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Music does that


IMG_20160120_194339It sticks. Like a parasite. It chews on your thoughts, until it eats them all. And you are left with nothing but a fat bloated parasite of a song inside. It’s funny how a few songs just open up a window of emotions you never knew existed, others just slam you down into pits of sadness; then there are those that pull you out from those pits and place you on a soft slice of cloud; those that make you remember, and those that make you forget. I always imagine my brain cells aligning themselves in quick movements to neat formations for each song. It’s crazy.

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A still from the song Talli Pogadhe from Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada

Recent obsessions – A R Rahman’s Thalli Pogadhey is one addictive piece of music. And it turns out, the effect is universal. While I thought I was tangled in the loop, most who heard it, experienced the same. What do I feel? Ecstasy. A free ride to the clouds. It has been three days, and I have heard the song in different settings – in the darkness of the night, comfort of my bed; while writing, doing fitness, walking from my office to the parking lot amid traffic, and also driving. I ain’t tired of it yet.

But soon I will be. That’s always the case. The same happened for (these are just from the top of my head) one of A R Rahman’s previous albums – OK Kanmani, Iron and Wine’s Flightless Bird American Wine, Scorpions’ Winds of Change, Duran Duran’s Only in Dreams, Hero by Family of the Year, Titanic ending music by James Horner, A sky full of stars by Coldplay, Insomnia by DJ Tiesto, Sway by Michael Bubble, Chandelier by Sia, I surrender by Hillsong and many many more.  My ratings of the songs mostly depend on the duration I have obsessed over them. Once I move on, they become like those comfort-nighttime t-shirts; they remain in the list, appearing in between new additions as fillers – and skipped most times.

I enjoy the sway of emotions that the songs bring in; I enjoy it best when they arrest time. Some songs can really do that. They snatch you away from the rotating and revolving earth, to somewhere in the cosmos. And you float. Just you and the song. Such as these – Simple Song #3 by Sumi Jo, Victoria Mullova; Manta Ray by J Ralph and Antony, Ludvico Einaudi’s Elements and Experience, The XX – Intro, Yiruma – River flows in you, Angus and Julia – All of me. 

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Simple Song #3 Youth. Photo courtesy: http://www.youtube.com

And that’s why my vote for the Best song for the Oscars this year goes to Simple Song. Second, Manta Ray. Not that I did not obsess over Earned it by The Weeknd or Sam Smith’s Writings on the wall, but the former two remind me of white lily petals, the soft fur of my neighbour’s dog, my dad’s hands, mom’s young eyes wrinkles, sister’s face. It leaves me dangling in that grey area between the world and outside. A safe space, like a warm womb.

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So much in a song


 

IMG_20160119_200559There is always a story. Be it in a visual or a song. I remember listening to Lying Eyes by Eagles for the first time, and cringing a bit when they spoke about a girl cheating on a rich husband for a guy “whose dreams can never be stolen.” That was way back in eighth grade or so. I have the song inside my head like a full feature movie. Another example, Hotel California. Taking the literal meaning, I have a very dark image associated with the song. A death trap is what I see. Eagles, for me, are great storytellers. They package the stories neatly inside their songs. It is like biting into the crust of hot lava cake to see the dark gooey chocolate ooze out.

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Glenn Frey. Photo courtesy: http://www.eaglesonlinecentral.com

This morning, I woke up to the news of guitarist Glenn Frey’s death. There was an ever so light pain somewhere. Like that associated with the word ‘Gone’. It’s like a whisper in the air. Hardly noticeable. But then, as the day went by, I kept going back to the lyrics of the songs by the Eagles, and somehow, I felt a little relaxed. You know, that feeling after you have a LONG conversation with a close friend – it felt like that.

Here are some stories – a few among the many I like.

Lying Eyes

The lyrics talk about city girls opting rich fellows. Right thing to do, they think, given the comfortable lifestyle and secure future. But soon into the relationship, they realise that they are missing their true love, who is waiting on the other side of the town. They lie to their partner about leaving in the night to just give company to an old friend. That’s when the he sings – You can’t hide your lying eyes, and your smile is a thin disguise. I thought by now you would realise, there is no way to hide your lying eyes.’ 

Take it easy

The guy is confused about which woman to choose. He has so many women behind him, but he is just not sure which is the one. Just when he is standing on a street with all this chaos inside his head, he sees a woman driving by, giving him all the right signals. This only whips up the confusion inside. He pleads to her ‘C’mon baby, don’t say a maybe. I gotta know if your sweet love will save me…’ And all the while, he pacifies himself saying ‘Take it easy, take it easy. Don’t let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy.’

Take it to the limit

The guy is midway in his life, and stops on his tracks to reflect on his past. He thinks maybe he has been so busy that he did not even notice the love that had come his side before. Putting all that in the past, he wants to fall back on the life’s track, and try his best one more time. And then there is a point when he doesn’t have anything to believe in, the time is trickling, the youth is fading. He sings, ‘Put me on a highway, and show me a sign. And take it to the limit one more time.’ But my favourite lines in the song: ‘You can spend all your time making money, you can spend all your love making time. If it all fell to pieces tomorrow, will you still be mine.’

You get the best of my love

This can tear you up. It’s about a couple whose relationship is going through a rough patch. The singer dreams about how it was like before and how now, it is so difficult to even have a mere conversation. But no one is to blame. He says that she tried to give the best of her love, and he is also trying to give the best of his. Best lines: ‘Every morning, I wake up and worry what’s gonna happen today. You see it your way, and I see it mine. But we both see it slipping away.’

Desperado

This is a deep one. It’s a call out to those who are too busy “riding fences” (keeping busy) to find someone to love them and settle down. There would be a point, when highs and lows don’t matter, and your prison will be the world – as you would be walking alone in it – and you might just regret on all the love you could have got/given. Best lines – ‘Don’t you draw the queen of diamonds, boy. She will beat you if she is able. You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet!’ 

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My niece


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When my sister and I were small, we used to play these silly games where we would act like neighbours, bumping into each other in a park and talking about our imaginary naughty children. My sister would get angry if I made my child seem naughtier in description than hers. She always wanted the naughtier one. So if there was ever a measure of who was winning in the game, the one who picks sentences like – ‘My son actually rolled in the mud and cane home all drenched and dirty, with a couple of scars, a torn shoe and ripped bag’ – would have the edge.

This was, say, a decade ago. All of it came back to me on December 27, 2015, when my niece was born. I woke up that morning to see a very pink tiny human being’s picture on my cell phone. It was heart warming, like taking a big gulp of hot chocolate. I looked at her short needle-straight hair, pink mouth, and the fur-white cloth wrapped around her. Like a Russian nesting doll. But in a cute way.

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This is how the Russian nesting dolls look. Image courtesy: http://www.etsy.com

The first week, from what I heard from my mom, she did not let anyone sleep. Long spells of wailing, and then brief sessions of slumber. ‘She is crying like someone is hurting her’ – my sister said nervously on call. The next day, I woke up to a miraculous video – she was turning on her stomach, except for her tiny hand, which she couldn’t slip out from underneath her belly. ‘It’s just the fourth day, and she is already turning!’ – my father’s excited voice. I watched that video over five times that day.

She is a US citizen, born in the cold of Ohio. My mother holds her for me in the faint sunlight some mornings, during our Skype sessions. She looks like the swirls in the strawberry softy ice cream. So soft and pink. Two weeks old now. She only smiles in her sleep, but pays attention to claps and loud voices. ‘She is so cranky these days. Sometimes in the night, she suddenly begins crying, and it is almost like she has forgotten how to drink milk.’ My sister is tired, but never gets angry at her. She can’t. ‘She just asks the baby to ‘understand her’,’ laughs my mom.

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Courtesy, the hospital

One day, I told them to keep the video on as they dressed her for her first visit to the pediatrician. Her bed was strewn with a-little-over-palm-size T-shirts, and slacks. Finally, zeroing on a white jacket, my sister slides her tiny hands into each hole of the sleeve. But her hands get lost somewhere mid-way in the over-sized shirt. ‘Every dress is big for her,’ my mom says, taking a neat white thick blanket and wrapping her up. She looked like a momo then.

Sometimes, during the nights, after a long day at work, I wonder what her hair smells like. It just comes like a whisper of thought. Nothing that I dwell upon. Sometimes, even in the middle of work. Just the thought that a little of me, just a little, is in her – almost always cracks a smile on my aunt face. I guess it’s just a family thing.

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The drive


It was past 10 p.m. But it seemed like the city was not planning to sleep any time soon. Not in the too-high-to-rest kind of way, but more like suffering from an ailment. Continuous downpour had turned it blue in the face.

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(Sourced from Industrytap.com)

I had covered less than three kilometers in the past three hours. My feet had turned sore, and so had my mind. I looked outside and it seemed like the road had been relaid — an uneven sheet of trucks, cars and motorbikes. If a neat layer of tar was placed above, it would make a nice sandwich with traffic jam oozing out from between.

I was bored. The speakers yelled How deep is your love by Calvin Harris & Disciples. I tried to recollect the scenes. I only remembered a blonde walking towards a disco club in a trance, and then there was a lot of blue. Diving and dolphins.

It began to pour hard, as if it was competing with its last performance. The drops looked stretched. Not the cute transparent blobs that you show your naked face to. These were needle-like. I laughed a little seeing my wiper go mad. It was moving left and right, as if disturbed by an annoying bee.

The traffic moved an inch. I tried seeing what the rest of them were doing inside the comfort of their warm cars. For some reason, every single car had just the driver; mine too. We were monumental contributors to the jam – each person taking triple the space on the road.

Anyway, the inches slowly spread into kilometers. Think evolution. That slow.

The traffic began to melt after what seemed like light years. I found myself alone on an interior road, with water bubbling its way inside the doors. The streetlights were off. I could see a spot of light getting fainter at a distance. A headlight of a motor vehicle! I realised I was murmuring stuff. I was praying. Praying hard. My car waded its way through the brown thick water. A branch bobbed on one side of the road, and a few plastic covers floated on the other. I felt like that boatman who came back to find those alive among the litter of dead bodies after the Titanic wrecked. Except I did not have a whistle to blow, and the idea of honking when in water somehow seemed scary. Like the water will roar back or something.

I increased the speaker volume. I was not listening, I was blocking the silence with some noise. The horror continued till I spotted a familiar gate — my home. I got down into calf-deep water, and opened the gate to park my car. Just when I was closing, a nervous passer-by from the opposite side, tugging his bike along, asked with his brows furrowing a little, “Is it bad down there?”

“A little,” I replied shakily, quickly turning to the stairs, shifting my thoughts to my warm cosy bed.

 

 

 

 

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Finding Frida


Has it ever happened to you — the things that you just read about pop up more often than before you were aware of it? I experienced it the whole of last week. Frida Kahlo dived in and out of my days like a playful dolphin on a smooth bed of water.

See that rose bunch?

See that rose bunch?

I googled all about Frida when I came across a range of clothing inspired by her artworks, as part of an exhibition and sale in Chennai, and more recently, in a painting titled ‘Imagine Frida’ by contemporary artist Gayatri Gamuz at ArtWorld, Chennai. Apparently, the Mexican artist drew mostly self-portraits. See her works, and you will find a poker face with monobrows and a bunch of roses gathered right at the top of her head, like a well-arranged vase. As it turns out, the artist, who passed away a long time ago (in 1954) liked painting herself simply because “she knew herself the best.” Fair enough.

As far as the Frida-inspired clothes are concerned, they had large red roses spread across cute knee-length cotton dresses and kurtis. They looked much better in the canvas, hugging a thick black hair bun. More recently, a friend posted a status about seeing many women in Frida Kahlo look this Halloween (TV Presenter and model Kelly Brook was dressed so). Quite an easy look to emulate – smudge some kohl between your brows and a little rouge on your cheeks, pin a bouquet on your head and slip into a long colourful skirt. And you be the new Frida!

Just when I had finished stalking the Instagram pictures of the Frida-lookalikes, I struck another gold. Heard Museum in Arizona (US) is all set to exhibit over 200 vintage photographs of Frida, who was the wife of the popular Mexican artist Diego Rivera.

From frames to fabrics


“My artworks always spill outside the boundaries. They cannot be restricted within dainty frames,” says artist and designer Lakshmi Srinath with a laugh, pointing at a large wooden piece of work that hangs on the wall of her studio, Tvam, in Chennai. A black multi-headed serpent stares out of it at the visitors; there is a dab of turmeric smudged on it, and a dot of vermillion right on its forehead. Just beneath it is a small stretch of zebra crossing. She tells us that the wooden work titled Faith Immovable was inspired by a casual sight on a roadside — of a man worshipping a stone beneath a tree.

Just as we finish drinking in the painting, it’s hard not to notice the striking similarity of the painting and the black Kancheevaram silk saree that Lakshmi has draped. The pallu is alternate black and white, with a huge red dot weaved on its centre; a thick golden yellow line runs across the bottom of the drape.

For Lakshmi, art doesn’t just spill outside boundaries, it spills across mediums too.

“I translate the same artworks I do on wood, to fabrics (Kancheevaram silk, Chanderi and Tie and Dye) and to pieces of jewellery,” she says. Her works revolve around the theme of Sakthi. Red dot or Bindu, which symbolises a pool of energy from which everything originates, Sutra or long thread that symbolises continuity of life, and inverted triangle or yoni, an iconographic symbol of creation, are recurring elements across her collection. When it comes to colours, it is a creative play of yellow (denotes turmeric), red (vermillion) and white (ash). “I grew up in a conventional family, but the rituals and traditions that I have depicted through my works have nothing religious about them,” she says.

Instead, they convey the powerful emotion of faith. She sees millionnaires bow their heads before a piece of stone on the road side before wheeling away in their Mercedes, or a group worshipping an extended branch of a tree as lord Ganesha — and these take form in her works. “When I go to temples, I don’t see a Krishna with a flute, Siva or Vishnu, I see a stone that has been consecrated for years and years; a stone with reflects back all the positive energy which millions of people have infused in it. Just the sight of that black stone with a smear of sandalwood and a dot of red… I find that terribly powerful,” she adds.

Besides fabrics and wooden frames, the studio houses neat glass showcases filled with neckpieces and earrings made with small wooden pieces, frames of silver dipped in gold, lava beads, fired clay moulds, green turquoise, mother of pearl, agate and so on. A few are hung on the nails drilled into frames of painted wood. “It’s a complete package; those who want to buy the jewellery, get the wooden artwork on which it is hung,” she says.

But isn’t it tough — juggling three mediums? we ask. Challenges are aplenty. For example, in fabrics, the warp and wefts may not necessarily produce the same effect that you can produce with a heavy dip of paint, she explains. “But, it is all an extension of art. I don’t treat them (painting and designing) as separate,” she says.

Lakshmi is an art student, and has been painting ever since she was a kid. She graduated in Fine Arts, but soon got married and took a hiatus from the art world. However, she did start a children’s boutique in the early 1980s, and slowly ventured into designing for adults.

“That’s when I happened to meet artist A V Ilango, and he motivated me to get back into painting seriously,” she says, taking a moment to recall the exact year, “It was in 1995. Has it been 20 years?” she adds with a tinge of surprise. She showcased her works in London, France, Singapore, besides in India ever since.

She also started Tvam Art and Design Studio with her daughter Krithika Srinivasan in 2011. Meanwhile, a director with The Hindu, she got busy managing the events at the office, and art took a backseat. “But I was itching to paint, and somehow, I started making jewellery. I found that it was giving me some sort of expression to my art,” she says.

An edited version of the same appeared in The Hindu Bangalore edition of October 16. Here is the link http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-metroplus/drape-an-artwork/article7762614.ece

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It wasn’t a dream


Life is complicated. Generally. But it wasn’t then. We were under the stars, open shower, disco lightening and heavy rock inside our heads. Three drinks down, the rain drops seemed like one big blob hanging down heavily from the sky. Why can’t we just shoot up to the skies and remain there? Who wants to be on the earth anyway? I remember thinking then, trying to balance myself on my wobbly legs. My friends were at a distance. So insignificant. So earthly.

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I wanted to distance away from them. The spirit in my belly nudged the spirit in me, and I climbed the last narrow rung to the water tank. There I was, so close to the sky, so far from the earth, so far from my family, so far from the insignificant others. Life was good, life was normal. I remember feeling the hardness of my phone in my pocket. For a second I remembered by girlfriend. But she was far away. Was she insignificant too? 

The drops pelted harder and I felt lighter. Like a baby in a crib. What will my mother be doing now? What about my sister? Does she have a boyfriend? Suddenly, like a defunct radio, my brain switched to Rod Stewart’s Love is. He was singing in front of a shop that sold bananas. So funny. I remember laughing loud. I wanted to slap someone on the shoulder and laugh. I wanted someone to see me laugh, see me so happy and carefree. “You bastards…!” I remember shouting. No one turned, the rain stole my voice. Funny thing, the rain is. 

That was the last I laughed like that for months to follow.

……

Now, the stars have been replaced by fat blinding bulbs, the dark sky has been covered by curd white sheets. The drops have stopped drumming, instead, there is a tensed mix of whispers and rhythmic beeps. My neck feels heavy, and limbs rusty. I can’t laugh, I am trying. I am sleeping.

The sheet of rain was to blame. I did not see the contours of the tank. I slid slowly to the edge, slapping my thighs, laughing, shouting at the boys, laughing again.

I can feel warm fingers on my cheek, what I can’t feel is my front tooth. My head is a ball of iron. I see a man in white coat and stethoscope.

I am in a hospital.

From the corner of my eye I can see familiar faces. That same red shirt. It looked darker last night. Now, it is a bright shade of yellow. What made him buy that? I drift again.

I hadn’t been hit that hard and that fast ever. ‘Thud’ now had a clear definition in my head. I landed on the sunshade on my side, and rolled down like a pebble on to another.

Thud! again. My muscles wailed. Only I could hear them. The sky was suddenly getting farther, the ground closer. At a dizzying speed that too. Thud!. This time I hung on. My right palm bore my weight and fear.

Skin on cement. Scrapes and scratches. It was time for the final fall. 

This can’t be. I have an MBA paper to write next week. And that mail. What will my manager say? Wait, I haven’t called my girl friend. She will be worried. SIT UP! I can’t. I am frozen inside an ice cube. It’s not that cold though.

It’s comfortably warm. Peaceful, and warm.

My nose was inches away from the very wet ground. I could smell the cement and blood. Slowly, pain shot through my nape, along my collarbones and down my shoulders. Tiny sharp arrows released from a bow.

I wanted to shout, but I also wanted to lay there for as long as possible. Be one with the cement. Could the earth just split a little and take me in?

I see tears. I smell family. I see my mother with pink nose and puffy eyes. She sees me, and her brows cringe, eyes fill, and a kerchief covers her mouth. My sister stands beside her, with pink nose and puffy eyes. It’s awkward. Dad’s nose is not pink thankfully, but he has a vein popping out on his forehead.

The dream will soon be over.

But I had already fallen, and not woken up. I was scooped up by a set of hands. Not strong enough to carry my frame. I felt like a slice of butter melting out of their hands. Stretcher was a blessing, a cushion of clouds.

Had I finally reached the sky?

(The story is a work of fiction and includes no autobiographical elements. Fortunately, none)