Friday, February 19, 2010

Thank You For the Music . . .

Really, I wasn't expecting this to be particularly different from a lot of other recitals I've attended at the cutest, boldest, most wonderful little theatre I've been partial to for the past 8 years.

Don't get me wrong: I enjoy their plays immensely, but often, the recitals are just a fun night out for me, since I haven't grown up with the music. I can't sing along with the rest of the audience; I can't always understand the folksy wisdom that forms such an important backdrop to them; and often, the recitals are the first time I've heard the songs that the rest of the audience has imbibed with the air they breathe. I can only applaud the performances in terms of the quality of singing, which makes my response rather limited. I often forget the songs themselves and fail to recognize them when my daughter hums them, expecting me to join in.

So while I enjoy myself for the evening, it rarely leaves a lasting impression on me, like the plays often do.

However, today, to my surprise, the songs and their performances made me laugh and cry, and I don't do either easily. It always amazes me when this happens without my consent or expectation.

The theatre is holding a two day Folk and Classic Rock recital over this weekend, and if you've been reading this blog, this is not the music that, how shall I put it? Oh yes, moves my soul. Even though I did grow up listening to as much of the Beatles and ABBA as any other kid of my time, I am more of a Kishore Kumar- Lata Mangeshkar kind, a Hindi-movie-song-addict, and my kind of folk music is Gujarati Garbas.

And today, the theatre used no Beatles or ABBA (from whom, of course, I've borrowed the title of this post), which have become so pervasive that listening to them is fun, but rarely much more than just uncomplicated fun that comes from comforting, familiar lyrics and melodies.

On the drive home, I started thinking about this. I had never felt the teenage angst that I used to read about, nor was I ever angrily rebellious or vehemently non-conformist. I didn't feel alienated, disappointed, or depressed. I didn't have the wild streak that drove me away from home in search of an undefinable dream (my immigration was a deliberate choice, not a desperate escape). I never really felt misunderstood; why, then, did these songs of displacement affect me so?

But like the deceptively simple diction of the songs, the answer to this was simple in the way all complex, universal truths are simple: the songs spoke of the longing for home, the inability to define or reach it, the need to belong, the miracle of sunshine, the rebellion against thought-numbing conformity, the unspeakable obscenity of war, the fear of losing all the moments as time marches on, the entrapment of thoughtless choices, the immensity and futility of barriers, the indescribable sweetness of love, . . . the list goes on.

Usually, when I am affirmed of my place in the universe, this affirmation comes through an identification and understanding of an idea or attribute connected to the places I have trotted away from, the terrain I call Des. This evening has been one of those few times when this affirmation reaches me through an attribute from the land that is my chosen home.

It indeed feels like a life-changing epiphany when one recognizes an unbreakable, undeniable connection with the soil that, in archetypal terms, is one's Janma Bhumi, the land one emerges from. But today, I am doubly humbled and honored to have been included, accepted, through the shared music of its people, by my Karma Bhumi, the land I have chosen on which I may be tested, where I may prove myself through my choices and actions.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Many Splendored Thing

Today, of course, is Valentine's Day, and the whole world around me seems to have suddenly gone mushy, including my cats, who only seem to want to burrow and cuddle and talked to.

Well, actually, they could be asking for food, but that's more or less the same thing, isn't it?

It seems only proper that there should be a day set aside for this feeling that no one really seems to understand, only yearn for, illogical as it may be. We are told by lovers of lore, that this is like a sickness in the blood, that once this happens, one loses all appetite, all rest, as though one has drunk too much coffee, and all the colors and sensations feel highlighted in neon colors.

What is more, the literature of love warns us that there can only be one way love stories can end, with death! It all begins when eyes meet and ends when breath leaves body, sometimes, not even then!

All this sounds terribly uncomfortable, unnerving, and undignified, to say the least. Yet this is what differentiates living with full awareness of one's entire being, from simply drawing indifferent breath. This feeling we don't understand seems to govern our life and is as blended within our very existence, like a thread woven in a necklace, to transliterate the popular Hindi song.

Be that as it may, Love is a sad, if thriving business. You can buy disembodied, blood colored hearts on sidewalks, or from the suddenly ubiquitous traffic signal hawkers who knock on your car windows, beg you to get your beloved a balloon or blossom dipped in your heart's blood.

Then, there are the too-too red flowers that are so pathetic, so disturbing. Poor things: they are fed false messages and promises of possible procreation, forcibly inebriated with chemicals that urge them to bloom all the more hysterically in hopes of attracting hordes of bees and pollinators. Of course, no such thing happens; instead, they are snipped off, thrust, along with others of their kind in more alchemied, even coloring solvents, some even sprayed with painful glitter, to be sold as symbols of undying love, or at least as instruments of successful wooing.

Chocolates, I understand, delicious, rich, lethal in the long run, as tokens of love. But I am afraid I fail to understand the thriving business of hearts and flowers.

However, there is another, more effective way of wooing granted to us. More than chocolates, hearts, roses, and balloons, one could use the greatest gift bestowed upon humanity to woo one's beloved: poetry and words!

These last longer than flowers, feel softer than teddy bears and stuffed toys, are more redolent of emotion than saffron, can be varied and woven with more colors than rainbows, set truer than diamonds in that most fitting & priceless of cases, music, and instead of the guilt and teeth rot that are often accompanying specters of chocolates, words come with just sweetness and richness. They articulate, present, symbolize a whole plethora, an entire spectrum of feelings, at the same time apologize for their own inadequacy, a modesty glaringly lacking in the other objects associated with the expression of love.

So here is my suggestion to you: give your beloved a mirror decorated with verse that they may see themselves as only you can see them, their face framed by your regard.

Of course, a few chocolates and diamonds wouldn't hurt, the first well-vouched for as aphrodisiacs, the second promise to shine 'till all the seas gang dry, my dear, and th'rocks will melt wi' the sun. You could add a few blenders, hammers, or gardening gloves, if you are brave.

After all, love is a many splendored thing, sans rules, sans sense, and there are un-count-able ways to show how I love thee.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Told and Untold

Too often of late, writing has become a luxury, a rare treat allowed by powers whose scheduling I don't understand. This past week, for example, sheer exasperation has driven me to the almost forgotten skill of writing by hand on paper; I cannot tell how it exhausts the fingers!

I've been working on a short story, on a particularly difficult part: the balance between sincere and corny or fake. This golden mean has proven elusive this time, as it often has, in the past.

All literature, it has been drilled into us, is the experience of being human. But the exact timbre of intensity of some very human emotions & the way veritable people respond to these emotions, eludes me. Just a tad too much of this intensity and it spills over into unforgivable melodrama. My characters suddenly seem banal and caricature-ish, insincere and unbelievable. If I try to control this intensity, impose some decorum and discipline onto it, it spoils and curdles into a blotch of cliches. My characters get reduced to predictable mediocrity and threaten to fade away. What is more, during attempts at such disciplining, I suddenly hear my own voice, lecturing! An unforgivable embarrassment to any fiction crafter, like underclothing peeking out at inopportune moments.

Often, I write volumes of drivel just to reach that sparkling instant of perfection, when I know I can save that phrase, that sentence, that word, and it's potent enough to spin off universes of stories to keep itself company. However, it doesn't help that for really boring reasons, I don't get a lot of time to write, like I used to. So my volumes of drivel have to be dashed off intermittently, like a dying car at a traffic jam.

I must confess, this makes me quite, quite nauseous.

I don't know how Austen did it, finishing a masterpiece in what must have felt like snatched epiphanies in hours stolen from chores. I don't know, but I can very well imagine. For instance, even though I don't have the family problems that plagued Austen, I do know the guilt of awareness that this time could have been, should have been devoted towards some effort at cleaning up my house. I also know that in less than five minutes, I shall have to surrender this keyboard to more pressing matters, to serve more imminent deadlines.

My child is doing an Art History project and I am staring at a rather bad reprint of Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" and it amazes me that colors, composition, and inherent tale in the masterpiece still take my breath away; it feels like sheer poetry! How did he do it? Reach across centuries, through bad printers, to catch a tired woman at her messy desk, take her collar and force her to pay attention to the timeless?

The answer, it seems, could lie in stories that are indelible features on the face of our species. I shall let the epics work their magic, then; it might be time to revisit poetry and hopefully, that'll help me reach the undefinable.

After all, Odysseus assures me that poets have closer commerce with the gods than anyone else, and Odysseus is a wise man.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


The last weekend brought an unexpected treat: kite flying. Actually, Makar Sankrat, or Uttraan, or the Kite Flying day is long past, on January 14th, when the sun entered the Makar Constellation. However, this year, on that weekend, there were no prospects conducive to kite flying due to unreasonable cold and illogical winds.

As a child, I remember figuring out my year in terms of the festivals, starting with this one. I remember the blaring of popular movie songs, the fragrance of molasses cooking in ghee and sesame seeds, the usually interrupted cerulean of the sky as a patchwork of kites, kite-tails, even lanterns. I remember the familiar streets from a height, as the day would begin and end on roof tops and terraces, and instead of the hawkers and occasional cars, the streets would be rife with boys running after kites with dead branches, the better to snare them with, my dear!

I never thought that this would be one of the festivals I'd miss; it was never the most favorite one, since I am female. Where I grew up, there was a strong gender differentiation: the girls usually held the spool of kite-thread, while their male counterparts actually flew the kites. It was a truth universally acknowledged that one needed a boy to really control kites, to fly them, to mend them, to balance them, and to shout appropriate expletives during kite-wars. One of the most important things to do during recess was to compare scars borne on one's hands, cuts from the kite-thread which was processed in glass dust. But this was only for the boys: the scars sported by the girls were frowned upon as proof of their unacceptable tom-boy-ish tendencies.

However, as an adult, I find that I do miss flying kites. I find I love the heavy tension of the kite-thread when the kite is high, and the knowledge that it is high because I wish it to be. I love to control a weaving kite with well-timed snatches, to steer it within the air currents, to let the kite-string flow as the kite discovers new heights, to coax and bully it to go even higher than it thought possible. I bear the scars of kite-thread on my fingers and palms with a great deal of pride.

Adulthood has also brought me an added satisfaction to flying kites: I don't care what people think of my femininity or lack thereof. I am too old (and therefore, too invisible) to be judged for exhibiting tendencies that are not stereotypical of my gender. In fact, I hope, the sight of my battling the winds that my kite may greet the sun, could hearten other younger females to try their skill with more comfort because they aren't the only ones.

This month also brought me a physical copy of an anthology which has published my short story, with a check (my first). For about a week, every time I looked down at it, I felt an unbelieving joy, hunger for what my friends and family thought of it, and itchiness in my fingers for fixing it further.

It felt like a high I remember from my childhood on rooftops in the cool dawning. I know once the story is published, I have no control over it, that in effect, the kite-string is cut and beyond my reach. Still, there is a responsibility that comes with the sight of my name in print.

I feel the heaviness of the sky on my story, grounded by my name below it, a feeling as concrete, as nebulous as the illusion of control over a kite buffeted by January winds.