Friday, 31 October 2014

A Poet and A Painter: एक कवि और एक चित्रकार


"Poetry raises the emotions and gives each its separate delight. Art stills the emotions and teaches them the delight of a restrained and limited satisfaction..."
~ Sri Aurobindo





आज से ९ वर्ष पूर्व ३१ अक्टूबर २००५ को भारत की एक प्रसिद्ध कवियत्री और लेखिका इस दुनिया को छोड़ दूसरी दुनिया में जा बसी। अमृता प्रीतम की दर्द भरी कविताओं और संवेदनशील कहानिंयों एवं उपन्यासों ने भारतीय साहित्य के अनगिनत प्रेमियों के दिलो-दिमाग़ में अपना एक विशेष स्थान बनाया है। उनकी भाव-भरी रचनाएँ और उनके शब्द उनकी स्मृति को सदा ताज़ा ही रखेंगे, और साथ ही उनकी और इमरोज़ की अनूठी प्रेम-कथा साहित्य-प्रेमियों को एवं उनको भी जो प्रेम से प्रेम करते हैं आने वाले एक लम्बे समय तक अपने रंग में डुबोए रखेगी।

अमृता और इमरोज़ के एक दूसरे के प्रति प्रेम और समर्पण-भाव की कुछ झलक हमें उनके पत्रों द्वारा मिलती है, जिन पर आधारित एक पुस्तक भी अब पाठकों तक पहुँच चुकी है। अंग्रेजी भाषा में प्रकाशित पत्रों का यह संग्रह, जिसका शीर्षक है - "Amrita and Imroz: In the Times of Love & Longing"  दिल को छू लेता है। एक पत्र में इमरोज़ लिखते हैं - प्रेम ही दुनिया में एक मात्र स्वंत्रता है। तो दूसरे पत्र में हम अमृता को यह लिखते हुए पाते हैं - तुम ही तो हो मेरे १५ अगस्त।

उमा त्रिलोक की पुस्तक "अमृता-इमरोज़: एक प्रेम कथा" भी इस कवि और चित्रकार के अनोखे प्रेम एवं ४० वर्षों के संबंध की एक करीबी छवि प्रस्तुत करती है। इस पुस्तक की एक समीक्षा आप इस लिंक पर पढ़ सकते हैं।

लेकिन इन दोनों से परे है वह एक कविता जो अमृता ने लिखी थी, बीमारी के दिनों में अपने प्रेम के लिये।  मैं तैनू फेर मिलांगी (मैं तुझे फिर मिलूँगी) - पंजाबी भाषा में लिखी इस कविता का हिंदी अनुवाद भी उतना ही खूबसूरत है।


मैं तुझे फ़िर मिलूंगी
कहाँ किस तरह पता नही

शायद तेरी तख्यिल की चिंगारी बन
तेरे केनवस पर उतरुंगी
या तेरे केनवस पर
एक रहस्यमयी लकीर बन
खामोश तुझे देखती रहूंगी
या फ़िर सूरज की लौ बन कर
तेरे रंगो में घुलती रहूंगी
या रंगो कि बाहों में बैठ कर
तेरे केनवस से लिपट जाउंगी
पता नहीं कहाँ किस तरह
पर तुझे जरुर मिलूंगी

या फ़िर एक चश्मा बनी
जैसे झरने से पानी उड़ता है
मैं पानी की बूंदें
तेरे बदन पर मलूंगी
और एक ठंडक सी बन कर
तेरे सीने से लगूंगी

मैं और कुछ नही जानती
पर इतना जानती हूँ
कि वक्त जो भी करेगा
यह जन्म मेरे साथ चलेगा

यह जिस्म खतम होता है
तो सब कुछ खत्म हो जाता है
पर चेतना के धागे
कायनात के कण होते हैं

मैं उन कणों को चुनुंगी
धागों को बुनूँगी
मैं तुझे फ़िर मिलूंगी !

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Nine years ago from today, on 31st October 2005, an eminent Indian poet and author left this world to make her abode elsewhere. With her emotion-rich and heartfelt writing Amrita Pritam has made a special place for herself in the hearts of countless lovers of Indian literature. While her heart-touching poetry and sensitive portrayals will keep her memory alive, the one-of-a-kind love story of Amrita and Imroz will also keep enthralled, for a long time to come, the lovers of literature as well as all those who are in love with love.

The special bond of love and surrender to each other that Amrita and Imroz shared can be seen through the numerous letters they wrote to each other over the years. A book based on these letters is now also available for interested readers. Published in English, this collection of letters titled "Amrita and Imroz: In the Times of Love and Longing" is a delight. In one letter, Imroz writes to her - "Love is the only freedom in the world," and in another we find Amrita writing - "You are my 15th August".

Uma Trilok's book "Amrita-Imroz: A Love Story" presents a rare account of the unique love between a poet and a painter, and a special bond they shared for about 40 years. The book is available both in English and Hindi. A Hindi review of this book may be read here.

But beyond either of these books is that poem penned by Amrita herself, while she was very sick in later years of her life. The poem titled, Main Tenu Phair Milangi (I will meet you yet again) expresses so tenderly and beautifully what love meant to this poet-painter couple. Here it is in English translation, done by Nirupama Dutt.

I will meet you yet again
How and where
I know not
Perhaps I will become a
figment of your imagination
and maybe spreading myself
in a mysterious line
on your canvas
I will keep gazing at you.

Perhaps I will become a ray
of sunshine to be
embraced by your colours
I will paint myself on your canvas
I know not how and where —
but I will meet you for sure.

Maybe I will turn into a spring
and rub foaming
drops of water on your body
and rest my coolness on
your burning chest
I know nothing
but that this life
will walk along with me.

When the body perishes
all perishes
but the threads of memory
are woven of enduring atoms
I will pick these particles
weave the threads
and I will meet you yet again.


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You have now read the poem in Hindi and/or English. But nothing beats listening to the poem in its original language. And nobody recites Punjabi poetry better than Gulzar.

अब आप हिंदी अथवा अंग्रेजी में इस कविता को पढ़ चुके हैं। पर कविता का वास्तविक आनन्द तो उसकी मूल भाषा में ही मिल सकता है, और वो भी अगर गुलज़ार जैसी शख्सियत की आवाज़ में उसे सुना जाए। 




Image source: here
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Linking this with ABC Wednesday, P: P is for Poet, Poetry, Painter

Monday, 27 October 2014

What Occupied My Mind: A Book about 12 Women


A new post in the series - Satyam Shivam Sundaram

A series featuring inspiring words from various sources, words that speak of timeless truths, words that remind me of the deeper and hidden truth behind surface events and phenomena, words that shine light when all seems dark, words that are just what I need - 
for this moment and for all times to come.




Once upon a time, long, long, long ago there lived a sage called Krishna-Dvaipāyana Vyāsa, who wrote a famous, very famous epic called Mahābhārata. Almost everyone in India knows at least something about this book, whether or not they may have read any part of it in any translation or version.

But how many of us know something, I mean really know something, about the women of Mahābhārata? Other than some well-known facts that Draupadi had five husbands or that Kunti was the mother of Pandavas or that Gandhari blind-folded herself for life the moment she learned that she was married off to a blind man without her knowledge, most of us hardly know anything about these women. And these are some of the well-known women from the epic. Even then we know them in only sketches, we know them only through popular portrayals on TV or in films or popular literature.

Most of us don't even know anything about Suvarchala or Sulabha or Madhvi or Uttara-Disha. We may have heard a little about Savitri, Damyanti, Devayani or Shakuntala, but again we know them only through their caricatures. For example, we may know more about Kalidasa's Shakuntala than the one in the Mahābhārata. How are the two different? And what does that difference tell us about the time and context in which the two stories were told? Which story holds greater truth, as relevant for today?

Do we know these women as teachers of mankind? As the Mahābhārata might have intended to present them to its readers.

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My weekend after Diwali was well spent reading from start to finish (and then re-reading some of its chapters) a 265-page book titled, The Women of the Mahābhārata: The Question of Truth (2008, Orient BlackSwan Publishers).

This was one of the most interesting books I have read in the last few months. The author of this book, Chaturvedi Badrinathrecipient of 2009 Sahitya Akademi Award for his monumental work titled, The Mahabharata: An Inquiry in the Human Condition, was a philosopher by education and worked for many years in the Indian Administrative Services.

I have just now started spending time with his 685-page magnum opus, award-winning work on Mahābhārata, and I am greatly looking forward to the experience. But for now I wish to share with the readers a wonderful passage from his introduction to The Women of the Mahābhārata:

In the stories through which the Mahabharata speaks of life, women occupy a central place. In living what life brings to them, the women of the Mahabharata show that the truth in which one must live is, however, not a simple thing: nor can there be any one absolute statement about it. Each one of them, in her own way, is a teacher to mankind as to what truth and goodness in their many dimensions are. 
The women of the Mahabharata are incarnate in the women of today. To read the stories of their relationships is to read the stories of our relationships. They demand from the men of today the same reflection on their perceptions, attitudes, and pretensions too, as they did from the men in their lives, and equally often from other men full of pretensions, even if they were kings and sages. But to create literature is not a political programme, although that is exactly what was made out in this century especially -- literature as an instrument of political idea-logy. Whatever may be the measure of justice in that claim, it is now perfectly clear that political ideology ensures the death of literature; for it conceals on principle the truth that truth is anekanta, many-sided, and never one-dimensional. (emphasis mine)
Often when stories from Mahābhārata or Rāmāyana are re-told by most 'modern' or 'post-modern' writers, there is a tendency to interpret or read these stories in the light of presently fashionable intellectual theories, or popular literary fads with superheroes and fantasy. And when it comes to the stories about any of the women in these epics, you have your usual 'feminism' and 'patriarchy' stuff which twists everything to such an extent that the story is often lost in all the interpretation of the re-teller. If at all the re-told story somehow escapes the critical lens of a post-modern feminist reading, it may be over-analysed using the present-day notions of conventional morality or a de-contextualised ethical standard that privileges one side of the truth over many other possible sides.

This is where I find Badrinath's book refreshingly different as well as remarkably authentic and honest in its approach and voice. To quote again from his introduction:
Thus, a human situation and its story has not only several levels but can also be read differently by different persons and even by the same person differently at different times in his or her life. That is why I have not interpreted, nor analysed, any of the women of the Mahabharata I have assembled here. What they are saying, the context in which they are saying it, and what they are as human beings, are perfectly clear and require no interpretation, especially if we keep in mind the method the Mahabharata consistently employs in its inquiry into the human condition. That method itself suggests interpretation, of which there can be more than one.
Furthermore, every human story could have ended differently than how it actually did. In being a most systematic philosophic inquiry into the human condition, the Mahabharata does not see the meaning of a story in the way it ends. The particular end of a story is not the whole of its meaning. (emphasis mine)

Doesn't this introduction entice you to read the stories that are assembled in this book? I am sure it does! Especially if you are interested in knowing more about what the stories of the women of the Mahābhārata have to tell us about ourselves, our lives, our stories, our relationships, our quest for truth and meaning.

On the author's website you will find several reviews of this book, I highly recommend reading the review by Prema Nandkumar, titled Role Models for All Times. She writes:

They have never been far away from us, Savitri, Draupadi, Damayanti and others of their kind. Of course, a veil had fallen between them and the English-educated Indian for a while. Fortunately, before any lasting damage was done, the Indian intellectual went back to the sources and helped the coming generations draw close to the classical heroines. Romesh Chunder Dutt, Subramania Bharati, T.P. Kailasam; by now Raja Ravi Varma's paintings had also begun to tease the imagination of writers all over India.
After the 1950s the 'new' critics took over and feminists bent their eye-brows in irritation at the "Sita-Savitri syndrome" that was keeping Indian womanhood in thrall. No seminar on feminism was free of hot exchanges over the "lakshman rekha" and Indian patriarchy.
As the 20th century was drawing to a close, once again there was a change in perception. With the complete text of the two epics available in literal translations, getting back to the original brought innumerable surprises. Well, Savitri never "tricked" Yama; there was no "rekha" drawn by Lakshmana; nor was there any ring in the tale of Shakuntala. As early as 1899, Sri Aurobindo found that basically the Hindu myths were "straight and sheer."
It is by reading them in the original setting that we can draw strength from the manner in which Damayanti announced a ruse-swayamvara, the calm with which Savitri questioned Yama, and the derisive way Shakuntala firmly rejected Dushyanta. Critics are increasingly realising that these heroines raise us to higher planes of consciousness. Chaturvedi Badrinath's 12 women prove that one can live in truth with complete dignity and become a role model for all time.


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To see previous post in the series, Satyam Shivam Sundaram, click here.
To see all posts in the series, click here.

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Linking this with ABCWednesday, O: O is for Occupy




Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Be Still, My Heart...


A new post in the series - Light and Sound

When a picture searches for its music, or a piece of music finds its right picture...the result is a magical experience of Light and Sound. 





As the Northeast monsoon meets the Bay of Bengal, the rain gods have been showering upon us their bounty, sometimes a bit too excessively. But that's life, the good and the bad often come together. Though at the time we can't see the good in what appears as the bad. Or vice versa.

On this rainy, wet day my thoughts keep going back to last year's Diwali.

Much was happening with me on the emotional level because of things I could hardly control in any way. Or anyone else could. As the time passes, we slowly recognize that such life-experiences come to help us learn how to go with the flow of things and stay as calm as possible underneath all the turmoil on the surface.

Like the sea. All the surf is on the shore; as the eyes move farther and farther from the shore they see the sea in all its calm vastness. The mighty waves come one after another, hitting the shore and receding one by one, but all this activity is on the surface; in its deepest depths the sea remains untouched, calm.

Can I be like the sea? Can I be that still, deep within?

A calmness does descend when I listen to this calming composition from Pandit Ronu Majumdar, Ry Cooder and Jon Hassell, titled - Bay of Bengal. Appropriate for today.





Interestingly, when so much was happening on the surface during last year's Diwali and the days leading up to it, one thing that helped me stay grounded within was contemplating on the inner meaning of Diwali. What does this festival of lights really signify? One such contemplation expressed itself in these words:
Light the Inner Incense, the incense stick seems to say. Let those wanderings help uncover and reveal all that is dark, all that needs to be purified. Remember that only in the slow burning of the outer form the inner true purpose is lived out, the humble stick shows by example. Let the gradual unveiling of the outer layers help uncover and reveal the real reason for existence - to aspire toward Light, to spread Sweet Fragrance all around.
To read more of this contemplation, visit the post: Light an Incense
Image: one evening at home, Suhas Mehra

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To see the previous post in the series, Light and Sound, click here.
To see all the posts in the series, click here.


Friday, 17 October 2014

The Pursuit of Happiness






She woke up excitedly from her afternoon siesta as he kissed her softly and said the three magic words – “Tea is ready.”

Sitting in the veranda, silently they sipped the hot tea and looked at the rain dancing in their little garden outside.

The End.


And so it begins. Again.

Image: mine
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Linking this with Write Tribe: Tell a Story

Linking this to the Fiction Challenge 'From 15 to 50': Word prompt: Happiness





This post was picked up as one of the top five posts in the 'From 15 to 50' fiction challenge at The Moving Quill
















Thursday, 16 October 2014

Saying No to Modern Indian Dream?




“Commercialism is a modern sociological phenomenon; one might almost say, that is the whole phenomenon of modern society.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, vol 25, p. 485) 
We live in an age dictated by commerce, flashy commercials, and consumerist mindset. Companies are busy not only producing and selling products but also producing and selling desires. And so many of us are busy buying all that is being sold, from electric fryers to iPods, from LEDs to SUVs, from stocks to first-six-month-interest-free consumer loans. All in the pursuit of happiness.

The newly emerging identity of ‘consumer’ is indeed egalitarian because the urge to enjoy and possess as many ‘products’ as possible is above and beyond any caste, creed or religion. So in a certain strange way, the shopping malls of today help us get rid of some of our social divisions and prejudices, of course at the same time creating new divisions (e.g. between those who own a designer brand limited edition wrist watch and those who don’t.)

If the outside is a reflection of what we are on the inside, then perhaps this age and time is a reflection of the level of vital and mental consciousness of present humanity. In today's middle-class India when we look around us, we see people chasing after newer models of cell phones, branded jeans, designer saris, and all the luxuries of material life. We see people glued to TV advertisements to stay up to date with new marketing gimmicks and sales. These middle-class and upper-class lifestyle aspirations create a whole other set of problems for very large sections of Indian society which are unable to afford these comforts of life. Inequality of a different hue is born every time a new mall opens its doors to the gullible people chasing happiness in newer and more things.

Commercialization is running rampant. Capitalism and all its attendants – social, economic, cultural, political — are coming in from every open door and window they can find in the modern-day, liberal, open-economy India.

Most of our political leadership is driven almost exclusively by economic interests. Our education system at every level is strongly guided by the changing career markets. The “elite” stature of our premier institutions of higher education is ranked according to the number of industry leaders, successful entrepreneurs, or high-level executives they have produced. Newspapers and television with their glossy and eye-catching commercials are the primary instruments for promoting a consumption oriented lifestyle. Big money is spent for figuring out innovative ways to advertise for products in films, television dramas and musical shows (and now on social media, including blogs). Pretty much all aspects of culture—from films, theater, performing arts, creative and visual arts—bear strong impact of commercialism. While there are a few efforts going on in some corners suggesting some movement away from this through and through commercial mindset, the collective outlook is still predominantly based on an economic view of life.

Is this the Modern Indian Dream? Is this the dream we want to 'sell' to our future generations? Is an alternative modernity possible? What can you and I do to dream a different dream?

These are the questions we must ask. These are the questions I must ask. Of myself, first and foremost. Am I ready to dream a different dream?

These questions become more relevant as the biggest shopping season of the year approaches fast, with Diwali just around the corner and Christmas/New Year soon after that. Do we want to add to the consumerist culture? Or are we ready to walk away and say - NO, time to dream a different dream?

Image: Google
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Linking this with Write Tribe: Ask a Question

Linking this with ABC Wednesday: N, N is for NO.




Wednesday, 15 October 2014

On Writing in English


A new post in the series - Reminders to self




It is day 5 of Write Tribe's week-long challenge. The challenge today is to write a "Tips" post. Now who am I to give anyone any advice or tips on anything worthwhile?

But how about if this post becomes a means to remind me of some great advice or tips on something important? That would be excellent.

Day 4 had me write a post in Hindi, about Hindi. But English is what comes naturally to me when I write. Thus the thought came that I should write today about writing in English. And when it comes to writing good English who better to approach for some wonderful advice than Sri Aurobindo, the seer-poet who gave to the world its longest poem in English language, Savitri with 24,000 lines.

In the extracts quoted below, we find some very good suggestions or tips for writing English prose, which is why I find especially helpful for myself. Hope some of the readers will also find them helpful.

I can only say generally avoid over-writing; let all your sentences be the vehicle of something worth saying and say it with a vivid precision neither defective nor excessive. Don’t let either thought or speech trail or drag or circumvolute. Don’t let the language be more abundant than the sense. Don’t indulge in mere clever ingenuities without a living truth behind them. I think that is all. (14 June 1935)
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Your English is already correct as a rule. If you want style and expression, that is another matter. The usual outward means is to read good styles and impregnate oneself with them; it has of itself an influence on the writing. (27 May 1934) 
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… Indians have naturally in writing English a tendency to be too coloured, sometimes flowery, sometimes rhetorical... One ought to have in writing English a style which is at its base capable of going to the point, saying with a simple and energetic straightforwardness what one means to say, so that one can add grace of language without disturbing this basis....It is surely better to write your own thoughts. The exercise of writing in your own words what another has said or written is a good exercise or test for accuracy, clear understanding of ideas, an observant intelligence...(16 May 1932)

~ Letters on Poetry and Art. Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol. 27, pp. 627-628

Image: Google

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For some more inspiring advice on writing from Sri Aurobindo you may want to click here and here.

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To see previous post in the series, Reminders to self, click here.
To see all posts in the series, click here.

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Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Do You Know Hindi?




क्या आप जानते हैं आज से ठीक एक मास पूर्व , १४ सितम्बर, को क्या विशेष था? शायद नहीं।

भारत में १४ सितम्बर को वार्षिक रूप से हिंदी दिवस मनाया जाता है। अजीब बात है न - अपने ही देश में एक भाषा को अपने लिए एक ख़ास दिन निश्चित करना पड़ा है। इस  दिवस के द्वारा हिंदी भाषा और हिंदी साहित्य को बढ़ावा देने का प्रयास किया जाता है। आज के भारत में  जहाँ जीवन के किसी भी क्षेत्र में तरक्की करने के लिए अंग्रेजी भाषा सीखना एक तरह से ज़रूरी माना जाता है वहां साथ ही साथ भारतीय भाषाओं के संरक्षण और विस्तार के लिए भी बहुत से प्रयास हो रहें हैं। हिंदी दिवस भी उन्हीं प्रयासों में से एक है।

आज १४ अक्टूबर को मुझे यह विचार आया क्यों न मैं अपने पाठकों का कुछ चुनिन्दा हिंदी वेबसाइट्स से परिचय करवायूं। यदि आप हिंदी पढ़ना जानते हैं तो आप अवश्य ही इन वेबसाइट्स पर कुछ समय बिताना चाहेंगे - ऐसा मेरा मानना है।

पहले चलते हैं - भारतकोश की ओर। इस वेबसाइट पर आप अनेक विषयों के बारे में पढ़ सकते हैं - कला, दर्शन, धर्म, साहित्य, सामान्य ज्ञान, इत्यादि। भारतकोश के बारे में अधिक जानकारी के लिए, इस लिंक पर जाएँ।

हाल ही में भारतकोश पर मुझे कुडियट्टम /कुटियट्टम नृत्य के बारे में एक छोटा सा लेख मिला। पाठकों को शायद मेरे ब्लॉग पर प्रकाशित यह लेख याद हो जो मैंने केरल के इसी नृत्य के बारे में लिखा था।

यदि आप हिंदी साहित्य में रूचि रखते हैं तो अभिव्यक्ति नामक वेबसाइट से शायद आप परिचित होंगे ही। उनके एक पृष्ठ गौरवगाथा पर अवश्य ही कुछ समय बिताएं।

और यदि आप हिंदी कविता पढ़ना चाहते हैं तो कविताकोश पर आप कुछ समय बिताना अवश्य पसंद करेंगे।

जाते जाते भाषानीति के बारे में भी दो शब्द। यह वेबसाइट मेरे एक जानने वाले का भारत के भविष्य के लिए एक नई सोच प्रस्तुत करने का प्रयास है। इस वेबसाइट पर कुछ समय अवश्य बिताएं।

धन्यवाद।

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Do you know what was special about the date of 14th September, exactly a month ago? Perhaps no.

In India, every year 14th September is celebrated as Hindi Diwas (Hindi Day). Isn't it strange that in its own country, Hindi needs to have a special day for itself? This day is used to propagate the use of Hindi language and also create greater awareness and interest in Hindi literature. In today's India where it is commonly understood that one needs to have at least a functional knowledge of English in order to get ahead in any field of activity, several efforts are also going on to preserve and propagate the use of many Indian languages. Hindi Diwas is one such effort.

Today, on 14th October it occurred to me that perhaps I should introduce my readers to a few selected Hindi websites. I have a feeling that if you know how to read Hindi, you would certainly like to spend some time exploring these websites.

First up is Bharatkosh. Here you will discover articles on several topics including art, literature, Indian philosophy, religion etc. To know more about this website, click here.

A few days ago while surfing on Bharatkosh, I came across a small article on Kudiyattam dance. Readers may recall that sometime back I too had written a post about this dance form from Kerala.

If you are interested in Hindi literature, perhaps you are already familiar with Abhivyakti. Do spend some time exploring their link titled Gauravgatha.

And if you are interested in reading a bit of Hindi poetry, I am sure you would like to spend some time on Kavitakosh.

Before closing, a quick word about another useful link, Bhashaneeti. This is an effort by someone known to me, here you may find a new approach to visioning India's future. The person behind this website also writes here.

Thank you!

Image: Google

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Linking this with Write Tribe: Link Post

Monday, 13 October 2014

De-cluttering on My Mind


A new post in the series: Reminders to self



Prologue

As you can see I am blogging daily now, at least am trying to do so for a week-long challenge at Write Tribe. Though I generally prefer to write at my own pace, I have learned that once in a while participating in such "daily writing" challenges can help me get some necessary practice and develop greater confidence in writing something substantive even under the pressure of a deadline. I hope I will make it through these 7 days.

For this particular week-long challenge the only restriction the participants have is in the form of the different "type" of post they are asked to write for each day of the week.  Other than that, participants are free to use that "type" to write anything of their choice as long as it fits within the day's type. And of course, there is plenty of room for interpreting the "type" itself.

For the first day, we were asked to write a "List." And I wrote this.

For the second day, the type was "Answer a question" to which my response was this post.

Today, we are asked to write a review

In the past I have written about a few books and movies on this blog (for a few film-related posts, see here, here and here). In fact, my "list" post was also a sort of a review of the movie, Haider, though it can't be really categorized as a review. Somehow I am not really fond of writing reviews but prefer to present my interpretive or reflective take on books or movies that I find significant for some special reason.

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For this review post, I invite readers to revisit with me an old post of mine. Again, it is not really a review of a film, but an interpretive look at the set decor of the film. Surprised? Well, don't be. For the last few days I have been actively de-cluttering and re-organizing some of the spaces in my home. I have been mostly removing objects, simplifying things, and creating cleaner and lighter spaces. So it is not really a surprise for me that after eliminating many different ideas for this review post, I felt drawn to revisiting and revising this old post focusing on this very idea of de-cluttering.

Since films are primarily a visual medium, a lot of thought and planning goes into planning, setting up and portrayal of the backdrop or background against which the film's characters play out their roles and become part of a story. In many ways, the visual backdrop becomes an integral part of the story's narrative because it sets the tone for the contexts and spaces in which the characters move, live out their parts and connect with one another.

The star of this post is a Hindi film called Listen Amaya. With a stellar cast like Deepti Naval and Farooq Sheikh it sounded promising. I must add that I wasn't disappointed when I watched the film, it is actually quite interesting and different from the usual masala and formula films dished out by the Hindi film industry. The story-line is sensitive and delicate, though at times I felt that some parts were handled in a rather “filmy” and somewhat clichéd manner. But as I mentioned this is not really a critical review of the film.

So the real star of the post is the visual backdrop of the film. The opening credits of the film clearly mention that the whole set decor of the film was done by Fabindia, and obviously I was expecting a certain kind of visual sensibility and aesthetic appeal. And in a way it generated my curiosity about the film. In fact, the visual backdrop of the film was a key aspect of the film why a few people familiar with my taste in home decor and interior design had recommended the film in the first place. If you are familiar with Fabindia, you know that there is a specific visual appeal and characteristic to the whole range of their products.

Personally speaking, I like that kind of aesthetic very much – the whole hand-woven, hand-made quality and look of fabrics, furnishings, combined with somewhat bold and rustic looking old-wood furniture and home accessories made of natural  material and with an earthy-feel. Mostly, it is the Indian touch and feel of some of these products that appeals to me very much.

But then sometimes too much of a good thing can also be....well, simply too much.

  
(Too many objects crowding up a tiny corner; that tall display stand in the bedroom makes the space stuffy and dark.)

That is at least how I felt when exposed to an overdose of all the Fabindia stuff in pretty much every shot of the film Listen Amaya. It sort of became a bit distracting and irritating to see an over-abundance of the “ethnic-chic-decorated” look. Since most of the film is shot in the interior locations (home settings such as living room, bedroom, kitchen, and coffee shop), there were plenty of occasions for the filmmakers to showcase the Fabindia style of home decor. And boy, did they use them all?!

At times I was wondering if the filmmakers had ever heard of the word “restraint.” I mean, why zoom in so many times on the coasters and that serving tray? Perhaps it was the nature of their contract with Fabindia that compelled them to highlight everything in the set decor which was from Fabindia – from coffee mugs to serving trays to table coasters to kitchen utensils, from bookshelves to beds to chairs to sofa sets to wall decor to all other doo-dads that filled up the living spaces of the characters in the film. The result was that the spaces shown in the film felt artificial, crowded, stuffy and over done. At least for my taste they did.

           
(The tall shelf on the wall seems redundant, unnecessarily crowding up the space.)

As much as I like the Fabindia style (though I will also admit I have perhaps only a couple of objects in my home that were purchased from Fabindia – I generally prefer more direct and local sources than a retail chain outlet) does it mean that I would want to live in a “Fabindia style” museum which doesn’t allow my eyes or mind any visual and spatial relief? Certainly NO. And after seeing this film's visual backdrop I have become a bit more aware of how I want my living spaces to look and feel. My style (if I can call it that) involves more of a mix-and-match of different looks and styles with an aim to create a somewhat cleaner, natural, balanced and minimally decorated look.



A living space is not “decorated” by merely lining up all the products bought from your favourite store(s). A beautiful and comfortable living space is put together over a period of time in a deliberate and thoughtful manner. And a conscious and deliberate process of creating a living space (whether it is a room or a corner of the room) includes not only the process of adding objects, but also eliminating and removing those objects that don’t fit in that space. Maybe that is another word – “remove” – which the set designers of Listen Amaya could have benefited from when planning the overall visual appeal of the film’s sets. Sometimes simply by removing a bit of the “stuff and fluff” and creating a visual relief can enhance the overall appeal of the space.

But then all this is perhaps a subjective view. And others may feel very differently about everything I have said here. No issues there. Really!

Reminder to self

However, what is perhaps most relevant and worth remembering is that these ideas of restraint and removing the fluff are not just limited to creating harmonious living spaces on the outside. The same principles apply to the spaces inside of us, where we live when we are by ourselves. Our minds, our thoughts, our emotions, our real inner living spaces. How do we practice restraint there? How do we remove the extra “stuff and fluff” from there so that we have cleaner, more harmonious and beautifully balanced inner spaces in which we dwell?

“Things in which we do not take joy are either a burden upon our minds to be got rid of at any cost; or they are useful, and therefore in temporary and partial relation to us, becoming burdensome when their utility is lost; or they are like wandering vagabonds, loitering for a moment on the outskirts of our recognition, and then passing on. A thing is only completely our own when it is a thing of joy to us.” (Rabindranath Tagore)

And this, I believe, is truly the key to a true “interior decor” – both of ourselves and our living spaces, of our inner and outer homes.

Epilogue

This is the 200th post on this blog. I am actually quite happy that it turned out to be the 200th post because the theme of de-cluttering, simplifying and cleaning up our outer and inner spaces is a perfect fit with the guiding spirit of this blog. To create beauty, to experience beauty we also need to remove the redundant, ignore the inessential, and eliminate the excessive.

 Picture credits: All stills from the film Listen Amaya are courtesy of Facebook page of Fabindia. 
All pictures of my home, courtesy Suhas Mehra

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To see previous post in the series, Reminders to self, click here.
To see all posts in the series, click here.

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(The original post, titled "On Harmonious Living Spaces - Outer and Inner" was published on August 27, 2013)


Sunday, 12 October 2014

Song for Sunday


A new post in the series - A Poem and A Song

It is actually quite amazing when you find the same thought being expressed through a picture, a poem, a song, or even a gesture. Perhaps it happens because the thought has sunk deep into you, at least for the time being, and you just view a certain picture, read a certain poem and hear a certain song as expressions of that singular thought. 
Or perhaps they really are conveying the same thought, but in different shades and hues. 
And it just so happens that when that very thought captured your attention, certain pictures, poems and songs also appeared before you allowing you to delve deeper into the thought and let it reveal its deeper essence to you. 
Regardless of how it happens, it is always a moment to relish and cherish the beauty. The beauty of the picture, the song, the poem. The beauty of the experience. The beauty of the moment.





If you have visited this blog often or even only occasionally, you know music gets its due share on this blog. In fact, a few of my recent postings (see here and here) have been about some of my all-time favourite songs.

So go ahead, ask me. Ask me if there is a particular song that I am enjoying today. Ok, don’t ask me. I will tell you anyway.

Yes, there is.

After a long time I listened to one of my favourite songs today. And of course I listened to it many times, over and over. Don’t know why I hadn't felt like listening to it for so many days, weeks. But today being my first Sunday back home after being away for three weeks, this somehow turned out to be a perfect song for the day. Lingering, melodious, captivating, almost compelling the listener to slow down and go with the flow, flow of music, flow of the words, flow of the heart. 

Listen and you might agree. 

Singer/Composer: Jagjit Singh, Lyricist: Gulzar


And then to make the experience of the song even richer and fuller, I was reminded of the following lines by Rumi:

When I am with you, we stay up all night,
When you're not here, I can't get to sleep.
Praise God for these two insomnias!
And the difference between them.

So if the question for the day would be - Is there a poem and song for the day for you? My answer would be - yes, there is.

How about you, do you have a song for the day?

Image: Painting by Bindu Popli

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To see the previous post in this series, click here.
To see all the posts in this series, click here.

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Saturday, 11 October 2014

When a Movie Gets Political: Case of Haider

It was exactly a week ago that I saw Haider, a film by Vishal Bhardwaj, who has made a name for himself, particularly for his adaptations of Shakespeare's dramas. His earlier films, Maqbool (an adaptation of Macbeth) and Omkara (an adaptation of Othello) are considered two of the most captivating dramas to come out of mainstream Hindi cinema in the recent years. Haider is his third adaptation of Shakespearean drama. This time he chose Hamlet, the most well-known tragedy in English literature.







Vishal Bhardwaj has managed to present, for the most part, a good adaptation of this powerful story using an interesting and engaging narration. The lead actors in the film have performed their parts very well, making the experience of movie watching quite enjoyable.

But what puzzles me (and perhaps many other people too, if I go by some of the comments and discussions going on in social media and also on the basis of a few reviews of the film) is the choice of political context in which the story of Haider has been situated.

Allow me to present a list of seven points which made me wonder whether this time around the filmmaker's love for Shakespeare has taken a backseat to his politics in this third adaptation of the bard's plays.


1. The film Haider ends up presenting a rather black and white portrayal of a selected issue of Kashmir problem. The Army with its Special Powers Act is shown as the perpetrator of horrendous wrongs, and the separatists/terrorists/sympathisers of terrorists are shown as the victims of these horrendous wrongs perpetrated by the Armed Forces. While we can't deny that some horrific abuse of power always takes place when military is deployed anywhere in the world to curb terrorism or such serious crimes against humanity, can we ignore the fact that it was the extremely horrifying nature of crimes committed by the other side which led to the deployment of military in the first place? Who is the perpetrator here? Who is the victim? These are not black and white questions. And yet they are, in a way. It depends on the political lens through which one chooses to view and understand the reality. A more nuanced and subtle intellect would try to see the various shades of gray in complex problems like that of Kashmir, a problem that has been in making since Indian independence, and not jump to immediate and politically biased conclusions based on quick and cursory readings. A political leader's job is different. He or she has to make some strategic decisions (deployment of army to curb separatist or terrorist activities in a state is one such decision) and therefore must have the necessary clarity of mind to distinguish fact from perception and must have the will to follow a reasoned approach to address the problem. An artist, a film-maker, on the other hand, works with the more subtle realms of perception, interpretation and expression. Can a film that is definitely trying to portray a highly sensitive political issue of the day ignore the grays of the situation and get away with only a black and white portrayal? I don't know the answer to this question, but I feel compelled to ask this question after watching Haider.

2. Unlike Shakespeare's Hamlet, the character of Haider in the film doesn't seem to face much of a conflict when he is presented with two versions of the story of his father's killing - one by the character of Roohdar (Rooh, an adaptation of Hamlet's father's ghost from the original play) who tells him of Haider's uncle's role in the killing of his father, and the other by his uncle, his father's brother who tells Haider of Rooh's real identity and role in Hamlet's father's killing. Haider's confusion regarding who to believe lasts just for a little while, and the way the story is being told it comes as no surprise when Haider chooses to believe Rooh. While in the original play we find Hamlet somewhat obsessed with the idea of "proving" his uncle's guilt, in Haider we somehow find this young Kashmiri student almost convinced that his uncle has in fact committed the crime. In Haider however, this is not merely a personal crime, that of killing the king, Hamlet's father, as in the original play, but a more political crime, that of being a spy for the Indian army. This overt politicization of a serious human tragedy seems to suit well the film-maker's agenda or politics. That agenda, I suspect, is to portray a suspected terrorist or a suspected sympathiser of the terrorists (i.e., Haider's father) as an innocent victim of the brutalities unleashed under the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act). Unlike the original Hamlet, whose inner struggle is what makes that character so timeless, Haider in the film seems much convinced of who is in the wrong here. This is one of the ways in which the film Haider becomes a bit more politically charged and favouring a certain political view. 

3. The film's narrative starts from 1995. There is hardly any mention (except for one weakly and meekly mouthed line by an army officer, which can be so easily missed in the noisy scene) of the brutalities and horrors that were unleashed by the separatists and terrorists in the Kashmir valley, especially on Hindu and Sikh population who were tortured, killed or forced to abandon their homes and businesses and become refugees in their own country from late 80's to early 90's. This feels like an attempt on the part of the film-makers to project a certain side of the truth as more relevant or more integral to the larger story of Kashmir problem. An un-informed viewer may even come out believing that the entire horrifying story of Kashmir problem was perhaps a result of the brutalities of Indian Army. It is true that no story or film can present all possible sides of the truth or reality, but such open attempt to highlight only one side while rejecting all the other possible sides seems highly suspect, especially when the film is about a very sensitive subject.

4. The timing of the release of Haider is also a bit tricky. While generally the film-makers may not have much control on this aspect of the film, it is not uncommon however to hear that release dates of some big films have been changed due to various reasons. (Usually these reasons have to do with avoiding competition of films of big stars). The film came out when huge sections of Kashmiris were still facing the brunt of the recent disastrous floods in the state. The film came out when most Indians hadn't fully gauged the terrible destruction and devastation faced by their fellow Indians in Kashmir. The film came out when most Indians were still singing praises of the exceptionally valiant work done by countless soldiers of Indian Army in saving thousands of civilian lives and all other rescue and relief efforts. To be fair to the film-makers, it must be mentioned that just before the end credits of the film start rolling, a statement comes on the screen paying a tribute to the efforts of Indian Army in saving thousand of lives in the recent floods. But let's be honest. How many viewers pay attention to such statements at the end of the film? How many even linger in the theater till the end-credits? As soon as the last scene is gone, people are busy gathering their belongings and kids and exiting the theater to get to the parking lots. Wouldn't an opening statement have been a better choice? Not just about the army's efforts in the recent floods but also a few other things mentioned in the above point #3.

5. The film portrays Haider's mother and Haider's grandfather as two lone voices of reason who are concerned about young Haider (in a way representing the impressionable Kashmiri youth) coming under the influence of the propaganda of revenge and divisiveness being promoted by the separatists/terrorists. As is often the case, this voice of reason is however a frail one, and unable to prevent Haider's ultimate entrapment into the deadly cycle of revenge. This psychological angle of the story of Haider (and Hamlet) is so believable and relate-able, making it timeless in a way. One wonders why a highly sensitive political context was required to narrate the very human story of Hamlet. Even if one were to argue that nothing happens out of context, and the personal is in a way always political, and also that there is a political context to the original story of Hamlet too (though not as integral part of the story as is the case in Haider), the question remains as to why a certain aspect of the political context is highlighted as a backdrop to stage the very human drama of Hamlet and his inner turmoil. The only possible answer to this can be -- it is the film-maker's choice. Accepted. But as a viewer, I still feel shortchanged at such a response because being aware that Haider is an adaptation of Hamlet, I expect more of Shakespeare in the film and less of Vishal Bhardwaj's politics.

6. The film also raises a larger question: how much politics is acceptable in art? We live in times when politics is all around us. Everyone and anyone who watches news channels or reads a newspaper has an opinion on what is right for the country, what is not good for the country, what should the government do or not do, what is the best way to govern a billion plus people, what is the right strategy to deal with friendly and enemy neighboring countries etc etc.... Can art and artists be any removed from the politics of the day? Difficult to do so, in most cases. Only a few exceptional artists who think of their art as a means for expressing something much deeper than the social-political realities of the day may be able to keep their art untouched by these fleeting occurrences of the present times. For them art remains as an expression of something much beyond, something eternal almost, something that transcends the narrowness of the mental view of complex reality and truth. But for a large number of artists in today's highly politicized reality (an outcome of rational modernity in some ways), art often becomes a means to express their own opinion on the prevalent social and political reality of the day. Nothing wrong with that. And a patron of such art clearly knows that this is the artist's personal statement and decides accordingly whether to endorse it or not. This was not necessarily the case with Haider. Haider is presented as an adaptation of Hamlet, so most viewers familiar with the story of Hamlet are not really prepared for a very sharp political tone of the film.

7. Unlike other artists such as painters, sculptors and musicians, film-makers work with a medium that has a mass appeal and reach. Films are a powerful medium, and films that are based on sensitive and important topics have a potential to generate a wide-reaching interest in the issues being explored. The film-makers therefore have an extra responsibility to be somewhat more balanced and nuanced in their portrayal of the issues, and subtly inform the audience that there may be many more complex sides to the reality which are not being addressed in the particular story portrayed in the film. If a film-maker isn't willing to do that, perhaps he or she may be better off telling stories that are about more universal themes of human experience. But if a specific and highly complex political reality is chosen as the context in which a human story is being played out, as a viewer I find myself wondering whether it is the human story or the context that is ultimately more important for the film-maker.

Having said all this, I still think Haider is an excellent film as far as film-making and story-telling are concerned. Do watch it, if you can. 

Postscript: The views and analyses presented are personal. I am fully aware that many readers may not agree with any or all of what I have written here. I welcome all comments, disagreements and agreements.  


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Linking this post with ABC Wednesday, M: M is for Movies
Also linking with WriteTribe: Write a List


Friday, 10 October 2014

Standing Tall....


A New Post in the Series: When a Picture Leads




Am I invisible? A freak? An anomaly?

An object to amuse the onlookers? Look, they aren't even looking. Self-absorbed as they are.

What is with most people today, always needing newer forms of entertainment?

Will they ever be satisfied?



I stand tall, not to entertain, but to see the world from the heights of contentment.

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To see the previous post in the series, click here
To see all the posts in the series, click here

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Image credit: Vidya Sury





Monday, 6 October 2014

Raising the Discourse




Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recently completed visit to the United States created a great deal of excitement among Indian-Americans, as well as among many other sections of both the Indian and American establishments including government, business, media and others.

Understandably, the political pundits, diplomatic experts and media-folks were and still are busy dissecting and analysing each aspect of Prime Minister Modi’s visit and also the various speeches he gave at different venues. 

On September 27 Narendra Modi gave a speech at the United Nations General Assembly. While the content, focus and emphasis of the entire speech was commendable in its own right, including the PM’s oratory, one specific thing stood out in particular for me.

That was when the Prime Minister made a reference to Yoga in the context of individual responsibility to address the problem of climate change. On that global stage he reminded the esteemed audience that Yoga is a unique and one of the most invaluable contributions of India to the humanity. He emphasized that Yoga is a complete approach to living a holistic life, and is a path to attain overall well-being, both for the individual and the collective. 

This, he reminded the UNGA, is what could very naturally result in a deep rethinking and reorienting of our modern lifestyle, leading to less consumption, a more mindful and conscious approach to life and living. Such an approach based on individual commitment and responsibility, according to the Prime Minister, must be one of the key components of a comprehensive plan to address the huge problem of climate change. To create a greater awareness about the benefits of Yoga, he even proposed for the celebration of an International Yoga Day.

By speaking of Yoga for a couple of minutes in this way, Narendra Modi persuasively reminded the audience that while he may be speaking at the UNGA as a democratically elected Prime Minister of the nation-state of India, he is in fact also representing one of the oldest civilizations of the world, one that has made immense contributions to the world and humanity. 

In a very subtle but powerful way, PM Modi made the audience understand that this oldest civilization has much to contribute to address the most serious problems of the modern world. In fact, he even reminded the world that Indian culture, because of its inherently and deeply spiritual view of life and living, may be able to lead the world in raising the individual and collective consciousness, thereby facilitating the search for sustainable and holistic solutions to the most complex problems resulting from massive industrialization and mechanization of the world.

Through this brief but thoughtful reference to Yoga, the Indian Prime Minister not only brought the glory of Indian civilization on to the global stage, he also brought home one of the deepest truths revealed by the truly enlightened in all the world civilizations, thereby emphasizing the universality and the wideness of the Indian spiritual outlook. He very subtly reminded the global audience that only a radically different and an elevated consciousness can provide a sustainable way out of the present evolutionary crisis humanity seems to be facing.

While making his reference to Yoga he indeed gave important hints to the kind of new consciousness that is needed for a better tomorrow. Yoga, he said, is not only a means to better health, but a way of life that has the potential to gradually raise the mind, heart and body to a level of self-awareness and consciousness that is wider, higher, and deeper than the one in which the mass of humanity persists at present.

Some of the other remarks made by the Prime Minister during his speech, especially with regard to greater sharing of technologies and new advances in renewable and other alternative sources of energy, greater sense of global responsibility to fight terrorism, greater need for the world to work together to address the problems of global poverty, lack of sanitation and unavailability of clean drinking water, also highlighted the need for an elevated and wider collective consciousness. He emphasized that the world today needs a consciousness that is more unitarian, integrative and harmonizing instead of one that is grounded in separative, divisive, egoistic tendencies which at present generally guides most of the actions and decisions taken by the individual nations, particularly the Western powers.

In a uniquely Indian way Prime Minister Modi elevated the usual discourse on some of the most pressing problems in today’s world to a level where lasting solutions can be found only when humanity begins to see, experience and live life differently. He indirectly pointed out that sustainable solutions can’t be found only through a materialistic-rationalistic approach to life. By making a small but powerful reference to the age-old discipline of Yoga and the deeper connection between Indian spirituality and reverence for Mother Nature, he emphasized for the global audience that radical solutions demand a radical shift in consciousness and particularly require an approach to life that is more grounded in inner truth-seeking. And he very aptly reminded that it is India that has given to the world and humanity a time-tested approach to inward turning, called Yoga. 

Only an Indian leader could have said this on a global stage, and only a leader who is in touch with the deeper Indian spirit could have said this so convincingly and so powerfully. Narendra Modi showed to the world that the eternal and timeless Indian view of life, which values a higher synthesis of matter and spirit, has the potential to create a better tomorrow. 

India is destined to work out her own independent life and civilisation, to stand in the forefront of the world and solve the political, social, economical and moral problems which Europe has failed to solve, yet the pursuit of whose solution and the feverish passage in that pursuit from experiment to experiment, from failure to failure she calls her progress. Our means must be as great as our ends and the strength to discover and use the means so as to attain the end can only be found by seeking the eternal source of strength in ourselves. (Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo, vol 8, p. 25)

Image: Google