Tuesday, September 23, 2014

TWO POEMS BY LEISL MATHEW, my niece aged 7


I made a robot the other day.
To fold my clothes and put them away.
To turn down my bed and turn off my light.
To do my spelling and maths at night.
To take me to school and hold my rucksack.
To make my lunch and after-school snack. To walk the dog and feed the cat.
To take out the rubbish and pull the weeds.
To sweep the front steps and welcome mat. Now if only my robot would eat my peas!
My mum or dad
I am not lazy but if the robot be lazy I will be crazy.


Whenever I am alone and sad. Makes me glad.
My parents’’.
If you ask me anything About my feelings I will say ‘’I will never Go away from

By Leisl Mathew

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A day like ever before

Today I am supposed to be a real Malayali. Malayali is the linguistic title for the residents of Kerala, the southernmost state of India, a tourist hotspot with the assumed name of “God’s own country” (that name, I suspect is an exparte decision), a haven of monsoon forests where you can ride on the swings of heavy raindrops constituting an ethereal thread . It’s the national festival day today: the Onam day. (When I mean national read it as provincial because India itself is a conglomeration of a wide variety of ethnic and linguistic groups well within their geographical confines.  For me it’s a great incidence that India never have had the ill fate of falling on a military government for its upkeep. Our sister land in the immediate west is not so blessed that way.)  A quick google can reveal the exuberance of this remarkable festival to you:  all its colours, noise, folk performance and of course the flyers announcing you what you would probably miss if you miss Onam. In flesh and blood this translates as an amplification of all the inconveniences that a typical Malayali experience in his hometown every single day: conveyance, logistics, and rash drivers honking and raging like a musty tusker bull. Oldies, kids and those with kneejerks wait for a gap to relay them to the other side of the road. As you know, pedestrian crossing is a myth in this part of the world. Special outlets to sell the Onam paraphernalia mushroom up. Shopping carts loaded with greens, tubers, vermicelli, flakes, rice chips, garments, banana leaves to serve the food (not to mention the laminated paper variants if one is not too keen on going for the tongue edge of the banana leaves that tradition stipulates). There used to be a lot of folk games and village jamboree surrounding Onam yesteryears. But no more in that freestyle way, perhaps a local organisation would hold a fete or two with least spontaneity. Nevertheless they will hog the social media with all the mighty displays of their exploits, the paramount of which is the laying of the flower carpet, an intricate floral pattern made of flowers (or if you are cash-strung, stained sawdust or salt crystals would do). Of late so much attention is made to produce complicated and assymetric patterns that the simplicity of what was originally a space in one’s front yard bedecked with flowers which were available in the homestead and fields is entirely compromised. Instead they go for looks that kill, shipping flowers all the way from Bangalore or Tamilnadu just to pamper the irresistible ego of Kerala.
Kerala is a really wet country with all the monsoon loosing its grip over the low rise mountains sweetly enfolding the land. For a Malayali the word “vellam” means water and also its cousin-word on loan from Tamil, the language beyond the hills, “thanni.” So much is the priority that Malayali attaches to it that alcoholic liquours are also called “vellam/thanni”. Something from which one can never back off without feeling like fish out of water. A severely inebriated man who has lost all reserve and foothold is called in the slang as “paamb”, which means “snake/serpent”, because of the contortionist effects of alcohol. They are also called as “thaamara”, (the lotus) because they rise from water, where water takes its secondary meaning noted above. That may be a good name for the ones who can keep their cool, unflailing after all that reservoir of booze he wades in. Kerala has perfected the art of distilling home-grown liquours. There was a time when a village distiller would hide all the hooch in clay jars in the muddy ponds for seasoning and security and an opportunistic whistle blower who wants to bust him would call in the enforcers and spot the exact locations to stick a long pointed rod to bust the jars equally well. I, as a child, was not allowed to watch any of these boozehunting but have heard a lot in narration. Those days may come back. It is in his blood for a Malayali to be indomitable in spirit. You can never take away his ‘spirits’ from him, you take away the ethyl alcohol, he will guzzle methylated spirit and will celebrate the consequent hooch tragedy.  Perhaps the western media had found it very edifying that alcohol ban is being fast-tracked in Kerala, shutting down all the bars progressively culling the government owned booze outlets. You can never let Kerala run “dry”. It is no man’s secret that the temperance movement in Kerala has been largely animated by the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations which have a definitive say here. The losers in this race have taken up a very interesting rallying point : close down the Churches too, they use wine for the Services. Not entering into the legal, canonical, statistical and chemical standing of the sacramental wine, I find it very amusing that this proposition is raised at all. As is wont of Malayali, immense exchange of words ensued all over the social media, channel prime times and again as is wont of Malayali the chief participants of such “edifying discourses” would be the ones who have nothing to lose but their sheer imcompetence and ignorance, those moronic pachyderms. As a matter of fact, as is known to you all, Malayalis were the avante garde in showering abuses, four letter words, lecherous suggestions on Sharapova when she admitted her ignorance of the existence of Sachin Tendulkar. Malayali would be the first to come where he has no reason to be. Literally, they love showing the fig (google the etymology of sycophants), even when there are no takers.

My tribulation, and not just mine, is that I feel nothing upbeat about this day today. A misplaced taste or whatever! I had thought of blasting the Sunday pulpit with a jeremiad for the Malayalis today, including me. A last minute change of plans saw to it that I did not make it to the lectern. So I am here, picking petals and slicing them, with a bunch of brothers to lay the flower carpet. The brothers keep on working on the designs and when I could not bear the gravity of eyelids and left, they still had not laid down the chalk. The flowers had an antiquarian freshness in them. Some flowers do not wilt that soon by their nature, and about others, no worry, you can always doctor them. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Didactic Doodle

Didactic Doodle

How bears an act of kenosis
On men who have sclerosis,
Who shirk and then share
When no more can they snare.

Gates to sky do they quake
While their prayers volley.
Wild struts and shams they make
To get them known as holy;

Smirch their foes by loveless slurry,
Smirk to see them weary,
Smile at their utter distresses,
Smite at their frail buttresses;

Lick the dust off devil’s feet even
To beg boons more then even.
Shoot their mothers with no qualms,
Loot their fathers equally calm.

How bears the kenosis,
Soon shall I give a prognosis:
Well, hell is no good place to be in,
Quell, hence, the riots within.So be it.

October 25,2006.

Monday, March 25, 2013


There is too much paper
In the world,
But not much ink.
There is too much ink
In the world,
But not many words.
When paper,ink
And words concur
There is not much me
That’s left.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Leave those Popes alone!!

Leave those Popes alone!!
                Pope Francis has made a cakewalk into the hearts of even those who are not the least interested in papacy by his simplistic gestures and stances, so many think. The “goldlessness” of his pectoral cross, aversion to the bullet proof Pope Mobile, non-descript pair of shoes and apparels and all the more his exhortation to a life of simplicity made especially to the prelates have started a storm. Two posts on my FB newsfeed on this regard had been particularly pestering to me.
1) A snapshot of the humble pair of shoes the Pope was wearing. It drew questions regarding the validity of that gesture as the Pope was expected to wear the pair of red shoes symbolizing the blood of the Holy Martyrs. It even led to the larger question of who is bigger : Pope or Tradition? Convinced that the colour of the clerical vestments cannot be part of the Sacred Tradition (understood in the sense of Tradition and Scripture) I commented wondering what colour would have St.Peter, the first Pope sported. This tradition is functional and not dogmatic. So the ones waiting for the Pope to get loose on certain moral and dogmatic rulings that the Church has “vehemently” upheld ever will be thoroughly disappointed. There can be no dilutions in the essentials. Be ready for that. Later all those who heap praise on the Pope shall not swallow their own words and get choked by its sheer volume.
2) Of the many celebrations of the simplicity of Pope Francis many things are poised on the funnier side. A diptych showed St.Francisof Assisi taming the fierce wolf of Gubbio on the one hand and Pope Francis fondling a service dog on the other. It is quite apparent that there is a world of differences between the two situations. We are still overstretching.
With no prejudice to the simplicity and sanctity of the person of Pope Francis certain observations shall be made.
a) Simplicity may be the charism of Pope Francis and he will surely have a host of other virtues too, which shall not be delectable at times.  They shall not be overlooked.
b) In assuming that Pope Francis is simple, one shall not presume that no other Pontiffs were equally simple. Perhaps they failed to register an external gesture to show that they are simple. We cannot make a relative gradation and evaluation of the lives of Popes as much of their life is hidden from the public eye and is known only to God.
c) Cardinal Bergoglio was always involved in humanitarian activities and was noted for his exceptional preference for the poor. I am a bit wary about the media glare his past accomplishments receive now. It would amount to saying that all the great works he has done have become very appreciable now as he has become the Pope. Otherwise nobody is interested.
d)  When we celebrate the simplicity of Pope there can be many perspectives to it. Taking the clerical status of the Pope as our starting point there is a blunt allusion in it that the clerics are generally steeped in a life of luxury and impropriety. We are ill informed to make that comment even about a majority of the clerics. Taking the authoritative status of Pope as the starting point we are sending a signal to all centers of power to behave more humanely. Now there is a “third-party” situation: I-The Simple Pope or his equivalent- and the flamboyant/wicked/inhuman other and “I” elucidating the example of “Simple Pope” for the “Wicked Other” to emulate. That is just another way of passing the buck. You too are an oppressor as much as you are oppressed too. It is easy to celebrate somebody else’s virtue, especially if it is most endearing and difficult to cultivate, and it is even easier to celebrate the shortcomings of others.  Let us learn to say “mea maxima culpa.”
                Let us not allege the Pope of sanctity. He is holy inasmuch as he has responded to the Divine Will. He will be evermore strengthened to guide the Church through these difficult times. The Pope himself knows it better than anybody else as is reflected in his motto “miserando atque eligendo”(shown mercy and elected). He received greater mercy and grace from the Lord which he shall share with us all the more. And for our part we shall stop harping on the virtues of the Popes lest familiarity breeds contempt. Rest assured that human standards fail miserably when trying to assess the Pope or Petrine ministry.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Parsley and a wannabe Sage

Alappuzha is a rustic town in central Kerala (Southernmost Indian state) and many people tends to call it  the Venice of the East as they draw on the similarities of the nexus of canals which serve their purpose well in Venice but not in Alappuzha. The canals of course double up as a sewer and a seed ground for the water hyacinths and as these days nobody prefers the waterways, these long stretches of canals lay overwhelmed by the water plants that guzzle up space like anything. After all it’s a pretension of greenery. I am spending my time in Alappuzha these days and happened to go to the vegetable markets. Along with the usual purchase, bagfuls of cabbage peels were to be fished out from the waste heap in the shops to feed the bunnies and piglets. The salesboy encouraged me to take away the whole stuff hoping to get a cut on his burden of cleaning them later. I didn’t need so much  stuff. Incidentally a seemingly immaculate globe of cabbage (of course with their outer skirts on) emerged from the heap and I stuffed it in my bag. It was then that my antagonist jumped in as if he caught me red-handed in an act of felony. Mind me I was still sticking to the garbage heap and was shopping to feed atleast 80 people a day and so little a cabbage would only run down our collective nose. Perhaps he wanted a point or two to impress the shop-owner. Storming at me with a curse (precisely the M-word in Malayalam, standing for pube) he was driving his idea home that I was pilfering that petty cabbage and that his keeping an eye on me ever since I came into the shop was rewarded at last. To be frank I would have loved to see him dead and rot there knowing that nevertheless I could not afford to do that because: 1)he was standing in his turf, 2)he can go to any lengths of verbal or tangible abuse to make himself over the top in a scuffle, and 3) my station did not permit use of immodest behaviour to defend myself. Next day I scanned the newspapers to see whether this guy turned up in the obituaries or reports of some freak accidents or road mishaps.
After much fretting and fuming, I gave up that shop. Next time next shop which was more airy, spacious, lit, graceful and what not. They could spare cabbage leaves too. Typical Indian cooking involves the use of many spices and few leaves of which I can point out curry leaves, coriander leaves and mint. These days due to the taste for other-worldly dishes new leaves are spotted here too. I asked the man for the name of the bunch he placed on the scales. He told me it was parsley. Thanks that I knew that name already I didn’t learn it from him the way he mispronounced. So this is the first of that quartet, immortalized in the refrain “Parsley,Sage, Rosemary and Thyme”, I have heard Simon and Garfunkel sing ever from my childhood and of late through the mellifluous voice of Celtic Woman and the improvised Gregorian Chants. It brought back dear memories to me. I broke a twig of parsley and buried it in my vademecum.
The ballad Scarborough Fair is one of longstanding in the English folklores.  It is presented as a dialogue between a man and his lover girl. They demand of each other seemingly impossible tasks as a proof of their love. To love (not exactly the carnal one) is to embark on the impossible, to impart love where it is most unwelcome and difficult. Perhaps I can sew a cambric shirt for that man who tarnished me and wash that in a waterless well to prove that I am still capable of love.
Parsley. Sage, Rosemary and Thyme were suggested in this ballad as hints to contraception posing them as having symbolic or pharmacological values. Thus says an erudite article on this topic. Love should have a restraint. I am sure that I elicit a guffaw now.
My feelings about Scarborough Fair, the canticle, are deeply personal. My dear father, long defunct, had a particular liking for this song which was communicated to us.  Before the advent of this barrage of information and data-mines it was very unlikely that an average Indian would figure out the lyrics of an English song anywhere near the original. So this was his limit too. Once I could procure for him the lyrics of the song obtained for me by Mr.J (later to become my BIL) but it was too late. My father was in hospital getting referred to Regional Cancer Centre in Thiruvananthapuram and was bracing up that night for the trip. I cannot exactly say what doleful sentiment was written all over his face that night. A boy who had many words to tell his father when he was younger and yet misplaced most of them when he grew up, declining into silence is now before the father for a start-up. Things become clumsy simply because of the misfiring or mistiming. Just like that. He just brushed that printout aside and lost himself in the worries, which I am no man to judge. There is something about our lives which can take away even our best favourites from us leaving us to lurch in the dark. Love asks for the impossible.
“Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
Remember me to the one who lives there…” 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Girl like Christoph Waltz

The other day I was sent to a class in locum. All girls and not the least interested to learn. I was asked to give hagiographical notes on St.Thomas Aquinas. The girls kept giggling and were seemingly nowhere near the great Dominican. One of them quite pretty kept staring at me, harbouring a sinister twist of lips which I cannot exactly make out as a smile more on the reverent side. That killer smile transports me to a vexation. It seemed something familiar, very rooted in me, but I couldn’t tell what.
I remember the day when we watched Inglorious Basterds of Tarantino, back in the Philosophy College. It met the same fate as Hurt Locker. They kept complaining that it is full of the F-word as if expletives are quite alien to their world and so abominable. Underneath was a strong repulsion for any portrayal of reality without a sugarcoat. Well back to the Basterds, the most towering figure in it is Colonel Hans Landa, all smiles yet he kills. I felt like lungingmy hands into the screen and strangle that rascal of a person before his wiliness could commit more outrages.  That was my first love with Christoph Waltz. So impeccable; even the way he smacks his lips relishing the French dessert.
Watching Django Unchained was a fortuitous encounter with Christoph again. The long beard was a sure veil but then there was something unmistakable in him. A quick google revealed that Christoph is the highest common denominator in Basterds and Django. As a rule, I Don’t pay great attention to title credits of a movie and exceptions can be if there is a piece of music that can leash me or a storyline running along with the titles. Remarkably, Django has some music in it that could hold me back from the very outset.
Back to the girl, I wanted to say that now it dawns on me that she looked so familiar to me because she looked like Christoph Waltz, a bit leaner and if he wouldn’t mind getting into the dress of a young girl in this part of the world. There is nothing exotic about these dresses. Don’t expect anything classically Indian. You would just fit in, no matter who you are.
Thank you Tarantino, Dr.Schultz and Djangooooooooo!!!