on retirement and art...

Retirement is on all of our minds today, and Chennai wears its weather wisely, a brooding grey that melts into rain and catches the light as it falls upon and disappears into a film of glaze upon every leaf that breathes life into our narrow little lives within this concrete maze. After Sachin’s beautiful retirement speech brought that familiar wet film of glaze to my own eyes, the eyes of somebody who has not ever watched  a sport with any real element of passion or sincerity, I could not help but wonder why I felt the way I did. I’ve heard his name for ever since I remember hearing names, and I like his face and I like his smile and there’s something about his demeanor that makes me want to trust. And he’s going away, breaking a billion hearts while at it, and that made me sad, and a little proud. 

 

Our greats retire, our legends die, and of course, not without leaving something much bigger than their own persons behind. Their journeys are beautiful and most of the rest of us slave away at the ends of our leashes so we can partake with them upon their magical journeys; 4 extra hours of work on a weekend to afford that concert ticket or season pass. 

 

Last evening I was at the Music Academy, to enjoy one such concert. Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and Pandit Birju Maharaj were performing together. Every year we lose a few of our greatest musicians, those whose repertoires and contributions elevated them on to the plinth of legend, living legends, as they were known while they still performed upon a stage somewhere unto their dying breaths. I remember being at Pandit Ravi Shankar’s concert at the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco(oh how I miss San Francisco!), one year before his death, he was 91 years old then. I remember wondering what kind of vegetable I’d be when(if) I’m 91, as I sat in my balcony seat waiting for the concert to begin. He was carried on to the stage by two people, he sat on a platform because he could not sit cross-legged anymore, the sitar was placed on his lap, and he played a fabulous 2 hours that I enjoyed so thoroughly that it greatly bothered the strangers who sat in their seats around me. One of them asked me if I was a fan :)

 I met a husband and wife who’d been at Monterey Pop. Yes, they still looked like hippies. They were proud to have been a part of his journey, they told me. I believed them. His Bhimpalasi from that performance is a return to center for me, and I go there often. But, at the Davies, I heard a different Ravi Shankar from the one I was used to listening to in my records. This was a Ravi Shankar whose music had aged with him, whose abilities had waned over the years after a most blissfully magnificent peak, whose youth showed only in his eyes and sense of humor. This Ravi Shankar was mature, sedate, meditative, magical. It was not what I expected going in, and it was strange what we got, but it was beautiful nevertheless, and I didn’t care to think about it much after, except in fond reminiscence, sometimes stopping to brag about having been there.

 

Last evening, I was at the Music Academy, to enjoy one such concert, all over again. Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, more than anybody else, is one of my favorite musicians. He’s a conscious favorite, somebody whose music I choose to listen to over others when the mood to listen to music strikes me, or the necessity to set the mood through music tempts me. Hariji is my default musician, much like how Ravi Shankar’s recital of that Bhimpalasi from the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival is my default performance. But, last evening, as younger musicians shone brighter, and Hariji seemed to disappear into the background, I felt myself being gripped in a sadness that stopped often to betray fear. Look at his hands trembling, I thought. They shook violently while he played, only to stop when he stopped playing, and I told myself that he did it to achieve nuances in his tone to add beauty to his song, but it was blatantly obvious to me that my favorite immortal legend was showing signs of his age. While Kaushiki Chakrabarty delved blows directly to our collective psyches through a voice and effort that exhibited such grace, texture and dexterity in what were unimaginably long and complicated phrases, Hariji would respond with short, beautifully well-worded replies. But I could feel his struggle, his inability to give his instrument everything he’d previously gifted it with. His age had caught up to his playing, and it made me sad. But his ideas had developed, and his phrases, though short and simple, were beautiful as ever.

 

Today, as I spoke about last night’s concert, a few friends wondered aloud about why he wouldn’t just retire, being as it was obvious that he was well past his prime, and, retirement being on all of our minds today. We talked of legacy, preservation and quitting while still ahead. But our musicians don’t retire. Our artists, those who mean anything to us, they can’t retire. They continue to perform every day until the last day that they possibly can. Does an artist ever retire? I mused that the tragedy of an artist quitting would far trump that of a more restrained performance. 

 

Last night’s concert taught me something, and thinking about Pandit Ravi Shankar’s concert at the Davies Symphony, I recollect that it had taught me something too, I just hadn’t asked myself the question yet. Art mimics life and life mimics art and the duality requires that they both accept the realities of their being, the reality being that both life and art are resolutely cyclical. And these are musicians who were born with a gift perhaps, but no fruit or knowledge yet, people who made the effort and gave it their all, went to places even their masters had never seen, achieved a peak that lasted many decades, people whose ages caught up to them to end the cycle that they were gifted with, but most of all, people whose ideas never stopped developing. When you are so involved with your art, that it becomes your life, you need to see it through to the end, or you just stop living. When Hariji played yesterday, every breath was a measured effort, every note was an expenditure of a finite resource, every phrase was thoroughly considered, every nuance was a product of a lifetime of perfection, and what he produced, while not being an exhibition of technical ability or a mastery of technique, was instead, a display of honesty and genius. Every time Kaushiki flaunted and showed-off her own well-developed skill and ability, she herself being at her best yet, Hariji would move the performance slowly along, with his short, simple responses, taking the conversation to a new place every time. And I know that his presence made her more brilliant than she would have ever been taking the stage on her own. He was meant to be there, to pass his gift along.

 

What we witnessed yesterday, between two 75-year olds, still keeping at their art, was something special. It is their art, on its way to the end of its life-cycles. It is sad, but it’s the truth. The crescendo is the most impressive, but the closing act is the most important. Last evening’s concert made me feel things that so many of his best and most brilliant performances never made me feel. I felt sadness as his hands trembled, the mere visual was heart-breaking and opened me up to feel more than I ever would have otherwise. I felt fear as he ran out breath, knowing that the end was near. His music, of course, as always, was magic. A performance, truly. The best art always breaks my heart. Last night’s concert was heart-breaking.

 

It’s night now, the rain has stopped, the light has come home and the streets are empty. I wish forever were a real thing, but tomorrow exists to disprove us everyday. Tonight, a swan, somewhere, is singing its song. I wonder who’s listening.

 

a meditation on hope...

I am but a dissonant in the phrasal resolution of a most beautiful song. Decisions must be the curse of the devil upon the human condition, for nature never needs to make a decision, nature operates solely upon a cosmic whim. I wish I could too, and I probably will, since there are no right or wrong decisions– only good or bad decisions, in reflection, upon the affect of time. 

The world is cruel, wretched, and unsympathetically beautiful. If there is a draw on my heart-strings it is of that damnedest despair, whence every feather draws blood and every rose bud is bitter, where the tug is unpleasant, but the recoil is music, a bloody finger on a lute that produces the most incomprehensible of sounds. Damned am I when the day comes that my music speaks in a tongue I no longer understand. I know the day is coming, as I see more and understand less already, aloof as I have become, a stranger in my own home. Yet while the only door I encounter might be locked, and the percussion of my frantic thumping upon the hard wood frame might seem musical on the other side, the bruises upon my knuckles are of a pain that only I will ever understand. It is that pain that is music, and it is that music that is beautiful. Should I wish, with all my might, that the door be unlocked, it is not hope that I channel, but merely want. Hope is not in front of me, hope can never take the place of desire. Hope is merely reassurance: a locked room with an open window.

I am going home, and I might hate myself for it, but at least I will be home.

enough...

“I have enough”, said she,
petulantly.

“Enough?”, said he.

The air was static,
the exasperation evident,
electric.

...

She wore a thin dress,
far too thin for the cold.
Thinner still, in my memory.

Sometimes I remember more than I have seen.

He was a man with a trumpet.
He played to the tune of
a dollar bill fluttering
in his broken trumpet-case.

...

“He speaks to me”, said she.
“What does he say?”, said he.
“Nothing”, said she.
“He tells you nothing?”, he asked.
“Nothing”, she said.

I waited in the silence.
The music was beautiful.
That music punctured by her delightful drama.

“What does he say, exactly?”, asked he.
“Nothing”, said she. 

“Nothing.”
Said she.

She of that winter night. She of that dusty daze,
and frightening ways.

He was her pillar. He was her god.

...

“But you said he speaks to you”, said he.
“He does”, said she.

...

He began to pack his things.
He put his trumpet in its case,
with his money and his life,
and locked it shut.

He left his music
in the air that it was born,
to die.

...

I waited in the silence once again.

She was enjoying the silence,
just as much as she had, his music.

He gave her some money,
which she refused.

“I have enough”, said she,
petulantly.
“Enough?”, said he.

...

I once knew a man
who had had enough.

He was a man with a trumpet too,
who’d play a strange kind of blue.

He died, in the subway, alone,
with his music.

With his music alone.

She was different.
She had enough,
unlike he who’d had enough.

I waited in the electric silence.

...

“Do you hear him now?”, said she.
“I hear nothing”, said he,
petulantly.

Nothing.

What is the soul made of? What is the mind made of? What is the ego made of? What is the conscience made of? What are thoughts made of? What does it even mean to follow your heart? Can the heart think? Does the heart tell the brain what to think? Does the brain think? Or does the mind think? What is the mind made of? Does the mind consult the heart, before it uses the brain to process the language of the heart? I guess it does, I can feel it happen sometimes. It’s a little swell in the chest, the same swell that you feel in the lungs when you gasp for breath.

What is the answer? Nothing. They’re all constructs. We are taught these constructs, they are neither natural, nor obvious.

Do we need constructs? Why do we need constructs? What is an abstraction? Who provides the concretes? Is anything absolute? Are absolutes abstractions of ideals? Are ideals concretes? Are concretes ideal? 

Travel the world, they say. Find yourself. Get lost. Get drunk. Get a life. Find love. Get a job. Pray. Run. Eat. Sleep. Enjoy your coffee. Have a great day. Take care. Safe flight. They have a lot to say. These people, they have too much to say. Who are they? Who knows?

Why are we existential beings? Does existence crave validation? Can we provide it with the world we’ve created? Do we already? So what? What happens once we’re gone? Is life about finding the right answers? Or is life about asking the right questions? What happens if we ask the wrong questions? The answers exist despite us. It’s only the questions we can be proud of.

Who are you? That’s the big question, isn’t it? That’s what all this stuff is about anyway. The car, the job, the money, the lifestyle, the music, the movies, the art, the fashion. It’s who you are. Who are you without it all? Without stuff. So much stuff. Where did all this stuff come from? Who are you without your stuff? Are you your name? Just a name? Like a phone number with no phone? Are you what you do? Are you your job? Are you your thoughts? What are thoughts? Are you your choices? What choices are we left? Choice is only illusory anymore. We’re left the choice to go anywhere we please so long as we don’t leave the sandbox. Are we happy? Sure we are. I am. I’m profoundly happy. I’m happy to do it all, and I’m happy to play along. As long as I’m allowed to complain, I will also remain happy. Don’t take that away from me. It’s all I have. Besides all my stuff. And my name... and stuff.

The next time I’m asked to get a life, I might just take a life. Take care? What is it to “take” care? Is it like “taking” a life? And when you’re asked to “have” a nice day, can you just “have” it? Is it like having cake? Is it like eating cake? Can you have your cake and eat it too? Can you have your cake if you don’t eat it? They say these things. They say too many things. Don’t listen to them. You don’t even know who they are. Just be.

a meditation on sadness...

Lately, I've been chanting "I give up", a lot. To myself. I've moved on from my "I don't care" chant of old. It's progress. Backwards, maybe, but still progress. I don’t know.

I like playing with fire, so I light a candle, place it on the ledge by my window, and turn off the lights. The flame creates shadows, and the shadows whisper the poetry of the wind into my ears. It is all quite beautiful. I take my pocket notebook out of my pocket and burn it. Page after page, I feed the hungry wick of the incensed candle; self-doubt cured only by the fire's rage. Nothing is perfect, but perhaps vacillation is.

The pages burn slowly, and the ashes scatter into the night, turned shadow. Some ashes still carry the heroic orange glow of the relentless blaze, but the night stubs it just as quickly as it is met.

The fire forgives. The fire forgets. The fire extinguishes.

What was once a book full of my ideas, is now suddenly gone. There is nothing left, and I have nothing to show for what once was. Well, there is the lingering odor of burning paper, because my sweatshirt loves collecting odors. My sweatshirt remembers smell like the rain remembers first love. I remember some things I’d written in my notebook, but too little to matter. It is all somewhere within the mist of my mind though. I like retiring thoughts to my subconscious. And my subconscious never lets me down when I need it.

Slowly, an absence begins to manifest itself as an undefinable, haunting presence, and I feel the swell of life from every inward breath. I can hear myself breathe and I can feel my own body in the way that only loss can make you feel things.

The undeniable presence of this absence will forever haunt me. I have never felt anything so real, and yet so surreal. Loss has always jailed itself in the cavity of my chest, upon the ruins of my youth.

I love bringing things that don't belong together, together. And somehow, so does language, it would seem, like the people who once decided that trees will have barks. I take a photograph of the candle and I decide that some day I will pair it with its own tale, a story that only I know. I create all my work in pairs. One photograph and one piece of text inspired. But I want my work to date each other; so while I play god, I also play sadist (if they are both not one of the same agency) and I keep the soul mates apart for as long as they can be kept apart, allowing them to find each other only in desire. Yours, mine, and theirs.

There's a strength to simplicity and a beauty in the delicate. Expensive china with its intricate patterns are a beautiful sight, but do you know that feeling you get when you hold it in your hands? A little fear that it will go to pieces, should you falter? It's what makes the piece beautiful. It's what makes your heart melt. Fragility is special. The fleeting impermanence of everything is where my lust for insignificances will both begin and end. Fear of loss is the most honest emotion that I have ever felt, overshadowed only by loss itself.

My life is diluted by choice. By the choices I’ve made. On some days, it is enriched, but today, it is dilute. But I find beauty in sadness. Sadnesses are so unusually satisfying, albeit heart-wrenching, because they are so tangibly voyeuristic unto the soul– as if you can reach out and touch your own secrets, and weigh them down with a sigh.

See the world with your heart. Forget how it looks. Remember how it felt.

All I want is a black cat to blame. They spoke of superstitions in those far-off places. Their doors were open but their minds were closed. Old women would curse me on the street as I took their pictures. If I were to believe them, my camera would be a repository of stolen souls. Wouldn’t that be something? Perhaps there are a few treasures in the old box, hidden where I haven’t looked.

We will die and we will not know it. And our gods are eternal, but only until the stone weathers and their features fade. It is tragic that humanity has been reduced to a condition. Our love is anodyne and our lovers are stoic; carved from an Italian marble and burned at the stake to no avail. Our price-tags are fireproof, our artists are castrated. We are yet to be challenged from beyond the grave, where our poets have gone to be free.

Poetry is a deliverance granted unto insignificances. It is why I love poetry. I am a connoisseur of the insignificant. I collect sun rays that have lost their way past a dense foliage, I collect them from the walls that they cling to, when they are afraid they might fall off. I collect spent cigarette butts crushed under the weight of their smokers, flat against the cold city floors. I collect them for they are adorned with lipstick kisses, and the weight of their sadness sinks my heart. 

I both love and hate where the world is headed. Machine-pressed, cutting-edge, gluten-free, farm-fed. I hate the word ‘organic’, it shouldn’t need to exist. Not on the stickers of my wax-polished apples from Fiji. Please leave my vegetables alone. And give me back my hand-written letters. A teardrop cannot stain an email. Marginalia is magical well past the enchantment of its own name. Nostalgia is a powerful motivator. Memory is an endless resource. Call me when the pages of your eBook are dog-eared. I will be waiting.

See the world with your heart. Forget how it looks. Remember how it felt. Pay attention to everything on the table. It is then that you might see time draped over the edge, melting, slowly dripping into obscurity. 

I like reading in the waning light. The fair pages whence the dark texts sleep, are now grey. As the sun dips into a slumber, your eyes begin to fatigue and your mind begins to wander. Then words image. It’s bad for your eyes, but great for your soul.

earring...

I found her crawling along the library floor.

I asked her if she'd lost something.

She'd lost her mind.

She was crawling along the library floor, without purpose, never searching.
A little piece of music draped gently down from her ears. It caught the light like a lover.

Imagine losing your imagination like they were earrings.

In her mind, she'd lost her mind.

watching...

The night was cold; colder still than the vacant gaze that held them strangely together. Perhaps it was the warmth of their bodies meeting in unspoken understanding like the light between two candles; a glorious golden wash floating to greet the shadows that threaten it. Confused, but cohesive. But it was each other’s blood that kept them warm. He did a splendid job of keeping hers at a petulant simmer. She did a fine job of not spilling her wine on his manicured suit, ostentatiously heavy in its fabric– thick as the hypocrisy it adorned. She sipped on the wine slowly, measuring every regretful drop that danced its way down her throat... Drops that could have explored every ugly crevice of his clean shaven face had she so fancied. Which she did; but she didn’t. She needed the drink more than she needed the satisfaction, I’d imagine. I was there. Watching. She played with the wine as it bathed her tongue and she waited as it washed down her dry throat, fighting to the bottom every honest word that tried to surface in its wake. Her tongue glimmered in the candlelight when she did speak; he watched in hatred as the crimson serpent weaved its voodoo veneer  and spit its venomous vengeance with a force so subtle that it vanished in vapor over the dry lakebed of what once was a delectable platter of vegetable vol-au-vents. She liked pastry. It was all that was right with the world. He listened with intent, but could hear nothing. She continued to flirt with her wine and he continued to pay for it. His head was a flurry of words he didn't understand. It reminded him of the unintelligible chatter of the bar. But the bar had a quality he envied. At the heart of the distinctly indistinct clamor was a voice. And it wasn’t his. He regretted it, but accepted it. He looked at her and wondered in silence as she sat there watching herself in the translucent glass walls that surrounded them. She hated mirrors. She couldn’t stand to see herself for who she really was. She knew it but it’s always different when you’re told something you already know. The mirror does. She fancied the translucence of the glass though. In the dishonest reflection of the glass walls were her dreams. Everything she aspired to. Everything she could have been. She looked in envy at the faces that stared back at her through the glass wall. The faces stared at her in envy for having a seat at the fancy establishment. They stared in envy at the gentleman in the fine suit. Envy pervaded the air like a virus. He knew it. He regarded everything with command, but he did it with disdain. He wondered why she sat there as she did. She was as wholly voluptuous as her hatred for him. She did not even wear enough fabric to conceal it. He wondered if her self-esteem was as low as her dress. He'd gotten to a point in his observation where his distractions had gotten the better of his judgement. So he blinked twice and returned to his drink. He felt his own lips move but he paid no attention to the sounds it made. They were merely sounds, he thought. He knew she hated him. He could feel her dislike precipitate in the air around him. Warm, moist hate, pasty against his oily skin. She knew he hated her. She could smell it through the thick of her perfume. Poison, they called it. The perfume, that is. She loved how it made her smell. He loved it too. It was the only thing about her that he did like. It sold for fifty dollars at the neighborhood Walgreens. About the cost of the wine and the food. He paid for it, and they left.