A friend from Istanbul recently asked me if I had ever visited a place that left me so fascinated that I couldn’t help but read up everything about it.
I didn’t need to think twice to answer that question, but I did. Well, I was conflicted between Majnu ka Tila in North Delhi and Old Delhi and realised that I had read voraciously about both. But my answer was Chandni Chowk.
Chandni Chowk makes me nostalgic because my connection to it is not just of a chance exploration but years of visits with family and friends. During the three years of college, I visited the area for photo walks with the Film and Photography Club and for spontaneous plans with close friends that stemmed from our ‘that time of the month’ cravings for paranthas, chaat and jalebis. By the way, ‘that time of the month’ is the day of the month when our fidgeted selves completely gave up on the hostel food. Paranthe wali gali didn’t exactly spell ‘home cooked food’ but getting away from the mechanic student lives and stepping into the old city always took away our delirious homesickness.
The city and its literature
Nai Sarak is one area that I frequented to buy books and immerse in the world of Mulk Raj Anand, Albert Camus and Manto. A friend took me to a funny old shop with the most heinous of titles put together with Manto and Chughtai.
I still carry my copy of Ganje Farishtey by Manto with the gusto of a child with cotton candy. The way Manto describes Chughtai in a wonderful piece makes me think that Chughtai would’ve been quite amused if she saw her books next to the titles that are best left unwritten here. (For the fear that Google might redirect certain audiences to this post and they’ll be disappointed.) This reminds me to put another post about the essay by Manto called Ismat Chughtai. Soon.
So, whenever I get involved in a discussion about the city and its literature, I often go back to William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns as a reference point. That was the book that made me fall in love with Delhi all over again. Reading it felt like knowing the city anew with a touch of romance. Sometimes we fall in love with cities that we travel to and then to cure us of the essence that wouldn’t let go, we read books about them. But sometimes, certain literature completely changes our perspective towards our own city. It is beautiful what travelling and literature can do for a soul. This drives me to another art form that spreads its magic this way- Music.
The poetry of a city in Masaan
The recently released and acclaimed film, Masaan by Neeraj Ghaywan which is set in Varanasi, drives much of its soul from the city itself.
The music in the film is especially enchanting. Listening to the track Bhor is no different than taking a dip in the Ganges. I am all praises for it because of the intricacies of the lyrics and the delicacy of the tunes. The lyrics penned by Varun Grover and the music composed by Indian Ocean pulled me towards the city and I felt as if I’d always been here, in the city of Varanasi, by the ghats of Ganga. The songs ask philosophical questions, make careful observations and leave you with your heart in your hand using beautiful poetry that changes your viewpoint in a second.
Case in point, “Ulta karke dekh sake to, ambar bhi hai gehri khai” / If you could turn the sky upside down, then it too, would be a bottomless pit.
Didn’t I say that music spilled the same magic as the pages of a good book?
Listening to Masaan‘s soundtrack is like racing through a favourite piece of writing by Nagarjun.
Today, as I walked through Nai Sarak to gather a few books for the new academic year, Masaan’s soundtrack chased me like wind. I kept humming, “Panchi kahe kis gagan udun main, behtar jo iss daal.” / The bird says, why fly across the sky, when it is a better life on this branch.