Sunday, April 22, 2012

An evening that is the stuff of dreams..!

"Many times, we think that the people around us are very focused and determined, that they know what they want from their lives...but you never know what goes on in their minds, behind the scenes..." - Sanmoy.  Calm, composed and with a certain gravitas that commands attention, Sanmoy couldn't have said it better. It must have been around midnight and we (myself, Abhilash and Sanmoy) were chatting about the future that was looking hazy. 

The heat was unrelenting even at that late hour and the leaves on the coconut trees lining the street barely moved...some memories are very closely associated with smells, sights and sounds. This memory, am sure, years later, when rekindled, would flash in the mind's eye along with the thin silhouettes of the three of us on the wall, under a cloudy, humid and starless night. 

Earlier in the evening, we shopped for vegetables and made Chilli Paneer and rice. The conversation veered around life at XLRI, Bengal politics, history and cricket. The oil on the stove simmered even as I got a bong's version of left politics. By the time Abhilash joined us, dinner was ready. We decided to step out for a walk. The streets of BTM at that evening hour were buzzing with youth, in stark contrast to Jayanagar that sleeps early. Sipping piping hot ginger tea, we talked about different cultures, relationships...not all of it was serious, especially, the description of the happenings in the house opposite Sanmoy's!

Later, in the terrace, we revisited our college days, the best days of our lives that we'd perhaps not experience again. Talking in this vein with friends without any inhibition left me with pangs of nostalgia! It also made me realize that, no matter, how old I am, there will be people around me with whom I can open up and experience a beautiful freedom. 

When we came back to the room, Sanmoy started strumming his guitar whilst Abhi guessed the songs...For once, I was transported back in time to those wonderful evenings at Great Lakes when Deb used to play and sing Bengali songs. The creativity of Bongs - hats off! Sanmoy was very humble when he said, he is just an amateur...wish Abhi had got his violin for the evening. It was 2.30 AM by the time we hit the sack. It was an evening that is truly the stuff of dreams...beautiful, peaceful and relaxing...! Sanmoy and Abhilash,  thank you so much!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Moonlight Carnival

If you can see only vileness in humanity, take a long cycle ride in the hinterlands, in rural India; experience its idyllic setting where beauty thrives. This is not the beauty of glitz and glamour; this is real beauty juxtaposed with squalor and has no trace of superficiality about it. 

Riders getting ready

The ride was special and named aptly – Moonlight carnival. We started the ride at 2.30 AM from Kollegal. The bus ride to Kollegal (situated 145 kms from Bangalore) took us a little more than 3 hours. In the moonlight, aided by conventional and miner’s torches, we set about getting the bikes ready for the ride. Having been part of 4 rides organized by CAM (Cycling and more) the team was extremely helpful and Manohar, our organizer for this particular ride can be easily named Mr. Cool. 

If I can play a trick on William Wordsworth’s famous lines – 

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!

And make it read, 

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be cycling was very heaven!

I’d certainly not be lying! 

The pleasant breeze and the silence of the night were a perfect invitation. Unlike rides that start during the day, where most riders like to speed off in the beginning, in this case, hardly anyone bothered with speed. We were more than happy to engage in the cyclist version of saunter. Our destination was the Forest rest house at the foot of the BR hills in Bylore, 45 kms away. 

I started the ride alongside Nandini and listened to her experiences in NCBS (National Centre for Biological Sciences) as a research associate. It was a different world for me – biological research, fruit flies, state aids for research etc. Soon, Sandeep, Harsha and Rohan joined and briefly we were a group. In the darkness, except for the occasional stray dog, our own conversations and the rattle of the wheels against the road were the only sounds to break the silence. Sometimes a torch from an early riser would sweep to scan us…

The colors of sunrise

It is not that we have not been on night rides in the countryside. The difference here was the physical effort we exerted and the absence of the ugly engine noise. Indeed, cycles come closest to being nature friendly modes of transportation! At dawn break, I caught up with Neeraj, Kaavya and Megha just ahead of a dusty and stone-laden track of road. The sun was up before we realized – so sudden it was that the whole thing struck me as an anticlimax. The few minutes before sunrise were the best part as the last vestiges of darkness were swept off gently and the sky was bathed in soft glows of orange and blue. 

At Odeyara Palya, we alighted to have tea. When we resumed, the villages on either side of the road sprang to life. We confronted idling men, busy women and pleasantly surprised children. The sunlight revealed swathes of green and reddish-brown vegetation. At 7.30 AM, we reached our destination for the morning. 

Bylore Forest Rest House

Breakfast was simple and hot. While some riders took turns to freshen up, some others went to sleep. I took a quick 2 hour nap in a tent. Even as the sun steadily traversed an arc from the east, the heat was not unbearable. A game of cards was in progress and briefly I sat next to the group. By lunch time, almost everyone had taken bath. Lunch was hot sambar rice with cabbage, pickle and curd. After lunch, we lay down on mats in the shade…to do nothing, think nothing and look forward to nothing is a pleasure in itself.

The Monastery

At 4 PM, we started the ride towards Dzogchen monastery, off Odeyara Palya. The approach road was just about motor able and can do with some restoration! The Dhondenling Tibetan Settlement is a world in itself. Young women on bikes, kids beaming with the classic Tibetan smile, genial looks on old men and women – the picturesque settlement had all the traces of one that is coming out a time warp. Young monks in the monastery played with gay abandon and cherubic innocence is how I can describe their smiles. One wished the monastery was open though! 

Riding back alone to the forest house, I met a curious girl who thought I am a foreigner. She demanded amusingly what my business was. When I said, we have no business apart from cycling, her pleasantly surprised expression had me in splits of laughter. The confidence with which she spoke in English and later switched to chaste Hindi was ironical since we were in rural Karnataka. I wonder whether this is because of feature rich mobile phones or satellite television!!

I spent the hours before dinner gazing at the stars and the moon through the dense foliage of a large tree. I recommend this as an exercise to come to terms with the insignificance of our lives – so negligible and pale as part of the cosmos, we often overestimate our own relevance and indulge in comical pursuits. After all, a grain in a haystack! Paradoxically, this realization bestows the power to love our fellow human beings. This love makes us powerful and strong, not weak and spineless because there is just awareness here; not attachment.  

Day 2  Morning

Day 2 – we rose early to have coffee and a light breakfast. The sun had just risen when we started the ride. There was no human habitation on either side of the road – it was just endless stretch of mountains interspersed with sparse greenery as far as the eye could see. 

We were a small group of 5 until Garemalam, border town between Tamilnadu and Karnataka. The undulating roads were smooth and easy to ride on. I felt an intense urge to freeze the moment. Mankind should invent something that makes this possible – to wrap all the enablers of a particular moment (such as this), add some preservative and bottle them up together in a container. Whenever one wants, one should just uncork the bottle and be able to relive the memory in all its vividness again! 

Bike salute

The ride from Garemalam till Arepalayam was mostly a descent. At a particular bend in the road, we stopped for rest. It was time for bike salute and we took umpteen numbers of snaps here. After Arepalayam, we took a sharp right to take the road to Hasanur. Being a national highway, there were lot of KSRTC and TNSTC buses plying on this one. At Punajanur gate, Megha’s cycle got punctured and the guys led by Mr. Fixit alias Venkatesh sweated it out before we resumed. It proved to be a welcome break. 

We reached the endpoint for the ride shortly before noon. Our Mr. Cool was swamped with all kinds of gadgetry when he offered to click group pictures! During the initial few hours of the short return journey, most of us took a short nap. Around 5 PM after a stop for coconut water, we started dumb charades. With some quirky names and equally quirky acts, we couldn’t have laughed more. Pavan’s act for Melina would easily take the icing here! 

At 6.15 PM, I alighted at Jayanagar – with a single step, I was back in the harsh world of reality.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Bombay Talkies - A successful experiment

Presented by The Orchid Room Experiment, the first thing that struck me about the play is its name, 'Bombay Talkies'; it is not 'Mumbai Talkies'. In renaming Madras, Calcutta and Bombay, we have lost so much that is intangible! Chennai surely doesn't evoke the same degree of emotion as Madras does...

In this era where we get glued to reality television to get our daily dose of reality, (as if it is in short supply in our lives) we seldom have the courage to look at ourselves in the mirror. We are scared of the face the mirror conjures, for it is at odds with the one we put on for the world. As long as this dichotomy exists, monologues will be appreciated. A monologue is akin to a person thinking out loud, confronting himself in the mirror and laying open his soul. Bombay Talkies is eight monologues – “Uncensored moments of eight mumbaikars” - stitched together in a little more than 90 minutes.

Baby Dimple –

Played by Rasika, this is about a glorious past fading into an ordinary present and what looks like a bleak future. The once famous child actress, unable to come to terms with the changing ethos that conflicts with her self-professed values, begins to shed them as the lights dim.

Ideas –

In this monologue, the character played by Ishitta - A fountain of ideas - is caught between her own independence and the approval of her husband. As she talks of her painting – a maze of high rises and cable lines - she also reveals how the city is so dense and intricate…Beautifully imagined, this monologue is a simple and lovable sketch and my personal favorite.

Seven tiles –

Of lost childhoods and the agonies of growing up in an atmosphere of pseudo-conservatism, this is very powerfully enacted by Viraf. Where Kamasutra and Khajuraho are taboo, child sexual abuse is rampant. Beginning with humor, this one morphs slowly into an agonizing account of tarnished innocence.

No Tension –

Darshan is the typical agent and plays the character with such conviction that one begins to wonder if he has been an agent in his real life too. Loud, humorous, vulnerable, humane, vile and crude, he has the audience eating out of his hands.

Wonderland –

A cynical news reporter begins to introspect in this story. She slowly sees all around her, the genuine goodness of the human spirit as her travels in and around the city brings her into contact with people of different classes. The people she encounters defy all conventional conjectures…

Shobhit Patel –

This one takes the cake after Ideas. Namit is adorable as the classic Patel waiting for his American visa in a long queue. The moment forces him to examine his past with all its flaws. His friend’s – Manoj Bacardi – exploits with girls, the dandiya nights and his extended family’s yearning for all things back home, this is my second favorite.

Relationship Status –

The number of single mothers in urban India is on the rise. Financially independent, intelligent, assertive, the lives of these women is scrutinized harshly by a hypocritical society. The grind of daily lives without an emotional shoulder to rest on – Anahita does complete justice to this story.

The uprising –

I must confess that I could not understand the sense of gravity that Zafar in this last monologue seemed to evoke. The chorus chanting was also lost on me. Perhaps, a small explanation after the performance might have helped…

Kudos to the entire cast and Vikram Kapadia for a theatre experience that made us think, laugh and also question entrenched stereotypes. It is a beautiful sketch…go, catch it if you have a chance!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Srilanka Diary - Part 1

As the Srilankan airlines flight from Bangalore took off, I could imagine my soul detaching itself from the confines imposed by the body and rising high above; it was unsure for a while, albeit, a few moments perhaps, then, with increasing conviction, it transfigured itself into a light feather and took flight through the windows of the airbus. I sat composed, unperturbed by this fanciful imagination. My eyelids drooped and I drifted into a state of semi sleep; followed the feather in its adventurous flight. It kissed the clouds, flitted in and out of the window. A few times, I even shuddered at how careless it was...the overwhelming feeling was something akin to relief after putting down a heavy baggage. 

On arrival, just outside the Colombo airport

At the Bandaranayake international airport, the procedure to get the basic 30 day tourist visa was hassle-free. To be spotted by a beaming Aditi made for a sweet welcome to the island. After completing the formalities, we (myself, Aditi, Arpit and Harish) headed towards the taxi. The driver turned out to be a cricket fan whose favorite player was Lasith Malinga. The brief drive to Blue Horizon guest house at Negombo perhaps helped smoothen our excited nerves. We could immediately sense the clean, well paved, pothole-free smooth road and the clear signboards lining the road, every kilometer or so.

 The guest house was basic and neat. We chatted without any direction for some time. It reminded me of college days, when agendas did not drive discussions... It must have been well past midnight when we stepped out in the dark to see if we can get something to eat. We returned when the silence became eerie.
Breakfast at the blue lagoon guest house, Negombo

Surabhi arrived early in the morning, and as a small group, we were all set to explore what the pearl of the Indian Ocean had to offer.  Breakfast was tasty, elaborate and had an English flavor to it. Mr. Dinuk, our travel agent met and wished us. We set out in the spacious Toyota Hiace with Ajanthaji (Arpit first used the north Indian suffix ‘ji’ to refer to our guide Mr. Ajantha) toward Kandy. The road was lined on either side with lush greenery and the weather, just about pleasant for the drive. We had just started to gather speed and already I wanted a rewind to last night at Colombo airport; isn't time a cruel destroyer of fantasy? 

At Pinnawala elephant orphanage, Kegalle

We reached Pinnawala elephant orphanage at Kegalle, on a slight detour from the Colombo- Kandy road.  The elephant is an animal that defies contemporary definitions of beauty with its girth and trunk. Yet, when a herd sauntered down towards us, it was a majestic view to behold. While most of them were let free to roam, a few big ones were tethered. 

Lunch on the way to Kandy
Our guide at the spice garden plucked a few twigs every now and then and crushed the leaves for us to smell. The aroma  that sprang forth was overpowering if not intoxicating on the senses. It removed the last vestiges of sleep from our systems. Arpit got some very special hair removal treatment on his leg.

For lunch, we stopped at a picturesque location overlooking the road leading to Kandy and just beyond it, on a rising terrain, was the railway line. Our happiness at 1 USD fetching nearly 125 SL rupees soon disappeared looking at the menu card. Though expensive, the food tasted very good, especially the fish curry with rice that we had ordered.