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A change of time

>> Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Big Ben (L) and the Mecca Clock Tower (R) are now in competition to be recognised as the centre of time

The Mecca Clock Royal Tower hotel overlooks the Grand Mosque in the holy Muslim Saudi city of Mecca 

The Saudis have unveiled a plan to define Mecca as the center of the world by building a giant clock tower in Mecca. The Bin Laden group’s Royal Mecca Clock Tower  aims to replace GMT time, with “Mecca Time”.

For the past 125 years, the international community has accepted that the start of each day should be measured from the prime meridian, representing 0 degrees longitude, which passes through the Greenwich Observatory.

But now the supremacy of Greenwich Mean Time ( GMT) is being challenged by a gargantuan new clock being built in Mecca, by which the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims could soon be setting their watches. Islamic scholars hope the clock’s influence will stretch far further than the sands of Saudi Arabia, as part of a plan for Mecca to eclipse the Greenwich Observatory as the “true centre of the earth”.

Bearing a striking resemblance to both St Stephen’s Tower, which houses the bell of Big Ben, and the Empire State Building, the Saudi upstart aims to outdo its revered British rival in every way. The clock’s four faces are 151ft in diameter and will be illuminated by 2million LED lights along with huge Arabic script reading: “In the name of Allah”. The clock will run on Arabia Standard Time which is three hours ahead of GMT. When a glittering spire is added, topped with a crescent to symbolize Islam, the edifice will stand at nearly 2,000 ft, making it the world's second tallest building. The clock of Big Ben, by comparison, is just 23ft in diameter, while its tower stands at a mere 316ft.

The clock started ticking from the first day of Ramadan.

Arab countries have been building in frenzy the biggest objects in the world.  Biggest sandwich, largest cake, largest manmade island, tallest building and so on. Everything has to be big or tall. Where Western skyscrapers were the natural product of expanding economic and technological frontiers, Arab skyscrapers are desperate attempts to buy superiority. Does building a tall tower glorify a country? Will they stand the sands of time?

It is tragic that everything is linked to religion these days. More than political power, the fight is going on for religious supremacy. If every religion is going to build clocks all over the world, and make times of their own, what would be the outcome? Probably India would end up building the largest number of towers, because we harbor every religion in the world.

It is becoming a crazy world.

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The Lotus Girl

>> Saturday, September 25, 2010

The lotus flower has a story to tell. It’s own. The lotus grows from roots embedded deep in the mud of a pond. Slowly, the first tiny flowers push through and the plant grows steadily up toward the surface, always striving for the light. And there it blossoms. We recognize this as a parable of how something pure and clean and beautiful can come forth from darkness and  mire. We see it as a symbol of how we too can work through our darkest, most painful circumstances to be reborn to something new. Once it breaks the surface, the lotus flower is transformed. It has risen through the mud to reveal its true identity and beauty in the glory of the light.

That is not just the way of the lotus; it is also the story of humanity.

I have often wondered. How the girl grew up to become such a lotus girl, in the middle of weeds, dirt and mud of this world? She grew up with them around.But grew up as the true lotus girl.All the while she knew they were all like leeches around.It had pained her a lot.

Kindness is not a sign of failure. Letting go is a way of love.

One of the most gripping dilemmas of human existence is undoubtedly the conundrum of contingency: the sense that the events leading up to any given moment are at the same time predestined and accidental. Which, ultimately, is the more terrifying notion that our destinies are predetermined, or the suspicion that they are a matter of pure accident? And how do we make sense of our lives when predestination appears to be the result of a series of accidents or contingent events?

My son was too young to marry. I had not even started thinking of his marrying. I had a daughter to be married off before him. That is what we generally do. We still take a girl as the major responsibility in the family.But to be young and in love is a difficult situation.The time when we call it ' blind'.

My son asked me once .
“Acha, What if the girl had fallen sick after I had married her?”
“We would accept it, we can’t change such things. Those matters are in the hands of God” I said
“Then why don’t you accept this situation? I love her and I will marry her, whatever.God will see us through every thing" .
I thought it was a genuine argument. I believe in God and in what we call destiny.

I also learned another lesson. He doesn't have to give every thing we ask Him  for.His plans are different from ours.

Life doesn’t have to be too long to be good. There are people who lived short lives and filled the world with heavenly fragrance.Others who live ordinary lives,looking after their own business of life .There are people living for long, creating trouble for others, and enjoy seeping through the smoldering wreckage of some one’s lives. They still do. They are like scavengers.They pick and poke on the innocent who have already lost much,and taken more than enough of  pain and suffering in life. 

 Why don’t we learn lessons? I remember having read a lesson during my school days, in the Malayalam class.  It was some kind of an autobiography of the Patriot Ramakrishnapillai, called ““After my Deportation”.
“The way we save money at times of plenty, to be used in times of nothing, is the experience we gain and learn from life".

We use those lessons when we face dire situations. If you see a notice “Mines ahead”, would you dare to walk that road? No. But some people would. They never trust others. They will walk the road and get hurt to learn their lessons, of no further use to them. They could be more painful than ever. One night’s sleep wouldn’t end this world. There are still more days and nights to come and go.One cannot cover up his mistakes with more grievous errors,and end up paying a heavy price.

 Recently an astrologer friend of mine said.
“There are problems out there.  “Sarpa Doshams and “Ancestoral curses” and so on   And you have to  do remedy karmas for that”.
I don’t know what others think about it. We are partly influenced by our religious beliefs and traditions.. We fix auspicious occasions for marriages( Muhurthams) and other important functions. We observe ‘Rahu timing” for everything. Then why not accept this as well?

Do things happen in pre determined ways? Can we alter what is written in our destiny? For that matter, is there something written and kept?


A Malice called Tongue.

>> Sunday, September 19, 2010

My son lost his wife in a tragic illness about a year back. She left him a child, now about 3 years, to take care of. In all ways, he reminds us of her. She was such a good girl; I don’t have enough words to describe her.

I remember the day I was at her bed side when she was admitted to the RCC for treatment of cancer. I was reading a book. I could see from the distance that she was watching me. I tried to avoid her gaze. She had lost all the hair, but still looked more beautiful than ever. It was a sad sight to see her lying in the bed that way. When she caught my eyes, she beckoned me with a gesture of her hands. I got up and went to her bedside.

“Acha” she said, “I know one of your secrets”

“Tell me” I said

“Cuckoo (my daughter) had told me that you love me more than her”, she said

Tears welled in my eyes. I tried to hide it.

She said, “Don’t worry Acha, Everything is going to be all right”.

It didn’t happen that way. She left us in the depths of sadness and agony.The boy is just growing up. With all the innocence of childhood. We wanted him to grow up without any feel of losses. After all, why should a child be deprived of his childhood?

There was this girl who was willing to accept the situation and come in to our family. To give a new life for my son and his child. We were discussing the possibility of a marriage.

That is when the gossips started. Unheard of stories.

My son used to beat her up. He has wasted all her assets. He married her for her wealth. So, be careful. How concerned are our people about the welfare of others!

Apparently, ourown family and relatives were spreading the stories. They don’t want him to get married. I know many of them,who were all smiling faces in front of me.

I said,” Trust is not the nose that falls off on sneezing”. If they don’t trust us, and believe someone else’s words, how can you make a relationship with that family?

I was wondering. How much of an impact can gossips make?

I consoled my son. The girl is not destined to have a happy life. It is her fate. And her parents have contributed to it. And it is God who has shown you the way. Keep all unnecessary elements out of your life, I said.

It is hard to believe slanders can make such damages in the present day life. We call ourselves literate and educated and civilized. …Still.

“Do not go about spreading slander among your people" (Lev. 19:16).

“Men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36, 37).

The Bible warns of widows who have nothing else to do other than gossiping and messing up other’s lives. Now a day, many of our women live their lives like widows, unhappy, discontented with their own lives, and cannot tolerate the happiness of others.And many men who live without working,have also changed roles.They do many things supposedly done by women before. 

Gossip can be a cruel weapon, one that is turned on friends and enemies alike. The gossiping person may be trying to look better by making the other person look bad. Anytime someone has talked badly to me about someone else, I always wonder what that person says about me when I am not around and then I no longer trust that person. God calls gossip a sin, whether we justify it or not. It is unacceptable and it has the power to destroy a family.

Gossip is so damaging. More damage can be done with the tongue than by any other means. Like our mothers used to say,  “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!”


The Only Sin

>> Friday, September 17, 2010

I was reading “The Kite Runner” the other day. I had watched the movie some time back and loved it. Later, at the hospital, I was discussing the movie with my colleague Dr Gopal, and he said, the book was much better than the movie, and so I should read it. It didn’t take much time to realize what he said was true. Hosseinis style is simple and beautiful. The tragedy of childhood betrayal and mixed-up identity against the background of poverty and lowered circumstances was breathtaking. As was the palpably new sense of how horrible it would be like to live under the Taliban.

None of that is in the movie. The book, a seemingly sightless medium, offers greater vision.

I always believed that people live on memories. Sad memories never seem to fade away. Everything we have experienced in life….the bad, sad, painful, exciting… all together make us what we are today. The bad memories make us stronger, the happy more caring, the sad more sensitive. Getting rid of any part of memories is getting rid of part of life.

The Kite Runner is a young man’s memories of his life and childhood, and continues in to the present and through it, covers the history and social and religious system of Afghanistan and touches many sensitive aspects of human relationships.

It is the story of two boys – Hassan a Shi’a, Amir a Sunni; one from wealth, the other a servant – who grow up in Afghanistan the best of friends, until one fateful day when Amir is twelve in the winter of 1975. What Amir witnesses change the boys’ friendship forever, and sets events in motion which will have lifelong consequences.

This is a novel which explores many themes: family loyalty, the rigidity of religious division, the cruel effects of war, and the power of love and redemption. Hosseini’s writing is simple and powerful; a no frills spare style which stuns. There are graphic scenes which involve child rape and molestation. The violence in the book is painful to read…and heartbreaking.

The Kite Runner is an epic story, spanning as it does the cruelty of Afghanistan's recent history - the Soviet invasion, Mujahedeen, and the Taliban. But it is the story of internal strife that makes Khaled Hosseini's novel as beautiful and as terribly haunting as it is. As Amir's wife tells him, "sad stories make good books."

I liked what Amir’s father tells his son about sin.
“You asked about sin and I want to tell you. I mean to speak to you man to man. Do you think you can handle that for once?”
Yes, Baba Jan”
“Good, Baba said, but his eyes wondered.” Now no matter what the mullah teaches, there is only one sin, only one, and that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft. Do you understand that?”
“ No, Baba Jan”. I said, desperately wishing I did. I didn’t want to disappoint him again.
“When you kill a man, you steal a life” Baba said. You steal his wife’s right to a husband; rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal some one’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness. Do you see? “
“There is no act more wretched than stealing, Amir. A man who takes what is not his to take, be it a life or a loaf of naan…. I spit on such a man….. And if I ever cross paths with him, God help him”

I thought about it, and realized it was one of the best explanations I could think of. Is there a better way to look at what is going on in today’s world? Everyone tries to take what does not belong to him. Money, position, women, men, reputation…..everything. When we try to get any of these things truly not belonging to us, we are really stealing it from its rightful owner.
And then, who is not a thief?


Do you remember?

>> Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Everyone knows what is happening these days. But it is hard to imagine how life would have been fifty years back. Our needs and dreams were totally different from those of present day children. My grandson, who is three and half years old, now asks for Benton robots and wants to play his “Manchadi” DVDs on the computer. The trouble was so much that he wouldn’t let us use the laptop at home. Whenever we start doing something on the computer, he would come with his DVD, and wouldn’t budge till we play it for him. I found the solution by buying a small player for him.

Thinking about it, I was wondering. Does it make a difference,in what you are asking for as a child? Our needs and dreams are based on what is available and what is immediately possible in our imagination. Children are the same, in present or past. They remain so because of their innocent  minds.

The older you are, it would be more interesting to think about your earliest memories. Times that you do not remember are times that are lost. As if you haven’t lived those years. People lose their memories due to many reasons, and they lose those years of their lives.

The earliest I could remember was going to the Asan Kaleri ( Something similar to the preschool these days).There was a small Kurisu Palli  (chapel) belonging to the Cathedral. The church had permitted the Asan to run his classes there. I remember the thatched shed clearly. The thatch was of  Palm Olas,( woven plam leaves) and the Kaleri had no walls, It stood on few wooden poles. The floor was filled with sand, and we used to sit on small wooden seats called Korandis. We would write on the sand in front, after sweeping and leveling it with our hands. Asan used to write our lessons on Panayolas ( Date plam leaves). The dried leaves were folded to a shape at one end. The leaves also had a hole at the other end to bind them together with rope. He would inscribe the letters with a metallic instrument called Narayom. Lessons started with Aa..Aaa..Ee..Eee. and so on. As lessons progressed the number of leaves we carried also increased, and we would carry them as a small bundle. There were no school bags or lunch boxes. I remember Asan as a kind old man. He used to wear a white Dhoti, and nothing on top. He never carried a cane. I don’t remember him beating up children. His name was Ammoonga Asan. He lived near our home. I remember walking the distance of about half a mile to the kaleri. The education at the kaleri used to take from few months to the most, a year.

Similar leaves were used in our Kaleri

I have clear memory of my first school day. I was given a new shirt and knickers and my brother took me to the St Josephs Girls High School. I started crying and yelling from home itself, Don’t remember for what. I didn’t want to go to the school. I cried all along the journey to the school, refused to sit in the class and had to be brought back.Being a girl's school, there were only three boys, specially admitted to that class. After two sessions there was an interval, when we were allowed to go out. The girls would go to the toilet and we boys used to go to the neighboring church ground. We would pee on to the wall, often talking to each other all the time. Occasionally we used to have competition as to who could pee the longest distance !. There was a huge tree at the church ground, which stood tall, spreading its branches all above the ground and gave a cool and comforting shade. It was a Sarkara Peratti tree. The long black fruits used to fall all over the ground and had a jaggery like pup inside.

 My first teacher was Vincent Amma. She was the kindest teacher I ever had.I remember her bright eyes and slightly husky voice. I left that school after the third class, still used to visit the convent to see her. She kept track of me all along my education. She used to visit me when she came to Trivandrum on errands. She took pride when I escorted her to my teachers to show them the sick sisters she had brought along. She was taken ill when I was a final year medical student, and she used to hold my hands and weep in between her smiles, when I was at her bedside.

We had competitions of various kinds at the school. Music and speech competitions were the commonest. I had a tongue tie and could not pronounce many words properly. During speech competitions, one of my brothers would teach me a speech and I would go and reproduce it as it was, in my slimy way.  Honesty, Humility,and Hardworking … were the common topics for the speech. Whenever asked to make a speech on honesty, every student would bring up the story of George Washington and his cutting the tree. It was, as if, there were no other honest person on earth. And on humility, everyone would talk on Gandhiji  and his cleaning the toilets. And there was a common statement of introduction.

  “My purpose of standing before you today…is to speak about… so and so”  ( Njan Ningalude Munnil Nilkunthathinte  Uddesom…..).

 I never knew what I was speaking about or the meaning of words therein.

During one of the speech competitions, my eldest brother Babychayan had taught me a speech. He made some twists on the usual introduction and made it like this.

 “My purpose of standing before you naked today is to talk about Honesty….

( “ Njan Nagnanai  Nilkunnathinte Uddesom” ). I learned it by heart and reproduced it in front of the crowd attending the anniversary competition. Everyone had laughed to their heart's content, and I went on with my speech, without knowing what was happening. I completed the whole speech without missing a single word, and at the end, burst in to tears. Vincent Amma came and took me away.  The Headmistress later came to our house and gave a good firing to my brother.

There was another nun sister who was my teacher at the 2nd class, Purackal Amma. She would come to the class with a single toffee, and would place it on her table. She would then draw a perfect circle on the blackboard, and ask us, kids, to draw the circle on our slate. She would then select five girls from the class and would start her rosary .Whenever we completed the circle and took it to her, she would wipe off one part of the circle and give it back to us, saying it was not perfect. None of us could make a perfect circle on the slate. She never gave that toffee away at any time.

I was just trying to see the earliest of my memories. Based on medical information, the average age of the first memories is three years, six months, with the vast majority dating their first recollection somewhere between ages 2 and five years. In general, the earliest recollections of females are earlier and more vivid than those of males, due to differences in how males and females interact as children, especially the types of conversations they have.

In a lot of ways I wish that I had complete memories of the events of my childhood, like I see in a lot of books..I have read someone remembering his christening at the age of two years!.  I could add a lot more flashes to what I've written above, but it wound end up lengthy and boring.
I think the overall nostalgia comes from a time of innocence rather than things being easier back then. They were probably simple for me, but not for my parents who were trying to make ends meet or for  those teachers trying to teach us. There are, for sure, a lot of people out there who've led a more interesting life than I have, and would have earlier and happier memories to share. But each memory has value because it is unique.
Memories are good things to have. And the sooner we can capture them, bottle them up, the better. Childhood passes so fast, that, if you think about it, it ends up being no more than a collection of memories. How truly said that some people lose years of their life by not being able to remember anything about them !!.


Roads less traveled..

>> Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My grandmother died at the age of 108.

She just lay down and died. She was never bedridden, and never sick, as far as I could remember. I was a third year medical student and had come on vacation. I used to sleep on the floor, on a paya (mat) near her bed. Somewhere in the middle of the night, I heard her call me. She said she  was not feeling well, and said,” Mone,Go and call Achan 
The church was very near to my house, and I ran to the priest’s home.Fr Kallukulam was well known to us, and he didn’t waste time to dress up and came with me in his sleeping dress. Valyammachi was bit short of breath and my parents were near her saying” Easo Mariam Ouseppe, ente athmavinu koottakaname” ( Jesus,Mary,Joseph, be companion to my soul). She received the koodasa ( last sacrament) from the priest.She knew very well that she was on her final trip. She kept on repeating the chants till her last breathe. My father was holding her hands when she left us. It was the most peaceful death I had seen.

Valyammachi ( Grandmother) used to go to the church for the morning mass at six, most of the days. My house was in a large compound and most of the backyard was full of coffee trees. They grew there from times I could remember. I don’t see any coffee trees in that area these days. During season, it was a beautiful sight when coffee trees were in bloom with thousands of little white flowers. They looked like jasmine flowers. And the air was filled with the pleasant fragrance. The weather was different too. It used to be misty during the flowering season. And when the seeds finally ripen, the trees were heavily laden with those  cherry colored fruits. Squirrels and birds used to flourish on them. We never bothered about them, because they would just suck the pulp of the fruit and leave the beans on the floor.

My grandmother's main activity was collecting the coffee beans from the ground. She would start at one end of the yard, sweeping off the  kariyilas ( dried leaves) with a small stick and would collect the beans in her madikkuthu. By the time she finishes, she would collect at least a pound of those beans. She would then spread them to dry in the sun. Once ready, she would take it to her bedside, where she used to hide it away from my mother. Valyammachi had a brother at 100 years, who used to come to attend the Sunday mass at our church. After the mass, he would come to visit his sister, when she would secretly handover her collection of coffee beans to him. We all knew about this, but acted as if we didn't.

She made no demands. Occasionally she fought with my mother for nothing and then would refuse to eat what my mother cooked. There was a chilumbi puli tree behind our home. Studded with fruits. She would pick the young fruits and make her own thoran and then eat her meals. Or else, she would get up at late night ,when everyone used to be asleep, and would sneak in to the kitchen, and steal the food from the Uri. ( a hanger made of coir ropes)
She was a member of the Franciscan commune and used to wear a big’ venthinga’ around her neck. Once in a year, they had a special prayer gathering. I used to remember the day precisely because, after the mass, they used to serve breakfast at the Parish home. I used to accompany her for the mass, only to take part in the breakfast, of appom, mutta roast and boiled bananas. The next day if she asked me to accompany her, I would refuse, because there would be no breakfast.

Valyammachi started off the growth in our family.When she was young,my grandfather had died, leaving her with the responsibility of the family,long before I was born. She made  Uzhunnada ( small rings of fried urud dal flour) and achappom and used to sell it at the perunnals( feasts of saints) at the church. She also started off a small business  at the market, which my father took charge of, when he grew up. The rest was all his efforts. He was her only son, carried all the burdens, and he brought up his family of seven sons, now mostly engineers and doctors, and in addition, took care of his sister and her family as well. We all lived together as a big family.
 My grandmother’s three brothers,  all lived beyond hundred years. They all used to come to visit her, by walk, from distant places. I remember them as tall and thin, with no bulges in their bodies. They worked hard, lived their hard lives, and lived longer and peaceful lives. I have seen the depth and intensity of relations in them. The values in life which I keep, probably was handed over by them. It is easy for me to understand hardships, and realize the value of hard earned money, not the one which we see these days. Now a day, money is just brought in, in containers and distributed. People are under stress to hide and handle the loot. It is effortless, so they can just sit and eat, and develop bulges all around, and die younger.

Social isolation and the feelings of loneliness it leads to are common problems for old people living all over the world today. There has been a fragmentation of the families and older people are neglected and left behind, put  in a home and put them away.It was impossible to think this way in our society. Old people were lovingly and respectfully taken care of by their children.
Times have changed.Now everyone is interested in one subject above all else: themselves.


The Daily Puppy

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