Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Dog Dramas: Part I

Other Half had been following my blog rather enthusiastically (he seems to have stopped now, though). He didn’t care much for the posts that deal with poetry; said those are too esoteric for his tastes (and in case he reads this, am sure that my use of the word ‘esoteric’ will definitely induce a snort from him). He would remain tactfully silent on these posts but the others he appreciated actively and generously. So when he put forward a request to me to write a post about dogs, I couldn’t refuse. Though to tell the truth, I was a little miffed: here I was, wanting to write of grand things like World Peace, Romantic Odes and other such earthshaking matters and here he was asking me to write about dogs! But then Other Half being after all my other half (can’t deny that, even though sometimes I wish I could just chew his head off) … as also the fact that one cannot afford to lose a blog follower .., here is one about ‘Dogs’.

I’ve always had dogs in my life. Though in my childhood we never had what could formally qualify as a pet (unless you count the fishes in our aquarium or the time when we had Munias in a cage whom, after one died, my Dad set free), we had Sheru. Sheru was the street dog that our neighbour’s daughter, Babydidi adopted. Though Sheru was never allowed inside Babydidi’s home or ours, he was for all purposes, her very own pet dog. Since we were close as neighbours, by default (and by the virtues of a few mutton bones dispensed effectively as bribe...), Sheru became our pet dog too.

Sheru was white with prominent black patches over his trunk and because of a particularly dark black patch placed strategically over one of his eyes; he looked like a canine version of Jack Sparrow. But while Jack Sparrow is lean, thin and sometimes mean, Sheru was stocky, plump and always kind. His signature was his tail, a lush affair that curled gracefully into a full circle over his ample behind. He spent his days lounging around either our backyard or Babydidi’s, eating four full square meals a day, two at Babydidis and two at our place. In the mornings, when my brother and I would walk to the bus stand, he would accompany us like a responsible guardian, loiter around till our respective school buses left and then return home. Most afternoons, he would stretch out flat on the second step of the set of three steps that led from our rear door to the yard while we kids would rest our feet on his back as if it were a comfy foot cushion. Sometimes, Babydidi would call us to play Chinese Whispers (we called it ‘Telephone’ then) and Sheru would play along with us, putting his mouth to Babydidi’s ears as if whispering, much to our amazed delight. He was very intelligent, never barked without purpose, easily distinguished strangers from family and was both a protector and a friend. He grew up with us, was very much a part of our family and part of our lives… till one day he went gallivanting somewhere and never came back. Babydidi, his distraught parent, searched for him all over our neighbourhood but Sheru was never found. We were young then and in the rush of childhood, did not really grieve for him, though we did miss him. But now in this jaded middle age, I think of him sometimes and grieve his loss with the occasional prickle of tears. Logic tells me that dogs have short lives and obviously he would never have lived to this day; what I feel sad about is that if he had stayed on, for just the rest of our childhood, it would have been, simply put, so nice! But then again I console myself thinking that though short, we did have good times together, we i.e. Babydidi, my brother, myself and Sheru, wonderful times that not only created beautiful memories but also helped shape our attitudes of acceptance and affection for all creatures, animals or birds.

Then many years and many dogs later (mostly strays, like that pup in college whom Deccan Queen had rescued from somewhere and whom we spent vainly trying to de-flea and de-tick with the violently smelling ‘new in the market’ coconut shampoo from Tata), there was Phunti! In the beginning, she was just this nameless stray whom I had befriended (I generally land up befriending strays wherever I go). But then Tall n Pretty, my room-mate and dear friend named her ‘Phunti’ and in gratitude Phunti adopted both of us. She was black, scrawny, flea infested and of indeterminate age; but let me tell you, her looks belied her character and how! Phunti is the bravest dog that I have known and I have known a sizeable number, of all breeds and kinds…There is this tagline of a popular Bengali newspaper that goes “Except God, we fear none!” This line seems to have been written for Phunti. She was absolutely devoid of fear and I often found her chasing after dogs, cats, goats, cows, buffalos, cars, buses, trucks and even the few rare humans she did not approve of, without hesitation and without an iota of fear. She was a tomboy (or ‘tom’dog’ if you please) and had actually taken on the role of the neighbourhood goondi. She dominated all four legged creatures in the area and if found weak, a few two legged ones also. She had cultivated this funny pastime of lying in ambush behind bushes or culverts lining the main road, springing upon unsuspecting motorcyclists and cyclists and then chasing them at top speed down the road. Though she did this throughout the day, after dusk this antic was especially scary. Both Tall n Pretty and I would watch with amusement from our balcony as she did this and though it amused us, we did feel sorry for the poor unsuspecting cyclist. Imagine yourself cycling on a dark and empty road, minding your own business when a shadowy slithery thing suddenly jumps at you from the darkness and then chases you down the road, all the while in complete sinister silence! I for one would certainly have had a heart attack. She would chase the petrified man till the very end of the road and then trot back triumphantly; and if she found us nearby, she would come up , tail wagging ingratiatingly, asking for a treat as reward for a job well done.

Phunti was also a hoarder. I had got into this habit of buying a trans-fat laden doughnut from the local grocer and having it for my noon tea every day. Invariably, Phunti would be hovering nearby and so I would have to give her a share. She would take the doughnut, eat half and bury the other half in the earth just below the balcony of our first floor room. And woe-betide the next stray that came sniffing around. She would hiss and snarl with such ferocity that the latter would flee with its tail between its legs. I would often wonder how she could actually eat that doughnut later because in the heat, sun and soil, it would have invariably rotted. Of course, thinking back I don’t really recall having seen her dig out her hoard for snacking. The whole exercise, I presume was just for the simple pleasures of hoarding.

She grew very close to us and began sleeping just outside our door. When hungry she would knock on the door like any polite human guest and we perforce had to open up and give her a snack, usually biscuits. This nocturnal knocking was so unique that it  amused me no end ; though later I was to know of another canine friend called Kaloo who was a similar ‘door-knocker’.

Then we moved on, both Tall n Pretty and myself, while Phunti stayed behind. But about 2-3 years later when I was back in that neighbourhood again for a short while, I was pleasantly surprised to find Phunti still ruling roost, her position as ‘Queen of the Strays’ intact. And she had not forgotten me. On spotting me from afar, she came running, tail wagging furiously and quietly rising up placed her front paws over my body, the canine equivalent of a hug for an old friend. So we renewed our friendship for about two months, cementing it with more sinful doughnuts and the odd cream biscuit. But again, life called me elsewhere and I left, this time perhaps for good. Now, many years have passed since that second sojourn and Phunti must have by now passed on over to the other Happier Side.

When we think back on past relationships, we humans have this tendency to quantify them in terms of gains and losses; and being the typical human that I am, I have done the same for Phunti’s relationship with me. And though I am not aware of what gain or loss there was in it for her,  for me it was doubtless an all ‘gain’ and no ‘loss’ thing, the unquantifiable gain of a great comradeship, absolutely unconditional (except maybe for that one small condition called ‘doughnut’)!

(to be continued......)

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Much Ado About Love

Sometimes I feel Love is , of the entire spectrum of human emotions, perhaps the most overrated and the most over-hyped.  I know my opening line is sure to draw flak, but I am going to stand firm. Oh I know all the counter arguments: love makes the world go around (I wonder then what gravitational force does?), love makes us human (the ferocity of love between my two Labradors is enough to dispel this one), love is the antidote to hatred ( don't you think this supposed anti-dote is proving rather ineffective against all the senseless violence infecting our world ?) and so on and so forth. Ponder this: what does love give you: broken promises, unfulfilled expectations, heart break, pain, loss, tears, loneliness, envy, insomnia, anger, violence, crime, punishment, shame, psychoses, neuroses, stomach ulcers , heart disease , the works........ ! But then perhaps we cannot help it, perhaps because there is within our genetic make-up, entwined tightly, woven deeply, something that draws us irrevocably towards this emotion in spite of the very high and very real risk of being burned to cinders. The analogy of the ‘shama’ and the ‘parwana’ in that Anand Bakshi/ Kishore Kumar song describes it best; how the flame warns the little insect that it will surely burn in its fire and so should move on; but the tiny creature is un-heeding, as mesmerised by an unknown pull (love?) , is drawn to the flame and to its invariable death.

There is a composition by Tagore on this particular line of thought and though I find it a little duplicitous on part of the Poet considering the fact that majority of his writings revolved around this emotion of 'love', the words themselves ring so true and the little advice woven in it sounds so relevant, that I think I should overlook this slight and rather insignificant duplicity. Tagore himself did suffer the pangs that love brings throughout his life. His love and his muse, his sister-in-law committed suicide at an early age and his remaining life was peppered by losses of people he had loved. Yet surprisingly, in most of his works, joy and hope course through like a lifeline.How did he achieve this joie de vivre? May be the answer lies in the words of this song.
Here, the Poet asks, tongue firmly in cheek, 'What is this thing called ‘love’ that you obsess about so much? Why do you waste your entire life running after it, this thing called love that brings you only pain and suffering and tears?' 'Come to me instead,' he says, 'and I’ll show you how to live without this ‘love’ thing, I’ll show you how to be happy sans it, how not to be enslaved by this fatiguing emotion.' 'Come to me,' he beckons, 'For I, who have taught myself to be joyful despite all the pain, to draw joy from things far removed from love, to not depend on love to keep me happy, will then teach you the same.' 
My paraphrase has deviated a wee bit from the original in the interest of maintaining the rhythm and metre as also conveying the spirit behind the words more effectively. Do forgive these trangressions.
Sakhee, bhabona kahare bale.
Sakhee, Jatona kahare bale.
Tomra je balo dibaso-rajanee bhalobasa bhalobasa-
Sakhee, bhalobasha kaare kai.
She ki keboli jatonamoi.
She ki keboli chokher jol? She ki keboli dukher shwas?
Loke tobe kore kee shukheri tore emon dukher aash.
Aamar chokhe to sakali shovon,
Sakoli nabeen, sakoli bimal,
Suneel aakash, shyamol kanan,
Bishodo jochona, kusumo kamol- sakoli aamari mato.
Tara kebali hase, kebali gaay,
Hasiya kheliya marite chai-
Na jane bedan, na jane rodan, na jane sadher jatona jato.
Phool se hasite hasite jhare, jochna hasiya milaye jai,
Hasite hasite aaloksagore  aakasher tara teyage kay.
Aamar maton sukhee ke aache.
Aay sakhee, aay, aamar kaache-
Sukhee hridayer sukher gaan
Shuniya toder jurabe pran.
Pratidin jadi kandibi kebal ekdin nai hasibi tora-
Ekdin nai bishad bhuliya sakole miliya gahibo mora
What is this thing you rant of, All day- This thing called love? This thing Called love! Is it only of pain and care, A play- This thing called love? This thing called love!
This ‘Love’, this thing- If only tears, hurt and sighs It bring- Then tell me friend: What pleasures from it ascend That despite the sorrow You still want to wallow In this thing called love? This thing called love!
Come instead to me, The world from mine eyes see: Where all is new, all is clean The skies blue, the groves green. The moonlight’s bright, The blossoms a delight Where you can keep this‘Love’ Well out of sight......
Like me they laugh, Like me they sing And want to die On laughter’s wings! They know no ache They know no tear, Pains of desire Nor do they fear......
The shedding flower Laughs as it dies, The fading moon Laughs its  goodbyes. Into the bright Milky Way The stars drown laughing With the dawning of the day !
So come to me, My lovelorn friend Listen to my happy song And be happy again!
Forget Your sorrows, For just a day, Forget your tears, Come, be gay. Come join me As I sing today: My songs of joy, My songs of joy!

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Ditch the Dye.....

My blog audience is flagging. So, when I sought advice from Other Half, like any good PR guy, he told me: Write something with a bit of masala.... Now I am well aware that ‘Masala’ and controversy are bedfellows. I am, on the other hand, a peace-loving, controversy-fearing kind of chap, the kind whom debates and arguments find taking shelter under a metaphorical dining table with the same speed with which my older Labrador seeks the cover of a real dining table on hearing thunder peal in the distance. But succumbing to the need of restoring my flagging blog popularity, I have attempted a masala infused post (though I confess that I have serious doubts as to the levels of its spiciness). But we all know that practice makes perfect; so I am sure that over time, the masala-metre of my posts will increase.
This one’s about whether to dye or not to dye, one’s head of hair that is.. (Or what’s left of it). With these new fangled ideas of 40 being the new 30 and 50 being the new 40 and so on and so forth, I find men refusing to grow old. Trust me gentlemen, these taglines are created by those cocky ex IIM advertising guys whose sole aim is phising at your wallets. Oh, those ads for hair dyes are clever, subtly showing this actually 20 something model (pretending to be a 40 year old) running his hands lovingly through his head full of lush, silky, deep black dyed hair while a bevy of long legged beauties make sheep’s eye at him....Bull!
Ever paid attention, actually paid attention to what a middle aged man with dyed hair looks like? Here’s an unflattering but truthful description. The typical gentleman that I am targeting is the one who has either entered the dreaded fourth decade or is already in his fifth (I am not considering those in their sixth both out a sense of deference to their age as well as the fact that if a man is confident enough to think he can fool people into thinking his hair is naturally black even in his sixties and beyond, I feel you must grant it to him.....). Age, biology and hormones have ensured that his hair is gray, if not the whole of it, then most of it. Biology has also ensured that the number of hairs on his head has diminished, usually in an unflattering empty patch at the top of his head that makes a point to draw attention to itself with its sheer luminosity. In those slightly luckier, the loss of hair is more discrete in the form of a receding hairline but in them too, the receding wave of hair has left behind a sandbank of a scalp that glistens attention to itself. Then there are the signposts of age: wrinkles. Due to the manly habit of never ever ever using umbrellas even under a noon day sun, the UVAs and UVBs and UBCs have had their play on his facial integument, leaving it crisscrossed with wrinkles, making it look like a reproduction of the Google map of the Sundarban Delta.
The above was a description of the base canvas on which the hair dye is painted on. Now, once dyed, let’s see what the effect is like. But first here’s a clarification: everyone knows that one grays as one ages, it’s a ‘Truth’ like any other ‘Truth,’ say like everyone has to die one day or that the earth revolves around the sun or something similar. When one looks at a man well past his prime, one knows and expects that he will be graying. So when he dyes his hair, the first unconscious impression that an onlooker draws is, “Achhaaaa, he dyes ......!” So what, you will say... Fine by me but you see that rather extended ‘acchaaa’ signifies many conclusions: “This chap is trying to look younger, this chap is insecure about his age, this chap is faking.......” and all of these are drawn by, mind you, female onlookers. So take note, gentlemen, take note.
Never mind these esoteric thoughts; let’s look at more earthy issues like appearances, that is, what a dyed guy actually looks like. I’ll not mince words nor will I go in for flowery descriptions, I’ll simply sum it up in a single word: incongruous. The head of artificially blackened/browned hair on that canvas of wrinkle bedecked skin is my friends, the definition of incongruity. Adding to the oddity is the fact that dyeing one’s moustache is a difficult proposition. Hence, either one leaves it gray ( adding to the comic effect of a jet black head of hair and a snow white moustache line) or one removes it completely; the latter action actually diminishing the gentleman’s SA amongst the feminine moustache fan brigade. Then arrives the time when the much dyed hairs in protest grow shining white from their roots.....resulting in black tops with white unders that scream, ”I haven’t found the time to visit my barber/saloon/salon oblique I am just saving up on the dye expenditure!”
Instead of the embarrassing portrait painted above, picture this contrasting situation: A man, middle aged or more, graying graciously, completely at ease with his age , his wrinkles and his gray hair, secure in the knowledge that his gray hairs do not define him, rather his demeanour, his carriage, his achievements, his humility and his experience  do....! He knows youth is just a passing phase, a brief tumble in the hay, the real ‘Life’ starts only later they say the best is yet to come. A man such as this does not waste time and money on trifles such as hair dye. Think Amitabh Bachchan in his present day avatar, the modern day Sean Connery or better still Daniel Craig...Umm dishy!
So ditch the dye, pals and followers and see your oomph factor rise....And keep me posted on the progress.

PS: The above advice is only for the men. Women, please continue to do just as you please because this post was meant for middle aged or older men and we women never age beyond 26!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Missed Calls ( Methinks its a good title)

I had called you last night.
Did you not hear
Roof hung icicles

Crash night long:
Incessant SMSs
Breaking into your dreams?

                   I had called you last night.
Did you not feel
Winds at dawn 

Rage today:
Wet and heavy
Soaked in yester-night’s tears?

                   I had called you last night.
Did you not see
Pale almond blooms

Wind ripped, lie:
Forgotten letters
Fading, on your door step?

                 I had called you last night.
Did you not feel
Snowflakes slip 

Cold, through your fingers:
Neglected memories
Melting into oblivion?

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Butterflies over the Water

The boat wound its way over the water cautiously, the men at the helm prodding the depths to see if we had enough clearance from the creek floor. I found it strange that there was so little water in the creek , when barely 36 hours prior, it was said that the ocean itself had swept inland, inundating everything in its path. It was bizarre how all the water had simply vanished; as if the ocean, like a criminal retreating from his scene of crime had tried to make sure it did not leave behind any incriminating evidence. But it had failed, for evidence lay strewn around aplenty: carcasses lying on the creek banks, floating in the water, filling the air with the stench of rotting flesh........
It was October 1999 and coastal Odisha had just been ravaged by the Super Cyclone. I had arrived in Cuttack the morning prior and had been to Paradip the same night. I had found the port town in complete darkness. However, unlike the dark of a normal night, when though night, some light is always perceptible, whether it be the light from homes, shops or streets or the light of the moon and if not that, then at least the faint light of the stars, this darkness was absolute, as if light had died that night in Paradip. And it was not just light that was absent; there seemed to be a complete absence of sound too. It was deathly dark and deathly quiet.
The vehicle lights illuminated the long empty stretch of a road ahead but beyond the limited reach of the headlights, there was absolute blackness and it seemed to me as if we were driving over a road floating in space. The areas on either side were ostensibly villages and fields, had been that is; now they were only vast shallow pools of salt water that glimmered eerily when the headlights shone on them. Slowly as my eyes got used to the darkness, I realised that the highway was not really empty. Rather it was full, teeming with people who with their homes having been washed away, had sought shelter in the only high ground available to them, the highway. It was a sea of humanity that was camping that night on the both sides of the highway. But as I said before, it was a sea of humanity rendered dumb with shock and despair. A few policemen standing guard approached our vehicle and having reassured themselves that we were not some highway robbers, advised us to go back: “You never know when these people might attack,” they said, explaining further, “You see, there is no food and water here!”
That was yesterday. Today we were on our way to Erasama, said to be the worst affected. As we drove through the block, I realized that Erasama had been in one word, flattened. Nothing with height greater than a foot or two was standing upright, neither homes, nor trees nor electric poles. Only the coconut trees stood upright, that is, if you can call being ripped bare of all green from your branches and bent at a demeaning obtuse angle ‘upright’! As far as eye could see nothing ‘stood’, only empty ochre fields which lay drying in the sun, covered with dirty brine water and the rows of bare coconut tree trunks, all bent uniformly in a single direction as if forced to pay obeisance to the sea and the wind.....  And the stench...........! It was just as our Man-in-Charge, in a moment of utter horror had described: “ all pervading stench of death.....!” We found bodies everywhere, in the fields, on the roads, in the creek.....! In the water, the bodies floated back up and head immersed, bloated into grotesque shapes that defied description. The process of rot was so quick and so unforgiving that many times we were unable to even distinguish whether the corpse was that of an animal or a human being.
And so we went floating down the Hansua, a former creek now turned into a large reeking nullah with knee deep water and floating corpses; our goal to reach food, water and medical aid to the villages situated right on the sea shore, they being the worst hit and the most difficult to access. We sailed daily, our boat laden with relief material sent from all over the country: sacks of rice, blankets, clothes both old and new, and of course medicines. We even had packets of milk that we would ourselves buy from the Cuttack bazaar. We did this for nearly the better half of a month, every single day without fail. And so our routine became fixed: wake up at five, rush to the waiting vehicles, then the long dusty breathless drive on empty roads (and empty stomachs for who would prepare breakfast at that unearthly hour!) to the banks of the Hansua, load supplies rapidly onto the boat, set sail, reach a village or what was left of it , dock on the banks, go ashore, distribute the food and clothes, set up a make-shift dispensary cum clinic and see patients by the hundreds. People rendered ill or injured by the cyclone itself were minimal for the storm had been ruthless; killing mercilessly, taking no prisoners. Those who had to die were already dead now, their nameless bodies rotting in the fields and gullies; those who survived carried only minimal physical scars, may be the odd sprained foot or abrasion, or arm muscles stiffened by cramps bought on by clasping on to a tree trunk for eight hours straight as the ocean waters swept them, hundreds of miles from their homes and beds. As for the scars on the mind, there was no time to tend to those. I would get hundreds of patients at each stop, most of them routine illnesses unrelated to the cyclone. In these villages where in normal times there was no medical setup, no doctor, not even a pharmacy, to have a doctor come to your doorstep bringing free medicines was a novelty and most of them gathered simply to watch me work. The moment we landed I would be surrounded by people, few of them actually in need of medical aid, others simply gathering to watch as there was nothing else to do, no fields to tend to, no boats with which to go fishing, no food to cook, no firewood to light the kitchen fire, and for some no family member left to feed.
Because we came almost every day, soon the survivors in these villages came to recognise us well. At first we were treated as messiahs, life savers, deliverers...but as the days passed we degenerated into being only providers....It was as if the entire onus of ensuring their survival had been transferred to those carrying out relief work. A kind of apathy had set in over the people, a lethargy probably brought on by what I now, thinking back ascribe to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The virtue of initiative had dried up in these people. All they did throughout the day was to wait for the relief boats to bring them food. They did nothing else, at times even their make-shift shelters had to be erected by the relief teams. Things came to such a pass that one morning when we landed at a village, we found a human corpse lying on the Hansua’s banks, right there at the point where the relief boats docked. When we asked the villagers about it, they calmly replied, “Sarkar dispose karegi....!” For our Man-in-Charge, that was the last straw. He gave an ultimatum to the villagers that unless they disposed off their dead fittingly, no relief sack would be offloaded from the boat that day. Hearing this, a young boy broke away from the crowd, got a piece of rope, tied it to the ankle of the corpse and dragging it to about 50 feet away from us, shoved it nonchalantly into the waters of the Hansua. He returned and without a word took his place at the line of men gathered to haul the relief material from the boat. Stunned by this blatant apathy, our Man-in-Charge could do little and resignedly issued orders to offload the relief material.
This happening was kind of a last straw for me too. In the beginning there had been only the horrors of the aftermath, the endless destruction, the massive loss of lives, the corpse infested waters through which we travelled daily....Though at first shocked and horrified, because the human mind has such a remarkable ability to adapt, I was soon so inured that I never gave a second glance to the next corpse that went floating by the boat. Death had become to me more commonplace than life. But it was not nature’s cruel hand that was affecting me negatively. It was what people were doing (or not doing) that was eroding my morale. As the days passed, I became aware of so much happening all around that was not correct: the unchecked pilferage of relief material, the apathy of the relief givers and of people in authority, the blatant scramble for publicity by relief agencies,the ennui afflicting the cyclone survivors.... I found myself turning kind of cynical and losing my youthful ideas of selfless service... Outwardly I was fine; I worked diligently, did my job with the same old dedication but inside something had broken. All that enthusiasm powered by youthful ideas of altruism had receded into the background. I was not exactly despairing but I was feeling what one could call a lack of hope, hope for the survivors, for Erasama and for humanity in general. And it was probably the same for all of us in the team.
It was in this frame of mind that we landed on Dohibor. Outwardly this village was the same as any other, brown saltwater filled fields, headless bent coconut trees, total absence of human dwellings and rows upon rows of expectant people lines up on the Hansua’s banks....But as we landed and begun our work, we felt a difference, subtle at first, then as the day worn on, more marked. Though this village had been affected as badly as any other by the cyclone, the people, for some unexplained reason had not lost their initiative. This was manifest at every step of the way; how they had organised themselves into neat shelters which they had erected on their own, the orderly lines of people queuing up for relief supplies, the efforts to secure clean drinking water by utilising our chlorination kits, absence of unclaimed dead bodies which I presumed they had disposed of properly all on their own, the orderliness and the organised community effort in the midst of all that chaos, loss and scarcity...and to surpass it all, an aura of positivity which I could not for the life of me understand how they managed to wear in the face of so much destruction and loss.
And that late afternoon, as we sailed back from Dohibor, I saw on the Hansua, hundreds of pale yellow butterflies hovering over the water. I do not know what these creatures of colour and sunshine were doing over that reeking creek of death but they became a symbol of sorts for me, a symbol of the faith in humanity that the villagers of the tiny hamlet of Dohibor had rekindled in me.

Monday, 3 August 2015

A Short Tale about a Tall One....

That day there were two of us at the Clinic: a young colleague and myself, a rare occurrence but definitely welcome. Two means that not only is the OPD over quicker, but that we can take a breather now and then and indulge in a little light-hearted chatter; unlike those ‘single’ days when patients come and go in such a breathless, endless rush that there is no time to look beyond the next patient and his physical woes. Of course, even on that day, the long line of patients had not really diminished even with our double presence and so they continued to stream in, men, women and children seeking succour for myriad real and perceived ill health issues. As patients, men I have noticed, tend to be rather brief and to the point, the description of their ill health limited to two or three precise sentences and even on prodding do not elaborate much. The women on the other hand need only a little encouragement to launch into a long litany of complaints, the milder the complaint, the more detailed the description! As majority of the clientele in that little clinic are women, our time was spent more in giving a patient hearing to our patients rather than in any major medical diagnostic efforts.
As she entered the consultation room, it was me who spotted her first, as the entrance was in the direct line of my vision. The first thing that struck me was her height for she was really, really tall by Indian standards, towering at probably 5’ 10” or so. Lithely built with the sinuous grace of an athlete, she looked a little incongruous with the dupatta draped demurely around her head and the two children in tow, one a baby in her arms and the other a toddler fiercely clutching her free hand. She looked to be either from rural Haryana or Rajasthan, her accented Hindi coloured by the native roughness of the Jat tongue. As she was settling down on the patient stool opposite the Younger One, I couldn’t help but remark aloud about how tall the she was. For a few brief seconds, both Younger One and me marvelled at her height and her physique and then as my attention was claimed by the patient sitting before me, I momentarily forgot all about her. But my attention was reclaimed by the woman when my current patient departed and I was free for a brief moment. The woman was talking animatedly to the Younger One about how the baby, though eight months old, was still exclusively breast feeding. Exclusive breastfeeding beyond six months is a paediatric blasphemy and when admonished, she good naturedly replied that she was not aware of this and now that Doctor Madam had told her about it, she would definitely start weaning the baby. I had no other patient at the moment and so as she and her Doctor Madam continued their consultation, I spent my time observing the lady.
You may have noticed this in your life too: sometimes there are certain people whom even at first meeting you instinctively like, without any apparent reason. This woman was proving to be one such person. She was young, probably in her twenties, with a fresh, happy face. ‘Get rid of that asphyxiating dupatta from around her head,’ I thought, ‘and put her in a pair of denims and a T shirt and she would be no different from any college going youngster......’  As I watched her interact with the Younger One, marvelling once more at her height and physique, I suddenly had this vision of her in a military uniform, belted, booted and capped, striding boldly forward on parade..... So I asked her if she had been an athlete ‘shaadi ke pehle’. She smiled a tiny smile and echoed me ‘Shaadi ke pehle.....’ Then, perhaps emboldened by our interest she explained, ‘Gaon mein to ladkiyon ko zyada padne nahin dete... nahin to Madam, main bhi pad likhkar aapke jaise ban jaati...Meri to 17 saal mein shaadi ho gayi....’ Remembering my vision of her in a military uniform, I asked her whether she had seen those women BSF soldiers who march at the Wagah-Attari border in Amritsar. She would be perfect for that job, I told her, with her height and her physique.... Encouraged by both our attention and interest, she opened up a little, “ Main to abhie bhi jaa sakti hoon, Madam, mera umr to bas 24 saal hai” Hearing this, my first reaction was – what about the children, who would look after them then?  She laughed in reply, ‘Dada Dadi dekh lenge dono poton ko....” We laughed back and she left. But before leaving, she turned back once to ask us, ‘Aap log mujhe dekhkar itna hans kyun raheen hai?’ She was correct to an extent, I had been smiling but of course not at her. So I clarified, “Aap hamein bohut achhi lageen, isiliye!” Reassured, she smiled and left.
You may be wondering why she has become a subject of this blog. Like I said before, there are some people, who for some unknown reason tug at your heart strings... Most of the time you are at a loss to explain why. But sometimes, like in this case, if you think deeply enough, you are able to pin point the reason why. After she had left, I thought for long about this girl, about why she appealed to me and I realised that the answer was simple actually...You see, throughout our interactions with her the one thing that shone through was her perpetual good spirits....Never once did she rue her fate, or curse it. Hope rang true in her voice as she talked about the opportunities still available before her... She was happy with what life had given her till now and she was confident that what she wanted in terms of personal fulfilment as a career woman, she could achieve in the future. She was at peace with her present life and full of hope for her future....She had in short, achieved what many of us in ostensibly better life situations are still struggling to achieve, that perfect harmony between satisfaction with our present life and our innermost aspirations. And perhaps it was this peace that was sensed by my subconscious, attracting me to her.

And so I can see her now, clearly in my mind’s eye, impeccably uniformed, marching with strong, measured steps at the gates of Wagah while her sons cheer proudly from the visitors’ stands....... 

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Butter Chicken!

Though it stands there, right in the centre of the busy shopping complex, one is liable to miss it. And that is because its very nondescript shopfront consists of only a few ordinary karahis, tawas , angithis and a tandoor so blackened by soot and grime that the shop is like a blind spot in your vision field, ensuring that you invariably miss it. But the true Gourmet Gurus of this city, like Rowling’s Wizards gone shopping at Diagon Alley, never miss the place. In the beginning we too, a la uninitiated Muggles, had never given the place even  a cursory once-over but since initiated into the inner circle of city gourmands, have now made this joint our regular weekend dinner destination.
The place is called ‘Papa di Hatti’ which (correct me if I am wrong) means ‘Papa’s Shop’. There is a slight doubt as to who ‘Papa’ really is, though in all probability it must be the middle-aged man who mans the master tawa, expertly wielding the massive karchi; to spin, whip, slide , turn  and blend the ‘freshly emerged from tandoor’ still bland chicken tikkas with the magic masala mix to conjure up a heavenly dish which sadly has been given the very mortal name of  “Tawa Chicken”! He also doubles up as the Maître de Hotel, solicitously inviting you (in case he finds you waiting in line) with a  ‘Sir, backside mein baith jayiye (Sir, come sit at the rear), jagah hai (There is space)”. Now the ‘backside’ of Papa’s shop is really not somewhere you would like to spend your Saturday dinner date, but since Other Half has no such qualms when Papa’s Tawa Chicken is beckoning, I have to follow perforce , squeezing gingerly into the narrow passageway between the red hot angithi and the brown oily wall, to the little porch on the ‘backside’. Here there are two or three ex-white plastic tables decorated with a few unstable ex-white plastic chairs and no fan or cooler or air conditioning. A drain packed to the brim with stuff drains usually are full of flows right next to the tables and in the distance stray dogs battle over bits of chicken discarded by the dish washing employees of Papa. The smell is very ‘drainy’, and in summer this smell combined with the stultifying heat and humidity renders you frozen in shock. But that is only the first time you visit. Once the food has been tasted, every other thing recedes into the very back of your consciousness, at least for the period you are gorging on Papa’s food.
The waiter who also trebles as the dishwasher and the occasional karchi wielder, rushes past you with a garbled, 'Kya khana hai’ as he carries a steaming ‘Tawa Chicken” to the next table. Its fragrance is wafting all around us and Other Half rendered hoarse with anticipation, is taking great deep gulps of drool. He manages to ask me, ‘Kya khana hai…’ in between his gulps but we both know that the question is rhetorical. The waiter breezes by our side and Other Half yells, ‘Ek butter chicken and do tandoori roti……’ The man picks up the echo of his words and dances out, singing ‘Ek butter chicken aur do tandoori rottttteeee…….’
As we wait for the order to materialize, the heat rises in direct proportion to our anticipation. We marvel at the resilience of the cooks standing so close to the red hot grill and the white hot tandoor preparing our chicken and our roti.....We watch them in wonder as they work, nonchalant to the heat, sweat dripping down their faces and their backs, leaving dark stains on their banians and tingles of heat down our spine that make us shiver in sympathy………..
The waiter waltzes in once more, crooning, ‘Butter Chicken aur Tandoori Roti’ as he sets the bowls down ceremoniously over the rickety table. The fragrance is overpowering and the frequency of gulps taken by Other Half has trebled. But graciously, he ladles out generous portions of the chicken and gravy onto my plate first before his own and suddenly I get a little maudlin…..After nearly nineteen years of togetherness, love manifests in such commonplace ways… …..!
The butter chicken is a mass of molten gold topped by a generous dollop of snow-white malai….The aroma is heady a mix of pure desi ghee and all that is best of our oriental spices and we can’t wait to dig in. But before I have even dunked my first piece of roti into the gravy, Other Half already has his mouth full of gravy and chicken and is chomping busily, a look of artless happiness on his face. I smile and take my first bite. The gravy is a work of art, a masterpiece that can put the best of Michelin starred restaurant fares to shame. It is silky and spreads like good chocolate over my tongue, firing my taste buds out of their slumber. I take a bite of the chicken and it is cooked perfectly, a zillion times superior to the KFC junk that we tend to rave about. The spices and flavours have inundated the very heart of the chicken and each bite is packed with flavor. It is soft, succulent and in one simple word, delicious. The spices, the butter, the cream and God knows what other wonderful ingredients all combine beautifully into a rich tapestry of flavours and as I eat, I compose the next post for my blog in my mind, fishing for one superior adjective after another from the inspiration inundating my taste buds.
Soon we are both done and leave the table. I glance back for one last look at the table and find to my amusement the battered steel katora and plates shining clean with not a drop of gravy remaining. I laugh to myself when I realise that One Half has actually chomped to pulp even the stray chicken bone and so there are none on his plate!

As Other Half shells out the cash (which I must say is very, very reasonable), ‘Papa’ asks us, “Theek tha?” But he knows as we do, that this question is redundant, because the answer is writ large on both our faces. We simply nod our heads pleasantly in answer and turn back, my hand snugly in Other Half’s, a sense of utter Nirvana adorning both our faces as we walk back to the car!

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Another Translation.....

This one's another translation of a Tagore verse, a song very popular with my family during childhood. The version I'm familiar with was sung by the Late Debabrata Biswas. George Da, as he was affectionately known to all, was somewhat of a rebel Rabindra Sangeet exponent, a singer perpetually at war with the stuffy Rabindra Sangeet purists of his time. He had a deep bass voice and has sung this piece with a raw, naked emotion that brings out beautifully its intense pathos, longing and loneliness.

The song's called...., well never mind what it's called. It's classified as a nature-centric poem of the Monsoons; but then, who cares about boring classifications....I, like Debabrata Biswas, choose to make my own interpretations...

This piece speaks to me of interminable waitings, waitings that are rewarded occasionally by a meeting; but these meetings are so brief, so fleeting that all they do is to leave a taste of incompleteness and a deep desire for something more...

But you read on, interpret the piece at your will and enjoy the beauty of the Poet's thoughts and words...

You had come:with footsteps that threw fleeting shadows on the yonder path....
You had come:
but this coming-so ephemeral,
whispered to me-
That you....had never come at all!

(This indifference: was it only a facade?)
Your hasty footsteps though,
left imprints of hurt
Upon the grass!
You had come-
This coming,as if you had never come at all-
left the leaves dripping tears.....
And the grasslands sodden with pain....

Then, you went away,
Borne on the rain-soaked breeze.
Left behind now,
only the sun and shadows play,
Hide and seek
In the forest glade...

এসেছিলে তবু আস নাই, জানায় গেলে...... in case you're still wondering which song this is...)

Here's the YouTube

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Birds from My Balcony

The Elusive Koel

          I’ve always lived in ground floor houses and may be that is why I have always nurtured this fascination for houses on upper storeys. While we had lived in the same ground floor house for the first twenty years of my life, given the Other Half’s passion for gardening, I’ve again, in my later life  lived in ground floor houses, most of them with large gardens. So this time when I shifted into a first floor house for a change, I was happy. And the icing on my cake of happiness was the balcony. It’s a medium sized affair and being accessible from both the bedrooms, offers a great view of the outside from within the rooms themselves.  A large part of the balcony’s charms are the four trees growing just beyond it. Two are neem trees, the third a wild tamarind and the fourth a straggler yet unidentified. Spring in this city had been especially generous this year and probably because of this, the trees are lush with leaves, forming a cool green canopy around my balcony. It’s a real pleasure to sit there in the mornings, in the cool of the early dawn, sip my favourite Darjeeling tea [steeped, not brewed ;-)] and watch the birds beginning their day. This post is actually about these birds and not about the balcony.  The balcony bit was just a prologue.

The birds

          I never knew this dry as dust city was home to so many birds. A jungle of unattractive concrete buildings, potholed roads, rotting garbage dumps, maniacal traffic, a dying river and singular lack of greenery, this city bore me no appeal whatsoever; till one day standing on my balcony I saw the birds! Attracted by the greenery of my neighbourhood, which probably is the last surviving green in this city, they have made this place their sanctuary. And my four trees are avian prime estates, offering premium green shade, good quality sturdy branches and excellent nesting options in the form of large tree holes (these have PLCs attached to them, by the way!). The neem trees are for some reason the most preferred and at present families of various species of birds have made it their home and nursery. Standing on the balcony, almost at eye level with these nests, I am a silent but highly interested spectator of their daily routine.

Brown-headed Barbet.         This gentleman was hitherto unfamiliar to me and so at first glance, I mistook him for a kingfisher. But on closer scrutiny I realised he is quite distinct from a kingfisher. Firstly, his beak, in comparison to that of the kingfisher’s, is huge, like Gerard Depardieu’s nose in ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’. Then, his eyes, which , unlike the kingfisher’s, are great dark orbs ringed with brown that occupy a large portion of his head and for some reason remind me of a goggling Salman Khan in Maine Pyar Kiya. However handsome you may say Salman Khan is, folks, I think he goggles too much. The barbet’s call too is very distinctive, a guttural but musical twrooot trwooot twroooot which he belts out with unfailing regularity in the peak heat of the afternoons, jolting me from my post lunch snooze. Finally, it’s the barbet’s colour which is a lovely fluorescent green unlike the electric blue of the kingfishers. ( Are there green kingfishers? I have yet to see a one, though I have seen plenty of blue ones). In sharp contrast, his head is a rather mousy brown (that is why the name ‘brown headed barbet’) and here I feel a bright yellow or a bright red would have been much more suited. But I guess nature had exhausted her store of colours by the time she created the barbet’s head and so he has to, perforce, be satisfied with the brown. And I know exactly who hijacked his share of red and yellow’s those cackling parrots that inhabit the tamarind tree and spend their time swooping around showing off their yellow and red heads ......!Anyway, our brown headed barbet is at present unconcerned about superficialities like feather colours as he is in a steady relationship. His partner is just like him, only slimmer and together they have occupied a hole in one of the neem trees and are nesting there. They spend the entire day flitting around in flashes of green, carrying insects in their beaks to feed the barbet brood. I haven’t yet had a glimpse of the young ones as the tree hole is on my leeward side, but judging from the intensely busy parents, I guess there must be a sizeable number of them.

The Mynahs.   A pair of Common Indian Mynahs (‘shaliks’ in Bong) have rented the tree hole just above the barbets and the two neighbours spend the entire daytime squabbling, name calling and intimidation, in keeping with the best traditions of ‘mere pyare padosi’. I did a bit of reading on these birds and found to my amusement, that of the number of Sanskrit names given to them, one is ‘Kalahapriya’ or 'the one who loves a ruckus'. So very apt. But however ‘kalahapriya’ they may be , you cannot deny that they have such beautiful eyes.....jet black rimmed with a kajal of bright ochre yellow and tapering elegantly to a point: ‘Meenakshi’ or the fish eyed one....! But they have none of a Meenakshi’s grace or sophistication; rather they are the local goons and my Barbet has his work cut out for him, defending his flat from their unauthorised encroachment attempts.

          Last Sunday, I was having tea and day dreaming on my balcony, when I happened to look down upon the road below my flat. I found a mynah fledgling sitting on the ground and none of the raucous parents in sight. At first I thought that maybe the kid was being taught to fly. But then when I saw that the little one was sitting a little too patiently as if waiting for something to happen, I realised something was amiss. So I went down and picked the baby up. I realised that since it was too young to fly (its eyes were still closed), it must have fallen off the nest. Now, not being the physical activity inclined and having never ever climbed a single tree in my life, I was at a loss as to how to replace the lost kid back into its nest. I consulted Other Half and for once he too was flummoxed. Then I had an idea. I summoned a nearby parked truck and requested the driver if he could climb up on its roof and place the mynah back into its nest. Thankfully and to my pleasant surprise, the rough talking, heavily moustachioed, ‘member of the local akhara’ kind of driver agreed immediately (rather uncharacteristically, I thought). Nestling the little bird with surprising tenderness in his huge beefy hands, he swiftly climbed up the truck’s roof. Then because the nest was still higher up, he actually clambered up the tree and placed the baby back gently in its nest; helped in his endeavour in no mean measure by Other Half. And during this entire operation, the mynah parents did not do much, except issuing one or two half hearted screeches when my 6 month old too curious Labrador tried to sniff at their baby. I really wouldn’t give these birds many marks for their parenting skills. The barbets I think are better parents; but then who am I to judge...

The Owls

          When I sit in my balcony, at the exact level of my eyes is a tree hole where an owl couple have taken up abode. I am yet to determine the exact species to which these owls belong but I can tell you that they are only slightly smaller than a crow, white with plenty of grey-black markings, are both nocturnal and ‘dayturnal’(diurnal) and look quite intelligent. Now I say that because unlike the barbets whose goggle eyed gaze makes you suspect their intellect, the owl’s goggle (if you can call it that) for some unfathomable reason, gives an impression of great wisdom. And this is further enhanced by the slow motion horizontal bobbing of their heads which they resort to now and then. It actually reminds me of my super brainy friends from the South whose horizontal head bobbing famously indicated comprehension.

          The owls have at present abandoned the tree hole as the kids are all grown up, but they still inhabit my trees. I see them often, sometimes the parents and at other times the kids, sitting quietly atop a neem branch and gazing at me in benign fondness. And at night I can hear them babbling away happily in owl-tongue on the branch just above my pillow. In the dark of the night especially when there is a powercut and all else is shadowy, silent and sinister, it is reassuring to hear them chatter unconcerned, just next to you.

Others of the Menagerie

          A number of hornbills also live in the neighbourhood, though not on my trees. They prefer the eucalyptus tree, of which there are plenty in the area, each one taller than the other. The hornbill’s dusky grey colour melts into the grey of the eucalyptus bark, creating the perfect camouflage; probably that is why they prefer these trees. I think a pair of them have nested on a nearby eucalyptus , but the tree being a trifle far away, I can’t be very sure. Unlike the chatty mynahs or noisy parrots, these birds, like village elders, are silent, composed and exclusive. They  however, share one thing in common with the barbets: their mammoth beaks. I sometimes think that these beaks must occupy a place of pride in the avian community, like the moustaches of Rajputs at the Pushkar Mela.

          Then there are the tiny sunbirds, colourful, iridescent pixies that flit from branch to branch like butterflies. They are so swift and so restive that I have still not been able to capture them on film. Though they are not hummingbirds, I have seen them hover confidently over flowers, just like hummingbirds. My curiosity roused, I read up about them and thus came to know that though the sunbirds and hummingbirds originate from independent ancestors, they show what is known as ‘convergent evolution’, that is they have a large number of similar features viz. their small size, long thin curved beak, bright colours, nectar drinking habit and of course the ability to hover.....

          Another pixie like flitter is the Indian Magpie-Robin, or the Doyel. I don’t know what it is called in Hindi but it is ubiquitous in India and I personally have spotted these birds all over the country. The Doyel wears a little black dress but with a difference. Its LBD has splashes of white on the front and on the tail , a bold style statement.  And it can sing too, a melodious call that can give the Koel a run for its money.

          As for the Koel, I have yet to see a bird more shy and introverted than them. They keep up their incessant song from dawn to dusk, filling the skies with plaintive longing; but try as you might, you will never be able to spot them at their perch. Its like they are completely invisible. Only once, did I actually manage to spot one of them, perched high above my balcony, on the tamarind tree; a shapeless black mass silhouetted against a darkening sky. Rarely, you can spot them as they rush by in a clumsy flap of wings, as if they are ashamed of their ungainly looks and are in a hurry to disappear from your sight.

          And before I end, I must tell you about my friend, the Heron. Spotting a heron in my neighbourhood is like spotting a dolphin in the desert because the place where I live has no lake, no river, no pond, no water body, not even an ornamental fountain.....! Indian Pond Herons usually live near and forage in ponds or inundated paddy fields (these too are absent in my neighbourhood) and so spotting one here was quite a surprise. On closer scrutiny, I realised that a small concrete drain carrying storm water runs through this area and my friend was actually fishing here. The mystery of his presence solved, we now took to admiring each other. The heron is of the size of a hen, brown with dull white and black streaks. It looks as if it has got a pronounced crick in its neck as it rarely ever extends the neck to its full length and in the process ends up looking like a hunchback! Most of the time, I have seen it treading with careful, measured steps on the grassy bank of the storm drain and eyeing me with interest as I walk back home in the afternoons. If startled, say by a stray dog or a whizzing car, it takes off in a graceful swoop, its wings now stretched out in their full white beauty. Of late my friend is missing, may be because the drain has dried out in the summer heat. But I hope he?/she? will be back once the monsoons arrive to fill the drain with rainwater and we could then take to admiring each other once again.             


Brown Headed Barbet

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Love and Longing Tagore Style

The Tagore buzz is still on and so here is another paraphrase. Did I just hear my regular readers (are there are any?) wail, ‘What, another one?’ To confess, Tagore, has really got under my skin and I can’t help but talk about his works. So begging pardon for this obsession, here is ‘another’ one…..

        This latest discovery belongs to the category of ‘Love and Longing’ and like many of Tagore’s love songs, is both a love song and a hymn. Many of Tagore’s verses, while overtly appearing as love songs can also, in the finest of ‘Bhakti’ traditions wherein the beloved is only another manifestation of the Supreme Being, be interpreted by the discerning listener as hymns to the Almighty.  

              So this one is about unrequited love, about the silent admirer who adores from a distance. Diligently retrieving bits and pieces of the words, glances and touches carelessly thrown away by the adored one, this lover weaves himself a wild and wonderful tapestry of dreams. And so he lives his love in his dreams, never mind that the Adored One is not even aware that he exists, let alone know of his love for her. And though he experiences his love vicariously and finally even rues that what he has are only the pieces and not the whole, I still find it kind of sweet and even poignant. In this day of loud, blatant, in-your-face expression of romance, the idea of a silent admirer living in the dream world he has woven around his Adoration, is not without appeal.

              And for the devotee, the song is a wistful expression of his devotion to the Almighty, of how because She never manifests in person, one can only worship from afar, finding Her in the bits and pieces of Her creations.

Ektuku Choyan Laage….

একটুকু ছোওয়া লাগে

একটুকু ছোঁওয়া লাগে, একটুকু কথা শুনি-
তাই দিয়ে মনে মনে রচি মম ফাল্গুনী ।

কিছু পলাশের নেশা, কিছু না চাঁপায় মেশা,
তাই দিয়ে সুরে সুরে রংগে রসে জাল বুনি ।

যেটুকু কাছেতে আসে ক্ষণিকের ফাঁকে ফাঁকে
চকিত মনের কোণে স্বপনের ছবি আঁকে ।

যেটুকু যায় যে দূরে ভাবনা কাঁপায় সুরে,
তাই নিয়ে যায় বেলা নূপুরের তাল গুনি ।।                                                      

The lightest brush of your touch,

The faintest murmur of your voice,
I compose for me,
My very own 

Spring Symphony!

A tinge of the red of the Palash

A whiff of the fragrance of the Champa
I weave for me,
My very own 

Rhythm Tapestry!

Whatever little of You,
That slips through
Moment's seams
In my mind’s darkest corners
Draws vivid dreams.

All that of You,
Which, leaving me to rue,
Draws far away:
With the tinkle of anklet bells
Whiles to close,

My day.........

Friday, 13 February 2015

Lest You Forget: Another Tagore Translation


Rain and snow have descended with vengeance on this little settlement nestled against the mountains. The afternoon is cold and dim, the mountain tops sprinkled with snow and curtained in clouds, the birds have hidden themselves as have the humans, down in the valley not a single light is lit, only the rain and wind roam wild and the mist swirls all around in gray swathes. I stand shivering on the porch, the hood of my fleece jacket pulled tight against my ears and look around. In that queer half light of an afternoon sun that has hidden itself from the rain and wind, it seems as if my little basti is floating in space on the back of the rain clouds, hemmed on one side by the grim, gray mountains, all alone, lost, forgotten by the real world......
It's all rather forlorn, so I retreat inside to the warmth of my little room, switch on the room heater and my iPad, burying myself deep inside the quilt as Hemanta's soulful voice fills the room with the Poet's terribly sad তবু মনে রেখো (Tobu Mone Rekho, Still, Remember Me).

This one's another of Tagore's jewels, a song for remembrance. It talks of how we continue to live even after death in the thoughts of those who loved us in life.
The verse contains a plaintive plea from the poet to his love, a plea that she continue to remember him even when she has finally reconciled to his loss and has stopped grieving for him. But the song is not just a love-song, for it echoes a want common to all of humanity, the desire to live forever, the desire to be immortal, to live on in the memories of those who come after us.

Of course my version doesn’t compare in any measure to the original, but nevertheless, do read on.

I have also posted a link to a You Tube video of the song in Bengali. Let me know if you like it.

The Original Verse in Bong

Tobu mone rekho
Tobu mone rekho
Jodi dure jai chole
Tobu mone rekho
Jodi puratono prem
Dhaka pore jai nobo-premo-jal
Jodi thaki kacchakacchi,
Dekhite na pao chhayar moton
Aachhi na aachhi -
Tobu mone rekho.
Jodi jol aashe aankhipaate
Ekdin jodi khela theme jaye modhurate,
Tobu mone rekho
Ek din jodi badha pore kaje,
Sharodopraate -
Mone rekho
Jodi poriya mone
Chholochholo jol nai dekha deye noyonokone -
Tobu mone rekho.......

My Translation

Still remember me-
when I have gone
far, far away...
Remember me!

Still remember me-
when new passions
have overgrown old loves....
Remember me!

that time, when I elude your eyes,
and you wonder
whether I linger yet
there, just beyond the shadow’s edge.....
Remember me
O, still remember me.......

When tears overcast your eyes,
on that mellow night
when my play is done-
Remember me;
Just remember me...

When my work comes to an abrupt end
one balmy autumn morn-
Remember me
O, remember me.....

on that day
when thoughts of me
no more wet
your eyes with tears-
Remember me......
Remember me......

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Thoughts on Tagore

The British have an expression: ‘Bee in one’s bonnet’. The Cambridge dictionary says that this phrase means to keep talking about something again and again because you think it is important. Well, at present I have one (a bee, that is) buzzing around in my bonnet. The bee is of Tagore’s poetry. A trifle unusual bee I know, but since it is buzzing fast and strong and is rather compelling; I asked myself: why not share some of this buzz on ‘Blog Land’?

              Why Tagore? Good question. Well, it just so happened that I was surfing TV channels one bored evening and happened to hear the rendition of a Tagore song on DD Bangla. Struck by the melody and of course by the beautiful lyrics, I did a bit of reading around on his life and his poetry. And since then I have been, in one word, hooked.

              Tagore’s poetry has got this unique characteristic: it is insightful and yet does not use difficult words or complicated imagery to achieve this insight. So while reading his poems or listening to them as music, because of their deceptive simplicity, one may at the first go, actually miss the deeper import of his words. Because the language is so very simple, at times even colloquial, one easily understands the meaning of the individual words but strung together as they are in the verse, their exact connotation may not immediately be clear. Majority of Tagore’s poems have been set to music by the poet himself and are known to all as Rabindra Sangeet. He was a multifaceted personality, a talented music composer himself and the music of Rabindra Sangeet is as a result hauntingly beautiful. So even though one may not yet have grasped the connotation of his words, one can keep listening, enjoying the music, the external beauty of the words, their roll and rhythm.... Then one day it might just happen that while listening, the import of the verse hits you suddenly, like epiphany..; and for a moment, you find yourself totally stunned by this realisation, by the irrefutable Truth in his words...! 

              Tagore writes about many things, of love and longing, of devotion and the Creator, of life and its meaning, of death and dying.....; matters we do not usually bother about in the humdrum of our daily life. But with his simple allegories related to everyday life like the lonely boatman, the ebb and flow of the river, the daily bazaar, the village girl worshipping at the tiny roadside shrine or waiting for her love on a darkening night, he compels us to stop and to think, even if just for a blink. His words can actually be considered a religion, with the ability to shape your thought processes and mould your belief systems; but like Sufism, always looking within one’s self, very gentle, very secular, soaked in altruism and devoid of bigotry.

              While the verses of ‘Gitanjali’ were translated into English by the Poet himself, most of his remaining major works in Bengali are without any official English translation. As a result the audience for his works is limited. I feel that this is a sad situation, because in today’s environment of consumerism, growing interpersonal distances, intolerance, bigotry and other such 21st century maladies, Tagore’s words have deep relevance. The world would definitely benefit from a wider interest in his works and consequently, of the ethos therein.

              In fact, there is this song called ‘Shudhu Jaoa Aasha’, or ‘This Coming and Going’ which is a commentary on the relentless and futile pursuit of physical goals by human kind. He talks about how we spend our entire lifetime immersed in back-breaking toil, setting impossible, often pointless objectives and trying to achieve them, while missing out on something that is much, much more important, that is the soul to soul connections between human beings. In this short life, a mere blip in the Universe’s timeline, we are so bogged down by other goals, that we have absolutely no time to work on reaching out to our friends, acquaintances, soul-mates..... and so these associations remain unfinished, incomplete........

Shudu jaoa asha, shudhu shrote bhasa
Shudu alo andhare , kaanda hasha.
Shudhu dyakha paoa, Shudhu chue jaoa
Shudhu dure jete jete kende chaoa
Shudhu nobo durashaye age chole jae
Piche phele jae, miche asha.......Oshesh basona loye banga bol
Pranpon kaje pae bhanga phol.
Bhanga tori dhore bhase parabare
Bhab kende more, bhanga bhasha.
Hridoye, hridoye adho porichoy
Adhkhani kotha sango nahi hoye;
Laje bhoe trashe, adho bishshase
Shudu adhkhani bhalobasa!

Just this coming and this going,
Down the stream, this endless floating,
With tears while in shadows , with smiles while in light
Just this coming and this going.......

Just this a-moment’s meeting,
These half-touches, oh so fleeting.......
Then the pain of tears, at this parting...
Just this coming and this going.......

Just this forward surging,
So fruitless, borne on newer misgivings;
All these broken hopes, in the dust, on departing.....
Just this coming and this going....

With fading strength, yet relentlessly toiling,
With great desires in the heart, still bearing....
Reach failures; only failures lie ahead, a’looming.
Just this coming and this going....

To a broken boat, desperately clinging
Bereft of words, emotions weeping,
Just this coming and this going....

At the meeting of souls,
Words begun do not find completion;
Under fear, reticence, disbelief and trepidation,
Love happens
But comes not to fruition.

              I’ve attempted a paraphrase, although I am fully aware that it is absolutely nowhere near the original. But for those of you who are not familiar with Bengali, I hope it will convey at least an essence of what the poet has said. May be it would even help engage your interest in the Poet’s works and may be you would be encouraged to read the English version of the Gitanjali and perhaps even venture to listen to some Rabindra Sangeet......

Alu and the Crown God

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