Raag and the Rain

June 13, 2018 at 9:15 PMJun (Friends, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

One afternoon, in the third week of this April, I was with my friend Randheer in Jammu University. I had gone back to that campus after two years. In a while, our other friends- Sonia, Nisha and Shaabaaz joined. As we sat under a tree with chai in our hands, we requested Nisha to sing and Shaabaaz to recite his poems. Understanding the mood of the situation, Shaabaaz called his friend Aakash, a trained and passionate singer, to join us. Akash was with us in two minutes.

Nisha began the mehfil by singing a gazal by Begum Akthar. After Nisha sang and Shaabaaz recited his poems, now it was Akash’s turn. Akash sang quite a few songs and ghazals for us, pausing his singing to explain which raag it is, other musical details and some related anecdotes. Once while he was explaining a raag to us, the impulsive and innocent Sonia asked Akash if its true that some raag bring rains and some light the lamps. My immediate reaction was, “What a juvenile question,” which of course I did not say loud. I do not know what others thought but Akash clearly did not think so. Very spontaneously he said, “I am not sure if it happens in the outside world. But it has happened within me. I have witnessed rain within me, while listening to some raag and have witnessed lamps being lit within me, while listening to some other raag. That is all I can say.”

I was glad Sonia asked that question. When Akash’s singing continued, I could feel a new vibration within me.

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The Being and Becoming of Gauri Lankesh

January 28, 2018 at 9:15 PMJan (Activism, Friends, Media, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

It was in the year 2003 that I first met Gauri Lankesh. I was studying at the St. Aloysius College, Mangalore then and Gauri Lankesh had come as the chief guest for a seminar held by our department. Though I hadn’t read much of her writings back then, I was moved by the affectionate way in which she spoke to all of us and impressed with the clarity of thought when she spoke about justice. Our brief interaction that day ended when she wrote on my note book her postal address saying, “Keep in touch.”

Till sometime in 2005 I used to write to Gauri once in a while responding to something that was published in the weekly of which she was the Editor. Gauri responded to some of those letters too. But after 2005 monsoon I got absorbed in my own world and also lost touch with Gauri’s weekly and also Gauri.

One day in 2009 when I was working for The Hindu in Mangalore I got a call while I was filing a story. “Hello Samvartha, this is Gauri Lankesh,” the voice from the other side said. She had called to give me a pat on the back for a story I did after the attack on minorities in Kaup following the Hindu Samajotsava. She wanted to honour those who had saved the lives at an event that was to be held in memory of her father and she asked me for their contact details. The story I did which carried the headline ‘Hindutva People Attacked Us, Hindus Saved Us’ was translated by Gauri and carried as a part of her editorial the following week.

During that noon’s talk there was so much warmth in her voice that I believed she remembered me from my teenage days when I first met her and also wrote to her. But it wasn’t so. It was only in 2014 she realized that I was the same boy who had met her a decade ago and written to her saying the translation of Gulzar and Javed Akthar in the special issue of her weekly was bad. We both had met in Mysore for a seminar on Sufism then. We spent the evening together roaming the streets of Mysore and talking about our movements, literature, journalism, common friends and our own personal lives. When I recollected a letter she had written in response to mine Gauri, that evening, gulped down the sip of whisky in a hurry to say, “Are you the same boy?” When I smiled to answer in the positive Gauri said, “I was not very much home those days with writing in Kannada though I could speak and read quite well in Kannada. So I used to find it slightly difficult to respond to letters after the task of writing an editorial,” and followed it up with anecdotes of her struggle during the early days of Kannada journalism, which made us have good laugh.

Gauri who was working in Delhi with an English media returned to Bangalore when her father, giant of a writer and journalist, P. Lankesh passed away. Those were the early days of 21st century and soon Gauri took over as the editor of the weekly her father used to edit. Until she took charge of Lankesh Patrike as its Editor she did not share a bond with the people’s lives of Karnataka. Moreover she hardly could speak and write in Kannada fluently. The huge fan following that Lankesh and Lankesh Patrike had by then looked at Gauri and her ability to carry forward the legacy of Lankesh and Lankesh Patrike very sceptically. But over the years Gauri surprised all and probably herself too, to become a prominent ‘Activist-Journalist’ (as she liked to refer herself) from Karnataka.

The last 17 years of Gauri’s life spent in Karnataka, Kannada journalism and lives of Kannada people and the transformation Gauri went through in the last 17 years is not just phenomenal and defining of Gauri but also holds the message of her life. Those were the years of becoming of Gauri.

In the year 2000, as said earlier, Gauri could hardly write and speak Kannada fluently. Her editorials of those days and the letters she wrote those days stand as witness to this. She was just a broad liberal humanist, values she imbibed through the living of her father, when she returned to Karnataka. But soon when she became more and more familiar with the lives and issues of Karnataka her politics became sharper and sharper. If her learning Kannada marked the first move of her becoming, after her return to the native, the second major move in her transmogrification came with her being one of the founding member of Karnataka Forum for Communal Harmony (Karnataka Komu Sauharda Vedike) which was started as a response to the communal violence of Gujarat 2002 and the oath taken by the right wingers in Karnataka to make Karnataka another Gujarat. This politics of the right wing escalated with their attempt to make the syncretic Bababudangiri the Ayodhya of the south. This was met with strong resistance by the Karnataka Forum for Communal Harmony where many, including Gauri, were jailed. This movement to preserve the syncretic culture of Bababudangiri shifted gears of the activist life of Gauri and brought her closer to the activist circles in Karnataka and tuned her politics.

Around the same time armed struggles was finding ground in Karnataka and that had disturbed Gauri to a large extent. In 2004 she was one of the journalists who were invited by the Naxalites for a press meet in the western ghat forest. It is during this visit that she met her college senior Saketh Rajan alias Prem alias Saki who was leading the Naxalite movement in Karnataka and also saw the lives of the Naxalites closely. She developed great respect for people who had left all comforts and luxuries of life and come to the forest where they lived under difficult circumstances. Their commitment they had for the values they believed in and the dream they had for the world humbled her. But that did not eclipse her mind and she did see the possible violence that could unfold. She started her work of becoming a mediator between the Naxalites and the Government to arrange for a meeting between the two and resolve the issues. Both the parties agreed but the Government acted prematurely and hunted Saketh in the early days of 2005. Angered by this, Gauri got on to the streets to condemn the Government’s act. This earned her the title Naxalite sympathiser when all she desired was for peace and resolving of issue without arms!

As a continuation of this she along with freedom fighter like HS Doraiswamy started the Citizen’s Initiative for Peace which mediated between the Naxalites and the Government and brought back many a Naxalites to the mainstream. Noor Sridhar being one of the Naxalites who came to the mainstream in an article on Gauri written after her assassination says that the Naxalites have been fonder of Gauri than Gauri being fond of them, as the mass seem to believe or has been made to believe. In the very same article Noor Shridhar says though Gauri associated with the Communists was never a communist, though had sympathies for the Naxalites never endorsed their method and though had immense respect for the Dalits and the Dalit movement was never an Ambedkarite. Continuing his observation he said, in the same article, that Gauri’s solidarity was with values she believed in and she always saw the limitations of the organizations. Probably that is why she was never a member of any organization. Her participation was purely value based and agenda based.

Very recently K. Phaniraj was recollecting how Gauri was not familiar with the divisions within the communists and the several parties that burst out of the Communist Party of India. On learning about over 64 organizations in existence, Phaniraj remembered, Gauri reacted with a, “Whatever.” That, “Whatever,” was not of a dismissive nature but an “I cannot be bothered” in nature.

This ‘not being bothered’ did not mean she did not care. It only meant she did not want to focus on it. Instead focusing on the possibilities of a united force to make the world stand on its legs was important for her. Her solidarity with every movement for justice spoke this nature of her. It was very well reflected in her efforts to bring together the ‘red’ and the ‘blue’. This effort was not a strategic position or move for her but something she believed with all her heart.

During the Chalo Udupi in October 2016, which was the last time I met her face to face, it was decided that only blue flags would be taken during the event. But on the day of the event many organizations which showed solidarity had brought their own flags and I was witness to Gauri politely requesting those organizations with other flags to fold their flags and keep it inside. That showed how in movements Gauri participated not like a leader but like a cadre. It also showed how she had slowly started to absorb Ambedkarite thoughts and was preferring ‘blue’ over ‘red’ though she wanted both these colours to come together as a united force.

Gauri had not read Ambedkar till some years ago. But when she read Ambedkar she let Ambedkarite thoughts to seep into her and she also expressed her regret for not having read Ambedkar for long. Not to say that she was not sensitive to the cause of Dalits prior to this. But her Dalit consciousness had not formed in a strict Ambedkarite sense and was still within the large framework of human rights and civil rights. That started to change around 2013-14 with she starting to read Ambedkar. The birthday gift I received last year from her was the biography of Periyar and that kind of hints the path she was progressing in.

The last time I met Gauri was during Chalo Udupi , as I remembered earlier, in 2016 October. I had then just returned from my visit to Jammu & Kashmir post Burhan Wani assassination for a book project. Gauri was keen on knowing what I had seen and heard. She insisted I take her for a good fish meal and as we drove and later had lunch in a small hotel in Udupi she heard with utmost curiosity the story of my travel. In the end she asked me if I would be ready to go to Kashmir with Shivasunder, a comrade of concern, to do a series of reports for the weekly, Gauri Lankesh Patrike. I immediately agreed. After some weeks when I reminded her about the plan Gauri said, “Shivasunder seems to have other commitments. We both can go together.”

Couple of months later Gauri called me very late in the night. She had just completed reading Basharat Peer’s book Curfewed Nights and had called to thank me for having suggested the book to her. That night I suggested some more books on Kashmir and she made note of them. Her excitement showed how Kashmir issue was not a preoccupation for her until then and slowly was becoming one. That is exactly why she was planning a trip to Kashmir with this young boy.

But by then I had heard from a common friend and a senior activist that demonetization had hit the circulation of Gauri’s weekly and she was in a financial crunch. That information made me realize why the Kashmir plan was not materializing soon and I stopped asking Gauri about it. The financial crunch made he write columns for Bangalore Mirror so that she can earn some money to sustain her tabloid. Eventually her column was stopped. The space for liberal radical was closing down swiftly. Gauri herself spoke of the financial crunch when in August she called to say how a particular article by someone in J&K thrilled her and how badly she wanted to meet the writer. “We can meet when we go there,” I told her. In response, she explained the financial matters saying, “Let me recover a bit and then we can go.”

A month later Gauri was assassinated and the dream of our Kashmir visit also died.

Soon I heard that she had made many a plans earlier which could not materialize soon because of her financial crunch. Ramesh Aroli had translated Gudipati Venkatachalam’s novel ‘maidaanam’ which she was to publish, a new book by Revathi, whose autobiography ‘The Truth About Me- The Story of A Hijra’ was also published in Kannada by Gauri, and a translation of Curfewed Nights which I was to do- all had got delayed because of the way in which demonetization hit Gauri.

When a person like Gauri dies several dreams die and though movements don’t die they feel a jolt and lose some energy. The day following her assassination a protest was held in Udupi, like in many places across the country, where a Dalit activist held me tightly and weeping uncontrollably said, “Now who will care for us? Now who will give space to our issues in media?” Gauri did not believe in becoming the voice of someone else but always made sure she listens to the voice of the people and within her means whatever was possible to amplify that voice, through her tabloid, through her publication etc, she did. Her life coming to an abrupt end shook many, spaces shrunk for many and many felt orphaned.

A week after Gauri’s assassination a huge protest event was held in Bangalore. Revathi whose autobiography Gauri had published and whose next book Gauri was to publish was on the stage representing the community of sexual minorities. Akkai was seen in tears and embracing Gauri’s mother and sister who too were in tears. It was learnt that the community of sexual minorities from Bangalore had actually collected money for the protest event through begging. This showed Gauri’s close association with the sexual minorities which hardly made news.

An interesting article by a Kannada website revealed the backstory of Gauri’s association with the sexual minorities. Sometime during the early days of Gauri’s editorship at Lankesh Patrike a reporter had filed a story on the sexual minorities which was slightly derogatory in nature. A case was filed against the tabloid for the published report. The case was being fought by one B.T. Venkatesh who once took Gauri to meet members of the sexual minority community which became the beginning of her association with the community and becoming a part of their struggles; social and political. Gauri became “akka” (elder sister) to the community. This says that Gauri’s relationship with the sexual minorities was not just as a reporter grounded on a certain kind of political correctness but extended to a personal relationship with them. That is why in Bangalore on 12 Sep the stigmatized, excluded and abandoned community cried loudly, “I am Gauri.”

In the last seventeen years of her life Gauri became a lady of movements, as a journalist, through her active participation in different movements for rights and justice. This was a long journey from where she began in 2000 as a person of broad liberal humanistic values. She herself, for sure, was aware of the change she had undergone- of becoming an activist, learning Kannada, internalizing Ambedkarite thoughts, developing sensitivity towards with sexual minorities, coming to understand the Naxalite struggle, arriving at a solution for the Naxalite problem, working towards understanding the Kashmir struggle etc. Probably her own life taught her the possibility of the change human heart and intellect can go when it faces reality and truth. May be that was the reason for her immense faith in dialogue. Even when she was trolled on social media by people half her age and younger than that, she engaged with them, dialogued with them. In all possibilities it is her own becoming of what she became in her 17 years of life that she could invest faith in the possibility of those ‘misguided children’ of hers (as she called those trolls who wished her death) becoming a better, socially sensitive and politically conscious human. At the same time through her becoming she gave us the message of her life i.e. the possibility of change in humans and in society through humans.

It must also be said that Gauri is what the times in which she lived made out of her. The pressure of history was such that Gauri became Gauri. But it is not the call of the times which alone makes a historic figure like Gauri but also the way in which they respond to the times. As much as Gauri was shaped by the times, the times she lived also got shaped by Gauri.

Gauri emotionally adopted Kanhaiyya, Jignesh Mevani and Umair as her sons. To think about it one is a boy with communist influence, the other an Ambedkaraite and one with naxalite influence. When Gauri passed away Sheila Rasheed, a Kashmiri girl, on record referred to her as ‘Amma’ (mother). That kind of symbolizes the various streams of thoughts that capped within her.

When Gauri would refer to all these young ones of my generation as sons, at times I (later I learnt many did the same) would playfully ask her why wouldn’t she adopt as her son and notoriously ask for T-Shirts when she bought one for one of the three. Gauri would know that we were pulling her leg and would respond saying, “You have been adopted by me long ago. These are new ones.” It was not an intelligent answer to our notorious remarks but an honest answer. She actually had always treated me and many like her own children.

I can never forget how once she called me to ask how I was doing after she discovered (through my couplets posted on social media) that I had parted ways with someone I love and was saddened by it. She consoled me like a friend and like a friend asked me to not spend much time over lost love because that would eat up the time I can dedicate to find new love. The concern was genuine and each word spoken was honest. Few months before her assassination I had messaged her about the fellowship I had received to make a film on mental health and that night, late night, she had called me to discuss what her thoughts around mental health, depression to be specific, were and to suggest what possibilities can be explored.

I am recollecting some of these very personal matters just to say that Gauri saw me and many like me not just as comrades of concern but as fellow humans, as friends, who meant a lot to her beyond social political movements, thoughts and idea that we shared etc. She cared for all humans she was associated with. There was immense truth in her concern for her fellow beings.

Gauri was like a mother, friend and guide all at the same time.

Gauri would publish some of the poems I used to translate in her weekly and tell me after the week’s edition would be out. Once when I told her she had to take permission in advance before publishing them she laughed loud asking me to repeat myself. I felt so embarrassed that I shut my mouth first and then opened it only to join her in laughing. She would publish my translations without my permission because she believed that among friends it is okay to take such liberties.

Once Gauri called me an hour before the weekly was to go for print asking me to translate a poem “asap.” It was the poem by Hussain Haidry which had gone viral. I was at an ice cream parlour with a friend at that point of time. I ended up translating the poem on a tissue paper. After half an hour when I called her she typed down the translation as I read it out. Immediately then she said, “now listen” and read out her translation of Abul Kalam Azad’s poem which he had written as a response to Hussain Haidry’s poem. She was to carry both the poems in her coming issue which was to go for print in the next few minutes. Though Abul’s poem appeared to counter the poem of Hussain at one level, to Gauri they were complementing poems. More over even if it was countering she would still carry it because Gauri always had space for dissent.

Once when I had argued with Gauri saying the abandonment of a fellow activist from the organization for a wrong he did was not acceptable to me because I believe excommunication is a very brahminical idea. Guess she hadn’t given much thought about it and when I uttered my feelings she immediately said, “Yes, you are right. I will see what can be done,” and told me she would speak to the ex-communicated activist since she also felt that all he needed was some talking and making him realize his mistake. There was no space for abandoning and excommunicating in her world. My former colleague and friend Sudipto in a piece had remembered how he once opposed Gauri on ideological grounds and thought that would end his ties with her but was only surprised when she spoke to him with the same affection next time and introduced him to a friend as, “son.”

Gauri believed in and lived what Makhdoom wrote as, “hayaat leke chalo kaayenaat leke chalo, chalo toh saarey zamaaney ko saath leke chalo.”

That night in Mysore when Gauri and I had the longest conversation ever, she had asked me if I had read her mother’s autobiography. I had answered in the negative and Gauri promised to send me the book so that I could read it. But Gauri forgot to send the book. I later read the book as a jury member for the annual book award given by the Karnataka Sahitya Akademi, since it was one of the book contesting for the award. I was thrilled reading the book by Indira Lankesh. After reading it, I called Gauri and she asked me what I thought it. The outstanding book chronicles the coming of age of both Lankesh and Indira. In my reading of the book I saw how the coming of age of a man is more than often individualistic and personal success/ achievement oriented while the coming of age of a woman is more than often a collective growth and the success is measured through the contribution made to others lives. Gauri had liked my reading of the book. In this conversation around her mother’s book I had told Gauri that she should write her autobiography because that would give us a third dimension to the life of her father. She had dismissed the idea. Had she written would it give us a third dimension to the life of Lankesh, I don’t know. But I am sure it would still be a story of coming of age where growth is collective and life cooperative.

Gauri would have turned 56 today had she been alive. I weep in silence as I remember her and write this.

Rest in power, Gauri!

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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.

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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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All Has Turned Red: Remembering Gauri Lankesh

September 12, 2017 at 9:15 AMSep (Activism, Friends, Media, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

It was the monsoon of 2004. Handful of journalists had entered the ‘naxal infested forest’ in Karnataka to meet the Naxalites and do ground reporting after being invited for a meeting as such by the then leader. Gauri Lankesh was one among the few journalists from different media houses.

In the following issue of Lankesh Patrike (she had not yet started her own weekly then) in her editorial and report Gauri spoke of Comrade Prem, who was spearheading the naxalite movement in Karnataka, being her senior in college years before he moved into armed rebellion. Gauri had interviewed him and in her editorial (kempaadavo ella kempaadavo | All has turned red ) quoted a poem by Comrade Prem. A poem penned in 1995, where Prem is responding to the judicial murder of the human rights activist of Nigeria- Ken Saro Viwa saying, “It was a lesson you learned too late. Your pen playwright should have been backed by the gun alright?”

Ken who was fighting for the Ogoni tribe and against the multi-national Shell oil company was hanged to death by the the then Nigerian regime.

The lines of Comrade Prem sounded so convincing to me back then when I was a naive teenager.

But then in 2005 when Comrade Prem was hunted and gunned by the star machinery I was shocked to learn that Comrade Prem was Saket Rajan, an author of two volumes of Karnataka History titled Making History and also a gold medalist from IIMC, Delhi.

Those days when the Naxalite movement of Karnataka and especially Saket Rajan was being discussed by the media and public, I kept recollecting his poem fondly and juxtaposed it with what I read in newspapers: Saket Rajan being killed in an encounter and how next to his body was a gun that he was carrying. I told myself that Saket Rajan was proven wrong by history.

So when Gauri initiated and toiled to bring naxalites to mainstream years later in Karnataka, I was not just proud of her I also did express my solidarity with her.

Now in 2017 after seeing Gauri being killed I wonder what is Saket going to tell her if at all there is an afterlife and if the two good old friends are to meet in a world beyond this world? Will he say what he had told Ken Saro Viwa: “it was a lesson you learned too late. Your pen should have been backed by the gun alright!”?? To be honest, I dont know what he would say, what Gauri would respond to it and to begin with I dont even know if there is an afterlife or not. But I know for sure that those who sweat and toil to make the world stand on its legs will be crushed and smashed by the state by the system and it doesn’t matter if they are backed by the gun or not!

But then when Ken’s murder did not stop or silence Saket and Saket’s murder did not stop or silence Gauri, we shouldn’t be stopped or silenced by the murder of Gauri. Because with or without the gun what all these three fighters, rebels forming a diverse yet connected and continuous history are propagating through their lives is to keep fighting and keep speaking to make the world stand on its legs.

Numbed by the murder of a comrade of concern and an understanding friend, trying to digest the fact that she is no more physically, I recollect a line of Pablo Neruda: “True life is without silence. Only death remains dumb” from his poem titled Communication from the collection Isla Negra. I also recollect a graffiti that I used to cross every day during my days at JNU. The graffiti read: “Let life be dead, but death must not be allowed to live,” a quote attributed to Karl Marx.

People like Gauri are not silent even in their death and even in death they fight death and ensure death will not be allowed to live.

(Originally published in Kashmir Times dated 12 September 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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Dil Sau-Sau Ka Chutta Hai…

July 27, 2017 at 9:15 AMJul (Cinema, Friends, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy, Uncategorized)

After watching Jagga Jasoos I kept humming the song Dil Ullu Ka Patta Hai, probably the only thing I carried back from the hall. I couldnt help but keep admiring the brilliance of Amitabh Bhatttacharya. I was particularly stuck with the line, “dil sau-sau ka chuTTa hai.” I messaged some friends about this line in particular and also how much I admire Amitabh Bhattacharya for his lines like this and how I feel deeply that he understands the characters and their emotions better than the director themselves.

Later when I fell asleep I had a special guest in my dream. No it wasnt Amitabh Bhattacharya. It was Gulzar.

I woke up wondering how Gulzar had come into my dream when I had gone to sleep thinking about and admiring Amitabh Bhattacharya!

Probably my love for Gulzar started feeling insecure after witnessing my high appreciation and admiration for Amitabh Bhattacharya, especially because this time the heart was declaring that it comes and goes like a change of hundred rupees!

Love is independent with its own desires and insecurities, beyond us, though a part of us. Isnt it?

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Does she still listen to Begum Akhtar?

July 11, 2017 at 9:15 PMJul (Friends, Literature, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

“You take her name like you own it,” said my friend when I took a particular name while recollecting an episode from my life, because the on going conversation reminded me of the same.

I laughed in response because that is all I could do.

I don’t know if I own the name, but I know that the name, as it means to me, and the person, as I know her, belong to me alone. I say this at the risk of sounding possessive and claiming ownership. But when you know that you have lived through a stage of life with someone in a very subliminal way, in words, beyond words, distant from the five sense which made you realize that there are dimensions to life beyond them, you realize that the person who you met in this parallel universe of emotion is someone to whom you and only you had access to.

That person in the parallel universe of interwoven feelings, is not the same person the world knows. Nor are you the same person the world knows in that parallel universe of interwoven feelings and that ‘you’ were accessible only to that one person and that ‘you’ belongs to that person alone.

Some stages of life are so beautiful that neither life nor history can bear their beauty…

On evenings like this when it is raining both outside and inside, I wrap myself in memories and wonder if she still listens to Begum Akhtar.

woh jo hum mein tum mein karaar tha tumhein yaad ho ke na yaad ho

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Creative Coincidental Kinship~ 4

June 21, 2017 at 9:15 AMJun (Friends, Literature, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Around one and half years ago (March 2016) I received a message from my mursheed Rahamat Tarikere saying one Basavaraj Puranik is trying to contact me and asking me to call Mr. Basavaraj Puranik. The ignorant me called Rahamat Sir immediately to ask who Basavaraj Puranik is and why he was trying to get in touch with me. “He is a translator who translates from Urdu and English and also has authored a book on Allamaprabhu titled ‘anupama charita Allama deva’. He is a great admirer of your writings. It seems he wants to talk to you. Please call and talk to him.” I felt good about someone being an admirer of my insignificant writings. Probably the joy got a bit more than joy which made me wonder why should I call someone if that someone wants to talk to me. But without raising that question, I told Rahamat Sir that I would call Basavaraj Puranik because of the respect I have for Rahamat Sir.

When I dialled the number of Basavaraj Puranik, which I had got from Rahamat Sir, a lady picked up the call and for a moment I wondered if I had dialed the wrong number. Since it felt awkward to cut the call after a female voice said, “hello,” I uttered the number I had dialed and asked if the cal had connected to the same number. When the lady confirmed that it was the same number I said I was asked by Basaravaraj Puranik to call. “One minute,” said the lady suggesting I wait for the phone to be handed over to Basavaraj Puranik. I waited for Basavaraj Puranik to call thinking how such waiting over the phone call had become a rare phenomenon. Within a minute Basavaraj Purani’s voice came from the other side. A slightly frail voice saying, “Hello” made me realize what, in the message sent by Rahamat Sir, the digit 82 within bracket next to the name of Basavaraj Puranik meant! The man was 82 years old and suddenly I realized why Rahamat Sir had insisted that I call him instead of giving Mr. Puranik my number. I was suddenly overwhelmed and humbled.

“Sir, I am Samvartha. I was asked by Rahamat Sir…” I had not completed introducing myself when Basavaraj Puranik from the other side started speaking. “How much I have been searching for you! From over six months now I have been on the hunt for you. Whoever I ask kept telling me that you are from the coastal region, studied at the film institute Pune and are quite elusive, difficult to catch hold of. But I continued to ask for you and recently while revisiting Rahamat’s article on Urdu I saw your name being mentioned there. So I called him up and asked him to put me in touch with you,” said Basavaraj Puranik drawing a map of his search for me. I felt very embarrassed and also felt special. He mentioned that he had read some of my articles and translations and thanked me for the mention of Eduardo Galeano’s book ‘Children of the Days’ in a small write up for Avadhi. Recollecting how he pestered his son to get him a copy of the book, through online purchasing, and had read the book in one go Bsavaraj Puranik said, “While reading that book I understood you.” I was surprised. What did he understand I dint know. I asked him what is that he understood about me by reading Galeano’s book. “Let me try to understand myself through your understanding of me,” I said laughingly. Very notoriously Basavaraj Puranik said, “For that you will have to come meet me. I cant say all of it over the phone.” Inquiring how often I visit Bangalore and when is my next visit to Bangalore likely to be he said, “Please come home and meet me the next time you come to Bangalore.”

During our conversation that day Basavaraj Puranik made note of my e-mail id and later in the day wrote to me where he said, “Had you not written about Galeano’s book I would have been deprived of a beautiful experience. I thank you for this. I congratulate you for your engagement with books as this which erodes inertia. Please suggest more books of the same kind. I will try to read them and flower again.”

In the following days I shared some of my writings and translations with Basavaraj Puranik who affectionately wrote back to me giving a pat on my back and also giving useful suggestions and suggesting certain corrections. We had also exchanged some Urdu poetry with each other via mail. Iqbal, Ghalib etc..

After I came in contact with Basavaraj Puranik I made only one trip to Bangalore with specific work in hand. I couldnt meet Basavaraj during that visit and when I wrote to him apologizing for the same he wrote back saying, “Do meet me next time without fail.”

Yesterday (20 June 2017) evening when I was reading a text related to a work I am enegaged with I got a message from Rahamat Sir. It read; “A great admirer of your writing, a translator from Urdu Basavaraj Puranik is no more. Were you able to meet him?”

I have not read a single translation of Basavaraj Puranik not have I read any of his original writings. Forget reading his work I, for the longest time had not even heard his name leve alone being familiar with his works and his contributions. Yet he in his 80s searching for a young insignificant writer in his 30s for six months, thanking me for introducing him to Galeano, giving insightful feedback on my writings and translations and also insisting I meet him once… All of this sounds too surreal. But I am aware how art and literature can connect people across time and space. A man in his 80s met a young man in 30s through literature, our unrest and Urdu poetry in mystical ways.

Basavaraj Puranik a man who made me experience such a beautiful bonding, who made me feel special with his love and admiration, is no more and I feel a strange loss. I should, at least now, make an effort to read Basavaraj Puranik and understand him. But I have lost an opportunity to understand myself through the understanding of Basavaraj Puranik, with an intervention by Galeano, forever.

Thank you for your love, affection and appreciation Basavaraj Sir. I regret not having met you. Apologies.

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