Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Ray of Sunshine

The first thing that I notice about Anna Smita Thomas Eapen is her smile that flashes like a ray of sunshine, making me feel as though I have known her forever. Her liveliness stems from the fact that she has travelled a lot, both within India and without. Her father initially worked at BHEL, Hyderabad from where he shifted to Delhi, where Anna attended the Jesus and Mary Convent from the fifth to the twelfth standard.
Twenty years ago, her father turned to her and said, “Annamma, you must write!” Considering that she had travelled to places as varied as Thailand, England, America and even the Ivory Coast, [where she recalled watching the French troops marching in all their glory], Anna had wonderful memories and much she could have written about. It was in Thailand that her father-in-law took her aside and repeated the advice, “Smita, you must write!”
This was to form a kind of refrain in her life, as years later, when she joined a prayer group, her pastor’s mother, a feisty lady who was suffering from bone cancer, spent a restless night, tossing and turning as sleep eluded her. Suddenly Anna’s face came into her mind, and she sent a message to her that she wanted her help to write her biography in English for her. The original would be in Tamil. As Anna put it, “I believe in the will of God. I did not want to jump into anything, especially as I had never written anything before!” Finally it was Mrs. Nalini Chandran, Founder Principal of Hari Sri School, where Anna’s son, Aaron was studying, who told her, “Anna, you should write!” This definitely had to be the will of God!
For Anna is no ordinary person. She brings joy to all around her with her love of life, even though she has a visual disability, one that has been robbing her of her sight over the years. As a child, she could read without glasses, but found it tough to read from the blackboard. At the age of seven she went through the whole gamut of viral infections - measles, German measles and a particularly nasty bout of chicken pox, which left patches on her retina. By the time she reached college, she needed thick glasses and realised that she had to live with the problem. Her mother would read her lessons aloud to her.
When she was young, she was enthralled by Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew and Hardy boys, and graduated to the romantic novels of Barbara Cartland, Georgette Heyer and Mills and Boons. Years later in America, she had access to a good library, where she would spend hours together, listening to unabridged books on tape.
Once when she was in Thrissur, she had a virulent viral fever, during which her eyes clouded over as if covered by a mist. A doctor in Cochin prescribed Cortisone drops to bring down the inflammation, and even though the intense haze cleared, whatever clarity she had in her eyes earlier was lost. “Before this, I loved writing letters and sending Christmas cards to my friends and family.” Today she uses a thick felt pen to write with.
Despite the obstacles she has had to face in life, Anna believes in smiling through them all. She states, “There are only two clear cut options before me. One, I can grumble and be unhappy at my lot. Two, I can be bright and cheerful, a much happier option!” And that is what makes her a ray of sunshine – her cheery smile and her diehard optimism, as she digs out her felt pen to write down my phone number, even as she regales me with a story about how the family loves dogs. “My husband wanted to get a Rhodesian Ridgeback, but my son took one look at its picture and found it too ugly!” she laughs.
Her Dad has been her inspiration in life. He admires him for being a true gentleman, chivalrous to the core. Her parents were this ideal combination. “Dad was an idealist while Mom was the practical one”, says Anna. Her dad was a symbol of absolute self control and restraint, and she doesn’t recall hearing him lose his temper even once, or saying a bad word about anyone. His advice is what she follows today, “Don’t react to actions!”
And as she lives her life in the beautiful house which was built by her father in law, and supervised by her efficient mother in law, in the warm bosom of her immediate family – her mum in law, her husband, Ajit and her bright little son, Aaron, it is this cheerful equanimity that makes her such a delightful package, truly exemplifying the saying by James A Garfield:
“If wrinkles must be written on our brows, let them not be written upon the heart. The spirit should never grow old.”

Published in City Journal, Thrissur

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Bewitched Hour of Twilight!

He was a bachelor, bespectacled, with a round face that gave him the semblance of a little owl. He devoured the newspaper to compensate for the loneliness that had engulfed him after his retirement. He enjoyed the robberies and the murders, but the rape cases disgusted his near-Victorian sensibilities. The obituaries prompted him to piece together a gruesome patchwork of dead persons. Thus, many an hour went by!

It was the bewitched hour of twilight. Dark shadows lurked as dogs howled. He checked his doors and windows. "No point in being sorry after the event!" he mused, as the trees whispered softly and a branch scratched on his window.

Rap, rap! That was no branch! The rapping came again. It was a knock on his front door, followed by a frantic pounding. He made his way to the door and peered through the keyhole.

A young girl stood outside, clothes in disarray, large doe eyes filled with panic. "Let me in, please...!" Her voice reached him faintly. "They are after me...they will kill me!" He opened the door and the distraught girl nearly fell into his arms. She was a slight lass, forehead beaded with perspiration. Never ever had he seen such large eyes, with such fear in them!

He shut the door in one swift moment, and fetched a glass of water. She drank it thirstily, thanking him. In his state of solitude, she appeared like a dishevelled Helen of Troy to his unlikely Paris.

"Who is after you?"

"I was walking on the street when this van stopped by me." Her voice quavered. "Four men got out and came towards me. They looked dangerous." She should not have been walking on her own. These days girls were not safe..."tried to grab me, but I broke away and ran as fast as my legs could carry me!" He saw the rip on her sleeve. "They were right behind me, pounding the pavements. I managed to dodge them by ducking into your garden."

A loud knock sounded on the door. She cowered in desperation as he put an arm around her. "No one can take you away by force!"

"But there are four of them. They will beat you up!"

"Only if I let them know you are here," he smiled slyly at her. The knock came again. Her terror woke a deep emotion within him, as he pressed a brick on the wall of his dining room. Part of it opened up, and he shepherded her in, showing her the tiny lever that would open it. He walked to the door, mussing his hair.

The four men strode in, ugly and menacing. "Did a young girl come in here?"

"I would hardly have been asleep in that case!"

After a thorough search they looked at him. "Listen, she is a lunatic on the run, and has murdered three people - her parents and her brother." I bet she has, he smirked inwardly, as he replied, "I'll let the authorities know if she comes here."

As they moved out, one of them spoke. "She has this habit of twisting her hair around a finger as a prelude to violence!" He was incensed. How could they dare to frame an innocent girl! He banged the door behind them aggressively.

"Come out, my dear! Now it is just you and I!" The sly smile was back on his face.

The wall slid back, she stood there poised gracefully, and then stepped out. There was a strange silence about her, a faint smile on her face as she twisted her hair around a finger!

Won first prize in the Pipeno Launch Contest

Why place a hooch victim above a martyr?

Who can forget the precious lives snatched away in the heinous 26/11 Mumbai attacks? Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, the army commando who died, saving many lives, etched his name in the annals of history. The terrorists were killed, all except Kasab, who made the mistake of being caught alive. Today in jail, he lives in celebrity comfort, with much money being spent to keep him alive. The pampering has made him arrogant, as he spurns questions in court, behaving like a brat. He couldn’t be safer elsewhere in the world, as attempts continue to keep him alive till he is sentenced to death!

Mark Antony remarked, “The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with the bones!” Sandeep Unnikrishnan became a national hero after martyrdom. The sight of the bereaved mother leaning against her son’s body, weeping pitifully, still plays on people’s minds. His father came across as a strong man, stoically keeping his composure in public. A war of words with a public figure created headlines, but the nation sympathised with him. The compensation awarded by the state to the bereaved parents on the death of their son was `3 lakh — a sum which it thought adequate to wipe their tears.

The agony of the victims succumbing to spurious liquor mixed with battery acid and other unmentionables has often been highlighted. The recent Mallapuram tragedy, in Kerala, was the latest case in line. The culprit was methyl alcohol in the toddy, and killed 22 persons. The hooch capital had proved its prowess once again. The blame game saw the government point fingers at officials concerned, and the Opposition trashing the excise minister for supposedly sporting a Nelson’s eye towards illicit liquor trade.

A strongly worded message flashed via e-mail and gathered momentum, snowballing into a public outcry. The aforementioned government had awarded Rs 5 lakh as compensation to the liquor tragedy victims, a laudable gesture indeed. However, the message being sent to the youth of the country underlined that it was foolish to join the Indian Army and sacrifice their life for their country. In fact, it was more honourable and profitable to consume illicit liquor and die.

Death can come in many ways, but is there any doubt that a man in the defence services deserves to be honoured, as he spends a lifetime, standing guard over the mountains, valleys, hills and seas, ensuring his country is not attacked? Living in uninhabitable conditions, he faces danger from within and without, standing indomitably to safeguard the nation’s future by risking his present. Martyrdom stands a shoulder’s length away, there is a bullet with his name somewhere, yet he does not flinch. The respect he commands is tremendous, as the nation salutes him for his courage and patriotism.

Sadly, this does not translate into monetary gains! He ends up with less compensation than a man who ambles into a bar, consumes illicit liquor and falls by the wayside. What has the latter done for the greater good of the nation? He might have been the best son, husband and father. But when one thinks of a young war hero, the only son of his parents, who ends up in a coffin draped with the tricolour, surely there is a strange mismatch of sentiments shown to him by the state’s lawmakers.

The adage, ‘The crying child gets milk’ seems to be all too true. Soldiers do not cry aloud, and nor do their loved ones. That, maybe, is their only mistake, but a costly one at that!

Published in the New Indian Express - November 12th, 2010


  ‘Tales that Entail’ by Jaseena Backer is an anthology of stories that are hard-hitting and realistic. Right from the first story, the auth...