Right there in front of my eyes does the light of my world keeps evolving into shades that I have always been left to register. I have found it tough to open up. As I hold on, shades vanish and hues devolve so as to match changed backgrounds. Honestly, on occasions I have felt abandoned and left to wonder if living in the world is akin to fighting a battle where one never belongs to an army or to a group where everybody else is ready to lay their lives for the slightest of cause that is dear to you. The army however, as it turns out, is always there for the opponent to support and the team, ever willing to ditch you on its promises. It is unacceptable to my humble spirit that a universe that promised sustenance to my existence could choose to be this partisan against my stakes. What is beautiful however in this injustice is the fact that unruliness does exhibit a pattern. I am not the only one. Millions others before me have and after me shall have to brazen it out, though not as successfully or terribly as I have. Things around me – squalid objects, toothless images and mobile technologies speak of a desire that makes them succeed in acquiring indispensability. I refuse to lend a ear and to learn. That’s what I have come out to be. I am no different!
Sharing a personal favorite today. It is a song from a huge musical hit of the 1960s. Asha Bhosle’s gorgeous playback, excellent picturisation and mind-blowing lyrics. A classic picnic song from that era. Considered by some to be a not so talented music composer, this one by Ravi is truly remarkable. For me the song stands for a sense of energy that accompanies longing and loneliness and infuses ephemeral pathos which depending on one’s mood may well turn out to be lasting. Non Hindi speakers too might love this one. Try n let me know!
Doesn’t matter. The blistering sun outside or the thunderous rain. Surpassing the season of the day is the weather of the heart. When gloom and dark surround one’s soul, no luminosity of lightning can be bright enough. At the end of it we must accept, we face it all by ourselves. The human capacity and it’s predisposition to anxiety and worry are not merely states of the mind that can be dealt with in counseling sessions or through anti-depressant capsules. The fear of the bad and the unpleasant is many a times a fear of the real. It is not an imagination rooted somewhere in the crevices of the brain and is not always a result of a series of chemical reactions that take place within that curious organ. The proneness to rejoice and to be arrogant in times of success and riches is precisely the human way of balancing out on the tragic moments that life offers to all of us- I would not say in varying measures, rather I would say equally. A life that is lived is always a life replete with a complete set of emotions, memorable, not so memorable and despicable experiences. Look at the fate of the happiest seeming and of the most destitute and downtrodden. Both groups of people always have a lot to envy each other for. The man on the street and the king are both privy at the same time to their own sets of possessions as well as deprivations. What the haves refer to as stress and as ignominious is nothing but a fragment of the lived reality of the have-nots. Our worries and fears and our leaps of exuberance can not be traded for worthier things. Hence the formula that the wise have devised. Do good and expect good to happen to you. If it does not turn out to be like that, just accept it and be brave in the face of hardships. I think we need to own up and live free. Nothing really helps!
For me Gasha turned out to be a curious sound. Pronounced as Gaa-Sh-Aa it is the name of the latest play produced by the Bangalore based theater group Indian Ensemble. As a nominated entry under several categories (including Best Play and Best Director) at the ongoing theater festival organised by the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards, it was performed last evening at the Kamani Auditorium. The production tries to explore the convoluted frames of the conflictual socio-political zone i.e. Kashmir and makes an earnest attempt at laying bare the subjectivity and the everyday lives of people severely affected by the ongoing conflict in the region. The only two actors we see on stage are Adhir Bhatt (as Gasha) and Sandeep Shikhar (as Nazir). Gasha is the attempt by the scriptwriter Irawati Karnik to bring to light the various facets that come to constitute the fate of two childhood friends. Gasha and Nazir are neighbors from a locality in Srinagar who are separated because of Gasha’s family leaving Srinagar for Mumbai in the wake of ‘militancy’. The narrative goes back and forth in time. Gasha’s family revisits their hometown after a gap of twenty years for the ritual worship of the much revered deity Kheer Bhavani. At the Srinagar airport, Gasha chances upon a loader whom he identifies as Nazir. The encounter makes him think of events past and of the days gone by. For the audience it is a pleasant and yet a very serious detour across the landscape of such remembrance.
Needless to say that the script beautifully peels quite a few layers deep into a number of issues. The director Abhishek Majumdar succeeds in making Bhatt and Shekhar impeccably don the role of several characters- of children in a classroom, of Bukhari sir- their teacher, of Gula- the Muslim attendant at the Kheer Bhavani shrine, of the angry-old controlling Arjun Mama and the most endearing of them all- Dadi Jaan. An innovative stage design, intelligent handling of the lights, an apt sound arrangement and a minimalist use of stage props are other noticeable aspects of this production.
Apart from making for insightful angles from which to look at the Kashmir issue, the play leaves the audience with interesting material for further reflection. The characters for instance ask some very evocative questions in jest, as exclamations or dumb anguishes, satires or even as morose ramblings. Notice Gasha’s mother asking- “Bhala Koi Churaai Hui Kaaleen Pe Namaaz Kaise Padh Sakta Hai?” (How can anyone offer prayers on a stolen carpet?) or Arjun Mama asking Gasha “Daikin badi company kaise ho sakti hai jab maine uska naam hi nahin suna?” (How can Daikin be a big company when I have not even heard its name?” and further on “Tu Kashmir ka Mausam bechta hai?” (You are selling the weather of Kashmir) referring to Gasha’s job in a company that manufactures air conditioners. All the more funny is Arjun Mama scolding a seemingly uninterested Gasha to concentrate in prayers before the Goddess and to “feel the tiger”!
I see the play to be about the problems with our reliance on memory as a tool to reconstruct and make sense of all that happened years ago. It presents in vivid details the ways in which children make sense of their world. There is this just right dose of genuine comedy sprinkled all across the duration of the play. The ways in which violence gets appropriated by the imagination of a child is well documented through very subtle injunctions in the script and in facial expressions that aptly correspond to it. Where should a child play and where should he study, what has happened to schools in Kashmir post militancy and what are the possible future careers that the ‘unschooled’ children in Kashmir will have in the years to come, Gasha is a nuanced comment on all these social issues.
Yes, the briefcases as props seem too many in some scenes, they are dragged too often on the wooden floor, the repeated falls and the thuds of the actors at times insert a break in the flow. Despite these glitches, Gasha is a play that has a message, ranks high on entertainment quotient and oozes a meaning that might require repeated attempts in order to be gleaned. I sincerely hope that the team comes up with more such creative productions and do the little possible so as to bring sanity back to where it belongs. In troubled times, sanity often happens to be the resource that becomes scarce. Even when available, it gets under or over-represented in discourse. The impact of counter currents that an artistic work like Gasha is capable of creating remains to be estimated. I wish this team all the very best for its future productions.
Inner Ring Road aka Mahatma Gandhi Marg in Delhi.
The stretch of this road from Rajghat to the Maharana Pratap Interstate Bus Terminus.
The broad, impressive expanse of this road is interrupted by the narrow divider where Alistonia has just begun to welcome the autumn with its fragrant flowers.
Lie untroubled and asleep on this divider scores of men. Feet of this one touching the head of the one below. As seen from the window screen of a moving car, this chain appears never-ending. Ah Woe Betide! The bronze spoon I was born with in my mouth! The riches, the ‘society’ and the obligations I have to take care of. Thanks to these aspects of the worthless life I have come to lead, I can’t get to spend this night here like any of these souls have to. A poignant morose sounding blog post about this sight should be great!
Millions of vehicles from both sides of the road traverse the scripts of hundreds of those dreams. Fairies come close, kiss and get crushed under the screeching wheels of the speeding cars before their palms get to fondle any further. Damsels in the other dreams get picked up by the cyclists and the autos before they uncork that wine and offer to the parched lips. At home, a wife in a yellow saari with a story and a child with an embrace wait. The words of that tale are not audible in the first go and the arms are at such a distance- the noise and the bright lamp posts. The city never sleeps!
Some emaciated, some hungry, some newcomers, some old timers. A few sit huddled together and smoke. Once in a while this philosopher breaks this chain as he stares at the stars and wonders if it would rain tonight. Nine out of a hundred awake and calculating the hours of the night that remain. As night falls, the vehicles would be less frequent. At around two, they would almost disappear and allow for some sleep that will be a mix of relief interspersed with annoying aphids, lice and arachnids of all kinds. Thinking of food, this one weeps. His top down neighbor might get a good job in the morning. He is thinking of tomorrow’s evening already.
Some lie adjacent in pairs and share the sheet. Must be from the same place ‘back there’. Talking about the quarrel with their common childhood friend over the two thousand rupees that he did not return, their eyelids have just gone too heavy. They just mutter to themselves- Bahinchod!
Of an alley where the grand old man lies cremated on the bank of the Yamuna. The big brave King’s name shining on the main building of the Bus Station. In the midst of this greatness rests a banality- one that I have not ever lived. I should be wisely wishing for anything here- what if a segment of that wish were to come true! ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’ is another axiom I have to sleep thinking about tonight!
In the dead of the night, one would tell me tomorrow, came to him the spirit of the Mahatma pillion riding on Maharana‘s horse and wept inconsolably at the comfort and at the bliss that this divider teems up with as and when the stars appear brighter and shinier! On the parallel, outer ring road aka K B Hedgewar Marg must be dozing off another set of nationalists and nation builders!
In the pages of this slick and colorful book lie wonderfully captured the lives of an impressive range of characters. The people in these stories, their life worlds and above all their strikingly individual attempts at finding a way out of crucial existential dilemmas they face is the reason the nine stories in this anthology deserve to be read, appreciated and pondered about.
Firstly, each of Verma’s stories are about a sufficient detailing of the predicament in which the protagonists are situated. Secondly, each story uses the technique of conversation and dialogue quite powerfully. As a result, we meet quite a good number of people from varied socio-economic backgrounds, read about who they are, get to know of what they think and ‘hear’ a lot of their justifications for the decisions and choices that they have made in their lives. Each story is ultimately about a tension that we aim to resolve so very often in our lives that it begins to seem unresolvable and hence banal. Verma takes us back to those ‘love marriage versus arranged marriage’ and ‘learning to say No versus learning to compromise and sacrifice’ debates.
These stories do not make a villain out of any of these actors and refrain from offering easy solutions to the deeply philosophical issues they raise. Interestingly, the book offers the readers an innovative option to rewrite the endings of these stories on the author’s website in the event of their dissatisfaction with any of the endings. The episodic nature of some of these stories and the detailed biographical element in others arouse equal amount of interest and one would have to appreciate the comfort and ease with which the author addresses an impressive range of emotional entanglements. Be it the plight of a failed love affair, anxieties and insecurities of a marital discord or the complexities of living in a joint family, Verma addresses them all with a studied sensitivity.
Two stories that I specially enjoyed reading would be The Practitioner of Austerity and The Soul Mate Theorist. The former reminded me of Ritwik Ghatak‘s classic Meghe Dhake Tara. Through a glimpse into the tribulations of its protagonist Aparna’s life, the story says a thousand things about the meanings of being a daughter, a woman and a civil servant from the scheduled caste whose life is ultimately nothing but a sacrifice that hardly anyone takes a note of. In what appeared to me to be a modern-day adaptation of the Rajesh Khanna starrer Amar Prem, The Soul Mate Theorist takes us to a bar where two college friends discuss women, love and sex. From the bar we are taken to the apartment of a sex worker where we meet her son. This story is a wonderful take on the static and constraining institutions that marriage and family can actually turn out to be.
The book is written with a specific audience in mind and does falter on its ‘appeal’ quotient. In a few places, the descriptions seem trite and unnecessary. The reference to the internet pages where background research on the settings of these stories was undertaken could have been avoided. Overall, this is an interesting book- one that ideally can be read on one of those days when the mind is prone to some retrospection and is willing to pause and take stock of all the puzzles that life has had to offer!
(For the fifth post in this series, for which I have interviewed people I am close to, I emailed Sharmishtha a set of questions. Her responses have been reproduced here. I hope that you would like the idea and enjoy the conversation. The series is to be continued with other friends as and when possible. Sincere thanks to all readers who commented on and appreciated the earlier posts).
Three posts ago, I wrote a few things about the person Sharmishtha Basu is- an artist, a nice friend and above all an active blogger who is not just regular but also remarkably consistent with regard to the quality of her posts. I hope this interview serves as a little window and brings us face to face with some of the unnoticed aspects of the person behind the lovely colors that she employs to illustrate the rhymes of her delicate words.
Personal Concerns- To start with, I would like to ask you something about your blogs and your experiences with WordPress?
Sharmishtha Basu– As you already know, I am obsessed with writing. I started with Mydomainpvt, so I could use my blog in Intent.com properly, the posts of WordPress can be copied in intent without any editing. Then intent.com shifted to Facebook and I concentrated on WordPress. Two of my earlier blogging experiences- with MSN ( a mixed experience) and Blogspot (horrible) initially made me a bit skeptic about WordPress. Now I feel that WordPress is the place every writer who loves to write and wants genuine readership should be in. It’s an amazing site, the more I compliment WordPress the little it shall be. I have found the very best people of the world both at intent.com and here. I just love the readers and writers at WordPress. They are amazing.
SB– Haiku is the form that unleashes the dreamer in me fully. I love writing Haiku because its main concept is to capture nature, being a great lover of mother earth I really love to play with this form, trying my best to capture mother earth’s beauty in every way I can.
SB-I love Kolkata because of its people. It’s the best place for a single woman to live in. Delhi is the scariest place in India I believe. Even when I left Delhi at the age of sixteen, I could feel the scariness of that place. The worst part is that one had to be cautious about family men, neighbours – something which fortunately is still absent in Kolkata. Most probably because Bengali men respect their wives…. Ha ha. They don’t want to get spanked by their wives for eve teasing. Kolkata is full of warm people who let others live in peace.
SB–Bengali, Hindi and English. I am equally comfortable in Hindi and Bengali. I love Bengali the most because it’s a very sweet language. It really sounds sweet to the ears. I have heard a lot of languages, some of them with a little bit of understanding and some without any understanding at all. Bengali really sounds sweet to my ears more than most of the languages, and a lot of my non bengali friends say the same. My English is not bad I believe.
PC- Sharmishtha is a nice sounding name. What does it mean ? Do you also have a nick name?
SB– Sharmishtha means extremely lucky- which I am. My self-given pet name is Trisha.
SB-My favourite most poet is Rabindranath Tagore, then comes Kazi Nazrul Islam, Wordsworth, Frost, Shakespeare (I love his sonnets). Its tough for me to look for one poem, song, movie etc. but one that touches me very deeply is Tagore’s Jethay Thaake Sabar adham (where the poorest of poorest dwells)
Your feet dwells
Where the lowest of the low dwells
In the lowest place of all
With Those without anything at all
When I lower my head at your feet
It stops somewhere midway
It cant reach the place
That lowest of low place
Where your feet dwells
My arrogance cant reach you
Down there where you dwell
Like the poorest of poor
Amongst the poorest of poor
I seek your company
Sitting on my pile of wealth
Surrounded by loved ones
But my heart never reaches
Down there where you dwell
Amongst those without anyone
Amongst those without anything.
SB- I was a student at Burdwan Raj College, two of my fondest memories of that college are that of our history teacher Alok Chakraborty- India really needs such teachers, and the five girl gang we had formed- me and Nilanjana, Rimita, Shampa and Swagata. We used to have so much fun. I graduated in 1995 and my combinations were Economics, Political Science and History. Well, Alok Chakrabarti confirmed my firm belief that even the rowdiest students respect the sincere teacher. Quite a handful of the students were older than him, yet the moment he walked inside the class it fell silent and his students almost never missed his class. He was not just an amazing teacher but he gave us suggestions that worked so well.
Well, we used to spend a lot of time together, I used to visit Swagata at her house regularly, and Rimita, Nilanjana and me went to the same tutor. It was girlish fun mostly, both Rimita and Nilanjana had boyfriends and we had to lie to their parents 🙂
One day Nilanjana did not come, we went to her house to ask how she was and to give her the notes of that day. Her mother opened the door and was shocked to know that Nilanjana had not been to the classes…because as she knew it, Nilanjana had gone for the tuitions. It took a lot for us to convince her that actually it was us who had bunked the classes and were looking for her notes. We used to go out together, and Nilanjana was the one with tight purse strings, always trying to convince us not to spend 🙂
SB- I am absolutely against it. The websites may keep an eye on their content but not the governments. I believe they are scared for the way truth is spread through the internet and the manner in which it has resulted in the collapse of so many corrupt governments.
SB- I have favorite films and the films that move me the most. There are too many in the ‘favorite’ section starting from all Jurassic Park movies, The Lord of the Ring, some horror films, some thrillers and quite a number of Bengali movies.
The movies that moved me the most are fewer. I am afraid I will not watch most of these movies again. Schindler’s List, Shawshank Redemption, Dead Man Walking, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Edward Scissorhands, My Fair Lady, Twelve Angry Men, Hirok Rajar Deshe, Sound of Music- I can watch these any day anytime.
PC-Please share with us a song of your choice. I would like to know what makes it stand apart?
SB-The same song that I added as a poem above- its lyrics; it’s amazing in Bengali, it touches your soul in its deepest place and moves it, asks you whether you have such humility?
SB- I am a horrible cook, I cook a lot and have been into full fledged cooking since the age of sixteen…a thing really uncommon for Bengali girls fortunately to juggle between cooking and studies, my expertise is some day to day Bengali cookings such as the poshto (poppy seed paste) and jhol (mixed vegetable curry)- just two out of many others.
(All comments and suggestions about the format and the presentation of the interview would be deeply appreciated. Friends who wish to be included in this series, please let me know. It would be lovely to have you here on my blog. Cheers!)