Gulzar 85

August 19, 2019 at 9:15 PMAug (Cinema, Literature, Music, Poetry, Slice Of Life)

Yesterday, the 18th of August 2019, Gulzar sahab turned 85.

In the year 2012, Nasreen Munni Kabir came up with her book of conversation with Gulzar titled ‘In the Company of A Poet’. Eagerly waiting for the book I had pre-ordered a copy for myself. When my copy of the book arrived, I was on my way out of the hostel for late breakfast at a nearby shack. Excitedly I collected the book from the courier boy at the gate of the hostel, tore open the cover hurriedly and began reading the book as I marched towards the shack. As I kept reading and walking on the footpath, I rammed against the electric pole. My leg got injured. It wasn’t a major wound but still a wound. I limped to the shack continuing to read as I limped.

I might sound silly or even stupid, but I wanted to preserve that wound. I dint want it to heal because to me it was a sign of the maddening love I feel for Gulzar sahab. I wanted that wound to be over my body, like a badge of love. I was sad as the wound healed and it was the only time I mourned the healing of a wound.

There are plenty of other invisible wounds deep within me, that refuse to heal. Those wounds are occasionally consoled and comforted by the poems and songs penned by Gulzar sahab.

Thanks Gulzar sahab.

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The Unbearable Loneliness of Being

June 30, 2019 at 9:15 PMJun (Friends, Literature, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

There was a boy in our college in Manipal who is the loneliest person I have known in my life. For now let me call him Mr. A. When I joined the college for PG he was in his undergrads. People used to avoid him saying he is too creepy. There was one story which his classmates would recollect to all newcomers and warn them to stay away from him. The story goes like this: The entire class in their first semester first month were asked to visit the anatomy museum which is nearly a kilometer away from the college. It began to rain while they were all walking to the museum. Not everyone had an umbrella since most of them had no idea about the erratic Manipal monsoon, since they were new to the town. But our man being a local boy was carrying an umbrella. One of the girls asked him if she could join him under his umbrella. Mr. A let Ms. M share the umbrella. When the two reached the museum, we were told, Mr. A dropped the umbrella, held the hands of Ms. M and asked, “Will you marry me?” Not just Ms. M, the entire class freaked out. But eventually for them it became a story to be told, a joke to be laughed at. When I was first told of this, I too found it quite strange and I too had laughed. But over the years while interacting with Mr. A, I have regretted having laughed once about that story of a monsoon walk.

How lonely could one be if he has to ask you to marry him after walking ten steps together under the same umbrella?

Once the same Mr. A was with a classmate of his in the canteen, discussing an assignment which the two of them had to do it together as a team. This was the second assignment the two were doing together. At some point of the discussion Mr. A and this other person began to have some disagreement and Mr. A asked the other guy, “macha, why are you getting angry macha? Am I not your friend?” The other guy coldly said “No,” and there was a sound of glass breaking and blood on the table! Mr. A had crushed the tea glass he had held in his hand! He had to be taken to the hospital, he lost the only person willing to do group assignments with him, more people found him scary and he became more isolated and more lonely.

How lonely can a person be if doing two assignments together (when the entire class refused to work with him) makes him feel his co-student is a friend? How lonely he must be to be holding that person so close that he would crush a glass in his hand on being told that he is not a friend?

It is easy to say he is scary, it is sensible to suggest to him counselling etc. But can we understand that loneliness?

Loneliness has brutal ways in which it makes us function. Had read somewhere that Vincent Van Gogh used to consume yellow paints to get rid of his sadness and get happiness inside of him. While the world can wonder what relation does the yellow paint have with happiness, the man saw some relation and was willing to try it out as a way to happiness and out of sadness. In that passage the author opined that if one was terribly unhappy and equally willed to get rid of it then s/he would certainly give even the maddest of ideas, such as consuming yellow paints, a shot. Going ahead the author pointed at how consuming toxic yellow paints was not much different from taking drugs or falling in love to find happiness. They too run the risk of causing overdoes or heartbreak, like yellow paints can damage the internal organs! In the concluding line of that passage the author remarked, “Everybody has their yellow paints.”

In our loneliness we are capable of reaching out to much more harmful yellow paints than what we would reach out to in sadness or a prolonged state of melancholia.

Loneliness, sadly, doesnt get answered even if we surround ourselves with people, books, work etc. Loneliness demands love from life itself and life, especially when lonely, is unkind. Loneliness makes us do things we otherwise wouldn’t do, which we would regret later on, which hurts ourselves and others too. One can’t help it. One can’t escape it. Loneliness is an invisible decaying of life and life source itself.

To my mind, loneliness is the actual opposite of love. Not hatred. Not indifference. While love bridges the ‘self’ and the ‘other’, hatred doesnt break that bridge though sets fire on it. Indifference turns the bridge irrelevant and meaningless by making the ‘other’ invisible to the point of non-existence. But loneliness making the ‘self’ and ‘other’ significant, blocks the ‘self’ and the ‘other’ by making the ‘self’ do things which makes it more and more unlovable to both; itself and/ or the ‘other’. Also, loneliness begins with the point of the ‘self’ feeling/ being unloved.

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Songs For Dark Times

May 30, 2019 at 9:15 AMMay (Activism, Literature, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy, Uncategorized)

Bertolt Brecht, the German dramatist and poet, in a poem asks if there will be songs in the dark times, and answers the question as, “Yes there will be songs about the dark times.” Nada Maninalkur who now is on an all-Karnataka journey asks and also answers the possibility of turning songs into light, not just to walk cutting through the dark times but also to fight the darkness.

***

As Nada Maninalkur sings the song by Janardhan Kesaratti which asks the listener to cleanse the dirt accumulated in the mind (manssiganTida koLeya tikki toLeduko) he pauses to ask, “How many of you feel healthy?” and the high-school students raise their hands. “Do you notice that all of you have raised your right hand?” asks Nada and the students wonder what is so unusual about it. When Nada follows it with, “Why do you raise your right hand always when you have to ask a question in the class or know the answer to a question asked by the teacher?” the students are pushed to think why for the first time. Nada helps them to find the answer when he says, “We have all been schooled to think that right hand is superior to the left, like white is superior to black. This hierarchy and discrimination is taught in the form of culture.” The students are visibly unsettled by the new thoughts but also have started finding such hierarchy wrong.

Nada Maninalkur has been travelling across all the districts of Karnataka since August, 2018 with around 50 songs which speak of various issues like gender, caste, superstition, social inclusion, pluralism etc. When Nada announced his ‘Karnataka Yatra’ on social media, individuals, organizations, educational institutions from all districts invited him to come perform for them and promised audience too.
In a B.Ed college, a set of students who earlier walked out of the concert by Nada come sit by him while having lunch post-concert. They say, “We disagree,” in a self-guarding tone. Nada smiles and continues to eat. Later when he is about to leave the campus the same students come to him again and say, “We have been thinking about it. But still we disagree.” Nada says, “I am glad you are thinking,” and continues to say, “My job is done.”

The back story of this story goes like this:

At this particular B.Ed. College, Nada decided to begin the concert by singing kalisu guruve kalisu, a song which originally is a letter that Abraham Lincoln wrote to his son’s teacher. Like the method he employed for this journey, this song rendition too was paused for conversations after every stanza. At one point the conversation moved to the popular Kannada folk song govina haaDu (song of the cow) which tells the tale of a tiger killing itself after witnessing the truthfulness of a cow named Punyakoti who it wanted to eat earlier. Nada Maninalkur, referring to this song, spoke about poetic imagination and its politics which made some among the audience uneasy and restless. Next when Nada sang the song, namma elubina handaradallondu, (There are places of worship- temple masjid church- and Gods in our skeleton) a bunch of students got up to say, “This song is unscientific. How can there be a temple or a masjid inside us?” Not satisfied by the question they raised, the statement they made the students also walked out of the concert. Later at the mess he met the same set of students who came to him to register their disagreement yet again.

Recollecting these episodes Nada Maninalkur says, “Change is a process. When the first stone is thrown it stirs the water and muddies the water. But slowly it also creates ripples.” He continues the conversation to say, “Songs by themselves are inadequate. But they can initiate a dialogue in a much effective manner than a lecture or a sermon. Hence I use songs while the most important thing for me is to have a dialogue with people.”

Nada Maninalkur who started Arivu, an NGO, in 2012 arrived at this understanding slowly through personal experiences. The one major incident that made this realization dawn on Nada was a series of programmes they held after an infamous rape incident of a young girl in the Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka. The Arivu team visited college after college and discussed body politics using theatre, songs and literature. That made students open up, though it made the lecturers uncomfortable. “Education is left with no space to think alternatively and think rightly. This space needs to be filled and songs can become an effective and immediate way to build bonds and initiate a dialogue,” says Nada and recollects another story from the same time period.

A lady teacher who came from a conservative family came in contact with Nada and team while they were working with some of her students. Over a period of two years the teacher who earlier would insist on purity of food, water and not share her food or water with anyone, eventually cast off her casteist worldview and now holds a liberal outlook. This was possible, according to Nada, only because of a continuous interaction with humanistic ideas and continuous dialogues with fellow humans, outside the boundary of caste class and gender. Now the same teacher helps over 200 students a year to shed off their biases and reinvent their ‘self’, says Nada.

In Nada’s opinion, “In our growing up years we spend most of our time in educational spaces and hence it is important to speak in educational spaces.”

“Working with ‘Self’ is important,” opines Nada and elaborates on it. During this ‘Karnataka Yatra’ at a school in the district of Shimogga when Nada sang a song on menstruation, the dialogue with students arrived at the issue of Shabarimala. During this discussion a student said, “Respecting belief and practice is a part of our democratic values.” Nada spoke the importance of respecting people’s faith and practice and went to speak about the beliefs and practices which harms human, like caste etc and also narrated the story of Nangeli. The student then agreed with Nada when he said, “We need to get rid of beliefs and practices when they do not respect human dignity and doesn’t believe in equality.”

In other schools, Nada remembers, whenever he sang the song on menstruation, the students would either giggle or put their heads down in embarrassment. In a school, he recollects, a girl who spoke about menstruation covered her face with a scarf while speaking. The girl said that this issue is not discussed in a normal way even among girls. “We are made to believe that it is a shameful thing,” Nada says and adds in a firm voice, “We haven’t worked on ‘self’ and hence we fail to build on the idea of rights and justice. First we need to realize and make people realize that the dignity of ‘self’ is of utmost importance.”

Though most of the concerts of Karnataka Yatra have been in schools and colleges, Nada as a part of this Yatra has also performed in Temples, Masjids, Central Jail. He has also accepted invitations of activists, youth groups, journalist circles etc. In all these places, he says, he would first asses the audience and on the spot makes a choice of the songs to be sung for them. He has been singing 4-5 songs in each concert from his archive of around 50. Most of these songs are from contemporary Kannada poets. But his archive also includes verses by the 12th century Vachana movement and of saints like Shishunala Shareef, Kabeer etc.

Even when Nada is in the last leg of his Yatra, to his credit, not even once he has been stopped from singing or discussing in any of the districts of Karnataka. But yes there have been discussions of high voltage, which is okay according to him since there is still dialogue happening there. This, he says, is the power of songs. It makes you introspect, he opines, and it doesn’t have the aggression which one way communications such as lectures and seminars carry. Songs make space for a dialogue, for conversations to take place, opines Nada. The proof, he says, is seen in the invitations he got from teachers in several schools to teach the same songs to the students and also the invitation he received from some teachers to come stay with them for that day. The students, he says, either openly come and talk to him or write letters to him or tag him on social media and thus express their acceptance of and appreciation for the pedagogy he employed.

Nada also has some funny anecdotes to share like instances where people considered him to be a religious saint and would come and offer dakshinNe (money offered in kindness) and a particular instance where someone equated him with an extreme right wing speaker saying, “You too travel to inspire the youth, like him.” Nada’s reply to this person was simply, “I am not here to inspire youth but to sensitize the youth. That is the difference. Also, he speaks politics and I speak about humans and human self.”

A friend of Nada suggested him to bring out a CD of these 50 songs with which he travelled across Karnataka and Nada politely rejected the idea. His reason for it is spelled out like this: “If brought out as a CD, these songs will turn into a commodity of entertainment and it will just become one with the innumerable songs of this world which some sing and some remember. To me the dialogue that these songs initiate is important.” That is precisely why Nada says that when he was asked to teach these songs, he suggested a one month residential workshop, “because it is not just about learning the lyrics of the song in a particular tune and singing it in a melodious manner. It is not about songs but responding to the times and holding a dialogue. For that one needs to be trained in things other than music.” Nada himself isn’t a trained singer nor is he trained to play the two stringed instrument he plays.

“When I started this journey, I started with great despair. But this travel has made me hopeful. I have learnt during this journey that there are innumerable human beings out there in the world who are doing several work in small scale which is making a positive impact on some life. There are unimaginable number of people who in their daily lives are keeping the spirit of humanity alive. This they are doing not because they think it is their duty but because it is their default nature,” says Nada before he continues with his journey with songs in his pocket.

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A Speech Prepared and Rehearsed

January 31, 2019 at 9:15 AMJan (Friends, Literature, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Three years ago when the West Indies cricket team won the T20 World-Cup naturally they were celebrating their success and everyone were watching it with not much involvement. Later that day at the press conference the Captain of the WI team revealed of the economical constrains they had faced during the run-through to the World Cup, despite which they won the Cup. His words won the hearts of the people and people saluted the team of West Indies for their victory against odds. After the captain at the press conference the team member who won the man of the series title addressed the press with his legs placed on the table. This behaviour irked many and called it arrogant and indecent.

All of this made me ask myself if our indifference, compassion, intolerance everything, are they independent?

Do people of certain colour, caste, country, class become worthy of our attention and compassion only when there is a miserable touch to their existence? Why are we not understanding of the anger of the very same people? Is anger and pride permitted only to a few with social capital alone? Why the pride of some people comes across as indecent behaviour to us? When people deprived of social capital are discriminated based on colour, race, caste, class, religion and identity, have their guards high and their personality forms rough edges, why do we not understand it but only judge the behaviour of theirs? Why is this roughness largely unavoidable? Why does it become unacceptable while self-pity or imaging of self in misery becomes acceptable to an extent? Why striking a balance between self-pitying misery and rough edged pride/ arrogance to establish dignity becomes so difficult? How is one to achieve this balance?

Though not very deprived socially and economically, in the course of my journey of life love, basic human respect and social acceptance was quite absent. I spent a major portion of my life battling with depression, indulging in a sort of self-pity and in this battle, in order to protect my self-respect and the idea of self-worthiness, also have displayed arrogance thanks to the rough edges that got formed in my personality. Both these cost me quite a bit, in terms of my social life and my own development. It also created a dent in my emotional health.

Writing did help me a bit in striking the necessary balance between self-pity and egotism or roughness. It is true that I had to face discrimination, insult, and intolerance even because of my writing. But it did not break me like it did earlier. This was majorly because slowly writing had strengthened my ‘self’ to some extent.

Saying all of this, that too on the day of the release of my book is not to say I have answered life and the world for what I was made to go through. I say this just to remember what writing did to me and celebrate this journey for a moment. As life continues the efforts to strike this balance and uphold dignity will also continue. It is never ending because the shadows of certain experiences are cast on our entire lives.

The reason to have this book release on this very day is because today my father completes 70. All through my life he has supported, sheltered and encouraged me like most fathers do. But more importantly he has constantly redrawn his own boundaries in his attempt to understand my eccentricities, my madness and be by me in all of this. That is rare or not I know not. But I know the significance of it. So as he completes 70 what else can I gift him other than an attempt to tell him that in this life I have managed to weave words, managed to strike this balance between self-pity and egotism to some extent, managed get a hold of myself to an extent, managed to not lose my mind completely, managed to earn some basic human respect which was denied in several ways, and earn friends like you all who are a part of all my seasons! Within my limitations this is the least I could do in life which I can present before my father. Hence the book launch is scheduled on this day.

Akshata Hunchadakatte, Publisher Aharnishi Prakashana \ Dr. Vijay, Pricipal, MGM College, Udupi \ G. Rajashekhar, Cultural Critic and Kannada Writer \ Rajaram Thallur, Former Journalist, Writer, Translator and Media Critic \ Your’s truly \ K. Phairaj, Writer-Activist. (Left to Right)

(Speech I prepared and rehearsed several times in my mind for the release function of my book ‘baaLkaTTey’ on 27 Jan 2019, which in my nervousness couldn’t deliver as planned)

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Happy Birthday Ghalib

December 27, 2018 at 9:15 AMDec (Literature, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life)

Today happens to be the birth anniversary of the unparalleled Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib. There is a lot that has been written about the master poet and his poems have been understood, explained, analyzed and interpreted multiple times. It would sound a cliche if I am to say Ghalib’s poetry offers something new every time one revisits them. But I have known it from my own experience that, with more life experience one experiences Ghalib quite differently and more deeply. With age Ghalib only becomes more and more apna!

I am not someone who longs for a long life and sometimes fear having a long life. In such moments I tell myself, “Imagine what more meanings and truths of life will flow out of Ghalib at that age!” And that excites me. I wonder what hidden gems will emerge from within his poetry when engagement with life gets more intensified. A long life will be worth it just to look at oneself and one’s life in the mirror of Ghalib’s poetry, in the light of Ghalib’s poetry.

This photo is from the restaurant section in a hotel in Haygam, Kashmir named Time Pass. I was put up in this hotel during my visit to the valley this summer and on seeing Ghalib’s portrait there I immediately felt at home though it was my first time there.

Happy birthday Ghalib and thanks for everything.

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A Tour in Nostalgia: Begamon Ka Bhopal

December 25, 2017 at 9:15 AMDec (Cinema, Friends, Letter, Literature, Media, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life)

Begamon Ka Bhopal an experimental and experiential documentary directed by Rachita Gorowala was premiered on 09 Dec 2017 in the city of Bhopal, inside the structure of Taj Mahal.

I was fortunate to be a part of this memorable event and experience. That evening the beautiful Taj became a tour in nostalgia. This was designed by turning the structure of Taj into a canvas for light and shadow and through the several installations curated by Rachita Gorowala, Puloma and Farzeen Khan. All of these created an atmosphere for the film and also enhanced the experience of the film.

To be in tune with the experiential nature of the film, instead of writing a review I would like to reproduce a letter/ mail (with minor editing) I wrote to Rachita, trying to join the dots of my first impressions, soon after I watched the film Begamon Ka Bhopal in the month of September.

***

Hi Rachita

First of all accept my congratulations. Now accept my apologies for being late in viewing the film. After a month of you sending me the link, finally I watched the film today. But I am not delaying in writing to you my impressions about the film.

In the context of Begums and Bhopal this film is predominantly about Huzun, it appeared to me. This is made quite clear at the very beginning of the film and the interiority of the the feeling of nostalgia is felt throughout the film.

Nostalgia is not just remembrance but also longing with the knowledge that the longing for the remembered will be un-achieved which gives the happy recollection of past a shade of melancholy. When the word nostalgia first made an entry into human language it was considered a disease and it is said that during the civil war in America few soldiers actually died because of nostalgia. But eventually the world of psychology stopped viewing nostalgia as a disease and also started viewing it as a factor which can generate some kind of ease to fight the decay of life in the present. Like the meaning of nostalgia has conflicting and complementing meanings the history of how nostalgia was viewed by medical science is also conflicting and complementing.

Nostalgia in some sense is a rebel against death, it is a fight for life, even if in the form of a memory, and in a subliminal way a reminder of continuity of life, the presence of absence and the shadow of past on present.

Like a river time flows. Its the same river but not the same water. And as the famous Buddhist saying goes one cannot take dip in the same river twice because the river is ever flowing. But there is something interesting about the rivers especially in India, the physical river and mythical rivers are not the same. While the mythical river is the same forever the physical river is ever changing. But in the mindscape of this civilization the mythical and physical merge and become inseparable, like the past is ever present in the present in nostalgia.

Nostalgia is also a way of keeping the past alive. It is, in a strange way a non-tangible form of architecture, graves, writing, film, ornaments which freeze time in themselves and then slowly melt into meanings and stories when time slowly passes and sun shines on them.

In nostalgia the past shows the design to beautify and the present gives the threads and colors to beautify. Nostalgia is an effort towards beautifying life.

While nostalgia is a way of coping with the present for some, like those who lived the past, for some others, like the writer and you the filmmaker, it is a way of coping with the past.

The past gains significance in the present not because of nostalgia but the nostalgia exists because the past is of significance even in the present. Hence someone finds it important to write about it and someone finds it necessary to film it.

At a closer look there is no clear cut between past and present. The past flows seamlessly into the present, like the azaan echoing in the distance, grass growing on a tomb.

A collection of 8mm films shot in and around Bhopal during the years 1929-75 by Salahuddin Ahmed’s father and grandfather

When memory/ past is being turned into a memorial through institutes or by the state the memory is turned into a ritual without meaning like a hymn learnt through rote. Memories or past can be kept alive only through living, through body, through touch, through stories, through songs and not by making museum. But that doesnt deny the significance of institutions making memorials of memories. They are necessary and it requires great labor too but still is inadequate.

Because the longing for the past remains unfulfilled, nostalgia has a Sufiyana touch to it for the available but inaccessible quality of the subject/ object of longing/ desire/ love.

These are some of the quick thoughts that pass trough my mind. I am sorry for I have written this in a general way but all these general words are pointed to specific things in the film, which I am sure you are able to see.

Through this journey what we learn of the Begums of Bhopal is not much. But telling the story of Begums, I guess, is not the purpose or the intent of the film. The Begums like history live not through their details and documents but through the impact/ impression they leave on the times to come and generations to come and when the future lives them not by celebrating anniversaries but through living in daily lives.

You have captured the junction where past meets present, the youthful beauty of the wrinkles on the skin, the shine in the rings that are fading away.

A warm hug to you, Rachita.

~ Samvartha ‘Sahil’
19 Sep 2017

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Love & Poetry

November 12, 2017 at 9:15 AMNov (Friends, Literature, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

A year ago I received an official mail asking me for an article on something I would love to write. The mail also broke my heart when I was referred to, in the mail, as “Dear Samvartha.”

Yes, of course it is my name and I have identified myself with that name all my life. But the person on the other end, who was writing the official mail, was someone I knew personally though silence and distance had come between us from some time. So it was strange at one level and beautiful at another level to receive an official mail from someone who had been a part of my very personal world and mindspace.

The person, never once before had referred to me as Samvartha. I was Sahil and just Sahil to this person. Sahil is a name I chose for myself and a name with which not just me but also my poetry in Hindustani/ Urdu got identified. But there was something special when this person called me by the name Sahil, a name I had heard several times earlier. It felt like someone breathed poetry into that name and breathed into me a life not known/ felt before. The way this person called me Sahil made me feel alive more than ever and it made me see myself as a person different than how I saw myself before. It made me realize what Gulzar felt like and what he meant while saying/ writing, “You called out to me, ‘Gulzar’/ It was as if a pearl emerged from its shell / I now had a meaning / Oh, this is a beautiful name / Call out to me again!”

Shakespeare needs to know that not just in name there is a lot in pseudonym too.

This person over a period of time and over a series of word exchange became so much a part of my life my emotional world that I declared the person to be Urdu in flesh and blood for me. So when the same person wrote to me, after a long time, its not just the formal tone of the mail and the formal nature of the mail being written by this person which made my heart ache silently but also not being called Sahil by this person. It felt like the part of me which weaved poetry had got disconnected with its language, with its Urdu. It felt like a name which breathed life into me had lost its meaning. I felt a part of me die within me, when that side of me that name of me went unidentified or unacknowledged by the same person who made that side of me that name of me more meaningful and more beautiful an experience.

When I look back at the 17 years of my poetic journey in Hindustani/ Urdu it is in the last one year that I have written the least. No, it is not a conscious decision I took following the above narrated incident to not write as a rebellion or as a depiction of some devdas syndrome. But somewhere poetry did distance itself from me. May be I took my pseudonym very seriously or may be I took this person concerned very seriously or the matter itself is a very serious matter. I dont know. But I know that I have written less in the last one year and the person who once breathed meaning and value to my pseudonym Sahil, is not responsible for it.

Like there can never be a convincing and clear answer for why one writes poetry there can never be a clear and convincing answer for why one reduces or stops writing poetry. Its the same with love too. Nobody knows why we love someone or why we cease to love someone.

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Manja

October 30, 2017 at 9:15 PMOct (Friends, Literature, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy, Uncategorized)

Few days after my book rooparoopagaLanu daaTi, in which 74 poems from various languages and cultures have been translated into Kannada by me, was released in June 2016, I met a friend who is one among the few schoolmates I have stayed in touch with. This friend very casually asked, after congratulating me for the book, “In school you were never interested in reading and writing. When did the enlightenment happen finally? And why were you not interested in reading and writing back then?” I just smiled saying, “May be something was wrong with the school.”

Why I was disinterested in reading and writing in school can have various reasons; the system of education, the environment at school, my own nature, my growing up atmosphere etc. I who was disinterested in reading and writing going on to become a writer is not a great feet actually. But then at one level it is a sort of small leap given the fact that I am a second generation educated OBC boy. Still, the world need not stop and assess itself and its order of things when presented by this story of my disinterest in reading and writing, being branded as a dull student who went on to become a writer, whatever the literary quality of the writing be. But the world certainly needs to look at itself in the mirror for how the life of Manjunath, a batch-mate of mine during school, spanned out.

The school where I studied had two sections, one where the medium of instruction was English and the other where the medium of instruction was Kannada. We, for no justifiable reason, felt we were superiors and looked down upon the students who were from the Kannada section. Some of the students there had earlier studied in the primary school (Government school where the medium of instruction was Kannada) where my mother used to teach and were her students, including Manjunath who was popular as Manja.

My first memory of Manja is from the football ground where Manja was known for his rough game. Though small in physique I have always been a head-strong fellow who would never be cautious and avoid Manja. As a result of this nature of mine I was injured several times, thanks to the forceful kicks of Manja. This went on for some time.

When we were in class ten for the first time the school organized an extempore poetry writing competition. I was surprised when I went for the competition and found Manja seated on the same bench allotted to me on the other end. The reason for my surprise was that it was difficult to imagine the rough and tough aggressive football player Manja holding the pen to write poetry. We were given patriotism as the topic for writing poetry, if I remember correctly. Also I remember seeing from the corner of my eyes Manja writing poem with great concentration and focus. Its only when the results of the poetry competition were announced that I got to know that the aggressive football player Manja is also a poet!

The poem written by Manja was published in the college magazine of that academic year which was handed over to us when we went to either take admission for class eleven or take a transfer certificate to migrate to another college for class eleven. I was mighty impressed by the poem written by Manja. When I looked for him to congratulate him for the poem I got to learn that he had failed in the 10th board exam.

I did not see Manja in college and also conveniently forgot him till he suddenly I met him one day in the college. When I met him and told him how much I liked his poem he thanked me and said he had cleared the board exams in the supplementary exam and would be joining college soon opting commerce as his stream. I had opted for Arts stream and Manja and I would be in the same class for Kannada language class for the next two years. Its during this course of time that we actually got to know each other better and became friends, though we dint speak much to each other in comparison to the conversations we used to have with others separately.

When we were in class 12 one day Manja came home in search of me and speaking to me about general matters very hesitantly told me that he had written a novel and asked me if I could read it and give him my feedback. On listening to me say, “Will be happy to read it,” Manja said he would quickly go home and bring the manuscript. I said he need not go home and come back again and suggested that he and I can go together and he can give me the manuscript. He immediately changed the plan and said he would give it to me the next day in college, which made me ask then why he couldn’t have spoken about this in college. “People might listen to our conversation and that would make me uncomfortable,” he said. “Wont people know when you handover the manuscript tomorrow?” I asked Manja to which his answer was, “No. They will think it’s just a note book.” I was not able to understand why he quickly changed his mind and pushed the matter to the next day and to college. But when he forgot to bring the manuscript the next and I insisted he takes me home and hands over the manuscript that I understood why he was trying to avoid taking me home.

Manja’s house was a small shack like structure. His sister was heating water in a corner. Taking out a 200 page long note book from an old trunk Manja said, “Come lets go out and talk.” When Manja handed the book, in which he had written the novel, to me I opened it and saw the title of novel written in bold letters in blue ink on the very first page. ‘Shaanta’- was the title of his novel. “It’s a story about a lady like my mother. While writing I could see my mother in the place of the protagonist, which made me cry profusely while writing it. You read and let me know what you think of it,” said Manja and when I was about to leave added, “Be careful with the book. I don’t have another copy of this work. Its impossible to sit and write all of it again.”

I couldn’t read the novel for a long time. But finally during vacations I picked it up from my shelf and read it. I have forgotten the details of the novel by Manja which appeared very autobiographical to me back then.

After the results of class 12 was announced I went to a different city, not very from Manipal, for higher studies. I used to come home every weekend. On one such weekend Manja came home and asked me if I had read the novel and if he could take it back. On telling him that I had read it and liked it he said, “Its an ordinary story based on the life of my own family. Nothing extra ordinary,” and asked if it is readable. I said it is and he was happy. Manja went home that evening after telling me that he was doing his BA in Manipal itself and had learnt from other common friends that I had joined a college in Mangalore.

On that evening Manja had asked me if anyone would publish his book. I knew no publisher back then and said I don’t know but also told him that I would inquire and find out. But I dint inquire anyone or made any effort in finding out. Not because I dint want to but because my access and circles were limited and also because I was trying to focus more on my own growth.

In the time that followed whenever I met someone from the same college as Manja’s I would ask them for updates about Manja. But slowly my world became more and more distant from the world which I belonged to earlier and the chances of me crossing paths with older friends decreased.

Over a year and half later once while driving back home I saw Manja having tea at a push-cart shop. I stopped my scooter and went to speak to Manja who was wearing a faded shirt and lungi. He had quit college and had started working a daily wage labourer at construction sites. “It was impossible for two members from the family to get educated. So I decided to drop out because she is very bright. If I shoulder her then probably she can cross this fence. If we both try to jump then the possibilities of both not being able to cross it is higher,” said Manja. I dint know what to say. Manja bought me a cup of tea. Sipping hot tea I asked him if he still continues to write. “I had bought a fresh note book because I had a new idea for a novel. But gave that note book to my sister for she would need it in school,” said Manja. When I was about to ask him about the novel he had already written Manja cut me short to say, “It is a matter of bygone days, an old story.”

New story was flowering in the life of his sister. Manja had scripted the story of his mother’s past taking pen into his hand. To script the story of his sister’s future he had dropped the pen.

That was the last time I met Manja. I guess he left not just Manipal but also coastal Karnataka long ago. Later on when doing my masters in journalism I had written about Manja for the fortnightly magazine we had to bring out as a part of our course. Reading my piece on Manja the faculty in-charge for the fortnightly had said that the article had no story value and also went on to suggest that if it was a story about success against all odds then it could have been considered for the fortnightly.

The world which likes only success stories and “inspirational stories,” cant ever pull the courage to look at itself in the mirror of the lives of people like Manja who have been defeated by the structure of system and order of things.

Once while speaking to my mother I had asked her if she remembers Manja. She said she cant. I tried reminding of him by narrating his story. My mother who served as a teacher in Govt school for 24 years listening to the story of Manja said, “That is the story of most of my students. If they had the right atmosphere, right encouragement and right facilities they would have done so much better in life. But most of them couldn’t even complete their primary education.”

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Gauri Lankesh’s unfulfilled Kashmir dream

September 19, 2017 at 9:15 AMSep (Activism, Friends, Literature, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

One night in April 2017, my phone rang. It was the middle of the night and my heart skipped a beat when the phone rang at that ungodly hour but on seeing Gauri Lankesh’s name flashed across the screen, I settled down. Gauri was the one who always burned the midnight oil and I knew it wasn’t odd for her to call me at this hour.

“Thank you so much,” Captain blurted out when I answered the call. Her voice was filled with immense gratitude. I wondered why she was thanking me while she continued, “I just finished reading Curfewed Night. Thanks for recommending it,” she said and added, “It is so sad that I hadn’t read this book for so long.”

Captain then went on to tell me how the work of her weekly Gauri Lankesh Patrike, her activism and the cases against her – a strategy of her opponents to exhaust and harass her – leave her with very less time to read good books. She told me that she had taken an oath to read at least three books a month. When I heard about her oath, I suggested she read Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora? in the month of May. By the end of May, she had read the book.

It all began on the 9th of October when Captain was in Udupi, close to my home town Manipal, for the historical Chalo Udupi rally. I had just returned home after a brief but intense visit to Kashmir. So when Captain and I met at the rally she insisted I be with her and share with her my Kashmir experience.

That noon, when we were finishing lunch, Captain asked me if I would be ready to go to Kashmir with Shivasunder (another comrade of ours) to do a series of reports for her weekly. I immediately agreed.

That noon Captain told me how she has been trying to argue from over a decade about Jagmohan being the orchestrator of the Pandit exodus but nobody cares to listen. She also told me about her one interview with Syed Ali Geelani. When I told her about the people displaced from the other side of Kashmir living in Jammu she honestly said, “I did not know about this,” and added, “Actually, neither the state nor the media wants us to know.”

Gauri was willing to listen to what the state and the media did not want us to listen and she was willing to speak that which the state and the media did not want us to speak.

Since that day in October 2016 the conversation between me and Captain was majorly about Kashmir.

After some weeks when I reminded her about the plan Captain said, “Shivasunder seems to have other commitments. We both can go together.”

I did not hear from Captain about our Kashmir visit plan for the next few months and I started doubting if it was ever going to happen. Though I never doubted her concern about Kashmir and her longing to give her readers a true picture of Kashmir, I was becoming quite impatient because of the delay.

Later when Captain called me in April 2017 saying she had read Basharat Peer’s book and followed it up with reading the spine chilling book on Kunan Poshpora, I knew the plan was still on. By then I had learnt from a common friend and a senior activist that demonetization had hit the circulation of Captain’s weekly and she was in a financial crunch. The information made me realize why the Kashmir plan was not materializing and I stopped asking her about it.

Captain herself spoke of the financial crunch when in August 2017 she called me to say how a particular article by someone in Kashmir thrilled her and how badly she wanted to meet the writer. When I said, “We can meet the author when we go there,” Captain, who by then had taken loans to run her weekly, explained the economic crunch and said, “Let me recover a bit and then we can go.”

Now Captain is no more with us and I fear with her unfortunate killing – the weekly also will breathe its last. After this calamity, I am afraid that neither the visit to Kashmir nor reporting on Kashmir for the readers of weekly will ever happen.

On that April night when Captain called to tell me she had read Curfewed Night she had asked me if I could translate the book and assured me that she will publish it. I told her that during my interaction with the author Basharat Peer I had asked him if I could do the translation and he had verbally permitted me to do so. She took his email address from me saying, “Then let me write to him as a publisher and avail rights for publishing the translation.” I don’t know if she ever wrote to Basharat Peer. But this too, like our Kashmir visit and writing about Kashmir for the readers of her weekly, remains unfulfilled.

I recollect these interactions, our jointly made but unfulfilled plans while writing this because I believe I am bound by responsibility for letting the friends from Kashmir know that Captain, who stood in solidarity with every struggle across the globe, of the right against the might, understood the struggle of occupied Kashmiris and also longed to meet them and hear their stories and chronicle them for Kannada readers.

I am writing this story of Captain and our plan of Kashmir also because it speaks of how a person is perpetually chained at various levels by the order of things from fighting the system and yet how some determined people like Captain were continuously making efforts to make the world stand on its legs and change this order of things.

(Originally published in Wande Magazine on 11 Sep 2017)

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Creative Coincidental Kinship~ 5

August 3, 2017 at 9:15 PMAug (Activism, Friends, Literature, Media, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life)

“When you come here you should meet this new friend I have made,” said my friend Diti when I called her to ask how the film appreciation course was going in Pune. Later once while talking to Sakshi, with whom Diti was staying, I was told by Sakshi that I would enjoy the company of her friend who is also on campus for FA with Diti. So I was quite intrigued by this person who I knew only by name- Jasdeep.

“He has great taste for poetry and is also a translator,” Diti had told me and Sakshi had told me that he was the language consultant for Gurvinder’s films. Both had certified him as an intelligent nice human being and me as someone having full faith in both believed their words and was looking forward to meet Jasdeep during my visit to Pune.

When I finally landed in Pune I dint get to meet Jasdeep immediately though Diti, Sakshi and I met in no time. Finally when that evening when I met this man who I was looking forward to meet, there was silence between the two of us. We both had heard about each other through Diti and Sakshi and kind of knew what the other person is like yet there was not much conversation between us other than the casual hi hello and some basics.

Few days passed without much conversation though we had breakfast, lunch, tea, drinks, and dinner together. One night while heading back to our respective rooms Jasdeep said, “We should have a proper conversation,” I agreed but dint know why there was such a silence between us even when we felt so comfortable in each other’s presence.

One afternoon it was decided that we would go to Asha Dining Hall for lunch and there while waiting for our plates to arrive Diti made a mention of my book and that got Jasdeep interested. He asked me what book it is and I told him it is a book of translated poems. “Which poet have you translated?” he asked curiously and I told him that it is a collection of 74 poems and the connection between them is the translator alone. The 74 poems, I told him, are by various poets writing in different languages. Since Jasdeep is also a translator, writer and a sensitive reader I mentioned to him that the collection includes some Punjabi poets too. “Who Pash?” asked Jasdeep. “Pash also. And Lal Singh Dil…” I said and struggled to remember a name who I absolutely loved reading and translating. I held my forehead, banged the table once lightly in order to remember the name but couldn’t.

When even a few seconds of silent thinking dint help me remember the name, which I knew was inside me but was refusing to surface on my lips; I decided to tell Jasdeep the lines of the poem. “To go back home is now difficult…” I recollected the opening line of the poem and Jasdeep immediately took the baton from me and in the same pace and same rhythm that I recited the line went on to recite the poem, even though not completely, in its original Punjabi form. I was thrilled to listen to the poem in original after having read it in English, translated it into Kannada and having lived with it for over 6 years. I was hearing something I am familiar with in a language that I am not familiar with and the unknown was becoming known and the known was becoming unknown at the same time.

That weekend when we were cooking Jasdeep made me listen to an audio recording of the poem, “To go back home is now difficult…” in Punjabi. This time it was the entire poem. As he explained few lines in English I recollected from my memory my Kannada translation and recited them to Jasdeep. Punjabi, again, though unknown became known to me and Kannada though unknown to him became known to him.

That day Jasdeep was playing Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan songs for us while we all joined hands to cook. At some point he played the song, “maaye ni maaye,” penned by Shiv Kumar Batalvi and I said, “Forgot to tell you, I translated this gazal of Batalvi too.”

Next day or the day after Jasdeep sent me the link to his blog and when I clicked on it I found the photo of Rohit Vemula. I scrolled down and realized Jasdeep had translated the poem originally written in English by Rohit to Punjabi. Incidentally I am the one who translated it to Kannada.

I scrolled down further and saw that Jasdeep also is an admirer of Eduardo Galeano who I adore immensely. Also saw our shared love for Meena Kandasamy, MF Hussain which made me realize beyond literature, cinema we also are comrades of concern.

Seeing these few posts I realized that Jasdeep and I have been connected to each other from a long time, through our engagements with literature, world and negotiating with both through language through translation, though we met only recently. That in a way also explained why we felt quite comfortable with each other though we hardly spoke to each other. We somehow knew each other beyond language.

Even after that day our conversations did not increase much.

In some days Jasdeep left for Chanddigarh and I stayed back in Pune for some weeks. When I got back home after a month’s stay in Pune I finally got copies of my book of translated poems. I messaged about the arrival of the book, with a photo of it, to some friends and Jasdeep was one of them. I received a congratulatory message from Jasdeep with a request. He wanted a copy of my book. I replied saying it is in Kannada. I had a smile on my face when Jasdeep responded saying, “Still. I will keep it. I have got Urdu books since long. I can manage to read them now,” which showed not just his affection for a comrade of concern in me but also his absolute love for poetry beyond language and also language itself beyond meaning, purpose, comprehension.

I took Jasdeep’s address and sent him a copy of my book with a small note where I recollected the meeting of Pablo Neruda and Faiz Ahmed Faiz where they spoke and shared their poems in their language even when they did not know the language of the other. I was very thrilled when I had first read about that magical moment and have always wondered how hearts met, lives intersected beyond time, space and language. I was happy and secretly proud that I somehow lived a moment which remotely rhymed the incident of Neruda and Faiz exchanging pages of their life and poetry and thus form yet another creative coincidental kinship.

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