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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Another Year….

No matter how much one may love to travel, they still like to come back home….

Again and again every day I fall in love with this city just the same! It is exciting to go away and so so assuring to return…. that I could go to places just for that feeling of coming back!

There are stray evenings when I just walk alone by the side of flowing traffic…. watching intricate tree canopies turning dark against gold and purple sky….. Air is so warm and crisp with just a hint of winter fading away into spring…..And it is scented with profuse mango blossoms when slight breeze rustles through….

On weekends when I drive out, my loved hills are flaunting deep pinks of bombax and fiery reds of erythrina…. How could one doubt why the flowers are named after slow burning flames….like a devoted offering to some unknown deity of trees!

Since  who knows when, I have been measuring years in these blossoms…. and wonder every time I watch them, all wide eyed in amazement, has another year really passed me by?! Is it already time for another blossom?!

So much changed in the mean time….. Something gained and something lost…. and some things that never never change!

The city is still flowing by….absolutely undisturbed by my thoughts of aging!

Ragged Old Roof….

Through a tiny hole in my ragged old roof, your dazzling light falls over me….

Grateful for that ray of hope, I embrace a roomful of darkness ever so happily!

It may rain sometimes through the ragged old roof…

But I finally have decided, to never mend it…

Never will I block the rays of hope…

Never will I ban the tears of your divine love….

Falling from all over the sky….reaching me through the same….

Ragged old roof….

I know you loved me more than kings and earls….

You gave me this leaky roof, no grand palaces…not gold, not pearls….

Sailors Of Light…

Dear readers,

This is my tottering effort at putting words together in rhyme…! please bear with me!

I dump my wrecked ship to join you on another adventure….
But you are on your own voyage…n you leave me ashore.
I watch the puffed chests of proud vast sails…
Ready to take in the winds… ready to fly! Not sail!
I watch your glittering mast…and flutter of thy flag…
I feel the eager breath of that salty venture brag…
I am deathly silent…
That is all you lament…
You expect a warm goodbye…
And like a statue, I just stand by….
I wish so much to stretch into a smile…
But I can see, my ship’s a wooden pile…..
I rode the thunders…I sailed into darkest of nights….
I may have done blunders…But I fought my best fights…
Your brave pat on my back, I remember…
As I sailed home, through the thunder…
I felt the dark night was a sun-filled day…
Your smile spread around me that way!
To hell with the ship, that wrecked in the winds!
Nothing can stop our enlivened minds…
I knew my wind rider is by my side…
Why to lament loss of a petty ride?!
If I held thy hand, I would fly to the moon!
Who cares for the seas and bounded lagoons?!
But you packed alone…adventure on your face…
The zest of your smile! I couldn’t have grimaced…
“When will’ya be back”, I ask..
My voice quivered as I shuffled my gasp…
I know my brave smile gave away the secret…
I only hope you knew, I felt no regret…
You touched my face, ever so light…
For moment elated, my heart took flight…
“wont take long, my dearest girl…
I will be gone and back in a swirl…
Never you lament… stop that tear…
My precious one, you live right here..
And with those words you gestured your heart…
But you punctured mine, with the words of dart….
Your love was agony… and I asked for it…
You wanted some smiles… just that I did…
With a tiny smile, I bid a goodbye…
Watched that sail, vanish on the sky…
Awaiting your ship I am standing right here…
Squinting to the blue, demanding it to clear…
Looking for an evidence of a rising mast…
Glittering in the sun, approaching me fast…
For below the mast…will be your liner…
And riding the liner will be my loner…
O wind rider, why to be a loner….
When I wait here, around the corner?!
You n me can build a new vessel…
Studded with stars and tied with tinsel…
Sails of will can never tear off…
Mast of vision can never wither off..
I will lay my body, at the keel of our ship…
If you look up and know how much I worship…
This mighty ship will sail through the thunders..
And it can survive as nothing but a wonder…
No doubt, we can reach our horizon….
On demand, we can fly to the moon…
Thinking of this, I stood right there…
Squinting to the blue, demanding it to clear…
Looking for the evidence of a rising mast…
Glittering in the sun, approaching me fast…
For below the mast…was your liner…
And riding the liner was my only lover…
I chirped in joy… and danced with frolic,
Just when you reached…I jumped on the deck!
There was the smile worth a thousand sun shine…
That was my man… back from the marine!
He never sailed beyond several knot…
He wanted me…so he right came back…!
Back on the sea…on the play of tide…
Here we come….Gales moved aside…
Sailing through the oceans…
Riding the torrents….
We sailed into sunrise…
Into light we vanish…

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Crisp Winter…

It is crisp winter in the Indian subcontinent. And the Deccan plateau is covered as usual in its multicolored drape of deciduous forests. Here we do not have a single fall season. Every tree sheds its leaves at different time in winter. And the mountains always look covered in different colors all through the winter.

The air is crusty and cool. Though the sun heats up open meadows, there is pleasant cold shade under most of the trees. If you are tired hiking through the sunny countryside, the shady ovals marked under the trees call you to rest, occasionally dropping a solitary dried leaf in your lap….

Winter-scape of Sahyadri

The mornings and evenings stretch till mid day in winters… Except few hours of afternoon the weather is calling you out to run wild in sharp dry streaks of wintry air… You feel like running miles through solid curtains of morning fog hung in valleys, fighting with the chill. As sky grows brighter, sunlight comes to your help. The fogs scamper away and you can locate chirping bird far in the valley….

Then you wish to fly, to chirp, to sway on the treetops, just like the bird…

There is laughter in the air and inside you…. If you look down at yourself you see icy bright light in your body… The winter air lights you from within…. Like a bonfire night….under the deciduous tree, occasionally dropping a solitary dried leaf in your lap….

Image source

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….