The songs of the humpback whales

bohemian verse

In the azure blue ocean the sunlight seeped into a dreamy hallow, permeating the benevolence of the last rays, that the atmosphere above allowed, before fading into a mystic darkness. A male humpback whale sang a lonely song, hoping to find a mate…In the dreams of a female whale, the notes found a resonance, a quivering hope that she was to be searched and found. Thus moved two majestic creatures, in the infinite blue towards each other, in the dance that they have danced for ages– the ultimate search for surrender.

I definitely do not remember when I first heard about the songs of the humpback whales. What has sedimented out of the memory however, is that I want to hear one of them sung in its full vivacity. I want to hear that with my eyes closed–the call of the heart. The call had been put as one of the…

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The sketchbook of leaves.

Sometimes in life, you meet someone for a very brief time and you have an experience which is like a summertime game, an aftertaste of stollen pickles–which hangs on your lips as a smile because what you remember is the simplicity of the event itself.

Suppose you are walking along a busy street drowned in your thoughts and suddenly a stranger brushes by. You catch a whiff of his scent, you know the perfume but you cannot quite place it–maybe someone dear wears it–maybe you had tried it out sometime. This millisecond of a memory search compels you to take a look at that person but it is too late–the person has submerged into the sea of people walking you left behind. You keep walking and by the next street corner, you have forgotten the event itself until the next time you actually remember the scent.

I often try to run away from myself– to small towns, hills, seasides. People call them trips–I would like to see them as escapes. Whether I really escape from anything at all is what I have been thinking about lately. But this story is not about that–it is about meeting a stranger.
Last spring, I had run away to a small coffee town. The solo trip had some precursors. The previous night I had departed from a city that had taken from me much—so I had left a letter by a fireplace and a kiss on a forehead. In the pre-summer deserted streets of that small coffee town–I knew I could get lost. But I wasn’t staying in the city either— I was staying in an old beautiful cottage turned hostel amongst a coffee plantation.

There was nothing much to do–besides sleeping in a hammock, or go on walks with the two pet dogs—Bonny and Clyde, talk with a few other boarders and wait for the first rains to wash the summer stickiness, visit an odd church or pagoda, search a bird—typical lazy summers.  And I wrote in my diary –” in the event of an escape and the salvation from someone who you unknowingly held close—whatever falls in your hands are gems that flesh out in silence……there is a strange comfort in being among strangers. You just do not have to participate–you may as well ignore them..”

On the evening before I left—I went out for a walk. Bonny and Clyde followed me. They were chasing butterflies. I sat down beside a small stream and listened to the birds. Right then I saw a girl cross by. I had seen her arrive that afternoon to the hostel. She had an unimpressive demeanor— remarkably simple. We simultaneously waved at each other. She stopped to chat with me— the type of chat that travelers mostly share.
So, Jennifer was from Scotland and was traveling India.
“Did you like India?”
“I have been falling sick:—“. She said with a matter-of-fact tone that was not condescending but which impressed me. We had quite a few similarities– we both had recently left our jobs and we both were trying to figure out our lives. We both were traveling back home after this and was about to decide the next step in our lives.

Clyde was getting restless with my standing at one place. So I waved Jenny goodbye.
I came back, packed my bag, took my sketchbook to the cozy attic. There I slumped on a bean bag and stared listlessly at the roof. I wasn’t thinking about anything particularly–just humming as my playlist played on my cell phone. Suddenly Jenny appeared. She hadn’t expected me there but lied down in a divan nonetheless. She was also staring at the roof through her thick glasses.
Minutes lapsed. The song turned to “K”–one of my favorites by a band I dearly loved. Listening to that, Jenny sat up.. “Is that… K..you listen to Cigarettes after sex?”
Well yes.. they are my favorites.”
She said—“mine too… their songs are like these cushions that protect you–like an assurance that everything in this world is still right”

I was still staring at the ceiling—but I wondered–has anybody ever put my feelings so perfectly into words.? After the song, I sat up to sketch. It turned out that Jenny sketched too. We looked at each other’s books and discussed our ideas of art which were startlingly similar. She had a strange fascination for leaves. Her book was a kaleidoscope of different shapes and sized leaves. After that I was about to leave– I bid her goodbye, gathering my stuff. we bid goodbye.
As I was leaving, she pointed towards a handmade bag that I was carrying— “Is that handmade?”
“Yes…a friend made it”…
and I remembered the letter that I left before I came.
“That must be a really special friend”, she said with a smile.

I left with a puzzle—with an eerie familiarity that I could not quite place. As I stood outside and stared at the clouds silhouetted in the moonlight, I realized where the familiarity lay—Jenny was almost like a mirror. Whatever such meetings are called–luck, soul meets—for the first time in life, I had experienced the profundity of speaking to someone who is exactly me.

I realized–for most times the whiff of the scent that we couldn’t remember when a stranger passed by—actually belonged to us. We are all like musk deer, bewildered by a memory of ourselves–what we were and what we believe that we no longer are– except at times when someone exactly like us stands in front of us–and you realise how you still are the same you and your ships of escapades can never really take you away from the port called you.

Image Copyright: Author

Home

“Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?”

As the frames pass, the guitar strums in a steady tempo. My thoughts superimpose on the background of blue misty mountains, sometimes on muddy roaring seas, then again back to the crowded cities and back to the mazes of my own mind. Oh, where have I really been?

The mind is an amazing place. Just when I searched for the best of memories when I stood atop mountains or bathed in an empty sea by the rosy glow of the departing sun, sometimes under beating rain and winds—sneaking between the pages of the album of my mind, fell out a photograph—of the only place I wanted to ever call a home and where I didn’t just want to be a passing visitor. Perhaps it had been too late when I knew this was the only home I ever wanted or that I wanted a home at all.

And I have been a liar hoping you to see through my lies.

But the road has been a cruel master. It has commanded and I have obliged. I have passed the doors of pretty little homes which momentarily made me smile. and then there were friends who have pulled me into there fairy lamp lit indoors in most terrible of nights. And i have always sneaked out before they woke up. I never understand why. Probably waking up to the sounds of a “home” is what terrifies me the most.

And yet there was just one place where I wanted to stay….

and where have I been? to villages parched and to hamlets where roaring ravines are all that you hear. In the wrong ways and the bylanes of right ways. With people who wanted to tell me their stories and then with others whom I told mine. In hostel bunkers where you read messages by past boarders and in soft white beads of strange cities, in tents shivering with cold and in mud floors tossing in heat. And all I can remember now is the day I left that one place…

Would I have stayed if you asked me to? I would not know. ‘Cause you never did.

A stranger once told that I will be served my share of running away when I would want home the most. And so I was on the road again…collecting stories…pinning photographs.

The song had switched.
I will go if you asked me to, I would stay if you dare.

 

 

The Flavours of Calcutta…

After a gap of two years, here I am reliving this city for everything I love it and everything I hate it.

bohemian verse

There has been a strange relationship that I share with this city. Extreme bouts of love and hatred alternate with each other. At one point, under those sodium vapour lights, that creates more sinister shadows than brilliance, with a sticky smell of all things ancient, one feels like this city is stagnant. At some other time, the same view in retrospection,gives pangs of home-sickness.

Nothing has changed over the years. Nothing changes here.

In the by-lanes of the Kumartuli, the potter street, under the green-blue and yellow lights of colored tarpaulins, the thick rimmed glasses still create the goddess, whom we call our daughter . Further down the dark alleys into the raw material hub of this city, with the mild slapping sound of the Ganges flowing nearby, some migrant workers smoke and sing in their dehati tongue, cracking jokes and drowning their worries until tomorrow.Some where in other by-lanes …

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The mountains that we carve…

The king ordered “Carve me a story on stone…make yourself immortal through your art. What shall stay but? Maybe not your name. Maybe not mine. But your art and your story shall raise the awe of futures you cannot imagine.”So, one year they brought me a piece of stone, the other year a mountain…and then they asked me to write stories. Stories of people I never knew, of Gods and their secret lovers, of demons and their powers and flowers and honeypots with the elixir of life… and I went for centuries…

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If you would have cared to come to those remote cave mountains…. you would have mistaken the endless work for a distant woodpecker. Through the ruddy evenings and by the flickering oil lamps… you could hear my chisel hitting the rock…sparks flying, bodies being created…

O but what did I carve???

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There stands my wife in the embrace of Shiva.. I haven’t seen her for so many years… I remember the gentle curve of her stomach…her broad shoulders and narrow waist…I made her Parvati…Sometimes in mock anger, sometimes in fury, sometimes with the love in her eyes..she stares at me..I, the Shiva..

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There stands my eldest estranged son in a calm composure and they called him The Holy One—one who left the scepter and family for the greater good. He had asked to do away with material possessions and here I am carving him out of rocks.. out of mountains…making him immortal…

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What is immortality then??? The streams of humankind would know the immortal through the paintings that we leave, through the sculptures that we make, through the verses that we write. Human memory otherwise is too fragile and time is a cunning mistress. What is then art??? It is the singular endeavor of the human race against the obliteration of time… towards immortality. The pages of history and the wonders of science are all the champions of the human artistic spirit.

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But art is not history. Art is not religion. Art is not science. Art is everything that an artist is… Art is the sadness, the pathos, the heartbreak, the exaltations, the euphoria that an artist experiences. Art is the father who lost his son, art is the mother who left her children at home, art is the lover who is yearning for the embrace of the beloved.

 

 

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Art is the endless endeavor against time, against war, against kings, against religious extremism.

Art is me. Art is human.

Photographs by Author. 
Taken at The Ellora caves in Maharashtra, India.

The songs of the humpback whales

In the azure blue ocean the sunlight seeped into a dreamy hallow, permeating the benevolence of the last rays, that the atmosphere above allowed, before fading into a mystic darkness. A male humpback whale sang a lonely song, hoping to find a mate…In the dreams of a female whale, the notes found a resonance, a quivering hope that she was to be searched and found. Thus moved two majestic creatures, in the infinite blue towards each other, in the dance that they have danced for ages– the ultimate search for surrender.

I definitely do not remember when I first heard about the songs of the humpback whales. What has sedimented out of the memory however, is that I want to hear one of them sung in its full vivacity. I want to hear that with my eyes closed–the call of the heart. The call had been put as one of the earth sounds in the phonograph of Voyager Golden Records, floated in the Voyager expedition in 1977. What humans actually wanted is magnificently improbabilistic but with the hope that some other form of superior life may find us, recognise the essence of a life existence and answer back with the same hope that our call exuded—that we are not alone.

The search for a similar soul is perhaps what our existence is all about…that we eat, sleep, invent, fight, unite, write poetry and epics, study earth and beyond, study cell and within–this is all an occupation, fillers of a kind towards the main objective—to search and find the “other”. The search is the only thing that matters.Everything else is an attempt to plug emptiness.

Who essentially is the “other”? It does not matter. In collectivity, the earth is searching for another planet replete with the magic of life, in intelligence and acumen similar to our own. In singularity we all are in search of another soul, kindered and eager as ours, recognising our songs as their own.

The improbability that rules that the golden record is found is slightly more than the improbability that all our calls be answered, all our songs be recognised. What if the songs that we sent floating into the space be found long after we are done with our deeds in earth, and what comes back as an answer comes back to nowhere? We still take the risk. We run the risk of being humans and hoping, we run the risk of being animals and no matter what, lay open our hearts– to be nurtured or trampled, to be replied or ignored.

In the golden record, were other sounds. A despairing Bulgarian shepherd song, an Indian Classical song, musical instruments from China emulating a flowing stream, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, sounds of rain, volcano, fire, earthquake, thunder, crickets, frogs, waves, animals, footsteps, heartbeats, human languages……everything simple and complicated that could define our search.

Allegorically our search within the earth is also same. We are in all our complexity and all simplicity, sending out songs. To hearts that we hope would answer. In the likeliness of divine timing, some would get answered. In the unlikeliness, it wouldn’t.

The souls that are meant to find each other swimming in the dark blue ocean, or in the emptiness of spaces, will understand the tenderness of these calls–almost like the familiarity that first rains and thunder bring to us— a connectedness to the deepest memories. They may even miss it.

But the song must be sung. No matter what.

There’s one sad truth in life I’ve found

While journeying east and west –
The only folks we really wound
Are those we love the best.
We flatter those we scarcely know,
We please the fleeting guest,
And deal full many a thoughtless blow
To those who love us best.


~Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Love will tear us apart

sitāroñ se aage jahāñ aur bhī haiñ
abhī ishq ke imtihāñ aur bhī haiñ
tahī zindagī se nahīñ ye fazā.eñ
yahāñ saikdoñ kārvāñ aur bhī
haiñ*
                                                                    -Iqbal

“The most fragile thing in this world is the human heart and yet, it can make you do the bravest of acts. And what is brave if you cannot love selflessly? What is but love if you cannot love a person without them knowing to love you back?”, the young guide, oblivious to us listening to him had lost himself into a reverie.

“This land makes you a poet. As it did to Raani Rupmati and Baz Bahadur. Stories in the broad empty pavilions of Mandu echo of a love story long gone by. A king fell in love with a sheperdess who sang beautifully. O what love it was! In the evenings these pillars would have been ornated by the rays of the parting sun mixed with the slow unfolding of Iman. The nights would echo with Jhinjhoti. Sometimes when the lovers would want to pick up their egoes, he would start singing Dipak. She would vanquish him by singing Megh Malhar. Can you tell me why lovers love hurting each other and theselves?”

 

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Roopmati Mahal, Mandu, Madhya Pradesh

 

I have no answer. I knew he would answer back. Because in his mind he was losing reins on history. Perhaps his own life was a story.

He came back. “And then Badsah Akbaar wanted them captured. Adham Khan led the Mughal Army into this land of love. The poet king was captured. He never knew abut the ways of the world, anyway. She took poison knowing she lost him. We are all here for few select hours and we are bound to meet who we are suppose to meet. What you do of this extreme beautiful hour of meeting is entirely upto you. Your ego would stand in your way, you would perhaps fight with yourself. You would win, if those walls fall.You would be lost for the rest of your life, if you keep fighting within yourself and do not let those words of love slip for your tongue.”

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Roopmati Mahall, Mandu, Madhya Pradesh

The young guide was perhaps stuck in time travel. The late evening summer of this lonely town echoed with azaan. The parting sun had lent a dark purple- red hue to the sky. As the colour touched our faces and the ruins of the palaces in Mandu,  we could not help but agree to this young jilted lover’s monologue. “Perhaps he is in the wrong profession”, I remarked. My friend replied,” Or perhaps he is right where is. Perhaps he gets his lost lover everytime he speaks of Roopmati to a bunch of new strangers. Memories have a strange way of making into our present. In the words we speak, in the stories we narrate, in the songs we sing, we unknowingly bring our pasts, mingle our lives into the greater culmination of lives and stories…”

We will never know of his story.

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*(Beyond the stars there are worlds more, Our quest yet has more tests to pass,
This existence alone does not matter, There are boundless journeys more)

 

 

Come, when you need peace

I am not that city that had contained your youth,
your desires and your madness.
I have not held you in myself in a mad rush of emotions.
I am not the shaded alley that have known
how you look in your naked raw passion..or have I?
Yet I have let you run all over me
in your euphoric amnesia of knowing me.
Your drunken pursuits were noticed
and yet moved aside for a different time.
Your love for me was ignored because you wanted
to love me madly, violently.19073922_1593452817340211_477787452_n
Madness does not go far.
“Violent pursuits have violent ends”.
I have woken up with you in brothels, untouched.
Memories of skin burning with seething, unsatisfied desires.
Satiated by souls that would love you for the night.
I have listened with you to the first drops of rain
that settled my dusty warm roads and low roofs.

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You want me because you want me.
You loved me because love is all you want.
You gave me because you had received from me.
You take from me because you never knew what giving away means.
I love you nonetheless.
I am not the city you would make your home.
I cannot be the city that would be your home.
Because you loved me, had your doubts and hated me.
And something from both is lost when we doubt.
And I cannot love you unconditionally.

So for now, go for your perfect city of dreams.
Among laughter and drinks.
And with cities willing to love you like a young lover.
And run with  you from hearth to hearthCalling out each others name.

Till then I will wait.
In my pines and Deodars.
Come to me when you would love me,
knowing that I am undemonstrative at my best.
Come to me when you can profess your love from my mountains,
without hoping for an echo.

Come to me, when you need not love, but Peace.

 

 

Silence

Bequeath me your Silence!!!

That is all that I ask. That is all that I need to keep as a memory, the residue of all our mad running through the streets, of our long hikes through debilitated villages to reach unknown mountain tops, of our clasping hands under the canopy of Milky Way , knowing the trepidation of our young souls imagining that even we would be old someday.

I knew a boy who wanted to grow old, to see how wrinkled skin feels on his bones or how he could see those wrinkles vanish in his old eyes. For me, I never want to be old.
I don’t want to grow old with anyone. I want to have pictures of us, young, beautifully confused souls… hanging in the backyard of my mind, waking up to sunrises in strange lands.

But, how silent can silence be? Is it the mere absence of noise or is it the absence of meaningful noise? When we spend or days in indolent solitude, weaving those threads of disconcerted thoughts into a bed sheet of slumber, do we not feel a comforting silence? Even the pecking of a distant bird or rumbling of expectant clouds is a part of that silence.

But I have felt a different kind of silence too. A strange , numbing silence– which pushed me to the verge of remorse. It was in a cold desert. We had been walking for seven days. The prolific speeches that had filled the initial days was dying down. The higher altitude was gradually making breathing difficult. We had  a camped in wind shadow area. The wind did not howl, there were no words, no trees to rustle, no birds to chirp— desolate that place was. And strangely enough even thoughts had died. I did not know what to remember.
And then I truly knew , what silence was.

Our silences are actually full of sounds.. that of a person’s slumbered slow breath, that of a fan whining away, of trickling water, of memories making sounds, of woodpecker pecking away, of laughter in the by-lanes  , of conversations in the past, of a gurgling  mountain stream, and the roaring sands in deserts. Visit a deserted palace, and close your  eyes, you can hear the generations that traced those once decorated gates, the glasses, the glasses tinkering , voices –sometimes murmuring, sometimes loud, of conspiracies , of egos, of  triumph and losses.

In asking for your silence, I ask for everything…your distilled thoughts of what is truly you. Keep all that mask of noise behind and come , share with me your deepest silence.

That for me is You. That is where I can give you a part of me.