Sunday, June 12, 2016

Making Hay

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

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


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.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Wherefore art thou, Prem?

I must confess to a guilty pleasure: I have a sweet tooth when it comes to movies and I relish a particular brand of sweet. Ahem... Rajshri, and especially this Sooraj Barjatya.

Of course, in the enjoyment of these movies, a considerable amount of mental editing is required. One must omit several songs, purge out animal references, try to forget a LOT of the comedy and spray-paint over coy or tart heroines (as the case may be)... in fact, you might argue, almost everything. Sigh.

Maine Pyar Kiya, I found ok, Hum Aapke Hain Koun...! was tolerable and Main Prem ki Diwani Hoon was an embarrassment. But I loved Vivah, Ek Vivaah Aisa Bhi... and for some reason, I have watched Hum Saath Saath Hain every time it has been possible. And seeing that it airs almost every other weekend on one of Zee's movie properties, let's just say I've watched it in part many, many times. A friend stumbled on the secret and gifted me a DVD - in spite of this, I watched it once on youtube and also on an Air India domestic flight. Yes, well, so sue me.

So what of this Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo? The songs are all out and I'm dreading it a bit. The only thing I feel confident about is that it will be better than Main Prem ki Diwani Hoon. Maybe.
Salman Khan is having trouble playing Prem, clearly. His muscles are getting in the way. Sonam Kapoor is having trouble fanning even a small kangri's worth of heat between them (but she looks lovely!). But I can't not watch a Rajshri Diwali release, I'm going to grit my teeth and get it over with.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast

I'm missing the mountains. My life - and my environs - feel ordinary, too blah. I cannot understand why I'm here at this point and not there.

I want to change everything - even if only the furniture. So I have tabs open for furniture websites that have been hurling Diwali discounts at us, but also maps of Uttarakhand, and properties for rent or sale in Hardwar or Rishikesh. Yes, that kind of mood.

I'll bore you no further with my vacillations but I must share with you this many-veined map of the state. I saw it for myself first hand but I was still breathless when I saw this overview of the minor and major rivers of Uttarakhand.

Map courtesy (with a larger version):

In spite of this, a good thing came along yesterday in the form of a Vijay Tendulkar play 'A Friend's Story'. It has only recently been translated into English, I understand. An NCPA production directed by Akash Khurana. Neat, neat work!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Chal Akela

ज़िंदगी की राहों में रंज-ओ-गम के मेले हैं
भीड़ है क़यामत की, फिर भी हम अकेले हैं 

#throwback #SabaAfghani

When my parents bought me my first-ever tape recorder, I carefully chose six cassettes to buy along with. A very nice starter kit! And this tape  'Anup Jalota - In Concert' was one of them. 

I discovered just now that there is a Sonu Nigam version of the ghazal. But... not a patch on Mr Jalota's version.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Himalaya Yatra 4: White Mountain, Green Mountain

White Mountain, Green Mountain

You ask me why I dwell in the green mountain;
I smile and make no reply for my heart is free of care.
As the peach-blossom flows down stream and is gone into the unknown,
I have a world apart that is not among men.
–Li Bai, ‘Green Mountain’

A header change that needs no explanation at all: my mind is still in the mountain clouds.

But even here there is cause for dismay. We see a lot of breast-beating about dwindling habitats of wildlife species, but whoever gives any thought to the fact that the territory of the sadhaka is imperilled? My Sadhguru rues that with the building of motorable roads, there are no more impenetrable, remote retreats for spiritual men.

Time was these yogis could find themselves bolt-holes high up in the caves, secure from prying eyes or thirsty but encroaching masses who would gather at their feet. The waters of these Himalayan rivers are so prized, I understand, for this very reason. The yogis who stayed at these higher altitudes poured their knowledge and energies into the Bagirathi and other streams, a way of sending downstream what they had earned and what they could share with others. The whole concept of ‘Ganga nahaana’ or bathing in sacred waters comes from this.

But now, abutting the sacred Vyasa Gufa in remote Mana – a place that must have, over time, harboured countless sages and adepts – is a teashop claiming to be the last tea-stall in India. As we trekked to the point where Saraswati emerges from the cliffs, I crossed a small cave. An aghori sat in it, smeared with ash, a ‘dhuni’ duly lit for his meditations – and a small crowd around him, taking pictures. I don’t know if he minded, but I did.

Thanks to our coffee table books and the documentaries that we have seen, we have objectified our holy men. An aghori is not just a picture, is he? He is a life, an entire way of life... a purposeful life with life-choices wildly different from most of us. I was made sharply aware of that this trip. People like you and me, who drop everything they know and walk away into the hills, in search of a truth they only dimly perceive. Brave men.

I hope they find their retreats – high on those slopes, living on so little! Possessing just that much, my Guru says, as would make a difference between life and death.

I so loved the Chinese poet Li Bai for his utter gorgeosity and poetic empathy. And, I cannot resist another poem by him:

Lines For A Taoist Adept

My friend lives high on East Mountain.
His nature is to love the hills and gorges.
In green spring he sleeps in empty woodland,
Still there when the noon sun brightens.
Pine-tree winds to dust his hair.
Rock-filled streams to cleanse his senses.
Free of all sound and stress,
Resting on a wedge of cloud and mist.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Himalaya Yatra 3: Hum toh dariya hai...

Hum toh dariya hai...*

Another aspect of this yatra that had me hugely excited was the water: the glacial sources, the streams, the rivers, the confluences... and finally these amazing, wide swathes of life-giving, life-enhancing goodness.

Everywhere we went, almost every road we took had a gurgling stream of water flowing alongside. The presence was never far away – deep ravines, rounded rocks and boulders, clean flowing water – now turquoise, now jade, now a frothy blue-white... no wonder that the journey seemed to have cleansed me.

And then there were the prayags – the confluences of rivers that are said to generate immense energy. As these streams and rivers hurtle downhill, they meet and go on from that point as one. The Mandakini and Vasuki meet at Son Prayag, the Alaknanda and Mandakini meet at Rudra Prayag, the Pindar and Alaknanda meet at Karna Prayag... and finally, the big two, Bagirathi and Alaknanda meet at Dev Prayag to flow on as the massive Ganga. 

Dev Prayag, Bagirathi and Alaknanda.

Mystery Prayag - I can't remember which one this is! Maybe Rudra Prayag, after all.
Rudra Prayag
We came across many of these and since we criss-crossed the many landmarks, I have pictures of some confluences and have absolutely forgotten which ones they are. I wonder if I’ll have another chance at visiting these glorious places, take them in more slowly? I didn’t know even a quarter of the history associated with these places... I didn’t know, for instance, that Karna Prayag, the only confluence where we had the time and opportunity to go down to the customary temple was so rich in significance. This was where Karna earned the protective kavacha and kundalas from his father, the Sun God. Kalidasa refers to this spot in Meghadoota and the famous love story of Dushyanta–Shakuntala played out here. Wikipedia tells me Swami Vivekananda meditated here for eighteen days. And, and, and... that the stone temple at the confluence was rebuilt by the ubiquitous Adi Shankara!

Karna Prayag

We visited the even more remote Keshav Prayag as well, and I'm kicking myself for not getting a good enough look at the source of the Saraswati before yielding to 'time to go' urgings from tyrannical bus leaders. But that is the problem – roughly every third stone in this blessed place is terribly important. And the mind can only soak so much. But never mind the mind – if my energies have managed to absorb what they needed, I’ll not ask for more.

*Title is from this sher:
Hum toh dariya hai, humein apna hunar maloom hai
Jis taraf bhi chal padenge raasta ho jaayega

Friday, October 16, 2015

Himalaya Yatra 2: Jaana jogi de naal

Jaana jogi de naal

A most delicious thing happened to me on this trip – an event that coloured and informed my entire outlook. About three or four years ago, I came across Sri M – a kriya yogi, an enlightened being who came from a great spiritual lineage. Extremely curious, I ordered his book, Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master. When the book arrived, however, I read a few pages but put it aside. My own journey was so new, I needed perhaps to cement the bond with my own glorious Guru – intake nothing but his words, look upon no face but his. It was not yet time.

Sri M’s book is set in the very sacred mountains, around the same rivers that we were travelling in, and as it happened, a fellow traveller was carrying a copy – in fact, a copy signed by the great man himself. She most kindly lent it to me and I spent a few long bus journeys drinking in this story avidly.

In his book, Sri M narrates a sharp incident set in a cave in Mana, the outermost village before the Indo-China border – of how a fakir climbed the steep cataracts of the Alaknanda to fling himself at the feet of a yogi meditating in the Vyasa cave in these cliffs. Even with my brief reading of the book, I had been fascinated by this place on the fringes of Badrinath.

Now, all of Lesser Himalaya, and its throbbing spiritual activity, came alive for me. The innumerable seekers, sages, saints at various levels of achievement... the several establishments, the ashrams, the infrastructure, the difficulties, the doubts, and the juxtaposition of the mundane with the profound... in fact, the very way of life and its orientation.

Sri M speaks of refuges in Hardwar and Rishikesh, of the steep paths beyond Gangotri and Gomukh, of kutirs in Kedarnath and Badrinath, of walking drunkenly in the Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib... he describes the yogi’s life, how they eat, how they live, how they pray, how they are... I was absolutely riveted! This is a near-fantastical book he talks, almost casually, of things that seem bizarre to the modern mind. It occurred to me that perhaps our Amar Chitra Kathas spoke nothing but the literal truth of how things are, if only we could suspend our disbelief!

I read faster than I should have, maybe – I did want to finish the book before we touched Badrinath, and also wanted to return the book to Farah as quickly as possible – she’d taken the trouble to lug it across the peninsula only to have it wrested from her by a needy reader; it wasn’t fair.

Once before I had the good fortune to read a book set in the very spot I was reading it in – and that was in the Himalaya as well. It is an incomparable joy, this.