Tales Of The Nau And The Future

This picture is of a tourist houseboat moored in the backwaters, at Kerala, India.

The hindi word for ‘boat’ is ‘nau‘. This is the story of the nau.


“This is my last sunset here at home, moored in safe surroundings…

tomorrow i leave for boating school… and my eyes are all swollen and puffy from crying almost all day….but now i project a strong confident jawline into the world….i will be ok, i know…

this is a rite of passage and has to be done…..and then one day we have to move out and leave our trails into the streams then the river and finally the wide wide ocean….
we have to write our own story……..our own katha-sarit-sagar …..

some of us may have a safe predictable journey,,,, some will leave stormy dark tales…. a few may find an island to call our own where we feel comfortable enough to drop anchor…..while some may tear themselves apart in their eddies of confusion and empathy….. and those of us who hear their cries will travel forever… restless to find the meaning in all this…..

i have no idea what and how it shall be…. and i would rather stay here forever…attached safely by my umbilical chord….

..but i know…it is time to leave…. for my own story…”

Katha-sarit-sagar    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kathasaritsagara

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Offline Colors

I was shooting some winter migratory birds when i spotted this chameleon lazing in its comfy space, a hole in a log.

This is its story.  


“How the !%@#$ did you track me down ??

Yes, this is who i am offline….drab ..dull…a gloomy grey- brown….. nervous of direct social contact….. ..my true colors……so to speak…

I was always a loner you know….since childhood…
but you wouldnt have guessed it right?……..considering how i blend in with the crowd….my gregarious nature and how i seem to bond so well with everyone…the way i tweet and twirl and share such colourful updates…at time humorous..at time thought -provoking….and all those wonderfully happy family-holiday albums… Oh ! The @#$ facade !!!…

And now here i am…
..in rehab……in a wifi free ashram in the woods…to detox…to recharge my stressed out chromophores…..to cleanse the chatter out of my system….

and the withdrawal is so painful, i tell you….its like being in zombie-land…all of us here walk around in this campus bleary-eyed, with vacant expressions, dreaming hazy colored dreams……
… the noise and the chatter just won’t die away……

Hey listen… i’ll give you my FB login and password… could you please share my check in and type in this status update for me…..

See, what really scares me is… that if i am not regular with my updates…the world will forget that i exist….. and…and… thats the one nightmare that just wont let me Rest In Peace……
…and offline I am.. . I am deadwood…..”

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The Immigrant

My flat is on the fourth floor of the apartment block. It has a small terrace that looks out over some guava trees. Sunrise and sunsets are periods of hectic bird activity here. On weekends and holidays i am usually out on the terrace armed with my camera.

The fourth floor is called ‘chouthi manzil‘ in hindi. And thus this is one in a series of pictures from my chouthi manzil terrace.

This picture is of the common rock pigeons (Columba livia sps) that are city birds. They make their nests at all places, under tables kept outside, between window ledges and in small nooks and crannies.

This is their story.


A pigeon conference around a LG airconditioner fitted at a bedroom window

Tales from Chouthi Manzil

“This is our home now.
Our forefathers travelled to the gleamimg city enticed by the neon lights and stories of plenty….. they were hardworkers and willing to adapt to the foreign culture of the metropolis…..they saved money, fought for their spaces and we are now an integral part of the workforce, filling almost every nook and cranny…making the best of any given situation…….

We are a hardy species… we raise our kids in tough conditions still… we dont paint them any fairy tales…rather, our grandmothers softly coo stories of willpower and confidence into our fledgelings…. and thus we grow up strong willed and ready to take on the world….

Some say we have left the forest for good…that we have, sort of, betrayed our fellow birds…slept with the enemy, if you please….

Most other immigrants sustain themselves in this concrete jungle but keep going back into the woods for safety…But we always tell them…the mynas and the sparrows.. to stop this unnecessary guilt ridden chirping…this is our home now and here we stay….

The concrete is our fiefdom now and forever…”

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Today is the hindu festival Dussehra, also called Vijayadashami. Dussehra literally means the defeat (hara) of the ten (Dus)- headed king Raavan by Rama. This festival symbolizes the victory of good over evil. It is at the culmination of the nine day fasting period, called navratris. On the tenth day, huge effigies of Raavan are set afire amidst much celebration.

This post deals mainly with my fascination with the elaborate effigies.

The effigy- making work is given on contract to various small businessmen who specialize in such work during the festival season. This year i visited one such area in Delhi. The effigies being prepared were mostly between 30 to 50 feet in height. The work is totally manual from start to finish, and takes about 4-5 days to complete.

First the framework for the heads as well as the bodies are made out of flexible cane which is bent into the desired shape, and then painstakingly glued at the edges and left to dry in the sun for a day. Then this is covered with wastepaper and old newspapers. The glue used is typically cheap wheat and arrowroot flour mixed with water in old tin canisters, which is then heated over a makeshift chulha (stove) made of bricks stacked one over other. This mix is let to cool and later used to stick the paper over the frames.

After the initial mould is ready, it is covered with glitzy colored paper. The body is usually covered in black or gold, symbolizing evil and opulence respectively, and embellished with silver and gold colored paper/ plastic or thermocol.

Raavan was a well read and mighty scholar and was a devotee of Shiva. These facts are acknowledged by the people who make the effigies. The heads of the effigies are decorated with the Om symbol, and with the various shiva symbols like the third eye, a serpent or a drum. The eyes and moustaches are also given minute attention.  What strikes is the detailing and the familiarity of the common person with the epic Ramayana (the story of Rama).

The ten heads of Raavan are symbolized by the stuff that one has to symbolically ‘burn’ in order to attain peace and a higher state of awareness. They symbolize our own faults and frailities.

The ten heads are symbolic of :

  1. Kama (Lust)

Alluring and Sensuous fluorescent- pinks and reds….

sinful purples

…and Sinful purples

2. Krodha (Anger)


The eyes are intricately painted to highlight the fury of the demon king


The heads are strung with small colored lights that add to the fearsome expression


An angry red face, blood stained canines,a huge branched moustache and flaring nostrils


Each head is painted in its own unique manner

3. Moha (Delusion)

The love and attachment that we have for our family and friends and  for our material possessions, keep us entangled in our own selfishness.

moha delusion

The villain with hearts in his eyes.

Moha is the glue that binds us to this world, materially and emotionally.


Preparing the glue for the effigies

Moha traps us and keeps us running in circles.


Elaborately curved moustache

4. Lobha (Greed)

The greed for more and more of everything, for desires that can never be satisfied and are therefore endless.


All the colours in the palette, and still hungrily looking for more


Decorating the body lavishly with gold colored thermocol decorations


The endless line of body-frames under the metro station

5. Mada (Pride)

In small doses, it defines our worth, but excessive pride may lead to vanity and narcissism.


The villain, as defined by his hairy upper lip

Pride in our intellect and in our material possessions detaches us from the truth.

mada pride

A row of heads along the footpath

Pride casts long shadows and fools us of our worth.


The heads are lined up along the main road and cast long eerie shadows at night, under the yellow street lights

6. Maatsarya (Envy)

A desire for a thing that is not ours. Raavan abducted Rama’s wife Sita which led to the war and eventually his death.

matsaarya envy

The row of heads stare at the traffic and the metro-line passing above.

Maatsarya leads to discontent and resentment, akin to comparing and keeping- up- with the- Joneses.


Rows of completed heads placed under the metro-station, grin at each other

Envy traps us in its cage and doesn’t allow us to reach our full potential.


Rows of heads placed on the road-divider look towards another such row across the other side of the road.

7. Manas (Mind)

Manas is what we are on the inside, our thoughts, and the chatter that goes on within us.

upload (1)

Manas reflects our experiences and our memories.

upload (2)

A bunch of completed heads and unfinished body-frames under the street light

We are constantly trying to piece together and shape our future actions (and thoughts) based on the feedback from the manas.


Workers busy making frames

8. Buddhi (Intellect)

The intellect is the knowledge we gain through our endeavour and hard work. Raavan was a learned man and a devotee of Shiva.


Each head is painted with the Shiva- symbols and with Om, an acknowledgement of Raavans intellect


Shiva symbols of the drum and the coiled serpent painted on the foreheads

Intellect, unfortunately also leads to pride and blinds us to our faults.


Half- complete rows of the demon kings crowns.

Excessive pride in our own buddhi, makes us a snobbish seeker of knowledge.

buddhi intellect

Logs stacked at the road-side. These are used for making the body frames stable enough to hold the heads.

9. Chitta (Will)

Chitta is the subconscious mind, it is the machinery that works at another level.


The work goes on though the night. Here, they are decorating a crown.

The subconscious works as a background tape, while we go on with our daily work. Controlling the chitta requires concentration and comes with what we call ‘being in the zone’.

up1 (1)

A middle- aged man paints the minute details on the head. This picture was taken at about 2300 hrs.

One who is able to control the chitta, achieves balance.

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A family of four balanced on a motorcycle, zips past the row of heads on the road- divider

10. Ahamkara (Ego)

Ahamkara is the I, Me and Myself. It is derived from the word “Aham” which means the Self.


The golden head and humongous moustache almost scream for attention

The ego separates us from others.


A solitary head glares at the cars parked in front of it, and at the half- finished body frames at night.

Ahamkara also ends up making us lonely and aloof.


Dusshera therefore is a symbolic recognition and a subsequent acknowledgment of human fraility.

This year let us take this this first step towards recognizing our faults, getting rid of them will be a much longer road and another story.

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A Tangled Web

This is a picture of the Giant Golden Orb Spiders (Nephila sps) taken in my garden at Bareilly, India.

The Nephila sps makes giant vertical webs and the female is much larger than the male. In one large web it is common to find the dominant female and a number of males surrounding her. This web was spun between two trees and was about 5 feet by 3 feet in dimensions. I took a a bunch of snaps, closeups as well as long shots. The golden orb webs glow a lovely yellow- gold colour when the sunlight falls on the yarn. 

That was the zoology bit on the spider species.

This picture was shot from ground level and for this story lets pretend that we have a family, parents and their child,  seemingly hanging way up against the a glass window. 


“Don’t think i am too proud of this..making my wife and son work by my side hanging on to dear life, exposed to the elements… you can see my son right at the top there …he enjoys this, it gives him a thrill he says, it makes him feel as if he owns the world….

And i must admit it does give me a thrill too…makes me feel powerful in a way, when the building manager and the durbaan ask us if we are afraid of heights…..

The first time they put me up on the 10th floor for a construction job, it made my head swim…and my eyes almost popped out of the sockets…but i needed the green leaves that matter…the rokda…the money…. and i clenched my teeth and went on with the job….

I send my son to a small school nearby in the evenings….

.. i want him to work inside such buildings … and not swing precariously at ridiculous heights at construction sites……whitewashing ….cleaning window panes……

i want him to escape this life…….this golden web that the city uses to lure us and then leaves us trapped in…… forever and ever….

I want to see him working with the the lot that treat us like vermin…who swat us away as if we spoil their scenery…..

We are not a different species after all…are we? “


(durbaan and rokda are Hindi words. Durbaan is a Watchman, Rokda means Money)

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The Web Of Memories

A spider web between two small bushes in my garden. I think it may be from the golden-orb class of spiders, since the web glowed a beautiful golden -yellow in sunlight. This picture was taken at sunset. 


“This is my story, my yarn…. and now my web…

This is my pattern…… each strand is a story……. somewhere simple, somewhere tangled…. the simpler patterns, i suppose are from my childhood…. as an adult i had firm responsible strands….before, of course, love tangled things a bit…….. and later, ego…..

Now in my sunset years things are a bit hazy around the edges and at places there are large gaping voids of which i can make no sense at all…. they scare and confuse me…. but slowly, i am learning to ignore these confusions…….

.i am happy in my space…. and i look at each tangle with delight,…. and discover and invent new interconnections……. you may say that i live in my own world now and that all these stories are make- believe…… but to me all of it is real………

i was always a disciplined responsible person, you know…. and at times, i was too hard on myself….. now i have learnt to let go…. its almost like being a child again…..

i enjoy each moment as it comes and i tell and believe in happy endings…. a happily forever-after….. and what can be better than that ??..

Someday….. maybe….. you will find a brown leaf stuck here somewhere and you will pluck it delicately….. and preserve it in your book… as my remembrance….. because however real it may seem to all of us…. the web here will not last forever…..

and we can only hope to leave wisps of our stories…. if at all…..”

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A Different Pace

Two snails come out to walk and chat in my garden just after the monsoon showers.  


“Ma, i have to go….

This scholarship from the Aviation School across the fence, is my dream! I always wanted to fly, and you know that…

The blue skies and the tree tops is where i belong….. i look up at the stars at night and want to reach there some day…..

And one thing is certain Ma…… there is NO way i am going to be marrying ANY of those slimy snail- males that you and dad have been introducing me to, at all these farewell parties this afternoon on the various family tree branches…Uff!! Those slow dunderheads!… they all just creep me out !….

NOTHING is gonna happen for me here…. so STOP rotating your antennas around please……. you’ll just tire yourself out…. …

And DONT try that emotional blackmail now…. that new spiral on your shell is not because of all the trouble i cause you…..

Don’t worry ma, i’ll be Ok …..and you all can come to visit me during break…. and i am telling you i have read about it all, on the web between the trees…. the grass IS greener on the other side of the fence….

I am just bursting to get out of my shell…..“

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(Back to blogging after almost 2 years.  I am starting a series of random photo-stories, hopefully once a week. This is the first on the series.)

This picture is of the leather slippers and sandals (jootis) displayed outside a small shop in Tamil Nadu, India.  In India it is common to display charms to ward off ill-luck outside shops.

Here the gargantuan leather slipper made up to resemble a demons face both showcases the perfect craftsmanship of the seller and protects the shop owner as well as his business from the evil eye.

The demon-face slipper measures about 2 feet in length, doesn’t have a partner and sits on display day after day…. while the ordinary-sized ones fit into human feet and walk off on their journeys into the world.

This is the slippers story.


“I was always an achiever, one step ahead of my peers, even when in school.

i charted a great career and now here i am…….

…..a towering figure above the rest, always spruced up and shiny, a super- duper achiever and a model citizen to boot !

But there is a thing that tugs at me always, a dream that wakes me up while i sleep at night….

Tell me now….do you also hear an echo from an unknown place that calls out to you unexpectedly….. do you have a longing to get off your pedestal and travel, to wander and to dance footloose and free….

Do you dream of someone/ something/ someplace?…

sort of like… like a need to find a  foot for your soul.”


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Wish You Were Here

( This post is on aging related memory loss, hallucinations and dementia. It is about a parent, about us all. This post is about  a wish, a song)


You call out to me from the garden. “There is a face peeping through the leaves of that mango tree. Can you see it? It moves with the breeze. The nose twitches, the eyes crinkle. Can you see it? Can you tell?”

How i wish, how i wish you were here.


There are places you  go to.

I can’t keep up with your pace and so i am content to listen to the stories that you bring from your travels. I see the adventure in your eyes, hear it in your laugh. Your voice carries me away to bamboo forests, to sand dunes, to angry monsoon rivers, to cold depressing blankets of snow. i feel the deodar leaves rustle as you touch them, i feel the sand in my hair, i breath in all the different colors of the tulips, i taste the strawberries that you managed to grow much to the surprise of everybody, and i marvel at the makeshift bamboo ‘canals’ carrying water from little mountain streams to that patch of green peas. i feel your joy, your fears, your loss. i walk through your tales and live them, never losing the thread, always wanting to hear more so that i can piece that time together.

Sometimes you leave for places i can’t reach. I squint my eyes and try to hold on to you, but you leave anyway. And it is always so sudden, without any warning goodbyes. One moment we will be pruning the plants in the garden, and in an instance the weather changes. i feel the sunlight clamp down on my heart, and i know without looking around that you have left. But you come back, you always do, and that thought itself keeps me warm. i do worry about you and to be honest, also about myself. I worry that someday you may walk on so far that you may forget the way, or that you may just be too tired to walk back.

Meanwhile, there are places you go to, in your mind. And i try to keep pace, i really do. i grasp at the stories of your youth, of my growing up years, of times long gone by and i try to keep them in the neural pathways of my memories, all nicely wrapped in soft scented tissue. You see things that i can’t, well i can’t immediately, but then i try to look at it your way and sometimes it all fits together. There IS a face that peeps through the leaves, it moves with the breeze. I see it now.

i realize how it must be for you, walking alone, wondering if you are on track. i see the confusion in your eyes at times as you hold on to me, to familiar things. i feel your desperation as you fill sheets of paper with irregular blotches of blue, trying again and again to get your signature correct, wondering who changed the boundaries. i sense your fear as you try to make sense of little things, as you falter to put a name to a face, as you struggle with the connections that conspire to confuse you. It must be so frustrating to move between worlds.

 i know now that you get lonely and afraid, that you hold on to the network of your memories as you wish desperately for a familiar name, a face, someone who could make sense of the mess, wishing someone was there with you. i want you to know that we shall walk through this together, you and i, making sense of things, building bridges over our fears., picking up the pieces of the jigsaw, trying to figure out what goes where. 


Why does everybody look on so patiently when you tell them about where you had been, where you are? There is a fine veil between what is real for me and what is real for someone else. It has always been like that, hasn’t it? All of us flitting in our spaces, so surefooted at times, and then instantly confused. Is the glass half-empty or half-full?  

Do you think you can tell? 

There is a voice within us trying to make sense of it all. There is always a wish tugging at our voids.  

How i wish, how i wish you were here.


(P.S. For the title of the post and the italicized lines, i refer you to Pink Floyd.

This post seems to fit todays Daily Prompt: Is the glass half-full or half-empty? http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/daily-prompt-the-glass/ ?  )

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The Beast Within

“You are more beautiful than you think”

I wish it was George Clooney whispering these lines to me in his trademark drawl and lopsided smile that reaches his eyes. But no (and wake up woman !!), it is actually a conclusion drawn by an ‘social experiment ‘ by Dove (the brand that sells beauty products)  which is making women all over the globe smile and cry. I am sure most of you would have seen the video. It is flooding inboxes and newsfeeds. If you haven’t seen it yet, here is the link http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=XpaOjMXyJGk

I have my reservations about the simplistic methodology used by the social scientists. It would have been better if all participants (including the subjects and the observers, and here by default they all would have to be women) gave the descriptions in third person, thus reducing the artists bias towards harsher (self description) and softer (third person) pencil strokes. Also, it would be better if they had a heterogeneous mix of women of varied age groups and body types.  But beyond this nitpicking, i admit that towards the end of the video, i smile. It makes me feel good.

It lifts my spirits that the roundish face framed in mousey grey hair, combed in a practical no- fuss manner that looks back at me when i stand in front of the mirror; the open pores and upraised, almost- wartish moles; the crows feet; the slightly squinty eyes that cannot function without glasses; all this and more , will not be seen by a stranger. That, someone i meet at the coffee shop, the airport or even for that matter coworkers, may describe me as an elegant woman with short salt and pepper hair, and a soft smile. It makes me feel good and brings a smile to my gracefully- ageing face. It erases my wrinkles as no botox- shot ever can. It works as an astringent and instantly closes my wide open pores. It essentially works as a soft focus camera lens and makes me want to use the strangers perception of my looks as my facebook profile picture.

So, we all are more beautiful than we think.

Or, are we? What would the results be if we were asked to describe ourselves as a person, an individual. Just that. No age profiling, no job descriptions, no educational qualifications, no marital or parenting status, no nationality, no geo-economic positioning of ourselves in the global fabric. Just five lines on how we see ourselves as a person, and in our interaction with fellow humans.

Here are my five lines on myself: i am a mild-mannered person. i believe in live and let live, as long as somebody is not living off my bank balance. i have no qualms about borrowing and forgetting to return books,  from friends and strangers. i am always ready to help family, friends and anyone i can. (WHERE is my halo?).

Five lines on me, by someone who knows me as an individual (not a close friend) at a superficial level: She is a reserved person, almost snobbish.  She dresses sloppily. She definitely has a squint. 

Beyond this, the stranger will not have much to say about me as an individual, without mentioning my looks, dress, job, family etc. Our appearance, and by that i mean our physical and social appearance, define how we are perceived by strangers. Is this why we try to fit into the social fabric?

Why are we driven towards becoming model parents and citizens? Why do we want to do the ‘right thing’ (whatever that is)? We crave acceptance. It is good for our egos and feeds our vanity. We are willing to let go of our individuality, the quirks that define us, the dreams that haunt us. Why? It is to feed the beast within us.

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