The Rooftop

The crescent new moon, low in the sky, was minutes from bidding adieu to this part of the planet and leaving the rest of the night in the dark to fend for itself. Passing by the mighty Pegasus, it appeared – from one of the rooftops of that cozy little town on the foothills of Himalayas – to be a flailing attempt to illuminate the stallion by its weakening strength. Ayberk loved this time of the year for its offering of clear skies to indulge in stargazing, a leisure pursuit losing its hold over mankind in urban spaces, of which he was a resident, a proud one at that; but every year he made an attempt to escape to a Himalayan sojourn in the month of January in order to revel in the chill of the air which he was denied of in the metropolis he was inhabiting. The peak of the winters and hence the absence of tourists made it the perfect time to visit Himalayan towns to experience them in their natural, indigenous glory, he believed, along with studying the night sky with minimal light pollution. It gave him the much needed solace that he sometimes craved, away from work and all the bustle of the bay by the sea, to someplace where he wouldn’t run into someone known.

The rooftop was a serene place, with the valley on one side and the snow clad Himalayan peaks on the other. The crisp January air on that cloudless night was as still as it could be. Lying on a portable recliner with his glass of neat whiskey in his hand, Ayberk’s glance was subconsciously fixated on the Gemini twins above. He was not in the moment. He had seen something that day, something he wished he hadn’t. The pictures didn’t mean to reach him but he inadvertently stumbled upon them while on his laptop that evening. He knew he had to face it someday but he didn’t know that it would still prick him to this extent. He shut his laptop, poured himself a drink and made himself comfortable on the rooftop for the rest of the night. The pictures took him to a time in the past not too long ago, to some other city, to some other rooftop, where some sweet memories were formed; but it was that one particular night that was on his mind…

Feriha was standing by the balustrade on that mildly chilly night, staring towards the lake that was supposed to be with her stole wrapped around her shoulder. Ayberk, a feet from her leaned on the balustrade smoking his cigarette. Both hadn’t spoken in a while. It wasn’t their first time on that rooftop. This rooftop was their private space, their purdah that shielded them from the world beyond. Those numerous nights, lying on the rooftop, getting intimate beneath the stars, talking for hours about things ranging from their day to the glory days of the Hippie Trail… They had many of their memories centered around that rooftop.

It was late in the night and both were in a quandary. Probably that was going to be their last time on that place, or maybe their last time ever if they didn’t work out a solution of the situation that they were in at that moment. Ayberk had his priorities defined ever since he could recall, and Feriha was aware of the same, but she was not in a position to work around them; or so she thought. He meanwhile had done his part and reluctantly accepted the circumstances. Though he wanted himself and Feriha to sort out their differences but he knew after attempts galore that it was not going to work out for them due to reasons beyond his comprehension, despite how badly he wanted to be with her.

Without any warning, Feriha came close, took the cigarette from his hand and started smoking. Smoking was something she had never indulged in before, but today she had this urge to try the cigarette, just like the numerous other things she experienced for the first time with Ayberk. Her first drink, first nightclub visit, first chicken leg, first lie to her family, and her first kiss. With him, she felt liberated, felt like she was breaking the rules, like a rebel and she loved it. For the first time she had experienced freedom in her life, in a different city, away from her folks, and the person who made it memorable for her was Ayberk, her only support in the city, the only person she truly knew and someone with whom she could be truly free without a care in the world. With his leaving, all of it was going to come to an end.

She smoked and blew the smoke at his face. Taken by surprise he held her back and threw the cigarette from her hand off the rooftop. Instinctively he lightly wrapped his arms around her waist and smelt the fine fragrance of her hair. It was surreal, more surreal than anything he could imagine. She reached up and lightly brushed her lips against his while moving her fingers through his hair. At that moment it felt like nothing else mattered around them, the priorities, the compulsions, nothing; everything else was fading into oblivion… Until the phone beeped in his pocket and awoke both of them from their daze. The moment was gone.

She stepped back and looked into his eyes, looking for something, but she couldn’t seem to find it…

Ayberk was woken from his stupor by the sudden gust of chilly wind that blew by. His drink was still unfinished in his hand. He realized he couldn’t do anything about the situation now. The pictures he saw could not be unseen and in a way he felt a bit better about it, kind of glad that he finally got to see them. He had to one day. It bought him a sense of closure. He could now move on without that speck of remorse that sometimes used to encumber him.

He finished his drink, stood up by the barrier of the rooftop to look towards the valley. It was a beautiful night. He once again glanced at the starry sky above and awed at the vastness of the universe. The moon was not there in the sky anymore. Or maybe it was there, bright and high…

valley-of-flowers-24Picture Courtesy: http://www.cosurvivor.in

Coke Studio Pakistan: Man Amadeh Am, Sammi Meri Waar, Ae Dil, Tajdar-e-Haram…

With Coke Studio Pakistan Season 9 starting tonight, thought I would revisit some of my favorite numbers from the last season. The below four, in no particular order are some of the finest pieces of music and vocals that I’ve heard from the phenomenon that is Coke Studio Pakistan.
For those unaware, Coke Studio Pakistan is a live musical show with the concept of blending together two different genres of music, be it vernacular folk with pop or Sufi with contemporary music into one single number, or simply refurbishing an old Ghazal into a contemporary format, and the result, you can see is excellence extraordinaire. I personally feel that Coke Studio Pakistan is more soulful than its Indian counterpart, and rightly so as Pakistan is the land where Sufism flourished in its days and its influence is still lingering in the music. And anyway, when it comes to music, I’m an anti-national.🙂

Man Amadeh Am – Gul Panrra and Atif Aslam
Partly in Persian partly in Urdu, Man Amadeh Am, meaning I’m coming to you is performed by Gul Pannra, a Pashto artist, and Atif Aslam. A beautiful number with equally soothing tunes is one of the finest from the previous season. Originally Man Amadeh Am was sung by an Iranian artist called Googoosh. What I like about this show is the amalgamation of different cultures and eras into one excellent masterpiece like this one.

Ae Dil – Ali Zafar and Sara Haider
Ae Dil is a refurbishment of an old Ghazal ‘Áe Dil Kisi Ki Yaad Mein’ by Saleem Raza from the 1963 film Ek Tera Sahara. With deep, meaningful lyrics adorned by the voices of Ali Zafar and Sara Haider, this version is one which makes the original one look pale in comparison. I have to mention Sara Haider who is usually seen as one of the background singers in the show, this is probably her first lead song, and boy how beautifully she sings. This is one masterpiece that I can’t get tired of listening to.

Sammi Meri Waar – Umair Jaiswal and Quratulain Balouch
Sammi Meri Waar is apparently a Punjabi folk wedding song from what I know. This medley between the Urdu by Umair Jaiswal and Punjabi by Quratulain Balouch – a popular Pakistani singer, composer and actress – is another gem from the previous season. I specially listen to this song for Balouch’s part. I don’t understand the meaning of what she sings as it is pure undiluted Punjabi, but her husky voice makes me come back to the song every single time.

Tajdar-e-Haram – Atif Aslam
Tajdar-e-Haram is an old Qawwali by the famous Sabri brothers. I have honestly loved Qawwalis, specially the old ones by the likes of Aziz Nazan, Sabri Brothers, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Sajeeda Bano etc. and also make a point to attend the sessions involving Qawwalis by UrduhWallas at Prithvi Theatre here in Bombay. This particular one redone by Atif Aslam is another one that is on my playlist now. The lyrics are deep as with all qawwalis and this is one of the finest offering among all seasons by Coke Studio. The 35 million views corroborate this.

PS – The new season of Coke Studio is special, because it brings to you the last performance by Amjad Sabri who was assassinated in a targeted killing in Pakistan recently. And it also brings back Rachel Viccaji from the 5th season.🙂

شناخت

مستقبل کی فکر تھی اسے
شہرت كے خواب دیکھے تھے اس نے
خدا نہیں تھا اسکا کوئی
خود کا ہی خدا تھا وہ

جدوجہد جتنی بھی کی
کافی نا تھی وہ اسکے لیے
جذبہ ے  جنون تھا اس میں
خود کی اک شناخت بنانا چاہتا تھا وہ

صبر کیا ہوتا ہے
خبر نا تھی یہ اسے
زندگی کی بلندیوں کو
چھونا چاہتا تھا وہ

پہچان رکھنی تھی اسے
ممتاز  شخصیتوں سے
مالی دنیا کے بادشاہوں میں
شامل ہونا چاہتا تھا وہ

انتظار تھا بس اس روز کا اسے
جس روز نام چھپنا تھا مالی رسالوں میں
صرف ملک میں نہیں، باہر بھی نام کمانا تھا اسے
بس اپنی ایک شناخت بنانی تھی اسے، اپنی ایک شناخت بنانی تھی اسے

Notes on Chai

“Two Passport Size photo, electric bill copy, drivers’ licence copy, 75 Rs. stamp paper”

…repeated one of the many characters personified by Jyoti Dogra in her monologue ‘Notes on Chai’. Depicted as an enactment of various conversations with ordinary people one might encounter in their routine lives in urban India, this splendid piece of experimental theatre portrays them with finesse with the central theme of the characters’ liking of Chai, and along with it comes the use of varied extended vocal techniques – melodious to say – inspired by Tibetan incantations. The sounds, oh so brilliantly conveyed, sounded even better with the amazing acoustics of Prithvi Theatre.

The characters portrayed in this prop-less solo act  range from a frail woman born in Lahore reminiscing about her days at the tea stall outside of her college amid her immense liking for Chai devoid of water as it makes it thin and gives her acidity, to a groin scratching old man who wanted to go to London in his days but who later got caught on with the middle class Indian life and is now working at the family shop.
All of this is intermittently dispersed via Dogra’s performance of her supposed alter ego – Mathura hailing, ingenuous Hindi speaking, Indian Idol watching, middle class LIC agent living in Jogeshwari who sips her early morning Chai (about which she is too passionate and which she meticulously prepares by using adrak and elaichi) in the balcony  during the only lone time she gets in the bustling city of Bombay. The character seems to be on the verge of a breakdown and talks about being fed up of the hardships in the big city and wanting to go away somewhere far. At the same time the quirkier side of the character is portrayed who wants to experiment with her sexuality after getting drunk but her husband finishes too soon leaving her wanting for more, hence making her turn on the radio and slow-dance in the night.

The impact of the raw emotions on display was magnified by the sounds, expressions and the flexible body movements enacted exceptionally by Dogra. The sounds of sipping a chai, sexual moans, singing with the radio etc. keep lingering in your head for quite sometime. The act terminates with the characters trying to comprehend happiness. A woman who doesn’t understand her daughter getting divorced in the pursuit of happiness portrays her version of the same; ‘happiness is important’ says Dogra’s simpleton alter ego, suggesting to start again tomorrow, all the things that couldn’t be done today.

The act is about the mundane, presented crisply in a monologue, via a range of voices and sounds inspired by Tibetan chants, making you ponder over the routine discussions, some innocuous, some contentious, but all over cups of piping hot Chai.

Please do yourself a favor, next time this contemporary piece of excellence is on the charts, go watch it. Jyoti Dogra is one brilliant performer; a master vocalist and visualizer; I can’t imagine how extraordinary her next act would be, but whatever it may be, I am going to lap it up all.🙂

Notes on Chai

25

“Would you like to color your hair to cover the greys, Sir?” asked the hairstylist at the salon. Greys, he thought; was it for real or was it the one of the regular ways of these posh salons to mint more money from the customers? He knew he had one visible grey hair but what did ‘greys’ mean? Plural? Were there more ‘greys’  at spots that were not visible to him in the mirror?
“No thanks,” he said “just a hair cut and a head massage. That’ll be all.”

After he was done, he came out, walked to the train station and caught the next local train to Churchgate. It had been a long time since he had got some lone time in this bustling city he so loved. With this new preoccupation, he barely had the time to even indulge in reading the long due stash of books he had bought sometime back. But today was different, today he really needed some time to retrospect and look back at his life. It was essential as the next day he was going to turn a quarter century old.

He walked to the Marine Drive promenade and found a quite spot away from people on both sides and sat down looking at the vast Arabian Sea in front of him. The sun was setting on his right, it was turning dark and the ocean breeze was cool enough to comfort him from the humid weather of this city.
It had been quite sometime since the dread of turning 25 was on his mind. 25, sounds old. It was not too long ago he recalled he turned 21 back when in college. Life seemed so sorted out then. He bagged this job offer from a top Professional Services firm during college itself. At 21, it seemed that there was so much to life, so much he could do; travel, explore the world, try new cuisines, meet new people, fall in love and what not? But not anymore at 25. Time was running out, he thought.

Where did this time go? These four years? Life caught up probably. Soon after college he joined this firm which bought him to Bombay, after a year he got engrossed in preparing for his masters, and soon the interview season started for the Management Schools across India making him travel oh so frequently, then came the last day of his job and now it has been 5 months at this school. Will the rest of his life pass like this? Would it be that one day he would wake up to realize that he was 30 and still feel that there was a lot he needed to do before he reached that age?

‘It’s not like he didn’t do any of the things he had planned at 21. He backpacked solo across certain parts of the country, enjoyed exotic foods, met many people, made new friends; but still there was one aspect he didn’t know in which direction he was going. After going through a broken relationship with no hope and trying to work upon another one where circumstances were such that he couldn’t help it, he felt lost. He knew what was it that was making his relationships fail or not take off at all. He didn’t know if it was right to blame himself for it. The opportunities he lost due to the excessive focus on his career, would those relationships have been so different if he wasn’t so career-centric? If so, then he wouldn’t have been at this place professionally he was where he had worked hard to be. But was it of much help when it had cost him so much personally? Or was he just over-reacting and freaking out at the cusp of hitting the psychologically important age?
He didn’t know, he didn’t have the answers.

A glance at the watch showed it was midnight. He made sure his cell phone was switched off. He didn’t want to be disturbed. Happy Birthday! You completed a quarter century on this insignificant planet. He chuckled, stood up, stretched his arms and tried to grasp this realization and turned back to walk towards the train station, to the grind of daily routine life in this city with so many people but no one in particular to understand and console him. Those who could were sitting somewhere far in another corner of the planet engrossed in their lives. Soon he was out of sight, lost amidst the crowd, one of the innumerable souls who inhabited that island… 25, he turned that day!

The Storm

The city lay spread in front of him, or rather, a part of the city. Ryan devoured this view from his 13th floor patio in the night. The city lights filled him with an urge to succeed in this city where he had come four years ago, fresh out of B-school with hopes to work up to the top of one of the corporate conglomerates whose case studies he analysed during his internships. Another train passed by in the distant to his left; he glanced at his watch, 1:35 in the morning, the train with its distinctive sound on the tracks was carrying men working late shifts downtown to their homes in the suburbs. He loved the sound of the train, it was music to his ears that characterized this city to him; perhaps that was the only constant characteristic of this ever changing metropolis.

His cigarette went out, he had barely taken two puffs from his 5th straight one.  Ryan smoked when he was uneasy, and today he had the reason to be. He picked out the carton from his pocket but found it empty; this did not have to happen now he thought, should’ve got another pack before leaving from work. He turned his head towards his right, looking at the shimmering Arabian Sea, which today seemed calm. The calm before the storm, he metaphorically compared, the storm that was going to engulf his personal and professional life soon. What exactly was emptying him from inside, he couldn’t figure out.  Was it his lack of focus at work or was it his tumbling relationship with Tia who was sleeping, or rather pretending to be asleep in the bedroom since he came back from work. Or was the former the cause of latter? He was not sure, he couldn’t think straight at that moment. A break from the mundane was what he needed. He could probably go up North to the hills for that. A week at his favorite hill station to ponder over the turns his life was taking might be exactly what he needed.

He remembered the day he first met Tia three years ago, set up by mutual friends while on a vacation to the Portuguese territory of the bygone era. Soon they moved in together and everything was going smooth, until now, when they decided to take their relationship a notch further. Why does the kin have to come to the picture and be concerned about the material possessions he had. Shouldn’t it be about two people who’re mature enough to take their life’s decisions themselves? But then this is India, he muttered; are we as a society leaving the shackles of orthodoxy behind as it appears to be, or is it just a mirage? And the fact that Tia couldn’t stand by him on this matter made him even furious at her. Now he was in a tough spot. He had to be rational, if he went ahead with it, there could be further complications in the future as the kin was involved. He had heard the stories about the egregious lawsuits that men like him can be tangled in. Agree his life was not hunky dory but he was enjoying it. All that he had today was acquired through his own hard work and commitment. He was a self made man and wanted to remain so.

It was getting heavy on him, he needed some fresh air, probably a drive, and what better place to go for a drive than Marine Drive in this overcrowded city. The only place where one could have a smooth ride before the sea link came up. He loosened his tie, picked up the car keys and headed out of the door…

Twenty minutes and he reached Marine Drive, that was nothing short of a record. The red light on the top of building occupied by the government’s ailing air carrier was blinking as he approached it. This was his usual route, heading up to the NCPA and turning back from there, sometimes going up to the Malabar Hill. That was the place where he dreamt of living in his apartment one day. The day he could afford the rents, the day he would pay up his B-School debts.  On his drive up the hill, he stopped his car, stepped out and came towards the promenade facing the sea. It was about to be dawn. The sky to his left was beginning to light up. He could hear the chirping of the birds. The waves from the sea splashed over the quadra-edged boulders. The sea on this part of the town was not that calm, it was gushing with energy. He sat down on the promenade. In the distant the fishermen were out for their day’s first catch, the lights in the buildings to his right on the hills were going off. Suddenly a wave splashed the saline water over his face, that was a strong one. It also bought along with it some marine creatures on the boulders. The fish grasping for air, bouncing on the concrete rocks. A crow came out of nowhere and tried to grab the big one by his beak. It failed as the fish was too hard for him to handle, the moment he went near it, it would struggle even harder and draw the crow away. Then another wave came and it took the fish back with it in the sea. The crow stepped away and waited on one of the boulders for the next wave, another fish. And soon that happened, another wave, another splash on Ryan’s clothes, some more fish on the boulder which were luckily small enough for the crow for its breakfast. This time it didn’t miss the opportunity and caught one before the sea took its creatures back with it.

That was it, it struck him right there! He had to move on! He couldn’t go on like this against his principles. No wonder it would be hard on him to get over the past 3 years, but then did it all matter when the person who made those years memorable was not by his side? Was Tia so encumbered by her family’s expectations that she stopped being rational? Probably she was not the right person then. This was a bad relationship and it would be better to forget about it than going against his own principles just because of some irrational expectations the society had of him.
It was relieving, Ryan had a smile on his face. He stood up facing the sea and shouted to his full capacity. It was therapeutic, it let it all go, the anger, the burden he had over his shoulders for months now.  He moved towards his car nodding and smiling at the perplexed old Parsi couple out for their stroll. He started his car and sped past the remaining stretch of the Marine Drive, took off his tie and let it fly with the wind outside the window. Not often he felt so calm and exuberant at the same time. That night was made for him.

It didn’t take Ryan much time to reach back home that Saturday morning, one of those days when the city started a bit late. He opened the door of his apartment and went straight to the bedroom. Tia was still asleep, he took out his backpack and quickly filled it up with his essentials for a week that he would require in the hills in the chilling month of December. After dropping a mail at work informing them for his absence for the coming week on account of a certain emergency, he turned off all his networking devices and headed straight for the airport. And as for Tia was concerned, he would deal with her after he was back. The storm had come without even being noticed, and it went away with the slamming shut of the door of the apartment.

The Voice of Death

Imagine this: You wake up in the middle of the night and realize that you are not able to move or speak; a strange feeling of terror grips you. You try hard but can’t move a muscle and can’t utter a single syllable from your mouth but are staring blankly at your room. Then some silhouettes appear, you feel a malicious presence, there is someone at your blind spot, you can’t see the person but you feel her. Then suddenly that demonic entity appears in front of your eyes, lying heavily on your chest and starts shrieking, you see her horrifying face, strange eyes; she’s pale to the extent of being white and weighs heavily on your chest and starts choking you. You try to scream, get help, but you can’t.

 Such hallucinations are classic examples of sleep paralysis.

Wikipedia defines sleep paralysis as a phenomenon in which people, either when falling asleep or wakening, temporarily experience an inability to move. It is a transition state between wakefulness and rest characterized by complete muscle atonia (muscle weakness). It can occur at sleep onset or upon awakening, and it is often associated with terrifying visions, such as an intruder in the room, to which one is unable to react due to paralysis.

In simple words, you experience sleep paralysis when your mind is asleep and it thinks that your body is asleep too, but in reality, it isn’t. So the mind does its usual functions like inducing dreams which appear to your body as being enacted in real, for well, your body is not sleeping. (So, it occurs when your body and mind are separated? Matrix anyone?)

There are many instances of people all over the planet of having seen various supernatural entities, like aliens abducting them, instances like the one above when Banshee from Irish folklore rips them apart etc. I think that even past life regression bunkum can be explained via this phenomenon for this explanation is more justifiable than the concept of having a past life.

This phenomenon usually occurs naturally but it can be induced too, that’s just what I did last night. I have been trying this since months, searching internet forums for the best way to experience sleep paralysis and last night, finally I had my moment. It takes some efforts and lots of patience though. You actually have to deceive your mind into thinking that your body is asleep, that’s the trick.
Though my experience was not as horrific and terrifying as the above example but it was scary and hair raising enough.

Here’s how one can induce it and how I did and succeeded last night after months of intermittent and unproductive attempts. These steps may be followed but one might not be successful until a long time, hence I say, it requires a lot of patience.

I close the doors and windows before going to sleep, this is not required but I do that to assure myself that no one can enter my room while I am asleep in the hopes that if I get such terrifying experience, I can be sure (after waking up probably) that it is just a dream, I am safe and no one can get in, and the demon that I would have seen was a figment of my imagination.

I get into comfortable clothes and lay in a relaxed, supine position; I place my hands on my thighs as that feels comfortable to me. Remember, you do not have to move a bit. It seems difficult, you’ll get the urges to scratch your body (it happens a lot), but that’s your mind sending signals to check if you’re asleep or not. You don’t have to respond to that, you have to deceive your mind into thinking that you’re asleep by not moving, i.e. your body needs to be awake, but the mind needs to be sub consciously asleep, the natural way. And while doing this, make sure that you actually don’t fall asleep; you’ll surely not get the experience then.
Be relaxed and imagine your body is going lifeless gradually, starting from your toes to your feet, ankles, knees, all the way up to your face. This might take long, an hour, or even more. Be patient and again, don’t move.
Anytime you’re lifeless up to your face, the phase will start, you won’t be able to demarcate the instance when it started as it’s a continuous process but when it’ll happen, you’ll know.

Now here’s what happened to my sleep deprived self last night, probably after an hour or more since hitting the bed, it might appear pale compared to the example I gave above but well, here it is. I didn’t see anything because I didn’t open my eyes (your eye movements and breathing remain normal during the experience), maybe I was somewhat aware that if I did open my eyes, I would get some frightening hallucinations. But what I did experience were voices, of two people, arguing over something.

One of those two people was Death, yes, death personified. I could hear him discussing me with the other person who probably was what, his assistant? (Your mind cooks up some weird stuff I say). What was being argued was that was it my time to go? One of them was telling the other that I am not the correct person to be picked up, but the other person was not convinced. Those were literally hair raising moments that scared me. And all through this, I could not move or utter a word, it was as if they had me frozen in a semi dead state and were moments away from taking even the bit of consciousness I had. The voices were clear, as if they were standing right beside my bed and deciding upon what to do with me, kill me right away or spare me for some other time.

It was brief, and then I gradually drifted off to sleep, probably trying to steer away the voices. But I woke up in the morning feeling light and relaxed. Even though I missed my alarm by some time, I didn’t panic and that was unusual. Maybe some hormones that make you feel better are released in your body the morning after the sleep paralysis, or maybe just I was glad that death didn’t take me last night. Ok, the later part was a joke.

I wonder if I had opened my eyes what I would have seen, or what death would have looked like. The voices were humanlike, so probably death would not have been the faceless cloaked creature portrayed in pop culture.

Experiences like these make you understand how complicated your brain is and what crazy things it can cook up. So that death-man though not real, my brain made it appear as if it was standing right next to my sleeping body. No wonder we humans only use a little percentage of our brains (10? Maybe that’s a myth), for if we used more, don’t know what *supernatural* phenomena we might experience.
But one thing is for sure, our brains are capable of doing some bizarre stuff.