When Trees Could Walk Like People

How do we introduce our children to the world – the larger world outside the home and family?  How do we explain to them what this world is and what their connection to it is?  Probably it is through the stories we tell them via books and movies.   I haven’t seen or read any Harry Potters yet, but I’m guessing by their popularity, that they are defining the world for millions of kids.  And sometimes I wonder in what way?

When I was a child, one of my favorite authors was Ruskin Bond.  I would devour his books.   He lived in Dehradun, a small town in northern India, in the Himalayan foothills.  There are many writers who live in rural surroundings and their writings bring forth their love of nature.  But I think that Ruskin Bond’s writings struck a chord in me as a child, in that it revealed to me a joyous, nurturing—and very importantly—a personal connection that I as a child could seek and find with the larger natural world around me.

Recently, I re-read many of his books, a sort of nostalgic reading trip down a childhood memory lane.  And what I realized was that what Ruskin Bond did for me as a child with his writings was what his father did for him when he was a child!!  He had simply passed on to me the myths, stories and visions of the world that he had inherited from his father.  I think as loved as Harry Potter is, Ruskin Bond should probably be made compulsory reading for all school children in India!  I’m happy to say, he still lives and writes about the natural world he loves and invites his readers to share in it!

Here’s one of my favorite passages, an excerpt from his short story ‘My Father’s Trees in Dehra,’ [From the collection of stories, Dust on The Mountains]

 Most of fruit trees around the house were planted by Father. But he was not content with planting trees in the garden. On rainy days we would walk beyond the riverbed, armed with cuttings and sampling, and then we would amble through the jungle planting flowering shrubs between the sal and shisham trees. “But no one ever comes here,” I protested the first time. “Who is going to see them?” (more…)

My Memory of An Assassination

It is strange, how sometimes our memory of a public tragedy is sustained by a totally unconnected personal experience.  So it has been for me with Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination by a suicide bomber 20 years ago.

At the time I lived in Washington DC, and shared an apartment with a Taiwanese friend in the suave Foggy Bottom neighbourhood. Every morning at 7, I would sit at the breakfast table and watch people stream into the city to work in stiff grey and black suits, striding briskly, decisively, towards their destination. Each strider maintained an impervious bubble of personal space, taking care never to collide bubbles or intrude into another. And in-between the bubbles was the city’s uninhabited space: organised, methodical, clinically sterile….

Early morning on 21 May in 1991, my roommate, came rushing to my bed, newspaper in hand. “Look, an African woman has killed your prime minister!” Still disoriented, I scanned the front page trying to avoid the gory photo there. “He was not our current PM and she is not African…”  Read the whole article here in The Times of India


This is one of my early poems that was published under the pen name — Ilina Sen.   “Undressing” was first published in the U.K. journal of poetry Obsessed with PipeworkYou can read the whole poem here

Are Our Lives “Boxed” Identities?


Delineating human identity—be it national, state or cultural—by drawing lines on the face of the earth is perhaps one of the most illogical and peculiar activities that the human species engages in. Perhaps no other animal species feels such a compulsion to self-assort…

In reality, national boundaries are nonexistent.   They cannot be touched or seen. Their existence is on paper only and precariously dependent on human desires and conflicts. History shows us these lines shift often. New nations are born. And old ones disappear. And like there was a magic pen involved, the lines are erased and redrawn. The new lines enclose new identities—and this is what makes them particularly illogical and bizarre…

…while Eva could treat her new nationalism with light humor…the process for most people is often agonizing and disorienting.  As was seen in Yugoslavia, the restructuring of a nation’s borders is frequently accompanied by bloodshed and unmitigated violence of a manner that undermines humanity itself.  Those who survive it…still can’t overcome…Read the whole article here.

First published in Word Worth: World magazine of Ideas and Arts, October 2008, Vol 8, No.10

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