Monday, April 23, 2007

चाँद और कवि

This poem always inspires me to dream big, dream to change the world, dream for things seemingly impossible ....after all :"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams".Enjoy the poem:

रात यों कहने लगा मुझसे गगन का चाँद,

आदमी भी क्या अनोखा जीव होता है!

उलझनें अपनी बनाकर आप ही फँसता,

और फिर बेचैन हो जगता, न सोता है।

जानता है तू कि मैं कितना पुराना हूँ?

मैं चुका हूँ देख मनु को जनमते-मरते

और लाखों बार तुझ-से पागलों को भी

चाँदनी में बैठ स्वप्नों पर सही करते।

आदमी का स्वप्न?

है वह बुलबुला जल का आज बनता

और कल फिर फूट जाता हैकिन्तु,

फिर भी धन्य ठहरा आदमी ही तो?

बुलबुलों से खेलता, कविता बनाता है।

मैं न बोला किन्तु मेरी रागिनी बोली,

देख फिर से चाँद! मुझको जानता है तू?

स्वप्न मेरे बुलबुले हैं? है यही पानी?

आग को भी क्या नहीं पहचानता है तू?

मैं न वह जो स्वप्न पर केवल सही करते,

आग में उसको गला लोहा बनाता हूँ,

और उस पर नींव रखता हूँ नये घर की,

इस तरह दीवार फौलादी उठाता हूँ।

मनु नहीं, मनु-पुत्र है यह सामने,

जिसकीकल्पना की जीभ में भी धार होती है,

बाण ही होते विचारों के नहीं केवल,

स्वप्न के भी हाथ में तलवार होती है।
स्वर्ग के सम्राट को जाकर खबर कर दे-

रोज ही आकाश चढ़ते जा रहे हैं वे,

रोकिये, जैसे बने इन स्वप्नवालों को,

स्वर्ग की ही ओर बढ़ते आ रहे हैं वे।

- A poem by Ramdhari Singh 'Dinkar'

Reading Umberto Eco

Living is like tearing through a museum. Not until later do you really start absorbing what you saw, thinking about it, looking it up in a book, and remembering - because you can't take it in all at once.
--Audrey Hepburn

For long, I avoided Umberto Eco. I thought he is for the intellectuals with creased forehead and not for people like me. But finally I could not resist and read two of Eco’s novels in a row: The Name of the Rose and The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana . And I am surprised….The books are not what I thought they will be . Yes, they are full of learned, witty allusion, cupful of philosophy, psychology, history and literary criticism, mixed well with semiotics and post-modernism ..but then the flow of the story is unobstructed. There is a simple core as well in his books. They are, at heart, detective stories. And very fine detective stories that too. His first and best-known novel, The Name of the Rose, had a protagonist named after a Sherlock Holmes story, William Baskerville, who was looking for a murderer. The circumstances of the murder — a Benedictine monastery, medieval heresy and Aristotelian tradition — were merely Eco’s version of the study, Colonel Mustard and the lead-piping.

In The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, the object of the quest is the hero himself. Giambattista Bodoni, known to all as Yambo, wakes up in a hospital, and doesn’t remember who he is. A doctor explains that he has lost his “autobiographical” memory (where we store our personal experience) while retaining his “public” memory, hence the ability to reel off facts, including, for example, the fact that his own name is that of a typographer of the Napoleonic age. The books he has read, the films he has watched, the music he has listened to can all be summoned to mind, but he can’t recognize his wife and children, and has no recollection of his past. On the plus side, he remembers languages, everyday routines such as tying a tie or driving a manual-shift car and copious quantities of trivia concerning movies, books and poetry. In effect, he knows all the things that other people know, but none of the things that are unique to him. He very aptly describes this new state of existence as, "My life as an encyclopedia."
The first thing that made me curious to pick up the book was not its storyline but its title. The book borrows its name from a picture book whose luscious heroine Bodoni rediscovers suspended in ''an incredibly slipshod narrative that lacks both charm and psychology.'' Another interesting aspect of the book was its status of an “illustrated Novel” . Well, this is the first illustrated novel I have read ( If you don’t count “The Little Prince” and Roald Dahl’s books of course !)..and I love the pictures of comics, posters , advertisements popping up in between the text . The novel is illustrated with reproductions of dust jackets, magazine and record covers, and cartoon strips. This technique is appealing to people like me who, like Carroll’s Alice, don’t see the “use of a book . . . without pictures or conversations”, but although many are striking, beautiful, or occasionally (as in the case of the racist propaganda posters) shocking, they are also apt to duplicate the efforts of careful description that fill the novel.

In the beginning the novel presents rather dull display of the disconcerting effects of a lifetime of reading, crowding in on an otherwise blank mind. But among the canonical quotations and references are phrases that seem to hint at more personal associations, for our hero. But the exact association he fails to make.

Taking his inspiration from Citizen Kane’s Rosebud, Yambo decides to spend several weeks in his old family home, in an attempt to discover whether any of the familial artifacts will help him to recover his memory. He rifles through boxes of old schoolbooks, newspapers, photo albums and diaries, and in the process, begins to relearn who he was. However, as author Umberto Eco points out, memory can be elusive at the best of times, and Yambo's task takes on surreal overtones as he redefines his life through the pop culture of his formative years. The chapters that follow are an initially random, then more orderly immersion in the adventure stories, magazines, comic books, newspapers, and religious and political tracts of his boyhood and adolescence.
In the novel's second section, set in what in effect becomes a museum of Yambo's childhood, the narrator begins to feel stirrings of who he is - but it is little more than a flame of excitement at the description in a pulp novel, a panel in a comic book, or the chorus of a popular song. Caught between the fog of his amnesia and the flame of his identity (or maybe it's the other way around), always with an eye on his blood pressure, Yambo reads his way closer and closer to the reality of who he is. Up and down the purgatorial corridors of memory he wanders. And wanders. Just when the reader may be tiring of all the days in the attic and the long catalogs of materials sorted through, the novel swings into its stunning third act, and all Yambo's homework pays off.
As much as anything, in its more serious moments, The Mysterious Flame is concerned with the foggy distinctions between fantasy and reality, between childhood and adulthood, and, as Yambo sometimes sadly sees himself, a lifetime of reading versus a lifetime of living. What Yambo finds at the end of his days, is that - fact or fiction - his life was made all the richer by his moving between those two ways of understanding the world, or, as he puts it, out of his books, "To build a world that is all mine." A world like that, suggests Eco, might be something very much like paradise.

Now I look forward to reading other books by Eco.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Nostalgia: Missing life of a small town

I came back from Lucknow few days back. As usual was in a depression for next 24 hours. I have heard about Kolkata that if you can survive the initial shock of it, you will fall in love with the city..but that never happened with me. This “Much admired, much abused- always wonderful” city failed to impress me. In fact, the moment I land at railway station/airport, the sight of old dilapidated unpainted buildings put me off. The bumps in the roads, the crowd and the harassed, anxious faces of people on street make me feel run back to my hometown.

May be it’s not the fault of this oldest and now most dense metro. May be for a small town person like me the ingredients of “good life” are essentially non-metro like. High-rise buildings and number of five star hotels is far less important than knowing names of all the trees of the campus and knowing when each one will bloom or shed leaves. Every time I visit Lucknow, I feel a part of me is left behind in that lovely house my parents built so painstakingly. No one lives in my parents house these days. Career compulsions forced all of us sisters out of the city and after my father’s death we can’t leave mom alone there.

But life is still the same over there. Neighbors meet frequently, are expected to know about each other. Youngsters address elders (even remote acquaintances) as chacha-bua-mausi-mami( various forms of uncle and aunts) . Language is much more polite and respectful even coming from rickshawwallas or shopkeepers. Though the ambition of making it big is catching on there as well, the hurried rush, the rude talk, and the unnecessary aggressiveness is still not there.

I miss the friendly talks of neighbours comparing each others gardens and lawns, families taking pride on the home grown guavas and papayas, shopkeepers remembering your first name even after years and many such things. Just drop in a middle class family house in the evening, you will be treated with home baked cake tried out from a recipe book by a teen age daughter…or may be some traditional sweet prepared after hours of preparation by the lady of the house…if nothing else one boy will be dispatched promptly to get some particularly famous kulfi/sweet/snack from the shop round the corner. Perhaps no other city can match the unique culture of Lucknow, a city with almost equal Hindu and Muslim population. A city which never saw the Hindu muslim riots in first four decades of Independence. I find it strange that in non-Muslim families in other cities Eid goes unnoticed. I can’t recall a single Eid when we did not had siwaiyyen: at our home and at friend’s . It was only when I came out of Lucknow that I realized that the language I speak is not Hindi but ‘Hindustani’ as it has equal number of Urdu words too. The ‘tehzeeb’ with which we are expected to behave and the famous mannerisms of Lucknow are considered “too formal and artificial” in other cities.

And here in Kolkata , at times in late evenings I lookout from my balcony on 5th floor and wonder if the creatures down there on the street are worried about the maid not turned up or may be the person just missed the last bus to home and had to shell out a lot of money on taxi or they are thinking about another tiring weekday tomorrow. My life here can be summed up in very few words: Getting up, getting ready, breakfast, office, cooking , TV, sleeping. I get to see the colours of evenings only in weekends as by the time I come back from work it is already night. And I am not alone in this kind of life , most others are slogging like me too …even worse , if you take into account those youngsters working in IT companies. They don’t even know what pleasures they are missing of that leisurely life. Even weekends offer no respite for them. For me weekends are meant for numerous works piling on for days plumber/electrician , compulsory social calls and yes, that is only time when I have to do my shopping for the coming week.
Talking of shopping- one of life’s great pleasures, I miss that too over here. You don’t get the feel of bargaining unless it is done in your mother tongue and that handicap in this foreign land makes me feel miserable. Even otherwise, shopping from mall is no fun. Even after three years I keep confusing names of everyday utilities in the grocery shops, there is no concept of ‘trusted’ shopkeeper –as almost all shops are new for me . Getting to a place itself takes so much time that you don’t feel like shopping with full spirit. Traffic jams, parking regulations, occasional bandhs-political rallies and the old weary congested look of most old markets make me cry for my city of nawabs , which still maintains its love for leisurely, laid back and yet exceptionally hospitable attitude—despite hordes of politicians and business men corrupting it . The city may be now in news for all the wrong reasons but on a micro level it is a very happy very livable city . The most wonderful part of the Lukhnavi culture is that it will embrace everything modern but will give it a tinge of its own colour. Long back someone explained to me that why it is called Ganga-jamuni culture….its not only that it is located in the delta land of the two great rivers but also that like Ganga and Yamuna (Jamuna for localites) it is a mixture of two very different colours---take that for Hindu or Muslim or for new and old , hindi and urdu or may be for liberal yet conservative attitude. Today when I enter in a very modern look ,Air conditioned Chikankari shop in famous Hazratganj and am greeted by the traditional “ Aayiye bitiya aayiye, tashrif laiye ..” I know I have come home.