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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Poetic Whimsicality

A standalone poem -- not part of the For Series.
=====================================
The Tale of the Gravy King

Once upon a time there lived a King
Who so strongly swore by gravy
That with it was made his crown and throne
And his Army and his Navy.

He ordered gravy currency made
To replace the kingdom's money
And found himself a gravy wife
To keep him company.

He built a new capital in his name --
All made of gravy, wall to wall --
And at its centre, was his gravy palace
With gravy towers tall.

Deep within that gravy palace,
Guarded by forty gravy men,
Lay the King's gravy bedroom,
Gravy bath and gravy kitchen.

Daily from there the King emerged
Dressed in gravy head to heels
And boarded his gravy carriage, that
Had gravy flag and wheels.

He rode the carriage to gravy court
To meet his gravy minister,
His gravy commander-in-chief,
Gravy priest and gravy jester.

The King was so in love with gravy
That one could be put to death
If one decried gravy in his deeds,
His words or even his breath.

It so happened one morning
That a King of another nation
Visiting our Gravy King,
Called to question his obsession.

At once the Gravy King stood tall
And drew his gravy scimitar
And thundered, "In the name of gravy,
'Gainst thee I declare war!"

The visiting Royal, bound by honour,
Accepted the invitation.
When he had left, patriotic spirit
Gripped the gravy nation:

All the ridicule that they faced
For their King's peculiar ways
Would give way, in case of victory,
To glory and high praise!

So the gravy soldiers drilled all day
And the forges growled all night,
Making gravy swords and cannonballs
And gravy armour bright.

When the battle day came, however,
The gravy swords and shields
Proved no match for weapons forged
Of iron, bronze and steel.

But the Gravy King rallied his troops
And denied them retreat.
The gravy soldiers fell one by one
In an inglorious defeat.

Grievously wounded, the King was carried
To the camps and given care,
But soon the gravy healers
Declared him beyond repair.

With weakened words, the Gravy King
Of the proud gravy nation
Requested that the gravy priest
Come in to hear Confession.

The gravy priest was fetched, and at
The Gravy King's behest,
All but the priest left him, after
Paying their respects.

Then, with his dying breath, the King,
In a voice tired and small,
Made his last Confession: "Father,
I never liked gravy at all!"
=====================================

Saturday, September 27, 2014

For 2 : For Friendship

Taking it 'for'ward. Ignore the bad pun, please, and read on.
====================================
For Friendship

We've always done a lot for friendship.
We've lowered standards,
Altered expectations,
Reconsidered principles.
We've tolerated ugliness, vice, weakness.
We've opened our homes and hearts
To leeches, beggars, thieves
And given overt benefits of the doubt.
We've rewarded manipulation and betrayal
With compromise and second chances.
We've risked reputation, integrity,
Identity, sanity, health, wealth,
Privacy, family, country -- even life.

So I think it's time we let everyone know
That what we've done for friendship
We've done for friendship alone.
If there's anything else
That they'd like to append to friendship --
Be it business, or worse, be it pleasure --
They're on their own.
Because only for friendship will we ever
Stoop as low as we have.
Everything else
We'd like to do with dignity.

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How far would you go for friendship? Let me know.

For 1 : For Innocence

Beginning the 'For' Series.
================================================
For Innocence

Let us all strive for innocence today.
Let's show the world our best puppy-dog eyes
And flash our pearl-toothed ingratiation.
Let our tongues rival the finest silver,
Let servile flattery be our clothing
And hypocrisy our adornment;
Let our self-love and egotism, garbed
Covertly in gold and silk, be disguised
In the humble livery of service.
Let's win hearts and confidences and trust
And eventually minds and bodies,
And finally races, peoples, nations...

...let's decree innocence mandatory!
Let's enforce its permanent residence
Beneath women's veils, abused children's smiles --
Then, we'll celebrate 'cause we saved the world,
Rid it of suspicion, complications, --
And made it a safe place for our children,
Where no child will suspect a stranger's touch,
People will procreate but not know how.
It'll be Paradise -- but the fruit, untouched,
Will never tell man of his nakedness.

================================================
Reference to The Good Book... what-what?!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

#13, #14

#13

Bony, knotted grips;
Cold hands on shivering knees
And Friendship and Love.

==================================
#14

The Goddess alights.
She will vanquish evil, and
Demons' wives will weep.

==================================
As you can see, I included the numbering within the post this time. Better or worse? Feedback please!

Of Change, Clichés and Reality Checks

I heard in some TV show of an experiment where they gave people glasses that fed them with an upside down view of the world. At first, they had trouble but in three days, they got used to it and could make their way around. Then, they removed the glasses.
The scientists wanted to know if the recovery of normal perception would take as long as the 'upside down' conditioning did. Knowing that the way we usually see the world is 'normal', you would expect it to take less time, wouldn't you? But no, the test subjects where just as disoriented as during the first change, and took all of three days to get used to the upright world.
The conclusion? Even something trivial as which way up is subject to conditioning. Our brain has immense power to adapt, and half the things we believe to be set in stone are not actually so.
Hmm, that statement got dangerously close to cliché territory, didn't it? Very self-help! Maybe the other day's motivational session courtesy Aakash (should I write about that or not... show of hands?) left me with some inspiration. But I know what it most certainly left me with. I volunteered at the session and scored myself a bar of Bournville... hey, hey, hey!
Ahem, focusing. Focusing.
So, people want to change things -- say people like me, and we're always up to making some noise. But lately, I find people throwing all their nonsense unplanned dreams into the world and expecting them to come true. I'm sorry, y'all, but if you want to bring a social revolution or something, my heart is with you, but you need a damn head! Back in Carmel, the SPICE Club did very little for the society and the planet compared to bigger organizations for similar causes; but whatever was done was planned and hence fruitful.
The other day this girl I know -- sweet girl, really, nice heart and all -- comes at me with this weird and creepy-ass rumbling ramble about wanting to go 'motivate' poor kids. Apparently, she got First World Guilt when she passed a slum on the way back from shoe shopping at the mall. She felt we should do something. I had to explain to her that this stuff needs commitment and expertise and not just good intentions -- doing something is different from donating to the Prime Minister's damn Relief Fund. You need something real, like the SPICE Club took up coaching some underprivileged kids. Besides, just talking to them would be intruding into their lives and wasting their time, probably getting in the way of their livelihoods and the work of real social workers, and leave with a fake self-satisfaction that we've done something. It's the typical thing we privileged people do to feel less bad about our indulgences and, well, privileges.  I know many great movements are born from the aforesaid First World Guilt, especially if said First World is ensconced in the Third World, as it is in India -- I, however, highly doubt that quenching the guilt is equivalent to an actual contribution.
At the cost of further cliché, I will say that one should rather start small, around oneself -- be nice to the maid and her kids, stop the elders in your home from mistreating the staff. I will also reiterate that most states of affairs that we take as unchangeable are actually a result of conditioning. Some take three days and some take three decades, but change is possible.
It has to be, however, real change, which comes from realistic effort and a mindset built for not dreaming but doing. Which is why I told that girl -- go and find someone who really knows this work, and volunteer with them instead of stepping out on your own. There is no point in ignoring all the work done by the experts and reinventing the wheel. In the change business, as well as in any other field, growth begins with learning. Always.
Ciao, and peace.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Back to School, Students' Council, and Small Good Deeds

In less than eight hours from now, I will begin another day of normal school -- the same old 7:45 to 1:50 routine, studying, socializing, Students' Council work, and keeping a lookout for inconspicuous opportunities to affect other people's lives in a positive way.
Since the day I became Head Girl of HSMS, life has been... well, pretty much the same really. Mostly, I go around setting straight things and people that stray, or go askew, or make mistakes, or get hurt, or cause hurt to other things and people that matter -- which I've been doing since last year (and that is just in this one school) and has simply become official and organized now. My day consists of making the most of class hours, and then in the breaks, aside from eating, I try to utilize the time to make a difference in the HSMS experience for my fellow students.
Students in the school tend to think that being Head Girl (or anyone in the Students' Council, but especially a Head) is all about power trips, power walks, power talks, power yelling, power play. The older students do somewhat appreciate the discipline and streamlining we bring to the school, but that is hardly everything. As a leader in my previous school and in this one, I have tried, in every working hour, to inspire goodness in my fellows and juniors -- especially my juniors. I don't know how much I've succeeded, but the journey hitherto has been amazing, and continues to be so. Every day I deal with volumes of troublesome kids and friends who refuse to listen or understand, and sometimes I have to take action to extents that break my heart. But from time to time, there's that kid who comes up and asks me how someone can become the Head Girl or Head Boy, and I tell them about being true to oneself, about sincerity, loyalty, dedication; and also about time management, compartmentalization, innovation and self-discipline. Whenever I can, I try to dispel from the minds of children the image of a leader who is nothing but an authoritarian -- which is difficult to do in a day and age of rebellion against all forms of authority. Having passed through such a rebellious phase myself, I continue to strongly believe that rebellion, in essence, is indicative of free thinking and intelligence: qualities that, if channelized, can make marvellous grown-ups out of children, which is why I, self-punishingly, make those kids, the problem kids, my business.
Ask any kid who has ever been yelled at by me (individually, that is -- crowd management is a different story), and they will tell you how their first offence has been handled discreetly, and as far away from the public eye as possible. I strongly believe that a calm voice and an explanation, instead of shaming, can go a long way: Mother always explained to me what I did wrong, and so, unlike my classmates, I never resented my mother for a single moment of my life. Annoyed with her, maybe; angry, maybe; disappointed, oh yes all the time: but I never doubted her loyalty to the cause of my betterment, as opposed to what most grown-ups prioritize -- their authority, their pride, their public image and not the child's. Children need that -- they need to trust someone to be truly dedicated to their cause, their life, their hopes and dreams. So when kids act out, I try to apply my mother's methods -- I try to seek the root of their rebellion and do my bit to repair it. Sometimes it is, unfortunately, out of my hands: factors like home conditions and peer groups have influences greater than mine, at times. But at other times, kids have changed because of things I told them, which is a rare beauty in my life given the fact that I, myself, am essentially still a kid. It is cause for great thanksgiving, and a deep satisfaction that many adults never get to experience.
Back in Carmel, there were countless juniors and peers who were brought back to the mainstream of school life after I spoke to them, and they continue to keep in touch and thank me from time to time -- I feel immensely humbled to have touched their lives. There are also children who were always in the mainstream, but lacked confidence or organization, and I could, if not for privacy concerns, name a handful who claim that they learnt those missing skills because of me. One kid told me almost a year back that I changed her life, which is when I first thought of penning this post. My teachers in Carmel have praised me for creating more leaders before I left, and hopefully those leaders have created more. In Hem Sheela, the task is more uphill, given the larger body of students and the shorter time I had here for groundwork. But still, I persist to do leadership differently. The kid from above is in Hem Sheela now, and she reminds me every day of the gift that I must share with all: the gift of integrity, passion and kindness, which I learnt from my mother and some unsung stalwarts in my family and among my teachers.
The things I do differently are simple, really: in fact, by the book, they should not be different but normal. First, aside from doing this for myself (which I don't mind admitting I do), I also do this for others. Specially, I do this for those kids who are invisible and cannot stand up to miscreants and bullies. Sometimes they are too scared to make formal complaints and they come to me, and I coach them in making compact, logical and believable complaints to their teachers, with courage, composure and willpower, which will ensure that their message gets across. Many have reported back to me that they were no longer scared of the authorities, and they managed to approach their teachers and get problems -- bullies, thieves, evil twins -- sorted to their satisfaction.
Second, I go to great lengths to make sure that I'm fair, and that I don't overstep my bounds. People may have cause to complain that I'm cruel, but they will never, ever be able to complain that I'm unfair or against the rules. If I'm cruel, I'm equally cruel to all, as a leader should be. Third, I know when to swallow my pride and get help. My friends sometimes resent me for reporting problems to teachers and getting someone in trouble in the process, but I know when something is out of my league. And so yes, I run to momma. Things get done, don't they? Fourth, I don't do things just to show people who's boss. I don't hit people, I don't curse at people, I don't loudmouth people into submission. The things I yell are logical -- always. Simple, don't you think?
Yet these simple, textbook, rules of leadership are considered unnecessary, ridiculous, outright weird even. Still I try, and I attempt to instil the same in the budding leaders who work under me. I must reiterate here that among all the kids I meet, the few that change positively because of me are the beauty and joy in all of this. They are my fuel, my inspiration, my light. They are the real strong ones, because change is scary, submitting to help is scary, facing your problems is scary, but they have done it. They have learnt confidence, defeated bullies, controlled tempers, quit vices, improved in academics and co-curriculars: and so much more -- which they claim, is all because of something I said to them someday, but is really because they always had inner strength. Granted, ninety percent ignore what I say and move on, but the ten percent is my reward. And friends, I'm not the only one with this gift. Clichéd as it may sound, every person can influence others positively. And if you try, you will feel the same joy that I feel as I write this. I swear, people, at this point if I were speaking to you instead of committing my thoughts to this piece of plastic and glass, chances are I would cry. I would cry out of sheer happiness and gratitude that I have seen things grow and bloom under my touch. It's wonderful, beautiful, transforming!
Which is why, people, I go back to school tomorrow despite the dreariness and the monotony. I go because of the sheer addiction of doing something good, bringing some change, showing people what leadership can be. I go for the hope that when I'm done, the people who went to school with me will not just remember my power walk and ninja plaits and loud voice (though I would love it if they did!), but also my smile, my jokes, my help, my hand on their shoulders in troubled times; and I also go for the hope that all of this will earn me a few, if not many, hands to hold and shoulders to cry on when I will need them. Because that's what we mean when we speak of humanity, don't we, people?
I must mention here a quote that caught my attention because of how perfectly it captures the philosophy behind my style of Students' Council work:
“Discipline without freedom is tyranny; freedom without discipline is chaos” -- Cullen Hightower.
Hence, people, I believe in the kind of discipline that fosters the freedom of mind, body and emotion in a way that this freedom is organized and equally distributed -- hence the tough love, hence the rules, hence the power walk.
I will leave you with a plea to wish me (and our Council) luck for restarting work after the Durga Puja holidays (work, unfortunately, will be in suspended animation till then because the junior Council members still have exams). Unfortunately, the last kid I tried to inspire disappointed me terribly, and I have, sadly, identified the factors at work to be beyond my influence. Hence, I'm a bit down on the good feelings. Therefore, let this post be a reminder to me and to all of you that despite the failures, touching even one life just a teeny bit is more than what most people ever get to do, and that it is the most beautiful and humbling feeling ever.
Peace out!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Poetry Done Quick

This one's very spontaneous and very real, and hence I have no explanation. Just read it.
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Reflection on the Day Before Bedtime

Why can't I see?
I've dissected every possibility
I've peeped into every crack of light
I've burrowed through the crumbly mud of depression and self-loathing
I've done it right.
Believe me, I have.
I've taken every precaution
I've double-checked everything
All of it is exactly as it should be
But still I feel gaps that let in the cold air,
That steals the warmth in my spirits
And leaves me shivering, heavy, blinded

My eyelids droop and I don't know why
I see clearly all those things
That I don't want to see
That I want to deny
That I wish were not true
The betrayals, the hatred, the manipulation, the duplicity
The hypocrisy, the fake smiles, the murder of morals
The selfishness, the crude lies, the rumour-mongering
Confound it all!
That's all I see!
Why can I not see
The things I want to see?
Peace and laughter and friendship and trust
And sharing, and compassion and honour and respect
Those things that seem so real until I begin to believe in them
And then they bare their teeth and transmogrify
Into swooshing imposing dark shadows
Flying in swirling motion all around the inside of my head
Laughing maniacally; or worse still, they become
Honey-sweet words, or promises of love, silver tongues dripping
With selfishness, malice, poison, revenge!

Why the insecurity?
What have I ever done to you?
What can I ever do to you, for have you not weakened me enough?
What bounds can I overstep, for have you not already hemmed me in?
What pride can I display, for have you not already humiliated me?
Am I so powerful that you fear me?
Is my oath too strong for your plans?

I've taken every step with careful consideration
Walked a web of tightropes
Navigated carefully, cushioned your ego
Made you comfortable in your flimsy existence
So what's wrong?
Do visions of my prospects, my future
Remind you where you stand in comparison?

Oh the horror, when my bliss of numbers and words
Must give way to anger and sadness and wasteful rants
When the dreams of a pair of young eager eyes
Are mocked and betrayed and quashed
By those meant to protect,
Just because those dreams are real and possible and imaginable
Unlike what young dreams tend to be,
And in being rational and impossible to dismiss as fantasy,
In being on the way to becoming reality--
In being plausible without abandoning
Honour, vision, kindness, love, friendship, trust,
Poetry, politeness, light, laughter, truth--
They intimidate all those who, in fear and weakness,
Have abandoned their dreams in the dark mad-houses
Of that voyeur of life called Time

They are defeated
They are done, they are yesterday
And thus they resent those
Who have much left to dream of
And so much left to do --
Who still stand a chance to win.
But let them, let them wither and waste;
Let them, let them die;
The young are too young to decode their lies
The young are too tired to sit up and think.
It is past midnight.
Not the time for the young to be awake.
The young must rest.
The young must sleep.
Tomorrow, then?
==============================================

Friday, September 5, 2014

Gratitude 7 (Teachers' Day Special 2014) : Five

Teachers' Day Special : I suppose that's self-explanatory. Please read the entire poem before forming your opinions.
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Five

In the classrooms behind the cobwebs
Of our greying reminiscence
There lives a story of The Five :
Five high school friends --

Five rebels of hot young blood
Who found all things unfair;
Five devils of the school's halls,
Every teacher's nightmare

And how they ruled the place!
They mangled the chairs and walls
And broke the teacher's desk, and
Trashed the washroom stalls.

Every teacher, class and rule
Was branded as nonsense
By The Five, the high school bosses,
With the utmost confidence.

If ever perchance there was a class
That they deigned to attend,
It ended with one or all of them
Standing out at the hallway's end...

... and on Teachers' Day in Class Twelfth,
The Five, the smart and clever,
Decided it was revenge time --
Payback, now or never.

They usurped the stage on September Five,
All prudence dead and burnt,
And hurled every sick expletive
That they had ever learnt.

When The Five finally left the stage,
Anger spent and gone,
Their homeroom teacher of three years
Asked to speak with them alone.

The words spoken to The Five behind
Those closed classroom doors
Are unknown to all others till date --
Not even the Principal knows

But thereafter till Farewell,
The Five went underground;
Come school's end, they shook hands and parted,
Never again to be found.

Tonight, on September Five,
Fifty and five years thence,
Three people gathered at my place --
Three remaining of Five friends --

And on the moonlit rooftop
Looking skyward, we lay
Whispering to every star,
Happy Teachers' Day.
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