Saturday, June 18, 2016

Two Poems - 2.

(Continued from previous post)

Over the last five years, I found that it is difficult to navigate a way for meaningful learning and growing, for a child who types.
This niche carving of a small, safe space consumes almost all my energy resources. 

On one hand there is the child with unique expressive ability, different neurology, social construct, sensorimotor mapping, motivations, and, good comprehension. On the other hand are standard educational systems clocked to practical recipes. 

M was tested by his schools- per requirements- through regular academic tests and special tests. He scored well. 
The tests continue to give him a place in this world but they also show the smallness of our testing methods. 
Because to start with, we still don't medically understand autism, what causes it, what it really is! 

I wrote this in 2013 when M first started typing independently. That is, happily typing on an Ipad-keyboard, sitting a small distance way from me. It was a milestone in my world-view. 

This poem somewhat reflects my conflict. 


the secret of dark matter

are leaves green?     is the universe big?
everyone dies, one way or the other?
happiness makes you smile?
songbirds sing?    is he intelligent?

crystal clear, but not apparent to some  
For we judge from what we know    we casually
invalidate the life of another by a  
glance or sound not considering
the arduous path he walked to come here
For a sip of table water   

survival is a daily struggle
When a body is held by autism     a consistent signal-
I am here, I exist, I understand, let me in..
Above the distracting drums of bodily chaos 
is like a revelation on spiral stairs of proofs
but we mostly ask-    can we test?   

it is we who are palaced in boxes of thoughts and doings
we live by the fine satin ribbons tying us up   this is a
designer bow- two twists, 5 loops    so pretty    no ugly    even as our
sight deftly eludes the plain self-sculpturing truth well within
Our boxtrains    chugging chugging on meter gauges    
setting busy systems and metrics for measuring and pouring out
intelligence    so we can pack, box, label and ship it by ground 
to a known place for other bored systems to unpack and assort

our intellect can take only that much, anything more
is taxing to our neural nets    which we tightened nook and neuron,
patient wrench in hand    school and school and school   so we know only
how to grade others to our inflexibilities    Yes he may
Take one sip of life    no he cannot, go to quadrant B, table 3    parents can look
through a window for 3.57 minutes on alternate fridays

can we bottle birdsong?    taste green from a spring leaf?
not seek meaningfulness because we’ll all die anyway?

yesterday you typed, you typed independently.     fully.
met a metric for validation from set systems    so my weak heart
betrays me; it has joy, it is calm    I went to the same life-schools you see
I can’t come out of my box even after opening up box after
box after box    for every x of loosened ribbon knots, y new
ones appear    and loosening one somehow tightens another

anyway I lean back in my box because now I feel more assured
Of standing room for you at the table of the living    I also feel awkward..
I don’t understand. Like someone after figuring out the secret of dark matter
is waiting on a busy, dusty roadside    nervous chalk in hand   
to tell someone     tell anyone 
who stops -   I can write the proof..      independently.      fully.

April 2013

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Two Poems - 1.

Today is the last day of the month of Autism Awareness. 

About 50% of people with Autism cannot speak or speak minimally or cannot speak fully functionally. Some communicate with devices that speak for them. A small population uses typing or a board. Each device, whether high-tech or low-tech, is a huge learning effort. Because the neurology of the person using the device is of autism, which has many unknowns.

My son, M, first started typing in early spring of 2011. An accidental happening. I wasn't aware of all the communication techniques being used already. I had read that some adult stroke victims while healing can type before they can talk again. There was also insight on how they view the world. I put two and five together and one day, when we were on the sofa, I said 'mom' and placed a keyboard in front of him. I was intrigued. 

It took a few weeks before we tried simple words. 3 letter words, 2 letter words, 4 letter words.. It was an extremely tiring effort for him. Then 2 words, 3 words, 1 word answers to questions- What's up there? What is this? What is the color of the sky? 5 minutes at a time. 2-4 times a day. Soon, I had to leave the study for I could not hold myself after the session. Shaking, delighted, shocked, straining to comprehend and metabolize the unfolding reality, walking around to compose myself. 
I would ask trick questions. I would explore for self-consistency. 

A month or two later, one day we tried a very small story. I asked him to tell me a story from a video he loved to watch. He typed with a focused face, all his life force engaged in the effort of transferring a scene, an idea, into a medium of words. A new way. Each tap of the finger an act of hesitant grace. He typed a few words, searching, pausing, struggling, concentrating, being direct, being repetitive. 

One word he typed was "son". I slowly figured from the context the word was, likely an interesting substitute for "prince". Do you mean prince? Also, he started the story from the middle, the peak of conflict! It is his unique trait, I found later, again and again. He gets to the main point right away. And tells from there.
This poem is how I felt when M typed this first story. He was 8. 


Summer is Coming!

Today was cloudy, cold and windy.
Last night, the rain tapped on the windows -
Can I come in      no, stay outside
It is cold here      no, if you come we will all get wet

Late-noon we were looking out our study window
branches and leaves plumped with moisture, sinking down down
Will you break and fall     no we won't
Peach buds do not have white fungus anymore
at wits-end I almost asked the gardener to trim down the tree
I wavered and before I knew the nubs appeared and that was that
Did you hear my thoughts?     no, I didn't

Two days ago it was warm, even hot -
screeching squirrels were chasing each other
Do you have to be so intense?     yes, we do
Birds singing, hopping, nesting
Are you tired, I asked one bird resting flat on the ground,
legs tucked in     it skittered away
Ants got into the lid of the honey jar I left outside
Some saw me and fled. Are you trapped, I asked of others     yes we are
wait, I will get you out of there- I held a paper towel for them to launch into

Life is crawling out of every crevice to meet the sun
in this festive see-saw between spring and summer
Honeybees, bumblebees, hesitant butterflies, pregnant ladybugs
arrived for our afternoon yard play
What are you doing today in the cold?     We are lying low

It is ten o’clock now at night and my son isn't sleeping
he’s coming out of his room on every pretext
Do you want to sleep     no
No worries, I am not fatigued. For today he typed a story,
his first. 'Snow White' it was and started-
there was a girl   she ate an apple 
What happened then?     she fell down

Thoughts weaving into garlands with language blooms
these eight years of low-words autism, watching, waiting 
waiting for a string. Tomorrow when I'll ask him to continue the story
I'll be finding more blooms- he came, she heard him, there was a son,
each flower beaming with the beauty of a shy universe
Strung on so exquisite a string, it is almost invisible
I have to close my eyes to see it

Something in the path we're walking through
is giving the tastiest crumbs, never in a straight line
I pick each up like a gem that never was
I can't wait for summer
for the choice will be warm or warm
Will you come closer, faster? I ask the Sun
    No, silly mama. I'll stay my course and you do the same

(April 2011)


Wednesday, December 30, 2015


Reading Time: ~ 10 -12 minutes

(This is part of a series on a theme: Context-Contrast)

I’ve been to Alaska only once. The crispness in the air and the clarity in nature hit me like a transparent wave when I went to put my hand in the cool water of the Nenana River. The polished pebbles on the river bank lay like untouched jewels. We were driving from a glacier park south of Anchorage to Denali.

This was in August 96. Something small happened in the trip, so casual that it was unremarkable at the time but strikes as different, as the years move.


It was a long drive. I was hoping to spot a grizzly bear but alas there were none.  We were searching for the turn into a bed&breakfast I had booked.  Somewhere around there, there was a bridge. Workmen were on it, maybe two or three. They had measuring instruments. We slowed a bit, one man in a helmet turned to look from his yellow tripod. We drove on and reached the rental. My heart sank, the house didn't look inspiring from the outside. 

Per instructions, we found the key and went in. It was comfortable inside. You have the house to yourself for the night. We stay in the small house down the hill, I’ll see you in the morning, she had said. Our room was very nice; the sitting area was also nice. There was a large, elevated sun-room to the side, looking down on the conical tree tops. We ate leftovers we brought with us, it was still light outside at eight. Now what? There was a lull.

We sat in the sun-room and I remembered the bottle the stewardess had pushed inside our bag with a big smile. Oh come on, have something else other than boring juice, she had said and poured wine into my glass. We had flown business class, a perk from the airline job that S (my husband), was in. She insisted and give us an extra bottle.

We found a corkscrew and two glasses in the kitchen. S’s idea of drinking was to take a couple of sips and happily refill my glass. Pretty soon after a glass or two, I was singing grizzly bear songs out to the bears in the woods outside. I had made these up during the drive. Sunset came at ten.


Breakfast was early. Awkward. The hostess and her husband were in the kitchen. The couple was new to hosting (parts of the house were still being finished- like the outside). They both were in white sweats, comfortable and relaxed. She was fixing something vegetarian per our agreement. Her husband was at a desk facing away from the table, on a computer.  We talked about the cold, about groceries, about keeping the car engine plugged in at night in winter. We drive to Fairbanks for our groceries and get enough at a time. But there was the kind of lingering awkwardness where no one wants to say anything wrong. Then something came up about computers and software. The husband broke into a smile and had much to say. He came to the table and ate with us. He was learning and starting a new business, from what I remember. The hostess pondered about a moose. The moose had wandered nearby, near the houses.  Along with some neighbors they had killed it (they had a permit to kill some). They were waiting to collect it and process for meat, share and store for winter. It is getting warm, she worried, looking outside. The meat might spoil.

We drove around and chose a path for a hike. I carefully read the instructions at the path entry point. “What to do if you come across a grizzly bear”. There was a note saying there were a number of grizzlies with babies and one had attacked some hikers recently. Do not hike alone, it cautioned. Well, we were two. We set off. The path grew narrow; the view was constrained by growth on both sides and had turns. There was no one else.

I grew tense. I don’t think I want to do this, I said, finally. Expecting a grizzly to attack, surely one would, and being on the alert was hard work. I took a U and reluctantly, S followed.


We drove to a bus tour place by which you can go to the interiors and watch. But they were all booked. A tourist retirement community had taken all the buses for the day. We watched the old folks depart with bonhomie while we ate quietly lunch at a small pizza shop. It was run by a man and a woman; I was delighted at how quickly they turned out our pizza. 
S walked into the meadow and looked around. People on foot weren’t allowed after that point because of fragile flora. How to see Denali? Now what?

In the lull we got an idea and convinced each other about the excellence of it. We have to celebrate, was the reasoning (after 4 years of being long-distance after marriage we had just started living together).

Soon - wrrrr - we were in a helicopter. The tour started off quite ordinary. Deep in the park, the pilot started doing tricks. He would go up and suddenly swoop down the side of a snowy mountain. It was exhilarating. It was the first time we took a helicopter ride. Later; on other rides, I realized this technique as used by other pilots. It was scary every time.
The pilot was lively in mood and reticent in speech. It was a 2-seater, we were the only passengers. He showed us around and answered questions. The blue in glaciers and mountain goats clinging to sheer cliffs who looked up at us- what? why? We did not see any bears. He showed us Mt. McKinley (now Mt. Denali) at a distance. I come here in the summers, in winters I pilot in other parks. How nice, I thought.


Post dinner it was still light again. We realized we had company- some other guests were in the other room. Don’t know who arrived first but soon we were all in the sitting area. We were on one sofa and they were on the other one, open for conversation. We are here examining the bridges, one of the men said. We travel through the state, we work as engineers. 

Oh, were you on the bridge last evening? I think we saw you.
They were. We stayed in another place last night but changed here for tonight. What a coincidence!

Then it was awkward. The kind of awkwardness where no one wants to say anything to disturb the goodwill.

One man was a little nervous in the beginning, the other man wasn’t, he was much at ease. It turned out he had the most, quiet initiative. They were both older than us, I can’t say how old. When you’re young, you don’t seem to notice age. They were older, was all I noticed. Now, I'd place them maybe in their late-thirties. 

Their homes were in Juneau. We talked about their jobs, about us, about India. We talked about Northern lights. The man at ease said- Sometimes in summer we sit in the porch in the evenings and watch the northern lights- they fill the sky, he said easily, slightly spreading his palms outward to show the expanse.


We saw the northern lights from the plane window on the flight back. They were spectacular. It’s something, I thought, when your way of life has the northern lights as a casual display on a casual summer porch.

It seems to me, we assiduously seek and build a network of context on context with experiences. And then, unexpectedly, sometimes we see, feel or hear something that takes us out of contexts. It stays in contrast, within and without context, like a lone water drop glistening on a leaf. 
Northern lights shining on a porch somewhere in Juneau, was such a drop.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Buckminster to Baahubali

Two plays stand apart in all the plays we went to, around 97-02.  Even after more than a decade. They were not even real plays, they were monologues. One was Heidi’s Chronicles and the other was Buckminster Fuller.

The other plays I remember are for a trick or a treat in them, not for the content.

Baahubali the movie is opposite to the monologue plays. The monologues were plain-speak - one person at a mike. That’s it. So it is strange that the movie, a commercial enterprise, and the plays had something in common! Something that is rare in the art and craft of story-telling.

is this a movie?

I asked in my family Whatsapp, where Baahubali was being talked about. My niece forwarded the trailer.

I went to a show. It was in a small, worn theater in downtown San Jose. I was late, the movie had already started. It was my first Telugu theater movie in 20+ years. I was little apprehensive – submitting to a screen projection completely for 2+ hours seemed daunting (I see few movies in the theater). (Not really completely, but with 3 of our sensory channels)
Also I was missing my son, M, (12).  It is not often that I choose to do something without him. He wasn’t feeling theater-able after we arrived. But the Amar Chitra Katha, Chandamama and Vittalacharya stories from yore lured me in.

such ride, many mind, aww

The pauranic narrative of the movie held right away. However the premise required some time to settle into. There was a serious tone and there was a lyrical tone. How to mesh? How to stop asking questions and settle for the ride? Some movies somehow set the calibration right away. Or we come already calibrated. For me, here, it was after about one-fourth of the movie.

A movie (or any story) is actually our mind-screen acting on and reacting to the projected screen, isn’t it? So it actually is- movie x movie or movie2?  For example, the same act may be an aww to some but an eww to others. The unexpected thing is that this movie2 had enough awws for so many! Quite a feat, given that our minds are so diverse.

where exactly?

The positioning of the narrative pieces was the first strength of the movie. And there was narrative continuity. Within which there was the just-right unpredictability and portent. The second strength was the steady and continuous pace of story-telling. All other strengths were held within these two main flows.

The narrative had the three interactive streams. Top layer- the story, which we consciously follow. Below, the background of expressions, visuals and sound, with which we swell and ebb. Even below, the unsaid, light & fragile. The thickness of these layers was an unusual ratio.

All actors were earnest. Two stood out (where you couldn’t tell the actor apart from the character). The Kalakeya king was one, with his character being a delightful cross between the Klingons and Ferengis. He was menacing without ever raising his voice in anger! The other was Amarendra Baahubali, more so towards the wordless scenes at the end of war. He carried the movie.

bucky balls are very stable  

In Heidi’s Chronicles and Buckminister Fuller, there were these moments towards the end – which were just a long, weighted pause. When the two hours of story-telling came to a halt. And stood on its own. These few moments transformed the story on the stage into a universal story. And the audience breathed as one.

Buckminister Fuller, a real life story, was about Bucky (of the Bucky Ball/Fullerene fame) going back to his beginnings. The few moments were when he was talking about walking along the river, contemplating ending his life. Because of his inability to stay within his way of free-thinking and living, while facing poverty, with a wife and child to feed. He was afraid of his child dying.

Then he paused in his monologue. Because he could not express what he felt in words. His struggle and acceptance he could only show in a pause of decreasing tautness. The grace of which brought the mind2 of audience to tears. It is this pause, this grace, I remember, even after years. These moments of the unsaid still carry the context, and the story, on their back.


I want to say about two, one minor and one minor. Bear with me.

It’s that the movie seamlessly mixes two things that are opposites. The point is just to point it.

The war tactics and some equipment in Baahubali were more Greco-Spartan and Roman. The culture of hugeness in buildings and statues was more Egyptian and the slave labor was more Egyptian/Roman. But then, there are no rules for a fantasy! Telling of new stories or re-telling of the old with newer, interesting or popular twists has always been so.  Like Ballaladeva’s cool, retractable mace.

Much of ancient Indian and part of medieval Indian mindset/philosophy was a pole apart from western counterparts. For example, Greco-Spartans had a tremendous energy vested on the physique. In Sparta, boys were brought up separately, in abusive conditions, to become fearsome warriors and only that. Infant boys with unpromising physique were left outside the city walls to die.

The opposite – was – bodily valor was valued equally or sometimes less than inner questioning, ignoring the body (not considering the extent to which this may have been followed). For example, the real life Baahubali (no relation to the movie as far as I know) won a few duels with his older brother and claimed the kingdom. Enthroned, he was puzzled enough by his actions that he retired into his famous quest. He is famous only for the quest.  
How do we separate the two streams- outer heroism and the inner heroism? Outer heroism can be so dazzling, and it was. It piggybacked on inner heroism.
Then, we have two yuvarajas at the same time, which feels like an anomaly. The ensuing rivalry being the basis of the story. 

From here let’s go to the Shiva-transportation scene. Please bear2 with me.

Shiva, the symbol of Advaita, was in a majestic dvaitic interpretation!! (Moving the symbol from one place to a better place is Dvaitic. Whereas, everything is the same, nothing is better or worse, with no need to move anywhere, is Advaitic.)

If you take an even closer look, Dvaitic world-view is within Advaita. Heh. Otherwise, there would be no movie made, nor would we be watching. 

Or are some of these apashrutis somehow a part of the melody? We can't really say until Part 2.  

then there was one

I missed some scenes after the interval, because hey, interval! The manager was selling curry puffs and I had to get one. All this made me late. Then I missed some scenes in the end because – you won’t believe this - new audience started coming in! Lots of them, for the next show. And they were frantically trying to find seats in the dark. One woman was asking me - Is this seat taken? That one? While I was trying to follow a war.

In this confusion was the scene where A. Baahubali was about to strike down the Kaalakeya king when Ballaladeva steals a strike from a distance. A. Baahubali restrains himself, puts down his sword with some effort even as he begins to realize what just happened.
His acceptance settles as a smile. It was an aww. A prince at height of war, putting down his weapon and spontaneously withdrawing his mind to honor another’s ego - you can’t get more Indian than this! This moment of poignant, silent grace goes across cultures.  


It seems to me that movies (and plays and stories) are constructed hoping to create in them such moments of magic. We pay and submit, to be entertained and hoping to connect to these magical moments and their harmonics. It is like an elaborate dance between the makers and the seekers. With the movie-dance going on for 100+ years now.  

(M did see the movie, when the shows were less occupied. Also the movie came to a regular Century)