​Palestine – A medley of emotions

This book is going to be the highlight read of 2018. Period.
The book cover
​​Palestine by Joe Sacco has been an intense and difficult read. You’d think a comic book would be easy to read and completed in a couple of days. Not this one. Not for me at least. Joe, with his mix of graphics and text, gives the reader a comprehensive insight into the life and times of Occupied Territories in the early 90s. The text not only spells out the atrocities meted out to the Palestinians, but forms a broken yet hard-hitting style of narrative. With ample context and snippets, intense conversations and monologues, Joe managed to transport me to the world he witnessed, a world wrought with gunfire and uncertainty, of being denied basic human rights and land expropriated.

This book, with its stories of hate and destruction, pain and torment, has not been easy to stomach. I’ve had to stop numerous times in between, take a breather, to let my anger subside or stop my eyes from welling up. I would get choked up while reading some portions, and while I will share a few snippets from the book, there can be no comparison to reading it as a whole. Please pick it up. I may have the benefit to pause and look away, live my life, but Joe stayed and experienced many things first-hand, while the real sufferers live such a life day in and day out. There is no escape, nowhere to look away, to focus on something else. This is their reality. And it’s far from pretty.

Joe visited West Bank and Gaza Strip in late 1991 and early 1992, and he first published the accounts under nine issues. In 2001, all these issues were put together. These accounts describe the life and times of Palestinians after the First Intifada against the Israeli occupation which had begun to run out of steam. He does begin with a very ‘neutral’ perspective, present only to document the happenings around him, but it’s obvious with every chapter and every meeting how his thoughts shift a little. He visits the occupied territories, refugee camps, and even a bit of Tel Aviv (former capital of Israel*), which is sheltered from the harsh realities of their surroundings.

Joe’s journey begins in Cairo from where he gets a visa to Israel. From there, he heads to the old city of Nablus, which is in the northern part of West Bank. All conversations with locals would include someone having been shot, hurt, jailed, missing a relative, friend or having lost someone dear. Some would consider it shameful if they did not have a stint in prison. There, even if boys in their teens would throw stones, there were chances they could get shot for their actions, or even jailed for eleven years.

Sometimes Jewish settlers would “boot” out Palestinian residents, giving people very little time to retrieve their belongings. They would move in, roll out barbed wire and stake claim to their land. And with the approval of Israeli authorities, the Palestinians did not have anywhere to go. Last week, Israel gave the green-light to creation of 3,000 new Jewish settler in occupied East Jerusalem.

“We are committed to building wherever possible in order to increase Jerusalem’s Jewish majority,” said Meir Turjeman, chairman of the municipal planning committee.

Last year, Israel’s Channel 10 reported on plans to build 300,000 new Jerusalem housing units as part of a so-called “Greater Jerusalem” bill aimed at annexing settlements built in the occupied West Bank. According to Channel 10, most of the units would be constructed in areas located beyond the Green Line, in reference to territories that Israel occupied during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.  (Read the full report here)

The economy of the region had been crippled by the occupiers. Many Palestinian villagers depended on their olive trees to make ends meet. These were uprooted by the army. Sometimes, they were forced to cut down their own trees, trees that have been in the family since ages, trees that produced good quality olives used to make olive oil. One villager described it like ‘cutting down his own son’. It’s very difficult for them to find jobs, and often, if they did, they would have to travel great distances for it and end up spending more than they made. Hospitals, schools, almost every public institution had been attacked. Blood banks ran low, if they did at all.

One account that really hit me was an account of an elderly lady with her youngest son in a refugee camp in Rafah, which is along the Egyptian border. This was her account:

“We were sitting here when the soldiers attached our area…They were throwing gas…so the children and old people became sick…A gas bomb landed in our courtyard…The women went out, shouting for help. All the people were running out, gathering…throwing stones at the soldiers…

The youth put up a barricade, including a fridge. They didn’t want the jeeps to enter…I told my neighbours, ‘Why are you staying in your house? The soldiers might be coming to take our sons…We have to stop them…’ My son Basel wanted to help the people affected by the tear gas. He went to see if the soldiers were still outside…A soldier behind the barricade shot him in the head…I saw him fall…He was taken to the health center and then to the hospital in Khan Younis…We followed him there…The soldiers stopped the car with his father and siblings and started to beat them…They forced them to remove a burning tire from the street. They broke my son’s arm – the eldest son…The soldiers stopped the car I was in, too, and we were beaten…

At the hospital in Khan Younis, the doctors said my son would be taken to a hospital in Israel…The soldiers refused for him to go in an ambulance. They said they would take him in an aircraft from a settlement near Khan Younis…I went with the ambulance to the airport. We reached a checkpoint. The doctors said, ‘We have an injured person, we are in a hurry…After half an hour, they let us go…But we didn’t find the aircraft…

We returned to the hospital. They told us to go to another place for the aircraft…But it wasn’t there either…We went back to the hospital. The doctors decided to take him to Israel by ambulance. Why hadn’t they taken him directly? He was injured at 11 am and we didn’t get him to the Israeli hospital until 6 pm…No doctors, no one came to ask about him. They ignored us…I couldn’t control myself at that time. They took me back to Gaza…

My son died after 45 hours…He had no medical care…no change of dressing…just oxygen…Forty hours after he died, the soldiers came at night. They said we should go to the cemetery, just the family, at eight o’ clock…We waited till 1 am in the rain…”

It’s a longish extract, and of course, it’s something else to read it with the graphic panels, but just thinking about it makes me numb and angry at the same time.

An account like this is just a drop in the ocean. It had become the norm. Maybe, it still is, I’m not entirely sure about the current situation from an insider’s perspective.

And yet in the face of such hardship, Joe was always received with open arms. The people here are extremely hospitable. Even if they had homes with crumbling walls and leaking roof, a house without a floor, they would still offer guests the best they could. Joe would befriend locals to move from place to place interviewing people, and he would rely on them to translate while getting a better understanding of the lay of the land. And everywhere he went, he would always get a cup of tea with spoonfuls of sugar, sometimes infinite; but a warm hearth to share.

What is also special about this non-fiction graphic novel is the foreward by late Edward Said. A professor of literature who taught in Columbia University, I am in awe of this person. Reading his five-page dense prose had me reaching for the dictionary very often, but I’ll confess it left me bristling for more.

*The US, under President Donald Trump’s administration, has now officially recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and plans to move the embassy to the holy city by May 14, a date that coincides with Israel’s 70th anniversary of proclamation of independence.  
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Black Water Lilies – An artist’s wet dream

​This book had been eyeing me since all of last year. At the airport, on my Instagram feed, lists of must-read books and at every bookstore I waltzed into – which were many and quite often. It was everywhere. Late last year, I finally gave in and got myself a copy.
A gripping read
Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi is based in the French village of Giverny where Impressionist painter Claude Monet had lived and worked, from 1883 to 1926. He created a magnificent garden that was the subject of his paintings, and went on to make numerous renditions of the water lilies that graced the pond. This garden is exceptionally beautiful, with its azaleas and pines, wisterias and even a Japanese bridge. I was quite unaware about the existence of the water garden, but this book made me look it up, and it is beyond words. It left me stumped. Those who love working with colours would have a field day here. No wonder Monet said he was in raptures when in his garden. It looks breathtaking.

The world of Giverny is first introduced to the readers, making them acquainted with the residents and describing the intense beauty of the place they live in. The story talks of the inhabitants that are under the dark cloud of murder. The sequence of events takes place in a span of thirteen days, when Monet’s house and gardens are thrown open to tourists. The story begins with the murder of Jerome Morval, an ophthalmologist, who was found dead in the stream that runs through the gardens. The police find a postcard of Monet’s Water Lilies in his pocket with this sentence written on the back – ‘Eleven years old. Happy Birthday.’ Jerome was known to be quite the ladies’ man, finding his way into their hearts and pants. Quite the character. Pity, he was the one who died.

The book starts with the following words:

‘Three women lived in a village.
The first was mean, the second a liar, and the third an egotist.’

It had me hooked.

In the scheme of things are these three women, of three ages, with vastly different personalities. The young Fanette Morelle who was a gifted painter, the vivacious Stephanie Dupain who was interested in artists and the third was the oldest, the narrator. I must add I was quite jealous of Fanette. She was a child prodigy, someone so gifted that she could spin magic with her brush and colours. Yes, I wish I had talent like that. Stephanie, who taught the children in the village school, was drop-dead gorgeous. Men couldn’t keep their heads on their shoulders when they were around her. And the last, the old lady, spoke her true mind. She didn’t mince words. And this is something I’ve come to realise. The older we get, the more we stop bothering about what to say and where to say it. The filter in our minds gets rusty, or we just tend to ignore it. But the narrator, boy, I’d stay out of her way.

One of Monet’s many paintings on water lilies
(Source: Google)

There are also two policemen investigating the murder. The dashing Inspector Laurenc Serenac, who was recently transferred to Giverny. He’s part of the young force, and brings with him his quirky brand of humour and weird investigation techniques. To be honest, in the beginning I didn’t quite like him. He didn’t have the characteristics I’d expect a typical policeman to possess. But later, I guess he grew on me. His deputy, Inspector Sylvio Benavides, is more of a reliable person, always keeping his finger on all facts, and not believing in everything related to gut instincts. In what seems like an initial mismatch of a pairing, later blends into a great partnership. And while I thought Laurenc didn’t care about his deputy, it was much later when I realised that was not the case. I guess some of us need time to warm up to others.

Those who are close to me know I am quite the reluctant traveller. Always tense, never at ease and this is why I love reading books that almost transport me to another place, where I get to soak in the ambience, acquaint myself with new surroundings, familiarise myself with the inhabitants of a new world and immerse myself in their lives. This book was nothing short of a treat. It sprouted in me the yearning to pick up a brush again. Every description was so lush, so rich, it left me quite mesmerised.
Note the following lines, how they’re so evocative:
‘The clear water of the stream is tinted pink, in small threads, like the fleeting pastel shades of water in which a paint brush is being rinsed.’

In short, pick up this book. Please. It will take you on a wonderful journey. I, for once, read it so slowly, savouring the lines, its construction, enjoying the details. I would often read some paragraphs over and over again, hoping to memorise the descriptions of the gardens, inserting them in my brain. I don’t think if I’ll ever get to see Monet’s ethereal gardens in real life or his home with rooms painted in bright pop of colours. Who knows? Someday, may be.

 

Kindly note: I prefer not to term my posts on books as reviews, but musings, sharing my opinions, how it made me feel and the thoughts that streamed through my head while reading them. 

Dharamshala International Film Festival

I wish I could have seen them all!

This year started with a list of must-do things and a host of goals to fulfill. Although there are a number of things I am yet to complete, or will sadly remain unfulfilled, I’m happy to say that travelling out of the city for a festival can be struck off the list. Check!

I had been wanting to visit the Dharamshala International Film Festival since a few years, but I’m a reluctant traveller and well, always in debt. This year, the currents changed their course and well, I managed to not just plan the entire trip but also book tickets and everything, dragging my good friend M from the pile of work she’s usually buried in. Logistics and transport just give me the heebie-jeebies. I surprised myself at the initiative I took and managed to work all this out.

DIFF for me was my first film festival, and an opportunity to break away from my everyday life. Up in the mountains, at an ordinary auditorium of a Tibetan school, the festival was brought alive by a team of effervescent participants, people from all walks of life could be seen busy in deep conversations, huddled near the warm food stalls.

One of the venues at the festival. This was an auditorium at the Tibetan school.

There did not seem much fanfare at the festival as is wont to have at other festivals, or so I’ve heard, but the lineup of movies was astounding. Although I was unable to watch the film I wanted to, I definitely do not regret seeing the ones I did. M bumped into a colleague while the shuttle from McLeodganj took us to the venue. (Just a point, this shuttle was such a lifeline for us.) He suggested we watch Abu by Arshad Khan, and was marked as a do-not-miss.

Abu, a documentary based on director Arshad Khan’s life, his evolution from a carefree boy to accepting his sexuality and his relationship with his father, a devout Muslim. Arshad had copious footage of his early life, a well-to-do life early life in Pakistan where his family and extended relatives and friends would get-together for occasions and weddings. It was interesting to see the typical large families of those days, women carefree and dancing, anglicised and enjoying a life I’ve only heard about. Arshad’s father was always indulgent in having the latest technology at home, and the family had a video recorder at a time and age many hadn’t even seen one. The documentary traces their lives from Pakistan to Canada, and Arshad’s battle with recognizing his true self.

As Arshad’s father could never gel well in the landscape of Canada and moved towards the religion. However, the bit where he falls ill and is hospitalised, I found myself crying. I just couldn’t stop the tears. They just came streaming down my cheeks. I remember the time when I saw my brother in the hospital and the memories came screaming back. I repress these memories, but sometimes it gets difficult to tamp them down.

Anyhoo, after this wonderful documentary, we had quite a lot of time on our hands. I made a beeline for a cappuccino, while M started wandering around the many stalls. We picked up a couple of bags, notebooks and Tibetan prayer flags. Difficult not to shop when on a holiday.

Nursing hot coffee and ambling through the stalls.

The second movie, well, this one just left me stumped. It has a stellar cast, fabulous storyline and the visuals… crazy beautiful. Who knew such brilliant movies are being made in this country when all we get to see are those chirpy idiots all taken up by their song and dance. The Hungry directed by Bornila Chatterjee has Tisca Chopra, Naseeruddin Shah and Sayani Gupta among the faces I could recognise. A modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s play – Titus Andronicus – was astounding. It was pure bliss to watch this film. I do not want to dwell on the storyline too much, other than mention how money, greed, love, lust and jealousy all come into play in this adaptation of the bard’s work.

I really wanted to see this film. I think it has something to do with food. :)

 

Though I was able to only see two films, nevertheless I know this is just the beginning for me. I will definitely try to visit the festival next year with more time to spare.

The energy of that space, feeling the chill in my bones my still excited about lineup, waiting patiently for the gates to open and the low hum of chatter, excited about the arts, about cinema and how life meanders in strange, delightful ways.

Doofus Diaries – A Photography Challenge 

So earlier this year, I had made a really long laundry list of things to do, places to see, books to read and food to eat as part of a resolution for the year ahead. Completing a photography challenge was one of them. It took me six months to actually get down to doing it, and I must say, a month-long challenge made me introspect more, going through my pictures or daily clicking everyday pictures around me made me ‘stop and stare’. If only for a while. And it helped me appreciate and be grateful for what I had.

 

I chose Instagram as my medium of choice considering pictures would be the main showcase. Here are some of the images I put up, the ones I love the most.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Watch

There’s a distinct nip in the air, the cool breeze serenading before the sun slips below the horizon. Almost nine Gypsies stood in a jagged arc, its passengers straining their eyes and necks to catch a distant glimpse of the famed tigress of Jim Corbett National Park, its first citizen. After a day filled with bumpy rides through the dusty savannahs and tree lined paths in the jungle, we waited impatiently. Everyone tried to make no noise, veteran photographers were at their silent best. The jovial boys did get onto my nerves, taking the angry glances of others in their stride… but I ignored them. The landscape was awash with its breathtaking array of colours, of rusty yellow and pale green, sandy hues and shades of blue…I now understood why travellers love visiting Jim Corbett, why every visitor comes back mesmerised and always yearning to go back.

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