Temporal Moment

Thoughts while waiting in a temple queue.

People from all walks of life are around me, with their own stories and problems in their hearts, the most heart wrenching of complaints and the most miraculous of wishes can be found in this room. Among all this gravity, children run and play. I used to be like them once, this open hall with adults as dynamic obstacles would be the board for countless new games. This temple on a hill in Pennsylvania, though thousands of miles away from the homes of the people who stand here right now, is no different than any other temple in place and time.

And then my gaze goes over the idols, the decorations, the ritual and every step it contains within as the coordinated acts of worship, the chanting, the music, the symbols and everything that makes a religion what it is. Someone must have created it at some point – it was surely conceived by the imagination of a highly creative individual of the time, an imagination cleansing itself of the pride to praising something greater than itself. And now thousands of years later, people do this, parts of it but in a similar spirit – names and titles and facts have faded but there is still a link I see in this moment. What is all religion and tradition but a way to honor the art of one’s ancestors? And, can art even exist without them?

Today, I see the beauty in the lifeless carved rock. There is a lump in my throat, I feel insignificant in front of that unknown sculptor’s patience and belief in something so abstract – that it cuts through time and space and sweeps away my entire existence, something which I have comfortably rationalized to myself even when it stands on a weak and often faltering foundation. This is the truth of the greater abstract within which my lie of a little existence lies.

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Time of the year: A Graduating Class

This is the time of the year when the atmosphere on any major American university campus is a fascinating one. The weather decides to become forgiving and the relief of the last exam can be felt in the air, even when you do not have an exam to take. This is the time of the year when you can see movement, in things and lives.

And the most heartwarming of sights, for me, is when I see parents of international students visiting this country to witness their children take the grad walk. Indian parents, waddling around for their evening or morning walks and being given campus tours by their sons and daughters – of a place they had probably not even imagined in their wildest of dreams, maybe even unpronounceable to some, but they still put all their money and trust into it. There is nothing but excitement and pride you can see in their faces – legit and well deserved. And thus, this is also that the time of the year when you can see the movement, in dreams of the great Indian middle class, where they take a tangible and recognizable shape, wings spread and ready to soar.

Driftwood Polystyrene

When the oceans rise and the floodwaters come rushing into your big cities, I am optimistic that the plastic in the oceans, what we passionately unify and outrage over, will be what keeps us afloat.

I am confident that the last man alive will sail to the higher grounds on the ark he made from Starbucks straws.

Ho Gayi Peer Parvat

An attempt at translation of one of Dushyant Kumar‘s most well-recognized poems.


 

It must,

This glacial pain of the mountains

Must melt,

An outpour Gangetic,

Something pure and holy.

 

They must,

These walls, these concrete curtains

Must tremble,

Behind them we yearned

for quakes, not storms

 

It must,

In streets, alleys, cities and hamlets

Must march,

Every corpse, as the living

A dance fervorous.

 

They must,

These times

Must change,

In this influence,

My only offence.

 

But she must,

In our hearts

Must burn,

This fire

If not in mine, then in yours.

New Light On Dancing Shiva Symbol

This is a review written by my father which was published in The National Herald on 08/06/1996.

[Dancing Shiva in the Ecological Age: By Henryk Skolimowski, Publisher: Dr. Henryk Skolimowski, International Center for Eco-Philosophy and Indian Institute of Ecology & Environment New Delhi. Paperback. Pages: 214, 1995, Price: Not Written]

The collection of articles by the learned author who is a Professor of Philosophy in the Programme in Humanities, College of Engineering, University of Michigan, USA, is an attempt at giving a new meaning to the dancing Shiva symbol so commonly available in the Hindu temples, Hindu households, museums of arts etc. Although in the Hindu religious mythology, Shiva is one of the Trinity responsible for destruction preceding a rejuvenation, the author tries to cull out the basic essence of Hindu philosophy in which destruction is never final and creation is never complete in the sense that they are all part of the same cycle in which there is no beginning or end.

2. The author has quoted profusely not only from Upanishads, Buddhist literature, Christian theology but also from the present day savants such as Andre Malaraux and T.S. Eliot. The vastness of the range and the depth of the author’s learning is also evident in his mastery of language and ability to use the words as instruments of revelation.

3. Although the volume contains 15 articles each of which can be read independently yet there is a common theme running through all of them. The theme is that man’s relationship with nature should be that of reverence, love, devotion and not otherwise. According to the author, participation at the deepest level is the true essence of life.  there is an interesting article on structures, symbols and evolution. The author describes in some detail what the dancing Shiva symbol of Hinduism means to him.

It is a symbol of continuous metamorphosis, a ceaseless beginning of life, a symbol of fluidity and essentially undefinable character of life. There is something fascinating and mysterious in the conception of universe conceived in the image of dancing Shiva. It is this conception that some of the Western thinkers (such as F.Capre) have evoked to replace the petrified conception of the universe in the image of the Neutonian clock.

4. an abstruse book which could be understood only by a person having reasonable proficiency in philosophy and metaphysics, it seeks to emphasise the wholeness of the universe and oneness of life manifest in plants, animals and human beings.

The author seems to be a votary of Hindu view of life which underplays differences and divisions and accentuates oneness and wholeness. The author feels that the dancing Shiva symbol enjoins upon mankind to feel responsible for the nature and the universe, the responsibility of which will result in the rehabilitation and protection of everything that is good in the world and in turning good of whatever is not.

One could disagree with the author but one can not help feeling moved by the sense of urgency that drips from every paragraph of the book. The author feels that we had better get together our acts including our pursuits of ‘scientific knowledge’ otherwise it will be too late.

– Shashi Bhushan

 

Departures

September 2013

The Ganges roars, a wind above it in this night, dragged along with the torrent that made the hills echo only a few hours back. Nothing to be seen beyond what the floodlights show of this concrete bank, this ghat is like a train station drifting through the night. The platform where the last goodbyes are said. With a vessel in my hand, I step into the cold water – coldest thing to be out there in this summer, my bare feet are pierced by sharp rocks. There is a clinker that can be heard through as my feet drag through the steps. Bones. Thousands of pieces accumulated. The ticket stubs left by countless who left from this spot. I think of them, try to fit all their lives within a moment of closed eyes before I offer the remains to the river. The river swallows them readily into the grander offering which is the garland of bones under these muddy waters.

Of Dogs & Mountains

Whenever I have hiked in any part of the Himalayas, there has always been a dog that tagged along. And this is something everyone experiences – anyone who has taken a trail leaving a village or a town. The reasons will not be known as to why these mountain dogs accompany travelers in their treks from one village to another, only to mysteriously disappear and reappear again. Maybe they do it as a duty or with the hope of getting some food; or for their own sense of security, to have a human to walk along with through these isolated paths that might harbor some danger. These dogs are the much-mentioned, often-photographed but seldom-discussed aspects of everyone’s Himalayan journey. Their stamina will surely surpass yours and they could do the same trek several times in a day, both ways – your challenge is their neighborhood and one should never forget that. Their friendliness comes from seeing this world right from their doorstep – these are wise beings that must be treated with respect.

Climbing right now, my legs hurt and these urban lungs gasp for the very cool air that makes my ears hurt, and I slump down on a rock to rest. If I climbed too fast, the four-legged friend will come trailing along, I ask him whether it was the flower in bloom that slowed him down or if it were the bones in the grass I had quickly glanced over; if I climbed too slow, he will be up there ahead of me, gazing from some vantage point waiting for me to start again.

In the towering silence of the mountains, away from humans, I become aware of this other being’s presence and the trust and familiarity we have in this short duration of knowing each other. Briefly, I understand what Yudhishthira might have felt when asked to let go of the dog at the end of his climb to the heaven. And maybe the dogs that climbed with me (and you) were indeed Yama in disguise – who knows? But anyway, a part of this story about the final test of a demigod repeats in each and every such climb; staying alive as long as there are dogs, mountains and men.

mount_doggo_climb

The Spirits Of Those Times

What is nostalgia? Why do images or videos from a bygone era crystallize fascination in all of us? Is it the simplicity of the lives lived back then? Is not all past looked at with some yearning for crumbs of positivity, so that our lives do not feel like an utter waste? There is always a past to look to and smile at no matter how bad and unsatisfying our lives have been. Because in it is the fleeting moment at its most familiar, that familiarity is what we relate to our present, for good or for worse.

When I come across imagery from times other than now; if it was the time when I was alive, for me, I think of where I would have been when that image was captured. How the flutter of some butterfly’s wing would have related it to my day.  I think of the objects in that image – that they were the best outcomes, a result of the apex of technology of that time. I try to remember if I had owned or used one of those objects, or if I had interacted with one and, if yes, when did I interact with one for the first time. These can be anything from telephones & chairs to electrical switches. And prior to my existence, I think of where my parents and family would have been, the fake memories from their stories I plant in space and time appropriately. Nostalgia is an expert level family puzzle game for all ages.

Whether it is a video from the 2000s or from the early 90s, there is always something to connect. Then there are the images from further back in time, and I look at all of them and think of the people in those frames – each and everyone with an important story to tell, their life central to their reality which is the most important of them all. And they walk out of the frame to their lives and days as more like them walk in – these people who are always on the way to something important.  There are ultimate geniuses, and leaders as well as complete desolates and degenerates in those crowds – some of them are now dead and some of them are still around to witness how far we have come. It would be interesting to see how they connect their youth to the media they come across from their times – how does that weigh against their childhood memories and which connections of memories survived and which ones did not? How would have the 90s’ technological boom affected their attitude compared to how our parents recalled their youth?

Old Car Smell

The carcinogenic new car smell is often prized and romanticized, but we never mention the smell of old cars; part motor oil, part petrichor – the smell of the road and the trips it had been on. And now that too is a rarity to come across, because how the design of the vehicle-cabins has evolved.

In the years when cars did not ship at default with an air conditioner and all there was a fan, the body was not designed to seal the environment within the car from the elements, at least not in the same way as it is done today. And as the car would get older, the smell of the road crept in. The lack of comfort compared to the modern car could also be a sign of the machine being closer to its environment than it is now, distant from our range of comforts yet more truthful to what it was and which soaked in everything it had gone through. In these cars, just by the mere smell, one could accurately guess where they had been parked and whether people took care of them or not, or even whether they drove them too much or too little. Car fresheners would also ride the strong foundation of these natural smells, unlike today where they just hit you in the face with the sweaty smell of a closed air conditioned chamber. The only thing I can accurately guess in the modern car is whether someone ate an EggMcMuffin in it in the past two days. And maybe there is a hint of this old car smell on an old public bus, but it still lacks the personal character and lies in public space and use.

But hey, now we are far from that, cars are not cars anymore – just electric carts which you would not even have to drive in a few years. But blessed would be those who saw the automobile at its most raw – a man made machine which was very much a part of its environment, with its own unique smell. Among the various descriptable and undescriptable, tangible and intangible feelings of driving and owning a car, the smell will also be something we will miss when we entirely stop driving as a society.

Seasons

In Rochester, weather is the most easiest-to-converse-about topic between strangers. Everyone and anyone can get started about their own snow and storm story. This post is based on one such discussion I had today with a Lyft driver about it – rather than the “back in ___ we got _ feet of snow”, this conversation was more about appreciating this climate, even with its extremes.

Living in the upper latitudes of the northern hemisphere is way different from where I have spent most of my life. Here, all the four seasons are very salient and each comes with its own intensity and beauty.  This is unlike how it is in the temperate climates, it gets hot or cold but your surroundings pretty much look the same throughout the year. Nature reminds one loudly about time as it passes and a new appreciation develops as each year ends and starts over back again.

For people like me, who arrive here in August, it is almost like starting a biography of someone from somewhere in the middle. You get to see the individual age, shrivel up and die, but you also start the book again to see what you missed. Maybe that is how I will write my autobiography, that might help me know myself better.

Fall

The colors of the summer can be found to be lingering on for a month or two and give one enough time to observe what will soon be gone. It quickly rustles away with the winds, the same omnipresent winds which once felt like a breath of life, now carry with them the remains. Life measures time with decay, but in that decay it puts on a grand show, its last colorful push of reds and yellows – maybe a struggling display that this life, these trees, these leaves and flowers, too existed in this space and time. And then they are gone.

Winter

Winters are long and unforgiving, thus meditative. They bring in that necessary pause our lives require. One can just sit for hours and look out at bare trees, with maybe an animal skipping through quickly gathering the last bits before heading home. A crow would often break the silence bragging probably about how it has braved these winds. I am always fascinated by that one leaf which is dry and dead but still clings on to the tree, as if by some miracle it will revive once again; and maybe it does, and no one notices. Even within this stagnation, one can see decay occur – in the wet ends, at doorsteps and carpets, in what happens under the snow and the salt. Life recedes back to the bare necessities, around the heart and the hearth, and the extremes and excesses are numb so we can only hold the layers tighter to our chest, bent in and closed off from the death that stands at its strongest in this veil of stagnation outside.

Spring

The burst of the spring through the sleet, wind and snow, is that reminder of life’s return which one tends to forget about in the months of the winter. This happens almost by magic, within a week or so, and you see life raise its head once again. It feels like it would only get colder there onward and it often does – the winds and the rains crush and dissolve the large chunks of snow that lay out there for months, the same winds which had suppressed life now destroy what they had set. And then, one can see the grasses rise through the snow and the flowers dot the trees. From that, which one assumes to have been dead and stagnant, comes a sign that life was always there. It only survived in decay.

Summer

Summers are absolutely beautiful here in the flower city. It never gets too hot, and rains cool down the weather whenever it gets too uncomfortable. The days are long and the sunsets at 9 pm with their long shadows and the reds make the whole place look like a few places I have seen in my dreams. There is this laze which sets in even in the life people lead here. Now at its most fertile, this is when humans come out – we are the decay which feeds on this tree from the top.

Why did I ramble about the weather of Rochester? I do not know. Maybe this is my ode to it.