Thursday, 23 November 2017

A Walk and Two Songs

Does everything I write have to have a purpose?

A goal?  

All with an attached file of aspirations to change the world?

Does it have to always follow the tight weave of form: an introduction, a main body, a conclusion?

Does it have to each time, rise on its gradient of emotion or suspense or whatever and dutifully crescendo to a climax?

Why can it not simply wander, with no purpose, no direction, no destination......... wander like I do on these hill roads, vagrant as the tattered clouds that float above me?

“I decorate with futile fancies
My idle moments
And see them float away in the air;
Like derelict clouds
With their cargo of colours
Drifting from here to no destination!” wrote Tagore and today I’ll let my writing float like his derelict clouds, writing simply for the pleasure of writing, for the delight that beautiful words afford me, my words drifting from here to no destination.......................

The sun has set long back, for here on these Western hills, night falls fast. It’s not yet seven but it is already thickly dark. It is cold too and I plunge my left hand into my jacket pocket while my right hand holding the cell phone is left to fend for itself. It does poorly, soon getting chilled like sausages in the freezer. But I will not put it in the pocket for YouTube is playing on the cell and YouTube has this exasperating glitch that once the cellphone goes to sleep inside the pocket, the App too joins in. Srikanto is singing Tagore now and under no condition can I allow the phone to take a snooze at this moment. So I sacrifice my right hand to the freeze and continue down the slope. No one is about at this hour on the smooth hill road that winds down towards the highway. Yet the streetlights shine bright and confident, unfazed that there is none to appreciate their worth in this dark night. Some street lights are white fluorescents, extroverts, burning like snow set ablaze; while others are gentle orange lights that mellow everything in their range, blunting sharp edges and blurring imperfections. As I near the little hospital, the sound of spring water flowing down the storm drains lining both sides of the road emerges from beneath Srikanto’s soulful voice. I can’t quite effectively describe the sound of this flowing stream. The closest I can liken it to, is a fusion of tinkles, bubbles and chuckles with base notes of soft gurgles. The moon peeks out from behind branches of the tall trees on my right. It is a slim crescent moon today, with not much light of its own to boast about but still quite chic in shape and attitude. I near the bend on the road where it dips sinuously down past the roundabout, its fountain now fast asleep. Here I pass by the great white post with the Flag furled at its very top. In the placid night breeze, it ripples gracefully, catching the glow from the street lights. I stand below and watch for a moment the play of colours: satiny green, warm orange, bright white; and think: it does me good to look at the Flag once in a while for it reminds me to ponder beyond the usual ‘me!!’, ‘me!!’, ‘me!!’ to other things that are also worth my while such as thoughts about giving back something to this Land I call my home. I walk on and now the road is in darkness for here the streetlights have fallen asleep.
But slivers of truant light escape from windows and skylights and lie down along my path. I now half run, half walk for the slope is sharp and gravity pulls me forward with eager fingers. As I rush, I look up: with no street lights to blur the night sky, the stars are diamond nose-pins and the moon a slender tiara. The trees rise up like sharp streaks of darkness against the night sky, a night bird calls and the pale silver of the moon falls softly over the roofs, the road and me. I feel suddenly rested, at peace as the clamourings of ‘who said what’ and the ‘what I could not be’ recede far away........

Srikanto is now singing,
“Tomar chander aloye
Milaye aamar dukkho-shukher
Sokol oboshaan”
(...The luminescence of your moon dissolves my sorrows and joys....)

I smile to myself. That old man with the white beard and unshorn hair had not only been a wizard with his words, capturing the splendour of the world with his beautiful verses but he had also been a keen reader of human emotions, as good as any modern day psychiatrist or psychologist.

The screen of my cell phone blips 2100 hours. It’s time to turn back. But the same easygoing road that had rolled me down earlier now looks forbiddingly difficult, stretching far away, towards the hilltop, up, up, up......To tackle this slope, gentle Srikanto will not do. I would need something stronger. I scroll YouTube: Dhinchak Puja-Never,  Laura Brannigan_- umm, The Scorpions- missing the romance,  Elvis: Too mushy........

Then I chance upon it: Michael Buble with Sway....


I fix the earphones snugly inside my ear canals, tuck carefully my right hand into the jacket pocket,  handset in palm such that it doesn’t fall asleep suddenly,  pull the fleece cap around my ears and begin my march up the hill slope. At first it’s comfortable but as the incline increases, my speed drops, my muscles protest- in the beginning, quietly but as I gain height, their remonstrations grow in frequency and in amplitude. So, throwing away all cautions of responsible headphone use to the cold mountain winds, I turn up the volume of my cellphone such that it reaches an ear-splitting amplitude.  The music now beats against my ear drums, within my blood, alongside my bones and inside the chambers of my thudding heart fuelling me both with will and with strength to challenge that killing gradient.
I pant up that cliff of a road and reach a point where for a short respite of a few meters, it is flat.  Here, a cherry tree stands by the edge, smothered in blossoms. A fluorescent white streetlight standing next to it bathes the tree in a magical pink-white light. I walk to the spot right below the branches of the tree and look up. The cherry flowers are tiny, clustered on the individual branches like confetti or candyfloss. There is a faint woody perfume floating around, ostensibly from the blossoms but I am not really sure. Beyond this circle of the tree lit by the streetlight, the world is blindingly dark. It is like I am on stage, with the spotlights turned only on me. In my ear Michel Buble croons, his deep baritone seductive, intoxicating, entreating............

“...when the marimba rhythms start to play
Dance with me
Make me sway.....”

I close my eyes in spite of myself. There’s no one around, so I can risk it. The music throbs around me, within me:

“I can hear the sound of violins
Long before it begins....
Make me thrill as only you know how,
Sway me smooth, sway me now.......”

What if I raised my hands and twirled in this beautiful bower under the cherry flowers, on this pink white stage, whirled on my own to that wine-song that was streaming in my ears? The temptation for a split moment is great, very compelling but then my sane self intervenes. “Bohut ho gaya, ghar chal, ladki!” it says. The risk of being bundled up and packed off to the hospital as a psychiatric patient is too great and so I have to desist. I descend my flower stage and continue onward. But Michael Buble still croons in my ear, his voice covering me like the haze of red wine, 

“Like a flower bending in the breeze
Bend with me, sway with ease...
When we dance you have a way with me
Sway with me...”

The sharp bark of a dog rushes in through the chinks of this haze. Mimie! She knows I am near. I whistle, two short sharp twoots, one long one and then two sharp ones again, my signature call. She is standing on the top of the stairs, tail furiously wagging, barking in welcome. She is wearing her favourite yellow wool scarf. It makes her look like a cute grandmother, all covered up against winter. When I reach the foot of the stairs, she jumps down, prancing against me, her white otter tail waving madly. I laugh, pluck out the headphones, tickle her ears and together we run up the stairs, into home.

I discovered ‘Sway’, originally a Mexican song (a bolero-mambo which is a Latin genre of dance and music) only a few months back and since then have been hooked to this piece. The song’s music is superb and something I can only describe as intoxicating. You can take a look if you want. Just follow this YouTube link.

Friday, 17 November 2017

I do not like to die.

It was my father that died. Facedown,
in the broken nullah where they bathe the buffalos.
Yellow vomit streaked the black sludge.
It had clogged his alcohol breath;
Filled my seasoned nose
one last time.

No one cried. Not one.
Except the toddler.
Sibling, born two Diwalis back.
It wailed, long nagging plaint.
Hungry bellies and listless eyes-
My mother's chulha colder than the December frost outside.

So when they came one January morn,
in fatigues, two large green trucks
and a white tape to catch the fastest runners,
I ran.
Bare feet, bare back prickling with cold.
Three full glasses of water to fill my stomach, now sloshing.
They caught me at the white tape. The other hundreds were far behind.
Gave me a uniform, a rifle
and a rank before my name.
And the money arrived on the first of every month,
surer than the sun's rise each morrow.

So now I run through mustard fields.
Tender stalks, pale green
and soft yellow flowers swished away rudely.
Heavy squelch of my boots on the ground-
squelch, swish, squelch, swish.............
Keeping perfect time.

Not far away great mountains rise,
brightly white.
Unmoving wall.
I get closer.
On my right shoulder, the mortar gun thuds:
cold metal on cold bones.
My breath draws will-o-wisps before my eyes.

While all along, in a city choking on its self-importance,
a man slouches before his PC screen.
His cursor paused at an Excel-Sheet cell
bristles impatiently, full of itself.
Soldier's pay-
Basic, DA, MSP
and Hard Area Allowance.
The man adds and multiplies.
Then very quickly subtracts and divides.
The cursor jumps his bidding from cell to cell.
Obsequious, like it's terribly eager to please.

I run.
At night, black and white mustard fields, the Jhelum's gentle gurgle.
Winter clouds curdle over the yolk moon's face.
The snow floats
like down-feathers escaped from pigeons necking on thatch rafters.
Frozen pine slopes slippery with ice.
Cold black boulders, mammoths lost in the moonlight.
Chilblains bite my ear lobes,
excrutiating itch of my cold-swollen fingers.

Something glints high up on the frozen mountain.
He is there I know, like me.
The Other Bastard.
I know him. And I know what he will do now.
Fix his foresight. Between crosshairs,
frame me within these grayscaled mustard flowers I will blur, now I will be sharply in focus.....
But who will fall first, I cannot really say.
Perhaps he.
Perhaps me.
But still, I run.

Still I run.

My mother's tea laps my tongue, sharp gingery slivers.
rich with fresh cow-milk and loads of sugar.
Shaloo giggles, beneath her new sequinned dupatta.
I can see her lips: pliant, playful.
The goat kid born yesterday nuzzles my feet.
Bholu sniffs it curiously, then curls up around his own tail.
The toddler's all grown up, new school bag, new school books.

I still run, keep on running.
Forward, forward.
My mind is now bare
of my memories: pictures, smells, sounds cleaned out.
My eyes and brain glued to that glint on the mountains.

And with each tread of my booted frozen feet
The cursor in the city office jumps,
Adding and subtracting numbers.

I do not want to die.
But this time he is the Marksman.
And now the red flower blooms beneath my shattered carapace.
Grows large slowly, like on a time-lapse video.
I fall, crushing
the flower shapeless on the gray night-snow.

I did not want to die.

On that marble pedestal with its guard of flaming urns,
there where you keep appointment every January and every August,
this time don't waste your flowers on me.
Instead, pin a note:
"He was paid!"

Friday, 3 November 2017

আজ মানুষ-মারা প্রাকটিস করে এলাম.

মারণ-অস্ত্রটি একটি আগ্নেয়াস্ত্র: কালো-হলদে, কাঠ ও লোহার সমবায়.

সামনে রাখা ছিল.  হাতে তুললাম.

বড়, ভারী ওই যন্ত্রের চারপাশে আমার ছোট্ট হাতের দুই মুঠি কিরকম যেন হারিয়ে গেল. কিছুটা মায়া লাগলো আমার ওই দুই হাতের জন্য. কত রকমের কাজ জানে, করে, করত, আমার এই পুরনো দুই হাত. ছোট বেলায় যখন সোমবার সন্ধেবেলায় জ্যোতিদের বাড়ি আঁকা শিখতে যেতাম, তখন তুলি ধরত হাতটি, কত রঙের পরশ ছুইয়ে যেত ড্রয়িং খাতার বুকে. তারপর আরও কি কি যে করত : সাইকেল এর হ্যান্ডেল ধরা, রুমালে ফুলের  নকশী কাটা, রবি কবির মম চিত্তে গানে নাচের মুদ্রা তোলা, আরও কত কি. তার অনেক পর কড়াইয়ের পায়েশ পোলাউ এ খুন্তি নাড়া,  লক্ষী পুজোর দিন সিমেন্টের মেঝেতে সাদা ফ্যাব্রিক পেন্ট দিয়ে আল্পনা আঁকা, আজকাল আবার সেলফোনের পাতায়ে শব্দের আঁকি বুঁকি কাটা....এই সব আর কি... আজ তাই হয়েত আমার হাতদুটিকে মনে হলো কিছুটা দিশেহারা...

অস্ত্র তুলে তাক লাগলাম. One absolutely straight line between my eye, the frontsight, the aperture and the white target far away. ডানপাশে দাড়িয়ে থাকা বিশালকায়ে জঙ্গীটি হয়েত মনে মনে হাসলো! হয়েত ভাবলো, দেখা যাক পুঁচকে মেয়েডাক্তারটা কি খেল দেখায়ে অস্ত্রের সাথে. সত্যি তো, আমি নিজেই জানিনা আমার দিশেহারা ছোট্ট হাত দুটি কি করবে ওই বিরাট অস্ত্রটির সাথে. বেশি ভাবার সময় পেলাম না কেননা  বাঁপাশে তৈনাত জঙ্গি তক্ষুনি হুন্কার দিল: FIRE!

আর আমাকে অবাক করে দিয়ে দেখলাম আমার হাত দুটি কি অনায়েসে, স্থির ভাবে টিপ নিল, তারপর পরম শান্তিতে ট্রিগার টিপলো...যত গুলি অস্ত্র আমার গিলেছিল, তত গুলি এক একটা পাহাড় কাঁপানো গর্জনে নিক্ষেপিত হলো তার ঘভীর পেট থেকে. প্রতিবার আমার হাতে ধরা অস্ত্রটি একটু কাঁপলো, কিন্তু পদচ্যুত হলো না. অবশেষে দেখা গেল প্রতেকটি গুলি নিশানায়ে লেগেছে. আমার আশ্চর্যের সীমা রইলো না.

সৈন্য কর্তা বাহবা দিল. ডাক্তারবাবু, সুন্দর হয়েছে. ভেরি গুড. 
আমি  তাকালাম ভালো করে ওর মুখে. অল্পবয়স্ক. মুখে এক সরল, মিষ্টি হাসি. অনেক কিছু শেখালো সে আমায়, অস্ত্রের এনাটমি, ফিসিওলোজি. বলল:
Develop your arm strength. আরও প্রাকটিস করবেন, তাতে আপনার ফায়রিং আরও ভালো হবে, দুরুস্ত হবে. ইউ হ্যাভ অ knack ফর ইট, ডাক্তারবাবু.

ফিরতে ফিরতে ভাবলাম, মানুষ মারা শেখাটা খুব বেশি কঠিন তো না .

আমার কোনদিন ভালো লাগেনি এই সব গোলা বারুদ, রাইফেল পিস্তল কামান; এমনকি কোনদিন ভালো লাগেনি কালিপুজোর বিদঘুটে বাজি পটকাও.... কিন্ত...অদ্ভূত কান্ড: আমার ছোট্ট, গোবেচারা, কবিতা লেখা, রান্না করা, ছবি আঁকা দুই হাত কত সাবলীল ভাবেই না আঁকড়ে ধরল রাইফেল, নিল নিশানা, টিপলো ট্রিগার......কি বিস্ময়কর ব্যাপার রে বাবা.

ফিরছি আমি. দুই পাশে জঙ্গলে ঢাকা পাহাড়. তার মধ্যে দিয়ে কুলকুল করে বয়ে যাচ্ছে পাহাড়ি নদী. দেখি আর একটা পেল্লাই জঙ্গি বসে আছে নদীর ধারে, পাশে পাথরের উপর চায়ের গ্লাস.  অস্ত্র নীচে নামানো. ব্রেক হবে তার বোধ হয়ে. সে গান শুনছে মোবাইলএ. আমার গাড়ির আওয়াজ, নদীর আওয়াজ ছাপিয়ে ভেসে এলো আশা ভোঁসলের মিষ্টি গলা: do lafzon ki hai dil ki kahani ya hai mohabbat ya hai jawaani......

মানুষ অস্ত্র তোলে কত কারণে, পেটের দায়ে, আত্মরক্ষার দায়ে, দেশরক্ষার দায়ে. কৃষ্ণ তো বলেই গেছেন There is nothing greater than a Righteous War, a war that defends Dharma......

ভাবছি এই সব ছুটকো কথা. গাড়ি চলছে আমার, আঁকা বাঁকা পাহাড়ি পথ দিয়ে. রাস্তার পাশে দেখি কোন এক দেবতার গ্রাম্য মন্দির. কালো পাথরের গায়ে লেগে, গেরুয়া পতাকা উড়িয়ে দাড়িয়ে আছে. আমার ভালো লাগে এইসব  নাম-না-জানা পথের মন্দিরগুলি. এখানের ঈশ্বর খুব সাধারণ হন, খুব approachable. তাই ফিরে যেতে যেতে এই পাহাড়ি মন্দিরের ইশ্বরের কাছে আমি একটা প্রার্থনা ছেড়ে এলাম. মনে মনে, চুপি চুপি. একটি বায়েনা, একটি আবদার: 
যেন একদিন এমন সময়  আসে, এমন দিন যখন কারুরই অস্ত্র হাতে ওঠাবার দরকার না পড়ে; না পেটের দায়ে, না আত্মরক্ষার দায়ে, না দেশরক্ষার দায়ে....এমনকি না মানুষ মারার প্রাকটিসের দায়ে...................   

Alu and the Crown God

I had rolled barely a hundred metres down the road when I spotted her gambolling in the adjoining park. "Heyy Alu," I called ou...