History

The other heaven

Paris is no stranger to literature. It has been the centrum of not only the classics such as The Tale of Two Cities(Dickens) and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame(Hugo) but also Paris, France of Gertrude Stein and My Life in France by Julia Child. Henry Miller’s Quiet days in Clichy has a scene in which a policeman arrives at Joey’s and Carl’s apartment and questions them about Colette’s presence. By the grace of Franz Kafka Carl isn’t charged and only given a warning and that makes the statement ” It is Paris, even the policemen are literary” true.

I am in constant search of that literary Paris. Shakespeare and Co. is definitely part of my universe and so is Librairie Galignani on Rue de Rivoli. A part of me is always looking for that moment where I am in tight quarters with the books, the place with a personality of a human being, the one that makes you stay there and stand there leafing through myriad collections of timeless pieces. The place that tells the story, the place where books aren’t neatly stacked on shelves but in bundles. The place where they breathe and are allowed to be dog eared, where they aren’t an embellishment to an institution but an integral part that makes the institution. And I found one such place. In the city of lights! A friend had recommended Abbey Bookshop to me a while ago and this time I wasn’t in any mood to see the gimmicks of tourists on Rue de Bûcherie, I wanted to be in a quiet place which isn’t laden with people adorned with mini cannon sized cameras and taking photos of anything that moves or doesn’t.

It was one of those days when I wasn’t carrying my umbrella and it rained cats and dogs. Drenched, I entered the book store, dried myself a little and began my adventure in this heaven on 29 Rue de la Parcheminerie  75005 Paris. The place reminded me of Doctor Glas of Soderberg, Raskolnikov of Dostoyevsky, Holden Caulfield of Salinger, and Huckleberry Finn of Twain. It seemed all of them were having a conference there in their night suits while sitting on their warm and comfortable arm chairs generating the còsagach (competitor of Hygge these days) in the ambience.

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I browsed through the various sections for hours and so did the two other people who were there in the store with me. The place has so many books that it seems to defy the laws of Physics. Brien, the owner, told me that gravity had its way many times there. I got my copy Chekov’s farces and polar opposite Miller and his escapades in NYC and Paris and decided to leave but it was still raining very hard. I asked Brien if  by any chance he sells umbrellas as well, he went inside and fished for an umbrella and gave it to me and said with the usual Canadian warmth “Bring it back whenever it is a sunny day.”

With a smile on my face and an umbrella over my head, I knew I will be back again.

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A dialogue with Moilère

It took me a while to find Moilère and have a dialogue with him on a rainy day in Paris in Père Lachaise. I was reading the map incorrectly and was hovering around entirely different section of the cemetery when I realized where I was and where I have to go. Finally I found myself in the triangle formed by Av. transversal No.1, Ch. LaPlace, and Ch. Moilère et La Fontaine. Number 44 is where Moilère rests but I looked everywhere and couldn’t find it. The phone battery was getting immensely low and I didn’t dare to check how the resting place of the greatest masters of comedy looks so I can check each and every grave in the triangle. After running from pillar to post within the confines of my area I was about to give up and leave and then somehow it was there. Right in front of me! All this time!

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Rightly he had said,  The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.

Hygge by the Seine

I didn’t want to write this post but George Whitman’s words illuminating over the bookstore made me realize that if I want to be frère lampier then I have to be ready to light the metaphorical lamps.

The visit was akin to a pilgrimage for me. Situated by the river Seine in the latin quarters, the store does nothing but embellishes the bibliophile quotient of the city of lights.IMG_20170816_100829

The store is enormous and it holds so many books that it seems the place has achieved the best Weissman score for its compression algorithm. Initially the store was at 12 Rue de l’Odéon and was used as an office by Fitzgerald couple, T.S. Eliot, Hemingway. The owner of the store, Sylvia Beach, was the one who put James Joyce’s Ulysses into publishing.

The place has a beautiful cat that is not to be disturbed and I really admire the concept of no photography inside. At the entrance or by the bench one can find those tourists, with DSLRs larger than medieval cannons, looking through the eye piece of those massive devices and asking their friends/families/fellow travelers to pretend reading a book. How many photos and what types of photographs they are aiming at? Ich warum nicht!! Despite all this harakiri, there is a vibrant energy here that is scarce to find. The bookstore has rooms like chapters in a novel and Whitman had rightly described it by saying  “Where the streets of the world meet the avenues of the mind.”

It is a place where entire world comes, stays for a while and then leaves and for whatever time I was there, those moments were moments of Hygge for me.

Dunkirk

This post has been in the draft mode for a long time, to be precise – since the day I watched the masterpiece of Nolan and it was the day when the film was released in US. I watched the first show itself and as expected I was in awe with it. Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight series, Inception, Interstellar all of his works tell the story that Nolan charms his audience by presenting something that hasn’t been done before and does so audaciously and his assiduousness often succeeds. Dunkirk takes you to the beach city of France where the battle of Dunkirk was fought.

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Memento employed the method of going back and forth in the past and telling the story non linear and reverse chronological fashion and same non linear method was used for Dunkirk as well. The storytelling is impeccable in the sense that three different narratives are there in the film with different protagonists and Nolan used all possible form of war – air, water, and land. One thing to note here is that all those narratives took place in three different times and not simultaneously but the place for the events was the same. It is similar to the questions in my head when I receive letters of those people in my mailbox who used to live in the apartment before I moved. What was their life? How did they keep the apartment? What side did they keep the bed?

The three stories in the movie augmented with Hans Zimmer’s music keep the tension alive in theater. Every minute of the movie has been utilized to its maximum efficiency. One doesn’t worry about the bigger war but only the one that is taking place in Dunkirk and eventually realize that the place – Dunkirk is the subject. Another masterpiece from Nolan!

 

 

Chandidas and Rami

Ghazals are one of  the purest form of expression I have experienced in my life till now. The metaphor clad meters chalk out the palpable  feelings of lovers howsoever hyperbolic and exorbitant they may seem. They are all so foolishly romantic that they seem incredible and prodigious.

In one of the ghazals of Ameer Minai performed by one of the artist, he recounted the tale of Chandidas and Rami. Chandidas was a poet famous in the medieval period and his poems are many times used to draw parallels between human and divine love. Then, Chandidas was a priestly class while Rami was a washerwoman and the love between them was not only frowned upon but impossible in the era of division and class. They took their love as sacred as the love between Radha and Krishna; Chandidas refused to forgo his love for Rami and also his priestly duties in the temple much to the despair of his family. Many legends say that he was arrested by the queen and later whipped to death but no one knows the true story.

Why the story of Chandidas and Rami holds significance? Much of later Bengali literature, art, and societal thought found its foundation in the legend. The urge to show the face of society and the characters involved without any exogenous and dramatic variables became an integral part of the art. The spirit of defiance and being recalcitrant in the time of social disapproval might have carved the room for breadth in the thought process.

A walk past the historic lanes

Last month I visited Chicago – my old home. The gold coast neighborhood, the barnes and noble on State street, oak street beach, treasure island on Clark, the big bowl (now closed) – where I always ended up whenever I wanted to eat out, Ra sushi ( whose veg tempura tasted like sea food), the yogurt land and myriad number of spots invoked many memories. I enjoyed a coffee in the Starbucks lounge, where I spent countless evenings, listened to multi ethnic music, and made acquaintance with the baristas who knew what two drinks I order. The $7 movies in AMC on Michigan st. were something to look forward to. The limonata of eatley, miller’s pub on wabash, the two lions in front of Art Institute of Chicago, the numerous rides in L, my meditation classes with Andrew in Montrose, origami meeting in Garfield park, and the biting wind of Chicago in winters stir up many pictures in my brain. It was my last week in Chicago and I was strolling around downtown and my neighborhood in the rainy night and was taking photos; It started pouring down so I decided to go into this McCormick and Schmick on Rush St. Only one old woman was in the bar and I sat couple of high chair next to her, after a while we started talking and she learned my plans to move out of the city to NYC. She scolded me for roaming around in Chicago at night alone as it’s not the safest city. I told her that I do it all the time, it’s no big deal. We spoke for couple of hours before parting our ways. I wonder how and where she is now.

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I, for sure, miss the view and the enormous red and orange sunsets from my window facing west.

 

The Purpose

I don’t know why am I writing this post today. I should have written long time back but that is how it is and I am writing it now. Today, a friend of mine and I were talking about world war 2 and then we switched to Adolf Hitler and then to Gandhi. I gave her a detailed account of Indian struggle for independence and the phrase ” winners get to write the history”. I sent her a link of Rang De Basanti – one of my favorite movies. I don’t know whether she watched it but I watched it again and so did I watched The legend of Bhagat Singh. I admire both of the movies to no end and to pieces and the related events.

It’s not the movies that I admire but the events and the heroes who were part of it. India adores Mahatma Gandhi and ignores the 700, 000 other people who died for the country. Is that fair? May be no! But again – winners get to write the history. I am not denigrating or castigating anyone here but as a citizen of India, it is my responsibility to understand and read my history properly before engaging in an argument with anyone. Although, the premise I am presenting isn’t understood by most and most reach the conclusions hastily.

Indians have mostly been non-confronters, timid people and among them rose the likes of Chandrashekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Batukeshwar Dutt, SukhDev, Jatin Das, Udham Singh and many others. Most of them fresh out of college, 22-23 years of age but unknown to the fear. At such young age they had unparalleled focus, the will to give up their lives for the country, the clarity of thought and the will to act upon what they thought. I don’t want to compare our generation with them as it won’t be apple to apple comparison. Rang de basanti has a dialog – there are two ways to live your lives – 1. Keep on absorbing what is happening around you and keep on adapting even to the worst of circumstances. 2. Take the responsibility to change the conditions around you and change them. The above mentioned names chose the second one. There is a dialog in the movie Predestination – What does anyone want? Love. Oh fuck love, a purpose. I strongly agree with the statement. To be able to give your life a purpose is a life fulfilled. Bhagat Singh would agree with that too. Multiple people believe in multiple things but it doesn’t mean that one is right and the other is wrong. Creationist would always be against the believers of Darwin’s theory and would term the non believers as arrogant, baseless who are floating on the cloud of their own notions. Many say that a rational society can’t be helpful to humanity but is is really the case?

 

 

Je Suis Charlie and hypocrisy of the west

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On 7th January 12 people were killed and  11 were injured by 2 gunmen in the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris,France . The attackers were from Islamic radical groups and while claiming their right to 72 virgins they shouted “Allahu Akbar(God is great in Arabic)”. Any form of terror or violence is not justified for getting any solution to any darn problem in the world.Killing innocent people shows how weak these extremists are from inside and are just acting on the whims of a few fanatics. We have been getting news from many countries that youths are joining ISIS .Leaving the comfort of their homes, they are joining the so called holy war in the name of religion.Let’s not get into the reasons why they are doing so as a sane mind won’t accept such terms at any cost. We are not living in an ancient Roman or Greek civilization that we have to give our lives up for the empire expansion. To me it’s sort of jingoism , jingoistic for a land or a nation which doesn’t even exists. I was deeply saddened by this act of barbarism. Media covered this news extensively and it deserved to be covered. Large rallies were carried out in various countries and the one held in France saw the participation of 2 million people. Most of he world leaders joined that and the slogan ‘Je Suis Charlie(I am Charlie in French)’ got viral. I accept these slogans and movements in the light that we do not fear the attackers and will not be intimidated by them. Right now I am not getting in the debate on how liberal a religion is and how well it’s followers can accept the criticism on their prophet or  What is the tolerance level of the satires it can endure. Is there a limit to freedom of speech ? I don’t know. But nothing justifies the violence. I don’t understand what the ardent followers of Al Qaida , Jaish e Mohammed ,ISIS ,Boko Haram, Haqqani Network want to achieve ? Have you seen the condition these guys live in ? Do you want us to go back to Stone Age? Do you want us to follow the sharia law? Just because we don’t follow your religion doesn’t mean you will kill us. Just because we don’t share common ideas on the concept of a deity/prophet ,it doesn’t mean that we deserve to be at the receiving end of your bullets from Kalashnikov .Does your holy book really advocates violence and brutal murders of non believers (Qafirs) . And most important question “have your ever read your holy books”. This question is for all be it Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or any religion that exists in the world . If you love your so called values so much then why do you have a place called Dubai in your area where everything condemned by your books is sold. Sex,drugs,alcohol ! Every damn thing ! Isn’t it hypocrisy ? What you guys are failing to understand is that this war which has been going on for years is a marketing propaganda. It’s a way to keep the arms and ammunition business intact. One religious fanatic gets some vague ideas and people start following him blindly. This is totally unacceptable.
Anyway, I digressed a lot from my main topic here.So, 12 people got killed that day and the media covered it extensively. And it did deserve to be covered. A lot of friends of mine discussed this event with me and we were bewildered. But one thing was common in those discussions that whenever I brought the topics of terror events in other parts of the world up to my friends, they had not even iota of idea about those events. I was very appalled at this ignorance. The friends of mine come from all walks of life, few are very learned and scholarly and few not so much. The feeding ground is common for all of them : newspapers, print media, digital news, social media etc . The culprit is media’s hypocrisy and highly selective and biased approach There were attacks in a Pakistani school and there was minimal coverage of the event. I see that such news get a tiny column on the front page or the landing pages of the websites. Apart from few activists and other people no one has any idea what Boko haram (The name translates to “Non Islamic education is sin”)is doing in Nigerian and other territories. The social media gets filled with the hashtags ,weblinks and other memes when any such event happens in the western world but we see the usual “cute kitten and puppies” videos when such things happen in some other parts. I am not saying that one event holds more gravity than the other . Loss of even one life in the name of religion is irreplaceable damage to the society. The grief that is experienced by the loved ones is immeasurable. But this hypocrisy needs to be stopped. Every human in the world is made of the blood and flesh, only the outer covering differs. One who died in the attack might not be important to you but he was important to few others.The stance of media , the political leaders needs to be changed and this senseless bloodbath in name of factions, casts, creeds, colors and religions needs to be stopped.

Let there be peace.

The Lessons of History

The Lessons of History

It is one of the most interesting non fiction I am reading. The authors, Will and Ariel Durant ,winners of Pulitzer prize for the epitomes they have written on history have presented a crux on how history and the events are affected by various other factors. The factors include Biology, Geology, Religion,Race,Economy,Character etc and they have quoted examples to support their conclusions.

I have always been interested in history and art and this book tells or at least tries to answer what can we expect from historiography. Its not a scientific occupation but its an industry, an art and a philosophy. Industry as in it deals with the collection of the events and facts, art as in it deals with reordering the facts and a philosophical pursuit as we can derive insights out of it.

They also say that absolute history and total facts are always unknown, so studying and making conclusions is relative and can be delusional. SO they have represented their thoughts in these 100 odd pages.

I was under this impression that this whole idea of socialism was coined and propounded by Marx and Engels . But the book quoted several instances which showed it has been in practice for so many ages. Also it was interesting to know that it was England where socialism was expected to control the tun of events, but it turned out to be modern day Russia.

Many more insights.

But I didn’t like the point in which he says that its only one race that has been capable of doing everything and that’s from the Europe, Aryans they are. That they are more mentally and physically stronger than any other humans in the world. What about the great Indian civilizations? what about the Incas of South America? What about the Chinese culture? All of them have had very deep and extensive roots in ruling, government, economy, architecture, literature. Who can forget the majestic kovils of Madurai, Chennai , Kanchipuram , Trichy? Also the machu pichhu in Peru, the splendid bamboo works from mainland China.

But overall, I like this work and has enthused me to take up more non fiction in the near future.