Monday, 11 May 2015

When the earth shook but time stood still...

There was a strange commotion about the place. Even before we approached the heart of the town, everybody seemed to be out on the streets. It could not merely be explained by the fact that it was a Saturday, in fact Saturday is not even weekend in this part of the world. Suddenly the vehicle stopped and the driver lurched out suspecting a puncture. It was then that the realization of an earthquake sunk in. It was then that the 'commotion' began to make sense. With a hectic schedule lined up for a long day ahead of us, there was little one could do except dismiss it as a minor aberration and go ahead with one's life as usual. Yet, there is always an unsettling feeling about the safety and security of our loved ones when we are far from them. The fact that we could not contact our families immediately afterward just reminded us of the similar need everybody must have felt at a juncture when the ground beneath our feet shakes and this time, quite literally!!

Alone in my room as we reached our destination, I began to ponder if the tremors we had dismissed as minor aberrations a little while earlier had indeed upset the happiness and lives of a chunk of humanity somewhere in a not so distant corner of the world. Before my thoughts could even find an expression, the aftershocks began. As the door swung like a pendulum, and the walls swayed, no uncertainty remained about the magnitude of the catastrophe unfolding somewhere in the neighbourhood. As we silently prayed for the lives and safety of our loved ones across the world, the news updates streaming in from the mobile apps, just served to lend credence to our worst nightmares. Not only had the upheaval affected millions nearby, but also where we were standing while reading these news, was dangerously close to the epicenter of the seismic shocks. 

Next couple of hours as we flitted in and out of meetings, a new realization began to dawn upon me. I could no longer content myself with the fact that everybody in immediate family and friends was safe and secure, rather being at the helm of affairs in an assignment which concerns young children, I was hoping and praying that none of our kids suffer in any manner. As it took time for my faculties to respond, we could only send directions across the State to relay any information of any damage whatsoever and put any rumors and misgivings to rest. Thankfully there wasn't much.

Despite all the damage and the losses that the quake brought in its wake, it was not what had hit me the most. What I saw over the course of the next 24 hours was far more devastating to me on a personal level. Not that anything is terribly wrong per se but just that while we rue about the lives that had been lost in the wake of a
disaster, how I wish we could develop the empathy to rue over the precious lives we are letting go of unknowingly and unhurriedly each day. As we make tall claims of being modern and civilized and enlightened, as we go about showcasing and marketing stories of our success and as we begin to believe in the truth of the stories scripted by us, we could not be more wrong. As one of my favorite authors Khaled Hosseini puts it, "Children aren't coloring books. You don't get to fill them with your favorite colors." Yet this is precisely what we have been doing all along. It is one thing to be apathetic but quite another to feel something for our own kids but not the same for others'. It was different earlier but now when I look at these angelic souls I see the face of my two year old in each one of them, as if asking me some questions with absolute faith and innocence. Much as I may wish, it is beyond my belief and power to answer all the questions they silently put forth or to even give them hope of a life that they are building dreams of. In moments such as these, I find myself and these little ones being stuck in a time warp. I shall never be able to find the courage to acknowledge that their lives will perhaps be no better or different from the lives of hardships that their parents have led and much as they may strive there will always be a huge chasm separating them from their 'truly blessed' counterparts in the gleaming metropolises. At the end of the day, the questions we ask of ourselves determine the type of people that we will become. Whatever I may do, I can not help but say..

“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.” 
― W.B. Yeats, The Collected Poems

Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Last Leaf

“If words were leaves, would you prefer fall or spring?”
― Jarod Kintz, This Book is Not For Sale

It was the winter of 2007. 11 December, 2007 to be precise (thanks to the time stamp on an old digital pic). Srinagar was freezing and we had less than a day to take a look around. Needless to mention, we had a packed schedule as we hopped from one stunning destination to the other. I remember the Shikara ride on the Dal Lake and the Kahwa we had. It was like a page from a book of paradise and too beautiful to be true. Today when I look back it appears just as dreamy as it did back then and sometimes I begin to doubt if the passage of time has indeed led to mingling of memories with illusions. I had forgotten pretty much all about it till a random thought brought it all flooding back to me and also the 'interestingness' of the stories associated with this random day in the book of my life.

Whiling away time early morning one day and feeling nostalgic about the days gone by, I remembered making random hand crafted cards for some of the 'dearest' people in my life and shooting those handmade treasures off to them all across the world. One such cherished memory that remains unfazed is that of the Chinar leaves I collected back then at Nishat Bagh in Srinagar on a sight seeing tour of the city. How I wish that the story was as simple as it seems. Not only did I find the sight of  a few leaves lying in water truly mesmerizing, but also that I lost sense of time and space and slipped into the fountain while trying to capture that dazzling moment forever in my camera. While I still remember the pain of spending an entire day in wet jeans and shoes in the biting cold of Sringar, I also treasure the pair of woolen socks I had purchased from Lal Bazaar as a replacement for my wet ones. What I valued most however were a handful of dried  Chinar leaves I had picked up that day while most people in my group were busy getting their pics clicked in the idyllic surroundings and I wandered lonely and aimlessly about. There were tons and tons of these leaves all around and yet I wonder why they appear so precious to me now..

The sight that I have never been able to forget
Soon upon our return to the Academy, I had taken it upon myself to preserve those leaves in the form of cards and send them across with love and wishes to those who meant so much to me. The cards were appreciated by each of the recipients and as a dear friend Y puts it today, "it was the only hand-crafted card he ever received". My intent of sending those particular leaves was to let these fabulous people know that they were remembered by me in both good and bad times alike and there was never a moment when they weren't with me in my thoughts and prayers. It was my own designed souvenir and as I write these lines it occurs to me that it must precisely be the point of any souvenir!

The leaves of Chinar are too beautiful to be wasted in one opportunity and I decided to keep a few for myself (in my quiz diary!) for all times to come. Over time the wealth of my leaves dwindled for a multiplicity of reasons and I could do little about it. Yet as in an eponymous story, it was the last leaf that brought me the greatest happiness and fulfillment. Each time I gave a leaf away or lost one, a tiny bit of my life and its stories went away with it. But it was only as I gave the last leaf away that I realized the long journey that the leaf in turn had made from growing on a distant tree in a distant land, accompanying me on innumerable journeys and finally finding its way to the one 'it had been trying to find' all along. As I write this story on an arbitrary note, a lot of things still remain unsaid. Nothing could have summed up the journey of my leaves better than the borrowed lines I reproduce below:

Har sukhe patte ki ek kahani hoti hai,
Barish ki har bund ko koi khabar sunani hoti hai,
Wo to hum unka ishara nahi samjh pate,
Warna har musibat ki chahat hamari Zindagi asan banani hoti hai...