Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Weepies

"...every time you hear you uncover a new layer, much like an onion sans the crying.......somehow these songs were making me loosen up and contemplate about the good stuff in life"

Good music can have an amazingly strong effect on you at times. Makes everything feel better around you. A dear friend recommended this band called The Weepies, described particularly well as "subtly intoxicating folk-pop" by some. The lyrics are soulful to say the least and the music needs to be heard alone sans any disturbances to be felt.

Every day it starts again
You cannot say if you're happy
You keep trying to be
Try harder, maybe this is not your year.

Movies, TV screens reflect just what you expected
There's a world of shiny people somewhere else
Out there following their bliss
living easy, getting kissed
while you wonder what else you're doing wrong
- Not Your Year

No one knocks upon your door
Until you don't care anymore
A little alone but it's all right
We are always living in twilight ...

Living in a dream, walking in between the sunrise and sunset
Living in a dream, walking in between sunset and sunrise ...

You get tied up in your day, so I let go and walk away
And now we're loose ends of the night
We are always living in twilight ....

So I stumble home at night
Like I've stumbled through my life
With ghosts and visions in my sight
We are always living in twilight....
- Living In Twilight

Listen to the songs from their latest album Say I Am You.
Should be worth the effort.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Ever felt the urge to write about something but not being able to. Ever felt the feelings, stories yearning to come out but not being able to pen them down for lack of ability. Ability to play with words, to give voice to your feelings, to express them in a way so that the handful of people who might end up reading it can relate to it and understand you, understand what you meant to say.
I am going through that right now. Ideas swirling in my head but I can't get them out. I feel agitated and sad. Agitated because of my own inability. Sad that I am not gifted as some other people I know are. It's a passing phase I guess. It happens to me, just that of late the frequency has increased. Boredom, lack of work, search for something meaningful. The reasons are many though related. I am no writer though I wish I were. But that seems improbable at this stage. I am too busy living my messed up life and yet I enjoy writing, probably more than anything I do during the day. At times I just wish I was more gifted.

Monday, January 22, 2007

My Name Is Red

It's a land where imitation is sacred and individuality profane, a land where portraiture and perspective are as much the tools of Satan as of the European Frankish masters, where art transcends the skill and dexterity of the artist and merges into Allah himself, where memory is the artist's greatest gift and where every miniaturist percieves blindness as the ultimate recognition by the Almighty. It's sixteenth century Istanbul with the Ottoman empire at its zenith. A city full of darkness and light, love and intrigue and masters and apprentices.

Orhan Pamuk's tour de force, My Name Is Red (MNIR) is unlike any novel I have come across. Its a difficult read by all accounts and slow and laborious at times. But what it does very successfully is transport you to a completely different space and time, when Sultans reigned supreme and art flourished under the wings of religion. MNIR is steeped in Islam and the art of miniature painting. Here every character has a voice of his own. From the Head Illuminator Master Osman to his three Master Miniaturists: Olive, Stork and Butterfly, from the beautiful Shekure to her lover and husband Black, from the Jewess clothier and letter carrier Esther to Enishte Effendi, the father of the lovely Shekure and from the dog to the gold coin, every character speaks.

Pamuk uses a first person to narrate different chapters through his characters which has an even deeper meaning when we realise that he is trying to look at the world through individual eyes, the eyes of people and not through the eyes of an outsider. This is analogous to the major conflict between the Islamic tradition of painting sans perspective which tries to depict everything as Allah might have seen and not through individual eyes as done by the European Masters.

The book is replete with depictions of famous miniatures and epics like Husrev & Shirin, Rustem & Sohrab to name a few and the endless descriptions of the paintings, from the horses to the clouds, from the lovely hands and necks of maidens to the trees, do at times get exhausting to read. There's ample history though, to arise the curiosity of anybody interested in knowing the birth and lifetime of miniature painting, the seats of learning like Herat, Tabriz and Shiraz, the different workshops with different styles, the Chinese and Mongol influence and even references of Akbar and Hindustan.

A unique concept which I think is worth mentioning is the way miniaturists looked at the process of making illustrations during those times. It's said in the novel that painting is all about memory. Even when we look at something and draw, for a split second as our eyes finish their job and let the hands take over, its our memory which holds the image we are about to depict. So in this light what can be the ultimate goal of a miniaturist. To paint, to illustrate without the gift of vision, from memory alone. And this is what every artist in those times strived to achieve. Making a particular horse thousands of times till the hand could make it from memory alone. This concept encouraged imitation, making images as the old masters used to without any individuality of one's own, without a signature. For its the art and not the artist that matters. All this was particularly in line with Islam which forbade individuality at any level and so when old masters went blind after working for decades under the dim light of oil lamps, it was said to be a gift from Allah himself, a gift which freed a man from the ugly sights that humans are capable of seeing and enabled one to see the world as the Almighty does, beautiful and heavenly.

In short the story revolves around the secret book of paintings that the Sultan has commissioned to be made by the best miniaturists and gilders of Istanbul. A book to depict the Sultan's and the Ottoman Empire's grandeur and power to the Venetains, to be made in secret using the styles of the European Frankish Masters who look at the world as seen from a window and not as Allah would see it, from an exalted plane. And this in sixteenth century Istanbul amounts to blasphemy, a disregard of Islam which prohibits such styles and depictions. It is during the making of this book that differences arise amongst the artists which leads to two murders.

The story itself is composed of many levels. At one level MNIR is a murder mystery, the clues of which lie only in the paintings of the secret book. At another it is a love story between Black and Shekure, the daughter of one of the victims and Black's struggle to win the love of his beloved and her two sons, Shevket and Orhan, by finding the murderer. And of course it's a brilliant commentary on art, religion and society and their effects on the lives of people, their faiths and beliefs, their customs and traditions.

My Name Is Red is a unique book in all accounts. True there are parts of it which are very difficult to comprehend given my limited knowledge of miniature paintings, Ottoman Empire, Istanbul and Islam. Yet these very things combined with Pamuk's style and presentation make it as engrossing and rewarding read as any I have come across.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


My mom would start calling me at around 12 which ensured that by another half an hour I was in the bathroom trying to get the dirt out of my chappals and my feet. The heat, the dust, the window panes, the quarrels, the discarded bus tyre which doubled up as the wicket, the wodden plank which efficiently played the role of a wicketkeeper preventing balls from going behind and also taking catches (will explain that later!), the leg side rules, the lifelines; all formed a part of the weekend ritual that we called Cricket. The world didnt exist for us during those two hours or so. The cries of our mothers would drown out among the appeals and the calls for runs, vegetable gardens would be trampled at times for saving the crucial single and anarchy would rule as about six or seven of us assembled in the little space behind our quarters to play. Only a few shots were productive; the square cut which fetched you four runs if it hit the garage wall, the Sachinesque straight drive which fetched you a couple if it managed to cross over to our neighbour's vegetable garden, and the forward or backfoot defense which accompanied by good calling and running would earn you a single. The fielding positions and the fielders themsleves also demand some looking into. There was the cover point fielder to save the ferocious square cuts and the silly mid-off and the silly mid-on to save the singles. These were the human fielders. The others included a bunch of banana trees positioned strategically at short mid-on to stop the couple, the mango tree at point to save the boundary and most importantly, the wooden plank behind the tyre, hitting which directly amounted to an edge being taken!

Weekends in Bokaro, the place where I grew up, meant cricket, tabla classes and staying at home doing nothing. Sundays were typically spent helping my father clean up the car and the scooter and doing other small odd jobs to help my mom. Back then, the demands were few and satisfcation was easily acquired. There was no "life ke funde" to be pondered upon, no career changing exams to be taken. My parents never told me to study as I did reasonably well in school. I used to eagerly await these weekends. As I grew older, the charm of school also started to grow upon me. Weekends then meant not being able to meet all your pals and more importantly, not being able to talk to the girls. The tabla classes finally made way for study hours at home and then tuitions. The cricket became more civilised and less intense. The career changing exams slowly began to enter my unhurried existence.

I remember my final days in school when our entire gang would get to school during weekends to gossip and play cricket and do a whole lot of insane activities. It was one of the best times ever. As we neared the end of a phase of our lives we came closer to each other. New friends were made and old ones made dearer. There were get togethers in each others houses and farewell parties and what not. It's too much to put as a side topic in this post. Some other day maybe ....

Then college happened. The weekends started to take a whole new meaning and purpose in my life. Wash clothes, go out to eat, catch a movie, meet some friends, visit local guardians to have some good food, get some sleep for the coming week, prepare for hostel events. Virtually everything imaginable had to be crammed in those two days. Assignments were made (if at all!) during weekends, continuously cursing the TA and the Professor responsible.
As the years rolled by and bunking classes became more a habit than an exception, weekends gradually started loosing their uniqueness. Everyday was almost the same and was often identified by the food that we got in the mess which was at its worst during the weekends. Still the feeling that it was an official holiday provided some solace to my conscience.

Now in Bangalore, these weekends have again started to define themselves in a new way. Lazing around in the house, reading books, exploring new places to eat out, having a few friends over. The occasional booze and the bike trip, the very frequent "let's do something this weekend..." discussion. Mostly its just relaxing and doing nothing but sometimes its planning and working for your next step in life.

Somethings almost never change. The amazing feel of a Friday night and the agony of a Monday morning. Getting up late on a Saturday afternoon which almost becomes a defining principle of life. Somethings though, like the backyard cricket match, now seem to belong to a different age.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Strangers In A Strange Land

We often dont realise how much our life, our day to day existence is affected by strangers. The autowallah, the neighbourhood shopkeeper whom you know only by face and havent ever bothered to even ask his name, the friendly biker who signals that your lights are on, the guy at the petrol pump, the list is quite long. The familiarity of the place and those of the people you know tend to mask all these strangers. We are too occupied thinking about and being with the people we know; friends, family, to even think about how wonderfully these strangers in some way define our existence. It's only when we leave the comfort and predictability of our daily life and venture out to other places, that we begin to feel how much an impact strangers have and can have on our lives.

The last time I went out with my family was almost eight years ago. It was a trip to the Andamans. I remember how during my schooldays every year or two we used to go out to visit some place. My father's enthusiasm meant that I ended up visiting quite a few places in India, hill stations, sea shores and historical sites. The trip to Hampi, Badami, Aihole & Pattadakal (refresh your history!) was quite unlike any of those. I wont try to describe any of the places but to say that all those epithets and adjectives that are used generously in tourist books fall short of the portraying the experience I had over the last four days. 'Where every stone speaks', 'Forgotten Empire', 'The Cradle of Temple Architecture'. It turned out to be all that and more.

It was a simple message with a email id posted on some forum on tourism in Karnataka which led me to send a mail to the person inquring about Hampi and details of travel and lodging. What I got in return was the most sound advice you could get on travelling around the place, a room booked in a hotel, a few phone numbers to contact travel agents and someone to call up anytime in case I needed anything. And no, there was no catch. The guy wasnt even a travel agent or anything of the sort. He was an engineer living in Bellary who did all this just for the sake of helping. My trip got going thanks to a stranger I hadn't even seen.

It was Umesh in Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, Eshwar in Ajanta, Ellora and Pasha in Hampi and Badami. Taxi drivers who took us around the place and waited patiently as we got down at every turn and took photographs. Yes it's their job but I just felt like mentioning. It was a quiet lazy afternoon as our car pulled out of NH 13 towards the village leading to Aihole. As it sped through the village, you could see the occasional kid playing with an empty plastic bottle looking with eager eyes as our car approached him, the elder village folk resting in the shade of a tree, or the sugarcane laden bullock cart ambling through. It was such an unhurried atmosphere. Everything was still and quiet and the look at the faces of the villagers was that of contentment. Every now and then a temple would rear up its head as if to annonce that we were approaching a historical site. In Aihole we had to climb up a series of steps to a temple called Meghuti atop a small hill. As fate would have it, we were joined by about five little boys, not older than ten or twelve years. In the heart of Karnataka how these village kids managed to communicate to us that the temple was built by Jains and overlooked the rivers Ghataprabha and Malaprabha and showed us inscriptions dedicated to a particular sage has to be experienced to be believed. They even told us their names which I have happily forgotten. The only memory would be that of the picture I took of all of them along with my father. It was a strange land and a very old one at that and but for those little kids, we might have never known what the temple was built for.

Then there were the managers in the KSTDC hotels in Badami and Hospet who doubled up as waiters in the restaurant, running the hotel with meager resources and a smile on their faces. They provided us with all they could to make our stay enjoyable and comfortable. From the morning tea to arranging for the auto to getting tourism brochures. Somehow it was a very humbling and satisfying feeling.

There were so many others. The guide at Hampi who spent the whole day with us, as did the Norweigian couple who found a second guide in my father as he took to explaining Hindu mythology to them. The Swiss lady who had come to visit her friend in a Tibetan Monastery nearby where he had been teaching for the last one year and her candid acknowledgement that Karnataka was so much larger, in more than one sense of the word, than Switzerland.
It was nice to be on the road, to see the landscape changing, see the people, their attires. I felt so happy and relaxed. Travel does that to me and I havent been doing enough of that of late.

On a slightly different note, anybody who has the means, should visit Hampi. I didnt know how boulders and stones strewn around could be so beautiful. Its unlike anything that I had ever seen, it's a tribute to the perseverance and dedication of the people who turned stone to something which lives. You feel astonished not only because of the artistry but more so because of the audacity. The audacity to carve out something like this in such a barren land. You feel sad because such glory can never be replicated. One visit to Hampi and you would want to know everything about it. There you realise how religion wasnt just a way of life for those people, it was the way to live. It was a time when people spent lives carving an idol out of stone, when everything from the daily bazaar to song and dance, every source of livelihood would ulitimately revolve round the temples and the Gods who resided in them. And the irony is that it was religion which proved to be its demise. The temples at Aihole and Pattadakal are awe inspiring because of their intricacies and advanced architecture, the Badami caves take your breath away by their sheer natural beauty and impossibility of the creations. The ruins of Hampi with their vastness and desolation, with the Tungabhadra running in between as the mute observer to its rise and fall, are something out of this world.