Category Archives: Travel

Talking to strangers

A few days back my aged taxi driver Abdullah informed me of how Hafez was far from being a purist, he was a diluter of true Persian culture, writing in an Arab form. He quoted Ferdowsi and said, “now he is the man to study for pure Persian literary gems – go read Ferdowsi and take some time away from Hafez.” I nodded remarking that maybe my summer read should indeed be the Shahnameh. He smiled, “It has no words from Arabic in it, not even remotely.” “Yes, I must immerse into it, not just the bits and pieces that I pick and choose like Rostam and Sohrab.”

After some chit-chat about Dutch weather and an Indian Summer, he started nodding his head to some internal music: “No don’t spend time on kings this summer,” he said, “read Khayyam and go all romantic.” I laughed, “Nightingales, Wine and Roses!” I exclaimed. We chuckled like conspiring children.

In the meantime my eight-year old looked out of the window.

The moment we got off, Bambi crossed his arms, “Listen Mom no talking to strangers. How many times do I have to tell you?”

The dance of Gods

The blood of Mahisasura dripping from her wrists
His decapitation each year, year after year

I like that story of Krishna
At the back of his throat, she could see, the whole universe
The sun, moon, stars, asteroids and meteors – his tonsils and uvula
Did he eat them all?

You offer aparajita and bhel leaves to Shiv
And, hibiscus for Ma, mandaar, here touch the petals gently

All this jasmine I sit threading into gajras for her hair
Every summer – the smell of heated cement and sleeping tulsi
Look at how the saptrishi glow, they call it the Big Dipper here
And, what do they call matsya? Oh, he’s the big fish

Streets coiled like the braids of his hair
Ganga gushes forth
Will a tandav redeem this world?

They don’t let you take pictures post visarjan
All those floating body parts
Pieces

Did he say the world went on unashamed?
Mahisasura needs to be killed yearly
Flowers offered daily
I tell her I like Krishna
He laughs
Nothing more melodious than the sound of anklets on little feet

Light and Water: Visual Poetry

Video: central Amsterdam under water in a poetic light display.

After having us cycle along starry night bike paths, Dutch artist and innovator Daan Roosegaarde has now turned his attention to the power of water. Just over one quarter of the Netherlands is below sea level and the sea is kept at bay by a network of dykes, dams and other water defences. But what would happen if they weren’t there? ‘Waterlicht is the dream landscape about the power and poetry of water,’ Roosegaarde says on Studio Roosengaarde website. ‘Innovation is within the DNA of the Dutch landscape via its waterworks and creative thinking, yet we almost seem to forgotten this.’ The installation Waterlicht consists of wavy lines of light made with the latest LED technology, software and lenses. It was created for the Dutch Rijn & IJssel waterboard and was at the Museumplein in Amsterdam for three nights earlier this month.”


Read more at DutchNews.nl: Video: central Amsterdam under water in a poetic light display http://www.dutchnews.nl/features/2015/05/video-central-amsterdam-under-water-in-a-poetic-light-display/

PK after thodi si peeke

Have the reviews and counter-reviews for PK died down? Because, in that case, now would be a good time to write down my thoughts about the movie. For starters: I did enjoy the film and here I will try to delve a little into why I was motivated to do so, amongst usual blog-like meanderings.

On a side note (that did not take long), I have come to notice the stylistic aspects of Bollywood cinema: Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s opulent, colorful, glitzy sets, choreographed dance dramas, the earthy sounds of thumping dhol and bold matriarchs. The celebrate-your-Indian-family even outside India, Manish Malhotra-esque sob sagas, return of the prodigal sons of Karan Johar. The rustic, gutsy, dusty landscape of Vishal Bhardwaj, complete with ethnic sounds and dialogues, from globalize to lets localize. The friends, journeys, finding your own light in the midst of many others, the disco, urban accounts of the Akhtar siblings. The light-hearted, tropical, catchy beats, slick intertextual (references to other films) tales of Farah Khan, and, now I can add to that the social-phenomena-motivated stories of Raj Kumar Hirani. In a Hirani movie we must have a female media person, a down-to-earth funny hero who turns things around, a national chant for change and waltz numbers with scooters or cycles.

I enjoyed the meta texture in PK. For example, the picture of Gandhi only holds value when it is linked to economics; the only images – on calendars, notebooks, posters – are tossed away. While I’m no Gandhian like Hirani is, and I do understand the nature of currency and markets, I could see the inherent philosophical nature of that scene. That cultures develop to associate value to otherwise meaningless things – white for the bride, white for the widow – that it is indeed a human attribute to start constructing social rituals – it was intriguing, humorous, and ironical to watch it in the Indian context.

Jagat Janani, the meaning of that particular name intrigued me, who is Jagat Janani? Mother Nature or is this a reference to the Mother Goddess. She is female. In relationship to her is the alien character, a male, who questions the social formations – of religion and culture. The juxtaposition of the male as being otherworldly, and Jaggu as that which gives birth to the ‘jagat’ or world was quite a gripping proposition and if one were to explore this further I am sure we could work on a layered referencing to this within the text of the film. It is Jaggu who notices the odd one out in ‘her’ world, it is she who helps him understand strands (firki and otherwise) that PK has missed. And, above all it is she who is kind (gender trouble – ahem!). She is given an identity, a name by the ‘bad guy’ is this an urge to rethink (for who has dictated how the world should proceed) how we have thought and defined the origin of the world and the nature of living.

The music of the film is lovely. I have enjoyed each song on the track, the robust Rajasthani sounds in “Tharki Chokro.” I was repeatedly reminded of Parineeta while listening to the numbers – “Chaar Kadam” like “Piyu Bole” and “Bhagwan Kahan” like “Raat Hamari” and when I was looking up information about these two films I found that these songs shared the same music director Shantanu Moitra, same lyricist Swanand Kirkire and in the case of “Chaar Kadam” and “Piyu Bole” they were sung by Shaan and Shreya Ghoshal. Quite the coincidence!

As expats, and migrants, we meet Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, who are mistaken as Indians, or (unfortunately) clubbed together as Indians. Sometimes, (again very unfortunately) the larger section of the populace misses the point that these are countries with varied cultures, influences and they have rich, heterogeneous heritages. This point gets beautifully put across by Sushant Singh Rajput who plays such a subtle and lovable role. An Amitabh-loving, Urdu poet, studying, working a part-time job at the embassy, humorous, shy, well-mannered, respectful, what a wonderful way to re-think the manner in which we perceive. Finally, who betrays is not so much the guy who we have been taught to suspect but our own narrow-mindedness. Perhaps, it is naïve to think this way, maybe the third generation of Indians (for this is an Indian film) post the independence have softened their views on partition, however, and as part of that generation, and the descendant of grand-parents who have lived through the living nightmare that 1947 was, maybe it is time for a rethink. And, if we as human being lose the ability to challenge and question, to learn and move on, then maybe this “gola” is truly “lul.”

The question of religion or the religion question, whether within – worship the small idol, or the big one in the temple, is “daan” a fees, of gurus and their gyaan, or between religions – Hindu and Muslim is a tricky one to handle – given the matchstick-striker ratio that operates within the world’s largest democracy. To the credit of Indian cinema and Bollywood, it has addressed these issues in a manner that has been ‘acceptable’ – here acceptable means getting released with least (sort of) amount of disarray within makers of the film, audience and censors, here least is used in a rather liberal (sort-of) fashion – Mani Ratnam’s Bombay (1995), Shyam Benegal’s Mammo (1994), Aparna Sen’s Mr and Mrs Iyer (2002) immediately come to mind but I am sure there are many more. PK offers a critique of religious dogmas, giving a bitter spoonful with ample gloss and sugar. To make such a film you need a decent amount of conviction in what you want to say and how you want to say it – any imbalance could spell disaster. PK manages the tight rope well with the message of a direct contact with the maker and no wrong numbers.

I don’t view PK as a catalyst to change; I view it as the start of a conversation, quite in the manner that 3 Idiots and Taare Zameen Par required for us to at least glance at the education system that we have been put through. For change to come through it will take something far more intense, radical, and even bizarre, in the meantime, “Dil ko behelane ko Ghalib yeh khayal achcha hai.” For all the movies you could have made Mr. Hirani – you made a good one.

Links
Why is Bollywood film PK controversial? by Vikas Pandey
Parineeta (2005) – the movie
PK (2014) – the movie

YouTube has an extensive collection of “Making of PK” videos – a must watch if you want to see how the movie comes together.

Winter Sun and Yellow Things

Those who read this blog regularly know my fondness for Amstel Park. I have befriended each hidden corner, nook and cranny, secluded benches and ponds. I have read under its trees, played hide and seek between its bushes, ran through the maze, broken ice on its neglected fountains, eaten ice cream, bandaged scraped knees, criticized the name ‘midget golf,’ hugged the rabbits, patted the pigs, clucked with hens, balanced myself on the train tracks, exchanged intelligent conversations, random ramblings, drunken songs and dragged branches home.

To you Amstel Park: “Acquainted with the Night” – a poem by Robert Frost published in 1928 in his collection West-Running Brook

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain — and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
A luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

—-

The big yellow table with two chairs in Amstel Park look like something out of a Vincent van Gogh painting. They will be placed in Dam Square on May 4th and 5th. The table and chairs symbolize the Freedom Luncheon or Vrijheidsmaaltijd, which will be served to hundreds of tables in the city. The table was conceived by artist Arne Hendriks. Hendriks views the table as “an instrument of solidarity.” The table is designed by Stichting Stadshout. The wood used is a 155 year old beech. It sticks out, the yolk yellow in the middle of murky green.