Friday, October 25, 2013

Illustrated Obituary

When I visit people's homes, I often see these huge framed photographs of their family members who are not with them anymore. Sometimes these frames are hanging in an acute angle supported by a rusted metal chain or sometimes they are placed on dusty cob webbed corner tables. Some photographs have dark intimidating frames while some have custom made thin borders. Some fresh and pale flowers linger around these photographs as the bent incense sticks spread the smoky fragrance all over the busy household.

Very rarely have I come across photographs of the gone which depict their actual persona. Most of the pictures seem intimidating and stern. But in our mind we always like to remember them for what they were, their brighter side.

Let’s go to the south of India where a little girl finds a way to remember her dear paati (grandmother) just the way she was, vivacious. The story will metaphorically take you through one of the most intricate art form, that of Ikat work; now a dying art.

For the uninitiated, Pochampalli Ikat is a weaving art form where the warp, weft or both are tie-dyed before weaving to create intricate designs on the fabric.  Precision is the sole skill of this technique and one can experience the authenticity of this textile by visiting Pochampalli which is a cluster of several villages to the south of India.

We live our life just the way we do so that people around us remember us for what we are, while we are there and when we are gone. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The garrulous 'adda' ~ a photo-essay

As the book worms bury themselves in the book shops aligned along Kolkata’s College Street, there is something contrasting and bustling for the garrulous; the Indian Coffee House. A dark and broad winding stairway adorned with stickers, weathered posters and electric wires on the adjacent walls make way to a huge hall of echoing voices and broken words. One cannot grasp the visual at one go. As you look around, you would see people engrossed in conversations, arguments, a few staring at you and the waiters wearing crisp white stand collars with fan like attachment to their phetas running helter-skelter.

As you make yourself comfortable on the quintessential ‘coffee house’ chairs, one of the hospitable waiters will run to you and then there is a wide variety of culinary delights you get to choose from. “You have to try their mutton cutlets and fried fish”, said my Bengali friend who took me there. Two cups of strong coffee go with the turf, you can’t miss it.

Until we waited for the coffee to arrive, I looked around. There were old friends catching up, regulars arguing and taking a pause only to take a few puffs of cigarette,  women draped in quaint sarees heading to see the Durga Poojo pandals in the city, youngsters bunking lectures and gossiping and some sitting alone and observing. There was something for everyone regardless of age and interests.

As me and my friend chatted sipping on the refreshingly strong coffee and the cutlets and crispy fish served with sliced onions and mustard sauce, the noise around dissolved in its echo. That’s the charm of such places, you can avoid the sound when you want to and you can get lost in it when you are alone and observing.

Time flies while you are at the Coffee House and you keep ordering for more and wonder how the waiters keep a track of your order. You are distracted every now and then by people, noises, echoes and smells but you relish every moment of your time spent there.  

This photo-essay is dedicated to Debjani and Swetaketu Ghosh, parents of my friend Lopa who took me to Kolkata to relive their nostalgia.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

En route the eastern glut of visuals

Much awaited tête-à-tête with the land of conversations, nostalgic warps and wefts, iconic expressionists and food to die for; to say the least. Traveling to the eastern glut of visuals- en route Kolkata. Also straight away diving into the celebration close to every Bengali's heart with two quintessential Bengali friends; that of Durga Pujo!

Shall see you in a short while, till then keep dreaming and keep telling stories.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Conversations with Samten

As I flew back from Dharamsala to my home, several stories flew with me as well. (Thanks to the airlines that they yet don’t charge extra for mental baggage) Yes, I said ‘home’ because I couldn't wait to get back and put pen to paper. There were so many stories that hovered around in my mind for a long time, one of which was of Samten. But there was something unique about it; it hovered in my heart.

So easily I used the word ‘home’ in the above paragraph and I am sure most of you read it just like you would read any other word.  Perhaps because we know we can go back home at the end of the day, cuddle up in a warm blanket and stare at the ceiling fan confining our world within those four walls. Only because we ‘can’.

Conversations with Samten is a linear narrative of a series of conversations with a monk who was one of my students in the English conversation class in Mcleodganj. There were students of all age groups, genders and backgrounds that came every evening to the volunteer centre and interacted with travelers from across the globe. The conversations went on for an hour every day after which some of the travelers would accompany their students and explore the town. Through Samten I discovered a different world in which Tibetan people were living in their own land under the Chinese rule. He metaphorically represented those thousands of people who came to Dharamsala to follow one man and his teachings, The Dalai Lama. These people have been living in exile in Dharamsala and have tried to make a home there ever since.

Samten has been applying for his passport at the Chinese embassy in New Delhi for the last three years but they haven’t approved it yet. With watery eyes he took me through the photographs he clicks in his free time and I was touched to see how he compared every landscape in Dharamsala with his homeland, Tibet.

When I was traveling to Delhi from Dharamsala, an American teacher who also volunteered there said to me, “It’s unfortunate that the children in the US are absolutely unaware of what is happening in this part of the world!” I smiled and replied, “We Indians are equally unaware of it despite of been in such close proximity of this land.”

This appeared in The Mint last Friday and was published by Manta Ray Comics, the finest and most sensitive storytellers I have worked with.

Have a homely week, we are half way through this week but anyway.