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!
You would know if you have spent a night all by yourself in the countryside. How the dampening moonlight quivers around the eyes while delivering to the ears packets of rhythmic noise from a wedding party on miles away. In the lonely sheet of helplessness where you lay uneasy, these parcels recreate the many weddings you have been to in the past. So, the groom must have arrived and his feet must have already been washed. The guests must be feasting somewhere close by. The band must still be playing for the over enthusiastic friends of the groom. One of these would shake a leg to the whiskey in his head. The percussion strikes all too gently for its intensity and its distance. Listening to it you relish the charm of being by yourself. Loony bird nights.
Feels like a street say from somewhere in a dusty town, The sun has set. The street is fast emptying while you continue staring at it from the street side bench. Chill sets in quietly and the hands reach for the warmth of the trouser pockets. You wish that the town permitted you a night out on the street without anyone questioning or offering shelter. You wish one of the home-bound vendors could take you along for a meal and his biography. Tales of his white female buyers would be delicious dessert. The vendors leave, the bench begins to hurt and you get up only to find a reason to go back. To that pending assignment or to that regular TV show.
You are awake on a rainy midnight and are in a hotel room close to the sea. Sleepless and aroused you think of the book to read, Turn a leaf and dream aloud yet again. A sea is so much about life and warmth. Yet you don’t have access to any of it. May be because you don’t belong. But the scene from the window tells me that the ones who belong too are leaving for their huts. Their baskets and stands rolled up in one. Who does the sea belong to then if it has to spend the night on its own. May be I am only being jealous of people who don’t really own the things I am now yearning to own. Doesn’t everyone go to sleep night after night? Leaving the groom and the bride, the dust and the bench, the hotel and the beach-all to themselves?
The day comes to a halt for us. I part with the oars held weakly in my hands. As distance from you grows with the sleek wooden sticks wading across the clear, turbulent mass of water, eyes well up with sights of nothingness and bleak. The stream arising out of the lachrymal well spills over into the lake. The palms cannot do the needful being occupied with rowing me across to shores far away from you. The salty stream then dries up leaving a trail on shallow cheeks.
Myself at the helm then attend to the events and invitations from distant shores and the crescendo of the just concluded embrace loosens its grip. As eyes dry up, the depths of the sea throw up novel mysteries, whose ability to frighten and amuse begins to win over the malady unleashed by departure. With the sharks I then smile faintly and talk, on the erring oars I frown and to the sail I cheer “Keep it up!”. I now look for my face in the waves and comb my hair in the wind. I have been ill shaven and crass for the entire day.
Come the other shore, I look back and see you tending towards him engrossed in adulation and about to kiss. The spell is finally broken for the day. I anchor once again with a resolve to not return tomorrow in the same direction. Fatigue suddenly gives way to disgust and the mind begins to philosophize and pity oneself more than the world. I calculate my life, weigh people and my feelings for them in balances, love them when they are nice to me, loathe them when they don’t seem to care. My claim to fame in all this daily routine is the sturdiness of my sail and the resilience of my boat and my swimming skills. The current in the waves has thus far always been favorable. It should be rightly said about love that it comes to you only when you are in the mood for it. It vaporizes in the face of chaos as it approaches and quite surprisingly delves into anti amorous textures when my expectations are countered or reciprocated with love that is not meant for me. The loathing that sets in is as ephemeral as the love that ruled a while ago. The next morning is here and I have woken up fresh and lively and I jump once again to swim across the pool. To meet you once again and to embrace life that keeps the day going. To foolishly tell myself the wise thing once again, “Today could well be my day- the day I spent dreaming of all of last night”.
In the cloud of my rain
was nectar attenuated
it was laden with tar
that had stiffened in the heat
Stirring vigorously was the spoon
and a cluttering sound it made
and the rain fell drop by drop
quenching the river
When it was sunny
the honey was granule
the nectar stale
and the river polluted like hell.
A Potter man’s hands
And with a Watch repairer’s eyes
I wish to hold and see
A Professor’s pen
And with a Doctor’s Needle
I wish to write and pinch
A Manual Scavenger’s Head
And with a Banker’s Calculator
I wish to ferry and count
A Priest’s Cloak
And with a Chef’s Nose
I wish to cover and sniff
A Wanderer’s Legs
And with a Sadhu’s hair
I wish to traverse and knot
Your silhouette, your giggles
Your mass, your fragrance
Your territory, your being!
(For the sixth post in this series, for which I have interviewed people I am close to, I emailed Uma Shankar Pandey a set of questions. His 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).
Uma Shankar Pandey is my newly found friend on the blogosphere. What initially attracted me to his blog was a kind of poetic prose that is so characteristic of whatever he writes- short stories, reminiscences or book reviews. I find him to be an avid reader, a fiercely attentive writer who has all the concern possible for details and above all a very gentle and endearing individual, interacting with whom can be a real source of joy and inspiration. The vocabulary he employs in his expression is rich and classical to the core, to say the least. In this interview, I plan to dig slightly deeper into the person that Uma is. He says on his blog page that he is a “A banker by profession and a writer by confession” and that he shoots when “…the sordid pursuit of livelihood condones such indulgence”. A minute more with some of his lines that linger in my head each time his blog comes to mind should be in order here.
Reviewing a book he says about the author: “She is a quiet writer of the human disquiet”. Describing in fascinating terms one of his childhood visits to a temple in the city of Varanasi, he writes : “There was no priest in sight and we had to deal with the Goddess without the luxury of a bailiff.” Goes Uma at another point in one of his short stories: “A month passed and the April suddenly started getting intolerably hot and stuffy. I fell to my old habit of pulling out a mattress on the terrace, fixing up a mosquito net on sticks and sleeping under the open sky. The nights were hot to start with but once past the midnight, the wind would pick up thick with the fragrance of night jasmine.” For more of the lovely stuff he writes please do visit uspandey.com. I promise you would not be disappointed!
With that glimpse into the world of his words and musings, on to him directly!
Personal Concerns- Benaras to start with- I wanted to know of your take on the charm and mystique that this ancient city is sort of emblematic of.
Uma Shankar Pandey- I have conflicting memories of Banaras.
We used to live in a house on the riverbank. I remember peals of bells, many, many of them, ringing, every morning and evening. Then I remember a boat ride where I almost drowned. It was a serene evening and the wind was picking up. People had started scrambling into the boat and I tried to make it on my own and slipped into the river. I was retrieved quickly and someone took off my trousers. I believe I was embarrassed but I was quickly enraptured as the boat pulled into the river, merrily swaying to and fro. Soon, all that stretched out from the boat was rippling water. Ghat after ghat slid past and the chanting grew louder. Beating of drums and cymbals grew and faded as we closed in on temples and then moved away. The women in the boat started singing.
I grew up with the perennial awareness of the huge river in which I could drown and on which stood a distant bridge. And all the meandering lanes invariably led to temples milling with people murmuring with half-shut eyes and bowing and falling flat in front of idols. I was more conscious of monkeys gliding across ledges and rooftops than the cows with menacing horns. What hounded my thoughts often though were the human shapes being carried away on bamboo stretchers, the quartets ushering those chanting dully. As a child, I soon learnt what it meant when a group of grim looking men from our paternal village stood at our doors, refusing to come in, demanding to see our father urgently. Draped in shrouds shining red and orange, someone surely awaited the final fire at a ghat nearby. The river of life was filling me with shivers for life.
People visited us when they wanted to take a holy dip in Ganges too. I was told about Kal Bhairava, an incarnation of Shiva who in a fit of anger had severed one of the heads of Brahma and the head had clung to him and accompanied him everywhere. The skull dropped off his hand only when he visited Kashi, or Banaras as it was known then. It is the legacy of deliverance that prompts the sinners among Hindus, and who isn’t a sinner among Hindus, to trudge their way to the holy city by the river ever so often to drop their baggage of misdeeds. And the Ganges has remained a mute witness, a perennial cleanser of the physical and mental excretions of the sinners.
Those are the thoughts that sweep my mind when I think of Banaras. Death, because that is what humans fear but actually succumb to; deprivation, because that is why humans pray but to no avail; hope, because that is what humans pray for and their success may vary; delusion, because that is how humans pray and there really isn’t anything out there.
PC- During one of my conversations with you, I got to know about your unfinished Ph.D at Lucknow University. I was interested in knowing more about your research.
USP- My guide, Prof R N Srivastava, had a mysterious brush with T. S. Eliot. He’d get dreamy talking about it, breaking into a vicious American accent. He had a book gifted to him by the towering litterateur and he cherished it like his life. During my stay in Lucknow University as a student he had taken a liking to me and would trust me immensely and that is why I was once lent the very same book which I went on to possess for an unduly long period. I was never truly forgiven for the sin.
Professor Srivastava was a man of honour and a man of words who clung to what he professed come hail or high water. He was kind enough to take me under his fold and suggested ‘Comic Apocalyptic Fiction with Special Reference to Joseph Heller, Thomas Pynchon and John Barth’ as a topic for the doctoral thesis. Of all those names, Joseph Heller’s masterpiece Catch 22 readily rings a bell to many. I was done with reading Heller and had started writing my critical interpretations. Prof Srivastava, however, wanted me to consult certain tomes even before I put my pen to the paper. I, on the other hand, feared reading other’s works about the genre may perchance sneak in a bias in me or worse, nip my original ideas in the bud. I was afraid I’d be overwhelmed. I did express my apprehension to the professor but he would not budge. It was not that I was adamant or I was sworn not to check out the works my guide wanted me to, much as I was in awe of him anyway. But, it being American Literature, the British Council Library at Lucknow would yield nearly nothing on those authors. The other libraries in Lucknow claimed never to have heard of those, whatsoever. It was the early 1990s and Internet was not yet born to us. My only option was to go to Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages (CIEFL), Hyderabad., down south. It was a long way off, Hyderabad, two nights away, not earth shattering but a deterrent nonetheless. That, I was a Research Assistant associated with a critical project at IIM Lucknow didn’t help matters much. Eventually, the impasse became insurmountable.
PC- How do the profession of banking and the urge to read, write and blog go together? Since when do you blog?
USP- My earlier job at Indian Institute of Management Lucknow was contractual in nature. I was fervently looking out for teaching positions in Lucknow University and its associated colleges. Unfortunately, it was a complex system being controlled by non-transparent machinery. I am not sure when, if ever I would have ended up in the coveted vocation. Meanwhile, the sordid saga of livelihood started gaining the upper hand with each passing day. Calls for cracking the commonly held recruitment tests started getting shrill. Even Professor Srivastava opined that I should be able to sail through competitions such as those for probationary officers for banks. I did write a few of them and cleared a couple of them and joined my present employer in 1994. For many years after that I was a rolling stone, moving from one branch of the bank to the other, forgetting everything about writing. But I did put up a ‘Homepage’ in 1999, when ‘TCP/IP’ Internet connections became common. Prior to that, I had been trying my luck with publications like Pioneer, TOI, Gentleman, Dharmyug and Saptahik Hindustan. But once my own website was up, I started posting sporadic works there. I started dabbling with ‘Blogger’ circa 2004. I have preserved my first post, ‘Soliloquy’ at uspandey.net. I have been writing intermittently on my current blog One Grain Amongst the Storm at uspandey.com since 2007.
PC- Who are your favorite authors? Any specific novel that you wish to talk about?
USP- It is impossible to have just one favourite author. Some of the authors I love to read are as under:
D H Lawrence
Phanishwar Nath Renu
And many more! Hamlet, Jude the Obscure, Wuthering Heights, A Farewell to Arms, Doctor Zhivago, Fire on the Mountain, God of Small Things, Small Remedies, The Immigrant, Boats on Land, Narcopolis are some of my favourite books.
PC- Is communalism ( I am referring to Hindu Muslim animosity/ events of violent conflict in particular) in Uttar Pradesh entirely a political problem?
USP- It is a complex problem. It is impossible to singularly pinpoint at an agent that is at the vortex of the persisting hurricane. I am afraid the seeds of discord may have been sown way back in our history. I do not intend to invoke the communally subversive strategies of many a Muslim ruler of this land, nor do I wish to invoke the ghost of Jinnah, who have been redeemed by none less than the top faces of a party with a prominently ‘saffron’ bias. What I do believe in is that alarmingly low level of poverty and the resultant illiteracy in people constitute a fertile ground for superstitions and excitable emotions. It is the avarice for power that propels the communal, religious and political leaders to perpetuate the status quo of the preacher and the preached. Enlightenment will mean an adverse shift in power in favour of the populace. I find the holy altar of so-called secularism more alarming than the bogey of communalism. These pseudo-intellectuals tend to impose themselves where they are not only not needed but are wholly unwelcome too. They are like the bad conscience that kept egging Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. The underlying equations are overwhelmingly common to both Kandhar and Uttar Pradesh.
PC- Tell us something about your plans regarding the upcoming book?
USP- All I can say is that it is a recurring old dream that grips me off and on with varying force.
PC- I have discussed this with you once. What according to you is the strength of the stream of consciousness style of writing?
USP- The Stream of consciousness mimics the human mind at work. Emotions like pain, anguish, love, hate, sorrow and joy have contextual rather than chronological existence. The fabric of memories is woven of people, places, objects, suffering and happiness, free of temporality. It is one of the most effective tools to explore the psychological landscape of characters and render a meaningful structure to the whole as well.
PC- Favorite film/ song of all time?
USP- I cannot have a favourite film/song for ever. Yet, my favourite singers are Mukesh, Ghulam Ali, Paul Simon and Norah Jones. Some of the best films I have enjoyed and still think highly of them are following:
Enter The Dragon (I was a child then, but then still!)
Gone With the Wind
An Officer and a Gentleman
All Quiet on the Western Front
The Ghost and the Darkness
Welcome to Sajjanpur
Khosla ka Ghosla
Well, that is just an indicative list!
PC- A scene from a Shakespearean play that you love. What makes it worth a mention here?
USP- It is from Macbeth’s soliloquy (Act V Scene V)
She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Well, the bard has said it all. We are but a small cog in the big scheme of things. Overarching ambition? Greatness? Where am I headed to? ‘Quis hic locus, quae regio, quae mundi plaga?’
At the end of the interview, Uma also sent me in writing this added small gift- a short note about Personal Concerns. Just made my day!
“I have recently started reading your blog and am often stung by the breathtaking evocativeness and sensitivity of your posts. I have read ‘Sleepy Men’ several time over and am mesmerized anew every time. I wish the best to your muse and I’d love to see your art blooming into a valley of flowers. That said, I’d like you to write oftener.
(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!)
Thank heavens! Infatuations last but hours and minutes. God forbid the outcomes this churning of the being would have had if it were to extend into days of my life that are to follow?
This ambience arrests the mind and soul, imprisons it for a phase. Yearning as Wells says in The Time Machine has a fourth dimension too. One yearns only because there is a duration through which one yearns. Imagine yearning in the absence of time or through the entire expanse of it. Sincere thanks to the creator of our psyches. Thanks for it is intelligently forgetful of the most venomous of arty sensations. That face impresses in the most ordinary circumstances. No flower beds and no waterfalls are called for when a heart has to fall for the falls of the tresses of a beauty. When that grace flutters around, the heart stoops down to the dirty, slimy ground, gathers every bit of it in the pockets of the clothing I wear to transport it back home, to kiss it when alone and to sleep with the scent of those floral prints, head meshed in thought while the arms hold tight to the moment still alive!
These faces are peculiar. They seldom speak. Even if they do, one does not actually get to hear of that tone and modulation. Lips move at a distance, rarely uttering anything audible. Most of the time, they chew at the helplessness of the onlooker.
This person assisted. Because of her being there, the journey back home free reeled into the circles of energy that engulfed. All along the lengthy road back to the abode, lingered in mind the coziness of the bed where I would lie at ease, recollect the scene, admire the eyelids, inject myself with the charm once more in the most private ways I would like to. The dogs barked in the dead of the night as I walked carefree, humming the tune of ten instruments mixed into one. Fearlessness.
These grace fountains are deceitful. They dry up once the eyelids feel heavy. In dreams appear crocodiles, snakes and lizards- never those heads. In gardens bloom roses and jasmines- never the little flower on that print. In libraries are stacked books- never those words I could not hear those lips chew away.
To prepare oneself for the next entourage is mindlessness. The uncertainty of the frequency of its occurrence just kills. A sex machine alone can truly guess when another of her like would next come calling to stir and shake. To think of a cure for this disease would be suicidal for the malaise creates a life enough!