Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Rain in Gurgaon

Monday, July 25, 2011

Musings on a Monday Afternoon

    Trip to Chittaranjan Park, New Delhi, and other things:

Living in North India is like reading an incomprehensible poem where the first few stanzas are so painfully abstruse that you feel you are tackling an obliquely trailing ship with no nautical chart to assert its voyage. In many ways you are the frigate itself, straining at its moorings as you try to comprehend the current of social life that sets you in motion. For the last few months I have incessantly felt the pull of contrary currents; on one side I see plain simplicity, nothing idyllic though -- you can hardly expect that in this part of the country-- yet pedestrian to the tongue, a touch of earth, a feeling of life as it is. While on the other hand, I have experienced artificiality as we know it. Ostentation, a facade of rich and gaudy texture and sequined strokes intermingled to awful debris where in you could seldom locate the sapling of reality even if you have stuck your hands to the ovum of the earth. Such is life in Gurgaon; such is life in my New India.

Delhi and Gurgaon—one the Prima Donna, while the other the Nuevo capital of glamour and style; one carrying in its jorum the culture of centuries, the other a youngster denouncing with iconoclastic ferocity that substantial ethos. Gurgaon is undoubtedly the land of the New. It is perhaps the modern Byzantine stripped off its ancient elegance. Here you will find tall structures, buildings with distinctly regal names and manicured lawns, vehicles that only a few years ago had been objects of dream, shiny floored shopping malls filled with rich stock and many such luxuries. But if you are in search of some old-homey culture, you will have to cross the state border and enter the environs of New Delhi.

Last weekend we had a dinner invitation at some friends’ place in Chittaranjan Park, New Delhi. Chittaranjan Park, or CR Park, its popular sobriquet, is an urban region containing a large population of Bengali people. For years it has been a seat of popular Bengali culture in New Delhi. And once you enter this locality, you will feel that same ancient culture buzzing around you. On my way to this destination I had perused the roads and the scenery, and had observed how the pot-holed stretches with stray trees, dumping grounds, and skyscrapers on either side lead ultimately to constricted alleys with two and three storeys bordering the side roads. Modest shops and open-air flower sprees took over glass-fronted malls and labyrinthine arcades. The whole area seemed to be an anachronism, it was as if somebody had scooped out a chunk of Bengal and planted it out of sheer whim in the heart of North India.

Our friends live in a beautiful house in the epicenter of this awesome locality. Upon arrival we were immediately introduced to evening snacks of great succulence: bread-crumb coated deep fried chop, chicken patties, fried mishti (Bengali sweet) and a glass of cold drink. Our host and hostess added to this initial feast the spice of great conversation. The session of adda (kibitz) touched on all topics under the spectrum—politics, travel, personal updates, and many more. The cozy pink-walled living room with its ethnic Indian décor condensed our sense of serenity. Our days in Gurgaon have left us culture shocked, here we never speak our beautiful native tongue outside our house; in fact, even Hindi is rarely spoken in this area -- English is the (un)official language of Gurgaon. Hence, it was a pleasure dropping our guards and participating in the feast of reason and the flow of the soul and mouthing lovely Bengali.

We had decided to do the week’s grocery from Chittaranjan Park, and our host and hostess gladly acquiesced to the invitation of accompanying us to the shopperies. There was a well-spread fish market only a few steps from our friends’ house, which displayed in temporary scaffolds the catches of the day. The fish lay in arrays; their piscine skins shimmering under warm bulb light. My hostess and I refrained from entering the fishy establishment and stood outside as our better halves marched in with alacrity. The market in many ways resembled a famous souk in Kolkata called Gariahat Market. As I observed the surrounding and took in the human-fritinancy that whizzed through the bustling streets, I felt like home. My hostess drew my attention to a jhalmuriwala preparing in his steel jar a concoction of puffed rice, spices, raw onion, lemon, peanuts, mustard oil and thinly sliced coconut-crescents. This mixture is a Kolkata-special-dish, but we abstained from tasting it just before dinner.

After the fish market we headed for the mishtir dokan (sweet shop), the best in the area which had that quintessential sweet shop name on its signboard: Annapurna Sweets. We procured a dozen of their sugary Bengoli desserts coated with layers of khoya and dipped in running syrup.From the flower shop I got a bunch of their freshly-cut, which now marinate in a tall glass vase. My hostess being a gardening-aficionado herself gave me some awesome gardening tips I intend to follow, in good time, though.

The finale of our visit was announced after a sumptuous dinner of lovely Indian food and another round of adda in which the whole Ghosh family participated with élan. We left CR Park around eleven in the night with just as much space in our stomach as to allow our physical system to merely insufflate without any bodily strain. We reached home in twenty minutes owning to the otherwise busy streets being vacant for the nighttime. As I curled up with the reading material on my bed fifteen minutes before heading for the dreamless that night, I felt I heard time and again in the buzz of the air-conditioning machine the vignettes of open-hearted, pure laughter which had surrounded me that evening. 

                       Pictures from the Web. 

Reading "Phone Therapy" -- A Poem by Ellen Bass


Saturday, July 23, 2011

To Our Teacher, with Love

This afternoon as I sit for my daily writing exercise of inscribing at least a thousand words, the meaningless free-writing exercise start to take a tangible shape, the nebulous impressions solidify under the postmeridian lull, and I see before me the vignettes of the day past. Yesterday our creative writing teacher finished her allotted classes and bade us goodbye; her place would be taken by a new teacher who would finish the course.

It was an exceedingly emotional day for us and everybody was touched by our teacher’s presence. In her final speech our teacher stated that just as her students have been touched by her presence, she had also been touched by her students, and that she would always remember the faces. ‘Always,’ I cannot believe I am using it; she said we should jettison this word from our dictionary and leave a life without generalizations, since they do nothing to improve our writing.

After the conclusion of the class we took pictures and when our teacher finally left, I sensed a deep sadness in her pupils, a look of a fond-somebody leaving behind a thing she adores. And it was those slightly red eyes together with the collective algo we felt in our minds as we wished her well that made me think about the vastness of the human heart— an universe unto itself able to gather under its wooly blanket all the allotropies and homologies of mortal existence. There is so much goodness and brotherhood in the world and it takes a singular incident, one divine alchemic touch hailing from the deep recesses to transform the quisquiliae to solid gold.

I don’t mean to say that the world is a better place now than ever, but yesterday, I felt, albeit momentarily, that differences are creations of the human critical self, that underneath the death and pain and ugliness, we are all good. In many cases, however, the layers of sediments are too deep to be disentombed, and we end up never discovering the good in us partly due to apathy, and partly due to a closed-up emotional life. But to me emotions are the S and P of existence, the building bricks of my creative life. And I am always fascinated by the depth of human emotion.

It’s amazing that the people I have met only four weeks ago are now an intrinsic part of my social life. We have had confrontations in class, have criticized one another, displayed vivid evidences of the algedonic polarity of existence; and yet, at the end of the day, under the brooding light of a pedagogue, we unite, huddle and smile at a camera. I thought that yesterday I had seen the basic constituents of the human mind, the organic anti-normal part we hate to show. After the flash we all went back to our customary self, but the capture stored in its vial the truest and the unstained of human sentiments.

I will remember the goodness of these faces oft seen in the last few weeks, faces that will soon be lost in the trifle of time and the bustle of life. I agree that my differences with many of them have precipitated unkind sentiments in me; I had often opted for the negative prescription that I ought not to have been part of the class after all. I was dubious as to what I learned from my class, I was undecided on the average pedagogical exercises and their improving my writing skills. But now, I feel the brain cells are inflated to the point of bursting with wisdom gained from bi-weekly classes at a British establishment in an Indian town.

The bonds we strike over coffee or over a casual conversation have the sinews of ivy, they tie you; and even though several social bonds never bear sweet fruit and we are often forced to give-up friends or acquaintances for differences of opinion, we do remember the good ones. And on certain solid afternoons when the sky is covered with a cumulous sheet and the room smells of perfumed candles, the crop up, and you feel happy that you had the pleasure of their company.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Terror Strikes in Mumbai Raise Security Questions in India

Barnali Saha

Every time it is the same—a newspaper cover graced with howling faces, intimate albeit hazy pictures of mangled corpses or half-dead men, women and children being hauled to some medical establishment, and a series of listlessly aggressive reports posted under red-banner like headings dictating the failure of the governmental institution in preventing another terrorist mayhem in India.

Following 26/11, after only a short period of metabolic depression, terror raises its head in Mumbai, India’s financial capital, once again. A series of blasts in principal locations in the city, including the crowded Dadar neighborhood; Zaveri Bazaar, a popular jewelry market; and near the Opera House, ripped through the city at the height of rush hour traffic on Wednesday, killing at least 17 people, injuring 141.

The sophisticated IED explosives with a timer mechanism and the discovery of an unidentified body with an embedded electric circuit, at Zaveri Bazar have triggered speculations of foreign hand behind the attack. A day after the serial blasts the conspiracy theories are being unleashed in no uncertain manner and the finger is pointed once again at the intelligence agencies, and their failure to protect the people.

"Whoever perpetrated these attacks has worked in a very, very clandestine manner," Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram said. "It's not a failure of intelligence." Yet the growing resentment of the public against the government and the politicians is well evident. And even though Chidambaram added, “we will find out who is behind these attacks," the citizens of the terror-struck city seems to know better.

 “This raises a series of serious questions about the effectiveness of our intelligence and the level of coordination between the central and state agencies. I bitter and helpless,” said Panchali Sengupta, a homemaker.

 “It is the same Home minister, who was responsible for 26/11 and he is there still now; coalition Ministry in Maharashtra killing my dear state. It is now most corrupt lethargic state, said Chanchal Chakrabarty, a long time Mumbaikar.

After 26/11 the government had announced well-platted plans about rebooting the country’s security-system. But the 13/7 attacks have evidently laid open the fact that the governmental agencies have been unsuccessful in recalling the lessons learned during the past season of bloody carnage.

As investigators struggle to find clues to the identity of the terror-group that perpetrated Wednesday’s serial blasts and the government plays the blame-game, the people in India who need to commute everyday feel threatened and insecure. As recently as in May 25, 2011, a series of low intensity blasts outside the Delhi High court have raised the possibility of further outrage in Delhi too. "Living in the most troubled neighborhood, every part of India is vulnerable,” Chidambaram said. And the people of India know what he means.

Is the constant breach in security ultimately the result of deep-rooted corruption in the Indian political system, or is it simply that India has ultimately accepted the role of itself as a subservient high-school kid used to being bullied by powerful anti-parties? Or that the measures the Indian government plans are balked from application by such in vivo political issues like the Lok Pal bill and the recent 2G scam?

Whatever the case may be, life in India moves on nonetheless, and people get used to sudden periods of spasmodic high-security followed by a lull, and then another terror-attack just boosts up the campaign only to fall back once again. As the list of unresolved terror cases in India gather fresh records, we, the people of India, are at a loss as to our future in the trouble-torn ground of the Indian Republic.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Yes I Can!!

It took me fifty-three short stories, over one hundred blog posts and countless journal entries to realize that I can write. The realization was sudden, and I embraced it. For too long I have run away from myself, and have denied the person inside me the respect and love for which it yearned.

Yesterday had been a very lonely day and I had been brooding over some personal relations. The sky was dripping, the air-condition buzzing and Mozart playing his Piano Concerto 21. In all, it was a perfect day to be a secluded bee. I was writing my daily journal when a vision suddenly came up. A flash.  A momentary illumination.  And then I decided to sit at the computer and see what happens. And, to my surprise, after an hour of ceaseless typing, I realized that I had successfully delivered the imago in print. The starting was vague, but then it began to clear-up and make sense.

I agree that I am an ambivert; and writing calls for the introvert. The outside world palliates loneliness but deforms the thought process exceedingly such that after a loud weekend you need at least ten days of mental recuperation. And that patch of ten days usually assume a dry and arid character where how much you may try to add a dollop of fertilizer, you fail to nourish the ground. But thankfully, I wasn’t under the weather or depressed yesterday, and consequently did not let the mind give up all its hope of developing a writing career eventually. Instead, I challenged it. I threw all the covers away and let it dwell on its seed. To the result that finally the thought germinated, one root gave birth to another extension, and when I ended the day’s work, I discovered that unbeknownst to me I had written exactly what I had in my mind.

I thanked myself, my mind, and the spirit that granted me the vision, the image. And I promised myself that even though I always will lack the confidence to look into a person’s eye and declare in unequivocal terms that I want to be a writer one day, I shall never deny myself the respect and love it deserves. It is true that unless you acknowledge your gifts, however minuscule the scale of talent might be, you never improve, or find the confidence to carry on. Growing up in a very conservative family I was denied the joys of independence and that resulted in me being unassertive and pale in comparison with the highly confident Homo sapiens I meet every day.  Had it not been for the angel of a husband I have, I would never have known my abilities, let alone honing or nurturing them. My family does not read my work, some of friends even decline to comment on my publications, but this angel is always there to encourage me and read all my creative quisquilie.  I guess we all need one such spirit to prosper in life and know ourselves and our capabilities.

Anyway, after a happy day of work I am off to my creative writing class and shall be back with a new post on Friday.


Reading T.S. Eliot's The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tunes I listen to when I am writing

These songs and tunes always set the right mood for free writing. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do:-)

1. Josh Groban--You Raise Me Up

2.Adagio in G Minor (Albinoni)

3. Sound of Silence

4. Jar of Hearts--Christina Perri

5. Lotus Feel

6. Moonlight Sonata--Beethoven

7. Jean Sibelius--Finlandia

8. Hallelujah --Shrek Soundtrack

9.Piya Tora Kaisa Abhimaan--Raincoat Soundtrack

10. It's amazing--Jem

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Writing about Writing

I was listening to Hemingway’s speech this morning where the famous irrealist talks about writing being essentially a lonely vocation. You compose when you are alone. And I couldn’t agree more with the grainy, masculine tenor my computer played for me. There is something soothing in lonely mornings that opens up the creative cap and allows you to see it all clearly. Under such formidable circumstances, the words and images hailing from the recesses of your mind face no constraint, no judgment, and no criticism. You find yourself in a labile path with no fixed points to remember while you compose. Nothing, not even the terrible fear of derision, bothers you; and for some hours you find yourself drifting in a frigate of imagination. In your journey you encounter your characters, they come alive in front of you, they take on human forms and peel away layers of stereotypical ordinariness you attributed them in your first and second drafts.  It takes several days, even months of undisturbed solitude to personify self-created puppets.

A community of writing individuals may or may not improve your writing ability, but a few hours every day in front of a laptop surely makes you perseverant. Also, you feel more alive. Even the flower-pot-colored imbricated rooftop tiles of an adjoining house start to look brighter. Writing without restrictions has an amnesiac effect on you. You forget, albeit momentarily, the hard truth of life, and lose yourself in a world and sentences and images. And this orgasmic relief, this sojourn in the ivory tower of imagination can seldom be experienced in a group.

In our writing class we often talk about the process of writing. Some of my classmates, especially the newly initiated ones, are still confused about the creative process, and ask for concrete steps. I wonder if there are any physical steps to writing. I think the writing domain is an untamed lea. We can learn the techniques of the craft, but writing is a personal process. And when people spend days under the delusion that whatever one writes is dedicated to his readers, he or she inevitably stonewalls the conscious with expectations, and that ultimately leads to a season of a harrowing drought, what we call writer’s block.  

Several writers suggest expecting the least from oneself. I find the word of wisdom invaluable. I have lowered my expectations to a negligible level. And whenever I write I know I am writing for myself. I know my meaningless syncopations would make no sense to the world, and I never try to transmute my illogical word-rhythms for the sake of elevating the world’s view about me. The truth is we all write for ourselves; it’s sad that some people take ages to realize that.

I wish writing something meaningful were easy when all you needed to do would be to sit at a desk and type away. Alas, those who write from heart know that it is anything but easy. Writing requires patience, humility and long years of meaningless improvisation. And however much the society and kin assure you that you are almost there, you know better than that. Awful first drafts lead to moderate second draft and then ultimately to the terrific third and fourth drafts; we are all caught in this vicious cycle. 

It was a revelation to me yesterday when a writer friend said he accepts his first drafts as perfect and just edits away the mistakes and thinks it’s ready for submission; I wish I could do that! But then, on second thought, I am glad I couldn’t pass away my inferior first efforts as finished product. The whole idea of writing is to think out of the box and say something in a way different from others. This challenge hits you like shrapnel when you are attempting to improve your creation. There lies the fun of writing. And truly speaking a single effort is seldom a complete effort.

I am attaching Hemingway’s inspiring speech for you: