Monk’s poem and the ugly woman

Lighting bugs flickered from leaf to leaf. The dying fire crackled sending forth jaded wisps of smoke. Monk lay on his old blanket that smelt of egg sandwiches, staring into the cobalt blue sky, trying to catch stars with his mind’s eye. Unclear thoughts kept distracting him.

He shook his head from side to side, to clear his brain and tried to concentrate.

The ugly woman watched him with interest, her face partially concealed behind her limp and long hair. Her eyes shone bright red.

“What was the poem again? If I can memorize it perhaps I’ll be able to catch the stars,” Monk informed her.

She recited in her deep and soothing voice,

Fear grips like fire drops

On delicate skin so smooth

As she walks a tight rope

Balanced over a storm

Or an orange fire warm”

Monk turned to look at her with a foolish smile on his face. “I love hearing you recite. ‘The Dark’ leaves me when you are here. Perhaps, we can get married and I won’t ever have to bother with stars. Will that be too hard? Please consider it and tell your folk” he pleaded.

The ugly woman didn’t move. “You know that is impossible. I can only visit. Now try again, I’ll recite for you.”

Monk sighed and went back to staring at the sky. The ugly woman began to recite in a sonorous tone.

Monk’s head began to nod, his body relaxed as the stars began to greet him. Some silver ones danced around his head while gold stars shimmered close to his two eyes.

“Bliss” Monk murmured.

The Dark waited with a glum smile across his shattered face, not too far from the ugly woman.

The ugly woman kept on with her recital, Monk seemed ecstatic and The Dark glum as ever with his lanky arms swinging to the poetic rhythm.

The ugly woman lowered her voice as if to put Monk to sleep and The Dark began to take mincing steps towards Monk.

He crept close, looked at the Ugly woman and winked. She stopped the recital, a little sad but resigned. The Dark loomed over Monk who began to shake and closed his eyes tight. The Dark reached out and touched Monk’s forehead with a blackened finger. Monk shivered and began to cry. The Dark began to rest all six fingers on Monk’s face, one by one slowly.

A chill seeped into Monk’s body.

Monk sobbed harder but finally opened his eyes. The Dark stood tall and firm over Monk’s old blanket that smelt of egg sandwiches. Monk shrieked and tried to price The Dark’s fingers off his face.

The ugly woman wept near the fire, or Monk imagined so.

The Dark tightened his grip, closing his hand over Monk’s nose and mouth. Monk struggled, unable to voice his pain, his body went limp.

The Dark looked at the body, melancholy, resentful, angry and filled with terror.

The ugly woman emerged from beyond the dying fire to touch The Dark’s shoulder. He put his arm in hers.

The two of them walked over Monk’s fire to look for his sister.

Nonsensical questions that truly matter

The pirate asked the captain

Would you stop shams?

To survive on clams

Priced from a rock

Set in the vast sea?


Would you embark

On a shipping spree

To thwart guilt

by saving a shark?


Would you forgo a drink

Of the most expensive wine

To dance with gods

On a woodland brink

On a serene night


The Captain cocked his unibrow!




Beneath the mist: Vipassana meditation retreat

On a clear day when the fickle mist lifts, you may catch a glimpse of the true face of the mountain. There will be countless green trees, heavy, moss covered rocks, tiny creatures and mounds and mounds of dirt. And if you are absolutely noiseless, you may hear even the gentlest rustle created by wind and manifested through things substantial and not. This is what my imaginary critic would call a passable simile to the discovery that awaits when you take charge of your erratic mind and set out to explore its contents.

For 10 days (technically 12 days), I learnt the technique of Vipassana at the Dhamma Kuta Vipassana centre in Mhakanda, Kandy (http://www.kuta.dhamma.org/). It was not only one of the toughest tasks I have ever lived through but also the most valuable journey of my life so far. This is a recount of certain aspects of the said journey.


According to popular belief Gautama Buddha rediscovered the technique of Vipassana around 2500 years ago. Following his hard-earned discovery about ‘Dhamma’ (law of nature) and the Four Noble truths at the age of 35, the Buddha continued to teach this non-sectarian and practical approach to discovering the truth within oneself to countless individuals throughout ancient India for the next 45 years until his passing away.

S N Goenka

A Burmese national of Indian descent, S N Goenka began teaching Vipassana meditation in 1969 in India and attracted hundreds and thousands of people. He adopted a non-sectarian approach to training and taught people from various backgrounds around the globe. Even after his passing away in 2013, the meditation centres that commenced with his guidance continue to help thousands of people around the world.

Weird and anxious warnings (and lessons in kindness)

Though I kept my decision to go on a meditation retreat private as much as possible, I had to let the cat out of the bag to a few people and lying was out of the question. While most of the responses were encouraging, I did meet some resistance.

First instance

“I’ve read in the papers, some women go off to meditation and then get sucked into it. They stop caring about family life. Your poor husband. Just go this once but not again. He won’t stop you but this is not the way.”

And in the same breath they continue (only figuratively).

“You don’t even perform any ‘Pooja’. You don’t offer flowers or light a lamp to the Buddha statue. So and so does every morning and evening. And it is a good practice to adopt in a ‘Buddhist’ household. Otherwise you are not a real Buddhist.”

However, this person swallowed their entirely legitimate misgivings and did all that was in their power to help me get to the retreat.

Lessons learnt – 1 A lesson in mere kindness. 2 My, what a hindrance unchecked cultural religion can be to real progress

Second instance

“There is a greater agenda around the world to push religion on people. If one wants to collect ones thoughts, one should go on a holiday.”

This person drove me all the up a steep hill on a road filled with potholes to the meditation retreat in spite of their own misgivings and warnings.

Lessons learnt – 1 A lesson in truly unselfish kindness. 2 My, what a hindrance unchecked atheism can be to real progress

Uphill work

At the orientation on day 0, all participants took a vow of noble silence and agreed to keep the five precepts in order to develop the necessary grounds to practice meditation from a place of discipline and morality.

On the next day we began our grueling schedule of meditating (following instructions given by S N Goenka) from 4 30am to 9 30pm with 5 to 10 minute breaks every hour or one and a half hour in addition to longer breaks for meals. We survived on two unexpectedly delicious vegetarian meals a day plus evening tea along with a banana and cream cracker biscuits. I found the fare satisfying and it kept me going swimmingly throughout the day.

Each evening, after the day’s long hours of meditation was done and dusted, we listened to a discourse by our teacher S N Goenka. His discourses were apt for each day and each day we discovered that he had pretty good grasp of our daily experiences.

I made the first ego-shattering discovery when I realized what a wild animal my mind truly was. We spent the first three days, trying to watch and concentrate on our natural breath and the mind kept taking me on wild trips into the past and the future. The body reacted in kind with searing to dull pains occurring all over its corporal being.

While S N Goenka is the main instructor and guide, we were assigned assistant teachers to guide our individual practice. I was blessed with a wise and a compassionate teacher who had the uncanny ability to pick on both my strong and weak points at exactly the right moments. Without her help, I would have lost my bearings on the 4th day itself.

They teach Vipassana technique on the fourth day. That is a bridge each of us can only cross in solitude with the compassionate voice of our teachers shouting instructions from the shore. It is narrow bridge and balance is of utmost importance.


Vipassana is a deep technique and 10 days is not enough to reap full benefits. But the intensity of practice coupled with guidance can make one discover certain truths in all their actuality. Each meditation sitting was different and after a few days one stops having any expectations and accept each moment as it is. One is bound to stumble upon the inevitable truth (in varying degrees) that true equanimity is the only liberating attitude towards mediation and life itself. If accepted, adopted and practiced unceasingly, equanimity will usher in compassion, kindness and sympathetic joy (again in varying degrees depending in one’s own mindset). That is the wonder of the technique and the brilliance of this particular teaching method, meticulously broken into phases within 10 days.

Harmonious existence

At the retreat, we lived in close quarters with strangers from all over the world. While Dhamma Kuta had provided all the necessary comforts including hot water, I expected at least some friction to manifest in the air. But I was pleasantly surprised (a perk of being uncertain). Everyday someone would use their breakfast break to clean the bathrooms and the toilets in the block and sometimes you catch the sight of a kind soul sweeping the corridor. One rainy afternoon, I went back to the block a little concerned about my clothes which I had hung out in the sun, only to find out that a kind stranger had already hung them to dry within the safety of the corridor. To this day I haven’t the faintest clue as to who the kind stranger was. Whenever, our paths crossed, each and every one stepped aside to let the other person pass. This invariably created a few funny moments in which we had to break our oath of noble silence and chuckle.

There two days when our block and the one below ran out of running water. But the girls bore this particular difficulty without a single complaint and shared what little water was available. Later we learnt that wild boars had come up with this clever plan to attack the pipes up the hill to teach us a valuable lesson in equanimity.

Throughout the 12 days we spent together I don’t recall a single incident that resulted in pettiness, jealousy or fierce ‘othering’.


Today, I am filled with gratitude towards Buddha for rediscovering this technique and S N Goenka for building such a strong foundation to practice. I am grateful to my husband who remains a constant inspiration and a motivator and drove all the way on day 12 after a going through a rough week of his own to pick me up from the retreat. I am grateful to all the people in my life who continue to extend their unconditional love and support. I am grateful to the teachers, ‘Dhamma Servers’, administrative staff and the kitchen staff of Dhamma Kuta for their extraordinary kindness. I am grateful to my fellow meditators. I am even grateful to the wild boars for their timely lesson.

Vipassana Meditation Centre – Dhamma Kuta (http://www.kuta.dhamma.org/) is managed entirely on donations given by meditators who have completed at least one 10 day course.

"Life is a strange abiding

A place to live, grow and thrive

(And aspire for dispassion)

A glimpse of victory

A glimpse of failure

A drought wrought in a dust cloud

Followed by a rain soaked breeze"

Some of the mediators on the last day Meditators

The Bird and the Bonsai

The bird flew in from the vast blue haze

He spotted a Bonsai in a pot or a vase

(He couldn’t quite tell)

He perched on the edge and wept bitter tears

For the sad fate of the Bonsai in a vase

“You poor thing,” the bird said

“In your prison with no fun to be had”

“Always, cramped in your little space”

“No place to grow or dream or be free”

And he shed more tears near the vase


The Bonsai stared at the bird in a daze

“But I am free,” it said with a chuckle

“Of chilly winds, raging storms and pesky nests”

“And when sunbeams warm my being and the waters fill me just right”

“And when I am cared for with so much love”

“I sit here in my cozy home and think of beauty, freedom and inner sight”


The bird gazed at the Bonsai in shock

Shook his head with a sad sigh

Spread his wings and flew into the blue haze


We will never know which one was right

For both of them died and became star dust


Liann and the odd Island

Liann grabbed a mangrove to stop herself from falling flat onto the muddy sand as she stepped out of her boat. She felt relief flood over her whole body as her two feet sank into the sandy coolness, her headache began to ease and her eyes began to adjust to the shade after hours of exposure to bright sunlight. She wandered inwards looking for water to quench her thirst and perhaps some fruit.

She was faintly aware of the fear that accompanied her. She touched her seashell and cormorant feather robe for assurance.

The vast trees seem to whisper a constant melody that was far different to the roar of the ocean. A bird perched on a thick vine flung across trees and preened its feathers oblivious to Liann’s presence. A velvety brown spider skidded across its web and Liann heard the dead leaves rustle under the weight of a serpent. She caressed the string of turquoise and pink seashells in her robe for comfort.

She was exhausted but the shade from the trees and the unfamiliar sense of ease helped her reenergize. She wrapped her seashell and cormorant feather robe around herself firmly.

Further inside the island, a brook gurgled.

Liann hurried towards the sound. It lay between two rows of tall grass and a scattering of trees. Liann fell to her knees and began drinking from the clear waters. A yellow flower floating in the brook paused near her cheek to murmur a gentle welcome. Liann lay down on the pebbles with her elbows resting on the banks and let the water soak up her aching body. She felt the placid currents wash over every part of her seashell and cormorant feather robe. Her thoughts wandered to the rough seas she had left behind, the rocks, clashing waves, hungry fish and the sea birds, beautiful sunsets, coral gardens, carcasses and floating debris that stank. The constant struggle to stay afloat, the beauty and the ugliness of it all.

After what felt like days, Liann began to be aware of the music.

At first it was loud like a roaring sea storm. Rocks took a beating, sand whirled in mad patterns and the heavy splashes made the seashells in her robe clatter and bruise her even more. She stirred and sought comfort in the gentle ripples of the brook. Slowly, the music assumed a calmer tune and began to flow in rhythm to a deep truth that was hard to grasp.

Liann kept listening until her whole being became part of the music. There were no more roars, splashes or whirling sand, only moonlight that shone bright and covered the rocks with a soft glow. The seashell and cormorant feather robe disappeared.

“Respite” whispered Liann.



A sea of thoughts and recipes…

Evil Hope and Pandora’s Box

Hope waited deep inside the box

That Zeus gave to Pandora


Scheming with all its might

Suffused with seductive charm

It waited


It tried once

Twice and then thrice

And on the fourth


It won the game of wills


Seduced and blind

She opened the box


Letting Hope escape


With a grin and a half

Hope let its children


Its many children

Named envy, sickness, hatred and disease


Knowing that they could not survive

Without its warmth and delight

Hope climbed out last

In its cloak of charm


And to this day

Buried inside the box are its last whispers

Let it be known that

From hope sprang

All the evils of the world

The spirit and the bucket

There once was a spirit who carried a heavy bucket

Filled to the brim with gems of sorts

One by one she picked out the gems

They shone bright in the spirit’s gaze

Held each one with tender care

Savoured the warmth and the brightness rare


With each chime of the clocks of the world

The gem in hand lost its sparkle

Not to be undone by the clocks of the world

She dropped the first gem back in the bucket

And picked up the next one, shaped like a fruit

It shone bright in the spirit’s gaze

(She let the brightness fill her up)

Only to lose the shimmer,

 To the chime of the clocks

The game went on for chimes and chimes


The spirit reached for the first gem once more

It shone bright in the spirit’s gaze

The clocks of the world chimed again




Misogyny is a shape-shifting monster

My friend the misogynist

Holds meetings in his head

Bashing the women in red

For being feminists

 Heeee should go soak up the sun

Stop telling everyone to be


I wrote these lines following a chaotic meeting inside my own head. The words are passive aggressive and offensive, I admit. I am no better than ‘my friend the misogynist’ who is probably just as confused as I am about the gender roles we all grew up with.

I’ve seen many instances of unconscious misogyny from both men and women and it always riles me up but I keep quite because these are otherwise excellent people and I’d rather not hurt their feelings (or I am coward). We all stumble into misogyny mechanically because it seems to be the status quo.

Misogyny rambles about disguised as a popular movie, a much-loved song, a custom we must adhere to, a friendly warning to women, a compliment, an internet meme and as a simple way of being. It is a shape-shifting monster. And I’ve met it many times in its various forms.

Monster movie magic

A beautiful girl with a moon like face and long tresses captures the fancy of a young man. Perhaps he spots her graceful neck in chemistry class or she pours water on him from her parents’ balcony (her hair flies up in the air, sleek and shinning and at the sight of it his annoyance turns into mushy love). Suddenly she is the love of his life, his obsession and his reason for living. The young woman rejects his adorable but slightly creepy advances. The young man is heartbroken but his love grows to engulf him. He must have this damsel for himself of sink into nothingness. A bout of serious wooing/harassing begin. He stalks her, sings to her from tops of mountains, he carves her name and his own (two hearts pierced with an arrow) in public spaces, he stalks her friends, and he is present everywhere she goes. But he is a HERO and the moon faced damsel falls for his devotion/harassment. According to some tales, the damsel runs into his arms sobbing (her hair still flying) while he is in his deathbed still groaning his unquenchable love for her.

After a few nauseating song and dance acts the romantic hero saves the helpless damsel from evil men and influences. She, the frail and pretty excuse for a woman looks on adoringly as the poor hero battles on his own to save her. They live happily ever after in la la land.

Monster in the shape of a first crush and thwarted love (Sigh)

A scrawny girl with a short mop of untidy hair is sitting comfortably in her jambu tree, munching a juicy red jambu, lost in her dream world. She had just celebrated her 14th birthday and a throng of handsome knights have begun to invade her innocent dream world. Suddenly, she spots her neighbour and former playmate on his bicycle passing her house on an errand for his mother. He had done this many times before but this time she feels an unfamiliar stirring in her heart. He resembles the knights of her dreams and he did read a book she liked. Unaware of her change of heart the former playmate whistles his way home. The girl can’t keep a secret. She blabs to her cousin who blabs to a friend who blabs to the former playmate.

Former playmate’s response: Revulsion and confusion. He refuses to come to her house when his mother asks him to borrow some lemongrass.

His older brother’s response: “Girls are not supposed to show interest in boys first. They have to be modest. Stupid girl.”

Her cousin’s response: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”

The girl retreats into her shell shamefaced.

The former playmate apparently has a change of heart a few weeks later. He and a few friends walk behind her as she hurries home. Her shoulders slouch from shame and she is guilt ridden and confused. The playmate and his friends discuss girls amongst themselves but loud enough for her to hear.

“Girls shouldn’t wear shorts. (The girl’s usual choice of attire)

“Girls should grow their hair. No one would ask out a girl with short hair.”

“Girls shouldn’t climb trees.”

“When girls act like proper girls are supposed to boys will start getting interested in them.”

She pretends to be lost in her own dream world and continues to walk away feeling miserable.

Monster in the office projector

A girl runs down the stairs in panic mode. “M M the projector is not working. I have an urgent presentation. You have to come fix it!

M, a decent guy buried deep in his own work looks up at her bewildered. “But I don’t know how to fix it. I am not a technician”

The girl: “But you must know! You are a guy! You are the only guy in this area. The rest of us are women! You must help.

The aftermath Monster in the Wariyapola incident

A group of young executives discuss the incident.

Young man: “He shouldn’t have harassed her. I can understand why she was so angry. But violence is not the answer.

A young woman: “True, she shouldn’t have slapped him so hard for so long.

Another young woman: “You know what. A man should know how to control women. He should have taken charge and hit her silly. Then she would have learnt her lesson.”