27 Jun 2007

Rain's Letter by Rabindranath Tagore

Dear Friend,

Living as you do amid the desert of Sindh country, imagine the monsoons in Calcutta.

In this letter, I remind you of Bengal’s rain…Ponds swelling with water, mango orchards, wet crows, and ashadhe tales. And if you can recall Ganga’s bank, then think of the cloud’s shadow on the streaming water and of the Shiva temple located within the peepul tree under the cloud cover. Think of the veiled village women who fill water from the backside banks, getting drenched as they make their way home through the bamboo briars, passing paathhshalas and cowsheds; think of how the rain splashes in from a distance by placing its feet over the waving crop fields; first on the mango orchards at the end of the field, then on the bamboo backwoods; next, every single hut, every village fades out behind monsoon’s transparent cover, little girls sitting before huts clap and invite the rain with their songs—ultimately, the downpour captures all land, all forest, all village into its snare. Unceasing rain—in the mango fields, bamboo bushes, river; on the head of the boatman sitting crumpled as he flinches while wrapping his blanket. And in Calcutta rain falls at Ahiritola, Kansharipara, Teriti Market, Borobazaar, Shova Bazaar, Harikrishna’s Lane, Motikrishna’s Lane, Ramkrishna’s Lane, Zigzag Lane—on mansion roofs, shops, trams, the head of buggy coach drivers and so on.

These days it doesn’t rain heavily, like it used to in our childhood. Today’s rain has no grandeur of the past, it is as if the monsoon season is focusing on economy—it’s on its way out after sprinkling a little water—just some gluey mud, some drizzle, a bit of inconvenience. One can manage the entire rainy season with a torn umbrella and a pair of shoes from the China bazaar. I don’t see the revelry of the yesteryears thunder, lightning, rain, and breeze. Rains of the past had a song and dance, a rhythm and a beat—these days monsoon seems to be gripped by the jaws of ageing, by ideas of calculation and bookkeeping, by concerns of catching a cold. People say it’s only a sign of me growing old.

Perhaps it is that. Every age has a season; perhaps I am past that. In one’s youth it’s spring, in old age autumn, and in one’s childhood, rain. We don’t love the home as much as we do in our childhood. The monsoon season is for staying at home, imagining, listening to stories, playing with one’s siblings. In the darkness of the rain, far-fetched folklores assume a degree of truth. The screen of a thick downpour seems to put a cover on the world’s office activities. There are fewer wayfarers on the streets, fewer crowds, the usual busy-ness isn’t visible in places—the doors of houses are shut, coverings drape offices and shops…

…I remember, during rainy days I would run across our sprawling verandah—the door banged with the wind, the giant tamarind tree shook with all its darkness, the courtyard welled up with water up to one’s knees, water from four tin taps on the terrace gushed forth with a thud to join the courtyard water…Back then flowers bloomed on our keya tree beside the pond (the tree is no more). During the rains, when the steps on the pond’s bank vanished one by one, finally the water flooding in to the garden—when the clustering heads of the bel flower plant stayed upright above the water and the pond fish played around the water-logged trees in the garden, at that time, I raised my dhoti to the knee and imagined romping around the garden. In rainy days, when one remembered school what a gloom clasped one’s heart, and if Mastermoshai ever knew what one thought upon suddenly spotting his umbrella at the end of the lane from one’s verandah…I hear these days many students think of their teachers as friends and dance with delight at the thought of going to school. Perhaps this is a good sign. But it seems there are a growing number of boys who don’t love play, rain, home, and holidays—boys who don’t love anything in this wide world besides grammar and geographic descriptions. The sharp rays of civilization, intellect, and knowledge, it seems, is making the population of innocent children dwindle, replacing it with precocity.

Ashadhe tales = Improbable, fantastical stories

Translated by Bhaswati Ghosh

Photo courtesy: http://www.chitambo.com/clouds/cloudshtml/precipitation.html

23 Jun 2007

A Song in the Cloud--Kajri

In his comment to my previous post, Abhay said, "Rains bring some of the most original emotions." I think that holds especially true in a tropical setting like India, where the prolonged and scorching summer makes the monsoon season one of the most awaited and treasured. Consequently, the metaphor of rain makes its appearance in all things creative--painting, literature, music, cinema. Rains here evoke a host of emotions, from joyous outbursts that sing with the dancing greens to pangs of separation from one's lover that cry with every burst of lightning and thunder. The latter translates into a particular form of folk/semi-classical music called Kajri.

Sung in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Kajri has a popular legend associated with it. According to folklore of Mirzapur, a place in UP, a woman named Kajli had to live in separation from her husband, who lived in a faraway land. She would miss him all the time, but when thick clouds splashed monsoon showers across the land, the estrangement became unbearable for her. She is believed to have taken her petition to a certain goddess Kajmal with her wailing. The other origin story comes from the Hindi word kajal, meaning kohl. The colour black is related to the dark clouds of monsoon, which in this case, bring relief.

If folk beats and earthy melody interest you, listen to a selection of Kajri here.



18 Jun 2007

The Wait

I waited for you.

I waited through days that won’t turn into nights.

I waited even as others fled, unable to bear the separation.

I waited with the still, suffocating air that drained out my senses.

For you I survived, barely alive, yet expectant, when others died.

I waited when the prophets said you would take a long time coming.


And then, you came.

You brought the cool brush of night right into the day.

You embraced me with a smile; my reward for not deserting you.

You changed the very complexion of the air with your every stance.

You put life back into dead, parched souls with your lush strokes.

You came for me, defying the prophets.

You came.

Dearest Rain.

13 Jun 2007

Wole Soyinka

Came across a good interview of Wole Soyinka in The Hindu. The Nigerian Nobel laureate makes a couple of thought-provoking points. One: Real writers write, no matter the circumstances they are in or their state of mind at any given point of time. And two, intellectual analysis of a writer's isolation or persecution often becomes an exercise in fantasizing reality.

He also makes an interesting, if debatable, point on responding to violence with violence.

Read the full interview here.

7 Jun 2007

Living Conversations

Capturing the life, sensibilities, and works of a person—that’s what biographies and autobiographies are made of. But could there be another way to bring to life the essence of an individual? If the book I am reading these days is anything to go by, the answer is yes, emphatically at that.

Shilpi Ramkinkar Alapchari
or In Conversation with Ramkinkar by Somendranath Bandopadhyay (review promised later) is an amazing read. An intriguing glimpse into the mind and heart of one of India’s most revered sculptor-artists, the book is neither a biography nor a series of interviews; yet perhaps it is more than either. The curious thing is that the book cannot be strictly classified into any type. Like Ramkinkar Baij’s life and art, it transcends stale definitions. As I read through this informal set of dialogues the author and the artist shared over the course of a year, I wonder what is it that keeps me—someone who has no background in visual arts—so hooked to the book? I have nailed some of the reasons:

1) Interesting subject: For me, this is the strongest aspect of the book. The author chose to record his interactions with a person who has such an original voice that is sure to pull a reader. Ramkinkar’s free-spirit, touching diffidence, ability to remain untouched by both praise and censure of the highest order, and his child-like innocence and absentmindedness—all these make him so “approachable” for the reader. The author does an admirable job of bringing Ramkinkar as he was, mainly because he keeps the sculptor’s voice intact.

"To tell you the truth, I have found everything from life—no less than twelve annas, could be more. All these things that surround me, the fields, village people, the everyday life of Santhals—all this. Just see all the drama that goes on through the year. Keep your eyes and ears open—and see—fill your two eyes to the brim—soak in all you want to. How much can an artist take during his lifetime anyway?"

2) Distinct voices: Another facet that makes this ongoing conversation so engaging for the reader is the difference in the author’s and the artist’s voices. Bandopadhyay has done a superb job of distinguishing the two voices—his own marked by cultivated sophistication, Ramkinkar’s by unrestrained expression. This only fits the nature of the book—telling us two different people are talking to each other about a shared interest.

This morning, I am a bit late in coming to him. I enter; a little ashamed. He is looking for something. Every now and then, his hands reach under the pillow. Hearing the sound at the door, he looks up. A lost look.

“Where did it go? I’d kept it here only. Saw it in the morning too. Just a while ago.”

“What is it? Have you lost something?”

“A two-rupee note, my dear—red note, small. Trouble is, there’s no bidi. The container is empty. I think there were some bidis in it. Vanished.”

“Shall I look?”

“Do, please.”

No, Kinkarda’s said red note is nowhere to be found. I search everywhere. At last, a torn-cover notebook comes out—from under the bed sheet. If anywhere, the note has to be inside it. In between the folds of small chits. One says “two matchboxes,” another “Charminar—1 packet." The dates are very old. Suddenly, I notice a folded red something. Yes, it’s money. Not a two-rupee note, though, but a cheque. After the first figure, multiple zeros stand in a row. But the date? Like in those chits, it elapsed long ago.

“You found it?” Kinkarda eyes it, too. His animated eyes gleam with the joy of discovery.”

“Not a note; this is a cheque.”

“Oh, I thought we found it.” Kinkarda becomes frustrated again.

A fat-amount cheque lies in neglect under the covers. The man is restless over a small red note.

The bidi arrives, though. The co-operative store is right in front of his house.

With a gladdened heart, he rotates a bidi in his fingers before putting it into his mouth. Shaky fingers light a matchstick. He releases the smoke in a long, satisfied swirl.

“What’s that book in your hands?”

“Jacob Epstein.”

“Wah, wah! It has plates, I hope?”

“Of course.”

He looks at ‘Rima’ intently. Then, ‘The Day and the Night’. For a long time. The bidi smoke keeps ebbing out, until it disappears. He dumps the unconsumed dying bidi in the container and holds the book up with both hands.

“Do you see what he has done?”

Loving respect lights Kinkarda’s face. His eyes run over the sculptures so familiar to him, as if he is shedding affection on them with his joyful glance.

3. Author’s passion for the main theme: I believe that’s the basis of this conversation. The author, in spite of serving as a professor of Bengali literature in Shantiniketan, happens to be a passionate art enthusiast and has written an important book on Tagore’s art. His conversation with a great sculptor becomes so lively only because he himself is a lover of the subject and has studied it deeply. The author shows a fine appreciation for Ramkinkar’s works and doesn’t shy away from sharing his unease over a few finer points of some of the sculptor’s greatest works.

“I really like that work (The Storm) of yours. I like it because of its stunning vitality. The pulse of life in the two girls’ figures is of course there, but what really astounds me is the soft smile in that hard rock…

But I have a doubt, Kinkarda. Been having it for a long time now. I have thought of talking to you about it. Couldn’t muster the courage. Now that I have the chance, may I?

That boy’s figure. It feels as if it has been forcibly added. I have seen it carefully a lot of times. Tried to understand the work. Somehow, the boy’s figure isn’t in sync with the rhythm of the women’s figures. Even though I like the figure, I like his stance.”

Kinkarda keeps quiet. For a long time. He must be thinking of something with closed eyes, or revolving around his creation in his mind’s eye.

“There’s vitality in the boy’s figure, too. But I can’t totally dismiss your observation, my dear. No, no, you are right. Right you are…

Listen then.

The folds behind the girls’ saris’ ends—do you know how much those weigh? They are loaded with iron and concrete. It’s very difficult to keep them floating. You are seeing the end is flying; you see it with light ease. And me? I had sunk under the pressure of those folds. How do I keep those ends flying? A sculptor has to think about these practical things. I was harried with those sari ends. Ha, ha, ha. In the end, I added that boy. It’s a support. I even gave him my flute. To stand there, touching the sari ends.”
4. Description of setting: The author’s literary bent comes into full view when he recounts the atmosphere in each chapter. Not just the surroundings, but the atmosphere of Ramkinkar’s face, his typical mannerisms, his loud laughter—all recreate the different hues of moods the author had experience as he chatted with the genius sculptor.

20, Andrews Palli. Kinkarda lives in this house now.

He sits in the front room by the small slice of verandah. Sitting, sleeping—all in this room. The door is ajar. It stays like that all the while. Looking at the near dark, silent room it’s hard to believe Kinkarda is here at the moment. Can he ever be compared to this deafening silence?

The very mention of this name brings up so many images in the mind.

Kalabhavan premises. Kinkarda sits under a tree during some free moments off his teaching. A bunch of curious students from different countries huddle him. A thunderous guffaw booms out of this engrossed assembly and stuns passersby.

Kinkarda stands on an elevated platform. He wears a saffron lungi, a tal-leaf toka on his head, his lips sealed. The tireless hammer and chisel in his hands break the afternoon stillness. A newly-born sculpture faces him with a hard concrete body. There’s no measure of time.

Is it any wonder that the more I read this book, the more I feel I know Ramkinkar, the free man, the marvelous sculptor, intimately?

Note: All quoted text written by Somendranath Bandopadhyay, translated by Bhaswati Ghosh.


The Speculist

1 Jun 2007

Fresh Connections

Just when I thought my blog wasn't living up enough to connect with readers (I am to blame for that in part--in recent times I have been at best a semi-active blogger), Sid Leavitt of Readers and writers blog, an interactive universe of the written word, as the subtitle says, came with a gentle reassurance. By selecting At Home, Writing as one of the featured blogs on his site, with a kind and affectionate review, Sid told me this blog is still touching a few heartstrings. Always a joy to know that.

Friends, in a blogosphere cramped by barely literate fans fawning over celebrities and barely literate celebrities pandering to fans, there’s a wide open world indeed waiting in weblogs like At Home, Writing.
Even more delightful was discovering the Readers and Writers blog itself, an excellent venue to bring readers and writers together. To have found a place in his blogroll--which features Bernita's brilliant and classy An Innocent A-Blog--is indeed an honour for me.

Thank you, Sid. For taking At Home to the world.
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