An Ode in Black & White…

December 6, 2011

The winter of 1999 was a special one in many ways. It was 3 months to the SSC examinations, and it was time to take stock of what I wanted to do in life. So while ‘confusion’ best describes that winter for me, I’ll also remember it for getting to know my favorite cinestar. One of the television channels was running a month long festival of Dev Anand’s films and songs, and I did manage to catch many of the classics. No one brought the screen to life the way he did. While there were better actors and better lookers in his generation, no one since has matched the charm and zest of the good old Dev Anand. Leading ladies looked prettier, the world appeared at peace, and might I dare say that Rafi sounded more divine with Dev Anand on screen.

Dev Anand has brought me immense joy over the years and there is favorite Dev Anand song for every mood. For a while, scouting for audio cassettes of his movies became a passion, and the collection remains a prized possession. I devoured one movie after the other from the time he came into his own in ‘Baazi’ to ‘Tere Ghar Ke Samne.’ He was not an actor but an experience, a Never land, which no other actor has since been able to recreate. In my mind, he exists only in black and white.

Every time I hear one of his songs from way back then, the visuals vividly play out in front of me I can feel a a smile spontaneously breaking out. And I can feel a bounce in my step to match the twinkle in his eye. Thank you Dev Anand.


Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?

May 2, 2010

I took to the world of letters pretty late, and one of the books which gently nudged me on this path was ‘Mrs Dalloway.’ It was a book I really enjoyed and I couldn’t help but marvel at the author’s ability to get under the skin of characters, and lucidly delineate their motivations and thoughts. Her approach referred to as ‘Stream of Consciousness’ gently draws you into the plot as Clarissa Dalloway goes about her day preparing to host a party. 

While Mrs Dalloway remains a mesmerizing book, I write to share a few thoughts on another book ‘A Room of One’s Own.’ I realized that portions of the book were familiar since they are oft quoted in the context of feminism.  Virginia Woolf (henceforth referred to VW) explains that in a sensitive topic such as gender ‘one cannot hope to tell the truth. One can only show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold,’ and her opinion I must say is surefooted and convincing. ‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write,’ suggests VW, since ‘intellectual freedom depends upon material things.’ The above holds true for all, irrespective of gender, nationality or any other classification and the fact remains that the living conditions of women have been significantly lower than that of men. Therefore participation of women in literary activities at a given point of time has been lesser than that of men. One will agree that to write one needs some privacy, and to write professionally, privacy and financial independence. An Englishwoman of the 19th century may seemingly have had more independence than a woman in the Indian sub continent, but she was second to the Englishman and her financial independence was restricted.

VW wonders why ‘no woman wrote a word of that extraordinary literature when every other man, it seemed, was capable of song or sonnet.’ I can think of many male Indian writers from the 20th century (prior to 1970s) but one will struggle to name women writers (most that spring to mind being from the post independence era). Now one mustn’t forget that VW is writing this in early 20th century, with England as her landscape. Women have just secured the right to vote but their financial independence remains precarious and European society was largely patriarchal. An indirect result of the World War II was greater participation of women in economic activities hitherto unavailable to them, but until this period, the choice of occupations was very limited, the writer herself having dabbled in many odd jobs before discovering financial independence, thanks to an aunt who left her a fixed income of 500 pounds/ annum as inheritance. Somewhere in the book VW muses that she treasured this financial independence more than the right to vote for the ‘change in temper a fixed income brings about.’ It gave her the independence to write without having to worry about basic necessities. Also doesn’t one’s state of mind have a direct bearing on the quality and coherence of a literary output or output of any endeavor?

Two aspects discussed are the representation of women in literature and women as writers. The former is a paradoxical subject in context of European literature of and prior to 19th century, this would hold true for Indian literature as well. ‘Some of the most inspired words, some of the most profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips; in real life she could hardly read, could scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband. Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history.’ They were epitome of the heroic as literary characters but on the Shakespearean stage it would’ve required a man to play Portia.

Though a rare phenomenon in the 19th century, women writers did make their mark with the emergence of writers such as Jane Austen and Emily Bronte. It must have been a struggle for them to pursue their literary ambitions and it was not uncommon for women to assume pen names. Also by default the above two writers and other women writers of the 19th century dabbled in novels and the reasons suggested is that novel required lesser concentration and intensity, and that it was a developing art form ‘young enough to be soft in her hands.’ Of the two the latter reason does appears to be sound. The primary literary indulgence of the era was poetry and plays, with many established males writers. Classical literature, European plays of 18th century for instance, was known to have very strict rules in terms of form, place and time so the novel does appear to be a window of opportunity. And even if they did write poetry VW guesses ‘that Anon, who wrote so many poems without singing them, was often a woman.’  I can’t think of any contemporaries in India from the 19th century, but prominent women writers of the 20th century such as Mahadevi Varma and Sarojini Naidu did write some poetry.

This brings us to the interesting subject about the way women write. Have you as a reader felt any unique characteristic of literature by women?  VW suggests there is. It’s something I may have felt at times but will struggle to put my finger on. There was something unique about my experience of reading ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ and ‘Pride & prejudice,’ a flavor different from Dostoyevsky, Eco and Pamuk, but I’ll need to introspect further to articulate it. ‘Good writing,’ VW says ‘has the secret of perpetual life.’ It’s something which stimulates the mind, engenders ideas and sparks trains of thoughts, and the little that I have read from VW’s stable has done just that. Orhan Pamuk says that the difference between a great book and a good one is that one will revisit the great one, and VW is a favourite on this account too.

*****


The Museum of Innocence….Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi

March 21, 2010

‘Real museums are places where Time is transformed into Space.’

This was one of my most keenly awaited reads. While ‘The Black Book’ remains my favourite of the lot, ‘The Museum of Innocence’ is an engaging novel, not as effortless as some of his other books, but potent enough for a melancholy, characteristic of Orhan Pamuk’s writings, to descend upon me. My mind will not be at rest until I can experience Istanbul for myself since Orhan Pamuk (hereafter referred to as OP) writes so masterfully about it. From his writings it appears to be a city struggling with its cultural and political identity, a city trying to come to terms with the changing mores. OP points out in his semi autobiographical ‘Istanbul’ that unlike other languages, in Turkish there is a word to describe the melancholy of a city, ‘huzun.’

In most of his books this melancholy pervades through the novel’s landscape and exercises much influence on the protagonists. The novel starts with following line ‘It was the happiest moment of my life, though I didn’t know it.’ This captures the fleeting nature of happiness and beauty, and Kemal, our protagonist spends a considerable part of the novel chasing happiness in the form of an elusive Fusun Keskin, and after rediscovering her , loses her tragically. Kemal is betrothed to Sibel and both of them belong to wealthy and westernized Istanbul families. Their lives are proceeding as per the script and their wedding is a highly anticipated social event. Hw just before their engagement, Kemal discovers love in an impoverished and a younger distant relation, whom he begins to meet clandestinely and this affair will go on to change the lives of the three principal characters. He is torn between happiness and shame at not adhering to the norms, torn between taking it ‘too seriously or too lightly’, and this confusion only grows as his affair with Fusun intensifies. Though the city displays all the external trappings of modernity, it’s struggling to view the more sensitive societal topics through the same lens. Kemal is a reflection of this and he is suspicious of Fusun since she had ‘given herself up so easily’ even though he knew that Fusun was one who believed that ‘love was something to which one devoted one’s entire being at the risk of everything. But this happened only once in lifetime.’ Also the Keskins were once closely associated with Kemal’s family and enjoyed a cordial exchange with the society, which had since shunned them due to Fusun’s participation in a beauty pageant. Kemal is wary of the precarious situation his transgression puts the two women in but still goes ahead with the engagement to Sibel, and with an intention to continue his tryst with Fusun. The writer mentions that the ‘Istanbul society was such a small and fragile circle that the deep shame of any member was no less universally felt than in a small family.’ His relationship with Sibel is a well know fact and the society grins and bears this transgression because the couple belong to affluent families and also because it has for long been assumed that this relationship would lead to an engagement and a marriage. Sibel is therefore not in a position to walk away from the relationship for fear of disgrace given her intimacy with Kemal before her marriage, besides she does love him too. Fusun meanwhile has neither a fortune nor a social standing to fall back upon, and is indeed risking her all given the bleak future for the relationship.

Post the engagement, Fusun and her family disappear and it is in this period of separation from Fusun that Kemal realizes that the happiest moments in his life were the ones spent with Fusun, his anguish captured in the following lines ‘, In fact no body realizes the happiest moment of their lives as they are living it…Because how could anyone, and particularly who is still young, carry on with the belief that everything could get worse.’ As his search for Fusun takes him through the length and breadth of Istanbul, his relationship with Sibel veers towards an unhappy end. Sibel though suspicious deep within of the reason for her fiancée’s indisposition attributes it to ill health, and tries to nurse him back to health and the old times when they were carefree lovers. They relocate to a Yali (wooden cottage) at the banks of the Bosphorus in the hope that the beautiful surroundings and the many distractions of the city will help achieve this but as the writer suggests it is too late for Kemal. ‘It was during these days that I first began to feel fissures opening in my soul, wounds of that sort that plunge some men into a deep, dark, lifelong loneliness for which there is no cure.’

It is during this period of separation that Kemal turns to collecting objects and souvenirs associated with Fusun because as he explains that lovers even on their worst days ‘still carry in their hearts a consolation that never abandons them.’ This is because of the ‘astonishing power of consolations that objects held,’ hw he also goes on point out that the consolation though ‘making the agony bearable, prolongs it.’ After a year of disappearance he rediscovers the Keskins in a non decrypt part of Istanbul. Fusun is by now a married and her husband lodges with the Keskins but this doesn’t deter Kemal who will visit them regularly over the next eight years, in the hope that Fusun would marry him someday. He also continues to collect, in fact steal objects from the Keskin household never realizing that ‘there might be objects enough to fill rooms and whole houses, because for the better part of the eight years that I sustained myself with the conviction that it would be only a few more months, six at most, before I could bring Fusun around to marry me.’ Kemal’s intention, as he also suspects, were never hidden from the Keskins, who reestablish contact with him in the secret hope that he will be a benevolent financer for Feridun’s (Fusun’s husband) foray into the film business. As he experiences a rollercoaster of emotions on these visits the most notable being jealousy, he’ll continue to visit for moments which will ‘restore his life’s beauty’ such as Fusun’s smile or when the chance meeting of their eyes, which his stubborn heart construes as an acknowledgement of a mutual love. After a long wait of eight years, Fusun does come around to marrying him but this happiness is short-lived since she dies very tragically. And it is to ‘relate our memories with such sincerity as to transform individual happiness into a happiness which all can share’ that he’ll create a museum of all the objects that he has collected. The essence of the museum and this tragic love story, and Kemal’s need to create a museum is well captured in his categorization of himself as a bashful collector, one who ‘collects purely for the sake of collecting. Like the Proud, they begin – as readers will have noticed in my own case – in pursuit of an answer, a consolation, even a palliative for a pain, a resolution of difficulty, or simply out of dark compulsions. But living in a society where collecting is not a reputable act that contributes to learning or knowledge, the bashful regard their compulsion as an embarrassment that must be hidden. Because in the lands of the bashful, collections point not to a bit of useful information but rather to a wound that bashful collector bears.’

By sheer coincidence I finished reading the book on Valentine’s Day. Not qualified or equipped to review a book of this scale, so here are a few quick observations on it. It’s a love story, a tale about the identity, conscience, passion and heartbreak of the protagonists, Kemal, Fusun and Sibel but above all, it’s a love letter to Istanbul, a muse with a melancholic disposition but bewitching nevertheless. The author at times is critical of the city, of the societal rituals and double standards, but it’s evident that he is mesmerized by the city and its huzun. The novel’s landscape will be familiar to those who’ve read the other OP books like ‘The Black Book,’ and ‘Istanbul.’ There are the familiar sights, sounds and characters such as Aladdin’s store (which actually exists), the Yalis (wooden cottages at the banks of the Bosphorus) which were so beautifully described in ‘Istanbul’, the Bosphorus and her ships and steamers, the familiar streets and Celal Sadik the columnist. This novel therefore feels like a continuation of his other books. The principal characters are all reflections of the city in the changing times, their indecision, the inherent guilt and actions, a reflection of mores which many in developing countries will also relate to. As Kemal rues somewhere in the novel that one is cautious of being too happy in such a scenario, and the angst reflects in these lines. ‘After drunken evenings like this, as I drifted in and out of sleep, I was beset with painful thoughts: that my youth was well and truly over; that (as was the case for all Turkish men) my life was taking its ultimate shape before I had even reached the age of thirty-five; that I would – could-never again know great happiness.’ I heard OP say in one of the interviews that Turkey’s fate wrt to the European Union will not only shape Turkey’s identity but also that of the European Union and that the hesitance of the EU to welcome Turkey brews discontentment in Turkey. Also there is disconnect between symbols of modernity and social mores given the manner in which symbols of conservatism were done away with in a hurry, to achieve west’s definition of modernity. These questions of identity I think are recurring themes for many of us in the developing world too. May be the author will scrutinize this theme further in his next book, which as one of his more recent interviews (on his recent visit to India in Feb ’10), he plans to write in Goa, the theme being the life and times of an Istanbul street vendor in the times of globalization.


A House for Me..

February 9, 2010

‘A very peculiar color’ I thought, as I first set my eyes on the building. Little had I thought that this house would be home for almost 4 years, and that I’ll have the distinction of being the only person to have lived in each of the 3 floors.  Now how this came about is a pretty interesting story, but for a different day.  Here’s a quick recap of the some of the memorable aspects about this fluorescent green haven, the street and the city

A fluorescent green haven

Mugged: Got mugged on the eve of Independence Day 2008, not too far from the house.  I remember extricating myself from the situation and making a run for the safety of the house. The situation was more comical than dangerous but I’ll avoid presenting more details given my tendency to exaggerate the story 🙂

The crime scene, right under the lamp post.

Après Moi le Déluge: Had absent mindedly left the kitchen sink tap on at night, when the water supply was temporarily off. And I don’t know how I managed to place a utensil just in the right position for it to channelize the water to the kitchen floor, and subsequently to the entire house.  We were woken up by a bemused landlord at dawn, only to realize that the house resembled a ship wreck and our street, a tributary of the Kaveri. Most of the morning was spent in mopping the floor and carrying most of the household goods to the roof for some sunshine.

Raat Gayi Baat Nahin Gayi: A drunken night where my role was that of an unsuspecting instigator, spectator and also a victim. Met with a few friends, who had an off day at the bar, and given that my pad was the closest, we descended here.   There was some throwing up, some cleaning up and a lot of emotional junk.  Luckily for me my flat mate was out of town, and he’ll never know the fate of his mattress, which I replaced without his knowledge.

The Street:   The Rangolis, the chatter, the pretty people, two of my namesakes, lots of animals (resident and visitors) all make for a very vibrant street. Have made friends with the 3 stray dogs here, who share my sincere hope that the landlord’s prodigal cat will return some day.

The missing cat

A Farewell Dinner:  Had invited over our friends from the 2nd floor to a farewell dinner, one of them was leaving town. The scene was set and I felt like Julia Childs about to win over her guests with sumptuous food and my disarming manner. With the food on the burner, I rushed to their house to collect one of my utensils they had borrowed, locking the door behind me. The landlord was away, so the spare keys were out of reach. The flat mate was cruising on the Mysore road, and he mean-biked his way back mistaking the situation for a potential disaster (ie that there was gas leak and the house could blow up to bits). Meanwhile the guests and I sat at the staircase, at first in admiration of the aroma which wafted through the open windows, and then ruing at the ephemeral nature of a thing of beauty (in this case a promising meal).

The guests on the staircase with our friendly street dog

People: I was lucky to have decent flat mates, neighbors and a decent landlord. Though he undid some of the good will a few months ago, on my last day in Bangalore he redeemed himself beautifully. My recently married ex-flat mate, his better half and I had dropped in at the landlord’s. We were welcomed with genuine warmth by their entire family, and we shared the nostalgia of the last 3.5 years. But what won me over was that as soon as we were at their door, the landlady rushed into the house and returned with a ‘pooja ki thali’ to welcome the new bride, and presented her a ‘shagun.’  A simple gesture with a devastating effect 🙂   


Two Festivals…

January 28, 2010

Imagine opening your door early in the morning to collect the newspaper, to find this lovely pattern on the street. I didn’t care much for the newspaper as I admired this sight for a minute or two. The last time I was so pleasantly surprised was when I returned home from work one evening, to find a well metalled street (this was just before the elections and the street was a mess). 

An elaborate Rangoli, just below my balcony..

It’s amazing how these small, unexpected events can make one’s day. I walked down the road (my first morning walk in many months) to have a better look at the ‘rangolis.’ For a moment, it was like judging a competition. The smaller ones are a daily fixture, but it was ‘Ganesh Chaturthi’ and the ‘rangolis’ were a lot more colorful and the street bore a festive look.

  

 

On a recent visit to Ahmedabad, trees laden with kites were a common sight; it was a riot of colours. Also every once in a while, a kite would spring out of the foliage as if to break free, but  only to be restricted by its string. Electric poles, transmission wires, any tallish structure which had the potential to claim a kite’s flight, proudly showed off their catch. I was told that during ‘Uttarayan,’ folks in Ahmedabad even avoid cooking and order their food, to make a little more time for kite flying.    

A kite laden tree…

Looking at the vibrant aftermath of the festival almost two weeks hence, I can safely say that Ahmedabd is the place to be in on ‘Uttarayan.’ 

A ladder displays its catch..

*********


A Sea Lover’s Diary..

January 15, 2010

The Sea

Though I am tempted to walk
I remain seated on the sands,
Like a specter in the evening,
Loneliness for a silhouette.
Have traded innocence with age
And I am not any wiser.

The horizon lies in the shadows
Somewhere, beyond the growing waves,
Beyond the flickering boat lights.
Waves with each foray reclaim
Another stretch of the beach.
And finally, with the last of their breath
Wavelets kiss my toes.
I get up to sit out of their reach
Only to realize I wanted to walk,
Hear the sea, feel his breath

I was here a decade ago,
On a South Indian sojourn,
With acquaintances and family.
I reveled in my first sight of the sea,
With other kids, on this very beach.
I was afraid that time would get
The better of such childhood memories
And render me indifferent to their joys

And though it felt strange at first,
The gloom began to scatter
And the strength returned to my knees
As I relived the awe-struck delight
At my first sight of the sea.

********

On the Rocks

Timbu gazes at the rising moon,
Heedless to the crashing waves.
Waters strive to unsettle his feet,
Some droplets strike his face.

A precursor to a mythical event,
Cleansed in a silversmith’s flame,
Such is the brilliance of this moon,
It will refuse to wane.
 
A lonesome figure on the rocks,
But in a rare moment of grace.
A trickle of pearls on unsuspecting cheeks
Will quench his unrequited rage.

********

Like a River

An occasional raft passes
On this calm stretch
Silent rafters, their fervor
Reserved for rapids ahead

I recall an old melody
To the drone of dragon flies
Drowned at times by chatter
Of approaching village boys

The river sustains life
Beneficiaries all
The dragon flies and I
The boys for their brimming pots

Privy to many a confessions
Warm the embrace for me
When few moments of solitude
At the river banks, I seek

An angst-ridden tear drop
En route to meet the sea
Tinkle of the waters ensures
An immediate relief

An inadvertent memory
Catches me off guard
It inspires a little prayer
Teardrops, unbefitting now

Peace, a constant companion
Her smile, an eternal refuge
Joy a second nature, like this river
Hers be an everlasting youth

********


To Picture a Verse…or Verse a Picture

October 30, 2009

‘The others experienced nothing like it even though they heard the same tales.’ <Novalis> 

Let me take the opportunity of introducing my new blog http://picturingaverse.wordpress.com/ . As the name suggests it’s a photo blog, and a joint venture between dad and me. Dad is a keen follower of this blog, besides being a great photographer, so this will be our opportunity to work together. All photographs in the blog would be from his camera, and they will be accompanied by a verse or two, inspired by the pictures. Hope the verses will do justice to them.

It’s surprising how the same thing can mean different things to different people. These verses would be my interpretation of the pictures and I look forward to hearing yours 🙂

2
Photo – Ajay S Nabial