Saturday, 25 October 2008

On par with instinct

- Bangalore Mirrorr. Monday, November 03, 2008.

Coorg was out. There was simply no time. Mysore was too far. Everything else was sold out. My son had already spent an entire week of Dussehra holidays sitting quiet and being exceptionally good. There was one more week to think about and nowhere to go.

Raves followed rants and everyone who was willing to listen, got an earful of our bleak situation, courtesy an unforeseen, unrelenting and grossly unwelcome commitment.

It really got ugly when I lost availability of the last vacant accommodation in the only resort that was still taking bookings for that weekend. The camel’s back broken, my husband hit the finger on the key and we decided that for the first time in our settled lives, Ayudh pooja would be spent travelling and Vijayadashmi would bring us, for that one day, prosperity of fresh air, fortune of being close to nature and good health that comes as a package deal with the other two.

We told our son of the tent and log hut only later, when all payments were accepted and even internet delays could not stop precious confirmations from coming through.

And so it was. The widely broadcasted plan discarded, we landed, instead, in the wilderness, to spend two nights in a tent and come as close to camp living as the Indian Forest department had safely catered for.

Simple neat and thoroughly self-sufficient, this little jungle camp is laid out in the middle of the Bannerghatta biological park, a wildlife sanctuary 25 kms from the hustle of Bangalore.

At the outer gates cups of hot tea welcomed us and the manic drive through the choking southern artery to Electronic City was soon forgotten. Within minutes, a safari jeep came to escort us to the camp site and our adventure began.

Hammocks outside every tent and log hut, shady trees with robust roots sinewing across the ground and scheming monkeys lying in wait for the unsuspecting visitor holding any food article visibly – this was a refreshing retreat, tastefully cultivated.

Yelps of glee and excited scampering of six year old feet, banished all traces of skepticism. Our thatch-topped tent was explored thoroughly and within four minutes, my son was gravely taking in the ranger-caretakers’ stories of how greedy monkeys had torn two holes in the windows that held tough darns as evidence of a menace that we were warned of repeatedly.

Lying in the hammocks, gazing at the starry sky above, all fatigue of previous weeks eased away. In the quiet of the night, a camp-fire glowed near-by and a resident spotted deer touted for attention, it was clearly accustomed to, from children and adults alike.

For the first time in many years, with every muscle relaxed and every synapse at rest, I ruminated endlessly on how easy it is to be happy and how adamantly we let our practical lives supercede our deepest longings.

Out in the real world, it is always a race against time. A steady contention of desires. An unforgiving struggle to conquer. The basic instinct to survive has become an evil dynamic where want incessantly defines the reason for need.

And in spite of this bizarre order, there we were, arms open, legs out, embracing nature’s irrevocable promise- freedom.

Every turn of the safari we went on the next day, reiterated this premise of nature’s intent.

Oblivious to the wanderings of my mind, my son squealed in innocent delight at every grizzly bear he spotted and curiously looked on at them fervently digging the earth, their snouts all muddy and fur far from glossy (unlike Mowgli’s Baloo). My attention, however, froze on the bear that grovelled away and growled in frustration as nothing edible came forth from the one-odd foot crater that he had dug and continued to scour.

Mental snap-shots from the previous week abounded and I was restive for less grim pursuits.

Certainly not grim and definitively regal, the big cats round the corner could have turned the lights off our condescending damsels setting fire trails along big city ramps.

All shrieks of excitement settled to awestruck whispers and hushed wonder. The majesty of the tigers’ deep yellow coat striped with black set a fiery contrast to their albino cousins, equally classy and intimidating. While the lions and their manes merely served to thrill at their sighting, the tigers exuded a bewitching dignity. The demure glances, the occasional glare, the nonchalant stride … oh! what a marvel of creation.

The mood softened slightly when one of the children pointed to two white tiger cubs hiding behind the bushes and looking at us as if through curtained balconies of an open-air opera house. Their ochre bodied mates cajoled and the nudging and unmistakable exchange of looks that ensued between them changed the dimensions completely. Suddenly, we were the show and these, our wild spectators! Going by the demeanours exhibited around though, this seemed a rather fitting equation.

Rippling pockets of admiration and snippets of wariness in our guarded van, this unflinching observation subdued the tone a bit, only for a brief while though. Spirits were chirpy again amidst agile deer and broods of antelopes.

Always a happy vision, their quick moves and alert stance leaves something stirring in me.

I was smiling again and completely at peace with my sentiments. My husband had finally unwound, his mind grazing pastures brighter than greying London he was taking a break from and his face glowed with contentment.

A brisk game of volley ball and a few good shots of badminton back in the camp, cleansed the last remnants of our clogged souls. Going back to our drone-like assembly line hankerings after career, acquisition and position didn’t seem all that claustrophobic or sacrilegious now.

The friendly staff bid us goodbye and the deer family pranced away. Strangely, we looked forward to going back home, vicious traffic notwithstanding.


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Friday, 17 October 2008

A sojourn of remembrance

Why pull a page out of history when you can step right into the book? And in a repository of such eminence, every one of my steps bore the entire awe and reverence of my being.

The art connoisseur’s fantasy, the historian’s paradise, the devotee’s sanctorum and the cynic’s crucible, this sovereign city-state, seat to the catholic authority - the Holy See - contains itself within two square miles of the city of Rome.

Like a jewel, Vatican City stands tucked within its impenetrable walls, in the middle of all the din and razzamatazz that the Italian capital is famous for. Inside, its serenity is as imposing as its flamboyant opulence.

Where the present is a breathtaking legacy of yore and the past just eyefuls above, the psyche becomes a humble melting pot of emotions that linger on forever.

In this vast conglomeration of museums beyond compare, each sculpture, painting and tapestry, passionately delivered and blindingly precious, recites its legend.

I drifted into a sublime state of consciousness when it sunk in that these works of art panning walls and ornate ceilings, to this day, bear the actual touch, hold the actual breath and have witnessed the actual toil of the great men who created them. I was not turning the pages of a sacred book. I was part of the air these greats shared and stood surrounded by the original testaments of a history and lore that continue to mould our modern destinies.

A poetic extravaganza to the romantic soul, every artifact is an academic’s oasis. Even the less eclectic would struggle to escape the magnificence of imagination contained seamlessly within its tactile forms. While intellectual prowess dominates each work, as a lay person, I am marvelling as much now as I did then, at how such precision in line, light and colour could be achieved at that scale, with only manual dexterity and physical resilience to count on.

Walking further in, my trance got deeper. From periods of defining hues to renditions in white lime with lines as transient as the rays of sunlight that strobe in on them, a journey had already transpired. An age cart-wheels into the next and then again, as Baroque, Renaissance and Medieval reflections transcend each other, new regimes cast their shadows, political commentary dons the veil of artistic expression and the likes of Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael become objects of ardent devotion.

Time is simply not enough to fully appreciate all there is to behold. It has, in fact, been speculated that even if only a single second is committed to each piece in the museums, it would take years to cover its inventory. So vast is the Vatican and such is the greatness of the treasures it houses.

Deep within the entrails of these papal corridors, when I was beginning to panic that I might have missed my raison d’ĂȘtre, a dark recess opened ahead. A quiet sanctity emanated its stoic power and suddenly all voices dropped. We were entering the inner-most chamber, most famous for its vaulted ceilings and Michelangelo’s greatest enterprise.

The Sistine Chapel, sacred to the religious and astounding anyway you look at it, is a vision in every sense. While my eyes took a brief moment to get accustomed to the dimness, mellow beams of the sun danced in from the window opposite me. Motionless in the natural spotlight, I gazed mesmerized at what greeted from above.

Nine breathtaking frescoes by Michelangelo, illustrate the story of the biblical origin of man from the Book of Genesis. Starting from the creation of Adam and Eve, his fine detailing narrates the saga of the Apostles and ends with the tales of Noah and resurrection of Christ. This masterpiece resulted in three thousand figurines, immaculate in their scenic proportion and reality of perception.

Hoisted atop scaffolding and lying on his back for four dedicated years, little would Michelangelo have thought about the magnitude of his contribution to world culture and heritage or how he would be worshipped for his talent, in posterity. That he could not eat properly again or see very well for a year after completing the ceiling, seems a small price to have paid.

His genius brings together in one close space, an astonishing imagination, a thorough sense of form and grandeur of style. To a large extent, this is true of all the other artists showcased in the papal palaces.

The immensity of wealth, religious domination and bounty of knowledge are simply too overpowering to walk away from. This supreme convergence of master craftsmanship, unconquerable, remains a prevailing remembrance in the pages of my mind.

This was not a flying visit. I never really left.