Saturday, December 25, 2010

Muse is back?

Often I wander away into a world of my own, in an unknown path, sometimes straying away from people, happy with my own self. There were many days I woke up wondering whatever I was doing in life. Sometimes I had no clue and sometimes everything looked bleak like there is no tomorrow..Sometimes I wondered when the world would end. I wish it would soon. I sink into a myriad of thoughts in random ways..But, when I snap back and look at my life, there are many ways I feel, fine I am probably adding a drop to the ocean..and it seems like a path for which the end is really nowhere-striving to work on conservation education, talking to some urban homo sapiens in a technologically advanced world about trees and birds and butterflies..I wonder am I crazy..but there has been this amazing connect with nature I had since childhood. I love watching drops of rain water...I would catch them in my hands..soak in the smell of the earth..rain made me happy..i loved cloudy, hazy days and cold windy nights..there was something these changing seasons..times..I would sit alone in the balcony..watching people on the street, oblivious of the noises and name calling..I would be lost..I did not hear my name even. Why are you sitting alone, some words would reach my was because I loved my own own time and my time with doing nothing..maybe even day dreaming. Was always a dreamer..Sometimes I sank in colors..splashing away my thoughts..snow and ferns in the shimmering sunlight...frozen lakes and the nature's reflections..When near water, I delve into nothingness..I sit by the lake..and watch it..and I feel like being in a pure meditative state..afterall isnt meditation about having zero thoughts..and cleaning your mind..Nature has always been my best friend and when I am right there..with it..I dont need a soul next to me. In forests yonder, I wade through tall grasses, following the butterflies that flutter..hopping from one flower to another sipping nectar, living free..they three weeks of their life span..I wonder..and always wondered living in a city like Bombay..tension, race, failure, success, competition..who are we fighting with and why..what do we really want in life...more than tranquility? Where was this life leading to..and what do we want...the transient materialistic pursuit is often an something that could give loads of momentary happiness..but the momentary happiness isn’t long enough..and the pursuit begins again..risks, responsibilities, living in a circle..following systems, regimes and standards set by people..was it worth it all? Being a writer..more than that..being a deep thinker..I always wondered about these things and then does it matter how people does it matter who thinks long as you reach to your soul and do things-even day dream!! Why should one really care..think and be so conscious of how society perceives you..its then I realise that I stand outside the circle..trying to find my own path..not amidst the scores of people who are running in the rat race..I am only a mere spectator. Hating competition and living for myself..It took a lot of know me, understand me...being quiet..growing up listening to Garth Brookes and Frank Sinatra, Eagles..who was me in this world? I sometimes thought..and then brushed it away..I lived..for I wanted to enjoy..I learnt achieve my goals..I learnt to control my be more strong..and I learnt to live..still living..and still outside the circle..its a whole new world here...its different..its simple..and it doesnt take much to live a life of needs to only unclutter and be a free thinker..its my world..

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

People I meet

This blog has been pending for almost four months. I had promised this person that I will blog about him, just when I said bye.

To tell the story, I badly wanted a nice hairstyle. This time in Bangalore, my sister in law suggested a guy who is supposed to be super awesome. Everytime, she would tell me to go to this guy. I thought let me try. I told her I am very wary of anyone who cuts my hair..She was like, dont worry, go!

So I land up at this spa on Indira Nagar. Looked posh. I went around looking for Aashik. Yeah, he was the guy. Went and said hi to him. He gave this nice wide smile when he saw me. Nice place, I said. And hey, before you pick that scissors, let me tell you, pleassssssssssse dont chop my hair. I am growing it. I went to naturals last time and they chopped it and I came home depressed. Dont worry he assured.

As we started talking, he was talking in Tamil. I soon started talking to him in local language. So, where are you from? I studied in Chennai and he started. So, how did you become a hair stylist. Well long story he said. And he started off. I did my grad in Chennai. My dad was a doctor. In college, I used to do make up styling and hair styling for movie artists. That used to help me with my pocket money. Soon, I realised that was my interest. When I told my father, he was shocked. He almost abandoned me. I left Chennai and came to Bangalore, in search of my destiny. I did not have much money too. I once remember I walked from ITPL to Indira nagar because I did not have any money. I just looked at him stunned. He looked quite young. He continued his story.

He later took a job as a stylist and started working. Slowly, he built up a client base. Then he started this spa. I just breathed hard. Wow Aashik!! Awesome! He smiled.

You have beautiful hair, he said. Thanks, but please dont chop..please!! Dont worry, he said..Later, I asked him how his name was Aashik. Said his grandfather was in the army and they lived all over India. His granmom chose this name.

He said one important thing to me-money is like bird, today its on one tree, tomorrow on another. It sounded so much like me. I agreed with him. Then he was asking about me and his eyes popped writer!! I have never met someone like you..and we started talking more. He said he loved to travel and his business kept him so occupied he seldom had time.

After a great two hours I got hold of his card. He said he will never forget me and will keep in touch. It was nice. It was a new learning from someone new. I went back satisfied with my new hair style..and more happy hearing his struggle tale. Some people have a lot in common.....

Sunday, November 28, 2010

In the valleys

I just called Ranjini, who was doing her Ph.d in urban birds at Sacon to check if I could meet with her in the weekend. It was then she came up with the idea of..why not stay overnight at Sacon..This sounded good to meant being with nature..and something that could rejuvenate me completely. I reached Sacon gate by 5.30 and wandered around watching birds..
Later, as I waited for her, I got talking to the guard and his life and soon couple of more people joined girl who was doing her research on spot billed pelican and a guy who was doing his thesis on Indian python..we sat outside the canteen watching the mountains as evening faded..with a hot tea in the cool mighty winds, the conversations were gripping..

Soon, R came in and she said, come lets go walk..we walked around the beautiful campus when it was dark..we went to the lab and the rooftop..the clouds were all there, we could not see stars..but I saw something bright and shining..and it was a planet...slowly as clouds cleared, I could see valleys and the winds blowing...and the air turning cold. I was lying down and looking at the vast sky and looking at stars that filled the sky.. It was becoming very cold. We then walked up to have some dinner and then had a long chat..which ended at 2 am. Speaking about cats, dogs, astronomy, swami vivekananda, functioning of brains, birds, animals, travel, dance, personal life, guitar and what not. Felt like before she opened her mouth, I knew what she was about to say and vice was long since I had this conversation..we tossed some ideas as well.
At that point I did feel she was a different scientist..than others..she was like me..insane loving everything in life..its like the world is full of knowledge and take everything you want to and one stops you..We also had a discussion on how minds of people like us worked..people who loved everything..thats when I realised when it takes time for me to accomplish a 'goal', all the other things in my life only give me the energy to do so..if i was focused on one goal and constantly work on it, it would never be my best..rather if im restless to paint it means something is waiting to get off give me the energy to do that important work..everything means something..

I feel like this solitary tree on a patch of open land...with roots spreading wherever I can find space..absorbing all the elements, the energy to make myself more strong, learn and do things that we can..I realised its so much in tune with how nature functions..

After a very intense talk, I dozed off. The morning was beautiful. I opened the balcony and found mountains covered in mist and valleys looking verdant green..I sat out..Later, we pushed off to have breakfast and there met an old uncle who wanted a feedback on his nature project. I was, you did this? It was an amazing collage on information and pictures on nature. I was stunned. The old man could barely walk. I asked him, how do you find time for this? He says I dont have any other job and he smiled. He was a member of Sacon nature club.

Me and R left for Mangarai..we walked through sacon, a different route, watching warblers play. It was then I spotted a beautiful blue faced malkoha..and its long tail and blue eyes was enchanting..As we were walking, it started drizling. We walked to a small stream where we found fresh elephant dung..R said..the elephant came here, it was alone..broke this tamarind tree, drank water and walked this way. I was do you know? See the foot prints..I was learning.

We got a bus to Mangarai and when we reached there, we went to the forest guard's house. It was pouring. We thought trek would be impossible. We walked into their house and his 3 year old daughter became friends with me. His wife soon got us black was amazing for the weather. I was talking to them about where they lived and all. It was great to hear their stories. Soon, the little girl pulled my hand and said, you wanna see the waterall..come I will show you..I tip toed to the backyard, my feet cold..and saw this waterfall..I could hear the stream was a sight!!! I stood there for sometime hearing elephant tales..

After a lot of time, the kid's mom invited us for lunch but we poilitely time. She was suprised how her kid got attached to me..said she never mingles with anyone..I said kids usually gel with me..And this girl came and hugged me, it was very sweet. She refused to get off my lap...I absolutely loved her..

Soon, we decided to walk back..We were hungry..but when we walked out..we saw this mountain fully covered in looked so picture perfect..we saw the clouds moving by..we could not go further..we spent half an hour just watching the mountains and getting soaked in the rain..As we walked further, we saw an emu farm..we went there, saw the birds and walked back...

When we hit the main road, we were hungry..we walked into this small roadside shop..akka, whats there to eat..we are hungry..we pounced on her..she had those boiled channas with loads of chillies and ginger..we went into the store and had that and one ginger coffee..which was out of this world in true style..we had one more round..and then I noticed this strange thing..Next to the line of God images, there was an image of an elephant which was worshipped. Had never seen something like this before...

We stood there for the bus..and then I got off back to Coimbatore. My jeans was all drenched and I was feeling colllllllllllldddddddddddddd....finally reached home, a nice shower and a great sleep..I got back into my dream was a beautiful day...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Celebrating Salim Ali's birth anniversary

I had just returned to Coimbatore day before yesterday. Was scrolling through mails when I saw someone from the birding community mentioning about Salim Ali's birthday on November 12. I was wanting to ask Dr. Pramod, the principal scientist who was heading nature education and outreach at Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) if something was happening in Coimbatore. I realised it was late to call him, just then saw him online and said hi to him. He told me to come for the celebrations today at Forest College.

Must tell about Dr. Pramod, he is the most wonderful and humble person and extremely friendly. I met him some five months back and the first day we met, we spent the whole day at SACON, talking about different things and life. He is a great teacher, no wonder kids love him. When I first met Dr. Pramod, he thought I was just another person with temporary instinct to work. Later, when I started reaching out and communicating and met him again, he said now I know you are serious Sharada. Good! I never expected to see you again! I said, sir, I love nature and yes want to work with you.

So, when he invited me, I jumped and went today. I met the IAS and IFS officers today who promised to do something for the wetland conservation in coimbatore. When I entered the hall, I went and sat there next to a lady, who looked at me and smiled. I smiled and she started a conversation with me. She was Dr. Maya, a Ph.D in forest ecology from SACON, working for Godrej in Bombay. We went into long conversations and she passed me her card inviting me to visit her in Bombay..

Soon talks began and Dr. Azeez, Director of SACON spoke. The topic of the day was Wetland conservation and ecology in Coimbatore. Coimbatore has about 12 wetland area where birds thrive, but sadly due to effluent discharge and dumping of waste, the wetlands are filled with plastic and rubbish, spoiling the ecology. So our discussion was on how to tackle with it and approach.

We had some eminent people like Rajesh from the NGO Siru Thuli (They have done phenomenal work in restoring wetland ecology), Sukumar from Sulur, a person who works for the tax dept, was a bird watcher by hobby and then penned a book on nesting habits of birds in coimbatore..His hobby became serious and now he is restoring birds from the shackles of ruthless was great to listen to his talk. Mr. Kalidasan from Osai (another NGO which does great work with wildlife and environment) gave a talk that was full of enthusiasm and energy. His talks are always like that. He is so passionate about environment. Says, when your mother is ailing, you can sit next to her, but do have to do something. That should be the approach. Rajesh spoke about how great theories came up from Rishis in the forest. Like the theory of infinity..says forests have the power to inspire, invoke thoughts..I can totally relate to it!!

Insightful session there. We took a small break for tea where I saw this school girl and started talking to her. So, what do you do I asked her and it triggered. Her name was Sriranjani, student of 10th at Air Force school. She was so dedicated to wildlife conservation. She said this is what she wanted to do in life.

Hey arent you a journalist, she asked me. I was surprised. Yes, I am I said.

I have seen you before at the screening of truth about tigers, shooting questions on mike at Shekar sir. I laughed, yeah it is me! I do wildlife journalism. Good memory girl, you remember me!!

She won the young scientist award from the competition conducted by Zoo Outreach programme. Wow, i said, at such a young age. Said, she wants to do a project on birds and I told her I would help. As I was engrossed, someone came and hit me. It was Dr. Pramod, come sharada, next session is beginning, bring everyone. I smiled. Quickly gathering people, I walked into the hall. Dr. Pramod came and sat next to me and was asking where I disappeared. After few minutes of talk, I went and spoke to Mr. Kalidasan. Told him Osai website content is not updated. Why dont you do it Sharada? Ok, sir, I will take the responsibility. I love working for committed people. Kalidasan sir was one of the most dedicated people, green leader in the country, well known among photographers and conservationists for his work. After the session, he came back to me and took my number again. Please come to office, he said. I gladly agreed. Meanwhile, I met a few more people and started talking.

By the end, Dr. Pramod came and said..Sharada, have a lot of work for you. Come to SACON..Sir, but when are you free? I am always busy you know, but you can come on 16th..I am off to Andamans after that. You better come. I have 5 appointments that day, but you can drop in at anytime, no need to ask. Its you right? I was really humbled. I will be there sir. I am supposed to be writing a book for him. Yes! I need to push him to write :)

Sriranjani's mom dropped me back home and we had this great conversation on how this girls grandfather did not want her to be a wildlife biologist. No one will marry her, he said. Aunty said, she did not care and will support her daughter. I felt the girl was lucky. Sri said, who wants to get married, anyway, all I want to be is to be with nature. This is what I felt since three years old. I smiled at her. Could see her passion for nature. There is no plastic in her house and she eats only in banana leaves everyday. I was amazed. You know, I am the only girl in the whole school who wants to get into wildlife. That's alrite, I said.

My task lists are huge ..but I feel nice meeting such wonderful souls in my life, people who understand my passion and give me an opportunity to work.

Dr. Azeez was leaving. Dr. Pramod introduced me to him. This is Sharada and I dont know what to tell about her. What should I tell sharada, he asked me and I burst out laughing. Well, she is a drop out journalist. LOL. She has a great website and blog on wildlife and she writes a great deal, he said with an element of seriouness. I smiled at Dr. Azeez.

I am now waiting to head to SACON now. Birds fluttering, singing, already dreaming!! To step into this protected biosphere reserve!!

Perur temple and Coimbatore history

My uncle and his business partner Dr. Sridhar had come down to Coimbatore for the maha kumbakishekam of the Perur Patteeswar temple. Known to be the famous Shiva temple, on the banks of Noyyal river, this temple is 2000 years old. According to legend, Karaikal Cholan built this temple. That is what I read too. It was only yesterday I got to hear the real story from the real people.

Dr. Guhan, director of the cancer institute here and his wife Dr. Chitra took over the responsibility of organising this event which happens once in twelve years. It was great that I had an opportunity to interact with Dr. Chitra. Dr. Guhan, I had met him, three years back. At that time I came to know how much of social service he did for rural areas.

My uncle Dr. Ramachandran and his partner Sridhar uncle run this company called Macromol which provided paint and other stuff to renovate the temple. So, we had the privilege of seeing the temple as VIPs. Though I have been to this temple many times, this was the time I spent almost three hours there. My uncle who knows a lot about mythology started telling me interesting things as we sat near the temple pillars. Me and Sridhar uncle started conversing so well and bonded over in a matter of minutes..

We went ahead to see some sculptures there. There is one sculpture which completely took me aback. It was Shiva in a dancing pose. It is believed that Shiva and Parvati had an argument on who was a better dancer. That culminated into a dance performance by both Shiva and Parvati to decide who was the winner. The battle went on for long but there was no result. In the end, Shiva took one of his earring and dropped it on the floor. He took the earring by his foot and wore it on his ear. The pose actually shows Shiva's leg touching his ear. Parvati could not perform this feat and she stands defeated. There is a scuplture of Parvati which shows her defeat so clearly, her emotions in that moment. Seems so real! It was so beautifully scuplted. Architectural masterpiece!!

As I walked around the temple, I found beautiful paintings on the roof. I wondered how people actually did that!
When I met Dr. Chitra, she told me about the history of the temple. She said it was actually Kovan Karaikal who built the temple first. It seems he was wandering in the forest, when he saw a cow digging the mud with its horns. When it dug deeper, the Shiva Linga came out. Kovan Karaikal then brought this idol and built a place, Kovanputhur, in the middle of the forest. The name slowly became Coimbatore with time. This is a reason why Coimbatore is surrounded by hills. Apparently, if one looks at the idol carefully, you can see the mark of the cow's horns on the idol.
This was a new story. I was thrilled. I told I would want to do a story, or still better, get some great photographs and write a coffee table book on Coimbatore and its history.

It was 3 great hours at the temple and I learned a lot!!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Princess Diya

This has been a post that has been pending from so long..its more than 2 years since Diya came into my life..

A call from my brother excited me..when are you coming to Bangalore? At 10.30 pm on july 20th, happiness came back into our family. It was just two months since dad left us and then Diya entered, giving us some light and sunshine in life..

I called my boss in bangalore..when are you coming here? Even I am excited..two stories to finish..two days and i will be there..hey you work from Bangalore for next three weeks..i was glad i had a boss so understanding and that is also when i realised the advantages of a journalism job..i could work from any part of this country or world..

my brother was impatient..two days for you to come..i want you here..amma was in the US then..trying to recoup with appa's demise..she cried softly on phone..i wish appa was there..he would have been so happy..I also had tears..
I could not wait to see my bro..and then I saw this pretty angel..held her in my arms..her eyes tightly shut..trying to sneak open a little..i held her tiny fingers..and i was overwhelmed with princess..child in the family does bring in so much happiness...

from then till now, i have seen my princess growing up...i could see an emotional sensitive child in the making..i kept telling my brother..keep your short temper at bay..dont talk to her the way you talk to me..dont treat her like that..i wont he promised..there were a couple of occasions when i sat with him and spoke about child dont have to have a child or get married to know these things..dont raise voice..she has to be scared of me, my bro said..No, why introduce child to fear..she can listen to you..without you scolding, a nice gentle way..communication can do magic...

i always had a great relation with sooner she would she me, a smile lights up her face..lovingly..once my brother and sister in law were talking that i was coming to Bangalore..and from then on..whoever rang the doorbell, she said sister in law was like..please come soon, she is torturing us..

today, after long, i was baby sitting her..and i spent beautiful moments together..i taught her so many things..birds, animals, nature, how to about her school and her friends..i listen to her..every word with rapt attention..amused..was this the little girl i held? with me..she picks my phone and puts on music..and holds my hands..swing swing she says..i just try jive with her and she picked up so fast..i was astounded..and she always enjoys the morning, she comes to my room..she sits on lap and watches squirrels and birds..i have tried teaching her birds..and she can say kite, macaw, koel, parrot, so clearly..everything i teach goes into her head...its amazing!

we sit for long hours in the balcony, watching various birds, butterflies, about people, life..and beautiful things. i show her the life out of i feed her food..she takes a spoonful of rice..'athai should eat' she says and lovingly feeds me..realised how gentle my princess is..she runs around in the house, singing rhymes, embracing me in a hug..planting sweet kisses..out of the blue..she is my first daughter..a prized posession...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In an insane world, is truth a bad thing?

There were many times when I have helped unknown people. They just happen to bump into me somewhere and then I realise at some point they take my help and then they take it all and just forget it..It was not once, but a few episodes which has strained me emotionally. I think if at all I should help anyone in my life..but yes I also think, if it is in my capacity to help someone, why not?

And these cases of people trampling over..i cannot stop being good to someone else..because a few people I met were bad! But it does hurt at some point..when people take advantage of you, bad mouth about your friends..and you..yeah in this world, you pay a price for being 'good'. You do pay a price for being honest, open, vivacious, independent..there are many jealous faces which turn up to you, smiling..and then the grapevine begins..backbiting..

People should look back into a dictionary to find the real meaning of 'trust', 'friendship', loyalty, being grateful, help..and all the nice things in life..and also read about ego, jealousy and all the adjectives that make the life look so pale and sick!! The things that are 'not' absolutely needed to live this one beautiful live we have. I am very happy with the success of other people, a little more if my existence in their life and world has added to that...I learned values and culture from my lovely grandparents who always emphasised on sharing of resources and reaching out to help others..feeding hungry souls..But I feel sad, when people look at you as a resource to gain help and demean the value of friendship..

These experiences (I term them bad) has taught me not to trust people easily..yeah I learned it the hard way..people are always jealous of free spirited souls..when they get all the attention and love..and feel wanted..and people who have this feeling..its best I let go of them and move on in life..This too shall pass :)

And for all the lovely souls in my life..who have stuck to me, knowing the real me, and have unshattered faith and love...I love everyone of you..Afterall, in this one life we have, why fight, breed jealousy, arrogance, ego, and talk bad things (Swami Vivekananda has said this). Life is beautiful and I want to make it even better with a few friends..:)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The journey through the heritage train

There were many times I planned to take the toy train from Mettupalayam to Ooty, but it always was a jinxed one. Last Dussehra, when my cousins and uncles were here, we went to the station to check for tickets and there were no tickets available. Sigh, it never works I thought. It was almost more than a decade since I visited Ooty. I last went with my father to Ooty and Coonoor. It was amazing how dad used to travel, and how he used to make us travel, completely unplanned. The days when we used to stay in Sulur, near Coimbatore, father used to come home from work and say, come get ready soon, we shall go to Ooty, and we would be off. I also love traveling this way. It soon fell into a pattern.

A few months later, when I reached Coimbatore station after a trip to Bangalore, I was so tempted to check for tickets in the toy train. I went to the counter and the lady said, sorry due to landslides, the train is not operational. I was forlorn again! When will it start working, I asked out of intense curiosity? Do not know, she said. Call and check.

I left home, only thinking when I would be able to make this trip..A few months later, I called the railway people to check if the trains were working. I finally heard something positive. I headed straight to the station to pick up the tickets. Finally, I had the ticket in my hand. Yaay, I would be going. I rejoiced looking at the piece of paper in my hand. Took it safely and headed back home like I got something priceless.

A couple of weeks later, I headed to Trivandrum for a break and meet a writer friend there. It so happened that I had to extend my trip there for a day-one there were more meetings coming up and two it was the day of football world cup finals. How could I miss that? Just then, I thought this ticket to Ooty will be torn into pieces. Big sigh!

I did not go. But again, when I tried, there were landslides. I could never make the trip.

Finally on Friday, after a crazily quiet week, this soul started becoming restless to go to the mountains. With a great weather as a companion, I woke up early, and rushed to the new bus stand. Found there were two buses, one going to Ooty and the other to Kotagiri. I hopped on to the Ooty bus. Suddenly, I felt, I should be taking the Kotagiri bus, because I had heard so much about the place, but could never go. Also, this was another entrance to Ooty and supposed to be really beautiful. I got into that bus. An uncle sitting next to me started a conversation. I spoke a few words and then looked out of the window. The day looked so beautiful with the clouds dark and grey..

The journey was definitely a beautiful one. I saw so many spiders, birds and colorful butterflies, and suddenly the air turned cold. I realised I was a fool not to have a sweater with me. I reached Kotagiri by 10 and straight headed to have the local Niligiri Chai. It was perfect for the weather. I looked around and fell into a state of trance. The clouds touched the earth covering up the mountains, lush green after rains. I spoke to a few local people at the tea shop. I wanted to see Kodanad View Point, but since it was very cloudy, the locals said it would be waste of time to go there. I walked a bit further on the long roads, took a deep breath and absorbed the nature.

I asked people if there was a bus to Ooty. They said there were plenty of buses. So, I took a long walk and reached the bus stop and hopped into a bus. I was filled with serenity and my mind was all in a state of emotions..bonding with the ever eternal nature. The path from Kotagiri to Ooty (about 24 kms) is one of the most beautiful mountain paths I witnessed. It seemed like a different world. Though among crowd, I was walking alone, in my own maze of thoughts. I reached Ooty and it started drizzling. Yeah, I did not carry an umbrella and I was already feeling cold. I wanted to go to Ramakrishna Mission and took an auto. Went there to the main shrine and found it to be shut. I saw one monk crossing by. He saw me and opened the shrine for me. I felt so touched. This was the first time I experienced when a temple door was opened just for me. Maybe I was really destined to be there that moment. I prayed amidst the beautiful calm sanctum tucked away in a corner..surrounded by mountains. The monk gave me some fruits to eat. I was actually hungry. I shared it with the auto uncle and then asked him where I can go next. The botanical garden and rose garden didn't fancy me!

I was thinking if I should try the toy train ticket. The auto guy took me to the railway station and he was super confident I will get the ticket. I went to the station and I was told I will get the tickets by 1.30. I went back and had lunch with the auto uncle..Paid him some money and came back to the station. I waited..was I dreaming. Just then I saw this tall woman next to me. Hello, I said and that was it. Her name was Petra and she had come from Holland to see India. I told her about my jinxed trip. Soon, when my turn came to pick the tickets, she saidd...yaay..this is the moment..its happening and you believe it!! I said yeah thanks and smiled.

The journey in the train was an unforgettable experience. The chai and masala vada made it even better. The path is scenic, traversing through dark tunnels and caves, hills, waterfall and what not. It felt like a dream. I suddenly closed my eyes. When I opened my eyes, I was still wandering amidst the scenic mountains, watching the sun go hazy in the clouds..It was THE moment of truth. I finally made the trip!!

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Fear is unknown. Fear is pain. Fear blocks the mind, makes your vision murky, leading you into a dark tunnel, not letting you see the light, even when it is there. What is in fear? Fear about the future is one thing we humans constantly fret about. Where is future? Can you see it? I can only see the moment, only now. Our fears are our state of mind. Some great people even talk about fearing as a sin. Is that true? Yes. When the heart is mighty, to break away the shackles of all the unknown fear that mounts the heart, life gives way. It throws light. Fear of exams, fear of relationships, fear of the future, fear of health and just keep counting, the phobias will add up, in every little thing that you do. Is it worth it? Definitely not. When the mind is trying to get into a fear mode, let me push it to a dark corner, like it never existed in my life..let me drown it, trample it, kill it, throw it away into some far off galaxy of this universe. Fear should fear coming back to me.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Walking in the Eastern Ghats

I have been to Western ghats an umpteen number of times, and felt enchanted, hearing the bamboo trees rustling in the wind. This time I went to Eastern ghats where my friend is working to retrieve a critically endangered bird, Jerdons Courser, endemic to 40 sq km area in Sri Lanka Malleshwar Wildlife Sanctuary.
I stayed at the forest field station at Badvel, 60kms from Kadapa. It was a long and tiring journey for me in the bus for 14 hours. As I reached Kadapa, we straight headed for a meeting with the District Forest Officer. I was dead tired, but was all set to meet the officer and talk. He spoke about various initiatives he took to help local people gain from forest resources. We shared a lot of ideas on how we can work out a sustainable living for local people. My mind was rolling with ideas.

By the time we got out of the DFO’s office, it was almost 7 pm. We went to have sugar cane juice and head to Badvel. The junior researcher Sumant who was working with my friend Rahul got talking to me about film making. I want to be a film maker, he said. As we crossed the forest path in the dark night, Raheem (he drove the Armada and was also a snake and bird expert), suddenly put the brakes..Snake...he said and we jumped out of the jeep and saw a small cat snake going into a was shiny black with stripes..a baby cat snake..I was was too fast for me..could not take a picture!!
Went to have a quick dinner at a hotel, went to the forest field station and crashed..I woke up late the next day. Aslam (the cook, cleaner and bird catcher) made coffee and breakfast. I watched out and saw an old man sleeping on a cot..sleeping peacefully under a tree. Kids were playing with marbles, it was a different environment. We thought we would go to the forest to set camera traps. Me, along with S went to the forest, but came back as the path was bad due to rains..we spent some time sitting outside the house..tomorrow, we have to set the camera traps, said S.
The bird is highly elusive, declared extinct, many years back. Later, some researchers from Cambridge university found that these birds still existed, but in very few numbers. It was then, the local government decided to step in to retrieve the bird. Later, the Royal Society of Protection of Birds (RSPB), UK, partnered with Bombay Natural History society (BNHS) to work on this project. Rahul was made the head of this project. It was prestigious but extremely difficult. RSPB gave camera traps to be set on field, to capture images of the nocturnal bird.
Here is more, if you want to know what has been happening.

The next day after lunch, S and me headed to the sanctuary and the entire journey was amazing. We walked into the forest, making sure every camera was set in a proper way. This took us like five hours. I did not see many birds because it was a cloudy day. I managed to see a few common birds. I just sat on the mud in the forest, listening to various birds. It was blissful. I forgot the world. It was almost 7 when we go back to the field station. Had dinner, chatted up, watched some tv and crashed. Soon, Sunday came. It was time to go vegetable shopping. We went to the local market and thought we could make some pasta, for a change. Saw a woman selling small chicks coloured in yellow, orange and pink in a basket. Three rupees each, she said. I quickly pulled out my camera. Was painful to see them like this! After lunch, me and S went to the forest again. The weather was a little humid, but there was breeze. It was not hot. This time, saw a dove nest and a small egg inside it. This forest is unlike the western ghats. It was a scrub jungle. I don’t know how many thorns pierced my skin as I waded through the forest. The place was full of thorns. We had a great five hours in the jungle.

We came back home and I made pasta for dinner. Thankfully, turned out to be very good! I was in the kitchen teaching Aslam how to make pasta. He said he will make it one day for these guys. I was listening to Aslam’s tale in Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary as the pasta was getting ready. A great dinner, and a long conversation with R which lasted till morning. On where we want to travel, what we want to is kind of nice when people can relate to you in so many ways. The next day morning, we had planned for a trek to Brahmagiri and then head to the unexplored forest. It was rather a cloudy morning when we started. On the way, we saw so many birds- a cormorant perched on a tree, many coots in water bodies, ducks. We stopped at a place..where there was a beautiful lake..and mountains.. I stood there watching the lake.
After a few minutes, we went our way further. I suddenly saw some weaver bird nests. Rahul, isn’t that weaver bird nest, I asked. Oh yes, Raheem, stop, he said. We walked towards the nest and saw the beautiful male bird hanging on the nest and flying to and forth, sometimes perched on brown maize grass. The bird was very attractive. It was a baya weaver. We spent almost half an hour near the was very tough to capture them on camera, but we tried.
As we went our way further, Raheem stopped. Snake, he pointed out at a small snake on the ground. It was a dead snake. Looks like someone has killed it, Rahul said. We put a small agarbatti next to it and walked. We then went to a temple..Raheem said they serve food free of cost. We did not carry anything and we were hungry. We went to the temple, thankfully people were speaking Hindi. I spoke to one sadhu there, who said there was some Reddy baba who meditated here for 12 years. He passed away three years back and this temple was built in his memory. We got one laddoo for ourselves. Temporary relief from hunger! We then headed to the place where lunch was being served. I had never done this before, but there are always firsts in life..We went to get food. The food was extremely hot n spicy. Sumant and me had tears in our eyes as we were eating. Wait Sumant, buttermilk, let us get it. Fortunately they had buttermilk, we finished our lunch, washed our plates. Ufff yaar!! Sumant pulled out a packet of sunfeast biscuit. Give it to me also, I said. Aaj sunfeast ne bacha liya..We walked out of Reddy baba’s place and thought we should walk into the forest. We went ahead..there was a small patch of road leading into a path..we jumped out of the jeep and started walking into forest. We saw a flock of imperial green pigeons on a tree. It was an awesome sight to watch! A bunch of butterflies sat on the ground. We walked close and took some pictures. Let us sit here and watch some birds, Rahul said. We sat in the middle of the forest. It was the most amazing time of my life. I loved every second of it. After spending long time there, we walked again and took another route. We saw a narrow winding road and walked again to another part of the forest.
Though they were a part of eastern ghats, they were not scrub jungle. Verdant green with tall lemon grass, the walk into the forest was a memorable experience. We saw a pile of bones left by a leopard. A small purple butterfly hovered around me, guiding me till we got out of the forest. It was a thrilling moment. The feeling in my heart cannot be expressed in words, definitely not. It is more like experiencing being in the abode of nature, breathing medicinal plants, the aroma that wafts through trees, through the wind...there is only silence.. Like my friend says, I feel safe and secure in forest. I feel the same! I am never scared here. I know nature will protect me. After spending a lot of time in the forest, we came back. It was soon time for me to leave. As I left the mountains, I had tears in my eyes. I had no heart to leave the place. I made a promise to the mountains, to come back and be in their shelter, to feel protected!
Living in a small town, with simple, loving and helping people was a humbling experience. It doesn't take much to be happy, not a lot of money, not great luxuries. The simpler the life is, the better it gets. :)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Revisiting Chennai

Day 1: Landed in Chennai amidst rains. As usual, the auto guys fleeced me. When will Chennai ever change with respect to autodrivers charging the right price?

I straight went to the apartment where I lived. This brings in so many memories. I chose to stay with my neighbour aunty who were my second set of parents. Always go there, though the house is small, I feel more at home..Aunty, uncle and their kids are just so amazing.

Anurag Mathur, my dear friend sent me a couple of messages when I was about to leave for Chennai..are you in Chennai or are you going to come here? Anurag, Don’t tell me you are in Chennai.

Ha ha, yes I am. So, Sunday morning breakfast?

Oh yeah done! After a long chat with aunty, I set off to meet AM after a year. The last time I met him was in Bombay. Long time. We met at our usual place, Anokhee. I am going to bore for your two hours Sharada, so much to tell and I do not get an audience like you often.

Go ahead, I said and started listening.

As we spoke, he shot out a few lines of liners..

Whoa, I said.

Don’t know this happens when I am with some people. Sharada, what are you doing? I know it is because of you I am saying all this.

Yeah, it is the Sharada effect. LOL!

He suggested we should try drinking orange juice with black coffee? What, I shrieked! Yeah, its a great combo, I got to know when I was in Dubai last time.

Ok, lets try, I said. Anyway, people think we are mad, so what’s the big deal..

It turned out to be actually good!!

Spoke about so many things that time flew. The rains were heavy and we walked out..

So, I know you are becoming famous, but when will I say that The Sharada Balasubramanian is my friend?

Very soon, I smiled.

With AM, I can start a conversation I left a year back.

Realised, that is the connect. Told him, how I was away from a lot of people these days.

After a great meeting with him, headed back home to have nice lunch made by aunty. Crashed and then headed off to my loosu friend Shyamala’s house. It was her engagement the next day.

It seemed like I was walking into a total mad house. Some four grandmothers, 10 aunties, uncles, kiddos. I was like..hello?

Said hi to all grandmothers and uncles..and said can I help?

I was already full eating all day... so wanted to skip my dinner. One aunty came and should eat..they did not listen to me..she actually was so sweet, she fed one has ever done it to me..except mom, grandmom and yeah my brother..I had a smile everytime she fed me..i just hugged her and said thanks..almost had emotional tears from my eyes..spoke to grandfather..lady, isn’t being a journalist a risky job? Oh no, it is not. I mean you have to do anti government stories. Yeah, I have done it, its no big deal! I smiled..

Another aunty came and she wanted me to take me to her house. So, not married yet? Oh no. You must, this is the right time.

(Gosh, oh no, here I go) i did not say anything..

We sat to watch Lord of the Rings at night, but with everyone asleep, we switched of the tv and slept for a few hours.

Next day, I was all busy in cajoling my friend..aunties were coming with kilos of jewellery ..decking up S..and she hated me..somehow said, manage it..on the other hand, her mother was getting angry..finally pacified both and took her.

Met another reporter from PTI there..started next your number sharada?

Oh no, please, why don’t you get married?

Ok, deal..lets see who gets married first.. I said..

After a hearty chat, came back to mad house becoming more mad..

Me and S’s dad had a very very long chat till 12.30 am. Talking about how rigid our systems are and how times have changed and we are stuck to traditions without even knowing its significance.

Uncle, i have made my mind not to marry an iyer guy. There are very few who can stand up on their own.

Soon, S chipped in. Actually, sharada is right. In fact, my prof at Malayala Manorama told me to marry someone not an minded women can never find a smart man in iyer clan..i should write a separate post on this. there are only a handful of exceptions.

Finally uncle gave in. You girls read, you are intelligent, I give up. yayyyy..success!!

Uncle, you can look out for a guy for me, but no thanjavur Brahmins and all..they are very conservative and we don’t follow all that...but given a choice, no horoscope nonsense and no iyer...please! i am tired and fed up..Dont worry, he said..

Me and S wanted to have a private conversation, so we shut all doors and started talking in the kitchen..till 2 am..and what do we talk..MEN!! the complicated creatures in the planet. God knows what runs in their mind...

Our talk went on till early morning, I crashed for couple of hours and then went to meet Radhika. S dropped me off on her was raining and the long drive was awesome..

Rads had just come back from London and she was someone who knew me well...we decided to go for a movie..Went to see Aisha at the new Express Avenue interesting, good looking men..sigh! Aisha was actually a superb movie..more of the girly sorts..and me being the big fan of Abhay Deol..loved it..and especially the manly role he plays in the movie..Rads, this is the kind of guy I want to nice na! She just smiled..

We had some yummy food and went home. Between my dear friend Inderjeet called me. I heard you are in Chennai.

Ya, I am.

And you did not call me?

Sorry yaar, was busy.

When are you coming home?

Hmmm..ok, will come tonight?

Ya, i will send you my car..

I could not go for Inder’s wedding in Punjab, and it was long he was inviting me home. So, wanted to meet his wife and son.

Inder had to travel, so he said, you go home and spend time with my wife..sounds cool..

After having a heavy meal at S’s place (it was avani avattam), aunty stuffed food and sweets into my the evening, me and Amandeep (inder’s wife) went off to her aunty’s house. realised it was Raksha bandhan...from a south Indian family to a big Punjabi family. There was nothing different..i was fed again..phew! so much love..and one bhaiya came and thrust a 100 rs note in my hand..keep this..I was so humbled..he did not even know me..

Inder’s son, Sahibjeet is adorable, chubby, cute boy. I played with him till late night..Aman loved my company..and she was so happy..said, please spend the day with me.. I had a great time with her and Sahib. She cooked awesome food..and we talked and talked..had a conversation with the high flying Inder on the way to airport..he was going to Bombay. I think he spent half the time in flights..hey sharada, I also want to do something on my own..I am so good with work, and if i put this effort in my own business, I will go places..Said, yes do it..

He actually admired how I did things close to my heart..yaar, need guts to do what you are doing..its ok yaar, just doing what I feel I want to do..but its nice when friends offer their words of support and recognize it..

The next day, I had to meet another friend Srini. He is an actor and I still had not watched his film. Told him I would watch it! Had a cup of coffee with him and came back to meet Rads. She is so much fun to be with..and that was all the time I had. I had to come back home to finish my work. Four days not doing work felt like a big deal!

I could not meet a lot of people I wanted to. Realised many things. There were some people who were friends with me from a very long time...close too..but today, they were no where in my life. And it didn’t matter to me. at the same time, there were people who were just the same with me and I know they have entered my life, stay and be there..and some..just faded..and sometimes I much time I wasted on all wrong people in my life..doing things..but experience..has taught me many things..

Feel happy, with some love..long lasting love...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Trivandrum Jaunts

This was probably my third trip to Trivandrum, but the most exciting one. In the sleeping city, I was restless and sleepless, discovering myself in the company of eminent writers and poets, getting motivated, to do more in life. A gist of my tour..

Day 1. Landed at Suneetha’s place and started talking like it was the end of the world. Her daughter, Nirupama was so sweet to me. There was a monster in the house too-the neighbour’s two year old kid who became very friendly with me. Called me Sharada in a very strange way. That day, we went to a place called Pathayam to have lunch. The place serves 'no masala' healthy food. After a late lunch, we headed to DC books at Statue. Spent a lot of time reading and buying books. (bookaholic me) Then headed for ice cream at Baskin and Robbins. The evening when we went home, Suneetha’s classmate dropped in. Sri lekha was the first writer I met, of course, apart from Suneetha. Sune told me that she writes poems in Malayalam and English. She had also published children’s fiction. I, being me, started off talking like she was some old friend. Bonded with ease and started asking about her writing and requested her to translate some Malayalam poems for me. Though I could understand Malayalam, it wasn’t all that great to understand poetry, but I was glad I was able to crack most of it. And the usual writer’s discussion happened. At night I sat quietly outside, talking when I saw something fire having wings..fireflies....!!!! I had never seen them in a city and it was such a treat to the eyes. I froze for sometime watching them, what a beauty! It was a great night :)

Day 2

Went to Pathayam again to have a fruit lunch. Headed to the museum next and spent hours there watching artefacts. I was always this museum loving kind and history takes me into trance. Some great paintings from Raja Ravi Varma and some amazing carvings in ivory. We then met my designer (a super awesome guy) and had a chat talking about self publishing business. Got a nice authentic Kerala saree for myself.

Day 3:

Met a very senior journalist who was on an independent path covering IT news. Spent three hours talking with him on the media issues in India. Intense..then headed to Fab India! Absolutely loved the way the place was decorated. Met an archaeologist. Another interesting person. Had lunch with her in long hours of talking about history. We then headed to meet the editor of a publishing house. She was interested in publishing my photographs on birds as a coffee table book. Why don’t you send me a proposal? I was stunned, surprised. It is nice when people approach you with some offers. She also asked me to send my poems to her, so she can edit. She is among the well-known poets in the country and I was thinking if my poems were worth sending to her. I read her poems, and got goose pimples. Two of her poems were in the collection of the best love poems of the century published by a professor from Oxford. I felt humbled interacting with her. She gifted me a nice pair of silver ear rings. I had no words to thank her for the motivation and support she offered me.

Day 4:

Went to Padamanaswamy temple in the morning and spent a good three hours there. Rich with the history of Travancore kings, this palace left me astounded. Came home and headed to Veli village. Loved sitting by the water. Soon the rain poured and the sea splashed in excitement. After spending an hour there, headed to watch Koodiyattam, the 2000 year old dance. A good two hours at the dance show and a long walk at night in the tiny lanes of Trivandrum made me feel good.I was discovering myself.

Day 5:

Went for a documentary film screening. Saw couple of movies and interacted with the director. Very interesting theme and great direction. The director was kind enough to interact with me. There was another great conversation there. In the evening headed out to another meeting. Met three more writers. One who published her book when she was 19, another one had translated Harry Potter into Malayalam. Did not talk much just listened and kept quiet. Energy saving mode :) Went out shopping.

Day 6:

Met another poet Nayantara. She came to invite Suneetha for her book launch and I as usual started talking. I asked her for an autographed copy of her book and she gladly obliged. It was amazing to see so many writers publishing independently. Then headed out and met the archaeologist again for lunch. As we went out bumped into more people. Met another girl –a computer engineer who became a copy writer. Just doing some freelancing now and want to start writing she said. Seemed like me! Started having random talks. She said she lived with her boy friend. I was shocked, in a place like Trivandrum? That was a shocker for me because even in bigger city like Chennai, boys are not even allowed in the house, forget living together. Save the best for last..went to meet my friend’s parents. Two super cool actually looked like a miniature version of a clouded leopard. Fell in love!

Then it was time to head player was playing..white flag by dido..lost as always..i went back with fond memories..

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fresh faces

It has been quite a hiatus, I have not been writing extensively, just was not in sync. It is during these times friends come and just make your life bloom..

I had met Gopika, my friends roomie at a creative writing workshop in Chennai. It did not take us many days or years to become good friends. We had this instant connection ans we hit off well-the connection was writing of course. A few days back she called me. Hey, interested in doing translation for an American company? It is for a friend and she is coming to Coimbatore. Oh yes, why not was my immediate answer. And then I spoke to Lucie. She was a German and lived in America. Hey, heard so much about you Sharada and can't wait to see you. I just smiled. Me too, I said. She messaged me as soon as she landed here from Delhi. Waiting to see you :)
The next day morning, I landed up at the hotel. She had a small gift for me. There are two gifts, she said. One from me and one from Gopika. Now, tell me who gave what. I knew it and laughed. It was so sweet. Someone I was meeting for the first time was gifting me something. Sharada, I asked Gopika one question, said Lucie. You know Sharada since a decade? She said, No. It has been three months I guess. She was shocked. And you guys spoke to each other as if you knew since ages..I told Lucie, "It does not matter how long you know a person for, its a connect that is important." True, she said. Then I met Rashmi aunty, Sally, Shefali, Chinmay, Kanika..and man I felt like I knew them since long. I started discussing history of temples with Kanika, with Shefali talking about my passions on writing, with Rashmi aunty about every random thing.

I loved the experience of interviewing after a long time too! Lucie was one person I could talk to for hours and hours. She was amazing. We cracked jokes, laughed, commented, like good ol' buddies catching up after long..

I really wonder this strange connection I have with people. People with who I get connected randomly and we become great friends, people I get to know ..but never meet, people who are far away from me, yet close. Makes me feel relation has no boundaries, or time.

Spoke to a few more people in the last few days and the experience cannot be expressed in words..

End of the day, Lucie held my hand and said thanks. A nice hug and I told her bye..
She is coming home tomorow with Chris and Sally to celebrate New Year with me..
I cant wait :)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Spanish Connection

It had been quite a long time I stepped out of the house and met a few new people. Today, I decided to go to the railway station to book tickets for the toy train from Coimbatore to Ooty. I have tried going there many a times, but luck never favoured me. Either the tickets are full or like today, another fated day, the trains were cancelled due to landslides.

As I entered the railway station and was standing in the queue filling up my forms, I saw a foreigner eagerly looking at me. She then approached me asking how to book tickets. Where do you want to go I asked her? Chennai, she said. I tried to pull out a form and give her and told her which trains go and at what time.

I realised that my curiosity to communicate with new people still hasn't died. It grows everyday when I randomly start talking to people. The attitude is still the same. I am happy about it. I saw her smiling at me. I smiled back and decided to strike a conversation. Where are you from, I asked. From Spain, Canary islands, to be precise. Wow, and you have come here to travel. Yes, she said. She told me she travelled to Goa and many other places. She was just back after a 10-day blissful vacation in Ooty. I was thrilled and was asking about her stories. She was having a lovely time in India. I gave her suggestions on where to go. I am planning to go to Hampi, she said. Oh please do and remember stay there for couple of days atleast. Its an awesome place. She was so engrossed talking she did not realise her turn had come. She could not get any tickets and I gave her some options on how to reach Chennai. She also told me that the toy train to Ooty wasn't working. I was a little disappointed.

Then she started asking me about what I do and she thought I had a more exciting life. Not really, it is just ok. I love travelling and I take off when I feel like, I said. What do you do, I asked. Well, I am a chemistry teacher. Wow, was my reaction. Oh, nothing great she replied. It is not as exciting as your life. I merely smiled.

I like what you are wearing, so elegant, she told me. I was in a pista green and lemon yellow salwar, quite a soothing color for this horrid summer. She asked me, "why people do not prefer to wear their own Indian clothing in India and why are they copying the west?" I gave a hearty laugh. Here was a woman who had come all the way from Europe, she sensed that Indian clothing is indeed amazing and she loved it. I just thought, yeah right. Tell me about it. In the scorching summer with mercury at 45 degrees, I see women in Chennai wearing figure hugging jeans. Wonder how they could do that? Damn, its summer, and I sweat and how could these people in the name of fashion and westernisation wear clothes which are uncomfortable?

Sometimes, it does strike my mind. People can wear what they want, of course, its their freedom, but why make yourself uncomfortable just to show your modernity.

It was time for me to head back and I said bye to my new friend. I tapped her, Hey, didn't ask your name? Susanna, she said. And you? Sharada. It was nice meeting you. It was a parting smile. Another interesting conversation!!

Friday, January 15, 2010

A sweet Pongal celebration

Though Pongal is the most celebrated festival in Tamil Nadu, I seldom had a chance to familiarise myself with the richness and vivacity of the celebrations, to listen to village folk songs and experience the festive spirit in the authentic village style. Yesterday, I finally got an opportunity to feel the festival. My friend was going to Pollachi to one of their family friend’s house. I had heard much about them from my friend’s mom. They owned a farm, all of 15 acres, and practiced biological farming there. I so much wanted to go and see the farm and yesterday when my friend asked me if I wanted to join, I had no heart to say no. I just jumped at it. I asked my friend’s mom before leaving if I could just go in my cargo and t-shirt. Would they mind, it, I asked? Oh no, Sharada, you can just go like this, they are very chilled out, she said.

We reached there by sunset and saw a swarm of people in the farm. I did not know anyone. But I did not feel like an alien. Though of late, I remain confined to my spaces, I always loved being with people. My friend looked at me and asked, “Feeling out of place?” Not all, I said. I went and said hello to everyone and introduced myself. I never smiled so much in the last six months. There were a dozen children playing, aunties chatting in large groups, a few old people sitting on the cement made long blocks, talking about their good old days. One uncle soon came and offered us peanuts to munch. Kids were busy masticating sugar canes and it was a sight to watch. Watching vivid emotions of happiness, togetherness, harmony, laughter made life look so wonderful.

When I went there some aunties asked me if I was Hindu. I just smiled and said, and in their ears I whispered, “Aunty, I am a Brahmin veetu ponnu.” Nee Brahmina, she asked in a loud tone and everyone hovered around me. No mark on your forehead? hmm..When I have no answer I just choose to smile. Then I said, I would have loved to come in a saree had I knew the celebrations were grandiose! That made them happy! I winked and walked away.

Slowly, aunties got very friendly and I was happy hearing their tales. They all were like one big family and me- a part of them. We celebrated mattu pongal on the same day. I had never seen how it was celebrated. They had built a small block and fixed banana leaves on four sides of the block. They anointed the cow’s forehead with sandal and put a garland around its neck, made the holy beast cross a line made of some leaves. Before the cow walked across the line, a girl took a lamp made of rice flour on her head and walked around the block thrice and all the boys walked behind. Finally, they made the cow walk into the block.

The cow then went its way. As kids were playing around, there was a sudden power cut in the farm. And my friend dragged me, “Come lets watch the stars, she said”. Thrilled by the idea, I saw millions of stars on the unpolluted sky. We saw Orion, the constellation-the hunter with his bow and it was so clearly visible. Bright stars filled the sky, and we walked to a dark side of the farm to watch more stars without the lights. An orange star was shining bright and my friend told me it was Saturn. I stood in disbelief. I was looking into the vast space and longed to sleep under the stars. Suddenly, I saw a shooting star and that was the moment. I witnessed the sky’s splendour.

The dog was barking (a wonder dog who saved his master from stamping on snakes thrice), soon people spotted a cobra and were taking pictures of it and showing us. I saw a small toad jumping into the grass. Ornamental trees, silver oaks and shining stars... and I suddenly felt cold in the dark night.... After a sumptuous dinner, kids dragged me for a photo session and we happily posed. Some aunties called me, “Hey, come and sit with us.” I was only happy to oblige. Never seen someone like you Sharada, it is nice to sit and talk to you. I just blushed. I felt so touched. It was soon time to depart. Aunties bade me adios, telling me not to forget them. We spent overnight at uncle’s place in Pollachi, talking about farming and his novel mechanisms. He grew guava trees just for the parrots to come and feed, not to sell them. There were poisonous snakes which lived in the farm from the last 5 years, but they never harmed.

It was time for me to get to home. I said bye to an old grandmother, a beautiful aunty and two lovely kids this morning and thanked them for all the love they showered on me. I hope to see them soon, spend more time gazing at the stars, watching birds and walking in the farm.