“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Monday, March 19, 2012

On Dogs and Images

I have an interesting collection of books on dogs. Stories, poetry, behaviour, history, breeds etc etc. But the book that I go back to, again and again is the one by Elliot Erwitt - Dog Dogs. A collection of nearly 900 B&W pictures of dogs that span half-a-century, from 1946 to 1998. These are not studio portraits of breed dogs, but you have blue-blooded canines to scrawny mongrels from different parts of the globe.

They are not mere dog photos, but you get a glimpse of the culture, the people and the period when it was taken. They show the deep emotional bond between humans and canines; they give you pictorial defenition of love, faith and trust. In these candid photographs ( Erwitt is a very famous photographer - he also took photos of dogs while on his job) you realize how individualistic, how unique is the personality of each dog.

Whenever one misses the warmth of love, just go out and look at a dog.

Looking through these images, where in each, in a discreet corner the year and the location is printed, I sadly realise that all of these dogs and many of the people that you see in the pictures would be no more. One feels so helpless.

Looking through old albums, reliving,
Moments captured long ago,
I sense me smiling
Sometimes wincing,
Sometimes unfeeling,
Sometimes marvelling and then again
Flipping past, lest pain infiltrate my mind -

Suddenly, I stop, shocked, realizing
That they are just images -
They don't exist - no more, never again.

*********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum 19.03.2012

K & Sancho, Trivandrum , 18.03.2012

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Memory of Indulgence

Lunch is Rs.30/-; you get as much parboiled rice as you want, Sambar, Pulisseri, Moaru (diluted salted buttermilk with green chillies and curry leaves and crushed shallots and sometimes coriander leaves); two side dishes, a vattal chilli/ or Pachchadi, a Pappad and lemon pickle - and you get a little bowl of fish curry from which you can fish out a little piece of Matthi ( Sardines), 1/3 rd of the original little fish. For Rs.10/- you get two whole Matthi-s, fried and a few slices of raw onion, garnished. Very often, I indulge in a second plate of fried fish which takes the total of my lunch to Rs.50/-. Sometimes you get fried Tuna or Shellfish also; but Matthi is staple.

I eat the fried fish, full. Never leaves the fishbone alone. I crunch it my mouth and it goes 'crusp crusp crutch'. One should not waste the Matthi's bone; it is as crisp as a potatoe wafer, though much tastier. You may discard the tail, if you wish.

The small hotel is very near to my Bank, though I noticed it only a couple of months after I had been in Alleppey. The first time I had my lunch there, it left me gasping with pleasure, because the food was so much like I used to eat at home in boyhood. It had that same smoky taste of soot-blackened kitchens of my homes, long long ago.

As I pour the fish curry over my steaming rice and crush the Pappad on top of it and the ball of rice in my palm is red and hot as I lift it to my mouth, I remember, almost everytime, my mother. When I was a young boy, our family was, kind of upper-middle class. There was no dearth of food in our house. Either the helps or my mother will be in the kitchen, all the time cooking cooking - what I remember now, with almost a feeling of guilt, is the unimaginable quantity of fried Sardines I had eaten in those days. Mother would be frying and putting the fish in the strainer vessel to drain the oil and no sooner the fish is flicked into the vessel, I would reach out and take and eat two, at a time. By the side of the frying pan, would be the big pile of Matthi-s, fresh, and so red with the paste of ground chillies. I'd poke around, lifting the covers of other pots and pans and peeping into them, come back and pick another two. Mother would say - enough enough, there won't be any space left for the rice.

It wasn't Matthi alone; Prawns, Cashew nuts, fruits, Curds - salted, dried and smoked venison, Chicken - the list is endless. Mother would make delicious Mutton stew; my sister and I would fight for that bone with succulent marrow that you can suck in, though at times you have to tap it on the plate to loosen it. Father would bring home all sorts of vegetables - he had a penchant for buying vegetables in huge quantities - he just loved looking at it. Mother would be exasperated and she would give away most of it to our poorer neighbours or servants. While we lived in Palakkad, father would bring the lovliest fruits and carrots and Cauliflowers from Coimbatore, where he goes occasionally to take classes at the Forest Institute. He would have National Geographics too, from the library, for me to drool on. And Phantom Comics and Enid Blytons.

Head bent, I eat my lunch. I don't care for the food much now, I eat it mechanically, just to ward off hunger. Everytime the man lays the plate of two fried Matthi before me, I remember my mother, cooking cooking.

********* Balachandran V, Alappuzha, 16.03.2012

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Women and Towns

During my happy days there, I developed an image of Kottayam as a woman. Kottayam was a broad. She had beefy arms and amazonian thighs. She had jet black hair that shone with oil and cascaded over her ample behind. Kottayam was a big-breasted lady. She had that nonchalant walk that tickled men. She was sexy; a great romp in the bed. The only question was that whether you could take her. She had an earthy sense of humour and that glint in her eyes held a lot of promises. I thought of Kottayam as Queen Latifah. In that crest than ran from Kanjikuzhy to Thirunakkara, she was a like a buxom woman lying stretched on her back, inviting. Every morning, she took a dip in Meenachil river and strolled with her hair dripping water and the wet white sari tied up above her abundant chest clinging to her body. In the evenings, she sat on her front porch before the slow moving river and gazed at the boats passing by. Kottayam had a zest for life. She would make a great mate, the kind who doesn't need your support; all she asked was for treatment as an equal and she took care of you.

In Alleppey/Alappuzha, I am like the unwilling individual who is forced into an arranged marriage, compelled to cohabit with another person. She is not the kind I'd care to make love to. She is the one who mumbles from within the smoky kitchen, coming out with bleary eyes, squinting, her dishevelled hair caked with dust and soot. Her skin is rough and scaly. She wears a blouse with no bra inside, the dark stain of sweat in huge semicircles under her armpits and her shrunken, shapeless breasts slump over her distended belly that bears the scars of child-bearing. I am reminded of some old heroines of the B&W era of Malayalam neo-realistic movies. She is coarse. I shudder to listen to her accent. I faint at the reek that emanates from her hair, the reek of sweat and coconut oil, condensed. She wears cheap, bright, synthetic 'Nighties' that makes me want to puke. The stagnant waters of her canals, the ramshackle old buildings barely standing, the creepers and water hyacinths that clog the waterways - Alleppey/Alappuzha is like a dull, morose, sulky buffalo.

Yet I am married to her. The faithful person that I am, I strain to tolerate her. I sense sorrow and dejection in this town. I try to cheer her up, fondling her once in a while, though she refuses to be aroused. There is a beauty somewhere deep in her; her pretty beach, the paddy fields where Egrets and Herons and River Terns and Black Drongos fly around, the Backwaters beckoning you to the vast expanses of water. Maybe if I tickle her at the right erogenous zones, she'd stop lying on her back like an old whore and get on top of me, like Kottayam always did.

What I would do with Alleppey/Alappuzha ( I still cannot get over this dichotomy of names) is to give her a bath, shampoo her hair and clad her in a jeans and top. I'd like to do a Pygmalion on her. But I cannot do anything about the dull eyes and downturned mouth of this town. So, like the typical Alleppian who stands in the long queue before the liquor shop as night falls to buy a Quarter of the cheapest Rum and then goes home to bash up his wife or scratch at the mosquito bites, I try to beat it into this town's head that 'Look here you ****ing b****, dress up and get out if you don't want another kick in your ass don't be such a sourpuss'.

I am telling you, my readers, Alleppey/Alappuzha could be as kinky as Mumbai, why, Mumbai is just a hag, made up old floozie of Kamatipura. AlIeppey/Alappuzha is just so dried up, all she needs is someone to love her - and I tell ya - she'd bloom!

In the dull, quiet, early mornings that I explore this town oh-so-slowly on my bicycle, I feel like I am looking over a woman sleeping on her torn charpoy, her legs barely covered by the shreds of an old blanket. You look with detest at her partly opened mouth and foul breath and the occasional snore she splutters out. She is graceless and ugly even when asleep. But there is a kind of peace in sleep. Like the dead, damn it! I grind my teeth; if only if only you said you loved me and wanted me instead of cooking my dinner and washing my clothes and bearing my children, if only you came to me in the early mornings and gripped me in both your hands and kissed - why, I'd wash and comb your hair; I'd massage your feet and paint your lips. I'd slap your buttocks red and make you hot. I'd clean up your sodden canals and clear up your face. I'd stick a bindi on your forehead.

My morning rambles continue. I am getting sick of this town; the sicker I am, the harder I try to find joy in this place. Am I extending my way of attributing life to inanimate things to Alleppy/Alappuzha also? I am, I know.

The life that I breathe into my bike or my Netbook or this town - is really truly, me. Yet, I believe that is how one can learn about life, by seeing oneself in others. Everything, every being that you look at, reflects you. Looking at my bike, at my Netbook, at my dogs, at this town or Kottayam or Trivandrum, I learn a little more about myself. You do not see them as they are, you see them as you wish them to be; which is what you wish yourselves to be. They are; therefore you exist. I always remember the time I was hiking around Lake Manasarovar. Breaking out of my trance, I noticed that many of my fellow pilgrims hardly saw the magnificence of the landscape. They went on munching their namkeens and sweets, cursing the strong, freezing winds. Then I realised that the beauty of the landscape is not out there, but within me. Everytime you connect with another person, everytime you fall in love with another person or a town, you are falling in love with yourself. The goodness and ugliness that you see in another is the goodness and ugliness that is in you. What you seek from God is not really his/her love and protection and redemption; you are seeking all that from within you.

I sympathize with the men and women who fly from one relationship to another; it is not really just physical love they are looking for; nor is it the platonic, spirtual partnership. People are searching for themeselves in others.

********** Balachandran V, Alleppey/Alappuzha, 08-03-2012


Tuesday, March 6, 2012


The silken hair that brushes past my arm and moves away like a breeze

Leaving me still, leaving a fragrance that makes me close my eyes

and think of nothing -

That look Waheeda gives - come hither- and sings

'Jane kya tu ne kahi'

Meenakumari dressing up for her husband

Nargis asking the moon to hide behind clouds

Madhabi Mukherjee singing, swaying in the swing

Dimple with her heart going thud thud in the flickering flames...

Listening to Lata, to songs spanning decades, I lie, letting the flood

of memories

Of beautiful women, so painfully beautiful, hurting me

Hurting me, all the while I ask for more pain...

Sharmila tells me 'Nindiya na aaye...'

I look at you, women, at your curls and wish

You would smother me in them;

When I die I will carry

Your scent with me.

I look at you, women, at your dark, liquid eyes

That makes me want to drown in them

The sweat beads that I will lick

Your tremulous lips that I will kiss and

Breath in deep you, as I nip your earlobes.

I look at you, women, at your slender fingers

And imagine them tracing patterns on me

Your smooth, rounded shoulders I will stain with my kiss.

As your arms encircle my head and press my face gently

To your softness, in great tenderness -

All I have to do is to close my eyes

And Time and Space would cease to be.

******* Balachandran V, Alappuzha, 05.03.2012

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Female of the Species

Lying beneath the ceiling fan that pummel me
With gusts of hot air that refuses to leave my room;
Sweating, half-asleep, I swap at the mosquitoes biting me.

It is midnight or so, but I wake up; my skin burns and itches.
Switching on the light and switching off the fan
I scan the room for those bloodsuckers and hit
At one or two which lie on the floor.
I have the immense satisfaction
of crushing them with my toe
Leaving a smear of my blood on the polished tiles.

Sitting on the floor cross-legged, in the nude
I watch a mosquito landing on my thigh and stick its proboscis into me.
I could imagine her stomach billowing with my blood.
I could feel it, I could feel it, the needle breaking into my skin and the pain
Like the catheter of angiogram shooting up through my nerves 
And into my brain.

Watching the risen little bump  morosely
And scratching at it sullenly,
I wonder
Why only the female of  the species suck blood.

******** Balachandran V, Alappuzha, 02.03.2012

Saturday, March 3, 2012

History of Photography according to Balan ( with a little help from DSP Black desi whisky)

Nope. If you are searching for 'History of photography' per se, please go somewhere else; download BBC's 5 or 6 parts of documentary. This is about my photography. At this stage, I don't know what I am going to put down here, but persevere, if you care to.

In the big,black trunk at home, amidst the junk or memorabilia that I have stored over the decades, you will find a 1936 Voigtslander twin lens reflex camera that belonged to my father. You will also find the following; an Agfa Click III, still in its carton and a Pentax K1000. The foetal stage of my photography.

I am not Henri Cartier-Bresson; nor Ansell Adams, nor Robert Capa, nor Jim Brandenburg - not Erwin Elliot either. Not even Raghu Rai. I am Balachandran, whose earliest dreams, as far as I can remember, was about images. What I could not create on photo paper, I try on words.

In the trunk, you will also find photographs dating back to 1908 or even pre-dated, though there are no dates. Then in the big black tattered albums, you will find pictures taken by father; taken with the Voigtslander. For me, to own a camera took many years; in 1986, at the age of 28, I bought my first camera, the Pentax K1000, with painstakingly saved Rs.7000/-. In the annals of history, you will discover that I had won a state award for photography - the photo now looks insipid, but admirers were many, then.

Later in the early 1990s, I bought a Canon A1, with a couple of lenses again with miserably miserly saved money, only to lose it at Manali in 1995 to some petty thief, may his soul rot in hell. It was painful.

There are only few things on which I splurge; books, travel and dreams. To spend money on luxurious acquisitions was a self-imposed taboo. I still wear shirts that are more than 10 years old. The T shirts that my friend Anil had made in his factory at its inception 20 years ago, are still with me. The shoes that I wore in 2000 AD for walking around Mount Kailas is still there at home. I hate to throw away familiar things, old stuff. I don't know why, but I attribute life to even to inanimate things. They don't talk to me, but I do. In the silence that falls afterwards, we communicate. Maybe it is just that I attach memories to each of them; is it a crime, is it stupidity, it is sheer waste of time to dwell on the past? Maybe for someone. Sentimental fool, once my mother called me. But how can you discard something just because you don't find it 'useful' anymore? Is 'utility' the ultimate test for something? What about my own 'utility'? Lets have some irony and pity, as Hemingway said.

I still have my Bajaj Scooter, circa March 1977. Even if I don't glance at him for months, the very time I kickstart him, he wakes up.

I still remember my first love, with pain - and pain.

I have the bell that my goat wore in 1974.

The dog collar that Tommy wore when he was alive, an empty cartridge shell I found on the slopes of Anamudi, the bills and tickets from my first journey to the Himalayas in 1986, toys that K played with as little baby, letters that P wrote to me before our marriage.

Then in the late 90's, I bought my dream camera, the Nikon F3. To me that is the best camera in the world. My friends who are professional photographers, disparage. They say Canon is the professionals' make. So be it. What about Hasselblad, uh? Or - or - Leica? Phooey to your Canon!

Having a camera is one thing; taking photographs, another.

My epitaph, friends, if you'd care to write it when I am no more, should be - ' Here lies a man who dreamed and dreamed - and dreamed'.

In the glittering era of digital photography, my ancient F3 and its lenses were confined to their prison - large, wide-mouthed Pearl Pet Jars with Silica Gel in it. There was an forgettable period of Point& Shoot cameras, don't remind me. ( I still have them, the Sonys and Gateways and Kodaks)

Then by sheer chance, I bought this Nikon P100, a point & shoot but more advanced, what they call a Bridge Camera, something between P&S and DSLR.

In Alleppey/Alappuzha, I discover a studio which would happily develop Print Films; once a week. So, I bring over my ancients and begin my Retro.

These are photographs taken by my F3 and its lenses; most of them have a little fungus in them, but the mood that my F3 can capture is something the best DSLRs in the world would fail to. At least I think so.

Backwaters - Punnamada Kayal/ Pallathuruthi River.

                                              Common Sandpiper

Near the Transport Bus Station, Alleppey. The canal reaching out to Pallathuruthy River.

Paddy fields shrouded in mist

A boat that will never again ride the waves...

Neither will she; lying sunk like somebody's dreams...

It was so quiet; I watched the boat gliding by...

On Golden Pond...

These godowns once used to store Copra ( dried coconuts) and the canals teemed with boats that brought them from Kuttanad.

*********** Balachandran V, Alappuzha, 02-03-2012