The Mayor and his Clean City

When  Apsomji got up at 5 in the morning partly because of the alarm bell ringing and also because of the commotion caused by his few followers who had already entered his visiting room, he knew it was going to be a good day.

Sometimes he was wary of  these followers who had been acting as his disciples, advisers and red tape, all put together. Their clamoring was so much that he had always thought of sacking them all or at least put sack cloth over their loud mouths. There was no privacy in the sense, as he could sense it from the bed room. Here he was only getting up and they were walking into the dining room now as enforcement sleuths would walk in uninvited and treat themselves to food leftovers in the refrigerator and on the table.

Still, Apsomji thought, they were needed to give him company and vet on his ideas that steamed from his head. Today was going to be a good day, as he stretched his arms, went through his yogic motions followed by the rush to the bathroom to complete his ablutions. When the warm water was falling from the geyser, he was wondering what pep talk should he be doing in front of the European delegation who were in town to gauge and most probably reward his city for its cleanliness and care of labor and destitute people.

Apsomji as Mayor for the last 2 years, had been made aware of this comprehensive clean city trust that was set up some place in Luxembourg.  Apsomji was a poor reader and whatever information he got was from his sycophant gathering of the above mentioned followers. This award specially set up for cities in developing nations, they had told him was to be awarded if certain conditions were met. On top of the list was – There were to be well-managed slaughter houses, proper waste management,  clean drinking water and no overflowing drains, no sight of child labor, no barking strays and polluting vehicles and of course presence of a few parks and gardens to counter the greenhouse effect. Apsomji was a little confused as to how a green park could counter a green house, but he left it to his intelligent team to figure out.

The past few weeks had been hectic for his supporters and people in high offices who helped him to design the itinerary and chart out the survey course through select places in the city, which would keep off-limits, the dark areas away from the sight of the trust members who had flown in 3 days back. If only he could trust them to deliver the coveted award to his city. Apsomji  and the corporation members made sure that the award committee visited few looms (hand-loom enterprises)  where  no child labor existed, a few eateries where everyone who worked was above 18 or made to look like that. A visit to a park that was renovated this year and what was previously a deserted junk yard was also on the list. Slaughter houses were cleaned up and the animals lined up and cleaned up one day in advance. Drains were covered with hard sheets and very feeble concrete slabs that would break if a vehicle went over it. All these were laid out just in time before the motorcade of the visiting luminaries went that way. All strays were rounded up or those who could not be, were chased away in such a ferocious manner that the corporators knew they dare not enter the city limits again.

Clean drinking water taps were setup, 100 in all, at various points, around 30 across the course that the award committee were to travel and visit on feet. 70 sweepers were employed on a 5 day shift and most of them were child labor. The terms and conditions read – They were to sweep the streets early in the morning and never to be seen again in the daylight. Brooms were given to them but no collecting buckets for the filth they were supposed to sweep. These should be collected as heaps, so that in the morning run, the sewage vans would collect them. Since 2 weeks, around 100 traffic policemen were given the additional responsibility of noting and chasing down vehicles with polluting exhaust.  Those who belonged to the polluting lot however belonged to the city corporation buses and these were asked to keep off the roads on the day of survey.  It was rumored that a  traffic inspector who went running after one such vehicle had his white uniform turned to black and was in the hospital wheezing it out.

The waste dumping yards, all three of them which the city had, had got a carpet of sand  over the now rotting junk. This sand would help control the stink emanating from it, as per his genius corporators. Another set of volunteers of the CLEAN CITY CAMPAIGN promoted by the corporation had rounded up the rag pickers most of them children, beggars, the old and the infirm who were seen on the streets and packed them off to a home in the suburbs for a week till this thing would get over. After his bath and breakfast, Apsomji with his followers neatly dressed went over to the corporation office ground next to which a dais had been erected to seat the award committee members and the corporators. He made sure that the newly put up dais could hold the weight of at least 20 people sitting and 20 people standing and another possible 20 rushing on to it in the last-minute by doing a dry run.

Everything looked perfect. The dignitaries, 5 of them, were to start of from their hotel on their run up passing several points in the city as per the scheduled path that the corporation had charted out for them. They were thinking of using an open jeep for the purpose but the clouded skies that looked imminent to drop tons of water forced them to use covered cabs. After all, they could always get down with umbrellas to inspect anything if they wanted to. As they had their breakfast in the hotel, there came the rain that was helped by the monsoon winds which was holding out for so long. Now with no holds barred, the pouring rain stood its ground for a full 40 minutes to register a 4 cm rainfall.

With the high tide now against the Mayor and his corporators, the drains got flooded up in no time and as the touring party left the hotel in cabs, they were witnesses to the flooded conditions of the city roads in rainy times. Out came their notepads and drainage was given a very low score. When they visited the slaughter-house, it was pouring water over the tin sheets on to the meat and the animals huddled up. The stench was unbearable, as the drains had vomited out the filth back on to the well cemented floor. They left in a hurry in a nauseating state.

The water in the roads, in the parks and the waste dumping grounds had cleared up everything that was supposed to be hidden. A cow which had a fall in one of the covered gutters just managed to climb in front of the approaching motorcade to visually treat the guests with the black coat of paint it had acquired on its legs from the drain. The city was churned up with waste with all the money invested to make it clean going down the drain. There were still a few street boys here and there with  gunny sacks on their shoulder trying to pick things that could have some salvage value from the flooded streets. Sadly, the dignitaries could not get down anywhere as most places had rising water till knee height. When they reached high and dry ground at one place, one of them got down and opened one tap to inspect. The sound of air gushing at first made him jump and then muddied water came out, all to his disgust. Grimaced with suffering at the plight of the city dwellers, the visitors rounded off the survey, half way, and made their way to the corporation grounds.

The corporation ground was in no way different from the streets. They barely managed to get themselves on the dais without water entering their shoes. The bright sunshine after the downpour did little to lift the curtain of gloom that had descended over the hosts and the audience. The results were expected to be as bad as they could get and the poor Mayor and his team had to leave the stage in disgrace. Nevertheless, they had high hopes for next year to make amends. One thing, they collectively agreed, while getting down the steps into the pool of water was – Never to invite anyone during the rainy days…

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Story of a Ruin

Hindu temple, Ubud, Bali
Pura Temple, Bali

On the banks of a winding river
covered by shade giving trees
stood an old temple now a ruin
one day, was I mighty surprised
to see myself walking towards it?

The glaze from the noon fiery sun
as it struck many majestic pillars
at first blinded me; I could see
a deity of a goddess unattended.

Offering my salutations to her
I looked around to spot anyone
who would come this desolate way
but alas, no one seemed to exist
except me, in these lost quarters.

I walked the once trodden steps
when having heard a sharp noise
I turned around, to my wonder
the old sanctum door now shut
who shut that door, I wondered.

Around the farther side were
trees plenty next to a cool pond
with flowers growing amidst it
my eyes spied in the shade of trees
a monkey, a squirrel eyeing in awe.

The breeze and the fruits in bounty
took me to a dream of bygone days
I dreamt of that place back in time
how festivities rocked the still ground
where people flocked lost in joy.

The temple fair with pristine glory
attracted one and all, near and afar
a visitor in me now in different attire
there I saw a beautiful girl standing
at the steps of the majestic temple.

Was she beautiful, was she radiant
was something about her charm
observing all who were lost in fun
who she was, so bright as the sun
my mind at sea, churned thoughts.

I climbed the lovely temple steps
devotees praying to the goddess
somehow the glow on the deity
could very relate to that on the girl
one in divine, one in human form.

Casual inquiries it was made known
she was the child of the temple priest
a devotee who cared for nothing
engrossed in the service of his folk
worship a mother who was his child.

I circled with the crowd at every turn
her radiant smile, the mighty holy
doubts cleared with the compassion
she bestowed on us with her love
a mother pleased at her children.

At a loss, keep the discovery to myself
do I make it known, had I the courage
should I approach her I wondered
would she listen, as others her age
a woman, she of a countless age.

One day, she was playing with kids
getting close towards the little ones
when she sensed my approach,
the all knowing smile asking
was I attracted to her these days.

With courage, I went near divine her
while the kids not at close quarters
asking her, was it true, I had sensed
she the divine in human form said
keep it to you, which I did this time.

Days were spent meeting and asking
had she powers she could exercise
could she keep the village blessed
she would wait for them to pass a test
then, would decide to be a part of it.

Months passed by, days of joy to me,
one day, the priest’s daughter fell sick
ailments added to her father’s plight
one said of a physician with the king
might help her to tide over her state.

A journey to the palace was too far
to ask for a cure might invite wrath
a lad I was, to carry the message
private to the medic, to respond to
a person glowing, despite her pain.

I went to the court and with difficulty
manage to get his consent, for the call
but he asked a fee, which I doubted
any one, of the village could afford
but they could have tried and helped.

With sad tidings, I got the message
no one cared to help the priest
who did selfless service for them
helped bring blessings from Her
just as She had blessed him with Her.

Chiefs and landlords refused to help
in kind or in money, left him sad
the priest died, broke, just as he was
was this test you told of, she smiled
she was to pass, with me by her side.

Rain clouded to the delight of all
but my plight, no one could gauge
I lost her that night, hands in mine
radiant as ever, loving eyes upon me
in torrents, it poured from the sky.

The river nearby rose in anger
submerged all with its people
waves climbed the forsaken temple
they also washed away our lost selves
I must be glad to part with my body.

It all came back, I was driven here
a place where I loved a girl of glory
a divine Odyssey it got me here
left to reminisce the story of a ruin
would She come again for me…

If you liked reading this, hope you enjoy the sequel that continues as a story in Yajnavalkya

Lost in a forest

survivetheforest

Yet another from the Lost Series.. Reading Time Max.10 mins Words:1530

It was quite some time you had been thinking of driving through a forest and your dreams turned a reality last month when your visa came home along with your passport through a friendly travel agency where Mike or Mac made it possible for you? The travel flight to to the  airport at Tiguasa was itself a 7 hour saga with a 3 hour overlay at Kanwabe airport where there was this one flight every alternate day to Tiguasa you had taken. This place was situated in the expanse of the 500 hectare forest reserve that had been carved out of the 2000 plus hectare woods of Sagwarosa where all sorts of wild life abounded.

The gamekeeper office had given strict instructions for everyone to follow. The visitors should slice themselves in the 8 passenger traveler bus that would take you through the heart of the game as they called it. The first trip would start off at 9 am and end at 4 pm and was properly charted for the inmates of the bus to see most of the wild life that abounded in Tiguasa. Not much of the great cats were here save the occasional leopard and a few old lions somewhere hidden away from these day trips made in the bus.

Coming back to the itinerary for the day. It had begun well with a decent breakfast with a lot of vegetables coupled with Brown bread and a serving of hot coffee mixed with coco lending it a chocolate taste. The bus or van as it appeared was rumbling away as the 6 passengers ascended it. It already has a seated driver (who it seems is a new guy substituting for someone else who seemed sick today) who would flash a beaming smile at every occupant including you as they got seated. The cushions in the seats were a bit old and torn of at a few places especially at the edges making you think of what did happen while the tourists eyed some creature that came their way.

The bus took off on a winding and dusty track such that the dust from it would come into the bus at times. The air conditioner of the bus was built in legendary times since it did little to cool the inside and appeared to be more of an oven rather than a cooler. At the back of the bus where there is enough room can be seen lying a bunch of bananas.

It is at this time you pass a cursory glance at your fellow occupants. There were it appeared by the magnetism of the mannerisms two couples and an elderly gentleman. Sensing your glance, the elderly gently put out of his hand to introduce himself. The name is Stein and when your hands shook his, it nearly shook your complete self. Others also joined in..John and his wife Rita. Lin with his pretty wife Long who appeared in her early twenties.

You are sitting in the left rail with Stein in the front row whereas the 2 couples are chatting on the right wing of the green bus. The driver is humming a song in his language looking back every now and then for appreciation but then all occupants eyes are busy scanning for any forest native who might grace that way. First sighting was of a fox who was disturbed from his sleep by the mechanical Fargo bus and meandered his way to a better sleeping place or to wash his face you would never know.

Then came a flash of parakeets with long tails and a fast of yellow on natural green. They created quite a commotion as they flew over the starboard side only to disappear into the distance.

On the right side after a ride of 15 gruelling mins, there appeared a large natural pool that looked more of a waterhole with an assortment of animals quenching their thirst and preparing themselves for the day ahead. A small gathering of deer, a resident hippo and a few buffaloes could be seen. You fish out your digital camera as you saw others do the same and start shooting pictures of the silent hurdled group. The deer are on alert ready to bound at the first sign of danger, the hippo has a tired look at the bus as if he has seen this for quite some time. The buffaloes seem to be in two minds whether to move on, or share some space with the hippo. After a few minutes of anchor, the bus moved on to another place this time where the bushes and shrubs gave way to a bunch of trees with hanging branches. The trees look properly watered as the green leaves on them make you think so.

What was that? there now, you could hear some chilling cries of some animals, and before you can connect the sound to their owners, there appear a few elephants on a rampage, it seems one was trying to get away from others. He finds way through the narrow road and the thickets and almost overturns the bus. The other bunch is playfully behind him but they are a bit slow as they see the bunch in the bus including you and drop their investigating trunks in the now fully stopped bus. Where are the passengers and the driver? They have somehow gone and ran for their lives, as you were wonder struck with the trunks of the playful mammoths. You had some sense in you to get out of the seat and drag those banana plantains to the near reach of the trunks of those medium sized elephants. They grabbed it out of the open windows just as you were transferring it to them. In a jiffy, they disappeared after they had gobbled up the food, leaving you to yourself.

Taking the bottle of water in the small bag, you get down and start jogging on the look out for your fellow passengers who are nowhere in sight. The jogging person in you makes a bunch of monkeys come down from their lodgings and try to harass you or that is what you thought allowing your legs to make a dash out of that scene, to a much thicker part of the woods. The next bus should be on the way in another half an hour, but you are reluctant to go anywhere near those monkeys who now have stay put on the road.

There are quite a collection of trees here as they give you cool shade and it would be better to climb a branch or two to be on the safe side. As you grace up a tree holding on to the tighter twigs that support you as you ascent, some sticky substance on the branch make you lose grip and cause you to fall headlong as the twigs give way and you land with a thud on the soft sand below.

You don’t know how long you were in that state, and by the time you are back to your senses, it is dusk, you get up with a nasty headache and take some time to find your bearings. It was a wonder that you were safe on the ground all these hours, maybe the forest goddess was taking care of you all this while. The bag has fallen some place and you search for it with final success among the fallen leaves. Grabbing a gulp or two from the water bottle, your senses are alerted to some noise coming this way and you try to scamper up another tree but it seems your left leg has a tearing pain and is unable to help you much in the process. After making a couple of attempts, you try to flee to somewhere near the road, that is some meters away. There on the road, you try to stay and before you can think you see two hyenas at around 50 yards walking towards you.

That is it, you think, this is the end of me, I was supposed to be killed here and you resign yourselves to the fate in front of you. But the winds of luck change in your favor instantly as the same rampaging group of elephants come your way from the right in their usual frolicking manner and when they see you, they are delighted and stay put amusing you with their trunks resting on your shoulders, some on your stretched palms wondering what else you have got for them.

A few more minutes, a motor car grunting across the road comes to a halt, and a couple of rangers get down to salvage you as the elephants gladly make way for them, and you are so happy to see some human faces now. Upon enquiries, you were glad to know that the co-passengers and the driver had met the ranger’s vehicle minutes after they had dashed out of the bus. Now that the day trip had come to a close with the Sun bidding bye, the memory of Tiguasa however getting etched for life where you had almost got lost in a forest.

The Lost Sailor

 

albatross

The high winds struck the stricken boat
with only a lone survivor that was me
the torn sails that resembled some flag
the ropes holding on to it now in tatters.

Fresh water was as scarce to get now
like water in the expanse of a desert
my heart came close to my mouth
whenever the boat somersaulted.

No life was in sight anywhere near
save a lone white bird in the distance
was that a friendly albatross circling
checking upon me and giving me hope?

I look up on my rations, my  treasures
how valued  more than pieces of gold
no sight of land or rocks or any ships
how long Lord will I endure this state?

My plight echoed by the crying bird
it kept me company circling for long
my eyes riveted on that hovering giant
how long I know not as I rested below.

Left to my tidbits of biscuit and water
I was to wait till good providence came
patience now a virtue, as was meditation
was I glad to see a ship coming this way?

As  they finally hauled my good self up
a bird that had kept up with a lost sailor
had now vanished in the misty evening
wonder who it was, that gave me hope?

The ride home

It was on May 28th, 2017 with the monsoon just about to pour its oblations over Kerala, the southern state in India, that I decided to take a scooter ride from Trivandrum ( the capital of Kerala) to Kochi ( the commercial capital of Kerala). It was a Sunday and I had purposely scheduled this ride so that there would be less traffic to negotiate.

My scooter, a Honda Activa roughly reaching an age of 10 years, was with one of my colleagues, as I had to go to the middle east in a hurry on a project 2 years ago. I seriously doubted if I could make the long ride, a distance of 200 kms from Technopark area to Kochi. I was not sure about the condition of the roads in this stretch and was worried if it would rain heavily that could slow down my progress towards home. Riding in the rain and especially after sun set would be taking too much of a risk. Adding to it, was the fact that I had not touched or rode a scooter in the last 2 years, not that it mattered much, but it also was one of the facts that went against making the solo ride.

I took the morning Vanchinad Express from Ernakulam South station, at 5:00 AM and reached Kazhakkoottam, the railway station next to Technopark @ TVM where this train had a halt. The train journey was good, as I was savoring it after a long time, and standing at times at the door taking in the mist and aroma of the early morning Kerala coast did good to the senses. A light breakfast that consisted of vada and chutney that had too much of chilies in it went well with a cup of coffee to wash it down. I wished it had been prepared by the likes of Raja and Mani from my earlier post ( King of Breakfast Times) The train was on time and reached my intended drop off point at 9:40 AM, where Siva had come to pick me up with another colleague Bony. We three were at Siva’s flat in another ten minutes and from his balcony, could see the Arabian sea all eager to ravage the coast with the help of the slight monsoon winds that were picking up.

technopark
Technopark @ Trivandrum

After a meal of hot steaming dosas and chutney this time prepared by Remya, Siva’s wife, with tea and a chat of around an hour, I decided that it was high time that I started with journey back home. It was 10:30 AM. My plan was to reach before dusk while covering the 200 kms on National Highway 66, say by 6 PM and for that I had to run at an average of 30 plus kilometers.

The towns that came fast were : First stretch of 34 kms was Attingal at around 11:15 AM, a diversion due to some reason at the town centre because of which about 5 mins was lost. Not much traffic and good roads so far increased my confidence and a grip on the scooter.

I cruised into (second stretch from Attingal 38 kms) my second town Kollam (Quilon in old times Geography that we studied) without much of a traffic and good roads not yet spoilt by the summer rains. Things looked good so far. At Kollam at around 12 noon, I ventured over the first fly over that took me over to the western side, which was a mistake on my side but nevertheless slowly I came back on the right track, not much of a time was lost in this unforced error ( as in lawn tennis).

The third stretch into Kayamkulam town would take another hour as there was about 42 kms to negotiate. On the way I passed other stations like Haripad, and somewhere while I was near to Kayamkulam at around 1:15 PM, I saw a KTDC (Kerala Tourism Development Corporation) restaurant while speeding and thought this was the best time to have lunch and some rest, before I ventured towards Allepey. It was a buffet style vegetarian for me, which took around half an hour combined, to fill my plate and eat.

Post Lunch, session to Allapuzha or Alleppey that lay at a distance of 48 kilometres from Kayamkulam. I left the restaurant at around 1:45 and as I sped towards the coir industry famous Alleppey , I could see the Sea with a high tide just meters away from the highway. With the cool monsoon wind and the clouds giving me enough shade I was not getting tired still nor the air cooled engine of the scooter was getting hot.

I was cruising into Allapuzha town at the required pace when a congregation of the women’s organisation Kudumbasree had just finished and we could see hundreds of women coming out onto the streets, and with police personnel to check the traffic, things did get slowed down here. I took the highway again after meddling through the good old coastal town, and called up home at 4:00 PM to share my co-ordinates. Another 60 kms remaining and with the drive having another good one and half hours left in it. That is when the first rains of the day struck me and it was quite heavy, so I had to stop at a wayside furniture shop before the rain could cool down a bit.

After waiting for about 10 minutes, I pulled out my rainy gear and again ventured out and revved up to keep the rain clouds behind me, the roads look recently maintained in this part of Alleppey to Cherthala stretch and the ride was a dream to the outskirts of Kochi which I reached by 5:20 PM near Vytilla junction, the only busy junction during the whole day. It was another 20 minutes before, at around 5:45 pm, a long journey with an average of around 35 plus kms per hour, ended at Kakkanad and more importantly safely, and I thank the Almighty for that.