Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Music in my voice, music in my hands, music in my heart!

Vidya Rao
     Listening to eminent singer Vidya Rao performing Bhakti songs in the Thumri form was enthralling, to say the least. For somebody who understands neither form, she patiently explained what she was doing and why. She applied the form of Thumri, which became popular only in the 19th century, to Sufi music, which begins around the 13th century. She had chosen every song for a purpose and with an understanding of the difference it created.
     She began with Amir Khusro, a 13th century Qawwali poet, followed by Kabir's 'Jo khuda masjid vasath'. Choosing Kabir's song for its secularism, she says, god does not reside in a temple or a mosque, but rather in the hearts of humans. God, then, is not a collective notion, but a personal, intimate relationship. She went on to raise questions of the body using Mirabai's 'Ma Giridhar rang rachi re'. Rao notes that while first few lines of the song can be construed as giving the universe to Giridhar, a more poetic and sweet notion, it could also mean giving the body to him, a more sensual idea. With this song Vidya Rao believes that the idea of Mirabai as a 'sweet' singer can be changed.
     She followed this song by another Mira-bhajan, 'Man chaakar rakho ji'. A song that became popular after Gandhi's movement and usually sung with an air of submissiveness to Giridhar, Rao attempted to bring in folk elements that mingled an aspect of command as well. The first line which usually means 'Please make my heart your servant', is sung as 'Mhane chaakar rakho ji' with a tone that implies 'You better keep me as your servant'. Though there is an heirarchised relationship, even in that relation the submissive one possesses an element of agency, a little bit of command over the master. Vidya Rao explored these contexts of agency through the song.
     She spoke of religion, she spoke of the body, and she spoke of agency, and then she spoke about breaking the barriers of language, and the other barriers that get broken as well. Speaking again of Khusro's music, she says that the poet sang a combination of Farsi and Hindavi. Farsi is more formal, a language of the courts. It is usually sung in such a manner that it represents a male addressing a female. However, Hindavi was the language of the home and the intimacy that comes with the home, and it was mostly sung by a female voice addressing a male beloved. By combining both languages, Rao believes, Khusro collapses the spaces between the court and the home, and even between the male and the female.
    After the Sufi song, she moved on to a Milad-un-Nabi ('Ek raaj dulhara aavat hai') or a celebration of the birth of the Prophet. But, she said, the song could also just be a paidaish or the birth of a child, thus attempting to break the notions of greatness, where the ordinary child is also considered great. Finally, Vidya Rao performed a ghazal by Mah Laqa Bai (Chanda Bibi), an 18th century Urdu poet who was the first female poet to obtain a diwan or a 'collection of poems'. She referred in passing to the song which is usually sung by a male voice to a beloved and she wondered what gendered notions were broken when a woman sang these songs.
     But transcending all these questions of religion, class and gendered bodies Vidya Rao enthralled, captivated, held her audience spell-bound by her music. Her voice was soft and calm, yet beneath that quiet surface, one could see the excitement and enthusiasm bubbling in her words, pouring out in her music, subsuming the auditorium in her world of blissful song. And the music was not just in the words. It was in the way her hands and eyes and smile danced with her words. Each line evoked a commanding finger pointing out to the person sung to (usually the 'beloved' of Sufi music), it would curl into a soft flower-mudra that understood the beauty and complexity of the song and the words, it would call out to the audience to join her in the music. At the beginning of the play she quoted her teacher, Nainaji: "Sangeet sangat hai" (I would translate that, with my haphazard knowledge of Hindi as: "Music is in the collective"). And indeed, that is what she did. Though she sat on a dais, far away from her audiences, she managed to reach out to everyone 'out there', tapping them light-heartedly on the shoulder, and gesticulating to them to join her in the sheer joy of it all. There was music in her voice. In her hands. In her heart.

Note: Unaware of exact meanings for most of the lyrics, I have provided a rough translation that might not do justice to the words. If there are better translators out there, exact meanings to the songs, words etc. would be much appreciated.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Which character would you choose to have a prolonged interaction with?

     Based on an interesting conversation held with a friend, I began to wonder whether I could come up with a set of fascinating male characters that I would like to interact with if I got to meet them in real life. (Of course, if it is a fantasy story, I would then be situated in the world that the fantasy occurs in). It could be any film, tv-show, book, graphic novel etc.- basically, anything fictitious. Though I usually dislike the question regarding who my 'favourite' character is, I thought this identification of which character I would enjoy interacting with was a slightly different question. I believe that I (and this is a very personal notion, I guess) would enjoy interacting only with someone who is
a. sweet, kind, and basically cheerful
b. intelligent and smart.

     This is my preference list, of course, and it would probably vary from person to person. Yet, my friend and I, based on the above two ideas, wondered which characters would fit this description. But, to narrow the base, we were wondering if we could find men characters in this regard. So, we were mainly looking at
a. human men (as opposed to dragons, centaurs, fishes, pandas, ogres and other such characters)
b. not boys (so people above the age of 18 years, at least)

     Before going into the very minimal list we formed, we were also looking at a lot of women characters that we found fascinating. Some of them included- Arya Stark and Danaerys Targaryen (Game of Thrones), Jo (Little Women), Alice (Alice in Wonderland), all the women from Firefly, Kate Beckett (Castle) etc. There were many more, but I am not including a complete list.
     But we found ourselves getting stuck when it came to the male characters. We dismissed Gregory House, Sherlock (played by Benedict Cumberbacht, but also the book Holmes, and definitely also the Downey Jr. version) and even Wolverine as anti-social, Castle as over-the-top and we started wondering. These are characters we love on screen. Yet, when it comes to a face-to-face, we find them annoying or people we would not be able to interact with. Why is it that the grumpy or arrogant man is considered protagonist-worthy in today's world? When we did find sociable men, they were usually flirtatious, if not outright sexist. Very few characters were kindhearted and intelligent at the same time. We wondered whether Mal (from Firefly) would have ever read a book (could he have been patient enough?!). Even Jon Snow (who in the book is below 18 years, though) would have been amongst the grumpier characters.
     What we did find interesting was that the side-kick was usually more pleasant, and we tended to place them over the protagonist- especially when we considered associating with them. For instance, Wilson (from House), Watson (from Sherlock), Samwell Tarly (Jon Snow's friend from GoT) etc.
     These were some vague ponderings over a walk of three hours. I wonder whether you can come up with a list of ten protagonists who do fit the "if you were to have a prolonged association with a fictional male character, who would they include?". Some of ours included:
1. Atticus Finch, from To Kill a Mockingbird (though not a protagonist, he does play a lead role. Personally, I think he is perfect. Brilliant, smart, kind, filled with panache! I doubt I would be able to speak confidently if ever I met him, but I would hold him in awe.)
2. Ged, from the Earthsea series (Ged is more quiet than grumpy, I felt. He is contemplative, but kind and also does interact with the other. He, too, is somebody who, when I meet, would be spell-bound by).
3. Leopold, from Kate and Leopold (because he is just too charming)
4. The Three Musketeers (because all of them are a lot of fun, though I guess Arthos (if I'm not mistaken) is a little serious)
5. Radagast, from Lord of the Rings (because he can talk to animals, but again, not a protagonist) and Tom Bombadil also
So, if you guys have an interesting list, do add on...

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

19/10/13 and 20/10/13- Delhi, Agra and over-priced autos!

     Half a day dissolved in the pleasance of sleep. Reaching the airport well ahead of time, only to find that the flight has be advanced to an hour earlier, and relief at being early enough not to miss my flight. Reaching Delhi, visiting JNU and Kalka-ji. A wait for a friend, coffee ice-cream and a Kindle-read American Gods. Meeting an old friend, making a new one, and conversations that are random streams that intersect with and deviate from one another like a crisscross of rivers. Back to JNU when the Onam celebrations were nearing an end, repeating the process: meeting old friends, and making new ones.

     The next day dawns with a slow process of getting ready to head towards Agra. Uneventful auto and bus journeys towards the city. You would think that the constant exposure towards images and information about certain places would reduce the beauty of certain places. But I was to be pleasantly surprised. There was a short-cut towards the ticket counter that seemed to be unexplored by many. Willingly, we chose to walk the empty road. As we trudged through the grass, we spotted a long blackish snake winding its way through the grass heading off towards whatever destination it had in mind. With a quick goodbye to our reptilian friend, we went along our way. We saw camel-carts with the massive animals standing idly waiting for a savari (whether they were waiting for the savari or not, I cannot tell, but their owners sure wanted people to be filling up the carts).

     And then there was the queue. We thought we had to stand in a long-winding, never-ending queue towards the entrance, but there was a separate queue for women. There were, in fact, four separate queues: the high-value tickets and the low-value tickets for both men and women. Both the ladies’ queues were short, and thankfully, we got in faster than most others. Mostly, being all tourist-like, we took pictures of everything we could. But that got us to looking at the construction itself. Not that we knew anything of architecture, but the minute stones embedded into the marble walls, twirling into twines of colourful flowers, the carvings on the walls, the writings in Arabic and the intricacy of it all.

     Stuck near a tomb waiting to get out, the security does not allow the people who enter the innermost area to exit it. A crowded shrine, and unhappy people. Annoyed with the guards, who eventually cave in and let the people out. A tussle between women when push becomes shove. A quick exit. – With all things beautiful comes something not so pleasing. The Laal Kila. Exploring with a map absorbed into a camera, and understanding things better. Once again, looking at carvings, and looking with awe at the fort walls.
And then the journey back- an escapade not worth mentioning about, save for the fact that the bus that ought to have gotten us back to Delhi by 9.00 p.m. reached the bus stop only by 11.00 p.m. Filled with exhaustion, there was a quick dinner and sleep. 

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

18/10/13- ‘Jai Matha Di’: Of Horse Rides, A Visit to a Cave and a Temple Run

     Awake and ready by 7.00 a.m., beginning the day with a sort of sojji served in a leaf-cup by a road-side vendor, before the city has risen into the full vibrancy of a working day. Sitting in a bus, waiting for a mountain climb. A two hour ride with an in-between stop at a check post. The conductor says there will be a checking at the post. Getting down, I find only men surround me. A little perplexed I am wondering what to do, when someone else says the checking is only for men. I wonder why there is a checking, even! But I go
back and slip into the front seat in the bus, easily getting back into the cosiness of my niche near the window.

     In another hour, we have reached Katra. I rush towards the ticket counter along with a few other people. The crowds have not yet begun their sojourn towards a god, or their god, or their belief, or even their prayer. I am surrounded by youngsters- high school boys eager to make the climb. A ticket is obtained. Breakfast at 10.15 at a small food stall that made really tasty parathas, and then towards the foothills.

     At the base, there is a security check and I meet Raju and Sapna. Sapna is a gorgeous, young, shining black mare decorated by her owner with chamkis and bells- not necessarily something that is comfortable. And yet, she was the one who was taking me up 10 kilometres to rendezvous with the goddess.  She was patient. She loved walking at the edge of the road- the corner which faced the gaping slopes of the mountain. At bends in the mountain road, she would always take the outer arch. She knew her way about the roads. Sometimes, her owner would lag behind a bit, and with just a whistle or a call he would be able to bring her to a halt. It was a lovely experience. Riding a horse for three hours over hilly terrain is very very different from the short horse-rides offered on Chennai beaches, and by the time we reached the top, my body was numb.

     And then the temple: It was small and surrounded by fences- a little disappointing, architecturally speaking. There was a constructed cave that entered into the shrine of the goddess, through which there was holy water dripping towards the floor, giving a damp, dank feeling; a feeling of being stuck inside a womb! The goddess was three-faced, and shone golden, with the redness of her sari. I only said a quick hello and goodbye before leaving.

     Not bothering to get food, I ate something light before embarking on my return. I decided to walk. But there was no more time- no time for decisions or indecisions! And so the pace quickened. After a couple of kilometres, there were steps and I took them with the joy of seeing a short-cut. But still, there was the vague doubt of the lack of time chiming within the back of my head. And the speed increased. And there was no more time to stop and stare- the green mountains, the quietness of the mists were no longer the primary concern. The landscape shifted from the greenness of trees to the stark whiteness of shop walls. And still I was climbing down, incessantly looking at the watch, thinking- “I’m late, I’m late, I’m late”.

     Nearing the base, my feet nearly cave in, but somehow I manage to stagger towards an auto that charges too much. I walk further on hoping that some auto-driver will accept a decent price. Eventually finding an auto, I head towards the bus-stop. And then a return journey with a panic-causing traffic jam that was eventually evaded, and a safe-reaching within the expected time limit.

     A meeting of friends, a short conversation, a sending off of friends heading towards Srinagar, a delicious hotel thaali and a dreamless slumber.

17/10/13- A Day of Temple Visits, Seminars and Street Chaat

Wondering whether I will be all tourist-y and visit the various sights in Jammu… Auto tour around town- Ranbireshwar mandir in the drizzle and breeze, Hari Nawas Palace in sunshine through the mists of morning watching 100 kgs of gold shimmering in the light and taking pictures with the Jammu Tavi in the background, Kolkandoli mandir (visited by a five-year-old Vaishno Devi before she travelled past Katra) in the brightness of noon.
Seminars that gave headaches, that became a big deal, even though all I needed was coffee. Coffee given with sugar cubes and milk-powdery water and biscuits. Presentations in neatly dressed black clothes, eagerly waiting to be done.
A meeting of a relative’s friend for a short ride on a scooter and a car. In Jammu, the cars are all parked in public places, and the scooter is the mode of travel. Only when absolutely necessary does the scooter get you to the car to get to wherever the four-wheeler needs to take you. And so, in a scooter-then-car-ride, I got to see the Purani Mandi, the bazaar area, the old city, the green stretch, the four bridges that cut across Jammu Tavi, and various other multiplexes, four-star hotels and other buildings.
Stubbornly refusing to eat south Indian food, we found roadside shops that provided papri chaat (minus the sev),aloo tikki and kaladi kulcha (made with buns and kaladi cheese)- mouth watering, really. Even the thought of it makes me hungry. Rounding up the simple yet tasty meal with a 10 rupee coffee, I got back to the room. Conversations about terribly boring presentations, guides and other random strings of thoughts…

And now to bed.

16/10/13- A Whiff of Jammu

The Raghunath mandir at 8.00 a.m. is a beautiful sight. With steep domes spiralling out into the air, the temple is the abode of Sriram, Lakshman and Sita, surrounded by a multitude of gods and other minor deities. There is a circle within a circle, at the centre of which resides these idols. The two concentric circles comprise a variety of deities, including Shiva, Radhe-Krishna, Saibaba, and others. The sculpting is very different from South-Indian sculptures, and there are definitely more colours. Each idol is draped in a cornucopia of reds, yellows, greens, blues, pinks that shimmer amidst the mirrors surrounding them. There is a clear contrast of colours, even in the faces of the idols. A thought: Sriram was black, while Lakshman and Sita were white.
The temple itself was serene, filled with a profusion of parrots that were squawking in the fresh morning air. The bazaar area, where the temple is located, had not yet woken up, and the birds were enjoying the calm of the temple atmosphere. There were chants and bells and a harmony of music in the background.
Starting off with the serenity of the Raghunath temple, the day moved on into a more academic mode after the Vandana at Jammu University. Welcoming the delegates as well as the plenary speakers at their biggest and newest auditorium, the General Zorawar Singh Auditorium, the students of Jammu University performed a dance on Ganapathi Bappa. 

The sessions dealt primarily with the importance of Shakespeare and the necessity to look at the republic in his works, as well as gendered readings of some of his works. These sessions were interrupted by a tea break and, later, lunch. The food was delicious, serving chole-batura, sandwiches, pakoras, and gulab jamuns along with tea/coffee at 11.30 a.m. and providing mouth-watering parathas, rajma-rice, paneer butter masala, and cauliflower fry along with ice-cream for lunch.
Having had enough of academics (but definitely not the food), the next on the agenda was sightseeing. The Bahu fort and gardens, as well as a quick dash through the aquarium accompanied by a recently arrived friend, was to follow. The fort looked pretty massive and beautiful from outside, yet, it only comprised of a small Durga temple within its walls. Sitting amidst the clamour of bells and the rhythm of chants, breathing in the smell of sambrani, remembering the smell of granddfather’s-prayers-on-Friday-afternoons, there was a moment of serenity and a moment of happiness.
There was a slow breathing-in of the surroundings, and a slow exhaling of everything that was stressful. A moment of wondering- when someone blesses you ‘Sukhi bhava’ (I presume it translates into ‘Be happy’), isn’t that all we ask for? Not to wish one to get married, or get a job, or have children, or be well-to-do, but a deep desire for the other person to be truly happy with whatever she or he has, with where he or she is, at perfect peace and for the other to wish the same of yourself.
An old man, with a bandaged foot, sweeping the temple floor in a routine manner… I hope he is compelled by faith rather than forced be necessity- a futile thought. An offering of money, and an acceptance of it. Seems more logical and more needed than an offering to god. And we leave the temple/fort. But before we exit the walls of the fort, there are steps hidden in the dark, beckoning us to climb them. So we quickly caper up the stone steps and see a breath-taking view of the city lights in the evening.
Glad to have done something out of the ordinary, we went on down to a deceptively small garden. Walking around the lake, the fountains sing out to us. The yellow lights on the ever-so-slightly-rippling waters glimmer in the night. The spray of water from the fountain leads us down steps. And smaller decorative steps allow the water to traipse down their body, fluttering into larger, stiller ponds. Bridges soaked in the harmony of waters’ music separate fountain from fountain. A sense of elation fills us, as the tripping water skips and hums like the beat of the heart. A garden-walk-and-talk.

And finally there was dinner- buns with fried soya beans, a glass of goli-soda, papdi chaat that wasn’t really papdi chaat, and finally a traipse back to the hotel room, conversations about TV shows, and the welcoming bed.


Monday, 30 September 2013

Popular vs. the Classic

     This is probably an age-old debate: is there a difference between popular and classic art forms? Do we recognise what is considered to be 'more beautiful' and 'more intricate'? Is classical art really 'more beautiful' or 'more intricate'? Art, of course, is not just the fine arts, but also inclusive of literature, music, dance etc. Recently, there have been quite a few posts that have been speaking about the fine line that separates these two types of art: poetry vs. rap music and modern art vs. toddler art are two sites that explore the audience's ability to recognise (or not recognise) the distinction between art established over the ages, and that created by popular culture (whether famous artists or unknown ones). Mica Angela Hendricks explores something slightly different along with her daughter. She looks at a fusion between the artist's stylised, professional lines, and a child's unrestrained creativity.
     How many people recognise the intricacy of a brush stroke, or the meters in poetry? Recognition is only one aspect out of many. Is there, or should there be, a collapse in the distinction between the popular and the classic? In an amazing experiment, Joshua Bell, a famous violinist performed to a dismissive audience in the Washington Metro. The people conducting this experiment called and interviewed the very limited audience who chose to stand and listen to Bell's classical music. Amongst these, only those who had studiously learnt the violin or who had actually seen Bell perform (which was one lady) could recognise the complexity involved in the music at the Metro. He had performed during the morning rush hour, however. Would it have been different, would there have been more people listening if it was during the return home, probably during the evenings?
     Of course, setting matters as well- something that is mentioned in the Washington Post article, where Mark Leithauser speaks of de-framing a classic work of art and hanging it in a restaurant. But, on a slightly different note, what if, instead of performing in Washington, Joshua Bell chose to do the same on a crowded Indian station- not at the Metro in Delhi, say, but at a random train stop with open platforms, surrounded by the noises of street vendors, and beggars? The Indian stations do not have any exposure to 'good' music (save the tuneless strains sung by some beggars). There are no street performances that occur. They would most definitely not recognise Joshua Bell (would it be different if he was replaced by an Indian artist?). How would such a crowd react?
     Are the barriers between the popular and the classic coming down because of these interesting surveys or experiments that attempt to analyse audience understanding? However, even within the popular, there are distinctions- is there a 'good' and 'bad' popular that we notice and accept? For instance, in music there is an off-tune or off-beat. Does this hold true for poetry, for fiction, for literature, where graphic novels and fantasy fiction have become topics that can be analysed in the academic world (but then, can academia be a judge of the classic/popular?).

Tuesday, 17 September 2013


Do you realise that India has so many colours?

Yes, actually.

I mean. There are so many different shades of just green.

I know! And grey. I love the colours. Especially during the rains. But not just the colours of nature. Also the roads, the roadside shops, and the night fires.

* * * * *

But it's not just the colours of places or things or the world around us. It's the colour of happiness, of satisfaction, of a love for life. "Where is the life we have lost in living?" But have we lost it- the life, that is- or do we really live for the living? In a slump of despair and loneliness, there was company. There was the after-rain mellowness of cool September nights, and the intermittent fireflies flickering amidst the shrubbery. There were the trees heavy with raindrops, just waiting to be playfully pulled to shower them upon you in a sudden overflow of joy. The roads were soaked, and sodden. Slowly being consumed by her own thoughts instead of the gorgeousness of the world, she trudged back, alone and silent. And then there was a friend. And a walk. And as walks-and-talks often do, her sullenness turned right round, and she saw the love in the world again.

There was god that night. Not god-he-she-or-it, but a feeling of godness in the air.
God is love and love is real. If god is where the love is, it is enough. He stated, simply- with that sense of slowly tasting the profundity as well as the simple beauty in a statement so mundane. And he was right. Because, the world had faded out- not black and white really, but just in that not noticing the colours sort of way, it had dissipated into the background. And it took a walk-and-talk to rediscover, to re-highlight the hues of the night, but also of life.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Blue Lilies and Red Lotuses

Blue lilies and red lotuses;
Still waters and roaring seas;
Paradoxes of open minds and closed worlds;
Do I open the box to let the treasures out?
Or should the bubbles
breathe and ferment
In the casket of the sea?

What if those blue lilies
And red lotuses were me?
Would I want to explore
Beyond what I can see
or be?

The casket is wide
And open enough to wander.
And yet, closed to something further
Away from me.
The waves in my treasure trove
Envelope my mind
And I'll never be
The Blue Lily or Red Lotus
That flies with the wind.

Note: This comes as a response to Susheela Raman's song. Though it may not in any way be connected to the music, it is a song on its own that breathes inspiration from her tunes.

Thursday, 29 August 2013


This is how I feel: Blue Lily Red Lotus
I have not heard much of Susheela Raman's music, but it is soothing in a sort of vague familiarity.
She is drums, and she is peace. She is Tamil and yet not quite. Not the tunes that you associate with these songs. Not wholly carnatic and yet relatable.

The image I feel is this:

Is it possible to feel you are an image and a song at the same time? 

Monday, 26 August 2013

How to Skin a Giraffe (Metro Plus Theatre Festival,Hyderabad, Day 2)

I wasn't overly impressed by the play How to Skin a Giraffe. While I have not read Buchner's play, Leonce and Lena, on which this was supposed to be based, I found a few loose ends within the play. The two things I thought were disconnected were the teaching scene, where Wagner the dog was more studious than the students themselves (a fact I can vouch for from classes I sit in) and the two men who were looking for a criminal within the forest.

The enactment was good, with quite a bit of melodrama, good usage of stage-space, body language and the multi-purpose triangular props:

Yet, the play seemed to hold on to certain gender stereotypes that weren't quite palatable. For instance, Rosetta, Popo's love, is almost just a prop. One could say that the she is only intended to highlight Popo's melancholia. Yet, she is not even represented as a character in the few lines where she professes her love, and is suddenly made to look death-like, immediately giving way to the next scene. Vaal's description of "fried chicken" which was actually about his neighbour's wife was just cheap comedy. The speed dating scene was over-done, where women apparently fell for 'rap-ists' (oh, no- that's just the music), howling 'aaaoooo' when they got lucky! Before the melancholic and highly cynical Popo meets dreamy-eyed Pipi, he tells Vaal, his sidekick, that he needs someone dumb! What does that say of the female protagonist, not to mention his own sense of self? Pipi is always dreaming for something beyond her- looking into the trees, and counting stars, and falls for Popo.

One of the best scenes in the play, however, was the scene with the reflections. I have always liked the concept of mirroring in theatre, and it was done well, where Pipi and her governess first enter the realm of reflections and almost get trapped within it, but manage to escape when the princess wakes up from the trap, dragging her governess out. But Popo and Vaal get stuck in the mire of self-images and only after a great struggle can Popo free himself from the reflections. Vaal, however, gets trapped by these reflections, and requires Popo to untangle him from his own self-image.

I did not quite understand the use of certain names. While Buchner's play used the names Popo and Pipi as the names of kingdoms, where they meants 'buttocks' and 'urine' respectively, How to Skin a Giraffe used the name for their protagonists. While these meanings for a kingdom implies the degeneracy within the state, I do not understand what significance it could have when used as names for protagonists! I do not know why the name 'Wagner' was used for the dog either. Apart from the word 'wag' in it, I cannot see any other connection (any ideas?).

There was also the question of language. I did not stay for the discussion with the director, but heard later that there was an uproar about the issue of language. As someone who can understand and follow Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil and English (which were the primary languages, apart from the use of a little Kannada and apparently Nepali), the play was not too difficult to comprehend. And the idea of subtitles is not too appealing, since the focus shifts from the enactment to the words on the screen (as is the case with TV also, I find). I liked this mix of languages. It lent a different flavour to the play. I find that it also reflects something prevalent in Indian cities- where people from different language groups are constantly mingling with each other, attempting to define their languages to each other. However, in the brochure given to the audience, the space in 'Language' says 'English (with other languages)'. This was not the case. The play used a lot of Indian languages, and the primary mode of conversation was not English. If, instead, the space read 'multi-lingual', maybe one can guarantee that only people with an inclination towards the multi-lingual will come for such plays.

Overall, I wasn't too interested in the play and was happy when it ended. I also think my disinclination to the play was fuelled by the intensity of the previous day's performance, which was near perfect, and I found myself constantly reverting to comparisons between the two plays, even though I was very aware of the difference of style and narration. I would probably rate How to Skin a Giraffe as a mediocre performance that could do with a lot more evolution in its script.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Tale of Haruk (Metro Plus Theatre Festival, Hyderabad, Day 1)

The Tale of Haruk is a Korean folk story that was enacted on stage, and the brilliance of the performance lies in the simplicity of style used to depict something sublime. Using a multiplicity of styles- puppetry, shadow performances, masks, as well as massive canvases that covered the entire stage, the cast incorporated both music and sound to hold their audiences captivated. The cast of five was dressed in plain whites throughout the show, using minor alterations in costume to depict different characters.

The play begins with a narrator who initially gets the audience's attention by performing minor tricks. Calling out to the audience, he brings in his troupe of musicians who enter playing various reusable objects- empty plastic water cans, beer bottles, a couple of pots and pans- all of which are used for making the most melodious of sounds. Their initial disorganisation is arranged by the 'narrator' who plays the clarinet and once they synchronise with each other, they move to the corner to allow their characters to take stage.

Three of the five actors become the narrators, and two of them become the old couple who do not have children. Even this transition from narrators to characters in the story is beautiful, where the couple wear their traditional hanbok on stage, wearing masks to depict their roles. With the narrative in Korean, most of the play was depicted through actions, using dialogue only when necessary. The concept of Haruk, who starts out by being an egg, and then a face, and eventually a rag doll manoeuvred by the third actor, who enacts the child Haruk. One of my best images of this trio, is when the couple try to get Haruk to tell new words, using newspapers in many different ways to portray different animals, all of which Haruk responds only by repeating his name (something akin to Hodor, if you think about it). 

The father, who knows barely any story, tells Haruk the story of a tiger that eats up an old lady who carries rice on her way back home. Apart from being a vague parallel to the main story, the interesting part of this story-within-a-story is the use of cellotape as a musical instrument, culminating in the tiger ripping the heart of the old lady (shown with red tape)!

But Haruk eats the forbidden rice! Nothing visible happens and Haruk goes to sleep and dreams of massive beings and wisps of white. 
And when he wakes up, he becomes a giant with an insatiable hunger:
And keeps growing:

He eats up the sun and the moon, and his parents become puppet-like in size to him. He watches from way up high as his parents become actual puppets amidst a halo of yellow light, desperately begging their child to stop eating. Yet, Haruk cannot stop and this only causes harmless bickering amongst the old couple, who eventually decide to sacrifice themselves to Haruk's hunger. Haruk's tears become an ocean on which the puppet parents are tossed, and eventually they are consumed by the stage-encompassing canvas of Haruk.

In the next scene, the parents are now seated comfortably in Haruk's belly:
The beauty of this play is not the story, but the enaction that defies description! This shadow couple sitting in the belly of their child, end up doing what they did before they asked for a child- the old man reads his paper and the old woman does her knitting (and the paper and the wool with the string held by the old woman are actually shown in that little encirclement).

The play ends with the narrators once again, resuming the stance they took before the narration commenced. The tale was simply told, with the on-screen translation only aiding the understanding process (something that I did not anticipate). The actors were amazing, using the entire stage, and with splendid movements that showed their agility and grace. The constant repetition of 'Haruk' evoked much laughter. But most of all, the stage-sized enormity of the insatiable Haruk evoked sublime awe. It was in this beauty that the plays strengths lay.

This was one of those plays that leaves you stunned and spell-bound at the end. I have not seen such a lovely play in a really long time, and was glad that I had taken the effort to go watch it. Haruk is a story that will ever remain with me!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

To Ifemelu (who lives in the novel Americanah)

Ifemelu, why do you remind me so much of myself? - your penchant for words, and the way in which you use them and analyse them; the way in which even the slightest statement can trigger within you a sense of rebellion; a longing for home, and yet a need to see it change in its perspective; the love of ‘foreign’ food, but also a deep rooted love for home-made dinners. I love how you portray hair as suddenly something more meaningful than just an outgrowth on the head. Though for you your hair is a reminder of home, mine becomes something that wants to change, to alter, to become something new and not just the plain longness of silky, black, Indian hair.
Your story also evokes a slight pang for my not knowing Africa more. A different place and different stories, maybe, but I still want to revisit that place- the dingy third floor house filled with rats, and broken window panes, on unsafe streets; the house where we could hear gunshots at night; ISL; ice-cream at Tontos. Though Africa was foreign to me, it was the first home I remember. And something in your story stirred a reminder of a memory.
Though so vastly different, there are also so many similarities to a country far away- the hawkers whose lives were torn down by the government leading to empty pathways, the vibrant life, your preference to roadside shops over fancy restaurants, the constant power-cuts, the humidity, the dusty, traffic-filled roads. All of that is home for me too. In a sort of alienness there is also a deep understanding.
The constant questions of ‘when are you getting married?’ as though that is all that matters in life. The half foreign, half native self that I am. The stress on the world around you on finding a man, who need not even exist- by not just your family, but even your friends and acquaintances! And simultaneously, the meeting at the Jazzhole, surrounded by the comfort of books, meeting the one man that you gave your heart to, the world thrumming with a sort of energy you never experienced before. That, too, is my world.

Ifemelu, your story is something I can relate to- if not completely, at least for the most part. Your strength and determination amazes me. Though you come from half a world away, I relate with you. And this post is to that strength that I read in your story.

Monday, 12 August 2013


Despite the troubles you give me,
I am yours...
Grey sky lullaby that you are,
The clammy sultriness
In the cold monsoon rains,
The stuck-under-roof feeling
As I watch you envelope the earth,
The soft melody of your harsh downpour.

I listen with love to your rage.
I listen in silent awe
To tunes I don't completely understand.
And when I stand under
your all-consuming showers,
I melt
and dissolve
Into your passion.

Peacock-like, I sing in elation.
And dance.
Even as I am subsumed
in your intermittent song,
I stand apart.

Not nature,
But human.
Not the flow of water,
But the rootedness of earth.
Not the gush of wind,
but the stillness of air.

And yet, we two are one.
We two are everything!

Saturday, 3 August 2013

The Voices in My Head

Peter Damien’s post on The Sounds of Reading reflected a conversation that my friends and I were having just a few days ago. When you read something, are there voices in your head? Or are there images? Or do you screen a mini-movie for yourself? For me, this question moves across genres, and the way I approach them is different. When I am reading non-fiction, especially theoretical texts, where not many events are mentioned, I am very conscious of the accent in which I am reading (even when I am reading in my mind). On the other hand, stories and narrations occur in flashes of images. I.e. I can perceive the characters and settings in detail. Yet, it is not at all movie-like. My room-mate, however, mentions that her way of reading always involves a film screen of the mind. Even when she faces a theoretical text, she attempts to associate it with incidents- either in her life or incidents that she has heard about, irrespective of whether they relate to the text itself. She says that a word can trigger a memory of an incident totally unrelated to the narration involved. Without such co-relations, she finds it difficult to comprehend a text.

Poetry, is a slightly different experience. The flashes of images that present themselves in stories are different from those in poetry. Words, I feel, are usually more vivid in poems, where more is expressed through less words, and it is the image that captivates. For instance, Prufrock's "yellow fog" that is most cat-like, is an image that stands out against the backdrop of the poem. Recently, we have been holding a poetry jam session, where we listen to the words. Of course, there is a difference between reading in your own head, reading aloud to yourself and listening to others read. I am most comfortable with the first two. But with poetry, or poetical narratives, the images that are read out aloud create sharp and colourful visuals.

Colour, I think, is another interesting thing to think about. If one tends to visualise a text, how colourful are they? Even if colours are not described, does one tend to place a colour to an image? Are they affected by other visuals, or are they randomly selected? I say this, because, I had a very interesting experience in a class on creative writing. A professor of ours requested us to close our eyes and handed out a bag of random objects. Without seeing the object, we had to visualise it in our mind's eye. And without knowing what the object was, we had to write about it. The object I touched, without seeing it, was a shade of grey. I do not know what made me think of that colour, but I was certain of its greyness. The object turned out to be a red cocktail-stirrer, though. Isn't it the same with words? Are they not unseeable visuals that take shape in our head- almost like Prufrock's yellow fog? Do we then, ascribe colours to these unseeable objects?

Though I tend to read texts 'out loud' in my mind, I still feel that I am capable of both reading faster when I read silently, and also that I can skip bits and pieces of passages when I do. And this applies to all kinds of texts- stories, theories, passages, articles, poems and all of that. Speed essentially differs based on mood, interest, and comprehensibility- not so much on the silence or the loudness of the reading. Even interest triggers different speeds! For instance, I could either race through it, because of its quick and gripping narrative, or I could slow down considerably, because I want to savour every word and every image related to it. Sometimes, a single page could take me five minutes to digest. This has sometimes made my friends wonder whether I was enjoying the piece or not! Comprehension of the text, of course, plays a major role in the speed of reading. Sometimes, I need to read and re-read a text to get the meanings. Sometimes, I find that reading out loud helps me in this comprehension, but I slow down when I do this. And finally mood- even the most racy and interesting read could put me off if I just don't feel like dealing with it at that point in time.

On a slightly tangential note, I find that book covers play a prominent part in whether I can read a book or not. The cover, in a sense, speaks to me. The image, the colour and the font are important. They help with speed, the images in my head and are definitely based on my mood. Indeed, the book cover is almost a minor conversation in my head that leads to the larger interaction between me and my book.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Messengers of Night-Day

A single encounter leads to clarity…

The sights pinned onto vast horizons of the night’s skies,
Searching for dots of blinking light
Quivering in the distance.
Shimmers of metallic essences reflect off the endless seas.
Out there in the expanses of nowhere
Are messengers of the breeze and clouds and winds-
Ones who know how to fly or free fall,
Assured of rising an instant before the crash,
Ones who surrender will and soul and heart and mind to the winds,
Ones who are movement and speed and passion and amazement.
To those messengers of night-day

The lights speak poetry!

P.S.- I remember having read a little bit of Stephen Spender's "The Express" in school, wondering how people could find poetry in the monotony of the railway lines. Yet, here I am, thinking about the beauty of flight- even if it is a mechanical flight, and a controlled flight.

Friday, 14 June 2013


Summer is such an uninspirational, unpoetical month! Now that the rains are here, the feeling of music and the world of vivid beauty has settled upon us once again. So here, is another poem…

Steadily, droplet by droplet, the lakes quench their thirst.
The skies speak a rainstorm of joy and serenity.
In tandem to the sky’s symphony, a green carpet hums its tune,
And the smell of the damp earth encompasses their harmony.
The air sighs in relief as the straddling stillness of summer sorrows
Are washed away,
And the map of the land, all bleak and bland in the blistering heat,
Now paints itself in newer hues and more cheerful colours
Of deep grey and subtle blue
Over-clouding the harsh yellowness of the fiery sun.

The world bustles with a quiet activity-
The ants and worms are out being busy,
Stocking up to face the heat, just as we, too,
Embrace the grey-green- mellow blueness,
Forgetting, already, the sun and sweltering heat
Of just a few weeks ago,
Instead, basking in the freedom
Of raindrops singing their rain song.

Friday, 10 May 2013

She is the Sea

She is the sea, the wind and the waves-
Of foam and laughter, of wildness in her eyes.
 She is the sparkle of sunshine on the water-
That glimmer which lights up the vast blues.
She is the sea-shell on the shore-
One amidst the many broken, muddy shells
That is almost perfect in its beauty,
That reaches out to you like a philosophy,
The one shell that you want to carry back
To your empty house, and keep close to your heart.
She is the sound of the ocean, when you choose to hear it.
She is the touch of the wind, when you choose to feel it.
She is the sea-shell on my shelf.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

K. Narayan Chandran on American Poetry

On Monday (18/03/2013), K. Narayan Chandran, a professor from the Department of English, UoH, gave a lecture on American Poetry. While the lecture focussed on poetry and how it is to be used in a classroom context, some statements that he made seemed pretty profound, and so, I thought I shall quote him here:

1. “Poets are not wolves. They don’t run in packs.”
2. “Poetry says more without meaning to.”
3. “Poetry is about itself most of the time”
4. “A poem really begins to take life in memory.”
5. “All poetry makes for philosophy at higher levels.”
6. “If you repeat, you should build on repetition.”
      7. “Our language is a storehouse of clich├ęs.”

He also took a few quotes from others: 

Walt Whitman- “To have great poets there have to be great audiences too.”
Sven Birkerts- “Language is the soul’s ozone layer. We thin it at our peril.”
Anais Nin- “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are”
Stanley Cavell- “Our capacity to understand equals our capacity to misunderstand.”

Monday, 11 March 2013

Bande Acche Hain!

Have any of you seen the new ICICI health insurance ad? After watching that ad repeatedly appearing on my facebook wall, I wondered whether I was the only one who had issues with the advertisement. It states that for the 'First time in history- a good ad about men- Must watch'. I agree that every ad usually has a target audience. In the case of health insurance, they seem to have chosen to display the man as the 'protector' of the household, targeting these people for their campaign. And I have to ask why. Are there not single women wage earners, women who take care of the household as well? Why is it necessary for the advertisement to display the woman as somebody who has to be cocooned? This is seen, for instance, in the last image where the man crosses to the side of the traffic, or the typical depiction of a wedding when the daughter leaves the father's house only to be taken care of by the husband!!! All in all, while most people seem to be spawning over this ad, I have not understood why. A depiction of the niceness of men is also in how they treat women as equals rather than as somebody who has to be just taken care of. What I do not get is how even some women see this as a lovely ad, when what it actually expresses is a denigration of their individuality to a certain extent. Okay, my rant for the day is over!!!