Saturday, February 10, 2018

Exit Man-Child

I watched Phantom Thread a few days ago. In the theatre! The last film I watched in the theatre was probably Nil Batte Sannata, but this was Daniel Day-Lewis' last, so I had to watch it on a big screen, etc etc is why I put myself through all that going to a mall to watch a film entails.

(That was a complicated sentence. I will keep it simple for the rest of this post).

In this interview with middle school girls, Anderson says that he wanted to work with Day-Lewis again, and so over the course of a few months, the two of them sat together and figured out the story they wanted to tell.

So here's the thing: this story of a grown man surrounded by women propping him up in all things great and small is the role Daniel Day-Lewis wanted to be his last, before he retires forever from cinema.

That is even more disappointing than the film itself.

I'm not going over the plot. It involves clothes, Day-Lewis looking quite hot, the women he dresses not so, and a weird twist in the tale in the last ten minutes that was - how shall I put it? - very difficult to stomach.

You'd think that a film where most of the speaking roles belong to women, where in fact, there are more named women characters than men, would be a good thing. Nope. Not if, in all their actions, the needs of this great big man-child are the only important thing.

He needs silence at the breakfast table. Scrape butter too loudly, crunch toast, pour tea from an unacceptable height, tell him he's expected to attend a wedding, and the man's a nervous wreck, his day ruined and his inspiration in shreds. He asks a woman out and talks about his dead mother the entire time. Worse: he removes her make up at a restaurant because that's how he likes to see her. 

And so creepy the way his sister grooms this woman he brings home to be his muse (someone said on twitter, men having muses is nothing more than a way to conceal an erection beneath an education): how softly she should eat, how she must not introduce the slightest variation in his routine, etc etc.

I think this is supposed to signify the man's fragile genius. 

Poor Daniel Day-Lewis. If he needs to remove every male character from the script (bar one doctor whom his character tells to fuck off), if he needs to play a man who has to have women mother him and protect him and stand like mannequins around him, and be jealous but not so jealous that they impinge on his life in any meaningful way, all in order to garner a final Oscar nomination, then that's just pathetic.

If he wins, I think I will be capable of one more level of disappointment. (Personally, I think Timothee Chalamet should win in this category).

(I had more to say but now I'm just bored with how silly this film is. Now that this is out my system, I hope I will stop saying, "Another thing about Phantom Thread' to myself at odd moments during the day.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Dancing at the Edge of the World: RIP Ursula le Guin

Ursula le Guin died last night. She was 88, and she lived the kind of life many would wish they had it in them to lead. 

I first said I wouldn't say much and instead spend the day reading her. Which I will, of course, but I am also awash with a feeling I am finding it hard to describe. It's not sorrow and gratitude doesn't come close. It is what it is and maybe I need to say these things aloud in order to notice this feeling properly and give it its due.

On a personal note: I started writing so very late in life that I feel some residual envy for those who are so accomplished so early in their writing lives. I feel also, as a sort of balance to that envy, a certain kinship with writers like Jayanta Mahapatra, who also started their true lives late.

Taking my first steps in poetry as much as into the world that the internet opened up, I found her website and spent a lot of time there. Then I found a post box number and instructions for fan mail (enclose a SASE; writers find it hard enough to make money, and Ursula walks to the postbox herself because her friend who acts as secretary comes in only once a week. Also, there were default dragons).

Naturally I wrote to her, as I have done to other people from time to time, with my heart beating loudly as I wrote. I  enclosed a SASE, stamped the envelope and went to post the letter. Naturally I expected no reply.

I had written to her about my beginning to write, and how her work had inspired me. I sent her a poem I had written that I thought she might like. It was short, just a few lines long. It would fit on twitter even in the 140 days.

Some weeks later, I got mail from Portland, Oregon and I knew instantly that it was from Ursula le Guin. Today, I looked for that letter, and I see that I had opened it so carefully that all the glue is preserved and the letter has stuck itself back as if it were still unopened.

I opened it carefully. Then and now. It's a typed letter, two paragraphs long, and is filled with warmth. But the words that I have held in my heart all these years are these: 

I love your poem. I'm going to put it up over my desk. And here is a poem from ancient China that a friend sent to me:
[poem from ancient China, with one correction and the name of the poet and translator, in her hand]
Looking for this letter, I realise that there were more. I can't imagine why I kept bothering her and why she was generous enough to reply, even if briefly. But I am grateful for her generosity and encouragement and for showing me a way to be with other writers when my time comes, if it comes.

Outside of the personal, there are so many things to link to, read, discover (even now. One word: podcasts). Most of all, there are the books. 

I found out recently that there is a box set of her entire Ecumen series. I added it to my wishlist on Amazon, and then I remembered her speech at the NBA

A week or so ago, I ordered her last book, No Time To Spare. Via Amazon, though (I am sorry), at a time when my mother was travelling and wouldn't realise that things were being bought for her birthday. 

My mother still doesn't know about the book. I still haven't read it, because she should get to read it first. Me, I am going to re-read The Word for World Is Forest starting today. 

The amazing thing is, how much there is to read and re-read. Her work will last a long time.


Sunday, December 31, 2017

Placeholder for the new year

The new year will begin with a full moon, a migraine, a stomach infection. It will begin with a hive desiccating a little every day. It will begin with a hungry cat.

The new year will be smaller, with fewer things to do that will, all the same, appear to be undoable.

No. The new year will contain within it all the predictions that will fail, no better than they did before.

In a few hours, I will not magically begin to write, write better, more, more efficiently.

In a few hours from this beautiful morning, there will be another one that I might sleep through, but more likely that I will watch from out my window, as I usually do.

Happy 2018!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Home Fire

Finished Kamila Shamsie's reworking of Antigone, Home Fire, last night. Because I didn't sleep well, I am still confounded by dreams and am only partially present inside my own body. What follows will reflect this state of mind and body.

(Note: this is not a review. It might not even be coherent).

I read this book more slowly than I normally would. These days, when I can barely hold a thought from the time I begin any action to when I finish it, many details remained vivid, not all of them visual (which is why it would be hard to recount them here; they often depend on how they were said). Shamsie has become very very good at this.

Shamsie has such a light touch with her storytelling - and this is a thing to be celebrated - but I've often felt disappointed, sometimes about specific things and sometimes that the writing fell short of her ambitions. I've wondered why that should be. Here, though, the foundation text by Sophocles, with the resonances accumulated by all the other versions (Shamsie acknowledges Anne Carson and Seamus Heaney but I read this, inevitably, also through Jean Anouilh) makes for an unshakeable foundation that holds Shamsie steady as she recontextualises the fundamental opposition of [any kind of] individual and the State, the State and its declared enemies,  of law and justice, of morality and pragmatism.

She gives Isma/Ismene, Eamonn/Haemon and Parvaiz/Polynices (who is only ever an already-dead body in other versions) entire sections of they own and these first three sections are the very heart of the book.

I did not realise this. I reached the end of the section titled Parvaiz and though I wanted to keep reading, I told myself that the best bits, the crucial encounter between Aneeka and Karamat (Antigone and Creon) needed my complete attention and a good chunk of time.

I'll just state very briefly that my first and continuous reaction to the Aneeka section was, 'Oh dear. Oh no. Why?' 

I should also say immediately that my disappointment was not a deal breaker, because what had gone before was so impressive and immersive that for the first time in the book, I was able to hold myself back and ask questions even as I was reading.

I don't have definitive answers, of course. Only Shamsie - and maybe not even she - knows why this section plays out as it does. My hunch is that all this time, Aneeka is seen through the eyes of all the people who love her most. And yet, through each person's eyes, though something new is revealed, much more remains mysterious. The moment that Shamsie entered Aneeka's mind is the moment we could reasonably expect to know this character at last. There would be no Antigone, whatever the versions are called, without the speaking, thinking, vocalised presence of this character.

Unfortunately for Shamsie, she steps into Aneeka's point of view at the moment when Aneeka is utterly disintegrated by grief at the death of her twin. She is confounded, the very manifestation of the phrase out of her mind and Shamsie attempts to chronicle this by a peculiar kind of fragmented narrative. Sometimes these are in the form of tweets or media reports; at other times, something that reads like a diary but cannot possibly be, because though it might be in Aneeka's voice, she is also present in these brief pieces of text in the third person. 

Because Shamsie takes away from Aneeka the power of speech, what direct speech there is is far from powerful. I don't have the book to hand as I am writing this, but when she speaks to Isma, she is petulant (Get off his shed, she says, I think); with Abdul, to helps her get out of the country and to Karachi, her conversation consists of telling him she knew before he did that he was gay. The point of this conversation is not what she says, but his confession and explanation for why he needs to make amends.

The only word of power uttered in this entire section - that I hoped would be the first part of the battle with Karamat (which was always the symbolic heart of the story) - is the word 'Justice' : her single word reply to a reporter asking her, as she leaves for her flight, what she hopes to achieve by going to Karachi.

Aneeka has lost her power of speech, upon which so much depends. But this is a novel and not a play, and in a visual world, we expect actions to speak louder: a gallery exhibition of images, each squeezing out a thousand words.

So that, when we reach the last fifth of the book and step into Karamat's point of view, we have plenty to see. Once again, we're watching Aneeka from a distance, through someone else's eyes, and this particular perspective is a shrewd, calculating one. What might have been simple acts of grief gain a certain political heft because it is Karamat who, representing the State, watches Aneeka enact an opposition that cannot be anything but hostile to everything he is.

Novel though it is, a clash of thhe kind between Antigone and Creon, Aneeka and Karamat, cannot be conducted through actions only. Ideas are central to this battle and they needs words. Shamsie's dialogue through the book is sharp, quick and supple in its ability to be wry and witty and to cut when necessary.

Sadly, Aneeka and Karamat never talk in person. Shamsie outsources to Eamonn and Isma what Aneeka might have said to Karamat. And their words, though they find their mark, are softened by the characters they are. We never do find out what Aneeka's idea of justice actually is - beyond that the law and justice are not the same thing and that the UK must allow her to bring Parvaiz's body back to he can be buried with his mother.

This, really, is what makes Home Fire merely a very good book when it could have been great, even brilliant. 

Not ending on that note, however. It also occurs to me that though Aneeka may not have been the one to articulate all of the arguments in opposition to Karamat's stateist position, there is nothing inaccurate in the way Shamsie shows a more diverse, multi-directional critique of power.


I cannot help mentioning that I look for and invariably find a particular thing - I hesitate to call it a tic -  that Shamsie has in all of her novels. Some years ago, it would cause me to roll my eyes a little bit, but now I found myself recognising it here with a kind of affectionate amusement.

No, I am not going to tell you what it is. 

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Eunice de Souza: 1940-2017

Eunice de Souza died on the 29th of July. She would have been 77 yesterday. 

It was early-ish morning when I got the news and soon, as happens, twitter and my mail box were busy with sharing memories, photographs and of course, poems.

There have been some lovely, sharp obituaries - sharp in the sense of having in common with Eunice, her cool self-possession and absence of humbug. I'm thinking, especially, of Rochelle Pinto's tribute in Scroll. It's striking how many writers Eunice has taught, and how unforgettable she has been to others who have only a slight relationship to poetry or literature.

I was not among her students, but when I was at Sophia SCM, nearly all of my Bombay friends had until very recently, been in her class. This next sentence will make no sense to nearly everyone reading this, but if there was, as we were discovering there was, a Jeroo type, there was, as surely a Eunice type. 


So there have been tributes. Though I didn't know her personally, I knew her through her poetry, anthologies, and academic writing. So I have contributed to this tide of thoughts on Eunice de Souza:

The Hindu's Mumbai edition has a full page tribute in the form of poems and brief notes by ten poets, and I am among those.

There's also a short essay on Raiot

I would like to read something by someone on her relationship which animals which, as many know was deep and lasting; but I feel there's more to know.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Nine: Man at Work

A couple of weeks ago, when my mother was looking through an ancient box of unsorted photographs, she put aside some she especially wanted me to see. Of these, I picked a few to scan. Rather rashly, I put them ALL up on twitter and then swiftly changed my mind and deleted them all.

This one, though, I want to put up. It's my dad at his desk at Geoffrey Manners. This was probably shortly before he got married; we're uncertain of timelines, and because there's no one left who can answer the questions we now have, we just have to speculate. I am not certain this is 1968, but my mother thinks it probably is.

If I cared enough about history, personal or general, this would matter. I care more for memory, though, and for that purpose, this works just fine as it is. There are clues, tantalising enough, in the posters at the back, his clothes, hair.

What I really want to know is, who took this photograph and why was my dad pretending the photographer was absent? Also, why was this photograph put away in a small envelope along with other photos we've never seen, among my dad's things?

Once again, there'll never be answers to these questions.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Tipping the Scales

In some old photos, I do not recognise my mother. This is how we come to live in the present: when today's person is not adequately signified by the image from then. 

In one, she has long hair and it is dyed an unreal black. Her spectacles are large and round and she carries an unrecognisable amount of fat on her body. In the photographs of that time, she will have been around 50. I remember the health crises she had been through - an hysterectomy, malaria following blood transfusions, severe hallucinations caused by some medication not prescribed by the surgeon, but administered by some nurse on night duty.

She emerged from it, I think, undiminished. 

Now, none of those adjectives are appropriate. Her hair is mostly grey and cut elegantly short. After a cataract surgery, she doesn't really need spectacles but wears reading glasses - because she reads a lot - for most of the day. But the most dramatic change is in the weight she has lost. There is no one who has not remarked on it. Even people who meet her for the first time must know, if they are observant, that her blouse gapes at the neck because of sustained weight loss; that that lifted arm - all bones followed by sagging flesh released by poor muscle tone - is unusual. 

Sometimes she is diminished. At other times, her energy is remarkable. As it is at this moment, when the rains have come and the skies are cloudy. She is tied to the seasons more than anyone I have ever known, animal in her response to the air and temperature.

All this is on my mind constantly; but recently, I run over and over a thing she said to me: When she was getting her tests done before her hysterectomy, she remarked to the surgeon on her weight. He said to her that she should be glad of her extra fat; that he recommended to patients that they put on weight before a surgery so that the body would withstand the weight loss that would follow.

I think of this even as I refuse to weigh myself any more, even as I monitor my mother's weight every week, as I do her blood pressure and sugar more frequently.

It's been three years or more since I stopped colouring my hair - my mother's generation dyed theirs - a thing that I didn't do, anyway, for more than one resentful year. I've been putting on weight and I don't care beyond a point. I mark my months with the migraines that tell me I'm approaching menopause. I have accepted and welcomed my middle years.

I am welcoming them slightly differently than my mother did. Hers was attended by health crises; I hope mine won't be. But in the matter of weight, I am coming around to the view that some padding is essential to see me through the later years. Like an animal, I accumulate fat against a time when I will need to spend it.

Perhaps I will be unrecognisable in photographs in the same way that my mother is now. I'm told I still look exactly as I did when I was a teen. This must be rubbish, but it gives me a glow of satisfaction. I wonder at it and I wonder what I will feel when that no longer is true. After all, I seem to be falling in with nature's plans with equanimity. 

Friends will say - I know this - that this is all very well, but I could do more to take care of myself: above all, in the matter of exercise. They are right. I know it. I know it even as I postpone morning yoga to the evening, and the evening's to the next day. As I excuse myself from that walk because they're burning leaves, the path is broken and stony, because sewage overflows nearby and it is disgusting. I'm getting good at excuses but that doesn't make them plausible. My friends are gentle and I am glad. I would be a sledgehammer if I were in their position. 

So here we are: one person making peace with old age and another welcoming middle age.


Very serendipitously, on my twitter TL, this poem by Jane Hirschfield: 'The Weighing'.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

JH Prynne: 'Moon Poem'

Moon Poem
JH Prynne

The night is already quiet and I am
bound in the rise and fall: learning
to wish always for more. This is the
means, the extension to keep very steady

so that the culmination
will be silent too and flow
with no trace of devoutness.

Since I must hold to the gradual in
this, as no revolution but a slow change
like the image of snow. The challenge is
not a moral excitement, but the expanse,

the continuing patience
dilating into forms so
much more than compact.

I would probably not even choose to inhabit the
wish as delay: it really is dark and the knowledge
of the unseen is a warmth which spreads into
the level ceremony of diffusion. The quiet

suggests that the act taken
extends so much further, there
is this insurgence of form:

we are more pliant than the mercantile notion
of choice will determine-we go in this way
on and on and the unceasing image of hope
is our place in the world. We live there and now

at night I recognise the signs
of this, the calm is a
modesty about conduct in

the most ethical sense. We disperse into the ether
as waves, we slant down into a precluded notion
of choice which becomes the unlearned habit of
wish: where we live, as we more often are than

we know. If we expand
into this wide personal vacancy
we could become the extent

of all the wishes that are now too far beyond
us. A community of wish, as the steppe
on which the extension would sprinkle out
the ethic density, the compact modern home.

The consequence of this
pastoral desire is prolonged
as our condition, but

I know there is more than the mere wish to
wander at large, since the wish itself diffuses
beyond this and will never end: these are songs
to the night under no affliction, knowing that

the wish is gift to the
spirit, is where we may
dwell as we would

go over and over within the life of the heart
and the grace which is open to both east and west.
These are psalms for the harp and the shining

stone: the negligence and still passion of night.

                       ~ from White Stones  (1969)


It isn't night; there's no moon to speak of, either now or when the sun's done for the day. This is in lieu of a post I ought to have made on the 21st to [celebrate] another year of this blog.

I thought I was good at remembering dates. Apparently age diffuses ability in addition to all else. Let's call it a kind of wandering at large.

There are times, not regular, when certain poems seem to be a sort of augury or a point of reference - something you'd stick with blu-tac on a wall or the side of a cupboard, so you can remind yourself of something as you come and go. 
Some years ago, that poem was (still is) Pessoa's poem '6 September 1934'. That poem made my mother cry for me, I don't know why. Swar took a photo of it immediately she read it.
Now, I believe I will need to find a place for this one somewhere unhumid, visible and unassailable. Will I take the Pessoa down? You have got to be kidding me. I need those cold, empty hands available at a moment's notice.
At first I wrote two lines of my own, after I copied the poem. Then I felt miserly and ungrateful, and therefore all of this.
It only remains for me to say to those of you who still visit, read, return, browse and comment despite my loud silence, 
Thank you!

Monday, March 27, 2017

These are my Important Thoughts as March Ends

- Capitalise random Words (that noun capitalisation is Germanic).

- Pista ice cream: used to hate it but crave it now for its pastel visual qualities. Will probably continue to hate it if I ate it.

- "Today will be Muggy. Followed by Tuggy, Wuggy and Thuggy."* (RIP Pete Shotton)

- My mother calls the flowering shrub caesalpinia by a name with more possibilities - sisylphenia. I imagine somee tireless but hopeless plant creature pushing nutrients up to the very top so they will bloom into flowers, only to have them drop off. No, that doesn't really work, does it? Okay, then - Sisyphus, Sibyl and their sisters walk into a bar...

...Fine. I'll stop.

- Someone is Mountain View, California has just been spending LOTS of time on my blog. This is not a Thought, is it?

- Notice how I said nothing about Important?

- I sleep best in the early morning, but when I am awake before dawn, that's the part of the day I like best.

- My supposedly retentive memory cannot hold a thought from one room to the next. When I return to the first room to retrieve the thought, I have another, freshly-minted one waiting for me.

- I should probably stop thinking aloud in public places.


*A weather report by John Lennon in their school days. From my unreliable memory of a bit in Pete Shotton's book, The Beatles: In My Life. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Derek Walcott


Last night on twitter, there was a lot of poetry and quiet celebration, because 87 is a good age and Derek Walcott has left behind poetry that matters. And plays.

Aisha said on twitter that it's impossible to read The Prodigal in pieces and in principle I agree, though I've personally never read it any other way, not having the book.

So here's my favourite portion from it* [from here]:

Reading the extracts from The Prodigal, I'm struck by how lightly Walcott carries off the high tone - that exultant register where it's possible to sustain the use of adjectives and make it seem necessary and just right.

And of course, among the peripatetic wanderings, there's the interrogation of age and what is allowed to oneself and what the testimonies of art amount to - 'no History left, just natural history'. Of this natural world, Walcott turns out to be a masterful historian and maybe the art of being that poet is testimony enough.


* Since I can't copy paste, I ought to have typed it out but I'm too lazy.

I ought to warn KM though - there are a lot of lizards scattered through these poems, okay?