Sunday, September 21, 2014

Gyaffing Around

I finished reading Rahul Bhattacharya's second book, The Sly Company of People Who Care, last week. I haven't read his first book, Pundits from Pakistan. Perhaps the title of the second book intrigued me more. It's a fictional piece about a Cricket reporter who decides to take a year off to stay in Guyana. The first few pages took me some effort to get used to his style of writing. He moves from descriptions of the place, people and culture so freely, interjecting each with conversations and anecdotes that it takes you some time to sleep and wake to the multitude of understanding you are drinking in. You slowly grow into it and then the Guyanese heart, faces, landscape, songs, stories, politics and all the gyaffing just seeps in an osmotic fashion. The writing is visual and linguistically so connected to the place that the vocabulary works as a tool to make you more Guyanese. After all, 43.5 percent of Guyana is of Coolie's blood, labourers from India. There is a Bihari dish called Chokha, you can find its more spiced up version in Bharta. This book is almost like savouring that dish slowly, morsel by morsel, under the humid air of sea and rain forests and a few bites as the last survival food at the end of a long journey, but most importantly, it's the unshakable feeling you are left with when that dish is over, and all you have is an empty tiffin box to stare at and remember the person who packed it for you.

Here are some excerpts from the book that I bookmarked for myself. 

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The mood was very different now. One escapes one's life, for however long, seeking adventure--I think of the Hindi word dheel. This is what kite-flyers in bombay shouted when they wanted the spooler to let loose the thread. I could not fly a kite, as unnavigable to me as chopsticks, but I liked giving dheel, and I liked very much the thought of dheel. So one escapes one's life seeking adventure, and with enough dheel and some luck, that happens. But the thread is anchored. You can only go so far. The impulse must change. Instead of adventure one seeks understanding. It comes with heaviness. The only way to be exempt is to resolutely not ponder, but I was given to pondering. 

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They were whipped to tens, hundreds, and up to a thousand lashes though few bodies still remained alive. The whips were pickled in brine or chilli. Their body parts could be mutilated. They had no rights of any kind: not to family, to language, to names, to faith, to social order. Obliteration. When horror is of such scale, it begins to feel like fantasy, and fantasy is the easier to digest. 

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'Hear wha'happen, brother,' Chabilall said to me after. 'Rafi you ain got to unstand words. Rafi in we blood.'

'Kishore?'

'A great man. But hear wha'happen. When Rafi sing a dance song, you dance. When he sing a sad song, you cry. When he sing a love song, women get fever. Rafi get inside of you, he become you an you become him.'

He went to a line from Suhaani Raat.

Tarap rahe hain hum yahaan, tumhaare intezaar mein.

'Hear how he play with the syllable. He make ten from one. Now that is feeling.'

'You know what it means?'

'Part Part. But I feel it, my brother, I feel it. Let  me tell you one story, my brother. When I was in school, I get suspended one time. because why? Because in the patriotic song I replace "guyana" with "India".'

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The bliss of the city is when it awakens--not the dawn hours haunted by the middle-aged shedding fat or burnt out adolescents returning home, but a little after, when the cleaning machines have brushed away yesterday's evidence and the fresh day is falling crisp as golden wafers, when reasonable people with reasonable habits are coming out of their holes to dot the world with their strange faces, their gestures, costumes, voices, until bit by bit, by living magic, the grand tapestry is made. 

An hour or two in this ambience is enough, You've got the nourishment you need. You've been doused in a particular mood, felt a particular brightness not felt before, been reassured that there are small wonders in the world, and further familiarity is liable to ruin things. 

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I learnt her suspicion extended to detergent. She held that it coloured water grey to fool people about how much it cleaned. her suspicions were not to be misunderstood. I was realizing that she believed in things. She believed in top-loading detergents vs front-loading detergents vs hand-washing detergents, in garbage liners as opposed to plastic bags. Arguably no escapery in her. Her quitting the job, that wasn't to be misconstructed. Her ambition was different from mine, not the flimsy ambition of journeys but of destinations. In five years I wasn't sure if I would be anywhere, but she probably would. She was formidable. She knew childbirth. If we were in battle I suspected I would lose.

She was prepared to tackle the world because the world to her was not absurd. To think the world absurd is a privilege. Those who do so consider themselves enlightened. In fact, it only means their struggles are shallow. Sooner or later the real world will rain down upon them. That, or we shall go slowly mad, or seek recourse in meditation, narcotics, writing.  

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Life was attitude to circumstances, no more no less.

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