A Corrupt Artist

The Man in the Red Shirt, Ajanta Caves, MH, India

Humanity will survive even if every politician, every bureaucrat, and even the last common man is corrupt, to the core. The day the artist mortgages her soul to evil and greed, there will be no hope left. When the artist holds a mirror stained with corruption — and tells the rest of us, this is who we are, doom is imminent.

A corrupt artist is the indicator of the dawn of darkness.

*

But, how will we know, when such darkness is destined for us?

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Conversations with Ghosts of Past

“You aren’t online as much these days,” he said. I detected a note of regret in his voice. Wishful thinking on my part, I thought — there’s so much online these days, no one’s going to regret my absence. He’s just making an observation.

I nodded my head in agreement; smiled just enough so that it could qualify as a smile.

“It’s a bit boring, you know, to keep reading your old stuff.”

“I know the feeling, I have done a lot of reading — all my old posts. There’s not a lot, but there’s enough.”

“You are not just re-reading the posts. What are you searching for?”

“Who,” I said, looking away from him to street. There were so many people on that street. I wondered what they were doing, moving about, talking, walking. Some standing. All of them going about their lives. It seemed so strange, suddenly. Strange strangers. I’ll use that in one of my post.

“And did you find him,” he asked, stirring his coffee. He did that a lot; stirred his coffee, before every sip; I was almost sure of that. It could be irritating, if not distracting.

“I recognise shades of that person. He seems somewhat alien. It’s like … I was perhaps infected with that alien DNA a while ago, and as I read the posts, some sort of recognition causes green and blue neon-like pulses to emit through the screen and connect with a part of me. Just a part of me. It’s there, but it does not bind.”

“Why”

“I don’t know. Maybe I am a million galaxies away from that DNA. Or some million light-years away or something like that, there’s a connection, but it’s weak.”

“Too much of Netflix-binging?”

“Yes, mostly time-travel,” I said. A real smile, that would have almost qualified as a laugh.

“I know you don’t travel as much. I mean in this time/space construct; needless to say. Not time travel. You aren’t even capturing time, so to speak; you have stopped taking photos. Right? And you have stopped writing. In short, there is no movement, there is no new experience. Is that why there is no new documentation? Are you falling short experiences to describe? It’s perhaps not as simple as that, but I have to ask you – is it as simple as that?”

“Not having “experiences”; is that also an experience?”

“Doesn’t the mind hold a million times more possibilities than the real world,” he asked, not really meaning what he asked. He was perhaps interested in my mind. The possibilities in my head. I heard him but I wasn’t there.

Voices, with amazing clarity whooshed in that empty coffee shop.

You deserve more than this.
I’d rather be talking with you.
I like being with you, but…
I love you.
This is a great evening, I’ll cherish it forever.
I wish it were different.
Why didn’t you say something then.
If only…
I hope we can meet again

“My mind is full of regrets,” I said, “not necessarily mine. Not my regrets. And I may have a few. But my regrets are overwhelmed by the regrets I hear from them. Every regret was a possibility, come to think of it – it does not matter whether it was mine or theirs.”

*

“Write about them, then, those possibilities,” she pleaded.

She was grace. Unlike him who constantly stirred his coffee. She was a possibility. Looking in her eyes, then, I was reminded. Everything is possible. I don’t recall the new-age music that was playing in the cafe; but I heard:

Like a tunnel that you follow
To a tunnel of it’s own
Down a hollow to a cavern
Where the sun has never shone
Like a door that keeps revolving
In a half-forgotten dream
Or the ripples from a pebble
Someone tosses in a stream

Like a clock whose hands are sweeping
Past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple
Whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind.

~ Sting – Windmills Of Your Mind

I looked deep in her eyes. I did not blink. I was afraid, if I looked away, she would be gone, just like him. And I wasn’t prepared for who would be sitting with me next. I continued to stare in her eyes. I did not look away, but I knew that the strange strangers were looking at me. There’s something about a gaze.

“What a lovely pattern on your coffee,” she said, with so much of love and affection.

Patterns. Repetitive. Predictable. I am living those patterns. I look up, she isn’t around. I want to say something.

*

There is no Barista in the cafè.

*

No people on the street.

*

I walk out.

*

This world is empty of humans.

***

PS: Above post is all imaginary. It never happened. It’s a ghost story. None of my friends were involved in this story.

The True Letter

“Bhai!” (Brother; no blood-relation, but what we feel about people is stronger than a blood-call)

I always love hearing his voice.

Hey, how are you, I asked.

“All good man. I am sorry.”

Huh? Why?

“I haven’t replied to your letter” [A physical letter, written on paper, paid for with postage, to be delivered by a postman]

That’s alright. I have received one from you.

“I know, but I never replied to your reply to that. I want to reply. I want you to know that.”

She had written a letter to me once. On an unruled Inland Letter. There was a lot of space in between the lines she wrote. Maybe she was helping me read in-between the lines. I wasn’t as smart then, also, I thought I was in love. I just saw the empty space between the actual lines, beautiful handwriting, and well, you know what. She also wrote of how she had good intentions to write to me, but, she reminded me that, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I thought I’d re-quote this to my brother. Thought better of it.

That’s fine. I know you will reply. Soon.

“I don’t understand why I don’t write. I have the stationery. I have the will.”

You are, perhaps too focused on writing a proper letter.

“Meaning?”

You don’t need to write a full letter, you know. Just write a big ‘HI’ on the letter and post it?

“Meaning?”

*

Rest of the conversation was of various other things. And while I did give him an answer for his last question, I wondered, what was the “Meaning?” What does a letter mean? To me?

Doing an about-turn and looking within yourself is a difficult thing to do. We rarely do it. It follows, that we have lost (or are losing) the art of looking within. That evening, I turned.

It’s just so nice to receive a personal letter. A small little envelope, with your name inscribed on it in, fat, thin, curvy, thick, elegant, scribbly handwriting. It’s your name. Then follows your address. Whoever sent you the letter knows exactly where you are. The letter comes home. We aren’t having a conversation while I am commuting or when I am down on the street for a late afternoon for a chai and a cigarette. [Statutory Warning: Smoking is injurious to health].

A letter comes to where you are. Home. And then you open the letter. It may be a single page, or pages and pages stuffed in that reluctant envelope, ready to burst at the seams. It’s never the same as having the letter-writer in front of you, but it is the closest. I know, many folks think voice is the closest, but I think otherwise. Written words are. See, letter writing (pen and paper) is not the same as typing on a keyboard. Our thoughts are racing, our pen-in-our-hand cannot keep up. So, we often slow down out thoughts. If you have ever received a multi-page letter, you will know what I am talking of.

The first paragraph is exquisite. Your friend has sat down to write the letter, slowed down the thought process, and the best of her handwriting shows up. One page down. Now the excitement of I-have-so-many-things-to-share-with-you, takes over. Scribbly text takes over. Spelling mistakes. Scratches. She sees her own handwriting. Slows down. It repeats. Somewhere, the weight of the paper comes into consideration. No more pages! But I have so much more to say. A-ha! Margins! Let’s flout that one rule we learnt in school.

There’s more character to a letter than any other form of communication. Except of course, when we are having coffee together, at the same table.

To write a good letter, we need to be in denial, however; in these times. We have to deny ourselves an instant response. We have to let go, of a response, if that is what it takes. There is sheer pleasure in writing a letter. We have to move away form the instant gratification of the double-blue-tick-mark of WhatsApp and learn to yearn for a postal delivery. For something tangible. For something that’s forever.

*

Take your time, Bhai. Send me that letter when you can. What matters not is that it’s a postcard or an overstuffed envelope for which I have to pay extra postage. What matters is that I get it. You know it, there’s a joy in receiving letters. You have experienced it.

Spread the joy.

I Care That Much

“I don’t care.”

Saw this on the back of a car, a few days ago. I wasn’t driving. I thought of taking a photo of that careless decal, but, I couldn’t.

I have to tell you, I was amused by that statement. To begin with, the amusement was about the statement itself. The person driving the car, didn’t care. Obvious. In my head, I would have imagined, you’d have a bumper-sticker equivalent of what you care. Like who you would vote for, or an issue that you support. But, here was a bumper sticker: I don’t care.

Tate Modern - Wall Art - 9

I don’t have photo of the sticker. So, let me describe it to you. It was finely crafted. Custom font. Black on white. It stood out. You could not miss it. There was an artistic sense of the sticker.

*

I wonder, why someone would make a statement like that. Decals on vehicles are mostly statements of identity and belonging. Almost always they are a statement of power. And here I have a statement that does not belong: I don’t care.

Given the effort of the decal, I propose that the person cares. Cares enough to make a statement that he/she doesn’t care. If, you really don’t care – is a statement necessary? Do those who would like you to care, care about you?

*

To invest in a sticker with a custom font, is to care. Even if it is a statement saying that you do not care. You care to say that you do not care. And that says much.

You care enough, to say that you don’t care.

Love is Wabi-sabi

It’s easy to fall in love. An irresponsible chemical reaction is all it takes, and we say – I love you. Of course, there is no guarantee that the same irresponsible chemical reaction has occurred in the you of the “I love you.” Given the voluminous literature of romantic tragedy, it is safe to say that one chemical reaction does not cause another as desired. That’s the first problem.

Overcome that, and you have two irresponsible chemical reactions happening simultaneously. Bliss! We have an I love you and we also have an I love you, too. Such a lovely feeling that is, everything seems so bright, vibrant, sweet, and in place. Yes, it’s great.

Then, millions of years of training takes over. This and that. Black and white. Good and bad. Like and dislike. Almost all of evolutionary classification starts its slow game. It begins with small requests. The requests then come in earnest. And a few shades later become demands. Now you realise the irresponsibility of that chemical reaction; it over-rode all this classification that’s now playing the game. What begins, is the process of fashioning a personality of your choice and liking. A small iron chisel, lovingly thumped by a wooden mallet, finely carving out a sculptor’s imagination on a life.

“I love you, if only you would [insert desired change]”

Nayak Nayika. c. 11th CE. Hinjalgarh (Mandsaur). State Museum, Bhopal, MP, India

Nayak Nayika. c. 11th CE. Hinjalgarh (Mandsaur). State Museum, Bhopal, MP, India

Begets the question then; are we to trust the native irresponsible chemical reaction that tripped us and threw us in love? What are we to do when we feel betrayed by this instinctive chemical reaction? We could accept that the reaction was wrong; a mistake and walk away. Mostly, it seems, we insist that the reaction was almost right and start changing what we once loved; what was once pure. Iron chisel. Wooden mallet. Lover becomes sculptor. With no time to love.

Relentlessly sculpting, he makes a great work of art. Just like the sculptor has imagined it. It’s perfect. It’s shiny. It’s sophisticated. It’s unreal. It’s unattainable. It’s not human.

To partly accept, is to not accept. Love is pure Wabi-sabi

There’s Hope #Movies

Potential spoiler. Not giving out the plot, but it may influence your thinking, if you haven’t and are going to watch the movie.

*

I watched Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (2017), yesterday. (IMDB has got it wrong; its spelled with two a’s, unless of course, you use the ā, in place of the single a). It was everything that I didn’t expect it to be. Primarily, it was dragged to death and beyond. I am a big fan of the fantasy genre, and I enjoyed Baahubali: The Beginning (2015), a lot. In spite of some really over-the-top stuff in the movie. And given the suspense created in the first movie, I was really looking forward to the second. I’ll stop just short of saying that it fell flat. I’ll concede, however, that watching it dubbed (very badly) in Hindi was a mistake. I should have gone for the original Telugu version. I understand a few words and phrases in Telugu; but that’s not reason: there’s something very disturbing when sound and lip-movements are out of sync. It’s the effect, methinks, that’s diluted in dubbing. Subtitles are a better alternative. And when you are creating an artwork on such a large canvas, that one small thing can ruin the painting. Most of the CGI was impeccable, except for fire. They haven’t mastered that. That was very childish. This isn’t review, just thoughts. Five of my co-cinema-goers were equally (or more) disappointed, so we decided to wash down our dismay with a few beers.

*

I have practiced suspension of disbelief much before I learnt what it meant. It has always helped me with imagination. Considering possibilities is exciting. And when you start considering, you can go various places. Including some not-so-nice places. Yet, it is worth the trade-off.

*

After mocking the movie over a couple of beers, we asked ourselves if this is the fare that we are doomed for? I didn’t completely agree, but I didn’t say so.

Holding on

A week ago, I watched Poorna (2017). [PS: It’s available on Amazon Prime]

I am a very involved movie-watcher, and I experience the emotions that a director of a movie would like me to. If she is a good director. I laugh and cry wholeheartedly; get angry and afraid as the story asks of me. I do not watch horror movies because I do not like to be terrified. It’s not an emotion I prefer, if I can avoid it. The real-world is terrifying enough.

Poorna is the (real) story of the youngest girl to have scaled Mt. Everest. I’ll just say that. There are other adjectives to the tag line, in my opinion — they aren’t important.

The movie was a multi-layered emotional roller-coaster. The first layer is obvious: it’s her story, and in that sense, a dramatised documentary. But there’s something deeper. And without warning the layers reveal themselves. And it’s less about her and her motivations; it starts becoming about you. It touches your heart. Straight, direct, instant.

There’s hope. There’s proof. Of good movies.

The Album Tag

I was tagged on Facebook by Amit. Somehow, a tag for me, doesn’t look good on Facebook. I’ve taken the liberty of taking up the tag here, on the blog.

Amit Phansalkar tagged me to create a list of my favorite music, which has made a lasting impression on me. So, here goes.

The rules: Copy this & post as your status, delete my list. List 12 albums in no particular order that made a lasting impression on you, only 1 per band/artist. Tag some friends to do the same (including me, so I can, see what you listed).

6593: My Own Song

  1. Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon: This is a 1963 Hindi movie, starring an actor, who is not known for his acting. Yet, all the songs are so wonderful. Perhaps it was a 60s pattern that some of the not-so-good actors got some of the most amazing songs. In particular, the song “Humdum mere khel na jaano” is one of my favourites. There’s a unique essence of romance that’s inescapable. Here’s the playlist of all the songs of this movie. Mohd. Rafi is at his naughty best, in “Phir Wohi dil laya hoon” and “Lakhon hai nigah mein.” Watch/listen to the full playlist.
  2. Nirgun Bhajan: I was introduced pretty late in life to this. Yet, the impression that this album (if you can call it that, as Amit says) is everlasting. The nature of the songs being spiritual/philosophical (#YouPrefer) they suit all times, moods, places, and situations. I remember, listening to about four songs sitting on a London street bollard, while waiting for a friend, a long time ago, on a cool Wednesday afternoon. I am shamelessly using the same link for these songs, that Amit used.
  3. Dnyaneshwari: A 13th C. Marathi translation of the Shree Bhagvad Gita in Marathi, using a poetic metre, very popular in Maharashtra, called an ovi. This translation was done by Sant Dnyaneshwar, a very famous saint of the later Bhakti Movement. It has taken me a while to understand some parts (it is in olde Marathi) – but the lyrical quality, the structure and the wonderful rendition by Lata Mangeshkar is a a treat. Listen to the full album here.
  4. Arth-Saath Saath: Why is this album of two movies? It has perhaps to do with the fact that these movies were released during the cassette-tape era; Side A and Side B. Both movies were released in 1982 and each song is a gem. Unfortunately there isn’t wasn’t a playlist of these songs, so, here is one I created for this post. Most songs in this album are a discovery of finding love, losing love, and knowing love. “Tere Khushboo Mein Base Khat” is an all-time favourite.
  5. Concert in Central Park: By far the best collection of S&G songs, and it’s live. New York often finds mention in S&G songs, but this is a concert that you have to listen to, to feel the spirit of NY alive and kicking, in the concert. Enjoy!
  6. So Beautiful So What: This is the album where I potentially break the rules of this tag. I say potentially because #5 above is an S&G album, and this one is Paul Simon. SBSW is a recent release, and all that is true, wonderful, lovable, heartfelt about Paul Simon comes back to life in this album. It’s different in many ways – but the sense of love is the same. I will not be able to put it in words, so why don’t you go ahead and listen to it. If you have time for only one song, don’t miss “Dazzling Blue.
  7. Essential – Roy Orbison: I admit, I didn’t know of Roy Orbison for a long time. A chance encounter, c. 1999, sitting alone in a place thinking of a love far away, I heard Blue Bayou. I asked the bartender who it was, got myself this album the next day. Since then, it has never let me down. All 36 songs from this double CD set, here.
  8. The Abbey – Monks and Choirboys of Downside Abbey: March 2008; soulful voices echoing through the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. Enough said? I just could not find the playlist for the album that I have, but here’s a superset, to help you get the flavour of what I enjoy.
  9. Le Nozze Di Figaro: Two words — Shawshank Redemption. Red says, “I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about.Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a great place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.” Never heard opera before in my life. After listening to an extract of one, in the movie, I got the album and it did not disappoint – though I still cannot understand it or tell you why I love it, I do.  Some titles aren’t available in this playlist, but it won’t be too difficult to find the Herman Prey version.
  10. But Seriously: The perfect album to have been released when you are seventeen. This album has been mine, since. And while I may discover and love newer music, this one is rock-solid, always there. And here it is for you.
  11. Pyaasa: No amount words can do justice to tell you what this album means to me. It’s not just the songs, it’s the movie, the man, the method, not in the least – the madness. Listen and lose yourself.
  12. Love, Actually – OST: If we were to ever talk of the best OST of a movie, this would rate way up in my list. Eclectic, evocative, emotional. Listen

Bonus: A Toda Cuba Le Gusta: If, you feel that I cheated with S&G/Paul Simon, here’s another one. This is an album of happiness and joy. Not just Cuba, I feel, everyone in the world loves it. This album is a Star Trek – like – teleporter. It can take you to wonderful places and wonderful times. All yours.

Feel free to take up this tag, and let us know of twelve albums that have had a lasting impression on you!