Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sound and Noise

Each thought is a vibration. When there are too many vibrations, only a maestro can create a harmony out of it. For apprentices, it becomes noise. The apprentice aspires for the harmony of the 'sound'. But the transformation of the noise into sound needs experience, meditation and wisdom. That is the path that the apprentice journeys ... not for the celebration of being a maestro, but for the celebration of that 'sound' which was 'noise' before...

Image courtesy: the web , where noise and sound cohabit .

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Puja Chronicles : To continue or not ...

Now that the festival is over, it seems appropriate to conclude the series 'Puja Chronicles'. That time has passed.But does any time really 'end' ?
The smell of the slightly chilly morning wind, that of the incense sticks; the sounds of the dhak and the repeated-forever selection of songs in the para (neigbourhood) pandal (the structure which houses the deities for the festival); the illegible mantras (Sanskrit slokas used in the process of praying to the deity) of the mumbling priests; the sight of the strangely blue sky of shorot (a month in the Bengali calendar in which the Durga Puja takes place) - do they not leave behind traces of life in our beings? A friend and a reader of this creative blabbering, Supratikda, commented on a previous post, asking whether the pain of an ending can be mellowed by the resurgent nature of hope. That made me think. Do we really want to mellow down an experience that is rich and trying? I, for one, wouldn't want to do so. But yes, hope is the elixir of life. It does not only signify the possibility of a better tomorrow, but, to this hopelessly optimist soul, it also keeps alive, and burning, the possibility of miracles. Or, to use a more candid expression - the possibility of the absolutely unexpected awesome happenings. This brings us to another bend in the road of thought. What defines and measures the awesomeness of a happening? Well, I am sorry to confide that I can not help in your understanding of the element of 'awesomeness' in a concrete manner. But I can, and will, share with you my experiences of the 'awesomeness' of life which happened in strange corners of the busy-dom in which we live.

P.S. I choose to continue the series 'Puja Chronicles' not because they have some connection to the event of the puja itself (well, it may, at times), but because life is possibly the greatest puja (prayer) that any being can perform. 'Puja Chronicles' henceforth will celebrate life with its resplendent awesomeness.         

resplendent in its awesomeness
Image: An Evening Sky in Lund, Sweden.
           © 2010 Susmita Paul

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Puja Chronicles contd. A Bisarjan on Dashami

Pre-script - definition of Bisarjan according to Samsad Bengali-English dictionary is "immersion of the image of a deity"
Every year the idol is carried down the broken stairs with inappropriately dazzling neon lights pouncing down them. There is a crowd of faces that can't decide whether they should express the grief at the end of the carnival or the chilling fear of losing someone. The idol of the mother goddess in the avatar of Jagaddhatri ,meaning the One who bears the world (a festival similar to Durga Puja, most grandiosely celebrated in  Chandannagore, a town near Kolkata) has been the centre of all the joy and laughter for the past few days. She is the reason we got to meet our friends and family, whom we haven't met for over a year. The end of the festivities means an empty dalan (a broad space within the house), with a singular lamp lighted in front of the empty dais on which the idol was placed. The end of festivities means a strange emptiness amidst the pedestrian duties in the household. The end of festivities means the chilling knowledge that the one who will be holding the idol from behind, just before the idol is given bhasan (immersion of the idol in a water body),  is most dangerously placed.

The idols are usually given bhasan with their faces looking skywards. They are not slumped into the water face down. The individual standing behind the idol can't be seen by the other fellow bearers of the idol. There is a dangerous possibility that the idol will fall on him, resulting in his drowning.
The laughter of the last few days, or, even of the last few moments - when everyone was travelling in a hood-less vehicle with the idol from home to the ghats (stairway leading to the river), sounds of the voices singing and of the conch-shells, interspersed with the occasional frenzied cries of "Aschhe bochor abar hobe!" (We will have this fun again in the next year!) - now transforms into panic-stricken shouts rising above the beats of the dhak (a drum-like instrument used during the pujas in India). They are cautioning the individuals carrying the idol - 'Watch out that step! It's broken!' ; 'Don't stand behind the idol directly!'; 'Be careful!' All such panicky cries would be subsided by a few calm voices. One of them was his. 'Don't worry, I am there.'

Dashami is the last day of celebration held in honour of any of the deities in Hindu mythology. The immersion of the deity is accompanied by the distribution and exchange of sweets. Why would one think of celebrating the end of a festival? Why would one have sweets after immersing the deity into the oblivion of the water world? Possibly because the act of bhasan means the continuing cycle of creation, procreation and destruction. Like the trinity espoused by hindu myths - Brahma (the Creator god),  Vishnu (the Protector god) and Maheshwar or Shiva (the Destroyer god). The bisarjan (i would translate this not merely as immersion, but as 'bidding adieu') is also a part of the festival; just as death is a part of life. Whether we want it or not, humans will be born and they will die. All that remains is the essence of the life that an individual leaves behind. 
Dashami of the Debipokkho had always been a little saddening. It meant the end of no-studies schedules while I was a student. It meant that all the gorgeous dresses will now be packed away. It meant that all the freedom of living off the street food is lost. It meant the end of incessant parties and doing nothing all day long. This year too, Dashami has saddened my heart and my soul. The voice that said 'Don't worry' has received bisarjan from all its worldly noise. Long after his song has ceased, souls like mine, which heard and saw him weave those brilliant patterns in life, will echo his songs. Who he is you may not know. But what he is,  you will fathom if you think about an individual who inspires you, whom you love, who makes you smile and who encourages creation in any form. Imagine an artist you love. You will know. Imagine an individual you love. And you will know. 


Image Courtesy © Subhaneil Chakrabarty

Friday, October 15, 2010

Puja Chronicles contd. A magical allowance

This day has always had a special resonance. Mahashtami (the eighth day in the Debipokkho). This was the day, when, decked in new clothes, we (my sister and myself) sat on the broad stair at the foot of the staircase with our feet resting on some old newspapers. Our grandma would sit on the floor to apply alta (a  red liquid), outlining our feet.
alta adorned foot of a bride

This was messy since it meant we would have to wait till it dried or else our footprints would follow us wherever we went. As we grew older, the mess seemed less in the outer world and more in the inner world. The mind would get busy contemplating whether we are moving to adulthood by wearing alta like the elder women. But throughout, the singular exciting part of this kumari puja was that we received sweets and ten rupees each after the alta wearing ceremony. What little things give us joy! 
Kumari Puja
As the years passed and we grew older, though, customarily, the kumari puja stopped, yet we continued to receive the monetary allowance on this day. We bargained with Dida (that's what we called our paternal grandma) to increase our Kumari Puja allowance with hilarious outcome. It was amusing each year although the same sequence of events took place.
Since we were no more 'kumaris' ritualistically, she would initially refuse to give us the allowance, stating the obvious - that since there's no more ritual, there would be no more allowance either. But we kept following her around and pestered her. My  kakima (aunt) would join in and re-enforced our demand. Dida would lose her cool sometimes. My baba would try to be a peace-enforcer by volunteering to pay the allowance. But we refused stoically. Finally, Dida was cajoled, by everyone in the family, to give us our allowance. What joy we felt, although the allowance never crossed the twenty rupees benchmark. It was not about the amount we received. Just the pure magic of being a pestering grand-child.  

Photo courtesy: 
'alta adorned foot of a bride' © Self

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Puja Chronicles contd. : A film and a poem blend with the deity

How can I explain the rhapsody of thoughts generated by El ángel exterminador (The Exterminating Angel) by Luis Buñuel that I watched yesterday night? Logically, the discussion and/or my thoughts on the film should be filed under a less frequented blog that I had ceremoniously created especially for some of my other passions : But, I feel, this film has a strong connection to my present condition.
No, I have not achieved angelhood and I do not face extermination or act as a similar agency :) It is simply the fact that I am, like hundreds and thousands of other Bengalis, missing the fervour of the Durga Puja back in my hometown.
I felt miserable till the Mahalaya (the last day of the fortnight preceding the Debipokkho). Ever since that day, I have chosen to be pro-active in managing my missing-the-puja-blues (the why and the how of this radical shift is another story altogether). To come back to the film, and the idea behind the idea to have a scribble about it here, I realised today (I had a faint feeling yesterday of this upcoming realisation) that the film profoundly is about the necessity to be pro-active in life. And, that realisation crystallised in the mind as I was reading Yasmeen's beautifully powerful poem - Take a stand  (click on the link to read). Her words kept throwing me back to different scenes in the movie :
you can't change what happened
but you can choose what you see
so step out to your balcony
breathe...and hurl the skipping record
into cheering rush hour (I will be there)
close the past, open the loop
create the space     
life has no meaning
but what we assign
made real in time and space
And, it is then that I realised what I heard the film say to me.

The celebration of the warrior form of the mother goddess shows her annihilating a demon. Her eyes are simultaneously fierce and calm and they look straight into you (if the deity is sculpted in the traditional form):

Photo copyright: Abhiks in Flicker

(If however, the deity is sculpted in the artistic style, you will see her eyes angled variously.) This reminds me of the concluding section of Michael Ondaatje's Anil's Ghost where the master painter is painting the eyes of the Buddha. He feels a strange penetrating glance...
Maybe it is all in the mind...
Actually, it is.

The mind has the power to create and to annihilate. Whether we choose to crib over spilled milk or take a mop to rub it and go on with normal activities, it always has to do with us, and no one else. It is easy to point fingers at others/ other things and find an explanation of the same. It is easy to completely abandon will power of the self to the will of the unexplainable deities and things. I do not intend to argue for or against the existence of the divine being here, but, is it not a saying that god helps them who help themselves? 
We are social beings and each of us have a unique set of beliefs. But the primary belief and faith that we need to have is on the possibilities that lie deep in us. The prayer to the mother goddess, uttered during the course of the festival of Durga Puja, is, in reality, an invocation to that self in us which hides in the guise of obligations, necessities, social customs and other such authoritative needs. The demons will always be there- within and without- but we have to be pro-active in slaying them. That is possibly the path of advancement. That is possibly the path to divinity. Slay ignorance with wisdom. Slay slavish dependence on others with self-empowerment. Slay fear with the courage to walk through it. In the eve of Mahasaptami (the seventh day in the Debipokkho), Buñuel, Yasmeen and Durga seamlessly weave this realisation in me.    

Postscript: This is a foreword to my thoughts on the film El ángel exterminador (The Exterminating Angel) by Luis Buñuel. More discussions and/or thoughts about the film in particular will be posted here tomorrow.
Copyright of the poem quoted is owned by Yasmeen Najmi. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Puja Chronicles ...

Blaring microphones belch out songs which have the hallmark of being 'puja' specials ... 'Aamar swapno je, satti holo aj ...' (My dreams have materialised today ...) Three days before the grand event begins (the rituals of worshipping begin on the Saptami- the seventh day in the cycle of the moon which is called Debi pokkho- the fortnight of the mother goddess), the darkness of the evening melts into the lights flattering the grandeur. From slums to multiplexes, there is this unmistakable vibe of celebration. As the deity of the Mother Goddess Durga arrives with those of her supposed children - the yellow skinned Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth),the white skinned Saraswati (the goddess of learning), the elephant-faced Ganesha (the god of prosperity) and Kartik (the god of war) with his chocolate-hero looks-the pandal (the structure temporarily created to house the deities for the festival) is still incomplete. But just the next day, as the morning of Shashti (the sixth day of the cycle of the moon ) dawns, the labourers are packing their stuff. The pandal is complete with its decorations, the festivities are about to begin.        

Image: blooming flowers, Lund, Sweden

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

watching autumn

the more the leaf grows from being a benign green to an aged green, ... to a dusky green ... to either a faded orange or a crisp brown ... the tree knows for sure its head is in the sky... it watches, wonderstruck... the infinite permutations and combinations of the infinite things that inhabit in this chasm of eternity continue unperturbed... eternity is a baffling word ... a word that is as impractical as the desire to grasp the moment and its bliss ... does the tree understand the sky with its implausibility ? ... we can not know since its mind is the matter of the wind... it feels the wind as it blows through its leaves ... creates a rustle ... flutters the birds nested in its branches ... and passes... and then, another wave of wind comes ... or may be a moment of stillness... as the leaves whisper the tale of the wind that passed .. as its branches bloom and the little pods burst into flowers ... in that infinitesimally small moment, the tree realizes it's roots are deeply dug into the heart of it's womb ...

Image : in Lund, Sweden

Postscript to Spying on a Cat

caught in action by little miss muffet

Saturday, October 9, 2010

be a bag today...

When such strange status statements appeared in women-friends' profiles, I was intrigued.When that message came in, I was amused. Amused at the diverse ways we can think. Amused that after years of coyness, we are choosing to shrug it off with a pseudo-coy statement.  The message cleared the intrigue and challenged me. I remembered the last year's challenge. I failed it. Because I was thinking too much about people's reaction. I was afraid by the barge of queries that may come up. And the year passed. 
Maima (approximately translated as 'aunty') has weeks when the right hand swells up like a big balloon. Not only the movement of the hand gets restricted, but also the pain etches itself out on her face as dark patches under the eyes. Once, she had curly long hair. After all the sessions, her hair is now short and thinning. Yet she smiles every time we meet, asking me if I am keeping well or not. I don't have the guts to ask her how she is.
When the message settled into my inbox, I only thought about her. I thought about women like her. The only question that crossed my mind was: Could she have a better life if she was more aware? Or her family was more aware? The answer seems rhetorical. I responded to the message.

Image Courtesy:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Survival kit

There's a point in life when you cry when your toe is hurt because it hits the pebble. There's also a point in life when you cry because a pebble hits your toe. You forget when your toe hit the pebble, but you never forget the pebble which hit your toe. Why do you think  forgetting functions in such a strange discriminatory way?Why doesn't the mind forget all the hurts and all the burns like a flash flood that leaves no trace of itself except  a vacant land? You will say, the vacant land becomes the memory of the flash flood and hence it is impossible to forget it. You are right. The flash floods leave behind a vacant land, where once there was life and laughter, poverty and pain. And yet, do you think, those who survive such flash floods will die with remembrance of things past? Survival is like betel leaves. No matter how much you wished to secretively have them, the inadvertent red colour hang onto your lips and tongue.
You can not wash off life. But you can wash off despair. You can wash off the pains of being hurt by a flood of forgetting,not by denial, but by acceptance. You need not forget that the pebble hit the toe. Just shrug off the grudge. Because, that is not the last pebble that will hit your toe if you continue walking.

Original image from Scout Notebook-2001
Modified by self

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Spying on a cat

The flat that we share with a once-Belarusian-now-Swedish man and his always-Swedish wife and their two kids has amongst other things a pet female cat that sleeps just beside the aquarium and that meows you out of sleep at 5 in the morning since she desires a morning walk in the dark. She is strangely civilised.

It is strange for me to see a pet so civilised; I only imagined that they could be thoroughly domesticated. She is amazingly toilet trained (though her master informs she had a wet-anything-like-a-bed syndrome once, for two months). She has her own toilet set-up which interestingly looks something like a cage (I am pretty intrigued how she uses it, but curiosity could kill my sense of smell and affect my appetite, so I refrain from probing deeper into it). However the most civilised aspect of her is that, she sleeps in her couch settled just beside the aquarium and refrains from trying to make a catch when she is there.

She appeared to me to be an amazing character, aspiring only towards cat food. I was completely at awe with her mystical ways till a typical windy afternoon when I sat reclining on my bed, crouching on a book, and feeling the inevitable sleep marching down my eyelids. I got up to have my quota of afternoon ice-cream before I dozed off. While passing the room in which the aquarium is kept, I saw an interesting photographic frame.

Angelina (that’s the cat) was sitting attentively on a white stool, positioned near the aquarium, watching intently the fishes. Hearing my footsteps she turned and glared at me, possibly identifying me as an imminent transgressor. That was the first instance of her self-expression when her natural instinct to prey upon the fish became tangentially evident. I was amused to note in the following few days that she locates herself in that position only when she knows for certain that her masters are not at home. In the evenings, she either roamed around the house or curled on the sofa. (I guess, she feels comfortable in her skin when only this insignificant tenant, dressed in strange Indian garb, is walking around.)

A few afternoons later (this time around I was busy cooking), I heard sounds which seemed to be made by scratching of cardboard. I was not sure if the sound came from within the house. But I nonetheless decided to have a look around like a responsible tenant. I peeked into the kids’ rooms whose doors were kept open. They were in their normal states. The elder girl’s room was neatly arranged and the baby sis’s room was strewn with all kinds of toys and princess’s crowns. Finally, I peeked into the room in which the aquarium was, brushing the curtains aside. Everything seemed to be normal and the sound had also ceased. I was about to turn around and go back to cooking when I heard the scratching sound again. It felt weird and I looked around. This time I heard a pitiful meow from somewhere between the cardboard boxes kept in front of the aquarium. Angelina, it seemed, had fallen into the cardboard boxes, while trying to make a leap to reach the aquarium from the quaint white stool. As soon as I let her out of the box, she ran out of the room, across the kitchen, pounced on the chair to reach the cat-door and slipped out of it. This was unlike her. She enjoyed patting on her head whenever anyone was around. It made a smile spread across my lips.

It is true that I do not have any job responsibility and hence have enough time to follow the cat and her homely adventures. But the reason I am devoting this Fall afternoon to ponder upon this feline companion of mine, is that her behaviour intrigued me. She maintained the charm of being civilised in the company of her masters. She felt uninhibited to watch the fishes from the stool when she knew I was near and could come across the room at any point of time. But she chose to be most self-expressive when she heard me cooking and the spices spluttering to keep me busy a while. Cats are more human than I can imagine!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Postscript to 'Thanksgiving Prayer'

It has happened after a patch of sunshine and rains. Words had twittered down the sky or crept along with the sun these last few days, weeks, months. And today it happened. It slipped out of the fingers as if they are the drops of blood from the accidentally tampered artery. It settled on the page, the page blotting with those words. And as soon as they are no more but a blot or a patch on that now non-blank page, you realize, they are the impure blood drops. They needed to be exhumed so that you redeem them and free their dead spirits. but you are no Christ or Rama. Your touch can not undo and redo. Yours is not 'The Word'. Yours is but the words that flow. Like the blood in your veins. Sometimes they spill on your neat blank pages. Darkening the under-eyes with a gross soot that you call the past. Level the dust. Pave a road. Make another scratch. And then leave it to the winds to blow them away this Fall.