Soundless Drum


Singing Life a Capella

How far are you from where I live
for it doesn’t feel like the same here?
The signs have come to pass–
the rains in empty streets–nothing to wet,
the rains hitting the terrace–without love,
the fingers of golden rain trees
tattooed on the tarmac in yellow haloes
in the yellow grainy November nights,
the winds whispering into the woods
the answers in the winds of boozy boys
spending hollow nights in the cold.
The signs have come to pass unaccompanied
like time singing life a capella.
How far are you from where I live?


I had observed the interesting scene from the upstairs for over ten minutes (I would have had no idea about it had the security guy—after I had already taken a couple of shots—not told me it was quite invitingly odd for a person to stand at one place and keep staring like that for fifteen minutes) before figuring out what to do about that. Luxury cars on the sale show at an open showroom at the bay of the largest shopping mall in Delhi.

Down there were people of all walking speeds—some looked casually at the show as they walked and passed on by; some streamed on for cares outside of my field of vision without even caring to cast a glance at it to find business there; some lingered there with no obvious reason with the long-staring patience of a chronically unlucky angler or of a seasoned detective with nothing to detect or a weathered photographer without a camera whose business all in the wide world is to stare at people buying cars; every now and then some young boys and girls from pre-earning ages to a couple of years into working strayed excitedly for a while into the bay and posed, often pouting their lips or displaying a broad smile from ear to ear out of nowhere, in front of the cars (not very close to those otherworldly things they are not so confident to dream of) for a photograph or a selfie before they disappear in a minute or so; a few stuck around there, climbing in and out of the cars, as if in a virtual test drive at the busy bay, posing for the photographer who took photographs of whoever came behind the wheels; leggy beautiful salesgirls in body-hugging black shirts, skirts and semi-seethrough leggings were busy briskly plying about their business with glossy formalities in their hands and the young salesmen—apparently perfunctorily but immense patience—were talking with or explaining things to inquirers and those who hand the bank in their pockets while their companions where checking the cars nearby.

Now I had what to do—I set the camera: 1 sec exposure, f/16, ISO 100. To “ghost out” the movers and blur the lingerers a bit to superimpose the passage of time on the scene. I trained the camera, focused it on one of the headlights, and while the shutter button was in the midst of responding to my pressure and milliseconds before it fired the camera, the mall blacked out, but the shutter button continued and the camera obeyed.

Accidentally the result was interesting, though it was more than just a bit too dark, with the headlights looking like two pairs of monster doe-eyes glistening in a totally dark world, and the ghosts of the relatively fast movers had disappeared in the unhauntably dark shadows. I would have missed it during the blackout if I had not set the exposure down that long, and yes, luckily the aperture of that much high value. I decided that I could compensate for the underexposure in post-production. Yes with some greening grains.

Here I have turned up the exposure demonstering the doe-eyes to reveal the human business going on there though still in the dark.


Running away from Time

Those fingers—those—
The fingers of time—
They press me out of life.

The light from the stars—from ancient miles—
And the present glitter in my eyes—
They meet in a kiss—
Sucking the breath out of me—life.

I run away from time
From bodies of time creeping around,
and here in the dark
I struggle to plug every hole
with time-tight tissues
I have torn away from my heart
to keep myself warm
and untouched by decay
until I stop my breath.

Dancing in the Dark

Even as I looked, I didn’t see
how it seeped into the port–
the ship of shadows docks
with dancers dancing in the dark
mixing darkness with dance and dancers,
the mix filling the mould
bubbling out sound and silence.

In the absence without pressure,
noiseless sounds ooze out of the ears
to creep for a flash unsensed
before yielding to the yawning thirst.



Photograph by Thoithoi O’Cottage (Janakpuri DC, New Delhi, July 2016)

What is reality and how does it relate to unreality? Or asked the other way round, what is unreality and how does it relate to reality? Different languages deal with binaries differently—the concepts labelled by x and y which has an x-y (stem-derivative) relation in one language may realize as a y-x (stem-derivative) relation in another language, if such cases of two concepts, x and y, being represented by the signs of one and its derivative happens to be there; for example, the Manipuri word landaba is derived from lanba, the corresponding English words for which have the derivation relation the other way round—righteous (landaba) is the stem of unrighteous (lanba).

Stem            derivative      morphological process     language
landaba         lanba           clipping                  Manipuri
righteous       unrighteous     prefixing                 English

However, all of them invariably favor one or the other (but not both) ideas engaged in the struggle for supremacy in their conceptual hierarchy. In English, the concept “unreal” is built on “real,” confirming the supremacy of “real” over “unreal.” This hierarchy, unconsciously on our part, determines the order of our questions asked above at the beginning.

Similarly, in Sanskrit “himsa” is more fundamental than its derivative “ahimsa.” This order may not necessarily result from the favoritism toward ideas cultures show in practice, but when attitudes sustain for over a significantly long period of time, they leave a behavioral track in the collective unconscious of a community which condenses into moral codes. At this point, the whole scheme of things in effect (no matter what the design/purpose was originally) proves to have been functioning as a collective moral apparatus upholding certain values while repressing certain others, which is nothing but favoritism in action.


Photograph by Thoithoi O’Cottage (New Delhi, August 2016)

When we think of reality, we have to try as much as we can to shed the favoritism in our tissues of our own cultural body or cultural psyche so we can arrive at a hypothetical primordial conceptual field in which concepts comingle without a timeline showing their evolution and relative ages. Tying concepts down to the etimologies of their corresponding words the processes of signification have established the relations they have with crams concepts into distict cultural boxes thereby circumscribing the potency of concepts to fill out to their own full extent. But we often encounter situations in which ideas/concepts need to be given equal treatment (something that could be achieved by an ahistorical engagement).

Thinking along this line, the concepts of “real” and “unreal” coexist side by side (horizontally) or simultaneously on different planes (vertically but not in a hierarchical scheme). Only then can we conceive of a conceptual field in which apparently opposite concepts merge harmoniously on the edges even as they maintain the unique properties of their identities.