Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Date palms, or Sometimes we are all our own Andalus

This post is actually remembered from a couple of weeks ago, when I was utterly utterly miserable; so miserable indeed, that I finally understood what Douglas Adams meant by the phrase/title 'The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul'.
Much of this had to do with my sheer disbelief at the fact that it was actually dark at teatime, once Daylight Saving Time came off. What do you mean 'good afternoon'? I felt like snapping at people. It's dark already. The day is over. What the f*** am I supposed to do?

I'd usually end up being miserable enough for my flatmate to look at my face and get worried, only to be reassured by the fact that I was still eating normally. And oh yes, reciting maudlin Urdu poetry to myself. Over breakfast.

Then I went to England for a few days. where, if anything, it gets darker sooner this time of the year, and the sky is a lowering gray overcast which makes you feel like sinking under its weight. 5 o' clock had never been more unbearable.

(Of course, one of those times I was saved by good friend KW's birthday party starting at 5.30, with us breaking out Belgian beer and calling our old college/film-school mates from London, one of whom happened to be shooting for a film in a town on the Jaipur Bikaner highway called, err, Chomu. The rest of the evening was a memorable blur of great cooking and great Sikkimese-Punjabi-Japanese-Nigerian-Nepali-American-British-Desi company; Mohammad Rafi and Regina Spektor and me, yet again, singing BC... but that's another blog post.)

My last English 5 o clock was at Heathrow, and this just had to be the worst ever. Douglas Adams was right about airports too.
"It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the phrase, 'as pretty as an airport.' Airports are ugly. Some are very ugly. Some attain a degree of ugliness that can only be the result of a special effort."
And my flight to New York, at the last minute, was announced as being two hours late.

It got so bad then it could only improve. And it has. Right now, despite the fact that it's end of term and the work has piled up something crazy, I'm enjoying the entirely new sensations of it being so cold that your ears hurt if uncovered for a few blocks and your eyes water in the wind... If you see a bearded guy in a black pea coat singing as he walks on the pavements of New York, it's probably me.

But while at the nadir of despair, I remembered this fragment of poetry, remembered from one of the most moving books I have ever read. A fragment written from a man far away from 'home', in exile, in a land that would, in due course of time, become in so many ways, a metaphor for loss and exile. A man writing from Al-Andalus.

A palm tree stands in the middle of Rusafa,
Born in the West, far from the land of palms.
I said to it: How like me you are, far away and in exile,
In long separation from family and friends.
You have sprung from the soil in which you are a stranger;
And I, like you, am far from home.

And in a quizzer logic chain of references this led to the thought/phrase
Aasman se gire, khajur main atke
(Fell from the sky, and got caught in the date palm.)

which of course, led to Kabir -

Bada hua to kya hua, jaise ped khajoor?

Panthi ko chhaya nahin, phal laage ati door.

So what if you're as tall as a date palm?

No shade for the traveller, and the fruits are too far.

Sometimes all you need to set you right is a little bit of self mockery.

(Actually, there was another reference too. Remembering the consciously syncretic motif of the vines growing around the trunk of the date palm, found in the beautiful mosques of 15th century Ahmedabad. But that's a lament that I will save for tomorrow, when it will make more sense.)

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