Monday, November 28, 2011

Scenes from a Beautiful Country Life!

Nothing beats being at home on your birthday. Well, nothing beats being at home, period. So not wanting to be in the city today, I packed my bags with a sweater and one shirt and came home. Needless to say, it has been fantastic, as always. There has been no birthday trip this year, though there is a trip coming up next week. There was great food all day long, much love from people and the usual calls and texts from lovely people. Thank you all. There isn’t a great joy in growing older but with people and the place I most love in the world, it makes the whole deal better.

Here is to another eventful, adventurous year to you all, to myself.

Dear old black Blacky, Shailaja’s dog. Crazy nut.

The new organic vegetable patch. Up and growing still.

Oh, how I love this country life! (I love calling it country life just as much.)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The sky was the colour of silken grey

A slight drizzle, though drizzle would signify a faster, heavier fall of rain, was what greeted me this morning when I got down from the bus. A drizzle that is so typical of Madikeri, though technically the monsoon has been long over. But then like the London weather, rain is never really a surprise to those of us who grew up here, it comes on bright sunny mornings as much as it passes by on overcast evenings. 

Early this morning, it is so painfully beautiful that I already dread the day I have to go back to the city. The familiar questions as to the whys and whats, arise, yet again.
There is a ferocious wind all morning, the loud whispers and the fierce wails of the banshee that I so associate with my childhood. From the three large windows in my room upstairs, I have three gorgeous views, one of the sunrises. A night in the bus has done my bones weary, but I tell myself I would like to see the day break. The sun decides to hide behind a thick veil of grey and near black clouds, but he is yet adamant; soon there is a little light that washes over trees that stand bare, having shed their aged brown leaves to make way for the green ones. The driveway is covered with rustling fallen leaves this morning; Shailaja has given up trying to sweep them away. I see a shivering man walk by the road beyond, hugging himself against the cold, his bright red sweater standing out against the remaining green from the trees and the grass on the sides of the road.

The cold breeze that wriggles in from the edges of the tightly shut windows and the little wisps of white mist, I see from under two thick blankets and succumb to the utter indulgent (to the point of decadent) pleasure of getting a good shuteye that stretches into the morning. The wind, its sound not reduced by the noises of a full day, of birds, of horns and televisions and radios and conversations, is louder. Or so my sleepy brain seems to think. The branches of tall trees groan under the pressure and sway this side and that, not confident of being able to hold on much longer. There is a foreboding of danger with every wave of the wind, yet to me, it brings back the reassurances and the security of childhood.

Those were nights when Stewart Hill behind my house still had its tower, one of the only two microwave signal stations in town, way before the multiple mobile operators invaded the skyline. Those were nights when the wind would climb up the hill, twist itself into a sailor’s knot around the tower and scream, as if struggling to untangle itself from the swirl and be able to lash against walls and cowsheds and dog kennels and people who dared to be out. Those were nights when I felt the banshee floating out with these winds, adding to the silent screams. Those were the nights when Stewart Hill still had wolves that looked up at the sky and called to the wind. Those reassuring nights are what I think of when I sleep again at 7 this morning.

I can wake up with the strangest thoughts every day. After a disturbing dream that I can recollect but cannot really explain, I wake up thinking of Puttanna Kanagal’s movie Belli Moda, I don’t really know why. I think of the lovely names that estates I know the owners of have, names that evoke long histories and hidden tales and often, scandals and family dramas. My home is called Minuguthare for a reason as well.
The wind continues to howl by the time ma forces me awake. It is too cozy in my room but wake up I must, if I want breakfast. What remains of the morning is spent in waking up fully, eating hot breakfast, day dreaming and letting Shailaja update me on her girls’ performance in school, her drunkard husband troubles and the local neighbourhood gossip. Sometime in the afternoon, the sun manages to peep through for a rough ten minutes but before we think of soaking up some sun, he is overshadowed again.

Grey is not my favourite colour for the sky, at least not when I am in the city. It makes me shade my mood and thoughts with its hues; rarely do I want to spread my arms and embrace the sky. But in Madikeri, nothing can go wrong. The shade above is a gorgeous grey, like the shining tone of silk and satin of that colour. The wind, I stop thinking of how it continues to bend trees and threaten to carry away roof tiles, the wind still makes its noises. Even the cold of November has swept away with the winter wind.

Ma and I venture out in the evening; I want to see the new organic vegetable garden we have. Shailaja, with her girls and Blacky in tow, points out which patch has what; the saplings are newly planted. My hands want to get dirty in the mud, but there isn’t anything I can do, not today at least. Blacky, Shailaja’s adorable dog with the shiniest black coat, is the blackest dog I have ever seen. He is so black, a picture in low lighting looks as good as a silhouette. With his large brown eyes and tail wagging in circles, he sticks to me for the evening, demanding I scratch continually behind his ears and under his neck. In the veranda later, two of Shailaja's girls, a daughter and a niece, to the songs blaring out of a China-made mobile phone handset, dance in co-ordinated moves they have been rehearsing for a school day function. The niece, who we all adore for how pretty and well mannered she is, is a good dancer. Blacky, his head on my knee, yawns in boredom three times, rather wishing he was eating or chasing butterflies instead.

As I write this, the rain, falling at the speed of a drizzle and a half, has left the earth smelling like it does after the first rains, earthy. I cannot think of any other word for that smell. This silken grey is predicted for a few more days now. I think of English moors, drawn to memory from passages of Charlotte Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. But I reject those words as fit only perhaps for those English shores. I want my own passages for the banshee winds, my own descriptions for the sounds of a dry leaf falling against a glass window before touching the earth. I do not wish to borrow words to describe my paradisiacal day under the silken grey sky. It is a beautiful winter in heaven here on this land. And tomorrow will be a day just as beautiful.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Speaking of Karna

I love a quote that is attributed to A K Ramanujam, that no Hindu in India ever reads the Mahabharata for the first time. Whether you have a storyteller granny at home or not, there would always be some reference somewhere to the characters from the story, be it to tell you to be a good wife like Draupadi or to be brave like Arjuna or fair and righteous like Yudhishtira. You could not have missed the cultural references. My grandma was a fantastic storyteller and I grew up listening to that grand adventure, complete with visions of pretty princesses and war cries floating in my head.

Apart from Uncle Pai’s illustrated Mahabharata, I have never really ‘read’ the book. Not that there was ever a need to. Then a while ago I heard about this concept of perspective storytelling, where a popular story is told from another perspective, usually a minor character’s. Upon a friend’s recommendation, I picked up Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Palace of Illusions and was quite hooked to the story told from Paanchali, or Draupadi’s POV.

It explores a single line from Vyasa’s epic where there is a passing reference to an attraction between Draupadi and Mahabharata’s most tragic hero Karna. Karna would have attended her swayamvara as well but is forbidden to try to win the competition arranged because he is not of royal bloodline and hence unworthy. Behind that of course is the story of his birth which you have all surely listened to. Now this book, written in first person, explores Draupadi’s feelings for Karna, how she tries in vain to suppress her adulterous thoughts, and how she, in hindsight, regrets several of her decisions. It is quite a well written book, not as pop as Amish’s books, but with enough sprinkling of love and romance.

The portrayal of Karna in the book is what I best liked. Growing up, listening to stories, even watching the phenomenon of Ramanand Sagar’s Mahabharata in the early 1990s, Karna is not someone you bother yourself much with. Any pity you feel for the injustice he battles, from Drona, from Kunti and from historians henceforth for his role in supporting Duryodhana, is just a passing one. (On an aside, a friend reminded me recently that Duryodhana’s actual name is Suyodhana, but the prefix su- meaning something good, poets have brought the prefix dur-, meaning something bad, into popular usage, befitting a villain).

Throughout the story, you allow yourself to hate the Kauravas, pity the Pandavas, revere the God Krishna, fall in love with the handsome warrior Arjuna and feel terrible, for various feministic and other reasons, for Draupadi’s plight. But it is who Karna remains the most tragic figure in the story, so entwined in plots and mysteries and promises and loyalty and in fate that his life cannot but be one tragedy after the other. No one perhaps is a bigger pawn in destiny than he was. He is always a facilitator, always a footnote in the greater scope of the story, downgraded to a lesser role than the main heroes Arjuna, Bheeshma, Duryodhana, and others. Rarely, if at all, are his heroics separately acknowledged, praised, apart from a mention so that the rest of the story can go forward.

The book makes you feel so sorry for him. Draupadi comes off as haughty and too self important, not the meek one that finds mention more often than not in popular interpretations. Kunti is probably most infamous for having told Arjuna to share whatever he has brought equally (in this case, Draupadi) with his brothers. In the book she comes across as a scheming mother-in-law in the traditional struggle to wrest power over the son(s) from the daughter-in-law. There are minor other sub-stories and sprinklings of philosophy thrown in as well. I wish someone would write an interpretation of the epic from Karna’s perspective. Now that would be refreshing!

Come to think of it, isn’t Mahabharata such a fantastic story? Like the saying goes, if it is in the world, it is mentioned in the Mahabharata and if it is not mentioned in the Mahabharata, then it is not present in the world. The other day, thinking about the book, I was wondering what language the Pandavas and the Kauravas must have spoken. If Pataliputra is today’s Patna, I imagine a version of Bhojpuri mixed with Samskrita and a dash of some tribal dialect perhaps. Tribal I say because I remember reading a theory somewhere that the Pandavas and the Kauravas might have been tribal groups who had a scuffle over power and land and this incident was glorified by the poets to become Mahabharata. But then, it sounds too prosaic and unromantic to want to think of that theory now.

Somehow, when each of us hears the story, we put words in our language into their mouths. Every time you hear Yudhishtira admonish his brothers and sermonize on the right thing to do, you hear them in the language you speak. You imagine the saree, the shalyas and the garments worn the way your ancestors wore them. (That brings me to think about a fascinating book on linguistics that I am reading, where Steven Pinker theorizes that perhaps language is an instinct and that thoughts are not dependent of any language. More on that later though.)

The Northern states are grudgingly allowed to call them their native and continue referring to modern cities by names from the epics, but in exile, the Pandavas have visited every place in India. Every city, village and town, every mountain and a corner of every forest has claim to having a foot, a stone, a river that has been touched by them, a mountain as having been their shelter for a night, an unusual rock formation as having been Draupadi’s refuge. The same goes for Ramayana’s Sita as well. Perhaps these heroes went on exile to allow all of the country to embrace these stories as their own.

Even stripped off its religious references, I love how brilliantly the Mahabharata is told. There are fascinating plots, stories within stories within stories, mystery, drama (much, much of it), love, betrayal, tragedy, humour and morals thrown in for good measure. Not very unlike a typical 1990s Bollywood film, come to think of it! But even as I continue to marvel at the beauty and complexity of the story, my heart continues to bleed for poor, poor Karna.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Dear Old Nokia

When you abuse something (or someone), torture it, ill-treat it (or them), they might take it. Because they are built and conditioned to take it and continue working despite the abuse. But then, one day, it so happens that it breaks out of the conditioning and all engineering brilliance and gives up. That is when you cannot really blame it (or them). The abuse had gone on for too long.

After nearly three years, it looks like my dear old Nokia phone has had enough of my constant abuse of it. It is dying, one part at a time. But then, after said abuse, I kind of understand why my little piece of circuit boards and buttons is giving up.

It is soon going to be time for a change. Dare I succumb and bite the Apple?

Think mode.