Death(ly) discerning drama

Oh you, the 18th of August. You are 20 this year! Kind of an adult with ‘bring it on’ spook.

You just turned into a multi-role character that day when you took birth. Nothing less than a Shakespearean play your stage was that day! Fine potion of Hamlet and Macbeth for a week-long drinking and then, some more for immersion. On that day you began a deathly discerning drama. Your stage was momentous, halting, eternal, enveloping, dissecting, exposing, contrasting and contradictory. Alas, you grew up enough to tell this tale.

You took her away that dawn when puny humans sang the hymns for goddesses. You gently plucked the breath out of her body leaving the shock on her face. Her eyes locked the death-defining moment’s most agonising pain. It was but for a short minute that she had to endure the delicate touch of a mighty Himalayan boulder on the back of her skull. Chipped it was, carefully crafted right behind the face so that she looked the same beautiful lady that she always was. Except.

Except that her bulged eyes, almost out of their sockets, stared fixedly sending chills down the onlooker’s spine. They conveyed the very last, final and the very decisive pain of her life. Her tongue, pushed out, twisted to the left perfectly aligning with that slight twist of the head. She looked every bit deadly dramatic.

She wore red/burgundy coloured blouse matching so elegantly with the green coloured pure cotton sari made in Andhra Pradesh, highlighted by an attractive gold-coloured border. That sari border was in shreds. Another mighty Himalayan boulder crushed her legs. All was slightly pulped below her waist. Her sari tightly wrapped around her big bosom. The Himalayan cold weather had done her good in keeping up her looks. The Indian Army soldiers had been careful whilst retrieving her body from the debris in Malpa and transporting her through the valleys to Dharchula town. The onlooker waited for her there.

The onlooker recognised her most correctly. But, incorrectly and unexpectedly, far too many dramatic incidents occurred. One of the men ‘handling’ all those dead bodies ripped her gold ear studs along with the ear parts. The onlooker paid him money to retrieve them. Oh, that poor man! The ear studs were the evidence for the listeners.

That the onlooker doubled up as a witness to evidence her mortal remains was equally unexpected.

The lady’s two inheritors didn’t want to witness her. They had good chances of ‘seeing’ her. But they did not want to. The confused older one said he was hungry and tired. The younger one – healthy, well-educated, globe-trotting professional, capable person – had simply asked the older male to assume responsibility. Travelling to Dharchula to see her mortal remains meant risking his own precious young life. The only male child, holy one, who took his divine birth when the gods became frustrated with the parents’ non-stop bugging. That young one believed in doing the last rites of the dead lady.

Where and how? Not in close-by Kashi or Varanasi or by Ganga river that the lady had worshipped all her life. The chosen place was the holy city of Bangalore. The mode of doing her last rites was by engaging an event management group. Nice and easy. All that he needed to do as her inheritor was change his hairstyle. Ready for the greatest show of his life.

So, what then happened to the lady’s body placed in the open, outside the public hospital? Oh, a woman’s life is pretty cheap in India. Those two males didn’t forget that. They simply left the dead lady with a slave girl.

Slaves listen to their hearts.

So, when the death event management details were being discussed over the phone in Bangalore, the slave girl went around the little Himalayan town of Dharchula on foot. She hand-picked and collected all those essential items that a dead Hindu Brahmin married lady would require for her cremation. New sari with blouse piece, fresh flowers, Kumkum-Haldi, bangles, toe-rings, a Mangala Sutra, and other such items. As per the dead lady’s beliefs. No details were ever compromised for the sake of convenience. It was also the auspicious season of Hindu festivals. Gowri and Ganesha festivals were happening that same week. So, the slave girl purchased a little terracotta Gowri to accompany the lady. She was not alone.

As the slave girl could not dress up the half-bodied dead lady with those ritual-based materials, she carried them with her to the pyre that sat by Kali river on the border of India and Nepal. The local Nepali youth and fellow mourners were with her. They all wept together. They were the slave girl’s family at that moment.

Then the priest called out for the male inheritor to come forward to start the cremation rituals (sorry, not a girl’s right or place). No one answered. The older male stood there looking the same self, confused. But, he said he had taken part in many cremations. Ahem. Still, he didn’t step forward. Don’t know where the younger male was.

So, who would answer the priest’s call?

The slave girl did. She cremated the noble, kind-hearted, exemplary, pious Hindu Brahmin married lady as per the lady’s beliefs.

The daughter cremated her mother in the presence of the father.

The mother had kept that unwanted daughter alive. She fed her, raised her, protected her against odds and filled her with inner strength. With that strength, the daughter stepped forward that day answering the priest’s call. She held the fire in her hand, dragged the father behind her, walked around the pyre and then lit it. She paid respects to her mother’s mortal remains that would turn into ashes, merge with Kali river’s waters and then join the sacred Ganga river. Her mother’s wish was fulfilled.

The lady’s own Shiva and Ganesha had abandoned her. The two very traditional, orthodox, holy Hindu Brahmin men did not grace her mortal remains.

Traditions must be maintained and reinforced – so they say. Women’s stories, when they emerge out of closets, fall easy prey to the traditions of patriarchal systems and structures. The men in Indian society ridicule women when personal becomes political. Indian Hindu religion dictates that daughters, wives and mothers belong to fathers, husbands and sons. The lady’s dead body was kept in the open there at Dharchula government hospital. Her husband and son were alive, healthy and stable-minded. Both chose not to be there for her for that one last time, to see her. Traditions were ignored that day. The Theory of Convenience won that day.

Did it, really?

Or, was it her that resisted the tradition? Was it really her choice of not letting those two men see her? Did she finally break away from that tradition of belonging to a male? Did she deliberately will her daughter to cremate her? Did she deny her husband and son that privilege? Was that her final signature of female agency?

At 20, you, the 18th of August, are a death(ly) discerning drama.



1998 KM Batch 12

Some of the 62 yatris of Kailas Manas Sarovar Yatra, Batch 12. They all died in a major landslide at Malpa on August 18, 1998. The total estimated deaths were more than 300 including porters, helpers and officials. Six yatris were from Karnataka. Only one body was retrieved by Indian Army soldiers.


Death(ly) discerning drama


KN Teacher.

Students fondly called her KN Teacher.

She was my teacher in the Middle School at ITI Vidya Mandir, Doorvaninagar, Bangalore 560 016. Outside of school, she taught me Carnatic Vocal music, guiding me until I passed junior level exams. Her daughter is my buddy. I sometimes went over and stayed at KN Teacher’s home. The safety that I felt in her home was beyond any words. An unconditional bond breathed there.

KN Teacher is now 81. She is a reader. An ardent, dynamic, engaging and enterprising reader, she is.

I took a couple of books with me when I went to meet her last October. “Of course I’ll read them, Vinthaa. But, look here, you shouldn’t have taken all this trouble! It is enough for me that you come to see me every time that you are in Bangalore.” Even to this day KN Teacher calls me ‘Vinthaaa’ in her unmistakable, melodious and utterly respectable style.

She reads every day. She gets engrossed in crosswords from the newspaper. She thinks hard about puzzles. She phones up her brother and discusses a crossword that she couldn’t solve that day or talk about current affairs or about something she’s reading. There is an ongoing knowledge exchange there, and transference of skills, ideas and wisdom. The passion is alive, illuminated and catching!

I stayed overnight with her. We chatted. After a long gap of 16 years. Beyond the relationship of being a student and her teacher. Transcending our age and life contexts. There was no purpose, just personhood. We were two individuals, women of different generations. Our conversations ambled through the evening, into the night as I ate delicious oggarane avalakki that she prepared only for my sake with a generous amount of home-made yoghurt, and the next morning too. Our chats took us both through epochs and episodes without dates.

Stories lives weave.

KN Teacher revisited her teen years reminiscing over how twisted life became after her mother’s death. The young woman that she was became the pillar of the family for her father and brothers. Although I already knew it a bit I still listened with fresh ears, curiosity and a kind of awakening that my own life circumstances had kindled me within in the last 16 years. Our synergies recognised each other’s strength, resilience and the life energy. Women like her shone the light of life etching paths with courage, commitment, resolution and sustainable approaches.

A few years ago medical doctors thought she was soon going to be heart-less. Already living a very simple, spiritual life my Teacher decided against medical interventions and prepared herself for the farewell. In a planned, dedicated, conscientious way, without causing problems to her family members or becoming a burden to anybody in any manner. Proving the medical experts wrong, she continued to flourish – helping her children, her siblings and their families, her friends and neighbours. Her heart has been functioning only 45% of the normal capacity. Life has embraced her with a yearning – a need for sustaining such noble humans in this world.

She is living her life independently, with freedom and dignity.

Being short of staff over Deepavali festival her grocer delayed the delivery of her monthly groceries. The previous day of my visit she went over to the shop, got the most necessary groceries packed and carried them home herself. Walking about a kilometre, carrying bags weighing more than 10 kilograms.

KN Teacher is a reader. Reader of the word. Reader of life.

Here’s to my Teacher to mark March 8. With awe and respect.

  • Vinathe Sharma


Articles, WonderEd

KN Teacher



ITI Colony. ITI Quarters.

A thousand genies journeyed from there. A billion stories have already been told.

Genies are still dreaming of a million more stories to share. Narratives Galore.

They are our own Dreamtime Stories. There is only one singular theme binding them together – ITI Colony.

Doorvaninagar, Bengaluru-560 016 is where the Indian Telephone Industries Limited company is situated. The giant manufacturer of telecommunications was a well-nourished seed of the British Raj. When it was birthed in 1948 the proud independent sovereign state of India was looking towards industrialisation. The then supporting pillars were secularism, democratic principles and socialism.

ITI factory, as we all called it, gathered a good sample of workers from around the country. A well-planned township with sweet Kaveri river water supply, electricity, excellent drainage and sewage system and neat, straight, long lanes was created to settle the employees with their families. The younglings attended ITI Vidya Mandir school that offered primary education in three languages – Kannada, English and Tamil. High School offered education in English and Kannada medium of instruction. Different community associations were assigned with the job of nurturing talents and causes in science, music, arts, languages and religion. Everything that was typical of a ‘big’ English village was created in that little Township – temple, bank, post office, bicycle garage, café, vegetable & grocery shops, childcare center, park, hospital and the big school with various sports grounds. Of course, they all played cricket; but, hockey, football and desi games also were alive.


ITI Children’s Park

A Mini-India lived in that ITI Colony. Telugu-vaallu, Bengali-dada, Hindi-bhai, Kannada-anna & akka, Kerala-kutti, Tamil-annai… They were not just worker ants. They brought cultural capital with them to illuminate the Colony with bright little Sunshines and Angel Faces.


Karnataka Sangha

Sometimes I thought the term ‘Colony’ was too colonial; ‘Quarters’ was too regimental; ‘Township’ was too small and strange, confining in its meaning. Dooravani Nagara was the right place-name. My dilemma was often reflected in the address column on application forms, the light cream-coloured Post Cards and Inland Letters that we used, to write to others living away from us.

The younglings, those little Sunshines and Angel Faces, born year after year, used only one place-name –  ITI Colony.

So it was. So it is. Even now.

An IT professional gushes about Ganesha habba at the temple from New Jersy, USA on her WhatsApp group. A classmate from Sydney, Australia is proud to share the photographic evidence of home-grown wonder vegetable Choko. A medical consultant living in England is sharing his karaoke music video. Many are inviting everybody to their children’s weddings in Bengaluru. Some are trying hard to trace those missing or forgotten girls and boys.


ITI Circle

It is indeed so amazing to witness the ITI colony narratives. The Sunshines and Angel Faces –  now mums and dads (some are even grandparents), business bosses, consultants and flourishing families – have carried it all within their heads, hearts and souls. All these days, months, years and decades. Not a single girl or boy has forgotten the good old days of ‘our ITI Colony.’ ITI Colony streets, our school, ITI circle hotel, ITI Karnataka Sangha and a hundred other memorabilia have nestled in their hearts. For ever and ever.


ITI Vidya Mandir School

After all, we did find our magic carpet – our ITI Colony days – thanks to WhatsApp.

‘Namma ITI’ Colony stories are unearthed every day and night. They are whispered across the globe. Crossing different time zones, the oceans, continents and the mountain ranges. The stories are flying everywhere, flapping their wings like the Canada geese.

The genies are all sitting on that magic carpet. Reflections, analysis, interpretations, sharing and discoveries are unfolding.

A new light is shining on those childhood / teenage memories and experiences. Liberating feelings. There is healing. There is a Voice. An exploration of Self.

A powerful meaning-meaning process.

Whoever knew it was going to be so rejuvenating!

Vinathe Sharma


Articles, WonderEd

Magic Carpet called ITI Colony



It had to be that date.

More than 25,000 people affiliated with University of Wollongong looked at us when they opened the university website that day. We were on their screens.

On 17/07/2007

Two doctorates, two children and a passage to India. On 17/07/2007, University of Wollongong.

Two doctorates and two children journeyed through Wollongong.

Our 3-year-old little big boy played with a pen in his hand. His smiling daddy tried to keep him engaged for the photograph. Our 2-month-old cute baby boy was asleep in my arms.

I had just then returned to the campus from a physiotherapy session at Wollongong hospital. Perspiring through those three layers of clothing on that wintery morning I checked with the university photographer, “Do you mind if I go home and put some nice clothes on? I’ll be back in twenty minutes.” We lived on campus.

But, the photographer had other appointments. Instruction to photograph us was sudden and most surprising. There was a ‘story’ about us in the waiting. The faculty chief felt it. It was to be narrated to the world BEFORE I picked up my graduation certificate on 18/07/2007.

18/07/2007 PhD Graduation

With Chris Fox & Baby Varuna – After graduation ceremony on 18/07/2007.

Storying Us. ‘Us’ carried a little buzz. Vinathe & Eric. Brown-coloured Indian woman with a pale-coloured blonde British. Travelling across continents, they had arrived at the ‘Seas of the South’ – Wollongong. Right on the beaches of the Pacific ocean.  Both met at the university as researchers and completed their PhDs. They had all the time in the world for parenting whilst studying, working, travelling and partnering. The Universe granted them two gorgeously beautiful children. Our story.

Wollongong gave me ever-lasting friendships and loving bonds. My boys got their Godmother. Bless her! Gong became an epigraph.

Then 17/07/2007 ensued. Nick Hartgerink said to Wollongong-ites, “There’s much more to be gained at University than academic qualifications. Just ask Eric and Vinathe.” The local newspaper Illawara Mercury interviewed me and published my across-the-continent story.

There weren’t roses everywhere. Some disapproved the Indian-without-Australian-accent in their academia. Heads would turn away. Some looked ‘guilty’ enough to call them ‘I-know-what-you-did.’ A particular ‘academic’ said, “Kind-of-your-name popped up. It didn’t ring any bells.” Never mind, she wasn’t spiritual enough!

But, after 17/07/2007 phenomenon a few simply stopped and chatted with me. They would say nice things to my babies – boy in the pram, baby snuggled up in a Carrier on my chest.

That same week the Vice Chancellor was walking past as we stood by the Duck Pond.  He paused. Of course, he recognised us! With a big pleasant smile he looked at my baby, and then turned to my boy saying Hello. Boy was busy with a stick-cum-fishing-rod in his hands.

My final moment of glory arrived on an evening. The three of us stopped by as my boy watched the gardener blowing away winter leaves. He switched the machine off. Walking up to us he said, “Congratulations, lady. I saw your photo. You did well. Not your man. YOU DID WELL.”

Yes! My bells rang loud and clear.

Articles, WonderEd



The bus was ten minutes late. People waiting in the queue were stirring, shifting their feet, subscribing to a collective mind-mapping of ‘Why is it late’ investigation.

I boarded the bus first, put the currency note in front of the driver and announced my destination. He returned the coin change. I took the ticket off the machine uttering a Thank You.

As I turned towards the seats I heard the driver say “Sorry, I’m late. Terrible traffic. Thank you”. I looked over my shoulder. The driver had a smile on his face, engaged with the person behind me, a fellow passenger.

The driver didn’t initiate a conversation with me. He didn’t say the bus was late. He didn’t say sorry or thank you to me.

Just last year a friend was sharing about their travel to Sri Lanka. Somebody harassed them, poor tourists. “Oh, such things don’t happen in England.” Apparently, the English society is better – and, highly – civilised.

Year 2002. They wouldn’t say Thank You to me on the train or bus in Australia either. Their face, on most occasions, would be stern, and passive aggressive. They would throw a glance at me when I stretched out my hand with money or ticket. And, of course, when I said Thank You. The ticket inspectors on the train to Canberra usually checked my ticket with no words uttered.

But, I would hear them say to others Thank You, Sir or Thank You, Ma’am. Sometimes I looked at them when they said those words. They looked pleasant. The muscles on their face were relaxed.

I wish I had some skills of a cartoonist. I would sketch them as they looked on the train – at me and at others. I would also sketch imagining them eating Indian Butter Chicken curry with naan using cutlery.

Remarkably, and usually, I would be the only non-white person in my railway compartment. Travelling alone in the night with a bunch of people who had tight faces and stern glances.

Did I ever feel scared? Was I afraid of them? Did they look like monsters to me?

No. Never.

We were all just people travelling on the train or bus. Together.

Heterogeneity is better than homogeneity. Evolutionary biology says so too.

But, I did say Thank You to the drivers and ticket inspectors.

They didn’t. Bad manners.

Not even in England. The home of Thank You, Sorry & Please.

Acceptance is better than tolerance.



101 Stories of Racism, Articles

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Dolomites & I