Friday, March 23, 2007

Did I?

This is something that has become so common that it is less of a joke now. I tend to forget what I have written (except, maybe for some posts, but their content too is alien to me) and today I was fetching some links for our friend Musings.. when I stumbled on this free verse. Gosh! not only was it a surprise to me early in the morning, I had a tough time recalling what made me write it. I think it was something to do with the towel once I came out of the bath, but not sure. I frankly do not recall writing it at all. I think it is a case of senile decay!! :-( But the funny part is if the posts surprise me, the drafts surprise me even more. I seem to have as many drafts as published posts and each one makes me wonder whether someone else has the password to my blog, and has been coming over to create drafts!! :-o

As a dear friend tells me, "E, how about reading your own blog!?" :-D

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A character introduces the writer

Are you sure?
You truly wish to see all of this?
Fine. Walk straight in. Let us all stand atop this table. Don't worry, Sir, the beams are higher above. Let me help you, Ma'am. Good. Are we all comfortable?
What we see here is not an attic. It might look like one. Yes, ma'am, you can hold on to those beams. No spiders out there or anywhere.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am Travis and this is where Eroteme creates his characters. There isn't much truth in that, though. Do you see there? Beyond those chairs? That is where he keeps the character sketches of all his relatives. A personal area, tickets are priced higher than the usual tour costs.
Let us move over to the red lamp. Notice the desk used while studying his classmates in college. Ebony. Hard. 17th century. Do not ask me why the lamp is red. He keeps loads of files about his friends and, uh, what should I call them, ummm...., non-friends! This is where he keeps notes about his friends and non-friends from school and college. The dusty files contain not very interesting people. One wonders how he made so many friends. It seems he was a man on a mission. He had to collect different character sketches.
Whatever goes on in there?An inside source tells me that Eroteme would befriend some strange people merely to study them closely. He doesn't agree with that, but so didn't Dick Tracy when he went undercover against those you-know-who. Anyway, Let us move to that green desk.

Do not laugh at the yellow and pink polka dots, Sir. Kids love them. I laughed at them too. Eroteme seems to know more about kids than I do. This shelf about kids is the largest out here. I would say these records are the only ones without a personal touch from Eroteme. He says that kids are too damn good to be judged or psychoanalysed. They are too clever, he says. He spends an hour, at the least, with them in the playground or school. No, Sir, he is single. He loves kids, that is it.

That dark corner without a lamp houses a purple desk. Characters from there are never known or seen by Eroteme. They just decide to spring out.

Oh! Not again. Do not worry ma'am. The rumbling is just another idea coming in. Rarely does one get to witness this. To me it is quotidian. This one is for me. You won't find me in the next tour out here. I might be in some story that this rumbling heralds. Have a nice day, and before you leave, drop your tickets in the recycling bin out there.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The People Collector

All the world's a stage... So, who is the audience?

Tender Days

Let's call her S or P. She was called both, but loving conversations found me massaging the word P between my wet lips. She was (if I recall correctly) a year younger than I was but the urge to ensure that a girl is younger than I am was missing in those days. I was all of 7-8 years and enjoyed her company as much as I enjoyed cricket (and at times French-cricket).
We lived on the 2nd floor while she lived with her younger sis D or N and a beautiful black puppy called T, on the ground floor. That was my reason for stopping by her place every time I had to step out of the building. D or N and I were good friends, but she was a little baby and loved to hear all kinds of stories from me (yes, I was a storyteller since the day I managed to say "Who?" through the letter dropper on our door, whenever the doorbell rang). I used to cook up stories about "Machchar" (mosquito) and how they were dragon-like and would swoop down and eat her. She would cling to me, and I felt like every knight in a tin can does. D or N was (and I hope still is) a darling.
But her much older sister had all my attention. We would meet whenever school and homework allowed us. We would meet in the clubhouse (a small enclosure where people played bridge, TT and badminton. I recall a swimming pool in there, but I am not sure), near the bushes that lined the enormous boundary walls, in the stairs... just about anywhere. She was very dear to me, and I enjoyed the mere pleasure of seeing her at close proximity, as one enjoys the warm caressing of an early Winter morn's sun.
We would go to hunt oyster shells. Actually, these were shells of something (I liked to believe they were oysters, as I had just recently learnt that word) that were thrown out of the kitchens of non-vegetarian homes. They smelt bad but the team activity compensated for that. We would wash them and store them in a plastic bag (which was also thrown out of some kitchen) and feel happy about what we had built together.
Tender hearts...She had once bought a new swimsuit. It was dark blue with little white spots on it all over. It was a single piece (and the girl was about 5-6 years old, so rein in your imagination). If I remember right, it had white lace frills around her neck. She wanted to show it to me. She had worn a skirt over it and hence, it looked like a normal dress in which she could be seen. She held my hand and took me into a room to get my opinion of it. Well, I shall summarise by saying that she showed it to me, and I had no taste to influence my comments on fashion then. I must have said, "It's ok. Come on, let's go play by the slide." Well, what did you expect from an 7+/- year old?
I think the finest time I had with her was watching "The Sound of Music". Those were days of video cassette players. We watched "The Sound of Music" at her place and all of us (there were at least 6-9 of us) enjoyed it. Then she gathered a few of her girl friends and decided to enact the famous song "So long, farewell". I got to sit through all the rehearsals and offered my comments on the near sameness with the original. D or N enacted the little girl in that song. This was to be presented during some function that was held throughout the apartment complex (what we called quarters. It housed about 700 apartments or more). The stage was set on one side of the garden, while the clubhouse was to the rear. We met once before the item was to be performed. I wished her the best and thought she looked like a wonderful woman with the lipstick and shoes. We held hands, before she surprised me with a quick peck. That was the first... ever.
I have always said that I love her. For many years, I called her my first love. I remember telling my sis once (and I was wearing an orange and white shirt while lying sprawled on the floor and watching my reflection tremble in the cup of the revolving fan above) that I loved S or P. My sis was shocked (probably because I had someone to love before she could pick her guy) and asked me ten times whether I was sure, in the hope that I might get bored and change my answer the tenth time. I left S or P when I was 10 years old (because dad got transferred to another city). I think we promised to keep in touch. I have always thought of her since then. So many things have changed. We were kids. Not sure whether I ever grew up.
I remember visiting the quarters, once, when I was 17. She was not at home. I met her mom and dad and they told me that she would be returning later in the evening. I was planning to visit her then, but I ended up having a miserable stomach ache (I had really turned ashen) and had to rush home after dinner. My sis, I think, met her. I never did.
Its been years since that happened (my leaving her as well as my unable to meet her) and my conception of love has changed (to become nothing more than a hungry stomach's grumbling often mistaken for that "Kuch kuch hota hai" phenomenon). Last summer I sorta realised that what I thought was love is nothing more than deep caring (which I seem to have for a good number of wonderful people in my life) and hence, shouldn't be used ever in conversation or in describing a relationship as it leads to untold confusion. Which makes me go over the ghazal I wrote a few days ago and think:

Ghair-haaziree ka soonaapan har shaam le aayee
Woh maasumeeyat se na bichadtey to kya hota?

Every evening has haunted me with the void of (her) absence
Had I not separated from that innocence (of the relationship) what would have happened?

But today, I was reading some cookbook's release announcement (yeah, I read that too) and someone called S had commented and congratulated the author on the release. I couldn't help smiling and doing a quick search online. I think I spotted her. I don't know. She is grown up and I am unable to recognise her, but I think it is her. The smile is the same... :-)

It is sweet and tender when the the memories of young days hold stronger than the firmest convictions we create under the aegis of surety in ourselves. I hold them close to my heart and watch them shiver, not from the frailty of what was, but from the fear that unsettles my grip around things long past and beliefs long dead.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

That one patron

I have ruffled a dozen souls to get the first 1-2 lines of this. Unfortunately, most recordings of this song do not have this opening dialogue (and Gulzar sahab has this wonderful story to tell about how Pancham-da responded to his idea of introducing dialogues in between a song) and searching all over the internet didn't quite help me. I had to force my mom to search for the music tape and play it for me 5 times over and over again (over the telephone :-)!!! Now you know why she'd rather leave me here in Bangalore! ;-)

This is how the beautiful song, "Tum aa gaye ho, noor aa gaya hai" starts in some rare recordings. Of the songs in the movie Aandhi, I like Tere bina zindagi, the most, but this dialogue (which I hope I am reproducing correctly) is beautiful and interesting from an artist/creator's point of view. I'll tell you why... (SK: Sanjeev Kumar, SS: Suchitra Sen)

SK: Aa tumko uttaloon kandon par
Tum uchakkar shareer honton se
Choom lena ye chaand ka maatha (I always thought it was chaand gavaah tha!)
Aaj ki raath dekha na tumne
Kaise jhuk jhuk ke kohniyon ke bal
Chaand itna kareeb aaya hai. (Sorry, I won't translate this beautiful free-verse)

SS: (simmering laughter) Beautiful, wonderful.
SK: Achchi hai na?
SS: Bahut achchi hai.
SK: Pata hai, jab tum achcha kehti ho, to bahut hi achcha lagta hai.
SS: Tumare paas ye kavita na hoti to tum bahut ordinary aadmi hotey.
SK: Kaise na hoti. Baarah saal ka tha jab mashairon padna shuru kiya tha (not sure about this one)
SS: Tumne saarey kaam baarah saal ke umarr mein hi kar liye (This line will be understood only if you watch the movie)
SK: Haaan! Saarey kaam baarah saal ke umarr mein kar liye... sivaiy shaadi ki.
SS: (laughs) Woh kyoon nahin ki?
SK: Tum jo nahin mili varna woh bhi kar leta.
SS: Hmmm?
SK: Hmmm
SS: Bach gaye tum, varna kunwaarey reh jaatey.

Even today this exchange makes me smile. I grew up listening to this on all kinds of music systems, and would recite it without understanding a word (there was a time when I didn't understand Hindi/Urdu well). The line in red, is what struck me today. Every artist, has this special person in their life, and it is this person's opinion that matters most to them. It could be their husband, girlfriend, wife, boyfriend, teacher (which is mostly so in my case), idol... someone, whose smile is the morning sunshine and whose nod is the dance of trees in Spring. Just wanted to share this...


Been ages since I wrote in urdu. This is what happens when one forgets the kiss of one's beloved. Translations only help to debunk the original! :-(

Teri yaad-bhari koochey se guzartey to kya hota?
Chand ghadi dhadkane thamm jaatey to kya hota?

What would have happened if I passed through the roads paved with memories of you?
What would have happened if my heart stopped beating for some time?

Pila pilakar lagzish-e-mastaaney par hansaa saki
Nashe ki aakhri qatra na pilatey to kya hota?

Endlessly filling my cup, the bartender enjoyed my staggering drunkness.
What would have happened had he stopped at that last drop which got me intoxicated?

Kisi aur se ishq ka jo tuney baar ha iqraar kiya
Aye kaafir, teri woh baat na suntey to kya hota?

When you repeatedly confessed your love for someone else
Dear one, what would have happened had I not heard those words of yours (to him)?

Teri har lahzah se niyyat nahin bharti lekin
Dum-e-aakhir se pehle aanh bhartey to kya hota?

Every coquettish glance of yours left me wanting more
What would you lose(happen) if you did sigh but once before I breathed my last?

"Aaftab", shaayad uss yaawari se aabaad bhi hotey.
Gar haqeeqat ko khwaab bana letey to kya hota?

"Aaftab", perhaps you would have been happy in your life with her.
If you turn reality into dreams then what would have happened?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Chatter Away

Can there be a better way to enjoy life?
If I ever compliment (and I would regard it as one) someone as being a wonderful chatting partner, I am, more often than not, found facing a disgruntled face with a clear question snaking down the forehead and over nose, mouth and chin: Is that all that I am?
I fail to understand why conversation and the ability to engage in one, has lost its virtue. It has become something we would all like but dislike to be recognised for or made a stellar example of it without other accompanying preferable accolades.
I read, a while ago, about the salons of Paris. Such a delightful concept. No, they are not the same as kitty parties (and I was audience to one in the days when ladies found me cute and of little to no consequence. I think only the former has changed over time). Conversation is an art, and it does get tiring with everyone calling everything an art, but conversation really is. Having scores of friends spread over so many cities, one observation I can make is that people do not enjoy conversation as much as they believe they do.

Conversation allows a sprinkling of small-talk, but can never stand entirely on the struts of such banter. Conversation is intellectual, sympathetic, mutually fulfilling, light and nearly always leaves the person rejuvenated (versus the feeling at the end of a 1 hour lecture). Undoubtedly the two greatest elements of conversation are: memory and a patient ear.

Listening is vital to a conversation. Conversation is not to impress others (oh! please it isn't unless in an epigamic ritual). I recall the days when I was preparing for the MBA entrance exams and the notion of a group-discussion (GD, as one of the rounds of elimination was called) was discussed often. I found it crude and repulsive to have a bunch of people discuss a matter with the sole basis of oneupmanship. I actually was quiet through the mock GD sessions and would make clear deliberate points whenever others were forced to catch their breath. The panel's verdict: "You need to be more aggressive and come in often. The points you raised were very valid but you need to press it down further." I am sorry. I don't intend doing that, unless I know you guys personally, in which case, it wouldn't be aggressiveness. Listening requires patience and a clear realisation (I don't like the word humility) that there is always more to know and learn. And the benefit of shutting up and listening is also the tinkle of several voices to make up a human orchestra. I am culprit to interrupting a speaker (and in some cultures that is rude) but that is usually offset by the next vital need of a conversation.

A sharp memory is essential for a rewarding conversation. Not only does it help in enriching the discussion with information, observations and informed inferences, it also help in maintaining a respectable cohesion. A ruffian conversation, straying in every possible direction, can be stimulating initially but tiring after a breakpoint. A good memory also helps (and this is why my friends often excuse my interrupting) in keeping track of where conversations diverted and the train of thought that led from each fork. To be able to trace a conversation up its meander is very useful.
"Why are we discussing Miss Universe contests, when we were talking about seafood?"
"Well, D went on to talk about shrimps and lobster fishing, when S mentioned squid hunting off the Greek coast. I mentioned reading about reading about squid hunting in some Greek book and you asked me whether it was in a Nikos Kazantzakis one. I said no, before G mentioned the Greek eating every kind of seafood. K wanted to know whether they are the largest manufacturers of packaged seafood, when I mentioned that it was mostly the South American, Scandinavian companies and probably South Africa. D jumped in and said that South Africa did nothing but host Miss Universe contests. Then we had to discuss the long legged beauties and S being S had to question the sense behind these contests. Voila!"

It requires great attention and a deliberate operation of continuously linking things up in order to understand where and why conversations changed direction. It helps in reminding a person who tends to pause often and ask "What was I talking about?" or "Why did I mention acrylics?". So, my usual strategy would be to quickly mention something, pertinent to what someone was saying, and then loop back with a "ok! do continue with what you were saying about the state of farmers in Maharashtra." No one missed anything! :-)

Recently a dear friend of mine and I had this discussion about whether it makes sense to visit art with a scholarly pince-nez or enjoy it in all its nudity before employing the mind to delve deeper into the facets and constructs of the art form instance. Neither of us convinced the other, but the discussion raged for hours over the phone and then over emails. That kind of stimulating conversation (although this was more of a dialogue) is essentially lacking in most congregations. Yesterday, while taking a break from the tonnes of interviews I had to conduct, a few of us were discussing pay packages, before we veered towards loans and buying houses in Bangalore. The conversation then hung around the topic of how pathetic Bangalore real estate prices are without providing an infrastructure backbone. Then the value of a crore was discussed before we jumped on to the latest find of the I-T dept. - a man who had managed to accumulate 35,000 crores without anyone noticing it. We went on and on and discussed so many things (about how he could personally fund India's deficit). It was so lively before we were reminded that candidates were waiting!

My mom would often ask, "What are you going to get by just talking and talking?" I suppose nothing, but isn't that exactly what I want? ;-)

ps: I wanted to share this story that I had read a long time ago. It's called, The Whore of Mensa.

Oh! And this is writing?

There are people who believe everyone is a writer, since writing is a verb and the actor is... well, a writer. Then there are some of us who believe that writing is not merely putting several words together but is decoction of human sensibilities and beauty in the most honest form. Of course, there are a few who believe that if you have never been published in mass media, then you aren't a writer. No, these aren't three point in a spectrum spread, but three points on a plane, never to be married on a single straight line.

I recently read a few articles/webpages and felt like sharing them with you. The first one that got me smacking my forehead is this:

I have very low regard for this writer. I haven't read a single book of his completely, but enough to know that he isn't a writer on my terms (definitely a writer on the other two points of view, hence he wins by majority). How could I arrive at a conclusion without reading a book? As easily as I can know that his woman is not meant for me without having to live with her till our silver anniversary. These people are Indian writers, writing in a foreign language (English) for a non-Indian audience about Indian subjects and themes. They aren't writers. Let me provide some excerpts from this page for you.

I know how to say sister-fucker in Hindi now.
Yes, if you ever are in Bombay and you get into an argument with somebody, I think you'll be well equipped. Although saying that is probably not the best way to get out of the argument.

(Wow!! That is surely something to learn from a book!)

What's another few dozen after 900, right? What was your writing schedule like when you were writing Sacred Games?
For me what seems to work best is maintaining a really steady rhythm. So I generally work, when I'm in the middle of a project, everyday. Six days a week if possible, from eight in the morning, then straight through to lunch, around 1 o'clock, and then that's it. I feel pretty much exhausted after that. I'm pretty slow, I think I get about 400 words during that time, and that feels like a full day's work.

(Huh!? 400 words in 5 hours!? Not that this has much to say about a writer's ability, but I can't believe that someone who, hopefully enjoys writing manages just 400 words in 5 hours. That is 400 in 300 minutes. Nearly 1 word in 60 seconds!! Jesus!)

I loved how Sartaj was Sikh and wore his turban and he was so different from the rest of the police force. Sikhs are a minority in Bombay?
Yes, they're a minority in the country in general. But in Punjab they exist and live there in very large numbers. In a place like Bombay they do exist as a minority and it's interesting because I didn't plan it to be that way. Sartaj, the character, appeared fully formed one day. I don't know where exactly he came from. And then as I started writing him it occurred to me that that was very useful having him be an outsider in a sense, to be somewhat distanced from the local politics of the department and so forth. That became really interesting to work with.

(Which generation of Indians is he talking about? I have lived in Bombay and have never seen anyone surprised at a Sikh anyone. This is what I call writing for a non-Indian audience. Why, he should have thrown a rope trick and a bed of nails too. So charming and bound to make the Bookslut gush even more. One might be surprised at seeing a Sikh in Tirupati or a Sikh at the Haji Ali, but not a Sikh policeman. What does he take us for? And what on earth is there to "love how Sartaj was Sikh and wore his turban"? I am sure we would hear people saying: "I loved reading Emma. I loved how Emma was a woman and wore a corset. Simply ingenious!")

Sacred Games was first released in India, what was the reception there?
It was very gratifying, in a couple of ways. One was that from what I can judge from the sales figures and so forth, but also from the e-mails I've been getting since it came out in August. It’s hard finding a readership from people that are not used to picking up a literary novel for instance. In a couple of e-mails, the readers basically started them with, "I normally never read this kind of serious book, but I heard this Ganesh guy was kind of a bad ass." So, I think the form in a sense is making it possible for other kinds of readers to engage with it. There were a couple of reactions of people who live in the city and are really possessive about it, you know in the way that people who have been born and brought up in a place tend to become. And they were kind enough to say that they saw some amount of truth or they felt like this was the city they actually lived in. That made me happy.

(Judge from the sales figures, indeed! If anyone started an email to me like that, its Shift+Delete for that guy. "I normally never read this kind of serious book" :-o What makes a book serious? The constructs or the matter? Woody Allen wrote some brilliantly hilarious serious stuff. And if he never read serious stuff, why did he pick a 900 page tome? Size convinced him? Literary Novel!??? Aaarrrgggh!!)

The only thing sensible in that link is Chandra's advice to read. That brings me to the second part of this post. People aren't reading. They are quick to write, some very good at it, but they don't have the time to read. I am not just talking about the classics and Shakespeare, but I am talking about general reading.

Reading cannot have a pointed purpose (unless you are school and have to max that test). It is meant to enlighten and lighten. It is meant to make you smile and enjoy being alive. I read advances in software, cognitive psychology, about writing, literature, short stories, poems, nonfiction, recipes, computer science, interior decor, travel and a lot more, not because it will help me get that promotion (it actually won't, if I tell my boss that I have been spending time reading this stuff). There are few people out there who read tonnes more than I do, but the majority of the world is not interested, and it is unfortunate that writers aren't as well.

It seems that those who read would only become critics and highbrow talkers (which is not far from the truth). I see a lot of people online who claim to read this and that but aren't creative in what they write. They can discuss something well, but that is pretty much it. But they aren't whom I am talking about. I am talking about writers and aspiring writers and the absolute need to read and relish the written word. It might help in providing some inspiration for your next piece, but that is only a small fraction (consider one inspiration per 2000 words read).
I read this article, but would like to share only the following excerpt from it (SD is Stephen Dixon and CP is City Paper).

CP: According to a recent National Endowment for the Arts study, "Reading in Risk," they're worse at reading. They're writing a lot more and reading a lot less.
SD: They're right. They're actually right. When I give stories to undergrads, I'll ask who's read Tolstoy. Nobody's read Tolstoy. Or I mention James Joyce, when we read a story from Dubliners, maybe one or two have read a story in high school. When I first started out, kids were much more serious as readers, and I could actually have literary discussions with them, which I cannot do now. Even the ones who are the most avid writers are not avid readers. They just want to write.
CP: Everyone has a novel inside them, but no one reads anybody else's, then. Is that a problem?
SD: It's a paradox. It hasn't really stopped undergrads from becoming better writers than the readers who were writing before. You would think just the opposite. But then there's a problem. We grew up on Dostoevsky, Conrad, if there was ever a serious name, we read that writer. It also told us what not to write, because if the thing has been taken up already, and you have a history of having read it, you want to go on to something new. So a lot of students are sort of writing what's already been written.

And I consider this a sad state of affairs. Writing and reading are intimately intertwined. One can be a great writer without reading much and one can be an avid reader without writing a word after school. But that doesn't mean they are independent. Consider a world of writers and no readers and conversely. I am sure one would be quick to go "Aha! But that is the point. Readers will be readers and writers, writers." Well, I hope you understand what I am trying to say. They are fibres of the same plait.

I wish people realise the idle pleasure of reading and writing for the joy in each. With hundreds of thousands of books published every year (and you might be aware of only, say, hundred?), I doubt whether we can keep in touch with all of them. But that is not necessary. I like what Flaubert said to his mistress: Commel'on serait savant si l'on connaissait bien seulement cinq a six livres: "What a scholar one might be if one knew well only some half a dozen books."

I created my list of 12 books (yeah, decided to double the stakes), that I consider worth reading and re-reading throughout my life while I selectively pick other books with each passing day.

1. Emma
2. Lolita
3. Hamlet
4. Jane Eyre
5. Mrs. Dalloway
6. Heart of the matter
7. Madame Bovary
8. Don Quixote
9. Ulysses
10. Grapes of Wrath
11. To kill a mockingbird
12. The catcher in the rye

This and the million other things I get to read, should make life more beautiful. Enjoy this book when you have the time.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Wants - A Zen Koan

Kenjiro-san watched as the bee sipped water collected in the pockets of moss. It's frail wings reined in a caravan of colours above the shimmering film of moisture. Kenjiro-san preferred to sit by the lake before his evening tea ritual and he already knew the taste that would swathe his tongue today. As he watched the gentle breeze teeter the little one, Kenjiro-san smiled at the determination with which it sipped. Kenjiro-san opened his palm into a flower-like gesture with his index finger pointing towards the bee and the little finger towards his heart.
"What you (index finger) want is what the trees (middle finger) want. The heaven (ring finger) and earth (thumb) lie between me (the little finger) and you, but how different are we, when we all meet at the centre of the Divine palm?"

Makoto ran up to Kenjiro-san and knelt before him.
"Permission to speak Kenjiro sensei."
The bee had flown away and could be property to any one of A natural thirstthe waves that unfolded like colourless silk scented by the trees that directed them.
Kenjiro-san looked at the little boy whose earnestness would eventually silence all masters including himself. How much the prostrating boy, with his robe fluttering in the pre-winter breeze, resembled the bee!
"I beg your pardon Kenjiro sensei."
Kenjiro-san smiled and said, "You appear breathless. Wouldn't you want a sip of water to drink before we started our discussion?"
Makoto shook his head and waited.
"Speak, Makoto, else you would stay thirsty for longer than its due."
"Master, Emperor Yukio was in the town while we were gathering alms."
"He is a powerful king, isn't he, Makoto?"
"Hmm. He was addressing the people and talking to them about the taxes that he plans to levy. He also elaborated on his plans for the kingdom."
"Hmm. And his plans disturb you, Makoto?"
"No, Master. May the Buddha be with him. It is something else."
"The presence of His Highness outside the palace walls, disturbs you, perhaps?"
"No, Master. I am not sure what troubled me, but something about his speech made me wonder."
"It is different from how you speak Master."
"I am no Emperor."
"I didn't mean it in that sense. Forgive me, I wasn't comparing you to anyone."
"Not an issue at all. Go on. Tell me all that troubles you."
"The Emperor knows what he wants. He is clear about what he wishes to have and what he wishes to see happen during his rule. Why! He also knows what should happen in the kingdom a hundred years from now. But kings are defeated in battles, aren't they? While I was returning to the monastery, I met a cowherd. I asked him whether he knew what he wanted. He wanted more milk from his cows and no taxes on that. But livestock is the whim of famine and plague, isn't it? Botan who was sitting in the tree shade writing love poems was certain that he wanted the love of the landlord's second daughter and nothing else in the world would matter to him. But isn't all love the fancy of a mechanically beating heart and an earnestly recollecting brain?"
Makoto waited for his Master to clarify without him having to bare his naivete. He swallowed before continuing.
"Master, it amazes me that people know what they want. Not all, but most people know what they want."
"People shouldn't want?"
"No, Master. I am sure it is ok to want, but my confusion arises from a simple question that took form as I watched a hummingbird bounce on the stamen of a flower. How does one know what he wants? And as my feet rushed to your presence, this question became: How does one know what to want? I am silly and inarticulate, so I hope Master forgives me in case I am not clear. There are million things on this earth and each to tickle a bevy of our senses. Some cater not directly to our senses but go beyond them to create an individual other than our ordinary self. In this array of valuables, how does one shine more to a particular pair of eyes?"
Kenjiro-san smiled before he asked, "How many wants does a new born babe have?"
"The scriptures mention three."
"And how many plague the young lad on the street?"
"As many as the boy next door, possesses."
"How many threads does a man need to braid his rope of samsara?"
"As many as shall keep his wife speaking in firm tones when she joins others in preparing the evening meal."
"How many wants strengthen the bones of a man whose teeth are preserved by not consuming anything harder than mashed rice porridge?"
"The scriptures mention nothing about the wants of the elderly."
"Because it recommends giving up wants."
"Which itself is a want."
Makoto smiled and wished he could open himself wide to the Master's warm wisdom.
"The nearly dead have three wants: to attain the highest position in the heavens, to be remembered and to live longer to watch other people praise them for attaining the first two wants. Isn't that so?"
"Yes, Master."
"So, do you now see why the little babe is given the longest time to attain its simplest wants?"
"Yes, Master."
"And how his want is different from all others'?"
"Yes, Master."
Kenjiro-san smiled and extended his hand forward. The tips of his fingers were brought together and as he watched Makoto's eyes fixed on them, he unfurled them into a flower, with the index finger pointing towards Makoto and the little finger towards his soul.
Makoto slowly nodded his head and his eyes shimmered with what had quenched his thirst.

Beauty in dual tone

Tonight was amazing. It's been ages since I attended a live concert and time costs less when the wait is for the harmonious concerted efforts of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and Ustad Zakir Hussain.

Thanks to a friend of mine, I dragged my tired feet to fetch the tickets from a Planet M outlet (on Brigade Road). While I was purchasing the tickets I heard the melodious chatter (and one doesn't often associate melody with chatter) which made me ask the guy across the counter: "Kaun aaye hain aaj?" (Who is here today?). He raised his chin to the TV screens suspended from the ceiling.
Ustad Amjad Ali Khan sat there with a microphone in his hand fielding questions that were alternatingly apt and appalling. Someone asked why there are fewer women in the field of Indian classical instrumental music. Someone asked about his favourite raga. Someone asked about his personal relationship with Ustad Zakir Hussain sahab outside the event of jugal-bandis (and the Ustad corrected the young lady that what was to be conducted wouldn't be a jugal-bandi as the nature of the instruments was different). His wife was asked a few questions too. Standing there, unknown to him, I watched him as he carefully drew a lopsided grin. and gesticulated while trying to put his blissful experience, when confronted with a new raga, in words. English wasn't his forte and it would be stupid to expect that. The man is a true Gandharva (and I go by the definition in the Vishnu Purana) and is indeed blessed by the Goddess when she was in her finest cheer. He spoke of his joy in presenting to the crowds in Calcutta and once, for about 10 hours straight (21:00 hrs - 7:00 hrs). He said that was only possible in Calcutta as they truly appreciated the arts (he also gets his sarod made there). I felt envious and yearned to meet up with a few Bengali friends of mine, in a vain hope that some of their finesse would rub on to my mien. He spoke with a grace and elegance that made me want to clasp his hands and kiss them. This was yesterday.

Today was an enriching experience. The maestros brought their skills to an unrehearsed performance, enacted for the first and last time (in this form) on stage right in front of our eyes and to the bias that such musicians place on our ears.

Ustad Zakir Hussain sahab was practicing when I entered the concert venue (1 good hour ahead of time). For a few minutes I enjoyed the percussions. Thereafter I spent my time warding off human beings from the 6 seats I was guarding for my friends (and woe to me for refusing those fine ladies a place beside me for the cause of people I hardly knew!). The Ustads started late but one could blame the Bangalore traffic for that.

For the earlier part of the concert, Zakir Hussain sahab followed Amjad Ali Khan sahab's lead and this was expected in the traditional upbringing of Indian classical musicians (Amjad Ali Khan sahab is older in years and experience). That Zakir Hussain never tried to grab centrestage is something noteworthy in these days of narcissism. I watched and waited (a writer always hopes for the worst, such that his repertoire of human characters increases and gains credibility) for Zakir Hussain sahab to pull the performance with the slaps on the leather that brought him fame. He never did, and always waited for Amjad Ali Khan sahab to instruct him. An amazing man. Both.

Zakir Hussain sahab is the wittier of the two, equally matched in their sense of humour. He was clear in instructing the photo/videographers who kept shooting into his face to step aside and patient enough to allow the emcee to complete his horrible talk (I would have strangled him, but I don't have to carry the name of Zakir Hussain, hence, it's ok!).

The later parts of the concert were fabulous, with Amjad Ali Khan sahab playing the Ragas Ganesh Kalyan, Kamal Shree, Durga, Saraswati and Kirvani. Zakir Hussain sahab provided the perfect accompaniment that Amjad Ali Khan sahab could ever ask for. The sheer joy in their faces as they exchanged salutes and praise was delightful. One could notice how Amjad Ali Khan sahab would hint at Zakir Hussain sahab who had already expected that indication. Both Divine musicians took no measures to hide their gratitude for the Supreme after one phenomenal piece that I have captured in part (on my mobile). Enjoy this while I upload other portions from the concert. Watch how they do an amazing job of matching the other.

I am sorry, if you expected a brilliant account of the concert. All I can hear are the strings plucked and melodiously bouncing off the stretched hide. They were one. They were beautiful.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Photography Exhibition

My friends are some of the photographers mentioned in there. Do find time to visit this exhibition.

Shivaji Park

This was how the actors were laid out on that day, or it could have been just any other day. People were separated out depending on which half of the century they counted their age in. The right side, where the older buildings stood and less interesting women walked, had men in white dhoties and the traditional black Maharashtrian caps, pulling themselves slowly and carefully on the wide cement boundary that ensconced the park. Some rushed to sit behind the lemonade stalls, the young lad's back providing a suitable screen to project their memories on. Another advantage was the lesser likelihood of people bumping into them past this commercial facade of liquids. Some had their wives accompany them and cluck their tongues at what happened at the other end, which really wasn't an end, considering that Shivaji Park was circular in geometry and all ends either met or broke across the several gates of the park. The park itself was less of that and more of a playground with fine dust suspended in the air, giving it the feel of a slow motion picture.
Shivaji Park is a cauldron of nudges and they come in the form of aA ticket to nowhere...little girl walking a tightrope, unperturbed by the bus that rumbles past her, in the form of a Gujarati lady who calls out to her daughter in a name that can only make me smile, in the form of the quaint pink bus ticket in my hands with the numbers adding up to 16 (that would mean that someone with their name starting with 'P' is thinking about me), in the form of that familiar smell although bouncing off an unfamiliar face. I sat where young people were supposed to sit and held my head between my hands. I loved this place but I hadn't missed it till I arrived here, five minutes ago. I remembered the guy selling shengdana (peanuts) but I had bought his wares only once in the many years I had spent visiting Shivaji Park. The couples kissing each other were new too, and even if they weren't to Shivaji Park, I wasn't familiar with any of them. Friends who used to come here were all married and some even had kids. They never kissed in public and hence, this present sight didn't remind me of them.
What troubled me was, nothing reminded me of them until I mouthed their names. I pressed my temples hoping to raise some feeling of yearning which a visit to a familiar place is known to flicker in people. Was I a lesser human being? Memories hung from the dried mucosa of sentiments long forgotten and cast into shapes like a taxidermist's handiwork. Why did I have to recall the days of walking along the park, of the guffawing and the snickering that we shared, of the Rs. 2 shengdana which was now Rs. 5, of the flowers that dizzily spun down from the trees and whose fall on a person meant that their lover was thinking of them (in those days, just anything meant that)? Why did I have to look at the house which bore the year "1918" on the facade and strain to search in the labyrinths of my mind for any emotional incident that might ring with the flavour of those peeling plastered walls?
I looked down the walkway hoping to find something that would make me choke in my throat or smile at a memory stoked by ringing inaudible laughter. I saw college students hold hands and scratch trenches of nostalgia to be recalled at some later date in their lives. Older men and woman walked dogs and seemed to share anecdotes from years which never had me around. Everyone had memories. So did I, but their memories made them miss things. I didn't. I returned my head to the cradle of my palms hoping to whip myself enough to absolve my soul of being inhuman. How could someone not miss something or someone else? I loved them all dearly, I loved my college and school, my books and pens, my clothes, which I have outgrown, and the jokes, which I won't ever. I am still in touch with each and every one of my friends, I still remember their birth dates and their exam result dates or the birth of their children, I still remember what each of them wore on eventful days and how one friend asked a close friend of mine "You fell in love with this guy? Gosh!" and she was embarrassed when I turned around and smiled at her, the pranks we played, and every minute of the parting, of everything... but why wasn't I missing anything, anyone? Why did it not matter to me? Or did it? As I pressed my hands to my thighs and my eyes against the rush of images inside, I heard a young guy's voice say, "See? Every day someone or the other comes here and spends hours missing something or someone. Shivaji Park has more memories than grains of sand." I cried then because I missed missing anyone.