Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The squirrel friend of mine

There is always a squirrel on a tree. In our move from house to house, from one far off town to another, after all the boxes had been unloaded, after all the rooms had been explored, one would go out into the ‘lawn’, which was often a rag-tag mix of some old trees, a patch of grass, some ‘borders’– everything generally unkempt and in a mess that in a mater of weeks mother would turn into a garden of many delights. And from somewhere within that ragged patch a sharp greeting would sound, “chip, chip, chip” with the “p” often sounding like “ch”. It was the squirrel on the tree.

Calling out, perhaps, to me. Though anyone who has lived through summer in India knows the call is far from a greeting and more of an alarm.

In probably 6th standard, all those who have Hindi as a subject, read a story called Gillu Gilhari (gilhari being the Hindi word for squirrel) by a famous Indian poet Mahadevi Verma. The story is wondrous and even though one doesn’t remember anything about it, except for the fact that it is about a squirrel named Gillu, one is sure it must have been magical to have left such a deep impact that till today every time one sees a squirrel one’s mind automatically calls out, “Gillu gilhari”.

Which is often followed by Mrs. Lahri calling out, “A–, prastut panktiyon ka bhavarth batao (explain the meaning of the following lines).” But that is the subject for another post.

Coming back to the squirrel. Years later, even now when all our boxes have been unloaded and one surveys the view from the large double glazed windows, for where is the luxury or time for gardens, especially when one is, every few years, packing and unpacking boxes that slowly decrease in numbers*. And sure enough in the tree outside there is a squirrel. Often not as chirpy as the childhood one but more than matching in daring what it lacks in the sound department.

One is astonished to realize: How little it takes to experience the joy of being at home.

*it's the result of learning, accumulated over the years, to carry along only that which one needs the most. Also in part a result of learning to appreciate, what Pico Iyer discussed in, The Joy of Less.

The squirrel in the photographs who consented gladly, or at least stayed still long enough, for its portrait to be taken is a resident of my mother's garden.

This post is the result of a comment on the blog from another fellow friend of the squirrel. You can visit her blog of many delights here.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Who can live like the flowers

                      It was wrong to do this," said the angel.
"You should live like a flower,
Holding malice like a puppy,
Waging war like a lambkin."

"Not so," quoth the man
Who had no fear of spirits;
"It is only wrong for angels
Who can live like the flowers,
Holding malice like the puppies,
Waging war like the lambkins."

"It was wrong to do this," said the angel a poem by Stephen Crane

Monday, 17 October 2011

While you were stealing

By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the most bitter. - Confucius

The Ugly
It starts innocuously. They casually take the links and repost them, without acknowledging let alone thanking you. Then they innocently re-tweet your words without mentioning it. Then they inoffensively post links of your blog to facebook without informing you. Then they blandly start writing posts that are suspiciously similar to something you had posted earlier. But that’s ok. It’s a fluke, you say. It’s even possible that the 100 monkey syndrome is an undeniable reality. What one monkey sees a 100 times, monkey inevitably imitates.

Then they start taking photographs that would be failed photocopies, if only they had not been so busy unsuccessfully trying to replicate the subject, the frame, the composition, the colours: that reflection, those trees, an entire facebook album on autumn. A photo here and an image there would be coincident, maybe even inspired, more likely derivative but entire albums; that’s taking inspiration a little too far, no?

But that’s the ugly side of life, not just the internet. We constantly experience it in some form or the other. We all are also to a large extent defenseless against it. And as with everything else in life, in this too it is the motivation and the intent that is paramount.

So, what motivates people to copy? With links, it’s often simply to be able to say they saw it ‘first’ and pretend that they still are ‘cool’ and ‘in’: in short the same petty emotions that motivates high school kids. That’s especially true for posts on facebook. But in some cases it is something slightly more pathetic. It’s the vampire syndrome: feeding on someone else’s lifeblood so that they may live to see another day.

But one can take heart from the fact that they must not be getting much sleep at night.

The Bad
Some students in New York took excerpts from my rant on an article on Hindi movies in the Guardian and used it as an ‘Indian’ point of view while discussing the overdose of ‘unreality’ that is Indian (Hindi) cinema. They somehow failed to note down my name and referred to me simply as “He”. Even after it was pointed out that they had made an erroneous assumption regarding my gender they failed to make amends. In their defense, it was most likely an inability to ‘see’ and read. While they were overdosing on cinema and Bollywood dreams, I had unfortunately pointed out something quite mundane.

Then there are those who use IP blocking services to troll the blog going back and forth through the posts. Who are they? Well, I’d just say:

You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand with nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks they really found you

Bob Dylan, It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

The Good
In the early days I posted some sets of photographs on Flickr and a few days later got a mail. My Amsterdam and London photographs were to be a part of Schmap iphone travel guide. It signified all that is good about the social media.

Mr. Pritish Nandy on seeing my photographs for the first time via a tweet (he didn’t even know my name) said, “You are a very good photographer. Never doubt it.” It’s been some years since. It still feels good.

A blog post I wrote on protests among urban Indians, in particular ‘Meter Jam’, generated a lot of discussion online, another on walking in Delhi got posted in Down to Earth, a post on the dark side of  ‘pub bharo’ and the pink chaddi campaign got published as a letter in Tehelka. The posts on books, poetry, movies, Joan Eardley, Emily Dickinson, Billy Collins are helping some students with their term papers, I suppose from the views they generate: though I must add what Dr. Malvankar remarked in the first year of graduation itself, “She writes very well, but her answers will not get her many marks in the exams.”

Most importantly despite being separated by age, nationality, culture, time zones, I have met people who wept at the arboretum, felt akin to the winter bird and had empathy for the worried cows. They were almost like me! That has been not just the good but also the best part.

In The End
There’s a famous scene in Good Will Hunting where the grad student Clark, regurgitates text he has read in some book while trying to embarrass Chuckie, a construction worker, before some girls in a bar only to meet more than his match in Will, a college janitor and the main character in the film.

Will: See the sad thing about a guy like you, is in about 50 years you’re gonna start doin' some thinkin' on your own and you’re gonna come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life. One, don't do that. And two, you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a fuckin’ education you coulda' got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the Public Library.
Clark: Yeah, but I will have a degree, and you'll be serving my kids fries at a drive-thru on our way to a skiing trip.
Will: [smiles] Yeah, maybe. But at least I won't be unoriginal.

That brings me to the final point. This blog isn’t about me, in as much as any novel isn’t about its writer or any photograph isn’t about the photographer. By that I mean the “I” in the blog posts often isn’t me. The “you” most definitely never is I. And the ‘they’ in this post are all people I know.

So, how does someone justify co-opting someone else’s unreality?

Just like people have different motivations for imitating others, other people have different motivations for not being like anyone else. Sometimes the motivations of the two sets of people overlap. Often they don’t. Somewhere overhead swings the sword of Damocles called mediocrity.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Black bird

Jet-lagged, heavy head, I wake up and try to concentrate hard– where am I? The room seems unfamiliar. The sheets, the duvet, the curtains are all white. Then it comes to me. I am some hundred miles away from home. Home? Wherever that may be? Light filters through the curtain. Did I sleep right through the afternoon to the next morning? The clock by the bedside issues a little tick-tock. It is 9:00 PM!

A bird calls. It isn’t even 12 hours since I got off the plane. The bird appears to whistle a little tune. Here we are. And so it begins. The bird on the trees somewhere across from the patio sings a slow, melodic song.

I recollect the opening bars. The mind clears. A blackbird sings in the dead of the night. And for the next few years it will sing from the rooftops, hiding in the hedgerow, while looking for grub among the decaying leaves, from trees across the patio, in summer, in autumn, in spring. A blackbird will always sing.

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Playlist

Come down now, they'll say 
But everything looks perfect from far away 
Come down now but we'll stay*

There is a playlist for riding the Amtrak past gigantic warehouses and grain silos, past the heap of crushed metal and glass– junked cars and computers, with barges going up and down the rivers, bridges with arches and bridges suspended by cables, the red and white oldsmobile waiting for the green light, the far away solitary house winking through the clouds, the cows out to pasture, the kayaks out in the lake, the cyclists scrambling up the hill, the horses running in the fields, the Canada geese grazing on the golf course, two pink plastic flamingos seeking company out in the yard, the man and boy walking to the quayside, the yarrow flowering by the rail side; yellow, white and pink, the grasses going to seed, the petunias, blue and white, tumbling down from baskets, hanging from lampposts, in one town and then the next and then the next and so on, the waves trying to outrun the train collapsing in exhaustion just short of the tracks, as another train rumbles by with carriages marked Vancouver and Santa Fe; the bald eagle completes a circle and starts to circle again. The sun goes down, the clock reads 8:30 PM and home is not yet within sight but not that far away. The songs have come to an end. And one presses replay.

Yes, there is a playlist made for every such train ride. Each song a perfect story to accompany the sights. Each playlist made to order for each and everyone. It makes one wonder, why don’t more people take the train in America?

Oh, what melody will lead my lover from his bed?
What melody will see him in my arms again?**

*From the song 'Such great heights', as sung by Iron and Wine.
**From the song 'Cliquot', by Beirut.