Borderless


When I read what Postcrossing.com had to offer, after seeing a post on Facebook by Aditi De, I thought it would be interesting to see how this works. Sign up and get a random Postcrossing member’s address to send a handwritten postcard. It looked interesting enough because members are from all over the world, and the interaction is limited to sending that one card. No compulsion to become “friends”, get on people’s lists, into groups and other social platform “pressures”.

I signed up, wrote a brief note about my interests in the bio, and got my first recipient. in Utah. I sent off a postcard. 30 days later, my Postcrossing inbox has a thank you note from her, along with a line saying she noticed I hadn’t received any cards yet. Would I like one, please share the address. Now that’s taking a bit of extra effort, I thought. And sent off my address.

My bio says, look at all the interesting stuff that’s happening in science, I’m a big sci fi buff, and wouldn’t  it be lovely to get a card from the moon? I had also mentioned the genres of movies that I love.

A few more days go by. And I get these in my mailbox.

That’s a commemorative stamp of the moon landing, she put on the postcard.

It is possible to connect with people whose existence you know nothing about. And share a personal memory. It is possible to think about those living miles away, across oceans,  and reach out to them momentarily. To feel we are part of the same rock, floating in space. Boundaries are political. Connections have no boundaries.

Just this action of a human reading through, making a bit of an effort, and communicating spoke volumes about how we do not have to narrow our ideas about culture and country.

I can’t wait to continue to reach out, and be reached. I can’t also wait to build back my collection of stamps. My childhood collection is lost. But it’s not too late to start again.   And to introduce this to my kids.

Discovered that our very own India Post has a philately club which you can join to receive all special issue stamps. Cool.

Old trees and memories


The trees smell older here. They were larger too, covering most of the sky. Or is that because we looked up more often? Of course, we were no taller than 4 feet then. The walls, the doors, the idols, seemed to loom with a larger significance. Was it because they were inseparable from the aroma of incense that permeated every corner of the temple? Taking on a personality that had nothing to do with stone and mortar.

I came here with my grandmother (my mother’s mother) many evenings. Probably between 1979 and ’84. I cannot remember if my brother or my mother were there too. I can only remember grandmom’s cotton sarees that she wore.

After school and the quick snack of spiced puffed rice (still my absolute go to snack evenings after work), with four hours to go before dinner and bed time, some evenings we would walk up here. She wasn’t ‘religious’. Did not insist we pray every day at home or in a temple. If I thought I would like to sit in the temple verandah and listen in, I could. I could also leave any time I wanted. I more often stayed. The songs themselves did not have a particular meaning to me as I was not too fluent in Kannada or Sanskrit to understand every word. There was though, a feeling. Sitting with her as the sun set, on the stone floor, with a dozen or more people, with just the music. Sankey tank was an open lake then, and the breeze, that I can still feel.

The rear of the temple complex was just sand. And there were shells in the sand. On days when there was time yet for the music to start, I would rummage in it for shells to save. There was no “compound” around the complex, if I remember right. Just a lot of open space… And the trees.

Cameras were expensive then and we didn’t have one. The only images I have are deep in layers of memory.

25 years later. Driving to work in the last year or so, remembered that one of the routes I could take was via Malleswaram. I can’t tell why I never went back to this place. Even to revisit a childhood memory, in all these years after moving out of the area.

The stone floors are the same. The sand was all gone. Beneath it, I read later, was found another temple. Shiva’s, with a Nandi. Even older than Kadu Malleshwara. All of this lay buried under the sand in the days we strayed over the mounds of sand, looking for shells. I had no idea and was simply wide eyed looking over this space. It is quiet, before 8.30 in the morning. A few students walk in, with notepads. Perhaps they’re on a history assignment from school.

Of course, now the narrow space to the left of the temple, which was right where we sat all those evenings ago, is occupied by cars and bikes. It breaks the heart a little. People parking, walking up and down, busy.

Just like I was, to get to work. To really linger and get behind those layers, will need a calmer time.

Why should there be one word for love?


Frida Kahlo has always been a larger than life figure to me. Always bold, always daring, always a challenging look in those eyes staring into a camera or her own eyes as an artist. There is no subtlety about her. In pictures I’ve seen of her paintings, her clothes, her jewellery, her hairdos, life. So complex, I would think, and so heart-on-her-sleeve.  Didn’t care who saw it. But that’s all I knew. Who was Frida, why did she paint some times of her life in such gruesome quality, what was her relationship with Diego like?

‘Seeing’ more of her life up close, first in the movie Frida, and then at Casa Azul, in Mexico City, only prompts more questions than answers.

Frida and Diego both had relationships before they got together. Was it each others’ forceful personalities that drew them together, to spend the better part of their lives together? Most of it tumultuous even after they made their marriage vows?

In her physical suffering, she seems alone, turning the pain and turmoil inwards, only to surface in A Few Small Nips or Flying Bed.

It must have been a strange kind of love. To love, be hurt by straying affections, to be drawn back together, to part ways very seriously in divorce, but to finally spend her last days with Diego. Friendship, passion, love, a sharing of ideals, even envy. It looks like their love had many forms. You can see much of it in the photographs and in the ethos of Casa Azul as you walk around.

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Rustom and the Last Storyteller of Almora, by Gaurav Parab


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I started reading Rustom and the Last Storyteller of Almora expecting it to be teeming with GP’s humour. I mean, after all, a guy who keeps it funny all the time must write a comedy. I honestly did not know what to expect from the characters or the story, except that I knew they would entertain. GP has given much more.

It’s about characters, yes. Real enough to make us want to catch up when they stride, run along when they surge through chapters of their lives, laugh when they find what they’re looking for, puzzle along with them, feel their burden when they are down. And still, with emotions that are strange enough to make us feel we can never be them, nor they, us. For how else can we immerse in tales of men, women, and babas, if not with a sense of wonder? Gaurav manages to tell a tale with characters that we all identify with in some ways, while remaining in their little worlds that perhaps we can never get close to.

It’s about plot. The format of a multitude of parallel tales running along to culminate in a grand finale may seem passe. Practically every work of popular fiction in the fantasy genre that seems to have taken over the press and the telly follow this format, with great success. This book does it too, but does not bore. Rustom and the ripples he creates in the little worlds he is connected to are curious, quick to develop, and manage to come together in the last few pages with just enough drama, avoiding spectacle. It took me a while to see that as the tale progressed, each chapter was not scrolling more than 4 or 5 pages, and kept the story flowing even while tracking across from the Himalayas to Nariman Point and Kothaluru, and back.

It’s about meaning. What stays with me after I read a good book are the little home truths about myself. About the people we are all surrounded with. It takes a writer who understands human nature to put a finger on what drives us and makes us think and do as we do – as parents, as children, as seekers, as finders, as friends, as onlookers, as wicked, as perhaps inhuman folk too. And this book is littered with home truths. About love, insecurity, grace, lunacy, and everything in between.

It’s about keeping it light, and heavy. Not easy to deal with a subject as morbid as suicide, and yet keep a reader atwitter and on tenterhooks as the tale unfolds. It’s Gaurav’s sense of the absurd in the most solemn moments, and the funny in adversity, that keeps this book upbeat in spite of the blurb on the back cover claiming a serious theme.

Indian fiction in English has been leaning towards to ponderous or the flippant. It’s nice to see a well written book in the middle of this ground. I’d definitely put Rustom and the Last Storyteller of Almora on the recommend list.

And GP, I hope the next one is on the assembly line.

You can order this book HERE.