In spite of everything

Something like silence descended down the mountain slope. For a while it stood still – as a background to the tranquility that pervaded the moment. It stood there – the cloud, resplendent in its transience; beautiful in the moonlight which held my breath.

How often can one recognize a moment to be important as it happens? How often does a moment leave an enduring peace in one’s heart? How often can one recollect the shape of a cloud that has passed?

I have heard that one can commit such moments to eternity – with a paintbrush and a canvas perhaps. Or maybe with a pen and a piece of paper. I have heard masters say – “If it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it“. I have read and reread and wondered if words would ever burst out of me that way.

It is not that words have escaped me. They have arrived – flowing naturally and sometimes for no reason at all. Some were even beautiful when read aloud. I have wished a poem out of some of them as well. Each passing word however sighed and merely skimmed the surface of a feeling, the depths of which remained beyond its reach.

But why blame the words when the truth is that I have been unable to hold a true feeling in my heart for long. Embroiled as I am in the mundane, anxious as I am to not allow the intensity of emotions to affect the normality of life, I have let my words ring hollow.

The burden of life is easier on the shoulders when the soul stands ajar, unaffected. It is also quite possibly a lesser life.

The unwritten words however haunt my days and the blank pages cry for ink. I agonize over the futility of the torment my mind generates. What purpose do a thousand thoughts serve if none can hold its own on a blank page.

However, I have no intention of chronicling the mundane. My personal musings refuse to lend themselves to general consumption and the fiercely private self I have battles the public nature of the written word.

And yet here I sit, watching a grown man break character to amuse his son in a crowded airport. The memory of that faraway cloud creeps into my mind – a memory and a feeling as true as the child’s laughter. Thrust back into that intense beauty that rustled my soul, I realize I must break character to write.

To write is to become vulnerable, to lay bare upon paper – a piece of yourself; for others to read. It is a frightening prospect. But to not write is to shackle yourself into a space too narrow for your mind. I must write.

And what must I write about? Maybe about how, sometimes in the strangest of places, one finds an enduring tranquility. Maybe, I should write about the beauty of a moment so serene that it surpasses the longing in one’s soul.

Maybe I should write about how at times, when the moment is right, something close to peace descends upon you. And you find within it a reason to be vulnerable, to write – in spite of everything.

Note: The master mentioned is Charles Bukowski and the quote is from his poem, So You Want To Be A Writer

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The gentleman soldier

“Education is one thing, ma’am. But humanity – that is different. And I think that, is more important.” – Raja Basheer Khan (a soldier guarding India’s borders).

The lonely soldier atop a mountain is sometimes a philosopher. He is also someone who is entrusted with one of the most extraordinary jobs in the world – being India’s first line of defense.

He stands guard over snow-covered ridges, day and night. He watches the desert sun set across the fence. He opens the gates for the farmers ploughing the last tract of India, lying beyond the fenced border. He watches as the river turns into a sea and drowns his camp every year.

He will tell you about his daughter who is in college and his wife who is his strength. He will tell you how far his home is. He will also tell you, how important his job is – for his family.

He will tell you of struggling with frostbites and low-oxygen situations. He will tell you how he helped another soldier, still.

He will tell you of the difficulty of navigating a river which builds and destroys islands as it pleases. He will tell you of the people who live on these islands with a compassion that is rare.

He will tell you of cross-border smuggling and how that makes his job difficult. He will also tell you, better than any economist of how poverty makes smugglers of people sometimes.

He will ask you if you feel fine as he drives along what is affectionately called a national highway, but is really just a dirt track cut into a steep cliff. He will later smile and tell you that it was one of the most dangerous roads in the world. And if you ask him, how he knows that and drives on it still, he will merely smile and shrug.

He will tell you of long marches and treacherous climbs to unreachable outposts. He will tell you how that helps him when he is sent for disaster relief.

He will fret over your comfort and apologize for the lack of electricity and other amenities while showing you into the best room there is in his camp.

He will also wait hours for you and when he finally finds you, he will insist on showing you the gurudwara nearby and with a child’s enthusiasm tell you it’s history. He will blush like a teenager if you tease him. He will also trek miles carrying weights you cannot lift.

He will help you climb a mountain and tell you, you are almost like his daughter and that he will fall before you slip on the sleet and slush.

He will tell you it was nice to see a new face after so long. He will ask you to hurry up and leave as the snowstorm was coming and you shouldn’t have to deal with it -with him.

He is the gentleman soldier guarding our borders. And it was my privilege to have spent some time with them as they went about performing the sovereign duty of protecting my nation.

(a few memories from the 2 weeks spent with the BSF and the ITBP -India’s first lines of defense)

Turbulence

Tides arrive-
Scathing and dark.
Questions lash
On empty shores.

Land recedes,
Recognizing-
Answers lose relevance
In the cacophony
Of multitudes.

All night long,
A stranded land
Awaits-
A friendly tide,
A morning sun.

From an ounce of peace,
Saved-
From incessant grey tides,
Springs forth – a hope.

In the quiet sanctuary
Of hope,
Answers revel.
In these answers,
A peace.

Colored Homes, makeshift lives

The tent was blue, the floor – brown.
There was dirt. Dirt was the floor.
It used to be blue, the girl said
Pointing at the floor.
You don’t mind me looking? I asked, hesitant, prying.
The girl shrugged – It’s an open tent.
What is there to hide?
I drew her home in my black book.
She came and sat beside me
And offered to color it – a little help, she said, smiling.
Tell me about you, I urged
After a few pleasantries.
Her green eyes looked up from the book
And gazed at something far–
I couldn’t see.
It was a village in the slopes, by the woods.
She said there were chairs and fireplaces –
You could sit down. It was cold and it was warm.
That sounds enchanting, I said.
She smiled and colored some more.
There were bookshelves, bigger than the tent
In her school.
She had colored the cracks in them
While she waited
For someone to come rescue her –
That is how she had broken –
All the colors she had
in her rusted crayon box.

I asked her if she understood
Why she had to be there –
In the shelter, as they called it.
She said, she did – a little –
There were bombs being thrown,
people were dying.
It was important to live, she said.
I looked at her – young and wistful –
And asked – who was throwing bombs?
People, she said.
Why? Why do you think?
Because – when countries fight,
they did that, she reasoned.
Huh – I stopped.
So, countries – were fighting? I checked with her.
Yes, they disagreed on things –
Things like fences and gates – she explained
Drawing fences in the air.
They have ideas – of where those begin
And where they end.
They fight about those. She surmised.
Who are they? I asked.
People, she guessed.
So people of countries, fight over ideas? I quizzed again.
She shrugged and looked away.
That is vague, her eyes said;
Her loss was real.

There was a village. We may not see it anymore –
The loss is real – I summarized in my mind.

Last time, it was not like that – she tried to explain –
Her previous ordeal with tents like these;
They were fighting, but they were not countries.
Who was fighting, then? I asked, trying to see
How the coloring was coming along,
All around the facts – in my little black book.
People of religion, she said –
They had ideas too – of what was right and wrong –
So, they fought about that.

This is it – she said, handing over the book to me –
This is my home.
I looked at it,
She had not colored the tent
Instead, she had drawn her home.
It was green, like her eyes.
Blue and red adorned the walls.
It was warm and it was cold, like how she said it was.
It is bright, I said. It is beautiful.
She looked far away again.
I wrote beneath
That picture of home –
While we play, a surreal game
With our wits and guns,
She sits there – looking past
Dreary shelters and makeshift lives –
At a home that was untouched
By anything
but a clamor for life.

My lines, scribbled in haste
Looked nothing like
What was in her mind.

Tonight –

Slipping into night’s embrace,
I hug the moonlight tight.
A little of it slips away,
With pains of another day.

Canopies of leaves above,
Crack open at every sigh.
They let in a thousand eyes
That reflect on mine.

I hold myself closer,
And let me be;
Soon I find,there is no other.
It is only me.

What you invest in the day,
Dies west – everyday.
The night is for the soul;
To cleanse and to be whole.

Tomorrow, I may struggle again.
My woe may not yet abdicate.
But tonight,I will be whole again.
Though,tears and dew- I couldn’t separate.

Setting Sail

Peace floats on a rocky boat-
Miles into the sea.
A stubborn flame in a blackened world;
Fighting to break free.

The night is long as the day was true.
The storms and the clouds aren’t that new.
Many a mile was given to solitude.
Anguish and screams, stolen by fortitude.

Moments of serenity, few and far between.
Monstrous tides, otherwise within.
Questions splash on the water and drown;
Answers lie in irrelevant shores.

But peace died that stormy night.
What is left is a lookalike-
An imposter of a different kind.
A useful one alright!

This voyage is mine and mine alone.
There is hope in the wind and wind in my hope.
But for now – we will dwell in emptiness.
Life! We will set sail in the stillness.