Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Visiting Haworth, Bronte Country: In Hindu Businessline

In my head I have written this article with much more melodrama. Visiting Haworth and the famous moors in Yorkshire, England was a lifelong dream. That is where the Bronte sisters - Charlotte, Emily and Anne - lived and wrote most of their books. For some strange reason I had never wanted to visit any literary place as much as Haworth, perhaps because it seemed more inaccessible than most. And then one day in late September earlier this year I went there and it was overwhelming and one day I will write about how overwhelming it was. For now, here is something I wrote for Hindu Businessline's lovely supplement BLInk.

Read it here or see below for a slightly unedited version. 

Published December 10, 2016. 


An English village where the three illustrious sisters lived their short lives, and the wild, temperamental moors that gave us dark, complex characters

There have been many beginnings to this piece. Written and discarded, again and again. None seemed wholly right and I have abandoned them, sent them to join the ranks of false beginnings, words that I had decided did not replicate the language that was tumbling over itself in a hurry in my head, describing things, feeling what I felt.

Perhaps the beginning was really 20-something years ago when as a girl growing up in the hills without enough books to match a voracious reading habit, I reached for, wayyyy before I was meant to, grandfather’s library and met the Brontes sisters. Before the Brontes there were the Russians. But that is not a story that has a place here, today. The beautiful hardbound books with black and gold covers felt too heavy in my hands, I remember. But perched upon a windowsill with Stewart Hill in the background, these classics felt familiar, like it was a story from a slightly eccentric aunt’s backyard. The mountains outside were a reassurance, but the moors would soon take over. Though, it was only a month or so ago that I understood what a moor was, 20-something years after I mouthed that word to myself aloud in a Google-less world, wondering which planet’s landscape it might most closely resemble. I was as much into astronomy in those days as I was into writers whose lives were as dramatic as the heroines they wrote.

And then, many, many years later I found my way to Haworth, where these writers, long recognized as amongst the greatest in English literature, lived. The Bronte sisters – Charlotte, whose 200th birth anniversary is this year (no, the trip wasn’t planned to commemorate that, I promise), Emily and Anne Bronte. And their brother Branwell who tried to paint but failed and then tried to be a drunk and succeeded and died from that success, and their father Patrick who was the curate at the church and though a frail, sickly man, outlived all the children and died an octogenarian. They all lived in this big stone house behind the church, which was called Parsonage because that is what a house allotted to members of the clergy was called. There was, and is, a cemetery in front, which must have been a depressing and all too realistic sight to wake up to every morning, I imagine. But then there were the moors behind the house and they were bleak, cold, windy and maddeningly inspiring, so maybe the tombs weren’t that bad after all.

So they all lived in this big house with an aunt who moved in to help raise the children after Mama Bronte died. Largely ignored by the adults, the Bronte siblings took to making up and then writing down stories and poems in miniscule handmade books, some of which are on display at National Portrait Gallery, London. I went and spent an hour peering into these books and the many drawings and paintings the siblings made – their art, though not at the level of genius as their books – was still mighty skilled. Or so I think. I could forgive the Brontes all follies, as you can tell.

There are a few samples on display at the Parsonage too, now a museum housing their possessions. The rooms are recreated to near likeness of how they must have looked when the family lived there, down to the wallpapers. The kitchen has model bread in the oven, a hand towel hurriedly thrown on the table, a plate set for breakfast, a cupboard with the family’s china on display. The dining room was where the children sat around and amused themselves with stories set in an imaginary kingdom of Angria and where later the girls would write their masterpieces – Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey. The tea cosy sits atop the table that continues to bear the signs of constant use, and it seems like the sisters will be back any minute now, to discuss their writings with each other till about 11 o’clock every night.

There are portraits, furniture, artist boxes, drawings, books, penknives, letters and this and thats that fill the museum. Charlotte’s wedding bonnet, faded now, made her look like ‘a little snowdrop’, villagers’ accounts of her wedding to Arthur Bell Nicholls say. And because it is her bicentenary year, there are a few installations that respond to the idea of the miniature in her world, curated by the writer Tracy Chevalier. Another writer, Grace McCleen, was chosen as a writer-in-residence for ’16 (lucky woman!) and published Every Sounding Line, a collection of poetry as a result of the residency. Excerpts are printed and strewn on mantle pieces and window sills throughout the house. I see all this, twice over, once hurrying through because it is nearing closing hour and the next day taking more time than I have ever taken in any other museum.

Your impossible greatness, 

invisible yet present,

in the impossibly small.

The Parsonage, fronted by the church, sits atop a steep road that is the Main Street of Haworth, set with setts.Picturesque photographs of the old street, flanked on both sides by cute little shops selling thingamabobs and old pubs are good for the Haworth brand. The Brontes are very good for business. Apart from the well -stocked Parsonage gift shop, the rest of the village sells more Bronte souvenirs, from jewelry and vintage clothes to books to candles and more thingamabobs and my favourite, jams and jellies inspired by characters from the famous novels. The Black Bull public house (pub as we know these places today), sitting by the entrance to the church, is where the brother Bronte is said to have spent many an hour trying to drown his failure in drink. Opposite that is The Apothecary, a 17th century building now also a hotel that I spend a night at, was where Branwell bought his laudanum from, they say. A red telephone box, so typically British, is in another corner, opposite one cute little Post Office. When you stand in the middle of the road and look out, there are the hills and moors, there in the distance. Everything looks like a movie set; they have good reason to keep it so, given the hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Some are research scholars, some are fans like me, treating this as a literature nerdy pilgrimage, and a lot are Japanese – there is, inexplicably, a very large number of Japanese tourists that come to Haworth every year. So high are these numbers that directions to the moors and Bronte sights are carved into the signboards in Japanese.

After marveling at tiny shoes and tinier books and marveling at how these kinds of things hold so much interest for a fan, pedestrian as I would have snootily called such endeavors, had it been anything else, another writer even, I head to the moors, seeking The Bronte Way. There is a well-marked path on one side of the parsonage, past a kissing gate, past two friendly, and huge, grazing horses, past ewes on green, green pastures (all too damned picture postcard-like, I grumble into the wind). It is not too late in the morning and there are several joggers and walkers about, most with their dogs. The moors are, to borrow McCleen’s words, ‘…a sea of swells entwined as if fingers in prayer.’

For the three plus months that I have spent in this island country, I have been incredibly lucky with the weather. The famous English summer has been exceedingly good and I realize I am tempting fate, every passing day. It has been mostly sunny and happy as I wind myself down south from high up in the Scottish Highlands. The day I am to walk the moors, a slow drizzle starts. It is nearing autumn and heather, the pink flower of independence that carpet the moors, are dying. By the time I cross the road and find myself on a path, the wind picks up. It is cold, very cold and windy and raining and I just want to go all English and demand a warm fire and a hot ‘cupatea’. I was to walk to Top Withens, a ruin that, even though there is near conclusive proof that it is not so, is popularly believed to have inspired Emily’s portrayal of the Earnshaw house in Wuthering Heights. There is a waterfall and a bridge along the way, a rock where Emily is believed to have sat, gathering ideas. I am too unprepared for this sudden turn in weather and scurry back, seeing the ruins from a distance, somewhere beyond the haze. Appropriate though, I later think, to see the moors the way they were described by the Brontes, as moody, as wild, as perfection. That is the way I will want to remember them.

The sisters walked the moors a lot. I am, like scores before me, trying to look for answers: for how they managed to write such feministic texts from that tiny non-descript village, for what is it about the moors that inspired them to birth such complex, dark characters, for how these shy Victorian women, with all the trappings that came with that age, wrote such fierce, independent heroines, making them radically feministic and ahead of their times by several decades. I am presumptuous of course. As if these answers would speak to me or
…reach with the tip of its finger

to graze my skin with its alien own.

Standing there, with their beloved moors all around me, I believe, like McCleen writes, that if their spirit lives anywhere at all, it must be here and not in the village or the church or the house. I wait for a while. I am not sure for what. But

Instead of a haunting

I was forced to admit

I was extraordinarily


And so it ends. A beginning that begun 20-something years ago.

How to get there:

The nearest mainline railway station is Keighley, from where there are frequent 'Bronte buses' available to Haworth village, a distance of about 4 miles away. The nearest airport is Leeds. Both are very well connected by trains, flights and coach from London.

Where to stay:

There are several B&Bs available in the village, apart from AirBnB places, youth hostels and farmhouses. Visit http://www.haworth-village.org.uk/ for a list of the best ones. The Apothecary (http://www.theapothecaryguesthouse.co.uk/), a 17th century inn, now converted into a guest house is bang opposite the Parsonage and overlooks the famous cobbled streets of Haworth and is a great place to explore the village from.

Special tip:

Pack those walking shoes and rain gear. The best way to have the Bronte experience is to walk the moors and around the village. There are plenty of well marked walking trails. And some excellent pubs that serve whiskeys and beers brewed locally, to relax afterwards.

On the Rise of Female Comedians in India: In OPEN Magazine

Over the last few years, female comedians seem to be everywhere. Which is of course a very good thing. The fact that they have to be distinguished as female, paying attention to their gender is not a good thing. I write about that too, in this piece on female comedians in India, in OPEN magazine.

Read the piece here, with photos, or see below. 

Published on December 09, 2016.


How funny were the jokes? They were very funny. We all held our stomachs, threw back our heads and hooted with laughter. But I couldn’t tell you one of the jokes, the comedian refuses, because it is a secret, it’s for women, and that too invited women only. Though if you are a woman you can email the team and ask for an invite. None of the content is meant to be put online, that’s the whole point of the ‘cult’. What I can tell you is that Disgust Me, by Sumukhi Suresh, that was performed recently in Bengaluru was (to rephrase the promo) a cult where we let go, laughed at that crass joke and did not worry about looking fuckable or appropriate.

Upon entry, everyone is given what resembled a tiny penis on a short silky lanyard and encouraged to wear it around their necks. Within five minutes of making her entrance, Suresh will say ours is a small country, referring to the tiny penises. It sets the tone for the rest of the hour-something stand-up comedy show, where she talks to the audience and hands out goodie bags filled with honey and sex toys. The confident confidante manner Suresh adopts on stage makes it an enjoyable hour. As expected, there are countless jokes about penises and boyfriends/husbands and blowjobs and going down and the marriage market and such like. There are jokes about nose poop and a story of bed wetting thrown in.

Suresh started Disgust Me because at one of her other shows, she noticed that some women were uncomfortable laughing at sex jokes when there were men around. So she designed this as a place they didn’t have to be worried about being judged for enjoying dirty jokes. The jokes centre around ‘taboos’ that Suresh’s mother told her were too disgusting to retell, and she encourages her cheering audience to either enjoy them or be disgusted, like her mother would be.

From making her mark at Improv, a desi version of Who’s Line is it Anyway? the immensely popular impromptu comedy show where actors have to enact situations that the audience gives them, to having a couple of viral videos to her credit, Suresh is among the fast expanding tribe of women who are gaining fame and following for their comedy shows.

“It is like a sperm ya. Just one in a million. Then why is it getting so many views?” Suresh had complained, showing me a ten-second clip on her phone a few months ago. In the video, she is draped in a starched white saree with a golden border, the kind worn in Kerala – not her home state – and sings a classical Carnatic version of My Humps, the old Black Eyed Peas song. Hash tagged #TheClassicalSeries, she made the clip while having some three hours to kill, and uploaded it on her Facebook page. The number stands at a million plus views as I write this.

Even in the unpredictable world of viral videos, Suresh has hit the jackpot a couple of times over. It first happened with her short video of a character called Anu Aunty, a middle-aged woman, more a friend of the family than a relative, who nags a young boy about studying to be an engineer or a doctor, though he would rather be an entrepreneur and start something of his own. Her portrayal of Anu Aunty was instantly relatable to young people who are forced by the family into these professions because they are a ticket to wealth, a good spouse and elevated social status. In middle-class India that is still hugely aspirational, Anu Aunty is every neighbourhood nag whose curiosity, and interference, in other’s lives is relentless and irritating. Suresh’s latest sketch series called Behti Naak—where she is an annoying, arrogant young girl with a runny nose—is from where a ceramics artist who sat next to me at the Disgust Me show, started following her work.

The popularity of such videos and the spurt in the number of stand-up comedy shows in tier I and II cities in India speak of a country that has embraced comedy in English as a new, delectable form of entertainment. Nearly all the metros have comedy clubs that exclusively host sketches, improvs and stand-up acts. That an increasing number of these shows are headlined by women comedians speaks loudly of a society that has started to laugh with women, and not just at them.

Bollywood cinema is a mirror that reflects the trends of the day, even if they are misleading and inaccurate. In movies, the female character who was, most often, if not always, ‘fat’, darker skinned and not ‘conventionally’ pretty was the preferred comic relief. A puny male comedian, sometimes her love interest, nearly always laughed at her, and moviegoers laughed with him. The stereotypes of the comic, just like the roles of the virgin heroine and the sexually liberated vamp, remain watertight compartments in popular culture, in both Bollywood and mainstream regional language cinema. The immensely popular male comedians, both of yesteryears and today, owe much of their careers to sets that mock wives and mistresses and their attempts at housekeeping, child rearing and money management, the last of which they were deemed too stupid to be trusted with, anyway.

Over the last few years, younger women like Sumukhi Suresh, Punya Arora, Neeti Palta and older ones like Anu Menon, Radhika Vaz, Aditi Mittal and others have broken the glass ceiling, turning misogynistic comedy on its head and laughing all the way to fame. Not that the road is smooth, not at all, point out all the comedians I talk to. But they are ready for the fight, and are unwilling to be bullied by male comics or be defined by their gender. This is a battle that even the likes of Ellen DeGeneres, Melissa McCarthy, Tina Fey and Amy Schumer are waging in the West.

Punya Arora is an underwater photographer who got curious about stand-up comedy, tried it at an open mic night and fell in love with the format. Raised by a single mother who got divorced because her husband wanted a son and wasn’t thrilled about having a daughter instead, Arora was encouraged never to let gender define her, or her choice of profession. “I have a very supportive mom,” she said, when I ask her if her family is okay with her performing on stage. I ask because a lot of jokes these women comedians make use the words fuck, vagina, sex, etc. – words still taboo and rarely spoken aloud in public in India. An aunt did ask her what her “marriage plan” was, and she answered that she had a life plan instead.The common belief is that stand-up comedy is something some women dabble in before settling down into marriage and kids. “My mother thinks I am going through a phase,” says Suresh, admitting that her family doesn’t know the full extent of her stand-up career. She has women coming up to her after her shows asking her to tone it down, out of respect for her future in-laws. “I am more afraid of the women in the audience. Female comedians badly need women to back us,” she said. “Who will marry you?” is an unasked but implied question, for young women who are on stage, sometimes in bars, late into the night, telling jokes about their lady parts and the things they do with men.

Radhika Vaz, one of the first women comedians in the country to gain widespread attention, was already older, in her late 30s, married and hence, “didn’t give a fuck” when she started doing stand-up. “I had the advantage of being older, and also had female role models (in New York where she started her career) who said anything they wanted. They were not held back by being women,” she says, admitting that she got lucky that way. India and the unspoken rules that define a woman’s behaviour in public, and at home, were not even on her mind.

Vaz’s sets are deeply personal and she goes after three things—marriage, children and aging— often in her jokes. The underlying feminism is unmissable and some jokes are deep and dark. Given the baggage associated with the word ‘feminism’, is she one? I ask. “It is a simple word, the simplest word in the whole fucking world, pardon my French,” she says, explaining why being a feminist is so important in a patriarchal world. “Patriarchy is a worldwide issue and that is why feminism is important. I am a feminist, I am just a feminist,” she reiterates.

In her show Unladylike, like the title, she talks about issues that are deemed to be too ‘improper’ for women to talk about. Her show and sketches crackle with smart lines on virginity, nipple hair, the Brazilian wax, and how a full shave looks like “two chicken breasts squashed together”. ‘Brazen’ and ‘bold’ are hasty descriptions, for her or the others, for Vaz only talks of topics that should be normal, not embarrassing or shameful to address.

What is life like on stage? And Vaz says that she came to the party with husband, in-laws and parents. “I have an independent streak, and my husband is a lot like that as well. He manages all my shows and everyone knows what is happening (with the jokes). As for my in-laws, they live in denial.” I could almost hear her grinning into the phone.

Vaz was a pioneer in the field and paved the road for those after her, I point out. “I don’t think the road has been paved yet,” she says, estimating that India as a society and as an audience will take a little more time to be more accepting of performers like her.

The content that these women write invariably becomes personal and feministic. Arora talks a lot about single parenthood. Suresh addresses her plus-size body and moves on to tackle mundane issues, ending with something dark and feministic to “shock-and-surprise”.

They all love that there are more women on the scene over the last couple of years. “We need more female comedians because we need more work. We need to understand that,” Suresh says, adding that the real challenge will be when the numbers are higher, which is when the quality of the content will be the only thing that will be important. Their audience is still restricted to a niche, English-speaking crowds in metros and larger towns, a fact that Vaz acknowledged as well. “English is the only language I speak fluently and it is a bit of a handicap. But I have performed in places that are not Delhi or Mumbai where the audience may not be limited to an English speaking crowd,” she says.

Social media has played a crucial role in the success of these comedians. Vaz, who jokes about her anger management issues, told me that it was “great to write something” on Twitter and let it out. One-liners on current affairs apart, a lot of the sketches that they write and produce and upload on YouTube add to their popularity, in turn giving them more shows, in turn helping them grow their fan base.

What with women cutting their teeth into yet another male bastion, what do the men think? I had asked Suresh. “They are very, very supportive. Blanket rule,” she told me, a sentiment the others echo as well.

It might be a tiny section of modernized, liberated urban India that is laughing with these women, be it on their shows, through columns and books like those of Twinkle Khanna or on social media. In a Utopian culture your job and gender should be independent. But for now, it does matters. And that is why every laugh is a loud war cry asking for the fall of patriarchy.

The Lost Art of Sending Greeting Cards: In Binkana Column, Kannada Prabha

I am sending a few greeting cards this year, belatedly. Adding in this and that into the envelopes, personalising the crap out of them. Some of you will get one!

This column might well be my last in KP (more on that later). I wrote on greeting cards and ended by wishing people a happy new year. It was published on Christmas Day. Unedited version below.

Also, Happy New Year, dear people.

ನನ್ನದು ಸ್ವಲ್ಪ ಲಾಸ್ಟ ಮಿನಿಟ್ ಕೆಲಸ ಜಾಸ್ತಿ. ಈ ಅಂಕಣ ಕೂಡ ಪತ್ರಿಕೆಯ ಸಂಪಾದಕರಿಗೆ ಲಾಸ್ಟ ಮಿನಿಟ್ ನಲ್ಲಿ ತಲುಪಿರುತ್ತದೆ, ಅವರನ್ನು ಕೇಳಿದರೆ ಗೊಣಗುತ್ತಾ ಹೇಳಿಯಾರು. ಪರೀಕ್ಷೆಗೆ ಓದುತ್ತಿದ್ದುದು, ಟಿಕೆಟ್ ಗಳನ್ನು ಬುಕ್ ಮಾಡುವುದು, ಅದ್ಯಾವುದೋ ಅಪ್ಲಿಕೇಶನ್ ಕಳಿಸುವುದು, ಕರೆಂಟ್ ಬಿಲ್ ಕಟ್ಟುವುದು, ಎಲ್ಲವೂ ಸ್ವಲ್ಪ ಲಾಸ್ಟ ಮಿನಿಟ್ ನಲ್ಲೆ ನಡೆಯುತ್ತಾ ಬರುತ್ತಿರುವ ಚಾಳಿ. ಇದೊಂದು ಒಳ್ಳೆಯ ಅಭ್ಯಾಸವೆಂದು ಖಂಡಿತವಾಗಿಯೂ ಹೆಮ್ಮೆಯಿಂದ ಹೇಳಿಕೊಳ್ಳುವ ದುರಹಂಕಾರ ನನ್ನದಲ್ಲ. ದಶಕಗಳ ಅಭ್ಯಾಸ, ಟಕ್ಕ್ ಎಂದು ಕೋಲು ತಿರುಗಿಸಿ ಬದಲಾಯಿಸುವುದು ಕಷ್ಟ. ಬದಲಿಸುವ ಪ್ರಯತ್ನ ದಶಕಗಳಿಂದ ನಡೆದುಬರುತ್ತಲಿದೆ ಎಂಬುದು ನೀವು ಊಹಿಸಿಕೊಂಡಿರುತ್ತೀರಿ.

ನಿನ್ನೆ ಇದೇ ಇನ್ನೊಂದು ಲಾಸ್ಟ ಮಿನಿಟ್ ಕೆಲಸದ ಹಿಂದೆ ಓಡಿದ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ನಿಮಗೆ ಹೇಳಬೇಕು. ಅದೆಲ್ಲಿಂದ ಬಂದ ಯೋಚನೆಯೋ ನಾ ಹೇಳಲಾರೆ. ಏನೋ ಓದುತ್ತಿರಬೇಕಾದರೆ ತಲೆಗೆ ಹೊಳೆದಿರಬೇಕು - ಇಂತಹಾ ಯೋಚನೆಗಳು ಬರುವ ಸಮಯ ಸಾಮಾನ್ಯ ರಾತ್ರಿ, ಇನ್ನೇನು ಮಲುಗಬೇಕು ಎನ್ನುವಷ್ಟರಲ್ಲಿ, ತಲೆಗೆ ಹುಳ ಬಿಟ್ಟಂತಾಗಿ, ಮತ್ತೆ ಎಚ್ಚರಗೊಂಡು ಪ್ಲಾನ್ ಮಾಡುತ್ತಾ ನಿದ್ರೆ ಕೆಡುವ ಹೊತ್ತು. ಇನ್ನೇನು ಈ ವರ್ಷದ ಕೊನೇಯ ವಾರವಿದು, ಒಂದಿಷ್ಟು ಸ್ನೇಹಿತರಿಗೆ ಗ್ರೀಟಿಂಗ್ ಕಾರ್ಡ್ಸ್, ಶುಭಾಷಯ ಪತ್ರಗಳನ್ನು ಯಾಕೆ ಕಳಿಸಬಾರದು ಎಂದು ನೆನಪಾಯಿತು. ತಕೊ, ಮಗುವಿನ ಕೈಗೆ ಹೊಸ ಆಟಿಕೆಯನ್ನು ಕೊಟ್ಟಷ್ಟು ಉತ್ಸಾಹದಲ್ಲಿ ಬೆಳಗಾಗಲು ಕಾದು, ಅಷ್ಟರಲ್ಲಿಯೂ ತಡೆಯಲಾಗದೆ ನನ್ನ ಪೇಟೆಯ ಮಧ್ಯೆ ಇರುವ ಈ ಹಳ್ಳಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಪಕ್ಕದಲ್ಲೇ ಇರುವ ಫ್ರೆಂಡಿಗೆ ಫೋನ್ ತೆಗೆದು ಮೆಸೇಜ್ ಕಳಿಸಿ ಗ್ರೀಟಿಂಗ್ ಕಾರ್ಡ್ಸ್ ಎಲ್ಲಿ ಸಿಗುತ್ತದೆ ಎಂದು ಗೊತ್ತ ಎಂದು ಕೇಳಿದೆ. ಅವನಿಗೆ ಗೊತಿರಲಿಲ್ಲ. ಅದೆಲ್ಲ ನಮ್ಮ ಈ ಊರಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಸಿಗುವ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ಸಂಶಯವನ್ನೂ ಒಂದಿಷ್ಟು ವ್ಯಕ್ತಪಡಿಸಿದ.

ಬೆಳಗಾಗಿ ನಾನೆದ್ದು ಏನೇನೆಲ್ಲ ನೆನೆಯುತ್ತ ಇರುವಷ್ಟರಲ್ಲಿ ಈ ನನ್ನ ಅದ್ಭುತ ಐಡಿಯಾ ಪುನಃ ತಲೆಗೆ ಹೊಕ್ಕು, ಕೆಲ ಸ್ನೇಹಿತರಿಗೆ ತಮ್ಮ ಪೂರ್ತಿ ವಿಳಾಸವನ್ನು ಕಳಿಸಲು ಹೇಳಿದೆ. ಅಷ್ಟರಲ್ಲಿ ನೆನಪಾದುದ್ದು ಅವೆಲ್ಲವನ್ನು ಸಂಗ್ರಹಿಸಿ ಬರೆದಿಡಲು ವಿಳಾಸ ಪುಸ್ತಕ ನನ್ನ ಬಳಿ ಇಲ್ಲವೆಂಬುದು. ಸ್ಮಾರ್ಟ್ ಫೋನ್, ಇಮೇಲ್, ಇತ್ಯಾದಿ ತಂತ್ರಜ್ಞಾನ ಬಂದ ಮೇಲೆ ಮಾಯವಾದ ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ವಸ್ತುಗಳ ಸಾಲಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಅಡ್ರೆಸ್ ಪುಸ್ತಕಗಳು ಸೇರುತ್ತವೆ. ಬಹುಷಃ ಈ ಪುಟ್ಟ ದುರಂತ ಕೆಲವೊಂದು ತಲೆಮಾರಿನ ಕರ್ಮವಷ್ಟೇ, ಒಂದಷ್ಟು ವಯಸ್ಸಾದ ಮಂದಿಯದ್ದಲ್ಲ ಎಂಬ ಸ್ಪಷ್ಟೀಕರಣ ನೀಡಬೇಕೋ ಏನೋ.

ಅದ್ಯಾವುದೋ ಖಾಲಿ ಪುಸ್ತಕದಲ್ಲಿ ವಿಳಾಸಗಳ ಗುರುತು ಮಾಡಿದ್ದಾಯಿತು. ಕೇಳಿದವರೆಲ್ಲ 'ಆಹಾ, ಥ್ಯಾಂಕ್ಸ್' ಎಂದೇ ಹೇಳಿದವರಾಯಿತು. ಇನ್ನು ಲಾಸ್ಟ ಮಿನಿಟ್ ನಲ್ಲಿ ಗ್ರೀಟಿಂಗ್ ಕಾರ್ಡ್ಸ್ ಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಹುಡುಕಬೇಕಿತ್ತು. ಇನ್ನ್ಯಾವುದೋ ಕೆಲಸದ ಬೆನ್ನೇರಿ ಈ ಹುಡುಕಾಟ ಪ್ರಾರಂಭಿಸಿದ್ದೂ ಆಯಿತು. ನನ್ನ ಏರಿಯಾದ ವಿಷಯ ಬಿಡಿ, ಸ್ವಲ್ಪ ದೂರದ 'ಪಾಶ್' ಎಂದೆನಿಸಿಕೊಳ್ಳುವ ವಠಾರದಲ್ಲಿಯೂ ಸಹ ಅದೆಷ್ಟೇ ಹುಡುಕಿದರೂ ಒಂದೇ ಒಂದು ಗ್ರೀಟಿಂಗ್ ಕಾರ್ಡ್ ಸಿಗಲಿಲ್ಲ. ನನಗಂತೂ ಹೆಚ್ಚು ಕಮ್ಮಿ ಅಂದರೆ ಇಪ್ಪತ್ತಾದರೂ ಬೇಕಿತ್ತು.

ಬೈಕ್ ಒಂದರ ಹಿಂದೆ ಕುಳಿತು ಹುಡುಕುತ್ತಾ ಹೋಗುತ್ತಿರಬೇಕಾದರೆ ಸುಮಾರು ವರ್ಷಗಳ ಹಿಂದೆ ಹೊಸ ವರ್ಷ, ದೀಪಾವಳಿ, ಯುಗಾದಿ ಮತ್ತು ಕೆಲವರ ಹುಟ್ಟು ಹಬ್ಬಕ್ಕೆಂದು ಗ್ರೀಟಿಂಗ್ ಕಾರ್ಡ್ಸ್ ಕಲಿಸುವ ಸಂಪ್ರದಾಯದಲ್ಲಿ ತೊಡಗುತ್ತಿದ್ದುದು ನೆನಪಿಗೆ ಬಂತು. ಕಾರ್ಡ್ ಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಹಲವು ಭಿನ್ನವಾದ ರೀತಿಯವು, ಮ್ಯೂಸಿಕ್ ಬರುವಂತಹಾ ದುಬಾರಿಯವು, ಹಾಸ್ಯಾಸ್ಪದ, ಜೋಕ್ ಉಳ್ಳವು, ರೋಮಾಂಚನ ಕವಿತೆಗಳನ್ನು ಹೊಂದಿರುವವು, ಮತಷ್ಟು ಯಾವುದೋ ದಾನ ಧರ್ಮ ಸಂಸ್ಥೆಗಳ ಕಾರ್ಡ್ಸ್ ಗಳು, ಒಳಗೆ ಖಾಲಿಯಾಗಿರುವ, ನಮ್ಮದೇ ಸ್ವಂತ ಸೃಷ್ಟಿಸಿದ ಸಂದೇಶಗಳನ್ನು ಬರೆಯಬಹುದಾದಂತಹವು, ಇತ್ಯಾದಿ. ಸಾಲು ಸಾಲಾಗಿ ಜೋಡಿಸಿಟ್ಟ ಕಾರ್ಡುಗಳಿಂದ ಆಯ್ಕೆ ಮಾಡಿ, ಎರಡು ಗೆರೆ ಗೀಚಿಟ್ಟು ಅಂಚೆ ಚೀಟಿ ಅಂಟಿಸಿ ಕೆಂಪು ಪೋಸ್ಟ್ ಬಾಕ್ಸ್ ನಲ್ಲಿ ತುರುಕಿ, ಮತ್ತೆ ಖಾಖಿ ಸಮವಸ್ತ್ರ ಧರಿಸಿದ ಪೋಸ್ಟ್ ಮ್ಯಾನ್ ಒಂದಿಷ್ಟು ದಿನಗಳ ನಂತರ ಸೈಕಲಿನ ಮೇಲೆ ಟ್ರಿಂಗ್ ಟ್ರಿಂಗ್ ಎಂದು ಬೆಲ್ ಮಾಡುತ್ತಾ ನಮಗೆ ಬರೆದ ಕಾರ್ಡ್ ಅಥವಾ ಕಳಿಸಿದ್ದಕ್ಕೆ ಬಂದ ಉತ್ತರಕ್ಕೆ ಕಾತರದಿಂದ ಕಾಯುವ ದಿನಗಳವು.

ಮಧ್ಯಾಹ್ನದವರೆಗೆ ಹುಡುಕಿದ್ದೆ ಬಂತು. ಎಲ್ಲಿಯೂ ಸಿಕ್ಕದ ಗ್ರೀಟಿಂಗ್ ಕಾರ್ಡುಗಳ ನೆನೆಯುತ್ತಾ ಬೇರೆ ಯಾವುದಾದರೂ ಸುಲಭದ ಐಡಿಯಾ ಹೊಳೆಯಬಾರದಿತ್ತೇ ಎಂದು ಗೊಣಗುತ್ತಾ ಹಿಂತಿರುಗಿ ಬಂದದ್ದೂ ಆಯಿತು. ವಿಳಾಸಗಳನ್ನು ಸಂಗ್ರಹಿಸಿದ ಮೇಲೆ ಕಾರ್ಡ್ ಕಲಿಸದೇ ಇರುವುದು ತಪ್ಪು ಎಂದು ನಿನ್ನೆ ರಾತ್ರಿ ಇಡೀ ಎಲ್ಲರಿಗೂ ಅವರವರ ವ್ಯಯಕ್ತಿಕ ಆಸಕ್ತಿಗಳಿಗೆ ಹೋಲುವಂತೆ ಇಲ್ಲೊಂದು ಬರ್ಮಾ ಪೇಪರಿನ ಮೇಲೆ ಬರೆದ ಪತ್ರ, ಇಷ್ಟವಾದ ಕವಿತೆಯ ಒಂದೆರಡು ಸಾಲು, ಅಲ್ಲೊಂದು ಸಂಗ್ರಹಿಸಿದ ಹಳೆಯ ಚಿತ್ರ, ಒಂದು ಬುಕ್ ಮಾರ್ಕ್, ಹೀಗೆ ಕವರುಗಳಿಗೆ ಹಾಕಿ ಗಮ್ ಅಂಟಿಸಿ ಮೇಜಿನ ಮೇಲೆ ಒಂದರ ಮೇಲೊಂದು ಇಟ್ಟಾಯಿತು. ಅಂಚೆ ಕಛೇರಿಗೆ ಹೋಗುವ ಮುಹೂರ್ತ ಇನ್ನೂ ಬರಬೇಕಷ್ಟೆ. ಅದಕ್ಕಿನ್ನೂ ಲಾಸ್ಟ ಮಿನಿಟ್ ಬರಲಿಲ್ಲ.

ಮುಂದಿನ ಡಿಸೆಂಬರ್ ಬಂದಾಗ ಇಂತಹಾ ಐಡಿಯಾ ಮತ್ತೆ ಹೊಳೆಯದಿದ್ದರೆ ಸಾಕು ಎಂದು ಒಂದೆಡೆ ಈಗಲೇ ಅನಿಸುತ್ತಿದೆ. ಆದರೂ ಇನ್ನೊಂದೆಡೆ ಬಹುಷಃ ವರ್ಷಕ್ಕೆ ಒಂದು ಸಾರಿಯಾದರೂ ಅಂಚೆ ಕಚೇರಿಯ ಮುಖ ನೋಡಬೇಕು, ಕೆಂಪು ಪೋಸ್ಟ್ ಬಾಕ್ಸ್ ನ ಮುಂದೆ ನಿಲ್ಲಬೇಕು ಎಂದೆನಿಸುತ್ತದೆ. ಗ್ರೀಟಿಂಗ್ ಕಾರ್ಡ್ಸ್ ಕಳಿಸುವುದು, ಪಡೆಯುವುದು ಇಲ್ಲಿನ ಮುಖ್ಯ ವಿಷಯವಲ್ಲ. ಕಥೆಯ ನೀತಿ ಎಂಬುವುದೊಂದಿದ್ದರೆ ಅದು ಈ ಅತೀ ವೇಗದ ಜೀವನದಲ್ಲಿ ಒಂದಿಷ್ಟಾದರೂ, ಕೆಲವೊಮ್ಮೆಯಾದರೂ ನಾವು ಸ್ವಲ್ಪ ನಿಧಾನವಾಗಿ ವಿರಾಮವನ್ನು ಅನುಭವಿಸಬೇಕೆಂಬುದು. ಕಾರ್ಡುಗಳನ್ನು ಬರೆಯುವುದು, ಒಂದು ಸಣ್ಣ ವಾಕ್, ಬೆಳಗ್ಗೆ ಹತ್ತು ನಿಮಿಷ ಪೇಪರ್ ಅಥವಾ ಕಾಫಿಯ ಜೊತೆಗೆ, ಒಂದೆರಡು ನಿಮಿಷ ಧ್ಯಾನ, ಹೀಗೆ ಜೀವನವನ್ನು ಕೆಲ ನಿಮಿಷಗಳ ಕಾಲವಾದರೂ ನಿಧಾನವಾಗಿ ಕಳೆಯುವುದರಲ್ಲಿರುವ ಸಂತೋಷ ಅದಕ್ಕೆ ಸಮ.

ಈ ಮುಗಿಯುತ್ತಿರುವ ವರುಷದಲ್ಲಿ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ಸುದ್ಧಿಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಕೊಂಡಾಡುವಂತದ್ದು ಬೆರಳೆಣಿಕೆಯಷ್ಟೂ ಸಹ ಇರಲಿಲ್ಲ. ದುರಂತದ ನಂತರ ದುರಂತ ಎಂಬುದೇ ಮಂತ್ರ ವಾಗಿದ್ದ ವರುಷ ಸದ್ಯ, ಮುಗಿದೇ ಬಂತು. ಓದುಗರಿಗೆಲ್ಲಾ ಗ್ರೀಟಿಂಗ್ ಕಾರ್ಡ್ಸ್ ಕಳಿಸಲು ಸಾಧ್ಯವಾಗದು. ನನ್ನ ಹೊಸ ವರ್ಷದ ಶುಭಾಶಯಗಳನ್ನು ಇಲ್ಲಿ ಸ್ವೀಕರಿಸಿ. ಹೊಸ ವರುಷ ತಾಳ್ಮೆ, ನಿಧಾನದ ಗಳಿಗೆ, ಹೊಸ ಹರುಷವ ತರಲಿ.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Flaneuse-ing in Madikeri: In The Byword


A version of this essay was published in The Byword, a magazine of literature, arts and culture published from New Delhi in their third issue. 

EDIT: The magazine has now changed to The Punch, an online publication. You can read this piece on their website here.



This starts in Madikeri. Everything starts in Madikeri. Not just because that is where I learned to walk first, one fat foot before the other. I was a fat child. Chubby was the favoured word then though, of course. This begins in Madikeri because that is where everything that is me begins. Everything goes back to this little green dot, a speck pulsating unhurriedly on the map of coffee country. 

Without a beginning somewhere you couldn't possibly have a continuous now or a continued measure of progression. If all this, the now, is that at all. So I believe. So we all need to believe. It is faith and belief and illusion and all that, like a conditioned belief in a deity that by any name you might wish to revere. We all need our illusions.

So this began a summer in the 1990s, I want to say, when the shadows on the red oxide veranda fell long and slow in the afternoons. The idyllic went further, with mango trees at four arms’ length, two Kashmir trees – firs – that stood in front like intricately carved stone sculptures guarding the sanctum sanctorum in ancient worn out temples. Granny told stories, starting sometimes in the morning if I pestered and begged enough, and continuing, one after lunch, two before bed, like a dose of antibiotics that could make the summers bearable. Granny, an excellent storyteller to rival every writer in the world, died a few years later. 

I wonder what happens to the stories when the storyteller dies. 

With every passing summer, I began to favour the words sandwiched between pages that smelled musty or crisp, depending on how well and long they had been thumbed. Granny was aging, and her stories were not enough for someone who wanted more and more and more, greedy, hungry, obsessed with collecting stories.

And that is how and why I started walking. 

Madikeri in the early 1990s was slow, quiet and beautiful, as most hill towns are. It is mostly all these things today too. Having worked my way through nearly all of the collection of hard bound Russian literature that grandpa had left me, and with no access to book stores save for the one that sold the day’s newspapers, some stray magazines and crime pulp with garish covers, I wound up one summer at the district library. It was within a newer building in the fort complex, a plain box of a structure, not airy, not too well lit and marinated for years in the heady mix of the smells of books very old/never used and books newer/much borrowed. I loved the fort that it faced though. The roads that led up to this fort, its old chapel turned never-open museum, the library, the government offices and hangers-on aplenty, were all encompassed within a stone compound that I have only once ever circled. These roads were where I drew my first maps for. 

The map has been in my head for years now. It began where the corner of my house ended. This house from 1962/63, named after how a bulb in the veranda looked like a star from the curve of the road after the central post office in town, was in the outskirts, in a village before the town grew a fat belly and swallowed it in. From the edge of the garden, a narrow path led past the ‘line mane’ - houses, a row of small houses, all without gaps, a style very typical of labour quarters in plantations that dots my region densely. My nanny lived in one of these houses. Past this ‘line mane’, I would walk down to the fields that we once grew paddy in, till labour became sparse and buying rice became cheaper. I don’t remember those years when we grew our own rice very well. But I can picturize fields green as bright emerald, with cranes and tittibaa, a close cousin of the crane I assume, decorating themselves like props here and there between the paddy stalks. I am not sure the imagery is from the fields that we could see from the house, but I do remember a time when it was green and not the colours of the rainbow that the houses built upon this farm land today are painted in. 

Across the fields, left and then a right turn would be a road that was lined with state built police quarters on one side – white walls and brown roof tiles, standard, regulation, except for a pot on the window sill here, a bicycle leaning against the back door there, each distinguished only by the clothes hung out to dry, the only separating identity that hinted at who lived these otherwise uniformed lives. On the other side was my favourite view, that of Stone Hill – Stewart Hill officially – and the other nameless little hillocks that extended a little to the left and the right which my parents and I, on some evenings, drive up to, to watch the city lights come on or the sun go down, leaving behind skies the colours of lapis and peacock plume and jewels upon a grand crown. Then past the remand home for juvenile wrongdoers with high gates that you could still see through of, an old friend’s house, another hillock I once played Seven Stones and Hopscotch on that had now been carved through to house big houses, past Fair Traders, one of the first departmental stores in town, run by people from the neighbouring state and a brief crossing over of a main road.

This map took me many trips to the library to draw, many trials, much unease as I grew older and the boys from out of town a little more boldly rowdish. I loved climbing, any steep roads, of which of course my hill town had plenty, was to be mandatorily added onto my map into town and back. Even if it added the length of the route, even when they were most often unnecessary. Sometimes it would be raining. Over the years, the monsoon holidays found me stubbornly going to return and borrow books, often by unheard of writers that I never was inspired enough to remember, a Mills and Boon now and then, sneaked in, in between heavier tomes. Rains in town were nearly always drenched in mist as well, heavy, close enough to grab a fistful of, wispy enough to blow away when you wanted to see more than three feet ahead of you. 

In the end purpose I always had for sauntering about town, I broke every rule of the act of a French idea I was to learn only many, many years later. The French word of flaneur is as lovely as any word from an unfamiliar language could sound. They once dedicated an entire genre of sophistication to flanerie, the act of being a flaneur. The derived meanings of the word lent more romanticism to the act of flanerie than does what it meant in the original descriptions, in 19th century France when Paris and its mysterious streets almost seemed designed for the leisurely walkers. A flaneur was a stroller and when first conceived off, the idea usually meant a wealthy man – it was always a man – often an aristocrat who could afford to stroll around all day long, thanks to unearned income in his family name. The poet Baudelaire’s derived meaning is what we know the flaneur by. He described a flaneur as “a person who walks the city in order to experience it.”

Much later, I would learn that a flaneuse was a female flaneur, and that gender distinction would come with a whole new can of proverbial worms.

From the time that my attempts at being a flaneuse begins in the hills to the now, to the maps I draw unintentionally every time I go to buy bread or the raw materials for a salad or curry or eggs for my dog or wine for date night or something else that running a house requires, I like to think I get to know this city I live in. In all its glorious filth, noise, loves and summer flowers, in what it is and what it means to be here. The city that shall probably never be mine in the manner that the hills are mine, for a decade of experiencing it has yet to make it the home that ten years of living out of the hills hasn’t made those hills not a home. Yet, the disdain I exhibit, the nonchalant rejection in words of what this city is, is perhaps the best homage I could possibly give it, for it is only with the most beloved that you can show such arrogance, safe in the knowledge that when you want to be unquestioningly accepted and loved back, it will always be around, patiently waiting for when you want to come to your senses. That is this city to me, and more, and that love letter to her is something I will write someday, perhaps when she no longer belongs to me. Not now.

Past Fair Traders and after crossing the main road, there were two paths that I could choose from. And I chose depending on how confrontational I wished to be. One was quieter and included crossing a small meadow with wild yellow flowers and powdery red roses. One needed to tread over a footpath that boys, just learning to smoke and assembled in groups of four or five, would sometimes line themselves along the ledge, not really bothering you, but happy enough to hand out some unease as you hurriedly walked past. A flaneur was never to hasten along; they say the French aristocrats, in staying true to the idea of flanerie, sometimes used all their time in the day to walk their pet turtles. This footpath though, accorded views of the town from an angle you couldn’t catch from anywhere else. The other path was steeper, laid with large unevenly cut stones and sometimes, jeeps and bikes attempted to use it as well. On both sides would be old houses, colonial in their tone, with grand dames tending to their fashionable gardens in the warming mid-morning sun under spacious straw hats – a very English occupation. I always imagined being invited for tea and miniature cupcakes, though it of course never happened. Neither did they seem to house people my age that I could make friends with, squashing all my hopes of an English cup of tea and cake.

This steep path sharply rose up and came to an uneven narrow road, rising and falling gently till it gave away, on one side, to a flight of steps that led past my then best friend’s house. Sometimes I would be tempted to pop in to say hello, we never called in advance in those days. But most times, in honour of the solitary, reflective activity that flanerie was meant to be, I would pass by, in “leisurely discrimination of a gourmet, savouring the multiple flavours of (his) city,” like Cornelia Otis Skinner put it. I was happily selfish to feel and touch and smell and taste the marvels of my town just by myself, jealously content to keep to myself her secrets and quirks, feeling with her all that she felt, like Susan Sontag’s “connoisseur of empathy.”

Past the best friend’s house and then straight ahead over another flight of steps through a dingy array of poor houses with unkempt hedges that lazily separated the neighbours, through another steep incline that again passed by large, old bungalows of the old-rich, I drew on the map in my head. The nouveu riche were in other parts of town and I, being born into a family that had made these hills a chosen home for a few generations, was happy to not have to relate to them and their modern architecture. The old world in me, musty and clinging on to the simplicity, the subdued elegance of the brown tiles, red oxide floors, large gardens and creaky stairs that led on to an attic full of intrigue and mystery – all illusions of a grand, self- important past – preferred the old, the reused, the antique, the vintage, to the gleam of the new and modern. It was always easier in the hills to exist in an era very long gone past from the rest of the world. We were mostly happy. 

It is inevitable, I suppose, how the modern comes sweeping in to remove mercilessly all that we hold dear and close, not ready yet to let go of the past, not ready to let go of our many illusions that brought us comfort and warmth during our many inadequacies and insecurities. The grandeur that an aristocrat presented, in pursuing the leisurely – never boring or wasteful, mind you – occupation of being a flaneur made a steady decline once industrialisation gripped the world. The inconceivable idea that one would consciously want to waste time sauntering about, clearly with no purpose other than to acquaint themselves with the alleys and street corners they would otherwise have no use for made a flaneur another anachronism in a world of other such props. Something fondly remembered in stories of yore, indulgently talked about along with the rest of all the stupid, unproductive, pointless things people back in the days did. A flaneur was not to think of profiteering from flanerie either and was not expected to form poems or write essays about the things he saw and felt. In that sense, in the very act of deriving a more inclusive meaning for the word, and articulating it, Charles Baudelaire was the first of the new flaneurs, a definition he thus gave to himself and those, like me, who would follow him over the next centuries.

A flaneur was one who did not deliberately try to go unrecognized, it wouldn’t do for a 19th century gentleman to attempt something so obvious and crass. But neither did he particularly enjoy being talked to when he was lost in a reverie of his own making. I followed that instruction to the dot. Sometimes the umbrella was a welcome decoy, held just a little this way or that to hide my face enough to walk past an acquaintance of the family that I would otherwise be obliged to make empty small talk with. Mobile phones serve that purpose these days; a sudden text message that happens to be urgent or a fake important call feigned to avoid prolonging an awkward hello.

By this time, I would have been wound my way to a much higher plane in town and reached what has remained, all these years, my most favourite house. I sometimes wonder if I imagined it up, conjuring it from the medieval manors and run down towers that I read about in the books I grew up with through childhood and teenage. It is a two and half storeyed house, reached at the end of a long driveway. Red, Indian Red, I think the technical name for the colour is, with its outer walls wrapped tightly with ivy, a green as dark as black. I loved this house, both for how odd it was in the landscape and yet, how well it blended in with the romance of growing up in the hills. I never found out who it belonged to, nor did I want to. It was nice placing my stories within its compound and I never wanted to ruin it by finding out that its people and their lives were nothing but ordinary, prosaic. I did try a few other routes now and then, but invariably, the short road in front of my favourite red house was always included, even if I had to make a detour at times to pass by it. 

I would be close to the library now, and would have walked for just about half an hour or so from home. It was a small town by foot, smaller if you drove, back in those days. Many years later, we were to get traffic lights in one square in town, much to everyone’s amusement. When it broke down in monsoon, the long, hard months of relentless rain and shocking cold, no one tried to fix it. It lies there now, conveniently forgotten and dismissed as a foolish idea if someone new into town brings it up. A straight road starting after the red house passed by an open playground on my left and presented a fantastic view of a part of the town on my right. I would slow down there, sometimes even stand a few minutes to admire the houses and the thin roads below my feet. My favourite time of the year to take this route was towards the end of May, when the town would be readying itself for monsoon with slow drizzles in the afternoons and opaque veils of mist inching along lazily after 4 pm. Up there, it always charmed me to see the clouds below my feet, the houses small and conquerable. In the tropics, it was a blessing to be able to love the wet, cold, grey months, knowing that the sun would bear down upon us soon enough.

Before I was fully out of breadth, I would have climbed some more and reached the entrance to the Madikeri Fort, a local attraction that tourists come to, to pose before the two stone elephants, peep through the watch towers to see special views of the town and pray at the shrine. The complex houses government offices, it has for perhaps since Independence. There is a clock tower that sometimes works, but mostly doesn’t. There is a lovely chapel with stained glass paintings inside and several plaques for Britishers who died here, far away from home. The chapel has a museum that displays a haphazard collection of the king and queen’s gowns, tattered and falling apart from the edges, a few stone sculptures found in the district, most missing a face or an arm or a breast, some old palm leaves and such other odd things. Few are labelled with care and the staff, when they do open the museum, doesn’t really care for you to hang around for longer than a minute or two that it takes to walk through the short hall.

The library building is just next door, and by now I can’t wait for the warmth it offers, permeated with the deep settling smells of books that haven’t been moved from the time they were placed on the shelves, mint new and anticipating generations of readers. I started once at the children’s section, but the preachy stories on the right, moral way to live and the comics that took me minutes to read through didn’t hold my interest for long. I would head for the novels section, running my fingers through spines that were laden with dust. I felt sorry for the unloved books sometimes and took them home, sometimes never reading them. But at least the borrowing card would have my library card number entered on them. They too had been loved once, for however short a while.

My hours at the library would depend on how quickly I found something interesting – most times I just couldn’t choose the three I was allowed to borrow from the pile I had collected, ever greedy, ever hungry for a little bite from all of them – and how close to lunchtime it was. Meals were always taken at home, lunch precisely at 1.30 pm in my mother’s strict food calendar. It was only later that Periyan’s opened, serving the first burgers in town and we all grew old enough to be allowed to eat out by ourselves. Many years after that, restaurants became places you consciously decided to go eat at, not conveniences when you got back from travels and couldn’t hurry home to cook a meal on time. Things began to change only much later, not then, in those years.

With my three books in a bag and thoughts of a few others I had to wait to borrow the next time around, I would start to make my descent. It would be the other way now, not as interesting but just as necessary in the map of my head. I would walk past the shrine for Ganesha, submitting a quick nod in the direction of the idol when I still believed in all that, and hurriedly passing by, taking extra pains to ignore the interruption in the years when I started not to believe in all that. Next up was the central prison, with imposing gates and a tiny inset window that I always wanted to knock on and ask to peep through but never mustered up the courage to. It kept small criminals – robbers, cheats and such like mostly who tended to vegetable patches that you could see if you went up and peeped over the stone walls that circled the fort. They would stand around sometimes and flirt with their wives or girlfriends some evenings, away from the uncaring eyes of the prison guards. The women perhaps waited long, passing the time looking at people who had business in the government offices, stray dogs that lived around, the garishly painted black stone elephants with their forever surprised eyes and those like me that collected such scenes to add into stories someday.

Once out of the other gate into the fort that overlooked the toy-like town police station and the hallowed corridors of the fancy North Coorg Club, I would be in the main town. My descent took me past the curve of the road before the post office, from where grandpa saw the light bulb in our veranda resemble a distance star, in the ‘60s, and named the house Minuguthare, the shining star. 

From then on my map became a little fluid and the path I took depended on whether I had to get back home or could saunter about town for a while longer. Sometimes I had to go straight back, and walked the steep slope down to the bus stand, past the shop we once used to buy our coffee from, through the grandly named Industrial Estate and then over to my part of town, sparse, quieter, unpeopled. The Industrial Estate was a row of grey buildings where fabricators, mechanics and a tyre shop functioned. As did the only local daily in the district and the famous bakery that everyone in town bought bread and biscuits from, till big company biscuits in shiny packaging became popular.

At other times, I would walk into town, into the Chowk where the traffic lights had once been ill-advisedly installed. Walking past the row upon row of shops, all owned by families that saw me grow up every inch along the way was entertaining if I was in the mood for a bit of socializing, which I very often wasn’t. The solitary characteristic of this flanerie suited me just fine. On some days, I would even end up hailing an auto rickshaw, blasphemously. But the route back from the house of books just wasn’t inspiring enough to stick to, I gave myself an excuse.

Over the years, I broke and made up all the rules of 19th century flanerie, with a heartless disregard and respectful adherence, by turns, of what it once meant. Over the years, I would end up moving to along the coast and then to a city and then within the city, to neighbourhoods and homes so different from the other that they might have been in different cities themselves. Every house that I lived in though, was close enough to a railway line – a facility utterly unplanned and unsought – and it was the lone whistle of a night train that used to lend comfort on lonely nights. Over the years, I would draw many more maps, from hostel to university, or the college library, from the first house to the bus stand to go to work, from the posh neighbourhood during a brief ill-fated stay to find an auto to take me to work, from the shops, to the salon, short forays, always squeezed in between long hours of work, always hurried, purposeful. To Edmund White is attributed a quote that I particularly love and the execution of which I especially miss, “A flaneur is….someone who ambles without apparent purpose but is secretly attuned to the history of the streets he walks, and is in covert search of adventure, aesthetic or erotic.”

Once the idea of wasting time took over the pleasure of doing just about nothing, I read someplace that the act of being a flaneur became a referent for understanding urban phenomenon and modernity. How ironic. How apt and recycled too, at the same time, to tweak a sentiment to suit newer sensibilities. Walter Benjamin popularized the notion of a flaneur being a modern day artist-poet who was keenly aware of the modern life and was an amateur detective, an investigator. Alongside, he paid heed to flanerie being just as much a sign of alienation in a large impersonal city and an evolving symbol of capitalism. You no longer walked without purpose, you always had a task to complete and move on, and the few times that you thought to stroll, you did so in malls or shopping lanes and at least window shopped.

Over the years, cyberflanerie evolved as a concept that a few people studied as well. In the glorious early days of the internet, you often went from one website to the other, clicking on random links, not because you always had a choice, but sometimes because you didn’t quite know what you wanted. For a generation that grew up without the web and then took to it like a birthright, the internet must have been the New World, to be discovered, explored and a little feared, for its power was yet unknown. With apps for rising with the sun or after to taking you where you have to be to lulling you to sleep to everything in between, the age of unknown discovery seems long over. Though that said, we, the generation that took so gloriously and so fully to a digital world, make our own maps online too, even if they are in the order of sites and pages visited everyday to the theme applied to Gmail or the way we arrange our bookmarks. Cyberflanerie died before it was fully born, I read somewhere. It is what it is, everything, I suppose.

As for me, I straddle the two worlds as best as I can these days, feeling constantly like I am betraying the other when I am in the arms of one. Walking the hills and lanes and back roads of Madikeri, a minor city these days, is inconvenienced by short visits home, there are other things of priority. Navigating the unpaved alleys of the internet, however well versed enough to suit my work I now may be, sometimes feels like not a judicious enough use of my time on it, like it is never good enough, like it should have been more productive or useful or moneymaking or at the very least, intellectual enough.

My most elaborate map though, remains the one I made and honed over those heady years of relentless devouring of books. I can still bring up that whole setting at will, even to this day, even if I haven’t used that particular map for decades now. Undoubtedly, I colour it with more charm than it probably had, but that is of course a given, almost mandatory, to accord an extra dose of romance into pangs of nostalgia.

These maps are really meant just for me. If I were to give directions to a new walker, from my house to the now renovated district library, I couldn’t possibly find reasons to say why the route I took was better than any other the new person might have devised. Maybe some of those narrow lanes have been replaced by wider roads that adhere to municipality regulations now. Maybe the views I delighted in have been blocked by new constructions of hotels and shopping complexes to cater to the hordes of tourists who have discovered the town’s accessibility and are happy to be sold the glamour of the hills wrapped in souvenir packets of expensive spices and mass produced ‘homemade’ chocolates that come from elsewhere. The map I have in my head may just be fit only for a collector of old and unusable things. Not that it matters. These maps for a village, a hill, a town, a city are experiences each of us has to draw ourselves, marked with our histories, our baggage and our lived experiences. Thus each are personal tattoos, the true significance of which will make sense only to us, even if their outer appearances make for a stimulating conversation starter at parties of intellectual bohemians.

On Being a Flaneuse: Binkana Column in Kannada Prabha

ದೂರದ ಒಂದು ಊರಿನಿಂದ ಹಿಂತಿರುಗಿ ನನ್ನ ಊರಿಗೆ ಒಂದು ವಾರದ ಮಟ್ಟಿಗೆ ಹೋಗಿದ್ದಾಗ ನವರಾತ್ರಿ, ದಸರಾ ಹಬ್ಬದ ಕೊನೆಯ ದಿನಗಳು. ಲಾಂಗ್ ವೀಕೆಂಡ್ ಎಂದು ಮಹಾನಗರಗಳ ಸಾಫ್ಟ್ವೇರ್ ಕಾರ್ಮಿಕರು ನಮ್ಮ ಪುಟ್ಟ ಬೆಟ್ಟದ ಊರಿಗೆ ಬಂದು, ಇರುವ ಬರುವ ರೋಡುಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಟ್ರಾಫಿಕ್ ಜಾಮ್ ಸೃಷ್ಟಿಸಿ, ಎಲ್ಲೆಂದರಲ್ಲಿ ತಮ್ಮ ದೊಡ್ಡ ಗಾತ್ರದ ಕಾರುಗಳನ್ನು ನಿಲ್ಲಿಸಿ, ಸೆಲ್ಫಿ ತೆಗೆದುಕೊಂಡು, ಒಟ್ಟಾರೆ ಊರ ಜನರಿಗೆ ಬೇರೆಯೂರಿನಿಂದ ಬಂದ ಟೂರಿಸ್ಟ್ ಗಳಾಗಿ ಸಣ್ಣ ಮಟ್ಟಿಗಿನ ಕಿರುಕುಳ ನೀಡುತ್ತಾ ಇದ್ದರು. ಅಂತ ನನ್ನ ಊಹನೆ. ಈಗೀಗ ಮನೆಯಿಂದ ಹೊರಗೆ ಪೇಟೆಗೆ ಹೋಗುವ ಆಸಕ್ತಿ ಅನಿವಾರ್ಯಕ್ಕೆ ಮಾತ್ರ ಸೀಮಿತ, ಹೊಸದೇನಿದೆ ಎಂದು ನೋಡುವ ಅಭ್ಯಾಸವನ್ನು ಈ ಕಿರುಚುವ, ಕಸವನ್ನು ರೋಡಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಬಿಸಾಡುವ, ತಮ್ಮ ಪರಿಸರಕ್ಕೆ ಗೌರವ ಕೊಡದಿರುವವರು ಬಾಚಿಕೊಂಡಿದ್ದಾರೆ. ಕಾಫಿ, ಒಳ್ಳೆ ಮೆಣಸು, ಏಲಕ್ಕಿ, ಕಿತ್ತಳೆ, ಇತ್ಯಾದಿ ಬೆಳೆಯುವ ಆ ಪುಟ್ಟ ಊರಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಪ್ರವಾಸೋದ್ಯಮ ಆರ್ಥಿಕ ಸ್ತಿತಿಗೆ ತುಂಬಾ ಒಳ್ಳೆದಾದರೂ...ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ವಿಷಯ, ಜನರ ಹಾಗೆ ಇದು ಒಂದು ರೀತಿಯ ಎರಡು ದಿಕ್ಕಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಚೂಪಾಗಿರುವ ಖಡ್ಗ.

ಪ್ರವಾಸೋದ್ಯಮದ ಒಳಿತು ಕೆಡುಕುಗಳ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ಚರ್ಚೆ ಆಗಿದೆ. ಪುನರಾವರ್ತಿಸುವುದರಲ್ಲಿ ಹೊಸದೇನೂ ಸಹ ಮೂಡಿಬರುವಂತಿಲ್ಲ. ಅದರ ಬದಲು ನಡೆಯುವುದರ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ಒಂದಿಷ್ಟು ಮಾತನಾಡೋಣ. ಹೆಜ್ಜೆಹಾಕುತ್ತಾ ಒಂದು ಊರನ್ನು ನೋಡಿದರೆ ಆ ಊರನ್ನು ಸರಿಯಾಗಿ ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಂಡಂತೆ ಎಂದು ನಂಬುವಳು ನಾನು. ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ನಡೆಯುವುದು ಎಂದರೆ ನನಗಿಷ್ಟ. ನಡೆಯಬೇಕಾಗುವಲ್ಲಿ ಬಿಡಿ, ಬೇಡವೆಂದಿರುವ ಸಂಧರ್ಭಗಳಲ್ಲಿಯೂ ಸಹ ನಡೆಯುವ ಅಭ್ಯಾಸ ನನಗಾಗಿದೆ. ಜಿಲ್ಲಾ ಗ್ರಂಥಾಲಯಕ್ಕೆ ಬೇಸಿಗೆಯ ರಜೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಹೋಗುವುದರಲ್ಲಿಂದ ಶುರುವಾದ...ಒಂದು ರೀತಿಯ ಹಂಬಲವಿದು. ಹವ್ಯಾಸಕ್ಕಿಂತ ಮೀರಿದ್ದು, ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ಸಲ ಅನಿವಾರ್ಯವೆಂದೇ ಹೇಳಬಹುದು. ಮನೆಯಿಂದ ಗ್ರಂಥಾಲಯಕ್ಕೆ ಹೋಗುವ ನೇರ ದಾರಿಯನ್ನು ತೊರೆದು ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ಸುತ್ತಿಕೊಂಡು ಬೆಟ್ಟ ಏರುತ್ತ ಹೋಗಿ ಅರ್ಧ ಗಂಟೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ತಲುಪಿ ಕೊಣೆಯ ಮೂಲೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಯಾರೂ ಅದುವರೆಗೆ ಕೈಗೆತ್ತಿಕೊಳ್ಳದ ಪುಸ್ತಕವನ್ನು ಹುಡುಕಿ ಅದರ ಪುಟಗಳನ್ನು ತಿರುಗಿಸುವ ಹಾಗೆ ದಾರಿ ಕಂಡುಕೊಂಡಿದ್ದೆ. ಅರ್ಧ ಗಂಟೆ ಆ ನನ್ನ ಪುಟ್ಟ ಊರಿಗೆ ಸ್ವಲ್ಪ ಬೆಳೆದ, ದೂರದ ದಾರಿಯೇ. ಮಹಾನಗರಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಅಷ್ಟೇ ಹತ್ತಿರವೇ ಎಂದು ಕೇಳುವವರಾಗಿದ್ದೇವೆ ನಾವು.

ಕಳೆದ ತಿಂಗಳು ಸ್ಕಾಟ್ಲೆಂಡ್ ಮತ್ತು ಇಂಗ್ಲೆಂಡ್ ನಲ್ಲಿ ಹಲವು ದಿನಗಳ ಪ್ರವಾಸ ಹೋಗಿದ್ದೆ. ಆ ಎರಡು ವಾರ ಹೆಚ್ಚು ಕಮ್ಮಿ ಪ್ರತಿ ದಿನ ಆರು- ಏಳು ಗಂಟೆ ನಡೆಯುತ್ತಲಿದ್ದೆ. ಹೇಳವೊಂದು ಸಾರಿ ದಾರಿ ತಪ್ಪಿ (ಗೂಗಲ್ ಮ್ಯಾಪ್ಸ್, ಅಲ್ಲ ಮ್ಯಾಪ್ಸ್ ಓದುವ ಅತ್ಯಾವಶ್ಯಕ ನೈಪುಣ್ಯವನ್ನು ಶಾಲೆಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಕಡ್ಡಾಯವಾಗಿ ಕಲಿಸಬೇಕೆಂಬ ತೀರ್ಮಾನಕ್ಕೆ ನಾನು ತಲುಪಿದ್ದೇನೆ) ನಡೆದ್ದದ್ದಾದರೆ, ಹೆಚ್ಚಾಗಿ ಆ ತಿರುವಿನ ನಂತರ ಅದೇನಿರಬಹುದೆಂಬ ಕುತೂಹಲ ತೀರಿಸಲು ಹೆಜ್ಜೆ ಹಾಕಿದ್ದೇನೆ. ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ವರ್ಷಗಳ ನಂತರ, ಅಂದರೆ ನಾಲ್ಕು ವರ್ಷದ ನಂತರ ಒಬ್ಬಳೇ ಪ್ರಯಾಣ ಮಾಡಿದ ಅದ್ಭುತ ದಿನಗಳವು. ಒಬ್ಬಳೇ ಪ್ರಯಾಣಿಸುವುದರಲ್ಲಿ ಇರುವ ಮಜ, ತೃಪ್ತಿ, ನೆಮ್ಮದಿ ಅದೆಷ್ಟಿದೆ ಎಂದು ಮರೆತಿದ್ದೆ. ಹೊಸ ಸಂಬಂಧಗಳು ಬಂದಾಗ ಗಳಿಗೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ನಾವು ನಮ್ಮೊಟ್ಟಿಗಿನ ಸಂಬಂಧ ಸುಲಭವಾಗಿ ಮರೆತುಬಿಡುತ್ತೇವೆ.

ಅಚ್ಚುಕಟ್ಟಾದ ಯಾವುದೇ ಪ್ಲಾನ್ ಇಲ್ಲದೆ ನಡೆಯುವ ಸಂಪ್ರದಾಯಕ್ಕೆ ಐದು ಶತಮಾನಗಳ ಇತಿಹಾಸವಿದ್ದರೂ ಸರಿಯಾದ ವಿಶ್ಲೇಷಣೆ ಹತ್ತೊಂಬತ್ತನೆಯ ಫ್ರೆಂಚ್ ಸಮಾಜದಲ್ಲಿ ಕಂಡುಬರುತ್ತದೆ. ಫ್ಲ್ಯಾನೂರ್ ಎಂಬ ಶಬ್ದವು ಸಮಾಜದ ಲಖಕ, ಕಲಾವಿದ, ಇತ್ಯಾದಿ ಕ್ರಿಯಾತ್ಮಕ ಜನರಿಗೆ ಅಂಟಿಸಲಾಗುತ್ತಿತ್ತು. ವಿಧ ವಿಧದ ವರ್ಣನೆಗಳ ಪ್ರಕಾರ ಈ ಮನುಷ್ಯ ಸಮಯದ ಸೇವಕನಾಗಿರಲಿಲ್ಲ. ಇಡೀ ದಿನ ತನ್ನ ಸಿಟಿಯ ರಸ್ತೆಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಅಡ್ಡಾಡ್ಡುತ್ತ ಜನರನ್ನು ಗಮನಿಸುತ್ತ, ಸಮಾಜವನ್ನು ಒಂದಿಷ್ಟು ದೂರದಿಂದ ವೀಕ್ಷಿಸುವವನು ಫ್ಲ್ಯಾನೂರ್. ತಾನು ನೋಡಿದ್ದನ್ನು ಬರೆಯುವುದಾಗಲಿ, ಚಿತ್ರಿಸುವ ಗೋಜಿಗಾಗಲಿ ಹೋಗುವವನಲ್ಲ. ಒಂದು ಜಾಗಕ್ಕೆಂದು ತಲುಪಬೇಕೆಂಬ ಉದ್ದೇಶ ಅವನದ್ದಲ್ಲ. ಫ್ಲ್ಯಾನೂರ್ ನ ಉದ್ದೇಶವಿಲ್ಲದ ನಡಿಗೆಯನ್ನು ವಿವರಿಸುತ್ತಾ, ತನ್ನ ಪೆಟ್ ಆಮೆಯನ್ನು ವಾಕ್ ಕರೆದುಕೊಂಡು ಹೋಗುವವನು ಎಂದು ಹೇಳಲಾಗುತ್ತಿತ್ತಂತೆ, ಅವನ ಸಮಯದ ನಿರ್ಲಕ್ಷೆಯನ್ನು ಮನವರಿಕೆ ಮಾಡಲೆಂದು. ಅಲ್ಲಿಂದ ಇಲ್ಲಿಯವರೆಗೆ ನಡೆಯುತ್ತಾ ಬಂದಂತೆ ಈ ಶಬ್ದದ ಅರ್ಥ ಬದಲುತ್ತಾ ಬಂದಿದೆ, ಹಲವು ಐತಿಹಾಸಿಕ, ಸಾಮಾಜಿಕ, ಸಾಂಸ್ಕೃತಿಕ ಅರ್ಥಗಳನ್ನು ತನ್ನೊಳಗೆ ಸೇರಿಸಿಕೊಂಡಿದೆ. ಹೆಚ್ಚಾಗಿ ಈ ಫ್ಲ್ಯಾನೂರ್ ಶ್ರೀಮಂತನಾಗಿರುತ್ತಿದ್ದ. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಫ್ಲ್ಯಾನೂರ್ ಎಂಬ ಪದದ ಸ್ತ್ರೀಲಿಂಗವೇ ಇರಲಿಲ್ಲ. ಫ್ಲ್ಯಾನೂರ್ ಇಂದಿಗೂ ಅವನೇ, ಯಾವತ್ತೂ ಅವಳಲ್ಲ.

ಹೀಗೆಂದ ಮಾತ್ರಕ್ಕೆ ಸ್ತ್ರೀಯರು ನಡೆಯುತ್ತಿರಲಿಲ್ಲ, ತಾವು ಗಮನಿಸಿದ ಸಮಾಜವನ್ನು ಬರವಣಿಗೆಯಲ್ಲಿ, ಚಿತ್ರಗಳಲ್ಲಿ, ಚಲನಚಿತ್ರಗಳಲ್ಲಿ, ಫೋಟೋ ಗಳಲ್ಲಿ, ಕವಿತೆಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಸೆರೆಹಿಡಿಯುತ್ತಿರಲಿಲ್ಲವೆಂದಲ್ಲ. ಅಂತಹ ಸ್ತ್ರೀ ಸ್ವಾತಂತ್ರ್ಯ ಸೂಚಿ ಅಭ್ಯಾಸಗಳ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ದಾಖಲಿಸಲು ಇತಿಹಾಸ ಮುಜುಗರ ಪಡುವ ವಾಡಿಕೆ ಶತಮಾನಗಳಿಂದ ನಡೆದುಬರುತ್ತಲಿದೆ. ಇತ್ತೀಚೆಗೆ ಹಲವು ಲೇಖಕರು ನಡೆಯುವುದರ ಬಗ್ಗೆ, ಅದರಲ್ಲೂ ಹೆಂಗಸರು ನಡೆದು, ಅದರಿಂದ ಮೂಡಿಬಂದ ಕಲೆಯ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ಬರೆಯುತ್ತಿದ್ದಾರೆ. ಕಾಕತಾಳೀಯವಾಗಿ ನಾನು ನನ್ನ ಹಾಲಿಡೇಗೆ ಹೋಗುವ ಒಂದೆರಡು ದಿನದ ಮೊದಲಷ್ಟೇ ಲಾರೆನ್ ಎಲ್ಕಿನ್ ಎಂಬ ಲೇಖಕಿ ಬರೆದ 'ಫ್ಲ್ಯಾನೂಸ್ - ವಿಮೆನ್ ವಾಕ್ ದಿ ಸಿಟಿ, ಇನ್ ಪ್ಯಾರಿಸ್, ನ್ಯೂ ಯಾರ್ಕ್, ಟೋಕಿಯೋ, ವೆನ್ನಿಸಿ ಅಂಡ್ ಲಂಡನ್' ಎಂಬ ಪುಸ್ತಕವನ್ನು ಓದಿ ಕೆಳಗಿಟ್ಟಿದೆ.

ಫ್ಲ್ಯಾನೂಸ್ ಎಂಬುದು ಇತ್ತೀಚಿಗೆ ಪ್ರಚಲಿತವಾಗುತ್ತಿರುವ ಶಬ್ದ. ನಿರೀಕ್ಷಯಂತೆ ಲೇಖಕಿಯರು ಸೃಷ್ಟಿಸಿದ ಪದ. ಸ್ತ್ರೀ ಫ್ಲ್ಯಾನೂರ್ ರನ್ನು ಫ್ಲ್ಯಾನೂಸ್ ಎಂದು ಕರೆಯಲಾಗುತ್ತಿದೆ. ಎಲ್ಕಿನ್ ಅವರ ಪುಸ್ತಕದಲ್ಲಿ ಬೇರೆ ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ಪುಸ್ತಕಗಳ ಉಲ್ಲೇಖವಿದೆ. ಮಾತ್ರವಲ್ಲ, ಸಿನಿಮಾ, ಕಾದಂಬರಿ, ಇತಿಹಾಸ, ಪತ್ರಿಕೋದ್ಯಮ ಇತ್ಯಾದಿಗಳ ಉದಾಹರಣೆ ತೆಗೆಯುತ್ತಾ ಶತಮಾನಗಳಿಂದ ಸ್ತ್ರೀಯರು ಸಹ ನಡೆಯುತ್ತಾ, ತಮ್ಮ ಸಿಟಿಯನ್ನು, ಸಮಾಜವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥ ಮಾಡಿಕೊಂಡು ಬರುತ್ತಿರುವ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ಬರೆಯುತ್ತಾರೆ. ಆ ಉದಾಹರಣೆಗಳು ಇಲ್ಲಿ ಸೂಕ್ತವಲ್ಲ. ಮುಗಿಸುವ ಮೊದಲು ಆ ಪುಸ್ತಕದಿಂದ ಕೆಲ ಸಾಲುಗಳನ್ನು ಉಲ್ಲೇಖಿಸುತ್ತೇನೆ -

"ನಾನು ಪ್ರವಾಸಿ, ಆದರೆ ಒಂದು ಒಳ್ಳೆಯ ತರಹದ ಪ್ರವಾಸಿ ಎಂದುಕೊಂಡಿದ್ದೇನೆ. ನಾನು ಇಲ್ಲಿರುವುದು ಸಿಟಿಯನ್ನು ಗಮನಿಸಲು, ಅದರ ತುಂಡು ತುಣುಕುಗಳನ್ನು ಖರೀದಿಸಲಲ್ಲ."

"ಮತ್ತೆ, ಅದ್ಹೇಗೋ, ಬೈ ಚಾನ್ಸ್, ನಾನು ತಿಳಿದುಕೊಂಡೆ, ಆ ಎಲ್ಲ ಅಡ್ಡಾಡುವುದು, ತೀವ್ರ ಭಾವನೆಗಳು, ನಿರಂತರವಾಗಿ ನೋಡಿದ್ದನ್ನು, ಅನಿಸಿದ್ದನ್ನು ಸೈನ್ಟ್-ಮಯಿಕಲ್ ಬುಕ್ ಸ್ಟೋರಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಕೊಂಡುಕೊಂಡ ನೋಟ್ ಬುಕ್ಕಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಬರೆಯಬೇಕೆಂಬ ಆತುರ - ಸಹಜವಾಗಿ ನಾನು ಮಾಡುತ್ತಿದ್ದುದೆಲ್ಲಾ ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ಜನ ಎಷ್ಟರ ಮಟ್ಟಿಗೆ ಮಾಡಿದ್ದರೆಂದರೆ, ಅದಕ್ಕೆಂದೇ ಒಂದು ಶಬ್ದವೇ ಇತ್ತು. ನಾನು ಒಬ್ಬ ಫ್ಲ್ಯಾನೂರ್. ಅಥವಾ, ಫ್ರೆಂಚ್ ಭಾಷೆಯ ಒಳ್ಳೆಯ ವಿದ್ಯಾರ್ಥಿನಿಯಾದ ನಾನು ಪುಲ್ಲಿಂಗವನ್ನು ಸ್ತ್ರೀಲಿಂಗಕ್ಕೆ ಪರಿವರ್ತಿಸಿದೆ - ಒಬ್ಬ ಫ್ಲ್ಯಾನೂಸ್."

ನಾನು ಒಬ್ಬ ಫ್ಲ್ಯಾನೂಸ್.

Published October 23, 2016

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Flaneuse-ing in London: Filter Coffee Column in Kindle

Read it on the Kindle website here or see below.


I met some friends of a friend the other day, by the river. It was not even a weekend, but then the sun was still out, and Londoners were all clamouring to catch the fading summer sun by the Southbank. They were out in shorts and short skirts, barely there camisoles and tank tops, face up to the sun and beer mugs in hand, unwilling to let go of the threadbare summer months just yet. There I was, fully clothed, with a jacket even, thus fully attesting to my status as the foreigner in a foreign land where their summer was more like winter back home. I am glad I am not staying the winter months.

These new found friends and I had a jolly good time over dinner. And then I had to cross the bridge, across the river to catch the tube home, I was told it was the easiest way to go back. I have fallen in love with the tube. But that is another story for another day. So I climbed the steps and got on to the bridge and walked along. Mid way through there was a busker singing and playing something – I cannot remember what now. I looked to my right and stopped dead on my tracks, leading to a man behind me nearing running into me. An involuntary ‘sorry’ slipped out my tongue. It is funny how these overly apologetic British customs one wears on, when one is so frequently encountered by these things. While in Rome…

And then I turned right and saw the river lit by thousands of lights. Blue and red and cream and bright white and pale yellow lights. Just behind me was the well-lit London Eye. Even in its after hours, it was too touristy for my taste, and I ignored it. The lights were more delightful. Falling from the tall spires and odd shaped modern architectural achievements that the city’s builders own responsibility for, the lights bled into the river, in straight lines that shook, in angry annoyance, at being disturbed by the stray breeze that half- heartedly blew now and then, too infrequent though to make a difference that still night.

It was at that precise exact moment that I realized I had fallen in love. It felt a bit like being on a page in a Mills and Boon novel, where in the middle tears or anger or in a moment of great discomfort the hero and the heroine realize that they love the other. Then they proceed to deny it, unwilling to admit defeat. And that is how I am feeling right now. I do not want to admit that I have fallen in love with this city, but I cannot be bothered to hide it either. I am not a city person, as a rule cities make me cranky and crowds plainly annoy me. Neither are tall glass buildings my thing, I’d prefer older structures with some soul in them, however damaged. Some would say I am just a good old anachronism. And I would, for most parts, agree.

But admit I must, to this love affair. It came to me, this realization, with drama – the lights and the night and the undecided breeze and a slight light headedness. It felt like it was staged almost, too much a cliché for me to take it seriously. It must be a crush I thought, one of those summer flings, and I could go back to my city and forget about that one summer when something happened.

But it is never easy to forget. It happened isn’t a balm soothing enough for the memory of forgetfulness. But then here I digress.

Also, this city won’t be easy to forget. I must have fallen in love with it very early on, but it was that view from the river that got me, you know? I am not one for love at first sight, not with humans at least. But with places, now that is different. I feel it in my bones, about a place. I either hate it or I love it. No in between. Everything need not always be grey. Sometimes it is simple, simple as black and white. Love Delhi. Hate Mumbai. Love London. Love Chennai. Don’t ask me why.

And now this has happened. This new object of love. I walk her roads in happy abandon, walking sometimes only to forget, to have no place to go, to just not go back. Till the feet are sore and can’t take a step more, till the muscles cry and I stop crying. Bones are getting old. Every ache hurts just a little more than they used to. What I find odd in the first few days is how quiet the streets are. That throws me off most times. Except that there is a construction site next door to where I am living and the Eastern European workers who work less and bask in the sun, smoking, more and the relentless drilling they do, that makes me feel at home. They yell and swear and sit on the steps to the house I live in, smoking endlessly and throwing the butts down the stairs, annoying the staff here. They are not likely to finish soon.

But then, after a few days acclimatizing to the silences and horn-free roads, I begin to hear the birds. Mostly the sea gulls. I will read later that there is technically nothing called seagull. There are only gulls, some of which live by the sea, some that live inland. They are increasing in population in the city because of the unbelievable amounts of food thrown away. They are hardy, and quick to adapt. They hunt pigeons too, apparently. And they snatch ice cream from the hands of little kids. That experience is as quintessential as the English sea, I hear. I like the sound of the seagulls. I will continue to call them that, better that they sound than being prosaically called gulls. They sound fierce, strong, independent and headstrong. Qualities one ideally wishes to continuously possess while fighting in this world. I listen to them these days when I walk, like looking for company where there is none.

And so it is that I walk. These days I am armed with the latest book I am reading, Lauren Elkin’s Flaneuse – Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London. It is delightful. Cultural and sociological history might just be my new thing. I have Rebecca Solnit on my list next, that cult writer on walking. It feels pretentious and predictable and inevitable and natural all at once, to be walking here in this city and loving it a little more every day.

And then just like that, there was a word for what I have been doing in other cities in other countries for years. Flaneuse.

350 Years of The Great Fire of London: A Walk Through London City, in BLink

Early September was when what is now known as The Great Fire of London started in the house of a baker on Pudding Lane in London. This year marked the 350 years of the fire that destroyed nearly four fifths of the old City of London. Today the area is the financial hub of the country. 

I have walked A LOT in London these past few months that I was there. (More on that later). I did a self guided walk that took me through the sites that were important as the fire spread and the City burned without mercy. I wrote about it for The Hindu Business Line's BLInk supplement here

Or see below.


A flâneuse in London on the eve of the deadly inferno’s 350th anniversary

Later, much later, when the fire had eaten its way through all but one-fifth of the medieval City of London (a neighbourhood), they would talk of signs and ill-omens, that it was the hand of god, that England had been called to account for its sins. They would say that it was divine retribution for the sin of gluttony that Londoners were guilty of. Much later, a wooden statue of a cherubic boy, painted gold, would be erected at Pie Corner, where the fire finally went out after five days and five nights. The statue would warn the coming generations of what could happen, they hoped.

Three hundred and fifty years, nearly to the day, I stand under this statue and look up at this little old boy looking out ahead, in the direction of Pudding Lane, where the Great Fire of London started one summer night in 1666. Although this perceived direction of his stare is only my best guess, I cannot tell my south from my east, my map-reading skills are non-existent, and getting lost is a recurring motif in this self-guided walk I am on. I take pictures and nod slightly at the couple of others with the walk pamphlet, avoiding a direct eye-to-eye, thus employing my newly acquired local custom of stiff manners and very reluctant sociability (while in Rome… and all that). But wait, we must begin at the beginning.

I have been in London for a couple of months now, and am nearing the end of my stay. Predictably, I have fallen in love with it. It is easy to forget that London has dressed up for summer, that this is only a disguise before the trademark greys sweep the skies. I have walked everywhere and spent much of the rest periods between walks reading about walking, or writing my own little bits about it. Predictably again, the likes of Virginia Woolf, Rebecca Solnit and, lately, Lauren Elkin — all flâneuses (a ‘female stroller’, ‘a person who saunters around observing society’) — have kept me company as I walked. As the date of September 2 drew closer, it began to appeal to the history nerd in me — a newfound interest I didn’t know I had gathered — to do the Great Fire of London walk, following what the map confidently said was ‘the trail of destruction left by the most famous fire in history’.

“Afterwards, Thomas Farriner was always quite clear about one thing. The events of that Saturday night were not his fault.” Thus begins historian Adrian Tinniswood’s essential guide to the Fire that I had picked up some days ago.

It was in the house of Farriner, a baker on Pudding Lane, that the fire started on the night of September 2, 1666.

Apart from a summary of the sequence of events from that fatal night and thereafter, the book includes extracts from the diaries of Samuel Pepys, a politician and a diarist, whose accounts of the fire were among the most accurate and meticulous of them all. These freshly-read facts in my head and a charted map in my hand, I start from the Tube station next to St Paul’s Cathedral.

The eveningers are murmuring that summer is over already; I notice the wind getting chillier when I begin to take these notes on a bench behind the cathedral.

A woman sitting on the next bench is talking furiously into her phone, in what I wildly guess to be Russian or an East European language. The day’s forecast is for rain in the afternoon, but the weather is more fickle than anything I could compare it with. Everyone talks of the weather all the time.

“In a society where most houses were timber-framed, in an age when every home had several open fires and every chamber was lit by naked flame, house-fires were not unusual,” explains Tinniswood. Losses of hearth and possessions were common, casualties were surprisingly rare though. Among the elaborate, and largely effective, ways of fighting fire — ringing the church bells backwards, using buckets and waterwheels to pump water from the Thames and suchlike — was the pulling down of houses next to the site of fire to ensure it didn’t spread along the street was an oft-used measure. But on the night of the breakout on Pudding Lane, one crucial decision, or rather the absence of it, was to destroy 13,200 houses and 87 out of 109 churches, and leave 100,000 people homeless. It would take the next 50 years to rebuild the City again.

I walk along the Thames Path, busy that Saturday with large groups walking for charity. Across the river, the new building of Tate Modern has the words ‘Art Changes, We Change’. Appropriate, I think, seen through rear-view mirrors or as a way forward. Up the path along the Thames and under the London Bridge I go, the only bridge across the river until 1729. Crammed with houses during the time of the fire, it was too narrow to allow people to use it for escape. St Magnus the Martyr Church, the second to burn that night, houses a fragile wooden model of the bridge.

As I cross the churchyard, the bells begin to toll, theatrically.

Across the road is Monument, the 202-ft structure that commemorates the fire. Right across, exactly 202 feet away, is the site on Pudding Lane where Farriner’s shop and house above would have stood. A plaque identifies the place; someone has left a handful of sunflowers below it. “Pudding was a medieval word for entrails or bowels.” The filth of the hogs flowed down this way towards the river back then, giving it its name.

The drastic but commonly employed measure to pull down houses along the fire’s path needed the approval of Sir Thomas Bludworth, the chief magistrate of the city. But Bludworth is infamous, for having been a weak man without “…the leadership skills or the natural authority to take command of the situation”.

‘A woman could piss it out,’ he is reported to have said, and went home to bed. By the time the authorities decided to start pulling down houses, it was too late. Standing by the river in Southwark, on the other side, the well-to-do watched the city burn while “Samuel (Pepys) broke down and cried for his city”.

Tracing the route the fire took is a strange endeavour in 21st-century London. Nearly nothing of the Old City remains, except for parts of the Roman wall. The Old City is now the heart of the British banking and financial sectors.

The buildings are glass, very tall and bear down upon the walker. Eerie is the other word I think of. I reach Guildhall, home of the City of London Corporation, centre of the city government since the Middle Ages and the only secular stone building dating from before 1666.

A lazy drizzle has begun. The gallery within is showing Claes Jansz Visscher’s incredibly detailed 1616 engraving of the city, one of the few visual records of London before the fire, alongside Robin Reynolds’s drawing of the way it stands now, 400 years later.

The two churches I visit have weddings going on; I am not sure I can, or want to stay and gape like a tourist. Back at St Paul’s. It was thought of as a safe refuge, being built of stone, and was filled with rescued goods, including thousands of books.

But three days into the fire, the Cathedral burst into flames. When it was rebuilt in 1710 by Sir Christopher Wren, the lead architect, it turned into a symbol of hope and strength. And so it continues to stand, majestic. In the back lanes is the golden boy statue, where the fire finally stopped.

The walk has taken me four hours, against the two the map claimed. But it hadn’t accounted for my bad map-reading skills, or that I stop long and often to make detailed notes, fancying myself a chronicler of some sort. By the end, my feet are deliciously tired and I am just proud I haven’t used Google Maps despite many temptations.

“And then, somehow, by chance, I learned that all that walking around, feeling intensely, constantly moved to scribble what I saw and felt... all that I did instinctively, others had done to such an extent that there was a word for it. I was a flâneur.” — Lauren Elkin

It all began with the fire, thus — my flâneuse-ing and the modern age for the City of London.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated September 10, 2016)

On Brexit and Myths: Binkana Column in Kannada Prabha

Published in Kannada Prabha on August 28, 2016

ಇವತ್ತಿಗೆ ಸರಿಯಾಗಿ ಎರಡು ತಿಂಗಳುಗಳಾದವು, ಈ ಲಂಡನ್ ಮಹಾನಗರಕ್ಕೆ ಬಂದು. ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ಹೊಸ ಜನರ ಪರಿಚಯ, ಹೊಸ ಸದ್ದು, ಹೊಸ ದೃಷ್ಟಿಕೋನ, ಹೊಸ ಸಂಪ್ರದಾಯಗಳು, ಎಲ್ಲವೂ ಹೊಸತೆಂದು ಅನಿಸುತ್ತ ಅನಿಸುತ್ತ, ಹೊಸತೆಲ್ಲ ಅಲ್ಪ ಮಟ್ಟಿಗೆ ಪರಿಚಿತ ಎನ್ನುವಷ್ಟಾಗಿದೆ. ವಿಷ್ಮಯ ನೋಟ ಸ್ವಲ್ಪ ಮಾಸಿ, ಇದೀಗ ಹಲವು ಬಾರಿ ನಡೆದ ರಸ್ತೆಗಳು, ನೋಡಿಯೂ ನೋಡದಂತೆ ಅನಿಸುವ ಕಟ್ಟಡಗಳ ಸಂಖ್ಯೆ ಏರುತ್ತಲಿದೆ. ಟ್ಯೂಬ್ ಸ್ಟೇಷನ್ ಗಳನ್ನು ದಾಟುವಾಗ ಎಲ್ಲೆಂದರಲ್ಲಿ ಬರುವ ಟೂರಿಸ್ಟ್ ಗಳ ಮೇಲೆ ಒಂದೊಂದು ಸಾರಿ ರೇಗುವಂತಾಗುತ್ತದೆ - ಅದೆಷ್ಟು ಬೇಗ ನಗರಗಳನ್ನು, ವಸ್ತುಗಳನ್ನು, ಜನರನ್ನು ನಮ್ಮದಾಗಿಸಿಕೊಳ್ಳುವ ಆತುರ ಎಂದೆನಿಸುತ್ತದೆ.

ಸಂಭಾಷಣೆ ಒಂದೆರಡು ನಿಮಿಷ ಕಳೆದು, ಎಲ್ಲಿಂದ, ಏನು ಕೆಲಸ, ಅವತ್ತಿನ ಹವಾಮಾನ (ಹವಾಮಾನದ ಚರ್ಚೆ ಇಂಗ್ಲೆಂಡ್ ನವರಿಗೆ ಮಾತನಾಡಿ ಮುಗಿಯದ ವಿಷಯ, ನಮ್ಮ ಬೆಂಗಳೂರಿನವರಿಗೆ ಆಟೋ ಡ್ರೈವರುಗಳ ಕಿರುಕುಳ, ಸಿಲ್ಕ್ ಬೋರ್ಡ್ ಜಂಕ್ಷನಿನ ಟ್ರಾಫಿಕ್ ವಿಷಯ ಇದ್ದಂತೆ) ಇತ್ಯಾದಿ ಮುಗಿದ ನಂತರ ಬ್ರೆಕ್ಸಿಟ್ ವಿಷಯಕ್ಕೆ ಬಂದೇಬಿಡುತ್ತದೆ. ಎರಡು ತಿಂಗಳುಗಳ ಹಿಂದೆ ಬ್ರಿಟನ್ ಅವಿವೇಕ ರಾಜಕೀಯ ನಿರ್ಧಾರದಿಂದಾಗಿ ಯುರೋಪಿಯನ್ ಯೂನಿಯನ್ (ಈ.ಯು.) ನಿಂದ ಹೊರಬರಬೇಕೆಂಬ ಜನಾಭಿಪ್ರಾಯ ಹೊರಬಂದಿತ್ತು. ಈ ಜನಾಭಿಪ್ರಾಯ ನಿಜವಾಗಿಯೂ ಈ ರೀತಿ ತಿರುಗಬಹುದು ಎಂದು ಬೆಂಬಲಿಸಿದ ರಾಜಕಾರಣಿಗಳಾಗಲಿ, ಮತ ಚಲಾಯಿಸಿದ ಜನರಾಗಲಿ ನಿರೀಕ್ಷಿಸಿರಲಿಲ್ಲ. ಆ ಒಂದು ತೀರ್ಪು ಸಿರಿಯಾ, ಇರಾಕ್ ಇತ್ಯಾದಿ ದೇಶಗಳಿಂದ ವಲಸೆ ಬರುವವರ ವಿರುದ್ಧ, ಏರುತ್ತಿರುವ ಬೆಲೆ, ಕುಸಿಯುತ್ತಿರುವ ಕೆಲಸದ ಮಾರುಕಟ್ಟೆಯ ವಿರುದ್ಧ ಜನರ ಅಭಿಪ್ರಾಯ, ರಾಜಕಾರಣಿಗಳ ವಿರುದ್ಧ ಪ್ರತಿಭಟನೆಯಾಗಿತ್ತು. ವರುಶಾನುಗಟ್ಟಲೆಯಿಂದ ಕೇಳದ ಕೂಗು ಈ ಒಂದು ನಿರ್ಧಾರದ ರೂಪದಲ್ಲಿ ಚೀರುವ ಸ್ವರದಲ್ಲಿ ಪ್ರತಿಧ್ವನಿಸಿತು. ಈ.ಯು. ವಿನ ಪರ ಆಗಲಿ, ವಿರುದ್ಧವಾಗಲಿ ಇದು ಇರಲಿಲ್ಲವಂತೆ. ಎಷ್ಟರ ಮಟ್ಟಿಗೆ ಇದು ಈ.ಯು.ವಿನ ವಿಷಯವೇ ಆಗಿರಲಿಲ್ಲವೆಂದರೆ ತೀರ್ಪು ಘೋಷಿಸಿದ ಮುಂದಿನ ದಿನ ಗೂಗಲ್ ನಲಿ ಅತಿ ಹೆಚ್ಚು ಹುಡುಕಲಾದ ವಿಷಯ 'ಈ.ಯು. ಎಂದರೇನು?', 'ಈ.ಯು.ವಿನಿಂದ ಹೊರಗೆ ಹೋದರೆ ಅದರ ಪರಿಣಾಮವೇನು?' ಆಗಿತ್ತಂತೆ.

ಬ್ರೆಕ್ಸಿಟ್ ನಿಂದ ಏನಾಗಬಹುದು ಎಂಬುದು ಇನ್ನು ಯಾರಿಗೂ ಗೊತ್ತಿಲ್ಲ. ನಾನು ಭೇಟಿ ಮಾಡುತ್ತಿರುವ ಹೆಚ್ಚಿನವರು ಈ ದುರ್ಘಟನೆ ನಡೆಯಲೇ ಇಲ್ಲವೆಂದು ನಟಿಸುತ್ತಿದ್ದಾರೆ. ಅಥವಾ ಪೂರ್ತಿ ನಿರಾಕಾರ. ಎರಡು ತಿಂಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಒಂದು ಇಂಚು ಸಹ ಮುಂದುವರಿಯದ್ದಿದಾಗ ಇನ್ನು ಮುಂದೆಯೂ ಏನೂ ಆಗದಿರಬಹುದು ಎಂಬ ನಂಬಿಕೆ. ಇಲ್ಲಿ ಬ್ರೆಕ್ಸಿಟ್, ಬ್ರಿಟನ್ ನ ರಾಜಕೀಯ, ಈ.ಯು. ಇತ್ಯಾದಿ ಭಾರತಕ್ಕೆ ಪರಿಣಾಮ ಬೀರಬೇಕಾದರೆ ನಾವೂ ಸಹ ಕಾದು ನೋಡಬೇಕಷ್ಟೆ. ಪೌಂಡಿನ ಬೆಲೆ ಅದಾಗಲೇ ಕುಸಿದಿದೆ, ಪ್ರವಾಸಿಗರಿಗೆ ಒಳ್ಳೆದಾದರೂ, ಇಲ್ಲಿ ಕೆಲಸ ಮಾಡಿ ಭಾರತಕ್ಕೆ ಹಣ ಕಳಿಸುವ ಅದೆಷ್ಟೋ ಸಾವಿರ ಲಕ್ಷ ಭಾರತೀಯರಿಗೆ ಕೆಟ್ಟ ಸುದ್ಧಿಯಾಗಿ ಉಳಿದಿದೆ. ಬ್ರೆಕ್ಸಿಟ್ ನ ವಿಷಯ ಅದೆಷ್ಟೇ ಈ ದ್ವೀಪದ ಆಂತರಿಕ ರಾಜಕೀಯ ವಿಷಯವಾದರೂ ಭಾರತಕ್ಕೆ, ಉಳಿದ ದೇಶಗಳಿಗೆ ಪರಿಣಾಮ ಬೀರದೆ ಇರಲು ಅಸಾಧ್ಯ.

ಯಾವ ಮನುಷ್ಯನೂ ಒಬ್ಬ ದ್ವೀಪವಲ್ಲ/ ತನ್ನಲ್ಲೇ ಸಂಪೂರ್ಣ/ ಪ್ರತಿಯೊಬ್ಬ ಮನುಷ್ಯನೂ ಖಂಡದ ಒಂದು ಭಾಗ/ಇಡಿಯ ಒಂದು ಭಾಗ ಎಂದು ಆಂಗ್ಲ ಕವಿ ಜಾನ್ ಡೋನ್ ಹದಿನೇಳನೇ ಶತಮಾನದಲ್ಲಿ ಬರೆದ್ದಿದ್ದ. ಒಂದು ದ್ವೀಪ ಬರಿಯ ಒಂದು ದ್ವೀಪವಲ್ಲ.

ಆ ಗೂಗಲ್ ವಿಷಯ ಕೇಳಿದೊಡನೆ ನನಗೆ ಅಚ್ಚರಿ ಮೂಡಿಸಿದ್ದು ಒಂದೇ ಒಂದು ವಿಷಯ, ಜನರು ಈಗಿನ ಜಾಗತೀಕರಣ, ಬಂಡವಾಳಶಾಹಿ ಜಗತ್ತಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಅಷ್ಟು ಮೂರ್ಖರೇ ಎಂಬುದು. ಆದರೆ ಒಂದು ನಿಮಿಷ ನಿಂತು ಯೋಚಿಸಿದರೆ ಇದರಲ್ಲಿ ಅಷ್ಟು ಹುಬ್ಬೇರಿಸುವ ವಿಷಯ ಹೆಚ್ಛೇನಿಲ್ಲ. ಮಾಹಿತಿ ಎಂಬ ವಸ್ತು ಹಲವು ರೀತಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಮಾರಾಟವಾಗುವ ಈ ಜಗತ್ತಿನಲ್ಲಿ ರಾಜಕೀಯ ಐಡಿಯಾಗಳು ಸಹ ಮಾರಾಟವಾಗುತ್ತವೆ, ಒಂದು ಮಿಥ್ ಅಥವಾ ಪುರಾಣದ ರೂಪದಲ್ಲಿ. ಬ್ರೆಕ್ಸಿಟ್ ಸಂಧರ್ಭದಲ್ಲಿ ಇದು ಬ್ರಿಟನ್ ಮತ್ತೆ 'ಗ್ರೇಟ್' ಆಗಬೇಕಾದರೆ ಈ.ಯು.ವಿನಿಂದ ಹೊರಬರಬೇಕು ಎಂಬ ಸಂದೇಶ ಹೊರಡಿಸಲಾಗಿತ್ತು. ಅಮೆರಿಕಾದ ಕಡೆ ಗಮನ ಹರಿಸಿದರೆ ರಾಷ್ಟ್ರಪತಿ ಆಗಿಯೇಬಿಡುವನೋ ಎಂಬಂತಿರುವ ಡೊನಾಲ್ಡ್ ಟ್ರಂಪ್ ಅಮೆರಿಕಾವನ್ನು 'ಗ್ರೇಟ್' ಮಾಡುತ್ತೇನೆ ಎಂಬ ಘೋಷಣೆಯನ್ನು ಮಾಡಿದ್ದಾನೆ. ಇಂತಹಾ ಪುರಾಣಗಳು ಜಾಹೀರಾತು ಮತ್ತು ಭಯಾನಕ ಪ್ರೊಪಗಾಂಡಾ ದ ಮಧ್ಯೆ ನಿಲ್ಲುತ್ತದೆ. ಅವೆರಡು ನೇರವಾಗಿ, ಖಡಕ್ ಆಗಿ ತಮ್ಮ ಸಂದೇಶವನ್ನು ಹೇಳುವುದಾದರೆ, ಇಂತಹಾ ಕಟ್ಟು ಕಥೆಗಳು, ಒಂದು ವಸ್ತು, ವ್ಯಕ್ತಿ ಅಥವಾ ಐಡಿಯಾವನ್ನು ಮಾರಲು ಉಪಯೋಗಿಸುವ ಪುರಾಣಗಳು ಅತೀ ಸೂಕ್ಷ್ಮವಾಗಿ ಜನರ ತಲೆಯನ್ನು ಹೊಕ್ಕುತ್ತದೆ. ಅಲ್ಲೇ ಅಪಾಯ. ಆಯ್ಕೆಯ ಹಕ್ಕು ಇರುತ್ತದೆ ಎಂದು ಜನರನ್ನು ನಂಬಿಸಿದರೂ ಒಂದು ಹಂತದವರೆಗೆ ಮಾತ್ರ ಆ ಆಯ್ಕೆಯನ್ನು ಮಾಡಬಹುದಷ್ಟೆ. ಅದೆಲ್ಲೋ ಒಂದು ವಷ್ಟುವನ್ನು ಕೊಂಡುಕೊಳ್ಳುವುದರ ಬದಲು ಅದರ ಹಿಂದೆ ಇರುವ (ಕಟ್ಟು) ಕಥೆಯನ್ನು ಕೊಂಡುಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಶುರುಮಾಡುತ್ತೇವೆ.

ಸಾವಯವ ತರಕಾರಿ ದೇಹಕ್ಕೆ ಒಳ್ಳೇದು, ನಿಜ. ಆದರೆ ಅದೇ ಸಾವಯವ ತರಕಾರಿ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ಇನ್ನೊಂದು ಮೂಲೆಯಿಂದ ಬಂದಿದ್ದರೆ ಅದಕ್ಕೆ ಸೇರಿರುವ ಕಾರ್ಬನ್ ಫುಟ್ ಪ್ರಿಂಟ್ ಅಥವಾ ಅಲ್ಲಿಂದ ಇಲ್ಲಿಗೆ ತರಲು ಉಪಯೋಗಿಸಿದ ಶಕ್ತಿ ಭೂಮಿಗೆ ಭಾರವನ್ನು ಹೆಚ್ಚಿಸುತ್ತದೆ. ಆಗ ನಾವು ಕೊಂಡುಕೊಳ್ಳುತ್ತಿರುವುದು ಒಳ್ಳೇದೇ ಅಥವಾ...? ನವಉದಾರವಾದ ಆರ್ಥಿಕ ನೀತಿ ಇಪ್ಪತೈದು ವರ್ಷಗಳ ಹಿಂದೆ ಭಾರತದಲ್ಲಿ ಪರಿಚಯಿಸಿದಾಗ ಅದೊಂದು ಯುಟೋಪಿಯ, ಒಂದು ಸ್ವರ್ಗವನ್ನು ಕಲ್ಪಿಸುತ್ತದೆ ಎಂದು ಹೇಳಿ ಮಾರಲಾಗಿತ್ತು. ಇದೀಗ ಜಗತ್ತಿನೆಲ್ಲೆಡೆ ಈ ಉದಾರವಾದ ನೀತಿ ಎಲ್ಲದಕ್ಕೂ ಉತ್ತರವಲ್ಲ ಎಂದು ಆರ್ಥಿಕ ಶಾಸ್ತ್ರಜ್ಯ್ನಾರು ಒಪ್ಪಿಕೊಳ್ಳುತ್ತಿದ್ದಾರೆ.

ಹೊಳೆಯುವುದೆಲ್ಲಾ ಚಿನ್ನವಲ್ಲ. ಕೇಳಿದ್ದೆಲ್ಲ ಸತ್ಯವಲ್ಲ. ಪುರಾಣಗಳಂತೂ ಒಳ್ಳೆ ಅಜ್ಜಿ ಹೇಳುವ ಕಥೆಗಳಾಗಿ ಒಳ್ಳೇದೇ ಹೊರತು ಕಡು ಸತ್ಯವಲ್ಲ. 'ವಿಥ್ ಎ ಪಿಂಚ್ ಆಫ್ ಸಾಲ್ಟ್' ಎಂಬ ಗಾದೆಯಂತೆ ಈಗಿನ ರಾಜನೀತಿಯನ್ನು ಒಂದು ಚಿಟಿಕೆ ಉಪ್ಪಿನ ಜೊತೆ ತಿನ್ನಬೇಕು - ಇದ್ದದನ್ನು ಇದ್ದಹಾಗೆ ನಂಬದೆ. ಇಂತಹಾ ಪುರಾಣಗಳು ಎಲ್ಲೆಂದೆರಲ್ಲಿ ಇರುವಾಗ, ಸತ್ಯ-ಸುಳ್ಳು, ಅರೆ ಸತ್ಯ - ಅರೆ ಸುಳ್ಳುಗಳ ಮಧ್ಯೆ ಇರುವ ಗೆರೆಗಳು ಮಾಸಿ ಒಂದಾಗುತ್ತಿರುವಾಗ ಪರಿಹಾರವೇನು ಎಂಬುದು ನಾನರಿಯೆ. ಪ್ರಶ್ನೆಗಳು ಒಂದಾದ ಮೇಲೆ ಒಂದು ಮೂಡುತ್ತವೆ. ಬಿಡುವಂತಿಲ್ಲ, ಪರಿಣಾಮದಿಂದ ರಕ್ಷಿಸಿಕೊಳ್ಳುವಂತಿಲ್ಲ. ಯಾರೊಬ್ಬನೂ ಒಂದು ದ್ವೀಪವಲ್ಲ.