Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Starring: A five letter word

If you go off the wide streets of Paris you are likely to find many a gem. Quaint cafes, vintage dresses, unsung singers, et al. But there's something else you can find or not find ('coz you wouldn't even know if you see it!). It is a piece of art like no other. Five letters, the word 'Amour' written on the most unsuspecting canvases - streets, doors, scooters, railings, lamposts...It is an irrepressible chain of love notes one man leaves behind him every day. No body sees him, no body notices when he lays down his art...but they can see his work. If you keep your scooter parked long enough you might come back and find an 'amour' on it, or you might find it at the edge of pavement it is parked on. It is usually a tiny scrawl like a gentle whisper, a brief reminder of that wonderful word...that wonderful thing! (And, since he writes with washable white marker nobody seems to mind it!)

Don't know how you are imagining him...but I bet the reality is even more romantic! Just imagine a lean, old man with Jesus-like long silver hair and beard. He looks as much scruffy as dreamy and each one accentuates the other! And when he opens his mouth to speak in lyrical French he just completes the picture of an elusive legend. He was heartbroken once and since then this is what he's been doing...for years, for every day of those years...this is his life's work...and what a piece of work it is! It is nothing if you think about it and yet, isn't it everything?

(When I heard about this man I was so touched by the almost-surreal charm of it all I had to put this up. I just wanted to remind you all about the people who are liberated from the swarming and racing of our typical lives.)

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Starring: A fistful of candies

She was a little girl like any other, happy with her toys, her school, her friends. Every morning she would pass by uncle Abin's shop. He would pull her cheeks and hand her some coloured candies. Her father would scold her for accepting free things, her mother would say it's because she looks like a doll everybody pets her. Sometimes she would get embarrassed and try to return him the candies, but he would thrust it in her hand and say, 'Don't worry, when I need something I'll first come to you'. She would ask, 'Promise?', he would nod and give out a loud laugh.

The year was 1942. Bengal (in India) was hit by one the worst famines ever. The colonial leaders hoarded all the rice that led to thousands of villages dieing out of hunger. The streets would be full of wails of hungry men, women and children. They would sit begging at people's doors for hours. But even the rich didn't have enough to both eat and share. One day she was sleeping in her room when she heard a familiar voice. She went to the window and found uncle Abin there. He looked like a ghost, his face was blue and his eyes were in giant hollows. He outstretched his hand and the word 'food' came out of the deep recesses of his belly. She was about to run into the kitchen when her mother scooped in and shut the window. She said, 'Do you want to give him your father's meal?' and grabbed her away from there.

Today, the little girl is an eighty year old woman. Even now she sometimes wakes up at night hearing a cry for 'food'.

(The woman is my grandmother-in-law and one of the most fascinating characters. Amongst many other things, she has also been an Indian freedom fighter. More than a million people died in the famine in those years.)

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Starring: A girl with balloons

A little girl is tip-toeing to hold back a mighty mass of balloons. Her black plait is flying in the air. The little ribbon tied to it is flying too. Only she is trying not to. Or is she trying to? We would never know; because the little girl is a still graphic in a poster. The boy looks at this girl on his wall all the time. Sometimes just because it's right there and sometimes because...he doesn't know why. When he goes to bed he sees her standing right at his feet and even when the lights go out the streetlight keeps her there. It's the vision he sleeps with and wakes up to. Once he dreamt the girl has flown away and he is waking up to a blank poster. Next morning he smiled to see her still there.

Years later the boy travels across the ocean and lands up in a carnival in the middle of a Nevada desert. Its bohemian air intoxicates him. He feels like it is his place, as if the world has turned to put him there. One of its evenings of delicious haze finds him dancing around a fire. A girl flashes a golden smile and comes close to him. They hold each other gently and move rhythmically to the drumbeats. When the music stops he looks down at her and sees a tattoo on her arm of the 'little girl with balloons'. And he knows immediately, this is what he would be waking up to for the rest of his life.

(A year from that, after passionate spurts of togetherness in each continent, the boy is leaving London for good to be with her in California. And he is still a regular at the event in Nevada. The tattoo is of an illustration by the street-artist Banksy.)