Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Dot Matrix

My maid has gone to her native village – two weddings, she informed me. She would be back “as soon as possible”. Ominous. Because she is a much adored member of her extended family and by her own account they do not let her leave once they have her in their loving clutches. Daawats, functions, visits... all happening.

But do I complain? NO! Why? Because this gives me the chance to do the morning muggu myself. (Yes, yes, we are drawing out the muggu theme.)

I have been long fascinated by this kolam business but I don’t do it very well. My technique isn’t polished and even my dots come out like little strikes... really good pulli kolam must be generic and anonymous in its imprint. Mine looks woefully like distinct handwriting. Anyway, Narsamma is away and I have been entertaining myself enormously by learning up loads and loads of simple designs. And because my skill with the powder is limited, I have been drawing with chalk – a compromise but at least it lets me focus on the design.

This is a craft with limitless possibilities. The women in Tamil Nadu of course are masters of this game – come festival time, they can cover vast areas with intricate loops and patterns, jaw-dropping in their sophistication. While I was typing ‘sikku kolam’ into every search window, I came across this fascinating paper by experimental economist Timothy Waring. (Another link to the same article here)

Evidently, kolams have been of interest to ethnomathematicians for a long time now. Did you know that a simple 2x2 grid has five possibilities but the 3x3 matrix has 785 configurations! The 1-7-1 diamond matrix apparently is capable of 11,661,312 designs. Absolutely mind-boggling.

I have started with the 3x3, 4x4, 5x5 and the 7-5-3-1 grids... and then, the world is my canvas.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Tech Upgrade

Every neighbourhood carries its own sounds - we all know that... from years of listening to those hawkers, this traffic, the driver with the annoying backing tone who takes forever to park, tinny Suprabhatam from a distant temple every morning, that moulvi as he raises his voice in azaan five times a day, the coppersmiths, the tailorbirds... there must be a unique sound palette for every street in the world.

Ours is seeing a new trend. Loudspeakers. The Cantonment Board is sending out an auto with warnings of the dire things that will befall citizens who do not pay their taxes. We get blaring voices asking if we have any old zari in our coffers that we'd like to recycle. The sofa repairers have a neat professional set up in rather chaste Telugu: "We have all the material, equipment and wherewithal to set your living room right again."

Now into this rather ambitious terrain has sailed our Muggu man. He sells rai muggu - white stone powder that we use to make adornments on our doorsteps. He need not have bothered, in my opinion. His hawking call was very distinct... "Rai Muuggggu! Amma, Raai Muugguuu!" Anyone with a ear cocked for the sound would hear it several houses away and rush to the door to accost him. None of the vegetable, flower or broom vendors have felt the need to improve their system, which is already very effective.

However, there is no gainsaying an adventurous nature. So Muggu Man has employed a 'friend' to record his call for him. It has not worked very well. First he runs it from a small contraption in the front of his moped, which he finds uncomfortable. Then the recording itself is a 12-second audio: "Mugguammomuggu!" The voice is fraught with self-conscious anxiety and since there are no spaces between what should be words, it feels like someone is trying to sell the last grain of muggu before he dies. Certainly, for the householder, there would not be enough time to go out and enquire.

"So, what's all this?" I asked him the other day. MM switched off the sound in disgust. "He has not done a good job," he complained about his friend, "I have to go to him again!"

I heard him again the other day. Some spaces had been inserted but the voice was still tense. And since then, I have not heard him at all.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sahib ne bhang pilayi

I said earlier that this year felt like it had been running wild? Well, one of the exciting things we did was to go to a workshop on Kabir. A five-day residential workshop on one of the most hard-hitting raconteurs of the spiritual journey. Readers of this blog will know how much I love this man, and love to quote him: for many years now his utterances have served as clinchers to my primary quandaries as a seeker.

In 2009 – what a year that was! – I happened to go to a Kabir Festival in Delhi. I speak of what happened to me here, and a little more about the festival and its personalities here

It seemed extraordinarily important even as I went through the weekend, but what it was doing to me, how it was preparing me and to what end... this became apparent only a few days later. The immersive festival experience happened on 4, 5 and 6 September 2009. Around the same time, my mother was feeling poorly and went through a few medical tests. On 11 Sept, the results came and we learnt that we were going to lose her in a matter of weeks.

Now, this – that my mother might die – had always been one of my worst and very active fears... the stuff of nightmares. As much as I was sure that I would not be able to bear her loss, I had fretted about it for decades. And now it was coming true.

It was my Guru’s compassion, his grace, his love... to prepare me for a blow I had dreaded all my life. Buffered by Kabir, I took the news better than I could ever expect to. The next few months, I was able to live intensely, love intensely and let go gracefully, even joyfully.

Now seven years later, here was a chance to go to a workshop conducted by the inspirational Prahlad Tipaniya himself. It was meant. A chance to express my gratitude – and close a loop.

And another chance to bow low, very low to my Guru.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Dogged

Khasam apne da darr na chad'de
Paven sau sau maaran jutte tenthi utte
Uth Bulleya oy, chal yaar mana le
Nai te baazi le gaye kutte tenthi utte

They leave not the master's door
even when they've been hurled shoes at...
Come, Bulleya! Cajole and win the beloved
Or the dogs will have won this round

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Rasika balama...

sajani
rajani
piya
barkha
megha


Sometimes, I want to leave this century and run away.
But it rains here also. Here also, the wet comes down in downpour that envelops the world in a haze of grey. Here also, there is mist. There are walls, and moss, and love in the hearts of people.

Here too, the strings of the swarmandal chime, a thin layer over the roar of pattering water. Here also there is beauty. Here too are songsters capable of holding out notes of long magic.

There is romance but the problem is I have to sift nuggets of it from the mundane, and the determinedly practical era of today. There are other centuries that would suit me.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Running Wild

prairie grass
a mustang runs
with the wind
~William Cullen Jr.

That's how I've been feeling this year - like a wild thing let loose, rippling across the surface of life with the wind spurring me on. Speed, such speed. Exhilaration too. And galloping in any direction of the wind's choosing.

I wanted to say a little of the many many things I did - the travel, the singing, the genuflecting, the flying... but really, who cares! I might still, but what matter what I did, when it's all about what is. And then, about what isn't.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Making Hay

Whatever you do, do it in style. But not necessarily in one particular style.
–Sadhguru

It’s been a happening kind of a summer. My sister came home and, in a first since she left to live in an ashram at the foothills of the Velliangiri, she stayed two whole months. So many things we did... some more of the same, some new, some necessary, some just for the heck of it – and all of it was fun.

We went to the Simhastha Kumbh. We met friends, welcomed back old neighbours. We bought a TV. We watched a few movies, ate a lot of mangoes. Stock-taking of many kinds. A learning and an unlearning experience. A conscious sampling of life... so that we can let go.

She’s gone off now and the house seems a bit too quiet. It’s time for this evocative haiku by Carolyn Coit Dancy that describes the fun and purpose of this summer that went by:

creek-side rope swing
learning the art
of letting go

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Ta da!

The longest break this blog has ever had! The reason is a personal (secret!) writing project that gave me so much joy and fun, I didn't have time for anything else.

But this back-from-the-break post isn't about anything I HAVE to speak about. Just a moving target of a deadline that won't kill me or go away.

I've had an exciting few months - more later!

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Gaaah

It happens sometimes when you're feeling dull or languid, and want nothing but that little snug place under the rock, the world will become extra peppy and bombard you with 'Carpe Diem!' messages. Bugger off!

Monday, November 30, 2015

So it is

But listen to this pattern of causality I've observed in the universe!

I seldom wear nail polish, but when I do, when I do... two or three days later, as night follows day, the maid will not turn up and I will have to wash a sink-load of dishes.


Monday, November 23, 2015

Aap jaisa koi meri zindagi mein aaye...

I'm too late talking but Phantom, but I was laughing and foot-tapping a while ago over Afghan Jalebi. The film didn't do great business, and nor can I see that the song fit in too well with how it was picturised, but what a song! What lilt, what arrangement and what 'lachak' these singers carry off! There are four versions, I believe, and I can't decide which one I like the most.

And while on Pritam, I went to an old favourite, Raabta from Agent Vinod. Again there are multiple versions, all of them alluring (and potential ear-worms). And these words by Amitabh Bhattacharya! I thought I was listening to a love song, and it transformed somehow into one of those 'eternal love' songs.


मेहरबानी जाते जाते मुझपे कर गया
गुज़रता सा लम्हा एक दामन भर गया
तेरा नज़ारा मिला, रोशन सितारा मिला
तकदीर की कश्तीयों को किनारा मिला

सदियों से तरसे है जैसी ज़िंदगी के लिए
तेरी सौहबत में दुआएं हैं उसी के लिए
तेरा मिलना है उस रब का इशारा
मानो मुझको बनाया तेरे जैसे ही किसी के लिए

कुछ तो है तुझसे राबता
कुछ तो है तुझसे राबता
कैसे हम जाने, हमे क्या पता?
कुछ तो है तुझसे राबता

तू हमसफ़र है, फिर क्या फिकर है
जीने की वजह यही है, मरना इसी के लिए

I find the phrasing so piquant, genteel almost: Mujhko banaya tere jaise hi kisike liye... not 'I have been made for you' but 'I have been made for someone just like you...' - the lover is throwing himself wantonly at the beloved but some remnant of a sense of decorum stays him perhaps... and a small concession is made to modesty.

I must just say also: excellent work by lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya these past years. The style of poetry in Hindi films has changed so much since Sahir, Shakeel, Hasrat Jaipuri and Shailendra... but no matter! At least we can congratulate ourselves on seeing the backs of Sameer and his ilk. Amitabh Bhattacharya, Swanand Kirkire, Prasoon Joshi, Irshad Kamil... so many poets this decade.
Super like!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Appa deepo bhava


"Mann se Ravan jo nikale Ram uske mann mein hai...”

I woke up with this line ticker-taping through my mind yesterday morning. A sub-conscious reminder that it was Deepavali perhaps, but there was no very coherent train of thought leading to or away from Javed Akhtar’s words in Swades.

It is a traditional, oft-repeated sentiment, of course. That, for Ram to reign, Ravan must go. And typically, as we tend to do in India, sophisticated ideas and concepts get distilled into names, into personifications – powerful receptacles and representatives of everything that the dialectical process that preceded it bestows upon them.

Naraka Chaturdashi is named for a powerful and evil man who met his death at the hands of Krishna – and realised, in his dying moments, what a fool he had been. In a message for this day, Sadhguru says that what happened centuries ago can’t surely be relevant to us but we mark it because we must remember – now rather than on the death bed – to purge ourselves of negativity. Consciously sit down and remove accumulations, prejudices that have gathered when we weren’t looking.

In today’s Deccan Chronicle, Swati Chopra writes that in his dying hours, his disciples asked Gautama, the Buddha, for one last teaching. He uttered: “Appa deepo bhava!” Be lamps unto yourselves.

She says:
This Deepawali as we light our homes, let us take a moment to think about the inner illumination the Buddha pointed to in his last words. How might we become lamps unto ourselves? There are two points of emphases in this statement — “lamps” and “yourselves”. In saying “unto yourselves”, the teacher is laying the responsibility of working towards enlightenment upon the student. Do not think of the teacher as the one who will illuminate you. Do not outsource your spiritual work. The teacher can point towards the path; it is you who has to actually walk on it. Thus, the dying Buddha asks his students to look beyond him, the form of the teacher, which will die soon. The real illuminant is within.
+++

This song, Ishq di booṭi, from Coke Studio Season 6 is very special to me. I love every note, every detail of the arrangement, I love the words and I am blown away every single time by the climax. Written by the singer Abrar-ul-Haq himself, there is one succinct passage that tells you what you must do to advance.

The song is laid upon an imagery that was invoked by the Sufi mystic-poet Sultan Bahu:

Alif Allah chambey di booṭi Murshad man vich laayi hoo...
My Master has planted in my heart a jasmine plant... in the name of the primordial one...

That ‘chambey di booti’ is very precious seed, from which the spiritual quest begins. It must be looked after, it must be nourished, it must become the focal point of your life. When that plant grows, when it blossoms... there is havoc but oh, “jaan phullan te aayi hoo” – the very life-breath comes aflutter, Bahu says.

Abrar-ul-Haq goes further with the horticultural theme:

dil di kheti de wich pahlaan niyat da hal waah
khoṭ adaawat nafrat jhagṛe saare maar muka
nafs jiya dushman wi koi naeen, zahr da ṭeekah la
laalach badla hasad kameenah choolhe de wich pa
ishq di goḍi kar ke te hanjuaan da paani pa
te booṭi beej lai
chambe waali booṭi beej lai
haq wali booṭi beej lai


First plough the field of your heart with your sincere intention
Falseness, enmity, hatred, strife: send them packing!
There is no enemy like your own ego – feed it some poison
Greed, revenge and envy are vile – cast them into the fire
Cultivate the field of love, water it with your own tears
And sow the seed!
Sow the seed of the jasmine flower!
Sow the seed of Truth!

The CS video is here, but I recommend closed eyes.