Wednesday 5 February 2020

Autograph of 62 Years

29.01.2020 around 11.45 AM. The place was my office, the Transport Commissionerate. I was having a comparatively relaxed day. The police officer on duty at my office announced that an elderly man has come to visit me and that he introduced himself as my father’s student. I got excited since I have the habit of developing an immense liking to anyone who said or says that he/she knew my father whom I lost when I was sixteen.
I think it would be appropriate to tell you about my father, late Professor N Velayudhan Nair who expired suddenly of myocardial attack at the age of 55 on 11.11.1977. A day I, my mother and siblings will never forget. He had gone with my eldest sister to admit her for MBBS at the Trivandrum Medical College. What started as a happy and proud day suddenly became dark and bleak in the evening and continued as such for years after.
Born to a farmer, his mother and elder siblings blamed him throughout childhood as a person born under dark stars since his father expired before he turned 1. Struggling throughout his youth, he passed matriculation with high marks and went to Bombay where his elder brother worked, to search for a job. He studied typing and shorthand within months from an Institute there. Massive army recruitment for young people was going on in full swing at Bombay that time; he attended it for fun and got promptly selected. He was just 15 then. The British were ruling India at that time and freedom struggle was at its peak. From 1936 to 1948 he served the country under the British rule struggling for freedom till a year after India’s proud independence. During the end of Second World War at the Indo-Chinese border he got a bullet injury on his leg and lost his hearing after falling into a deep trench. Since the injury left him incapable of continuing the service, he took retirement and returned home.
Thereafter he studied History in BA-honors at Kerala University and passed the course with first rank. He immediately got job as lecturer of History at Arts College, Trivandrum. The gold medal he got from the University was our family’s proudest possession till 2001 when a thief broke into our ancestral house and stole everything including this medal. In 1952 he married Radha, the third daughter of Dr. E. K. Raman Pillai, a famous surgeon who did FRCS from England. I am their third daughter. When I was 10, a son was born to my parents much to everyone’s delight. My brother was just 5 when achan passed away.
I remember achan saying often that his greatest assets were his daughters. He was quite proud of us. Though he wanted my eldest sister Geetha, who is still the brightest and most studious in the family to write Civil Services Examinations, he consented to her wish to become a doctor like her maternal grandfather. Achan worked a long time in Colleges outside Trivandrum and came home only once in a while. After I passed 10th (SSLC) barely missing first class, I applied for pre-degree at Women’s College for third group and joined the third group since my ambition at that time was to become a professor like achan. Knowing about it, he came from Edappal where he was working then and forcefully changed me to second (Science) group telling me that I should become a doctor! In the astrological chart drawn up when I was born, it was prophesied that I would become a reputed physician in future! I was doing my miserable second year of science pre-degree when father expired. My two elder sisters and brother became doctors. Though I had taken a vow at my father’s funeral to study well and become a doctor like he wished, my marks were abysmal enough for MBBS (there were no entrance exams then) that I happily joined for BA English to pursue my childhood dream. I thought achan would be as happy to see me as a lecturer too!
So, back to the main story. Mr. G. Shivasubramnia Sharma, the elderly person who sat in front of me was all smiles and seemed excited. “Velayudhan Nair sir taught world history when I was in Arts College doing pre-university studies. He was such an amazing teacher that history became one of our most favourite subjects. I used to sit in the front bench and listen keenly to the classes which he would teach like stories. It was like watching films or dramas. He would draw us into historic events like French Revolution and World War and create role plays for the students. We would be Louis the fourteenth, Hitler, Napoleon Bonaparte, Alexander the great etc and he would ask us what we would do in situations they were faced with.” He was telling me as I sat amazed, listening to him.
“I got grade B in first year for history. Sir asked me to improve the grade to A the next year and also advised me to read English newspapers to improve my English. I told him my helplessness. I was born into a poor Brahmin family with many mouths to feed and on days our only food would be the Prasad from the Padmanabhaswamy temple near to the hut we all lived. Getting even a paisa was difficult for a boy of my age that time, how could I read newspapers? He smiled and gave me a 50 paisa coin saying, ‘go to Chala market. Buy old English newspapers with this money from the scrap store there and read them. Once you finish, take them to the same shop and exchange it with other papers. Continue to read like that till your English becomes good’. What a great idea! I needed to improve my English, not General Knowledge, so old papers were fine for that! I heeded to that advice and my English became very good in a year. I got excellent marks for final year and got admission at both Medical College and Engineering College for my graduation. I opted for Engineering since I had no money to pay the hefty tuition fee for MBBS.”
“Oh, very interesting! Thanks a lot for coming here and telling me all this. I am very happy to hear this, but surprised why you did not come to me before. I’m an IPS officer here since past 33 years and you should have come any day prior to today…” I started.
“Wait, wait, I haven’t finished. There is a reason why I came today. I went to Velayudhan Nair sir for autograph after the course, which was a popular practice those days. He wrote two lines in a page of my autograph and signed it. I found those lines to be poetic and with deep meaning and asked whether it was his lines. He replied, ‘no, it was written by someone very famous. Find it out. I know that the CET has a good library. Or join Public library with student card. And start reading as a hobby. Once you find out who wrote it, come and tell me’. I started reading books in earnest since then. After my engineering degree, I got employment at KSEB. Within a year I got so fed up of the corruption there that I wrote UPSC exams and got appointed in All India Radio. I could clear UPSC easily since my English was quite excellent by then. Before going out of Kerala to work for AIR, I went to see sir again. ‘Please tell me who wrote those lines, sir. I have been continuously reading for 6 years now but could not find out the author of those lines yet.’ I had the habit of writing down excerpts from the books I read in a note book so I showed the book to him. He was impressed, but shaking his head, gave the same reply. ‘Continue reading. Find out and come to me.’ I was determined to find out who wrote those lines by the next time I meet him.” He paused.
He took out a huge book from his bag and showed me pages after pages of lines written with different colour inks and quotes from every book he had read in his life, with dates, name of book and author and important sentences from each book. He had beautiful handwriting, I noticed. “I have several books filled up like this. I have been reading for over 62 years now. I am happy to say that in my life, the most happy and enjoyable times were those spent reading. The autograph was written in 1957 by sir when I was just 16. Now I am past 78 years old.” He gave a sigh and a smile and said with pride.
“I found who wrote those lines in the autograph just a few days back. I got so excited and wanted to tell Velayudhan Nair sir so immediately. But I could not, so I enquired, came to know that his daughter is now a DGP rank officer, called your office to check up if you were free and came over.” He delved into his bag as I sat with my mouth open.
“Those times, there were no computers for searching so I had no option but to read till I found the author. I could have searched ‘google’ anytime recently but that would have been cheating. Sir asked me to read, I enjoyed reading so I continued to read.” He took out a tattered sheet of paper. I eagerly took it thinking it was my father’s hand writing. It wasn’t.
“I lost that autograph somewhere down the lane. I worked in Oman for a long time on deputation and at AIR, I was out of Kerala mostly. After retirement I have got a home in Vattiyurkkavu, but we travel a lot to be with my sons and daughter. I never forgot those lines, so I wrote them down once I realized that the autograph is lost.” He extended the paper towards me. Before I read the lines trying to find out if I knew who wrote them, he said in an excited tone, “Marcus Aurelius! It was he who wrote these!”
Though an avid reader myself, I haven’t read any books of Marcus Aurelius, so I wouldn’t have known also. He continued, “I had this urge to tell sir that I found out the author, you know? This uncontrollable urge? Since sir is no more, I’m happy telling his daughter instead.” His eyes glistened. I too felt tears biting my eyes.
“Achan died 42 years back, but I still feel him very near me. I will tell him for sure, he will be happy to know this. And he will be proud of his favourite student. Thanks a lot, sir.” I told him as I handed back the paper for which he had his hands extended. Relieved, he laughed like a child.
“Actually, I may see him before you do; I’m old and full of diseases. Still, I wanted to tell you, that was why I came.” He looked at the tea which my staff had placed before him a few minutes after he came in and which had gotten cold and forgotten. “I will come to see your mother one day. Don’t want to take anymore of your time.” He got up and slowly walked out.
In a rush of emotions, I sat frozen staring at the lines I hurriedly wrote down before giving the paper back to him, in deep thought. Achan was just 34 or 35 years old when he wrote these lines. How much of a scholar he was even at that age! Mr Sharma is so lucky to have enjoyed hours after hours of classes and close proximity with him! I suddenly realized that I had forgotten to ask for his phone numbers or address! I should have at least taken a selfie with him. But those autograph lines and his story had swept my mind away to some other distant and beautiful place far, far away from my mundane office. I re-read those lines conveying precious layers of meaning albeit scribbled in my lousy handwriting-
“Very little is needed to make a happy life:
It’s all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”

Monday 17 June 2019

Queen Harish, Balabhaskar- Great lives that our roads stole from us…

Queen Harish, Balabhaskar- Great lives that our roads stole from us…

In February 2018, I visited Jodhpur, Udaipur and Jaisalmer for a week with my husband, on holiday. The entire trip was extremely wonderful and we carried home a bundle of precious memories and experiences, thanks to the amazing organizational skills of my dear friend and batch mate in Rajasthan- Rajiv Dasot. The weather was beautiful, roads were wide, food was delicious and stays at the various guest houses and police messes were comfortable.

One of the best experiences we had was a trip to the desert at Jaisalmer where we rode a running camel over sand dunes to watch sunset and I flew on a hanger over the sand against the setting sun, red tinted skies, over unlimited sand hills and over the beautiful desert resort “Desert Springs” where we had dinner. Accompanying the dinner was a show by one Queen Harish and party. Thanks are due to Amit Lodha, the very smart IG then posted at BSF in Jaisalmer who is also an acclaimed author of the bestselling novel ‘Bihar Diaries’ who had made this arrangement for us. He commented, “It will be lucky if there is a show by Queen Harish along with dinner, you will enjoy that tremendously.  But usually he is very busy performing at various places within and outside the country.” We had not heard of this person before so it didn’t mean much to us then.

As we sat on a table facing a podium in the open air enjoying our drinks, a few people arrived and started to play on musical instruments, mostly percussion ones. It was just some usual north Indian music, typically of Rajasthan. After around 15 minutes a few women dressed in dancing robes swayed in. One among them was exceptionally pretty. She was tall and very slim, extremely fair with long plaited hair. She was wearing highly decorated long skirt, blouse and a guilt covered long shawl over her head. Glittering jewellery adorned her neck, ears and arms. She was also wearing hip chains and anklets. She danced with extreme grace; her body swaying elegantly to the drums which were beating fast. Her smile was radiant and expressions beautiful. Suddenly, the aura changed magically from dullness to a quick brightness quite akin to a show of fireworks. I realized that it was her who transformed the sight so delightfully that we espied. Once the music and dance subsided she took a mike and started to speak. I froze.

It was not a woman’s voice. Though the voice was masked to sound like a shy yet naughty woman’s tone, the manliness in its lilt was hard to mask. Still I did not doubt the gender of the person. I just felt disappointed that such a pretty lady had this harsh voice. She spoke in Hindi welcoming us and briefly giving an idea what she and her team will be doing to entertain us. I whispered to my husband, “Is this a transgender person?” “Does it matter? Just enjoy the show.” He whispered back.  So I relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful spectacle for over two hours. In between when she/he left the stage, dullness pervaded which dissipated when she/he came back in different attire. Dancing with knives, fire, swirling around us, pulling us into the orgy, quizzing us, telling stories about her/his various tours and shows, he took each 
of the guests into a charming sphere of dance and music. Even my stiff husband danced with the crowd. In between we delved into the menu of delectable spread of food which Queen Harish claimed ‘made with own hands’.

Recently I sat shocked holding the newspaper in my hands reading the news of the death of Queen Harish and another 4 members of his team in a road accident. I saw the photo of a young man as well as another picture of him in dance robes. A man! His grace in dancing was such that he could excel only in women’s garbs. His beauty was such that it would have wasted had he performed a ‘thandav’ or a ‘break dance’ a-la-Michael Jackson style.  What a waste of supreme talent! I felt the same pain of reading about the accidental death of a maestro of God’s own country Kerala, of the famous violinist Balabhaskar and his cute two year old daughter, again in a car crash. True, the roads are cruel. They cause plenty of premature deaths. But what really cause such accidents? There are several factors including mechanical defects, over-speeding, rash and negligent driving and driving while tired and sleepy. We may ponder for hours on end about the reasons why so many people lose their lives on the road. Automobiles are a great invention. Good roads are the mark of urbanization and development. It saves us so much time while helping us to reach various places easily and effortlessly. Whatever and however much the law enforcement does to prevent accidents and permeate awareness on safe commuting, whatever be the extent of penalty that is imposed, not a day goes by without loss of several innocent lives on our roads.

I fondly remember Balabhaskar, the artist with a boy’s demeanor who shared the dais with me at a function in All Saint’s College, Trivandrum. His stunning smile, the stars in his eyes, the shy way he talked to me about his wife and the love marriage at a young age. I remember the way he played on the violin on stage- both classical and fusion music, transforming his whole personality into a beautiful musical note. It was mesmerizing to watch him move along with the waves he created on his instrument, the facial expressions merging into a melody hitherto unexpressed. That smile which resonated with the strings, the way his head moved and the way he took the audience to an ethereal arena of sweet melody! It is a great, great loss for us, the music lovers. I also saw the only film in which he acted with Meera Jasmine wondering how a musical genius can be a good actor too!
Image result for balabhaskar
Adieu Balabhaskar. Adieu Queen Harish. Rest in eternal peace! I know both of you must be enjoying the for-ever-party in heaven dancing and singing with the Gods and angels now. I only wish that people, at least in your memories would be more careful in future while on the roads.

Thursday 14 February 2019

Kerala’s First Lady IPS Officer | R. Sreelekha | TEDxManipalUniversityJa...



Every coin has got two sides. 

The stories the convicted female prisoners told about the reasons and causes for committing the crimes, their experiences in prison, the lessons learnt, their hopes and expectations- form the crux of these articles.

I am sharing the stories they told me in first person. It is just their version of the crime, their side of the story. May be they are true, may be false. I leave it to the readers to decide. 

Happy reading!

                         Her letter destroyed my life…

I am a girl who underwent the cruel punishment of jail imprisonment for three years without doing any crime whatsoever in my life. I was destined to go through this horrible experience because of a letter written by my heartless sister- my elder brother’s wife.
I was studying for BEd aiming towards my wish to be a school teacher when I got arrested by police. My parents were teachers too. My handsome elder brother was running a margin free super market in town. He married a girl who frequented that shop with the apparent reason of shopping, but hidden wish to make my brother fall in love with her. She got smitten by him at first sight itself. But he was not too keen to marry her. Though from a very rich family, she was modern and stylish and my brother rather liked to marry a simple village girl. When the pressure was mounting from both the girl’s and our family for this alliance, my brother told me, “I’d have been happy if she was like you. She told me that if I do not agree to marry me, she would commit suicide. I don’t like girls who threaten me.” But I too asked him to say yes. “But she loves you madly. Isn’t that reason enough to marry her?” I reasoned.
My poor brother believed that everything will be okay after the wedding. She was born in a Gulf country, did her entire schooling there, she is more in tune with the western ways of dressing, behaving and talking. She was bold and independent. I thought these were admirable qualities in a woman.
The first few months after marriage went off happily for my brother and my new sister. Slowly disturbances surfaced. She was insisting on shifting residence from the ancestral home and stay at a rented accommodation in town, near to her husband’s shop and her parent’s house. My brother who was very much attached to his parents refused it right away. Then she openly disallowed us to get into the car if we were planning to go some place. “This car was given by my father. I want only my husband and me to travel in it.” She said rather rudely when an excited mother sat on the front seat to go to the temple as requested by my brother. She had to get out shame facedly. This was disgusting for us. My sister in law did not know driving, but would ask my brother to take her out every day in the car for movies, for shopping or to the beauty parlour. In addition to all this, she refused to get into the kitchen and cook any food. She showed no interest to learn or do any house-hold work and expected everything to be done either by my mother or me. And when she fought with my brother, she would go to the extremes and say very rude things about all of us. Sometimes, I used to wonder if she was normal because she would talk about death at the drop of a hat! All her sentences would end with “I’m going to die.” “I will commit suicide.” “I’m going to slash my wrist.” “I will hang myself.” Though these were routine threats it really scared us, particularly my parents.
My brother was quite fed up after a few months that he extended his shop timings, sometimes even beyond midnight. While he was staying as far away as he wished from her, she directed her frustration and anger towards me most of the time. When relationships go bad, it is natural to use bad words about others. She used to call me a lot of names. But what I could not tolerate was her using bad words about my brother. “Why is he staying away from me? Stray dog! He is taking revenge up on me. I told him about my affair on the first night. So now, he is having affairs with other women to punish me. That is why he never comes home in time. Lecher! I will show him!” She shouted one day to me.
“It is not because he is having affairs with other women that he does not come home in time, it is because of you! You are such a pain in the neck that he is comfortable being away from you.  Why don’t you give him some peace?” I shouted back at her. But her revelation that she had an affair with a boy was appalling. My brother never revealed it to us. When my mother asked him he admitted that she told him all that. She had eloped with her boyfriend while she was in school and it was the police who brought her back to her parents. She had to be subjected to psychological counselling after that. Horrified, my parents suggested my brother to get divorce. It was too intolerable to them. But my sister in law refused. “I will not leave him. You cannot chase me away. He is my husband. This is my home.” She said with finality. Ignoring her, my brother went to an advocate and engaged him to file a divorce case at the family court.
And then that day came. I had my exams that day. Since it was our grandfather’s death anniversary, father had gone to the temple for doing the rites. My mother was bedridden with high fever. As usual, my sister in law was causing a huge ruckus for silly reasons at home from the early morning itself that I couldn’t study. “Couldn’t you just shut up? Why are you always so loud?” I went to her and asked, “Don’t you know I have exams today? Or are you making all this knowing that? To purposefully disturb me?” I was at the edge of my wits. She did not like my tone and started to shower abuses at me. That made my brother also loose temper. He gave her a slap to quieten her. It was the first time he was getting really angry at her. Howling, she went to her room and slammed the door. After some time my brother went to the shop and I went to the college.
When I got back home after the exam I was told the shocking news. My brother who got a phone call from the neighbours by 1 PM rushed home to find smoke coming from the kitchen of the house. He found his wife unconscious on the kitchen floor with severe burn injuries and his mother too with burns all over her body. He rushed them to the hospital. My sister in law sustained over 70% burn injuries and mother who tried to douse the fire and save her daughter in law also got burns as her dress caught fire. After a few days of treatment in the hospital, my sister in law succumbed to her injuries. Another distressing thing that came to light was that she was 4 months pregnant! My brother vouched that she did not tell him about the pregnancy.
The father of my sister in law gave complaint to the police that his daughter’s death was not an accident, but planned murder. In his plaint, he said that the gas stove was turned on intentionally so that she could get burned and killed while she attempted to cook in the kitchen. He further wrote that his naive daughter was harassed for dowry by my brother and his parents. As proof he gave some letters she wrote to her parents which all mentioned the harassment she was subjected to at our place. In one particular letter she had written- “My husband’s sister is the worst. She threatened to kill me by opening the gas stove in the kitchen and burning me alive. If at all I die, please know that it was her doing.” And that was her last letter to her parents!
We never knew about these lies in her letters until the police came home to arrest me and my brother. They lifted my finger prints from the gas stove and the cylinder. They said that before going to college, I went to the kitchen and kept the gas cylinder and stove opened, knowing that mother who was laid up will not go to the kitchen and if my sister in law goes and try to cook something, she would die. They did not accept my honest statement that I never went to the kitchen at all that day. We were ignorant about law and legal matters and never expected them to arrest us. But thankfully, the police spared my aged parents. I think that my sister in law’s rich parents influenced the police to make out this false case against us. Both my brother and I were remanded in jail for two weeks after the arrest, after which my father got an advocate to take us out on bail.
My life crumbled to pieces around my feet. I felt totally destroyed. I could not complete my studies; a marriage alliance which was more or less fixed was withdrawn. I don’t blame them, who would marry a jail bird? I believe my mother’s version that sister in law’s burn injuries were purely accidental. Around 12 noon that day, she went to my mother’s room claiming that she was hungry. When my mother started to get up to make some lunch, she refused it and went to the kitchen saying, “No, no. I don’t want you to cook my food. What if you poison me?” After a few minutes of unsuccessful attempts, my mother heard her come out and call someone on her phone. She talked for a long time and then went back to the kitchen. Her screams and the fire followed soon after. She must have kept the stove open unknowingly which caused the accident. My mother switched it off and poured water on her daughter in law attempting to save her.
After almost a year, we got convicted in trial for dowry death. In between, my father got paralysis and was bedridden. Unfortunately our advocate could not plead for us effectively. He later told someone that he was not paid enough and hence he was not very serious about the case! Anyway, I got 5 years and my brother, seven years of imprisonment in the court verdict. Another lawyer was engaged by my father to file appeal in the High Court. But that went on for a long time since my sick father could not personally go after the case. My mother changed the lawyer after two years and sold off part of the property to pay him. We got paroles after a year. What I could not tolerate was not going back to jail once our paroles got over, but my mother’s anguished weeping when we left. It broke my heart every time and I would curse that my sister in law’s soul should rot eternally in hell. What else could I do? Then another misery happened. My father expired without seeing his innocent children abdicated from the wrong charges against them.

Ultimately the High Court issued orders on our appeal petition saying that my imprisonment shall be terminated with immediate effect, but my brother will have to continue his full term of imprisonment! Now I am back at home taking care of my old and sick mother while my brother continues to undergo his unjust punishment. I tried my luck at my brother’s margin free shop by opening it for a few days after my release, but even after a week, not a single person came to buy anything from there. So now it remains closed.
Society had branded me as a murderer. Totally innocent I am, as long as it remains imprinted here, I will have to suffer this stigma and continue my insignificant and meaningless life on this cruel earth!

Monday 4 February 2019

Anakkulam (Elephant pond)and Meeshappulimala (Hill of the mustached leopard), Idukki-  amazing experiences

From 24th to 26th January 2019- I along with my husband and son went to two lovely places in God's own Country, 'Anakkulam' and 'Meeshappulimala' in Idukki District to celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary. We had been to Munnar several times before and places like 'Muniyara' (Caves of the rishis) near Marayur had enthralled me with its wonder and beauty, but it was the first time that I was hearing of these 2 places, Anakkulam- means the pond of Elephants and Meeshappulimala, means the mountain of whiskered tigers. Both names are associated with wild animals and being a nature lover, I opted to go and visit these two places over the other suggestions that came up.

We started from Kochi on 24th morning and reached Mankulam, a place around 18 kilometers ahead of Munnar. We have to go a little interior from 'Kallar', a major junction en-route Munnar. The home stays and resorts are located at Mankulam. We stayed at a beautiful resort named "Heaven Valley" at Mankulam. From there we went in the evening to Anakkulam. The time to visit this place is after 5.30 every evening. 
"If you are lucky, you will see the elephants. They don't come out every day though. During my last trip with guests, we waited for 4 hours till 9.30 PM and no elephants came, so the guests had to go back disappointed," Jomon, one of the resort owners told us. 
"Oh, don't worry. I am lucky," I replied, feeling very optimistic about glimpsing some wild elephants. 
We set out from the resort by 5 PM and reached the place in 40 minutes. The ride was bumpy. On reaching Anakkulam, a shallow and narrow stream with plenty of rocks and boulders jutting out of it confronted us, bordering the forest across a large ground in which a volley ball court was roughly set up. A very bad idea to have a volley ball court there, it sort of marred the natural beauty, I thought. On the border of the ground and the road, a concrete half wall  stretched along till the  stream disappeared into the forest. I saw electric fencing on one side, probably to prevent the wild animals from trespassing into human settlement areas. There was a lot of elephant poo on the grounds and even on the roads which appeared fresh. So, there will be elephants today too, I felt hopeful.
"Sometimes, they come up to the road. A week back, they came till that shop." A local man replied to my query. When I asked him about the electric fence he said that there are banana cultivation on that side and elephants love to destroy banana plantations. 
We climbed down some steps to the ground and walked towards the stream. I saw some bubbles coming out and bursting on the surface of the stream. Jomon, who accompanied us from Heaven Valley said, "There are some underground minerals in this area. The water is a little warm, sweet and salty to taste here. Elephants love the flavors and these minerals have medicinal properties too. That is why they come in huge groups." 
We saw some ducks on the side of the stream too. When we walked towards them, they got into the water and swam off. There was a special charm in the place and the water, when we took it in our hands was indeed warm. We dared not to taste it though!
We stayed by the bank of the stream, enjoying the cool wind and ambience for sometime. Knowing that people are not generally allowed to be there at that time of the day, we went back to the road. On one side was a small tea shop from where we ordered coffee and cakes. A girl in school uniform took Rs 100 more than the bill amount from us, which Jomon brought us back later.  The time was past 6 PM when we went back and sat on the parapet facing the ground and stream beyond.  "I hope they come before sun set. The pictures will not be good if clicked in the dark." I mused. "Don't worry, there are lights in the area. You can still see them clearly after dark," Jomon pointed out the high mast lights on the road side. A few local people had gathered on our sides by then. Two vehicles full of guests too landed near where we were sitting. Then a full jeep of tourists too came later.
"Elephants do not go to the water if there are ducks there. They are scared of the white color. Last time, a crane landed on the water while some elephants were drinking water. They panicked and scattered to all sides." An old man standing beside me commented. "The ducks need to get out of water." He repeated.
It was past 6.30 PM when we saw the first elephant come out of the forest. Excitement mounted all around us, shrill voices rose. "Look, here they come! Chase off those ducks! See, there is a herd! Baby elephants too! Look, look!" 

After some slow deliberations, pushing at each other and observing the surroundings, they began to walk towards the water. From the bushes poured out elephant after elephant that after a few I lost count. I think there were more than thirty elephants!


We gazed at the scene in wonder. They were of a lighter shade than those I have seen so far. Even after some of them immersed themselves fully into the water, they came out in a brown shade. However a few black elephants came from the forest later on, but they were not allowed to come anywhere near the water by the brown ones. The ducks were still there are the elephants appeared least bothered. There were very tiny baby elephants in the group which were being fed by their mothers, but I could not see any male tuskers. It was interesting to see how they put their trunks straight into the water base as if to suck out the minerals from the bed of the stream. All of them closed their eyes in ecstasy as they drank the water, it must be very tasty to them! One baby started playing in the water and fell on one side with a whoop.  It was mesmerizing to watch it.
We spent over an hour clicking pictures and shooting videos and soon it became dark. When the sun set, the high mast lights came on, but it did not illuminate the stream. The elephants continued to drink and play unabated. "This stream is their Beverage Corporation," said the local old man in the crowd. All of us laughed. I looked up at the lights which shone on the people rather than on the elephants and wondered whether it was installed to inform the elephants that humans are still around.  When finally we were ready to leave, the old local man had already left, probably to find his own Beverages! On the ride back, we couldn't stop talking about this amazing experience.


Next day morning after breakfast we proceeded to Munnar. Since our rooms at the Rhodo Mansion at Meeshappulimala will be available only after 2 PM, we thought of seeing the Botanical gardens and having lunch from somewhere there before further journey. As usual, the garden and flowers were a feast to the eye. I purchased Kerala Sandal soaps and tea from the garden shop. We had lunch at Silvertips hotel which was themed after the Indian/International Cinema.  There was a wild/forest movie festival going on there. The lunch was okay, but the hotel itself was something different. The rooms are named after famous movies and on our request, a room named Sholay was opened for us to see. Huge posters of the film Sholay decorated the walls. I saw the bed runner shaped after a film reel, but other than that, I did not find any train, jail, dessert themes or Sholay style furniture in the room. We walked around the corridors and clicked a few pictures.
We started from Munnar around 1.30 PM and reached the base camp of Silent Valley by 3.15 PM. We halted here for tea and biscuits and walked around the tents feeling excited about the impending trek. It was a beautiful place with multi colored tents hitched up all around the valley, surrounded by ponds full of water lilies and lovely flower bearing plants around the area.
We could have spent an entire day at the place, but soon it was time to go to the Rhodo Mansion, which is at around 8300 feet above sea level on Meeshappulimala.

It took another hour to get to the Rhodo valley and to the Mansion. The building, belonging to Kerala Forest Development Corporation was openeded in 2013 with eight rooms. The temperature had dropped to around 4 degrees and there was a chilly wind nipping at us. An officer of  Forest Department, Sanid accompanied us from Munnar, explaining the scenery around. At the Mansion, another officer, Jithin was detailed to take us for the trek. "Usually, we start in the early morning by around 5.45. Then we can see the sunrise at the mountain top. We return to reach back by 10 AM for breakfast." He said. "But if you want to see sunset now, there is a place 400 meters from here. We need to start only after 5.30 PM." 
We relaxed, sat on the benches outside and walked around having hot black coffee till the time came to climb up to the sunset point. There was a small pretty metal bridge at the starting point of the trek. Exactly at 5.30, Jithin came and bade us to follow. We started our climb. I was amazed to find the pretty and colorful flowers on both sides of the path. Bright gold flowers tipped silver haired stems of a shrub, magenta flowers danced on long stems of another plant, tiny bright white flowers with yellow centers abounded and a shrub sprouted wine red flowers. "Oh, they planted a beautiful garden around the walk way here. See?" I was excited to see such beauty and bright, lively colors. Jithin stared at me as if I was crazy and replied in a cold tone, "They are wild ones, madam." I couldn't believe it. But such is nature's bounty!  
On the way we saw a few people coming down, panting and holding huge walking sticks. "Do these sticks help?" I asked. The climb up was pretty steep, but nothing I couldn't handle. I was finding it very exciting. "Oh yes," the man replied, "Even better to carry two sticks." He grinned and I thought he was making fun of us. After this however, my husband promptly accepted the stick offered by Aneesh, our driver. At the sunset point a scene of absolute beauty greeted us. 
I sat down with my son on a rock overlooking a steep mountain side and watched the sky, distant snowy hills and the butterflies around us. My husband walked around, clicking pictures. After some time, I lay down on the ground, looking up at the sky and feeling the earth with my hands. When I saw some others joining us, I stood up. They identified me and wanted some selfies with me! 
After sun set, we walked down, back to the Rhodo Mansions. My son was playing music on his iphone which was so befitting with the beauty around us. "Tomorrow morning, we start at 5.45 AM," Jithin  reminded us as we came back to the base. When darkness spread around us, the weather dropped to minus two degrees. We saw smoke rising up from the area near the dining hall. "We have lit a fire. Do come & sit near it," said the care taker of the place. There is a steep walk down to the dining hall. On the ground, huge wooden logs were piled up and a fire was raging high up. Some people, staying at the Mansion in the other rooms were sitting in the benches placed around it. At times, the wooden logs would burst and crumble, throwing sparks all around. We sat down on a bench, feeling the warmth. The smoke was thick.
"This is crazy. Didn't we come here for the cold weather?" my son asked us and he curtly went back to his room. I was struck by what he said. We traveled for over eight hours to reach the mountain ranges with cold weather and then, to fight the cold, we are lighting fires and sitting close to them, inhaling all the smoke! "I am also going," I told my husband who also agreed with me. We went back to our room to relax and play cards and Uno which we carried with us.
At 8 PM, a sumptuous dinner was served to us. After dinner we again sat down and talked about various things including deep philosophical matters. Strangely, we talked about the self, perceptions, ego and Bhagawat Gita! We were in deep discussions till 11 PM, so we decided not to wake up at 5 in the morning and trek to the top. 
The next day, I woke up by 6 AM. The tap water was too cold, still I brushed my teeth and walked down to the kitchen for some hot black coffee. I saw snow sticking to the plants as I walked down and the roof of the dining hall dripping melted snow to the ground. By the time I finished coffee, my husband and son joined me. At 7 we saw a group leaving for trekking. "I am not trekking to the top. You both go, I will relax here," my husband said. The evening trek to sunset point itself was tough for him.
"There is a valley a little further down. We can see snow there. It snowed yesterday night," Sanid informed us. "Let us go before the sun comes up and melt the snow," I suggested. "We can go by jeep. If we walk, it will take half an hour." He replied much to our happiness. We all bundled on the jeep and proceeded through a beautiful road which had heavy trees on both sides. When the jeep stopped, a most fabulous scenery lay in front of us. There was a lake on the right side of a walkway and an expansive land on the left. The land was covered in snow flakes. The grass, barks, few tents and the fire place all were crusted in snow. There were calming and beautiful ripples on the top of the lake. "Will there be any fish in this cold weather?" I asked without thinking. "Antarctica is world's largest producer of fish, do you know?" My son mocked me. We were hesitant to leave that place. Sun's first rays came out and each particle of snow reflected sun's light like little diamonds!
Since the trek was supposed to take over 4 hours, we had light breakfast and my son and I started from the Mansion by 9.30 AM. The trek up to the sunset point was quite alright, but the heat of the sun made it not as enjoyable as last evening. We stopped for a bit under the leafless tree which  was the landmark on that point. 
"We go through this way", Jithin said as he pointed downhill. "Once we descend, we can not come back. So, please decide whether to go or not. It is impossible to climb up back this way. From Meeshappulimala, we have to get back through another route." This last minute info was disturbing. I looked at my son. He was staring at me. "Shall we go?" I asked him. He shrugged. "Let's go. Anyway, we came to this place to go up to the mountains. So, let us complete it."  I said and he nodded. "My shoes are coming out at the heels. I don't know how long it will last," he pointed out. Those shoes were old and I had carried it from Trivandrum for him since he, like his father hardly wear shoes. Anyway, we started our descend. Before that, I happily took the rough stick offered to me since both my knees have arthritis problems. I found it easier to walk with the stick. My son however refused both stick and helping hands.
The climb down was steep and rough. The grip was difficult since there were rolling stones all over the path. After 30 minutes and a few slides, realizing to my horror that a little slip can throw me down a steep incline and break my neck. I happily held the hand of Aneesh who is an expert trekker at tricky places. In the beginning, all of us were laughing, clicking pictures and cracking jokes. "Why is it called Meeshapulimala? Are there huge mustached tigers there?" I asked. Sanid answered, "It is a misnomer, madam. There is some grass growing in abundance there which looks like bushy mustache called 'meesha pullu'. Later it became meesha puli, that's all." He clarified. I was a little sad that there will not be tigers there!
I had to pause a lot in between to catch my breath as we progressed.  An hour had passed and we were climbing up the third mountain. "Are we half way up?" I asked. "Yes," Jithin replied promptly as if to console me. "That is the summit." He pointed to a mountain top quite far away. God, so far? I was sure that it would take more than two hours to get there. We walked on after drinking water and eating bananas for energy. I could see a beautiful blue bit of water in a valley amidst the hills from where I stood.

The more we progressed, the more tired and silent everyone became. One step at a time, careful, one step after the other... I remember repeating it as the trek became tougher and harder. When I halted frequently on the hills panting, I pulled out my mobile phone and clicked pictures at random not because the scene was picture worthy but to make the others believe so! I didn't want them to realize that my stamina was so flimsy! There was a long stretch in a plain field between two hillocks, walking which was not too tiring, but the glaring sun made that long walk also strenuous. I took off my woolen shawl and opened the sweater buttons to allow the wind to caress off the sweat. After some time, we crossed over a narrow stream with a fast current of gushing water which rose in a flurry among some bushes, flowed in great merriment and vanished in an undergrowth far away. The water was cool to touch and crystal clear. 

At last we came to the foot of meeshappulimala. "This will be the final and the toughest climb," warned Jithin as we started. It can't be any tougher than the earlier ones, I thought. But I was mistaken. The mountain was very steep and at certain points your feet will have to be placed higher than your waist level for the next step up. Naturally, I was the last one to reach the summit. On reaching and looking around, I felt a bit disappointed. Is this all? I asked in dismay. Is this really the second highest peak in Western Ghats after Anamudi?
It was a narrow, long strip of the mountain top that accosted us. On one side, the mist blanketed the view entirely.  I could only see the mountains we crossed at the back. Kannan Devan Tea estates, Mattuppetti dam and Anamudi were visible. So also a few settlement areas in Tamil Nadu, another dam and unending wilderness. I saw some tiny birds hopping here and there, quite unafraid of humans. "If not tigers, at least some birds are here," I said. "It's the pippet, a bird which existed centuries before humans existed on earth." Sanid remarked. I clicked some pictures which all came out blurred since they never sat still.

After relaxing on the summit and eating a few oranges, waiting for the mist to clear up, we decided to descent since the mist was still thick. "The first climb down is tricky. Please be careful," Jithin warned as we started down. As we walked down, the mist slowly cleared and we could see a little bit of the other side which was just steep mountain side and nothingness. I slipped on some stones and my ankle got a twist. "Ouch! Now the left ankle hurts too along with both my knees," I complained. Seeing no sympathy I bit my lips and walked down again, this time my eyes glued to the ground. Enough of scenic beauty and clicking pictures, I just wanted to get down alive. I heaved a huge sigh of relied after getting down the steep mountain summit. "Six more mountains to go," my son reminded me as one of his shoe's heels came off and he threw it deep into the forest with irritation. 
Silently we followed Jithin and Sanid who disappeared from our view. The rest of the trek was a mix of misery, pronounced pain on the feet, hot sun shining on us, hand hurting from holding the stick too tight, sweat, fatigue and a sense of 'enoughness'! I felt that the reason why I felt disappointment at the summit was because of this tiredness. There was indeed a wild beauty in that place, but when you are drained out, you hardly see any beauty. Besides, I expected it to be a huge flat area with amazing views on all sides instead of  a narrow strip with one side blocked in a blanket of mist! The trek down was through an area of less greenery. The grass and hills appeared yellow and brown with few shrubs in between. 
My son's second shoe's sole too came off as he swore and threw it off too. As I climbed up my head hit against a low branch of a tree eliciting another 'ouch' from me. Now the head hurts too, I murmured as my son gave me an understanding smile. I was sure he was hurting in places too. As we climbed up another mountain we saw Jithin pulling out some leaves from a plant. "This is the real eucalyptus, from which they make oil. Smell it madam," He offered them to me. It smelled strong. "Back at the Mansion, you can add it to the water when you take bath. It will ease the pain," He said. 
We continued our trek back. After another hour I asked Sanid, "How far to go?"
"Three more mountains and we will reach by the side of the lake where we went in the morning to see snow today." He replied.
"Oh, can you bring the jeep there?" I limped a step. He nodded and went off in earnest as we resumed our quiet and slow trek back. After some time we saw a few people trekking up that way. "It is possible to go up to the summit by this route also. People who occupy tents in the snow valley use this route. It is easier." Jithin answered when I asked him. 
We came to the foot of the last mountain. "The lake is once we climb up and down this one," Jithin said. We got a new burst of strength knowing that it is coming to an end and started to climb up after a brief rest. At last, it was over. A few steps from the last mountain and to the right, down below I could see the sparkling water of the lake. "Yippee, we reached!" I shouted in glee. I threw the walking stick to the side, thanking it for immensely helping my trek and almost ran towards the lake. My wide smile was greeted by the jeep and Sanid standing near it! I jumped into the jeep. We reached the Mansion by 1.45 PM. As I limped to the room, I saw my husband in a t-shirt, talking to some men. "How was it?" He asked me looking suspiciously at my leg. "Tough. I need a bath." I replied. "The room is open. Use the right tap for hot water. Be careful, it is very hot." He said as I ran towards the room. I had consumed a lot of water and all of it had not gone out as sweat.
In the bucket, I took off the Eucaly leaves and put it before opening the right tap which was connected to the solar water heater. The care taker had told us that hot water will come only after 11 AM. But no water came! I waited for over 10 minutes for hot water and since it was not coming, I bathed in ice cold water. As I was toweling myself dry, hot water started to sprout through the right tap! 
Back in the open outside the Mansion, I examined my swollen ankle. The men who were talking with my husband came over to me with suggestions galore about healing swelling and pain. "Did you really climb to the summit?" One person asked me. "Yes. With out climbing to the top, we can't come back, can we?" I replied, a little angry at the silliness of the question. "Oh, I couldn't climb the last big one. We can go round it to the return path, there is a way." He said to my amazement. Why didn't these forest people tell me, I wondered. "Forest officials here told me that you are the first IPS officer to climb the summit." He extended his hand to me to shake it. "And great that you climbed all the way! Great to meet a strong woman!" He said as we shook hands. 
Suddenly my weakness, tiredness and pains vanished. My chest swelled with pride and a sense of achievement. It is truly amazing what words can do to lift up our spirits. I felt very happy and satisfied to have trekked to Meeshappulimala at last!