How do they know?

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It is a source of constant amazement to my parents of how much I remember of my childhood, even as early as around the age of four years. Some of the memories over the years seem to be the product of my active imagination superimposing images from the stories told by my parent over the memories of places that I had, however some stand out very clearly as distinct experiences – like the day when mom carried me around for ages with a cold compress till dad could get home and take us to the hospital for stitches, after I had cut my head against the flower bed brick border. Or that evening when dad walked us a to a hitherto unseen area to pluck flowers and the kaleidoscope of impressions of the day – the lovely colours of the setting sun, the shower of pink blossoms bursting through a creeping bed of green leaves, parrots squawking as they returned to roost and the simple joy of being with loved ones. That childhood bubble of joy still channels through the years and hits me every time I look at the golden hues of a setting sun.

When I was around six, dad was posted in Arunachal Pradesh and we got to spend our summers in this eastern extremity of India. My memories are filled with towering mountains, lush green vegetation, gushing streams, roaring waterfalls and the weird creature – leech. Besides the fresh water black blob variety the higher altitudes also had a grey-green terrestrial variety of the most tenacious kind. One just couldn’t complete a stroll through a grassy green without having a couple stuck on. They were also very hardy and could tolerate high dosages of salt before they would let go. This one time when we had gathered some wild flowers dad found a minuscule one crawling on one of the twigs. As soon as dad picked up the twig the leech changed directions and “charged” (if that’s possible while crawling) towards dad’s finger. When dad held the twig by the other side the leech promptly changed direction and headed again for the hand. As my six year old self watched the movements of the leech in awe, the only thought in my head was – how does it know where to go??!

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In An Antique Land

Phew! Its been a long time since I put pencil to paper – and it shows! Picked out Amitav Ghosh’s “In an antique land” to read and loved the cover art so much I decided to sketch it. Though the rustiness of skills are evident I still liked the outcome –

In an antique land cover art

The book itself is an ethnography based upon the author’s stay in Egypt & his interactions with the people, at the same time discussing the relationships between India and Egypt during the medieval times by tracing the life of the Jewish Merchant “Abraham Ben Yiju” (utilizing the documents from “Cairo Geniza“). The multiple parallel timelines and locations in the book are a bit difficult to keep up with, however once one gets used to the style, one realizes that narrative is designed to bring out the numerous contrasts of the two eras –

The rich multi-lingual, multi-religious trading ethos of the medieval times, to a generation where relations are broken to the point of ignorance of others’ existence, religious intolerance and warring nations.

From a time when the Indian Ocean Trade enriched the cultural and economic aspirations of all the countries involved in the trade, to a generation where a country’s progressive aspirations are measured by the number of weapons of mass destruction that it can accumulate.

An era when just communication and travel used to take days and months, to a time when a few years changed the financial and economic situation of a village for the better.

From the observation of how the military might of the west ruined the peaceful nature of the Indian Ocean Trade, to the observation of how western education and progressive ideas overtook the agrarian village society changing the lives and lifestyles of the inhabitants.

The book gives a graphic description of Egypt and its transformation over the centuries – the medieval times, the modern times and the build up and discovery of the Cairo Geniza. The stories in the book left me with a deep sense of loss – the loss of not knowing a culturally rich era and the loss of living an era of war torn nations and religious intolerance.

P. S.: The cover page is the work of Viren Desai & Bena Sareen and is used (it seems) only for books sold in the Indian Sub-continent.

Wilderness!!

My parents legacy to us kids is definitely the love for reading. Reading for us, at that age covered a wide range of books. It not only included the usual Famous Fives, Three Investigators etc., but also a large number of comics. There was the Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, Tintin, Asterix & Obelix; the Indian genre of Chacha Choudhary, Tinkles, Amar Chitra Kathas and even the war comics that my dad loved to read. However my interest in Graphic Novels was definitely an off-take from my hubby’s enthusiasm for the same. The price of these books being prohibitively high for purchase we restrict ourselves to buying only the most well know novels – the once that my hubby just “has-to-have” like Batman, V for Vendetta etc.

Recently on our trip to the mall, the book store was off loading non-selling graphic novels in a sale and we picked up a couple for a few hundred bucks. One of the books was Mike Grell’s “The Complete Jon Sable, Freelance: Vol 7”. The protagonist is a professional hunter (in an age when hunting was supposed to be a great adventure) and most of the book is set in Africa – which brought back memories of the Phantom comics read in the long past. What amazed me most about the book was the illustrations. The illustrated story-line was not confined to rectangular boxes like in the comics of yester-years, at the same time it didn’t have the exotic look of digitally created images. All the images were hand sketches, with deceptively simple looking lines creating a plethora of human emotions and animal interactions. The simplicity of the animal illustrations made me just want to pick up a paper and pencil and try it out for myself.

My Sketches from Mike Grell’s “The Complete Jon Sable, Freelance: Vol 7”

Hunting cats, lazing cats, growling cats, stampeding elephants, flying cranes – all drawn with the ease of years of practice and keen observation – beautifully brought to life the wilderness of Africa. The only other author who has been able entice his readers to fall in love with Africa according to me is Wilbur Smith. His books so strongly reflect his love for the continent that one just can’t help but become captivated by the land so skilfully portrayed by his mesmerising words.

“The rains opened their annual offensive with a midnight broadside of thunder. [ ]. It [the wind] came of the east and it frightened the trees so they thrashed their branches in panic; it drummed on the wagon canvas and filled the air with dust and dry leaves. Then came the rain: stinging like hail, drowning the wind and turning the air into water. It swamped the sloping ground that could not drain it fast enough, it blinded and it deafened.” – When the Lion Feeds

“It was a photograph of an elephant, an old bull. [ ] Somehow he portrayed the whole vastness and timelessness of a continent, and yet he was at bay, and one sensed that all his great strength was unavailing, that he was confused by things that were beyond his experience and the trace memories of his ancestors, that he was about to be overwhelmed by change – like Africa itself.

With him in the photograph was shown the land, the rich red earth riven by wind, baked by sun, ruined by drought. [ ] Then, over it all the limitless sky, containing the promise of succour, the silver cumulo-nimbus piled like a snow-clad mountain range, bruised with purple and royal blue, pierced by a single beam of light from a hidden sun that fell on the old bull like a benediction.” – The Leopard Hunts in Darkness