Bangalore | Karnataka

Seven Little Buddhas

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Seven tender necks supporting seven shaven heads. At a distance behind them, I am seeing the back of them. I’ve been in the hall twenty minutes. I was watching my breathing, all alone in that space, and then I’d gotten up to leave, but sat down again when these maroon-robed boys with Tibetan faces came in. I wanted to see them before the golden Buddha. Why? I don’t know.

They’re only boys: the oldest is about twelve, or fourteen, and the youngest perhaps six-years-old. They look back at the slightest sound, at me, and at another man who has entered, dropped a cushion and squatted on it.

The hall is a fifteen-minute walk from Starbucks, whence I came, where I’ve been two hours through the afternoon. There I’d had a large realtor sitting at the table before mine, his bulk overflowing his chair, challenging its thin wooden legs. A lot of these types come here, carrying two phones each — for some reason, they cannot function with a single handphone. I had businessmen back of me as well, two fellows with sleek silver hair and the complexion of the wealthy, who spoke lofty things: business excellence; benchmarks; Fortune-500 mentors; and so on. Left of me, a teenage girl learnt by rote from a book, waving a finger in the air to better push her material into her head. As anywhere in the world, half the cafe is always in possession of students. Nice.

Here in the prayer hall, after a time the little fellows sink unto themselves before the golden Buddha. On the white marble floor, I see now a pool of water leaked in from the centre of the dome above. (It has been raining unusually hard these days in Bangalore). Otherwise, the hall is clean and bright, and the calm in it subdues the sounds from the traffic on CV Raman Road outside. I like this place. I’ve been for looking something just like this to spend a few quiet moments when I need to.

At Starbucks in Sadashivanagar one seldom goes in to relax over coffee. Everybody drops in for a spot of intense work — alone, or in groups. I enjoy eavesdropping in this care: Men in their twenties discuss startups and targets of twenty or thirty or fifty million — the numbers are all in dollars; girls barely out of the teens announce launches of new stores on Lavelle Road or Cunningham Road or at UB City — boyfriends ask them to mind overhead. They laugh, even as they speak such serious stuff.

Here in the Buddhist prayer hall, the man who’d come in has left. The boys are still. I gaze again at their necks, and the meaning of “green behind the ears” begins to make meaning to me, although the boys are the colour of rice-husk. As regards me, I’ve been squatting longer than my legs can take — blood has stopped flowing in them. I must get up, I must go.

Outside, I make inquiries. The place is a seminary. A total of seven kids are being put through the mill. I like what I hear, but I’m also confused by it. I need all the time the extended drive through jammed traffic gives me, to reconcile to the fact that these kids are committed to monkhood. Who made that decision for them? The kids themselves? Grown-ups on their behalf?

Back at my desk, I’m still thinking about the boys and other kids who flow all day through Starbucks. I ask: Where really is the battle against dukkha being won?

I’m telling myself I should find out. Even if it takes time and some effort.

 Starbucks, Sadashivanagar

Starbucks, Sadashivanagar

My Not So Unquiet Neighborhood

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I’ve given up coffee starting this week. And tea. So cafés are not home to me anymore, which is a shame, because I’ve been enjoying reading and writing in them, and eavesdropping, and watching the occasional odd man or woman. I must work at home, which is a problem because my UK-resident next-door neighbor has engaged a gang for repair for some time now, and from nine until six each weekday men are drilling and sawing and pounding and such. I haven’t asked when their assignment will end.

I’m writing this post at seven at home, after a stroll outside. It is dark, and there’s an äzän going this moment. I don’t know where the mosque is that’s issuing the call, I haven’t seen it, it is not in our enclave. I cannot tell the direction it is coming from. It does not matter — they know, those who need to know. Now as the äzän ends my tinnitus is picking up, rising and falling and swinging around. There’s the drone of an airplane as well, flying low, which reminds me that anytime now the leisurely horn and the long rumble of the faraway evening train will carry till my home and me in my couch. I haven’t lost my love for the sound of trains, although I’ve always indulged an allergy to sound.

These above are the sounds in the evening.

During the night, the dogs. O yes, many dogs, stray, spoiled with leftover burgers and fried chicken and a collar for safety in this dog-loving enclave. They begin barking and yowling and wailing all in a single orchestral performance, each trumpeting its own intense angst, shaking me awake, making me wonder what’s up, how it is that so many kinds of hurts have been heaped in one moment on these mongrels on 2nd Main. Starting around 2:00, they won’t stop until about 3:00. Two hours later I leave home for my morning walk, and at that reasonable hour when their cries could be tolerated they are silent and have disbanded and are in singles, each in its territory, some sleeping and some prowling, some fat and some scrawny.

Doesn’t sound like a silent place, you say?

But I’m not altogether wrong about the quiet about my home that I’ve boasted about in previous posts. No cars are plying on the street as I write. If there are strollers passing my house I cannot hear them. It is possible that soon the Nepali watchman, Balaram, will tune his radio to music from home, and stand in the street for a few minutes holding that umbilical connection of sorts. He does that a couple of times a week. Not today. Today there is not even rain, whereas yesterday and the day before we were lashed soundly by it, making us wonder if we were in Bangalore, or transported by miracle to coastal Mangalore — where rain of such magnitude belongs.

I’m not complaining. This post precedes a holiday week here in South India. I’m leaving for Bhopal tomorrow, to visit the Paleolithic cave paintings at Bhimbetka, and Buddhist stupas, and to read love-notes the great Ashoka ordered carved in stone. I’ll tell you about them.

It was a busy day, and I’m sleepy, and a good night seems assured. Despite those dogs I told you about.

But He Didn't Have a Couch

 Photo by CurvaBezier/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by CurvaBezier/iStock / Getty Images

It was a small room in a small clinic, and I'd come in from the rain. The only window was to my left, and it let in no air, didn't send air out either. The man before me and I sat inhaling one another’s exhalations.

I was on the seventh day on antidepressants, prescribed by a psychiatrist a week ago. They’d set off a raging in my head, and returned me to insomnia that I’ve known only when very young. “Also, you need to see a clinical psychologist,” the psychiatrist had added: “He won’t advise you, but he'll help patch gaps in your thinking.” That order had been given me in a bright room with air conditioning, which I was now obeying, arriving in this sauna, where the lighting was as dim as my worldview at the moment.

“It’s a pity nobody told you about clinical psychologists all these years,” the man said. “Your problems would’ve been solved long ago.”

I nodded so much as to intimate acknowledgement without agreement. You’d understand I was not in a believing state of mind.

“You may need some pharmacological treatment. Please take it. But I can also cure you,” he said. “First, I don’t want you to think you’re depressed. You are not depressed. You're facing inertia. That's all."

I considered the rapid diagnosis. And how he was speaking in earnest, and how much. His enthusiasm had me wondering if I was the kind of patient clinical psychologists pine for. Still, wasn't he speaking more than was my right as the patient? It was then that I remembered movies I've seen, and cartoons in The New Yorker and Punch and such, in which the shrink does nearly no speaking. That's the patient's prerogative. And, looking about the air-locked room, I wondered, Where is the couch, where I should've been reclining, from which I should’ve speaking up to the dark? Shouldn't this man be back of me, on a side and pensive, pen and pad in hand?

"I get people of all ages," he was saying in the meantime. “With all complaints. I get men asking to increase the urge. I get men asking to reduce the urge. Just the other day, I got a 77-year-old man who can't do anything, but he's got too much urge. His wife had given him a hiding. He'd gone and done something to the maid. Now he’s asking, Doctor do something for me.”

(Was that a Freudian spot in our interaction, devised to provoke response? If yes, I'm curious to know how he interpreted the holy blank face I held out to him. Into which pigeonhole did I go?)

"As regards you, you're in inertia. You’re not at your potential. We can take care of it."

How so fantastic. To prove himself, he told me about a businessman who came to him at another hospital where he was working — a high-end hospital that caters to non-resident Indians.

"He had a factory in Malaysia. Doing about 300 crores. 'I should be happy, Doctor,’ he told me, ‘because I make so much money. Still, I'm not happy.' So I said, 'Who told you 300 crores is a lot of money? Just before you a patient met me who is doing 10,000 crores. Here. In India.'

"After that patient left, I forgot him. He came back after three years. 'Remember me, Doctor?' he asked me. I said, 'No.' How can I remember all patients? Then he told me about our last meeting. 'Now I have two more factories, Doctor. One in Dubai, one in Brazil. I spend ten days every month in each place, and now I'm really content. My revenues are up two times.'"

“We must ask you the same thing,” he said, bending forward. “Are you running at full potential?”

"I want to write, Doctor," I said. "I wish to be a writer."

"We can make you a writer also," he said, leaning back in his chair.

A flush of warmth shot across my being, of a kind I'd experienced long years ago when I'd first gone out with my wife — before we were married — when our foreheads had knocked one another's on the bumpy bus ride. On Route 11 in Mysore, from college to NR Mohalla. Electric images of books and newspaper features with my name on top swam before my eyes — but only for a moment. Soon as they came, the sweet visions vaporised.

“How shall we take this forward?” I asked him. He proposed an aggressive and immediate schedule. “Think about your convenience and get back,” he said.


"How did it go?" my wife wanted to know when I got home.

"Great," I said. “Learned guy. He's a PhD."

My wife arched high her brow, puckered her lips, and nodded in appreciation.

"But he didn't have a couch," I said.

Sense and the City

Photo by naumoid/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by naumoid/iStock / Getty Images

Last night’s rain was rough and lasted hours. Spirited thunder and lightning accompanied it, forcing us awake, keeping us awake. We heard the distribution transformer down the street explode twice. The power went out with the first blast, and we were surprised that the transformer had meat left to blow up a second time. This morning, I stepped out a half-hour late for my walk, at 5:30, because snakes are a real threat in the neighbourhood and I didn’t want to step on one unwittingly, on wet streets with no streetlights.

Yesterday’s red patches of the large and juicy spathodea had been washed away by flooding brought on by the downpour. The streets looked almost like their cousins in better-managed countries. A good start to the day.

But the air has turned greyer than the sky. The punishing rain has softened the streets, and constant traffic has skinned the asphalt and ground it to gravelly powder and dust for wheels to whisk into the air, all day long. You’re all right if you are in a car. It must be terrible for motorcyclists. As regards pedestrians, Bangalore stopped respecting them a long time ago.

Such are the sights and sounds of my city these days and, on top of them, it is a time of festivals of all faiths, and some party or the other are setting off firecrackers every evening. They’re also taking out colourful processions (with Bollywood and Sandalwood music) on streets that have no room for a lone pedestrian. I should be happy for them who are rejoicing: There’s invigorated bhajan and āzān, delivered over loudspeakers, early morning and late nights. And I am religious myself. Whatever the faith, God is being worshipped. But to be honest these amplified affirmations of devotion are a bother, even if they’re musical, and I’d rather they performed their rituals in their homes as I do in mine.

In such a state of mind, I was browsing on my Mac just now, and an Osho video caught my attention, in which he preaches, If small things are bothering you then your attitude is the problem. Accept everything, he says, and you will observe your breathing, without needing to force yourself to watch it, and then you will experience deep relaxation. Accept all that you see and all that you hear. And, he says, you must note the smells, and surrender to them also.

I have enjoyed occasional sermons of this compelling speaker on video. He has the eyes and the composure and the delivery (and the flowing white beard) to lock you in and believe every word he says. With quiet force, the man argues that smell has been repressed for centuries and therein lie the reasons for the misery of man.

Whereas I, I’ve always believed that smell is quite rightly ignored.

To inhale Bangalore and to accept it, to correct my attitude. O, Osho, who was never born and who never died! Who only visited planet Earth for a time. I’ll heed you through this week and sniff at our city in this gloomy season. Please, may I suffer no side effects.

A Day in Malnad to Clear the Head

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Depression in the Bay has brought a week of rain to Malnad, about five inches of it, taking the rainfall so far in the year to thirty-eight inches. Two-thirds of the monsoon season is now past. There will not be the historical average of ninety inches of rain this year, like last year and the year before. But the coffee plantations of Malnad have adjusted to the lack, it seems. All signs suggest a healthy crop at year’s end, provided nothing goes wrong in the time left, such as, for instance, rains from the Bay during cherry-picking.

So we didn’t worry for coffee, or for pepper, during this weekend's visit to the thota. We relaxed to the din of the birds that lasts through breakfast. (During which time the birds complete their morning-meal, and fly out to their different day jobs leaving behind an ocean of silence.) But by afternoon the cloudiness got me, boxing me in, in the vast, hilly sprawl of the place. In the evenings the cicada hemmed us in with their racket, though they were fewer this time than usual, as though their scouts had arrived ahead of the army of them, to test if the rain was for real.

And the elephants compacted the place even more. This was the first time the elephants had arrived on the plantation the same time as us, but they didn’t come over to the bungalow. They’ve been camping around our home lately, on the grassy clearing there, but this time they stayed out at their old lodging on a patch of jungle on the northeastern edge of our property.

“Don’t go out before 9:00. Don’t stay out after 6:00.” That was Basavanna’s caution to us as we were turning south at Ballupet en route our estate. That’s the precaution he takes himself, in his place next to ours.

So I sat and finished the novel I’d brought along. And, my wife and I took in the view and the feel of the place from within the bungalow, delighting in the pepper vines that are shooting up on the replanted coffee patch back of the house. A chill crept in from the crevices that the vermin use; the drizzle outside was constant, and the breeze with it; mist covered the distant hills and the tops of the areca palms along the stream which is our eastern boundary.

We did go out during the day, giving due respect to the northeast corner. I looked for the top of the elephant over the coffee and searched for its legs in the hollows below the high robusta plants. I sniffed at the clean air for the reputed stink of the wild elephant. All through, I maintained the bravest face I could and told my wife thrice or four times that we should foremost be calm if the beast should come up.

“We should turn around and walk away. But without haste. If we show agitation, the thing will think it should engage.”

My wife nodded as if to agree, but I could tell from thirty years with her that in the nooks of her mind she had plans of her own that she'd more likely follow, pulling me along as well.

I was happy to be returning to Bangalore, and I nearly said so in the car on the highway. But I checked myself when, in that very moment, my wife sank in her seat and sighed and said, “Just one day in the place and my head clears up completely.”

Only Ten Crores

  Photo by triloks/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by triloks/iStock / Getty Images

Nights on the way home, nearing journey's end, we leave the main street and turn into Sadashivanagar — to enjoy for a short stretch a little less traffic. On this length live the actor-brothers Puneeth and Raghavendra, in adjacent identical cubic palaces. Several political leaders own private residences on this street, such as a recent foreign minister of India. And then there are the homes that hide that belong to the big, big industrialists.

Early last week we’d gone up one block in Sadashivanagar when we hit a police cordon. We were forced to turn right, back to the highway.

“What’s up?” I asked Mahesh, my driver. He gathers all the news during his downtime through the day.

“There’s a raid at Shivakumar’s house. By Income Tax people.”

Shivakumar is a top minister in the state government. He lives on this street that I favor. Entry to it was blocked the next night as well.

And the day after, I was in the area in the afternoon, needing to see my dentist on the edge of Sadashivanagar. The dentist has no parking and, being without a driver for the day, I had to struggle for space, circling, again and again, the cordon that covered three or several blocks around Shivakumar’s house. Hunting on the periphery, I found an opening by the Chroma electronics store. I drove in parked my car among a posse of police cars.

At the yellow barricade manned by the police end to end, I asked, “Can I leave my car there?”

“No.”

“I need to go to the dentist.”

“Where?”

“There.”

“Park there, then,” the policeman I was talking to said, waving toward a far distance.

“No room there. I’ve been going round and round twenty minutes.”

He considered me, my gray hair, and the hardcover book in my hand. On my part, I studied his burnt face, beaten by daily duty beneath the sun. Sweat glistened on it. Rain from the night before had left the day sultry.

He signaled okay to another cop.

The Police were camped at every intersection, sprawled and baking in red plastic chairs in the middle of the road and on the sidewalks. The thickest concentration of them was before Shivakumar’s house. Media persons milled about their OB vans. In Shivakumar’s compound, there were men in fatigues holding mean-looking guns. For all the numbers of men and women of action — the police, the press, the super-police, the minister's fans — there was no action. Boredom ruled. An IT raid is exciting in name only, the action itself being slow, tedious, bureaucratic.

Young broadcasters sat on the sidewalks and leaned back on compound walls. They seemed the most affected by the ennui of the thing. Shivakumar’s followers sat about in groups, in conversation among themselves — their faces showed concern, anger even, but there was no danger in the air.


The evening news reported the cash found. Seven crores, some said. Ten crores, others claimed. Barely a million and a half dollars! That’s no compliment to Shivakumar.


Because Shivakumar has a reputation. A big reputation. My grasp of its details is hazy, though. That’s because I belong to the legion that’s more glued to Donald Trump and his potential nemeses. So bitten am I by the Trump bug, I’m more focused on how he'll handle Jong-un than I am on our giant neighbor rapping a paw on a sore spot near India’s shoulder. At Doklam. Am I ashamed? Yes. Will I do something about it? I have only the addict’s weak answer.

Also, Shivakumar has a story. The ever-inspiring rags-to-riches story. The story of a farmer's son who started out with five acres of land and created wealth enough to be ranked among the richest in India. And he built himself a matching career in politics, reaching within grasp of Chief Ministership. His business success is significant for me; it points to what I could've done, but didn't.

I haven’t met Shivakumar ever, but I remember this: While driving past his house once, I had to pause a moment. Shivakumar had gotten out of his car and was crossing the street to his gate. He glanced at me, a smile playing on his lips. His face shone with the sheen of the powerful. His politico's whites were bright and stiff with starch. He seemed to be reaching out, to engage, and I'd liked him that moment. It was another face of his in the newspapers this week, with sag and pouches and stubble and fatigue on it.

So there, this was the big local news this week, close to where I live. It provoked no emotion in me. Now on the weekend, the police and the press and the strongman's fans have left. The barricades are folded and stacked helter-skelter by Shivakumar’s gates and by the gates of his neighbors. A new sight competes with the scene of last week: across Sadashivanagar billboards and posters and banners have sprung, announcing the birthday of Parameshwar, president of Shivakumar’s Congress Party. I'm adjusting to their glare.

Happy Birthday, Anna!

Photo by NexTser/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by NexTser/iStock / Getty Images

Last week, Bangalore was called upon to celebrate — willy nilly — two birthdays: that of Mr. Suresh, who is a member of the legislative council; and Mr. Kharge, recently a minister in the union cabinet, now the leader of our modest opposition in parliament.

Posters and big and small and colossal billboards appeared up at the start of the week in all public spaces. I'm not sure all the spaces were paid for. The posters were designed after the fashion that has evolved these recent years. The birthday boys (Suresh is about 35, it seems; Kharge turned 75) are featured in the middle. Round their picture is a garland of heads of their party bosses, the big boss's head is bigger than the smaller boss's head and so on, and through tracing the size and location of the heads you gain a complete understanding the party hierarchy. Reading between the heads, you can tell who's in favor and who's not. There are other heads on the posters, of sidekicks, and again the biggest head belongs to the closest sidekick, the right-hand man, and the next in size to the … you get the picture.

Happy birthday, anna! The posters gush in garish color. Anna means elder brother, but you could also think of him as Big Brother.

I pass Kharge’s house often. It is on the way to my coffee. He lives in Delhi, being a national leader, but his home is here in Bangalore. Last week, the billboards and posters were prolific in his neighborhood. They had blinded other houses in the area, and since the ceremonies were held on the street, for a time traffic was closed off as well. You should be rich to live in Kharge-anna’s neighborhood. Being rich, and needing to hold on to your wealth, you will allow with good grace the erection of the hideous, humongous, loud and colorful affairs before your house. You may say no, of course, but that will hurt anna, who will wonder why you won’t consider him your buddy. If the wound is deep, his devotees might call on you and offer the hand of friendship.

We are not invited to the party. The posters are for our kind information only, to note, by the number of them, how powerful one anna is over another at the moment. For instance, Mr. Parameswar is the boss of the Karnataka State Congress Party. His birthday posters ornamented the streets a few days before Kharge-anna’s. But Parameswar-anna's posters were fewer.

This celebration of birthdays in this fashion is a recent phenomenon, it is something that started a few years ago. It is taking interesting turns. For example: If you are politically inclined, and if you have access to some money, you embed yourself in the public psyche by printing your own posters, adding the faces of a few of your friends for form, add images of the biggies in the party you choose to chase and pay someone to paste the posters across town. That's it. Do it!

It also helps the politician assert himself, and grow his head, and dislodge other heads on party posters when they appear next. As in the case of Suresh-anna, whose grandmother, uncle and other relatives were all legislators, and Suresh-anna was miffed last time when he was put in a contest for his party's nomination in the assembly by-elections. His posters were so numerous and so widely deployed last week, his party better take him seriously — especially when the next assembly elections come upon them.

And so, we the commoners endure the visual feast that our leaders treat us to in this honest and very public display of their rat race. You turn your face from one poster, another smiles at you, or frowns; you turn again, and a face that could well cause trauma in a child bores into you. In this city in which you could see an explosion of flowers on treetops in any season, this instead is what greets you these days.

The biggest presence in my psyche these days is my two-year-old grandson. I can't tell his inclination for politics yet — but he loves birthdays. Last month, when my own birthday happened, he came visiting with his parents. “We brought a cake for you,” he said. “I’ll cut it."

Soon my grandson will ask me who these people are, whose faces always adorn our streets and walls and buildings and lamp posts and traffic islands and pedestrian bridges. I must tell him, and I must also inform him their great deeds that allow them to usurp space that belongs to all. You mustn’t lie to children, of course, so I’m doing mental workouts to build the most pleasing narrative I can.

This post won't make the cut, I know.

Back and Blue in Bangalore

I’m in Bangalore now, and in this moment at Cafe Noir on the terrace at UB City. I'm drinking their vegan espresso — a shot of espresso with steamed soya.

The guys at the next table are venture capitalists, talking millions and millions of dollars, and of monies lost, and monies that fetched 3x and 2x and 5x returns. Across their small square gray table they're trading — in loud voices -— assessments of business outlook in India and China and America and Europe. They are waiting for another person to join them. Their present task is to offer an exit for a chap in one of their investments, and they've asked him to come at 6:30. It is 5:45 now. "You think he'll take 25?" one asks the other, and they conclude, "He should be fine with 22." That man must be small in their scheme: The two have spoken of a fund of 750 million dollars, a single investment of 360 crore rupees, a startup that’s rocketed to 4000 crores. One of them is a desi American, the other is a Mumbaikar come down for the meeting. The American has stretched his legs, and has manspread one leg into the space beneath my table. He has begun to stamp its heel on the wooden floor. I turn and look at him a moment. A decent man, he seems. His accent suggests he's a born-in-the-USA American.

The numbers begin to get bigger, in the meantime. They're leaning into the future now, looking to invest in every promising sector. These aren't the one percent. They're of the higher, rarer field — the point-one-percent bracket, I bet.

The American isn't stopping stamping his heel. On my part, I’ve stopped writing; I'm reading Don Delillo. Cosmopolis. I cannot concentrate anymore, so I throw a repeat glance at the American who doesn't return it, but I see him sense my eyes. He rests his jiggling feet, and his shaking leg.

"Let's go to my office," the Mumbaikar says. He's read my annoyance. So their office is here in UB City. They rise. And they hold their chairs on top and, instead of tucking them into the tables, they drop them. They are light chairs, and the vibration of their limbs has greater effect than their thud on the floor. My peripheral vision informs me that the American is looking at me. My peripheral attention tells me he's spoiling for an exchange of hostility. I won't play.

Now there's silence, although Cafe Noir is busy in the evenings. My Kindle has my eyes all for itself, but it has almost nothing of my mind, and a good few minutes pass before I resume concentrated reading. But I still have those rich men in mind. Should I have been forgiving a bit? Should I have loosened my grouch as they left?


Such forgiveness I received yesterday at the PVR Cineplex in Forum Mall.

Some ten minutes of the movie were left when the ringing began and I gave a start. Tring! Tring! But I'd switched my phone to silent right after I'd taken my seat. After I’d silenced it, putting my phone in my pocket, I'd looked about to see if the others were doing the same.

The ads and previews were running. I had young people on either side of me, their faces lit by their phones even as they chatted with their buddies. The ones next to me held their devices at a sly slant, but the glare from them got my side-vision all the same. I glanced left and right but none noticed my bristling face. Will they silence their phones and pocket them, or no?

And now my own phone was ringing. No, no, not the phone, I realized in a moment. It was my iWatch that was letting off a high soft ring. I fumbled, tap-tapping on the red on the watch face, and it felt like it rang a hundred times until it obeyed my insistent rapping. My face tingling, I gave furtive looks to either side and checked the rows of heads front of me. Not one stirred from watching the action before them. I’d upset no one.

I reckon some three persons in ten are depressive in my part of the world. But across the rows that I could see that were in earshot, it seemed that everybody was ready enough to ignore a minor annoyance.

The movie was Baby Driver, which had non-stop music vying with the musical noise of speeding motorcars — in Surround Sound. I must tell Sujaya about these people, I thought. It had been she on the phone, I'd stolen off to the movie without telling her, and in the movie hall I'd cut her call.


The book I’ll read next is This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression, by Daphne Merkin. What’s my lot, I must embrace.

Death by the Trunk of an Elephant

Photo by bugphai/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by bugphai/iStock / Getty Images

It happened last week. A planter died by the trunk of an elephant. Unconscious after he was flung by it, his body fought all night to live. Folks from the village and his kin took him first to the taluk hospital and then to the district hospital, but several of his internals had expired already, crushed when he’d smashed into the ground. There are witnesses and they have no differing accounts — and they’re unanimous in regard to who is to blame.

Such a death as this everybody had been anticipating for some time now, with the very human conviction that somebody would go like this, somebody but them. Everybody was proved right, all but one who was 40 years old, owner of the plantation right next to ours on our east with a stream for a boundary between his place and ours. He wouldn’t have been the one if he hadn’t stopped his car after he’d passed the elephants, if he hadn’t got out and walked back 100 meters in the dark of eleven to watch what they were up to.

The planation that neighbours ours on the west goes by the name of its previous owner, although she sold it some time ago, and a new, Bangalore-based owner tends it. Mala's Thota, people call the property, which means Mala's plantation. A state highway running down to Coorg marks Mala's Thota's western boundary. Across that highway there's the sprawl of the 500-acre IBC plantation, a smaller holding among many that IBC owns.

The night we're speaking of, some eight elephants came waddling through the IBC plantation, and when they reached the highway, paused before the sparse traffic before crossing over to Mala's Thota. While they waited for a safe moment a female in the herd went into labour. The herd circled her, the males looking outward and ready to defend. The female's heaving brought them onto the road a bit, causing vehicular traffic to coalesce, and move in a slow, respectful stream. The elephants slipped and slid on the roadside while making room for trucks and buses, not seeming to mind the inconvenience. In the meantime the female delivered, and the baby began to receive its first ministrations. Two hours later, the herd had still not moved, and villagers from the Hydur village a few minutes away had gathered to look, inhaling the drama, savoring the truce between man and untamed beast.

Folks in these parts have been experiencing the elephant every day: Water tanks whose embankments have collapsed under the weight of elephants bathing; fences and coffee plants trampled down; trees humbled and bent to the ground; trees uprooted and tossed about; whole coffee patches laid waste in a game conceived for the toddler elephant; heaps of fresh dung here and there with bright white mushrooms sprouting on them; deep round footmarks everywhere; and, of course, the stories.

Every day, the aged priest at the small Shiva temple on our plantation goes down the slope from the shrine and fetches a pitcher of water from a spring there. A few months ago, he heard a rustle among the mist-enveloped coffee and seeing what had caused it, he ran back to the temple with all the speed his bony legs could give him. He was still shaken two weeks later. "Just ten feet from me, anna!" Basavanna, who is a respected planter and who manages our property for us, was driving back after an evening at the Planters Club, and he saw elephant silhouettes at the far end among silver oaks. He halted to gauge the danger, but his wife hissed, "Drive, drive!" Puzzled, Basavanna looked about. A single elephant stood brooding some ten yards away, his outline showing in the foliage. His panicked heart and feet and his Pajero shot him out to safety. Then there was the incident of a girl who was chased down to Malegalale village. She ran fast enough to reach her home at the edge of the village. Perhaps the elephant was playing a chase. The elephant circled round a spot a few times, shaking his jowly body, and went back up the slope.

It has been a long time since the elephant lost its titles to these lands. But it has its memory and cannot help feeling ownership of these hills that were once jungle and are now human plantations and human playgrounds. It is making its last stand.

At eleven the herd was still at the roadside, allowing traffic to pass, nodding and swinging heads, jiggling bellies and backsides, waving trunks. The planter of this story drove past them and halted. He climbed out of his car and walked back to the spectacle of elephants in possession of a newborn. The planter admonished the villagers to stand back, warned them of the dangers in scaring a beast with baby. Then he pulled his phone from his pocket and began to shoot and, soon engrossed, crossed his own line. A male from the herd detached itself and came over to him in no great hurry, but full of fury.

Two days ago, on Friday, his family performed final rites for him.

This Mind and the Monsoon

  Photo by Maxiphoto/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by Maxiphoto/iStock / Getty Images

I am carrying a torch with me mornings these days when I step out at 5:00. The light breaks by 5:30, but until then I've to be sure no tree has been yanked of its branches overnight. At the start of the week an entire tree had fallen before Karle's house, and I couldn't pass it through its left part or its right part or through its middle. To be honest I did try to pierce the right and I went under the branches through the foliage that glistened before my torchlight, and fear came upon me of snakes shaken by the events of the night, by thunder and lighting and buildings resonating with terrible sound, and I was sure any snake would be in a rotten mood, and that even a non-venomous snake would've obtained some poison to deliver into a hapless morning walker. With such thoughts rising I leapt back and did an about turn and took an alternate route. I'm embarrassed to say it, but that's what I did, and I must admit it now when I can, because someday this blog might be read by hundreds of thousands, and I'd no more be able to reveal these things about me.

It rained just like that last night and it felt like our roof was being flayed of everything on it but in the morning we saw that all that had happened was that the coupling between a section of solar panels had come loose. The water storage and the grills and the Mangalore-tiled pavilion and everything else had been pushed and pulled as by giant hands, but they'd all held. The house has survived a week's pounding by the elements, and I should send a letter of thanks to the contractor who built it fourteen years ago, but I'll probably not, and that's another story.

And today, just now, as I started to write this post, it started to rain to the accompaniment of thunder. A big bang went off a short distance away, clearly the transformer that serves our neighbourhood has blown, and the lights have gone. I'm reclined in the comfort of a spacious but hemmed-in living room, with windows only in the outer rooms. I cannot see the play of lightning, I can only wonder at the sure wondrousness of it, and at the low great rumble that appears to have decided to stay with us this time round. As like in a chorus, the waters falling from the already full gutters round the house are giving depth and body to the drama. It is rather nice, this mix of the dark and the damp and a growing chill and the unnerving action, and in the net my spirits should rise. They've been so down. (We'll keep this too under wraps when I become famous, dear few readers of this blog.)

Oh yes. It's to raise your spirits that the monsoons come.