Fairy Fails

Khushi is a 7 year old child who lives nearby. She visits me daily after dinner, nagging for stories. Initially, I had fished out this fairy tale book from my childhood which, like me, she had grown utterly bored of, within a week.

It has always been suffocating to read about sleeping or imprisoned princesses waiting for a white prince to rescue or kiss them.
“It is stupid and full of lies! Chacha Chaudhary is better”, she had retorted.
“Well, yes.” I had to agree.

I then told her a couple of tales from Anandpur. As the stories went on, her eyes grew wide, her pupils dilated and her breathing slowed. She wants to hear one daily now.

She wants to hear of Lakshmi, Nema Raam’s cow, who was being milked but got scared of my honking and pulled in her udders.
She wants to hear of Raju, a boy her age, who sits under a tree and sells combs, buttons, scissors and needles.
She wants to hear of Tejaaji, the local deity whose omnipresent temples and idols have a snake biting his tongue.
She wants to hear of Kaka Saa, a village elder, the tall 68 year old “uncle” to entire village, who walks into the bank with elan and panache, wearing a crisp white dhoti kurta. He commands everyone’s obedience and respect.
She wants to hear of Bidami, a girl of 15, who got married recently.
She wants to hear if we were able to get enough steel glasses instead of paper cups for school’s milk program.
She wants to know why I don’t fight with Kaka Saa who doesn’t drink water offered by Durga Raam, the bank’s sweeper, because he is a “bhangi”.
She wants to know of Panch Peer- Paabuji, Gogaji, Hadbuji, Ramdev and Maangliya, the 5 famed saints of Rajasthan who fought for animals, trees, tribes and Hindu-Muslim unity.
She wants to know why Jodhpur’s King changed the name of this village from Kalu to Anandpur.

She listens with rapt attention. I am sure I will never run out of stories to tell her.

 

 

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Lost Luni, Lively Lands.

The Luni river is a very important river in western Rajasthan. Originating from Naga Hills in Ajmer , it eventually disappears in the marshy ranns of Gujarat, never meeting the Arabian Sea. It derives its name from Sanskrit Lavanvati, due to its high salt content.

The portion of the river that flowed from Raas, Lambiya and Anandpur is now totally dry. It is either children’s playing ground or it comfortably supports outcrops of khejri and babool. After 4 rains, there are sporadic water pockets with enough water to attract migratory birds for brief rest. It is a lovely sight because there is no trash or garbage anywhere.
People respect the river even though it’s almost dead. They don’t need science to know that the soil is rich in minerals. They simply call it “sacred”. They are emotional fools who don’t think that the empty space can be made into a landfill or a mall or “beautified into a garden”. They live with the hope that these water pockets we see today will once again swell and the river will return. When will it happen, I ask. “When the collective Dharma and karma of people living here is closer to God,” I am told. It sounds dramatic when written, but when heard in the context of life here it is befitting.

The river portion disappears and the highway inclines gradually. The fields on either side are also rapidly turning yellow and green from the earlier golden brown. I see women bending over, feet submerged in water , working with flawless precision and speed. I don’t know for how long. That’s where each grain on my plate comes from. I wonder what do they think when they see my speeding car? I then realize that holding grudges and envy is a luxury. A farmer has far more important things to do than to discuss or write about, say, “How the quality of lives of the Urbans can be improved.” She has to feed the rest of us, and if possible, her own kids.

Unbeknownst..

I don’t know much of Gods or Divinity.
Nor of spirituality, much.

I know of pain and suffering,
omnipresent.

I also know of my knowing of unsolicited injustice.
It only makes it just, that I know not of other worlds.

I dont know what I can do. Or be.
I only know what I can’t.

I don’t know if our world is real. Or if death is real.
I only know of things more real than our worlds.

The science of faith.
The power of empathy.
The magic of laughter.
And, the healing of love.

We’re all in this together. Across space time.
Going nowhere.
Now. Here. All that is.

The Book Which Lived

My stuff had been scattered since 2013 with lots of moving and transfers of myself and parents here and there. Finally, there is little stability with us and I got the chance to collect, open and rearrange all my boxes and bags over past 5 years. I started, of course, with my books. It’s an emotional exercise, to be least dramatic in all honesty. I keep pausing at each book, unable to move on, wanting to write down something for the part each one played I my life. Its going to be a while before i am finished sorting through, and stacking them.

I have liked books since as far as my memory jogs, and the typical Indian upper middle class fam that we are, we firmly believe in preserving anything way beyond it’s expiry date. Naturally, we have fine copies of books that trace back to my parents’ student days. Yet, in the past 5 years, all 5 of us have been in 5 different centres of India, and visiting each other or carrying to/from each other I lost track of most of my books and I am quite frankly nervous as I open box after box, and touch each one of them, doubtful how many of them will be with me and how many are lost or given away or damaged beyond repair.. its like my whole brain and soul journey scattered out. Some of them were awards, some signed copies of authors, some exchanged, some amazing discoveries at a dilapidated street shop, some bought overpriced, some a promise of everlasting friendships, some came as gifts and blessings, some remind me of times and people gone by, some give hopes of a pending reunion or of solving something unresolved, some came as healers, some egg me on for further growth, some want me to write something myself, and some I regret reading.

This copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was in the box that was ruined in the Chittorgarh floods of 2016.

hp1

It was the first in the series, even before it was renamed as Sorcerer’s Stone. Earlier it had survived teacher’s disappointed anger in school, sibling rivalry at home, gotten mysteriously lost before exams and magically reappeared after results, passed from friends to neighbor’s kids, got snatched, torn, cellotaped, wet, dried, yellowed. I acquired more HP books in the series and now I even own a brand new giant illustrated shiny edition of this and another HP book (it was a thoughtful birthday gift from mAh BFFs), yet, this particular copy remains indispensable. I discovered and fell irrevocably in love with many more meaningful authors and subjects and books later on, but this is something that I haven’t yet outgrown. The story and the entire world woven by J.K.Rowling may not qualify as great classical literature, but it is a music that chimes through most readers who were born in the 90s. With her clever metaphors, symbolism, acronyms, allegories and the gripping, captivating portrayal of characters dealing with what most humans deal with: friendships, loyalties, betrayals, loss, love, ecstasies,depression, victories, failures, generation gap, racism, homophobia, class inequalities, dissent, ambition, politics, bullying, healing, camaraderie, violence, and the spiritual and psychological aspects of death; she was our initial lessons in sociology and humanity.

The book is shabby and yellowed, but it shall stay. A copy preserved for decades to come. It starts with a chapter “The Boy Who Lived.” I like to call it “The Book Which Lived.” 

 

Anandpur Waits for Rain

Each day I wake up to a sky fiery red and ominously orange, winds bending down the lush green trees and tickling the thick lawns in township of Raas. It is a beautifully pregnant sky expecting rains any moment now. Ever since my folks moved here 10 months ago, this is my first monsoon. I think of the blissful other side of Rajasthan where i grew up, which almost floods every year. I take in the refreshing morning with deep fresh swigs of air, and there it is.. the elevating pitter patter of a drizzle which wets the Earth just enough for an intoxicating fragrance; but my joy is short lived. I know what the winds mean just 17km away, from the village of Laambiya, where the desert officially starts.

Its a 35 km drive to Anandpur. The landscape rapidly changes from rocky hills to sandy hills to golden brown sands on both sides of highway. As June boils into July, visibility each day is lower and it is difficult to drive with the dust storms. The winds from the south west mercilessly and boldly pass through us and stopping them would quite literally mean moving the mountains. Just a wee bit transverse would suffice. The Earth is angry and responds with howling lashing winds that seem determined to carry the desert eastward. A lone shepherd in the distance with his heavy bright turban and muddy white dhoti must be envious of the winds which will only bless Delhi, I think. There is sand and more sand, the largely lazy monotonous drawl of nature is occasionally punctuated by an Acacia or Khejri or Neem or a patch of prickly grass. In contrast, women with their vibrant poshaak and ghaaghras fill colours in the golden yellow sands. These women carry two pots of water on their heads, veil drawn till chin and a child on their waist. Chatting away merrily. I wonder what equality, emancipation or liberty means to them.

I reach Anandpur and eagerly look for thick Neem, Peepal and Banyan trees to park under. The fields are ploughed, the seeds are bought. Of 2800 agri loans, interest on 1462 is serviced and the farmers have nothing to worry till December.

And now we wait. We beg the mighty Banyan, we beg the abstract Indra. We wait for the first rain to kiss the parched lips of Anandpur’s soil. As June dies, the village is done with most of its other affairs and prepares to move to fields by first week of July, waiting for nature to signal them to sow.

We wait.

Bovine Blessings

A rare spot of shade under a tree, cow licking away it’s calf. The calf tries to get away but the mother is strong and determined. The duo shows ultra swag and blocks the narrow road to office. Nobody else seems to think it’s a problem. They walk around them , someone bows , someone throws them dried rotis and someone pats them. My car, honking and demanding the space under the shady spot, is the obvious eyesore and discomfort. I give up, parking some 200 metres away.
 
The calf has a tiny bell around it’s neck which tinkles away everytime he resists being cleaned. I can hear it from inside the office, through the afternoon. It is a welcome sound in sweltering heat. When I walk out at the end of the day, people tell me that Anandpur has two big gaushalas and one govt vet hospital. The village is blessed with the cows’ grace and never goes hungry.. even when there were successive crop failures twice. Even when the pond is drying, groundwater is receding and the water accessible right now is way too salty for the crops. They do what they can, and let it go.
 
They don’t think that the politicians, administration, banks can “save” them. They trust the SHGs. And the panchayat. And the gods. They have faith. And humility. And simplicity.
 
~Anandpur, Jaitaran.

Foolosophy

For a country that finds divinity in trees, rocks, rivers, skies, planes, stars, cow dung, crops, eagles, cows, owls, snakes.. the only way to solve any problem is to first integrate into its systems fully.
To weed out anything in isolation without addressing or understanding the cascading disturbances is at best self-gratification of a manufactured identity and at worst blatantly lying about meaningless numbers.
 
We may or may not believe in an anthropomorphic God, we may or not be convinced about metaphysical sciences of Directions (Vaastu) or souls or healing, we may or not agree with the concept of karma, prayers, temples and rituals, we may or not accept traditional wisdom at face value, but we must understand that they are integral to the underlying fabric that binds this country together. The answer to the problems within these systems is neither blind modernization nor blind fanaticism. Both these approaches evidence only one thing: need for protecting an ego-based identity; whether that is of “social saviour” or of an “educated liberal”.
 
At the cost of sounding clichéd, I must write this: If one really wishes to change anything around them, I believe it begins with unlearning a lot of things. That in itself has the potential to bring a dozen shocks daily with a couple of epiphanies along the way. When one has unlearnt enough, the learning and changing and saving can begin.
 
Gender inequality, crop failures, child abuse, casteism, patriarchy, misogyny, poverty, crony capitalism, bad loans, are all symptoms. We need to stop attacking them in isolation and address the root cause. Dive deeper. You’d be shocked at every dive. I promise.