Archive for the ‘Memoir’ Category

Alappuzha is a rustic town in central Kerala (Southernmost Indian state) and many people tends to call it  the Venice of the East as they draw on the similarities of the nexus of canals which serve their purpose well in Venice but not in Alappuzha. The canals of course double up as a sewer and a seed ground for the water hyacinths and as these days nobody prefers the waterways, these long stretches of canals lay overwhelmed by the water plants that guzzle up space like anything. After all it’s a pretension of greenery. I am spending my time in Alappuzha these days and happened to go to the vegetable markets. Along with the usual purchase, bagfuls of cabbage peels were to be fished out from the waste heap in the shops to feed the bunnies and piglets. The salesboy encouraged me to take away the whole stuff hoping to get a cut on his burden of cleaning them later. I didn’t need so much  stuff. Incidentally a seemingly immaculate globe of cabbage (of course with their outer skirts on) emerged from the heap and I stuffed it in my bag. It was then that my antagonist jumped in as if he caught me red-handed in an act of felony. Mind me I was still sticking to the garbage heap and was shopping to feed atleast 80 people a day and so little a cabbage would only run down our collective nose. Perhaps he wanted a point or two to impress the shop-owner. Storming at me with a curse (precisely the M-word in Malayalam, standing for pube) he was driving his idea home that I was pilfering that petty cabbage and that his keeping an eye on me ever since I came into the shop was rewarded at last. To be frank I would have loved to see him dead and rot there knowing that nevertheless I could not afford to do that because: 1)he was standing in his turf, 2)he can go to any lengths of verbal or tangible abuse to make himself over the top in a scuffle, and 3) my station did not permit use of immodest behaviour to defend myself. Next day I scanned the newspapers to see whether this guy turned up in the obituaries or reports of some freak accidents or road mishaps.

After much fretting and fuming, I gave up that shop. Next time next shop which was more airy, spacious, lit, graceful and what not. They could spare cabbage leaves too. Typical Indian cooking involves the use of many spices and few leaves of which I can point out curry leaves, coriander leaves and mint. These days due to the taste for other-worldly dishes new leaves are spotted here too. I asked the man for the name of the bunch he placed on the scales. He told me it was parsley. Thanks that I knew that name already I didn’t learn it from him the way he mispronounced. So this is the first of that quartet, immortalized in the refrain “Parsley,Sage, Rosemary and Thyme”, I have heard Simon and Garfunkel sing ever from my childhood and of late through the mellifluous voice of Celtic Woman and the improvised Gregorian Chants. It brought back dear memories to me. I broke a twig of parsley and buried it in my vademecum.

The ballad Scarborough Fair is one of longstanding in the English folklores.  It is presented as a dialogue between a man and his lover girl. They demand of each other seemingly impossible tasks as a proof of their love. To love (not exactly the carnal one) is to embark on the impossible, to impart love where it is most unwelcome and difficult. Perhaps I can sew a cambric shirt for that man who tarnished me and wash that in a waterless well to prove that I am still capable of love.

Parsley. Sage, Rosemary and Thyme were suggested in this ballad as hints to contraception posing them as having symbolic or pharmacological values. Thus says an erudite article on this topic. Love should have a restraint. I am sure that I elicit a guffaw now.

My feelings about Scarborough Fair, the canticle, are deeply personal. My dear father, long defunct, had a particular liking for this song which was communicated to us.  Before the advent of this barrage of information and data-mines it was very unlikely that an average Indian would figure out the lyrics of an English song anywhere near the original. So this was his limit too. Once I could procure for him the lyrics of the song obtained for me by Mr.J (later to become my BIL) but it was too late. My father was in hospital getting referred to Regional Cancer Centre in Thiruvananthapuram and was bracing up that night for the trip. I cannot exactly say what doleful sentiment was written all over his face that night. A boy who had many words to tell his father when he was younger and yet misplaced most of them when he grew up, declining into silence is now before the father for a start-up. Things become clumsy simply because of the misfiring or mistiming. Just like that. He just brushed that printout aside and lost himself in the worries, which I am no man to judge. There is something about our lives which can take away even our best favourites from us leaving us to lurch in the dark. Love asks for the impossible.

“Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

Remember me to the one who lives there…”

 

The other day I was sent to a class in locum. All girls and not the least interested to learn. I was asked to give hagiographical notes on St.Thomas Aquinas. The girls kept giggling and were seemingly nowhere near the great Dominican. One of them quite pretty kept staring at me, harbouring a sinister twist of lips which I cannot exactly make out as a smile more on the reverent side. That killer smile transports me to a vexation. It seemed something familiar, very rooted in me, but I couldn’t tell what.

I remember the day when we watched Inglorious Basterds of Tarantino, back in the Philosophy College. It met the same fate as Hurt Locker. They kept complaining that it is full of the F-word as if expletives are quite alien to their world and so abominable. Underneath was a strong repulsion for any portrayal of reality without a sugarcoat. Well back to the Basterds, the most towering figure in it is Colonel Hans Landa, all smiles yet he kills. I felt like lungingmy hands into the screen and strangle that rascal of a person before his wiliness could commit more outrages.  That was my first love with Christoph Waltz. So impeccable; even the way he smacks his lips relishing the French dessert.

Watching Django Unchained was a fortuitous encounter with Christoph again. The long beard was a sure veil but then there was something unmistakable in him. A quick google revealed that Christoph is the highest common denominator in Basterds and Django. As a rule, I Don’t pay great attention to title credits of a movie and exceptions can be if there is a piece of music that can leash me or a storyline running along with the titles. Remarkably, Django has some music in it that could hold me back from the very outset.

Back to the girl, I wanted to say that now it dawns on me that she looked so familiar to me because she looked like Christoph Waltz, a bit leaner and if he wouldn’t mind getting into the dress of a young girl in this part of the world. There is nothing exotic about these dresses. Don’t expect anything classically Indian. You would just fit in, no matter who you are.

Tahnk you Tarantino, Dr.Schultz and Djangooooooooo!!!

 

Kiran Nagarkar, and Indian novelist and social commentator was comenting on the “extras” (persons having non-descript roles) in a movie. “Extras” in a movie are a metaphor of the majority of mankind. Skyscrapers in metropolises come with readymade slums. Hereafter the differences will be that of those who have water and those who do not.

My experiences on the dearth of water are twofold. Living in Kerala, one of the places in the world that receives the heaviest rainfalls in the form of monsoons. Ironically, a mountain across, the neighbouring state of Tamilnadu has vast stretches of arid land but excels manifold than Kerala in agriculture. A prominent daily in Malayalam(Kerala) was running a feature on how Kerala is heading to desertification. We never tap the rain let alone protect our rivers. We palster the ground so that not a drop of water seeps down. Our aesthetic and homemaking sensitivities have been driven to such foolish extremes. For instance, as a rule we think that a garden is beautiful when it is filled with concrete artifacts rather than the whims of natural settings. The following snapshots reveal the quest for water boring deep into the earth, a few hundred metres, to draw water. The sight of water gushing is so invigorating but I fear how long the water will hold on.

vehicle1  suction  font gushing

As I was spending few months in Arunachal Pradesh, I could rather understand how grim a situation is the dearth of water. The indigenous people used long poles of bamboo as water ducts, drawing water from springs deep in the forests. The too dry up and once again they venture into dense jungles to locate a new spring. The thirst never ends. water channel 2

water channel chinkoiwater duct

water duct 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A student of mine wrote in his answer sheets that a river is beneficial as it carries away the domestic waste. Major rivers in India are polluted and has dangerous content of coliform bacteria making it non potable. The rivers bear the blunt of the efflux of man-made wastes as this loo over a natural brook shows. Mind it, it is one of the best arrangements that could be made in that part of the world to serve one’s lavatorial needs. The people here harbor a great distrust for the water sources that pass through inhabited areas. This is a luxury they can hardly afford in urban settlements where you have to go for any available water no matter where the hell it came from.

kameng2

1351932061323There are still milky strings of water cascading down the hills, luring us into a near future when they will simply disappear.cascade3

The De-Classic

Speaking of the rich artistic traditions of India, any Indian should be rather puffed up by pride. There are two streams of classical music in India with their divergent schools, viz. Carnatic and Hindustani. The former has moorings in South India and the latter has strong Persian influences and was immortalized by the court-musicians of the Mughal emperors. Elaborate ramifications of music have made any attempt to study classical music a herculean task and many do not have the calling. It calls for a quasi ascetic pursuit of the discipline.  Similarly, the Indian classical dances are Bharathanatyam, Kuchipudi, Mohiniyattam, Odissi and Kathak. There are many more dance forms which require elaborate erudition and systematic practice.

The rise of classical art forms are strongly linked to a culture of leisure. The discipline that leads to erudition and aesthetic sharpening basically springs from the fact that you have enough time and means to pursue your taste. In a land where the majority are underprivileged and ahs minimal exposure to the comforts of life , there can only be a spontaneous expression of the élan and not a systematic exposition. Nowadays, the interest for folklore are on the rise. Kudos to those who dare to see.

This occurred strongly to me as I was watching my friends of Veo ( an interior hill country of Arunachal Pradesh in India, the foothills of Himalayas, where the various hill tribe Nyishi inhabits) rehearsing a welcome dance. The dance steps all looked the same to me, but not without a definitive charm. They had nuances which I was not able to appreciate. These ladies were home after a backbreaking day of hauling sacks of grain from their fields to their granaries uphill, which indeed was after long spells of harvesting when they bend over with scythes. They lacked everything which could appeal to a Classical afficianados. I wonder how the steps exactly followed the lead, something very remarkable in what I thought to be an impromptu situation. Perhaps music is too rooted in their veins.

If you are more interested, this is a sampling of the bihu celebration by the Nocte tribe of Arunachal Pradesh

Drumming on tabletops and for that reason, on any hard surface of wood have been my occupation since child hood and it has tempered my hands a lot. I presume that this is the way they teach the traditional drum known as Mridanga in the Carnatic musical tradition of South India. So as a drummer I am as confident as any amateur can be. The best way to learn drumming is to teach the rhythm to your fingers so that they fall in the right place in the nick of the moment. Here listen to samples of the popular Indian rhythms sounded on a computer table top.

“Four Four”, the complete, typically western rhythm

“Three Four”: The rhythm of Waltz

“Four Eight:, the rhythm that rocks

“Five Eight”, the typically Indian, sways to the Cosmic Dance

“Six Eight”, the rustic dance rhythm, common to various folk music and ethnic and tribal music in India, it appears to be a very natural rhythm…

“Six Four”, the dirge

“Nine Eight”, typical celebration music, to the sound of large kettle drums

“Seven Eight”, the prayerful rhythm

 

percussively yours…

 

 

 

Reality-when excessive

Sounding overdriven notes

Drives men to take cover

Seeking options to quell it.

 

Reality- negate or posit it

Or turn your back you may

Drawing apps and new ways,

Plying for situation control.

 

An earplug- born of needs

To nix the sound extern

Is deafness made wearable,

As if world has no words for you.

 

Or an earphone, still better

To fix a sound you like

As if it’s only one you’d hear

Though the world cries out loud.

 

Blindfold in its symbolic richness

Can hold the world at bay, a dark bay.

Window-blinds shut in

To let in just a beamlet;

 

Still reality stays and it says’

“You hear that you want

You see that you want,

But there is more and more unturned.”

beautiful-malayalam-movie-poster1

Let me share something on the ways the films of my land are going. Dubbed after the Hollywood they call it the “Mollywood”(M for Malayalam), but believe me its not that great a wood, something like a bush. Malayalam film scenario was typically marked by the dearth of classic movies. There used to be a time when people used to dwell on very ordinary situations of life, but as a rule they religiously observed certain developmental aspects of the story. This gave rise to stereotypes in Malayalam films. Entertainers usually centered around the “megastars” (the normal ascension is something like star-supersta-superduperstar-….megastar).The adjectives are made by the most erudite members of the fans’ association sticking to each megastar. The fans’ association is not generally an intellectually oriented lot who takes art or literature seriously. They are available for the star to show his clout and to indulge in campaigns and exercises detrimental to any opposing faction. These megastars are not very many, to be exact just two. They won’t leave and the female actors once cast opposite to them decades before are either dead or happy with the roles of granny, but enriched by the rich elixir of youth, our protagonists still dance,ogle and shoot dialogues like a loose cannon. Characters are tailormade for them assuring that they will be almighty and their deviant behaviour should be treated as pedagogical and consequently as holy evils. These characters are preferably high class people flaunting an elitist accent and impossibly rich gadgets and tastes.

Surprisingly, these days certain iconoclasm is going on in Malayalam movies. People really love that change. There is irreverence for whatever was considered sacrosanct and we have started to shed the reservations. As a rule people advise each other that a megastarrer movie should not be watched unless there are a thousand feedbacks vouching for its worth. The indiscriminate fans are happy as long as the star is alive on stage and they can hardly give you any sound piece of advice.

The movie “Beautiful” I watched last year got me struck to two instances in the story line, though there are many of them. The protagonist is a quadriplegic nevertheless heir to a large fortune also shown as indulging in ogling and ribaldry. Once returning from the hospital in the night they miss a burglar fleeing from his home. The burglar was very adept in martial skills and high jumping and all sorts of acrobatic gestures. The face of our man was alight with admiration instead of the rage that should have naturally occurred there. That night he dreams of this burglar exhibiting his callisthenic and acrobatic skills. Perhaps that is the greatest possibility he could dream of given that he is bound to the other extreme, the immobility of the body.

He meets an amateur singer who is hired to perform for him every day at his bedside. They later become thick friends. The singer takes our man for a ride in the motorbike with a special carriage to hold him in place and parks the bike on the roadside with our man still on it before going to a shop. It rains, rains heavily. It should have been choking for our man strapped to the carriage. Choking indeed, but he relishes the globule of water wetting his face with a cherubic smile.

This attention to the depiction of life as it really is can perhaps save us from the pangs of the megastars doing superhuman fete even while being very much human. Let us burn those story lines…

Poster of Beautiful.2