By the river Meuse

“While I seethe in my self embarrassment, I hear the grandma in front of me mutter, ‘rechts, uitstappen rechts,’ which means, ‘right, exit is on the right.’ I smile to myself, am not alone in my stupidity.”

The woman with the yellow umbrella

She walked on the pavement, two books in her hands. Once in a while, she looked at herself in the side glasses of the cars parked along the road. ‘I do not look like a weird person,’ she assured herself. She never spent a lot of time on dressing appropriately. Now, she was in the same clothes as she was wearing at her home. ‘Hair has grown a bit longer than I usually allow it to.’ And this observation in turn sent her down the memory lane, when once upon a time, in a bid to get a tad bit of control over her own body, she decided that keeping her hair short is what she likes. The chaos that ensued!

A young girl and a young boy walked ahead of her, hands locked in a firm grip. On the other side of the road, a woman with a pale yellow umbrella walked briskly despite a slight stoop. Her flat-heeled shoes had an exceptionally solid sole, and the sounds of her rhythmic footsteps was loud even on this side of the road. The woman is old. But seems to be headed to her destination with some determination.

It had rained a while ago, that was before she stepped out of her home with the two books. She had noticed that burden in the air, that always follows rain, which somehow lifted her spirits since time immemorial. Perhaps because she was born on a rain-drenched day in June. But today’s could not be compared with the rains she is used to seeing. Anyway, that explains the yellow umbrella in the hands of the woman. She is certainly a stickler about not getting wet, for holding the umbrella open even after the rains have stopped. What if the drops of rain hanging from the tips of leaves on the trees, or lodged between bunches of flowers, decide to jump out precisely when she was under them, right?!

‘Should I take a right turn here, or is it the next one?,’ wondered the woman with the yellow umbrella. Her shoes went, ‘clip clop’ with each of her sturdy steps. ‘A brown girl on the other side of the road, looks Indian. Must be a student at the University, with her books held close to her body. Such colourful shoes!’ She walked on, adjusting her umbrella when she felt it would disturb the raindrops embedded in the cherry blossoms. ‘The cherry blossoms need to keep the drops for a while, they need the freshness amidst the heat of recent days.’ She imagined, and smiled.

The young girl coughed ever so lightly. Her boyfriend quickly pulled out the bottle of water in his bag and handed it to her, caressing her blond hair. She watched the cute couple in front of her and smiled, shifting the books to her other hand.  ‘New love,’ she hypothesised. ‘New love,’ she reminisced, when a drop of rain made its way from the leaf of a horse-chestnut tree and despite the yellow umbrella landed on her fair cheeks that blushed. She had momentarily deviated her umbrella to catch a glimpse of the activity on the other side of the road.

 

 

To make her laugh

1st November 2018

The other day I telephoned my grandmother. Thinking about this conversation later, a profound confusion in my head got reasons to quieten down.

When I turned back, to grab a quick last glimpse of my home, and grandparents through the back window of the giant SUV, laden with my luggage that could come up to my own height if stacked one on top of the other, my searching eyes settled on the folded palms and worried eyes of my grandmother.

Moments before stepping out of home, I had held her close and reassured her that Germany is not that far away. I heard Grandfather stifle a nervous laughter, posed in his typical Ardh-padmasan on the Diwan behind her, and I winked at him. I had not meant to give her a false information, nor did I (wrongly) presume that she doesn’t know her geography. My motivation in telling my grandmother that this country on a different continent is not so far away, is double fold. One was to calm her down in this time of parting, when she is drowning under a deluge of uncertainty about the slightest daily activity that I would have to carry out on my own in a new country. Second, was to convince the idea to myself, by voicing it out loud, thus somehow establishing it forcefully. Grandpa knew of the first reason, but I doubt if he had any clue about the latter.

Anyway, I couldn’t be too wrong, in today’s era of superb virtual connectivity. Grandma is certainly better off now. We know what I do when situations pop up. We know how I get my groceries. We know how I get my food. We know I am managing.

Explaining these to her one day over the phone, I had a unique experience. She would laugh out loud at some of the weird adventures I had to share. And I would get a sudden thrill at having being able to make her laugh. Through the conversation, I paid attention to the pattern of what makes her laugh. It happened when I put, even the simplest of ideas, with some amount of witticism. When I used some odd, awfully literary Malayalam word, which generally don’t creep into everyday conversations. She was enjoying my narration of the story, even if the story was routine. And I was enjoying the notion that I am amusing her with the story, in particular, bringing her to laughter once in a while.

Later, I realised that these telephonic conversations were teaching me a very important deal. That love lies, perhaps, in laughter. Forever a romantic soul in search of a definition for love, trying to decide what to call love, I was, here, getting a new avenue to explore for answers. When you feel the delight of being the reason for another’s laughter, another’s happiness, perhaps it is love that is at work. If you are able to laugh because of another, truthfully, with abandon, perhaps that is love at work. Because in the moments when you laugh, you can’t be anything but happy. And in the moments of laughter, there hides love.

One afternoon

“I walked back from lunch,
crossed the street without a second thought,
and was humming a Hindi song when,
just like that, out of nowhere,
it snowed.”

Between a movie and a word

‘Spring summer fall winter …and spring’. With one look at the title, I knew that here I had a film-maker who did not give a damn. About a title which seemed plain, and long, and blatantly exposed the gist of the movie. At the same time, for precisely the same reason, I also knew that the film-maker I had, was cunningly confident about his film. There was no stopping now. I was already curious beyond all reasonable levels to find out the content of this movie, flaunting a title with four seasons and three dots (which I know, dear friend who is a stickler for punctuation marks, are collectively called ellipsis).

Somewhere through the middle of the movie, a word popped up in my head. ‘Esoteric’. And since my affair with words has stood the test of time (and space, to account for all dimensions), I trusted my intuition that what I was watching was indeed ‘esoteric’. The exact moment, when ‘esoteric’ visited me was when, in the movie, a young man who had earlier run away from a monastery that floats in the middle of the lake, returns to the shelter of his master, after committing a murder in the ‘secular’ world, and is made to carve out on the wooden floor the Buddhist sutra for controlling one’s mind, that the master kept painting out ahead of him with the tail of a cat that he held lovingly in his arms as the paint-brush, in an enigmatic Korean script written vertically, whilst two policemen investigating the murder, waited willingly for the man to finish his task before arresting him. For the whole time this act went on, shot from a height, my mind was stuck upon this word. I watched open mouthed, as the master proceeded serenely to paint, as the cat purred softly once in a while, as the anger receded from the knife of the young man (the exact same knife he had used to commit the crime), as the vertical Korean began filling up the floor, and as the two policemen passed their time enjoying a day away from the world, on the steps to the monastery,

Once the young man had finished his task and was promptly handed over by the master to the two policemen, and I was out of the trance cast by the scene, I looked up the exact meaning of esoteric. I must admit that I was slightly disappointed by what the dictionary thought. It looked like the core of the meaning of this word, lies in the fact that something described by it is not intended to be known or understood by everyone. In my world, esoteric had nothing to do with anyone else. It sounded independent of people. ‘Esoteric’ was a different kind of  ‘mysterious.’ But then, that’s life! Things aren’t really what you thought them to be. But dear ‘esoteric’, inside my head, you shall forever be mapped to the scene in ‘Spring summer fall winter… and spring’, where a murderer carves out the Budhist sutra for controlling one’s mind.

Since this article falls under the category ‘Reviews’, I cannot close without saying the following. This movie has some of the most beautiful visuals and sounds I have come across. (‘Into the wild,’ might be, at a different level, a good competitor.) Watch out for that charged thrill that could surge through you, when you notice the parchments inscribed with the word ‘closed’, turn damp with the tears from the Master’s eyes.

 

Roads

A couple of days ago, as I lay sleepless at an insane hour, I went on the routine journey: down the memory lane. This time however, I was surprised to find a discipline of sorts to the imagery that my mind conjured. They were all roads. From different periods in my life. Not the kinds that Robert Frost took in his poetry, the ones less travelled. Although, coming to think about it, I did pick one like that for life. But these were real, physical roads. That scorched under the summer’s sun, or allowed the flowers of Gulmohar, fallen under the might of the sudden sprightly shower to stick to their glistening bosom. Those that had holes here and there, groomed to become the urn of water for thirsty birds occasionally. Those, whose tarring finished unevenly along the two edges, like the Nutella-cream that forever fails to reach the crust of my bread. Some that never got the taste of tar, throughout my childhood days, and when finally did get the long-overdue coating under the Pradhan Mantri’s Gram Sadak Yojana (Prime Minister’s Rural Road Scheme), became the talk of the town, and some of the most important happenings in my quiet childhood.

So, roads, that were etched in my memory, beckoned to me, to walk upon them, once more, all over again.

 

 

 

Notes on ‘The Great Gatsby’

‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’

-F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby is easily one of the best books I have read and loved for its literary richness. And needless to say, the movie, in focusing entirely on the events, has miserably failed in capturing the essence of the book. ‘The Great Gatsby’ is an engrossing read because of its witty word-craft. The book also has venerable nuggets of wisdom scattered throughout as the story progresses. The first attribute is indeed difficult to portray through a visual medium. But how can one forgive the complete absence of the latter aspect?

I read the book before watching the year 2013 version of the movie, but knew that Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jay Gatsby. Perhaps this is the reason why, about mid-way through the book, DiCaprio assumed the role in my mind’s version of the Fitzgerald classic as well. It was effortless for him to slip into the Jay Gatsby of my imagination. Only he could have pulled it off. I have admired his portrayal of several characters across movies, and this might have assisted the transfer of his body language and mannerisms to my Gatsby. And there was perfect resonance between the two.

The day I closed the book, with much adoration for the author and notes filled with deeply meaningful quotations from various characters, I sat down to watch the movie. I agree that it was a treat for the eye. But sadly, the only good thing about the adaptation was Leonardo DiCaprio. Everything and everyone else were misfits in the movie. The movie was boisterous. Daisy was beautiful but the film’s version of her character was significantly different to how I had imagined her to be like. The Daisy in my mind was charming in a homely way, she emanated slightly more domestic warmth. She did not seem as laid off in my head as was shown in the movie. My Nick was certainly way better than the one played by Tobey Magguire. For starters, my Nick carried about a certain worldly wisdom, unlike the Nick from the movie who is almost a teenager. After all Nick Carraway is the narrator, he put the story down. All those observations, carrying layers of meaning, are products of Nick’s intelligence. It was Nick who delivered the best line in the whole story, “They’re a rotten crowd. You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.” Nick Carraway’s character has the most intensity and intellectual abundance in the book, and the movie has no signature of either of these.

A very important insight the book provides is into the segregations and turmoils under the seemingly well-off American society. It grabs and puts to raw display the wealthy American league, which explicitly prefers to stay classified into historically rich and newly-rich.

Personally, The Great Gatsby came to me in the nick of time, when I was reeling under the discomfort of lost contentment in one sphere of my life. I kept committing the mistake of trying to relate every new experience to an old one, trying to reconstruct the exact scenario and emotions of a past phase; precisely what had lead to the doom of Gatsby. The book shook me by the shoulder and put sensibility back into my head, reminding me in a simple manner to live with arms open to the future.