Excursions Of A Bibliophile

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Notes of a Nobody: A Room with a View

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on May 17, 2013

Room with a viewThe sudden sound of rhythmic drumming startled me out of my deep sleep.  Even in the half awakened state my mind registered the distinctness of the beat. It was the beat of drums which I used to hear quite frequently as a child at my native place – played by lower caste drummers, heralding the oncoming of a funeral procession. The approaching din of the pulsating beat was a warning signal for the residents to remove any obstacles en-route to make way for a seamless passage of the procession or temporarily halt the activities they were engaged in to turn themselves into curious onlookers. Sometimes, rarely though, these drums were also played to mark a more joyous occasion like a marriage or an animal sacrifice. As we migrated to larger cities we heard them less often. The last I heard them was a couple of years ago when a local toughie contested and won for a minor post in the labyrinthine municipal satrapy of my city. Ironic though, the occasion mingled both joy and sadness – joy for the toughie and his lackeys and sadness for the residents to think of things to come (or not to come)

Along with the awareness of the drum sound also came the awareness of my surroundings. I now remembered I was in a hotel room in temple town of Palani where I had arrived the evening before on our way to the hill station of Kodaikanal. The temple itself is situated on top of a mountain about 1000 feet high. Around this temple, the town spread in all directions for a few kilometers. Beyond the town lay vast swathes of well cultivated lush green orchards growing various seasonal fruits and coconuts. Given its religious significance, Palani attracted a large number of pilgrims from all over the state of Tamilnadu. Summer vacations further accentuated the crowds. Men and women came here with an intention of asking for fulfillment of their desires and also get themselves tonsured as a mark of gratitude for the prayers fulfilled. Smeared with fine sandalwood paste, their heads looked like a scatter of musk melons which are yet to come to a rest. A quick visit to the temple struggling through the milling crowds followed by a tasteless and desultory dinner allowed us to hit the bed early. It is from this deep slumber I was awakened by the drum beat.

The room I was sleeping in had a large french window which opened into a balcony facing the main temple street. In the midst of the persistently growing din, I opened the window and stepped into the balcony to watch the processional ensemble of which the drummers were a part. There were about eight of them in yellow jerseys and deep blue track pants with bandannas and some sort of waistbands mostly likely improvised from the towels they usually carry with them. As I observed them I realized that they along with drumming were also dancing. The movements had a rhythm which was well synchronized. As the drumming intensity grew so did the vigour of the dancing which included precisely timed pelvic thrusts. There was an indescribable and effortless raunchiness to their movements which I started to suspect was inherited from Bollywood movies. I realized that to watch such rawness on the screen is vastly different from watching it in real life. Screening, I guess, induces a sense of sterility into our sensory impact like an automated defense mechanism. What I began to watch from the balcony began to overwhelm me. The procession which was snaking through the street had a large number of pilgrims in saffron robes. As if by some invisible cue the procession stopped for a while and focused on the drummers. With this attention the temple street quickly transformed itself into a street theater with the drummers as the actors. Seizing this moment, the drummers accelerated the drumming and the attendant dancing without missing a beat. In a mild way it started to get heady. I quickly realized that I had for a brief moment given myself away to these performers. It is in that split second of giving away and getting lost I realized I experienced something I have never experienced before: in front of my eyes was spectacle that had a quality of medieval paganism to it. It was like going back in time four or five hundred years ago into a drunken tribal hamlet which was celebrating an overcoming of a collective calamity with abandon. I started to get a vague sense of what it would be like to be a tribal with all the modern day cultural paraphernalia stripped off. Even that, I realized was an inaccurate description of what I experienced then. For a long while I could not place a finger on the nature of my experience and kept groping for the right word to describe the feeling I had. Much later, as we were driving to the hill station and in a motion induced moment of clarity, it dawned on me that what I experienced was a brief but powerful feeling of being primal. It was a feeling of being fearful, overwhelmed, vulnerable, natural, aggressive and above all fully human in total harmony with nature – all in the same moment of time.

And it was this inexplicable feeling that I experienced from my room with a view

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One Response to “Notes of a Nobody: A Room with a View”

  1. Murali said

    I remembered the life circle, life/death in the middle, circled by the feelings, which in turn circled by thinking (in words). And the effort to put words to describe what is in the inner circles is actually a struggle. Some writers/artists succeed and take us to their inner circles and into the timeless. I guess the primal feeling is close to being timeless in the now.

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