Thursday, October 11, 2012

Guru Dutt- Remembered

He was ahead of his times. Ahead of himself may be too. In the history of Indian cinema, Guru Dutt's legacy remains unparalleled even 50 years after his tragic death. He was the first of its kind. And perhaps the only one. 

Born in Karnataka as a Padukone, the master craftsman had Calcutta running in his jugular veins. He thus adopted Dutt as his imbibed surname. Suits him. A thinker before anything else, Guru Dutt's contemplating cinema failed to appeal to the newly independent nation of India. Personally I wasn't a great fan of Guru Dutt as an actor. I don't think he was a natural at it. He was a wonderful filmmaker, though. Pyaasa, Kaagaz Ke Phool, Sahib Biwi aur Ghulam are Bollywood classics by this ace director. One of my regrets remains Guru Dutt and Dilip Kumars ego hassles, which potentially robbed us of a cinematic treat. They never worked together, though Guru Dutts orginal star cast for Pyaasa had- Dilip Kumar, Nargis and Madhu Bala in lead roles.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


At Gurez you notice that the dwellers and the scenery are kind of alike. Men stand around a lot, flicking their hands, breaking wind, doing nothing in general. Mountains and trees follow them. They stand quiet in solitude. The similarity disguises a major difference in temperament. Gurezi's are soft-spoken mild-mannered fellows. It are the goblins in here that are ferocious. 

While walking along a stream, in afternoon sunshine, that carried waters of Habba Khatoon spring, on the base of eponymous pyramid shaped peak, a couple of ladies sprawled indolently beside the Queens spring. Biting on the head scarf the sunbathers looked preposterously beautiful, as if aping the insouciance of the monarchs and courtiers who enjoyed this leisure back in the 16th century. With their imperial airs, the resident damsels appeared to be the inheritors of Habba's colossal beauty. 

We had been actually walking for a hour or so, if thats what my calculation told me. You see it isn't difficult to get engrossed in this ancient land of Dards. Having chosen Gurez as our destination, with an eye to capture Habba's imagination, meandering as she used to in these ravines centuries ago, singing pathos in memory of her prince Yusuf Shah Chak, I was searching for: eyes open, senses glued; Tzche kemou sone myane bram nith neo nakho.

A little earlier in the day, when mid day sun was brimming bright and clouds still had not gathered around craggy peaks at Line Of Control, we had come back from what was the last Indian picket on the border- where the lieutenant ordered us to seek his officers permission. I protested and dragged Shawl and Akhter from there. I could not understand why we had to flash another piece of paper to have a glimpse of our own land, just across a ridge. The sentries, senile and ugly behavior added. Akhter would bring it up in days to come, very often- a missed opportunity that he saw in it. 

My resentment had a reason. Since arriving in Bandipur two days earlier, where there were no taverns, no hotels, no pleasure boats to row
on the quaint Wular, everyone seemed to be amused about our trip- the glaring eyes pooping on our backpacks. A permit card from the district police officer was required must to travel further, we were told by our  grey faced lodge owner. We understood the security concerns and thus approached the district police HQ at Bandipur. Our wide smiles and visible enthusiasm soon waned, like sun does, behind the whirling clouds of late spring afternoon Bandipur- once we were behind high walls and barbed wires of the freshly varnished cream colored building- whose  gothic alleys reeked of spurious liquor and echoing invectives of the sentries. It would take us at least two days to get the required pass, we were told. The queue was long.  

'It is an ill-planned travel. I had warned you', Akhter protested. 

A bearded police constable offered some help. 

'Come tomorrow morning. I will do something. Matter of some chai',

he shouted even as we walked away in increasing darkness towards our shanty lodge. 
Shawl rang up someone while Akhter continued with his rants which were starting to annoy me now.

'Tomorrow morning at 9 we have to meet SP, Wasim Qadri. Permit will be ready',

Shawl shouted after dropping the call. Knowing people around helps and no one other than Shawl knows how to use it. I've always been amazed at his network and the ease with which he gets work done. Years of honchoing at big IT corporates he would often credit.

We were in Gurez the next day afternoon, with it's shops and ancient dressmakers, shanty lodges behind which sprawled lanes on either side by rickety wooden structures. The eerie silence broken every now and then by a scurrying monstrous LeyLand army truck. Our stay at the guest house was pleasant. Newly constructed and built in stone the single storey edifice offered much more than what we expected, more than 120 miles away from Srinagar. 

The six hour drive from Bandipur though was arduous, every vertebrae of our back, crying on the drudgery of the road. Ascending on the Razdan pass led us through sparsely dense pine forests. The jungle robbery was done in day light, here. The pass, 1100 feet above, was bracingly cold even in May. At the pass, on our right  was M L Steins Mohand Marg and Mount Harmukh; on left the plains of Kupwara and Handwara and facing us were the sparsely visible peaks of Nun and Kun in Nubra Valley- Ladakh. If the landscape had yet to mesmerize us, the first glimpse of a Dard village (Kanzalwan) almost flicked a switch in me. I could over hear Habba. The village and the setting was fairytale style. Log huts sprawled on either side of the KishenGanga river, the mist flurrying along their withered wooden fences. Lilacs and daisies grew alongside the flossy green moth by the raptous river. Due to the unusually late thaw, wild flowers were only just coming out on the hillsides.

Toying with Habba's songs in effervescent weather, we drove into the valley of Gurez- with its dark brown cultivable fields in this milder climate, hazy uplands, steep gorges and the town of Dawar at the distance- which seemed mostly of one-two storey houses with graceful upward curving eaves. I thought about the violence of history and the resilience with it, the response to hate and suffering this ancient forgotten place lives with it. 

We pulled up in front of a culvert at Village Badwan- home to Habba's mother. From here the pyramid shaped mysterious mountain named Habba Khatoon stood stilled. There were number of folklores associated with this mountain, one of which I heard from a friendly old farmer, while taking an evening walk around the tilled fields the next evening. It is said that once when moon poured magic silver down on the purple fields of iris, and workers were singing while plucking Berries in the garden, Zoon and Yusuf Shah took a walk.  The emperor endowed by the beauty of Habba and Gurez, looked above at the starry skies, that glowed the expanse in rapturous vanity. At this the Mountains spoke and trees bowed- the eyes of the lovers met. The emperor in a spontaneous outpour of love, kissed his mademoiselle, and named the shimmering mountain in distance, as Habba Khatoon. The folklores of Habba and Yusuf Shah continue to reverberate in this land with quite a few versions. A land that is siphoned off from civilizations, clinging on its own history. Though, it needs more than a earful to sense it. 

We spent next couple of days loitering around Gurez, making friends everywhere. Our cook, Nazir Gurezi, was a young boy with hopeful eyes. His Seekh kebabs over the breakfast were remarkably delicious. So was his green spinach that he cooked on the day we left, simmered on home-made ghee.  

Exploring the landscape around Dawar: Markote, Achurr and Cherwan were ancient Dardic villages that played an important halt over the silk route, for centuries. The houses were made up of log wood, thudded over one another, clothing was mostly suited for winter. The striking features of this aboriginal Aryan race is the first thing that can catch a travelers eye. 

Over the horizon I kept seeing the birds that almost looked familiar, just as trees and flowers looked familiar here. This was the sheer variety of the gene pool or I was walking in a parallel universe, more ancient than the one I'm used to, and more strange. An old gray stone wall on the left side of the trail; one on the steepest parts. There were lots of wild flowers around. A deep forest smell. Tangles of wild grape in the undergrowth. I veneered inside, against my audible heart-beats. It looked like  a hermit's shack, the little stone on through the wall served as an entrance to the grotto. I could not go go all the way in- but just inside framed by the arch of tunnel, a Buddhist stupa sits, carved out of stone and hugely calm.

I went outside again. The view across the pine covered mountains, some that touched in Drass, to the miles of fields was hazy, evanescent. It was intensely quiet, this moment. My heart hurt. I tried to absorb to what I was deeply attached to, even if it made me feel miserable. If ever I had wanted a brilliant, vindicating spiritual experience; my heart leapt towards it; like a dog greeting his master. 

There is no great importance attached to many of such caves, that are man-made carved into these mountains- which is very surprising and immensely sad. Gurez having a strategic location on the silk route may have housed some Buddhist council meetings, if that may give some clue. The last such council held at Sharda in around 300-400 AD, is only a few miles away from here, on the other side of the border.