The Grey Zone

I love the grey zone. I guess it is an artist’s realm. That zone of transition

where orange ends and red begins…

where Asia ends and Europe begins…

where a river ends and the sea begins…

where day ends and night begins…

where sleep ends and wakefulness begins…

where a dream ends and reality begins…

where autumn ends and winter begins…

where painting ends and photography begins…

where happiness ends and mania begins…

where affection ends and attraction begins…

where creativity ends and insanity begins!

This grey zone is intensely stimulating for it has nothing of its own. It sits at the interface of two conflicting worlds, borrowing immensely from both, reflecting the essence of both. It is a world of imperfections- a world where imperfection is the rule.

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The Language of Music

Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.

Music has always been an important influence in my perception of life. Being a writer, I love the world of words. But to write, I need to feel. And to feel what I wish to feel, I need music.  Music that makes me stop in my tracks, hypnotized. Music that takes over my senses and clouds my consciousness. Music that speaks to me powerfully…that my mind embodies in totality. As it takes me through a spectrum of emotions, I understand the power of this non-verbal language. It effortlessly takes me to greater depths than does the language of words. It is for this reason that I have found the background music a very important component of a movie, more so than the songs.

Music retains its carnal quality- a language far more ancient than the language of words, and therefore deeply rooted into man’s unconscious.

World over, there is so much diversity in music for it is significantly influenced by geographical, cultural and social factors. And yet, unlike the language of words, It makes itself accessible to all. This awareness is enthralling to me.

I remember my experience of the movie Frida. I came out of the theatre speechless, for I had no words to describe the magic of that sensory experience. Was it the hypnotizing Mexican music….the ingenious portrayal of Frida‘s personality and life…or the vibrant and colourful titbits of Mexican culture? I did not know which was most appealing to me. In the end, I decided that it was the concoction as a whole that made the movie so brilliant. And in that regard, the music certainly embodied every moment of that movie, as much as it embodied the spirit of Mexican culture. It made me fall in love with Hispanic culture. It took me through such a  rollercoaster of emotions in 3 hours of time that I felt I had lived my life in those 3 hours! I made up my mind that I would certainly visit Mexico some time in my life!

Elliot Goldenthal did a brilliant job with his compositions in this movie. He retained the touch of folk classic and traditional Mexican music, which I find haunting. No wonder Frida won two awards- Best Original Soundtrack of the Year and Soundtrack Composer of the Year! I think Latin American music is intense in its emotional richness and because it has a multicultural influence (Spanish, indigenous Indian, African), it has character. With its assortment of guitar, accordion and percussion instruments like the marimba, it is a treat to the senses. It is the sort of music where I do not know which I love more- the melody or the rhythm! It was a movie that opened my eyes to how deeply rooted music is into a culture. All in all, I find Spanish music very rich, diverse and appealing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gM8u8dbWslo

I also find myself more stimulated by music that represents a multicultural influence. I remember this Hungarian composition, Szerelem Szerelem from the movie The English Patient, which I found compelling. It was a composition that seemed to have strong Arabic overtones, giving it a unique character. Says author Bence Szabolcsi , “Asian memories slumber in the depths of Hungarian folk music and this folk music is the last Western link in the chant of ancient Eastern cultural relations.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZuJtLOI6uw

It is perhaps for the same reason that I loved Nicholas Gunn‘s instrumental music, which again represents a multicultural influence. It takes you straight to the heart of a tropical forest, with all its sounds!

In essence, music transcends barriers of place and time. As Marta Sebestyen states:

I might think that this music, even though it might sound unfamiliar at first, is important because it is not artificial. We just play, with real passion, and that touches people. The source of these songs may be different, but the essence of traditional music is the same, no matter what country. The melodies carry all these feelings, the true feelings of the people.”

NORMAL REDEFINED

I have been wondering how much of liberty can be taken with regard to ‘labelling’ deviant behaviour as psychiatric illness. The latest edition of the DSM-IV has incorporated a new diagnosis into its classification of mental illness. It goes by the name ‘Oppositional defiant disorder’ (ODD).

http://theunboundedspirit.com/nonconformity-and-freethinking-now-considered-mental-illnesses/

As stated in this article, what were in the past labelled as personality traits are now increasingly being pushed into the category of mental illness.

This reminds me of a question a professor once posed to us in class: ‘What defines normal?’ To the answer, ‘Majority defines normal’, his reply was a question: ‘What if the population of reference is a mental asylum?’

It has taken me all these years to realize the profundity in that question. With reference to the human mind, when the paths available for it to traverse are infinite, is it really possible to define normal? I am reminded of Nietzsche’s words:

Digressions, objections, delight in mockery, carefree mistrust are signs of health; everything unconditional belongs in pathology.”

If we go by the current attitude of the psychiatrist community, we would be branding majority of the population as abnormal and certainly all the geniuses as mentally ill! As stated in a Washington Post article: ‘If Mozart were born today, he would be diagnosed with ADD and medicated into barren normality.’

The argument offered with respect to labelling is that it would guide treatment, make it more evidence-based and enable standardization. But with the human mind, is it really possible to have one common solution for the multitude of deviations it resorts to? The only outcome of this labelling has been to overdiagnose mental illness, and of course, to make drug marketing a profitable endeavour.

In my opinion, deviant behaviour that poses difficulty to the self or to others should still be the realm of psychology, rather than psychiatry. It should be viewed as a personality evolved from a multitude of factors in the background. These background factors have to be extensively explored, insights drawn as to how they have contributed to shaping the individual’s personality and these insights used for cognitive therapy, which has to be highly individualistic.

There was a time when I wanted to be a psychiatrist. But today, I wish to be a psychologist. I want to intervene much before the mind has resorted to an extreme coping mechanism for survival. I want to work with children, adolescents, parents and teachers and in association with psychologists and psychiatrists in the creation of a social environment that is conducive to promoting and sustaining a healthy mind.

I remember the words of my professor: ‘Psychiatry is not really an independent discipline. It is something we need to practise in every other discipline…every day of our life!’

Life: An eternal dusk

kali-13
Somewhere amongst the ticking human beings all around, I have been ticking too. Ticking fast and non stop, keeping pace with life. A voice from within persistently reminds that life is too short, that there is so much more to do. On the one hand, there are dreams to chase. On the other hand, there are memories to record. The ability to watch my own self and my own life, as if I were watching a movie, is a precious gift. In that way, I have always felt special. Everything black & white transforms into a brilliant riot of colors in my mind.

My emotions of elation and pain have always been extraordinarily intense and deep. They have always sought an outlet, and the most gratifying outlet has been in writing.  I have often wanted to revisit the journey of my life so far, capturing it in words. To me, recording my memories and thoughts is as enriching as chasing my dreams. As I record my memories, there is a greater understanding of who I am. A greater reverence for the soul that thrives within.

My childhood was a world of tranquility and bliss. It is that world which still echoes within me. I love listening to the echoes of an entire universe that I seem to have tucked away into my mind as a child, for they help me rise above the turbulence and chaos of the world around me.

The transition to adulthood was a little earthquake that woke me up from a long slumber. Like a flower that spreads out its petals to the rays of the morning sun, I opened my eyes to yet another beautiful world. The early years were full of sunshine, gentle and mellow, and I basked in it. The later years brought in the first bouts of pain. Perhaps that was when I really awakened to adulthood. Like the rays of the afternoon sun, pain burnt me, and awakened me to my own self. As day progressed, the sun set and dusk was yet again phenomenal. I had survived the rays of the blazing sun, and dusk brought with it the same tranquility I had experienced as a child. Just that there was the memory of a day within. With dusk, the world turned beautiful yet again. Perhaps more so, than a world awakening to sunrise. The setting sun was the God, and the world seemed to be engaged in silent reverence of the sun. I sat in tranquil reflection of the richness of the day gone by…

Dusk at ‘kali’, a vast expanse of backwaters in Telicherry, Kerala

kali-20

 “I do not mourn all that I (and this world) have lost, but I value all that we have lost.
My ‘present’ is a persistent tribute to all that we lost. My present is analogous to a tranquil, yet spectacular dusk- a slow transition from a bright and promising day into a dark and quiet night. It is a collection of moments, where day is fading, and yet hasn’t disappeared…where memories from the day are fresh and beautiful…where the fragrance of the day lingers, and builds a spirit of optimism, that lights up the darkness of the night subsequently, promising the return of yet another dawn, yet another day.
kali-25
 If a spectacular dusk didn’t segregate day from night, the world would have come to an abrupt standstill; the beauty of the day would have been lost upon us. Dusk-a slow ‘letting-go’ of the day. That is my present. It is never a mad rush to an uncertain future; it is a slow letting-go of a beautiful past. It is a persistent tribute to a past, where the past is an emotional world that is coming to a close in the real sense.”
Like a bird that slacks its pace as it descends and then rests upon a tree, the feel of the flight lingering, the memories of the sky fresh and beautiful, the sense of freedom persisting…
kali-30
 My present is a glorious sunset that connects me to the beauty of a day that is receding.
My life is an eternal dusk…”

A Parallel World

On most evenings, I encounter a group of daily-wage labourers on their way home, after a day’s hard labour in the heat of the unmerciful tropical sun. As I glance at their faces and figures, there is something of them that holds on to my mind, refusing to leave.

Something unspoken that is communicated.

Something that I attempt to define in my words here…

 

It is late evening, but my day is far from its close. On my task list for the day, there are still chores that need to be ticked off. As I encounter cars and bikes recklessly overtaking each other, I realize that I am in par with the world around me-

 
Rushing, and heedless to the voice of the setting sun.

 

I slam the brakes as the guard at the railway crossing levers the gate into closure. Minutes tick by, and a train eventually shows up, its engine screaming. I see passengers looking out of their windows- people travelling to definite destinations. I wait restlessly, counting the bogies, desperately trying to read the destination painted in block letters on each bogie. As the last bogie disappears from view, I find myself glaring at a stretch of railway tracks that seem to chase this bogie, now a miniature figure in the distance.

 

PW 2

 

The slanting rays of the sun fall on the tracks, and I catch sight of sun-burnt bodies walking on the track. There are men and women, young and old. Some are carrying spades and hoes, while others have cloth bundles on their shoulder. A day’s hard work peers from their faces, against a backdrop of chronic struggle.

 

I hear them talking about the day- the labour of the day, the injuries they sustained, the meal they shared, the betel leaves thereafter, the fight they picked up with the mason, and much more. They talk in shrill chaos.

 
There is the profound absence of ‘tomorrow’ in their conversations.

 

A woman laughs aloud at a joke, while a child wails, crying for a sweetmeat. An old man walks with slow strides- a stooping figure clinging on to the support of a walking stick, his frail structure concealed by a torn blanket that he has wrapped around himself.

 
Only a face coarsened by life remains exposed, and eyes perhaps lost in the sheer truths of reality peer at the ground with unshaken steadiness.

 

PW 5

 

On the horizon, I see the sun beginning to set. The railway track stretches out infinitely, as if tracing a path leading to the setting sun. And on the tracks, these men and women pace steadily, like dismantled bogies of a train, on a journey to the world of the setting sun.

 

PW 4

 

With dusk, the sun seems to play games. It blurs the image of these figures in the distance, almost transforming them into illusions. Have they reached their destination?

Perhaps yes. One night, I see them scattered on a heath, talking and laughing as a pot of gruel cooks on the fire. As they eat from their poor bowls, the sound of their excited voices and laughter resonates in the silence, and I see a world far removed from the world that I belong to.

 
The world defined by the confines of four walls of a mansion, with only the sound of television- a sound that breaks the silence of the mansion, but fails to penetrate the lonely silence of the heart.

 

PW 8

The Tempo of Dawn

It is Sunday morning. I wake up to the sound of the rain outside. My room is still in darkness. I love Sunday mornings- it is that special day when nature awakens me- a slow and beautiful phenomenon, as opposed to the distressing abruptness of the alarm.
I close my eyes yet again. But this time, I am in a trance. I am still in the realms of sleep, because my mind isn’t racing. It is picking up tempo, but it isn’t racing.
I hear the pitter-patter of the rain outside, the slow orchestra of the birds, and all the sounds from the awakening world outside- but they sound distant. I begin to dream- of things I love to dream about. Is this sleep or wakefulness?
As I dream, the sounds of the morning slowly begin to sound closer to my ears- I hear them now, loud and clear. The rain has stopped. I open my eyes- the first rays of the sun are streaming in through the window- golden rays that flood me in their embrace, as if instilling energy into my body and soul, revitalizing me. I bask in the magic of these rays.
My eyes are now open, and I feel wide awake. I sit up in bed, stretch, and fall in love with the day ahead. This is the tempo of dawn.

From garden city to silicon valley

I think what is most attractive about Bangalore is its openness to people- the ease with which it accommodates people. It is a city that has always welcomed migrants. Contrary to other places that I have visited in India, there is nothing that Bangalore claims for its very own. It is in fact, a city that is constructed from the multiple cultures and lifestyles it accommodates. So what you finally have is a very cosmopolitan environment- an environment where every individual of every class and creed can find his independent place. This freedom is a luxury in a country like India. By virtue of this attribute, the city provides its people a very broad perspective to life, for the exposure is to a huge spectrum. This cosmopolitan outlook defines a Bangalorean.

Because of its openness to people, it has always been at the heart of change. It is an ever-changing city, and the change is palpable.

The change is evident in the very structural framework of the city. For a person who witnessed the city in its 90s, the makeover is dramatic. The very routemap of the city has changed, what with all the one ways, flyovers, underpasses and the ring road that has expanded across a significant circumference of the city. The city brags of a metro now, though very little of it is functional. The BMTC buses have evolved a long way from their initial status. Spaces in the city have been gobbled up by plush corporate offices, apartments, malls and branded stores. In fact, there is hardly any vestige of familiarity.

To me, the most appealing part of the city’s change is the change in the mindset of is people. I think the greatest advantage of living in a big city that is dynamic is the growth it takes you through, on account of the challenges you face. Of course, the associated stress is sometimes a heavy price to pay. But in my conversations with people this time, what was most evident to me was that people have expanded their horizons of thought significantly. As you struggle to survive in this city, to deal with the day-to-day challenges it offers, to match up to its lifestyle, to cope with the standards of work and update yourself professionally and personally, you grow tremendously as an individual. You build personal and professional goals and that becomes your drive. I find this significantly lacking in small towns, where I find people less motivated, on the whole. In fact, the very lifestyle of a community is significantly influenced by these factors. Relaxation and recreation in Bangalore is driven by the need to unwind and rejuvenate from the stresses of work. People socialize in the evenings…people actually indulge in food and drink and develop a taste for it….the conversations around the table are so rejuvenating. Evenings are quite a treat in this city for the very mood is infectious and the nights are long. People also indulge in their hobbies/interests actively as a means of unwinding. The city thus has avenues for people to indulge and explore themselves. On the contrary, in the small towns, people often lack a yardstick for growth. I find the average individual much more bored and demotivated than his counterpart in a growing city. Even socializing and eating out is driven by boredom- this mood is heavily reflected in the cafes and food joints. In fact, life was more beautiful in these little towns when they retained the rural touch of a bygone era.

It would be interesting to do a feature on Bangalore- on the actual scenario of its change. To look at how Bangaloreans from different backgrounds and industries perceive this change. What the city has achieved and what it has lost. Perhaps next year….