Friday, June 27, 2014

All for a song

Went for a morning ride after long today. Somewhere during the ride spotted two musicians, walking from door to door playing music for the inmates of the large houses, most of which remained shut. One of them was playing an instrument which resembled the one in the pic, the other a Mridangam. I stopped beside them and they played for about ten minutes for me. Mesmerised it took me back to October of 2013 in Calcutta, when creeping up the Shewli came the song of a Baul who sang,

'Tui amay pagol korli re..
doya nako korli..amare bhashali..
Gacher jamon shikod bakor..macher tamon paani..
Tumi tamon amar re..'

I normally don't carry a lot of money during my rides, but could fish out a Rs 100. They seemed surprised and thanked me repeatedly, which surprised me in turn. In a country such as ours creativity in any form always comes cheap. A 'Kannada gotilla' later, I was off..but their tunes stayed. Whoever you are, thank you for some soul space, in an increasingly barren land.

( Picture from the Internet)

Saturday, June 14, 2014


Ten in the evening, the sun has gone down since ages now, all that remains of the light is encapsulated in the halogen lamps placed at a seemingly random order. Beyond where I sit is the bust of a 19 th century great. Pigeons have immortalized him, his expressions priceless since then. Ganga strolls by; the evening wind is a witness to that. I watch the immense energy of the little flies around the lamps again, Red is their colour. The raw skies around, itching to burst over, echo the colour somehow, walking around like dreamers on no particular mission. I look at my Coke laced in Rum, Black from the city’s desire to hide. In far away homes, while I and the sky converse, children cry in heat and hunger, someone will swear at the slow trams, God will turn a joker once again. I become Calcutta on its streets and as the angel atop the dome in Victoria stretches its hands to try and touch something unattainable, I think it is pretty much echoes the story of the people inhabiting the city. Cities often change people, you are drowned in the soot, without the idea of what it makes of you or who you emerge off it, if at all you do. I’m reminded of Ritwik Ghatak’s short film, ‘Bari Theke Paliye’ and Calcutta through the eyes of a small boy. In many ways the city spills over, from buses, from trams, the sweat of rickshaw pullers, you wonder then what conclusions the runaway boy had come to wandering around in an alien city, whether it had corrupted him, made a man of him, taken away his innocence, paved the path for a poet in the folds?
I am in Hatibagan, North of Calcutta, this is an old locality. Walking down the streets one is reminded of theater houses that would light up many evenings, the green curtains that talk of sordid love stories, from cheap tin spoons that cut across my cutlet and yours. I look at it like an outsider now, this city, pieced together like a work of great art, callously strewn aside in the haste to rush on to bigger things. I’m reminded of –
You and I, might have met
in some nondescript coffee shop, tonight-
with the curtain of a thousand voices
and privacy in each public clutter.
In green curtains
sordid, from yesterday’s love,
rich in Bacteria,
traces of carelessly strewn Sambar,
running down your guilt free mouth-
hurriedly brewed coffee,
carelessly downed cheap whiskey,
half eaten bones,
lingering of another’s cheap smell-
In bold public stares
of his intimacy in you,
where cheap tin spoons
cuts a tongue,
where the stench of bitterness is loud-
There Calcutta loves.
From, ‘angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz’ street life weaves a fascinating pattern in the minds of those who want to see beyond and more. If I can see Ginsberg’s famous lines etched out ‘through the negro streets at dawn’ in Howl, I can imagine Shakti Chattopadhay crying out, ‘Abani bari acho?’. You wonder if poetry answers back in some dingy lane of Calcutta and the smoky death haze of literature arising out of the edifice of Nimtala burning ghats, will sustain.
‘Manhattan’ by Woody Allen springs to the mind. It had been a cold winter night when I sat mesmerized by the opening scene, of New York filled in Black and white, beautiful, powerful, there to stay. Through Woody’s narration of the city you see the high rise buildings, people walking, snow covered streets, buses, people, lights, grandeur, a city and its life. A viewer is mesmerized, even while the voice seems to take a back seat, the story too perhaps, the fact that a city moves in a zen like manner, while others breathe, revel and even write about it or screen it as a film somehow seems tremendous and yet there have been so many eulogies, profanities that have ceased to describe what the mind has felt, of such a place that refuses to die, refuses to change character, only remains.
So while the sun would set in New Jersey or in Calcutta, something don’t change. One is filled with the raw overpowering sense of enormity, of huge bulging proportions that overcome, of a linger in every sunset and rise, where all along the roads that lead to it or not, one is filled with a sense of dreaming, even while the lights fade one by one, the river dries, the soot overpowers, the forlorn becomes a habit and on someone’s radio Dean Martin takes a bow, I think of a city that has lived, the many that have lived with it. These are cities that somehow live, they never die, or their spirit doesn't. The children grow up crying and swearing in the same dreariness day after day, there is stillness in the beyond and in that a night ends, you and I we live.
The first call of the Azan, the smell of Rajnigandha and fake roses, the city lives on, as do we.
( This was written for The Bangalore Review )

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

'I write, so I can sleep well'

The summer of 2014 has been dedicated to traveling. I've visited big cities, small towns, road side villages, jungles and river beds. I've asked myself why I travel and travel alone mostly. Many friends can't fathom the urge to see things from my own perspective, to be on uncharted territories to live life beyond that which has been set as your horizon. Wherever I travel, it is always people that I am attracted to, more often than not people are generous, going out of their way at times to indulge a complete stranger. And in that perhaps you carry back the observations, minute little nuggests of wisdom that stay with you. It is perhaps also why I find a bit of me strewn into wherever I have traveled. And thus on many nights when I sit alone in a huge guest house from a British era or a tiny forest bungalow by the river bed, I'm prone to tracing myself across where I'm spread thin.

While traveling through Kurseong at a certain point, I stopped for some tea. While the tea was being made, I saw another woman sitting in front of a shop. She was sipping her own tea while arranging the fresh vegetables she had put on display on the shop window. My gardener instincts, led me to ask her whether she grew the vegetables herself. She seemed surprised and then happy at being asked, pointing at each vegetable she summarized how they were grown, why frost was a nuisance, how her dogs kept her company on the hills. She looked at me after a minute, as if as an afterthought and asked me what I did. I looked at her hands then, she reciprocated by looking at mine. I looked around me at the massive mountains, the terrific greens, at the little dogs playing around, at life so uncomplicated. What does one tell someone so rich in mundane happiness, what the writer does. The immensity of simplicity, on a road that bends on a tea cup, suddenly seemed over powering.

I told her then that I write. Why she asked and what. I remembered my friend Amandeep Sandhu saying, 'I write, so I can sleep well.' I wanted to tell her then that I write so I can keep your essence alive, I write so that I can find a word that describes the immensity of this freshness. I looked beyond and fell silent. She tugged at my jacket, gave me a piece of charcoal and showed me the wall of her house, 'likho kavita'