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।।
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.
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 –
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?
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”.
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 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.
[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.]
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 Totorohere.
Love is pure truth, a divine experience, a way to live more and surpass even death.
It is a sublime fantasy that is real and better than the material world. Love is life’s paradox.
This is the idea that John Donne is expressing in the poem The Canonization. It is a reply as well as a declaration that the poet makes to the world- a world that treats lovers harshly.
He scorns the worldly, he questions the inquisitive, he proves the myths true, he places his love high and announces it as canonized.
The sudden change in his tone doesn’t bother if one recognises the powerful and apt imagery he has used in the poem.
The very first line ‘For God’s sake, hold your tongue, and let me love’ hits hard, but certainly in a good manner. In fact, it catches the interest of the reader at once.
The poem is like a necklace, beaded with beautiful and grand images like –
‘What merchant’s ships have my sighs drowned?’
‘And we in us find the eagle and the dove’
‘The phoenix riddle hath more wit/ By us; we two being one, are it’
‘As well a well-wrought urn becomes/ The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs/ And by these hymns, all shall approve /Us canonized for Love.’
‘Countries, towns, courts: beg from above/ A pattern of your love!’
These are not empty expressions as every word in the poem is linked with the central theme – love.
If we randomly pick one word from each stanza, it will still be related to the poem.
For example, ‘improve’ (stanza 1) – one who is in love grows as an individual and improves by learning to be selfless; ‘remove’ (stanza 2) – when in love you cannot dwell on hatred, and so the negativity is removed to make space for hope; ‘Mysterious’ (stanza 3) – love is an easy mystery; ‘legend’ (stanza 4) – we all remember love stories as legends, sadly these are mostly incomplete ones; ‘mirrors’ (stanza 5) – love is as reflective as a mirror.
Love is closely related to asceticism in the poem, which is one of the conceits (an ingenious or fanciful comparison or metaphor) used by the poet.
He proves it with great subtlety that the lovers need nothing from the world; they complete each other and hence, know inner peace.
The poet says that the lovers rise to such a level that they become one and enter a divine world, thus leaving the material world behind. They dwell in each other’s simple presence.
In the last stanza, after canonizing himself and his lover, the poet says that his pious canonized love would be celebrated in the world by one and all.
He ends by completing the canonization of his love, placing it on a high pedestal, and separating it from the worldly pleasures.
Canonization, the title of the poem, seems to be a question and an answer at the same time. As one wonders about how love can be canonized and attain sainthood, the divine nature of the poet’s love presented in the poem gradually justifies the same.
The poet shows that his love is spiritual not merely physical, that his union with his lover has made them blissful and assures that it will radiate amongst the others.
His canonized love is not against the world rather it is for the world, acting as an inspiration. His love is not harming anyone but is a liberating force, just like a saint’s.
John Donne’s The Canonization is a smart poem with brilliant use of wit, the quintessential quality of a metaphysical poet.
He celebrates love in a simple, forthright tone that makes this 17th-century poem wondrously alive in today’s world as well.
‘Alas, alas, who’s injured by my love?’ (Stanza 2)
‘Call her one, me another fly/ We’re tapers too, and at our own cost die’ (Stanza 3)
There is a message hidden in this poem and the title ‘canonization’ is the key to unveil it. Donne wants to share that every one of us, whatever be our rank in the society that runs according to the man-made rules, has the ability to reach the divine state.
Sainthood according to him is not reserved for some but is achievable by all.
What we need is to rise above the material world, to resurrect ourselves through true love. Here the beloved represents anything- a person, God, nature, the entire world.
Love is the best, the all-embracing way to reach the sublime state as it is love that makes a person truly selfless and compassionate.
Even today if someone pursues this path, they will know that they are canonized, for they are in love.
It landed lightly right behind the unknown labourer who was sweating his day off, certain of his actions and in complete focus, busy in a simple yet, arduous task.
#Fifth entry; Day 1
The flying golden-grass machine runs on a magic engine. A high maintenance product, if not frequently checked, leaks pixie dust.
#Thirteenth entry; Day 1
On the way back from home, that evening, when you saw an aeroplane blinking red-blue lights in the sky, you had uttered something, do you remember it, mister?
You were just fourteen then and had a rather rough day and a broken slipper was not helping either.
You had wished to fly.
Of course, you meant in an aeroplane, but you know how things are in offices, what was spoken was noted down verbatim, it became a written record and a record is the most sacrosanct concept and is hailed throughout the universe.
#Third entry; Day 3
It may look a bit raggedy to you, but it is as good as new. After the service station gave it a nod and we made them sign a nine-paged document for the record, this is its first trip. We, sir, run a professional organisation here.
#Ninth entry; Day 5
Come on now, why don’t you give it a try. The sky awaits you, explore the world and be spellbound by its majesty.
Also, then you have to fill a bunch of forms and sign it, for record purposes.
#First entry; Day 9
Listen, we do apologise for being late. Don’t be upset, in fact, you would be pleased to know that this is also an award, you are one of the most efficient and disciplined people in this world, please accept your prize… and then sign this document here… just a formality.
#Eleventh entry; Day 21
A handful of resources and a handful of desires, how do you adjust to such a life so easily? Doesn’t the heat bother you… the flies, the stench and the failures?
Is life nothing but a cycle ride to you? Oh, remember the cycle rides from your childhood? I do, very clearly, we have it in the records.
With the wind in your hair, you rode it so swiftly, beating all your friends… I bet you can beat the flying golden-grass machine as well.
#First entry; Day 40
Ahm! Let me again ask for your forgiveness for the delay, our department is not the best, it is the 6th best, well 16th actually, but keep this off the record please.
Nevertheless, there is no fault of this machine. It is a good model; many have travelled to far off lands in this little light ride.
What is remarkable is that it is in so many ways just like you, mister.
It too works year long, dreaming of meeting new travellers, visiting different lands, stopping at pixie-dust-pump-stations, collecting visions silently.
#Fifteenth entry; Day 55
Yes, for the 100th time yes, this is a magical machine… and… oh, why don’t you understand… think of it this way, you have won a lottery… you are getting to travel the world, okay? Now, don’t waste time and sign this…
The unknown labourer, id no.00089∞, after two months of bewilderment, shock, anxiety, panic, anger and confusion, agreed to make use of the flying golden-grass machine.
The messenger, id no. ᶲᴥ჻֎, successfully delivered the award and got the awardee’s signatures on all the forms.
Please find attached here the detailed report of the awardee’s world tour.
The messenger took charge of the flying golden-grass machine once the tour ended; the awardee’s memory was altered as per the protocol; he will now remember it as a strange dream.
Please find attached here all the signed documents for your perusal.
Sound is a sensation and a stimulus; reflected, refracted, and humbly attenuated by its medium, the sound wave propagates. Only the frequencies between 20 Hz and 20KHz comes in the hearing range of us humans.
Voices, calls, laughs, and whispers fill this range of ours, from morning to evening. We consider, approve, discard, ignore, and absorb it as and when we understand the hidden meaning.
The hidden meaning…? Yes, the message that every sound wave carries is the hidden meaning, it shapes this very understanding of ours.
And what an exuberating elusive message a melody is, a wonderful wordless story that nevertheless is discernible, more than that in fact, as it touches and soothes our heart and soul.
Bansuri, a bamboo flute, taps a tune, using wind as the source and wind as the medium, carrying the message as far as possible, resonating beyond the visible, accepting all, conquering all.
Two and a half ample octaves and the bansuri deciphers happily the message using the Sargam (solfege); a subtle and soulful tune reads it to us.
Lord Krishna, the Jamun coloured Hindu deity with a peacock-feathered crown, is always depicted with a bansuri in his hands. Various stories tell us how Krishna, the charmer, used to mesmerise the listeners, stopping the time as if to unveil the beauty of the cosmic play.
The leading character in several ancient Hindu religious, mythological and philosophical texts, Krishna plays his bansuri to win Radha’s heart, to celebrate the victory over evil, to turn impossible into possible and routinely for shepherding cows (he played a melodious tune on the bansuri and the herd of cows themselves returned to him).
Natya Shastra as well as the other Vedic texts associated art and music with the Supreme, calling it the spiritual means to rise above, concentrate on and connect to one’s consciousness, witness it and attain Moksha (enlightenment, release).
Why would one make a creative artist’s job tougher by leaving the great responsibility of enlightening the receiver on her? Let art be for art’s sake.
Right! But apart from just being true, pure art, what if say a tune played on a bansuri leaves a listener illumined, will this not add to the beauty of the melody? It absolutely will.
If it deciphers the message for the listener, showing her more than what is on the surface, by additionally doing absolutely nothing, then surely the message is intrinsic to the composition.
Wonderfully it all also depends on perception. Synesthesia is a condition in which one sense (for example, hearing) is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses, such as sight, thus, in such cases sound involuntarily evokes an experience of colour, shape, and movement.
Read what the first recorded case of synesthesia was about –
“The earliest recorded case of synesthesia is attributed to the Oxford University academic and philosopher John Locke, who, in 1690, made a report about a blind man who said he experienced the colour scarlet when he heard the sound of a trumpet.”
On the road you travel with the familiar and the unfamiliar together. Familiar landscape, known route, desired destination, accompanied by your loved ones and yet with an unfamiliar feeling, a comfortable anxiety, a strange pleasantness, a quiet freedom and a quiet fear. It fluctuates, this feeling, it dances.
Maybe it is ‘change’, for the road takes you on a journey and before you realise it, it changes you.
On the road with just the familiar is a routine and on the road with just the unfamiliar is an adventure, for Gelsomina it was the latter.
Federico Fellini, one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, co-wrote and directed La Strada, Italian for ‘the road’, a 1954 film that also won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (first of Fellini’s total four wins in this category, the most for any director till date).
[Though spoilers cannot ever mar the magic of a Fellini film, still let me alert you that this article will analyse the story of La Strada. So go watch it first if you have not already.]
The vagabonds, the circus, a fatal incomplete relationship, and the seashore – Fellini’s favourite elements to weave a story – all merge harmoniously to create a tragedy that stays with us in the form of Gelsomina’s round clown face and her innocent eyes, a sketch of whom, Fellini said, acted as the germ of a story for this film.
Gelsomina is not like other girls, she is a little bit strange says her old mother who has already taken 10,000 lire from Zampano and is begging her to replace her late sister Rosa as Zampano’s wife.
Crying her eyes out, the old mother cannot let go of her simpleton daughter, but has to do so as then she will have ‘one hungry soul less to feed’.
Gelsomina is confused but excited at the same time as she would get to visit new places and learn to sing and dance.
But when the neighbour enquires about her return, Gelsomina becomes quiet, she goes and sits in Zampano’s motorbike cart (a cart covered with tarpaulin, attached to the motorbike) and leaves crying and waving at her mother, her six younger siblings who run behind the bike-cart, shouting out her name and waving back.
And so, in this sudden, brusque manner Gelsomina joins Zampano, a travelling performer, donning two hats, one as his clown assistant and one as his wife.
A tall, well-built, rough and rogue looking Zampano’s famous street act is to break a 0.5-centimeter thick iron chain bound tightly across his chest; Gelsomina’s role is to first build the tension by playing the tambour, wait for Zampano to show off his strength, and then to go around collecting money in her hat.
Sometimes they perform spoofs where Zampano becomes the hunter, aiming with his rifle at Gelsomina the duck and sometimes Gelsomina the clown dances and Zampano plays the tambour.
While she stays dressed as the clown the whole time, Zampano alters his look from macho strongman to a silly giant, now breaking the iron chain, now playing a simpering buffoon.
And the journey continues, with performing for the audience being the highs for Gelsomina and spending money on liquor and women the highs for Zampano.
“I go away… back to my village… it is not because of the work… I like this work, I like being an artist… but I don’t like you”, says a troubled Gelsomina to a drunk and sleepy Zampano, who asks her to “stop the bullshit”; Gelsomina then leaves.
Reaching the town, she witnesses a religious procession, watches another street performer, Il Matto (The Fool), walking on a high wire, relishes these new experiences, her eyes gleaming with joy.
But this joy doesn’t last for long, as Zampano reaches there in his bike-cart, thrashes Gelsomina and leaves with her, shouting at the silent drunk onlookers.
Who can speak up against the short-tempered strongman, the brash brawn mind, the rude and cold-hearted? Who else, but The Fool?
Zampano and Il Matto hit off on the wrong foot as Il Matto doesn’t stop giggling, teasing Zampano about his chain-act, calling him an animal, telling the circus owner that they indeed needed one in their circus.
In Roma, St. Paul, a world-famous circus Girafa, presents the audience with its amazing acts. Gelsomina, Zampano, and Il Matto perform on the same platform now.
Sticking to their traits, Il Matto jokes around with Zampano in between his act and Zampano chases him, swearing that he will kill him.
Later when Il Matto wishes Gelsomina to be a part of his skit, Zampano roars at him, warning every circus artist that Gelsomina will work only with him.
To cool down a grumbling lion, The Fool strikes again, this time with a bucket full of water and splash, he empties the bucket on Zampano.
Zampano chases Il Matto with a knife; luck favours The Fool as the police intervene.
With Zampano still in jail, Il Matto asks Gelsomina to work with him or join the circus crew, leaving Zampano for good. But understanding Gelsomina’s dilemma, Il Matto tells her that everything, even a stone, has a purpose, and maybe she is meant to stay with the poor brute Zampano.
The journey continues and Gelsomina dreams of marrying Zampano, she believes they are meant to be together; the nun, whom they meet in a monastery where they take shelter for a night, also tells her the same, that “we both are travellers; you follow your God, I follow mine.”
But a reckless Zampano is too numb to think so. Moving towards a disaster, Zampano and Gelsomina meet Il Matto one day; a bitter Zampano hits him twice only to accidentally kill him.
Scared and shocked, he then dumps both Il Matto and his car into a nearby stream and runs away with Gelsomina.
“Il Matto, he feels bad”, says Gelsomina and cries every time Zampano tries to talk to her; she looks shattered, she whimpers or stays quiet.
Zampano asks her if she wants to return home, but she refuses to, saying that Il Matto had suggested her to stay with Zampano.
Travelling in a snowy region, after a gap of ten days, Gelsomina steps out of the bike-cart; a haggard Zampano tells her that he did not mean to kill Il Matto, that he should not be punished for an accident.
Wavering thoughts make Gelsomina enjoy the cold weather and then make her cry for late Il Matto.
Finding Gelsomina sound asleep, Zampano, in his desperation leaves; he keeps some cash, her wears, and the trumpet by her side. He looks at her as he quietly drags the bike-cart, starts it at some distance, and drives away.
A few years later Zampano, now working with another circus group, living with another woman, performing the same chain-act, on a roadside hears the tune that Gelsomina used to play on the trumpet.
A woman who was humming the tune tells him that her father gave shelter to a strange girl some four-five years back and that she picked the tune from her. When he asks about her whereabouts, the woman says that she is no more; the woman asks him if he knew her, but Zampano leaves without saying a word.
That night a drunk Zampano, after having a fistfight with some people at the bar, comes to the seashore, washes his face, sits down, looks at the sky and breaks down. All alone there, he cries.
Gelsomina represents the gentle femininity, one who always forgives, makes sacrifices and is loyal, and Zampano the harsh masculinity, one who is stubborn, insensitive, and also self-destructive; both are the extremes, lacking a balance.
Zampano made it a point to tell everyone that Gelsomina knows nothing and felt jealous if others praised her. At the monastery when the nun is left amazed by how well Gelsomina plays the trumpet (a tune that she picked from Il Matto), Zampano goes to a side and starts chopping woods, to show off his prowess.
He needed her, but could not admit this and thus, never changed his behaviour; in the end, he meekly chose to run away instead of facing Gelsomina’s honest eyes.
Il Matto, whose entry formed a triangle, though acted like a fool, laughing every time in a high squeaky giggling manner, understood them all better. Il Matto valued relations and he valued life, but nevertheless was a lonely soul.
As fate would have it, Il Matto and Gelsomina both die, and Zampano, reaping what he had sown, lives a miserable life.
The melancholic yet dreamy tune that enchants and leaves a listener yearning is one of the key elements in the movie; the entire score was composed by the brilliant Nino Rota.
First played by Il Matto on his kit violin, later by Gelsomina on her trumpet, the tune is a leitmotif that marks these two character’s inner voice.
It is through this nostalgic tune that Gelsmina’s inner voice is heard by those who listen.
The perky track that introduces the circus appropriately captures the attention, alerting the public to gather around and get ready for the show. The element of humour in it announces the arrival of the fools, the jokers, the clowns amongst the crowd.
In a post-world war Italy, when poverty shackled the majority, the travelling performers set out to earn a living by entertaining the masses.
They left their sorrows, their losses behind and moved from village to village, town to town to sing, dance, and make others laugh. A huge responsibility shared by the marginal class.
Through Gelsomina, Zampano, and Il Matto’s lives, we got a glimpse of the world of the vagabonds, the gipsies, the outcasts. They were crude and curt like Zampano, simple and full of warmth like Gelsomina, witty and notorious like Il Matto; they restricted themselves to the periphery, mingling with the rest of the world now and then, living un-noticed, bringing their unique charm and performing spectacles only heard of in tales.
The nomadic still carry magical chalks, bordering the society, with us on one side and all of them on the other side.
On the other side, life is too unpredictable and ruthless; throughout the film, Gelsomina enquired about her late sister Rosa – whether Zampano treated Rosa in the same manner as he treats her, whether Rosa knew about Zampano’s affairs, whether Rosa had met Il Matto – she had taken Rosa’s place but never had wished for the same end. Alas, she had to face it too.
And in this way, the story completes a circle.
Strange for the circus people and even The Fool was Gelsomina, the way she walked, talked, and especially her face; Il Matto in a scene says, ‘What a strange face! Are you really a woman? You look like an artichoke!’, and yet, this outcast amongst the outcasts was the most humane.
Gelsomina’s loving and kind behaviour is a reminder of what Margaret Mead, the cultural anthropologist, had said about civilisation –
“Margaret Mead said that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die … A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety, and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts.”
Quote from Ira Byock’s book ‘The Best Care Possible.’
Directed by – Federico Fellini; Screenplay by – Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano; Story by – Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli; Cast -> Gelsomina – Giulietta Masina, Zampano – Anthony Quinn, Il Matto – Richard Basehart; Music by – Nino Rota; Cinematography – Otello Martelli, Carlo Carlini; Edited by – Leo Catozzo
What is the moony secret? It is the personal conversation that one has with the moon. It is intense yet quick, fierce yet soothing, honest yet an illusion.
Sidereus Nuncius (Latin for Sidereal/ Starry Messenger or Sidereal Message; published in 1610) talks in-depth about the moony secret; it is an astronomical treatise written by Galileo Galilei, the father of modern science.
Becoming one of the first few who used a telescope to study the surface of the moon (along with some constellations and Jupiter’s four moons) Galileo discovered that the moon was not translucent and ‘a perfect sphere’ like Aristotle had believed it to be, that it had mountains and craters which were formed after it was hit by asteroids and comets, just like our planet Earth was.
The moon is imperfect (its surface is irregular), said Galileo’s theory, and this magnificent, and at the same time, tumultuous discovery brought it (the moon) closer to us mortal beings, providing exhaustive research material for the future scientists, accelerating the world towards a change.
“And yet it (Earth) moves”, a rebellious phrase at that time, allegedly spoken by Galileo, led to his imprisonment.
The Copernican heliocentric view (1543) that the Sun is in the centre of the solar system, with Earth and the other planets orbiting around it in circular paths, was a theory which Galileo studied and defended.
Centuries later, Galileo’s moony secret reached the moon when astronaut David Scott, during the 1972 Apollo 15 mission, demonstrated through the ‘Falling Bodies’ experiment what Galileo had proved long back, that the “acceleration is the same for all bodies subject to gravity on the Moon, even for a hammer and a feather” (watch the video here).
A space race between the USA and the Soviet Union led to many successful moon exploration missions, both manned and unmanned ones.
While the US Surveyor probes (1966-1968) transmitted 87,000 pictures of the surface of the moon and measured its chemical properties, the manned missions brought back pieces of the moon; Apollo 11 alone brought 47.5 pounds (21.5 Kg) of the lunar material.
The twelve people who have walked on the surface of the moon also left behind items, some as meaningful gifts to the moon and some out of necessity as they needed free space to carry moon rocks home.
A golden olive branch, the Bible, a silicon disk inscribed with goodwill messages from world leaders of 74 countries, American flags, a family photo, three golf balls, scientific pieces of equipment and also, bags full of human waste are some of the “artificial objects” still lying, in worn-out or wiped-out condition, on the moon.
Lying there as a symbol of victory, of advancement, of trust and of human life itself – humans, the mortal beings of the lonely planet Earth.
Or maybe these items are just a message for the Moon Rabbit who, according to some East Asian folklore, lives on the moon, pounding elixir of life for the moon goddess Chang’e.
After all, Apollo 11 astronauts were also aware of this story; command module pilot Michael Collins had said to the NASA mission control – “Okay. We’ll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.”
We are connecting pieces, we are steadily moving towards the darkness out there, hoping to see the light. We are all reaching out for the moon with our eyes glued to the telescope, our minds calculating the numbers, our hands painting a masterpiece, our words penning an epic, our voices singing a moony melody and our hearts feeling the moony secret.
“I wish I could send you some, it is amazing stuff, said Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan. It’s soft like snow, yet strangely abrasive. Not half bad (sic), said John Young Apollo 16 astronaut. It smells like spent (sic) gunpowder, said Cernan.”
Our love affair with the moon has only grown stronger with time; it is a part of our story and vice-versa, right, dear moon?
Science with its meticulous explorations and art with its colourful gravity will keep bringing us closer to the moon; it will take us to the moon and back.
Till then let us admire the only memento left on the moon that may last for millions of years, which is, the tracks left by the astronauts. Because there is no air or water on the moon, nothing will wipe it off, neither the extreme cold conditions nor the savage sunlight.
Till then let us continue revelling in the moony secret.
I started blogging back in the year 2011 following my brother’s lead, unaware of the world of bloggers, without any plan of action, happy simply to write one, happy to share my stories on Home Chimes.
This is what I wrote in my introduction earlier-
“I dreamed of Home Chimes a long time back with my eyes open. Since then, I am on a journey to understand that dream.”
It was indeed like a dream because I do not remember why I came up with this particular name. I remember that I wanted it to do something with the word ‘chimes’, but that was it.
After I selected the name and started blogging, I found out that there used to be a magazine in the late 19th century in London that was also named Home Chimes. And that it went out of publication around the year 1894. You can read about this magazine here.
I was very thrilled to know that Jerome K Jerome was amongst the many writers who got their work published in this magazine. Such a wonderful thing it is, I thought. But then this new information made me wonder if I should change the name of my blog to be truly authentic.
I did not change it. The happy coincidence forced me to keep exploring the hidden meaning behind Home Chimes and to keep writing about the stories I became a part of.
One fine day a simmering thought spoke to me, the devotion with which I write these blog entries and the joy that it gives me, it said, is immense, and I realised then that the blog holds a very special place in my life. Gleefully, I stepped forward. Neither a hobby nor a medium, my blog should be simply what I do.
I am a writer, I love the art of storytelling. And like lightening it hit me that it is time now to turn to the second chapter – Chiming Stories.
Dear all, with much gusto I have begun and I promise that the second chapter would be a wonderful one. Tales of this and that world, of today and tomorrow… just to give colour to your thoughts and add rhythm to your flying time, ‘Chiming Stories’ is here to tell you a story. Oh! And a good chunk of it will be about the lotus-eyed one, because I love him.
From my dear old Blogger I have now shifted to the fantastic WordPress, the sound reason behind it is – I wanted a high-quality website and the complete freedom to create it.
Both the responsibility and risk are mine now. Voila!
“O muse, bless me that I write well and become the best in chiming stories.”
P.s. – I apologise for the glitches you must have noticed (and will notice in the coming weeks as well); it is because I am still in the process of developing this website and am doing it all by myself, kindly bear with me. Thanks!
Home Chimes is now Chiming Stories
Welcome dear readers!
A roguish year, 2020, I believe was a twist in our LIVE story. Terrible, oh, terrible things happened. Let us nurture hope, let us learn from our mistakes, let us help each other and contribute honestly to this change.
Let the old charm of stories work, let stories heal your tired heart.
This colossal twist proves that the great writer is planning to finish a chapter, but the story is far from over. Dawn is about to break, the sun rays will fall on a new beginning soon.
Come to Chiming Stories, pocket old and new posts and watch, along with me, the horizon.
Arthdal Chronicles is a South Korean fantasy drama TV series that takes us back to the Bronze Age in a mythical land named Arth, where different human species and tribes struggle to be on the top of the power pyramid.
Yes fly! For walking on the second track is dull and usual, but dreaming high, high, high requires tools. Tools like the right pair of shoes, a chirpy, gritty soul that eats butter-jam dreams, a soul that drinks milky-milky creams.