Friday, 30 October 2015

Stories The Elements Tell

       Ravan has long been reduced to ashes with fanfare and fireworks. The fair grounds carry the silent echoes of a rejoicing people.  The Durga Puja pandals have come down revealing a deserted ground bearing the countless footprints of thronging crowds. The skeletal framework that upheld the festivity, stands stark and reluctantly dismantled.


But the beaten grass once again raise their heads and share stories with each other.

How they danced! Did you see the Dhunuchi in the evenings? I could swear Ma herself twitched her toes and tapped her fingers on the trident! I almost forgot to lie low and got up to jig with them...


Hmph, I saw you flattened out again, cried its sibling peeping out from behind mother's broad back. The women were the best lot. Attired so gracefully in their Balucharis and Dhakais, elegance merged with  the dhaak's rhythm, whispered a blade from the adjacent tuft.

But you have to grant it to the dhaakiyas. It was their prayers pulsating through their drums, that brought together so many dancing toes, observed a grave yellowing blade who had seen it all.

The wind caught the whispers and swooped down to join in.

Loitering around the streets admiring those bright coloured swords, bows and arrows, I was unceremoniously being pushed about by the crowds rushing from one place to another, squeezing the life out of me. Gathering together of whatever air was left, I thought of resting a bit in one of those quiet homes. Was I glad I did!

The blades of grass swayed and turned to listen to this new story from the wind.


There was this tiered stand with clay toys neatly displayed. Each one proudly taking its place. The dashavatars, the ashtalakshmis, the kalash, and other Gods and Goddesses, on the top rungs while the mortals with their worldly attachments  were  on the last.

You mean the Golu...


Yes, and it was a first for that young couple. A family steeped in  music  with ancestors playing the veena for the Gods in the Srirangam temple... It was  transcendental when the family came together in the evening. The resting veena and the flute in front of the golu sprang to life. Such divine music!

The cloud floating by, hovered over all. And I have seen something too. Up in some of those apartments, a  small earthen lamp glowing under a newly planted tulsi sending up little prayers. When I looked into the distant horizon from where the sun heralds a new day, a farmer was out in his fields at dusk lighting an earthen lamp under another tulsi and a lantern in the fields.

Yes,yes! Rustled the grass and the wind, it was for the Kati Bihu that comes in quietly and the  farmers pray to protect their crops just when the grains had started ripening.


Oh! That must be it then! said the cloud with  realization dawning and went on to add... On Dusshehra, quite a throng had gathered outside this temple. Rolls and rolls of  bright flower garlands sat piled up while the nadaswaram and thavil rose to a crescendo inside. Silk saris rustled paying obeisance  and the jasmine strings on the oiled braids spread an overpowering fragrance. On the pavement was an old man, a smile lighting up his furrowed face, selling some of the most delicious murukkus that were fast vanishing from his stuffed brown cloth bags.


The moon had crept up quietly from behind and thrown its gossamer veil all around.
 Four days after that when I had floated out in my full splendour... you know how it is on certain days when you get carried away with all that joy around... Many people were waiting to usher in  Lakshmi. I shone down brightly, so she wouldn't lose her way in all that maze down there.

 Aren't you tired from all these festivities that keep dragging you to the center? Chimed the little star that had moved afar so others could see it. It wasn't exactly  exhilarating to be lost in the moonshine and trying to assert its existence.

I am, smiled the moon indulgently. So when I take my break in a few days, you can enjoy the show of stars showering from the ground. A million lights will brighten up the place and some of those will try to emulate you and attempt to reach you.

Yeah right, bristled the trees. The next day, those of us in the concrete jungles, will be choking in layers of smoke and gasping. Just like that strangulated river, reduced to being a zombie. More dead than alive. The dew drops were weeping down my leaves the other day, telling the cruel stories of places where they came from.

Everyone was quiet. The wind dropped lower, and ruffled the grass and the leaves. Don't worry. The sun will fight valiantly and shine down on us. Till then we will wait bravely....they nodded wistfully.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Ushering In Autumn



        A multicoloured liquid bindi case. Small  tubes arranged in a circle on a plastic base. Each filled with red, pink, blue, green ...a cap with a wand. Two dozen silver bangles or bright coloured glass bangles. Tube balloons twisted and shaped into flowers and animals.  Pinwheels that rush into a burst of shades with the breeze. Tiny lips blow on whistles, interrupt the melee in various  notes and pitch. Shiny pistols crack with the turn  of the chamber. The red roll of ammunition sitting pretty in tiny round papercases with a pink paper cap. Chatter of the people, squeals of delight, bawling tantrums and Bollywood music rise above all the din. Only to be lowered when the priest take the stage. Our grandmothers did not endorse idol worship but no one stopped anyone from joining the festivity... Memories from a childhood faraway.

Liquid Kumkum Bindi: 11 Color 2gm Each
                 The hypnotic beats of the dhak. Heady fragrance of the incense smoke. Dhunuchi dance bring out smiles and and gather the audience. The elite few rush around with round pleated satin badges stuck to their chest. A badge of pride for some and awe for others. Endless rounds of meetings for these in the committee. Evenings spent under the empty half done pandals. Important organizing matters stray into this and that. Sometimes these badges work wonders to push that puja thali ahead in the queue for the favoured few. Coy glances stolen. Rosy hopes rise within. The evening cultural function. Hurried dinner at homes and rushing to take the best seats. The local artistes croon out one song after the other till warned by the committee to stop hijacking the show. Some latch on till abruptly asked to vacate the stage. Shouts and and smart repartees from the ownerless voices at the back. Checking out crispy new saris and dresses rustling like the autumn leaves. New shoe bites lend that ache and limp. Desperately looking for an empty chair or anything to perch on. Endless stream of the devout and those on the look out. Matrons of the neighbourhood gossiping and complaining of what the world was coming to. Dishing out earfuls to those in the committee for the mismanagement... Youth, a receding memory.

      Idols no longer hold the  attention. Come to think of it, it never did. Apart from the aesthetics. It was  always the festivity. Watching the events unfold as if in a loop. Different places, strange faces. And yet the same, all over again. The cynical distance and disdain for the extravaganza lose out. Anandamela, the most awaited part of the four day exrtravaganza. Aroma of home cooked food from the bhodroloker bari. Smiling at familiar faces, exchanging pleasantries with acquaintances.


   When the earth cruises ahead in its planetary path, extricating itself from the smothering embrace of the star, the dews gently adorn the grass once again. The mornings promise of gentle days. When that maddening fragrant assault of the xewali or the coral jasmine takes over the senses, a smile within lightens the soul and is assured of better days.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Docuzentrum In Nuremberg - Ruminations

               It was a trip to Nuremberg two years back and so a visit to one of its infamous relics was inevitable.  The Nazi Party Rally Ground. Entering the Docuzentrum, a part of this massive area, we sought to expand our perception of what we had studied in short paragraphs in the history classes.

        The  Holocaust and The Diary Of Anne Frank were (as it is to this date), synonymous for school students grappling with the ideas of persecution and genocide, from within the confines of a class room far removed in space and time. Reading into the pages of The Diary of Anne Frank, the heart lurched and empathized with the young girl trying to weave a normalcy while keeping hopes afloat, in her confined world  during the holocaust. Later turning the pages of Leon Uris, the triumphant escape of the persecuted in boats, buses and retaliations, a time different from our secured lives, a people so like everyone else, left many thoughts hanging in the air like the rings of nicotine laden smoke. Carried away with the gripping celluloid war dramas, we took vicarious pleasure in the daring escapades of the the persecuted while cheering lustily for the allied forces victorious strategies.

         Most of it was a glossy poster. The lucky ones were just a pitiable number where the actual figure of the holocaust piled up at eleven million. Eleven million Jews, Roman gypsies, homosexuals and the mentally and physically disabled.

          Shining in the epithet of the imperial city in its past, Nuremberg had lent its name to a few infamous actions during the Nazi days, that went down as the black days of modern history. In the maniacal pursuit for the great German empire with a pure race, in whose veins the Aryan blood flowed, the 1935 Nuremberg Race Laws legitimized the Nazi theory of the pure Aryan race. The second largest city in the Bavarian region of Germany, Nuremberg was the chosen spot to inspire the Germans with their lost past and revive and spearhead a Pan German idea of a nation. It was this city that had the privilege of being a free imperial city with a flourishing trade and economy, famous artists and artisans by the thirteenth century.

      Nothing could be more ironical. Nuremberg was the birthplace of the great Renaissance artist Albrecht Durer, to whom the quote " If a man devotes himself to art, much evil is avoided that happens otherwise if one is idle" is attributed. Nuremberg  was the chosen city to build the Nazi Party Rally ground. And by a man whose early days were spent in the quest to be an artist desperately seeking acceptance into the Vienna Academy of the Arts. Albrecht Durer, born centuries earlier, was not to know the ruins that his city was reduced to post WWII, following the genocide perpetrated by the once- upon -a- time struggling artist, Hitler.

        Nuremberg in the Bayern region of Germany, has transformed its infamous past into a factual representation  of events, turning a section of the erstwhile Nazi Rally Ground into a documentation center. The northern part of the Kongressehall, to be precise. The high ceiling halls containing the solemn space within - the corridors , small and large rooms - bears testimony to changed times. Where it was once built to display and awe with the Nazi show of power, post war it remained a shell of its intended glory languishing in an uncertain future. For it was difficult for the inheritors  to acknowledge and accept their past that weighed heavy on their shoulders. Many other such relics were either hastily converted for day to day utility, broken down leaving no signs or left to the mercies of time. But the Rally Ground was a different matter. It was a colossal plan spanning an area of eleven square kilometers. That was a size impossible to ignore and wish away.


     Nuremberg's  Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelaendeion ,  Docuzentrum, beside  Dutzendteich lake, now stoically chronicles the ascent and the subsequent downfall of  the Nationalist Socialist Party in a manner bereft of bias and sentiment. It places the euphoria stoked by the idea of the Third Reich within its historical context - the whys and the hows of mobilizing  support for a Nazi Germany. In a show of might and built to overwhelm the people, both within the country and also abroad, the incomplete Nazi Rally ground's sheer dimension is mind boggling. A congress hall  with a capacity of 50000 people, a Zeppelin field, a war memorial, marching ground that could host 4,00,000 spectators, the Great Road almost fifty meters wide...Imagine the ecstasy of pride spilling out from those stands when they witnessed the humongous body of soldiers neatly arranged in rows and columns with tanks, artillery and others during the military exercises staged for all to see!  Built under the supervision   of Albert Speer, the rally ground had been  host to six annual  Nazi rallies between 1933  to 1945. History lessons have told us how Hitler utilized this idea of grandness to impress and overwhelm people with show of might. The Cathedral of Light played an important role during the rallies. More than a hundred anti aircraft search lights throwing up high beams up to almost ten kilometers into the sky were stationed around the spectators. The vertical beams set up a grand enclosure for the participating throngs. Later these were shifted and utilized to detect allies aircraft that would then be brought down by the dreaded flaks. Every structure was built to dwarf the individual presence but collectively it was to fill them with pride in their past and being part of a hallowed experience.
    Walking up the narrow metallic flight of stairs into the Docuzentrum,we later realized, the pointed metallic structure protruding from the entrance was part of the piercing arrow concept running through the northern wing of the Kongressehall. It has taken Germany quite some time to emerge from its denial mode, to that of  acknowledgement and acceptance of  the dark legacy and be able to present it factually under  the shadows of what it was intended to be in the hey days of the Third Reich. Left with the colossal structure post WWII, it was finally decided in 1994 by the city council of Nuremberg, to turn it into Docuzentrum. A competition was held in 1998 to attract the best design. Gunther Domenig, an architect and son of a judge in the Nazi regime, came up with the winning idea of running a glass and steel arrow corridor piercing through the North wing of the Kongresshalle.  A pun on the Nazi architect Albert Speer. The nineteen exhibit points explained with the aid of audio guides, use the conventional  method with documents, a few memorabilia,  the many photographs with old film clips thrown in between.


   Within the stark interiors of brick walls, glass and steel, a short film begins the tour showing a present day scenario of a young boy skate  boarding with a grand building in the backdrop. The camera focuses on this backdrop and melts into its past taking the visitor to history.  Some of the pictures are life sized covering the wall from the top to the floor. In one such, Hitler seems to be walking up the steps, on a wall with dramatic lighting creating an eerie effect. Few broken pieces of Nazi memorabilia are displayed in glass topped pits in the floor. A bronze bust of Hitler peers out sternly. It is but one of the mass produced ones, encouraging people to place them at homes, in the propaganda swept frenzy for the Fuhrer and the promise of a German empire. A 1940 edition of  Mein Kampf  rests in a case. Each of the structures in the rally ground are explained with respect to their utility and construction.

    It took almost three hours for us to walk through the " Fascination and Terror" exhibition that ended with clippings of the Nuremberg Trials. A short railway track behind a glass, on our way out, was a poignant reminder of the millions massacred. The train was the favoured mode to transport out the victims. The track is strewn with pieces of paper. Each of these papers have a name written on them - of the victims executed in the Nazi reign. To accommodate all those names, the track would have to be at least four kilometers long, it said.