Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Jebon mein hum raatein liye ghooma karen..

"Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." - Berthold Auerbach.

Listening to Aashish Khan on the sarod playing the deeply mellifluous Raga Chandranandan devised by his late father, I feel somehow more alive than I've felt in weeks. Perhaps it is because it starts off on a (to my ears) discordant, almost chaotic note and slowly but surely grows melodious and harmonious and ends in an incredible crescendo of joyful strumming. In a way, it reflects my own mental trajectory these past few days.

I've always thought of the sarod as a rather sombre instrument with the Raga Lalita Gauri being the traditional melancholy music that underscored melodramatically tragic scenes in old Hindi films. That's pretty much why I've been so wary of listening to it.

But I'm starting to discover its playful side. And what Chaitanya once scornfully called the "glorified Indian mandolin" is finally starting to appeal to me in ways that not much has these days.

It's like looking anew at an acquaintance you've vaguely known pretty much all your life but befriended only recently after a long heart-to-heart. Which is exactly what last night's conversation with S. felt like. I have her to thank for the recording that fills me with so much joy right now.

It'll be a while before I completely reconnect with the world I guess. But atleast there is this night - this magical musical marvellous night. Like there was Christmas eve. It's feels so good to be myself again.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Empty spaces

For the past few days, I notice I am becoming increasingly restless. It's something I've felt before and felt in exactly these circumstances actually. I am studying well which is good but it's not as fulfilling right now as it was six months ago. Piyu reckons it might be a mild case of burn-out but I don't think it's that. I am not less enthusiastic or less prolific but I am just less fulfilled.

Learning something new and getting a concept in place is not giving me that sharp jolt of pleasure that it used to. I wonder if it's desensitization to over-much stimulation.

And it's not just the studying. It's a lot of things. I find I can't sit down in front of the television like I used to. TV with it's blurred-cleavage-and-overzealous-bleeping on the English channels and the shake-what-yo-mama-gave-you item girls on the Hindi channels is starting to feel like a gentler version of the pop culture torture methods some psychopath designed for use in Gitmo.

I find my attention wanders from movies I think I should be riveted to, and I feel guilty for it. I've been reading A Pair of Blue Eyes but Elfride's inconstancy does not help with my own occasional meanderings.

Music is a salve. Sometimes songs help with the uneasiness like the serendipitous Aage Bhi Jaane Na Tu followed by Traumerei last night, sometimes I suspect my iPod's shuffle has started feeding on my subconscious. I am particularly thankful for it at times like last night. But today, try as I might, I couldn't feel the yearning in Lag Jaa Gale with the same gale-force I used to.

Talking with friends feels like over-stimulation. I haven't been good with them recently, I know. I've been defensive and sarcastic and I don't like being this way. Mitzi theorizes it's the winter doing its thing. Piyu figures I'm withdrawing into my shell like the unbalanced Gemini-Cancer cuspian she insists I am. Astrology does not help soothe my frayed nerves, never has really. Then again, nor does this blackguard of a Bombay winter.

I'm taking long walks again. I crave solitude and sometimes, even silence. It's like needing a fix of tranquility.

I am never overwhelmed by crowds but lately I'm comforted by the anonymity and blending they offer. I don't understand it. It doesn't often happen that the voice in my head speaks with emotion in this much contradiction with reason.

Reason claims I should be satisfied with my life at this point. Emotion points out I am not.

I have a vague sense that there's something missing. Something that was once close that is now not within reach. A piece of the puzzle that has wandered off, refusing to yield a whole picture.

I recall those earlier days of restlessness, what Pushky called 'my blue periods' with liberal seasonings of irony. What I don't recall is what helped me get out of them. Did I wait for them to pass me by? Or did I push them away by plunging into over-activity and 'distractions' - what Rohith recently wrote about. Maybe dad is right. Maybe I just need to take a vacation after a relentless and rather eventful year.

Perhaps I need to seek out Bukowski again. "There is something wrong with me besides melancholia." he says. Does it apply to me tonight, I wonder.

Christmas is coming and that usually helps. Until then, I guess there's always homemade cake.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Jahaan main chaloon, wahin tu chale..

I was talking with Chaitanya yesterday; it was our first real conversation in almost three months. Which for me was odd because to me, he is still the person whom I had to absolutely tell every single thing for pretty much every single day of my life. For a long time, it was always us against the world. However, stupidly dramatic that sounds now. Then we grew up. And he left home. And our lives started to slowly but certainly diverge, no longer the closely entwined strands they once were.

But it didn't matter how many years we spent apart. We could always pick up the thread of any conversation from wherever it was once left off. I could notice his light Marathi accent has for some time now been replaced with a light San Franciscan lilt. He still rolls his 'r's the same way though. And taps the 't's.

Yesterday, he seemed to be in a mildly contemplative mood which was thoroughly uncharacteristic of him. I wondered what was on his mind.

"Do you remember a day when you were wholly entirely completely happy?" he asked suddenly.

"Yeah, I've had many days like that." I couldn't help smiling. It wasn't every day my pragmatic brother asked me questions like this one.

"Recently?" he queried, slightly disbelieving.

"Yes, and inspite of internship." I said confidently.

"Right." he said somewhat dreamily. "I was thinking more of the past. Of the time when we were children."

"What about it?" I tried to guess at what he was thinking of, maybe it was some memory he thought I shared. Or it was just an abstract thought that caught his fancy one day.

"Just that, you know, back then. Time. Somehow, there was more of it."

I chuckled at that. "Of childhood summers when days were short and afternoons endless." I said paraphrasing a half-remembered but much-loved quote.

"There are some things that drift away like our endless, numbered days." He quoted back to me.

"What's that now? Could it be nostalgia?" I had to tease him.

"Yes, exactly." he laughed good-naturedly. "So what have you been doing these days apart from studying?" he asked and I realised the nostalgic dreamer was gone.

I wondered if it was one of those threads he'd pick up in a future conversation. But for now, the old familiar realist was back.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sing to me of the man, Muse

Dustin: So you're a painter?

George (nodding): Yeah. I mean I'd like to be. I just don't know what to paint.

Dustin: What do you mean?

George: It's just that every time I think of a subject, or even try to visualise an image of what I think I should paint, I just feel like I'm full of shit. Like I'm trying to be something I'm really not.

Dustin (staring at a painting on George's bedroom wall): Yeah, that's the hardest part, you know?

George: And what if it's not any good? What I can do -

Dustin (shrugging): Some say it's bullshit. Some say it's a masterpiece. You gotta be honest with yourself, man. Figure out what you're in it for. You might think it's art. You might think it's money on a wall. If you've got some talent, you gotta hone it. Read about it. Look at stuff in galleries. You can't live inside your own head all the time.

George: Does that make me not a painter?

Dustin: No, that's not what I meant. What you're doing is fantastic. This is what you should paint. Atleast until you evolve into something else. The fact that you struggle with it is a really good thing, you know what I mean?

George: I guess. But I keep thinking is it really meant to be this hard? If it's hard, then it's not natural. And you can't force something like that.

Dustin: Yeah, but you gotta exercise that muscle. It gets easier, I promise. Besides, how can you call yourself a painter if you don't paint?

- from The Art of Getting By.

You raise me up

I remember as a dreamy teenager on a summer afternoon after watching BBC's Pride & Prejudice, sitting with Piyu and Momo discussing what our respective Mr. Right would be like. You know, the prince on the white horse, the knight-in-shining-armour, the Mr. Darcy, the One, or whatever the latest romantic comedy told you to look for when looking for love.

All three of us had a list of things. Qualities, we hoped, the boy (it's a little silly to say man when you're fourteen and making lists) we fell for would possess.

I remember mine was something like this. "Can recite the dialogue to entire scenes from Friends episodes". "Likes Tennyson-y poetry". "Is good at math". "Doesn't think crying is for wusses but isn't too sensitive either". "Gets sarcasm". "Smells like fresh-cut grass". "Has a pet dog". "Plays a musical instrument or can convincingly whistle song tunes".

As you can see, it was a very exhaustive list. And it wasn't completely unrealistic. Or so I thought till my mum pointed out I wasn't likely to find a sitcom loving, poetry reciting mathematician and part-time gardener with a dog, in real life.

And growing up, what my mum said really started to sink in. I thought, okay, I could compromise on a couple of contentious items. Like, maybe we could get the dog later or maybe our kids could get my awesome math genes instead.

But Tennyson. Sigh. Tennyson can be so persuasive that he refuses to allow you to let go of your romantic ideals.

One of my favourite poems by him is a particularly recklessly romantic one I read from Piyu's mum's old, much-read, frequently-thumbed copy of The Oxford Book of English Verse.

It goes like this -

"O, were I loved as I desire to be!
What is there in the great sphere of the earth,
Or range of evil between death and birth,
That I should fear, - if I were loved by thee!
All the inner, all the outer world of pain,
Clear love would pierce and cleave, if thou wert mine."

Reading that again tonight, I remember once again what it was like to be in love with the idea of being in love. And I smile knowingly with the wisdom that only ten years of dissecting romantic films can bring. Yeah, maybe we could get the dog later.