Thursday, December 20, 2007

Nature Notes From Mhow

I remember reading an article in an American website about how military garrison towns in Europe and America often end up protecting flora and fauna because these towns are not allowed to 'develop' the way a normal town has to.

Mhow, where I live, is also a paradise of nature. The East India Company was given this town in 1818 after the Holkars who ruled Indore state till 1947 were defeated at the Battle of Mahidpur and the Treaty of Mandsaur was signed. Cantonment laws prohibit any form of building and the civilian population has its complaints about these laws being outdated and relics of the British Raj. The net result of all this is the sheer profusion of flora and fauna.

The English chose their cantonments well. Mhow, Pachchmarhi, Pune, Bangalore, Secunderabad, Wellington were some of the towns chosen in Central, Western and South India as being fit for training institutions. Pune, Bangalore and Secunderabad have changed beyond recognition thanks to the IT revolution and globalisation. But Mhow has still remained the same. The writer Jaisinh Birjepatil whose novel Chinnery's Hotel is set in a fictional Mhow and has been selected by Khushwant Singh as one of the best post Independence (post 1947) pieces of fiction written by an Indian had told me in an email that he chose Mhow because it has hardly changed.

I have spent most of my life in this small town. A few months ago I decided to make use of a modest sum I earned through my weblog at Sulekha and chose to buy a digital camera. This has enabled me to snap hundreds of pictures which have to do with various aspects of life in this small town. This includes the trees, birds and animals I see here. I am posting these as a series of linked blog posts titled Nature Note From Mhow in my Sulekha weblog.

Click here to see these posts and the beauty of the Malwa region of Western Madhya Pradesh.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Notes from India:

Bashir and Amid are half brothers, eight and eleven years old respectively who I met at the entrance of Golconda fort. They work at a sugarcane juice kiosk all day preparing juice for customers. Their work involves coaxing the tourists to buy a drink, thrusting the raw sugarcane into the squeezer and mixing the drink.
They start around ten and end their day about six, after which they return back home with the wage the Seth pays them, eat the supper their mother has prepared, watch a bit of telly and get to bed. The following day it is the same. This is their routine. On some days they might get to play a local game of cricket in a side alley with the neighbouring kids.

What about school? I ask.
Bashir answers- Iskool mein kya rakha hain? Khaana hain? (What’s there in school, it hardly can feed.)

And quickly asks Kisko bechoge iskool? (Whom to send to school?)

Their family includes seven children of school going age. All of them, like Bashir and Amid work daily to earn wages. They save what they can in between their domestic commitments and pool in money to watch a latest Bollywood movie once in a month which is a big event.

Salman teek hain magar saaaruk mast hain. (Salman is all right , but Shahrukh is the best)

Both of them are ardent fans of Shahrukh Khan, the nation’s most popular star.


A few days before, while waiting to meet a friend in Udupi , we managed to catch up a Shahrukh Khan movie in a charmingly modest theatre. The movie, the flavour of the month in India, is an elaborate spoof of many 1970s Bollywood movies. On an international dais, it is on par with a C grade Hollywood flick. Like a well designed theme park, it is dumb, linear and clichéd . Yet like a theme park, it entertains, which was palpable during its screening in that obscure theatre.

The movie grossed 25 crores in its first week of release in India alone and is marked to be the biggest hit of the year. It was produced by Shahrukh Khan’s own company Red Chillies Entertainment which had doubled its production investment of 35 crores by selling the movie’s distribution rights before the release.
Needless to say , part of the share would go to the choreographer, Farah Khan, who has reportedly managed to direct the non-song sequences of the film by gluing in spoofs of scenes from various movies. During the title credits, Farah Khan makes a modest display of her claim to be the director by showing herself to make an entry in an auto rickshaw .

Farah Khan , unlike Bashir and Amid went to a school. In a chauffeur driven car.


Back in my hotel room in Hyderabad, flipping through the channels of Indian media I catch a story . One of the officials of Board of Cricket Control in India has accused Shahrukh Khan of promoting his aforementioned film during a cricket match. The newsreader in the studio is visibly excited, screaming as if she is breaking the news of the century. The reporter covering the story is almost shrieking into the microphone. There are opinions expressed, rights and wrongs. Should he ? Should he not? Should one care? Should one not? Etc.

In the next newsreport after half an hour or so, Shahrukh Khan in a quick interview reacts that he is offended, and emphasises he was at the cricket match only because he was invited. Also, quite actorly, he avers that he would never take his children to watch a cricket match again. And should they wish to go to one, he says raising his voice he is left with no option but to conceal their father’s identity. Lest, they/he shall be wrongly accused of mispromoting.

The news-piece carries the clip of the alleged interview that was held during the cricket match. Rameez Raza, a former Pakistani cricketer turned commentator, hired for the sole reason of being one of the very few cricketers from his country who can manage decent English speaks to Shahrukh Khan and one another official from a local cricket board. The interview, presumably arranged as a promotional insert is haphazard. It seems none of the three men know the agenda for the interview, if there was one really! Anyway, what is the deal? Even George W Bush Jr. can tell you that promoting cricket in India is like gilding a golden lily every day.

Except for a new Cricketing Academy that is coming up in Rajasthan (which according to the chap, is one of the finest cricketing academies in the world but just not ready), the chap blurts out some ground report.( ….people love it out here, everybody loves to come here, weather‘s great…etc )

When asked to comment on one of the bowlers in action, Shahrukh Khan, for reasons unknown, quickly presents a rehearsed summary of how the youngsters are given a golden platform in the game. To the subsequent questions further in the interview, between chuckles and laughs, he goes on to add remote and irrelevant thoughts such as how Pakistan is going to follow India’s example and achieve balance etc. All, in one mentally rehearsed take.

But as if the interview so far wasn’t ridiculous enough, Rameez Raza is intent to make it more hilarious. He caps it all with sharing the schedule of his family who, we are told are visiting from Pakistan. He goes on to declare that he has been asked by his family to arrange tickets for this great Shahrukh Khan movie, which in his own words is a massive hit! All on national television beamed live.
It doesn’t quite end there. To place the cherry on top he holds the microphone to Shahrukh Khan as if expecting him to announce the tickets reserved for his family. But Shahrukh Khan with the rehearsal done with, extols on the specifics of the hit, thanks the audience who, have been kind and the great god who has never been more kinder to him. Forgetting both that he is live on national stream, and the tickets for Mr Raza’s family, Shahrukh Khan converts the interview into a pub conversation:
Have you seen it?
Oh you should see it. Its great entertainment
or something like that. Rameez Raja, it appears, suddenly is in quite haste to finish the conversation and hurry over to book the tickets.
Meanwhile, somewhere not far away Murali Karthik has bowled the twentieth over.

On another day, Richard Branson is in Delhi for his Indian Radio station launch. In one of his exclusive interviews he is complaining how Indian economy is not actually what it is made out to be. He suggests India should open up more and cut down on regulating. He also laments about how he is a not permitted to name the Radio station after his company.
The next morning in the complementary newspaper that is delivered to my room by the prompt Syed, I notice a colourful photograph of Richard Branson, draped in somewhat Indian looking attire, wearing a tilak flanked by a few others, trying to do a Bhangra at the launch ceremony. I show it to Syed who although has failed SSLC, would beat any Marriott staff at efficiency any day. He gazes at it for a moment. First he grins hesitantly and then breaks into flowery laughter asking: Arey ye Firang kya kar raha hain saab? (What's the white man upto?)

Perplexed to find a suitable answer, I think of something quickly and reply: Ye naach-gaana banane aaya hain.(He has come here to sing, dance) to which he chuckles peering dismissively at the snap and walks away. I note the radio station is called Fever 104.

I try to imagine how Syed would guffaw with a Aap mazaak kar rahein hain saab!, (You are kidding!) if I tell him that Fever 104 means Bukaar ek so chaar. I admit to myself that it has a nice ring to it. It is just waiting for someone from Bollywood, someone with the similar taste of Farah Khan to make a misery and money out of it.


On the return flight, I wondered how even if I had tried , I wouldn’t have been able to explain to Syed who was Richard Branson and what really he was doing here in India. I thought how odd it was to have such a feeling- to be an Indian and yet be unable to explain to a fellow Indian what was happening in and to India.

As I ruminated over such thoughts I realised something, whatever was the reason behind such a feeling, it ought to be the same reason why, even if I get to meet all of them, I would not be able to explain to Shahrukh Khan that beyond fame , money and success was conscience or that a celebrity is accountable to a society which has created him or to Farah Khan that to direct means conceiving a scene and realizing it, not having a laugh at others and feeling proud about it. To Rameez Raza, well , simply not to watch too many Bollywood movies. As well to Bashir and Amid’s father, and thousand other such potential fathers, that two is enough.

I realised it was also the same reason why Richard Branson who wouldn’t dare to attempt a Samba in South America or a Flamenco in Spain would try a Bhangra and get away with it.

The plane roared farther away from the west coast and higher over the Arabian sea and through the receding mists, the reason took a clear shape and form, standing out as a gigantic stretch of land, on its own, like how it had stood for centuries, so vulnerable yet so very unconquerable, so very inexplicable - India.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Diwali 2007 - Images from Mhow (MP); India

Diwali could well be described as the main festival of Madhya Pradesh.
Here are a few images I clicked in Mhow - the small cantonment town in Indore district where I live.

In Mhow bazaar:

Cowdung and colours produce a lovely rangoli:

Happy Diwali, Deepavali ki Shubhkaamnaein:

Govardhan Puja at village Gawli Palasia just outside Mhow town the day after Diwali:

More pictures of Diwali in Mhow available here

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Kumble in the Field of Dreams

Even before Kumble get down to his work on green pastures as a leader, I want to stick my neck out and say that this must be hailed as one of the most important decisions of our time. Even if its for few days, considering the attention span of our decision makers and how general politics and cricket in India are one and the same this one decision has a quality which is not just a throwback on the charmed world of the chivalrous, but a much yearned prospect of playing by the rules and hard.
A trailblazing career had been unfortunately ignored and unrewarded for historical and political reasons. Kumble played with an intensity and integrity unmatched at the highest level and so long that his persona for the fans is that of an unrelenting warrior in the pitched heat of many an epic battles. His calm demeanor is hardly a facade for rivals to see through the fierce competitor who is always on the offensive, mentally and physically. So much so that the reluctant and pugnacious Australian not only eulogized Kumble's asendancy, more importantly he is relishing the prospect of the spirit of the game being brought back with the help of Ponting and Mahela in Test arena. He hopes to see that these personalities will reinvent the game on the ground which has been compromised considerably by the parasitic ICC and its cohorts.
I guess everyone will hope to see the game manned with mindfulness than mindlessness in days to come. After all, reducing a game to mere win and loss have had its consequences. A cricket crazy nation like us must reinvent the game for our own sake. It must grow out of cheap shekels and bollywood sleaze to find its destiny. I remember watching "Fields of Dreams" and thought how churlishly sentimental it was and how alien baseball was to me. However when I applied the context to cricket, it was easy to see how Indians connect socially and personally between parents, siblings, neighbors, in the office and strangers on commute trains and buses - it became all clear to me.
I hope the fearless generals will rise to the occasion for Kumble, the thoughful commander and warrior.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007) is no more...

 Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007) is no more...

Thus Spake Antonioni:
"I am not a theoretician of the cinema. If you ask me what directing is, the first answer that comes into my head is: I don't know. The second: All my opinions on the subject are in my films."

"When a scene is being shot, it is very difficult to know what one wants it to say, and even if one does know, there is always a difference between what one has in mind and the result on film. "

"When I am shooting a film I never think of how I want to shoot something; I simply shoot it

As if the news of Ingmar Bergman's death wasn't tragedy enough for one day we  came to know that another giant of world cinema - Michelangelo Antonioni-   also died the same day.

There is a reference to Antonioni in Kundan Shah's Hindi film Jaane Bhi Do Yaro  (1983, starring Naseeruddin Shah,  Ravi Baswani, Satish Shah, Om Puri and Neena Gupta) - the park where the duo discover the corrupt Municipal Commissioner D'Mello's dead body is named Antonioni Park. In Blowup (1966) - Antonioni's first English Language film - we have a fashion photographer who believes that the photograph of lovers that he took in a park also shows a murder being committed. In Jaane Bhi Do Yaro Kundan Shah salutes Antonioni by using the same idea. Incidentally, Blowup was the first British film which displayed full frontal female nudity.

The master of film aesthetics Antonioni was famous for his trilogy - L'Avventura (1960),  La Notte (1961), L'eclisse (1962). This trilogy deals with man's alientation in the modern machine dominated age.
Monica Vitti in L'Avventura (1960). This film received many brickbats in the form of boos, catcalls and walkouts at the Cannes film festival. In 1961 the magazine Sight and Sound conducted a poll and declared this to be the second best film of all time after Orson Welles' Citizen Kane.

Antonioni had said "In Blow-up I used my head instinctively!"

Beyond The Clouds (1995). Directed from a wheelchair after suffering a stroke with the help of director Wim Wenders. According to The Guardian this is "a serious, stately meditation on the meaning of life ... and the beauty of naked women."

From L'Avventura,1960 (4:31)

 From Blowup, 1966 (3:15)
 "You are right to say that Blow-up is my most unorthodox film, but it is unorthodox in montage, as well as photography. "

"In Blow-up I used my head instinctively!"

From Zabriski Point (6:40) which had music by Pink Floyd, The Who and The Rolling Stones

Tributes and links:
Italian visionary Antonioni dies at 94 - Xan Brooks  and agencies (Guardian Unlimited, July 31)
Michelangelo Antonioni, 94, Italian Director, Dies - Rick Lyman (The New York Times, July 31 2007)

The languorous, achingly hip films of Michelangelo Antonioni by Dennis Lim (Slate July 31)

Article in TIME (Feb 19, 1965) on Antonioni's Red Desert.

Quotes by Michelangelo Antonioni

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Adieu Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007)

Ingmar Bergman "poet with the camera" (1918-2007)

"Masters like Ingmar Bergman can die only in the physical sense. He has been with me — as, I am sure, he has been with many others — ever since I discovered cinema as an art form. His work will live on forever for he has, through his huge body of work, defined the very contours of cinema for the modern world. You think of cinema, you think of Bergman. " - Adoor Gopalakrishnan's tribute to Bergman

"probably the greatest film artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion picture camera" - Woody Allen
Quotes by Bergman:

"Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls."

"I hope I never get so old I get religious. "

"I write scripts to serve as skeletons awaiting the flesh and sinew of images."


One of the first headlines I read when I woke up today was that film icon and giant Ingmar Bergman is no more. Press reports quote his daughter Eva who said that her father passed away peacefully at his home on the Baltic Sea island of Faro.

The Associated Press writer Louise Nordstrom in her tribute to him writes:

Bergman's dozens of works combined deep seriousness, indelible imagery and unexpected flashes of humor in finely written, inventively shot explorations of difficult subjects such as plague and madness.

His vision encompassed the extremes of his beloved Sweden: the claustrophobic gloom of unending winter nights, its glowing summer evenings and the bleak magnificence of the Baltic islet of Faro, where the reclusive artist spent his last years. (Link to article given below)

A very strict upbringing by his father, a Lutheran Minister, who believed in "spare the rod and spoil the child" traumatised him. His films dealt with love, pain, good, evil, the fear of death, the joys and pain of family life, relationships.... a navarasa of sorts on celluloid....

The unforgettable chess scene with death in The Seventh Seal (4:00)

Wild Strawberries: Prof. Borg's first nightmare (4:00)

Adoor Gopalakrishnan's tribute to Ingmar Bergman (Indian Express, July 31 2007)

Film Great Ingmar Bergman dies at 89 by Louise Nordstrom (Guardian Unlimited July 31)

Ingmar Bergman, Famed Film Director, Dies at 89 by Mervyn Rothstein (New York Times, July 30)

Ingmar Bergman: Summing up a life in film by Michiko Kakutani (New York Times, June 6 1983)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Thinking beyond criticism.....

For some, art is the reinterpretation and re-expression of the old. If you imagine such a world of art, it would be replete with endlessly reinterpreted, restructured, rehashed and quite simply, repeated works. If you want a symbol, think of a music album raised to the power of its infinite cover versions. Yes, not just the excruciating monotony, it would also be a kitschy charade?

Besides, what exactly is the re-interpretation referred to here? Undraping Gods and displaying them before an urinal? Going by such a definition, I can effectively reinterpret your father as a bastard, your mother as a whore and your God as a buffoon. I of course am an artist and therefore you should accept all that without any protest. And if you don’t, as some educated would like us believe, it is undemocratic and blatant infringement of right to expression. Excuse me, but did I miss something here?

We have never lost a chance to hide the fact that we are the largest democracy. What we have hid though is that we don’t understand democracy. Anyone, who had abhorred the civics text book as I did would remember that all duties come in the same page as that of rights. If you claim your rights as a subject of the state, you owe back certain promises in return to the state. One of the prominent is to be tolerant and sensible towards other beliefs and practices. And as I see, the instalments are far from being sensible. Also if you are into art you would appreciate it is neither original. Hate to sound discouraging but it is as dull as, well an, urinal. Oh Jesus! Duchamp would be turning in his toilet. Well, the aesthetic value of the art isnt the contention here. And value of any art is defined by perceptions.

Agreed that art is about perceptions. But religion isn’t. And if we come to believe that religion is redundant, so is mocking it or if you like basing your works on it as any artist would tell you. Mostly because many of us cant be bothered about religion anymore and those who seem bothered make sure that you are bothered as well. If it is hard to accept that, try asking any John cleese or Salman Rushdie or MF Husain or Martin Scorsese or Chris Ofili or Dan Brown or even the chap who sketched the illustrative cartoon. Or still better try it out yourself. But be prepared for a bit of thrill. Might take the form of mild protest to being chased across continents. Personally, I am not religious, well not in the sense of the word; I mean I can pass for a buddhist, when I am not publicly trying to kiss women I dont know without their consent. But seriously, what I can never understand is this urge to express oneself in religious motifs, especially when you yourself dont value religion, unless the intent is to spoof in which case it readily offers an universal platform to which populations are pre-acquainted. But then it has a flipside too, one has to be prepared to face or dodge both the brickbats and bouquets, as one man's spoof can be easily another's suffering and the line between is so thin, that it isnt visible at times.

But broadly, religion in art, more so in these times, is a topic which I sincerely believe should be discussed in art schools either theoretically or in corridor conversations for which art schools are so reputed for; had it been openly discussed, then such misguided, misencouraged, though naïve instances wouldn’t have happened. Else he, (sorry ladies) shall be seen
mistaking religion as mythology and essentially ending up disowning his works. Hello there! Could someone take him for a drink and explain that a Holy cross before an urinal isn't mythology ? I am glad it isn’t illegal to claim innocence. However, after all that, if someone still insists on choosing that motif ie religion, toilet and nudity then he, - okay you feminists, she, alone is accountable for it. Neither his faculty nor her university.

Followingly, regardless of wherever it was exhibited and to whatever purpose, the office had no business defending the artist. I mean his art per se. In our haste to defend art we have apparently made a few assumptions, like for instance, how do we know that the seemingly innocous portrayal isnt meant to be offensive or that the artist produced the work in sound mind ? Furthermore, you would have to be from a distant galaxy to believe that the whole issue had to do with only art and its expression. It would be as puerile like believing that we all discontinued nuclear proliferation because someone wrote a song about hazards of the bomb to sell their album. Patently, going by the reports of repeated refusal by the staff to obey as well as the counter exhibition of the ancient nudes by the students it is apparent that all of it is quite emotional and perhaps even personal. Both of which doesn’t help to solve the issue at hand. By being adamant of being correct and liberal, whatever that means, we are not only undermining others' right to their sensibilities but also reflecting a bad display of taste. And in the midst of it all, torn and traumatised between two different schools, would be, sadly a young, perhaps even talented artist unable to get his head around it. That is the most disheartening piece of it all.

All that has been written to highlight why I do not agree with this insane idea we seem to foster that by being an artist you have unbound freedom to express yourself in whatever means that pleases you. In effect I have sought to separate the right to art defence vis a vis imprisonment. And also to state my concerns about our instant tendency to label any such protest as undemocratic or curtailing freedom of being oneself without even sparing a moment 's thought. Personally as implied earlier, I do not recognise it as art and even if I do, it is just down there level with the art of making and burning effigies. And I certainly do not endorse that all art by default has to be immediately defended against rest of the world. That would only mean ending up making the same mistake we accuse others of ie not being perceptive to perspectives.

But having said all that it isn’t hard to understand the indignation brought about by, to use an Indian phrase, the way in which all this seem to have allegedly happened. The imprisonment and the events leading to it is something one cant be proud of but it has to be clearly excluded from the right to art factor. Speaking of imprisonment as such, I do not feel like going on about how much all of it is sad and unacceptable. That is mainly because I see the response as cultural. If you add a bit of restricted world-view and a sense of power, the imprisonment isnt all that unimaginable. In fact, it fits in quite perfectly. We burn buses at slightest provocation, we go on strike at whim , our players speak against their coach in public whilst in office, we counterprotest by being deliberately provocative and we have long history of violence inherent in our politics, even blogging; and for all the high falutin talk, us, the so called educated, are incapable to think beyond linking each other's posts and fuming at the failure of democracy before our keyboards at every such possible incident. We all, just blame one another.

I do not mean to minimise it all by being dismissive of the event; but first, let’s honestly look at ourselves. During few of these days we expend our verbiage on people in whose worlds our words have no presence, let alone meaning. And give a few more days; we would be back to our blogs, business and being generally proud of our post-modern conscience writing our movie reviews that our education has endowed us to, all until we chance upon to write again how ridiculous it all is.

These people, this world.

We arent one among them. We are different of course. We follow a pattern, a different one. Go to google and search for any of these issues: MMS scandal, Kareena Shahid Kapoor kiss, Shilpa Shetty racism, Da vinci code Delhi controversy, blogspot ban, Gandhi on youtube, Richard Gere Shilpa Shetty (oh yes) kiss etc, you would end up with a collection of snobbish looking templates heavier than War and Peace. Not once anywhere has there been a suggestion or any attempt to prevent such a incident again. Not even on any scale.

Simply, nothing has happened. We survive, we live. We blog.

No wonder, that in the last hundred years the sum total of all the original ideas we put forth are- Two: Non violent non cooperation and Jaipur foot!

Evidently we are just poncing about, deriving comfort in our English. Our views. Ourselves really.

Probably there is a reason for it all: We quite simply do not know beyond that.

Unless we get out of our new found post-modern elitism and cease regarding others: self appointed moral policers, nut-wingers, rightists, religious goons, this and that, whoever for however disagreeable they are for whatever reasons and take us all as one whole single unit, we shall only be speaking for ourselves. So, by implication we do not have any right to speak for a country. Which means, in other words, we shall be unable to look into solving these issues, by whatever means. That is the bigger shame.

Before us would be, two options, firstly, if we see ourselves as an elitist cohort exclusive of the rest of the citizens of our country, then we simply have to shut up this self-patting culture of blame blogs which we very well know only we ourselves read.

Secondly, if we take to see ourselves as a part of all these, then, I am certain we wouldn’t be writing any of these blogs.

PS-Know what? I marvel at my own ability to motivate myself when it comes to responding to such incidents and subsequent Indian blogorrhea. Although I insist on not being patriotic, I cannot deny being a scoundrel.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Post-modern India

Born in my time in India , I can easily imagine the lifestyles of one entire generation split into two totally and almost contrasting halves. This is a poem I jotted a few months back to remember the days.

Festivals would be grand in India; Uncles and
aunts flocked from all over in advance. The males
having had a long hot bath sat around in their new
vests and lungis discussing politics,
monsoon and elopements. While the
women busy in the kitchen preparing
the grand midday lunch, fondly
sliced their variably coloured vegetables- tomatoes,
onions, cucumbers, catching up with their dose of gossip.
We children roamed around draped
in our new crispy clothes and pride,
hollering and running about; generally
being kids until the late evening
feature film on the good old
One day it was tawaif.
Being the inclined in such matters, I asked the
elders gathered what would tawaif mean ? Many of them, It
is likely, did not know but they did enough to
hide it from a ten year old. Those who knew,
made disapproving nods, and broke on to
a monologue about immoral influences
of television on kids.
So naturally
I thought it was a bad filthy
word, bad enough to be safely stored for future use(if need be).
I guess it was next morning at the school, a girl
made me angry over something I cant
recall now -- so in my rage it came to me
to call her tawaif. Naturally again,
she presumed it was a bad filthy word
and covering her gaped mouth with her tiny hands, promptly
reported to the bespectacled teacher. Miss Daisy
although did not exactly catch what I had said, scolded me
for being bad filthy and told me to write
an imposition to the effect that I would not repeat it.
so I ended up apologising
for something I did not know.
It took a good few years
to realise that tawaif meant
a dancer dancing for others
pleasure. Oh!! just like Jennifer Lopez ,
I thought
switching on the MTV.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Holi and the Flame of the Forest....

"I think I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree
Poems are made by fools like me
But only God can make a tree" - American poet Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)

(Kilmer was killed in the trench warfare of World War One)

Spring is in the air. The Semul or silk cotton tree (Salmalia malabarica or Bombax malabaricum) is on flower. And so is the mango. "Aam kay ped par mor aaye hain" I overheard a young girl tell her grandfather. The flower of the mango tree is known as mor (peacock) in Hindi. And the most beautiful of all trees is the Flame of the Forest or Dhak. It is also known as Palas, Bastard Teak, Parrot Tree, Porasum (Tamil) , Khakda (Gujarati).The battle of Plassey was fought near a forest full of these trees. And I have seen villages named Palasiya in Madhya Pradesh. I recommend a google search for all those of you who are do not live in areas where this tree grows naturally. I remember boiling the flowers and making colour for Holi when I was a child and my Dad was posted in Mhow.

A naturalist from Pune had once written an essay on this tree in Bittu Sahgal's Sanctuary magazine and he had claimed to have seen more than twenty species of birds on this tree in a short time span of 3 or 4 hours. I love the feel of the trifoliate leaves when they are green, it is like touching suede. I have often seen squirrels and parrots eating the seeds from the pods. I used to collect these pods, one had to get to them when they fell down before the squirrels did so. Even succeeded in making some of them sprout but they died and I felt heartbroken.

I remember taking some photographs of a clump of these trees from a moving train while travelling from Indore to Jabalpur almost ten years ago. I wish a serious effort is undertaken to make this tree more popular. Whenever I see the Flame of the forest on flower I remember these words of the poet Ezra Pound :"The difference between a gun and a tree is a difference of tempo. The tree explodes every spring."

On March 3 I went around town on a moped with a young man named Shyam who I borrowed from a photographer's studio and who was wielding a digital camera. We were taking pictures of a small stadium and on the way back we took a few pictures of a Flame of the Forest tree. I am including them in this post so that all of you can also enjoy this sight.

p.s. In the last picture you can see a male purple sunbird. A parakeet was also sitting on this tree but we disturbed it so it flew away. Maybe we will have better luck next time.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

An Arranged Marriage.... (Short Story)

It took time for Mr. Sadarangani to register the message. His son Vishal was telling him that his girl friend Veena was pregnant. Mr. Sadarangani thought he would have a heart attack. “Hey Ram, what is the world coming to?” he asked his wife Gita, “I couldn’t imagine Vishal and Veena would betray our trust so.” The kids had grown up in the same building in Bandra. They had been classmates at the same school and the same college. Vishal was working now and Veena was doing her MBA. Both sets of parents knew that they were very friendly. Deep down in their hearts they also knew that they were madly in love with each other.

But nobody was willing to admit the truth which had been staring them in the face for so many years. The level of denial was so high that when both had turned sixteen Mr and Mrs Sadarangani had even tried to make Veena tie a rakhi on Vishal’s hand on Rakshabandhan day. But they had not insisted when they saw the contempt with which both youngsters dismissed the suggestion. Veena’s parents Mr. and Mrs Menon were also told about Veena’s pregnancy. All hell broke loose in the Menon household too.

Mr. and Mrs. Menon were quiet clear that they didn’t want a Sindhi son-in-law. And the Sadaranganis were clear that they didn’t want a Malayali daughter-in-law. Even if she was as fair complexioned as Veena was. As a matter of fact the friendship between both couples was built on a foundation of intolerance. Mr. and Mrs. Menon were born and brought up in Kerala and they wanted Veena to marry a good Menon boy. This development was a shock for them. They felt that they should have acknowledged the relationship when they saw it clearly many years ago. But the parents of both were praying for it to be a passing infatuation. Since the situation had gone out of hand the parents got together over a cup of coffee. Mrs. Menon made her famous filter coffee and Mrs. Sadarangani brought the papads.

The parents were clear on one thing. The youngsters had let them down. They had not expected such a thing from them. They had brought them up with all the right cultural values and beliefs. They had never been allowed to become westernised. They were allowed to read as many books as they wanted, see movies and listen to music. But they were never allowed to go on dates or spend exorbitant amounts on clothes and cosmetics. Both parents tried to get the young couple agree to an early marriage. But they were adamant that they would marry only after Veena completed her semester in college. The parents were shocked. “What will people say, yende devamme!” wailed Mrs. Menon. “Oh shut up mama,” said Veena, irritated with her mother’s habit of wailing in Malayalam. Vishal also told his mother not to start getting hysterical in Sindhi.

After prolonged discussions it was decided that the young couple must get married the next Sunday. With only five days left to go they decided to invite a few close relatives. The other families living in the same building could become guests from both sides. The marriage went off very well. Mrs. Sadarangani coached Veena on the intricacies of becoming a Sindhi wife. The marriage rituals went off smoothly. After the marriage ceremony, which was attended by a small group of relatives and friends, there was a reception lunch hosted by the bride’s father. The same evening a reception was hosted by the groom’s father. Everything went off very well. Everyone was impressed by the thoroughness with which the ceremony was conducted.

A few days after the marriage Mrs. Sadarangani noted that Veena’s tummy wasn’t growing. Her suspicions became stronger when she realised after a week that Veena's tummy was still just the same. When she asked Veena about it she just smiled. Finally, out of sheer desperation she dragged Veena to a doctor who confirmed that Veena wasn’t pregnant. Both sets of parents had another meeting over a cup of tea in the dining room of the Menons’ house. Both the youngsters were summoned and were asked to stand in front. They stood in front of their parents in semi-attention. They were subjected to another scolding and asked to explain their behaviour.

“Simple,” said Vishal, “we had a good reason to do this.” Both the fathers pounced upon him and asked him to tell them the reason. Vishal looked at Veena. Their eyes met. They smiled at each other nervously and held hands. Veena addressed all the parents, “We had figured out that if we seek permission for marriage all of you would have said no. We calculated that if we were to give you the shocking news of pregnancy you would insist that we get married. And that is exactly what happened. Instead of a love marriage we had an arranged marriage. And all of us are happy. Are we not?”

The parents did not know what to say. They realised that the kids had made fools of them. There was a pregnant silence for a few seconds and then Mr. Menon burst out laughing. His laughter was infectious. He was followed by Mrs. Sadarangani and then Mrs. Menon. The kids also burst out laughing. Finally, a reluctant Mr. Sadarangani who was still recovering from the shock of having lost almost a crore of rupees as dowry in Vishal’s marriage, also joined in. A few months later Veena told her mother-in-law that she was pregnant. Everybody believed her this time.

Originally posted in my weblog at Sulekha:

Friday, February 16, 2007

Lalleshwari (Lal Ded) and Shiva - Shaivism and Sufism in Kashmir

Shiv chuy thali thali rozan;Mo zan Hindu La Musalman.Truk ay chuk pan panun parzanav;Soy chay Sahibas sati zaniy zan.
(Shiva lives everywhere; do not divide Hindu from Muslim. Use your sense to recognize yourself; that is the true way to find God.)- The words of Lal Ded (Lalleshwari)
Source: The weblog of the journalist M J Akbar ( )

For the past few years on Shivratri I remember Lal Ded, Lalleshwari or Lallayogeshwari (1320- 1392) the woman poet from Kashmir whose verses are sung even today in Kashmir. It was just by chance that I discovered her while doing a google search on Kashmiri Shaivism and I was stunned by what I read: How she walked out of a bad marriage. How she stopped wearing clothes and walked around naked. Her body was covered by her flowing hair and her hanging belly. According to an article I read in The Hindu, written by C.S. Lakshmi (May 01 2005) Lal Ded is supposed to mean "Hanging Belly". When she was asked why she did so she is supposed to have replied, "Because I have not yet seen a man." The only occasion when she tried to cover herself was when she saw Shah Hamdan she is supposed to have hid herself.

Born in Pandrethan, near Srinagar formerly known as Puranadhisthana, she was married at a young age. But the marriage was a failure and she walked out at the age of twenty four. She became a disciple of Siddha Srikantha (Sed Bayu). It must have taken a lot of courage on her part to walk out of a marriage and to walk around unclothed. She was treated with a lot of contempt by some and with extreme respect and reverence by others. Her vachs, or sayings, numbering around two hundred in number are some of the oldest examples of Kashmiri in written form which have come down the ages. Dr.Grierson, Dr.Barnett, Sir Richard Temple and Pandit Anand Koul have translated her works into English.

According to the journalist M J Akbar, who is a Kashmiri from his father's side, she is supposed to be a bridge between Hindu mysticism and Sufism. Muslims know her as Lalla Arifa and Hindus as LalleshwariLal Ded is supposed to have suckled Sheikh Noorudin the Sufi mystic who was known as Nand Rishi to the Hindus of Kashmir. I had read of Mirabai and her devotion to Krishna (Krishna Bhakti) in my childhood but Lalleshwari was someone about whom I knew nothing till I saw these articles on her on various websites. I am sure that there must be millions like me all over India, which is indeed a pity. Anyone who is interested in Bhakti Poetry and the contribution of women to devotional poetry should check the internet for Lal Ded and her words.

Some links to Lal Ded and her life and her work:

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


In words of love
Expressions of impulse
Of goodwill and caring
Pouring all around on
A day that celebrates love
There is silence too.

My heart is quiet
Vulnerable and alone
And still loving
In this frightening dark solitude
And I look for a box
In my being
Where I can lock my heart away
So it won't be hurt
But no such box appears
Even as I desperately try to create one
Or find
One little corner
As I fold my emotions into neat little piles
Cleaning soiled corners
Still loving
Still open to pain.
And still folding
And still cleaning.

In the truth that most love passes
With the moment
Of benefit
And as the emptiness is fulfilled.
And the wave flows and ebbs with life
And the still depth still beckons.

And still I seek the full heart
In me and in other.
Still alone.

A little rumination on love on Valentine's day.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Enroute and atop Aguada

~Wanted to leave an old wafty trail here.

Although the uphill distance between the Resort de Aguada and the Aguada fort is said to be not more than a couple of miles, if you look around as you drive along the zigzagged road, it is bound to extend into one eventful voyage.

As you begin to climb, first you find a narrow channel of rivulet beside to your left; a type of makeshift quay enveloped in the lush of the greens cradling a few colourful ferries. Romeo, Meena, Dono Paula, Samrat, Miramar – these are some of the names anchored home for the time being. And even as you wish to savour the scene a bit more, the rivulet graduates into a fading estuary and vanishes deep into a mist of grey and eventually into a marine memory.

Drive further up and the air turns lighter and the alongside trees sparser, gently ushering you out in the open, naked to the burning sun overhead.

Along with your tired mumbles about the heat you slowly ascend the steeping road to be accosted by the growing blue horizon all around. You are due to struggle here with a feel of vaulting somewhere in the hollow provinces of this mid air handshake between the spotless chromed sky above and the scorched earth beneath.

Higher up, as the road levels; an odd moocow grazing lazily, a couple of electric poles, a remnant of a signpost and your moving shadow are all that you can expect to keep your company until you reach the fort atop the hill.

The fort, as you discover is but a segment of oddly shaped serpentine sepia wall groping out from within, mute in its mighty abandon. The main passage stoops down south only to rise again to the right arching initially into a tarmac and then into the ruins of erstwhile ramparts.

It is here you might find of interest to engage with a grey bearded elder squatting in the shade of a lonely bramble; who would, subject to his mood obviously, recount how the aging bricks of the fort are mute witness to the stories of birth, grandeur and bereavement. And true to his words you notice how like a grand old lady she ceaselessly swallows a retreating past overlooking an arabesque future of the liquid, solid and sky.

As the view claims a pinch of belief to register, you spare an odd thought to the fortune of all those sentries of the past who would have stood guard here everyday laying a vigilant gaze over the watery horizons, for even the last one of them would have died a poet for sure.

Perched atop on the far end of this summit, the distant face of the sea, dressed in shades of emerald, turquoise, indigo, taupe, grey, and at places smudged by the shadows of slow moving clouds and at places bristling in silver, stroked by the long hands of the sun is exceptionally serene in its silence and expanse. The floating freckles of petite islands in between are best described as sporadic, and so are the multi-ethnic vessels that often float about in so painful a torpid that you are forced to give up on following their activities after a while of close anticipation.

Your left horizon is taken by the strip of the city, mainly put together by the varied colours of concrete kiosks, draped by the berets and baggies of greens and quite often but not always- interrupted, protected and invaded by both the silent and foamy white arms of the ocean. A few metal spires intended for wireless communications stand atall here and there in the distant haze. You could surely imagine how in the night, the wind would haul ripples along the black waters distorting the pockets of orange reflects in the mist of city lights.

Unbiased, the sky hovers lazily over both the city and the ocean alike as if just in an eager wait to slide behind the veil that the murk of the night draws.

Once you have absorbed an eyeful of the all these , it is here, in the surrounds of this sentinel, you wish to come during those winter evenings when the breeze is just about pleasant to study some Neruda and perhaps Brodsky too[?], reminiscing over life among other such things.

For that, is unbearably beautiful, even to imagine.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Eunice De Souza ki pasand.....

Picked up the January 2007 issue of Reader's Digest and happened to see an article titled 10 Great Indian Novels to Read This Year. The article has been written by Eunice De Souza the poet, novelist, editor and former professor. I remember interacting with Eunice over a few weeks at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune in 1991. We were attending the Film Appreciation Course and it was fun to interact with her. More so as she is a Punekar who has shifted to Mumbai.

Here are the ten Indian novels Eunice recommends book lovers read this year:

(1) Londonstani by Gautam Malkani (2006)

(2) No God in Sight by Altaf Tyrewala (2005)

(3) Cuckold by Kiran Nagarkar (1997)

(4) Afternoon Raag by Amit Chaudhuri (1993)

(5) Hangman's Journal by Shashi Warrier (2000)

(6) The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth (1986)

(7) All About H. Hatterr by G. V. Desani (1948)

(8) The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1997)

(9) The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh (2004)

(10) Everest Hotel by I Allan Seally.

So, how many of these have you read? I can hear some book lovers say "What, no Upamanyu Chatterjee/ Rohinton Mistry/ O.V. Vijayan?" But then you can't make everyone happy, can you?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Post Traumatic Post Modernism - Flash Fiction?

It has been pointed out to me that to criticise one should know first. I am writing back that one should not just know, but should know better.

Oulipians are Rats who build the labyrinth from which they will try to escape.
~Raymond Queneau

The message was handwritten. cursive feminine letters. As known - It was a healthy girl. The mother was fine, a bit exhausted. His secretary earnestly congratulated. And there were many handshakes . He cut short the meeting and cancelled the day’s schedule.

He has seen this many times. Yet he cannot remember . Or forget. It is neither prose nor poetry, it is like a critique. A complete stranger reserving the power to hurt you. Again and again.

The dark torsos of trees were trailing rapidly beside the road. The leaves rustled in the wind. Autumn is a wretched season. Full of remembering , forgetting and longing he thought as he drove on.

They all had agreed to call her Susan after her late aunt. All the requisite shopping had been completed a week before the expected day. Grandma had even knitted a pair of tiny woollen socks. Pink coloured.

He continues in this state. Of speculations. Ifs and If nots. And If onlys. A world opens inside his head, drawing him away from everything , mostly himself. It doesn’t hurt after a while. He just gasps when he wakes.

On the way he thought of buying a champagne and a box of Thornton’s . He decided to take a right at the next intersection. It felt so ethereal for a minute. Almost. To be a dad.

When he wakes up at night, he finds himself shivering and drenched in sweat. He silently watches the arcs of light from the passing traffic climb onto the room walls. He tries to remember. But nothing comes to his mind. His despair is married to the fact. That he has to live with it. He weeps.

The autumn sun sunk slowly in the greying sky, casting long sombre shadows. The traffic was light. He hummed along with Cohen on the radio as he turned right. He wasn’t driving too fast. But as it often happens, he just couldn’t stop when he wanted. It was too late.

The girl wore a pink skirt. She had turned seven a week before.
It was later in the hospital mortuary he learnt she was called Susan.

PS- I have exercised my chosen constraints. The consciousness (apple) has been cut into four slices each. Admixed tenses are symbolic of this. The last two lines is a specific attempt aimed towards a reader who requests an easier understanding.

The motif is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, dealt in present, while the event is a memory of the past. The write-up is a depiction of a nightmare in the ailment. The idiotic theme 'message' is included just to be democratic.

Of course, Not submitting, but if anyone steals it, remember you saw it here first.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Flash fiction and the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival...

Uma Mahadevan Dasgupta's weblog tells me about the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2007 (KGAF) They have four areas where they seek entries: SMS Poetry, Flash Fiction, Graphic Flash and Poetry Slam.

Flash Fiction must be within 300 words. The theme for this year is : Message. This is a submission I made (I rattled it off in fifteen minutes - one can submit multiple entries)

The Brown Paper Packet

She knew he would be there. He had promised her. And sure enough, he was true to his word. When she reached the spot at 8 p.m. he was standing there. And by the looks of it he must have arrived at least half an hour earlier. "Hi!" she said. He smiled in reply. "Have you got it?" she asked. He handed her a brown paper packet. She took it and opened it. She smiled when she saw the contents. “Thanks,” she said and walked away. He stayed back for a few minutes and then made his way back home. She had defeated him.

The message had arrived at six in the morning when he was asleep. It was brief. “I want to meet you. Usual place. Usual time. But get me the present you have kept safe for me all these years.” He had trembled when he read the message. He knew that there was no way he could disobey her. That was the kind of hold she exercised on him. He sent her a message promising her he would be there.

It had all started ten years ago when they were courting. She had given him a packet. It was wrapped in brown paper. She had asked him not to open it. And he had promised her that he wouldn’t. As their courtship had progressed he had been consumed by the desire to open it. And he had told her about it. “Never,” she had whispered with an urgency in her voice, “never, ever do that.” He had got scared when she had said it in that tone. “Tell me,” he had pleaded, “what’s inside it?” She took her time answering him. “You,” she had said with a strange smile on her face.

I hope Neti Neti doesn't disown me!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Literary Landscape..

Hello all,

I know its been a while, but we all are allowed our share of its been a while moments, aren’t we?
Firstly, belated new year wishes to you and your beloved. Hope all are doing good. I for myself, continue to keep my pathological optimist nose above the waters.

I am doing Goethe’s Letters from Italy, which was bought 5 years back.(Yes, shameless I know). Reading it now refreshed one of the questions that has been bugging me for sometime .

Past the first twenty pages and I am totally awed at Herr Goethe’s ability in wordpainting the Italian landscape, which he is visiting for the first time. I must say that the rich and the vivid description converts any reader into a companion travelling along, inescapably hooked onto his admiring prose.

For instance this paragraph , giving an account enroute to Verona:

The Adige now flows more gently and in many places forms broad islands of pebbles. Along the river banks and in the hills everything is planted so thickly that you would imagine each crop must choke the other-maize, mulberries, apples, pears, quinces and nuts.

Walls are covered with a luxuriant growth of dwarf-elder and thick-stemmed ivy clambers and spreads itself over rocks; lizards dart in and out of crevices, and everything that wanders about reminds me of my favourite pictures. The women with their braided hair, the bare-chested men in light jackets, the magnificent oxen being driven home from the market, the little heavily laden donkeys--all this animated scene makes one think of some painting by Heinrich Roos.

As evening draws near, and in the still air a few clouds can be seen resting on the mountains, standing on the sky rather than drifting across it, or when, immediately after sunset, the loud shrill of crickets is heard, I feel at home in the world, neither a stranger nor an exile. I enjoy everything as if I had been born and bred here and had just returned from a whaling expedition to Greenland.

This reminds me of yet another treat of a passage from Gatsby by fellow drunkard Scott Fitzgerald wherein he describes an American house:

We walked through a high hallway into a bright rose-coloured space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end, The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up towards the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-coloured rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea."

Both the examples made me wonder about the dynamics involved in the art of narrating the landscapes. And how with little influence on the actual plot or story it provides an appliance for writers to reflect their observational perspectives without being pushed to get on with the story. And in this regard I could say landscapes are the Macguffins for writers. I know, perhaps they might not actually be as trivial as a real MacGuffin in a movie but given the variable dynamics of both the media, it wouldn’t be such that they are completely beyond comparision.

This naturally led to one of those questions Mr Naipaul had left me lingering ages back. I think in one of his books, the name of which eludes me now, he expounds how one can tell the style and depth of a writer by knowing his account of landscape description. If Im not wrong in guessing, I think he was referring to Gandhi’s lack of it(landscape accounts) in his journals either in England or South Africa.

What do you folks think about landscape description? How important a tool do you think it is? And do you have any such accounts or passages that had a strong influence on you while reading. Raj, I know one of yours is ‘The Mercedes episode’ from Portrait.
And again inevitably, this following a discussion with one another friend , would you say that when it comes to landscape the Indian writers could be gauged on the same scale that weighs the authors from other parts of the world ? Mind you , lets not forget that the Indian landscape, both of the country and urban alike are far more lively, lush and unique. I’m sure that makes it more complicated to express it and especially so in a language which originally is not Indian. See, so many variables already.

My take on the last bit is, from what I have read of the Indian literature , although at moments it is sublime it mostly tends to be two dimensional and if otherwise seasoned with emotional ingredients. I would go on to include Mr. Seth’s descriptions in the same bracket too. But I would like to think I am wrong.That there are really good descriptions out there, which justify the salient identity of the indian landscape.

In specific, there is this vast unsung and orphaned library of vernacular literature. With members here being from different corners of what defines vernacular in every sense of the word, I would be obliged if you could share your pennies on this- landscape literature in general and few other interests raised above either here or in the group.

My main interest is to identify and understand the reasons behind how the European perspective went onto express itself abundantly in painting as against the reasons for the Indian perspective which did not express as much in painting as in other art forms.


PS- It seems that even the Microsoft Word Processor doesn’t like Naipaul , it insists on addressing him as napalm. I can imagine some of Indians dying with glee.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The 2007 Edge Question

Hi everybody. Here's wishing you all a Happy New Year. The World Question Centre run by Edge has posed its annual question to a galaxy of intelligent persons. The 2007 Question is: What are you optimistic about? The contributors include, among others, Daniel C Dennett, Daniel Goleman and Steven Pinker. The philosopher Daniel C Dennett, for instance, is optimistic about The Evaporation of the Powerful Mystique of Religion.
Click here to get to this not-to-be-missed feature. This is what the BBC has to say about Edge and its Question Centre:
"Fantastically stimulating...It's like the crack cocaine of the thinking world.... Once you start, you can't stop thinking about that question."
— BBC Radio 4 (2005)