Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Der Büchermensch

In meinem Kurs habe ich eine neue Bekanntschaft gemacht. L kommt aus Mexiko, obwohl er in dem ganzen Suedamerika gearbeitet hat. Nach der ersten Woche habe ich ueber ihm in dem Internet erforscht. Ich fand, dass er ein beruehmter Buchkritiker und Journalist ist. Regelmaessig haben wir uns ueber verschiedene Bücher aus der Spanischen Literatur unterhalten. Er hat mir eine kleine Geschichte erzaehlt. Als er an der Universitaet war, wohnte ein oesterricher Student bei ihm, der spaeter ein beruehmter Politiker in Europa wurde. Der Oesterreicher nannte den Mexikaner ,,Büchermensch", weil er zu viele Bücher las. Der Büchermensch spricht Spanisch, Englisch, Deutsch, Franzoesisch, Italienisch, Portugiesisch, und Latein.

Nachdem meine Magisterpruefung vorbei gewesen war, hatte ich in ein Heft geschrieben, welche Bücher ich lesen moechte. Meine spanische Liste war am kuerzesten, weil ich zu wenig über spanische Literatur wusste. Ich hatte nur ein paar Romane von Garcia Marquez und Vargas Llosa gelesen, und auch ein paar Gedichte von Pablo Neruda. Aber nachdem ich ihn kennengelernt habe, ist die Liste spanischer Bücher am laengsten geworden.

Wir sprechen auch über Europaeische Musik. Früher hatte ich einpaar Musikstücke von dem polnischen Komponisten Zbigniew Preisner gehoert, und sie haben mir sehr gut gefallen. Aber ich konnte nicht genug Musik von ihm finden. L gab mir alle Alben von Preisner. Er empfiehl mir auch die wichtigen Autoren aus der Tschechischen Republik, weil ich den tschechische Autor Milan Kundera besonders mag.

Ich habe mich bei ihm für seine Empfehlungen bedankt. In einer Mail habe ich ihm erzaehlt, mit was für Problemen wir hier konfrontiert sind, naemlich uns fehlen die noetigen Bücher. Es war eine heisse Nacht, und ich schrieb über meine Kindheit. Ich erzaehlte, wie ich in einer kleinen Stadt aufgewachsen bin. Die Stadt hat nur einen Buchladen und die Menschen waren zu engstirnig. Ich schrieb wie ich nach Kalkutta kam. Am naechsten Tag kam L auf much zu, und bat mich meine eigene Geschichte zu schreiben. Er sagte, dass ich eine interessante Geschichte habe, und ich muss sie schreiben. Als ich nach Hause zurückkam, sah ich eine Mail, die er mir schichte. Er schrieb, dass er eine verborgene Schriftstellerin in meiner Erzaehlung entdeckte. Sie versucht, zum Vorschein zu kommen und ihr eigenes Leben zu leben. Er schrieb, dass das Talent nicht nur ein Privileg, sondern auch eine Verpflichtung gegenüber anderen Menschen ist. Man hat die Aufgabe die anderen Menschen an seinem Talent teilhaben zu lassen. Diejenigen die talentiert sind, müssen ihr Talent weiter entwicklen.

Garcia Marquez schrieb in einem Buch, dass die meisten Geschichten von Liebe und Willen handeln. Die Geschichten die uns sehr gut gefallen, sind eigentlich unsere eigene Geschichte. Auf der anderen Seite sind die Geschichten, die wir am besten wissen, eigentlich unsere eigene Geschichte. Diese persoenlichen Geschichten sind die moegliche Quelle für andere Geschichten, Romane und Gedichte. Meine Lieblingsautorin aus England Virginia Woolf hat auch ihre eigene Lebensgeschichte als Stoff ihrer spaeteren Schriften benutzt. Die geniale brasilienische Autorin Clarice Lispector hat auf gleicher Weise von ihren Lebensgeschichten als Quelle Gebrauch gemacht. Der portugiesisch  Autor Fernando Pessoa hatte unter 150 verschiedenen Namen in verschieden Schriebstil über sein Leben geschrieben.

Als ich an der Universitaet war, inspierierte Feminismus mir sehr. In einer anderen Mail schrieb ich, wie ich in meinem eigenen Leben mit Feminismus konfrontiert war. Ich erzaehlte, wie schwer er mir fiel, weil meine Ideen nicht zu meiner Umgebung zusammenpasst. In seiner Antwort empfiehl L mir in eine grosse Stadt zu gehen. Wenn ich vielleicht nach New York umziehen, werde ich mein eigenes Leben leben koennen. So war es mit der sehr begabten Autorinnen wie Sylvia Plath oder Carson McCullers oder Anne Sexton. Jede war talentierte aber auch depremierte Frau, die aus kleiner Staedten kam. In New York haben sie den Weg in ihre eigene Geschichten gefunden und sie geschrieben.



Wir dürfen nicht vergessen, dass Reisen nicht nur eine Szene wechsel bedeutet.

Foto: Frida Kahlos Tagebuch
Quelle: Flavorpill

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Nocturnes

Late one night, nearly ten years ago, I discovered that the Calcutta night sky is fiery red. Disregarding the mundane laws of optics, I had stayed up all night on the terrace marvelling at the sky, at the stars whose names I would never learn, and looking down at the sleeping North Calcutta para. I have been nocturnal as long as I can remember. Growing up in a little town at the foot of the Himalayas, where people were more diurnal in nature, I would read till late at night by the light of my night-bulb. By the time I moved to the city, the night-bulb had been replaced by a more luminous light. Yet there would be nights when I would switch off the lights, go to the terrace, and sit there, imbibing the faint sounds, and weaving stories out of them. My septuagenarian neighbour would sleep with the radio on, and the faint notes of vintage music would waft in the autumnal night air. It was then, just as I was beginning to stay alone, that I began to associate music with the night.

Most of my favourite associations of the nocturnal with the musical have been in autumn and winter. Monsoons meant being locked indoors with power-cuts, and I had learnt to equate the sadness of confinement with Sultan Khan playing the Desh on the Sarangi. Etta James's Stormy Weather, listened late one night a couple of years later, would take on a completely different meaning. And on one late autumn, I listened to Bach's Mattheus Passion for nights on end from Martinstag until Christmas, relentlessly repeating the aria Erbarme dich, mein Gott. The seductive strawberries, cherries, and an angel's kiss in spring sprinkled in Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood's Summer Wine made the long, heady, summer nights only that much more palpable and alluring.

Nights make one unapologetic and reckless, inducing a certain amount of flair and a debonair defiance. When Frank Sinatra sings
We'd be sharing love before the night was through
Something in your eyes was so inviting
Something in your smile was so exciting
Something in my heart told me I must have you
he makes sure that these two lonely people are strangers in the night. For Ella Fitzgerald it's only the Blue Moon that would shelter the heart-broken. For, the days and the seasons of the sun are for the boisterous achievers; the nights are subtle.

Like O. Henry's short story, I have often wondered about the voices of the cities I've lived in or visited. On that bright afternoon when I was sitting at the Piazza San Marco, I heard a local band play Vivaldi's Four Seasons. By late night, after most of the tourists and the workers had returned to the mainland, I imagined that the music that would live on in the alleys of Venice would be, however, of an immigrant softly playing the Godfather theme Speak softly love on his accordion, and a distant, discreet splash of a gondolier as he maneuvers on the canal. Although Audrey Hepburn's Sabrina had written to her father that she could hear la vie en rose being played one night at Paris, the song that kept playing in my head when I had reached my hotel on the outskirts on the city, past midnight that autumn (yet again), was Sarah Vaughan's 1954 version of April in Paris with Clifford Brown on the trumpet, one that goes on for eight minutes. Ella's I love Paris every moment of the year is just so diurnal; like those souvenir shops near the Eiffel Tower that only attract tourists. As Paris sunk in, the song that haunted my mind more starkly was Rod Stewart or Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong crooning The Nearness of You. The version would depend on the Paris sky that night.       

While driving through Tuscany late one full moon night, I hummed Killing me softly with his song (Roberta Flack's version of course), Don Mclean's And I love you so and Starry starry night, Nat King Cole's Unforgettable, Mme. Edith's non je ne regrette rien (and quite meant it), Eric Clapton's Wonderful Tonight, and rested my tired but contented mind with Doris Day's version of When I fall in love. I rediscovered Lara's Theme from Doctor Zhivago in the heart of Schwarzwald when my friend and fellow flaneuse found a wooden jewellery box which played the theme when its lid was opened; and the beautiful fall colours reminded me of Clapton's soulful Autumn Leaves.

Yet there are quiet nights, when you turn off the lights and listen quietly to Chopin's Preludes; you think of such people as Rosemary Clooney and Fred Astaire; you travel with the rhinestone cowboys, with Bobby Gentry, Glenn Campbell and Paul Anka; dream about Jamaican sunshine, of the Kingston Trio and Harry Belafonte; and know that the lady in you is a tramp, true-blue Lena Horne style. You move from Julie London's Days of wine and roses to Cry me a river, and end with Around midnight; twirl around with Mary Jane Carpenter, and travel to the top of the world with the Carpenter siblings. On certain nights Kenny Rogers willingly agrees to be 'the knight in shining armour' to his Lady, and Perry Como catches a falling star while being a Prisoner of love. On some nights you listen to Marta Sebestyen crooning beautiful songs in a language you do not understand, and marvel at la mer, or finally accept la tourbillion. You listen to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, are wooed out of your comfort zone by Beethoven's 9th, and seek respite in Connie Francis singing Die Liebe ist ein seltsames Spiel because Billie Holiday just sang I'm a fool to want you. For nights, like Chopin's Nocturnes, are ubiquitous, come rain or come shine, and despite Al Bowlly singing Guilty of loving you the nocturnal will never be acquitted of their clandestine addiction  

At dawn a few days ago, I was in the twilight zone between sleep and awakening. I did not want to rise and greet the glaring sunshine, and my mind suddenly crooned after many months,
I thought that love was just a word
They sang about in songs I heard
It took your kisses to reveal
That I was wrong, and love is real.

La vie en rose? Really?



Picture: Marc Chagall's le violoniste bleu

This post also appears in The Seagull School's blog

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"I don't know if you or I exist, but somewhere there are poems about us."
                                                        - scrawled on a bathroom wall of a cafe in Austin, Texas, documented by Linh Dinh

If music be the food of love

I believe that every book has two stories to tell - one that is written, and the other that precedes its being read, and includes the circumstances of procuring the book. In my case, often this second story is as interesting as the first one.

S and I met each other during our first year at college. She was outwardly reticent, and inwardly, rather strange. For example, if I would miss a class, and would ask her for the class notes, she would promptly take my copy, sit down, and copy down the notes in her spindly handwriting. At other times, she would force me to watch a film, the CD of which she would bring and forcefully thrust into my bag. Now we weren't as good friends then as we are now, but I rather liked this strange girl with her strange antics. I was only starting out as a film buff, and she would force me to watch a particular film, and I had to text her that very night to let her know how I 'liked' it (there could be no other response). It was our first winter in college, and I had borrowed Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago from the library, bought a Dairy Milk chocolate, returned home in the afternoon, buried myself under the blanket, and began reading. The next day she saw my book, and insisted that I watch the film before everything else, the CD of which she'd carry the next day. Carry she did, and she kept texting me that whole evening, forcing me to watch the movie. I still remember that night six years ago, when I finally texted her at two in the morning, having watched through the three CDs, and sat for a long time in a daze letting it sink in. She had replied to my copiously emotional text with only a smiley.

Even after six years, Doctor Zhivago has remained a very important 'text' for both of us, and though our roles have mostly reversed (I insist on her watching a film, and she delays the act infinitely), our devotion to the film has remained unchanged. Suddenly on some ordinary night I would think about the Urals in spring, and my mind would play the tune of Lara's theme; or, S would have her periodic philosophical bouts when she would rediscover her favourite music, unearth Lara's Theme, and remind me about it in a text. By now I have realised, that certain music, like certain books, never really leave you. The notes travel even when one does not have access to music, playing its refrain in the mind.

In the heart of the Schwarzwald we chanced upon an epiphany together. When S and I had been travelling in Europe, we didn't have any music with us. S couldn't bring her ipod as I wasn't carrying my laptop, and it wouldn't have any other source of charge. The little music I had in my cell phone wouldn't quite suffice because of the poor battery, although we did listen to Vivaldi's 'winter' all the way from Padua to Venice, heads bent, ears taut, as only one earpiece could be assigned to one person. That would probably be the only phase of my life when I didn't have a perceptible exposure to music for such a long time (the Waldecho at the Alps is another story). Towards the beginning of our journey S had said that she craved to hear 'Lara's Theme'. I would try to hum it to myself during the long journeys by road.

That evening at Druber, I was tired and cold. I had had a long conversation over the phone with my parents and it had made me sad. I was walking outside this cuckoo shop, looking at the beautiful but abandoned surroundings, when I heard S calling me frantically at the top of her voice. I rushed inside and found that she was holding a wooden jewellery box. She looked at me, opened the lid, and said, "It's playing 'Lara's Theme'. I have been wanting to hear it, remember? Listen."

It would turn six soon, and we would be standing in the cold, outside the shop, watching the figures dance as a hundred odd cuckoo clocks chimed in unison.


Friday, May 11, 2012

The Mad Woman's Stew

Dying is an art. 
Like everything else,
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I have a call.


I live in a morbid fear of death. Not mine; when it comes to self, I've always believed death is liberating; "Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one's head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday and no to-morrow. To forget time, to forget life, to be at peace." However, being a true hypocrite, I am afraid of death when it concerns people I love.

J. M. Barrie had said, "Young boys should never be sent to bed. They wake up a day older." And I believe that parents and grandparents should never grow old. The true tragedy of life is not lost love or unfulfilled dreams, but senescence. People grow old, people die, and there cannot be anything crueler than this basic truth. The string of hopelessness and failure they leave behind seep into the lives of people they love. The empty seat at the dinner table not unoccupied a few days ago, is a morbid reminder of how one day a person just ceased to exist; one day a person woke up and found himself transformed into a giant insect; or woke up, left the body behind, and transpired into thin air. When I'd first read Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, I'd wept like a baby. Like a morbid person, I'd learned the lines,
"For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sire's return,
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share."
and I'd recite them to myself and shed copious tears. Yet, till then I'd never experienced death from close quarters. But of course, like one of Buddha's fables, there is no escaping. As I grew older and learnt about heartbreak, I also learnt about the vulnerability of the people I love. Since then every day has been a struggle. The realisation that the grandparent with whom you've spent every single day of your mundane life, would one day feel pain, hard physical agony, would cease to exist, gnaws at your mind. In a moment of introspection you realise that you'd probably never spend so many years of your life with another living soul as you had with him/her, and that person was decaying even as you practiced your artificial laugh with your artificial friends.You realise that the parents who have been your only support system will one day degenerate. After that, you will not have anyone in the world who'd selflessly think about your welfare. Being an orphan is a state of mind, a realisation that grows with years, from a feeling of extreme desolation. Because, frankly, there is nothing called love. There is ownership, and there are the innumerable demands that this ownership entails. It teaches you to be dependent on other people, on emotions, on the belief that you need another soul to cling your useless life to. It makes you act according to its expectations; to mourn; to pick up the pieces again; and to go on with life as if nothing happened, as if there was an emptiness which has been cross-stitched. And this is what disturbs me.

I hate death, I hate blood, and I hate pain, because these make me realise how vulnerable I am; how dependent I am upon these very few people of the ueberfuhlte, heartless world; how I have to, must react to these emotions; how I must let my selfish, voluntarily-elected-useless-everyday life be affected by them. Literature is useless. It gives you an impossible picture of a world that doesn't exist, that never can. I read literature because I cannot spend my days lying flat on the bed, staring at the wall above me. After sometime I will have learnt the exact shapes of the crevices. I read literature just to kill time, to let a tiny part of me be fooled by the grandeur of its false promise.



I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my eyes and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)


The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.


I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, and kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)


God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.


I fancied you'd return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)


I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)