Archives for category: Pages of a Diary

We visit the weavers and their looms in Benaras, the birthplace of Kabir, a 15th century mystic, weaver, and saint poet from India. Draped in a turquoise-blue translucence, speckled with tiny, delicate, silver, shimmering tiklis, my heart races with excitement, to the mystery of yet another unpredictable morning. The sun has risen high in the sky, when we step out. The heat is humid and warm. Even in stillness, my body bakes on a low simmer. The slightest movement induces perspiration. The light wind from my hand-fan, cools the body. We enter the narrow street of weavers and their looms. A rhythmic sound resounds like a loud heartbeat, all around us. We are led to enter a dimly lit room. Halos of white light illumine the loom of the quiet weaver. A betel nut in his mouth, he weaves, utterly silent. The rain of ivory threads illumines the unspoken conversation.  

Photograph by Kaarthikeyan Kirubhakaran

Stepping out of the labyrinth of looms, we drive to the Kabir Chaura Math – कबीर चौरा मठ. The quaint, clean neighbourhood welcomes me with a sweet sound of anklets. The joyful, rhythm patterns of a young dancer’s feet, put a smile on my face. I am told this neighbourhood has drawn to it, many great, classical vocalists like Girija Deviji, Rajan-Sanjan Mishraji, and classical dancers like Birju Maharajji, to name a few. These walls have tasted the euphoria of Hindustani classical music. Young, happy, spritely children lead us to the door of the Kabir Math. The space has a sparseness to it. It’s open yard is abloom with a green canopy of trees, and healing in its quietude. Devoted pilgrims are seated in silence, their aged faces, cloaked in peace. Lost in poems of Kabir, one of them begins to play his flute. In spontaneity, the pilgrims begin to sing. I too enter the sweet melody of their music through dance. I awaken to unseen worlds. I enter waves, devoid of deliberate thought, or, rationale. I listen. I respond. Our energies spiral in a state of trance, to voice, to music, allowing me my dance. Many elderly pilgrims magnetise towards us, and heartily rejoice in all that unfolds.

Kabir says, Each of us, a fine cloth, dipped in the name of the Lord.

Photograph by Santosh Sivan

Dawn greets me with a garland of muses. Enveloped inside the fire of love and trust, I swish through the thick air around me, slicing through throngs of sounds, smells, and crowds. As eyes, gaze upon the joyful sparkle around me, mine are transfixed by the maze of sensory beauty before me. My friend, an elder on a soul journey, gives me a glimpse into the mystic revelation of the architectural wonder of this ancient city of Benaras. He remarks, “Hold in mind at all times, that you are entering a sacred mandala. At the nucleus of which is spiralling, rocketing out, shafts of powerful divine energy. A life force so powerful that if unprepared to receive, anger, arrogance, frustration and all the shades of depleting emotions, is all that you will encounter. If uninitiated, you meet thugs, arrogant priests, and enraged people, in power. On the other hand, if your being is a vessel ready to receive the light, you will experience peace, wonder, joy, wellbeing, humor and equanimity. So, remain vigilant of this duality. Drop inward and shield yourself away from the forces that throw you off balance. Tune inward and listen keenly to your inner antennae.” And I do so. 

Benaras

The crowds separate to lead me to a wooden boat, down the ghats of Benaras. Stepping upon the triangular platform, I am requested to dance, as the boat flows across changing landscapes – ornate ghats flanked with anchored boats, and bathing pilgrims. An occasional corpse floats across the river, though majority lay cradled in the fires of burning wood. Oil lamps with flowers, whispered with prayers for the soul of an ancestor, or a beloved, float by. Soaring eagles, tolling temple bells, loud venerations, tourists with the camera in hand, all pass me by. I feel the nourishing temperature of the soothing warmth of a beautiful morning sun. I am dancing and emoting to the songs, that I am singing aloud. I see lotus blossoms on the waters, with my inner eye. I pluck them. I splash its waters and cool this body with it. The Sun becomes my lover. I speak out to him. He receives my love from that intangible corner of the universe. I feel his presence. Lowering these bashful eyes, I turn away and call out to the birds soaring in the skies above. They, my messengers, carry love notes across this vast, blue expanse. I beckon my Krishna to see the joyful river. I pull him close. We jump into the river. Splashing each other with the river waters, we giggle and laugh heartily. I awaken to the rising angst of desire. All illusions dissolve. His absence torments me. I sing him a line. The melody awakens heat in the body, and shivers inside winds of wanting. The pallor and the plea heighten a desperate urge for an instantaneous return to equanimity. She suddenly appears. She, an apparition. She, my Sakhi, my endearing friend, who knows me intimately. Our bond and trust, naked, akin to the compassionate voice inside of me. She listens to me with empathetic, non-judgmental eyes. Returning into the cradle of peace and well being, our boat passes the ornate ghats. My dance speaks to the pilgrims, half wet, half dry. They let out screams of applause from inside the river. These voices are swallowed by the wide expanse and the unending river banks. The noise dwindles and settles into silence. I remain neutral amidst both. In a state of trance, eyes half closed, I see a grey corpse float by. This lifeless body appears like a beautiful, regal, grey bark, bobbing upon water. On the other bank, throngs of men, women and children, in prayerful veneration of the same waters. It is all, most surreal. I am a witness to a circle of life, death, life. The words, Kashi Vishwanath, Ruler of the Universe, gathers new meaning for me. I feel the presence of Lord Shiva. I prostrate to him in humility and complete surrender. Flowing upon the breadth and bosom of the Ganga, I am transported into the light. 

हर हर महादेव शंभो काशीविश्वनाथ गंगे । 

[ Photo courtesy : Santosh Sivan ]

  

Awakening to the first light of dawn, I am drawn to drape in colors of an afternoon sun, rimmed with a blouse in deep, burnt-orange hue. I choose the three-tier earrings lined with golden dewdrops. My neck, I frame with a string of golden mango leaves, punctuated with a delicate eye of rose-red rubies. The chill of the silver kamarband~waistband sends an icy shiver through my body as I tighten its screw around my waist. I adorn my ankles with a pair of silver anklets, carefully crafted in the city of Bhopal. I slide a thick gold bangle into my wrist, that has grown into an imperfect circle after years of travelling across continents with me, a wedding gift from my mother. Eight scarlet glass bangles jingle their way across my wrists clinging to halt when they meet the golden metal. I slip into my right ring-finger my grandmother’s ring, and in the left one, another, from my Amma. In my nostril, I pierce the golden needle of the nath~traditional nose-ring with the pomegranate-red ruby that sits nestled amidst an island of pearls. I open the silver filigree Dabbi~box , which holds the sandalwood paste mixed with fragrant oils. I draw out a spot in the center of my eyebrows, then place the loose vermillion, red pigment of kumkum~tilak upon it. The two merge, illumining this face like a new-bride. I line my eyes with the black collirium, and also draw a delicate horizontal line beneath the circle of the red kumkum. The sight appears to me like a bright morning sunrise, rising in joy above an infinite horizon. I hear the voice of my grandmother whisper, “Forget not to draw a black spot behind your left ear or feet, lest someone’s evil eye were to fall upon you, o beautiful grandchild of mine.” So I do just that. I braid my hair, and weave the kunjalam into it. I neatly knot the loose ends of my hair with a black thread. Slipping on a pair of red-soled chappals~footwear, I feel the embrace of its silvery, gold, braided leather weave across the slopes of my feet. I adjust the silver toe-rings, sacred symbols of my marriage. Stepping out into the quiet light of dawn, this heart flutters with excitement and a promise of glorious adventures into the unknown and the unpredictable.

[Photo courtesy: Santosh Sivan]

Hours of uninterrupted creativity, and then enters the familiar sensation of feeling extremely cooped up in the house. The music, poetry, the passing rows of grey clouds, the drizzling rains, hot cups of tea in the cool monsoon drifts, fill my heart with longing. The trees outside my balcony appear refreshed. The white compound walls are speckled with snails. Peeping down my window, I listen to the splattering rain drops. I see wet, translucent stars, burst about the grooved, cement pavements. I look up into the sky for winged birds, but there is only the grey wash of cottony clouds, drifting with the mist. I have spent the morning, listening to new verses of 15th century, poet-pilgrims. I am envious of their mastery over prose, and the depth of their imaginative inspirations. I marvel at the voice of a contemporary musician sing aloud these ancient texts in lingering melodies. I hunger to rotate each syllable in my mouth. I thirst to gulp every sliver of emotion and meaning, deep into my cells. I enjoy wrapping my being with the rolling words of an ancient language. I ache to free my vocal chords, my breath, the hollows of my skull and bones with music, music and more music. I spend hours writing each syllable and sound in my native tongue. I enjoy feeling the texture of each word chosen by the poet. I enter the expanse of metaphors rising from each sentence. I wonder how these creations came to be. I discover a celestial musician by the name of तुम्बुरु, Tumburu [1]. I am enchanted with his half animal, half human form. My being fills with delight. I repeatedly listen to a select few musical compositions that have fallen upon my ears for the very first time. I am surprised with my voracious appetite for food by noon. I digest it all with ease. I return to the poetical verses and music, but my full belly, takes away attentiveness from the subtle. So, I spend my afternoon entering the world of thrilling fictions. The afternoon sky darkens. It is evening. An unexpected melancholy visits me. Looking outside my window, something within longs for the outdoors. I can hear whispers speak to me of the ocean. I can see inner landscapes of rains shimmering upon its vast body.

IMG_4076I feel the call of misty sprays of the salty waters. I drive out to the beach nearby. Parking my car, I switch off my cellphone. Stepping out, I look out at the humongous veil of grey before me. The sand is wet, and of an intense, yellow ochre color.

IMG_4074The dunes are flattened. The walk to the shoreline is easy, yet heavy footed. There are not too many people outdoors in the rains. Those who linger, appear bitten by the muse of mirth and mischief. Closer to the foaming shoreline, the ocean is dotted with muscular, dark brown, youthful lads, who are rolling in the sands, wrestling with the thickening, emerald-grey, translucent waves.

The waves appear to me like celestial mermaids, splashing waters with their beautiful tails, creating lyrical mists with the passing winds. Metamorphosing their lean bodies, they swell, crash, and mist into a tender foam. The ocean appears as if it were teasing, beckoning, rambunctiously playful, and heartily loud with a roaring, deep bellied, laughter. The rain is at first, a drizzle. I receive its pattering songs. There is an unusual slant to the crashing waves.

The sands near the shore appear raised up to a heightened, smooth platform due to the extreme ebb and flow of the joyful tides. Men lay upon these slants and enticingly await its unpredictable, lukewarm embrace. Women observe their bare bodies, allowing an inward, steady, climb of delight. But the ocean, surprises everybody. In a flash, a thrust of forceful waters, knocks out the timidity of hesitant women, buckling them into the arms of their Beloved. Their shocked bodies rejoice the wetness, awakening hysteria, while allowing men and women to merge in spontaneity into Her sensuous warmth and infinite expanse! I remain by myself, walking along the shoreline in gratitude and wonder. The joy around me is kindling. A stoic women with fine features appears beside me, her calm gaze fixed in a trance like state upon the ocean. She holds an excited toddler in her arms. Both, mother and child are shaded under a giant umbrella by her petite house-helper. I feel amused at the sight.

IMG_4078Suddenly, a powerful wave splashes over me. I am quick to receive its weave of smothering kisses. Compassion and tenderness, flush my entire being. With moistening eyes, I burst into my song. My voice taunts at the boisterous ocean. All around is a celebration of Mother nature’s friskiness. Though, none can out-sing the hearty sound of the vast ocean and the pouring rains. I enjoy my quietude in the crowd. I am singing and dancing with my eyes. Now, in a caressing voice. The booming ocean and the playful crowd share in my madness.

When my song comes to an end, the twilight is welcoming the dark lady of the night. I am soaked and feel nippy as the light around me, softly dims. I feel the call of my warm, dry nest. Turning around, I notice a lilt in my steps. I marvel at the fullness of my being. Cloaked in peace, I return to the warmth of our beautiful home. I switch on my cell phone. Refreshed after a warm meal and bath, I sit on my rocking chair. Our home is cooler due to the pouring rains. I write to Vidhya, my dear friend and gifted classical dancer, living across the seven continents from me. In response to sharing the fine details of my spirited day, she sends me a song in the voice of Shri T. M. Krishna, about a resplendent, benevolent Lord, who reclines on the vast, milky ocean, * सागर शयन विभो, Sagara Shayana Vibho [2] in Raag Bageshree, originally a signature composition of Shri. Manjapara Devesa Ramanathan known as MDR a Carnatic music composer and vocalist from the twentieth century. Sighing in deep contentment, I rest into the night, sparkling inside the exquisiteness of voice, poetry, music, marvelling once again, at an infinite downpour of a creative life-force.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tumburu

[2] https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=bTFtDmFbWIY  

Photography by Kaarthikeyan Kirubhakaran

There is a fire of desire that She enflames. In Her presence all quietens. In Her presence, I feel enveloped. I desire Her kiss, Her embrace, Her touch, Her breath. She and I rock on swings, opposite each other. She hums as She speaks with another, cradling my brokenness. I feel fleshed out. Delicately bejewelled I am, with the gentle wetness of morning dew. 

I witness a class being conducted by an inspired teacher. Gifted, devoted dancers learn a composition under his guidance. I had thought that I may join a few movement lessons if inspired. The class is already dancing intense choreographies, and so I only bathe in the sounds and movements of others, from a quiet corner in the room. Watching the sweating bodies carving space with clean lines, lining up inside neat foot work is always energising. It is also a world that I walk away from, in search of something beyond the physical discipline. I find Her. I receive many gifts after entering the softness and lightness of Her way of teaching. I miss Her today. She gifts me two beautiful years.

Watching his form, the introspections after, make me recognise a resistance in working with dance companies that strive for excellence and authenticity in their own unique manners, and also why I miss Her so.

The styles evolving in the now, are organised, well choreographed, military battalions, away from the lyrical, the poetic, the sensuous, and the lingering. There is a loss of the uniqueness of each human being, and their subtle nuances. It is a drying up and wilting of the Feminine. With Her, I return to a fullness, a grace, an ease, a silence, a gaze, a gait, a leaning, a letting go inside a beautifully balanced form. She holds the golden strings of that which I yearn to unite with, an allowing of the inner to be seen, and felt, through breath and movements of this physical body. Her physical being is no more, and yet there is Her voice inside of me, enveloping me, embracing me, cradling me. The mourning still is. I rise from the essence of Her teaching. I return to a playfulness. I allow myself my blossoming in its own time. I joyfully sprint through the mysterious, sensational labyrinths of life. Then one day, when all is aligned, just like that, a performance may happen. Letting go of ambitions, of desperation, of expectations, and relishing this beautiful life, wrapped up in the arms of my Beloved, and all my loved ones. May peace and well being be with all.

When we first met in a quaint lane of the old French town in a charming coastal city, he was driving a Fiat. In the back seat, were his two little, sparkly eyed, beautiful children. In time, I became part of their lives, and we came to call our beloved car, ‘Paloma’. My first born too joined the merry making and all of us had many a ride, and fun memories, in this cozy car.

A few years later, we got ourselves a new car. On the very same day, our friends who needed a car called to find out whether they could have Paloma. We gifted her to them since they couldn’t afford to buy her from us, at that point. Though we were attached to Paloma, we reasoned that we didn’t need two cars, and that our friends really needed one. When we surprised our youngest son with our new car at his school, he cried hysterically as he missed Paloma. He didn’t care much for our new car, and her lyrical name, Fabia. I observed, how our youngest was still unabashedly, in tune with his heart.

Six years have passed, since then. Last evening, I spoke nostalgically about Paloma to my husband, when we passed a similar looking car in the neighbouring metro city which is a few hours away from our home. Today, we chanced to take the same odd road. As we passed the abandoned Fiat, I said to my husband that this fiat had a familiar number plate, and could we turn around to take another look? He obliged. Parking our car nearby, we crossed the road. There used to be a sticker on the dashboard that had been unique to our Paloma. Walking closer, my eyes lit up with amazement as I saw the same sticker. It was our very own PALOMA!!! Rusting away, all abandoned and neglected. The sight deeply saddened me.
 

Paloma

   
When we reached out to our friends, they apologetically shared that they didn’t have enough money to maintain the car and that we could take it back, if we cared for it. My husband spoke to the mechanic at the garage, near which the car had been parked. The man promised to fix it in a few hours so we can drive her back, to the home where she belongs. It looks like she has been through some tough times and will need a lot of healing. But then, with love, she will regain her health and well being and we will get to enjoy many more years of her company.

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It is the first time, I travel to the temple of Kamakshi Amman, in Kanchipuram, with my teacher of classical dance, Smt Shyamala. We leave before dawn. There is a tranquil feeling in the air. We listen to the Raga Yaman, played by Ustad Sultan Khan on the sarangi. This recital magically concludes, as we enter the temple town of Kanchipuram. Just outside the gates of this ancient temple, we buy beautiful and fresh lotus blossoms, along with red kumkum, to offer to the Mother Goddess. However, Shyamala Akka also carries with her, an unopened pouch of a special brand of deep-red ‘Sri Vidya’ kumkum, from her home, to offer to her Amman (mother goddess). Entering this beautiful temple, I prayerfully follow Akka, in all the rituals. She walks briskly and sure-footedly, through many corridors and nooks that lead us to the many colorful altars of Gods & Goddesses. When we reach the main altar, the priests respectfully usher us in. Akka seats herself on the floor, in close proximity of the radiant Mother Goddess, Kamakshi. She makes sure that I too, huddle up close to her. Today, Goddess Kamakshi is adorned in a deep, viridian-green silk saree, with a crimson-red, gilded border. Goddess Kamakshi glitters in gold and diamonds, and a beautiful, ornate parrot is perched upon Her right shoulder. The priests begin to chant the morning mantras. The brass bells resound. The brilliant, orange flame from the shining brass oil-lamp, encircles and illumines, the golden, compassionate face of the Mother Goddess Kamakshi. Joy and gratitude awaken in my heart. Enveloped in state of wonder and reverence, our faith and surrender, deepens. Bathed in the light of beauty, we receive Her blessings, accepting Her divine light, Her sacred red Kumkum, in humility. Feeling Her blessings envelop our fragility, our vulnerabilities, we bow to Her divine presence in gratitude.

May we all be blessed by Goddess Kamakshi’s divine grace and beauty!

With much love …

Having offered yet another post on our blog, this afternoon, I fell into deep melancholy. I pondered, why does one write page upon page in beautifully crafted journals, until one’s ink runs dry? Who will read these writings ? Is there anyone eagerly waiting to read this next leaf of penned observations? How does one look at indifference with soft, loving eyes? Why does one share one’s artistic work, into this infinite, dark, gaping, hungry, hollow void of silent, cyber space? Then again, who is really hungry, gaping or hollow?

At that very moment, the image of my friend, the She-spider, residing upon the bark of the Gulmohar tree flashed before my eyes. I found myself recapitulating her lifestyle, over the past two months. I had met her quite accidentally. I perceived her to be a mystic, seated in impeccable stillness upon the bark of the huge Gulmohar tree in our garden. Her stance, her features, reminded me of an ancient yogi. Ash-laden, and frail, she appeared to be penancing through eternity. Until one morning, I was shocked to see her web abandoned. Cleverly camouflaged upon the bark, she seemed to be sunbathing. A few days later, I was repulsed to witness her carnivorous nature, as she sucked the juice out of a passing worm. Having returned to the pink of health, she returned to her silvery nest of eggs. Two weeks later, when I returned home from out of town, I found her nest torn and dangling. Cloaked in tranquility, she had returned to her usual sunbathing spot. I heaved a sigh of disappointment for having missed the hatching of her army of Spiderlings. However, today, when I walked towards her, I was amazed to see her seated in stillness, for a second cycle, upon a freshly spun silvery web! With her eight delicate limbs, spread out in elegance, she is silence and wisdom, personified.

It dawned upon me, that as writers and artists, we, too, are like this She-Spider. One fine day, we most unexpectedly weave our silvery web; cocoon our ideas in it’s shimmering warmth; we spin page upon page, with fine silvery thread; and then one day, our nest miraculously births an army of Spiderlings into this universe. These tiny offsprings, may go seen, or unseen. But, in completing the cycle of birth, we fulfil our calling, as writers and artists. In time, we grow to become indifferent to passing admirers, critics, and indifference. We awaken to the insight that our writing is a calling, prompted by a higher voice, which is in alignment with a divine mystical source.

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I offer you now a poem, in the words of the great mystic poet of all times, Jallaludin Rumi ~

‘My love, you are closer to me than myself,

You shine through my eyes,

Your light is brighter than the moon,

Step into the garden,

So all the flowers, even the tall poplar,

Can kneel before your beauty,

Let your voice silence the lily,

Famous for its hundred tongues.’

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This afternoon, I was behind the wheel, driving down our state highway. I’m not particularly fond of driving. About an hour into our car journey, my senses dulled with the passing traffic of cars, when I was jarred awake, because of a wandering, leisurely cow! Soon, something charming, caught my eyes. In the distance, I could see spots of bright colours floating about. On approaching it, I saw that it was a wooden crate of beautiful roses, bobbing cheerfully in the light breeze. The crate was securely tied to a moving bicycle. The peculiar sight, reminded me of a garden snail, I observed recently, which took a minute and forty seconds, to cover only, two inches of land!

Slowing down behind the lone bicyclist, refreshed my spirit. The roses were beautiful, and filled me up with the preciousness of the present moment!

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Moistened by the magical monsoons, a blanket of humid air is sprouting new life. Wandering through the zigzagging paths, I marvel at the play of changing light. I gasp, at the sight of two lone mushrooms. They stand tranquil and tall. Prancing their beautiful circular umbrellas, they seem to ask:

Are you, an introvert?
Ecstatic under a resplendent spot-light!

Or

Are you, an introvert?
Reticent, and thrilled, to be out of sight!