Much ado about a few alarm calls…

It was early afternoon by the time we reached and found our rooms at The Bison resort.The room where I was staying was advertised to be a machan which put me in the mind of Jim Corbett and the impossibility of clambering up a rope ladder to a house nestled among the upper canopy. In reality what I got was a cottage on stilts ! Nothing much to complain about for it offered a fantastic view of the river Kabani and far in the distance, the hills that border the Bandipur National Park. Once we settled into the rooms, there were very few noises around us. By noises I mean the human cacophony for the birds were rather raucous all the time. Interestingly enough, we came with high hopes of seeing the big cats and our first sights from the camp were far off views of grazing cows, people with their washing and even two guys on a motor bike. To my question of do you ever see wild animals here, the guy at the resort replied that the last of the animals were driven far into the core area of the reserve a long time ago !

Evening arrives and with it arrived my first jeep safari into a jungle. There were 8 of us to go in the jeep. Excluding the four of us and an elderly couple, there was this youngish chap (I learned that his name was Mithun later) who got on board with two things in tow : the first was a camera with a huge lens which can be closely approximated in looks to a rocket launcher and the second was his girl whose looks were definitely not bad at all. As the jeep moved deeper into the Nagarhole park, he motioned for all of us to be quiet and told us that we will do all we can to track the big cats in the jungle but the only medium for this was the auditory. The only indication of the predator’s passing would be the alarm calls of the herbivores and that was what we would be listening for and needless to say you need to shut your trap if you have even the slightest hope of seeing something.

Every corner the jeep turned and every open meadow we encountered had the spotted deer or chital in large numbers followed closely by hanuman Langurs and jungle fowl. Of the cats themselves, there was no sign. Passing a lone female elephant who was frolicking in a jungle stream we reached a path when all of a sudden in the distance a single alarm call rang out. Guided by Mithun, the jeep driver took us at a flying pace over potholed tracks and pretty much flying over our seats we reached a cross road in the path. Another jeep was parked some distance away from us and around us the jungle was going crazy with the alarm calls of the deer and the monkeys. Between one call and the next was absolute silence for even the birds were silent.

There was an air of heavy anticipation but when I think of it now I realize how crazy the whole thing was. A tiger can with a small leap get into the open jeep and the rest can be left to your most gruesome imagination ! At the adrenaline of the moment however, this was the last thought on my mind. The moment soon passed and the birds returned with all their strength and there were tweets, howls, screeches and calls all around us. We moved through a few cross roads where the alarm calls abounded but saw nothing.

As we were reversing from one such path, a little behind us appeared a few dark forms : elephants. There were four of them with a three month old baby in the group.We parked close to them and they appeared quite docile and calm. A terrible strength lies behind that calmness and jungle lore tells us of all the charges that an elephant can make at you should it feel the least bit threatened.

As the jeep returned to the camp, the light was fading and all that we could see were ghostly apparitions of animals : a few Sambar deer, a Gaur, birds all appeared like mirages in the falling light. Man does not belong to the jungle at night and there is an uncanny feeling that you get that you are being watched from behind every tree and bush. On those chilly twilight evenings, the feeling of being watched is definitely not one that you look forward to !

Some Infatuation

When we sat down on the balcony that evening facing the wide expanse of blue, I kept thinking that I have had enough of the sea. Most trips we make inevitably led us to one beach or the other and over the past this pattern has kept on repeating enough to have obtained a cliche status. There were nine of us that evening : four different varieties of homo sapiens and five bottled entities. As the evening steadily progressed into the night, the topics of conversation flowed effortlessly and aimlessly. The enchantment cast by the bottled jinn could have well been summed up as : sloshed !

My favorite part of the evening was well past one at night when we decided to head out on a stroll on the deserted beach. As we came down the stairs, a lone mongrel lying on the steps raised its head and looked at us and seeing no potential food went back to sleep. Heads full of magical cobwebs where thoughts ,dreams and words intertwined to form gossamer thin threads we headed to the beach. The water even at this time of the night was lukewarm and the waves caressed the feet with a wildness that they did not possess during the day. They were not the kind that wanted to drag you into their embrace and disappear into the dark beyond but were just a notch above being playful with your feet. Alluring yet not seductive, reeking of power and yet not dangerous, something along those lines. We started walking together at first and after a while when I shook myself out of thoughts, they were far behind on the beach playing doodle on the sand. I waved at their distant shapes far away on the beach and stood back.

A little distance away on the steps that led down to the sand sat a group of westerners. Bottles, glasses and the occasional smoke (or joint) kept passing between them and their laughter drifted across to me as if from far away. High up, nestled in its bed of clouds rested the moon casting a watery and weak light on all of this. Out in the sea blinked the odd light from a fishing boat which made me imagine them as a Cyclops, the one eyed monster out of the Greek myths who stared at all of us from the vast unknown. How’s that for sloshed musings ?

Standing there with my hands stuffed into the pockets and the water lapping at my feet I was filled with a sort of contentment which is rare to come across. Little things in life can bring you more happiness than all the elusive aspects you search for. The calm that such a carefree evening wraps you in cannot really be recreated often. They don’t occur quite so often and are a delight when you finally arrive at them. A call echoed across to beach, it was time to go back to the room.

Strike out that first line of having had enough of the sea. There are some infatuations you can never break, some caresses you can never have enough of. The sea is that lover for whom there shall always be a craving for !

Random Rambling – I

Can you call a place of religious worship as a favorite haunt ? Well for me, it has been one for over a decade now. From what I hear from people, the temple is many things to many people : comfort, solace, adobe of the almighty, money making machine etc. depending on who you are talking to. Personally for me, it has held a strange charm by being an island of serenity amidst bustling chaos. Perhaps it also explains why a group of us make a trip to this place which is a good six hours drive and do an overnight stay there every so often.

The rituals at the temple can go well past 10 PM and are a treat for the eyes and ears. There is the crowd all around you, constantly moving, talking in a multitude of tongues and dialects and going about the business of devotion fully in earnest. If you were to enter the temple past 7 or 8 in the evening then amidst all this din, standing as still as rocks and seemingly unaffected by all this you will find three or more elephants getting all ready to be decked up for the evening’s procession. So all considered it is a jolly festive atmosphere and even after being someone who hates crowds, I have grown accustomed to all this over the years. Mostly the visits are uneventful affairs and it is a clockwork of visit temple-return home. But then life has this habit of throwing a curve-ball or two at you when you least expect it and that was how my eyes fell upon this girl while at the temple !

Without resorting to the use of flowery language, I can say that I was spellbound. It wasn’t that she was drop dead gorgeous or anything but that little devil of infatuation was doing a tap dance atop my head and she appeared to be dazzling in front of my eyes. Dressed in a plain Kerala sari with a black border and a matching blouse, she had around her a simple elegance which not many others in the crowd had or so it appeared to me. Her hair was cut short coming to just below the nape of her neck but what held me in thrall had very little to do with the rest of her anatomy. It was her eyes ! While it was true that hundreds of oil lamps were aglow around us, her eyes seemed to catch most of the radiance and subtly making her eyes glow too. There was something surreal about her eyes that made me seek her out in the crowd…for just one more glimpse of those eyes.

My mind was in a clamor with the irrational part screaming : Go, damn you ! Talk to her. Think of this – will you ever see her again ? Talk to her and the logical part saying with deadpan certainty : Don’t you do it bud .If she shrugs and walks away, imagine the embarrassment ! As always and like good cowards everywhere, I let the rational part win the argument and stood back transfixed by her eyes. Egged on by my friend, I tried to find ways to stay a little distance away from her in the crowd while always keeping her in my view. Talk about creative stalking methods ! The lamps around the sanctum were being lit by the devotees and I ( who never lights a lamp at home even at the threat of expulsion !) ran around trying to help her in the process. You can anticipate well and clearly enough that she did not acknowledge the existence of such a life form around her periphery of vision. But hey, what is life without swallowing a few such bitter pills.

So on we go to the next part of the evening, where the procession starts up in the temple. During this, an idol of the God rides atop an elephant and accompanied by devotees, music and other elephants goes for a ritual stroll around the sanctum. Habit has made me stand with eyes closed and head bowed while this is going on. When the crowd gets a tad too much and people stand by your elbow, you get that unpleasant feeling of being boxed in and so it was today too. Feeling the pressure of someone leaning against my arm, I opened my eyes in irritation to see that it was the girl standing right next to me with her eyes rapt on the idol ! It took me approximately three to four minutes to pick my lower jaw up from the floor and to regain my composure by which time she had vanished into the crowd with her friends.

Wait wait, it does not end here for there was one more scene to play out. Right on dot of the procession ending, rain fell in a sudden downpour. It was one of those inexplicable feats of nature which makes weather more untrustworthy than mankind itself. Running for shade, who do I run into ? No second guesses there for I stood right next to the girl and her friends. If at that night, a three horned goat wearing a pinstriped suit and driving a Tesla Roadster were to materialize before me I would have believed the goat on the spot and even gone out for a drink with him. It is not every day that you get smothered with so many coincidences, right ?

It is quite anti-climatic to say that the story ends here. It is like one of those silent movies of yesteryear with just action and not a single spoken word. But for me, they remain fresh on my mind even after all these months. When I think of the incident, a lot many questions tumble out of my minds closet with the most prominent one being : will I see you again ?

 

Never cease wandering

When the day began, he never anticipated that he would have covered so much distance under a merciless sun. There was no road to speak of as such and all that stretched before him were the dusty paths. They wove in and out of patches of toddy palms and thorn bushes that dotted the landscape. As always, where he was headed never bothered him much. His mind always kept repeating a rhythmic beat – ‘the journey, never the destination’. The tshirt and denims which formed his second skin were caked in sweat soaked grime. There wasn’t much he owned, a change of clothes or two along with a scarf that doubled up as a bandanna or a dust mask according to where he was headed, a spartan bedroll and a bottle of water along with an odd snack or two which he replenished when he halted. The sun was going down and far away on the mountain top he could see a few glistening lights from the temple. A few steps later and in the deepening twilight, he came into the village. The villagers were not people who detested or were overtly fond of strangers and as always in such remote places, he found a place to rest his head. He finally set down his bedroll in the yard of a small shack where only an old man and his goats lived. As he lay with his arms as a pillow looking up at the sky, the stars beckoned to him with their air of mystery and majesty. Eyes wearied by a long day slowly closed…..

The night wasn’t particularly cold but still a little chilly as he kept gazing out of his perch. The train was chock full and he was sitting near the door leaning on his pack. There weren’t many points of light across the landscape as the train sped through the night. While his gaze was outside, his mind wandered through the throng of humanity that was pressed to him from all around. Bawling babies and mothers trying to console them, employees returning home from work, vendors who sold knick knacks counting out their day’s sales and many an individual note in an orchestra of human noise. In his mind this what the world was all about and had been so for a while now. Ever since he broke off with his past, such was the tune his life danced to. The train was slowing down and it shook him out of his thoughts, it was time for another sojourn in his all night journey. Yet another nameless station full of faces which he would never see again. He smiled into his beard and shook his head at the thought…

The rain showed no sign of letting off and he sat on the moss covered steps and the patio which offered little protection from the downpour. The church was an abandoned one with thick jungle all around. He had sought the place out and trekked to it. Once there, he spent time sketching the graveyard on a newly acquired book sitting on an ivy covered tombstone. What was dark and cloudy a tone in the sky materialized into rain very soon and fell in huge sheets driving him to the patio which offered the only solace. As he sat staring into the rain, a lone and bedragggled crow flew in and alighted near him. After it shook off a little bit of the rain, they sat there together each in their own private worlds…

She snuggled closer to him as the night deepened. They were in that naked post-coital stupor that to him happened rarely if ever. It was three days ago that they met amidst the fort in the town. He had been exploring the fort for days now and their paths kept crossing until it ended up winding together. Like most things in his life, this feel too would be ephemeral for the paths that held them together would diverge again tomorrow. They would be leaving the town in the morning to go their own ways into the world again. He held her a little tighter and felt her smiling against his chest. Words were unnecessary for them even though their time together was short. They listened to the sounds of the night until it lulled them to sleep….

The journey was almost full circle was his thought as he approached the sea. He was carrying his shoes in his hands and walked barefoot on the cooling white sands. Reaching the edge of the sandbank, he put down the bag and the shoes and sat down with his feet touching the water. As the cold sea water touched his tired and worn heels, there was a song playing in his mind whose lyrics were lost to him a long time ago. A stray dog wandered close to him looking for scraps to eat and ended up sitting next to him. He reached out a hand and scratched it behind the ears and it lay its head against his thigh. The bright golden disc had begun its descent into the ocean far, far away.

Note : A few random images which came to my mind from a song which touched me oh-so-deeply.

Duh !

There is this word – befuddlement which in earlier times referred to an alcohol induced stupor. But right now it corresponds to something of utter confusion. I got this feel a little while ago when I started to read the back pages of a journal that I used to keep a long time ago. The exact feeling can never be transcribed into words and yet it is something akin to reading a book by someone else. It always leaves me with a thought that ‘Well it is surprising that I wrote that !’. For the last few months, all the writing that I could conjure was chained to the pages of the journal. To put it a tad more lightly, the feeling of pen on paper was a fantastic one. It also made me realize that my handwriting has turned out to be absolutely horrendous right now ! Pretty funny what writing can teach you about yourself.

Does this mean I will write a blog post every so often ? Perhaps not, I am still cozy with the journal and the pen with occasional forays online with the Goodreads reviews. The blog is an alien landscape now for all I know.

For Whom The Bell Tolls : Ernest Hemingway

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qué puta es la guerra’ Agustin said. ‘War is a bitchery’

And that was to me one of the finest sentences in the novel. In a book full of memorable passages and dialog, this stood out for having captured the entire essence of what the story talks about. This is not an apology for war but rather a vivid description of what war does to men and women. A story of roughness : in living, in loving, in thinking and ultimately in dying. That was to me For whom the bell tolls.

It frustrated and fascinated me in equal measures to read this book. Frustration because the story keeps meandering and moves into channels and tributaries of thought which end up going nowhere. You waddle through the slush of Hemingway’s thoughts to reach a cross roads and wonder what the hell you are doing there. Sometime yesterday afternoon, I almost gave up on the book but then there is that little imp of conscience that kept nagging at me until I picked it up again. And I am glad I did ! It fascinated me for a writer who employs such stripped-to-the-bones prose could tell you all about the human condition in a few hundred pages. 

There is love in these pages, intensely physical and satisfying love which sometimes does not reach the brain of the protagonist. There is the horror and futility of combat in these pages which the protagonist relishes more than the arms of his woman. Robert Jordan is someone whose reflections I have seen in a lot of soldiers, commanders and leaders of literature. He warms up to companionship and love but there is a part of his brain that is cold and ruthless. The part that plots and plans and calculates. The part of the brain that usually wins wars and can be quite merciless in how it does it. The finest moments are when Jordan talks to his mind and we are invited for a journey along its circuitous passageways. These are the thoughts that frustrated me too for they tend to go on and on. Would this be the way Theseus felt when he followed Ariadne’s pool of thread out of the labyrinth ? 

This is vintage stuff. Powerful, intoxicating and a heady mix of Hemingway !

No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee ~ John Donne

Athisayaragam : Ravi Menon

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Rare is a day when a Malayali does not hear the voice of K.J. Yesudas. You hear him on the TV, on the radio, YouTube, Public Speakers, iPod’s, places of worship…wherever music is played. The entire field of Malayalam music is incomplete without the voice of this one man. There is even a saying that the god Ayyappa goes to sleep listening to Yesudas singing Harivarasanam ! (P.S : If you have not heard this rendition, then I would strongly recommend that you do. Even if you do not understand the lyrics, the feeling is unbelievably soothing !). Yesudas has a mark in the lives of every south Indian who has grown up from the 60’s to now. Through countless movie tracks and Carnatic classical renditions, he has walked the path to become a living legend !

It is my association with the Mathrubhoomi magazine that brought me to know Ravi Menon. There is a certain flair that he has in writing that makes me want to listen to the songs as I am reading about them. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I have started listening more to the Malayalam songs from the 1960’s – 1980’s after reading Ravi’s column in Mathrubhoomi . It is a kind of writing that evokes nostalgia for times gone by and an era of titans in the Malayalam music industry. This book is a collection of articles on the lives of people who have built the legend of Yesudas. Little known names like that of Raman Nambiyath – who was the producer of the first movie in which Das sang and also the music composers, recording artists and countless singers of little fame who were all on the path of this singer’s rise to glory are all chronicled here.

It is these little anecdotes that make this book interesting. Kattasseri Joseph Yesudas is an icon now and it is such gentle reminders that tell us how much toil, sweat and effort goes into building such an icon that the world can but behold !

The End Of History And The Last Man : Francis Fukuyama

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When I was done with this book, all I had in my head was a faint buzzing. I took it initially to be a sign of incomprehension but later figured it out to be one of weariness. The weariness stemmed from the theories that the author postulates in the book. A quick look at the reviews tells me that I am not the only one with the same ideas. According to Fukuyama, we reach the end of history when we achieve the liberal-capitalist democratic form of government. He is quick to tell us that this does not mean that events of historical importance will not occur from then on but simply that historical evolution will grind to a halt at this point. All very interesting thoughts but then he fails to observe some of the most notable players on the world stage.

 

First and foremost, in all the discourse that Fukuyama gives about liberal democracy not one word is mentioned of China. A single party dominated superpower stood looming over the World and yet Fukuyama missed to interpret its importance or the contradiction to his theory. Then again there is Russia which while outwardly called a democracy is also a reminder of the power that authoritarian governments can assume in today’s political scenario. This forms only part of the counter –argument. Then again was the insistence that with the curtains drawn on the Cold War, global conflict had come to an end. In my reading of the counter theses, this was the one point that met with the most vehement opposition. The fact that the author would overlook the escalating issues brought in by religious fundamentalism was met with much scorn. To quote George Will : ’History had just returned from vacation’. Of course, he did come out with detailed points defending his view later on but then accommodating these in the book would have given it much more credibility.

 The fact that I could dig up and read so much about this book and its postulates is proof enough that it is an interesting book. I do not necessarily agree with 80% of the book’s contents but totally loved the way it made my mind work and find all the counter arguments to what was in here.

Annabel Lee : Edgar Allen Poe

Posts more than one a day on this blog are rather unheard of for me. But today through Pinterest,I came across this stunning poem from Poe. What else to do but to share ?

But we loved with a love that was more than love! Such beauty !

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea—
In her tomb by the sounding sea.