Thursday, March 12, 2009

Star and Dust

I couldn't resist watching Stardust on HBO during the four hours of power, leaving me with about 80 minutes to write this article for next Sunday's paper. I thought I had an interesting idea, but it turned out to be quite trite. I was so lazy that I even lifted--borrowed--the title from the movie. I am so bad at giving titles to the essays: it is usually in the "this-and-vaguely related that" format.

At least it has Nikhil Uprety in it! It seems he isn't on IMDB, although he has done tons of Nepali movies, and a few Bhojpuri ones. On the other hand, I am on IMDB :-)

Star and Dust

He can't be more than fourteen years of age, but he carries about a weathered air, sits peering into the dust and pale sun as if beckoned at by a once forgotten sight. He sits on his heels, knees folded to support cheekbones, arms ringed around the shins, the tail of school blazer brushing pine needles as he sways to a private rhythm. Often the lips curl and crumble around the edges to make small flickers of a smile or a frown as I watch for shadows of thoughts fade and flash on his face. My curiosity pushes me forward: I saunter over to where he sits and ask what school he has run away from.

“North Point,” he says in the faintest voice, too faint to catch the first time around. His arm points to the west. “Near here, North Point, Samakhusi.” I ask him why he isn't in school—Suraj laughs behind me. He thinks I am scaring the boy. “Holiday,” the boy mutters, makes no eye-contact, shifts edgewise away. He is still squatting, so he doesn't get too far with that exercise, but he indicates enough to reseal his envelope of privacy, there on the dusty ground of Ranibari.

Suraj, Yagya and Camen have a laugh at the boy's expense. It is the morning after a friend's wedding reception: each man is parched and wary of the sun. This morning in Ranibari is the perfectly mellow start to a new day our bodies need, lulled by the sun broken by the scant roof of leaves above, fanned by a blaze of dry bamboo groves that stubbornly wear their golden leaves, and spiced by the mild acid of unaccountable cynicism as we mutter in approval, but mostly laugh, at Nikhil Uprety giving an action sequence. We watch the team of technicians go about their work, but we also watch the handful who have congregated to watch the action sequence being shot.

Nikhil has to come running up a slope and veer off just before hitting the camera. The boy gets up, touches his tie as if stroking a talisman, shifts to a new perch with a better view of the actor, who does come gunning down the ground, veers off, and even before he has come to a stop, flicks the phone out of a hip-pocket and leans against a tree, grinning needlessly into the phone, flicking his long hair in squealing delight. Behind him, extras and stunts-men pile small heaps of leaves to fall hard into, practice complicated five-step choreography that needs perfect timing and grace of form to execute. The boy nods his approval, but he is shooed away from the line of sight of the camera. He is reluctant to stand and loathe to relocate, unlike middle-aged women with bright tika on their foreheads, spillover from a nearby wedding, hiding cautiously behind tree-trunks, taking in the bright magic of cinema being made Nepali-style, on the strength of grunts and guts, and nothing besides.

Caymen starts clowning, wondering aloud when the filmmakers would come to their senses, see the kuire with blond curls, cast him for the villain's sidekick. “Just give me some ratty brown wigs and like three heavy gold chains and put me in a pit and I'll jump out of the leaves.” We all laugh. But we know that this dusty troupe is stitching together a snare of magic, yelling in pain and bravado with each punch and kick that will be in service of a damsel in distress or a kid nabbed by a pot-bellied goon when all is done, when a blanket of hush falls over a darkened theater to erupt in applause as Nikhil comes running up an incline, knees a man in the face, leaps over two more, kicks one so hard that he does a complete back-flip and falls into a pile of leaves.

The truant boy has moved into the shade of picnic stall, still hunched, still peering at every object, every person, every movement. Our attention is waning, wavering, but his seems to accrete with every nod at every accurate punch, every new angle the camera squats to capture. I belong here, to this world of make-believe and leaves thrown in the air, men flying through the air, calling for damage and baby and action. The boy in his blazer, chewed-up tie and the jaundiced gauntness of frame is an eavesdropper at this orchestra of sounds and sights. But I am fidgety, irritable, tense, cynical, too easily goaded to derisive laughter by Caymen or Yagya's wisecracks, whereas the boy is like a heap of cow-dung marked into veneration with vermilion and turmeric and red ribbons, his mute, rooted mass deified, transcended into Ganesh.

Where is the illusion, I ask myself—in the obviously faked throws and kicks and falls, or in the expectations I have of the movie business? I see too easily through the effort. I project my disbelief instead of suspending it, but the boy, seems to me, has mastered the rare art of sustained awe, which must be the lifeblood of the theatrical arts, or our persistent desire to laugh with ourselves, at ourselves. I stand and shake my head as if to shake off the thought. The boy looks at me, but he doesn't nod. Suraj laughs once more at Nikhil, who is once more on the phone. As if on a cue, we all stand, ready to walk away from the morning's entertainment, Nepali-style.


  1. I just googled a little to know about the columinist whose write-ups i found most difficult to decipher and honestly cursed in between every lines when I read.Fortunately, the click took me to the correct site.

    Every time i read ur writeup i wondered why this one stand out among the others? why this writer is wandering off the subject? Afterall waht is the gist? Why is opening sentence so awakward? Why is the ending so incomplete, unfinished as if many things left for the readers to complete.

    I always, before visiting your site, had felt that u write a half baked story, suffice to fill the stomach but leaves with a kind of uncooked, and unsatiating feeling..... (i am falling short of word have a creative head and perhaps a little intelligentia to surmise what i mean). Tonight, after going through your posts( literally all posts), i realized your depth of writing. Your unusual yet magical weaving of words that just captured my interest till i finish off reading oyur all posts. Hope to catch more now, both in press and web.

    Best of luck for your writing and your venture of script writing. I hope my clicks have made steep rise in your blog stastictis' graph.
    Kepp up the good Work. Good night!O, its already a morning...

  2. @MBR

    "why this writer is wandering off the subject? Afterall waht is the gist? Why is opening sentence so awakward? Why is the ending so incomplete...[?]"

    You are right on each count. And I have only apologies to offer: often, I don't get the time even to proof-read the articles. I have to create a story from situations that rarely amount to much: not unlike the one above, where it was just a bunch of hung-over men watching a movie being made that became the story.

    If the writing seems so bad, it is simply because it *is* bad.

    But, thank you for your good wishes, and for reading the posts.

  3. Thanks for allowing my comment and more thanks for replying.
    Regarding how people mis spelled your name, i like to add what i discovered when i thought of it last night.
    It's good that u spell pra"WIN" and not pra"BIN".
    Sadhai win win matra hos ra bin ko jarurat kahile naparos. I mean, Arule tapain ko work ko kadar nagarera bin ma kahile naphalun!
    i mean, your name BIN bina ko praWIN nai ramro cha!
    Good night

  4. If the writing seems so bad, it is simply because it *is* bad.
    No nO no just because your writing went off my head doesn't mean that it is bad. Please do not make any bad assumption of that. I said my level of understanding was little lower than your level of writing. You were and is far more creative than any other columnist. just beacuse your writing style is different, how u open and close off your story is unpredictable i cursed u for ur write up. but that was only before visiting ur site. now i think after going through your all posts, i am quite accostomed to your kind of reading and hope i would not have the same feeling whren i read sth new next time. Your article is NOT BAD AT ALL. but slightly different from what we generally read in paper.
    I think it's all clear now. Don't ever let this feeling of Bad writing creep in your mind. This kills creativity..


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