Saturday, January 28, 2012

Celebrating Spring!

The SRE is travelling once again, so I managed to attend only a small part of the Dover Lane Music Conference this year. The younger son and I did attend most of the final night, and what a night it was- we heard absolutely wonderful music from master musicians- Ustad Amjad Ali Khan on the sarod, the vocalist Manjari Asanare Kelkar (whom I'd last heard about eight years ago), the wonderful N.Rajam, who makes her violin sing, and, finally, Pandit Jasraj, who sang just before dawn broke on Republic Day.

Today is Basant Panchmi, celebrating Basant, our very own springtime, a joyous season indeed!
Bengal celebrates Saraswati Puja today, a day devoted to the worship of the Goddess of Learning.

Our folk songs and classical bandishes have many compositions featuring the beauty and joy of spring. Here is Pandit Jasraj, singing a delightful bandish in Raga Basant, in which all the other ragas are part of the baraat, the bridegroom's procession, while Raga Basant is the dulha, the bridegroom!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Refreshing Change: The Reluctant Detective

One doesn't think of murder as a laughing matter. More than one murder, even less so. But when two murders happen in close proximity, near the housing complex in which the protagonist Kay Mehra resides, they become the raison d'etre for what is often a hilarious book.
Anyone who is familiar with Kiran Manral's blogs will recognise her self-deprecating humour, her patent exaggerations, her child's (former) speech patterns. Many of her concerns as a parent come through in the book: Kay Mehra's dread of Parent Teacher meetings in the school, for one, the child's desire for junk food another!
Detaching from the blogspeak, so to say, the book still holds true. The chapter headings themselves make you smile: In Which There is Never Anything to Wear, Close Encounters With the Police Kind, In Which Much Gaping at a Superstar Happens, In Which There Is A Typical Suburban Weekend, and so on. What is interesting is the effortless ease with which suburban life is painted, with detailed sketches of minor and major characters. Kay's compassion, empathy and her apparent psychic sensitivity make it imperative for her to get to the bottom of the murder of her fellow morning jogger, Sheetal Jaiswal, with whom she has just a nodding acquaintance. So nodding, that even the regulation condolence visit is a complete farce!
At the decent hour of 11a.m.,around five of us put on our white condolence and flag-hoisting and political meet purpose regulation salwar kameezes and appropriately mournful exzpressions and landed up at the E wing lobby, congregating like a flock of chattering seagulls. We took the lift up together in hushed silence though. The bereaved husband, however, does not entertain the women or their condolences, and they leave his doorway feeling most unsatisfied.
Kay reminisces: In the two years Sheetal Jaiswal had passed each other in the mornings, all we had done was crack an occasional wary smile at each other, not a single word had been exchanged by us,.........yes, it was true. She hadn't had any friends. What a miserable life she must have led:no friends, an antisocial husband, and weight that refused to shift itself.

An encounter with the complex's resident TV star Meena has Kay in form: I was torn between wanting to shoot her in the head for being so unbelievably slim, and asking for her dietician's number.
A few paragraph's later, she says, of Meena: I had always envied her life, national fame, a career to die for, no one to answer to, and the freedom to call for takeaway every single day of her life. And I was sure Meena envied my life in a way I couldn't understand, and definitely didn't want to understand on days when the child had me tearing my hair out in bunches........
And after the Parent Teacher meeting, Kay says: I love my food, I love buffets. When the two come together, especially after times when I am emotionally drained and hurting, like this, when I have had to sit through half an hour of being told why the child is well on his way to delinquency.......... I need food that was deep fried, and desserts which are steeped in sugar.

Kay seeks the help of an old school friend of hers, Runa, who happens to be a private detective. Since no one is paying for the investigation, Runa insists that Kay does the legwork, which is something that our dainty, lady-like protagonist finds rather unsavoury: This was a completely new twist of events. I was not cut out for blood and gore; I was a delicate, mincing creature, who, had I been Victorian, would have to move around with smelling salts in my skirts.
Runa, however, insists: Ask around. Ask the neighbours about the lady who was killed. Ask the security guards of her building.Ask her maids. If you spot the cops who came to meet you, ask them about progress in the case Go to where she was found, look around, see if there is something you can find.

Kay reluctantly does follow Runa's advice, leading to the capture and arrest of Sheetal Jaiswal's murderer.

A brilliant first novel, light hearted, yet accurate and oh-so-honest in it's portrayal of modern-day urban life. The various characters are sketched in with deft strokes, and of course you have to love Kay, with her struggles with her weight, her clothes, her son, and at times, her strong, mostly silent spouse.
Looking forward to many more books from you, Ms.Manral!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Akatha Kahani: The Event

Photographs courtesy Mallika aka Eve's Lungs

Since Saturday evening I've been trying to find the words to express what was, essentially, inexpressible. Not only is the Akatha Kahani an untellable story, the experience of it is also very hard to describe in mere words.
I can give you the bare bones of it- three women: an author, a singer and a dancer share their experiences and understanding of Kabir and how his couplets, songs and teachings have impacted their lives. All three of them relate their individual experiences. They sing together, in amazing harmony. The poetry and the wisdom of Kabir, unaccompanied by any musical instrument, set to the compositions of Kumar Gandharva, creates magic.

The first few couplets speak of the need for a Guru, a teacher, one who can show the path.

Avdhoota yugan yugan hum jogi speaks of a timeless, joyful spirituality.

A gentle request to the restless mind is soothing:
Dheerey dheerey re mana, dheerey sab kuch hoey.
Mali seenchey sau ghada, ritu aavey phal hoey.
(Slowly, slowly, oh mind, all will happen, but slowly
The gardener may pour a hundred pots, but the tree will bear fruit only in season)

Jhini jhini beeni chadariya is a beautiful song in which Kabir speaks of the Creator as a master weaver, who weaves an exceedingly fine cloth. One can imagine Kabir at his loom while he sings this.
The body, of course, is mortal, and one day the soul shall leave it: Ud jaayega hansa akela.
Archana's expressive hands and eyes brought tears to many an eye while this was sung.

The three singers' voices combine in a haunting harmony to evoke the powerful attractions of Maya, the great swindler: Maya Mahathagni hum jaani.

A final dance, to the song Nirbhay Nirgun Gun Re Gaaunga, is uplifting and beautiful.

The programme is over, and all of us are deeply moved by it.

I have rarely been at such a loss for words- this brief account is merely factual- it is far removed from the actual experience of Akatha Kahani.

I would like to express my thanks to the Almighty who orchestrated all the events leading up to this Untellable Experience.

My heartfelt thanks to Jaya, Bindhu and Archana for far far more than this beautiful programme.

Edited to add: Sue reminded me of this beautiful song which Bindhu sang on special request:
Naiharva hum ka na bhave. Bindhu's voice is rich and deep and truly beautiful.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Akatha Kahani

Last July, I had blogged about Jaya Madhavan's book, Kabir The Weaver Poet.
Thanks to my reader Peccavi who is a friend of Jaya's, I heard about Akatha Kahani.
I am delighted to inform you that Jaya and her sisters will be coming to Kolkata for a performance at my home, this Saturday afternoon!
We need your good wishes. More later.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Good morning, Sunshine!

Today is bright and sunny and crisply cold, after days of miserably bleak skies, clouds and drizzle, and cold clamminess which sometimes left you sweating, sometimes cold, but always, always, missing the sun.
I learned yesterday from a dear friend that a young, school-going relative of hers has been suffering for a few years from severe headaches and migraines, and despite numerous tests, nothing could be diagnosed. Finally, he was found to have a Vitamin D deficiency. Since he is very sensitive to the heat, he rarely sees any sunshine, and spends most of his time indoors, often in air-conditoned rooms. A colleague of the SRE has also been diagnosed with the same problem.
People who work nights, or who spend most of their waking life indoors, please make sure you get at least a small dose of sunshine everyday.

People who live in the extreme North, where winter nights are extremely long, may suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) owing to lack of sunshine. The acronym seems so apt.

Even though I try to not let my well-being get affected by something as unpredictable as weather, and may complain about the extreme heat in summer, today I am just so glad to see you, Sun! Don't disappear again, please.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The SRE and Boseji

The SRE and Boseji have, between them, made a monkey out of me.
We had attended a programme of Sufi music in early December, and had picked up a couple of CDs from there. One was a beautiful collection of Kabir bhajans sung by Shaunak Abhisheki, and the other a fusion of Indian bamboo flute and Spanish guitar. The SRE tried playing the fusion CD in Boseji, but Boseji didn't want to play it. I was busy doing something (presumably useful) elsewhere in the house, so I'm not quite aware of the complete sequence of the interaction between the man and the machine. What I was told by the SRE was that the CD was stuck inside Boseji and was not emerging from his maw. I pressed the eject button on the remote a few times, switched the plug point switch on and off a few times, and gave up. Since my dear sister-in-law and her husband were visiting us the very next day, Boseji was wrapped up in an old tablecloth and put away in a suitcase till further notice.
It was only today that I remembered Boseji and the stuck CD. I extricated him from the wrappings, connected Boseji to a plug point, fiddled with the remote. 'No Disc' was what the machine said, but I didn't trust Boseji's pronouncements, so I carted him off to the service centre, complaining of a stuck disc. The service guy called me into the examination room, played a random CD on the system and told me that neither was there a CD inside of Boseji, nor was there any other problem. That was great news, but where on earth was the CD??? Had it dematerialised somewhere? The younger son just got home yesterday from his travels, and was telling me of his future plans for Boseji, for when the parents were sick and tired of him- he wouldn't use the CD player at all, but would connect Boseji's terrific speakers to other music sources. Maybe Boseji was terrified at the thought, and had obliterated the CD into non-existence.
The SRE was called, was pleased to know that Boseji was well, but started worrying about the disappearance of the missing CD. By then I was quite sure that the SRE had absent-mindedly put the CD in some other cover and completely forgotten about doing so. Imagine my chagrin when I finally get home and find the missing CD inside its very own cover!!!!!!!
I am now playing it on the little Philips player, so at the very least I can hear it before I reinstate the temperamental Mr.Bose, who may or may not chose to play this particular record!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Key Chronicles

The SRE and the house key have been a source of worry when I travel without him. On my latest trip to Hyderabad, though, he did me proud! He even unlocked the house with his own key when we got home at 2.30 a.m., as my flight was delayed by nearly four hours, and my baggage was, strangely, found on two separate baggage belts, which added to the delay.
Kolkata's winter was on our side- it is far easier to slip a key into a coat pocket after unlocking the door than putting it back in the laptop bag. I had, of course, stuck a note inside our front door telling him to check his pocket for the key before shutting the door, as well as one on the wooden cowherd on the shoe cupboard that faces the the front door, telling him to replace the key in his pocket immediately. So far so good! Of course he had to tease me on Friday morning, saying that he was going to play golf and wasn't going to wear his coat, but fortunately he didn't get locked out.
He has also derived an ingenious solution to solve the key problem during the summer months as well, in case I decide to travel on my own. The house key will be attached to a long string which will be sewn into his trouser pocket. He will only wear one pair of trousers for the duration of my trip, so that necessitates a short one, or else I will have to get several keys made and sew them into various trouser pockets!!!!!!

Wishing you all much love and laughter in 2012!