May 31, 2012

End of May Musings...

I am *sure* we Oman denizens say it every single year but honestly speaking, this summer could not have been any hotter. Even after so many years of living here, the ferocious heat that one experiences during a May noon is still akin to dealing with a physical blow to your self and body! I happen to work in a place very near to the sea and the maritime breeze somewhat tempers the heat...but nevertheless, even walking on the beach in late afternoon is a penance. Suffice to say, we have no choice but to become nocturnal creatures, anticipating the sun's disappearance and the stars dappling the sky.

The heat's energy-sapping quality has also meant that I have been a little lax with my blogging this month and that is something I wasn't too happy about! Blogging is something that gives me a great deal of pleasure and I feel somewhat remiss when I fall behind. I don't foresee June being any cooler although it does promise to be rather busy; nevertheless, come July and I hope to introduce some changes and shake up things a bit over here...all things that I had declared back in January and did not get around to achieving so far;)

Well, my ramblings aside, here is a round-up of what I was up to during May:

I attended....

Pecha Kucha Muscat, Pecha-Kucha derived from the Japanese word for 'chit-chat', held its first event this month; the concept began in 2003 in Tokyo and afforded an opportunity for young artists and designers to showcase their work and connect with other like-minded people. Pecha Kucha nights consist of artists displaying their work through the medium of 20 images in the allotted time of exactly 20 minutes; in keeping with the '20' theme, the event charmingly began on dot at 20.20pm.

Pecha Kucha has been held in over 500 cities across the world and Muscat happened to be amongst the most recent cities to become part of the Pecha Kucha family. There were six artists present and we got the opportunity to see amongst many fascinating images a cool graphic designers' portfolio, a film-maker's storyboard, innovative installation art-works, and how an artist's works evolved over the years. I am always inclined towards listening to artists talk about and taking us through their work and for me, being in knowledge of their  back-stories/creative processes further enhances my relationship with their work.

I was inspired by...

TEDx events are independent off-shoots of the non-profit dedicated to sharing of innovative ideas, TED and I was fortunate enough to attend Muscat's second edition, having missed the first one last year. What I really liked about the event was its sheer energy and how it demonstrated that a single idea can manifest itself into something big and wonderful and grand - when it is pursued from ideation stage to fruition. It all depends on how much you are willing to nurture and aspiring to see the idea come to life.

TED talks are about stories and one of the stories at the event that I most enjoyed listening to was that of Resul Pookutty, the Oscar-award winning sound-mixer. He talked about the significance of sound in cinema and showed a scene from Slumdog Millionaire in which he explained as to what a challenge it was for him to recreate Mumbai's soundscape.

I stumbled upon....

Lebanese photographer, Rania Matar photographed 300 American and Lebanese teenage girls in their most intimate space: the bedroom for her monograph, A Girl and Her Room. I discovered her work via Corinne Martin, an artist whom I wrote about last year and whose blog has been a gold-mine of fantastic artists and events occurring in the region.

What I like about these pictures is how and the extent to which they minutely detail the girls' personalities by identifying these rooms as their personal shrines. The act of decorating their room becomes a ritual, the worship manifesting itself as the decorations, adornments, and the bedrooms' overall visual appearance. I particularly related to this photograph, especially the skyline of cosmetics that populates the dressing table. Growing up, preferring minimalism in my most immediate space (and still do!), I nevertheless allowed my dressing table to be a little more maximalist: it was a city of miniature boxes, odds and ends that I had collected (a painted earthenware pot gifted by a South African school-friend, a small Venetian mask,  and a Japanese doll), post-cards, my paintings and sketches, and piles of jewelry. I wish I had thought to photograph my dressing table  then because it so vividly and more importantly, visually reflected my personality in a way that not even a diary written at the time could do.  

I ate...

I am a self-confessed non-foodie although I do have a sweet tooth/teeth:) However, I am also partial to butter and bakery and I found an amazingly delicious intersection of them all at Papparotti, which has recently opened in Oman. Their signature Papparotti bun is a caramel-glazed delight that yields melting butter and chewy, soft bread upon slicing into it. This is the exactly sort of breakfast that I could have for days in a row!

How did the month of May treat you?

Images courtesy: isultana and Corinne Martin

May 27, 2012

Mango Coloured Fish: Of Segmented Selves and Truthful Lives

'Don't we all have fractured, segmental personalities?' She laughs. 'We are, every one of us, mango-coloured.'

-Mango-Coloured Fish, Kavery Nambisan (1998)

18 was a significant year for me: it was a year of transitions, of graduating from school and starting university, shifting from one country to another, and shedding one persona to assume another. When I think of 18, I think of it as simultaneously fraught with fear and anticipation/excitement: the fear of treading beyond the comfort-zone to explore the unmapped, unknown territory called The Real Life and the palpable excitement of discovery. All in all, it was a memorable year, 18.

Unsurprisingly, I read a good number of books that year which still continue to remain favorites of mine; as I may have mentioned elsewhere, over the years, I have developed a relationship, friendship almost, with the books whenever I happen to re-read and return to them. I can literally resume my relationship with the books from the page I left them at and - comfortingly - be admitted into their self-contained world once again. And so, I have observed that whenever I need to indulge in a bit of comfort-reading, I always reach out for those books that I first discovered at 18: A Suitable Boy, A Map of Love, Interpreter of Maladies, Difficult Daughters, The Ice Candy Man, and Mango-Coloured Fish.

Mango-Coloured Fish is probably the least well-known of all of these books; in fact, honestly speaking, I would not even call it a great favorite of mine. Yet, I have religiously re-read it at least once a year ever since I first bought it and it has never failed to give me insight or a curious kind of solace each time I have read it.

In terms of plot, honestly speaking, there is not much going on in the novel; it begins with twenty-two year old kindergarten teacher, Shari bidding her parents adieu at Madras airport. Newly engaged to a computer sofware engineer, Shari is flying out to Delhi to visit her surgeon brother, Krishna and his wife, Teji in Brindawan. From there on, while Shari eventually travels from Brindavan to her friend, Yash's house and then, a hostel in Delhi, she hopscotches between memories, meditations, and contemplations of her life lived so far: one moment, she is watching her beloved uncle, Paru abstract a salmon-pink silk parasol for his wife, the next moment, she is writing in her thick fat journal, listing the best places to drink coffee in Madras. However, we allow her these meanderings through her past because she is on exile, a temporary reprieve from life, a reprieve that she may never get again and which invests her with the courage to live her life as it is actually is, unshackled from rules and expectations and obligations.

Is life worth living if it is not authentic to yourself? All through the novel, Shari struggles with the dilemma of a double life: one life lived for yourself, one life lived for others. While the novel arguably comes to a rather predictable conclusion in which Shari finds the courage to jettison her ersatz live and actually live for herself, Shari's predicament is not an unusual one. All through our lives, we encounter the challenge of remaining faithful to ourselves, our beliefs, and principles -we may succumb to the alternative on occasions and for a while...but is it really worth it all at the end of the day?

Interestingly enough, I remember reading the novel for the first time en route to Madras - I had bought the novel along with a bunch of others in a Hyderabad bookshop and on our car-journey between Tirupathi Balaji-Madras, I had somehow chosen to read this one first. A few months shy of travelling to UK and starting university, my mind filled with a great deal of questions about the future, I got much consolation reading this novel - and even now, so many years later, as I mentioned above, I still continue to derive solace and a gentle reminder that one should ultimately remain true to themselves, come what may.

There are some books that make sense whenever you read them: time does not diminish them, rather, it only enhances their appeal.

Do you have any such long-cherished books?

Gold-fish image courtesy: Cute Home Pets

May 25, 2012

Photo-essay: What Lies Around the Corner

Walks are my panacea, period. Not being a particularly active sort, a daily stroll during the night is a necessity though, as and when possible. Walks declutter my mind, allow me to brain-storm, and are truly the best way for me to take a time-out. Even now, when current summer temperatures mean that it will still be 40 degrees Celsius at 9pm, I cannot compromise upon my walks: they are those invaluable islands of me-time that I need to be marooned upon. 

Even though I usually stick to a routine walk-path, I still find that every time I walk past this particular corner, there is a new surprise awaiting me; it is as if the corner deliberately invokes surprise, as if to compel me to walk towards, rather than past, it. And, surprises, they are: a marmalade cat looking up at the  ripe, brassy full moon in wonderment, as if it has glimpsed something quite unlike it before. A bougainvillea bush, sprouting from the burnt biscuit-hued sand, a welcome oasis-island of fuschia. A miniature township of cardboard boxes and scraps. I cannot help but pause, my eyes darting here and there, reluctant to leave behind these nuggets of extraordinary and return to the quotidian.

Today, I find this: a ship, ship-wrecked, unmoored and dislocated. It sits like a king in the tree-dappled shade, adamant to retain its hauteur even though its courtiers and menials have long dispersed and disappeared. Having been discarded and abandoned, it attempts to forge a new kingdom nonetheless, intent on attracting a new band of followers.

This is its present reality, though. What lies ahead for it? It sits there, the cracked wall giving it company, watching the world walk past it without as much as giving it a glance. Even if they do, for onlookers such as myself, it is nothing more than a whimsical oddity to be briefly examined and wondered about. And then...the next step beckons, tantalisingly laden with discovery of new sights and worlds. Once the corner has been eventually turned, who remembers what lies behind?

Yet, it still fills the air with its presence, adamant in its longing to be noticed and listened to. And yes, perhaps, one day, someone will want to hear its story. And it is this hope that sustains its illusions, its bid to become a whole, rather than a bit player, in the scheme of things.

Every time I walk around the corner, I hear its plaintive siren call...will I succumb one day? Who knows?

May 3, 2012

Museum of Trees

Sky calling: Merta, 2012

Every now and then, I go though phases where I am interested in photographing only one particular theme/subject - for example, at one point, I photographed an awful lot of walls (which reminds me that I should do a The Wall Project post soon! It's been rather neglected). Similarly, my singular photographic obsession once happened to be regarding trees, my earliest images dating back to my university years in UK; after that, wherever and whenever I would chance upon an interesting/unusual looking tree, I would always find myself documenting it via my camera. Each tree had its own personality, its own quirks, further enhanced by its relationship with the energies of whichever place it was growing in.

Banyan tree: Delhi, 2007
One of my favorite trees, for instance, was a rather old banyan tree that grew in an open courtyard in the artist's centre in Delhi. It was so grand and sprawling and venerable and  - yet, it assumed a coquettish air when it fruited tiny red berries, a teenage girl delighting in acquiring her first pair of earrings.

In Meditation: Jabal Shams, 2011
I am trying to figure out the basis of my fascination for trees; I was tempted to say that it's probably due to the fact that I have been living in a desert country for so long. However, it is not as if Oman is completely devoid of trees; in fact, over here, the survival of trees in the harsh, demanding desert climate is worthy of admiration, representing their tenacious determination to live and flourish amid these challenging conditions. The relentless sunlight, wind, and heat pruning their trunks and branches into clean, straight lines, the desert trees present very visually interesting sights. In fact, I would go as far as to say that they resemble tree-sculptures and when you stumble into a copse of trees, their collective appearance is no less than a gallery or museum of trees. Indeed, their advanced age renders them as artefacts from a bygone era: like wrinkles on a human-face, the deeply grooved lines on the tree-trunks are markers of how much they have witnessed and experienced.

Leaves about to turn: Oxford, 2009
I had imagined a sea of green awaiting me before I travelled to UK for my higher studies. However, when I first arrived there, it was autumn-time and the trees' leaves had already begun to turn: it was if they were on fire, their flame-hued foliage something that I had only experienced in photographs, rather than in fleshblood reality. However, during that first term, simultaneously battling homesickness and attempting to amalgamate all the newness that I was experiencing into my life, I neglected to take any pictures of the trees. In the subsequent years, though, the burning trees ceased to become novel, instead possessing a blase beauty, much in the manner of a beautiful model seen so many times on a billboard that her beauty becomes an irrelevant, insignificant fact. 

I regret it now, though, not photographing those autumn trees; sometimes, trees in glorious full-leaf bloom are not quite as interesting as the ones in process of either losing their leaves or growing new ones. In my neighborhood, I often walk past a peepal tree; few weeks ago, it suddenly dropped all its leaves, the dried palm-sized leaves rattling around in the dry wind, like bookmarks misplaced from old books. For a couple of days, it stood there, elderly and fragile, its bare, skinny branches shivering under the onslaught of the sun; however, it was not long before bright green leaves began to grow again, their newness so glossy that it resembled their plastic peers. Year after year, it indulges in this repeat performance - and yet, I still continue to find this nature's magic trick of disappearance and appearance of the leaves so fascinating.

Veil of Green: Oxford, 2009
All said and done, one of my favorite activities is simply sitting in leafy trees' shades; when you gaze up into the interlocked branches and see bits of the sky in between, does not the sky seem bluer, more intense, when seen through that veil of green? In its dappled umbrella shade, there is a feeling of protection, reassurance, and comfort, making me think what a lesser, impoverished world it would be indeed without trees.

 Do you have happen to have a favorite tree?

*Thanking this post for the inspiration:) and I happened to chance upon this post today, making it a nice link to my ode to desert trees!

** Here are some other tree-related posts of mine over here and here