On ‘Seriousness’: The other side of the coin

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We are often told: “Don’t take things, or let’s say life – so seriously, loosen up, let it go, just laugh… or whatever it is that will ease our anxiety or our worry and pessimism. But this lack of taking things seriously since childhood, that we are encouraged to do – more so in adulthood when it is of utmost importance, is the root of most of the problems we face today, in my view.

We do not take anything seriously, do we – not our words, neither our actions, and least of all our views and scathing criticism of others, and its repercussions, or let’s say even our lavish and undue praise, that can topple and ultimately uproot the self-esteem of a person who has little ability left for judgement of his strengths and weaknesses to decide on the profundity of his behaviour or his next course of action.

So no…For heaven’s sake, I say…Do take life seriously: Even if it means that you love seriously, even if you hurt very seriously, also cry and laugh sincerely, till you really feel all of yourself in your gut and in your soul.

Don’t laugh when all you want to do is weep and don’t cry for the world when all you want to do is laugh at the absurdity of the world. Have the courage to be real and to be ‘you’, so as to feel everything deeply and connect to your core self, not to what is expected of you – thus turn yourself into a shallow creature that keeps flapping its wings with all the other ducks but has no inherent strength in its wings to fly alone.

You don’t have to be grumpy, boring, whiny and obnoxious to be seriously sincere in life, you can enjoy your life hilariously, uproariously, and be as silly as you like when the mood strikes, but you need to be deeply connected to yourself, to form sincere connections with people and the world and thereby take responsibility for your words, opinions, actions and behaviour and their impact on others. Happiness, especially peace, I believe stems from taking onus and responsibility for your words, actions and yourself.

 

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Lessons In Loyalty

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Just this morning I saw two parrots feed,

On a single mango – ripe and sweet,

Among the numerous of those hanging low –

Inciting me with their green colour and glow.

 

As the strong red beaks nibbled on the fruit –

Peeling off a velvety green jacket from its soft tissue,

Blue, Green plumes caressed it, chirping sweet nothings

As they tenderly relished its juicy flesh in the nude.  

 

I vicariously savoured the sweet taste of the mango –

Lying wrapped in the aroma of it being relished in the nude,

As I watched the sensual parrots from my bedside window –

Making love to one in the bunch, reliably adoring that fruit.

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On Sexual Harassment: ‘A Dilemma’

Existences cover (1) - Copy

Sharing a short story below from my upcoming collection of twenty-six titled ‘Existences’, that I had discussed and begun to work with – a very reputed theatre company, for a full length play. Ironically the male directors loved the story just the way it is and were very keen to go ahead, while the several women, all senior ladies, insisted on my reworking it to suit the narrative to their understanding of how it ought to be. I worked on several drafts for the play, even doubling the word count for them, but finally in exasperation I reverted to the original version for my book…it’s as below. The cover and draft are unfinished versions.

A few days back I attended a book launch in Calcutta, on a strongly woman-centric topic where there was so much, let me repeat – so much undue male bashing, that being a woman I was dumbstruck and wanted to come out with the hypocrisy of women through my story inspired by true incidents.  What better time to speak up than, just a day after International Women’s Day on 8th March. 

 

A Dilemma

I drove to the airport very early that morning. The check in

counters started around 5.30am, and I wanted to be there by

then. It wasn’t that I was taking a flight, but was getting to work

as a service-quality coordinator for the airline I had joined six

years back. My duties now comprised auditing the ground and in

flight operations of the airline’s network, for excellence in service

quality. The nature of my job entailed my travelling extensively

to all the stations we operated at, taking random flights through

the length and breadth of the country. This morning, however, I

had planned on auditing the cycle of services at Calcutta. I often

made surprise visits early mornings and late evenings, picking on

random flights, in a bid to check the implementation of standard

operating procedures. There was no knowing when and where I

might land up, or how long I would stay.

At the airport, walking in through the entrance, I hung

my photo-identity-card that was on a chain, around my neck. I

proceeded to the baggage screening, onwards to the check-in

counters, followed by the departure-hall through the security

checkpoint. At every point, I spent time quietly monitoring that

the process was functioning smoothly, and that the staff was in

their places, well groomed and helpful. By eight o’clock, I had a

cup of coffee and a cheese sandwich from the snacks counter in the

security enclosure along with two of the duty managers who were

friends. It was almost time for the Delhi flight to land at 8.10am

when I decided to move to the arrival hall through a boarding gate.

On my way, I checked on the baggage offloading point outside

the arrival hall to ensure the loaders were in place. I would go to

the aircraft only before the boarding of this turnaround flight

commenced, deciding on monitoring the arrival lounge services

first.

At the entrance to the arrival lounge was a male staff, well

groomed. Inside, another lady was at the conveyor-belt, waiting

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40 Shuvashree Chowdhury

for the passengers and then the baggage to arrive. There would

be a staff or two on the tarmac, to escort passengers in coaches

to the arrival lounge. With the increase in flights over the years,

there was more staff allocated to arrivals, as compared to a single

one, when I was a customer-service assistant in 1995. After all the

passengers of the Delhi flight came into the arrival hall, transported

by three coaches, I walked over to check that their baggage was

being loaded onto the conveyor belt smoothly. Then I hopped into

the last coach returning to the aircraft. On the way, I exchanged

pleasantries with the friendly driver named Amit, working since

before I joined. Getting off the coach at the front stepladder, I

climbed up, cursorily viewing the catering upload at the rear, the

water tank and toilet cleaner in operation.

On seeing me, the cabin crew, at excessive proximity with each

other, verbally, physically, put on a prompt show of formality. The

ladies, slim and pretty, stashed away their open compact-cases,

lipsticks and blushers into their handbags, the handsome men their

smirks. They started goading the cabin-cleaners, also themselves

folding open blankets, newspapers, arranging magazines, in

reducing the turnaround time of the aircraft. On the walkie-talkie

jutting out of the cabin cleaning supervisor’s pocket, I overheard

one of the duty managers alerting – “All stations come in … QC on

board the Delhi aircraft.”

I smiled to myself, recognising his voice, his anxiety of anything

untoward happening in his shift that I may report to tar his image.

The cabin-cleaning supervisor, a middle aged man with a friendly,

pleasant face, promptly reduced the volume of his walky-talky,

looking sidelong to decipher whether I might have overheard the

alert.

I took a brisk walk down the aisle, to ensure the cabin was clean

as per standard – the seat headrests changed, the carpet vacuumed,

tray tables and pockets cleaned. The catering staff had finished

loading the meal trolleys into the galleys behind. I mentally ticked

off the audit checklists, to fill them out physically on my return to

my office. After a peek inside each washroom, to ensure they were

cleaned and sanitised, satisfied that the cabin was now clear for

boarding, I climbed down the front stepladder. On my way out,

through the open cockpit door, I caught a glimpse of the back of

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Existences 41

the uniformed shirts, berets and epaulettes of the Captain and the

Co-pilot.

I went across to the starboard side of the aircraft, so see if the

loaders were impeccably groomed, loading the baggage into the

holds systematically. As my gaze involuntarily moved upward

to the cockpit windows, I noticed the two pilots peering at me

curiously. I didn’t recognise either of them, so looked away. Then,

as the first coach of passengers arrived to board, I walked back

to the departure hall, in time to catch the last and final boarding

announcement for the same flight. In a while, assuming the aircraft

had taxied-out by now, I was about to step out of the security-hold

when a duty-officer named Levin – of average height, stocky built,

with slanting eyes and the bridge of his nose low, suddenly walked

up to me.

“The Delhi flight’s commander, Capt. Chopra, wants to meet

you in the cockpit,” he said.

“Me? But why – and isn’t it too late now?” I replied baffled. “The

aircraft should have been airborne by now isn’t it?”

“Apparently it isn’t,” Levin replied in an exasperated tone.

“Captain wants to meet you right now. In fact, everyone’s been

trying to locate you on the walkie since he asked the crew not to

close doors till you come. If you don’t rush, he will delay the flight,

writing off the delay on the commercial. And you know how every

minute of delay impacts our performance adversely.”

I nodded, rushing into a coach at the departure gate, that was

kept waiting to take me to the aircraft. On the tarmac, I noticed

a number of curious staff eyes on me. As I rushed up the front

stepladder, the rear had been removed, and the door closed, I

crossed a ground services supervisor named Deepak – tall, lean,

with a thickset moustache, on his way down. He seemed to

consciously avert my gaze, much to my curiosity.

At the entrance to the aircraft, the chief purser – a tall, athletic

man, when I asked him why I had been summoned, feigned

ignorance. I walked to the cockpit, stood behind the pilots laughing

amongst themselves.

“Yes, Captain,” I announced edgily. “Did you want to see me?”

The men turned around simultaneously, appraising me

curiously.

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42 Shuvashree Chowdhury

The Captain, muscular, sharp-featured, and good-looking,

with mocking eyes, in a sardonic tone, said: “As a matter of fact, I

did, quite a while ago.”

The Co-pilot, seemingly younger and somewhat shy now,

averted my gaze, as I enquired firmly, their disdainful tone and

look having put me on the defensive.

“May I know why?”

“I wanted to know why you are not in uniform?” the Captain

replied, looking me up and down with a derisive look. “And how

come you first came here through the arrival hall rather than

through the security hold?”

“In my job, I’m not required to wear a uniform, Captain,” I

replied crisply, impatient he had called me, held up the flight even,

to ask such an inconsequential question, that in any case was not

pertaining to him. “However, what is the relevance of that now, to

the flight’s departure?”

“What do you mean by you are not required to wear a uniform?”

he persisted in an intimidating tone “Exactly why are you not in

uniform? Don’t you know, you have to come through securitycheck

to the aircraft, also you should not be carrying your handbag

with you as you are?”

“I don’t have a uniform, as I’m a service-quality coordinator,”

I replied indignantly. “I have a valid all-airport photo identity

card which entails my entry into any part of this airport terminal.

Moreover, though it isn’t necessary, I passed through security to

the arrival hall, before I came here.”

“Ah! Now I get it!” he replied, trying to squash a grin.

I turned away in silence, seething from the harassment, and

walked out of the aircraft, down the ladder, sullenly. On the tarmac,

the ground staff and loaders waited anxiously for the aircraft doors

to close and the flight to chocks-off. Their averted gazes, by now

figuring out the bogus reason for the delay of the flight, heightened

my humiliation. Women staff being called to the cockpit, delaying

the flight, had connotations that were far from complimentary.

The supervisor Deepak, who I had crossed on the stepladder on

my way up to the cockpit, discomfited at my apparent humiliation

but helpless to do anything looked at me sympathetically. He and

I had joined about the same time six years back and were friends.

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Existences 43

His primary concern now was to get the cause for the delay signed

by the Captain. He briskly walked up to the cockpit.

I walked all the way the back to the departure hall, rather than

take a coach. My eyes smarted from the angry tears, the intensity

of my indignity percolating in my psyche with time. The temerity

of these pilots, I thought, to treat me like a new staff or one of

their cabin crew, when I was totally outside the purview of their

clout, by virtue of my work profile. Though these pilots had little

way of knowing I was not a new staff who they could rag, since I

didn’t look much older than when I joined. The irony was that I

had not faced a similar situation in my early days in the airline and

to face this harassment now was indeed ludicrous. More so now

since everyone was wary of us in the quality team. I was the only

one based out of Calcutta, with two of my teammates in Delhi and

another four, excluding our expatriate boss – the head of service

quality and his secretary, in Mumbai.

On reaching the departure hall, I walked reverse through the

security hold, proceeding to our office on the first floor. On my

way upstairs, I met the airport manager – the same man since I had

first joined, handsome, with greying hair, of average height, sturdy

built, and a pleasant face.

“These Captains, I tell you …” he said to me sympathetically,

“Think they can get away with anything, cow us down, because

they control the ‘delay’, which has such a bearing on us.”

“Yes, but I’m not going to let this go so easily,” I replied resolutely,

not surprised at his awareness of the incident someone would have

reported.

“Please be careful,” he said. “Captains are a favoured lot in the

company.”

I nodded, as we resumed on our way, he downward and I up the

stairs. As I walked into the outer office that enclosed the airport

manager’s cabin, I noticed the few staff present looking up at me

from their desks curiously.

I took my seat at my desk ignoring the questioning looks,

and turned on the computer. Then I placed my handbag inside

the desk-drawer, waiting for it to start, for all the icons to load

on its screen. With an overpowering sense of indignity, furious,

unsure of what I could do to make the Captain pay, I clicked on

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44 Shuvashree Chowdhury

my Outlook email icon on the computer screen, hitting the new

message option. On the subject line, I typed: “Incident Report –

Delay of Flight no … to Delhi, due to the harassment of staff by

Capt. Chopra.” This, I followed with a detailed description of the

incident since my learning of his summon at the departure hall.

Once I was done typing, my anger diffused, I sent off the email

to the head of operations – all the captains reported to him, as

well as my boss, the head of service-quality, both at the head office

in Mumbai. I copied it to the General Manager, Eastern India, at

the city-office in Calcutta. I saw the word ‘sent’ with a sense of

serenity.

I was going through my email inbox when the telephone – an

extension line on my desk, rang. I answered it on the second ring,

as usual announcing the airline, my name, location – “Airport

manager’s office,” followed by “Good Morning. How may I help

you?”

It was mandatory for telephone calls to be answered within

three rings, with the standard text, and as an auditor, I never

flouted the rules myself.

“Hello, have you thought of the consequences of your email

before shooting it off using a word like – harassment,” the thickset

voice demanded.

The voice was unmistakably the general manager’s whom I had

copied in the email I had just sent out. He was a shrewd man, in his

mid-forties, who having worked in a number of domestic as well as

international airlines for years, knew of its nuances very well. I was

surprised at his reaction, his words, though not at the briskness

with which he reverted, since he was a stickler for promptness in

email, overall communication.

“Why, what about it, Sir?” I replied indignantly. “Don’t tell me

you’re supporting Capt. Chopra on this, over me. I’ve worked with

you for long.”

“Don’t be silly,” he bellowed. “It’s only because I know you well,

I want you to be aware of the consequences. Act prudently. You

know well the Captain will get hauled up to the head office. After

days of interrogation, which can get unpleasant for all concerned,

including you, he might lose his job. They might compel him to

resign, or terminate his services if he refuses to resign. Now, if that

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Existences 45

is what you want, and truly believe it is justified, then go ahead

with your complaint. ‘Harassment’ is a strong word to use and I

just want you to think over calmly, its repercussions. Though I’m

not justifying the Captain’s behaviour, be prepared to take this to

the end. Once these interrogations start, you might feel compelled

to press your point to save your dignity that might be further

under attack then.”

“I know what ‘harassment’ connotes, Sir, and what Capt. Chopra

did, well amounts to that. He had no business to call me, and delay

the flight. I don’t fall under the purview of his authority,” I said

firmly. “But it’s true I don’t think it deserves him to lose his job.

All I want is for him to learn a lesson to treat women respectfully,

but terminating his service would be extreme.”

“Now c’mon, don’t be naive,” the general manager retorted at

the end of the phone line. “Once a woman makes a complaint of

harassment, it is taken seriously. You will be compelled to prove it,

or made to feel foolish for bringing it up. In fact, a fax message has

already been sent to the Delhi flight-dispatch office, summoning

Capt. Chopra to the head office after he lands the Delhi flight.”

Then, after a pause, he emphatically added: “Now don’t you

remember what happened to your good friend … I forget his name,

the one you told me of?”

“Yes, yes I do remember. What do I do now?” I said, sounding

desperate in my confusion, he had got through to me finally. “Why

does everything have to be so complicated? I only want him to be

reprimanded, not severely penalised.”

“I suggest, before the Captain lands in Delhi, you resend your

email explaining your accusation of ‘harassment.’ Perhaps even

replace it with ‘bullying’ or ‘ragging’. Then they might let him off,

seeking an apology.”

The phone went dead in my hand, as the general manager hung

  1. I went over the incident in my head in detail, from the time I

saw the two pilots peering at me through the cockpit window. The

indignation the recall aroused, tempted me to think Capt. Chopra

deserved to lose his job after all. It would set an example to those

erroneous like him, who thought they could get away with this

chauvinist attitude and behaviour, with their clout. Moreover, I

mentally reasoned, my standing up for my dignity would set an

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46 Shuvashree Chowdhury

example. It would boost the morale of other women employees,

who feel inhibited and compromise their self-esteem for fear of

losing their jobs or foregoing career advancements. But again,

there is also the flip side to this. As the general manager had just

reminded me, did Capt. Chopra really deserve to lose his job over

this?

I was now truly in a dilemma over the impact my accusation of

‘harassment’ might have on the Captain’s life. Would the severity

of the penalty accorded to him, if it was by way of his losing his

job, be justifiable for his paltry misbehaviour? I had little time

to act now, weighing the odds with maturity – either in going

along with my accusation of ‘harassment’, in retracting totally,

or reducing its severity. Logging out of my computer, I decided

to take a brisk walk over a cup of coffee downstairs, to resolve my

dilemma clearheadedly. After all, it was my judgment to make, not

be swayed by others opinions either which way.

* * *

As I walked downstairs, an image, fresh even after years, came

to mind. It had been 10.30pm of a chilly November, in the year

1995, a week after I had joined the airlines. Outside the airport

terminal, in front of the ticketing counter, I awaited my official

car-drop along with three colleagues. We had hailed for the

car in the parking lot on the public address system. I stood at a

little distance from the others, leaning on the ticketing counter

windowsill, having stepped out of my shoes. My feet were sore from

walking the colossal terminal and tarmac in the high heels. I had

not received my uniform yet, so was wearing a black and white,

printed, full-sleeved, salwar kameez. I pulled out one hairpin after

another from my hair held in a French-roll. As not used to wearing

my hair so tight, my head hurt. With each distracted pull of a pin,

some hair fell loose.

After the last hairpin was in my hand, I shook my head with

eyes closed, to let the hair settle down to the back of my waist.

As I opened my eyes with difficulty after the long tiresome day, I

noticed a man standing in front of me. It was the metal-wing above

his navy-blue blazer’s chest pocket that first caught my attention,

as I curiously appraised him. I identified the broad chest, wearing

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Existences 47

the full wing as belonging to a pilot. Flight stewards wore the halfwing,

I knew. The pilot stood so close, I could smell his cologne.

My gaze involuntarily went upward, meeting his large eyes that

were prominent on his chiselled face. A few inches taller than me

at 5’7”, he didn’t look more than thirty years. When the lopsided

grin on his generous mouth reached his brown eyes, the laughlines

emerging, realising I had been staring at him dazedly, I

looked downward.

“Ma’am, I’m driving into town,” he said, taking off his cap,

revealing a short crop of thick hair. “Would you like a lift, if your

vehicle’s not here yet?”

“No, thank you! Captain,” I replied, promptly standing erect

now from the leaning position. “I’m staff and am awaiting the

official car drop home.”

“Aha! That explains the hurry in letting your hair down …

a long tiring day!” he grinned. “I’ve never seen you around here

before.”

“Captain, I joined only a week back,” I replied, giving him my

name.

“I’m Capt. Aneet Dixit,” he introduced himself, proffering his

hand to shake, which I shook nervously, as he added, “I’m from

Mumbai. I just brought the Bangalore flight in and am taking the

evening flight tomorrow.”

I silently nodded, as my colleague Nandini in uniform, a

spirited woman who burst into peals of laughter at the slightest,

walked up to us.

“Hi, you ladies need a ride home?” the Captain asked, turning

to her.

“No, thank you! Captain,” she replied, “Our car will be here

any minute now.”

“So, as I was just telling your friend,” he said to Nandini, “I’m

here until tomorrow evening. Why don’t we all go out? Give me

your numbers.”

Nandini quietly obliged, pulling out paper and pen from her

handbag.

“Very nice to meet you,” he said to me with a slight bow.

Then waiving to Nandini and the others, he got into his car

that was waiting to take him to the hotel. The next morning, Capt.

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48 Shuvashree Chowdhury

Dixit called me at home, much to my surprise. I politely told him I

could not join him for lunch at their hotel’s restaurant, as I was on

duty at 2pm. That evening at work, I was assigned to the departure

hall, which by 7.30pm was crowded with passengers of all six

domestic airlines operating in those days.

I had been repeatedly making announcements from the glass

public-address booth, reading them from my staff-manual, not very

sure yet. One such time, as I stepped out hurriedly after making

the announcement, I almost collided with someone holding the

glass door open for me. As I distractedly tried dodging my way

past him, I realised he was purposefully blocking the doorway in

an attempt to get my attention.

“The most stimulating announcement I’ve heard in a departure

hall,” he said chuckling, as I looked up squarely in the direction of

the voice.

“Capt. Dixit, good to see you again!” I smiled, embarrassed,

then added: “I’ve announced the boarding for your flight, as your

co-commander gave us the clearance.”

Then taking a step forward, in a bid to get to the boarding gate

I said, “Anyway, you have a safe and pleasant flight.”

“Wait a minute,” he said, and then from his black pilot’s

overnighter, retrieving two paper boxes of chocolates, he proffered

them to me, adding: “Here’s something for you and your friends.”

I looked at the boxes curiously in his outstretched hands. Then

recognising the packaging as those served on board the businessclass,

I accepted, smiling broadly at what I thought was a genuine

gesture of friendship.

“I’d love to try some authentic Bengali food,” he added suddenly.

“Consider this a bribe to take me and my crew out on my next trip.

Perhaps you’ll also show us around your city. I’ve not been here

much.”

“Sure Captain, I’ll take y’all to a nice Bengali place in town,” I

replied. “Also show you around the town. I hope it’s alright if my

friends come, too.”

A week later, Aneet was back in Calcutta, commanding a

Mumbai flight. It was the evening of the 31st of December. I was at

work, when he called at the backup office, on reaching their hotel,

the Oberoi in Chowringhee.

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Existences 49

“There’s a crew party at the Airport Hotel,” he said. “Why don’t

you join us? I’ll have a car pick you up after the shift, from the

airport. The driver could take you home to get dressed, and then

bring you back to the hotel.”

“I’m really sorry Captain, I won’t be able to make it,” I promptly

replied. “I’ve got to go to a rooftop party organised by some friends

here.”

“Why don’t you just go ahead to the crew party,” Jessica

interjected, in an undertone. “It will be fun, more interesting than

Rina’s.”

She had received Aneet’s call first, then handed the handset

to me, thus knew who was at the other end of the line. Also, she

had met him the first night while waiting for the car drop along

with me. Now, putting the call on hold, I conferred with Jessica – a

pretty, petite woman, with slant eyes and wavy hair, whose father

was Anglo-Indian and mother was Chinese.

Jessica’s persuasive enthusiasm rubbing off on me, she assured

to excuse me from Rina’s party. I tried to persuade her to join me,

but she insisted Rina would be upset if both of us didn’t show up

since she was expecting us. I accepted Aneet’s invitation to the New

Year party, along with his proposal to send a car to pick me up. The

car took me home to Salt Lake first. I was able to convince my

parent’s that my presence at the official party was mandatory, the

waiting car justifying my claim. Just as Jessica asserted, I dressed

trendily – in a halter-neck pink tube top, my hair left loose, with

fitting blue jeans. The party at the Hotel close to the airport, run

by ITDC, was indeed as Jessica promised. It was enjoyable, with

friendly, cheerful people, good food, drinks and music. Aneet

introduced me to many of the other pilots, cabin crew, who took to

me warmly as if I were one of them as we danced. After the party,

at about 2am, on their way to their hotel in the city, Aneet, along

with another pilot, dropped me home.

After that night, whenever Aneet had layover flights at Calcutta,

I went out with him and his crew for lunch, dinner, movies, or to the

discotheque. I liked their company, and they mine, which added

to the convenience of a local person to guide their jaunts. It was

close to two years now that Aneet and I had developed a friendship

above these outings, grown from our conversations in person or

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50 Shuvashree Chowdhury

over the phone from Mumbai, if he was not rostered for a Calcutta

flight for long. It was when Aneet had not come to Calcutta for

more than three months or called me, that I thought something

was amiss. I called his house several times but was always told he

was not home. I gave up trying to contact him, waiting for him

to call instead. Then one late evening, I came across a Co-pilot

named Harish at the arrival hall, a friend of Aneet’s I had met a

few times. He was a tall, brawny man, with droopy shoulders, who

walked with a swagger.

“I have not seen Capt. Dixit in a while,” I said to him abruptly.

“Do you have any idea, why he’s not been coming to Calcutta?”

“Aneet’s not flying now,” he replied, averting my gaze. “He’s

been grounded indefinitely.”

“Why, is he unwell or something?” I asked worriedly then

almost to myself I added, “Perhaps that explains his not taking my

calls.”

“Actually he got himself into some big trouble,” Harish replied

hesitantly, sounding glum. “He’s facing an enquiry committee,

wherein every few days there is a long meeting at the head office.

Poor guy, he is under pressure.”

“An enquiry,” I resounded in horror, “But for what, what’s he

done.”

“I’ll leave that for him to tell you. I will just tell him that I met

you and ask him to call you.” He replied, and then added: “See you

around sometime.”

Before I had the chance to press him to tell me more, not sure

when Aneet would call, he walked ahead, to catch up with the rest

of the crew.

I waited patiently for the next few days, but there was no call

from Aneet. I wondered if Harish had informed him he met me. It

was after a fortnight when I had given up on hearing from Aneet,

he called me at home one morning.

“Hi, it’s me, Aneet,” he said, in a strained voice, after I said,

“Hello!”

I remained silent for a few brief moments, in registering my

surprise at hearing his voice. I was happy he had called, but very

worried by his tone.

“How are you, Aneet?” I asked very softly.

4/1/2018

Existences 51

“You must have heard by now?” he enquired, sounding crushed.

“I heard from Harish,” I lied, in the hope he would fill me in on

the details assuming I had some idea already of his predicament.

“They asked me to resign,” he stated flatly. “I just don’t know

what to do. If I resign, it’s like accepting my guilt. And if I don’t,

they terminate my service anyway, thus ensuring I don’t get a

pilot’s job again.”

“Then don’t resign,” I said calmly, though shocked and still not

having a clue of the nature of his alleged guilt. “You need to fight

and prove yourself innocent.” Then unable to hold my curiosity

any longer, I blurted softly, “But what are you up against?”

“Ah! Now that’s a long story,” he sighed, and then after a pause,

wherein he realised my ignorance of the issue, he inquired, “So,

you don’t know anything about it, do you?”

“Well, honestly no, I don’t know anything,” I admitted.

“I assumed Harish might have told you,” he replied. Then, in

a banal tone, he briskly announced: “There’s a sexual-harassment

charge against me.”

“My God,” I exclaimed, shocked to the roots. “How did this

happen?”

So far I had assumed he had flouted some DGCA (Director

General of Civil Aviation) rules or procedures on the aircraft, but

little had I imagined this.

“I’ve been framed,” he sighed. “It’s my lot. What else can I

say?”

“Now c’mon,” I said zealously. “You cannot accept a wrongdoing

as your fate. You’ve got to fight for your innocence. But what

really happened?”

“I was the commander of a Mumbai-Chennai-Mumbai flight,”

Aneet started dejectedly at the recall, “when one of the Chennaibased

lady stewards, reported late to the aircraft in Mumbai,

delaying the flight by ten minutes. After reporting for duty at

the flight dispatch office, she was waiting to meet someone at the

departure hall. Also, she was not groomed as per standards when

she came on board. I was obviously upset for the delay after all the

passengers were on board. We assign delays to other departments,

so it is not fair to cause it ourselves. I spoke sharply to the erring

lady.

4/1/2018

52 Shuvashree Chowdhury

“I will file a complaint with your base in-charge in Chennai

on landing,” I said in my annoyance. “And see to it that you’re

grounded.”

“Okay, so how’s this connected?” I interrupted, impatient to get

to the core. “Obviously, whatever you said would be in the presence

of other crew.”

“Well, that’s true, but then so what?” he sighed exasperatedly.

“When a woman decides to be devious, God help you. By the time I

landed the aircraft in Chennai, I had forgotten about this incident.

But the woman obviously nursed my words into a grave need for

vengeance, even as she smiled and served the passengers. She feared

losing her flight allowance of a fortnight, which is substantial, if

true to my word she was grounded. We had a change of cabincrew

at Chennai, so this woman deplaned, and I brought the

aircraft back to Mumbai with a different set of crew. In Mumbai,

before leaving the airport, I went to the dispatch office, as usual,

to complete signing out formalities. A complaint letter awaited me

there.”

“A complaint letter?” I exclaimed incredulously, “Whatever

for?”

“To my gravest shock,” Aneet continued, “This fax complaint the

woman sent from the dispatch office in Chennai stated that I had

harassed her on board the Mumbai-Chennai flight. She elaborated

how she felt humiliated and would, therefore, request the company

to take action on me, in order to reinstate her dignity.”

“What nonsense,” I retorted. “A reprimand is construed as

harassment.”

“Yes, that’s the irony,” Aneet stated, continuing his narration.

“I was summoned by the head of operations and informed I would

have to face an enquiry committee. During the interrogation,

under pressure to prove her point that I was capable of sexualharassment,

she said things like – I have lady friends among the

ground-staff in every city in addition to the cabin-crew whom I

hang out with, who come over to the hotel, my room. But what was

most ridiculous was her claim that I had called her to the cockpit

and showed her obscene literature before another flight.”

“Where would you get obscene literature on board?” I

blurted.

4/1/2018

Existences 53

“You can well imagine the absurdity of her claims,” Aneet

replied dismissively. “She claims I showed her obscene pictures

from the magazines on board, asked her to come to my hotel room

several times, and since she didn’t come, I reprimanded her in

front of everyone.”

“What about the rest of the crew on board,” I asked. “Weren’t

they interrogated as well? What about your co-pilot, didn’t he say

anything?”

“There was little they said that saved me, as I had indeed

reprimanded her in their presence. Also, it is not untrue that I have

a number of lady friends in various locations, though she had no

witness to my showing her the obscene literature. The persistent

pressure on this woman by the interrogators, to prove she was

lying, made her resort to one story after another. Then caught in

the whirlpool of stories, she could not re-track.”

“Who is this crazy woman?” I asked angrily. “Was she a long

timer?”

“No, in fact she is very new,” he replied. “You’ve met her,

though I’d rather not tell you her name. Born and brought up in

Chennai, recently she eloped with her boyfriend, marrying him

much against the wishes of her conservative parents. They were

forcing her to marry of their choice.”

“An angel of virtue, I must say,” I mocked, “How hypocritical

and ironic.”

“Women go all out to save their husband, children and family,

if they feel threatened. Her husband is a student, so she is the only

earning member in their family of two. I suppose she feared my

complaint, the one I threatened to make, might rob her of her job

or at least get her in the bad books of the management. It was safer

to turn the tables on me, in order to safeguard her job and position

in the airline, now her haven.”

“But that’s very devious,” I stated, and then earnestly enquired.

“What are you going to do now? How are you going to manage if

you do resign?”

I knew he needed the job. Then there was the risk of not finding

another soon if word about this incident got around. Aneet had the

financial responsibility of a four-year-old daughter who had barely

started school, of retired parents and a wife who did not work.

4/1/2018

54 Shuvashree Chowdhury

This added to the home-loan, also the one for his pilot’s training

in the US his parents had taken.

“I really don’t know,” he sighed heavily, and then after a brief

pause, cheering up suddenly, he added: “But I’m glad I told you all

this myself, rather than you heard from elsewhere. I value your

friendship a lot. It really does not matter so much what the world

thinks, so long as the ones I care about – my parents, wife, child

and close friends are with me.”

My coffee long over, tired now from the aimless pacing, I slowly

climbed the stairs back to the office on the first floor. I was no

longer in a dilemma. With the distinct recall of my association

with Capt. Dixit, my mind was clear and made up. As I sat at my

desk, I knew exactly what I had to do now. In my opinion, though

Capt. Chopra was guilty, his offence did not justify what happened

to Aneet. I knew how expensive, both in terms of time and money,

it was to get a commercial pilot’s license. Moreover, losing one’s

job was a blow to one’s self-esteem, which often lasted a lifetime.

Then, there was the risk of not finding another soon, due to the

word getting around. I would perhaps be saving Capt. Chopra a

lifetime of remorse, for a mistake he committed impulsively. Any

behaviour at work that is defined as inappropriate or offends a

person of another sex may be considered sexual harassment and

invites disciplinary action.

I made up my mind to revoke my complaint, judiciously

thinking of its consequences on a man’s life. However, I was glad

I had made the complaint in the first place, thus registering my

protest. Perhaps Capt. Chopra and others like him, on learning

of it, would restrict their inappropriate behaviour in future.

Hopefully, it would also send out a signal to women, that they

need to stop playing the victim at work, fight for their dignity in

a judicious manner when circumstances truly demand it. At my

desk, switching on my computer, I retrieved the last ‘sent’ message

from my Outlook sent-folder. I resent the message to the same

addresses with a fresh note. I stated that though Capt. Chopra’s

behaviour was unacceptable, my previous report being true, all I

expected was an apology from Capt. Chopra and no more. As I saw

the ‘sent’ message on my computer, I felt at peace, as nothing, in

my opinion, is as agonising as being in a dilemma.

 

The Present Moment Is All I Have…

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On a beautiful Sunday morning —

the first one this March,

I sat down as usual at my desk at home

to type like I do on my keypad,

with my steaming teacup.

 

Barely had I taken from it a sip

when a woman barged in,

looking ghastly and petrified –

her eyes piercing into mine:

She announced, “Your Ma’s fallen”

 

A moment to process her words,

recalling Ma was out on her usual walk –

my world came crashing to my feet,

heart freezing first, and then my gut,

in recall of that familiar feeling of Baba’s loss.

 

I grabbed a shirt, and pants from my wardrobe—

for in my night gown I couldn’t go to a morgue,

as that’s where I envisioned Ma – if hit by a car

in manoeuvring at seventy-seven, the aggressive traffic

that didn’t give me time to find and gather her carcass.

 

I blindly ran on the street like a possessed woman

for I didn’t know exactly where I was headed,

as I desperately pleaded with God to give me a moment

to gather Ma up, even if she breathed her last in my arms –

I couldn’t bear to imagine her lying on the road unclaimed.

 

To my horror, I found her in a car at the end of my street,

a kindly man – to rush her to medical aid – had seated her in:

Ma looked at me with glazed eyes as if it was her final goodbye

the way Baba had the last time – her blood gushing as a stream

that was bursting out of the dupatta held tightly to her nose.

 

I rushed into the car, held her firmly from behind the seat

with my heart pounding like being thumped by wild bears,

as I repeatedly chanted: “Ma you’re going to be fine, don’t fear”—

while I directed the man at the wheels to find her a lifeline,

one I mentally swam towards with all my positive thinking might.

 

Having taken her just in time to the emergency unit—

I watched them execute their procedures with impatience,

Even as for hours the hospital ran a battery of tests

Starting with an injection to stop the bleeding, then a CT Scan

Till they handed her to my care – as ‘she will be fine’ they declared.

 

It’s fourty two hours since this accident that almost took my life,

the suddenness of it leaving me like in the aftermath of a hurricane;

With Ma recuperating in hospital to fix the injuries and fractures —

I’m back tonight at the desk and keypad I had left that morning

to leave a trail for others,  to transcend my spiritual experience.

 

“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.” —  Omar Khayyam

 

“We may not know what each day has in store for us. We could be gone tomorrow. Any minute could truly be our goodbye. But we do have this moment. This time. Today. Right now. It takes way more effort to shell out hate then it does to allow love to flow freely in our lives. After all, it’s what we were born to do.” — Grace Gealey

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PS: Ma was wearing exactly what she is wearing in this photo in front of the Kaapaleshwar temple Chennai, at the time of the accident/fall in Calcutta, which drenched in her blood still stands testimony to my emotional state as I write this as if in a trance now…So please excuse me for the inability to go back and edit what I wrote now, into a work of art, till I can get over the enormity of my near loss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Holi: What Spirituality Means To Me

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“Ultimately spiritual awareness unfolds when you’re flexible, when you’re spontaneous, when you’re detached, when you’re easy on yourself and easy on others.” – Deepak Chopra.

“Our wretched species is so made that those who walk on the well-trodden path always throw stones at those who are showing a new road.” – Voltaire,

I fell in love with Sufism, at an ashram on the banks of the most sacred Hindu river – Ganges, at Rishikesh. And I choose the blessed festival of colour Holi, today, to reveal this to you! As bizarre as it may seem, it is precisely what happened to me, over the span of just seven to ten days. This experience was almost like a calling from God and a test of my true spirituality – the ability to truly, ‘let go’ of what I believe in or identify with, as a Hindu by birth. Though I have grown up with Catholic values since a child of five, at a boarding school, then taking on Protestant values at a residential high school.

This was in the first week of March last year, at the yearly held International Yoga festival I attended in Rishikesh, with over 1000 participants from 101 countries. There I mentally and spiritually sailed the universe, focused on the universal values of love and service, deserting the illusions of the ego to reach God, while anchored to my core inner self.  I have considered myself to be spiritually inclined – the realization dawning on me over the last decade since I crossed thirty-five. Thus I had gone to Rishikesh, with a mind and heart whose doors and windows were flung wide open, to the quest for greater spiritual awakening – but which was not remotely religious. Learning the intricacies of the physical aspects of the varied forms of Yoga was of course the initial driving force as is now fashionable.

The man who led me, literally by hand, to fall in love with Sufism – walked into the garden-lawn of the Parmarth Ashram, where on the evening before its commencement, I had just arrived for my registration for the festival I had paid and reserved a seat for, online. My first sight of Mert Guler, was of him striding just behind me — as I incidentally turned back – purposefully and with much élan. I did not know his name then, and would not for a couple of days yet. But one glance at his immense confidence, positive energy, and the aura he exuded – flashing the widest and most radiant smile I have ever seen in my forty-six years; and I knew he was someone who had a very assured place under the sun.

His longish, finely curled hair from his one-sided African descent, framing his chiselled handsome face like a halo; on his tall, lean, lithe frame Mert wore a white muslin kurta and linen pants. Close at his sandaled heels, strode in about eight strikingly attractive, and obviously very physically toned from yoga, Turkish women, like the luminosity following the sun, which was just setting over the Ganges that we were on the banks of, nearing 6 pm.

Mert Guler’s spontaneous Namaste to everyone, flashing his radiant smile at no one in particular, with a slight bow – across the rectangular garden enclosed by tables, manned by several male and female volunteers for the registration process, grabbed my attention. Almost everyone seemed to know him and beamed back. His smile was like the moon spreading its glow over the river of humanity. Mert Guler exuded so much positive energy that I kept looking at him in awe – wondering who he might be that he had a dedicated team of followers who walked literally at his feet and ensured their smiles matched his in exuberance.

I was handed, the additional key to my room, to be shared with two other women, who had already checked in that morning; along with a steel mug, a water bottle and a folder containing the festivals itinerary with detailed profiles of the long list of renowned yoga instructors from over the world. This was to be in various halls and makeshift auditoriums across the sprawling campus of the ashram, also under a tarpaulin overlooking the Ganges.

After settling into my room, with only the basic amenities expected as in an ashram, like a bed and a small cupboard for each inmate, attached to an inner porch with a pantry and a separate bathing and toilet area, we stepped out for dinner. It was on the way to an amazingly wide spread of awesome (almost wedding like) Satvik buffet dinner, much to my surprise and relief from having expected a meagre meal, served inside a tarpaulin enclosure with large round tables, to accommodate 1000 people, starting at 7.30 pm, that I again saw Mert Guler’s group breez past us. His smile floated ahead of him as if the moon lighting the path of his followers. I drew my roommate’s attention, who was a Christian yoga instructor from Calcutta, to the group. She agreed there was a striking positive energy and aura about the man and his band of female followers who matched his steps in speed, energy, and the expanse of their smiles.

The next day I attended the first Yoga class from 5.30 – 6.30 am followed by a sumptuous buffet breakfast in the same place as dinner. That evening, after a delicious multi-course dinner, replete with dessert like malpua and jalebi, on the way back to our room, I once again saw Mert Guler and his followers. In the room, describing him to my third roommate who is a yoga instructor from Ahmedabad and runs her own studio, also a regular at this festival, unlike the other two of us first timers, I learned his name and that he was a celebrated yoga instructor and spiritual leader from Turkey, Istanbul. She finished her introductions of him, with: “He just makes you laugh all through his classes and does hoo-ha, hoo-ha only — for an hour or more. There’s no way I’m going to his class again this year…he’s just too funny!”

Her last statement piqued my curiosity and led the 3 of us into further discussion late into the night on Mert Guler and his team, also other internationally reputed instructors we had met and attended 3-4 classes each of, in the course of the day. I was the only one in our room of three to whom yoga was not a vocation, so I had also opted to attend the two hour spiritual discourse that was to be held daily by reputed leaders, by the Ganges, from 11am to 1pm when an elaborate buffet lunch was served at the designated meal place.

 The Christian woman from Calcutta, the other two of us being Hindus, who had agreed last evening that he had a positive and dynamic aura, now said – “His eyes look like he’s in a trance always, don’t they? He must surely be on some addictive substance, to be high always. It’s not uncommon among yogis to take drugs and the like. Moreover it looks like his 8 women followers are in love with him and perhaps in a physical relationship with him and each other too. Don’t they all look like they are?

“But how does it matter – if it makes them all so happy?” I said and we both agreed. Then I added, “Moreover this angle makes it an interesting story to write about and makes me so curious. But much more, how all these women in a relationship with one man are so close-knit and always together, but then that’s how it is with the practice of having several wives. There must be a reason why I’m bumping into this group several times ever since I arrived.”

 “No, no, the women are all in his team and Mert has a girlfriend among that group. She had come last year too.” The repeat participant intervened convincingly.

“But did you notice them around the fruit-seller at the Ganga aarti-ghat this evening, there was one feeding him coconut water right out of her hand.” The woman from Calcutta added. “She must be the girl friend then.”.

I concluded this discussion, recalling the best part of my day – the beautiful Ganga arati at 6 pm, that Swami Chidananda the presiding Yogi preferred to call the ‘Happy Hour’ I would ensure to attend every evening I was here, along with a firm resolve to attend Mert Guler’s class the next day to figure out the dynamics in that group myself.

At the class – that was full of bonhomie, positive energy, love and warmth for each of us participants – I found no vibes amongst this group to suggest they had anything more than a common love for life, humanity, and love between them – and not a relationship of the earthy kind. After the ice breaker rounds of immense laughter – we practiced the Sufi style of meditation — whirling around, one hand stretched skyward as if receiving, the other  stretched downward in spreading what we receive, to humanity, with head tilted; as Rumi the poet did in a marketplace for 26 hours. It puts one in a relaxed, happy, and then into a trance like state.

At the end of the class, I decided, it was much more exhilarating than dancing and drinking for hours at a discotheque or taking drugs might be. The motion of your body blanks your mind completely and you are in that state of meditative trance with no mental effort to tie your mind — that’s like a monkey that tends to hop around and about the world even as you try to force it into a meditative state in the Buddhist style by concentrating on your breathing.

After the first class, I felt compelled to return to the second one on the next day. The first was   called ‘Sufi Meditation’, and the second – ‘Rumi, Love, Meditation.’ In my view as I write this now, Sufi meditation, is the most effective form of meditation — there is for beginners.

At the festival, where we had yoga classes from 4 am to 9.30 pm interspersed with spiritual discourses by enlightening spiritual leaders like Sri Prem Baba, Mooji and many others – most of which I attended to enhance my thoughts on spirituality, I learned and practiced various forms of meditation. Yet it was Sufi meditation that I became all set to be practicing henceforth – even ordering a skirt to make my whirling more effective, this after recording a number of Sufi music albums from the shop outside the ashram.

My newfound love for all things Sufi, was substantially enhanced after I watched and joined Mert playing Holi with his team with as much happiness and love, as while in Sufi meditation class. Mert applied purple and pink colour on everyone in his line of vision when we played Holi. He and his team, love life in all its facets and teach you to love it too.  At both his classes, the other enthusiastic participant like me was a 28 year old ‘Hare Krishna’ follower from Columbia, who is a civil engineer with a master’s degree, who quit a safe and successful corporate life for a life of spirituality at 25 years.  My roommates and I thought we might see this young man whom we became rather fond of and referred to as Krishna or Radhe-Radhe, join Mert’s group or take up Sufism by the next festival or another. He was as inspired by Mert – as I learned from my conversations with him, as he was by ‘Hare Krishna.’

For all my spiritual bent of mind, I claim to have, my two roommates who did not attend any of Mert’s classes, had throughout the week been teasing me of falling and being in love with Mert Guler and not his teachings.

I said to them: “Well, and so be it…As he is the conveyor of a new love, life and positive energy. If an ardent, male, Hare Krishna follower with shaved head can become so besotted by him, why not me!”

 But then for me love does not have religion or gender biases I was to discover. As there is another person who I have also mentally taken on as my Guru, just as I listen and read many others in my own spiritual search, attending her live Satsangs as soon as I receive the Facebook page notifications, over last year. This was after first attending her class at the yoga festival last year on ‘letting go’. She is Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, Director of the IYF who also spearheads all activities and the running of Parmarth Niketan Ashram; along with the Founder of IYF Swami Chidanand Saraswati.

Sadhvi Bhagwati-ji is an American woman in her mid fourties, born and raised in Hollywood; by a successful criminal lawyer father and a school teacher mother.  She left her doctoral course in Psychology (which she completed later), in America, denouncing the good life she had, to become a Sadhvi — wearing only saffron robes now, in the worship of Hindu Gods in the ritualistic way and serving people of a Hindu land. What I like best about her spiritual discourses is that I find her rationale very intelligent, justifiable, and easily relatable  in main stream life, over and above being spiritually guiding and illuminating. I like to keep my mind open, so I listen to many Gurus so as never to follow anyone blindly, but retain my objectivity for my life as a writer. I became her follower inspite of all criticism on her motivation to give up everything, by my roommates, to the extent of suggesting her romantic love for someone at the ashram being the inspiration. These ‘serious’ yoga practitioners and teachers, changed their minds only after I insisted on the Christian woman attending her ‘letting go’ class and she followed Bhagwati-ji’s instructions on letting go off her decades long hurt by releasing it mentally in the Ganges.

While Mert Guler preaches love and wants everyone in life, to quote him: “to be more of each of the following – free, full of love, pleasant, joyful, compassionate; and to share more and be more understanding, above all smile much, much more.”

His purpose “is to create a deep awareness in the physical, emotional, intellectual and internal development of human beings, to render people’s smiles hearty, and to share smiles by duplicating in the way to opening the way to harmony and unity with the universe, inspiring to bring good surprises to the world”. He strongly believes “that this inspiration will create a more liveable world.”

What’s amazing is that as a spirited child, with a dream to be a dancer, after a debilitating accident, Mert was told by doctors, he would never walk in life. He rose from this setback to not only become a dancer, but used his talent and god gifted blazing smile – to create a spiritual practice that is so unique and has left a deep trail

Mert Guler’s philosophy and teachings justify his beautiful smile, just as Sadhvi Bhagwati Saraswati’s does that like the moon have the power to light up life paths of all their followers.

“That is the real spiritual awakening, when something emerges from within you that is deeper than who you thought you were. So, the person is still there, but one could almost say that something more powerful shines through the person.” — Eckhart Tolle

“Often we can get caught in our own struggles, our own small stories, that we forget our place in the larger story arc – the way that our actions, our choices, our achievements can and will blaze trails for those who come after us, so that they do not have to spend their time and energy re-fighting the same battles. Let us blaze trails so that the path we walk takes in wider and wider sweeps of human experience.” – Lucy H. Pearce

This is me in the photos – with Mert and his translator Hannan, at the start of the second days class

 

 

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Wishing you all a very Happy Holi ! 

A Full Moon

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On my walk today
I followed the silver gleam
of the full moon,
that led me enticingly
past sharp bends,
into deserted lanes –
to peer into bunglows
that gleamed prettily
draped in seasonal bloom.

Fancy cars lined homes,
as owners huddled inside –
smartphones in hand,
their air-cons and
television channels
drowning the barks of dogs –
who unlike humans,
were excited and mesmerized
by glints of a beautiful night.

PS: You could click on each individual photo to get a better view…

On My Terrace

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Even as I’m now chasing
The remnants of the setting sun –
It’s orange light guiding my path,
With the distant sounds
Of the chugging train –
On it’s beaten tracks:
I don’t let go of the sight
Of the glowing moon –
Arising from the depths
Of the earth,
Lighting the clouds
And illuminating my mind.

 

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This is the Moon…

PS: 😊  These photos are from my terrace, at home in Chennai…I came up at 6.40 pm and it took precisely ten minutes to post this.