Friday, June 26, 2009

Lovelove :)

Normal head to San Francisco day. Sunny summer bliss. I get onto the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) at Fremont station. Watch the shadows and the people who get on and off. Normal head to San Francisco day. At Embarcadero station, the first in San Fran city, a couple of guys in women's lingerie (luckily the more modest kind) get on. Wait. This isn't normal, even for this flamboyant city. Then some women in lingerie (now you're talkin' ;) ) and finally a flood of colour and costumes and lace, all sexes, all orientations, all beliefs, all kinds of kinky squeezed into the train and pouring out onto the Civic Centre Station and finally out on Market Street.

There has to be something brewing. Overheard mentions of the phrase, 'love festival'. This sounds interesting. I follow the crowd. They're heading towards the San Francisco Civic Centre Park that lawns the City Hall and Supreme Court buildings. The flood becomes a tsunami that merges into an ocean of people at the square. Booming bass is reverberating beneath my feet. Like a homing pulse leading me down in the river to pray.

All along the streets circumventing the path, over two dozen huge party vehicles had been set up, DJs spinning, themes ranging from Military to psychedelic Hippie bus. All kinds of electronic music vibrate in a Monet-painting-like blur making sense to those who can step back. Way back. Jump from sound bubble to sound bubble, beat to beat, dancing girls to draw the crowds to..well you get the picture. The only thing that's common in every little party bubble? The dancing off course. Thousands and thousands of capering and flouncing, bounding and gyrating people in various stages and eras of dress and undress. Dirty old men in proverbial trench coats leering, nay drooling at lesbian lovers. Drag queens draped in colours aplently waltzing down the alley way. Pills a-popping, blots a-dropping, doobies a-blazing. While policemen stand with bemused expressions on the sidelines. One shrugs at the other, "hey, they're just having a good time."

It wasn't just a good time. There was a vibe that encompassed the whole shebang. It was love. Genuine expressive universal love. There were no frowns or exclusions. This wasn't just one big party. It was one big shout. Of "I love you" to the world. And it felt pretty damn great.

And rest in peace, Michael.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Monday, June 08, 2009

Sandstone Swirls

We were somewhere around Page (Arizona), on the edge of the desert, in search for the elusive Antelope Canyon, when the radiating heat began to take hold (thank you Hunter). A quick pit stop at a petrol pump revealed that it was around the corner. Raaightt. This close to civilisation. Damn brouchures. U-turn, on the road, 4 miles to go. A little sign, dusty from its residence shows the way, to the parking lot. We pay $20. Squint and walk to the shack. More money. $25 each this time. And then wait. A dust storm is swirling towards us. No, two. A glint in the searing sun lets us know that they're jeeps. Smiling people get off. Smiling people get on. The Navajo Native American folks running the establishment had things planned pretty close. One hour per group. Includes the 10 mins taken off road, to go to and from the caves/canyons.

Antelope Canyon is a result of Navajo Sandstone getting sculpted by ravaging floods. The result is some of the most surrealistic caves I've ever seen. Everything is motion here. Even the tourist groups that are hurried along by expert guides. Expert at shepherding and pointing out which formation looks like a bear. I lagged behind, far more interested in the abstract forms that were dancing in my subconscious, screaming to be let out in pictures. No tripod or flash of course. As always.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

"Katmandu, I’ll soon be seeing you"

There were two Katmandus.

The first was a dusty, dirty, smog-ridden city with erratic vehicular traffic. The roads made a Peenya or a Pahar Ganj or a Lower Parel seem like a walk by the riverside. The milling haphazard crowds gave the ones in India a run for their congestion. The high rises didn't really kiss the sky and all in all it was a dreary sight. There were some residential localities on the outskirts and palace areas that embraced some amount of green with the hills and mountains in the distance mocking the city dwellers.

The airport was another comedy of errors. In this day and age of extreme paranoia, there were no x-ray machines and bags were scarcely checked, if ever. Security check guards made friendly demands for chai paani tokens. Hell, you could've smuggled in a ton of contraband and only spent 10 Nepali rupees to appease the guards enough not to want to check you. There weren't any conveyor belts either, luggage being handed out individually to passengers. Merry times, merry times. Then on to a cabbie who will con you. It doesn't matter what you know or what research you've done. Somehow you will end up paying enough to elicit sniggers from your local friends. Luckily its one of the only places in the world where the Indian rupee is worth more than the local currency. I was so happy I ended up spending way too much.

On to Thamel, that den of vice, that cradle of firangi backpackers, that shoppers bliss, that hotbed of dance bars. A casual walk down from my hotel (thankfully on a quiet street away from the madness) to grab a quick bite meant turning down at least 20 propositions from various seedy looking men and garishly made-up women to join the festivities. Laser lights spill out onto the streets, along with loud tasteless pumping music and any attempt to photograph is met with a stern gaze from a nearby bouncer. But hey, its all part of the deal. Even the Nepal Tourism Board offers this advice, "Don't forget to have a drink at one of the local dance bars, where beautiful Nepali belles will dance circles around your pals."

The other Katmandu is a 20 minute walk away from this, quite incredibly. The sardined neon shops, night clubs, hotels and cafes in the narrow streets of Thamel relent to older building complexes and rabbit warrens, with wooden shops that have been around for centuries. The true face of Katmandu emerges as you near Basantapur Durbar. Once there, you're transported to another time. The huge pagoda styled buildings and temples line up around neat paved streets. I would ignore the cars and bikes, the coochi cooing couples and roadside romeos and gently blur my vision till it felt like I was walking through a Katmandu of the 18th century. I like that feeling of phasing out the modern fracas. A simpler life indeed. I wandered through Basantapur and Patan, the other big Durbar for hours on many occasions and not always to take pictures. Sometimes it just felt like I was in a different place far away from the city in a mystical Katmandu only I could see. Talk about delusions of grandeur. :)

The only commonality between the two Katmandus were the beautiful Nepali girls. Even New York in the summer can't hold a candle to the sheer numbers. You don't even feel lecherous or at least I didn't. I was in awe mostly. Made a young man want to brave the city and settle down here. The laws of probability would take care of the rest. I left like a good tourist but in the words of Cat Stevens (when he was indeed Cat Stevens), Katmandu, I'll soon be seeing you.

Wild Blue Yonder

You make the most of summer in Chicago. Even our most extreme climates here in India don't compare to the winter minimums of -20°C and the wind chill factor of -50°C with the blizzards of course. So Lake Michigan and the parks take on a festive air as the citizens of the windy city and surrounding 'burbs get out to have a good time.

An ideal time for an air show. I land up, camera and aunt ( Rangamani Periamma, mum's oldest sister) in tow and am gobsmacked by the 10s of thousands of people who've gotten there before us. Parents, couples, kids, picnic baskets, tents, fold-able chairs, barbecues, umbrellas, cameras, corporate promotions, protesters, army recruiters, teens, toys, world war vets - they're all there in complete sun worshipping attire.

Planes from four generations roar around, do formation runs, tricks defying the laws of physics. The Blue Angels, USA's premier air force formation squad flies inches away from each other earning collective gasps for fearless feats of daredevilry.

In the midst of all this recruiters from all wings of the armed forces rally around and rabble rouse the already impressed crowds, urging them to sign up for Uncle Sam. One even walks towards me with purpose and thinks the better of it when he sees my long hair and camera. Not ideal army material apparently.

Freedom of speech is alive and kicking here and a group of hippy protesters get the placards out to protest the war in Iraq and the air force's show boating , braving taunts of 'traitors' and even the occasional spitting on from irate republican patriots.

What a blast. Apologies to my aunt for keeping her out in the sun for long. :)

Monday, June 01, 2009

O Kabir

काल करे सो आज कर, आज करे सो उब
पल में प्रलय होएगी, बहुरि करोगे कुब

Kaal Kare So Aaj Kar, Aaj Kare So Ub

Pal Mein Pralaya Hoyegi, Bahuri Karoge Kub

(Tomorrows work do today, today's work now
if the moment is lost, the work be done how)

जब में था तब हरी नहींजब हरी है में नहीं नहीं
सब अँधियारा मिट गया जब दीपक देख्या महीन

Jab Mein Tha Tab Hari Nahin‚ Jab Hari Hai Mein Nahin
Sab Andhiyara Mit Gaya‚ Jab Deepak Dekhya Mahin

(When "I" was, then Hari was not, Now Hari "is" and "I" am not
All the darkness (illusions) mitigated, When I saw the light (illumination) within.....
couldn't resist..hehe)

धीरे धीरे रे मन, धीरे सुब कुत्च होए
माली सींचे सो घर, ऋतू आए फल होए

Dheere Dheere Re Mana, Dheere Sub Kutch Hoye
Mali Seenche So Ghara, Ritu Aaye Phal Hoye

(Slowly slowly O mind, everything in its own pace happens
The Gardener may water a hundred buckets, the fruit arrives only in its season)

Artists - Prahlad Tipanya, Muktiyar Ali