(Pic by Moses & Mamta S.)

AFLOAT: And one day I too shall pull in my flappers and begin my slow descent towards the sea-bed...
Siachen Base Camp, Partapur. The sinking sun brings its own miseries here. It’s end August and the mist swallows and vomits the road like a gluttonous tunnel demon. The drop in temperature is so sudden that it seems someone’s suddenly slammed the freezer door on you. Evening also falls suddenly as the sun disappears behind the last village on the border.

We are lodged inside a dorm of corrugated metal sheets. There are two rows of beds inside. This is where the soldiers break their journey, to and from Siachen, the world’s highest battlefield. This is just weeks after ‘Kargil’, the war that caught us unawares. The soldiers are still not used to the peace, that came as suddenly as the war. Conversation revolves around friends’ families, who now have to live without them. Someone’s young kids, someone’s ‘just-married’ wife, old parents; everyone is remembered. The departed friends are just mentioned in passing.

Sleep descends like anesthesia. We’re all very tired. The soldiers from their downward journey to the base camp. And we, from riding our bikes uphill from Leh. It’s too cold for mosquitoes. A lone naked bulb is our beacon of civilisation in the middle of a cold and dark battlefield. Everyone, soldier and civilian, sleeps deep and soundlessly.

Morning at the base camp is pleasantly warm. It seems there are some advantages of being hoisted up at over 11000 feet, above sea level. Morning brings its own intrigues.

Out on the flat, drill field—possibly also the world’s highest—the base camp dogs have collected. They’re about eight in number, variously mixed but mostly thick-furred Bhutias. They’re barking at the smell of some as yet unseen excitement.

Then four soldiers walk to the middle of the field with four steel cages. Inside them are big fat bandicoots.

The dogs circle around the caged bandicoots, who’re now beginning to crawl desperately inside their meagre cages, which are actually biggish mousetraps. The barking has now transformed into clenched teeth yelps, like muffled ‘attack signals’. The soldiers swing the cages over the dogs, to get them acquainted with smell of bandicoots.

And then the cages are opened. The dogs move back, the barks stop and ears stand up like snake hoods. They know going close to the cages would mean an end to the game.

The bandicoots are cunning too. They may not be able to smell the dogs as well as they can smell them but they know escape from the traps won’t be easy. But they are fooled by the silence. They come out gingerly, sniffing the air. The dogs are dead silent. The bandicoots begin to run towards safety. There are no bushes, no places to hide. And the bandicoots aren’t fast enough. The dogs, on the other hand, are trained for this.

In no time the special ration-fattened bandicoots are torn to shreds by the base camp dogs. All eight get their trophies, which they drag and maul against the gravelly field till the carcasses look like wet woollen socks. The game ends there. The dogs are whistled away for breakfast. And the bandicoots lie dead under the warming sun, waiting to be picked up by passing birds of prey.

Munich in January is cold. So cold that it can make alcoholics of teetotallers. People drink and go out to drink some more. Clubbing here is done mostly to keep the soul warm and the limbs moving.

Somewhere between the Munich Hard Rock Café and the world-famous Hofbräuhaus is our joint. It's 'old world', especially by the standards of new Munich, which is leaning more towards American kitsch. Not that our joint isn't. It is, but in an old world way. It has a Marilyn-in-flying-skirt cut-out, a neon cowboy and a throb-light chick crawling on all four outside it's glass window. Advertising, that's what they're for.

A narrow staircase takes you to the first-floor joint. It's dark but luminous inside. And you are greeted by some very happy women. Most of them are giggling at jokes not meant to be funny. The place's not big enough for a dance floor but it has a stage in the centre. Behind the stage are concentric rings of coloured light that are flickering indifferently.

Most tables are empty but ours is taken, by Svetlana and her silent friend. Svetlana is tall, but unlike most German women, she gives the impression of petiteness. Like a ballet-dancer. Maybe it's her delicate features or maybe it's the beer inside my belly.

When she tells me her name my first reaction is predictable.
"But isn't that a Russian name?"
"Yes, it is," she says in clear unaccented English.
"So what brings you to Germany."
"Which part of Russia?"
"Moscow, actually."
"What did you do there? Lemme guess… you were a cosmonaut?"
"I was a chemist."
"Wow, so is this work satisfying."
"Of course. I get to meet so many interesting men… like you."
"But what about feelings?"
"What about them? This is 'pussy business' what do feelings have to do with it?" And she begins to laugh. Her cruel and enchanting laughter.

Svetlana's friend makes up for her silence through incessant giggles. She doesn't seem to understand English. Svetlana introduces her as Julia. "Is she Russian too?" I ask her. "Maybe," she says and laughs.

Svetlana is very protective towards Julia. They're a package deal.

"You can chat with both of us. Just for a bottle of Champagne."
"Can't we settle for… say… er… beer?"
"C'mon a bottle won't kill you."
"At 100 dollars a bottle, it surely will, Svetlana."
"But I like you…"
"I like you too Svetlana… does Champagne include other stuff… you know… other stuff?"
"No you have to pay extra for everything I do for you," she winks and smiles wickedly.

My friend, a reporter from Brazil, says nothing to help, even though coming here was his idea. He and Julia are perhaps bonding silently.

Time's running on rocket fuel. And Svetlana is not even a has-been cosmonaut. She's called by her boss to another table. Silent Julia is with us. I can see Svetlana through the corners of my eyes, laughing with the other customers. The night is still young but I have an early morning flight to catch. Suddenly the music gets louder and the stage lights begin to dance in concentric circles. A woman appears on stage. She's wearing a Bavarian peasant dress that she is slowly and sensuously getting rid of. First the sleeves, then the shirt, then the skirt, and then the wig. Now she's only wearing a black bikini. And moving like an python. In her final act she pulls off the last remnants of clothing from her body as if it were a web growing on her. Free and gorgeously glowing in the flickering light she parts.

Svetlana, who's now behind us, is moving towards the stage, I ask her where she's going. "To show my ass," she says as her hand tenderly moves across my cheek.
"Don't go Svetlana!" I surprise myself.
"This is my work," she says smiling indulgently.
"Fuck it and come with me."
She smiles and her eyes melt for that small smidgen of a second and she says…
"Sweet... I'll remember you, love."

Svetlana comes in a leather dominatrix gear, complete with a whip, that she cracks a few times in mock aggression. A few cracks of the whip, and Svetlana is ready to show ass. First to go is her leather skirt, then goes her top. She looks very gothic in her black lingerie and whip. Her dance is a game of allusions and promise. And a proud nakedness that only the gods are capable of. I have moved to the table closest to the stage. Svetlana's eyes barely leave me. The rest of her clothes slide off her like water drops from leaves. She is now standing in her black panties moving tantalisingly to the rhythms of an imagined hip-lock. Eyes closed she yanks off the last patch of cloth from her body and the room gets a view of what used to be her private parts.

She blows me a kiss and disappears. Swallowed up by the oldest and hugest multi-national corporation known to man.

Next I know, I am on the plane, flying above Munich while Svetlana sleeps dreaming of money and freedom.

Manali, 1999: A huge chunk of land on which this house is built was eaten by the river last time it was in spate. But there's still enough space to walk around it without staring down a sudden crag. The road from here runs along the river for what seems like eternity. The house has a force-field that is difficult to ignore. It makes heads turn, vehicles slow down and dogs feel obliged not to piss on its wall.

It's not a big house, but looks comfortable, aloof and lost in deep contemplation. Its gabled front door doesn't face the iron-grill gate that opens on the road. Instead it looks out on a patch of hobby trees--some apple, some pomegranate. The house has the isolation of a palace, caught as it is between the river and the mountains.

We have stopped at the mechanic's just outside the house to get our bike fixed. It's taking long, so I decide to walk, stretch and exercise my back and shoulders, while my friend waits upon his ailing silver-jubilee Enfield.

The iron-grill gates are open, not fully but just enough, so I enter, wanting to capture the house in my camera. A black dog stares at me blankly, too lazy to bark, too tired to chase. But my steps are tentative. I don't know whether there are other more ferocious dogs lurking there somewhere.

"Don't worry... he's tied." The voice is coming from the verandah next to the gabled front door.
"I am sorry for intruding… but the house… err.. your house… just wouldn't let me pass."
She smiles. The man with her smiles and nods.

"Can I take a picture of your house?"
"Yes, please go ahead. But first we shall make ourselves scarce."
They stand up to go inside.
"No, no please don't… You make the house look good."
"Oh come on, two old fogeys can't do that. You will have to go ahead without us."
She smiles and both she and the man go inside, using their folded cloth-backed chairs as walking sticks.

The house smiles at the camera and gives it some great pictures. When I ring at their door to say thankyou and goodbye, she surprises me.

"Why don't you stay on and have a drink with us."
"I'd be delighted, but I have a friend waiting outside."
"Get him as well."
"Okay, I'll try."

Pleasantly surprised I go out and call my friend who says the repair would take longer. He tells me to go ahead and have fun and that he'd join me later.
"Is she young?" He asks smiling mischievously.
"Yup, extremely."

A menacing-looking antler is staring from above the their cozy drawing room fire place. They look comfortable enough to welcome a stranger in their house.

"My morning drink's whisky, what's yours?"
I am beginning to like them very much.

"Umm… the same."
Gold-filled glasses with ice cubes and soda are raised in a toast to the road and to travellers and an old familiar conversation begins.

I feel the need to light up and ask if it's okay with them but she answers me with another question. "Do you think I can bum a cigarette off you. It's been ages since I had one."
"Sure? What about you?" I ask the man. He refuses.

The sticks are fuming and the glasses are on to their second refills. We're like old friends from another lifetime, catching up from where our road forked out in different directions.

"We used to be three. G died last year."

Three friends. Two men and one her, who married neither but loved both. So they decided to build a "base camp" in Manali for the half year they spent travelling in the hills. Away from Bombay where their professions kept them trapped and occupied. The men were businessmen and she was a school principal. All Gujaratis, one of the most oppressively traditional people in the world.

"Must be tough?" I ask.
"We never cared," she says, her young, horn-rimmed eyes gurgling like whisky topped with soda and ice.

"We used to go for these long, long drives… suddenly without a plan. Just a toothbursh and a swim suit. The road was our fourth friend. We found this place during one of our travels and decided to let our anchors down."

I am too moved to react. They seem to have lived the life, held back neither by fear of scandal nor anticipated regret.

Two hours pass, the bottle of whisky has now entered our three souls like so many bottles of whisky must have penetrated so many souls, meeting for the first time.

"Does the house have a name?" I ask feeling warm and awesomely touched.
"People here know it as the 'Bombay Kothi' but we call it SNUG House."
"You know what SNUG House stands for?"
"Nope. Tell me."
"It stands for him: S, me: N and G: who left us last year."
"And U?"
"That's you!" And she laughs the most free and lilting 75-year-old laughter I've ever heard or seen.
The gods came out of chaos.

A swamp of undifferentiated matter: neither solid nor liquid, neither water nor land.

Leaving their home, the gods were tired. Leaving their home, the gods felt lonely. So they became many. Creating emanations, not womb-born children, but copies of themselves. Each copy containing a bit of the gods.

Then the gods sent out their emanations into the uninhabited world.

The gods being raw and nascent fought a lot. Shedding much god-blood. The god-blood acted as food for the emanations.

Meanwhile, the emanations-both good, bad, noble and ugly-wreaked havoc in the world. Like their originals. Like them, they fought often, giving birth to chaos. The emanations too sent out their emanations; not like themselves but weaker and more confused. They were weakly good. Weakly bad. Weakly noble. Weakly ugly.

And weakly god.

But their chaos was HUGE. It was basic, atomic...nuclear, really. Wound tightly, inside a centrifuging core. Their mighty, nuclear chaos melted the entire world. Turning everything back into a swamp. Of undifferentiated matter: neither solid nor liquid; neither water nor land. A soup, of nothing yet of everything.

A soup containing heads, hands and feet. And thickening blood.

A soup of chaos.

Or the undifferentiated abode of gods.

(A retelling of the Enûma Elish, the Babylonian Bullshit)



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As an art practitioner I work in a variety of mediums, what you see here are glimpses of my many creative projects. If you like or feel strongly something here please don't forget to comment



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