Wednesday, August 24, 2011


The night seemed mild. It wasn’t the usual. And I walked down the dingy aisle. She saw me. I walked.

Somewhere in the distance was a van. The headlights flashed straight into my eyes. And as I walked I spotted an old weary man. I figured he was the driver. He got off the van and greeted me, ‘hello’, he said. I don’t know why but I paid no heed to the greeting and walked right ahead and sat in the bench overlooking the lake. To my surprise the old man came and sat right beside me. ‘Hello’, he said. Astounded by the intrusive act I gave a stern look. ‘The night has never been better’, he said in a crude accent. ‘I’ve lived here for as long as I can remember’, he said, ‘the night has never been better’.

‘I love this place’, I said, ‘and even more, I like my privacy’. ‘I need some money’, he said. ‘It’s Christmas Eve and I have nothing to present my daughter, give me some money please’, he said. I looked at him, ‘you have a daughter? I asked. ‘Back there’, he said, ‘she sells bread’, ‘and what about you’, I asked.

He stood up and walked down the damp road. While I sat back and enjoyed the exquisitely lit lake. Just then a little girl came by and offered me some hot bread. ‘I didn’t ask for any’, I said. ‘These didn’t sell today, I can’t waste these, you can have them’. ‘Feed the dogs, I said. ‘They’ve gone to church’, she said, ‘you can have it, I’ve heated it and stuffed it for you’. ‘Are you the old man’s daughter?’, I inquired. ‘What old man?’, she asked. ‘The old man who just walked down the road’…’He spoke to you?’ she said. ‘Yes he did, he kept asking me for money, said he wanted to buy you a gift’, ‘oh, he always wants to buy me one’, she said, ‘did you give him any’, she asked, ‘no I didn’t’.

She came and sat besides me. ‘You should show some concern for a young women on a secluded lane you know’, she said. ‘Your eyes look pale, you running a fever?’ she asked. I looked at her and smiled.

The driver walked up the damp road and sat besides me. ‘Are you going to be up all night? It’s getting cold, and I don’t think you prepared for a brief snowfall’.’ Get back to your room visitor; this night is dark and dodgy’.

And then it snowed.

‘You are not prepared for a brief snowfall sir, it will soon get quite harsh…get to your accommodation sir, the ruthless night is awakening’. ‘You got her a gift?’, I asked. ‘I’m a murderer sir, I’ve murdered her father, and the dogs have gone down to the church for the funeral; the night is getting violent sir, get to your accommodation’.

‘Would you like a hot stuffed bread sir, it will keep you warm’ … ‘you running a fever’… ‘get to your accommodation’.

The sun shone at dawn and the lake glistened in exuberance and the enthralled birds fluttered under the orange sky.

The girl found her way to the seat with hot bread in her hand. ‘You look tired sir, but I’m glad you survived the night, here’s hot bread for you, it isn’t one of those leftovers, I baked it specially for you’.

I looked at her with gratitude…

‘Feed the dogs’, I said, ‘they had a hard time dragging me down to the church’.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

How we got our hands dirty…

After having explored some of most mesmerizing forests for over a week, something about the first glimpse of civilization told me the ‘nature trip’ was approaching its end. The drive from Kalakad Mununtharia took us through narrow alleys and crowded streets. And as it did, somewhere I felt more like a tourist. A feeling I entirely despise. More so, to my disappointment, the itinerary reinforced this sentiment. ‘Visit to the Memorial’ it read and ‘shoppers’ were already making plans. And then, I asked myself, was any more ‘nature’ left in the trip? Was it an unconscious attempt to acclimatize us to the ‘city life’? Or did the COM really have something on his mind, “Shut up and enjoy the ……”, I really wonder what would he have said!

Following a long, tiring journey all the way from Kalakad Munnuntharia, we reached Kanyakumari in the evening. 6:00pm, if I remember correctly. The COM in his deep, husky voice announced, “Session at 8”, or 7:30, I don’t quite remember, but then as COM would have said, “How is that a matter of consequence?”. So we quickly freshened up and scurried to the venue. Now for those who don’t know COM, and are not familiar with his uncanny ways, you never really know what he’s up to. After a session that tested our survival instinct (on paper, thankfully), little did we realize he was all ready to get down to dirty business. A plan to carry out a ‘cleanliness drive’ was underway!

I nearly jumped off my seat. Cleanliness drive on the Kanyakumari beach!!! “What rubbish!!!”, I wondered for a fraction of a second. After which I realized it actually was about the ‘Rubbish’. About plastic, waste paper, ice-cream cones, and a lot more strewn around the beach which degraded it as each day passed by. About hundreds of people who visit the beach, and unconsciously contribute towards making it a dirtier place. And then I thought more deeply about the entire activity. Was it simply an hour long clean-up drive?, I wondered. Or was there a lot more to it? I would find out in due course…

The Drive was to be organized sometime on Friday. That would be after the visit to the Queen’s Palace and the Vivekananda Memorial. It dawned on us that we were running out of time. So then we’re up on our feet and got down to plan the activity. We wasted not a second. As the bus took us from one destination to another, it acted like what many in the professional world call, “Ideation Room”. Ideas and thoughts were exchanged. Feedback was collected. All-in-all it was sheer chaos. But the plan kept us up and going.

Then sometime late in the afternoon, after having visited the Vivekananda Memorial, the ferry transported us back to the beach. The gang congregated at one place and decided, How, Where and When. Yes, we were still deciding. Nevertheless, it didn’t take us long before, Anish gathered one and all. And sketched out the ‘plan of action’. The ‘cleanliness drive’ was to assume priority. But somewhere we all knew it had to end it with a BANG! And what better way to do it than with a song that was close to most of our hearts. ‘CLAP CLAP SMACK, CLAP CLAP SMACK…’ the rhythm began to build. The lyrics wove itself around the music. We were ready.

Now without wasting another second we formed groups of 5, 7 groups in all, and dispersed. Gathered everything that we felt was taking away the very beauty of the beach. Plastic bags, ice cream cones, pieces of paper, everything. Our eyes missed not a speck of waste. And soon we realized there were many eyes on us. Some watched in sheer wonderment, some in appreciation. Some in scorn and some in doubt. But in actuality what made the activity meaningful was when someone (to our sheer delight) actually lent us a helping hand. Truly enough, it was the defining moment. A moment we all knew difference had been made. We had all touched someone’s heart. Someone who we hoped would influence another one. And the wheel of change would be set in motion.

Then as the activity came to end, we gathered at a pre-decided venue, with bags full of waste. Never before had such a lot of waste made us proud. We clapped and cheered. And as we did, the sound echoed far and wide. Soon we realized we had company. Form the farthest corners we saw people clap in appreciation. We were moved. But there was one last thing we had to do before we dispersed. CLAP CLAP SMACK, CLAP CLAP SMACK…’ the rhythm began to build. The lyrics wove itself around the music. And the song erupted from the bottom of our hearts. ‘Hum hoge kamiyab’, we sang Nature Club style. What a spectacle it was, as a few onlookers cared to join in.

The event marked the end of a long memorable trip. But as we dispersed somewhere we believed it was a beginning of new change. Change would take place, one man at a time. Over a period of years. Till one day the whole world would be a more beautiful and cleaner place. We hoped.