Thursday, 28 October 2010

With nostalgia

Suddenly you are missing Bethnal Green Road. The salwar-suit shops, the off license 24-hour grocery stores, the English Premier League odds scribbled in chalk marking what kind of a reception which team will get tonight from the dedicated fans, the half kilo bhindi and everything else. Imagine!

What could induce this acute sense of nostalgia, you ask. A slice of bad pizza, a conversation on the ‘poor PR’ being done by the guys behind UID, and the general sense of moroseness that descends when one is trapped in a shopping mall that is trying to be Oxford Street, London or Soho, New York anything but Pushp Vihar, Saket. Possibly. Or maybe it is the passing reference to graffiti in East London that someone mentions reading about in the inflight magazine as the plane soared to 30,000 feet.

And so, while the drinks are being sipped and the forks pick an indifferently diced cucumber now and a mercilessly torn rocket leaf then. The mind has already passed the Regent’s canal, has crossed the tube station and is walking straight down Bethnal Green Road towards Brick Lane. No, not the Brick Lane of the novel, or of the film based on the novel. More like Brick Lane of the Saturday nights- of the impossibly asymmetrical hairstyles, people spilling onto the pavement along with their drinks, the music, the organic food, the vintage cloth stores and yes, even the graffiti. Ok also, Brick Lane of the daytime where a slice of 1980’s India is preserved in the form of brass decoration vases, Manipuri and Bhangra dance dolls, the smell of rose incense and Mohammad Rafi (or Mohammad Aziz) songs blaring from what one hopes are Phillip cassette players. Where one goes to in the futile search for the “perfect” curry. That mythical thing every Londoner can almost taste but not quite grasp.

All this is nostalgic now! You might argue: It's never safe to be nostalgic about something until you're absolutely certain there's no chance of its coming back.* And one might say: Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective, and maybe objectivity.** Why should nostalgia always be equated with longing, when sometimes it is merely reminiscence; a pleasing reflection, a fond evocation? Something that gently lifts you up. You may end up hanging in a limbo but admit it- isn’t the view great?

*Bill Vaughn
**Robert Morgan

Monday, 11 October 2010

The fading

Moments turn into minutes, days stumble one into the other, months
into years, and time, it is said, has passed. We say life has moved
on. Not realizing time and life are two independent entities. Mutually
exclusive. Rarely does one care for the other.

Rain falls on Bombay. This is Bombay with its ancient banyan trees and
chawls with pots of hibiscus flowering red and yellow on the
windowsills. And corrugated iron sheets hiding from public view the
gaping hole in the earth that will, in some days and months, turn into
a gleaming steel and glass monstrosity. Slowly, over days and months,
it will rise from the hidden depths. However, time will not wait. It
will lapse.

Shaded by umbrellas, small and inadequate, against the monsoon
downpour, there will be life, or something like it. And maybe at some
moment, on some given day, it’ll summon the courage to softly ask,
"But what is the meaning of it all?” Time will most likely not reply.
Life will try to catch its fading reflection rippling in a pool of
rainwater. Or maybe it will simply sigh. And pass on.

Friday, 8 October 2010

I dreamt I was a butterfly

I dreamt I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke.
Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a
butterfly dreaming that I am a man? - Chuang Tzu*

*Chuang Tzu's butterfly dream is a Taoist parable on the interchangeability between appearance and reality: Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn't know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. Between Zhuangzi and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things. (2, tr. Burton Watson 1968:49)

Transformation of Things proves that differences between things aren't absolute. Most meanings we seek in this world are bound up in apparent contradictions.

You can read more about Chuang Tzu's dream here.
And about how chasing butterflies is so much more than what the eye sees here.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Best advice ever

Mind your head. The rest will follow.

Strolling the streets somewhere between Stow-on-the-Wold and Bourton-on-the-Water I had an epiphany. It was the same feeling that I had had almost three decades back under the neem tree in 10 Turner Road, Kanpur. The summer sun was out and about on both the days. Back then it was unbearable. Now it seemed pleasant.

I was so much older then, I am younger than that now.