Monday, June 27, 2005

Abida, Kabir and the Sufis

I’ve been listening to Abida Parveen sing Kabir.

Admittedly, Kabir’s not easy. Not easy to understand, not easy to translate, not easy to sing. Easy to recite, though. The mystic sant may have taken many liberties with grammar, but he knew his sounds: Kabir’s cadences are so smooth. Say this aloud:

Maya mari na man mara, mar mar gaye sareer
Asha trishna na mari, keh gaye das Kabir


Kabir’s dohas are particularly difficult to set to music. For one, each is a disparate piece, with its own theme. Like the ghazal. However, unlike the ghazal, in which each sher at least follows the same meter and rhyme, Kabir’s dohas are somewhat uneven in length and rhyme differently.

It has been done, though. T Series has a long line of Kabir’s work, and you might stumble upon any one travelling in long distance buses in North India; the drivers hugely favour Kabir for early morning listening. I have one of those too, Kabir Amritvani. The producers choose one tune only and set scores and scores of dohe in the same pattern. Repetitive, and a bit jarring, but the enunciation is clear, and soon you find yourself listening to Kabir with minimal interpretation, almost unadulterated, so to speak.

Not so with Abida. The album is surprisingly disappointing, because she neither does justice to Kabir’s verses by allowing their inherent rhythm to show, nor does she treat her material as a vehicle for a purely musical exercise. She takes the middle road and disappoints with both. This was only a first listen, and a first impression. If it grows on me, I’ll just have to come back and let you know.

Abida has sung many greats: Khusrau, Bulleh Shah, Hazrat Shah Hussain, Sachal Sarmast… there is no faulting the literature. I persistently feel dissatisfied with her melody, though. It’s not a priority with many Sufi singers – feeling is rated higher, and most important is how you can carry your listeners into higher and higher realms. That is as it should be, but it needn’t be at the cost of sweetness. The greatest of them were sublime musicians as well as sufis. There was no either/or.

This is also why I’m uncomfortable with people calling Abida the true successor to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. First, she’s not a qawwal, she sings sufi music – there’s a difference. Second, Abida’s style of rendition needs a rather active participation from the listener. Nusrat was like this fragrance that wafted. Even casual listeners would be seduced, drawn by the tendrils and reeled in. Abida needs a commitment from you to begin with.

PS. What a great job they do with album sleeve notes these days. Complete with profiles of everyone involved, notes on history and context, and they include every word sung. Precious, too, because with sufi music, the verses they’re printing are usually difficult to find in English. Educative, and worth nearly half the price of the album.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Wanted: Quality Control

I’ve been thinking about Bollywood. Particularly after Parineeta and Paheli. The first was a pleasant enough movie. Nothing more, I think. Just the normal ingredients, well and tastefully mixed… a good plot, decent characters, a setting, a few plot twists….
Filmmakers Vinod Chopra and Pradeep Sarkar haven’t really interfered with Saratchandra's narrative. There is no particularly individual point of view they’re putting across, and they stay subservient to the story. They do not, by word or gesture, frame or juxtaposition, say anything remarkable. In the final analysis, Parineeta is a competent work of storytelling.
Paheli was a bit subtler for all its opulence, and indefinably had a little more. Earthier, with breathtaking attention to detail, more stylised, but again, a competent work of storytelling. Which brings me to the point: surely this is a standard Bollywood can rise to?

What does it take to make watchable entertainment, after all? A good story, a solid script and characterisation, decent actors, behind-the-scenes professionals who know what they’re about and reasonably high productions standards. Is that over-simplifying it? Watchable entertainment, we said, remember, not great cinema.

Abandon the formula, forget what has worked. Pick up a story that moves you, clothe it well (as we know Bollywood can) and present it as truthfully, as earnestly as you can. If you have nothing else to say, at least have a story.

How can producers willing to spend crores on lavish budgets, not be willing to spend the time to dream up their film and see it in their mind’s eye? How can they not pore over the pages of their script, their storyboards – chipping, polishing, carving? How can they make movies without doing their homework? Why is that not worth the effort? They put in effort with everything else – not the industry’s worst critics can accuse it of laziness. Innumerable shifts, unending dance rehearsals till every one of the hundred dancers in the frame has got it right to the millimetre, darzis, fittings, art hands, lavish sets, properties… they’re a hardworking lot. Why not divert a little of that energy to focus on what you’re saying?

It mightn’t work after all, but then very little else seems to. The hits : releases ratio would daunt any but the most determined risk takers, but Bollywood is filled with them. So what’s another risk?
Take it, give us a little quality. Give us a Parineeta one week, a Paheli the next, consistently. Perhaps there will occasionally be filmmakers who have a little more to give, and will raise a movie above the competent to the special. Wouldn't that be nice.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Just the other day…

I was out in the evening, buying a few essentials – not far, just the local market. The road is narrow; and there were about seven cars trying to fit into space designed for two. Honking and chaos. An auto stood to one side of the road. Four lads in it, lounging; a couple of them sitting sideways, legs swinging out of the vehicle. I wanted to pass, but the cars were going crazy, so I waited. The young men watching me. A lull and I passed the auto, trying to strike a balance between death under a Sumo and possible aura contamination.

I moved quickly but he was quicker. A sharp, stinging pain in my elbow – I didn’t know what it was – a sharp bit of damaged coin, or a cigarette, perhaps? Red clouded my mind – I turned back, and confronted him. Uttered a couple of threats and wagged a finger in his face. He seemed a little taken aback; he said he didn’t know what I was talking about. It wasn’t enough, but it would have to do. I walked away, seethed for the rest of the day and tended to the red wound on my arm.

It wasn’t about anything, that. Just ‘oh, girl’ and reaction. Harassment. Because.

Support Jasmeen and the Blank Noise Project.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Jasraj sings Dhulia Malhar

They say net-addiction makes you dumb. ‘Tis true, tis true. I’ve been struggling all morning to stream-play a raga… till it occurred to me that I could dust off my tape recorder and play music on it.

Jugnu, Diye, Sitaare

Mai tumse baat karke roshan hua hun kitna
Saare sukhan tumhare, jugnu, diye, sitaare

Seven people (dead or alive, real or fictional) that I would pick to have a 5 minute conversation with

Sahir Ludhianvi
Sherlock Holmes
Nicholai Hel from Shibumi
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Vivekananda (I’m imagining this meeting with the two of them together. Can you imagine my tongue-tiedness? I think I’ll just sit with an idiotic smile and soak it in)
Amir Khusrau and Kabir

Hee heee, that’s nine… But… BUT…
No women! dismay! I only want to meet men? No representation at all unless I rack my brains and fit them in, and that would really be tokenism.
The reason, I think, lies partly with our skewed documentation. Women, if recorded at all, are done so for masculine, or male-centred attributes – strength or beauty. Women of extraordinary strength or power – but not interesting, you see? Not necessarily people I want to meet.

How many cool women do we know of – chilled out, humorous, sexy, funny, wise? Not necessarily strident, not necessarily serious, not necessarily academic or ‘important’. Women with individuality, women with opinions, a unique way of looking at the world? There must have been – why didn’t they make it to the pages? I want to meet those women.

Till midnight

A long dry spell. Then Mikhail Stanislaski. Take me home, Nora.

Monday, June 20, 2005


Bashkul is napping at our place today. She was cranky this morning, fighting sleep and determined not to miss out on the fun, so we brought her over. She fell asleep, and she’s here as I write, trying to tap the keyboard as softly as possible.

When she does this at Radha Aunty’s, they just darken the room, pull the door close and go on with their lives. Not us. We’re so incredibly honoured to have her here, to know that she feels at home enough to fall asleep (she’s a suspicious kind of a baby) that we’re tiptoeing around the house. All but the most essential conversation has ceased, we’re speaking in theatrical whispers. Our gate creaks, and so at the first hint of noise, the door has been opened and the dhobi intercepted before he can ring the bell. She will wake anytime now, and be taken home to have tachi mamam.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Brickbats and Batman

We emerged blinking into the sunlight yesterday, and went off to Pickles in search of some much needed sustenance. Fed and er.. pickled, we return home. Adit, my cousin, is on the phone. ‘Well?’ he goes, and of course he’s asking for my opinion of Batman Begins.
I’m grimacing; not many words emerge but he gathers I was less than enthralled. Quickly he sets about estimating the value of my opinion on this most important matter. ‘Are you a Batman fan at all? Have you see any of the others?’ ‘Oh, yes,’ I tell him recklessly, ‘I saw a couple of those Val Kilmers.’ Adit’s voice takes on a touch of frost: ‘There was only one Val Kilmer movie.’ Ah!
Still I muddle on airily, ‘Yes, yes, and that Michael Keaton waala and even the one with that Chris O' Donnell chap’. Like my master, I don’t keep nonsense facts in my head that I could just as easily look up, and I don’t want to look this up. Adit however is not impressed at all – he’s telling me how IMDB is already rating this one at 8.6 when even American Beauty stayed at 7. Which, IMHO, goes to show how crappy this reviewing system must be but that’s another matter.

So we’ve established I’m not a fan. To me, this was just a movie about a hero’s beginnings. And how it was mauled. First a skinflint lighting budget that passes off for brooding atmosphere. The pits was one character actually raising a cigarette lighter to see two centimeters beyond his nose. Light, give me some light!

Shaken by his powerlessness in Gotham City, Bruce Wayne makes his way around the world, studying evil and collecting some steel. He ends up in a mysterious Asian prison and falls in with a set of brigands called… wait, lemme check… Ra's Al Ghul, where chief man (with the funniest moustaches I’ve seen in a while) and man called Henri Ducard give him some training with swords and whatnot. Ok great.

The Batman terrified of bats. Isn’t that a great idea? Conquering and owning your worst fear. Using that as your own signature, an enduring symbol of your biggest win over your own mind. Nice.
Execution? Sad. The scene where Ducard gives Bruce this bowl of burnt herbs to inhale to call up his fear... you’re waiting to see how it is done, the calming of this thumping agitation, the soothing of this fluttering fear, the resignation, the acceptance, the peace. Instead we have masked people who surround the man, and suddenly Moustache Man begins to applaud. Whatever happened? There is a really nice bit in the grotto later though, bats swooping around a perfectly still Bruce Wayne. Not bad.

The good bits? Seeing exactly how all those Batman accessories were put in place – the costume, the batmobile, the underground caverns. And I really liked Scarecrow. And Michael Caine and Freeman and even Rutger Hauer. Not so much Christian Bale.
So we come to Katie Holmes, and make no pretence whatsoever of being fair. I’m a Nicole Kidman loyalist and believe that Cruise should never ever have left her. And he’s settling for this?! No authority as a DA or whatever she is, no particular warmth and can’t act. Plus, doesn’t comb her hair. This is what you want? A malleable young thing grown up gazing at your posters, willing to embrace Scientology and make her life and views over to you? Oh, Tom.

They’re telling me this is the best of the Batman movies. What a good thing I can’t remember the others.

Friday, June 17, 2005


I watched Zhang Yimou’s Hero yesterday. Certain words leap to mind: beautiful, gorgeous, spectacular… you’ll look up the rest of the synonyms, won’t you, because they all apply.

This is a visual feast set in China during the Warring States period, where seven kingdoms fought for dominance. The ruler of Qin (Chen Dao Ming) is by far the most powerful and also the one most under threat by a barrage of assassins. Warrior Nameless (Jet Li) arrives at the palace with news that he has vanquished three of the king’s most deadly enemies: Sky (Donnie Yen), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai). He is granted audience but must stay at least a 100 paces from the king or be killed. As he gives the king a blow by blow account of how he dismantled the fearsome three, he is allowed closer and closer…
Finally with the warrior ten paces from him, the king realises his mistake: he is being lied to. Remarkably unflustered, he supplies his version of what must have taken place. Nameless admits it and then proceeds to tell him what really happened.

Like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and several other offerings in Asian cinema, this one is from the marital arts-as-ballet genre. Episodic, and Rashomon-like with its many versions of the same event, Hero is sumptuously visual. Both controlled and extravagant, each episode is bathed in a chosen set of colours. Red and ochre, purple and blue, green, white…
When Nameless first meets Sky, he does so in a Go house, with rain falling and an old man plucking the strings of some divine instrument. As the drops fall on the Go board, Nameless and Sky stand facing each other listening to the music, frozen but battling in their minds. I thought that must be my favourite sequence till I came to when Broken Sword and Nameless pirouette and clash swords over the waters of a lake enclosed by verdant mountains. The water drop, sweet God, the water drop.

Several years ago, I put down China on my list of places to visit before pack up. I’ve now moved it several places higher. Another resolution: explore Tan Dun, composer/conductor. He’s why it would be unfair to call Hero purely visual.

And Samanth, for doing such a good job of recommending it, thanks. Hero should be aired again on Star Movies. Watch it, people.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Right now...

Samaan-e-shauq hai ye baham

Frivolous... huh? “Not serious in content or attitude or behaviour; of little weight or importance.” So that excludes books, music, movies, hobbies, work, right? Good.
In random order, then:

Eight frivolous things that bring me joy
1. Lip balms. Right now on my dressing table: plain petroleum jelly, a luxurious banana, a tingly mint, a smooth pineapple, a so-so strawberry and a crappy sparkle gel from Streetwear.

2. Bath Accessories – soaps, bath salts, bath oils.
When Shweta brought back Lush soaps from London, we started to have a soap platter – we’ve run out of those ones but still manage to have a variety to choose from: lemon, neem, lavender, green apple, sandal…. Deliberating over which soap every day… yes, that gives me joy.
Bath oils and salts – I made a fresh bottle of rose baths salts recently – pale pink, with essence of Rosa damascena… heavenly!

3. Pedicures.

4. Stationery – paper, pens, pins.

5. Corn on the cob. Mokka bhutta. Choosing tender/medium ones from a pile, watching the vendor strip it efficiently and roast it over coal, fanning the bed to a bright red. Generous slathering of nimboo dipped in salt and kala namak. Paying man measly Rs 5 per ear, wrapping in leaves, and nip, nipping away.

6. Churans and suparis. You will have guessed by now – I can’t have one of anything, it has got to be a collection. Churans on kitchen shelf at present time – jeera goli, anaar daana, amla churan and aloo bhukhara. Suparis: pineapple, khajur, khas khas, gulkhand, couple of other assortments that don’t have names.

7. Having my cell phone conversations end at the dying seconds of a minute, extracting maximum yak for my buck. Conversely, nothing annoys me more than a call duration that reads something : 02.

8. Finding a chatty Hyderabadi autowalla when I'm by myself and feeling like some conversation.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


The monsoons arrived here today. Early this morning. Clouds so dark and so low, I could’ve touched them if I’d been a little taller. Overnight the bleached whites, browns and gold have gone, and filters have descended on the world – the blues are deeper, the pinks are pinker, everything else is purply gray.

I like this. Imagining a huge mass of cloud moving across the subcontinent casting a huge shadow as it moves north, northeast. Shade, succour, water.

I remember Bimal saying once that lightning in Kerala was quite something else. Everyone from that corner of the world agrees. I mean to do that sometime. Some year soon, I’ll pack and go visit Kerala in the last week of May. Go to the southwestern-most tip of this land, dangle my feet over the lip into the sea and see the clouds coming.

Monday, June 13, 2005


Shweta's back
Yakkity yakkity yakkity yakkity yakkity yakkity yak

Friday, June 10, 2005

Lists: The nine

Gayathri is fond of lists. She’s also fond of many many other things, so she decided to mesh her loves and come up with a few of her favourite things. Here’s her master-list of lists:

1. Nine songs I would pick if those were the only pieces I could listen to for the rest of my life
2. Eight frivolous things that bring me joy
3. Seven people (dead or alive, real or fictional people that I won’t actually ever meet!) that I would pick to have a 5 minute conversation with
4. Six best coffee/chai memories
5. Five best memories of my sister
6. Four things I could eat anytime, anyplace
7. Three places I've been to that I want to go back to

Naturally, I begged to be tagged and she did. So here’s my first list.

Nine songs I would pick if those were the only pieces I could listen to for the rest of my life
Not even allowed albums, I’m to pick individual pieces… sigh! Remember I asked for this. Countdown:

9. I’ve surprised myself by deciding on Jagjit Singh: a tie between Tum nahin, gham nahin, sharaab nahin and Kaun aayega yahaan. Solitude and Loneliness. What the heck, both. I’ll decide, like Gay says in her list, when they hold a gun to my head.

8. Ranjish hi sahi by Mehdi Hassan – this was The Hook, the first ghazal I ever heard by the master.

7. MS Subbulakshmi singing Hanuman Chalisa. In ragamala. I’ve heard people say that hearing MSS’s unmistakable South Indian accents sing the Chalisa puts them off, but this is where I learnt it from. I’ve heard other versions but you can’t beat MSS for bhaktibhava.

6. Aaj rang hai - nice looooong version by… Nusrat again or perhaps the Sabri brothers.

5. Nusrat’s Nit khair mangan. Gorgeous, simply gorgeous.

4. Rafi’s Koi sagar dil ko behlaata nahin. Had to include Kalavati and had to have Rafi. No contest.

3. Rashid Khan singing Bageshri. My all-time favourite raga to fall asleep to.

2. Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande singing Bhimpalasi. Golden afternoons are made of these.

1. Rashid Khan singing Sohni – one elaborate, elaborate piece. Or Megh. Both. No words.

Am I tagging anyone? Nah… zabardasti is no fun. But if anyone wants to, ask and ye shall be tagged.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


it’s been rafi all this week

shankar-jaikishen rafi, naushad rafi, op nayyar rafi
dilip kumar rafi, dev anand rafi, joy mukherjee-biswajeet rafi
shammi kapoor, shashi kapoor rafi
sahir rafi, shakeel rafi, majrooh rafi


Monday, June 06, 2005

Dredging Meme-ories

Booktagged by The Scab That Swung and Samanth Subramanian. And I confess it felt like a cold clap on the shoulder.

Reading the book meme everywhere on the blogosphere has been so, so fascinating and I’ve been left with a persistent feeling that it is time my reading interests were widened. Evidently, sitaaron se aage jahaan aur bhi hai.

How many books do I own?
Just the ones I bought/own? Or books in the house? Do candyfloss romances count? Er… dunno. About 600, maybe 750.

Last book bought
Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, Dick Francis’ Knock Down, Devices and Desires by PD James and an armload of M&Bs.

Last books read
Michael Critchon’s State of Fear, and all of these in Bhopal: Thrones, Dominations by Dorothy Sayers and Jill Paton Walsh, The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie, Ipsita Roy Chakraverti’s autobiography Beloved Witch, one book on Kundalini, bits from a glossary called Q is for Quantum, Dick Francis’ 10-lb Penalty.

Am in the middle of: The Blind Assassin, Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Aldous Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy.

Books that mean a lot to me
Amar Chitra Katha. They were all engrossing. I loved the cover versos that gave the sources and a little history behind each story, and so much of what I sought later – Kalidasa, folklore, the Hitopadesha, the Mahabharata – was triggered there.
Favourites: The Magic Grove, Balanagamma and Gopal and the Cowherd.

Enid Blyton. All, all of ‘em. I’ve outgrown the Famous Five, but am still addicted to the Five Find-Outers and Dog.
Faves: Malory Towers, The Enchanted Wood series, the Circus Series (I should’ve been Jimmy, of course, having tigers purring to me and eat from my hands).
Absolute favourite: The Children of the Cherry Tree Farm.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes. A lovely hardbound book, in elegant font. A gift from my parents for accomplishing something or the other. Holmes… he blew my mind. I pretended to be his ‘soul’ child for a long time – he moulded my rationality, my ‘cold-bloodedness’. I loved him so much, my 10th standard teacher once refused to go on to the next chapter of The Hound of Baskervilles because I was absent.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Another gift – from my Bapa, my grandfather. Have by no means read everything, but I can never survey my books without dipping into this one.
Told you I was reading Mansfield Park? Here are words Austen puts into the mouth of Henry Crawford: “Shakespeare one gets acquainted with without knowing how… His thoughts and beauties are so spread abroad that one touches them everywhere; one is intimate with him by instinct. No man of any brain can open at a good part of one of his plays without falling into the flow on his meaning immediately.” My sentiments.

Am I allowed dictionaries? Aaina-e-ghazal by Vinay Waikar and Zarina Sani – a dictionary especially for the ghazal, with ‘poetic’ meaning of ordinary words. Before this, I would listen to shers, put down words I didn’t know or couldn’t make out even in context, and take these scraps to my classmate and friend, Romaisa. She would take them home to her mother and bring them back the next day with meanings scrawled next to them. When my father ordered for Aaina-e-Ghazal, it enriched my life beyond measure. There is a later edition and I mean to get it, but this well-worn book is special.

Many many others: From the King of All-the-Time-in-the-World, LOTR (which is due for another reread), Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals and that excellent argument for conservation in Catch me a Colobus which turned my steps there (haven’t done anything yet, but I’m a cauldron in progress), all the Georgette Heyers, Trevanian’s Shibumi, Gary Zukov’s The Dancing Wu Li Masters (which along with a few other circumstances put everything, everything into place), Wodehouse’s Leave it to Psmith, A Damsel in Distress and the Mulliner stories, Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate… and oh, my Harry Potters.

Persons I’d like to tag? Shweta, Gayathri, Navin and Nishu (when she chooses to come out…).

My friends Alina and Sudha don’t even read my blog – I have a feeling the poor things will live and die without discovering blogs – but I’ll do my bit and tag them. Sheer vanity might get them going if the inducement of reading me can’t.

Finally, she’ll kill me for this and die a bit each day till she gets it done… PRIYA. heh heh.

Felt like mucking about in waist-deep memories, TeeGee, Samanth, but fun anyway. Thanks.

Laughter hijacked

For some weeks now, Star One has been tom-tomming its new show, the Great Indian Laughter Challenge. A quest for the best stand-up comic in the country. Well, it should at least be revealing, I thought, and plonked meself down to watch it.

THIS is Indian humour? This?! Tasteless themes - obesity, colour and nagging wives? Completely lacking in sophistication or good sense... there was even one imitation of a rooster. Used to have one kid do that at colony functions.

Shameful and saddening. yuck.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

More of what I did

Woken up nice and languorous. 10D yesterday after a long long time. After good imitation of hermit crabness, a night of dancing was just what the soul craved. The pub though was crammed and bursting at the sides.
Tot, I wore the 'Sonia Ray' type crochet overcoat, finally wore it. Plus chance to use body glitter and new colourless mascara. yippie. My lip-colour was not fuschia but in fact orangey brown.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Dina charya

Have worn nice red hand-embroidered kurta, in sympathy for my sister who needs a generous helping of the force today. Also, many compliments have come my way – I must get out more often. New kolhaps giving me a nasty bite, though.
Incidentally solved my first sudoku puzzle yesterday in 10 minutes. Yesss! Math has always been a bugbear, in spite of a 95 out of 100 in my Class 10 board exams (thought I might as well tell you what brilliance we’re dealing with here - how many chances do you imagine I have of slipping that into casual conversation?) Where was I? Yes, Sudoku doesn’t need math – you only need to know to count from one to nine and summon up a bit of logic. Good fun. It may become a habit – we shall see. Else there is always Freecell.

Thursday, June 02, 2005


Chalta hun thodi door har ik tez rau ke saath
Pehchanta nahin hun abhi raahbar ko mai

Oonchi dyodhi mere khwaja ki
mose uthro chadho na jaaye
kehdo mere khwaja ko
mori baiyyan pakadke jaaye

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Can't hardly wait

I have been putting together a calendar of fun events in July for a publication and came inevitably to the Tour de France. I have 80 measly words or so in which to describe the event, and if possible give readers an essence of what it’s really really like. Stirring words poured forth and I ended up getting all stirred up myself.
Just a month to go, just a month to go. Cannot wait.
Most evenings this July, God and Ten Sports willing, you will find the mother and me sitting at the edge of our seats, egging on the breakaways, or taking a breather to sit back and drink in the beauty of the French countryside, or breaking into sweats in utter sympathy for the riders during the brutal mountain climbs. It’s hard work just watching the Tour. Like I said, cannot wait.