Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The sum of the parts - 1

I have been published. And PAID. AND the Honourable Editor has said nice things about me in the foreword. AND I am invited to the book release on Monday.
Quite overwhelming.

Besides, now that it's published, it is fodder for the blog.
But Four. Thousand. Words. is FAR too much for a blog post.

So, children, you shall have it In Instalments (my editor for the newspaper column Admonishes me Sternly if I use these capitalisations. This is MY blog. Sucks to you, Ed!)

Instalment 1 -

Arsalan Meyehane. The sign in the Cicek Pasaj (Flower Lane) in Istanbul stopped me dead in my tracks. Not just because it appeared at the end of a long thirst-inducing walk. Not just because, thanks to Kemal Pasha and his proscription of Arabic script, it was in Roman letters. What struck me was the echo of India in this city on the cusp of two continents. Meyehane or bar is almost exactly the same as maikhana, that staple of poor Urdu shayari. And Arsalan is one of The Wife’s favourite restaurants back in Calcutta. Which set me to thinking Deep Thoughts about how the world is reflected in India. I retired to the meyehane to sluice my mental processes with raqi (which, alas, has no counterpart in India).

Minor irrigation yielded a flood of impressions. Travelling the world after three decades of travelling around India yields a continuous state of déjà vu. In the alleys of Aleppo, cobbled and cloistered, sometimes almost claustrophobic, I thought “I have been here before”. Shall I say / I have gone at dusk through narrow streets … That would be Benaras, the lanes of Godhaulia that rise and fall and eddy into uneven stairs, or break into sudden effusions of multi-coloured shops and garish lights. Lanes that lead you to an overwhelming question - the burning ghats on the river’s edge.

Or the winding lanes in Lisbon’s Alfama, where, in a yellow tram-car hurtling between friendly shop-fronts close enough to touch, I found echoes of Surya Sen Street in Calcutta. The Edwardian facades of old Calcutta came to mind again, and the Indo-Saracenic architecture of south Bombay, on a walk that took me down Piccadilly and up Oxford Street. A sleepy courtyard in Damascus, arches and pillars around a cracked pavement gently heaving like a summer sea, the dome of a mosque rising beyond the outer wall, could just as well have been in Lucknow.

Near Sao Paulo a church gleams white against a hillside riotously green, come to life from a photograph taken in the late afternoon sun near Benaulim in Goa. From the air force observation post on Laitkor Peak in Shillong, green meadows roll towards a hilly horizon, blurring into memories of a drive from Lancaster to the Lake District. Louvred windows look out on the lanes in Pondicherry that run towards the sea, with street signs still posted in French.

Kipling’s Kim, protagonist of one of the greatest road novels, is “little friend of all the world”. How apt for a book that is still one of the best accounts of India, for India itself is a little picture of all the world.
Three thousand years, waves of invaders, ripples of traders and millennia of assimilation; Greeks, Turks, Persians, the descendants of the Mongols, Portuguese, French and finally the British; a patchwork quilt of history that comes to life through the senses. A snatch of song in a nargileh bar that sounds eerily like Bangla adhunik – the same cadences, a similar tune, even words that echo my mother tongue. Curry and rice from a roadside stall in Bangkok, the aroma and the feel of comfort food taking one back to late winter nights at Khyber near the Delhi Ridge. The sudden explosion of a laugh in a smoky room, and the lattice-work above the arched doorway suddenly turns into Café Britannia near Ballard Pier.



Milo Minderbinder said...

fatafati...keep it rolling JAP.
A bottle of Absolut awaits your presence...

TalkingHead said...

Congratulations!!! Boi-er naam bolbe na? Look forward to reading it.

TalkingHead said...

Rich and beautiful prose J.A.P... satisying read..

Anonymous said...

Which book?

Anon E Mouse

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Milo, travel safe.

TH, thank you. Shall try to post the book launch invite.

Mouse, see above.


Lazyani said...

I am luuuvving it!!

km said...

JAP: so when are you writing that Calcutta noir series featuring a sad old Bengali private eye?

//and congratulations. Can't wait to pick up a copy of the book on my next visit to India.

mystic rose said...

Oh bravo. Money dignifes what is otherwise considered frivolous. I think that was Virginia Woolf. Not that your writing was ever considered anything less than elegant. And you deserve it :)