Pay it forward

The Road Less Travelled


I was going through an emotional turmoil after my personal experience during the Gujarat riots in 2002. The incident and the stories of victims and perpetrators troubled me immensely. I searched for answers about fear, violence, love, justice, dharma, acceptance, empathy, compassion. There were many books that helped me clarify my doubts and anxieties. I have gone back to these texts over the last decade again and again to get clarity. I am still troubled by many questions. “The Road Less Travelled,” by Scott Peck is one such book that I refer to regularly.

These are the opening lines of the book.

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult–once we truly understand and accept it–then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

The book has helped me accept myself with all my inadequacies. And because I have accepted my imperfections, my attitude towards pain and disappointment has changed. I have been able to love people better with less judgement. I am able to sense that I have become more patient and grateful to life.

I met Nurul in Neemrana in Rajastan. We were part of a consultation organised by UNESCO on Youth Leadership. Nurul is from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and has been a champion of issues that concerned the youth. During the workshop she mentioned to me that she was getting married in a few days. I always carry few new books in my bag and I gift it to anyone whom I feel like giving it.

Nurul, congratulations again on your wedding and I hope this book inspires you to lead a life of love and gratefulness.

In medias res



Last Saturday, I had gone to watch the screening of the Hindi film, “Shahid,” at a private gathering in Chennai. The event was organised by Chaplin Films, an organisation run by youngsters, which organises screenings of films that have strong political and social messaging. I had missed seeing “Shahid” in theatres and liked the natural acting style of Rajkumar Rao, the protagonist of the film.

The screening was organised at a party hall in a nondescript shopping complex, tucked away in a remote corner in Indira Nagar, Adyar. When I reached the place at 4 pm, the scheduled start time, I found an old watchman in the hall who looked at me curiously, when I enquired about the screening. This was my first at anything like this and since I had no other plans for the evening, so I stayed put. Slowly people trickled in and the movie screening began after an hour. Normally I would bump into friends at public events, but here, I did not know anyone.

Shahid is a biopic about Shahid Azmi, an advocate who was assassinated in 2010. The story begins with the Bombay riots of 1992-93, that left 900 people dead. Young Shahid gets infuriated by the injustice meted out to his fellow Muslims; joins a jehadi outfit in Kashmir. Disillusioned by the illogical brainwashing during the training, he runs away from the training camp only to be arrested by police under the controversial TADA act. He gets trashed in police custody for many months with no legal recourse and finally lands in Tihar Jail. He becomes a graduate in jail. He is released after many years with no evidence against him.

He returns to Mumbai to fight the cases of innocent poor Muslims who were arrested under the POTA act. Under the law a suspect could be detained for up to 180 days without the filing of chargesheet in court. It also allowed law enforcement agencies to withhold the identities of witnesses, and to treat a confession made to the police as an admission of guilt.

Shahid was killed in 2010.

Rajkumar Rao who played Shahid was brilliant and went on to win the National Award for the best actor for this film.

The hall was full by the end of the screening. Film director Bramma and activist Sathish led the discussions later that stretched for another hour.

Sathish, incidentally was arrested under the same POTA act when he was just 19. He along with his friends were protesting against custodial torture of poor innocent villagers during the sandalwood smuggler Veerappan days. He spoke about the torture and abuse that were meted out to him during the five years he was inside jail. He was released only when he was 26. He recounted even minute details of his ordeals with the same enthusiasm of how an aspiring film maker would narrate his script. All with a smile.

He ended his speech with a scary statistic; in the three years when POTA was in force, along with him there were 7 cases in Tamil Nadu; while at the same time in Gujarat, with Modi as the chief minister, 3000 people were arrested in Gujarat under POTA.

1 person was a Sikh and 2999 were Muslims.

Stories from far and near

The Prince’s Bride

“It’s time, my love,” Aabha was lazily lying on a rounded white satin bed. Inder, was the perfect lover a woman could ask for. It has been couple of months, since they had found each other. Living, up in the clouds was new to her. A fairy tale, like the story that her poor father had narrated, when she was a child. Inder was a large hearted person with a hard loud core. She laid there on the soft shifting bed, stroking his hair, imagining how her life would have played out, if she had stayed, down under.

It was May, and the Sun played havoc on the lives of people, who depended on rains. Raju was a poor farmer, who lived with his beautiful daughter. Her mother died giving birth to her. She was his only refuge in his otherwise lonely and morbid life. He grew Bajra (Millet) in his small farm, passed down from his father. Rain gods have been miserly, for several years. Raju would endure any hardship, to ensure a comfortable life, for his daughter. She was his pride and grew up to be the desire, of every eligible bachelor in the village. “I will give my daughter only to a prince!”, and dismissed every potential suitor. The women folk of the village were worried, that his daughter would die alone unmarried, due to the Ostrich-like attitude of Raju.

Inder opened his eyes and smiled at Aabha. “What’s the rush sweetheart?” he whispered in a base voice, but was so loud, that her brow furrowed in concentration. “The south westerners would be fast approaching any time and would you not like to make the maximum exploits?” she smiled at him wickedly. “You have become more mischievous, and had never imagined you to be such a tiger. I still can visualize the day when the cold northerners of the storm clan were raiding your lands and you stood there unmoved, looking directly into me. I knew you were special, but still imagined you to be docile.” Before he could complete, she jumped at him, “don’t you dare think of controlling me? You cannot live ever without me.” Inder pulled her closer and kissed passionately on her lips, that shut her up. She smiled coyly, looking away from him.

Raju believed in miracles, for that was his only resort now. He spoke to a local prohit (priest) to organize a special ritual to invoke the blessings of the Big God, with hopes that a prince would marry his daughter. His daughter would laugh at him, whenever he mentioned about his plans. But she loved him immensely and would never dismiss his beliefs. The day of the ritual came; the prohit started a large fire and chanted mantras from ancient texts. Raju spent a large sum from his savings for the ritual, much against the wishes of his daughter. The prohit froze, all of a sudden, motionless. Raju was worried, if that was a bad sign. Prohit had a premonition. He warned Raju that destiny was a mixed bag and that he should take happiness along with the pains that followed.

Inder, noticed that the south westerners were arriving faster than usual. The sun had torched the earth for several weeks now, that they were carrying a large measure of the colourless liquid riches, for the nourishment of life below. It was time to keep their promise. Aabha was waiting for this moment for several weeks. The world around them was getting darker. The smooth, cool, white mass made of very small drops of precious liquid, also called water, was becoming grey and dark at a rapid pace. They heard people shouting from below, “Monsoons have come, rains on the way, all praise to the Gods”. People, animals small and big, sang and rejoiced. Inder eagerly waited for the right moment.

The village elders, warned Raju of a storm fast approaching. “Could it be this day?” The prohit had warned him the other day. The prohit had narrated, “it would be the day when the winds would wreck havoc in your fields, don’t lose heart.” Raju waited with bated breath. His daughter felt that something mysterious was about to happen. She was not afraid. The clouds had darkened the sky and shut the sun completely. The villagers were worried. His daughter was suddenly drawn to the middle of his farm, and the clouds were closing in. She could see a dark tall outline approaching her. She was a spirited lady and was holding ground in spite of the winds. A streak of white light descended on her in wiggly lightening streaks. She fainted in fear. The tall dark outline was approaching faster and more definite.

Raju ran towards her fallen daughter, and Inder, pierced through the winds making a thunderous roar. She woke up as Aabha and streaked through the sky with a bolt of light and Inder roared again in thunder. Raju was ecstatic. He was not afraid of losing his Queen of lightening to the Lord of Thunder.

Inder found his Aabha again, to chase, to dance, and to love.

This story is part of the series titled, “Stories from far and near” that includes adaptations from Indian folktales, classical poetry and mythology. Copyright © 2012 Sriram V. Ayer. This story may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.