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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Housekeeping

I grew up in a household where if I said 'I'm thirsty' aloud, someone would rush with a glass of water - whether I wanted the service or not. But my father made it clear to us that life is not always going to be the same. He disliked it if someone pampered us silly. He preferred we eat with their own hands even when we were kids.(Parenting ideals were different in India) 'Let them be self-sufficient' he would chide our mother.

It is another thing entirely that I did not like being fed. My mom had a habit of pushing my neck with her left hand while she fed me with the right. I abhorred it and hence preferred eating on my own.

Years later, I can thank him for another of life's lessons. There is no shame in doing your own work. Domestic help is hard to come by where I live now, or at least expensive enough not to make economic sense. I hired a cleaning service once and she chatted away for two hours for which I paid $120. At the end of her visit, I still had to clean my own house.

It is a good thing that SG helps a lot. In fact, he does most of the cleaning when we are expecting guests, while I cook. And people always seem to appreciate our efforts. Once, we had a role-reversal, when he cooked a specialty and I cleaned. Consequently, I began appreciating his contributions even more. Personally, I find cooking easier than cleaning.

I think it is fortunate that I have seen two extremes in my life and I am happy with my present state of things. The best feeling, however, is when my parents say how proud they are of me shouldering my responsibilities so well. Here, I should also mention my MIL who is an inspiration. She always tells me that no matter how educated I am or how big my paycheck is-I have to manage my house well, life is going to be a lot more easy for us. I agree. যে রাঁধে  সে  কি আর চুল বাঁধে না ?

Maybe if I own a big house I'll hire a gardener and a housekeeper to help me out. Until then, the sweat is sweet. (Though the back hurts from mopping. :D)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

3 things

It was fun to kick back and play a game of 3 things with a friend. Here some of my replies:

#3 things u can easily donate, if needed
  1. My clothes
  2. One of my kidneys for a dear one
  3. My body after I am dead
#3 things you will never wear
  1. G string (Very uncomfy)
  2. See through shirt in a public place (Not classy)
  3. Leaves near a goat
Other questions included : 3 things you will never do in life, 3 regrets of your life, 3 dreams you hope will materialize, 3 favorite food, 3 places you would like to visit, 3 things you remember about me

You can add your own questions or reply to the above.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

An exercise in observation/meditation

This is a modification of an exercise by photographic artist John Paul Carponigro and a lot like the meditation lesson Father David gave us in our Moral Science class:

1. Choose a place outdoors.
2. Sit with your eyes closed for at least five minutes
3. Focus all your attention on your other senses -the sounds, the smell
4. Open your eyes and note anything that you have noticed


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Perfect 365

Okay, I discovered this app called Perfect 365 that I can use for a virtual makeover. This is a good way to gauge which make-up suits you, without really putting it on. I tried a few looks, a few quite outlandish. Here are some samples. Vote for your favorite.

1. Noir

2. Minnie blue eyes

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Amadeus

Last night, we went out to watch the spring revival of ’Amadeus’ at the City Lights Theater in San Jose. The play by Peter Shaffer won a Tony Award and received eight Oscars as a motion picture, including Best Picture. This post is not a critical essay on the production, but the emotional journey I had with the characters during the play.

The first scene opens at the salon of Antonio Salieri with his appeal:

Mozart! Mozart! Forgive me!
Forgive your assassin!

While ominous whispers accuse in repetition, ’Salieri, Salieri’.  We doubt that the man is paranoiac and imagining voices. His feverish pitch mellows to a confessional tone when he confides to the audience:

I was the most successful musician in Vienna.
And the happiest. Till he came. Mozart.

And we realize immediately, this is not going to be a hymn of joy, but a tragic symphony of dark emotions that we fear in ourselves.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born to Leopold Mozart and Anna Maria, in Salzburg in the 18th century when Austria was still under the Holy Roman Empire. He performed as a child prodigy in the presence of royalties, while Salieri was born to a merchant who wanted him to be interested in commerce.  He admits to be jealous of the fact that Mozart’s father encouraged his prodigious talent.

 You can’t blame old Salieri when he gets nostalgic about his last days in Lombardy, Italy before he had set out for Vienna, Austria to study music and reminisces the proud prayer he had offered in the church:

Lord, make me a great composer! Let me celebrate your glory through music –
And be celebrated myself! Make me famous through the world.
Make me immortal! After I die let people speak my name forever
With love for what I wrote! In return I vow I will give you my chastity –
My industry, my deepest humility, every hour of my life.
And I will help my fellow man all I can. Amen and amen!

For some time, at least, God was with him. Within a few years of reaching Vienna, he became the Court Composer to Emperor Joseph II. In those days, musicians had to rely on sponsors and patronage. This also allowed a certain amount of censorship because most of them would be then obliged to cater to the fancies of the nobles. Who would want to write about the common man? The heroes would be Gods and their stories would be epics. Who would bother about the banalities of daily lives?

Consider meeting the man who had written his first concerto at the age of four, his first symphony at seven and a full-scale opera at twelve. What had Salieri imagined him to be like? Measured? Poised? Controlled? Mozart was polarly opposite to his expectations. While he sat unnoticed in the buffet room of the palace, savoring his favorite- Crema al Mascarpone (‘We all have patriotic feelings of some kind’, he justified), Salieri heard giggles and then saw Mozart chase Constanze, his fiancée. He dropped to all fours and crawled across the floor, meowing and hissing like a cat:
              
Meow! Meow!
Puss-wuss, fangs-wangs. Paws-claws.

Maybe Salieri wasn’t supposed to witness this secret of their conjugal bliss- the occasional teasing and nonsensical laughter. To Salieri it was infantile, crude, and antithetical to his assumptions about a genius. With consecutive meetings, his rage surged with Mozart’s slighting of the Italian opera. He also inadvertently eavesdropped on a conversation between Mozart and Constanze where she accused him of fooling around with Katherina Cavielri, a young soprano and one of Salieri’s students, in fact, his favorite. Salieri had admitted that his wife was cold, lacking in passion,’ La statua’, yet he had chosen a life of virtue because he had promised to. But Mozart said to Constanze that the only reason Katherina was virtuous under the tutelage of Salieri was because he couldn’t ‘get it up’. Insulted, blinded with rage and jealousy, Salieri declared to God:

From now on, we are enemies, You and I!
Because You will not enter me, with all my need for you;
Because You scorn my attempts at virtue;
Because You choose for Your instrument a
Boastful, lustful, smutty infantile boy and give me for reward only the
Ability to recognize the Incarnation;
Because You are unjust, unfair, unkind, I will block You! I swear it!
I will hinder and harm Your creature on earth as far as I am able. I will ruin Your Incarnation.

Thus began Salieri’s elaborate schemes to curb the genius of Mozart. Mozart’s expenditures were more than his earnings, and he desperately needed an official post at the court. The niece of the emperor, Princess Elizabeth needed a tutor, and Salieri promised Mozart that he would recommend him for it. In reality, he put forth a less talented musician for the job, who Mozart feared would do more musical harm to the princess.  

The most confounding thing of all was that Mozart did not, for a second, doubt Salieri’s true intentions. In fact, he considered him a friend. He confided in him that he was broke, his concerts didn’t pay much and the only way to earn was if he could have pupils.  Salieri offered false promises of help, and when Mozart resorted to begging from his Mason brothers, Salieri made sure it was stopped when he advised Mozart to write about the secret order, as a mark of gratitude. But when the opera ‘The Magic Flute’ disclosed a Masonic initiation and other rites, the order was offended and it resulted in Mozart’s suspension from the brotherhood.

Mozart, now destitute and nearing his end of days, had lost much of his mental faculties. Salieri hoped to see him reduced to nothing, and one a night when his curiosity got the better of him, he chose to walk in the direction of Mozart’s home. But Mozart’s circumstances had not begrimed his genius. He was composing ‘Requiem’ at what he alleged was to serve the request of a hooded figure that beckoned him grimly in his dreams.  The figure was actually a  disguised servant of a certain gentleman who wanted to pass ‘Requiem’ as his own composition to  Count Franz, who had lost his wife and wanted to commission a piece in her commemoration.

When Salieri witnessed the filth and decay in Mozart’s life and realized that much of it was his own doing, he made a last attempt to redeem himself and confessed. Mozart was not able to comprehend fully and Salieri was too late with his explanation. At that moment, you couldn’t decide which was more pitiful- Salieri’s jealousy gnawing into his heart all those years or his need for absolution from Mozart.

You might be interested to know that though Mozart died in poverty and was buried in a common grave, the elite of Vienna provided for his wife and children. She also sold his original manuscripts, charging ‘by the ink’, and married diplomat Georg Nikolaus (who later wrote a biography on Mozart).

In the final act, we are brought back to old Salieri’s salon. Nearing dawn, he announces:

From now on no one will be able to speak of Mozart
Without thinking of me. Whenever they say Mozart with love,
They’ll have to say Salieri with loathing.
And that's my immortality - at last! Our names will be tied together for eternity -
His in fame and mine in infamy. At least it's better than the total oblivion he'd planned for me, your merciful God!

Facing the audience now, he chants:

Mediocrities everywhere,
Now and to come: I absolve you all!
Amen! Amen! Amen!

***


I did not view the play as a lesson in history, nor do I want to judge the veracity of Salieri’s moral dilemma or Mozart’s puerility.  But as a pure creative piece, it has its brilliance in the eternality of characters within their temporal span of existence. At moments, you find yourself identifying with Salieri, a hard-working artist who feels cheated by his creator when he witnesses the easy genius of another man, whom he considers the conduit of God Himself. His music so divine, so perfect! There was no murder except of the young Salieri who had promised his virtue to God. And we find ourselves weeping for that loss.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Aparajita

Photo courtesy: Nishant Nischal

Aparajita, today I saw a picture of you and remembered the afternoons we spent playing together. I used to touch your delicate petals with my little fingers and pretend your pods were peas for my play kitchen. You grew unassumingly on the fence by the guava tree.You did not demand much attention unlike the fancy plant that grows in a pot in my room now which needs water once a week and bleaches in the sunlight. You drank rain drops and flourished in the sun. I picked your blue flowers for my mother. She offered it to her favorite God- ‘nilkanth' for the Nilkanth’ I used to say.

I grew up, left home, and almost forgot about you until I found myself walking to my favorite spot again. The guava tree was gone, and so were you. The bamboo picket fence had to make way for the concrete in our lives. I don’t know if there is a poem about you, or if the claims that your medicinal properties can boost memory and fertility are true. I don’t care, I have to consider too many things for their utility value now. I want to remember you as you were- pure, demure and a sight for sore eyes that are now jaded by artificiality.

***
Note: The multilayered variety is called nilkanth. Also, Lord Shiva is sometimes referred to as Nilkanth or the ‘Blue-throated One’ because he drank the poison that emerged from churning the ocean (Samudra-manthan) that turned his throat blue.

Roughly translated (in Bengali):


অপরাজিতা , অনেক দিন পর আজ তোমার একটা ছবি দেখলাম। মনে পরে গেল গ্রীষ্মের সেই দুপুর গুলো যখন তুমি আমার খেলার সাথী ছিলে। আঙ্গুলের স্পর্শে তোমার  সূক্ষ্ম পাপড়ি অনুভব করতাম আর তোমার ফল আমার খেলার রান্নাঘরে কড়াইশুঁটি ছিল। তুমি  সূর্যরশ্মি আর বৃষ্টি খেয়ে বিস্তৃতি পেয়েছিলে। এখন আমার বাসকে একটি পাত্রে  রাখা উদ্ভিদটির মত নয় যেটা রোদে জ্বলে  যায় আর  সপ্তাহে  এক বার মাত্র জল পান করে। কোন  চাহিদাই  তোমার ছিল না। পেয়ারা গাছের পাশে বেড়াকে আলিঙ্গন করে তুমি বড় হচ্ছিলে।  তোমার নীল ফুল আমি মায়ের জন্যে নিয়ে আসতাম,  তার প্রিয় ঈশ্বরকে নিবেদন করার জন্যে। আমি বলতাম- নীলকন্ঠের জন্যে নীলকন্ঠ এনেছি মা!


তারপর বড় হলাম, বাড়ি ছেড়ে বাইরে পড়তে গেলাম, হয়ত তোমাকে ভুলেও গিয়েছিলাম। কিন্তু একদিন আবার ফিরে পেলাম নিজেকে ছোটবেলার সেই কোণটিতে। সেই পেয়ারা গাছ ছিল না, তুমিও ছিলে না । বাঁশ ফাঁড়ি হারিয়ে গেছে আমাদের জীবনে চূণমাটির জায়গা করে দিতে। জানি না তোমার নামে কোন কবিতা আছে কিনা। স্মৃতিশক্তি এবং উর্বরতার  উন্নতিসাধন করতে পার বলে  যে দাবি তা সত্য কি না। ।  অনেককিছুর উপযোগিতাই এখন আমাকে বিবেচনা করতে হয়। না , আমি তোমাকে মনে রাখতে চাই  যেমন ছিলে  তেমনি-  পবিত্র, অচপল এবং শ্রান্ত  চোখের শান্তি যা এখন কৃতিমতার বন্দী।

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Yeh andar ki baat hai

SG was pretty surprised when I told him that there is a Tumblr fan page dedicated to 'Jon Hamm’s Wang', and for the next few minutes we browsed pictures of the aforementioned celebrity’s celebrated anatomy. Though I felt he might harbor a disease like elephantiasis, SG said that he looked healthy (normal?). I offered that Hamm might feel offended that people got distracted by his body parts instead of evaluating him on his acting skills. SG said that some men like it if women stare at their private parts. He quoted a male friend who likes to wear nothing beneath his pants- ‘Women like it.’ I am not sure if that works for him because I never noticed. Not that I particularly like to stare at the crown jewels of people I know.

Guess it is the same philosophy why some women like to show their cleavage. Once, it signified freedom to me and the choice to show or not show whatever part of being a woman wants. Owning your existence. But it can attract the wrong kind of attention, I realized later. They may not see you as an independent, fearless woman but as an ‘easy’ one who wouldn't mind a casual relationship. Bummer if you are looking for love.

I argued further in defense of Hamm’s innocence: ‘Maybe he just likes it that way. I don’t like wearing stuff when I am at home.’

SG: “At home, it is different. But when you are going out you have to pay attention to societal norms. But hey, there are nudists too.’

I found myself thinking about the corsets women wore in the medieval ages that made them faint. The laces were tied tightly to give an illusion of a smaller waist, restricting blood and oxygen flow. Hence, the need for fainting couches. Maybe couple of years later, the hype about padded bras with silicon falsies that makes you ‘look several sizes bigger’ or push-ups that raise your bosom to your mouth will vanish. But until then we can only hope that our concept of beauty remains sane, and we are kind to ourselves and others who fail to conform to it.