Monday, 31 May 2010

Our lady of the birds

It happens quiet like this. You are walking in that typical gait; feet shuffling slowly, head tilted up, eyes peering through the leaves, looking for, but of course, birds. And then a voice whispers in your ears, “Do you want to see birds? Come I will show you, there are many birds here.”

And she leads you to the bushes where everyday in the morning the magpie robin waits to greet her. Or the small patch of wild grass where the white-breasted munias have a lunch date. Or the lone fig tree where, if you look long and hard enough, you can spot owls and hornbills. She is our lady of the birds.

She can be found often toiling hard at the most mundane of tasks. Cleaning toilets in the hotel, carrying firewood as she rushes home to cook dinner, picking discarded plastic bottles casually thrown from passing cars, or washing clothes by the tube well. Sometimes she even takes on the avatar of two boys on a bicycle, or of old men chewing sugarcane, or of the girl with red ribbons in her hair walking back home from school.

In fact, she maybe anyone anywhere doing the one thing that you are least likely to notice. Even she is least likely to notice you until you start looking for birds. Then she’ll magically appear and lead you by the hand to bird paradise.

For Usha and her birds. With gratitude.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

The Science of Sleep

The Science of Sleep (2006), Directed by Michel Gondry.

Either you get into a film since the first shot, or you slowly slip into the lives of the characters as it progresses, or sometimes no matter how hard you try the film completely eludes you. The science of cinema is much like the science of sleep. Not surprisingly people have such divergent experiences even when they have watched the same story unfold on the big screen. Though what is surprising is how everyone is such an involved and passionate critic when it comes to films but has so little to say about the events in ‘real’ life. However, I digress.

It is not yet time for bed. Tom Waits playing in the background sings,

When I'm lyin' in my bed at night
I don't wanna grow up
Nothin' ever seems to turn out right
I don't wanna grow up

And then after a few more songs he starts to say,

but you're innocent when you dream
when you dream
you're innocent when you dream

But again I digress.

As adolescents we’d stay up well through the night because life was short and sleeping was a waste of time. But then we also believed that we could grow up to become almost anyone we wanted. And the story of our adulthood would be dominated by only one character – the almighty me.

However, now as thirty somethings there is nothing we look forward to more than sleep time. In fact, we are often reluctant to wake up to face another day in the life. For in dreams lies our real world.

At last coming to the film in question – what is there not to love about this whimsical (you say, write genius) film about St├ęphane meeting Stephanie and (we all) meeting his world of dreams? As the boundary between dreams and reality blurs, how does one distinguish between the two? They say in our dreams the ‘impossible becomes possible’. But who is to say what is impossible to begin with?

People may either dream about a plane not taking off or of a dead relative gifting them a ruby ring. Similarly there are many ways of ‘seeing’ this film. Best to let our imagination and creativity make sense of our dreams and reality.

I'm exhausted, I'm gonna wake up now.

(On cinema part 3)

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Days go by

Then there are those days when we talk. With a gentle shrug of the shoulders we throw away the all-encompassing, oxygen-squeezing shroud of silence and become ourselves again. We become sentient: thinking and feeling beings. There is no need to mumble our words or push deeper into the dark corner of our brains the ideas that are waiting to explode. There is no need for wild gestures even. Everything is said and now it just needs to be done.

And then there’s the rest of our life. We go through all the motions. But the dominant gesture is always ‘disregard’. Hearing, speaking, nodding - ignoring. Smiling, asking, thinking-ignoring. Doing, seeing, choosing - ignoring. We ignore lest we say something that the significant other would find hard to ignore. We ignore lest we do or feel something that would become impossible to disregard. Ignoring is our retreat. Our asylum of choice.

And so, after all the ignoring has been done, there is but one thing left to do. Pick up the shroud and hope that it is thick and dark enough to blot out the ideas shining within. Until that some day when we can freely talk.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Reading Nietzsche

“Why do you act as if you live in an ivory tower, far removed from the rest of us?” This was spoken in a tone designed to inflict maximum pain. As is the wont of 14 year old girls, especially in the presence of a captive audience. But you, safe in your ivory tower, just grinned noting that your pigtails were much shorter compared to hers. So the moment passed. The conversation moved on to Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse and Jane Austen. As it did ever so often in those days. Till one fine day everyone lost touch.

Some twenty years later she is a doctor, married to another doctor, mother to two sons, living in a tower in New York but strangely has nothing much to say about anybody or anything.

You, well, you read Nietzsche. You never did have anything to say about anybody or anything.

Amusingly you too live in a tower – you call it “ my citadel*”.

*Every superior human being will instinctively aspire after a secret citadel where he is set free from the crowd, the many, the majority.
(Man alone with himself- Friedrich Nietzsche)

Sunday, 23 May 2010

The Crow

The crow offered me the first bite, generously. Politely I had to refuse. Our friendship was by now so congenial that I choose not to bring up the issue of my vegetarianism. I feared that something so trivial might soon snowball into an insurmountable mountain of mutual dislike. Like it happens often in human friendships. But I should have known better. For it was a crow that I had befriended. Giving me a deep, keen look the bird nodded his head and got back to his snack.

Did he know why I refused his friendly offering? I don’t quite know the answer to that. It never came up. However, there have been no wormy offerings of friendships ever since but many a cheery caw and circling over the head. And even a few striking poses among the blooming gulmohar. Yeah, we are alright. At least for now.

In fact, Mark Twain was onto something when he wrote that the crow “never arrived at what he is by any careless process, or any sudden one; he is a work of art, and "art is long"; he is the product of immemorial ages, and deep calculation; one can't make a bird like that in a day.”

(You can read Mark Twain's brilliant essay on the Crow here)

Friday, 21 May 2010

Was there a time

Was there a time when dancers with their fiddles
In children's circuses could stay their troubles?
There was a time they could cry over books,
But time has set its maggot on their track.
Under the arc of the sky they are unsafe.
What's never known is safest in this life.
Under the skysigns they who have no arms
Have cleanest hands, and, as the heartless ghost
Alone's unhurt, so the blind man sees best.

(Was There A Time by Dylan Thomas)

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Does your conscience bother you

The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand,

nor the kindly smile nor the joy of companionship;

it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when

he discovers that someone else believes in him and is

willing to trust him.

Glory of Friendship by Ralph Waldo Emerson

or, in other words

If a dog will not come to you after having looked in your face, you should go home and examine your conscience.

- Woodrow Wilson

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Postcards from Italy

waiting to be addressed...

The times we had
Oh, when the wind would blow with rain and snow
Were not all bad
We put our feet just where they had, had to go
Never to go...

Those were our times, those were our times

Saturday, 1 May 2010

The bar. Code.

“Debates, I tell you,” you start. It’s one of those days. Only instead of late nights, it’s in the middle of the day that we’ve gather around to listen. And what better way to pass the time. I say it sans all sarcasm. Or maybe not.

The AC works hard to keep the room at a ‘pleasant’ 20 degree Celsius. The first person to mention climate change or carbon footprint is quickly banished to the common lot outside. A few minutes in the ‘real’ world, with the added heat reflected from the million odd cars parked there, and anyone can be tempted to join cause with the ‘skeptics’. Or at least silently thank human creativity for inventing air conditioning and hope that somewhere it’s working over time to discover clean sources of endless energy. However, getting back to your monologue.

"Why don’t our internet identities carry a bar code like thing?" you continue, "I am sure they can come up with some system whereby whenever we comment, or appear on any social media network, we carry our ‘aura’ with our avatars. The aura will naturally be colored by the education we’ve had, the job we do. In short our credentials.

So if in the course of a discussion we disagree or agree with something, the other participants by simply looking at the colour of our aura can choose to understand or misunderstand us. They can then swiftly typecast us and respond accordingly.

Imagine the time saved by not having to ask the same questions, again and again - what are your credentials for saying so? Are you a scientist, an activist, or whatever ‘ist’ the discussion requires? What’s your education qualification? It’s as if all those who haven’t been to Harvard, Wharton or IIT and IIM. Or for that matter not slogged for PhD’s and doctorates. Or haven't lived, danced and supped with the remote indigenous communities of the world. Or not seen a whale or a chimpanzee for real. All these people can’t express their opinions.

So, your grandmother may have lived in a world without plastic bags, water shortage or the need for food to have labels that display the chemicals in them but sorry what makes her think she can bring something to the discussion? What are her credentials? Ajay, the 15 year old, who comes to clean the million cars parked in the lot may have migrated from the invisible interiors of India but do you really think he can add anything to the debate? Can he even spell development?

On the other hand the NGO that person is working with; it’s bringing ‘civilization’ to indigenous communities. So (hello!) naturally this person’s opinion counts. As does of the person who has read every word ever written about the problem and can Google up links faster than you can open a new tab. Or the person who has been on every committee ever formed in the last 62 years to deal with the problem. Umm, yes the problem still persists but at the moment we are only talking about whose opinions matter. And clearly the odds are stacked in favor of people who can display the right credentials. It’s all about credentials, credentials, credentials. However, only very selective kinds are appreciated."

At this point you pause to sip gently at the lemonade sitting next to your monitor. I see you are logged onto Facebook. I almost smile as I wonder how many more such rants lie ahead.

Suddenly the AC shudders to a halt. Another power cut. General mutterings and some odd abuses fill the room. The windows of this ‘modern ultra-tech’ building don’t even open. We look outside at the slums and the peepul tree with its pink leaves gently fluttering.

We blankly stare at the wide world that lies beyond. We can’t interact with it.