Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The things we need

I have discovered, after long years of experience, that there is no way to pack perfectly. Whether it is for a new place that you are preparing, or a new time, you will take things you will not need and you will have left behind something terribly important. As long as the turn ahead holds suspense, your assessments of what you’re likely to need will be off the mark. I’m resigned to this.

Poet Carolyn Hall muses in retrospect:
year's end—
what made me think I needed
a harmonica

My sympathies, but I must quibble with the poet here: I think we could always make a little room for a harmonica.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Broad strokes

Spoiler alert

------

Just back from PK. I’ve been humming Tharki chokro every spare minute this fortnight, and I was looking forward to this big release. I went expecting to laugh. Also – knowing from reviews that the film sought to come to grips with the complex issues of gods and godmen (and considering that I am myself in the thrall of this glorious face you see on the right hand corner of this webpage) – I went expecting to somewhat disagree. There was no need to have been so primed. Sledgehammer-subtle, lacking in nuance and intelligence, PK offers nothing even worth rebutting.

It conveys anguish, it conveys confusion, it cries out that the hapless people of the world have been maltreated by religion: insofar, the tale commands our sympathy. (Towards the end of the poignant song Bhagwan hai kahan re tu, PK walks into a manufacturing unit of festival idols, where we see precisely the stuff our gods are made of: straw and plaster.) However, on the whole, the film was satisfying neither in its understanding nor in its resolution. I was intrigued by the concept of a tabula rasa visitor, taken by the education-via-handholding idea and quite delighted with his clothes. But did PK have to be so unintelligent!?

I found Sanjay Dutt utterly charming, Aamir Khan belaboured, Anushka Sharma too pouty and Sushant’s appearance too brief (Shweta says he dusted off Manav of Pavitra Rishta for this cameo; she’s so right). Saurabh Shukla as Tapasvi Maharaj was fat and nicely smug though.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Perked up

I shook off winter lassitude this morning to expend a sharpish burst of energy. Bhoodevi wiped down furniture and I changed sheets, covers and upholstery with a vengeance. And how nice it feels to see dappled sunlight on my new colour scheme.

Aaj hi hamne badle hain kapde, aaj hi hum nahaye hue hain...

Welcome, festive season, we're quite ready for you.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Tight Place

Stuck in a traffic jam for the last half hour. So stressful. How do people venture out in this madness everyday? My stay-home work has softened me overmuch and I feel like a tortoise without its carapace. Surely cities shouldn't be like this? They're supposed to be convenient, for God's sake!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

To the Reclining Lord

Saagara shayana vibho...

I've just heard three versions of this lovely composition in Bageshree by MD Ramanathan. That's the way to best acquaint myself with a song, I've found - find the lyrics, translation and exposition, and follow each singer through the nuances. It's a fun exercise.

I'll include one of them here: this croony rendition by TM Krishna.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Just before I sleep...

I put away the book of poems
and reach for the tab --
Candy Crush Saga.

Overcast

I move about in a personal cloud all my doing.

For now, blanketed grey, a hint of melancholy drizzle
and a forecast of storms to come.
Something temperamental is in the air
I hesitate to leave the ground;
I would judder, I know, in this turbulence.

I have made a study of the weather.
I know, I think, where the clouds came from,
Even, where they picked up the rain.
I cannot account for the lurking high winds, however,
or chart my course through what's to come.

Uneasy, suspicious, I board up for the storm. All defences up.

Outside, the sun shines brightly on every living thing
and I move about in a personal cloud. All my doing.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Baar-e-hasti

बेक़ारारी सी बेक़ारारी है
दिन भी भारी है, रात भारी है

आँख से छुप के दिल में बैठे हो
हाए, कैसी ये पद्रादारी है!

Monday, December 15, 2014

After effect

Still groggy.

Now that I'm back home in Hyderabad, and the system has the luxury of rest and time, it has collapsed into the most torpid languor. I'm going to play some Rafi and unpack.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Other Side of Hypnos

I'm up. Body thinks it's 9 am and scandalous to sleep beyond that. Damn.

Hypnos

ab so jao, neend ankhon mein hai, kal phir sunaayenge 
zara si reh gayi hai raat, afsaane bohut se hain...

I'm fighting off sleep and jetlag like a particularly obstinate child, but I must succumb. Just a matter of a few minutes now, and I will sink fathoms deep.
Good night.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Japan Musings

It has been a great week in Japan. I sit in the lounge waiting for the departure call and reflect about what kind, warm and polite people these are.
I've seen many things, absorbed so many details... I wonder often if travel is worth the trouble it takes seeing that we intake so many things when the idea is to empty oneself. Filling up even as we drain - how sensible is that?
And if this is my primary preoccupation, why do I hanker after travel, get itchy feet when I've been home too many months? It is a contradiction. But never mind, I have been taken well in hand. How much play I get is His call. What I'm permitted to do, what I'm expected to be conscious of, what he'd like me to learn... It's all up to him. 

I have a feeling I didn't use Japan too well. I was caught in the little things and didn't back that with even so much as an appropriate exuberance either. Perhaps I'm in no position to judge. In any case, it is done. I have lined up Boyhood and Lucy for the flight. And Tokyo Detective Duo if time permits.
I'll be home soon.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Totemo samui!

Japan is cold. Very cold. And beautiful. And endlessly interesting. And cold.

We are about to head into the mountains tomorrow to stay in a monastery. It promises to be beautiful and very cold. 

No surprise but among the first few phrases we've committed to heart is 'samui': it's cold.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ahista ahista

My will power is really wimpy today - no time management, no discipline... I'm so vague-headed, I left the cooker on for twenty whole minutes than it needed.

No doubt, I'll get around to dinner in a bit, miss several minutes of my 8.30 soap, drift to bed hours after I plan to... but tomorrow is a new day. Alarm for 5.20 am and every single thing like clockwork, you'll see. I'll be a new me.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

This day...

'She's in that state of mind,' said the White Queen, 'that she wants to deny SOMETHING—only she doesn't know what to deny!'
'A nasty, vicious temper,' the Red Queen remarked; and then there was an uncomfortable silence for a minute or two.
~Lewis Carroll
Through the Looking Glass

Sunday, November 16, 2014

More Kitten

Guess who has turned up after many days of disappearance?


She has reappeared in the company of an adult cat and another young fellow. The 'mother' (if she is indeed hers) appears tolerant and the other fatter kitten is very happy to play but our kitten behaves in a slightly aloof way as if unsure of how far she may go in associating with this family, and indeed if she is welcome to be as familiar as the other one. And strangely, she has fallen very silent...

But it is just a matter of breaking the ice, I'm sure. Because they are hanging out like siblings... my orphan has found a family after all.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Test

So I finally downloaded Swype on my iPad, which makes it an absolute pleasure to type out long sentences. Makes it possible to blog on the go, respond straight away to urgent mails when earlier I found myself waiting till I got to a computer. I learned to type on qwerty keyboards as a teen and type fairly speedily, so you can imagine the torture of tapping.
Hurrah for Swype.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Karthika Pournami

For the header, I take down Sandra Simpson's comment on scope:

trying to make
myself understood —
the sun in a spoon

In its place, I give in to vanity and put up one of my own. I haven't written too many haiku in my life – but this one, with all its imperfections, came fully formed yesterday, kigo and all.

As I lay out lamps for the full moon of Karthika
the kitten
astonished

It ties up some of my current preoccupations, the chief of which is this orphaned kitten. It was abandoned in our garden a few days ago, crying piteously under a jasmine bush. I waited for the mother but it became clear that she wasn't coming back.

My mother was severely ailurophobic and we've been very strict all our lives about never encouraging cats to hang about. She learnt to tolerate them at a distance and since our grills were designed specifically to keep out even the smallest of them, she was able to keep her composure even with felines wandering about in the garden. But giving them milk, engaging with them... absolute no-nos.

But my mum has been gone a few years now, and there this little fellow was. Distressed and hungry. So I overcame a lifetime of training and fed her. I have no intention of taking her in and have tried to stress upon her that she is a creature of the wild that must fend for itself – she must scavenge if she can't hunt. She has coped, I must say, quite admirably. She ventures afar, perhaps into dustbins of non-vegetarians and some days doesn't seem to need anything from me. I now pour out some milk only if she's very persistent.

But the other aspect is... well, her chattiness. This is a vocal, voluble cat that needs friendliness even more than food. She likes to be under the car, marks every entry and exit through the gates with prolonged conversation. When Bhoodevi washes the yard and puts 'muggu' every morning, she follows her movements avidly, talking all the time. Plus, she is bestowed with near-lethal levels of cuteness, which makes my 'do-not-befriend-cats' policy rather difficult to follow.


When I came out with lamps yesterday, she emerged to eye the proceedings with wide-eyed amazement. I bade her sit far and not venture near the flames; she had the sense to do that but she was excited with lamps on every step and along the wall.

Anyway, the season of short days is upon us, and even if oil lamps are today only symbolic, it feels nice to have them. I had never paid so much attention to seasons before, to the pull of the moon, the turns of the earth, the angles of the sun. So many things to be astonished about.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Occupational hazard

Writers' block. What to do... opening lines still buffering, still buffering. And this needs to go today. DEVI!!!

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Meel ka paththar

This blog turns ten years old today, and I’m stunned by this.
Constancy is not a trait I’ve associated with myself, tending to think of my serial obsessions as something I latch on to and then detach myself from after I have rapaciously extracted their potential.

Blogging was THE thing to do when I started this webpage – a band of energetic, voluble, articulate speakers had sprung up all over India. It was an exciting time – these blogs seemed to raise us beyond ordinary eye level to make eye contact with other people ‘like us’. But gradually, a large number fell off – off blogging, at least. Many decided to save their words for the books they would write, or maintained them as repositories for work written elsewhere. Among the not-so-ambitious, many tired of keeping it up... blogs died and, to my sorrow, were removed.

People’s reading lists no longer include blogs as they used to, reader counts have dropped, and in the ten years between today and 8 Oct 2004, audiences have fragmented rather more severely. In 2004, you had some sort of an elevated stage on which you played out your part; social media has democratised that to such an extent that all people now exhibit much like street musicians – to passing crowds who might stand diverted, perhaps for a minute or five.

Oddly, I’ve stayed on, blogging almost unfailingly every month this decade. I tried to examine this – why do I blog? The fact is, I enjoy it. It’s not about being widely read, though that, when it happens, is very pleasant indeed. It’s that a blog post can be about anything or nothing, as serious or flippant as I wish, it could be one word or five hundred. It’s about putting it down and putting it out. It’s wonderful to be seized by an idea, write it and share it.

I had said once, when I was being self-conscious about this website, that this was to be a mosaic of posts from which a picture of me might emerge. But that, now, seems absurd. How can that be?
Sandra Simpson puts across the impossibility of it in a wonderfully poetic haiku:

trying to make
myself understood —
the sun in a spoon

The most that can be achieved is a record of a certain type of chatty mood. Still, it is here, and ten years old. Happy Birthday, Blog! 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Yogaratova...*

In his address to the United Nations, PM Modi yesterday suggested we have an International Yoga Day. The idea is still trending on twitter and I added my mite by linking to a couple of things Sadhguru has said about yoga.

(Oh, wait, why don't I link to it here? The Isha Foundation Blog has a section called Yoga and Meditation and there is super stuff there - on why yoga, the technology, the lineage, the technique, why the the nitty-gritties matter, the approach, what's wrong with the way it's approached, taught and practiced these days.... in fact, everything you wanted to know about yoga.)

I am, of course, a neo-convert to yoga and consequently rather fanatical about it. It has worked magnificently for me - the kriyas and Hatha yoga together keep me so well lubricated in body-mind-spirit, that one day without feels like I haven't bathed. But this is now.

When I was initiated in 2011, some time after, I met a close childhood friend who had been doing and teaching Hatha Yoga for years. And for all her enthusiasms, Pri hadn't infected us with the passion and now suddenly I seemed to be advocating it to HER and I think she was a bit nonplussed. We were meeting after a gap of a year or two, and she said, "I didn't realise you were this much into yoga." I told her, in a burst of candour, "I'm not into yoga, per se; I'm into this man. If he asks me to stare at my big toe, I will." That was why I went into yoga - because my Guru said it would help me, it would help him help me.

But seriously, I think it is time to bring it back. With due respect, for the right reasons, with the right attitude. Enough, I think, of sidelining of this heritage. We need to reclaim it before this knowledge disappears altogether, before the links evaporate in the harsh climate of cynicism and neglect.

PS. It is a pity to have to add a disclaimer but perhaps I should say my views are not about right-wing Hindutva. It's not a religious thing, it's not about Hindu Chauvinism. Yoga is the path this land's heritage shows us towards higher consciousness and it works for ALL human beings.


__________

*From Adi Shankara's Bhaja Govindam:
Yogaratova bhogaratova
Sangaratova sangaviheenah
Yasya brahmani ramate chittam
Nandati nandati nandatyeva

By way of yoga, or by way of bhoga, through the path of discipline or the way of pleasure, in company or without... somehow make it. It doesn’t matter how; the important thing is you get there.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Jaded

It has been a prosaic day. It started with some hint of grumpy impatience, but I reined that in. Since I had errands anyway, I sought additional help from the shops – a couple of new garments and choosing of incense sticks for the upcoming celebrations of Dasara lifted my spirits. But otherwise, so ho-hum, so neither here nor there. I spoke to my sister briefly on the phone and we shocked each other by having nothing to say.

Sadhguru said once, “If you die of excitement, it’s all right. Such a magnificent creation and you die of boredom – that’s a crime.” I see and take his point. Mea culpa. There is nothing wrong with the world. Just, the chemical soup I am today isn’t making it easy.

I used to be very fond of worry-stones at one point and had started quite a collection. Now I don’t know if it’s true but new age lore claims that crystals possess a host of healing properties. There was one stone, and one power attributed to it, that I’ve always wished upon: Jade, it is said, opens the wearer to perceiving greater beauty. Isn’t that fabulous?

That’s what I need today – a touch of Jade. Or perhaps I should bring out the big guns. Darken the room, pull back the curtains to let in the night, and let some Bageshri sweeten the air.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Mukammal jahaan

It is almost time, I hear, for the next season of Coke Studio – the material is ready even if the airing is postponed indefinitely due to the political turmoil in Pakistan.

Mixed feelings. I wish the new team well but I expect, I fear that they cannot match the genius of Rohail Hyatt. Nothing lasts forever and I am happy that the end of CS as propelled by this man tapered down not due to a dilution of music or integrity but other circumstances. So easily it might have happened, as it all too often has, that corruption seeped into the show. It didn’t here and that heartens me considerably.

Anyone who followed and listened to the previous season will know that Hyatt took Season 6 to a new level altogether. Hitherto, these had been studio sessions – not entirely jam sessions – but well-rehearsed, well-constructed pieces that were recorded all together. This brought a remarkable synergy to the music and I was a bit doubtful when Season 6 started with the concept of recording disparate strains in various locations that would be later put together on the console. What would the difference be then between Coke Studio and, say, AR Rahman or any number of Bollywood composers who take this structuralistic approach as well?

I had reckoned without Rohail Hyatt. In Season 5, he had experimented briefly with the idea with Koi labda. With the band Symt laying out the overall mood and theme but leaving preplanned room for an insert, Hyatt had Sanam Marvi record an aside later. This was so neatly integrated with the main recording as to appear seamless. Technicalities apart, the song is sheer pleasure, and one of my enduring favourites.



Season 6 went international. Serbia and Italy provided entire orchestras, and individual musicians from Nepal, Turkey, Bangladesh, Morocco and Norway were roped in for small accents and airs. So then these were songs that were created between some overall controlling vision and the fluidity of so many inputs – the lyric and the tune were the choice of the singer, the basic voice recording was made, sent to the orchestras who then clothed them with sounds of their choosing. (The relish, the delight that coursed through these video conferences was palpable and very contagious.) At the end, I imagine it was Hyatt who put the song together – muting out whole tracks, adding here a touch of flute from the Bangla artiste, here inserting the finishing chords from the heavenly Oud. Inordinate attention seems to have been paid to every sound, every note on these songs – the result is a set of polished pieces that will endure any number of listens. The synergy that I feared would go missing was very much there, but in a different way. What was once smooth was now textured, interpretations were unusual, listeners found something old, something new... Parts of the experience were somehow meta – ‘is this how the Serbian brass section sees this tune?!’

With Rohail Hyatt leaving, he will obviously take this work aesthetic with him – for, unless they are very evolved and supremely devoted to their craft, the new team will want to bring themselves in. They will want to change, assert, leave their stamp. Already the website www.cokestudio.com.pk has been shorn of its archives – I tried to find credits for Season 6 and couldn’t.

Nevertheless I am excited. New energy, a new way of doing things, a new season.

===
The title is from Nida Fazli's sher:
Kabhi kisi ko mukammal jahaan nahin milta
Kahin zameen toh kahin aasmaan nahin milta

कभी किसी को मुक्कम्मल जहाँ नहीं मिलता
कहीं ज़मीं तो कहीं आसमां नहीं मिलता

No one has ever achieved a complete perfect world,
Here the earth eludes us, there heaven

In Koi labda, Symt uses this as ground, expressing the inadequacies of our lives.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Distance la moonu moonu...

...moonu colour-u white-u!

So this dashami of the shukla paksha in the month of Bhadrapada, I caught the moon through some romantic coconut fronds. Lovely, no?!



Thursday, August 28, 2014

The unkindest cut

We feel that the local man in charge of our regular power cuts has given over to megalomania. We used to have them initially in two-hour slots spaced out considerately for households needing to use kitchen gadgets for the day's meals and such, for harried people leaving for school and work as well as others doing their morning kriyas. (Electricity is strictly not a requirement for this activity but it helps, of course – the buzz of household gadgets keeps other intruding sounds away, and there is always the menace of mosquitoes that can be held at bay with a breeze propelled by electric power.) Of course this also served for everyone requiring to charge their tech paraphernalia.

The first cut used to occur promptly at 10.30am and was restored at 12.30. As humans, whose thing in life is adaptability we, accordingly, adapted. Early in the morning, we fought over power plug points, made our chutneys, sent off last minute mails at 10.25 and sat back in somewhat of a smug attitude. In the break, we puttered around the garden, caught up on the bird scene in the neighbourhood, read the newspapers, and some even going so far as to read a book! It was idyllic.

At 4.30 in the afternoon was our second cut of the day. Walkers would reach promptly for their shoes, others for grocery bags, the colony uncles chose to huddle for leisurely powwows. Dusk would gently fall, leading some to make quite a to-do about their sunset pictures. With normal life restored at 6.30, the populace would withdraw indoors to prayers, television and dinner.

Now this is a thing of the past. The man at the switchboard has lost his rhythm. Sometimes, at 6.30am, when most of God’s creatures and snuggling in their razais, dreaming their last dreams of the night, they are awakened most rudely by a cessation of fan-blades. Now having thus dragged oneself out of bed, there is no easy method for obtaining hot water for one’s ablutions, the overhead tanks have not been filled and plans for breakfast must be altered very quickly to include Spencer’s wheat bread. You will note that I said ‘sometimes’. For, at other times, it is another time. Sometimes, 7am, sometimes 7.15, once 8am, occasionally 11am and now he has passed over the morning slot altogether. For two days now it has been 12-2pm and 4.30-6.30pm, which gives us barely two and half hours in between to get the fridge cold again. Food is spoiling and for persons who worry about laptop batteries forming the wrong kinds of memory, this is bad indeed.

Although I have described vividly the torments of unexpected cuts, I have not yet touched on the other kind – the torment of uncertainty and hope! What happens when the citizenry is expecting a power cut and it doesn’t occur? As a sample, I studied my father. At 10.40, it becomes clear that the schedule isn’t being adhered to. Having put off eating so that he can maximise on the router being available, he is famished. Should he have breakfast anyway? Or perhaps he should fit in one more response to an email in the next five minutes before it might be shut down? He teeters, Dear Reader, between work station and kitchen in the most piteous manner. But worse, when we have braced ourselves comprehensively and nothing at all happens. “Is it a festival today? Or some holiday?” Why, we wonder in private, aloud and during every interaction, has there not been a power cut. Having no faith in free lunches, we wonder what retribution will be like.

The maid discusses the cuts as much as she discusses the weather: “Ee rozu teesinadaa, akka?” and then tells me how it was in her locality these past 24 hours. We have concluded that we have a control freak on our hands. Our lives will run, he imagines, on his say-so (as indeed they do). Do you think he breaks out into maniacal laughter every time he pulls the plug? Or that his eyes gleam when his hand hovers on the button and then withdraws, knowing well the consternation he is spreading?

As I write this, my father has been wandering around the house muttering to himself. Tufts of hair stand upright on his head, and he wears a pinched look. There has been no cut today.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Being single

As I read the whole set of the Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, I came across this throwaway sentence, a succinct argument for the single state.

"Fending for one is not so hard as fretting for two."
~Ellis Peters, The Raven in the Foregate

Yes, no?

Rabba Rabba mee barsa

Praise be, it’s raining! Coming down purposefully, bounty intended in every drop.
August is nearly ending and it seemed as though the winds had died, the clouds were no longer drifting and we in Hyderabad haven’t received even half our allotment!

But a good, prolonged shower (accompanied with thunder and lightning, if you please) dampens those complaints – the ixora is looking up, the car looks scrubbed in a way we can’t manage and I have occasion to share this video (via Sowmya) that is many kinds of smart. Indeed, what is the right way to conduct ourselves when caught in a sudden downpour?



And, whyever not a haiku?

reaching
where the hose won’t —
summer rain
Harriot West

Friday, August 15, 2014

Pursish-e-haal

"It was a mistake, perhaps, to ask him how he did."
 ~Ellis Peters, Dead Man's Ransom

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Reactive

A bit angry, right this minute, for I was at the receiving end of some rather unfair treatment. And in spite of the dangers of using a weblog as a confessional, sometimes, it tempts me.

Oh, not that I stayed quiescent under the lash of ingratitude - I kept quiet because it would not have helped a whit at that moment - but I passed the unpleasantness on, never fear! I scowled at my maid, growled at my father and now as the breath returns to normal and sense overrides indignation, the proper perspective emerges.

I should have come to you first, dear blog. Plus there a couple of things I need to rant about. Today is the day for such a harangue; I can feel it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bah

I'm beginning to really dislike feminists. Super aggro, man-hating, society-reviling feminists who're on the case ALL the time. For heaven's sake, let up sometimes and just be a PERSON, yes?

Edited to add:
That came as a reaction to some very silly and extreme views I encountered here and there. I swear I didn't know this movement was rising:



Thursday, July 24, 2014

Naanu hodare...*

I was cleaning out a shelf today and found old letters. We destroyed a majority of our letters and keepsakes last year during a massive cleanup, but these seemed to have survived. Written by me to my sister almost a decade ago, when she spent a few months in Bhopal. Easy to see, in hindsight, the recurrent themes: what films I had seen, where I had been, commentary on friends and associated affairs, an obligatory comment on the downslide in my handwriting, my preoccupations, worries, concerns… same old, same old. It was only a matter of three letters but I grew so tired of this person.

I see with astonishing clarity sometimes that I am a trap.


=====
* The title is from a famous Kannada phrase "Naanu hodare hodenu" attributed to the saint Kanakadasa.

The legend sets the story in a gathering of spiritual seekers presided over by Kanakadasa's master Vyasarajatirtha. The Guru asks Kanakadasa how he fancies the chances of the present gathering in attaining Moksha. For each scholar present, the saint shakes his head, doubting their chances at this final glorious goal. Finally, Kanakadasa is dubious of even the Guru's making it. The seekers are dismayed and angry. What of your own chances of attainment, he is asked. "Naanu hodare hodenu", he replies - translating generally to "I might" but the idiomatic phrase is more literally broken down to "I might go, if I do."

The punny statement is a masterpiece: If the 'I' is dissolved, then yes, I might attain.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Guru Poornima Diary

So excited about Guru Poornima! I can’t explain it but I’ve been waiting for it like one might for one’s birthday. Much is happening today at Isha Yoga Center, and I am not there, alas, but the multi-talented people there are super kind to those of us who live elsewhere: proceedings will be livestreamed and I will catch it online.

+++

I came across the Guru Paduka Stotram a few years ago. It is written by the magnificent Adi Shankara to whom I bow almost as deeply as I do to my Sadhguru. It moves me tremendously, in various ways. I have tried to learn the words and can now join in recitations with some concentration. It is simply gorgeous and it’s going to reverberate all day in my room.

Here is a link to the whole thing: words, meaning and significance.

+++

The feet of the Guru hold immense fascination for the disciple. It seems strange if you look at it, but it is so. As Shankara says: “Nalika nikasa padahrtabhyam...” Feet attractive akin to a bunch of lotuses...

It reminds me of this story that’s told of Amir Khusrau. A poor man, it is said, once came to Nizamuddin Aulia asking for alms. Having nothing at that moment to give, the saint pointed to his rather tattered sandals. The man was disappointed but nevertheless bore them away.

As he left the town, he encountered Amir Khusrau, who was returning from Delhi, his carts, camels and horses laden with royal gifts from the Sultanate. As their paths almost crossed, Khusrau scented his Master. "Bu-e-Shaikh mi aayad,” he muttered,“Bu-e-Shaikh mi aayad!" (I smell my Master, I smell my Master!). Prompted, the man told him how he could only get these sandals from Nizamuddin Aulia.

Khusrau made a trade – he offered the man his entire entourage in exchange for his Pir’s sandals. And then he came home triumphantly holding the sandals on his head. The Pir saw the footwear and asked to be told how. When Khusrau told him the price he had paid for them, Nizamuddin Aulia said: "Arzaan khareedi." (You got them quite cheap).

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Waiting

This header has done its turn and it is time for something new.

The seasons ought to have segued gracefully… awful summer should have conceded ground to atmospheric monsoons, but we all know how that script went awry. The scene was set, the rains had their cue but they’ve muffed it… the hot days were ready to leave with bang but with the rains nowhere near ready, they’ve had to repeat their lines in declaiming tones, hamming it, with less and less conviction till we find ourselves in that embarrassing space of twiddling our thumbs and waiting for nature to get its act together.

Drought year. How ominous that sounds. But there is hope yet. After July 9, one MET department report said, the rain system will proceed on course. Much damage has been done, of course, but some rain would be better than none at all.

So, when we’ve stopped looking up at the sky, and resigned ourselves to a long wait, it may happen thus:

a tap
on the shoulder —
a raindrop
~Walter Franceschi

Sunday, June 01, 2014

On the other side of May

It has been more than a month since I blogged but May was a super super busy month. There was no time; besides, all thoughts in my head were chased away by the immediacy of life. I was at the Isha Yoga Center to attend a 21-day Hata Yoga Course. The sessions commanded all our attention, and during the breaks, we saw to bathing, washing and drying of (all-white) clothes, visiting the temples and the teerthakunds and, in general, keeping out of the weather – which ranged from swelling torrents of rain to sweltering heat compounded by humidity.

It was, all said and done, an empowering exercise. But I say that carefully at the moment, with reasoned judgement. I know that to be the truth but state it without proper conviction – if I could only convince my very sick body that its ills are temporary, that its effect on my mood is because of errant chemicals, that this too shall pass and I shall come once again, in the space of a few days, to enjoy the exhilaration of a fast-paced bout of Angamardana or a drawn-out indulgence of Yogasanas.

But I am down with a stomach upset that has now lasted 10 days. The acute phase has passed but I still retain distaste for food, a persistent feeling of revulsion for everything and a rather alarming stupor. It would still be ok, but the illness is accompanied by a faint feeling of shame that not so much sadhana has helped me put my mind above this matter. It is susceptible still to these sways.

***

Much happened in my absence. I voted before I left but the results of the elections came out later, and we knew only the very sketchy details before we went back into the next sadhana session. I missed all the hysteria, the TV analysis, the handwringing on social timelines... all of it!

***

I learn that the IPL is almost over, the French Open is under way and that the FIFA World Cup is upon us. Has it really been four years since the vuvuzelas! Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Steep curve

My father was telling me today about a talk he gave in 1995. He’d been asked to give an address at the Annual Convention of the Computer Society of India. He had talked on this subject before but it had been to smaller groups comprising more general audiences. But on this occasion he was talking about ‘Demystifying the Internet’ to people who worked in the field of computers. The talk went well – the packed hall was peopled by hundreds of curious specialists and it was, he says, quite the largest number of people he had addressed.

My father jumped on to the internet bandwagon fairly early. He was part of Shammi Kapoor’s ‘Internet Users Club of India’ in 1994-95. He would bring home dot matrix sheets full of lawyer jokes in font Lucida. On our first computer, I remember playing code games on DOS mode. He signed me up for my own hotmail account in 1998 (I think!).

And now in 2014, he sent me this infographic that tells us how far we’ve come, how rapidly the world has changed. 2.4 Billion people chattering away!


My father was born in 1941 – he has seen technologies come and he has seen them go: the VCR, the pager, floppy drives of various sizes...  “I’m blessed in many ways,” he said to me today, “and I feel so lucky to have ridden this wave.”

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Deewaron se milkar rona

I come to this blog when I'm feeling out of it.

The unease today has been particularly vague. Is it hormonal, psychological, or even physical? It can't be emotional because nothing has happened. The result of too much coffee, or the mixed breakfast I had? Or something subtler? A bio-rhythm that I haven't figured out the pattern of?
I don't know. And I don't know if I want to go hermit, or find a friend, grab their top-button and pour out my nebulous troubles.

But certainly, this yellow page should know about it.

Friday, April 18, 2014

First day, firrrrrrst show

For the many people who asked me how I liked 2 States.

===

P and I were at Prasad’s at 8.30am today, fairly excited. Many young people sat on the steps outside – as we reached the entrance, the security man apologetically blocked our way: “Abhi entry nai hai, madam.” So early, the cinema hall hadn’t opened for the day’s business. This was a new record, even for us.

But the need was desperate. P is off to foreign shores this Monday – this may be the last movie on desi soil for a bit. Our movie plan was last-minute and Prasad’s’ 9am show had only a few lone tickets scattered here and there. “Never mind,” we told each other. So we bought the eats, waved cheerfully and made our way to our seats in separate rows. But such a long history of watching films together – our reactions were similar too. Which is:

There must be something about Chetan Bhagat’s books that make them very translatable into theatre and celluloid. A solid concept or plotline, perhaps, that others can clothe well? This must be the third such film? Three Idiots, Kai Po Che and now 2 States. Something about relatable milieus, relatable people.

I haven’t read him at all though I know, of course, that he is the bête noire of literacy critics. They can’t forgive him his mediocrity and they CANNOT forgive him his success. But I saw a few promos for this film before I saw it, and found a good number of the commenters talking familiarly of the characters, glad that particular passages in the book had made their way to the film... they seemed fond of the book they had read. Bhagat must be doing something right.

Lovely look they gave Alia Bhatt – kohl and light lip colour, fabulous street wear... there was something radiant about her in this film.


I found Arjun Kapoor’s droopy eyed portrayal of Krish just so – unobtrusive but just this teensy much blah. Great to see Amrita Singh and Revathy as well. I liked Ronit Roy, though P said he was stereotyped (on the lines of Udaan). Sau baat ki ek baat: a fresh, non-filmi film.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Teething troubles

So I succumbed and acquired a tablet.
I enjoyed Nishu's iPad tremendously when I visited her and she urged me to get one as well. I was very susceptible to that suggestion. I seriously considered an android - they said terrific things about the Nexus 7 - but then came down in favour of this solid 3:4 aspect ratio. And there was the matter of the retina display that spoilt me for the rest of the world.
I felt elitist, my middle-classness raised a din at having to pay more than I strictly should but I let instinct subdue my samskaras.



But what a lot of work this new gadget is! I'm unfamiliar with the Apple ecosystem, so suddenly Apple ID, iTunes and iCloud... it all hit me at once. Giving them my soul's deepest secrets was a mandatory step - they would need my credit card details to even let me over the threshold. And bummer, they charged me Rs 60 right away, confirming their dastardly intentions of charging me whatever they felt like, whenever they felt like it. Some frantic netsearch later, I am assured they just need to check I had been truthful - my 60 rupees (just one dollar, some superior First World person said) have not been snatched away, just held as surety. Yes, but they should have said.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Then and Now

For many years, when my sister was studying at NIFT and then working in Delhi, I was the only child at home, pampered and pandered to.

My grandfather would fast on certain days – ingest only fruit during the day and break the fast with something other than rice, something like a light meal of upma or avvalakki. All of it came under the name ‘phaLahara’. (Literally it means a fruit diet but loosely the word was used to indicate the whole day’s regimen.) I thought it made a nice change and announced to my parents that I was going to do this too. Oh, not fast, not that! But on Saturdays, I would not eat the regular rice-curry-sambhar-rasam-curd dinner. I would have ‘phaLahara’ too – but a treat of some sort. A burger or pizza from the local fast food outlet, or Chinese or Italian or pav bhaji... something exotic.

The burden of arranging this meal invariably fell to my dad. Early evening he would ask me what I wanted, I would enjoyably go over my options and put them down in a list, and he would set out to buy my dinner, or at least the ingredients. And my mother – who usually ruled us with a fairly tight hand – undersigned this arrangement. I remember Shweta clucking her tongue at this self-indulgence, and astonished at the fact that the parents were LETTING me do this, and helping me do it. But they did for years – amused and indulgent of my tweak of an old custom.

I remember this today, this Ekadasi day. Once I admitted to myself a few years ago that I was indeed on the spiritual path, there have been so many lifestyle changes. Some deliberate choices, some that I arrived at without quite knowing how. Some dictated by the energy system, some simply because they made sense. Among those changes is fasting on Ekadasi. I didn’t think I could do it, but given my disordered digestive system, it came to be a no-brainer. After years of indulging the stomach, I have come to the pleasure of resting it.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Patakha Guddi

Bollywood Spoilers: You've been warned.

I just got back from watching Queen and found it to be a warm, vivacious film that hit all the right notes. I've nourished a soft spot for Kangana Ranaut for a while now and am so happy for her to have this success. And director Vikas Bahl does an assured job.

A lovely coming-of-age movie that coincides nicely with the Women's Day motif too. Rani is a wide-eyed Jugni in seamy Europe... Her adventures are told with a wealth of authentic detail but what adds sheen to this story is her lack of moral judgement of the people she encounters - be they ever so different from her own straight-and-narrow ideals.

***

And wasn't I right about Alia Bhatt in Highway?! She plays the gamin, near-mystical Veera with touching earnestness. One of Imtiaz Ali's best, in my opinion. Many reviewers were uncomfortable with Veera's 'sudden' affinity for her kidnappers and likened it to the Stockholm Syndrome. I don't think it was that at all. Here is a girl who has never felt at home - now, suddenly, she does and is quick to recognise it. Her initial fear is real... her dread of the creepy Goru in the band of oppressors, for instance -- but once he is gotten rid of, and she has an idea of where the line is below which Mahabir will not stoop, she begins to look around with fresh eyes and... hope. She is resilient and what's to question about that?

Here is a girl running full-tilt into the salt plains, running away from a nightmarish abduction, running till there is no breath left in her lungs. And yet, she looks up, gasping at the desert sky. A girl who clambers on to a rock in the middle of a swift, powerful river and is moved to tears by the cascade. Here is a girl who knows to follow her heart, that sure inner voice. It urges her towards life, towards living and she listens.

Randeep Hooda's Mahabir -- silent, brooding, disbelieving that his life (which he views with heartbreaking repugnance) has room for such beauty as Veera in it. She is insistent, he is persuaded in spite of himself - and what a love story emerges! They both play their parts, as lovers must, in transforming the other. Offering each other a precious leg-up in their individual journeys towards higher consciousness - easing burdens, bringing about resolutions and finally, setting the loved one free.

Highway being as much an ode to the variety of landscape in India as it is to the inner journey, I loved that Veera and Mahabir were seen time and again sitting thus, rapt in contemplation of the scenes that meet their eyes.


It was a beautiful film - I have the hangover still to prove it.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Gift horses

am grateful to online music websites. Really. So many hours of music; discovering ragas, performers, genres, music that would not have come my way but for the easy access.

But I have to grit my teeth at how they are organised. Hari Prasad Chaurasia (Pandit) and Pt Hari Prasad Chaurasia have separate listings. I clicked on a Raga Bageshri by Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma just now and was amazed to have flutey notes emerge from the speakers. There are numerous links that don't go anywhere. And I came across this gem yesterday: a 60-min delineation of what I think was Gorakh Kalyan by Ustad Rashid Khan described merely as 'Vilambit ek taal'. Grrrrr!

Monday, March 03, 2014

Mahiya ve, jindri bulave

Back home after a bit.

The place I left behind is a space of great glory and like always, it was a wrench to leave - I was in tears saying my goodbyes, hoping very much that the time I spent away this time wouldn't be long enough for me to make too comprehensive a mess of myself. Making a mess and then untangling it in a cyclical fashion doesn't seem like a too-sensible method of handling things... but let us see.

But having come back, there are the pleasures of home. I usually play music on my laptop, fix a couple of portable speakers if I'm working around in the room and need the volume to be higher. I have a Bose player with fantastic speakers but it's too much trouble to hook them up every time - the audio jack is short, which means I'm tethered by a really short rope if I want to work as well as listen to music. But sometimes, nothing else will do. Coke Studio Season 6, particularly, has such a depth of sound, so many fascinating layers - the songs need the Bose to do them justice.

So, to compensate my bereavement, Mahi gal...



Friday, February 28, 2014

Mahashivarathri

On this darkest of nights, I am here at the Isha Yoga Center.
And there is a haiku I've been saving up - one which, on this day, is the hope and even a possibility:

moonless night
I close my eyes
and disappear
-Stevie Strang

For this most sacred amavasya, my Sadhguru says:
Expecting light to dispel darkness means missing the big picture. It is like seeing the stars but missing the sky.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Saaquiya aaj mujhe neend nahi aayegi

Magha maasa or the month of Magha is here again. And I am fortunate, again, to find myself in the Velliangiri foothills spending the week leading up to Mahashivarathri at the Isha Yoga Center.

While I am here, I might as well be useful, so I help out with the live blog, where we follow the events at Yaksha, the annual festival of dance and music, culminating in the big night.

Last year, after this now-familiar sojourn, I had written about it for Outlook Traveller. The full version is here.

===
Holy Days

For thousands of spiritual seekers in India, particularly South India, it’s become something of a no-brainer. Whatever else they may do through the year, they know already that they’ll be spending Mahashivarathri – the 14th day of the lunar month of Magha – at Isha Yoga Center, at the Velliangiri Foothills in Tamil Nadu. The Isha Foundation is a spiritual organisation founded by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, and the Yoga Center – a green settlement surrounded by mist-kissed hills – is a truly beautiful place. It is the seat of the Dhyanalinga, a 14-ft structure that is a veritable powerhouse of spiritual energy, capable of transporting people into deeply meditative states.

This Mahashivarathri night is something of a wild party. There is heart-pumping music, some powerful guided meditations… everyone dances like this could be their last night on earth and no one sleeps a wink. Versatile Carnatic artiste Aruna Sairam came to sing this year, Sadhguru narrated stories from Shiva-lore interspersed by dance performances by Anita Ratnam and troupe, and in the small hours, when the eight-lakh-and-change people at the venue may have understandably drooped in their seats, The Raghu Dixit Project woke everyone up rather nicely. The events were also going out live via television to millions of people wishful of maintaining the tradition of keeping awake this moonless night.

But I, for one, was glad to actually be here. There is something very auspicious about this particular time–space combination. As it is, the planetary positions make it highly advisable to keep your spine erect through the night to benefit from a natural upsurge of energy. What makes it even more interesting is that Isha Yoga Center is located at 11°N, a band across the planet which, thanks to the centrifugal force created by the spinning earth, is particularly beneficial to those wanting that aforementioned energy pushed up. A double win, so to say.

However, I wasn’t here only for a day. Every year, the week leading up to Mahashivarathri is dedicated to Yaksha, a festival of classical music and dance. This year’s line-up included the Carnatic violinist TN Krishnan, Hindustani vocalist Ulhas Kashalkar and the towering Carnatic vocalist TM Krishna. Nothing – not even wild horses – were going to keep me away.

The performances typically take place in the Linga Bhairavi courtyard. This is a newly minted deity – a thoroughly feminine power who is both fierce and wonderfully kind. The walls that form the backdrop are lit with hundreds of lamps and concerts begin as soon as dusk falls. The seven recitals were all excellent but Odissi danseuse Madhavi Mudgal was a revelation to me. Deft footwork, skilled abhinaya and the capacity for stillness that marks a master. On the final day, TM Krishna held sway. Culling from the kritis of Muthuswamy Dikshitar, Bharatiyar and other Bhakti poets, he sang a fine blend of technique and devotion.

Just to pump up the spectacle quotient, every day of Yaksha has a Maha Arati. The Goddess is taken out in a procession around the complex, where the arati is offered to the Dhyanalinga. The pageant involves trumpets, cymbals and long flaming torches… attendants clear the way with aggressive, sweeping gestures as the Devi is brought into position. Then, lithe-bodied bramhacharis, holding large vessels of leaping fire, offer their dance of passionate submission. It is fabulous to watch!



Then, the week-long party was over. At six in the morning after Mahashivarathri, lakhs of people melted magically away. Bleary-eyed, I walked back from the grounds. The Dhyanalinga, which I expected to be besieged by long queues, was surprisingly empty. I dived in, and sat in one of the cubicles. I was deprived of sleep, and of course, the Dhyanalinga did its thing…. I was soon fathoms deep in an indescribable space beyond space.

===
A shorter version of this feature appeared here, in the April 2013 issue of Outlook Traveller.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Zara si baat

Full moon day. And since it also coincides with a full oestrogen day, the emotions tend to bubble, and I tend to over-react.

So Alice Frampton's wise, wise words:
it is
what it is
mole hill

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Our endless and proper work

I take down Tom Rault’s fantastical haiku

everywhere
in the river
the footprints of a fish

In its place, not a haiku this time, but a snatch from a poem. Mary Oliver’s urgent, knock-on-the-head reminder:
Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

It came like a bolt from the blue, that one. If I had the skills, I would make those letters dance in neon, emblazoned across my vision no matter where I looked, a persistent pop-up on the pages of my life.

I had not come across this wonderful nature poet before but it happened in that curious way it does. A friend on facebook had a poem by her on their page with a meme of some kind going on. I was tempted to read but had only a few minutes to spare then and put it away for later. Later that day, a friend sent me a link to a poem. I clicked, took a few minutes to read, absorb and then as I almost shut the tab, an invisible arrow hovered by the side column. Mary Oliver, it said again. Resigned and, needless to say, excited about this treasure hunt, I went looking for the message that had been sent me.

The poem I’m quoting from – “Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches?”
– is here.

She asks:
Do you think this world was only an entertainment for you?
 
Never to enter the sea and notice how the water divides
with perfect courtesy, to let you in!
Never to lie down on the grass, as though you were the grass!
Never to leap to the air as you open your wings over
the dark acorn of your heart!
 
No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint
that something is missing from your life!
 
Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch?
Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot
in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself continually?
Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed
with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?
    
Well, there is time left -
fields everywhere invite you into them. 
And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away
from wherever you are, to look for your soul?
Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!

To put one’s foot into the door of the grass,
which is the mystery, which is death as well as life,
and not be afraid!
To set one’s foot in the door of death,
and be overcome with amazement!
 
To sit down in front of the weeds, and imagine
god the ten-fingered, sailing out of his house of straw,
nodding this way and that way, to the flowers of the present hour,
to the song falling out of the mockingbird’s pink mouth,
to the tippets of the honeysuckle, that have opened in the night,
To sit down, like a weed among weeds, and rustle in the wind!
    
Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?
 
While the soul, after all, is only a window,
and the opening of the window no more difficult
than the wakening from a little sleep.

===
The title is from Oliver as well; in her poem Yes! No! she says: "To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work."

Monday, January 20, 2014

Deadline woes

जानता हूँ सवाब-ए-ता'त-ओ-ज़ोहद…

पर हाय रे तबीयत!

The temptation to blog in Hindi! But I will embarrass myself hugely if I do, since in a very South Indian manner I invariably get the streeling/pul'ling wrong. Much more dignified to quote now and then than venture out with full sentences of my own. जितनी लम्बी चादर हो, पैर उतने ही फैलाने चाहिये!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Few Good Men

A while ago, some of us sat down and put together a list. Of Bollywood directors who had made at least three successful films. The idea was to see if these creative persons could sustain good output – how much of it was accidental, how many became absurdly shaken by the success of their films and the attendant silliness that accompanies it in the film industry? How was it that (some) makers of interesting initial films churned out work that was shallower, more formulaic and more manipulative as they were now able to command bigger budgets?

We were clear to begin with that ‘successful’ was a subjective judgement – we didn’t take that to mean a hit necessarily, just a film that made sense to us, or appealed in some way, or showed some heart or integrity or coherence.

We had some ideas of our own, of course. I remember Javed Akhtar being asked once about the creative process and while I can’t quote him word for the word, the essence was this: while Salim and he were having fun with that they were doing, genuinely writing plots, scenarios and lines that they enjoyed, it worked. When they started second-guessing the audience, making assumptions about what would ‘work’ and what wouldn’t, they lost the magic. So basically a process where the creative person clears the board – clears away preconceptions (their own as well as other people’s), looks at a subject with some contemplation and serves it in the best manner possible... then it works. When they start worrying about how they are going to keep this good thing going, about doing justice to this bigger budget and big label expectations, put in a slick dance or two, devote more time to the publicity schedule than they do to the script and homework, they are less satisfying. This is commonsense, of course – I am saying nothing new but evidently, so difficult to do!

At the top of our list was Dibakar Banerjee and it was decided that this here was a good man in whom we could place our trust. Anything made by him, we would line up to watch. Yes, Shanghai fell short of being memorable but his short in Bombay Talkies held its own and what variety and assurance he brings to his subjects! And I for one am super excited that he will be making Detective Byomkesh Bakshi with the talented Sushant Singh Rajput.

I am also interested in Imtiaz Ali. I loved his Socha Na Tha – even a shade better than the more touted Jab We Met. He stuttered badly of course with Love Aaj Kal but recovered his poise with Rockstar. I am really looking forward to Highway; it has all the Imtiaz Ali trademarks: travel, self-discovery and I suspect that Alia Bhatt is going to make everyone sit up.

Shimit Amin has consistently put out quality and even in spite of his association with Yash Raj Films. We will keep an eye out for Zoya Akhtar too. I am not attracted myself to Anurag Kashyap, who is a bit affected in his approach but there is something there. 

Milan Lutharia is exciting if erratic; we would look forward to Sujoy Ghosh’s next, as well as Shriram Raghavan’s. So too for that matter Abhishek Kapoor’s next: Fitoor. Tigmanshu Dhulia has become trapped in communicating a certain badlands ethos but I really liked Bullet Raja (and going by the promos I have an inkling that I will prefer it to the forthcoming Gunday as far as Jai-Veeru tales go) and how about that Paan Singh Tomar! It haunts me still.

But so many disappointments we came across as we put this list together. Whatever happened to John Matthew Mathan who made Sarfarosh?! Why did Ashutosh Gowarikar go downhill in that step-wise descent? Will Farhan Akhtar ever make something approaching Dil Chahta Hai? Or if that is asking for too much – will he ever stop with the Don series, for our sakes, and to save consecutive dilutions of a powerful, iconic brand?

All said and done, though: thanks, guys, for many hours of joy. We love the movies and if it happens that we don’t like one, we at least love sniping at it. Hail Bollywood!

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Haath, Kangan aur Farsi

Sometimes I find English too unemotional a language for my needs; it is too easily embarrassed. I was thinking the other day about people who use language well and how I tend to become ‘nisar’ over them. I cannot of course translate this: ‘I am squandered... I am strewn over articulate, vivid speakers of native tongues...’ As you see, it sounds ridiculous.

+++

Truth is I have a crush on languages. Punjabi, Farsi, Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Kannada, Telugu... they fascinate me all. My own ability to pick up a new tongue or dialect or accent is good but nowhere near where I would like it to be. I remember my sister saying once that if she could pick a superpower it would be the ability to understand every language in the world. I agree wholeheartedly. But alas, to acquire a true and imaginative mastery of a language needs exposure, it needs you to steep yourself in a culture – and for that you would need: a) an unadulterated petri dish of said culture and b) the time, space and adequate excuse to do the steeping. Situated as I am, it cannot be done on a whim.

So I pick up things – savour a phrase, wonder at the context of a particular way of expressing. It is unsatisfactory – I am ever aware that I am feeling a small wrinkle in the elephant’s skin – but there is nothing else.

In the latest season of Coke Studio, Sanam Marvi sings a mysterious snatch without giving us the backstory. The beloved has come across the river to meet but doesn’t spend too much time with the poet: “nah main majlis keeti, na mai raat rahaaya”. ‘I didn’t get the chance to sit together awhile, or spend with him a single night’, she laments. In fact: “onṭhi uṭh nah jhukaaya.” So fleeting a visit, he didn’t even lower the camel to the ground. How delicious is that phrasing – a mere half-sentence gives us glimpse of an entire way of living.

+++

While on this subject, I have a fond ambition: to speak in fluid ‘ba-muhavra’ Hindustani. You know, have a ready proverb or a saying for every situation. This now is doable. I trying to learn them up from here and there – in spite of the apparent homogeneity that has set in to our national media, you can still sift some nuggets, I find. So, I found occasion to exclaim ‘Bheda garak!’ several times this week, and when a friend told me they had to let their (very inept) administrative man go, I was happy to be able to assuage his conscience with ‘Khus kam jahaan paak.’

I am looking for a reason to say ‘Oonth ke pair toh paalne mein hi dikh jaate hain’ and but quite despair of being able to tell anyone: ‘Arre, aam khaona, guTliyan kyon ginte ho?

Incidentally, I’m collecting these, so you if know any, do pass them on? After all, akela chana bhaad nahin phod sakta.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Kastvam ko.aham kuta aayaatah*

A strange lassitude overcomes me this new year’s day. I did not seek out revelry last night, choosing pappannam over biryani, a webstreamed sathsang over an evening out and, all of today, I have chosen brazen indiscipline over customary good sense.
I am in a state of flux, with no plan in sight. On the other hand, I have found a super Raga Desi by Nazakat-Salamat Ali Khan. And also, in this past week, I learnt to appreciate Meera Bai. That is as it is.

===

Somehow, in the light of our brittle – perhaps even desperate – celebrations on occasions such as these, my mind tends to nihilism. Imagine the sea, if you will, in its depths. And then imagine the fish. And what, if from one instant to the next, the fish disappears? Does the sea notice? Is there consternation over this sudden vanishing? Or does it, in a blink, close up the gap and go on as before? Or does the size of the fish matter? Tsunamis after all are caused by such very shifts of mass. Then does the fish matter? That it once was, that it is no more?

Haiku poet Tom Rault makes an enigmatic assertion:
everywhere
in the river
the footprints of a fish

Really? Do we, superior-evolved-fish, leave footprints behind? It is my understanding that we carry on much with us but what do we leave behind that the earth cares to treasure? A genius here or there, yes, we remember their words, their images, their legacy... but the bulk of us, swimming this way and that in vast shoals, what do we leave behind?
If we took a slice out of the earth under the much-lived Delhi, for instance, we would find layer upon layer of civilisation. The very rubble would tell us tales of many centuries worth. But of the fishes that swam here once? What of them? How do they matter?
How will it matter to the ageless sea in what manner I spent my eve of the New Year 2014?


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*This is from Adi Shankara's Bhaja Govindam.
Verse 23 goes:
kastvaM ko.ahaM kuta aayaataH
kaa me jananii ko me taataH
iti paribhaavaya sarvamasaaram.h
vishvaM tyaktvaa svapna vichaaram.h

Who are you? Who am I? From where did I come?
Who is my mother? Who is my father?
Thus enquire, leaving aside the entire world-of-experience,
essenceless and a mere dreamland, born of imagination.
**

**The translation is from here.