spoon

Let me breathe

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Life. It’s one of those lousy words you keep hearing all the time that will practically make your life hell, if you know what I mean.

Existing has taken precedence over living, ‘follow your heart’ has become an overstatement, you talk about your passion and all you get back is a lecture on reality; you find ways to motivate yourself, you somehow deal with your frustration in your own way – by listening to music or with an intense workout session or by drinking that hot cup of coffee, whilst enjoying the nip of cool breeze or maybe by doing something utterly crazy; and just when you have started to think that you are in good shape, it all begins – ‘Look at him, look at her, why can’t you think and be like everyone, why don’t you just swim with the current, why don’t you go to temple, why don’t you believe in god, why do you take so many chances, why can’t you be pragmatic, what’s wrong with you, what’s your problem, what have you thought about your future, what are you thinking now, what are you going to do, why do you have to run so much, your legs are going to give away someday, be in your limits, when are you going to settle down …?’

Well, why can’t you just let me breathe, for heavens’ sake? I’m not trying to be different from the rest of the folk. I simply don’t care about what others do. Now just leave me alone, goddammit!

As if this is not enough, the world is rotting. Hell, yes, it is rotting in hell. People don’t have courtesy anymore, they don’t have manners, they’ve confused assholitude with attitude; those presumptuous bastards! Yet they have the audacity to point a finger at me and say that I ain’t good. But you know what the crazy thing is? They are right in their own way. That’s the way to live. Be a dissolute asshole and you are a cool guy. So listen to me you freaking pieces of shit, here I come. The ‘cool’ guy.

Some loser once said, ‘Manners maketh man.’ Bring him to me and I shall break his neck, for I committed the sin of believing in his words and paid for it. It ain’t true, what he said. Bad, uncouth guys are the cool ones these days. Even the super-duper hit Ra. One says that. No, seriously, trust me on this. You are not supposed to reply when someone sends you a text message, you are not supposed to call them back when they are trying to reach you; courtesy, anyone? Come again. What’s that word? Nope. It’s obsolete. You are absolutely right when you say you are busy. Some pathetic losers visit your blog and read your literary masterpiece and leave behind a comment. What next? You are not supposed to reply. It’s as simple as that. I mean, why should you? Those morons don’t have anything to do, right? They are worthless, they are miserable. You don’t have to acknowledge them. Really.

You should learn some profane words and brazenly use them. Why? Because it’s the in-thing, man. You shouldn’t hesitate even when there are elders or children or women around. You should learn to use the word ‘fuck’ in different ways; as a noun, adjective, adverb, etc. If you don’t learn this art, your English is no good, believe me. I have thus learnt it and learnt it well, you fucking freaks. Oh, wait a second. It feels good to use the word. It feels fucking good. There you go. A gerund.

You don’t have to know the meanings of words like joie de vivre, ebullience, blithe or entrance, but you should know how to use ‘fuck’ in each and every fucking sentence you use. It doesn’t matter if your grammar is bad, but you’d better know how to use ‘fuck’. Or else your ‘additude’ gets fucked up. Big time. Also, you should incorporate phrases like, “I was like, ‘oh, what the hell!”, “yes bro, no bro”, “howz you?”, etc. Mainly, the preposition ‘like’ is the new rule. Even facebook believes in it.

Talking of language, there is one more thing: never use your mother tongue when you want to get across with someone at, say, a kick-ass mall. If Kannada is your mother tongue, you’d better hide it and speak English. People may not respect you if you go about speaking Kannada. You then have a petit bourgeois mentality. You don’t believe me? I dare you. Go to some Café in Bengalooru and try.

Did you understand everything I said, you fucking assholes? And hey, get a tattoo. Tattoos have a history of their own. Tattoos, like perfumes, should reflect your personality. I don’t know which freak said it. But don’t you worry about it. Just get a tattoo, all right? Any design will do. Many film stars and rock stars have them, you know. That’s why you should also get them.

Do you understand, you freaking phoneys? Do it because everyone else is doing it. That’s the law. Support slut-walk, support tomato festival and support everything that’s western. Watch and encourage shows like Roadies and Big Boss and the lot, and learn how to be an asshole, for assholes and bitches are the new gentlemen and ladies. Did you get my drift? So, arise, awake! Stop not till you become an asshole!

I believe in every word I said. I have sworn to be like that. Maybe I already am. But if you think I’m not and yet to achieve the above standards, I promise you I’ll try my best to be one, soon. All I ask in return is one little thing: stay the fuck away from me and leave me alone. I don’t care about your success, I don’t care who your girlfriend is, I don’t care if you’ve bought a car, I don’t care if you’ve cleared some super-difficult exam; unless you are an important person in my life, I don’t care about anything that’s related to you.

I’ve lost interest in Cricket, I’ve no interest in reality shows, I rarely watch movies; for my world is something else, something beautiful, let me live in it. I don’t want to attend your parties and functions; so stop inviting me. I have no interest in your affairs, maintaining two girlfriends doesn’t make you a hero, so stop boasting about how and when you did them. I don’t give a rat’s ass.

For once let me live in the moment. Let me have my coffee, without your bugging about my life. Everyone has his own baggage and I have mine. For it’s heavy with lots of dreams and my creativity, it takes sometime for me to lift it. I’m not in a hurry. Let me travel, both inside and outside of me. Freedom is one of the easily available things in life, yet so costly. You have made it that way. Let me buy it for once. Get away from me. Get away from my world. Let me enjoy the silence around me, and if possible, the silence inside me. Let me run peacefully early in the morning, and while doing it let me try and grow wings, let me fly, leave me alone, let me breathe, let me live; let me live, while I’m still alive…

Copyright © Karthik 2011

The Secret of the Nagas

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The Secret of the Nagas promptly takes off from the point where the story was stopped in The Immortals of Melluha. Sati, Shiva’s beloved wife, is attacked by one of the sinister Nagas. The novel begins with a fierce battle between Shiva and the Naga. As anyone would have guessed it, the Naga escapes, but not without giving Shiva enough reason to doubt the actual purpose of the Nagas.

Shiva is no longer the unsure nomad, but a confident man who completely realizes his responsibility. He’s now sure that the Chandravanshis are not evil, but people with different priorities. He has to avenge his friend Brahaspati’s murder, destroy evil and restore peace.

Shiva is happily married, Sati gives birth to a boy, Karthik; the uncomfortable romance between Anandmayi and Parvateshwar goes on blatantly, Ganesh is introduced and so is the facsimile character of Bappi Lahiri (yes, the ‘gold’en music director).

Along with all these interesting characters, Shiva’s journey into the world of Nagas and their kingdom begins. Now, the Nagas are all humans with physical abnormalities and have been abandoned by their own families. Their own place, Panchvati, is a guarded secret. Shiva soon realizes that the Nagas are not so serpentine and looks can be deceptive after all. However, there is a secret to be found.

Just like The Immortals of Melluha, this too has a few flaws. For example, after having listened to innumerable stories on Ganesha, Amish’s version doesn’t make much sense. Maybe to portray that character in a different manner was Amish’s intention, but one cannot connect with it.

Although the battle scenes are intricately explained, I couldn’t understand why Shiva had to “pirouette” all the time. Characters are “flabbergasted” whenever someone “whispers” something. It seems like the author simply loves to use these words again and again. If this is not it, the narrative gets too subjective sometimes. Instead of making the reader form his own opinion on the characters, setting, etc., the author himself thrusts his opinions on them, thereby making it too conspicuous. (“The buildings were superbly built”.) And what’s with the obsession with exclamation marks, I wonder. Sometimes there are two exclamation marks for the same phrase.

Nevertheless, the story gets interesting with each chapter. That’s the only savior. A subtle twist here and there, the pace with which the story moves forward and fine battle sequences make the novel strike a chord with the reader. But the (forced) twist that comes with the queen of Nagas is rather silly. It seemed like Amish desperately wanted to give a twist. But if these things can be overlooked, it’s definitely a good read.

All in all, it’s just a mediocre book. It doesn’t live up to the hype it has created. The idea is great, the imagination is marvelous, but everything is poorly executed. With all the action in a wonderland, there is so much scope to make it a compelling read. Unfortunately it’s presented in an ordinary way. It moves with rattling pace, though, and maybe that saves the day. At least it can be finished soon.

The novel again stops at a very interesting point, thereby infusing enough curiosity towards the final installment, The Oath of Vayuputras. I sincerely hope the author comes up with a rather amusing way to tell the story.

The Secret of the Nagas: The second book of the Shiva Trilogy

My Rating: 2/5

Publisher: Westland

Pages: 384

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Immortals of Meluha

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It’s been quite a while since I wanted to read this. Thanks to BlogAdda, I could finally do it. Everything related to the book – the impressive jacket, Lord Shiva as the central character, treating him as a mortal with flesh and blood – makes anyone eager to read it. Needless to say, I was one of them.

The novel sets the pace right from the first page. The protagonist, Shiva, is introduced in the very first sentence. By the end of the first chapter, you are already hooked beyond means. The story moves with a tremendous pace, the battle scenes are breathtakingly explained and ends with what feels like a tap on the head.

It is 1900 B.C. And Shiva is the chief of Gunas, a mountain tribe, which is always at loggerheads with another tribe, Prakritis. Nandi, a captain who is sent by King Daksha of Melluha, invites Shiva and his tribe to join them, promising that their land is much better than every other land in India. Fed up of Prakritis and their obstinacy, Shiva agrees to go to Melluha, the land of Suryavanshis.

On his arrival, Shiva and his tribe are given Somras, a sort of elixir, to decontaminate them. Shiva’s frost-bitten toe is fixed, his dislocated shoulder is fixed, and mainly, his throat turns blue in colour, making him the Neelkanth. Everyone is stunned. Reason: a legend that everybody believed in, has come true. Neelkanth, the lord who is not from Sapt Sindhu, will come and restore peace in Melluha by destroying the evil; the evil being the Chandravanshis in Swadeep.

He is soon taken to the King and introduced. The legend is explained to him. He is supposed to complete Lord Ram’s unfinished task. Although he doesn’t believe in any of this, he nevertheless goes with the flow.

The story from this point onwards goes on smoothly, with Shiva falling in love with Sati – the daughter of King Daksha, terrorists attacking Melluha and Shiva standing up to the people, marrying Sati, and up to the point where many innocent people get killed in one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Mount Mandar. Finally, the war between Suryavanshis and Chandravanshis is on.

Imagination is one of the most important aspects for a writer. And Amish certainly deserves a round of applause for coming up with something very innovative. Imagining Shiva as an ordinary man with extraordinary physical and mental strength becoming God through his Karma, is splendid.

However, the novel is not without a few flaws. One of the major drawbacks is characterization. Although Shiva is the central character, I couldn’t care much about him and the legend that surrounds him. Characterization, I believe, is the backbone of a story. You neither feel sad when he is vulnerable nor feel happy when he battles the wrongdoers. None of the characters make an impact.

Some sequences are too filmy and flimsy. Till the end of the novel Shiva is praised and complimented by almost everyone, and every time he either blushes or shows too much modesty. The obvious is always spoken. Subtlety is what is missing. None of the characters miss the opportunity to praise him. They laugh at every PJ he cracks. They say “Brilliant” for everything he says. Creating gravity is fine, but where it should have been shown, it’s brazenly told. OK, he is The Neelkanth. We get that. But it seems like the author is forcing the reader to consider it seriously. This continues throughout the novel.

Thirdly, the dialogues. Listening to the dialogues, or perhaps reading them, I felt like I was reading the story of Shiva set in the present day. Apart from “My lord”, the rest all almost seem like college lingo. This is the reason it doesn’t transport the reader to 1900 B.C. The ambience of that time, that generation is not felt.

Although the novel doesn’t live up to the hype it has created, it’s still a good book written with love. Unfortunately, that love is too conspicuous. The narrative gets subjective, is what I mean.

There is, however, a subtle message in the story. The concluding chapter brings up many prominent questions. The answers, I believe, is left to us to figure out. It ends with a very interesting note. The subtle twist and the message in the end leave you yearning for more.

It’s certainly worth reading. It’s so much better than many other Indian novels that are hitting the market these days. Hope the sequel, The Secret of the Nagas, is as interesting as this one.


Immortals of Melluha: The first book of the Shiva Trilogy

My Rating: 2.5/5

Publisher: Westland

Pages: 397

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Chanakya's Chant

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I’ve been fascinated by Chanakya ever since the show was aired on Doordarshan. A saga of revenge, love, betrayal, politics – it is certainly one of the most inspiring stories of an inspiring personality. And when I heard about Ashwin Sanghi’s Chanaky’s Chant, I was eager to pick it up. Thanks to BlogAdda, I was able to read it soon enough.

The novel starts with a bang – Gangasagar Mishra, an old man lying on his hospital bed, is watching TV with bated breath. Chandni Gupta is being sworn in as the Eighteenth Prime Minister of India. As he watches on, Chandni, his protégé, is shot. Watching the scene unfold on television, Mishra starts chanting, “Aadi Shakti, Namo Namah; Sarah Shakti, Namo Namah; Pritham Bhagvati, Namo Namah; Kundalini Mata Shakti; Mata Shakti, Namo Namah.” And thus begins Chanakya’s Chant.

Soon the story elegantly shifts to 340 B.C. and we see a sordid and a dissolute King, Dhanananda, brutally murdering and punishing those who voice against his actions. One of those murdered men is Chanak.

Chanak’s son, now an orphan, vows to avenge his father. Born as Vishnugupta, he now calls himself as Chanakya – the son of Chanak, and hatches an impossible plan to overthrow Dhanananda and install Chandragupta Maurya on the throne. And thus begins Chanakya’s story. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Both the stories go in parallel. One is set in the present day, whereas the other takes place in 340 B.C. Gangasagar Mishra is the modern day Chanakya – a ruthless genius, who is hell bent on getting what he wants no matter what. Chandni Gupta, a girl he finds in a slum, is his protégé. And the ultimate goal: to make her the Prime Minister of India.

Although the setting is fantastic, it doesn’t retain the same intensity throughout. One of the proven, powerful techniques to write a fast-moving thriller is to take the story in a parallel fashion, merge them as they near the end and bring it to a shattering climax. Unfortunately, here, the stories never meet. They are treated as different stories altogether. Of course it is led to believe that they are connected in a subtle way, it is nevertheless uninspiring.

The story moves at a rattling speed, there are many bright moments to enjoy, the research done is impressive; but still there are simply too many clichés – sometimes too filmy – that take away the fun.

One of the main drawbacks is loose characterization. None of the characters – including the protagonists – are etched well. You won’t feel a thing when Chanakya’s father is murdered. It is treated as just another routine accident in a dull city. The scene where Chanakya vows to take revenge is slothfully presented. On the contrary, the modern day Chanakya, Pandit Gangasagar Mishra, is just the same. One simply can’t empathize with him. Whether it’s Chanakya or Mishra, one cannot care much about their strategies. I wish the author had taken more pain to make the characters come alive.

There is a particular sequence in the novel, where the Central Home Minister shoots a man in the head in front of several policemen and laymen. At some other point in the story, a plane is hijacked by terrorists. Flip a few pages and this is already over. Plane hijacking is not an ordinary issue. A whole novel can be written on it, and yet here, it is treated like a game of hide and seek.

Another negative aspect is that it is riddled with dialogues. No third-person narration, just dialogues. Maybe it is intended to be a dialogue oriented novel, I don’t know. But it didn’t work for me.

Although it has some negative points, it’s still worth reading once. There are a few instances where you simply can’t stop admiring Ashwin Sanghi. The political game is presented flawlessly, the dialogues are witty, the language is wonderful (although he could have done away with unnecessary cuss words – esp. while narrating the story of Chanakya in ancient Bharat), and mainly, as I said earlier, it’s pacy.

In the midst of so many awful novels that are hitting the bookshops these days– novels by authors that have clearly written more books than they have read – Sanghi’s Chanakya’s Chant certainly stands apart. Give it a shot. You might be pleasantly surprised.

My Rating: 2/5

Book: Chanakya’s Chant

Author: Ashwin Sanghi

Publisher: Westland

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Kaivalya

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Stories have always ruled my world. Right from my childhood. Whether it's fiction or a real incident, as long as someone narrates it in an interesting way, I am game. Nothing fascinates me more than a good story.

When I grew up and started reading novels, I entered into a whole new world – a world where I made a lot of new friends, a world in which I want to spend the rest of my life.

Talking of reading novels, thriller/mystery has always been my favourite genre. Although I enjoy other genres too, a good thriller on any given day works better. Nothing beats that. Romance is the only genre I don't prefer. And horror/paranormal is the only genre I wished to have read, but never could (for reasons unknown).

After watching the movie, The Shining, I cursed myself for not having read the novel first. However, that got me thinking. When it comes to Indian authors, there are of course superb storytellers like R. K. Narayan, Amitav Ghosh, Vikas Swarup, but there has never been an author who could make up for a thriller similar to Forsyth or Ludlum or King. Sure there are plenty of award winning writers like Adiga and Rushdie, but in my humble opinion, they are not as entertaining as Archer, Sheldon, Brown and the lot. (Ashwin Sanghi and Amish are exceptions, maybe. I haven’t read them yet. So can’t speak for them.) Genre authors are scarce in India. But this all changed when I picked up a brilliant novel called Kaivalya, by Sumana Khan.

Until Kaivalya happened, as I said earlier, I had never read a paranormal thriller. Set in the midst of lush forests of Sakleshpura, Karnataka, it starts off with a bang. Before you know it you are sucked mercilessly into deep forests and the mystery that unfolds there.

Kencha, a tribal, is found dead in the forest under strange circumstances. His body is branded with a mysterious message written in Halegannada, an ancient and defunct version of modern day Kannada. As Dhruv Kaveriappa, the Chief Conservator of Forests, starts investigating, it gets more and more complicated with each step he and his team take in the forest. Animals die for no reason. An ominous shadow hovers around the people. A vacationing tourist finds an ancient gold and diamond studded pendent in the forest. If you find all these things horrific, then wait till the woman wears the pendent …

Parallel to what is happening in and around the forest, a handsome man in his mid-twenties, Neel, starts experiencing strange things in his lavish penthouse in Bangalore.

The branded message on the tribal man written in Halegannada speaks of Vijayanagar Empire of the 1500s.

What is Kaivalya? Or perhaps who? What is Kaivalya’s story? What is the relation between Kaivalya’s story and the dreadful things that are happening now? How is the Vijayanagar era linked to the present day, i.e. 2005? (Yes, the story is set in 2005. There is a reason for it and you’ll know when you read it) If these things don’t stir your curiosity, then what will?

The two stories (one that is happening in Sakleshpura and the other in Bangalore) that seem unrelated to each other merge towards the end and bring the story to a shattering climax. The truth is far more terrifying than you could have imagined.

I have watched a lot of horror movies that provide a lot of good thrills. But can a book provide the same amount of goose bumps, I wondered. That was before I picked up Kaivalya. Sure it has a lot of scenes that will make you jump. And this is where Sumana Khan scores. Scaring the readers is not easy. For instance, a movie has a lot of things to offer – performance of the actors, a forbidding background music, camera angles, etc. But when it comes to a book of a similar genre, it’s a different ballgame altogether. You only have the power of your words to paint that scary picture.

As I read on, I could hear the screams of the victims, I could smell the foul smell that occupies the house and forest, an indication that something terrible is about to happen, or perhaps, that has already happened. I could even feel that menacing shadow hovering above me when I’d slept for a while after reading about 80 pages. That’s the effect the book will have on you.

Then again, it’s not a typical whodunit story. The twists come subtly, when you’ll be least expecting. The characters come alive beautifully. All are ordinary people going about their lives in an easy manner. But when the same ordinary people are thrown into an abyss of horror and mystery, when pitted against an impossible enemy, they don’t have any other option except to fight the battle in an extraordinary way.

Characterization is one of the most important aspects of storytelling. And Sumana Khan handles it expertly. There are plenty of characters and each one of them has an important role to play. None of them is sidelined. Be it Drhuv, the hero; his love interest, Tara, DSP Joshi, Dr. Bala and Dr. Nithya, Shivranjani and her husband Ravikanth, Inspector Rao, Neel and his friend VJ, Inspector Shakti, Arundhati and finally, a bewitching, cold-blooded villain, Matchu – one of the best negative characters I’ve ever come across. Brutal, handsome, a genius in his game. He’s certainly one of the highlights of the novel. Whether you are a man or a woman, you just can’t stop yourself from falling prey to his charms.

Each and every character will be etched in your memory. Although some of the characters are away from the main action scene, yet fighting their own battle, they are all interlinked and brought together in the end to fight the bigger enemy. As a reader and as a person with a lofty ambition of writing a novel someday, this, to me, was an important lesson in storytelling.

Right from the first page to the last, the pace never falters. It moves at a rattling speed. And when the climax hits you, you’ll be dumbfounded. The last paragraph or for that matter, the last line is like a kick in the gut. It takes sometime to come out of Kaivalya’s effect. This is how a good story should be. It shouldn’t leave you even after the last page is turned.

There are one or two weak points in the story though, but they are trivial and sure to go unnoticed. Not related to the main plot. For example, a character called Shivanna, (a close associate of the protagonist Dhruv), who is depicted like an important character in the beginning of the story, suddenly disappears. He never comes back into the story. Whatever happened to him is never revealed.

Anyway, in the midst of stupid novels with stupid names (Oh, Shit! Not Again, to name one) that are coming into the Indian market, Kaivalya is a welcome change. For one, no other Indian author (at least not to my knowledge) has tried this genre.

All in all, this is a brave book written for brave readers. Definitely not for the faint-hearted. If you enjoy horror / mystery / paranormal thrillers, then don't miss this.

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You can order the book here.


The Girl in Orange Dress

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The following post is written for the topic, Take Flight with Colour; a contest on
Indiblogger, in association with HP Laserjet.

Contest Rule: Think of anything that is Black and White. A picture, a movie, etc. Now would you like that to be in color? Tell us why.

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A few years ago … well, I’m not going to tell you when exactly, for time is irrelevant here. The only things that matter are that specific moment when the picture was captured and the events that led up to that moment

If computers had not been invented, if technology had not been advanced, if there were no ATMs, then probably I’d never have met her. It was at the ATM that I saw her for the first time. As always I was with my three best friends. And she was alone, waiting for the person inside the ATM booth to come out. Standing with her arms folded and lips pursed, she looked out of place. After all she was standing in the midst of four hooligan boys.

It was a cold July. The rain had just stopped and a jet of cold breeze pricked us out of our senses. “I hate this season,” grunted one of my friends. I didn’t respond, as I was busy watching her. She brushed her curls to the back of her ears and stood silently. There was a delicious sense of repose on her face. The person inside the ATM booth was really taking a lot of time, the wind was chilly; but nothing irritated her. It was as if she was in a meditative state. If this wasn’t enough, she looked divine in her orange salwar suit.

It wasn’t love at first sight. I never believed in it. But still, for some reason I didn’t want to lose her. Some people say that it’s a small world we are living in and wherever we go, we keep bumping into each other. That’s utter nonsense. It’s a big world out there, all right. And when it comes to a beautiful girl, it’s a bigger world. You see a girl like that and you don’t talk to her immediately, she’s gone. You are never going to find her again. Co-incidences never occur. Not unless you are a hero in a movie. I knew I wasn’t. So I had to talk to her somehow.

Now what are you going to say to a girl you have just seen? If you don’t have any romantic thoughts about her, it’s easy. But what if you are mercilessly attracted to her? What’s your opening line going to be? I didn’t know. I decided to think. It was a mistake. If only I knew then that one should never think before approaching a girl!

You see, approaching a girl is like writing. You should never think. The first line, the first paragraph, or even the first chapter, should be written without thinking. Write what your hands write, is the rule. Thinking comes at a later stage, when you re-write those parts. Got to go with the flow. Got to be spontaneous. Go stand in front of her and whatever that comes out of your mouth is just fine. Even blurting out ‘Eureka, eureka!’ is fine. Maybe you can edit the lines later. But first say something, anything. If you talk to her, say something, there is always a 50-50 chance that she is going to respond positively. But if you don’t say anything, don’t make a move, then there is no hope at all. Unfortunately, I didn’t have this gyan then. I hadn’t started writing then. I kept mum and started thinking, or perhaps, started dreaming.

The man, who was busy printing money inside the ATM booth, finally emerged from there, grinning, as if he had got more money than he had asked for. The girl in orange dress went inside. I continued to float in my dream world as my friends continued with their nonsense talks. By the time she came out, I was having al fresco dinner with her in a fancy restaurant. She was in a magnificent red dress. With so many types of dresses that girls wear these days (leggings, handings, headings, etc.), I didn’t know what exactly she was wearing. Nonetheless she looked lovely. Her wavy light-brown hair was let loose; a winsome smile lingered on her face as she listened to my narrative. I don’t remember what I was saying, but whatever it was, she was completely immersed in it. I think my storytelling skills were just developing. Anyway, when I was having such a heavenly time, the waiter arrived and said in a gruff voice, “Don’t you have to draw money?” It was only then did I realize that it wasn’t the waiter, but my friend, Chandi. I was back at the ATM. The girl was gone. The dream was over. I was a loser.

“Where did she go?” I almost screamed.

“Who? The orange girl?” asked Gilly.

“Yes.”

“She’s gone, I think.”

“I know that, you moron. Where did she go?”

“She just drew money, right?” Praveena began, “If my analysis is right, she must have gone to buy a pair of sandals.”

“What?” They were really getting on my nerves.

“Yes.” Sherlock Praveena Holmes continued, “Didn’t you observe? She was in an orange dress, but her sandals were brown in colour. From the looks of her, she was going somewhere. A party, perhaps. So her dress and sandals should be matching-matching, no? She really wants to buy a pair of sandals that goes well with her dress, trust me. Girls and sandals go hand in hand, don’t you know?”

“Girls and sandals go hand in hand? Irony, that,” said Chandi as they all started to laugh. I’d have joined them too had it been a different girl.

“One thing is sure. She is definitely not from our college,” said Gilly.

I nodded. So did the other two. Our nods were with respect to a theory we firmly believed in: Girls in your college are never beautiful. And girls in your class are definitely, definitely not beautiful. There might be room for some argument when it comes to the former though. There are always exceptions. But it isn’t the case with the latter part of the theory. Definitely not. So when a boy goes out with a girl from his college (with exceptions), or worse, from his class (without exceptions), you can be sure that he has run out of patience. The lazy bugger is just not ready to look outside. Open your eyes, get out, explore the world, said the crazy four. That’s we.

Coming back, I was deeply disappointed to have lost the girl in orange dress. I hung my head and walked back, without drawing money. I thought I was never going to see her again. Luckily, I was wrong then.

I sat pillion as Praveena kick-started his bike. “By the way, she is not that beautiful,” he made a frivolous comment on the girl with whom I had had a dinner date, with whom I was planning to go to New Zealand, Switzerland, England, etc. I mean only countries, whose names end in ‘land’. You get the picture, right? But that filthy twit had the audacity to say that she wasn’t beautiful. Saying the girl in orange dress was not beautiful was like saying Cameron Diaz was beautiful. And those of you who say that Ms. Diaz is beautiful can go to hell. So, I had to teach him a lesson and make sure it didn’t happen again.

I got off the bike, kicked him in the gut, he screamed, the other two laughed, I sat pillion again, he muttered something as he shifted gear and we rode on.

I didn’t see her again for another two weeks.

***

It was August. It was cold. She was still missing. University Cultural fest had begun. We were on a roll.

We regularly took part in cultural programmes. Not because we wanted to win prizes and make our college proud, but because it was an opportunity to bunk classes – officially. We missed a lot of classes and still got the attendance. That means we had the cake and ate it too.

The fest was hosted by NMAM Institute of Technology, Nitte, Karnataka. The place was marvelous; the architecture of the college, exquisite. Rainy season in a coastal region, that brooding silence all over, wonderful friends for company, coffee and pretty girls everywhere – we were in a paradise. Only those who have spent some time in a coastal region in the rainy season will know what I am talking about.

It was slightly drizzling on the early morning of the first day. My friends and I had got up early and were headed towards the coffee shop. Unlike our college, where we only had a pathetic canteen that served awful coffee, here there was a separate coffee shop, along with a bakery and a canteen at different locations in the campus. As far as we were concerned, the basic necessities of life were not food, water and shelter; but food, coffee and food.

I didn’t mind the rain, I didn’t mind the cold; I only minded my camera, given to me by my uncle after many days of begging. A Nikon D40. On that memorable morning, I didn’t know that my camera would soon play an important role. I shifted my sling bag, which held my camera and walked on, rubbing my hands together. It was horribly cold.

We were about a hundred yards from the coffee shop when I noticed her. The girl in orange dress. Only this time she was in blue jeans, shoes and white woolen jacket. She was drinking coffee, holding the cup in both hands. Her friend said something in her ears. She almost spilled her coffee as she laughed. I was in a trance.

I had already stopped walking. My friends stopped walking too. They knew instantly. Chandi had already spotted her. Gilly was already yelling, “Girl from the ATM.” Praveena grinned and jogged my arm.

Without thinking further, without any preamble, I started walking towards her. My heartbeat was normal. Going and talking to her seemed like the most natural thing to do. I walked on with certitude. My friends followed me, slowly. After all, they needed some fodder for the day.

She and her friend were still giggling. I stood a few paces away from her. She didn’t notice me. It wasn’t surprising actually, for there were a lot of students around. I was just one among them.

I took a few steps and stood right in front of her. They stopped chatting and giggling as they looked at me. Before I could give them an impression of a psychopath by staring at them continuously, I said, “Hi.”

It was the safest way to start a conversation. They furrowed their brows.

“I wanted to talk to you for a few minutes,” I said, not knowing what I was going to say.

Her friend took a step back. I held her gaze and said, “No, no. Please stay. It’s OK. She doesn’t know me.”

The girl in blue jeans was looking at me curiously, with the same calm expression on her face I had noticed at the ATM.

I hopelessly searched for a hint of smile. Nope. No luck there. She took the last swig of her coffee, threw the paper cup in the nearby wastebasket, folded her arms and flashed her eyebrows, as if asking me to go on. Must admit, her confidence made me a bit nervous.

I started with a big smile, “You are from Davanagere too, aren’t you?”

She nodded. That’s it. Just a nod. No words.

I was still smiling. I actually believed that it was my James Bond smile, but seems like it wasn’t the case. It’s a big baby monkey’s smile, she would later tell me. OK, let’s not get there.

“From GMIT, I guess.”

“How do you know?” her friend asked.

“I’m from BIET and obviously you are not from my college. The only other engineering college left in our city is yours.”

“Right.”

The girl in jeans kept mum. I tried again, “OK, tell me something. You were at the PJ Extension ATM two weeks ago, weren’t you? In an orange dress?”

Her friend smiled. I could also feel my friends’ gaze on my back.

“Well, I could’ve been there. In fact I was there two days ago too. And the day before that. And the day before that.”

“Why, you think it’s a video game or something? With so many buttons and a touch screen, did you get confused? It’s ATM, my dear. Why can’t you draw enough money at once that would suffice for the whole week?”

“Huh?”

“All right, smarty,” I grinned from ear to ear as I continued, “Listen. Beating about the bush is not in my nature. So I am going to tell you directly. I saw you a fortnight ago and was kind of hoping that I could meet you once again. But then, I didn’t believe in co-incidences. Until now. When I saw you here today, I couldn’t stop myself from coming and talking to you.”

Though I was still a stranger to her, I could sense that she and her friend were quite comfortable in my presence.

She looked at her friend once and almost smiled. “So?”

“So I was wondering, would you like to have some Vodka with me sometime?”

“What?” Well, this time she did laugh.

I was still smiling sheepishly. I shrugged.

“Vodka?” she said and stood with her arms akimbo.

I copied her stance and answered, “You know, all great people say, ‘aim high, think big, dream big’. That way, if you aim for a Ferrari, even if you don’t get a Ferrari, you’ll at least get a Jaguar. But if you start off with Maruti 800, there is absolutely no hope. So I figured if I asked you to have Vodka with me, chances are that you’d at least have coffee with me.”

She threw her head back and laughed wholeheartedly. For a moment I was confused as to who was more beautiful. Her person or her laughter? I usually don’t like to have confusions, for I’d like to keep things simple. But now, I was enjoying those simple confusions. Life had never been simpler.

“What are you?” she asked.

Notice the question. It’s not ‘Who’ but ‘What’. Maybe she was still thinking that I was some silly clown, who was trying to flirt with her. I didn’t mind and answered her ‘what’ question as honestly as possible.

“Well, Senorita, to define is to limit.”

“Ah, Oscar Wilde.” She seemed impressed.

A few things were perfectly clear now. She was a reader. She was exceptionally beautiful. Totally my type.

“Yup. Oscar Wilde, it is. So tell me. Vodka?”

“No. No Vodka.”

“Great. Coffee then?”

Her thin eyebrows playfully danced over her sparkling eyes as she smoothed away a few wisps of hair. “What if I said ‘No’?”

“In that case, I shall have to ask you if you’d like to have a cigarette, or ganja, or gutka, or good old local tambaaku, or –,”

“Coffee is fine,” she said at last.

“Fantastic. Let’s meet here in the evening. Say, at five o’clock? After the programmes?”

“OK.”

“All right then. Have a lovely day ahead. See you in the evening,” I said as I turned to go.

“Oye, wait up, man,” it was her friend. She was kind of cute too. “You didn’t even tell us your name?”

“Yes, right,” ATM girl added, “You didn’t even ask me my name.”

“What’s the hurry? We’ll talk in the evening. In detail. And on the morrow. The day after that and the day after that.”

“If you didn’t tell me your name, I might feel compelled to treat you as a stranger.”

“Haven’t you heard? There are no strangers in this world; only friends who haven’t met,” I said with a wink and walked away.

***

I don’t remember what we performed that day, but I do remember one thing. That entire day and the days that followed, I only thought and dreamt about her.

Although she had said that she would meet me, I was still skeptical. I went to the coffee shop at 4.45 p.m. and waited. Needless to say, my friends waited along with me. She arrived at about 5.20. My hooligan friends introduced themselves and narrated the ATM incident, with some extra masala. She didn’t complain. Rather she thoroughly enjoyed the story. Then, they took her friend aside and started flirting with her. I was left alone with her. Thankfully.

That evening we talked. We talked for over an hour, until her bus arrived and picked her up. They had been given the accommodation in a nearby girls’ hostel.

It is, without a doubt, one of the best times I’ve ever had. At the end of the first day, I was almost in love.

***

The next two days followed smoothly. Coffee, laughter, fun and frolic; coffee, laughter, fun and frolic; followed by coffee, laughter, fun and frolic. Those are three of the most memorable days of my life. And with each passing minute, I was hopelessly, deeply, madly falling in love with her.

On the fourth day, i.e. the last day, she had worn the same orange dress. I don’t know whether she wanted to tease me or play a naughty game with me. But the moment I saw her was the moment I decided to tell her about my feelings.

All these days I had never given my camera to any of my friends. They didn’t complain as long as I took pictures of pretty girls they pointed their fingers at. It seemed like there was some tough competition between the memory of my camera and the girls in the campus.

Now the time had come to pass on the baton. I gave them the camera and asked them to take a few pictures of me and her – without her knowledge. I would show her later, of course. It’s just that I wanted the photograph to be as natural as possible. After warning them not to change any settings and just click the shutter button, I met with her at the coffee shop.

The campus was throttled with cold wet chill. I bought two cups of coffee and we started walking towards the basketball court. It was much calmer there. My friends greeted her, cracked a few stupid jokes and excused themselves, leaving us alone.

After talking for a few minutes, we went and sat on a nearby stone bench. The weather was cold and cloudy. The mood was warm. Coffee was hot. Even with so many students around, a blanket of idyllic quietness floated in the campus. We sat there in silence, enjoying the simple pleasures of life. None of us spoke for a long time.

There was a mild clap of thunder in the distance, an indication that it was about to rain. Then, as the first few drops of rain touched my skin, I turned to her, looked her in the eyes and proposed to her. She was startled beyond means. For a moment she thought I was joking, but soon realized that I was serious.

“Maybe you are thinking that this is all too early,” I began. “I understand that. Maybe it is early. Maybe I’m quite impetuous by nature. When I got up this morning, I didn’t have any plans to say all these. But the moment I saw you today, I realized that I had to say. Look, if not today, I’d have said it eventually. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week …”

And thus went my monologue for about five minutes. And then she spoke for about a few minutes. And then we both talked and discussed – for a long time. At one point of time during our conversation, her body was angled towards me; with her left hand tucked behind her right and her chin resting on her right palm as a beatific smile played on her lips. I, on the other hand, was enthusiastically telling her something with subtle hand gestures. If, at that moment, anyone had seen us from a short distance, he/she would have seen a beautiful girl in an orange dress, completely engrossed in an interesting conversation with a boy in lemon-yellow t-shirt and blue jeans, sitting next to her; with a cheerful setting in the background – green trees and plants dipped in mist and rain, a wet basketball court, a few boys and girls in colourful clothes, chatting and laughing. It would have made a grand, ethereal picture. As luck would have it, someone did see us at that particular moment. Gilly. And that, my friends, was the moment captured in my camera. Only I didn’t know then.

I came back to my friends when she was gone. I didn’t tell them that I had proposed to her. Gilly handed over the camera to me. And when I saw the picture, I almost yelled at the top of my voice, “What the hell is this?”

The photograph was in black-and-white. I looked at them, seething.

“Don’t look at me like that,” said Gilly. “I didn’t change the settings. I just clicked. Ask Chandi. He’s the one who wanted to take pictures of those girls in black t-shirts. He’s the one who handled the camera before me.”

“What?” Chandi jumped in. “No. I swear on Pamela Anderson’s eyes, I didn’t change the settings.”

“Pam Anderson has eyes?” It was Praveena. “No one told me. I always thought…"

I ignored them and browsed through the photos. Except for the first few photos taken that morning, all the remaining ones were in black-and-white. Including the picture of me and her. To make things worse, they had taken only one picture of us. The rest of them were all girls.

Although I like black-and-white photographs, which exemplify nostalgia; I still wanted that particular picture in colour. The setting, the moment, the atmosphere, everything was impeccable. A colourful moment was discoloured by a stupid negligence. Maybe I could have taken another picture, but that magic could not have been recreated. The moment had passed.

Well, that’s all. I am not going to tell you what happened next. I am not going to tell you whether she accepted my proposal, whether she decided to remain as just friends, whether I accepted that, whether we kept in touch after that, whether we are still in touch, whether we are a couple now, or whether we even met after that day. All these are irrelevant. I’m not even going to show you that photograph. This too is irrelevant. There are two reasons for this. One, that picture is too sacred, too precious. Not to be shared easily. Two, a picture speaks a thousand words. And I prefer the thousand words.

But then again, what is relevant, what is important is the moment I spent with her that day. Even today when I hold that photograph in my hands and see, all those things flash in front of my eyes as if they happened an hour ago. The first time I saw her at the ATM, then in Nitte during the cultural fest, our first conversation and many such conversations in the following days. And finally, the last day, when I proposed to her; that particular moment on the stone bench when she sat next to me, listening and talking and laughing …

As Baba Will Smith said in Hitch, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but the moments that take our breath away.”

It was one such magical moment indeed. A moment captured in black-and-white. Every time I remember those days, those blissful moments, I can only imagine her in that orange dress. But unfortunately, the girl in orange dress was now in black-and-white.

I wish that picture was in colour. I wish I could change things. I wish I could go back in time. I wish …

***************

Copyright © Karthik 2011

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Artistic Freedom?

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The artist is the creator of beautiful things. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect few to whom beautiful things mean only beauty. ~ Oscar Wilde

Going by the above quote, or going by your own ethical standards (irrespective of your religion), what kind of beauty do you see in the nude pictures of Hindu Goddesses painted by M. F. Hussain? Or are you one of those who 'try' to find beautiful meanings in ugly things? Irony, eh?

I wouldn’t have bothered to write about this had it not been for some 'intellectuals' going gaga over M. F. Hussain’s 'artistic freedom' and crying as to how he was humiliated in his own country. He was forced to leave the country and for a valid reason.

I don’t believe in superpower. I don’t believe that there is someone else above my parents. In this regard, I’m an atheist. But it doesn’t mean I don’t go to temples along with my mother when she wants me to. It doesn’t mean I don’t take part in Poojas and festivals. It doesn’t mean I don’t belong to a religion. I do. I am a Hindu – who enjoys listening to the stories of Gods and Goddesses, and believes that there is something good to learn from them. I do have immense respect towards those teachings, towards those who believe them and pray without asking anything in return. It’s just that I don’t believe that I have to please someone I don’t see (or feel) to get things done. It’s irrational to me.

Stories have always ruled my world (they still continue to do so). It began with my mother. I never went to sleep without a story. Gods and Goddesses, Ramayana and Mahabharatha – that’s all Mother India chose to tell me about when I was little. And I enjoyed them to the core.

As I grew up my convictions about an external influence began to falter. Bhagavad Gita says that one should first believe in himself. I believed in that. In the midst of these doubts and confusions and arguments (with my mother and also with me), my respect for the mythological stories and what they had to offer to us never deteriorated. When I go to a temple and see the deity, Saraswati or Lakshmi or Hanuman or any God that is beautifully adorned with festoons of flowers, vermilion, turmeric, tulsi leaves, etc., I automatically join hands. I, like most Hindus, have grown up with this culture. I am used to it.

‘Mother’ is the most beautiful, most sacred and the most powerful word. No matter what language the term is associated with – Maa, Amma, Mummy – the feeling behind it is same. That’s why Goddesses like Lakshmi, Saraswati, Durga, Kali are prefixed with Maa or Amma. And when a person, who doesn’t know anything about these sentiments, about the culture, paints these Goddesses in the nude, in the name of artistic freedom, how can it be tolerated? When I’m used to seeing these Goddesses clad in beautiful saris, how can I tolerate when they are painted in the nude? Artists have always painted nude women, but they were just common, unknown women, and not Goddesses. But M. F. Hussain did the exact opposite.

Goddess Durga is shown copulating with a lion/tiger, a nude Sita is sitting on the thigh of Ravan, while a nude Hanuman is trying to attack Ravan; then a nude Sita is sitting on the tail of Hanuman; a nude Hanuman with his genitals pointing towards a woman, a nude Lakshmi sitting on an elephant, a nude Saraswati playing Veena, a nude Parvati, and finally, a nude Bharat Mata. These are M. F. Hussain’s so-called artistic works.

It wouldn’t have been termed as blasphemy (maybe a pervert mind’s output) had he just mentioned them as common women, but he had the audacity to mention their proper names. Is doing whatever one wants is freedom of expression?

If painting Hindu Goddesses in the nude is indeed artistic freedom, as some say and believe, then why didn’t he paint his own mother and daughter that way? Why did he choose to dress them up when he painted them? Double standards? Maybe it’s inappropriate to say this, but nonetheless this point does come up. To hell with being inappropriate, this point should be brought up.

There is another painting where a nude Brahmin is standing next to a fully clad Muslim King. Why not paint both in the nude? Didn’t his artistic freedom allow him to do that? Wonder how the people of Qatar (and Muslim people in India) would have reacted if he had painted a nude woman and given the name, Fatima or Nasreena! Maybe it’s easy for him to play with the sentiments of other people.

Page 3 darlings cried at the top of their voices when he was forced to leave the country. They did it again when he passed away, saying that he wasn’t understood in his own country, that people didn’t know what artistic freedom meant, that they didn’t have respect for an artist’s freedom of expression. They continue by saying that although he yearned to return to India, he was forced to stay away. Without an option, he accepted the nationality of Qatar – a Muslim country. Now, would the people of Qatar have kept quiet if he had painted some Muslim prophet in the nude?

In the early nineties, in the children’s section of The Hindu, a cartoon picture of a Muslim prophet had been published. In that cartoon strip, the prophet was found teaching some lessons from Koran. It was all done in good faith, to teach children some valuable lessons in the form of a cartoon strip. That is all. A public outcry broke out in the country for showing the prophet as a cartoon character. The Newsstands that sold copies of The Hindu were burned down. Goons rushed into the office of The Hindu. A threat to raise the issue in the Parliament through a Private Members Bill was held out. The very next day the newspaper published an apology letter in the front page. Ironically, the editor of The Hindu, N. Ram supported M. F. Hussain, saying that the latter was an artist and was free to imagine things (read Hindu Gods and Goddesses) in anyway he wanted. Talk about secularism!

Those who support him bring up the question, “Khajuraho sculptures also depict sex. When that is acceptable, then why not Hussain’s paintings?” That’s because those are just sculptures of ordinary men and women. They are not labeled as Durga, Saraswati, etc. like Hussain did. Those were the times when electricity was not invented, let alone computer or Internet. So people could not have visited any porn sites. No Raginis and their MMSs. Some sculptors chose to sculpt their fantasies. Maybe Khajuraho sculptures have deep meaning, I don’t know. But what I do know is that they are not the sculptures of any Gods and Goddesses.

Agreed Indians gave Kamasutra to the world, but then again, imagining a nude woman is totally different from imagining one’s own mother or sister in the nude, isn’t it? Only people with pervert minds are capable of imagining like that. What kind of sick comparison is that anyway? Comparing Khajuraho to Hussain’s nude paintings of Goddesses?

Apart from these, his paintings range from a woman copulating with a bull, a horse and other animals. How is this art? Oh, no, wait. This is modern art, eh? Anyway …

Almost every Hindu family’s Pooja room is adorned with those famous portraits of Saraswati and Lakshmi. Saraswati, clad in an elegant white sari, is sitting on a small rock and playing Veena; whereas Lakshmi, clad in an orange sari, is standing on a Lotus flower in a small pond, with a few elephants and swans playing in the background. These are painted by Ravi Varma, one of the most profound artists. Now after seeing these portraits regularly, try and have a look at the so-called Indian Picaso’s nude paintings of the Goddesses. If your stomach still doesn’t churn, then maybe you are having some serious mental problems.

Art should inspire people. It should never hurt anybody. It should drive people towards betterment. An artist should create things, beautiful things. In that process of creation, he transforms himself into someone more than a mere mortal. Creating something new, something that doesn’t exist is not easy. It requires tremendous hard work coupled with an incredible imagination. An artist calls upon his creative faculty and creates a world of his own. Ordinary mortals are mercilessly sucked into that world and are not allowed to get back to reality that easily. This is the power that an artist holds. But it becomes ugly when he creates a despicable thing in the name of creative liberty and conveniently tries to convince people that it is art, that it is beautiful, that it is creativity. Some people that cannot think from their own brains believe him; some can’t differentiate between right and wrong, and end up supporting the famous names in the society (thanks to media); only a few stick to their convictions and know exactly which art is and which isn’t.

He is no more and as I said earlier, I’d not have bothered to write this, but some people don’t seem to shut up. According to them it’s the people that were hurt by his atrocities drove him away from the country, thereby making India suffer a great loss of a great artist. According to these connoisseurs, those who complain about his ‘modern’ art are the ones with bourgeois mentality; and the ones who admire his nude art are the elite. Morons, I say.

Sure he has contributed a lot to the world of art and has been one of the prominent artists who made other countries crane their necks towards our country, but sadly, whenever I (and many like me) remember him, only those ugly paintings flash before my eyes.

Doing whatever you like is not freedom. But doing whatever you like, provided it doesn’t cause any problems to others, doesn’t hurt anybody – that is freedom.

May his soul rest in peace.

***

Here are the links to Ravi Varma and BKS Varma’s paintings:

1. http://www.cyberkerala.com/rajaravivarma/

2. http://bksvarma.com/

And here is the link to M. F. Hussain’s version of Hindu Goddesses:

http://www.metrojoint.com/photo_view.php?userid=5&aid=119985


Beauty, Perfection and the Brand Ambassadors that represent them

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Passion.
One word that defines the true character of a man, one thing that tells whether he is really living or simply pushing time, one yardstick to fathom his ideas and ideals, and thereby his true identity; the one thing that moves the world towards betterment.
The most beautiful smiles are often priceless, as they are not easy to come by. Sometimes it takes years of hard work, mostly driven by one single entity – an unalloyed passion, towards one’s work of art.
It’s been said that basically every work is just a craft in the beginning. But it takes an art form when it’s driven by a raw passion; be it music, painting, sports, writing or even a simple clerical job at a bank. Maybe the latter cannot be termed as art in a conventional way, but it becomes a sort of subsidiary of art, when a person does it with tremendous passion.
To start with an example, I consider my mother to be the most beautiful woman on earth. No competition there. But she looks something superior to the used adjective, when I see her working (she is a special assistant in a bank). The glow on her face when she is typing numbers and names on the computer with rattling speed, or when she is interacting with the customers, is divine, is magical. And that, to me, is beauty. More than twenty years of service, and she still has the enthusiasm of a newly recruited 20-something employee. Not one single complaint about her job till now. Reason: she loves her job to the core.
Same is the case with my father. Both being bank employees, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing my parents go about their jobs, with love. I vividly remember the days when I, as a little boy, used to prance around in the bank. They simply love what they do. Although I didn’t understand these things then, and thought everybody went about their jobs in a similar fashion. But it was only when I grew up did I notice the difference. Some of their colleagues were/are way too rude with customers, and they often whine.
A person’s face when encapsulated by that magical glow and raw intense force while he is doing something that he loves and enjoys the most, is beauty. One look at him and you’ll understand that nothing in this world is more important than what he is doing at the present moment, irrespective of the standards of the job as set by some ordinary and presumptuous minds of the society. Whether he’s a cricketer, musician, writer, cobbler, or an engineer – doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is how much he loves doing it, how passionate he is about it and finally, how well he does it. And watching him do his work, with all his sense organs focused on only one thing – that’s the most beautiful sight on earth to me. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can beat that.
***
Very recently, while walking down the street with a friend, I slipped and fell at the expense of a torn sandal. There was a cobbler nearby, sitting in his tiny wooden shop. Charma Kuteera, the name of the shop said. Apparently that’s the name given to every such shop in my city. Must be some rule. Anyway, I went to him and gave the torn sandal. He went about his stitching, while I stood with my friend and watched him fix my sandal. It was ready within a few minutes. I paid the money and went my way.
Few weeks later, a similar thing happened with my friend and we went to another cobbler. It was only now that I noticed the difference. Unlike the previous one, this person started working as if it was the most supreme thing in the world. His concentration, total. The look on his face, sublime. I’m sure I saw a smile on his face when he was done with it. Mending shoes is the most beautiful thing to him, and to me, watching him do it was beautiful.
Ever wondered why we find babies and kids charming and gorgeous? It’s not only because of their tiny bodies and baby smell they carry around, but mainly because whatever they do, they do it with interest. Nothing is unimportant to them. Everything is magical. That inquisitiveness is what drives them. Unfortunately, as they grow up, that curiosity dies down. That passion is lost somewhere. Everything becomes routine. Do it because you have to do, not because you love it, is the unspoken statement. But a few people retain that passion. Unlike kids that are curious about every little thing around them, these men and women retain that curiosity towards one specific thing of their liking. And that specific thing becomes their world, it surrounds them completely, they become obsessed, they can’t talk and think about anything else except that. That’s what passion does to a man. It drives them crazy, and it’s inspiring.
And when I see such people immersed in their work, enjoying every second, I revel in it, I get inspired. Observe their faces when they talk about the work they love doing, and you’ll find a divine radiance there. That sight, to me, is delicious.
***
When Sachin Tendulkar plays that marvelous straight drive, he doesn’t change his stance for a few seconds. He just stands there, without moving a muscle, and watches the ball. Or when Rahul Dravid plays that magnificent square cut. Oh, boy. How much I love to see it again and again. They don’t jump up and down with joy, and their faces look as intense as ever. But one can easily see these men enjoying every moment of it. Although Saina Nehwal is pretty, she looks her best when she is playing. Skimming the sweat off her face, getting ready for the next serve, playing her backhand and forehand strokes with incredible brilliance – all accentuated by that winner’s attitude and winning smile in the end; that is lovely.
Though these men and women look tired while performing, one can see a beatific sense of repose on their faces.
I can give hundreds of such examples where I see beauty in its purest sense. Musicians, painters, sportsmen, photographers, writers, engineers, architects, doctors, a tea shop owner at my place (whose shop is elegantly named, Tea Lounge), a mechanic where I get my bike serviced and many others – all these people worship what they do.
I recently watched the latest Royal Enfield commercial. If ‘Show, don’t tell’ is the golden rule of storytelling, then the ad maker, who made that commercial knows how to tell a story. Here, the story of Royal Enfield. It’s a very simple ad, with no dialogues, no glamour and no big stars. A regular middleclass man gets ready for work in the morning, with a kiss from his little daughter. He then kick-starts his bike – Royal Enfield Bullet 350 – and moves on. The bike itself is not shown from stylish angles. It’s just another bike there, but as the ad continues, with a mellifluous piece of music playing in the background, you’ll realize that the bike symbolizes attitude. The man rides slowly through the narrow lanes of Chennai and reaches his workplace – Royal Enfield factory. At the end, an old man – probably the chairman – stands behind a basic model of Bullet as three words flash on the screen. ‘Handcrafted in Chennai.’
When they say, ‘Handcrafted in Chennai,’ they mean it. The finishing touch, those royal, radium-yellow lines on the fuel tank, is actually painted by a man, and not a machine. It’s not some graphic design either. That’s the signature of Royal Enfield. How he does it can be seen on YouTube. Seeing him paint it, without any kind of ruler or compass, is just fantastic. The only tool he uses is passion.
I experience the same heavenly feeling when I see the mechanic, working on my bike. I ask him to do a simple, regular service, but he doesn’t get satisfied until he breaks my bike into a hundred pieces and checks every part. Sitting in his garage and watching him fix my bike is terrific. His hands and clothes are all greased, his hair all rumpled, his face sweaty because of the scorching heat outside; but he looks immensely calm. He is at peace with himself.
I don’t mean to exaggerate on this, but here’s another fact. Everyday a young boy, who looks my age, comes to pick up the garbage. He’s one of the people appointed by the city municipality. Just like everyone, he’s given a particular area, from where he has to collect the garbage. He comes at about seven or seven-thirty in the morning and shouts ‘Amma’, at the top of his voice. One of us, usually my granny, goes and gives him the garbage bin. He empties it in what looks like a small pushcart and gives the bin back. That’s his job. I’ve seen many guys like him. But unlike others, he doesn’t cringe when the residents don’t answer to him immediately. He always has earphones plugged in, keeps murmuring a song until somebody shows up with the bin. Once it’s done, he moves on, singing to himself. One look at him and you’ll realize that he has no complaints about his job whatsoever. Sometimes, having woken up in a bad mood, I go out to answer his call and see him going about his job. He takes the garbage bin from my hand, all the while murmuring a song. He looks so happy. And looking at him is so inspiring. If this is not beauty, then what is?
***
Some say that watching sunrise/sunset is one of the most beautiful sights on earth. Maybe it’s true. I enjoy it too. It’s certainly beautiful. But once in a while a crazy photographer comes along, stands beside me and starts clicking. Everything changes at that moment. The definition of the word ‘beautiful’ changes for me. Watching that photographer play with his camera, who is trying to make the beautiful sunset more beautiful, is absolutely delightful to me. If indeed the beauty of nature is divine, if it is perfection, then an obsessed, passionate photographer improves upon that perfection – thereby proving that perfection exists in this world. What we can’t see with our naked eyes, is shown splendidly through the eyes of his camera. Showing an already beautiful thing in a more beautiful and innovative way is not easy. That’s creativity, that’s genius … that’s beauty.
One of my friends, who talks about nothing but photography most of the time, is crazy about that art of freezing time. We meet almost everyday and discuss about the most inane things. But when the topic of photography comes up, an unfathomable force takes over him. He just can’t break free from it. And that force is nothing but sheer passion. The glow that comes on his face then, is angelic. It’s similar to the glow I see on Jeffrey Archer’s face when I see and hear him talk about his writing.
***
A very long time back I had an opportunity to watch Rahul Dravid practice in the nets in Chinnaswami Stadium, Bangalore. It was quite early in the morning. Being an ardent fan, I was naturally excited. But when I saw him up close, hitting the balls furiously as they came, he was not Rahul Dravid, the star cricketer. He was a man possessed; a man obsessed; a man crazy about his game. Until then I had only watched him play in real matches. But when I watched him practice, it was totally something else. It was godly. Watching that process of perfecting one’s craft is nothing but beauty of the highest possible order.
Mostly we get to watch and enjoy the end game, but should I get to watch them practice, trying to hone their skills to perfection, it’d be one of the best times of my life. But these things are rare, they are sacred. We don’t usually have that pleasure. A painter painting, a musician composing, an architect planning his building, a scientist experimenting, etc. – all in the privacy of their room, their personal space, untouched and unseen by any external entity.
Of all the people, authors (novelists, mainly) inspire me the most. I’d give anything in the world to watch a great writer working on his manuscript, silently writing and re-writing, editing, in the privacy of his den. I’d just want to sit there and watch him. That would be the best. But then again, it would be witnessing beauty, although I don’t mind it, at the expense of a crime: Sacrilege.
These men and women, these men and women driven by raw passion towards their art, their work, are the people that not only love what they do, but also make love to it. And watching them do it, watching them ensconced in their place of worship and executing their jobs with finesse, is inspiring. This, to me, is real beauty.
************
Copyright © Karthik 2011
P. S. For the question: What does real beauty mean to you?

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My Library

Karthik's Book Montage

The Negotiator
Malgudi Days
As The Crow Flies
Swami and Friends
The Devil's Alternative
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Godfather
The Seven Minutes
The Prize
Atlas Shrugged
The Fountainhead
If Tomorrow Comes
Digital Fortress
The Chancellor Manuscript
The Bourne Supremacy
The Bourne Identity
The Fist of God
The Fourth Protocol
The Odessa File
The Day of the Jackal


Karthik's favorite books »