Saturday, March 22, 2008

In the Holi Interstices of Life

Tough to know if I'm coming or going - this frenetic month. But experientially rich nonetheless. Moving from the left to the right of the country. To top everything, my letter ‘a’ of the new E series cell-phone decided to go defunct & hide itself. With life and business being conducted on the sms, I find I do figure out w'ys to keep ‘a’ out of the picture. Soon, even seem to think with no ‘a’ in it! This write-up till now, title et 'l, without ‘a’... But most irrit'ting. Vowels r essent'l like so m'ny other ch'r'cters, in life. Not complaining too loudly since this cell-phone is one’s client too!

West Bengl, Krntk, Mhrshtr… Brdwn, Kolh’pur, Sol’pur, Bij’pur. Unilever project in smll towns, plus PhD fieldwork. Not to mention qlty time with mom in her vill’ge school in the birth village of Sri Ramakrishna, Kamarpukur, district Hooghly, where she is now resident past one year. And then, b'ck to short interv’ls at home when - here - m comfort’bly living out of suitc’ses.

Just bck fm an outstn trip – t’ken with family in tow ( me on work at Sol'pur… dtr on her spring break in school, hubby's decided to recruit in sm'll town desh, pretty successfully I might add... he got some excellent engineers). Str’t eleven hours drive b’ck from Bij. But wh’t a wonderful 2 day get’wy. 3 of us roadies on the Golden Q’dril'teral highway. Not knowing who we will meet next, where we'll stay at next, eat next, see next. Qlty bonding within. With everything im'ginable b'ck in the boot – why am i pushing this non-a business to the extreme?? You want a fan? We hve a mini electric p'nkha. Pillows? Hai na. Ordin'ry nahi chalega - bolster hi ch'hiye? Woh bhi hai. Gifts to give junta? 300 of them (OK, this one ws for the Sociology PhD fieldwork). ‘Discovered’ this new archaeological marvel at the Mhrshtr-Krntk border, tks to the excellent archaeologist Dr. Jadhav of Solapur University for pointing the place out.

KudalSangam, next to the coming together of the two tributaries of Krishna river, Seena and Bhima, and here an unbelievable eleventh century temple. Surrounded by miles of untouched greenery. Two garbha-gruhas side by side inside the temple that has emerged just six years ago, from centuries of being hidden – one for Shiva and one for Vishnu … with novel frescos on the ceiling carved out of single stone representing the bala-krishna, that you can twirl around 360 degrees and look at. Sunlight that reaches deep inside through seven doors in a direct ray, only on the solstice of 14 - 15 Jan every year.

And what a magnificent sight.... the 360 torsos each jutting out from the lingam - together in the shape of this large elegant shivling. Never seen anything like this anywhere. 360 is the number of days in the Marathi calender. The two huge Naga wall frescos were equally mesmerizing. Snakes have always held our fascination down the millenia. Sudhir Kakar has an excellent analysis in 'Intimate Relations' - what a book in every which way.

I tell you, what a country we belong to. Hidden treasures everywhere. Spotted by just a few. In the people, in its towns, in its digs. Folks ever smiling in spite of the worse possible struggles and situations in life, in the eternal and somehow assured wait for emerging triumphant. The Shaikh family in Solapur, that gamely moves along debts and all. The Nagane family hit by yet another tragedy after the third daughter's wedding. This other woman just met, with three children, who makes beedis and earns Rs. 35 for every 1000 made (and if the raw material provided by the factory owners runs out before the magic figure of 1000 is reached, she is expected to replenish at own cost) who wants to give us 'sherbet', yet another family who makes the cylindrical paper package covers that cover the tobacco sold in villages. She gets Rs. 5/- for every 1000 such covers made. We time her. She takes 6 seconds to make one.... Average of 9 per minute, that is 500 per hour, and thus two hours of working like a machine with no break gives her rupees five. My daughter is awed. By the value that the same money that carelessly passes through our hands, can command.

Bijapur – one more town that is so much a part of this nation, yet not quite on the beaten trail – with its Gol Gumbaj of the Adil Shahi sultanate. The original geodesic dome. HUGE. Made around 1640. A whisper at one end of its inner ring verandah that is at 7 floors height - we go up the minaret on its outside, what a view! - and this can be heard at the other distant end of the cavernous inner diameter. Even the rubbing of the palms (as instructed by a helpful fellow tourist, what would we do without them) is clear, and I as I walk to the other end, I overhear my daughter quietly negotiating the next Coke with her dad, even as they wait for me to reach the other end. I whisper a 'No thanda' firmly, and they are both startled at the clarity. The Adil Shahi must have turned in his grave deep down there below at mundane Coca Cola conversations.

If he hasn't already done so that is. He has his wife tombed on one side and his 'Hindu dancing consort' entombed on the other :-) , so we were told - again by yet another helpful chap .

Right now, back here on this holiday, every neighboring apartment building worth its brand new sturdy foundations is strenuously playing up the loudspeakers. The one to our West is playing ‘Harre Ram Harre Ram Harre Krishna Harre Ram’ from the movie Bhool Bhulaiyya. Our lobby – building friends have by now called at least 5 times asking us to come down and join the community celebration – is playing Nagara Nagara Nagara bajaa. The reverberations of the hits of 2007. A building further away is playing a more ghisa-pita old Holi song. Some silsilays are best erased yet remain a burr deep in the mind. What to do. Sounds of actual drums also. The mishmash in total – surprisingly – is not cacophonic. Ek ajeeb sa festive sa mood hai. Sounds. Colours. Smells...

Home reverberates with the khandaan. The three musketeers – Isha, Anupama, Ishani – ages 11, 10 and 9 – have at last managed to pester their Ron-kaka to wake up, leave home and bring abeer and pichhkaris. Their two grandmoms from Kolkata - Thamma and Bubu have at last located enough purana kapda for all to wear. Chhod-dada, their favorite grandpa visiting from Kolkata, insists on sleeping through it all to their chagrin. Aja, the other favorite and resident grandpa has refused to step out of his home at Powai Park. Bulpi-pishi is busy dishing out cheese omelettes, and Tina-kaki has just got the terrace ready water pipes et al, for the imminent dunking session. Breakfast has also triggered IAI to go make a ‘fruit-chaat’ for all. 3 bachchas plus 2 adults in the kitchen (not me) – it is a happy and holy mess all around. I love it!

But I digress. Where was I? Yes, in Bijapur. My holiday reading was ‘The Routledge Companion to Post-Modernism’. My attempt to make sense of subjects such as Critical & Cultural Theory and my life – not necessarily in that order.

And my daughter Isha was reading Skellig.
Her homework assignment from school. I tried reading it. A play with a 12 year old protagonist Michael. Who discovers this creature in his garage. Who loves Chinese food, but could be an archaeopteryx. Or is it all in his imagination? His friend Mina can see it too anyway.

And does having the main character as a child, make the book a children’s book? More so, a padhai wala book? Talk of post-modern works. If I began the book clueless, have ended it even more mystified. Can’t imagine our Indian boards – ICSc, CBSE, any of our state boards ever recommending a book like this as part of academic reading. What is this book?? Is it weird, or what!

Yet it is a compelling play. Compelling also in its lack of a clearcut narrative (belied by the presence of a ‘narrator’ on every page). The only aspect that makes you do a double-take is that this book is supposed to have won quite a few awards. It's a very recent book released in 2003. And the ultimate paradox - it's a recommended book for 11 and 12 year olds in an IB school. Post-modernism turned upside down. Have asked my daughter to explain life as the book and the character Skellig sees it. If this is essential reading, I am surely missing something - perhaps need to understand life as the nextgen sees it, once explained to me.

And with this general delicious feeling, I now go back to catch a much needed and well-earned snooze. On this lazy frenetic, noisy day of Holi, life is quiet.

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