Saturday, December 22, 2012

A dog's life

It was the late hour of night. The hour when nothing holy or human stirs. The hour of owls, bats, ghouls and a multitude of other creatures that see less and feel more; a multitude of creatures that we, humans detest because we see more and feel less.

And in this hour that belongs to neither God nor man, our scene is set. A better poet might have set in a golden dawn or a copper evening. But a poor poet must settle for the coal of the night. And the characters too cannot aspire to be anything great. So we have to settle for a couple of dogs. Dogs, not of pedigree, but mangy, filthy curs with fleas on their skins and a filthy odour emanating from their body.

So, in the unholy hour of night, we have these most disgusting dramatis personae acting out our play. Let us then begin with their positions. They are two in number, not more than that, so that the reader is not put off more than necessary. One is a dark, rotund dog, who lies supine, his head resting on his paw, which bears a virile red rash. He has a black coat, which is not a pleasant glossy black, but a dirty black coat that has accumulated many marks of poverty and abuse. On his forehead there is a pale white tuft of hair that runs straight, a possible remnant of some old disease. The other dog is quite the opposite. White like bone, lean like bone too. He stands near the black dog, like a ghostly spectre, something that has risen from the grave. His eyes are red and mimicking the black dog's strange mark, this one's forehead has a red rash running, as though his forehead had been split open with a stone (which is possibly the case).

A brave reader must it be indeed to read beyond this, for nothing pleasant, nothing beautiful has yet risen in this story. And since the poet already knows that there is no hope for any beauty or glory in this tale, to encourage the reader who has come so far, he names the dogs with names of beauty and glory. Hari, the dark dog and Hara, the white one.

This, some might call sacrilege. But to them the poet appeals, 'Like the beggar mother decks her child with pieces of mirror stringed up, aping the rich mother's child who is decked in diamonds have I too named these characters.' Therefore, the reader being large-hearted, grants the poet this mercy and reads on.

So what transpires between these filthy, diseased curs Hari and Hara? A conversation of the most mundane nature.

Hari (lying sprawled n the mud): Oh so you too are here Hara? I thought the trouble has not yet started in your place.

Hara (sitting down and trying hard to scratch his right ear with his left leg): That's what I was hoping for too. But you know how the two-legged ones work. Or rather, nobody knows!

(They both laugh at this joke)

Hari: So what is it this time? Tonnes of those strong nauseating flowers? Ear splitting noise?

Hara: All of it together. I cannot sleep any time of the day or the night. Thankfully they stopped the ruckus early.

Hari: Strange. I don't see why they do this. Their loud brazen bells pealing hard enough to shatter ear drums, the hot blazing fires and the multitude of odours that assault the nose. It seems painful to go through all of it. And they do it so willingly!

Hara: The worst of it all, if you ask me is their insistent efforts at trying to feed those stones food. Why waste good food on stones that are never hungry, I will not understand.

Hari: Well, at the end of it, they at least share some of the food. I've seen a great many of them eat in their big halls and a lot of food being given away as well.

Hara: True, that we must grant them. But still, look at how it is shared. The ones who wear that band across their chest, they eat first, then the rest and last eat those who are the thinnest and hungriest. Why, if we tried that amongst us dogs, there would be murder. The hungry ones would tear and eat us up.

Hari: Well, perhaps that is why the two-legged ones despise us so much. Because we have no order, no rules.

Hara: Hmm... you do have a thought there. Perhaps you think we must aspire to be more like them?

Hari: Perhaps.

(They both ponder the possibility for a while, seriously. Then, they break into peals of laughter.)

Hara: That was a good one. I can imagine rows of dogs standing in front of a stone protected by a special dog in a dark room, crying in hoarse voices with the special dog shouting the loudest and giving those nauseating flowers to a select few dogs.

Hari: That makes me think. It is not just the two legged ones with bands across their chests that get treated special you know. I've seen some others, one with lots of shiny yellow things on their body, riding in one of those hideous beasts that spit poisonous fumes, get special treatment too. I've seen them walk away from the bony two legged ones through separate passages, almost as if the bony ones are like us.

Hara: That I too have seen. The difference seems to be that these special two legged ones give the special one at the hall some kind of paper. Though I fail to see what is so special about paper. Our Mr.Donkey eats it everyday from garbage!

Hari: Perhaps like us, they too have a special love of garbage? But honestly, I would bother with none of these questions, if they would only let me sleep in peace. Their horrid songs start before the stroke of dawn and keep me awake till late in the night.

Hara: Well, you at least get a break in the night. In my hall, they raise their din all through the night on some days. I wonder what it is with these two-legged ones, their halls and their noise. I tried once you know. To understand what mystery lies in those halls, in that dark chamber in which they keep their treasured stone.

Hari: Did you? What did you find?

Hara: Oh quiet nothing really. I was roaming the street as is my wont when I heard someone call my name, loud, many times. Now you know how we understand very little of the two legged one's speech except our names.

Hari: That is true. Little is common between our speech except the names.

Hara: So, I thought I was called for, perhaps for a bit of rice or some leftover that one of the bony two legged ones thought to share with me. And in one moment of madness, I went into the hall, almost near the chamber.

Hari: You did not!

Hara: I know. I was shivering in fright there, realizing my folly, waiting for the stone or the stick or both. But luckily there was no two legged ones there at the moment. The one who called my name must have walked around somewhere. So, I stood there for a minute, looking at the dark chamber where the stone lay. It was afternoon and the summer sun was nigh. In that stifling heat, I could see something, something nebulous and yet clear stirring inside that chamber. Something that seemed to have awakened to the


music of silence.

Hari: The music of silence? You mean that very same ancient music that our ancestors heard ages before the two legged ones arrived? How do you know it was that?

Hara: Oh it was just a feeling. I don't know for sure if it were that music. But I did feel something stirring inside the chamber. Perhaps it was just an illusion created by the noon sun, my hunger and the play of the light.

Hari: That's possible. You can never say for sure.

Hara: I was drawn to that movement. For I cannot describe it any better. It was as if the wind was trying to get a shape while moving. And one thing I was sure. Whatever it was that stirred in the chamber, stirred because of the silence. Don't ask me how I knew or felt it. I just felt it.

Hari: If you felt it, you felt it.

Hara: Yes. So that one moment I thought I would go in and see what was stirring there.

Hari: And did you find what it was?

Hara: Alas! No. The moment I put my foot forth to step in, a two legged one, possibly the one who called my name screamed a curse and flung a stone to my head. The wound as you can see is yet to heal.

Hari: Poor you. I hope you don't get an infection and die.

Hara: Well, if I die, I die. But the wound did not bother me much. It's nothing new and we cannot expect better from the two legged ones. But what left me feeling empty was, that thing that stirred in the chamber, it disappeared the moment the two legged one's voice rose. Almost as if the utterance destroyed it.

Hari: So you are saying there is indeed something in those chambers that these two legged ones guard so ferociously?

Hara: Perhaps. But there is another possibility.

Hari: And what is that?

Hara: Perhaps the two legged ones do not want anything in that chamber. They scream and raise a din, smother the chamber with various odours, all to ensure that nothing stirs there? Perhaps that thing that I saw there is something that the two legged ones are afraid of, even as we are afraid of them.

Hari: Hmmm... I think you are on to something here.

And at this juncture, when it looked like our filthy mongrels were close to something a little more than the mundane, there walked in a mendicant, equally filthy. He wears just a loin cloth around his crotch, which does nothing to cover his scaly privates. His hair matted runs from his head to his shoulders like enormous centipedes. And in his hand, he carries a bag that has some rice in it.

Hara: Oh forget that. Look there, it is one of the two legged ones. And he has food.

Hari: And he has no band on his chest nor metal on his body. Which means, he might share it with us.

They both look at each other in mutual ecstasy. They run to the mendicant, wagging their tails, their tongues out eyes looking up placatively. The mendicant looks at them and smiles.

Mendicant: You poor dogs. Did you too get chased from the feast at the temple?

He sits down on the ground. The dogs too sit next to him, expectant. He scoops out rice and feeds them one by one. And then, using the same hand out of which those filthy dogs ate, the same hand which now has their disgusting saliva oozing in it, he scoops out some rice for himself and eats it. And this he does till all the rice is eaten. Then they all lie down there, mendicant, Hara and Hari, there on the dust of the road and sleep.

Far from the two legged ones.

Far from the temples.

In peace.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The God of Dreams

In this sleep of sleeps,
dream of dreams
I fell asleep once
and dreamt I was a Brahmin boy.

Then I awoke
and slept again
and dreamt I was a man; a lover.

Then I awoke
and slept again
and dreamt I was a dreaming poet.

Then I awoke
and slept again
and dreamt I was an immortal soul.

Then I awoke
and slept again
and dreamt I was a dream of dreams.

Then I awoke
and slept again
and forgot to wake,
Forgot to sleep or
to dream.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Vaikunta Ekadasi - A gateway to heaven

I saw a hoarding recently advertising the Vaikunta Ekadasi celebrations in a nearby temple. I guess by the time it is early morning Sunday here, many streets in Bangalore will have lines of people queuing up to walk through the hallowed gateway to heaven. A single consecrated day when God pardons all our sins and welcomes anybody into His abode of joy and bliss. A day when God shall grant the highest and the lowest of boons freely for He is pleased with us all.

A beautiful thought indeed.

But then again I wonder. How tiresome all of this must be to God. How tiresome must we be to Him? We ask for boons, for salvation, for joy, for truth and everything else; everyone of us; all the time. Stop. Hold on to that thought for a while. Let us come back to it.

Look at the world around us. There is food, nourishing delicious food all over the land. There is air filled with the perfume of flowers to breathe in. There is water, cool and life giving for us to drink. There are songs and stories for our pleasure. Grasslands for us to stroll in; mountains for us to seek silence; oceans for us to sail on; birds to sing us song; animals to give us company. There is life for us to live in a million myriad ways.

And on the other side, there is hunger for us to relish our food. There is stench for us to understand perfume. There is thirst for us to quench. There is sorrow and pain to feed our songs and stories. Deserts that scorch our feet; humidity that brings out sweat; cold that makes us shiver; disease that makes us strong. There is darkness and evil to show us the meaning of things.

What a marvellous world we live in. There is nectar drawn from the earth, the sun and the skies and stored in a mango fruit for us. And there is poison drawn from the same earth, the sun and the skies and stored in the snake's venom for us. Like a painter who uses the same colours and paints infinite scenes, our Goddess (I prefer the female personification) too paints a multitude of scenes in this world of ours.

And beyond all this, there is death. How sweet, how full of promise and hope is this thought of death! A final, long sleep of rest after all our toil! And how do we sleep? Under the cool earth, covered by the green grass with the birds singing over our tomb while the trees, the worm and Mother Earth Herself consume every inch of our putrid flesh, without wasting a single cell! Or if our is a pyre, not a tomb, then all that flesh consumed with a greedy lust by the fire, as he kisses, licks, bites, scratches and makes love to our rotten body as if it were a heavenly nymph!

How delightful it is to consume!
How delightful it is to be consumed!
How delightful it is to live!
How delightful it is to die!

Now, let us revisit that thought again. We are born with limbs that adapt to work, with a mind that thinks, imagines and creates. We are born with the birds, the dogs, the squirrels, the tigers and the snakes as our kin. We live a life full of hope, dreams, pain, sorrow, humiliation and glory. We have the sun to fill us with light so that we may toil in his heat for our fruit; the moon to wash away all our weariness in her cool nectar; the rivers, the mountains, the oceans and the ancient trees that teach us all that is there with their eternal silence. We devour life, this eternal buffet that comes with a never ending platter of dishes each filled with countless tastes.

And yet, we stand in front of God and ask for Paradise? For heaven? For salvation? For a teacher? For a path?

How derisive! How insulting!

The Goddess, our beloved has blessed us already. She has raised us, feeding us with the milk of life from Her own breasts. And when we are done with our sport, She welcomes us back into Her cool lap and puts us to sleep. And She has granted us all these boons to us, because She is already pleased with us. In Her arms, every day is Vaikunta Ekadasi; every day, a day of boons.


Ask no more!
Seek no more!

For to ask and seek is a sacrilege against Her.

There is a paradise. Its name is earth.
There is a true teacher here. His name is silence.
There are boons. Their names are Now and Here.
There is salvation. Its name is life.
There is a Goddess, a living Goddess. Her name is Me!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Son of God

Praise the King, our friend, our kin
Praise him who did love us true
Praise him who was born anew
Praise him who did cleanse our sin

Praise him for he did begin
the song of love and life anew
From hell of hate did he rescue
you and me and all our kin

Praise him who did die for us
The Son of God who rose from dead
Praise him who did truly bless
even when from him we fled

Praise him for every one of us
His is the only path ahead


I spent all day and all night
carving the perfect image of God
in my dark temple
While God outside
was amusing Himself
by making pebbles
some smooth
and some rough.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

On first looking into Jackson's Hobbit

Much have I travell'd in realms of lore
And many a world of fancy seen
Round the Middle Earth's kingdoms I've been
That to Eru's music the Ainur bore

Of these to the Hobbit my love I bore
An adventure beyond the Shire's green
That starts with the dwarven song serene
Of gold and silver and stones of yore

Yet never did I see its glory before
Till Jackson made it for the screen
Oh! How his magic does swim and soar
Following Tolkien's magnificent mien

This is then an Ainur's song
Sung in music that to Eru did belong!

Paraphrased from

P.S. The rhyme and meter are not exact for this to be called a sonnet.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


The young Brahmin (who will remain unnamed because the narrator of this story has a rather limited imagination) had long since given up the profession of his caste. He had by nature a weakness of mind which prevented him from undergoing the rigour of his fellowmen. While the other students of his class stood erect chanting their mantras like a row of sunflowers, he flitted about. He would recite the mantra correct thrice, before his eyes caught sight of a distant cloud that looked like his grandfather's snuff box. The fourth chant of the mantra would have his brain thinking about how his grandfather would shake his head the moment he took the snuff... like the dog across his street would when it was sprayed with water. The fifth chant, he would smile thinking of the dog running in circles trying to catch his tail. The fifth chant would never happen because he would be lost thinking of how that little girl in the red dress with almond eyes would laugh clapping her hands seeing the dog across the street.

So, it was not long before he was thrown out of school. Now, if he had been born in into one of those rich Brahmin families, he would have found life easy; because after all a Brahmin recited mantras to earn money and if you already had money, there was no need for mantras or scriptures. But a poor orphan Brahmin who could not tell mantras, recite the scriptures made no money. So, our poor hero had to find some profession to earn his keep.

So, following the slew of cliches that have haunted this story so far, our poor dumb hero had only one redeeming quality in him. That was his physical strength. He could run a mile, drink a pot full of kanji and carry a heavy load. So, he took up wood cutting. Everyday, he would go deep into the forest, where sunlight treads softly and gurgling streams would gather under the shade of trees to gossip. There, he would chop down four branches from a single tree, never the same tree everyday. He would then loll about till the sun turned a dusky orange. In the evening, he would gather his wood, carry it on his head and sit in the market. And all his wood would be sold soon, because after all, it was wood cut by a Brahmin, a poor dumb Brahmin, but a Brahmin nevertheless and so must be pure.

Thus his life went on till one day when he came to the market from the jungle, there was a huge commotion. He soon found that it was all thanks to some bearded saint or guru who had arrived to deliver a sermon. He seemed a popular one, this guru, for the market was crowded with people of all walks. Sweetmeat vendors and buttermilk vendors had quickly setup stalls to sell their wares to the wisdom hungry, salvation thirsty crowd. Among all of them, stood our hero, neither hungry (for he had eaten three raw mangoes in the forest) nor thirsty (for he had drunk muddy stream water to counter the sour taste of the mangoes).

And the guru spoke.

'It is knowledge and knowledge alone that can save us! For without knowledge we are as beasts. Can a dog ever attain salvation? Can a pig ever see God? We alone are blessed with the boon of knowledge. And this boon we've received after countless births, countless toils. From grass to worm to snake to monkey, we have become man. And after being born a hundred times as man, we are born as Brahmins. Brahmin! The keeper of the knowledge! The protector of the flame! It is Brahmins who pass the scriptures from generation to generation like how the rest pass their seed. It is Brahmins who after countless births have earned the right to this gift. '


'And yet, what do we do? Do we take the three ritual baths everyday? Do we chant our mantras everyday? Do we repent our sins form this and past births? Do we meet other Brahmins and debate scriptures? Do we keep the traditions of our forefathers alive? Do we lead the same life that they led? Do we sanctify our homes, our bodies by separating the impure and allowing only the pure? '


'No! How can we, when we have to eat, to drink, to make merry? How can we when we must sing songs, earn money, eat food and enjoy our life? Idle pleasures! We are all caught in the web of desire. But will desire save us? Will our ambition lead us to God? How can we expect to stand in front of God, if we have not kept our traditions alive?'

By this time, our hero slowly walked away. He had no pleasant clothes, no perfumes, no pleasures in his life. But he suddenly felt guilty. For he had left the scriptures, never chanted his mantras and had not for a minute in all his life thought of God. And all his life, he had only used his sacred thread for scratching his back. What a waste! What a big sinner he was!

He walked home down a bleary unfamiliar path of his tears. It looked like all the flowers of joy that he had gathered during those idle summer afternoons were now infested with venom. The muddy stream water that he shared with the deer, the strong smelling fish that he caught and ate once in a while, the lusty gaze that he let linger on that lovely girl across the street...all these ignorant moments of pleasure, now pressed against his heart as sin. He could not sleep, eat or do anything. The scriptures, the traditions, they seemed to hover over his head like ghosts of his conscience constantly hounding him.

And the poor boy! He did not even know enough scriptures or traditions or mantras to know what to do now. And no one would accept him as a disciple because his incompetence was well known (and after all, your reputation as a teacher would fall if you taught an incompetent Brahmin. That would send away the rest of the students and with them your earnings!).

He thought long and decided there was only one way. God after all must be merciful and must grant him some leniency if he at least tried. He pulled out a half torn leaf of scripture that he had preserved from his younger days and started chanting a mantra from it. Days and nights he chanted it with steadfast devotion, piety and repentance. His wavering mind fluttered here and there; now running in the forest; now swimming in the stream; now dancing with that lovely girl with big eyes and so on. It hurt for now as he chanted the mantra, he could see how his mind ran like a wanton woman. He cried when he could not chant for more than 10 minutes. But he started again.

Outside, the world went on its own way. People eating, sleeping, making love, making money, chasing dreams and so on. Even the guru who gave the sermon slept on a deerskin every night, woke up, had his breakfast after his ritual bath, took an afternoon nap while being fanned by his disciples, woke up again to give his sermon, ate fruits and then went to sleep again. Everybody was living, while our poor orphan was dying chanting his mantra every second.

Then one afternoon, when the sun was high in the sky, it sent one ray of golden light pouring down the hut of the orphan. The poor boy already exhausted from hunger, wilted under the searing heat of the summer sun. His lips parched, his stomach grumbling, he could go no longer. He prayed fervently to God to forgive him once more; for once, just this once, he was going back to the jungle to eat some fruit (No more fish for him!).

With an unsteady gait, eyes that often led him astray and a pulsating forehead, he slowly found his way back to the forest. But the time he reached the mango tree, he was crawling on his knees. He looked up. The fruit seemed to hang from the very skies. He almost passed out seeing there was no hope of reaching the fruit.

Just then a cool breeze blew heralding the arrival of dusk. The leaves rustled softly. The boy's forehead stopped pulsating briefly, his head cooling as the breeze caressed his sweat. He dropped to the ground, his own salty sweat running to his lips. As he tasted the salt, his lips touched the cool verdant grass of the forest. In one blind moment, out of sheer hunger, the boy bit a mouthful of grass and chewed it. It was sweet, earthy and bitter. Above all, it brought strength to his body.

A few more cuds of grass later, he slowly stood up. With trembling hands, he picked up a stone and mustered enough strength to throw it at the fruit above. With the fifth attempt, one of the fruits feel below. He grabbed it as if it were God himself and ate it.

A few hours passed. The boy was asleep now, under the shade of the tree, his hunger sated by the fruit, his thirst quenched by the muddy stream. The evening sun now kissed his cheeks with his orange rays.

By night, the Brahmin boy reached home. He removed the roof of his hut and sat a long time looking at the stars, his mouth chewing a blade of grass, his mind chewing the events of the day.

When it became dawn, he tore of his sacred thread, flung it to dust. He sang his first song ever.

What do I search for when nothing is lost?
How do I get free when my chains are but wings?
A thousand scriptures cannot drive away
the darkness in my hut.
But a single ray of dawn and it is light everywhere.

And then, he never spoke again.