Silent stories…

Nostalgia has been my silent companion, a silent drug to my soul and a gateway through which I sometimes slip into and out of oceanic wonder. It was on a chill wintery morning that I found myself completely swayed in the grips of nostalgic fever. I found myself in a flea market, in the Marolles flea market in Brussels – a grey sky  draped the scene with a monotonous solemnity, sparse specks of snow swept through the wind, not descending but aimlessly floating around until they huddled together at the window sill or over an undisturbed object ending their journey and the scent of books long forgotten to be opened saturated the atmosphere.

What struck me about a flea market, unlike a regular market, was the silence. People rummaged through the objects gripped by a solemn silence, a kind of silence that arises with the awareness that one is stifling through objects that were once part of the intimate lives of people that are now long gone. Perhaps it is also the silence of expectation, an expectation for serendipity – a postcard from Paris from the 1920s, a magazine from their year of birth, a first edition book that has carelessly been tossed away. The sellers and shopkeepers too were silent, only talking when asked for a price and even so leading the bargain in silent unexcited tones, perhaps aware that it is stories that they sell and not merely objects for consumption.

 

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The tiny square was scattered with treasures, uncelebrated and unadorned, laid randomly on the crude cobblestones. Framed oil paintings – some cheap and untalented, some that were attempts from momentous excitements to capture fleeting moments and private fantasies and yet a few that have been allowed to be forgotten to the cobblestones because we do not have enough museums in the world to hold and display all the stories that we leave in our wake – lay there slowly accepting the ruin of neglect. Shop after shop that was crudely laid out on grids on the tiny square, displayed artefacts that were once personal private possessions – a gift from a loved one with their lovers long gone; a religious object once venerated; endless books that portray human knowledge and fantasies and the collective wonder and aspirations and ambitions of different time periods and hidden in heaps and heaps of such books sometimes a book that fixed a few unchanging truths – to encounter such a book would be my serendipity. And somewhere lost in chaotic heaps of books there were bundles of letters and portraits and postcards sent and received from people long dead, only their impressions and emotions left behind for their unknown posterity.

Stories everywhere – humble, silent, mysterious and solemn. Not the people in flesh and blood but their stories and through these stories a fragment of their lives left behind to continue its own separate journey, fragments of immortality. Perhaps one-day several years from now, some of my own sketches and journals, immature and cheap as they are, might lie anonymously scattered or amongst heaps of several other anonymous impressions continuing its journey long after I’ve gone. It was a nice thought.

Perhaps in the end, what we are leaving behind is one huge antiquarian shop, every object a humble tale to tell, where it doesn’t matter who the protagonists were but just that these stories existed and that they will exist in altered form in the imagination of those that are now present and that they contribute, even in minuscule ways, to the rich epic of human existence.

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Brussels, March 2018

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Carl Sagan’s Cosmos

If philosophy is to direct us towards contemplation, wisdom and humility, then Carl Sagan’s Cosmos is deeply philosophical. In describing the (then) latest discoveries in science, in narrating the courageous steps humans and individuals have taken over the ages since the existence of our consciousness that have led to those discoveries and in imagining an optimistic future, Carl Sagan, in his comforting voice and deeply insightful views, illustrates our place in the universe. Our place in the universe, unique not in our exclusivity but in the fact that we are inextricably connected to each other.

 

“Earth and every living thing are made of Star-stuff […]

(Our) ancestors were once atoms made in stars, then simple molecules, single cells polyps stuck to the ocean floor, fish, amphibians, reptiles, shrews.

But then they came down from the trees and stood upright.

They grew an enormous brain; they developed culture, invented tools domesticated fire.

They discovered language and writing.

They developed agriculture.

They built cities and forged metal.

And ultimately, they set out for the stars from which they had come.

We are star stuff which has taken its destiny into its own hands.

The loom of time and space works the most astonishing transformations of matter. Our own planet is only a tiny part of the vast cosmic tapestry a starry fabric of worlds yet untold”.

Car Sagan, Cosmos Episode 8 – Travels in Space and Time 1

 

Carl Sagan, with his evidence firmly based in science, opens a perspective where all our differences are nothing but insignificant in the light of the cosmos – the natural phenomena knows and cares nothing for national boundaries or sentiments, cultural differences. To it, we are inhabitants of  earth and a very tiny fragment, yet a part nonetheless, of the omnipresent cosmos.

In discussing scientific concepts from the scale of the universe to those of the atoms and the struggles individuals and peoples endeavoured to bring them to light, Carl Sagan shows us, passionately, that in the Tree of Life which has developed over 4 billion years, the differences that separate us are nothing more than the differences in shape of one small leaf to the next in a very large tree. By humanising science and explaining it from a human perspective, Carl Sagan touches upon, even if only briefly, the unadulterated origins of religion.

In the days of gloom and when faced with a certain crisis of meaning, I find myself returning to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. I’m then left with this deep and uncanny sensation of being connected with all the histories across time, I’m left not with mourning for the shortness of the human life but with the joy that comes with the knowledge that my existence is connected to the very beginning of time and will do so even after I’m gone. I’m left with an oceanic emotion that ushers a sense of deep compassion and humility and with that a sense of peace.

Carl Sagan’s Cosmos is a plea for the scientific approach, a plea for humanity to maintain what is humane. Though developed in the wake of the nuclear build-up and the tensions of the Cold War, the series touches an essence that makes it resonate across time. In spite of the shortcomings of human nature, Carl Sagan imagines an optimistic future for humans as wise and compassionate species who have abandoned those that divide them and instead cherish those that bring us together.

“One of the great revelations of the age of space exploration is the image of the Earth, finite and lonely somehow vulnerable, bearing the entire human species through the oceans of space and time.

We humans have set foot on another world in a place called the Sea of Tranquillity an astonishing achievement for creatures such as we whose earliest footsteps, are preserved in the volcanic ash of East Africa. We have walked far.

These are some of the things that hydrogen atoms do given 15 billion years of cosmic evolution. It has the sound of epic myth. But it’s simply a description of the evolution of the cosmos as revealed by science in our time. And we who embody the local eyes and ears and thoughts and feelings of the cosmos we’ve begun, at last, to wonder about our origins.

Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth.

Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed not just to ourselves but also to that cosmos, ancient and vast from which we spring”.

Carl Sagan, Cosmos Episode 13 – Who Speaks for Earth? 1

And all the while, equally in moments of great turmoil and serene contemplation, what keeps ringing in my ears are Carl Sagan’s first ever words at the start of the series.

“The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.
[…]Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home, the Earth”

Carl Sagan, Cosmos Episode 1 –The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean1

 

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Carl Sagan with the Voyager plaque 2

 

 

 

References

1 – Retrieved from https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/episode_scripts.php?tv-show=cosmos-carl-sagan

2 – https://www.seeker.com/space/pioneer-plaque-replica-shows-humanitys-first-spacecraft-flown-message-to-aliens

 

Link to the episodes

 

As you like it…

It was late evening. Tucked away in a small alley off the main square like a glass prism spilling out its contents among dark solid, opaque silhouettes of the buildings on either side of the alleyway was the Toneelschuur in Harlem. Through the dark alleyway, illuminated by the light from the foyer I walked towards the obscure entrance. I was there to have my first proper experience of a play.

The play I was supposed to witness was supposed to be staged in an auditorium of what must have been able to accommodate 120 spectators in about 10 rows but now shortened in size by screens to show only 4 rows. There must have been forty or less people when I entered, everyone much older than I was. Four actors, also old, were setting up the props and adding, to themselves, layers upon layers of both masculine and feminine clothes suited to a play that was supposed to explore the general themes set in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

And that was as far as my understanding of the content of the play went. For the rest of the play, my innocence as to the language and the theatrical experience proved as reliable obstacles in keeping me comfortably distant from any kind of understanding. But all was for good I suppose.

I entered this auditorium and was immediately struck by the intimacy of the setting. A sense of intimacy and familiarity that grew only stronger with the auditorium doors shut from the rest of the world that I might have suspected to have intruded upon a family event if I hadn’t know any better.

No level separated what was to be the place where the play was supposed to be enacted and the level onto which one entered the small auditorium. The stepped rake upon which we, the spectators, sat only seemed like a natural addition to the floor level that was soon to become a stage. It was a sense of feeling that we were not just mute spectators but part of the events that unfolded in that room that has momentarily been isolated from the rest of the world. Not to mention the individual chuckles from the old man who was sitting two rows in front of me that broke into a funny laughter much like the ones that slip out despite one’s earnest attempts to restrain it; the restlessness of the slightly older woman effected by her half amusement and half annoyance at this aural addition to the dialogue of the characters in play; the chair that began to grow increasingly uneasy and people shifting in hope to find that elusive comfort while all the while losing not a bit of concentration over what was being enacted reinforced that sense of intimacy.

A smile broke out from me when someone laughed hard at some occurrence over the course of play. I tried to decipher if the action was scripted or not by trying to decipher the general mood of the audience. In short, I was trying to keep my bearings and make up for what I lost in language in reading the general emotion of the people who watched it. How uniquely different was this experience then compared to screened projections even in the cosiest of home-theatres?

As for the play itself, I was constantly left trying to grasp what it was about. The most perplexing part of the play for me was to follow if the characters stayed in their imagined world or reached out occasionally to the world we as spectators inhabited. I suppose they did both. I have no means of judging the quality of the play simply because I do not have many, if not any, examples to go by.

Chances are that I might have seen some brilliant unfolding of a theatrical play and I wouldn’t even know. Something similar to what Ernest Hemmingway warns of the person who is ignorant of Spanish bull-fighting seeing a bull-fight for the first time and never have the means to experience it fully in all its nuances. A more personal example would be  my first experience with wine. It was initially only a sour tasting liquid that cannot be taken in more than smaller sips at a time whose taste changed with time between the sip and while the taste lingers. But with time, I began to know better, better enough to appreciate it as art that has seen its refinement over several centuries. The same I can say of Indian classical music.

But nevertheless, my first experience of a play has not been bad I’d say.

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In their silence they speak…

I wander aimlessly through those winding streets, accompanied only by the sound of my steps over the cobbles, the air carrying the distant murmur from people in cafés mixed with the joyous sound of a late-afternoon musical party, when these sculptures stop me. Serendipitous instances at the turn of streets, usually occupying a humble corner are lovers forever engaged in a passionate kiss; kids forever lost to their frolic play; a thinker eternally contemplating; a fair lady forever in waiting for her loved one to return, her eyes carrying all the melancholy of the world.

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Fussen
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Koln

 

In the flowing, intangible experience of a city, in its winding streets, varied roofs and drawn windows these sculptures, propping out at the most humble and unassuming places, stop me and make me wonder. They make me wonder at the world to which they are eternally lost; at the world they dispassionately see go by, detachedly surrendering themselves to the stream of photographs with the tourists or to the empathy of a lonely traveler such as me.

They engage me, in their frozen instances, as mnemonic reminders of a place, fixing their essence to my mind’s eye, to haunt me later with nostalgia. I find such sculptures to play an important role in fixing the place in our memory, in trying to make tangible the intangible character of a place.

But above all, sculptures such as these, have the ability to slow us on our way, make us pause and remind us to our immediate existence. They demand from the passer-by their empathy and their imagination, the two under-used of human faculties, to see through their eyes, the world that was, the world that is, and the world that will be.

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Eindhoven, 16 April 2016

Workspace series

Following an advice I found in the book “Show Your Work” by Austin Kleon that happened to catch my eye in a book market,I intend to start a visual log of my personal workspace, every evening with whatever I’ve been working on (or not working on) at that evening, no matter what it is! Of course..  for the dumping of more waste into the internet, a drop in the ocean matters not much does it?!

Caught in a Fairyland…Füssen

Christmas Diaries ’15

 It is quite unusual and funny that, having grown up in one of the hottest part of India and not until 16 that I had the opportunity to see what snow actually looked like, my idea of Christmas was that of magical lights, carols, fluffy snow and fairies and the mystical Santa-Claus. Maybe it was all for  the Cartoon Network and their Christmas themed cartoons of Tom & Jerry and the fairy tales that are to be blamed! But nevertheless, they have created in me a fantastical world of magic that stayed only within the domains of my imagination until I visited these small magical Bavarian towns of Füssen, Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Weiskirchen and of course the famous Neuschwanstein Castle!

Idle small towns, singing in silence, distant sounds of laughter and church bells spinning a harmony echoing through the snow-clad Bavarian Alps, I spent my first Christmas in Europe here! Thinking back in retrospective, I could almost feel the crisp smoke from chimneys rising against the backdrop of the snow-clad mountains, the shop windows in these silent towns inviting me into their mystical world, the smell of Glühwein and the infectious joy of Christmas. So infectious is this landscape that I can understand if not even admire with compassion the ‘mad king’ Ludwig’s obsession in creating his ‘Medieval castle’ (of fantasy) at a time when architecture and engineering were going towards the construction of the likes of the The Crystal Palace.

 Nevertheless, what catches me unawares and haunts me at times are the sound of my lonely steps on the medieval cobbles of Füssen, as I haunted through its winding streets under the full moon, silently witnessing the mystic characters from the squares and shop windows come to life, ignoring me, going about with their affairs like they always have for centuries!

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And of course the trip would have never been this good if not for my very good friends Rahul and Krithika and the very good friends I made Harshil, Manoj and Arun!!

Füssen, 25 December 2016