Conversations on Living, In medias res

A prayer for quietness


The hospital lobby was chaotic as usual. Anxious patients, family members, nurses, doctors at the Sundaram Medical Foundation hospital crisscrossed without banging into each other. I always wonder how as Indians, we comfortably melt into crowds in public spaces naturally without any training.

In the middle of the choreographed chaos, a piano was placed on an elevated platform with some chairs around. Anil Srinivasan, pianist was about to give a performance, a poster announced. “How will you play in the middle of the hustle and bustle?” I had asked him earlier.

The seats filled up slowly. A father who had a small boy in bandages sat next to me. He held his son tight but affectionately against his chest. The boy looked tired of crying, but comfortable and secure in his dad’s warmth.

An older lady in patient clothes inched slowly towards the chairs. Within few minutes she began crying, looking down, silently. There was no one next to her.

“Kaatrinile varum geetam..” Anil had started playing. The soft music floated without getting polluted in the din.

Nurses and hospital staff stood in groups behind the chairs. Some took deep breaths in silence, the next few minutes were precious for them, a much needed breather before the madness begin again.

“Senthamizh then mozhiyal..” Anil punched in a yester year magic of a song, which brought in some energy and the flowing audience joined along. Two elderly gentlemen in crisp white veshti and shirt in the front row listened in rapt attention, while their feet tapped along.

As soon as Anil played “Unnai ondru ketpen….” a golden song by Susheela and composed by MSV, the elderly lady began to cry again, perhaps the song reminded her of something from the past. A nurse came her side and held her hand tightly. The nurse asked if she wanted to go back, she nodded against but continued to cry in silence.

Someone tapped my shoulder from behind. It was a friend whom I had not met in ages. “All well?” I ask and quickly bit my lips. An inappropriate question in a hospital I thought. He looked anxious. “My father-in-law has been rushed to the ICU. Heart attack. I just came, don’t know what to do,” he stared.

“Kurai onrum illai…” a song immortalised by M S Subbalakshmi brought the much needed peace to the place and people yearning for some quietness.

Anil, thank you.

In medias res, NalandaWay



In 2009, at NalandaWay we decided to make a feature film. The film was born out of a workshop that we had conducted with children affected by HIV a year earlier. We were excited about the project. We felt that this approach would get a wider light on the issues faced by children living with HIV. Much to my surprise a few reputed producers were willing to back it. But what followed was an agonizing wait for two years. There was no concept of appointments, you may be asked to wait for 3 to 4 hours for no particular reason, you may be called to meet in the middle of night, no one would return your calls, everyone would sing glorious ‘praise’ but would never make a decision. The whole experience was excruciatingly painful for the entire team. I have never met this many unprofessional people all belonging to one industry in my whole life. I seriously wonder how they even manage to complete and release a film with such incompetence and unprofessionalism. Sigh!

Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan was meant to play the male lead in our film. I have been following his posts on his directorial debut film, “Lens.” He recently won the ‘Gollapudi Srinivas Award’ which is given to first time Directors. I recently read his interview in the Times where he spoke about his disappointments and that he was even considering quitting and how the award came in as a much needed ‘shot in the arm’.

His film “Lens’ was screened last week at the Russian Cultural Centre in Chennai. I was also eager to watch the movie because it had one of my favourite theatre actors, Anand Sami playing the lead.

When my friend and I came to the venue, there was commotion and people rushed into the auditorium. We struggled to find a seat inside.

“I only wish if this was a show in movie hall and all of you had bought tickets,” said Jayaprakash while introducing the film.

We all laughed. We also heard your quiet suffering.

Hang in there JP.

In medias res



I had the opportunity of visiting the Cooptex showroom in Tanjavur, at the invitation of Venkatesh Narasimhan its Managing Director. Cooptex a state run cooperative for handlooms in Tamil Nadu is the only entity that is profitable in the country. Over 110000 weavers sell through Cooptex showrooms. One of their initiatives inspired me so much. Every saree that is sold has a tag which has the photo and details of the weaver. Kathirvelan from Kanchipuram, mentioned in the tag, had given up weaving completely few years back and had taken to recycling old newspapers. The making of this Kanchi cotton saree has been overtaken by powerlooms in Coimbatore, making weavers like Kathirvelan live a life of poverty. Venkatesh tells me that there are tens of villages in Tamil Nadu where traditional weavers have completely vanished. Today with the support of Cooptex weavers like Kathirvelan have gotten back to weaving. These sarees are also sold on Flipkart and Snapdeal. If we all buy for even Rs. 500 every quarter from Cooptex we will make these weavers live a life of dignity.

In medias res

Movies for the visually challenged

Visualise this. Hundreds of girls, boys, men and women, all of them visually challenged inside a movie hall. The movie has just begun. There are no dialogues at the moment. An electric guitar plays on flamboyantly. A lone voice narrates how Rajnikanth walks into the screen, in fancy suits with his thunder-clap swag. The entire auditorium erupts in celebration.

I was a witness to this awe-inspiring experience. The lone voice who narrated the happenings on the screen when there were no dialogues made all the difference to them. Try wearing an eye mask next time you see a movie, you will know what I am talking about.

And I hear this is going to be a permanent feature in all films. One more reason to love the Satyam Cinemas. In a few months along with Radio Mirchi they are planning to install a small FM transmitter that works with mobile phones which enables visually challenged to listen to the audio description on their headphones while watching it with others.

How cool is this?

Susmitha Chakkungal of Radio Mirchi Senthil Kumar of Real Image Swaroop Reddy Kiran Reddy of SPI Cinemas

Aren’t these guys so beautiful?

In medias res, NalandaWay



The boy on my left, who is taking the selfie is Prabhakar Reddy. He dropped in yesterday for the Chennai Children’s Choir concert.

Prabhakar was twelve when he joined NalandaWay’s “Achieve through Arts” programme. It must have been 2006. He studied in a Government aided school, worked hard, remained positive, built his skills, and went on to complete engineering. Today he works as a research engineer at Renault Nissan.

What joy to see a young person grow up and shine.

In medias res, NalandaWay

Fifteen people commit suicide every hour; it’s time to act now

“Can you tell my parents that I have let them down, that I am not worthy of their love? I miss them. I am going to die Sriram, I am scared.”

I received this phone call from a young person few years back. I can never forget the anxiety, and stress that my friends and I went through. It also made us understand how unprepared and ignorant we were in dealing with suicides.

India has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world. Fifteen people commit suicide every hour.  Every year, between 30 and 40 people per 100,000 Indians between 15 and 29 kill themselves. This means 1 out of 3 suicides in the country are committed by a young person.

Some common reasons stated by National Crime Records Bureau for suicide among young people are love affairs, failure in examinations, dowry, abuse, illness and family problems.

“I am sad, tired, helpless, disillusioned, paranoid, unhappy; sorry, it would not do justice if I just gave only one adjective to describe my hurt,” a 19 year old told me.

In a world that makes unreasonable demands on them, young people are disillusioned about their education, relationships, jobs, sexuality, bullying, and abuse.  Even with the explosion of social media they do not have credible and accessible information on dealing with depression, rejection and anxiety. Many do not trust or have the comfort to discuss their challenges with teachers and parents. They fear that their friends would judge them and may no longer be accepted if they revealed their anxieties openly.

Given this background “The Story of a Suicide,” is an important project that attempts to fill the information void.

In the novel, a young person decides to commit suicide. Who is this person? Why does he/she want to die? Where do they come from? Why are they upset, depressed and torn apart? And what drives them to it? Does he/she really die?

In the backdrop of a powerful story and visuals, this project aims to reach out to young people, by verbalising their struggles through the story, informing the do’s and don’ts when they face challenges, and providing a platform to share their experiences. It is a difficult subject but gripping and definitely engaging. It is that kind of a novel where one would want to stay-up-all-night to finish it.

Youngsters are surprisingly apathetic when it comes to things outside the Internet. So we decided to keep it online instead of a physical book. Reading the novel is simple. Go to and follow the links. One can read the novel on a laptop, tablet or mobile phone. For those who are not excited with the written word go ahead and listen to the novel by clicking on the play button under the Audio book. Each chapter also has a set of “How do I?” on various questions that trouble them. The do’s and don’ts would be direct but never moralistic.

“I don’t have the energy and will to live anymore Charu. I am tired of being a failure. I am tired of being defeated. I am tired of being heartbroken,” says Hari, one of the protagonists in the novel.

“Don’t worry. We can win their hearts, everyone, including your parents. Please don’t give up on life. Well if everyone who has a problem decided to commit suicide, this world will be filled with only dead people. There are people with problems far worse than yours but are still looking forward to a tomorrow with hope. Get up and prove that you are capable of something. Anything! Have faith. Have hope,” replies Charu.

I sensed the same helplessness, hurt and dejection when I heard the young person’s voice on the phone. She was crying for help, she was yearning to live, screaming to be understood but tired of failing.

During my interactions I found that youngsters are expressive, self-absorbed, independent, afraid, hurried, fearless, fame hungry, but surprisingly resilient. They need a listening ear, a reassuring touch and an inspiring push, not very hard but gentle enough to make them feel empowered so that they go on to create the lives that they truly want to create.

This article was published on DailyO


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2 – Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India 2008. New Delhi: Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India; 2010. National Crime Records Bureau.

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In medias res, NalandaWay


“Sriram, can I speak to you for a few minutes?” it was Selestinal on the phone.

Selestinal is from a village near Villupuram in Tamil Nadu. She came from a poor family but managed to complete graduation and later B Ed. She used to work at NalandaWay Foundation for over an year till August last year.

Seles was a great find for us; she was passionate about children, education and always had the eye for details.

It took me a while to change her to call me by my name instead of “sir.” She married the man whom she had loved for more than 10 years. She would blush like a ‘love-struck’ teenager when all of us quizzed her about how they managed to stay committed for so many years in these polyamorous times.

When we started the Chennai Children’s Choir she personally ensured that we included children with visual impairment and other disabilities. She worked with us up to eight months of her pregnancy.

Last evening when she had called, we spoke about the new developments in office, about her 6 months old baby, our colleagues; we had spoken for more than ten minutes but she did not bring up anything specific about why she had called.

“Is there anything that I can do for you Seles?” I asked.

“Nothing Sriram. I have been generally feeling low and lonely for some time. My one year at NalandaWay was the best period of my life and speaking to you reminded me of the happier times. I always felt better when I spoke to you,” she said.

I smiled when I heard her. It felt nice.

Happy, actually.

In medias res









It was my first time inside a mosque in Chennai. I have been to mosques in Delhi, Agra, Srinagar and Istanbul but the 17th century Big Mosque in Triplicane, this was my first. It was six in the evening and Muslims who were observing the Ramzan fast were gathering inside the mosque steadily. There were rows of mats for them to sit and bowls of porridge were placed alongside. At 6:40 pm the muezzin requested the Muslims to break their fast. At this moment, a row of Hindu volunteers started serving a nutrition-rich kanji, pickle, Frooti bottle, banana, rose milk, gulab jamoon, candy bar and dessert to all the Muslim devotees. I was touched by their sense of camaraderie and generosity. These Hindu volunteers were Sindhis and have been doing this activity at the Triplicane Mosque during Ramzan for decades. There was joy in every person, both Hindu and Muslim. During the floods in December the same mosque provided food to Hindus and Muslims non-stop for more than a week. Muslim volunteers had also cleaned the famous Parthasarathy Temple in the neigbourhood. Let’s not get our fears come in the way of showing love. Thank you Kombai S Anwar and Vincent D Souza for this memorable experience.

In medias res



Moses is a cook at Bed & Chai guest house in Delhi. He is this calm man who spoke softly at the breakfast table. I have seen him talk fluently in French, English and Hindi with the guests. Today he approached me and asked, “neenga Tamila?” And both our eyes smiled widely. Moses left Vellore in Tamil Nadu in 1974. He has been a cook at the German, Israel embassies in Delhi for many years. He has also worked in Tel Aviv and Italy. But he has not visited home even once in the last 40 years. He smiled when I asked him why? A brief pause continued. “Ippo ammava paakkanam pola irukku (I feel like seeing my mother now).” Some bonds never die.

In medias res

Donate your medicines


I am staying at this nice quaint B & B place called Bed and Chai at GK 1 in Delhi, run by two lovely French ladies. I will write about this place later. While having breakfast, this box struck my attention. It’s a box to deposit our left over medicines. The poor spend close to 40% of their earnings on medicines and treatment. If we recycle unused medicines from our homes to those who can’t afford them, all that money can be used for nutrition and education. Such a cool idea.