Wednesday, 28 April 2010

I went to Goa

and this is what I did see;
Goa of the sea

for whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea
-e.e. cummings

Goa of the beaches

In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.
-Rachel Carson.

And more beaches

where everyone has to be!

Goa of the sunsets

A beautiful sunset that was mistaken for a dawn.
-Claude Debuss

Goa of the Churches

and their equally ancient companions, the beautiful rain trees.

Goa of the old houses

waiting to be torn down and rebuilt as grotesque multi-coloured, perhaps 'neo-Mediterranean' styled, high rise apartments.

Goa of the rivers and the green hills beyond

and a constant to and fro of barges carrying iron ore.

Goa of the Banyan tree

To study a banyan tree, you not only must know its main stem in its own soil, but you must trace the growth of its greatness in the further soil. Only then can you know the true nature of its vitality.
-Rabindranath Tagore
Interestingly, Tagore was comparing Indian civilization to the banyan tree. With every square foot of land being mined for money, I wonder how many banyan trees are being planted now. And what does that say about the 'vitality' of our civilization.

Goa of the birds

There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.
-Robert Lynd

Monday, 26 April 2010

It can't be "Summer"!

It can't be "Summer"!
That - got through!
It's early - yet - for "Spring"!
There's that long town of White - to cross -
Before the Blackbirds sing!
It can't be "Dying"!
It's too Rouge -
The Dead shall go in White -
So Sunset shuts my question down
With Cuffs of Chrysolite!

by Emily Dickinson

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Sparrow Day Care

Our tiny balcony, if we can classify the space just beyond the ‘French windows’ as that, has been taken over by the Sparrow Day Care Centre. As soon as we wake up and draw the curtain there they are, mother sparrows and baby sparrows, lined up waiting for their meal of rice and bajra. After much chattering, shaking of wings and running around the little ones are fed to satisfaction. The mothers then go on to do what mothers have to do, while the little ones stay in the ‘Day Care Centre’ doing what little ones do best.







And eating some more

But at the first caw of the crow, or the first beep of the car horn, the mothers are back and the chattering, shaking of wings and general running around commences again. Till it’s finally time for bed.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

The cows are worried

Now the cows were worried. They had had wide ranging discussions with the hens, the banyan tree, her, the toads, the slugs; well everyone. They had trekked all the way to talk to the polar bears, the giant sequoias, the blue whale, even tracked down the last of the tigers, the elusive yeti; in short they had been really thorough and very professional. But now they were simply worried. And they needed to think hard.

For, you see in this world, to offer an opinion about anything, even something that impacts you personally or you are responsible for, you have to take position under narrow, iron-clad categories created by men. And then it is decided whether you are with ‘us’ or with ‘them’.

No one quite understands whom this ‘them’ and ‘us’ refers to, but then the cows in the many discussions mentioned above realized that humans aren’t very rational after all. And the issue why only such irrational beings get to decide what is good for the Earth did also come up, but then that was another matter. Right now what the cows were worried about was these iron clad categories.

What they had to say was very important. But who’d pay attention if they didn’t file it under some category. However, they also understood that the moment they did so, the ‘us’ and the ‘them’, whoever they might be, would get into a fight and what they had to say would die even before it saw the light of day.

Ordinarily, fitting things into neat categories was something they’d associate with simple minds, unable to comprehend the complexities of life. But it was rumored that humans had the biggest brain, at least that’s how humans claimed they knew what was best for the earth. It was all getting too fretful and worrisome. And at any moment the sun too would set.

All of a sudden the cows had an ‘eureka’ moment. They looked at each other and offered a celebratory moo. And recollected the famous words, ‘We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.’

Rejecting all the old categories, they created a new category. And now they wait for the discussions to begin.

Monday, 12 April 2010


I am appalled by your apathy. When Professor Das delivered this statement, we were sitting in the verdant lawns of Delhi University on a pleasant October morning. That itself will give you a fair idea about how long ago it was. For can they sit outside in verdant green lawns (are there any left?) in Delhi anymore? Is October pleasant? However in this case the setting was perfect and to give Professor Das due credit thoughtful too. Even at 9:00 AM not many possess the moral fiber to be pert and snappy especially when discussing ‘The Elements of Semiology’. Barthes at any time of the day requires a certain kind of aptitude. In us it was clearly lacking, regardless of the hour, even with the added knowledge that this will “come in the exams”. The setting though kept us alert, and occupied otherwise.
The cause for the comment was the fact that being diligent scholars we had carefully read to the last page, even the last alphabet exactly the portion that had been prescribed for the current tutorial, the introduction and first few chapters, not a page more, though in hindsight probably a few pages less. So when in the discussion the good Professor started talking about the ‘non-prescribed’ portion, the blank expression on our face was a pretty accurate sign of how clueless we were. And so the Professor with her crisp accent, and that certain tone because of which quite frankly everyone was a bit terrified of her, delivered the fateful line.
Unlike her, Professor Baviskar probably had very accurate information regarding our mindset. She always ended the announcement of the reading list with the words, “And don’t just read the underlined sentences. Make an effort to at least read complete paragraphs.” But then she too not so long ago had attended similar tutorials, even borrowed the same books from the library, and knowing that certain streak in her, probably with a twinkle in the eye even underlined the least important passages.
However it’s the words of Professor Das that became immortal. In the days since that tutorial I have whispered them many a times, in many different circumstances. I don’t know about the other four in the tutorial group but for me they have become a connotation. My limited reading of Barthes is probably flawed but these words and the circumstances they were uttered in have come to signify something much greater than a tutorial discussion many moons ago. That belief that it’s necessary to only know enough to “pass the exam” or get a promotion or achieve a certain level of success in life. That inability, widespread and on constant display, to read. That lack of curiosity to look beyond that, which concerns us. Aren’t these all manifestations of reading only prescribed portions, without making an effort to even glance at the next page? Epitomizing the appallingly apathetic culture of clearing exams without any concern for acquiring knowledge. Chasing lifestyles without any empathy for life. Of living in cocoons blind to everything else beyond. 
Postscript: Caterpillars aren’t blind. They have six pairs of simple eyes (ocelli) that can detect changes in light intensity, but cannot form an image.
After writing this post through a strange combination of Google searches (lets just say it’s something I do) I suddenly came upon this: “The caterpillars in distress, starved, shelter-less, chilled with cold at night, cling obstinately to the silk ribbon covered hundreds of times, because they lack the rudimentary glimmers of reason which would advise them to abandon it.” (The Life of the Caterpillar by J. Henri Fabre, 1916)

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The other Paris

And so we begin our search. We are looking for the ‘other Paris’. Not the kind that Carol yearned for in the story called ‘The Other Paris’ by Mavis Gallant. Quite on the contrary we begin looking for Paris that is far removed from all its association with romance and literature and art. In fact, the Paris that exists after every layer of imagery bestowed by imagination, artistic or otherwise, is exfoliated.
For what does one do when one has swooned over Paris from atop the Eiffel tower, and Paris on a clear day as seen from Montmarte, and Paris as seen from a boat ride in the Seine, and Paris at night, and Paris that exists in the museums and the boutiques, and Paris of the cafes and churches, and Paris of the movies, and Paris that is every tourist’s fondest dream. Then one simply goes looking for the other Paris.
Sometimes one finds it in the patisserie next to Gare de l’Est, where it gets communicated through a mixture of mispronounced French words, scattered English and imaginative hand gestures. Or sitting in the corner bench opposite the tree laden with mysterious orange fruit, as the sparrows come and peck at our shoes while old men throw them crumbs. Or during breakfast in the rooftop garden among blooming lavender where the honey jars have to be shut tightly lest they attract bees. Or in the eyes of the woman who sings as the train rushes past decaying tenements into the heart of Paris. And in the dragging feet of the little boy whose mother pulls him away even as his eyes are transfixed by the photographs from Antarctica exhibited on the outer walls of Jardin du Luxembourgh. And most poetically expressed by the man who sits with his back to the Eiffel tower as the lights come on.