Delhi Diaries: Some Idle Spring Reveries

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Yes, I can smell its presence in the lemony fragrance of the morning air, I can hear its call in the first tender aubades piped by the robin at daybreak, I can already feel it in the jingle of the wind that is lazing around and playing with the crisp leaves of the Amaltas as the sun dozes off and takes an afternoon siesta on my old carpet and the wind chimes tinkle faintly with the moody gusts of the idle wind – spring is almost here! I feel it as I sit on my old easy chair on the terrace, watching the dreamy ‘spring haze’ of the sun as eagles soar in the deep ocean of the blue sky and the tender violet buds on the beanstalk open softly. Yes, spring gypsies are about to arrive with their caravan; they will be camping here for a few months with their sweet Phaguns and Chaitis, and their dazzling colors!
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So, what are you planning this spring – why not, to begin with, take a day off to prepare for greeting them? Well, I have taken a day off today and it is already afternoon. Winter afternoons, I have always felt, are the ideal time for listening to the restless songs of the warm and idle wind. And today, I am hearing them again – inside me and everywhere near and far. I know these songs so well; I have known them since my childhood – since those days when my little sister and I used to run breathlessly after the wind-swept flowers of the bougainvillea as they would go whirling and rolling in the sun at my grandma’s house. All that is but a memory now, but what is spring if not the time to recall our good old memories. So why not begin with some songs of spring that have traveled through the decades with us. Here is my selection – a mixed playlist of my favorite spring songs:
  1. It Might as Well be Spring: Sinatra and Strings

  2. April Come She Will: Simon & Garfunkel

Delhi is always awesome in spring. Sadly, few have an eye for this. Beyond the skyscrapers and the sky-high towers of this heartless city lies a past that is still beyond the reach of time. At the heart of this plundered city of Ghalib and Meer, there still lives untouched an unapproachable spirit that is too strong, too old, and too big for our century. So, here is a list of my favorite spring haunts in Delhi. I plan to visit them again this spring, and if you have not been here in a while, do consider including them in your list:
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  • The secluded sun-splashed backyard of the Qutub complex, which has an old well, a verandah nearby for prayers and huge Peepal trees. It is a perfect place for sitting with a novel or a notebook.

  • The sunlit sloping grounds near the quiet back walls of the Hauz Khas complex. The song of the Peepal here is simply bewitching.

  • The secluded verandah under the thick canopy of huge old trees in front of Nizamuddin Auliya’s study room, which lies at the farthest end of the Humayun’s tomb. It is said that it was the saint’s favorite study retreat.

  • And, yes, you will not forget, I hope, the lawns and quiet backyards of the Lodi Garden and the Red Fort, the secluded lemon grove of the Purana Quila and the Mughal Gardens.

  • Last but not the least, take a day off, say goodbye to your vehicle, and take a leisurely stroll along the flower-decked Shanti Path!

This small list of my favorite spring haunts in Delhi calls for some spring songs that communicate the spirit and the mood of these old haunts! Here are two timeless ghazals and a qawwali not to be missed this season:
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3. Gulon mein rang bhare baad-e-nau-bahaar chale: written by Faiz Ahmad Faiz and sung by Mehendi Hasan

4. Gulshan gulshan shola-e-gul ki zulf-e-saba ki baat chali: written by Asghar Saleem’s and sung by Mehndi Hasan.

5.Kaliyan sang karat hai rangraliyan (a bandish in Raag Bahaar): recital by Ustad Farid Ayaz and Ustad Abu Muhammad Qawwal and party. This Qawwali is a must-listen because it blends the soul of Amir Khusrau and the grandeur of spring ragas in a composition that is simply intoxicating.

6. Raag Hamir Bahar: Ustad Bismillah Khan (Shehnai). If you have an ear for the Indian classical, check out this composition, which has no parallel, to the best of my knowledge.

To celebrate spring is to celebrate the renewal of life and this lovely season communicates it the most through its colors. If you want to experience it, do visit the National Gallery of Modern Art for paintings that have captured the soul of the Indian spring and its riot of colors. The paintings here by Shailoz Mukherjee, K.K. Hebbar and Amrita Shergill are simply awesome.
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As I sit writing, I watch:  the ‘gold’ in the afternoon air is getting thicker with hours; it feels right now, as if you could cup your hands together and scoop up the sun.  It is truly a golden afternoon. Red-throated bulbuls are chirping outside. They are dreaming of the nests that they would be weaving this spring on trees that are busy singing their age-old afternoon ditties that few notice now. But I have come to love these songs so deeply that one note on the string anywhere and I can tell what it is about. My grandma knew them too; she knew so many of them. What a happy woman she was! She passed away, and with her passed away all the songs she knew and loved. Well, who has time for all that now?  It is a busy and complicated world, my friends! So here’s to the spring and its simple joys – a list of some of the best golden oldies of the Hindi Cinema in memory of the good old days:
  1. Ye din kya aaye lage phool hansane: Chhoti si Baat

  2. Gunguna rahe hain bhanvare, khil rahi hai kali-kali: Aradhana

And here are a couple of songs from the nineties and the twenties:

  1. Rang de basanti: Rang de Basanti

  2. Ye mausam ka jadu hai mitawaa: Hum Apke hain Kaun

Beyond this golden green silence of the afternoon in my room, I know, lies a busy day that does not understand and respect tenderness. Yes, while birds build their nests and trees sing on this beautiful day, a whole world – completely oblivious of all this – is busy running a race which has no end. And I know, this world will never know life and its renewal; it will never know its songs of joy and rejuvenation. But I have decided to listen to them, to listen to all of them, and live my life with simplicity and grace in their honor.
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And . . . monsoon arrives: Pages from my Delhi Diary – II

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Today, the sky lay glaring, angry, ferocious since the morning as the angry gusts of burning wind did not spare the morning hours even. Water-laden caravan of dark clouds that put up their brown and black canopy screening the sun, and sing the most uplifting malhars on their sarod seemed too far away. Suddenly, without any notice, the sky turned grey in the noon, clouds rolled up threatening the sun, and showers and cool breeze worked up a real magic. And . . . what a welcome relief! relief from months of unending heat.Image

I am once again in Delhi. And this time it is not spring but summer and that too at its peak – 47 degrees of temperature, unbearable heat from which even nights fail to give any respite and scorching gusts of ‘luu’. It is the month of ‘Jyeshtha’ – the last month of summer in Indian calendar. Monsoon predictions have become front-page news. The patience of even the hardy trees seems exhausted. I found the leaves of a grand bargad tree wilting in the morning today for want of water. Each day of my stay reminded me that It was actually the real time for summer vacation, homely pleasures, for indoor delights.

Wash the floor, take a long shower, then wear the most faded worn out cotton that you have, have light vegetarian meal in the early hours of the morning, and . . . ? Yes! read, write, paint, listen to music, watch movies, or pick up craft, embroidery or sewing in the long hours of the noon – this is the ideal time for all indoor pursuits. But sadly enough, the ‘New’ Delhi has long forgotten the dream of such vacations. Go anywhere in Delhi and you will find on the hottest of days streets and roads and shabby workplaces and workshops teeming with people who are never on vacation. They are village men, the breadwinners of their hard-pressed families. They have moved to big cities to sell the only commodity they have – their labor. Their purchasers hire these human ‘machines’ for a day or a period of time and abandon the worn-out thing without any scruples late in the evening after sucking out all that it is capable of giving. . . Beloved sons of hard-working mothers who work hard digging and reaping and sowing year after year on the land to feed their loved ones–– look at these unfortunate sons as they sit in the labor markets in the morning, thousands of kilometers away from their homes, like fishes in a fish market, waiting to be sold so that they win two square meals at the end of the day for their starving family or may be for sending something back home to their old mother for treatment. Continue reading

Memories of a Spring morning in Delhi

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I recall the last spring. I was in Delhi at that time. And Delhi is awesome in spring. Few, I know have eyes to see that. Beyond the sky-soaring skyscrapers of this godless city that stands today on piles of dirty money and innocent human blood there is something that still stands beyond the reach of soiled hands of this national capital of crimes, consumerism, and what I call, cannibalism. Delhi is, believe me friends, an impious city, a dehumanizing city that devours all goodness, a city more horrific today than your worst dreams. But at the heart of this heartless city still lives untouched an unapproachable spirit that is too strong, too old, too big for the modern marauding tribes of profiteers and criminals to plunder and mutilate. The story of Delhi is a tragic story of deception; it is a plundered city that had once hosted the elegance of Galib and Meer.

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It was a long and beautiful spring morning. As I sat in the open cafeteria of a Girls’ college sipping my coffee, I observed keenly the language and grammar of a new and uprooted generation that seemed so alien to the soul of what was once ‘Delhi’. No wonder, my notebook and pen beckoned me over to say something. It is a delight to look back and recall the wind-swept (or should I say “spring-swept”) streams of thoughts that had kept me busy as I watched that fine gusty spring morning turn into a lazy afternoon:

6th April ’13, 11.03 a.m.,

—————- College,

New Delhi.

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It is again spring in Delhi – deep, blue, and breezy – serenading newborn leaves that jingle with daylong carefree laughter.  I am sitting in the College canteen under shady trees and watching the ripening sun play hide and seek with sun-yellow leaves and . . . I am happy – full of dreams, full of life, full of sunny happiness, inside which glassy peace lies outstretched like a quiet river that sometimes on a summer afternoon seems to lie dozing softly under big old shady Bunyan trees. I visited Gandhi Ashram yesterday and liked the noble concept of plain living, high thinking, and dignity of human labor. On my way back, I looked intently at what was simply dazzling in its grandeur . . . and it is a treat to watch that – it is spring everywhere – and look at me – new ideas, new dreams, new visions and thoughts are burgeoning inside me. I am full – full of life; ready to embrace life that is beckoning me. I am shedding one by one all my past inhibitions and fears and gathering strength to accept it. To work hard, to live for others, to stand against the rising tide of lies and injustice – how compelling have always been these ideas and yet so difficult and inaccessible in reality. But today the road lies long, uneven, meandering and entreating right in front of me. Am I ready?

Yes, I am all set – set for a long and determined fight against myself. I am going to destroy myself to create the new human – the human of tomorrow. I am going to live to the fullest and no one can stop me – not even me.Image