Regina Spektor’s Musical World and the Assured Presence of the Antiquity – Part II

Coverage

Peh-peh-peh… a patina trumpeter plays for you.
[Source – Pixabay]

Our shadowy past lives, though hidden in the fog, it lives, and we live off it.

Ancient cities now archaeological sites, history books, paintings, literature, music and ideas remind us of the assured presence of antiquity, our link with what was the truth back then.

Like the tail of a shooting star, our past/ the antiquity makes an equally good show in the darkness, at times even a grand show.

Like a terrific shaman, the past predicts when approached with a true question and predicts without any regret.

Come, let us see, what it predicted when Regina Spektor approached it with some melodious queries.

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Listen to “All The Rowboats” before reading further –

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…First there’s lights out, then there’s lock-up
Masterpieces serving maximum sentences
It’s their own fault for being timeless
There’s a price to pay and a consequence
All the galleries, the museums
Here’s your ticket, welcome to the tombs
They’re just public mausoleums
The living dead fill every room

But the most special are the most lonely
God, I pity the violins
In glass coffins they keep coughing
They’ve forgotten, forgotten how to sing…

Regina Spektor

It seems the antiquity, through this song, shared a message for all those who are listening, which is that the past is not static, so no point in decorating and forgetting it; no point in generalising it and awarding it with a damp stamp.

Feel free to interpret it; relive the change.


Listen to “Samson”

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Samson went back to bed
Not much hair left on his head
He ate a slice of Wonder Bread
And went right back to bed
And the history books forgot about us
And the Bible didn’t mention us
And the Bible didn’t mention us, not even once

You are my sweetest downfall…

Regina Spektor

Delilah, Samson’s lover, actually a spy, had his long hair cut one night, making him powerless; the Philistines captured Samson and tortured him brutally. Samson, blind and weak, still destroyed his enemies by magically regaining his strength. He died along with his enemies after he collapsed the temple of Dagon.

This biblical account doesn’t mention the infinite voices that made Samson, Samson and Delilah, Delilah. Culturally nourished biases have always restricted so many voices and the history books have often conveniently ignored it… until someone dares and explores and talks about the sweetest downfall.


Listen to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” –

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…I look at you all, see the love there that’s sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps
I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping
Still my guitar gently weeps

I don’t know why nobody told you
How to unfold your love
I don’t know how someone controlled you
They bought and sold you

I look at the world and I notice it’s turning
While my guitar gently weeps
With every mistake we must surely be learning
Still my guitar gently weeps…

George Harrison

Regina Spektor covered this “Beatles” song for the film Kubo and the Two Strings (a must watch), magnifying the song’s impact so wonderfully. The antiquity becomes fully alive here; it reassures and promises the unfolding of another epic. It is pure magic!


Return in some time dear readers, and continue the tour of Regina Spektor’s musical world here at Chiming Stories.


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Regina Spektor’s Musical World and the Ephemeral Moments of Joy – Part I

Coverage
Delicate dance anthem…
[Source – Pixabay]

Walking down the street with old heavy memories, frozen and hazy, not bothering for a while and the unknown liveliness of the fresh sounds greeting us from all around – the dripping thaw, the golden sunny warmth, the tiny twittering birds, the ‘oh my god’ honking of a dashing car’s ghost that passes by, the hearty smiles and laughter – we blush with hope teasing us, giving us bright ideas, gleaming as we experience our quiet, still mind-pond.

These ephemeral moments of joy, so true and innocent, are hard to capture, harder to sustain, probably that is what makes it so special for and loved by all.


Regina Spektor, the star singer, songwriter, musician, the starry-eyed star, the star magician, knows how to hold such moments very well. She doesn’t capture it, na-na, she only knits a pretty, sweet and soothing melody and then soaks it into such warm moments, letting the melody take this ephemeral colour.

To this colour, she adds free-play, emotions and her pianist-self and, voila, a Regina Spektor song wave is ready.

Listen to “Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don’t Leave Me)” before reading further –

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…And down on Lexington they’re wearing
New shoes stuck to aging feet
And close their eyes and open
And they’ll recognize the aging street
And think about how things were right
When they were young and veins were tight
And if you are the ghost of Christmas Past
Then wont you stay the night?

Ne Me Quitte Pas, Mon Chere
Ne Me Quitte Pas…

Regina Spektor

She amalgamates it all so well, life’s experiences, cut both ways and so gently she allows herself to smile an honest smile. How beautifully this song captures time and lets it go.

And she loves Paris, especially when it rains there and so do we all (at least the rasiks* do).

Listen now to “Dance Anthem of the 80’s” –

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…I’m walking through the city
Like a drunk, but not
With my slip showing a little
Like a drunk, but not
And I am one of your people
But the cars don’t stop…

Regina Spektor

This is nothing but a memory, cold, harsh, but funny in retrospect; one that glares until you glare back at it, acceptingly. And Regina Spektor handles this mixed emotion so peacefully and at the same very eagerly, probably eager for it to evolve.


Also, listen to the live performance of “Dance Anthem of the 80’s”, how sweetly she thanks her audience.

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Here, at Chiming Stories, the blogger will be covering Regina Spektor’s musical world in the coming posts, trying to live and relish her songs in your company, so dear readers ‘ne me quitte pas mon chere’ (don’t leave me, my dear).


*A rasik, in Hindi language, is a passionate and thoughtful being.


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The Old Fortune-Teller’s Special Offer

Flash Fiction
Fine and finicky little bird. [Source – Pixabay]

Her picky parrot was partying somewhere and the crystal ball was dead, though she chanted to switch it on nevertheless, the old fortune-teller, with a trademark red-riding-hood cloak, was keen to predict the future. “Your future”, she squeaked suddenly.

Looking at the fixed-price board she beamed unambiguously.

“No, tell me about your future, predict first one for yourself”, said the customer confidently, sternly. “I’ll pay you extra.” The customer took out three silver coins and kept them on the table.

Fortune-teller’s eyes sparkled, slowly but firmly she picked the silver coins, mumbling to herself, gleefully, she hid the coins in one of her many pockets. Grinning, with some plans in her mind, she casually said, “I don’t believe in predictions.”

One hand still clutching her silver coins, she realised her mistake. “I-I mean, I can change the future. I often play with my-my future predictions.”

After a short staring competition between the two, she rudely said, “Now listen to what I foresee for you.”

“If you are any good, first predict your own future”, the customer said adamantly, taking out one gold coin and placing it near the crystal ball. The old fortune-teller’s toothless, sweet smile made her look delicately pretty.

She nodded her head, picked the rugged bag that was lying on the floor next to her and rummaged for something in it, happy and mumbling once again. Nimbly, she took out a tiny tin box, tore a paan in half, placing it in her mouth to the right side, she readied herself.

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The five magical objects. [Source – Pixabay]

“Hmm, I carry five things with me you see, magical objects, I change the future as I please using these… mm (enjoying the paan) first is that precocious little parrot of mine, little nuisance, for ages now I have been looking after this (gestures towards the empty birdcage)… parrots are picky you see, mine feels he is a filthy gourmet (laughs loudly)… once he flew away, returned only a week later, bloody I almost fried him that day (more laughter)… but my parrot keeps me grounded, taking care of this fine finicky red-green creature I never lose focus when I sit down to alter my future life… if I mumble a wrong spell, my parrot rebukes me brazenly (laughs and relishes the paan).”

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“My magic staff (points towards a wooden quarterstaff resting silently against the tent wall), partly made of dragon bones, many centuries old… swish-swash and the scene changes magically… ask those two thieves I met near, near (trying to remember the town’s name, coughs a little)… they thought an old dame like me, what can I do, I broke their noses, hit them with my staff non-stop, then I broke their ankles, heels and their filthy toes. Tempest-no-tempest, I always face it head-on (with an emphatic look raises a finger as if pointing towards her head), head-on, come what may… ya-hoy, I have built new paths where…where there were no lands you see, me and my magic staff.”

*

She tried to pick the gold coin that was silently shining brighter than the crystal ball sitting next to it, but the customer took it back and said, “what about the other three magical items?”

Visibly displeased the old fortune-teller swallowed the paan and then mumbled something, possibly some curses.

“Hmm… this crystal ball is no ordinary crystal ball, I can see the future and the past in it. But don’t ask me to see your past, I cannot make it work for others, what a shame! If you can give me two gold coins, I can give it a try, hmm? No? Sissy!”

The customer looked at the crystal ball and pondered.

*

“This crystal ball shows me my past, times when I acted like a goof and times when I was a spectacle, I balance things, add condiments accordingly, that is the recipe to a pickled life. And here, see-see this red cloak it has so many pockets, I keep my charm books in it, plus (takes out an old hand-mirror from one of the pockets) this mirror, it is also magical. Do you want to buy it? Hmm? Think wisely!”

The old fortune-teller showed the inside pockets of her cloak, she tried getting up but her aching knees refused to budge. The customer got up and turned to leave.

*

“Listen, special offer for you… buy this cloak and get one of my charm books for free; refer to it when stuck somewhere or attacking an enemy, this is the best way to create a bright future; (gets up slowly, grunting and pushing her chair backwards) buy this mirror then, magical hand-mirror, price -one silver coin only, ask it when you have failed and it will brazenly speak the truth, I always use it, did it just before you came in, and see I have moved on, so… hey!”

The customer turned, keeping the gold coin on the table said, “I would need all the five”, then smiled and left.

The old-fortune teller, as if transfixed, picked the coin, checked its authenticity and kept it safely in her pocket. As she sat down slowly, her parrot flew back in; she cursed him badly before offering him half of the paan.


If you were the customer, which magical object you would have bought and why?


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The Thousand Faces of Night – A Charcoal-Inked Raga

Book Review

The certainty of it being the night promises us of the erubescent dawn. It is an inky night, it has been for aeons and aeons… and, mind you, she uses charcoal-ink… for the stove is still burning, she never forgets to collect woods.

And so, with her inky fingers she writes messages, anecdotes, dead secrets and stolen dreams on the walls in the kitchen.

A custom followed since antiquity, now the charcoal-ink smells of these quiet cursive messages. It talks about the dark night and the breaking of the dawn.

Her inky fingers will turn red with the dawn.


But Sita needed all the strength she could muster to face the big trial awaiting her. After that, it was one straight path to a single goal, wifehood. The veena was a singularly jealous lover.

Then one morning, abruptly, without an inkling that the choice that was to change her life lurked so near, Sita gave up her love. She tore the strings off the wooden base, and let the blood dry on her fingers, to remind herself of her chosen path on the first difficult days of abstinence.

Githa Hariharan (Part Three; Chapter 1)

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Painting of the Goddess Saraswati by Raja Ravi Varma.
[Source – Wikimedia Commons]

The Thousand Faces of Night (1992) is written by the astounding Githa Hariharan. The novel is a melody sung and composed at night that captures the thousand faces of the moonless, starless night.

It narrates the many tales of Indian women – the celebrated mythical ones and the limited editions – with such excellence that the novel takes the shape of a woman carrying a heavy potli bag full of tales.

The tales, entangled badly, still echo well and dramatise their essence. The tales are spicy and heart wrenching and true.

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Earthenware… they hold intact their stories, cultures for centuries.
[Source – Pixabay]

Devi, Sita, Mayamma – daughter, mother, maid – kindle fire that burns time, others and themselves. And so powerful is this fire that life gathers around it to get some inspiration.

Delicate like earthenware, painted beautifully, allegedly breakable, they hold intact their stories, cultures for centuries; you must have seen the pieces of such earthenware dug out from archaeological sites, displayed in a museum safely.

Their resilience never fails them even if it means to walk alone, against the tide, the familiar sunshine. Devi, the present, dares to break away, in her agility, eager to explore, moving away from Mayamma and Sita, the past.

Posing in front of the patriarch, they contribute to his legacy/magnificence. After foolishly spending a long time and suffering from backaches, Sita straightens up and Devi dodges the mockery, while Mayamma continues.

The patriarch sees Mayamma and smiles, Mayamma bows and cusses silently. She prays for Devi.

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The new raga.
[Source – Pixabay]

After etching their charcoal-inked messages on the kitchen walls, the three ladies change the notation of their melody slightly, making the raga, still sung at night, fresher.

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I must have, as I grew older, begun to see the fine cracks in the bridge my grandmother built between the stories I loved, and the less self-contained, more sordid stories I saw unfolding around me. The cracks I now see are no longer fine, they gape as if the glue that held them together was counterfeit in the first place. But the gap I now see is also a debt: I have to repair it to vindicate my beloved storyteller.

Githa Hariharan (Part One; Chapter 3)

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Avicenna and the Turning Wheel

Spinning starry time wheel. [Image from Pixabay]

Thinking… the activity of using our mind to consider something; the process of using our mind to understand matters, make judgments and solve problems… that is what the dictionary says and says more and then sites many lovely examples:

“I had to do some quick thinking.”

“She explained the thinking behind the campaign.”

“Thinking, for me, is hard work!”

Our mind, coloured by a plethora of this and that, happy and sad, a sea of information, thinks in isolation, yet always a part of the collective unconscious. And how wonderful is it that this tinted mind, nevertheless, is fully capable to create something novel.

The thinking mind turns the wheel, knitting the society tighter. The juggernaut of sociocultural norms, in turn, fabricates the yarn for such a mind.


Avicenna or Ibn Sina (980 AD – 1037) was a physician, philosopher, astronomer, theologian, poet – a polymath – who greatly contributed to the Islamic Golden age. His book Al Qanun fi al Tibb or The Canon of Medicine, a medical encyclopedia, was studied as a textbook for medical education in many universities, also in Europe, up till the 17th Century.

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1950 “Avicenna” stamp of Iran. [Source – Wikimedia Commons]

Philosophical encyclopedias like Kitab al Shifa or The Book Healing and Kitab al-Isharat wa al Tanbihat or The Book of Directive and Remarks presented Avicenna’s take on the Aristotelian and Platonian philosophy through the lens of an Islamic theologian.

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Avicenna’s The Canon of Medicine, Latin translation, dated 1484 CE. [Source – Wikimedia Commons]

A well-known physician, Avicenna got support from most of the rulers of his time – some made him a vizir or an advisor in their court – and the opportunity to access the royal library. Highly influenced by Aristotle, Avicenna also disagreed with the Greek polymath on many points.

That the soul is not just ‘body’s form’ (Aristotle says that a soul is the actuality of a body that has life) but it has an existence, he came up with a thought experiment, famously known as the floating/ flying man thought experiment. He argues –

One of us must suppose that he was just created at a stroke, fully developed and perfectly formed but with his vision shrouded from perceiving all external objects – created floating in the air or in the space, not buffeted by any perceptible current of the air that supports him, his limbs separated and kept out of contact with one another, so that they do not feel each other. Then let the subject consider whether he would affirm the existence of his self. There is no doubt that he would affirm his own existence, although not affirming the reality of any of his limbs or inner organs, his bowels, or heart or brain or any external thing. Indeed he would affirm the existence of this self of his while not affirming that it had any length, breadth or depth. And if it were possible for him in such a state to imagine a hand or any other organ, he would not imagine it to be a part of himself or a condition of his existence.

Avicenna

While this blogger will definitely take a lot of time to grasp these theories in entirety, she would like to appreciate the art of thinking that moulds the world in such a steady and grandiose manner.

The art of thinking, in which we participate daily and, most importantly, in the times of despair, is running the show as we then stand face to face our true being and raise questions, refute the botched theory and create a new one.

Avicenna wrote the floating/ flying man argument when imprisoned for around four months as a result of a political debacle – an argument that was later termed weak by the other thinkers.

But this is how the thinking mind works, it continues to question, argue and turn the wheel.


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Shakespeare’s Sonnet 107 and Timelessness

Coverage

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Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come,
Can yet the lease of my true love control,
Suppos’d as forfeit to a confin’d doom.
The mortal moon hath her eclipse endur’d,
And the sad augurs mock their own presage;
Incertainties now crown themselves assur’d,
And peace proclaims olives of endless age.
Now with the drops of this most balmy time
My love looks fresh, and Death to me subscribes,
Since, spite of him, I’ll live in this poor rime,
While he insults o’er dull and speechless tribes:
And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.


The idea of timelessness, eternity, immortality must be true as we wish, look and aim for it in some way or the other. Imagining living continuously, building and creating happy ways of life, chiselling and shaping the continuous source of happiness, we forgetfully live with the idea of forever.

The decisive time gone by, the melting present and the secret future, though definite, knows the indefinite. And one is lured, naturally, to know and identify with the indefinite. Why? For the indefinite is the absolute. So? The absolute appears to be complete, eternal, beyond the cyclic drama and free. Then? We may be a part of it or we too may want to be complete. And so? I don’t know, I am living forgetfully with the idea of forever, remember.

Shakespeare, the greatest and most famous playwright ever, via his works, attained immortality and this is what he celebrated in Sonnet 107. Full of creative splendour, he announced his lead on rusty cenotaphs and statues of the rulers.


The Battle at Gavelines and Elizabeth I at Tilbury (Pastiche).
The painting presents a stylized account of the battle of Gravelines between the Spanish Armada and the English fleet, including the beacons, Elizabeth’s address at Tilbury, and the battle itself in a single montage on three jointed pieces of fine tabby-weave linen. 
[Source – Wikimedia Commons]

“The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured”

That the grand, rock-hard, grave and lovely moon too continues its finite journey, eroding gradually, black red white, suggests that the moon knows well the infinite’s will. Or else why will it so humbly accept its role? This long journey, then, is no less than a quiet meditation. The deep circular craters are the timekeepers and the moon knows it.

One of William Shakespeare’s renowned 154 Sonnets, Sonnet 107 is often linked with the contemporary events of the time: the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588), Queen Elizabeth’s death (in 1603), the Long Turkish War (1593-1606); the Armada charged in a crescent formation, Queen Elizabeth was also called Cynthia (name of the Greek moon goddess), the Ottoman Empire’s flag boasted the crescent moon symbol.

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Elizabeth I of England.
The portrait was made to commemorate the defeat of the Spanish Armada (depicted in the background).
[Source – Wikipedia]

In times so precarious, one would want to hold on to a secure thought or remember the limits of mortality, mocking unabashedly the warmongers and peace-lovers alike, or even hope to create something timeless.


Read the wonderfully crisp commentary on Sonnet 107, here.

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First image from Pixabay


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Jasmine-Rich Raga

Coverage

White Jasmines.
[Image from Pixabay]

Like flowers threaded to form a sheet, woven intricately, the free white petals settling in a designed pattern, accepting the arrangement with joy, like an endless beaded wave of fragrant flower-colours, the ragas also weave intricately musical framework that evokes fragrant feelings in a quiet listener’s mind.

Just like the perfection-loving flowers – the humble sepal, the vibrant petal, the ambitious anther – the ragas too know how to bloom to perfection. Capturing the exact mood that exudes the season’s essence perfectly, the ragas effortlessly scent time making it beautifully appreciable.

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The scented time celebrates the raga – in Vilambit laya (slow tempo), Madhya laya (medium tempo), Drut laya (fast tempo) – accepting every melodic improvisation, evolving with each performance, never bothering with change, rather ushering it with consistent Riyaz (practice).

Overwhelming calculations keep the ragas free from vegetating and from the burden of the past that at times tries to confine its spirit, but almost always the spirit remembers to break free.

The many notations, the Swara, bring forth incessant improvisations, giving space to every emotional twist, forming an intricate, fragrant Mandala.

The ragas symbolise, like a flower threaded sheet, intricacies of life… and more.


Lat uljhi suljha ja balam

Piya more haath mein mehndi lagi hai

Lat uljhi suljha ja balam

Mathe ki bindiya bikhar rahi hai

Apne hi haath laga ja balam

Lat uljhi suljha ja balam

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(Translation – Disentangle my hair, dear beloved/ I have applied henna on my hands/ So come and disentangle my hair, dear beloved/ The bindiya too is spreading on my forehead/ Correct it for me with your own hands, dear beloved/ Disentangle my hair, dear beloved)

This Bandish* in raga Bihag decorates time with a jasmine-rich fragrant emotion that vehemently values love and life.


*Bindiya – a colourful dot mark worn between the eyebrows, especially by married Hindu women.

*Bandish – a composition in Hindustani classical music.


Listen to a melodious version of this bandish now.

*

A shorter version.

Complement this with another melodious post – Amir Khusrau and the Mustard Flowers


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Not Lithic

POEM

The universe’s engine runs on love.
[Image from Pixabay]

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Its nature is not lithic,

Not etched,

You cannot run your fingers over it,

Malleable and foldable for some,

Yelling, “Come, come,

Buy a packet full of love…”

*

From the absolute beginning

Love, not lithic in nature,

Etched if anywhere, then in atoms;

Ride like the wind to feel it;

A malleable, foldable sweet memory

For all those who fall

In love, just like in the absolute beginning.

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Spirited Away and the Art of Forgetfulness

Film Analysis

Chihiro, Sen; Spirited Away official poster.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – IMDB]

Chihiro – My goodbye card’s still here. Chi-hi-ro… Chihiro, that is my name, isn’t it?

Haku – That is how Yubaba controls you, by stealing your name… so hold on to that card, keep it hidden and while you are here, you must call yourself Sen.

Chihiro – I can’t believe I forgot my name. She almost took it from me.

Haku – If you completely forget it, you will never find your way home… I have tried everything to remember mine.

Chihiro – You can’t remember your real name?

Haku – No, but for some reason, I remember yours.

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Those forgotten names, memories, thoughts, bemused glances, talks, ear-to-ear cheers, that sweet-warm feeling of forgetfulness and the forgotten tales complete us in the truest sense. Our best friends, these forgotten episodes, always stay with us, kindling our being with love. Absurd if seen with open eyes, pleasant when seen with eyes closed, our forgotten selves are immortal. And surprisingly these bond us strongly as a community.

A warm feeling of forgetfulness slips away and enters this community hoping to meet us one day. Just remember… remember if you want to meet such a feeling, it will come and surprise you.

Forgetfulness, a boon or a curse, every individual experiences it differently. One of such mystical experiences captured is titled Spirited Away, in a Japanese anime style by the incredible writer, animator, director Hayao Miyazaki.

Chihiro and Sen’s Spiriting Away is the literal translation of the Japanese title of this film. But how can a 10-year-old girl experience the “spiriting away” twice? Maybe it can be done by forgetting and accepting.


Storytelling & the Art of Forgetfulness

The journey beings.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – screenrant.com]

Folklores and myths, since ‘eternity’, have used the art of forgetfulness to complicate the hero’s journey and to open a gate to a unique never-heard-of-yet-familiar world; an enchanted world with flying mountains, a lotus island with tempting, misleading heavens, a charlatan with a devious plan, a monster masquerading and a memory trick that evades reality.

What is the art of forgetfulness? Surely something very delicate, absurd and too hard to explain. That we forget both good and bad days and yet remember it all when the need arises, that everything is stored in our subconscious and we forget what we must, to evolve, we forget and make mistakes and grow and bring a change… this is such an ephemeral art, and nonetheless, we have mastered it.

In stories, forgetfulness raises the stakes for a hero that it becomes a matter of life and death, bringing a drastic transformation.

Chihiro almost forgets her real name when working for Yubaba at the Bathhouse, Chihiro becomes Sen, but this helps her to be in the moment and give her best when trapped in the spirits’ world. She is worried for her parents who have turned into pigs and her goal is to rescue them and return back, but as if cut-off from her past, she works in the Bathhouse as an employee, searching for answers, helping Haku and others, living like her true self, making decisions without her parents’ guidance.

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Chihiro’s bouquet and a goodbye card.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – IMDB]

A very thin thread connects her with the real world, she holds on to it without sorrow or regret and moves ahead anticipating nothing, accepting every new surprise.

What Chihiro doesn’t remember about herself, we do and this information gives us an upper hand, we stick to it galloping blindly, trusting her at every step, waiting carefully for a breakthrough. The storyteller uses the art of forgetfulness to build a strong bond between the audience and the character via a short fabulous episode.

And so if someone asks, “why doesn’t Chihiro simply runs back to where she comes from or why doesn’t she take Haku’s help to escape”, we leap forward to answer, “because she cannot leave her parents behind and because Haku is Yubaba’s slave.” We know Chihiro only too well because we know something of great importance that she now doesn’t remember.


Thousand Questions

A purpose to fulfil.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – IMDB]

The Japanese ‘Chi’, when translated in English, means thousand and ‘hiro’ means to question or search. When Yubaba hires Chihiro, she steals her name, her identity, trying to trap her in the spirit world forever.

Your name is something that defines you throughout your life and Chihiro, having lost her name in the spirit world starts to forget about the living world. So she will effectively forget everything about her life of the living, who she was, her parents and basically everything she ever knew.

– Hayao Miyazaki

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Chihiro survives, she tackles and finds the untapped power source within, like the leaves of grass she holds her ground and even without a clear picture of herself and her name, she lives by it; she questions and searches without knowing concretely what she is looking for. She simply doesn’t give up and continuously reminds herself that she has forgotten something.

Initially hoping the spirit world to be nothing but a dream, later Chihiro accepts it without any qualm. Why? Because she is Chihiro, the one with abundance, thousands of questions, she is someone who has plenty of tricks up her sleeve, moves on freely, whose imagination is still alive, just like any other little 10 year old.

Adults, routinely signing their names on several documents well aware of its meaning, forget to live by it. Often begrudgingly they accept the plain perspective, effacing a possibility, forgetting their search, abandoning it altogether.


Haku, the Dragon

The old friend.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – mentalfloss.com]

Haku, the spirit of river Kohaku, serves Yubaba as she stole his real name “Nigihayami Kohaku Nushi”. He remembers nothing but the fact that he had met Chihiro when she was very little. He recognises her and helps her from the beginning, expecting nothing in return. Chihiro saves Haku from Yubaba’s cursed spells and liberates him in the end as a sweet warm memory returns to her. As a little child she had almost drowned in a river, but survived mysteriously; the name of the river, she tells Haku, was Kohaku. Immediately Yubaba’s spell breaks and Haku’s memories return to him.

A forgotten childhood memory, an upsetting one that must have left everyone (related to Chihiro) troubled, beautifully turns into a magical key setting a soul, a dragon soul free.

And in flashes when we see those episodes, those hazy childhood memories – good, bad – we realise how it has shaped us, how far we have come and how its randomness is actually a puzzle piece.

*

A happy promise.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – IMDB]

Chihiro and Haku’s friendship represents the fragrant spirit of the romantic era (late 18th century); an era (especially Europe) that through its artists shifted towards a more imaginative and free life, valuing the sublime thought and expression, living more passionately, revolting against classicism and Yubaba like overwhelming Industrial Revolution.

Valuing freedom, both Chihiro and Haku, take risks to win it back, to win it back for each other. In a short span, they bond strongly, like one does with an old memory, not burdening their steps with the idea of remembrance, but only sealing their love with a promise to meet again. That is how they part ways.


Yubaba and Zeniba

Yubaba, a professional.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – myanimelist.com]

Two twins, one evil the other caring, Yubaba and Zeniba, act like a see-saw on which the story plays (and plays so well). Yubaba is not a dark character nor is Zeniba a saint; Yubaba is greedy, cunning and at times silly, silly enough to be tricked.

She may thunder when on a hunt or when managing the Bathhouse employees, but she becomes a tip-toeing mother of a giant baby (Boh), ready to do anything for him. She has flaws and this makes her a doubly interesting antagonist.

Zeniba, a kind-hearted smart witch, recognises Chihiro’s bravery and admires her amiable nature. Her presence assures Chihiro that Yubaba too is vulnerable. She supports Chihiro but not by snapping her fingers and resolving everything, rather by trusting her spirit and asking her to trust it too.

Zeniba – I am sorry she turned your parents into pigs, but there is nothing that I can do. It is just the way things are… You will have to help your parents and Haku on your own. Use what you remember about them.

Chihiro – What, can’t you please give me more of a hint than that…? I feel I have met Haku before but it was a long time ago.

Zeniba – That is a good start. Once you have met someone, you never really forget them, it just takes a while for your memories to return.

*

Granny Zeniba.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – myanimelist.com]

Zeniba asks Chihiro to call her granny when at her place and later, Chihiro before leaving the Bathhouse thanks Yubaba and calls her granny too (leaving her annoyed). Things turn out to be in Chihiro’s favour by the end, as her memories return, she keeps no hard feelings against anyone, not even the antagonist.

Chihiro forgives and forgets easily, like children usually do, freeing her own spirit, feeling its happy push towards the next destination.


The Bathhouse

“And heave… everyone… together, heave!”
[©StudioGhibli; Source – filmofile]

Purgation, the holy ritual of cleansing oneself of the sins committed, is one ceremony that is celebrated in many religions worldwide. The Great Bath of Mahenjo-daro, built in the 3rd millennium BCE, had a special religious function for the Indus Valley civilisation according to the scholars.

The unrecognisable “stink spirit” who is Chihiro’s first customer is the spirit of a polluted river. She and her partner Len, Yubaba and all the employees at the Bathhouse work together to cleanse it; the free and happy river spirit, in the end, floats away, giving Chihiro a gift (a herbal cake) that she uses later on to heal Haku’s fatal wound. The purged river spirit also, like a mirror, shows Chihiro her forgotten memory, just a sneak peek of the incident when she had fallen in Kahaku River as a little girl – of how she and Haku first met.

Forgetfulness is not an answer, it is a stage, a brief mental stasis, that gives you a momentary way out or presents you with a leeway so that you can start your journey again.

*

Time to work and win the challenge.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – SHL.com]

The Bathhouse here represents a place where you can not only clean your spirit but also free it by remembering all that you have forgotten, ignored, absorbed, quietly accepted, helplessly agreed with. The bright and active Bathhouse, run by Yubaba, is strictly professional, always focusing on the guests need.

Amongst Yubaba’s employees busy running the business, elevators moving up and down, workers keeping the baths clean and the floor shiny, the spirits find peace; in all this loud drama, the spirits manage to find a way out, they cross the maze and pay the company for allowing them to play.

A contradiction for Yubaba steals names, removing an individual’s memory and the baths tend to remind a guest of her unique forgotten identity, the Bathhouse tirelessly functions to unite the community. Together and yet alone we all move forward towards the unexpected future.


The Spirits and Yubaba’s Employees

“Welcome to the Bathhouse, dear rich guest!”
[©StudioGhibli; Source – myanimelist.com]

In my grandparents’ time, it was believed that kami (spirits) existed everywhere – in trees, rivers, insects, wells, anything. My generation does not believe this, but I like the idea that we should all treasure everything because spirits might exist there, and we should treasure everything because there is a kind of life to everything.

– Hayao Miyazaki

*

The animal, plant, river and other spirits, and the little dark soot-ball spirits, bring in, ironically, the element of permanence in the story. These forgotten souls never pause, they steadily keep acting, dutifully participating in the after-life drama.

The radish spirit’s gaze, the old river spirit’s thank you gift, the soot-ball spirits’ liveliness all help in solidifying the backdrop; it appears then that Chihiro has entered an ancient mythical land, where everyone has a job to do. That it is not a vague dream but a wonderful possibility. And the same goes for the weird looking frog-like men and women.

*

Chi-hi-ro! Bye-bye!
[©StudioGhibli; Source – IMDB]

Every spirit and employee gathers near the Bathhouse’s entrance where Yubaba quizzes Chihiro about her parents at the end, when Chihiro wins, the spirits jump up and sway joyously. We don’t meet them once Chihiro leaves, but one feels that they must have gone back to work immediately.


No Face

Journey within a journey.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – screenrant.com]

A spirit that has no memory, no goal, waits in stillness and clings on to the first hope it gets, a hope to create new memories, to set a new goal. This is No Face, a very interesting grey character; vulnerable for it is clueless, dangerous for it has limitless powers.

When Chihiro, out of generosity, keeps a sliding door open for him to enter as it is raining outside, No Face quietly enters the Bathhouse with the sole purpose to help Chihiro; very soon it becomes greedy to fulfil this purpose – first by offering Chihiro too many herbal soap tokens and then by showering gold. No Face, hungry and out of control, starts swallowing the workers and creates havoc in the Bathhouse. Chihiro then feeds him half of the herbal cake gifted by the revived old river spirit, bringing No Face back to normal; it regurgitates all that he had swallowed.

This quiet, puzzled spirit then accompanies Chihiro on her train journey to Zeniba and later, agrees to stay back and help Zeniba.

How superbly then No Face’s journey points at the significance of memories and a purpose in life! And what an apt name it has got… No Face… purposeless, faceless, one without an identity.


Kamaji & Lin

The catalysts.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – myanimelist.com]

The spider-like six-armed, goggled eyed boiler man, Kamaji, is a character who never forgets, even if he does, he hasn’t got the time to remember what and when, because he singlehandedly runs the water-supply system in the Bathhouse, he and his little soot-ball spirits. Kind-hearted, but always occupied, wise, but always busy, Kamaji’s six arms, which can stretch indefinitely, also find it difficult for such is his workload.

Another character who hasn’t got the time to forget things is Lin; a human-like servant who is not less than an informant as she knows everything about everything. Interestingly, according to the Japanese picture book, The Art of Spirited Away, Lin is described as the spirit of a white tiger, she surely is like a free-spirited soul, rushing, resourceful and undaunted.

It is with Kamaji and Lin’s help that Chihiro survives her time at the Bathhouse; they are the ones who make Chihiro see the spirit world’s reality, suggesting her to adjust immediately and act quickly. And this is what Chihiro needed the most, to keep her forgotten memories aside and build some new ones for her own good. Action always leads to progression; it is the answer to Chihiro’s thousand questions.


Chihiro’s Parents

“More, more, more!”
[©StudioGhibli; Source –myanimelist.com]

Before Yubaba could steal Chihiro’s name and her identity, we get to meet her parents who are two lost beings, unaware of their true identity. Living on the borderline, they act superficially smart on a routine basis but get greedily excited on seeing something that they love – food (or whatever is free).

As they are hardly in touch with their inner voice, with every passing year they have learned the ways of the consumerist society, they are the first ones to forget the reality, leaving their kid with the responsibility to liberate them.

We are not supposed to hate Chihiro’s parents, they may be lost, stubborn, calculative, but they too can find their way back, all they have to do is remember what they have forgotten about themselves.

The fact that their greediness leads to Chihiro going forward all by herself doesn’t appear to be a stereotypical writing tactic because they immediately raise the stakes for the protagonist by turning into pigs. What if they are butchered, what if they can never return back to their human selves? Will Chihiro be able to save them?

These tense queries leave us with no time to wonder about any cliché, we are hooked to witness the unfolding of the uncanny drama. We forget the rest.


The Setting

The vast stretch of grassland, the well-lit restaurant market, the flooded river with big bright carrier ships, the Bathhouse building and rooms, the staircases, the pigsty, Kamaji’s boiler room, Chihiro’s dormitory, the witches’ dwelling, the railway track under the ocean and the dainty cloudy blue sky… the film’s setting contributes richly in making us feel the Chihiro’s “spiriting away”.

It is unique and dreamy, it is intense and crowded, scenic and sublime, wonderful and ridiculous and more… the setting makes the story believable and palpable in a brilliant way. It is a place we have never been, yet is remarkably familiar… like a forgotten memory.

*

The spirit realm.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – ghibli.fandom.com]

‘Spirited Away’ is one of the most loved and successful anime of all time; a bundle of magical moments and surprises, tussles and raptures, it connects with our inner child, one who believed in dreams and magic and talismans…

It reminds the forgetful ones that they too can find a way out of the crudeness that ties them down, that the answer to their thousand questions and their endless search lies within, hidden in a forgotten memory.


Spirited Away (2001)

Written and Directed by – Hayao Miyazaki

Production Company – Studio Ghibli

Music by – Joe Hisaishi

Winner of Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (making it the only hand-drawn, non-English-language animated film to win the award); it was also named the second “Best Film… of the 21st Century So Far” by The New York Times.

It held the record of becoming the most successful and highest-grossing film in Japanese history for 19 years (Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train broke its record in 2020.)


Read these reviews to know more about Spirited Away

A magical dot over in the corner – Spirited Away movie review and summary by Roger Ebert

Spirited Away‘ at 20 – Review


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O Apache!

One summer gleaming morning, back in the 90s, a musician woke up, looked at the world maze and its commuters when a rapturous beat filled his mind… it was a fusion, a fusion of ragga and bhangra beats… the musician knew it was the time to sweetly twist the great razzmatazz of the world maze drama.

And so Apache Indian, the British Indian singer and reggae DJ, mixing cultures, tunes and beliefs, London to India via Jamaica, created a new wave that danced its way into stiff-grumpy-busy society’s heart. His funky hybrid tracks spoke bluntly but always with the spirit to bring a change.

Staying true to its roots – the reggae music genre is known to attack social evils – Apache Indian tried to arrest some fanatic dogmas and set free our handicapped progress.

*

“High caste low caste, we don’t want that,

Everyone equal, let us decide that.

High caste low caste, Sanu ni chahida (we don’t want that),

Saare jaane barabar (we are all equal), Maano rab da kehna (listen to the one God).”

Caste System – Apache Indian; Album – Nuff Vibes

*

“Caste System”, “Arranged Marriage”, “Aids Warning”, “Election Crisis” are some tracks that talk about an era and some persistent crippling ideas, all composed in an upbeat style. The very vigorous sounds of bhangra beats give these songs a desi, identifiable and yet refreshing touch; the east and the west amalgamates beautifully.

Then the peppy catchy dance numbers like “Boom Shack-A-Lak”, “Chok There”, “Don Raja”, “Ragamuffin Girl”, “Jump Up”, and “Celebrate” call out to all the listeners to enjoy the moment.

*

No.1 in a the Bombay chart
Indian me a tear them apart
When me come me bring a new stylee
So listen crowd of people and you have to follow me
Chok there – them a ball when they see the Indian
Chok there – raggamuffin under style and pattern
Chok there – when me come that a different fashion
First tune a say me do no it reach No.1
In a the reggae charts and the Indian
Chok there – see me face upon the television
Chok there – hear me voice pon the radio station
Promotor them a come them a rub off them hand
Keeping a session and them want it fe ram
Chok there – put me name pon the invitation
Chok there – pon the gate go raise a million
Me bring a brand new style upon the Island
Fe the black a fe white and a fe the Indian
So each and everyone come follow fashion

Chok there – dip your knee cork out you bottom
Chok there – everyone in a the Bhangra fashion
Nuff DJ them a have a fe them own stylee
Some a wa da dong deng same a come follar me
And some a them a say Oh Lord a mercy
Pnumina ick pnumina do and also in a three
But anytime me came me bring a brand stylee
So listen crowd of people and you have to follow me…


Chok There; Songwriters: Simon Duggal, Diamond Duggal, Steven Kapur aka Apache Indian; Album – No Reservations

Experimenting freely and successfully, Apache Indian collaborated with many artists worldwide, from Sean Paul, Maxi Priest, Shaggy, Boy George to A. R Rahman, Asha Bhosle, Bally Sagoo, SteroNation and Jazzy B.

True to his craft – music is all about innovation – Apache Indian continues to create fusion music, uniting converse genres, fostering harmony.

It was in the 90s, a summer dream that came true… not a super-sonic era, but moving towards one, grooving and listening to Apache Indian’s music… that was created with a hope, adding a little bit of this and that to ragamuffin magic, a hope to become better… a hope that is still alive.

O Apache, we are listening.


Some of Apache Indian’s popular tracks –







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