Friday, 21 August 2009

Student of clouds

(all photographs by Anvita Lakhera)

Student of Clouds

by Billy Collins

The emotion is to be found in clouds,
not in the green solids of the sloping hills
or even in the gray signatures of rivers,
according to Constable, who was a student of clouds
and filled shelves of notebooks with their motion,
their lofty gesturing and sudden implication of weather.

Outdoor, he must have looked up thousands of times,
his pencil trying to keep pace with their high voyaging
and the silent commotion of the eddying and flow.
Clouds would move beyond the outlines he would draw
as they moved within themselves, tumbling into their centers
and swirling off at the burning edges in vapors
to dissipate into the universal blue of the sky.

In photographs we can stop all this movement now
long enough to tag them with their Latin names.
Cirrus, nimbus, stratocumulus -
dizzying, romantic, authoritarian -
they bear their titles over the schoolhouses below
where their shapes and meanings are memorized.

High on the soft blue canvases of Constable
they are stuck in pigment but his clouds appear
to be moving still in the wind of his brush,
inching out of England and the nineteenth century
and sailing over these meadows where I am walking,
bareheaded beneath the cupola of motion,
my thoughts arranged like paint on a high blue ceiling.

(Constable's study of clouds can be viewed here)

Thursday, 20 August 2009

London Diary: A year in Music

(All photographs by Anvita Lakhera)

It actually starts in Amsterdam with tickets to two shows: Mark Knopfler and Gogol Bordello. But the move to London coincides with both. A day after we fly out Mr. Knopfler performs at the Heineken Music Hall. Damn! But we manage to catch up with Gogol Bordello in Hammersmith. Good band. Bad venue.

How can you sit and listen to “Start Wearing Purple”? Clearly someone had not heard the music before selecting the venue. A more appropriate setting would have been Victoria Park. Radiohead plays at Victoria Park. It’s a stone’s throw away from home. Love the Park. Love Thom York’s commitment to the cause. Then there is the music…

But next came Leonard Cohen. A man after my heart. A concert that will be remembered for ages. Or at least for as long as all those who attended it walk this earth. The grace. The dignity. The voice. The words. And an atmosphere resonating with all that is good and hope inspiring about the human race.

Naturally when he came back we were there again. And sang along with an audience that broke all age barriers, “It’s time we began to laugh and cry and laugh about it all”.

Then came the big one. What would be considered the biggest event of a musical lifetime. Bob Dylan Live. But we had been amply forewarned. Big venue, moody singer-well prepare to be disappointed. And so we were. Disappointed.

That coupled with the fact that the big screens were covered and so most people didn’t even get a glimpse of the man…much like listening to Dylan at home but with people going out to get another beer every few minutes.

Then Pearl Jam. And what a contrast. What a concert. Everything that one expects from music and musicians. Great songs. Good, solid performance. Interaction with the audience. Love. Humility. Respect. Gratefulness on both sides. And a minor act of protest.

Plus the fact that Eddie Vedder is the coolest man. Ever. And you can't find a better man.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The fear of questions

As you put down Emily Gravett’s ‘Big Book of Fears’ and look at the white mouse peeping through the mouse-chewed hole in the cover I see the look of worry enter your eyes. I ask, putting on my most sickly sweet voice to keep the situation light, “So, what is your biggest fear?” You answer automatically in a tone devoid of all emotions, “The fear of questions.” And immediately add, “Especially those questions to which I have no answers.”

I try to imagine snarky classmates and sadistic teachers and cold steel striking boney knuckles. But am assaulted by the fear of the next question waiting in line to which I honestly have no answer, “What is the fear of questions called?” And a flush of embarrassment, the kind that momentarily and involuntarily comes over when one is confronted by the unknown, starts to colour my face.

Putting my hands on your shoulders I say, “Remember what the book says, ‘A Fear Faced Is A Fear Defeated.’ So, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask. Maybe people will laugh at you. Maybe others will call you a fool. Or maybe there are other people asking the same question too. And maybe someone has the answer. But how would you know if you don’t ask?”

And I smile as we share our special look, “Do you know what the fear of questions is called? Well, neither do I. Come on let us look for the answer together.”

Monday, 10 August 2009

Another day that is not Sunday

The wind surges through the trees. The leaves gush and bubble. The dandelion seeds quiver clinging to tiny white parachutes ready for adventures unknown. A ladybird flies right into the center of the flower. A bold explorer. A deep red jewel enclosed in a lacy white box. The bee finds succor among the lavender. Gossamer like wings glinting in the sunlight. The heron silent for an eternity suddenly stretches his wings. First left, then right. While the mallard scratches and shakes and preens. Then starts all over again. And in the pond a lily cracks open its first petals. The air gets electrified by this magnificent debut.

Meanwhile you pass by thinking today is just another day that is not Sunday.

(All photographs by Anvita Lakhera)

Friday, 7 August 2009

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

1/2 kilo bhindi and everything else with it

“This place is crazy but I love it,” enthusiastically proclaims the impossibly tall guy in an olive green trench coat while his equally tall companion dreamily puffs on a cigarette. Your reverie on the usual 3 km walk back home in East London gets disrupted. You are standing at some weird point where Brick Lane meets Shoreditch High meets Hackney Road meets Commercial Street meets Bethnal Green Road while the two guys smoothly glide by. Suddenly you focus on your surroundings.

Your eyes fall on the two French girls carrying bulging garbage bags as they drag a large stroller and keep talking rapidly without breaking their stride. Someone is moving house you think and then think no more. Then the boys on their bicycles doing wheelies ambush you. School is out you think as your eyes spot a saree. The woman deftly crosses the street and you are still thinking about the blue and white thread pattern when a man coughs right in your face. For a moment your eyes flicker with irritation and your mind dwells on the horrors of viruses unknown.

The young man channeling Mark Ronson in a 60's button down suit, skinny tie and yes, even the hat for no reason smiles at you. And in reaction as you smile back something brushes past your legs. It is Bo or Dolly or whatever this particular mastiff is called you wonder as your eyes notice the face at the other end of the leash. You spend the next few seconds contemplating how owners start resembling their pets and come to a dead end. Few baby buggies, shopping trolleys, squealing girls and old people, in a move that is every choreographer’s dream, at the same moment come to a halt right in front of you. Weaving your way through this mini jam you mouth a few excuse mes and sorrys and rush to cross the road, as the light turns red.

You swiftly overtake the couple shuffling along carrying plastic bags filled with burger patties, white bread, toilet roll, sausages and onions. Then you spot her- the shoe shop girl. And you slow down. Of all the people you rush past she is the only one who commands attention. In her black trouser, white shirt, dirty blond hair tied in a ponytail there is nothing remarkable about her you think till you catch her eyes and her expressive face. And you are captivated. Something about her fortitude, her dignity, dare you say her life itself flashes through your mind. Though you can’t pin it down. She’s neither sad, nor happy or bitter. She just is. You imagine a vague Charles Dickens like story. And wonder should you go and talk to her. Though you immediately know that you never will. You are still thinking about her when your senses are assaulted by the smell of korma and you know you are nearly home. Quickening your steps you wonder whether the local grocer will have fresh bhindi today.