Tuesday, December 30, 2014

On That Which We Cannot Know: In the First Kindle Biannual Book

Kindle magazine, after they decided to stop printing every month, now bring out a biannual book. The first one, titled What the Jaguar Knows We Don't Know, is available online and in book stores all over the country. It is a fully black and white issue and as always, the design blew me away. These guys at Kindle, I tell you, they are just brilliant in design. The first book features interviews, essays, poetry, photo essays, etc. I have an essay in it too, read it below. 

Dear reader, buy the beautiful book. I know you will like it.


It's wholly unpredictable and yet it's an uncanny harbinger for many other unknowables.... Deepa Bhasthi riffs on the weather and its meanings.

If I stretched my hand a little and closed a loose fist around the yellow topaz streams of various girths, I am sure I could taste the sunshine. Making its way stubbornly around the thick curtains and through the more porous strips in them, the delicious light would taste, this afternoon, alternatively, of chili-salt on raw mango and ice-cold lemonade.

It is nearly mid-July though, this afternoon. Topaz should be a forgotten colour, the skies should be grey, pallid, music in the sharp curtains of rain against the window, and we should be in bed with lover, book or blanket on such afternoons. It should be raining, heavily, throwing up filth on the city roads, slush in the hills and old stories in our memories.

But it isn’t. It isn’t raining. It threatens to, but it doesn’t.

What must you talk about on the first date? Look coy, eat little, never talk of the weather, says agony aunty. Never the weather, not on the first date, not on the fifth anniversary, never ever. That can only mean the romance, the clever conversation is dead, Varuna and Indra forbid!

But we will talk of the weather now; we must. It is time.

Remember when winter skies presented some of the prettiest blue skies all year? Maybe also a week or two in early April, before the summer showers fell and the high-rises crept in like stairwells to heaven or whatever was up there. White clouds languidly floating by, a breeze now and again, black birds, butterflies and the faint smell of grass made up the picture postcards of pretty days, remember? Those were the days – days before tablets and tiny TV screens behind car seats – we had our heads mildly hanging out the windows to count cars, trees, people wearing purple shirts and interpreting clouds. Doesn’t that look like a girl on a bicycle now? Surely that is the trunk and tail and the middle of an elephant? A lollipop, a giant mango, a dinner fork, a bunny or a tall man in a top hat, the clouds were anything you wanted, putty you shaped to suit the story you were making up in your head.

Could the weatherman predict the next shape? He will class them for you – mesospheric, stratospheric, tropospheric – and then he will caste them, sub caste them further, complicatedly, like the Hindu caste system. But he could never tell you when you can see a tiger’s whiskers or the upturned grin of a happy cloud elephant. That thing we cannot know, we mustn’t, ever.

When have we ever known for certain the horoscope of rain, of sunshine, of tsunami, of cloud burst though?

The afternoon has turned to evening. There is still no rain, but Bangalore has turned nippy. The weather has long been on this city’s calling card. It is not what it used to be though, ask anyone. The hottest day this summer was 39 degrees Celsius. We have begun to complain once the numbers inch above 31 degrees. I do, at least. Bangalore spoils you for other cities, with her weather and jacaranda trees and shaded roads.

The hills, whose slopes cradle bushes of Arabica, some Robusta and experimental varieties of coffee, were no better this summer. Every year they say it is the worst summer and coldest winter they can remember. Now atop one of these hills is a tiny tank where the River Cauvery resurges every year and flows along a long route through two states till she meets the sea. At least once every year, before mid-July mostly, she overflows in the big village at the foothills and cuts off access to the other side of the bridge and the rest of civilisation. This lasts a day or two; in school we used to envy classmates who got to miss classes, those of us in bigger towns could only try faking stomach aches.

This year Bhagamandala, on the foothills of Talacauvery, where the river takes birth, has not been cut off. The people haven’t been inconvenienced yet. It is already mid-July. The weatherman tries to distribute hope evenly, there will be rain, a little less, but it will fall. Yet, there are grim whispered conversations about dying crops, dying people.

Then again, on days unlike today, when it rains in this city, we complain again. Autos are impossible to find, traffic is murderous, your good shoes are ruined and the filth of ten million people flows like a river, a city river that carries death, disease and nothing for the crops.

You understand, from old geography lessons and farmer stories, that you need the rain, just like you need the wind and the summer and the sweet smell of spring. Just this much rain though, if you ask the farmer, not too much, not too little. Just at the right time too. Besides the city river, as we stand negotiating our various spaces, we still know rain is good, just as spring blooms the flowers. Inconvenience breeds conflict though- rain, rain, go away, come again another day.

The ditty is all wrong. I learnt this the other day. Dad calls, and asks where I am, and what the weather is like where I am. Both questions mildly irritate me; one for how as an adult, I don’t have to report to him anymore and the other, for how rain or shine should matter hundreds of miles from his backyard. New found distance from parental control isn’t so new anymore. So the former, I know now, is mere concern for his little girl in the big city. The latter, in these years when no season turns when they ought to, I know now, is a larger concern for his crops. In farming, every turn of weather means something.

I’ll one day soon pick myself out of the banks of one river and go to those of another, perhaps Cauvery, perhaps Kali, perhaps Nila or perhaps just a pretty lake. In this exchange of lives and rivers, city worker for a farmer, the weather will be my biggest worry. Outside the window, on the other side of the proverbial white picket fence, a bright ray of sunshine catching my dog’s whiskers will mean one thing. A puddle of water to jump over in a pair of wellies will mean another thing. There is no longer just the poetry in them. I understand why dad needs to ask of the weather.

And now it is night time. Still not a hint of rain. Maybe it will oblige tomorrow. But then there is an early morning kalaripayattu class to go to, breakfast plans, a book reading later after dusk. Wet roads are just so mighty inconvenient here.

Rain is a metaphor. Rain is a synonym for old stories, good memories, for melancholia, for the aloneness of cities, for the companionship of beautiful hills and cold winds. But the thing is, when it rains now, or on another night, you never know which of these you will think of. You don’t get to choose from among those things that rain is variously a synonym for. Neither could any weatherman predict it.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Could Travel Lead to Revolution? I Wonder, in Kindle This Month

"Hope is the thing with feathers" Kindle has a beautiful 'The little red bird of Latin America' special this month, packed with very interesting articles. I re-watched an old favourite, the movie The Motorcycle Diaries and wondered whether travel can bring about revolutions. Read the essay here or see below. 


In a world that is steadily changing, Deepa Bhasthi explores the ideas of travel and how it changes the perceptions that eventually led to revolutions. How it happened during the times of Che Guevara, and how it happens today …
Something happened the other day. At the crack of dawn, my favourite friend and I willed ourselves to go for a walk; we were 2500 kms from home. Folding into ourselves because it was very cold, we told each other that the mountain air would do us good. A few paces in, across a cliff that opened to our left, the very first ray of the day’s sun fell on the very tip of the Kanchenjunga. I remember both of us gasping, like in some well-rehearsed play, right on cue, in unison. We swore because we didn’t have any poetry to react to the way, first, a pale orange, then a deeper saffron light was spilling over from the peak, spreading then to the neighbouring snow caps in the same mountain range. It overwhelms you, that’s what a mountain does. That is what travel does. It prepares you for revolution, prepares you for a lifetime of knowing that there is the steadiness of the mountains to ground you, to make you humble. That there is something greater out there. That you are human, alive, capable of change.

“A revolution without guns? It would never work, Mial,” Fuser tells his friend, leaning against a wall built by the Incas in Machu Pichu. He was to become Che in a few years’ time, the most important revolutionary of those times, a cruel killer, and an enduring pop icon. One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. And all that.

It was a ritual once that you travel, fend for yourself, be on your own to graduate into manhood. The open road, those quiet mountains in the distance, valleys and journeys make you an adult, even if you don’t ask for it. Somewhat vicariously, I saw the picture postcard-prettiness of Latin America of the 1950’s yesterday, re-watching The Motorcycle Diaries, an old favourite. Is it a good movie? Is it a cult movie? We had had this debate a week ago, two friends and I, in a distant land. It wasn’t particularly a well-made movie (the book is worse). Sure, the scenes look like postcards you might pick up in the hotel souvenir counter. But, we concluded, what makes the movie so famous is the cult, the image of Che Guevara, the handsome boy who became a firebrand revolutionary. For me, it was also because a favourite professor had included it in Film Studies class and given me the DVD to keep as a going away present after university.

We all like our bad boys, don’t we?

Some smart designer put the face of Che Guevara –photographer Alberto Korda’s shot, among the most recreated in the world – on a bikini. It is an image that buried its creator into oblivion and became more than the man it represented. Someone I know gave me a keyring with that image on it once, a beautiful, expensive, glossy looking piece it was. The Che of all those romanticised stories of the David who took on the Goliath capitalism of the US would have been appalled, surely. That is what we best seem to do. Take someone important and reduce to candyfloss and butter popcorn all that their convictions stood for. Yeah we do that well, in this world now.

But then, I was half convinced to believe recently, a revolution will come. It is nearing that time when things and economies come to a head. The tipping point, sometime in our lifetime, will come, we ought to believe. Isn’t belief and hope all that we have? More of the multi-billion dollar chains will enter this country now, we have a PM who loves those kind of things. In a cycle stand, give the first one a gentle push, the rest of the dominos will fall, one by one. Give the liberals a small bite to chew on, very soon, the cascading failure of their convictions will make sure they all fall, one by one, into line. A magazine ran a feature sometime ago on how hot the new PM is, like a wildman with that beard of his. I laughed. And then stopped. A school of thought must have been similarly amused by the hotness of Che, many decades ago. Perceptions and different realities we live with. Will the capitalists win again? It looks so. But you have to believe that will not be so, not in the long run at least. You have to, because hope is all you have.

Something is happening, most times, quietly. There is something brewing. There is a rejection of old money models, out with the old, in with the new. Feels goodto see that, it isn’t always a bad, bad world that we live in as adults. There are many worlds, different worlds for different people. Let’s not talk about that just yet. Just that it is a fragile world, one that, like a love relationship, needs working upon every day, a full time job.

In this fragile world, travel we must. Just like Che did. Just like the journeys that changed Siddhartha into the Buddha. It would be nice to take the open road ever so often and see the mountains and the sun’s rays upon them. If not those, there are other journeys, not in the least within, but also to the local grocer’s, the butcher by the corner stall, the tea shack that is not well lit, the neighbourhood market day, trips to localisms. Revolutions are made not by guns alone.

Over a discussion on globalised world’s recently, there emerged an idea of how we vote best with the currency notes in our hands. That’s where the real democracy is, in this largest democracy in the world and elsewhere. With that note, you choose who gets to lord over you, the consumer. That note, the way you spend, that walk to the many locals is where the tiny springs of revolution water from. For that you have to travel. The reasons, if you should need any: self-discoveries, realisations, mountains, or the seas, the peoples – unlike you, but not wholly different either.

Travel you must. Down the road is where the revolution is waiting for you.