Friday, May 31, 2013

Last thoughts on rituparno… when the lights go out

There are film-makers. Then there are film critics. And then there is us. No not the audience. We are not audience. We are not the people who go to see films to fleetingly look at the on-going events on the screen while munching our tubs of pop-corn. We do not switch off our mobile phones to show our civilized upbringing- but for other reasons. We do not run out of the hall the moment the credits start rolling on. We do not make one sentence judgement of what we just saw while casually munching on the chicken leg in the KFC outlet in the food-court. We are not the audience. Cinema is not our weekend diversion or distraction before more important work schedules engulf us for the other five-six days. For most of our ilk the work is the five-six day distraction which we deal with to survive. We live in duality. The two worlds. Like the two worlds of tengo and aomamae in 1q84. Our world starts when the lights go out. And the screen ignites in all its brilliance and exuberance. We survive in the real world so that we can breathe in the dark cinema theatres. When the lights go out. We are the cinemaniacs.

Long back in college I was discovering the love of cinema inside me. I had just watched Desica, Kurosawa, Ray, Ghatak, Wajda, Bergman, and Truffaut among others. I had started my life in my world of duality. The customary attendance in the college and then the two rupees journey to Nandan. A ten rupees ticket for the world of cinema to open up. It was in these times when I came upon Rituparno Ghosh. It was a time when we cinemaniacs were running away from Bengali cinema. The demise of Ray had put the last nail in the coffin and the present commercial cinema was a torture for any soul. Don’t get me wrong. I am a happy consumer of pulp. But what was happening in Bengali cinema was beyond pulp.

Someone talked about a very good movie called Unishe April which had got released and was a refreshing change from what was going on. I ignored. The sheer knowledge of the names of the world greats instils arrogance into mere mortals and here I was watching their work day in day out. Bengali cinema was below me. Life was about the world cinema and the time spent in the USIS library hunting through the innumerable film magazines and books. It was after a few days when this chorus of goodness went up that I finally, grudgingly walked into the cinema hall in Rashbehari. A ticket in the fifth row on a matinee show on a working day. This was the third week. The movie was a commercial success.  This was an ominous sign. Undeterred I walked in, I had already made my decision.

Unishe April opens with a scene of death. Rituparno explores death and loss and vulnerability in many movies. His first released movie was likewise,  an exploration of death, of loss… and its impact. I remember going back to watch the movie twice more. It was not about comprehension. It was about the ease of comprehension. In a time when I was delving into avant-garde and was spending countless hours in reading and discussing to digest and make sense  I was firstly dumbfounded by its simplicity and ability to reach me. Then there were the sheer layers and sub layers which made me discover something new every time I went back. It was not realisation, or understanding. But more about discovering those minute details carefully or carelessly left by the director for you to find out. Like that moment of sarojini trying to open the door of the store room with force and the daughter aditi shrieking “ma! Tomar hnatu”(ma your knees). Sarojini looks back with shock. She never expected that knowledge and care from her estranged daughter. In one single phrase the director shakes up the unspoken equilibrium of expectation and knowledge between the mother and the daughter. No lengthy dialogues or scenes. One simple phrase. Or that recipe book scene. First signs of sarojini’s sincere attempts at marital life through the recipe book. “Tumi ranna korte paro?”(you know how to cook?)- Aditi’s surprise at that discovery. The subtleness and simplicity of the final scene is nothing short of spectacular. I have seen a lot of cinema. From all across the world. Great films with their beauty of poetry, allegory, imagination. But my favourites are the ones which convey the most with the least and with pure simplicity. The reaction of Apu’s child when he finally meets his father, “dada ami banchtey cheyechilam”, the reflections of Kambei in the final scene of Seven Samurai, the last scene of “Memories of Murder”…Unishe April’s climax is way up there in this list.

The years of conflict between the mother and the daughter captured again in one phrase- “tumi konodin dekecho amay?” While narrating her claustrophobic childhood when her mother used to teach the other kids dancing while she quietly used to have her lunch and do her homework. Hoping and waiting and then seeing her own heart breaking. She blurted this out at her mother’s surprise and the assumption that Aditi never liked dance. That one phrase for me defines that relationship. The problems of the relationship. That one phase for me tells the story of a relationship developed based on assumptions where no one walked beyond these assumptions into the real feelings of the other person. That in my opinion is one of the most important truths of human condition. Most of our untested  assumptions are the ones which lead to the demise of relations. All this captured in that one simple dialogue of the hurt daughter-”you never called me in-did you?”

Rituparno ghosh went on to make some of the most memorable cinema which came out in the following two decades. He kept on making cinema till yesterday. Yesterday night he died. After completing the shooting of his last film- a story of the legendary Bengali detective Byomkesh Bakshi.
I am not a film director, or an actor or a cinema worker. I never knew him personally.  I cannot feel him as a co-director as a teacher or an object of criticism. I cannot remember him with the intimacy of a friend. But then  I am not the audience either. I cannot set him aside with a click of my tongue and that momentary feeling of pity. I feel him through his cinema. His cinema which has been talking to me for the last two decades of my growing up and growing old to this threshold of middle age.  Educating me and reminding me of the human condition. Not through complex pedagogy. But simple straight forward yet touching, subtle and intimate vignettes.
The first realisation of a son of the vulnerability and frailty of his father (Abohoman). The way undying love long forgotten and hidden inside the marital battleground of incompatibility suddenly breaks open all barriers and floods our lives when the person is no more (Shab Choritro Kalponik). The eternal compromise of marriage. That the woman keeps making with the man. The all-consuming Lord and the devotee wife (Doshar). The sheer confidence and fore-knowledge of the husband (Prosenjit) almost stung us to this reality. The final scene of voluntary submission tore our hearts. Then there was the chilling reminder of our vulnerability and duplicity in Dahan. I did not watch Dahan for a long time. I was too terrified to watch Dahan. Yes I- who gobbled down Tarantino, Kitano, Miike, Johnnie To, Oshima without batting an eyelid. The violence in his cinema was never physical. It was the attack into your soul. Dahan was frightening for me. I had to muster courage to look at the predicament of a woman who is attacked by man. Being  a man it was the fear of the shame. The humiliation of the truth. Be it the molesters, the lawyers or the husband…. Even today the memory of her rape by her husband suffocates me.
Rituparno’s cinema was like that textbook with those hidden clues. The challenge for us viewers was to discover the hidden clues. Of life’s realities, characters, moral dilemmas… a variety of things. The excitement and fun of watching a Rituparno movie were these moments of discovery. Of the twenty odd films he made there are many I liked and many I did not. I did not like Last Lear much. Or for that matter the presentation of Abohoman. Or Doshar. But in every film of his there were those moments which captured you. Be it the last scene of Lear, the interaction between the father and the son in Abohoman or the first husband – wife confrontation in Doshar. These moments were those hidden gems. Those moments of realization. And they came to us without any ornamentation or complexity. They were intimate and subtle no doubt- but simple and direct at the same time. That’s why his films not only appealed to the cineastes, but also the masses.
Did anyone interpret Tagore the way he did? Perhaps Ray. But then apart from Ray anyone we can think of? Not only the story-telling. The creation of the world of Tagore. The women of Tagore. The aura of the society whose stories Tagore used to tell. Be it Chokher Bali or Nouka Dubi. Or the supreme twist on Chitrangada in his last release. Besides there was the serial with which he was briefly attached. Gaaner Opare. That was the only Bengali serial I followed. I downloaded all the songs. It was his take on those classic pieces of Rabindrasangeet. Through the serial and the songs his stamp his touch was visible and strong. And so welcome!
Bengali cinema in more ways than one learnt Bengali from Rituparno. His endless intellect and scholastic depth gave him his command. Only a person with immense knowledge can put things across with simplicity. His dialogue writing rediscovered the beauty of Bengali language in the cinema. While film is widely agreed as a visual media one of the main attractions of his cinema was his dialogues. The normal day to day conversations which used to reach sublime heights through application. I have said before- “tumi konodin dekecho amay” from Unishe April will remain as his “dada ami banchte cheyechilam”. A simple complaint of love from the daughter to the mother which practically defined the theme of the movie. And in many ways most human relationships.
Finally you can take away everything else. But the visual exuberance which leapt out of the screen itself was enough for revisiting it again and again. If Ray told us that cinema was a visual medium then Rituparno was its most extravagant performer. The colours, the movements, the composition of each frame. Especially in the period pieces or the performance pieces. The dream like Noti Binodini sequences in Abohoman, the dances in Chitrangada,  every frame of NoukaDubi or Chokher Bali… I am sure many critics would have knotted their eyelids and disapproved as indulgence. But what the hell? The sheer beauty of those passages was like ornaments on the lady. Unnecessary yes- but so beautiful! Or the scene of Rakhi-Sharmila showdown in Shubho Muhurat with Anindo rendering “Jibano Maraner SHimana CHaraye” in the next room. With the door locked. It was not glamorous (discounting the two most glamorous actresses of Indian Cinema) but so moving.

Rituparno is no more. Today is the second day without him. His passing has been as unique as his entry into the world of cinema. Sudden, like a flash. Cinemaniacs like me who rediscovered Bengali cinema through him are today numb. But along with us the common popcorn chewing Bengali audience too is today at a loss. Today morning after my latest bout of insomnia my mother came into the room mumbling to herself. When I asked her the matter she replied “ can’t get him off my mind,  can’t deal with it too. Started feeling unwell”. “Who are you referring to?” I asked instinctively. “Obviously that rascal! Why did he have to go so soon?”. Rituparno was the younger brother/ nephew for all mothers, elder brother for all like me…he was not that distant and huge star like Ray. Through his films, his media interactions, his writings he had come too close to us. He was with us- the common middle-class “us”, the cineaste “us”, the sensitive “us”…us, the Bengalis. It was not fair, the way he went away. Not fair at all….leaving us to deal with this realisation… walking the streets alone…

One song  kept coming to my mind since yesterday. Those lines from American Pie-
But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died
Yesterday cinema died… a bit at least. The lights went out…and the screen was blank…

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Monday, May 20, 2013 only olypub can be

You sit in your seat in the great Olypub with your drink. An unknown person comes and sits in front of you. He is good and well behaved. He starts chatting up with you and you discover that he is from somewhere in old kolkata where you have grown up. You feel good. The nauseating modernness of south kolkata keeps that bruning craving inside you for the unruly nostalgic old kolkata. Then he tells you that he is an IPS officer. You are thoroughly impressed. Though he does not look the part in his podgy bellied self you chide yourself for stereotyping IPSs following bollywood traditions. topic shifts to corruption in society and recent happenings. He nonchalantly talks how the chitfund boss is going around offering half his wealth to anyone who is willing to listen. And other interesting details of his life as the chit-fund boss. Quite an open police officer who shares important secrets with a fellow drunk- you wonder. Especially for someone who has been posted in Delhi andhas come to Kolkata on a special assignment. Time goes on and he keeps giving important insights into his work life. You keep eyeing your friend sitting with you. That look of mutual understanding of not knowing how to react in this situation. The gentleman keeps at it. When discussion floats into the issue of legalising marijuana this man suddenly shows a mark of burnt fingers and tells that he smokes pot 24*7. By this time we are having fun. Pot marks on finger is something new. We keep looking at each other to draw mental strength to prevent laughter. But we are put out of our misery soon. THe climax is reached in a Delhi incident. The one where Sh. SHinde had specifically called him and told him to "oversee" the execution of Kasab. Niladri Bhattacharya- quickly calls for the bill and we rush out. We had expected a burst of laughter- but by the time we were on the street we were confused whether to laugh or to cry.

There are reasons why bengalis simply love Olypub. Its our Coffee House on spirits...

Monday, April 22, 2013

Talking of the two best of 2012; Why i loved GOW more

I had seen shanghai with huge expectations. In fact expectation is the wrong word. It was a decided reaction. I had gone to the cinema hall expecting to be in love with the movie. It was made by one of the foremost directors of our times. It had my favourite bengali star in a special role. It was also adapted from a book whose original adaptation had left me floored. There was nothing that could go wrong with shanghai. The film started with all the anticipation and after the mandatory 100 minutes in the hall my smile had not left. I was ranting how great the movie was- and truly even now I would say it was one of the best of the year. However somewhere deep inside there was a churning – an effort to assimilate the reasons for the film being so great.
Truly there was a lot to love about shanghai.In fact there was everything to love about Shanghai. Prosenjit’s performance as the shaded activist- brilliant. extremely commendable performances from Abhay Deol and my favourite crush- Kalki Koechlin. But the show stealer- pure brilliance from Emran Hashmi. He had taken the wind out of everyone by his 440volt performance as the lecherous, stupid, dirty do-gooder. And what a support cast! supriya pathak showed her class in a single scene. Farouque sheikh the aged scotch. And then there was the story. Powerful, smart, taut and dead serious as a thriller. Less as a thriller and more as a commentary. As the weeks passed on i kept having the tinge of that smile of satisfaction. However the churn inside did not go away.
What really did not work with shanghai?
Shanghai tells the story of an imaginary land. somewhere in north india. presumably. The fulcrum of the movie revolves around a guy who is a principled activist and an opportunist at the same time. With women and with other things in life. It was the story of his death and those people around whom his death revolved. His character sketch was such a relief from the jeetendra days. But was it unexpected or was it refreshing as a concept?… No i guess. the fact that prosenjit put in his charm and brilliance in it was definitely a joy. But it was almost expected that he will be a principalled activist at one level and also as a human he would have his frailties. So the question was by showing his weakness for women was was really being achieved. Yes, we were seeing a believable character. But was that enough? Or for that matter why did Kalki’s charater’s father have to be shamed for her to be on the edge? Was’nt it a bit too straight-forward and expected? Thus also boring?
The clear problem with shanghai was its lack of effortlessness in terms of credibility. Dont get me wrong. It is a very well made smart movie. But that smartness does not seem to naturally blend into the tapestry. Its smartness is worn on its sleeve. The scene where the politicians keep repeating “Jai Pragati” the same is clearly underlined. In reality no Party will be calling itself Pragati and the whole smirk at “development at the cost of what” is too expected and superficial. For a serious film it needed to be more credible and subtle about its insight and message. The other issue with the film starts here. It is with the basic premise of taking up an un-named state. The departure from reality for the movie starts exactly here. Yes a lot of what happens in the movie happens in real life. But where in real life? This is a country where every 100km civilisation changes. And for exactly the same reason the reality of a story needs to be rooted to the region no matter how universal its message is. The script for Kahani will not work in a setting of Delhi where the police officer will be uttering 50 MC-BCs and leching away at the heroine. Similarly the Khosla Ka script will not work in Kolkata as here the land mafia will behave in completely different way and will be much more party-politics centred. And besides the city of Delhi has the concept of con ingrained in it. 
So the core issue i have with shanghai starts with the fact the we do not which which india it is showcasing. And so we cannot really relate to the behaviour of the protagonists. The opposition leader behaves like a maharastrian hardline politician. The chief minister is like some reincarnation of the older Gandhi (brilliant cameo by Madam Pathak). Emraan Hashmi’s character is confused between a Delhiite/ a Rajasthani immigrant/ a small city bimbo. AGain let me state that the performance is brilliant. but the character does not seem to be rooted anywhere. If you feel i am going tangent then compare him to the Chunni in DevD or Bangali in Oye Lucky… Or Khurana in Khosla… All the other characters mentioned are clearly identifiable with their teritory. Apart from the fact that these were really well written and memorable characters. However I simply cannot clearly place Emraan’s Jogi. All i can say is that he is a small town bumpkin.
The same comes with the overall setting of the film. the location. How its used. It simply is pushed to the background and to the level of being irrelevant. That in itself is ok. But when you are making a film where location and culture is going to play such a big role you cannot just push it to the background can you? That is where the credibility of the film weakens to a large extent. It almost seems not rooted in real people or situations. Something like that worked in Ketan Mehta’s Bhavni Bhavai as there he was deliberately trying to mirror our times through a fable set in medeival times. But here the director is telling a realistic story in our times. Its not a fable or a fantasy.
In conrtast to all this i saw the GOW series. i had gone with mixed expectations from a gang war movie. The expectaiton was mixed primarily as a gang war movie had been done to death by various directors across the world. Including bollywood. I went for the film primarily because of the director. However here i found exactly what i was missing in shanghai. Here the director was not trying to do anything other than tell the tale. He was telling a simple tale of revenge in a land. The land and the personality of that land did the rest of the work. Be it the APu trilogy or the samurai series of Kurosawa or more recently the movies like In the mood for love, Old Boy, Farewell My Concubine etc etc. They have also been ingrained in the society and the culture where they have been made. Very strongly so. That is also what was so strongly refreshing about the movie GOW. The fact that it was so strongly rooted in the society and the time where it was telling the story. It used Bollywood and obsession for Bollywood brilliantly to showcase time, Fashion aspirations of small town youth through the last 70-80 years. also the location. This film would not have worked in karnataka or maharastra. It was the story of dhanbad. It would not have worked with the wagon breakers of bengal also. The core of the movie had that personality which was extremely rooted to the terrain of dhanbad. The people, The land and the economy.
The biggest triumphs of GOW were its simplicity and its core involvement of the roots of the story. That is exactly where for me Shanghai failed. It was a “smart” movie. A very well made movie. But it slipped away in its credibility. It failed to affect. As it was posing. Not being.
Cut me down if you want to but i saw similar trend in LSD. Again an extremely smart movie. Done on a shoestring. But a movie taking itself too seriously and too self conscious in my opinion. Again. Do not get me wrong. We are not talking mediocrity here. We are talking of two of the best directors of present indian film industry. LSD was for me bordering on gimmicky. I hope it was for a very good reason. The use of non-actors. The mode of shooting everything had that thing of not “being” but “pretending” to be in it. It was not reality infolding but a make believe. For the kind of cinema Diwakar makes this was not correct.
However the moment you move backwards from LSD to Oye Lucky and Khosla, the scenario changes. When he is telling the stroy of the delhiite he is much more rooted. Much more knowledgable about the environment. In fact that alone more than anything else gives such high level of credibilty to these movies. You feel lucky and the khoslas in you. If you have been in delhi or even met a delhiite you know what those situations are about. You can relate to those situations so strongly. Thats why those films work. And work so damn well. Actually diwakar knows delhi. He is a delhi boy. But as a filmmaker he also needs to “know” the other cities and localities for him to make consistently credible cinema. For him credibilty and hundred percent credibility is very important. He is no karan johar.
Anurag Kashyap knows his environment. He pushed the screen-writer of Gulaal to root his story in Rajasthan. FOr that he spent months in Rajasthan understanding the terrain, the social realities, the culture. The rough and dry Gulaal could not have found a better setting than the sands of Rajasthan with the THakurs who historically spilled blood effortlesly for honour. His DevD showcased the raw sexuality of an young girl through the sunflower fields of punjab. A bombay girl would have been smarter. A bengali village girl less aggressive. A Bengali DevD would never have worked. 21st century bengali guy would perhpas moved on effortlessly. He thinks from his brain not his heart or his you-know-what. Also he would lack the balls to subject himself to so much debauchery and degradation. In the second part the setting quickly moves to Delhi Paharganj as the debauchery of the punjab guy needed Paharganj and its sleaze. Anyone who has lived in delhi will not bat an eyelid when you show him a tap-dancing performance in a hidden bar behind a shutter.
2012 was an year which needs to be remembered in Indian cinema. It saw some of the best films of recent times being released. SHanghai and GOW would be at the top of that list. In fact GOW was at the top of the list in the best international cinema as reported by Hollywood Reporter. The fact that finally after the emptiness of the late eighties, nineties and good part of 2000 we are finally seeing some quality being reinjected into indian cinema is largely thanks to AK and DB. They are truly the flag bearers of quality cinema in this country. However in the last few outings of Diwakar i am a tinge concerned about his lack of investment in the premise and the roots of his stories. Because the credibility of a story comes from its roots. ALso he needs to inject genuineness into his tales. For the kind of cinema he makes he needs to be very conscious of this. For the sake of indian cinema…..

Friday, March 15, 2013

Thoughts on need

There are times when you come across something which engulfs your imagination. A time when you are asking for something to inspire you for sometime- to let your internal urges be brought out, sympathized with and expressed through something. And then amidst your struggle you find something which you were not exactly looking for but somehow they more than give simple expression to the simple struggle which you were having inside your being.
Through my travels and my introspections over the last few months and long before as passing snapshots during my hectic work life i had been visited by this occasion longing for the cozy corner. With two people living in a three bedroom apartment the space and the elements in the huge space endlessly challenging the existence of us two, I used to get this vision at times. The vision of me with a book in a small corner of a small room. That vision was like bliss. As work and life all around kept moving at a frenetic pace and a direction which belied any purpose i kept getting this vision more and more. The initial gasp of objects which engulfed my increased pay package started looking futile. Piles of clothing, cds, shoes, furniture….there were rooms and furniture pieces which used to get used once in a month or less.

Post my decision to take a break and through my journeys in a small suitcase and a laptop bag I have experienced the expanse of life which resides in the living room. I have understood or rather rediscovered the fact that life resides outside the house. It resides in our actions, our experiences, our relationships. I feel blessed in a way to have touched upon this realisation as I keep seeing scores of friends moving on in their pursuit of space, of object and moving further away from the life experience. Whether i will have the guts to complete my journey in life in the principles I believe in remains to be seen. However now i am happy with my realisation.
Graham Hill’s thoughts and his article comes at a time when all these thoughts were angrily revolting inside for an outlet. He in a way personifies the person i want to be at least in a few aspects. His basic question towards life of how much a person really needs to live, in form of objects and elements, is a fundamental question which everyone in this world needs to ask. Especially at a time when the world around keeps displaying lust for more and more space. living space. one, two , three apartments… or more….this real estate madness…
I request readers who bump into my blog to eye this article. It may make them rethink a few things.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

My journeys…my explanations and submissions

Journey is more important than the destination.
 There are so many people who have been telling this for centuries. This is perhaps one of the biggest clichés we have grown up to. The only statutory warning in all this is the fact that most clichés are essentially truths. I started my journey close to four decades back. The first decade would have gone in understanding what the hell I am doing in this planet. The next two and a more have gone on to rephrasing and polishing this question. But I am moving. Though immobile on the sofa typing. I am moving in different ways. Circular paths of earth around sun and itself aside, the break-neck speed of the life as it keeps unfolding aside. I keep moving. I keep moving in my journeys. Not now but usually.
 I went off to the hills some fifteen years back. My present company at that point had told me to go to tea gardens and find out how much coconut oil can be sold to the shanties surrounding the gardens. With acute acrophobia and little experience of travelling alone I had embarked on my journey to the forests and the hills of north Bengal. Fifteen years down the line I do not clearly recollect the highlights of the two month sojourn in the hills. I do however remember the journeys. The night travel from Malbazaar to Siliguri in the mini-truck filled with hair oil cartons when I encountered the herd of elephants in the Mahananda sanctuary. The journey back from Darjeeling (a trip undertaken spontaneously without planning or clothes for a wet hill station) with the valley around unfolding in its raw beauty with every turn the jeep took. The jeep with the broken axle, the passengers with silent prayers for survival and fear of untimely death, me with strange comfort with all that and a confidence of reaching the destination and a completely blocked off pair of ears. The hills with stoic obliviousness to all these emotions observing the damaged jeep meandering down the hairpins and the gradients.
There was that journey from Birpara to Siliguri in the day of the bandh. The army jawans with whom I had a gala time chatting away. The bus stop where there were no buses thanks to the bandh. And the jumpy army truck which came out of nowhere to transport me to Siliguri. All it needed was a simple request… then there were those longings and the final excitement of hopping on to the bus in Kolkata’s shahid minar. The journey by night, through Bengal to Siliguri from Kolkata. Last window seat of the bus. No chance of any sleep in the night as the bus powered forward like a cricket ball released from the hands of a Brett lee or shoaib akhtar. Sleepless nights in the jumping buses with sarbhaja, the famous krishnanagar delicacy, for company. Bought at the first stop of the bus at krishnanangar.
What were those journeys for? What was the agenda to be accomplished in Siliguri or Moinaguri or Lataguri or Binnaguri? Guri-land I used to call the place. Gorkhaland posters were a few years away. Guriland was better…less violent. But anyways- what were those rhymes and reasons or so called destinations for those travels I do not remember. I was supposed to submit a report. A report of a study to be conducted during the visits with data collected etc. I never collected any data, never collected any report. I met many people, talked and made friends and then carried on. When I sat down in my institute computer room to type out the report, I finished in one sitting. All of 60 pages. The company was elated with the results. I do not even remember what they were. I remember the friends I made. The stockist at falakata whom I met the day the leopard was killed there. I remember having a simple lunch at his home and hearing of his ambitions and struggle. And his anguish at the death of the leopard. I remember the stockist at mathabhanga and his grievances against the company. Legitimate grievances which the company kept overlooking. I remember watching biwi no1 in the run down theatre in siliguri with a whole host of rickshaw pullers who were having their day off. I remember leaving an underwear every time I stayed in a hotel. And the fact that the siliguri hotel returned me 2 when I visited them for the last time. Cleaned and pressed. And the hotel barababu smiling and telling me “ebar ektu shamlao! Chakri korbe ki korey ebhabe?”(Try and be more careful. how will you continue professionally like this?) I have never been more careful. I have never been careful. Fifteen years somehow got managed. Carelessly.
I played the role of the responsible male and took the job. I kept working for 12 years. I married my love and we tried to build a home. It kept slipping away every time we thought that we had finally settled. Every time we thought now we can settle into a boring rhythm and continue till eternity. The homes broke like an earthen pot hit by a stone. Every time we thought we had arrived at our destination the stations disintegrated. But every time the waves swept away the castles we jumped on and started surfing. I guess we have liked our gypsy existence till now. She is a few thousand miles away checking if academics is her calling. I am here doing nothing much.
There is a certain charm in the thought of complete destruction of stability. Taking out all the ropes from the tent. I guess it was that charm which made me throw that stone in the earthen pot of my work life at a time my wife was finalising her plans to move abroad. I chucked my job. And decided to find out what’s more. When I suddenly decided to take this decision my entire social system- colleagues, friends and relatives, family (excluding wife and father) were shocked. Some thought I was quitting as I was not getting along with my new boss. With whom I was getting along famously. Some thought I had 2-3 job options which I was not disclosing. They never could believe that I was leaving my job simply because I wanted to experience other things in life. Soon extremely funny rumours about my reasons for quitting and the jobs which I had started coming to my ears. Some of my team members were also indulging in the ripe gossip… I sat back and enjoyed it all. Savoured it all. Some of the people whom I knew gave me the discourse of quitters vs. fighters. I listened to them. Initially I tried telling them that working for a living is more about earning money and less about fighting for any cause. Then I stopped. It was not fair to take away a person’s sense of bravado from what he does for most of his life. Most of my near ones were petrified of the uncertainty which ensued my decision.  I was confused as I could not understand the concept of certainty in life. The concept of “settling down”.
What is the destination in life? Job, family and multiple properties? The moneyed executive with a cushy job has arrived? Is that the thought? I know one of the most organised executives with all the money in the world and “job and life security” fall dead in a second from a clot in his brain which he would not even have come to realise at the time of his passing. Multiple properties in Europe and India, business etc. etc….all it took was a clot to move to his brain to do him in even as he was having his dinner after a dance party. So where is the security and certainty people talk about? Perhaps they know. I do not. Something I am missing. For me that executive, where he is the destination. That last airport from where the flight takes off and the trip to this world has ended. That’s the destination. For all of us. Death.
The funniest thing is that none of us know where and how it will come. Just that it will. Anytime. Some of us plan thinking it is going to come at a certain age and time. They take refuge in statistics not understanding that all statistics are approximations with huge deviations. Some plan as if it is coming immediately. And they can fight it. Take all the pills and precautions. Lead a “safe” life in a “safe” place. I am not sure where I fit in. I cannot say that I do not think of death. I think of it all the time. Just cannot accept the fact that I have to go on living planning for it. Not preparing myself but planning. Planning to leave behind wealth, planning to die in a costly hospital…and all the while postponing what is flowing by today, this moment. Life. The journey.
For now I am trying to rebuild my feel for the road and the journey. Trying to get back the old habits of walking out of the house with a bag and some money and no destination in plan. What lies in the future? The next bend of the road? I am not sure. I cannot be. As they say- I want to cross the bridges when I come to them.
In the last few months I have seen and experienced things which I cherish more than all my achievements in the past 12 years of service. I have marvelled at the ruins of the Angkor in Siem Reap. I have chatted with a little girl in Cambodia on her life. It started on an evening when she was angry with me as she thought I assumed she did not know English. I have been led by a little boy and his friends into the forests of Siem Reap into ruins which the tourists do not go to see. I have cried like a baby in the killing fields of Phnom Penh at the loss which one country went through at the hands of a son of their soil. While the world watched with disinterest. I have discussed passionately with a taxi driver on the guitaring style of Mark Knofler and how rock music has to power to change the world. That was Paro, Bhutan. And then there was the other taxi driver with whom I kept snapping the beautiful landscape on the way to Thimpu from Phuentshilling. Both armed with our cameras and the passion to capture the beauty of the mountains. I enjoyed the halfway expedition up to the Taksheng monastery all alone. While coming down for the fear of ice ahead I was happy. Happy that I made it halfway up a climb. I never imagined I would go trekking when I was lying in bed with a broken spine a year back. I spent 2 hours in night in absolute isolation in an airport in paro with not even a fly in site in that huge place. In 4 degree below zero. I managed to be the topic of laughter for bunch of Tibetan girls who were for some reason very amused that a tall strange Indian fellow has walked into their momo joint and is actually eating their staple food with their staple superhot pepper.
People and experiences fill up the journey. Every person adds a bit to our lives. Like that fellow trekker in phalut who told us that beautiful story. He narrated an incident where he and a few of his friends had gone to a village in deep mountains in uttarakhand. With no plan and no bookings and more importantly no place to stay in sight they were in a soup. They went to a local store which was one of the last shops open. When they asked the owner for some hotel around he smiled and replied in the negative. Then the owner took them to his own house. He and his wife cooked for them, left their bedroom for them. Next day when the boys were duly shocked by this unexpected warmth the shopkeeper said- “son look at these hills. When you are coming into the hills with every turn you will see two hills separating out to give you the view of what lies ahead. They are like the curtains which are pulled to show you the view of life. We who live besides the hills live with all our curtains opened up. When you would be returning look back. You will see the hills closing the curtains. You have come to the mountains. Use this opportunity to open your hearts and minds. That’s why the saints and seekers come here to pray…” that was a shopkeeper in a village speaking. Strangely we were narrating the boy a very similar experience we had in Hille a mountain forest village where we had gone without any plan and any preparation. Where a local villager took us in cooked for us and left his only bedroom for us and slept in the kitchen with his wife. Ten years on this memory stays on. A Sikkimese couple who does not understand a word of Hindi or Bengali playing host to a bunch of Bengali guys (who don’t understand a word of Sikkimese) though they have never met ever in life and perhaps will never met after that night.
What was our destination that time? There was none. It was a round trek around the Darjeeling district over the hills. Perhaps that made the journey even more magical. There was the glorious Kanchenjunga sunrise. The view of Everest. All that was great. There was Arjun Singh the guide with killer stench in his feet, who was there for another group, who all but left them and shifted with us. There was the magical Srikhola river. There was the chicken cooked unknowingly with bhut jalokia which almost killed us… As the years have passed the destination of that journey receded to the back ground and these experiences and their memories took over. It was always that way. The tourist points in Montreal were great. Niagara was amazing. But the one close to my heart was the long chat which I had with a dear colleague and senior in Dubai airport. And how there while discussing our favourite cities I discovered that he had managed to fall in love with Kolkata. When he had come in and when I saw him last he simply hated her guts.
They say the rolling stone gathers no moss. In a way that’s good. Moss is slippery. It slips away. The feel of the different soils and the landscape which the rolling stone manages to gather in its being can never be realised by that stagnant rock.
I do not travel because of some romanticised vision of travel. There are times travelling is an agony. There are times I long for the warmth and comfort of home. like this last time I was in two minds whether to move on, on my unplanned journey to Bhutan or just go back home. But more often than not with a lot of reluctance the drug of travel takes over. Yes drug. It is like some drug which makes me move in that direction without me being able to do anything about it. Most of the times I do it reluctantly.  Like that time in Battambang when I was secretly cursing my friend for bringing me to the hill which I had to climb. Though he had offered to ditch the idea. I kept climbing with all the pain and kept cursing him. But I guess that is the case with most people. People of much bigger achievements and abilities. . I am talking explorers, mountaineers, voyagers….all of them. They always have this dual fight which is going on inside. The fight between the rolling stone and the rock. The only difference between them and the worldly wise is that for the latter there is no fight. The decision is taken. The window closed. There is that temptation of opening that window at times. But more often than not they consider it a sin to do the same.
Perhaps they are right. Perhaps we are sent out to this world to do those things which we are supposed to do. Duties which we are supposed to perform. Perhaps one day I will realise that. Perhaps one day I will find my calling. Perhaps one day I will write another blog where I will talk about finding the destination being the most important objective in life. Perhaps I will tell that death is not really the destination. There are things other than that we need to do which are important. Multiple apartments that we need to buy, investments we need to make to secure our future. Or like some of the others- how we need to reach out and work for humanity and dedicate our lives on that. Yes. There are many reasons for leading a settled life.
But I am yet to find my calling. For me I am a creature of lower spiritual knowledge. Unlike others who know their destiny I am not sure about it. I am still searching. in Cambodia, in Bhutan, in Italy, in Phalut, in a village in Taaki, in the Santhal Parganas, in Gujarat, in Kashmir, in the floating markets of Bangkok, in the coffee shop by the river in battambang, in front of the light house in gopalpur, in the wild forests of mutati, chapramari, corbett, serenghetti. The entire globe is waiting for my search. The bus is waiting to drive off. The window seat is waiting to show me the myriad worlds, the small people in the small hotels are waiting to spring their surprises. The thousands of years of humanity is waiting to unravel itself I front of me. The millions of years of the planet is waiting g to show me its hidden marvels. the wildebeests of Africa beckon, the lamas in ladhak are getting impatient, the schoolboy in Kerala is getting late in his boat to give me a lift, the wine in Bordeaux will get spoilt waiting for me to go crush the grapes…it’s almost every moment in a dream the world around keeps screaming out to me to come and join in. Mr Stevenson smiles and recites
Ever again in a wink of an eye
Painted stations whistle by.
Life is whistling by. I keep looking out of the window for those painted stations. And everything else I can lay my eyes upon.
Yes for me journey is not important. It is the only way of living. While I am not travelling I am resting and preparing for the nest one. Because as I said- I am yet to find my calling, my destination. And I pray that I can be in my journey gear till the end.

Random and Biased observations in a cafe in Darjeeling (13/01/13)…from diary

Spending time doing nothing inside a cafe after ages. Refreshing. A typical corpo-yuppy family walks in. Nothing wrong in that obviously. Just that a visibly bore, self-absorbed husband and an all too keen wife and loud kids… a bit too painfully familiar site. A bit unwelcome for me here in the mountains. Suddenly all the chairs in the cafe pulled out- the other new visitors have no place to sit. Again- nothing wrong with that. Just reminds of the over-crowded food courts in the endless and thankless malls. Nothing wrong in the whole attitude of the kids- who start demanding and communicating their choice of the food for the whole cafe to hear. In response the men in the group show their “men-ness” by ordering around the staff in a self-help restaurant. I am counting the seconds before they start off on the lack of work culture in the hills…..YES! One guy mentions! My sense of refreshment is all but gone.
A man in front of me seems far removed from all this. He is an artist and has converted an old notebook into a sketchbook. He is busy putting life in the lifeless paper by the interweaving tapestry of lines to come up with a visual representation of the beautiful view outside the windows. Old, yellow paper. Pages meant for ruthless black-white words getting decorated and coming back to life. Long after its death. Is everyone that lucky? I don’t know. In the meanwhile the artist continues his work. Oblivious of the world around. He is recording the scenery of the hills outside the windows in his sketch-notebook. I am not so lucky with my skill sets. I depend on the written words. I belong to the city. The cacophony of loud small talk and complaints draw me more than the silent beauty of the hills outside. He keeps sketching without bothering about the 5-6 kids and their parents who belong to India- ethnic India but choose to continue their cacophony in English. The noisy self-absorbed group keeps disturbing my thought chain and keeps telling me that in more ways than one I am yet to become lifeless.
English divided us in more ways than we could think of. Today the haloed members of the upper echelons of the society have to necessarily desert their mother-tongue and speak in English. To prove and announce to whoever is listening- that they belong to the upper echelons of the society. People who have proof in the Facebook of their globe-trotting escapades. Proof that they have arrived in those upper echelons. In fact today mother-tongue has become English as mothers and fathers wag their tongues only to the English language….
In another table three oriental ladies are drinking tea. One of them has a camera. She is clicking away. And all the while they are chatting away in their “mother tongue”, which by the way is not English, thankfully. They would be from a country which has not been colonized by any European nation. Their mothers still speak the language of the soil- the mother tongue. And the mothers of their kids will also do the same.
Behind me a couple is meditating in front of their laptops. Some deep research going on i guess. I sneaked away a few photos of the lady. I know it is not right. But i cannot help it. She has a beautiful face. Even more beautiful eye-brows.
the lady with beautiful eye-brows
the lady with beautiful eye-brows
Somewhat in response to the sudden jump in the noise levels in the cafe and the ensuing cacophony thanks to the group from the haloed upper-echelons the DJ fellow changed the song on the pipe-music system. Mohit chauhan is pleading:
Jo bhi mein kehna chahun
Barbaad karen alfaaz mere….
But are they listening? the alfaaz keeps shooting off the over-busy tongues and tearing down upon the rest of the patrons like a rain of poisonous arrows. How the coffee is not as good as in Costa…how Wengers makes better pastries…(Gimme a Break!!!)… how Langkawi actually is more beautiful…..
In the afternoon during my visit to the zoo i stopped beside the cage of the langurs. There was a family of langurs inside the papa, the mama and the kiddo. The papa and the mama langur holding the kiddo in tight embrace from both sides. I stopped stunned with the beauty of the site. The beauty of the love that emanated from the three langurs protecting each other in the biting cold with nothing other than themselves for help. And then one of the “upper-echelon” families charged in. “Oh baby! gimme a snap! Oh baby gimme a snap! sweet baby, come to mama!…..”Beta you should call like this…pyaar se ..”
the langur family
the langur family
What is there in this newly liberalised educated urban population who think they know everything that is to be known about everything and they have a birth-right to think of any place as their drawing-room I don’t know. The Facebook reeks of so much of this filth. The city watering holes no less. But i thought the hills in sub-zero temperatures will be spared. No such luck. Even at -4deg Tiger Hill at dawn there was that Ipad aunty who kept screaming and brandishing her ipad in front of my face to “take the picture”. The fact that I was actually running to the hills to breathe away from this crowd now looks like a sad irony. But thats it. No more complaining. Off I go from Glenarys, to return at a quieter time. The Mall and the bylanes of Darjeeling awaits me. Move over Jo BHi Mein… time to sing
Resham Phiriri Resham phiririii
Udera Jaun Ko Dandai Ma Bhanjyang Resham Phiririii !!!

Saturday, December 8, 2012