Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Maine poocha chand se

Maine poocha chand se I asked the moon thus
Ke dekha hai kahin Have you ever seen
Mere yaar sa haseen One as gorgeous as my love
Chand ne kaha chandini ki kasam The moon said: I swear on the moonlight
Nahin, nahin, nahin No, No, No.

O! Maine ye hijaab tera doonda Oh! I searched for this bashfulness of yours
Har jagah shabaab tera doonda This youth of yours I searched everywhere
Kaliyon se misaal teri poochi I asked the blossoms[if they knew] anyone like you
Phoolon mein javaab tera doonda And the flowers to match you [in your beauty]
Maine poocha baag se I asked the garden
Phalak ho ya zameen Be it in the heavens or on earth
Aisa phool hai kaheen Is there a flower as beautiful [as my love]
Baag ne kaha, har kali ki kasam The garden said, I swear on every flower
Nahin, Nahin, Nahin No, No, No

O! Chaal hai ke mauj ki ravaani Oh! Is this a gait or [like] a flow of ecstacy?
Zulf hain ke raat ki kahaani Are these your tresses or the story of the night?
Hont hain ke aa-iney kanval ke Are these lips or [do they] mirror the lotuses?
Aankh hain ke maikadon ki raani Are these eyes or the queen of a wine-house?
Maine poocha jaam se I asked the goblet
Phalak ho ya zameen Be it in the heavens or on earth
Aisi mai bhi hai kaheen Is there an intoxicant as beautiful [as my love]
Jaam ne kaha, maikashi ki kasam The goblet said, I swear by the joy of inebriation
Nahin, Nahin, Nahin No, No, No

O! Khoobsoorati jo tune paayee Oh! This beauty that you were blessed with,
Lutt gayee khuda ki bass khudayee God was thus deprived of all his godliness.
Mir ki ghazal kahoon tuje mein Shall I liken you to the ghazal of Mir?
Ya kahoon Khayyam ki Rubayee Or to the Rubaiyyat of Khayyam?
Main jo poochoon shayaron se When I ask the poets thus
Aisa dilnashin, koi sher hai kaheen Such a dear sher, have you ever read?
Shaayar kahe, shaayari ki kasam The poets said, we swear by our poetry
Nahin, Nahin, Nahin No, No, No

Maine poocha chand se I asked the moon thus
Ke dekha hai kahin Have you ever seen
Mere yaar sa haseen One as gorgeous as my love
Chand ne kaha chandini ki kasam The moon said: I swear on the moonlight
Nahin, nahin, nahin No, No, No.

Feel Free

I realise that there may be instances when readers/bloggers would have something to share or discuss with me. A comment to a post might not be the most relevant place for initiating them. I do not assure you that I would be able to respond to each and every mail (not that I am expecting many) but you might prefer to send me your thoughts to:

Monday, January 29, 2007

Not there yet

Listen to the noise below. They are waiting for me. They are shouting and cheering for me. My wife's nervous laughter punctuates the ruckus as others pause to gobble pockets of air which they can paint in shrill colours with "Come on, Uncleji" or "What's keeping you bhaiyya?" or "Happy Birthday, Sunilji." No one calls me Sunil anymore. Those who can are either dead or going through what I am, and hence, denying me that pleasure. I am 60 today and its not a pleasure.
What will they know? They are still in their 20s. Rajiv still gets caught with porn and is brushed off as being his age. When I reach over to Rekha and touch her all I get is wrinkled skin. Kamala, the maid, grants me nothing more than the touch of her fingers on my feet when she arrives every morning and makes me cringe by calling me Sunil-mama. But that touch. What shall I say? I can't even ... forget it.
I don't want to go there. They are not celebrating anything. They are mocking at me. They are proud of their youth which I can never re-create. My adventures are nostalgia for them and cute for my grand-daughter who has returned from Norway. My nephew finds me outdated as he plays on his computer. I know how to use the computer, what does he mean? The only one who lets me feel proud, without her knowing, is my daughter-in-law who finds the description of my erstwhile romance with Rekha as the fuel that fires her disgust for her husband who is busy reading the stock market reports.
I find it difficult to button my sherwani. Damn! These fabrics are not like what they were once. I mean, not that the earlier fabrics were decades old... damn! Whom am I kidding. Everyone says I am old and my conversations are inherently sepia-tinted. Some of them say it to my face and then hug me, as if they thought they were being nice to me. Some say it every time I forget my glasses. But they forget their wallets and paying bills, too. Whither dost thou go?
I look at my skin and what my mirror shows me. I am not that. I never wanted to be that. Its not old age but the weight of what I had to do for others. Now they don't expect me to do anything. They don't think that I can create excitement and action in their midst. I am like that cuckoo-clock that Anand keeps repairing and replacing on the dining-hall's wall. They pause to listen to it as if it is important enough to demand a pause but not serious enough to... I am just that. A pair of feet to touch. A non-doer. Someone to consult during tax filing weeks, but not when they buy that Skoda. How dare Vivek rush over to help me get in and explain the dashboard to me! I didn't want to learn to drive that car. I didn't even like it.
The grey of my hair doesn't look good over my flushed face. I have to worry about my blood-pressure, Rekha says. She will be the reason for my death. Always reminding me that I am old, and I should carry myself like someone who is a grandfather, who is going to be 60 and from tomorrow, who is past 60. She is also proud of the fact that she has years left in her purse. And with all of them flattering her that she doesn't look her age. Of course she does. I am the one who has seen her once she removes her clothes. All those stretch marks and flab. She looks older than me, but I am the one forced to accept that I am 60. I am not.
I sit on the edge of the bed which first saw me when I was 24, then with Rekha when I was 25, then when I was a proud father of Rohan, then Samudrika and when Rekha was inconsolable after Samu's wedding. What has changed? Grey hair can't make me old. I can still carry Rekha to this bed.
I have no promises left. I wish I could have lived those years more attentively. Isn't life mostly what we see sitting in the giant-wheel's basket, moving away from us, waving out at us - little pink bundles of candy-floss, shrinking like a little girl's tail-less comet, the kid from the hoopla stall who didn't collect enough to get on a ride which mirrors the journey of his hopes up and down, the lingering smell of popcorn long after the brown-yellow blisters vanish into a bright yellow foam - while we are excited with the ascent only to languish in the looming descent? I think life is just that, the station that went past... and our relevance is only for the promise we hold. At 60 I have no promises to even cook up. I have either failed them or fulfilled them or lost them on the road to being 60... for everyone else.
What the heck! I am what they say I am... 60. I sink to the bed and feel the tears stumbling over the folds of my skin and getting lost in one of them. I don't want to go down there. My life is not meant to be measured against their piece of tape. They should measure me against mine. They should? Forget this sherwani. All this kills me. I think I'll sleep a while.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Emperor wears no clothes...

I had, a long while ago, written a post with a similar title about the state of visual and static art. I am forced to address the state of English literature, esp. the landscape of fiction writing with no different a title. If this sounds like fervid lamentations, suffer me. Of course, I am not an authority on English lit.

I have been in great turmoil over the past few weeks, although several years have served me sporadic days when I have lost all sense of what is good fiction. Really, what is good fiction? I would like to share with you where I come from.

English was wrapped for me in NCERT books (CBSE). They were mandatory reading in order to pass exams. The teachers rarely loved the stories or English and made a randomly chosen student to stand up and read to the class. Then there were questions to be answered: "Why did Mrs. Rose not return the purse to Emily?" "Give a character sketch of the Scarlet Pimpernal." and other demands from the supple mind which was never encouraged to retain its wonder by enjoying the story and the way it was constructed. Not once did a teacher exclaim "Aaah! Isn't that lovely? Listen to Saki refer to the newfound interest in a simple hobby of hunting as a "sudden deviation towards the footsteps of Nimrod" (I think this story was part of the 10th class English. Not sure whether it was English 1 or 2. Never could figure out the difference!). I shant take a detour to a discussion on education methodologies, but English was not treated as something to be loved. How I came to being drunk in my passion for English, I know not. I might owe some of it to my father, and some to the ways of the world.
Outside of school, my sister and I used to compete with each other regarding the books (quality and quantity) we read. Summer vacations were a nightmare for our parents (more so for mom). Books were sprinkled on the floor with a greater frequency than the chips on mosaic tiles. We read Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Famous Five, Archies, and a few others. Then we shifted to novels while I fell in love with Saki and O'Henry. I read more and more of them and found little competition from my sister. She went on to stuff that leaves girls smiling for no reason. I moved on to the telling details of Sredni Vashtar and The Theory and The Hound.
Those were days without network connectivity. Heck! those were days without a computer. I didn't rush to my bookmarks to start looking up authors, biographies, reviews, articles related to texts. Now, I spend time understanding what Pico Iyer liked to read, where was he in 1998, what people think about Abandon and so on. Neither phases of my life score more.
In summary, I was raised with Saki, O'Henry, Maugham, Poe, Chekov, Saroyan and London. Yes, my English was mostly British and I am grateful to whoever is responsible for that (parents included and St. Mary's ICSE receiving my most ardent bows). All these writers, and I include Maupassant in this clique, were wonderful and delightful reads. How they wrote, what drove them, how they lived was and is of least consequence. Their stories felt like ... stories.

Let's walk the present-day roads. The overpowering influence of media and interconnectedness has only affected the written word for the worse. Not only are books hyped beyond their worth, but the language in current works is horrible (so what if they reflect the real world street?). I shall reserve my views on foul language. SMS-ese rules. People have lost the art of learning the right spellings and have become slaves to spell-checkers (and most of the mails I receive seem to have not even invoked these programs). But my frustration doesn't find life in these slights. What ruins my sleep is this entire notion of modern fiction that parades the world of stories.

If you are so inclined, please study structuralism, realism, modernism, post-modernism, post-post-modernism in the context of literature.

I read this post a few days ago: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2101-2539779,00.html

I recall Nathaniel Hawthorne say about good writing: Easy reading is damn hard writing. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne. And I think the current bandwagon of English writers are aware of this although they might not admit it. Gallant Gallstone.

Monday, January 22, 2007

For the love of me

Turquoise ink
Is best suited
For words that take long
To dry.


And some other words
Sputter on the parchment -
Heave and breathe
Final spasms
As they settle
Into the ways
Of this desiccated earth.

But words live on - A million words... smudged!
Like "Love",
Which I thought had dried
But came to life
When a finger that brushed my cheek
Ran over it as well.

Words are but half-realised truths,
She said.
Half in what they portray.
Half in what they wish to convey.
For "joy" is always in half
And so is need.

I am married to words,
She said.
Married so, that "lust" suffices.
"Togetherness" suffices.
"Warmth" suffices
On a cold Autumn night.

He died of the poison in the ink,
They said.
Why he licked his letter
Into oblivion, we shant know.
It wasn't the ink that killed me, friends.
It was words.
Words like
With the final breath on

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Confessions of an inveterate collector

I love collecting things that can be collected, so much that I invent/discover perspectives to collecting things which were once thought of as lacking variety enough to be collectible - blank sheets of papers from various notebooks, for instance. I collect plans and brush off the option of implementing them lest I lose an element from my collection. Thus, I also collect failures. I love reading, and have more than 1800 short stories; I might have read about 100 of them. Isn't it exciting? The paradise that an unfulfilled present offers as a future? I have over 200 itineraries in my cupboard and I might have exhausted 2-5 of them. The coming days are bound to be filled with wonder and cherishable experience.
A collector has his eyes set for the future. I am not talking about stamp-collectors although they too expect a day to dawn when their rather quaint square of paper with a bridge painted in sepia becomes invaluable with the news that it was recently bombed and left behind no trace other than a gaping void of what was and a promise of what could be brought back in place so that most people could continue with their lives while a few others could romanticise it. I collect words (over a few thousands of them classified as "Words" and "Interesting Words") and intend to spend time with them on days when words alone make sense in a world which has turned understandably silent. May I share with you the joy of tasting words like bricolage, weltschmerz, Pecksniffian, rhadamanthine or - aaah - noblesse oblige? An hour with these words sashaying around in my head and dancing within my iris is all that I would need when the world and their wives chatter on silently.A collection of moments called life
A collector is in love with collecting and not necessarily the collected. What game is left to the hunter who has razed the forest of all quadrupeds and feathered chirps? No real hunter would do that. You always leave some... or release some into the wild to ensure an active tomorrow.
My life has been plagued with a few days when I haven't indulged in collecting. Books, notebooks, pens, disk space, bandwidth, music, relationships... yes, even relationships. It thrilled me beyond measure to acquaint myself with a huge percentage of the evening party, or the product team. Relationships and experiences are best collected and bunched together with the staples of gregariousness. I was and still am serious about each and every one of the persons I have met. Not only are the trivial details, whose recollection touches everyone, earnestly remembered, but even the habits, preferences and allergies which the affected consider serious enough to warrant a space in everyone's memory, although it hardly penetrates the smoke they roll out through the moisture of the well held nose. A collector has to be serious but just that much. People and their company are wonderful as collections, since they tend to mutate into other categories of collectibles like tennis partners, fellow idealists and - what is often best - lovers. People and relationships also tend to create memories - the best butter that held the slices of life together.
What I collect comes with the memory of the world that was, when I had prettily picked that flower for the bouquet of that day. What happened when I bought that book? The famished boy who sold me that pen. The rains which left me sandwiched between a girl of 50 and a woman of 15 under the sheets of the bus depot, and how I collected stories of her husband who hardly spent time with her except when he bought her glass bangles which surprisingly, at least to her, preceded his libidinous nights, which made her marriage so beautiful and, from the other, how she despised the thought of staying with another man. What was I collecting then - perhaps moments away from people I knew? Memories are a collector's pickle; never a meal in itself but the best accompaniment to any main course.
And today I lie in the midst of the several collections of collections that I have drawn over decades (decades: noun. more than one decade) on this earth and I feel that a collectors life is always complete. You have more to collect, but you have a lot collected. At any point of time, there is a collection unlike a pat on the back of an athlete - it will never replace the gold medal. There aren't trophies in collecting. There is never a greater collection (as it would force the collector to admit to a bleaker future) and never a tiny collection - there is only a collection and hence you have achieved what there is to achieve. Your life is complete. My life is complete. In the midst of 1800+ short stories, 100+ novels, dozens of anthologies of poems (and do read through this lovely thread about a collection of poets), several translations, sheafs of blank papers, some yellow and brittle, some ruled, some stained with carelessness or memories best forgotten, some glossy, some half written, some well covered with things gone meaningless, words, beautiful words - basically, words - songs, lyrics, names, friendship bands, promises made, promises broken, damaged floppies, voices from a past which is clearer than today's hours, telephone cables, green, yellow, ivory, band-aid, drawings, phone numbers, email addresses, scrap books, bookmark files, memories, smiles, ghosts, tears, smirks, plans, hopes, folly, visions, silence, you, me... in the midst of all this I realise that my life is complete, because I realise I am but a collector.

Friday, January 19, 2007


"Shut up!"
He waited for the tremors of his outburst to be sucked into the imposing darkness that surrounded him and the knife he held. He held his breath and heard the insolent tap continue to drip in the tin drum. Once he thought that that very sound helped him realise that he was alive, but now it was too much; so was staying alive. He held his neck taut while the cold blade of the knife lay on his bare lap - when it warmed he would turn it over. He breathed hard and let the exhaled air scrape against his nostrils. He was alive, but he had to be alert, for tonight might be the night.
Tonight?He watched the headlights of a far away car run its fingers along the picket fence that marked his house - yellow fangs ran on his wall and against his face. He clenched his eyes and mouth shut. The warmth of the lights burnt against his skin and he wanted everything to be dark again or sunlight. It passed. He looked around just to make sure and turned the knife over on his lap.
"I know you are there!" he screamed.
He ran the knife under his sleeve and jerked it outward. It cut the worn fabric of his shirt. Sharp enough, he thought. He heard crickets chatter in the cold night. He snapped the nails of his index fingers against each other in response. They were letting him know where he was. He was around, they said. He was near. He replied to their warning with nail clicks - Thanks. He won't get me, not tonight. The door was locked from outside, so he couldn't be surprised from behind. It was only on the side of the house with the tin drum or over the McSwathe's fence. Or from straight ahead. He wouldn't dare.
There was a party raging somewhere downhill and the music from there was laced with the tones of youth he never enjoyed. Music and radio stifled him. He remembered listening to "Silent Night" that night when his father strangled his mother and shoved his sister aside against a live wire. His sister's fatal fall turned everything dark and the voice in the radio was strangled on the word "holy" (or was it after the word "holy" and on the word "night"?). His father kept calling out to him "David, David... come here, son. I won't hurt you. David?" The rasp of his voice abraded all his childhood and left him on the porch every night thereafter. The police never managed to catch him and didn't have enough men to allot one to stay with David.
He felt the breeze play down his neck and he whirled and slashed out at the darkness. He whipped around just to be sure that he wasn't being ambushed - anything, just about anything, the breeze, too, could be decoy. He stood still waiting...
The lights turned on at the McSwathe's. He watched their silhouette against the window. Was Jack going to kill his wife? She never liked David and had kept her children away from him. He watched them hug. So had his father. Yes, he was going to kill her. He searched in the muddy dark and finally found a beer can, half empty, and hurled it at the window.
"Who the hell is that?"
"You can't kill her. I am watching you, Jack. Don't you dare. Don't you dare."
"Call the cops, Jack."
They rushed further into the house. David was smiling and nodding his head.
"Think you could get me? Come and get me now."
He sat on the porch and replaced the knife. He heard sirens from afar. He darted a look around, before he decided to stretch out on the porch. He had 2 minutes to sleep today. The tap dripped against the tin of the drum. He was alive. Still.

Zen Koans

This is purely for my purpose of having a single post where I can collect the Zen Koans that I have written so far (and unlike what a friend thought, there aren't several dozens but just a little over half a dozen). I tend to forget (amongst many things) when I wrote each of them, and skimming through the archives is quite a pain. Another problem is that I have named all of them as "Zen Koan" which makes searching not very pointed.

  1. Zen Koan about love
  2. Zen Koan about being consumed
  3. Zen Koan about the elements and what is
  4. Zen Koan about origin and fame (lemon tree)
  5. Zen Koan about doing versus lame discussions
  6. Zen Koan and Aikido
  7. Zen Koan and the way of the sword
  8. Zen Koan about wanting
  9. Zen Koan about the myriad path to the single destination
  10. Zen Koan about the crux of learning
  11. Zen Koan on Now
  12. Zen Koan on understanding virtue
  13. Zen Koan on Fame

The monk on the wooden panel shall lead you to a glimpse of Truth...

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Artist and Craftsman

Today I was privy to a wonderful discussion. It is amazing that the human soul is always viewed through the keyhole of the human body. We think that the various facets of a person are united in the body that seems to contain them all. And this was the thought that passed my mind while I overheard the discussion on a table behind where I was sitting at the Murugan Idli House. They have partitions between tables to discourage nosy people (ahem!) from intruding in the little private spaces awarded by restaurant tables. Many places don't even grant you that much; people would quite casually join at your table if a particular corner is not covered by human hand, coffee stain or a plate of idli/dosa.
What made the discussion wonderful? The discussion relayed my thoughts as if I was the third person in the conversation. I would have thought of something and one of them spoke it as if I had handed him a chit of paper and whispered "Psst!". It happened several times and often I felt that one of them was presenting my thoughts better than I could ever do.
Let me hand over the stage to them. I don't recollect the earlier bits of the conversation, so what follows is from where I remember. My thoughts inserted in curly brackets.

"... and he said that he would put up a post related to that comment", said deep voice (DV)
"I doubt whether he would. He is an artist so you can't predict what he'll write", said mellow voice (MV).
"I don't think he is an artist. He keeps talking about reworking and stuff and he writes these things called experience writing - a term, he says, he coined - which seem to be based on events that might or might not have happened with characters who might have been there in his life but are just the physical entity which he fills with the persona he chooses, making them live emotions and events which they might never have, although it would always comes across as plausible."
"But he also writes things in one flow. You remember his posts, right? I spoke to him after reading that koan of his and he goes "I don't have a clue why I wrote that." Now isn't that a mark of an artist?"
{Why is everyone so impressed by suddenness?}
"Why do you think that if a work of art stems from an abstruse afflatus, it is truly art? Can there be no work of art which requires deliberate thought and planning?"
I suppose MV was thinking about this or sipping tea before it grew cold.
"I think we need to distinguish between art and craft, don't you think?" asked MV.
"I am not sure. Take a look at this photograph. Do you think it's beautiful?"
"Of course!"
I was wondering what they were looking at. I contemplated getting up and peering over the partition, but I wasn't sure how they were seated. But what had that picture got to do with this discussion?
"Why are you suddenly showing me this picture?"
"Do you think it is a work of art?"
"Surely. What colour! I love the colour of the sky against the windshield and the bent signpost. Very well captured."
"And what about this picture?"
"Neat. Where did you find this? Since when have you developed an interest for photography?" asked MV.
"Oh! I have always been interested in the arts and I got these pictures from the links on his blog."
"Really? From his blog? How come I missed them?"
"Do you know that the first picture has been touched and modified by Photoshop?"
"Really!? Oh! But then what is the point of that? Anyone can do that. And the 2nd one?"
"Well, its a shot that was captured at that instant."
"Now that is photography!"
{So something untouched is photography?}
"Why? Just because it hasn't been touched?" asked DV.
"Yes, what is the point manipulating something. It is basically rigging it, right?"
"In a way, yes, but photography is always that. With film based cameras, the dark room is where processing would happen and that was never considered artistic enough when compared to still life painting or something like that. Every art form has gone through its stages of being considered ersatz."
"But don't you think that photography is about the eye of the photographer and hence reveals his aesthetic sense?"
"True, but a picture touched in order to reveal what the artist wants is also revelatory of the newly-defined artist's aesthetic sense, isn't it? Now, the artist is not a photographer but a digital image... whatever, but he is also an artist whose tools and building blocks are now different. For a photographer it is the real world, perhaps. For a digital artist it is a snapshot of the real world which he can now work on to create an image which he can see in his mind's eye and which didn't exist in the real world or in the snapshot."
{When does one stop? Everything can be made an art?}
"Then that would require being clear about where one draws a line to one's art form. Photography ends there and digital imagery starts here. Else it would be quite difficult to understand and appreciate art forms", said MV.
"Well, how does it matter where we draw lines? I think that is why he said Does it matter where the river is born when it cannot quench your thirst? in response to one of the earlier comments."
"True. Would it matter whether I really saw a man writh in pain after being bit by a snake, or is it sufficient that I can make the reader "see" the man writhing in pain? Let's hope he writes about it as he promised."
"And then there is this infatuation that patrons have with art produced by the mentally affected or drug-induced art. I don't..."
"But there is an other worldly thing about those products. Something that leaves the source unknown and unreachable. Isn't it a wonder how they create such brilliant pieces! Listen to Miles Davis, Ray Charles, read Woolf, Poe, Kerouac, admire Van Gogh, Michelangelo... you name it. There are more whacky people admired than pedestrian artists."
"I agree, that there is this aura about them, about their muse and where they derive their inspiration from. But is that how art should be defined?"
{No! But there is some magical quality to the thing that springs from unknown wells.}
"I agree that art is not defined thus, but mystery when combined with art has its own value. People aren't merely interested in the art pieces. They want to know more about the artist, where he comes from, what stokes his creative fires... and when they find a puzzle in the artist, they are attracted more towards the art pieces he produces."
"But that is not what should affect our judgement, right?"
"Absolutely not but that brings us back to the distinction between an artist and a craftsman."
"I hesitate to realise the difference."
"Come on, it can't be that bad. I think an artist is one who gets a clear vision and acts on it. A craftsman would be someone who uses effort and intelligence to create something beautiful. An artist would be purer in a sense than a craftsman."
{How untrue!}
"See? This is why I hesitate. I think they are both pure. What if the artist is a sculptor? His vision might take a few weeks to take form, right? He would employ effort and intelligence, right? So would you call Michelangelo an artist or a craftsman after he completed the Pieta?"
"Aaah! the Pieta! She is so beautiful. Yes, I agree with you. It does become difficult. But photograph manipulation has to be a craft and not an art."
"I disagree. What if the photographer saw the scene before his eyes and was able to picture how he would want to render it eventually through digital manipulation? Every photographer who can adjust aperture and exposure in an SLR is manipulating the image already, isn't he?"
"It does appear like it is a very thin line. So what is the mark of an artist? How is he different from a craftsman? Is there a difference at all?"
"I don't know. It is easy to say no but I am sure he might raise some interesting points in his post."
"If he writes", said MV.
"Yes, if he writes. You can't be sure about his writing though. Sometimes it seems like craft and sometimes like something readymade which he just put up on his blog."
"Yes. Actually he is a decent case in point for the thin line vanishing."
"Or like Forrester says in "Finding Forrester": You write your first draft ... with your heart. You rewrite with your head."
"I think he said that too over the phone, a while ago. He might have seen the movie."
{That quote tickles something in me. Maybe that is the clue that he gave to MV.}
"Is it possible that that is what he means to be the distinguishing factor between an artist and a craftsman?"
"What do you mean?" asked DV.
"Think about it. Think about what he said about the river being born and thirst quenching. I think he means something in that."
"Hmmm. I think that is part of the answer. His response to the other part is hidden in his many koans. The point is that every reading gives me a different meaning."
"For all you know, he might be clear and blunt in addressing this issue. Let's just wait for his post. "
I was happy that my breakfast was peppered with this conversation which made me smile... though I wonder who they were talking about.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Beautiful Stance

One truth, several renditions... Photo: Courtesy The Hindu Photo Library

This picture (this is the best size I could find. Please obtain a copy of the Magazine for a better copy) was part of an article (in The Hindu Magazine) about the late danseuse Chandralekha. I admired her though I had seen very little of her work but this picture held my attention for a long time. Look at the 3rd lady from the right. Her form, to me, is perfect. Very good ara-mandi (half-seated stance). Look at the sharpness of her Hamsasya mudra, the curve of her spine. Notice that she doesn't lean forward or backward, but uses the suppleness of her spine to hold herself erect though in a smooth curve. Notice her feet on the ground - nearly perpendicular to each other. Her shin doesn't lean to the sides. Notice how her right wrist is held firmly in place although she looks at her other hand. Her abdomen is tucked in just right and notice the sinuous belt that she wears - goes perfectly well with the curves of her body. Her belly is sensuously visible over the belt (although not clear in this picture) and she holds herself without leaning forward or pushing her rear out back too much. Her neck is not too bent nor does it lean to the sides... I wonder who she is. So delicate and yet so powerful. I suppose the lady is well into her 70s (if she is still alive). Try blurring your eyes while seeing this picture and you will notice the flaws in the other postures and the correctness in hers. If anyone has any clue about her, please let me know. I would love to meet her. I salute her for managing a near perfect posture. Lord Nataraja would have been terribly pleased with her.

A case for astrology

A long long while ago, two men were sitting under a tree. One of them said, "I must go to Nalanda to visit my son." (yes, that long ago). The other looked at the firmament through narrowed eyes and said, "Three stripes of red and blue; travels should be few." The traveler shook his head and said, "No travel is all cool winds and warm sunshine."

In spite of people as mature as our traveler, the meteorological department came into prominence, although not many trust it. I remember watching a movie starring Rajesh Khanna (RK) and someone whose name I don't recall. The heroine's father was a great astrologer and RK was a non-believer. Once RK goes to meet his lover and overhears her father telling someone, "Don't do ----- as it will rain today at 5:00 p.m." A conversation follows between RK and his love about the foolishness of these practices and it starts raining. Time: 5:00 p.m.

Astrology and/or other forms of divination exist in each and every culture and society. Wonder why? I think there are two things that one must notice. One, astrology is not a need based practice (I will not call it a science). Two, human beings will always be anxious/concerned/frightened of what lies in store for them in the coming days. This anxiety creates a need in each soul to fortify their future in the best way possible. As they take care of the financial and corporeal insurance, information about the future is also considered vital and is hence, sought out. Some of this information is in the form of concrete plans and the rest is known as speculation. Speculation about financial trends, technological trends, political trends are all considered the best butter at your breakfast table or the finest cigar in the smoke room. But astrology is always considered a sissy matter. I wonder why.

Let me present what I have gotten to know/learn about astrology over several years before I gave it all up (not because my belief in astrology waned).

Astrology is a fine art of predicting about the future based on the movement of planets relative to their positions as it was at the commencement of an activity (e.g. planets at the time of the birth of a person, at the start of a business, at the time when a country gained independence). Astrology branches into a few streams; natal, horary, muhurtha or electional. They serve different purposes and are employed at different times. Prasna, as widely practised in Kerala, is a form of horary astrology.

Planetary positions were quite accurately determined by our ancestors (SuryaSiddhantha is a wonderful reference for that). They didn't possess telescopes or other finely graded instruments. Yet, they could accurately determine the number of planets as well as their details like orbits, velocity (real and relative) and positions in the zodiac. The Indian system of astrology has been sidereal (Nirayana) unlike the western system. I shall restrict this presentation to the Nirayana system (because it makes a lot more sense to me).

So, person A is born. At that very instance, the planets occupy specific positions in space. A snapshot of the heavens is cast as this boy's horoscope. The horoscope is not just one chart consisting of 12 houses/rasi. There are divisional charts which are constructed from the main chart and based on rules. Each such divisional chart is consulted for fine tuning predictions pertaining to specific issues (like the navamsa for dharma kaarya including marriages) but the main chart is vital (as it is the real position of the planets while the rest are derived charts). Here is a sample of a chart as cast at this very minute.

Rasi and navamsa
[Legend: As=Ascendant/Lagna, planets within () are retrograde. Interesting thing to note is the position of the planets when this post was being composed. Totally unplanned.]

Based on several rules, aspects, relationships between planets, ruling periods (or dashas) and various other parameters, an able astrologer will make predictions.

Here arise several issues. The typical complaints against astrology have fallen into the following brackets:

1. Predictions don't always fructify
2. What is the scientific basis for this? How can planets affect us?
3. If this is the prediction then how can gems and mantras alter the course?

This is how we need to understand the ways of astrology and an astrologer. An astrologer is an interpreter. His input is not clear-cut sentences but patterns and cryptic hints and clues. An astrologer is ruled by his horoscope as well. An able astrologer would do one of the following:

1. Mark times in his life when he would not have his tongue aligned with the ways of the Divine and avoid consulting at those times. It is vital that he does this during the good phases of his life!
2. Fortify himself by performing austere penance as specified in the shastras.

Both approaches have their issues (a wonderful case in point is the story of Thalakulathur Bhattathiri of Kerala) and as every astrologer knows, nothing can be placed as final.

Allow me to present my understanding of this subject and why I find the treatment meted out to astrology as unfair. I shall consider one bracket at a time.

1. Predictions don't always fructify

What astrology provides is a probability graph of incidents in the life of the native. Astrology never claims that it is the final word. A popular verse in reference to astrology is:

Phalaani grahachaaren soochayinthi maneeshinaha
Ko vaktha tharathamasya tham ekam vedasam vina.

which means, the results of planetary transits can be inferred by human beings, but who can speak of them with certainty other than the Lord Brahma (Vedasam).
This is not a caveat/disclaimer but the truth and the humility with which astrologers approach their practice.
So this point is vital to understand. It is nothing more than a probability matrix/graph.

Consider popular scientific fields in vogue. Nearly all of them rely to some extent on prediction and predictability. Half-life, weather forecasts, DNA mapping to diseases, stock markets, tectonic movements, chemotherapy (they give you a probability of the effectiveness), etc. all hinge on the predictability inherent in their fields. None of these have ever been condemned in public and failure abounds in these fields. Cholesterol levels have been a popular indicator for cardiac ailments. A village in Italy (or southern Europe) houses people with cholesterol levels more than 4 times the safe limit and they have not had any cardiac problems (major pharma companies are working with the residents in identifying the diet patterns and how to capitalise on this! They spotted something in the fish they eat). I needn't enumerate instances when scientific methods have also gone kaput with their theories and predictions (look at the whole set of assumptions and discussions surrounding the Big Bang theory). Any prediction is bound to be subject to parameters. In an F1 rally, if there was only one car driving around, we might all be certain that it would be the winner, but that is assuming that it doesn't blow up as soon as it shoots off the start line. Think about it, predictions cannot be 100% certain and allowing astrology that, is not doing it a favour. Next time, try asking your homoeopathy (or any -pathy) doctor to give it to you in writing that the tablets/pills they prescribe will certainly cure you of your ailment.

A vital point is the need to distinguish between astrology and astrologers. An astrologer can be bad (like the many hundreds I have known) but astrology need not be at fault. That is why I like the concept of the AshtaMangalaDevaPrasna; several astrologers get together to divine about the query thereby eliminating chances of someone missing a vital omen or pattern. A few astrologers had once tried this out while analysing a particular chart (of a peon who was having some problems). I enjoyed that experience and noted how so many things came out of it which each one of us one our own might have missed. Hence, astrology and an astrologer are not alike as much as medicine and a doctor/quack aren't. How many people stop considering diets although thousands of reports come out about the inefficacy of those practices?

2. Scientific Basis

This is the most common one and especially amongst the younger generation (boy! I feel old after having said that!!). I find it stupid that we seek scientific basis for everything. The world is not science stretched between the North and South poles. Life is not science. Science has its purpose and should be restricted to that. Belief systems and non-scientific practices will be that. If you don't wish to follow them, don't. Don't demand a scientific explanation for that (as much as you wouldn't demand a scientific explanation for why your boyfriend dumped you). What is the scientific explanation for your broker's advice on what scrips to buy? Why do all the scientific explanations for the weather forecast reports go for a toss and then excused in the "light of recent developments off the coast of Bay of Bengal"?
If you are interested in scientific explanations, have you ever bothered to investigate on those lines? Several centuries ago, people laughed at the spherical earth theory until someone proved it. Science still cannot explain a million things on earth ("How do placeboes work?"). Complicated principles and theories are formulated for things that were always difficult to explain (good ol' Heisenberg). Has anyone seen an electron? Or a photon? But don't we already believe in them and in the infinite theories hinging on them? Nuclear physics abounds in examples which defy a "scientific explanation". Has anyone measured 0? What about complex numbers and the square root of -1 which is undefined? Why do we accept these? Because they come in text books and find patrons amongst the people we admire/respect/fear?
So let's find a scientific basis for astrology. Are you willing to conduct experiments with Jupiter's exaltation in a person's chart? What about the analysis of the Kala Sarpa Yoga/Dosha? If you aren't willing as you are unwilling to experiment with photosynthesis or zygotes, then let's denounce all things unexperimented (including the internal combustion engine and hence all your vehicular transport systems) and accept and adopt only those things that have a scientific explanation that you have personally verified. Game for this?
Does this mean that we blindly accept anything argued on these grounds? Well, you decide. I believe in a simple rule: If it works for you, that's your elixir.
I have known several people who have benefited from an astrological advice and I think if something has helped even 10% of the world, then it is worth a shot. Has it caused wars, death, disease or turmoil in 10% of the world? If it hasn't, then it is worth a shot. "Scientific basis" is a silly argument if you aren't willing to investigate. Where will you search for a scientific explanation when doctors unhesitatingly advice the patient's family to TIG; trust in god.
With scientists condemning astrology I would like to open a challenge to any scientist and/or body of scientists to come up with their own methodology to predict the future. Till they succeed, I think they would do well not to condemn something they haven't even studied.

3. Altering predictions

Personally I have never done this. I have offered mantras for ensuring peace of mind through a phase of turmoil but never to undo something. I don't think able astrologers do that. Quacks might. There is a course of action that can be advised like a diet plan or a strategic plan. This course might include gems and mantras to the presiding deity. A close relative of mine wasn't able to conceive and she had approached me (although I had given up astrology by then). I knew her chart by heart and hence couldn't help helping her. Mars was affecting her 5th house (progeny) and I had advised her a course of action which involved prayer as well as wearing a coral. Had Mars or any other planet been positioned to deny her a child, then the approach would have been otherwise. Well within the specified time of the penance (and not all penances are done under the Bodhi tree or in forests!!) she conceived. Would I attribute it to the gem? Nope. Would I attribute it to the mantra? Nope. It was the right course of action. Another story attributed to Thalakulathur Bhattathiri of Kerala is the one in which he countered the prediction made by his son regarding the sex of a child (of the native who had consulted the son). Thalakulathur Bhattathiri realised that his son had been hasty in predicting the sex within the first 3 months of conception and treated the lady with Ayurvedic medicines (oh! btw, an astrologer is supposed to be learned in a million things. There is a strict code of conduct specified in the shastras. By those standards, there is no living astrologer on earth today, to the best of my knowledge.) and the sex of the child was altered. I though this was a good fable until I read medical journals where it is said that sex organs do start forming around the 12th week and sex determination can be reliably done around the 16th-20th week. Well, how on earth did the astrologers of the then era know without scientific basis!?

Closing Notes

1. Anything done in order to cheat someone or take unethical advantage of someone's weakness is unacceptable and is open to critical action (at times legal). So be it with astrology. But there are honest and well meaning practitioners and hence, astrology and astrologers cannot be covered by a single blanket.
2. If it suits you and has worked for you, feel free to consult an astrologer. If it hasn't worked for you, then avoid it but there is no point in condemning others.
3. Without studying astrology condemning it is foolish.
4. The way of the Divine is over and above all this and astrology and the Gods are but means to realise the way of the Divine. If you are spiritually clear and are focused on the Divine, then astrology or any divination technique has no relevance to you. But being half-baked is never palatable.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


An unrealised romance is always more charming and tantalising, for the possibilities, in this case, are infinite.
Her name was Nadia and I never knew till then that it was also the name of the smile that stealthily crept on my lips every time I saw her. Her very presence softened me, tempered my exterior, while every inch of me throbbed with the pleasure in that togetherness. She was perfect in every way (and to a student that I was then, she impressed me with her scores in school, too). Nadia, dear Nadia.
She was all of 11 or 12 years old then; I, 15. We were vacationing in Yercaud in the Sterling Resorts (which seems to have vanished now) when she and her family arrived. She was the oldest of the children in her family. There was Nadia, Mona and their younger sister whose name misses me in the flooding memory of her elder sister. They also had a younger brother who was mostly found clinging to his mother. Mona loved to talk and was the most boisterous. She cracked all kinds of jokes and we had a ball of a time playing games. But Nadia had to simply walk in and nothing else mattered to me. Mona would get irritated with my distraction but I couldn't help it.
Nadia dressed in beautiful clothes, like the black lycra pants and magenta pullover, which she wore on the trek that was organised by the resort. I am glad that we walked through the toughest paths, for it presented several opportunities when Nadia would look up to me for help. Her hands were soft in mine, like white cotton-wool, and she let them stay in mine well after the help sought.
We became good friends and spent several games of Uno, carrom and table-tennis into bonding stronger. We read Archies and other books that the resort had but preferred spending a lot more time simply walking around, with Mona or my sister as avoidable company.
Nadia. Jet-black hair framed her ivory face in straight lines. She would often wear her hair in a pony-tail or occasionally (and once at my request) leave it unrestrained. Her eyes were deep and would peer deep into you. I liked her for her silence and how her little laugh was clear as it stood out even in the party din. Her lips would smile just at the right time and just to the right extent. She wasn't given to excesses, although she left me with an excess of yearning for her.
I would be the first to rise (which had less to do with her than I now imagine) and rush into the resort common area so that I could get the most of her. While in the van transporting us on site-seeing tours, I inched my way next to her. I hated it when another friend's father was speaking to her and hence, didn't like that friend too. Nadia made me what I never was with anyone else.
It's more than 12 years since this happened. Today doesn't feed me a different emotion than what it did then on the hills of Yercaud when someone called out: "Nadia". I remember rushing to wave out to her as her family left for another segment of their vacation. She told me that she was from Hyderabad and was going to Madras to visit her cousins (I reeled out all the Muslim friends I knew in Madras but none of them turned out to be her cousin). I vaguely recall a surname that ended in a "waala".

I'd like to imagine that she liked me. Still does.
I'd like to imagine that she still thinks of the days in Yercaud.
I'd like to imagine that she is still single on a solitary hope.
I'd like to imagine that she smiles when someone across the road calls out my name.
I'd like to imagine that when we meet, she would swallow her tears and hug me.
I'd like to imagine her looking out of the van when she visits Yercaud again.
I'd like to imagine that someone points this post to her and asks: "This is you?"
I'd like to imagine her shake her head but be unable to take her eyes off this post.
I'd like to imagine that she would drop a comment here....

As I said, that which holds the potential of being love is sweeter than that which is.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Dance of Light

The way of all light

Isn't the way of light filled with shadows too?


Dear Andal, isn't Spring lovely Kannan's Lover
Amidst many hued flowers and birds' anthem?
'Tis dull compared to Margazhi
When my Kannan's music throbs down my bosom.

Margazhi (and I shall resort to this spelling although I am averse to the Tamil "y" written in English as "zh". So this is how it goes: Say Maarg-uh and then stick the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth and say yee. Don't stick your tongue throughout the recital.) is beautiful; beautiful in what it presents as well as in what it promises. Margazhi, for long, is associated with music festivals and the SriVaishnava sampradhayas. Margazhi rings in the days when my mother wakes up early, well before sunrise, and donning a "madee" saree would proceed to the prayer room cum kitchen in our quaint flat in Bombay. I was always "madee" (and I later learnt that that was a convenient concession granted to me since there was no other way for her to manage me when I could still crawl under chairs and climb on top of shelves) and loved to watch her prepare the pongal (mom calls it thirupakshi and I thought that meant holy bird, but as nearly always, I am well mistaken). Pongal is one dish which is easy to prepare but which requires a loving mother to make it tasty and memorable. I preferred my "holy bird" hot, with a lot of cashews, softened black peppers, jeera, just the right tinge of yellow (due to the moong dal. I hate calling it paasi paruppu) and lots and lots of ghee (clarified butter). Ummmmm. Give me those days, throughout the year.

Mom would split the prepared "holy bird" into two portions; one without salt for the gods and her son (now I know why she called me Kanna and even named me Uppili adding to my collection of several names that were showered on me when all I wanted to do was lie on my back and be cleaned occasionally) and another, with salt for the mere mortals of the family!

She would make a variety of chutneys to go with this "holy bird". Chutneys made purely with grated coconut, coriander, curry leaves, combinations, tomatoes, ginger, combos, green chilly, gooseberry (nellikai) (join me in the mouth watering ceremony; I while I write and you while you read) and sometimes with cucumber. No wonder the ladies of the world think that the "holy bird" would successfully seduce the One-whose-skin-is-of-the-hue-of-dark-blue-clouds. Lesser wonder that Oothukaadu Venkatasubbaiyyer (don't sue me for the spelling) sang to Yashoda "Undhan paiyanai polave indha, vaiygathill oru pillai, ammamma naan kandathillai". Indeed, the butter-stealing darling of Yashoda deserves nothing less than this treat (though we both prefer it with fresh white butter with a few sugar crystals dropped in).

Everyday, mom would sing a different paasuram, which was more often than not, off-key (or so I thought). But I loved her voice bouncing off the bulb-lit walls of the kitchen, making the golden flames bounce in their silver receptacle casting shadows of the gods that danced within their well painted frames. I would love to watch the fiery tips of the wick cast a reflection on the yellowish oil in the freshly cleaned lamps. It wasn't my imagination but the golden blades of fire did dance to the tunes my mom laid out for them, while the rest of the world continued to sleep. Mom would coax me to go back to sleep, but was glad that I didn't listen to her. She saw in that obstinate act a promise of at least someone in the family carrying on the tradition of waking up early to cater to the gods. Such was the simplicity that made her smile and coo, "Enn Raju!" (My little prince!). If there is something that I can explain to anyone on earth, it is what drove Krishna to be more and more naughty. If I have become thus thanks to the love of one woman, think about what fired him to be the brat of an entire village.

Several years later, we came to Madras (you call it Chennai, I'll call it Madras) and I realised that had there been Indian Airlines (or Jet) back then, then Krishna would have moved out of there to here (to hell with a bunch of squabbling cousins!).

Margazhi in Madras is announced.
Margazhi in Madras is cherished.
Margazhi in Madras is relished.
Margazhi in Madras is beautiful.

As the lights of the sodium-vapour streetlamps streamed down, tangoing with the rising smoke from the stoves preparing pongal, I watched ladies, fresh from a bath, stooped over the patch of land right outside their door. Lovely white powder streamed from their fingers as they teased the earth into revealing brilliant designs. They'd stop to wipe their forehead or brush an eager strand of hair - eager to watch what colours the earth - back and the fluency of their movements made them gorgeous in the dimly lit passages that led to the temple towers of Mylapore. They would softly hum a song to the Lord while managing the curves of the kolam and the level of the milk in the pot, not far away.

I could stand there all morning, watching these women blossom into something lovelier than what womanhood could ever promise. And the world around them blossomed as the Vishnu Sahasranamam rumbled from the Srinivasa Perumaal temple, bringing with it the fragrance of flowers and sunrise.

The crescendo to this flowering beauty which snaked down the narrow streets of Mylapore, nudging smiles of contentment on the faces that lined the grilled windows, was the sudden flutter of untainted mirth wrapped in shrill giggles and silk. Out poured a bevy of doe-eyed beauties sparing no threshold of their soft feet and no heart of the love they commanded. What happens to them after they grow up, is beyond me!! Though I pouted at the fact that my sister got more clothes during festivals, I was happy for the very same reasons; many of her friends would visit us in their sparkling new clothes. Well, you lose some, you get some. Jasmines and December poo (flowers that bloom in December) on black locks falling oh-so-lightly on a red silk blouse atop a butter-white paavaadai (skirt) with gold butta (small gaping polka dots with a design)... I shall stop here with a call to retaining my sanity.

One could walk down narrow alleys with temples and houses decorated well. I saw a temple with a "To Let" board once and wondered whether the Gods would show the prospective buyer around the place ("There is where the missus and I go to rest and that is the well from which the priest gets us cold water to bathe. Yes, even during the months of Margazhi"). One could stand near the dwara (entrance) of a temple (and without offending anyone, a Vaishnava temple would be more rewarding in these months) and close their eyes. The conversations about kutcheris (concerts), how the new daughter-in-law couldn't even make gotsu (an eggplant sauce served with pongal), how that singer insisted on down-payment before the concert, about the new show on Jaya TV where they will be showing all the DivyaKshetrams... and you'll smile too. Temples in South India incur conversations about anything except the Gods. Maybe the Gods seek such gossip too!!

And as I listen to the waning chatter about the rising prices of moong dal and how 200 gms of ginger is now Rs. 10 when just a few months ago it was 2, I watch a young man with the skin like ebony, made darker in contrast with the glaring white veshti and shirt, cycle his way through the crowd that hums around the temple. Like a promising spot on the back of his shirt and veshti is his tiny daughter, dressed in bright green, wearing a pinch of the December poo, and clinging to the loose end of her fathers shirt (how could he leave her to sit on that hard metal carrier?). Her constant fear of letting go of her father is now replaced by the awe she feels in the midst of this human field of devotees thronging a god whom her parents worship and who gives her sweet water to sip and tangy green leaves to eat. She watches them flow in and out bathed in the tunes of a far away naadhaswaram and dodging the vegetable vendors and flower sellers as they rush to see their god, their Kannan who might just grace them with an iota of his love that he showered on Andal. As she continues to clutch her father's shirt, she smiles at what she will one day recollect... with a smile.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Mass Belief Systems

Or in other words, religions and cults, are one of the most interesting organic entities that man has ever created. It amazes me to find people adhere, switch, juggle and denounce these MBSs with unabated conviction and zeal. I remember once mentioning this to a friend, "Anything which requires me to first believe in it before understanding it or realising it, is surely not the Truth."

I was exposed to Jiddu Krishnamurthy at the age of 18 (you decide whether that is young or not). An uncle of mine read some of my essays (unpublished) and thought I was inspired by JK. Unfortunately, I hadn't read JK till then and had only heard about him (spoken in hushed tones at home, because mom didn't quite like him though dad, who in a way resembles JK, used to attend his discussions). Fortunately, the first piece of JK's thought that I read was this: Truth is a Pathless Land. I clearly remember jumping out of my chair and exclaiming: "Jolly good, this man makes sense!" I have read him only sporadically after that, just to pass my time.

Why I recount this incident is to clarify what many people think: Eroteme is a follower/believer of JK (though you would believe in and not of). I am still to figure what I believe in. Even Taoism is something I realise and not believe in per se. Nevertheless, it would be safer to say that I am a non-believer or a pan-believer than anything else.

What amazes me (and I wrote a piece of fiction in Alvibest about this) is the cult movements that attract so many people from all over the world. Be it Osho, Sri Sri Ravishanker (SSRS) or Satya Sai Baba, they all seem to be doing or saying the same stuff which was told and done for centuries. For centuries, India has been the fertile bed of several schools of philosophy and religion. This is the land which also created the Samkhya Philosophy as well as the Bhakthi movement. But there never was a cult for Yajnavalkya, for instance. So why do re-hashes and packaging get so much attention?

Today, I read about SSRS on Atanu Dey's blog. I enjoy what he writes though, often, I take it with a pinch of salt (well, he is a passionate man) but his series on SSRS is very accurate and fair. It was quite hilarious reading, though the humour was more thanks to SSRS's devotees than any other reason. Coincidentally, I also read Steven Hayes' theory on happiness and a dear friend was clear in her observation: this is for crazy people who can't understand themselves. I will explain later why Steven and SSRS are mentioned in the same paragraph.

I think the cults are for the mentally and psychologically incomplete individuals. It is surely not for those who are serious about life and Truth. Had they been serious, they would have stuck to their search of Truth and not stuck to an individual. An individual can never be Truth. He might have an idea of Truth, but he will never be Truth. As the great Lao Tzu said, those who know, speak not (verse 56). Then what about JK or Buddha, you ask. I don't really care. Whatever they may have been, they were more interested in Truth and life and went into that question deeply without prescribing techniques and gimmicks. Hence, I respect them although I do not agree with them on many counts.
Only those who are dissatisfied seem to go in search of cults. have you heard about any person who was so happy with his job, family, friends, hobbies, financial situation, health but still went out in search for a cult to add to his happiness? Cults prey on those who aren't clear about themselves or life. Cults are like shots and provide nothing more than a feel-good dose. One more thing about these cults that makes me roll my eyes is this name changing business. Suddenly someone is SarvaSukhaAnanda (I don't know anyone like this and just made it up. Any resemblance to anyone dead or alive is pure coincidence). India has this obsession with Anand, Baba, and Shri (even atma and maharaj). Everyone great must have one of these in his or her name (maa, rani, devi etc. for women). Get real, guys! ISKCON takes the cake for the renaming game.

Cults grate on my nerves because they seem to move away from what they tout. At least Hubbard was honest enough to say: "the way to become a millionaire is to create a religion". And he did.
How can the multitude bring peace to an individual?
How can chanting whatever bring peace to all those who chant?
How can you charge something (money, favours, what you will) when you claim that this is Truth or God's word?

As Atanu correctly points out, people aren't really interested in the effort that goes into spiritual awakening. As I have always believed (and am certain of it), each person has to individually work towards his nirvana. There is no way someone else is going to take you there while you watch Sex and the City. Why should someone do that? What makes you deserve that? While reading or listening to people might help one in one's own journey (which need not be entirely intellectual or scientific), modifying the journey to now become centred around this particular gentleman is quite ... well, off the mark.

My question to cults has typically been this: If your wo/man (the person you worship) dies, then will the great spiritual bliss and blah all die out? If it will then you should realise that this is no longer the Truth. If it won't, then why do you want to stick to her/him and not the Truth? I don't hate/dislike the central person, but one should realise that s/he is not the Divine, not Truth. Why do numbers, marketing plans, stunts, shows and gimmicks rank higher than the Truth?

Get a life. Meditate and if you are meant to attain the Divine, then you will. And what is so great about being philosophical or spiritual or one with the Divine? It only seems to be another point to score on to most people. If it isn't, you wouldn't care about cults. Touche'

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


I still recall the first time I heard a ghazal. It sprang out of an old National Panasonic music system and was carried in the voice of Ghulam Ali. My father had caught me in my moment of tiredness (from running around the house on a walking stick which, to me then, was the finest stallion ever) and asked me to sit on his lap and listen to this new cassette. I remember the black cover with something in blue under the plastic case chequered in clear and misty portions. I was too tired to protest and we sat together on our old sofa (we had two sofas which were conveniently named, old and new sofa). I learnt a lot on the old sofa including the important lesson of a protruding brad's ability to cut your skin! He chose the song "Chupke Chupke raat din" (chupke- furtively, quietly, raat-night, din-day) and let it play softly until it filled the room. I wasn't sure whether it was the heaving of a tired torso or the melody of the song which made the room sway while it played mellifluously with words I never understood and a medley of instruments I couldn't discern. After a while, which is always eternity to a child of five, I jumped out of my father's lap and started riding my black stallion with a mane like the darkest of clouds and eyes like molten nuggets of gold, riding through palatine worlds of evil lords. My father simply shook his head and reclined against the sofa with his eyes half shut.

Another scene that is stuck in my head is a bunch of people sitting around the poet and listening to his ghazal recital. He would say a part of the last line and the rest would join him in completing the verse and then go "Waah, waah" (which is like saying "Wonderful" repeatedly or "Bravo"). I thought they were all cheating us and had read the poem earlier before assembling, a sneak peek; how else could they know what the poet had composed?

Swirling in a whirling universe...
Things have changed immensely since then and ghazals have an appeal too personal to put in words. Often I wonder, whether I would have appreciated ghazals without understanding their construction. I suppose I still admire the stars on a clear night although I have done enough research into their composition and found explanation for the shimmering presence at an hour when one needs light the most!

In this discussion, we shall see what ghazals are and explore a few aspects of ghazal composition that might elicit a greater appreciation hereafter when a ghazal is encountered. Although this might seem like being too specific to Urdu, I would like to bring to notice that the pattern of a ghazal is also used in English, Marathi and Hindi poetry. Translations (sometimes literal and sometimes not) shall accompany the quoted verses.

A ghazal is a collection of shers following a, usually, strict code regarding the style and constraints on the first and following shers. A sher is a couplet. The meter, or beher, of each line in the sher is the same. There are supposedly nineteen different kinds of meters codified as arkaan or syllables used to render the sense of a meter. This technique is used amongst musicians, esp. percussionists, who wish to describe the beat to another person. If we were describing the beat in Hotel California, it might be something like dum-chuck-d-dum-d-dum-chuck or something similar. In order to standardize the mechanism of such communication, meters were specified using arkaan (which literally means pillars). Hence, what we have as a definition for a ghazal is a collection of couplets following a few rules of construction and a single chosen meter. We shall consider the constraints placed on these couplets now.

Let us consider a ghazal to facilitate this discussion and what better than a ghazal from the first album I had heard while sitting on my father's lap and to that memory, I dedicate this article. The translation is not of comparable literary value as the original ghazal, and serves the mere purpose of providing those, who find Urdu an alien tongue, a coarse outline of the poet's creation.

Yeh dil, yeh pagal dil mera, kyun bujh gayaa, aawaragi
Is dasht me ek shehar tha, wo kya hu-aa, aawaaragi

This heart, this foolish heart of mine; why did it die? Loneliness.
In this wilderness, a beautiful city thrived; what happened to it? Loneliness.

Kal shab mujhe, beshakl ki aawaz ne chaunka diya
Maine kaha "tu kaun hai", usne kahaa "aawaaragi"

Last night, a faceless voice caught me by surprise
I asked, "Who are you?" and it said "Loneliness"

Ye dard ki tanhaaiyaan, ye dasht ka veeraan safar
Hum log to ukhta gaye, apni sunaa aawaargi

(In) this pain of solitude and lonely travel through the desert
We soon got bored, So, tell us more about your(self) "loneliness"

Ek ajanabi jhaunke ne jab, puchha mere gam ka sabab
Sehara ki bhigi ret par, maine likhaa "aawaaragi"

A sudden unknown waft asked me about the cause of my sadness
On the wet sands of the desert, I wrote thus: "Loneliness"

Kal raat tanha chaand ko, dekha tha maine khwaab me
'Mohsin' mujhe, raas aayegi, shaayad sadaa aawaaragi

Last night, a lonely moon did I see in my dreams
Oh Mohsin! This suits me fine now and after, this loneliness

This ghazal is a composition by Mohsin Naqvi and hence the last couplet carries his signature which is a very loose traditions followed by poets primarily for the sake of identification (covertly for the sake of immortality!). Let me assure you that the above translation attempts to present only one of the possible interpretations.

The first sher is different from the other shers in that both lines end in the ghazal's special word, "aawaaragi". This word is known as the ghazal's radeef. Every ghazal can have its own radeef and a radeef need not be a singular word. Hence, in a ghazal the first couplet must have both its lines ending in the radeef of the ghazal. This first sher is called a matla. The second line of the remaining couplets must end in the radeef, although their first lines need not. Amongst ghazal lovers a ghazal is remembered usually for its radeef unless the radeef is too common a word or phrase. This ghazal is commonly referred to as "Aawaaragi".

The poet is free to choose any word or phrase to precede the radeef, as long as the last syllable of these words/phrases rhymes. Let us look at our ghazal-in-study: gayaa, hu-aa, kahaa, sunaa, likhaa and sadaa precede the word "aawaaragi" (which is the radeef) across the couplets and hence must rhyme (and they do!).

The beher, or the meter, of all the shers must be the same. Whatever the choice of beher, it must be maintained through the entire ghazal. We shant go into the technicality of which beher family this ghazal belongs to as long as we agree that the ghazal has maintained the beher throughout its length.

A poet usually adopts a pen-name, known as takhallus. Whether he does or not, he would usually mark his composition with the chosen name in the last couplet (known as the maqta). This was and still is a practice adopted by the poet to establish ownership of a ghazal. The name is rarely introduced in a contrived manner but is often observed used in a very clever manner adding a punch to the last couplet. The poet can use his name as if to include himself in the context of the ghazal or have the protagonist in the poem address something to him. It tends to present the poet as a silent observer who was called in only towards the end of the ghazal. Mirza Ghalib, one of the most popular poets in Urdu ghazals, used it with a fine effect:

Hain aur bhi sukhanwar is duniya mein bahut achche
Kehte hain ki "Ghalib" ka hai andaaz-e-bayaan aur.

Many poets live on this earth and are known to be very good,
But, it is said, "Ghalib" has a style which is a class apart

And yet again in another place, he ends his ghazal with:

Hui muddat ke "Ghalib" mar gaya par yaad aatha hai
Woh har baat pe kehna, ki "Yoon hota to kya hotha?"

Its been a while since "Ghalib" died, but he is remembered thus
For everything said, his query of "Had it been thus, then what'd happen?"

One of my favourites is "Daag" Dehlavi's finale.

Koi naam-o-nishaan pooche to aye kaasid bataa dena
Takhallus "Daag" hai, aur aashikon ke dil mein rehta hai

Was anyone to ask for my identity, Oh messenger! Tell them thus
He goes by the name "Daag" and lives in the hearts of lovers!

As we observe in our (original) ghazal-in-study, the poet, Mohsin Naqvi, lets the protagonist of his ghazal address his resignation (to the familiarity of loneliness) to Mohsin himself. Another interpretation is that Mohsin is the protagonist himself and he ends his ghazal with a confession.

We are now in a position to look at a ghazal in its entirety and recognise it as a collection of couplets all tuned to the same chosen meter with the first couplet having both its component lines ending in the same specific set of words which are used at the end of the second line in all the other couplets, and the last couplet containing the poet's signature. It is important to note that all the couplets in a ghazal need not be restricted to a particular theme. The couplets are essentially independent of each other and hence a ghazal is strictly a collection. For example, in the popular ghazal "Hungama hai kyon barpa" written by Daag Dehlavi, the couplets deal in seemingly unrelated themes.

It would do us well to consider a few pieces from various great ghazals. Below, I would like to present some of my favourites. The radeef is in red and the rhyming phrase preceding it is in bold. I hope you enjoy them.

Poet: Sauda
Aadam ka jism jab ki anaasir se mil banaa
Kuch aag bach rahi, so aashiq ka dil

While man's body, from the elements, was made
A little fire remained, thus a lover's heart was made

Poet: Ghalib
Khatha kijey naa ta-alluk humse
Kuch nahin hai to adaavat
hi sahi

Do not break all relations with me
If nothing else, then at least hate me

Poet: Gulzar
Waqt rehtha nahin kahin tick kar
Iski aadat bhi aadmi
si hai

Time doesn't stay forever, anywhere
Its manner is also like (those of) humans

Poet: Hasrat Mohani
Do paher ki dhoop mein mere bulaane ke liye
Voh tera kothe pe nange paaon aana
yaad hai

For a few moments in the day's heat, when I called you
How you rushed to the terrace on bare feet, I still remember

Poet: Daag Dehlavi
Na-thajuribaakaari se waaiz ki ye baaten hain
Iss rang ko kyaa jaaney, poocho to kabhi pee

Inexperienced are the words of the preacher
What does he know about this joy? Ask him if he has ever sipped this.

Poet: Bahadur Shah Zafar (A king who died in penury)
Umr-e-daraaz kar laaye thaa chaar din
Do aarzoo mein cut gaye, do intezaar

I had managed to extend my life by four days
Two were lost in yearning, and two in waiting.

Poet: Masroor Anwar
Dil ki chotone kabhi chain se rehne-na diya, jab chali sard hawa maine tujhe yaad kiya
Iska rona nahin kyoon tuney kiya dil barbaad, iska gham hai ki bahut der se barbaad

The scars of my heart troubled me so, that when a cold wind blew, I thought of you
I do not grieve that you ruined my heart, I regret that you took too long to wreck it.

Poet: Ghalib
Muhabbat mein nahin hai farq jeeney aur marne ka
Ussi ko dekh kar jeetey hain, jis kaafir pe dum

There is no dichotomy of life and death to one who is in love
For he breathes by watching the one for whom he would die .

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

It's a wrap

The mind is the most eager wide screen, joyously battered incessantly by a billion movies. That makes each one of us a wonderful moviemaker. Move over Mr. Spielberg!
Here I am talking to a friend on the phone imagining how and where she would be sitting in her room, and when she tells me about the cute guy she met in the charity raising event at her college, I have a demure girl in her pista-green night-dress sitting with her left leg bent and tucked under her the right side of her seat with her right leg offering her body, support. The room is spacious and in shades of pastel and while I notice her right breast caught between her heaving chest and her right thigh, I pan to a large park with white canvas topped tables under sepia tinted sunshine. Shades of autumn trickle down and bounce lightly off the badges that lay on the tables. Blue and red satin ribbons line them and she reaches over to pick one of them when an alluring smell makes her turn her head to the left: Hmmm, cute guy.
"E, are you listening."Infinity and beyond...
I am back to the pista-greened adorable delight, pouting into the receiver, her right breast still trapped with love-or-crush muddled blood slushing through the translucent skin that spreads taut between the large open sleeve under her armpits.
"Yes, sweets. Go on. So you like him?"
"He is kinda smart and cute. He is majoring in finance. Do you think I should give it a shot?"
I see a whole class full of eager students, fresh and eager to tackle those numbers pouring out of their notebooks and out of the overhead-projector. The professor points his pencil to our sweet girl's crush. He runs his hand through his hair and his tongue over the lower lip before he answers something which makes the prof nod approvingly before he continues. He smiles lopsidedly at the response.
More often than not the movie in my head is quite accurate. It tends to get people wondering but I don't tend to rest on it else my future shows would be sullied with the laurels of guessing accurately. Like now.
"Girl, why don't you go wear something warm?"
"E!!! How did you know?"
There is not a minute that the screens of my mind are without a show covering the dreary white. If the show ends the shadows of the audience dance on it; popcorn buckets, someone tickling their girl, a man stooping over with his coat ends drawn back - oh! he has his hands in the pockets, two ladies wobbling along discussing something. Then I close (or open) my eyes and another show starts; no credits, no promos, no trailers, just the movie.
I go to bed with a show about what will happen in office the next day and that trails off into a movie of a large celebration of a festival and while I am in this autorickshaw, my seat moves back and H is sitting there all naked. We make love in this suddenly limousine-sized auto with my mom firing away details of where she has left the spices and which vessels contain the curd that need to be consumed immediately. Although I am covered by H, I seem to reply to her in chaste Tamil. My seat starts moving to the front and H is still with me. Mom doesn't seem to mind.
I wake up with a start, with the last scenes of the movie running on in my head (no "The End") and I rush back to play the reels of the last time I met H (15 years ago, when I had no clue what making love was). Did I ever think of her like that? Was I even close to her?
Pan to a scene with children rushing through the all important halls of classrooms in the most unimportant attire of school uniforms. H, I and a few others are sitting under this tree having our "tiffin". I offer her some of mine and she offers some of hers. We discuss the questions from the test we wrote recently. I head off to play basketball with my pals. She sits there and watches.
Pan to the autorickshaw. Where did this scene come from? Did I even exchange mails with her? Never. Mails... hmmm. I need to write one to Prof. U before I forget. Chant it, else the night will make you forget. So I chant "Prof. U, Prof. U, Prof. U, Prof. U" if only this chant could send me into that "happy" state like in "Layer Cake" ( a movie I bought recently. Not worth it).
Pan to Ray Charles. Jamie Foxx is so smooth as Ray Charles in that clubhouse, singing "What'd I say" and swinging on his chair in the grips of his music and the heroin. Man, I wish I was sitting next to him and feeling his pulse, the high, the smell of sweat, the Raelettes cooing into the microphone, Ray bumps against me and wonders who is sitting next to him. He smiles and pulls the mic between us. We start singing together, but it is a track that only the two of us know. The musicians are bobbing their heads to the beat letting it sink in and then they start out playing their instruments so wonderfully. The Raelettes join in and wink at me. I nod my head (I don't wink at girls, I tell Ray). He offers me a syringe.
"Go for it, E. You will be a writer like none this world has seen. But you need this."
"Heck no! Ray. I ain't no junkie." (I wonder why my voice is shrill and where on heaven's earth did I learn to speak Afro-American!?)
"Son, junkie to this world, which will be at your feet then", he scratches his shoulders and smiles a big toothy smile,"You will be where no one can touch you."
Mom is screaming from the audience. I see a couple of my friends at another table half in the shadows of maniacally dancing boys and girls chanting "Go for it E." My friends (some bloggers too) are all wearing hats and shake their smiling heads. I look at Ray and then at the needle in his left hand. We are still singing this song (and it has a vague resemblance to the tune I had composed after watching Ray Charles, the movie) but everyone else seems to be singing "Go for it, E" in the same tune. Funny thing happens then... I wake up.
It's a wrap.