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“Tell me, Anand, if that’s not art then what is it?” was the fervid rhetorical that, recently, confronted me over a conversation with a friend. She was referring to the pictures taken by Spencer Tunick over several “installations”. She had participated in one recently & was, understandably, elated, to say the least. I couldn’t deny the uniqueness of the experience but thought that such mass nudity in the name of art was an excuse. We didn’t hold opposing views but to me these installations were akin to a gimmick and a gimmick, however artful, wasn’t art to me. This conversation made me sit back and take stock of what I considered art. The interest in this exercise waned till a comment on Alvibest’s official blog (alvibest.blogspot.com) brought the spark back into my original internal dialogue. A very talented person had put her comments on one of the posts and it started thus: “What is art, if not a love affair? Both defy analysis.” I had to return to the post to understand the context of that comment. It was then that I realised that she was echoing a statement made on the post “The journey is not an analysis of the art pieces, but a presentation of a personal love affair...” Now seemed the right time to try and understand what is recognised as art. After careful and patient meditation I realised that art, to me, is not of the mind but of the senses and the soul. Once the need for clever discussions and interpolations is imperative to establish the aesthetics of a work, it ceases, I feel, to be art. Art shouldn’t need explanations and justification. With such an indulgence, the beauty in art starts cracking up like plaster peeling off an old wall. Several gimmicks in the name of art exist through history. John Cage’s “musical composition” 4' 33" is nothing but 4 minutes and 33 seconds of uninterrupted silence! This gimmick is encored at many “recitals”! Recently I saw a book, titled “What Men Know About Women” (or something on those lines) which is several glossy blank pages bound together (probably inspired by Elbert Hubbard’s ‘Essay on Silence’). In TNR's “Out of Time” column, Rochelle Gurstein wrote an interesting piece called “On Beauty and Aesthetics Autonomy” where she mentions about a Marcel Duchamp’s “work of art”. He had placed a urinal upside down and, voila! we have a work of art. So let us revisit the question: What is art? The anticlimax is - there really isn’t an answer to that question especially when art is of the senses. Here is why I like the parallel to a love affair (and interestingly, parallels never meet). Art is felt in every pulse and fibre of the lover's being. Being in love sensitises the artist as much as a canvas well done or a composition well rendered. And at their pinnacle, neither are explained nor put in words; the lover is ungrudgingly imbued in the experience of beauty in the work of art. Alvibest is a sincere attempt at providing a chance for a love affair, which, to me, it already is. In Alvibest, we would collect various aspects of art and present it in the English language. Originally, the intent was to present a journal which catered to authors of fiction, non-fiction, poetry – material traditionally collected in a literary journal. Soon we realised that artwork (the cover picture, for instance, was taken after several attempts during a power outage), translations into English, presenting communicable aspects of music and dance were also in tune with our idea and want for a journal on manual art. What we will include within folds are works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, book reviews, discussions/articles related to various forms of art, articles of popular interest and social impact (with less leaning towards politics), translations, visual artwork, art analysis, etc. We would welcome new and interesting genres, which might (and should) find a place in this journal. This issue is our first baby step towards realising the dream of providing a wonderful experience to art lovers. In this issue you will find AgniBharathi's rendezvous with a long lost lover. We look at how the book "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac might be a pleasurable read. Tree's poem about the morning is an interesting perspective and we are privy to a letter (reproduced as it is) from a father to his son, in which we find him torn between his beliefs, sense of duty and love for his family. Chandralekha, Ashoka's courtesan, has a lot to say in a poem named after her. Aftab’s presentation of the nuances of ghazals and the promised piece of a personal love affair with Michelangelo's Pietas are some of the interesting pieces in this issue. “Key to Life” is an allegory and presents a thought provoking read. Included towards the end are submission guidelines. We would be very interested in reading your work and including them. Reader's who are interested in contributing time and effort in reviewing submissions (and I would like to thank everyone, especially Padmalakshmi Nigam, Anupama Vishwanathan, Manasa, Chikuado, AgniBharathi and Wookie, who helped in this effort), working on the design and layout of the magazine as well as the logistics are welcome to write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Suggestions and ideas are welcome at email@example.com. We hope you enjoy this experience and join us on this journey. Happy reading.
THE LURE DESTINY ON THE ROAD BY JACK KEROUAC CHANDRALEKHA TEARS OF THE RIVER ART OF WRITING: SHOWING VERSUS TELLING WHAT DO YOU FEEL? MORNING, BEGGAR TO THE GODS GHAZALS KEY TO LIFE PIETA – A STORY OF LOVE A LETTER FROM A FATHER TO SON HAIKU SUBMISSION GUIDELINES
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Poetry The Lure
Little pink tongue ran over A pinker lip and things lacking. He watched my tall cool glass Of promising pleasures and Relief From the burning heat of the sun And the scalding fire of Many rupees which go to buy it for him And as he watched me sip, He licked his lips with the pleasure He could have felt but Never would have. I pushed it to him and he pulled back and shook his head He turned and walked away. Tables need cleaning And his heart needed distance From the lure of an easy life Of things handed down and sympathy. As he scrubbed the tables, He scrubbed them harder when Temptation grew, And with each hard rub He hoped that it would Stifle the coolness of that call. I finished my drink quickly Uneasy with my invidious stay Leave and leave him with the sense of victory. I walked away; I turned And saw him move my glass aside Scrubbing my table gently He picked the glass before it fell And met Her eyes so near his He lifted the glass to his lips Those pink lips darkening in a drowning battle As the cool dregs wetted his tongue And burned its way down the throat And then I knew that it is the heart that Precipitates guilt and the forsaken will. For the coolness which scorched his heart Made him double over And cry Cry In the joy of a cool drink In the void of parting pride
The incense fumes twirled a little, above the sticks and spread to fill the tent with jasmine and sandalwood. “You be famous, haan”, she said. Joey was watching her lips move and once they stopped, he darted back to her eyes. I kept looking at the squares she had drawn on the parchment. There were twelve squares of equal size, which seemed to chase each other. Before Joey gave her his hands to hold those squares were empty and that emptiness, just like my interest in this hocuspocus. She had later filled some of them with symbols and kept tapping on them while leaving my inclination to be the sole void in this low tent filled with plumes of gray smoke which conjured green gardens speckled with red roses and white jasmine amidst smooth logs of carved sandalwood. I watched the dull sinuous brume thread away beyond my grasp; things which can never be held in our hands, hold us firmly. I returned to watch the ambitious designs of lifeless squares on paper, creating my brother’s future. “You be very famous”, she repeated and looked closer at the curvaceous lines on his hand and then at the stoic square world that lie on the parchment on the table before continuing, “But what use? You be sad. Everyone praise, but you sad.” "What do you mean by famous?” Joey asked.
"Must be something like, you get married to all the Jones's daughters and the town praises you for being brave but you have to live with them", I said and slapped my knee loudly. I stopped laughing immediately, as I was the only one merry. "You not believe?” she asked. "Yes, I not believe" I leaned over and sniggered at her. She gave me a smile that felt like a cold finger on my neck. She returned to pouring over her geometric figures. "You have father's blessing." "Oh! Really? And where does his father work?" "Now stop it Eddie. If you don't believe in these things, don't trouble her." She had taken my question seriously and was tapping some squares and counting on her fingers. "Father, no. Three years, no father." I licked my lips thinking of something else that could trap her but was shocked into silence and the horripilation from my shoulder to the ears started to ache. How could she have known? Our father had died a little over three years ago due to cancer. These people
had pitched the fair and this tent only a couple of days ago. We left the tent in a daze, but I staged an early recovery. "These people gossip pretty hard, you know." "Give it up, Ed. You know that was uncanny. What bothers me is what did she mean by become famous?" "Don't let it bother you. If you will, you will. And you can be famous and happy unlike what she...." "If its destiny's word to be sad, nothing can go against it." "Don't be silly. You make your life, bro. Every step you take is your decision, not destiny's. Look at Stevie Wonder and that Hawking guy and ..." "What makes you think that what happens is not what destiny wanted to make happen in the first place?" he asked me with a smile on his face that shut me up immediately. Couple of days passed by without a reference to the incidents in that tent. One evening, I returned early from work, as news was that the routes would be barricaded for the evening. Geoffrey Adams was presenting his manifesto at Blayt Park. He was running for mayor and, had there been no police in this town, he would be running for his life. He was Geoffrey Adams of Adams Tanneries and Chemicals, the single cause of death of over a hundred residents. My father was one of the victims. The whole town would be there at the park; the whole town minus the people being treated at Good Hope for cancer. Never had our town been unified in showing their hatred for Adams. Never had our town come together for any singular purpose.
As I drove back home, I saw people putting up banners with “No Killer for Mayor” in red. I parked the car and walked up to them. “Say Jeff, you too joined in?” Jeff who was bent over an upturned crate straightened up and looked seriously at me. “Hey Ed. You want a part too? We have many more …” It was then that I noticed what he was doing before my interruption. He was letting the blood from his forearm drip into a bottle halffull of red fluid. “What? Ed? Don’t tell me you get pukish when you see blood. Come on.” “This is disgusting man. Why are you fellas doing this?” “Why? Why? You ask why?” Jeff caught me by my jacket lapels and was shaking me. I cringed when I saw a few drops fall on my jacket. “Hey! Let go. What do you think you’re doing?” “You think all of this is crazy? You want me to go back home and watch TV?” “Easy Jeff. I don’t like the man, but this can get you an infection. See straight, buddy.” “Infection?” and he started to laugh and roar and held his stomach, “Infection he says. Ooooh! I am infected now. Claire, step aside, run away, I am infected.” And he started flailing his arms and walking towards a lady who was holding onto a single arm of her wheelchair dearer than hair had held on to her head. She laughed along with him a laugh captured in an ashen face and interrupted with blood rimmed eyes and pale pink gums with teeth like festoons. “Claire, heard him?” and he slapped her wheelchair making it rock wildly. Suddenly he turned around and rushed back at me. Before I could move he threw his fist at me and something landed squarely on my face causing no expected damage. I opened my eyes to watch a white paper float down to the tarmac. Jeff turned around and was looking at the banner, his hands folded across his
chest. With an eye on him I bent down to pick the paper. “What’s this, man?” I asked while looking at sheet with some tables on it and lots of long words. “Read the last line. Above the signature.” I lowered my eyes to that line and shot a look back at Jeff quicker than a clay pigeon ever flew in skeet. But before I could get anything past my pulsing throat, he turned around and looked at me with eyes soaked in the frustration of a lost life. “God’s pink slip, man. For working loyally for that son…” I rushed over and hugged him and we both crashed to the floor and lay beside the gutter sobbing like children surrounded by salivating hounds. After a while we got up and brushed each other’s jackets. “Hey! sorry for the reds. Didn’t mean to. Give it to me, let me get it done for you.” “Its ok.” I looked up at the banner and said, “Some up there and some here. I am with you on this protest and won’t take this off till the elections are done.” We hugged once more before I waved bye and headed back to my car. Before I got in, I turned to look at Jeff bent over the crate. Suddenly it felt like I never got out of the car and nothing happened and that he would be back at the plant tomorrow and my father would be in the porch waiting for me when I went home and … I burst out crying and wailing against the front wheel and hugged it like my father once did the wheel of Time in a hurry. I had to get back home and be with mom. As I parked my car in the garage and got out, I saw Joey jump on his bike and shoot out of the side of the house. I called out to him but he disappeared. I walked in and mom came rushing towards me. “Eddie, stop him, stop him.”
“Why? What happened? Calm down.” “Joey and I were watching the campaign work on TV and I was telling Joey how much I hated Adams and how much I and my friends wanted to see him dead and, and, and …”, she sobbed, “and before I knew it, he rushed upstairs took your .45 and rushed out. Eddie, I think he has gone mad. He kept shouting "destiny" all the time. Eddie no, Eddie. I am scared and I didn’t mean to… God, I really didn’t want him…” “Mom, mom, MOM, I want you to relax”, I said as I rushed back to my car. “Stay inside. I will get Joey back home. Ok? Now relax. You don’t move out. Ok?” I jumped into my car and struggled to get the key in. Damn, why does this always happen when I am in a hurry? No, Joey, no. I let the bile swirl in my mouth before I spat it out and put all my weight on the accelerator. Every car was a blur and every profanity ricocheted off the sides of my car. I spotted the repulsively dirty white cap riding on his bike. I relaxed a little except on the accelerator. The lights turned red before I could cross. Damn! Come on, come on, turn green. I was drumming away on the wheel trying to drown that woman's voice which filled my car like the incense in her tent. “You be famous, but what use? You be sad. Everyone ...” “Shut up, shut up. SHUT UP!” I floored the pedal. Green or no green, I had to make it to the park. I heard the screech of a familiar but now distant whistle. I reached the park as soon as I could.
Where is that white cap? I searched for him all over the park and in between all those “Die Adams” and “Cancerous Adams” placards. Then I turned to look at the erected stage. The speakers! I rushed towards them & spotted the cap between those black boxes. I pushed people aside & stepped over more toes than apologies I could render. “Joey, no, wait.” “Eddie. What are you doing here?” He put his hand in his pocket. I moved fast and pressed his hand inside his pocket. “What are you doing, Eddie?” “Stopping you from doing something foolish.” He was quiet & stared into my eyes. “Its destiny, Ed. You can’t stop it. I can’t stop it.” He tried to pull his hand out. “Joey, listen to me. If its destiny, it will happen. You don’t have to put in your efforts to make it happen. What if that woman comes up to you tomorrow and tells you that she read those squares wrongly? Huh, then what?” “She wouldn’t be wrong, then. I would be famous.” “Listen Joey, if it is meant to happen, it will. Why do you need to act according to destiny?” He continued tugging at my hand. I wanted to hit him and take him away from there, or hug him and carry him away. Whatever the means, he had to be far away from here. I decided to shift gears. “Tell me, if you believe in destiny, why do you think She needs you to make it happen, huh? Shouldn’t She be powerful enough to make it happen Herself? Think about it, bro. You know what, you don’t really believe in this destiny thing, that’s why you decided to do it so that destiny becomes more credible. If it is
destiny that you would die tomorrow, why go and jump off a cliff? Let a lightening bolt hit you, or a roof crash down on your head”, I said and smacked his head. “Why? Because you feel your belief in destiny would lose its basis, right? If you don’t pull that gun out of your pocket, can destiny still make you famous, happy or sad? I don’t think she can, and I also know that you feel the same. You don’t believe in destiny Joey, you don’t.” I drew in all the air I had lost. Joey relaxed a little. “Listen, Joey, Adams deserves to die and he will die a dog’s death”, I said and spat on the grass before continuing, “But you needn’t do it. Let his destiny decide the details.” He tugged at his hand & I instinctively held it tighter. “Relax bro. I won’t take it out.” I smiled at him and couldn’t help pull him into a hug. I could feel the gun against my hipbone. “Let’s go home now, ok?” He simply nodded. “My bike is at the side entrance.” I looked at him, as I debated going along with him. “Trust me, bro, scouts honour.” I smiled at his silly salute and pushed him towards the entrance. I was glad I reached him on time. As I turned around, I saw Adams climb out of his car. Suddenly it was nurses running around, my mother weeping and my brother sitting in a corner with all the reports and documents. I was standing with my back to the door to dad’s room. Adams had walked up to me with his secretary, “I am sorry son. Your dad was a great guy and…” “Mr. Adams, dad is still around.” “What? But”, he turned to his secretary, ”Yana said that he had …” he turned back to
me, “Be brave boy. I have to go now. Let Nada here know about anything you need. Ok?” “No thanks Mr. Adams, but we…” He was already heading back to his car. He had paid his due visit and hence didn’t return when dad died. It was better that way. Through moist eyes I saw him get on stage after kissing Christy’s kid and spinning on his heels and waving out to the crowd. I twisted around to Joey. He had his hands in his pockets and was walking away slowly. He hadn't even turned to look at Adams. Adams started out on his speech and his henchmen stood around the podium. Some other day, Adams, some other day. Then a gunshot rang and Adams’s forehead split open. I turned to look at Joey. He was
still walking away as if in a stupor and continued walking while everyone around him ran in the animated chaos that followed. They weren’t running away but were running towards Adams and pounced on his men and on top of Adams. Gun shots marked the air with ominous pockets of noise. Joey was the only one walking away and they thought he was running away. They found the gun in his pocket. The bullet matched. He refused to hire an attorney for himself. When I met him a few weeks later, he ambled over to me and held me through those iron rods. He had only one thing to say: “Destiny”, and that single word carried in it all his pain, shame and remorse. He never spoke to anyone after that. Joey is still serving life within jail, and I do so, without.
Reading Reminiscence On the Road by Jack Kerouac
There are books which are sought for the sheer delight of watching words and scenes tangoing in a frenzy which, in its mildest form, can only be infectious. There are books which snare you with the timeliness of concept or theme discussed in the book, and then there are books which can be thrown aside as trite and as a dilettante's attempt at writing, but more often than not, they would beat a sub-conscious drum which reaches its deafening crescendo somewhere towards the end of the book and rattles you inside out. One such book from the latter category is "On The Road" by Jack Kerouac. It has very little literary magic to offer and the play of words, as one might find in Saki's or Virginia Woolf's works, are missing to a great extent, but that, it seems, was never the intent of this book, if there ever was intent in the first place. Kerouac wanted to publish this work as he had written it in the first place, but the editor's pen did modify certain things, some of them being trivial changes, which Kerouac resented. This work of Kerouac is stream of consciousness writing in its least obscure form (especially after one reads Woolf or Joyce and remains stoned for a long time). The intensity and the nervous frenetic style of writing added the right effect to the pace and urgency of the novel. The novel is narrated by Sal Paradise, a young student and writer and gets off by introducing us to Dean Moriarty, a happy-go-lucky person who is a juvenile delinquent centre alumnus. The story takes us through the crazed scenes of disturbed days in the lives of the characters that are invariably always resolved by hitting the road. Most of the book is about the numerous trips that Sal makes across the country with or without Dean. For many days and pages, Dean is nowhere in the forefront except for an occasional mention and serving as an undercurrent to all of Sal's decisions and moves. The novel takes us through all the crazy days of near starvation and petty thieving and sex and jazz and stealing cars and divorces and plain survival. Dean with all his wild ways and multiple marriages and affairs on the side, along with some senseless prattle in the name of intellectual and philosophical discussions with Carlo, is presented as a saint, as someone who might burn your house but meant you no real harm, because it would "kill him" to see you sad. This is a story of going out and living a life without strings and without the need to secure a future, for life is about today and the only way one can deal with it is living their entire life in every minute with the same wild urgency and zest. This novel is intended to leave one gasping at having lost life to the vagaries of a decent, popular and safe lifestyle. Kerouac's most famous piece was written in a span of three weeks - the weeks and Kerouac stretched to the limit of creativity by Benzedrine, coffee and the inspiration that came forth in the form of Neal Cassady, his dear friend and the precursor to Dean Moriarty. Kerouac wrote "On the road" while staying at the Cassady's and wrote the entire piece on a 120 feet long scrolled sheet of
paper! The heady drive to do this, came from the jazz and bop community where spontaneous creation was a prized possession. The book is also filled with visits to jazz bandstands, and those scenes are wonderfully and simply captured. Kerouac declares [in his interview with The Paris Review] that he got the idea of writing in a spontaneous style, as we see performed in On the Road, from the letters and conversations he had with Neal Cassady. Neal sent him letters that measured to the length of a few thousand words, the longest one being about forty thousand words, which was lost to Kerouac. Kerouac was long done with the novel before he got a share of fame more than he could manage. His girlfriend of those days, Joyce Johnson, said of Kerouac, "Jack went to bed obscure and woke up famous." Such was the suddenness of his fame that only this book could have caused it. The book cover of the "Essential Penguin" print of this novel carries a statement from William Burroughs, which goes on to say "On the Road sold a trillion Levis and a million Espresso machines, and also sent countless kids on the road..." But more than anything, Kerouac defined the "beat" generation. In not so much as a singular page devoted to the definition of beat, Kerouac rolled the ideals and natural rhythm of the beat generation all over his novel. No better name could have been used for this. The beat generation's beat was to learn "how to live" rather than "why to live". To try everything before "death overtook them" was the driving force behind this generation. There are many pieces in this book, which form very interesting scenes and some of the snippets picked are mainly to provide a peek into what the book presents. They aren’t presented in a chronological order and aren’t intended to provide a summary of the novel.
At the outset, Sal, the narrator, tells us about how the end of his marriage and the finale to his sickness made space for Dean Moriarty. The way he presents this fact can be easily overlooked and considered unimportant until the book ends. Juxtaposing the end of marriage and sickness with the entry of Dean could not be pure chance. After a mild introduction of Dean he goes on to pin the facets of Dean's philosophy:
"for to him sex was the one and only holy and important thing in life, although he had to sweat and curse to make a living..."
It is amazing to watch Sal be so aware of Dean and his inclination to con him, but nevertheless hang around with him:
" He was simply a youth tremendously excited with life, and though he was a con-man, he was only conning because he wanted so much to live and to get involved with people who would otherwise pay no attention to him. "
Carlo, Ed and a few others are introduced with no intention of making them important characters in the novel other than playing an important role of creating life around Dean and Sal. Soon Sal hits the road and makes seemingly elaborate plans to go to places, ends up messing up all of them and gets stranded in the rain or along long empty roads. None of that deters him or Dean in continuing with what they do with ardent zeal. Dean and his on-off marriage to Marylou or Camille, Sal borrowing money from his aunt, Greyhounds and shacks which serve coffee and sandwiches, whisky, cigarettes and broads, all float in and out of the scene like rapidly speeding coconut palms past a serene and humming car. A sojourn at Denver happens often enough and weird "hobos" and fellow travelers take what they want and leave never to return, or so it seems. Then there is an episode between Sal and his friend Remi Boncoeur. Together they run
around without actually getting on the road. They steal things without a single twitch of conscience, but are generous in sharing it with people often forgotten. There is a lot of jazz, some drinking and a horse race. At the end of their association Sal embarrasses Remi in front of Remi’s stepfather. Sal leaves and does not turn around to apologise; no regrets, no crawling to Canossa. At one point, Sal meets a Mexican girl and in order to stay with her, he decides to take a job as a cotton picker, a job about which he has no clue. In that and in being with Terry, his Mexican girl, he finds a peace he wasn’t looking for.
" It was Terry who brought my soul back; on the tent stove she warmed up the food, and it was the greatest meals of my life, I was so hungry and tired. Sighing like an old Negro cotton-picker, I reclined on the bed and smoked a cigarette. [...] I was satisfied with that. Terry curled up beside me, Johnny sat on my chest, and they drew pictures of animals in my notebook. [...] It was alright with me. I kissed my baby and we put out the lights. "
and they decide to slow things down. And during a conversation with Carlo Marx, Sal goes on to realise something serious:
"Naturally, now that I look back on it, this is only death: death will overtake us before heaven. The one thing we yearn for in our living days, that makes us sigh and groan and undergo sweet nauseas of all kinds, is the remembrance of some lost bliss that was probably experienced in the womb and can only be reproduced (though we hate to admit it) in death. "
All over the novel, there are non-intrusive scenes with great jazz players and how they enjoy their art and how, between their indulgences in their destined art form, they live the life of dispassionate human beings. Dean's absolute awe of them and how he watches them through their performance like a man possessed, fills wonderful pages, giving us a glimpse into the abstruse mind of Dean Moriarty and what, possibly, holds Sal to Dean.
“Shearing began to play his chords; they rolled out of the piano in great rich showers […]Dean was sweating; the sweat poured down his collar. “There he is! That’s him! Old God! Old God Shearing! Yes! Yes! Yes!” And Shearing was conscious of the madman behind him, he could hear everyone of Dean’s gasps and imprecations, he could sense it though he couldn’t see. […] When he was gone Dean pointed to the empty piano seat. “God’s empty chair,” he said. […] God was gone; it was the silence of his departure.”
Simple pleasures. He leaves Terry soon and hits the road again.
"That night in Harrisburg I had to sleep in the railroad station on a bench; at dawn the station masters threw me out. Isn't it true that you start your life a sweet child believing in everything under your father's roof? Then comes the day of the Laodiceans, when you know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, and with a visage of a gruesome grieving ghost you go shuddering through nightmare life. [...] I was starving to death. All I had left in the form of calories were the last of the cough drops ... "
“But the slender leader frowned, “Let’s blow anyway.” Something would come of it yet. There’s always more, a little further – it never ends. They sought to find new phrases after Shearing’s explorations; they tried hard. They writhed and twisted and blew. […] They found it, they lost it, they wrestled for it, they found it again, they laughed, they moaned – and Dean sweated at the table and told them to go, go, go. At nine o’clock in the morning everybody – musicians, girls in slacks, bartenders, and the
Later Sal realises he should marry and settle down and tells Dean and Marylou thus
"...this can't go on all the time - all this franticness and jumping around. We've got to go someplace, find something. "
one little skinny, unhappy trombonist – staggered out of the club into the great roar of Chicago day to sleep until the wild bop night again.”
And women were always there when there was fun and when there was a premonition for disturbance. Dean and Marylou even ask Sal to “work” Marylou while Dean sat beside the bed and watched! And Sal’s justification for that was
“Only a guy who’s spent five years in jail can go to such maniacal helpless extremes […] This is result of years looking at sexy pictures behind bars; looking at the legs and breasts of women in popular magazines; evaluating the hardness of steel halls and the softness of the woman who is not there. Prison is where you promise yourself the right to live. Dean had never seen his mother’s face. Every new girl, every new wife, every new child added to his bleak impoverishment.”
“What is the feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the toohuge world vaulting us, and its good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
Kerouac had once (or more often) said that a novel is a paragraph at a time and what mattered most to him was the paragraph; he delivered just that in this book. Often every paragraph is found to be self-sufficient, evoking a reaction and emotion without pretending to build something grand. Pretense is largely absent in this entire novel. One such paragraph which is fairly entire in itself is
The writing is the kind that can take you to a dizzying height and make it more imminent that the drop would be life shattering, belief shattering and most importantly, all selfassuring-illusion shattering. If there is something that one can be sure of finding in this novel, is a naked look at life, the way it was when we were born and the way it will be when we are committed under wet sods. Nothing fabulous about the quality of English in this novel as much as there hardly is anything about the air anyone breathes during their lifetime, but the images and the scenes conjured are the kind which makes life seem overwhelmingly beautiful and dangerously honest and blunt. Kerouac has done a brilliant job of capturing the “thereness” of life or, as he coins for himself, the crux of beatific living and thus, the pulse of the beat generation. Definitely a novel worth reading and possessing.
Oh Chandralekha! A moon so bright Do return and heal our ailing king. His breath is laced with your name, And dear little life does that bring.
Oh Chandralekha! Oh fairest one! Does a lover’s heart need such pain? For little did it know the vile life, Of once loved and left in disdain.
The hand which lead a myriad spears And chariots that shook this very earth Lies in that bed of thousand nights Of yours and his and an aching dearth
Listen clear, subjects of Ashoka ‘Tis sad for kingliness to cease And sadder still that a man’s lust Does a million men to their knees
I am a woman for powerful men And Ashoka was once at glory’s brim He lies in a mire of decadence What more could I have of him?
Why beseech me to save your ailing king? I am born to weaken men at best Myriad spears and thundering chariots, Lie wasted in the beat of my tender breast
A woman is what they called me Easy and bought with an ounce of gold I come decked in flowers and scents Warm their nights with a heart made cold
And as your king plunged into me But carried her for his choice queen I swore to all the gods above A cry for a woman I’ve ne’er been
But, such irony should you know now. No queen’s love nor divine egress Can save him from his abject plight While his heart desires my caress.
Return home, Oh men of Kalinga! And remember what I have to say A man’s world is in a woman’s arms At birth, in glory and in morbid sway.
Fiction Tears of the River
There is a flight of stairs that leads down to the river, sinking into the river herself. It is on these stairs that we played a game once – the breeze, my river and I. I would leave my muddy footprints on the steps and the breeze would try to remove them from the top stairs and the river from the bottom. The games have vanished under layers of years and the footprints under several layers of dust; I have forgotten the river and the breeze for a long time. The breeze, fickle lover that he is, does not play the game anymore, for there are no footprints. But she, my river, still plays, waiting for me, kissing the stairs to caress and wipe the footprints that have not yet been made. And yet does she wait for me? Nay, the river waits for none for she remembers none. She runs on towards the sea, as does the day into night. When she flows, indifferent to the pearls and the corals that she carries in her bosom, in the depths of her heart, how would she treat me special and remember he who watches her from the banks? I had forgotten her; dear friendship does leave one with the traits of the other. We had not met for a long time. But now as the sun goes down, with deep sighs, on the western sky, I have an urge to meet her, fulfill a tryst that was never made. It is in the dusk that she must be met. She lives only after the sun is annealed beyond the reach of the eye. During the day, she hides behind the colourful shrouds, sequined with catamarans, bathing women, the occasional kingfisher and dancing sunlight. She hides from the prying eyes that try to see through the gaps in her clothing; she is a woman. But in the night she sits there naked throwing aside even her last garment of shyness. She sits there singing songs in the night, songs that she had learnt in the morning. Songs of allure that tempt and draw troubled minds to her. Yes, my river is alive in the night. The path to the river is always a winding path. She likes paths that go round and round - paths that look like they go nowhere; paths of dust and turmoil that run into monotonous coils punctuated by silent sighs. And yet, I am distracted by the occasional flower that leaps from the dust into the eyes. Is she preparing the way for me? No, she never descends to banal allurements. Her charm is not an open invitation; she beckons with her covertness, with her indifference, nonchalance. And yet she does tempt sometime with the occasional exposure - like those flowers perhaps. It does not matter if I am distracted - I won't be late. There is always time for the river. The night is infinite like the river, especially when it is her night where the darkness echoes the last strains of the fishermen’s songs and the dying words of the lovers. And even if her night fades in the brightness of the day, it always glimmers back into darkness, like undying desire. My feet kick up some of the dust as I walk. I slow down - she must not see me coming. The path is lonely and again, maybe it is not. There are flowers, trees, and the dying 16
songs. I do not turn back as I walk. My eyes are half closed. My feet falter occasionally. The road lets out a smirk whenever I fumble. The road never showed any mercy for he never received any from those who tread and spat on him. The road is not like the sculpture in the temple, which brings out a smile after the awl cuts her body; he is rather like the sword that spits out all the fierce anger that was meted out to it in the blazing furnace. In the day he burns with anger and in the night he is cold with hatred. He is dark, black and grey like the helpless anger of the ashes. The dust of the path becomes sand. The road now widens leading to the river. They say the river sleeps in the night. The river never sleeps. She tosses about on her bed of rocks all night. She winces in pain with every pebble that she steps upon. She sings softly her songs of sorrow in the night. For in the night no one sees her, no one hears her. I sit on the steps. I never go into the river at night. She cannot be trusted in her sorrow. It is night and I watch the river from the banks. Her eyes are moist and flit often. She turns away from me as if she does not want me to see her cry, an honest attempt to be brave. But she sings - she never stops singing in the night. Her songs are soft, not meant to be heard. They play with the breeze, touch the leaves and settle down on the dust but they never come near an ear. She does not know what she sings, for she is sad. She sings songs of memories that are neither hers nor mine, memories that are neither of the past nor the future, memories that might as well be imaginations of a troubled mind. I sit on the steps shrouding myself with silence. Her fingers reach under my shroud. She raises my eyes to the waning moon. I
wonder if the moon ever sleeps. How could it while it sees its own troubled reflection in the river every night? The songs change against the backdrop of a sorrow that does not. The river is now sunk in the dark gloom of lost love. She seeks her lover groping about in the darkness, stumbling on me occasionally with the stray spray of water. She murmurs in a language that I do not know. I brush her words aside. We are connected by sorrow; words are a farce now. The world is now asleep, unloading all its sadness to the river. The sorrow of the river devours me like the night did the day. It is in no hurry - the night is infinite and the river has enough sorrow to drown in. And with every soul that drowns in her sorrow, she hoards more sorrow in her depths. I sit there in trying to hold fast to the darkness, hiding behind the shadows, hiding to save myself from the river. But darkness deceives me and the shadows desert me. They all conspire with the river and her sorrow, for are they not instruments of sorrow themselves? She now swallows me in her murky songs. I go into the river. I knew she was not to be trusted when she was sad. But I wanted to trust my doubts. She lures me away with illusions like the Sirens. I, unlike Ulysses, have no ship’s mast to be tied to. I know I shall be lost without a name, a face or glory like those who perished to the Sirens. There is no glory for those who lose, and tonight I shall not win. I am lost for I know no path. I am now a pebble in her, making her wince with pain and wincing in pain every time she treads over me. Then, when it is just about to dawn, when the eastern sky blushes slightly, we shed silent tears - the river and I.
Column Art of Writing: Showing versus Telling
In this column we shall explore various facets and constructs that help us create a written piece not merely as numerous words and syllables strung end on end, but as a work of art which, like nearly all examples of art, create a sensation in the audience, in our case, the reader. Although the emphasis would be on fiction, certain issues would be devoted to nonfiction as well as aspects of writing in general. Readers are encouraged to put forth their queries, comments and interests to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject as "Art of Writing: <month><year>"
Writing, unlike her cousin art forms, embarks on capturing a wide variety of senses in a fairly lacklustre medium of ink and paper. Thus, the onus of stoking the senses lies in the hands (literally and figuratively) of the creator or author. In painting, sculpturing, dance and music ( and any other form of art that you fancy), the senses are evoked directly by the medium or media itself. In writing alone, and I am not free of prejudices, does one evoke pain without a scalding iron and passion without a warm-blooded odalisque. Thus, writing and, more so, writers need to be wary of losing a chance of kindling the sensuality of the reader, to the laziness of a tired wrist, and worse still, to a disinterested mind. Often we come across pieces which we do not forget quite easily; in a wonderful tome, what keeps its place in memory is usually a moving scene where the reader is pulled in unawares. Usually, such a draw would fountain from a wonderfully crafted presentation which made readers forget,
even if it were just for a few moments, their current environs and lose themselves (and imbibe a sigh or surrogate disgust) in the tapestry woven by the author. The scene that coaxed the reader to rise from his favourite chair and slide into an intriguing world, would be one that is very imaginatively presented and, in its presentation, cleverly allowed the reader the freedom to colour the canvas with the brushes wielded by his senses. In this episode, we shall focus on the art of creating a living, breathing and engaging world that will not persuade but drag the reader into its folds. Amongst the clique, this is known as "showing" and, when a scene makes one want to rush through it or recognise the dichotomy of author and reader, such a scene would be "told". In other words, we will explore the technique of "showing" versus "telling" in fiction. The methodology, after due massage, is applicable to non-fiction as well. Let us consider the following passage:
I loved her very much, nay, I lusted for her. She was short and still in school. Her official name was Dolores but I liked calling her Lolita. She wasn't the first young girl with whom I was in love. Long ago I loved another girl, near where I lived by the sea.
What is wrong with this passage? Technically, there is nothing wrong with it, the grammar is fine and the intent is clear, but does it offer me the passion of the writer? Not 18
quite. Now let us read how Nabokov, one of the finest writers of prose of the past century, crafted this very same picture in his own words, in his most acclaimed novel, Lolita.
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh When? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.
have simply told the reader "I was old enough to be her father" but he chooses a more stylish way of doing it. Enough said about this. I am sure the reader has realised the enormous difference between the two styles of presenting the same information, if one must call it that. Often, the writer needs to write more to accomplish the task of exciting the reader, but they aren't words wasted. Let us consider how a writer usually goes about constructing a paragraph. There is an idea, a picture in the mind. It is slightly hazy but the main points are clear. So one jots it down, quite like how we did before we were introduced to Nabokov's rendition of the same idea. You have something to say, you say it. Some writers say it in a wonderful way, and some say it plainly. Once said, we need to step back and ask ourselves, after clearing the image in our heads, "Will this help me recreate the image that was in my head?" The image is usually not static, it is not a photograph (please, let it not be one) but a scene in motion, a scene where the main character has a profound emotion to display and the other characters have their own feelings and reactions to emote. It is always about emotions. If we cut off emotions from any art form, and from the human form as well, we will be left with nothing. Hence, emotions, it must be. Even in sci-fi this is true. Hence, if the question we asked is answered in negative, we now that we really aren't painting well. Mind you, the intention is not to paint the scene in such detail that the reader is left gasping. We do not pick a scene in a living room and describe ever bauble in the chandelier and the manner in which the filament in a used bulb hangs and nods as the divorce proceedings continue below. There are places where details are used to render a brilliant sense of the character's internal turmoil (like in Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried"), but that technique is
Note the sonority that Nabokov brings to the name Lolita, a task rarely undertaken and rarer still, seen accomplished so well. One cannot deny the verbiage, but the effect is equally undeniable. This opening to his novel (actually he opens it with a foreword which is as cheeky) gives us a lot to see, feel and expect. Note how he casually injects the fact of being a murderer, like a seasoned butler replacing your now fallen fork, while you look elsewhere and chat; slowly, unintentionally stealthily and surely. In this entree, Nabokov uses many techniques wisely and creates a sense of "What? What is going on? A paedophile? A murderer? Whom did he murder? The girl?" In short, a sense of foreboding suspense. Not once did Nabokov use words to indicate his relationship with her and he very carefully places the difference in age between them as a function of Lolita's age, which a reader would respond with a "But doesn't that make him nearly as old as her father?". He could
best left to those who have mastered the basics. When we can rework the piece and assure ourselves that it can create in an unassuming mind a scene similar to the one that ran in the author's mind, then we are certain that the piece is nearly in its best form. Stephen King calls writing nothing but telepathy, which it is, and which we have, hopefully, realised by now. Now let us take a few examples in which we can show a scene rather than tell it. It need not be a comprehensive scene; even a simple act could be shown rather than told.
He was nervous about discussing the topic with her.
Sea, Ritz, hot-dog stall, child with a balloon, her eyes, NO, not there, ok, cab, man with no change, pretty lady, her eyes, oh god! I can't do it, maybe her toes, aah! those lovely toes which I licked and sucked at for dessert every single night counting back a hundred and one.
If we had to use dialogue for the initial example, it might be as follows:
"You want to say something, Jeff." "Umm, yeah, actually nothing great. I was simply wondering..." "What?" "No, nothing, not sure, really. You fine?" "Jeff, I am fine, but I wouldn't say the same about you." "No, no. I am fine", he laughed like static while tuning a radio to a station across the band.
This is “telling”. One doesn't feel the nervousness. We can improve this by employing dialogue or without. Let us consider a "show" without dialogue. Before that we need to figure out how does one react while nervous, or wake memories of observing people while they were nervous. Please spend a minute behind closed eyes and picture someone, maybe yourself, nervous.
He looked away and twirled the mobile over his thumb. He turned and looked at her but only for a brief second; he clenched his eyes and looked away, the mobile spinning around his thumb faster than what he wanted to say to her spun in his head.
Note that in the first statement, we have not made it a question. A question would make the speaker (the lady Jeff is nervous to talk to) an amiable person. By making it a statement, it sounds more as if she is confident and sure of things around her, and someone who can make another person nervous. Such little things matter too. A fair amount of details delivered about the speakers. The laugh, compared to the static on a radio, adds to the nervous image of Jeff. We haven’t stated nervousness anywhere, directly or indirectly. It is often mistaken that “showing” entails the author to write more and make simple things long winded, albeit wonderfully so. This is usually a concern when there is a word restriction placed on the author by some foreign agent. However, this concern is misplaced and quite far from the truth. Consider the following line,
She might have been waiting for her lover.
Not the best manner, but here we get to see his nervousness without telling the reader that he was nervous. Mind you, the thing we want to show is the nervousness and not the mobile twirling nor his looking away. If the sentence we wished to transform was as follows:
He kept looking away from her.
then the transformation might be something like:
Very innocuous but highly potent. Most of us are aware of the characteristics of a woman waiting for her lover; repeatedly looking at her watch as if that would quicken his progress
towards her, drumming on the table, pacing the floor, tapping her feet feverishly, sipping on her drink with disinterest that could only be matched by a child watching the paint dry on the wall, and a lot others. All of that captured in “waiting for her lover” but more importantly, by placing the “might have been” we know that she wasn’t! Then a sharp reader would be set into wondering “Then who would she be so interested in meeting?” The mystery behind the awaited person was captured in eight words. Such technique would lay all fears to rest about overstepping word bounds. That line is from Graham Greene’s “England Made Me” and reveals his brilliant craft. “Showing” is not a tool exclusively for scenes presenting an emotion; they can be employed very well while capturing an activity or an observation. As we noted earlier, the act of looking away can also be “shown”. We consider another example of a scene in our head and how we could show it.
Polly was thrilled to see a train on those tracks. The train was long and it stopped for a while outside her window before heading westward.
scenes are not created by process but the ingenuity of writers, and, hence, I would consciously remind myself often to train the senses in order to gather and capture various aspects of life and know how to twine them along with others to make a brilliant piece of life seem so real. What we present below are simple examples.
He was guilty of stealing the cookies. He cried out of guilt after stealing those cookies. He couldn’t look at her picture, “Mom? Granny says you are always watching me from above.” He paused and produced the filched cookies from his pocket; “I am sorry. This is for you -- happy birthday.”
And another one…
"The Potters, that's right, that's what I heard yes, their son, Harry" Mr. Dursley stopped dead. Fear flooded him. He looked back at the whisperers as if he wanted to say something to them, but thought better of it.
This is how John Updike captured it in Nevada.
To Polly’s amazed delight, a real train – nightmarish in scale but docile in manner – materialized on these tracks, halted, ruminated, and then ponderously, thoughtfully dragged westward its chuckling infinity of freight cars.
“The Potters, that’s right, that’s what I heard yes, their son, Harry” Mr. Dursley’s doughnut slid out of his now southward bound mouth, the world drowned in the din of tidal, trepid blood against his ears. He looked back at the whisperers as if he wanted to say something to them, but thought better of it.
A few more examples, before we conclude a part of this topic, might help us understand this technique fuller. Through personal experience I have come to realise that the art of showing depends heavily on the sensitivity of the writer. As much as the faculty of creative writing courses and the ambition of wannabe writers might disagree, brilliant
In the second part of this topic, we shall discuss where showing becomes an excess and telling reveals its virtues, which were, hopefully, never doubted in the first place.
Artwork What do you feel?
This sketch is an old one which the artist hadn’t named. He let me choose a name for it. I was about to do so when another friend of mine suggested that we let the readers chose a title for this piece. Hence, we have left this sketch unnamed and urge the reader to suggest a name for this piece along with why they feel that name is appropriate. All suggestion can be made on http://alvibest.blogspot.com on the post “What do you feel?” (as comments). Looking forward to some interesting insights and discussions.
Poetry Morning, Beggar to the Gods
Morning, Beggar to the Gods, Does as beggars doSwiftly sheds the darkness' cowl to smelt; His tiring skin gray, And watered in the cold breath. Of demons and sprites, At muse and gay parade forSouls and other ordained beasts. Morning beggar to the Gods, Hides as beggars doBehind the tide of noon's great arms Who takes his rags and lays Forever dying Morning's light Turning warmth to heat and vice Slow death turn even, to dusk, to night In seamless mirage ebbMorning beggar to the Gods, Begs as lovers doBut as those in love do pay the cost, Only as lovers do.
I still recall the first time I heard a ghazal. It sprang out of an old National Panasonic music system and was carried in the voice of Ghulam Ali. My father had caught me in my moment of tiredness (from running around the house on a walking stick which, to me then, was the finest stallion ever) and asked me to sit on his lap and listen to this new cassette. I remember the black cover with something in blue under the plastic case chequered in clear and misty portions. I was too tired to protest and we sat together on our old sofa (we had two sofas which were conveniently named, old and new sofa). I learnt a lot on the old sofa including the important lesson of a protruding brad’s ability to cut your skin! He chose the song “Chupke Chupke raat din” (chupke- furtively, quietly, raat-night, din-day) and let it play softly until it filled the room. I wasn’t sure whether it was the heaving of a tired torso or the melody of the song which made the room sway while it played mellifluously, with words I never understood and a medley of instruments I couldn’t discern. After a while, which is always eternity to a child of five, I jumped out of my father’s lap and started riding my black stallion with a mane like the darkest of clouds and eyes like molten nuggets of gold, riding through palatine worlds of evil lords. My father simply shook his head and reclined against the sofa with his eyes half shut. Another scene that is stuck in my head is a bunch of people sitting around the poet and listening to his ghazal recital. He would say a part of the last line and the rest would join him in completing the verse and then go “Waah, waah” (which is like saying “Wonderful” repeatedly or “Bravo”). I thought they were all cheating us and had read the poem earlier before assembling – a sneak peek; how else could they know what the poet had composed? Things have changed immensely since then and ghazals have an appeal too personal to put in words. Often I wonder, whether I would have appreciated ghazals without understanding their construction. I suppose I still admire the stars on a clear night although I have done enough research into their composition and found explanation for the shimmering presence at an hour when one needs light the most! In this discussion, we shall see what ghazals are and explore a few aspects of ghazal composition that might elicit a greater appreciation hereafter when a ghazal is encountered. Although this might seem like being too specific to Urdu, I would like to bring to notice that the pattern of a ghazal is also used in English, Marathi and Hindi poetry. Translations (sometimes literal and sometimes not) shall accompany the quoted verses. A ghazal is a collection of shers, or couplets, following a, usually, strict code regarding the style and constraints on the first and following shers. The meter, or beher, of each line in the sher is the same. There are supposedly nineteen different kinds of meters codified as arkaan or syllables
used to render the sense of a meter. This technique is used amongst musicians, esp. percussionists, who wish to describe the beat to another person. If we were describing the beat in Hotel California, it might be something like dum-chuck-d-dum-d-dum-chuck or something similar. In order to standardize the mechanism of such communication, meters were specified using arkaan (which literally means pillars). Hence, what we have as a definition for a ghazal is a collection of couplets following a few rules of construction and a single chosen meter. We shall consider the constraints placed on these couplets now. Let us consider a ghazal to facilitate this discussion and what better than a ghazal from the first album I had heard while sitting on my father’s lap and to that memory, I dedicate this article. The translation is not of comparable literary value as the original ghazal, and serves the mere purpose of providing those, who find Urdu an alien tongue, a coarse outline of the poet’s creation.
Yeh dil, yeh pagal dil mera, kyun bujh gayaa, aawaragi Is dasht me ek shehar tha, wo kya hu-aa, aawaaragi
This heart, this foolish heart of mine; why did it die? Loneliness. In this wilderness, a beautiful city thrived; what happened to it? Loneliness.
Kal shab mujhe, beshakl ki aawaz ne chaunka diya Maine kaha "tu kaun hai", usne kahaa "aawaaragi"
Last night, a faceless voice caught me by surprise I asked, “Who are you?” and it said “Loneliness”
Ye dard ki tanhaaiyaan, ye dasht ka veeraan safar Hum log to ukhta gaye, apni sunaa aawaargi
(In) this pain of solitude and lonely travel through the desert We soon got bored, So, tell us more about your(self) “loneliness”
Ek ajanabi jhaunke ne jab, poochha mere gam ka sabab Sehara ki bhigi ret par, maine likhaa "aawaaragi"
A sudden unknown waft asked me about the cause of my sadness On the wet sands of the desert, I wrote thus: “Loneliness”
Kal raat tanha chaand ko, dekha tha maine khwaab me 'Mohsin' mujhe, raas aayegi, shaayad sadaa aawaaragi
Last night, a lonely moon did I see in my dreams Oh Mohsin! This suits me fine, now and ever, this loneliness This ghazal is a composition by Mohsin Naqvi and hence the last couplet carries his signature which is a very loose traditions followed by poets primarily for the sake of identification (covertly for the sake of immortality!). Let me assure you that the above translation attempts to present only one of the possible interpretations. The first sher is different from the other shers in that both lines end in the ghazal’s special word, “aawaaragi”. This word is known as the ghazal’s radeef. Every ghazal can have its own radeef
and a radeef need not be a singular word. Hence, in a ghazal the first couplet must have both its lines ending in the radeef of the ghazal. This first couplet is called a matla. The second line of the remaining couplets must end in the radeef, although their first lines need not. Amongst ghazal lovers a ghazal is remembered usually for its radeef unless the radeef is too common a word or phrase. This ghazal is commonly referred to as “Aawaaragi”. The poet is free to choose any word or phrase to precede the radeef, as long as the last syllable of these words/phrases rhymes. Let us look at our ghazal-in-study: gayaa, hu-aa, kahaa, sunaa, likhaa and sadaa precede the word “aawaaragi” (which is the radeef) across the couplets and hence must rhyme (and they do!). These words/phrases are called the ghazal’s Qafiya? The beher, or the meter, of all the shers must be the same. Whatever the choice of beher, it must be maintained throughout the ghazal. We shant go into the technicality of which beher family this ghazal belongs to as long as we agree that the ghazal has maintained the beher throughout its length. A poet usually adopts a pen-name, known as takhallus. Whether he does or not, he would usually mark his composition with the chosen name in the last couplet (known as the maqta). This was and still is a practice adopted by the poet to establish ownership of a ghazal. The name is rarely introduced in a contrived manner but is often observed to be used in a very clever fashion adding a punch to the last couplet. The poet can use his name as if to include himself in the context of the ghazal or have the protagonist in the poem address something to him. It tends to present the poet as a silent observer who was called in only towards the end of the ghazal. Mirza Ghalib, one of the most popular poets in Urdu ghazals, used it with a fine effect:
Hain aur bhi sukhanwar is duniya mein bahut achche Kehte hain ki “Ghalib” ka hai andaaz-e-bayaan aur.
Many poets live on this earth and are known to be very good, But, it is said, “Ghalib” has a style which is a class apart And yet again in another place, he ends his ghazal with:
Hui muddat ke “Ghalib” mar gaya par yaad aatha hai Woh har baat pe kehna, ki “Yoon hota to kya hotha?”
Its been a while since “Ghalib” died, but he is remembered thus For everything said, his query of “Had it been thus, then what’d happen?” One of my favourites is “Daag” Dehlavi’s finale.
Koi naam-o-nishaan pooche to aye kaasid bataa dena Takhallus “Daag” hai, aur aashikon ke dil mein rehta hai
Was anyone to ask for my identity, Oh messenger! Tell them thus He goes by the name “Daag” and lives in the hearts of lovers!
As we observe in our (original) ghazal-in-study, the poet, Mohsin Naqvi, lets the protagonist of his ghazal address his resignation (to the familiarity of loneliness) to Mohsin himself. Another interpretation is that Mohsin is the protagonist himself and he ends his ghazal with a confession. We are now in a position to look at a ghazal in its entirety and recognise it as a collection of couplets all tuned to the same chosen meter with the first couplet having both its component lines ending in the same specific set of words which are used at the end of the second line in all the other couplets, and the last couplet containing the poet’s signature. It is important to note that all the couplets in a ghazal need not be restricted to a particular theme. The couplets are essentially independent of each other and hence a ghazal is strictly a collection. For example, in the popular ghazal “Hungama hai kyon barpa” written by Daag Dehlavi, the couplets deal in seemingly unrelated themes. It would do us well to consider a few pieces from various great ghazals. Below, I would like to present some of my favourites. The radeef is in red and the rhyming phrase (qafiya) preceding it is in bold. I hope you enjoy them. Poet: Sauda
Aadam ka jism jab ki anaasir se mil banaa Kuch aag bach rahi, so aashiq ka dil banaa
While man’s body, from the elements, was made A little fire remained, thus a lover’s heart was made Poet: Ghalib
Khatha kijey naa ta-alluk humse Kuch nahin hai to adaavat hi sahi
Do not break all relations with me If nothing else, then at least hate me Poet: Gulzar
Waqt rehtha nahin kahin tick kar Iski aadat bhi aadmi si hai
Time doesn’t stay forever, anywhere Its manner is also like (those of) humans Poet: Hasrat Mohani
Do paher ki dhoop mein mere bulaane ke liye Voh tera kothe pe nange paaon aana yaad hai
For a few moments in the day’s heat, when I called you How you rushed to the terrace on bare feet, I still remember Poet: Daag Dehlavi
Na-thajuribaakaari se waaiz ki ye baaten hain Iss rang ko kyaa jaaney, poocho to kabhi pee hai
Inexperienced are the words of the preacher 27
What does he know about this joy? Ask him if he has ever sipped this. Poet: Bahadur Shah Zafar (A king who died in penury)
Umr-e-daraaz kar laaye thaa chaar din Do aarzoo mein cut gaye, do intezaar mein
I had managed to extend my life by four days Two were lost in yearning, and two in waiting. Poet: Khalish Dehlavi
Dil ki jo tune kabhi chain se rehne-na diya, jab chali sard hawa maine tujhe yaad kiya Iska rona nahin kyoon tuney kiya dil barbaad, iska gham hai ki bahut der se barbaad kiya
Such did you trouble my heart, that when a chilling wind blew, I thought of you I do not grieve that you ruined my heart, I regret that you took too long to wreck it. Poet: Ghalib
Muhabbat mein nahin hai farq jeeney aur marne ka Ussi ko dekh kar jeetey hain, jis kaafir pe dum nikaley
There is no dichotomy of life and death to one who is in love For he breathes in the being of whom he would die for
Fiction Key to Life
Since the day he had stood on his feet, the town square had borne him. He stood in the center of the square with his hands in his pockets and sometimes holding each other across his chest. One could notice the torn shirt, which only made him more of what he was. Today, he stood facing the factory. The sun would rise from behind it soon. He felt the keys in his pocket. Three. One for the factory; it was the heaviest. One for his house. Or was this the heaviest? The last one fitted nowhere but was the first he had possessed. The wind pushed his thinning locks from his face and stopped. He opened his eyes slightly & smiled. The breeze continued. The sun rose slowly and as the first beam dodged odd structures and fell on his face, he smiled, slightly. The sun rose in full majesty and life entered the square. Shops opened & people crossed the square over and over again. His eyes let him see only the feet shuffling around. These people on the square were all of the town. The factory had fed every single person’s unemployed gut, before they moved on. He felt the key. Everyone walked past him, looked up, murmured something and walked on. None too close. Some even smiled. He felt it while he watched their feet. Everyone walked on. He stood there like a post, like a post which bears the flag, like a post which holds the main lantern for dark nights, like a post which steadily holds the weather vane, like a post which bears the strike of thunderous skies, but like a post. He took his hands out and looked at them. He wiped the sweat and felt the calluses rubbing hard against the skin under his eyes. He winced, then grew a lop-sided smile and put his hands back into his pockets, slowly. He felt his bare thigh against the wetness of his palm. Some people stopped and spoke cheerfully but before he could open his eyes completely, the boots and slippers moved on. Now he stopped trying to respond. The wind blew the covers off shops and dragged umbrellas with it. His locks were left untouched. He took his hands out once more and looked at them; relationships, church bells, machinery, children, hope, coffins. He curled his fingers, made a fist, tightened it and put it back in his pockets. The sun was directly above him. He looked up and squinted at the sun. A cloud covered the sun long enough. He smiled. Sweat trickled down from his forehead, six and a half feet down and not a single thread of his clothes stopping it. It finally lodged between his foot and his boots. After hanging on to the edge of his heel, it left his foot and slipped out of the hole in his boot. The evening brought back the crowd. They walked all over him but never too close. The wind had grown stronger. He felt his coat being tugged. He lowered his gaze to recognize the dog. The factory grease on its back was familiar. He smiled, which only added to its excitement. He didn’t reach down, for it would scamper off. It scampered off. He looked straight ahead. The sun was moving behind him. He noticed 29
a familiar face. The third key felt warm. She looked at him. He thought he saw a tear. It was the wind and his mind. She turned the shoulders of her children to a puppet show in a distant corner, but her eyes didn’t leave him. She fidgeted with the gold on her finger and moved on. His own children were buying bitter gourd. He never liked it, but it was for their children. They came over, greeted him and moved on to the next store. He noticed something move swiftly over the hill beyond the factory. He smiled. He had occasionally thought he had seen it move over the hill. Now he smiled at his foolishness. Nothing appeared from the hill. After a brief moment everyone shrieked and screamed as they started running to the safest and most distant quarters of the square. He smiled. This time the smile remained. To his rear he heard the rustling of black, which he had always imagined. The rustling got clearer and nearer. He looked straight at the factory. The black noise came over and faced him. “I thought I saw you over the hill. It has taken you long.” The winds, at their maddening height, made the black cloak flutter a little.
“No, I wasn’t hoping you’d come earlier, nor wished that you come tomorrow. But it took you long.” The form in front of him smiled and extended a hand. He picked out his third key and looked at it. Gold. “I should have known better than try it everywhere.” He placed the key on the palm extended before him. The key mingled with the blackness which shone brighter than molten gold. The winds played with the black expanse in front of him. “Can’t you see them all out there?” He extended his hand in the direction of the cowering people and smirked, “Or is it that today you see only me?” He was smiling but had only one more thing to say. “Yes, you could help me by leaving none of me behind.” The blackness sped away to the hills & as it reached the top it turned and looked at him. He smiled and burned; completely. The wind carried the ashes over the hills. The people resumed their shopping and moved on all over the two keys that remained on the square. This time the tear in her eye was real. The sun set.
Article Pieta – A story of love
How vain a desire to betray my love and cast it in symbols and words? How incorrigible could I be, that I continue piecing the details of my love affair in spite of recognizing the ostentation in my attempts to capture, what my heart is yet to fathom in its entirety, in an invention of man, for words were not meant to go beyond their purpose of communication whereas love is a matter of the spirit which, even in its stodgy hours, wouldn’t call on words and other lifeless inventions to give it life? And here I am, gasping and smitten by the beauty of the Vatican Pieta and I feel I would die a worse death lest I pour my love out, for my heart is little vessel to the cruel enormity of love that the Pieta evokes. Suffer me, ladies and gents, for a man’s love is his suffering and his tale is none other than a plea for reprieve. Providence had suspected such a fated love and in a failing attempt smudged and coarsened the picture of the Pieta which, in school, was part of a chapter on Renaissance. Her beauty was least mitigated and all such lowly attempts by the printing press at ruining her image, only served to further my curiosity to know more about her. I searched for more information about her, and to conjure the idol of my love, I sought more pictures of her. It was the entire sculpture which held me in its ever tightening grasp but it was the Virgin who caught my breath; who better to have my breath than the Virgin herself?
Christ on her lap, along the contours of her habit was, then, merely appendages and a torso. I later found His visage to be exquisitely done as well, but I was too enraptured by the beauty of the Virgin to be distracted by God Himself. Call it irony, if you must, that God’s vassals find godliness elsewhere! Such an impact at a tender age of 13 emptied the human want for love in me. If this is rambling, then please follow me while I present to you the beauty of the Vatican Pieta, and you shall know for yourself that, madness and passion are but God’s gift to mankind, and those who find madness in passion and conversely are oft known to ramble. Pray, spend some time looking at this picture of the Pieta. My words would have lesser to tell you and it would do you good to soak your senses in this picture. Pieta means pity or compassion in Greek and Michelangelo di Lodovico Bounararroti Simoni completed this (and this being the only competed Pieta of his) before the age of 25. He had personally picked the marble, from Cararra, for this piece which was commissioned by the French cardinal Jean Bilheres de Lagraulas for his own funerary chapel. The sculpture is presently found in St. Peter’s Basilica. This piece was and still is considered the finest sculpture of the Quattrocento and this theme, which till then was popular mostly north of the Alps, was given a new interpretation by the young and fledgling Michelangelo. This sculpture is 69 inches tall and was the Virgin to stand up, oh! how I wish she would, she would be over seven feet tall! Now that we have dispensed with the mundane elements surrounding this magnificent and divine work, let us look together at the various details. Behold the details of the Virgin’s visage. The polish is smooth and gives the tenderness of youth to the Lord’s mother. Notice the thin nearly invisible line forming the edge of the headdress (which could be a rudimentary wimple). Such care and love for completeness is overwhelming. Her eyes are cast down upon the body of her son. Notice the slight chin and thin smooth lips which do not betray the emotions coursing through her mind. At times it seems like she is smiling at the irony of fate which doesn’t spare even the son of God. Her face is sensual and healthy, not that of a woman who reacted uncontrollably to the news of her son’s death. Such beauty in the face of sorrow is at once ironic and tragic. When asked about the anomaly in the physical portrayal of age on the Virgin’s countenance, it is said that the creator rebutted thus, “Don’t you know that women who are chaste remain much younger than those who are not? How much more so a virgin who has never been touched by even the slightest lascivious desire which might alter her body?” The furbelows on the Virgin’s habit are remarkable in their carving. Watch how Michelangelo has made the drapes of marble as thin as real ones with the hollows carved in. The gathers are not forced but are represented as real as one might expect in life. His demanding perfection for realism is seen to a great extent in this portion. Notice how a child could insert her finger into these folds as one might find a
frivolous babe do so in real life. Note the weight on the folds which make it fall and not appear to be preternaturally floating in air. One could nearly hold the drape between thumb and index finger and run through its length as one does while testing material. It does seems like a cloth of marble used to cloak the Virgin’s head and one might expect it to slide off at any point. I would urge the reader and observer to return to the entire picture (at the start of this plaintive cry which you call an article) of the Vesperbild as represented by the Vatican Pieta and look at the beauty of this juxtaposition of human form and lifeless drapes so formally constructed that one wonders whether the Virgin transformed into marble and let Michelangelo take credit for it. The detail and care taken by the creator while sculpting the neck is worth noting. Notice how he creates a slight hollow in the base of the neck as one might find in a head bowed down and a breast empty of the hope in the wake of a son’s death. Such a depression at the nape could only be caused when the chest has exhaled, a deep sigh, and the neck strains the least to look down on the life one gave birth to and finds no more. A lady who watched the Pieta at the Basilica nodded her head with a grim smile and said, “I understand how she feels” and went on to say, “I lost a son too.” A million art critics and a universe of lovers couldn’t have eulogized the sculpture more than those simple words. Enough has been said about the drapes and we shall leave it to the lover to spend time and loving gaze over it. The stigma has been brilliantly captured by Michelangelo. A closer observation would reveal how a splintered bone was carved into the right hand. Such attention for details makes one cry out “Magnifique”. Notice how a finger has been “accidentally” trapped in the drapes and how the other fingers separate by sheer dead weight. Had that finger not gotten caught in the folds, his arm would have fallen straight down and the effect would have been different. The attention to the drapes couldn’t be impressed enough. The folds and effortless wrinkles in the cloth are amazingly captured by the creator. Notice the rock on which the Virgin is seated. An interpretation is that this is the base rock on which Jesus’ cross was placed. The detail provided in every limb of Jesus, the veins and sinews, are near perfect. The many days dissecting corpses had finally paid off by laying bare the secrets of human anatomy.
Now we shall turn our attention to the feet of the Lord. Notice how the left leg bent slightly at the heel, turns and folds the skin around the tendon. The weighted press of the right foot and the flattening of the toes is so brilliantly captured. Observe the stretch of the right hamstring and the hollow between that and the thigh. The emaciated legs are well carved and the polish is noteworthy. Notice how a portion of the Virgins drape, pressed under the right thigh rises slightly. Believe me, fellow lovers, I tried this at home and recognised the truth in this representation when the drape is a heavy material. Observe the Virgin’s hand which seems to question the word of fate and, in a gesture, seems to ask “Why should my son suffer this?” Her hand is extended easily and is usually overlooked at first glimpse. If we return to the original complete picture, one would notice how the Virgin supports her son with her right hand. Observe how her fingers are spread to support the dead weight and some portion of cloth is caught between her palm and His upper flank. Note the protrusion of the flesh and muscle of His armpit and the natural bulge of his biceps. The angle of the shoulder blade is inclined downward into Her lap and not flat; remember that Jesus is dead and his left side is unsupported. Such a brilliant (as you note, I am running out of words) realization of this theme makes me crumble and cry. I do not exaggerate when I say that all that I have done and all that I am considered capable of lies miniscule at this point. There have been great creators and great artists, but none can match the brilliance of this single piece of exquisite love, compassion and divine will. The keen observer will find something carved on the sash of the Virgin which runs across her breast. It is said that during its first public display, Michelangelo overheard people look at the Pieta and say that it was the work of a Gobbo di Milano. So possessive was he of this piece and so entangled in the heady emotion of losing his most loved effort’s due, that he returned that very night and in the light of a candle carved “Michael Angelus Bonarotus Florent Faciebat” (Michelangelo Bounarroti of Florence Created This) across the Virgin’s sash. He, reportedly, regretted his foolish impulse and never signed any of his later pieces. Such was the passion and fervour that the Pieta invoked that it made a man rise into folly and malign a sculpture of such beauty and later regret so much as to renounce the claim to recognition. Please realise the dizzying madness that engulfs a man so closely associated with the Pieta, and you’d call me mad while I am but a distant observer? Reserve that for the divine genius of Michelangelo. Georgio Vasari, Michelangelo’s friend and biographer had said “It would be impossible for any craftsman or sculptor, no matter how brilliant, ever to surpass the grace or design of this work, or try to cut and polish the marble with the skill that Michelangelo displayed. It is certainly a miracle that a formless block of stone could ever have reduced to perfection that nature is scarcely able to create in the flesh. Michelangelo put in to this work so much love and effort (something that he never did again), that he left his name written across the sash over Our Lady’s breast. When we leave the Vatican Pieta, and with a heavy heart one does that, to observe the other Pietas that Michelangelo worked on, one sadly confronts the telling of many decades and changes in philosophy and spiritual leaning that affected the great hands. I didn’t expect to find the brilliance to reveal itself again, but honestly, I was disappointed. The other
Pietas were studied purely out of intellectual curiosity and not for the hunger of the soul. More than fifty years had passed and the representation of the same theme is different in the Florentine Pieta. The difference is not merely in the variation in depiction but in the entire image that Michelangelo now possessed in his mind. The sculpture was left incomplete when the leg of Christ came apart. Michelangelo was so annoyed at that incident that he smashed the piece with his hammer before walking away. Here we find a man still obsessed with the accuracy of human form and physical beauty. This Florentine Pieta is based on a study in which the Virgin holds Christ with His arms over her lap and Her face turned heavenward, with two angelic cherubs on either side of Christ. When converting the study into a sculpture, the Virgin’s place was taken by Joseph of Arimathea and the angels were replaced with the Virgin and Mary Magdalene. The sense of proportion is very awkward in this piece and I shall leave it to the interested reader to learn more about this piece The Palestrina Pieta reveals a very muscular Jesus and the hand of Michelangelo in this sculpture, is still debated. All his Pietas (the Florentine Pieta, the Pieta Rondanini and the Pieta Palestrina, if it is his work at all) after the Vatican Pieta, held a common portrayal. The common element was that of Joseph of Arimathea lifting the body of Christ by gripping Him under His arm or by His shoulders. Mary Magdalene in the Florentine Pieta (started out by Michelangelo and completed by Tiberio Calcagni, his pupil and friend) is not seen in the other Pietas. Some say that in his spiritual quest which had troubled him enough, he consciously or otherwise, chiseled Joseph’s face to resemble his own. I shall stop here for this ballad is likely to transform into an article for academic purposes. Now, kind ladies and gents, tell me: is it my fault that I lie helplessly in love with Michelangelo’s Vatican Pieta?
Fiction A letter from a father to son
Large granite tombstone Kind, loving, sire, spouse, friend No name to be seen
The buffalo sighs The cool mud and few wet feet Of birds on his back
Caterpillar’s leg Trembling and on the hot stone One legged man weeps
Holding his hot tea Undressed, he sits quietly Over cold flagstones
Hot summers and cold Winters kill myriad men Lonely inselberg
Thatch roofs swept away Stumbling bare men look skyward Merry dance of clouds
Look how water thrills Idle petal fell in the stream Dizzy gay eddies
A smith watches them Wise men spinning clever words He hammers the curb snug
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