Vidya Josephs Blog

Shimoga, the one which most of you out there may be familiar with, is lost. Gone forever actually. For most of us, Shimoga immediately brings to mind the Holae (The Tunga River), Meenakshi Bhavan, Krishna Cafe, Shivappa Nayaka Market among other such landmarks like the Sahyadri College and Gopi Circle. The Sacred Heart Cathedral, which is a major land mark now, is a recent addition. But anybody coming to Shimoga city today, will be shocked out of his senses when he drives through the ancient B-H road. For, nothing exists there anymore. Meenakshi Bhavan is almost fully demolished, all the shop fronts have been brought down and the S-N market is a pile of rubble. The new government, whose chief is from Shimoga, believes that Shimoga should be (sic) upgraded! Which naturally means wider roads, more cars, more malls and god knows what else. The result, folks, is that we no longer have the Shimoga we loved and hated, cursed and blessed, which nevertheless was HOME. The government, read the chief minister, wants this ancient, rambling, historic city to be replaced by a so-called sprawling modern metropolis (maybe like Bangalore???) and the hundreds of ancient banyans and tamarinds and neems and honges which lined the shimoga-bhadravathi road were the first casualities. The Nidige lake, which was already fast disappearing because of silt deposits and lack of maintenance was the next. People of Shimoga, especially the merchant classes who had their shop fronts on B-H road were weaving dreams of larger tourist traffic and more business for them when the axe fell on them as well. The road extension of B H Road was taken up, ironically, on Ayudha Pooja and Vijayadashami festivals. The long five day holiday week turned into a nightmare to hundreds of merchant families which lined the B H Road. Even while we were trying to recover from the crassness of the entire operation, we stole a look at the devastated road and realised that Shimogas heartland had been mauled and broken beyond all repair.

I  do not know why this should affect me so much. I have never professed to love this gossipy, nosy old town all that much. But somehow this kind of modernism drives have very sinister overtones. I cannot but recall Hitler who was a hot favourite in Germany in the 20s and the 30s because of his so called dedication to development. Maybe the millions of ordinary Germans never even dreamed that their support to  this one man could result in the deaths of more than a million innocent people. Neither can I forget another mega development guru of our own times, Narendra Modi. A government which can use a festival like Ayudha Pooja to bring down the livelihood of hundreds, a government which is run by a party which professes the Hindutva ideology and swears by Hindu culture, can itself be an instrument which has destroyed a very ancient thriving native culture is, as I said, sinister.


She sat there, straight and tall,

Immobile of face, naked of eyes.

Something about her

A dignity in death perhaps

Stirred me to life.

In her arms a child of four-five

Suckled, trying to glean

A few life giving drops.

There she sat, half naked,

Her clothes in tatters

There – in the midst of a teeming city

Which passed her by

She was invisible.

Unnoticed, unwanted, expendable


Years and years later

I remember her,

Her face intrudes, and my silence shames.

She is lost – the silent Madonna.


I was off the air for so long..,I guess nobody remembers me anymore. Still, I’ve decided to come back again to my blog… hope this time my staying power is longer.


I was off the a…

Siri’s Poem – Words of Wisdom

I will have no fear
When God is here.
Evil has tears
When he sees God’s children
Having no fear.
Cry, O Cry Evil.

Siri Chenni 10.9.2010

Obituary to my Sunshine…
(With apologies to Pablo Neruda)

Pablo gave me the lines, but my sunshine gave me the pain.
Taught me how to dip my words in profound agony
And write an obituary for him.
Him – whom I loved more than the sun.

The day he died was beautiful, filled with life.
The sun shone brightly, warming me,
Never hinting at the sudden death
Which would snatch away my own ray of sunshine.

I knew I had to say a brief goodbye
We would meet again, it wasn’t death.
Like Pablo, I would write and sing
Tender love songs for him.
My love would reach out and touch him
Unseen yes, unfelt, never.

I did not heed the nameless evil
That stalked me.
Nor the core of darkness
In my sunshine’s soul.
He left me, abandoning me cruelly,
Leaving me naked and exposed
To the eyes of my ruthless foe.
He died that day. Yes, he died.

And now like Pablo I tell myself –
This is the last hurt he’ll make me feel,
These the last lines I’ll ever write for him.
He’s dead and my sunshine is no more.


Forgetting You
I remember you,
Remember the way your eyes shone,
And lit up your face,
The way your laughter drowned all sadness..
A ray of sunshine,
Ephemeral, fleeting.

The nights are darker now,
More enveloping,
Frightening after your brightness.
You’ve gone away,
Forgotten me in the noisy shandy
Of your life.

I will too, in time
In just a little more time.

I’ll forget those crazy moments
When time stopped
As we found one another
In each other’s eyes
Forget those nights
Of intense passion
When we were welded together
While being separated by miles.

Forget how the hated tea
Became a bewitching brew
Sealing our friendship.
Forget the wealth of mischief
In your eyes,
Forget that wonderful laughter,
Which I loved
And all those special moments
Which made you uniquely mine
And me uniquely yours.

Yes, darling heart, I’ll forget.
I’ll not mourn, I’ll not cry.
I will go on
But with a heart which has grown dark
And a life which has turned bleak
And with a sunshine shaped hole
In my small universe
Which you had filled.



I never knew, my love
What pain was
Till you taught me.

Never knew how love could kill
Destroy and pillage
Create a desolate, anguished war field
Where once a heart throbbed
Till you showed me.

Never did I know
What missing was
Till you vanished so totally
Leaving me bewildered and blind
In a world which ceased to exist.

I did not know, my darling
How I clung to your sunshine warmth
Till the winter chill
descended into my bones
Snatching the little life
Left in me.

I’d forgotten to love,
Forgotten to feel
Forgotten to live
Till you woke me up
With your sparkling eyes.

This is just a continuation
Of the lesson you started long ago.
Once you taught me to live
Now you’ve taught me
The art of dying
With a smile on my lips
And a hole in my heart.


Its raining! Our chief minsiters devout prayers have been answered and how! Tunga is brimming above the danger mark – and each time we cross the ramshackle, so-called – new bridge, we hold our breaths – the streets are all mushy and full of dirt and what-not and the administration is WONDERING, believe me, its true, whether to announce holidays to schools. Given the fact that most of our government school buildings (private school buildings are no exception!) are on the verge of collapse and given that the rains have been particularly vicious this time over, (thanks to our chief ministers prayers?) one would think that the administration would not really have to think too much over the matter. But then bureaucrats have a wierd sense of humour. Last week, holidays were announced for three days, which incidentally included a Second Saturday and a Sunday. And the announcement was made at around 11 pm on Thursday night!! Not surprisingly tiny kids with their truck-load of books trudged to school on Friday morning, were told to go back home and trudged right back again! One hopes that the chief minister would once again pick up his hotline, call the rain gods and seek an end to the deluge! There is this famous saying in Kannada, which my grand mother often told me – Hittala Gida Maddalla – which roughly means that we always tend to underestimate our own. Apt in this situation, wouldnt you say?

Mention NAAC and you see long faces and heavy sighs from almost all university and undergraduate teachers. Not many people outside these circles realise the importance or otherwise of this organisation. NAAC, or National Assessment and Accreditation Council is an independent body established by the UGC to assess and accredit institutes of higher learning. Colleges have to go in for NAAC accreditation once every five years and all aspects of teaching, learning, evaluation, infrastructure, support mechanisms – everything in fact, will be assessed and then accredited by NAAC. Institutions are graded as per their achievements and performances in seven criteria laid down by NAAC and getting an A grade by NAAC is considered very very prestigious by institutions.

So where is the catch? One must remember that NAAC s assessment is based on the documentation which is placed before it. Consequently, if an institution claims that it has made strides in new methods of teaching, NAAC will want to check the documents which will prove this claim.  Documentation therefore is the key to get a good NAAC grade. Institutions and teachers strive throughout the five years to build data and many times create data and documents which will impress the NAAC peer team.  Anybody can realise how terrible this can be, especially since many institutions do not mind creating documents that stretch the truth considerably!!!

The reason why I am talking of NAAC today is because the team is all set to visit our college in late August. Amidst the desperate rush to get everything just right for the big event, there are some incidents which simply get forgotten – sometimes deliberately.

All colleges have to have a grievance redressal cell and a student counselling cell to help, counsel and aid students. Last year, when we were readying the NAAC report one of my fifth semester BA student, who was majoring in English consistently absented herself and was not to be found in the campus at all. I had noticed her right in her first semester since she was a bright Muslim girl, full of life and laughter and was very popular with the opposite sex. Like all small town colleges, ours too is a gossipy nosy one and her freedom and friendship with boys did not take long to reach her family. Very soon her mother was a regular visitor to the college. What I remember seeing was a tall, angry middle aged woman standing guard over a petite, stubborn girl. I thought the mother was overdoing it a bit in this age and time. But soon the tale developed a twist. Reshma, that was the girls name, was supposedly married, a mother of a two year old son and was now divorced.

When she came back to the second year and began her third semester, she was a girl who was far mellower and looked much more grown up. I wondered if I was simply seeing her in a different light. She remained responsive and enthusiastic in her classes and I had little to complain. Her marks were good and I kept telling her that if she tried a little hard she really could work towards a university rank.

Then the third and final year  – two final semesters – and Reshma was not to be seen at all. Finally in September, she deigned to come to my class, just a day before the internal assessment tests. I was furious with her and I bluntly told her that she could not walk in and out of my class as if it was a marriage hall. She bowed her head and refused to speak. I asked her to come and meet me later and when she did asked her if this was her idea of a joke.

The tale that came out then shocked me out of my wits. Apparently, Reshma s mother did not want her to continue her studies, but wanted her to marry. And it was not an ordinary marriage either. Since Reshma herself had been married earlier, she was now being married off to a wealthy middle aged man, (whose age according to Reshma was 54) and had three wives already. Reshma told me he was not very keen on her either and was certainly not romantically inclined – he would marry her, sleep with her, sell her off to somebody else and then divorce her. Her mother was being paid a hefty sum to agree to the match. Stunned and disturbed I decided to speak to her mother. Without mentioning anything against the marriage I told her mother that Reshma was a very bright student and begged – literally begged – her to allow her to complete her graduation. Very very grudgingly her mother agreed to allow Reshma for the time being to attend her IA tests.

In her internal assessment test, Reshma, instead of answering the questions had narrated her side of the miserable story. She said that though her mother had agreed to allow her to finish her studies, it was done only to ward me off. She said her mother would not allow her to live if she refused to marry the aged man. She said she did not want to marry that person under any circumstance because it would only mean prostitution later on. She had to tutor young kids and pay her mother for her and her infant son s upkeep at present.

I again spoke to her and her mother. This time however, I realised that the mother was deliberately avoiding my eyes while assuring me of sending her daughter to the college. I spoke to Reshma separately and told her not to antagonise her mother and to agree to all that she said. Only ask for time, I said. A little time… thats all you need. I gave her the phone numbers of the 24 hour womens help line – Santwana and my own and told her to call me if she needed me.

Then the semester exams were upon us. I watched Reshma as she appeared in a burka everyday and wrote her exams. On the final day I told her to be very careful during the holidays and to come back on January 1st for the last semester.

In January, when college reopened, Reshma was dead. She had died in December and according to people in her family she had committed suicide. Her friends, who were devastated told me that it was cold blooded murder and she had been buried even before anybody could see her body.

I then spoke about this to everybody in the college. I told my students, teachers, friends, everybody and I felt we should do something . I knew I could do nothing alone and sought the support of my friends.  I was advised to just forget it as a bad dream. 

Seven months hence when we are building data for our student conselling cell – on how well we have counselled and helped our students, Reshma refuses to fade away… she lingers and haunts and mocks my efforts to shut her away, refusing to become just another statistic. Can one ever forget?

There is something about this mans poetry that gets to me. Not surprisingly I hadnt even heard of him till about a couple of years ago, caught up as I was with the everyday mundane happenings-on in Shimoga. And then the drastic, heart-wrenching decision to give up reporting and to take up (what then seemed to me) as a boring, tedious, routine teaching job!!! I had never ever wanted to teach, I had decided as a teen that I would become a journalist and thats what I did become. Call it fate, (mis)fortune or whatever, I had to opt for a teaching assignment. Its almost three years now and I have slowly, slowly realised that I love this …. what shall I call it – job? profession? vocation? or just life?
Neruda is the most haseen part of this new life of mine. I still remember the first lines of his poem sent to me as an sms attachment by a friend…

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

The immediacy of emotion in his poems is what strikes me each time I read him. The passion and despair that reaches out to you in one of his most famous poems Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines is perhaps incomparable in world literature. Read these lines and you will realise what I mean..

Tonight I can write the saddest lines
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too…

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky…

Tonight I can write the saddest lines….
To hear the immense night, still more immense without her
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture…..

The same night whitening the same trees
We, of that time, are no longer the same…

Love is so short, forgetting is so long

Neruda s poems are not just about love. He was passionately committed to leftist politics and his works reflect the political struggle of the left and the social, political and historical developments in South America.
One of my other favourites is the stingingly sarcastic To the Dead Poor Man. where Neruda annhilates the Christian celebration of the poor and the meek.
Why I started writing on Neruda is because of Bageshrees translations of some Neruda poems in her blog. And of course, classes began today and I get to introduce Neruda to a host of students from different backgrounds!!


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