Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Gangotri: The old order and the new and an ode to immortality

Each journey, for me, has a meaning – besides the beginning and the end. Each journey is life-changing, I think, in some way or the other. And this one of course, was a bit more than just another journey – it had many more layers of meaning tucked away into it than many others. So to start with, it was an adventure trip that I had been planning with my nephew Rahul for a couple of years. It was his first trip to the Himalayan heights and not surprisingly, he spent a lot of time chalking out the details and putting together his gear in London - where he lives. Well, Himalayan high altitude may be new for him, but camping and meticulously planning out the details of our trek to Gaumukh (3900 metres) and hopefully beyond that to Tapovan (4450 m) was something that he did with a lot of enthusiasm and ardour. In fact, I found myself increasingly caught up in his youthful enthusiasm as the dates neared.
As for me, Gaumukh was the pilgrimage that I was hoping would perhaps provide some of the answers that I have been seeking for a couple of years now. It was for me another mile on the journey that has taken me to Haridwar, Rishikesh, Pushkar, Benares, Dakshineshwar and Amritsar. Now that we’re back, and as I take stock of whether I have my answers or not, I know that I have some - while others still linger on. As another trip to the Himalayas – which for me is my spiritual home – this was long awaited. The rugged and extreme Garhwal was a region that I had not really encountered before, except for a much less intensive trek to Har-ki-dun. That too was a journey with depth - with a childhood friend who has always been there for me. Back to this one - perhaps it’s fitting that the toughest Himalayan terrain was left for what could well be my last trip to the rugged heights. The experience – in terms of geography and pushing the physical envelope was everything it promised to be. From Gangotri to Bhojbasa and further on to Gaumukh, the glacial snout which is considered by us Hindus as the birthplace of our holiest of holy rivers – the Bhagirathi and the Ganga – provides the most complete range of features that one can hope for. From glacier walks to crossing mountain streams and walking on scree and terminal moraine and even dodging rock falls – the scenery does not disappoint even for a moment. Besides the thrills, the landscape is intensely beautiful too – as one walks along the river bank with the stately Shivling and Bhagirathi peaks for company. There are the chir pine forests of Chirbasa and the Bhuj trees along the way. One runs into company in the form of the mountain goats or the Ber, as they are locally called.
But for me, the trip has taken me beyond just the Himalayan grandeur that was the passion of my youth. Rahul – who the hill folk have decided to call my ‘bachcha’ - much to my delight, did come up trumps. And even though I’m exhausted and can’t even imagine making it to Tapovan – he does it with a fair degree of skill and competence, despite his status of a first-timer. He has braved the steep gradient, the height gain, the lack of oxygen and of any defined paths. And most important, he has enjoyed every bit of the adventure and will probably come back again for more. Besides, along the way to Gangotri & Gaumukh, Rahul also developed a taste for simple Indian food such as chapatis, the delicious pahari rajma and alu paranthas - which my dearest friend Alka, a skilled mountaineer, who's been on many tough expeditions, feels is the best cuisine to tackle Himalayan journeys. And my 'bachcha' has also passed the test of ferrying his own load during the trek, something that I've always failed to do.And while maintaining his composure under pretty extreme conditions, he was only ruffled a little bit when some ugly red scars mysteriously appeared on his forearm at Doon School - at my friend Purnima's home, after we got back to the plains. Probably ruptured blood vessels from a scratch he got from his rucksack or heat rashes. Anyways - nothing that the magic neosporine powder from the little white bottle with a blue cap couldn't take care of!
As for me, I was thinking of my father throughout the trip – in fact, it was a journey made for him in many ways. As I sat on the rocks near Gaumukh with my feet dipping in the freezing waters of the Bhagirathi, I knew that he was definitely there in my life, even though death had taken him away from us forever.
And as I helped my ‘bachcha’ pitch his Summit Series tent at Bhojbasa – battling as we did against the snow-storm, I knew that it didn’t really matter, if I could not ever make it to such heights again. There were the signs of immortality strewn all around me. And I just love to drink it in and absorb it. The Himalayas are eternal and so is life – that’s the biggest takeaway from this journey! And then it's not really a surprise or hardly a coincidence, when soon after our return to Delhi via Uttarkashi and Dehra Dun - my cousin Srila (my Bachcha's mother) sends me a photo of my parents which is one of the best recent ones that I've seen of my good-looking father. The photo must have been hidden away in her albums and she must have suddenly chanced upon it. For me, it certainly eases the degrees of separation and brings back my father much closer to me.
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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Dilip Gupta - my Madhumati connection!

There are some people – who are no more – who one would have liked to have got to know better. In fact, there are times when looking back we regret many lost opportunities in interacting with them. For me, watching the movie Madhumati – by one of Bengal’s and India’s best known directors Bimal Roy – was such an occasion, which brought to mind an uncle, Dilip Gupta. He was the cinematographer for Madhumati and even won the Filmfare award for best cinematography in the year 1958 for it – incidentally the legendary Madhumati also turned 50 this year!
What I have gathered from trawling the Net – riding Google – is that Dilip Gupta or Jhunu Jethamoshai as I called him, was a cinematographer in Bollywood between the 1930s & 1960s and was director of photography for Prem Patra (1962), Jab Pyar Kisise Hota Hai (1961), Dil Deke Dekho (1959), Madhumati (1958), Yahudi (1958), Gotoma the Buddha (1956), Biraj Bahu (1954), Deedar (1951), Street Singer (1938/I)... aka Saathi, Street Singer (1938/II)... aka Saathi (India: Hindi title) and Devdas (1935).
Dilip Gupta was my father’s favourite cousin and my father, who was younger, drew a lot of inspiration from him. I remember a couple of family events, where Jhunu Jetha was present and Baba taking great pains to create an opportunity for my sister and me to chat with him. By then, he was aged and showed a great deal of affection for us – unfortunately for me, it just did not occur to me to sit and chat with him about the past and his exciting work as one of the early great cinematographers in Bollywood. Of course, I do remember my father and mother fondly remembering Mr Gupta and his wife and the happy times that all of them had spent together in Mumbai way back in the early 1960s. My father, who was a skilled and creative photographer – drew a lot of inspiration from his Jhunuda and it was Jhunuda who had introduced my parents to the famous Bimal Roy and his wife in Mumbai.
Mr Roy, of course, is among Bollywood’s great directors of all times and his extraordinary career as a director also coincided with a Golden Age for Bengali talent in Bollywood. P.C. Barua, K.L. Saigal, Salil Chowdhury, S.D. Burman and even Ritwik Ghatak have all worked with Bimal Roy on various projects. He started his career in Bengal with New Theatres but later migrated to Mumbai where he was to first work with Bombay Talkies and later to set up his own production company. Some of the most famous songs from Bollywood are from his films, such as Suhana Safar Aur Yeh Mausam Haseen from Madhumati (1958) and Mora Gora Ang Lai Le from Bandini. Music for these films was composed by the two legends from Bengal - Salil Chowdhury and Sachin Deb Burman.
Coming back to Dilip Gupta – I do remember an occasion when he had visited my grandparents’ home in Kolkata and had talked about a film that he was shooting on the life of Thakur Ramakrishna – the famous religious and spiritual leader of Bengal – whose teachings greatly inspired him. Since I was very young at that time, I didn’t have the slightest interest in asking him details about his work – again I look upon that as a huge lost opportunity. By then, he had retired from full-time work and was on a vacation in Kolkata from Mumbai. He along with his wife had spent quite a few hours with my grandparents on that occasion and it would have been the ideal time to talk to him about his work.
I also remember another occasion when I had met him – I don’t remember where this was – along with my father. The two of them had chatted about Jhunu-Jetha’s recent visit to LA, where he had spent a nostalgic vacation amidst memories of the time when he had gone there as a young student of the techniques of film-making. Again – had I listened their chat with a greater degree of attention, I’d probably have got a better understanding of the world of LA than I was to later get from my own visit to Universal Studios – excited at being at the Mecca of Hollywood, all by myself. In fact, my sister, with her artistic sensibilities has probably had far richer interaction with Jhunu-Jetha than me – she’s even visited him at his Mumbai home and had a glimpse of the Dark Lady – his Filmfare award for Madhumati!
I’ve heard from family members that one of Dilip Gupta’s daughters – my cousin – is now working at putting together a book on him with articles contributed by Hollywood greats such as Dilip Kumar and other material that she has with her on her father. I wish her all the best with this project and look forward to its completion.
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