Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Heart is mightier than Reason

Does it take a lot to set your self free? From the sweet societal chains that boasts of binding humankind together? Is it a sin to be one with nature? Your nature as well as God’s? Will it be too demanding of one to set his self apart?

Societal ties no doubt have succeeded in its attempt to bind. Not bond. They have taken us away from the ground and set us somewhere higher in the air where it is so easy to drift. Drift away from the truth (Truth can’t be sacrosanct. The reader has the discretion to define truth. Sacrosanctity is rigid to me). The truth that you think is yours. The truth that can set you free. The truth that is free.

I was reading King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard and it struck me that why has truth always been portrayed as a most painfully difficult journey. Why can’t it be serene, soothing like falsity? (Again, great writers and philosophers have said truth always goes hard on you. Falsity and lies don’t. It’s easy to lie and get away. So they are not entirely wrong.)

In the pursuit of truth, great many souls have lost their lives, have suffered beyond measure. Be it the adventurers or our freedom fighters. And in every case, the truth has differed from person to person, nation to nation. That is exactly what I feel is freedom. The ability to just break free from rigidity. You may be tied down with a million chains, engulfing you like the deadly mouth of an anaconda. But you are free because you think free. No matter what truth is to you.

Every face that peeps out of the windows has a different truth. The face that smiles, the little eyes full of desire, the face with anticipation, the sorrowful ones, the pensive, the meaningless, the indifferent. Everyone has a truth, somewhere inside, deep within. Where the smile is the truth, the desire is the truth, the pensive is the truth, and sorrow is a truth. And this truth is nothing less than freedom. I see it. I feel it. I know it. And that too is the truth.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Paragraph & Shutter visit Jama Masjid

Chotu was his name.

At least, that was the name he liked. He had a family name too but was unaware of its richness. It was too difficult for him to pronounce. It went something like Jalaluddin Muhammad – quite a difficult name to pronounce for a 4 year old. His widowed mother begged all day outside Jama Masjid for a living while Chotu roamed around the masjid gathering experiences; a few of them pleasant, most of them unpleasant and some of them…shocking.

Jama Masjid, the abode of Allah, has also had its own share of bittersweet experiences. It has seen the might of the Mughals, their downfall, the rise of the British to name a few. It has given shelter to daring freedom fighters regardless of their religious identity. Later still, it stood tall during the communal riots of ’92 when one of its predecessors, the Babri Masjid was annihilated.

A huge market surrounds Jama Masjid. A market for the rich and the poor. From needles to watches, key rings to bikes, bangles to sunglasses- you can have it all.

Chotu got attracted to the colourful sunglasses one day while roaming the streets, kept in the stationary shop outside Jama. He slowly went over to the shop, helped himself to a pair of sunglasses – bright red in colour, and started coming back. Too young to understand the meaning of “stealing”.

“Slap!” came the first blow.

As he tried to get up from the ground and turned, another slap, harder than its competitor, reddened Chotu’s left cheek. He started crying, not because of pain or insult but mainly because tears came naturally in such moments of intense emotions. His Ammi (mother) was not far away and daintily came to her son’s rescue.

After a few hot exchanges with the shopkeeper, Chotu’s mother picked him up and took him away to the main stairs of the Masjid. Chotu was still crying. His mother took out a tiny paper bag from inside her choli (Indian dress) and started dangling it in front of Chotu with an innocent smile on her lips. Chotu stopped crying.

“What’s in it, Ammi?” asked Chotu. Although certain of the answer.

“Moong-dal beta”, said she, “for you and your friends”.

Now, you make a lot of friends if you live on the streets. Similarly, Chotu had friends too. The flock of pigeons, which used to roam around the big courtyard of Jama, was his best friends. When others fed the pigeons with yellow rice and dry fruits, Chotu had only ‘moong dal’ (Indian pulses) to offer. Though not a fulfilling meal for pigeons, they would still trust Chotu to others.

“Pappu, see what Ammi has sent for you”, called out Chotu, “Munni, for you too”.

He took a handful of ‘Moong-dal’ and spread it out for his friends. In an instant, his tiny palm disappeared somewhere inside the fluttering pigeons and the next instant it was empty. Chotu felt amused. He started chatting with his friends, munching on his share of ‘Moong-dal’ and complaining about the ill-treatment that he had to bear a little while ago.

“That man there is Shaitaan (Satan). Beat me up for nothing”, Chotu complained, walking around the scattered yellow-rice all the while. “Ammi says Allah punishes all those who do wrong”, he said pointing towards the huge monument. Chotu was not aware of any difference between Allah and the Jama Masjid. The great structure called for awe within him and he thought the Masjid to be Allah, Himself.

“Then why don’t Allah walk up to that monster and hit him?” Chotu got lost in thoughts.

In 1656, ordered by Mughal emperor Shah Jehan, Jama Masjid, also known as Masjid-i-Jahan-Numa, was the result of the continuous, inhuman tedious efforts of 5,000 labourers who toiled for 6 long years under the leadership of Ustad Khalil. Built on the Bho Jhala hill, the Masjid was constructed in the city of Shajahanabad keeping Red Fort as the prop. 25,000 worshippers can perform their prayers in the courtyard of this mosque. This mosque in Old Delhi, displaying both Hindu and Islamic styles of architecture, was built to replicate Moti Masjid at Red Fort in Agra. 

Legend says that the walls of the mosque were tilted at a certain angle so that during an earthquake the walls would collapse outward. Not only do the Muslims come here to offer their prayers but also people of other religion to behold this magnificent work of art. This huge pouring in of masses has made this place a major target for the beggars. The main stairs outside the masjid are always full of them. Chotu’s mother was one of them.

It had been long since Chotu had gone to meet his friends and was not back yet. Chotu’s mother was worried. The boy had missed his lunch too. She had been busy all day as there was a rush of foreigners. More people meant more business. Worried, she came to the main door of the masjid and saw the Imam heading towards her.

She asked him, “Imam sahib, did you see my boy?”

“Yes, of course,” he replied with a smile, “he is near the pool.”

Chotu’s mother found him intensely observing the people who had come to cleanse their feet before offering their prayers.

“Ammi, why are they washing their feet?” Chotu asked.

“Beta, you have to cleanse yourself before offering your prayers to Allah. It is a sign of respect.” replied his mother.

“I also respect Allah. Should I clean myself up?” said Chotu.

“Surely, my dear boy. Someday I will teach you how to do that. Now let us go and eat something. You have not had anything today.”

She promptly took him up in her arms and went back to the stairs. Making him sit on them, she pulled out a slice of bread and gave it to Chotu, at the same time chatting with him incoherently.

“Ammi, not any more, please.” Chotu said, “I can’t eat anymore, please Ammi.”

“No beta, this is the last piece I have got today. We don’t have anything else for dinner.” She said trying to persuade her son to eat the bread. 

Chotu stood up and started running towards the inner left corner of the courtyard, screaming, “Not any more! Not any more! Not any more!” 

A sudden flash of blinding light accompanied by a deafening sound threw Chotu to the ground. He stood up a minute later, tears rolling down his eyes and a stream of blood oozing out of his nostrils. He was shocked. Shocked to find some of the people he knew lying all around him. Some trying to move yet some completely motionless. He quickly turned around to look towards the stairs of the mosque trying to find her Ammi.

The Government later expressed its grief over such barbarism and also added that thankfully, there were no casualties. And somewhere there stood Chotu looking at his mother. Or perhaps, her hand. A bread crumb still firmly clasped. 

Today, there stands not Chotu but Jalaluddin, looking at the stairs from where he extracted the bread crumb from his mother’s severed arm when he felt hungry, not understanding anything.
He understands everything now. He will die for Ammi.

(Story told by The Thinking Guitar)

Disclaimer: All characters, names and events depicted in this story are  fictitious and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental and unintentional and is not intended to hurt any moral, religious or sentimental feelings of any community, caste or person.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Paragraph & Shutter are in love with the monsoons...

She was devoid of tears. He avoided tears.

But tears come, even in extreme happiness. Still, she was devoid of tears. She was unique; God made her unique. No matter what the situation, no matter the emotion, there would be one expression: the smile.

And she smiled.

But tears do come, even in extreme happiness. Still he avoided them. He was not unique; God had made him so. And at this moment, this moment of extreme emotions, all he could do was cover his searing eyes. He wanted to cry but he couldn’t.

She understood. He understood.

They were standing on the terrace of a 17 storey building, meeting after 17 long years. The wait had been long. Too long. They held each other tight, lips locked & eyes closed, savouring the moment of their togetherness. They forgot the world around them and let their hearts take centre stage.

Her lips were soft, as soft as before. Her breasts warm, as warm as before.

Both were sitting on the ledge of the terrace, bathed in the golden light of the setting sun. The world seemed far away and they were one with the sky. Yes, they were so high.

Then the black clouds came; slowly, very slowly, covering the crimson sky. The birds flew back to their nests; lightning and thunder filled the black sky. The rain came pelting down like a million hungry locusts.

“Monsoon’s here,” said he, “I know you love the rain. But come, let’s go inside.”

She kissed him again. “Yes, let us go inside”, she said.

They stood up. He slipped. Just a tiny slip.

Silence, in spite of the hard-hitting rain. Thundering silence, as far away she heard a thud far below.

She was locked in that moment & knew only that this was the end. She felt like dying.
And then she felt the pain, the hopelessness of all those years of waiting. All she wanted was to cry.

But what came was just a smile.

The forgotten village of Damuda has not seen rain for a thousand years. Folklore had it that a failure to appease the Rain God resulted in his wrath. After a thousand years of bright cloudless skies the people of Damuda had forgotten that once it had rained here too.

Everything else in Damuda is normal; the sun rises in the east, mothers feed their babies, men have wives and birds chirp during the winters.

The villagers of Damuda are skilful potters. On Saturdays, the men take their pots and travel great distances to other villages to barter their goods. When they come back, they have all their basic necessities and of course WATER.

Thirteen years back, Damu was born in one such family. His father Damodar and mother Damini were the poorest in Damuda. Damodar, too, was a potter. Since he was born with a disabled left hand his disability proved to be disastrous for his family.

Nonetheless, Damu always accompanied his father and even entered into barter and loved the excitement of it. It gave him a chance to be with different people, “more civilised” as his father would say. Truly, they knew so much! From them, Damu would listen to stories of kings and their kingdoms, elephants and snakes and of course stories of RAIN

The first time Damu heard about rain, he couldn’t quite believe it. The very idea of water falling from the sky was so strange and alien to him that he was perplexed completely by the idea. No, Damu couldn’t really imagine rain.

The one thing Damu was very passionate about was music. Old Hari, the musician from the village they went to barter in, would tell him stories about great musicians and the power they had to change the world. From him, he learnt about Tansen, the greatest musician of all times and how he could kindle a flame through the strength & magic of his ragas. Damu would ask Old Hari a million times whether he could do the same, to which he replied, “They were the greats; they were Gods. I am not a God!” Still, whenever Old Hari sang at Damu’s insistence, Damu would look around to see whether anything was on fire or not. Sadly, he was disappointed every time.

One day, Damu requested Old Hari to teach him music. So started a new chapter in Damu’s life. Every Saturday he took lessons from Old Hari and for the rest of the week practiced to perfect his skills. His tenacity and dedication amazed everybody in the village but to their dismay, even after months of training, Damu couldn’t sing a single raga properly.

Summer came; and the entire village of Damuda was engulfed in a massive heat wave. Trees dried up and the birds flew away. Animals died of thirst. Heat, so unbearable, that it made the people lose their patience. Peace & harmony fled. There were fights; husbands beat up their wives, and children cried from day till night. Water was nowhere to be found. Everyone fought for even a drop.

Damu’s father died on a Wednesday and his mother hanged herself from the yellow tree. Not a single person came to help cremate their bodies. Damu was now alone.

The next morning, Damu went to the now dry lake near Kaju’s hut. The door was shut as everybody was afraid to come out in the heat. Damu could hardly see. The sun was so mercilessly bright. He knew he would die if he stayed out any longer. He had not had a drink of water that day and no one would give him any. Thirst was killing him but he felt that there was no reason for him to live as his loved ones were dead. Perhaps Old Hari would have cared for him but there was no way he could go to the other village in this heat, this killing heat.

Hopeless & despairing, Damu closed his eyes to welcome death. Suddenly he felt no thirst, felt no heat. He understood that it was time to die.

Gathering together all his strength he looked at the sky, and passionately started to sing raga Megh.

Time flew past and Damu, like Tansen, kept on singing for hours, until at last his eyes closed for the last time.

Whether Mia Tansen really lit flames through his ragas will always remain a mystery. But Damu’s voice took wing to soar through the skies & reach the rain God. With his dying breath Damu had won the grace of the Rain God.

It rained.

Bling! Blang! Blong!

“Uuh! Let me sleep.”

Bling! Blang! Blong!

“Brother! I said, let me sleep. One more time and I will kill you.”

Bling! Blaaa…..!!!!!

“ENOUGH!!!! Now it’s your time buddy.”

I took my pillow and thrashed my brother twice. He took his position; his pillow was stronger than mine. The moment he came charging towards me, I grabbed him and threw him flat on the bed, and kept on pillow-hitting him until it burst into a thousand cotton bales.

My brother…my little brother.

In came our mother and seeing the utter mess, slapped me. Well, well, well….I was the elder one and my brother just a tiny creature. Hence, such a treatment.

This was fifteen years back when I was in high school. Every morning my brother would wake me up this way and we would pillow-fight until mom would come in and stop the gladiators.
Sunday…a day to relax…..had plans of staying in bed till afternoon but woke up at 4.40 in the morning. Thanks to the old pillow-fighting dream.

I am a doctor who is a good doctor. A doctor who has a lot of patients. And I don’t subscribe any apple a day to my patients. So they can’t keep me away!

But today is a Sunday and I really wanted to sleep a lot. But couldn’t.

It’s been long since I have seen my city wake up. So I get into my shoes and start walking towards the river. I am sure that just like my childhood days, the sunrise from behind the factory chimneys will enthrall me even today.

A gust of fresh air enters my nostrils and along with it comes the smell of burnt charcoal from the riverside tea stall. It refreshed me then and there and activated the nostalgic part of my brain. The distant chimney smoke, the orange sky behind them, the hissing of the morning river and the incessant humming of a few devotees caressed my urban mind and gave it a human touch. I sat down on the riverbank-stairs.

After completing school, I left home and went to Connecticut to study medicine. I became a doctor and started practicing in New York. And all this while I was so, so busy. I hate myself for that.

One day, the news arrived.

I took the next flight back to India but never saw my brother again.

My brother…my little brother.

I went inside our room. Everything was in place. Just my brother’s pillow was lying on the floor. I broke down.

In came mother and seeing me in tears, slapped me. Well, well, well….I was the only one and my brother, just a tiny creature, was gone. Hence, such a treatment.

I never went back to US.

Droplets from the sky and droplets from my eyes mix. Cotton bales everywhere…flying, flying and flying. Now I know who woke me up so early on a Sunday.

The cloudy sky made me happy. I prayed for the rain so that I could miss my office today. I woke up early due to the regular commotion between my mistress and the maid. With a terribly distorted face, my wife came inside the room with the tea and started her regular complaint of sacking the maid the next month…the month that never arrived. Because of this terrible encounter, both forgot about the tea as it turned from red to dark brown. I was able to take only a few sips, more than which was impossible.

Grabbing my great granddad’s antique umbrella and the jute bag, I got out for buying vegetables from the market. Seconds away from the Shyambazar five-point crossing, it started raining heavily. My antique umbrella did not offer any help whatsoever and devoid of rights, I took shelter under a polythene shade of a cigarette stall. For half an hour, I remained under that shade, as the rain paralyzed me completely. My wristwatch showed 8.30 am.

It was pouring down like anything and Shyambazar in no time would turn into Venice and perhaps I would have to sell off my ambassador for a gondola. I started daydreaming about how my beloved Shyambazar with hundreds of advertising hoardings, pan-cigarette shops, and the netaji statue would look like without any roads but only water and gondolas charging Rs.5 to take you to the nearest metro station. Frankly, I was enjoying thoroughly in the rain together with my imagination.

Suddenly there was a jerk to my chain of thoughts. The reason for this was an argument that traveled into my ears and brought me back to the real five-point crossing. As I turned around, I saw an unusually fat lady with a fat-full of belly and cannon-ball eyes screaming at the highest pitch humanly possible. In front of her, a matchstick-ish man completely drenched and who resembled a cocker-spaniel, was painstakingly listening to this lady’s barbaric assault. Reason?

After listening to the lady for some time, the reason became evident. Apparently the lady wanted to have “Aloor Chop & Teley Bhaja” (potato crumbs - primarily a Bengali delicacy) and has been nagging her husband since morning to bring the necessary ingredients. But the husband was busy cleaning the bathroom. So he got late. The rain put an end to the wife’s desire. Hence, the lightning and thunderstorm.

By then a lot of people had gathered round them. Embarrassed and threatened of dire consequences, the matchstick husband all of a sudden rolled up his pant, took the umbrella from his wife and ran towards the bazaar in the pouring rain.

Someone from the hurdle cried out, “Hey! Watch out for the umbrella. It might break.”

It was awkward. Did not have any explanation.

The balcony door, through which Mr. Shankar was looking outside, suddenly closed. There was a huge bang that made the two crows fly away in fear. Irritated, Mr. Shankar got up from his bed and opened the door again.

Unlike a serial killer, the sky had left behind enough evidence of rain in the form of pitch dark clouds. Yes, it was about to rain. The wind was blowing so strong that Mr. Shankar found it difficult to keep the door open.

“Disgusting! What will the crows think about me? That this old man cannot even respect their feelings? What a beautiful love story they were telling me; about how they flew away from their family nest and started living together, and this wind comes and plays spoilsport. Disgusting!”

“Monsoon’s here. I just hope they will be fine.” said Mr. Shankar.

And saying this, Mr. Shankar went outside to the balcony and scoured the sky once.

Shouting at the top of his voice, he said, “Pay me a visit some time! It was nice knowing you.”

Just then, the doorbell rang and the balcony door closed shut with a loud bang.


We are very thankful to one of our admirers The Thinking Guitar for contributing a poem for the monsoon post:

The darkness emerges from the past,
For light, I search everywhere,
This is my path – the last,
I’m gonna’ born elsewhere.

The wind cold moves by,
Reminds me my long lost dream,
This sorrow – I know not why,
This sorrow – an endless stream.

Two lovely birds were us,
Felt around the magic of rain,
That magic’s been lost (and thus),
My life now is flowing in vain.

The monsoon is here again,
Burning my heart to ashes,
I weep to the river in pain,
As the thunder crashes.

The rain of fire pours down,
My umbrella fails to prevent it,
Sure this is a peaceful town,
(But) I want to get rid of it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Paragraph & Shutter welcome everybody

The joy of clicking the shutter button is at times inexplicable. Perhaps what is explicable is minutely reflected through the photographs that serve as the fodder for more such repetitive action.

I started photography when I was not a photographer. The very thought of taking the camera and going out filled my stomach with running squirrels. I don’t know when I started taking photography seriously. It was a feeling that came from within and the only word that stuck to my mind was “Passion”. Therefore today I can firmly say that photography is a passion for me. And this passion I realised after days of going out with my camera every morning. I showed no mercy. Be it the roadside views, trees and shadows, north Kolkata houses or footpath beggars, I showed no mercy. Back at home, I used to wonder and wonder a lot at the stark differences of a real time view and photo-graphical view.

As far as my learning is concerned, I can say that while capturing a particular moment in the camera frame, which includes keeping in mind what to keep and their proportionality and what to delete, placing the subject correctly, it becomes extremely important to be yourself. This gives the photo a story, a story framed, captured and ready to be relished. And all the actions that you take before taking the shot, is known as Framing.

Soon I realised that only framing cannot do the job. In order to make the photos look dramatic, lively and attractive, I should be able to play with light and shade and of course colours. Personally I have nothing against black and white photos but when colour is an option, why not exploit it? Thus I completed my story. Then it was time for story hunting.

Today when I look back at the years gone by I feel more and more excited and at times nostalgic. All the stories I wrote through my photographs, stories of jungles, of spiders, of seas and mountains, they bring back nothing but good memories. Thankfully, I have the memories captured and locked in numerous Compact Discs.

With all the complexities of life and pressures to earn a few bucks, at times I do feel distanced from my Nikon D200 and at that point of time I do nothing but stare at the transparent plastic container lined with silicon gel lovingly hosting my camera. And when emotions over-pour and my brains find it difficult to contain, I leave everything behind, take my camera and go outside. One thing’s for sure – Shutter and Nikon D200 are inseparable.

Today, Paragraph’s with me. He accompanies me, he writes and at times click photos too. It’s a peculiar mixture of friendship, trust and fun. We have this peculiar game of selecting unrelated photographs and making a story out of them. A game where we fight, we shout, quarrel and what not but at the end we have a story to tell. Paragraph writes it down immediately. It is these stories that we would publish in our blog and they would be punched with a few photography tips and shooting details.