Random Juxtapositions

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

A Sense of Belonging

I have been an itinerant for a fair part of my life, in a way. I have lived in three cities for the most part and have travelled and lived in other parts of the world for shorter periods of time. Yet, a complete and pervasive sense of belonging to a single place has eluded me ever since a concept of 'home' has started arising in my mind.

Home was a simpler concept at a point of time. It meant being provided for, playing cricket in fields across the road and actually knowing your neighbours! That was the time when you probably never even thought that you'd ever live away from that place. But as you grow up and move around for studies and job, where you truly belong increasingly becomes a difficult question to answer. It becomes intertwined with your identity and personality.

Although this question does arise in my mind time and again, but it's at times like these when I am in another country that I see myself trying to answer it more and more. It starts with innocuous enough questions like what do I miss most about India? Of course there are the usual ones - friends and family, familiarity & food (Fs?) Yet, it is not entirely easy to articulate. It's something more - that subtle, indescribable part of your country, your city, your people (in spite of all their collective nuisances) that becomes a part of your psyche & identity and gives you a sense of belonging.

Of course, it could come entirely from a country different than the one of your origin, but that's exactly what makes belonging a difficult thing to measure or describe.I have observed especially in people not living in their countries of origin - that conflicted feeling of being a art of two worlds but not belonging to either completely. I can only imagine that it is an uneasy feeling to live with.

A bad physics joke on this would probably be that it is a space-time problem to solve. But in all seriousness it is as much about memories as about the actual physical place with which you associate it. For now, I can't wait to get back 'home'.

                                                                "Homeward bound 
                                                                      I wish I was 
                                                                Homeward bound 
                                                 Home, where my thought's escaping 
                                                    Home, where my music's playing 
                                                   Home, where my love lies waiting" 
                                                                                                                     Homeward Bound
                                                                                                                   - Simon & Garfunkel

Sunday, August 12, 2012

On Kerouac

I have never been the biggest of fans of Kerouac's writing. Well at least the prose part of it; Truman Capote once (in)famously denounced it as 'typing rather than writing'. What has always intrigued me rather is the tremendous appeal that lies in his body of work - an appeal that cuts across geographies and time. Watching the trailer of Walter Salles' upcoming adaptation of On the Road reminded me of the times of reading Kerouac.

I have read two of Kerouac's novels - the generation defining crazy ride On the Road and the calmer, more subtle and mature The Dharma Bums. Although both the novels have very different ideas and settings, there is somethings that struck me as similar and significant in both of these. While On the Road feels much like a crazy pursuit of pleasure and revolt against established norms, The Dharma Bums is pursuit of 'Truth' using the (then very new to West) Eastern philosophies, particularly Zen Buddhism. However the undercurrent of  themes of identity and purpose and a restless pursuit of both of them is what unites his work.

And I guess that's why his appeal is so universal. Anyone who has wished earnestly for the fulfillment of  their dreams but saw the coming inevitability of 'the real world' can relate to these themes. Youth is so much about that restlessness and lack of purpose, whether you are in 50s America or millennial India, isn't it? And Kerouac was one of the first ones to not only capture this phenomenon, but also to live it - more than a little over the top.

Much of youth is spent in the reconciliation between this naive idealism and the practical and mundane realities of grown up life. Do we then grow old by quietly resigning to pragmatism, rather than by just crossing a random age threshold? I don't know, but perhaps as Kerouac would say

“The best teacher is experience and not through someone's distorted point of view”

Monday, December 05, 2011

The Making of Angst

To say that I had been eagerly awaiting 'Rockstar' would be an understatement. It had all the right names associated with it; Imtiaz Ali, A R Rahman and the music was just mind blowing, as if you needed one more instance of a master reinventing himself yet again. But most of all I was very curious about the whole take on the Rockstar persona. I mean, which cultural phenomenas of our times have been more intriguing, ironic and tragic than the Rockstar.

'Rockstar' as story-telling is average. The plot jumps far too often, the performance of the leading lady is a big let down, although Ranbir Kapoor just shines through. As a concept, an exploration, however, 'Rockstar' is awesome. Yes, I said it out loud - Awesome.

'Rockstar' is an exploration of Angst. Although angst as a theme has existed for centuries, be it the existential angst of Hamlet - 'To be or not to be..' or Captain Ahab's mad obsessive angst against an indifferent, amoralistic universe symbolized by the White Whale. Hell, angst might very well be one of the favorite themes of literature in general. And while the past few decades seem to have been more about an irrational exuberance  than angst, the biggest cultural icons of our times to symbolize angst is the Rockstar.

Be it against an overbearing society, corrupt and cruel state, violence, puritansm etc. the Rockstar has used his rebellion as an effective tool to express his, oft misplaced, angst. Morrison, Cobain & co. were not just about sex, drugs and rock n roll, but also about a basic existential angst against the world. I think in 'Rockstar' Imtiaz Ali has tried to explore the same angst. Jordan can't really understand or control his doomed love or the frenzy of an icon hungry society which builds him up just to pull him down. The angrier he gets inside, the better his music and he keeps getting caught in the vicious cycle, a totally different Rabbit Hole if you may.

All of us have known angst at some point of time in our lives. To say that it is doomed is a fairly obvious statement to make. At its worse it is self obsessed, destructive and childish. At its best however, it simply innocence lost, a Naadan Parinda bewildered by a complex and strange world it can neither comprehend fully nor control.

Monday, September 19, 2011


 The land of White, Brown and Blue

Tibetan Prayer Flags
Ladakh had always been a dream destination for me. Partly because of its very distinct landscape and beauty but mostly because Ladakh held this strange aura, this unexplained fascination for me. It was the land of monasteries, Tibetan prayer flags, where Buddhism and Silk Route had crossed parts and a culture which was so different from anything I had seen had survived through the centuries. Ladakh had a very unique combination of historical importance and cultural uniqueness, which was the main reason I had been wanting to visit that place.

It had taken me three years and four attempts to finally be able get a trip to Ladakh going (which was, very ironically, corroborated by my hotel manager as "It's not a question of when you want to visit Ladakh, it's about when Ladakh calls you). Not having enough time to make the road trip from Manali, we decided to fly to Leh from Delhi. Now a word of caution for anyone flying from Delhi: taking adequate precaution against AMS (acute Mountain Sickness) can help. Infact, you would most likely be recommended to rest completely for 1-2 days so that the body gets used to the high altitude.

A Ladakh Monastery
There were three things that I mainly wanted to see in Ladakh: the monasteries, the vast open expanse and the lakes. There are three main monasteries near Leh: Thiksey, Stakna and Hemmis which can be covered in a half days time. While Thiksey and Stakna, overlook the Indus, Hemmis is nestled a little bit inside the mountains. Most of the monasteries is in Ladakh are at least 300-400 years old. The influence of Tibetan art forms in monasteries are clearly visible, with the images of Padma-Sambhava as common as those of the Buddha.The white of the monasteries appears as a strange radiance juxtaposed against the brown ruggedness of the mountains; signifying the light of true understanding that monks must have sought in the rugged simplicity of Ladakhi mountains.

Pangong Tso
Pangong Tso (Tso: lake in Ladakhi) is a lake at the altitude of 15000 ft which could be famous for any number of reasons: it being at India's border with China, one of the highest altitude lakes in the world and simply for being very beautiful. But what it is purportedly famous for now is the location where 3 Idiots was shot! Reaching Pangong takes about 6-7 hours of drive through the vast open expanse of Ladakh. Although the drive is a tad tiring, it is one of the most scenic I have been through: along the Indus for some distance and passing through the third highest motorable pass in the world: Chang la (17,586 ft). Seeing Pangong for the first time is a little surreal an experience, yet again bringing out the strange play of colors which happens so often in Ladakh, maybe because of the stark images you see: a deep blue set against the brown which is just a sight to behold.

Pangong deserves at the minimum an overnight stay. Not the least because it's too far to do a decent trip in one day but i'd say mostly because of the chance to see the night sky. For the light pollution ravaged city folks and for the stars loving me it was absolutely magical.

Ladakh's beauty is primal, untouched. Driving through the vast expanse of Ladakh, visiting the monasteries and Ladakh's mountains (which Kerouac would refer to as Buddha Mountains) got me thinking about Buddha and attachment and loss. Loss can be debilitating. How does one deal with loss? Loss whether it's of a small object we hold important to us or that of a deeper kind which shakes our beliefs to the very core. I was searching for some answers in the white, brown and blue of Ladakh; in its antiquity, in its expanse and its purity. All i found was a perspective, a deep sense of humility which the expanse instills in you as your smallness makes you realize that as yet you don't have all the answers. It's only time that can heal and answer. Every travel is an experience and there's one thing this one taught me: that at times in life, its important


Friday, July 01, 2011

When the Lamp is Shattered

When the lamp is shattered
The light in the dust lies dead -
When the cloud is scattered,
The rainbow's glory is shed.
When the lute is broken,
Sweet tones are remembered not;
When the lips have spoken,
Loved accents are soon forgot.

As music and splendour
Survive not the lamp and the lute,
The heart's echoes render
No song when the spirit is mute -
No song but sad dirges,
Like the wind through a ruined cell,
Or the mournful surges
That ring the dead seaman's knell.

When hearts have once mingled,
Love first leaves the well-built nest;
The weak one is singled
To endure what it once possessed.
O Love! who bewailest
The frailty of all things here,
Why choose you the frailest
For your cradle, your home, and your bier?

Its passions will rock thee,
As the storms rock the ravens on high;
Bright reason will mock thee,
Like the sun from a wintry sky.
From thy nest every rafter
Will rot, and thine eagle home
Leave thee naked to laughter,
When leaves fall and cold winds come.

- Percy Shelley

P.S. I shall miss you, Withnail

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hampi - Desolate Beauty

The first thing that strikes you while entering Hampi is landscape: stark and rocky; and this pretty much sets the mood for the rest of the trip. Hampi is where the ruins of a once mighty empire Vijaynagara stand, still largely untouched by the ravishes of time and human encroachment.

It is said that at its peak, under Krishna Deva Raaya, half a million people used to leave in this city and that it was the second largest city in the world at that time (after Beijing); circa 1500s. It is not too hard to imagine this looking at the vast expanse of the ruins. From big market places to the King's Palace, the ruins are well spread out and some of them are still in use to this day. The highlights are of course those that project the imperial grandiose and the God like stature that the kings wanted to project : Achutraaya temple built by the namesake king for himself, Zainana enclosure, housing the King and his Queen and the Royal Enclosure from where the king used to run his empire and the massive Virupaksha temple which is used for worship till this date.

Hampi is a photographer's delight. The stark landscape is just complemented by the fact that all the monuments are carved out of solid rocks. Although the architecture is predominantly Hindu and Jain style, its interesting to see influences of Islamic architecture in the forms of domes and arches.

The ruins at Hampi are magnificent. But here's the thing about Hampi: its strange mixture of grandness and desolation fill you with a sense pf melancholy, a feeling that what was once a mighty empire and a great city, thriving with imperial majesty, art and all manners of human activity has also withered and has been reduced to its present state of ruins. And on the last evening, as I was sitting and watching a beautiful sunset (and for some unfathomable reason listening to Trent Reznor's haunting score for The Social Network obsessively) it felt as if the Sun in its act of setting was mocking the folly of human desire to build for permanence while ironically at the same time showing just how beautiful that folly can be nevertheless.

P.S. Photos courtesy Bhandara

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Desi Superheroes

One of the fondest memories of my childhood was waiting eagerly every other week for the new issue of Raj Comics to come into the store. I remember asking my auto-waallah to change his route just so that I could quickly pop-in to the comic book store to check out if the latest issue of Nagraj or Super Commando Dhruv had arrived, and how i used to read almost half way through it even before we reached home. Ah, those were simpler times, when a cricket bat and a comic every other week was all that was needed for me to be extremely happy, in my own self-sufficient way.

I used to read a lot of comics, English and Hindi: Tintin, Asterix, Disney, Archie's, Raj Comics etc. But my favorite was Raj Comics and within that most definitely Nagraj (Snake Man) and Dhruv. It was mostly because they were the most prolific and had the best descibed universes amongst all the others (In hindsight I can add that they also had the hottest girlfriends). But by no means were they crude or simplistic even. In fact i will stick my head out and say that Raj Comics could rival DC or Marvel in terms of creativity and story-telling. Each hero had its own well defined set of Villians, Mythology and side kicks and often had complexly layered stories and relationships. (e.g. Dhruv's girlfriend's father was his arch enemy: Crime Master Robo). I'm sure a lot of inspiration came from DC/Marvel in terms of motifs etc. but the Indianisation of these comics was what made them special. They were home grown and ingenious; and in their own way, they were also intelligent.

There were other heroes like Bhokal, Doga, Gojo and the solitary Raj Comics funny man Baankelaal. But pocket money being finite, I spent more on my favorite two.

Over time I stopped reading them and having been in the South for more than 8 years, I completely lost touch with Raj-world. The last time around when I was in my home town, I went to the store but to much dismay it had closed down. I did manage to get my hands on a few new issues but something didn't exactly feel the same; maybe it was because of the lacuna in between.

Last heard, Anurag Kashyap was planning to make a movie on Doga (quite an anti-hero, only one who wears mask, troubled childhood, vague morals: in short a Batman in Dickensian world). If it works out, it's a hugely good news as it would put into limelight the immense talent in these comics and the fact that we have good indigenous material to make movies on that will become maybe as popular as Batman / Spiderman.

Nostalgia is a funny thing; it pops in the most unexpected places. The next time I'm home, maybe I'll take down the stack of old comics and rediscover the mystery of Nagraj's powers or Dhruv's adventures. I hope the soda still has the fizz.