September 26, 2016

The Western Sentinel

Far away from the dusty, tired roads of Mumbai, is the home of the Western Sentinel. The Guardian God of the West sits on his mountainous abode, looking into the west, a fact rarely heard of in Indian Temple Architecture. Our Gods look to the east; to look at the rising sun, to welcome a new day. In Ganpatipule however, he looks to the west, looking intently at the sea, perhaps aware of the dangers that could come our way; once again.

When you land here, you can feel the world slow down around you. Even the train station has none of the urgency one can think of. Straight from an R. K. Narayan novel, the station wakes up to welcome the trains and then go back to sleep again. At Ratnagiri, you can find the last memories of a forgotten Burmese King, held by the British, never to see his homeland again. Bit by bit, over the years in exile, he tried to recreate a piece of his home but it was never the same again.

The sea is treacherous around here; but beautiful. The beaches are quiet; devoid of humans and therefore of filth. It quietly rolls over the sands and within kilometres you can see the colours change from pristine white to jet black. Time moves slowly, allowing you to embrace it and feel every moment caress your cheek as it passes you by. The sea is calm and rolls incessantly into the night, playing music that can only be heard in silence. The stars come out in the night, visible without the incessant cover of smog over Mumbai.

The mangoes are everywhere. You can feel their presence as you drive by and the price does not frighten you off. The food feels distant and different from what you would have expected but then this is how cuisines develop locally and if you can find those small restaurants where the proprietors still make the day’s serving, you know you are in good hands. The most famous place to stay is the MTDC hotel and like most Government hotels the rooms are large and spacious and there ends the story. But the view remains outstanding from every single room.

But everything revolves around him. Everything, even the name itself, reminds one of the existence of the hamlet. He is not one who has the riches of his week-long avatars of Mumbai, neither does he have the imposing architecture of the Northern and the Southern Gods. He sits patiently, listening to the bells and to the sea.

Ganpatipule is not for the movers and shakers, it’s not for the throngs of followers. It’s for those who want to pause, even if for a bit.

August 14, 2016

Punch in the Gut

When we were in school, a lot of lessons were learnt during the lunch break in the large playground of Don Bosco. Fighting for honour was common, so was fighting with honour. You never fought to break anyone’s bones but you fought to prove a point. Today after so many years, what we fought on is lost in the shadows of memory, what remains are the lessons learnt from them. We were an all-boys school so the lessons seem from another day and age where chivalry, honour and loyalty were all that mattered.

There was rarely a hit to face. The marks were the most visible and definitely the ones which would get the opponent at the receiving end into trouble when he goes back home. You also never hit the groins. The pain is unbearable and everyone knew it. That’s the first thing you learn when you play cricket and mistime a shot. The kick to the shin was acceptable and I do not know why because now that I am saner I know how scary that can be. But then now of us had the speed of the Premier League Players. We desperately wanted to play rugby but given that no one knew the rules and there was a lack of equipment, it never really took off. But what we managed was the shoulder shove, a highly effective manoeuvre that can come to use in both football and basketball. In the basketball games, it was brutal because of the hard surface. In the football matches, it was terrifying as the green grass left the signs for all (read moms) to see.

But the favourite by far was the punch in the gut. Never utilized on the games field, it was reserved for the one on ones that rarely happened, but if they did, they were always scheduled after school hours. It was the equivalent of a duel with a loaded pistol. Both shoot, but the one with the more accurate aim is bound to win. The punch in the gut was just that. Everyone knew that the one who could connect first would be the winner. It made one see the stars and the pain was only fractionally lower than a kick in the groins. The one who threw the punch always won, at least that bout. And then he helped the fallen man stand up on his feet. There was honour.

But the man who had fallen also learnt a mighty lesson. He learnt to take on whatever the world threw at him, embrace the pain, maybe double over if required but then find his own feet and get up. The punch in the gut made him stronger, over and over again till one day his own punch would land exactly where it was meant to be.

And as long as he had learnt how to pick himself up and become stronger, there was not a thing in this world that could keep him down.

June 28, 2016

Superheroes and the Dumb Down Concept

It was just one more weekend; but more importantly one more maddeningly frustrating date with a Superhero movie. Batman vs. Superman promised so much and yet it failed so miserably. And today as I was reading about heroes, I realized the importance they have in our lives.

One of the basic tenets of any story ever told in the world starts with a hero. And as the world around us become complex, we realize that heroes are rarely without flaws. Yet we struggle to find one who is incorruptible; who is steadfast and the one who will ultimately do the right thing. The question always remains what ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ mean to people who face off each other.

Superman is perhaps the best example of a superhero who can do no wrong and Batman is one who like us is full of self doubts, limitations and is above all, very very human. Superman therefore has always been a superhero who follows a straight path to glory and often martyrdom. Batman is a vigilante. Superman follows the law as only he can agree to follow laws set by others; Batman rarely has few such moral qualms. His is a more dangerous territory; that of an outcast whose sense of justice might not be something you can agree with.

When these two superheroes face off, you expect a moral dilemma; a cinematic masterpiece which shows how the world and its twisted truths pull apart both men who claim to be on the side of right. And what you are left behind with is a lot of CG and mind numbing action sequences.

It could have been a great treatise on the internal conflict of ones blessed (or cursed) with abilities to impact the lives of those around and yet that never forms the centre point of the narrative. Even movies like Eye in the Sky with a predictable end could showcase the conflicts that pull morals apart.

I think I feel more betrayed by the fact that this came after the outstanding Batman franchise reboot by Nolan. There was always a concern about Synder helming this but then Man of Steel again had to make do with the strait-laced characterization of Superman. And there was little that Marvel’s Civil War could do to fare any better. They typically have the most straight forward storyline you can ever imagine. But then, hope remained, solely because of Captain America. But then you make superhero movies to dumb down your audiences, rather than to question and to debate. And the final dumbing down happened with X Men Apocalypse.

Comic Book lovers know about the concept of alternate universes. I wished after the 3 movies that these universes had not collided. But more importantly I feel we need to demand for better cinema, if for nothing else but for the love of cinema.

June 26, 2016

On the Other Side of my Song

Few years back a certain TV serial took Bengali Satellite TV viewers by storm. It had all the elements in place for the Bengali intellectual; the ones taking their last breath in a century that’s completely alien to their philosophy of life. The serial was called Gaaner Opare. It was a clash between the old and the new; traditions and modernity; almost the same things that every Bengali Soap is made of (if not about the members of the extended family trying to kill each other). But it had one major difference; the context of Gaaner Opare was Rabindrasangeet. The male protagonist was the dream of every teenager going to JU or Presi (Jadavpur University or Presidency College for the uninitiated). He was a rock singer trying to redefine Tagore. That’s explosive and he had the drop dead intellectual looks of his dad; the second most loved “Feluda”. The female protagonist on the other hand was someone who every mother in Bengal wanted as her daughter in law. Independent yet upholding tradition; wearing the most gorgeous Sari in the day and age of Jeans and T shirts and a voice of gold singing Rabindrasangeet in just the right way.

Cutting a long story short; the show ended as well; thankfully without trying to extend it’s runtime. But Gaaner Opare left a mark. A few days back a friend with a strong connection to Calcutta suddenly pinged me asking me about the true meaning of this song. And I was dumbfounded. Probably one of the most esoteric of Tagore’s songs; like many of his later works it masquerades as a love song in the grey area between spirituality and platonic, unfulfilled love. And therefore as the rains lash Mumbai forcing me inside my house and on my bean bag; here’s an attempt.

The Original Bengali Genius

Dariye acho tumi aamar gaaner oparey x 2
Amar shurguli paay choron, ami pai ne tomare.
Dariye acho tumi aamar gaaner oparey.

Batash bohey mori mori, aar bedhe rekho na tori. x 2
Esho esho paar hoye mor hridoy majhare.
Dariye acho tumi aamar gaaner oparey.

Tomar saathey gaaner khela duurer khela je,
Bedonate baanshi bajay shokol bela je.
Kobey niye aamar baanshi bajabe go apni ashi; x2
Anondomoy nirob raater nibir aandharey.

Dariye acho tumi aamar gaaner oparey.
Amar shurguli paay choron, ami pai ne tomare.
Dariye acho tumi aamar gaaner oparey.

My English Transliteration Attempt

You stand beyond the realms of my song x2
Probably my tunes reach you in their trembling steps;
but I have never been able to get to you
As you stand beyond the realms of my song

The winds blow; oh how beautifully; do not hold your boat back  x2
Come cross over to the very centre of my heart
And yet you stand beyond the realms of my song.

Singing a song with you; is celebrating the song of distances
The pain of it emanates from my flute all day long;
When will you take my flute to play your beauteous tunes? X2
In the darkness of the night filled with unspeakable happiness?

You stand beyond the realms of my song
Probably my tunes reach you in their trembling steps;
but I have never been able to get to you

As you stand beyond the realms of my song

March 27, 2016

The Silence of the Stones

It was mid day and the sun was bright, directly throwing his warm winter light on us. We were halfway through our journey and yet it felt we had seen nothing, observed nothing. High above the mountains of Ajanta, we stood looking at some of the best examples of art in Indian history. Ajanta is magnificent. And there is no other word that better describes the rock cut temples of Aurangabad.

Often you will find people telling you that travelling to Ajanta and Ellora is a day’s journey. They could not be more wrong. Every cave temple has wonders that you can stare at for hours. The paintings that you see in front of you are one of the greatest treasures of art in India. Year after year, craftsmen made these caves come alive with the most primitive of equipment, fuelled only by their passion to create.

Start your trip with Ajanta walk up the hills, the tourist guides and guidebooks will tell you that the best displays are in the first few caves. Do not believe them, rather take the entire journey and explore every cave. Understand the frustrations of the carvers of stone as they kept making the stones come alive. Listen in to their hushed silences still trapped in the stones. Listen to their dying footsteps as the royal patronage trickled to a close forcing them to leave the caves unfinished. Hear the faint noise of the religious chants as three religions coexisted for centuries. Look for the intricacies of the carvings; the brightness of the colours still remaining and try to imagine the interlinkages between the religions. Forget the babble of tourists and feel yourself transcend into a world of quiet scholarly studies and self-imposed mendicancy of monkhood.

Next day travel to Ellora. Start at Kailasa; for nothing else matters. Imagine a giant boulder. Men and women such as us will look at it in wonder and even if an inspiration seizes us, we will start chiselling away starting from the front. But imagine cutting through the rock from above and creating the abode of Lord Shiva on earth. Kailasa tells us of our own perfection; of the grandeur we were once capable of; of human triumph in pursuit of God or ungodly vanity of kings. Look at how Shivaism and Vaishnavism coexists under the same canopy. Once you have made your peace with the feeling of insignificance make your way to the left or right. The ancient rocks will tell you untold stories of Jainism and Buddhism. Look up at the Tirthankaras and the Bodhisatwas. They will smile down upon you and show you how their facial features changed with centuries.

As you walk away, tired but fulfilled, remember to leave the places clean. You owe it to your own future generations for Ajanta and Ellora need to remind us for our triumphs and our impermanence.

March 20, 2016

The Brotherhood of the Waiting Men

We wait; silently. We nod at each other at times. We know we do not have anything against each other but we also do know that at a moment’s notice we would be our fiercest adversaries. We are soldiers, following orders, ready to plunge into the chaos at the slightest nod from the overlords but we respect each other as we all have been there.

We know the young eager ones from the old time tested ones. We know the ones like me who have been bloodied in the battles and have laboured on. We relish the moments when we see someone mess it up so badly that there will be hell for the poor lad when he reaches the trenches at night. It’s a complex manoeuvre that takes years to hone skills in and the young ferrets never seem to get that. We respectfully step aside when the generals march in; their eyes full of contempt at the mere sight of enemy soldiers standing near the common grounds.

The gadgets in our hands give us some respite. It tells us about the world outside. A world full of red bulls, footballs and cricket bats. A world where one day we will return after the call of duty has been answered. But the gadgets often fail when raw muscle power is required to snatch another soldier’s hopes before his own eyes; my downcast gaze silently apologizing before returning with the trophy.

Handing it over to the general; I wait slowly taking in the silent admirations of the enemy soldiers around who have failed to find their exact shades of pink, purple or lilac.

We all wait praying for each other so that this visit to the trial room is the last in this outlet. 

February 07, 2016

The Goodbye

Long Long ago, in the Summer of 2007 to be precise, four little mice had boarded a ship. The docks were silent, the night was still and the moon played hide and seek behind the clouds. The ship set sail into the unknown and before one knew, the stars above realigned and the four little mice saw each other. Each different from the rest but they soon realized they were all the same in being different from the rest of the animals on the ship. But that is a story everyone knows!

The mice charted different courses within the ship till one day one of them set sail, then another and finally even the third. The last remaining mouse looked on as their boats sailed further and further away.

The airwaves carried their squeaks to him, faint and yet conveying the different emotions that swept over them. Trepidation, anger, joy, love, hatred, frustration, fear, ecstasy and sometimes even indifference. The world was unforgiving, sometimes all it let the mice have were memories of a life less complicated.

The last mouse remains. And he hopes and prays for Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to be true. Let the mice indeed be the most intelligent species on Earth. For each have made their choices and some day each will need to say goodbye.