Monday, July 23, 2007

A waterfall, a temple and then...the Rain

The weather was more than inviting as the three of us left our house at 6:25 in the morning. The sky was overcast and there was a chill in the air and with Naman assuring us in his typical style ( "Yaar agar baarish ho gayi na, to main Kuch bhi karoonga" ), we were on our way.

It could be said that the Kanakpura Road or NH 209 is perfect for a weekend bike trip. Its true, has little traffic, and snakes its way through tank bunds and small sleepy villages.The fact that in South India, the population density is much less than that in the North and people are generally quieter (this is a purely personal observation!) makes sure that you can cruise along at 55 kmph with no hurry in the world, almost as if in a reverie which wont be broken by the approach of a village. Its monsoon time here and somehow everything around us seemed to be in some sort of a quiet anticipation. Waiting for the rains, which were sure to come in the evening. The villages bore a smell of wet earth mixed with cow dung and that of wood burning in the houses and of course the crispness of the early morning air. It was just the sort of start we had expected.

Breakfast was taken at Kanakpura and we also gulped down two shots of coffee. Then we headed towards Malevalli from where the Sivasmudram Falls is about 20 kms or so. The weather had held up beautifully, the clouds still hiding the sun although it was about 9 o' clock. After Malevalli the road became really bad and we wondered how it could still be a National Highway.

Sivasamudram was in one word, breathtaking. We hadn't expected anything close to what we saw. We had probably chosen the best time to visit the falls as the monsoons had ensured that the Cauvery was almost overflowing its banks. We were a little disappointed by the large crowd that had come there and also by the garbage that had accumulated, but the sight of the spray and the mist which formed a layer over the cascade of water tumbling down, more than made up for it.
We then went to the other side or arm of the falls, clicked more pictures, laughed wildly at our self made silly jokes, did some customary Akshat bashing and left for our next destination, the 12th century AD Somenathpur Temple.

Oh! and in between we came across this beautiful, storybook like bridge. The trip was getting better by the minute.

The road to Somenathpur was bad, very bad. As I maneuvered my bike, trying to find patches of road between the potholes, I realized how comfortable I had become with it. It was almost like an extension of me. I had come to gauge its every movement, I knew exactly how much pressure on the clutch or brake was required to get the desired effect. I was totally in sync with its movement and was enjoying every moment, every turn. Coming back to the road, as if to make up for the bad state in which it was, trees lined both sides of it and the photographer in Naman possibly couldn't resist.

On reaching Somenathpur, we were astounded how such a marvelous example of South India's Temple architecture in general and Hoysala architecture in particular could be so poorly publicized. We had gone there just because we had time on our hands. It was not even a part of our itinerary. Little did we know that it would become the highlight of our trip. Well that's what we thought till the rain hit us! The most surprising thing to notice was how intact it had remained over the centuries. The pillars which looked as if to be made using lathe machines and the intricate carvings were really some sight to behold.

No other picture captures the timelessness of the place than this one taken by Naman, inside the temple, without flash, with really steady hands. By that time we had decided that we would return via the Bangalore Mysore Highway. There was rain in the air, it would be dark, and picturesque as the Kanakpura Road was, it didn't have much of civilization in between, in case we got caught up in the rain and needed help. So we headed back to Malevalli and from there to Maddur which was where we were supposed to hit the Highway.

Twilight had set in and dark clouds had gathered over the horizon, as we put on our jackets and started towards Bangalore. We clicked the last snap of the day and carefully tucked the camera inside Akshat's bag.

The first drizzle hit us somewhere between Malevalli and Maddur. I was following Naman's tail light (an exercise I would continue for another 4 hours or so), wiping drops of water from my helmet visor every few minutes. We rode along, since the there was nowhere to stop and we were enjoying it and even though at times the drizzle would become a steady rain, we were too excited to stop.

We hit the highway at around 7 o' clock and exactly as we did so, the drizzle turned into a downpour. Add to that the 4-wheelers zipping past us as if there was no tomorrow, and we were beginning to get a little scared. Better sense prevailed and even better luck. We found a restaurant within a few minutes. Oh, I forgot to add. We hadn't had lunch.

The chana masala, dal tadka, aloo gobhi ki sabji and kadhai paneer tasted heavenly. We were totally wet waist down and I knew that my not so waterproof jacket wouldn't hold on for long. I was already beginning to shiver. But amidst all this, I wanted it to happen. Yes, really. I wanted to drive in the rain, at night, on a bike, on the highway. I knew it would be some experience and in my heart of hearts, I was wishing it to happen. I think I almost willed it. Naman and I were high on adrenalin, at the prospect of driving in the rain so we chose to move on. Actually by the time we finished dinner, the rain had subsided to a drizzle again and we decided that worst of worst, we will put up at some roadside hotel for the night (although we didn't have any clothes so I wonder how we would have managed). Bangalore was a good 3 hours drive by all estimates.

It was scary, it was risky, it was funny even and it was exhilarating. And it required loads of concentration. Naman's Bullet's tail light formed my point of reference yet again and the road played true to its self without springing any surprises. The rain kept changing momentum all the time. Water seeped in through my jacket. My feet soon became numb as did my fingers which were on the brink of losing sensation after an hour or so. I had started to feel the stiffness grow in my arms and back as I sat in the same posture, riding my bike. It was a test of endurance at some level, a test of keeping the accelerator at a constant speed of around 45 kmph. I could have almost fallen asleep because of the sameness of the exercise. So I started loudly singing to myself whatever songs came to my mind and kept my eyes wide open. There were different stages to the entire journey. First it was really exciting and fun. That's when the rain had just started. Then it became a bit uncomfortable as I started getting wet. After that was a period of time when I was scared to making the entire journey, scared of skidding, scared of being hit by some speeding vehicle. But finally, after I had become used to the stiffness, pain and numbness, came the best period; one of total abandon and ecstasy. Nothing mattered anymore. It was just me on my bike and the pouring rain. It was the wildest thing I have done and we were shouting at each other at times. Shouts of joy. Just a 'Hoyeeeee' at times. I felt so alive.

We reached home at around 11, after more than 3 hours of continuous driving in the rain, totally drenched, clocking in all, 373 kms . Thankfully the camera and cellphones had survived. I turned on the geyser and took a hot shower and only after standing under it for about 5 minutes did I feel the colour come back to my fingers and toes. Just another weekend bike trip had turned out to be an experience of a lifetime and although the next morning my entire body was aching, I wouldn't complain.

By the way, we are yet to decide what Naman will do.

On second thoughts, after seeing this picture which Naman created, I might just let him go.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Sound Of Music

There are few things that give me more pleasure than listening to good music. I can give me goosebumps even. Discovering new ones goes a step higher though. When I am happy, it makes me happier. When I am pensive and sad it eases me. When I am restless, it soothes me. When I am bored, it engages me. I like de-constructing any song that I hear. Invariably it has layers to it which I dont get the first time I hear it. The first thing that hits me is the melody. And no matter how great the lyrics are, for me, a composition has to pass that test to find any favors with me. Once that sinks in and I am able to hum it along, I divert my attention to the lyrics. Though I must admit that I have always been a music person. To me, lyrics enhance the appeal of a song and do make it great from good at times but at heart I am much more a 'music' lover than a connoisseur of lyrics. To me a song can be great even without good lyrics but without a great tune; no. Not in my book at least.
Anyway, after I get a hang of the two main parts of the song, music and lyrics, come the subtleties. This, certainly is the most pleasing part. The changing bass, the delicate drum rolls, the piano which plays in the background, the little harmonies and the seconds, the changing guitar distortions, that lingering strain left after a guitar solo, all form a part of this discovery. It's like drowning in the song. Letting it flow all over you, getting drenched in it. And every time it feels slightly different, a little more intense, a little richer.

Havent been in the best of moods for the past few days. Particularly yesterday. And the only bright spot yesterday was discovering Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's rendition of 'Over The Rainbow / What A Wonderful World' . I had heard it before and liked it. But yesterday listening to it the entire day and then trying it out on my guitar made my heart lighter, much lighter. Oh, and the lyrics are good too.
And today its Kailash Kher's new album Jhoomo Re. Listen to it for its foot tapping Jhoomo Re and Joban Chhalke, for its love ballads Saiyaan and Daulat Shohrat. Kher's rustic voice and his immensely talented band Kailasa create a unique experience where Amir Khusro's poetry combines with western instruments and Kher's voice blends perfectly with a piano and a distorted guitar.

By the way, Tuesday evening was one of the best so far in Bangalore. Had gone to attend a concert by musicians from London who call themselves 'Fiddlers On The Hoof'. They 'performed' songs from movies like Sound Of Music, My Fair Lady, Les Miserables, Fiddler On The Roof, Lion King, Alladin, Grease and also 'Over The Rainbow' from the movie Wizard Of Oz. It was one of those evenings which make you feel good about yourself and so getting completely drenched in the rain on the way to the concert was worth it. It was so much more than a break. What made it all the more pleasing was the fact that I was with my friend Rohan, who can appreciate that kind of music more than I can. He was almost crying at places. We both came out of the hall ecstatic. The lights, the stage, the performers, everything was just perfect.

Monday, July 02, 2007


There are parts in almost every book we read which makes our heart leap with joy. Those moments of brilliance. Sentences that stay with us long after the book is read and tucked away in some corner of the cupboard. It could be the sheer beauty of the prose or the simplicity of some profound statement or even when we can associate some experience, some feelings, to our lives, our selves. Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul only comprised of such parts and nothing else.

It's a memoir of the city the author was born in, grew up and has made his home for over fifty years. It's about the only place on earth he knows. It's about the reflection of the city on his life and it's a love affair that's hard to replicate at any level.

Here we come to the heart of the matter; I've never left Istanbul - never left the houses, streets, neighborhoods of my childhood......Conrad, Nabokov, Naipaul - these are writers known for having managed to migrate between languages, cultures, countries, continents, even civilizations. Their imagination was fed by exile, a nourishment drawn not through roots but through rootlessness; mine however, requires that I stay in the same city, on the same street, in the same house, gazing at the same view. Istanbul's fate is my fate. I am attached to this city because it has made me who I am.

Pamuk explores what he calls the 'Turkification' of Istanbul in particular and his country in general, caught as it was, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, between the East and the West in every sense of the word. He talks about his joint family, his parents and his relation with them, replete with little anecdotes of the streets and bylanes of the city. He talks of the melancholy that engulfs the entire city in its drive to westernise and get rid of the bitter memories of the fallen empire much like a 'spurned lover throws away his lost beloved's clothes...'
Pamuk has a very keen eye for detail as he goes on to describe the 'sad joys of black and while Istanbul'. In one such inspired sentence he tells us how the 'crumbling fountains that havent worked for centuries, ...the little grocery stores darkened by age, the ferries going up and down the Bosphorus...' all add to the enigma that is his city.

It's impossible for me to describe in words how I felt about the book. The fact that it is a very personal and touching memoir about growing up a city such as Istanbul which itself was on the doorsteps of history, the effect it has had on its inhabitants who have come to share the melancholy of the city and carry its burden of history and the detail in which Pamuk describes the paintings and literature that have been inspired by the city and been created for it, make it a delightful read.

To see the city in black and white is to see it through the tarnish of history: the patina of what is old and faded and no longer matters to the rest of the world....

Pamuk's love for Bosphorus, the sea which divides the Asian and European parts of Istanbul, is very vividly brought out. The walks that he undertook alone or with his mother, during sunny afternoons or dark nights tell us about how deeply it has affected his growing up.

To see the cypress trees...the empty and neglected yalis, the old weathered ships...the poetry of the Bosphorus ships..., to discard historical grievances and enjoy it as fully as a child, to long to know more about this world, to understand it - this is the awkward surrender to uncertainty that a fifty year old writer has come to know as pleasure.....
Life cant be all that bad....whatever happens, I can always take a walk along the Bosphorus.

Very central to the novel is the idea of huzun or melancholy in Turkish. Pamuk in a entire chapter goes on to explain the meaning of the word linking it to the Koran and Sufi culture and how the Istanbullus wear this huzun with pride, how it is a 'state of mind that is ultimately as life affirming as it is negating'. It would be foolish for me to try and explain the meaning of this word. For that you would have to read the book.

Taking us through a tour of the city's landscapes, music, literature, prominent personalities and history in general, Pamuk beautifully shuttles between presenting before us a glimpse of his life and that of the city for the past hundred years and a little more. It is as much a personal diary, as it is a memoir of a great city. I started out thinking I would give you an idea of what the book is about but have realised that I am in no position to do that and have failed miserably. Instead, I leave you with a few extracts from the book which to me are the best examples of prose writing that I have ever come across in my limited readings.

Huzun does not just paralyze the inhabitants of Istanbul; it also gives them poetic license to be paralyzed.

Caught as the city is between traditional culture and Western culture, inhabited as it is by an ultra rich minority and an impoverished majority, overrun as it is by wave after wave of immigrants, divided as it has always been along the lines of its many ethnic groups, Istanbul is a place where, for the past hundred and fifty years, no one has been able to feel completely at home.

For the past hundred and fifty years, we have lived in timorous anticipation of catastrophes that will bring us fresh defeats and new ruins. It's still important to do something to fight off the dread and the melancholy, and that is why the ideal contemplation of the Bosphorus can seem like a duty.

While talking about the end of the Ottoman empire and the Westernization of Turkey, this is what he says.
It was an end of the grand polygot, multicultural Istanbul of the imperial age the city stagnated, emptied itself out, and became a monotonous, monolingual town in black and white.

...what is important for a painter is not a thing's reality but its shape, and what is important for a novelist is not the course of events but their ordering, and what is important for a memoirist is not the factual accuracy but its symmetry.

Here, among the old stones and the old wooden houses, history made peace with its ruins, ruins nourished life, and gave new life to history...

...true happiness and meaning resided in places we would never find and perhaps did not wish to find, but - whether we were pursuing the answers or merely pleasure and emotional depth - the pursuit mattered no less than the attainment, the asking as important as the views we saw through the windows of the car, the house, the ferry. With time, life - like music, art and stories would rise and fall, eventually to end, but even years later, those lives are with us still in the city views that flow before our eyes, like memories plucked from dreams.

It's a wonderful, wonderful memoir, the best I have ever come across. It's a book that will make you smile and cry at the same time with its sheer beauty. It's a book that makes you happy to be alive, makes u feel blessed to have come across it and read it.