Type F for Faith

During Thanksgiving, the glaring headline of papers worldwide was of yet another fate-fueled attack on the general populi, killing more than three hundred people in the process. Two sides of faith, with two different outcomes in mind; one celebrates homecoming; the other: ruin.

There was a story that I grew up reading. A Hindu scholar, having read in the ancient texts that God is both with a form and without, decided to test the theory by himself. Upon visiting the famous Jagannath Temple in Puri, he asked this question to the grand priest – who answered in the same way as the texts prescribed. Annoyed, the academic took a stick and decided to walk by the idol – declaring that if the stick touches the wooden idol it would prove that the omnipresent has a form; if not, then the opposite will be proven.

To his surprise, the stick touched the idol in one of his two passes; while he was coming back, the stick remained as is. Baffled, he stood there, until the grand priest, who was watching it all from a distance, decided to come in. He smiled, and said that the one you and I – all of us seek, is formative and formless. Was he talking about God? I think now that he was talking about faith as well. For us, faith can be a book, or a man’s quotes, even a worn-out dozen shoeboxes where we preserve our memories. Or it can be promises of freedom, of the grandiose life in heaven.

Or at times, it can simply manifest itself to be something simple. Like a shoulder to cry upon, a body to blame, an abyss for all of our tears to go. For centuries, widows have been shunned in the Hindu culture and banished to the corners, be it in one’s house or in ravenous sanctuaries like Kashi, Vrindavan and the ilks. There were rules made, terrible and inhuman rules, to break their minds and their bodies. It is not one of the greatest mysteries of the world why a chauvinistic society took whatever means necessary to drown the women in misery – both married and unmarried, and post-married in particular. To these widowed souls, the only way to live the rest of their lives was to cling to the only thing they had left, willingly or unwillingly : faith. Thus generations after generations, we saw grandmothers who spent their time in the deity-room, being particularly excessive when it came to spirituality. It was often not their choice, but they accepted it and made it their own. Faith works in mysterious ways.

Yesterday, my wife and I were to attend a market that happened to be inside a Cathedral, and we ended up reaching the place two hours late; the empty parking lot should’ve been the spoiler alert, but we carried on, only to be informed by the last car that was loading up that it was over. Bummed out, we decided to go inside anyway, just to see the main hall and offer our prayers, only to offer them standing on the other side of a closed door (The cathedral was closed). While we were on our way out, my wife suggested to go inside the bookstore, and we went in.

The Christmas decorations were in full swing, spearheaded by three women, all past their prime, one a little older than the other two, but the most energetic and talkative. She took a particular liking to my wife, telling her stories about her visits to Jerusalem, driving in the highways around Atlanta, and about her husband who had passed away. I was following them, listening to her cheerful banter, and picking up and looking at trinkets, photo frames, music CDs  – as the wintry afternoon was slowly coming down with a chill, painting the sky a melange of orange, ochre yellow and crimson, tugging at the handful of leaves that remained, brightly colored – before they fell too, making me wonder at the simplicity of it all. There was something remarkably simple in this design, yet so marvelously complex. To a naked eye, it was overwhelming. But you needed to sit down and let your mind do the math; then it wasn’t as boggling at all.

“Isn’t this the cutest thing?” The old lady asked, pulling out a wooden replica of a mouse, complete with beady eyes and all, a Christmas decor obviously. My wife nodded, and expressed her chirpy mirth, to which the lady continued while putting it back on the Christmas Tree that it came from, “I don’t have trees in my house anymore. Not after he’s gone. But I keep these things with me. Like the mouse, I’ve hung it in my kitchen cupboard. Every time I see it, I laugh.”

There was something on both me and my wife’s faces at that moment, a similarity in emotion that pulsated in both our hearts. Faith, in its simplest manifestation, was a powerful tool. Even thousands of miles apart, I saw a woman who was like my grandmother, displaying the same emotions, resting her head on the same shoulders of faith. “It’s a way of touching God with your own hands, when your hands are empty,” she said while showing my wife the intricate rosaries, “people buy these things as jewelry these days. But these are not just things to wear. These are tools of faith. These are what keeps faith to yourself, personal.” This wasn’t simply a perceived way to offer prayers to a being of higher conscience, but it was a mean to cling on to something that offered a sentience of a greater acceptance, something that our society had so miserably failed to provide.

While we were on our way out, she asked us to come back again, like any loving grandmother would do (though she thought we were Spanish, judging by our dialogues in Bengali), and we came back with smiles on our faces.

My faith has its days. At times it is strong; and at times my existential crisis makes it harder to cling on to any hope, any faith at all. There are gaps, and the woes of the world and the surrounding make it that much worse to rest my thoughts on any shoulders, let alone be it on faith. I grew up amidst spirituality and faith, but my conscience had pulled me away at times from it. I discern faith for what it is; an instrument of creation and destruction; of putting one’s life through it in expectation of something grandiose and then something simple; more often than not, faith is the belief that there is something inside us that may someday take the shape of something good. Be it a windfall or a phone call from a grandson that lives seven oceans away (A common proverb : seven oceans and thirteen rivers, quoted to denote great lengths), or a yearly Thanksgiving, playing the strings of the heart, cherishing the living, remembering the dead and the gone.

As I was writing this, soundtracks from Miyazaki’s movies were playing. Piano for me is faith too, in its simplest form, yet again, since it evokes tendencies in me that I keep on reserve for special occasions. Anime and its wonderful music are part of a feel-good society, a utopia that we have forgotten, especially the great animes that graced the world during the 80’s and early 90’s. The piano playing classical tunes is bound to make a believer out of a skeptic.

What is faith but the simplest form of belief. At times, it takes the form of something monstrous if you let it grow uncontrolled. At times, it grows into a beautiful garden of memories.

Advertisements

Men without Women – Haruki Murakami : Book Review

It must’ve been ten years back. Looking into my jar of memories, I cannot find the exact calendar. Amidst the blurry mess that my subjective hearing and sort of cognizant, destructive amnesia made of my past, I somehow find a few solid, well formed artifacts, like one finds a ring from a papier-mâché of rose petals, water and milk during some Indian marriage ceremonies. Those memories are especially vivid- like me attending an awkward Physics Lab exam in my college years, or getting engrossed in the pond-fishing in our school complex when I was ten, or my first actual date with a representative of the opposite sex. I don’t then remember other stories; of me almost drowning when I was a toddler, of countless Durga Pujos I’ve spent, of some long dead relatives who are just a face in yellowed out album pages now. My existential crisis is only worsened by authors like Haruki Murakami, who continues to write stories of unknown sadnesses, and introduces me to another ocean that I need to conquer, only this one more grayer than the last, more hands to drag me down under, to choke my last bits of sanity.

I’ve been remarkably slow in reading books this year. I started well, however, finishing 4-5 books under the first one and a half months. That’s almost blazing speed for someone who reads and re-reads, and is painstakingly slow in the process. Then I was hit by a barrage of personal events: I got married, moved to a bigger apartment, and have been trying to settle down in the quagmire that is married, docile life. So when I began reading Murakami’s latest and greatest, I wanted to get back to the habit, and to keep my promise of finishing twenty five books in 2017, not realizing what I was getting into.

Men without Women is a concept. A man meets multiple women in his life; some he becomes friends with; some he makes love with; and then there are some that just exist, right on the border of his attention span, waiting, faceless existences that at times get slight warmth of notice. The man may have similar situations where he’s the mannequin, just another voice in the ether, but that often doesn’t bother him until he becomes a ‘Man without Woman’. A man who has no woman in his life – no Scheherazade to tell eccentric stories of lampreys and breaking into others houses. No once known, now a blur woman that had a thing for wonderful sex and elevator music. Not even a woman with burn scars and a woman with her breasts undulating while she rode another man in front of her husband. This profound state of systemic decay, a rather dystopian conclusion of human sentiments is ‘Men without Women’. There’s not only tragicomic sadness at play here, but Murakami plays from strength to strength narrating stories that has a familiarity, a loneliness that is often found in his works. Dr. Tokai finds love all of a sudden in a sea of nonchalance. Kafuku wants to know the lovers of his late wife to make a complete picture of a woman he never really knew fully. Kitaru, one day, vanishes, leaving his friend and his girlfriend in complete darkness – these stories are intertwined in curious cases of emotions. Men with Women, fascinated by Men without Women.

The stories, except the last one, circle around in a narrow boundary. Murakami keeps a strong bind here – a mixture of solitude and vivid abstraction with his undenying love for old music and movies. This book is so much more than a collection of stories – it’s a homage to Ernest Hemingway, a direct tribute to Franz Kafka and ‘Metamorphosis’ (one of my favorite stories in the book), and also a nod to a lot of forgotten people, standing in the queue, waiting for their turn to tell stories. I as a writer find this amazing, but I may be biased, so leaving this to personal interpretations is the best choice.

Are all men to become ‘Men without Women’ eventually? Is there an indication here, a forecasting of our lives? Yes, and no. Like a lamprey hunting for its halibut to cling on, our relationships are also clingy. Subconsciously we wait for the right moment to jump and press our jaws into one another’s body, and suck emotions from each other – that’s how we survive. The book tells you the exact thing. Don’t believe for a moment that you can swim through this madness of becoming Men without Women.

You can’t.

Rust

Lacquered in a comatose white and gray, the auburn thatched mud houses look like the ruins of a terracotta army, battered by time. But they stand hollow, their windows stolen, their doors eaten by nature.
When the vicious jungle wind blows from the dry riverbed and passes through this necropolis, a howl ensues that tears open the naked breast of the rainforest.

Guineafowls peck little mites from the bones scattered across the plateau. Skeletal hands holding rifles, books, bags.

Or other hands.

A century ago, this patch of dense green had leopards, lions, tigers, elephants, wild buffaloes. Trapped between the bullets of sixty years of ferocious monarchy and the peculiarity of human masculine pride, the animals have traveled to become busts, adorned in the living rooms of the richest.

Time has crushed the biggest of kingdoms. The Kings and Queens have died. Revolution had taken place.

Then the rebels became rulers, and the first thing they did was to put every opposing butterfly to the waiting guillotine. Carnivals were named on dead men and women, their blood gushing through the river. That river has dried up into a valley of rust, where souls without salvation wander.

This used to be a good world. But then good worlds barely lasted.


He loved light. Like the flicker of sunlight that fell on his eyes, making their way between her flowy hair and salwar-clad shoulders, while he fiddled with poetry, lying on her lap.

This city of broken bridges ate small-time love like theirs, people said. They didn’t pay heed. Reckless as the monsoon, their love was devoid of any measured steps.

Five years later, the light had returned in his life. As he was slowly watching her body being engulfed in the pyre, he thought why he loved light so much, only to realize that it wasn’t light that he loved.

On that cold November night, two souls had melted into the darkness.

Only the city remained, ravenously waiting for its next victim, throwing poetry in the air as lures.

17458340_1216251558492354_7671135740612698325_n

Let’s talk about Love

I am a hapless romantic. No matter how hard the outer cynical, nonchalant shell becomes, there are always some things that I cannot overlook. Even in the days when my mood is as inclement as a pre-norwester weather, simple things often coo their presence and put a smile on my face. Remembering a particular morning when I was en route to Ganesh Chandra Avenue, the mecca to all things eletronic in Kolkata, and was in a particularly foul mood. The hour-long journey from my place to the city in the local train was as exhaustive as travelling through a cattle van, not only because there were way too many people on board, but most of them moved and behaved like biped bovine.

On my way, I was walking through the bustling footpaths that were often home to all sorts of people – hawkers, homeless, the mischievous and the charlatan,  and the common beggars and loonies. On other days, this common fixture didn’t bother me, but on that day, I saw something amidst them that made me pause for a while.

A little baby was lying on his back a sheet of torn cloth, barely enough for his little toddling body. His eyes were beautifully rounded by gracious lines of kajal; and his toothless smile was a stark contrast to the paltry conditions where he was in. A few paces away, his mother, probably a sweeper, worked on making lunch from the spoils of a vegetable shop. He, unperturbed, smiled away at whomever looked at him.

No matter how much annoyed I was then, drenched in sweat and my despair, at that moment, I couldn’t keep myself away from smiling. The more I smiled, the more the kid smiled back. In the end, I walked away from that scene happy, content that the world still made sense. That pure love was still a thing.

Being the fat, shy guy I was (and still am), getting my courage up to actually propose a girl was completely out of the picture for me. That and my reluctance to discuss my personal life, coupled with the complete lack of any social media (Orkut was in rage those days, but I wasn’t that involved until later on) gave my friends plenty to speculate about my potential girlfriend. I remember walking into such a conversation during my second year in the college, only to be slightly amused.

Interestingly, in my entire life of about thirty summers, girls that I have proposed to always turned me down, whereas I always accepted any proposals that came my way. How much that speaks about the certain desperateness of mine, you’re only to judge. I am also very fortunate that both the women who proposed to me turned out to be amazing, and shaped my life in a major way. One, the latest (if you call nine years latest, that is), is going to be ma femme very soon.

But my love isn’t bound to flesh and blood entities. I am drawn to nature, I am drawn to books ; I am drawn to anime, cartoons, comicbooks, manga ; I am drawn to technology; I am drawn to video games. I am more at ease in a calm, natural habitat rather than in the hullabaloos of a city life, yet the duality in me craves presence of other souls. Souls that would listen and hear what I need to say. At times, my rants and ideas might last a few hours; at times they’re confined to one conversation. Over the years, I had plenty conversations about the not-so-normal things, and absolutely enjoyed the deviation. As intrigued I am as to the Basilica and the modern history and paleontology, I am equally drawn to long hours in Diablo 3 or League of Legends or reading through the lore in Age of Mythology or Dungeon Siege 2. Besides reading news, one of my daily routines is to check AnandTech or Tom’s Hardware to read the latest and greatest in technology. But that doesn’t mean I don’t read The New Yorker or The Paris Review for their excellent articles and literature published. Moreover, I am equally fond of both Bengali and World literature.

In essence, love doesn’t need to be in cards or paintings and pretty words. It needs to be more than that. With all of our feelings withering for each other and our blue planet, it is high time that we don’t get stuck to the confines of a single day to profess our love for something or someone. Get out, hold a hand, or hands, or paws, or hooves, or branches, or pages – and make it worthwhile.

Happy Valentine’s Day, folks!

The Art of Caring, or the lack thereof

The definition of a New World notwithstanding, there’s a distinct lack of care in today’s planet blue is alarming. Back in the days, I fondly remember the caress of people living in our community, be it a pat in the back or a stern look if you were returning home late, something that is missing like a sore void; like the potholes in roads that get filled up by rainwater during monsoons and look like extensions of the road as the reflection of a gray-ash sky, the problem presents itself in camouflage. You never get it until you have experienced it, on one hot summer noon when you come back home and don’t find the old lady hanging out in the balcony by your place, asking you about your health, or what time it is, or just asking how you have been – you realize that it isn’t the city you hate. It’s the devolution that strikes you.

I whine a lot for a guy of my age. I complain about almost everything, because in these years I have grown cynical of our species. I see humans butcher other animals. Recently in Bihar, I saw trained hunters kill more than 300 Nilgais, the largest Asian antelopes, just because they had become a nuisance to the local farmers. Without going back to the root cause of why these animals were coming out from the jungle in the first place, the local government happily gave permission to these killers who made this occasion look like a festivity. A few weeks later, another post covered how in the name of a Pegan ritual, hundreds of lizards, snakes, squirrels and birds were captured, killed and cooked – all in the vicinity of a particularly busy railway station in Bengal. Nobody batted an eyelid. Every year, thousands of rare species of birds, animals, reptiles, fishes are being killed for apparently no reason at all. The peak of these stupid activities are in the form of ‘pleasure hunting’ – a passtime for millionaires and spoilt brats toting guns and shooting hapless animals who have been bred for this circus.

This lack of respect for others has manifested itself viciously in our ability to curb violence as well. It feels like nowhere is safe anymore – you point a place in the world map and it is seeping with blood. Innocent people are dying, and men and women and children are being pushed into an atmosphere of hatred where they are being told and taught that theirs is the only way. The lack of compassion is astounding, and yet nobody raises their voice.

I come from a very humble background. My family used to be a joined one – an amalgamation of happiness and sadness. Sure, there were big fights every once in a while, but I couldn’t see myself growing up to be like this had I not been part of a big family. My family extended beyond relations of blood – from the old man who used to call me Captain Green to the lady who used to take me to school for twelve years of my life, from the shopkeeper who used to tell me and my sister if our mother had arrived from office, to the uncle who used to sell electronic items to an inquisitive, eleven year old me – they all became my family without me knowing. And today, when I look back at all these memories, the immense pleasure I get from them can’t be described in mere words. I owe everybody my sincere gratitude, and even more than that I want to share similar passion in everybody that I meet.

keep-calm-and-care-for-others-6

The culture of not-caring has been growing like a plague. That is mostly because people do not understand the difference between privacy, or space, and the blessing that is caring. Nuclear families; pigeon holed existences; communities without any sort of communication – these are the traits of modern society, eating it from inside like maggots. A Durga Pooja a year doesn’t make you know thy neighbor. Empty houses in Jodhpur park are flanked by swanky skyrisers in South City, where nobody knows each other. Like the anonymous public lives of the celebrities, the common man (and woman) has adorned the mask of nonchalance. This arrogance is a propaganda like no other : spreading into young minds as a penchant for coolness. Forty years down the line, the generation X/Y/Z will lament that their kids are too progressive, yet they are as blind as the government I spoke earlier of. Without going to the root cause, we will be bound to our everyday cotton candies – Facebook/Twitter/SnapChat/Instagram, or even Pokemon Go.

The art of caring is learned, not something that is inborn. It needs practice; it needs enthusiasm and helping hands. If we continue to disrespect each other, if we continue to disrespect every other being, there won’t be any next generation after a certain point of time. This blue planet will become another speck in the universe, another dead rock – another ball of dust and rubble.

There’s still time.

 

The colors never told if they were real

The bright neon signs dipped the city into many colors. Purple and cyan had found their territory around the train stations, running amongst surfaces, mostly glass, and reflecting and refracting and spreading their presence everywhere the perceivable sight could go. Bright screens flashed on and off with advertisements, staged emotions to lure the unwary into the trap – where they would be transformed into mindless consumers. There was a rhythm to it all – the people rushing on and off from the trains, the monstrous yet svelte locomotives sliding down the railway tracks like a millipede on the straws of leaves, the announcer in his booming voice guiding the flow of populace from one platform to another, the advertisements pitching in between, a pastime for many, irritation for others – they all followed a tempo, a monotonous composition. As the city put on her night gown and donned many a roles in the night, one wondered: was this all real or a figment of a dream?

Yet there she was, standing on the station, right beside the looking glass, holding it with her two fragile hands. The hands themselves weren’t frail, but the way she rested them on the enormous glass pane suggested that the intent was fading away; she was giving up.

But why was she there?

Her eyes glued on the hordes and hordes of passengers showed no sign of tiredness. Yet the energy was dimming, ever so slowly, as the trains continued to whoosh past. She was longing for warmth, amongst all those feigned emotions, forgetting that the city herself was her biggest enemy. Survival required pretension here. The city thrived on putting on a mask, a façade of salvation: asking you to give up your innocence, your morality in return.It was a deal nobody could refuse.

Realities were always tricky, he had told her once. They were blowing bubbles that afternoon, sitting on a bench, inside the holographic tech park.

“What do you mean?”, she had asked, curious.

“These bubbles – they are not what you think they are” He had replied.

She loved his voice. It was like the arrival of spring after a long winter. Mellowness could hardly bring such warmth. He had something more churning inside him.

“The world forgetting/by the world forgot” He’d smile while reciting this. She could hardly understand where his mind floundered all day long.

He promised he’d show up here on New Year’s Eve.Her eyes kept on searching through the crowd – trying to locate that messy hair, that nonchalant stubble, that wicked smirk. She found each of them many times, but not once did these qualities come together in the manifestation of a single entity.

“Am I real?” He had asked her once. She had touched his cheek with her cold hands, seeing him cringe ever so little with her touch.”I think so” She had whispered in his ear.

Fireworks splashed their lights on the transparent platform shades – injecting some life in this monotony of purple and cyan. Colors plopped on her face too, yet the changes in emotion were hardly any.She had started to doubt the whole world. Her tired gaze followed an advertisement, the girl in it strikingly similar to her.

“Are you real?” The ad girl asked.

“Maybe not”, she replied. There was a strange gentleness in her eyes.

When the next train arrived, she had long disappeared into the city. Within all those colors, who knows which one she was?

Or if she was a color at all?