Sunday, June 28, 2009

Indira - Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay

Indira is translated by Marian Maddern. Since I read from an omnibus volume, I don't really have the book cover. I could not find one on the web, so here is a portrait of the author.

The short note on the Omnibus book cover says..."Indira is a lighthearted tale of playful intrigues. Upendra does not realise that his wife Indira is now working as a cook in his friend’s house, and is given a royal run around by Indira and Subhashini, her employer"...

Indira, from an effluent family gets married when young but remains in her father’s house since her father is not willing to send her to her husband Upendra’s house until the boy has earned enough to keep his daughter happy.

One day, Upendra having fulfilled his father-in-law’s condition, sends for his wife. Indira sets out for her husband’s house in a palanquin carried by bearers. But on the way, when the bearers were resting under a banyan tree near Black Lake, the palanquin was robbed by forest brigands and Indira foundd herself all alone, weeping in the middle of a jungle.

She gropes her way out of the jungle, reaches Calcutta and not knowing how to go further, finds shelter in someone’s house where she works as a cook under a pseudonym.

When she had given up hopes of finding her husband, one day a guest arrives at the household and when serving the guest during mealtime, Indira is delighted to notice that the guest is none other than her husband Upendra. While Indira recognizes her husband, Upendra does not recognize her, but is instantaneously attracted to her.

Indira is caught in a dilemma now; if she reveals her true identity to him, she may not be accepted by her husband as she was abandoned by the bandits and may be considered as having fallen from caste on account of having lost chastity.

Both Indira and Sunbhashini, the employer of Indira who is more a sister than an employer, plot a trick to solve this problem.

To know what happened eventually, read the book…

Apart from entertaining the reader, the books gives the reader a general idea about the social norms and conventions of Bengal society during a certain time period when the book was written; about love and relationships and the manner in which society shapes them.

It is a very short story. Just a few pages.

I liked this para from the very last chapter.

One is the poetry of the poet; the other is the riches of the rich. Are the riches of the rich equal to the poetry of the poet? Those who have become important by earning riches and have lost poetry, even they do not say this. They say that it is while the flower is on the tree that it is beautiful; if it is plucked, it is no longer beautiful. Is there as much happiness in the fulfillment of a dream as in the dream itself? As the sky is not really blue but only looks blue, so it is with riches. There is no happiness in riches, we only think that there is. It is poetry which is happiness. For poetry is hope, riches are only possessions.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mountains And The Melancholy After

I returned from Ladhak on Monday, the 8th of June, after touring the place for 9 full days. I was feeling depressed the whole of the week that followed.

Even as I returned from the airport in the dark of the night, I saw mountains all around me through the black glasses of a Volvo bus. Two days later, I saw some vague pictures in my dreams which I discerned after waking up as similar to and influenced from the Leh palace ruins.

I felt a longing to go back.

It happened last year too. After my return from the Himalayas where I spent one full month in the valleys and mountains, walking, trekking, travelling and wandering.
I saw the Ganges in the Rishikesh valley in my dreams and woke up almost crying. Like a child longs to go to it’s mother.

At first I thought it was my sentimental nature. Becoming attached to people and places that I have no right to become attached to, and then inevitably suffering in silence.

Sometimes I think it has to do with the landscape of the place. Strewn with emblems of eternity.

Visiting the mountains can be a relieving experience. Because the mountains belittle you.
The enormous mountains, the vast spaces separating them and the rivers that have been flowing forever, not only miniaturize you, but reduce your existence to a spec in the eternal stretch of time.

Visiting the mountains means going through a paradigm shift.

Your life, dreams, aspirations, plans, prospects……that were until now larger than life, cease to matter, at once.

The status report that was pending from your side, the important deadline which could not be missed(as if the world would come to an end otherwise!), the provident fund which remained to be claimed from the government, that boy who was due to visit from America and had to be met, the aching back muscle, the economic recession, the election results and most of all, the ache in the heart… all that were until now “important matters” larger than life, become ridiculous. And that is such a relief.

An enormous weight is lifted off your body, mind, heart and soul.

Focus shifts from the “self” to the mountains, to the beauty all around, to the blue sky and to the snow on that peak whose pattern remains the same all the time….perhaps it was the same a hundred years ago…

Men come and men go. Like tides. Like seasons. Like seconds. Like minutes. Like time.
Who can distinguish one from the other?
For all the passion, worry, rhetoric, dreams, concern, dedication and emotion with which they went through life, for the wars they fought, won and lost, who can distinguish one from the other?
And what remains of all those loving deeds, of those heroic deeds?
The palace ruins? which betray nothing of the past grandeur?

I wrote in a poem last year after my visit to the Himalayas…

“Where worries about the “self”
Become ashamed of their insignificance…”

When you look at the mountains you know they have stood there for hundreds of thousands of years. Forever. They have seen men like me come and go. Who even remembers what those men did or did not and how did it matter to this world? … the snow on that peak – it’s pattern was the same a hundred years ago…

Who can tell a piece of cinder from another?
Who can tell a grain of sand from another?

For all our struggle, effort, exertion, success and pride, that’s what we all become in the end. Cinder and soil.

Being in this paradigm feels feather - light. Nothing worries you. Because nothing matters.

When I returned to Bangalore, I returned to my original paradigm. The one where everything matters.
The transition happened so quickly – it did not give me time to adjust. Sunday noon, I was walking on the shores of a lake with peacock blue waters close to China Border. Monday morning, I was in Delhi ; Monday evening, I was in Bangalore and Tuesday morning – I was in office. Thanks to all the progress man has made in the field of transportation.

A whole week was spent in melancholy. A longing to go back to the mountains. A longing to shift to another paradigm. A longing to feel feather – light… A longing to be relieved…of the ache in the heart…

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson

The story is about a certain Dr. Jekyll who conducts a rather dangerous experiment. By consuming a chemical concoction which is his own discovery and a secret, he transforms into “another person” called Mr. Hyde. The transformation is external as well as internal. The dormant evil in Dr Jekyll awakens and as if to match the inner transformation, a rather well built Dr. Jekyll shrinks into a puny man, evil and eerie in appearance.

Mr. Hyde indulges in all that Dr. Jekyll has to abstain from, as required by a man in good standing in his society.

Mr. Hyde, then consumes another chemical concoction to become Dr. Jekyll.

Dr. Jekyll also enjoys by becoming Mr. Hyde, the luxury of perpetrating evil without being accountable or without leaving traces, since Mr. Hyde is not known to the world.

This game goes on for a while but becomes dangerous when the evil in Dr. Jekyll becomes stronger and stronger with each ‘transformation’ and demands to be released from the control of Dr. Jekyll in the form of Mr. Hyde.

The frequency of ‘personality change’ increases as time progresses and finally, it is no longer Dr. Jekyll who is in control but Mr. Hyde.

I observed a contradiction of a fundamental nature – how does Edward Hyde know he is looking ugly and being evil if Henry Jekyll has been completely deposed during the transformation?
As in multiple personality disorder, – one personality does not know about the other. Some onlooker has to make the person aware that he has multiple personalities. In this story however, it is not the case. Dr Jekyll is aware of Mr. Hyde and vice versa…

If I had read this book a few years earlier, I would have been able to appreciate it better.
As is natural in the process of evolution, every original idea is overshadowed by it’s improvisation. It is rendered dull by its successor.

I would have been awed if I had read this book before reading about the more recent “multiple personality disorder” and before watching movies based on the same.

Too bad, I am reading too late…

One thing I thoroughly enjoyed was the language.
The language is of a very high standard; the kind that is very difficult to find today; the kind that can be found only found only in classics.

The longer the sentences, the more I relished them.

There were so many words that I have come across for the first time in my life…

Misbegotten –which means illegitimate, disreputable, contemptible…

Lodestar – star used as a guide in navigation, especially, pole star.
Thrift used to be the lodestar of the society…

I noted down some of the sentences as, for some reason, I thought them worth it…

His affection, like ivy, were the growth of time, but implied no aptness in the object...

We told the man we could and would make such a scandal out of this, as should make his name stink from one end of London to the other. If he had any friends or any credit, we undertook that he should lose them...

Small sounds carried far in that silence...

His attention was arrested by the approaching footfalls of someone...

It is one thing to mortify curiosity and another to conquer it…

He was denied admittance to the house…

I read these lines again and again as I savoured the beauty of language…

I put him back, conscious at his touch of a certain icy pang along my blood. "Come Sir", said I. "You forget that I have not yet the pleasure of your acquaintance. Be seated, if you please". And I showed him an example, and sat down myself in my customary seat and with as fair an imitation of my ordinary manner to a patient, as the lateness of the hour, the nature of my preoccupations, and the horror I had of my visitor, would suffer me to muster...

And indeed the worst of my faults was a certain impatient gaiety of disposition such as has made the happiness of many but such as I found it hard to reconcile with my imperious desire to carry my head high and wear a more than commonly grave countenance before the public. Hence it came about that I concealed my pleasures...

Man is not truly one, but truly two. I say two because the state of my own knowledge does not pass beyond that point. Others will follow, others will outstrip me on the same lines; and I hazard the guess that man will be ultimately known for a mere polity of multifarious incongruous and independent denizens. I for my part from the nature of my life advanced infalliably in one direction and one direction only...

You should read it simply because it is a classic.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Temple At The Foot Of Nandi Hills

This is one of those places that I did not even know existed. Almost everyone of us has heard about Nandi Hills in Bangalore. We have visited the hills too. But not many people know that if you take a small deviation – right turn instead of the left that you take to climb the hills – you will find yourself before a grand temple of architectural significance.

The temple together with its premises is the size of a village. And thankfully, this place is clean and seems well maintained.
From the outer wall to the temple entrance is a short walk along this path.

As you look towards your left and your right, you will find that the inside of the outer wall is lined with pillars that stand on a raised platform all along the wall. These pillars herald the grandeur of the temple to come.

This is the entrance.

As you enter the temple, you will see carvings on your left and right wall.

As you step inside, you will see some more pillars on a raised platform.

This temple was built by five dynasties over a period of 700 or more years. The Cholas, the Hoysalas, the Gangarasas, the Pallavas and the Vijayanagara empire.

The sanctum in the middle was built by Hoysalas, a thousand years ago.

Do notice the parrots carved on the pillars. There are hundreds on them on all the pillars.

To the right of the Hoysala sanctum is another sanctum built by the Chola king. The Cholas built this part of the temple 1200 years ago.

This is the roof.

This is the Chola king himself.

To the left of the Hoysala sanctum is the sanctum containing a huge phallus they call “Brihadeshvara”. This was built by Gangarasa 1100 years ago.
This is the Ugraganapathi - angry Ganapathi.

This is the shivalinga – Brihadeshvara in the sanctum.

The pillars on the platform that supports the three sanctums was built by Pallavas, 900 years ago.

As you go round the temple you see the Gopura …

And an inner wall lined with pillars…

Just outside this temple wall is a mosque and that time, sufi music was playing aloud... the song is ringing in my ears still... something that ended with "mohammed ke shahar mein..." Though I like sufi music and I hummed this tune again and again during the rest of the day, I did wonder aloud why there was a mosque next to every important Hindu temple in India! Since the temples existed much before and the mosques were built later, I wonder what the motive might have been...

As you walk further, you come across a few more sanctums… more pillars and more gopuras.. walls with carvings… I noticed that the carvings in this temple were not really intricate except in certain places the parrots carved on pillars just outside the Hoysala sanctum. It is the number of pillars, gopuras, statues and the huge premises that fill you with awe. while most of the stone is grey coloured, at some places you will find brick coloured stones. i dont know if this is how the temple was when it was built or the renovators painted them later.

This was built by the Vijayanagara empire… 500 years ago

Thanks to my friend Nikhil.... I would not have found this place, but for him...

As you cross the entrance, you find yourself standing before this pond.

Shringi Tirtha - It is a large square pond in the north of the enclosure. It is surrounded by varandha which has 3 entrances on the north, east and south. Over the varandhas are fine stucco figures in niches. it is said that the Dakshina Pinakini (South Pennar river) flows from the pond.

A very pretty picture I thought.

This stone umbrella standing outside the three main sanctums is also a work of the Vijayanagara empire.

I must visit this temple again... tried to search this using verify the facts that I had gathered from a tour guide who guided us... could not find much. A must see for everyone who lives in Bangalore and every tourist...

Friday, June 12, 2009

This Too Shall Pass

It feels like the end of the world. The pain is excruciating. The sorrow of this one moment effaces from the memory, all that has constituted my life so far; all those happy days, happy moments, all the love and all the fortune of this life that I should be grateful for.
It’s like this every time.

It engulfs me so completely that I become blind to all else around me.

When I walk, it is as if in a trance. My walk has slowed down. This load in my heart is taking away the spring in my step.
I feel guilty of not living in the present moment and I try to shake away those thoughts. For a brief moment, I force my attention to the beautiful morning, the blossom laden boughs that sway in the gentle morning breeze, the tender rays of the morning sun, the tiny glistening leaves, the beautiful houses lining the street and their gardens and the blue sky above.
And the next moment, I am in a trance again.

When I eat, I am in a trance. What used to take me 20 minutes now takes 45 minutes. I put a morsel of food in my mouth and then brood. I look out of the window at the faraway trees and the faraway sky as if I am looking for an answer. The grief welling up in my throat does not allow any more food to enter. I force another morsel anyway.

When I read, I am in a trance. I open the pages, begin reading and my thoughts drift … I jolt myself out of my reverie. I bring my attention to what PG Wodehouse or MK Gandhi is saying. I am eager to finish one page just so that I can take a break and brood some. I read for 5 minutes and pause for 10 minutes.

I listen to music more than before. Every other song brings a tear in my eyes. I might as well have composed and sung some of those songs.

Sleep isn’t the same any more. It’s an experience of sinking into a bottomless well and resting there through the night…. dreaming of the impossible….thinking of that which I will never possess... imagining all kinds of miracles that will turn the impossible to the possible and trying to believe in those miracles.
And in the morning, waking up isn’t easy.
Swimming up from the bottom of a deep well to its surface takes humungous effort!

A wretched moment’s accident –perhaps it was a part of the grand design – has turned into a futile occupation of the mind.

When a cinder enters your eye, it hurts every second and every minute that it’s inside the eye. You could try ignoring it and doing other things… talking, working, eating, singing, playing… but the cinder will not let you rest for a minute. Your fingers will rub your eye without a minute’s rest.

But this is not the first time. It is a familiar pain. It is a familiar ache. It was as cruel, as unforgiving last time as it is now. I thought it would kill me. But it didn’t. Time healed.
What had once seemed unbearable, now lies quietly and innocently in the recesses of the past, having gathered the dust of time.

This too shall pass.
I only hope it shall pass soon.

Monday, June 08, 2009

November Bloom

There are a few seasons, months every year when you will fall in love with Bangalore all over again. You will enjoy the bus rides. You will enjoy simply walking through the streets. One of these seasons the Jackeranda is in bloom, another season, the Gulmohar is in bloom, and then there are other flowers whose names I don’t know… a bright yellow flower, a pinkish orange flower…

This November (I mean 2008), a particular tree was laden with blossom. It was one of those trees whose name I do not know.

Sometimes, I wished I had a camera with me as I drove … other times, I did have a camera. I made it a point to carry my cam with me for a few weeks. On my way to some place I would take a sudden deviation just to take a picture of that tree… those pink bunches in air like cotton candy...its amazing what seasons can do the world…

Enjoy the pictures and tell me if it was worth all the trouble…