Thursday, October 27, 2016

Memory Bank: Weird Conditioner

Since I seem to be raiding my memory bank these days and since friends seem to think I am 'blogging again', here's another one.

This conditioner I have just bought smells of sickly sweet flowers that don't exist in real life, but in an alternate reality where 'floral' means this smell. 

When I smell it, I think of Mills and Boons swollen with having been in bathrooms through hours of bathing, through power cuts in the peak of summer and when you tried to choose MBs that were set in winter or in exotically cold countries but failing which you read what you got.

One MB with its wavy pages smelled like this conditioner when I opened it. It had an 80s cover, which mean that that wave that was not meant to be in the pages, was on the top third of the cover. 

It might have been that Charlotte Lamb one where the innocent girl falls in love with a much older painter and is betrayed by him after what I now realise is a statutory rape. Some years later, once she recovers from the heartbreak, she goes to art school and starts dating a boy who seems oddly familiar and if you know MBs at all, you'll know how this ends.

Those wavy waterlogged pages, though. They're the only reason I don't throw away this conditioner. And a constitutional inability to throw away things that are still useful.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Evesdropping (music memories)

The bathroom has a ventilator high above where, if we're not vigilant, pigeons will roost and begin their endless, gulping noise. 

That bathroom, from my childhood had a window instead of a ventilator. Luckily, because one time we forgot our keys and they sent me in through one of those bathroom windows.

My bathroom was upstairs. (I realised only in a late adulthood what luxury it denoted to say 'my bathroom'). I was an unusual child in that I spent a lot of hours there, making alchemical concoctions that I would innocently offer to robbers who would, of course, drink it and die or at least be in great pain.

I must have been ten when the younger brother - much younger - of a colleague of my father's visited his family who lived a few doors down from us. All the older girls called dibs on his time and I was old enough to be jealous but too young to expect to make the same claims on his time. 

One evening, returning home, I saw him making a long, reluctant goodbye to a girl who was my neighbour and whom I disliked for the way she made sly fun of me. I hurried upstairs to my bathroom, which was strategically above where they were standing. Luckily, the window was open. I was careful not to turn the lights on and I tiptoed to stand where no streetlight would fall on me if they were distracted enough to look up instead of at each other.

I can't remember anything I heard, if I heard anything at all. Their voices were a murmur and I think I grew hot with rage, though no doubt this is an invented memory of an emotion. Most likely I tried to fidget noiselessly and held my breath a lot and strained to hear anything at all. I didn't dare actually peep.

What annoyed me most was the bad taste this young man was displaying. Just a few days earlier, he had made me feel very grown up by discussing music with me. He asked me what I listened to and I, conscious of my parents' fledgling collection of records* that included the respectable but too obvious Beatles (I was, at this point, on the verge on my lifelong Beatlemania), the Savages (I think? The album art was red and black. ETA: No, I'm obviously wrong but what in heavens name was that album?!), Jim Reeves (which I knew not to acknowledge, so there was hope for me) and many carnatic LPs, said I listened to carnatic music. 

The young man, I was sure, was mocking me when he gravely replied that his music tastes weren't quite so advanced and I suddenly remembered something I needed to do.

A few days ago my son, who was in Delhi briefly on his way elsewhere, was at an old friend's place. He called to say he was having a great time and they were listening to Jim Reeves. I was horrified. Jim Reeves?! Yes, he said. He sounded somewhat taken aback. And George Baker, he added. Don't know him, I replied promptly. Una Paloma Blanca? he asked.


Where on earth are you finding this music, I asked. Apparently my friend has a new record player and her mother has dug out all these ancient LPs - I really should call them vinyl now, shouldn't I? - and hence all the Jim Reeveses and George Bakers. 

Now that I think of it, most of my parents' peers and friends had odd collections, dependent, I suppose, on what was popular and saleable. This meant Harry Belafonte, Jim Reeves and stuff like that, to support the other stuff that people also bought. If I remember good records, it was in the houses of those who travelled abroad often, and/or whose children had specific and sophisticated taste in music. Most of the rest of us who owned a record player bought what we could get and thus was our music taste formed.

Of course, this narrative can't account for the sudden and thrilling popularity of Osibisa in my town but that must be another story, one that needs to rely more on research and less on a faulty memory.
*For an awesome radiogram that my father had made and which looked mostly like this.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Oh, just because

Because it's October.
Because there's a nip in the air mornings and evenings and the sky hangs with gold dust.
Because I made a garland out of December poo in October.
Because the rains have gone or are in hiding.
Because there was purple and red.
Because a classmate is getting married (in December) for the first time and this is possible.
Because there will be saris.
Because I am home alone, only not.
Because the kid wrote a poem that was published in a journal.
Because of vetiver.
Because I wrote two letters yesterday by hand, both long.
Because I slept well last night (and apparently these days that's worth mentioning).

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

(A Short) Song of Myself

There are things I've failed to link to and - by some miracle, since I seem to be blogging again - here are a couple of things I've been doing.

Some time in the summer, Janice Pariat asked me to send her some poems, there: irreverence, so she could curate six poets' works for Poetry at Sangam's July issue. Because I haven't really been writing much, it was a struggle to find anything that was unpublished, much less truly irreverent. I sent her something anyway, and here they are: 'Untitled' and 'Three False Starts and a Conclusion'.

Earlier even, in the year, I was one of the poets participating in the Poets Translating Poets marathon that the Goethe Institut had been doing since 2015. In February, the carnival made a pit stop in Hyderabad, bringing German poets Sylvia Geist and Tom Schulz, as well as Jeet Thayil (Hyderabad was where the anglophone English poets were going to meet the German poets). 

We worked for four days translating each others' poems and it was intense and for me a little bit scary, never having translated anything before. But as the days went on, it was also very energising.*

Once that part was over and the readings happened at Kala Ghoda in Feb, it all subsided for a bit, though we knew there was more in the pipeline.

That happens now. Since the summer, poets have been travelling to Germany, to literature festivals where they read with the poets they've translated and been translated by.

This is one of the four readings I'll be doing in Germany is September. There are others in Dresden, Leipzig, and - after Berlin - Hamburg.**

(All things considered, I've stretched out a very short song into a long one.)


*In my usual fashion, I assumed this was a signal that I would be unusually productive in my own writing. I never learn.

**Needless to say, if any one reading this is going to be in Germany between the 14th and the 23rd of Sept, mail me! 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Not Who but How to Move the Cheese

In Monday morning frivolity, this entire thread on cheese and the replies that follow (which I am still reading), for your delectation.

But first, here's the problem:
For complicated / irrelevant reasons a friend has suddenly acquired 18 pounds of Red Leicester cheese. It is good quality. However (again, complicated reasons) the cheese must be moved, used or transformed into something else within the next 72 hours or so.

My friend lives mostly on his own, so can't have a cheese party, and does not want the neighbors finding out about this cheese anyway so cannot invite them. He can't eat it all in this time for health reasons (18 pounds). There are no food banks nearby he can donate to, and moving the cheese is problematic anyway (though not impossible). He can cook, though not to a great extent. It would be a shame for this cheese to just be disposed of; what else could he do with it? Are there recipes that can use up 18 pounds of cheese and transform it into (preferably) foodstuff that are not cheese-centric?
Via the amazing Aisha, who is off in Ireland watching Mohenjo Daro (and is also probably looking through cartons of papers).

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Suddenly there are links

Hello. It's been a long time, been a long time, been a long time. There are things I've been reading and liking on twitter and then I thought of this place so here are links to things.

1. Bezwada Wilson, who won the Magsaysay Award recently, in an interview with Business Standard (behind the paywall, unfortunately. I'm not even sure how I managed to read the whole thing, but I did, via someone on twitter) strongly critical of the PM and the Guajarat Govt and it's police. Words to the effect of how the PM saying 'don't shoot them, shoot me' is silly theatrics because the ruling party, being a majority, should be perfectly capable of making sure the rule of law is obeyed. He also talks about the protests in Una, among other things.

2. Madhusree Mukerjee's review of Sonia Faleiro's 13 Men. Faleiro's book is an investigation into the reported gang rape of an adivasi girl in Subalpur. Mukerjee, who also investigated the event in depth, has several critiques to make of Faleiro's book.
As it happens, I have also investigated the case at length, and studied the available documents in their original script (English and Bengali). I concluded, however, that the official story, which is also Faleiro’s, is about as believable as the tiger story in Life of Pi. It’s such a thrilling story, though – such a perfect fit with mainstream notions of rural primitivism, which we, as the ‘modern’ and the ‘enlightened’, are striving to eradicate – that it effortlessly assumes the mantle of truth. A rape may have indeed taken place (it is hard to know for sure) but the evidence adduced to convict all 13 men, and even more significantly, to condemn systems of justice that are crucial to adivasi identity and autonomy, is exceedingly thin. In what follows I will tell both stories, including some evidence that Faleiro left out, and let the reader decide whether justice has been served or ravished.
3. Arul Mani, entertaining as always, on Brahman Naman (a film I should watch, I think). It's the kind of writing that still needs some kind of a long form blog platform, thank god. No tweeting or tumbling this kind of a piece.

This, we find, is Ash, a girl whose braces seem to glint only to reflect how dazzled she is with Naman. Her face is forever a flower opening out in mute offering. In these opening moments she is framed in the humiliations of the gaze that the boys direct at her. Being interested and available is one disability. Being quite unlike the more pneumatic creatures who gallop in slo-mo through their imagination is her other disability.

And yet this derisory gaze is a bit of a red herring. The same camera is ambiguous about whether the crucial answer that wins them the quiz (Mills and Boon) comes from Naman, or from her.  She is a trouper, and does not let being whacked aside like a rubber ball deter her from trying again. The film eventually allows us to step aside and see her as she is.

This rara avis of those benighted times we shall call the pioneer-hudugi. Who stood out not because she wore shady matching-matching outfits as she zipped past on a Kinetic, but because she was expert at ignoring pecking orders, and scaling walls, real and metaphorical, in those very outfits. I have known several, and learnt, slowly, to treasure and admire the superior fire that they carried within. Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy plays exactly such a pioneer-hudugi to note-perfection, reaching deep to find awkwardness and a kind of raw grace. Her Ash wears the wrong clothes, sourced from the wrong regional language films, and says the wrong things (‘It’s an honour to quiz with you, Naman.’) but brings dil [20] and a sure sense of self to the small job of climbing out of the well that the disdain of the boy-talent in her world consigns her to. The film is as much about her as it is about Brahman Naman.
 Also, there are a million footnotes.

4. After ages and ages, Adoor Gopalakrishnan has a new film, Pinneyum. In an interview today in the Hindu, he is asked if he watches new films. And he says:
Only if they have something special. I don’t have the patience or time to sit through most of them.
Mm hmm.

4. Oh,ok. Looks like that's it for now. There were other things but those are to say and not to link to, so that's another post. 

5. ETA: Oooh! Via Nilanjana, this essay on Saki by one of my favourite contemporary children's writers, Katherine Rundell (If you haven't read Rooftoppers and The Wolf Wilder, rectify this immediately). This is probably the heart of Rundell's essay:
To read a Saki story is to hire an assassin. There have been many attempts in the last hundred years to re-create that specific Saki feeling; the pleasures of laying waste to convention combined with the quickening promise of something wilder in its stead. Nobody has yet managed it entirely, but in the pursuit of Saki a great deal of gleeful choler has been produced. If you were feeling ungenerous, you might compare the writing of an introduction to an animal marking out territory (the same could be said of writing essays for literary publications), and so it is with the list of writers who have introduced Saki’s work: Noël Coward, A.N. Wilson, Tom Sharpe, Will Self. Coward’s use of Sakian humour, though, is constrained by his urgent pursuit of the next punchline; Sharpe’s has a seaside postcard quality that has dated more in forty years than Saki’s has in a hundred. Saki is often said to ring through the novels of P.G. Wodehouse, but Wodehouse turns his raw material into something far gentler than Saki did; there is kindness in Saki but not sweetness, and in a truly Sakian Wodehouse story, Bertie would be trapped under a piece of vintage furniture and torn apart by the dog Bartholomew. Coward and Saki do both give off-kilter advice, and they are at their most archetypal when laying down the law. Coward renders schoolboy humour urbane: ‘Never trust a man with short legs; his brains are too near his bottom.’ Saki is calmly outlandish: ‘Never be flippantly rude to any inoffensive grey-bearded stranger that you may meet in pine forests or hotel smoking-rooms on the Continent. It always turns out to be the King of Sweden.’ The work in Coward’s quips is audible; in Saki’s it is undetectable. As with Donne, Nabokov and Spark, the mechanisms of wit are unseen and so inimitable.  
Oh, an Tipu Sultan's man-eating mechanical tiger puts in an appearance.


Friday, July 15, 2016

Monsoon Summer

Out one window, the smell of concrete being mixed. Out the other, the green smell of crushed vegetation.

a wasp is throwing itself against one of these window panes. Guess which one.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Abbas Kiarostami, RIP

So many deaths this year and each one feels like a blow, feels personal; and 2016 keeps on giving, mostly by taking away.

Abbas Kiarostami, who died yesterday,  has slipped several knives in the gut with his films over the years, and he did it again by dying so untimely. 

I don't even know what to say. I feel a frisson when I think of the time he delivered the Aravindan lecture at IFFK and we got to listen to him and to watch Five, with him somewhere in the theatre. 

I also feel a huge sense of loss. Escape Artist had both Forugh Farrokhzad and Abbas Kiarostami at its heart.

Here's a poem from his collection Wolf Lying in Wait

Monday, 4th July, 2016. RIP, Kiarostami.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Cryptic #8

Half a life or none.

That is the question. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Ghosts of Spaniards Past

So here we are, one decade old.

I'm coming out of a 26 hour power cut that feels as metaphoric as it was literal. I feel wrung out.

I composed a post in my head in the early evening yesterday when I was still optimistic and thought that the power would be back in an hour or two. Sadly, that post, along with my brains, has been composted. I no longer recall what I might have wanted to say.

But here's a thing I must celebrate: the sheer bloody - mindedness of this blog and how it's survived all the shinier attractions of facebook, twitter and tumblr makes me preen a bit.

( Can one preen while being bloody - minded? I don't know the etiquette for this situation.)

As for the rest, I've shown myself like an annual ghost but I can't guarantee further appearances.

When I started this blog, I sensed that I was on the brink of terrible and wonderful things. At that time, words and the people who dealt in them, were my refuge.

Ten years on, I can feel the wheel turning and though I can spot the terrible times in the near distance, I don't know if they're accompanied by the wonderful or I don't have the ability to recognise it if I saw it.

This time, there's an absence of words. I don't know what might replace them.

So, I guess what I am doing is spinning my imminent absence in one more way.

If you're reading, hello and thank you.

Spaniard out.