Opinion: On India and Pakistan & Pakistan and India

Oh My Lord. Such a heavy, complicated and frankly over-exploited topic! Hence I will keep it short.

In short, the nuclear weapons-armed neighbours are not friendly.

The main point of friction (the term used extremely loosely) is an area which has been the bone of contention between the two nations since they finally got rid of the British Empire. The Empire did everything they could, like a wounded Samurai before being killed, flexing all its muscles to remain in power. It resulted in a partition that not only saw a genocide of epic proportion on both sides of the border but created a situation in the Indian subcontinent.

This “situation” is the ownership of the landmass called Kashmir. Both countries claim it. It has been subjected to wars, terrorism and economic failure. I was born in the year 1985 and since I can remember, I have been very aware of the hostility between the two countries on a daily basis, the media loves that kind of thing and presents duly with generous amounts of garnishing and condiments for consumption.

However I have been seeing some developments since the 2000s, at least on the Indian side. India has deeply become an economy centric country. Although people are still manipulated by media: “Pakistan, bad country, terrorist country, villain”, but people’s priorities have shifted. People now aspire to be financially successful. There is an openness of culture in India, a voice of the youth and a large chunk of young voters who basically care more about progress and development rather than weaponising India. India being secular helped not only to increase the feeling of unity but also provided an atmosphere of friction between the people who opposed it. As a result the “issue” of communalism and religious verses national identity always stayed on a fore front in people’s mind.

From what I (a fortunate but measly Indian woman) have understood about the relationship between the two countries is the following:

1. Both sides want peace.

2. Both sides have manipulative leaders and hardliners who would say nasty, hostile rubbish and feed it to gullible middle and lower classes.

3. India’s reputation is positive even in Pakistan!

4. Pakistan needs democracy (independent of religion).

5. The leadership of both sides are not ready to budge or accept a small amount of “bowing down” or exploitation or angering few hardliners for a higher, more noble cause referred to as PEACE and PROSPERITY.

6. Foreign powers are useless mediators because they are selfish.They may rather be exacerbating the situation.

7. The developed part of the world is benefitting from the squabbles and watches gladly with schadenfreude.

In a nutshell, the 70 year old conflict is just like any other chronic international conflict. What I am interested in, is why has the leadership and establishment on both the sides failed to neutralize the situation. Apparently the need to keep the status quo of poverty on both sides whilst buying extremely expensive heavy killing machinery, trumps all reason.

I remember talking to a collegue from Pakistan about the mountain peak K2. I said it was in India and he, Pakistan. We both looked at each other with wide eyes of confusion, not hostility. At the same time a Professor (*ahem* from Switzerland) laughed at us, dare I say: with schadenfreude. This is basically the summary of the conflict. While both the countries with vast potential are busy squabbling, the third parties not only watch entertaining themselves but also benefit monetarily holding the countries back in the middle ages.

Watching attempts at peace talks fail year after year is not only sad but also boring. Unfortunately the price of this charade is being paid by manipulated citizens and the army soldiers. A potential world threatening daily telenovela that just doesn’t end, is not what my generation wants.

How can one knock some sense into the establishment of the two countries?

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The Ocean – Part 2 (Short Story)

At the age of thirty-seven Danny enrolled as an undergraduate student for marine ecology at Stanford. His impressive résumé initially surprised the course administrators and the professors alike. His natural enthusiasm complimented his background and good references cemented his selection.

Today, Danny was here, in the middle of nowhere in the Gulf of Mexico on his first day of undergrad internship. His PI at Stanford was studying the effects of a forty year-old oil spill in the gulf. The spill had one of the worst impacts on the marine ecology in the Western Hemisphere.

Danny had read in detail about the incident. A drilling rig siphoning oil from the depths of around three thousand metres had been quite a profitable project for the government. The rig itself was privately owned by a few British stakeholders. Environmental agencies had already complained about incidences involving smaller fires before. Engineers had suggested more frequent checks to curtail the leaking oil and replacing of some of the metal casings. Its should have been no surprise that the drill eventually collapsed under pressure killing 37 people. The whole incidence was one of the worst cases of man-made ocean disasters with the spill gushing out tones of crude oil for nearly two months. He had also seen the horrific pictures of the wildlife being destroyed: birds covered in oil unable to fly off or even feed, dead fish on the surface and the shores and beaches covered with oil. The worst was the impact it had beneath the sea. Oil and natural gases had suffocated thousands of species living in the area. Although the companies had fully taken the responsibilities of the clean-up, the nature of the tragedy itself was overwhelming for the teams. The people involved in the clean-up itself were suffering long-term health problems.

Danny and the research team were there to study the long-term effects of the microbes used digest the oil on the various species of planktons in the area. His training in medical school meant that he already understood most of the biology behind the projects, he just had to train on the ship with its equipment. For him, though, this just meant a distraction that he could enjoy.

He grew up on the shore playing in the sea but wouldn’t collect shells and coloured glass like other kids, nor did he wish to find a message in bottle washed ashore. Danny liked the ocean, the sound it made, how small everybody looked as compared to the ocean. This meant that there was so much out there. There was so much to explore and understand, perhaps this is why he didn’t rebel when his father pressed him to apply for the medical college. His dad was a doctor himself and Danny always felt a certain power of his dad over him. He wanted to learn so he gradually warmed up to medical school. But he always knew that he was away from the ocean and then he met Emily.

It was not love at first sight. They had met at a party, she was his classmate’s sister, studying pschycotherapy. He had mentioned how his first love was the ocean and he was here because his dad pressed for it. Emily had heard everything patiently and put her gentle hand on his arm and had said, “You can still go be with the ocean, your life is not over”

And thats what she had become for him, life. Over the years he worked hard to graduate with giving her not enough time he thought she deserved. She always said that he should love himself and his life and not just her, her studies had taught her that co-dependance was not healthy. But she never pressed the issue as she knew that he was content and very busy. He was excelling in his work and everything was perfect for while.

It would always scare him to think if anything would ever happen to her, she was his friend, his love and everything in between. And then one day it happened, as if his life was just waiting for this to happen to him. They had to recognise her from her car outside the store, which was destroyed by a blast caused by attention seeking separatists wanting there own land. They had taken responsibility for the blasts and it had made him bitter to know that she died for no fault of hers. Her killers didn’t even know her name and didn’t care. He was sad much more than how angry he felt. He didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye.

Marine biology was much lighter, being in the ocean took some burden off his soul. They would collect water samples during the weekdays and carry out some tests to identify residual hydrocarbons in the planktons from the oil and compare them with healthy planktons. In the evenings they could sit outside their cabins and have a beer. Gerry would also be with him and after the initial days of awkward small talk, he could talk about himself. Gerry, short for Gerard would talk in his heavy french accent which always amused Danny. He would insist they call him Gerry and Danny guessed that it perhaps had to with the all-American staff butchering his full name. Danny looked forward for his first weekend on the ship when they could go snorkeling.

However, his hopes of snorkeling shattered when it was announced that on the weekend, Danny would be trained to excavate and retrieve samples in a very compact research submarine. He had played with toy subs as a boy but he had never imagined being on the dark bottom of the ocean in one. The Professor decided to go with him explaining that this way, although they give up on their weekend, they can go back home early. Although this news was meant to make Danny feel better, he didn’t quite like it. Why? He loved the ocean, he didn’t want to go back early!

He was asked to dress light and he was soon going to understand why. The sub’s name was the RETRIEVER as he could read on the back half of the machine. The front half was a glass globe where a total of around 300 degrees of visibility. It wasn’t very big and had long robotic arms. All Danny had to do was sit back and watch as the professor demonstrated so he wasn’t under any sort of pressure and then he thought perhaps he was, and smiled to himself. After a long time, Danny was able to get back his sense of fun.

“After you”, Danny said as the Professor led the way inside. He opened the airlock hatch, he wasn’t sure if it qualified as a door as they entered the sub.

It was smaller than it looked from outside as the professor was practically sitting next to Danny.

“This looks very old. I thought we now use the fully automated ones exclusively. I don’t recall reading about this one under research tools in the papers” Danny noticed.

“Yes it is, this one is not used that often. Normally we do use the fully automated one. But since you are a mine biology student, its obligatory for you to be trained in manual sample collection in this ancient relic!”

Danny chuckled.

For the next half an hour, the professor, explained Danny the equipment, the systems and the protocols to be followed. Danny looked quite frequently at the hatched door still open and thanked heavens for it. He could almost smell the professor perspiring and knew exactly what is to come next as the hatchet closes and they descent into the ocean.

Finally the professor closed the airlock and messaged the crew to transport them over to the water. As Danny watched, the long rope like chains pulled them up and gently lowered them into the water and then let them go. Despite what they thought, the sub was very stable and Danny felt a certain lightness in his body just like one feels on the ferris-wheel.

As the professor controlled the sub, Danny realized that there was not much to learn about operating it, a lot of it was still automated but a lot of it was something like a builder would do to operate a crane. It didn’t take too long and they found themselves on the bed of the ocean. The professor switched on the secondary lights and they could see a lot around them.

Nothing special though, initially it was just billows of sea dust and they waited till it settled.

“So lets begin the field-work, shall we?”

As Danny had correctly guessed, the cockpit was like an oven and both of them had started accumulating considerate amount of sweat all over them before anything else.

What he referred to as field work consisted of switching on a suction pump which had collected a litre of silt and water mixture. At one point Danny even wondered if the rest of the crew were playing an elaborate and expensive practical joke on him. He was being taught how to work the robotic arms, grabbing material and using the various sort of detectors etc. He was used to operating much more complicated robotic arms so he was getting slightly impatient with how slow the arms moved as opposed to the almost superhuman micro-motor skills of the NEUROMANIPULATOR, the brand name of the surgical arms in the operation theatre.

The “field-work” was over and the professor began his ascent with the heat in the sub which could have truly tested anyones patience but not Danny’s. Danny felt great that after a long time, he had managed to remain as calm as in one of his surgeries.

As soon as they arrived on the surface, they had to adjust his eyes to the flash lights glaring onto the glass bubble. The machines on the research vessel pulled them back up and they could finally open the hatchet again. It was night time and the wind finally made his skin feel alive again.

As they climbed out he noticed something on the right side of the wall of the sub from the outside. He asked the professor to check it out. It looked almost like an octopus but unlike any octopus the professor had ever seen. It peaked his curiosity and he decided to bring in a glass vessel to put the octopus in and study it later. All this while the creature made no movements and Danny wondered if it was dead already.

The professor placed the octopus in the lab as Danny followed. He wanted to see more of it.

“Get under the shower”

“In a moment, don’t you find it strange that it has no suckers?” Asked Danny he closely noted the transparent creature with a big bulbous head and translucent skin.

“There are no eyes either but I do want to wash myself before I ward all of my students off with my hard work otherwise referred to as sweat and body odour!”

“You are probably right.” Both of them let out a loud laugh.

As Danny turned around to leave, one of the tentacles of the octopus leapt out of the vessel and whipped Danny’s back, the back bone to be precise. Danny shouted in agony and the Professor turned around in surprise to what had just transpired in a fraction of a second.

“Are you alright?”

“Ahh I think so” Danny said as he tried to rub his back.

The octopus had retrieved the tentacle and became motionless again. The professor rushed Danny to the infirmary. On the way he asked Gerry to carefully put a lid onto the vessel.

Danny tried to assess what his body should be undergoing if there was any sort of toxin in his body. He was not feeling any numbness anywhere, he could speak, breathe and see perfectly. The pain was gone, he was not nauseous and his muscle coordinations seemed good as well. He knew that there was at least no neurotoxin. It was certainly not a bite because the octopus used its tentacle, or whatever it was. Was it even an octopus?

A thousand thoughts flashed through his brain probably forcing him to remember everything that he had learned as a doctor in probably 30 seconds. As soon he entered the infirmary he had to put his finger under a needle in a coffee-maker sized machine and the other arm inside it. One would check the chemicals in his blood and the other would check his vitals. The report was quick and the conclusion was that Danny was physically fine.

Danny thought that he essentially got whipped by the little fellow, smiled to himself, then realised this was no time for jokes, even in his head.

The Professor heaved a sigh of relief. “I love the coffee-maker” he smiled referring to the machine. “Are you feeling ok Danny?”

“Yes I am actually, scared to death though, but ok”

Gerry arrived at the door.

“Professor, the octopus, is, how should I put it, dissolving”

“What do you mean dissolving?”

“I mean dissolving into the water”

Both Danny and the professor rushed toward the lab. It was unbelievable but there it was right in front of their eyes. The creature was no more there, just a grayish gluey liquid inside the vessel.

The professor did not feel great about this whole fiasco. He asked for an emergency meeting in half an hour.

In the meantime Danny had the time to clean up and realise that when you think everything has happened to you, something new just blows your mind. He changed and left for the meeting.

The professor informed the crew that he just talked to the university officials. They all think that because the nature of the creature was still unknown and that it had basically disintegrated so dramatically unlike ever seen before, Danny should be bought to the hospital and then cross examined thoroughly. He was to leave the next day for the hospital whilst they stay back and continue their work, now also on the grey goo.

Talk about shortening the trip, Danny’s was cut so abruptly so soon. A rescue helicopter was to take him back first thing in the morning which alarmed him a bit. He knew there was nothing wrong with him, but he was still worried. He decided not to tell his parents especially since his mom would freak out.

After dinner that evening and on the receiving end of countless theories by his mates, Danny just wanted to sleep. He had certainly had a long day.

Contrary to other days, tonight, he felt tired and so sleepy. And soon enough he was asleep.

The next thing he knows is that he is opening the door of the cruise ship vacationing with Emily. Its night time and he sees Emily blissfully asleep on the bed. He is by the window as the moonlight shines through. Emily awakes and sits up.

“Hello Danny”

Danny is surprised. He knows he is dreaming. He has dreamt of Emily almost every night since his suicide attempt. But she has never talked to him before.

“Emily, is it you?” As Danny tries to go approach her.

“Danny, I am not Emily.”

Danny is surprised, he doesn’t want to believe. Of course its Emily, just look at her. She is in the same silk gown, beautiful blonde hair, she still has their engagement ring on her finger.

“You are Emily, my Emily, I love you Emily, where are you, I miss you.”

Danny feels his eyes welling up with tears.

“Danny I would like to thank you for helping me. I am not Emily. I wanted to talk to you. You dream of Emily all the time, I had to be Emily to talk to you”

Danny watches in surprise as he sees grey tentacles rise from behind Emily’s head.

Danny is not scared just sad to realise that it really is not Emily.

“Who are you?”

As the tentacles retract be be replaced with Emily’s silky hair, she speaks, “Danny you have to give this to him, its for him”

Emily takes the ring off her finger and hands it back to Danny.

“To whom? This is my engagement ring”

“Its for him Danny, please help me Danny”

“But for whom?” Danny woke himself up. The chamber was empty, there was nobody. He had to orient himself again into realizing that he was on the research ship on his bed. He sat up and thought of the dream. He couldn’t sleep so he got up and wanted to take a walk. But he had sweat so much so he went to the sink to wash his face. As he splashed his face with cold water, he ran his hands over his hair till the back of his head. And then he noticed something. Something solid and thicker than hair just above the nape of the neck at the end of his hairline. He touched it again. “Yup, it was definitely not hair” he said plucking it out.

It was thicker and transparent with a whitish hue and about as long as his own hair. It looked like a fish bone only a bit more delicate. He thought of examining it under the electron microscope on the ship but at this time, he would have to definitely wake someone up and need to fill forms to clarify what he was using it for. But the main lab should be open, he thought, if someone was still working. He remembered it was the weekend but he decided to still give it a go. A normal microscope can be a useful tool as well, he thought.

As he walked past the dock, he could feel the cool wind in his shirt and his hair. He went a bit further and just let wind blow into his face as he breathed. A feeling of peace just went through his head, the kind of peace he had felt when he was a kid playing on the shore.

As he opened his eyes, he could see something floating at a distance in the water. It was not so bright so he tried to concentrate.

It was an octopus, similar to what they had found. It was just drifting towards the ship. Danny couldn’t believe it. What was that, a new species, and was it just a co-incidence that he found two, the same day! He just stood there with eyes open as he witnesses the most unbelievable event in his life.

The octopus started raising his tentacle very slowly. Danny thought that he should be running inside calling everyone. What was it doing, was it going to hurt them, was it some sort of an elusive sea monster of the stories. But he didn’t feel any fear even to his surprise. He somehow knew that the creature was not going to bring harm to him just like one knows that a puppy would not and could not hurt you.

The tentacle kept stretching and stretching. Danny, completely dumb founded, could not decide whether to call anyone or just watch what was enfolding in front of him.

The tentacle had covered the length from the surface up till the deck of the ship, which was easily around 30 feet! As it approached Danny it stopped and just stayed there and then it bend a portion of it towards him as if stretching it out for something.

As Danny stood there in front of an out-worldly display of strange behavior from what now he knew was not an Octopus, he had begun understanding of what was required out of him. He reached for his pocket and took out the delicate bone and placed it onto the tentacle. As soon as it touched it, the bone glowed bright reminding him of his ring on Emily’s finger. The bone gently sank into the tentacle as it receded without incidence.

The whole show perhaps took 2 minutes in all and the creature was gone with Danny still wondering what had just transpired in front of him. Should he now go and tell the crew about what happened? More so, will they actually believe him? Perhaps they would, especially since a strange goo still lay in the lab.

“The goo!”

Danny ran towards the lab and sure enough Gerry was there staring at the glass vessel.

As the first light of dawn entered through the windows, Danny and Gerry stare at the glass vessel full of sea water.

Danny ran towards the lab and sure enough Gerry was there staring at the glass vessel.

As the first light of dawn entered through the windows, Danny and Gerry stare at the glass vessel full of sea water.

The Ocean – Part 1 (Short Story)

Thirsty, his throat was dry. Danny woke up sweating and his heart beat fast. The last three and a half years had not exactly been good for his sleep. The tiny bed space would make it even more uncomfortable. The only advantage was that his colleagues on the ship found his sleep patterns disturbing them as well. Because he would frequently wake up, sometimes talking in his sleep, he was given a separate bedroom and the bunk bed above him was empty.

He woke up and drank a whole glass of water in one huge gulp. Then he looked outside the tiny circular window of the room. It was 5:30 am and still dark outside and the moon glistened on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Mississippi. He remembered an early morning around four years ago somewhere off the Greek isles. Emily slept sound next to him, her blonde hair reflecting the moonlight. He gently whispered into her ear “I love you”. She opened her eyes and mumbled, “I love you too” and closed them again.

“Will you marry me?”

It took around two seconds before Emily realised what Danny had said. Then she opened her green eyes wide and sat upright. Danny opened her fist carrying a small ring. Its silvery sheen combined with shimmer of tiny diamonds around a big white pearl in the centre in the moonlight made it look like the centerpiece of the room. For a moment they were like two kids who had accidentally found a mini-treasure, their eyes filled with excitement.

“I will”

With a mischievous grin he slipped the ring on her finger and she hugged him tight. He could still feel the silk gown on his chest, her heart palpitating and her tears on his shoulders. It was perfect and he could have died of happiness.

There were tears in his eyes. It was not the first time that he had woken up from nightmares and missed Emily so much that it literally hurt somewhere in his chest. His PTSD had clearly taken a toll on him. His parents insisted he had therapy. He knew nothing would ever fill the gaping hole in his life as it had started hurting both mentally and physically. It would suffocate him, break him down. He could no longer work in the hospital.

His seniors had once been impressed by how precise and calm he was during a surgery. Neurology was not his first love but he was a bright student and loved his job. He had a career, a loving girlfriend and proud parents. He never took his enviable life for granted. He had seen way too many trauma cases with patients knowing exactly what it felt to have their life being turned upside down. As a neurosurgeon, he knew how lucky people were to be alive even after life threatening situations. And now look at him!

There were dark days, very dark and very deep. Countless sessions at the psychiatrists, he felt, just made him talk, when he did not want to. He just wanted to implode. But that one trip to the ocean’s edge changed everything.

It started with what the lifeguards would not define as life saving, they would perhaps refer to the incident as drowning. He was visiting his parents that summer. The psychiatrists were proving to be a nuisance. They say doctors are the worst patients, they were right. Danny loathed the Wednesday’s reminders for the appointments on Thursdays. This week he decided to skip and visit his parents in Oregon. He wanted to go back to the beach, maybe back to the time when all he could care about was collecting shells and going home only to chocolate brownies. Denver, Colorado had taken him away from the sea towards the Brain. He didn’t resist it, never regretted it for he had met Emily there. He was content and had all he needed.

After being discharged, his parents had insisted he live with them for a few weeks. He had denied, he didn’t want them to see him the way he knew he would be in the coming months. They had fought their battles. This was his.

He had surprised his mother on the door.

“Danny!”

“Mom! Can I come in?”

“Yes you can my darling”, Maggie kissed him and hugged him. Margaret McDonald, blonde with green eyes reminded him of Emily and he took a deep breadth.

“And where’s the old man?”

“Daniel McDonald” his father’s voice came from behind. He looked surprised.

“Dad, you look great”

“Not bad yourself” he looked at Danny top to bottom and have him a tight and suffocating hug.

“We have to get back the muscles though, my boy”

“Can we first let him in?” Maggie interjected.

The days went by. He pretended to be fine and so did they. Maggie would make him pancakes and he would try to gulp them down.

In the evenings, he would go to the beach to see the sunset and sleep a little. Early evening was the only time he could. The sound of the waves, seem to ease his misery a bit like a thin film of ash on simmering coals.

That evening he woke up giddy. He looked at the sea. He had woken up with the feeling that someone whispered in his ear. Emily, it felt like Emily. Breathless, he let out a cry with tears swelling up in his eyes. He got up and walked towards the water. It felt cold and he kept walking. Soon his body felt numb and light and he kept going. He could feel the water rise up to his eyes and drown the tears and take them away. He didn’t wish to swim, he didn’t wish for anything. He wished for the sea to take him away too. The water filled up and floated around him and then it was quite. No sound, nothing just the cold blue water around him.

He looked up, and there was the sun, the cold setting sun, now white with dim evening brightness. The rays shimmered on the water around the sun. Peacefully he saw the white sun surrounded with the shimmering water and he remembered the moonlit night, the ring in his hands shining like the sun in the night. His treasure, their treasure, it was still there. What was he doing? He cannot throw away himself and he tried to move his limbs but he couldn’t. His limbs were numb. He panicked and tried to steer through the pain but his limbs felt heavy as iron bars. He felt suffocated and dizzy and slowly faded away.

He had woken up the next day in the local hospital, his parents petrified with Maggie crying when Danny woke up.

But Danny had woken up with hope, still sad at heart but with hope nonetheless. He did not want to die but he understood that he needed to get better, to move forward. His first love, the sea, was still there and waiting for him.

Agulhas the little (Short Story)

I am a proud African. I was born on the South West coast of Africa and I make sure that I keep coming back as often as I can. I love my birthplace, however its all somewhat bittersweet. But this not my story, this is the story of my little Agulhas.

At the Southern cape of Africa, Warm waters meet the cold and one of the strongest currents in the worlds is born called the Agulhas Current. The currents gives rise to clouds over the cape which comes pouring down as rain over the wettest place in Africa, the butterfly forest. This powerful current brings life itself out of the barren lands. The currents are life themselves.

Meanwhile on the beach, my little hatchlings have just managed to dig themselves out of the sand. Us Green Sea Turtles are strange that way. We come out only during the dark. We are all born with an instinct of sprinting directly towards the sea as soon we pop our delicate little heads out to the surface. Most of my hatchlings are out but my tiny little Agulhas is still inside. She was tinier than the others and with that I mean ever tinier than 7 centimetres! As the others make their way to the ocean, I am worried sick for their safety, especially my little Agu.

These 100 metres will be most crucial in the lives of my hatchlings. As they make their way towards the sea with their tiny little feet pushing the wet sand back and propelling themselves forward with whatever strength they are born with, I know whats coming their way. I see predators all around them. The first one to begin the prowl is the Yellow-billed Kite. He has been waiting patiently for the hatchlings since he got up today perching on a nearby tree. He leaps forward and flies with lightening speed towards the baby turtles. He grabs a hatchling with his strong claws and flies away. Now begins the battle for survival for thousands of hatchlings.

He is taking the hatchling back to his nest and I know he is not yet finished. As he leaves, a swarm of Pied Crows grab their chance and one by one start picking the hatchlings. I know the crows have an insatiable appetite. The beach is full of what they want and every one of them is there for their prize. I begin to think that right now, their vast numbers is their only defense. And these are the ones who are big and strong.

As the subtle light of dawn descents on the shore, I see my Agu delicately just managing to push her way out of the pit where I laid and later buried the eggs. She is the last one out and I genuinely believe that she is doomed. As she is late, she manages to watch before she starts her sprint. I understand what she must feel right now, watching her siblings being taken away and she knows without any shred of doubt that her life is in danger.

So she starts her march towards the noise of breaking waves on the shores. With most of the predators busy with the hatchlings, this late comer may just have a chance, I begin to think. But my hopes are short lived as I see a small Ghost Crab walking towards Agu. As she walks, he overtakes her with the advantage of fast running multiple legs. He is smaller than her. He is translucent and his legs thin like fish bones. Agu looks at him but has no time to think or waste. She keeps going and ignores him, a mistake, she will soon discover.

The crab does not let her get far and grabs hold of her. He starts dragging her back to his lair. She has realized that although he is smaller but is far stronger than her. She is still peddling through the sand, trying her best. What can she do?

I see in utter amazement as she keeps peddling and trying to push herself against the crab. On an elevation she uses gravity to her advantage and breaks free from the crab! I cannot be more proud.

As her predecessors keep getting attacked by the predators, her slow pace proves to be a shield against them. Agu makes a final dash towards the water and I cannot believe my eyes. The foamy sea water swoops her in. I wish her all the best in her quest for her future.

But the story is not over yet. Its never over so soon. She has to catch her breadth if she is to stop herself from drowning. As the giant waves pound on her little body, she has to hold herself together and persevere. She is giving all she can to peddle forward and swim as far away from the shore. As she tries to come to the surface for catching a breadth, the Yellow-billed kite swoons over in order to catch her and fly away. Agu descends down just as the kite tries to grab her with his monster claws. Not this time, Mr Kite!

She has now left the surf behind and entered the calmer seas and for the first time, she has the glimpse of what joy life has to offer. There are corals of various size, shapes and colours beneath her and cool blue water above. The sun is now filling the water with its brilliance. Its the best place in the world for her and she loves every moment of it. As she approaches the Agulhas, she doesn’t know that only a few of the thousands of hatchling have made it so far. She has by far come the farthest to meet the warm Agulhas Current and so I name her Agulhas, the strong.

If she continues to be her strong and fierce self, she could live for as long as eighty years, giving life in turn to hatchlings like herself. But for now she has more important business to take care of: munching sea grass.

4 Artists paint a tree

I recently watched a documentary about the artists who animated the first Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. They were talking about how they had to adhere to a style of painting because they were trying to make one single imaginary world. However in their free time they all went for a trip and were all asked to paint one tree. All four of them had very different styles of painting and all of them saw the tree very differently. They saw different aspects of the tree. One saw it as decorative, one architectural, one saw it as gritty and detail oriented and one saw it as mystical. But the fact is they all were trying to portray one single tree.

The same can be said about various religions of the world. All of them have a different take on creation, way of living life and death. They all deem some aspects very important while the others, not so much. But what they are really trying to do, is understand. They are, in their own way trying to ask questions: why, what, how, when , which, etc. What is important is what lies behind all these interpretations? You are right, its the tree.

Lets not forget the tree. The same tree that we are all trying to paint here. We all paint it differently. We are all artists, trying to paint our own tree. So lets just get on with it. It would be bad that we are not allowed to paint at all. It would be bad if we are not allowed to express our version of the tree, if we would not be allowed to express ourselves. However, in order to paint our tree, we don’t need to annihilate the other’s version, do we? Lets not try an block peoples capacity to imagine and believe in their own version of that tree. Lets all appreciate the fact, that at least, we are capable of imagination.

Please

I love to sketch. I didn’t always know that I could draw. In 4th standard, our art teacher saw a sketch I made of a peacock and told me that I should make it better. I remember feeling good and intimidated at the same time because she was angry that I was not making good progress. From then on I religiously maintained a sketchbook which was our homework. So when I turned up with lots of sketches every week, and nobody else in the class did, I was easily hated. I understand. Its ok. Its school. I may not have been an angel either.
I continued sketching. Once when my parents were doing something related to cooking in the kitchen, I drew, what I call as one of the best sketches I have ever made. I was 14 then. I was so proud. It was so hard but I did it. Then I took my sketchbook to the kitchen and showed it to my parents. My dad liked it. My mom responded in approximately the following fashion, “Why are you wasting your time? Why don’t you study instead so that you can get higher marks? Don’t waste your time.” She was actually annoyed, if not angry.

I was in 7th standard, I had only twice not been among the top 3 students of the class. I didn’t have friends because I was always studying, ALWAYS.

Even today when I think about that day, the very core of my…..soul..bleeds.

When someone makes something from scratch and shows it to you, especially something creative, he actually bares a part of his soul in front of you. My parents have given me everything I have, or else made me capable of getting what I have today: food, shelter, great education and above all security, so that we could have things which perhaps they never had. Their sacrifices and their dedication towards us two kids is truly monumental. I also understand that she must have come from a good place on that day. I should be grateful but honestly I still want an apology from her.

Its not very often that we hear people wanting apologies from their parents, especially in India where parents are revered as gods, or so I have been made to believe. I revere my parents as well. At the same time I know my parents are human beings and they make mistakes like everyone else. I want my parents to apologize not because my ego was hurt that day but because that day my mother discouraged me from being me.

Now that I approach the age where I may have to chose motherhood or not, I put myself in her shoes and ask myself, what would have I done?
What would anyone else do?
I would be a bit happy, smile a bit and then tell my child that they had worked hard. Now maybe he/she should think about other homework. I simply can’t be angry at being included in his/her journey of finding out what all he/she can do. If anyone has a child, please don’t be angry if he/she draws (yes, even if its on the walls). I request you. Please talk to them, and see what they have made. See it not just look at it. See what they are trying to tell you. Who knows that your encouragement stays with them when they are 29 and on looking back, makes them smile as well.
Please.

The sketch. Its not perfect but I don't care.

The sketch. Its not perfect but I don’t care.

Owners of the Land (Short Story)

“I want to take a peek, I will open the door just a bit”, says the voice in my head. It sounds like the most ridiculous idea I ever had. But I want to see whats going on outside.
I am crouched next to the door as the wood and building material fall from the ceiling of this old bungalow. As I hear the sound of bomb blasts in the vicinity and I am very scared.
It has perhaps just been half and hour but it feels like ages, have they killed my parents. They said they will, I wish I could have saved all of this from happening. Look at all this now, look at all the savagery, what can all this give anyone?
England was so much better, why did we have to travel all the way back to the East Indies again, here in this remote location? Everyone back home called father, the Zamindaar, the land owner. The villagers worked in his lands but he didn’t pay them any wages, it was not right. I wouldn’t have even noticed if it was not for England. Rumours were rife that the British will soon have to leave and then the people will take away all of his land or worse still, kill him and us. They hate us. Father being a friend of the British just makes them hate us more.
I loved England, my school, my classmates and the snow. Catherine, Elisabeth and me were best of friends. We were the envy of the class, we would score the most in the class and were great in poetry recitation, elocution and school debates. Milton is my favorite poet.
Mother did not enjoy it so much though. Unlike there in England, families back home did not send their daughters to school. Mother always had to observe the Purdah or a face cover and could not decided who she would marry. I have never seen mother talk in front of father and his word is final in our household. My mother’s family were also Zamindaars from another village. There are not many photographs of my parents wedding but in one of them she looks so beautiful in a Saree laden with gold jewellery. She looks like a goddess yet father’s face is stern as if disappointed. Mother told me they saw each other on the day of their wedding. “Was my fate going to be the same?” I would always think, I dare not ask.
Although mother could not speak to anyone but the servants, she loved the trains. She would marvel the idea of the giant iron monster taking her wherever she wished to go. She would go about bragging in front of everyone telling them where she had been and that too in a train!
I was 7 when we left and my mother was ecstatic that I would go to school. She herself had always wanted to. I would come back from school and teach her whatever I would have learnt that day. However I soon realised that she was not so interested in studying but her eyes would lighten up when I would tell he about all the girls playing hopscotch and the skipping rope. She would ask about the school plays I would participate in and although whatever she understood was very limited, she would always want to see when I practiced.
Father decided to leave as soon as I finished school. My friends were there and Henry. But my father would not have it. I overheard him talking to the Officers that he could handle the Queen’s Estate in the Indies. He was to be paid very well and had to set up a factory for making dyes.
We have been here for three years. Father said that I am to be married to some Zamindaar’s son. I don’t even know his name, and when I asked, my father called me out for my insolence. I was to trust his decision that he was to take for me just like he did for the horses.
But these three years were not as bad as I imagined. This place had changed my opinion.
Since my spirits had been low, my mother suggested that I go with the servants and get to know the local gentry. How can I say “No” to my mother?
The servants never really talked. They always answered with “Yes, Ma’am” and “No Ma’am” when I just wanted to talk to them but I understood, I was not born in an equal society. They were born poor, I was born a girl.
On my way I saw some children playing some local form of hopscotch so I asked the driver to stop and talked to the kids. They giggled at how I talked and let me play with them. The servants kept calling out, I was making my feet dirty, my dress dirty, I was just happy to know that they could actually talk! After leaving England this was the only time when I had actually enjoyed some merriment. I asked the servants to give an apple to each of the children and then with my dirty feet and upbeat mood, I left for the get-together that I knew nobody was going to enjoy.
Since then I would leave everyday to play or just talk to the children, with the servants serving as unwilling confidants. Mother would think that I have made friends with the local affluence. It was perfect. Sometimes I would just play, sometimes just talk to them, tell jokes. I would take some sweets for them everyday, sometimes fruits and we would have a mini picnic. The children would bring home-made bread and local berries and sometimes even clothes that I could wear to look like them. We would run round, with some people not able to recognize me with my “village clothes” on. I would not go far though, I didn’t want the servants to lose their job.
It was that one time when we were playing hide and seek and I was still in my village costume. I decided to hide behind the bushes right next to the car. As I hid there, I watched some men who looked like the ones working in the factory talking amongst themselves. They talked about a train robbery and guns and that they can finally drive “those blood-suckers” out as they walked past the car. The servants looked worried but they didn’t mingle with the workers. The children found me and I cut short our play-date that afternoon.
I had eagerly waited for father that evening. When he arrived I insisted on leaving, not just us but the British families too. But he asked me why? I couldn’t tell him why. What would I say, that I have been mingling with the villagers under the pretense of socializing? I just told them that I didn’t feel good with the recent news of increasing incidences of unrest at the factory being printed everyday in the newspapers. Father never took me seriously, he would boast about the prowess of the British and how they would kill everyone who revolts. He said that we were with the stronger side and I should just worry about buying jewelry for my wedding. So, I told myself that perhaps we were with the stronger side, did I want to be with the stronger side? Did I want to be at any side? I just wanted what Henry would have in England, an opportunity to study in a university. But I dare not ask.
A bullet whizzes a few inches past my right shoulder. I am taken by surprise. My worst fears have come true. I run to the other side of the house. There is so much noise, I am completely covered in dirt, from hair to toes. I am worried that I am going to die tonight.
Suddenly as I turn around, I see more bullets making big holes in the wall I sat next to. I run without thinking in the opposite direction and all I can see is the fallen wooden beam from the ceiling. My room is completely demolished and I can simply run out of the house. I see the other bungalows through the collapsed wall. They seem to be suffering the same fate and through the dust, I can see human figures with rifles in their hands. I am frozen inside but I know at the back of my mind that the room will collapse if I don’t get out so I run out without wasting any more time.
There is a cross-fire it seems as I see people is uniforms shooting towards me! I keep running behind towards the servants quarters opposite to the door of my room. I look back as the roof of my room collapses and billows of dust clouds form, suffocating me. There is so much noise from the gunshots.
I just stand there dumbfounded as someone pulls me in. I let out a shriek but am too weak to resist. I turn around and its a woman, I don’t know her. Who is she? Will she kill me, have they killed my parents? Where are they?
Then I see the whole room is full of people, I can’t see the servants. These are just regular village people, women and children. What are they doing here? Children too! Its a war zone here, why are they there? And then I see the women carrying single barreled guns.
Am I their prisoner? Are they going to torture me just like my father tortured them? Nobody says anything, they are quietly listening. Then a blast and the main door opens wide from the impact. I see the children’s face lit brightly in the light. I don’t see my little friends, the whole room is full of children. As someone closes the door, the woman who pulled me in, looked right at my face and says, “Thanks for the apples, Kishan loved them.” Her eyes are now full but she tries her best not to cry and she looks away.
She had saved my life because I gave apples to her son! She must be his mother. But why did she cry? And then as I understand, tears run down my cheeks. I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to say. A part of me felt that we all will suffer the same fate with this shack becoming our mass grave. I now wait for my fate to unfold.
Then I notice that at the back of the room a woman is whispering to a man, I go close enough and try to pay attention. They are talking about leaving as they have already guessed that this house cannot hold us much longer. The man says that the back door of the room is still being guarded by the village men, they have sworn to kill any Zamindaar or Britisher they see. I wonder why they haven’t shot me yet and then I realize I look nothing like what they expect. I look filthy and Lord did I just thank heavens for it.
The children are all absolutely quiet. I have never seen such a thing. I keep listening. The two of them plan to escape from the backdoor, they say they want to live and I think I agree with them. I now have to find a reason to leave the quarters. I look around and then I have a brilliant idea. I pick up a very small boy and place him on my hip just like the villagers did. The boy does nothing to resist, just stares at me. “Great!” I think. Then walking to the door I say to the men, “the boy needs to use the lavatory” The men just stare at me. I realise my folly as I handle the situation, “I mean he needs to pee”
“Then make him go here in the corner, woman!”
“He won’t, I tried”
I hold him out towards him and say, “Here, you make him!”
The man makes a confused face and says, “Ok ok, its hell out there and we have this drama going on here!” as he lets me out.
I feel proud and look at the boy who makes no attempt to say or do anything.
As I reach the back of the house, I find the man and the woman again, talking amongst themselves. Behind them I see people running away with livestock. I don’t know if its theirs or they have looted it but its better than dying in this mess. I look at the two and without saying anything we start running away as well. This time I don’t want to look back, I don’t want to see if the servant quarter is alright. I don’t want to witness any more mass murder. I just want to run away.
As I am running away, I wonder if mother had felt like this every time she sat in the trains. Did she just want to run away, did she, even if for just a while, forget us and all the trouble of the strong and the weak side. On any side, she was the one who was weak.
Its doesn’t take us long and we have left the bombs behind. Its dawn and we are tired as we finally stand on the pukka road with tarmac. The man now stops and says that now we can go wherever we want. I just stare at him. I don’t know where to go. I am now able to see them properly, the man is clean shaven and not wearing village clothes. The woman is a villager and she basically looks just as filthy as me.
“Where can I go? I don’t know this place. I have to find out about my parents first.” I say to him.
“Who are your parents?”
“The Zamindaars”
He just looks at me and then as if trying to stay clam says, “I am sorry, they were killed”
I don’t feel my heart beating for a few seconds. I feel a knot in my throat but I can’t bring myself to cry. I just look at the boy.
The man takes something out of this pockets and amongst things are his wallet and bus tickets. He’s a bus conductor. He hands me a few Rupees and some to the woman.
“Go straight onto this road. When you think, its far enough, go to a village and make a small house there and stay until you know that its safe for you. Don’t tell anyone about who you are”
He bids us goodbye and I start walking on the side of the road. I turn around and the woman is still following the man. I ask him loudly, “ why does the boy not speak?”
The man turns around and shouts, “Maybe ask when was the last time he ate!” as he disappears behind the trees.
I look at the boy again, he must be 4 or maybe older, I am ashamed but I have to take care of us now. This boy has saved my life and now he is my responsibility.
As I walk in the cool light of the dawn, I wonder where the parents of the boy were, were they even alive? How correct was I in taking him away like this? Why did the man ask us to build a house? Is this, whatever this is, going to take so long? What will happen to us?
As I keep walking half stupefied, I say, “..make a small house…”