Buoy the population of the soul
Toward their destination before they drown
~ Robert Pinsky
March 2024
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California Notes

[1] After months of work, a chance to vacation out West. And you are thinking of what is happiness, the experiencing self, the remembering self, and the difference between memory's sepia-ed motion picture reel and the clarity that is unfolding time. When the fellow traveler next to you shuts off his laptop, and you look up from the New York of wandering Julius, you see through the aloft porthole a landscape of tawny rolling hills hunched over the San Francisco Bay, as if trying to drink away summer.

Once the feet find purchase on terra firma, and you step outside into the Mediterranean weather, away from the broiling heat of the East Coast, you understand why in every visit to date (this will be your third) California confronts you with its surreality. The changeless weather perhaps has something to do with it, even though undoubtedly, the agricultural toilers in the Californian valleys do see seasons change with cycles of sowing and reaping. So to a "knowledge worker" like yourself (who barely has time for real knowledge - your particular “knowledge” is, alas, limited to fooling the equally unknowing American "consumer" in the produce aisle with tricksy promotions) this gift of a burred vision – not very different from what the drifters and the squatters, who came over these hills in wagon caravans, must have had of this "gold" coast. So then from this burred vision these notes (to be seasoned with some Milsoz, Stienbeck, T-Cole, et al) to follow...

[2] Overlooking the Pacific on a day of fog and mist, he watches the gulls play arial tic-tac-toe among the bobbing masts in the harbor. There was a time when his idea of happiness was linked to a mental landscape like this - the air smelling of brine, an evening raga playing in the ear, a knowledge of local rock (McPhee's song of crustal blocks, subduction zones and twisted faults - another kind of California dreaming really) and plant (wisteria, lantana, honeysuckle - some of these names searched for in the poetry of Milosz and Hass), to occupy part of this loneliness - or is this its close cousin - solitude?

He has been drinking sitting alone- gin and tonic laced with the murmuring of Julius - ruminating on memories and thinking about outlines of stories not written (there was once a name he wanted to write about - Varsha) and poems (he did write one California poem that he is not ashamed of). So much of the universe lays open in the palm of one's hand to receive and absorb but then there always lurk the distractions of work, daily busyness, and the drag of psychic hollowness that he feels growing inside with time - very much like Rodin's "Three Shades" with their twisted contours watching over the gates of hell.

Or this is what he tell himself as he closes his notebook, and distractedly walks into the melee that is an Indian wedding, where the shadow of his solitude will lengthen under the disco lights.

August, 2011

My Daily Notes

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India Notes - 2

[1] The gaze as a sepia photograph. A tracery of memory in everything the eye sees. That summer evening at the end of an year of sadness, when he escaped to these hills of black basalt with an empty sketchbook and a box of watercolors (nothing came of that experiment – excepts few washes of burnt brick and charcoal; few years later his sister threw away the watercolors), thinking of Arles, with the warm evening wind whistling among the straggly trees reminding him of the sirocco that made mad Vincent sever his ear as a gift. In this return to what is a crowded and much diminished landscape, that evening full of despairing rush at returns to mind.

[2] He slowly remembers that year as he looks out at a frenetic horizon of dust. That was when he was discovering art at college (where he was supposedly studying engineering), squirreled away in the dark and dusty stacks, form which books were last checked out in the late seventies, thumbing yellowing paper, starting with the Impressionists and going back to the old masters (the density of Breughel’s villages so much like those of his childhood) and going forward to the fractured beauty of Picasso’s bulls and horses.

[3] A decade or more in between – he has seen those paintings, which his eye hungered for in that library, since then in many great museums. But in the column of loss (there is always one, right next to that of gain), he has to post the missing years since he has seen those few (or should he say two) that kept his spirit alive in those striated, adolescent days. What are they now to him, once most beloved, now at the periphery of time but at the center of this longing? Between them now three countries, a marriage and two divorces, and more money than before to feed the great fires (“Everything is burning”, said the Enlightened one at Gaya).

[4] As he descends the (now dystopic) ancient temple hill, and walks away from the mounds of rubbish and troops of langurs cavorting with torn newspapers and plastic wrappers, few lines from Agha Shahid Ali’s poem “Farewell” surface:

“At a certain point I lost track of you. They make a desolation and call it peace.”

Perhaps that line should read: they make a desolation and call it progress.

Date: Dec 3, 2010

My Daily Notes

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India Note - 1

A metaphor for the future Indian cities: sumptuous traffic jam

"Why aren’t there more flyovers built to bypass the traffic? But for the last 10 kilometers we have traversed four of them."

Reading Alberto Manguel on Homer at Landmark Books in Hyderabad, he thinks if there were a few of these stores a decade ago, perhaps, he would have never left

On the old Bombay highway, what happened to the distant views of the hillocks and the lakes? Then he was too small to go explore. Now everything has vanished under a carpet of concrete

Posters of godmen next to posters of movie stars – two pathways to getting at the same kind of solace

A novel he must find and read just for its resonant title: Thomas Hardy’s “Far From The Madding Crowd”

On the second day after arrival, on a jetlagged morning walk with his father, he hears the song of dueling temples

Subbu’s Bhaja Govindam heard distantly over the early morning calls of iterant vegetable sellers is like real filter coffee – how different than hearing it on headphones in an autumn American morning

There goes a Porsche dealer. But here come Jaguar, BMW, and Harley offering their shiny, and completely impractical, wares. Should they begin with the question: where to drive these toys?

Joy is scoring four Hero fountain pens for a dollar each. There was a time when these were the default writing instruments, filled with Chelpark Royal Blue ink

Many who he grew up with have left for that far country. Few lines from Shahid Ali’s “A Country Without a Post office”: One begins: “These words may never reach you.”/Another ends: “The skin dissolves in dew/ without your touch.”

The last yellow blossoms on the amalta tree. And four cabbage butterflies hovering like white memories from his childhood Novembers, which were spent chasing them through the schoolyard brambles

Date: Dec 1, 2010; Hyderabad India

My Daily Notes

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