Friday, July 25, 2014

Rasul Mir- Keats of Kashmir

Dooru is a curious village, slightly off beat in some sense- a few miles left of  NH1. The famous spring of Verinag lies ahead, to the north. Small muddy hills, that run up to tall Pir Panchal mountains when you look upwards, as far as Wadwan valley- playmate with yellow mustard fields in the most natural ways. The blend is so uniform and subtle, that it strikes one instantly: unvexed. Vast space perfectly formed and colored. At fall, when the leaves turn crimson, the whole aspect of the village turns polychromatic. 

The fields are littered with tall Chinar trees, whose wide shade provides shelter for farmers, when tired after working in their fields. I listened attentively in the fields, to the sound of leaves in the chinar trees…. a shy, soothing sound descending from the far reaches of its twigs. Leaves of the summer whispered modestly, quietly finding me alone- away from the material world, they transfer me to a quiescent world. A world where a poet wrote ballads. Where he serenaded along his sleepy village; where he played, he danced; and he wrote. An evening of one such brilliance must have fallen that year too from these skies, that I was looking at now. Love must have loomed along the dusky pavement  I was walking now, and vaporous hills, that year too. A sad melancholy that unreqited love carries, must have filled his lungs, that year too. An abandoned well, a rusty bucket soaking up little drop’s of night’s first dew. I was here to watch a play- played years ago. 

The play is about a mid 19th century careless young chap named Rasul; who loitered around in this village, with no purpose and will. The spring had passed by, he sang and found no meaning. The old world sparrow warbled its chorus. When the blossom died and fruits swelled, the prickly pear fell for his Fanny- like Keats did. He was under her spell. The young lover stirred his garden under the same skies, the trees of all climes he befriended, chirpy birds feeding on hay listened to his ballyhoo, his thoughts clinged to like an alcove in the whirlpool.

His sad plight in the days could no longer be a secret- when one fine day, that fairy of his dreams- that petite mademoiselle of unparalleled beauty and grace, walked up to him. The splendor hung aloft, this romantic union was a priestlike task. 

What happened later is unknown with many versions. Was it Rasul's unrequited love- that gave way to such romantic pathos [Here]. We may never know. However, the poet resonates through his verse, more than a century later, as powerfully as he did in his village of boondocks.

There were no flowers there. They squashed them all these years. I found one, yet, and carried home. And that, was my small tribute to our Keats.  

Meti rooz dama
Roze darem channe lou’l..r

Shroney daar soun sinz
Bengeri garem channi loul’l..r

Adde vech’ta kecha paam jarim
Channe lou’l..r


Pleased I’m,
That I fasted in your devotion.

Golden ivory bangles
That I designed in your devotion.

You see my beloved, I could blot this slander
for what? but only your devotion.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

I made a will.

An epithet on my grave
will they write
Of my strife and conflict
following my shadows
supplanted my blithe.

Of half smiles
and certain distances
years never lived
and moments wizened.

Of tears that dried in my eyes
the hope drained in many nights
when longed and wept
in pining and her lust.

Of that ceaseless solace
and downbeat poems
that no one heard
silence grew
when foxes howled
such long nights I wept.

Of those bespoken wails
and footless marks on snow
Nay the sand,
between two worlds
fix my feet, will you?

Of that unheard thunder
and cloudless rains
dark and beautiful
keep my head still
it isn't easy here.

Of wrapped nights 
and dog-tired days
strong cedar smell
I waited for this
death only brought
us close.

Let me have her now
I waited for this.

What will they write on my grave?

Bury me beside her, I made a will.


Basaan chum bei mar ma
Veyn ha chum akkoy tamana
Channe brande kane talha
Mei gochum mazaar asunn.

It seems I may die
and I have a last wish to make
Below the portico of her house
dig my grave.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Winds of Sorrow

Why doesn't the wind that makes trees rustle tell you how much I miss you.
That every passing moment- a moment where I die and fly in this wind of singing sparrows-
the longing only increases, like that timeless night: of sadness, yearning and cold tears.

Can't you hear O my beloved, or has my pain been consumed in the sea of morals that separate us.

why doesn't the wind that disturbs the sand on my pavement below
tell you how much I love you.

why doesn't the wind tell you
when I close my eyes at night, all I see is your face
and when I open them to the first rays of a morning, all I want to see is your face.

why doesn't the wind tell you of this rift
I created in my heart till yours
where did it find a way but?
In our memories those winding roads of barren hills
had left no trace, or so we thought.
It isn't only love that travelled those roads
years ago.

why doesn't the wind tell you.

Turkey Part III: Konya and Ankara (Mevlana Rumi-Shams)

Konya and Ankara:

Mevlana (Rumi) and Shams had locked themselves up for more than week now. Rumi's followers were bothered- who was this delirious Shams, he who has casted a spell on our scholar, they would wail in despair. Unmindful of what was brewing in the streets of Konya, the rumor mill was rife- Rumi and Shams continued their enclosed contemplation, immersed in meditation and spiritual talk.  In a dimly lit room, twinkling in wisdom, Shams spoke to Rumi : "They keep reminding everyone that on the Day of Judgement all human beings will be forced to walk the Bridge of Sirat, thinner than a hair, sharper than a razor. Unable to cross the bridge, the sinful will tumble into the pits of hell forever. Those who are virtuous will make it to the other end, where they will be rewarded with exotic fruits, sweet waters and virgins. This, is in nutshell, their notion of afterlife. I tell them Mevlana, is there a worse hell than the torment a man suffers when he knows deep down in his conscience that he has done something wrong, awfully wrong? Ask that man. He will tell you what hell is. Is there a better paradise than the bliss that descends upon a man when bolts of universe fly open and he feels in possession of all secrets of eternity and united with God, Ask that man. He will tell you what heaven is. Motivated by neither the fear of punishment in hell nor the desire to be rewarded in heaven, Sufis love God simply because they love Him, pure and easy, untainted and nonnegotiable."

While they were contemplating these issues Rumi suddenly closed his eyes and uttered the following lines:

"Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi or zen. Not any religion or cultural system. I am not of the East, nor of the West…..My place is placeless, a trace of the traceless." 

Konya is Turkey's 'Bible Belt', treading delicately on the path between its historical significance of swirling Dervishes and citadel Seljuk culture and its modern importance as economic boom town. The city derives considerable charm from this peculiar dichotomy of old and new. 

The only reason for me to come to Konya was to visit the Mevlana museum, the former lodge of swirling dervishes. The Green Dome as it is popularly known as, is located in the old part of Konya- offering a savory treat to lovers. While entering the mausoleum through the main gate, a persian calligraphed couplet welcomes you. It reads: "This place has become a shrine of lovers, the ones who are incomplete before are now complete". I may not have grasped the power of this couplet while I entered, such claims are wide and frequent at all spiritual abodes. However, a little later when I was leaving from the Green dome, on a crisp Konya day, in the lambency of mild winter sun, I was transcending; what I seeked, was actually what was seeking me. 

Inside the mausoleum under the fluted dome is the Mevlana Tomb (the largest) flanked by that of his son Sultan Veled and other eminent dervishes, all covered in shrouds with gold embroidery. In a very bizarre way, the tomb of Mevlana's father Bahaeddin Veled's stands on one end, leading the devotees to believe that Mevlana was so holy that even his father stands to show respect. I sat for sometime near Mevlana's tomb, hands folded- lips silent; my heart had a thousand tongues. I prayed. I don't know when was the last time I had prayed, but here I was opening myself. In the mystical cramp my soul floated. I surrendered my mangled spoils, I freed my scars, I left my wound open- the pull of force, the tug of gravity, the pianos of pining poured from my heart into this ocean of love. It heard me. It convinced me. 

There are various other important things to see in the Mevlana museum. Notably the original Masnavi dated to 1256 A.D, with beautiful persian calligraphy. Or the dervish cells ( where dervishes used to live). There are some personal Mevalan belongings too- the turban and cloak.

Immediately after visiting Mevlana, I set out for searching Shams Tabrizi's mausoleum, taking directions from passers by. Shams's mausoleum is right in the center of the old Konya. The esoteric feel to this small tomb, which has lot wood work inside, most of which is new, is not surprising at all. Shams pertinent to mention here,  had coerced Mevlana to leave his comfort. The meeting of these two men was like meeting of two mighty rivers.

I spent rest of the day in Konya tip toeing through the Tile museum- which has outstanding collection of ceramics from Seljuk times  and the museum of Artefacts and wood carving. 

On advise of a friend, I tried a Konya speciality- Etliekemek- which is basically bread with tender lamb meat. It tasted heavenly. 

My original plan was to travel back to Istanbul from Konya. However, I chose to stay for a night at Ankara. I'm glad I did so, for I loved Ankara totally. Right from its 1920ish Train station to clean wide roads. A very modern city, built by Kemal Attaturk in 1920s- the stout Turk did not step foot in Istanbul for 9 years, resolving to built a new Turkey, away from the legacy of Ottomon's that lured in every creaky street of Istanbul.  

Ankara has a very strong bohemian culture, which I got to witness in Alkizay- a central potpourri of student commix. Over a street dotted by maple trees, which had the flavor of spring beginning to cite, people played music, sang songs and by late evening encroached these streets into episodic and highly alluring sale of second hand books. They had everything from Che's Motor cycle Diaries to Fuhrer, from Kafka to Nabokov. Sadly, for me, mostly in Turkish. 

In the two weeks that I travelled across Turkey-from Istanbul to Izmir on the west coast and then to central Anatolia in Konya and Ankara, perhaps the most rewarding experience laid in the fact that I wasn't around myself all the time. It was as if I was living someone else's life. I wasn't doing any of those things that I do everyday- what we call as mundanity of life: Wake up, take shower, have breakfast, drive to office and come back in the evening. Day in and out. And yet, in one moment of solitude when I looked out through the window of the train, it must have been somewhere between Izmir and Konya, with wandering eyes settled over a vast expanse, where tiny little Hamlets- of maroon tiled rooftops, farmers tilling the earth, families stood nestled in a small backyard, I missed the concern in my mothers voice. It is perhaps in such moments when you realize your wealth. The Irish novelist George Moore couldn't have possibly said it better: A man travels the world in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.  

Turkey Part II: Izmir and Esphesus

Izmir and Ephesus:

Like most lone wanderers I drifted along the road from Istanbul and found myself absorbed in deep torpor after checking in, late that evening, only to wake up in morning to brute abruptness of a street which looked forlorn few hours back. I was in Izmir- Turkey's second largest city and first party stop. 

There is a miraculous romance attached to curiosity and unseen adventure. I took out my traveling Bible, Lonely Planet's tour guide- a guide book started by two Beatniks in 1972. The accuracy of this guide book is startling, so you can basically trust it to the hilt. Rounding up myself around Konak Meydani- a late Ottoman clock built in 1901, from where I took a ferry to the heart of Izmir: Alsancak.  It is difficult to imagine life in Izmir without its iconic boulevard: Kordon and inland the Alsancak district. However, it was still morning, and I'd a long day ahead. Muzzling with many ideas and derivations, I decided to take a trip to Ephesus- which earlier in the privacy of my Hotel, I had thought I would do the next day. The roads tend to do this to me. Inviting its nomad. And yes, the beauty of unplanned travel lies in such moments: spontaneity.

I took a shared cab to Selcuk- a small like-able town decked up on beautiful Aegean coast. Ephesus is further 4 kilometers away, wedged in between 2 mountain ridges. At the end of the road a white whiskered man in a checkered beret and faded black suit hailed us- the visitors who were on the entrance of the Ephesus collecting their passes: 'Tour of Ephesus! Informative guide to the ruins.' A few yards beyond him a young boy ran up to us, in hard breaths,  'I give you better tour. Cheaper too.'

At first glance Ephesus seemed the quintessential ruin: broken bits of statues, stubby pillars, cracking archways and isolated walls. Nothing moved but the sunlight, glinting off the ancient fragments. Perhaps more than anywhere in world, the Greco-Roman world comes alive at Ephesus. More than 150 years of excavation, have made Ephesus the most complete classical metropolis in Europe- and that's with 82% of the city still to be unearthed. 

The city has interesting history. According to a legend, in 10th century BC an forced incursion led Androcolus, the prince of Athens to seek safer refuge. After consulting his Delphic God, and crossing the Aegean, Androculus rested on the Anatolian shore and cooked  a freshly caught fish. The fish was so fresh that it jumped off the pan and the toppled coals set off nearby forest ablaze, smoking out a wild boar that the prince killed; on that very spot he resolved to build Ephesus. The prophecy of his Delphic God came true. In following centuries Ephesus accumulated wealth from maritime trade and pilgrims to the Temple of Artemis- whose ruins can be seen in Selcuk town. 

After protracted negotiations, I hired a guide. As I walked into the ruins, following the wide central avenue, which housed Varius Baths- as in other ancient cities situated in the main entrance so that visitors could wash before entering. Further on, two of Doric columns mark the entrance to the ruined town hall and city treasury. A side street called as Sacred Street led to the Ephesus hospital, where a snake symbol etched into the stone meant the healing powers in the venom of  a snake- a belief held by Greeks and Romans. Perhaps, one of those few things that these two empires of different epoch shared. The spiral symbol to this day is used in medicine.

As I passed columns carved with line after line of intricate symbols, of cisterns for storing water, I explored the Terraced Houses- which give a clear indication as to what everyday life would have been like in this great city. While I kept walking, glorious Ephesus sun brimming from blue skies casted the halls and pavements of marketplaces, ruins of leftover shops- where splendid ornaments of gold and silver were sold to the pretty Greek and Roman women. The stony walkway echoed of drum beats and temple bells. The ruins seemed to take on a strange life of their own. I walked up to the Great Theater of Ephesus, which in its prom had the capacity of 25,000 seats. Here the gladiator games and theater plays were held with grandeur and swank. Courtesans enthralled the emperors, the commoners applauded in awe. 

The whole experience of walking down this city was very overwhelming. I whisked off my guide and sat on a stone palate, in eerie silence. Sun was still shining bright, the Anatolian skies were emerald blue, not a speck of cloud hovered. A mild south westerly wind passed, leading to cracking noise of the Juniper trees, the rustling leaves and lean Poplars. I breathed its air, conscious of the air that was going in my lungs. This wasn't one of those thankless respiratory actions- there seemed to be a purpose behind all this. Everything remarkably looked as part of some timelessness, a sense of communion with other people of other eras. My feet crossed stones that other sandals had crossed, my hands touched columns that were touched by other hands. The toga wearing men, with one bare shoulder seemed to be talking in everyday conversation: of harvest, of Troy and the impeding conquer by Alexander The Great. 

It was afternoon by the time my cabbie dropped me back at Selcuk, where, after visiting the Artemis temple, I treated myself to coffee in one of Selcuk's many pretty open cafes. The large Maple trees embellish Selcuk's main street. The setting was pleasant and peaceful- leaning into the afternoons as Pablo Neruda calls them. Do not look for me- I closed my eyes. 

Back In Izmir, the ritzy and arty crowd was starting to fill Alsancak's alleys, on which sun had already set. In these alleys dwell some of the most amazing cafes and bars: Dark gothic walls, scabrous furniture, and guitar strums. From one corner Bob Marley's large poster clangs, while a very young Jim Morrison in black and white, shows a finger to Seattle police. There is Tolstoy's  Anna Karenina being discussed at one table, amidst scattered cigarette butts and Efes bottles- young literature students I could guess, with large wavy hair, ear-rings; some sported thick beard, a large goatee and a tight pony tail. You could easily mix up them with some hard metal band- ride the lightening, from whom the bell tolls, some say they talk through the satan. There was an Ozzy Ossbourne like song writer, scribbling something. I went up to him. He spoke in broken English. Large green eyes, his legs slender, brown, shinned under bermuda shorts, his white converse shoes looked very big. His name was Guven- half Kurd, half German. We opened up rather fast, perhaps it was the ambience. Guven was fighting a struggle with in. The Kurds are an unaccepted lot and it nearly sparked a civil war in early 90s. The situation has simmered down now he told me, but a forever struggle for identity lays loose in this tribe, sadly. He told me he writes for a local journal- does odd jobs at times to keep the cash coming, and fosters a hope for independent Kurdistan. 

Back in my hotel, the hum of air-conditoners masked the street noises. I'm not sure if I understood Guven's struggle, I'm not sure if I understand my own struggle: when night approaches through the heights, the hermit poet looks through the window- there is an uncertainty in the skies too.

Turkey Part I: Istanbul


Last summer I read Orhan Pamuk's memoir in prose- Istanbul. I can't quite exactly recall what stirred me- his memoir is an eco-rich conditioner- but, it must have been the chapters on Bosphorous that took me to Istanbul months later. Bosphorous is our Jehlum: ancient, sad and a whirlpool of activities on its banks. If you take a ferry across Bosphorous, you will see a milieu of the city- rooftops, even trees, woollen capped mid-aged Turks sipping Cay, women drying clothes on small portico's that seem to be hanging from outer walls- house after house. A hawker sells chestnuts on his pushcart, children ram into a rust replete leftover hatch- a makeshift goal post. The urge was to walk on its banks, to seep into its air- to give an ear to stories Bosphorous holds in its bosom- of conquests, murders, history and deceit- like Jhelum does- quietly, gracefully carving its way out of the city. 

Though being an ancient city, Istanbul is much more than just the sum of its monuments. If Byzantine churches and Ottomon mosques have your fill, then Beyogla's nightclubs and chic boutiques will leave you in a drool. If prayer calls from many of its tapering minarets bear reminiscence of age-old faith, then the scenes on streets of Takism square- of couples joined together, walking under a umbrella- hit you with a dart of romance. To put in short, Istanbul is a seductive metropolis. 

The city was cold, grey and veiled under the sauntering breath of winter when I reached. I'd my booking in a hotel near Sultanehmet. Browsing through few travel blogs was helpful. I was at the right place. The window of my room opened to Bosphorous- where seagulls leaped. The iconic Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia  and Topkapi palace were at a walking distance. I went around Sultanehmet, walking in short strides. It was winter, but there was a buzz in its streets. A tram passes through- passengers in long coats and high boots take their places at stations. There is a hairless old man reading Hurriyet- Turkeys leading newspaper, some young girls flip through novels- the ones you usually pick for a train or bus journey- easy reads; short stories perhaps. A young man in a swanky leather jacket carries a bouquet- Valentine's day it was. The effulgence in his stride said he was going to propose to someone. It was the climate of gold, his infinite eyes carried her. When the tram stopped, with a bell toll, she stepped out. My eyes were fixed on them. He spoke in an invisible springtime, she left the winter forlorn. They hugged and carried on walking along the long street- scaling skins, throbbing hearts. The Istanbul street lights deafening the darkness.

Next morning was spent on exploring Hagia Sophia. Built in 5th century A.D, consecrated as a church in 537, converted into a mosque by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453 and declared a  museum by Attaturk in 1935- the archaic structure surpasses others in grandeur, architectural form, religious importance and extraordinary beauty. As you enter the main building and look up- a brilliant 9th century mosaic of Virgin Mary and Christ child immediately leave you under a spell. As you look sideways, over to the left, the apse depicts the archangels Gabriel and Michael; today only fragments remain. Upstair galleries are accessed through a stone ramp. A green marble marks the spot where the empress once stood. The marble door towards right, separated the private chambers of emperors and meeting place for Church members. As I left through the Bronze gate dating from 2nd century B.C, the 10th century mosaic of Constantine the Great almost took my breath. Through centuries the emperor watches its visitors- some in veneration, some stupefied. His gaze follows them right till the bronze door.  

Topkapi Palace- with its sprawling gardens and opulent pavilions, built by Sultan Mehmet in 1453 shortly after con-questing the then Constantipole, doesn't fare badly either. Here the prodigal sultans, the beautiful courtiers and overjoyed eunuchs lived together in mirth from 14th till 19th century. The sprawling Harem inside the palace, gives a fascinating glimpse into those times. 

Istanbul's colorful and chaotic Grand Bazaar is certainly one place you don't want to miss. Weathering the test of times, in this age of mega malls, the labyrinthine form of the market leaves one in a turn. For me the reasons were understandable, when I peeped through a doorway to discover a hidden han- a narrow lane way landed me up in Kitaplar- a book haven. Here I picked up the first publication (1957) copy of Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago. I've the newer version, the vintage collection, but the yellow'y frail pages- smelling peculiarly copy made my day. In fact the entire trip. Somethings even master card cannot buy.

It is advisable to travel in Istanbul by a Tram or metro. For two reasons; one, the cities traffic is unforgiving and two its taxi drivers can con you easily. I took a Tram to the other side of Bosphorous- to Taksim square.  By now it was afternoon. But still cold and murky. I took a walk from Beyoglu street to Taksim square, in between stopping over for a cup of strong Turkish coffee in a Bistro owned by a film buff. The walls carried posters of movies from Henry Fonda to Kevin Costner. Nejat as he told me his name later, was a construction engineer, who left his profession and pursued this love of treating his guests to Turkish coffee and interesting anecdotes. 

There must be very few places in world as rich in food as Turkey. Many Istanbul restaurants serve scrumptious, savory kebabs that leave a lasting taste. I found Firin Kebabs- made of tender mutton especially delectable. 

Later that evening, back in my hotel, which over looked the cobblestone pathways of Sultanehmet, dimly lit by the flickering street lights under a cold evening breeze, with an over turned Oscar Wilde poetry book, Jazz- who worked in the Hotel I stayed, strummed guitar. An aspiring lead singer, Jazz sang some country songs. John Denver. While his friend Ika from Georgia played few folk songs. I treated the party with my dose of Ghalib. A cultural mix  reverberated till late night in this quiet street. The symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything.