Thursday, July 30, 2009

In search of the one

To some a temple is merely an edifice in stone, mortar and bricks. A collection of cement loosely arranged to house objects of reverence. To others it is a marvel of sweat, blood and tears shed in copious quantities to appease the deity within. For a demanding deity tall spires stretch out into the sky their shape dictated by social norms of the region and the resident deities religion. Gods seem curiously similar to humans in this regard, some have grandiose structures that seem to pale anything into insignificance next to them. Some temples have exquisite carvings demanding extreme devotion and extracting the skillful dexterity of the sculptor. And then there are those temples seeming to be but simple abodes, a roof and a porch; stark in structure making up for it with millions thronging outside.

Real estate goes by three commandments; location, location and location. Some temple builders of yore seem to have known this all along. Which is why there are temples straddling the rapid and visceral Ganges, those built along the mature Ganges; temples overlooking the placid bovine Ganges and then those looking upon the great river as it disintegrates into muddy silt and meets the sea. There is a beautifully derelict temple in the Kangra valley where nothing seems of grandeur. Then as one bows down before the Goddess, the mighty snow capped peaks of the Himalayas rise and seem to form the very roof of the temple. Some temples have the sea as a fourth wall, yet others lie submerged in caves demanding precarious climbs. And some temples rise magnificently out of nowhere, themselves becoming a beacon of architectural beauty and enriching the surroundings. Spires rise out of green paddy fields, and spires stand among skyscrapers blending into the landscape almost as if God intended them to be there.

Does a temple ask to be reviewed? Or are critics merely supposed to comment upon the more trivial pursuits of mankind? To a devotee a temple is a sum of several parts architecture being but one if at all. The munificence and largesse of the God, the sternness of austerities demanded for worship, the extent of penitence demanded in case of a wrongdoing and the power and veracity of the said God to mete out justice, these theological parameters often decide the position of the temple in the Indian social fabric, irrespective of religion. Art and architecture are therefore incidental, which is not to say we are a society of philistines but that God cannot be bothered with too much art. And then there are temples where art is the sole God, but man needs pray at the altar of his needs than his appreciation for mere structures.

Every temple has an ambiance factored by aspects within and without. It is these that make every temple unique. Some are places of refuge, some places of fervent prayer. Some ask for open mouthed adoration and some are inconspicuous to the extent of being one with their surroundings. The temple is an innate part of the Indian geography imbuing its many hues to the landscape.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


It was afternoon when I walked in. She was there sitting with her legs splayed, a violin resting delicately over her shoulder gracelessly obscuring her lithe body behind wood and string. I has always seen her hair as a wet collection ending in little droplets that ran down to her skirt at the temple, today however they were dry, and beautiful though a tad colourless. Lengthy strands moved lightly near her face, and one troublesome bunch strayed across her eye, she brushed it casually eyes sparkling with the promise of music to come.

“I’m really rusty you know. Not proficient or anything, I just dug this out today”

And then with the incongruence that betrayed her shyness she blurted out

“Lets jam”

She slowly began, her arm moving in a rhythm, gently poking me every time she moved up an octave. I was captivated. By the music as well.

Absorption into music comes suddenly. One moment you are there listening to ordinary sounds, the telephone, people moving about, the trees rustling and the next second you are spellbound, stuck within a world without any escape. What happens in those few seconds of rapture I know not but the realization of having been lost in music always comes about as wondrous and novel. She moved through familiar notes quickly and I was humming at the crescendo I squeaked. She opened her eyes her large black orbs moving about a little shocked a first, with the intrusion of this alien note in her world of rich sounds, then a little apologetic.

“I’ll shift lower, how do you want it? no sing. I’ll continue”

And I slowly found strength to go over those notes with her. Shyly at first barely audible, then moving about cautiously as if testing the raga for endurance before breaking out, into full throated exuberance. Faster and faster she moved her arm, keeping up with my new found tempo across Shankarabharanam and Mohanam. Unawares except for constant poking of my chest by her elbow, dimly aware of her presence and completely ensconced within the confines of a few notes. Her string snapped with a sudden twang at Hamsadhwani when our eyes met. I was in a cold sweat.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

To drink or not to drink...

Tamilians cannot make tea. Take it from me. I can brew an almost perfect filter coffee that makes maamis go besh and look upon me as a potential son in law, but I cannot for the life of me make tea that might impress a Malyalee, a Maharashtrian or a martian for that matter ( No offense to Malayalees, Maharashtrians, or martians for that matter).

My philosophies for making tea are rather hasty as I have come to realize but my habits have steeped in and I am unable to change them. Making tea for me means boiling an inordinate amount of water and throwing in tea powder, sugar, milk, ginger or any other spice that strikes my fancy and then let the unholy concoction bubble for as long I am willing to wait. My tea drinking friends consider this nothing short of blasphemous and I am often looked down upon for this alone.

My shortcomings with regards to tea were discovered by chance. On a rainy afternoon in damp Syracuse, friends unexpectedly dropped in and a spirited evening of conversations followed. Wanting beverages to revive flailing spirits tea was called for and I in all good earnest volunteered. Later on I received heapfuls of curses; someone even accused me of trying to thwart the pleasant evening with my mean coffee drinking agendas.

There are few things better than a good cup of coffee, filter or otherwise and a strong flavourful cup of tea is one of them. Tea drains away blues in the rains. And yes I am quite aware that rhyming is not one of my stronger skills. At home we follow the good Indian tradition of stuffing our guests silly with food and drink. Coffee is passed around ubiquitously, propelling late night caffeine driven card games with unusual amounts of calculations defeating the mathematically challenged.

Last week I went to a friend’s home. “Im sorry there’s no tea or coffee” she said exasperated, her hair forming tense ringlets near her temple. “Beer is in the fridge though, chalega?” A better time was never had before.