Category Archives: literature

Poetry Pharmacy

(In tough times, one needs to seek solace in poetry. And that’s what I am doing. Almost 25 years ago, on an autumn evening, I found this poem on the wall of a friend’s home in New Delhi. My love for this poem was instant. Later on, I asked another common friend to write (rather copy) the poem on a piece of paper and give it to me. He was gracious enough to do it for me. Since then, I have changed cities, jobs and homes but this poem neatly written in my notebook has stayed with me. My attempts to search this beautiful poem on google have not been successful. Hope, you all will enjoy this) 

 

Everyone walks the way he can,

Some with their chest ajar,

Others with only one hand,

Some with identity card in pocket,

Others in their souls…

Some with the moon screwed in their blood,

And others with no blood, no moon nor reminiscence with them.

Everyone walks able or not,

Some with their love in grumbles,

Others hidden in altered skin.

Some with life and death beside,

Others with death and life astride

Some with a hand on some other shoulder,

And others on the shoulder of another.

Everyone is walking because he is walking,

Some hopeful with a person,

Others meeting none on the journey across,

Some through the door opening,

Or so it seems to the road,

Others with a door on the walls or dream on the air perhaps,

Some not having begun to live,

Others too not having begun to live,

But one and all walk with their feet to chains

Some on the road they themselves made,

Others on the ones they didn’t make and all those they shall never make.

——— Roberto Juarroz

 

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Anonymous,the most prolific poet

When I was a child, I used to read many poems in the text books ending with ‘Anonymous’ (as credit). So, in my little mind, Anonymous was the most prolific poet in this whole wide world. And for some odd reasons, Anonymous was ‘HE’ not ‘SHE’ (well, gender conditioning begins early in life.) I used to dream of growing up to be ‘Anonymous’.  Till one day, I discovered the truth behind Anonymous. And there died my desire to be … Anonymous

 

The language that runs in my blood

odiyaI don’t remember the exact year. But it was early 1990s. My friend and I were going to Connaught place (New Delhi)  in bus no 615 (from JNU). We were talking in Odia (the language spoken in Odisha) and just before we alighted from the bus, a co-passenger asked us. “Which language is this?” My friend without batting an eye-lid said, “Italian.” We got down from the bus and laughed to our heart’s content. It felt exhilarating to be able to speak in a language that somebody standing next to us couldn’t understand.

I have always relished the fact that I can speak another language fluently other than English and Hindi. I love languages and love collecting words in different languages and write them down in my notebook, mobile phone, mind and heart. Odia is my mother tongue and that’s the language I first learnt to speak.

I remember spending beautiful evenings under a cloudy sky listening to Chittaranjan Jena’s soul soothing song, ‘Mo priya tharu kiye addhik sundar, ediki manoi jiha se…’ (There’s no one more beautiful than my beloved… but she is so moody that only when she’s in a mood she tells me that she’s mine) and Shekhar Ghosh’s ‘Hridayara ei sunayata ku’ (When I ask the emptiness of my heart). I learnt English before I picked up Hindi. I loved English as a language and always scored well too, making my father feel very happy. I was equally good in Odia and my favourite leisure activity was reading all kind of adult literature (mostly novels and short stories) in Odia. Some of the stuff I read, I didn’t understand at all. Nevertheless I just read the books. For the sheer pleasure of travelling through the forbidden territory. My mother had kept away one such novel far away from me in one of her secret shelves. The little devil in me egged me to hungrily finish that novel when she was fast asleep in the afternoon. I think I read that novel faster than a Sukhoi 30.

As a child, I never felt attracted to Hindi as the teacher was not that exciting. He was an old man who was lost in his own world and didn’t pay much attention to our young inquisitive minds. I wish I had somebody to teach me Hindi well in school. I love the sound of Hindi, I love the beautiful, mesmerizing world of Hindustani. I deeply regret not exploring the rich textured world of Hindi literature. But I remember the first Hindi word that left an impression in my mind. The word was ‘kachchi dhup’.   One of my friends had just shifted to Odisha from Bihar and she was good in Hindi. She explained the meaning of the word to me. I remember standing in our garden early in the morning and telling to myself, “Oh, this is kachchi dhup (tender sunlight) playing with me.”

For three years in school, I flirted warmly with Sanskrit and enjoyed listening to the Sanskrit news bulletin on All India Radio (AIR).  It was a highly pleasurable activity for me even though I didn’t understand much. The other day in the newsroom at work, we were talking about our childhood memories and then I started, “Eyam Akashvani. Samparti bartah suniryatam. Prabachika Deepika.(as they used to start the Sanskrit news bulletin on AIR). Everybody burst into laughing. The three language formula in school gave me enough joy to fleet in from one world of language to another.

Now my fourth language is Gujarati. For this, I owe a lot to Taraben, my cook. She didn’t understand Hindi when she became a part of my home and world. So, I had to make an effort to learn Gujarati and now I can speak Gujarati and manage to read it if it’s written in bold letters. I hope, one day I will be able to read a Gujarati newspaper completely. I want to push myself. I want to do it.

Language feels like a trusted companion in my personal and professional world. I feel lost without language. We need to embrace each other for my own sanity. Language is the lover I love spending time with. I need to hold language in my heart. I need an effortless relationship with languages. Languages are not just about words. Languages are about emotions. Languages have a feel of warmth in them. Sometimes, I feel the salty breeze of Bay of Bengal in my mouth as I speak to my childhood friend of 30 odd years in Odiya.  Sometimes I feel the taste of a lightly spiced fish curry and mashed potato with a dash of mustard oil, finely sliced onion and green chili, when I go through old letters of my mother written some twenty odd years ago. Sometimes it gives me a strange of comfort while sitting in my apartment in Ahmedabad, only I can relish the content of the letters written in Devnagari script. It feels very intimate and special.

As I flaunt my grey hair with gay abandon, I now look at languages with a kind of warmth and fondness. I remember my maternal grandmother who always carried a basket of Odiya proverbs with her. She was a tough lady who believed in dishing out a proverb or two at the right moment. She never missed a chance. She had mastered the art of firing proverbs with missile like perfection.

Even as India surges ahead on the path of globalization, we need to protect our languages. It still amuses me when I see upwardly mobile Odia parents speaking to their children in English or Hindi at home but not in Odia. Years ago, a young man asked me “So you speak Odissi at home?” He was then studying in a prestigious college in New Delhi. I looked at him and said, “I speak at home. I don’t dance.” (For the uninitiated, Odissi is a form of Indian classical dance.)

As I indulge myself in English literature, conversations and music, I feel I need to move a bit closer to my mother tongue now.  I can no longer write a poem in Odia. The language is in the process of distancing from me as I am not nurturing it with tenderness and dedication. I have been an inconsistent lover. The touch of ‘sahitya’ is missing in my mother tongue. I am losing a slice of my love. I can’t remember when did I write a letter in my mother-tongue? May be a decade ago. But I now feel the desire to do so..

Now I listen to Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosale, Mohit Chauhan, Elton John,  Cat Stevens, Mariah Carey, and Adele.  I no longer listen to Akshaya Mohanty, Chittaranjan Jena and Prafulla Kar. They are childhood memories carefully tucked away in some corners of my heart. Their songs are on a pause mode for me. Their voices no longer waft through my home.

Most importantly, I express love in English. On rare occasions, I do it in Hindi. My love has a language that was never in my blood. Never in my vein. I express love in a language that has been far more global than mine actually. A language that has a limited vocabulary  for fire, water, earth and sky. Leave alone love. English makes it easier for me to write a love letter. It enables me to shed my inhibitions. To create a different world than the world I am familiar with.

In strange ways, I now stay connected to the language I first spoke. I speak in Odia to the visiting pigeons who come and happily sit on my balcony wall and sometimes wander aimlessly in my living room. I ask them in Odia, “Are you paying the rent? Why are you going and banging yourself against the glass window? When will you have some intelligence?” I make a mental note of my ‘TO DO’ lists in Odia. When I am desperate, .I talk to my late mother in my mother tongue asking her to make things easy for me. I tell her, “Why did you go up there when I want you to be here? If you are not here, then at least make life easy for me.” I feel a sense of peace and resonance when I talk to her in the language she taught me to speak and encouraged me immensely to explore. And unknowingly, she gave me a chance to discover adult literature when I was very young,  She gave me an entry ticket to the wonderful La La Land called ‘Imagination.’ I will be eternally grateful to my mother for introducing me to Dr Kunjabihari Das, the doyen of Odiya language and his seminal works on proverbs, Lok katha.

Right now, I am feeling a lot more closer to the language that runs in my blood. Even though I am writing this piece in a language that is not mine. Some emotions or memories always stay true and authentic even though you express in a language that is not actually yours.

 

The Art of Stillness

I enjoy reading Pico Iyer. The other day while trying to sail through the madness of the newsroom and stiff deadlines, I took a little break and ordered online a copy of  Pico Iyer’s The Art of Stillness. I decided to give my favourite Amazon a miss and chose another site (No, not Flipkart). Well, I chose this site  because it was offering me a price which was Rs 22 (when you convert, it’s far far lower than one dollar) less than the offer given by Amazon. The lure of saving money.

 

book

 

This was my first purchase from this site. My heart says it will be last too. Little did I know that this site took the title of my book  very literally. They true to the title of the book decided to be STILL for many days and weeks. They taught me to practice The Art of Stillness in real life. I waits and waited.

The stillness turned into movement when I received the book two days back after I had forgotten about it completely.

The slim book is a pleasure to read. I m not rushing through it.

Like slow cooked mutton biryani, I m savoring it.

Slowly. And slowly.

Being you

thol aug-2013 007

Most of us live with one sentence continuously repeating in our head, “What will people think?”

Young girls are told not to laugh, not to wear jeans, not to roam around the streets, not to wear a skirt, not to talk to boys — all just for “what will people think?” Most people live with unhappiness throughout their lives for this. To be your own self is one of the biggest challenges of life. Whether in relationships, work or public life, to give yourself completely and intensely is all about going against the grain. Conformity is all about toeing the line of the world and walking on a path which is convenient. But the joy of holding on to your inner belief is beyond description. And this truth is not for ordinary people only, it’s true for writers, painters, film-makers and leaders (I am not talking about NamObama here). For nothing, Gandhiji is still being celebrated as one of the finest minds the human civilization has ever produced/created. You can read a narrative and you will know whether it’s truth or not. You can’t just fake it. Somehow it shows in a novel, in an autobiography, on a canvas and in a story unfolding on the silver screen.

At the recently concluded Jaipur Literature Festival, someone asked celebrated writer Hanif Kureishi, “Does it bother you that many think that the characters in your novel are autobiographical?” He said, “Your sentence is your authenticity. If you (as a writer) are worried what others will think, it’s better to work in a shop.”

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Jaipur Literature Festival : A collage

Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) is a collage of different voices, conversations, colours, moods and happiness too. This collage follows from that essentially. I was there as a participant not as a journalist. Yet on many occasions in life, I see the world through the eyes of a journalist (thought not consciously). Here goes a collage of images that have stayed with me.

Listening to Naipaul:  I skipped my lunch to listen to V S Naipaul. But I must say, I was very sad at the end of the session.. Even though he said talks of sunsets now make him sad, listening to him made me sad. Looking at him sitting on a wheel chair on the stage, I couldn’t help thinking about life, the cruelty of age and of course sunsets. The questions put to Naipaul by Farrukh Dhondy were anything but interesting. Naipaul every now and then kept on telling, “Is that enough, Farrukh?” At some point in life, life somehow steals our flamboyance, arrogance. And then you just turn around and see a setting sun on the horizon.

Of rains, chairs and bees:  Rains forced me to continue to sit at one session as I had the most prized possession in JLF — a chair. So, like a true risk-averse middle-class person of 70s India, I decided to cling to my safety net (read chair). Sometimes, safety can give you a pleasant surprise too. The session i attended was on bumble bees. It was an eye-opener for me to get a glimpse of how  this large beautiful universe operates and how much we need to be in sync with nature. Mindless development and urbanization are going to cause huge harm to us and our environment as it causes bee loss on a large scale. Eventually, it will disrupt beautiful harmony of life and nature. I felt like a student in an exciting classroom.

Mythology matters: India seems to be in a mood to revel in its wonderful world of mythology. So, the sessions by Devdutt Pattanaik and Amish Tripathi were jam-packed. The best part is that you can actually connect myth to contemporary life. As Devdutt said, “Myth is subjective truth, it is transmitted from generation to generation.  Is your truth fact or fiction?  What’s the truth? Who decides what’s truth? Objective truth is singular. Subjective truth is plural. Science is about measurement. But you can never measure infinity. It’s a concept. It’s the Indian thought.”  We indians have always worshipped trees, rocks, rivers, mountains. We have happily embraced different streams of thought. We are becoming intolerant as a society now because we are now obsessed with objectivity.  I can’t agree with him more.

Bollywood rocks: There is no running away from Bollywood whether it’s cricket, politics or literature. The sessions by Bollywood personalities like Javed Akhtar (I fail to understand if so many people enjoy listening to poets like him, why poetry books are struggling to sell in India… or is it all about his B-Town connection), Naseeruddin Shah and Prasoon Joshi were all packed to the T. Talk of being star-obsessed.

Of overcoats, boots and stoles: Most of them look like clones of each other. Or to better to put in the market language, “assembly-line production.” So, you can see scores of women flaunting overcoats, boots and stoles. Not to miss over-sized rings on their fingers. Age seems to have stopped somewhere in this whirpool of clones. Liberalization has robbed India of its diversity even in wardrobes. Sad, indeed.

A journey and more: During the four days I spent there, I met a number of people who have travelled all the way from Seattle, Tel Aviv, Cape Town, London. And in India, people came from Bengaluru, Kochi and Kolkata just to listen to their favourite authors.

A chef called Vikas Khanna:  When some of my young colleagues drooled over Vikas Khanna and fought with each other to interview him, I didn’t take it seriously. A friend’s daughter kept on pestering me to share his mobile number with her (she was ecstatic when she came to know that I have his mobile number). But seeing young girls, women in their 40s and 50s literally falling over him was a sight in itself. It’s liberating to see women lusting after a chef instead (or I should say in addition to) of cricketers, film stars and singers. Vikas had a real tough time to find his way through the never-ending maze of his fans. When he said on a lighter vein, “I will take questions only from boys,” there was collective sighs and ‘oh nos’ from the fairer sex. He is one sizzling hot chef, I must say.

Basic instinct: Nothing wins like basic instinct. Novelist Hanif Kureishi deserves a standing ovation for his deadpan wit. He feels there’s too much of sex happening everywhere. He said, “We are living in generalized perversion.” So the challenge lies not in writing about pornography but in writing about happy marriages where two people are still happy to be together even after being together for years. When American writer Nicholson Baker talked about how he got his first lessons on how babies happen (like there’s male chicken and there’s a female one (if I remember correctly his mom explained it to him)),  Hanif said, “That’s why you love KFC.”  And when there was a question about how pornography is becoming mainstream in the light of Fifty Shades of Grey now being made into a movie, Hanif said with a straight face, “Yes, it will be released on Valentine’s Day.”

Chai pe charcha: It wouldn’t be fair to say that Modi has made chai more popular. Judging by the long queues at the Pushkari chai (pic included here) stalls, our humble chai can give the Bollywood stars a run for their money. At Rs 30, the steaming chai in a kullad gave an earthy, warm feeling on a cold day. The colas will be always there but there’s something intimate about that little kullad chai. I have always maintained that Modi is a master strategist. And I would be happy if he  fails me in future. Even if that meant spending Rs 30 or more for chai.

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Of sweet Baklava and sadness : I am not a great fan of baklava. But that day in JLF, I just felt like having one. When I went to the counter to pick up the sweet (after paying Rs 40), I got a baklava which was smaller than (now unavailable) 25 paisa coin. Size can sometimes really make you sad (even though sexologists across the world now vigorously maintain that pleasure has nothing to do with size).