Pic credit: Clipart Library

It’s not Mother’s day, still I feel like writing about my mother. When was the last time I wanted to write something about her? Like the urge to let out everything on paper, or type it, when you witness something unusual or just a beautiful experience like- first love. Honestly, never. Twenty one years of my life and the only time I wrote something for my mother was a poem on ‘Mother’s Day, because I had to post it on my newly created blogging account. You know Mother’s Day tags are very popular on social media and help you gain followers. That’s all my selfish self thought about while writing that poem.

But right now, all I am seeing beyond the roof of my train, taking me on a new life journey, is my mother’s face waving me good bye. That’s the face she makes when she is scared, when she is praying for everything to be alright and that’s the face she makes when she is trying to hold her tears in. She probably cried after I left.

How strange are mothers, how indecipherable. Is womanhood related to motherhood? And why is the relationship between a daughter and mother so complicated? These questions have been on my mind for a few days now. I remember reading Anne Frank’s ‘ The Diary of a Young Girl’ in 10th standard and as a teenager, feeling connected with everything Anne wrote about the incompatible and dissimilar personalities of her and her mother. It felt relatable to me, as me and my mother also have totally different personalities. I believe almost every teenage girl must have felt connected to Anne Frank’s emotions because at that age it is normal to feel hostile towards anyone becoming a hindrance to your freedom or atleast what you perceive to be freedom. Especially in the case of women, when, as a girl, you see your mother at the same place as you in the patriarchal society, you expect her to stand by you in every situation that makes you feel discriminated as a woman. But the generation gap is too big to let your mother think the way you do. She has already accepted the position, the role assigned to her in this society, regardless of how unfair it may be. Thus, the disappointed following your expectations not being met is what leads to conflicts in relationship.

It feels so strange that I don’t even want to mention what the new journey is, that I talked about earlier. It really doesn’t matter. All I am thinking right now is how my mother, who hates walking beyond our residential colony, walked herself to the market, which is around a kilometre away from our house, just because she wanted to buy something for me. Something bought from her own money that she had saved, something, just something from her side. It’s always the littlest things that she does which makes me emotional.

This is probably the messiest blog I have written till date. Some people might even ask why am I being so dramatic at the big age of 21? But I just couldn’t help. I had to write it down, I had to let it out. Just like, now that I am in the train, far away from my mother’s sight, I can finally stop choking on my tears, and let them freely roll down my cheeks.

The fear of being alone

When the sunrays say it’s too late and leave me ony own
Hands grow cold on a summer night
For of all the fears I fear being left alone.

What is a garden if it is made up of rocks
It’s just a dead crowd
With no one to listen, no one to talk.

I asked my vulnerabilities, are they leaving too?
They loathe selfishness, they won’t leave me alone
They are here till the end, to walk me home.

A proposal

Pic credit: Depositphotos

They were walking side by side, followed by a cold breeze. The streets were almost empty but they didn’t realise it as, at this moment, they were feeling each other’s company more than ever. Both of them knew that this was the time, it had to
be said now. But who will go first?

“I… wanted to say something, actually wanted to ask something” said the girl.

“Yeah…sure, what is it?” Asked he, albeit surprised, as he was pretty much confident that he would be the one to ask her, for, among them he was definitely the talkative one.

She stopped walking and turned towards him. Now they were face to face. Nervously, looking down, as if reading something from her shoes, she started saying, “Have you seen those instagram posts, very vague, nothing distinct. But sometimes they have these long ass captions, which are actually very thoughtful, very deep. People scroll past them.” She finally looked him into the eyes, and asked “I’m kinda like those long captions. Would you like to read me more?”

It took a moment for the proposal to strike him. But as soon as it did, he smiled, as if shying away for falling in love once again with the same person. With great conviction in his eyes, and as much love as possible, he held her hand and said, “Of course, I am an avid reader.”

That one teacher…

Pic credit: PhotoDune

I was cleaning up my cupboard, of course after ages, and stumbled upon a file that I made in 6th standard for my Hindi assignment. Struck by nostalgia, I started turning its pages and realised that a few things just never change. One of them being my awful handwriting. Anyways, we were supposed to write five Hindi poems; apart from the ones that we had in our syllabus.

First three poems were common poems for children including my all time favourite, Phoolon se tum hasna seekho, bhawaron se tum gaana. I still remember this poem whole heartedly. The fourth poem had a rather mature writing style, with a sophisticated vocabulary. Beneath the poem was written the name of the poet; Vardaan by Rabindranath Tagore. Although, all these poems were very different from each other, one thing was common throughout the pages of the file so far; the remarks. My teacher had given a “good” for every poem. For the last poem though, was a “very good”. Whose poem was this?

I started reading it. It was a poem on water. But, I couldn’t finish it. I stopped reading it midway. It was bad, very childish and cringeworthy. There was no need to look for the poet because I knew, I had written it. Just what was I thinking? It was my first ever poem, and just terrible. The struggle to rhyme the last word of each sentence was almost peeping out of the page, looking me into the eyes and laughing hysterically. But still, my teacher had thought this poem deserved a “very good”.

Now that I think about it, what would have happened, forget a bad remark, if there was no remark at all. My first poem would certainly have been my last poem as well. For a 12 year old child that bland poem was her best effort, and she must have been looking forward to some sort of appreciation. That “very good” was the much needed appreciation for me back then. It’s not like I am a renowned poet now or something. I rarely write poems, and yes, I still struggle to rhyme words. But, what could have been the end became the beginning just because of a simple remark. And it is also true that two of the most liked posts on this site are my poems.

All of us have that one teacher in our lives who teaches us something so valuable that it takes us years to fathom its worth. Whether it is a classroom lecture, a remark on an assignment file or even a scolding, there is a teacher who teaches you lessons beyond the school curriculum. He was “that” teacher to me. He used to teach us Hindi, Sanskrit and everything out of syllabus. When we read the classic Andher Nagari play, he actually made us act it out in the class, saying that, “who knows, one of you might become an actor”. As peculiar were his ways of teaching, as abrupt was his departure from school. He just left the school one day and since then I haven’t had any contact with him.

His single remark encouraged me for writing at a time when even I didn’t knew I could do it. I wish I could meet him at least one more time. He might not recognize me, for he had many students. But I remember him, because he was that one teacher to me, whom I genuinely want to say to, “Thank you, Sir”.

When the Pope divided the world into two

In 1917 the British government issued the Balfour declaration, promising the establishment of a national home in Palestine for Jewish people. A year back they had secretly promised the French that they would divide the Arab teritorries and that the Brits would keep Palestine. Going back another year the British had an agreement with the ruler of Mecca that he would rule Palestine if he led a revolt against the Ottomans, which he promptly did. All of this happened before the Ottomans were defeated in the First World War, which means that the Brits promised a land, which technically didn’t even belong to them, to three people including themselves.

Spanish and Portugal Empires in the 15th century.
Pic credit: Google

There are several instances in history when a country has claimed a land which they were not inhabitants of. Hundereds of years ago, even before the rise of Britain, as a superpower, two countries were fighting to claim the lands which they newly discovered and one person tried to resolve this conflict by dividing the ‘New World’ between these two countries. It was the Pope. 15th century was marked by great expeditions

15th century was the beginning of the Age of Discoveries. Europe was finally out of the shadows of the crusades, into the Renaissance period, rediscovering it’s culture, art and philosophy. During this time two of the most powerful European empires, Portugal and Spain were taking the lead in discovering new sea routes to map the world. One of the reasons for so many voyages in the 15th century was out of curiosity to discover new lands or to ascertain the fact that the earth was round. But, another important reason was trade. With several stories from travellers like Marco Polo about huge amount of wealth in the east, western Europe was now trying to find a sea route round the African continent to reach Asia. Although trading between Europe and Asia wasn’t a new thing, but with Constantinople, Egypt and most of the Middle East under the Ottomans, the land route became pretty difficult.

So, the Portuguese tried to go east and Spain which was a Christian empire under King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile, went towards the west. A major victory for the Portuguese came in the year 1446 with the discovery of Cape Verde, which is an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean and also the westernmost point of Africa. This was the discovery that made people believe that they would be able to reach India, if they were able to go round Africa.

Cabo Verde also called Cape Verde.

Portuguese and Spainiards were doing there separate voyages pretty smoothly, till 1493, when Christopher Columbus returned from his American exploration. He was a Italian explorer who wanted to find a route to the East Indies particularly the Spice Islands (Indonesian archipelago), through sailing west. He first went to King John II of Portugal to sponsor his voyage but the King refused him. Finally it were the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella who sponsored his voyage. Though Columbus did discover new land, or shall we say new for Europe, because the land was already inhabited by people, it wasn’t the East Indies which he intended to go to. He landed at Bahamas, one of the islands in the West Indies.

Upon his return, Portugal and Spain entered into conflict to claim the newly discovered land. King John II sent a threatening letter to the Spanish Monarchs, reminding them of the Treaty of Alcáçovas signed in 1479 that granted all lands south of the Canary Islands to Portugal. The Spanish Monarchs knew that they would not be able to match the Portuguese in terms of military power, so they found a diplomatic way out of this conflict. This is where the Pope comes into the scene.

Line of Demarcation (1493) and the new meridian after Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) Pic Credit: Google

The Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella reached Pope Alexander VI, who himself was of spanish descent, to issue a papal bull– a public decree– called Inter caetera. This bull granted all the lands west of a pole-to-pole line 100 leagues( about 300 miles) west of any of the islands of the Azores or the Cape Verde to Spain. This was called the Line of Demarcation. The bull did not mention anything of the Portugal lands, which made the Portuguese King quite unpleased. In order gain rights over the lands east to the Line of Demarcation the Portuguese King started negotiations with the Catholic Monarchs. Funnily enough, the next year, that is in 1494 the Treaty of Tordesillas was signed between Portugal and the Spanish Crown to move the Line of Demarcation 270 leagues west, without even consulting the Pope. It is bewildering to think that actual land, home to millions of people, was getting divided between two foreign empires like a piece of cake.

All these bulls issued by the Pope or the treaties signed between empires dividing the world might be just an interesting piece of history to ponder over now. But back in the day they were actually setting the stage for colonisation of these “undiscovered” lands.

Legend of the Wandering Lake

A picture of Lop Nur dried basin acquired on October 28, 2001 by NASA Earth Observatory.

Marco Polo, the thirteenth century Venetian merchant, crossed the Lop Desert in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region of China, on his way to meet the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, Kublai Khan. Marco, in his travel records, describes the desert as inhabited by spirits. He says, “when travellers are on the move by night, and one of them chances to lag behind or to fall asleep, when he tries to gain his company again he will hear spirits talking, and will suppose them to be his comrades. And in this way many have perished.”

The Lop Desert and the bigger Taklamakan Desert spread westward to the Lop city was part of the famous Silk Road. Thus, many travellers including the famous Chinese travellers Faxian and Hiuen Tsang crossed the Lop Desert on their journey to India. Apart from being part of the Silk Road there are many other interesting things about this desert. One of them is the Lop Nur lake, also known as the Wandering Lake. Since the area is dominated by endless desert a water body in the middle of it is already a point of interest.

But this lake doesn’t seem to greet every traveller going past the desert. Some ancient merchants/travellers have mentioned about a salty lake in their travel records, but some didn’t. Marco Polo, for example, didn’t mention any lake. Later explorers suggest that the reason Marco didn’t mention any lake in his travel records was because he probably didn’t see any lake. But, how is that possible? Hundreds of years ago people travelling through a desert will definitely look for a water body, especially when the vast Gobi desert awaits you, if you are travelling to China. Going through the same route, the travellers must have met Lop Nur, unless the lake was wandering/ changing its position.

Imperial maps from the 17th century, Qing Dynasty show the lake at the same position as the present day Lop Nur dried basin. But, Nikolay Przhevalsky, a Russian geographer on his expedition to central Asia in 1867 found the lake at Kara– Koshun, which is south west to the lake’s current position.
Sven Hedin, a Swedish explorer and geographer, went on an expedition to the Tarim river basin, in 1900-1901. In 1937, he published a book, entitled The Wandering Lake, documenting his journey to the Tarim basin and explaining why and how the Lop Nur changed its position.

Pic: Wikipedia. Map of Lop Nur by Folke Bergman, a Swedish explorer, 1935.

The Tarim basin in an endorheic basin, spread across more than a million square kilometres and dominated mostly by the Taklamakan Desert. An endorheic basin system is one which doesn’t allow outflow of water to external water bodies, such as rivers or oceans. They are landbound and water is instead drained into lakes or swamps which equilibrate through evaporation. Within the Tarim basin is located the Lop Nur Lake, a terminal lake with no natural outlet for the water accumulating in it through the Tarim river. Here comes the tricky part. It’s not actually the lake changing its position but the Tarim river changing its course. Rivers tend to change their course over the time, due to sediment deposition. Since, Tarim river is the major source of water for Lop Nur, when the river changes its course the terminal lake changes its position too. This resulted in Lop Nur altering its location between the Lop Nur dried basin, the Kara-Koshun dried basin and the Taitema Lake basin.

Lop Nor, also called the “the heart of the heart” of Asia, doesn’t exist anymore. It has dried up mostly due to climate change, human settlements and nuclear testings. But this wonder of nature was once the only friend of faraway travellers amidst boundless desert and had surely tricked many of them too because of its wanderings.

Whitewashing others despair is not spreading ‘positivity’

Pic credit: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Uff! It’s so depressing all around, they want me to bring in some “positive news” but is it really the lack of positivity and not compassion and empathy?

They want me to write about the raining sixes at boundaries, when people are dropping dead like flies

They want me to capture the holy dip at Ganga, when hundreds are gasping for breath at streets

They want me to talk about the wins and losses of the purported “festival of democracy” when crematoriums are announcing their own results

They want me to help them clean their timeline, when I know the next SOS call could be one of mine

They can keep their eyes shut through the day, but the crimson sky at midnight is enough to keep me awake

Perhaps late “human beings” wrapped in plastic bags are not aesthetic enough… But they were alive once unlike your moral conscience

Look around carefully, the times we are in even the shares on a call for help are signs of positivity whitewashing despair, censoring cries are mere distractions.

Because the living can be manipulated, dead cannot

Picture of a crematorium in New Delhi, clicked by Danish Siddiqui

In 1993 Kevin Carter, a South African photojournalist, clicked a picture during Sudan famine, famously known as “The Vulture and the little girl”. In the picture a vulture is seen sitting near a child, who was on its way to a United Nations feeding center, but collapsed midway most probably due to acute starvation. This picture started a debate regarding the ethics of journalism and the humanitarian instincts of a journalist. People often quote the example of this picture to regard journalists as vulture feeding on people’s misery, grief, pain.

Something similar happened a few days ago when Reuters photojournalist Danish Siddiqui posted pictures on his twitter handle including a picture of a drone shot of a crematorium in Delhi where 50 funeral pyres were burning. India is going through a deadly second wave of Corona virus and the increasing death toll has caused an overflow of dead bodies at crematoriums. Some big twitter handles starting complaining that media is stirring distress and fear among people, at already distressing times, by showing pictures and footages from funeral grounds. Some people compared journalists to ‘vultures waiting for their prey to die’ while others went as far as alleging that media is trying to ‘undermine India’s image’ and ‘disrespecting hindu culture’.

The allegation of disrespecting hindu culture doesn’t hold much ground because there are several examples of news channels live broadcasting funerals of big politicians and bollywood actors, with nobody objecting to that. On the other hand the allegations of media undermining India’s image at world stage and comparing media coverage in India to media coverage in foreign countries to claim that the foreign press didn’t cover deaths and burial grounds in US and UK during the first wave of Corona virus last year, is just a blatant lie. From Washington Post to BBC to The New York Times, almost all big news organisations covered the horrific scenes of mass digging of graves and coffin makers struggling to meet up the demand for coffins, in US, UK, France, Italy.

Now as far as the vital question of ‘what is the need to cover crematoriums’ is concerned, we need to understand a few things. First of all, the real picture is always at ground zero. Many Indian newspapers have reported huge discrepancies between the official Covid–19 death toll and the number of dead bodies being laid to rest as per Covid protocols. For example an Indian Express report states that from April 16 to April 20 the official data for Madhya Pradesh recorded only 348 deaths, when three cremation facilities in Bhopal alone reported 597 bodies being buried following Covid-19 protocols. This is the case across several other states in India including the national capital Delhi. To understand the gravity of the situation it is necessary to highlight these discrepancies and the most effective way of doing so is reporting straight from crematoriums.

Any humanitarian crises often becomes just a case study due the official figures which maybe useful for future references. What brings life to these figures and makes us understand that the zeroes that keep getting added every few days in the death toll actually represent someone’s mother, father, son, daughter, husband, or friend, are actually these pictures and articles that the journalists experience firsthand.

Anupam Nath, an Associated Press photojournalist, replying to a query from Newslaundry said, “We should record for history. If no one had taken photos of the Hiroshima bombing, we would not have realised how bad it was. You can’t visualise until you see the situation.”

The situation certainly is very distressing right now. But it is important to report the truth now to avoid an even worse situation in future.

A letter for help

Pic source: Google

It’s her third letter in a week
The cries are getting louder, I’m scared to have a peek.
I can see the letters bold behind drops of tears,
They are mine they are hers, they stink of fear.
Every now and then she reaches out her hand,
Wanting to be pulled out before meeting the dead-end.
The numbness has started to fill in her body
Is it a graveyard? Is she a dead body?

I’m trying to remember when did it started
Did I ignored, joked around or sincerely responded?
But I’m fine, neither dead nor dying,
About to grab her hand only to find a thousand chains tying.
How do I break it how does it shatter
Who is dragging me down, is it me, is it her?
I realised, even her stillness is better than my  vehemence
Breathes make you drown, corpses just float seamless.

But it’s not the final call yet
I am here till the sun sets.
Whatever it takes to break the chains,
My fatigue should not put her efforts in vain.
Till the letters stop bringing in cries
I’m using my breath to keep her alive.

The traffic light

Pic credit: Unsplash

It was past 6 in the evening. I was returning home from college, riding pillion with my sister. Although my college gets over at 4pm already, I had to stay at my sister’s office for nearly 2 hours because apparently she suddenly got reminded of some important work that she had to finish before we could head home. After spending almost two hours with a poor WiFi I wasn’t certainly in a good mood but now that we were finally heading back home, I felt more relaxed. But, as we were moving, suddenly we had to stop and everyone around us had to stop too. The traffic light had just turned red.

Anytime after 5pm is basically people just rushing back to their homes after a day that can for one reason or another be deemed as stressful. I could see the irritated expression on everyone’s faces and feel the frustration in the air as the clock on the traffic light started counting backwards from 180 seconds. Amidst the same stressed, drained out of energy expression on almost everyone’s faces my eyes certainly stuck at one particular scene.

Besides us two bikes were standing, one in front of the other, and beside those bikes was a car. However what caught my attention was not the car but the people inside the car. There were two boys on the front seat and a girl and a boy on the backseat. They looked like college students almost the same age as me. The boys were all wearing suits. The girl was wearing a black dress. Black hair, a little longer than shoulder length. Although I could not see her face clearly, I just felt she might be pretty. However what stood out to me were her earrings. They did not match with her dress at all. To be precise she was wearing jhumka, one that someone would wear with a saree or salwar kurta. Their attires brought me to the conclusion that they were either returning from their freshers or farewell party. I was not able to see the boy’s face who was sitting with the girl. I could see the girl’s hair. They were facing eachother. Probably kissing.

Suddenly the girl backed off. She got a call. At the same time there was a knock on their car’s window. It was a beggar, with an empty bowl, trying to make a living out of the red traffic light. The girl rolled down the window, with her phone pressed to her ear with one hand, she answered the call, “hmm papa“. While trying to get some money out of her purse she answered again, “abhi college pe hi hai friends se mil le thoda tab nikalte hai” (still at the college, let me meet my friends then we’ll leave)

With a little bit confused face, as if trying to figure out what the other person was about to say, she said again, “abhi to Shrishti ke yaha jana hai. Usko kuch important kaam hai phir 8 baje tak pakka ghar. Wo apni car se chhod degi.” (Have to go to Shrishti’s place. She got some important work. Then I will be home by 8pm, promise. She will drop me home in her car)

“Ok. Bye. Love you.”

She cut the call. Gave a coin to the beggar. The boys who were sitting quietly till now, finally started speaking again. The one on the driver’s seat said something that made all of them laugh. The girl rolled up the window again with a little smile on her face.

She was most probably lying to her dad. Because the four lane intersection was definitely not her college. For a second I was taken back to my freshers party. Almost all of my classmates went to a club after the official college party was over, to have fun on their own. I didn’t. More like I couldn’t. I wanted to but for ‘some’ reasons which can qualify as ‘precautions to stay safe’, I couldn’t.

The uncle, sitting on his bike right beside us side eyed them. He was probably frowning, probably thinking,”what has happened to this generation?”

Suddenly the car started moving. Engines were on again. All the vehicles started moving. Countdown was over, the traffic light was green. The car was going straight while we had to turn right. As far as I could, my eyes followed the car, or to be honest, the girl. The last thing I saw was that, she was laughing. I don’t know the reason, but she had the most genuine laugh on her face. My heart felt happy.

Wherever she went after that, I just hope she returned home by 8pm, with the same genuine laugh on her face.