Saturday, June 27, 2015
Thursday, July 10, 2014
|Blue Sky Tower and other impending constructions|
|Naadam: The Stadium|
|Wrestling at Naadam|
|Sukhbaatar Square: The Black Statue in the centre is Genghis Khan|
|The Square in the Morning|
|Naadam: Ritual Processions|
|Not at First Sight|
|What other Colour does one need?|
The place is a cluster of tables with green velvety tablecloth and on most tables, old men sit and play cards. Their attention scarcely strays from the cards they have been dealt and even when they pick one and flick it carelessly on to the table, their eyes are glued unwaveringly to the ones that remain in their possession. Their teacups are never empty. A large man refills them every few minutes; nobody on the table notices him do so.
There is a particular moment there that has stayed with me -- a man about to throw a card on the table and the large man serving tea standing between him and the window behind just so a shadow covers the player but not his card (a seven of spades, I think, though I am unsure if my memory can be that precise).
We take the ferry back near sundown, and this time, the domes and minarets and everything else form silhouettes against a gradually darkening orange sky. The waters of the Bosphorus are no longer turquoise; they too reflect the sky's orange. Some of our best pictures of Istanbul are from then.
Is it then that our memories are slave to the pictures we take? I wonder while I write. Is it then that the fact that I remember so much of certain passages and nearly nothing of others is merely a product of the pictures I have or have not taken?
I haven't a single photograph of the Bosphorus when I first passed by it. But I remember so much else that is not captured in pictures, that can perhaps not be captured in pictures.
I remember searching desperately for ways to grasp the concept of Huzun, as I have imagined it, from reading Orhan Pamuk's fascinating memoir on Istanbul. Pamuk describes 'Huzun' as it applies to the residents of Istanbul -- as individuals and as a people. 'Huzun', he explains, is a Turkish word, without a precise English equivalent; it defines a state of mind in which one experiences a melancholy that comes from a mixture of great spiritual loss and hope. Istanbul evokes it, according to Pamuk, through the awareness of its glorious past and the realisation that the city's greatest era is, perhaps, left behind forever; a forlorn pride that the people of Istanbul experience throughout their lives.
Although I have spent hours in the neighbourhoods Pamuk actually describes -- Cukurcuma, Cihangir, etc -- it is, in fact, in Kadikoy that I recall sensing this feeling most palpably -- perhaps because the old, short buildings, red-gray and decrepit, the damp streets, the old people gathered in cafes such as the one I just described and a general sense of artsy decay remind me of Kolkata -- a city that I believe will understand and embrace Huzun as much as Istanbul does.
It is a great city, Istanbul -- to me, the greatest city I have seen yet. The sights are breathtaking. The people are warm and friendly. The women are gorgeous. The food is sumptuous. And the memories of it still left to me are incomplete and haphazard but filled with indelible images and cheerful vagueness.
And there's the Bosphorus.
It also allows me to let some of my previous posts slide down the page, where not many will see them. It is inevitable, I suppose, that one's own creative output cannot age gracefully. That everything one has written in the past, when revisited years later, appears frequently embarrassing and sometimes cringe-worthy. And that one shouldn't be too hard on oneself in such matters. The same, perhaps, goes for one's choices in films and music (refer title of this post) and yahoo chat ids.
But really, some of what has appeared on this blog earlier, is very nearly utter bullshit.
A couple of years from now, I might start finding the articles I've written today to be as embarrassing, but we'll see what to do about that when I get there.
So here're 6 travel articles I wrote for Rediff over the past few months. The latest of these is a month old, so presumably, Rediff won't mind duplicate versions floating around the internet.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
Classroom sessions ended, twice every year, at the end of a semester, well before the exams began. The intervening period – ‘Study Leave’ was the college’s name for it – comprised of a marked increase in alcohol sales, comfortably above the annual average in Dhule. The nights were spent in frenzied binges that ended, near dawn, when hands could no longer guide a glass to the lips. Bodies lay sprawled in hostel corridors and out on the street until they were deposited into a room by sweepers. There, they remained until the next evening, covered in slowly drying, flaking sweat and, often, not much else. And then it began all over again. It is likely that, had the weeks of soot and grime been washed off these bodies during such times, it’d be found that their complexions had turned decidedly fairer, for the Sun hardly ever shone upon them. They may as well have been living on the Arctic Circle.
In the middle of all this, there came and passed a mock examination that the college conducted in anticipation of the actual university exams. Not even the most dedicated students appeared for it, choosing instead, to go back to their homes and spend that time studying on their own, while being taken care of by deliriously happy mothers . Kaushik, too, chose to go back home.
The going back itself, he had turned into an adventure. Since there wasn’t a train station in Dhule, the prescribed and widely used method of travel was buses, privately run, that looked like they were occasionally cared for. There were several that plied, daily, between Dhule and Ahmedabad; a ten hour ride through the night while one slept as comfortably as is possible on a reclining seat. This, however, wasn’t Kaushik’s preferred travel plan; he took the groaning, cracking at the seams, stiflingly crowded state transport bus. It rattled along minor streets, instead of the main highway, and stumbled frequently into empty bus stations, where it shuddered to a stop, thus nullifying whatever little wind its motion artificially created, and remained for interminably long periods. He rode it up to Surat, a city of much wealth and enterprise but no aesthetics, halfway between Dhule and Ahmedabad, having slept fitfully throughout.
One time, he had boarded the bus and found two girls from his college, one pimply and the other plump, both love interests of friends of his, already seated. He stopped abruptly when he saw them, considering whether or not he should show himself, while scanning frantically for seats where he could be hid from their sight. The moments wasted in this state of indecision absolved him of having to make a choice, for the pimply girl spotted him and waved a cheerful Hi. He reciprocated with as much cheeriness as he could muster, given his conversational skills in the company of women. Besides, he was returning at the end of nearly six months and, in his mind as much as in others’, stank unpardonably. The second of his concerns was relieved within a few minutes, for he soon realized that they were returning home after a while too.
Of the two, his preference was distinctly for the plump one, who, as soon as the bus began to move, fell asleep. The pimply one, who Kaushik wished would fall asleep, did not. So he spent the rest of the night, grunting and offering the odd interjectory word while she rambled on about, amongst other things, how she wished to work at NASA – an ambition that Kaushik thought hilarious for he was convinced she couldn’t tell a capacitor from the resistor. When Surat arrived, he got off the bus as quickly as he could, before the girl could get halfway through an ominous sounding sentence, one that he imagined would end in a plea to stick with them for the rest of the way.
In subsequent years, especially when his fumbles and struggles with Ritika began, he looked back upon this and other occasions and wondered he should’ve been more open, tried harder to be interested.
Once in Surat, he had the option of continuing on in the bus or taking a train for the remainder of the journey. He usually took the train.
The train station was a quarter of an hour away from where the bus left him and he walked to there, feeling the slight chill of the night, no matter what the time of the year - an indication that the desert underneath, upon which the cities of the region were built, still breathed. Yellow-orange halogen lights lorded over empty streets, lightening them but not the constructions on either side, which was just as well, for had they done so, the illusion of romanticism would’ve washed away. It occurred to Kaushik in subsequent years, when he tried to recall those nights, that such streets – halogen-lit and dark at the corners where imagination was allowed to fill in the rest - always appear the same in memory, no matter what city they belong to.
The train station too, at those hours, looked like it had seen grander times. The queues at the ticket counters were short, populated only by haggard looking men off night duty or with a stack of newspapers around them. The platforms were long lines of white tube-lights and nothingness - the odd porter hurrying along, smelling of dried sweat on decayed leather, a rare sign of civilization. Sometimes, the sound of running water on utensil, flat and gradually dampening, punctuated by harsh clamours of the most recently washed joining the rest of the pile. The occasional lonely hoot of a locomotive on its way to the shed. Shuttered tea, snack and newspaper stalls. An empty bench in an unlit corner.
He waited at the station until about four in the morning, which is when all at once, a flurry of trains begins to arrive, and the world comes alive again. He never reserved a seat and therefore entered into one of the unreserved ‘General’ compartments that were attached at the front and rear ends of the train. There was hardly ever a place to sit; he usually sat on the floor near the entrance, his legs dangling outside, the wind blowing into his face, tiny bits of used match sticks, cigarette butts and groundnut shells pinching his backside. Food was passed around, offered and accepted with soiled, sticky hands and grins stained with tobacco. He overheard conversations, mundane and exotic, and sometimes indulged in them. Seats were magically found whenever an old man or woman entered the compartment. And there was much bargaining with hawkers and bickering amongst themselves– men’s loud voices and women’s mumbled responses. It was all before Kaushik had an IPod or knew of phrases like ‘the human condition’.
He reached home before his father left for work and the family had their breakfast together, over which, the two elders explained to him the safety and good sense in opting for private buses and the lack of both in how he travelled. He laughed them away, stating he’d saved more than a hundred bucks this way and pointing out how the same father, in years past - when he’d thrown tantrums for having been bought a regular pencil instead of one with a tiny plastic hand at the top which, the manufacturers claimed was to let kids scratch their own backs during the prickly heat of summer - had intoned gravely, ‘A rupee saved is a rupee earned’.
In his own mind, however, he liked to think that that wasn’t the point.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Kaushik hated spending nights away from his apartment when he was in Mumbai. He did not know why, but there it was. Even in college, after nights of frenzied drinking in different rooms and on the hostel terrace, that left in its wake a floor full of empty bottles clinking against each other, vomit, piss and spent bodies, he would stagger alone on the empty tar road that ran through the campus, shivering slightly in the morning chill, looking for a cup of tea, fancying himself to be the tragic hero of a Cormac McCarthy novel. Sometimes he would find his tea, most times he wouldn’t. But he would return to his own room at the end of it anyway.
Ashish and Ritankar had long since realized this, and so, without ever explicitly discussing the subject, it had always been understood that it was to be Kaushik’s apartment where most of their weekends would be spent.
Tonight, however, it was to be Ashish’s place. He’d shifted into a new apartment and was thrilled with its balcony and the view it afforded.
“It is like in Boston Legal!” he’d explained to the other two, “I’ve got beanbags, a small table on which to place the whiskey bottle and the glasses, we’ll be on the twentieth floor, the view’s awesome. One can sit there with one’s feet up, sipping whiskey, looking up at the night sky and down at the city lights. Just like those episodes end!”
Besides, Ashish’s parents were away for the weekend and he had the apartment to himself apart from the presence of his younger sister, who he’d assured them, wouldn’t get in the way.
Ashish’s Dad, the owner of a smalltime stocks & funds trading agency, after having witnessed his business wiped out during the recession, had had to liquidate most of his assets, including a spacious four room flat in a plush suburb of Ahmedabad to pay off his debts, and had since shifted to Mumbai with his wife and daughter. There wasn’t enough income in the family to pay the rents for two separate places, and so they’d all moved in with Ashish. The immediate fallouts of this were that Ashish had to rent a much larger apartment and that Ritankar and Kaushik were having to nod through Ashish’s incessant assertions that it was all going according to plan.
“It is going to be perfect,” he’d say, “when they spend some time in this city, they’ll start to see how I live and what I want out of life and they’ll get used to it. In a couple of years, it should all be stable, and I’ll have enough money saved to buy them an apartment in Ahmedabad so they can move back and then I’ll be free to go settle in Italy!”
“A provincial Italian seaside town. Or Tuscany.”
“Yes yes. Exactly.”
“And what happens when they start pestering you to get married?”
“Oh, we’ll see. I am hoping they wouldn’t. And if they do, well, we’ll see.”
It was in this new, larger apartment where the three were to meet. And so, Kaushik was now on a train that would, in a half hour, take him there. The evening rush had peaked and there was scarcely enough space to maneuver his hand so he could pick his nose if he wished to, while he stood squashed between men he did not know, smelling their day’s work on their bodies. He had a vision of a clean, dull, dutiful wife who waits in a cramped one bedroom apartment with flaked walls, a silent dinner, an absent son out with friends and her submission to her unwashed husband’s needs on a creaky cot in a stuffy room with a creakier ceiling fan and a window unopened in years.
His train of thought was broken by a sudden elbow to his rib. A station. People replacing other people. Among the new set, a girl, young and pretty. A definite oddity in the men’s compartment. Kaushik scanned the area around her for the male classmate that, doubtless, must exist. He found him half hid behind her, a frail boy with spiked hair and acne. Kaushik smirked. Leap of faith, he thought. The man next to him looked at him sharply and he realized he’d said it aloud and smiled apologetically. He resumed looking at the girl. She wore a pink t-shirt with a white bunny on it. The bunny’s eyes, strategically placed, sparkled with what Kaushik gathered were round glass chips. The lower half of her body was obscured by the bodies between them but that she’d be wearing jeans was a safe guess. What else could she? His thoughts turned to Ashish’s sister. He’d never met her. What would she be like?
She was a pleasant looking, slightly plump girl. She wore glasses and once when she took it off to wipe with her napkin, he noticed that she had a slight squint and that she had an old scar from a stitch running above her right eye. Instinctively, his fingers touched the spot under his chin where his own stitch marks were, from a bike accident in Lucknow, when on a stormy night on an unlit single-lane highway he’d slammed into a fallen tree and rolled directly into the path of an approaching truck. He’d gotten out of the way in time; a spare tire on the side of the truck had brushed his back while he stared wide-eyed into space, expecting the impact that never came. His injuries, apart from the peeled skin on his back, were all from the fall, including the one under the chin where his face had struck the road. He remembered clearly what he’d said when he’d cried out loud just before the truck brushed past him. “Fuck Motherfucker!” He’d said it in Hindi, of course, and it struck him that he’d never thought about how, if he were to write about the experience, he would do so. Images of old Arnold Schwarzennegger film posters swam into his mind; he imagined one with Arnold’s huge face and a sawed off shotgun with “Fuck Motherfucker!” written on it in bright red fonts and underneath, in smaller, more fragile fonts, “(In Hindi)”.
He laughed out loud and they all stared at him. Second time it has happened today, he said to himself.
“Oh,” he said, “nothing, just remembered an old joke.”
“Isn’t it time we let the wine flow?”
She stuck around for a drink or two, making the odd comment, asking a bunch of questions, stemming the flow of their conversation. The other two waited patiently while Ashish answered her, explained to her the jokes and the references they contained; they walked over to the edge of the balcony and stared at the sweeping cityscape, and smoked. It was indeed a grand sight. Before long, however, she excused herself quietly and, as Kaushik put it in his interpretation of the British Accent, “retired to her chambers.”
“So how’s the novel coming along?” Ashish asked. It was the first time he’d shown any interest in the subject.
“Still some way to go,” Kaushik said, “meandering all over the place at the moment.”
“Yeah. I mean, there doesn’t seem to be any definite plot emerging.”
“From whatever I’ve read, it doesn’t have much hope for a plot, does it?” Ritankar asked.
“I guess not. We’re just a bunch of armchair losers after all.”
“Too many Sal Paradises. We need a Dean Moriarty at some point.” Ritankar mused, stumbling a few times over Moriarty.
“And a bit of yab-yum perhaps. I wouldn’t mind it certainly.” Ashish said.
Kaushik grinned, “At this point, I estimate we are miles away from either.”
“Damn. We really do need to get out of here.”
“Or the French Provence.”
“Yeah sure. After you buy your parents that house in Ahmedabad.”
“About three years.”
“Be married by then.”
“This isn’t helping.”
“Here, have some more wine.”
As the night wore, the city grew quieter. The sound of heavy tires on tar accompanied by the nasal buzz of automotive engines broke the stillness occasionally. In another setting, Kaushik thought, this could be the sound of insects. Honeybees, probably.
“When I am drunk,” Ritankar said and then exhaled deeply a couple of times, his head lulling to one side.
“’When’ was not required in that sentence, I’d say.” Kaushik quipped.
Ritankar ignored him.
“When I am drunk,” he resumed, “it seems to me my ears become more sensitive. Everything sounds louder. Clearer. The clink of glasses. Those trucks on the highway. Water leaking from that tap in your washroom.”
“Yes. Happens to me too.” Kaushik said.
“So for the hearing impaired…” Ashish began before he was cut short by Kaushik.
“Yes. I thought of that. Low hanging fruit.”
Ritankar looked at the two, a little lost.
“What the fuck are you guys talking about?” he said, exhaling thrice between the sentence.
“Oh don’t bother. We are drunk too.”
“How wonderful would it be,” Ashish said, “when we’d have nights as these ending in the arms of women we met at a café.”
“And in the mornings, when we’d wake up, to find them gone, leaving behind baked bread, jam, eggs and fruit juice on the table.”
“And on the next evening, to find them at the café again. Continue with them if we liked them or smile politely and leave with other women…”
“Lets play some music.” Ritankar interjected.
“Yeah sure. The Carla Bruni variety.”
“I don’t have the speakers set up in this apartment yet.”
When the sun rose, they were still there.
“Oh, there’s hills there! Nice and lush, too!” Ritankar pointed.
“Yes. That’s the Goregaon Film City area. The National Park’s somewhere in that region too, I believe.” Ashish said.
“We must go there sometime.”
“Yes, how about now?”
“No, not now,” Kaushik said, “I am totally not in the mood for walking jungles at the moment. I am hungry though.”
“We can go have some breakfast downstairs.”
“You know a place?”
“No. Haven’t explored too much yet,” Ashish said, “but we could start today.”
“Or,” Ritankar said, “we could go to Café Ideal!”
“But that’s more than an hour away!”
“Yes, so what?”
“Isn’t a bad idea, Ashish,” Kaushik said, “we can.”
“And then come back all this way?”
“We don’t need to. My place is closer.”
Sunday, March 13, 2011
The wind grew stronger. It howled its way into the gaps of shut windows and doors – a path otherwise monopolized by sunlight – but there wasn’t a sun this afternoon, or maybe there was, hidden behind the angry, dirty clouds, but from the ground, it was difficult to say. In the distance, thunder clapped, as did the errant tin roofs of makeshift shanties.
Inside the old, crumbling mill, where the air smelt of rotten moss and animal excreta and where nobody had entered for any definite purpose in years, apart for vagrants and stray dogs, the two men stood facing each other. One of them wore a gray woolen cap, through the sides of which, strands of silvery white hair crawled out. The other man had a gun in his hands.
“How was that then?” asked the man with the gun.
The man with the woolen cap and silvery white hair did not immediately respond.
“Sounded alright,” he said finally, “you always have had a way with dramatic imagery. Woolen cap - Gun in hand isn’t bad at all! Sums up our situation here, quite effectively. Those first few lines though – the shut windows and thunder claps and all that – that sounded to me like you’ve been reading, or maybe rereading, Cormac McCarthy lately.”
“That has nothing to do with what I wrote!” the man with the gun fumed, “you condescending bastard!”
“Ah! So I take it that you have indeed been reading McCarthy, yes?”
“You might as well have included some Spanish dialogue, while you were at it. Given me a sombrero to wear instead of the woolen cap, perhaps?”
“Repetition. You already used that just now.”
“I am glad I am going to kill you!”
“So it appears.”
“Oh come on.”
An old mill. Abandoned. Walls smeared with soot and piss on both sides. Doors and windows fallen away, leaving behind ugly, blank gashes. A good thing in this gale. The wind’s fiercest gusts dissipate through there, the path of least resistance, letting the crumbling walls hold fort against the rest. Dry leaves, bits of paper and plastic blow in through the gashes. A smell of stagnant water, rust and piss. Strangely, there aren’t any cobwebs. There were once floor tiles, or maybe just stone slabs, but they’ve been stolen away, exposing the soil underneath, on which, now resides ankle-high undergrowth. Two men. Out of place. Middle aged perhaps. Difficult to say in the gloom. It is raining outside. They are dry. They must have been inside for a long time. One points a gun at the other. The other has his hands in his overcoat. Perhaps he has a gun too.
“You have a gun!” the man with the gun in his hand exclaimed.
The other man chuckled.
“I might. I leave it to the readers’ imagination. Unlike your narratives. All wonderfully described, all close-ended. No helpful pointers for the reader to exercise a brain cell or two.”
“Piece of shit!”
“Good. You are improving! Marginally.”
“Anyway, who’s to decide who described this better. I think yours is shit too. All lame showy minimalism.”
“I’ll decide. I am the published author here, aren’t I?”
“You want me to repeat the entire Architect response to that from the Matrix film? I have it all memorized, you know.”
“You are just a pompous piece of shit!”
“And a published author.”
“And that’s why I am going to kill you.”
“You didn’t even win the bet!”
“I don’t give a damn. I believe mine was better. Besides, I have the gun.”
“I might have one too.”
“The rain’s stopped.”
“The rain’s stopped. The wind’s dropped. I can hear the sound of vehicles on the street again.”
“Why did you do it?”
“Why did you do it?”
“You know what I am talking about, asshole! Why did you ask the publisher to reject my manuscript?”
“It wasn’t any good.”
“I didn’t like it.”
“You’ve never liked anything I’ve ever done.”
“I enjoyed your fifth grade essay on your brother very much.”
They smiled, both of them.
“You are such an asshole.” The man with the gun said.
“You shouldn’t lose hope.”
“As long as you are alive, I have no chance!”
“And after I die?”
“Oh! The world will mourn your death. They’ll all be shattered. And in all that nauseating sympathy and mush, I will quietly sneak in my book. Be quite poignant. Sell well, I believe.”
“I see. So you are going to exploit my name to peddle your sorry literature.”
“It isn’t sorry literature!”
“Yes, exactly. Who cares? It will be name on the book.”
“It is my name too.”
“Repetition. Again. Your lack of creativity appalls me.”
“Who cares?” This time, with a sly grin.
“Whatever happened to your self esteem?”
“What about it?”
“You want to use my name.”
“The man you hate most.”
“Ironic. Must be tough living with that knowledge. I am glad I am not in your position.”
“And I am glad I am not in yours. At least I will be living for a while yet.”
“And then? When the euphoria of the first work fades away? The remaining years wallowing in self pity?”
“I’ll publish more. Grow out of your shadow.”
“My shadow. Yes, precisely.”
“I predict you’ll commit suicide before another decade is out.”
“I had such a great obituary in mind for you.”
“No. Serious. I’ve spent years perfecting it. In my head, of course.”
The man with the gun, momentarily unsure, looked down at his trouser pocket while he fumbled inside for a cigarette with his hands, then all at once realized his error and jerked the gun into position again. The other man had made no attempt to move.
“Don’t fuck with me now!” he said.
“I am not.” The other man responded.
“Then what’s this about an obituary? What’s that got to do with any of this?”
“Oh nothing. Just a thought.”
“Fucking tell me or I’ll kill you right now.”
“I believe that’s what you intend to do anyway!”
“Nothing, really. I was just thinking, is all.”
“I mean, this manuscript of yours, it isn’t that bad after all.”
“In fact, I think it might actually fly. Become a classic even, given the correct circumstances.”
“Yes. A legend around it. Like, maybe, a posthumous publication, you know. A premature end to what could’ve been a great career.”
“Yes. It always works out that way. Look at James Dean. There are those who think there wasn’t a greater actor. And yet, he did only three films. If he’d done more, who knows?”
“Stuff your movie references!”
“I was only saying.”
“Saying, if only you were to die, and this manuscript was to be published afterward, it could bring the glory you always wished for.”
“What about the obituary! This started with an obituary! Don’t fuck with me man! Don’t you dare fuck with me!”
“Ah yes, the obituary. Be honest with yourself. Who else but me could write a better obituary for you?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Yes. So that’s what I was thinking. A tragic death. The publication of a masterpiece. The obituary as a catalyst. A great deal of dignity in that, no?”
“There is a cat meowing somewhere.”
“In Japanese myth…”
“Shut up! I know.”
“Are you crying?”
“No I am not! I don’t know.”
“What are you crying for, you idiot!”
“Shut up bastard!”
“Oh come on, you’re the one with the gun!”
“You might have one too.”