Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Loves of My Life- oruba

I have had bad luck with cats recently. Our first cat, we acquired when we were first married. He was black and white, with a perfectly round head, white nose, black patches, like a pirate’s, around his eyes and a very pink nose. We bought him off an old man who had him in a sack. We heard plaintive meows issuing from the sack, as we walked home, one night and Oruba, bought for one rupee, hence the name, walked into the house, tipped his saucer of milk onto his head and took charge of our hearts. He soon grew into a tough Tom and vanquished all opposition. As he grew older, we let him roam around at night, but he spent the day with us. We kept a bedroom window open for him and often, of a morning, I would find his round head on my pillow or on my out flung arm, though my husband got more cuddles than me and it was frequently a cause for our early tiffs.

Oruba was a great hunter and I lost count of the poor squirrels that fell a prey to his killer instinct. But one day a parakeet proved to be his undoing. We tried to rescue it but he gobbled it up in record time and slunk off presumably to snooze. Imagine my surprise when I found him, with a tortured, faraway look in his eye, constantly trying to jump at an imaginary foe. I gave him a homeopathic drug and was happy to see him lie wearily down.

This incident did not get him down for long. In a few weeks, he was up to his old tricks, but this time, he had met his match. Oruba sneaked out one day and got a crow. The crows showed their remarkable talent for organization and battle by establishing a guerrilla intelligence unit right on the garden wall. Every time he was seen, dive bombers would peck his head until I had to stand guard whenever he wanted to use the facilities!
A well chastened cat quietly went back to chasing the hapless squirrels.

Oruba had the last laugh. When he was four years old, we found two little tabbies abandoned on the street and brought them home. Disgusted with the attention the interlopers were getting, Oruba decamped to the gardener’s quarters, three doors down, and took up with the female there. He would wait on the garden wall for me to pass by on my way home from work and would follow me, yowling invective, until I had calmed him down with milk and fish and cuddled him. The kittens would invariably rush up for their share of the food, when Oruba would spit foul language, put out his claws, take a swipe at the nearest one and watch balefully from the garden wall, until the kittens were sated. With a final wild yowl, he would then go back to the gardener’s hut, tail waving, eyes glaring yellow daggers with every backward glance. He lived for another two years, until a new kid on the block, took over and Oruba went down, like a tired boxer, gloves at the ready, belligerent to the end.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The View From My Kitchen Window

The View From My Kitchen Window

A narrow strip of mud escaped the cemented driveway, but it is home to an astonishing number of trees and plants. Some are crotons, but some are fruit bearing trees! A large fig tree grew all by itself, sideways, so its broad trunk is flattened against the walls and its roots have pushed up the drive into a tiny cement mound. I have been told that its fruit is edible in a kind of stew we call kootu, but I have never dared to try cooking it. Further down is a guava tree which is generally denuded of fruit by crows, squirrels and street urchins. Still further down in a lovely tree with soft, big tear-shaped, light green leaves which can be cooked into any number of messes and is good for catarrh and ulcers.

The fig tree is home to a number of birds. Early in the morning, generally before dawn, as I sleepily wait for the microwave to defrost the milk, it begins to rustle and I know dawn is breaking. It starts with the muezzin’s call, from the local mosque, which at this time, spring, is still before dawn. Then slowly, beginning with a sleepy crow from the cockerel on top of the pile of stones near the local slum, the momentum builds until a full-bodied cock-a-doodle cuts the silence. The tree begins to hum then. The crows are always first: raucous, loud and quite joyous. Then begins a series of cheeps as the squirrels advertise their awakening. The dawn light brings the pigeons from their perch, with much guttural cooing and flapping of wings. Then there is a bird which has a loud, hooting call. I’ve never been able to catch it.

Sparrows had disappeared for some years, but this tree brought them back to my garden. Come summer, the brown and yellow mynahs and fat brown seven sisters come for the fruit. If one watches for them, one might see a tiny green bee-eater and the ubiquitous red-vented bulbul. Careful listening for a loud tapping will lead to the brown and orange, cockaded wood-pecker. Sometimes, a flash of brilliant blue, heralds the kingfisher. The crows have a running battle with a cuckoo couple every summer. The black male alternately sings and scolds, while the grey striped female does screeching battle with the crows for their nest. I think the cuckoos usually win.

The tree is also home to a fairy or so the locals believe. Certainly, it is home to several cats, which wait on the wall bordering our garden, near the tree, sphinxlike, unless chased off by the dogs, for the unwary squirrel, or for stray mice, which also make their home in a hollow near the roots. One year, my little girl saw a grass snake. As a child, my garden had a mongoose, but now we have only caterpillars and millipedes, frogs and snails which wander in to our house quite happily, watched stilly by the lizards on the wall and the chameleon in the garden.

Night brings the fruit bats, flying erratically round the tree. The cicadas chirr softly, while a sleepy crow caws goodnight and the cows and buffaloes head home, in the street outside, lowing softly.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Parables... part 4

“I help you? How can I help you?”
“ What, you mean you don’t know?”
“Know what?”
“That you’re special?”
“How do you know about it. When I don’t know?”
“Everyone can see it- can’t you?”
“See what?” Parijatham was getting worried.
“Your eyes- there;s a strange light.”
“Oh, so that’s why- we never had fires in our village and it was always light.” “Exactly, look around you- how did it look when you saw it from outside?” “The forest was dark.”
“And how does it look now?”
“Bright as usual.”
“Little girl, that’s not usual.” “Oh!”
“Yes, oho!”
“So I have this light! Big deal!”
“It is a big deal! Look at me! What do you see?”
Parijatham gazed at him, but she saw nothing except a tiny wizened monkey and she was too polite to make personal remarks, “you…uh..look bright?..” she managed.
“Now, look around you, what do you see?”
“It’s dark…?”
“Yes, so how do you see me?”
“The moonlight?”
“You just said its dark…” the Monkey King’s sidekick reminded her.
“ You have a power-you radiate light and it comes from your mind.”
“Oh so that’s why my mother never lit a fire. Oh, no one in my village had to”, she clapped her hand to her mouth.
“Ah, so why did they let you go?”
“The village elder said, that I was too bright…” she hung her head.
“Oh, don’t worry little girl, in this dark forest, we need all the light we can get. Look, lets go to the enemy’s camp and take a recce of the area. You’ll know why you should help us.”
“Hmm… but before I do that, I think I must know something of you as well.” “Spoken wisely!” The sidekick was admiring.
“My name is Alab. That is our King Idang.”
“Don’t you have a queen?”
“There are a number of females. They look after the young. Some do the food gathering and warn us of danger, and train the young.”
“That’s a lot of ands.”
“Sorry, my language is slipping. Must be tired.”
“Or, the females do so much that you had to keep adding on the jobs.” “Hmmm…as I said, you are smart. I will tell the King that you would like to stay with us and help us. You can decide what to do, after a few days. You’ll find we are a nice lot. Now, I must take you to the abandoned observation post that the humans have left. It will make you a nice place to stay.”
“Why was it abandoned?”
“Ah, that’s a long story and you must wait until I am less sleepy.”

To Be Continued…..

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Walk with Stooey

“Down, Stu! Sit!” I say, as I walk out the gate and carefully close it behind me. Stu pretends to obey, but his eyes twinkle with disobedience and he cocks his head as if to say, wait, you can’t leave me behind so easily, you’ll see! Sure enough, just as I reach the corner of the street, I see a familiar golden brown figure, following, tongue hanging out, laughing, thumbing his nose. Since technically, I don’t encourage him to follow me, he’s never on a leash, so is free to roam, following up interesting scents, sniffing at pretty girls, nosing interesting bags dangling from people’s arms, just glaring at people and trying to be friendly. This last often fails because of his sheer size. He’s a street breed, but somewhere in his make-up is a Labradorfor he’s barrel chested and well muscled.

The other day, he followed me to our local roadside temple. The priest taking pity on me, for Stu, will not budge and will simply pretend to be deaf, when faced with a direct command to go home, let him stay. So there he sat, next to the flower vendor, grinning and frightening the life out of all her customers and even , facing the deity and the arathi at the right time. Guess who followed me round the temple on parikrama? He must be slated to sleep at God’s feet when his life’s work is done.

Stu is the leader of our pack of dogs and he assembled the pack himself. Obama, a beautiful, sleek black dog was his partner in crime and they used to have a fine time barking at other dogs, sliding down the sand piles at a local construction site. Soon, Obama followed him into our colony. Next came Alli [ Alice] a poor, starved little Alsatian cross breed, thin as a skeleton and starved in many ways. She followed my husband home, was kidnapped by rag pickers, found by a neighbour and adopted by Stu who taught her to be street smart. He missed her terribly when she was sent away to Blue Cross to be spayed and welcomed her back enthusiastically. The last is Valli. She’s a nick-eared dog, black and white, loves rats and went running away, nearly four kilometers at Diwali time, to escape the crackers. They are individuals, but are content to follow Stu’s lead, when they see intruders. They seem to have a lot of fun.

On the walk, Stu usually sprays all vehicles and barks at all dogs. He has a girlfriend each, on two different streets, rubs noses with his sister and mother, who were driven out by Pyramid Saimira, but still inhabit the street outside and has a rowdy welcome for some of his cronies, who usually come rushing up to greet him. He has a running feud with some dogs, however and rather than face them, he will trade some insults, bark furiously and run off, tail down, but not yet between the legs.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The public it was who lost[ the point]

It was a carnival! Friends who had not met each other for years, connected; there were vans with banners, people dressed up in glittering costumes in a chariot; trucks parading as floats, huge posters, a special newspaper, pamphlets, even sunshades with slogans.75000 people in black coats marched together, celebrating a small win after months of struggle. Yet the spirit was amazing! Lawyers had been out of work for months, but the carnage and mayhem created by the police, united lawyers like never before. Never, in all the various struggles I have seen for over 20 years, have I witnessed such unity. Seniors and juniors alike, across all caste, class and party lines, united to fight an indifferent and callous government, a brutish police force, a gagged and partisan media, and the worst- a reluctant and biased judiciary. The victory- suspension of top police officials for a very serious and heinous crime was hard fought and extracted with great difficulty.

The speeches reflected the bitterness of the struggle:- “ I asked the journalists, have you ever seen a bigger crowd in any protest rally, they said they had not, but we will not see this in the papers!” Claps and cheers. Representatives from different Bar Associations, NGO representatives, all spoke and reiterated with one voice-“ Nowhere has such a massive crowd and such unity during a struggle been seen.” “ This is a warning to lawyers elsewhere and judges- take note or the politicians and police will get you next!”

The next morning, I picked up the papers and saw, that the Saravana Bhavan murder case had hogged the headlines, while the procession got a few lines in one paper and another chose to lament on traffic jams. Wake up, India, I whispered, while I hung my head in shame. Don’t be misled by the media- a few eggs cannot lead to bloodshedding by the state- if that happens, then it is known as breakdown of democracy and rise of a police state.

Parables part 3

The Real Reason

She settled herself gingerly against the tree trunk and waited.The elder monkeys continued to eye her, until she heard a throat being cleared from overhead. Looking up she saw a huge male, grey as against the dirty brown of the other langurs. His tail was held up by another, smaller brown fellow and it was he who was making the guttural sounds. “ Silence! His royal Highness is going to speak….” “Human, why do you venture into our forest and eat our fruit ?” The King asked, in a deep, lugubrious voice. Parijatam decided to humour him. The tiny ones who had tormented her earlier, were all grinning, showing strong yellow teeth, which gleamed disjointedly through the overhanging foliage. “You see,”she began. “Manners! His royal highness is addressed as my lord or your Majesty. Forgive the human, your majesty. They are an ignorant lot.” The King’s sidekick had suddenly developed a Voice. “You see, your, uh, Majesty, my eyes are too bright so the village elders banished me so they could sleep.” “ Oh, was that what it was? We were going to ask you how you did it.” The sidekick was breathless with the speed at which he had interrupted the interview.” “Hmmm…It certainly lights up this forest,” mused the King. “Yes, we can save on fireflies. Yay! We can use the time saved from catching them to play!” yelled the irrepressible tinies from above, but they subsided, when the sidekick yelled for silence.” Alright, you can stay here for some time. If you want to.” “ And that means, she is our guests and we will treat her with consideration.” The sidekick glared at the tinies, who shuffled up and down the branches, looking sheepish.

“ Time for dinner!” The sidekick clapped his hands and several furry brown hands parted the leaves, whizzing leaf bowls of fruits to the center where the branches of the wide-spreading papal tree had formed a flat surface. The king came down but the sidekick did not join them for sometime, being occupied behind the leaves. “The tinies want to join the table,” he reported,” and so do the females,” he gasped as a particularly well aimed kick from somewhere behind the leaves, jogged his memory. “ The King, nodded, “they may! It is honour of our guest.” The branches began to fill up as the females joined in, squealing and grunting, some with babies clinging to them and some with tinies hanging on their arms. “ They usually eat on the tree behind, more space to spread out and the King likes quiet,” the sidekick whispered. “ This is a big group!” Parijatham whispered back politely. “ My, yes! We used to live on the hill, you know, better trees, more fruit and more space to spread out, but the quads took it over.I know,” he dug her excitedly, in the ribs. Ignoring her cry of pain, he went on, “I think that’s it! That’s why the King wants you around, to help him get us back there.” Parijatham was astonished. The monkeys seemed to be having as many problems as humans.

To be continued…..

Thursday, March 19, 2009


The little girl whose name was Parijatham, walked for nearly a whole day, before, tired and hungry, she saw yawning dark before her, a dense forest. She was tired and hungry. There may be some water and fruits in there, its
so dense, it must be full of life, so thinking, she entered and immediately found a tree with ripe, inviting fruit, just waiting to be plucked. She put out a hand, to pluck the fruit and found her hand held by something furry and calloused. She screamed in fright, but immediately, she found that a fruit was stuffed into her mouth and she was lifted up into the tree by unseen hands. Thoroughly alarmed, she choked on the fruit and immediately, several hands, thumped her back, but the foliage was so dense, she could not see anyone of her captors. Gradually, as her eyes grew accustomed to the dark, shadowy forms emerged and she saw that she was surrounded by monkeys, all staring at her with their tiny, black-beetle eyes, while several small monkeys, and threw leaves down at her from the higher branches. Annoyed, she soon found her tongue, however, “Stop that!” She threw some back at them. This was a mistake as the monkeys began to throw fruit at her instead, until an older monkey put a stop to their game by shying fruit at them. Squealing, the little monkeys retreated to the higher branches, and hung there, swinging from them, while they chattered their protests.

Parijatam cleaned herself up as well as she could, without water, and decided to keep mum until the monkeys chose to elucidate their reason for capturing her.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Parables for our times

Once upon a time, there lived, in a far country on which the sun shone hotly most of the time, a poor mother and daughter. The daughter was a very bright girl, so bright that the light which shone from her eyes rivaled the sun and dazzled all round her. After a time, when the girl had reached the age of thirteen, the light became so bright, that it blinded the folk of her village and they could not bear to have something so bright shining on them all day. The elders of the village held council and decided that she should go forth from the village and find a place where she could live without disturbing others. The poor mother cried and pleaded, but truth to tell, she found her little girl trying, so many questions did she ask and so brightly did her light shine- but the one saving grace was that she did not need a lamp or fire- so bright and incendiary was her little girl’s light. “What will I do now for light, cried the mother, how will my little girl live, foe she’s still very young? “ The mother tried to appeal to their mercy. But mercy was a quality unknown to the elders so they rolled up their mats and turned their back on the pair. It was with a sad heart, the mother watched her little girl walk away in a pool of light. She went inside and shut the door- she wished she could have walked with her but there was a home to care for and keep until her daughter called for her.


A Time of reckoning

I left the High Court early on Feb 19 and so was left out of the shocking events which unfolded there. In the morning, I chanced to comment to my friends outside the Acting Chief Justice’s Court that Subramaniam Swamy had brought an entire battalion to field off more eggs and we laughed, thinking that it was just political flourishing. We were all excited, the first day of real work after weeks. My work for the day over, I went home early and so was spared the horror. My husband, coming out of the court filing section, where he had gone to check out a case, appearing in the list the next day, suddenly saw stones flying and armed policemen chasing advocates. He did not know what was happening but quickly walked through a shortcut into the chambers and out of the campus. Meanwhile, a junior came running that the cops were chasing and beating advocates in the civil court. My husband, unwilling to leave the scene, went to a friend’s office close by where he was told a High Court Judge had been injured and that cops were breaking cars and court property and were beating advocates to a pulp within the High Court itself! This was something we had never seen in all the twenty-two years of my practice. I remembered the battalion outside the Chief’s court and knew the police had planned it all, probably bringing the stones and set fire tio the police station themselves. News kept trickling in all evening, cops even entered lawyers offices in the streets near NSC Bose Road and tried to beat advocates! My husband was in contact with some public spirited lawyers who had enterd the court, escaped being hit and were closeted in the ACJ’s chamber, wanting the HC to take action against the unprecedented and alarming police brutality.
The next day, wherever I went, I got shocked and worried reactions from members of the public- if lawyers and judges were not spared, where was the hope for ordinary citizens. Politicians , however, reacted differently- The Chief Minister asked the ACJ to cooperate and was willing to meet him in an ambulance! Not a word of apology for the mayhem unleashed by the police. The High Court, after all the representations by concerned lawyers, ordered a CBI enquiry and sent teams out to assess the damage. This exercise continued the next day and some advocates, including my husband, moved a contempt application against the police after the High Court clarified that they had not given the police permission to enter. The papers had a field day with conflicting reports. While TOI clearly put the onus on the police, Saturday’s reports tried to “balance” Friday’s report with a completely government-centric version. The Hindu went one better and covered only the police version- reporting the “alleged” damage by the police when TV footage clearly showed the police throwing stones and breaking cars. TOI on Sunday carried an exclusive by the CJI asking lawyers not to go on strike! He refused to comment on the police excesses, citing lack of information. Now, the High Court is dragging its heels, the Sri Krishna Report is biased and one thing is clear from the incident- all the authorities are as one in protecting the government.

Picture perfect

Picture Perfect
You see a busy stream of traffic pass by your window and can hear only angry hoots and snarls. The news is full of rising prices and shrinking commodities. There is anger and competition for scarce resources everywhere. Eyes are blind and faces shut in. Roads are for cars and unhurried simple living has walked on. Imagine your surprise when just for a brief while, people get off the merry-go-round and are willing to stare!

This happened sometime ago in my neighbourhood:

It was just another day- another jam. An auto stopped at a busy junction. A man got off- scruffy-just a labourer, you would have thought. An empty lot waiting for a building, Full of rubble and overgrown grass- a comma in space-choked bustle. The roar of traffic shut down as people watched and drawn like zombies, crowded round , while on the wall of the abandoned lot, two small girls and a boy walked into the unknown over a bridge, under swaying palm trees- brought to life in chalk by a great but unknown artist.

The picture done, the Unknown walked back to the auto and was swallowed by the traffic, ignoring the offers which poured in for him to replicate the picture on other walls. But the procession of viewers continued late into the night and well into the following week. This city still has some surprises up her sleeve!