Post 32 – Symphony In The Woods (Poem)

I went to watch a concert in the woods today. The music was lovely  and I had a great time. This is something I wrote during the concert.

Hot summer afternoon
The breeze, soft and scarce
Amidst the trees
On the wet grass
Sunglasses, hot and burning
Like my cheeks
Waiting for the sun to go down
The other side of the trees.

The music falls and rises
With the breeze
The drop of sweat that was trickling
down the forehead
Stops and begins
A slow dance down
The side of my head
As if dancing to the music
Slow here, flat there
And then falling sharply
Like the symphony.

Post 30 – On Bangalore, cheese and the good ol’days

I saw a video about Malleswaram on Facebook a few days back. I was at once nostalgic and also saddened. Nostalgic because Malleshwaram is special. It is where I was born and where I have spent many (maybe all) vacations as a kid. Saddened because the video reminded me about how Malleshwaram has changed over the years. Gentrification and urbanization have changed much of the population and culture of Bangalore. A few old restaurants and parks have survived the turn of the millennium. They are now famous as the relics of old Bangalore. Places such as CTR, Veena Stores, and Janatha Hotel are common on lists such as this. I hated Janatha Hotel as a kid, but now I want to visit these places. I want to eat the food there while I complain about how Bangalore has lost its old charm and how it is no longer the same. All this, while I eat authentic dosa and chow-chow bath, the same food that I thought was yucky when I was twelve. These places are all emblems of old Bangalore, the Bangalore of my childhood. But is Bangalore of the 80s and the 90s, the authentic one?

Malleshwaram is where my mother grew up. She probably reminisces about a different Bangalore . A Bangalore that is not the city I knew as a kid. It was greener and cooler, Kannada was commonplace and spoken with a lot more fervor than it is now. If you ask someone who grew up in Bangalore in the 40s or 50s, I am certain they will talk about yet another setting and culture. Four random Bangaloreans can be chosen from four different decades. They will all be equally nostalgic about the city of their childhood. Yet, their image of what defines Bangalore and what makes it special will be different.

So then, what is authentic? These are some of the definitions I found:

1. Google defines authentic as

of undisputed origin; genuine.

2. Macmillan dictionary defines authentic as

traditional or original, or very similar to this

So, which Bangalore then, is the original one? How do you judge something like that? Is it getting less authentic over the years? When was it at its best? How far back in time do you go to find the true and authentic Bangalore?

These are a few questions that have been bothering me over the last couple of days. This is not just about Malleshwaram and Bangalore. It is about our food, fashion, language, and culture. How can you say that something is traditional and genuine when, in fact, it is all a result of  a continuous change?

Let us consider, for example, authentic Indian cuisine. Chilies are an integral part of Indian food today. I am accustomed to eating spicy food. Food devoid of spices is bland and uninviting. My definition of authentic Indian cuisine is one that is spicy, among other things. But chilies did not originate in India. From the Wikipedia article for Chilli pepper,

Chili peppers originated in the Americas. After the Columbian Exchange, many cultivars of chili pepper spread across the world, used in both food and medicine. Chilies were brought to Asia by Portuguese navigators during the 16th century. India is the world’s biggest producer, consumer and exporter of chili peppers. Guntur in the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh produces 30% of all the chilies produced in India. Andhra Pradesh as a whole contributes 75% of India’s chili exports.

Chilies were brought to India in the 16th century! So, if you time traveled to 1400 AD and asked for authentic food, there would be no chilies in it. Or potatoes. Or tomatoes. Yet, batata song and batata humman is authentic Konkani food today.  Does that mean food eaten before the 15th century is less authentic? In the 15th century, people probably looked with distaste at the idea of using chilies in food. Just like how the older population views fast food franchises such as KFC and McDonalds today. Pizza, sandwiches, and cheese are not considered as Indian food. But that might be changing. Cheese was not at all common when I was growing up. Today it is making its way into all kinds of Indian delicacies. It is everywhere. At least, that is what all the street-food videos on YouTube tell me. I see street-food vendors making dishes such as cheese masala dosa, cheese pav bhaji, cheese veg seekh kabab, etc. These dishes seem to be common across various cities in India. Twenty years hence, cheese masala dosa might be a part of authentic Indian cuisine. Just like how chilies are today.

We like to justify to ourselves and others that our idea of authentic Bangalore is the right one. We say it refers to a time when Bangalore was flourishing and at its best. The good old days. But what do we mean when we say something is authentic? What do the “good old days” really refer to? And what is the real Indian cuisine?

The idea of something being authentic and original is relative. When we talk about our idea of the perfect Bangalore or the perfect masala dosa, we  are heavily influenced by our family and friends. Our memories and mental bias, make things and places seem special and great. The authentic city of our childhood is the place where we enjoyed the most. It is where we have special moments that we would like to cherish. It is the city which has places and locations that we would like to freeze in time. We want to keep them pristine so that each time we visit that place we can relive our memories. We grow up and move to new cities. We accept new cultures. But when we visit the place where we grew up, we want it untouched. Always matching the picture in our head. The picture that means something only to us and nothing to those who don’t share our memories.

Kids growing up in Bangalore today, I am sure, love the place. In ten years, Bangalore will change again. (If this article is to be believed, Bangalore will be a dead city in five years.) Ten years later, if humans are still around, we can ask them about good ol’Bangalore. They will most definitely refer to the Bangalore we see today. Not the Bangalore of the 80s or the 60s or the 40s.

The point of all this is that change is the only thing that is constant. Languages, food, and culture as we know today, are all a result of constant change.  They have evolved as people have moved across countries and continents. They have been influenced by wars and trade.  And they continue to change. Nothing is truly authentic. If you go back in time to when the humans were hunter-gatherers, the authentic food was raw or burnt meat and berries. We should not develop rigid ideas about authentic food, tradition, and culture. We must embrace change and experiment and try new things. But in the process, we must not forget who we are or where we came from. Or how something as amazing as cheese masala dosa came to be. We must remember, learn and share all these stories of change.

Post 29: Quiet Contemplation – A Tool for Better Writing

I was looking through my older posts on the blog this morning. I came to realize that I don’t write as many poems these days as I used to. My blog was my corner of the internet to post poems and the occasional rant. Now it is the other way around. I rant more and write the occasional poem. I don’t feel like writing a poem as much as I used to.

I began wondering about this. I wanted to understand what had changed in the last year that made me write fewer poems. I thought about it for a while and I came to realize that there were two main reasons for this change.

One, over the last year I have become more comfortable writing articles (rants) on the blog. When I started blogging I wasn’t so sure. Why would anyone want to read these articles about nothing? But I decided that they help me with my writing skills (I think!). As a result, there have been more such articles.

The second reason is the most important one. The amount of time that I spend in quiet contemplation has reduced. What is this quiet contemplation, you ask? It is the time spent thinking and dreaming. Some would call it idle time or time wasted doing nothing. They are right, of course. Except that, here, doing nothing only refers to physical inactivity. The mind, on the other hand, is free to travel and cook up ideas, stories and poems. The mind is free to recollect and revisit emotions, conversations, books, and articles. The mind is free to go over anything that can inspire a few creative verses.

Such time is best enjoyed in silence and solitude. Until I graduated last May, I had a lot of time for quiet contemplation. As a graduate student, most of the time is spent studying and working on projects. Putting off papers and projects till the deadline is what students do. This frees up time. To justify the procrastination, one has to put  effort elsewhere. For me, it was poetry. But since I started working, I’ve had little time to sit and do nothing. I moved closer to work and this cut short my travel time. Traveling alone is a huge catalyst for poetry and creative writing.

Writing is not easy. You cannot show up one day and expect the words to flow. A lot of writers lock themselves up in a room for a few hours every single day. By making it a habit, they improve their writing, and vocabulary over time. Early morning and late nights work well for writing. At least, they work well for me. I can even create similar environments during the rest of the day by playing soothing music in a quiet room. But I haven’t been doing any of that. Because I don’t have enough time. Rather, I haven’t been making sure I have enough time. And hence, the number of poems that I write in a month(good or otherwise) has reduced.

To get better at something, you have to make it a habit, do it every day. There is no easier way. You must allocate some time each day to just sit and write. One great poem usually follows many not- so-great ones. To churn out great work, one needs practice. Practice makes you perfect. If not perfect, it will definitely make you better.

Spending time in quiet contemplation is not just for writers. This time works well for anyone. It is relaxing and refreshing. Our lives are busy and we want to be as productive as possible. Doing nothing is not considered to be productive. But the mind needs this time. It is like a detox, cleansing of your thoughts.

You can incorporate quiet contemplation into your daily routine in many ways. For example, while watching the sun rise or set, sitting in a park, a cafe, or by the window. When done without gadgets it works great for the mind. I know it works for me. It is not easy to sit idly these days, but it is worth it the effort.

Lepakshi

An Old Poem, One of my favorites.

Urban Chaos

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Intricate carving
Attracts me
Calls me closer
The gentle surface
of my palm
feels the curves and bends,
the shapes
on stone.

My feet
used to tiles and carpets:
spoilt,
relaxes against the cold and rough
stone.

It brings me peace,
this place:
a temple
long forgotten
holding stories
all carved
in stone.

The pillars
hold so much
together
and through them
I see the light
That I came here for.

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Post 28: On Waking Up – A Poem

(I found this poem when I was flipping through my journal. I had completely forgotten about it. It is not often that I like an old poem. Because I did not flinch while I read this one, I decided to post it here. That does not imply that this is my best poem so far. It is not. It is one of the nicer ones. )

I did not… wake up.

I was awake
Conscious
Of my decision
to stay in bed.

Was it the temperature
Was it the warmth
That the blanket provided?
Was it just my laziness?

Or even worse, have I not
convinced myself
Of the importance
Of waking up
Early.

Post 27 – Perspective

(This is Perspective, a poem I wrote while I sat by the window watching the traffic outside. It may not be much of a poem; let’s call it deconstructed prose.
I am not very happy with how it turned out. It sounded much better in my head, like most poems. I liked the idea, so I decided to post it anyway.)
In a box
Made of glass
Soundproof,
I hear nothing except
my breathing
Nothing else.
I watch the world outside
The cars and the trees
I can see them moving
I hear no sound.
Like a movie
With no background score
You don’t know what this scene is
Is it happy,
scary, sad, or romantic.
You hum the tunes you want
The scene changes
Accordingly.
The same scene
But a different tune
And you have-
comedy, drama, romance,
or thriller.
It depends on you
On what you hum
to the goings-on around you.
Life,
it is all perspective.

Post 26 – Life Advice

Life advice to anyone looking for some:

Read; read as much as possible, read everything that you can get your hands on, devote the maximum of your free time to reading. Read fiction, non-fiction, essays, classics, read history, economics, read anything and everything you can. Knowledge is power.
Also, write. Maintain a diary, a journal, notebook, write thoughts, notes, ideas but write. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but write.

Post 25 – Writing Advice

I attended an online writing workshop back in February. I was a little skeptical about it at first. I wasn’t sure if it is worth sacrificing three hours from my Sunday. But I decided to register anyway. It turned out to be a useful workshop. I ended up taking a few pages worth of notes. As part of the workshop, I also received some book recommendations and other references.

There was one piece of advice that stood out from the rest, something that I tell myself every day. It is just four words long. But these are four powerful words, words that can change your writing habit for the better. The advice is: Sit In Your Chair.

It is as simple as that.

Sit in your chair at a set time every day. Sit with a book or laptop or whatever device you using for your writing. Sit for a set time: fifteen minutes, half an hour, whatever works for you. Sit in your chair and write. Do it every day. By doing this every day, you make it a habit. You can sharpen your writing skills and be a better writer.

It is not easy to find time, especially when writing is a hobby and you don’t you take it as earnestly as you should. I haven’t been writing every day. I want to.

So, I try.

The workshop: You can find out about the workshop from How to Write Better (twitter account) and How to write Better website. You can also sign up for their newsletter.

Happy writing.

Post 24 – Old Couples

There was an old couple walking ahead of me yesterday. They must have been in their seventies or eighties. We came to a bridge. This bridge runs across a section of the bay and is probably about 30 steps long. The bridge is made of wooden planks bolted on a solid steel frame. It is not a flimsy bridge which swings as people walk; it is pretty sturdy. But you can feel the bridge rumble a little if a heavy vehicle passes by. Because of the wooden planks, if you look down while walking across, you can see the water below through the gaps.

As soon as we came to the bridge, the old couple ahead of me stopped. The lady then put her arm into her husband’s arm and they began walking again. They walked across the bridge slowly, as she held on to him tightly. Once they had crossed the bridge, she let out a sigh, giggled and let go of his arm.

It was the cutest, warmest, sweetest thing I had seen in a long time. It was beautiful and I wish I had taken a picture. Love is in the little things.