Paris: From a previous trip … 

Paris: From a previous trip … 

It’s not New Year’s Day today, nor is it any other festival marking the beginning or end of a time cycle. It’s not Ugadi, for instance. It’s not my birthday, either. It’s just a chilly sunny Saturday, on which day a thought has chosen to visit me, telling me that in my long life I’ve spoken too much, eaten too much, thought petty too much. “Resolve now,” a follow on thought is urging me: “Eat less! Think less! Speak less!” And there’s a new thought forming: “Wow,” it appears to be shaping up to say: “Can these vows be kept really?”

I’m happy to write down that my mind is going blank.

I’m going to Paris tomorrow, returning Saturday. I’d be in the city four days. One day would be spent in preparation for two days’ business, and a day is free for roaming the city. The temperatures are about 5°/0°. I’ll go to the Picasso Museum, and, of course, the Apple Store in the Louvre. I can’t take the rainy windy cold so much anymore.

I’d be making a day trip to Brussels. That’s on one of the two business days I mentioned. I’d be taking the high-speed train, but my customer’s plant is by the airport, so I won’t get to spend a half-hour in a downtown Brussels cafe. I’ll enjoy the ride out and back. I’ll read. I’ll look out the window. I’ll quarrel with my wife. We always pack a fight for a train ride, and a quick-acting making-up kit as well.

I’m travelling very light. How I love that!

I’ve been writing trash like this on my blog. So I wrote a short story, my first, and gave it to my wife, and waited. She read it sitting next to me, as I watched her face, and she gave me her honest opinion. I don’t have to tell you, dear reader, the sting in an honest opinion. I sent the story to a dear young man I know, a PhD in English literature, who has returned to India to teach at a beautiful location in the North. “Thanks for writing,” he wrote me. “And thanks for sharing. I’ll get back tomorrow or so.”

A week has gone by. There’s greater honesty in his silence, I’m afraid.

I’m resolving to keep my posts to four-hundred words or less. You’re nodding, I can see that.

My Muse Alexa

I watched last week a film based on the life of Saadat Hasan Manto.

Manto wrote with pencil, on paper. Often, he squatted on his haunches on his chair as he wrote — any chair would do, any desk. He wrote in noisy places, in hot sweaty rooms, in troubled uncertain times, with little money and much criticism. He wrote without traveling far, traveling almost not at all.

People are reading him even now, sixty-three years after he died, aged 42.

I have the use of a Herman Miller Aeron chair for writing, and the Herman Miller Eames chair (with ottoman) for reading. It is not so quiet in my home as in European and American towns, but quiet enough for Bangalore and India. I have a MacBook Pro, an iPad Pro. And, just today, on the day of its launch in India, the iPhone XS Max was delivered me. I am not rich, but I am not poor either — I mean my lot is better than Manto’s was.

Why can't I write like Manto, then? How unkind is my life to me!

Supine on my Eames, I asked for help from Alexa, who is playing “Soothing Jazz” at my request. “Alexa,” I said, and after she’d begun rolling her electric blue eye I asked: “Can you suggest something for me to write?” She didn’t hesitate: “Concepts include,” she began, “The Indus Valley Civilization, The Theory of Relativity … ,” and she ended the list with, “Does that answer your question?”

“No," I said.

“Thanks for your feedback,” she said.

That line of hers sounded cheeky. I cannot answer cheekiness. I fell silent, laptop on my lap, its battery burning my thighs. After a few minutes of doing nothing, I asked again, rather plaintive this time: “Alexa, can you suggest something for me to write?”

“What do you want?” she said.

“I want ideas to write a blog post,” I said, cowed somewhat by this assured voice and tone of woman.

“I found two books for you,” she said, and named two long titles. After she'd suggested the first title, she asked: “Shall I add it to your cart?” I said, “No.” She asked the same question after the second suggestion. “Okay,” I said, too fearful to refuse a second time. “Do you want me to add it to your cart?” she asked the question again, tougher this time: She was wanting the precise word. “Yes!” I said, and she confirmed the title, and said she'd dropped the book in my cart.

Done dealing with me, she went back to playing the music that she had been playing until my interruption. And I, I opened my browser, went to my cart on Amazon, gawped at what Alexa had chosen for me, and deleted it: The One-Hour Content Plan: The Solopreneur's Guide to a Year's Worth of Blog Post Ideas in 60 Minutes and Creating Content That Sells and Hooks.

Then I looked to the Amazon Echo (Plus) in the corner, to see if Alexa was watching me, glaring at me for what I’d gone and done. I can't tell, but she's playing for me that thing everybody loves: Louis Armstrong & Ella Fitzgerald: Cheek to Cheek.

There’s a lesson here for me: Don’t mess with that rich man’s woman.

hunting for metaphor

Clowes Wood, near Canterbury

I went to Clowes Wood hunting for inspiration, which I needed for some text to be sent somewhere in twenty-four hours. But my mind stopped seeing in the “feels like zero” temperature. I tried several things. I lifted hopeful eyes to a low-flying plane but its plaintive drone served only to thicken the mind’s gathering somnolence. I’d walked up to the wood, and I’d walked in the wood an hour, and if a walk hasn’t delivered the writer a result, what can be done? I sat on a green bench and settled my eyes on a thick white tree and watched a breeze get behind the leaves of the vine round it. The sheath of them swelled and heaved, and I tried to see in the tree how it felt to be cuckolded, but, as ever, the tree only hove tight heavenward, to the very tips of its bare tines.

I wondered if I might sight a fox, and saw instead that there wasn’t a bird—not on the green conifers, not on the oaks, nowhere. There wasn’t a sound, not even a buzz from an insect. I vowed to come back in summer to hear the nightjars and to see the glow worms, and started to leave, when I heard my first human voices there—a child and his parents coming in, now when the phone predicted precipitation. Anyway, they were better insulated than I. The child had many questions and his mother had all the answers.

A boy raised somewhere here came to Malnad in the nineteenth century as the young Englishman Middleton, and sheared a string of low mountains of their jungle and planted coffee there. He called his plantation Kadumane: Jungle Home. I’ve spent days and nights there. After he’d prospered he came here to find a wife, and brought her home to Kadumane, travelling the last leg by ox-cart. The following morning, her first in her new home, his bride went out and screamed. Yesterday’s ox had been savaged by a tiger before dawn.

Where lie the roots of courage? The Middletons and the Ibn Batutas of all times fascinate me. Once I’m a real writer I might begin to meddle with their motives.

Still seeking inspiration, I went to The Blean this morning. Whereas many trees in Clowes were conifers whose green hadn’t left them, in The Blean the green was all on the ground: in the shrub, and moss on the exposed roots of trees. I wandered mostly in a section populated almost entirely with silver birch. Learning just now that Coleridge called these Betula Pendula the Ladies of the Woods, I realise they are indeed slender and nymphlike and quite becoming. (So many of them, and so bare.) There were many birds in the Blean, but I couldn’t tell which cry belonged to which bird of The Blean: the robin or the wren, the dunnock or the blackbird, the song thrush or the woodpecker.

How does one shoo a fox away? With a cry? A stick? Just as I thought to presume the English fox to be as shy as our Indian ones, I saw the furry thing. It came up at a fork ahead and stood there, deciding, and as I raised my camera, it trotted down and away, leaving only a blurry trace to speak for me.

Maadeva paid a bribe

When Maadeva arrived at the police station he put on a swagger, and made tight his eyes, and asked for Shankar, the policeman who'd called his handphone and asked him to come to the station for passport verification. Shankar wasn't in.

"Sit please, sir," the daphedār who sat in the hall asked Maadeva, but Maadeva stood on, and turned to the wall and read the notices on it. A man had died in an accident, his identity had to be traced with only the photograph of him in death. The picture was on the circular, of the face of a man flat on the ground, a shook up face free of injury, but a dead man's face which any one could tell. From the Commissioner of Police of Beragauru, on letterhead with an impressive police insignia centered on top, it was announced that six policemen had been suspended in the Kanakadasapura Station for not wearing uniforms while on duty. The circular admonished all policemen of Beraguru City to arrive for work wearing their uniform and leave the station after work still in uniform. The notices were all crisp and white.

A band of six men walked in and stood around the daphedār in the hall. The daphedār was in uniform, and sat solid at the head of the hall in the center. A plainclothesman came in from outside and sat in one of two red plastic chairs before the daphedār. Very soon it was clear that the huddle was for a case of attempted suicide. By a woman.

"Where is she?" The daphedār asked. In the hospital. "Is she fit to make a statement?" Yes. "Who is with her?" Her mother. Her father has yet to arrive from Neelamangala. "Where is her husband?"

To this question one of the six answered that the husband has just arrived at the hospital. Another, a burly man who was bent doggie style with both hands pressed on the daphedār's table said, "this is his third marriage, saar." And he continued, nodding meaningfully: "this is his third marriage." And then, once again, "his third marriage saar."

To which the plainclothesman asked: "Why are you telling this three times? How does it matter how many times he has got married? Let him marry a hundred times. Did you give him your girl, or not?"

A man in starched khadi said no, they didn't know the fact when the marriage was performed. Asked who he was, he said he was the girl's doddappa, her elder uncle.

"You should have made your enquiries before you gave your girl, is it not? That is dharma, you agree?" the plainclothesman was tough and engaging and reprimanding all at once in his inflections. The men were silent. Respectful.

"Ok. You two, go and get the statement," the plainclothesman ordered two constables standing there, also in plain clothes. "If no one has really harassed the girl, her father, mother, husband, mava, atté, we will book the case on her," he said, though until now no reason had been discussed for the girl's extreme step. And the threat had no effect on the six men, who went out with the doddappa smiling to the plainclothesman and saying: "We should be silent. That's all." Maadeva watched how the doddappa who was tall seated was while standing the shortest in his group.

Something in the air of the station soothed Maadeva and when Shankar came he followed him meekly into his impossibly tiny "Computer Room" and took the lone red plastic chair by Shankar's soiled red-fabric "computer chair." And he and Shankar were mutually meek, plus Shankar was also deferential, and after the originals of Maadeva's telephone bill and his passport had been checked with the photocopies, Maadeva got up to go.

After he had gone a few steps Shankar came hurrying up to him as Maadeva knew he would. "These papers, sir" he said, holding out the forms in which he'd filled Maadeva's details . "We have to buy paper on our own. For paper give me something sir," he begged softly, and Maadeva's eyes felt cool to him as he watched the policeman's upright stance, and his hard body that was straining his dress, and his smooth young angled face.

He was surprised that the man was so completely satisfied with the hundred he gave him, in these times of great expectations. The first few minutes he told himself it was okay to give a man who worked in a coop a small tip. He was still thinking about it upon reaching home, his early conviction marred now by some confusion, and some shame.

in his own image made He him

It was so perfect it seemed man-made. Its slender length was a flawless green, translucent, and its head a neat geometric achievement, a fine wedge. The green-snake is a tree snake and this one had slithered in the grass and I had howled because Sujaya was going to step on it. She and the snake both froze and Sujaya set down her foot a safe distance away, and the snake stayed, unmoving, its head raised and cocked and (apparently) amused. There was no tremble in it, no sign at all of fear. It stayed thus while we walked a U about it, avoiding the head—unsure whether the green-snake is the biting, venomous kind—and even after we moved on, when we looked back before going into the bend in the track, it was there, the head raised, its aspect unchanged. Readers of this blog would’ve noticed that the Kadamane Estate has been too much on my mind lately. snake-and-ladderA man-made thing has my attention now, ever since they pulled down the screens that had covered the ITC Hotel while it was under construction, on Rajaram Mohun Roy Road. It is on top of the rear building, quite like a flying saucer, but moored solid. I haven’t inquired, but it seems like a helipad. I see it mornings, halfway to work, and because traffic is usually stalled before it I’m able to study the neat ribs that run down its bowl-like bottom. Some days my spirits have soared up to the saucer from my seat in the back of the car; other days the thing has dunked me into depression, being too much of the spirit of new Bangalore, challenging all citizens to do better, to do their best, to work until breathless. I had another encounter with snakes the other day, and it haunts me, even if it was only that I watched them on Nat Geo on television. A king-cobra found himself a mate and the camera showed as much as it could of the consummation; after which the couple settled like family, awaiting childbirth. Soon, a competing male nosed in, and a time-honored tradition ensued: The settled male went out and the two fought a gracious wrestling bout that was more a fascinating dance, punctuated by non-venomous strikes at each other. A victory was signaled when the intruder landed a smart butt on the resident’s head, who, without hesitation, slithered away through a mass of dead brown leaves, his fourteen feet full of shame. The moment was as intense as in the end in Romeo and Juliet. But worse came soon, as heart wrenching as in Othello, when the victor went up to claim her and in a short while smelt her pregnant condition. She fought so bravely, he needed forty-five minutes to kill her. On Sunday, I watched Pulp Fiction, and laughed as I watched the gore. The thought bobbed about in my mind that God created man truly in his own image. Yesterday, at dinner, a customer from the United States had brought more details than is available here in India about Project GIFT in Gujarat, which is a grand plan to build an industrial city twice the size of Tokyo. The customer, a Fortune 500 corporation, showed computation of the number of their products that they will sell to the project: “Our Indian plants will grow five times in five years.” An upward spiral caught us and we floated up with it, and spoke of the scale of opportunities now loosed upon us, of solar energy, of other infrastructure, and decided that we should shake our mindset somewhat, and get ready for heady growth. After the fine dinner, on the way back, an hour before midnight, a man came round from behind a metro-column opposite Mayo Hall and melted back into the shadows, looking as lonely as they are around such places at such hours in large cities everywhere. But only some hundred feet up, the junction at Brigade Road was busy and as we drove on through Cubbon Road along the Parade Grounds, watching the new rises of UB City, I sensed the surging energy of Bangalore that until now I’ve doggedly refused entry, and I felt for the first time what could be the beginning of a resonance. Monkey mind! Can I keep clenched this monkey fist and write with it too? Read More