Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Blue Green and In Between

"Can you sing with all the voices of the mountains
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind"

Pocahontas (Walt Disney Pictures), 1995

In the south-eastern corner of my residence, we happen to have a balcony. It is said that a house gives shelter to people but a home offers solace to the heart, and when we first moved in to this residence five-and-a-half years back, I think this south-eastern corner contained the first square foot of area which firmly announced its recognition as "home" in my seventeen-year-old adolescent heart. Of course the rest of the house was soon to follow, but as they say, one never does forget one's first love.

In a sea of monotonous suffocating yellow sand, a desert wanderer seeks the solace of sweet water in an oasis. A lost seafaring journeyman likewise sees deliverance in the palm frond on a tiny island which breaks an otherwise stifling expanse of unbroken blue. What sanctum, I wonder, should a city dweller seek whose eyes cannot see beyond concrete and whose ears crave for freedom from the sound moving steel makes? My lucky balcony, facing the blue sky in the day and the stars in the night, its view on account of sheer luck left unsullied by civilization, is my sanctuary from concrete and steel.

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti
Every year in the month of February, winter announces its departure from my city, and every year without exception the departure seems to arrive far too soon. You can try pleading with the weather gods but they tend to turn a deaf ear to our pleas. While the city sniffs around for the elusive spirit of "spring" whose manifestation is nothing if not ephemeral, I on the other hand remain on the lookout for signals. The day when I first ditch the compulsory lukewarm water for my shower, the evening when I first employ the services of a ceiling fan after a long tiring day, and the night when I first decommission the uses of my blanket or bed cover - these are telltale signs of the season ending. But if I were tasked with pinpointing one particular moment which declares the termination of the cold season to my eccentric mind, it is indubitably the turning of the wind.

Every single day I happen to spend some time standing at the corner of the balcony in the south-east, which may range from a couple of minutes to a good two hours at a stretch. When I stick my head out in winter, the season reminds me of its presence by a sharp cool wind which strikes my face from up north. Meteorologists would undoubtedly be able to explain this phenomenon better, but every year I find a date on the calendar when for the first time in three to four months I find a new wind brushing past and saying hello. This wind does not pinch me in the face; it instead ruffles the back of the shirt I'm wearing and my ears detect a soft whoosh. It is not the unremitting cold which only faintly reminds of the mountains up north, but the mellow fresh breeze sweet on the skin from the seas down south. I raise my arms sideways; if the wind is strong enough, the traffic is quiet enough and my mood is fanciful enough, I imagine I am flying.

 Picture Courtesy: Mitrayan Hazra
If Man and Nature were to meet on a balance sheet, we would be neck deep in liabilities. True, we ourselves are a part of nature and her creations, but even trying to compare what we have got from her to what we have actually succeeded in giving back sounds ridiculously absurd. We take and take and then take for granted. Creating categories and classifications is something I enjoy doing, so I will now indulge myself by making two. The exponents of nature around us come chiefly under two classes. The living "sentient" beings include the species who act think locomote and procreate willingly for themselves, while the non-living entities are the elements of nature cardinal to the planet like the rivers, forests, the wind and the ocean. Of course, every tree in a forest is a living being, but the broader entity of a forest like the bulk of a seemingly unending ocean derives awe from its invariability and solid lifeless immobility. Basically, the inert insentient world has put itself at the service of the living animate world to transfigure and modify it as per convenience. The living world follows this directive in different ways. An earthworm digs itself a hole in the ground, a pigeon gathers an assortment of twigs to build a nest, and a human creates a pool of frozen concrete and polished steel where originally a forest used to thrive. The intent of all three, interestingly, is the same.

Picture Courtesy: Aniket Pal
Nature is not confined within a week's trip to Manali or a short weekender at Goa. Neither can Henrik Jeppesen, a 28-year-old Dane who has travelled to every country in the world and has surely seen a lot of it, claim monopoly over it. Nature is exceedingly personalized and has a different palette to offer to each one of us. Reality is not always attractive and charming and neither is nature, but what the two have in common is the absolute undeniable state of being. Through ups and downs, menacing twists, frenzies of action and periods of indolence, life has the habit of marching on. Through spellbinding snow-covered mountainsides and rivers sparkling in the sun, to a patch of rocky terrain or an expanse of hot hazy dull green, nature is omnipresent. It is just, there.

If the reader remembers the fairy tales and worlds of make believe from younger days, I urge you to take note of a simple phenomenon. Back when we were young, they would talk to us. These objects, these lifeless inanimate "things", would be depicted with a pair of round eyes and a wide smile by the illustrators while the writer would give them words to speak. More often than not, these fables would be aimed at imbibing certain values within the children whose minds were still soft enough to be moulded. A noble thought, by all means; I for one would love to see some morals around for a change. But even if by some rare occurrence the morals lessons are absorbed, why is it that the whispering wind, the charming river, and the conscientious apple tree who provided a little child with its fruit branches leaves and stem, are all "de-personified" at the guillotine of growing up?

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti
Why is it that we stop attributing a personality to nature? Society takes it for granted that a person's character and persona is modelled and structured by the people around him or her, and I unequivocally agree to this sentiment. What is not so widely elaborated is the effect of the inanimate nature surrounding an individual as well in structuring the temperament and disposition. As a friend from a district up north of Bengal had told me, the mountains and the rivers of the districts are absorbed into the bloodstreams of the people, thus turning out generations of fine men and women. My city, on the other hand, has surely given onto me a part of its own character and disposition, but what it has absolutely robbed me off is a chance to mingle freely in nature and learn a few lessons and pick up a few traits there as well.

This was not meant to be a cliched article on nature and its contributions. World Environment Day, which is celebrated on 5th June for those unaware, is still considerably far off so this does not qualify to be sentimental hogwash written out of topical pressure. The 400-word essay I had produced in under 12 minutes while writing my Bengali paper during my matriculation exams was on the oh-so-enlightening topic of "Nature and Pollution", so I probably know a thing or two about writing cliches. This is merely an effort and an entreaty to give nature and its elements the place it deserves in the scheme of things. The first step to bringing about change is to accept the necessity for the change, and it is time we started giving some thought to it.

To end where I begun, I return to my balcony of the south-east. It is not without reason that it remains the favourite part of my home, because in moments of agony and of unbridled joy here is one part of the house where I can be myself and expression may flow unbound. In communication with nature, you do not require any medium. Today when the first Norwester of the season blew through the city, our communication was at its heightened peak. My eyes reflected every time the lightning spoke. My ears took in the consequent almighty crash and unceasing whoosh of winds. My nose picked up the distinct and inimitable smell rainwater makes when it patters down upon layers of dust. The skin of my hands and face revelled in the coolness and wetness of the small drops which invaded into the balcony.

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti
I only wish I were out on the roads, my tongue feeling for a taste of the clouds above.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Dear Mr. Seventeen

Dear Mr. Seventeen,

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti
If there ever were a thing most wretched and disgusting in the world, which makes the mind go numb and the guts churn empty, it has to be the dish called hindsight, garnished with the sticky syrup of regret and the bitter sauce of remorse. The elements outside spell out "Christmas", and as the moods of the weather gods announce the arrival of the most cheerful and happy season which visits my city, I ask you to pardon me for such a dispiriting and gloomy beginning to this letter.

Living in the age when letter-boxes are fast becoming artifacts of historical significance and not so much utility, this particular piece of correspondence is free from the hassles of postage stamps and delivery status tracking (and owl posts). To you, whom this is addressed to, this letter will never reach, for the simple reason that you do not exist any more and in case you did, there probably would not have been any reason to pen these thoughts down.

This is your four year older self writing from the future. Those same genes and DNA, the same body which has housed you and the same mind which has guided you for seventeen long years, but which now has four extra years of learning and experience stored in the memory chip. An elder "brother" maybe? Not really, since we are biologically the same person. But apart from that, oh you have no idea who the next four years will transform you into. So from one man to another, here goes.

That's how you should be feeling right now.
How fickle, you might be thinking, that a mere span of less than half a decade is enough to alter the nature of an individual. Not quite, I say, for the underlying nucleus of our characters are the same. Through experiences, interactions and existence in general, I have come to learn and react to situations differently than you would, and it is in these responses that my experience comes to the fore. Today, you surely are a rather more well-rounded and sensible young man compared to the hot-headed and impulsive thirteen-year-old you have left behind four years back.

If there is one thing about the future that I can promise you with absolute certainty, then it would be the futility of planning and choreographing the destiny you want for yourself. You may scheme and orchestrate however much you want to, but oh boy doesn't God have different designs for you in mind! "Man proposes God disposes" has never rung more true than it does today. You see the journey ahead is so fraught with unknown elements, that the moment you have all your bases covered and the blueprint is just about to take shape, some factor completely beyond your purview of consideration appears out of the blue and all your carefully thought out plans go for a toss. So the prudent thing is to keep the mind open and the heart geared up for confronting all possibilities.

Arjuna and Dronacharya
But it certainly is not wise to go about life without an aim in sight. Our religious texts have not been written for nothing. When Arjun hit the eye of the wooden bird set by Dronacharya as his target, it is fabled that he could see nothing and nothing else apart from the eye of the bird. Focus, determination and conviction of the self are necessary ingredients for success. But do keep in mind that what you are aiming for at this particular moment is but only a temporary whim of your conscience. When you thread a needle, the entire world comes to rest within the irritatingly small eye of the needle. While in the moment, the target in front is the absolute and beyond compromise and negotiation, but do keep the faith that in the longer run there is more to the world than the eye of the needle.

Have you heard of the famous Max Born? A Jewish physicist and mathematician, he was one of the stalwarts working at the University of Göttingen in Germany in the 1930's, till the Nazi regime forced him to relocate to England. It is said that before putting his son's name down for college, Born's father had instructed his son that before deciding on what he wanted to study he should give careful attention to every branch of education being pursued, and only then choose one for himself. Prof Born is then said to have methodically traipsed through the annals of law, literature, psychology, economics, political science and astronomy - but thoroughly failed to reach a conclusion as to which subject merited his attention most. Alas, he had been gloriously unsuccessful in coming second in any of the subjects. I believe it is the great good luck of Science that a brain such as Max Born's devoted itself to Science's worship.

Prof. Max Born
Well you certainly are not Max Born (the distinguished Professor would be turning in his grave at the very thought) and the University of Göttingen is admittedly some distance beyond your reach. So why narrate such a story, albeit quite interesting but not really useful? The point is, little brother, that never should anyone shut down one's vision and limit ones capabilities along conventional tried-and-tested lines. When you pick on an activity of your choice, be good at it - be so good that no one dare raise a word of dissent against your capability - but let it not be the limit for excellence. "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist", said Pablo Picasso, so go pursue your art form in whichever field you wish, and then rewrite the rules of the art yourself. If you decide to teach yourself to cook an omelette and nothing else, by all means do so, but let your omelette be the finest omelette the world has ever eaten.

Don't fry your Omeleto before they hatch! So here is coming to the crunch of this whole letter. How common is it for us social animals to crib about the past? You remember how that septuagenarian neighbour of ours back in our early teenage used to begin most of his statements in the tone of "Back in our days...", and would eventually prove beyond reasonable doubt how much better his generation had been and what an irresponsible bunch of failures we all were? I did realize later on, that the reason for the gentleman's dissatisfaction actually emanated from a sense of unfulfillment of certain desires and hopes from his youth, and who knows perhaps a couple of deep and profound regrets as well. Well he was still a kindly man, and may his soul rest in peace today. The crux of the matter is, when you look back at your days after they have passed, the only measuring scale of success you will have, calibrated and carefully gauged, is the standard of hindsight. Not the degrees you have achieved and not the accolades you have won, but your success will be measured in how little a portion of your life do you regret having gone through. A truly successful human being is one who can look back at his or her life and state confidently, "If I were given a second chance to lead this life I would follow exactly the same path that I have already taken this time." I am yet to meet one who qualifies this criterion.

Illustrator: Sayanta Midya
So then, where does that place us! You and I, we are genetically as identical as is possible and we have shared the same experiences while growing up till seventeen, but having an additional stock of four years worth of experience places me upon a slightly higher rostrum than you. Quite frankly, brother, I know exactly what is in store for you in the next four years. A whirlwind of events and experiences which will knock the wind out of you for quite some duration of time, and by the time you start regaining your breath you are already twenty one. But in spite of knowing that there is nothing to change, that despite all my ruminations nobody is going to gift me a Time Turner (even if they did, I wouldn't be able to change anything), there is some satisfaction to be gained from the knowledge that in minimizing my regrets and locking the misery called hindsight into a closet, I can look forward to a future to live laugh and enjoy in.

Hang on, is that a knock I hear on the door? Ah, I believe it is the postman, who comes to deliver a letter addressed to me from a certain Mr. Twenty Five...

Take it easy brother.

With best wishes,

Mr. Twenty One.

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

A Redundant Rivalry

Illustrator: Sayanta Midya

At the guillotine of logic and judgement I place an accumulation of all that is irrational and unfounded, with the prayer that the deity of Science be contented by the demolition of falsehood and the prevalence of reason. Thus having proven myself to be a scientific human being, I turn and observe my deference to the numen of Art and seek her blessings. It is in the consistency of worship to both these avatars of human excellence that I seek to find paradise.

Why do we have the acrimony? Science and Art have been at loggerheads for ages. Back in the Middle Ages in both India and Europe, religion exerted its profound influence over the art forms, and came into direct conflict with the rational and the logical. Progress of science was hindered by minds untrained in the domain of logic and analysis. While science eventually did manage to overthrow the shackles of the illogical, it retaliated with vehemence. A journal on the subject succinctly comments on the matter: “Artistic activity is totally gratuitous, while science aims at attaining a specific end.” Science didn’t look too kindly upon any sort of gratuitous activity. As of the present day, animosity between the two “camps” has gone down but there exists an undercurrent of mistrust and a touch of disregard for the other. Here I do not speak of the refined and broad-minded few but instead focus on the injudicious and unenlightened many. These are the sentiments responsible for a redundant rivalry foaming among intelligent humans.

Galileo was right all along.
Scientists and technologists yell themselves hoarse, that the world we are living in and the gratification we are deriving from it every moment of the day would not have been possible without the contributions of science and technology. Let us consider this argument at some depth. One has to agree that Art definitely is indebted to Science. It is only when the more mundane and less artistic elements of human life have been taken care of, that the human mind can focus itself on expression of its other – more artistic – side. Not to be ignored is the fact that technology has a lot to contribute to the elemental logistics of Art itself. From the optimally designed cast iron frame of a piano to the air-conditioned interiors and acoustically perfected furnishings of an auditorium, expression and performance of any art form today is heavily dependent on technology. So it is in conjunction with the technological progress of civilisation that Art merits to be judged – what quality of Art the cavemen of prehistory might have come up with had they been given a penthouse to live in and state-of-the-art drawing tools instead of charcoal is anybody’s guess.
Artists, on the other hand, consider a different perspective. When food for the body has been provided by Science, Art nourishes the heart and the soul. Appreciation of beauty and affinity towards perfection is what distinguishes humans from the lesser creations of God, and the artist carries the responsibility of pouring life and energy into what would otherwise become the mechanised world of Modern Times. A very commonly quoted anecdote goes like this: If you have an apple and I have an apple and we both exchange our apples, we are left with one apple each. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we both exchange our ideas, we are left with two ideas each. Carrying this analogy forward, artists of the world are propagating a never ending chain of ideas and visions to millions across the world, through the gratifying exercise of self-expression.

But what is science, if not an attempt at self expression? Let us first attempt to declassify the mind of an artist. For sake of convenience, I assume an imaginary painter of my own construct to be the flag-bearer and representative of all those indulging in the profession of creative arts. The consummate beauty of what she sees – be it through her mind’s eye or through her biological ones – is what serves as the primary inspiration to set it down on a canvas as an expression of what is beautiful. Secondly, the other aspect to her painting is the enjoyable challenge of being able to represent on a two-dimensional piece of paper the precise object of art that she has visualised – glorious in the perfection of its representation. The impeccability of the creation serves as a highly cherished goal. I use the term “object of art” for lack of a better substitute, for it is not always an “object” which captures the fancy of a painter; something as ethereal as an idea may be sufficient for creating a masterpiece. The passion that instigates is thus two-fold, one ethereal and intangible, while the other more substantial and analysis-worthy.

I see here an exact correspondence with the psychology of a scientist. Ask any worshiper of Science about what is it that drives the adrenaline, and the most spontaneous and fundamental answer to that will surely be the sheer joy derived in revelation of the truth. Rumour has it that Sir Isaac Newton had made the mathematical breakthrough in the discovery of Calculus alone and by himself, but initially had not taken the initiative for the magnificent tool to be publicised and put to use by other stalwarts of Science. It had taken some amount of cajoling and persuasion to convince him to make public his discoveries, and we the pursuers of Science are ever grateful that the eccentric genius could be convinced into doing so. But Sir Isaac Newton apart, is the “object of discovery” all that matters, and not the expression of the object? It most certainly does. There is satisfaction to be derived from realisation of the truth, and equally so from communicating the beauty of the discovery in its flawless and immaculate form, to another mind willing to learn.

Leonardo da Vinci - Italian Renaissance polymath
Talented scientists and bright young engineers are often faced with the humongous problem of self-expression. In our society, nothing quite beats “Science” in the race to the peak of the social-approval pyramid – alas! But devotion to Science alone can never be sufficient in realising the full potential of the pursuer. Bypassing the popular discussion on why and how today’s society is stultifying expression and art and promoting mindless rigour, I would beg to stress on the point that proper and accurate expression of thought is as important to a man of Science as it is to a man of Art. Oh the gratification in being able to convey an idea to another person, precisely in the form in which I myself had conceived it! Expression of a mathematical formulation in precise scientific terms is no less an art than penning a razor-edged article where every word is whetted and sharpened to leave a mark. Expression of an idea in the form of seamless composition on the violin is no less a science than derivation of a new scientific concept destined to alter human history.

Each incomplete without the other.
In conclusion, there actually exists no scope for conflict. All the antagonism has its roots in the lack of exchange between the two communities. The barriers of “domains, subjects and streams” created by the narrow annals of contemporary education are partially to blame for this mess. True, it does no good to be a Jack of all trades and a Master at none, and neither is anyone expecting a person to humanly attempt to shine in every field of human excellence. But at the very least, it would do no harm to cultivate a sense of respect and regard for the realms of human reach which we are unfortunate enough to be unable to tap in the single and passing lifetime of a mayfly that God has allotted to each one of us. All of it, after all, comes down to the happiness and bliss in the human action of self-expression.

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.”
-       Albus Dumbledore

      **Published in the October issue of the Elixir magazine.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

The Deity Within

"You raise me up so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be."
- Josh Groban

As the smoke from the incessant burning of incense cleared ever so slightly, Gauri, a little child of six, could finally get a glimpse of the face. Sitting proudly abreast her father's broad shoulders, she noted the thick tresses of hair, the complexion of burnished gold, and the eyes drawn wide apart with jet black pupils. The clay idol seemed to radiate more energy than any mortal human of flesh and blood. What unique smell was this which filled Gauri's lungs not with air, but energy and vivacity? It was the smell of flowers, incense, perfume, and the spirit of five hundred people happily coexisting in a hundred square meters of space. Gauri's ears, over the past few days, had slowly become accustomed to this curious pattern of music she had never ever heard before. She wondered what her erstwhile music teacher at the Musikakademie Hamburg in distant Germany would have thought of this rhythm. How would Germany, the country which has produced musicians ranging from Wagner and Beethoven to Hans Zimmer and Ramin Djawadi, react to the patterns on the unassuming and rural Indian dhaak?

Terms like "reverse brain-drain" and "retention of indigenous talent" hold no significance to Gauri's uncomplicated mind. All she remembers is the winter morning when the winds seemed to be blowing even more colder than usual down the streets of Hamburg, when her father and mother had told her that she needn't prepare herself to go to school that morning, or for that entire week. Perched on her mother's lap, Gauri learned that they were leaving Hamburg and were going back to India the next Friday, and she must bid all her school friends goodbye before she left. Okay, thought Gauri, so I'll be going to a new school over there and will make some new friends. She knew some things about India. On Wednesday, two days before she was about to leave the city forever, her friend Michael told Gauri that he had overheard his parents discussing how strange it was of Gauri's "Papa" to voluntarily leave a "permanent position" at the Universität Hamburg and return to India. Oh, and did Gauri know the meaning of the term "third-world"? No, and neither did Michael. Michael invited Gauri over to his house that evening to have some cheese cakes his mother had baked for them.
Having landed in the city of Kolkata on a foggy January morning, Gauri's little heart had taken a liking to this new place at the first instant. There was a warmth about this city, and that wasn't merely to do with the alarming degrees of hotness it reached during the months of May and June. On the other hand, a few things surprised Gauri significantly. Why were all her little cousins, most of whom she was meeting for the first time, so taken aback when they found out that she could read write and speak fluent Bengali? I mean, was she not supposed to do so? In the meantime, Gauri had also ascertained the meaning of the term "third-world" from her grandfather. It was not a very nice term used by people of some countries to describe people of other countries. This got Gauri somewhat confused; Michael's mother was very nice and she had given her cheese cakes.

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti
As we leave Gauri perched on the vantage point that is her father's shoulder, let us take a deep breath, savour the fragrance of ecstasy, and have a look around the city Gauri presently calls home. It is often said that the journey is more desirable than the destination, and the preparation is enjoyed more than the event itself. After a long period of anticipation and planning which seems to start earlier with every passing year, the occasion is here itself. For five days, the city locks all it's miseries into a dark cellar and lives like there is no tomorrow. All fights are kept paused and the daggers of cutthroat competition for once get some time to gather rust. What is technically a religious occasion very quickly transcends all boundaries of faith, because you do not need a religion to feel happy. For five days, the city is free.

Having reached the grand old age of twenty-one, I have acquired this unusual habit of turning my head and looking back. In a rush of fleeting memories, all that is left behind is a collage of images one on top of the other, some faded and some distinct, some in black-and-white while some in glorious technicolour. I take some time out from my busy schedule and with a pair of clippers, snip out small portions from my collage of memories like comic strips from a newspaper. Then I lay out the fragments side by side and preview my handiwork. If Durga Pujo in my city be the Sydney Opera House pyrotechnics on New Year's Eve, then I have succeeded in creating my own modest little firecracker.
Picture Courtesy: Mitrayan Hazra

It is well known and widely accepted that separation strengthens the bonds of attachment. When sailors were out in the sea for months on end battling the elements of nature at their deadliest, it was the thought of setting their feet on firm ground which drove them on to discover new lands. And the solitary week spent with the family weighed more than even a year's time spent in monotonous routine and unbroken coexistence. Such is my plight today. So accustomed had I become to the annual celebration of Maa Durga's arrival to my city, that it hit me with the force of a willow that this year might just be my last occasion of euphoria for at least some time to come. In the mills of progress and occupation, "aaschhe bochhor abaar hobe" this time around might just be not applicable for me anymore.
Picture Courtesy: ©yordphotos
What is it that I shall really miss about Durga Pujo in Kolkata? I'll miss the "emotion" of it all. But for once, I wish to skip the woods for the trees. This time around, instead of spending the entire duration in one continuous overlapping period of high spirit, I want to pause and take note of every minute detail. These details have been evident in front of us since childhood but one generally skips over their existence to the broader view. The way the dhaaki spins the sticks in his deft fingers in a manner that has been practiced in his family for generations, the way the steam rises from the piping hot meal of pure veg khichudi when it is dished out over banana leaves carefully sewn against each other, and the way the tones of normal conversation of one thousand people under the open sky merge together and create a continuous roar of unfathomable noise. I want to store as many of these memories I can in a precious corner of my heart and let them serve as the means of sustenance till the time I am back again under the peaceful shade of my own city.

Gauri smiles contentedly as her father puts her down on the ground and they wind their way towards the exit from the mandap. Some days back, as the first rays of the rising sun were bidding farewell to the last strains of Mahishasuramardini on the day of Mahalaya, Gauri's mother had told her that she was named after none other than Maa Durga herself. Wide eyed Gauri had listened with unconcealed wonder to the entire narration of how Maa Durga fought against the might and power of Mahishasur and rescued the people of earth from his cruel deeds. Indeed, a few details of the narrative were a bit difficult for Gauri to comprehend entirely; maybe she'd understand them more clearly as she grew up? There seemed to be so many things which only grown-ups were allowed to understand and discuss these days. But when the victory of good over evil was announced, it certainly brought a smile of satisfaction to her lips.

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti
And that is where we part ways with Gauri and allow her to be the creator of her own future and the author to her own story. The day is of Vijaya Dashami, so the other Gauri, with her four children in tow, also has to take her leave. The Ganga flows past my city in all her grandeur and grace, and it is upon her that we have bestowed the sacred responsibility to take back Maa Durga to her heavenly abode among the snow-capped peaks of Kailash. As Parvati returns to Shiv, we humans retrace our paths back to the routine and the regimen.

Maa Durga is within us all. In times of trouble and in moments of agony, mere mortals like us do not have the strength solely in ourselves to pick ourselves up from the dirt of the road and resume the sojourn of life from which we were thrown off so unceremoniously. When a child learning to walk falls down on his knees repeatedly, he clings to his mother's arm and stands up and walks again. We only need to believe in the proffered arm and hold on to it.

May the blessings of Maa Durga shower upon every kindred soul of mine in this wonderful world we live in.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Trills of Epiphany

The condition of traffic in the city’s thoroughfares gets worse with every passing day. Forced to travel over fifteen kilometres twice every weekday between his suburban residence and his seventeen-storied office in the up and coming localities of the ever-expanding city, Satyam stared helplessly at the serpentine flow through the mess of car honks and abysmal pollution on his way back home after another long day of work, like any other day from the past four years. No use complaining, he thought to himself; we cannot crave for development and cringe at increase in the volume of traffic at the same time. That would be hypocrisy. Let the new metro route commence in a few years, and then life will certainly be a lot easier. This in mind, Satyam reaches into his backpack and draws out his overused and entangled pair of earphones. Jack in place, he drowns himself in the soothing voices of Simon and Garfunkel who talk to him of what is important in life and what is not. The strains of the piano on The Sounds of Silence engulf the cacophony of traffic.

Damn these examinations, thought Tiyasha, they keep coming back. Who on earth invented this horrific form of torture on young children and would-be adults, and to think that it is all for the sake of deciding upon a two-digit number which will supposedly determine my capabilities and potential? Indignant angst poured out of her sixteen-year-old self. As the clock sneaked past the midnight mark, drowsiness crept into the room lightened by a solitary table-lamp, and was aided by the soporific hum that weaves through the night. The upcoming examinations loomed threateningly at the horizon, so in a last bid at dissuading sleep from overtaking, Tiyasha turns and seeks refuge in the set of Bluetooth enabled headphones she had received as a gift on her last birthday. The rest of the house sleeps on, oblivious to the rhythm of the bass guitar as the Poets of the Fall belt out a song which speaks of Illusion and Dream.

Weekends are fun; weekends are for relaxation. Though not quite in the way most people think, mused Rukmini. For those who spend the other days of the week at work, rest is of premium importance on a weekend. But for her, a homemaker now on the wrong side of thirty, it was the only time of the week when she could communicate with her family in a manner that actually counted. The rush of the week, her husband’s long working hours, the increasing demands of her nine-year-old son’s upmarket school, and the thrice-a-week classical dance classes she conducted at her home, left Rukmini with precious little time to dedicate to things that mattered. No matter, she thinks to herself, as she pulls out the decade-old transistor radio from the kitchen shelf where it stayed on the other days of the week. There was a particular radio station which played the choicest of Rabindrasangeet on Sunday mornings, and what more encouragement does one need in order to cook up a really special mixed vegetable dish which even nine-year-olds would scoop up with delight? Rukmini pours all her love and warmth into a big saucepan along with broccoli and beans as Sraboni Sen and the melodies of esraaj take her through Dariye Achho Tumi Aamar Gaaner Opaare.

The smell of dust mixed with the drops of the season’s first rain hit Shankar like a glorious electric shock. As he left the dusty main road for a sparsely taken track into the woods, the bus that brought him there rumbled on towards its destination leaving him alone to his own devices at a little known village in district Nadia. The chaos of the city seemed a long way away as he trod on towards his destination, a vibrant akhara of a group of Bauls. As the rains begin to pick up, Shankar looks skywards and feels as if he is returning home after a very long time. Just out of college, his degree in Mathematics from a renowned institution does not attest his love towards the music of Lalon Fokir, but as the clouds loom darker his steps lengthen and his ears strain for the first notes on the ektara of the ethereal music which asks the almighty, Milon Hobey Kotodiney.

With every passing mile on the road from the airport towards the city, the sights that appeared outside Animesh’s car window pointedly refused to adhere to the visuals his forty-year-old self had had in his mind from seven years back, the last time he had set foot here. The cars he spotted on the roads were mostly smaller than the ones he drove on the smooth Interstates of the United States, and so were the heights of the buildings he was seeing here compared to those he helped design with an architectural firm back in his new home away from home. But familiarity with big cars, tall buildings and bright lights made the task of getting acquainted afresh with his own city no less startling. The closed windows and the air-conditioning system blocked out the noises from the street outside. As the stereophonic speakers of the car shift a station, Animesh suddenly notices a very familiar tone striking his aural nerves. The strumming of the guitar as Cactus breaks into Holud Pakhi pulls forth from the distant reserves of his memory the early college days when “targets” existed in archery fields and “take-home” probably referred to some fast-food joint.
Shambhunath had just returned from his routine morning walk. At eighty years, life demanded discipline and adherence to rules, so not once in the last seven years had he missed his morning constitutional. After a light breakfast as he settled himself into his comfortable armchair, he thanked God for leaving his sense of hearing unimpaired, much as his knees pained him and his eyesight left a lot to be desired. His routine now includes thirty minutes of his long time favourite Jagjit Singh on the music player his granddaughter had bought him two years back. Jagjit ji and his harmonium hum Tum Itna Jo Muskura Rahe Ho as Shambhunath peacefully leans back on his soft cushion.

Music thrives in every drop of our blood and every ounce of our existence. Take it away and you have a civilization full of empty souls. Enrich it and the world suddenly becomes such a better place to live in.

**Published on the occasion of Vivace 2017, the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the Southern School of Music, Kolkata.