about the greatest loves of our life, we compose in the sweetest notes that one tune that we will never raise the bar to, we take some of our best learned lessons from love and we lose a large part of ourselves to the feeling that at one point or the other makes or breaks our very selves. Whether or not we like to admit it, we are victims of loving someone. For some, that love lasts forever. For us less fortunate, that feeling is fleeting, lasting only long enough to remind us when we lose it, that once again we are company only to the loneliness that let’s us know that wherever we may be in this world or whoever we may become, the spotlight is only temporary after which we return to the permanent void.

To have loved and lost and loved and lost, and loved and lost once again, the practice of loving someone returns to being a theory, a wonder much like what we experience while we’re growing up and discovering the new feats of life. Except this time around the discovery has been made and we are clear about how dreadful treading this much trodden path can actually be.

But still we trudge on, in the hope that sometime or the other we will cross the border and join the ones on the side of fortune. In our quest, we learn that no matter how hard we try not to get hurt or not to put ourselves up for the fall, we take the shot time and again, only to fall harder and every single time, get back up stronger.

It is the honest truth – love is a four letter word. In more ways than one.

Skipper’s Smokehouse

Posted: June 29, 2009 in Words In Progress

There are some events in life that touch us but never let us know why. There are some people in life that become a part of who we are without ever knowing it. There are some things in life you simply can’t explain; all you can do is trust that that feeling inside of you that tells you its right is telling you the truth, unlike much else in this dishonest world we know all too well.

Today, Skipper’s Smokehouse was one of those unexplainable moments in my life. I went in to what looked like a dump and found a universe of music like nothing I had encountered before. It’s hard to describe. Where do I start; do I write about the awe-inspiring energy of loving life that filled the warm, greasy air? Or do I talk about the music that has inspired me to write about the experience, simply because I cannot contain the emotions that overwhelm my much too small heart at this early hour of what is to be another ordinary day? Or maybe I should begin with the immeasurable amount of creative artistry that unfolded throughout the evening, one tune at a time, without hesitation, without tire, succeeding with every song not to fail. Or maybe I should start with the thought of how grateful I am to that realm of music that has refrained from the commercial to give us, its chosen audience, the privilege of taking home something that must belong to each one of us alone.

Lost for an idea of where to begin, I have found words tonight not in the knowledge of my mind but in the strings of my heart which resounds this music time and again so my ears will let my head rest in sleep. My brief encounter with Christie Lenee, an artist beyond her time and that of any time past or to come in the near future, all I have to say is that tonight I was reintroduced to the spirit of music. When in India, I always wondered what it would be like to come face to face with somebody who understood what really lies behind music. Somebody who recognizes a song not for the millions that it would earn, but more for the memories it would paint for a somebody listener. Somebody who wrote a song not because they signed a contract, but because within themselves something longed to be heard. Someone who knew that if they shared their spirit, they may just help resurrect another’s. I found out what that feeling is tonight. It is, in the words of a writer, not something that can be spelled out; it’s something we must each find for ourselves for in that quest we find that the journey was worth it only because the end is just as we imagined it would be.

That is how Christie Lenee music made me feel. To each one, a different experience. To each one, a different tale to tell. To each their own and this a must for without our own truths, we find our lies no good to tell. If there ever was a soul to music, tonight I found it. And this truth is one that I will never let fly.

Only the Good Die Young

Posted: June 28, 2009 in Words In Progress

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances.” As cliché as this quote may be, there’s no doubt it’s one of my favourites. After centuries, Shakespeare still says things that make sense to me, and to my life. And for this eulogy that I write for all musicians who have died young, but within their short-lived lives have changed the lives of many of who have lived on, I can’t think of a quote better crafted, a quote more befitting of the situation.

When Michael Jackson died early in the evening, I found out when I read my friend’s status message that said Michael Jackson R.I.P. At that moment, I felt what I’m sure many people felt when they first found out that one of the world’s greatest music artists was in fact, dead. I couldn’t believe it. It seemed unreal.
It’s rather amazing how we allow ourselves to dwell in a reality when we’re more prepared for the death of people closest to us, but as far as the famous supernovas of the silver screen go, we lead ourselves to believe that they are the icons of eternity. Last night, my little bubble of unreality burst and a thin ray of truth came shining in. In so many ways, I needed that jolt to realize that a lot in life is merely an illusion.

I remember stories that my mother used to tell me about another king, the King of Rock ‘n Roll, Elvis Presley. She used to speak fondly of him, today she still does, with the kind of enthusiasm and child-like excitement that I used to show every time my best friend from school, Jamila and I watched the latest BSB or Boyzone video when we were in the 7th grade. My mom would tell me again and again about all the books and LP records she had of Elvis back in our home in Kerala. When we went there, we brought back a small part of that collection. I read those books time and again, and listened to almost all of the cassettes she had. At the time that Elvis died, pop stardom wasn’t quite what it is now. Back then, you couldn’t lay a hand on the King. He was like an icon who lived up in his ivory tower, far away from reality. And still, when he died at age 42, my mom cried for him. She felt bad, like a part of herself was lost never to be found again. It’s amazing the effect one stranger can have on another. Makes me wonder, was he a stranger to her at all?

As a child, I was exposed to an eclectic range of music. My dad was big on the 80s; he like the Eagles, the Cars, ZZ Top, Van Halen and well, you get the picture. My mom liked the 60s; Elvis, the Beatles, BeeGees, the Supremes. My cousins went anywhere from Wham! to Meatloaf. It was the initial few years of my growing up that captured my interest in music. But once I got on, I was hooked. And till today, I’ve never asked the question why. I’ve only always wanted to know whom.

And this is where Freddie Mercury stood out. The weird walk, the misshaped face, that ridiculously effeminate body. But what a voice, what a musician. Even in death, he made us face some of the most controversial issues of his time. Until today, his disturbed spirit resounds in every cover version of Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s almost like he’s lacing the icing on the cake.

To the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, let’s stop to remember the 11 year old lead singer of the Jackson 5. Michael Jackson was no ordinary kid from the start. He gave the world a new genre in pop culture with his ridiculously expensive outfits, the unforgettable baby face, and the incredible power of his voice. If it wasn’t for Michael Jackson, we would never have heard the likes of Thriller, Off the Wall or Dangerous, three of my all time favourites. When he trademarked the ‘Moonwalk’, he gave Neil Armstrong a run for his money. He has done more for the children of this world than most of us do for our own. He has used music in so many ways to create an influence in people’s lives; whether it’s been world peace or feel good, Jackson had a song to say it. And a dance to follow.

Without Michael Jackson, the world is a sadder place than it was before. We’ve lost a little rhythm, skipped a few beats and are a couple of pitches off. Though he has gone, his music will live on. Like Elvis lives on through my mom and Freddie Mercury through my dad, the icons of music never really leave us. They stay with us and keep us in tune. They are a part of our past, our present and in so many ways, our future.
If there’s one thing that I’m sure of about this life it’s this. We may forget a few songs among the dusty records of the old days, but if there’s a tune that hit the charts sometime, somewhere, it never dies; it just lives on in silence until someone turns up the volume.