Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A Warrior Woman For All Seasons

Do people get better at what they do as the years go by? Does a warrior woman get more mettlesome as more and more thunderbolts are thrown her way? If so, Mrs. Nalini Chandran must be one fierce warrior, at the age of eighty!

When did it all begin?

Did it start when she was a young girl, travelling around the country, finding wonder in everything she saw? Her father was a Railways employee, and he enjoyed taking his family around by train. Nalini and her brothers looked forward to these journeys, and they watched the world whiz by as they sampled the train food thalis that changed with every station they crossed. Her mother was the disciplinarian, who tamed her children with love, but her father was the one Nalini hero-worshipped, as he guided her into reading the classics, Shakespeare, the Bible and beautiful poetry.

Nalini learnt Kathakali for seven years at a time when girls were not encouraged to go on stage and make spectacles of themselves, as a few envious souls put it. She gave several shows in Mumbai, blossoming out into a dancer of rare repute.

Her first major battle against the world came when she fell in love with Eashwar, a boy who was her closest friend, an ally who understood her. His only crime was that he belonged to a family of slightly lower standing in society. However, love knows no barriers, and despite stiff opposition from her grandmother and her aunts, Nalini went ahead and married the love of her life. Her parents stood by her, but her grandmother took seventeen years to reconcile with her favourite, but headstrong granddaughter.

Eighteen years of marital bliss later, and three daughters who were deeply loved, Nalini had to face the unkindest cut of all, the death of her beloved husband, Eashwar, at the age of forty-two. She was a young widow of thirty-nine, and her daughters were still studying, the youngest one just seven at the time. Just a year ago, Eashwar had suggested that she start a school of her own in the tiny town of Thrissur, in Kerala. He was due for premature retirement from the Army himself, and had plans to do poultry farming and live a relaxed life with his beloved family. Unfortunately, Fate had other plans.

So, this young widow stood strong in a town that was, at that time, still conservative enough to throw brickbats at her. While there were a number of people who supported her, there were the diehards who condemned her ‘mummy-daddy’ school, mainly because she believed that, while the mother tongue was absolutely essential, every child had to learn English as well, if he or she had to survive in a world in which barriers opened up if there was a common language.

Many were the times when she had young men standing with black flags at her gate, protesting in violent syllables, even as they struggled to brave the heat of the sun. It is then that the humanitarian in her would take over, and she would saunter to the gate with glasses of cool sambharam (lassi). “Here you go!” she would smile. “Quench your thirst so that you may have the strength to continue shouting slogans.” Needless to say, she won over a number of them with that one gesture, reminding one of the well-loved quote by Abraham Lincoln: “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

Thus, the warrior woman battled on, living for her school, turning discipline into a catchword, busy in creating students who were not bookworms, but true citizens of the world. She coined a slogan that exemplified her school. “Let the peal of harmony be the appeal of all religions!” This was something she believed in implicitly, as all religions were given equal importance by her. The school choir could burst into melody at any given moment, and render bhajans, carols, mapla pattu (Muslim songs) and patriotic songs at the drop of a hat.

One would have thought that this grand lady could have rested on her laurels at the age of seventy, ten years ago. However, an unexpectedly vicious storm was awaiting her, and once again she had to take up the cudgels, this time to fight for her own school, the institution that she had built out of her blood, sweat and tears. It is a fact that beginnings are always tough and take a lot of strain and upheaval; however, once an enterprise is thriving and running on its own steam, there are countless usurpers who are ready to take credit for its success.

This is exactly what Nalini had to go through. One fine day, she found that a handful of people, whom she had full trust in, had turned against her, and wanted to oust her from her own school. This time, she was badly hurt, almost broken, but her indomitable will and the support from her true friends came to her aid. Besides, “this crazy old teacher”, as she often referred to herself, must have done something good, for without exception, almost her entire band of teachers, the parents of her students, and many of the townsfolk stood staunchly by her, and kept her afloat. Maybe, it was a homage to the way she had nurtured all their children and brought them up as young adults well able to stand on their own feet.

Today, at the grand age of eighty years young, with a slew of awards under her belt, Nalini hopes that her battles are behind her. Her beloved school is considered one of the top ICSE/ISC schools in the country. Her principles and her methodology are being followed by many other schools, and around fourteen schools in Thrissur itself have principals who have been trained by her, no small feat by any standards.

What is it that keeps her going even now? Maybe, it is an amalgam of many beautiful qualities: her will power which does not allow her to give up, her optimism (“Remember the tea-kettle; it is always up to its neck in hot water, yet it still sings”), her amazing sense of humour which allows her to find joy in the tiniest of things, and of course, her multi-faceted personality that makes her excel at poetry, drama, dance and choreography, academics and sports.

But above all this, it is her innate goodness that makes her so well loved by all. This is exemplified in one of her favourite poems, titled ‘Abou Ben Adhem’ by Leigh Hunt, where the moral is beautifully clear. "I pray thee, then,/Write me as one that loves his fellow men." For that is what Nalini Miss or Nalini Valiyamma (big mother) does best of all! May her tribe increase!

The Tournament:
When a Greek pirate ship sails in to loot the wealth of the Cholas, it is brutally defeated by the navy and forced to pay a compensation. A  payment that includes a twelve-year girl, Aremis. Check out this new historical novel Empire (http://bit.ly/DeviEmpire) with a warrior woman, Aremis, at the heart of the novel.


Friday, September 1, 2017

Interpreting the World

The Piano #FridayFotoFiction

The unearthly music echoed around.
“She’s playing the piano again!” breathed Namita, rapturously.
  A proficient piano player, Ujwala had performed across the country. However, after her beloved husband passed away, she had locked away the piano along with the love in her heart.
“Ujwala, we long to hear you play again,” pleaded her friends. She had shaken her head.
Two years flew by, but no music had echoed in the cottage. Till today.
Ujwala welcomed the group in, as the music played on.
“Who is the magical artiste?” asked Namita, surprised.
“How well she interprets the world through her music!” added Annie.
Ujwala led them in. They gazed at the delicate girl whose long fingers tripped across the keys.
“Naina!” called Ujwala softly.
The music ceased; the girl turned, smiling.
“How well you play!” Annie suddenly stopped. Shocked, they gazed at Naina’s beautiful but sightless eyes.

The Piano #FridayFotoFiction