Monday, March 06, 2006
And it was at that age ...
Poetry arrived in search of me
I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don't know how or when,
no they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.
- From Poetry by Pablo Neruda
There's precious little I can tell you about mastering haiku. My limited reading seems to indicate that there's precious little anyone can tell you. Most explanations center around another equally inexplicable concept - Zen. Haiku, like most oriental art and philospohical forms, has to be lived and not learnt. But I will tell you about my short bungling journey as a student of haiku-like poetic expression. Because it has helped me live, laugh, love, grieve and even smirk with intense emotion. Because it has helped me live every moment - taught me not to wish bad days away or try to hoard good ones. Because it has taken a lost little boy in search of beauty by hand, walked him back to his home and showed him how his surrounds were sated with beauty's bounty...
I wrote my first poem when I was thirteen. It was simplistic effort angrily mocking some social evil with quaint rhyme and alliteration. At sixteen, I started filling my diary with laments about unrequited love. All along, poetry remained catharitic - just a safe vent for repressed emotions, a peaceful conduit to drain lust, anger, greed and other vices that lurk under the chained chambers of our social being. Much later, in 2001, in the Chennai Book Fair, I stumbled upon Naa.MuthuKumar's "Kuzhandaigal Niraindha Veedu" (A House Full of Children). The three line poems in the book opened a new way of looking at things that we tend to take for granted in the course of our daliy lives. Haiku fluttered gently into my world on a hundred butterfly wings.
Measured in iambic meter, I am rather stunted - most intricate expositions on poetry pass way above my head. So I would spare all of us the trouble of a techinical definition (the curious shall go here...
). Simply put haiku is a short poem that crystallizes an experience - a flickering moment of beauty, horror, grief, elation, pain, loneliness - and melts it into the forever. To put it more crudely, a moment preserved forever in a photograph of emotions and thought besides mere light and colour. For simple expressive poem, haiku is extremely powerful. A masterly haiku about a river-bath can make your spine tingle with the first touch of icy water. And then, as you immerse yourself for a full dip, it can whisper into your ears watery secrets that have flown downriver since times ancient.
I am pretty liberal about what constitutes haiku poetry. In fact, so liberal that I only dare call it haiku-like. From the translations of the Japanese masters to Tagore's pensive couplets from the garden - they all form the same experiential poetic genre for me. A class of poetry where you write because you see or feel better, not because you imagine or express better. You being is your poetry. You learn to observe, you learn to be conscious - you begin your progress towards Buddhahood! Nirvana!
I was lucky that my first Haiku book was a Tamil one about Chennai experiences that I could readily relate to. MuthuKumar spoke about rainbow-colured oilspills on the road, pushing a broken-down bike down Mount-Road at midnight, about looking for a match-box every time power fails...
When power fails
We look for a match-box
Screw the faulty construct!!! Screw the lousy translation!!! If you ever lived through a summer full of black-outs before the emergency-lamp era and if you are ready to meditate a bit on the lines, you can feel the hands groping, the angry sighs, mosquitoes, the humid heat... every time!
That is what haiku has done for a nostalgia-monger like me - it has frozen pearls of experience forever, for every one! It makes me conscious of the magic in the mundane. It has helped me appreciate the elegance in simple threads of everyday happenings and through them it has uncovered a magnificent tapestry woven by an unknown hand. It demands that I meditate in the most unlikely of moments of your day. It demands that I be constantly aware - that I forever experience actively. It has helped me relive the beauty and beholder adage that I once dismissed as cliche.
I have been a relentless advocate of this genre of poetry. I thrust collections in the hands of most of my friends - asking them to breathe the lines in and meditate. I have a proud list of converts too, including my dear little kid-brother who surprised me with his own collection of beautiful poems last week. Most of them, being nature lovers, will definitely appreciate haiku. And I hope their days begin the way my morning began - feeling the warm yellow of slanting sunlight, shivering with the surprise of a lost hare outside my room, panicking with the cuckoo being hunted by crows, cosying up with the litter of puppies on my way to the dining hall... Because once you are touched by poetry, there's no turning back!
And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke losse on the wind.
- From Poetry by Pablo Neruda
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
I have seen very few sunsets more beautiful than this one... very few experiences where I was a stark outsider in the scene and yet my body quivered in mysterious cosmic harmony the way it does now. I sit on a bench at the edge of a green, green playground surrounded by multiple rows of tastefully arrayed trees. The pitch is covered after Sunday's game. Leaves lie strewn on the grass around the trees in quiet and graceful yellow-brown death. Hoopoes, blackbirds, robins and a zillion other birds I can't name are busily atwitter in the outfield. A drango watches sagely from another bench. Two hornbills nesting on the tree next to me circle around suspiciously and then grudgingly make space for a regular visitor. Shiny-blue sunbirds draw nectar from red flowers on the hedge. A peacock parades solemnly across the expanse – consciously dragging along the weight of his beauty. Workmen sit in huddles under the trees – silenced by the exertion of a long day's labor. An intercontinental jet's exhaust writes transient notes on migrating lives on a dull blue sky. The only heralds of time here is the late-winter night beginning to embrace the grass in increasingly longer shadows and my mobile that will ring to call me back to work even as the western crimson deepens. This is my daily time-stop – my two hours of timelessness in a 6am to 10pm, seven-days-a-week race to keep a medical camp running.
Time fascinates me. I am one of those misty-eyed dreamers who often prefer to deal in the wine-like intoxication of the past or vague promise of future than the present. I often wave my days good-bye with the mixed emotions of one bidding an old friend farewell as he voyages towards better times. And I love to watch my days fade in glorious golden bursts. Sunsets are strange phenomena. They mark the passage of time – the beginning or end of another day. Yet, there is something of the timeless in them – they are enacted by bodies that are nearly perpetual when measured by our humble passer-by timescales. Sunsets also give me a celestial connect to another man's time. There over the horizon, as the sun falls, another day dawns for my unknown brethren. Do they watch their sun come up amid bird symphonies in green, tree-filled fields like I do now? Do they watch it rise over the sea in silent communion with strangers – like my Marine Drive sunsets? Do they spare a thought for other nations just a horizon away that are solemnly donning night's cloak?
A very old laborer from a neighboring village walks up consciously and asks me the time. He his disappointed that I am not a doctor – arthritis is gripping his ageing limbs. As he walks back, voicing his disappointment in the local dialect, I wonder what time means to him. How does he measure his life's flow – in years, days, hours, minutes? Has monotony obviated micro-calculations for him? Does he gloat over each new day with the enthusiasm of a child unwrapping a birthday present – thrilled to move one more time through winter's biting cold or summer's scorching glare? Is he watching a very different sunset in the evening of his life – watching the light fade into another generation's dawn?
These little birds pecking away merrily on the grass…The leaves, both dead and alive… How do they tell time? Do they even care? Whose time is it anyway?
Suddenly, I can relate readily to the age-old debate - is it all mere cognitive illusion? The sun hasn't set after all… No, it is forever setting… If I look right, all I have lived in is one fluid instant where nothing begins and nothing ends! This moment is all that there is – this moment when I sit in a grassy cricket-ground and type furiously into my laptop. This is now! And forever!!
I am at Babrala, which you children will trace in a map of India as homework. What I am doing in the midst of this poignant mixture of poverty and beauty shall be explained in another post.
Sunday, January 15, 2006
Taking a break - due to several reasons. Of course, I will be back... I have few other avenues of expression...
So long then... Keep walking through the beautiful pathways of life's garden... Keep stopping to smell the wayside daisies... Wink at singing birds... Decipher patterns in mid-day clouds... Pet young dogs... Play with children... Watch sunrise & sunset in silence with a kindred spirit... Learn names of new birds, trees and stars... Smile at strangers... Call up old friends... Read a much-loved book from the past all over again... Take a solitary trip to the nearest hillstation... Love and be loved...
Love and Peace,
I seldom link people here. But if you came here for a solid post, you might find good stuff at : Kaushik's
... and Akruti
... among others.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
In a big city, it is exceedingly difficult to draw a line on your needs. Even life's simplest pleasures come at a price. Your wants crawl surreptitiously into ugly sprawls like misshapen suburbs. You are forced to make crucial compromises - juggling rent, relaxation, commute, compensation, privacy, profession and family. It sends you on a never-ending search for a better deal – an excruciating march towards a better tomorrow that looms forever tantalizingly ahead. The journey becomes so habitual - you sleep while standing in trains, run shoulder to shoulder with other dreamers in lonely crowds, stare intensely out of cab windows without registering a thing, have the same cricket-shares-politics conversation at every workday lunch, and take the same resolution to quit soon every morning… In this wonderfully tragic way, cities hold an eternal promise – never delivered, never broken. And city-life, in rhythmic waves of rush-hour traffic, flows on and on.
These past few months, I have lived alone in Mumbai. A wayfarer pausing in a distant city in the course of quests of my own, I have quietly watched the city's dream-chasers from the distant sidelines. Living all by yourself in a city like Mumbai is not easy. The only solace in such aloneness is an inner peace and contentment. But in a hotel right on the doorstep of Churchgate station, your solitude is besmirched with specks from a zillion other existences. You sit benumbed through lonely dinners in family restaurants. You play songs from yesteryear in your room with curtains drawn to keep time and the city out. You close your eyes when you call your family in vain attempts at telephonic transmigration. You wait restlessly to hit the road again as the city trundles past you in a molten confusion of lights, noises and people. Then suddenly, an old friend walks in – equally dazed and jet-lagged. And you realize that all you ever wanted was right here within the confines of outstretched arms, a few paces and a mind soaring ahead into an infinite horizon.
"To each man, a city consists of no more than a few streets, a few horses, a few people. Remove those few and a city exists no longer except as a pain in the memory, like the pain of an amputated leg no longer there." – Graham Greene
What I would remember of Mumbai has changed drastically thanks to a handful of people – some of whom I found here, others enduring from other lives in other cities. Mumbai now is about yoga at dawn on Marine Drive… About sitting in a seaside park and staring at fish-boats on a scorching workday noon… Of three hungry forks digging into one strange Parsi dish at midnight… Of sunrise atop of a water-tank with tree-tops exploding into screeching green parrot bursts… Of drawing pin artwork in sea-facing cabins… Of the heady aroma of Fine-Tipped Golden Orange Pekoe at Tea-Center … Of life lived with the exhilaration of a little bird taking flight again into the first rays of rain-washed sunshine!
In these past months, I have learnt a lot. I have been instructed in the esoteric art of storming out of fancy restaurants after one frown at the menu. I have been given a refresher course in reading poetry and a primer in classical music. I can twist myself into halasana and artha-chakrasana. I even know a bit about oil-price risk management, server sales, truck-driver segments and tea-parlors. But the biggest lesson of all has been a simple reminder – that you can live life on your terms, no matter where you are!
This one is for R, K and old Andy among others - for sunsets gazed at, books, music and movies discussed threadbare, hours spent "talking shop" and seaside silences shared… And for magnificent Mumbai, where in the brilliant yellow haze of street lights, mankind and pigeons live on…
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Of Blackbirds and Linguistic Philosophy...
K dragged me and Andy to a play titled Thirteen Blackbirds on Sunday – the theme was an elegant intertwining of a poem by Wallace Stevens, a linguistic philosopher named Wildenstein (spell-check) and the Hindenberg airship disaster. All I can say is that the play was real absorbing, leading one on some interesting and thought-provoking trajectories. But, that said, I don't know if I understood the play completely. Being a novice to this medium, I was hit by zillion imageries, references and cross-references and I could only forge a vague connect. Which wasn't really surprising because I knew precious little about Herr Wildenstein. So, not surprisingly, what I was left to ponder after the play was largely concerned with the beautiful lines of Wallace Stevens… So, here goes –Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.
A man and a woman
A man and a woman and a blackbird
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.
O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.
At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.
Monday, November 28, 2005
Just Another Manic Monday...
A poem somehow very much in keeping with my Monday mood... Oh these Mondays - so listless, boring and inevitable...!
After the first glass of vodka
you can accept just about anything
of life even your own mysteriousness
you think it is nice that a box
of matches is purple and brown and is called
La Petite and comes from Sweden
for they are words you know and that
is all you know words not their feelings
or what they mean and you write because
you know them not because you understand them
because you don't you are stupid and lazy
and will never be great but you do
what you know because what else is there...
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Today was one of those days – one of those mornings when you wake up still in the clasp of the previous night's unyielding claws. All you want to do is ferret out the mobile through squinted eyes, disable the alarm and give your body and soul up to be consumed by the diabolic darkness of deep slumber. In short, it was the ideal day to call in sick. I eventually did the next best thing – walking in late. And with a workday morning all to myself, there I sat grappling with what to write for a long overdue post. But alas, it wasn't to be… I realized yet again that these days I am far too wound up to write!
There's a restlessness about things now. It's nothing too bad but there's a certain sense of non-belonging to everything around me – my work, my workplace, my place of stay. Everything! It is eerily like waiting with a handful of people for the last bus home. You acknowledge each other's presence. You take cognizance of the fancy cars, big trucks and the faces of passers-by. You even feel the nip of the early November night breeze. But nothing really registers because you don't really exist in that fleeting moment. That wait in a bus-stop is an inconsequent yet necessary hindrance – a vacuous hiatus between a significant before and after.
So that's how I live devoid of inspiration for blogging in big, efficient yet soulful Mumbai as she bedazzles me with queer parades of people, lives, pigeons, taxis, fish-boats, noise, sea breeze, local trains and revelry. With my bags half-packed, my goodbyes half-said, waiting eagerly for that last bus home…!
K sent me this poem today. He had asked me to read it "read it slowly, very slowly, in your mind, turn every sound around, sense every face of the dice that every word is…" May be you folks should do the same too…
Virginia – TS Elliot
Red river, red river,
Slow flow heat is silence
No will is still as a river
Still. Will heat move
Only through the mocking-bird
Heard once? Still hills
Wait. Gates wait. Purple trees,
White trees, wait, wait,
Delay, decay. Living, living,
Never moving. Ever moving
Iron thoughts came with me
And go with me:
Red river , river, river.
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
Have you ever known a city the way you know your own backyard? Have you roamed her streets and by-lanes endlessly until you merged into the flow of life in her veins? Have you dissolved into a city's soul – taking her colors, speaking her tongues, emanating her odors? And at the end of it all, has she brushed you aside with a sweep of her left hand, as her march unto the future meticulously dismantled all that you have known and loved in her? Last week in Bangalore, I met such a man – a man eternally in love with a city that will never exist again!I stepped out of Mississippi when I was ten years old
It started with a long auto-rickshaw ride from Infantry Road to Bannerghatta Road – a nerve-wracking crawl through Bangalore's infamous evening traffic made worse by the stops I had to make on the way. I am a pathetic bargainer when it comes to auto-rickshaws and pavement vendors. First, I never seem to remember the right auto fare or know the right price (The former predicament comes from having spent two years in Chennai where there is no such thing as "the right auto-fare"). Secondly, I feel a wee bit guilty about bargaining for "exact meter fare only" while wearing an MRP-1200/- jean that probably cost the inheritors of old Mr. Levi Strauss' estate around Rs.300/-. So, I try to look for the "worthiest" recipient of my foolish benevolence – a pretty subjective evaluation in which driver's age, demeanor and aversion to tobacco play important roles. This way, my silly bourgeoisie head manages to convince itself that every ride that I am taken for is a quasi-noble act.
Quite a prelude but that's how I decided to take Mr.R's auto-rickshaw. He was the oldest guy in the stand and he nodded silently when I told he about the stops midway. Given that a ride through Bangalore's heart involves more waiting than driving, it wasn't long before we struck a conversation. R has been riding an auto through the city's roads and alleys for all of forty-five years! Forty-five years!!! Why, when he got started, Big Bad Bill Gates was a mere twelve-year old. He spoke a lot. He spoke in a voice choking with emotion and the strain of having to earn his own living at seventy. He told me how he knew the city so well – its gardens, its easy pace of life and its balmy weather. He told me how a round-trip around the then city-center used to take a mere thirty minutes and how he used to be a regular at the home of a certain politician who preferred autos to cars. And then he talked about how everything changed.
Now, the city is changing way too fast for him. He doesn't know the popular landmarks that I used to give directions – the towering new apartment complexes and shopping malls. He is quick to explain - it's not like he doesn't know them, just that he knows them a bit differently. He is relieved when I agree that we can figure out our way as we go. He tells me most others don't wait to explain if he is a bit doubtful. He says, "I would take them home safe and sound if only they would trust me." He says it without bitterness – almost with the fond yearning of a grandfather wishing his grandchildren would spend more time with him to learn his kite-flying and top-spinning tricks. But no, today the games have changed as much as the players. The landmarks that marked his Bangalore are being quickly effaced by the flag-bearers of the city's recent construction boom. While he still manages to gracefully negotiate traffic and make sense of the myriad one-ways, he is an outsider in the city defined by young, new Bangaloreans.
I wonder how things could have turned out so different for him. How he could have retired as the proud controller of his turf – someone to whom young drivers looked up - someone who knew it all. But now, here he was – struggling to cope with all the learning and unlearning that is indispensable in his profession in a fast-changing city like Bangalore. May be, it's just the inherent romantic in me… May be, it is a hangover from "Remains of the Day" which I read recently… Somehow, on that rain-fresh evening, he reminds me of a number of strange historic precedents… Of ancient conquests of one kingdom by another still continuing in subtler forms... Of Mughal emperors dying by lonely windows, gazing sadly into their glorious past… Of the Spanish Moor and how he "cried like a woman for what he couldn't defend like a man." And then I think of how some kings and moors fight on… How they defend their kingdoms and fight till the very last… How they live and die as kings no matter how the forces that be distort and shrink their dominions.
I get off near Shopper's Stop and tip him liberally. I tell him it had been a privilege to have ridden with him. And I indeed feel proud – somewhere inside that seventy-year old man struggling to stay afloat in the madness was a proud monarch who just wouldn't let go. As Eric Clapton & BB King would put it, I was riding with the king…!
With a suit cut sharp as a razor and a heart made of gold
I had a guitar hanging just about waist high
And I'm gonna play this thing until the day I die
Don't you know we're ridin' with king
Don't you know we're ridin' with king
Monday, September 26, 2005
A Windowful of Sky… A Gardenful of Land…
Yesterday, B and her friends finally narrowed down on an apartment – my friend's sixth-floor, 3 BHK place devoid of most problems like prying neighbors and lack of sunlight that plague their current home. Of course, B's decision was expedited by the presence of a biggish book-shelf in the hall and a nest with two fledglings in one of the balconies. The whole house-hunting episode bought into salience my own inability to decide on purchasing an apartment in Bangalore. While common-sense dictates that I buy one before Bangalore real-estate prices scale all sanity limits, I am still unable to make my peace with the fact that I might be accursed to spend a good chunk of my EMI-straddled working life in a house without a garden!!!
My parents have never owned a home – I spent my childhood shifting from one rented house to another. And for seven years in the nineties, we lived in a house that was almost as small as my current single-room paying-guest accommodation. But even in that house, just like in every other house we lived in, Mom, Sis and I managed to raise a rather luxuriant little garden with lush green ferns, cannas, hibiscus, xenias, palms and the like. I can vouch for this - no potted plant in a balcony, no community park in the apartment can ever match the fulfillment of having your own garden. From my Granny who still works in her garden every now and then, to my mother and uncles, down to me and my sister and cousins, at one point or the other in our lives, we have all nursed gardens with our toil and love. Now, we are faced with the possibility of our children growing up without this (all too literal) feel for the earth…
For a child, growing up in a house with a garden is an unforgettable lesson in appreciating Old Dame Nature… One would soon realize that the grand old lady is not just about the saunter of big cats, grace of dolphins or the immenseness of red-woods captured so beautifully on camera in the National Geographic Channel or the Discovery Channel (anybody old enough to remember The World of Survival on Sunday evening on DD?). Nature packs the same magnificence and intricacy in the unfurling of the first blade of post-monsoon grass or the flight of numerous dragonflies as she does in her more conspicuous showpieces. Every little nugget in her expansive universe is carved and shaped by the same masterly hand that has fine-tuned its craft over millions of years in evolution.
Nature's wide, exciting and ever-changing repertoire can easily hold anyone's attention for a significant time. Oh, the visitors she sends your way if you are kind enough to honor her with a tiny garden! Butterflies that meander aimlessly like lazy midday dreams… The perennial bustle of ant-lines… Seasonal guest like millipedes and snails… Squirrels with endearing eyes full of fear and mischief… Moth eggs under a hibiscus leaf… A zillion tiny frogs so well camouflaged… The sagely patience of the garden lizard… Little sunbirds cooling off under the creepers…Sparrows visiting for food and "construction-material"…
I remember few happier evenings than those Mom and I spent pruning this bush, re-planting that one, shaping and guiding particularly ambitious vines or setting up a shade net for the fussy ferns, daisies or dahlias carefully brought in from my Aunt's place in Ooty. The rewards are just plain wonderful. Few things in life match the sheer exhilaration of waking up to see a new leaf taking shape in a particularly difficult fern or being pleasantly surprised by a zillion sudden buds in your bed of pink lilies. And if you have been really good that year, the neighborhood robin would play Santa and build a little nest in some nook of the garden and in the next few weeks, there would be all the excitement of having a baby in the household. And you would feel you have earned your place in this beautiful planet – you have facilitated the perpetuation of life.
At times, I think I am just being paranoid. I guess the children of tomorrow would eventually learn their lessons through their own media… And some of them would still come to be hardcore nature-lovers – just the way we love the African Serengetti or the Russian Tundra or the Alpine woods. But there are some things they'll never know… The other day, when B and I took Mom to a florist's in Jayanagar, I caught her gently patting a carnation – her smiling eyes welled up with memories of the innumerable carnations she had herself grown in distant gardens in distant hills… Somehow I know for sure – such intensity and such timeless bonding with nature's bounty, no TV show is ever going to recreate!!!
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
A List... A Tip... A Snap
I HATE this!!! I so badly want to write... But there are too many things happening... I am being pulled in too many different directions like a school-boy at the fair with a quarter - trying to choose between the merry-go-round, the giant-wheel, the ballon-shooting, the magic-show and a cone of icecream to share with his girl...
In an act of sheer desperation, I force tagged myself from DiTtY. But things have come to such a terrible pass that I had to stop with just one topic... Anyways, here goes...
Seven things you plan to do before you die!!
1. A gigantic house in the hills (Don't anybody laugh… I have started saving up!)
2. Six pet dogs – 3 Labradors, 2 Golden Retrievers, 1 Saint Bernard
3. Publish at least one full-length novel
4. Spend a month in the Seychelles
5. Start a school
6. Collect enough books and start a big library
7. Buy a huge lot of land in the middle of nowhere, plant numerous trees and leave a will asking to be buried there
Those of you bibliophiles who are in Bangalore and still haven't smelt it out, drop by at Blossoms. It is a fabulous old book store off Brigade Road (First right in Brigade Road when you come down from the MG Road side.
And I almost forgot the snap...