Musings, Remembering, Verse perverse

Barog: rediscovering the joy of simply being

After three days of choking-level air pollution, it’s a glorious morning here in Delhi!

Today’s the 6th of November. I began the day with 90 minutes of pre-dawn yoga, followed by a brisk two-kilometre walk. Now, energized by a hearty breakfast and healing kaapi,  I check the Air Quality Index on the Weather Bureau site. It announces that the PM 2.5 particulate emissions are a mere 210 micrograms/cubic metre at 9 a.m.

That’s wonderful… 210 mcg/m3   is not even four times the maximum safety level of 60 mcg/m3 … why, it’s almost as good as being in Bhutan!

I wipe my smarting eyes and breathe deeply of the pleasantly chill light-brown air, revelling in the tingling sensation that courses through the entire body and mind as the lungs fill with a perfectly-blended mix of SO2, NO2 and CO, flavoured with delicate hints of ozone and hydrogen cyanide and just a touch of that rare element, oxygen…

Forgive me the laboured sarcasm, O most valued Reader; but I’ve finally understood that it’s futile taking the issue of air pollution, or indeed any issue at all, very seriously  in our beloved India that is Bharat. Three years ago, in 2016, I actually took the issue of air pollution seriously enough to write about it [please click here to read it]. But now I realize that nothing’s changed since then, except for the worse.

So:

Instead of wasting my breath in gasping rants

At Kejriwal and Goel, and their many sycophants

I abandon the idiocy of all netas and affiliated fools

For the serenity of hills and rills, still quiet pools…

Let Delhi and its denizens make Haze while the Sun shines!

I’ll find refuge in flowery meadows, sighing pines…

In this illuminated and detoxified spirit, I recollect and relive four wonderful days I spent in the quiet little town of Barog, near Shimla, in late September 2017. I stayed with my dear friends Micky and Abha: their warmth, their generosity and hospitality helped me shed decades of accumulated stresses and blues, and rediscover the joy and wisdom of simply BEING.

I’ve written earlier about walking up to the old army cantonment of Dagshai during this visit. [You can read it here]. Here are some more photos from that time.  A mere four days’ R&R; yet for me they evoke memories to draw on for a lifetime…

On the way up: Himalayan Queen

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In and around home

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Timeless mornings and evenings, lazing out on the terrace with Abha and Micky.   Tiger was usually present to test and certify quality of biscuits, pakoras, cake etc.

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Dagshai Cantonment – seen from terrace

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Every evening we’d walk to Micky’s ‘Sunset Point’ and watch the clouds roll in
just walking
Just walking around…

just walking 2

Tiger doing his Think Tank act
Tiger contemplates the State of the Universe

A dreamy day in Kasauli

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At the beautiful old Christ Church (estt. 1853)
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Army Holiday Home
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Kasauli Club
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The wildflowers run riot here!

Barog railway station

Walking down

There’s no road to/from Barog railway station. There’s only a steep, 400-metre path leading down through the forest from the Old Shimla Road.  So Micky dropped me off at a signpost showing where the path begins, and I followed the path down…and down….

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At Barog station

I never imagined I’d enjoy waiting for a train so much.  I spent just over an hour at the station, during which I met only four souls: the cheerful Asst Station Master, an ancient and sleepy gangman; the young man who presided over the station’s canteen and fixed me two cups of black tea;  and a phlegmatic dog who decided I needed constant supervision.  Nothing seems to have changed here since the 1.15 km-long Barog Tunnel was completed in the early 1900s…

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Barog tunnel – named after Colonel Barog, British Army engineer, who was entrusted with boring this 1.15 km tunnel through the mountain.  To save time, Barog deployed two teams which proceeded to bore the tunnel from both sides simultaneously. Alas, Barog’s calculations were wrong; the two segments of the tunnel were misaligned, and when it became clear that never the twain would meet, poor Barog was fined the princely sum of Re 1 for wasting the British government’s time and resources. Unable to bear the humiliation, he shot himself, and the tunnel was realigned and completed by another engineer:  H S Harrington. Legend has it that the tunnel is still haunted by the unhappy spirit of the Colonel…
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Station guest  house – I was told the rooms are nice, the food excellent, and the best way to visit Shimla is to stay here and take trains up and down (2 hours and a bit each way)
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My mentor: the slightly accusing look is because he believed (despite my strong denials) that I’d eaten the larger share of biscuits

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And so…time to go
Musings, Verse perverse

A Short Prayer on Deepavali Eve

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Even now

As residents of the neighbouring apartments, in pre-Deepavali revels

Rend the peace; render the night hideous with 240 decibels…

I contemplate the serene wisdom of the ancient sage

Who counselled against rage, advised restraint with the adage

Of Yudhisthira, that troubled  but patient ass of bygone age…

 

Even now

As the last ghastly Bollywood song fades, like a bad dream

Anon a Voice begins reciting Tambola numbers in soprano scream

Interspersed with inane jokes, in baritone bray

As hardened bandicoots flee in terror, their fur in disarray

 

Even now

In this dark noisy hour, when Despair threatens to cloak all humankind

Lo! The clouds disperse; Inspiration illumines my fevered mind!

Now we too can play Tambola; there’s no need for tiles

All we need are tickets; that Voice carries for miles!

 

Even now

I beseech thee,  O Mighty Devi—thou who felled Mahishasura, that Incarnation of Ignorance!

Do shine Reason’s Light on these cacophonous fools; gift them Silence, common sense!

That our ears, and Earth, be spared their racket; that we may awaken from this deafening dreadful night

To the glorious Dawn of Deepavali – the Celebration of thy Light

A short prayer pre-Deepavali - 2

 

Musings, Remembering

Chords of memory

It’s amazing, how quickly one’s equanimity vanishes beneath the stresses and strains of living in our beloved Rajdhani.

In the present instance, by ‘equanimity’ I mean the peace of mind that I found at the India Music Summit in Jaipur (4 – 6 October). Time flew while I was there.  Now , barely a fortnight later, all that peace of mind too has flown out the window; my Delhi window that is,  beyond which the afternoon sun is hidden by a haze made up of equal proportions of PM10 particles, toxic fumes from factories and vehicles, and toxic abuse from a million marauding muttering motorists.

Where has all the music gone?

You know how it is sometimes with a wonderful childhood experience?  You remember you had a good time; but that’s all you can recall. It’s as though all the little details— the when and where and how, the who did what with whom and to whom and why, the people and places and happenings and all the other elements— have vanished from memory; they’ve been chopped up fine and atomized in Time’s great grinder and swirled in the waters of forgetfulness, and then slow-cooked with the spices of experiences and the tadka of love and joy and sorrow (stirring frequently all the while), till everything has become like one cerebral kootu.

And so, when you try and remember your childhood experience, you can only discern the kootu; a tasty but uniform, featureless stew.

Yet it takes just a random spark— perhaps a certain aroma, perhaps the way the morning sunlight gleams on a leaf, a certain voice or giggle or chord, or a stranger’s face that reminds you of someone you knew …and at once the years and decades fall away like dream’s architecture dissolves with awakening, and for a brief thrilling moment the wonderful childhood experience of ten years or fifty years ago returns in all its intensity and washes over you and renews you;  and just as you become aware of returning memory it vanishes …leaving you smiling, longing for more.

Sometimes, of course, you can seek out the spark yourself. And with music it’s really easy, music as a spark always works for me.

That’s what I did just now;  I turned to YouTube and sought Aruna Sairam. I found a wonderful performance by her with sarod player Soumik Datta, including  songs she’d sung at Jaipur! Here are two—the 500 MWe Durga stotram Aigiri Nandini, and the Kalinga Nartana joyously and passionately recreating young Krishna’s sport with the great serpent Kalinga.

And in less time than it takes the law-abiding but stressed-out Delhi motorist to yell “Abbe saale, wrong side pe kyon chalaa rahe ho!”, all my stresses and strains have evaporated. 🙂

I can’t wait to attend the 2020 Summit.   To temper my impatience, I just listened to, and share here, the ethereal voices of the Shillong Chamber Choir singing Vande Mataram:  as they did in Jaipur; singing here on another occasion, when Chandrayaan II silently circled the Moon and the Lander Vikram was lost; evoking what their songs always evoke in my mind, the embracing and celebration of Life with all its ups and downs, the joy and awe and grandeur of Eternity.

General ravings, Musings

Saccha Swar—Gateway to Perfection

If you love listening to music – and I believe everyone loves music, it matters not what kind of music it is — you’d  know that there’s this very special and powerful thing that exists in some music, a thing that lights up in your mind and heart when you are listening to the music; a thing that is like pure ecstasy. It awakens you, inspires you, excites and moves you to the point where you feel a sense of supreme joy, pure intense awareness, the wild, mad, uninhibited passion of junoon, utter liberation from all the stuff and nonsense of daily life…when you transcend time and lose the sense of Self,  yet, strangely and paradoxically, you feel more close than you have ever been to the entire universe. 

It’s this mysterious, timeless, supremely powerful thing that makes great music; it’s the ability to find this thing and convey it that makes great musicians great.  To experience this thing is like awakening into a Realm of infinite possibilities, of power and bliss, of union with the One in All and the All in One.  For great musicians, every performance is an exploration, a quest for the gateway to this Realm. Hindustani classical musicians sometimes speak about looking for ‘Saccha Swar’; the ‘Note of Perfection’… maybe that’s a nice description of the gateway.

And how does one find and follow the path that leads to the gateway of Saccha Swar

Perhaps only the great musicians know; perhaps even they can describe the path and their quest only through their music, not by mere words. This much is clear, though:  the path itself has to be laid down  individually, with the paving stones of endless learning and practice, riyaaz  and  saadhana;  the path  must be walked alone, it must be smoothed through deep discipline and dedication, illuminated by humility and openness and selflessness…

At this point, O long-suffering reader, I abandon my pitiful efforts at describing what I cannot describe.  Instead, I quote wonderful musician Aruna Sairam from an interview I came across recently:

“…Ultimately, when you speak of a raga, it is an emotion. And therefore the musician that engages with this raga is making himself or herself very open, emotionally—and very vulnerable to everybody else who is in that space. This means that you have to trust, and you have to love, yourself and everyone else.  And in that trust you put out your music, and the moment you express it, without inhibitions, the audience gets it, everybody around you gets it, and they in turn return that love manifold back to you…”

[click here for full interview]

Aruna Sairam is going to perform at the Music Summit, Jaipur. We’re going to join her, and many great Path-finders like her, in their explorations towards Saccha Swar; through them and with them, we too shall glimpse and experience the Realm of Perfection.    

Musings

Stellar Choir

I love music, but I’m no good at writing about music (or about anything else for that matter :D). Sure, I can play the drums, even fool around a little with a guitar; but I’ve never learned anything about music formally, instead simply picked up things by the heart and ear—and fingers and wrist and all.  

I tax thy patience with the above throat-clearing statements, O patient Reader, because I’ve sat down to write a few lines on how thrilled I am to know that the Shillong Chamber Choir is going to perform at the India Music Summit, Jaipur early October.  

But I can’t write about the Choir.

I love their music, but I have no words to describe their music and how it moves me.  Even if I knew something about music, I wouldn’t dare try. How can one convey the romance and immensity and magic of a clear, starry night in the language of astrophysics?

I  won’t even try to describe what kinds of music the Choir performs. It just doesn’t feel right to place any brackets of ‘genre’ around wonderful musicians like these; they sing just about anything they set their hearts and minds on…and they sing it with indescribable beauty and passion.

The Choir has performed across India, across the world. And they come from Shillong, my hometown.

There, I’ve said all I can. I humbly offer a link to the Choir’s website, where you can listen to some of their works. For quick samples, try these: Gerua and The wind beneath my wings

And now, I listen to the Choir’s rendition of ‘When a child is born’…and soar away on the ethereal voices and the timeless wonder and joy and hope they echo:

“…And all of this happens because the world is waiting,
Waiting for one child
Black, white, yellow, no-one knows
But a child that will grow up and turn tears to laughter,
Hate to love, war to peace, and everyone to everyone’s neighbour
And misery and suffering will be words to be forgotten, forever…
It’s all a dream, an illusion now
It must come true, sometime soon, somehow
All across the land, dawns a brand new morn
This comes to pass when a child is born
…”

Musings, Remembering

Shrugging away our Atlas

The other day I was looking at a world map. A ‘Mercator Map’, which is the nice rectangular map all of us are familiar with and which is still used in our school atlases to teach Geography.

Mercator Map
Mercator Map [Source: http://www.thetruesize.com]
Of course, we all know (though I for one rarely remember) that the Mercator map presents a cockeyed picture of the world’s continents and countries, because it shows a 3-dimensional spheroid Earth as a flat surface.  In depicting the world as a flat rectangle with the Equator cutting across its midriff, the Mercator Map utterly deforms the comparative sizes and shapes of all the continents (and therefore, all countries). The further you move away from the Equator, the more the Mercator Map exaggerates the sizes of countries;   that’s why China and India look much smaller than they actually are compared to, say, USA; that’s why Greenland looks bigger than the entire continent of Africa!

There’s a wonderful free-to-access site, www.thetruesize.com,  that lets you shift around countries on the Mercator Map and figure out the actual size of a country compared to other countries/continents. Do visit the site: it’s fun, and also a real eye-opener!  Here are a few screenshots showing  how big India actually is compared to Europe and Greenland, and how big Brazil is compared to India [all images captured from http://www.thetruesize.com]

India - true size

India and Europe

Greenland - true size

Greenland and India

True size - Brazil

Brazil and India

Some say the European colonizers used the Mercator Map to boost the apparent sizes of their own countries and thereby belittle (literally!) their African and Asian colonies.  That’s a matter of perception: but I don’t think we can really fault the man who created the Mercator Map in 1569 – geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator of Flanders (Belgium) – because his sole and very honourable aim was to make a map that would help voyagers from Europe navigate the oceans more easily.

Besides, as an Indian I personally believe we Indians are masters at belittling ourselves at the drop of a hat – or more accurately, at the slightest hint of ‘Western’ disapproval –  and that we should cure ourselves of this low self-esteem rather than pretend that it is some kind of genetic disease impregnated in our Bharatiya DNA by Thomas B Macaulay.

Anyway, while playing around with the Map and reflecting on how easy it is for me –  perhaps for all of us – to be misled by warped imagery and memory, by ignorance and illusion, by prejudice and propaganda, I remembered an article I’d written for the Indian Express over 15 years ago – written in deep angst because the media at that time seemed focused on whipping itself, and indeed the entire population of India, into a frenzy of self-flagellation following the hideous Gujarat violence of 2002.

Here’s the article: reading it again, I get the feeling nothing much has changed….good or bad.

What do you think? I’d love to know…

THE GOOD SHIP INDIA

Indian Express: Nov 27, 2003

[http://archive.indianexpress.com/oldStory/36064/]

At times of internal strife one sometimes wonders: will India ever be united? Open the atlas and look at Europe. Start at Ireland, and trace a path eastwards across the Irish Sea to England, and onwards across the Dover Straits through Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Poland. Turn southwards and wander through the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary; wheel west into Austria, and again south to explore Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia and Greece. Skim across the Adriatic Sea to travel through Italy, cross the Alps into Switzerland, cut eastwards to sweep across France, and then veer southwards over the Pyrenees into Spain, and finally, Portugal.

A long journey across a vast terrain, to be sure. Yet all those lands we traversed would together fit into the territory of India with room to spare. What’s more, India comprises people who differ from each other in far many more ways than the peoples of Europe: in race, religion, language, culture. To the wonderment of the world, the good ship India hangs together! Battered she is by violent storms of communalism and sectarianism, tossed to and fro by the conflicting pulls of her bewilderingly diverse populace, yet India sails on, her billion passengers united by a Vision.

A Vision, of a land in which all are equal and enjoy equal rights.

The Constitution of India, which we gave ourselves on 26 November 1949, describes this Vision in great detail. It crystallizes the most sublime ideas of millennia. It tells of a just and humane land, where we may dwell and think and speak and follow our chosen beliefs and faiths freely and without fear. The Constitution alone binds us together. It expresses our shared vision, and contains the blueprint for the ship that will help us realize that vision, the ship we have named the Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic of India.

The unity we seek is alive in the Constitution; in times of strife, internal and external, we must reaffirm our faith in this great Book. Amends must be made for past wrongs; walls of prejudice that have hardened over centuries must be dismantled not by force but with understanding. There will be upheavals and unrest; hurdles posed by the corrupt, the jealous and the slothful, by those who interpret freedom as mere licence. But as long as the Constitution and its vision are alive in our minds and our hearts, India shall prevail.

And her 5000 year-old voyage will continue.

Musings

Jaipur’s Sea of Music beckons…

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Does music move thee?

It does me. Music inspires me, transports me.   I’m always playing music in my head,  and tapping rhythms on any readily available surface, and so forth. Learned doctors, who wish to remain anonymous,  have confirmed that music is as essential to my sanity (such as it is)  as is oxygen to my life.

And that’s why I’m attending the India Music Summit 2019, that’s going to happen in Jaipur October 4th to 6th 2019. You can take a look at what’s being planned at the Summit here.

Like last year’s Summit which I attended, this year’s Summit too promises to be much more than a series of concerts at a fine venue by great musicians from across the world in a variety of genres —though that alone would be ample reason to attend!

To be at the India Music Summit is to be enveloped in and carried away on the waves of a gentle, infinite sea … on a timeless voyage through time, the essence of rhythm, guided by harmony and cadence and melody and rhapsody and mood and passion and sheer joy.  During the Summit the music fills day and night, it welcomes in the warm glow of dawn and soars deep into starlight, it resounds in the halls and serenades the gardens and lawns. The musicians not only play and sing for you but share their anecdotes and experiences and  knowledge and insights with you… and when you take a break from time to time to stretch a limb or to guzzle calories to fortify body and mind,  there the musicians are, wandering around the lawns just like you, beside you at the buffet tables, ever ready to exchange a smile and namaskaar and friendly word or three…

Everything is so wonderfully informal, yet the music is so incredibly pure, so rigorous, so utterly perfect. The Summit’s got a vibe like nothing I’ve ever experienced elsewhere.

When a dear friend murmured that among the 100 or more musicians that will grace the 2019 Summit are Vikku Vinayakram, Shiv Kumar Sharma and Taufiq Qureshi, any little hesitation I had about attending simply vanished.

She also mentioned the name of a pianist–drummer prodigy I’d never heard or even heard of earlier: Lydian Nadhaswaram.  Great God YouTube granted me a darshan of Lydian’s virtuosity: click here.

I mightn’t be a great drummer, but there are times when I can claim to have a good sense of timing…  I’ve already bought my tickets for Jaipur :).

Hope to meet you at the Summit,  upon the enchanted Sea of Music.