Look Who’s Talking!


That was Tweakie, our Meera’s pet cockatiel (cockatoo?), an intended third voice at ‘Gaadha’. Meera must have thought that Tweakie could meddle with Rema and Rita in her absence. Perhaps, a thought of three is better than two, always!  As we entered Meera’s house we didn’t notice Tweakie, in fact. No sooner we sat down and got into the swing of things than she started her ceaseless chirps. And that prompted me to know her more and moved me towards her cage. But she was shy and flew back to the inner walls disowning all the clucks and clicks produced earlier. I thought of pepping her up to the old position of resuming her talks. I explained to her how tweets of these days made the world smaller and closer. All in vain and she didn’t utter a word of her own. That struck me a chord of testing her nature again and I went into hiding. She had a look around and started singing again the very next moment. I enjoyed the tricks she had played on me.

She was celebrating her loneliness in laughing at others and singing. On closer interrogations, she had never admitted to us that she was the source of the cacophony went around.

I was told that as a solution to Tweakie’s loneliness, Meera once brought an alliance to make her busy in her family business. A little old guy of cockatiel family to entertain her into cheers. Perhaps, according to Meera, a paradigm of sartorial elegance in their own winged class. A brightly coloured zygodactyls male with a short hooked beautiful beak and the ability to mimic others. But, to the surprise of all family members, she never bothered to love him. She never made love with him. Eventually, he was found lying dead in a not so fine morning. A resultant flit and flutter, in many a heart outside and inside the cage, leading to nothing, just faded away. No visible or tangible evidence of a fight that would ‘ve taken his life! The follow-up inquiries reached nowhere and Tweakie deserved a benefit of doubt and stood acquitted.

She asked her owners if she would be let free to fly and find the vastness of the world. But Meera said, ”not exactly as you dream, but partially!” That again drowned her in blues when she knew that she was only free from a sin and not from the bars she had been confined to.

Time flew on swift-wings! She resumed her singing slowly.

Her eyes told me, ” you all come for a short while and not only talk too big but talk over my head and go back to your own business. It takes time for me to establish a relationship.

She was right. Are we all wise enough to guess their feelings? Everyone needs a space and sky to fly their thoughts. Do we all have at least a bird’s brain to think of freedom and the skies that create? Why do our thoughts and feelings surround only us and not the others who also breathe the same air? Why are we inconsiderate to all other living beings?

That reminded me of Kahlil Gibran : ” You can muffle the drum/ You can loosen the strings of the lyre/ But who shall command the skylark not to sing?’’


A curious case of sour grapes

The vines in my next door neighbour Daniel’s backyard were not sophisticated. They were of a wild variety that produced grapes with big seeds and less flesh. They must have been the same ones that so disappointed that legendary fox (in The Fox and the Grapes, one of the stories in Aesop’s fables).

Last summer, a few lines of the vine started creeping into our backyard and I encouraged it for the simple reason: anything that grows without our sweat would indeed taste sweet. I expected the grapes to ripen in August.

One evening, however, I found that the lines that had grown into our backyard looked lifeless. When I went over to Daniel’s side, I found that they had been cut at the very point they started slithering into my backyard. Ah, et tu Brute, Daniel?

I asked Daniel about it and he said, ‘’I didn’t want my grapevine to intrude into your yard, causing a problem for you!’’ I told him I didn’t mind at all. His grapes were welcome.

In the fall, the days became shorter and the leaves fell off Daniel’s vine. Then came winter, and the grapevine shrank into its annual dormancy. Like all deciduous plants, the vines, exposed to the hail and snow, were reduced to a dry withering trunk .

When spring came, it came back to life, sprouted new leaves and again headed straight for my fence. I was happy to welcome them and looked forward to a feast in the summer.

In the home stretch, however, a small flock of robins discovered Daniel’s vineyard and made themselves at home. They came every morning and evening and plucked every grape that had turned ripe. This was disappointing after a whole year of waiting, if not working hard.

Duly, I consoled myself. Robins have a right to nature’s bounty too. As the adage goes, every grain of rice preordained to be eaten by you carries your name on it.

And that’s true. If that doesn’t carry your name, even if it’s there on your plate it could lose its way between your spoon and mouth. So, every grape had the name of the living being who was going to eat it.
Every moment is unpredictable as paths are not always smooth and that can turn precipitous too, at times.

Although we human beings are blessed with a lot of different options in survival games, we still tend to exploit the nature that teaches us a noble message to share and care in order to turn this world a better place to live in.

Suresh Nellikode

Email: suresh.nellikode@gmail.com
(New Indian Express – Friday, Jan 12, 2018)grape

The Extra Weights We Gain

I was wondering why some people project themselves fearsome, raw and tyrannical in power that has got nothing to do with the other standing face to face with them. Don’t they assume a lot to restrict themselves to such positions and situations?

 A couple of months ago, while doing shopping in India I happened to come across a man I know, who might have forgotten me, for it’s too hard to sail up the river of life and keep abreast of what’s up with all friends. He’s quite less than my age and currently one of the top brasses of a regional TV channel. If we roll out and sing from the same song-sheets, we have a lot to remember and laugh about. He used to always wonder about my Malayalam fictions published not because of the greatness of writing but the good frequency that kept up. He used to consult with me how to go about the publishing of articles in various periodicals. We had met many a time and he had no reservations for an open talk.

But when I met him and reintroduced myself and told him that we were old friends and used to meet up in the early eighties I found him cold-shouldered and felt like he’s carrying the whole weight of the world he controls. He was so quiet in his reciprocation and restrained. I wished it would have been a surprise for him and introduced me to his wife standing beside him, making the whole small world bloom! He didn’t even give me a full-blown smile nor a sentence other than the stray ..hm…. hm..yeah..yeah..  etc. Are memories like water off a duck’s back even at a very younger age? First time in my life I had a feeling that I shouldn’t have gone to him followed by the inner me saying, ”nothing wrong, for you’ve not gone for any favours.” My wife who was busy shopping at a nearby counter also looked at me and felt my pulse that I’m at the receiving end.

I do not think that this is because of him being an introvert or prefers seclusion. After we left each other a few years ago he soon became a popular lyricist and had enough of the limelight in his field. I wanted to escape from the territory I felt I do not belong to. That left me absolutely cold and reminded me to take a small bite of the reality sandwich always first. I for one think that the other human being may be good at hundreds of things I’m not good at or not even heard of and respect people as and where they are, irrespective of the professions they hold.

No wonder another celebrity film director asked my friend to facilitate me to call him up to get more information on a foreign film festival I’m attached to. Although all information is available on net he preferred me to call back. My friend who stood in between apologetically told me, ”you please call him up as he said he has some propriety and protocol, being a national award winner.”

Did I hear the usage right? Propriety…. protocol..? Is there anything like that? Are we to throw the weight we gain from fame on others?

But I had called up without losing any of mine!


By Suresh Nellikode

A Tale of a Monarch’s Unsung Confidant

A Review : Victoria and Abdul – Director – Stephen Frearsquint

Ali Fazal, Judi Dench, Director Stephen Frears and Eddie Izzard.(Photo Courtesy: Suresh Nellikode)

Abdul Karim was more than happy to travel to England to hand over a special coin to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrations, as instructed by his boss in British India. This is the point from where Victoria & Abdul takes off, to chronicle the story of how Karim’s year-long visit to England was extended to over a decade.

Perhaps Karim (played well by Ali Fazal) had no intentions at the outset to grab a special position in Queen Victoria’s mind or life. Maybe he was not aware of the gravity of the breach of protocol he caused. But the relationship between the monarch and the servant had a massive impact on an empire preserved by the biggest martinets the world has ever seen.

Despite warnings by the sticklers of propriety in the royal household, the queen utilised her monarchic immunity to promote Karim to the position of Munshi and a close confidant. Karim, a Hafiz who claims to know the 114 Suras of Quran by heart, teaches the queen some Hindi/Urdu words, to help her connect to India.

She asks the royal household to send someone to India to bring back some mangoes, and chutney made of ‘the queen of all fruits’.

Imagine the plight of an introverted queen, who is frequently caught dozing at the dinner table, as she transforms into an active, vibrant, party-loving personality. Judi Dench brilliantly portrays the temperamental peculiarity of a monarch “disagreeably attached to power” as she puts it. Dench is no stranger to this character, having played similar roles in Mrs Brown (1997) and Shakespeare in Love(1998).

Karim’s only intention was to be a blue-eyed boy, in the eyes of his bosses both in India and abroad; and he saw nothing wrong with growing closer to the queen. But look at the hardbound branch of executives who have to follow the procedures and protocols attached to the monarchy.

Much to their dismay and distress, Karim, irrespective of the consequences, becomes a fair-haired part of the queen’s life. It is easy to imagine the roadblocks and conflicts of interest that may arise when someone is escalated to the position of a political confidant. It becomes a harder nut to crack when a monarch is involved. The royal lines make you laugh while the drama in the inner circles could be not be portrayed better than it has been in this film.

Although the story is largely dependent on real incidents that unfolded after 1887, the script is based on a book of the same name written by Shrabani Basu. While holidaying in the Isle of Wight, Shrabani chanced upon a painting of Karim at the Osborne House, a former resort that belonged to Queen Victoria. Another picture of him coupled with one of John Brown’s at the old residence of the queen made her think about how Karim must have had a special place in the queen’s life. It is with this in mind that she penned a book about it in 2006.

That was a calculated move by the then government to wipe out that part of history in order to ensure that the queen’s reputation was free of ‘blemishes’. Basu went back to Agra, from where Karim began his journey. Karim passed away in 1909. She found his grave and found that he had no children. After the publication of the book in 2010, Basu has reiterated in several interviews that she is still searching for his relatives.

Some of his kin from Bengaluru got in touch with her and provided some information, helping her get her hands on some original journals – from a relative who had moved to Pakistan at the time of Partition in 1947. When the original journals of Karim reached Basu, it drew appreciation from his relatives, who were initially unwilling to help.

Screenwriter Lee Hall and director Stephen Frears had a tough time transforming the story into a costumed comedy for everyone to enjoy. To a large extent, Frears has succeeded in portraying the essence of conceited royalty, that is both fragile and wary of all things new.

Frears has some outstanding directorial credits to his name, for films like The QueenPhilomena among other. Ali Fazal, a Bollywood pick with his outstanding histrionics, has made Karim’s role memorable.

The supporting actors have done their best in their assigned roles. Tim Piggot-Smith, who played Major General Sir Henry Frederick Cavendish Ponsonby, could not see the movie to its completion due to his untimely death in April 2017. Piggot-Smith is best remembered for his role in The Jewel in the Crown – that fetched him the best actor award in BAFTA, 1985.

Renowned TV actor and stand-up comedian Eddie Izzard delivers a brilliant performance as Prince Albert; as does Michael Gambon as then Conservative Prime Minister Lord Salisbury.

The film has garnered mixed reviews, with some saying the queen was depicted as a lethargic monarch, thus tarnishing her image. Critics have slammed the film as irresponsible for letting a powerful queen off the hook. Some reviewers have called the film a realistic portrayal of a progressive outsider who stood in the way of white racist rulers.

As one of the official entries from the UK, the film drew large crowds at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2017.

(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)

Suresh Nellikode

(The Quint – Oct 08, 2017)

Spanish Lessons on Manspreading

Finally, it came through. A drive against manspreading! Do not laugh at me for I’m not the one who coined that word. It’s nothing but encroaching knowingly or unknowingly upon the nearest seat destined for a fellow passenger in a public transport system. In other words, each passenger is entitled to a place to sit and he/she has to be content with the allotted area and any impingement, whatsoever, is an invasion of your neighbour’s property and privacy.

Spreading unrealistically and physically to an area supposed to have been used by another bona fide passenger is manspreading. Probably this usage opens up a possibility: men coming up with complaints that it simply aims at them.

It started in Spain a month ago with a #MadridSinManspreading. The sign that has been put up in all public transport carries a faceless male with legs and arms spread wide invading the neighbour’s seat. This should be an eye-opener to the people all over the world. We Indians also see people sitting spread-eagled and sleeping or pretending to do so, quite often. Majority of us would leave such people undisturbed, honouring their right to sleep at their own convenience.

Although there are seats assigned for ladies, seniors and the differently-abled, none bothers to respect the law in Kerala’s public transport systems. And if you are one among those privileged to sit over there, there’s every possibility of you being targeted and laughed at for your age, gender or physical shortcoming. Then you have an option of complaining about the matter to the conductor of the bus who is already struggling to conduct himself. At the most, he would shoot the ball back to you pretending he is not a party to all the scribbling you see on the bus. In other words, you yourself have to blaze the trail. Thinking about the unbeknownst fate of the war you’re fighting, possibly leading to a public disgrace, you opt for standing the whole journey.

The man who breaks the law also knows that you won’t dare invest your time and money power for an uphill battle like this. One swallow cannot alone make summer, but pray for it. There’s a masculine thought that this particular locution is not politically correct as it’s clearly aiming at males only. They claim that it’s a payback in kind for the term ‘she-bagging’ created by some men against the usual sight of women keeping all their bag and baggage beside them killing the privileges of the co-passengers. But eventually, what’s in a name if it serves the purpose?

Suresh Nellikode

(New Indian Express – October 24, 2017)Mans

Why did this stranger trust me?

Certain events, although the monetary value involved is peanuts, will not get erased from memory. This happened a few years ago and I’m sure that the man behind the railway counter would not remember it as he probably encounters many such or even better events on a daily basis.

The venue was Aluva railway station. No sooner did we reach the station did the train arrive. My friend Madhu Nair, a writer and American returnee, took the ticket and rushed along to get into it. I thought of going inside the platform to check if my friend got a comfortable seat. I headed for the ticket counter to buy a platform ticket.

When my turn came, I kept a Rs 10 note inside the pigeonhole. A disembodied voice said, ‘’No change, give me Rs 3.’’ I replied, “I’m sorry. I do not have Rs 3 as change.’’ Without a word, a ticket along with my own Rs 10 came out of the hole. I stood confused and looked at him. In a hurry to serve the next in line, he said to me, “Keep the ticket with you. Get the change from somewhere when you come out of the platform and give it to me.” I went inside looking for Madhu, but couldn’t find him. He might have got a seat somewhere. The train started moving and I waved off aimlessly at the train.

I came with Rs 3, got as balance from the platform book shop. When giving the coins to the man at the counter, I asked him, ‘’How did you know that I wouldn’t go away without giving this money?’’
A smile bloomed slowly on his face. He said, ‘’I know that the person who lined up over here and took the trouble of buying a platform ticket will not leave me in debt!’’ I said, ‘’I’m delighted at your hospitality. Thank you very much for trusting me for a ticket that has now turned priceless!’’

That made my day! From what I heard, people had stopped buying platform tickets since long. The officials also found it to difficult to check whether people are all having platform tickets. So none bothers. And none checks too.

The taxi man also told me that he had never heard of anyone buying a platform ticket and that mine might be the only such ticket sold that day. The term itself, he bets, would be quite unheard of to many of the commuters and their chaperons!

But as I noticed during my next visit, the law lives on—with a penalty of Rs 250 plus another fare charge. There’s an ailing board, subdued in colour, that still notes: Entering the platform without journey/platform tickets is punishable under law.

Suresh Nellikode

(New Indian Express – Sep 09, 2017)counter

Days With Fleas In My Ears

We had a peculiar neighbour. When I say peculiar it goes to such an extent where I used to run away from his peculiarity of sustained high-pitched tone of whining. He has something or the other always to clutch at. Either it is about the other neighbour’s black cat every morning he looks at first when he opens his main door or about the darned nuisance created by the songbirds or the cock crows waking him up early morning. He even complains about the owls blasting in and fracturing his silent nights with their unholy hoots invariably followed by a proverbial death news the following day.

The other day he happened along again. This time it was a deluge about the irresponsibility of the other neighbour lady on her black tomcat’s behaviour. He saw the ‘darned thing’ goes by his window with a dead robin in his mouth. As usual, he complained to the owner of the cat. She just laughed it off saying, ”the cat’s just acting naturally. He’s doing what God created it to do!” Needless to mention that he didn’t like her in-one-ear and out-the-other attitude towards the carnage that the beast was wreaking. Not only it ended over there but gave him a flea in his ear reminding a complaint he once made over the cacophonic chirping that begins at the wee hours and never relents until eventide. And she had sealed it up and walked off saying: Good for your sleep!

That event irritated him and he kept it with all intensity and vented the whole hot air out on me, thanks to the patient hearing I keep wearing.

talkI remember once he complained about the bloody birds returning in April from down south to make the month the ‘cruelest’ as T S Eliot opined. For him, the season of November to March provides him unbridled peace – no noisy birds, snowy and sleepy neighbourhoods, less traffic and what not….! Normally, people in Canada are eagerly waiting to get rid of the winter and welcome the advent of spring. All living creatures show up their heads more on the streets after a long hibernation by the beginning of April. Children are waiting for the Victoria Day to blow up the whole stock of their firecrackers, without any prior permission. Imagine the plight of a neighbour who is vigilant in his sleep also as to who flies over his house. He opens his door and comes out on the night of Victoria Day shouting, ”who the hell on earth are bombing the night?” No sooner he finds our children out than he creeps in shutting the door.

When all are heading for outing and camping there is my neighbour complaining about the songbirds who ate up his blueberries and then poop prodigiously on his white car forcing him to swab stoutly to get that stuff off. And I’m thinking of making an underground passage starting right down from my living room to the next junction to escape an insidious trap of listening to my neighbour’s complaints that delays my office trips.

(New Indian Express – Jun 24, 2017)

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