Other Competition Entries

 

CHILDREN’S SECTION

 

IF YOU SAVE TREES, THEY WILL SAVE YOU

By VARSHINI SHIVAKUMAR         10yrs

IF YOU SAVE TREES, THEY   WILL SAVE YOU,

DON’T YOU KNOW THEY LOVE YOU.

SAVE ALL THE TREES YOU SEE,

YOU WILL SEE HOW HAPPY YOU WILL BE.

IF YOU SAVE TREES, THEY WILL SAVE YOU,

I BELIEVE IN THAT DON’T YOU?

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                                            MY FAVORITE CHARACTER

                                            By VARSHINI SHIVAKUMAR

       My favorite character is Hermione Granger from Harry Potter. She is his best friend. She is like Hindu Young World’s Curiopedia with a million curious questions, astonishing facts and many interesting stories from Hogwarts (a magic school). She is also a bookworm unlike her other friends. In the movie Harry Potter, Emma Watson plays Hermione Granger’s part. She is also one of the smartest kids in Hogwarts. If I ever get to meet Hermione Granger, I would ask her to teach me magic spells like LEM GARDIA LEVIOSA that helps objects to move and I would like to perform magic shows with her.  I would ask her to take me to Hogwarts and make me meet all the people like Dumbledor, Hagrid, professor Snape, etc and I would want to become her Best Friend Forever. I would want both of us to do as many things together as we can. I wish that she would share her favorite books and let me read them as she has a good recommendation on them. She is my all time favorite. I would want to be her tour guide for India and take her in the Himsagar express (train from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.)  I want to have a big party with all my friends and family, and the two biggest things I would like to ask her is her autograph and I would want her to read this very letter and have it signed and remarked. Hermione Granger, I would absolutely love to see you. “Do Come As Soon As Possible” and I will be eagerly awaiting you and don’t keep me waiting.

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                            TRAVEL IS A LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCE

                                      BY SASHANK BALA,                     Age15,

       “The world is a book and those who don’t travel only read one page,”

       It’s a famous quote from St Augustine, and it relates to most of us very well. This is because, to us, travel has many purposes; business, leisure, love and so on. However, how I view travel is completely different in this instance. Travelling is like a learning journey, like a gift that cannot be taken away from anyone. Just like the quote, travel has many doors to open, and perhaps, I opened the golden door out of all of them when I made this trip alone to India three years back.

       I was twelve. I had completed my sixth-grade boards in Singapore and was reaping the sweetness of the fruit of completing the exam after six years of blood, sweat and tears. I was having tons of fun with my classmates, bringing our board games to school and gleefully playing them together. The spirit of communion was making me feel so calm and easy-going. I was on cloud nine until this phone call came in.

       “Sashu, I have booked tickets for you to Bangalore for this Deepavali.”

       Disappointed, shocked, overwhelmed, gutted. These were just some of the many negative feelings that engulfed me after hearing the news. Tears flowed like a leaking tap, and I had no words to say. Questions began ringing like alarms in my head. What about my friends? Will I be safe in Bangalore? Why so sudden? The list goes on and on. More importantly, since I was leaving during the last month of my primary school term and life as a primary school student, it was a sudden end to my primary school life. No graduation parties. No class party. Nothing.

       Then came my last day in school. I was quieter than expected, as I tried to fight back the tears throughout the day. On the final period of the final lesson, everyone came up to me and gave me farewell hugs. At that moment, I was very heartbroken. People whom I have made such strong friendships with were now going to part ways with me. How I cried when I reached home was indescribable.

       What would have been a normal, high-paced day at school was instead a sad, solemn SilkAir flight for me. I constantly looked out of the window as I flew, and ate the airplane breakfast in silence. The mother-son couple seated next to me were very comforting, often engaging me in short simple conversations. I didn’t feel so worried and sad after all.

       Ten in the morning. Touchdown in Bangalore. It was much hotter than usual but a warm greeting from my uncle was heartening. We joked and laughed as much as we passed by the route to my uncle’s house in Bellandur. I was warmly greeted by my bubbly brother and my gracious grandmother who were in full spirits to welcome. I was still down for leaving my school so suddenly but my uncle’s family welcoming me with open arms lifted my spirits.

       Time flew by like lightning and Deepavali loomed around. I had no idea of what to expect and suddenly…BANG! The booming echo of the Wala firecracker so suddenly in the early hours of the morning startled me. I freaked out as if a terror attack was happening. My uncle came down and said, in a lively tone,

       “Happy Diwali Sashank!!”

       Well, at that moment I wouldn’t describe it as happy. I would describe it as scary. Singapore would never be like this. It was a culture shock for me. Growing up in a country with strict laws on fireworks, Singapore, for a dozen years, I have seldom experienced a sudden bang out of nowhere. I was frightened. For the next four days, I will not set a foot outside the house, I told myself. On the first day of the Deepavali festivities, while my cousins set off ‘flowerpots’ and ‘chakras’, I was setting off simple sparklers that only the toddlers were setting off, and I was horrified of them too.

       However, the real deal came on day two. I woke up to poojas and a traditional oil bath, things that I always do back in Singapore. Everything was going fine until about six in the evening. Sudden bursts began ringing all over my ears. I hid under my blanket in my Jippa, fearing the worst. My grandmother saw this, and began taking pity on me. She slowly took me out to the balcony to see the “wonderful” fireworks. I resisted, physically and verbally but she held her nerve, and in the end, I ended up in the balcony, hands on my ears. However, hearing it for some time gave me some confidence. Slowly, a hand moved away. The other, which was sweating buckets, left slowly. Soon after, I found myself to enjoy myself more than I ever imagined. Despite my biggest fear being amplified greatly, I overcame the worry and decided to think of it positively, like a beautiful sight.

       That day, and the rest of the Deepavali celebrations, will be etched in my memory forever. I have completed a chapter in the travel book, and more importantly, opened the “golden door” that I wasn’t able to open through all my trips till then; the positivity that you can bring to your life.

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POEM

By TARINI SATHE..                             15 yrs

What.happened to us

When we never fought,

Now you’re causing this fuss

And everyone can see you’ve been bought.

 

You went to the lowest bidder,

Leaving me in the dust,

I won’t ask you to reconsider

While your common sense is outweighed by lust.

 

I loved you,

I still do’

I want you back

But not the you who is on crack.

 

You’re high,

I’m sad,

You falsify,

I’ve got it bad.

 

What happened to you being mine’

We were forever and always.

We were supposed to have time

Until the end of our days.

 

I try to forget every harsh

Word, but tonight

We were together again

And it felt so right.

 

Piece by piece,

Bit by bit,

I’ll take you apart

To make you fit.

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ADULTS

                                                     SHORT STORY

                                          THE SCREAM OF SILENCE                 

                                                       By USHA KRIS

        Everything was the same. It was just another day in the Kashmir valley. The glorious sun had set in crimson hues behind the majestic mountains. Lotuses closed with the fading light. Fires were stoked for the night meal. Birds sang as they headed toward their night abode in the trees. But yet nothing was the same, and will never ever be the same. An eerie stillness hung in the air. Fear gripped the hearts of the people living there. The walls were no protection at all against the terrorists who aimed to shoot the chosen ones at point blank range.

        Zeenat was busy with her chores. The house help, Sulaiman, had not come in for the past five days. Her two girls beside her assisted her with cutting the meat and grinding the masala. As the cooking began, the delicate aroma sailed through the house. Aziz took a deep breath and relaxed on the sofa, reminiscing about his happy childhood. It had been a long and worrisome day at work. He looked at the choice selection of paintings on the walls, the plush ambience of the room, a drink in his hand. “Well, life has its happy moments too,” he thought. Proud of his large rambling ancestral home; his contribution to it after his parents had passed on, thinking of his beautiful wife and their talented young daughters, life seemed perfect. A furrow appeared on his brow as he thought of the present state of unrest in his land.

        A loud banging on the door startled him out of his reverie. “Who could that be at this hour?” This question arose in all their minds. Zeenat was so taken aback that her gravy filled ladle halted in mid air, with the liquid ominously spilling on to the carpet. Without consultation, Aziz got up thoughtfully to open the door. The cold evening fog that was settling down obliterating the existence of the hills from view seemed to have come into the house and clutched at the hearts of those within. It was like a dirge…. Who could be at the door unannounced, during the time of the curfew?

        The apparition that greeted Aziz froze him along with the blanket of fog. “Who is it I wonder,” Zeenat whispered to her daughters. The silence was like a scream renting the air.

      “Ah, Sulaiman, beta, where have you been” Aziz tried to cover his anxiety with a laugh.

       “Open the door, we are coming in” was the curt reply from this uniformed, gun totting youngster, who till recently had done as his master bid. Aziz was overcome by rage and confusion. Fear paralysed him and left him in a dream like state where he was falling into an abyss where there was not a trace of hope to cling on to.

       As the door opened, Sulaiman marched in with four other young soldiers. They did seem to be too young to be intimidating and terse. Zeenat came out looking composed; something that her loud heart beats would contradict. Smiling at the stone faced youngsters; she nodded her head in question, not daring to speak lest her trembling voice give her away.

       “I am now promoted as commandant in my outfit. I have a big post, and I have come to marry your daughter”. A thunderbolt could not have shattered Aziz more. His brains seemed to run in a puddle near his feet. He could not think. On the other hand, Zeenat paused a moment. Her tone confident and clear, she said “Sure beta. That is good news you have come with. You see, in our families this event is very special. Do give us two days to send out invitations and get the festive meal ready. You too bring your friends and we will celebrate.”

     The invitation and acceptance was so genuine that without hesitating, Sulaiman took leave but only after assuring her that he would return full force. They turned round and left.

      Without time to weep or ruminate over the terrible event, the four acted as one. They gathered together precious little, Zeenat taking care to include dry food for the journey. Being practical, they ate a hasty meal. They waited for darkness to descend, just in case someone was spying on them. Lights out, taking a last look at their beloved home, they dissolved into the darkness.

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                                          ON SILENCES.                 ARTICLE

                                       By PRABHA SRIDEVAN

There are silences and silences. I will look at some of them. There is the silence of spirituality, the silence of a learner, the silence of loyalty, the silence of ignorance, the silence of protocol, the silence of cowardice, the silence of reverence, the silence of companionship and even the forced silence.

Shantata Court Chalu Ahe!( Silence the court is in session.) This Tendulkar play is riveting in its treatment of male hypocrisy, unequal gender standards. The Court was not a real court, but a mock trial of a woman, which starts off on a light vein and progressively becomes darker and darker. In a Court, we need silence, because the rival contentions must be heard, and the Court must decide. Protocol requires silence in Court.

Dakshinamurthi is a mauna guru and this verse is a beautiful study in contrast and it is also about silence.

Chitram Vatatharor moole vruddhassishyaha gururyuva |

Gurostu maunam vyaakhyaanam sishyaashtu chinnasamsayaaha||

(Strange! At the foot of the vata tree the aged disciples and the young Teacher!

The teacher explains wordlessly and the doubts of the students are shattered.)

The icon of Dakshinamurthi has a face that is so tranquil and so peaceful. He is not burdened by the thought of having to teach the hardest lesson, the Lesson of Knowledge. The space under the shade of the tree is one of silent communication and silent communion. Knowledge is transmitted easily and in silence, because the students are ready to receive it. Their minds are silent too, not clamouring with conflicting thoughts.

 Only an uncluttered still mind will learn what is taught.  A Zen tale drives home this point beautifully. Nan-in was a Japanese master. A University professor visited him to learn about Zen. The Zen Master served tea. He poured the cup full, but did not stop pouring. The professor watched for a while. Then he could no longer watch the cup overflowing, and said,” Sir, It is full. It will not take any more”. The teacher said, “Like this cup, your mind is filled with your own opinions. Unless you empty it, how can I teach Zen.

How many of us practise this silence or achieve the stillness of being? On the contrary, we are afraid of silence. We fill our space with noise or at least with texting, shuffling or ipoding, which are noises too of a different kind.  Our marriages are noisy, our last processions are noisy, our religious celebrations are noisy, our roads are noisy we are buffeted by noises and have got so used to it.

 Living in Chennai is equivalent to living in a factory — at least in terms of how much noise all the residents are subjected to. Data from Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) a few years ago shows that the noise levels everywhere in Chennai are over 100 dB — more than a typical factory. It could not have changed for the better. I know my people. The average noise level in Chennai is actually higher at more than 129 decibels. It must be noted that pain in the ear begins at 125 decibels. The permissible limit is 85 dB fixed by the World Health Organisation (WHO). So what are we going to do about it? Be quiet? Be quiet! I am really chuffed about my play with words. The WHO speaks about noise. Let us not confuse the voices raised against injustice, the voices raised seeking learning with noise. Noise is the voice of the lumpen, the mindless and the heartless.

 We have become strangers to that silence which is the stillness of being. In the book called, “The Sacred Tree”, compiled by The Four World Development Project from contributions by the Native elders, spiritual leaders and professionals of various Native communities in North America, we read that, “A sign that much work is needed in the area of personal spiritual growth is when a person dislikes being alone, and especially dislikes being alone in silence. Many people use television or recorded music to fill the silence so that they do not have to experience themselves as they really are. To face ourselves in silence, and to love ourselves because the Creator has made us beautiful are things that every developing human being needs to learn.” Wow! All of us are stunted in spiritual growth, tested against this standard. I see walkers wiring their ears with some music. Is it so difficult to be with myself in silence, that even when I walk I need aural company? Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh recommends walking meditation where the very simple act of walking is transcended into a deeply healing tool which tells us how to be in the here and now.

Every religious tradition has the vow of silence or practice of silence as an integral part of it. The technique of Vipassana is about learning to be silent. The Cistercian order or Trappist order is very strict about silence. Obviously, then silence is a sine qua non for spiritual evolution.

As I said there are other kinds of silences too. The Mafiosi demand observance of Omerta, the code of silence, which one breaks at the risk of being garroted or whatever. This is the silence born of a kind of loyalty, may be a forced loyalty and therefore a forced silence.

Mr. Fali Nariman has made a brilliant speech about the silences in the Constitution. He took for his inspiration the words of Lord Pearce that, “The Constitution’s silence as to the vesting of judicial power is consistent with its remaining, where it had lain for more than a century, in the hands of the judicature.” and explained with examples how, “the words of the Constitution though important are never decisive: because the silences in our constitutional law speak louder than words.”

This is true even in our own lives, where it would have been better if we had been silent, or where just by being silent we have spoken effectively. The silence is more eloquent than the pedestrian words.

There are some silences that are wrong. The silence itself is a sin. “The Difficulty of being Good” by Sri Gurcharan Das, contains a Chapter “Draupadi’s Courage” where we read of the immorality of being silent. It is the terrible scene where Draupadi is disrobed in the assembly. “Vidura quotes the sage Kashyapa about the immorality of remaining silent when there is evil afoot. When honest persons fail in their duty to speak up wound dharma and commit adharma. Thus the leader of the conspiracy earns half the penalty, the immediate culprit a quarter; and the witnesses who do not speak up are also guilty by a quarter.” He concludes the chapter by writing that “The transgressions of Duryodhana and the surrounding conspiracies of silence are not dissimilar to the same sickeningly banal acts in our contemporary life.”

 We, the members of the civic society, injure and hurt Dharma everyday by remaining silent when we should not. If Dharma is visualized as a human being, she will have grievous wounds all over, inflicted by none other than us the silent ones. Bhishma says that he owes his duty to the Kuru clan and that is the reason for his silence. We do not have even that fig leaf to cover us.

Peter disowned Christ thrice before the cock crew on the night before the Crucifixion, just as Christ had predicted he would. When asked whether he knew Jesus Christ he denies knowledge not once but thrice. It was silence of a different kind, the silence of betrayal.

Violence against women is one of the hurdles in the way of women’s empowerment.  A dignity-based response is muted by repression, denial and manipulation since the woman is the site on which culture is protected and preserved. So, women are silenced from protesting or seeking justice for the violence that has been done to her. There is therefore a culture of silence, which in turn creates a culture of violence.

 Preservation of culture and protection of honour or the male concept of honour demanded that the woman is represented as an icon, as the ideal mother, as the ideal wife and as the ideal daughter – images imbued with spiritualism.  As long as this deification is maintained on the public space, all enquiry or criticism, into her actual condition, becomes ineffective. Only silence remains.

Recently Dr.Kishore Kumar of BANYAN said something so thought-provoking. It was about another kind of silence, the silence which dumbs down. He said that every time we ask a question, our brain makes room for the answer and the space expands. The brain space is endless. So if we stop asking questions, our brain does not grow.  He said, “So encourage children to ask questions, don’t silence them.” I read a story by Devdutt Patnaik, echoing the same thought. It seems The River Saraswathi flowed abundantly when students asked questions and teachers answered with wisdom. Today the situation is reversed, when the teachers do not know, they silence the students.

 We will look at an ordinary teacher who is buffeted by myriad problems, who is there only for the paycheck and not for love of teaching or for love of children. There is neither peace nor tranquility in her mind. She scrawls her name in the staff register, and rushes into the noisy classroom unprepared for that day’s lesson. The first words she says are. “Children! Silence please!” Which silence is she talking about? Does she know?

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                                                   A LESSON LEARNT            ARTICLE

                                                 By RADHIKA KARTIC

Today I thought of sharing another funny incident which took place in my life when I was a school going kid. This incident made me more responsible and sensible. When I was in the sixth standard, I used to travel to school by city bus  and  we all know very well that we had the privilege of free travel(அது தாங்க பஸ் பாஸ்).Once the school bell rang, we as a group of friends used to rush to the bus stop because the chance of getting a less crowded bus is more if we reach early.கூட்டம் மாத்தரம் கூடிருச்சு அப்பறம் பஸ், ஸ்டாப்ல நிக்காது. கூட்டத்த பாத்ததும் நம்ம பஸ் டிரைவர் reaction     இப்படிதாங்க இருக்கும். பஸ் வர வரைக்கும் wait பன்ற நேரத்த நாங்க ரெம்ப usefull-a கழிப்போங்க. அது ஒன்னும் பெருசா இல்லைங்க மாங்கா திங்கறது, தேன் மிட்டாய், வெள்ளரி பிஞ்சு, தர்பூசணி இப்படி நெறையா வாங்கி திம்போங்க. இப்படி தாங்க ஒருதரம் ஒரு ரூபா வெச்சிருந்தேங்க.I became a little selfish and thought of spending the entire amount for myself. I rushed to the bus stop immediately after the bell rang leaving all my friends behind. Once I reached the bus stop I was very happy and went to the petty shop wala and got a mittai called horlicks mittai which will look like skin peeled badam.The cost of one mittai was 10 paise and i thought i will buy 4 today and save some for tomorrow. Now i was left with 60 paise and added to my luck the bus also came immediately. I quickly rushed into the bus and sat on a corner seat. ஒவ்வொரு கடலையா சாப்படற மாதிரி ஒவ்வொரு மிட்டாயா மெல்ல ருசிச்சு சாப்டிட்டு இருந்தேங்க. The conductor came asking for tickets and once when he came near me I opened my bag to show my bus pass. The moment I found out that my bus pass was missing, I slowly lifted my head to see the conductor and tried giving an innocent look like Senthil sir.  அண்ணா bus pass கொண்டு வரலீங்கன்னா to which the conductor said “80 paise டிக்கட் எடு அம்மணி இல்லாட்டி பஸ்ஸ விட்டு கீழ எறக்கி விட்டுருவேன்.” இன்னும் நாலு பஸ் ஸ்டாப் தூரம் இருக்கே, எப்படி நடந்து போறது was what I was thinking and started bargaining with him saying that I can give him 60 paise with a little bit of crocodile tears(அது தாங்க முதலை கண்ணீர்) for which he gave a stern look, which told me “இது மாதிரி எத்தன பேர பாத்திருபேன்”.Once I realised that none of my tricks are going to work, I really started crying when suddenly I heared a divinely voice from a person who was seated next to me saying “தம்பி take 60 paise from the small girl (thats meeee)and I shall give you the remaining 20 paise.” I felt the divine presence in the form of the person who helped me on time. Immediately these two tirukkurals came to my mind.

செய்யாமல் செய்த உதவிக்கு வையகமும்

வானகமும் ஆற்றல் அரிது.

காலத்தி னாற்செய்த நன்றி சிறிதெனினும்

ஞாலத்தின் மாணப் பெரிது.(search for  the meaning for these two kurals yourself!)

My take aways after this incident were:

Always have enough cash when you are travelling and before you spend make sure that you have enough for later use.

Friends-a deal-a vidaama avangallukkum vaangi kudunga.

பஸ் வந்திருச்சு நான் கெளம்பறேன் (pursela kaasu irukkaanu check pannittu kelambunga)

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                                                               SHORT STORY

 _                                                         BEING UNLOVED

                                                      By RANJIT NARAYANAN      

Appa, you were so fit when I left. See, what happens when you don’t pay attention to fitness at your age,” Manoj remarked as he entered the hospital room. He had driven straight from the airport to the hospital where Raman Iyer was recuperating after the angioplasty.

After two more days of observation, they were sent home.

Iyer did not want Manoj to be hassled by his health. He said, ‘You had just visited us three months back. I know how difficult it is to get leave back there. You go back, now. I will manage.” Iyer looked at his wife Padma who nodded in agreement, as she had been doing for the past 30 years.

“No Pa, I have talked to Meera. We have some plans,” Manoj said.

His sister Meera was a doctor and lived in Houston down South while Manoj, an IT professional worked in Boston.

Iyer gave Manoj a quizzical look.

“Look Pa, it is stressful for me and Meera to live so far away and worry about you. I know how Amma struggled when you were in the hospital. She can’t even manage to withdraw cash from the ATM, Pa. You used to handle everything.” Manoj continued, “This time you were lucky, Pa. You were ridiculously brave and strong enough to drive yourself to the hospital with that chest pain.”

“So, Manu, what is the plan? Let us hear it too.” Iyer sounded irritated. “Did brother and sister decide to push us into some old age home?”

“No, Pa, How can you even hint at such wicked notions? Shiva Shiva! ” Manoj sounded shaken.

“The plan is, Pa, to take you both to the United States. You will live with us where we can take care of you all day.”

Iyer laughed. “You and your stupid ideas. Go back, son. We are not moving a step outside this house, for now. When we are not able to manage, we will ourselves seek your assistance.”

Padma nodded.

*********

“Pa, please come and try staying here for once,” Meera was pleading on Skype. “If you don’t like, you can go back. I talked to Doctor Mama. He said you can travel in two weeks. Chintu is yearning to see her paati and thatha.”

“Meera,” Iyer asked, “Are you sure about what Manu is doing? About selling this flat?”

“Yes, Pa. He discussed it with us. It is a make or break for him. He needs the money now. What is the use of inheriting it when it is least needed, Pa?”

Manoj was planning on a start-up with his Manipal batchmates in the USA. He and Meera had planned to sell their parents flat and move them to the US to stay with them.

“And where will we come to when we return?” Iyer asked

“Why don’t you come here, relax and be fit again, Pa?  You won’t feel like going back again. Anyway, you come here first. We can decide about going back, later,” Meera yawned. It was close to midnight there in Boston.

“Hi Meera,” Manoj spoke to the computer. “Go to sleep, doctor Kutty. I will manage them.”

“Pa”, Manoj spoke. “If at all you want to return, we will buy you a new flat. In three months, I will make it big, Pa. Trust me.”

“Even so Athimber’s Kotturpuram luxury flat is there. We had thought about everything before we decided to sell the flat, Pa. You know Sarala and I are expecting our second in another 5 months. Then, you will be so busy playing with your grandchildren and shuttling between Boston and Houston that you will forget Mylapore.”

*********

It was an emotional moment for all of them, the flat mates, their security guard Bahadur, Kanda, who pressed their clothes for nearly 15 years, everyone. They were sad to see the affable Iyer couple leaving.  A special archanai was performed at Kapaleeswarar temple for their well-being.

Manoj had already left. He had to finalize the handover issues with the new buyer at Adyar. He would meet them at the airport and had arranged a call taxi for his parents to get them there.

The Lufthansa counter began checking in. Raman and Padma, who were seated in front of the counter, were anxious. Manoj had messaged that he was on his way but he had not arrived.

The final call was announced. Manoj was nowhere to be seen. Now, his phone was switched off.

Panic set in.

Iyer went to the Lufthansa counter and requested, “My Son is on the way, probably stuck in the traffic on Mount road. Can we wait for 5 minutes?”

The staff said, “Yes, Sir. We will check him in as soon as he arrives. But now, let us get you in first.  We are running out of time.”

Iyer tried again. Manoj’s mobile was still switched off. He called Meera who wasn’t reachable either.

He handed over his passport and Padma’s to the airline staff and repeated his attempts to call Manoj and Meera.

He looked up only when an airline staff came back with their passports.

With a look of concern, she asked, “Sir, where are you flying to?”

Iyer replied “Frankfurt, and then onward to Boston.”

“But Sir, your names are not found in the passenger list for tonight’s flight. Do you have the booking itinerary’’?

Iyer fished out a paper from his handbag and gave it to her. The staff was perplexed.

“Kindly wait, sir. Let me check again”

After a few minutes, she returned. “Sorry sir, these tickets were cancelled four hours ago. I am sure there was some mistake.”

She looked at the pale face of Iyer who slumped back onto the seat. “Sir, if you still wish to travel, I can arrange two tickets on the same flight. We are quite empty tonight.”

*********

Mr. Natesan, GM of Anna International Airport, Chennai, Mr. Satwant, Officer in command, CISF and Arun Kumar, Immigration officer were huddled in a meeting. By now, Padma had sunk into her airport wheelchair and dozed off.  Worry wrought, Iyer held his face in his hand while peering inside the glass cubicle where the animated discussions were going on between the three officers.

He prayed that nothing had happened to Manu. The real estate business was a murky one. Was he kidnapped?

Mr Natesan came out first. He called Iyer inside.

“Dear Sir, we have traced a passenger Manoj R Iyer trying to leave Mumbai International airport by a United flight to Newark. His departure has been temporarily withheld at Immigration following our request. We just received a picture of him. Is this your son?” He showed his mobile phone to Iyer.

As he looked at the photo of his son Manu with his passport and boarding pass ready to leave India, to run away from his country, to abandon his parents after taking away their house and their money, Iyer’s expression turned from disbelief to shock and he struggled to maintain his composure.

 “No, he is not my son Manoj,” were his words before he swooned on the table, arms                                     stretched.

*********

Iyer wheeled Padma across the path between the lush gardens at Vrindavan, an old age home where Iyer had invested in a modest cottage prior to retirement.

“I did the right thing, Padma,” he said, “They were not the Manu and Meera, we raised them to be.”

Padma nodded, as she had done for the past 30 years.

*********

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                                                                    SHORT STORY

                                               A WALK INTO THE SUNSET YEARS

                                                   By SARVESWARI SAIKRISHNA

‘Ma, what were your initials before your marriage,’ Priya asked, slumping down on the sofa near her mom, who was having her mid-morning tea.

‘Palladam Srinivasan Saraswathy,’ her Mom answered, eyes glinting. She had loved to talk, her mother, her voice filling their home with a cozy warmth for twenty years, until recently, until a year ago when her father passed away. Saraswathy’s effervesce had simmered down a lot after that.

Priya coaxed her further.  ‘He was an imposing figure, thatha, wasn’t he?’

‘Your thatha was the local Muncif. People cowered at his power but not your father,’ she said.

The conversation proceeded in the direction Priya wanted.

‘Ani was polite but no one could walk over him. He was the youngest teacher we had in our school,’ her voice trailed as she recounted how she met the love of her life.

Saraswathy was in her final PUC when Anirudhan joined the school as her English Teacher.  From then on English became her favorite subject. She would count the hours before her class with her favorite teacher. She would question Anirudhan just to hear him utter, ‘Am I clear, Saraswathy?’ from his lips. She was truly smitten.

Priya knew how her parents had met for the first time. They had recounted it on several occasions, sometimes even to the point of mild irritation. But she indulged her mother now for she knew it would help move her towards the cause.

‘Of course, your father had no clue, even when thatha enrolled him to give me private tuitions. I convinced thata I needed one to pass my exams,’ Saraswathy giggled like a teenager.  ‘Your gullible father never saw my hand in it.’

Priya was by her mother’s side, now, holding her hand. Saraswathy continued her reminiscences as if she was repeating it for herself, repeating it so that she could remind herself to be happy, to feel light and chirpy like she was when Anirudhan was there. She did not know how to do it without Anirudhan’s presence, his companionship.

‘When I told him, I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, he acted with a maturity way beyond his 25 years of age. Had he complained to your thatha, that would have been the end of my education.’  Saraswaty shuddered, ‘Instead he asked me to come to him with the same proposition after 4 years, after my college, that is.’

‘We crossed paths many times after I passed out of school. His eyes never betrayed even the tiniest of emotion. He knew mine pleaded, but he did not relent. So I continued to steal glances at him for the next 4 years.’

‘How did you know appa was the right one for you?’ Priya interrupted.

‘I didn’t know. I just had a faith,’ Saraswathy said and proceeded, ‘Then during my final year, one day, I spotted him in my college canteen. I rushed up to him and he asked if the proposal was still on. For the first time, his voice faltered. I said yes, only too eagerly.’   Sarawathy wiped the stray tear that escaped.

‘And then you know what happened, don’t you?’ Sarawathy looked at Priya.

Yes, She knew it. With reluctance, her grandfather gave her hand to the young man, who had now become the school  Principal. But his misgivings were short-lived when he saw how happy his motherless daughter was, how his son-in-law transformed into a mother she never saw, indulging her, taking care of her.

‘Amma, it’s been a year,’ Priya broached the topic with care.

‘I miss him terribly, Pappu,’ Saraswathy’s voice quivered. ‘The house is empty without him, the bed feels too big without him……You know what I miss the most? His advice, his shoulder, his laughter, his anger ….,’ she now did not mind the tears flowing down her cheeks.

Priya, not without trepidation, approached her lonely mother with a suggestion.

‘Amma, Suresh uncle from 5B had called in yesterday, looking for you when you were at the Bridge club.’

Suresh Ranganathan was a retired Army Captain who had moved into a flat above theirs a few months ago. He was a widower and lived alone, his sons had settled in the UK.

‘He wanted to know if you would be interested in joining him for a cup of coffee sometime,’ Priya tried not to sound anxious.

Saraswathy did not know what shocked her more, a man approaching her for a date or her daughter proposing it to her.

‘That’s nonsense,’ she was upset now. But Priya was prepared.

‘Amma, don’t reject it outright. Think of it as having a cup of coffee with a friend. If you like it, you can take it forward. If not, that’s fine too. You need not lead the rest of your life with memories alone. You can make them if you find the right friend. A companion is worth looking out for, don’t you think?’

‘It’s not as easy as you think’, Saraswathy mellowed.

‘Neither is living alone, Amma,’ Priya said.

‘I have you.’

‘And, I, You. But is that enough?’

‘You know, Shallu Aunty will look out for me, don’t you?’

‘I am sure she will. But can she fill the void? Nobody can. Not I, Not Shallu Aunty, Not your friends at the Bridge club.   We are all a part of your life, a big one. Yet there is an awning gap that only a special friend can fill. I cannot bear to look at you like this. Think about it, Amma.’

Sarawathy remained silent.

‘Amma,’ she dared to take her mother’s trembling hands in her own and said,’ I am not asking you to fall in love. I am just asking you not to give up on companionship.’

‘Will it work?’

‘We don’t know until we have faith and try, don’t we,’ Priya said, happy that the conversation was taking a favorable turn.

‘What will people say?’ Saraswathy’s eyes darted with uncertainty.

‘Whatever they say, it is not worth spending the rest of your years in loneliness,’ Priya replied.

‘I need time to think about it,’ Saraswathy said.

‘Of course,’ said  Priya happily, moving away, giving her mom some space, seeing a small window of possibility opening,  to have her cheerful mom back.


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                                             THE SPIRIT OF TRAVEL

                                 By SHANKARI JYOTHI SUNDARAM 

“Closer to Heaven and the Almighty,

Standing at a window merging with the sky,

Seeing visions of ethereal beauty.

The mountain air with sublime serenity,

Gently blowing all your cares away.

Such freedom, such space, such silence

A Caress for the Soul

And profound peace for the mind.

If this is not Nirvana, what is?”

  • Svetsolav Roerich

 

       Roerich expressed his feelings when he was gazing at the awesome Kangchendzonga in the Mighty Himalayas. He was enamoured and mesmerized by the snow-capped peaks that was almost touching the Heavens. In all its celestial height and glory, they tower over the Earth like a god surrounded by smaller deities. Serene and tranquil, like a saint in transcendental meditation, it personifies the permanence of the world and its creator. But the melting snow represents the temporary state of Man and his mortality.

       With this philosophical bent of mind, the feelings of Roerich flashed in my thoughts at various times and places. Often, sitting in the lap of nature, I realized that trips to various places all over the world is not mere travel. It is an enthralling experience. It provides us the ability to have a rendezvous with Nature, revives our aesthetic outlook, and sharpens the sublime senses to realign one’s emotions. It is a mind-body rejuvenation, when one feels blessed with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude, to be able to be part of these moments of infinite joy.

       I have always been fascinated by travel. It is second-nature to me and I have been lucky to have been blessed with opportunities to do so. Travel is not just a passion but a realization that one lifetime is not sufficient to explore the vastness of the world. It helps one to realize that all materialistic pleasures pale in comparison with the happiness of seeing something new every day. It kindles the spirit of quest, the inborn aspiration for something beyond the apparent emptiness of everyday life.

       “As compelling as the Human Spirit,

       As hassled as the Restless Soul,

       As turbulent as the Inquisitive Mind,

       We hunger for More.”

       Travel does not necessarily mean journey to exotic lands across the seas but to embark on an experience and get awed by the spectacular and serene beauty of everything around you. Visits to places closer to you are possible by way of confining yourself to nearby areas. Our own country offers a multitude of options. There are few places that match India with its vibrancy, diversity, richness of culture and heritage.

       For a naturalist, a botanist, a zoologist, there are wildlife sanctuaries with their flora and fauna. For the cultural buff, there are music and art forms. One can see exquisite architecture, steeped in history with rich craftsmanship. The untouched rural areas have an ancient heartbeat and a galaxy of entertainment by way of folklore, music and dance forms. There is a festive spirit all over the country at various times. Religious pilgrimages, a tryst with the Creator can be a source of soulful therapy for some. Every pilgrim has his personal story reflected on his face. So, to go to the world of divinity and spirituality may provide great joy and solace to many. India has so much to offer, as it is a land of religion and spirituality.

       For other blissful escapades, there are many getaways… deserts with palaces and their regal splendor, natural lakes with their calm waters, rivers winding their way all over the country, the skyline across the seas and the ocean, the smell of salt in the air of the azure waters… all these are therapeutic and a panacea for tired minds and bodies.

       Eco-friendly camps, jungle and mountain treks, activities to promote preservation of the environment like Project Tiger create a healthy respect for the flora and fauna. All these are to create awareness in the younger generations who are Caretakers of the Future. The key note is to preserve a green, clean and litter-free environment, and a cleaner self… a hard-working, good human being who respects nature and everything around him.

       A word of caution to be remembered… do not travel to impress someone with your bucket list or to compete with others on social media. Sharing of experiences and holiday tips are always recommended but not resulting in travel hysteria. Over-crowded destinations with wannabe travel-herd is ruining the joy of travelling and unsettling the ecological balance.

       I do realize that it may not always be possible for many to undertake long journeys as there are many constraints, such as health, finance, time availability and the ageing process. An armchair traveler has the advantage of seeing the beauty of the world from within the confines of his home.So, embark on a journey of your own choice. If not possible, do take a sabbatical from your routine… a mind travel by changing your normal trail of thoughts and actions.Travelling into different realms of thinking… by following one’s passions, interests and pursuing hobbies which gives countless moments of self-satisfaction and adds sunshine to your disposition. One’s happiness lies to a large extent within one’s frame of mind. You are the author of your life. You can rewrite the script, edit or alter.

       “Give me the air to breathe,

       The place to grow my mind,

       The freedom to soar high,

       The right to choose the earth I want

       And follow the eternal concept of free spirit.”

       So, to conclude, Travelling brings out the best in me… a Combination of the Spiritual, the Spirited and the Vagabond.

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                                                   FOOD FOR THOUGHT

                                          By SAHA BALASUBRAMANIAM           

It’s not unusual to see me plonked in front of the television at 9pm to watch home cooks of America battle it out to be the next culinary master. Yes, I’ve always had a soft spot for intense cooking challenges and competitions – especially MasterChef. But more than that, albeit my physical appearance, I have always been a secret foodie. From street food to high end restaurants, I present an undecipherable phenomenon to remain as a human toothpick while eating more than what a grown man would. I’ve never imagined myself as one to stand over a hot stove cooking as my life depended on it, but I took it upon myself after my final exams to learn how to cook. As a firm believer in self-sufficiency, and with ample time on my hands (8 months should suffice), I told myself: “I will learn to cook the food I eat”.

So, then it began. For a girl who couldn’t distinguish between salt and sugar, the kitchen was a mysterious abyss. Under the strict, discerning hawk eye of my mother, I started venturing into the kitchen more, helping with the basics; vegetable cutting, restocking, organising, etc. It took me a while to master basic culinary skills, starting from cutting a carrot into small, even cubes. Those experiences did leave a lasting mark in my mind, and even today I will proudly show off my battle scars while combating the muscle strains while grating never ending coconut interiors, or evenly slicing an apple (sometimes a small shred of my skin as well) into pieces. Then I gradually transitioned to actual cooking.

Having perceived myself as someone who would burn water, it took a few remotely successful and painful tries for me to even get a lighted stove going without fearing a third degree burn on my arms. I started simple. Basic South Indian household dishes became my swansong over a quick 2 weeks. Under the firm yet nurturing tutelage of my mother, who proved to be scarier than Gordon Ramsey, I started developing the timing and synchronisation needed to handle a kitchen. Slowly but surely, I am learning how to cook.

Resonating with my father’s favourite catchphrase, “Self-help, is the best help”, my confidence in self-sustainability began to bloom. All these years, the dependence on my mother for food lessened when I started to learn how to cook. As much as it seems pressurising to try to perfect a dish which is edible, cooking is liberating and gives me a sense of independence. I now stand as the resident “mom” of my college dorm, whipping up a nice simple home-made meal to feed hunger-stricken, flavour-deprived college mates on a Friday evening. I am slowly starting to revel in my newfound ability to be sustainable, enterprising and independent – and slowly starting to boost my self-esteem and confidence.

I’m not going to lie, the thought of feeding someone without the risk of food poisoning fed my initial trepidation, but now, I find a renewed confidence and faith that I could potentially whip up a nice meal for myself or my family. Something as unexpected and as simple as cooking has pushed me to refine myself, and catapult myself into a self-sufficient individual.

So, would I be willing to experiment with other cuisines? Why not? Bring it on.

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