Dogs waiting in front of a meat shop for their dinner. On my way back from the gym at around 10 every night, I see the butchers give these dogs some scraps of meat right before they close the shop. In Delhi, there is always a good relationship between street dogs and people within the boundaries of places specific communities of dogs specify as their territories. That relationship is one of great love. The dogs bark at any odd movements around within their territory–they behave (or act?) as self-conscious local guards.
Back in 2009, Harinagar Lake had at least the ghost of its former self in the form of some small, mostly dirty, pools of water that looked more like puddles on a poorly maintained highway after a short summer shower. Some lovers still considered it a romantic place to date in, on its banks lined with beautiful trees. Then when I visited it first after that in December 2015, it had given up that withered ghost. It had no relic easily evident to the eyes of non-archaeologists of once having been a lake except the sign boards which was now meaningless but indicated what it once used to be. I have returned to the dried up lake several times after this. This photograph was taken sometime between 10 am and 11 am of 30 January 2018.
I am always fascinated by graveyards, tombstones, epitaphs, crematoriums, and anything that has to do with death. This crematorium stands on the bank of the now dried-up Harinagar Lake, New Delhi. This area keeps me interested for various reasons–when I visited last, there was a weathered boat keel up on the parched lake-bed and a pig stubbornly snouting something at its base, children in two or three groups playing cricket in the middle of the bed, some tail-tucking dogs feeding on the skull of a buffalo with noisy crows, and a couple of kingfishers perched on the dry branches of a fallen, uprooted tree. And there was smoke escaping from between the wall and the corrugated tin roof of the cremation buildings every time I visited that place. This time too.
to the color of night.
in its primeval namelless oneness
unsliced by ticking swords
of cartographers and historians
only to be punctuated
by bright splashes from
a leaking faucet.
God’s sake–off with it.
It’d have got on her nerves.
A light sleeper.
At a distance
a howling dog is
rolling up his plaints
yet again tonight.
I am not a god.
The dew must have brought
them down back to the dust,
and the wind drifts them to
dark windows with no shades or panes.
A short rest to the wheeze,
and the drips beat yet clearer–
a city bright atop a mountain
on the darkest night of the year–
and the watch’s whistle dampened and
fitful sirens and nightly grainy traffic
mis-shaped by the sinewy wind of December
make a shy creep into my ear canals
for attention in the lucid dark.
I can’t still fix it with
closed eyes–wool in a tangle.
Open eyes and I find
the dense stands of darkness
bending over me and staring against
the monochrome walls and ceiling
grained by the diffused city lights
through the smuggling holes
from the leaves in a scret communion.
The dog is still rolling up
his howls heavenward (or is
he now rolling them down?)–
it feels like each fine dewflake
murmurs a grain of howl in an echo.
Birth and death meet in a house and it embraces both of these two ends of life into one great enigma. A grey mix of love that comes across as love tinted with fear or fear tinted with love. Every house has this enigma in its rooms.
Dehradun. A small girl died in this house first as far as we know. She puked blood. Then after a couple of years the man of the house followed his daughter. Soon the elder daughter died too for no apparent reason. Then the son, the eldest child, survived by his wife and their very small daughter. All in front of the mother. Soon the mother also walked the way of the whole family, leaving her daughter-in-law and the small kid. The mother and daughter moved to Delhi, where they are living now, leaving the empty house with silence.
People come and go. Houses remain there, standing, day and night, year after year, as if waiting even when there is nobody to come until somebody demolishes them. Before they return to their origins, some see more births than deaths with their occupants moving to more convenient, if not better, places, while some others see more deaths than births. Number is not always the weight–to us humans, a death casts a long gloomy shadow on three births of our loved ones. Death is more conspicuous because it tears a hole in the chest of life and smuggles our loved ones out through it and the last time we see them, hear them, touch them, is the last time we have with them. Death nullifies life on this side of the grave, and it often empties a house with a few repeated sweeps leaving it to sink in silence and decay amidst the din of the busy world, like the one in the photograph above.
The patio of an old British lady’s mansion. Soon after Independence, she gave the mansion and the estate to the Mussoorie Post Office which though has moved to a new place still owns it. The house is dilapidated now but parts of it still have a couple of antique-maniac occupants.
Abandoned houses always fascinate me. The gloom, sadness, decay and the evident shabby-gentility they are characterized by, the mute memories the rooms are filled with, the soundless whispers of their stories splashed on the damp, faded, mossy walls–I love these ghosts, their haunting.
15 October 2017
That afternoon I had no shooting or field recording. I had a pile of diaries to start reading for a biography project–the diaries of Pukhrambam Bharat, the maker, along with his brother Pukhrambam Tomchou, of the modern Kakching.
After a long Sunday with nothing so entertaining, the children in my neighborhood got bored by that afternoon. In our small estate we have the widest and most comfortable space in the neighborhood for children, and children from all over there come to play here with my brother’s small daughters, especially when they are bored at home. Our home, in that sense is full of fun. There will always be the should of children having fun and laughing. Yes, sometimes they fight, and that’s sweet part of childhood. That afternoon, from my study window I saw four or five children gathered there in boredom without a word said to one another–they were restless, fidgeting, and moving around aimlessly and listlessly. One of them happened to cursorily look into my window when passing by it and there was visibly a slight hue of hope appearing on her ennui-faded face.
“Kaka, when is kaka Ushaken coming back?” She trickily said.
My brother likes children a lot, as much as I do, and I had overheard them saying he had promised them to take them to angling at a river far away. My brother loves angling and if he has nothing to do, you will most probably find him angling at a river or a lake favorable for that fun at that particular time within the radius of 20 kilometers, if he is not at gambling (his another passion) somewhere around. But my brother had not returned from work for a couple of days.
“No. It’s bandh today.” I said. Manipur merged into India in on that day (15 October) in 1949, after Maharaja Bodhachandra was allegedly forced into signing the merger agreement on 21 October of that year. Revolutionary organizations in Manipur, since a long time ago, have been observing October 15 as a Black Day and on this day the roads are deserted and no shops in major markets are open. Earlier, the insurgent organizations used threats to this effect but now people do it on their own. Conditioned.
“Then take us to a nearby place! Anywhere!” She turned it on to me and changed the topic. Children are clever.
I laughed. Children in my Kakching neighborhood find me comfortable to be with. I love children with their simplicity, innocence and innocent small tricks.
Hmmm… Me smells. Gotta take a bath. Will continue after that.