December 30, 2011

Farewell 2011...

Whenever the year draws to a close, it has been a ritual of mine to indulge in a stock-taking of sorts; actually, that makes it sound a lot more mundane than it actually is but what it involves is basically a reflection/retrospection on the year that has passed by and the  varied experiences, events, and people it has brought into my life. It is so easy to declare that time simply flies by and thus, amounts  to precious little of significance but when you are actually recollecting and documenting it in a sense (in my case, my journal), it's amazing to see how much has happened and how much you take away from each year. Also, as I prefer affirmations to New Year Resolutions (there is something inherently breakable in the phrase itself!), it's a good place to reorient yourself and write down positive affirmations.

Well, one of my affirmations last year was definitely to start a blog - and I must say that initiating and maintaining it has been one of my proudest and most enjoyable experiences this year. As I mentioned here, I had been thinking of starting a blog for years but for some reason, never quite got around to doing it.  Having begun in April, I have really enjoyed having had the opportunity to share my thoughts, ramblings, and views over here - and more importantly, I would like to thank each and every reader who has ventured by here and taken the time to read my thoughts and comment upon them! Here's to more good blogging times ahead in 2012:)
As a farewell 2011 post, I thought that I would keep the rambling short and sweet and instead give you a list of a few things that I just happened to stumble upon this year and enjoyed that moment of discovery. I genuinely believe that the unexpected often brings us the most joy and serendipitous discoveries are what add that elusive flavor to your life.

Let's see what serendipitous joys 2012 has for us:) 

So here it is:

i) Kun Faya Kun - Rockstar

As I remarked over here, I have become quite disenchanted with Bollywood lately. However, I was looking forward to seeing Rockstar though but unfortunately, just couldn't get around to doing so. Nevertheless, I enjoyed its music and the soul-stirring timbres of this song apart, I love the fact that the song has been picturized in Nizamuddin Dargah, Delhi. I haven't been there yet but the atmosphere, colors, and visuals are testimony enough as to what I have been missing out on. The famous qawwals every Wednesday over here are an unforgettable experience, I have heard.

ii) The Library Phantom Sculptor

This story by far is one of the sweetest and enchanting stories I have heard in a while. An anonymous sculptor leaves behind ten beautiful little paper sculptures in libraries and museums all across Edinburgh, Scotland as a token of gratitude for these special places...

iii) Beaches...

By now, regular readers of this blog may have become aware of my overwhelming love for beaches:) This image has been taken in one of the most stunning beaches I have discovered in Oman so far - I sincerely hope it remains this pristine and breath-taking in the future. 

iv) Nirupama Lohtia's 'Chand Mahal' photograph series

Old, abandoned buildings, the full-moon, history submerged in the blueness of the walls: 'Chand Mahal' or 'The Moon Palace' indeed. What a wonderful image to abstract narratives from....

v) Mora Saiya (Fuzon)

I know, I know, this song is quite old but I just happened to discover it this summer itself. Interestingly enough, while I was in India, I listened to a radio narrative (for want of a better word), in which the narrator narrated his tale, interspersing it with songs, which subsequently carried the momentum of the story forward. While I had heard the song before, I somehow paid much more attention it in the context of the radio narrative. Beautifully sung and such poignant lyrics.

Well, dear readers, here's wishing you a very very Happy New Year - hope the coming year brings much happiness to you all and I hope you continue to visit and enjoy reading the blog.

See you next year!

December 16, 2011

The Many Moons of Our Lives

Once upon a time, I used to write poetry. A lot of it, in fact - so much that I had already published three volumes of poetry, Silent Moments, Into My Own World, and The Poetic Journey by the time I had finished school. However, while pursuing my undergraduate degree in creative writing, I found myself gravitating towards fiction to such an extent that I quit writing poetry altogether - and it has been years since I have written a poem that I am satisfied with (ie meets my exacting self-imposed creative writing standards). In the meantime, a strange thing happened though. While I was busy writing poetry, I scarcely ever read poetry - actually, I had no desire to read poetry, thinking that it could not offer the same kind of pleasure or solace that prose could. Yet, as my poetry writing declined, I found myself turning to reading poetry and subsequently discovered many wonderful poets, economy of expression and mining layers of words able to induce that fireworks of appreciation that pages of prose cannot induce at times.

I must confess that in this internet age, I haven't been reading as much and my poetry consumption has declined greatly. However, chancing upon this wonderful poem by Jacob Polley, October, that my former creative writing tutor posted on facebook few days ago made me vividly remember the fierce power of poetry both in terms of reading - and creating it.

Before I introduce the poem to you, a word about moons. Taking an interest in astrology and having been bit of an astronomy geek, I am particularly fascinated by the moon - terms of a space object, its astrological influences, and as a cultural/aesthetic/visual reference point. I also love the idea that no matter what happens, the waxing and waning of the moon will remain that one constant in life. Having been born on a full moon, I am aware of the many myths and beliefs associated with it - but in the end, for me, there is nothing quite as gloriously beautiful as a full, round  bronze moon embedded in the nocturnal sky. 


Jacob Polley

Although a tide turns in the trees
       the moon doesn't turn the leaves,
though chimneys smoke and blue concedes
       to bluer home-time dark.

Though restless leaves submerge the park
       in yellow shallows, ankle-deep,
and through each tree the moon shows, halved
       or quartered or complete,

the moon's no fruit and has no seed,
       and turns no tide of leaves on paths
that still persist but do not lead
       where they did before dark.

Although the moonstruck pond stares hard
       the moon looks elsewhere. Manholes breathe.
Each mind's a different, distant world
       this same moon will not leave.

Source: Poetry (September 2006).

December 15, 2011

Travel yearnings...

Some people make New Year's Resolutions as the year approaches to a close. I, for one, am creating a travel wish-list with the hope that the coming year will grant me my desire to travel to at least one of the places on my list! Well, if you subscribe to the philosophy that if you really want something, the whole universe will conspire to present it to you... let's hope the universe is conspiring and how!

Here is presenting my rather indulgent travel wish-list:

Egypt: Cairo street scene

Lucky Ali's O Sanam

i) Egypt: I have been wanting to visit Egypt since I was eight years old and in third grade and we were told to select a country that we would like to create a research project about. I remember a classmate and I both chose Egypt but I ultimately won the hotly contested competition, ha and thus, began my love affair with Egypt. Afterward, I read up a great deal on the ancient Egyptians, their mythology, pyramids, and indeed, contemporary Egypt itself, especially Cairo - for some reason, the more I read and accessed about the country, the more it became vivid in my mind, as if I already knew it well. Also, in the good old days of Indipop (I really seem to be in a nostalgia overdrive lately!), Lucky Ali's song, O Sanam, shot in Cairo, also became immensely popular. I reckon that I will feel right at home once I eventually land in Egypt (or so I like to think)! I have also re-read one of my favorite authors, Ahdaf Soueif's novels and books, The Map of Love, In the Eye of the Sun, Aisha, and Sandpiper several times in which she beautifully conveys the craziness, warmth, atmosphere, and chaos that's Egypt. Fingers crossed, 2012 is the year I eventually make it to Egypt.

Machu Picchu

 ii) Machu Picchu, Peru: It's amazing as to how many of our travel yearnings are rooted in our childhood. Take Machu Picchu, for instance - I have Nancy Drew to thank for this particular travel yearning, ha. One of her detective stories was set in Machu Picchu and since then, I have been wanting to explore Incan civilization's abandoned city in the Peruvian mountains. I strongly believe that ancient civilisations' powerful energies must have still left an influence on these places and it is unsurprising that Machu Picchu still continues to attract visitors by the hordes. I recently read a great novel, The Celestine Prophecy, in which Machu Picchu plays an integral role - it's such an interesting book that I will resist saying more and save it for another post. Meanwhile, returning to Machu Picchu, of course, it's another thing to reach the place itself! Stylish trekking gear, anyone:)?

Alhambra Palace, Granada, Spain

iii) Granada, Spain: The Moorish architechure over here is breathtakingly beautiful, not to mention other great love of mine: Islamic gardens. It would probably be difficult to pry me away from such temples of beauty, honestly speaking.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

iv) Istanbul, Turkey - There is no doubt that literature has had a great role to play in influencing the choice of places that I wish to travel to. While Turkey has always been in my mind, it was Nobel literature laureate, Orhan Pamuk's sensitively written ode to his city, Istanbul that made me want to explore this city steeped in melancholy beauty: the architechure, its iconic mosque, Hagia Sophia (the name itself is so romantic), and traces of its previous incarnation, Constantinople. On a more material (or rather, my shopaholic side), the Grand Bazaar is something I absolutely cannot wait to explore (and shop in!)

Stunning Simla mountainscape

v) Simla, India - I have often said over here in this blog itself that I definitely think I am a beach person. However, the mysterious beauty of wooded hills, the warmth emanating from fireplaces in spooky colonial mansions, and the beguiling Himalayas in the distance are definitely worth experiencing and what better place than the hill stations of northern India? Plus, I am a buff for all things colonial and Simla certainly fits that bill as well, having been the summer capital of India during the Raj. I did visit Simla as a child but I certainly cannot remember much except for having been served plate-sized bhaturas on the Mall Road. Till date, whenever I eat chole-bhature, I cannot help but remember those garguantan bhature:)


vi) Ladakh, India - I think the picture above will amply illustrate as to why I am craving to visit this northern region of India. Being in a place such as this will be soul-cleansing what with the incredible blue skies, the stark landscape, the unsullied waters - and the sheer stillness and silence. 

What is on your travel-wish list?

Images courtesy Nami Interiors, Ladakh Tourism, Trek Earth, Macchu Picchu Travel,

December 14, 2011

Hitler Didi: Stories of Rooftops

Rati Pandey playing Hitler Didi
First off, the title of this post:- yes, Hitler Didi, indeed. When I first heard the name of this newly begun show on Zee TV, I was immediately skeptical and dismissive. The fact is that post Ekta Kapoor's arrival in the world of Hindi television, Hindi TV soaps have become an identical blur of over-cooked, regressive plotlines, faux havelis, women dressed up to the nines in bling-central, draconian mother-in-laws, conniving /long-suffering,  beatific expression-wearing daughter-in-laws, and the concept of nuance, subtlety, and elegance having entirely disappeared altogether in the clamor of background music and decibel-defying melodrama and dress-sense (phew! rant over:) I honestly cannot distinguish between the large majority of Hindi soaps nowadays and have no particular desire to do so either. Yet...once upon a time when I was a teenager, Hindi soaps were slices of life, with ordinary bungalows and drawing rooms and conversations  about life and feelings were conducted in cars and garden coffee-shops and the characters wore the same clothes and shoes over the course of episodes and in general, were familiar and identifiable entities. (90s  Hindi TV soap aficionados: remember Sailaab or Hip Hip Hurray or Daraar?)

So yes, the name, Hitler Didi did not exactly warm the cockles of my heart; however, after tuning into a couple of episodes, I was pleasantly surprised to see an engaging depiction of a fiercely independent young woman, Indira, who runs her home and family in Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, with martial discipline (hence the moniker bestowed upon her, Hitler Didi) in lieu of her absent father, who has re-married and lives elsewhere. To be perfectly honest, apart from an eccentric, whimsical cast of characters and personalities and a storyline that has not descended into saas-bahu [mother-in-law-daughter in-law] kitchen politics as of yet (well, except for current track in which Indira travels to Venetian Macau of all places to chase up  her errant younger sister, Mandira, who has run away from home!) I have to admit that I am greatly enjoying the fact that the show is shot in a quaint court-yarded, multi-leveled house in and streets of Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi. I especially like how the roof offers much space of drama and interaction. In a recent episode, a neighbor, an elderly woman, who is perpetually to be found sitting on her roof, provides a revealing commentary to Indira about Mandira's antics in her quest to rebuff a suitor, upon their roof, which Indira otherwise would not have been privy to. It made me recall my own rooftop experiences.

In this post, I mention my fondness for my ancestral home or haveli and one of my chief amusements was to stand upon on the haveli roof during the evenings and literally be witness to the individual dramas occurring on the various roofs surrounding us. Admittedly, the elevation of the haveli protected us from being watched while we in turn could look down upon the little stories being played about on each of the roofs, admittedly eavesdropping upon their personal universes. In this country of roofs, truly, no one is invisible and everyone is simultaneously a performer and audience member.

Old Jodhpur city roofs

It proved to be the inspiration for this fictional short story of mine, Nothing At All, which was published in the Word Masala 2011 Vol 1 anthology this January:


Every evening, at precisely five pm, Dadi would finish drinking her tea and ask Munni to take her to the peepal-tree temple across the house. In the beginning of my stay, I accompanied Dadi once or twice but afterwards, I preferred to spend the twilight up on the roof instead.

After few days, I started to recognize the occupants of the roofs around me: it was hard not to, considering the proximity that we lived in. There was the woman, who washed and painstakingly combed out the knots from her waist length hair every evening, the pair of giggling school-girls, sisters presumably, they resembled each other so, and a silent triad of teenage boys who half-heartedly coaxed a kite into the air while discreetly glancing at the girls. 

Sometimes, when Dadi settled down to gossip with relatives or acquaintances at the temple, she would send Munni ahead to start preparing dinner. Munni, in turn, would steal up to the roof, ostensibly to cut the vegetables whilst happy to bask in the last few warm rays of the sun before it disappeared. 

Munni was a repository of all the neighborhood gossip and took it upon as her duty to educate me about our neighbors. “That lady, with the long hair,” she said, sitting cross-legged and shelling peas. “She’s a school-teacher but everyone says she should have been a lawyer.  The way she argues! Even her mother in law’s scared of her.” She knew the girls too, having played with them when she was a child and her mother used to make rotis at their house. “But they stopped saying hello to me many years ago,” she remarked matter of factly. 

If Munni was present, I would become so involved in her gossip that I barely even noticed the neighbors; by the time the sun set, they had all retreated downstairs and Munni and I too left, prepared to receive a fresh batch of neighborhood gossip from Dadi herself.  

One evening, I climbed up to the roof only to notice that most of the roofs were empty; the school-teacher was not drying her hair and the giggling sisters too had not appeared today. The boys briefly came up but did not linger long, perhaps disappointed that the sisters were not around. That evening, surrounded by empty squares of roofs, I felt unaccountably alone, bereft even. Over the time, my neighbors had come to accept my presence as I had theirs. They had undoubtedly heard of me through the grapevine themselves; yet, we had found ourselves befriending each other by gaze, if not words, raising our hands in greeting before returning to our respective worlds.  

I picked up my cup of tea and sipped it but it had already become cold. I debated whether to return downstairs and make myself another cup. Yet, I felt stifled in the house at this time of the day and I remained on the roof, staring up into the sky as it turned sapphire in anticipation of the night. The air was a soup of sounds. I could hear the azaan being called out for the evening prayers; in five minutes or so, the aarti bells would begin ringing at the peepal-tree temple. Someone nearby had just switched on their radio, unshackling a cupboard of tunes. 

As I absently surveyed the roofs around me, I noticed one that I had not seen before. One corner of the roof was filled with a variegated collection of potted plants while the other was occupied by a couple: a long-haired young man sitting on a charpoy while the woman in a sari and cardigan leaned against the balustrade, looking up into the sky. I remained there watching them until night fell and Munni came up to fetch me; all that time, they had sat in silence, the man watching the woman, who never pried her eyes away from the sky. 

Afterwards, I saw them every evening, the same scene unspooling with unfailing regularity: the man, on the charpoy, the woman looking out towards the vanishing sun, both of them never conversing, not even looking at each other.  

Munni visited me on the roof several evenings later with a fresh cauliflower in tow.  I had previously never resented Munni’s presence yet I had lately become accustomed to being by myself on the roof, as much in my own, inviolate space as my neighbors were in theirs on their respective roofs.  And yet, did I also dread Munni’s arrival because she would surely tell me about the couple?  

Munni did not immediately notice them, in fact. She had had an altercation with her brother’s wife in the morning and unburdened herself about that first. “I only eat breakfast at my house and even then, that witch cannot make two rotis for me. It’s not as if I am putting an entire tin of ghee on them,” she said, viciously tearing florets off the cauliflower head. 

I saw that the couple was talking today for the first time, although it was the man who mostly spoke; the woman merely appeared to respond, not even deigning to look back at him. 

“Didi? What are you looking at?” Munni asked, peering above my shoulder before disgustedly turning her face away.  “Please, Didi, don’t even look in that direction.” 

“Why?” I asked brusquely.

“Arre, that boy – his name is Angad. What a goonda he is. Used to spend all his time chasing girls of the mohalla and passing cheap remarks. He once even said something to me and if my brother had not been there with me, I would have slapped him,” she spat out. “And a good thing that I listened to my brother.  You see, that girl, his wife? She slapped him when he tried to misbehave with her – and he was so angry that he got her engagement broken and instead married her himself to take revenge.”

“How do you know these things, Munni?” 

“My cousin sister’s brother in law works at Angad’s house – he was the one who told us,” Munni said, holding up a floret to check that no green caterpillars lurked within the branches. “And his wife, Didi, she was such a beautiful, decent girl. But this Angad ruined her reputation and she had no choice but to marry him.”

My eyes strayed towards the couple again: they had lapsed into their perpetual silence, the woman’s eyes as always impaled on to the sky. The man continued to watch the woman, as if in hope of catching her eye; yet, she did not look at him, not even once.  

The following evening, though, I noticed that the couple was not there. I waved to the sisters, the boys, and the school-teacher. I finished my tea, completed my daily ritual of staring up into the sky and losing myself in its blueness, and then, looked out towards the couple’s roof again; I only saw the pots of plants huddled together. I wondered who grew the plants: the woman did, perhaps. 

My time on the roof became increasingly truncated as the evenings turned colder; sometimes, all I could manage was to drink my tea before being compelled to retreat downwards. The couple remained absent from the roof although I occasionally saw the man sitting on the charpoy.  Even though I yearned to ask Munni if she had had heard anything, I did not.

I had just reached upstairs one evening when I heard an argument being bitterly hurled into the air. It was not the first time that I had had been privy to fragments of conversations while up on the roof; they had swirled around in the air, along with the many other sounds of the neighborhood, eventually becoming unheard and unnoticed. Yet, there was something so acid about this argument that I could not ignore it. I glanced around only to see the couple on the roof again: the woman was smashing the plant pots, one by one, earth and plants briefly clouding the air, while the man beseeched her to stop. After a while, he ceased to say anything, merely watching her as he had done all those days. Around them, the other roof occupants too watched them, too transfixed to move and unwilling to stop being participants in the drama themselves. 

After the last pot had been smashed, the woman collapsed on to the charpoy, sobbing; the man sat by her and put his arm around her shoulder. When she didn’t push it away, I finally found myself turning, feeling horribly disoriented, as if I had eaten too much and yet, still felt hunger gnawing my stomach. I noticed that my neighbors were also dispersing and made my way downstairs only to encounter Munni.

“Didi! You must have seen everything – the girl breaking the pots! I heard that they had had a fight-“

“Munni,” I said. “I don’t want to know.”

“But, Didi…”

I pushed past her, scrambling down the steps; when I reached downstairs, I heard Dadi calling out to me. 

“Have you come back?” she asked. “What do you find so interesting up there, Garima?”

I leaned back against the wall. “Nothing, Dadi. Nothing at all.”


December 7, 2011

Vintage SRK: Koi Na Koi Chaiye...

I have been in nostalgia mode lately: perhaps, it's the end of the year that's put me into it? Anyhow,  last week, I happened to catch Shah Rukh Khan's debut film, Deewana and then, spotted Filmfare's nostalgia issue, celebrating 60 years of Filmfare icons. While the issue itself was a treasure trove for Hindi film buffs, chronicling the icons, their stories, and exclusive photographs, what initially attracted me was the decision to use a 1995 joint portrait of Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan as the cover. When I first glimpsed the magazine, my mind immediately registered them as SRK and Amitabh Bachchan, their faces so firmly established in my visual memory...yet, it was only thirty seconds later that I realised they were younger versions of the present selves that I now associate them with. I thought it was a pretty good idea to use this image as the cover (although there is another one inside of a visibly more relaxed and smiling SRK with AB that I personally preferred to the cover image).

I have never really been a fangirl of the Khan triumvirate, I must say. Yes, if given a choice, I would usually prefer to see Aamir Khan's films but it is not as if I *have* to see them - and I am probably amongst the few people on the planet who honestly could not see what the fuss about 3 Idiots was all about, for example (I vastly preferred Raju Hirani's Lage Raho Munnabhai). In fact, my favorite AK movie happens to be Sarfarosh (1999). Similarly, in regard to Salman Khan, I would much rather read his interviews, than watch Bodyguard/Wanted (Dabang was an exception though!). However, when  it comes to SRK, for some reason, I especially have a soft corner for his early films.

Unlike Aamir or Salman Khan, who debuted when I was too young to remember (or rather, could not appreciate the significance of), I distinctly remember watching Deewana with my late maternal grandmother and watching SRK's introductory song, 'Koi Na Koi Chaiye.' Growing up in Oman, we watched practically every single Hindi film that was available on video and as my grandmother became especially fond of Divya Bharati, we wound up watching Deewana more than once. After that, I recall watching Dil Aashna Hai, Chamatkar, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, and Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, which all represented SRK's pre-Baazigar filmography and reflected his pre-official stardom days. There was such raw, unadulterated energy to SRK then, which was such a departure from the established stars of those days and his contemporaries - and an undeniable freshness and newness to his persona, never mind if it was not in the chocolate box cuteness of say, Aamir Khan. (Interestingly, in the Filmfare issue mentioned above, this is what SRK had to say about his performance in Deewana: I am glad the film has done well but my performance was awful. I was vulgar, loud, and uncontrolled. I overacted and take full responsibility for it. I have saved copies of Filmfare from 1995 onwards and it's really interesting to chart the changes that have occurred in SRK's interviews since - I personally think he made much better copy in the 90s!)

I guess, my fondness for SRK's vintage days happens to coincide with a period when I was a huge Bollywood buff: I used to eagerly await for every movie, read all that I could about the stars, and one of my greatest wishes then was to witness a film shoot. Over the years (apart from still remaining clued in onto the gossip - old habits die hard!), though, I have been experiencing much disenchantment with Bollywood - the lens have become jaundiced, and thanks to their instant accessibility via Twitter/facebook /electronic media,  the stars have stepped down to earth and become mortals. Bollywood albeit hasn't quite lost its masala - yet, there is something missing from its palate. Of course, I would be the last person to say that I am deeply apologetic that the era of the masala, formulaic Bollywood film is over...yet, even so, the so-bad-that-they-are-good 80s/early 90s films had a curious charm of their own and whenever I see glimpses of them, I can't help but be transported back to my childhood, that time where it was so easy to slip from the confines of your life and into the rambunctious energy of movies...

Well...before I become too maudlin, here's presenting few of my favorite vintage SRK songs - if you have any that you did like to share, please feel free to do so:)

                                                Koi Na Koi Chaiye - Deewana (1992)

                                          Kya Hua - Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman (1993)

                                    Deewana Dil Deewana - Kabhie Haan Kabhie Naa (1993)

and just to indulge my love for early 90s kitschiness;)

I have a feeling one of my future posts will be dealing with 90s Bollywood fashion...! *rubs hands in glee*

December 3, 2011

Missed Connections: Connecting the Dots

Sophie Blackall's Missed Connections illustration

As I had previously mentioned over here, for me, reading The Clothes Horse is as much an enjoyable exercise in witnessing her eclectic fashion statements and dreamy photography as enabling me to discover a number of varied, hugely interesting artists and bloggers. It was with great pleasure that I happened to encounter Sophie Blackall's Missed Connections, which is that one blog which invariably brings a smile to my face, come what may.

Rather than risk misparaphrasing the blog's purpose, I will simply quote from Sophie's 'About' section in her blog:

"Messages in bottles, smoke signals, letters written in the sand; the modern equivalents are the funny, sad, beautiful, hopeful, hopeless, poetic posts on Missed Connections websites. Every day hundreds of strangers reach out to other strangers on the strength of a glance, a smile or a blue hat. Their messages have the lifespan of a butterfly. I'm trying to pin a few of them down."

A great believer of the fundamental idea that there is no such thing as coincidences or arbitrary occurrences in our lives, I would like to dwell a little bit upon the notion of missed connections that we must have all inevitably experienced in our lives - they may seem random and meaningless at the time but I did like to think that the dots eventually join up sooner or later. While the blog captures moments which are usually transient in nature, I would also define missed connections as those brief encounters that can still powerfully empower your life. I remember meeting someone in London few years ago who told me about the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), when I told him that I was a writer and which really helped me to put together (albeit in very raw fashion) the novel that I had been thinking of writing for years; in fact, while it still exists in a raw state, I sourced many short stories from it. I left for Oman the next day and completely lost touch with the said person but I still recall our conversation and the impact it had upon my creative writing. I suppose, travel especially presents you with a plethora of missed connections but even so, in our ordinary lives, I am always surprised by how easily people enter and embrace our lives before swiftly migrating away, leaving us to only being able to contemplate as to what happens next in their stories. Yet, no matter how brief or prolonged our relationship, we shared a connection in a particular coordinate of time and space - and all said and done, it is these connections which vitally form and shape our human existence.

I think one of the reasons why I especially like Missed Connections is the manner in which Sophie accords so much respect to the idea of  these connections. While the messages themselves are so poignant, what I most appreciate about Sophie's water-color illustrations are the reverent way she illustrates and reflects the essence of the messages. Apart from the beauty and skill with which she creates the illustrations, what I most strongly get from the illustrations is how respectful she is of the sentiments underlying the messages. As you read the messages and admire the illustrations, you cannot help but wish that these connections will no longer bear the epithet of 'missed connections'. If serendipity and forces of the universe have anything to do with it, chance will bring them together...after all.

Incidentally, Sophie has also published a book based on Missed Connections - definitely something that I would love to buy. 

Here is a favorite Missed Connection illustration of mine, along with the message:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
-m4w - 29

I saw you for maybe a second or two.
I've read missed-connections before and wondered why people just didn't say something then and there. Now I understand... perhaps it's because the moment is extraordinary; containing a fullness of its own... and the thought that this person across from me is not a part of my everyday life, and at any second will disappear, didn't even occur to me... it seemed that we were in whatever it was together, and that sort of connection rarely, if ever, happens between strangers, so my mind was a little slow on registering that there would be no "some other time" if neither of us asked for the others phone or email.

Now, hours later, the ripples created by those few tender seconds still gently rock something within me...
and I become a missed-connections poster.

Would you be interested in having tea or going on a ride? 

Is there any particular memorable missed connection that happened in your life?

 All text and images courtesy Sophie Blackall and her blog, Missed Connections

November 29, 2011

Barka Photo Essay: Doors and Broken Mirrors

Oman has been receiving unusual amounts of rain, lately and the good weather, as we find ourselves describing it in this part of the world, has happened to coincide with the Eid and Oman's National Day holidays, leading to spontaneous day-trips.

A day following a rather energetic rain-shower, we decided to visit the coastal town of Barka, which is about an hour's drive from Muscat, and located on the Batinah coast. Apart from the requisite picturesque beach, it also has a quirky small Omani town personality of its own and which I lately both enjoy experiencing and photographing.

Strangely enough, even though I walked for quite a while on the beach, I neglected to take any photos of the sea; what I instead chose to photograph were vignette-shots of life in Barka. However, if someone were to attempt to make some sense of Barka from my images alone, they would be forgiven for assuming that it is not in the vicinity of the sea as I seem to have entirely discounted it altogether from the narrative of my images.

Returning to my Barka explorations, I seem to have an affinity for abandoned houses for I discovered yet another one, its turquoise blue walls still glimmering amid the ruin and decline, shattered mirrors, discarded purple sofas, and indulged in door-spotting: the ancient, grand, portal of Barka Fort, which had closed by the time I arrived there, and doors of the non-descript homes dotting the beach. Incidentally, while I was photographing the latter, an Omani youth wandered by and curiously asked as to what I was photographing. When I gestured towards the door, his shrug eloquently articulated one word: 'why?' I couldn't answer then - and if you ask me now, here, I would still be hard-pressed to precisely pinpoint what it is that fascinates me about doors. It's probably due to the fact that doors are interesting intersection points of contact: they welcome...and yet, they simultaneously forbid entry into that intimate, interior space that lies beyond. In a sense, the doors are reflectors of those interiors, acting as visual windows of sorts into that world.

As we had visited Barka on a Friday, the fish and vegetable market had wound up by the afternoon but we found a cheerful Omani gentleman standing in the shadow of the fort, selling Yemeni pomegrenates, pears, and newly grown tomatoes, bits of mud still clinging to their naturally glossy red skin. The tomatoes retained their lustre and freshness even after days...and even if for nothing else, a trip to Barka is certainly due to partake of those tomatoes once again!

Here are some images of the visit - the one thing that strikes me is the abundance of blue in most of the photographs, whether its the walls or the brilliant sky.

An abandoned house finds me once again: what are the endings to these unfinished stories?


Death of a mirror: is it the sky that lives in whatever remains of the mirror's once shiny skin?

Winter tree: growing in the compound of the abandoned house, its stark branches reminded me of denuded winter trees and their skeletal shadows

Gutted sofa: loved no more, discarded and now bearing the wrath of the natural elements

Age: the grand Barka fort portal bids us farewell

Domestic door: unassuming...and yet, filled with so much character

November 19, 2011

Hearing the Maganiyars

Busyness has been my week so far! I am just dropping by to say hello and post this article of mine about the Maganiyars, which was published a few days ago. Back with original posts next week, fingers crossed:)

Here is where the article appeared...


Speaking over a crackling phone line from his native village, Keraliya near Pokhran, 80 km from Jaisalmer, Manganiyar musician and conductor of the acclaimed show The Manganiyar Seduction, which presents 43 Manganiyar musicians in an utterly modern avatar, Daevo Khan explains the universe of Manganiyar musical traditions.

“The Manganiyar community has been singing songs since the time of Lord Krishna,” Daevo Khan begins, speaking in a mixture of Marwari, Hindi, and English. In those times, he explains, they were known as Gandharvas, and they were then referred to as Mir during Mughal emperor Akbar’s reign. However, they acquired their present moniker, Manganiyar, when princely states began to rule what is now Rajasthan; their name denotes the term ‘to beg’. Although the Manganiyars are now a folk musical community spread out in Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer and Barmer areas performing a rich repertoire of ballads for their aristocratic Rajput patrons, they once “played to appease the goddesses and it is said that when we performed, even [the goddesses] stopped in their celestial chariots above to listen” says Khan, adding that if goddesses themselves are happy with the music that the Manganiyars create, it is their hope that ordinary mortals down on earth too will be satisfied. Such statements reflect their syncretic religious identity; the Manganiyars are Sufi Muslims and yet sing songs in praise of Hindu deities with much fervor.

Daevo Khan wields the responsibility of being the conductor of The Manganiyar Seduction, directed by the acclaimed Indian director, Royston Abel, who has produced and directed award-winning productions such as Othello in Black and White. Daevo initially met Abel in Delhi while working on Jiyo, a play dealing with out of work street performers; when travelling with the production in Segovia in 2006, Abel once again met Daevo, who along with another Manganiyar artiste presented a new folk song every day for two weeks. “It was an absolutely intense encounter,” says Abel. “Their music took me to a different place altogether, it was one of the most amazing experiences that I ever had.” Abel was so inspired by their music that upon his return to India he requested funding to initiate a project; he then went on to Jaisalmer where he selected 43 artistes from the 300-400 odd who had auditioned and, in two weeks, created an initial version of what was going to become The Manganiyar Seduction which he presented in Delhi as the opening act of Osian’s Cine Festival 2006, which showcased a range of Asian cinema. The show was received very well, enabling him to garner more funding; he then spent a year and half structuring the show which is now known as The Maganiyar Seduction.

Combining the startling visual pyrotechnics of the Amsterdam red-light area and the Hawa Mahal of Jaipur along with the Manganiyar performers’ haunting music, the show has been described as a sensory feast. “We haven’t done a show till date where we have not received a standing ovation,” says Abel who has presented the show all over the world. “I describe the show as a virtual whirlwind of sorts, working in spirals and completely immersing the audience into the Maganiyars’ music; in other words, they experience what I did [so] in those two weeks [in Spain],” he says, referring to his introduction to Maganiyar music. Abel is now working on a future project, The Maganiyar Longing, which will open in 2012. “The success of The Maganiyar Seduction has become a parameter for me,” he says.

Describing his métier as that of working with traditional performers in a contemporary style, creating theatre in their music, Abel says that collaborating with the Maganiyars has been a memorable journey and that Daevo was the essential bridge between himself and them. “Apart from being the one who introduced me to the Maganiyars in the first place and being the best khartal [traditional Maganiyar instrument] player in the country, he also possessed a hunger in him to challenge himself,” says Abel to explain his decision to make Daevo the conductor of the show. He elaborates that Daevo was also crucially in alignment with Abel’s vision in addition to significantly being able to communicate it to his fellow Maganiyars, thus facilitating its execution.

Such innovative representation of folk and classical music performances is essential towards attracting those who may otherwise not gravitate towards such music. “Folk maa hai, classical beta hain; folk se hi classical niklegaclassical ultimately originated from folk music says Daevo Khan, who has performed with many Indian classical musicians. “I performed alongside artistes such as Anindo Chatterjee on tabla and Ustad Shujat Khan on sitar,” says Daevo, who has also played along with Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Zakir Hussain. “I enjoy such moments a lot, I get inner peace while doing so.”

Having created and conducted many shows, busy even as we speak finalising his travel arrangements to France, where he and a troupe will be performing shortly, Daevo describes a show in Madras in which he performed a jugal bandi [fusion] with Kathak artistes. “They would pose a question through a dance performance and we would respond to it through our music. After we finished, there was a rapturous response, demanding an encore and we performed in reverse,” he says, adding the show became extremely popular. 

Daevo describes the Manganiyars’ musical legacies as a gift of god which the community has nurtured and sustained over the centuries. “When we visited America, [scholars] asked us how is it that even a small child is so easily able to pick up the musical traditions. I said that when a pregnant woman sings, the child absorbs it through the womb and thus [the child] arrives in the world, crying in tune,” he says. His eleven year old son is already an accomplished artiste and performed twice abroad. Manganiyar women also sing, and two of them participate in The Manganiyar Seduction.

Daevo is presently absorbed in creating a new show, Folk Rajasthan, which will use traditional folk percussion instruments as its basis. Another project that he’s contemplating performing is to do with Virh or the pathos of separation, the performance striving to conveying the intensity of the emotion through music. Apart from time devoted to conceptualizing shows and performances, Daevo Khan has also established Swaroop Musical Institute in the premises of his own home in Keraliya where he teaches orphaned children showing inclination for learning music from his and surrounding villages.

“I am dedicated towards ensuring that our music remains traditional and uncorrupted; I have heard ten generations worth of music and would like to preserve it,” he says in oblique reference to many folk numbers who have migrated to Bollywood.


Image courtesy Roysten Abel

November 12, 2011

Illusion: 'A Tale of Four Cities'

Here is a literary (or creative, if you please) non fiction piece, Illusion on my shopping experiences in Dubai which was published in the newly launched online literary magazine, A Tale of Four Cities. Chronicling narratives from the cities of New York, London, Mumbai, and Dubai, the magazine is looking forward to receiving submissions from writers, especially those writing about Mumbai and Dubai. 

I, for one, both enjoyed reading the different vignettes from each city and also, writing about Dubai. In general, when it comes to my creative writing pieces, I usually find it difficult to write about the Gulf Middle East, which has been my home for much of my life. However, perhaps due to a few posts I have written for this blog and pieces such as these, my resistance to writing about my current homeland is gradually crumbling and I am finding it easier to respond to and  represent it in my writing. In fact, I am also currently working on a short story which captures much of the atmosphere of the early days of shopping in Dubai.

And here is the link to the piece as it appeared in the magazine...


For some odd reason, the only photographs that I happen to have of Dubai in my possession are ones featuring my family and me in its streets, markets, and malls over the decades. Take this one: my toddler brother and I awkwardly stand amid the sun-bleached chaos of Deira. In another, taken just before I began university, I playfully wreathe my face with a patently faux vine of creepers; the same trip also witnesses me warily standing by a mannequin. Yet, where is Dubai amid it all? Are these shopping-centric photographs testimony to the fact that shopping is the only and ultimate way to define my relationship with Dubai?

Having lived in Muscat, Oman for most of my childhood and adult life and thus, in relatively close proximity to Dubai, I have always largely associated Dubai with a simultaneous sense of holiday and familiarity. While Muscat was content in remaining a backwater, Dubai patently did not exercise similar aspirations and accordingly gained an exciting hold for us Muscat denizens. During Eid and Oman’s National Day holidays, Muscat would witness a virtual mass exodus of its population to Dubai; it was common to find Dubai roads crowded with Oman’s distinctive mustard-yellow license plated cars or bumping into one’s colleagues and classmates at shopping malls.

Dubai was that veritable Aladdin’s Cave of shopping: ombre-hued chiffon saris from Meena Bazaar, blankets from wholesale markets where Persians sold them in floppy, transparent plastic suitcases, and Lladro figurines from Al Ghurair Shopping Centre. Once, when Ramadan fell during January, we walked the entire length of Al Fahidi Street one cold night before reluctantly calling it a night at 2am.

During summer Dubai trips, in the brief pockets of time spent outside when flitting between shops and taxis, we would smell an exclusively Gulf urban scent: petrol fumes and roasting shwarma converging with dry, intense heat. Lunching in Indian restaurants with oilcloth-covered tables and plastic vases containing faux yellow roses, we would consume thali while watching Zee TV’s then most famous soap, Tara on 27-inch TVs. 

In little market squares studding Deira and Bur Dubai, we would transit from one textile store to another, the majority virtually indistinguishable from one another: the harsh, unflattering overhead white tube-lights, bolts of cloth in every pattern, color, texture, and fabric imaginable, and the glass-topped counters barricading us from the fabric. I would murder boredom by peering at what lay beneath the glass: catalogue pictures of statue-faced models wearing latest salwar-kameez designs or rummaging through cardboard boxes stuffed with freshly sheared scraps of cloth, which made excellent temporary scarves or blind-folds. Outside, in the lank, heavy air, we would walk past electronic stores, where crowds had gathered to watch India play one-day cricket matches on multiple, differently-sized TV-screens. 

I was unable to visit Dubai between 2001 and 2007 due to various reasons; however, it had been impossible in the interim to be unaware of the massive transformation that Dubai had undergone during those years and indeed, when I arrived in August 2007, the city seemed to be at the apogee of its extravagant reinvention. There was an overt sense of Dubai being prettily packaged for display which resultantly made it somewhat inaccessible and unattainable. 

Fresco at Mercato Mall

In this new, picture-perfect Dubai, I felt as if I was gradually losing my moorings altogether when migrating from one mall to another. Had it not been more or less reduced to that: city of malls, those palaces of illusions? At the Mall of Emirates, I peered at visitors reveling in the pleasure of encountering snow in Dubai of all places. At our next stop, at the Mercato mall, we examined quasi Italian-frescos and mock pastel façades while sunlight generously drizzled through the glass skylight into the crisp-autumn air cool interiors.

Dome at Ibn Battuta mall

Finally, in Ibn Battuta mall, which had brought together myriad worlds under one roof while depicting the journey of the eponymous 14th century traveler, Ibn Battuta, they had even defiantly turned day into night. I felt as if I was in a movie set what with the faux buildings, streets, and the stars studding a mauve evening sky; the harsh daylight bleaching the world almost white seen through the entrance door seemed incidental. Which one of those worlds was real and ersatz respectively? Did it even matter? 

Faux evening at Ibn Battuta mall

 Like the accidental, incidental beam of sunlight, shopping seemed to have become irrelevant to our Dubai experience. When we strayed beyond the city perimeters and encountered the blank dun dunes, I wondered how long it would be before they would be transformed into yet another faux universe. Dubai was a work of progress then, the canvas constantly being re-painted, and improvisation being the name of the game. 

For some reason, once again, years have elapsed since my last Dubai visit and the gap has been sufficient enough to subsume the last visit into the many visits undertaken to Dubai over the years. So, even now, I cannot help but experience that feeling of ‘going to Dubai’: a sensation that has not quite yet evaporated from my childhood, which tastes of excitement and newness and acquisition. 

Going to Dubai involves the ritual of crossing the border, through the mountains, past the enormous rust-hued dunes at Hatta, and finally glimpsing the billboards: those gateways to the kingdom of shopping. By the time we approach the city outskirts, the skyline, citadels of that kingdom, deigns to appear in the distance: an unique mirage which becomes more and more solid the nearer you approach it. 

What we thought was illusion was real, after all; such is the thin line between illusion and reality. 


November 8, 2011

Portrait of a Stormy Sea

Every now and then, I find myself falling into a low creative energy phase, where I find myself mechanically producing work or worse, becoming exhausted of fresh ideas and novel perspectives. In an earlier post about visiting the mountain, Jabal Shams, I had wondered whether I was a beach or a mountain person - however, following several recent beach visits, having taken advantage of Oman's increasingly pleasant weather, I can now safely declare that a trip to the beach revitalises and re-energises me in a way quite unlike other.

It happened to rain today in Muscat; considering the fact that it only rained a handful of times last year in Oman, for instance, rain over here is definitely a statement event, so to speak. During my childhood, the mere darkening of the sky and large drops of rain polka-dotting the ground would be enough to turn any day into a holiday; we would happily get drenched in the rain, the rain-soaked world having become our playground. In fact, it was only after I moved to UK for my higher studies and having to encounter grim gray skies and vapid cold rain day after day that I learnt to call it bad weather. Yet, over here, the sight of a sky graduated in all hues of gray still imbues the day with a sense of play and relaxation, a welcome departure from the daily monotony of cerulean blue skies and sunshine.

I impulsively visited a nearby beach after the rain had finally petered down to a drizzle and it struck me that it was one of the few times I had visited a post-storm beach. The sea was mercurial and slate-blue,  the waves contemplatively and authoritatively arriving upon the shore while the dusk sky above was a quietly dramatic melange of colors. Lightning would splinter the sky at sporadic intervals, causing the sea and beach to be dramatically lit up, the light picking out the gleaming wet pebbles and sand. Furthermore, due to the rain, the beach was more or less desolate apart from assorted objects that the sea had hurled towards the shore; while walking down the beach, I would meet the occasional jogger or a father and his young daughter- yet,  we would swiftly pass by each other, too immersed in our own thoughts and worlds. Suffice to say, it was an unique beach experience, walking in the waves while rain drizzled upon my head and the lightning spotlighting the world, as if photographing it.

Here are some pictures of the beach at twilight that I was able to capture via my phone; apologies for the pictures' quality in advance...

Aftermath: the storm sky

Mercurial sky and sea...and Muscat lights gleaming in the distance

The storm draws to a close...and the night begins

November 5, 2011

The Kingdom of Music: The Dewarists

Now, here's a post label that I never thought would find its way over here: music! I have often remarked (and indeed, it is pretty much the reason behind the name of this blog) that I have never particularly been a connoisseur of music - it is something that I can entirely do without and not particularly feel its absence in my life. Yet, I have been lately thinking that it is quite a blanket statement to declare so: after all, am I really that immune to music? There have been several periods/occasions in my life where music has been a solace and had the ability to take me out of myself and my thoughts and transplant me elsewhere, that kingdom of music. 

Sakar Khan, National Award winning Maganiyar artiste, playing upon the traditional Maganiyar instrument, khamaycha

During the Jaisalmer trip, I had to interview few members of Rajasthani hereditary folk musicians, the Maganiyars in their native village, Hameera, about 15km from Jaisalmer; we reached their home just before lunch and they aptly enough chose to answer my questions through an impromptu concert, first performing the  traditional Rajasthani song of welcome, 'Kesariya Balam' before playing a host of melodies. If it were not for the fact that we had to return to Jodhpur that day itself, we could have remained there the whole day, well into the evening, becoming completely immersed in the soul of their music. These particular Maganiyar musicians had been performing centuries-old musical legacies for many decades and within India and abroad and had been feted for their art: yet, in that moment, we were their exclusive audience and we in turn were captive, oblivious to all that surrounded us. 

                                                Maganiyar artistes performing in the show,
                                                        The Maganiyar Seduction

As we drove away from Hameera, the music still remained within the orbit of my thoughts, playing on loop in my head. What struck me that day was that the musicians and their musical heritage had literally woven the haunting, piercing notes of the desert winds into the fabric of their compositions...and even now, whenever I happen to listen to their music, I feel that I am in a desert of sorts, their music providing the most welcome antidote to any desolation I may potentially experience there.

Nevertheless, while the experience awakened an awareness within me as to what sort of music I gravitate to, it was the newly launched music-travel show, The Dewarists which reminded me that perhaps, the presence of visuals or a strong visual narrative and context nevertheless makes music much more accessible to me, strangely enough. In this particular episode, music-composer, Shantanu Moitra, who has composed for films such as Parineeta, and lyricist, Swanand Kirkire collaborate with Pakistan's first female pop band, Zeb and Haniya  in Bombay (incidentally, digressing unabashedly, the episode features them visiting  Bombay's Chor Bazaar and rummaging through vintage Hindi film posters - I was super envious as it's one place in Bombay which I am dying to visit).

For me, I significantly enjoyed witnessing the process of creating music: meshing of ideas, musicians jamming together, assembling lyrics, musical notes floating in the air, and the eventual streamlining of these disparate creative clusters into music. As a writer, I am accustomed to viewing creation and creativity as being an entirely solitary process and it was fascinating to see this journey of  creative collaboration. Yet, nonetheless, as I mentioned above, I still found it amusing that I found myself more thoroughly accessing and appreciating the music through a visual medium; for example, there is a lovely visual nugget in which Zeb and Swanand are writing lyrics, the visual juxtaposition of the Hindi and Urdu script. The performance and the song itself shot in the atmospheric Royal Opera House is arresting enough, its haunting notes long lingering with me...and yet, having been aware of how it was assembled, so to speak, made the journey even more beautiful.

Then, I happened to chance upon this:

                                                         Zeb and Haniya: Chal Diye

While the song is indescribably lovely, melange of the music and the incredible art, most likely, having taken inspiration from miniature art, was what made the song especially alive for me. Hearing the song, the words wing me elsewhere into a different space - and yet, as I see the song, I become aware of alternative interpretations and worlds it can belong to - and this multiplicity of interpretations is what makes this particular junction of visual and sound so exciting.

I guess, in the end, I am just a visual person, after all;)

Do you recollect a music video that particularly impacted your response to a particular song? It would be great to hear/see examples...!