Journey

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.

*

The pomegranate bud hidden behind her veil

Will burst into passionate flower

When I am away.

*

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.

*

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.

*

he voice of wayside pansies,

that do not attract the careless glance,

murmurs in these desultory lines.

*

In the drowsy dark caves of the mind

dreams build their nest with fragments

dropped from day’s caravan.

*

Spring scatters the petals of flowers

that are not for the fruits of the future,

but for the moment’s whim.

*

Joy freed from the bond of earth’s slumber

rushes into numberless leaves,

and dances in the air for a day.

*

Read the full poem here.


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La Strada And The Round-Faced Clown

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.

La Strada (1954). [Source – IMDB]

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.

The excellent Italian actress Giulietta Masina, Fellini’s wife, played the role of Gelsomina. [Source – The Guardian]

Story

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, her old mother and younger sister. [Source – IndieWire]
The superb Anthony Quinn as Zampano. [Source – Media Life Crisis]

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.

Zampano’s motorbike cart. [Source – Classic Film Aficionados]

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.

Donning two hats. [Source – Wonders in the Dark]
Zampano in the middle of his act. [Source – IMDB]

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.

Il Matto walking on a high wire. [Source – IMDB]

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?

Il Matto played by the fantastic Richard Basehart. [Source – IMDB]

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.

Gelsomina, Zampano, and the circus owner looking at Il Matto walking the rope. [Source – IMDB]
Il Matto interrupting Zampano’s act. [Source – IMDB]
Il Matto training Gelsomina. [Source – American Cinematheque]

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.

Gelsomina playing the trumpet. [Source – Little White Lies]

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.

A troubled Gelsomina. [Source – IMDB]

“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.

Before abandoning Gelsomina. [Source – Charles Matthews]

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.

Zampano at the seashore. [Source – Vague Visages]

Characters

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.

Even a stone has a purpose. [Source – SP Film Journal]
Feminine Masculine. [Source – Film at Lincoln Center]

Music

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.

Theme

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.  

On the other side. [Source – IMDB]

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.’
The round-faced clown. [Source – Fellini: Circle of Life]

La Strada

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

Fellini in action. [Source – IMDB]

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The Little Prince

After crossing the vast desert, sailing through the green ocean, the Little Prince reached another desert. Golden sand waves welcomed him or so he thought.  

The Little Prince walked alone. And the narrator’s voice followed him, sometimes foretelling and sometimes sharing.  

“But this is not possible, for I cannot hear this voice”, says the Little Prince.

“Still, you can feel it”, replies the narrator.

The Little Prince inquires, “Feel the voice?”“Yes, you can feel what the voice says, the emotions, the connections, the ideas, the realisations… this, you can surely feel”, says the narrator.  

The Little Prince sat on the sand cross-legged and pondered over this thought. The desert wind tried to disturb him, but he stayed still, allowing the wind to settle in his golden hair.  

“Yes, I surely feel… and I am glad I do… then what you speak is true”, says the Little Prince as if reciting a haiku.

“True for you and true for me… true for those who can hear me”, replies the narrator in a cheerful tone.  

This made the Little Prince laugh loudly. The narrator and the desert wind joined him.  

“Hey voice, yours is a pleasant sound… keep following me, keep foretelling and sharing, for I am on a long journey”, standing up says the Little Prince.

“I will, I will… for every journey needs a narrator”, says the narrator.  

The Little Prince nodded and started walking, allowing his feet to sink a little and then rise, allowing the wind to tease him, holding his gaze up at the sky, waiting for the stars to show up.

For he knew a star that would lead him to his destination, he felt it deep in his heart. He felt it!  

Prince with his friend, Fox.
Image from Pixabay.

(This post is dedicated to Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of the novella The Little Prince.

[Source – Wikipedia]

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My Sunglasses

A journey by air, by road, by rail to reach the ocean started with me sitting cross-legged, looking through the window, and thinking about myriad things.

While the world around me appeared to be the same – it smiled when I did, it passed a dull nod when I did – it was secretly weaving a plot.

I got to know about it when I wore my sunglasses.  

The unbiased tracks.
Image – Jagriti Rumi
Live wave-like.
Image – Jagriti Rumi

Everything then moved in a wave, including me.

Immersed in one colour, we were all attuned to do the Samba, and Samba we did.

When the ocean wind joined us, it enthralled us, we chased the beats faster to match its incessant flow.

A heavy old bridge tried the same, corroding swiftly, meeting the ocean wind in rhythm.  

Standing steel solid until…
Image – Jagriti Rumi

I saw the iron steel heavy ocean wind, dancing, through my sunglasses.

The fishermen left their boats, swung their nets, and summoned all the others to sing and dance, to be one with the wave.  

Rowing is knowing life.
Image – Jagriti Rumi

 I hopped and tapped along and beamed, my smile touching my sunglasses.  

At night or was it at dawn, what did the quaint temple said to me? It spoke of its time, the artisans ritual of worshiping their tools, shared an epic tale and sang good old folk songs.

What they say about its static avatar is not true, for the temple sways with wind and sings and adds to the music.

Luckily to see this, you do not have to stand at the ticket counter or wait for hours in serpentine lines.    

The alive architecture.
Image – Jagriti Rumi
Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai.
Image – Jagriti Rumi
The grand parade, Rameshwaram.
Image – Jagriti Rumi

In my company no one did, but I saw a monkey, no, a langur, happy at the top of the temple, playing with the waves… all thanks to my sunglasses.  

Back from the journey, lying upside down on the bed, staring at the funny trees outside the window, I think about Time in general and yawn.

But before those lazy dilemmas hit me, I get up, yes, I sit up straight and plunge forward to look for my sunglasses.  

Namaste!
Image – Jagriti Rumi

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There’s A Zebra Who Calls Me Kevin

Hello Kevin!
 
You refuse to follow the crowd and you avowedly disregard the art of punditry, the rancour and anger veiled, disappears when you see it with your inner eye, the contradictions choose not an easy hyperbolic, but a converging simple route and the paradoxes recognise their nature whenever you sit in absolute bliss, and renunciation takes you from the known to unknown, inexplicable, irrefragable, immutable.
 
 
Kevin, I think you can, but you will not act directly. Otherwise, what is the point of my journey?
 
Farewell Kevin. I’ll memorise what you said to me that day, ‘it is a world of mutual help and struggle’. And in my world, I am to engage myself totally.
 
 
The Zebra who calls me Kevin looks just like this one.
Image by Erich Röthlisberger from Pixabay

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In The Wonderland

Living like Alice!
Image from Pixabay.

“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree.

‘Which road do I take?’ she asked.

‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response.

‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered.’

Then’, said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland  

*

How true! Nothing matters at all until you know where you want to go. Sometimes we don’t think and we reach nowhere, as that is what we had thought of. Then at times, we think we know where we want to go but we find ourselves cheated or fooled and so we halt. There are also a few among us who don’t stop and finally reach an end of a journey.

Mostly, the circumstances around us influence our decisions and we find that we have become a part of a huge structure. This happens a lot.  

The best thing that we can try to do is to know where to go, uninfluenced by anyone; in knowing one’s way and steadily walking ahead and smiling on the way as it is ‘our way’.  

Knowing oneself is not easy but is ultimate.


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