February 28, 2012

Creative Writing: Short Short

From now onwards, I am going to be posting bits and pieces of my creative writing over here - excerpts from stories and pieces in progress or stand-alone pieces such as this short short below:

There comes a time when you skim through photographs of yourself and there is that one, that one particular one, which makes you pause and think: who is this person? You look at this reflection in the mirror every day - every day, mind you, every day - and yet, you do not recognise the configuration of your features, the shape of your nose, the way one eye is conspicuously smaller than the other. Who is this person? your panicked mind asks. I don't know her. I haven't seen her before. What is she doing in my place? Yet, here you - she - is smiling away, her cheeks threatening to burst from apple happiness, only her eyes betraying that she is in fact you...and she is waiting for you to tell her that.

Note: These are all fictional pieces! Often, the 'I' in a creative writing piece is confused with that of the author; this is a strictly fictional 'I':)

February 23, 2012

Nostalgia: Piya Basanti...

A still from Piya Basanti
Back during my school-days, the musical phenomenon known as Indipop had really taken off and I remember being unusually quite into music during that time, eagerly buying the audio cassettes of favorite artistes and musicians (how retro it sounds to refer to audio cassettes...and yet it was not *that* long ago, sigh!)Yet, to once more state the obvious, interestingly conceptualised music-videos created to market the songs were the ones that ensnared my attention first and subsequently made me familiar with the songs -  and there were some well-thought out ones produced at the time. In my opinion, though, the advent of  remixing Bolly songs in the early noughties pretty much killed Indi-pop and sucked the soul from the videos as well. 

Sung by the late renowned singer, Ustad Sultan Khan and South-Indian chanteuse, Chitra and directed by Pradeep Sarkar (who happened to make a lot of great music videos at the time - his movies, though, barring Parineeta, such as Laaga Chunri Mein Daag and Lafange Parindey, I am not such a fan of), the music video, Piya Basanti became hugely popular, both due to Sandesh Shandilya's music as well as the beautifully-conceived and directed music video itself. Unsurprisingly, I became more drawn towards the song due to repeatedly viewing the video and I recalled eagerly awaiting to catching a glimpse of it whenever it appeared on the music video channels in that innocent pre-YouTube era:)

                                             Piya Basanti

Apart from its super cute couple, Naheed Cyrusi and Donovan, I loved the video's story arc and the way Sarkar presented literally-love-at-first-sight narrative between an innocent mountain-village girl and terrorist (I think?) without overdosing on the saccharine factor*- plus, the landscape (I believe it was shot in the northern Indian mountain state of Himachal Pradesh) and weather play a major role in the video as well: the thick, swirling clouds, the rain-washed green, the smell of rain, and the cold of the mountains add so much atmosphere. I know, I know, I conceded that I am more of a beach gal than a mountain one...but seeing this video always makes me want to race off to the hills!

I also loved the little details embedded in the narrative, such as that of the seemingly innocuous daisy: 

As seen in the visual above, Naheed is wearing an aubergine-hued Himachali outfit and I remember purchasing a similarly hued kurta around that time (trust me to remember outfits!)

The video also built up much hype for a second installment, driving the narrative forward, which I thought was an interesting concept at the time. I especially love the beginning of the video which used the haunting track, Yeh teri surmayi aankhen... I also liked the fact that there were layers to the narrative - the music was undoubtedly integral to the video yet the narrative was equally compelling on its own...it wasn't merely just showcasing the music.

                                             Surmayi Aankhen/Chale Re

Listening to songs favorited from your past is akin to biting into chocolates of nostalgia: when you hear those songs, you are once more transported to a specific time-period of your past, remembering how your life was then, remembering how you envisioned your future then, reliving that present. While listening to the song, you become that person once again. But what happens when the song finishes playing? Would you ever want to return to being that person again?

Perhaps, this quote sums it all:

"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently over there."
The Go-Between, L.P Hartley

*Indipop music aficionados, does anyone recall the unbearably cloying and cheesy 'Chui Mui Si Lagti Ho' series of  music videos starring Preeti  Jhangiani and Abbas? I wouldn't be surprised if the term, cho-chweet originated after seeing those videos:P

February 16, 2012

Lekin: But...

If it hadn't been for this post, I honestly would not have been compelled to re-visit Lekin (1990, dir: Gulzar, starring Vinod Khanna and Dimple Kapadia) - and end up considering it a favorite film of mine. Having seen it as a young child, I found myself conflating Lekin along with another Dimple Kapadia film set in Rajasthan, Rudaali (1994, dir: Kalpana Lajmi); both films have incredible, haunting music and great performances by Dimple. Yet, when I originally watched them, I was still to appreciate the nuances of both and it also meant that afterwards, whenever I was to read/hear any reference to Lekin or Rudaali, I would routinely bracket them together...although I now realise they have largely little in common apart from Dimple, Rajasthan, and good music.

Lekin revolves around an archeologist, Sameer (Vinod Khanna), who is dispatched to a town in Rajasthan to sort out the belongings of its erstwhile Maharaja; he then encounters a mysterious woman, Reva (Dimple Kapadia)throughout his journey and it is strongly suggestive that she is a spirit, trapped in the interstices of time, awaiting liberation - and she has come to Sameer for help. Thus, rather than being a mere ghost story, it is more of an existential examination of life.

By now, regular readers or even stray visitors to this blog may have realised my overriding love for Rajasthan - and one might be tempted to presume rhat my admiration for Lekin is largely due to the fact that it is set in Rajasthan. While admittedly conceding this fact, I also have to point out that I am equally drawn towards ghost stories and the ruins, dunes, and stark, abandoned ruins of forts and homes of Rajasthan offer the perfect backdrop for them. In fact, after watching Lekin, I was surprised that I never further bothered to find out about the film even though one of its songs, 'Yaara Seeli Seeli' is a favorite.

Yaara Seeli Seeli...

While a compelling, and admittedly, rather abstruse and deeply philosophical film, I share a more visceral connection with it. Lekin is deeply evocative of Rajasthan and that too, specifically, the Rajasthan winter: it is almost as if you can smell the cold. Coupled with Hridayanath Mangeshkar's haunting (literally apt for a ghost-story themed film) music, I find myself yearning for Rajasthan winters: the brilliant yet cool sunlight, the blue skies, the eerie desolation of the desert, where anything and everything is possible...even ghosts emerging from the scrub. It's for that reason that I prefer the first half of the film and which I find particularly chilling, as good ghost stories ought to do.

                                                                    'Surmayi Shaam'...

Sometimes, a film can become a bridge of nostalgia and yearning, especially when a place is concerned and you know you will not be returning to it for a while. For me, Lekin is a film that perfectly captures the essence of a place, so much so that you need only to touch the screen and feel the sunwarmed historical stones or feel the knife-cold winter breeze during the night. Like Rewa, the ghost, we spectators too are invisible beings travelling through this world through the medium of cinema. 

February 5, 2012

Jaipur Literature Festival 2012: Musings

Entrance to the Jaipur Literature Festival

Greetings, dear readers - hope January treated you well and you are looking forward to what February has in store. As for me, I am back from my travels and now gradually slipping back into routine...

While I had been thinking of making a quick trip somewhere else, I eventually ended up in - well, you guessed it - Rajasthan:P once again and fortunately, my trip this time coincided with the Jaipur Literature Festival, which is held at Diggi Palace.

I had attended JLF in 2007 and 2008 when it was not quite the grand literary carnival/cocktail party/spectacle that it has now rather spectacularly transformed itself into and become the cynosure of the global literati and glitterati! Compared to the mammoth 75,000 people who attended JLF this time round, only 2500 people had attended in 2007, for example and I remember the wonderfully intimate, cosy atmosphere that pervaded the festival then. I remember participating in a creative writing workshop in 2007 and one of our first exercises had been to create a pen portrait of an imaginary character. I remember mine was called Chitra and the piece began with 'My eyes are bitter almonds.' Apart from appreciating the  lively discussions we had about creative writing in general as well as the feedback I received regarding my pieces, I kept on meeting the workshop participants for the remainder of the day and  they all  for some reason made it a point to address me as Chitra (while it was amusing the first couple of times, I became a bit weary afterwards, haha) I also remember meeting a lot of other interesting people and having great conversations sitting out in the winter sun, the cheery yellow exterior and royal interiors of Diggi Palace reverberating with activity. I had also happened to discover William Dalrymple's works then so it was thrilling to hear him speak and I also recollect a fantastic, jam-packed session in which Suketu Mehta spoke about his book, Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found.

This year, though, was a revelation. I happened to arrive right before Oprah Winfrey's session on Sunday, 22nd January and  experienced a virtual stampede that ensued as crowds poured into the Tata Steel Lawns to hear her speak with Barkha Dutt - and that was the sensation I continually had throughout the day, constantly bumping into people - so many people. Also, as I was returning after so long, it struck me that the festival had truly morphed into a carnival: the Indian fashion doyenne, Ritu Kumar's stall jostled alongside the Jaipur jewelry brand, Amrapali, boutiques, food stalls, installation art-works, and whatnot. While I couldn't help but be nostalgic about the previous JLFs I had attended, it also made me realise the sheer magnitude of the festival and the numbers and kinds of people it had attracted. It was a people-watching extravaganaza, whether it was celebrity spotting (the fashion designer, Narendra Kumar Ahmed, Outlook editor and author of his memoir, Lucknow Boy, Vinod Mehta, lyricist and ad-guru, Prasoon Joshi, and of course, the great Gulzar himself, to name a few), fashionistas, college kids, school-girls  tittering about escaping the watchful gaze of their chaperon-teachers, and of course, the authors themselves. 

By the end of it all, I enjoyed this frenetic atmosphere, - sure the crowds had increased manifold, there was barely room to sit and walk...and yet, what was overwhelming was the sheer presence of  vibrant energies, thoughts, ideas, speculations and discussions about books, writers, and the magical process of writing. I particularly enjoyed a wonderful session with Mohammed Hanif, Rabi Thapa and others in which authors talked about the significance of the place they lived in determining their writing, which is a subject close to my heart (Pakistani writer, Mohammed Hanif was especially popular during the question and answer session so much so that moderator, Urvashi Butalia had to put an embargo on questions to him! He looked on bemusedly:). Shabnam Virani's amazing lunch-time concert in which she performed her renditions of Kabir's poetry. Prasoon Joshi, Vishal Bharadwaj, Gulzar and Javed Akhtar's discussion about screen-plays and Javed Akhtar's incredible recital of poetry from his newly launched book, Lava: The Drama of Words, which I endlessly could have listened to. Vignettes from Stalin's life, taking me back to a time when I was seriously considering becoming a historian. Browsing through the Festival Bookshop and fortuitously discovering and buying Dayanita Singh's photo-novel, House of Love. Lamenting the fact that there were so many great sessions simultaneously going on that I wound up missing hearing Fatima Bhutto speak and having to settle on buying her book, Songs of Blood and Sword.

More than anything else, though, it made me contemplate the state of my own creative writing and how much I have allowed real life to neglect it. Hearing writers speak, being in company of writers, browsing through books - it was the best kind of inspiration and motivation that I had been looking for and hopefully, 2012 will see something concrete soon. Here's hoping anyway!

I leave you with a collage of images from JLF:

Durbar Hall

Flower arrangements at a cafe table

Would any festival in Rajasthan be complete without colors?

An installation piece

A lehariya [traditional Rajasthani striped textile print] canopy