Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Manipuri scarf making

I was walking a path I had walked a long time ago: 12 years to be exact. I remembered how, over a decade ago, I was fascinated with the three tribes (Manipuri, Khasia, Tripura) living near the town of Srimongol in northern Bangladesh for centuries who had uniquely different languages, cultures and of course different household technologies such as their hand-looms. Walking through the fields and tea gardens in twilight, I vaguely remembered how I had walked to one of those tribal villages. With every step, came back memories of the textile, the patterns, the clothes this tribe would wear and where I had bought textile from in 2001. Though much had changed: new shops, a small tourist center, houses with new walls; I somehow traced my steps back to Maimuni Devi's house (pictured at the top).

Maimuni Devi sold me my first ever tribal garments. She still makes the scarves; at least the base layer of the scarves.

Her daughter, Kiron, all smiles and happiness, was handling the loom inside the house. The loom was anchored to the bed-frame and against her waist to keep the fabric taut.
As it was the winter and it did get chilly outside, the loom would migrate inside where family members would take turns using the loom.
Amid laughter and the smell of incense, inspiration and imagination threaded together give birth to new patterns in new colors.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

To that land, to that sunset

To the land of green and flood,
from where rose a dream in my father's passion and my mother's womb,
where the pink and purple of a winter sunset color my most intimate of wishes,
where my songs reverberate with the land,
where my dreams are millennia old and yet new, just like the morning dew,
to that land I go.

Monday, January 20, 2014

My source

This is the forest I went to in my late teens. I didn't know the forest well back then, only going to watch birds. This time, I went to watch the forest and breathe the forest and be with it. These are the shots I like from my staying in the forest every day from morning (usually late morning) until late afternoon/early evening.

Click here to view the album

A storm coming

There's a storm brewing in these lands. You don't have to turn the television channels on or open the daily newspapers and read the countless stories streaming in from all over the country about something or someone burning. You can just talk with the common people and talk not even about politics. You can ask them about their daily lives, their hopes, their aspirations and their seasons and festivities. People, to you, feel down and worried. While they smile, it seems forced. While they may still dream, their eyes are downcast. In the streets, in the bazaars, as you wander through the land, you can sense the tension, the taut suspense of people's impending nightmares. It's the feeling of seeing the cables slowly, surely getting cut one by one while you stand in the middle of the suspension bridge. You know the depth will swallow you. You don't know when. You can sense that people are scared.

There's an election about and neither of the big parties are making it easy for the common people to peacefully elect their representatives. The storm that's coming, however, is bigger than just the political quibbles; although the political instability is paving the way for greater troubles. One of the major parties is allied with what any sane mind would consider an extremist, convoluted, anarchist group. There's a fair chance that the party allied with the extremists may just win the election if the election is unbiased. When this faction won two election cycles ago, they unleashed a swatch of damage upon the minorities. In regions that are relatively far from the reach of law enforcement, they decimated non-muslim (and muslim also, when convenient) houses. They destroyed property and they destroyed lives built by the sweat of common people's brow. Back then, we, in the city, would read about raids and rapes happening in the dark of the night in far-flung places. The grizzly lust of retaliation for allegedly supporting the left-of-center party or worse yet, India, turned into a vendetta against anyone deemed not enough muslim. It's only been twelve years since. People in these lands remember and shudder.

Shudder they should. Lately, on top of the relatively mainstream Islamists, the more extreme, currently banned, groups are gearing up for open acts of violence in the name of struggle for Quranic law. These groups were let to do their mischief unhindered twelve years ago. That resulted in village idiots turned militants claiming small independent territories and handing out judgment according to primitive Islamic law. Even a nightmare could be more wished for, more pleasant!

You can tell people fear the coming instability and fear that whoever comes in power will either be unable or unwilling to do anything. People sense that the upcoming difficulties will just tear down any semblance of religious, cultural, and societal tolerance that still remains in this land. People fear all these but are not bold enough to take a firm step, to prevent this sectarian violence. Who really wants to put one's self in harm's way to save the minority? Who has time for that when not working for a day means a hungry day for the family?

Between hope and despair, tolerance and persecution, democracy and militancy, in this land, people walk a precarious fine line.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Evening blues

I was passing through the busy street in Srimongol when the faint sound of music reached me over the city's din. I looked and saw the temple's courtyard through the gate to my right: well lit, yet not too bright. A centered, roofed, open, brick shelter stood in front of the statues of Krishna and other deities. Devotees, a group of young men, were singing a Kirtan, the Hare Krishna Chant in the shelter, as the evening offering. I stood at a corner at first, unsure of what was proper given my being non-hindu, and then sat down at the corner of the shelter. The singers, as rhythmic as they were, as joyful as they were, sang several tunes of the chant. They started each tune in mid tempo and then reaching a crescendo near the end. The beats from the hand drums made me want to swing and move with the chanting. Hare Krishna; Hare Krishna;  Krishna, Krishna; Hare, Hare. Sitting at the edge of the shelter, in half-light, I could look up and see the stars. And sometimes I closed my eyes and just accepted the music as it reached me. Closing my eyes, I saw the blue of the night. I could feel the blue of the moment: me, a lonesome traveler, passing through and bumping upon an offering, a ritual that has taken place in these lands for hundreds of years. The moment, the singing reminded me, for some reason, the pre-1960s in greater Bengal, when the ethnic, religious, societal cleansing hadn't quite started to take full effect. Back then, these chants and this music was not intermixed with anxiety about the future, but was only of devotion and joy. Back then, a song offering like this could have tens of singers. Tonight there were only seven. Who knows, when I return again, maybe they will all be gone to India. I may never hear this song again. I may never return. So, I listened to the chanting, the blue of the music, the blue of devotion, and the blue of the moment. Alone. In this moment.

I flow, like a river, from village to village, port to port, offering to offering. We all do. We cannot ever return to the same moment, same people, the same place; the same we were. Like a river, we flow and become more and become less than what we were and we don't return. Knowing this, and feeling the joy of the music made me lose myself in the happy sadness of the moment. I was sad because I would not experience this evening again; and happy because unexpectedly, I was gifted this devotion to Krishna. Unlike Krishna, I don't receive countless devotions everyday, through the ages. So, I accepted this once in a lifetime devotion, though not to me, with an open heart. At the corner, there I sat. I saw the stars, sometimes closing my eyes. The evening was full of the chant: the joyful drums, the devotees singing, and me a lonesome traveler.

(here's a Hare Krishna Chant similar to what I heard: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lqx6qZDJTo)

My once love

We had been intimate, you remember?
Like lovers forlorn,
I only knew you and loved you so.
Stretch marks of capitalism upon your breasts
were heavenly to me,
and greedy claws bloodying your back
only incited my lust for you.

I left you with hope of returning one day
and you never lacked of lovers;
though your face could be misshapen as any;
            you could smell of unhealth;
            your smile, even on a sunny day, could be prosaic.

I return to you to witness
the greedy capitalists attempting
a complete reconstruction of your face, breast, ass;
and the cutting is only half done.
You struggle to adjust to this new appearance.

Like a snake trying to fit in its outgrown skin,
you and I try to fit in as we once were
to ourselves, to each other.
We try to ignore the knives' merciless cutting of you,
               to ignore how ungrateful a lover I am
                                                                to forget you and seek others.

We try to forget that despite you once being
my definition of life and beauty
you and I will chivvy each other
like a snake trying to fit in its outgrown skin.

I return to you, my once love.
You were my first city
and you will forever remain so.
Just forgive me if we don't lose ourselves
                                                in loving each other
                                                like we once did.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A gypsy's letter

Is this a letter to you?
Or is this a letter to me?
Is this my note to no one
and nowhere,
which shows my desolation
and solitude
with no more roots to hold me down
and no more dreams to make me see?
In this letter
I paint a reality
that is not mine,
but a reality that claims me.
In this letter that speaks of
a no man's land,
a no song's dream,
a no hope's fire,
I surrender me to
and solitude
my story is of a reality
without a permanent address.