Ganapati Bappa Morya

Origami Ganesha with his companion, origami mouse

Origami Ganesha with his companion, origami mouse

Today is Ganesha chaturthi, the first day of an important Indian festival. Ganesha is a Hindu god, popularly known to the west as the “elephant god”. A lot of people take offense at this term, but I actually like it. I think this nickname says that there is a good story behind it and represents how fun filled Hindu culture is! Anyway, Ganesha or Ganapati is my favorite god. I am not a very religious person, but I do have a favorite god. And with good reason. Ganapati is the god of knowledge. The image of Ganapati in my head is that of a very enthusiastic teacher, with a great sense of humor, who makes learning a lot of fun! To worship him is to set out on an exciting quest for knowledge, an idea that sits well with my agnostic inclinations. So today, to celebrate this auspicious day, I folded an origami Ganapati. While I was folding, I found myself talking to him, basically because he was being naughty and refused to let me curl his trunk for him! But once I pleaded, he co-operated and I was pretty happy with the result. That gave me the idea of praying to my origami Ganapati because Lord Ganapati may or may not exist! Not that it matters a whole lot, for I am going to go after all that I ask in the prayer below in any case, but this way I have some one to share my wish list with! So here is a prayer for you, my origami Ganesha!

To resolve the confusion that reigns in my mind
I seek direction and clarity
To pacify the turmoil that swirls in my heart
I seek inner strength and equanimity

For the times I wander far away from myself
I seek self awareness and focus
For the times I linger too long on myself
I seek humility and benevolence

To rise above the illusions of this world
I seek courage and freedom
To understand and uncover my own pure self
I seek truth and wisdom

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The Whys and Hows of Happiness

The Whys?

“Why be happy”, a friend asked me during an IM conversation.“Why be happy”, he said, “when life offers enough reasons to be bitter ?”  I was a little confused and taken aback by his question. I am the kind of person who is either happy or trying to be happy most of the time. And here he was,  questioning that entire philosophy. My mind was disoriented for a moment. I didn’t really have an answer. Why am I trying to be happy ? Why ? And then it came to me. I choose happiness because happiness is independent. It is free. It can be experienced even in the absence of all external factors. It is solitary. Quite simple, isn’t it ? To be bitter, you need someone to be bitter at. To be sad, you need something to be sad about. To be happy, all you need is you. And to be.

A few days later, I thought about happiness once again.

“You can’t be all cheery faced and joyful all the time”, I said.

Yeah, I had the following conversation with myself.

“True. Sorrow is a part of life and it exists for a reason. You need to acknowledge it. You need to live with it for a while without fighting it. But make sure you don’t get too cozy with it.  Because it can be like a warm old quilt. You know, the one made from your grandmother’s sarees. The one that you bring out when you feel defeated. The one that you hide behind. The one that weakens you if you stay with it for too long.”

“But, sometimes you need to be comforted. You need to recover.”

“Yes you do. But believe it or not, the only way to heal, is to get assaulted. Open the windows and let the fresh coldness of happiness come and attack you. Let it have its way with you and leave you with a running nose, wet eyes and a rapidly beating heart. Let it infect you. Awaken you.”

The Hows ?

“Okay, so how to do it then”, I questioned relentlessly, “How to be happy?”

“I am not going to tell you everything. You need to figure this out for yourself. But I’ll tell you this. To be happy, first, you need to be strong. For happiness is like being out in the open. Unsheltered. Exposed. You are vulnerable. The only gradient at that point is negative. So strengthen yourself.”

“So I need to be strong to be happy. Hmm. What do I do next ? Tell me, please!”

“It will come to you.”

And it did. It came to me when I was at the gym yesterday, trying to burn some calories while watching “The Pursuit of Happiness”. I like the movie, but yesterday it’s title got me thinking. I realized that there cannot be a pursuit of happiness. For it comes in many ways, shapes and forms and if you pursue a few of these, you won’t even notice the others that come knocking.  So how to be happy then, I continued to wonder. Once again the answer was very simple. You decide. Happiness is a decision, a choice. You simply make it. Now.

Soap BubblesHa(pp)i-ku

soapy spheres,

floating on the light,

happiness in the air.

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Thom Pain (based on nothing) – A Review

thompainImagine being stuck in a room with a heartbroken child, an eccentric motivational speaker, a disheartened adult, a sage, a crazy maniac, a comedian, a simpleton, a poet and a philosopher. Now imagine all of them to be the same person. And then imagine listening to him talk about his life for seventy minutes. That is Hyde Park Theatre’s Thom Pain for you. It is silly and wise, flat and effervescent, genuine and rhetorical. In short it is a bizzare, twisted road but Ken Webster effortlessly leads you all the way.

In this seventy minute monologue, Thom Pain goes back and forth as he shares stories about a bee stung boy with a dead dog, a sick guy beside a skating rink on a Christmas Eve and a young man enjoying few pleasures with a mysterious woman. Thom Pain clearly has a lot on his mind but he isn’t sure of what it is or how to convey it. The neurons are firing continuously, but not in any particular order or pattern. So the ride is bumpy. Will Eno’s writing style although lyrical in some ways is also indirect and skewed.There is a lot of room for interpretation, a lot of unearthing that needs to be done to get to the underlying core. It is then in the hands of the actor and director to take us on this revealing journey. And Ken Webster excels in both these roles. He makes you care about this confused basket of emotions that lies scattered on the stage.

Through his solo act, or what might seem like a standup open-mic night gone a little awry, the protagonist is almost reliving his painful, short-lived childhood, bitter adulthood and a few happy moments. Ken Webster does a wonderful job of bringing these to life. With a practically empty stage, he uses minimal body movements and an occasional friendly yet sarcastic smile to ensure he has your full attention. His main weapon though is the text and his voice. His rendition of Thom Pain’s narration is so hypnotic that for a few minutes in the middle of the show, I couldn’t help but close my eyes to just listen to the words. And their absence. Every word was crisp and every pause precise.The words, their cadence, the silences, their length. Perfect. Like a symphony he puts you in a meditative trance. Only to shake you out of it with a dark quirkiness that makes you both, laugh and cry.

I am not a big fan of audience participation and have always been sort of averse to the idea. But the way this fourth-wall-breaking technique was employed and executed in Thom Pain was just brilliant. A couple of times in the act, our narrator who is clearly on the edge, breaks the fourth wall to ask for a volunteer from the audience. And just like that, he puts you on the edge. All of your past wounds, present fears, secret insecurities and forgotten regrets come back rushing to you as you wonder if you are to be the next one at the mic. Your throat goes dry, your feet tremble. You find yourself wanting that one chance to get it all out. Like Thom. And then he decides against audience participation and you heave a sigh of relief and regret.

To sum it up, Will Eno and Ken Webster have created a piece that has profound, long lasting impact. With it’s seemingly discordant rhythms, Thom Pain mirrors the shameless cruelty, the cruel hilarity, and the hilarious complexity just as well as it reflects the enchanting mystery, the mysterious beauty, and the beautiful simplicity that is life. I’ll conclude with a line I loved.“I know this wasn’t much, but let it be enough…. Isn’t it great to be alive?”

**********

Thom Pain is playing at Hyde Park Theatre till August 3rd. They have only six shows left and their shows sell out fast. So get your tickets now!

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Mamun

MamunAndKalpona

Mamun walked in wearing his best shirt. He took out his pocket comb and ran it through his hair one last time. He didn’t even notice his friends bantering about his well ironed clothes and polished shoes. He had his eyes on Kalpona, who was working at the other end of the factory floor. As he walked towards her, through the crowd of workers and the noise of the machines, the last eight months flashed in front of his eyes.

He vividly remembered the first time he saw her. She was wearing a tattered green salwaar kameez, but had caught his attention with her flawless dusky skin and long flowy hair. She was there with a friend to talk to the floor manager about getting a job. The next day he saw her sitting two rows across from him. The distance didn’t bother him, because two rows in between meant they would face each other. In between threading the machine, trying to get the seams right and answering his neighbor’s questions, he managed to steal frequent glances at her. This went on for a few days, but she hardly ever looked up. When she did, she had this melancholy look on her face that made her look even more beautiful.The intrigue was unbearable, he had to find out more.

Finally, one day during lunch break, he decided to go and talk to her group of friends. He took Rana along, since most of the girls seemed to like him. They tried talking to her, but she didn’t say a word. It was a friend who told them her name. Kalpona. The name was definitely a Hindu name and Mamun could see the long tiring argument he would need to have with his parents about this. But he knew he could handle them. What about her parents though ? He soon realized that he was getting ahead of himself, given that he hadn’t even said a word to her. He decided to change that and offered to walk Kalpona and her friend home. He was pleasantly surprised at the progress he was making when they agreed, but was soon disappointed by Kalpona’s silence through out the walk. As they reached Kalpona’s house he heard her voice for the first time. “Sumon”, she said as she knocked her door. When a little boy opened the door, she said goodbye to her friend, glanced at Mamun and went inside.

Once Kalpona left, Mamun asked her friend all the questions he could think of. What he learned came as a really rude shock. Kalpona had lost all her family in the factory fire that had happened a few weeks ago. Sumon, was her neighbor’s kid who was also orphaned by the fire. She had taken him in and was now working to support them both. Her deep brown eyes, her frequent melancholy look and her silence, lay bare and explained in front of him. A seventeen year old girl was all alone, working and taking care of a child. A friend is what she needs right now, he thought. He decided to keep walking them home.

Kalpona was recovering with every passing day. She had begun to like these walks as well as Mamun, a fact that was well noticed by him. Every time she offered them water, she had made it a point to give him the nicer of her two glasses. Once when he had dropped his pocket comb, she had picked it up promptly, wiped it with her dupatta and handed it back to him. Another time when it was raining heavily she had asked her friend to invite him to tea. And once she asked Sumon to say hello to him, which Mamun thought was really ironic, given that she herself had barely said a word to him. But he didn’t mind her silence at all. As long as he got to see her smile more and more, he was happy.

One day when Mamun came to work, he saw Kalpona standing besides Sohel, who seemed to be angry about something. Sohel, the floor manager was not a nice man. He was rude and always used abusive language, so Mamun was really tense to see Kalpona in his office. From his gestures it looked like Sohel was shouting at Kalpona. Mamun knew that Kalpona was trying really hard to complete her daily quota of garments, so he was really mad at Sohel for giving her such a hard time. Finally when Kalpona came out, she refused to talk to anyone and just went straight back to work. During his afternoon rounds, Sohel shouted at Kalpona once again and in his rage, he slapped her. Mamun who had kept his distance until then, swiftly ran upto Sohel and started beating him. The brawl did not last too long because Mamun let go when he saw the disappointed look on Kalpona’s face. That evening, Kalpona actually spoke more than just mono syllables to him. “You are a good man Mamun. You shouldn’t get your hands dirty by quarreling with someone like Sohel. But, thank you for standing up for me like that.”, and she smiled. He’d always remember that day, that smile.

Once Kalpona had broken her silence, their walks became even more interesting. Her friend had wisely found another girl to accompany her to give Kalpona and Mamun some lone time. And this move served its intended purpose. Both of them grew fond of each other and the time they spent together increased with every passing month. When Kalpona was to turn eighteen in a month, Mamun started making plans to ask her to marry him. Sumon was her only family and the kid loved him. He was sure she liked him, but wasn’t sure she’d accept his proposal. He knew she’d worry about Sumon, but he’d assure her that he would raise Sumon as his own child. He had so many plans for their life together. He would be able to save up enough in a couple of years to buy a small room in a better neighborhood. Then Sumon could go to a better school as well. Kalpona was a big fan of Bollywood and Mamun wanted to take her to Mumbai someday. He wanted to have another kid with Kalpona, preferably a girl just like her. So many dreams! He couldn’t wait to start his life with her! He couldn’t wait to get to the other side of that month.

Today, finally the day had arrived. His heart raced up and down as he walked towards her. It was her birthday today and she looked great with the flowers in her head. He had traveled half the way across the factory floor when the lights in the building went off. The machines stopped. Not again, he thought, as it was a very routine thing given his country’s poorly maintained electricity network. The sound of the machines had been comforting and the sudden silence made him feel as though all eyes were on him. But he kept going. He was relieved when the generator kicked on and a jolt went through the building. He hadn’t walked a few steps when another far stronger jolt shook the floor violently. It took him a moment to realize that what was happening was not normal. He started running towards Kalpona. As he ran, he recalled the earlier day when the police, reporters and some officials had come to the factory. There were rumors about a crack being found on a floor. He hadn’t thought much of it then. He was caught up with his plans for today. How could he have let this happen ? How could he have let Kalpona come here today ? There was chaos everywhere as the workers started running around. Some towards each other, some towards the exit. Finally he reached Kalpona. She looked scared. He was about to calm her, when he saw a pillar fall behind her. And just like that, he saw all his dreams shattered and ruined. He realized that amidst all the screaming and loud rumbling there was no time to tell her how much he loved her. There was no time to say anything to her. There was no time to even ask her permission for what he was about to do. He only had time enough for one thing. Time enough for their very first embrace. Time enough for a final embrace.

************

“Mamun” was inspired by this photograph taken by Taslima Akhter at the site of the garment factory collapse in Bangladesh. I know this story is no match for the photograph and it can’t even come close to doing any justice to the people in the photograph and their life story. But I think that wasn’t the motive behind writing this story anyway. The motive was a purely selfish need to feel good about doing something other than sending monetary help, for those people.

Another thing, I like writing stories where the characters are nameless. Anonymous. But these characters are not. They have names. They have families. They have jobs. They have hopes. They have dreams. Just like the people in that photograph. Just like you and me.

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Lullabye

Let me sing you a lullabye
Let me hold your weary head
The night has come and so have I
To kiss you as you go to bed

Just let go and close your eyes
I’ll be here to pat you dear
Forget the stormy scary skies
I’ll be here to hold you near

Don’t be afraid, don’t be alone
I’ll walk with you into the dark
All your troubles are now my own
Lay down with me and rest your heart

A long winding road lies ahead
You’re lonely and tired, so am I
So, let me hold your weary head
And let me sing you a lullabye

lullabye

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On Indifference

I was reading the transcript of Ellie Wiesel’s speech titled “The perils of indifference”  and these are a few lines I absolutely loved.

                                                                              *****

“What is indifference? Etymologically, the word means “no difference.” A strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil. What are its courses and inescapable consequences? Is it a philosophy? Is there a philosophy of indifference conceivable? Can one possibly view indifference as a virtue? Is it necessary at times to practice it simply to keep one’s sanity, live normally, enjoy a fine meal and a glass of wine ?”

“It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person’s pain and despair. Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the Other to an abstraction.”

“Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative. One writes a great poem, a great symphony. But indifference is never creative. Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it. Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end. And, therefore, indifference always benefits the aggressor — never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten.”

                                                                              *****

His speech primarily talks about the indifference we have shown and continue to show towards the harrowing upheavals of the world around us. But I think these words apply at a much more personal level as well. I’ll say that each one of us needs to ask ourselves the following questions. Have I been indifferent to my family ? My friends ? To people I claim to care about ? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, I think we have some thinking to do. Do we have a good enough reason for our indifference ? Does the person really deserve that kind of punishment ? Are we too weak to hate that person ? Or too weak to love ? Or worse still, too weak to even care ?

Indifference

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Sleepless song

Sipping my late night cocoa,
Listening to the guitar weep,
Thinking of the simpler times.
Wishing I could count the sheep.

Your world will be fine tomorrow,
Mine too will be okay,
Your silence has spoken to me ,
I won’t again cross your way.

But when you do come back,
I’ll be standing right here.
Till then its just another day,
Oh friend! Please don’t make it a year.

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