Sheila writes about her time spent in the labs, the UnBox festival and Bangalore.
Nothing connects naturally the cities that they call Beirut/Bey/Beyrouth and Bangalore/Bengaluru. One is by the sea, the other is locked in within other lands. One is a city of ancient times, the other hasn’t yet reconciled to being a real city, resisting the idea, stupidly, as if such rebellion weren’t obvious indication of its immature teen years. One is where I have lived, a decade (too long) and then some, trying to every day convince myself that Place is not a trap. Then Beirut, a too-brief fling that, like all passionate affairs, left me desperate for more.
Why Beirut here? I can’t exactly say. Why Bangalore, even? Who knows why one arrives and then decides to stay, willing, asking to be enmeshed in one ethos in favour of all else?
The more I understand language, the more I am made aware of, of its limits. True emotion, understanding that extends to the core is useless for language. Any language. There are no words in the languages of the world to convey love, or hate for that matter. Yet, one endures in an attempt to talk of cities and the mythopoeia of its municipal postures, hoping that a sentence will do, someday.
We expect too much of words.
Smell is a landscape too, quite like a language. What does Bangalore smell like, I have wondered, hoping to place myself here, in this city, by its fragrances. For a connection I couldn’t logicize (I have tried), I think of Beirut again, that oldest of cities where layer upon layer upon layer of lifetimes have given its Mediterranean blue a blood red hue. War is still visible in the rearview mirror in beautiful Bey. She smells blue, I thought, while walking the Corniche. Bangalore: one could say it is the stench of garbage that assaults the nose, and one wouldn’t be too off the mark. But really, the smell of Bangalore is the smell of haggling over the flower market in Krishnarajendra Market – mostly marigold, jasmine, roses and lilies and other ornamentals – at 4 am when the most business transpires, wouldn’t you agree?
In sound Bangalore attempts to set a record with the honks of too many cars, too many motorbikes, like frightened spiders hustling past rush hour, like machines fated to do this every day through to always. In that mesmerising city – Beirut, Beirut, Beirut – I hear an Arabic that is like water over rocks, tinkling, romantic, the language of poetry, the words of the heart. It sounds like labneh, smooth, delicious, rolling off the coffee-coated tongue. In my city, the ownership merely a derivative of inhabitancy, not of belonging, the sounds resonate via trees, the few that still stand, and it sounds like the stories that grandma raised me on. Two, sometimes three a day, for years and years until she turned 80 and I moved away.
Why did I fall in love with the battered old woman called Beirut? She has weathered storms, and war that has shot bullets into her buildings and into her people. Not much works. There are men with big guns everywhere. Rolls of barbed wires are only half an arm’s length away. Just there, you can touch them, and they leave a gash on your finger, like the way they have marked that ancient land. Perhaps it is that one can caress the history, violent though it has been, in the air of Beirut. Past is present is future here, it seems. Perhaps this fragile touch makes for a loving that needs no reason. Something unexplained just calls and one heeds.
Bangalore is young and her mythopoeia is as yet unformed. The wars are only in people, in the violence of navigating the everyday quotidian. At arm’s length here is the yellow of tabebuia that you can’t quite touch (the fallen flowers are not it). Against a pre-spring sky, in the first flush of youth, there they are, gentle and beloved to the makeup of the city. Until later in the day the city withers some more, hurtling toward inevitable death.
Photographs by Sean Dooley.