Sunday, December 28, 2014

MEMORIES WERE MADE OF THESE

 MEMORIES WERE MADE OF THESE

Today I decided that I would dump all my old belongings, of course it was my wife who took the decision. The decision did not include dumping each other and so you see we are still together. Well you may ask – why such a drastic decision? The truth is that we were hemmed in on all sides and it was becoming difficult to breathe. You may again ask why now and so suddenly? I have an answer to that also – the New Year was around the corner and that is when everyone resolves to make new resolutions. So what happens to all the resolutions you made the end of the previous year for this present year? Well dump them for you have no options left now as the time has run out.

We live in a small flat but sometimes the thought crosses my mind that we should have gone for a bigger one instead at the time when the prices were low. What’s the point cribbing about it now! Then, I had just enough money after taking a loan from the bank and some personal savings to buy the place where we now stay. When I had some more money the prices had also gone up making it impossible for me to think otherwise. But whenever someone asks me this question, I just say that the value of my house has appreciated more than thirty times in the last two and a half decades and proceed to point out that it was the only wise investment that I had made in my life (apart from my wife of course). What was once a deserted suburb has now become a hub of commercial activity and though I like calmer climes I have no choice, for even if I decide to sell this flat and more over to farther suburbs where it is possible to get the ‘quiet’ and a bigger place to stay (that sometimes crosses my mind), it wouldn’t be worth it for we are growing old and need to stay where we are closer to what we are used to. So you see I cannot dump my house. It stays along with my wife.

So you will ask me once again – why all this prattle, what did you ultimately decide to dump? That’s fair I guess because I started it all. Today my wife came to me when I was busy looking at my music collection – she said “Do you know there is a website called kuppathoti.com (literally translated in English as garbagebin.com)? They are ready to take whatever junk you have and you get paid for it. Why don’t you just check it up?”

As always when I am shaken out of my reverie it would take a few minutes for me to become conscious of my surroundings. The full import of what my wife had just said slowly descended into my consciousness. Strewn before me were the two hundred and odd music cassettes, a collection dating back three decades. My wife’s voice once again boomed – “So when was the last time you listened to any of them? I am sure that if you try to play them on that cassette player we have, you will hear only scraping sounds. Don’t you feel that we don’t need them anymore and can dump them along with the cassette player? After all you have told me that now you can download any music you want and store them on a pen drive or on the Ipod. It would save me a lot of bother dusting and storing the cassettes when I know they are not going to be used anymore.”

My wife is a sensible person and practical to the core. She of course never mentioned my huge stack of books or my LPs for she knew that was a touchy subject. Another consideration could have been that they were not as perishable as music cassettes and could always be considered as collector’s item.

I went back in time to a period when as a young man much into music and a newly found economic freedom (the aftermath of the first job) went about acquiring the things that I always wanted to have – a motor cycle, a stereo system, music LPs and ultimately a wife; for all practical purposes it was in that order. The others have been dumped while the last one endures.

I remember when back in school, I made my mother sit one day and tighten all my pants as with the advent of the Beatles and the aftermath of Elvis and Cliff Richards the drainpipes were the in thing. Of course we had our own desi James Bond, Jeetendra prancing and romancing his lady interest round and round every goddam tree in the vicinity in his skin tight pants in the movie Farz – the villains could never take the pants off him. I grew my hair long and believe me when I say it, for that is one thing that I have shed over the years and reached a stage where no change in hairstyle fashion would affect me. I remember my schoolmates especially my Anglo Indian friends who would spend considerable time styling their hair the Cliff Richard way – comb all the hair (properly oiled so that they stay in place) back over the head and then with a flick of the comb pull the front portion and make it dangle over their forehead; after all Cliff was an Anglo born in India. My head is now absolute and can never become obsolete. But came another period when the drainpipes gave way to bell bottoms. That was more difficult for you could never convert your drainpipes to bell bottoms, you had to stitch new pants and that cost. Well you had no choice but to fall in with the crowd. In the wedding reception photograph I can be seen fully suited with bell bottomed pants. The more it waved in the wind the more you were with the Joneses. After all it was Amitabh Bachhan who really set the trend with his long legs, the bell bottoms really swayed along with the audience every time he delivered a dialogue or kicked the villain. But I have a sneaky feeling that the bell bottoms were invented to cover long and skinny legs. Imagine a short guy wearing them, there will be no bottom only a bell. The coat, I never wore after that. Years later whenever there was a chill in the air my wife would dig it out for me to wear. I did wear it but never ventured out. This went on till I developed broader shoulders and some muscular structure (believe me once again when I say this). The only way I could insert my hands inside the sleeves was the back in front position. The wedding suit was preserved till the time our marriage was confirmed strong enough to dump it. Oops! The suit I mean. The moral of the story is that we dump our clothes ever so often to keep in tune with the changes in our perception of how we should present ourselves to the discerning eyes of the beholder. Again I have to clarify that this does not include all the times we dump our clothes when we go to the loo or to have a bath or to bed (Oops! There I go again. Pardon me). Well to cut the story about my clothes short, my wife said to me “your cupboard is stacked with clothes you don’t wear at all. You need only jeans T-shirts and Kurtas nowadays and of course shorts when you are at home. Why do you still keep all those branded full sleeve shirts and ties, the remnants of your working days? You are never going to be called for an interview or given a job any more. In fact you do not need anything more than shorts since you are mostly at home sitting in front of your latest paramour (She has a point when she says - why should we call a laptop a laptop when now there is so much written about the hazards of keeping it on your lap”. Of course I never replied, keeping what I wanted to say to myself – anything on a lap is hazardous – Oops! ---). Well ultimately I decided to abide by what has been said by Gita (hey I meant the Bhagavad Gita) – shed all attachments and proceed on towards realizing the self. I took the first step today, I cleaned out my cupboard – two thirds of it, and my wife was happy. She did not give up “Well tomorrow ring up Udhavum Karangal – Helping Hands and ask them to pick it up. We can at least finish the year with a good deed and start the next on a clean slate”. Tomorrow I shall say ‘The deed is done’.

I joined the club of smart people a few days ago. Don’t get the idea that I was a dumb ass all along and somehow enlightenment dawned on me and I became smart. I was along happy leading the unsmart life till now. It was simple and there were no additional demands on my slowly deteriorating mental faculties. Well, all that changed when my daughter bought me a new mobile phone after severely reprimanding me for clinging on to my antique mobile which had been with me for nearly six years, served me well, survived many a fall and fitted into my pockets smugly without any evident protuberances. “It’s time you got out of being an antique yourself. This is called a smart phone and it will help you keep upto date with what is happening around even when you are on the move”.

“You mean to say that I shall become smart if I have this? I think I have been smart enough till now and that will do”.

Well, what can one say about daughters! They always have their way in the end. So now I have a smart phone and I have been receiving complaints from my friends asking me as to why I keep cutting off their calls – you see I realized later that I have been swiping the wrong way. Well in the end I have now dumped my old mobile. But I did not throw it away. It has gone into that pile of other things I have been accumulating over the years – older mobiles, old cameras, watches, spectacles and pens. Well they stay for now. The day for dumping them may not be far off.


So now can you guess why I titled this ‘Memories were made of these’ and not ‘are’ made of these? These things have been dumped and so have your memories along with them. And then one day it shall happen – You get dumped.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

REBECCA

REBECCA





It was sometime in Aug 1975 nearly four decades ago when I visited the Salarjung Museum in Hyderabad and for the first time gazed at the statue of Rebecca I was awestruck by the sheer beauty of the marble sculpture and penned down a few lines of verse. That’s all I could do for I did not have a camera. When I look back and read what I had written I realize that it was an outcome of the impulsive romantic that I was at that time. I still enjoy reading it and relive that phase of my life. Now in December 2014 nearly four decades later when I went there again, I spent time standing there staring at the statue, but now I did not need words for I had a camera and so I captured what I saw. I was no longer the romantic who bid adieu with a heavy heart but someone who had realized that ‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever’  

Rebecca

Rebecca! Rebecca! I cry,
To her the veiled splendour,
My thoughts now fly.
There she stands clad in white,
Her beauty sheds a divine light.
Ah! There she smiles,
I can see through her veil,
In my heart an ache I feel.

Rebecca! Rebecca! Can’t you see,
For your love I long to be;
Your beauty so possesses me,
That now no longer am I free.
In this bondage I revel,
As I rest in this love’s cell,
And when softly I call your name,
You come to me,
To feed my flame.

Rebecca! Rebecca! I am aware,
For my love you may not care,
But this intense fervour of mine,
Shall speak of your face divine,
Your smiling lips, the caressing veil,
Your gentle feel,
Your silent grace.

Rebecca! Rebecca! I have come
Your true love to become,
But your smile I do not see,
And your stare is not at me.
My presence you do not feel,
Your vision thwarted by the veil.

Rebecca! Rebecca! Now I stand,
Love forlorn in front of you,
I make my way to distant land,

With a heavy heart I bid adieu.

Friday, December 12, 2014

BOOK REVIEW – THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF FYODOR DOSTOEVSKY PART 1



BOOK REVIEW – THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF FYODOR DOSTOEVSKY
PART 1

In the introduction to his translation of ‘The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky’ David Magarshack observes that it is in Dostoevsky’s smaller works that we find the highest expression of his creative power and profundity of thought. The selection of stories in this book include –

White Nights
The Honest Thief
The Christmas Tree and a Wedding
The Peasant Marey
Notes from the Underground
A Gentle Creature
The Dream of A Ridiculous Man.

My reading of Dostoevsky so far had been limited to his three major novels –
Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot and the shorter novellas The Possessed and Notes from the Underground (included above in the short stories)

These stories are so distinct and still so interconnected that the full force of Dostoevsky’s thought processes so elaborated in his more famous longer novels are brought out here with such impact that I thought that to do justice to this collection of the best short stories it would be necessary to review each story individually and as such I thought I should do it over a series of posts on this blog.

WHITE NIGHTS – A sentimental love story – From the memoirs of a dreamer

And was it his destined part
Only one moment in his life
To be close to your heart …..    – Ivan Turgenev

White Nights is a story spread over four nights about a lonely man (the narrator) and his unrequited love for a young woman whom he befriends one night while she is waiting for the return of her lover to be reunited with him. This is a simple story and in fact was adapted as the underlying theme for the Hindi Film ‘Saawariya’ by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Dostoevsky’s story however delves deep into the psyche of the lonely man – a man who had shut himself off from human relationships and seemed to be more at ease with the inanimate objects around him; a man who had withdrawn himself into a shelf of self-pity and deprecation. Like most of Dostoevsky’s novels the story is told in first person by a nameless narrator –

“When I woke up in the morning I felt strangely depressed, a feeling I could not shake for the better part of the day. All of a sudden it seemed to me as though I, the solitary one, had been forsaken by the whole world, and the whole world would have nothing to do with me.”

He feels more comfortable walking the streets of St. Petersburg at night for during the day though he was never in the habit of interacting with anyone he used to connect emotionally with the faces he encountered and felt uneasy when they were absent or he came across new faces. At night he felt alone and happy and was surrounded always by the things he knew, the houses as he walked down the streets. They seemed to talk to him. He says –

“The houses too are familiar to me. When I walk along the street, each of them seems to run before me, gazing at me out of all its windows and practically saying to me, “Good morning, sir! How are you? I’m very well, thank you. They are going to add another storey to me in May”; or, how do you do, sir? I’m going to be repaired tomorrow”. And so on. He says some of them are great favourites of his and good friends.

White Nights is to a large extent considered autobiographical of a young Dostoevsky’s personal impressions during his own nocturnal wanderings in Petersburg.  

As they exchange their stories the protagonist finds himself falling in love with the young woman Nastenka. A lonely man at last finds there is someone actually real who has evoked this feeling of being wanted, for all the while he has been inside his self-imposed cocoon of solitude. His feelings are very clear when he says – “I know you’ll hardly believe me, but I’ve never spoken to any woman, never! Never known one either! I only dream that someday I shall meet someone at last. Oh, if only you knew how many times I’ve fallen in love like that!”

While Nastenka does develop feelings for him she never does acknowledge that she loves him and at the end on the fourth night when the young man whom she had been in love, and for whom she was waiting, does appear she goes away with him after giving our protagonist a letter where she states she will always love him as a dear friend.

The narrator ends by saying “Good Lord, only a moment of bliss? Isn’t such a moment sufficient for the whole of a man’s life?”

But perhaps the most telling passage in the story and which brings forth the angst of existence and by which I can surmise that therein lies the foundation of the whole of Dostoevsky’s philosophy and a forerunner of Existentialism is when he tells Nastenska –

“And you ask yourself - where are your dreams? And you shake your head and murmur; how quickly time flies! And you ask yourself again – what have you done with your time, where have you buried the best years of your life? Have you lived your life or not? Look, you say to yourself, look how everything in the world is growing cold. Some more year will pass, and they will be followed by cheerless solitude, and then will come tottering old age, with its crutch, and after it despair desperation. Your fantastic world will fade away, your dreams will wilt and die, scattering like yellow leaves from the trees. Oh, Nastenka, what can be more heartbreaking than to be left alone, all alone, and have nothing, absolutely nothing, because all you’ve lost was nothing, nothing but a silly round zero, nothing but an empty dream!”


(Book Review – to be continued)