From the Radio Station III

I never imagined myself building a radio station and I am certain the radio people never thought they would have a cranky architect working with them, sometimes shoulder to shoulder and sometimes almost nose to nose!

It is, indeed, a curious mix of professions and cultures that they have conjured up here! Also the very concept of a community radio station, broadcasting from a remote Himalayan village, attracts a range of visitors.

Sushila Bhandari from Raidu village, near agastyamuni is one such intriguing lady. This gadhwali woman of immense courage, is fighting for her “jal, jungle aur jameen”, against not just the corporate, but the very government of Uttarakhand. Two months of imprisonment, paid murder attacks or bribes have failed to muffle her voice. Instead, she has learned to write hindi, during her two months imprisonment! Now she also writes poetry and sings the songs of hills and rivers, in her high pitched, pahadi voice….

***

C P Joshi from dwarhat is another frequent visitor and a valued advisor for the MKA trust. A good looking kumaoni poet, he is also a sensitive social worker allied with “Axay”, a TB eradication initiative.

In the day time, he would quietly smile and walk towards me, while I stand surrounded by my construction gang. And he would very defensively, but with pure curiosity, ask questions about earth construction. For a while I wondered why the defensiveness… and I did admit it to myself that I must look like a daunting warrior on a construction site that resembles a bustling warzone!

But in fact, I do love to answer his questions about various forms of earth construction. At the same time I keep it clear that the views we express are our own inferences and learning, and none is a universal law to be enforced on another… He smiles his mild, enigmatic smile and jumps to another question!

Once, after dinner, we all grownups and kids plopped on Joshi ji’s bed, listening to his kumaoni poetry. An informal “mehfil” Somehow descended upon us!

With him, I have started recollecting old Marathi poetry, after quite awhile… on the other hand, Joshi ji, very soon plans to build a house in dwarhat, a rammed earth structure that he will design for himself!

***

My lovely brick maker team of women has been saving up their payments with Vincent. They plan to take the payment right in the end, and invest that into building a new house in stone. They are going to hire my team of masons for the job!

The masons thoroughly enjoy their work. There is significant change in their expressions and body language. The awkward stress and constant suspicion has evaporated long ago, replaced with natural easy grace and a hint of pride…

There is often a faint smile on Jeetpal ji’s face, as he chisels the stone, with his tongue held out, in utter concentration, so much like a small kid! He laughs and cracks jokes… hums along, old pahadi jungle geet (forest song) playing on the radio, and all the time I watch him with great respect and love… feeling like a mother, who has managed to evoke and protect the child within him…

***

Winter rains in the hills are indeed a special thing. There is a vague distinction between rain, sleet and snow as we climb up, but that entire downpour is essential for the forests, rivers, humans and beasts to thrive.

But for the adobe spread out in the field, drying in sun, this rain was very unfriendly. After a week or two of bright dazzling sunshine, suddenly one morning, we have an overcast sky, rumbling and threatening to wash away all our hard work. The whole team of workers rushes to the site early in the morning, moving dry bricks in shelter and covering the rest with massive plastic sheets. Then we all just sit sheltered by the tent, warming our bruised, frozen hands on an open fire of cheed pine twigs. Stories of man-eaters, bears and ghosts taste far better with rounds of chai.

It usually takes a couple of days for the weather to clear and for all of us to get back to the sunny outdoor work. But the chilly winter rains by then, have brought us all close together…. Bonded irreversibly now, we are a construction gang, driven by a special sense of comradeship.

***

The stone masonry in gadhwal, has such a robust and distinct character that we wish to expose it and flaunt it to the world! The crudeness of partially dressed stone and sleek lines of slate pieces, together create a rhythmic symphony of shapes and shades… no two stones in the masonry look alike and yet they all belong to the same astute composition.

Most people, who prefer the formal, strict masonry of fine dressed stone, fail to see the poetry in gadhwali masonry. I had a fair bit of problem, trying to see, what makes gadhwali masonry, so wrong in their perspective. Our visual senses are enslaved by now. We like all things to look alike… we want all kids to be dressed in uniforms and all women to look like movie stars. We want all roads to look the same and all places to become cities…. Just like that, we want all stones to look strictly alike. Every time someone asks why I refuse to use neat dressed stone, I ask them, why they want all the stone to look alike… and I am still waiting for an answer.

***

While I am pouring my blood, brain and sweat into the construction work, instead of making me feeble and desensitized, it is making me, more alive, lot more sensitive and aware…. In spite of all the brain boggling problems and surprising solutions… yet, there are moments that allow me to trace a beautiful Himalayan vulture soaring over my head, in graceful, lazy circles…. At times I stay back at the construction site, just to witness the sky that looks blue fading into orange, so much like a flycatcher’s belly, preceded by a sunset bathed in gold and copper glitter of stone dust around me….
Sometimes, long after those dramatic sunsets, I sit there, planning the next phases of construction. Hungry and tired, I step out from the studio, to find my construction site, drenched in melting silver moonlight…  Fresh, wet adobe glisten softly, and the stone masonry glows as if lit from within … It is irresistible to keep my hands off the rhythmic rough and smooth texture of the stone wall…. On a biting cold winter night, I let my fingertips trace the crevices of ice-like stones… like some magical self-lit objects!

At any time of the day or night, these hills never fail to take my breath away…

***

Although I am sure, my mum never planned it deliberately, I wonder sometimes, if she hoped, growing up in a house with Sanskrit plays and poetry scattered around, along with Hemmingway, will leave its imprint on me…. Before arriving in gadhwal, I carried a strange image of this land… for me it was the land of Kalidas’ poetry… the land where I presumed, Kumarsambhavam must have taken a verbal form. And with that bias, I keep stumbling upon places that, in my mind, match exactly to the setting of various events in the Shiva-Parvati story. It feels as if the gods and goddesses would simply drift in front of me, from behind that ancient banjh (oak) tree, if I truly willed them to appear…

But they do not, nor does the famous man-eater of gadhwal. I hear stories of men and women right from our neighboring villages, mauled by wild bears and snatched away by the panthers… but those beautiful beasts somehow never cross my paths. Although I know these wise ones must be prowling in the dark, quite too close by, camouflaged more by my absence of mind than their stealth… So I keep my curiosity reigned in and usually abide by the rules of village life, that forbid me to walk home, after dark, unaccompanied by a man. I religiously believe that a hungry beast would definitely be distracted by the more flavorsome option of devouring a man, and would spare this inconsequential woman to go home!

One day I will also write about the ghosts of gadhwal, but right now, it is indeed too late at night to think of bodiless voices following us along treacherous forest paths! But I promise, if someday the said feminine forest spirit truly chooses to confront me, I will sincerely ask her forgiveness on behalf of the mankind and promise to protect her beautiful green veil, for as long as I live…. I think she will be a smart forest spirit who will bless me genially.

***

There is something about half done earth masonry that looks like a warm promise of future… For some reason or the other, I keep walking and leaping over its dusty ledges, watching the walls risen and complete in my mind.

My gang once warned me not to do that too often, for it might offend the spirit of this building. They were anyway certain that just like the masons, who work too closely with the masonry, I too am possessed by the “devtaa”. There is indeed a tiny “deoli” temple, topped with brightly colored flags, next to the construction site. Every time we start a fresh phase of construction, our masons offer flowers, sweets and some incense to the deity staying in there….

I think the “devtaa” knows that I totally love being possessed by him! He is not a scary one, who gets offended so easily. I wonder if he laughs at me, if he likes me too…

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Man, Woman and Love…

About the same old topic…. Topic that mankind has been thinking about since its birth…. Love, man and woman, their mutual coexistence…. And everything else that follows…
For centuries people have thought, written, played and sung about this thing called love…. And yet it remains out of grasp….

The moment there is duality, there has to be strong attraction and repulsion inherent in the system….. Man and woman, being such complicated halves of one whole self that their coexistence would be, without any doubt, a mystery like no other… attraction to become one complete presence and repulsion to retain the individual presences.

They say a man and woman cannot be friends, there enters love to spoil it all….. But is that not ridiculous thing to expect?! There are two contradictions in this one single statement….. One, why is friendship not valued as love? Two, man and woman are dual poles of the same humanity, they are bound to love each other…. Why does that have to spoil anything?

But this is all theoretical discussion of course, inside we all know that here, love refers to a very sexual, reproduction intending, and instinctive animal desire, which is only one tiny aspect of a huge big complex idea of love.

This is like the story of an elephant and the blind men….. We all encounter very unique aspect of that one big huge love and assume it to be the one and only love. Generally speaking, owing to the natural tendencies, men and women see almost opposite aspects of love…. They “expect” accordingly different responses from each other… but actually none of them is right about love. Love is all about overcoming that inherent miscommunication. Love is about learning the whole concept of what really the elephant is!

Woman sees love in every relation… she finds the very imagination of it so very satisfying that she hardly cares to check the reality, which may not be as rosy as she thinks… Of course here I refer to woman as gender expressed in any form. Man does not see love like she does, at least not naturally. For him, it is a sport, a conquest…. There is possession and power involved…. And there is sexual aspect of love so very dominant…..

But it would be unjust to denounce men to the level of an animal. Time and again, men have shown courage and vulnerability of crossing their inbuilt idea of love. They have evolved in so many invisible ways. Maybe it was living in thousands of years of family structure that has started to change men….

They are becoming sensitive like a woman is…. They are starting to feel the other aspects of love…. For a long time human psychology has believed children to be woman’s natural responsibility, that men have no instinctive parental feeling. But years and years of fatherhood seems to have rubbed off on them! Observe closely, there are so many men around us who feel complete with fatherhood. They want it; crave it as much as woman craves motherhood. This was not how nature made them. They picked it up with time….  Man became father…..

Of course, slow as they are by nature, they have taken long time learning it… and still seem to fight with the change more often than they should! This is a good change, guys…. It is okay to be vulnerable to women just as she is vulnerable to you… We are growing up together…see?!

We are not going to have wars anymore, fights anymore, if men learn to be vulnerable, to love… as a father…. Yes, they need not become a copy of motherhood! It will be as sick and shallow as women competing men in fights and smoke….!

And woman is changing too along his side. Woman, who was tied down in centuries of pregnancy, is now free… free to learn, to create, to express herself in ways other than raising children…. She’s learning about the world as men built it for years…. She is raising questions, making changes, taking her part in reshaping the world….

A very beautiful future is ahead of us, though only as one of the many possibilities…. But, my god! Look at the utopia we could build together if man and woman become a bit of each other and overcome the stupid miscommunication….

We call it only one of many possibilities because there is an ugly side of this evolution. By another law of nature, there is resistance wherever there is “change”. We watch women going overboard to claim their freedom and losing womanhood in the process! What are we seeking liberation from?! From our own mental block possibly…. Definitely not from womanhood, since it is the most wonderful thing about existing as a woman! Similarly men too are resisting the change. Sudden violent increases in the rape accounts are nothing but a way to protest against their own evolution! It is not women they are defying…though they are hurting her in the process of it.

Some people claim that this resistance is product of family based social system. Yes it is. But that does not really mean we have to discard the whole thing. We have lived with this system for generations, gotten used to it…and grown with it. Just as we picked up some bad habits, we have also learned a few good things…. Let us not ruin it all. Instead, it is possible to move on with whatever we have in hand….

We do not need revolution when we have evolution possible to us! Let us just behave ourselves…. Be little more aware…little more forgiving…little more complimenting….. Let us get rid of centuries of vengefulness in our instincts… We have moved on, way ahead of savageness of that kind. We can respect friendship, since we feel it so strongly…. We can stop being so authoritarian, so possessive. We can learn about love in more open perspective…. Respect the other gender too. Try to ease their complexes sometimes. Help them to understand too!
Let us not go back…. Because there is such a wonderful world awaiting us! And we all agree, that we are basically very, very wonderful people, aren’t we?!

Pledge…

India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters. I love my country… Yes, I love this corrupt, dearth-stricken, hungry, ragged, homeless country. I love the litter, sewage, rowdiness, flippant movie songs, hoodlums and goons, pollution and famines in this country. Stray dogs on roads, wandering cattle, dirty pigs and flocks of […]

Three Mad Woman…

I lived in central part of the old city at that time….in a congested, cozy neighborhood…where everyone knows everyone, with all their past histories and extended families too….

There was a mad woman….roaming out on roads…with no house…no shelter…..no whereabouts of any sort…. She was mentally disturbed beyond repair…She was unkempt but a very beautiful woman. Fair, tall and with a proud erect posture…she used to walk with grace not conceivable to any ordinary woman….her cloths were torn and patched…but she wore them well….there was an air of dignity around her…. her stark white hair were tangled but she kept them rolled in…what used to be an elegant roll.

Even through those disoriented eyes I always saw a glint of energy…..

In crowds of dead hearted men and women living lives equivalent to rats breeding in dingy holes….she looked like a ray of undaunted hope… though she was labeled a hopeless case, and I was warned to run home whenever she entered our lane…

People teased her…..and she used to get angry…lose her mind….she looked like a lost doe in the middle of hunters…..so helpless…. Those dignified elegant eyes used to shed tears…it wasn’t pain though…..it was anger…pure hot anger pouring down from her heart….

But in such old rickety neighborhoods people are very closely knitted to each other…. She had a few well-wishers too…..who saved her from those scavenging beast like men…..

I remember an old lady, who used to sit in the parlour of her house, watching the street, while her fingers ran on a rosary, singing god’s name….. She used to call this mad woman in her quivering voice….to come and sit with her for a minute or two…. I have seen the mad woman sipping tea with the old lady…..like a married daughter had come to her maiden home….to chat with her mother…. Those old cataract eyes showered her with love! They did not care about her mental disorders, did not care about the dangerous anger of the mad mind….they only knew simple innocent love!

That day the old lady called out to me while I played on the road, in front of her parlour… we never used to talk much…but she often gave me a sweet from a glittering jewelled box on her shelf. That was all the communication that was needed between us. In return she would get a hard unsmiling stare of five year old me! I hardly smiled at anyone…..but still the old lady knew that I appreciated her sweet very much…and that I liked her wrinkled toothless smile more than the sweet! But our custom of wordless speech was broken one day…. The lady told me to sit with her….on the clean daubed parlour floor of hers…. And I sat silently…we were at ease….homely….

She suddenly spoke to me…. A conversation that had started in her mind I guess….

It was the story of the mad woman….told to me without asking for it…..

A story that stayed buried in my heart….forgotten for all these years….

“Once upon a time….the mad woman was not mad….she was an only daughter of her parents, and only sister of her brother. The family was respectable middleclass household….known for a generous hand and kind heart. The daughter so beautiful was also a girl of good “samskara”, a well- behaved intelligent kid, she was delight to all…..

In her teens she met a boy who liked her very much…..pursued her till she too fell in love with him…..

A silent love story was taking shape in that neighborhood….where everyone watched it….and smiled naughtily! Love is a wonderful power that binds two hearts together….”

I was watching the old lady….her eyes were lost in the rosy memories of past!

She kept continuing the story though…

“Of course a long family drama took place as a prelude to that legendary love marriage! But the girl was not just well educated but also wise…..she took us elders of the neighbourhood to her parents…. Our eyes had seen so many seasons…..we knew that this man who loved her so much was the right partner for her… he wasn’t as educated as she was….he was not of her cast…..but you see, once in a while god makes a match like that…to show the real fabric of love to entire world!”

The old lady winked at me with a childlike laughter as her shaky voice narrated on….

“so finally the marriage was agreed upon…..

The bride was ready in a traditional red outfit….clad in jewellery from head to foot….yet she glowed in a light that was coming from a lovely smile of hers!

What a marriage it was! Whole lane was decorated with flower streamers! not just her house….! There was music and sweetmeats and kids danced around in the crowd…..

And who knows whose jealous ill gaze fell on her….. Police took away the groom, under the crime of murder of a well known industrialist in the city….

Everyone was aghast…. He never looked like a murder to me… I always thought he wouldn’t even hurt a fly!”

The old lady was still resolving the puzzle of human mind while telling me the story…

“Who knows what happened of that boy….nobody saw him after that night….. this girl went mad slowly….waiting for his return….. her family took care of her for a while…tried many psychiatrists…but she was not cured…. After few years, her brother got married. I always told his father that the girl was not right for him….but he did not listen to me….. He said, with your consent I agreed to marry my daughter…and see what happened of her…. I need no more suggestion from you” Right he was….

I could do nothing…but watch the family going to pieces in front of my eyes…. The new bride that entered the house changed not just the furniture, but the soul of that house….

Now the parents are sent to an old age home. The brother and his wife have put a fat lock on the door….they now stay abroad. And this girl….roams around in the lane….coping with her own lost mind….”

“Was it destiny….was it the law of karma….who knows what ruled the whim of that almighty?!”

“I am past age of a hundred now…. I am watching his world sitting right here in this parlour that he gave me….. I have fulfilled the role I was given responsibility of…. Now all I look forward to is the tryst with the almighty god himself!”

She remained silent now…..

The old lady was a simple common neighbourhood granny….who was talking to one tiny me…. She never doubted if I understood her well…. Or may be she did not care that much?!

I remember her parlour growing dark…as the twilight faded off the sky…..a skinny wrinkled old lady sitting with another skinny five year old… and then there was the mad woman in the story….sitting next to me…. And I was not going to run home because she was here….

We were three generations….three women of different age and time….three people marked as mad somewhat! We were in one time and space gathered together fetched from three different worlds…. We were wise….carefree….and unaware of the world of other humans that bustled in front of that parlour….