Leafing Through the Book of Art

From the pre-historic art to the Ottonian, Viking, Anglo-Saxon and Celtic art, covering eras and some more eras to reach the Italian renaissance, the Baroque and the Neoclassicism, Romanticism and Impressionism, taking a leap, leisurely, one day at a time, to reach the “Graffiti” modern times, we have successfully lived so many lives.

I say successfully because the story is still in circulation.

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Brushstrokes, texture and colour freeze a moment so beautifully that we often forget to read. Every painting speaks of its era and teaches sincerely. Without feeling ashamed it presents both the charming and the grotesque.

Leafing through the book of art frequently, I believe, is necessary.

For at all times it will be there, telling you about the truth and the fact, the mystery and the mystical, the mundane and the historical, the forgotten and forgiving tradition, the sinner and the redeemer, mirroring every mind and thought.

Yes, the intensity with which it glares overwhelms the hassled mind. Studying art is difficult, it asks for patience and openness, but for this very reason, we should revisit the art world, for these are values which always come handy.

Phenomenal, simple, even funny, a painting adjusts to our understanding of it. How empowering!

As I continue collecting stories, I will look into the art story again. What about you?  

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Check out – Art: The Definitive Visual Guide

All photos clicked by Jagriti Rumi.


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Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (That which moves is called a car)

The theatre is jam-packed and noisy; as the lights go off, everyone becomes quiet. The film starts and the opening credits roll – in black & white animation we are introduced to the star cast, Ashok Kumar, Madhubala, Anoop Kumar and a yodelling-dancing Kishore Kumar – with a melodious announcement to get ready for a laughing riot titled Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi.

One of the biggest hits of 1958, Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, directed by Satyen Bose, is a classic comedy film which though is 173 minutes long and is more than 60 years old, is still a treat to watch. The appearance of the Ganguly Brothers together for the first time, the unforgettable music composed by S.D Burman and soulful, breezy lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri, all combined, led to its massive success.

While no writing credits, apart from dialogues (by Ramesh Pant and Gobind Moonis), are given in the film, it has a well-structured, strong screenplay. The plot twists and character quirks both intermingle harmoniously to create comedy.

Writing a Comedy

A genre of fiction writing, comedy intends to amuse the audience; the Ancient Greeks defined it as a narrative involving an odd character caught in a challenging situation that inadvertently after making a fool of himself triumphs in the end. With changing times, and different types of mediums, comedy writing has also evolved; slapstick, parody, spoof, satire, irony, sarcasm, farce and dark comedy, these different sub-categories all approach comedy distinctively.

For a comedy story, you would need a solid comic premise, complex, but relatable characters, a risky situation in which the protagonist is caught, a touch of drama, plenty of puns and enough space for character development. Comedies aim not only to amuse and entertain but also to subtly mock the stereotypical stagnant beliefs in the society.

Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi has these elements all in place. Three brothers, all afraid of even looking at women, as if predestined, meet up three lovely ladies who take the lead to bring their story to a happy ending.

Characters

Brijmohan, Jagmohan, Manmohan – The three brothers together run a garage; the two younger ones follow elder brother, Brijmohan’s dictum of not interacting with any woman at any cost (apart from when there is an emergency). They even have a mantra that they chant to shoo ladies away; in the very first scene when their car breaks down and they are unable to find any fault in the engine, they blame it on a beautiful young lady looking at them from a distance. Seeing three men chanting the mantra, finding them weird, the lady leaves; the car starts working then and this reconfirms their theory about women.

They are not anti-women, nor are they disrespectful towards them. For the younger brothers, it is all about following Brijmohan’s rules and for him it is a way to protect his brothers from emotional traumas, something that he had undergone when his lady love left him for a rich man.

Jagmohan aka Jaggu is a fickle-minded, often cunning, but timid guy; obedient and docile in front of Brijmohan, he becomes inquisitive and laid-back when given the charge of the garage and easily passes his chores to his younger brother.

Manmohan aka Mannu is the main lead; he is sincere, dexterous and funny by nature. One rainy night, when he is all alone in the garage, he is forced to repair the broken car of a young lady, Renu, who in a hurry forgets to pay him his due. Next morning he explains to his brothers that he had to entertain that lady as it was an emergency case. Brijmohan highlights it to them that she is a clever person as she intentionally did not pay him anything.

Thus, the story takes a turn as Mannu, in a quest to get his due (5 rupees and 12 annas) follows Renu everywhere, he even reaches her home late at night and when the watchman suspects him to be a thief, Renu helps him to run away, once again without the due amount; such incidents result into the inevitable conclusion, Mannu and Renu fall for each other.

Mannu hides his feelings from Renu as he battles with the unacceptable idea of falling for a woman. He can never disobey Brijmohan, but he cannot forget Renu as well.

Comedy elements never leave the screen space even while dealing with such dramatic dilemmas. Jaggu and Mannu love Brijmohan, they look upon him as a father figure and as their hero. In one scene, Brijmohan, a boxing champion, beats up a giant who was refusing to pay the servicing charges and Jaggu and Mannu both had unsuccessfully tried to tackle him.

Their scenes together are hilarious; whenever Renu calls at the garage, both Jaggu and Mannu start fumbling, telling Brijmohan that they don’t know who she is, when Renu tells Brijmohan to send someone to repair her car, both Jaggu and Mannu refuse to go, though wishing to leave immediately.

Renu – The absolutely stunning leading lady of the film is a modern woman in the truest sense – she is bold, independent, zealous, a bit strong-headed, but sensible enough to differentiate between a fake and an honest person. She likes to drive her car, no matter even if it is late in the night – a big deal in 1950s India. When running late to reach home after giving her dance performance at the theatre, Renu is worried not that her father will scold her for being late, but about the car breaking down in the middle of the road yet again.

There is no question about parity in the film, as the women are given equal screen space and story material; in fact, the women are responsible for taking the story forward. Renu is the one who openly expresses her interest in Mannu, visiting his garage and taking him along for outings. Brijmohan too is unable to refuse as Renu had found a lady’s photo in Brijmohan’s room, purposely she enquires about it in front of his two brothers; a dumbfounded Brijmohan avoids the scene by allowing Mannu to accompany Renu.

Later, when Brijmohan tells Renu upfront that she should stop meeting Mannu, she does not falter and expresses that she is serious about Mannu; impressed by her honest approach, he then approves of her.

Renu’s actions, along with Mannu, become the driving force in the film; through her straightforward, brazen and naïve behaviour, she also adds to the humour.

“Pom-pom-pom!”
Driving the Champion on the streets of Bombay. (Source – bollyviewer)

‘Champion’ car, Model 1928 – This debuting car is more like a sidekick, an accomplice and a recurring motif in the film that talks about the ‘moving forward’ mantra, connects the plot points and even sponsors the happy ending scene. Apart from being the reason that steers Renu’s entry into Mannu’s life, it is given a special Chaplinesque sequence to enrich this comedy.

Mannu and the Champion car participate in a race, competing against many including the villain’s pawn; the start is a bit rocky, but they are determined to win, exchanging an opponent’s hat with a cockerel, throwing bananas at another and spraying water at the pawn, Mannu and the Champion car beat the others with great aplomb.

The car here is a metaphor for life; if the car is running and if you are able to fix it when it breaks down, you are all set, that is all you need to do.

Listen to the uplifting title track of Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi now.

Raja Hardayal Singh, the Antagonist – In his first scene, it is evident that his kindness, his beguiling demeanour and his aristocratic attitude is all too good to be true. A fraudster, who had long back managed to rob a rich businessman after marrying his only daughter (i.e. Brijmohan’s lady love, Kamini), Raja Hardayal Singh now has plans to make his pawn marry Renu so as to get all her property.

While his bass, confident and assured tone makes him a dangerous villain, his foolish men and their shortcomings make him appear as a goof. Then again when it is revealed that he keeps his so-called mad wife, Kamini, captive in an old bungalow, he takes his position back to being a ruthless man. But unlike in a novel when such a secret is revealed, the effect stays and changes the mood of the story, here the opposite happens. As it is a comedy, Kamini’s distress does not stay for long rather it triggers the climax and ensures her freedom.

Supporting Characters

These supporting characters, some half and some nicely baked, are a good study of how in a well-written comedy everything contributes to keeping the humour alive without it being overblown.

Maujiya – A junior mechanic cum helper, Maujiya is a happy-go-lucky kid who has very few scenes in the film, but whenever present he doubles the dose of comedy. He is an on-screen audience member who observes the three brothers, their eccentricities, always amused, but also alert of being caught.

Sheela – Renu’s best friend, smart and funny, Sheela is another bold beauty in the film. She falls for Jaggu and finds his buffoonery amusing. While chit-chatting once she happily tells Renu that she would choose a simpleton over a wise guy as she wants her husband to always listen to her; finding these qualities in Jaggu, she makes sure they become friends. Her frankness and wit mark her presence strongly in the film.

Renu’s Father – Like a puppet this character is placed to add humour in a scene or to bridge one twist with the other. A jovial, simple and sweet old man, Renu’s father takes everyone’s words at face value and thus, is shocked to know Raja Hardayal Singh’s reality. He trusts Renu and gives her freedom to choose her life partner.

Kamini – Though she appears later in the second half, she plays a distinct role in shaping the story from the beginning; Brijmohan thinks she betrayed him, but she and her rich father were fooled by Raja Hardayal Singh. Not afraid of anything, she decides to save Renu and Mannu’s life and becomes a catalyst for the climax.

Climax – Renu and Mannu are trapped, Raja Hardayal Singh is ready to marry Renu with his pawn; after a hurried reunion between Brijmohan and Kamini and a comic mime-style scene between Jaggu and Sheela, everyone reaches the same bungalow and a farcical fight sequence begins. Mannu, Renu, Jaggu, Maujiya, Renu’s Father and the half-witted goons create a mockery of a climactic sequence. It is only Brijmohan and Raja Hardayal Singh who behave seriously, fighting to end it for good and all. Sheela who was following Jaggu’s car, contacts police and arrives at the end to conclude the drama.

While in many black and white Hindi films of this era, the ending is usually badly shot as if the villain is in a rush to be jailed, but here the pace is much better. The police capture Raja Hardayal Singh and his team, and the three couples unite; sitting in the Champion car, Brijmohan, Jaggu and Mannu sing the title track of the film, while the three ladies in the front, Renu at the wheel, enjoy and laugh.

Songs – What added to the popularity of this film is its melodious, peppy soundtrack and catchy, honest lyrics. Iconic numbers like the title track “Babu Samjho Ishaare”, “Ek Ladki Bheegi Bhaagi Si”, “Hum The, Woh Thi Aur Sama Rangeen”, “Main Sitaron Ka Taraana”, “Haal Kaisa Hai Janaab Ka” are all timeless. Songs in Hindi films act as a medium of storytelling, usually sealing the romantic journey of the hero and the heroine, always lyrically taking the story ahead. Here a song, “Hum Tumhare Hain”, picturised on Helen and Minhaj Ansari, though not truly necessary for the plot of the film, is nevertheless a beautiful song. Great singers like Asha Bhosle, Manna Dey and Kishore Kumar create magic through their voices.

A melodious meet cute!
5 rupees and 12 annas, the amount that Mannu never got.

Conclusion

With a few flaws and goof-ups, this film is a pure comedy classic, and in fact, the flaws humorously add to its nature. The characters are crafted nicely and each complement’s the other; if the film is a musical instrument, then all the strings are perfectly tuned to produce a hilarious track. Characters perform comedy in pairs and that too, effortlessly; Renu and Mannu’s romantic track is sweet and entertaining, especially their short stint as detectives; Jaggu and Sheela are loudly funny, but not in a bad way; and the three brothers are like three jokers in a comical act. Also, whenever and whoever is paired with the Champion car, we are bound to get our laughter dose out of that scene.

Thus, with a strong and humorous story, quirky characters and crisp pace, this film continues to be a hit.


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Bowie’s Birthday Party – A Script

FADE IN

INTERIOR – MAIDS ROOM, CHAPMAN HOUSE – MORNING
Lyn (thin,30+) and Sally (chubby,30+) are drying wet hair of a golden terrier with a hairdryer. The terrier does not like it.


LYN (ANXIOUSLY)
Looks like Bowie or not?
SALLY
Looks golden, Bowie was golden. I am telling you Mrs. Chapman won’t even notice….
LYN (INTERRUPTS)
Shut up Sally! We have lost her dog, her Baby Bowie and that too on his birthday.
SALLY (AMUSINGLY)
Hah! Old Mrs. Chapman will go nuts again if she….
LYN
Shut up will you! Thanks to Carlos, he brought this dog.
SALLY (IRRITATINGLY)
Yeah, yeah! All we had to do was colour his hair with my hair colour.


Carlos (Fat,40+), Mrs Chapman’s Chauffeur, comes in their room at this point.


CARLOS (GRINNING)
(LOOKS AT THE DOG)
Bloody hell! She looks like Bowie now.
LYN AND SALLY
She?
CARLOS
Yeah! She’s my neighbour’s… they call her Emily or Mily, something like that.

LYN
Listen Carlos, try to find Bowie, he couldn’t have gone far… we can’t hide this from Mrs. Chapman for too long.

CUT TO:

INTERIOR – THE LOBBY, CHAPMAN HOUSE – MORNING
Mrs. Chapman (70+, white hair, elegantly dressed) is holding and caressing the dog.

MRS. CHAPMAN
Why is his hair still wet? And he smells awful. What soap did you use?
LYN AND SALLY
Mrs. Chapman….
MRS. CHAPMAN
(HANDING THE DOG BACK TO LYN)
Give him a bath again, and hurry up, the party will start soon.
(TO THE DOG)
Baby Bowie would not like to smell bad on his birthday, right? Right
Bowie?
(TO LYN AND SALLY)
Don’t forget the white bow!

CUT TO:

EXTERIOR – LAWN, CHAPMAN HOUSE – DAY
The lawn is beautifully decorated, the theme is golden and white, tables are set and the giant white cake looks too good to eat. Other servants are seen running here and there.

After half an hour, the guests start arriving and Mrs. Chapman, holding the duplicate Bowie in her arms like a baby, greet them one by one. Her high-class friends have brought bouquets and gifts for Baby Bowie.
The golden-haired dog with a white bow complements the party’s theme.

CUT TO:

Everyone is standing around the table, singing; it is time for the birthday dog to cut the cake. Mrs. Chapman is holding the dog who is irritated and is trying to free itself.

MRS. CHAPMAN
Aw! Baby Bowie is too excited for the birthday song to end.

People in the party laugh in chorus. Mrs. Chapman tries her best to hold the dog in her arms.

MRS. CHAPMAN (MAINTAINING THE SMILE) (CONT’D)
Baby Bowie, manners please! You are 3 years old now. Big boy!

Everyone laughs again. The dog whines.

MRS. CHAPMAN (CONT’D)
I think Baby Bowie wants all of us to enjoy the cake as soon….
(THE DOG JUMPS)
B-O-W-I-E! Ah!

The dog lands straight on the delicious white cake and then runs across the table, spoiling everything, jumps down and runs away. Mrs. Chapman is in a shock; almost all the guests first burst into laughter and then suddenly suppress it and copy Mrs. Chapman’s expressions.


CUT TO:

EXTERIOR – LAWN, CHAPMAN HOUSE – DAY
The party is over, most of the guests have left, two ladies have stayed back to console Mrs. Chapman who is drunk and looks extremely depressed.

MRS CHAPMAN
(SITTING ON THE DESERTED GRAND TABLE)
How could Bowie do this to me? Why?

Mrs. Chapman’s friends look at each other, they don’t know what to say.

MRS. CHAPMAN
Why Bowie? How could you leave me too?
(TALKING TO HERSELF IN WHISPERS)
How…? Leave me… for a waitress?

At this point Lyn and Sally approaches Mrs. Chapman to tell her the truth, as Carlos has brought the real Bowie back.

LYN
Mrs. Chapman, we found Baby Bowie… Carlos found him… we wanted to tell you… before the party… but….
MRS. CHAPMAN (DRUNK)
Bowie!

Looks at the dog in Sally’s arms and then takes him. She makes him sit on the table and starts caressing him.

CUT TO CLOSE UP:

Standing to a side, Carlos whispers to Lyn and Sally –

CARLOS
Did you tell her?
LYN
She is drunk….
SALLY (LAUGHINGLY)
Good for us!
LYN
Shut up Sally!
CARLOS
Where is my neighbour’s dog?
LYN
She ran away… Oh! We completely forgot.
CARLOS
What?

While the three of them are talking to each other, Bowie starts barking. They then see that the other Bowie (Emily) has come back and both the dogs are barking at each other.

CUT TO:

Coming out of depression, Mrs. Chapman now looks irritated.

MRS. CHAPMAN (SHOUTS)
Shut up Bowie!

CUT TO:

Bowie runs to and fro on the table and barks at Emily who keeps running around, barking back at Bowie.
Mrs. Chapman again shouts at Bowie on top of her voice; Carlos runs after Emily.

CARLOS
(NOT TOO LOUDLY)
Emily! Mily! Emily!

Both the dogs are barking angrily at each other. Sally can’t control her laughter.

LYN (ANGRILY)
What is wrong with you?
SALLY (LAUGHINGLY)
Don’t you get it? Mrs. Chapman’s first name is Emily. And old Mr. Chapman’s nick name was….
LYN
Bowie!

Carlos repeatedly calls out the name ‘Emily’ and finally gets hold of her. Both the dogs are still barking at each other. Mrs. Chapman loses her senses and starts shouting loudly.

MRS. CHAPMAN
Shut up! Stupid dog! Shut up! Damn with your birthday party and damn with you all. Bowie, are you happy now? Happy! You have spoiled everything once again.

CUT TO:

LYN
Oh! I think we should call Dr. Mathew.

As Lyn rushes inside to call the doctor.

SALLY (AMUSINGLY)
Hey! I didn’t wish Bowie.

Mrs. Chapman’s two friends, totally confused, finally leave.

Carlos takes Emily away and Sally runs to protect Bowie from Mrs. Chapman who, in her rage, is now attacking him with the cutlery.

FADE OUT

Bowie, how was your birthday celebration?
Image from Pixabay.

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Fetching Water from a Haiku-Well

This light and bright book, ‘Japan Haiku by Marti’, is a library to me that has a collection of thoughts, wise words of a wise heart.

Haiku, a form of Japanese poetry that is dated back to the 17th century, is a fruit that a poet bears in her mind. It tastes subtly sweet and brazenly true. (Truth tastes different to all people, what does truth taste like to you?)

Carrying oceans and mountains and all the seasons within, it takes me on a journey every time I visit it.

Shying away from nothing, neither life nor death, haikus sing about nature and dance in the present. They capture it fully, through the lives of those who craft it, the haikus capture the moment fully.

No less than an explorer or a monk who practices meditation, the haiku poets in ancient Japan travelled to witness the peaceful, dramatic, kind, unforgiving nature. They did not hurry and that is why could understand it all.

Fetching cold water from a deep quiet well, with wit and brevity, the haikus quench our thirsts in this manner.

I finished reading this delightful book (part of my Auroville collection) sometime back, but I knew the journey has not ended yet.

Earlier I had taken a haiku turn to meet Matsuo Basho, the master haiku poet, and today I found a hidden haiku trail that took me to visit Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali polymath.

“They reveal the control over the human emotions. However, they are never short on aesthetic sensibility. Their sense of aesthetics is marked by deep appreciation yet there is a mastery over expression.”In Letters from Japan, published later as Japan Jatri, Tagore recorded his views on haikus and his experiences of visiting Japan.

Interested in reading Japanese literature, knowing their culture and art history, Tagore in 1915 wrote to Kimura Nikki, who had studied Bengali under him at Calcutta University, “I want to know Japan in the outward manifestation of its modern life and in the spirit of its traditional past. I also want to follow up on the traces of ancient India in your civilization and have some idea of your literature if possible.”

Knockings at My Heart is a collection of short poems by Tagore (discovered only recently and published in 2016) that highlights the impact of haikus on him.

Excerpts –

Let my life accept the risk of its

Sails and not merely the security

Of its anchor.

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The pomegranate bud hidden behind her veil

Will burst into passionate flower

When I am away.

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The mist tries

To capture the morning

In a foolish persistence.

The simplistic approach, depth of thought and brisk climactic acuity make this poetry form of the past very much of the present as well as of the future, for the passionate are always searching.

And so my journey continues.

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Glowing like a firefly.
Image from Pixabay.

Fireflies, an epigrammatic poem by Rabindranath Tagore, is a perfect complement to this post.

My fancies are fireflies, —

Specks of living light

twinkling in the dark.

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he voice of wayside pansies,

that do not attract the careless glance,

murmurs in these desultory lines.

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In the drowsy dark caves of the mind

dreams build their nest with fragments

dropped from day’s caravan.

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Spring scatters the petals of flowers

that are not for the fruits of the future,

but for the moment’s whim.

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Joy freed from the bond of earth’s slumber

rushes into numberless leaves,

and dances in the air for a day.

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Read the full poem here.


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Gabbeh

Gabbeh.
[Source – mk2films]
Readying the carpets.
[Source – mk2films]

Let the colours dry, and you,

Who has been waiting, yes you,

Gabbeh, smile, for I will come

Riding my horse, I will come,

To steal the decorated rug

With you inside,

At last, I will make you mine.

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Gabbeh, the 1996 film, is a simple tale of a gipsy girl, her clan and the way their life goes on.

Unfolding beautifully just like an artist painting a canvas, Gabbeh quietly touches the grand questions.

What is the purpose of existence, what is this feeling of love, what makes colours so harmonious, so arresting?

The complexities, the insatiable desires, the mind games, what helps and what hinders, how do we know?

What is to be said, heard and done before death?

The film weaves a beautiful pattern of such thoughts, but subtly, charmingly that one gets truly absorbed in the flow of the story and does not feel staggered or burdened at all.

The story is exceptionally close to reality even though the style of its narration is truly poetic. It is simple and complex, romantic and mystifying, colourful and rough, complete and incomplete.

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Collecting colours.
[Source – mk2films]

Presenting life from a woman’s point of view, talking about the role of a woman in a family, sharing her aspirations and wishes with us, the entire story thus, inherently is full of warmth, colour and calmness, making the love palpable for the viewer.

The best way to describe Gabbeh would be to call it a dream. It is a folk tale, a myth and yet an unembellished raw saga; hazy, vibrant, unreal and real at the same time.

Gabbeh is an experience, a dream that you must see one day.


Gabbeh
Makhmalbaf’s audio-visual poem.
[Source – mk2films]

Written and Directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Gabbeh – Shaghayeh Djodat, Music by – Hossein Alizadeh, Cinematography – Mahmoud Kalari, Edited by – Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Language – Persian.

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Watch the trailer now –

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Learn about colours the gipsy way –


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Bach’s Seagull meets Shelley’s Skylark

Jonathan Livingston Seagull and his students.
Image from Pixabay.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull wanted to master the art of flying. Soaring up in the sky, above the white ocean of clouds, he felt truly free.

Though very unlikely of a seagull, Jonathan flew high ever so high, he practised and failed umpteenth times, but he never gave up.

An outcast, he lived alone and happily spent his time in his quest to achieve perfection.

On reaching a higher level of existence, he meets gulls like him who wanted to enhance their flying skills. It was not heaven for everyone there were learners.

Chiang, the guru of them all, teaches Jonathan how to let go of the concept of time and space so as to travel freely in the Universe.

“Begin by knowing that you have already arrived”, said Chiang.

Wondering if someone else, one who dares to question and take risks, needs guidance on Earth, he returns.

“Devil” for some and “angel” for others, Jonathan teaches a few eager ones. Practising, failing, practising again, Jonathan’s students rise above the Flock, the mundane.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull then continues his journey to guide other gulls who must have been waiting for him somewhere else in the Universe.

The fable. [Source – Wikipedia]

Richard Bach’s fable is soothingly clear, and thus, appears too simplistic to many. Just like flying looks simple only until we give it a try.

He equates perfection with freedom, emphasising on practising and a thirst for knowledge as the golden path to it; a path where you walk ahead passionately and not cumbersomely.

Every little bud in nature rises high, soaking in sun rays, moving towards it. Rising high, shedding the old self, stepping forward to explore the unknown, dwindling before making a firm stand is what life’s journey is all about.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, “a one-in-a-million bird”, if appears to be too perfect and his ideas if sound too far-fetching then you should look at your on-going journey and answer these questions – what are you looking for in life – perfection in some form or maybe a balance?

And what is balance if not a proportion of perfect this and perfect that?

Even better, you should meet Shelley’s Skylark.

Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!

Bird thou never wert,

That from Heaven, or near it,

Pourest thy full heart

In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

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Higher still and higher

From the earth thou springest

Like a cloud of fire;

The blue deep thou wingest,

And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

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The invisible bird.
Image from Unsplash.

‘Blithe Spirit’ calls Percy Bysshe Shelley a Skylark that is soaring up in the sky (or Heaven, or near it), singing beautifully and gloriously that to him it is nothing but unprecedented ‘unpremeditated art’.

The Skylark, invisible to his eyes, has such power in its voice that the poet likens it to ‘a cloud of fire’.

Shelley beseeches the Skylark to teach him what it knows; a divine secret it must be for nothing on earth could outshine it. Joy so true, Shelley calls it ‘a star of Heaven’.

Nature’s bounty, the golden glow worms, the rainbows, the playful wind, a young maiden’s love and a poet’s grand verses, Shelley says the Skylark’s song, that flows in a ‘crystal stream’, is above them all.

What thou art we know not;

What is most like thee?

From rainbow clouds there flow not

Drops so bright to see

As from thy presence showers a rain of melody.

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Like a Poet hidden

In the light of thought,

Singing hymns unbidden,

Till the world is wrought

To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not:

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Like a high-born maiden

In a palace-tower,

Soothing her love-laden

Soul in secret hour

With music sweet as love, which overflows her bower:

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Like a glow-worm golden

In a dell of dew,

Scattering unbeholden

Its aëreal hue

Among the flowers and grass, which screen it from the view:

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Like a rose embower’d

In its own green leaves,

By warm winds deflower’d,

Till the scent it gives

Makes faint with too much sweet those heavy-winged thieves:

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Sound of vernal showers

On the twinkling grass,

Rain-awaken’d flowers,

All that ever was

Joyous, and clear, and fresh, thy music doth surpass.

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Rain-awaken’d flowers.
Image from Pixabay.

The Skylark, above these mortal dilemmas, sings with pure love and delight. And in contrast we, humans, are locked in the past or the future.

We look before and after,

And pine for what is not:

Our sincerest laughter

With some pain is fraught;

Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

Shelley urges the Skylark to teach him just half of what it knows, this ‘harmonious madness’ so that he could capture it within and share it with the world.

The Skylark if not a gleaming reflection of perfection, then what is it? If its song is not a song of freedom, then why is the melody ‘a flood of rapture so divine’?

It must be that just like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the Skylark returned to Earth, to guide and share its knowledge, to remind the poet that ‘freedom is the very nature of his being’.

Unlike a miracle, both took time to convey what little they knew of the truth. The Seagull stays to make his students practice and the Skylark sings till the chosen one – the poet in this case – hears its joyous voice.  

Showing what doors can perseverance open and how patience leads to strength, the Seagull and the Skylark leave it up to the individual to unfold the story further.

Birth and death are timed then and a fully lived life, with all its imperfections, aims for a balance, for perfection that guides it to fly high and well.

*

Fly high and well.
Image from Pixabay.

Read P. B Shelley’s full poem To a Skylark here.

Listen to the Jonathan Livingston Seagull’s audio book version here.


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Sue Anna’s Ganpati Twinned Up

Lord Ganesha aka Ganpati Bappa.
Image – Pixabay.

Hurry up girl, there is a lot to do”, said Mama and Sue Anna smiled for she was dreamy. And she had a good reason to feel so, she was making Ganpati Bappa’s idol with shaadu mitti (a type of clay).

In Ganesh Chaturthi, a ten-day-long festival in which colours rise in glory and fragrant flowers dance, sweet songs are sung and delicious sweets are distributed, all the Sue Annas in the world become brighter blessed beings.

Yes, there are many Sue Annas, the ones who are a bit more kind, the ones who love to find creepers ruling their garden and butterflies sharing their stardom, the ones who are cheerful when it is cloudy, the ones who dance in the rain loudly… you got it now, right?

But then they are a bit forgetful too, daily chores trouble them and they easily catch the flu.

Stealthily the sickness resides and gives a victory shout, but ha-ha-ha, lovingly all the Sue Annas broom it out. After all, they are Lord Ganesha’s favourite.

Where are the garlands? Oh! You’re still not done? Sue Anna…”, said Mama and Sue Anna smiled, looked at her and said, “Did you say something?”

Mama told her about the unfinished tasks and Sue Anna yawned, stretched and added lazily, “first let Ganpati Bappa come to our home, he is only half-ready… see for yourself.

And she gestured Mama to look at the idol. “The clay is so soft… this colour is so rich, right Mama”, and without waiting for a reply Sue Anna got busy once again.

My Lord Ganesha… little elephant head and beautiful big eyes… a modak (a sweet) in hand and sitting elegantly on a grand asan (seat)…

Mumbling these words for hours and hours, Sue Anna finally finished making the idol.

She then rushed away on hearing her Mama, Papa, maid and neighbour’s voice, all calling her at once for some work.

When she returned after tackling it all, to her surprise she saw that there is not one but two little Ganpati Bappas in front of her, both smiling sweetly with twinkling eyes.

Utterly amazed Sue Anna kept staring at the two idols, she then said, “Mama, Ganpati Bappa twinned up! Mama!” And Sue Anna ran to the kitchen beaming.

Real story!
Image by Sue Anna.

Ganpati Bappa is here to shower more blessings on you, don’t you remember your wish… I mean wishes… go and get your diary… hurry up girl, there is a lot to do!


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Amir Khusrau and the Mustard Flowers

Sufi poet and singer, Amir Khusrau (1253 – 1325), famously known as the ‘Voice of India’, was an expert in unifying the mundane with the divine. His poetry presents the mystic in him and the mystical world around him.

Reading his verses, seeing through his eyes, one gets a chance to experience the transcendental self.

Here is one of his most famous poems on Basant (spring) –

सकल बन फूल रही सरसों।  

बन बिन फूल रही सरसों।।

अंबवा फूटे, टेसू फूले

कोयल बोले डार-डार

और गोरी करत सिंगार

मलनियां गेंदवा ले आईं कर सो।  

सकल बन फूल रही सरसों।।

*

तरह तरह के फूल खिलाए

ले गेंदवा हाथन में आए

निज़ामुद्दीन के दरवज्जे पर

आवन कह गए आशिक रंग

और बीत गए बरसों।

सकल बन फूल रही सरसों।। 

Mustard flowers blooming in glory.
Image – Pixabay.

Literal translation –

The yellow mustard flower is blooming in every field,

Not a forest, yet like a forest of mustard flowers.

Mango buds are clicking open, and other flowers are blooming too;

The Cuckoo bird chirps from branch to branch,

And the maiden does her make-up,

The gardener-girl has brought marigolds.

The yellow mustard flower is blooming in every field.

*

Colourful flowers bloom everywhere,

With marigolds in hand,

Waiting at Nizamuddin’s door

For the beloved who had promised to come

In spring, but hasn’t turned up – it has been many years since.

The yellow mustard flower is blooming in every field.

*

A burst of yellow joy.
Image – Pixabay.

My Take –

The delicate mustard plants are ruling the world and the forests are shying away from their glory, what a splendour, a burst of yellow joy this is.

Seeing the blossoms, the cuckoo bird begins singing, its melody though familiar, fills every heart with delight.

And with a delighted heart one beautiful young girl is dressing up, she is hopeful.

And the gardener-girl has brought marigolds for joy has chosen a ‘colour’ and it is yellow, the yellow of the delicate mustard flowers.

Myriad coloured flowers everywhere and marigolds in hand, I am waiting as promised at Nizamudin’s door for the colours of love, waiting here since ages.

And the delicate mustard plants are ruling the world. It is spring.

*

The Sufi Touch –

In love, the whole world appears to be one with us, in this state of ecstasy every atom resonates with us and here ‘mustard plants ruling the world’ is a metaphor for it.

Further, the blooming flowers, the singing bird, the beautiful young girl, the gardener-girl and marigold enhance this feeling, this thought.

Then at the great Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya’s door, one awaits, with marigolds in hand and yellow lustre all around waits for the beloved for years and years.

Here, the poem transcends from the transient to the eternal, from passionate love to soulful love.

It becomes then about the devotee waiting for the supreme light, for the union with the ultimate soul, waiting with flowers in hand, forever in joy, waiting to attain absolute bliss.

*

This Sufi poem/ song has been performed by classical/ folk singers all over India and other Hindi/Urdu speaking countries.

Check out the powerful performance by Rizwan and Muazzam Ali Khan –


Also, read my post Dama Dam Mast Qalandar to get enthralled by another soulful Sufi song.


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The Afghan Girl – An Ancient Saga

Photographs, phot + graph which is Greek for “light + writing”, are marvellous means to capture moments almost forever – a print may fade, a digital file may vanish – that shares, and if seen keenly expresses, the truth.

The truth has as many versions as the fish in the ocean, each one equally powerful, waiting to reveal itself to the one awaiting.

What did the Afghan Girl reveal to me?

The Afghan Girl, photographed by Steve McCurry.
It is ‘the most recognised photograph’ in the history of the magazine.
©National Geographic

This photograph was taken in 1984 by photojournalist Steve McCurry for the National Geographic magazine in a refugee camp for Afghani people in Pakistan, where he documented the ordeal of hundreds and thousands of them.

“Haunted eyes tell of an Afghan refugee’s fears”, these words, imprinted on the magazine cover, talk about her Present i.e. the war-torn Afghanistan of 1984-85, but her eyes are talking about an ancient saga which was and which still is unfolding.

It is the tale of a fierce innocent soul that struggles to survive, that dares to live.

Dorothea Lange who took the iconic photograph titled the Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936) while she was documenting the lives of Americans and migrants during the Great Depression also captured something similar; the struggling life of a thirty-two-year-old migrant mother of seven, her tired yet firm gaze reflects perseverance.

Talking about her technique as a documentary photographer, Dorothea Lange said –

“My own (sic) approach is based upon three considerations – First: hands off! Whatever I photograph I do not tamper with or molest or arrange. Second: a sense of place. Whatever I photograph, I try to picture as a part of its surroundings, as having roots. Third: a sense of time. Whatever I photograph, I try to show as having its position in the past or in (sic) the future”.

Dorothea Lange

An idea/ a concept with which I cannot agree more for both these photographs are real, deeply rooted in their culture and have a position in the past and the future… amazingly the present has faded.

The image of the Afghan Girl has stayed with me for all these years and somehow I can relate to her.

I am afraid and at the same time curious when I see this image, afraid because her fierce glare raises so many questions that cannot be answered and curious because I (and we all are in fact) am a part of this ancient saga.

While documentary photography documents facts, it is interesting to see that the fact when it comes to every living being is more alive and beautiful than a tailored presentation; there is a hidden true story behind every image documented.

In 2002, the mystery behind the identity of the Afghan Girl was resolved as the National Geographic team found out who she was.

Sharbat Gula, photographed by Steve McCurry (2002). [Source – Public Delivery]

Sharbat Gula aka the Afghan Mona Lisa lived a difficult life like millions of refugees in the world and only in 2017 was given a home by the Afghanistan government.

Similar was the story of Dorothea Lange’s migrant mother, who later lived a much secure life.

The subplots run along with the main storyline.

A pure photograph picks one strand from the ocean that has the power to reveal what the unfathomable ocean hides within.

For me, the Afghan Girl and the Migrant Mother are two such photographs.

The World of Steve McCurry exposition in Palais de la Bourse/Beurspaleis of Brussels in May 2017. [Source – Wikipedia Commons]

[Recently I completed a photography course (MoMA – Seeing Through Photographs) online and learned more about this fantastic field. I had researched and written about the Afghan Girl for an assignment.]


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Our Friend Totoro

The crayon doodles, chalk scrabbled floor and walls, silly games of following the clouds, the butterflies and the wind, toying with fairy tale thoughts, dancing in the rain, eating snowflakes, and living in the inverted fable world… all this and every other childhood memory comes alive in Miyazaki’s masterpiece anime, My Neighbour Totoro.

Totoro and friends.
© Studio Ghibli [Source – IMDB]

Those whispers, secrets, and myths that we all have heard, in which the happy spirits rise to guide the one who dares and bridges her to the magic around, which world-wide have different versions, which are absurd yet possible, forms the core of this motley work.

Two little girls, Satsuki and Mei, move to the countryside in Japan along with their father, Tatsuo Kusakabe. Mama Yasuko Kusakabe is not well and so she is admitted to the hospital which is closer to this countryside house.

But she will recover and come back home soon”, says Dady Tatsuo, “when, will she be back by tomorrow?” asks four years old Mei, “there she goes again with tomorrow”, says Satsuki and they all laugh.

Mei is courageous, she even catches a soot gremlin to show it to Satsuki but it ends up only in making her hands black.

Mei and a soot gremlin. [Source – IMDB]

As Satsuki goes to school, little Mei plays around the house alone; carrying her packed lunchbox, she explores the place with a clear and light mind, giggling, following two small bunny-like Totoros to the colossal camphor tree and ultimately meeting the big Totoro there.

Totoro Who?

The Totoros playing the ocarina. [Source – IMDB]

Totoro is a furry giant animal, with whiskers, big eyes, and a bigger smile. He lives in the huge camphor tree in the forest neighbouring Satsuki and Mei’s house.

While the little Totoros collect acorns, the giant one helps it to grow; together they play the ocarina like music instruments at night, sitting high on a branch, guarding the forest, and all the beings living in it.

Totoro in some ways is like a Kami – a spirit in Japanese religion of Shinto which can be anything, from forces of nature to spirits of an honoured dead person like a King. Possessing both positive and negative qualities, these spirits are to be worshipped and thanked for their blessings and support.

Kami cannot be seen by everyone, but the one whom it chooses to reveal itself to. Being aware of the powers of Kami means being aware of the powers of nature, respecting it, and also showing gratitude for what it grants.

After Mei’s first encounter with Totoro, their father takes both the girls to a nearby Shinto shrine to thank the Kami for looking after Mei and asking it to continue looking after all of them. The shrine is next to the giant camphor tree which Mei happily recognises, but doesn’t find the way to Totoro’s den as she did the last time.

Two Little sisters, Mei and Satsuki

As children look at the world with the hope to see a miracle every second and love as if it is all theirs, it is only Mei and Satsuki who get to meet Totoro. It all starts with Mei, she sees the soot gremlins twice and then the three Totoros. Little Mei’s world, it seems, is still more magical than Satsuki.

Mei follows the littlest Totoro.
© Walt Disney Pictures [Source – IMDB]
Best friends, Mei and Totoro.
© Walt Disney Pictures [Source – IMDB]

When Mei tells Satsuki about Totoro, she tells her father that she too wants to meet Totoro, but on one occasion when Mei accompanies her to the school and draws Totoro’s image on a sheet, Satsuki feels embarrassed amongst her giggling friends, typical of a growing-up kid.

On a rainy late evening, Satsuki and Mei go to the bus stop to receive their father who had not taken an umbrella, there Totoro joins them. Satsuki is elated to see him but stays still. She then gives him the spare umbrella and shows him how to use it.

With a sleepy Mei on her back, Satsuki is surprised to know that Totoro is standing next to them. [Source – IMDB]

Raindrops falling on the umbrella from the branches above give Totoro the shivers which he enjoys; he jumps up and down and a heavy splash of raindrops fall on them and Totoro beams magnificently. The magic only multiplies then as a Cat Bus arrives there, Totoro climbs on it and leaves.

That same night, Totoro comes with his two little friends to silently perform a ritual in the yard where Mei and Satsuki have planted the acorns; the girls wake up and join the Totoros.

Their prayers are heard and the plants sprout magically to form a giant tree, just like the camphor tree, right before their eyes. Totoro then takes all of them to the top of the tree to sit on the branch and play the ocarina.

Totoro’s magic in action. [Source – IMDB]

Next morning the girls find that the tree has vanished, but the seeds have indeed sprung; both of them then repeat the ritual ecstatically shouting “I thought it was a dream, but I was wrong.”

Mei repeats whatever Satsuki says, she gets excited when Satsuki is, dances along and follows her everywhere trying to match her speed, happy to be around her elder sister. But when she gets the news that their mother will not be returning soon as planned, she gets angry.

Both the sisters argue and Mei leaves for the hospital all by herself to give her mother an ear of corn that Granny had said would make her perfectly healthy.

A determined Mei. [Source – IMDB]

In the evening when Satsuki realises that Mei is not at home, she, Granny, Kanta, and his family all start looking for her. Sure that Mei must have left for the hospital Satsuki takes to the road, running all the way and calling out Mei’s name, but she does not find her there.

Satsuki then goes to meet Totoro, praying to the camphor tree to allow her to meet him; she tells Totoro that Mei is missing and she cannot find her on her own.

Meow!! The Cat Bus is here.
© Walt Disney Pictures [Source – IMDB]

Totoro smiles and immediately calls the Cat Bus, the destination indicator blinks Mei’s name, an awed Satsuki climbs on the bus and on its many legs the Cat Bus leaps from one farm to another, tiptoeing from one utility pole to another, finally stopping at the roadside where Mei was sitting and crying.

The Cat Bus then takes both of them to the hospital; there sitting on a treetop the little girls feel relieved to see their parents together and happy.

Both Mei and Satsuki come across as two real-life girls – their mannerism (in the first scene, sitting together in the small lorry, sharing candies), their reactions (when Mei sees the soot gremlins she freezes, holding her frock tightly), their silly arguments (when Satsuki teases Mei that she is afraid at night and that is why she cannot sleep alone), when happy (after meeting the Totoro for the first time Satsuki is overjoyed, she asks his father to hold both of them and they jump into his arms) when sad (both are disappointed to know that their mother will not be coming home soon), all these actions in totality make them appear like two actual kids.

Mama and Daddy Kusakabe

Tatsuo Kusakabe with his dear daughters. [Source – IMDB]

Both Tatsuo and Yasuko Kusakabe are loving, supporting, and open-minded accepting parents. They know that it is a tough time for the girls as they have been staying away from their mother and have shifted to a village for her sake, thus, they do not discourage them from any vibrant idea of theirs.

Whenever the girls talk about soot gremlins, Totoro and the Cat Bus, they both show excitement, honestly interested in their tales.

Tatsuo always listens to them and joins them in their fun activities. Yasuko misses both of them and worries for Satsuki as she knows she takes more responsibility than others do in her age.

Mei’s gift for her mother. [Source – IMDB]

When Yasuko tells her husband that she thought she saw Mei and Satsuki sitting on the tree, smiling, Tatsuo, familiar with the Totoro story by then, picks up the corn with the inscription ‘for mama’ on it lying on the window-sill and says that they must have been here.

Granny and Kanta

Granny gets happy on knowing that the girls saw the soot gremlins. [Source – IMDB]

Mei and Satsuki’s neighbours, other than the Totoros, are Kanta’s family. While Granny is caring and full of warmth, Kanta hesitates even to talk to Satsuki.

On two occasions – delivering them lunch on their first day and giving his umbrella when it is pouring heavily – he simply hands over Satsuki the lunch box and the umbrella, grunting and without uttering a word.

A shy Kanta. [Source – IMDB]

As time passes by, they become like family to the Kusakabes; when Mei leaves for the hospital on her own, Granny gathers the whole village to look for Mei and Kanta goes to the hospital on a bicycle to check the way for her.

Granny hugs Mei when she returns with Satsuki. The four of them walk back home together as the cheerful closing track plays in the background.

The Charm of the Era

The film is set in the late 1950s Japan when life was simpler and the pace was kinder. On arriving at their new home, Mei and Satsuki get excited about seeing every new thing – the timeworn house (‘it could be haunted’, says Satsuki), the collapsing patio, the soot gremlins, the water pump, the small bridge that takes them to their house, the stream and of course, the giant camphor tree.

The melodious stream near Mei and Satsuki’s house. [Source – IMDB]

Raindrops falling in the rice paddies, the sudden downpour, the drizzles dripping from tree leaves, the puddles, all these scenes are beautifully captured in the film.

Totoro is overwhelmed with joy when raindrops fall on his umbrella which he is holding for the first time, this brings back memories of childhood.

Such simple happy actions become a habit unknowingly; whether it is raindrops falling on the umbrella for some or say, crushing the dry autumn leaves for others, it always gives us a sudden boost of cheerful energy.

Imagery & Music

The wonderful work done by Hayao Miyazaki and Kazuo Oga, the art director, makes the anime world truly alive.

The countryside. [Source – IMDB]

The cushiony clouds, the rapturous scenery, the quiet stream, and every rock and leaf complement each other, aiding in and not shying from embracing the modernity.

When Mei, Satsuki, and their father visit the shrine for the first time, the ambience and even the cool moistness of the hidden place catches us and we are struck by the glory of the huge camphor tree.

And what gives the imagery this soothing life-like quality is the music in the film. The excellent soundtrack, composed by Joe Hisaishi, gives the film a mythical tone as if opening a door to a magical dream world while keeping it firmly grounded in its times.

Especially the score titled “The Huge Tree in the Tsukamori Forest”, which plays whenever we see the camphor tree in its glory, has become analogous to the spirit of the film. It is an uplifting majestic tune that marks the listener’s entry into a secret world.

The Credits Roll

The story goes on as the credits roll at the end. We see Mei and Satsuki spending time with their mother – taking baths together, reading storybooks – as they had been hoping to for a long time.

The girls continue living in the same region, making new friends, bonding with the old ones, making a snow Totoro in winters, and enjoying their childhood days.

Totoro’s home is one of the best places in the world. [Source – IMDB]

My Neighbour Totoro is considered to be, both by the critics and the masses, one of the best Anime fantasy films of all time. Totoro has become a cultural icon and the film has a worldwide cult following.

Apart from being the company logo and appearing in Studio Ghibli’s other productions, Totoro has also appeared in Disney Pixar’s Toy Story 3.

Such is the love for the film that an asteroid discovered in 1994 and a velvet worm species discovered in Vietnam in 2013 were named after Totoro.

A smiley giant, guardian of the forest, Totoro does not have a dialogue in the film; apart from speaking his name out loud to Mei, he only beams, roars, flies, plays the ocarina, eats and sleeps.

His simplicity makes him a more welcomed, accepted, and believable character by one and all. Mei and Satsuki’s neighbour, the guardian of the forest, Totoro is a true friend, yours as well as mine.

Our friend Totoro. [Source – IMDB]

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My Neighbour Totoro

Written and Directed by – Hayao Miyazaki; Production company – Studio Ghibli; Music by – Joe Hisaishi; Cinematography by – Hisao Shirai; Edited by – Takeshi Seyama

Here is a children’s film made for the world we should live in, rather than the one we occupy. A film with no villains. No fight scenes. No evil adults. No fighting between the two kids. No scary monsters. No darkness before the dawn. A world that is benign. A world where if you meet a strange towering creature in the forest, you curl up on its tummy and have a nap.

Roger Ebert, the film critic.
Read his review of My Neighbour Totoro here.

You can now watch the film on Netflix. Enjoy!


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