Friday, September 12, 2014

Oh, London!


When September began, that bewitching temptress of months, I turned another year and found myself to be in the city of cities, London. And might I just say, for starters and for the obvious lack of poetry - Oh, London, how pretty art thou!

An old soul wandering in an olde worlde - that's just the kind of escape my heart was longing for since days and the spontaneity of this trip is what makes it so incredible. Ever since we have been here, I've practically been all over the place: museum-hopping and walking past the now obscure residences of literary heavyweights; walking under the breathtaking weepy willows in a Alice-like stupor and learning the names of English roses in the royal parks; basking in the golden-green of the early autumn sun and enjoying the crackling crunch of russet leaves; childlike surprise upon spotting clumps of spring crocuses that seemed to have sprouted overnight in a great haste; oohing at the medieval architecture, a towering aspect of the city's majestic facade; experimenting the famous pub grub in the masculine-named English pubs along with cafe stalking, what with the addictive cappuccinos the city coffeehouses offer; the touristy fascinations of walking on centuries-old bridges and streets and marveling at the modern seductions added to a rapidly-changing cityscape; watching the sun set on the mythical Thames casting deep silhouettes on the the magical spires. Oh, it's all so overwhelming and surreal.
True, London can be intimidating, even terrifying at times, but a place where absolutely no one knows you can also be liberating in many ways. It is often so exhilarating to be a foreigner, to see a place with a pair of exotic, unbiased eyes. And I'll be doing just that for some more time. I purposely sat down today morning and hunted for a quote that would justify the myriad emotions I'm swimming in, for it is all too heady for me at the moment to construct a coherent post.

"The best bribe which London offers to-day to the imagination, is, that, in such a vast variety of people and conditions, one can believe there is room for persons of romantic character to exist, and that the poet, the mystic, and the hero may hope to confront their counterparts."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


Thursday, August 21, 2014

O Captain, my Captain!

(image courtesy: Pinterest)

It has been more than a week and the world's back to its usual, sad rounds. But some things take time to sink in. Even when you are far, far removed from its bleak actuality. You are still capable of feeling that ache, however feeble and tangential. You are still shaken, for days together, by the tragedy of it all. Such is how some people touch your lives. And he was one of them. 
Farewell, Robin Williams. Thank you for the laughs. And for that eternal twinkle in your now-happy, now-sad eyes. You'll be missed. Terribly.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The new view

It rains everyday. Sometimes in thunderous downpours but mostly in soothing lullabies. And when the dark clouds puff and rumble their way down, the coconut trees dance with a new-found greenness. For my green-deprived eyes, this is sheer visual poetry and much more when I realize that all this is happening when I'm still living in a big, bustling city. In India.
Of course there are the ubiquitous sky-hugging buildings too, that stand so assertively punctuating the green patch. Those rectangular dots of concrete, when strung together, that map the oxymoronic facade of this city. But on my side of the world here, unmindful of the cacophony of an always-on-its-toes city, the trees win. And so does the sky.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


"The city is not a concrete jungle, it's a human zoo."

~ Desmond Morris

A desk and chair by the window. An oddly quiet hotel room in contrast to the view it offers. Translucent beige drapes trying hard to veil the stark ugliness of a construction site. Another addition of the 'state-of-the-art elegance' to the already bursting-at-seams concrete jungle. Stray bits of news glare from the city daily's front page. I ignore them all, choosing a classic and my favorite Latin American in the world, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The subtle aroma of green tea with a hint of cinnamon and honey from a bag. The nervous anticipations of finding a place and fitting in to the rhythms of a maddeningly crowded city. The comforting assurances of old friends who are just a call and some kilometers away.
So that's me Bangalore-d for now. Though not in the strictest sense of the word. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

The perfect closure

Old roads. Strewn with gulmohar petals, dusted with a fading nostalgia. The play of sun and shade dancing on their parched faces. A stray bicycle leaning picturesquely on a tree. Trees and trees all around. Tall, stout, leaved to their very best of summer glory. Somewhere a peacock calls lazily. Not many anymore as in those days. The familiar taste of the paratha and potato curry in the Students' Canteen. And the more than familiar, bureaucratic superiority of the administrative staff. Revisiting the old spaces. The verdant nooks that helped many to escape the world. Be it badly turned assignments or matters of heart. Driving to the signboard 'School of Humanities' and taking a sharp U-turn. What if no one recognizes me? It has been a good seven years after all.

It feels like the perfect end to my love-hate relationship with this city. My second home and my first exposure to life outside my culture, this is a city that I had once loved to the brink of my heart never knowing that one day I'll be more than desperate to escape it. And I've realized, one necessarily doesn't bid farewell to the campus after passing out of the university. Or when you leave the city (for the second time) for that matter. It'll always live inside you. A stroll between the rows of cork trees, my favorite space in the whole of the sprawling 2,300 acres, was enough to tell me that. And whenever I'm there I'll always remember the wide-eyed, passionate young woman who had arrived one July morning, armed with her Shakespeare and Keats and a little of something that resembled a small-town shyness that has never quite left her.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A summer of bouquets

"... When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table ..."

~ T.S. Eliot, 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'

Last week, on a quintessential summer afternoon, we set out on a picture-taking long ride. As the mocking, piercing late-afternoon sun gradually began melting into a warm, golden twilight, things took a mellow turn. That is when Eliot's timeless poem struck me, when the sprawling, bougainvillea-laced roadside, draped with the pinkish-gold sheen took our breath away. We have always admired this green, wooded patch of about ten kilometres, a road that leads to my alma mater, the University of Hyderabad, but come summer and it turns into a different world altogether. Therefore, only passing by it and admiring nature's patchwork isn't enough; one has to capture their kaleidoscopic glory, the gorgeous pink-and-yellow embroidery of the bougainvilleas and the laburnums. A fine summer bouquet, I call it. Who would believe there's this huge concrete, IT jungle that lies coughing and panting right next to it!

The other bouquets, and none too pleasing as the above, that are looming large in our days is the hullabaloo of an upcoming move to a new city in June. This May marks the exact two years since we wrapped up our lives in Seattle for a much-debated return to the home country and now it's time to move again, to go through that uncomfortable process of leaving the old and adopting the new. And this time, unlike Hyderabad, it's an entirely new city. There's a world out there that doesn't know me and whom I don't know. Despite its claims of being the best city to settle in India for nomadic hearts like us, if you have been reading me for a while you probably know how and to what extent change bothers me. I am a creature of habit. To the core. But hopefully, with friends who go back a long way and with scenic getaways within hours' drives from the city, this time it'll be different. Hopefully, this time I'll be less complaining and more appreciative of my surroundings. Hopefully, this time I'll have a tree by my window and can watch the sky puff and roar when it rains. Hopefully.  

Monday, May 5, 2014

Of books and writers

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and the sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.” 

Ernest Hemingway

It rained yesterday, a good, earthy summer rain. It has been raining now and then since the last couple of weeks - the first moody spells of the year that have washed away the lifeless, sun-baked stagnancy off one and all. I hope they'll wipe the dusty panes of my mind too, and let me see the world more clearly so that some calm can be restored in my writing/blogging hours.
And so, somewhere between waiting for it to pour while grumpily editing a convoluted manuscript and the echoing persuasions of "you should write more often" from friends and family, these strikingly illuminating words of Hemingway happened. They further took me down memory lane, to a good ten years back when I had to present a paper on Hemingway's short stories as part of the semester-end evaluation for our Modern American Literature course. As an ode to his bizarre, very shortly-written short stories (there are some that are barely a page long), the title of my paper chuckled, 'The Difficulties of Reading Hemingway'. Being someone who worshiped Hardy and Keats and tried to emulate their romanticism, I wasn't too enthusiastic then about his curbed expressions and economic usage of words. Literature meant to describe, to paint a world laced with words. I remember the awkward look of our professor, who was quite the proverbial taskmaster, when very emphatically I ended my talk with how the great writer of his times finally shot himself in the head. Yes, I was that thoroughly tired of his brilliance that apparently the whole world got, but me. In stark contrast, over the recent years, I'm amazed at the candour that I find in his writing. The very understated style that once annoyed me now astonishes me - the art of saying so much in just a handful of words.
Not for nothing they say, you don't read a book once. As you grow, so does its world and the characters living inside it.

PS. My current reading stupour comes from Elif Shafak's The Bastard of Istanbul. A plot that skids between two completely different geographies - Istanbul and Arizona (peppered with bits of San Francisco as well) - and houses at least thirty characters of which about fifteen carry the narrative forward, it's a whirlwind of a read. At times I felt the urgent need of drawing a family tree so as to not lose track of who was where and when. But like I have said here before, the element that tugged at my heart amid this chaos was Istanbul - its charming cobbled streets, the call of the simit seller, the greedy seagulls hovering over a ferry on the Bosphorus, and the history that coats almost every building of the city. There lies the pull of the novel. So yes, go for the atmosphere and for a detailed critique of the general Turkish attitude toward the Armenian genocide.  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Earth, my dearest

"Earth, my dearest, oh believe me, you no longer need your springtimes to win me over...Unspeakably, I have belonged to you, from the flush."

~ Rilke

Yesterday was Earth Day. So thought would let her know. Albeit a little late. 

Here's to her beautiful blue-green curves! 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Tales of home and homecoming

"I let it go. It's like swimming against the current. It exhausts you. After a while, whoever you are, you just have to let go, and the river brings you home."

~ Joanne Harris

Last month, somewhere between the joy of basking in the elusiveness of a tropical spring and the sinking realization that it was almost summer, the river did bring me back home. There couldn't be a more befitting sequel to my search of home, my Bosphorus of the previous post. It all started with a trip home, with friends who had come from the exotic Mediterranean to see my state, Odisha. And the sights and smells that were once so familiar and so much a part of who I am today, came rushing back to me and how. 
Despite the initial moments of foreignness, I refused to succumb to the touristy trap of continuously being taken as the 'outsider' by the presumptuous guides and vendors. All the time, I was acutely aware of being armed with a certain pride, one that comes with the prior knowledge of one's homeland. Also, seeing it anew, after more than a decade and half, with people who did not belong to those places gave it a fresh coat of perspective. The scenes that once upon a time coloured the canvas of our childhood, had gradually, over the years, faded into the banalities of adulthood. But the fact that they were still somewhere inside me, the significant details, while answering the curiosity of our friends was no less than heroic. The exquisitely-carved dancing girls of Konark, the roadside display of vibrant colours and mirrors shimmering in the hot sun, the crimson dusk framed by groves of coconut trees - little by little, it all came back to me. Or perhaps, I went back to it.   

The lush green paddy fields. A melange of various greens; roadside poetry at its best. The Sun Temple at Konark, a world heritage site popular for its Kalinga architecture. Where Tagore had once claimed "the language of stone surpasses the language of men". The glimpses of a reluctant spring on a red cotton tree. On the ground, roadside swamps blanketed with beautiful water hyacinths and the cacophonous croak of frogs. The centuries-old Udayagiri caves which were built as monasteries for the 'arhats' (Jain monks) during the rule of King Kharavela. The Shanti Stupa at Dhauli, that magical place that offers one the perfect sanctuary away from the bustle of the capital city nearby. Blessed by Buddha, and an important site in the history of the Kalinga empire, an overwhelming serenity veils the place. Pipli, the little village known for its popular mirror-applique work. A visit to the Bay of Bengal sea mouth at Chilika Lake, the brackish wetland that's home to the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins, scurrying red crabs, and more than a hundred species of migratory birds that visit every year during the winters. A refreshing drink of tender-coconut water, the perfect cure for a hot, sticky day. Rowing back to the shore amid the soporific ripple of the waves and a breathtaking setting sun. Surely, homecoming couldn't be more picturesque. Or poetic.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

March musings

"A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image."

~ John Didion

When the other side of the globe looks forward to signs of change, to pearly sprouts of spring hopes, this side has begun anticipating the reign of a brutal sun and the imminent decay of anything and everything. Life and Death, spinning the wheels of the world.

A few days back, an Instagram friend asked me to which place did I belong and if I still lived in the US since my posts are pretty random without any chronological coherence, and the quirky hashtags #upperleftusa and #northwestisbest are used a lot to caption them. My answer was: "I live in Hyderabad now, my second time in the city followed by an earlier four-years' stint as a student though I belong to the coastal state of Odisha... and yes, we were in the States for almost five years". To this the friend replied: "You belong to so many places!", and that got me thinking.
I do after all, don't I? I even belong to places where I have lived only for a week, places that I've just been to as a tourist. Maybe belongingness comes easily to me, it's the uprootedness that I have a problem with. And in the process I have given shape to absent spaces, claimed certain parts and people of those places as mine and in turn, made them a part of my little world. How effortlessly I belong to each one of them, ever so easily like wearing a new skin, partaking in their joys and miseries equally. And therefore, I cannot help but mull over these geographies from time to time, be it the fate of the people or simply the changing seasons.

These days I go back to Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul: Memories and the City a lot, a book that I started reading some six months back and have been deliberately procrastinating to reach its end. It's so sensually rich in nostalgia and so brilliant is Pamuk's rendition of his city, that one immediately feels his aching love for the much-fabled streets of Istanbul. An acute sense of loss and melancholy hangs like a light but omnipresent fog throughout the memoir which is beautifully laced with black and white photographs of the city as Pamuk has seen and known it. One sentence that often comes back to me from the book is: "Life can't be all that bad," i'd think from time to time. 'Whatever happens, i can always take a walk along the Bosphorus."

Which is my Bosphorus then? The beach and the mango trees that I call home? Or the view of the misty Cascades that I know as home? Or the disarming smiles of the Himalayan faces amid whom I feel most at home? Or the dusty streets of an old city that I had once proudly boasted of as my second home?

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Taj Mahal. The first glimpse.

There are places that mesmerize you. There are some that sing to you. Others listen to you, borrow your sorrows for a while, and even heal a deep-seated wound or two. Then there's the Taj - it does all of that and then, just claims a portion of your heart, a considerable size, and simply refuses to give it back. In alluring echos, it calls your name again and again till you return one day. And return I did last month.

Legend goes that if you turn and look back, just once, while leaving through the gigantic gateway, you are bound to come back one day. It was a sultry June afternoon, the kind that sticks to your skin when the monsoons are just a taunting fortnight away. A wide-eyed teenager and all of just 14, I wasn't sure of many things back then. But I do recall a feeling of sadness, one that was beyond my years or being to fathom, that had lightly touched my shoulders while leaving the place. I also remember being so overwhelmed by what I saw that I was unusually quiet for most of the day, as if to speak would break the spell.
Only this time the magic became somewhat decipherable, but not enough for me to put it into words. Not yet. Perhaps it is something about not being able to bottle the wonder, the exquisiteness and bring it back with you; for try as much you would capturing it, inch by inch, standing there in front of it and getting awed by every single detail is something else altogether. The unparalleled Mughal architecture, the poetry in every little motif, and the strange calm in the midst of a frenzied crowd - it is nothing short of a trance when they all come together. And I am still swooning in it.

Through the Great Gate, when the sky was blue for a moment or two. The cliched, postcard Taj from the entrance. The beautifully landscaped Mughal gardens. The Taj Mahal mosque and its stunning sandstone interior. Photogenic doors with years of history locked behind them. A peek of the Taj from the mosque's entrance. The eastern view of the mausoleum. One of the four minarets framed by a misty Yamuna in the backdrop. The latticed entrance to the tomb, displaying the signature 'jali' work of Islamic architecture. Its walls plastered with breathtaking Persian plant motifs with colorful 'pietra dura' on the borders. The geometrically patterned marble of the huge dome. Calligraphy of Persian poems on the arch shoulders of the tomb. A very wintry view of the Taj as a resolute fog gives way to an early dusk. Quietly flows the Yamuna.

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