Thursday, 22 December 2005

Strange obsession

I can't resist taking pictures of people in uniforms - especially policemen and police-women. It is a kind of obsession. If I am visiting a place and I see police personnel, I always try to take their pictures. Some times, I am a little afraid that they will get annoyed but that hasn't happened so far.

It is a kind of love-hate relationship or rather fear-fascination relationship. Instinctively, I am afraid of people in police dress, if I can avoid, I never speak to them. In my mind they are representing cruel and brute force. It is for this reason perhaps, that I like taking pictures of them with small children, so that the antagonism between this mental image and their actual gentleness creates a contrast in the picture.

In 1960 my father was jailed because of some anti-government protest. From his notes, I know that I and my younger sister, together with my mother, we had gone to see him. I was six years old at that time, yet I can't remember any thing about that visit, nothing absolutely. I don't have any childhood memory of such a visit while I think normally, a visit to a jail would be a very strong memory for a child. Perhaps, that visit is behind my fear-fascination of uniforms?

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Tuesday, 20 December 2005

Christmas shopping in Rome

I was in Rome yesterday. By the time, I finished my work, it was already dark and I still had an hour for my train. I decided to use that hour by going to Piazza Navona, the Navona square.

Rome is full of beautiful squares but this is perhaps the most beautiful of them all. Shaped like a big boat (Navona literally means a big boat), the square has beautiful fountains, and during the day, artists, musicians and tourists throng it, so it is difficult to walk around.

Last night was different, because of the christmas shops. There were rows of cheerful, brightly lit, colourful shops.

I was so busy going around and looking at the shops that I almost missed my train. While rushing back towards the metro station, I saw the Bartolucci workshop in a small street near Piazza Navona, with the craftsman working on wooden handicrafts while the wooden Pinocchios with their long noses kept him company. He seemed as if he had just stepped out of a fable, into the dark, narrow, cobbled street.

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Thursday, 15 December 2005

Pinter breathes fire

When I first heard that Pinter has won the 2005 nobel prize for litterature, I thought they were talking about Luigi Pintor, an Italian writer who had died earlier this year. Pintor, a rebel, was ousted from the Italian communist party and established his own newspaper and magazine, il Manifesto. He wrote simple, small books, that are a real delight to read with their profound insight into human psyche.

I vaguely knew about Harold Pinter, the British playright. I had not seen or read any of his plays, but I had seen him on the "HardTalk" on the BBC in December 2004, when he had said that both Bush and Blair should be tried for their war crimes. This interview and the episode of HardTalk can still be seen through internet.

His acceptance speech for the Nobel prize is equally hard hitting. He feels that while there has been a lot of debate and discussions on effects of Soviet empire and communist rule, similar debate has not touched on American activities of "eliminating people-friendly democracies by declaring them communists and killing innocents till such countries have despots friendly towards multinationals and American products and at that point, they are called democracies". He gave some examples of Latin America, before talking about Iraq. This speech can also be read on internet.

***

I am sure that Pinter is a wonderful writer and does deserve his nobel prize. Yet, I also feel that Nobel prize committee is biased towards writings in European languages. Otherwise, I can't imagine, how writers of the stature of Mahashweti Devi can be ignored?

Yet the painful truth is that the writers in "local" languages spoken by millions of persons are ignored, till someone can translate them in more "mainstream" languages and then they can be "discovered". Till then they do not exist.

***

Sunday, 4 December 2005

When in Rome

When I came to Rome on Friday, I was telling myself, this time I must go out and be a tourist, and not remain closed in the meetings. But when I arrived it was raining. Our meeting was in a place run by nuns close to the circular road, la circomvallazione, that runs all around the city, not too far away from the Vatican city.

As often happens in the old cities, streets may be narrow with high walls of houses huddling together, yet as you enter the gates of an old house, suddenly you find yourself in big open spaces, sometimes with beautiful gardens. I had that experience a couple of times in old Delhi. This place was like that. Really huge with different buildings, gardens and a church hidden inside the high walls.

Yesterday (saturday morning), I woke up early, with the idea of going out and doing some sight seeing. Terme of Caracalla, I had already decided that this time I wanted to see to the old spring bath of Caracalla built in second century DC where more than 1300 persons could take bath and relax. I had a hurried breakfast, making plans about how to go there but when I came out, it was raining heavily. Unwilling to give up my plans, I opened my umbrella and set out resolutely. It was cold and there was lot of strong wind. In a few minutes, inspite of the umbrella, I was drenched and shivering. So I had to beat a hasty retreat, literally with my tail between the legs.

In the end I did manage to see some spring bath ruins, from the outside, not of Terme di Caracalla but of Terme di Declezio, right outside the Termini railway station, before I caught the train back to Bologna today. These spring baths were even bigger than those of Caracalla. Till some months ago, they were occupied by poor emigrants, who would squat around, cook food, talk with friends. Now the whole place has been fenced and closed. To enter, you must pay a ticket.

The whole street in front of the Terme was jampacked with vehicles and pavements were full of people from some east European country, probably some part of ex-Yugoslavia. The vans had brought the east European beer, vodka, dried fish and other delicacies from Eatern Europe and had set up makeshift shops on the pavement. All the homesick east European emigrants had gathered around to chat, to smoke, to drink their home beer, to talk in their own language and perhaps, for a few hours imagine that they were back in their homes. I am using the word "east European" to cover my own ignorance. They could have been Serbian or Polish or Czech or Romanian. It was strange walking in their middle and listening to their Russian like language.

A little further, a woman vendor from Peru was complaining in Spanish to some latin American tourists about people selling counterfeit cheap coke and other drinks. A little ahead, a Chinese woman had set up her noodles shop and chinese couples were buying it and then sitting along the side of the pavement, to eat it with evident gusto. They chattered in Chinese.

Small pleasures for the often denigrated and despised emigrants! Each in the safety and security of their own language, food and company.

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