Friday, February 25, 2011

Movie star morning

It's seven in the morning and I am on the terrace, getting ready to do yoga. The sky has a shy pink orange blush and there's a cool breeze. Beyond some juttings of building terraces, a slow sun rises. It doesn't so much rise as it gets pulled into public view. A round, hesitant ball of glow. It may not be shining in its full potential just yet, but you could definitely sense its power. Something about its demeanor suggested certain, reluctant valour.

On the ledge of my terrace, a pigeon looked at the sun. It was dull, grey, and fat. In a million years, through intense evolution, at its peak of vitality... this bird would never be that which the sun could relate to. Not even when the sun lost its strength and had to clear away from the sky.

Yet the pigeon, like me, looked on. Hoping for maybe a passing association with something spectaular.

I thought of a movie poster showing exactly this morning scene - a globe of yellow rising from behind buildings. And a soft, pudgy silhouette of the pigeon against it.

Haven't decided the plot yet. But the poster would have this tag line: 'An ordinary life. An impossible love.'

Now, if only someone paid me to write that story.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

It's important...

...to love something absolutely that is completely flawed and unraveling fast.

In my case, it's my city...and myself.

Now that I think about it...

I am very impressed with the name 'Provogue'. It's a great name for a clothes brand that positions itself as stylish, yet bold. It can be interpreted as 'Pro-vogue' - so, 'for' fashion. And also, it can be construed as a twist of the term 'provoke'. So, when you provoke in style, you are 'provogue'-ing.

Clever!

Also, learnt something new today. 'Archaic' is actually a period in history.

So far a good day.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

And the moon said...

It has been a strange day today. I have worked for close to fifteen hours. My eyes are parched and the body is warm with a scratchy kind of fever - the kind you get from exhaustion. In this situation, I am often wrestling with some strange thoughts and dark moods. Maybe the toughest tussle is trying to pin them down - each inchoate, muffled echo of a feeling - and figure it out. Maybe adjust the sound frequency of this chaos such that I can actually hear each syllable clearly. Then I'll be able to transcribe its message in detail.

Late evening today, I lay in my bed trying to trip up shadows. J (http://www.teerathyatra.com/) sent a text saying that the moon looked beautiful. Despite that, I spent the next hour being a week, limp-wristed pugilist before my demons. After dinner, though, I went up to the terrace.

And there it was. A cool, white layer of perfectly set lunar mousse. The top, smooth and glazed. It beckoned to a latent decadence. I wanted to put a spoon through its pearly sheath and scoop a little of its rich, creamy sweetness.

All these shadows started crowding around me after a few seconds. The fight was still on and I had left abruptly.

I looked at the moon and it seemed to be in the same position as me. Shining and important to everybody else. But heckled by invisible, belligerent forces. What does one do?

The moon looked peaceful. It had the answer.

You surrender. You allow yourself to be captured. You bend to their will. Then, when they claim you as their slave, you reason with them. You promise to lead them to a clearing where they can unwind, one tight coil at a time. You be like the moon and speak with calmness and music. You be like the moon and be unafraid and sure. And like the moon, you hold on to whatever scares you the most and make an offer.

"Come with me and let me go."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Some may call it love...

A little pearl inside an eggy star



- seed for something it had clean forgot.


Pinned loosely to a flimsy sky


no idea how far it had come, how high it had got.






One day the star tilted a little


Lost balance and snapped off so easily


Plonked into a wide, wet ocean


Plunged through depths of the violet sea






Now, there’s a trembling star in a luscious pearl


- seed for something it had clean forgot


Safe and rested in a warm, blue place


Remembering from where it had come, how deep it had got


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Custard well-being

My friend, J, is very wise. Also weird. But this post acknowledges her wisdom. (Her quirkiness will be paid homage to in times to come.)

Sometimes, she overflows with sage advice. Then, the cool fount of her sensibility spills on to you and you are better for it. Sometimes, she sprays insight. Usually, this is unforeseen, so one might duck or get out of the way. That is a mistake. If you let the drizzle settle on to you, you may just get one of those rare things, i.e. – a perspective.

The other day I had called J to talk. I was feeling dark or depressed or disillusioned or one of those brethren emotions. (I forget the specifics because I am in the seat of such calm joy at this moment.) J said many things and also compared me to a wild flower in the Amazon jungle that spits out poisonous darts. Given that I had always thought of myself as a regular bougainvillea, the comparison to such a radical botanical specimen puzzled me. However, confusion with J is sort of de rigeur. They go together. Like an asterisk with the ‘conditions apply’ footnote. You see one, you know what’s coming.

Anyway, our conversation ended with her telling me that ‘the Universe loves you’. (Here ‘you’ means ‘me’. Although J’s magnanimity on this account encompasses all humanity.) Now, this is a remarkable aspect of J. She talks about Universe the way one would fondly talk of one’s grandmother. There is much love, affection, and gentle acceptance of all its little foibles. J shares such a strong, serene connection to this phantasmagorical notion that one…believes. It's like this - I may never have seen my grandparents. But listening to J, I can imagine that a grandmum will love like hers does. Or all grandmums get to the point only after a good period of rambling. Or any grandmum will hug you tight if you stand meekly in front of her.

Anyway, conversation over, I went back to do some thinking. Maybe the Universe does love me. But perhaps it is keeping its distance. I mean, who wants to get hurt by poisonous darts, right? And the Universe is all-pervading. So, it’ll pretty much get hit in any direction I look.

Having ironed out the knots in my alienation theory, I slept.

Today, I finished some work an hour past midnight. There was a weird, surreal emptiness. It was time for a trip to the fridge. Usually, a glass of juice is what I make do with. The intense tart, sweet, packaged taste helps me make sense of the world. At least the one I inhabit now.

Then I saw something. Custard being set for tomorrow’s lunch. I took a bowl and helped myself to some. Turns out, it wasn’t just custard. It was a nice, thick layer of custard coating raspberry jelly that was set with a medley of fruits. It looked pretty when I scooped out a nice share on to my bowl. It tasted a little tart, though. On rummaging further, I found some whipped cream and a fistful of Fruity Loops. So, I drowned my jelly-fruit-custard scoop with the cream and arranged each sugar-frosted loop onto it.

It looked so pretty, colorful and elegant – like summertime in Paris. It looked like something Audrey Hepburn would help herself to with a tiny spoon, maybe at Tiffany’s.

I tasted it again and J’s words came singing through my palate.

Grandma loves me.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Sold...totally

The other day, my friend and I decided to catch up at the Kala Ghoda festival. It had been a while since we'd met. Lots had been going on in our lives - rather, a lot had been happening in his life. My life, well, there's always so much all the time. Or maybe, there isn't a lot happening. But whatever happens keeps repeating itself in a crazy, accelerated, demented fashion. Well, whatever the case, lengthy talks were in the offing. And a good sprinkle of colour and culture always goes well with conversation.

It was lovely and sunny when we reached. Art exhibits in Jehangir were quite stunning. My friend sketches. So he'd come up with these insights that had me peering at the canvases more closely and for longer. It makes such a difference - to look at paintings with someone who 'knownotices' (as in, someone who knows  and someone who notices.)

But that was that. Bereft of an agenda, we decided to go for a boat ride. I wonder why that's not part of the Kala Ghoda festival. It's such a lovely, gentle experience - a boat ride in the evening, watching citylights glitter as if the skyline is fluttering its eyelashes, quiet waves lulling and mesmerizing whoever looks at it...the sea is such a huge part of our culture. It's our art, our muse, our audience, our applause. It's everything.

A boat ride from Gateway is not just poetry. It's also action. There's daredevilry in hopping over boats, jumping into the launch and having young boys (most of them half your weight and size) lend their hands to help you out. All good fun.

Once inside the launch, you can pay ten bucks more and go up to the upper deck. (You pay sixty bucks for the 30 minute boat ride.) There, grab a chair, look out and wave to the people lining up the shore or turn your back to a receding world and stare into the waters. That day, the sea looked like large, soft creases on a magician's cape. My friend and I gave in to the hypnotism.

The spell was later broken by a friendly cameraman who insisted on us getting a picture. My friend vehemently opposed the idea, dismissing it off as something only lame and needy people do. As for me, I was not in the mood then. I must admit, though, that I am exactly that kind of lame and needy person often. The photographer started approaching other people on the deck and painted a compelling picture of his services.

First, he pointed to the 3 wings of Taj Mahal hotel and said, "Mumbai mein teen Taj hai." Then he did and said something that seemed to touch a chord - not just mine, but I think anyone who was there. For someone who has lived in the city forever now, who is visiting it only for a day, for whoever has been battered by its roughness or bruised by its kindness...for anyone to who Bombay beckoned or Mumbai cast aside - this photographer spoke  to them. He pointed to the sea, the horizon, and a big, crowded city becoming smaller. And he said, "Poori Mumbai tees rupay mein."

Who'd say no to a fantasy that's placed in the palm of your hands?

Of course, we got clicked. 

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Explain this to me...

In the recent past, I have spoken with some friends – most of them close to me, all of them intelligent and none of them superficial.

Each one of them is wary of Muslims. Each one believes that Islam, either obviously or subliminally, promotes or condones violence. None of these friends are Muslims. While they are not exactly evangelists, they do believe that their own faiths – Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism – are superior to this ‘peace at sword point’ religion.

I have strong reasons to refute this belief. However, my point here is not about challenging anyone’s opinion. These are deep and personal matters. Knowing my friends, I am sure they have struggled with their own notions of secularism before they have uncomfortably accepted this belief of Muslims and Islam.

However, when I encounter criticism of another religion, I tend to question my own. I am Hindu for several reasons. The most important one being convenience. I was born into it.

As a child, I found my religion entertaining. Shiva and Vishnu were like eccentric uncles and Brahma was one of those geriatric, polite entities you left alone. Growing up as a Hindu, my notion of God was fairly casual. There was no question that God would forgive my sins. Look how many he’d committed! Anyone acquainted with the Mahabharat would find it a little hard to digest that it is part of religious reading. It has so many scheming, conniving characters. So many heroes with myriad frailties, drunk on lust and hung up on power. These heroes seldom walked the straight and narrow path and when they did, they often wore footwear made of clay.

Apart from entertainment, Hinduism afforded me space. This could have had less to do with Hinduism and more to do with my upbringing. I never hadto do anything. Vegetarianism was not a mandate. Neither was waking up at dawn and doing the puja. I went through a great part of life without reading the Gita, despite having a father who could recite it in 3 languages from memory.

So, basically, I had no reason to think of changing my religion. It seemed fun enough and let me be. That is pretty much what I was looking for at that point, anyway.

Then somewhere along the way, I started getting questioned about some facets of Hinduism. Not so much questioned, but accused. I did think it was a little unfair. If an atheist stood up for science, she was being rational. If a Christian or Muslim stood up for their religions, they were defending as the minority factions. If I spoke in favour of Hinduism, though, I was being a zealot.

Of course, of all the people I’ve mentioned above, I was the most clueless. Much of my perceived persecution could have been the result of an unprepared mind.

Now, I have a little more idea about what Hinduism is about. I can obliquely understand why it can be considered a way of life instead of a tenet-stacked system. That being said, I am still not quite all there with lucid comprehension. Concepts such as Brahman and consciousness, even Universe and soul and karma (terms I use liberally) elude my stoic, total understanding. I often get impatient because I don’t always get it. The idea of a ‘Universe’ or ‘Consciousness’ or whatever it is that mutates into various people and experiences and then dissolves unto itself fascinates. The notion of ‘Maya’ is poetic. But I often want to have a tete-a-tete with our lofty friend, the Consciousness, and ask ‘why the drama?’ Surely the whole deal - births, deaths, rebirths, the entire karmic log and subsequent assignment to appropriate wombs - is a logistical behemoth. Was all of this absolutely necessary? I’m not so sure. Most times, all these ideas get coagulated in my mind and swim around sluggishly.

Yet, one big, big inconvenient learning I’ve gleaned is that I’m God. (Must say, I was exceedingly delighted upon finding that out.) The inconvenient portion is that I’m the same as everyone else. Now, this is a very difficult sphere to operate from. I have tried to resist this latter idea. Frankly, I’d like to be the only God around here. However, it all adds up. You can’t really believe in one portion without believing in the other.

This brings me to my other Hindu friends. The ones who have gone through their own crude journeys through Hinduism and reached the same conclusion. (My understanding of other religions is limited, so I'll leave the non-Hindu friends out of the purview of this questioning.)

If I have accepted the fact that I’m divine and so are you, how can I possibly think that I’m part of a superior religion? So what if you call me a pagan or a kafir? So what if you refuse to accept my prasad or won’t let me have what is served in your place of worship? So what? I may not like it, I may not agree with it, but how can I say that you’re inferior?

If my religion is supposed to be so much more supreme over everything else, surely it can accommodate a less evolved understanding? If my religion is supposed to be so much more mature, surely it can forgive a more restrictive view?

So, the way I see it – forget interacting with Muslims, orthodox or otherwise, at a human level (there are too many misgivings to even conceive it from this idealistic standpoint). Even if I were to bring it down to a strictly religious plane…

If I couldn’t relate to a Muslim (or anyone from another religion or point of view) openly and with trust – irrespective of his take on religiosity – if I couldn’t see him as one of us…forget about human…what kind of a Hindu would I be?



Saturday, February 05, 2011

My own private cave

I have had it. I have really had it. This world exists to annoy me. I am very sure of this. It waits until I get some sort of method into my life and then it just tilts and swerves and throws everything out of whack. There is so much mess everywhere. Most of the mess comes in the form of people. I detest people. I hate them. They annoy me and they irritate me and then, if that is not enough, they seek to reform me. These little piles of putrid, stinky, hell-hole worthy masses of drama they call 'humans'.

Of the many different forms of torture that a freelancer goes through, interacting with imbeciles is definitely top of the charts. Why will reasonably sane people not understand why I don't have time to step out for a coffee with them? It's not just about money.(Although, it is true that a hundred buck coffee and two hundred buck rickshaw fare tends to get a bit too much for an outing on the whim.) It's also about time and energy. I don't have the wherewithal to stop work, to stop looking for work and writing samples for work and pitching for work, to go and sit and listen to sap about how "he hasn't called yet.' HE clearly is a better judge of how to spend time than I am.

It sounds like a rant. Am I ranting?

So, I now take a deep breath and step away a hundred paces from my existence at this point. I must say that I've had a swell life. There have been good people and stellar friends and a remarkable family. But I have had enough. It's time I take my dusty blue yoga mat and retreat into some benign, restorative darkness where this world will be shut out to me forever.

I want the crowd out. Now.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Deep lessons of childhood

At times, I think about nursery rhymes one learnt as a child. A couple of them I am partial to, because of the sense of weightlessness they evoked in my stomach. I'd recite those lines and try to wrap my mind around what's being said. It would feel so ethereal and whimsical - like trying to shape vapour into a horse and ride it to the sun.

The first one is 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star'.

I'd always imagined a little boy reciting this. He'd be wearing a red woollen coat, black shorts and a white shirt made of stiff, white cotton. I see him in a hostel, with a glass of hot milk in his hands. He's in a huge, empty music hall that has a grand piano on one side. All his friends are down in a common room playing scrabble or watching TV or reading books. He stands by a huge window overlooking silvery ghostly silhouettes of mountains.

The sky is full of stars. However, there's a specific one that seems to have mutated into several tiny crumples of light. The little boy looks at that and imagines what it feels like - to be so distant from friends and blankets and warm milk. How can one be so small in a field so open and vast? Is the star not frightened? What kinds of games could it play? Hence "Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder how you are, up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky."

I fancy this rhyme going through his head when, twenty years later, he comes to this hall on the night of Christmas eve. The school has long been abandoned by then and there is no piano. He proposes to his sweetheart and as they look out the window, maybe they talk. Maybe he tells her about the star he used to watch alone, while she played Scrabble with her friends in the common room.

The other one still gives me goosebumps and I don't know why. I wonder if it's because of its simplicity, or because it is quite a grave, consciousness-shifting nugget of a thought. Or maybe, at a gut level, as a child I knew what it meant. Yet at a cerebral level, I knew that I was too young to realize what it really means. It was like one of those incredibly beautiful things you are afraid of looking at directly. There's the fear that something momentous will happen and are you prepared to handle it when it does?

The rhyme is: "Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream; merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream."

For this rhyme, my mind selected a scene from the story 'Wind in the willows'. The badger and two others are in a boat on a full moon night. They are out searching for one of their friends who has disappeared. Initially, they are fraught and tensed. But as they look around, they are taken in with the beauty of that moment. The description in the book is so wonderful and elegiac - it could be set to tune.

Many years later, in a different context, this poem is recited in the movie 'How Stella got her groove back'. It's at Whoopi Goldberg's funeral and her best friend quotes this as part of the eulogy.

I think this rhyme is an amazing little piece of advice to give to a child.

In innocence one finds the courage to accept this wistful shred of wisdom. And having accepted, summon the grace to move on...merrily.