Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Monday, August 29, 2011
Painting by Clementina Cote*
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
As I took my evening walk yesterday, I saw this old person, sitting on the pavement take out a small pouch tulked preciously into his waist..little coins were studiously kept in neat little stacks, while he counted them again and again..I sat with him and asked what he was doing. He said he was counting his days earnings rather matter of factly...without any expectations. I asked him if he would allow me to add a note to his collection, which I kept beneath his coins..wordlessly he nodded his head, not looking at me. As I was leaving, he gave me a smile, that stayed long after...disturbed evenings..hopefully better mornings.
It was five of us. The School had broken for summer holidays, in the early 80’s in a remote part of North Eastern India; holidays did not mean sleepovers and malls. It meant roaming around aimlessly in the surrounding jungles, playing around on the roads and going for picnics on your cycle. On that summer afternoon too, little idle minds wondered what was to be done of the ensuing evening and greater part of the afternoon that still loomed large. Not that we were bored, thankfully that word had not yet taken over the dictionaries of children till then. Someone suggested a game of hide and seek, another suggested the red hills as a venue. Venue and game decided, we set off to the beautiful red hills. The place got its name from the view from the plateau that we used as a base for our activities. One had to climb up the gentle slope situated centrally, to see the red hills. While climbing, we always took of our slippers, in sheer reverence of the softness of the grass, that we walked on punctuated by Guava and Olive trees. Guavas hung around on the trees, as if in the remote hope that some child would chance upon them and bend them down to the earthliness of human hands. A small ceremony was always followed for the first sighting of the red hills. As we slowly approached the slope, all of us in the unison of the sincerity of the prayer of a child, closed our eyes tightly. The first glimpse of the red hills was always special. Bathed in the afternoon glow of the setting sun, today it seemed surreal.
Someone shouted that one could hide anywhere along the slope and the next hill, but not beyond. It was place enough to hide if one knew what to do, or so I thought. Mamma had insisted I behave more like a girl and put on a white cotton dress through my 8 year old head. It was a big problem, the dress; it lingered on and seemed to attract all the dragon flies as well as the little blue flowers that stuck on. Someone started counting 20-19-18-17… As I scurried down the hill, I wondered where I could hide. A Guava fell off a tree and rolled down the slope, settling on the bend of the adjoining hill. Guavas I thought were good navigators; I followed the fruit and came upon the resting hill, as it were called. I had often seen the nuns from our school come here in cars, along with other people. Strangely, when they arrived, they would always be crying but while going back they seemed to be drastically cheerful, almost as if someone had ordered them to be so. I had once asked Mamma about it, and she said, that Christians believed in giving happy farewells to their dead. While much of the meaning of the resting hill might have been lost to me, its potential as a great hiding place seemed to offer the greatest of opportunities. I ran to what seemed to be quite a large stone placed on the ground. Two stones joined at one end, made the perfect ‘L’. As I clutched the long white frock and hid behind the stone that stood, I was extremely excited because I was sure, no one would find me here. What a perfect hiding place! Having sat myself down to the silence of stones, I inspected curiously the back of the stone that was standing. It seemed to be quite ornate. There were little leaves, flowers and cherubs drawn on it. I touched my hands on it, the edges were rough, probably from the rains, but the centre of the stone was smooth. The counting should have been over by now, but I had almost forgotten about the game, I crawled over to the front. To my delight, it was like grandpa’s arm chair that I wasn’t allowed to sit on. I stretched my back on the standing stone and neatly kept my legs straight on the stone that was lying. My head that was cushioned on the stone felt something cold just beneath the top. I turned to look at the stone, facing it for the first time. There was a photograph of a small boy, much like my neighbor, the one who always cried. As I looked closely I saw something written there…
”Here lies Peter, born 1968, died 1971. May his soul rest in peace.”
I looked at the photograph again, remembering the date in the school notebook, on the left hand corner, blue margin, it was 1981. That’s a long time for a three year old boy to be lying there, I thought. I smiled at him, wondering if he was happy where he was, perhaps he liked the fact that I had chosen him to play hide and seek. After all it was quite natural that he would be tired of lying there all those years. I stroked the photograph. The sun was almost down ad yet in the last rays of gold, Peter seemed to smile back. I stroked the face then, in some way trying to reassure him that I would be back with more games and laughter.Someone shouted out to me, “Come out, we can’t find you. You’ve won” as I tugged my way up the red hills, with my long white dress strewn with flowers wild, I felt I had left the little boy happier, he seemed to be now, truly- ‘ resting in peace’.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
I move from window to sill,
Of yellow teethed graves and epitaphs, all but gone..
In tracing the mood of fantasies still
Lovers and friends all a life time fill,
From the rubble of the storm and the peace of the calm
In shades of ashes emerge..
Image courtesy artmight.com/Artists/Jean-Leon-Gerome/Jean-Le...
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
In the hour of need the stranger your Love,
Seeking familiarity in faces new
Seeking permanent images in waters untrue
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
I have a God today..one which I didn’t have yesterday..or so I thought. The age was the 90’s, the spring, very young, much like my naivety, without the essence of faith or fear of the unknown. It was quite a fashion among the young girls in the college to fast on Mondays, wear clean clothes, put a sprig of a flower, torn from someone’s garden or stolen from the temple gate that the moneyed had left, on to their heads. The lipsticks that adorned the lips, on those days were a faint resemblance of their counterparts on other days, they resembled an art form called, carefully careless..just luscious enough to eat, faint enough to be stopped from calling a whore. Piousness was all about decorum I thought. And since I had learnt neither discipline nor decorum from anyone largely, I remained uncouth to the priests, the girls and divinity I guess.
But like in the everything of life I went along here too..curious to see what it held for me..or not…pot bellied structures, damsels in various poses of passion adorned every structure called temple in every vicinity..I wondered about man’s extreme passion hid in the realms of statues they named the Gods.
One such morning, washed and adequately pious for the consumption of the Gods, I stood in mute abstract near a temple gate, close to where I stayed..the place was nice, people of every hue..the rich blended with the poor in unanimous hues of faith..some for homage..some for blessings..all about the package called Divinity I suppose. Inside the temple, sat the lord, dark hued..absorbing the evils of man.. we had colored him so I suppose, and yet more to go..that’s large hearted I thought and accommodating still. I came out, the puja in the mind complete and looked about me for some answers for the within.
Close to the temple quarters stood a tree..numerous wishes had been made there..if one were to gauge the number of threads tied to the tree..some for love, some for health..how many for Divinity I thought? In one corner of the wish tree, in pious stillness stood a tiny figurine in black ..the scales had somewhat peeled off his Devine self , the face was a studious expression of nothingness, and yet I felt a tug within me. Dazed I looked at my feet leave my self and walk in somber progression towards it. I sat on the little circular dais, usually allotted to faith and cradled the little statue in hand. It seemed to be pleased by the fact that I had picked it up, somewhere somethings smiled.. .the God’s cousin’s perhaps?
Suddenly someone screamed, from the depth of the earth it seemed. I looked up, a man in bare nothings, smeared in mud and madness looked at me with brazen eyes of the ascetic. He was the ‘mad sadhu’..as everyone knew. He screamed at me in a language I did not know, in spite of knowing the language of the land.. something I had taken that was his?... I thought. The stone had slipped from my hands since long and settled into the debris of the tree and its followers. The incensed sadhu pushed me back and sat himself where I had. He cradled the lord in hands that were smeared in ashes and insecurities of the everyday. I walked away, it was a private moment after all, this meeting between him and the lord. A little distance away, and that call again, this time from somewhere long lost it seemed. I turned my back and looked at him and the strange one beckoned me. As I stood before him silently knowing not what to say, and yet there seemed to be nothing to be afraid of, in this man…where the God’s resided. He stretched his hands, cradled in the palms lay the figure in black, skin peeled of in parts. He said, “Tu le ja” ( you take him)
The little black God, my God it had become, remained..in times both bad and good. The Gods had finally come home and to me.
My little Ganesha, shall stay within the me- and the myself
In his hues of black he shall show me colors of faith
Piety and happiness..in the pot bellied structure of fulfillment-
In him I shall merge from time to time
And emerge from me to me..
In the nothingness of the everything and beyond.
© 2011 Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury
Friday, August 5, 2011
A character in one of Satyajit Ray's short stories titled 'Indigo' says " I have treated the natives here so badly that there is none to shed a tear at my passing away"..He was perhaps terribly correct, as they say realization reaches a man late..sometimes even after his death.. the story goes on to show how the dead Englishman enters... the body of an Indian traveler staying in a Dak bungalow at night, only to kill his pet hound so that the Indigo farmers don't stone him to death..Fear of such parameters is perhaps apt for the amount of atrocities that have been committed by the English on the Indigo farmers of Bengal. They were beaten mercilessly, starved and killed at the whims of the rulers and yet when these very farmers rose in revolt in the years 1859-60, it was a non violent movement.
Of course the Nawab of Awadh played as much spoil sport here as the Britishers, but his commanding high prices led to further atrocities on Bengal's farmers and their compulsion to grow Indigo, in spite of the miserly profits, health hazards and the fear of making the farm land go to waste....Amid st all the ghost stories that still do the rounds of those killed during the Indigo farming and their spirits doing the rounds haunting the Britishers, a small and rather hilarious story caught my attention.
It is said that the Indigo Planters had their estates and lived the comfortable life of planters on these estates. Of course their stay here assumes rather colourful proportions when it is allied with facts of them taking native women as mistresses. One can safely assume that this was done to not only satisfy the Britt libido but also polish off their sense of 'Social service' to the nation in giving birth to a breed of those whom we know today as Anglo Indians.
One such Indigo factory/estate in the district of Nuddea, was being overseen by Richard Aimes. No surprise in that except perhaps for the pretty fact that the gent in question was nicknamed as “Dick Saheb” by the locals. It goes without saying that the gent in question maintained not one but quite a number of native mistresses. To add detail to history his mistresses had been categorized under the variations of their colour. They were of course given exotic names such as - Gora or Fair Anund, and Kala or Dark Anund, depending on the color the sahib preferred for whatever time of the year they rendered their services. It shall perhaps suffice to say that the localities found no traces of Dickie bird in the rather colorful Richard Aimes..
There is perhaps nothing exceptional to this piece of historical cross pollination except for the pertinent question that how did the natives get the 'Dick sahab' adage so damm correct!
( Image courtesy Google)
© 2011 Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
The grass was tall where the tree stood, young, proud and green. Birds of every hue chose him to sit on..it was said he who had the privilege of sitting on the ‘green tree’ sang the sweetest. The Mynahs, the Blue and Gold Macaws, the Nightingales, they all tried their luck with the tree. But this handsome pompous creature hated the sight of the birds. They were messy he thought; besides they did not understand music. They only knew how to sing, in their pompous voices singing for the world to listen to them, but none sang for itself..the song of love, the song that would have a sway of its own, that would make one feel alive from the very insides and wish to dance in total abandon of oneself, the Gods and whosoever had the privilege to see them. The birds gossiped, ‘he has no respect for songs’, ‘he doesn’t bend’..what use is such a tree?
In the stillness of its waters, the little pond was the only one the tree could talk to. And they talked for hours, of faraway lands, where the pond dreamt of its waters reaching one day and mixing into the mighty body called ocean that he had only heard about, and yet the pond seemed to be in no hurry. In fact, secretly it wanted to go nowhere perhaps because once out of the safe heavens of what one called home, coming back would be impossible it knew..too much of meandering would develop waves in the pond that its simplistic mind refused to understand or comprehend. It told about its fears to the tree, which nodded but wished that the pond would be slightly more adventurous. He told the pond that one day it would find such a tremendous reason and urge that would make it leave its safe heavens to explore and seek the ocean. He said one day when I find love, when I find music, I shall bend, shed my leaves, if necessary even crack to have that one touch of that which I would wish and want so much of. The pond was surprised, how could the tree, who the birds said had no love for songs know that it would fall in love so passionately, so wonderfully and be ready to even die for?
‘How shall you know, asked the pond, when that special being would arrive?’ I shall, said the tree, in a wave of shimmery happiness, our rhythm and tunes shall match. If she reaches out, I shall bend..if she glides, I shall be the boat that she shall ride. ..together we shall ride in a rhythm that life has pre-decided and in that there shall be such harmony, such joy that ‘ we shall know, at once’.
It was autumn and the cold setting in, left everyone shivering and irritated. The birds had stopped their vanity songs and reserved them for the pleasant chimes of Spring. The trees had shed their leaves. But to everyone’s amazement, the ‘green tree’ did not shed its leaves. What are you waiting for asked, the trees around it. ‘She shall come’, said he. The pond requested him, “please shed your leaves my friend, you must make way for new leaves’..But the tree stood its ground, obstinate that when she came, he would bend and shower her with his green beautiful leaves and she would look up at him, at the rainbow of leaves fluttering down to welcome her and dance in their joy…The months passed, no one came. The birds stopped visiting the tree, they had once so coveted, he had become an out caste for believing in the stupidity that his dream would be a reality..dreams were figments of the imagination, believing in them, made life difficult. Besides what good were such dreams, when they promised nothing but the fascination of something far off, something that one might never be able to call as their own. The tree looked old, its sheen was gone, so was its greenery, it looked tired..the trunk had dark patches around it, in many places, the bark had peeled off..the leaves he had so talked about had all but gone..and yet every time the winds changed, something happened to the tree..something so weird..it was as if the whole tree now full of brown and black, suddenly came alive. The birds disgustingly nodded their head in gravity that it was the stupid disease called ‘hope’..something that no one emerged from alive they said.
In one end of the pond, a pair of blue wings and red eyes looked on carefully at a small fuzzy ball of gossamer that finally seemed to be moving. She flapped her delicate wings loudly, as if in signal of some miracle about to happen..suddenly the entire of the grassland enclosing the pond seemed to be magically filled with a spurt of color! Blue, pink, purple, emerald, red..you name it they were there..happily flapping their little wings at the expectant coming of the grandest one among them. The queen mother, waving her gentle tendrils in excitement just knew it..the princess that the cocoon would reveal would outdo the colors of the rainbow..a befitting one for the world to admire! The coldness of the day and the breeze had no affect on the hundreds of butterflies gathered to celebrate the blossoming of the one cocoon, they knew would outdo all of them put together…The little cocoon shook..the threads tore..struggling to reveal what was within.. a chilly wind blew..freezing everyone’s bones..the birds huddled together.. The ‘Green tree’ now brown, stretched his arms..in a desperate want..waiting since centuries for that one final embrace..The gossamer threads broke, a little black antenna waved out..a little white body stretched out..sleeping since ages..it now wanted to fly…WHITE!..shrieked the butterflies..in deathly pale unison! She was white..how could she. They looked at the queen, who shuddered in horrific disgust. Spreading baby wings, the angel in white looked at her friends of every color..from hatred, to disgust, to ridicule..they were all there..she looked at her mother..she was colored with shame..the little one looked at herself..what had happened, what was wrong with her? In the shimmer of the water close by she saw her own color of sadness..and how she was born to it….In regal sweep of final dignity, she made gentle sweep of the silver dusted feathers and rose to the skies..as if begging for answers. From the corner of her eye, she spied a tiny little leaf brown in color hanging from the branches of what seemed to be a weary tree. As she looked, she felt drawn to the brown leaf..it was as if reaching there would give her the colors she needed to be complete..Unashamed in it's brown-ness, it seemed to match her simple beauty. She flapped her wings high, struggling for breath of the new born, to reach the promise of a land she had not yet tasted, or been happy in.
In sudden jerk of that dreadful word that the birds had called ‘hope’, the tree felt as if something was approaching it stealthily..and yet with great speed..it stretched its branches wide out in the air..arms flung in hope to the almighty..let her be there! In sudden hush of things gone right, a tingling vision in white seemed to arise before him..she was tiny, fairy like, delicate and beautiful and yet she looked sad..he clutched his heart
My love..we have been sleeping since ages
Not knowing a presence called US
Today I awake to a presence called you..
And shall perhaps never sleep again
Yesterday you did not exist..today no one else does
The ‘green tree’ woke up, all its dreams of the forbidden embrace alive..and yet his vision in white, she was falling, twirling down as if from the ecstasy of heavens that she had tried to reach in her search for the little brown leaf down into the abysses of color…. It was then that he knew as if in a sudden knowledge that only love could afford..how he would bend and reach to her….as she fell..this little white one from the heavens..the tree shook..what was left of its haggard old bark, with all the strength that it could muster. Down it came, in graceful fall the little tiny leaf that she had so desired..it spiraled..slowly..in a passionate dance of its own..carrying with it the yearning of the years of love, that the tree had harbored..Spiraled by the youthful green of love, it flew down from its lofty heights, in brown elegance..bending in grace to hold in love the little body in white that helplessly floated down..suddenly the butterfly in white was alone no longer..the immense hands of brown love had held her in their graying passionate embrace..in a dance so beautiful that she flitted, a bit or two..glided over, changed directions..brushed passed the tree..kissing it in passionate frenzy of lovers so old that none could wait any longer…to merge into the other.
The winds had stopped blowing, the birds no longer cried, the pond was still with open arms as he awaited his friend’s love to alight..with the gentle grace of nature waiting patiently for the bud to open, the eggs to hatch and the bees to buzz..the little brown leaf danced into its final glide onto the still waters of the pond. It was a passionate embrace of love, no one had imagined possible..the tree had bend, the last leaf had fallen and the hope that made the ‘Green tree’ green was alive again.
In the mutual dance of lovers in perfect rhythm..the fog lifted that chilly wintry morning to reveal a haze of sun over the pond..where every butterfly, bird and tree watched the little white one glide on the hope of brown..it was a scene that no bird or butterfly would forget in their lifetime..as the still waters of the pond..shone in a silvery carriage taking the lovers down to meet the ocean….
© 2011 Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury