I’ve said before how much I like to spend a little time here, at the foothills of the scenic Velliangiri in the windy season. I’m lucky to be summoned here again and what a glorious time it is!
We’ve not had too much rain in these parts the past couple of years. The green hills had been showing brown and farmers were worried. But we’ve made a promising start this time. A couple of days of howling winds, gray days with intermittent drizzle and perpetually misted hilltops... the slopes are slowly turning emerald. Straight from my balcony, at about four or maybe five kilometres as the crow flies, is a hill stream and waterfall. It had slowed to a trickle but now it has turned frothy white again. Occasionally, when the wind dies down, you can hear the water thunder down onto the rocks below. The stream that flows through the ashram is swelling.
The gales howled so much the other day, I became a little fraught. Door hinges strained to hold their own and the walls felt constantly under siege. How long could mere brick and mortar hold out against such purpose? If not today, or this week, but sometime, something would give! I leaned out of the window to feel the wind on my face and found that the peacocks in the valley were having a wind bath too. They each had taken fence to perch on, and they sat all braced and hunched up, enjoying the drama of the gusts.
Wildlife sightings are very possible here, and ever since my sister saw a leopard in the valley before us, I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled. Even so, it was a casual scan last week that yielded a gray presence push through the scrub. A lone tusker wound his way through the jungle, revealing only the trunk here, the body there as he walked towards the water. Barely two minutes and he was gone.
I spied three wild boar babies scurrying in the bush a few days ago, and today, a black-naped hare came out into a clearing to give himself a thorough wash in the pale morning sunlight. He would start every now and then, turning his long ears to the sound that had alarmed him, but it turned out to be nothing. He stayed so long, I even dropped my binoculars to go and get myself something to drink.
I remember once wringing my hands over my urban life, wishing for a forest full of trees to love. The trees here are not old, but the tree jasmines (the fast growing Akasha Malli - Millingtonia hortensis) that line our perimeter are very friendly indeed. My Sadhguru loves them and although they obscure the view of the hills from the windows sometimes, I cannot resent them.
Haha, just had to, you know! I’ve been fangirling Bāhubali all of April. I watched the first part again last week for purposes of revision and I’m off to see it at last! (So late, but my pre-booking hopes for ‘first day, first show’ fell through).
I absolutely loved the first part, and I have such admiration for this entire team for their commitment and attention to detail. Every frame storyboarded, every character thought through, the world marvellously detailed and then, there is SS Rajamouli’s sense of human drama. That kind of involvement shows through, and it gets communicated... no wonder it’s one of our biggest films.
This haiku by James Chessing is just perfect.
a galaxy of dust motes
in the projector's beam
So, I’m engulfed by Hallyu. This is the Korean Wave that has taken grip of so many parts of the world, and why not? Why ever not?
I had read about K-dramas a few months ago and the incredible following they were beginning to have in India. Even K-pop, although that’s not quite my thing, has a cult following. I was intrigued but I hadn’t looked further.
Earlier this month, I had some time and a binge watch was due. Was it to be the next season of Suits? Or the Pakistani drama Besharam that I’ve been saving up? Netflix suggested a few Asian dramas and after a little research, I settled for Playful Kiss. So charming! I loved the experience, and have lost my heart to the hero Baek Seung Jo.
There is a rich world out there. I’ve since watched a Taiwanese drama, there seem to be quite a few Japanese offerings and I’m eager to sink my teeth into the iconic Boys over Flowers and later perhaps, Descendents of the Sun.
As it happens, I’m a prime candidate for this sort of addiction. I’m obsessive, I love television, I’m a sucker for romance and I like to sample different cultures. There’s next to nothing on the Saas-Bahu scene and this is just perfect.
Clearly, it’s time for spring cleaning. I didn’t know but sometimes, I get a nudge. Or like now, a prod.
I have been wanting to declutter my room. The bed takes up too much room, and significance. Under the bed, I have... why, yes, stuff. So yesterday, the cots went. And I have been wringing my hands all morning over the stuff that used to lie under them. Music Cassettes.
A particularly clingy form of the past, these tapes. Old selves sticking to us like small bits of sticky tape that won’t let go unless they cling somewhere else. These boxes – some six of them – were the refined lot. We threw out a much bigger haul a few years ago but these were the precious ones.
Children today will never understand the trouble we went to to acquire our music. We couldn’t buy everything we liked. When friends and relatives had tapes we wanted, they were borrowed and copied. I remember standing two tape recorders face to face, switching off fans and other whirring machines, closing doors and imposing strict silence, while one machine played and the other recorded. Then technology improved, and we got our double-deckers that recorded internally. I made collections for Shweta, for myself... some filmi, some ghazals, a lot of classical music and qawwalis.
This morning, I hunkered down to paw through them and shook my head again over the whimsical coot I used to be. Never truly artistic but I liked pretty things. And I went to work at it with quite a lot of enthusiasm, even if no great talent. The album covers for my favourite music were never good enough for the ambience they created within me, so I would go about trying to creating the right ones. I had a bag full of greeting cards, which I would cut to size and fit into the covers. They had to match. Afternoon ragas got afternoon light and lazy pastoral scenes. Ghazals got flowers, bowers, peacocks; Talat Mehmood got a mountain and a river... and Lata Sings Ghalib got a royal, gold Mughal motif.
A few years ago, we bought a music player that was also a music ripper. I could play my tapes on it and it would store a digitised version on a USB drive. This was a god-send, and I managed to prioritise my ‘save-first’ music and convert something like a 100 cassettes of music before the player started to misbehave. I’d exhausted my drive and that’s how that stayed. Unless I got that fixed, these half a dozen boxes were just lying there, waiting for me to do something about them.
I considered it deeply. And then came to the conclusion that I would have to let them go. I might have changed my mind, but the raddiwala came right away to take the newspapers and I knew it was time. In compassionate silence, he paid me Rs 3/kg: Rs 54 for 18kg of music cassettes.
And oh, they were priceless.
I have been afflicted, these past two-three days, with Seeker's Gravitas - a typical seriousness that overtakes sadhakas when there are earnest and weighted down by the lack of instant, perceivable, quantifiable and claimable success. The whole thing is a contradiction in terms. If you can really see, there is no one left to claim the credit. And if there is indeed someone clamouring to breast the ribbon, then you're playing some other game altogether. I get it.
But as the the Wise Man promptly asks: Who is it that Gets It?
There is only one word in response to that: BAH!
So let us put that aside for just a bit and strive for another tack. A simpler one - to be like this dog here in this haiku. A Labrador, no less. The darlingest breed to my eyes... innocent, life-loving... temperament completely lacking in malice or ill-will. Brown heart-melting eyes and large hearts.
Today, I will follow this dog's lead... bound along the streets of life and stop only to smell the roses.
the Labrador’s nose streaked
Almost duty-bound, I went yesterday to see OK Jaanu – which brings up
the versions I’ve seen of the movie up to three. Did I like it quite
that much? I suppose I did, to be so curious about how they had treated
the Hindi remake.
It was not surprising but still disappointing to me when OK Jaanu didn’t ‘take’ in the Hindi market. It is, after all, only the thousandth time that something good, even special, from the South has been difficult to translate into Hindi.
What was the problem with this film? It is easy to blame the lead pair, Aditya Roy Kapur and Shraddha Kapoor. And a bit unfair. They were just in a project that was being repotted without due process.
I found Tara ‘off’ in Jaanu – she didn’t ring true... this is not how Tara Agnihotri from Kanpur would behave... what was cute in Tamil was bizarre and tangential in Hindi. Perhaps it's because Mani Ratnam is so steeped in the Tamil way, and his own stamp is so distinct but not so easily conveyed outside the culture.
Baradwaj Rangan makes an incisive point here on why Hindi remakes of Mani Ratnam’s films don’t work. He says, “There is an air of alienation when a Tamilian moves to a “north Indian” city – when Mouna Raagam’s Divya moves to Delhi, when Nayakan’s Velu flees to Mumbai, or even when Guru’s protagonist moves to Mumbai... He’s an outsider. And this outsider-ness – this non-Bombay-ness – adds a layer of subtext to the drama.”
He is so right. That is why it didn’t seem at all odd that Nitya Menen’s Tara would wave to a strange young man she didn’t know and laboriously signal him her phone number - he was a friend of a friend, and he was Tamilian from back home, here in Big Bombay, trying to make his way through just like she was. She knew his sort and in the comfort of that knowledge, he was familiar. But why would Tara from Kanpur?
Shraddha Kapoor is just too much of a “nice girl” to play the quirky character right. Miscast, perhaps. I thought Roy Kapur was better, but not quite anything approaching Dulquer Salman. Dulquer and the incandescent Nitya Menen pitched their characters perfectly: layers of irreverent flippancy over throbbing intensity.
In rewriting and re-imagining the film, Shaad Ali hasn’t gone even half as far as he should have. He should have rewritten so many aspects – the first meeting, the second meeting... Adi’s missing two days... and unforgivably the Hindi version deletes two crucial scenes that brought the story to an emotional boil.
Naseeruddin Shah, however, plays his part far more warmly than Prakash Raj did and Leela Samson was even better this time round. And I loved Chal na kuch karte hain.
It has been a fairly hectic fortnight, one way and the other. Sadhana has been somewhat time and energy-consuming – at least compared to the pace I tend to keep.
So today, quite consciously, has been relaxed. A nothing-day. I ate a lunch of masala oats and salad, washed up conscientiously, which left me feeling virtuous. This winter afternoon, the surroundings are quietish but for a land-mower in the distance. I have been sitting at the balcony door, sprawled out in the accommodative bean bag, doing nothing more strenuous than reaching for the binoculars when a bird happens into my ambit. My rules don’t permit me to haul myself out and totter up to the railing even... even if the passerine in question happens to dart below the view span.
My window of opportunity
In this desultory manner, I have spied white-headed babblers, house sparrows, bee-eaters, sunbirds, sundry LBJs, a white bellied drongo and bounding squirrels. The sparrow in particular flitted within view for several minutes, and therefore, I watched him for as long as he stayed. Shweta’s excellent binoculars allows for a 16x zoom, which is handy indeed if you can find a stable prop for the elbows.
Every now and then, I swing the lens towards a small clearing in the thicket. This is a bit like dropping your keys on a moonlit night and then looking for them only in patches where the light falls. But silly or not, this brown patch draws my attention because this was where Shweta fortuitously saw a leopard once, sauntering majestically into her binoculared field of vision.
There is a Brown Wood Owl that comes to this spot but I haven’t seen it yet. And no elephants either, this visit. But the thing that is most exciting about this perch, as, I daresay, with life, is that it teems with possibilities.
* The title of this post is from Ghalib's sher: jee dhoondta hai fir wahi fursat ke raat din baiTHe rahain tasavvur-e-jaanaan kiye hue
जी ढूंढता है फिर वही फुर्सत के रात दिन
बैठे रहें तसव्वुर ए जानां किये हुए
The heart seeks again those days and nights of restfulness,
Once more, simply sitting, contemplating the beloved
My maid has gone to her native village – two weddings, she informed me. She would be back “as soon as possible”. Ominous. Because she is a much adored member of her extended family and by her own account they do not let her leave once they have her in their loving clutches. Daawats, functions, visits... all happening.
But do I complain? NO! Why? Because this gives me the chance to do the morning muggu myself. (Yes, yes, we are drawing out the muggu theme.)
I have been long fascinated by this kolam business but I don’t do it very well. My technique isn’t polished and even my dots come out like little strikes... really good pulli kolam must be generic and anonymous in its imprint. Mine looks woefully like distinct handwriting. Anyway, Narsamma is away and I have been entertaining myself enormously by learning up loads and loads of simple designs. And because my skill with the powder is limited, I have been drawing with chalk – a compromise but at least it lets me focus on the design.
This is a craft with limitless possibilities. The women in Tamil Nadu of course are masters of this game – come festival time, they can cover vast areas with intricate loops and patterns, jaw-dropping in their sophistication. While I was typing ‘sikku kolam’ into every search window, I came across this fascinating paper by experimental economist Timothy Waring. (Another link to the same article here)
Evidently, kolams have been of interest to ethnomathematicians for a long time now. Did you know that a simple 2x2 grid has five possibilities but the 3x3 matrix has 785 configurations! The 1-7-1 diamond matrix apparently is capable of 11,661,312 designs. Absolutely mind-boggling.
I have started with the 3x3, 4x4, 5x5 and the 7-5-3-1 grids... and then, the world is my canvas.
Every neighbourhood carries its own sounds - we all know that... from years of listening to those hawkers, this traffic, the driver with the annoying backing tone who takes forever to park, tinny Suprabhatam from a distant temple every morning, that moulvi as he raises his voice in azaan five times a day, the coppersmiths, the tailorbirds... there must be a unique sound palette for every street in the world.
Ours is seeing a new trend. Loudspeakers. The Cantonment Board is sending out an auto with warnings of the dire things that will befall citizens who do not pay their taxes. We get blaring voices asking if we have any old zari in our coffers that we'd like to recycle. The sofa repairers have a neat professional set up in rather chaste Telugu: "We have all the material, equipment and wherewithal to set your living room right again."
Now into this rather ambitious terrain has sailed our Muggu man. He sells rai muggu - white stone powder that we use to make adornments on our doorsteps. He need not have bothered, in my opinion. His hawking call was very distinct... "Rai Muuggggu! Amma, Raai Muugguuu!" Anyone with a ear cocked for the sound would hear it several houses away and rush to the door to accost him. None of the vegetable, flower or broom vendors have felt the need to improve their system, which is already very effective.
However, there is no gainsaying an adventurous nature. So Muggu Man has employed a 'friend' to record his call for him. It has not worked very well. First he runs it from a small contraption in the front of his moped, which he finds uncomfortable. Then the recording itself is a 12-second audio: "Mugguammomuggu!" The voice is fraught with self-conscious anxiety and since there are no spaces between what should be words, it feels like someone is trying to sell the last grain of muggu before he dies. Certainly, for the householder, there would not be enough time to go out and enquire.
"So, what's all this?" I asked him the other day. MM switched off the sound in disgust. "He has not done a good job," he complained about his friend, "I have to go to him again!"
I heard him again the other day. Some spaces had been inserted but the voice was still tense. And since then, I have not heard him at all.
I said earlier that this year felt like it had been running wild? Well, one of the exciting things we did was to go to a workshop on Kabir. A five-day residential workshop on one of the most hard-hitting raconteurs of the spiritual journey. Readers of this blog will know how much I love this man, and love to quote him: for many years now his utterances have served as clinchers to my primary quandaries as a seeker.
In 2009 – what a year that was! – I happened to go to a Kabir Festival in Delhi. I speak of what happened to me here, and a little more about the festival and its personalities here.
It seemed extraordinarily important even as I went through the weekend, but what it was doing to me, how it was preparing me and to what end... this became apparent only a few days later. The immersive festival experience happened on 4, 5 and 6 September 2009. Around the same time, my mother was feeling poorly and went through a few medical tests. On 11 Sept, the results came and we learnt that we were going to lose her in a matter of weeks.
Now, this – that my mother might die – had always been one of my worst and very active fears... the stuff of nightmares. As much as I was sure that I would not be able to bear her loss, I had fretted about it for decades. And now it was coming true.
It was my Guru’s compassion, his grace, his love... to prepare me for a blow I had dreaded all my life. Buffered by Kabir, I took the news better than I could ever expect to. The next few months, I was able to live intensely, love intensely and let go gracefully, even joyfully.
Now seven years later, here was a chance to go to a workshop conducted by the inspirational Prahlad Tipaniya himself. It was meant. A chance to express my gratitude – and close a loop.
And another chance to bow low, very low to my Guru.