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Celestial Connection

“What the pupil must learn, if he learns anything at all, is that the world will do most of the work for you, provided you cooperate with it by identifying how it really works and aligning with those realities. If we do not let the world teach us, it teaches us a lesson.” — Joseph Tussman

Mid February 2016

I stepped into the lift at Windmills Craftworks with my kid brother Rahul and pushed the button that would take me directly to the brewery. It was only the second week of February in Bangalore, and dreadfully warm I must say. Such were the perils of taking mother earth for granted I suppose. Enroute, I happened to set eyes on a poster of a guitarist. After delighting on my chilled smoked weizen accompanied with a platter of spiced samosas, I looked up the guitarist online and wrote him a note. The following day I received a heart-warming reply. I rang the manager at Windmills Craftworks at once and requested him to reserve me a table for the affair the following week. He was surprised that I had decided to attend a show considering that they had been inviting me for several others, over the last five years, and each of those invites had fallen on deaf ears.

Over dinner the same night, I informed my brother that we were scheduled to be at the Maneli Jamal evening. “I knew you would,” revealed he with a knowing smile. Bewildered, I prodded about what led him to suspect that I would be remotely interested in attending the event owing to my previous track record. “For starters you went closer to the poster when we were in the lift, and if that wasn’t odd, you took a moment longer to examine it,” he explained. “Are you implying that I have never studied any other poster at Windmills, and with such sharpness?” Rahul shook his head. “Oh, come on!” I blurted. “Something changes in you when you see someone you feel a connection with,” he said calmly, “even with those you haven’t met.” I narrowed my eyes. “This is delicious,” he conveyed, stabbing a sliver of chicken breast and carrying the fork to his mouth. Copying the action myself, I knew he was not wrong – call it energy, the design of nature, some sort of celestial connection, or plain destiny playing us the way Shakespeare said that the world was a stage and we were each playing our parts, it was true that the eyes of a person drew me in ways I could not explain, although, I did tend to have this gut feeling that this human being and I, shall develop a lifelong bond, and every time I had reached out, much to my amazement, not once had I met with disappointment.

Recollection: The Motorcar Saga

I was handed over the keys to my sports car; yes, the same suave one that James Bond drives. I drove it home, stationed it in the garage and went about my day as usual, as I had the day before, and I would probably the day after. Some of my friends at the gym were ecstatic that I had got myself a motorcar that they only dreamed of one day possessing. I bid them to use it until they got themselves one of their own. “We are not born with a silver,” he paused, “no, sorry, platinum spoon you see,” said one gym mate. I rolled my eyes with embarrassment and marvelled at whatever made people think such, for god knew that my life, more or less, ran on a blueprint from which it rarely digressed.

A Month After Holding Possession Of My Motorcar

My professor had turned ninety-four, and I landed up at his place with whiskey and cake. A cheerful man, he smoked a packet of cigarettes and drank half a bottle of anything that had alcohol imprinted on its label, daily. “Are you still allowing that cold, atrocious, machine sit on your laptop, or have you got yourself a woman to heat what hangs between your laps,” he bombarded me, the instant I stepped into his drawing room. I broke into a loud laugh. “I am alarmed at how you could live such a routine-led, colourless life,” he mocked jocularly, “taste new cuisines, break bread with your male comrades, and…and…pound every cunt you get along the way,” he made known with some animation. I nodded with a slight smirk and articulated my desire to take him for a drive in my car. He stole a look out of the window. “If you keep running after cars, the women will keep running away from you,” he said with a giggle. “Last I heard they want men with big cars,” I added. “Only the superficial one’s,” he went on and winked at my brother, “the real one’s don’t want anything big, not a bank balance, and not even that,” he gestured at my groin, “they want a real man,” he pressed his index finger on his temple, “who would make them feel on top of the world with his verses and hands.” I acknowledged his wisdom with a quick bob of my head. “We shall deal with your boring ways later, but for now let us first finish this drink together,” he suggested directing his gaze to the glasses of whiskey that he already kept ready for my brother and me on a side table. I retired into a large rattan chair and circled my fingers over the rim of the stubby glass when he asked me in his ebullient tone whether I had ever waited for something in my life. “I am sorry?” I asked, not understanding the intent of his query. “Let me rephrase that,” he said taking a nip of his whiskey, “has there ever been a time when you have had to wait to get what you wanted?” I grinned, “Not that I recall, sir, no.” He inclined forward and presented my brother and me with cigarettes. We set alight a cigarette each and were taking in the aroma of the dram of whiskey when he popped me a question with regards the make of the wristwatch I was wearing. “It is what my grandpapa gave my mother, and what she gifted me,” I answered gently. “May I have a look at it,” he said as I stretched my hand out most reluctantly construing what was to follow. “Patek Philippe, I see,” he announced with some significance. I turned the colour of crimson and retracted my hand. “So how did you actually feel when you bought your Aston Martin, my dear man?” he enquired. I held on for a few seconds before answering him, and while I was quiet, I delved deeper into the burrows and crevices of my thoughts and gathered that I did not quite recall feeling anything after having bought my car. I mean, for me it was just an automobile. I took a deep breath, and even before I had uttered a word, he spoke up, “Such and such a wristwatch. Such and such a car. Such and such a suit. Such and such a locality for your home, and in such and such cities of the world, and what after?” I shrugged my shoulders. “Are you even aware that you do not know what is it to actually feel true joy?” he asked. I curved my eyebrows in question. “A man from the middle class cannot walk across the street and buy what he wants. He plans. He saves. He waits. And when he manages to acquire that which he had once aspired to possess, the joy he feels is something that leaves him beyond euphoria. He shares it with those who have also felt such feelings of highs and lows. For them it is a celebration.” Saying that he seized to speak, smoking his cigarette and downing his whiskey at regular intervals. A few minutes passed, “Not that–” I said beginning and trailing off when he waved his hand and stopped me from speaking further. “You were searching for words which you could not find,” he said sternly, “and that is what I am saying. You aristocrats are one and the same. You have the finest the world can offer, and there’s nothing more after that, unless of course you wish to develop real estate on Mars or Venus, and after some time even that won’t measure up to your appetites.” I knew he was being crafty, and I knew that age had rendered him such, and yet, I also knew that there was reality in what he was stating, because I do not remember a single time when I have ever had to wait for anything. What I wanted came to me, and at my will and whim.

End Of February 2016

I viewed the video where Maneli talked about his music, about what goes behind the creation of his melodies. That his CD, The LAMAJ Project, was JAMAL spelt backwards, and how each of his compositions were dedicated to a particular timeline of his life, and to the people who were part of it. That they had a memory attached to them, and that is why they were titled what they were titled. He spoke about how by the time he was eighteen years old he had moved five countries. How his father was jailed and tortured for going against the political regime in Iran.

The thread of the same conversation was broadened when we met. He shared with me about how he asked his father and mother why he was born in Belarus, and how they pulled his leg that he was a product of a happy accident. Maneli being Maneli, this spirited fella with an insatiable brightness no matter how drowning the darkness, knew better to make light of everything, and sprinkling humour to it he elucidated that he was glad he was a ‘happy accident’ considering how some of the most desirable accidents, the microwave, popcorn, penicillin and LSD were the results of such accidents. He spoke about how he had lost his friend Miguel from Mexico a week after they had played together, and that the track El Cielo en Zihua was dedicated to him. About how their family were given one month to leave the U.S., and when everything they owned was done away with, it dawned on him that all that he could walk away with was what he could literally hold in his hands, and he walked out with a guitar in one hand and a sketchbook in another.

“Guitar in one hand and a sketchbook in another.” That hit me hard. On the other side of the spectrum was I, I, who was so attached to my life that I could not envision a day devoid of my luxury or insignias. I was not materialistically driven; still, I knew that I might not hold the ability to survive the uncertainties of the unknown with the valour similar to Maneli’s. If not anything, having faced so much that early in life had resulted in the man knowing the actual eminence of existence, and evidently his experiences shook me up from my roots. I tried once again to picture how I would have reacted had I been in the identical conditions as Maneli, and sadly I reached o’er no plausible conclusion in my head; I only knew that it was overwhelming, and having this affable man sit before me with his spellbinding smile and positivity made me internally probe various aspects of my life. Do not despair, for on no account was I going to retail my estates and retire in the rainforests, but, yes, I did admit to myself that I was someone ruled by the need of the hour. Life controlled me, as opposed to me controlling it, and I was perfectly okay with such a pact. I needed everything to be in an order. I needed to have my china custom made and painted by hand, I preferred my pillow to be packed with the supplest and lightest feathers that mankind had discovered, and that is when my mind drifted back to the words of my professor. He was correct in the strangest way because I did not feel a thing when my fingers wrapped around that key fob to my Aston Martin. I wanted one, and I went and got myself one, it was as simple as that. I do not wish to justify it, or weight it against a scale of some else’s parameters, and neither would I feel any guilt about my actions. This, I most confidently declare, since I drive a Maruti Suzuki Ritz as well as an Aston Martin with the same ease; for me, they were four wheels that quite transported me from point A to point B, and no more. Contrary to the opinion of some people, who presume that I am spoilt, (largely due to the discreet demeanour I reflected even though arrogance and pride were not part of my repertoire) I kept myself most oblivious to such tattlers considering how infinitely certain I was of myself. Coming to think of it, it has been the occupation of the world to loathe the privileged, and it certainly was not a crime to be born to pedigree. What’s more? I patted my back for preserving that grounded approach to life just as I was immensely content in my own mould: one cannot live one’s life on some else’s idea of rubrics now, can one?

Connections, I told myself, are responsible for us to see ourselves closely and that is why I reckon, people appear in our lives – for a reason. They give us what they have to give us, and because of that education do we go on to make better selves of our own selves. In the most fascinating manner Maneli was responsible in my ridding myself of the fact that I felt uncomfortable in a way to have so much at my disposal when there were countless others struggling to make a living. Once again, was that my fault? Absolutely not! It was a matter of destiny. I was born where I was destined to take birth, just as the others were born in places they needed to take birth in, and as daunting as it may sound it was surely not my responsibility to eradicate the pain of the world, the imbalance of classes. I ensured that I was sensitive so as not to deliberately hurt a soul, and that for me was sufficient to place my head on the pillow at night and not have to worry about tomorrow. I was thinking about how similar Maneli and I were, and yet how dissimilar, when he tapped me on my shoulder and said in his crunchy American drawl, “The fact of life is that no matter what we think – everything dies.”

I stared silently into his absorbing eyes and thought to myself that to truly know someone is to know the silence that stands for the thing they never speak of, and that was what both of us felt for each other in our hearts, an inseparable joining of sentiments. I thanked god for life. I thanked god for the link I had forged with Maneli. He came into my life to bring closure to something that had irked and stirred me far too long. His optimism alleviated my own definiteness about life. I thanked life for making me who I am, and I thanked life for offering me the comfort of entering people’s lives and them into mine. And I sincerely urged life to chisel me further and make a sounder sculpture of my psyche and soul, but not without those who make me who I am, for I am nothing without them, and they, without me.

The Header Photograph Copyright of Maneli Jamal at Windmills Craftworks belongs to Rahul Karnani. 

The title chosen by Maneli Jamal