Rain

Rain brings with her a mixture of emotions. My moods often vary as hers does.

A summer drizzle that tickles my nostrils with the scent of the parched earth soaking in rain drops fills me with joy. Summer is the season of mangoes and jackfruits and pomelos. The scattered showers accentuate the sweet scents of their blossoms. When I was a child, I watched many a summer shower from the shelter of the dense foliage of a tall pomelo tree.

In autumn, rain is a confusing concept, she makes me feel both hopeful and a little sad at the same time; sad that the summer has passed, and hopeful for the upcoming winter. Where I grew up, October showers are a spectacular occurrence. Rain falls in sheets, with the percussive accompaniment of thunder and a riveting lightning show. The purple sky splitting into shards of light is a sight one needs to see to believe. The thunder that rumbles in the mountains reverberates within you, deep within your soul.

In winter, rain  is a surprise,not always a pleasant one. She brings with her, a coat of fog that hides everything away. She darkens the sky and depresses me. Often the mood (mine and hers) lasts all day, and sometimes for several days, the whining wind, the cold drizzle, the mist … When it finally clears, the mornings dawn crisp and fresh and … heavenly.

Spring rain is a flighty creature. She arrives and departs in the blink of an eye, leaving the day light and airy. The only sign of her ever having been there, the tiny drops that glitter on the dancing petals. She is my favourite of them all, the enchantress who envelopes me in her hasty embrace before vanishing into the thin air …

The simple life

The sunset sky as seen from one side of our paddy fields. 

As a habitual city dweller, I have never ever been a good village guest. This point was brought home with a bang when my parents bought some farm land and built a house of sorts some three hundred kilometres from my hometown. It is a village in the most basic sense of the word. The nearest town is some ten kilometres away,the nearest city about fifty. Houses are few and far between, mobile network is patchy at best, the mountains are close enough to touch, surrounded by a forest teeming with wild boar, deer, peacocks and an occasional elephant. The only saving graces are uninterrupted electricity and running water. This is where I agreed to spend a couple of days of my vacation with my parents.

I’ve only been here a couple of times before. Then it was just a couple of paddy fields and the erstwhile overgrown plot where the house stands now. I’ve seen a lot of pictures from when everyone else in my family visited here and I’ve heard stories of the neighbour’s dog who steals footwear. But it is my first time seeing it all by myself. 

View of the mountains from our front yard, the paddy plants are bent slightly in the wind.

The place is quite beautiful, something even the uppity urbanite in me cannot deny. It is very green and bright, smells and looks fresh even in the scorching all day long sunshine. There are trees and plants of all varieties around, with the Nelliyampathy mountains lending some relief to the otherwise flat countryside. The dragonflies and drongos and mynahs and colourful parrots make up the less exotic wildlife around. Today I even saw a peacock accompanied by three peahens out on a leisurely afternoon stroll around the paddy fields. 

The house itself is rather small and quaint, with only a couple of rooms, a kitchen and two bathrooms, suited more as an occasional getaway rather than as a long term habitat. It is pleasantly cool, owing to the tiles and wooden thatch. There is a breeze almost all day long, perhaps due to the proximity to the mountains. I quite enjoy the noises of the night around, the crickets and frogs and I don’t know what else. At some point I heard very loud howling from the other side of the paddy fields. Apparently that’s how they scare away the wild boars from getting into the crops. The same noises of the night unnerve me a little later at night. There are no lights anywhere around, save from my room. It is like I am the last person on Earth !

It is true that I have been somewhat charmed by the rustic village air and the unpretentious people around me, but it is very unlikely that I will ever live in one for a long period of time (although I do rather like the idea of living like a hermit in a place such as this, whiling my days away, writing and doing yoga). But I do understand the appeal of living in a place like this. I understanding the overwhelming sense of being at peace with your surroundings, the overall sense of well being that comes from being so close to nature.  Perhaps there is something of that early forefather in all of us, the one who exults at the sight of a sky full of stars, who gets excited at the prospect of clean air, who sheds an involuntary tear at the thought of food that hasn’t been sprayed with every toxic substance known to man … 

The curious case of justice for some

Today’s Ragtag Daily Prompt word ‘Justice‘ is particularly fitting and poignant when you consider what is happening today and has been happening in the last couple of weeks  in the United States of America regarding the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh on to the Supreme court bench. Since he was nominated by everyone’s favourite orange cheeto on July 9, 2018, three women have come forward accusing him of sexual misconduct and harassment. The first accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified in front of a Senate panel yesterday, after which Judge Kavanaugh was granted the time to present his version of the events. And today, the same panel is voting on whether or not to go ahead with advancing the nomination process to the full committee vote.

I watched the testimonies of both the parties live yesterday. It was at times quite difficult to watch, especially Dr. Ford’s part of it. She was calm for the most part but the gravity of her emotions were evident on her face. Her statements were clear, believable and thorough. Even in the face of difficult questions about a time in her life I’m sure she’d rather forget, she managed to maintain her dignity and decorum, something even GOP Senator Hatch couldn’t deny (he described her as ‘attractive’ as well, which I found exceedingly creepy and in poor taste, especially considering the circumstances of the hearing). After Dr. Ford’s testimony came Judge Kavanaugh’s. The contrast between the two couldn’t be more drastic. Even in his opening statement, Judge Kavanaugh was aggressive, overtly emotional and generally hostile. During his testimony he frequently interrupted the Senators, was almost inappropriate to Sen. Klobuchar (he apologised for this after a recess, but it came across as too little too late) and was shouting to get his points across.

It was reported before the hearings that it is possible that a different facet of Judge Kavanaugh’s personality to the one he embraced during the Fox news interview might be in evidence during the hearing since President Trump had advised the good Judge to be emphatic and aggressive in presenting his side to the committee. This report and  the consequent testimony were quite revealing in themselves. A man, a conservative, white, straight family man, the kind of man who is universally representative of the who’s who in power, he shouts, cries, is rude and crude to members of cabinet in the most powerful country in the world, and his actions are considered powerful, even honest. Anything said against him is decried as a witch hunt. A few Republican senators (such as Sen. Graham) defended, consoled and even praised him during the hearing… All of which led me to wonder, why is it that when a man loses his cool and becomes emotional in grandstanding, he is considered powerful and when a woman does that, she is considered emotionally unstable ? If Dr. Ford had cried and torn her hair and added some theatrics to her testimony, would that have made a greater impact on the Republican Senate committee members, or would she have been called attention seeking or unstable or any number of things that we have known women to have been called when something like that happens ? Judge Kavanaugh kept yelling “I’m a good man” and kept mentioning his family and how the accusations have affected them over and over again. While I feel for his wife and his young daughters, if he is indeed guilty, that cannot be a consideration, either for his confirmation or for prosecuting him for the offences (well, the latter is probably not applicable since these incidents happened a while ago, and the statute of limitations almost certainly has expired). Then there is the “boys will be boys” defense. Yes, it might be unfair to have a mistake made in someone’s teenage years spoil a person’s future and his/her whole life. But sexual harassment or anything in that family of offences cannot be written off as just mistakes. And it cannot be  a ‘rite of passage’ for young men in any civilised society.

These musings might be unproductive, and this might just be once of the instances where this disparity has become evident. It might be futile to hope for justice for Dr. Ford and women like her, who have been brave enough to come forward, and countless others who haven’t (I mean in general, not just in this particular issue). Nothing has changed since yesterday, as I was typing this, the Senate panel has voted to advance the nominee hearing to the full committee. Judge Kavanaugh may well become Justice Kavanaugh by this time next week.  And considering his relative youth, he might very well remain there for the next thirty years. Civil liberties, women’s rights to decide about their own bodies, environmental issues that might indirectly impact the world as a whole (and by extension, our planet), all these crucial issues might depend on his say-so. There is nothing left to say about it, except, “God Bless America”, although I sincerely doubt this is the scenario Irving Berlin had in mind when he wrote those lines !

 

P:S – I am not a citizen of the United States of America.  I don’t seek to offend or support anyone’s political leanings. These are my opinions as a citizen of the world who closely follows politics, who cares about people in general rather than those belonging  just to my nationality and above all, as someone who cares about the impact these small events have on a global basis (that includes social, political and environmental issues).

Evening thoughts

I would sometimes sit out in the benches in my balcony with a cup of tea in summer. It is a very peaceful place most of the time, though too cold to be in winter. Beyond the garden I can see the mountains of the North chain in the Austrian Alps. I don’t generally watch sunrises, they insist on coming too early in the day. But the sunsets, absolutely marvellous. My favourites are the late summer sunsets.

My balcony faces west, so I don’t actually see the sun, but I can see the light pass over the mountains, range by range. On clear days, the contrast the light makes with the blue sky is beautiful, not to forget the white clouds reflecting the golden light. Right before the sun goes down, it’s like they cluster around for that last bout of warmth before the chilly night. The golden light becomes amplified in their white nebulous bodies. I have seldom seen a more beautiful sight.

From my seat, I can vaguely see the spires of the church nearby. I have to strain my neck a little bit to see it, there is a rather large pine tree and a few buildings in between. I mostly just hear the church clock, striking the hour. The church stands at one end of the park that I go for my walks to. The park itself is notorious as the main drug park of this little city, but I largely ignore its reputation in summer and spring. It is only in fall and winter when it becomes dark earlier that I adjust my schedule so that I’m not inside the park too late. Perhaps it is the most basic of all human conditions that prompts such an action, fear of the dark.

This morning, the mountains were covered in a thick film of mist. It almost seemed as if it had snowed up there already. I don’t see it anymore. Even if it had, the relatively warm day has melted it away. Their heads are bare and Grey now, as it usually is, except in winter. To be surrounded by mountains is a strange feeling, especially if you are not used to it. There are lots of hills and mountains where I grew up, but my hometown is primarily characterised by its coast and proximity to the sea. You have to travel outside the city in order to wander in the mountains. In the places I’ve lived since, mountains were always something you travelled to see. Nowhere else, but in Innsbruck, were they a constant presence. Here they are close enough to see all the time, to touch, to climb. They are real in the realest possible way.

I’m leaving Innsbruck in three weeks, for the forseeable future, perhaps forever. I’m taking a long holiday at home, and then me and my panoply of random things are moving to France, to the landlocked city of Clermont-Ferrand. I didn’t have an easy relationship with Innsbruck. After almost five years, I suppose a few squabbles are the norm. But I do believe that I will miss it terribly. I will miss the mountains that I never embraced, the office room in which I never felt at home, the people whom I will forget and the home that was never mine. I will miss them all.

P.S – I’ve written about missing Innsbruck once before, but the melancholy of this golden sunset prompted another of those.

I (maybe) <3 Innsbruck

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My favourite picture of Innsbruck that I ever took. The river is Inn, the mountain peaks are part of the Nordkette (northern chain) mountain ranges of the Austrian Alps and the structure seen far away is the city station of the funicular railway that ascends the mountain.

I still remember with perfect clarity what my first impressions of Innsbruck were. It was six years ago, and I was moving yet again, to a different country, to a different city. It was a long flight from my coastal Kochi to mountainous Innsbruck. I had stopovers at Doha and then Vienna. The flight from Vienna to Innsbruck was unforgettable. A tiny Austrian airlines plane manoeuvring above ranges upon ranges of Austrian Alps which were already wearing sparse snowy crowns in September, and finally setting down inside a mountain ring that hosted a small city and a smaller airport. That was a truly magnificent spectacle.

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An Innsbruck panorama from atop the Hafelekar peak of the Nordkette mountain range.

Another distinct memory is of my first snow here. For a person from a coastal city in a tropical country, snow isn’t exactly commonplace. My first encounter with it had been in London three years before. But London snows are, well, weird. It only snows for about ten days from Christmas to the new year. In most of the city area, it doesn’t settle at all, the foot traffic just crushes it into disgusting sludge. So it was quite an experience to see settled snow, literally overnight (I kid you not, it was cold when I went to sleep, and when I woke up, all was white !), its carpet stretching as far as the eye can see, and as high as you can look. The mountains around Innsbruck in snow is a sight worth seeing.

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The colourful houses of Innsbruck by the river Inn near Marktplatz. This is one of those images that most people (especially tourists) associate with Innsbruck.

I left Innsbruck after six months, lived in Italy and then in Serbia, for six months each. When I came back here in February 2014, nothing much had changed. Yes, 2014 was a strange year, weatherwise. It was already quite warm in February. There wasn’t much snow that Winter. But Innsbruck remained as I remembered her.

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The river Sill near which I live.

I have a difficult relationship with Innsbruck. I love looking at the mountains, I admit I’m not much of a hiker or a skier. But I hate that it is so land locked. My only consolations were the rivers Inn (after which Innsbruck is named, Inn-brücke means bridge upon the Inn, which became Innsbruck) and Sill (near which I live). I love watching water flow, there is something so calming about it. I love the fierce beauty of the swollen Inn when she carries the snowmelt from the mountains. I love the placid currents of the Sill as she gurgles along. And I love my flat, which is pretty great, not to mention the great location, which is in the heart of the city, but removed from all the hubbub (such as it is) . It is almost my perfect space. And I absolutely adore my backyard, especially when it snows. But I hate that Innsbruck is such a tiny town (I don’t consider it a city, not really, it is minuscule, with a population of a little over 100,000 people) and is pretty much dead after 7 p.m. It experiences a brief awakening over the weekend, but even that is nothing to write home about.

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My ‘winter wonderland’ of a backyard 🙂

So like I said, I have a difficult relationship with Innsbruck.  But, now that it is almost time to leave it, I’m feeling a little sad. It may be my Stockholm syndrome talking, but she and I did have some good times together. I did meet some great people, do some interesting things, and got on a little further on my quest to come into my own. Those are things that will stay with me, if not forever, still for a long time. Innsbruck was after all, my home for almost five years. I do believe that once I have moved, I will miss this itty bitty city. Therefore, I will not say Goodbye, Innsbruck, I will simply say, Auf Wiedersehen !

 

 

She spent every summer vacation at her great aunt’s place in the countryside, a respite from the city and it’s pervasive loneliness. There, among the mango trees and the paddy fields, she felt truly alive. There were other children to play with, and oodles of open ground just to laze around in. The sky was blue all day everyday, the sun bright and the landscape inviting.

That was the first time ever they had done anything wayward, so to speak. It wasn’t exactly a risky endeavour, since they weren’t even leaving the property. But it felt exhilarating just the same, the thrill of doing something forbidden no matter how tame it was. They stole away at night after the grown ups were asleep, and walked to the stream past the fields. The night was a little chilly, though not unusually so. The strips dividing the fields were so narrow that they had to walk in a single file, like ants treading a line, while the moonlight streamed over them in a silvery cascade. They walked by the palm trees, past  the small fishing pond in the centre and beyond the line of trees at the edge whose names she did not know.

Someone had swiped a bottle of whiskey from her uncle’s bar. They passed it around, each taking a swallow, shuddering and handing off the offending item to the next person. She gently lowered herself on to the grass and stared at the pinpricks in the inky sky. She could feel the alcohol traversing her body, all the way to her bones.  Someone had started singing, in a voice that should never be raised in song. The stream flowed on and on, its melody uninterrupted and serene.

My first best friend

He had jet black hair and wide dark brown eyes. His skin was pale and silky smooth, his jaw tapered to a discernible pointed chin. He once told me that he wished he had dark tanned skin like mine. I was surprised. I had always wanted to look like him.

He was a boy I went to elementary school with. He was kind and sweet. We used to play together in the little playground under the building where we both lived. I used to hang from monkey bars because someone had once told me that that would make me grow tall. He always used to stand under, ready to catch me if I fell.

We went to school together, did homework together, played and read together. Our mothers used to joke that they’d have to literally pry us apart with a crowbar if we spent any more time together. I think he was my first best friend.

He always had a smile for me. Even the last time I visited him in the hospital, when his insides were Churned and ruined by cancer and chemotherapy, even when his eyelids were droopy from pain and fatigue, there was a smile on his face. When I cried, he held my hand. When I was leaving, he gave me a charm bracelet off his wrist. When I asked what that was for, he said, “so you’ll remember me when I’m not there”.

His funeral was a low-key affair. His parents looked sad and worn out. His mother hugged me close and kissed my hair when I went up to pay my respects. I wanted him to have something to remember me by as well. I had brought a book we had read together. As I left it by his side, I looked into his face. He looked like he had before, before the illness that took him. He looked happy and peaceful.

I still miss him.

Pointlessness and all his friends – part 2

Sometimes it feels like the human body is such an Inefficient design. It smarts at every outrage, it repairs itself at very slow rates, doesn’t regenerate organs (don’t throw liver at my face, it is only one organ, we have 50 others which can’t replicate to save their skins, pun intended) and lives only a fixed number of years. Perhaps an earthworm is a superior species.

The reason for this pointless meander about the human body is an article titled MPG of a human on a website called Do the Math  I randomly came across today. It is an older article, published in 2011 by a bloke called Tom Murphy who also maintains the website (I think). It compares the human body to automobiles based on calories consumed. The conclusion is that our bodies are at about 25% efficiency in converting the food that we consume into energy and that they are more efficient than most cars and an Iowa cornfield (?). While not suggesting that we replace walking/biking for cars, the article concludes with a proposal to choose more energy efficient cultivation and eating methods. I may have missed the whole point of the article.

P.S : I’m completely stalled at writing my thesis and am therefore ranting pointlessly while overdosing on Korean dramas, period ones in particular. Reminds me a little of the Mandarin ones I used to watch on TCS 8 while growing up.

Home is where the heart is !

 

I’ve lived in 8 cities in 7 countries spanning across 2 continents. But at the end of the day, what I am is a homebody. I enjoy sitting at home, so much so that I often joke that I have severe separation anxiety when I venture outside. When I’m travelling, I find myself unable to sleep, often thinking longingly of my own bed back home. How right Dorothy was when she said, “There’s no place like home.”

When I say home, I don’t mean a traditional, where I grew up, where I spent most of my life concept. I mean it in a more practical, current habitat kind of way. So to me, home at the moment is the gorgeous, picturesque Alpine town of Innsbruck in Austria. And at the moment, it is my Favorite Place in the world.

Vienna, a bookgasm and cold train sandwiches

I was in Vienna yesterday for the arduous task of picking up my renewed passport. When I say arduous, I mean the ass-numbing boredom of spending five hours aboard a train. That much inactivity is enough to drive anyone up the walls. It is especially difficult for me because I have borderline ADHD (and functional dyslexia, if I were in Rick Riordan Universe, I’d probably be a demi-God). I walked about a little, went and stood near the door for some time, walked to the restaurant car and got a coffee. But there is only so much you can do when you are trapped in an almost empty carriage of metal and glass with a few other people, all engrossed in their phones.

When I reached the consulate, I found out that I was early by an hour and a half. They were still out for lunch. So I was in the centre of Vienna, where winter has briefly (I hope) returned to, with at least one and a half hours to kill. Then it occurred to me, I was in the centre of Vienna with one and a half hours to kill. It was freezing, of course, but what is a little cold when you are in one of the greatest cities in the world ?

I had been to Vienna many times, so there was nothing touristy left to do. I pretty much know it, not quite like the back of my hand, but maybe like the back of my, well, front. The week before, I had come across an article about places to visit in Vienna for a bibliophile on a website called Culture Trip. One of them (and the one that caught my eye ) was a bookstore called Shakespeare and Company booksellers. I thought it might be a branch of another amazing English bookstore I once visited in Prague, called Shakespeare and Sons bookstore (it isn’t). In Innsbruck, where I live, English books are hard to come by. Even in the biggest bookstores, English sections are sparse and about half the size of Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs. So out comes my phone, and thanks to Google maps, I now knew how to get there.

It wasn’t much of a walk from Wiener Staatsoper or Vienna State Opera house, near where the Embassy was, only about 1.5 kilometres. I walked through milling crowds of mostly tourists down a busy shopping thoroughfare, got lost twice but finally got there. The bookstore is in a small, almost Invisible alleyway called Sterngasse (literally, starry street). The bookstore sign was a rather cute painting of Shakespeare and the door said, “Come on in, we are open”.

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I walk in, and I’m completely taken in by surprise. It is unbearably quaint with books stacked from floor to ceiling, exactly as I had imagined Mr.Penumbra’s 24 hour bookstore, with actual creaking floorboards. It truly was a book lover’s dream come true. There is one main hall that you walk into, with shiny new books of various genres, looking upon you from all around. There are old, retro type frames on the wall with photos and rough paintings. Straight ahead is an alcove of sorts with a comfortable looking chair and again, books all around, some waiting to be sorted into the shelves. Then there is an inner sanctum with mainly children’s and young adult books. There are chairs all over, slightly haggardly placed, for customers to sit and read to their heart’s content. I wish I had more time, or I would definitely have taken advantage of that. From what I could see, it is run by three wonderful women (who were quite surprised when I actually asked permission to take pictures, a sad commentary on what we consider polite these days). There was only one other customer when I walked in, hopefully that was only an after lunch lull.

I don’t know if they stock second-hand books, none that I could see. So the books are a little pricey, or maybe they just appear pricey to me because I’ve been cheating on actual books with e-books lately. Needless to say, I will be visiting this store again. And now I know where exactly to take my similarly-minded friends  when they come to visit Vienna 😉

That was it for the soul yesterday. Afterwards I went back to the Embassy to collect my passport and trudged back to the train station for another unending train ride back home. The only silver lining in the journey for me was the food. It wasn’t exactly fine dining, and was rather simple, but I absolutely love the bacon and egg sandwich served aboard ÖBB trains. I think it was the fourth or fifth consecutive train ride on which I’ve ordered it. Plus it is cold (I am a strange creature who likes cold sandwiches), so, win-win !