Monday, 29 December 2008

Of empty handed homecomings

(For more photos click here)

Sometimes traveling is not about the things you bring back but what you leave behind. The flaming red rhododendron that fell from my hand on a slope near Cloud End. The look in your eyes as we were treated to an October sky pierced with a million stars while the bus rushed down the mountain on its way from Nainital to Delhi. The scarecrow dressed in red and white beckoning us from the lush greenery of Goa and its twin we were to meet some years later in Mukteshwar.

The twinkling fairy lights as the sun went down on an almost magical evening at St Paul da Vence. The old couple carved in wood smiling in a corner of a bar in Dusseldorf, where we drank to the sounds of an off key 'Knocking on Heaven’s Door'. That one dilapidated and nondescript tombstone among the millions in Zentralfriedhof where we stopped to have our little argument. The imagined smell of freshly brewed coffee and warm croissants while we walked along the Seine on a rainy November morning laughing and loving every bone-chilling second of it. The sounds of the cello from a dimly lit apartment in Vienna too real to even contemplate carrying it away with us.

And then we arrived in Venice. Here we discarded our sense of purpose, our fatigue and our helplessness while we watched a bleeding city held captive in the unblinking gaze of the television cameras for nearly 3 days and nights. Appropriately we left behind the first virgin snows caressing the slopes of some unknown mountain peaks as our train hurried away from it all into another long, dark tunnel.

And finally under David’s defiant gaze we immersed in the placid waters of the Arno our admiration, our aspiration, our inspiration, our creativity, our pride, our ego and spent the remaining week of our Roman holiday running after cats and chasing starlings. Thus suitably empty handed we returned home.

In all the places that we have passed by or stayed for a while fragments of our being lie torn, tossed and forgotten. Never to be found again. With every homecoming the baggage sits a little more lightly on our shoulders. And this one consideration makes traveling worth all the effort.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Goodbye, gadfly

So, we had to suffer you for a few more years. For, we still observed the limits of decency and politeness. And all that poppycock we were taught as children. Bright eyed dressed in clean white shirts and navy blue ‘four fingers above the knee’ length skirts repeating words that little did we know would haunt us for a lifetime. And so here we were trapped by morality and righteousness and you.

You who would ruin a beautiful December night when the street lights shimmered in the still waters of the canals by shouting, “This will be my best birthday ever!” Unmindful of the empty eyes and pale faces, drained of every life essence, straggling along with you. The poor sods weren’t even rewarded with a piece of cake for their efforts.

You who would go on to drive away the one, who hypnotized himself to believe he was in love with you, to madness and India, where he still can be found searching for adventure and meaning and other such mindless drivel.

You who would with the flick of your hair and the flashing of your eyelids at a dinner party in a restaurant, devastate families; turn a brother against his sister. And inflict other such mundane catastrophe. All before the drinks even arrived.

You who would come to the station in some godforsaken corner of Europe dragging the burden of all your past seven lives and then look at us. Look at us to pick up your bloody bags and tidy up the messy remains.

You who would with your false smile, the glint in your teeth, the bitter sweetness in your voice come to our home unannounced and try to steal my confidence, trample my ego and secretly spit on my beauty.

You who to be honest was nothing more than an irritant. An unwelcome, unwanted, uninteresting presence. A gadfly. We bore with you in extreme politeness. And so, as the voices from the past grew somewhat dull we did what is done in still civil societies. We blocked your email and deleted you from our phone book.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

The Wren, Mrs. Popple and Emily Dickinson

We have had a new visitor to our garden; the few pots on our second floor apartment for us are our ‘for the time being’ garden. Blue tits and great tits visit our bird feeder daily. And the chaffinches too come by to meditate upon life, universe and everything. While the blackbirds have occasionally felt compelled to put in a show. But this new visitor, diminutive with its tail cocked upwards, has recently started stopping by once every few days to skip up and down our Fuchsia ‘Mrs. Popple’. And without disturbing a twig leaves as it came - very quietly. For a bird that’s supposed to have an ‘astonishing loud song’ for its size this one for the time being seems, regretfully, to have nothing to sing about.

But I write about our honoured guest because she always symbolized for me someone who famously described herself as "I am small, like the wren, and my hair is bold, like the chestnut bur, and my eyes like the sherry in the glass that the guest leaves." Scholars have debated these few words ad nauseam. What did Emily mean by ‘like the wren’? Theories have filled many books lining the libraries of many colleges. Probably many scholarly careers have been celebrated and ruined just by ascribing some appropriate or erroneous characteristic to the bird of choice - the wren.

So, here I sit on an exceptionally cold December morning watching our little wren move from twig to twig and I too recall some more of Emily Dickinson’s words.

Shall I take thee, the Poet said
To the propounded word?
Be stationed with the Candidates
Till I have finer tried –

The Poet searched Philology
And then about to ring
For the suspended Candidate
There came unsummoned in –

That portion of the Vision
The Word applied to fill
Not unto nomination
The Cherubim reveal -

Monday, 22 December 2008

To the Lighthouse

Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (1929)

As we parted, not knowing if or when we’ll meet again, I slipped into your hands Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. Perhaps because I hoped Lily Briscoe would be there, as always in the end, to shed light on at least your vision, if not mine. After the last goodbye you instantly flew away to your world of dreams while I slowly walked back to reality.

Some six months later we met again at some obscure halfway. You began by casually dismissing Ms. Woolf as “different” and then proceeded to decimate me with words. Your hopelessly inadequate words, sagging beneath the burden of venom and blind rage, tried to soar across the abyss. But alas, failed miserably. For, I could look straight to the lighthouse standing under the bright sun on a golden, cloudless day. And you could never free yourself from your darkening chamber of words, just words and their seductive echo.

So, now even after all these months, whenever I look to the lighthouse thinking, “About life, about death; about (sometimes even) Mrs Ramsay” I wonder how hard it would have been for you to simply say, “I did not like the book.”

(Afterthoughts on books: part 1)

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The witch, the hedgehog, the bats and the pig

In response to this post by munnaontherun.

The witch looked at her broom wistfully and made a futile gesture to reach for it. But her hand hardly moved an inch away from her body. The broom an untidy shamble stood stoically against the kitchen wall. And quite rightly so, for what purpose would another meaningless flight across the darkening skies illuminated by the pale wintry moon fulfill. For what did such meaningless actions mean? A witch on her broom flying why and where? And for what?

The hedgehog had had a particularly bad autumn. Even by global warming standards. And now it was an even harder winter and to put it politely he didn’t give a fuck. For he had reached that absolutely beautiful state of mind where nothing seems to matter anymore. He was perfectly Zen. But if allowed a single grudge he’d have liked to be a little warmer. And maybe in a more comfortable hole.

The bats had a choice between the old barn and the belfry. Well acquainted with the pleasures, so to speak, that the barn had on offer they still chose the belfry. Now it was cold and the bells were loud but they still justified the choice they had made. For, didn’t the music of the bells drive away boredom on many a dull wintry evening?

And the pig. Well, the pig knew what it would be like. The cold, the grey skies, the short days, the long nights. So he found a comfortable patch and buried himself deep in the mud waiting for it all to end. For, everything that has a beginning must have an end. Isn’t that how the story goes?

And so the witch, the hedgehog, the bats and the pig packed in for the winter and excused themselves for the moment from the revolution.

On winter

Winter has come. The woods turned pink and then brown as the hills undressed behind Emily’s town. Sending all her birds away she contemplates living and dying- the common right of Toads and Men. Even as steely brooms of snow and wind sweep the empty streets.

Haunting the wintry streets of London Virginia retrieves an adventure. And a lead pencil. Even as she leaves behind footprints into the heart of the forest that is the mind of fellow beasts called men.

On a cold December morning Leonard writes an elegy, whispers a final hallelujah and leaves without signing his masterpiece. Even before one can ask who is calling.

While John sets out into the winter of our discontent as the fog closes Salinas valley from the rest of the world. Even as half obscured visions of Sweet Thursday with Mack and the boys persist.

And all the while I stand here, on this side of the Arno watching Primavera scatter flowers across the Tuscan hills. And they say winter has just begun.