Death the Leveller

 

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The glories of our blood and state

Are shadows, not substantial things

There is no armour against Fate;

Death lays its icy hands on kings:

Sceptre and Crown

Must tumble down,

And in the dust be equal made

With the poor crooked scythe and spade

 

Some men with swords may reap the field,

And plant fresh laurels where they kill:

But their strong nerves at last must yield;

They tame but one another still:

Early or Late

They stoop to fate,

And must give up their murmuring breath

When they, pale captives, creep to death.

 

The garlands wither on your brow,

Then boast no more of your mighty deeds!

Upon Death’s purple altar now

See where the victor-victim bleeds.

Your heads must come

To the cold tomb:

Only the actions of the just

Smell sweet and blossom in their dust.

 

– James Shirley

 

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A Robin

Sitting in my studio, a sweet screech very close to me made me look around, something fluttering in the dark, a bird, robin, the black and white one. It hopped around, singing, then went quiet. I am happy to have it, as a proud host I want to do everything to make it stay as long as possible, to also maybe preserve a proof of a visit of such an unusual guest. He seemed oblivious and into himself. He hopped on the table, then on the chair and onto the projector, while I strategised the best way to switch on the lights across the room, turn on my camera and get a pic of it. I switched on the lights successfully. As I pointed the camera at it, it flew away. I kept the camera back.

From my desk I could hear faint chirps from the bluish trees outside. I walked up to the window and looked out, bent a little further, felt as if I entered this completely new world, like I was entering the robin’s territory, I said softly, “Come back.” It was chirping in the dark somewhere, I could hear it.

I went to my desk and it came flying back, just outside the window sill, still in the wilderness, it looked at me keenly, then hopped inside and flew towards the projector and perched on it.

Projector seemed to be its favourite spot. It sat there for a long time, pruning itself, fluffing up. I was observing it and said, “Hi”, it noticed for a while and then went back to its ritual. There was a heavy wind hustling outside, I thought maybe it likes this space, it must be very cold outside. Then a window rang shut. Few minutes before this, a thought had passed my mind, I wanted to take a photo or a video of the robin and for that I could shut the window so that it cannot escape. But maybe the bird would fret out, look how comfortable and at home it is now. And if it frets out, the whole point is lost, the thing dancing between us, right here, is gone. The window whamming shut because of the wind reminded me of this. I got up and opened the window, latched it so that it does not shut against the wind. Robin after sometime, flew towards the window, standing at the sill, looked outside, then looked at me, maybe ascertaining that it can fly out whenever it wants to. It flew back towards the projector.

Maybe it likes sitting on the projector because of the vantage point. I sat doing my work, and he sat doing his. He flew over my head once, glimpsing at what I was doing, resting on a chair in front of me. As close as it gets. It looked at me, taking full note of me for the first time. It was mapping the room and mapping me as well, it felt. It went back to its comfort spot and had a nap I think.

After sometime, it just hopped out of the window, flinching its tail and flew into the night.

 

 

Art

Today we discussed Guernica in class. A video describing various elements in the painting, a lady and her dead child, a horse, a bull, an evil eye and we students pointing out what all elements we could see. Trying to understand what Guernica is about. This somehow made me restless. I remembered the museum, silent and red, in Spain where I walked as I saw Guernica. Second year undergrad in chemical engineering, no concept of art appreciation or western art in my head, I walked into this space where this painting stood, stretching across an entire wall. There was an energy so strong, it encompassed me wholly. I felt drawn into the scene. I felt something in me screaming with the people in the painting, something felt that hopelessness with them. As I walked along it, saw the painting unfolding, my insides were stirred, but I searched for no horse, no bull, no dove, no labels and no terms came in my head. It left me with a heavy feeling I took away with me. When today, sitting in an AC auditorium, such an experience being reduced to labels and finding symbolism and deriving sense of accomplishment from identifying elements in the painting as a form of appreciating it, this hit hard in my gut. It felt wrong. That magnificence of feeling, that enormity, that encapsulation that I felt where no words entered, cutting this out as this and that felt wrong. And we are happy to say we understood Guernica? But is understanding only dissecting, understanding is also feeling in full form, the whole.

Another video explaining the background of the painting, saying Picasso was ready to paint a masterpiece this time. After hearing the news of the bombing in Guernica, did Picasso think to make a masterpiece out of this mishap? He would have simply felt this unexplainable urge to express this ghastly truth, only to express. So I find the use of this way of words very polluting, it is so away from where I look at it, you do not meddle up your feeling with your justifying, and derive pleasures from it, you never understand by knowing alone. Thinking can follow a feeling or trigger a feeling or stand along with feeling, but only thinking, separate from feeling, I feel only serves a set purpose, and I believe not of understanding, it is maybe serving a purpose of jumping to the conclusion that we ‘know’, it is polluted, to begin with. Thinking going hand in hand with feeling, supporting it, understanding it, can and is the only way leading to seeing clearly.

Appreciation of art. Art does not need your alms of appreciation. Please do not reduce it to that. What needs appreciation if you think art needs appreciation is the inside of you. It is screaming at you to know itself, it seeks to know itself, to see itself. Look at an art. Listening to it, in silence, you will see you impose a meaning on it, you will see you think it does not say anything or it says rubbish, but maybe you are poking it with a stick to make you feel something and it simply refuses. Give it space, a little space to dance. Give yourself a little space to dance. And see yourself dancing with what it tries to say. Every piece of art is a challenge to yourself, if you can accommodate it, if you can make way for it in your head as an entity. A work made out of the need to be appreciated is not art, but if made out of the need to communicate, connect, it is. It can be in highly abstract ways. Art is an emotional mirror, if you cannot read it, maybe you cannot read yourself, maybe you are afraid to dwell on the questions a painting makes you think and you say it says nothing, because it hits against a wall in you which is not ready to fall. Please don’t appreciate art, it is demeaning. Try to feel it just by giving it the honour of your attention, and not judge or justify if you cannot feel it. If you can feel it once in a while, your understanding would have grown. Please do not reduce art and life to a matter of labels and claim that you know them. If you can feel it, running inside you, if a painting can make you fall on your knees and cry your eyes out, if a new thought can make you ecstatic, if it can sweep out from your brain all your thoughts and command you to a state you entered not on your thinking brain but flowing in a river and you don’t quite know how you got there, stay there for some time, with that painting, with that thought, with that music. It is here you are understanding, feeling, art, and it is here you are alive.

Dungeons

He wakes up in a dungeon. His hands are crippled, legs twisted into each other. He tries to move, a shrill pain runs through each bone. Eyes sore and throat running dry. He cannot move. He is just sitting there, seething with pain. A feeling that this is how it was and how it is going to be. As if the pain isn’t enough, the air is laden with a moist, damp dirty smell of inside of a cave and is pressing him down. He feels a constant pressure, helplessness of not being able to move. The more he tries to get away the more painful it gets. Pain is challenging him with an evil grin. He hears a distant song somewhere, echoing in the cave. It grows on each wall, throbbing across. A melody that is determined to get etched on his lips. It stops. Pain returns like a cold dagger. He tries to move but Pain cripples his legs, runs through his spine, silently spreading into him. In his mind still, there is an afterimage of that melody still. It is playing itself again and again like his mind has captured and trapped it. His throat vibrates to the broken hymn and mind fills in the gaps, and in his deep well of pain, he feels a prick of immense joy. Elation. His mouth opens and sings that song, not anywhere close but it still sings. His fingers start to turn around. He sings. Pain recedes and he can move his hands. With both arms he drags along the ground and grabs the fruit lying on the ground and eats it. Tears come rolling down his cheeks. He drags around to eat more, his legs still twisted but he has just realised how hungry he had been. Soon his stomach is full and he finds a cool place to nap, his legs trudging behind him.

He makes his routine thus. Trudging along, eating and napping. He moved out of the cave. All the trees outside had rotted and a forever doom was hanging over that place. He kept dragging along and eating fruits and sleeping on the way. He saw many like him. He felt content but for one small corner in his heart. A fear that this will last forever. The song was erased from his memory as he was now engrossed in this new doomed world. Sometimes out of the dark and mysteries of the heart, the song played in its old charm it played in his heart. But he never sang it. He never felt the need to.

All of them trudged along, ate fruits and writhed and screamed when the pain overburdened their legs. Some stood by as if to give Pain respect and it would disappear. It never did. He felt his legs twisting more and more. Pain, like a creeper, wounding on his legs move towards his ribs. He felt he was going to choke on that pain. He wanted to scream like everyone else did. He wanted to scream till his throat broke down and there was nothing to choke. Sweat broke on his face and he felt a rock in his chest. Lying in the puddle of sweat, unable to bear it, he held his crumpled legs as if claiming them back from Pain but never succeeding. In that agony somewhere like a bird let loose, creeped in the forgotten melody. Instead of screaming, his lips obeyed his mind, he sang the melody like a prayer, like a final blow against pain. He sang and the elation he found with it, pain could never supersede it. He sang it at the top of his voice, numbing his pain. He sang like the song was etched in his soul. He forgot his pain, his hands, his legs, the doomed land, the fruits, his hunger, the people watching by. He only had to sing. His voice rose and fell with the elegance of Nature. When he opened his eyes, he was running at full speed, the wretched world had gone, the limped people had gone, his legs were fine, his heart was fine and he was, free. He sang , he couldn’t stop. He felt air gushing through him, bubbling up every pore. He thought he was flying, so high was his happiness, its fervour. All the pain had ceased. He couldn’t feel his body to feel any pain. He was consumed in an eternal fire of elation in which he wanted to burn and burn and burn.

December 29, 2016

Queens of the Mumbai locals

A Mumbai local train is a myriad of interesting personalities. Below are some typical characters found in a womens coach:

1. The forever in love

It seems she is in a new love and cannot leave it off her mind. Blushing as she chats on stealthily in her earphones. Sheepishly smiling and sputtering few words in between. So softly, you have to strain your ears to guess the language. How is she managing to communicate so coherently in a cacophonous train while you have to shout at the top of your voice to get one word across. Does her partner on the other side really hear what she is saying? Maybe that is the secret they are able to carry on so well. Rather than the true intent, it appears she is talking to convince herself, convince herself that they will remain strong amidst clamour, that they will keep muttering to each other even in the nosiest phase of their lives.

2. The santraa waali

This woman can fit herself and her orange tokri in any given space. Passengers are fighting for a place to stand and she happily comes and whams her basket. But everyone cannot remain cross with her for long, since her pushes are soon compensated by the irresistible tang that suffuses the compartment. Orange is definitely the fruit of the locals.

3. The gossip queens

This is a broad category but I am talking about the ladies that just cannot part with their household or office politics. They keep gossiping about a third person, water problem in their area, sister-in-law saying something spiteful, boss being arrogant. They are the saas-bahu(and the recently added, office) drama queens of the coach.

4. The clips-earrings waali

You should have that skill, to not invite her wrath and still be be able to reject her tray of clips. This woman knows how to manage time till the last tick. She has precisely calculated the time she can bargain, time you will take to muddle through your purse for money, and time taken for the train to reach the speed she can hop out balancing those long trays on her head. You are left awestruck with her nimbleness.

5. The students

Are seen in the prime of swag, with a bling phone. On an average three girls huddled together, with obviously one leading the clan. All they do is gossip, tip tap on their phones and crib about the next test. Rarely some of them are seen bending over a book, the studious ones.

6. The daredevils

Even a fly is sitting on the seat waiting for the next station to buzz on, Aunty in the next bay is sleeping on a whole berth, but these adventure seekers have to be dangling on the door like clothes hanging to dry. They will step out on every station and come back in, but wont ever come inside and lead a not-so-thrilling life by having a seat.

7. The disciple

It is similar to counting sheep when trying to sleep. Be assured of a nice doze when this female is sitting in front of you scribbling Ram in her never ending notepad.

8. The manager

This lady knows who is getting down where in the entire coach. Contact her for quick seats, she will be glad to help. She has connections spread across stations and trains and is busy figuring out who will occupy that seat after Mulund and then after Kurla. If I ever plan a startup, I am contacting these amazing organisers.

9. The kitty party

Travelling everyday in the same coach makes some really strong groups. They share tiffins, mithais, gossips and seats. They can make a newbie in the coach feel alienated. Newbies either join the group or make sure they dont sit around them in the long run. These groups have offsites too and some friendships last a lifetime.

10. The first timers

Mumbai locals are not very kind to the new travellers. You know one when you see one. It is pretty amusing to observe them. They are tensed(especially in the old locals which lack both the display and announcements) and are unaware of the accepted and expected flow followed in a coach. Neither do they know the dead zones, where the flow isnt going to move. This ignorance leads to utter confusion and the everyday passengers arent adjusting enough to soak in an aberration. With an incredibly low tolerance limit, they are ready to pounce on anything that pricks them. You can only hope the newbie learns the tricks with time.

11. The observers

Well, it is difficult to find one! 😉 You would never notice them, since all they do is look around. I wonder how many more are out there.

MARCH 7, 2015

Meeting an old friend

When we meet a close friend of our childhood after many years, we
gaze in his eyes hoping for some familiarity, seeking our own little self. Searching for that known smile, that reassuring nod of meeting at 6 round the corner.

What do we see instead? We see cold harsh reality embossed in his eyes between fragments of innocence visible only to us. His eyelids burdened by the weight of wrinkles piling up on his forehead. It hits our soul, when we realise that he might be feeling the same, looking at us.

And in that lost pursuing gaze, in that moment of haze, of perplexity, of what to look for and where. I see you waiting for me around the corner at 6 and a smile greets us.

JANUARY 18, 2015