Tuesday, November 18, 2014

It is time you discovered your wings!


It has begun to drizzle. Just when I am about to step out for my daily afternoon walk, the water drops have begun their journey from the sky to the earth below. I am a little annoyed that I cannot keep the promise I made to myself - the promise to go out and feel the pulse of nature. There is a stretch in the jogging track within my premises, anapartment complex bounded by walls that runs parallel to a huge green belt justoutside our boundary wall. It is this spot that fills me with pleasure every time
I pass by it. It is to look at it and feel something waking up in me that I have resolved to go till there and stop for a while before resuming my walk every day. It has almost become a ritual for me. A dilapidated house at its centre, the trees around it cutting off the sunlight that can barely make it to the rooms
inside, it does nothing to enhance the beauty of the place. The beauty lies in the mango tree, its canopy spreading over many smaller plants, the jackfruit tree with its innumerable branches reaching out to the smaller trees growing far away from its root and the coconut trees standing tall which all lend a special
charm to this nondescript piece of land.
The memory of the serenity of the area pulls me, as if with a magnetic force, and I get impatient for the rain to stop. I notice that the drizzle has turned into a steady downpour with the wind getting stronger every minute. Dark clouds gathering up in the sky send down sure signs of the rain continuing
unabated as I give up hope of keeping my appointment with my special place. Vexed, I go back to my reading table. Restlessness prevents me from focusing on my book when I am suddenly reminded of a write-up in a newspaper that spoke about visits to special places and re-visiting them by imagining that oneis really there to re-live those golden moments.
I try the trick and I am soon transported there, gazing at the trees, plants and flowers. A cuckoo greets me cooing when another bird joins it with a sweet warbling call. A squirrel scurries up the thick trunk of the banyan tree. Behind the towering eucalyptus trees, the thick smoky clouds come sailing over the
white ones and slowly cover up a small patch of blue sky The elegant slender deodars lean towards me as I smile back admiringly. My eyes come to rest on a huge thick log lying on the grass. Two pigeons fly down from somewhere and sit on it for a chat. A cat passes by the log. The birds can’t care less. They
have wings - wings that can save them, wings that can take them where they want to be.
I too am where I wanted to be - my special place. I have kept my tryst with the deodars and the sky there, with the help of my love for my favourite haunt and my imagination – my wings.
The untimely rain today helped me discover my wings.

If there is one thing I could leave behind for my children, it would be my wings.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Far and Near

Eight of them sat huddled around the small dining table. Of the eight, four silver heads, barely moving, pored over the cards their hands held. The eyes shone with enthusiasm. Most of the time, the lips were firmly sealed lest an unnecessary word slipped out. They could not afford to break the thick wall of concentration they had built around them.
Mrs. Dey noisily pushed her chair back, and rose hurriedly, oblivious to the seven pairs of irritated eyes, including her husband’s, looking at her accusingly. The feeble rings of the phone had reached her through the open doors of her bedroom. Seconds later, she was in her bed room, a thousand bulbs lighting up her face as Siri’s voice came floating from oceans away.
“Solving Sudoku or playing cards?”
The minutes flew away like a dream - a dream that Mrs. Dey dreamed everyday and that came true every alternate day. Siri called routinely once in two days. Ten minutes later, she had taken refuge in the kitchen. As she poured milk in the cups, she felt something salty in her mouth. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. Coffee spilled in the tray as her shaking fingers stirred the brown powder in the white milk. To buy some time, she added some more powder. After a few minutes, her fingers were not shaking any more. The brown liquid in the cups kept getting richer.
When she returned to the dining table, all eyes got riveted on the cups sitting on the tray her now-steady hands held. Her red eyes and pale face went unnoticed by all, barring one. Mr. Sen threw a quick glance at her before picking up his cup. The game was stopped and noise of animated conversation began filling up the room slowly as the coffee went down the thirsty throats. Only one heart could not resonate with the happy sound of the laughter during this evening.
The sun shone through the big window. Mrs. Dey went to the balcony to check on the birds. A bowl of corn sat on a hanging flower-pot. It was an open invitation to the birds to come and nibble at the corn. The feathered creatures sensed the Dey couple’s discomfort during lonely afternoons and obliged them by flying back and forth, chirping all the while. Of late, some afternoons came with soaring temperatures that confined the Deys and their friends to the solitude of their own homes. Today was one such day.
The balcony kept getting hotter, but Mrs. Dey did not budge. Her husband’s snore kept reaching her from inside the small bed room. The birds were not to be seen anymore. Finally Mrs. Dey walked back to the hall and slowly pulled out a white album from the book shelf. Flipping through the pages, she stopped at one. Ten-year-old Siri was looking at two pigeons eating grains off a plate kept on the window-sill of the small study adjacent to the same balcony. Forty years spent in the same house. Siri had grown up here, bagging her first job, making two job-switches, growing career-wise, when young and dashing Vikram came her way very suddenly. In a year after their quick marriage the two had flown off to USA to settle there. And life changed all of a sudden for the Dey couple when week-ends changed into week days without a warning. The week-end visits of Siri and Vikram were over forever. That was the turning point. The Deys changed their way of life quickly, this time on their own. Neighbours turned into friends and friends turned into daily visitors. Far way in a busy city of USA, life was about to change forever for Siri and Vikram too. Little Nyasa was on her way to fill their few empty hours, spent in nostalgia and guilt for having left their motherland and folks, with cheer and relief.
Fifteen years have passed since then. Enough time that has gifted the Dey couple with an ever-expanding circle of friends and acquaintances, increasing joint pain as well as greeting cards from USA from which photos fell out regularly. Infant Nyasa taking her first steps, toddler Nyasa growing up into a school-going kid, seven-year-old Nyasa’s first summer camp and lately teenager Nyasa surrounded by her closest friends....
Durga Pooja has just got over. The Dey house wears a festive look. Rich aroma of chicken keeps floating out from the kitchen. The guests would soon begin pouring in. It is forenoon. Mr. Sen walked in slowly.
“Where are the carrots and cucumbers?” he asked.
Mrs. Dey came out with a tray of the salad materials, smiled weakly at him and hurried back to the kitchen. Her face looked unusually pale. Mr. Dey, seated on the sofa, looked up and stared at him. A bee came in buzzing and hovered around his balding head precariously, but he did not seem to care.
Mr. Dey had bumped into him in the mall close by months back when Mr. Sen had just arrived in Bangalore and moved in with Ron and Rashmi, daughter-in-law of two years. That afternoon, Mr. Sen’s hands were holding two jute bags that had a famous Kolkata shop’s name scrawled in Bengali script. Mr. Dey’s alert eyes had not missed it. That was the beginning of a warm relationship between a reticent, lonely widower feeling like a fish out of water in a new rapidly-growing city and a garrulous Bengali, who had allowed his attachment for Bangalore to keep growing uninhibited for decades but was nevertheless in love with the city that was still ‘Calcutta’ in his mind.
A man of few words, Mr. Sen finally broke the uncomfortable silence.
“Everything fine, Mr. Dey?”
A startled Mr. Dey cleared his throat and spoke softly and haltingly.
“Siri was thinking of visiting us with her family next month. Only yesterday she got a new boss at her workplace; he is sending her to a conference in Australia at the same time. So her plans of an Indian vacation have been shelved for now.....She just called us....an hour back.”
After a pause, he said, “We have zeroed in on a house to spend the rest of our life there. It is a little away from that horrible mall and a little closer to the new multi-speciality Care hospital. We were counting on her to have a look at it...Long back Siri had told us she would finance it. She has already sent the first few instalments in advance the moment she knew we like it. She does not want us to dilly-dally about this matter. We are growing old and we might need emergency help at any time of the day; it has been in her mind for years. We don’t have enough savings that could buy us a house half as that big in such a strategically located area. In fact, ....”
A loud knock on the door stopped him.  Neighbours stood in a huge group. Someone shouted, “Shubho Bijoya, everybody!” The next second, they were all pouring in. Mrs. Dey came out of her room quickly, her lips curved in a genuine, wide smile, her face having gained colour in the meanwhile.
Mr. Sen stood looking at the huge glass dining table. Chicken and fish delicacies sat in two big bowls next to the rice and vegetable soup. Ron was supposed to come back from office by mid-day to welcome his wife after a month. Rashmi was residing with her parents in another part of the city after her miscarriage six months back. “Her doctor has advised her company of her parents for her emotional health,” Ron had briefly said when Mr. Sen saw the two packing her keyboard a few days after Rashmi’s return from the hospital. When Mr. Sen had looked on questioningly and Rashmi had gone inside for a while, Ron had said, “She has taken up a job that allows her some time to pursue her passion. She would take keyboard classes for a few poor children of an NGO school during the evenings after her return from the workplace.” The tinge of pride in his voice could not be missed.
“Why couldn’t she be happy with her regular job like the others? Why does she have to teach skills to kids whose parents can’t even pay her?! Why don’t you explain to her?” Mr. Sen had blurted out in exasperation. He always guessed that Rashmi was different and at that moment he knew he was right. What he did not know was that Ron had silently decided right then never to discuss his wife with his father. Ron was glad that Rashmi was far inside and his father’s outburst had not reached her.
“Dad wouldn’t listen....he won’t understand....ever....Mom would have tried to understand at least. It’s a pity God took her away so soon!” Ron had told Rashmi later. She had noticed her father-in-law’s silence during her departure and had asked Ron to explain her decision to his father.
Somebody was thumping on the entrance door. The door moved slightly and then swung open. “Hello Mr. Sen! How come you are right there and did not hear us banging your door for the last five minutes?” Mr. Dey said loudly as he walked in with his wife behind him, both grinning from ear to ear. “Forget his jokes, Mr. Sen! He knocked only once right two seconds back!” she said.
“We came to have lunch with you. Ruby, take out your fish dish for Mr. Sen to taste and comment.” As Mrs. Dey kept her big bag on the table, Mr. Dey said emphatically, “I swear that Mr. Sen will visit us daily in our new house just for dishes like this! Here, Sen, this card gives the address. By the way, you must come for the house-warming ceremony on the 19th. “
“Siri advised us to go ahead with it,” Mrs. Dey said happily.
“Please sit down. Ron and Rashmi too would join us for lunch. I have got lunch and dinner home-delivered from the restaurant today.” Mr. Sen was suddenly looking very cheerful.
“Wonderful news!  And you never told us Ron’s new house looks so commodious!” Mr. Dey said cheerfully and then added with a pause, “A hanging balcony and that too nestled right in the middle of a forest!” There were at least a score of deodars and more eucalyptuses adorning the front garden of the house. Mrs. Dey immediately went to the balcony and said excitedly, “What a beautiful feeling to sit here and sip tea in a cold winter morning!”
Mr. Sen squirmed and said softly, “But it’s very lonely here.”
“What, Mr. Sen?! You have your son staying with you off and on. Rashmi comes down sometimes. Look at us! One daughter, one grand-daughter and one son-in-law! All of them away, oceans away!”Mr. Dey said matter-of-factly. Strangely, there was no sadness in his voice. He felt proud for having rebuilt his life and having helped his wife rebuild hers after Siri left India many years back.
“Five bedrooms! It’s a palace!” exclaimed Mrs. Dey as her eyes scanned the house.
“More rooms than people here.” Mr. Sen said slowly. There was sadness in his voice.
“Did you ever share your thoughts with Ron? Do they chat with you?” Mrs. Dey asked softly. Mr. Sen turned his face towards the trees. He cleared his throat and opened his mouth to say, “Well....well...” and then fell silent. Mrs. Dey waited and then after a few moments’ silence said, “Is Rashmi still very sad? I miss her sometimes. She is quiet, seems soft but is strong inside. When are they coming, Mr. Sen?” Mrs. Dey asked slowly but eagerly. There was a kind of warmth in her voice that made him turn towards her. Mostly a listener and large-hearted, her eyes always said much more than her voice. She seemed to read people very well without their knowing it. He knew at that moment she wanted to help him open up. She seemed to know that he had a lot bottled up in him just as she knew Rashmi liked her very much. The two women had met only once in the hospital where Mrs. Dey had gone to visit Rashmi hearing about her sudden miscarriage. That was just a few weeks after Mr. Sen had become an addition to the Deys’ huge circle.
Mr. Sen did not know Mr. Dey too was waiting for him to say something. “We shall come closer to your place in a few weeks, Mr. Sen. You can stay with us sometimes when you feel like it,” he said and added jestingly, “We too would like to use your children’s palace as a resort sometimes!”
“Children?! I have only one son!” said Mr. Sen.
“Er...I meant Ron and Rashmi. Just like Siri and Vikram are our children.... By the way, when are the two coming? I am hungry already! Would you keep your guests waiting forever?” Mr. Dey was back to his jovial form.
In the far end of the house, the phone rang. As Mr. Sen went towards it, the Deys quickly exchanged glances.
Ron’s voice came floating from two miles away.
“Dad, Rashmi called me to say she is unable to come home today. Her kids....er....the kids are putting up a programme for the founder of their school who is flying down from Kolkata. Rashmi has suddenly got very busy training the children. .....I’ll be with her for a few days. Let me know anytime if you need me. Bye.” Ron had hung up even before Mr. Sen could say anything.
When he was walking down to the hall, Mrs. Dey’s cheerful, unusually loud voice was reverberating in the huge house.
“What? Nyasa feels that we are the best grandparents in the world?!” After a few seconds, she said excitedly, “Yes! Yes! We received the photos last Friday. Nyasa is looking so gorgeous! How did the audience respond to the song she sang that I had taught her over the phone?”
The proud grandmother was busy on the phone for the next ten minutes as the happy grandfather kept glowing.
Mr. Sen stood alone in the balcony. The Deys had left an hour back. His eyes looked strangely bright. A few crows went flying far away into the twilight sky, startling him.With quick, short steps he went towards the far-end bed room, murmuring “Ron may still be in his office. If I ask him to come now, he may be able to come here tonight.” Then he whispered to himself, “I’ll say, ‘Just for a day, Ron. I am not feeling well.’”
He dialled Ron’s number. It was switched off.
Outside, the red-and-orange sky had turned into black. There was no hint of silver in it. The deodars swayed in the cool, light breeze. It was autumn but a sudden gust of wind brought the fragrance of wet earth. It had rained somewhere close by. “Where is it raining at this time of the year?!” Mr. Sen thought, breaking from his stupor. An hour had passed as he sat in the dark and he had not realized it. A deluge of thoughts began to stir him.
Did the Deys ever feel like he felt now? Ignored, forgotten? Was their daughter really so far away as he made it out to be? Were Ron and Rashmi really so near him as the world thought? Who is far? Who is near?
Then they began falling – the tears, as Mrs. Dey’s words rang in his ears.
“Did you ever share your thoughts with him? Do they chat with you? Is Rashmi still very sad?”
He didn’t know when his own thoughts had turned into words. They were ringing loudly in his ears now.
“Did I try talking with Ron ever in my life the way Mrs. Dey was talking with her Siri? Did I even think of talking with Rashmi to find out how she felt when she lost her baby? Isn’t she trying to forget her pain through the keyboard classes with the children? Were the two as far from me as they are now? Can I ever reach near them?”

The drizzle was turning into a downpour. Inside, the tears were streaming down faster. The shaking fingers began dialling a number as a trembling voice kept saying hoarsely, “Come home, children. Please....”

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The message......

Sweeping through the tangle of branches

peacefully came the cool breeze
Soaked in colours the dawning sky,
with rising sun, peeped thru’ the trees

One tree wore dusty brown branches

Carrying new leaves glowing with sheen
It towered over its neighbour
As it touched the blue sky with its green

The other stood with younger branches

Its light green leaves a few inches away
The two gladly gave each other company
thru’ each silent night and day

Watching the sun drench the two

with its strong golden light
I sat enjoying their green beauty
when I spotted in one, at a height

A raven that sat almost still

Against the green, its black stood out bold
Motionless it was, without a sound
feathers and wings glowed in the afternoon gold

when suddenly appeared another raven

its calls renting the air
Excitedly the two exchanged stories
as they kept flying here and there

Gleefully flitted about the duo

as they sent down the tree a few shivers
rattling the branches, shaking the leaves
creating waves travelling in rivers

Briefly breaking the afternoon silence

The two friends took flight
Just as I thought I was all alone
The butterflies came within sight

Thru’ the branches and the leaves

the pretty things explored in and out
Weren’t they hunting for flowers in them?
Blissful, spreading bliss, no doubt

Lighting up the trees with

bright yellow in each wing
they fluttered about in joy
when came the bees buzzing

Flying in twos and threes

They looked for daily nectar
The butterflies gave them company
As I looked on from afar

For long moments they went about

Flying and buzzing, buzzing and flying
As the sun came slowly climbing down
“I’m blessed to be here”, I was sighing

A sweet music floated down

Spreading happiness like never before
Slowly the cuckoo stilled as twilight crept in
Leaving me hungering for more

I missed the caws and chirps

For sundown ‘twas, bringing in quiet and peace
And I went to draw my balcony curtains
When my eyes again fell on the trees

“Why do you want to keep us out?” asked a voice

from the thick dark foliage
“You don’t need the curtains, really!”
Slow and silent came their message.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Gift for God

Once upon a time there lived a woman with her husband and their son. She earned good money with the help of her education and was proud to be a regular contributor to the family income, often showering her son with toys and chocolates and whatever he wanted except ample amount of time that he craved for. The little boy felt very lonely sometimes, his grandparents from both sides who came down to be with him, loving him and caring for him, but unable to fill the void in his life. So he asked his mother for a baby he could play with. She thought of her career and she thought of her son’s loneliness. A year later, the boy got a baby sister.

Happy that her family was complete now, the mother now focused on her work again. God came in her dream one day and asked “Where is my gift?” “I didn’t know you ever needed a gift”, she replied in consternation. “OK, we’ll talk about my gift later. Tell me about gifts that you have given anybody till now.” The reply came readily “I have earned pots of money for my family. I have gifted my son with a sister he longed for. I buy this and that for my parents. I gift my friends on their birthdays and colleagues too.” There were a lot of I’s in her spontaneous answer. God listened patiently and simply said “But that’s all because of your job which is again because of your education. If you didn’t have an education or a job, what could you gift?” She couldn’t imagine herself without education or a job, nor could she imagine any gift that could be bought without money. She said finally “I need time.” But God had vanished by then.

Years passed. God appeared again. “Sorry God. I got so busy with this and that.” God smiled kindly and left. The woman was now doing well in her field. She bought herself and others lots of gifts. She spent her leisure time in shopping malls. Life tasted sweeter than ever. And suddenly she thought of the gift God had asked for. God didn’t need money. What could she get for Him that He didn’t have enough? It flashed to her one morning when she was sipping tea in the balcony.

Her life changed. She got aware of the service she had been getting from people around – her housemaid, her cook, her driver, her gardener, her car cleaner. They were born poor. She gave them money; they gave her service – it was a give-and-take. What if they all had enough money, what if everybody had money and there was none to do those jobs? She thanked God. She took their service and added a smile to the salary she paid to each of them. God came in her dream once again and she immediately said “Thank you, God.” And then He replied “I got my gift. Thank you.” He left feeling richer. At least one had gifted Him with gratitude.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Friend or Foe?

‘Twas not a great day
Cares with me I did carry
So I set out for a walk
But a demon didn’t let me be free

Drops of sunshine slip off the leaves

Intoxicated with a sudden joy, I cry, “Oh! This ego!
Thief you are! Stealing my peace?!"and I ask, "How dare you bother me so?!”

“How dare YOU say so?!" I hear!

"For it’s you who chose to carry me around!
Cast me away and just move on
Only then peace will be found!”

"So farewell to you, my long-time friend

For you make old ties meet sudden end!"
I was sad, but am glad now that I left behind far
my ego, for it is a deadly disease, my dear!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Why we can’t do without Wildlife

This article of mine was published in a Saturday issue of New Indian Express.

My dear son,

I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself throughout the entire journey you took with Mowgli, Baloo and the other friends from the jungle, with Shere Khan keeping you on tenterhooks now and then. You know what, Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book” has been a must-read for not only you, but thousands of other children over the decades. And to share a secret with you – I’ve even got a copy of the original story for myself as a bedside read. What had motivated Kipling to come up with such a masterpiece, with such interesting characters (helpful bear Baloo, deadly python Kaa and shrewd tiger Shere Khan) making it a delightful read, a perfect classic? Where had they all existed? Well….the forests of India, actually.
What if they were not there at all? What if they’d become extinct before he sat down to write?

“Oh! Mom, don’t be so imaginative! Our Social Studies teacher told us our India is home to a great variety of wildlife, and they’re all thriving here,” I can almost hear you say.
But did you know their numbers are dwindling alarmingly? That many species of wildlife have already vanished from the face of this world, never to come back? “Why is Mom so worried about all this?” you might wonder.

Well…it’s simple. We, the humans, have been dependant on wildlife for ages. Wildlife doesn’t mean wild animals alone, it covers all animals, birds, plants and even organisms growing in natural conditions. Together they form a huge world, and so if we neglected it too much, we would be in trouble sooner or later. Just sit and think for a while. When it comes to plants, the herbivores depend on them on which the carnivores depend in turn. So it’s not only the vegetarians or vegans, it’s also the non-vegetarians that depend on the plants in a way. If you thought it’s mostly food that plants provide, let me remind you that medicines, clothing, even many building materials (wood, for example) come from the plant kingdom. Next time you wear your woollens and cottons, spare the animals and plants a thought.
It doesn’t end there. Who powers your trips to the bird sanctuaries and zoo and national parks where you get to see wildlife during holidays and vacations? Well, the plants of course! How?! It’s a long story, but to tell you in short, millions of years ago when humans did not exist, plants and animals and many organisms died and got buried under layers of earth which finally formed oil to give us petrol and diesel that power our buses and cars and other vehicles, taking us where we want. Even coal is formed likewise and is indispensable today because of the electricity it helps generate.

Sadly we don’t feel threatened enough to stop and think of how to minimize the damage we have been doing to wildlife. We take our wildlife for granted. “Damage? We? How?” you might think.

We’ll get into that soon. Say, how would we feel if aliens came and tried to drive us out of our planet? Threatened, right? We are doing something exactly like that. We are building roads, recreational areas, amusement parks, hotels, malls and buildings more than we need. But when we are cutting down forests for all this, are we not destroying the habitat of many plants and animals and birds and organisms, something they call their home that they suddenly lose without any fault of theirs?

My dear son, it’s not only to feel empathy for the animals and birds that we need to stop killing them for sport or meat, or the trees that we need to minimize their felling, it’s more for our survival that we need to reduce some and stop some of our irresponsible acts. Stop for a moment to think. Today, it’s us making a list of endangered and extinct species of wildlife; tomorrow will it be us there in that list? Well, we definitely don’t want to go the way the dinosaurs did.

Nature has gifted us with its bounty of wildlife, so that we live a healthy life in a healthy habitat. A forest cut down today means losing the many treasures of many forms of wildlife which were silently helping us live and other treasures too. It could mean something as important as oxygen-producing plants and trees purifying the air. And not to mention the sheer joy of watching creatures of the blue planets – the oceans where blue whales swim about nonchalantly, on the TV, of listening to chirps of the birds, the roars of tigers and lions in the forests and reading Kipling’s Jungle Book-like stories inspired by wildlife.

The Red Panda, the majestic Royal Bengal Tiger, the Siberian Crane, would they all go into oblivion, only to appear in books and the Net? Would you like to visit Bandipur for roads instead of forests, a busy township in North India instead of the cool ambience of Uttarkhand where people flock for bird-watching in the forests there?

If you are alarmed, do not be. Rather, work with your Science teacher to know how you could help. You could start in small ways, like enjoying birds in their natural habitat instead of keeping them as pets at home (because many a time they die as we do not know to take care of them properly), throwing garbage in the right bins, else it litters a place and might end up as garbage in waterways and get devoured by animals accidentally, causing them a painful death (it could even flow down to oceans and stay as floating garbage as a potential danger to the creatures there), urging your family members to wear less of leather (since it comes from skin of animals), writing short notes on how you can save wildlife and pasting them on the return gifts that you distribute during your birthday party. After all, small gestures from many kids like you, can bring about a change in the way people have looked at wildlife.

Let’s do the little things to start with and change the wildlife world and our world in turn.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What pearls "Sound of Music" brings on for ages for generations and for me......

Watching 'Sound of Music' with my daughter and letting my thoughts flow unfettered.....

  The story of Robert Wise's  classic film “The Sound of Music”.......

 Love conquers all. A woman’s love for music, children and Nature bring everlasting dramatic changes in an Austrian family during the days of Nazi rule.

Maria plans to be a nun but isn’t cut out for it. Reverend Mother of Salzburg Abbey in Austria sends her to be the governess of the seven motherless children of Captain Von Trapp, a retired Naval Officer. Their hostility towards governesses is no match for Maria’s kind heart that helps her realize that they are growing up in a loveless stifling environment of discipline enforced by their father.

When the Captain is away from home, Maria’s love for the hills and trees takes her and the children to the lap of Nature. There she gives them the first lessons of music and the long-forgotten taste of freedom from a strict routine by picnicking on lush green meadows, running with rivers, climbing on trees and rowing boat in a placid lake, and wins over seven hearts effortlessly.

Straightforward that she is, during an argument with the Captain, Maria tells him to bridge the growing gap between him and his children through love again. The haughty and authoritarian Captain talks tough with her only to be overwhelmed by a song his children, tutored by Maria, sing to the baroness. Overnight he mellows down to an affectionate father.

With time, Maria and Captain get drawn towards each other but the baroness plays spoilsport. Stung by her words Maria returns to the Abbey, confused by her own feelings towards Captain. Meanwhile the baroness gets engaged to Captain.

Shocked that Maria has left for good, the children, in desperation, try to meet her in vain. Reverend Mother, with the wisdom of her silver years, advises Maria never to run away from problems, rather face them, by returning to Captain’s house.

Almost instinctively, Captain calls off his engagement to the baroness. The moment it dawns on him that he is in love with Maria, he hesitatingly approaches her in his sprawling garden where two hearts unite at last!

With the Nazis capturing Captain’s dear homeland, a sudden call of duty far away from home threatens to separate him from his family but music again comes to their rescue! During their performance at a concert, they cleverly leave the place to seek refuge in the Abbey from where they finally escape to Switzerland, to freedom!

What I love about the evergreen film “The Sound of Music”......

A musical, it is a breath of fresh air, soothing nerves and souls. Music here holds the characters and events, bonding seven children, their governess and their father effortlessly with the passage of time. The charm of the story lies in the different struggles of the different people who are all striving to overcome obstacles in the path towards happiness – the story of millions of us. The children try to come close to their father, Captain tries to forget memories of his dear, dead wife and Maria tries hard to be a nun. Without the silent struggle, the journey of each of them would lose its song.

"Sound of Music" is etched in my mind for its eternal truth – life is all about what choices we make. Maria chooses to bond with the children in the face of hostility. Dictatorial Captain chooses to metamorphose into an affectionate father and later again chooses to break his engagement to marry Maria who brings sunshine in his life.

The film deftly shows what optimism can do. Maria’s initial hesitation evident during her first trip to Captain’s house as she asks herself “Why am I so scared?” is swiftly replaced with a confidence growing from her great attitude. She is an embodiment of courage and an infectious optimism as she returns to Captain’s house to find out if she is destined to share his future and later when she gently urges Lisl, Captain’s teenager daughter, to move on with life after her first heartbreak.

“Sound of Music” magnetizes me with ethereally beautiful scenes of Austria’s natural beauty of hills crowned with trees sheltering chirping birds, lakes interspersing green meadows and brooks tripping over stones.

The director gives every character a fair share of screen presence (wise Reverend Mother, scheming baroness, suave Max and so on) and gives us a balanced mix of humour, love, joy, suspense and happiness, laced with feelings of patriotism and finally peace as significant events of world history – rise of Hitler and the Nazi rule – unfold, forming the backdrop.

I love the unique way two different kinds of love – blossoming passionate teenage love and a calm, matured love that later culminates in marriage – happen in the same garden, both in silvery night, at two different points of time.

The film’s many evergreen songs carry beautiful messages. “Climb every mountain” encourages one to cross obstacles to hunt for one’s dream and live it. As Maria sings “nothing comes from nothing”, I realize that beautiful moments take birth in noble actions of the past. And to overcome sadness I can hum about “a few of my favourite things”!

"Sound of Music" is life’s lessons packaged with profound truths - “walls are not built to shut out problems” and one has to face them, “you have to live the life you were born to live” and good times follow difficult times just as “the sun comes out” after the night.

One single film has so much to offer!

It's thinking time!! So 'A Bit of Science Time' now!

Ready for some thinking?

Click here for getting your brain cells tickled with Let us think for a while! some science questions.

I plan to include more later!


Bio-mimicry in child-friendly portions!!

If you like the biomimicry stories here, also do visit www.childfriendlynews.com where I contributed these......

Japanese Trains look up to kingfisher for the perfect nose

Are you aware of Shikansen? These are the super-fast trains in Japan. They are the bullet trains and they are the ones which have helped Japan earn the label of being amongst the world’s most technologically advanced nations. But did you know these trains, when traveling through tunnels, produced very loud claps that proved to be a great nuisance even to people not staying close to their route? It was indeed a challenge to reduce the high noise level!

It was then that biomimicry came to the rescue! Bio means life and mimicry means copying. Designers turned towards nature to look for a solution. The kingfisher’s beak inspired them to design a 15-metre nosecone on the front car of the bullet train. Just as a kingfisher dives seamlessly into the water, the modified bullet train became much quieter and smoother too in its journey following this modification!

Interesting, right? Now it is your turn to look towards nature and come up with your own biomimicry inventions! I will eagerly wait for your posts at sdapara@gmail.com!

Termites inspire architect to say “No” to fan and air conditioner!

Heard about an office complex WITH a shopping mall but WITHOUT any fan or air blower or air conditioner? Want to visit it? Then head to Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe. The building, covering half a city block, gets cooled when outside air is hotter than it and warmed when it is colder outside, because of its multiple vents through which outside air flows in. Can you believe that its architect Michael Pearce designed it after termite mounds?! The sturdy mound the termites build has a chimney-like structure at its top and tunnel-like holes in the wet mud at the bottom. Dry, hot air flows in and picks up water vapour from the wet mud at bottom, and cools down too as it passes on its heat to the mud. Also warm air rises up through the “chimney” and goes out, thus leaving a cooler mound even with high temperatures outside. The creatures continuously open up new tunnels and block others to maintain a consistent temperature and humidity inside, to keep the fungus, its food, alive.

Thanks to termites and architect Pearce, the energy consumption has come down drastically for this building, with its ventilation system having cost 10% of a standard air-conditioned building!

Have you heard of Biomimicry (bio=life and mimicry=copying) where nature turns teacher and inspires humans to copy it for coming up with unique designs? Well, Eastgate Centre is just an instance of it!

Even Michael Phelps would adore sharks!

Does a shark inspire you to swim your fastest? Do you dream of even trying to copy it? Well, you don't have a body shaped like a shark's, and you can never have powerful muscles like it has. But wait, don't despair! Let me share an example of biomimicry (bio-life, mimicry-copying) that will boost you up and that even Michael Phelps, the famous swimmer, will vouch for! Speedo LZR Racer Suit is a special swimsuit that has been copied from shark's skin. A shark has tiny, teeth-like structures on its skin, their shape and positioning varying across its body. These 'teeth' being in between skin and water, help the shark to face the least resistance from the water it is flowing in. This is a secret behind sharks being such fast swimmers that has been unearthed by Speedo. Now are you inspired to look at Nature and inform me at sdapara@gmail.com about how some biomimicry idea is just germinating in you?

A lovely coloured birthday dress without any dyes in it!

Can you think of a colourful dress for wearing it on your birthday made from only fibres without any dyes? The blue morpho butterfly has inspired a Japanese company to think along those lines. This butterfly has multiple layers of proteins on its scales so that when light strikes it, it does it in a way that its wings emit only blue colour, without the wings having any blue pigment in them! With varying thickness and structure of the fibre, this company’s innovation, Morphotex, creates colour, without having anything to do with dyes or pigments.


Walk with Nature-buddy in the butterfly park

This story of mine was published in HooplaClub, a Bangalore-based children's magazine. The original article follows below.

Walking under trees through the lanes of the butterfly park, Nature-buddy was listening to her children humming a tune when the wind took notice of a tree and shook its branches lightly. The sudden thick shower of pink blossoms and dry, brown leaves made them stop and look up. The tree had the last few spring leaves and a rich load of the pink beauties.

A beautiful shiny blue butterfly flew in and settled down on a piece of apple lying on the ground. Just as it folded its wings up to suck in the juice with its straw-like proboscis, Advaita cried out “The blue wings are brown now?!”

Diya, Advaita's younger sister went running towards the butterfly. Startled, it flew away in flashes of blue, disappearing every now and then amongst the trees and bushes.

“How is it appearing and disappearing so fast? Why does it look only blue when it flies?” Advaita asked, immensely surprised.

“It’s playing Hide and Seek!” Diya shrieked, clapping her hands gleefully.

“It’s magic - the butterfly doesn’t have blue in it at all,” Nature-buddy said mysteriously, adding after a pause, “Well, its wings have multiple layers of scales that have bumps on them which reflect the sunlight striking them in a way only the blue gets reflected which is why it got its name ‘blue morpho’. The layers lie on a colourless membrane. The underside of course is brown which you just saw.”

Diya sat down below the tree and dug into her backpack. As she shared her garlic butter sandwiches with her brother and Nature-buddy, another blue morpho came flying in. Its wings reflected blue but its brown was visible even when it kept flying. Advaita noticed and said “This one is both blue and brown even when it’s flying.”

“Its wings’ brown undersides help it to get lost in the forest foliage. So when it flies amongst bushes, as its wings flap continuously, they alternately reflect blue which makes them very visible and then again show the brown underside that helps them to camouflage themselves so they seem to disappear. This one’s very close to us, so we can see its brown as well.”

“Why aren’t they flying near the flowers, mamma?” Diya asked suddenly.

“That’s because their diet is usually logs of dead wood, fruits, fresh or rotting, and even wet mud.” Nature-buddy sure gave nasty surprises!

“Oh! They’ll stink!” Diya said, pinching her little nose.

“How are you so sure, mamma?” Advaita asked.

“Well, I knew this butterfly park has many blue morphos and that I’ll be showered with questions and so I flipped through the encyclopaedia for a day,” Nature-buddy replied. She got up, smiling her way through the line of trees, the two children following her.

There were huge cages around, housing colorful chirpy birds making a continuous noise as they fed on grains and corn.

Walking and looking around, the trio came upon a big board close to the exit gate that read out loud “Butterfly’s Life”. It had pictures of a blue morpho in different stages of its life. First the eggs, then the caterpillar feeding on leaves of plants of the pea family. Then the cocoon inside which the pupa lay still, sleeping away to glory. Then the final stage – a butterfly with its magnificent iridescent blue wings shining in the sunshine.

Not wanting to leave right away, they glanced around. There were trees that stood in clumps, some of their branches hanging low with the weight of ripened fruits, while some branches looked beautiful with strings of blossoms all over them. Plenty of plants and bushes with numerous flowers kept the butterflies happy. A few birds flew outside within the netted enclosure they were in.

“Why are these birds not inside cages?” Diya asked.

“They are harmless to the butterflies here. Blue morphos particularly are eaten up by some birds which I think the zookeeper has kept caged,” Nature-buddy’s voice trailed off.

The warm spring afternoon brought on drowsiness and so they sat down on a patch of green below a banyan tree. Advaita pulled out a flask from his backpack and poured out hot tea into cute steel cups he had carried from home. “No disposable cups. We won’t cut trees to make paper cups, and plastic cups are not bio-degradable.” He said emphatically.

“You know one thing? The blue morphos have inspired some people in the world to come up with interesting inventions” Nature-buddy suddenly broke the silence as she sipped tea.

“How can a butterfly inspire man?” Advaita thought.

“Just as you have teachers, some people continue to seek teachers in Nature even after schooling is over. They take walks in the woods, observing Nature all the while, and get awesome ideas. Looking at the blue morpho and studying it, inquisitive people have come up with fabrics with multiple layers that reflect different colours at different angles.”

“How does that help?” Advaita asked.

“We won’t need a dye manufacturing factory for the fabrics . Also you’re not polluting your environment by adding harmful chemicals from there.”

“This will surely make our EVS ma’am happy. She keeps telling us ‘Little scientists! When you grow up, DO NOT invent anything that harms Nature.’”

As they talked, a blue morpho came and sat a furlong away on a dead log of wood. Its wings shone, clean and bright. “How do you think the blue morpho keeps itself so clean? Watch it. Can you see the ridges on its wing?”

“No, they look so flat,” Diya said.

“The ridges can’t be seen, but they are there. Because of them, water drops falling on the wing shape into balls and so they slide off easily, taking the dirt off the wing with them. This has inspired making of special paints which when applied on walls, leave behind ridges. A splash of water thrown on them carries away all the dirt, leaving the walls sparkling clean.” Nature-buddy was surely surprising them today!

“This act of copying nature is called biomimicry which is a famous word today.” Nature-buddy added.

“When are we getting our study room painted again, brother?” Diya asked.

“I’m sure Daddy dearest will ask you two to save up for that,” Nature-buddy remarked.

“Great! Even adults have teachers who aren’t human beings like them! And…..” Advaita broke off, for Diya was jumping excitedly as a swarm of blue morphos was coming towards them. One of them settled down on a half-eaten fruit on the ground near them. And then they noticed the two big eye-like spots on the brown wings. Nature-buddy spoke up again, “The two eye-like spots are to scare off enemies.”

“Why will they have enemies?” Diya asked.

“Most of the creatures on this earth have enemies, they are called predators. Butterflies are eaten up by birds and insects which are again eaten up by some other creatures and so it continues - a big reason for us not to capture these creations for their beauty. Anything becoming endangered or extinct is bad for us in the long run.”

“Diya, we’ll never hunt butterflies!” Advaita said, as his sister readily nodded.

Nature-buddy looked on happily, thinking “The children have seen a lot, learnt a lot and will go home with an important message – Nature has been there for long, waiting to be admired and studied and mimicked, not to be hurt.” Surely, by the next trip she would introduce them to more biomimicry examples. And if Nature could fascinate them now, who knows they might be successful “biomimicrians” two decades later!


Make them responsible citizens:A mother's letter to a son

A mother's letter to a son explaining how he owes not only to his family but also towards the society at large...

This article of mine featured in a Saturday edition of The New Indian Express.

My dear son,
Remember my last letter where I had shared my joy with you for having had you as my companion during a morning walk we had together in our neighbourhood? How we had marveled at the green belt wrapped around us and its inhabitants-the warblers, the rooster and the squirrels? Well, we wouldn’t have their music and the clean green air and the lovely sight of trees looking down on us had it not been for the people who have maintained it, who have been responsible citizens in their way.
How do I know if I am a good citizen? If I’m aware that what I would expect from others is something others too would expect from me.

So if I want a clean garbage-free locality to live a good life, others around too would be having their set of expectations from me. If I litter the place I am in, I can’t complain to my neighbour for being too noisy. If the presence of an ambulance near my home does not make me enquire who is sick, I can’t count on help from my neighours during my hour of need.. It’s simple - if I lend a helping hand to somebody in distress, I’m only making it easy for that somebody who would surely remember my act of kindness and might be one of the first to jump to a needy person’s side in future.

How can YOU be a good citizen? Well, there have been instances when you’ve shown you’re already one. I still cherish the day when one day you came back home from the park in the evening a little late. A little boy with his little sister were sitting on their own in the park, crying away. You found out with the help of a smattering of Hindi you speak that they couldn’t find their way home for they were new here and were lost! With the help of an equally concerned friend, you had escorted the two siblings home when they could manage to tell their block number. That evening has gone down as a special evening for you and hence for me too. I love to think of the sense of satisfaction in your shining eyes that spoke volumes about how worthy you felt about yourself.

To think of how to be good citizen, your school has shown you that practicing Reduce, Reuse and Recycle can be another sure way of being a responsible citizen. So when we are leaving home late in the week-end evening for a dinner outing, you run around switching off the lights. Electricity saved in a thousand homes at every such opportunity will some day help light up less privileged homes which don’t have the luxury of a bulb even now!

If you think of it, a little effort and a little thought from each one of us can go a long way in making the society a better place to live in. We can all be responsible citizens as long as we keep in mind, what I want for myself should not harm or hurt others and that each one of us have a part to play if we all have to live in peaceful co-existence. Whether it’s the traffic policeman at duty chasing the traffic rule violator, or the driver at the wheel speeding away, or the teacher giving away gems of advice to her pupils or the students applying what they learn to come up with great ideas for a great future, it is in every person’s hand to decide to be a responsible citizen and to stick to that resolution without yielding to temptations like lack of awareness or a sense of duty towards society or sheer laziness.

Since you’ve already shown me you have it in you to be good citizen by religiously implementing what you are learning in school, a mother hopes for a nation where all of us will think and act so that some day we can call ourselves a ‘responsible nation’!

Your optimistic mother with great hopes

(Aparajita Bose - sdapara@gmail.com)

A giant stole our sky!

This article of mine was published in Bangalore-based magazine Citizen Matters, Bangalore.

When we set about hunting for a house, our seven-year old declared very matter-of-factly that we should ensure at least one balcony that would offer a forest-view with the sky all over it. Of late he was very much into Tarzan and Mowgli and had also gone for an overnight camp in the city outskirts near a small forest. For him it was ‘cool’ to dwell just next to a jungle. The denser it is, the more the thrill. I was not alarmed with the condition he laid down. As far as his imagination stretched, an orchard over half an acre was a ‘real’ forest.
When we finally zeroed in on what was going to be our new home, we were thrilled to find a sprawling tree-covered area a few furlongs away from our balcony with the blue sky looking down on it. Ecstatic, we moved in soon. The icing on the cake was the rising sun peeping from behind the mango trees there as we all sipped our morning tea, relaxing in our east-facing balcony. Friday nights were exciting with the entire family huddling there again, my ‘astronomer’ son delighting us with constellations that became more visible with his telescope. Night sky had never been so enchanting. Waking up with nature at our side and nature again soothing our tired bodies and jaded minds, gradually sending us to calm peaceful sleep, our new home felt like heaven. We had never felt so blessed before.
We kept relishing the joys of the blissful neighbourhood – the sunrise, the blue sky and the dusk sweeping across its vast expanse every evening. The bolt from the blue came when all of a sudden very rapidly a high wall rose up over the huge meadow adjacent to our 'forest', a board on it announcing the inception of a shopping mall. The merciless bulldozers running amok over the soft green grass, truckloads of cement and sand arriving incessantly and sophisticated cranes getting into serious operation undermined the landscape in a short span of time. The butterflies lost their homes and fluttered around helplessly for a few days before disappearing completely. The cuckoos’ melodious songs got lost somewhere in the droning of the concrete-mixers as floor after floor got added sending the rising structure soaring up higher and higher. Our neighbours rejoiced over the imminent rise in their property value, oblivious to the dust and noise filling the air. Before long, a mammoth structure stood proudly towering over us. Only a small patch of blue sky managed to peer down at us from behind the summit of the high-rise.
We had lost those special moments forever when the birds greeted the morning sun as they soared up in the blue sky.
On Banerghatta Road, near Meenakshi Temple, as of now a number of apartment complexes and a mall are fighting for supremacy, one or two amongst them drawing inspiration from skyscrapers making news around the world – which one will steal the thunder? We’ll know when they all get ready. With only a patch of the sky now hanging over our Mantri Residency, will the pre-schoolers here feel inspired to sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle little star’ any more?
Our saddest moment was when our son went to the balcony with his binoculars, after his exams, to have a look at the night sky. His face fell as he screamed “This giant stole our sky?!”

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

My alma mater Carmel just celebrated its golden jubilee....
While distance kept me away from my dearest teachers who moulded me into what I am today and the long-lost friends, technology (Facebook) brought in snippets from there, bringing in the sunshine!
I was moved by one such friend's message to me and the outcome is here below!
After decades they all meet
You can call it a treat!

A walk down the memory lane they took
Didn't matter if for some 'twas on Facebook!

Life seemed like a journey...
Memories - a few bitter and mostly honey!

In one boat they had all begun
All in the same sea under the sun

Numerous boats now each with a sail
Remembering with love, my dear Carmel!

With love,
Carmel Convent High School, Durgapur
and all my yesteryear friends and all ex-Carmelites
From Aparajita Bose ('86)