Thursday, April 28, 2005

A baby girl it is

I never had a baby sister. Never did I have a cousin younger to me and in the proximity of my life. I would probably never know what it would be like. However I know how much fun it could be if you have a sibling. I count my brother as one of my best friends and I figured you could be the best friend even if you share none of his interests or passion when you grow up together. Growing alone could probably beckon you to unknown charters of life. But I would give it a pass now.

Because today my wife has delivered a baby girl and she is going to be the baby sister of my two and a half year old son. He was making faces and singing his own version of twinkle twinkle when I drove him to the hospital. Though we were lost in the labyrinthine alleys of this huge hospital complex, he did not like to be carried in my arms. Did he sense that he is a big boy now? He did not pester his tired mother today.

He might go into bouts of sibling jealousy and learn to share the hard way. But its an experience that he is going to cherish and love. I watched him calling her baby and planting a kiss on her forehead.

She is beautiful. Her face is serene. She doesn't seem to mind the howling wind outside, that has been out there since morning. I don't know how worthy would I be as a father and what future holds in store for her. I remember Yeat's great gloom; I remember John Mayer's song for Daughters; I remember Johnny Cash and his daughter's song "September when it comes" and I imagine countless post cards, handwritten.

I wish her all the best to live her life to the fullest in this world at her own terms.

Thursday, April 21, 2005


Philadelphia is a city where you find the dwellers gripped by a recurring sense of having lived the exact moment a while back in their life. The same conversation, same person with a smirk on his face, same weather and precisely when your neighbour locked his apartment to leave and the mayor was having a nightmare of his house being bugged by the FBI. Or you could listen to the jumbled voices from radio discussing Dali and the death of a Jazz singer in your car while a black man walked across the street with a beer bottle in hand.

It's a city that has been aging ever since Ben Franklin had a dream that on the day of his funeral leaders, 34 ministers, preachers, priests & at least one rabbi marching arm in arm behind his casket as it was being carried to the gravesite. He further had another dream of Liberty Bell crumbling.

If you sit in one of the chairs in the old assembly hall of the constituion house, after climbing up the sturdy wooden stairs you could still sense the rustle of tunic and sombreros worn by your fellow legislators. Perhaps you could still argue with them to make Gujarat the 51st federal state.

If you walk down the center city streets along the sun soaked brick buildings, you could meet the travellers from neighbour cities who were afflicted by a bout of insomnia, lost in the constitutional walking tour of philadelphia. Or if you cruise down to the inner city via delaware river, you could find Lila, the aging and desperate wharf-bar pickup and hone your skills on ruminations of life and civilization to something understandable and real before you sail back out of the outer seas again.

Going further back out to the north of the city, you would find Mr. George Tharakan getting out of his Mercedes Benz in suit into his four bedroom house and later coming out in lungie to inspect his fence he shared with his fellow native. If you glance through his family album, you would find him wearing the exact same lungie inspecting his fence on a similar sunny evening in Thiruvalla, Kerala.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

A Mirror held against the soul

We celebrated every moment
Of our meetings as epiphanies,
Just we two in all the world.
Bolder, lighter than a bird's wing,
You hurtled like vertigo
Down the stairs, leading
Through moist lilac to your realm
Beyond the mirror.

Andrei Tarkovsky posited the Mirror(1975) onto his life. A life that he knew about his family glinted by sepia tainted memories, winter green deaths and rainswept conflagerations. It reflected off the contours of imperfect lives and their spiritual innards around him, unrelenting and unflinching. That the montage of art, history and spirituality went right through the soul as if a million rays converge to immortalize a human being.

When the movie begins to unreel, we find an adolescent overcoming his stutter under a spell of hypnosis. That is where Andrei wanted us to let the magical hold of "Mirror" to unwind ourselves. You let go of your fears and handicaps of inert words for your soul to begin a journey of self expression. When you do, you become kind and empathize, you sense the flow of time, you feel the pangs of waiting and despair and then you just be.

Word is the last to die.
When the drill of water pushes up
Through the subsoil's tough integument,
Sky will stir

There are references of two russians in the movie: Pushkin and Chekov. At the beginning of the movie we see a doctor passer-by who strikes a conversation with Andrei's mother (Maria) who is waiting by the fence of their house. When the doctor contrasts plants and trees to humans, who rush about and speak in platitudes, Maria mentions Ward #6, Chekov's short story (that dealt with the issues of conformism and the perils of sane/insane duality), implying that the doctor is insane. He says, don't worry, he is immune to all that (insanity); "Chekhov invented it all". Another reference is on Pushkin who in a letter wrote to a friend mentions the cultural and spiritual contexts of Russia being distinctly different and alienated from that of Europe by the invasions of Mangols and Tartars. Andrei is prodding us to look at the russian landscape with another eye.

The narrative of the movie is cyclic. You keep coming back to the same windswept green fields over Andrei's childhood home, you find Maria sitting by the edge of fence waiting for her husband and then years later, death; the walls made of logs, sudden cuts to fire burning at middle distance in field and the dark green woods behind.

We were led to who knows where.
Before us opened up, in mirage,
Towns constructed out of wonder,
Mint leaves spread themselves beneath our feet,
Birds came on the journey with us,
Fish leapt in greeting from the river,
And the sky unfurled above...

While behind us all the time went fate,
A madman brandishing a razor.

Andrei's memory of his childhood and troubled marriage is a blend of impressionistic paintings and profound photographic interpretation of dreams:
. Night, interior of Dacha (country house): Maria walks by the door and towards the window. unnoticeable freeze of the frame, the color of which turns into sepia. child in bed, sits up. Maria is washing her hair with help of husband. she goes towards a mirror and sees herself as an old woman. The house crumbles down in slow motion. Later on, Maria lay suspended over the bed, in black and white.

Dreams are given expression. You are awe-struck by the sheer contemplative detachment of the narrator on events. The music and poetry have evoked such depth that the nature with its elements of fire, rain and wind brought the organic evolvement of this miracle movie. The usual autobiographical ingrediants are seen in this movie as well. The scenes of childhood memory with newsreel footage and contemporary scenes examining the narrator's relationships with his mother, his ex-wife and his son, child custodial arguments, and those from history of the period (Prague spring, Mao, border disputes with china, holocaust, Leningrad blockade etc). The imperfect lives of Andrei, his parents and people around them have been a given an ethereal expression.

The last scene shows us camera panning down on Maria Maria leaning on husband's chest. she sits up, Husband asks "Do you want a boy or a girl?" She reacts by looking down, smiles, then tears cross her face; she looks away. The camera cuts to woods and pans left across garden, mother (Maria as old) and then pans left across the river bank under trees, insects, fallen trees, rotting trunks; mother walking to right, meets child, takes hand and walks on; cut back to Maria, still mingled joy and sadness on her face; then back to mother, still walking across field with two children; pan back as mother and children walking, sound of bird that boy was imitating; through trees, fade to dark.

...and that beauty I witnessed in Mirror shattered me.

A man has just one body a solitary shell
The soul thinks it quite shoddy
as many know so well
With ears and eyes outfitted
to cover bones and loins
So fly out through the cornea
into the vaulted sky
Up to those ice cold wheel spokes
where bird like chariots fly
And listen from the shackles
of your living prison room

Note: All the poems are by Arseny Trakovsky, Andrei's father.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Andrei's sense of time

"There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions"

--T.S.Eliot (Love song of J. Alfred Prufrock)

Andrei Tarkovsky was a poet. But he chose cinema for his medium. Every cinema of his had been a quest for Andrei's identity as an artist. He believed no true artist had ever lived in an ideal world and the issues of real world were the very impurity for the chemistry of creativity. He further believed that the same artist was challenged by the concept of time, more so for a cinema director.

The director is at pains to capture the fleeting moments of vision and sculpt them with structure, images and metaphors. The linear narrative is an impediment to poetic expression and the shining metaphors and visions that Andrei so dearly wanted us to see might just vanish. He is also worried about characters and their experience in the movie, taking over the experience of cinema and channels of communication between the connoisseur-audience and the artist.

I revisited Andrei's Andrei Rublev(1966) last week, one of the best films ever. It recounts the struggles of Andrei Rublev, a 14th century fresco painter in Russia who lived through a brutal and volatile period of history with marauding Tartars and treacherous princedom. The film is divided into seven chapters. Each chapter is preceded by a prologue and followed by an epilogue, revealing a deep rumination over the moral, ethical and artisitic dilemmas faced by Rublev and they are narrated in a heap of metaphors, conversations, incomplete montage of ideas, fragmented memories and images conjured up from the landscape. There is no one point of view, but an orchestration of everything mentioned above. I just want to discuss briefly the last chapter which I felt singularly represented the cosmic-onomics of Tarkovsky's world.

It is titled "The Bell". Andrei Rublev, under a vow of silence and overwhelmed by his self-doubts as an artist and atonement as human being comes upon the casting of a great bell. The bellmaker has died, but his son, Boriska, claims his father 'passed on' the secret of the bell to him alone. He has inherited his father's work. He was threatened of grave consequence should he fail. Amid confusion, rain and treachery the bell is finally cast and raised.

During this cacophony, the monk Kirill, Rublev's envious peer has a reckoning with him, accusing him of wasteful inactivity, of 'taking his great talent to the grave'. As the bell at last rings out, Boriska, hysterical and exhausted, collapses, confessing that his father had not passed on his secret after all. The son had proceeded on faith, feeling and madness alone.

This is the revelation Rublev was looking for. He tells Boriska that they should go to the Trinity monastery (the fresco project which Rublev earlier abandoned) together where Rublev will paint and Boriska will cast bells. The two men embrace as the camera pans past them over burning logs and dying embers, as the black and white images slowly dissolve into color fragments of Rublev's frescoes.

Out of the ash-nothingness arises a poetic vision. A deep meditation on the significance of inner conflicts, realization and triumph of an artist's will over the senseless flight of time.

Andrei, was the true poet of cinema who had a great sense of time.

Monday, April 11, 2005

The dreamcatchers

We were a bunch. The students from colleges in the neighbourhood. We were unbridled and impetuous as we could be. There were student union activists who set many a tranquil days into raging conflageration. There were brooding loners who would walk by the din as if the world had never been a spectacle. There were loiterers simple and vain. There were kiddos destined for greater futures that had been mapped out and choreographed by their parents. And then there were us, who just happened to be there for no apparent reason. Sure there were thousand other students who looked just like us: in those over crowded buses, "bootilicious" noon shows, among the clamour in mess halls, hostel and along the periphery of life itself.

We ran into each other in some of those happenstances. We met again at Kerala Kalapeetam, a tiny 1200 sq. ft. rendezvous for writers, artists, oglers, pretenders and movie buffs. It used to be a major haunt for the arty intelligentsia in the sleepy town of cochin. Some of the folks I met in that mosquito infested cusbah were Kamala Das, Balachandran Chullikad, his wife Vijayalakshmi (both poets), Ayyapa Panickar and a few other names I don't remember. The enterprise was held together by Kaladharan - he looked like santa and lived in the haunt. Two other art endeavours from Kalapeetam were Cochin Film Society and Little Theatre. Little Theatre later split into too little theatres though. One delved into the Indian aesthetics (Karnabhaaram and other heavy epic based scripts) and other went after woody allen and low-brow enactments of shakespeare plays. Film Society however had more followers, partly due to the fact that local media gave it serious backing and the voluntary efforts of people who had steady job.

Cochin Film society brought a lot movies from all over the world into the town. Sometimes they showed them in theatres, other times they showed them in the public library auditorium. We had Italian film festivel that showcased the neorealists (Desica, Rosellini), Antonioni. We had Hungarian films (Jancso, Istavan Szabo, Gall, Zoltan Fabri), Iranian (French Avante-Garde cinema (Renoir, Godard, Resnais), Polish new-wave cinema (Andrej Wajda, Krystoff Zanussi, Kieslowski), Indian (Kumar Shahani, Mani Kaul) and the retrospectives: Bergman, Ghatak, Bimal Roy, Satyajit Rai, John Abraham, Thomas Alia (Cuba), Kurosava, Misoguchi and countless others.

They also let the screening of independent movies by fledgling directors from inside and outside the country, even though the audience could turn hostile sometime. We have seen a girl who showed her longish arty movie getting grilled and booed by the hostile audience who watched it for free. We have seen the unusually huge turn out for Milos Forman's movie Hair. Then there were plenty of short film screenings. Once after the screening of a short film, Kaladharan introduced the director as
Fellini's prodigy and asst. director. He asked for a write-up for press release. I did that with another mate of mine, Rajeev Ravi. He was a generally a mute spectator and together we collected all the brochures and write-up on all the movies ever screened in Film Society. The synopsis had enough sound bytes for us to explore the inner workings of cinema and together we shared this wonderful fascination.

He and I applied for FTII (Film and Television Institute, Pune) after bachelors. Cinematography was his passion and I wanted audiography. However the day we supposed to leave for Pune, I had some serious talk with my parents and realized my journey might just not start then. I bade him farewell and came back with a heavy heart. My path then digressed quite a bit.

Rajeev had his ups and downs. Second year he had an aggravated chemical reaction and spent almost a year in medication at home. But he'd overcome that and on his way to become one of the best cinematographers in India. He did Chandni Bar, Sesham, The Bypass and many more projects on his resume.

I must mention one more dude who made a difference and perhaps threw in a little light. His name is Anup Kurian. Though I have not met or even heard of him before, I felt I know him more than I think I do. He had his school in FTII, but took up a job in IT and later came to US to hunt for the bounty. A short visit of Syamaprasad (renowned malayalam director) to the west coast gave him the nudge he desperately needed. The money that he made in US was enough for a shoestring project and he made Manasarovar. Critic Derek Malcolm after having seen the movie, sought Anup to talk about his movie. In a rare honour to Indian independent movies, `Manasarovar’, a 90-minute feature film in English had been selected to be screened across 35 theatres in UK, starting January 2005, ahead of its India release. He is living up his dream and has done enough to bring a smile on dreamers among us. Let me wind up this meandering of a blog with a few lines from an obscure poet:

It's easy, perhaps to die for a dream
With banners unfurled - and be forgiving!
It's the hardest part to follow the gleam
When scorned by the world - and go on living!

--Myra Brooks Welch

Thursday, April 07, 2005

I am the only one who leaves

Have you ever thought of life as an interminate state of leaving and arriving? The familiar anchors of your daily life: the comforter on your bed, double doors of your apartment, pavements, traffic lights, the coffee room at work and the faces around you.
You may as well think about it as an incessant spell of leaving: You leave from childhood, teenage, youth and the rest of your life as up to the hour, minute and second. If one's life has a defining moment, yet he/she is floating away from the defined moment to many a cursed ones too. The "I" in me is in a state of infinite flux. And I might lose it at some point in time.

Consider this poem from the Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo. He is one good poet you want to read even if you don't like poetry and hate one time communists.

Paris, October 1936

From all of this I am the only one who leaves.
From this bench I go away, from my pants,
from my great situation, from my actions,
from my number split side to side,
from all of this I am the only one who leaves.

From the Champs Elysées or as the strange
alley of the Moon makes a turn,
my death goes away, my cradle leaves,
and, surrounded by people, alone, cut loose,
my human resemblance turns around
and dispatches its shadows one by one.

And I move away from everything, since everything
remains to create my alibi:
my shoe, its eyelet, as well as its mud
and even the bend in the elbow
of my own buttoned shirt.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The greenhouse effect of Indian writing

Indians have learned nothing but Western science and philosophy from their reading and academics, the basis of which is mostly European christianity. We deluded ourselves imagining their issues as our own, debated their debates, fought their fights and created snooty socialite circles. The modern and post modern culture elites and well read intellectuals stayed clear of Indian realities and interpreted issues with their western peer's yardsticks. While I agree on the revolutionary aspect of western methodology and its use in Indian context to a great extent, I equally resent and condemn these folk's authoritarian attitude towards Indian ethos and the "traditional" wisdom. I also understand that the native culture fanatics do not make their job easier either. Indian thought which is based on texts from vedas, upanishads and other oral intelligence and written scripts are dismissed and ridiculed as religious artefacts.

The post-war europe taught us the absurdity of life and futility of man's destiny. I read a lot of these guys. Though I trusted the integrity and honesty of all these thinkers and writers, my parched self craved for a meaningful something that tells me that there is a reason, however ambiguos and obtrusive it may be. I needed to break the cycle of validating my ignorence and despondency. Then I read O.V.Vijayan (Legends of Khazak), Anand(How deserts originate), U.R. Anathamurthy (Samskara), Srikrishna Alanahally (Kadu), Bibhuti Bhushan Banerjee (Pather Panchali, Aranyak), Tarashankar Bhandopadhyay (Arogya Niketan, Jalsaghar) and a few others. They wrote about their inspiration from Indian Philosophy that had its roots deep in nature. The same nature that was kind, generous and grand, that facilitates the cycles of life and death. The western books we read defeated this sense of union from nature.

You will not find this subtext from Thoreau or Wordsworth. They were still responding to their existential angst and that was nothing but naturalism. The western analysts trying to procrastinate and box Indian thoughts as polytheism and freakish religious ramblings never understood that it did not place the selfish man at the center of the universe, that it allowed for a benign symbiosis of man, nature and the universe in an unending cycle of karmic existence. The freaks in London and hippies in united states never assimilated this. Instead their dysfunctional subculture and those horny Gurus proved to be a bad advertisement for anything remotely related to Indian philosophy.

With this backdrop, to find genuine thinking and writing from India had been hard to come by. However if you look, you will find them. The Indian English writers generally sell the western concepts of India and you learn nothing from them in terms of Indian thought. I would like to quote an excerpt from the malayalam writer O.V.Vijayan from his autobiographical notes (on his book "Legends of Khazak) to give glimpse of real Indian writing.

He(Vijayan) spent his childhood in Police quarters where his father worked as an officer. He was not a healthy child and was bedridden for quite a long time. Here (in the excerpt) he is talking about his vision of nature and the complex interrelated life abound on a serene evening. He is trying to imbibe the grandeur of nature and exults in the vision of his existence as one of the cosmically countless forms of life: (I hope my translation did justice to Vijayan)

Nature yonder the meadow was nubile. Amid her nubility, our little houses leant over and hid without ever rejecting it; the trees, vegetation, birds, hemipterous insects and spiders that wove across trees; the tiny flowers of grass, microscopic sun buds, bluish hydrangeas. Neatly cut sedimentary rocks and the expanse of meadows spaced out the landscape where there were no plants. After the rains, ditches became reservoirs of clear water to turn into ponds. They might last for months unmuddied before they get dried up. The green frogs who migrated would swim about and lie underneath the crystal layers of those reservoirs. When they did, the bubbles on top of their skin would shine like emeralds. The hill was surrounded by valleys and extended to more hills. I could see the sanguine facade of Chekkunnu mountain from the patio of my house. Watching its breathtaking face I would daze back to my lethargy..."

That lethargy was a metaphor for the spectacular vision he had. I would re-enter into my life as an Indian reader when I read him and I'd say, truly I am one of those cosmic millions.

Saving the World!

It came about in this way. During the children's revolt of the sixties and the seventies, I was just old enough to understand what t...