The tribe in the forest

And yet these buccaneers still kneel   
Trembling at the water’s verge:   
“Cool River-Goddess, sweet ravine,   
Spirit of pool and shade, inspire!”   
So he needs poultice for his flesh.   
So he needs water for his fire.
                                                     -A Muse of Water, Carolyn Kizer. 
Sometimes I wondered if the songs they sung were songs at all? Or were they just prayers, rhythmically transcribed as to create the illusion of it being a song? Which is the most baffling part about being acquainted with a new language, you cannot distinguish the prayers from the songs. You do not know whether to dance and caper about wholeheartedly or slacken your senses in a state of transient devotion to the higher power?
And on these, rather frequent, occasions of either merriment or devotion, I saw them gather outside their tents of red and yellow. Their faces smeared with colours of white and red in intricate patterns, their mascaraed eyes, their bloodstained lips made their individual identity undecipherable.
“It is the whole purpose of it”, explained our translator, who himself had only faint knowledge of their language. According to him, it would take an outsider an approximate of 35 years, depending on his or her grasping ability, to be well-versed with their language. The reason, he said, was because we cannot understand their way of thinking. “They cover their faces with all these colours as to be unrecognizable as an individual when they stand in front of ‘her’. It is a symbol of them being equal in her eyes. Whether they are praying or tripping around in joy, they do it for ‘her’. They believe that humans generally acknowledge ‘her’ only in the times of need or despair. They disagree to it. They believe that it isn’t right to only remember ‘her’ for our self-centered values. They remember ‘her’ both in the times of grief and during the times of merry-making. Whether it is crying over the famines or celebrating over the harvest, they believe that they are constantly surrounded by her. That she is always there, watching them…”
I was particularly amazed for how he used the word humans for the rest of us. Perhaps it was well justified. As they danced around the fire in their whimsical movements, frolicking around in circles, wearing only a headband with the feathers of an Eagle, the skin of a spotted dear to cover their genitals and the colours, I realized that perhaps they were indeed a different breed in general. They cannot be us. We cannot be them. It was having two seperate universes in a single world, and to only think of the consequences when the two of them collide…
Our quest for ‘her’ is what dragged both of us us here in the first place. And as the days went by Fareed’s anticipation had taken its toll.
He was like all others his age, Fareed, zealous and energetic and pompous. All the initial emotions an explorer feels. And I must agree, I saw a large amount of the younger me in Fareed. Charming young man, an enthusiastic protege I must admit. The most vital thing was that we were both two individuals driven by our obsession for one thing in general. Inquisitiveness.
Could be a little adamant and ignoramus at times, yes! Like his obsession with canvas shoes. I had specifically instructed him to wear those heavy toe-capped safety Woodlands, but sometimes instructing him felt like banging my head on a wall. “They are way more cooler!”, he said, playfully showing off his canvas shoes.
‘Cooler!’ Kids these days!
When we first reached here, the people of the tribe were, unexpectedly, quite hospitable. They welcomed us us with garlands made of garlic( a sacred vegetable for them), marked our foreheads with soot and as our translator instructed them of our intentions, they insisted on us staying with them for a few days as to have the adequate amount of information that we needed. They arranged tents for our lodging and served us with bear meat for dinner on the first day. Needless to say, the meals were rather unpleasant.
There were glimpses of their culture that we gathered over the days. They believed in the Heaven and the Underworld just like the Biblical theory suggested it to be, but they did not believe that ‘she’ resides in any of these. There was an old acacia tree that grew in the exact centre of the village. They said it was more than three thousand years old and ‘she’ held her existence within it. They nurtured it like a child, decorated it with garlands of garlic, scented it with sandalwood for sanctity and worshiped it. They believed that the mere existence of their tribe depended upon the existence of the tree and that one day, when the devil shall manifest the Earth and all that is pure shall be crumbled to ashes, a lightning shall strike the tree, devouring with it the existence of the whole community.

On the fifteenth and last day of our visit, was when the preacher arrived….

She was a frail old woman, with arthritic legs and had two apprentices carry her around in a palanquin. A nearly balding scalp, a necklace made of tiny bones, deep mascaraed eyes, all those things that make for a pretentious, pompous voodoo saint in our world, but the people of the tribe believed in her. They respected and worshiped the same as they would worship ‘her’, for they believed that she was the one that could truly unite them with ‘her’.The women gifted their ornaments to her and men the first crops of harvest. They brought their little children with them, as she held them in her palms, playing with them and blessing them, as if they were her own…
We were somewhat rattled with all the show of unexplained generosity towards her and as we stood there in a corner in silence, it as as if she could somehow smell the disbelief within us, and all the more in Fareed, as she sent for us.

As we stood in front of her, an apprentice signaled for us to bow. All of us, all except Fareed, bowed in front of her. The apprentice was infuriated at that. He constantly signaled for Fareed to bow and so did we but he refused to do so.
She observed Fareed, a dry smile perpetuated on her withered lips and she said something to him in their language.

“She says ‘I know what you want..'” the translator explained to Fareed.
She mumbled some more.
“It is answers that your heart looks for…”
Fareed eyed her with an odd sense of inquisitiveness.
“Answers to the existence of ‘her'”, explained the translator. ” Answers to immortality; to life and death, and all that there is in the middle..”
“You wish to learn the truth. ‘Her’ truth, the truth behind the stories of the demons and the witches. You look at her the same way you look at them. You wish to unite with her. You desire to see her, touch her with your bare hands, embrace her, kiss her, make love to her under the moonlight…”
“I can show you the way…”
Fareed raised his eyebrows. “Is it possible?”, he asked.
“Only if your heart in as cleansed as the rivers of Pardisus”, she said. “Tell me? Do you wish to see her? Do you wish to believe?”
Fareed pondered for a moment, then nodded. “Yes!”, he said with the eagerness of a schoolboy.
She clapped twice as an apprentice came before her and bowed. “Arrange for the ritual”, she said.

We reached the tree and gathered around it in a circle. In the centre, below the tree, sat the old woman behind the fire. She sprinkled a white powder into the flames as she sang something in her hoarse, shrill voice. The people had gathered around in a circle, just like they always did. Some of them played held bongos to the beat with a pair of limb bones. She called for Fareed towards the centre, right next to the fire. I was among the few who didn’t join in and just silently stood in a corner, observing the spectacle. Fareed stood in front of her as she sang to the beats of the bongos. The tribesmen danced around in circle, their painted faces, their tripping feet, moved to the rhythm of the beat, devouring in it, consumed by the fire that began to grow in the middle and the flames of the fire seemed to dance to the music as well.
Fareed observed all of this with his eyes full of fetish and questions. Eyes were transfixed to the tree, searching for the answers to the divinity that the tree concealed. He didn’t seem scared, just stunned!
The old preacher kept on singing the song as she sprinkled the white powder into the flames. The flames danced and grew as a choking amount of smoke filled up the atmosphere. Smoke that blinded the vision. Smoke that made the skies grayish. Smoke that filled up my lungs. Choking it. Cleansing it….
I coughed for some time as my vision blurred from the teardrops in my eyes. Fareed coughed too, but the woman didn’t. Nor did the rest of the tribesmen. She kept on singing the song. In that ethereal moment, as my vision hazed and my lungs longed for clean air, I could finally understand what she was singing about.

She sang about ‘her’. ‘Her’ powers. ‘Her’ majesty…..

She sang about the acacia tree, how the starving woman had reached the forest and had begged to the gods for food and shelter. The gods didn’t listen to her, but ‘she’ did. She had been moved by the prayers of a cleansed heart. She appeared before the woman and told him, “Shed the teardrop of a pure heart anywhere you want in this forest, and you shall never starve again…” She cried her drops of purity at the same Earth that now bore the acacia tree. The tree bore with it a fruit, the fruit of immortality, which when consumed once, would never let a man go hungry again ever in his life. And his life shall go on until the annihilation of the universe.

She sang about how a civilization established around that tree. A civilization that were the descendants of the starving woman. How the civilization had never starved once. And how they only had one divinity to thank for all of that.

She sang about sunlight and she sang about storms. She sang about humans and she sang about monsters…

She sang, calling for ‘her’, begging for her to come and answer to a heart that longs for answers, a desert that needs to be rained upon. She chanted a prayer, praising ‘her’ majesty and all she had done for them. She chanted a prayer for unification…
Large amount of smoke now consumed the vicinity and valiant winds had started to storm about. The winds shook the tree, ruffling and shuddering the leaves with it and it somehow it seemed that the tree was dancing to the music as well, waving about ecstatically in sheer rejoice of being acknowledged.

The old woman now grasped a handful of white and forced it down the flames. The pungent smoke had now started to fill up my lungs through the nostrils and as I choked and coughed, I noticed that Fareed wasn’t coughing at all. He stared at the tree as his head waved around in a circle to the music. He was smiling….

At that transient moment of haze it seemed to me that the old woman wasn’t an old woman at all. She was a young, beautiful maiden, who looked pale and dehydrated and starved…

Fareed opened his arms towards the tree as his head continued to wave to the music. The old woman again held a handful of the powder and mumbled and sang as she fed it to the flames.

I remember the fading music slowly dying away. I remember an incandescent white light that blinded my vision. I remember the skies, the colour of murk and I remember the violent winds…

And as the smoke withered away and vision was restored, I remember seeing the tribesmen, all of them, sitting in a circle facing the tree, bowing to it with their hands outstretched. There was no old woman sitting by the fire. There was no Fareed standing in front of the tree, arms wide open, trying to embrace ‘her’.

All that remained, was the little amount of smoke from a dying fire, lumps of burnt firewood and a pair of canvas shoes….

The Weatherman: Chapter 6

The fire torches on both sides of the corridor made way for the Eye and the Foreseer as they proceeded. There were potraits of the Ancestral Makers that hung on both the sides.

There was Randalph the Great- Creator of the both this Universe and the parallel one. He wore a Corduroy red suit and carried a grey wig, the kind Washington wore. His face was stern and even though the Maker looked well fed, the colour of his skin looked pale. Or maybe it was how the lights made it look.

Then there was Marakh the Destroyer- who was as the name may suggest, was the destructer and plunderer of the Universe and all that was vile in it. He wore a Black silk suit and looked, in the least bit, effeminate. His lips were the colour of blood and his eyes looked as black as the mascara that he wore beneath them.

Then came Legolas the Preserver, the pale-bearer and nurturer of the Universe. He wore a white suit and was the only one who had a bowtie on. A blue bowtie to match with the eyes. His hair were so golden blonde and needless to stay he was perhaps the most handsome of all the three. But was he the noblest? Only time will tell.

Gina and Salem took a left at the end of the corridor and opened a small brown door to enter to enter what now seemed an office workplace. The pale blue coloured room, the size of half a football ground was filled with desks and chairs lined up in rows. There wasn’t any ceiling to the room and Gina could notice the skies turning to blacker by the hour. No, not darker, blacker. There on the hundreds of desks in front of them were hundreds of typewriters, with scrolls of parchments lingering out of them, lying all over the room and typing profusely on them were hundreds of dwarfs. All of them wearing small black suits with black shorts, a white shirt and a red bowtie. One needed to have an exceptional eye to distinguish one from the other. Which, needless to say, The Eye did possess. The type writers managed to slide to the next line on their own. Gina and Salem made their way through one of the rows in the room.

One of the dwarfs in the row slammed his fingers upon the keys of typewriter, as if trying to pierce through its very letters.
“Stupid Jiggletots,  Breezebonkers, Ratskunks, Hankyloaves…” He went on typing forcefully and full of rage.

” Mr. Winklehawks, why so grumpy over the poor typewriter?” asked Gina playfully.

“Oh no, madam, no. It isn’t just a typewriter. It is the evilest of all things created by humans. Stupid Bransneekers…..Bloody Rattle….” He slammed a single key multiple times with his middle finger. “Inconvenient to the fingers, parchments lying around here and there, the incessant clitter-clatter of keys all over the room, I assure Madam Miss Eye, it could drive a dwarf groundnuts!”

The very instant, a gigantic, rectangular slab of cement hovered over them to obscurethe night sky. The colour of the base of the slab was similar to that of the room. The same blue, successfully taking over the black. So black. So blue.

It had the same base dimension as that of the room’s rooftop. It soared in the air for a moment and then settled over the rooftop of the room, accurately covering the whole of it.

“Renovating much?” Gina asked the dwarf?

“Ah yes! His majesty thinks we need a new floor for the coming time. Increasing population and all! More hands to feed more brains.” He turned his gaze towards Salem who stood silently behind Gina. “Ah! Greetings Mr. Foreseer. Never saw you there. So what do you ‘foresee’?” He chortled a bit as he said it. “D’you think we need an extra floor in the coming times?”

Salem, who had the same solemn look on his face, cleared his throat a bit as he went. “Well, if you ask me, as far as the future is concerned, then perhaps we may not even need the very desk you’re sitting on.”

The dwarf smirked and stared at him with his dark green eyes. “So it is true what they say. You have gone completely insane!”

Just then, a man with a shaved head and emerald eyes and a goatee beard made his way towards them. He looked exactly like the Guardsman they had met at the gate. He even wore the same black robe that hid the scabbard under it.

“Miss Gina? Mr.Salem? You’re finally here.” The same unison of voices greeted them “Lord Caliph has been waiting for you.”

They followed him to another room, exquisitely larger than the previous one and instead of the blue, it was draped in velvety red. An array of pillars with peculiar carvings on them paved both the sides of the room. A velvet carpet, again red, led to the other end of the room, marked by row of chairs with noble men and women sitting on them on  both the sides. There was Mundungus, the timekeeper, perhaps with the darkest of all complexions; Augustus, the Lord of light, wearing his yellow robe so bright, it pricked the eyes; there was of course the ever so effeminate looking  Sir Jean, the Lovelord; Regina, the Lady of darkness, her black dress and her red lips; and so on and so forth.

At the end of the carpet lay a flight of steps, above which were the thrones of Lord Caliph, the Lord of life and her majesty, Lady Elsa. Lord Caliph looked everything a king would look. A manly beard and mustache, jet black in colour. A well built structure that symbolized a warrior, and a brave one at that. And  beside him resided Lady Elsa, whose beauty and charm were ever so beguiling, even for a king. She had fluffy blonde hair that held the crown so delicately placed. The ruby studded crown, the same gem engraved on that of the king’s. One incomplete without the other.

And on another seat in a distance, over the same flight of steps, lay a man whose mere presence ran shivering chill down the spine of both the mortals as well as the immortals. His dark grey eyes on his freckled face, white as snow, seemed like they hadn’t blinked in ages. Mandarin, the Deathlord, wore a black robe, and observed the whole procession with his serene demeanor. The demeanor of death.

All of them eyed the one man they had been anticipating for so long. And as the man with the black robe and turban made his way through, fearless and solemn as always; with the Mediterranean looking woman beside him, an indistinct murmuring had begun among the crowd. The two of them stood in front of the King and bent to one knee.

“His majesty”, said Gina, ” I summon to you the accused of treachery and of breaking his vow, Salem, the foreseer. Your judgement and justice shall account his fate.” She rose and gradually made her way joining the rest of the crowd.

The king observed the man for some time, sensing the fearlessness in his eyes. There was no trace of guilt to be found.

“Foreseer!”, he commanded. His voice stern and stern and regal at the same time. “You’ve been accused of betraying the whole kingdom. Your actions could’ve served as exposure of the whole clan. All I ask, mere Foreseer, is why?” He lowered his voice a bit. “Why would you do something like this to your own people? What is it that we have done wrong?”

Salem remained silent. Staring at the floor the whole time.

“Speak or forever hold your peace!”, said Caliph.

“His majesty!”, began Salem, “I fear our whole is on the verge of annihilation.”

There were gasps from the crowd and the murmuring continued.

“Silence!” stormed the King. “And on what grounds do you say that?”

“I have had a vision” said Salem. “Of blood! Of countless lives and innocent souls lingering around the dead carcasses of our world. Of raging storms wiping away the entire  civilization! Of women losing their husbands. Of children losing their childhood…”

“Forgive me my lord” interrupted a shrill voice. A voice so low, it almost whispered. The voice of Mandarin. “But I do not think there are any such indulgences that I have. It is, in a way, a direct attack on my fidelity”

“Then what justifications do you have for the recent disturbances, Lord Mandarin”, said Salem. “Storms in the Arabian countries, Volcano in Japan, earthquakes in Pakistan….”

“All of them necessities for the balance”

“All of them? All at once? Or is there another reason behind tilting the needle of the scale more towards death, Lord Deathlord? Another reason that involves a deal signed with someone perhaps?”

“HOW DARE YOU SPEAK TO ME LIKE THAT, MERE GUARDIAN!”, raged Mandarin. “I’m a guardianhead. I shall behead you this very instance! Do you not fear me? Do you not fear the inevitable?”

“I fear you as much as thundering Griffin fears a tiny elf!”

“ENOUGH!”, interrupted Caliph. “I shall not bear such indiscipline in my court.”

He rose from his throne, followed by every other noble men and women raising from theirs. “Guardsmen! I want you to escort the Foreseer to the Prison of Paradisus. He shall stay there until further trial.”

The guardsmen bowed and escorted Salem out of the room.

“Adjourned!”, commanded the king.

As Salem made his way out of the court, he felt the familiar shiver down his spine. He felt like an old man walking down a distance on snowy, wintry desert. As if the very essence of happiness had vanished from the world.

There were cold, grey eyes observing him from a distance…

Her- A love story

It’s been more than a year since the film hit the Indian theaters and somehow I feel like kicking myself for missing it at that time. It was only recently that I had a chance of catching this film which happens to be recommended by a friend after she read my review of ‘Ruby Sparks’ and found a striking similarity to this film in it. Although both these films are so similar yet so different at the same time, and the feeling after watching both the films was, too some extent, mutual. And all these films made me feel so much, to which my last resort to get rid of this tumultuous wave of emotions is to hamper them down to poor readers( i.e. if I have any). So anyways, better late than never, my thoughts on the film ‘Her’.

‘Her’ is a love story of Theodore and Samantha. No, it’s not a story about a relationship of a man with his computer. She is not his computer. She makes it very clear to him. Its is evident when she playfully makes up a robotic voice when he, a little out of habit, addresses ‘her’ like he addresses ‘them’. It is also not a sci-fi film set in a near yet distant future, with Artificially Intelligent Interactive Operating Systems. It’s a part of the film, but it isn’t mainly what the film is about. Also, the film doesn’t make it evident that the setup is based on the near future. The film could be taking place in our own vicinity. Aren’t we somehow dependant over the operating systems in our phones and computers to such an extent that to somehow imagine a life without them seems inevitable. ‘Siri’, ‘Samantha’, it’s all the same. No wait! It’s not! It’s definitely not. I can’t believe I just said that. Sorry Samantha.

I think a fruitful description would be to state this film as a love story between ‘Theodore’, a loner (which includes nearly 95% of the entire population. The rest of them, well, are Honey Singh fans), somebody who works as a writer of digitized handwritten  letters and who is currently going through a rough seperation period, and ‘Samantha’, an interactive Operating System who has the same tendency of feeling emotions as that of any other human, and perhaps more than any other human. At first glance, the very thought of a man falling in love with an OS seems lonely and disturbing, but the point is that Samantha is all so interactive and understanding an operating system, that falling in love with her(not it) seems justified. I mean think about it, why is it that somehow having a physical body in it’s own all so important. The whole idea of falling in love with an idea of a person rather than a person itself. Isn’t it why we fall in love with realists like Edward Hopper and Da Vinci? And what is it that Samantha couldn’t do that a human in flesh and blood can. For Samantha can interact with him at all times of the day, help him with his daily chores, provide sexual pleasure, and most importantly could do something that most humans of flesh and blood fail to do. Understand.

Another major question that the film raises is how isn’t being poly-amorous not justified? Samantha loves Theodore the same way she loves many different other users. Why is it that our love is somehow confined to only one person in particular? She is talking to Theodore while also talking to several other people at the same time. Aren’t we somehow lost in so many different voices in our head at the same time?

To a major extent, yes, this film is extremely similar to ‘Ruby Sparks’, with the lead actor, again a writer, going through this melancholic seperation phase in life falls in love with a character he wrote and how she somehow comes to life. But what is mainly different is that the lead character in ‘Ruby Sparks’ could manipulate her partner according to his convenience. And she, being a human, feels the repercussions to it. Samantha, on the other hand, isn’t tied down to love Theodore, she willingly does so.

Another similar film would be, also by Spike Jonze, ‘Being John Malkovich’ in which a portal could allow people to be somebody else for some amount of time. To delve inside their minds for some time and to feel what they’re feeling at that precise moment. It reflects how being somebody else, in this case Broadway actor John Malkovich, has this own zen to it. How we fall in love with with the idea of being another person! A person who seems way more interesting than us.

Spike Jonze’s style of film-making is very similar to that of her ex-spouse Sofia Copolla’s. The film-making is very similar to that of ‘Lost in Translation’, how the filmmakers have this ability to use the effect of light and dark and Chiaroscuro to resonate with the mood, their obsession with neon lights from buildings, streetlights, etc., and the music! Ah! The music. How much has it made me fall in love with ‘Arcade Fire’ and with Karen O’s ‘The moon song’. Also I loved how many intricate colours were used in the film. Almost like a Van Gogh.

‘Her’, if looked from a precautionary angle, somehow shows our sad dependancy on artificial form of love, our reliability on our phones straight from waking us up in the morning to lulling us off to sleep. Is it merely sad that we cannot find love and acceptance in the people around us? But the question is why is falling in love with just an idea of a person not justified? Is it only because it isn’t prevalent? That it isn’t the norm of a society to do so? What if we’re in a society where such form of love is accepted? What then? I think the answer to it lies somewhere in a quote from the movie, which might probably stay with me forever “Love is a socially acceptable form of insanity.”