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 day in words

How many word universes does the mind inhabit in one rotation of the planet?

It was an interesting sort of journey through words beginning with a long reading of The Divine Song early in the morning, some poetry bordering on erotica, a comic book on menstruation, an account of a modern woman’s search to unpack traditional wisdom with regards to women’s health and a dipping into an anthology of women’s writing as well as a translation of a hindi novel.

Most of it was reading and a small portion was writing. There was also a long phone call with my soulmate and in our conversations, we discovered that we laughed so hard to avoid looking at the fading mind of a mother we never knew. They say there’s a tumour that is benignly placed and comfortably on its way to senility. Alongside, a brain shrinks into singsong inappropriateness and manic energy. Now that’s a book that will remain unwritten and unread.

In the meanwhile, I splash words wherever I can.

Kaleidoscope

Sarees are incredibly sensuous in themselves for their texture, colours and fluidity. Today was all about light and colour and the many moods of shimmering, colour shifting and spilled memories from long ago. A kaleidoscopic day so here goes…

Kaleidoscope
the mind is

shifting pieces
of wounds
and scars
to make
hymns
and dirges
sung
long after
the years
have closed

There’s
only one
lens
to enter
the enchantment
of illusions
and art
of an artist
doomed
to
create
recreate
arrange
rearrange

Inevitable
the slash
of pain
but
craft
demands
its price

Experience

A reader’s writing

I’ve been a reader since I was 8 or 9 and discovered that I could lose myself in the written word. There was no need to navigate people and situations with a book, one could live suspended in another’s world. It’s been many years and the act of reading has been a faithful one. Some years, I read fiction, some mythology, still others biographies and for many, I studied ancient texts. It has been an unending love affair with books. The finishing of a few of them have been an aching loss while others have been dipped into again and again.

Now that many years have passed since that first children’s book, I find that there is a maturing of the reader too, a coming of age. I thought the grown up books I read as an adolescent made me adult and worldly but I found that one needs the experience of living, loving and losing to truly taste language in all its multi hued nuances. I just finished an expansive volume on Kama by Gurcharan Das, a modern unpacking of desire and it unleashed many words inside that I didn’t know existed. Words of poetry or philosophy, I know not. Can they be both? Where does one end and the other begin or have they no boundaries? Maybe they’ll surface here, maybe not but I do hope they are found after I am gone.

Leaving with a musing that wrapped many layers from the colour of my saree to the book I read…

Half and Half

Ascetic. Erotic.
Blue Bodies

Half of him is her
Half of her is him

Upward. Downward.
One mind

Half of her is him
Half of him is her

Bound. Unbound.
Forever free

Half of him is him
Half of her is her

Notes on Desire

What is this desire
Will it burn and consume
Will it stoke and feed

Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha are the purusharthas or four goals of human life and living. Each stage of life, roughly estimated at 25 years was meant to be devoted to one of the goals in that order to maintain harmony in the individual and society. Essentially, it was to keep a time and place for all aspects of being human. In the context of our diminished times, they can be split into 20 year blocks and it will still remain true. Go explore.

Wander in the woods

I met a dog on the trail today, a bounding bundle of joy who demanded love and gave it abundantly in wet doggy licks. Just the pick me up I needed. It was a bleak day and a walk seemed to be the only way to salvage something out of it. There’s no one at the time save a bunch of cricket crazy young men in a couple of clearings. So, I had the whole trail pretty much to myself.

It feels like a precious gift, this access to a patch of wild where the city fades away just a couple of hundred metres into the woods. Once I’m in the heart of this land, my life outside of it disappears and I don’t think much. It’s a sensorial experience of intoxicating wood smells, bird song, stray dog sightings and so on. In such a setting, there is no urgency of deadlines or meetings. Just a full sense of presence. I’m looking forward to getting to know the trail and its whimsies over the next few months.

Today, I hung on a branch and swung like a child, picked up a dried stick and swished it around and finally threw it as far as I could. Childlike thrills. Why do we stop playing as adults? Anyway, I walked for an hour and tentatively ran a few hundred metres in installments and the voice in my head automatically kicked in about the cadence, arms yada yada even as the rational part of my being told me to not mess up the knee. If I got hurt or couldn’t walk, it wouldn’t be easy to get back.

Long story short, the woman who entered the woods wasn’t the one who came out. I felt rejuvenated and had a spring in my step. On my way back home, I also found a coconut seller and quenched my thirst with sweet tasting coconut water. Sometimes, all you need to do is wander in the woods.

And a friend dropped off a stash of sarees, some mine, mostly hers.

Dragonflies

The stragglers are left
Drunk in the winter sun
Buzzing here and there
in frantic dance

Their tribe has gone
Disappeared someplace
Where do they go anyway
Once the season is done

Another time another place
They were a sea
of glittering wings
and happy dance

Now they’re old dragonflies
In the last throes
And so they love
Like there is no tomorrow

Tuesday with a shoebox of memories

A Tuesday morning spent in the company of an old shoe box with even older letters and cards.

This was written on a folded piece of paper by a friend who is a star herself. She was one of my early correspondents as I discovered how fragile and difficult adulting can be. Back then, the term didn’t exist but the suffering was real.

She died young but lived a full life of music, art and swimming with the dolphins. India was probably her soul home and she would spend 6 months at a stretch here before heading back to England.

The very last time I saw her was when she stopped by on her way home. She was quite poorly then but wouldn’t miss spending time here. As I type, I can see her bright eyes, freckled face and wisps of blonde hair bleached by the sun. Her arms were tanned and spotted with much sun and she radiated beauty.

Her letters lifted me up on days I struggled and now when I look back, I wonder what did she see in that barely 20 year old?

This particular line is so beautiful and is as true today as it was over 20 years ago. This one is for a new old sister of the heart who completes another trip around the star of our Solar System. Sending you love T, from a star in the skies. .

My favourite Odisha handloom sarees

Pleatsnpallu is a lovely instagram page which features the fluidity of the saree, transcending boundaries of not just time and space but also gender. Her latest blog post has curated the weaves of Odisha through the eyes of personal history as it has trickled over the years from the women in her family. Definitely a must read if you are a saree fiend or tentative draper.

Pleats N Pallu

I have a deep abiding love for Odisha handloom sarees and textiles, here is a list of a few weaves that I am extremely partial towards…

IMG_0891IMG_0950IMG_0985IMG_0906Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

Handloom textiles are the true definition of wearable art that reflect the social histories of their places of origin. Ikat is one of the most intricate and elaborate methods of hand weaving involving first resist dying and then weaving of loose threads post the dyeing.

These photos feature a vintage Bapta saree from Odisha worn with a top made from Ikat fabric from the neighbouring state of Andhra. Handlooms don’t really have to be restricted to traditional wear, the same top worn with the saree was paired with a denim skirt and the same sneakers for another day of adventures.

The Ikats from Odisha, locally called bandha kala generally are weft ikats that follow a curvilinear style…

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Bleed

I submitted some samples of work to get feedback and was surprised to receive a few lines. It did sound very algorithm generated in a manner of speaking but none the less, it was a revert. I’ve always hesitated to put any of my work for scrutiny because how can any art really be evaluated? It’s such a fluid experience involving the creator, the creation, the receptor and the spaces of memories in between them.

Sharing one of the pieces here. Bleed is a disassociated observation of menstruation and its meander through the lives of women, young and old, fertile and barren.

Bleed

I watch as the blood runs thin

Metallic smells

ricochet off bathroom walls

as the stained cloth

washes a life that might have been

Is there loss?

No, just relief

But what is it my sister feels?

She of the barren womb

and silent home

I’m soon approaching

the drying of my eggs

The signs are there

The dropping sag

The beginnings of fatigue

A heaviness that doesn’t lighten

with menstrual blood

40 odd years is a long time…

The blood flows for days

Stays silent for months

Like all my sisters and mothers

I’ll deny

the whiskers on my chin

the thickening waist

I’ll never know when

the blood will finally depart

A year may pass

and then one day

Pause

Menopause

For now I bleed

like my daughter bleeds