Thursday, 1 January 2015

A singer whose name we shall never know

The walls of the majestic Mehrangarh fort reverberate with the soulful sounds of Sufi music. Every year, during the international Sufi festival. The few days of festival bring famous musicians from across the world and eager listeners from even more far-flung corners.

And at one of the corners of this fort, sits this man. No crowds around him. He sits alone with his ravanhatta and sings in a voice that sounds like the unexpected bursts of rain melting in the dry desert soil. Would you stop to hear him this year if you are at the fort?

Would you let me know his name if you do?

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Red. Bleeding, flowing red.

Red. The colour of Christmas.

Happy families ushering in the festivities with Christmas trees, Christmas gifts, planning the Christmas dinners. A few just taking the chance to spend time with friends and family, planning holidays and getaways. Even fewer spending time with those less fortunate, spreading cheer and happiness at orphanges and old-age homes.
Christmas, a time to hear the happy carols of little voices, see  the joyful laughter on little faces, read their letters to Santa and watch them eagerly opening their Christmas gifts.
Christmas, the season, children all over the world look forward to.
But for a few, this Christmas, meant none of the above.
The innocent ones who got killed. Before they could even imagine their gifts this Christmas.

Red. The colour of blood

Terrorists rounding up school children and killing them mercilessly. I can't call them humans. They lost that claim the day they killed children. Nameless, impotent animals who could look at the children in the eye and round them up and murder them. Unflinchingly. Mercilessly. Using religion to justify the massacre. Children who had probably gone to school with eager hearts, full of plans for the holidays. Children who had probably thrown paper planes at each other, waiting to open their lunch boxes and drawing cartoons on their notebooks when the teacher turned his back.

Till he entered. Till they entered. The gunmen.

Red. The colour of rage

I cannot even imagine what the parents of the children who were gunned down feel. No parent can. It is the worst imaginable nightmare. And the children who survived? Can anyone even feel their terror and their fear? Their friends being gunned down in front of their own eyes? As a parent, I sit, numb with fear, my hands shaking even as I pour out words. As a writer, I know I am shooting words as the only medicine that I feel can stop my shaking. Anything that will make me stop everything and run to my daughter's school right now. Hold her close and pray. And  wonder how I'll explain to her about evil that even I cannot comprehend.

We teach our children to gaze into the prism of imagination, paint a rainbow of dreams that crosses the bridge of reality. We teach them to be brave, to be independent. Can we teach them how it feels like to be held at gunpoint, in your own classroom, in your own school? Can we teach them not to cry when they are alone at that moment, needing us desperately? Can we take their place and save them from a destiny that was never meant to be theirs?

What should we tell our children?

Red. That's the colour all of us are probably seeing today, in our hearts, in our mind.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

A 100 hands and more

Centuries ago, Kabir, the weaver and the mystic poet wove his tales of mystic wisdom in his bhajans that transcended boundaries of faith and race.

Today, a Hundred Hands and the Handmade Collective that showcases work of artisans across India celebrated its 5th edition of annual exhibition in Bangalore bringing together work from states across India using multiple mediums but all interwoven with the common thread of poetry.

Artisans, poets and singers have often been inspired by the everyday nuances of life that they saw around them.  But people have rarely tried to combine them together and search for the common threads of history. Today, as many such traditional, hand-made art forms are struggling for patronage, it was wonderful to see the Collective bringing together people for such a wonderful cause. And it was much more than an usual Delhi-Haat copycat exhibition where the sellers sold outpriced material to the unsuspecting, rich buyers.

Here, the focus was more on awareness and interaction which worked better than just selling the wares. The Let Poetry Be event, an informal session with poetry and music discussed the many dying art forms such as Miniature Mughal Paintings and the Sojni art form of Kashmir. And to have a theme of art inspired by poetry, was indeed something Kabir himself would have dedicated a bhajan to!

Who knew that the Mughal miniature artists lose their eyesights by the time they are in their 40's needing to train their next generation or forever lose the mastery of the craft?  And the paintings, which started as an infographic recording of the kings' valour, have now become a recording of the history of the times? Or that the baskets that are woven in different parts of India have their own quirks and stories? Yes, history played a large role in the event as the interplay of motifs and colours across the regions of India added variety and richness to the display.

The delicate wares might decorate upmarket drawing rooms in apartments across the country. But for the artisans, it was a chance to tell their stories. Each stall, a story, of dedication and determination. And if some of them sold, well, then that wouldn't be a very high price to pay, would it, to adorn our beautiful drawing rooms?

The exhibition will continue till Sunday, for those interested in participating.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Who needs stories more?

Stories. We all loved them as children. Some of us still do. Last week as Kathalaya celebrated 15 years of their storytelling journey, that's what I felt as I heard internationally acclaimed storytellers Anotoni Rocha, Geeta Ramanujam and Prahlad Acharya shared their magic with the audience.

A folk tale from Brazil with crocodile and chicken teaching the powerful lesson of universal belonging. A message we would love our children to learn as the world increasingly becomes more polarized and intolerant. A lesson we might have thought they are too young to understand. But a lesson made simple and memorable by the plight of the thirsty, dancing chicken and the questioning, lazy crocodile.

Sometimes, even sounds and words seemed superfluous. With just hand movements showing the caterpillar's walk transforming into the flight of a butterfly and a spider busy spinning his web, Antonio created a world we had all seen, but rarely stopped to observe.

Geeta shared the simple message of spreading happiness through the tale of a scary, monster that was too scared to look at its ugly heart. Happiness, how much more simple could the message be? How much more important could it be for our children, and for us?

And then Prahlad showed his magic, literally. A single string of rope that transformed into threads of magic in his dexterous hands. Not happy with just showing kids the Indian rope trick, he also had them in splits with his ventriloquism act with an oversmart monkey. And saving the best for the end, he demonstrated the classic "Mile sur mera tumhara" with shadow play. 2 hands. All he used to recreate the differences and similarities of the myriad, different faces of India. Mesmerizing. Not just for children. Quite a few adults were moved to tears.

For two hours, children forgot their iPads and video games. Parents ignored their whatsapp messages and facebook posts. As they all returned to the simplicity of a world of stories. "Storytellers are just observers. We observe and then we share." Antonio summed up the evening even as eager children clamoured for autographs from their new heroes.

Over 15 years of storytelling from Kathalaya has now become a larger movement in Bangalore. New storytelling institutes have emerged today, engaging with schools and parents to share stories with children. Lessons of history, morals, geography are being shared today in the language children understand the best. Stories.

As a mother and a storyteller, I only hope more people join this movement. And that stories weave their colours of imagination and tapestry of dreams in the hearts of our children.

But wait a minute. We all know children love stories. What about us? Don't stories have the power to still give inspiration for the most cynical souls among us? The ones who have lost their way, the ones who are tired of battling with their own demons, the ones who are just a tiny step away from giving up, the ones who are so busy that they have forgotten how it felt like to just forget the world and hear the magic of a simple story? Can we observe and learn again? And share?

Stories. Our children need them. But I guess, we adults need them more.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

A wooden post card

I was not just a clean, rectangular piece of wood. You knew that. You knew that when you splashed the tears of black onto me. When you drew swirls of circles, each small circle blurring into the next, like wheels that had lost their reason to be in motion.

Why did you not choose any other colour? Red would have looked nice. Maybe a touch of green too. But you choose black. And I felt your tears, black, as black as the colour you poured on me, as you swirled up a storm of emotions that left me exposed and you empty.

I wanted to stay on your desk forever. But you were not done with me. And you were not done with her either. She, who had left Koru forever. You labelled me, stamped me, posted me.

Now, I am just a rectangular, piece of wood, looking for an address, looking for an identity. 

Monday, 15 September 2014

And then there were none - top 10 ways I could murder the top 10 lists

Today happens to be Agatha Christie's birthday. Well, the queen of crime in her brilliant book "And then there were none" conjured up a story about an odd mix of people stuck on an island with no room for escape and no place to hide as the killer silently chooses the victims one by one till none remain. The chilling suspense of the book and its arresting title will forever remain a testimony to her unmatched mastery over her art.

So, if you had a way to murder something till there really were none left, what would you choose? I would choose the list of top 10 ways to do, well, almost anything.

See a quick search result from buzzusmo on this topic - a website which claims to give the social buzz on any trending topic. Well, there seem to be top 10 lists for just about anything from losing weight to am sure losing your mind as well. There is even a list of 10 ten ways to stay alive. Just in case we forgot that we are not dead yet.

Quite paradoxically, if you run a search on Google Trends on the same topic, the result you get is quite contrary. It actually says the trend of top ten lists is on the wane over time; though you wouldn't believe it with all the top 10 lists you are forced to see everyday unfailingly, even if you manage to avoid reading them.

Now this article is meant for my fellow struggling writer-in-waiting souls who write content at work apart from writing fiction in their inspired moments. It is not enough that we stare at the clock, sweating beads of frustration, gulping our 5th cup of cold tea as we wait for that perfect phrase to reign sunshine on our content darkened souls?

Wait, the world tells us now. Before we hit publish, we have to do buzz check; how good really is our content? Does it have the potential to become trending content? Don't publish unless it's a top 10 list. Why not 12 or 13, you ask? It has to be 10, you see. That's what sells.

Did I hear right? Now, did they just discover a way to predict the next best-seller blockbuster content? Did Salman Khan and Chetan Bhagat just compile a joint book of top 10 dummy ways to best-seller success?

Or are we just chasing the shadow of trending content before it vanishes in the trail of its own tiny scroll bar, lost till another tweet or link claims the fantasy of the reader? Who decides permanence or success of content? Who can predict the mind of the reader through the lens of the top 10 lists?

You decide. And yes, till we do that, if anyone else talks about 10 lists on the Queen of Crimes' birthday, it is as good a day as any to get started on the top 10 ways to kill that person. Now that would be a good list, I guess. The Queen of Crime has more than 10 lessons for that.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Sometimes memories sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks

At last, a social challenge for the ones who ones who would rather ignore social conventions and curl up with a book. Aha, naming top 10 books you have read when reading books has been a compulsive habit all your life! Child’s play really, you thought. That’s before you actually sat down to name the books and organize the rush of emotions and memories that accompanied the name of each favourite book.

You scan through your bookshelf. You open the first book. Remember?

  • The book you were reading when your sister called you to feel the rush of rain in the balcony on a summer evening choked with the sense of an impending wait, as if the stifled air was waiting to be released from its prison of dampness. You felt the wet wind on your face even as the first raindrop fell on your book and you ran to save your book while the relentless rain drenched happiness on your hair, your eyes, your arms, your senses.

  • The book your best friend gifted you in the library when sharing books was a hallmark of shared friendship. The book which formed your very first definition of love before you even knew what love  meant. The book you discussed and debated over steaming plates of Maggi. Much later, you thought about why your friend gave that particular book to you. Was he trying to say something? You were just friends, weren't you? You discussed every plot in every book you both shared and read but you couldn't ever discuss the reason.

  • The book you read when you were recovering from your first heartbreak; snuggled in bed with a large bar of chocolate, the treacherous tears threatening to create pools of darkness that your self-pity could easily drown in. Then you laughed, incongruously, as the character in the book cracked another insane joke and suddenly the world did not seem so dark anymore. You cracked up, rolling on the bed and despair seemed to melt faster than the melting chocolate in your hand.

  • The book you read when you felt nothing made sense, when the steps to success seemed slippery and steep and emptiness and bitterness gnawed gaping holes in your heart. The world seemed to be your enemy and no one seemed to understand your feelings. Except the author and the character in the book you were reading. Each page seemed to be a story of your struggle. And as you turned the last page, the night disappeared into the dawn and you felt, whole and inspired, all over again.

  • The book you tried to read in snatches as your child slept in her crib, her tiny hands holding on to your fist. She stirred in her sleep and you automatically reached out to soothe her nameless fears; even as you turned the page of your book. The silence of the long afternoon and the questions that the book raised emerged as answers you were looking for and could ask no one. You still found the bookmark in the book; the bookmark you had crumpled over and over again as you thought through decisions that needed to be made.

Memories. Books. Friends. You dust each cover and replace them back on the bookshelf;  the handwritten inscriptions from your friends and loved ones, now timeless imprints on the yellowed pages. Each inscription, an ageless memory of love and care.

It wasn’t just the top 10 books. In a way, for the ones whose lives have been shaped irrevocably by the books they have read, it was also the top 10 memories of their lives. For “sometimes memories sneak out from your eyes and roll down your cheeks”.