Archives for category: Relationships


Can we be friends,

Allowing our souls to flower, 

to draw in fragrances that pass us by?


Can we be friends,

Holding mirrors and wholeheartedly marvel,

At the joy of this beauty all around us,

and within?


Can we be friends,

Loyal and loving to the intent of our soul?


Can we be friends,

Meditative in our solitude?


Can we be friends,

Patient to our wanderings

Compassionate to our longings

Receptive to the gentle breeze of love?


Can we be friends,

Flirtatious in our gaze

Allowing of sensuality, 

Allowing of a sudden vanishing, and

Be off into an inescapable maze?


Can we be friends,

In silence 

In playful banter

In studious, uncanny ways?


Can we be friends,

Like a butterfly set free

Intuitive

Light 

In flight 

Encircling colours, flavours, fragrances, 

and at times, 


none of that?


Can we be friends,

Light as feathers,

Flying an invisible, intangible course

of this mystic wind ?

 

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July 14, 2015

The passing of my dear teacher of classical dance, Smt Shyamala, leaves a large vacuum in my being. I met her for the first time two years ago, and it was love at first sight! Her curious, soft eyes and herd gentle, kind smile, melted all hard edges within. Before I found her, I had been learning with gifted teachers, yet a restlessness burned inside of me.

Then, on the 1st of January 2013, I entered Shyamala akka’s quaint little house with a brass plate laden with fruits, flowers, betel nut leaf, and was initiated as her student. The Pandanallur form of dance that I had devoted many years to, was considerably different in Akka’s manner of teaching. There was a palpable softness, grace, and fluidity that lured me in. Though her nature refrained from any impositions upon me, I soon realised that to truly bathe in the essence of her teachings, I had to muster the courage to begin from the beginning. And so my journey resumed from the first lesson of Tatta Adavus! Apart from being an exponent of dance in Smt T. Balasaraswati tradition, Akka had been a teacher of Botany for many years, an adept yoga practitioner under her fathers tutelage, as well as an ardent student of Vastu Shastra under Shri. Ganapathy Sthapathi. These varied backgrounds influenced and coloured her manner of teaching Bharatanatyam, greatly. She was the only daughter, born into a learned family of teachers, who had settled in Sri Lanka for many years. Akka’s father saw the gift of dance in his dear daughter, who was also equally brilliant academically and in sports! Akka was a volleyball champion in her school, a passionate athlete at heart. However, her father’s keen eye for refined art, brought Shyamala Akka along with her mother, to Chennai, at the tender age of thirteen, to continue her classical dance and music studies with Smt. T. Balasaraswati. It was a cultural shock for her to adjust to living in the demanding, disciplined routine from the young age of thirteen, in a new city, quite different culturally, while being away from her larger family and estates in Sri Lanka. But her love and trust in her father, allowed her to surrender to the many years of gruelling practice in this classical dance form, which was a non-refutable, expectation from any student of the doyen of Bharatanatyam, Smt Balasaraswati, loving addressed as Balamma. During this time, she stayed at the home of a Kathakali maestro from Kerala, and hence got exposed to the classical art forms of Mohiniattam as well as Kathakali. A bright student, she was gifted with the ability to shape-shift herself to any form of dance. Though her primary teacher, Balamma, was a strict disciplinarian, she had a keen eye for a genius in a child, and allowed the flowering of each students uniqueness, if another art form complemented the student. So Shyamala akka enjoyed a privileged relationship with her teacher, Balamma. For Akka, Balamma and her family became everything. She remained eternally grateful to every wakeful moment with Balamma and safeguarded each composition learnt under her with more vigilance and care, than any material comforts or worldly manner of wealth.

During my dance lessons with Shyamala Akka, there was not a single day which missed out on some anecdote or nostalgic story from her life with Balamma. Through Shyamala Akka, I, too experienced the grace of this refined classical tradition transform every cell and breath in my body. For the first time in my life, my hunger to look, search and thirst outside of me, disintegrated. I felt quenched and nourished. I could sense an inward and outward transformation metamorphosing my life. I felt my being grow expansive. Many life situations miraculously healed, and grew new, tender, shoots! I knew I had found my teacher. I danced with her morning and evenings, as much as the universe allowed. What I internalised with Shyamala Akka cannot be counted by the number of compositions I learnt under her guidance, or the number of public performances I gave since, or whether I may pass on her teachings to other students in the garb of a teacher of this classical art form. Shyamala Akka breathed life into my brokenness. Shyamala Akka role-modelled devotion, playfulness, and the joy of dance into me. I know not of my future as she reunites today, with our Mother Goddess. I find my tears flowing and ebbing like the tides. I feel her presence, I hear her voice, her laughter, her touch, and sense her blessings pouring out towards me, as I sit stunned inside an unfathomable, dark void.

I pray for you, my dearest Shyamala Akka, as you soar towards Gods light. I pray for your guidance, as I continue on my path as a classical dancer. I love you. My heart brims with gratitude for the gift of knowing you, and learning from you, in this lifetime.

We visit the weavers and their looms in Benaras, the birthplace of Kabir, a 15th century mystic, weaver, and saint poet from India. Draped in a turquoise-blue translucence, speckled with tiny, delicate, silver, shimmering tiklis, my heart races with excitement, to the mystery of yet another unpredictable morning. The sun has risen high in the sky, when we step out. The heat is humid and warm. Even in stillness, my body bakes on a low simmer. The slightest movement induces perspiration. The light wind from my hand-fan, cools the body. We enter the narrow street of weavers and their looms. A rhythmic sound resounds like a loud heartbeat, all around us. We are led to enter a dimly lit room. Halos of white light illumine the loom of the quiet weaver. A betel nut in his mouth, he weaves, utterly silent. The rain of ivory threads illumines the unspoken conversation.  

Photograph by Kaarthikeyan Kirubhakaran

Stepping out of the labyrinth of looms, we drive to the Kabir Chaura Math – कबीर चौरा मठ. The quaint, clean neighbourhood welcomes me with a sweet sound of anklets. The joyful, rhythm patterns of a young dancer’s feet, put a smile on my face. I am told this neighbourhood has drawn to it, many great, classical vocalists like Girija Deviji, Rajan-Sanjan Mishraji, and classical dancers like Birju Maharajji, to name a few. These walls have tasted the euphoria of Hindustani classical music. Young, happy, spritely children lead us to the door of the Kabir Math. The space has a sparseness to it. It’s open yard is abloom with a green canopy of trees, and healing in its quietude. Devoted pilgrims are seated in silence, their aged faces, cloaked in peace. Lost in poems of Kabir, one of them begins to play his flute. In spontaneity, the pilgrims begin to sing. I too enter the sweet melody of their music through dance. I awaken to unseen worlds. I enter waves, devoid of deliberate thought, or, rationale. I listen. I respond. Our energies spiral in a state of trance, to voice, to music, allowing me my dance. Many elderly pilgrims magnetise towards us, and heartily rejoice in all that unfolds.

Kabir says, Each of us, a fine cloth, dipped in the name of the Lord.

Photograph by Santosh Sivan

The past sparkles like distant stars upon a dark night sky…


Moments fossilised like minerals upon a stoic rock.


I prefer being smothered to a gentle kiss

I prefer listening to Masters speak to outward banter

I prefer tuning inward to acting out

I prefer children at play to children behind desks

I prefer sharing, fruits, and romance to closed doors, evening tea and politics

I prefer silver anklets, sarees and gold, to threads, bikinis and beads

I prefer water, heat, snowfalls and rains

I prefer wet earth and beach sand, to parched lands and desert dunes

I prefer bicycles and phone calls to a friend, to motorcycles and medicine pills

I prefer audiences and medicine men to empty chairs and antibiotics

I prefer oils and piercings to creams and clip-ons

I prefer winds and humidity to dry heat and mold

I prefer beauty and vulnerability to neglect and conclusions

I prefer grandmothers and touch

  

There is nothing to do

Let it free

She was feeling uneasy about travelling with E on a day trip to Mumbai. There was a feeling of heaviness, like some kind of weight pulling her down. E’s tall and grizzly look, his head-strong views, stubborn disposition, along with some other vague impressions, made her feel slightly anxious about sharing the intimate space of a car with him. She shared her anxiety with her husband, two days before the trip. With his ankle slightly swollen, he wasn’t too keen on a trip that didn’t really require his presence. She and E were totally capable of handling between themselves whatever needed to get done. And yet he chose to accompany her, further buoyed by her compliments of how loving, empathetic and caring he was. He remarked that she was too beautiful to be allowed to travel alone, with this handsome French contractor. She was charmed and tickled.

She woke early, contrary to her habit of waking to the light of a late morning Sun upon her face. The summer heat made the morning sultry and humid. To keep herself cool during the travel, and for the hot, humid site visit in Mumbai, she dressed herself in a red, translucent, chiffon sari, and put on a contrasting mustard yellow, cotton blouse. Her mood was a little forced. A lover of detail and fashion, she felt unenthusiastic, and less spritely. She chose to wear a simple pair of ruby earrings instead of her favourite, flamboyant, dangling earrings studded with a deep and cooling emerald. Her moodiness made her linger less in front of the mirror, and she was ready, quicker than usual. Habitually reluctant to enter the kitchen, she surprised herself, by making for herself a mango yogurt shake. Was she repressing some feelings? Was she toning all her feelings down, to remain calm in front of her keenly observant husband? Or was she simply honouring her mellow, yet slightly anxious state of mind? The couple drove out, in the comfort of their big four-wheel drive.

She called E, as they came closer to their rendezvous. He cut her call, and messaged back, “ Ready”. The car entered his office grounds. As they circled the round about, the couple marvelled aloud, as E walked past them, in a grey t-shirt, with well-fitted jeans. His silvery grey hair appeared freshly cut, and his large feet looked elegant in a pair of dressy, camel-brown leather moccasins. She wondered if E, who otherwise never struck her to be handsome, had dressed up, to draw her in? She caught a certain flush of grey upon his angular face. Perhaps it was the surprise and the disappointment, brought about by the unexpected presence of her husband. Had the cause for her unconscious fears and uneasiness been this under-current of attraction that E felt towards her? Had she repressed any feelings of attraction towards him? It was difficult to answer any of these questions.

However, as she owned her feelings, she recognised that her being was inspired by the care E had taken to groom himself. She felt more open, relaxed, happier and looked forward to her journey. It was not what she had anticipated. As soon as E entered the car, he remarked to her, “ I have a small gift for you”. She was charmed and curious. He handed her a small, brown bottle with some liquid in it. It was Boric acid, for her ear infection. He had promised her some, a few days earlier. This remedy had worked for him, and for all his children, as they would catch ear infections often, in the pool, or, whenever they swam in the sea. He explained that these drops quickly dried up the fungus that feeds on humidity inside the ear, arresting all the bacterial infection, and allowing a quick return to the pleasure of a good swim! It was a thoughtful gift and it left a warm feeling in her heart.

They stopped for breakfast. E had already eaten at home. She appreciated his professionalism, and sense of self-reliance. As they headed towards the car, he touched her upper arm in a caring manner, while remarking about something, gently brushing off a leaf that had fallen upon her hair. His touch made her tingle. She felt self-conscious. She wondered what her husband would have to say about that. Much later, when she revisited this sensation in her journal pages, she sensed his touch to be that of a loving man, of a caring father, or, the touch of an empathetic, elder brother. It was something she had missed deeply, while growing up inside a queer, non-emotive birth family. On further self-reflection, she wasn’t sure why her tenderness towards E had catapulted multiple-fold, since that day. Had it to do with his soulful and tender responses to all her questions that she had so candidly flung towards him, on their journey to Mumbai and back?

There were characters from his biographical stories that lingered and left a melodious resonance inside her now. One could almost hear the handpicked selections of soft music that he played, each afternoon, for his paralysed eighty-eight year old mother, to help ease her pain. He spoke of his strict, but loving grandfather, who managed a big farm in Algeria before the terrible war forced them to flee to France. This was a man who could build and fix anything, a man who cooked and did all the chores around the house because of his wife’s handicapped leg. He spoke of the time he held his aged grandmother’s frail hands, as a nineteen year old, witnessing her breath grow heavy and slow, until it ceased, and the tranquil silence of her passing enveloped him. He spoke of the recent death of his only daughter, beautiful and talented, in a brutal road accident. She could feel his pain, still fresh, though he had spoken about it all, with neutrality. He had mastered the craft of hiding his brokenness, she reminisced.

E had spoken about his two sons, lion-hearted, independent and hard working. Like their father, she had thought. They were both surfers, loving the joys of riding Ocean waves. His love for them was clear. He remarked how hard it was for men to express their love to their children, especially to sons, while the women had the ability to express it all, so easily. She had listened to his every story, to every anecdote that he shared with such care. She observed the lines on his face, his rough and big palms, his deep set eyes, his soft and accented dialect, his crooked teeth, his appetite, his choice of food, his wide-eyed childlike wonder for new experiences, as they took him to beautiful places to eat, or to choose fittings or stones. She observed his mannerisms, his sense of clarity and his knowledge about what he needed specifically from each vendor; his sense of respect towards all those he interacted with; or the care with which he handled all the objects he inspected, his sense of humour; his ability to become one with the local community of workers; his disappointment with mediocrity; with careless work; or lack of professionalism. She also observed his dreaminess; his obsession for fitness and for a healthy life. E confessed to having become interested in art, only in recent years, as much of his youth was about working hard to make ends meet. There had been no time then to linger, a quality that art demanded, E remarked. He moved to her country with his wife and three young children, when he was thirty-three years old. His wife was the most resistant to this bombastic move to an absolutely foreign culture and people. But after three months of torturous sickness and frustration with the change, she had halted in prayer and surrendered to her destiny. That day onwards, miraculously, everything had fallen into place for their whole family, and since then, they had felt at home in her country.

At one point in the car ride, when all was silent, she suddenly asked him, “What is your favourite flower, E?” Taken by surprise, E blurted out some contemplative sighs, and then remarked, “ My favourite flowers are the little, blue, wild flowers, very small, that appear suddenly after the first rains. I see them often when I go bicycling. And in France, I also like a kind of a blue flower that grows in the spring. In fact, I also like blue-green butterflies. I have something for the colour blue”.

photo

His response stirred her. It revealed to her the simplicity and the innocence of his being, to love a wild flower that has no name, that has no other quality than that of showing up unexpected, in a sudden flash of beauty! She floated upon the ripples kindled by his uncanny response. She saw meadows of tiny, wild, blue flowers on vast, open fields. She recollected images of these tiny flowers on the long walks with her six year old son in her native city that was surrounded by many hills. She missed his presence by her side. She drove the rest of the journey in silent contemplation, until the madness of the city streets and the crazy traffic, rudely jolted her awake to the present moment.

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It’s a proud thing for me to be able to say that Mr. Kirubhakaran was my father. Every charitable thought I’ve had, every goodness that I’ve found inspiring in others, profound ideas that I embraced as my own, prayers that have moulded me into the embrace of God, living and present in our ordinary everyday moments, all this I owe to my father and to my mother who helped me examine every new idea that my father brought into our lives. My father as you all know was a very simple man, of few possessions, with a tendency to gift away any income he saw as surplus, to those in need. His final passing was on wings, free to fly and to soar, unburdened by attachment to anything material, and yet, in his presence, we felt the depth of his love for us and we felt so grateful for whatever time was given to us, to spend with him. Rest in peace, my dearest father. We love you more than we can say. It has been a privilege to be your son and for that I am eternally grateful to the one who sent me to you. I speak for every one of us here, when I say that you were an easy man to love and to cherish.

My brother Shankar writes:

Thanks for the

Lifetime of laughter and all the jokes at breakfast time
Magic tricks and pillow games with the grandkids
All the places we visited together and
Teaching us to look and learn in unique ways
Living a simplicity where the driver was mistaken as the officer at work
Helping us develop a love for all religions and
Instilling core values of respect and tolerance
Making every meal we had together feel like a banquet
Celebrating every one of Amma’s recipes
Challenging our minds across unimaginable fields of creativity
Being a pillar of support and encouragement as we muddled through life
Demonstrating the new beginnings over and over again, after Akka and Thatha passing, life after retirement, new discoveries in space or a profound truth realized
Teaching us about gratitude
Always being there for us and
Giving us all your love

I cannot remember the number of times that we have said the Christian prayer “Our Father in Heaven” but now it has a much deeper and personal feeling as now I know the Face of God!

Thank you dearest Appa! All my love!

She writes,

tip-toeing
upon skin
and breath

two mystics
one summer moon
by chance
met

by the shore
inside a cave

woven by
the silken silence
of a distant
moonlit wave

tip-toeing
upon skin
and breath

two mystics
one summer moon
by chance
met

covering
uncovering tenderness
with a
feverish blue
breath

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He responds,

* Softly illumined from within

She ponders her own beauty,

Slowly, ever so slowly consumed

To the throes of intense pleasure

Way beyond the grasp of mind.

Every cell in the body

A swooning accomplice

To her swelling passion.

Grown beyond the confines

Of the limiting cocoon,

She bursts forth into the blazing light

Her moist body, a bird of paradise.

 

 

*Poem by Kaarthikeyan Kirubhakaran