Wednesday, October 04, 2006


The splash of water on my face and body brought home the realisation that another Puja was over. I was jolted awake to see the clay idol of the goddess gradually disintegrating itself in the silt-laden water of the eternal river of faith, the goddess of name and form dissolving herself into the absolute, accompanied by human chants of Durga Maa-i ki jai.

In spite of the humdrum and the commotion around me, I couldn’t help notice a starker contrast with the band-party, bursting crackers and street dance that set the mood half an hour ago when we were taking the idol in a procession through our para lanes. The mood was still festive; the sombreness of the impending departure of our celestial celebrity hadn’t struck us quite. What a sight it was to see children craning their necks from third floor balconies or entire families of Mukherjees or Agarwals coming out in their porticos to watch the grand finale of the five-day annual event and even join in. Or when these guys were heaving the huge idols from the mandap onto the trucks. Or when, earlier in the day, ladies were smearing the goddess and each other with loads of vermillion. But at this moment, they were history.

The end seems to come all too soon and abrupt, leaving one no time to prepare oneself to go back to normal life. For a moment, all eyes are moist and all vision is blurred and that is not because you have water splashed all over your face. Ironically, right amidst this pang of separation we celebrate the victory of good over evil. I used to think this was just to cover up our sorrow and sport a smile with Shubho Bijoya on our lips and provide us with another excuse to gorge on sweets, but I realised it goes deeper than that. It just goes on to teach us that victories of good require a lot of sacrifice, and the booty is not always very apparent. The goddess never leaves us, only her idol does.

The idol was dissolving to form the same particles of clay and silt from which it was originally created. There were gentle ripples on the water hitting the stairs of the ghat and wetting my feet; and their crests were brightly illuminated, more by the megawatt floodlights in the ghat than by the waxing moon in the sky. But the river was going on, oblivious to these minor human perturbations, as it has been forever, giving birth to and nurturing human civilisation on its banks for aeons. It seemed, at least for the present moment, to be the embodiment of the eternal and the absolute, for which all material cycles are just transient ripples.

In the fifteen minute journey back home, this thought struck me out of the blue. You go to the Ganges to immerse the idol and you come back with a piece of eternity. That is what makes your Bijoya really Shubho.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Kali Puja announced, I saw Calcutta
descend on us. Three thousand slums,
usually rapt in themselves, crouched low
by walls or sewer water, now all
ran out, rampant, beneath the new moon,
the night and the goddess on their side.
Saw, in the holes of uncountable mouths,
the lacquered tongue of black Kali
flutter red. Heard her smack her lips:
I, numberless, from all the gutters
and drowned cellars. I,
set free, sickle-sharp I.
I show my tongue, I cross banks,
I abolish borders.
I make
an end.

- Günter Grass, "Show Your Tongue", translated by John E. Woods

From 1987 to 2006, Calcutta might have changed a lot, but Grass' words seem no less true. Surely, there is no surfeit of gutters and slums in Calcutta and no social worker would probably earn the dubious sobriquet of "Saint of the Gutter" now, but it's still a city that sticks out its tongue much like its favourite idol, Kali. Ever since Mother Teresa made Calcutta her home, providing succour to thousands of destitutes, the outside world has looked upon the city as a hellhole of poverty and destitution, well, even when Lapierre called it the City of Joy. Perhaps, there is no better analogy of this gulf between distant perception and intimate realisation of Calcutta than that applies to Kali herself.

Kali has always been regarded as the terrible goddess, the violent incarnation of the Divine Mother, even by her adherents. She represents the unadorned and unrestrained aspect of nature, uninhibited in her actions; she represents the pristine truth, uncovered, laid bare, free from illusory Maya, untouched by civilisation and unaffected by time; she represents the eternal. But to one looking at her idol for the first time, she looks hardly better than a blood-thirsty demoness engaged in an orgy of genocide. There could hardly be a greater mismatch between perception and reality. Even without going into the philosophy behind the various terrible aspects of Kali, it is not difficult to understand, if one is fairly acquainted with Calcutta, why Kali is Calcutta's favourite goddess.

And that is not just because, in the hoary mythological past, Shiva was dancing with the corpse of His wife, who had just immolated herself in fire, unable to bear her husband’s humiliation and Vishnu, realising that this divine madness would annihilate the universe He has a responsibility to protect and maintain, used His sudarshan chakra to cut this body into 51 (or 52) pieces, one of which happened to fall at a place in south Calcutta, we now call Kalighat. And this Kalighat, according to one theory, gave the city its ancient name of Kalikata, which the British settlers conveniently anglicised to Calcutta and a Communist government changed to Kolkata on the instigation of over-zealous self-appointed guardians of the Bengali language and culture. But that has hardly diminished the importance of Kalighat which happens to be the most popular of the 51 (or 52) peethas existing throughout the Indian sub-continent. And if you are a tourist in Calcutta, you would not like to give this place a miss, even though you are not religiously inclined and despite the fact that the pandas (some even call them the touts of God) will make sure that your visit is not exactly an inexpensive one.

Or even because a hundred years before the modern edifice at Kalighat was built by the Raja Santosh Roychowdhury in 1809, Shankar Ghosh established a small temple in north Calcutta around 1703 whose importance in this day can be considered totally disproportionate to its size. On a personal level, Thanthania Kalibari is also my favourite temple in Calcutta.

The fact that Portugese Hensman Anthony, immortalised by Arun Kumar Chatterjee in the film Anthony Firingee, established a Kali temple in Bowbazar in the early 19th century and even wrote devotional songs for Kali is rather the effect than the cause for Calcutta’s love of Kali. And Ramakrishna Paramhansa represented the quintessence of this love when he was engaged in a rather unconventional worship of the Divine Mother at Dakshineswar Temple in the middle of the same century.

Kalikata, Calcutta, Kolkata or whatever you call it identifes itself with Kali because she represents the philosophy of the city as a whole, least so in the religious sense of the term. Like Kali, you can’t understand Calcutta superficially, you can’t draw inferences from what is readily visible, not from shanties bordering Adi Ganga, neither from City Centre. You know Calcutta when you realise it, when you feel its pulse and you don’t have to be born in Calcutta or emotional about it to do that. You just have to probe deep, beyond the illusory façade. And you’ll find an eternal city.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

An Old Story

Once upon a time there was a child. He was the youngest one amongst his five siblings - four sisters and one brother, Purab, who was the eldest of them all. Ramlochan and Meera wanted another boy. Towards that end they kept on producing offsprings - Shanti, Preeti, Priya and Kamini - in that order, till they were finally blessed with Rajkumar. The intermediate ones were really so unnecessary that even their mother would hardly need an occasion to mention that. They were really unnecessary. They were too young now and they would be such a burden on the poor man's shoulders when they grew old enough to be married off. However, of late, in the months following Rajkumar's arrival in the household, such concerns about the future were washed away in the waves of joy and the air of achievement that Ramlochan had after begetting another male progeny. Achievement, indeed it was, considering how woefully unaware Ramlochan was of the probabilistic nature of chromosomes produced by meiosis. This sense of achievement was heightened by an unexpected visit of the village headman, who was not exactly famous for being close to the lower classes, leave alone let his shadow darken their dwellings. Impurity can spread through shadows too, he used to think, and think aloud.

This sense of achievement turned to bewilderment when the headman paid another visit to their humble quarters on Rajkumar's first birthday, and to Ramlochan's pride and amazement, the baby was grabbing all of Ranveer Singh's attention. Rajkumar, Ramlochan thought, was such an appropriate name for his child. And, though it was not customary for him to do so, he began to publicly thank Meera in front of guests and relatives for finally being able to bear him another boy. On these occasions, Meera would just put on a demure smile befitting an obedient Hindu wife and ascribe the success to God, or more specifically Hanumanji. Why she did that was quite mysterious, because uneducated though she was, she had enough knowledge of mythology to know that the monkey-god was a confirmed bachelor. But, when, all of a sudden , Ranveer Singh gave Ramlochan an artificially warm pat on his back and said, Rajkumar is like my own son, see? , the latter was too overwhelmed by instantly fabricated reveries of his son inheriting all those rice and oil-mills and unknown businesses of his guest-of-honour to utter any word of thanks for his wife. Poverty anyway makes one dream too much. Add to that the pat of a thakur.

That night Ramlochan went to the local hooch shop and drank a week's worth. There were rumours that this shop was anonymously promoted by Ranveer Singh himself. Though Ramlochan was a firm believer in this subaltern propaganda, he couldn't care less today. He was celebrating something but he couldn't express what it was. Back home, he mistook Shanti for Meera and rained the customary blows on her. When Shanti started screaming, Meera came running, slapped Shanti hard enough to make her stop her bawl and cursed her for existing in this world. Then she braced herself to handle her husband.

News of Ranveer Singh's special attention for Rajkumar spread sooner than Ramlochan could imagine. He probably wanted to cherish his private dreams a little longer before it became subject to the ravages of rural reactions - ranging from ridicule to jealousy to disgust. Public discussion in rural fora can be really democratic, in that, it encompasses all shades of opinion about the most trivial of subjects, something that the bourgeoisie are clearly incapable of replicating. Ranveer Singh, on his part, did nothing to reinforce nor weaken the wild conjectures his folks were having. He had all his energies focussed on some major business decision he was apparently taking too long to take. Or so the village grapevine said. Or rather the banyan tree.

Thirty kilometres away in a dilapidated factory shed nimble fingers were at work. There were scores of hands from which protruded those emaciated fingers. In the darkness of the ambience, one could hardly notice the faces corresponding to those hands. These were hapless children of the human kind destined to have a faceless existence. For softer people like us, our television channels would often blur out their faces, not just to save their identity but to save our sanity which would receive a serious jolt had we got a chance to look at those faces maimed by poverty, exploitation and the occasional occupational hazards. And occupational hazards are quite painful when your occupation is stuffing a precise mixture of saltpetre, charcoal and sulphur into crude country-made bullets and hand-grenades. Oh that's gunpowder, this bright ten-year old on our side of the television screen would say. And his parents would look at him in awe. But when Rajkumar was traded at eight to Ranveer Singh with the condition that he take two more of his sisters too, Rajkumar definitely couldn't spell the word "gunpowder". By the way, Ranvir Singh made a wise decision by choosing Shanti and Preeti. They had almost become of age.

Rajkumar was a fast learner in his almost two years of apprenticeship, which passed without any major incident. Only some minor irritants like the boy getting injured by shards of glass kept on recurring, which according to the factory manager would actually temper the boy to take on more serious challenges in the future. It was part of the learning process. Spare the glass and spoil the child. Ramlochan wasn't allowed to ask the whereabouts of his three children who were with Ranveer Singh, but he was quite happy that he did not have to spare much thought or effort in feeding the remaining five mouths at his home or for that matter moistening his parched throat every night. Little did he know that his beloved Rajkumar was soon going to commit parricide.

Rajkumar didn't kill his parents. No one can prove his direct or indirect involvement. The bullets manufactured in his factory did not have batch numbers and unique identifiers. But everyone knew it was those bullets that killed 38 people of the lower classes, including his parents, just months after he finished his apprenticeship. Purab was away from home, so he escaped death. Priya and Kamini were spared by the attackers, well, only their lives. Fortunately, Rajkumar was spared the pangs of remorse too.

It was one hot summer afternoon when some of the older hands of the factory, boys in their late teens were transporting crates of gunpowder from a lorry and pouring the contents into a repository at a corner of the shed. There was a pump above the tank of gunpowder which let out a stream of dry, hot air to keep the gunpowder from getting damp. The gust of air it provided used to blow along with it fine grains from the surface and diffuse it through the entire shed giving it an eerie smell like that of a battlefront. No one knows if it was the excessive heat or pressure of gunpowder piling up that set it off, but the tank let out a small burp and a huge boom. Rajkumar was sitting nearest to the tank nibbling at his fingers, ingesting a lot of gunpowder in the process. His hands and his head flew off in divergent directions. In all, eleven children died, ten more were severely injured and almost all of the rest, including the factory manager had multiple injuries. The Establishment sat up and took notice. Mediapersons and media-savvy activists began to pour in. People had started talking about exploitation and Ranveer Singh in the same breath. This was the time. Hardly anything was lost. His existing stockpile of ammunition could wipe out, he thought, all of the dregs of humanity who dared to point a finger at him. His men could wipe out only thirty-eight of them. But it was, nevertheless, a great achievement, both for him as well as for television channels, for being so close to the second incident that they could almost catch it live. The new story would definitely sell more then the previous one.

Of course, who likes to hear the same old story that the child is no more?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Short circuit

Noise. The constant clattering noise of torrents of rain-drops. That is the power of unity. Think of the barely inaudible sound produced by a single drop falling into a pool of water. Now multiply the intensity of that sound by a million or possibly a billion and you get an idea of what I am referring to. Poets find this noise so appealing that they have written poems on it. Not when they have been drenched to the skin by the torrential downpour. And not when they experience a shock like I did a couple of hours ago.

I was just turning the corner of the street negotiating a huge puddle of water. There was this huge electric junction box just around the corner. It was raining too hard for me to notice it or the ratings on it. Suddenly, there was a spark with a menacing hissing sound. One of the cables with faulty insulation had probably caused a short circuit. As I tried to leap away in fear, the hissing sound suddenly reached a crescendo drowning the noise of the raindrops. Accompanying it was a blinding light that could disorient the most hardened of adventurers. And I am just a poor docile gentleman. I was just too shocked to be afraid anymore. In hindsight, I realise it was nothing compared to what I was to experience over the next few minutes.

As I got over my initial state of shock and receptor cells all over my body attuned themselves to the new kind of stimuli, I felt a tug at my jeans. Initially I shrugged it off imagining that my jeans would have just become heavy after absorbing litres of rain water. But the pull remained until I could ignore it no more. My eyes had got adjusted to the searing light and I sensed that I could see only my body clearly. Whatever lay beyond that shell of light which engulfed me right now was beyond my ken. I looked down to my shoes which were almost completely submerged. But hold on! I saw a jaw with serrated teeth trying to bite my jeans. Snake, I thought, and tried to jump. It was a futile attempt. As names and images of dangerous snakes - the king cobra, Russell's pit viper, python, anaconda - came to my mind, realisation dawned on me that snakes don't have jaws like that. Crocodiles do. Hoping that my last vision of the Jaw was an illusion, I looked down again.

My attempt to jump had pulled it out into my visible range. Its snout was emanating some kind of vapour which I found vaguely similar to that given off by the burning incense which kept the oracle at Delphi in a permanent state of stupor. Its scales were shining like gold. Looking up, I found it. All this while my mind was desperately searching for the animal whose presence I had deemed to be the most logical in the first place. But it was far from a common krait or a saw-scaled viper, it was just a common worm snake completely coiled up as if under the Cruciatus curse. As my brain tried to find the reason as to why a coiled snake would be hanging in mid-air, my eyes spotted the hand that was holding it. In the next fraction of a second when my eyes scanned up the arm, down the torso and up to the face of this mysterious human-like being, I really felt like I was witnessing God Himself. I mean, can it get more weird than this?

This guy was sitting on the crocodile, quite unmindful of the murderous nature of the reptile, holding in his hands another slimy reptilian devil and sporting a benign, almost divine smile. He also wore a kind of crown, similar to one seen in pictures of gods sold on pavements, and in striking similarity to those exquisite works of art by wannabe Da Vincis, his crown was actually radiating that nimbus of light. Before I could take in the entire spectacle I was witnessing, a resounding voice sounded, as if from the heavens above. I had almost begun to believe that it would be in Sanskrit.

Hey Turbo! The voice said in an extremely chaste English accent.

How did he know my name? That was the first thought crossing my mind. Excuse me.

I'm really sorry, but I think I gave you a little bit of a fright.

Little bit? I thought it better to keep my comments to myself.

Actually, we're not used to dealing with humans for a long time now. So our PR skills have eroded away. Oh, how foolish of me! I haven't even introduced myself. I'm Varuna, the God of water, seas, ...

Thank you so much, Sir, but I don't think I'm in a condition to share the joke. For the first time since the unreal chain of events started, I realised I was totally wet. I was worried whether my mobile in the left pocket of my jeans was safe and dry. I was about to slide my hand into the pocket to fish it out when the voice said, clearly more stern now.

Look here. The benign smile had vanished. This is the problem with you mortals nowadays. You are too concerned with your cellphones.

I'm sorry, but...

I have come down on earth today just to meet you.

I had a strange feeling that I was beginning to believe what this man or god was saying. I tried to rack my brains to find if I had done anything in the recent past to earn the wrath of the god. Instinctively, I said, I'm sorry if did something to displease you, my Lord. Please forgive me.

The benign smile reappeared. In fact, it was a wide-mouthed grin now. I looked up at his face and for the first time I felt ashamed at my initial rudeness.

You might be wondering why I'm here. It's very straightforward. It's like this. For a long time, we had avoided mankind on the pretext that it was useless to make our appearance out here. For too long a time we had held the stereotype that man was just too bad to merit a divine vision. But of late, there has been intense debate about it in our circles. We have realised that it's not the community or the species of created beings that we should be considering as a whole, but individuals. Individuals, irrespective of their communities or other affiliations, are free beings who deserve the merit for being themselves; without individuals their would be no communities and definitely no nations. And there definitely are a lot of good individuals around. Like you.

Me? Although I listened to the lecture with rapt attention and most of it even made sense to me, the last two words completely escaped my comprehension. What on earth had I done to be labelled as a "good" individual? It's just not cool to be a good boy when you're in your early twenties.

You look cold and wet, my boy.

I don't know whether it was by devotion, reverence or sheer force of habit, I closed my eyes, joined my hands and genuflected.

My state of intense bliss was disturbed by human voices. I opened my eyes and saw a crowd of people gathered around me. Their expressions ranged from awe to disgust to even pity. I realised the posture I was in. I got up immediately. The rain had stopped. There was no crocodile, snake or even a god. It was unusually dark, as if there was a power cut. I pushed through the crowd and tried to move as fast as possible, away from the sneers. Once I was out of earshot and I could no longer hear what these people were discussing, I looked back at the crowds still thronging the place where they found me in a funny posture. However, what caught my eye was the enclosure where the electric junction box stood. Hardly any trace of it remained. And all this while I was within a metre of it.

Brighter than a thousand suns

As the day broke on rain-moistened streets trying to fight off the cobwebs of sleep after last night's bash, in one quaint corner of Bangalore a family of pavement-dwellers had already begun their chores for the day. The flap of tarpaulin that indicated the gate of their hutment was now folded up and one could see a couple of women fussing over a darkened and grimy aluminium pot placed on a worn-down kerosene stove. There was some kind of brownish liquid boiling in it effusing a smell one wouldn't exactly find in consonance with the pristine ozone-rich morning air. Monstrous polluters of the air had not begun their day yet.

Further inside the shanty, if one could make out their dark faces, one could find two girls, one teenaged and the other one probably just about ten and a little boy who would look like he was hardly five. However, these estimates could be grossly off the mark because our notions of change of physical appearance of human beings with age are mostly based on people who have had a healthy growth regime. Identical conclusions might not hold true for our observations of malnourished people whom most of us would rather consider a sub-human species. The younger girl was sitting cross-legged patiently allowing her elder sister to sift through her shrivelled hair to find traces of live lice. And as the elder sister kept on finding instances of live Pediculus humanus capitis, she was looking visibly pleased with her lips slightly open to expose her extremely white teeth clenched together revealing a grin of achievement. Had some marketing executive of Colgate or Pepsodent been around, he would have wasted no time in asking her for an endorsement.

The little boy was just waking up. Being the youngest one in the family and his parents' only male successor he had the luxury to wake up after the sun did. He did not have to suffer the ignominy of being the victim of a lice-hunt in full view of the public. He was the subject of so many dreams that his parents had and even so many fights his father would have with his mother when he came home at a late hour smelling of cheap booze. This unfortunate father was painfully devoid of the class that kept hundreds of his fellow citizens remain perfectly sober after a rocking evening in the pub capital of India. This little boy, blissfully asleep by that time, would never grow up to learn that his parents dreamt that he would once be the occupant of the office a few feet across the street where this big man came in his Toyota Qualis everyday except Sunday. Politically speaking, the humbler your alleged origins were, the higher you rose in the echelons of power.

Squinting at the daylight the little boy came to his mother but the other woman, probably an aunt or possibly just another fellow vagabond, consanguinary only in their destitution, pulled the boy and seated him in her lap. The boy definitely did not look quite pleased at the turn of events and his aunt (we'll call her such for the sake of clarity) noticing that handed him a dirty yellow ball which made his face immediately light up in a smile. It was one of those hard felt balls which children used to play cricket in the small park nearby. One prolific batsman might have hit a six hard enough to make this ball vanish inside the gutter bordering the tarpaulin hutment. The boys had probably given up after a futile search of their ball in more respectable places and continued their game with a new ball, the bowler probably happy that he was able to spin it better than the old one. Fortunately for this family, a gutter that was quite dry was a familiar place to find this round object. When the elder sister had found this object nestled amongst the less useful debris in the pit bordering their home, she hadn't wasted a moment in retrieving it, quite aware that this would be no mean gift for her brother. She could not be more correct. Ever since the little boy laid his pockmarked hands on the ball, he displayed an amount of energy and enthusiasm rivalled only by the taller, stronger and sharper kids who drank Horlicks everyday. Today was no exception.

He flung the ball as high up in the air as his little hands could manage and stretched out his hands to catch it on its return journey. He failed and the ball fell on the paved road and settled on the edge of the kerb after a few bounces. This failure actually boosted his enthusiasm. He collected the ball from its resting place and tried a few more flings, occasionally succeeding in catching it in his palms. And when he did so, his joy knew no bounds and he let out an unintelligible shriek of ecstasy. This time, however, when the ball was on its earthward journey, it swerved from its path a bit and began to fall towards the middle of the road. A Tata Safari was rushing down. The little boy, unmindful of that, rushed to the middle of the road to claim his ball before it hit the ground. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, the elder sister appeared and snatched her little brother away from the road, her face blank with mortal fear. Both of them tumbled onto the tarpaulin and the impact untied the knots that held it in place. At the same time, the ball hit the lowermost edge of the bumper and was directed by the impact right below the car. The boy gave out a shriek of horror, as if his baby had been crushed to death under the wheels of the car. A few metres ahead, the car screeched to a stop. The ball came rolling out from beneath the rear end of the car. It was still alive.

It caught the attention of the little boy. Although the sun was very bright above, if you would have looked at the face of this boy now, you would have surely agreed with me that his face was brighter than a thousand suns.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Journey

True to the promise of the darkening clouds, drops of rain came lashing down from the heaven in torrents cleansing the atmosphere, making the rain starved blades of grass in the lawns of Oberoi do a rain-dance in glee. I could even hear the music they were dancing to from my first-floor window overlooking the lawns, though their invisible DJ was trying his best to keep the music low enough to stop it from reaching the unworthy ears of man. Initially my reaction was one of utter bewilderment at the cheekiness of these lowly subjects of the plant kingdom. Then suddenly an unruly gust of rain came in through the window and managed to wet my glasses thoroughly. In the following confusion and in my earnestness to wipe my glasses dry, I forgot all about the grass and their cheek. Later, when I had ensured that my glasses again offered a crystal clear view of what lay before me and I had regained my poise, I unwittingly became more compassionate and even empathetic to the little fun those green midgets were having. I made my way to the window to witness the party.

The rain had apparently stopped. So had the music. It was time to go. I picked up my bag and came downstairs. As I stepped out into the driveway, minuscule droplets of water began to hit my face. I had failed to notice this faint drizzle. With the celerity characteristic of a gentleman who absolutely despises getting wet, I took out my umbrella, unfolded it and positioned it above my stature at the optimum angle that would ensure the least part of my body would be ravaged by the army of droplets each a quarter of a millimetre wide.

As I passed the darkened area of the pavement just after the gate of Mittal Towers, a new concoction of a variety of smells hit my nose hard. It was not just the familiar stench of human urine that I encountered everyday. It was mixed probably with the smell of rotting humus and the smell of water-infused dry sewage and God knows what. While these complex organic molecules were violently hitting the receptor cells of my olfactory gland, sending a complex jumble of signals to my brain, another part of my brain sent some specific signals to my right ulnar nerve, which led me to pinch my nose hard enough to prevent the organic army from invading my nostrils.

Further down the pavement, there was a sea of water two metres wide stretching from the kerb into the road over which were running dozens of semi-amphibious vehicles creating an amazing pattern of progressing waves which was uncannily similar to a diagram I had seen in a children's science book years ago explaining supersonic motion. I looked up in awe at the Concordes moving past me and wondered whether I would soon hear a sonic boom. I was soon blessed with one, even though the motion which resulted in it was grossly sub-sonic. It was a collision between an autorickshaw which took a sharp swerve to the left in order to get onto M G Road before the signal went red and a bike which came straight down the left lane and banged it in the middle of its left side. The meter had a serious jolt and it was now precariously hanging from the position it once stood fixed in. The real sonic boom followed. I realised that though this was an autorickshaw, the real power behind its wheel was human. And at that moment, when droplets of water clouded my lenses, I had an Impressionist revelation of the true nature of an autorickshaw. Though, I understood, it hardly resembled the original hackneyed vehicle it derived its name from it lived up to the spirit of the original Japanese words jin (human), riki (force) and sha (vehicle) which were combined to form the word rickshaw.

As I walked further down Dickenson Road, the water by the kerb became darker and more mysterious. The waves were dancing to fewer cars and of course their party lights towering high above the footpath had become few and far between. I made my way gingerly along the dark, recently paved pavement, fearing at every step that my foot might find its way into an abyss which remained due to the oversight of the Land Army or some mass of fresh gooey concrete still waiting to mature into its final hardness. After this particularly arduous adventure, I realised that I had reached the moon. The beautiful craters on the road were almost surreal and instantly I felt transported to the white celestial body waxing towards the full moon four days away. As I turned off Dickenson Road into Gangadhara Chetty Road skirting past a beautiful water-filled crater adorning almost half of the road, almost imagining that the Apollo Lunar Module would land into it any time, a rude brute from terra firma rushing down from behind me gave me a start and the crater no longer remained the Mare Tranquilis that it was. A gentleman's trousers were thoroughly drenched by l'eau boueuse and my only instinct was to reach chez moi as fast as I could. Men of the gentler kind, I told myself, don't move about in the attire of labourers at construction sites. The march of the Light Brigade came to a halt as I reached the door of 29, G. C. Road, wet and ruffled. I unlocked the door and the place strangely felt like home. My finger went to the switchboard.

And then there was light.


As the skies above Bangalore darken, it's really ironic that I'm writing my first blog under the title of illumination. However, it's only darkness that makes us feel the power of illumination. We don't realise its power but darkness is really all around us. For proof, just close your eyes. Now, I don't intend to embark on a lengthy harangue on darkness or even on illumination. My objective is much more mundane, even innocuous.
The word illuminate comes from the Latin luminare meaning "to light up" prefixed by in, the same prefix that turns logical to illogical, rational to irrational and legitimate to illegitimate. Apparently, illuminate should mean the inverse of lighting up going by that logic, but language is not always logical and this innocuous prefix in Latin has another meaning too. It refers to the inside, in much the same way the English word of the same spelling does. Even with the second meaning of the prefix, this word is interesting, because we usually associate the inside of something with darkness. Or shall I rather say, the inside of something is its darker side. This is true both literally and figuratively.
The most common source of light in our daily life being the sun, which is definitely on the outside of any conceivable three-dimensional object we can imagine, the shielded inside is always dark and needs to be illuminated. One would do well to remember that practically all our illumination needs stem from the absence of sunlight in desired intensity. Hence, lighting up is really an endorsement of the darkness that prevails inside.
In most languages, darkest thoughts are usually referred to as being deep inside one's mind. Although, this metaphor has been taken from our physical experience, it has taken on linguistic dimensions too great to be categorised as merely a corollary of the physical experience. In fact researchers have over the centuries tried to pore deep inside the human mind in a variety of ways, some not so honourable, to discover their darkest thoughts, fears and emotions. In many cases they have brought many of these deep secrets to light; in many cases they have failed. But the interesting thing to note is that very few have been able to illuminate those deep, dark chambers of the mind. In fact, they have pushed these dark thoughts deeper inside the human mind to its underbelly. In this sense, illumination has curiously taken on a meaning which is more in consonance with that it would get if the first meaning of the Latin prefix in applied to it.
Well, it's time to cut this analysis short. The moot point is it's immensely difficult to truly illuminate. Clap your hands, you produce sound energy; kick a football high up in the air you produce kinetic energy; it reaches its zenith and stops momentarily, you have created potential energy. Think of some way you can produce light energy on your own. Photons may be massless but they are just not our game. We create a lot of noise, start movements, go to high positions of power but even though we have been civilised for millennia we haven't been totally illuminated. Maybe this is the essence of civilisation, the perpetuation of darkness at least to some extent. Or we would be lost on the power of illumination. A state of total illumination is as good or as bad as a state of total darkness. It's the triumph of civilisation that we have neither.
Light a bulb, did someone say?