The temple elephant died

Somewhere hidden among the vitriol on twitter, I read about the end of Padmanabhan, the Guruvayoor temple elephant. It resulted in this musing…

The temple elephant died
after a life in golden captivity

It is an event
so they prepare a farewell
and write eulogies
pictures and reports
articles and accounts
a balance sheet of his life
earnings and expenses,
they forget to mention
anything about him though

The occasion demands
so they drape him in fulvid silks
circumambulate his corpse
chant names of a God he served
accompanied by cameras
in readiness to bury his tonnage

In the jungle
he would have died
an anonymous death
mourned by his herd
relished by scavengers
one with the land
a life well served
no press, no television
no mention anywhere

Tell me if his elephant self
would prefer to die silently
under open skies
lying near clear waters
or within compound walls
containing elaborate rituals
with strangers and their chatter?

Plums and Daffodils

Sometime in December, there was a book exhibition in the neighbourhood. The kind where some books were sold by the kilo, some were discounted secondhand books and some brand new. Every time I went there, ostensibly just to see or to accompany someone, I ended up buying a few. Almost all the books from that month were titles bought in a spirit of adventure, genres I haven’t read in a while or not at all.

And there was a bonus in the form of bookmarks and notes. I’ve seen them often in library books, notes, photographs and even the odd letter but when such books come home to stay, their accompaniments are always interesting to spend some time over. A peek into someone else’s world.

One such is this bookmark, a reproduction of a hanging scroll in ink and colour by Wu Ch’ang- shi titled Plums and Daffodils (1923). Wikipedia tells me he was a prominent painter of the Shanghai school, calligrapher and seal artist of the late Qing Period. There is an interesting piece about the artist on the internet, you could read about it here.

The bookmark had immediate appeal by virtue of its incomplete fullness, as though one encountered the perfect frame in the middle of a walk. Ofcourse, the fact that it has flowers and fruits and a certain controlled flamboyance besides script added to its charm for me. I would very much like to know what the artist wrote since he seemed to have been steeped in scholarly studentship early on.

Art is such a unifier, across differences of geography and beliefs. It’s also such a marker of the lives and times of different periods. I’m quite intrigued by the script on the side of the scroll and would love to know what it means. Perhaps if someone knows to read Chinese, they might help? It’s always fascinating to see how highly disciplined and trained classical artists work when they break structure, more about what is unsaid than said.

In the mad medley of a working Monday, I finished reading one book, wrote a bit, taught someone and spent a fair bit of time looking at this old bookmark. Thanks to google, I found a little to read up on an artist and enrich a few minutes of my today. One of the perks of independent work is the flexibility to intersperse work with pleasure and that is an incredible privilege.

A visit from a stranger

Infants live mostly in a world of smell and taste, primarily of the breast. Adults though have different needs, to be heard, seen, and sometimes touched. I’ve found that the older I get, it’s more about being heard. Shabda after all is the subtlest of the lot and first to manifest in life.

Many of my connections in the last few years have spilled from the virtual world into the real. Some have stayed, some have fallen away just like those made solely in the real world. I’ve also been lucky to have had some internet acquaintances grow into friends but mostly, its been a comfortable space to fulfill a need to express.

Yesterday, I had a stranger come over and spent a couple of hours in conversation, content to listen. Now, I’ve never spoken to S before and it was just a couple of days before that we chatted briefly on twitter. It didn’t take long for S to stop by and give a whole bunch of books, a stash of 27, all of which I haven’t read (finished one today though :). I’ve got so many unread books now across three separate book shelves and the kindle that I don’t need any until perhaps the end of the year! It also necessitated a visit to the library to pause my membership there temporarily until I get through the current lot.

Anyway, back to strangers visiting my home, I’ve had quite a few friends/acquaintances of friends who have visited and also stayed over. It is quite enjoyable to listen to their stories and get a glimpse into what they choose to share. Sometimes, I like to know more but mostly it is about being present and witnessing a person rather than anything else. It is an honour to be able to receive people’s words and partake of them. Sometimes, they become fodder for my ruminations. Like something S said, ‘The internet is full of lonely people‘. It became part of a letter to another blogger friend. Words, they have a life of their own.

My new place has slowly grown into the old open home I used to live in. It’s nice to have friends and strangers come and break bread once again. At best, I could describe the niceness as a sense of contentment at people feeling welcome and at ease, enough to want to stay. It makes me think of a time, a few decades ago when travellers would be guests in unknown homes. After all we do belong to a place that reveres the athithi as a God.

Sunrise Sunset

It’s rare that I get to sit and enjoy a sunrise and a sunset on the same day. Mostly it’s a hustle- work, home, yoga, writing and escaping into the woods. But somedays I get a perfect ordinary day that rolls out rather spaciously. Yesterday was one such serendipitous Saturday. I woke up to a sleeping household which is unusual considering an insomniac mother who is fast fading into senility. A quiet cup of coffee later, I took off to the woods nearby. No one saw me or heard me leave home and I was reminded of a younger me as I hurried out with a skip in my step. Those days I sneaked out to meet a boy, these days I sneak out to meet myself.

Five minutes later I was swallowed by the woods along with the sounds of the city and transported to a different soundscape of parakeets and distant train horns. The dried leaves felt satisfactorily crunchy as they disintegrated under my feet becoming part of the spread of forest floor in front of me. The glyricidia is almost at the peak of its blooming and I remembered my poet friend in Bangalore. So, I tagged her on a photo I scattered on the internet in one of the countless web notebooks I’ve opened and never closed.The trail never disappoints. It has its assortment of humans, things and animals . Mostly, I leave the beaten track and amble without any design,, that’s where the magic comes alive. I’ve come across a bunch of papers with notes and poems, seen voodoo dolls nailed into trees, a bike that has been steadily coming apart, pants hanging on a tree and so on. Sometimes, there are little tableaus left behind like a clearing with broken coconuts, vermilion, flowers and ash suggesting a very romantic runaway marriage. Then there are the groups of people at play or chopping firewood, running or doing drills- those I steer away from.

These objects or arrangements of things or even people are rich fodder for an overactive imagination. It’s always interesting to see two or more people and watch from a distance. Without the benefit of verbal communication, body language speaks volumes and it’s easy to make up stories. Writing is a sly craft that way, piggybacking on real lives. Often the watched are unaware and I’m aware of my voyeurism but I can’t stop myself.

Like the barechested man I saw at a remove. He was in a yoga pose and part of me wanted to adjust his torso while another was curious about his sequence and still another wondered about his motivation. And then the story making began, without any warning. Slow brush strokes of imaginary people and circumstances of his life and once a flimsy narrative begins to emerge, the details start filling themselves in. Barring a name, he is alive in a way he probably isn’t in his real life.

And it repeats for all that I encounter, people and things, living and inanimate. Abandoned poetry and essays, voodoo dolls hammered into trees, pants hanging on trees, a motorcycle without wheels and handles, the old man and his gorgeous Alsatians and the list goes on. Every day, different stories unfold. Yesterday, I heard music but didn’t look behind to see simply because words began to unfurl…

a voice sings behind me
plaintive, it dips and meanders
somewhere behind
but i walk on

the melody is haunting
perfect perhaps
for a song I wrote
but i walk on

maybe it’s a troubadour
i see gypsy tents
in the distance
but i walk on

the music is relentless
urgent, insistent
a message
but i walk on

the wild woods spill
onto a beaten path
i am expelled
i walk on