Hovering close-by

Living in the jungle gives you a voyeuristic access into the life of animals around. But there are plenty among them who choose to be as reclusive as possible from the two-legged beings around. One such category consists of the predatory birds. One might see them soaring high in the sky but never close enough to be identified except to trained eyes. And that’s why the unusual proximity to the house by this large winged bird caught my attention. I looked out of the window to see this Eagle perched on a tree, frequented by the small insectivores/frugivores of the winged families.

Crested Hawk Eagle are not so easy to spot around human habitations yet this one hovered around the balcony close enough for me to hear the its flight before I could spot it. May be there was a carcass around that I couldn’t see or smell or may be the Eagle was nesting close-by. Either way, the close sighting made my pen itch to draw this specimen.

25 years gone…

Grandmother gone too soon

Every year I tell myself I will be fine on this day. Time should have done the healing job by now. It has been 25 years. Yet the failure of Time’s healing hits harder every following year. The hurricane of memories flood very ounce of my being despite the resistance I keep putting up to avoid the inevitable implosion that mark the 16th of April, year after year. As I put these words down, I am failing at stopping the stream of tears that are clogging my vision. I keep wondering if I will ever get over this feeling of abandonment, or stop wondering about the million ‘what-if-she-was-here’ moments or ever make peace with the fact that she is gone never to return. Will I ever move past the 10-year-old-me standing shocked at the sight of her lifeless body, and letting the numbness wash over her fragile emotional self? I never handled that grief well and keeps hurting more and more with each passing year. I wake up, on this day every year, and ask no one in particular – if it is ever going to be okay? And the only response I get, is an echo of my own question. My emotional self battles with all its might against the rational side not to accept the void. As if the very acceptance would be a complete betrayal of my love for her. 25 years and counting…. Doesn’t hurt any less than like it happened 25 hours ago. Yet I live in that distant hope of attaining a balance between the grief of her loss and living with her memories.

The adult in me tries to tell the 10-year-old-me to bottle it all up and move on with the innumerable meeting to attend for the day and endless to-do list piling away. The emotional tussle becomes tiresome until I slam the door on the outpouring pain and walk away to deal with life. I keep repeating it to myself like a mantra – I cannot bring her back and the memories are all that is there to hold onto.

But I cannot come to terms with it. May be one day I will. Today is not the day for it.

Of Beads and Red Robes

In the last 7 years, I have visited an exhaustive list of Buddist monasteries and I have a longer list of them to visit on future. For reasons unknown, I have been drawn to these monasteries and the small towns they are surrounded by, as if, these institutions radiate peace and tranquility through the landscapes and it’s inhabitants. The first time was at Bylakuppe and then Mundgod, Tibetan settlements in South India. I followed the trail of robes to Bhutan and it’s neighbour, Sikkim. The reverberating chanting within the prayer halls, the lingering beats of percussion instruments and the bright colours of the murals heightens all your senses yet instills a calm and content state. I miss that external assurance from those surroundings while treading through such uncertain times.

Shelled away

No matter how much I try, I have not been able to look past the dots. It’s always stippling that comes naturally than anything else with a pen in hand. As time stretches endlessly, I dive into the time gone by and dig up the ghosts of experts in the natural illustration. The first person that came to mind was Ernst Haeckel. This piece is more a tribute to his work but in only form of art that I could remotely do justice to his.


“When you find yourself cocooned in isolation and you cannot find your way out of darkness…

Remember this is similar to the place where caterpillars go to grow their wings”

Necole Stephens

Butterfly concertina (Photo Credit: Rohan Mathias)

One fine morning, we noticed the hordes of butterflies migrating. For some reason, I had never paid attention to this phenomenon but these slow months under enforced lockdown has made me more aware of the surroundings and this sort of migration was new to me. A friend, also a crazy butterfly enthusiast, told us stories behind it. His eyes lit up talking about these delicately beautiful creatures and his birthday happened to be around the corner. So what better gift than something to do with these winged wonders.

For a few months now, I have been thinking of working on a concertina, only thing missing was the subject for it. And here I had few butterflies to draw. Both put together became a butterfly concertina. My apprehensions of using any kind of colour has been dominant as ever but what fun would be butterflies without colours. In the process of research for what species to draw, a whole new section of the natural world opened up for me.

Needless to say, most of us are going through a tough phase in life dealing with the pandemic and the roadblocks that come along. All of us cocooned in our houses trying to stay safe yet that doesn’t mean the confines of the walls doesn’t affect us mentally. Nature comes to rescue again! Cocooned for a while until we emerge out of it with wings.

Negotiations with knees

I haven’t always shared the best relationship with my knees. In the last five years, my knees have crashed from full functionality to bare minimum and then have gradually improved to the present state which is capable of doing most things. The full functionality meant classical dancer for 20 years, martial artist, trekking up every mountain/hill that could be spotted and a solo biker perpetually on long distance rides. As I approached 30, I decided to give running a marathon a shot. Before I could reach half way during the prep, my knees were not happy. I slowed down and restarted multiple times. Yet the knees gave way eventually.

On a friday morning, as I lay in the MRI room for two hours getting both my knees scanned, my anxiety knew no bounds. Then, of course, the long wait for the reports and the consultation with the Ortho surgeon. At this point, I couldn’t walk on uneven surfaces without significant discomfort to the knees. Less than a year ago, I had climbed the cliff side Himalayan monastery in Paro, Taksang Monastery, without a problem and here I am waiting in anticipation for the fate of my knees. An hour later the report was out and my family of doctors poured their energy into it declaring that both knees were equally damaged and I cannot jump, jog, run or hike. Bottomline is anything that increases the load on the knees apart from regular weight bearing jobs is banned. The anxiety in the MRI room had tested me in ways I had no clue and tears came streaming down when I heard the things that I enjoyed the most had to be stopped. I didn’t know until then what caused it. It was already a lot to handle. The physical restrictions at the age of 30!!!

Finally I went to see the Ortho surgeon. For the initial few minutes he quietly sat looking through the reports. It appeared like he was going to declare a death sentence on me anytime. After what seemed like forever, he raised his head, removed his reading glasses and, as a matter of fact, informed me that both my knee cartilages were damaged upto 60% and cartilages did not heal. And 10% more damage would lead to surgery. I was screaming out of despair in my head yet the initial outburst in front of the family had helped keep my external calm. The surgeon also declared that this was a very common problem in flat footed young females who are physically active. Wait!!! Why didn’t I know this yet considering I am aware of my flat feet. Too late to wonder all of this. Damages are done. 

He prescribed specific exercises and anti-inflammatory tablets and I left the hospital with a sullen face. The silver lining was the doc was surprised that despite the extent of damages, I had not resorted to painkillers yet. That gave me hope. But for the next 2 years, I continued having swelling around my knees on and off and I always carried a pair of knee caps. The perpetual state of negotiations with my knees was taking a toll on me. I had convinced myself that I can’t do much physically with the state of knees. To an extent that I refused to go out for walks blaming the uneven pedestrian paths of the cities. 

I was tired of the enforced diet restrictions to control every growing weight and intermittent working out sessions. My self confidence was hiding behind new layers of fat. Fast forward to 3 years since the fateful day inside the MRI room, I took up walking, first slowly and then faster along with some amount of yoga that wouldn’t make me fold my knees too much. And the lockdown began. I happened to come across the Nike Training App and I haven’t looked back. It has been 4 months now and I have graduated to high intensity, advanced levels workouts without any trouble and have successfully lost the extra kilos I had put on in the last few years.

The ongoing fat loss and muscle built up pushes the confidence as an individual a notch higher. I have a long way to go to reach my goals and I still can’t run. Maybe I won’t ever run a marathon but I am glad I hadn’t given up hope. Maybe someday I will fulfill the dream of climbing the hills and mountains to sit and enjoy the view from the top.  

Justified or not?

We are living through extremely uncertain times. Lives have been suspended in most cases and we are all waiting for ‘normalcy’ to return. There is no clarity on how long this kind of life is going to go on and if what we knew as normal is ever going to come back. The present state is the new normal. Apart from the immediate fears and uncertainties, few of us already know that the short lived memory of our race will help most of the population to recover in a year’s time and go about their lives as if nothing ever happened. The minority of the population who will never be able to forget the deep traumas and wounded souls that will come out on the other side of it, will suffer for the rest of their living days. 

The minority here are the frontline warriors and casualties. It is not only the healthcare or the essential workers but also the families and friends who have endured a loved one’s suffering or loss. And there is another category of people who have screamed at the top of their voices to follow the basic rules of handling the virus and stay safe for their own sake and the community’s sake. To all the nay-sayers, I hope it was as simple as you learning your individual lessons. But because of the absence of the tiniest sensitivities or empathy, others suffer. The slightest carelessness can lead to life threatening complications in an otherwise perfectly healthy person and this somehow seems a very difficult proposition for the majority of the population to understand.

In one case, the last message said “my oxygen levels are sinking further and I will get on a ventilator. Talk to you later”. Unfortunately, there was no later. The wife continued her home quarantine, and never got a chance to say a final goodbye to her husband. Only a burial that she witnessed over a video call. No one held her while she mourned the loss of her husband to this unpredictable virus even though he was winning the fight against cancer. 

For another acquaintance, the treating doctors said, “there are signs of improvement in your husband’s condition, yet the danger of crashing is still hanging around”, a fortnight gone by and she is still waiting for her husband to come out of danger. Despite being a doctor, she cannot predict her husband’s state and she has no clue what to tell her 5 year old daughter.

Another friend got a call from his younger brother in the early hours of the morning, complaining of shortness of breath and that he was tested positive 6 days ago. His whole life flashed in front of his eyes and he quietly apologised to his kids for not being there to see them through their teens or adulthood. His only mistake was he assumed the pandemic was a hype and he wouldn’t be affected by it but now he was trapped in an apartment alone in an unknown city, far away from home and was probably not going to make it. He was saved, though after a week of hospitalization and timely pumping of steroids into his system. No one knows what long lasting damages (both mental and physical) he will come home with. 

There are many more stories of suffering and there are equally high numbers of instances of our race attaining new heights of insensitivity and stupidity. Literacy has never mattered in such times. And common sense has become a rarity. Comparing the present pandemic to the Spanish flu, a century ago, doesn’t make any sense because we have better resources to handle health issues now yet our collective IQs have taken a nosedive into the ocean of complete idiocy. Four months and counting… I live in morbid fear for my senior citizen doctor parents who are bound to continue their work and the critical care specialist brother and sis-in-law who attend to their moral and professional obligation of dragging people out from the clutches of death. I can’t seem to escape the endless nightmare…

Tryst with South East Asian stories

As I grow older, I venture deeper into my roots. I have lived away from my hometown and family for more than 15 years now. My fleeting connection to the family stories has come back to bother me in recent times. My maternal grandmother passed away when I was 10 and grandfather when I was 15. Hence, knowing them as an adult was never an option. Whatever I know of them is through stories that my mother has passed on which were as scattered as one can imagine. I realised it is probably a very cultural problem in Asian families where parents shoulder the responsibility of children until they are adults and protect them from the difficulties they have dealt with as parents or adults. In most cases, like mine, we as children of our parents don’t even know what makes our parents the individuals they are. What was their childhood like, or their fears and worries as parents, or if they ever wonder what their lives would have been had they taken the road less travelled? We will never know it because Asian parents think it is either not worth sharing their stories or they wouldn’t want to burden their children with the tough pasts they had. Such was the story in a book that I read recently.

It is ‘The Bonesetter’s Daughter’ by Amy Tan. I had never heard of this author but I was willing to give it a shot. On a rainy afternoon, I started reading this book and couldn’t put it down. It felt too close to home. An Asian mother working hard to bring up the perfect child without the taboos that she left behind in China yet making sure that she passes on the cultural values from the homeland. Battling her own traumatic past and searching for her identity as her memory fails, and simultaneously trying to protect her daughter from any of the past influences.  She tries to make sure her daughter doesn’t grow so deeply into the American life that she forgets her roots in China. It sounds like a typical immigrant family with their share of problems but the endearing way of storytelling was what drives home the emotional intensity. I can’t say I feel differently about my mother and grandmother but our family stories are being lost in the modern day races to make ends meet. I am glad Amy Tan decided to finish the book on a high note. Else I would have been plunging deep into the troubled waters of our westernised society and the lost traditional values. 

I read ‘Norwegian Woods’ almost a decade ago. Followed by ‘Kafka on the shore’ and ‘The Windup Bird Chronicle’. All the three held my attention through every page. Haruki Murakami is an excellent narrator and being a South East Asian, one relates to the stories very well. But at the same time, I stopped reading Murakami because it drained me out emotionally. I love reading fiction but the price I was paying for Murakami’s books was a lot to handle. It was as if the moment the book begins, the narrator has plunged his hand into your rib cage and grabbed hold of your heart tight enough for it to crush into pieces. And that stopped me from venturing into Murakami and other SE Asian authored books.

A decade later a visit to a friend’s place led me to borrow two books by Ishiguro and ‘The Bonesetter’s Daughter’. A week later I went to the same friend’s house to return the book and she gave me another Japanese author’s book ‘Asleep’ by Banana Yoshimoto. The emotional aspect deeply intertwined with the superstitions and typical Asian values was more like hearing one of your aunts tell you this story on a fine evening over a glass of wine. My re-introduction to Asian writers almost a decade later felt like coming home. I hope I see Ishiguro through to the end along with many more that are waiting to be discovered. 

Street Art

Walking along the streets of any major city of the world, one cannot miss the graffiti on the walls of buildings or boundaries. Traditionally, graffiti has been used as a form of a protest and in a lot of cases it is still the same cause and in others, it has been beautification for the arterial roads of cities. For instance, a small city in the eastern part of India, that happens to be my hometown, hosted the Men’s Hockey World Cup in 2018. I couldn’t get enough of the vibrant graffiti on the walls that added an aesthetic value to all the major roads leading to the venue of the world cup.

In an attempt to learn sketchnoting and getting faster and better at it, I am trying to be a regular at the virtual sketchnote hangouts. This time we discussed the street art in some of the major cities of the world- Milan, Berlin, Phuket and Cairo. The walls have posed as large canvases for conveying messages of love, peace and harmony in various forms. Abstract or concrete, pictures or words (calligraphy), many of these forms and more have been used for graffiti.

Ocean will never be the same

It has been a while since I devoured a book at a stretch without thinking about a break. In fact, the thought of taking a break for lunch was an unpleasant one. As I began the book, “The ocean at the end of the lane”, I was expecting a version of fictional autobiography. I am not sure what that means but that is what I have understood from the innumerable interviews and conversations I have heard of Neil Gaiman in regard to this book. This was supposed to be an accidental novel that came into being while tugging at the strings of nostalgia.

I tried hard but by the end of a marathon reading, I cried. It was deep melancholy intertwined with a strange sense of peace but that feeling was so far off it seemed like I floated in a void without a sense of reality. The book wasn’t only tugging but yanking emotions in directions that I didn’t know existed or felt. The roller coaster of emotions ran through fear and peace, joy and sadness, guilt and worry but through every bit ran an underlying sense of belonging.

I will probably go back to the book again if I ever think I have lost my empathetic being. But right now I cannot thank Gaiman enough for such a heart wrenchingly beautiful narrative.