Thursday, December 15, 2011

Against a deadline

Sixteen minutes to go to my 7pm soap. What can I say that's worthwhile? Incoherent again.
Thoughts - dark ones - on definitions, labels, the desire for solidification, self-aggrandisement. On how self worth often stands precariously balanced on an assortment of sneers.
Sonu Nigam, Chetan Bhagat, Paulo Coelho - easy targets for anyone. Free potshots for anyone at all who has only learnt what is cool and what is not. And yet, these guys are sturdy enough to prop people as they haul themselves up whatever ladder it is they want to be high up on. Easy, isn't it, to tell everyone how well read you are, how refined your tastes with one look of disgust and a mention of Paulo Coelho? 

Anyway. A link.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thoughts on Rockstar

I saw Rockstar last week. Late night show at the local theatre after a busy day – we were tired and in that strangely receptive stage where the mind doesn’t interrupt too much, butt in to filter, analyse or slot. The viewing left a few swirling images in my head that I have been trying to coalesce into a blog post, but it wouldn’t happen.

I liked it, I think. I’m still not able to write about it coherently but a few points:
  • First, very happy to see Imtiaz Ali back – he had lost it, I feel, with Love Aaj Kal… had become too bemused by his previous success but the sureness is back. Rockstar is a very different movie from Socha na tha or Jab we met but the theme – success and satisfaction – which he had touched upon* in Love Aaj Kal is back.
  • I found Rockstar to be a rather touching story – Jordan’s that is. Intense but not knowing it… seeking, desperately seeking – not success but maybe fulfilment. Finally success comes, and with it, fame – a many fanged beast. Ranbir Kapoor was a revelation. I liked him in Rocket Singh and I loved his projection of Jordan in this one – angry, vulnerable, nice, spiritual, unwise, urgent, desperate, frustrated, unhappy, explosive. 
  • The love story, which I later learnt from an interview, was supposed to echo the Heer Ranjha saga, was a let-down. I felt annoyed that it hijacked the second half, dragging us away from the singer’s transformative journey. Nargis Fakhri, though pretty, simply didn’t hold. Some shots simply shouldn’t have been okayed.
  • I see now that Heer was necessarily required to be married to keep with the love story it was shadowing, but I thought her character annoyingly vacillating. Unaware, unfair in that despicably cowardly way, that typical portrayal of femme fatales – the ‘Jules et Jim’ variety, Shweta calls them - capricious, wilful, unreasonable, stupid, destructive.
  • I loved, simply loved the Hazrat Nizamuddin sections. How amazing, how liberating to live like that, learn like that, be like that.
  • The music was disappointing – it held in the movie but I don’t remember any of them, which for AR Rahman is very surprising. I think he needs to return to melody. Urgently.
  • And then, of course, Shammi Kapoor, who in a brief role, so nicely deepens our understanding of the Rockstar’s inner quest.

*PS. Just an aside about this song from Love Aaj Kal, which leaped outside its context for me (I rather disliked the movie). About the things we think we want and what happens when we get them. It’s not very subtle and very few of us go that spare at the first sign of boredom but hey, well, it’s one song.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The listener, who listens in the snow

Moving from the eternal:

sab dharti kaagaj karun, lekhni sab banrai
saath samudra ki masih karun, Guru gun likha na jaaye
- Kabir

to the seasonal again. Haiku poet David Caruso saying:

snowflakes . . .
no two winters
quite the same

I have held this poem close to my heart for a couple of years now. That we don’t actually get any snow here is quite beside the point; the reputation of the snow flake precedes it, the very word brings up a fragile, ephemeral pattern of irreplicable beauty.

Snowflakes. The poet throws in the word – and the world of the poem. Then as you settle into a generic mind of winter, he reminds us that no two are quite the same. He is very right. I can remember the winters of at least four years past, and I fancifully find myself in a tableau. In something like a snow globe, perhaps. Standing stock still in the middle of winter, and the events drifting around me – one year’s events nothing like another’s. And I, filmed in gentle time-lapse, every time caught up in new insights, losing and gaining, dissolving and building, changing, changing, changing.  

The winter of 2009 comes to mind again, brings not quite pain but the memory of pain:
a nursing home blanket
over all her sharp edges —
- Jennifer Gomoll Popolis

This winter is going to be different too – it may even be beyond words.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Tailorbird Update

We were late with bringing in the clothes from the clothesline and the buckets, and I have frightened Mr India away.

Of course, you know India from here. We hadn't given him a name then, not quite realising that this was to be such a long relationship as to require these niceties. But he has been visiting regularly, putting the back verandah out of use for us every evening. The name was bestowed recently by my 7-year-old niece who caught sight of him and then asked to see the species properly in the book. 'Oh, he's green and white and orange,' she said, 'I think you should call him India.' So we do.

Today, he was alert but stayed as long as I moved about some distance away but I was too ambitious - I reached for buckets less than four feet from him and he flew off. He'll be back, of course and, what's more, bring the missus with him. (Yes, our bachelor has settled down and our hopes that he would leave to make his adventurous way about the world have evaporated, for he brings her daily, and we will probably see their fledgelings too.) Now that winter has set in, he comes earlier every day. It used to be 6.30pm, now he's settling in by 5.45pm. He gets very bashful if we catch him at him - awkwardness at this shameless infringement, no doubt - but by eight or nine, he hardly notices us unless we are very loud.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Poorna chandrama gagan viraaje

full moon
my monthly loss
for words
-Yvonne Cabalona

Moon-struck today. It is the season of Sharad... the dark, thick blankets of cloud that hid it from view these past months have been swept away, the moon now has only some wisps attached to it, framing it for artistic effect.

I am more receptive to the full moon tonight than I can ever remember. It seemed the perfect, the absolutely perfect occasion to share this gem from Veena Sahasrabuddhe as she cascades rippling moonlight through the ether.

Raag Madhukauns, I understand, is a creation of Ustad Salamat Ali Khan sahab and I have had the immense pleasure of hearing a magical rendition of it by him and his brother Nazakat Ali Khan. But tonight, you must hear this bandish:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

This day, that age

My mother had been excited about turning 60. She always had a shrewd head for money matters and she had been looking forward to the better interest rates she would get as a senior citizen. Luckily she did turn 60 if only for a couple of months. This day, two years ago, she knew she was dying. She had a cake, friends around her, close family visiting, a beloved nephew who flew in to see her, a music system gift from her brother that distracted her from pain in the final weeks ... it was a good last birthday.

Happy Birthday, Maw! You know the prayers I have for you.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Tasmayi Sri Gurave Namah

New header for this day. A doha that keeps coming back to me, more often these days. Kabir describing, or rather, declaring his inability to describe the glory of the Guru. He is grandiloquent, almost:

सब धरती कागज करूँ, लेखनी सब बनराई
साथ समुद्र की मसीह करूँ, गुरु गुण लिखा ना जाए

Sab dharti kaagaj karun, lekhni sab banrai
Saath samudra ki masih karun, Guru gun likha na jaaye

Even if I made all of earth the paper, pens of all its trees
Sooty ink, the seven oceans... the Guru could not be described.

Clearly there is nothing to be said, except:
 नमो नमः श्री गुरु पादुकाभ्याम...

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ganapati Bappa!

It's Ganesh 'chanda' time again and I have just now not managed to shoo away the third set of donation seekers for the morning. We can't remember all the faces and have no way of knowing if we've paid this party before - but Rs 20 per group is not too large a sum for the entertainment they provide, so we're grinning and bearing it.

One bright, hopeful fellow yesterday prompted my father to return to his wallet and fork out more. I was about to fortify Pater's defence before I heard the rest of it: "21 rupees iyyali, uncul!" Chastened, my dad went back to the coin dabba and gave them a rupee more. Then, the group insisted that he should have a receipt. Father was embarrassed to receive a receipt for such a small amount but our donees were determined to be very proper.

My turn today to pay one lot. I wasn't sure if this was a repeat and squinted at the previous receipt for some hint of name or precise location of this pandal. It yielded no such information. A nice colour paper. The inevitable icon of Ganesha to one corner, 'Sri Ganesh Utsava Samithi' in Telugu and also, 'Chanda raseedu'. Signed 'Teesukunna vaari santakamu'. All very discreet.

Anyway, I gave them the usual quota, this time armed with the necessary coin. They waved the receipt book questioningly. I nodded. They spelt the name and amount out laboriously, didn't bother to sign at all under 'Teesukunna vaari santakamu' and tore it off with a flourish.

"Ee receipt books ekkada doruktayi?" I asked. The faces brimmed with satisfaction. "Marwari kottula doruktayi. 12 rupees."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Safai e qalb

The region of the heart is a luminous space, pulsing a pleasing cadence. Usually.

But here is let in inky fumes of red-black substance! Blinding, spreading haze. The creature darts in frantic evasion but the discoloration grows. Diffuses and grows till it gathers you up in its swirl. Rest quiet, if you can; do not flap about: a limp acquiescence may save you yet. But you won't, of course.

Once the black storm is done, you clean house. Pump in fresh goodness by way of sweet breath. Or by expelling the poison from the pores. But waiting is good – the muck leaches out eventually, leaving, if you’re lucky, no trace. The shrine is pleasant once more. Only, a little wary.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Khala ka ghar nahin!*

Header change. From this haiku
in a nut shell
there is never
enough room
-Yu Chang
I move to another:
walking alone —
my face
-Hilary Tann

This little poem appealed to me whenever I read it. It is true, isn't it, that we are more sharply in focus in company, that we float at bit, blur about the edges when we are by ourselves, wake up sometimes not knowing who we are?

I jump to another thought now but there are invisible connections. When I was a young girl, I told myself that I was an individualist. That the West had it right - the person mattered, being subsumed in community as we run things here in the East was a scary idea. It was, of course, self preservation speaking. Over time there has been a volte face. I have come to admire the Eastern way. Did you know that the word dehaat (village) comes from deh, Hindi for the body? The village is seen as an organic entity, the people who dwell there do so like the many limbs and organs, all varied, all important, all integral. Of necessity then, the components must be more fluid, more malleable - less individual.

Swami Tejomayananda calls it sattvika jnana.
The hands, the head and the legs are all different, but in my understanding I know that all these form part of “me”... Suppose my finger accidentally pokes my eye, I will not cut off the finger because it has hurt my eye. I will use the same finger to rub my eye and console it. Also, if by mistake we bite the tongue, do we remove the teeth and punish them? No, because the teeth are also part of myself and are just as dear to me as every other part of my body. When there is a sense of oneness, there is love.

I have come to see that this letting go of oneself, this taking apart of 'me' as a highly desirable thing. It is easier said than done. Walking alone, my face might disassemble slightly, even better to sit with my face raised to the skies, then it does dissolve a bit.... but so difficult, so difficult!

In today's Deccan Chronicle, Sadia Dehlvi speaks about the whirling dervishes. She quotes Kabir Helminski, a reputed contemporary scholar and shaykh of the Mevlevi Order, who describes the state of the one who whirls: “There are many dimensions to this experience. Firstly, one has to be able to turn, and to do that one has to become empty inside. Empty, free from all internal dialogues, but fully aware. A state of balance is required to turn on an axis, so centred in one’s own being”.

Empty but aware. It seems to me, we can do nothing till we are able to hold contradictions comfortably, go nowhere till we transcend them.

* From Kabir:
Kabir yeh ghar prem ka, khala ka ghar nahin
sees utaare haath kar so pasey ghar mahin

कबीर यह घर प्रेम का, ख़ाला का घर नाहीं
सीस उतारे हाथ कर सो पसे घर माहीं

Kabir, this is the house of love, not your aunt's that you may come and go
You must hand over your head; only such a one may enter

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bulbuls again

More on the bulbuls. They've taken to bathing every day and are increasingly at home. Of course, this means that the robin who liked to come and sip has been shunted out, and one beautiful ashy prinia lurks furtively. Anyway, these chaps are comfortable. I haven't got pictures of the bath itself because the activity is usually so charming, I stand rooted! Next time, if you can bear another post on this.

The stronger bulbul
The siblings huddle sometimes

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ek thi bulbul

Some non-human drama outside our window yesterday. There are two new bulbul fledgelings learning their way around the world, starting with our jasmine creeper. One is bigger, stronger and has a crest poking out already but the other one is very unsure and only makes small tentative hops along the branch. Parent bulbul is utterly utterly sweet and marvelously competent. Many mysterious pellets and worms are brought - she pays a tad more attention to the weaker fellow but then also darts off in search of the other one to make sure he gets fed as well.

Mom bulbul
The weak fledgeling (Sorry for the bad photo but he'd assumed that position by the time I dug out the camera.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

At the core

The season is long past, and I'm taking down Connie Donleycott's comment on autumn:

falling leaves
my friend and I
discuss clutter
In its place, because it has been tickling me all this week, poet Yu Chang's assertion:  

in a nut shell
there is never
enough room

Now this is a strange thing for a haiku poet to say! For here is a man used to writing in three short lines, attempting to communicate the essence of things. He knows of old wells and frogs going plop, he knows the ways of sparrows. After all, he knows well that there is as much room in a nutshell as there is anywhere else in the cosmos. There is enough room in a nutshell for a tree... and who knows what else? And yet, this plea for elbow room.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Mixed Feelings

For the first time since I started this blog, a whole month has gone by without my posting a single time. So April 2011 has no entries under it - strange, because it was a highly significant time. But रहिमन बात अघम की, कहन सुनन की नाही... it doesn't matter.

Exciting times for lovers of music. Coke Studio is coming to India and I'm all a' tremble with anticipation and anxiety. I blogged about Coke Studio when I first discovered it, here and here. I said then that I couldn't think of an Indian musician/producer who could produce the series or a channel that would be willing to do that. When I racked my brains about it, I came up with AR Rahman, who of all musicians, has the musical maturity to straddle all of India's versatility. But what of people management, and the ability to compose, work in constrained studio circumstances?

But here they are after all - in no small part due to the raging success Coke Studio Pakistan has been. Leslie Lewis is the man they've appointed to do what the wonderful Rohail Hyatt did for CS-P, and MTV is the channel that's seeking to break this new ground (and resurrect itself, while it is at it). A unofficial list of artists is out and it looks very interesting.

I am nervous about the task in front of them. CS-P began in relative anonymity and they had nothing to guide them but their own immense enthusiasm and inherent high standards. They also had the luxury of a sense of play. Coke Studio is now a huge brand - even the makers, I imagine, are struggling with how serious and earnest it has become.

How will they deal with that here? This is not Pakistan where tasawwuf and a certain kind of spiritual purity still holds sway; this is India - television in India - where the gods of success are placed higher than the ideals of integrity or good work. Where the audience becomes VERY important, more important than it should. I am afraid that Coke Studio at MTV wants to succeed more than it wants to create good music.

Evidently, I am not alone in my fears. The programme's facebook page is full of entreaties not to dilute the essence of the original show. They're promising not to but do they realise the essence isn't in the details, but in the approach?

I will be ecstatic if these concerns prove foolish. Just think of the potential in India - classical ragas, Carnatic voices, Vedic chants, the possibilities of folk, the revival of 'samuha gaan', choirs perhaps, desert voices, hill voices... good luck, Leslie Lewis. 


Edited to add:
While on CS, read this by Rashmi Vasudeva, who is also addicted.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Much Addu

When we come across places whose first characteristic is immense, startling beauty, we tend to sigh — and we tend to want. The sharp equatorial sun of the Maldives, the many layered shades of blue, the eternal shadows of coconut palm contrast so keenly with our own grey streets, that comparisons are human, and inevitable. But the poet Wordsworth has an admonition for travellers who do that: “But covet not the abode,” he tells us sternly, “O do not sigh /  As many do, repining while they look...”. He was right. These islands are best approached with a firm intention to sample but not crave. For which purpose, my three days in Addu Atoll were perfect.

Addu is the southernmost atoll of the Maldives – a little apart culturally from the rest of the islands. It is the only atoll (the country has 26 such natural groups) to fall just south of the equator – a fact that took me in an Anne-of-Green-Gables kind of delight. I forgot, however, to check if water does swirl down the sink counter-clockwise.

I was here with Make My Trip’s very first charter to Maldives. The package is designed to render these isles more affordable to the Indian tourist and there is one sure way to do that: make up the numbers. Special flights from Mumbai make their way straight to Gan International Airport from where Herathera, our resort, was 20 mins away by motor boat. I slightly feared a claustrophobic three days – would this resort be large enough to hold over 100 holidaymakers without making it seem like something out of Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd?

In the event, it was just right. Herathera is a thin, elongated island with a 4km long beach and it uses its features wonderfully. About 300 villas are arranged along its length; hedges and design guard your privacy and give you your own access to the beach that practically laps at your doorstep. Mealtimes were communal but comfortably so, and for the rest, I could almost imagine myself Robinson Crusoe if I cared to. Very nice.

But I was lost to all this the first morning. The red-eye flight, followed by a cradle-mimicking motorboat ride... when I got to the room, I noted that it was bright and pleasant but succumbed to sleep many fathoms deep. Privately, I have a scale of how much I take to a place by marking how well I sleep there – the Maldives has performed superbly. I did nothing more strenuous that morning than lounge in the patio, gaze at the sea, read, take photographs and take in lunch. As I returned along the garden way, I spied a quick furtive movement on the ground just outside my front door. A small slanting hole but its occupant was now hidden from view. A vole or shrew, maybe?

Shrugging, I detoured to the waves that formed the backdrop to everything. I like the sea but, I must confess, am not overly fond of sand. One visit to the beach and you’re coming up against gritty particles all day — some that sneakily go so far as to infiltrate bed-clothes even. But that was before I walked on this soft whiteness they have laid out here. And on the back-steps leading up to my room, forestalling just such a complaint such as mine, stood a mud pot of cool water and a ladle craftily made of coconut shell and a crook of wood. So I was able to happily wash off every time before stepping in and, in consequence, rushed out to the water as often as the mood came upon me.  I took my morning coffee out to the waves every day – the simplest thing but so exotic!

About a dozen of us clambered into a local doni-boat that evening and chugged into the sunset. I was looking out especially for a particular bird: the white tern, or the dondheeni as they call it, is a resident and they make quite a symbol of it in Addu. I couldn’t see it on Herathera and I was told they were likelier on other islands with generous supplies of breadfruit. But there was no hint of the white bird, there were no dolphins either at Dolphin Point; however, to compensate, as the sun sank, a patch of golden yellow leached spectacularly into riven bands of purple and orange.

During dinner, at the mellowly-lit Kilhi restaurant, there was music. Young men from nearby villages came to sing, accompanied by drums and beats. They wore white shirts and lungis that they call ‘feyli’ in these parts. Dark bodied, lithely muscular, their smiles friendly but a touch sardonic. The songs tugged at me – the language curiously familiar but elusive. There is some Arabic, some Persian, some Sinhalese and I could swear to similarities with Kannada. The airs were familiar too – I discerned a Salil Chowdhury tune, which put me in a quandary. The composer was known for being widely influenced but music in the Maldives draws heavily from Hindi movies – which was the original? In the face of the joyous recitals, it didn’t seem to matter.

The next day, as I ambled around the island looking up at fruit bats, a bizarre sight met my eyes. A resort cart glided by and I glanced at it idly: it was occupied by some six people, all blindfolded with black tapes. Yes. Blindfolded. Terrorist attack! Wild incoherent images of slavery or bulk kidnappings! Well, not. Mercifully for my nerves, I had been told the day before that I might encounter this extraordinary cartload. What was actually happening was that we were sharing the resort with the crew of Survivor South Africa. These captives were contestants of the show, who were let loose on one of the neighbouring uninhabited islands as part of the game. While the ‘surviving’ took place in the genuine wilds, the ‘tribal council’ sessions were filmed in a hut-like structure at the far end of Herathera, where they were now being transported. The blindfolds, of course, were to keep them from seeing the civilised environs of the resort and ruining the ‘wild’ mindset.

The producers had chosen their spot well, for that is the magic of the Maldives. Of the 1190-odd coral islands that form this beautiful chain, only around 200 are inhabited. The rest either have resorts or are left to be. There is something so right about the arrangement of land and water. All this makes the islands very difficult to run, of course. Everything is imported – rice, fruit, vegetables, which made me worry slightly for the ‘survivors’. Resort islands generate their own electricity, purify their own water. Staff is ferried back and forth everyday.

This knowledge made me slightly guilty about my carbon footprint at lunchtime when I dug into fresh vegetables, olives, cheese and the wonderful desserts the chef had concocted. It didn’t, of course, make a difference to how much I dug into them, which is as it should be. As I returned I stopped short on the path as I had done before, but it was too late. My shy ground-dwelling neighbour had made a quick getaway. I was now seriously intrigued. Clearly, a little guile was called for. I went in, waited a little and parted the curtains from within. And sure enough, there he was, sitting meditatively by his burrow. Not a mammal at all but a small crab, unaware that I was snooping on his afternoon siesta. A little communion with Google-God has been done and I fancy my friend was a ghost crab.

To the Indian mentality that is so centred on ‘activity’, the isles, no matter how pretty, begin to feel like a trap fairly quickly. I heard tales (vastly exaggerated in the service of humour, hopefully) of honeymooning couples driven to suicide or murder by the end of a week. At least two women in our group told me on Day Three that they had had quite enough.

But Day Three held some activity for me: I went snorkelling. As we sped our way across to the reef, I gathered my gear. I’m myopic, and it cost me a pang to put away my spectacles and don the plain-glass snorkelling mask. The discomfort of entering an unfamiliar element was going to be heightened by the handicap of extra-blurred vision. But that couldn’t be helped. Life-jacketed and sun-blocked, my mouth dry with fear, I slid off the doni and into the water. All around, the orange figures of my companions bobbed in the sea. Reluctantly, but knowing I must, I flipped on my belly and put my head under the water. And, just like that, entered another world. The reef teemed with life – corals of amazing variety, sea anemone, schools of thin shimmering fish, broad vividly patterned families. The corals were so close, I was afraid I’d damage them. I let the sea toss me where it would for a bit. The experience was so physical, so holistically sensory, I didn’t even notice the lack of my spectacles. Some 40 mins later, I felt a tap on my arm; the instructor was motioning me to head back to the boat. I had been so lost, I hadn’t noticed I was among the last to heave myself back in. Heavy-bodied, so tired and so happy.

That evening, I jumped at a chance to visit Gan. Given its geography and its dichotomous approach to tourism, it’s quite possible to visit the Maldives and not meet its people. Gan is linked by bridges and a 17-km paved road to the islands of Feydoo, Maradhoo and Hithadhoo, the atoll’s capital island. The drive was most telling. To the south, Gan bore its history on its face: between 1941 and 1976, this used to be a British Royal Air Force base. Wide roads, white colonial buildings... a memorial here, a cannon there, military neatness everywhere. Then a clutch of souvenir shops and general stores, self-deprecatingly attempting commerce. As we passed over the bridges, the scenes changed. Shops, banks, schools, government offices, residential areas, the homes...I could see what stood for affluence, which residences indicated more modest means. In Hithadhoo, a heartwarming sight – young men and elders hunched over tables in concentration, engaged in a local tournament of chess and checkers.

It was time to leave. At Gan Airport that night, we suffered a frustrating delay with our 3.30am flight. Resigned, I spread my shawl in a corner and managed a half-decent snooze; when I came to, it was dawn, the plane ready to leave. We stepped out of the lounge to a rain-washed runway. Light was streaking gloriously through the clouds, the sea glinted a very fresh blue. In the trees to one side, a pair of pure white birds circled, flexing their morning wings. The white tern. I stood transfixed for a few moments, and walked into the waiting plane.

This was carried in Outlook Traveller, February 2011. The link is here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Kise pesh karun

These past couple of days have gone in a nostalgic haze – revisiting songs we loved when we were younger. What a wonderful thing youtube is. I took one trip down today to enjoy songs from this 1964 film called Gazal. Before my time, but I saw it on trusty old Doordarshan. Given my affinity for Sunil Dutt, old film music, the ghazal, Sahir Ludhianvi and black and white cinema, what was not to love?

So many things to say about these songs that I don’t know where to begin. The music is by the melodious Madan Mohan, the poetry by Sahir and the movie features the wonderfully emotive Meena Kumari and an earnest Sunil Dutt. A love story, mostly.

The protagonists meet, banter and woo in poetry and song. When I heard it again, I yearned for the song to be an integrated part of the film again – not a disconnected ‘item’ number, not an elaboration on happiness or grief or drama that is already happening, not entertainment but song as conversation, song as advancement of the story. And when it takes the form of ghazal, subhan allah!

Ejaz – our hero, the atheist revolutionary poet – is taking a leisurely stroll on the banks of the Yamuna in Agra when he hears a voice longing for love. Kise pesh karun, she is singing, to whom shall I present these gifts of verse, these brimming feelings? These warm breaths, the secrets my lips hold, the inky darkness of my tresses?

Koi humraaz to paaun, koi hamdam to mile,
Dil ke dhadkan ke ishaarat kise pesh karun

To whom, the promptings of this beating heart?

Ejaz is delighted. Later, at a mehfil that Naaz Ara is also attending, he uses her radif and qafiya to put his own spin on it. See how Sahir converts everything that was soft and feminine in the first version into something robust and very masculine. To whom shall I present the heat of my feelings, these searing nights and days?

And see how Meena Kumari listens to the poetry being recited… multi-layered responses flitting across her expressive countenance. Her outrage at being plagiarised, then her indignation at being countered by this audacious young man, then being moved by the tributes he’s paying her and finally agitation that he is repeating her very own couplet back to her – by now she has figured that he’s too talented to want to rip her off, what he’s doing is appropriating it, syncing his own explosive feelings with hers. This was the stuff of the old Muslim socials – to fall in love with a beloved you haven’t laid eyes on yet.

Things go wrong as they are apt to do in love stories and Naaz Ara is marrying Akhtar Nawab (the suave Rahman who, poor man, always seems to be put in the position of hankering after someone else’s woman). Ejaz is singing at her wedding. The same radif and qafiya; something like their song. Ye mere sher mere aakhri nazrane hai… it is one final gift of poetry.

Madan Mohan alters the mood dramatically. And Sahir alters the form – this is not a ghazal but a variation that filmi shayars (for instance, also Shakeel Badayuni) achieved. The first lines form a couplet but the following ones have three lines, of which the first two rhyme and the third takes on the radif and qafiya of the first matla.
Like so:

rang aur noor ki baraat kise pesh karun
ye muradon ki haseen raat kise pesh karun

kaun kahata hai ki chahat pe sabhi ka haq hai
tu jise chahe tera pyar usi ka haq hai
mujh se kahde main tera haath kise pesh karun

There are other ghazals in this movie but that’s for another time.  However, I must say how much I miss the Muslim Social. The delicacy involved in all social transactions, the shayari, the use of hijab and purdah as delicious plot devices… it makes me sigh. Koi lautade mere beete hue din…

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Creatures, great and small

I have said once or twice before how flattered the Vyases feel when wild creatures come visiting. We like stray cats and dogs to stay in the yard but we had a parrot swagger into our drawing room once and we nearly kept it.

Some part of our delight must’ve been due to this Enid Blyton that Shweta and I read over and over again as children. The Children of the Cherry Tree Farm had four city kids visit the English countryside. There they meet a wild man called Tammylan who introduces them to the wild. I’ve blogged about Tammylan before, here.

Blyton gets a lot of rap these days for very many reasons but as millions of our generation know, she gave us oh, so much joy and excitement. She held up all manner of traits we could emulate – if she made the aggressive Elizabeth Allen her protagonist in the Naughtiest Girl series, she could make an ideal of the shy, retiring sorts as well. In this book, Benjy is a timid, dreamy type of lad… unremarkable, except he has a deep quietude about him. He has “the low voice and the quiet hands of those who love the wild creatures”, and it is Benjy whom Tammylan first invites to come and meet his wild friends – rabbits, hares, snakes and badgers.

I suppose for children like me - susceptible to that sort of appeal - the capacity for being still became a virtue, reining in of unruly energy became a matter of discipline. We put our spins on what we receive but that was a good lesson, I’ve always thought. Needless to say, I longed to be Benjy. I have never succeeded with getting a squirrel to come to hand but I must tell you about this tailorbird.

He has been coming to roost in our back verandah everyday for more than a week now. It was spring-like weather and surely all god’s creatures must be out there, wooing and mating, building and breeding. And here was this fellow, coming to bed at 6.30 pm daily. He sits at the edge of this washing line, holding onto the wire, wedged tight against the roof and his head snug under the wing.

At first we were delighted. Shweta theorised that nest-building work was ongoing and that our tailorbird was here on a temporary basis. Now it does not appear to be the case – our bird has the air of someone who has found excellent living quarters going very cheap and does not mean to vacate it. Then worry struck. Was this tailorbird of a slacker ‘kaljugi’ generation… you know, just lazy? Had he not inherited the skills necessary to be ahead with the world? Preeti, who came by one day and caught sight of him by torchlight has been worried and seeking regular updates.

We have other problems also. For fear of disturbing this bird, we have been forced to forego use of the verandah every evening. Unfortunately, since he is perched just above the washbasin, it is very inconvenient.

However, we are now a little relieved of our concerns. The Wikipedia entry (which should have been consulted sooner) says:
“The birds roost alone during the non-breeding season but may roost side-by-side during the breeding season, sometimes with the newly fledged juvenile sandwiched between the adults. The roost sites chosen are thin twigs on trees with cover above them and were often close to human habitation and lights.”

So our guest is probably a carefree bachelor who has made do with a clothesline and roof – what’s life without a little jugaad? He likes the lights, so we don’t have to tiptoe around him. And he likes us, so that is a very, very good thing.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Aaj to hajari hanso

Trying to play some music on this blog. As a test, this wonderful wonderful song by Mukhtiyar Ali...

पाल पुरानी जल नुवो तो हंस्लो बैठो आये   
प्रीत पुरानी रे कारणों वो चुग चुग कंकर खाए 
आज तो हजारी हंसो पावनो रे हेली...

the banks are old but the water is fresh, and the swan swoops to sit
for the sake of an old love, he stays pecking at pebbles...
Today, the revered swan is a honoured guest, Heli...

The 'hans' is traditional imagery for the soul, the body is where it temporarily perches. The banks are the same, the water's fresh and the love, for whose sake all this is played out, is very old. 
The swan is always only a guest. Here today, gone tomorrow.

Now, hoping this works:


Supremely irritated.
Isn't it annoying how anything - anything at all - rapidly becomes about society, community, rules, demands, expectations? I have limited energy and some enthusiasm to spare and HATE it when people try to yoke it for their ends. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Covering ground

This has been up here too long:

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

I have been too lazy to refresh this and although there was one haiku that haunted me throughout this winter, it was too special to put up somehow. But talking of things that need to be cleared, here is the new one:

falling leaves
my friend and I
discuss clutter
-Connie Donleycott

It is autumn again and the leaves are falling. We have two Ashoka trees and the leaves are yellowing and dropping off in abundance. It is hot and dry too, so the ground crackles with the ones that are a day old, but the very top layer of the carpet is made up of softer vegetation.
My mother hated the mess they made. I always thought fallen leaves romantic and often tried to curb her zeal in ruthlessly clearing them out. If she had her way my mother would sweep the yard four times a day.
But holding house in her stead now, the leaves no longer seem that enchanting. We burnt a huge pile of them yesterday and just as the colony sweepers started to walk away from the still-smouldering fire, there was a dust-gale. It brought down a fresh flutter of gold and there was no help for it at all.

I wish my friend was here, even if only to discuss the clutter.

Sighing the gulf between theory and practice.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Things to do

A nice warmish afternoon. Shall I play the Chaap Tilak playlist I've carefully put together and take up my dhurrie to embroider? Or pick up the Georgette Heyer I have a bookmark in? Or watch an episode of Burn Notice that's streamed and ready on my laptop? Or follow a juicy debate online that's ruffled a lot of literary feathers?
Or work perhaps - get on with some pieces I'm doing and need to be delivered before I start feeling harassed about them?

An embarrassment of riches. A blogpost's the only way to resolve such delicious dilemmas.