Friday, December 31, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Intelligence and Knowledge

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev always makes sense to me but I particularly loved his piece in Deccan Chronicle yesterday. He talks of intelligence vs knowledge, the incisive nature of one and the burden of the other. Knowledge has always been held rather low by spiritualists - it falls short, the intellect itself is thought to fall very short when it comes to spiritual challenges. Then he touches on the burden of identities - what you think you are and the labels you pin on yourself that tell you what to think.

All of which strikes a chord, so I'm placing the whole thing here for my record.
It is very important to know the difference between intelligence and knowledge. Intelligence is like a flashlight. If you flash it, it’ll just show you what’s there. Knowledge is like a projector; if you switch it on, it will project its own story. Now, if you come with a flashlight and flash it on a painting, you will see the painting just as it is.

But if you come with a projector, which also has light in it and turn it on, you don’t see the painting but the cinema that’s running inside. Maybe you’ll see M.G. Ramachandran dancing, but not the painting the way it is. That’s the difference between knowledge and intelligence. This is why knowledge is a huge burden in the spiritual path, because it always projects its own story on life.

Now if you meet me before a class and ask me what today’s class is, I won’t know a damn thing. I don’t have the burden of knowledge in me. People who are burdened by knowledge cannot smile, cannot laugh, cannot be open to many things. When I walk on the street, I don’t walk with the burden of knowledge on me. On the other hand, intelligence is something that everybody is endowed with, but they keep their flashlights covered.

Because they like it so much, they painted the glass with their own designs, now they don’t see anything the way it is. If you value your intelligence, you should not paint it with anything; you must just leave it the way it is.

Now, the moment your intelligence gets entangled with identifications, it is all screwed up. It’s all distorted. It doesn’t show you things the way they actually are. It’ll distort everything, depending upon what types of identities you have taken. You need to understand this, if you sit here with any kind of identification, you will not see anything the way it is because the very structure of the mind will function from that identity.

If you have no identifications at all, then your mind will become still, empty like the sky. It can contain everything at the same time and not be burdened by anything. Knowledge means a certain accumulation. In that sense, knowledge is an impediment, but if you see things the way they are, that is not an impediment that is the only way you can walk clearly.

Meditation cleans the flashlight. When you become meditative, your intellectual capabilities will be at least 10 fold more than what it is right now. Not that meditation makes you intelligent, but because meditation clears up the mess, the muck that’s gathered on the glass of the flashlight. It just clears it up, more and more. As it clears up, the flashlight becomes more and more powerful; it shows you things more and more clearly.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

All about cats - 1

Cats, cats, cats in the garden. A few months ago, we had a fresh line of cats. The incumbent went missing and a new-looking series took charge. Those numbered three. All striped fellows, of which more anon.

Then, recently one of said striped fellows turned out to be a felli, er... female feline, of whom Shweta said, "Zaroor kahin muh kaala kar ke aayi hai!" It was to be expected from a young cat in vigorous health but the colour was spot on. We even know who the father is. "Not a good character," Shweta thinks, but sins of the father etc because we cannot bear to hold the father's character against the kittens. They are all black. One has a hint of white on the paws, therefore Socks. The other... well, is Doosra.

The mother is very good, as you will see by and by. Very poised for a first-timer. She is affectionate, not over protective and is a rather enthusiastic participant in all manner of rambunctious games.

When she goes off on her motherly and catly duties, she is firm that they toe the line. Her preferred hidey-hole is a small protected space we have where we house our water pump. Stay here, she tells them, and they do, come rain or shine. My dad goes spare worrying about them there, half lest they gnaw at the wires and half that they may be hurt; we now have to check everyday before we switch the motor on. And since we cannot make them leave - the Vyases have not progressed so far in cat love as to touch them - we wait till they go voluntarily.

Here are some pictures. 

Mother Cat

Safe House


Sorry for the messed up chronology but I have videos coming up of the Striped Triplets and some of the Black Twins in play. But you're used to Star Wars and all, what's a little mixed up cat genealogy?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ae ve mere peer di jugni ji

I realise I’m beginning to make a symbol of fireflies. The other day, I relished the idea of a firefly-guide, dancing ahead of me as it illuminates the path. The words for it sound so nice – jugnu, minmini, minugupurugu...
Shweta and I were trekking once in Coorg. It was a simply wonderful; each campsite during the six-day trek was special. We ploughed through spice and coffee plantations one afternoon and arrived at a flattish sort of a valley where we set up camp. It had rained earlier but the mud and fibrous grass had caked into fairly hard ground. As we sat about, we puzzled over crater-like depressions that riddled the field. Largeish depressions; in fact, I sat comfortably in one. Then we remembered we were in elephant country. These pockmarked fields had, perhaps only last night, had a wild herd cross it, and what I was sitting in was a footprint.

We had dinner around the fire and by the time we wound down to snug sleepiness, the looming hills around us came alive with fireflies. They blinked and messaged – their codes complex, secret and very beautiful.

All this to point to a new header:

tough as we sound
our eyes
on the fireflies
-Paul Pfleuger, Jr.

We have tried to be brave this year. Disbelief comes even now, especially every morning at the point before complete wakefulness. Reminders come in bald statements: Mum’s dead. Of course. It’s silly to be sissy about death. It comes to everyone and when it’s such a good one, it’s cause for rejoicing. Also the alternative to this bracing attitude is a very crumbly mess. Not a good idea. It would be unworthy, unfair to the woman who put in so much to strengthening us, and quite wrong.

It is enough to be given the occasional firefly.

The title is from this Coke Studio lyric:
Ae ve mere peer di jugni ji (oh, the light/spirit of my sainted master)

The song by Arif Lohar and Meesha Shafi is here:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Jab koi doosra nahin hota

मेरे साथ साथ सदा रहा, वो मेरी नज़र से छुपा हुआ
येह अजीब हिज्र-ओ-विसाल है, ना कभी मिला ना जुदा हुआ

He is ever with me, even if hidden from view
A strange union-separation; we never met, never parted

मेरे साथ जुगनू है और जुगनू की इस सफ़र में भी साथ क्या
ये चराग कोई चराग है, ना जला हुआ ना बुझा हुआ

I am guided by a firefly, and what a companion he is!
Is it a lamp, then? never lit, never extinguished

Happy Birthday, Amma!

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Ab lagan lagi

To hell with reality! I want to die in music, not in reason or in prose. People don't deserve the restraint we show by not going into delirium in front of them. To hell with them!
-Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Monday, July 26, 2010

Power play

It is a ridiculous situation. My laptop charger cord has worn at one point and there's a loose contact that needs to be treated with kid gloves. This has ramifications on my lifestyle. For one, I cannot occupy any seat where the cord loops around the laptop - the joint can't take such maltreatment. When I achieve the happy position of having continuous supply I cannot move lest I disturb it. To add to my woes, my battery has almost completely given up even a pretence of holding any charge whatsoever.

To which you may ask: why not get it fixed? Good point.
First, several months ago, my sister's laptop charger/adapter cord refused stoutly to work and she bought another. Three months ago, my own started to show its inner wires at one point. We took in both to be repaired, after which, for a few days, we were in the happy position of having three working wires between two laptops. Then Shweta's box went bust. Then the other one developed a problem with the pin socket. During one visit to the repairers in Secunderabad's Chenoy Trade Centre, I pulled out all three cords, each labelled neatly as to ownership and current problem.

Long story short, we are now again caught with one completely useless wire and two temperamental ones. I could get my loose connection fixed but what's stopping me is the sheer embarassment of turning up there again. So I've taped it up, sit only where the power outlet is to the right of me and endure a very painful back.

I need a new laptop.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sanson ki mala

प्रीतम, हम तुम एक हैं, जो कहन सुनन में दो
मन को मन से तोलिये, दो दो मन कब'हूँ हो

Preetam, hum tum ek hain, jo kahen sunan mein do
man ko man se toliye do do man kab'hoo na ho

On loop today, one of my Nusrat favourites, this bhajan called Sanson ki mala. There are many versions of this song - Nusrat and party have sung it at many concerts, certainly whenever they've particularly wanted to please a prominently Indian audience - but like a gosling, the one I like best is the one I heard first. It was on a world music channel on yahoo radio - a slow, mellow rendition - and I interrupted my work to make a note of its details. Greatest Hits Vol 2. And a link, if it will open on your browser, is here.

My mother loved it too. I played it for her one afternoon in the last weeks of her life. Towards the end, music didn't always succeed in distracting her from the pain, but this time it did. She nodded, chirruped and shook her head - such familiar gestures, such typical meiotic signals of deep appreciation.

हाथ चुढावत जा'अत हो, जो निर्मिल जानके मोहे
ह्रदय में से जाओ तो, तब मैं जानू तोहे

Haath chudavat ja'at ho, jo nirmil jaanke mohe
hriday mein se jaao to, tab main jaanoo tohe

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The only moving thing

I bring down this haiku by Edith Bartholomeusz that graced this header space these past weeks:

into the sun
where eyes can’t follow
a red tailed hawk

In its stead, one way of looking at a blackbird from Wallace Stevens' Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

I didn't understand this wonderful poem when I first read it; perhaps I still haven't fully. I turned it round and round as if it was a beautiful locked box, left it lying on the shelf a while, went back to examine it. Then one day when I was old enough, brave enough to let go of structure, it came through.

When poets talk, I feel sometimes, it is rude to stare at the words themselves, beautiful though they might be; that you must look politely at the spaces in between while you listen.

In this twelfth way Stevens offers, sometimes I see a rough but vivid charcoal image - the river is moving. The water is choppy, but fleetingly, fragmentedly reflected in the waters... a hint of a black bird.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Albeit a very persistent one

The world of dew—
A world of dew it is indeed,
And yet, and yet...

~Kobayashi Issa
(Trans. Lewis Mackenzie)

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

First rains

Are these the monsoons then? The skies are appropriately overcast, there are distant drumrolls but it is only the first of June! The grey clouds weren't expected here till the fifth. But they came to Kerala a day early and they must've sped indeed to be here this quickly. But the first rains have been slightly blah so far - such a slight drizzle, it took half an hour to even completely wet the ground. But slow and steady's ok - I'm willing to take the good over the interesting.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Still high

You'll be surprised at these frequent posts. But the thing is I'm having an keep-off-facebook week, maybe two weeks if I can keep at it.
I can't knock the service, of course - I'm too social a being not to enjoy it rather too thoroughly, too much of a geek not to relish how easy technology makes so many things. But it drains your time and what would once have been a mail or a post, however short, becomes a status update or a poke. And then there's this privacy thing! bah.


Still captivated by Pakistan's Coke Studio. I'm obsessing over one song a day and here is song du jour, Ali Zafar's Dastaan-e-ishq.

की दसां, की बात सुनावां इश्क दियां
ki dasaan, ki baat sunawan ishq diyaan…

What shall I tell you? How to narrate this story of love?

राँझा राँझा करदी नि मैं, आपे राँझा होई
राँझा कहो सहेलियों… मैनू हीर ना आखो कोई

ranjha ranjha kardi ni mein, aapay ranjha hoyee
ranjha kaho saheliyon…mainu heer na aakho koyee

Ranjha, Ranjha I cry... and have myself become Ranjha
Call me Ranjha, my friends, let no one call me Heer

The love story of Heer and Ranjha so permeates the Punjab that even sufis then must borrow their names, use them and own them till Heer becomes the lover, Ranjha the beloved.

This video is only a rehearsal and the final take, for some reason, was never done. But see the quality of their discards! I want a waistcoat/robe like the one Zafar is wearing here - how nice to stride about with that streaming behind you.

And oh, Coke Studio's Season Three starts June 4. Five episodes only and they air at 10.30pm IST every other Sunday. I have not managed to persuade my cable service provider to supply even one channel (CS airs on all of them) but there is apparently a ban on Pakistani channels in India and they're jibbing. There is the internet of course but nothing like catching it on TV.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Through the grill

We've had a couple of bird baths in the garden this summer and happy to say they've been a huge success. It has been murderously hot and wildlife of all sorts seem to appreciate the troughs. Needless to say, we appreciate the view and the constant stream of Discovery Channel outside our windows.
At first the troughs were greeted with some suspicion. But they stayed there doing nothing more drastic than acquiring patinas of moss and being magically refilled. When they had blended into the surroundings, looking as scruffy as everything else, they began to be accepted.

The smallest birds are the most wary and make a huge production of descending bough after bough before they sip very quickly and dart away. This sunbird was actually quite zen in her non-fluttering and allowed me one neat frame.

This is our resident Robin, and quite the only one who actually dives in without any compuction at all. Once he got into the trough briefly and flew to sit on a branch shaking and drying himself. Then clearly thinking that there was no need to be done quite so soon, he breezed down and stepped in again for this rather frolicky bath.

The babblers, when they come, are enormous fun. They don't actually bathe but they like to dip their tails in, chatter incessantly and make a huge communal thing of it. But then everything is a huge communal thing with these fellows.

We have a new litter of cats. This is a new family that's moved in - mother and four kittens, all striped and pointy-eared. They like the bigger trough and very much disconcerted the birds when they first came. We were afraid the birds would reject that one because cats had been sipping from it but realised that they weren't about to be so brahmanical about it - everyone will drink from the same pond... just not at the same time. Anyway, here are two of the kittens enjoying a snooze.

This kitten gave me the most attitude-y looks if only, alas, I had been able to quickly focus on him. But these twigs got in the way and my camera insisted it knew better. However, it has prodded me to finally learn these manual controls, so next time hopefully we'll focus on the cat.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dog Days

The last lingering days of summer are like the final leg of a long journey. Early on, you will have settled into the movement, making yourself as comfortable as possible, knowing there are a ways to go. But with only a little time left, you begin to gather your things, sit up straight and then - be it only an hour longer than you thought it might be - the wait is unbearable.

The Lady Laila was nice to us (Hyderabadis) while she visited but now that she has gone, she leaves us neither here nor there. The breeze blows as though the rains were here but they swirl about stirring and prodding the loos, deposit odd smells in our corner and it's all very unsettling. The light is strong, my migraine-pricked eyes flinch from the glare that bounces off every surface. The leaves outside my window are doing their best to soften the harshness but they don't succeed very well. Each leaf leaves a sharp shadow on the ground. Even curtained panes let in sharp slivers at the edges where the cloth flutters.

A week longer, they say, a week.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Yeh khazanein

Still stuck on Mae ni mai kinnu aakhan. I blogged about it last week, and spent a goodish time listening to various versions on the glorious youtube, the ever-expanding internet. And look what I found! Atif Aslam again with an 8½-min version - a soulful, innovative, just-right fusion version - of the song:

But the find was a small tell-tale string that drew up a treasure. As you'll see, it's a studio recording, and fabulously produced. The recording is superb, the lighting is wonderful, the shots are delicious and if the camera is obsessed with Atif Aslam's slender hands, who can blame it? It didn't seem random. Who had produced this? Was this a music label with a repertoire of sufi fusion? Was this clip made for a music video?

The productions are from Pakistan, from a series of live music recordings from a house called Coke Studio. Produced by Coca Cola and musician Rohail Hyatt, these are not music videos but in fact made for television. I have, of late, been so traumatised by what passes for music on mainstream Indian television, it took me a while to understand that that such music was produced and aired for consumption by mass audiences. Also, immensely gratifying to know it's all up there on youtube in high quality and there is PLENTY of it.
Here's the wiki page for Coke Studio, here is their website and here is the wiki entry for Rohail Hyatt.

Now, I'm not asking for an Indian version - I can't think of an Indian producer who could combine these production values with such a sense of music; I can't think of an Indian channel that would consider such a project worth their effort, or not cheapen pure music with cheerleaders, hooting audiences, large stadium-stages and festoons of pompoms.
But can't the Coke Studio performances be aired here? I was embarassed to discover this late a project that aired first in 2008. Anyway, yay for this world without borders and thanks to Coke Studio for allowing the recordings to stay in the public domain, letting them be accessed.

Before I go, another sampler. Ali Zafar and Tufail Ahmed sing Allah Hu:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Flight path

New haiku on header. I take down Robert Major's wistful poem:
Sometimes I think . . .
you would answer the phone
if I were to call

But the new one is lovely too.

into the sun
where eyes can’t follow
a red tailed hawk
~Edith Bartholomeusz

The presence of a bird, up there... somewhere. But the hawk is free to fly where it chooses, into the sun if it wants to - the watcher can gaze no more, he must look away... let the knowledge of it comfort him, when he can no longer sight it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Dard vichore da haal

I come with another of those mother-songs I spoke of a while ago. Who do I tell, mother, the pain this separation brings? It feels odd sometimes to be experiencing the biggest upheaval of my life and not have my mother to discuss it with. Never is a harsh word.

Shah Hussain's kafi, of course, talks of a different separation. A desperate search. The Master is veiled, he is not easily attained but he is there, elusive, just beyond the reach.

O mother, who do I tell,
the pain this separation brings

माये नी मैं किन्नू आखां,
दर्द विछोरे दा हाल नी

धुआं थुखे मेरे मुर्शिद वाला,
जान फूलाँ ताँ लाल नी

सूलां मार दीवानी कीती,
बिर्हौं पेय साढ़े खयाली

दुखां दी रोटी, सूलाँ दा सालन,
आहें दा बालन बाल नी

जंगल बैले फिरां
अजय पायो लाल नि

रान्झां रान्झां फिराँ ढूँडैंदी,
रान्झां मेरे नाल नी

कहे हुसैन फकीर निमाणा,
शाह मिले तान थीवन निहाल

maye ni main kinnu aakhaan,
dard vichore da haal ni

O mother, who do I tell,
the pain this separation brings

dhuan thukhay mere murshid wala,
jaan phoulaan taan laal ni

My Master’s fire spits and smoulders
Red hot, everywhere I blow

soolan mar diwani keeti,
birhoun peya saday khayali

Driven mad with spikes,
Pain of separation fills my thoughts

dukhan di roti, soolaan da saalan,
aahen da baalan baal ve

The bread of sadness, the sauce of spikes,
The fire made up of laments and sighs

jungle bailay phiran mai dhoondaindi
ajay na paayo laal ni

I wandered jungles and deserts, searching
But found not the ruby

ranjhan ranjhan phiraan dhoudaindi,
ranjhan mairay nal

I wander seeking ‘Ranjha Ranjha’,
But Ranjha is with me

kahay hussain faqeer nimanaa,
shoh milay taan theevan nihaal

Says Hussain, the poor faqeer,
Meeting the Master would be ecstasy

Here are two versions of the song. The first, a traditional rendition by Hamid Ali Bela:

And this captivating more recent interpretation by Atif Aslam:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The hush and shush of ash

Carol Ann Duffy, Britain's poet laureate, writes about the unpronounceable Iceland volcano and (please, I beg, note the pun) its fall-out.

Five miles up the hush and shush of ash.
Yet the sky is as clean as a white slate
I could write my childhood there.
Selfish to sit in this garden, listening to the past.
A gentleman bee wooing its flower, a lawnmower.
When the grounded planes mean ruined plans, holidays on hold,
saw absences at weddings, funerals.
Windless commerce.
But Britain’s birds sing in this spring from Inverness to Liverpool,
From Crieff to Cardiff, Oxford, London Town, Land’s End to John O’Groats.
The music, silence summoned, that Shakespeare heard,
and Edward Thomas.
Briefly, us.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Saas, bahu aur asar

Media analyst Sevanti Ninan writes a significant piece in The Hindu (4 April 2010) this Sunday. A very interesting article in which she discusses Indian television serials, what comes across as regressive content and the unexpected, unforeseen effect it seems to have had on women exposed to them.
TV soaps with bizarre, regressive storylines pay scant respect to notions of women's empowerment. Yet, they seem wildly popular and, according to some studies, empowering too. Are these script writers more in touch with reality than literal-minded activists and journalists?
she asks.

Ninan quotes Prime Time Soap Operas on Indian Television by Shoma Munshi, which in turn partly bases its conclusions on research by Robert Jensen and Emily Oster on the effects of cable television in rural areas of India. Taken together, the argument is that Indian soaps are actually empowering women, that "regression" depends on the point of view. In her piece Ninan wonders at the results and the very convoluted route to empowerment.

The whole story is up here at The Hindu and here on The Hoot.

I responded to the article and the link is here at The Hoot.
And here, for my record, is all of it.


A response to 'Is this empowerment?'

I found myself laughing a little over Sevanti Ninan's bewilderment in the piece (Is this empowerment?) reprinted from The Hindu. As someone who bestrides what seems to be a chasm, I am tempted to respond. I am a modern woman - I am intelligent, I have a media degree, I'm a mediaperson (of sorts), I'm feminist (I like to paint in my own shades but the broad umbrella will do). Also I watch serials avidly - it started because I like the TV on and I prefer glittery clothes to the news. But lately, because it fascinates me.

As the writer says, there is a world of difference in perception. The casual disinterested viewer -­ or more particularly, the casual, contemptuous journalist/activist - is appalled at the goings-on in serials; the regular viewer cannot be persuaded to move her eyes from the screen enough to feed her squalling children. For a very long time now, media-watchers and analysts have berated the average viewer for her tastes, shuddered and averted their eyes from the gaudy colours, the campy vamps and the bizarre plotlines, and tried rather desperately to uplift everyone's frame of mind.

They have not succeeded. The serials have gone on being made and, more importantly, they have gone on been consumed. If Balaji Telefilms is no longer the market leader, it doesn't matter any more. They have handed on the torch of that particular stamp of television - it has grown many more heads.

Why these serials thrive is an interesting question. The easy, lazy answer is that these hordes of nameless women across the country (and in neighbouring Pakistan) are fools. That they don't know any better. That they could be watching... oh, I don't know what but certainly something more educative.

However, I don't think that is true. I think our middle class is peopled with sensitive, intelligent, attentive women capable of nuanced thinking - I have several TV fanatics myself among my family and friends; I even adore a large number of them. In which case, we must go by Holmes: when you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. We must consider that women are gaining something from this; that they are not merely swallowing whole every broad stroke of apparent regressiveness; that they are entertained; that they are sifting, sorting and picking nuggets that fit in with their current social constructs - and even moving ahead in desirable directions with whatever subtle manoeuvres are available to them. That in spite of the disastrous-seeming package it comes in, Indian TV serials MUST be doing something right.

I was delighted to learn from this article that even so far back as 2001-2003 - the very initial years of the saas-bahu sub-genre - the serials had such a positive impact. It also bears out my own persistent feeling that there is a great deal of difference between what appears to be the message and what is actually absorbed - because there is no other way to explain why they fascinate this huge mass of audience, why they have continually done so this entire decade.

Is it merely that these serials engage in women's concerns? Kitchen politics, in the broad scheme of things, may be insignificant. But perhaps to the woman trapped in it, it helps to have someone examine her situation? TV serials, after all, are not primarily for the outgoing modern woman with various exciting options for her evening's entertainment. They are watched (we assume) by women who have just finished their household chores; the woman who comes, at the end of the day, to her place in front of the television, where the rest of family resignedly relinquishes the remote. Even that, to my mind, is no small victory. It is understood across Indian households now that primetime television is the woman's right - in spite of scoffing malefolk in the background, she is entitled to watch her serials; moreover it is understood, by and large, that she is not to be disturbed as she does it.

Coming now in particular to Pratigya, which Ninan quotes. I'm not arguing for a minute that the plotline isn't utterly shocking, or that there is something right about marrying a harasser. But to see the “power of women”, or the charm of “Pratigya character”, the devil is in the details.

It is a piquant situation. There are two families that are contrasted here: Pratigya's refined, educated family with its genteel manners, and Krishna's rowdy, coarse, wealthy but unlettered folk, as ready with their fists as they are with abuses. Pratigya, for Krishna, is the aspiratonal goal. He wants her, he has got her. Now he needs her approval, he needs to measure up to her and is doing everything possible to please her, to be worthy of her. Through her eyes he now sees his family. A household in which his mother is kicked and punched the minute she steps out of line, where the older bahu is slapped down fairly regularly. I imagine it would curl quite a few stomachs (it did mine) to hear the maid servant inform her mistress with coy triumph that the bahu has already been ‘worshipped' for the day - she means the daily beating, of course. It is appalling. But as a study of how women buy into and participate in the suppression of their own kind, it shows a mirror.

I understand the writer's horror at Krishna's popularity. The context, however, is that he comes of such stock. He has a brother against whom he is measured - the brother (Shakti) is completely a product of his background, while Krishna questions it. Shakti buys into the male hegemony; Krishna is willing to see other sources of power. Krishna is ordered, pressured, mocked into abandoning his support of his wife on the grounds that such devotion makes him very unmanly - he has (so far) resisted attempts with commendable firmness.

Krishna's own (very crude) sister is now married into Pratigya's mild family - their unkindness is of a rather different kind. They sniff at her, they ignore her, they will have no truck with her - curiously, for someone used to being hurled abuses at and pushed around, she still finds their reception of her unbearably hostile. Her abrasive manner only thinly masks her hurt at the rejection. The families are deadlocked in a rather interesting situation, for each has a daughter hostage in the enemy camp.

The social milieu in Pratigya and recent developments in the show throw up a few note-worthy points:

  • Neither family wants to continue to stay in the situation it finds itself in. Most of the characters would rather retrieve their girl and break relations (the situation is being held in place by Krishna, who still desperately wants a good marriage with Pratigya and hopes to bring her around.) Marriage, apparently, is no longer a lifelong commitment. Interestingly, neither family makes any concerned noises at all about their daughter's future, should such a break happen. It makes a contrast from even a decade ago when we were told repeatedly that once a woman's ‘doli' had entered a portal, only her ‘arthi' could leave it.
  • The Thakur family, in spite of its violent habits, does not actually have the stereotyped silent, suppressed women. They talk back, they argue, they fight. When they are abused, they exhibit no very great weakness - if it is an indignity, they do not permit it to touch them deeply. They brush it off, get up again and contrive to have their voices heard.
  • Only last week, Pratigya refused to have her name changed in her sasural; refused to have her identity taken away and be demeaned by having another name foisted on her.
  • Krishna's mother hates her daughter in law Pratigya because her son backs her to the hilt. It is a hate born of deep envy. It brings home to her the inadequacies of her own life, a glimpse what she might have had, viz., a husband who respects her.
  • Pratigya's father has now managed to negotiate for his daughter an environment that contains books. The Thakur family is feeling backfooted because they cannot read, while their bahu can.
Incidentally I have bad news for some viewers - in the week to come, Pratigya is about to be raped by her hitherto forbearing husband. Doubtless the twist is led by the TRP race but there is also no doubt that it will trigger a rather invisible, subterranean debate on marital rape.

I've been rather long winded about this - but the point, I suppose, is that these serials do occasionally shine the light on what exists; and that depiction doesn't always amount to ratification. Unfortunately, there has been a rather dismissive attitude to popular culture - as if low-brow material must necessarily lack sensibility. To draw a small lesson from Bollywood, not all the cinema and literary work before it managed to make homosexuality as acceptable to middle-class India as Dostana (2008) did. The movie took the idea, wrapped it up affectionately and placed it before the masses, who, to their credit, considered it and accepted it. It was a gentle transaction.

The stories streaming into our drawing rooms may not preach in an ‘acceptable' way. It is possible that they just show, allowing for people see themselves, recognise themselves and wherever possible, identify with this or the other character? They do this to the accompaniment of high melodrama. The saas-bahu genre is now heavily stylised, with its own vocabulary, make-up (what are the bindis and hair-dos but equivalents of the white hat/black hat or Kathakali costumes for positive and negative stereotypes), and a distinct style of editing involving many white flashes.

In spite of the presentation, merely the fact that television serials deal with a long line of female protagonists is encouraging. The female life is being rather thoroughly examined - the child bride, the new bride, the wife, the mistress, the mother, the businesswoman, the ruler, the matriarch. Not even Bollywood has paid us that compliment.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ye shaam

The light is diffused strangely today. The mood is uncertain, tinted with a surrealistic hue. I want to be anywhere but where I am, but not any place that you could suggest to me. And even if you were able, by a happy coincidence, to come up with such a place that could please me this minute, the bother of going there daunts me, imbues the whole enterprise with distaste.

बाग़ में लगता नहीं, सेहरा से घबराता है दिल
कहाँ ले जाके बैठे ऐसे दीवाने को हम

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Multani hours

It must be the warmth. Every afternoon these days, after the meal, eyelids weigh down, the nerves go numb. I take out my white white sheet, still cool from the cupboard, bring out the afternoon pillow and snuggle in.
A few weeks later it will be impossible to sleep - the hotness will whip in our faces and as soon as we have managed to sink a few inches deep, the power will go. So now to make the most of this. Good afternooon.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Listen, mother

It is customary for traditional poets, those who lament in Punjabi, Sindhi, Urdu, to bring in the mother somehow. Questions, rhetorical questions, are asked of the maae, exhortations are made - tell him, mother! where do I go, mother? how shall I bear this, mother? I have befriended a hawk, mother!
It is a poetic device, I tell myself. But there is no denying that I have come across an inordinate number of such laments today. Here is one by Shiv Kumar Batalvi:

माये नि माये,
मेरे गीताँ दे नैणा विच
बिरहों दी रडक पवे...
अधि अधि रातीं उठ
रोण मोये मित्राणु
माये, साणु नींद न पवे...

Listen, mother,
My songs are eyes
Stinging with grains of separation.
In the middle of the night,
They wake and weep for dead friends.
Mother, I cannot sleep.*

*Translation: Suman Kashyap

And you must listen to this man sing it:

Monday, February 15, 2010

In Which We Go Back to the Basics

Gather around, children, for Baba Sheetal has some advice. She will share pearls of wisdom wrought from her own experience.

Once in a way, you will feel that the world has gone wrong, or worse, that you have gone wrong in it. The impulse is for the mind to run hither and thither examining various probable reasons for the malaise. If you are like Baba Sheetal and many of her girlfriends, this will induce a prolonged analysis of the life sitution - one's motivations, one's desires, one's success, one's energy; questions on where one is and where one wants to go and what one must do about it.

Far be it for me to criticise such an exercise! It is important and must be undertaken by every thinking female once a week, or at least once a fortnight if one is in a particularly healthy emotional frame of mind.

However, I suggest to you that there might be other ways to tackle these little crises. If time is short and there is no time for a full analysis, to call friends and talk till ears on both sides of the conversation are hot and red from the phone being pressed so close, do not worry. There are a few emergency measures.

1) The minute you discover that you have been feeling out of sorts for a couple of hours, go immediately to the water dispenser and down three large glasses of water. After an interval of half an hour, down two more.

2) Sit down for five minutes. Sit straight, take off footwear, let the feet touch the ground. Take in 20 deep and long breaths. Take, if you can, 20-30 seconds for each inhale and 20-30 secs again for the exhale. Remember to breathe right into the stomach.

3) Take a tub. Put in one palmful of rock salt, two fat drops of oil (cooking/gingelly/mustard/olive) and any essence you like, if you like. Fill it with hot water and soak your feet for 15 mins. Pour water down the drain.

These three should hold you in till you can get help or get over the issue. Remember a well hydrated, well aerated and decontaminated (subtle) body equals a happy person! I shall now sit back and wait for your fervent thanks.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ketaki, gulaab, juhi...

Shivaratri has come and gone, and like my Bapa used to say, the cold has retreated on a 'siva, siva!' I'm being fanciful but the cold was distinctly backfooted this morning. Spring-Summer smells are rising, summer light has started to stream in, the bulbuls are pichkuing with renewed vigour. Much as I enjoy winters, I'm feeling very cheered by the strengthening sun.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Season of Mists

I have been behindhand in uploading my travel pieces but I've really been wanting to. My travel to Meghalaya was memorable. I've said before how some places, some views force the mind open to other worlds, other possibilities. There were many such scenes here. Scenes that sometimes bubble up from the murky depths of consciousness, if you're sitting quiet for a moment, vacant.
This piece appeared in the July 2009 issue of Outlook Traveller, the monsoon issue. The link is here.


A Walk in the Clouds

On the subject of entrancing places, M.M. Kaye talks of names “that possess a peculiar, singing magic in every syllable; like Samarkand or Rajasthan, or Kilimanjaro…” In that list she should include Meghalaya, the ‘Abode of Clouds’. Round the vowels a touch full, stretch the ‘a’ that links ‘megh’ and ‘aalaya’…The name presages dream-like vistas—a magical land with its head perpetually in the clouds.

It is best said at the outset so you can paint them into your mental frames: Meghalaya’s colours are white and green. The white of cloud and mist is “a shining and affirmative thing” but the green—the green annihilates everything “to a green thought in a green shade.” The colours form backdrop to everything – the roads, the landscapes, the ubiquitous waterfalls. The verdure is not surprising, of course, given that the small state gets an awful lot of rain. On average it receives 12,000mm each year – more than any other state in the country.

I was hoping for rain – some vigorous showers would add much-desired verisimilitude to a monsoon travel story – but not too much. In the event, it rained quite precisely to plan. So here I was ensconced in the beautiful resort Ri Kynjai, sitting out in the balcony overlooking the equally beautiful Umiam Lake, watching clouds gather. They were light-hearted at first, and light-coloured. But the grey seeped in, darkening the skies, darkening the lake and the clouds burst all over with unabashed drama.

I drove that evening along rain-drenched hill roads with no very particular destination. I peeped into a nearby Jesuit monastery, stood at spectacular vantage points everywhere. I passed through villages, where, with only a small concession to the rain in form of something held over their heads, people continued with chores outside. You cannot, I suppose, put off your tasks till the downpour has exhausted itself if you’ve known it to last 20 days.

Shillong was a slight surprise. A hill town, with narrow winding roads meeting big city with its buses, choked traffic and teeming office goers. I hadn’t known it to be such a centre for education, that it attracted students from all the Northeastern states; hadn’t expected to be caught in traffic jams. Local Khasi women manned the shops everywhere, their manner a nice mixture of brisk politeness. They are a matrilineal tribe and tend to produce independent women. In the business centres of the city, women sped about wearing the traditional two-piece Jainsem. I was very taken with the garment – it fell so gracefully, seemed to afford ease of movement and, going by the variety on Shillong’s streets, could be very smart indeed. When I walked about Police Bazaar, I looked for Jainsems at the wonderful shops there. The salesgirls have coached me on how to wear them – one of these days, I mean to dazzle my friends by turning up in it.

The morning went to some tourist activity – waterfalls and peaks that make for cosy picnic spots, and I was fascinated by the sacred grove near Smit. A group of trees standing together in a stately manner, conscious of their dignity and their hallowed status. Meghalaya’s landscape is dotted with such delicious significances – there are over 80 such groves or law kyntangs dedicated to forest spirits, and several ancient stone circles and monoliths that supposedly serve as memorials.

There was a rare treat in store that afternoon. Everywhere in Shillong, I had noticed small box shops, all prominently displaying a slate with four numbers chalked out on them. The significance was lost on me till Amar Rai of Ri Kynjai led me with a grin to Siat Khnam, introducing me to a lottery by archery that Meghalaya is obsessed with. It was an amazing scene. What happens is this: some 50-60 archers stand in an arc and shoot at a haystack for four minutes. The number of arrows is counted and the last two digits are announced. Bets are placed daily on what the numbers might be: your investment could be as little as one rupee, which could earn you eight if you’re a good guesser; the second round of shooting yields a little less — six rupees to one. There is, of course, no upper limit and bets are often placed to the tune of thousands of rupees. Fortunes are made on the teer, I was told, and the gambling is both compulsive and, as I found, terribly infectious. I placed modest sums on a clutch of favourite numbers and stood back. The archers took aim, the start was announced and a rain of arrows shot across the field, most embedding themselves in the stack. It was spectacular. It was over a few minutes later, and some of the watchers rushed over to the betting booths, quite certain they had the right count.

The counting began, with proper transparency. I moved in front to take a picture and was hastily shooed away – I had briefly blocked the view of investors who waited like hound dogs for the verdict, keen-eyed, alert and noses aquiver. 81 and 20! Alas, one more arrow and I would’ve made a tidy sum. Phone calls were placed, SMSes went hither and thither broadcasting the numbers and I could imagine men in box shops all over the state, reaching out for their placards and writing out the fresh results – dashing hopes, making fortunes.

I made my way to Cherrapunji the following day. It has for long held the record for being the “wettest place on earth” but the record is now regularly tossed back and forth between Cherra and neighbouring Mawsynram. I was going to stay not in the town proper but at Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort, 17km away. The route was incredibly picturesque – the plains of Bangladesh lay below, obscured by swirling mists and small waterfalls gurgled here and there. Cherrapunjee Resort does not have too much by way of competition, but it does not believe in resting on its laurels for it made its presence felt throughout the 17km-stretch. Boulders advertised the joys to come – the living-root bridges, the caving adventures, the wonderful treks and went on to become increasingly ambitious “Tourism to conserve top soil” and “Tourism for sustainable development”. There was no doubting the earnestness behind all this.

The resort turned out to be a pleasant place – modest but nicely located, with clear views of the hills around. The owner Denis P. Rayen is an interesting man with a fascinating history. Married to a Khasi, this banker from Madurai has established himself here against many odds. It was he who worked to bring the now famous living-root bridges to the attention of the world, and he relentlessly plugs Cherrapunji as a place “every meteorologist should visit at least once in their lifetime.” His agenda in two-fold: one, purely scientific, for the phenomenon of excessive rain in Cherrapunji enthrals him; the other, he wishes to help the Khasi people with alternate livelihoods.

There are a few living-root bridges around the resort – the most interesting one, a two-tiered double-decker at Nongriat would take all day to trek to but another at Ummunoi could be reached in half a day. The forest plantation engulfed us as we made our way down the steep mossy path. “The green part is slippery, madam,” my guide said helpfully. I had to bite back a laugh and the urge to ask him to show me one square inch only that wasn’t ‘green’.

The bridge itself was fabulous. About 200 years old, the roots of the Indian rubber tree on either side have been trained by local tribesmen to grow across the stream, and they hold strong in a glorious organic network. The first one was made in Cherra, I learnt, and later duplicated all over the region.

As we sat outdoors that evening, munching on roasted cashews with fireflies darting all around us, I tried to understand why exactly it is that Cherrapunji receives so much rain. The explanation involves moisture-laden clouds travelling unhindered for over 400km before they crash into the Khasi Hills. The orography of the region adds its twist and Cherrapunji gets rained on – a lot.

Leaving behind the mist-kissed cliffs of Cherra with a trace of regret, I made my way to Mawlynnong, a village almost on the Bangladesh border. My choice wasn’t random: Mawlynnong has a reputation for being the “cleanest village in Asia”. The Meghalaya Tourism Development Forum (MTDF) has worked hard to position the village as a rural tourism destination, going to great lengths to create tourist-friendly conditions. They have succeeded very well indeed, perhaps too well.

The guesthouse specially created for overnight guests is an utterly charming place. Raised on stilts, the hut is built with traditional materials and overlooks a thicket and small waterfall. The larger of the two accommodations has a machan propped on the uppermost branches of a tree – a childhood dream come to life. The village is pretty – flowers bloom in every hue and in great profusion. Also, there is no denying Mawlynnong is extremely clean – the roads are metalled, a large parking lot accommodates visiting cars, a teashop does brisk business and visitors line to clamber up ‘Sky View’, a tall, bamboo tower that affords a view of the Bangla plains yonder.

For the people of Mawlynnong, I suspect, this is a balancing act. They are proud, justifiably proud, of the ‘clean’ tag. Indeed Khasi households everywhere are impeccably kept. More than half the times I saw a Khasi woman throughout my stay, she would be out washing or drying clothes, or sweeping out her yard. On the other hand, they are very private. They seem to dislike being photographed and they are a subtle people, their manners complex and full of nuances. Every gesture is significant; their need for politeness is very high. To be viewed as they are, like fish in a glass bowl, must surely annoy them? Their urban visitors bring in money but they are also occasionally boorish, certainly brash by Khasi standards.

Deepak Laloo, the MTDF man behind Mawlynnong’s tourist thrust, is also concerned about how the constant interaction may change the villagers’ traditional way of living. He took me along to visit a family – friends of his – in the village. I was led hospitably indoors to sit by the kitchen fire and offered tea and slices of pineapple. The children came in from play and one ran across as Ba Laloo and I sat talking. He was summoned back by his elders to have his ear pinched: he had broken our line of gaze – unacceptable behaviour!

I touched down in Delhi to find that only six days in Meghalaya had altered me. I blinked at the grey, flinched at the honking and felt more than a little bewildered. The culture shock I hadn’t felt going in showed up coming back.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Something fresh

Television is a great source of comfort to me. When I have time for TV, it means that I’m at my base state, with enough mindspace to spare from my life, from whatever is occupying my days. Luckily there have been many such days, many such periods where I’ve followed series with great relish, bemoaning the trends in themes and programming, or merely sighing over whatever current ship I’ve been floating on.

Ekta Kapoor, of course, reworked the television landscape to an unrecognisable extent. Balaji Telefilms may have passed its prime but the effects still linger – when the Indian TV industry is in doubt, it still falls back on Kektaisms. She brought in the saas-bahus, she brought in the daily soaps, she turned everything on its head so comprehensively we could see no other way to do it.

What has me excited now is Sony TV and its new batch of programming, because we may be seeing the return (fanfare...) of the weekly show. When was the last time we saw one? I can’t remember watching any after Hotel Kingston on Star One. Many reasons to welcome the trend, of course – once a week means there is a possibility for diverse genres; that the story is treated differently as far as pacing, editing and cliffhangers go; the series is bound to enjoy higher production standards, cater to different audiences and simply BE better because the creative team has more time over the episode they’re presenting. Even in the case of your standard romance or soap-like plotline, hopefully it is possible to create story arcs that can be treated more naturally than they are in daily soaps, and to actually end plots that are wanting to end.

After Indian Idol and the highs of Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahi, Sony TV fell into the most depressing slump. I have of late been appalled by their schedules - back-to-back episodes of their one truly enduring series, CID. The investigative drama is fun but how much of it?! But new things now. Yash Raj Films now has a subsidiary wing creating content for Sony TV to be aired on weekends. Karan Johar starts a new talk show, Lift kara de with (who else but) Shah Rukh Khan and there is a thriller about cops on the drug trail called Powder. Now these two don’t interest me at all. Karan Johar I can leave with pleasure, and although I watched Doordarshan’s Subah with wide-eyed fascination, gritty dark dramas of this sort are not really my thing. However there are two rom-coms, Mahi Way and and, finally, a homegrown fantasy thriller called Seven, a superhero series apparently on the lines of Heroes, which I desperately hope is a hit, if only to inspire more of the sort.

I’m slightly disappointed that Sony, having decided to buck the trend, went with only one content provider to produce all these shows – another monopoly when we need diversity. Also Yash Raj, I have been feeling, has become rather too cynical, too formulaic a player under Aditya Chopra. In spite of the reservations, though, I’m happy with the beginning. If it takes (and it should seeing there’s such a hole in programming over weekends) every channel will follow suit and that means a sea-change all over again. Very exciting.

Oh, I found this title song for DD’s Subah, in case anyone’s feeling nostalgic: