Sunday, November 14, 2010


I am worried about Kaalu and not for the first time. She was born in the park adjacent to my flat. One of the nine puppies, scrawniest and a late learner, slow in everything - from crawling to fending for her own rights! But she was the only one who survived, became notorious for her mischief and grew into an imp of a mongrel. Her excessive fondness for my pet, Mr. Snow Boot, has always been a continuous source of stress to me.

This October, she steps into adolescence - one year old. But her body is not well developed. She still survives on milk. She has not attained “mental maturity” as the vets would say. She is still very much a child and she is pregnant!

I used to find her lethargically prostrated in the middle of the lane. Even on whistling and calling out her name, she would not respond and just watch me listlessly with a tinge of sadness swimming in those dark eyes! The progressively bulging belly spilled the beans.

She could guess that there was something wrong with her but knew not what.

When I come back home, in the evenings, from work, she sprints up, hugs me with her forelimbs and wails mournfully. Words are useless. Who requires the alphabets to fathom her plaintive cries? There is universality in womanhood, a kinship, a bonding, transcending species and genera which automatically lends speech to her undecipherable language, her clarion call.

I know she is hungry, always hungry, very, very hungry!

I run my hand across her back, her protruding belly, the sheen of her coat, now lusterless with dirt, mud and waste. I box her ears playfully. Her skin shows here and there – translucent pink epidermis in between jet black bush of fir. She has lost clumps of hair and urgently needs veterinary care. Nutrients, vitamins, minerals and above all food, sumptuous, luscious diet!


Maa is furious with me! The milk pan is half empty! Just two loaves sulk in the Bread Basket! She gives me an accusatory look. What do I do maa? Kaalu reminds me of all those innumerable “second sex” of this hapless country, who willingly or unwillingly, give in to the whims and fancies of hungry eyes and prodding hands in the dark silhouettes of nights or even during sunny morns and sultry noons. And thereafter carry the indelible imprints in their wombs – sometimes a nightmare, sometimes a shattered dream, infrequently a rosy remembrance of a soft dawn or a demure dusk but that is so rare, almost an oddity!!!

My sister protests! Kaalu is a threat to her sterile threshold. I keep silent. Will I be able to make her understand that when I caress Kaalu I reach out to millions like her, in human garb, languishing in the remotest of remote corners of this land - villages, districts, towns, cities, backwaters and even metros too! Mutely counting days while valiantly wading through thousand chores, traveling in overcrowded transports, bringing work load back home and sometimes making both ends meet, stretching themselves beyond the realms of permissible or legitimate ease.

Perhaps she will empathize, if once she hears placing her ears in the air. The breeze will carry wisps of whispered prayers. But I have never shared my thoughts with her. So, she continues to grumble and I make it a point to feed the overgrown pup, twice a day… at least.


But this morning was a surprise. I woke a little late and found my mother in the kitchen warming the milk and mashing the bread. “For whom?” I ask. “For your daughter,” she says, suppressing a smile. “Your sister brought in the bread and yesterday’s left over milk.” I was amazed. “But maa…..”I hesitated. She was brusque, “Before you go in for your bath, give her this. She is waiting outside.” She looked up.

The sun rays were streaming in from the open kitchen window. Maa stood there with her back towards the light. But did I see a glisten in her eyes? A twinkle and a flash of a smile lining the lashes! I have never told them in so many words. But I know they know, my mother and my sister, because there is a silver stream of oneness coursing through these malleable souls; a subcutaneous bond of universal empathy born out of similarity of fate? Perhaps a pathological familiarity which may at times border on contempt, at times other, on a more fraternal fellowship, withstanding the test of time, navigating through ages of rough weather and invincible chains, sometimes a deluge and at times a restraint, a refrain, the sparkling ribbon meanders through zillions of tumultuous currents restlessly simmering in the underbelly of apparently pacific, non-challant waves, cutting across species, genera and numerous other taxonomical researches and gains. It does not take time to dawn. The tale of repression and resilience is epoch long!


I had heard a lot about Director Martin Scorsese. I “experienced” him yesterday late evening. The timing was perfect for the gripping movie called “Shutter Island” set in the 1950’s in an isolated island. Truly, going through the two hour celluloid treat by Scorsese is almost like savouring an unputdownable saga in print, speaking in cinematic parlance, the same would be something akin to “unpausable”

Edward Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), a richly decorated war veteran and post war US Federal Marshal visits the Shutter Island, on the Boston harbor, on a mission to find an escaped mental patient. He is joined by Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), another Marshall, from Seattle.

Shutter Island houses the notorious Ashecliff Lunatic Asylum which is less a mental hospital and more a tightly guarded prison with electrified perimeters et al; its inmates are the most dangerously violent, criminally insane men and women shunned by Civil Society. They are the clinically hopeless cases declared to be beyond correction or cure. The penitentiary is as much known for its homicidal maniacs as for the monumental psychiatric researches and treatments conducted therein. More so, due to the charismatic persona and dedication of Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), the head of the hospital, who apparently believes that even the worst psychiatric patient can be reached across by patient understanding, love and care. Ashecliff is run on special grant by the US Government but inside its premises it is Dr. Cawley’s rules that reign supreme.

It is impossible to break in or out of this closely guarded mental asylum. But one of the convicts does – Rachel Solando, who is charged of cold bloodedly drowning her own children, runs away, in fact, disappears, from the asylum, without leaving a clue, one night. Rachel is cunningly shrewd, desparate, hopelessly incurable and an imminent threat to society if let loose. The primary obstruction in her treatment is her adamant belief that her children are still alive and that she is the owner of the hospital grounds while the doctors, nurses, orderlies and other staff of the hospital are in fact her employees – the milkmen, postmen, deliverymen etc.

It is Edward Daniel’s (nicknamed Teddy) job to find out Rachel and put her back in the cell, the assignment made tougher by the unrelenting Dr. Cawley who is reluctant to extend cooperation in any form, the inmates including the staff as well as the patients who seem to know more than they are ready to divulge and the staunch belief of the residents including the cops that it is impossible for Rachel to survive on her own in the violent storm ridden island outside the asylum and that most probably she is already dead. Suspicion thickens when Teddy learns that Rachel’s primary psychiatrist, Dr. Lester Sheehan, has been sent off to a long pending vacation the very morning they have arrived at the island to investigate her disappearance.

Soon Teddy is caught in a maze of conspiracies where his own sanity is very much at stake. Teddy confesses to Chuck that finding Rachel is not the only task he has on his mind. There is a personal vendetta too. Teddy is actually looking for one Andrew Laeddis, the maintenance man and firebug, who put the apartment on fire in which Teddy’s family resided and eventually his wife died. During trials, Andrew confessed that it was the “voices in his mind” which instigated him to lit the match. The Court lets Andrew go unpunished on medical grounds. Thereafter, Laeddis vanishes into thin air. But one George Noyce, a former inmate of Ashecliff, secretly passes on the information to Teddy that Laeddis is very much in Ashecliff though his name does not appear on records.

Teddy’s search for Laeddis leads to more mysteries. Who is the 67th patient in Ashecliff while the record shows only 66 patients? Added to this is the sudden return of Rachel without a scratch on her body as though she were never gone! Is she really who she claims to be? Then the mysterious Light House and the forbidden erstwhile military Fort or Ward C of the hospital which houses the most dangerous homicidal maniacs who are never let out in the open! The screams which disturb the peace of the night coming from the direction of Ward C! The unconscionable, medically unethical, psychosurgical experiments and the excruciatingly painful transorbital lobotomies rumoured to be undertaken in the dark dungeons of the Light House, on the poor patients to calm them down and transform them into zombies. The innocuous Guinea Pigs are those men and women who have already been branded as lunatics by the world and their protests go unheard as deliriums of unhinged minds. Lastly, Chuck, his co-Marshall, whom Teddy does not know whether to believe or not to believe, whether he is a friend or a foe!

And above all, Teddy himself! His blinding migraines! His acute photosensitivity and dizzy spells! The pills which are forced down his throat as antidotes in the name of relief! His haunting past! His unforgettable stint at the German Concentration Camps- the Dachau! His oft repeated nightmares! The little girl who invariably torments him in his dreams! The smoothness with which he has been brought to this island reeks the stench of a larger Governmental undercover operation and political intrigue! But the ultimate noose is tightened when Teddy comes to know that he cannot leave the island because the only one ferry which takes islanders out to the mainland is also controlled by Dr. Cawley. Is Teddy safe in Shutter Island?

Thus unfolds the teeth clenching, nerve ripping suspense thriller that is Scorsese’s Shutter Island. It is hard to tell whether the ambience jells with the plot or the plot is a deceptively innocent outcome of the ambience itself. The island with its stormy coasts, eerie graveyards, dense jungles and above all the gloomy penitentiary provides the perfect backdrop for the hair raising adventures of Teddy and Chuck! The background score adds considerable hair splits to goose bumps!

I am not a Leonardo De Caprio fan but I cannot imagine anyone else in Teddy’s role as well. And what to speak of the doyen of the silver screen – Sir Ben Kingsley as Dr. Cawley? The man who is an institution in himself! An actor who brings to life a character who is as much in the dark as he himself keeps others in dark. He has much to hide and less to reveal. He who has a unique and dual role to play – that of a doctor devoted to his profession as well as a human being committed to compassion and betterment of mankind.

Finally, the message of the movie because Martin Scorsese is just not two hour Hollywood Hungama! He raises the most controversial issue of this century, nay, era when he tugs at the thin line of demarcation between sanity and insanity. The parting dialogue of Edward Daniels throws to the fore the most contemporaneous question of today’s turbulent times. What is sanity? The structure of thoughts and mental frame approved by the majority in conformity with societal norms or is there any other definition beyond the stereotypical notions? A tortured mind is also a product of the ravages and oppressions of the social system in which he lives. So sanity rests with insanity side by side; the choice is ours what to adopt and embrace - what is the best way to be or as Teddy’s convoluted mind ponders “which would be worse to live as a monster or die as a good man”. I think we all need to think and rethink over that.


I have been running pillar to post for a while now like Mad Hatter. Whosoever asks me where I am, my standard reply is "I have been busy", which sounds more like a show off's hooter than a factual statement. But when I , one day, sit down to sort out my jumbled thoughts and life as well and introspect on what exactly I am busy about, I can not find the right answer or keep my finger on the exact sport in which I have been enthusiastically participating for so many days to the exclusion of all other activities. My personal as well as official email IDs look cluttered with read and unread messages, which need to be sifted - put in recycle bin or archived. My office desk is strewn with papers which are in urgent need of filing or screwing up in crunchy balls of varied sizes. My study desk at home retells the same story, I am in a mess but I am distinctly busy - doing what I know not.

So one morning, I take up the mammoth task of de-cluttering my inbox and outbox, desks and files at home and in office. And after two days of this time consuming exercise, I feel clinically clean, hygienic, healthy and happy. The sort of feeling which you get after spring cleaning!!! Then I sit back and think.

What makes me so busy that I can not spend time in managing my own papers? A list of jobs shoot up before my eyes! Okay...Next question whatever these jobs that I am submerged in, are they worthwhile to devote so much time in ? Does it give me enough soul satisfaction...Do I really achieve anything concrete out of them? If not, then what am I doing getting involved in these unnecessary chores? So on so forth, questions after questions pour in!Questions to which I am still finding the answers but on the whole after the cleaning spree there is an odd feeling of "aah I have done it", the feeling which comes after a pre-Diwali clearance of old clothes. used shoes, over used riff raffs or lying- in- the- corner magpie gatherings!!

As I rummage my brain, a thought crops up quite suddenly. If I can de-clutter my life as well. How nice it will be! What satisfaction that will get me! That bring me to the most important point: How to de-clutter one's life? Simple, by collecting all the bad thoughts, bitter memories,negative vibes, haunting pasts and dreadful nightmares in a big sack, bundling them up and dumping them into the nearest trash bin. Great idea..but the only hitch is that I am yet to muster all my courage to start gathering the unwanted and the unwarranted , see eye to eye with them and finding that ubiquitous dust bin wherein I can throw these and forget about them forever!

Do please look around , you all, my dear friends and do tell me if you find one ....not only for myself but also for ye all!


This time the arrangement was a hush-hush affair. When I called up, my friend and senior colleague, who had had a mishap at Jim Corbett National Park a few months back, maintained a stony silence on how he intended to spend his Dushehra or Diwali holidays. However, on the last working day, before paying his compliments of the festive season, he informed me that that he was leaving for Ranthambore National Park (in Sawai Madhopur District, South-eastern Rajasthan) in the coming week and was quite sure he would be lucky this time in spotting a tiger. This season, thanks to CWG, we got a holiday on the day of the closing ceremony which was a Thursday. Next day was Durga Ashtami which again was a holiday. So, a Thursday and a Friday clubbed together with the weekend (Saturday and Sunday) meant consecutive four days off. My friend had applied for a few more days’ casual leave. Thus, a total of seven days! A whole week! Enough time to befriend a tiger and his entire family! I thought but did not show much enthue and wished him a quiet good luck.

But at the last moment, the trip had to be postponed slightly as his wife suddenly took ill. My friend did continue with his leave but to “wife sit” as he told me later.

Apart from this short delay, there was no other untoward incident to dampen my friend’s spirits. I knew he was excited but camouflaged it well and pretended to be extraordinarily busy prior to leaving for Ranthambore. Therefore, no phone calls, no elaborate discussion on arrangements made – just a simple “bye-bye” a day previous to departure!

The week passed by, Uneventful. My friend was to join on the next Monday. Monday came and went. Tuesday followed. No sign of my friend. I assumed he must be submerged in work being away for a whole week. After all, he headed a department!

Wednesday the phone rang. Yes, it was my “long lost” friend brimming with uncontrolled joy. He waslucky this time! Not only did he see a tigress but also her cubs gallivanting in the open jungles. He vouched never to visit the zoo again. A caged beast was an eye-sore now after having seen the entire family in their natural surroundings. “But why did you not ring up on Monday and give the good news?” I asked. He explained that he had extended his leave. “Why the delay in arrival?” I was sure he must have overstayed at Ranthambore itself. But the answer came as a shock.

“Well! Every good thing has a price tag, my friend,” He said. The story went like this. After the successful safari, the family had boarded the Ajmer Shatabdi from Ajmer (the visit to the Dargah was also included in the tour) on the due date. The coach was mostly full of pilgrims returning after paying their homage at the Ajmer Sharif. They carried heavy luggage but the train had limited space to stow them. As the train chugged on, one of the heavy suitcases toppled over from the luggage rack on top and hit my friend’s head. He almost saw stars as the mighty case crashed down on him. Fortunately medical aid was readily available on the train. A Colonel, who was a doctor in the army and was also traveling in the same coach, rushed to help. First aid was given immediately. But there was profuse blood loss. At Rewari Station, when the train stopped, announcement was duly made for emergency help. The assistance came in the form of the compounder as the Doctor on Railway’s roll was on leave. The man carried a heavy box which looked more like a railway gangman’s tool kit than that of a medical practitioner. One look at the box and my friend decided to forego the help so generously offered.
On arriving at Delhi, the first stop was made at the hospital. The gaping wound was stitched, antibiotics swallowed and two days’ extra leave got sanctioned over phone to recuperate from the shock and the cut. So much so for stealing a glimpse of Elsa’s daughters!!

Notwithstanding the traumatic experience, my friend proceeds undaunted to Bandhavgarh National Park, in Madhya Pradesh, by the end of this December. He plans to spend his New Year in Nature’s lap and in the company of the “regal clan”. Time and leave permitted, he may include a round of the Kanha National Park (which is nearby), as well in his itinerary. Going by the looks of it, I am quite sure that nothing less than a “cozy chat” with the Big Cat shall suffice or satisfy my friend in his forthcoming adventure. Needless to say, I eagerly wait to record the heart to heart conversation in my blog!!