Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A song for seasons

The Country road lay like a tamed snake, brown and parched, heaving and teary eyed. Sunshine raced to distant fields like wildfire and bounced off broken heaps of images. The waste land subsisted on dried tuber and the wisdom of defiant dry bones of the river bed. The fire sermon was delivered in may.

The ceiling fan in your room is a bit of schizophrenic, besides being old and cranky, and you lie in your bed, etherised; while the vagaries of Summer and memories melted in crimson flames.

Monsoon arrived when the dark clouds with streaks of lightning broke the boundary of skies. The air grew dense. It wafted the scent of impregnated soil. Trade winds came and then came meghmalhar. An alaap began in vilambit interval swelled on to madhyam and culminated in an endless dhrut khayaal. A million drops of rain fell on the remains of life on earth. The puddles, rivulets, streams, rivers, lagoons and the whirlpools flowed, swollen by a mass of turbid waters rushed with impetuous haste towards the seas, felling trees and deluge-struck mortals all around on their banks and washed them to a timeless shore.2

Autumn is too short to pause and ruminate over the blinding beauty of orange evenings and golden yellow leaves. And yet one ruminates, invariably. In one of these autumns Lorca3 moved to Newyork while it ushered in the great depression. The autumnal marvels of his Granada, its solitary rose breath and its leaves, reflections of pillars and arabesques in the pools, the splashing fountains and the profusion of myrtle and pomegranate - were all estranged, now. The loss of November!

Winter can wreck your senses, nudge them into frigidity, remind you that you are living in a world of morbid nerves, clear and cold as ice. The cold winds blowing across the snowy landscape can bring in the visage of death and a possibility of enlightenment. You may even gain the courage to glance at the white emptiness that lay beyond the limits of your eyes and the moonbeam's icy glitter. The winter in your sense organs would tell you that you were always been a snow country, alone and unable to speak.4

A sudden light shower in the morning, left the yard exhilerated and let it regain composure. The laughter and mirth from the living room grew with sunshine. Today is Onam. There is a weightlessness in reunion and barricading time to slip any further. Spring is now and hope is in the moment.

Note: The color and sound of seasons in the blog have been inspired by the following writers.

1. Thomas Stearns Eliot (The Wasteland) 2. Mahakavi Kalidasan (Ritusamharam) 3. Federico Garcia Lorca (Poems in Newyork) 4. Yasunari Kawabata (Snow Country)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Tokyo Story

When you watch movies of Ozu, you learn about tatami(straw floor mat), you know about Noh and Kabuki(native drama forms), you realize the philosophy of non-intrusion and kindness and finally you understand the self-same humanity from a million images of everyday life. You pay attention and respect what is beneath the prosaic and mundane. Ozu unwinds his zen spell on us audience unhurriedly and irreversably like his sagacious camera on a tatami in dry sunlights.

Tokyo Story(1953) could arguably be the most deceptively simple movie that you'd ever watch. Such is the storyline and the familial faces about the living spaces in Japan, you no longer realize that you are shaken out of your lethargy to participate in the deeper discourses on life, death, people, relationships and vicissititudes of time. The concept of action is arrested and film techniques are given a chance to catch up with life and learning.

The movie has an oft-repeated story. In it an old couple visits their kids in Tokyo with a lot of hopes and affection to spend a few days of the autumn of their lives, only to be disappointed by their indifferent offsprings who had their own separate lives to worry about. The son and daughter put them up in noisy spa resort to continue with their busy lives. By this time the parents realize that they are burden and decide to return to Tokyo to their chidren's discomfort. The old woman spends the night at the one room apartment of their dead son's widow(Setsuko Hara) who treats them kindly, while the old man gets drunk with his old friends who in the grip of alcohol confess their disappointments with life and children and changes of time.

Upon return from Tokyo, everyone realizes the estrangement and tries to smooth over as best they can. Mother becomes ill and dies prompting her children to come to the small town where they grew up. The death, memories or the impending loneliness of the old man do not seem to affect anyone. They go back to their lives that never give them respite from themselves, while the old man watches the boats sail on and trains whistle past among the rooftops. The young teacher who witnessed the funeral and family gathering exasperatingly says: "Isn't life disappointing!", and to which Setsuko Hara affirms, "Yes, life is disappointing indeed".

Ozu defies almost all conventional film concepts to bring in the Japanese aesthetic values. He breaks the common narrative pattern with his ellipsis technique, when he prepares the viewer for an impending scene and then skips it to pan you into subsequent scenes that portray the after effect. The attentive viewer is now led into understanding the subtle cues and messages Ozu tries to convey. Once you are into a scene the camera almost never moves and stays at medium shot distance. When action at home is shown, he uses 360 degree instead of the conventional 180 to draw the camera on the abstract nature of the space around the characters. In one shot its interesting to watch him cover the Tokyo house of the old man's son following his wife cleaning the house in anticipation of the guests.

Ozu dedramatises and employs experiential narrative and distances himself emotionally. His compositions would have images that even though complete in themselves, blend and stays in the continuum of film experience. All theses seemingly facile scenes, frames, images and montage will grow on you to have a cumulative and deeper emotional impact to help you be perceptive and see beyond the ordinary.

Towards the end of the film, there is a scene when in the morning after the funeral, Setsuko Hara finds the Old man watching the sunrise. He tells her that it is a glorious morning today. She says nothing and it seemed, in that very moment they knew exactly what was in each other's mind.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Book World

Now that Yosso marked me to write about books, I have been trying to round up quite a bit of my dishevelled and disordered memory of books, having read and wanting to read. The result is the following jumble of thoughts and I own up the good and bad books and time gained and wasted. After all it is still the chaotic me and the books.

Books have always brought a host of allusions and images for me, foremost of them would probably be Journeys. other times, it would be a bygone moment with the personal coordinates of my life or juvenile discoveries in the attic or faces in close up or even a byline of a dead writer among other news...and yet other times they were the monikers of those days of rendezvous among friends who burnt down words, ideas and dreams together and now to be seen trudging the labyrinths of time, among strangers.

Yeah, Books were about the journeys. I used to wait beside my mother until midnight for my father's arrival after his short trips from lesser duties of a part-time politician. I was looking forward to the color and characters of Amar Chithra Katha he brought then. That was my first memory of anticipation and reading any book. It invariably related to homecoming. A decade later, I would go to Aunt's house for a long summer vacation, who after her husband retired from Labour department in the city retreated to this sultry hilly expanse. He died the year I went to stay with them. In those old oak furniture, I found the books he collected for a lifetime and I found that the original collecter was his younger brother who died an untimely death. Some of the books were already ravaged by termites. The hardcover of Greek tales had pale yellow pages and I remember illustrations of Pandora, Helen, Eurydice, Persephone, Hera and countless other goddesses. I found uncle's unfinished poems, bad and decent tries in one of the chests, beside Treasure Island and other assorted poetry of shelley, Byron and Browning. I also found a lot of children's books in malayalam.

For the next few years I travelled every summer vacations with a bag full of books and its amazing to think that every year the sets of books were getting radicalized and reflected more of external validations and less of the exhileration of discoveries. I read Maxim Gorky's Mother and I let Pavel Vlasov to put the entire world around me on trial. I read The Germinal of Emile Zola and I didn't know it was supposed to be naturalism. I tried to read George Elliot's Silas Marner, hardly follwed the dialects and slangs thrown all over the book, valiantly trod the winding passages of Tolstoy's War and Peace and Pasternack's Dr. Zhivago. I remember those walks in the country roads after reading passages in Zhivago ruminating over the torments of Lara and then the monstrosity of revolution consuming its own children in The Tale of Two Cities. I imagined and suffered hardships of David Copperfield and every simple human beings in Chekhov's short stories.

My Mother's house was another favourite destination which overlooked an estuary and the billowing Arabian Sea behind. I read about Santiago in Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea and I could see his seemingly resigned but determined countenance on the those fishermen, or may be I just placed them in the backdrop of my imagination. Another journey I associate with reading a book was Doestoyevsky's Crime and Punishment when I travelled by train to Bangalore. I was unemployed and felt an inexplicable helplessness and seething anger inside me: I shared it with Raskolnikov although I smiled when I had seen a pawn shop on my way to K.R. Market.

My major source for books for a long time had been malayalam weekly Mathrubhumi and Hindu Sunday supplement. Once in a while Times Literary Review, Granta and Illustrated weekly at Ernakulam public library. That basically unfolded an entire world infront of me, constantly contradicted the best and the right and I learned the politically incorrect and use of media to celeberate and destroy icons and sycophants of power and ideology. My readings turned political, even of it was shakespeare's sonnet. But then I read a lot of malayalam writers: O.V.Viajayan (the Guru), V.K.N (the grandiloquent jester), Vaikom Muhammad Bhashir(the modern fabler) led the riot. I still keep going back to all of their books. There were a few poets who caught my attention like Balachandran Chullikkad, Idasseri Govindan Nair and Vailoppilli to name a few.

College introduced me to Albert Camus, Sartre, Herman Hesse and T.S.Eliot. I graduated from Camus to Samuel Becket and a whole lot of absurdists including Luigi Pirandello and Edward Albee. T.S.Eliot was a stand out and the images from his book Waste Land and other Poems still a bench mark of a swansong for me. I found Nietzche from Will Durant's Story of Philosophy and the fascination lingered ever since. The library of my College had a decent collection of plays by Bertolt Brecht, Henrik Ibsen and Eugene Oneil. Notably, Oneil's long day's Journey into night held the spirit of mankind among the ruins of dysfunctional families for me. Besides the juvenile fascination for Robert Pirsig (I thought Lila was a better existential american novel) and Somerset Maugham, friends amongst us found Fritjof Capra and his books The Tao of Physics, The Turning Point and Uncommon Wisdom. He seemed to offer a middle path and a reason to think that everything in the universe and the traditional wisdom of human race after all but a spark in the path of the blinding light. But then, what do you expect from a fidgety science student?

I have an old cupboard at home In India, filled with books I bought with the pocket money I've got. I am hoping to bring them from India sometime. Here is a list, hope you won't find it too overbearing: Gabriel Garcia Marquez (almost all major works), Milan Kundera (Immortality and Life is else where), Octavia Paz (Sunstone and Collected poems), Elias Canetti (Auto DaFe), Italo Calvino(Invisible Cities, If On a winter's night a traveller, Castle of Crossed destinies), George Perec(Life, a user's manual), Primo Levi (The Wrench, The periodic table), Borges (Short Stories), Franz Kafka (The Trial, Metamorphosis, Amerika), Mario Varga Llosa, Nikos Kazantzakis (Last Temptation of Christ, Zorba the Greek), James Joyce(Portrait of an artist as a young man), Kawabata, Arthur Koestler (Darkness at Noon), Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrel(Alexandria Quartet)....

The books that I began but never finished were Ulysses(James Jayce), Remembrance of things past(Marcel Proust), Man without qualities(Robert Musil) and Sound and Fury(William Faulkner). Swann and Benjy are very much in my mind. Someday I will!

The reading followed metareading on Michel Foucoult, Derrida, Barthes and Wittgenstein: mostly excerpts of their books and articles from magazines. Although I was wallowing in their wordy worlds, I could see the written word being deconstructed to a more discreet set of ideas. Another area of interest has been books on movies and those by movie folks. Andrei Tarkovsky's Sculpting in Time, Bergman's Magic Lantern, Chaplin's My Autobiography were no less than a consummate book on life. I am looking forward to buy Gilles Delueze' Cinema: Time and Movement -Images (1 & 2). He is fast becoming my favourite.

There are atleast a hundred obvious names I either forgot or missed at this point in time and a million I wish to read or in the least feel the dust jacket and read the blurb. They can probably wait and the love affair with the printed word is still on although the youthful abandon and degree of excitement varied a lot when glanced from this far, I am glad that I am still smitten and thankfull for a lifetime of memories and insights.

Now that it is done, let me pass on the malady to Booky, CEC or anyone else who wants to record their retreats to the world of books.

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...