“Could you change the channel to Uttam Kumar movies please…” my Mom said to me in a matter-of-fact manner while she dipped the crunchy nut breakfast cereal into the bowl of warm milk. As I flipped from Netflix to YouTube with the Apple TV remote, it was clear to me that for my Mom, YouTube had become the equivalent of a channel devoted to Uttam Kumar.
Uttam Kumar was a legendary actor of Bengali Cinema who dominated the Bengali movie industry for more than 3 decades. Born in the year 1926, he died at a young age of 53 in the year 1980. He acted in more than 200 films including 15 Hindi films, and he still has a wide fan following across generations. He holds an iconic status in Indian cinema, with a metro station named after him including life size statues as well as commemorative stamps released to celebrate his birth anniversary.
My Mom would have watched at least a hundred of Uttam Kumar’s films but she doesn’t mind watching them again. The natural and effortless style of acting of this great actor impresses even the most discerning viewer. Uttam Kumar had more than 50 megahit movies to his credit and was hailed as a one-man industry but even he had a lot of critics during his time, as is natural for any successful person. Some people said he was fit only for commercial movies as a matinee idol, and he could not cater to the intellectual taste of certain segments.
This gap between commercial and intellectual had given rise to parallel cinema creating a new genre of art films. However the ultimate tribute was paid to Uttam Kumar by Satyajit Ray, one of the greatest art movie directors of all time, when he cast him to play himself in the movie “Nayak” (The Hero).
I asked my Mom to rate the Uttam Kumar movies along the two dimensions of “Story” and “Acting”. Some movies had a good plot but the acting was not that great. On the other hand some movies had a lousy storyline but the acting was superb. Then there were some where both the story and the acting was great leading to the megahits.
My Mom diligently rated each movie along those two dimensions and her ratings led me to create an analytical view of Uttam Kumar’s movies. I have actually plotted the ratings in a little 2x2 with Acting as the X-axis and Story as the Y-axis, leading to four quadrants. On the upper right quadrant are movies that are strong in Story as well as Acting. There are at least 50 films in that quadrant alone. On the bottom right quadrant are movies that are weak in Story but have strong Acting. Most of the remaining movies of Uttam Kumar fall in this quadrant!
Both the quadrants on the left side in my little 2x2 are fairly empty, with just a couple of entries. What does this mean?! Well it just goes to prove that there are not that many movies where Uttam Kumar has not acted well. This is perhaps one of the reasons behind the unbeatable success of Uttam Kumar – there is hardly any movie where he did not do justice to his role!
In the beginning of his career, starting with “Drishtidan” in 1948, he had struggled a bit to establish himself. But after “Sharey Chuattor” in 1953 and “Agni Pariksha” in 1954, both turning out to be superhit movies - there was no looking back for him.
No matter who was his director, and who was his heroine, no matter how good the plot or how different the music, no matter how well the co-stars acted, Uttam Kumar was like a constant – he worked equally hard for every single role. A one-man industry indeed! For almost 30 years he maintained the same physique and the same charisma. Even at the height of his success, he continued to set new records. This level of discipline and diligence is rarely found.
Uttam Kumar’s wish was to die on the job in a studio - and that is exactly what happened. It was while shooting his last film (“Ogo Bodhu Shundori”) that he suffered a massive stroke and was taken to hospital - never to return again in person, but securing a permanent place in the hearts and minds of millions of his fans - to this day.
“Oh no, I shouldn’t have taken this road…” I muttered to myself as the car cruised past the Rode’s Fireside restaurant and turned right at the Exxon gas station into Paulsboro Road. Did the car turn by itself? Is this a dream...It felt as though the car was driving itself and knew exactly where it was going.
It was a cold dark winter night and I was running late on my way to pick up my son from the train station. The roads were treacherous. The visibility was poor. There was this repeated onslaught of snow mixed with freezing rain. Out of sheer habit I had turned into this road. This was a quiet scenic road through the countryside that led to the interstate highway. On a normal day it gave me some breathing room before getting onto busier roads. But on a day like this it would have been much better to take a road that had been applied with salt. By lowering the freezing point, salt makes the roads less risky - although I believe it has a negative impact on the farmlands adjacent to the road.
Paulsboro Road is a narrow road with wide stretches of farmlands on both sides. Since there is not much traffic on a normal day, one can gaze at the beautiful scenery along the way.
One of the sombre sights is the St. Joseph’s cemetery on the left with its neatly arranged array of tombstones - providing a comfortable burial place to the dead and a feeling of warm comfort to the grieving. But waking us from our comfortable illusion - reminding us silently of our own mortality.
Across from the cemetery is the Nike missile site. A cold war relic. A memory of a time when soldiers spent the day monotonously watching the skies for Russian bombers. Ever ready to fire a missile to protect the city and the nation's precious assets from getting destroyed by bombers.
There are quaint looking houses on both sides of the road. Many of them now sadly foreclosed. Reminiscent of the greatest recession of our time that has crashed home prices. The owners of these foreclosed houses forced out, some having fallen victim to predatory lending. One house is deserted for a long time but has a gorgeous view of the creek. I remember once going inside the house just to take in the views, pretending to be an interested real-estate buyer. The basement of the house was full of molds and high watermarks showing frequent flooding. As I hurried out, I shivered at the thought of living in a house with great views of the lake but with the basement filled up to its brim with the lake water. It needs some TLC - the agent said.
Another house belongs to a boat enthusiast showing off his collection on the front yard. Each time I drive past that house I am tempted to slow down and count the boats. I think there are seven boats in total. Or maybe eight or nine, I can’t say for sure because I have never stopped to count.
Another house has a sign inviting people to stop and buy organic eggs and also farm grown tomatoes. Then there is one house that has a fake speed limit sign asking drivers to slow down to 15mph. All of a sudden there is this railway crossing that comes up with no warning. Fortunately it is never used. Then comes a little white church on the bend in the road. The Repaupo United Methodist Church. The message is clear. Learn Jesus. Live Jesus. Teach Jesus. The church stands quietly - reflecting on its theological inheritance and bearing witness to our irreverent times.
Right next door is the Hindu temple -Sri Rajaganapathi temple. It has a large collection of bronze statues of Lord Ganesha. It now has a car park area designated for “Car Puja”, a ceremony to bless the vehicle in God’s name and keep it safe from harm’s way.
The scenic Paulsboro Road of the day had turned into a dark slippery road now. Suddenly I saw lights of a vehicle approaching from around a bend and I swerved to the right. But in doing so the tires of my car landed on an icy patch that made the car skid. The back of the car was moving to the right. The front of the car was turning to the left. A collision seemed inevitable. I seemed to have no control of the car. It was a panic filled moment. Was I going to hit the vehicle coming towards me. What should I do now. Should I swerve to the side ditch and try to make the car stop…in that slippery moment I had removed my foot from the accelerator, pumped on the brakes several times and maneuvered the car by turning the steering wheel to the right - in the direction of the skid. I somehow managed to calm the car down. At that fluid moment, the snow flurry came beating down on the car’s windshield. It felt like a galaxy full of stars was falling through dark space landing straight onto the car, only momentarily visible in the car’s headlights.
In the next moment I realized the oncoming vehicle had passed, the car was now steady, and the snow was falling quietly. I had slowed down from the earlier 40mph. Now I decided not to go beyond 20 to 25mph. Better late than never. Along the road came the fire station and then signs of shops started appearing - announcing the arrival of the highway and before I knew it, the Paulsboro road had led to the interstate highway I-295, bringing me to the busy hum of modernity. It felt like I had just crossed a rare corridor that connected the rural with the urban, and the past with the present.
Even though I was now on the highway, and the roads were salted and mostly clear - my earlier experience made me decide to drive slowly and I stayed on the middle lane going at a steady speed of 25mph. There were cars on the fast lane on my left that were going at twice the speed. The slow lane on my right was partly covered with snow and there were not that many cars on that lane.
Suddenly a car drove past me on the slow lane on my right. I saw it go past me and then it started skidding wildly - right in front of my eyes!
I was horrified to death and started screaming at the top of my lungs. The driver seemed to have lost control completely. His car had now turned perpendicular to the road and was going straight for the middle barrier that separated the opposing lanes of traffic. I had taken my foot off the accelerator and was slowly pumping on my brakes, making sure my car did not start skidding as well. His car narrowly missed mine as it skidded past me and crashed into the barrier. If I had been driving any faster than my slow and steady pace - I would have most certainly crashed into that car. As the other car now ricocheted back onto the highway, it just missed the tail of my car. All of this happened in a fraction of a second.
As I chugged along that night at my slow and steady pace - right behind a salt truck, I could hear the ambulance and police cars wailing to the rescue. I was thanking my lucky stars and also thanking my earlier experience of turning into Paulsboro Road by mistake – after all that experience had taught me to really slow down and drive slowly in the snow.
I was reluctant to drive any more that night. But due to prior commitments we did end up going to a get-together at a friend’s place. By the time we returned home it was 1am. The snow had stopped and the roads were empty. Everything looked peaceful and the snow even looked pretty hanging on the branches, shining in the moonlight. As I was parking the car in our garage, I noticed the neighbor’s driveway did not have any tracks on the snow. The neighboring cars had stayed off the treacherous roads.
As I switched the ignition off, I thought I heard my car chuckle. It certainly had come a long way tonight.
As soon as it dropped from the tree it seemed to fly like a drone above me painting an invisible elliptical shape in the clear blue sky, and then forced by the November breeze it flew right back towards me and touched me gently on the head, then slipped quietly and innocently to the ground. I rubbed my head where it had made contact and glared at it as it lay motionless - pretending as if it knew nothing about prancing in the air. It now lay fashionably on the cool grass, the slender stem bent gracefully, its proud wrinkled face looking up at the sky, there was no sign of remorse - its tiny edges quivering slightly in the fall wind.
A dead leaf. The biggest I had ever seen in my life.
“I have lived a full life – a full summer” announced the leaf. I was wondering how the leaf was able to talk. Was the leaf really talking or was this my imagination playing tricks with me again?! I could not be sure so I decided to play along.
“What do you mean – you have lived a full life?” I asked.
“I have seen blue skies, rolling meadows, warm winds, a brilliant summer full of sunshine, I have seen the beautiful sights that are to be seen and heard the soothing music that is to be heard – even that rare silent music in my ears after every drop of rain” said the leaf.
“Blue skies…warm winds…silent music…so you think that is what is meant by living a full life…?” I prodded in jest.
“When I was young and green - I was in love with a grasshopper…it had big compound eyes and strong hind legs, it could have shred me to bits and gobbled me up if it wanted, bit it didn't...it let me live my full life...” confessed the leaf, now almost whispering.
“What…but that is strictly not allowed – you are from the plant kingdom, right…how could you have been in love with one from the animal kingdom? I asked incredulously.
“Love knows no boundaries. I once loved the shadow of a flower…but you won’t understand that. You are too human - too restricted with your senses” replied the leaf.
“You fell in love with a mere shadow of a flower?” I had to ask.
“Yes – you can fall in love with a shadow…I never saw the flower itself because it was on the other side but I used to wait for the long shadow of the flower to appear and dance in front of me as the sun came up each morning. Everything has a shadow…some are visible to the human eyes and some are not. Where there is a form of light – there are shadows. You pass by those dark glass panes, you look at your shadow and recognize yourself…you check your hair and your makeup! At that moment you and your shadow are one and the same” said the leaf.
“You must be joking – I have never heard such meaningless banter” I retorted getting nervous that this conversation was clearly headed in the wrong direction.
But the leaf carried on: “One day you will decay and decompose just like me. First the carrion flies will come and lay their eggs inside your nose, mouth and ears. Then the bacteria shall take over leading to putrefaction. Then your skin will rupture and decay. The larvae of flies shall consume your soft tissues. Only your bones shall remain. Then mice and rodents will gnaw on your bones to get the calcium...”.
“I clearly don’t follow what you are saying. This is too heavy for me. I should never have listened to your nonsense…I am so sorry for this dark conversation” I cried aloud in great frustration.
The leaf quietly said “What are you complaining about – be grateful…be thankful…I am already dead but you are still alive! Enjoy every moment – while it lasts!”
I was still shaking my head when the leaf flew in the wind and disappeared. It was a rough moment to reckon with but precious nevertheless.
I thought you would want to see a moral of the blog so here it is:
Happy living each moment of life – and a very happy thanksgiving to all!
“The story is good, but the video is bad, I wonder how a duck can have a tail like a porcupine..?” asked Kris. He was an eight year old kid visiting us with his parents for the weekend.
I had played a cartoon video for him. It was based on Sukumar Ray’s “literary nonsense” story. When I was a kid I enjoyed reading Sukumar Ray’s stories. They were as much fun as Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Now kids could watch them in animation with sub-titles - but I guess it is not the same thing as reading a book and imagining things by oneself.
Kris said he was getting bored.
“Why don’t you do some painting…” I suggested to Kris. He gladly picked up the paint brush. We were now seated on our deck overlooking the creek and Kris started painting the view of the woods.
As I sat sipping some Darjeeling tea, I thought to myself - What if such a strange looking duck with a tail like a porcupine did exist somewhere?
Maybe we just haven’t seen it yet. Maybe.
A quick look at some ornithological websites revealed that there were forty-six recorded species of ducks, geese and swans in the state of New Jersey alone.
They all seem to share some common characteristics. Feathers that can shed water easily. Webbed feet for both water and land. Beaks of varying colors ranging from bright red to solid black.
On the internet I found a species that was called the “wood duck” and I was amazed by how colorful it was and how it mimicked its surrounding colors for a camouflage. Even a very creative person would find it difficult to imagine its combination of colors. The “long-tailed duck” is the only one I could find that came closest to having a tail that looks like the quill of a porcupine.
Well, it seems Sukumar Ray’s creativity was certainly out of this world!
And who would have imagined there are so many species of ducks and waterfowl?
There is of course Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. But apparently he has many critics. And not just religious groups. Many scientists think there is little evidence of how a new species emerges.
I glanced at what Kris had painted. It looked a lot like a “wood duck” sitting on the banks of the creek. I was quite puzzled. How did Kris know about this species of ducks?
Was this his active imagination? How could this be a co-incidence that I was just now looking at a picture of one on the internet?
I showed Kris’ painting to all and they were equally amazed.
“Kris – where did you see this duck?” I asked him.
‘I have seen one earlier” he replied nonchalantly.
“But where?” I persisted.
“A long time ago – when I was a lot bigger! I used to study in a high school called Rock and next to that was a Sidebrook park where I saw this duck” he replied confidently.
“Kris – how could you have been in high school in the past, you are only eight years old!” we exclaimed in unison.
“Yes I know – but last time I drowned in a lake and died. I saw this duck just before I drowned” he said without a trace of emotion.
The room was quiet. We could not fathom what was happening. Kris was an eight year old after all. He could well be imagining things.
Several days after Kris and his parents had left, while searching news that was eight years old, I found a news clip that reported that a high school student had drowned while swimming in a lake near Roxbury High School next to Brookside Park.
It had finally stopped raining. I was out in the backyard looking down the slope leading into the woods when I saw turtle feet move inside one of the burrows that had provided shelter from the rain. Turtles dig nests there to lay their eggs.
I was excited to imagine that there would be baby turtles soon that would eventually head into the creek down below.
All of a sudden I heard a scratching noise behind me. I turned around quickly. A short red haired man seemed to appear from nowhere. It was getting dark and I could hardly see him clearly in the dusk but I was startled by his high pitched voice. He must have been watching me from the side of the woods while I was trying to remove one of the broken branches in the yard. There had been a storm and some branches had broken off the trees, hanging dangerously from above.
“Are you looking for someone to cut those branches?” he asked with a muffled cough. I nodded back, not sure I wanted to engage in a conversation with him. He stood there gazing at one of the large birch trees. It was almost dark and I wanted to go inside so I started walking back to the house. He followed me.
Why was he following me?
Annoyed with this strange behavior I turned around and looked him in the eye. He had a pleasant triangular face, pointed ears and small dark pupils. I noticed he was wearing a yellow gold chain necklace. He was now smiling and I could see his pronounced white teeth.
“I am not sure I am ready to decide yet, there are three trees that are impacted and I need to think about whether I want the trees removed or just trim the branches”, I said to him. Meanwhile I was thinking I need to compare prices, and check whether he had insurance coverage or not.
“It’s a day’s job for me, I can remove those branches tomorrow if you want.” He said restlessly while balancing on his toes. I was happy to hear that he could start the job so soon. Most people who cut trees are backed up after a storm like this and not easily available.
The next thing I remember we were discussing the contract and it was settled that he would start with the job the very next day.
When I came home from work the next day evening, the broken branches from the three impacted trees had been removed. Pleased with the progress made, I sat on the deck drinking some Darjeeling tea and reading the newspaper.
As it grew dark and I was ready to go back inside, I took one last look at the woods. I was surprised by what I saw. A red fox with a long bushy tail was standing on a mound looking at the burrow where the turtle had laid the eggs. The pointed ears moved. Something had caught its attention. It pounced on something in the dark. I heard a growl almost like a muffled cough.
The fox must have come for the turtle eggs.
It was a long moment before the fox leapt back into the woods and I heaved a sigh of relief - mixed with the heavy feeling of not being able to protect the turtle eggs.
It was hard to tell in the twilight but I believe I saw a familiar looking golden chain around the fox’s neck.
After dropping Jit at Woodcrest Station I crawled through morning traffic to the greyhound bus terminal. The 8:30am bus to NYC was about to leave. In one warped moment I parked the car -tires screaming, wore my jacket collected my laptop in one fluid motion, raced to the counter and flashed my credit card at the counter lady.
Meanwhile the line of humanity entering the giant bus was almost disappearing like a species going extinct.
The lady at the counter said this bus is sold out and so are all of them until noon. Whaaat?! She was avoiding eye contact now. Ok I want to buy the ticket anyway. There will be no refund, she said. Ok understood. In another long second I had a ticket pointed at the driver and was grinning ear to ear trying to appease him. Well guess what - he let me board the bus. However I could not find a seat. Omg do I have to go standing all the way?! But then I spotted a seat all the way at the back. I thought to myself it must be someone who is using the toilet. I decided to take a chance and occupied it immediately -melting into the leather cushion with all my existence.
I think we are half way to New York already. The trees outside look gorgeous through the tinted windows. It's a beautiful day.
Having wrapped up the official part of our meeting at 5:30pm I was drawn involuntarily with some colleagues to the nearest Irish pub. I think there are strong invisible microservice enabled strings that pull you in that direction and before you know it - you are seated on a high chair watching an arbit football game ordering Irish ale with spicy wings to a pretty looking server.
Two glasses of ale later I still can't follow the football game.
Does it really matter which team wins? Finally I have the courage to say it. I think I want to catch the 7pm greyhound bus back home - I say it aloud finally. They look at me with horror as if I am from another planet, but their expression evaporates the next moment. It is ostensibly a kind expression but what it really means is - oh we understand you are a pathetic commuter from rural Jersey who needs to go back home to your family and home cooked dinner.
Indeed. Nothing beats "machh bhat" at home.
So I shake hands vigorously, hugs and goodbyes, quick look at my watch and race back to the Port Authority bus terminal. Walking ten blocks diagonally in Manhattan is an art. If you try to crack this scientifically it is as difficult as the traveling salesman problem. But if you don't mind getting honked and cursed at you keep walking despite stop lights - pretty much like you would in Gariahat Calcutta, just don't make eye contact with the person behind the wheels. How pedestrian can you get, I think to myself. Anyhow I keep walking through this maze of oncoming vehicles and desperate humanity in the hope of catching any thing that gets me out of the city quickly. It is dinner time and the city is getting ready to feed itself. Spirits are going down. Spirits are going up. I notice the hot young blonde wearing a colorful sleeveless summer dress drinking champagne from a tall glass - while her tuxedo clad date is gaping, obviously smitten. I notice the confused looking homeless guy limping ahead not sure where he lost his bag full of promises and dreams. Finally I'm at the terminal. The AC feels good like a cold towel around the neck on a hot and humid day. I look at the long queue of summer tourists waiting at the counter as I buy my ticket from one of the kiosks in just under 30 seconds. One level down to the gates. But wait I still have 15 precious minutes left. I head straight to the book shop and in typical Calcutta/Howrah book stall manner I browse through every book on display but end up buying nothing. I skimp through "The Gene" by Sid Mukherjee of Columbia university and read about how his Dad could never get over the Partition - did he die of cancer, I turn the page, turn some more, turn turn, my alarm sounds- time to go. Should I buy the book or not? Ah - who is going to carry such a heavy book on top of the laptop and jacket - I make a mental note of ordering it on Amazon. Out of guilt I buy an overpriced pack of lightly salted pistachios from the book shop and race down the escalator to the gate - the bus is about to leave.
In one fluid motion I hand my ticket to the attendant and one giant step later I am walking down the aisle of the bus that is already moving. I need a seat. Why do these buses fill up so quickly I am thinking maybe I should drive into the city next time. Just then I spot a seat in one of the middle rows. It is next to a teenage kid slouching on the seat. He seems intoxicated. No wonder nobody sat next to him. Oh well. I take the seat. The kid starts to blabber. He is saying something I can't understand. I switch on my iPad and put on my earplugs. Is he going to puke? I hope he doesn't puke coz that would make me puke. Omg. And then the lights dim. It is already dark outside. The bus is sailing smoothly on the turnpike. The kid goes to sleep. I catch up on the half watched new Game of Thrones episode. It is still a beautiful day.
“Why are they planting sticks in the ground..?” asked someone while viewing the large painting on the wall, it was more than 12 feet tall and was drawing a lot of attention.
I was visiting the Phoenix Art Museum after work on a Wednesday, and was thrilled to note that the museum was open until 9pm. Having browsed through the European art collection, I had now ventured into the Western American art section. So what is so unique about Western American art? Simply put American art created in the West has more emphasis on local subjects such as Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, but the collections here include all American styles.
Many visitors would be pleasantly surprised with the variety of arts and culture in Phoenix, America’s newest major city with population growing from 250,000 in the early 1950s to over 4 million recently. With the growth in population the Art Museum has also grown in size as well as in the variety of collections.
“Oh look at the soft morning light on the Crow Indian’s clothes…!” remarked another person standing in front of me.
It was a painting by Howard Terpning called “Offerings to the Little People” and it had won the gold medal for painting at an exhibition almost 20 years ago. The painting shows Crow Indian Tobacco Society members planting tobacco. It is one of the major ceremonies of the tribe.
The Crow Indians believe that tobacco was the first plant to grow on earth and that growing it is important for the welfare of the tribe and apparently smoking it helps carry their prayers to God. A small plot of land near a stream is prepared for the tobacco crop and then sheltered with feathers and ribbons. Once the seeds are planted, sticks with attached bundles are inserted into the ground. The bundles contain berries, herbs, tiny moccasins and miniature articles of clothing; these are meant as offerings to the “little people” who the Crow Indians believe to live in the ground.
The little people would help with the success of the crop!
Another Crow Indian ceremony is the Sun Dance where they show their devotion to God by fasting and by the torture of constant dancing. This ceremony involves self-torture to appease their God. In the old days, holes were punctured into the pectoral muscles of dancers; ropes run through these holes and attached to a pole.
The dancer would lean backwards from the pole in an act of self-torture...
This part of the ceremony has now been banned!
The Crow Indians like all Native Indians believe in spirits.
They believe that above the physical world lies another larger world of spirits. One of their oldest beliefs has been that they are deeply connected to nature and that they belong to the land and not vice versa. This is the reason why they resist any kind of relocation. A woman who was asked to move just 10 miles from her place of birth would not agree to move.
Apparently the reason she gave was “The wind does not know my name in the new place!”.
“When I say One, you say Love…One…?” our tour guide enthusiastically addressed the group of tourists assembled around him.
Love! (the audience chanted softly)
Our tour guide looked offended.
“I don’t hear you…One…??”
Love!! (the audience was louder this time).
He was still not satisfied.
“I need to feel it…One…???
Love!!!!!! (the audience was really loud this time).
I have not seen a more passionate tour guide!
“And when I say Bob, you say Marley…Bob…?” he egged us on until we were hoarse shouting and having fun and singing together at the top of our voices.
It was a beautiful sunny day, gorgeous 80 degrees in downtown Kingston, Jamaica, and we were visiting the Bob Marley Museum. This is the house where the famous reggae musician Bob Marley lived until his death and even survived an assassination attempt. His wife Rita Marley turned it into a museum a few years after his death. The museum displays the legendary musician’s various awards.
Bob Marley is one of the world’s best selling artists of all time. He has sold more than 75 million records. His famous song “One Love” was named the song of the millennium by BBC in 2004.
The son of a white father and a black mother, Bob felt rejected by both communities and his short life was a fight to promote the universality of love and the common unifying thread across different races.
The museum displays various personal treasures, including a rare picture of his father – Captain Norval Marley a white man in the British army. His father was 60 when Bob was born! Bob’s mother Cedella was 18 when she got married. Bob didn’t see much of his father because he was always travelling – his father died when he was only 10.
He did not have an easy life.
The museum has a well equipped theater room where one can watch Bob Marley’s recordings and listen to his various interviews on what motivated him and his songs.
One of the rooms in the museum has all the pictures of his various world tours. Bob Marley was the hero of black freedom fighters. The lyrics of his famous songs such as "Buffalo Soldier" and “Get up, stand up – stand up for your rights” were motivational to freedom fighters around the world.
Bob wanted people to be free from the tyranny of white colonial rulers, especially those who had brought on the slave trade across the oceans. In 1980 he was invited to perform on the first Independence Day celebration of Zimbabwe. This event was attended by various leaders including Price Charles. Thousands of people gathered to attend his show but the crowds went completely out of control - the show had to be stopped for security reasons!
Bob Marley had a strong affinity to Africa and especially to Ethiopia. He believed that Haile Selassie the emperor of Ethiopia, coronated in 1930, was an incarnation of God. Bob was a true believer in the Rastafari religion that was started by Haile Selassie. He had his famous dreadlocks to prove his adherence to this religion.
But it was not just the dreadlocks, Bob believed so strongly in the Rastafari religion that when doctors diagnosed cancer in his toe and advised him to get his toe amputated, he flatly refused – saying Rastafaris do not amputate, they do not believe in dismantling a man!
Bob always wanted to go to Africa. When he finally did visit Africa in 1978, he discovered to his dismay that the man whom he worshipped as God was not well remembered by his own people and was buried in an unmarked grave. This must have disappointed him greatly.
Bob’s cancer spread and claimed his life within 2 years of getting diagnosed.
The King of Reggae died in 1981 at the young age of 36.
“Do we have to buy tickets to the gallery…or is it free entrance…” we asked the security guard at the door of the Rarity Gallery.
The security guard didn’t respond immediately as if trying to decide what to say, but his gaze was constantly fixed on us. He was a middle-aged man perhaps in his fifties. His glasses gave him an intellectual look and his smartly pressed trousers revealed his attention to detail. I looked at his admiral’s hat and shiny shoes. He looked back at me without blinking his eyes; it seemed to me that he was deep in thought.
His blue uniform, his hat and badge declared that he was obviously the security officer of the building – then why was he not responding, was he deaf?!
“You need to ask me that question!” a smiling young lady came out of the gallery and welcomed us into the gallery.
I looked again at the security guard seated on his chair motionless in the corner of the tiny gallery’s entrance, his expression was still unchanged. The young lady was now chuckling. We realized our mistake in a split second. We had been fooled. It was a piece of illusionistic art! The security guard was a life-size realistic sculpture by Marc Sijan.
Now that we had been well and truly fooled, we went near him and looked closely at the unbelievably lifelike sculpture of the guard - the hands, the nails, the veins running along his hands, the tiny hairs, even the blemishes on his skin. There must be a real person hiding just under the surface of the sculpture. It was truly awe inspiring.
“Welcome to the genre of “Hyper Realism”!” said the young lady now leading us into the gallery while explaining how several artists came together to create an exhibition there.
Later while reading about illusionism, I learnt about the French term “trompe l’oeil” (pronounced as “trawnp lœ-yuh”) which stands for visual deception in art. Such art can fool the eye of the beholder.
Examples of trompe-l’oeil go back in time. The ancient Greek artist Zeuxis had painted grapes so realistic that even birds pecked at them! Similarly when the Italian painter Giotto had painted a fly sitting on the nose of a painted figure, people would try to brush off the fly thinking it was real.
In modern times trompe l’oeil has been used effectively in commercials such as the Honda ad where its temporary visual deception provides comic relief:
Rene Magritte the Belgian surrealist artist makes his point in “The Betrayal of Images” (This is not a pipe) that no matter how lifelike the pipe looks in the picture, it is simply not a pipe because one cannot stuff tobacco in it. By that logic no picture of an apple is actually an apple because one cannot eat it and a picture of a car is never really a car because one cannot drive it. Perception in these cases is far from reality.
We live in a world of spin and popular propaganda is often far from the truth. Just because we see something on TV or read something on the Internet it cannot be automatically believed as true.
However in some cases perception does translate to reality. And sometimes deception can be of a permanent nature.
One example from the world of art is the story of the sculptor Pygmalion who created Galatea - a beautiful girl made out of ivory. Apparently Pygmalion was frustrated with the unfaithfulness of the women in his life so he created his own woman and believed her to be real. So strong was his belief in her real-ness that he even brought her flowers and jewels as gifts.
The story goes that Pygmalion prayed to Venus for a wife as lovely as Galatea and Venus granted his wish - which brought the statue to life.
Pygmalion believed in the illusion created by him. He prayed hard to make his illusion come to life. And finally the illusion became real. This could be happening even in modern times, and not just in the realm of art.
The greatest deception is one that ultimately becomes real.
While stepping out of the gallery that day in Greece, I looked at the security guard one last time. I smiled and waved him goodbye. For one frozen moment in time it seemed to me that he winked through his glasses and smiled back at me.
“Would you like that to be a classic or regular?” asked the nice lady at the counter of the café restaurant. It was late afternoon on a rainy weekend near London and we had just ordered some hot tea asking preferably for the “English Breakfast” flavor.
It was the first time that I heard a question about my choice of classic or regular for tea, and assuming that she was referring to the size of the tea cup, I just said “Medium please”. She was a bit surprised with that response and pressed further: “What kind of bread would you like sir?”
Now this was strange. I have traveled numerous times to England but had never been offered bread with my tea. Again I assumed that she was offering some toasted bread to please us and I realized that we were living in a competitive world and cafe style restaurants were trying to differentiate themselves by offering free stuff to new customers.
When she asked “How would you like your eggs sir?” I almost fell off my chair and then I knew there was some grave misunderstanding about our order. So I decided to clarify – “Look Ma’am, we just had lunch and all we need is some hot tea…so if you could kindly…”.
“But you asked for the English breakfast?!” she seemed puzzled and also slightly annoyed.
I glanced at the huge black board behind her with the day’s menu written up in beautiful old fashioned calligraphy using a white chalk and noticed for the first time that this place specialized in offering a variety of breakfasts, and the term “English Breakfast” was mentioned clearly as a menu item with variants such as classic or regular depending upon how you wanted the eggs prepared and whether you liked baked beans to go with it or not.
“Ah – there seems to be a misunderstanding Ma’am, we just wanted the English Breakfast flavor of tea and not the English breakfast per se - if you know what I mean…”
“Oh well – you asked for the English breakfast…and English people have breakfast all day long…” she was still muttering under her breath, but then she was sporty enough to start smiling.
The tea was PG Tips Black tea. That was the only flavor they had. Oh well let’s get our cuppa!
I chuckled to myself, as I reminisced fondly about this micro episode while having breakfast at the Macdonald Berystede hotel in Ascot. This is a nice hotel themed around horse-racing with pictures of the Ascot thoroughbred racing events that take place at the nearby racecourse. Incidentally the Ascot racecourse has a close association with the British royal family, being just a few miles from the Windsor Castle.
The Berystede breakfast was quite a spread. Hash browns, scrambled eggs, poached eggs, sausages, baked beans, tomatoes, mushrooms…all of this while enjoying a beautiful view of the greens. While sipping some English Breakfast tea at breakfast, I realized I was feeling unusually tired. Must be the jet lag I thought plus the fact that I had not slept much the previous night. The temperatures were dropping below 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night. And for some strange reason the switch for heating in my room was continuously being switched back to cooling. It must be a mechanical defect I thought. Surely there was no ghost playing with the switch at night.
The next day I read up on the history of the hotel. The hotel site dated back to 1362 when it was a manor. The original house that was later converted into this hotel was destroyed by fire in 1886, and the Prince of Wales himself had come over from Windsor to inspect the damage. As per history the lady’s maid Eliza Kleininger died in the fire. She had saved her gifts that she received from her employer and their guests in a jewelry box in her room. This was meant to be the precious asset for her retirement.
Everyone including the family members ran out of the house to save their lives. The butler ran out, the valet and the cook ran out, the housekeeper and all the maid servants ran out, the night watchman ran to save his life. But not the lady’s maid Eliza. She attempted to save her jewelry box by rushing into the burning house and died a tragic death.
Eliza’s charred bones were discovered the next day at the foot of the staircase, surrounded by the pieces of jewelry she had so desperately wanted to save.
It is believed that her ghost still haunts the Berystede hotel.
But does she also play with the heating switch at night?! I guess we will never know the answer to that one.