For the last few months I have been unable to take time off for an adventure trip and this upset me quite a bit. And then, today I walked on the roads of Pondy during peak hours. Oh, what an adventure it was !!
I walked to combine transportation & fitness purposes ! Ok, I admit, I tried to delay my unavoidable urgent visit to my dentist by an hour by walking to the dental clinic a few kms away😦


The simple roads transformed themselves into adventure elements – small hillocks (dug & piled up soil), peaks (flyover pillars in progress), gorges (narrow paths between illegally double parked vehicles), rubble course (construction blue metal splattered on the roads), scaling cliffs (racing past buses occupying the roads by almost sticking to it so as to avoid being hit by moving vehicles), watering holes (Pondy special of course!), hunter packs (street dogs zealously guarding their territory), trap pits (holes for cables etc yet to be closed), charging & roaring wild life (brain-shattering speeding drivers with non-stop honking) and deer-caught-in-headlight-scenes (pedestrians like me !!) !!
Pedestrians are an endangered species in Indian cities. And, at this rate of development, they may soon become extinct ! Reserved walkways need to be created at the earliest to save this species !
~ Punitha Lakshmi

Missing in Action – Sadya to Superfast !

I was flying down the stairs…. A green flag swaying a few feet below… A trumpet like sound blowing from a distance… And me waving my hand enthusiastically at the flag… I felt like a Maniratnam movie heroine in the climax of a romcom movie…
No this is not a dream sequence from a movie… These were the thrilling moments from my day today.
This is how the scene unfolded. Just an hour earlier before this scene, I was enjoying a nice Sadya, A Kerala feast, for lunch. My friend Sitara’s mother, Bhavani Aunty, had arranged a tasty spread, in the traditional manner.


The Lunch

Sitara and me after a quick shopping session, sat down the kids for the treat. All of us had devised individual customized algorithms to maximize the sadya experience. I for example started with ada pradaman, and ended with the same, and punctuated every dish like pulichery, olan and erichery with ada pradaman payasams ! The kids scooped the payasam in the poli and devoured it.
The ticking of the clock in the dining hall was the reminder that we cannot be sitting in an endless loop of the sadya ; we had a train to catch !! We somehow halfheartedly got away from the table.


Sadya !

The dear friends, Abhimanyu-Tharan & Rahul-Ananth tried to play till the last minute. That was their way of saying goodbye.
We were ready, but the driver was missing ! My friend called him and he said he was on his way. Probably he too was having a great lunch ! At long last he came, and we had about 15 minutes to catch the train. He raced through the streets of Trivandrum, and we literally jumped out of the car at the station. Two porters chatting casually and having a leisurely afternoon, were pressed into active mode with our arrival. I said we had 2 minutes to get on our train, and told them the train name. They seemed to accept the challenge ! My kids and me sprinted across the platforms and impatiently walked up the moving escalator and ran across the over bridge. We were following the racing porters blindly, as I had no clue as to which platform we were to board. As we were crossing the bridge, they slowed down. I was puzzled. They simply said ‘train poiyee’. I refused to believe and thought that according to IST, there were another 10 minutes for the train to leave. But they pointed a moving train to me. It was just starting and I was hoping to catch it. I motivated them that we can and my kids ran ahead trying to stop the train.
This is the place where the first scene falls in place. As I was waving out frantically to the guard holding the green flag, he looked at me and I shouted stop. My voice would not have reached him definitely.
Did I say earlier that I felt like a Maniratnam heroine in a climax scene ??!!  Well, that was when I felt hopeful of catching the train. Now I actually felt like Kamal Haasan in ‘Moondram Pirai’ movie climax waving out to an unacknowledging Sridevi in the train😦 ;(.
The train kept moving and I believed I could still board the train. Then the train disappeared. The Jan Shatabdi from Trivandrum to Trichur had left platform no:4 at 2.20 p.m, On Time.
We came to a standstill – the kids, me, porters et al. The other people on the platform too, as they tried to understand our plight. The porters set our luggage down, and a small crowd had gathered around us. I decided not to shed any tear. But I felt lost.
The people there assumed I understood Malayalam and spoke rapidly asking about our problem; I assumed that they could understand my Malayalam and spoke quickly asking if there was anyway to stop the train or what the next station was. I was surprised by how well I could speak Malayalam, in that panic mode !!
Somebody said that a Chennai express was departing in 39 minutes. Somebody else said that Nizamuddin Super fast will be starting in another 10 minutes, from the same platform. They offered suggestions to cancel the previous, buy a new ticket, talk to TTE etc etc. My kids were suggesting that we should probably go back to their friends’ grandma’s home, as they can continue playing😉


Kids Playing


I made a quick decision. I decided to try the Nizamuddin. I asked the porters for the charge, and they simply said that they will load our luggage in the new train first, and did not say anything about the money. The train arrived soon enough.
A couple of people helped us find the AC coach and the porters found empty seats and arranged our luggage. Somebody said that I could convert the previous ticket to this train, but the porters said that it is better to get open general tickets. Seeing that I was travelling with 2 kids and few luggages, they offered to go and buy the tickets. I gave him the money and he got 3 sleeper class tickets.
I sat down, gingerly, as I was not sure if the TTE would allow us to travel in this compartment. But the kids were already playing live snakes and ladders by climbing up and down the berths !  I noticed the many missed calls from Sitara, who was anxious about whether we were able to board the train, Jan Shatabdi that is. Bhavani aunty too was anxious it seems, probably thinking we spent too much time eating ! But traditional authentic food deserves time, even if it means missing trains😉
When the TTE came, I showed him both the tickets, and I had to pay the balance fare (SL to AC).
We had upgraded ourselves from chair to berth, and express to superfast – albeit at a cost. Experiences like these help us to realize that some strangers are still helpful, that labourers go the extra mile in helping customers, friends care, and, that one can have a feast and still catch a super fast😉


Hues of Green - from the train window !

I am relaxing in my seat now, enjoying the varied hues of green that Kerala covers itself with🙂
~Punitha Lakshmi


The Light of Compassion

The Light of Compassion



A soul in compassion ,

A heart in expansion ;


When the borders dissolve ,

Humanity as one evolves ;


Who are these You and I ?

There is none in Divine’s Eye  ;


I, Me and Mine creates a boundary ,

And puts Existence in contrary ;


The infinite ‘emptiness’ of ether ,

Does not accomodate any ‘other’ ;


Why is all behind a shroud ?

Is this the set way it should ?


As we unveil curtain by curtain ,

The Light shall shine for certain.


Gently radiate the spirit of Unison ,

Let shine the Light of Compassion .


~Punitha Lakshmi


This post is for the 1000 Voices of Compassion. #1000Speak .

Compassion – a work in progress

WINTER IN WONDERLAND !! ~~ Camping in the Misty Mountains !


The rickety pickup truck puffed its way up the steep mountain road. Excited young voices, from the back of the truck were in sync with the haphazard movement of the vehicle ; rising with speed, laughing in turns and hollering in general ! I was squeezed in the front seat with a lady colleague and carton of mountain oranges for company ! I, of course, was enjoying the novel experience !

I could not identify if the truck was hitting a pothole or was on normal road. The vehicle was lurching on the rain eroded ghat roads, at times careening near the sharp turns. After a point, I started a guessing game with myself – will the vehicle tilt to the right or left now ?! But the local young man, who was driving the pickup truck made no guesses while driving. He seemed to know every inch of the road and steered the loaded vehicle very confidently. The inquisitive villagers along the way waved out to us excitedly, while some waved down the vehicle to have a small chat with the driver, to expressly question him about the details and itinerary of his passengers !

After a good forty minutes drive we spotted the familiar yellow bus, our school bus, which was occupied by the students from earlier jeep & truck trips. A batch of the senior students has braved the steep terrain and long distance to trek two hours to the bus from the camp site ! A quick headcount and excited mini- reunions later (friends separated for a maximum period of two hours !), our school buses started the journey to the commercialized part of the hills.

lake house

A scenic spot in Kodai Lake

Kodai Lake was hosting the tourists, hawkers and locals along its paved banks. Its waters, the main attraction, saw boats of many sizes and types. We split ourselves in groups and went out to explore the lake and its surroundings. While some rented bicycles, some chose to walk along the clean pavements. Walking had its advantages, as we could stop for a spicy freshly roasted corn here, a hot pineapple there or a chilly bajji anywhere ! We leveraged our advantage to quieten our creaking tummies ! The girls in my group enjoyed the sights and sounds as we sauntered in the lake’s circumference !

Some quick shopping for homemade chocolates and fragrant oils later, we boarded the bus for the most difficult part of our journey – the downhill drive ! Avomins became the most sought after commodity followed the ubiquitious plastic bag, in case the avomin is inefficient in keeping the contents of the digestive system inside. For once, even the audio system was shut down ! And, all the occupants of the bus maintained a stoic silence, for fear of offending their respective digestive systems which was threatening to retaliate by propelling its remnants up the esophagus and out of one’s facial cavity ! I will not reveal any specific details of that drive, sparing both the reader and the passenger in the process !

roasted corn

Roasted, spicy corn on the cob !

After what seemed like an eternity, we were finally in the plains. And relieved too ! A hearty lunch and lots of lemon sodas rebooted our systems and the students got back their verve ! From then on all the way to Pondicherry the mood was festive, with the students making up for the quiet time downhill !

The adventurous trip was in its last leg, and I dozed intermittently, for a teacher can never sleep deeply when chaperoning students.


The Pathfinder Camp, has been an important event in the annual calendar of  The Study L’ecole Internationale, Pondicherry for a few years now. The Camp Director Dr. Kisku, has been at the forefront in organizing these camps in a purposeful way. While the junior camp, for 3rd to 6th graders, focuses on inculcating self-reliance in the kids, the senior camp, comprising of grades 7 to 12, challenges the students to higher levels of physical endurance through adventure and mental ability through puzzles and games – all in the outdoors of the pristine hills . The learnings in the four days of camping would in effect be equivalent to many weeks of classroom instruction.


This year’s camp had been overwhelmed by delays ;  the original date in late September clashed with the weekend a court in a neighbouring state chose to convict a famous politician in another neighbouring state. The trip was cancelled due to the ensuing mob violences across the 2 states and 1 UT. The students were disappointed, but soon enough started awaiting new dates for the camp. The second time the camp was planned was in early November. An active NE monsoon was bringing in copious rainfall and landslides in the mountains. The Principal, Mrs. Alice, had to take a call in this and the camp was postponed again. The students were disappointed, but had not lost hope. And their patience was rewarded in the third week of December, when all the campers finally boarded the bus to Kodaikanal one cold early morning ! The 100 students, teachers, staff and drivers were ready for the challenges ahead !

The bus. after a pleasant journey, stopped at a small hill town, Perumal Malai. We jumped out of the bus, due as much from the eagerness to breathe the fresh mountain air, as also to stretch our cramped muscles. And, we did get around two hours to work our restrained muscles and exercise them, in our trek to the base campsite !

A hot homemade lunch awaited us at Kodai Camp, our home for the next four days. The students were given a choice of lodging – dorm, big tents or small tents. Ultimately, the younger ones were accommodated in dorms, while the seniors students took over the tents. The group gathered around the campfire for songs and interactions. The quiet, remote valley resonated with the voices of wonderful children.


A cute calf in the campsite !


It was 8.30 in the morning and all the campers had assembled to start their trek through the Elephant Valley. The trek leads, guides and teachers/camp counselors made sure their group was suitably equipped with water, snacks, team spirit and adventurous attitude !

A hut in the forest

A lovely hut in the forest ! My dream house !

The mountains and valleys were covered by a thick envelope of mist and fog, giving an alluring aura to the hidden beauty. The visibility was only a few feet at its best in the trail. It was as if one had to tear open the Veil of foggy ignorance to realize the hidden Summit of Truth Within. Nature carries life’s signposts everywhere in Existence.

village woman

A village woman going home with the days rewards.

The city bred kids and adults seemed to find their foothold over the mountain trails pretty quickly. Some fell on pebbly trails, some slided over rock faces, some glided over smooth surfaces and many rested at every opportunity ! Hands were held out to rescue the one’s stuck, bags were carried by the stronger one’s, snacks shared and songs sung ; but silence too reigned intermittently when even the kids were awed by the forest sounds.

Just walking ma'am !

Just walking ma’am ! Really !

Some parts of the slopes were eroded due to the heavy rains, exposing more rocks underneath. The roots and grasses, a trekkers natural hand bars, provided the grip in the steep slippery slopes. I had divided my team of 11 into micro groups of approximately 3’s, thus minimizing the chances of an individual getting lost. Two is a crowd in lonely forests, a desired crowd infact !

slushy trail

Climbing the slippery slope

Our trek started through a spice garden and then running into an orange grove. We picked up the fallen oranges to savour the fresh flavor and aroma ! A steep walk up a paved road brought us to the edge of the wild forest – the profuse animal droppings seemed to be the welcome sign to their natural habitat ! From that point on we were leaving the last signs of civilization and going into unspoilt nature.

lemon grass

Lemon grass fringed trail !

How respectful should one be when one is a guest in another’s home ? Shouldn’t the laws of civilization be applicable to human ventures into the forest too ? The students were told to not leave trash the forest, which they complied with in all sincerity.

We trekked through the forest, under the canopy of tall and short trees. The narrow trails, just a foot or two wide at the maximum, was bordered by wild shrubs, trees and spice plants. It seemed quite dark at places. And the, suddenly the mountain seemed to open her arms to welcome her persistent children !

misty trek

“Are we crossing mountains ?!” Trekking to somewhere in low visibility !

The vista was wide open now. The mist became thicker, the tress had fallen back in the trail and we seemed to be on the steep slopes of the mountain. I say seemed to, because we were not really sure of how steep or how deep the slopes were. At one point it looked like we were crossing from one hill to the next, sometimes it looked like we were circumambulating a mountain. Few instances it looked like we were climbing higher to the very peak of that mountain. We had no way of confirming anything then.


“Where are we ?!!”

Our trek guides were with us, helping us navigate the tough terrain. Some places we were wandering alone (in micro groups ofcourse). We stuck to our groups and were guided by the few feet of visibility before us, sometimes just a foot ahead. Lemon grass, a prized herb in the cities, was growing all along the slopes lending fragrance to the air. It provided the only grip in some places.

water falls

The top of the steep falls

In all this adventure, we did time for selfies, pictures, talks and lots of fun. How can one not have fun when surrounded by kids ?!! We were also well past lunch time and snacks were passed around to keep the tummies happy. Every teacher took the utmost care to see her group safe through the trek.


Gorge receiving the water from the falls

At a point near a falls, all the students converged. The water falls had a steep drop into the gorge below and the view from the top was breathtaking. Our next stop was the river that was the source of this falls. It was a gentle river, with just two feet deep at its centre – a perfect place for splashing in the water ! And this exactly what all the kids did – jumped into the water to wash away all the fatigue due to the six hour trek.

village temple

A quaint village temple covered in mist

The mist was closing in more heavily on the river now, as if telling us that visiting hours were over and the river and the forest need to get their beauty sleep ! We continued our trek out of the forest and onto our campsite through a small village. It was a beautifully adventurous day into Nature’s Heartland, where everyone, including the teacher becomes the taught.

misty river

Misty River !

Hot baths and hot meals soothed our weary bodies, and the kids bounced right back into action after a brief break ! Children are indeed the powerhouse of energy !


The sun shone a little the next day and we discovered that our campsite was surrounded by huge mountains, in layer after layer ! The mist had hidden this secret the previous two days. Our trek guide traced the trek route we had covered the previous day. From the comfort of our camp, we realized the arduous trek we had accomplished  – straddling a few mountains, forests and valleys ! It was like looking at the x-ray in a doctor’s office through a well lit board ! The sun was shining the spotlight on our trekking path, perhaps as a reward to the endurance of the entire team !

Collage KODAI

Pathfinders in blue – a cool collage !

The day was spent in team building activities designed by a team of resource people in the outdoors – photo scavenging, spotting, nature scavenging, plank walking etc. Each activity required the participation and contribution of each and every child. And making the every child to come out with ideas and involvement was the success. As a testimony to the inclusive nature of the camp, my younger son in 4th grade who accompanied me to the camp, was made part of the teams right at the beginning. The 12th graders heard out his ideas as much as they did a 7th graders.

camp activity

Camping grounds with the mountains as backdrop !

Co-operation, inclusiveness, initiative, team spirit, idea generation, responsibility and other such lofty ideals would remain just that – lofty ideals – if confined to text books or dry sermons by teachers in classrooms. I am by no means undermining the value of the textbook or teachers – I have utmost regard for both. But it is only in a sports ground or in the wilderness that a child can get the time and space to practice first hand and make these lofty ideals a habit, a recurring habit. I am a staunch believer in this. I am fortunate to be working in an institution that too believes and practices this.

hula hoop

Hula Hoopers !


A special mention about our super seniors, the 12th graders, where the ‘super’ is not just a category name but an adjective to those seniors. They took their juniors under their wings, looked out for them, helped them out in difficult tasks, and coordinated with their teachers and other resource people to make this camp a success ! They were an inspiration to their juniors too, my kids still bring in the name of their senior annas and akkas when discussing the camp.

tandem plank

Tandem Bridge ! The seniors leading from the front and guiding from the rear too. The juniors learning team spirit !

It is wrong to stereotype an entire generation as irresponsible or brash or brand them with other such adjectives. Sometimes we have to trust them and give them a free hand to let them experience their goodness and potential. And the perfect setting to initiate this would be away from the classroom or even home, as the classroom dynamics sometimes comes too loaded with pre-conceived baggage.


Stories by the camp fire ! Pic courtesy : The Study

Sending out fit and responsible citizens out into the world is the responsibility of every parent, teacher, school and college. I am sure that these students will definitely Be the Change in the place and time they live.

Tha cubed !

‘Tha’ cubed🙂

My colleagues, camp director, the resource people, the campsite owners, their staff, the students – everyone contributed to make this camp a true ‘Winter in Wonderland’ !!


It was past midnight when we reached back to school. The eager parents were happy to get back with their kids. Teachers and students were bidding adieus with a heavy heart, for the bond had grown in the four adventurous days.

tree swing

Cheered by the students to try this very long roped tyre swing ! An exhilarating experience !

~Punitha Lakshmi

CRUISING CINDRELLA ! ~~ A drive in Fairyland !



Cruising on a wide open highway…. the wind blowing on my face… my lips singing… my eyes gleaming… and my heart leaping !! I could go on and on… on the roads… about the drives…

I think I am a born driver ! I have been in love with driving right from when I was a very little girl ! I have photographs to prove my passion for this art form !

I discovered the joy of driving/ riding very early in life :)

I discovered the joy of driving/ riding very early in life🙂

Yes, driving is indeed is an art form – that which gives immense pleasure when done with joy !

And I have enough & more experience on the roads – driving in a few countries, in different modes of transport and spanning many years ! And every day on the road is an experience of life itself  – especially if it is in India !

Armed with these credentials (!!), I have decided to share my experiences and learnings about my life on the roads ! Ok, so now you know, why I had to give such a big preamble before this announcement !

The new series ‘Cruising Cindrella !’ will take you along on my drives ; and hopefully that will not be a boring drive !

“Why this title ‘Crusing Cindrella !’ ?”, you might ask ? One may argue that I am neither a Cindrella, nor do I have a smooth cruise ! I do not want either too !

Cindrella was driven in a fancy coach, which would vanish at midnight ! She wore royal clothes and glass slippers. She danced with her eyes lingering on the clock. She sneaked out at night, in fear !

I like to drive by myself, in a reliable vehicle which would be real ! I wear simple clothes and comfortable footwear, which would not hinder my driving ! I do not need to get fixed on the clock  when on a drive ! I go on drives at my will, in anticipation and joy of the journey ! Well, now and then atleast !

The joy ride continues... !

The joy ride continues… !

So you see, I am as different from the fairytale Cindrella, as can be ! But Cindrella had a real life too, where she toiled relentlessly, without rest or respite. Now, that would be close to my reality too. Alas, there are similarities …

But I do feel like Cindrella out for a ball, when I am driving ! I leave behind the stark reality and enter into a fairytale setting when I am driving, especially long distances !

The road transforms into my dance floor, the whizzing wind the music, the other vehicles the break-step and the friction of wheels the rhythm ! I waltz on the roads, in and out of lanes, weaving in between the vehicles, while maintaining an elegant poise ! The switching off of the engine at the destination provides the cadence ! I would like to think so ! 

Nevertheless, the reality on the roads is anything but a fairy land. It is more of a hazardous adventure than a dreamy cruise. And thats what makes the journey interesting, perhaps !

The mode of transport is immaterial, the driving conditions do not hinder, just the happiness of breakkng through the wall of air by oneself is reason enough to drive on !

So, strap on your seatbelts and get ready for the Drive !! Interesting insights awaits !


MY BUCKET LIST – New & Revised : Part 1 – Punitha’s Ark


Part 1 – Punitha’s Ark

Not very long ago, my bucket list was simple and straight forward :

1. Become a published author/poetess


5. Trek in the Himalayas with kids




15. Do a self-driven cross-country road-trip with friends





50. Chase the monsoon, from onset to exit, across the Indian sub-continent



60. Scuba dive in the coral reefs




75. Cycle in the Swiss Alps




99. Spend the rest of my life happily in a bamboo cottage by a serene river within a monsoon drenched forest !

100. Have a peaceful, non-violent, instant, natural death – amidst Nature !


The above list was ‘current’ & ‘for life’ till 2 months ago ! Sigh… isnt this list simple & straightforward ?!! If you don’t agree, wait till you read ‘Punitha’s New & Revised Bucket List’ !

Now my new & revised bucket list is colourful – and complicated .

Before I familiarize you with my new bucket list, I’ll have to tell the story behind the need for revising my bucket list !

It all started one early morning a few weeks ago . I woke up as usual, much before the sunrise and headed straight to the kitchen to start the coffee filter, and hence the day. Lo, I seemed to have floated from the bed to a brook ! In my semi-sleepy state I thought that perhaps no.99 on my bucket list was being fulfilled !

In drowsy ecstacy I was ready to bend down and cradle the brook water in my palms while my heart recited Tennyson’s poem :

I wind about, and in and out,
With here a blossom sailing,

But a mild smell alerted me to the contrary. I switched on the light and realized in shock that my kitchen was flooded. The water was covering my toes and the floor was slippery.

I felt like Noah surveying the Great Flood ! My immediate worry was about my choice of food to be taken into the Ark, were I able to build one ! Filter coffee ofcourse was mandatory on my list, and infact would be my only preference on the food list ; especially it being my coffee time ! The second choice in the list was wide open. Should it be my kids’ favourite chocolate drink, or their health malt that they would rather avoid ?! Perhaps the choco drink could double up as our dessert too, what with we all having a sweet tooth !

Then ofcourse I had to worry about the selection of living creatures for Puni’s Ark. Assuming that my two kids would willingly jump aboard the ark for safety (I bet they would rather swim and enjoy in the floods !), I can just let out our fishes in their natural habitat ! I could also imagine cockroaches, lizards and tadpoles sneaking onto the ark…..

Punitha's Ark

Coffee Time in Puni’s Ark ! Pencil Sketch on Paper


My de-caffeinated brain protested against this thought overload, and refused to process my selection algorithm ! So, I shut off my mind and ambled to the bathroom. Brush in hand, I opened the tap expecting a smooth line of water, but all it could offer me was air. I tried the other faucets, with the same result. Phew… I now had a flooded kitchen and an empty water tank to tackle ! I switched on the motor and waited for the tank to fill again.

But I was not sure yet how the kitchen got flooded – was it a leak from the tap, or perhaps the drainage outlet was improper ? The flood water looked clear and clean… so my wager was on the former guess. In that case, would refilling the tank replenish the flood ? How am I going to throw out the flood water ? Is there a way other than manually scooping out the water ? My scientific temper flared and I visualized a siphon attached to a hose to redirect the water directly to the garden below !

But my brain, still decaffeinated refused to cooperate. So I decided to do what a coffee aficionado decides to do when faced with such calamity – have a coffee ! After all is there anything that cannot be solved over a cup of coffee ??!! Even if not, everything else can wait !!

I waded through my very own ‘brook’ and started the coffee filter. With coffee in hand, I waded out of the kitchen triumphantly with my prized beverage.

While thus lounging in my couch, coffee in hand, I became oblivious to the flooding and enjoyed the early morning bird songs drifting in through my window !. I think only Virgoans can sport such a leisurely attitude amidst a crisis ! Atleast, one Virgoan can😉 !

Anyways, once caffeinated, I was in a dilemma on whether to stock up my ark or tackle the waters. I decided to clear the flood and tackled the problem in earnestness. After a good half hour of scooping, pushing and throwing out buckets of water, my kitchen floor emerged again, much like how Lemuria would from the ocean depths, if one were able to divert the ocean water from that spot. I smiled triumphantly.

Little did I know that my ‘bucket list’ had just started – with numerous check boxes embedded in it.

~~~~Updating Bucket List… Stay tuned please… !~~~~

~Punitha Lakshmi

Vocalizing Silence – The Spell of Voiceless Wonder

I love Silence.

I love music. I love Silence even better.

My world was completely in Silence for a month. And mostly silent even now.

Sometimes nature has a way of redirecting one to her true personality.

Beauty of Silence...

Beauty of Silence…

It all began with a throat infection and high fever, which I as usual ignored. But the virus struck with a vengeance and blocked my voice completely. But fear not friends, this post is not about the excruciating details about my ailment or the uninteresting medical interventions I had to undergo… I know it is boring to have an ailment, but even more boring to hear about it. This is a narrative about the interesting incidents and disagreeable dilemmas during this Period of Silence !

One fine morning, I woke up and realized that I had been muted overnight by the virus ! I panicked, nevertheless went to work thinking that the virus would lose power as the day progressed. But no. Not a single syllable could escape my vocal cords for the entire day ! And I was at work ! I panicked, to put it mildly. People were curious when I could not talk.

I messaged my dad to fix up an appointment with an ENT physician, because I could not do it myself. He was surprised that I am voluntarily willing to go to a doctor ! And probably for the first time in my life I was actually eagerly, nay impatiently, waiting for a doctor’s appointment ! Even the doctor’s appointments during my pregnancy check-up months come a far second, at the most !

Evening came, and my kids were perplexed why I could not still speak –  a few hours is indeed a long time in a kid’s clock. I wrote on a piece of paper that I will be able to talk tomorrow ; I expected the doctor to give some magic medicine to bring back my voice.

I dropped my kids at their tennis coaching and quickly went to the doctor’s office. In the waiting area, I wrote down my ‘case history’ on a paper, including the origin, duration, symptoms, progress of the condition and the importance of getting my voice back asap – the last entry being stressed the most.

The doctor was quite impressed by my presentation of the case, and he was left with no questions to ask  ! But impressions didn’t matter to me, I had come here with a singular purpose – to get my voice back. So I wrote again in bold letters – I WANT MY VOICE BACK – ASAP. He put on a headlamp, much like a miner’s, and peered into my mouth. After a few moments, he shook his head gravely and said that I had viral attack with a secondary infection of bacteria. It was severe. He listed out medical terms like severe acute laryngitis, severe acute pharyngitis, rhinitis, sinusitis, beginnings of bronchitis and patches of pneumonitis . I was like ok, so ? He pointed to an anatomical model of ear, nose, throat and explained each term . I was still in ‘so what’ stance ? He finished the lecture with ‘these are your ailments now’ !! So, Fini ITIS !

Sinusitis, I can deal with easily, having been used to it for a long time.  And, I did not care for these other ‘itis’es. He ruled out tonsilitis – aah, I am glad about that ! I just wanted my voice back. I pointed to the bold letters on my self-written case history. The doctor by now could know that sentence even without reading it fully, what with me pointing to it every few seconds ! But he was still nodding gravely and broke the bad news – that it would take ATLEAST 15-20 days for me to get back my voice. Even then it would be feeble for a few more days. My mouth had been turned into an unwilling host by the viruses and the bacterias which had tagged along with the former !

I could feel tears welling up in my eyes – how could I go to work, how could I manage my kids ? And most importantly, how could I drive on the roads of Pondicherry – where sometimes horns are not enough and people expect a personal request put forward politely to them to give way ?! I was worried. I started writing addendums on my case sheet – ‘I am a mother. I am a teacher. Voice is my most important tool for both my roles.’ By now the doctor was curious to see my case self-updates ! He read and looked at me. I again pointed to the now familiar capital letterings ‘I WANT MY VOICE BACK – ASAP’ ! In response he wrote on my prescription sheet – ‘ABSOLUTE VOICE REST’ !!

I had expected the doctor’s visit to be a quick formality – where I expected the doctor to give a positive prognosis and a placebo perhaps ! But the diagnosis has turned unfavourable for any such proclamation ! So here I was struck with a tray of medicines, and still not guaranteed a quick recovery of my voice !

My kids were surprised by my condition. They asked me a hundred questions, which I was not able to answer immediately. It was a week when we were having guests, and an important religious ritual at home. So relatives came and were puzzled. Some thought I was observing ‘Mouna vrat’ (vow of silence) ! Some thought I was too tired to talk – what with my fever, cold, cough etc accompanying these ‘itis’es ! We have quite a few doctors in the family, so sometimes all I had to do was write the list of ‘it is’ es on a paper and they would come up with tests, prescriptions, treatments that I should be subjected to ! But they were outdone by the senior ladies, who shared the secret powers of their kitchen spices to concoct ‘kashayams’ & ‘rasams’ as an antidote to my curious condition ! I was as attentive as a student after lunch😉

The only point which allopathy, naturopathy and sympathy agreed upon was in imploring me to ‘gargle with hot salt water – thrice a day’ !! And I hated that one solution the most !

Through all the gargling, steaming (not vegetables, but my own nostrils), drugging (of the medical variety), dieting (no icecreams and cold drinks) – I went to work (school), parented my kids (home) and drove my kids around town (chauffer – my evening job!) . I tried to continue life normally using all my mental faculties to come up with on the spot solutions to traverse my daily routine. I could not afford to hibernate in bed for the duration of my illness. This decision, brought its own reward ! I witnessed and experienced the most interesting responses and facial reactions to seemingly normal situations !

Shrouded in Silence…

Sharing some snippets of these humorous episodes below :

# When people realized that I am unable to talk, and that I was writing out my responses, some also spontaneously grabbed the paper to write their responses ! I had to remind them that they could talk !!

# My mobile service provider bombarded my phone with smses, as usual. Hidden in that bunch was an innocuous sms which stated something to this effect, ‘You have been renewed for RINGTONE DHAMAKA subscription service from Airtel. You have been charged Rs. 3.0. Enjoy your service !’. ‘Renew’ ??? But I had not even subscribed to it !! This had happened once before, and I had been blissfully unaware of its implications until a friend adviced me to call up airtel and ask to be unsubscribed.  This time around, in my muted condition, I felt  like an Indian middle class tax payer whose chunk of salary has been deducted at source. Better to accept in silence, than to argue with the revenue department ! So everyday I was renewed !!

# My son Abhimanyu is like Mac (yup, The Apple) ! He can work efficiently in silence, well mostly, especially if that particular activity interests him immensely. So we were able to just carry on our work quietly . I wrote down the medical terms on a paper and he googled those for meanings.

#  My little one Rahul is like Windows (the Miscrosoft release ofcourse) ! He needs to give constant updates, running commentaries to me about his every activity ! And he would not let me proceed with my work unless I ‘agree’ and am in sync with his updates & thought processes ! During normal times I can match his wit and humour ! But in my present condition, I felt like a      windows OS user, who has to dodge, accept or get ‘reminded for later’ (but never declined, mind you), the umpteen ‘updates’ that one is deluded with on logging in !

#  Not for nothing did I nickname the little tyke Rahul as ‘Google’ – he is mostly in auto-completion mode, helpfully trying to come up with suggestions to make me feel lucky, even before I complete on paper the first word of my intended sentence !! And his internal algorithm spews out only ‘his choices’, from which I have the ‘freedom’ of choosing.

#  I felt like an erstwhile valiant warrior, sent out to the battlefield after confiscating his weapons… in this case a teacher in a class of ‘enthusiastic’ students without her weapon of control – Her Voice !! But I had my Brahmasthra – The Eyes, The Stare !! I used at as effectively as possible. But to give credit to my students, they were really co-operative, helpful and even assigned themselves the task of managing the class and voicing my instructions, which I wrote on the board or notebook ! They would ask everyday, “Ma’am is your voice better”, “ Can you  talk” ! Whether it is out of concern or worry I would never know. But, did I see a faint bit of relief when I gestured a silent no ?!!

#  My colleagues/friends wishing me a good morning expected me to do the normal thing and wish them back as usual. But from their stare I could discern that they felt like the user of, who has to battle an unresponsive website for a few minutes to even get a rude image like ‘unable to connect’ !

# Re-visits to the ENT provided hope of a ‘perfectly alright’ pronouncement, much like that of a fan’s hope of a century during Sachin’s innings. But like the cricketer’s retirement, my microbes too were reluctant to concede to my ‘pitch’ (multiple puns intended). They were indeed planning a long stint at my pharynx/larynx !

# My phone was on permanent silent mode during that affliction !  I used it extensively and effectively as a mp3 player, camera, notepad, alarm, reminder service, messaging service etc ; anything but communicating, talking to be specific ! “ Can’t talk. WhatsApp only “ became true in my case !

#  When I was able to get some words out feebly after 3 weeks, I could only speak in very short phrases. I felt like a character out of Director Maniratnam’s movies ! Now, I have enough expertise in this form of speaking, that I could become a dialogue writer for his next movie effortlessly !

# I love singing (in solitude) and hum during manual work. I tried to hum during that period, and ended up sounding like a blocked flute !

# Some talked to me in a very low volume, almost in a whisper. Perhaps they did not want to disturb the silence I was expressing !

#  Some talked to me in an abnormally high pitch ! Perhaps they thought that along with my speaker (vocal chord) my receiver (ears) too were damaged !

Situation  slowly stammered back to normalcy. I was able to get out a few words in a very feeble voice and got progressively better.

I have never been a talkative person. And my voice is never loud,  it is soft to be heard even in a small loud group.  Ofcourse, I am fun-loving and I love to chat with close friends. But even then, I listen more than I talk. Perhaps my 2nd standard class teacher would differ in her opinion. Because, to my knowledge she was the only one to complain to my parents that I was very talkative in class, quite exasperatedly, during every PTA that year I must add ! I along with four of my friends used to talk a lot in class it seems !!

Growing in Silence...

Growing in Silence…

But I am generally a quiet person. I don’t have to absolutely talk. Perhaps that is why I always wanted to become a writer/poetess. I express myself better using the pen or the keyboard perhaps !

But my respect for the people who cannot speak by birth has grown tremendously. I wonder how they survive in this tough world, without being able to vocalize their thoughts. Or perhaps, it is easier that way. And one learns to use non-verbal means of communication more effectively and actually respond, than just reply verbally.

Oomai endral oru vagai amaidhi.

Ezhai endral adhil oru amaidhi.

This beautiful tamil lyrics by eminent poet Kannadasan from the song Kanne kalaimane (Moondram pirai) translates to :

There is a peace in muteness

There is a peace in poverty.

Indeed, the more life takes away worldly comforts/privileges/relationships away from a person, the more one gets the space to move towards Eternal Silence & Peace.

This Period of Silence gave me the time to get back to writing. I contemplated a lot, and wrote a lot. In Silence.

This Period of Silence allowed me to be silent. I love Silence.

P.S : I can imagine my friends who read this feel like a Windows OS user who tries to shut down the laptop quickly, only to be stalled by the messages of ‘Configuring updates 1 of  99 – Do not shut down your computer’ from the persistent OS ! Well, Force Shut Down is the only option for you now😉 !!