Thursday, August 27, 2009

When time does not.

There is pain that cannot be known, except by those who already know it. And it is hard to explain.  The impact is sudden, the initiation abrupt and its presence violent.  Its true nature - shrouded in suffering. And time only heals its symptoms - the venom left for later.

It is a cacophony of screams. And you shut your eyes to blackness, and then it begins...

All of your nightmares and past wounds come alive with malice, and attack at random will without relevance. As you are made to relive every single horror of your past - like you have travelled back in time - like the incidents are happening to you again. Its agony is beyond defiance, and you feel as if you were born and killed and born and killed over and over again. And suddenly you know - what hell feels like.

An experience reserved to be felt only once, you are made to live it again and again. And you begin to recognize what death looks like.  The blackness in your eyes shifts, and you realize it is just too dark a shade of red. It is a red  you have never seen before. 

And you begin to lose track. There is no orientation, no logic, no functionality left untouched, and no sense of time or place, no motive nor purpose, just blinding anguish. You forget hunger, you do not feel awake, you do not feel asleep.  There is no veil between you and your pain, no distance, no shield, no excuse nor escape.

It is a pain that penetrates all defenses. Of ego and pride, of apathy and arrogance, of assurance and confidence and pierces right to the core changing that most scared defining element in you; 'How you look at yourself?' It is a pain that changes your soul.

You are left with a distinct before and after memory of yourself, a person and a constellation of characteristics you can never return to. The recovery is not repairing, it is remaking. And it takes its own time with many failures and little to cheer.

And you realize that some wounds never really heal. That you have to find a way to live with them. It is a pain that cannot be known, except by those who already know it. And it is hard to explain. 

- Sanket


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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Childhood Flights !!

Anyone who is familiar with the story of Mahabharat would recall the 'Warrior Tournament'. After what seemed to be an appropriate training period when Guru Dronacharya thought it was time to test the warriors for their battle skills, he organized an elaborate competition designed to ascertain the best combatant in all of Hastinapur. Karna (the first son of Kunti and an heir of the Sun God himself) was the most superior warrior in all the land, virtually indestructible and naturally gifted with superior skills, he was the assured winner. Except, on the day of the competition the Sun God was veiled in clouds and Karna couldn't get his father's blessings. Frustrated and impatient Karna paced to and fro outside the gates of the arena as the crowds cheered on Arjun and declared him the winner. As the story goes, the Sun God eventually did reveal himself and Karna proceeded to set the record straight.

I could always feel for Karna - and tried to imagine just how hard it must be for him to wallow in the shadows outside, knowing he could dazzle all if only he was given a chance. Of late I have been feeling exactly like he must have, and I have to confess it is no fun.  As most of you would know and agree,  inspiration comes from sources unknown and there is no concrete rationale as to why one piece turns out cohesive and sparkling while another is found lacking. For the past month or so, my heavenly deity and the font of all my inspiration has been veiled in the clouds. For I have not been able to write despite try, and indeed it seemed as though the Gods were unhappy and hesitant in their blessings. Alas! I am glad to report the clouds have passed, the sun is shining and God willing, you should see the color return to my words soon.


It was the October of '92, the school semester had ended and I was enjoying my Diwali vacations. If mangoes were the luring attraction of summer, then fire crackers and kites were the pleasures of Diwali. This vacation was especially important to me, for it was my initiation into some serious kite flying. Every year in the months of September to November, the kids in our neighborhood would switch affection and dote upon kite flying as the favorite sport. The month of September used to be particularly difficult to deal with, for just as I returned home from school every day, the sky would fill up with kites of all sizes and colors and make me go into a frenzy of excitement. However, returning home, homework was the first order of business, all sport and play followed later. In retrospect I think, this strategy was extremely detrimental to learning, as I could never concentrate on the boring study at hand and would constantly dream of kites dancing wonderful acrobatics in the sky right above.

The real world, to me was a far more interesting place to discover things. Filled with the most unpredictable surprises and mysterious dangers - it was clearly a school I was more likely to learn from. The education system at the time though, did not tolerate this line of thought and so, for the most part, I rebelled against anyone trying to impose rules and restrictions upon me. Vacations was the only time when I was truly free to learn what I really wanted to learn. I used to fill my mornings with quixotic experiments and record all my findings in a little lab notebook.

Filled with observations of chaotic rhyme, they are fragrant with humor to this date. 

1) Concave lens used to concentrate sunlight .... did light fire like the textbook stated .... very useful tool ........ to be used to make a gun for He-Man ...... will defeat Piyush's skeletor. Questions: What other rays can the lens concentrate? Is there really a gun with giant glasses?

2) Stolen sulphuric acid .... grade 8 textbook claims to be extremely dangerous ... hence stolen from lab .... causes bad smell when poured on pencil eraser .... to be used only when alone ...... caused annoying burn .... this must be corrosion. Very nice!

Extremely jealous of all hero figures that the books described, I carved elaborate ambitions of deed and fame and carried purest hopes that the scribblings of my little notebook would make history one day.

Afternoons were occupied with kite training. It is a special class of kites that can bear lanterns into the sky. Locally called 'Kandil Patang', they remain my favorite kites. Usually large in size and considerably more difficult to handle, these kites have an ability to bear astonishing weight. Flying them is a coveted skill and I was to learn it this semester break. However, the right to fly a 'Kandil Patang' had to be earned. It started with a bigger boy showing how to select the right kite, and buy the right 'manja' - string to go with it. Then he would proceed to fly the kite and send it as high as possible - I was to be the spool handler, designated to observe and learn. When the kite reached the right height, it was nothing more than a mere speck in the sky. At this point the bigger boy would let go of the string, and command the trainee to care for the kite until sunset.

I soon learned; 'Kandil Patang's' need a lot of altitude to be able to bear paper lanterns. The lower a kite is, the more vulnerable it is to wind shifts and predator attacks from other kites. 'Kandil Patang's', while great for flying lights, make for a poor fighter kite, clumsy and difficult to maneuver, they are often times easy targets. Because of their altitude, the sharp abrasion line usually used in engagement is out of effective range and as such they are extremely vulnerable to low level attacks. To guard from such  a tragedy, we used to usually fly these kites in scathing afternoon heat when no one dared to venture out. Once at the right altitude, the kite was often invisible to its own handler, let alone predators. If deployed properly and diligently cared for, the kite would remain in the sky for days unnoticed, capable of bearing lamps at will. It was the responsibility of the trainee to ensure that the kite remained stable, undetected and safe until sunset.

While initially difficult and a burden, the job of guarding the 'Kandil Patang' did become easier with time. I remember spending endless hours sitting in the nearby shade watching my  little speck in the sky, and willing it to stay quiet and calm. As a sport, I used to spray the terrace floor with wheat grain to attract pigeons. At times the warm lazy midday breeze would bring with it tunes of popular songs of the time, 'Dheere Dheere se...' and Kumar Sanu used to be frequent visitors. A reminder of some restless youth anxious over his girl, unable to sleep with unaccounted lust. And every once in a while, pigeons used to take my bait, and I would get to watch magnificent birds of grey, brown and white. I would take this as a sign of luck and smile happily at my friend above, thinking ..... tonight you will hold 12 lanterns - wait and watch!!!

If a trainee successfully guarded the kite until sunset, he would get 30 minutes with the 'Debonair' magazine that the bigger boys had hidden on the water tank above. Also part of the lure, was the assured promise that successfully deploying 12 lanterns was a sure shot claim to fame and was to make the boy irresistibly popular amongst the women. I was too young to understand that women in fact never cared for; who mastered the 'Kandil Patang'  and for the most part, were completely oblivious. For the moment, I was content to relish myself upon the nude and semi-nude girls of 'Debonair'.

In this school of choice - I was resoundingly the top student. I successfully burnt a small black spot on Piyush's skeletor and thus claimed victory. I mastered the huge kite and marveled at the dancing lights in sky. I learnt many 'Adult' things from the Debonair and came to love the girls. And when Piyush was cheated out of his 'recreational time' with the magazine, I rejoiced in exacting fitting revenge on the bigger boy that had foxed him. Sulphuric acid (although diluted) was put to good use and the elders learnt to respect the potent terrorist element in little ones.

Like the thousand kites of that evening sky, childhood imagination carried the lanterns of my ambitions and took them higher and high. I remember telling my grandma - that one day like the kite, I will go faaaaar and be just a speck, at which she reprimanded in motherly instinct and prayed - I never leave her side.

On some unfortunate nights, one of the candles used to fall in its paper lamp causing it to catch fire and thus break the string. And we had to endure the sadness of watching our beloved kite fly out of sight. Watching the dancing lights disappear used to be one of the hardest sights for a new trainee who had spent hours guarding his kite. Even the big boys used to show a rare glimpse of compassion in such times and assure us, that the kite was safe and that because it was tended with love it would go to a better place and one day be reunited with us again.

Battling the US recession, I often times feel as if a cruel and uncaring wind has snatched my floating lights. And like I did as a child, I sure hope that one day soon, the wind will cede and I will be reunited again. After all dreams are just like Kites, it is their destiny to fly.

- Sanket


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