The Paper Crane Maker

There it was gliding in the cold dusty breeze

A thin film of paper unable to cease

It touched ground briefly, but was quickly whisked away

To once again frolic in tumultuous play

 

Pulling it free from the gusty clasp

She carefully ironed it in her gentle grasp

She folded, tucked, and folded it again

To skillfully create a beautiful paper crane

 

“Divine is yourself,” she whispered in the ear

The divine in all she taught it to revere

“No more will you flip and flounce about

Stand up to every draft that passes your route”

 

Nurtured and cared for, it was ready to ride

Taking gusts and gales in its confident stride

For its thought, its mind, its self was whole

Endowed with the strength of an enriched soul

 

Extending its wings it began to fly

Up and away into the sparkling blue sky

On reaching the clouds, what sight did it see?

But  a hundred such cranes cruising with glee

 

As for her she walks, she walks on by

Another leaflet to teach to fly

A view unparalleled how fortunate I am to see

Paper crane maker, dear teacher, a salute to thee

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Singapore – A Surprise at Every Turn 

For someone who is intrigued by the random edges of a broken pot, and once puzzled a store manager for admiring the imperfection of a fractured decanter, Singapore’s pristine, painted facades, and minutely manicured foliage made me feel a bit like Jim Carrey in ‘The Truman Show’ – the unsuspecting inhabitant of a beautiful bubble, whose every step was being monitored. At first, it was all too sterile and perfect for me!

Still round the corner there may wait, a new road or a secret gate – Tolkein

Good things happened when after a month, I decided to hop off the tourist bus and walk the alleyways. This Singapore was real, diverse and beautiful. And thankfully not flawless!  It’s here that we get to peek into the history of a land, where the trade winds blew in many lives and lifestyles.

Culturally, Singapore extends beyond its Chinatown of course, but for me it was a good place to start – there is more to the place than its red canopied, ‘3 for $10’ souvenir stores, or even the impressive Buddha tooth relic temple and the ancient Mariamman temple, (the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore). It’s the sight of the odd German sausage vendor, and the sound of an old musician playing a Huqin string instrument. It’s the smell of chestnuts roasting, and the comfort of old buddies playing mahjong. It’s the discovery of a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant where the server passionately educates you on the medicinal values of Chinese wolfberries. It’s also stumbling into an unassuming old teashop where even Queen Elizabeth sat to tea. Most intriguing of all, it’s listening to old tales, about opium-laden sailors and prostitutes in gas lit brothels, earning the place its infamous name, ‘the place of night-less days’.

Raised in India, and having lived outside of it for nearly two decades now, the thing that gives me a kick is not waiting for the convenience of a weekend to celebrate Diwali. It’s a national holiday here! Streets in ‘Little India’ are lit for the festival. Roads are cordoned off to sell sparklers, and goodies, and the whole place is alive for weeks preceding the day. A walk down Buffalo street on any mundane morning, for that matter, is guaranteed to heighten your senses. Here, Tamil film songs, loudly played, alternate with classical devotional music. The fragrance of freshly strung marigold and jasmine garlands, and the flavor of a strong cup of Indian coffee, served frothing in steel tumblers, is priceless. It is in fact a lot closer to my memories of childhood, than to my recent experiences of visits to my hometown, where malls and supermarkets have devoured the neighborhood vendors. The South Indian community, who began migrating in the early 19th century, when modern Singapore was being built by the British, has remarkably held on to old traditions in a quest to retain their identity and comfort in these foreign shores.

The beauty of Singapore is its compactness, something that can also irk people from time to time. Just four miles south of Little India is Kampong Glam, with its Malay history. Here, the legacy of sultans and princes who once ruled the island, are sung by the monuments they left behind like ‘The Royal Palace’, and ‘The Sultan Mosque‘, to name a few. Mysterious little shops selling prayer rugs, and traditional Malay pharmacies don’t make it on the route of most tourist buses. Neither does the old cemetery, speckled with tombs wrapped with yellow cloth ‘hats’ that mark the royalties that were buried there. But it definitely makes for a very exciting morning of adventure.

A pivot around the Sultan Mosque, and you’ll land smack dab in the heart of the popular Arab Street – with its hookah bars, belly dancers, and Mediterranean cafes. Throw in a few Afghani carpet vendors who call you ‘sister’, cloth merchants selling sensuous lace, spot the lady who makes excellent fitted bustiers, and you will find yourself happily humming tunes from ‘Alladin’!

Are we still talking about Singapore, oh yes, we are just getting warmed up! There is still the heady mix of local food courts and English high teas, yacht parties and dinners in the sky, busy ports and lazy beaches, traditional garbs, slim skirts and designer bags, heritage shophouses, earthy bungalows, and steely buildings piercing through the sky – A whole gamut of experiences begging to be savored.

I find it strange that I hardly see policemen on these well-behaved streets, which makes me go back to thoughts of hidden cameras and The Truman Show. For the honest citizen though, Singapore does follow a live and let live policy. Besides, if someone wants to monitor me having a good time, I’d just smile and say cheese. Privacy is so 20th century!

(Published in Destinations Issue 69)

Mind-Boggling

M is for mighty, nothing more powerful have we found

I is for impulsive, it wants to merrily wander around

N is for naive, mold it, handle with care

D is for divine, you are Him, do not despair.

 

The Seeker

Masses of minerals, chemicals, water and such

Make our bodies function

But surely life isn’t just that much

As long as we live, there’s a hunger to know

That urge

The search

The knowledge gained

Isn’t that the purpose, we are here for?

Father

I wondered aloud to a child

What a father meant to him

What images did he conjure

What words came up on whim

“Tall as a mountain!” He cried

Gazing up beyond the skies

A symbol of tall standards?

His thoughts I quietly surmise

“Mighty as the ocean” he screamed

With a twinkle in his eye

An abundance of love and goodness

Isn’t that what his words imply?

“Fierce as the fire,” he roared

Chasing make believe demons away

Didn’t he mean, scorching away misdeeds

The strength in character to convey?

While in careless abandon he bounced

To where playthings whisked him away

I flitted deeper into a realm

Where his words and my thoughts were at play

Isn’t there in all of us a child

Fanciful and yearning for his share

Isn’t there in every man the strength

To pass on a father’s love and care

My Little Engine – at a retreat

I scrubbed and cleaned the engine

Keeping every crevice in mind

With special soap and water

The best of its kind

 

Then gathered all the bubbles

And blew them into the air

Up and away they floated

Seemingly light yet laden with despair

 

One by one they burst.

Pop…pop…pop… they sounded

This one is for stress, that for ego

And that for misgivings simply unfounded

 

The bubbles – now there

And yet not

So big and so true

And then again – not

 

As for the engine

It has been tuned

The ‘pipes’ are cleaned

And the ‘brakes’ renewed

 

Gracefully poised

It is raring to go

Past gray mountains 

And valleys aglow

 

Through time the engine might dull

With every unpleasant exchange

So maybe in a little while

I’ll go back for an oil change