Saturday, October 29, 2005

Decadence and a few Photos

Decadence, I am told, is when you call in sick from work for a week, call your (in) significant other over, go down the sex, drugs and rock 'n roll way, cook scrambled eggs (anda bhurjee) and necessarily order out for minced mutton (kheema). This is, I should tell you, "merely the beginning of decadence."

Even as I agree, I don't.

Consider this. On Tuesday, you sign in at work at a quarter to one in the afternoon, leave at one thirty for lunch, pick up a beer or two and some sandwiches. Once done, you then head out for a short drive to aid digestion. When you finally stop driving eighty kilometers from Nashik to park near the most picturesque little brook, you sit down by it, looking up at the sky. While chewing on some stray grass, you are contemplating both amusement and murder while your friend is busy bemoaning the lack of beer and you are kicking yourself because you do not have your camera handy. And you have been forced to take only a million images in your head only.

Two cigarettes later, you have sauntered back to the car and are going back to office. After battling some homeward bound traffic, one friend accompanies you upstairs while the other hands you his access card and waits downstairs. In twenty minutes, all three of you have swiped out and are in varying stages of the commute home. What you have to show for a long, hard day at work is a profound, enfolding, soul-satisfying, mellow warmth and the grand sum of fifty-five minutes in the office premises. Now I ask you - how would you define decadence?

Since I don't have pictures of this extemporary(!) jaunt to show, I hope that these of Madh Island will do. Thirty-five exposures and I know that I am only just getting started learning how to create beauty. For the most part, I am content because I can now live in the prayer of something better to come.

For those of you who love Goa, I hope the first photo kindles a memory somewhere and please, tell me this isn't exactly like Goa! :-)

Tell me this isn't Goa!

Going Down...

Last Stand

Walk on the Ocean

Addendum: Should you want to see any more of my photos from this trip (and others), you can click here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Age of Kali

I must admit, I was very skeptical about reading William Dalrymple's The Age of Kali. I didn't have a very good time of his White Mughals and was content not reading him again. Until a much respected friend asked me to give him another chance. Still hesitant and not wanting to invest in it myself, I dragged Words Worth to a bookstore and insisted she buy me the book for a birthday long gone.

Before beginning it, my greatest fears about the book were that he would either sell India or be patronizing, as a disturbing number of diasporic and non-Indian writers tend to be. Honestly, I was also apprehensive because I didn't want to read a critique or even an account of India from a "foreigner" and all that nationalist enthusiasm.

I have seldom had the chance to be so happy about being dead wrong. This book is everything a newspaper report/article ought to be but unfortunately, isn't.

Published in 1998, The Age of Kali is a collection of essays about Dalrymple's journeys in the Indian subcontinent and the Indian Ocean and spans from 1989 to 1998. Reading these in 2005, it may seem that some of these pieces have lost either relevance or are, in a sense, anachronous. Instead however, they provide an insightful, incisive look into the history and in many ways, the origins of the current social, political and economic situations in India.

His choice of title is grounded in the Hindu view of the epochs of time in which society will move through four ages - from a golden age into social and moral chaos. Indeed, his accounts of North India would well make you believe that we are undoubtedly living in the age of Kali, the lowest throw of an ancient game of dice, an age where things fall apart.

Dalrymple's experiences demonstrate the strangehold the caste system still has on not only rural India, but much of "modern" and urban India as well. The essay on Bihar chronicles the decay of governance in North India and the manipulation of a state into poverty and lawlessness. The pieces on Rajasthan are frightening in their observation of the interdependencies between politics, the caste system, poverty, sheer brute force and the terrifying oppression of women.

The situation is no different in Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh, where Hindu widows - many of them child widows - languish in an apathetic and corrupt system and are most often left to beggary and singing in ashrams for "a cupful of rice and two rupees." If a widow be unfortunate enough to be young and attractive, an unholy nexus between the ashram managers and some sadhus ensures that she finds her way to the bed of a local landowner who, in his turn, will sell her to a brothel once he is done with her. And yes, the police are paid well for their non-interference.

At complete odds with this is the prosperity in urban southern and western India. In Bangalore, this boom calls forth the irrational xenophobia of the Karnataka State Farmers' Association which trashed a KFC outlet since the primary agenda of every MNC in India is to debase and violate our culture. In Bombay, it gives rise to a Hindi rap star (Baba Sehgal!) and a city full of people like Shobha De and other Page 3 regulars.

His essays on the temples of South India are travel writing at its most beautiful - evocative, descriptive and grounded in careful research. In the essays on Lucknow, Goa and Hyderabad,which are a requiem for a time and grandeur long gone, Dalrymple captures every sight, sound, taste, and sensation from another's memory and brings it to delightful and immediate animation.

His essays on Pakistan have a different character and I think, as a whole, are weak: Dalrymple does not seem to put as much into them as he does into his travels in India. However, the section on Peshawar is brilliantly etched and his description of the ancient Gandhara civilization is unequaled by any other account of the area that I have ever read.

He is also a wickedly funny man and takes subtle potshots you could miss if you blinked a little too fast. His use of anecdotes and incidents is subtle and always well timed. He tells the tale of India with a lot more compassion, warmth and understanding than I have often read Indians accord her. And I don't think that his reverence is something born of "exotica".

My only grouse is that his interactions are mostly with the urban, educated elite - both page 3 and the literati, as it were. I am not sure if that is the only or perhaps even right way to approach the subcontinent because even as we are now moving full steam ahead into globalization for all, I do not think Shobha De, of all people, can be taken as a snapshot of life in Bombay - of all cities. It also seems contradictory to his experiences in north India, i.e Rajasthan, Bihar, and Vrindavan, which deal with the middle classes and lower sections of Indian society.

At the heart of the matter, William Dalrymple is a gifted writer; someone you would come back to over and over. What I liked the most is that his observations are so gracefully unintrusive - unlike most reporters that shove both fact and their opinions in your face. The book and indeed, his writing is an interface between him, the place and you, his reader. You are free to make of the experience what you will.


To the one I wanted to speak with - I hope I did him justice...?

Monday, October 17, 2005

Three in a Row

A girl could really get used to this, you know. I've had another lovely weekend, which makes it three in a row. This time, I am posting as Sunday closes upon itself and while my mind is still untouched by the filth of SQL Server 2005, and not a week later!

Last weekend, I grew up. I made the greatest single purchase of my life to pursue a passion. After months of saving, scrimping and yearning, last Saturday, I bought my fully loaded, unbelievably beautiful Nikon F75 with a AF Zoom-Nikkor 28-100mm lens.
I promptly spent the next day reading through the manual and learning that I know sweet nothing of photography. No matter; forward interprid traveller and all that later, I took her out to test yesterday. Dear Christ, I don't think I have enjoyed the sunset more. In my life. And this is not my usual dramatic self, hamming away to apoplexy!

It started Saturday morning; a friend asked me along to Madh Island. The Bombayites know where it is, and for the non-Bombayites - well, it is the north-western most tip of Bombay and where idiots like me who haven't been to Goa in coherent memory feel a little better about being idiots. It would be a good idea not to digress into the "I-haven't-been-to-Goa-in-twenty-years!" rant now, though I feel compelled to say that I am the only 25 year old I know who hasn't been to go Goa in twenty years! Sigh...

To meander back to the point, the road to Madh was so much more gorgeous than memory serves me. Hardly Bombay at all. Shadowed roads curved in and out of breathtaking verdance while schoolboys skated wildly across to get to the football ground. Mild-mannered misses and their mammas walked sedately to an early evening mass while eager young college kids replenished their beer supply and drove back to a party. A lazy, almost comatose vibe beckons you closer as you push further into Madh, and is really hardly Bombay at all.

This was my first view of the beach, taken from a friend's digital camera. Once my film is developed, I will post the progress of this sunset as well. :-)

I almost feel that I should end this post with the image but I must gloat over the sheer volume of books I bought today, the number that arrived with a friend and the wonderful afternoon I spent with him. I bought fourteen today and thirty odd were brought from Hyderabad and these I will post about later. All of this, a lovely pizza lunch, loads of conversation, plus one of the cutest babies in the world! How much do I rock? Let me count the ways.

I tell you, a girl could really get used to this!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

A Weekend Past

Abstaining from my weekly pilgrimage to the British Library is not a good idea. It makes for a dreary Saturday and a bad mood. Thankfully, by the evening a friend from long ago had called and I was off for dinner. This was especially comforting because my brother and three of my best friends were drinking themselves sillier than monkeys in Bangalore while I was in Bombay. Sometimes, life, is indeed elsewhere.

This weekend, I did things unlike other weekends. I consciously stayed off the phone, watched a movie, listened to some music and started Ulysses (which decided to call to me at last) instead and had me a blast! Apart from the wonderful Saturday evening, of course! Two and a half years of promises finally came to some fruition over two days.

There is nothing either extraordinary or "different" about what I did. People do it all the time but I, who have been drowning in self-pity and a ridiculous (and almost false) sense of loneliness, was experiencing something new... with a little twist of déjà vu. Like 'her' of my story, I too will head out for movies alone.

It is, I think, a funny thing with me. I always have opportunity to retract every last claim to maturity and sense three months after I have made it. Mark you, not 2 weeks, not 3 months, not a couple of years but precisely three months. There is a curious sort of solace, a familiarity in this steady kick in the teeth. I find it keeps my feet on the ground.

The images below were taken on Saturday night. The first one is of the Gateway of India, taken from the other side. For those familiar with Bombay, we were driving in from the Radio Club and I thought this was a good shot. The second one is the water-front in South Bombay - one end of the Queen's Necklace. Not particularly great shots but I'd like to share them anyway. :-)

A funny sort of weekend, really. A liberating, thoughtful and lovely sort of weekend.