Tuesday, July 31, 2007


What a dreadful month July - and this year - is turning out to be. As the Guardian headline says, first Bergman, now Antonioni.

Of course, 94 and 89 are not bad ages to die; they were productive and wonderful years for them and us. But who will replace them?

RIP Antonioni.

Previous post on MA

*My friend Hansa claimed that when Antonioni was invited to the Calcutta IFFI back in 1993, and he walked up - or was wheeled up - on stage, the whole auditorium rose as one chanting "Antonioni-da! Antonioni-da!" What can I say?

The reading

For someone who wistfully imagines a life where it would be possible to walk out the door and go anywhere at all, I travel very badly. I get migraines, which is unsurprising when you consider how many times I open my suitcase to see if I've forgotten something, or my ticket to check the date and the time and the place of departure (what if I went to Nampally instead of Kacheguda?) It didn't help, also that I had fat politicians drinking cheap rum from newspaper- wrapped bottles, playing cards and eating chicken biryani, spilling more than half on my berth and the floor (I asked them to clean up and was met with disbelief and shock) as travelling companions.

But Bangalore, despite its relentless traffic, was good. I checked out the place where my reading was to happen the following day. We decided it couldn't be on the lawns, tempting though it was to imagine people festooned on the bamboo deck. I'd have felt like a rock star, but unless I had rock star sound equipment to match, I couldn't compete with the traffic noise. Inside, the Used In India exhibits occupied a large part of the space, curving around one corner. If Aditya, my friend who'd invited me for the reading, had been around, he might have had it moved, arranged for the rock star sound equipment and made everyone's life hell for a few hours. But he wasn't there, and we managed.

On the afternoon of the reading, M, the person making all the arrangements, was having litters of kittens: I decided to get ready early (pink sari) and go hold her hand. As it happened, I retreated into Aditya's office after checking that the mike worked and stared at his bookshelves, cameras and stuff. I might have twiddled my thumbs even but I can't remember.

6.45 and people had begun to trickle in. Friends, poets, family. Swar, with whom I'd spent most of the previous day, was there. People started buying books and I signed dutifully.

Quarter past seven. We really ought to begin.

Mamta Sagar introduces me and says she met me first through my poetry. I'm looking at everyone because I know once I start to read, I won't meet anyone's eye. She mentions two poems that are not on the list of what I'm going to read. I hope no one notices. People have begun flipping through the book, though, and I'm not encouraged. I start. With 'Nocturne', I think. Start slow, with nothing major, give people time to get used to everything. But the second poem is one that's always got a response - a chuckle, a nod of recognition. Here, nothing. I'm getting a little more disconnected with each poem I read. The phone rings. Should I stop? wait? Rochelle answers the phone. I find out later that it's my aunt asking for directions. She's passed the place once already and will take another half an hour to make it. The reading will be done by then and she, her son and I will be upset. It's good to not know too much.

A few more poems down and a school mate from 20 years ago, whom I'm seeing for the first time in two decades, asks me if I could announce the page numbers of the poem I'm going to read. I've noticed the frantic search through pages, but I've ignored it so far, hoping that people will have learnt their lesson; with my poems, by the time you've found the page, I'm done reading it. So A asks me to announce page numbers and I'm forced to say, please listen instead; it's not often you get to hear poems recited. Read later at home. You have the book after all. (I hear more about this for the rest of the evening! As we get more drunk later, the story becomes more colourful and my requests more outrageous.)

I was told later that I read fine, even well; I'm not sure why I got the feeling I wasn't getting through though. Shelley, now's when you reassure me.

So I read through my list, and was afraid to open it up for questions, because of the kind of questions I got in Hyderabad, but it's an automatic response. 'Any questions?'. Mani Rao, about whom more in another post, wanted me to read one of the two poems Mamta had mentioned. I groaned. I don't like reading poems I've not rehearsed or figured out how I want to read. This was one of them. But I read it anyway, very badly, I'm sure.

The signing thing began. Mani wanted me to read the other poem as well! I said, tomorrow ( I never did read that one, did I Mani?). I was, I believe, rude to someone because of not answering a question as fully as he wanted; my aunt came in late and looked very pissed off; people said hello, then goodbye; N asked me a few questions for an article she would write in the Hindu's Metro Plus (google it later. The link's not yet up).

Tea and snakes were laid out, people must have eaten and left. I've no memory of anything until later at S's place when the single malt arrived. After that I don't remember much anyway until the following day's disastrous reading at the Bangalore University.

But that's for tomorrow.

Update: Anindita's article on her (new) blog

RIP Bergman

It's really difficult to explain the effect Ingmar Bergman's films had on me when I was 21 and getting ready to go to film school. Screen Unit, a newly formed film club ion Bombay, started off with a bang with a two-week-long festival of Bergman films. He was the first director whose work I saw as an oeuvre and what an impression his work made! One film followed another each one more stark and profound than the last but richer than anything I'd seen before.

Monday, July 30, 2007

What's not to like about pink?

So I have several things to say about Bangalore and it will come up post by post starting this evening, but yesterday I was catching up and turned slightly pink with indignation when I saw this post.

Veena, who has just been given a rather fetching pink luggage tag, says, "Must say that if there's a little bit of pink in me, I'd rather it manifest itself on a suitcase than on anything else. This way, I will be done with my little bit of pink."

What's wrong with a pink luggage tag? And that shade of pink too. If it was some soppy frilly pink I would dissociate myself from it as well, but look at that shade! Lovely.

I like pink. When I was a kid, it used to be my favourite colour and I was unselfconscious about it. Then I grew to understand the girly associations even before Barbie arrived and suddenly pink was no longer a colour I could profess to like.

One moved to other, more delicate shades and combinations: pale grey and green, dark purple shading into black. Colours that could have been fragrances: verdigris, amber, indigo, lilac, fuschia.

Fuschia. No avoiding pink, after all. Think of pink the colour of bouganvillea and put it against a deep, warm orange. Or pink the colour of candy teetering on the edge of flourescence. You could warm yourself on the colour. Heat seeking missiles could have deep pink dots to signify objects that suck the light and warmth in.

Pink with a violent purple border, like in Puneri saris. Or the pink of Paithani saris, in combination with parrot greens and shimmering red and black. Pink the colour of jelly, of hibiscus, of flesh, of Dune.

I confess to a weakness for pink, as anybody who was at the reading will testify ( I wore a shocking pink sari* and was probably the brightest thing for miles around, even accounting for the flashing lights on the Used In India exhibits!)

So Veena, how about I give you Scaramouche and you give me that luggage tag?

*There's a photo somewhere in a friend's camera. I was on the first floor, in my sari, propping up the door rather artistically, and he was on the road looking at me through the CKS logo on the wall. Will put it up when I have it.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

just back, more later

Just to say, got back this morning and have several posts coming up but from tomorrow on.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Reading from A Reluctant Survivor Bangalore, 26th July

The nitty-gritties:

CKS House, Bangalore invites you to the book launch of Sridala Swami's book of poems, A Reluctant Survivor published by The Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, on Thursday July 26th at 7 pm.

The book will be launched by the eminent Kannada poet and playwright, Mamta G.Sagar who will also introduce the poet. Sridala Swami will read from her work.

Venue: Center for Knowledge Societies
CKS House
4004 100' Rd,
HAL II Stage Indiranagar,
Bangalore, 560038
RSVP by emailing me at: muskaan@cks.in

More directions here.


Every reading is different, but this one is really different. For one thing, I've never read outside Hyderabad, and for another, I've never read entirely on my own. So yes, I'm a little nervous, but not as nervous as I'm going to be if no one turns up!

So please consider this a personal invite and do come if you can. It's a Thursday evening, I know, but it's at 7pm, so I'm hoping that gives everyone time to get there and all. If you are coming, do RSVP at the id given above.


This also means that this is my last post until Sunday. I'm dropping off the map unless I get severe withdrawal symptoms or something. See ya'll Sunday!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Elizabeth Bishop talking with Susan Howe

Via Ron Silliman's blog.

It's an MP3, it's 63.3MB, so expect it to take some time.

(What were we saying about serendipity?)

Update: Sorry - meant to say yesterday; you'll have to go to Silliman's blog and flollow the link. And this is only Part One, btw.

Screening of Frozen this evening at Cinefan

This evening at Cinefan, Sirifort 2 at 6.30 pm, the film Frozen.

I've bragged about Shanker Raman's work before, as if I had anything to do with how good he is at it, but he's written the screenplay and shot this film, and it's in competition, so if you're in Delhi, go see!

Quick-Quill Notes on Harry Potter

Ok, many apologies for not replying to comments or posting. I was doing the unthinkable: I woke up at 6am on Saturday, went to the nearest bookstore where I had booked an advance copy, and got my Harry Potter. I finished the book by ten at night, with breaks for meals and Fireman's Ball.

So what do I think?


The story whizzes along breathlessly with one damned thing following another. Injuries, deaths, destruction of houses, places people - and you don't care all that much.

A sense that JKR is writing very specifically to the questions that fan forums have been raising for the last couple of years. This is a double-edged sword, because it is not clear whther the fans will heave a huge sigh of satisfaction at having their minutely-detailed theories confirmed, or suffer from a sense of disappointment that after all, there are no sudden or new twists and that the imagination does have its limits.

RAB: The locket left in the basin in the lake, with a note from RAB. Speculation was rife about who it could have been, but the most obvious solution was that it was Regulus Black, with everyone remembering the locket at 12 Grimmauld Place that would not open, that Mundungus very likely stole.

And then the theories about how Regulus could have got to the lake and back with the locket without the Inferi or the potion killing him: the fans will be pleased to know - or will they? - that they were right in every respect.

The Deathly Hallows themselves, three objects supposedly gifted by Death himself to three brothers, which together would allow the holder to conquer death is the biggest red herring. Harry's dawning realisation of the futility of having to choose between Horcruxes and Hallows is the crux of what could have been the philosophical underpinning of the entire last instalment, but it is an opportunity lost. This is not to say that he does not make a choice or that he does not realise what the choice means; it only means that JKR chooses to let go of the chance to make something larger of it.

The worst moment in the book, for me, comes when the Three Investigators are at Bill and Fleur's place, with the rescued Ollivander and Griphook and late one evening, Lupin comes thundering on the door indentifying himself in great detail (lest the others open the door to an imposter). He staggers in and we expect nothing less than an announcement of a death, tragic and inevitable. Instead Lupin descends into bathos:

"Who is it?" Bill called.

"It is I, Remus John Lupin!" called a voice over the howling wind. Harry experienced a thrill of fear; what had happened? "I am a werewolf, married to Nymphadora Tonks, and you, the Secret Keeper of Shell Cottage, told me the address and bade me come in an emergency!"

"Lupin," muttered Bill, and ran to the door and wrenched it open.

Lupin fell over the threshold. he was white-faced, wrapped in a travelling cloak, and his greying hair windswept. He straightened up, looked around the room, making sure of who was there, then cried out aloud, "It's a boy! We've named him Ted, after Dora's father!"
I mean, really!

There are many deaths, of course, but they happen so casually that you can't bring yourself to care. What is of more concern is the way Harry - Harry, not Molly, or McGonagall or anyone else who are on the Good Side but the Boy Who Lived, the Compassionate One himself - does not scruple to use the Unforgivable curses - the Imperius and the Cruciatus - when he feels the need to. And for JKR to let that go without question when she spent a couple of pages in the beginning on Harry piously claiming that he will not blast people out of the way just becasue they happen to be there, because it Voldemort's way, is a great piece of dishonesty.

Next only to Lupin's announcement, is the epilogue. I mean, who wants to know who makes how many babies and what they're called? That is supposed to be a happy ending? For whom?!

Which brings me to a few burning questions and observations about the series:

1. How come all these wizards and witches get married straight out of Hogwarts and start to produce babies like rabbits? I mean, you look at the dates, and they've all had kids by the time they're 21. 21! I hadn't even done studying then! Of course, I'm not a witch, but I did grow up at approximately the same time as some of the characters in the book, right? No one can deny the outside world impinges on the magical one.

2. And why do the women all, without question, take on the names of their husbands? Hermione Weasley has a terrible ring to it.

3. Do magical folk never get divorced? Do they never quarrel over custody and visitation? When there are so many other laws governing every aspect of their lives, how did the Ministry of Magic fail to bring this into the purview of their law-making?

4. Does it strike anyone else how closely the House system at Hogwarts resembles a caste structure? Ravenclaw=Intellect (we know for the first time in the last book that they get into their common room by answering difficult, philosophical questions); Gryffindor=Bravery and Chivalry; Hufflepuff=Loyalty and Steadfastness; Slytherin=Ambition.

5. And finally, a large question about Free Will and Destiny. Or rather, an Observation:

Free Will: The importance of choice. You can choose waht you want to become, Harry. The world is not divided into Good People and Death Eaters (Sirius). You chose Gryffindor and that made all the difference (Dumbledore).

Destiny: That despite all these noble thoughts, you have Albus growing into a venerable old white bearded gentleman; that Lupin was called what he was before he was bitten by a werewolf; that Fenrir, also a werewolf, must have been presciently named after the great Norse wolf; that Sirius' Animagus would be a big dog. Likewise with Xenophilius Lovegood, Sibyl Trelawney (isn't Trelawney a good Cornish name, and doesn't it call to mind all the magic and Second Sight of the Arthurian legends?) and Griphook.

The fault, Dear Brutus lies in the stars and in our names. What did Shakespeare know?

So anyway. That's that series done with. I won't say I didn't enjoy reading it; I did. But also with a faint sense of disappointment, because it could have ended well if JKR wasn't so intent on tying up every thread no matter how tiny.

Not that she hasn't left any questions to answer, but I can't see how she can make another book of the ones that are left. Such as: who cleans up the mess? The Ministry? A new one? What about all the other Magical creatures who fought with the Good Side? (and how did the Sword of Gryffindor turn up with Neville when Griphook reclaimed it as the goblins' property?)

I don't see how this can end except in several years of legislation and talking and paper work. The Revolution has been Buried under paper work, oh my comrades, and there's no help for Harry but to sit in on meeting after meeting.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Flit and Sip

I know it happens to everyone: one day you come across a word you've never heard before. You find out what it means and soon enough, it crops up in the most unexpected places - advertising hoardings twenty feet high, gossip columns, on the back of cereal boxes (ok. I'm exaggerating. Unless the word you just learnt was some unpronouncable chemical).

Or maybe it's a name. Someone you'd never heard of, and suddenly they're being celebrated and feted and their name is (but oddly enough, not their photographs) everywhere.

You remember Joesph Cornell from this post? A day later, I get a mail pointing me to this article (do watch the slideshow). The same exhibition is mentioned in Ron Silliman's blog, which Vivek also draws my attention to. Then he sends me a link to an old article he'd written (read the last paragraph).

This morning, on Mumpsimus I find a lovely post and a number of links.

You know what I'm going to have to do, don't you? I'm going to ahve to read Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore and watch To Have and Have Not. (About how Bacall achieved The Look, see here).

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Google search of five minutes ago that led some poor sap to my blog:

who is burbage in deathly hallows?

What an earth-shatteringly important question. Until five minutes ago I didn't know that the last HP has a character called Burbage. Now I do, my horizons have been vastly expanded and I can't wait until half past six am the day after.

Oh wait. I have to watch Fireman's Ball and Shop on Main Street Saturday afternoon. Sunday there's a reading and the Loves of a Blonde and Kolya. And on Tuesday I leave for Bangalore for a reading (details of which later).

Where's the time to read HP7?

Having said all this, this time I'm really astonished at the frenzy of wanting to know how it all ends. Why is it important to know who dies? Like, if I told you Hermione dies, or Snape dies, or Hagrid dies, will you not buy the book because everything has been ruined?

I like Rowling's writing less and less but I really do pay her the compliment of thinking it's worth more than the ruin of enjoyment brought about by the fact of a few deaths named prematurely.

Think of Greek tragedy. Think how you know everything that will happen to each character before the story's begun. And yet you listen anyway, not because you want to know what happened next but because you want to know how it happened, who else was there, what they were thinking. You want to laugh at the small things, shiver with the big ones, experience a particularly good sentence, crow over a new turn of phrase. You want to be transported, in effect.

And despite everything, I don't think DH will fail to do that. Who cares who dies?

Update: Via Samanth I find that Michiko Kakutani has already read and reviewed the latest Harry Potter book! Spoilers abound! Go read!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

one kind of list or another

I was looking for a quote, something Gabriel Figueroa said about working with Buñuel on Los Olvidados -- I had a memory of an incident where Figueroa had a magnificent sunset in his viewfinder and Buñuel, looking at it, turned the camera around to show a thorny, ugly bush.

I didn't find it. So I went looking through My Last Breath (or My Last Sigh, depending). And though I didn't find anything relevant about what I started wanting to know, I found this passage towards the very end of the book:

The diagnosis couldn't be simpler: I'm an old man and that's all there is to it. I'm only happy at home following my daily routine: wake up, have a cup of coffee, exercise for half an hour, wash, have another cup of coffee, eat something, walk around the block, wait until noon. My eyes are weak and I need a magnifying glass and a special light in order to read. My deafness keeps me from listening to music so I wait, I think, I remember, filled with a desperate impatience and constantly looking at my watch.

Reading this, I was reminded of my grandfather who used to do the same thing. He used to sit in one chair, adding a pillow or cushion as the years went by and he became thinner and could no longer be comfortable with the chair as it was. And he used to look at his watch every five minutes, while sitting in full view of the big clock on the wall. I used to wonder what it was he used to look for, why he needed to check the time so often.

Then last year, he died and I inherited his diaries. I had thought they would contain gems of I don't know what. Perhaps not wisdom, but an insight into someone else's mind; perhaps some window into something not usually visible. As with all expectation, this one also was met with disappointment.

My gradfather's diaries were pages and pages of lists, of chronicling every moment as it passed: waking up, bathing, food consumed. The slightest deviation from routine, the grumblings of an old man whose body was refusing to cooperate, the looking forward to the smallest treat - a fruit out of season, a bowl of payasam - all of it was put down in a cramped and shaky hand. Every time he wrote, he slowed down time while making it pass. I wondered, did he ever re-read anything he wrote? Would he know one day from another? How many months' worth would he be able to re-read before he had to cry out in frustration?

There was this poem that I used to like when I was in college. Jenny Joseph's alternate list seemed wonderful: I would be like that, I used to think. I would only appear senile or eccentric to other people but it would actually be daring and free-spirited to wear purple and pluck other peoples' flowers. It's been a while since I've entertained the possiblity of taking any pleasure at watching someone else down three pounds of sausage at a go (what a relief it is to be single!), but even this kind of list-making seems unbearably sad because it is so delusional.

What can old age be but a bleak series of breakdowns? Of watching the time crawl and recording it as it goes in all its minuteness, if one is able to?

I want none of it.

PS: I'm aware that this is not the promised HP post. But wouldn't you rather have Buñuel that Potter?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Order of the Phoenix Aha! moment

Just, absolutely just back from the fifth HP film and though post coming up tomorrow, there's one bit I'm so crowing over I have to post about it now.

You know how Azkaban's never described in the books? You know it's a terrible terrible place, but you've never seen it, right?

Well, in OotP you do. you see Azkaban when the news of the Death Eaters breaking out from Azkaban comes in, and you see Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) laughing maniacally (Azkaban appears to affect members of the Black family in similarly strange ways).

Then the camera whizzes off to do its aerial thing, and.....you see Azkaban is a triangle!!!

Erm, so? you will ask.

And I will explain, not a few things, but just one.

The Bloomsbury children's edition cover of Deathly Hallows has on its spine, a triangle with a circle, bisected by a line.

Not conspiratorial enough? Here, from a Mugglenet editorial by, you heard it right, Lady Lupin:

Symbols, odds and ends

The symbol that has a few obsessive fans chattering has also intrigued me – the circle within a triangle with a vertical line through both that appears on the spine of the U.K. children’s edition of DH. This symbol has also appeared on Bloomsbury’s website and, most intriguing, on J.K. Rowling’s site when she set the last W.O.M.B.A.T. exam. It surely has meaning, and could go in many directions. The symbols of triangles, lines and circles all have meanings in religion, alchemy, mythology and other traditions. It could be a representation of runes, Greek letters or some meaning specific to Harry’s universe.

Given the alchemical themes throughout the book, I am inclined to see some connection to transformation, completion and transcendence. If the inner circle, as alchemical texts suggest, symbolizes water, and the triangle symbolizes fire, it seems that the symbol indicates a final confrontation of Gryffindor vs. Slytherin. However, in this instance, what does the line down the center signify? Division?

If so, it hardly suggests the unity of Harry’s hoped for final stages of transformation through the completion of his alchemical quest. It may have to do with Dumbledore’s help and return – his phoenix symbol rising from the ashes in some mystical way to aid Harry – fire encasing water and rising through it. Does it reflect the symbols that Harry has seen over and over again on the rim of the Pensieve, or is it something he has yet to encounter? I have no idea, but something in me responds positively to it. I think it’s an encouraging symbol – something to bring hope and help.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's just that I read that editorial this morning (I'm jobless, so sue me) and watched the film just now, so it kind of connected. Now induct me into the Order of the HP Nutters, someone.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

'A cigarette resembles a prostitute'

There must be people who remember their first cigarette with the heightened awareness they reserve for first sex. I remember my first cigarette with nausea.

It was for a school play, I think Terence Rattigan's The Browning Version. I was playing Millie, the near-neurotic wife of a professor who is having an affair with another, younger master in a public school. How Raja (our English teacher, athletics coach, Drama teacher, mentor and general purpose crush object for hormonal 15-year-olds) persuaded the formidable headmistress to allow us to smoke on stage for the higher cause of theatre is not clear; we just put it down to his charm.

But I had to smoke and I didn't know how. Raja lit one cigarette from his precious stock (I never realised what a sacrifice it must have been for him to be so prodigal; the next few packs would come only on the next dental trip out to Bangalore) and handed it to me. I took it gingerly, afraid it would explode in my face; I'm nearly certain I made the filter soggy; and I took half a drag and collapsed in a fit of coughing. Other older students who were not acting hung around and gave me sage advice: "pretend you're under water and breathing out through your nose," one said. Right. I'd have to learn to swim first so I could learn how to smoke. Something wrong with the progression there.

Cigarettes were vile, stinky, choke-inducing things. I was happy to not have to smoke. Those young men who did surreptitiously sneak a drag from Raja shook their heads in disbelief. What they wouldn't give to smoke on stage, right in front of the scandalised eyes of all the teachers and students!

The years went by, and I was able to resist the temptation to smoke. Easy, because I didn't like it. Hard to say when that changed. Bombay, almost certainly. My flatmate and I would buy two Gold Flakes and bring them back after having our lassi dinner at the corner of PMGP. We felt terribly wicked. Then, at the FTII where cigarettes were the first step to other 'breeliaant staaf', smoking felt commonplace - something you did to occupy idle fingers, aid thought, while away the time...whatever.

Now, I smoke once in a while, mostly when I'm not in town. Now is when the first drag is pure, 24 carat pleasure. Which is why I couldn't help a smile when my friend David says:

So I told Mr. Gao my theory about smoking. Those who are well settled in life and have a feeling of leisure, may smoke a pipe. Those who are a bit more pressured / busy / anxious, can smoke a cigar. Those who are really harried / on-the-go / nervous, will smoke a cigarette. XD and Mr. Gao laughed. Then Mr. Gao told me his own theory. He said that a pipe is like one's wife. A cigar is like an affair with a lover. A cigarette resembles a prostitute. (It is not uncommon among Chinese to pass around a cigarette from one person to another. A cigar requires a special atmosphere to enjoy it. A pipe can be a constant companion, and is never shared.) He said that he told his wife this analysis. She then bought him a pipe to smoke. So perhaps my gift of Dutch cigars was superfluous.

Of course, I'm completely unpromiscuous about cigarettes; hate sharing them. And would never consider having a cigar, whatever Pink Floyd may say. Or a pipe!

PS: Please note that I am not advocating smoking. Nobody reading this should assume I'm making the whole thing glamorous. Hospitals and COPD are completely uncool, as is the hacking cough that will disable all conversation and tie everyone up in knots of anxiety while they try to recall the ambulance numbers of nearby hospitals.

My pleasure in smoking comes from the fact that I don't smoke often and when I do, I enjoy it. Moderation is everything. Lecture over.

Friday, July 13, 2007

RIP K K Mahajan

This is not unexpected. K K Mahajan has been ailing for some time.
So many of the posts that have appeared recently, like Jai's and Uma's have had that elegiac quality of an almost-obituary.

There are so many people - from the FTII, from the film world, and viewers who recognised the magic of his images - who will miss him.
More here. And Mrinal Sen, who describes KK as a 'master of light and sentinel of darkness'.
Heartfelt condolences to Praba and KK's family.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

change but the name...

...and it is of you this tale is told.*

Of course, in my case you'd have to mutato not only the nomine but also the activity in question: I can't remember the last time I re-wrote my resume with any sense of earnestness or sincerity, inflating every miniscule contribution until I felt like Atlas carrying the weight of the world on my capable if tiring shoulders.

On the other hand, the column on the right pretty much describes my day. Every day I dream of the work I could have accomplished if only I had stayed away from the mail, the blogs, the feedreaders, the poetry online. Every day I make a resolution to write out a Vow of Cyber-Celibacy, one that will smell of incense, ritual and good intentions. I stare at my computer screen basking in the glow of a pure thought that is going to be thunk through when I notice that I have new mail. And it's from Heineken announcing that I've won their lottery. (You know that old Chesterton one, about news consisting of telling people who never knew Mr. Smith was alive that he is now dead...)

One of these days, I will grab a clutch of napkins and make my way (walking) to the nearest coffee shop and sit writing the next mega-billion franchise. Characters will come, as they always do in these cases, fully formed; I will only take dictation.

* mutato nomine de te fabula narratur. Horace, via - need I say it even? - Scaramouche.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Ceci n'est pas une starling

Via Falstaff, I found this wonderful piece by Naeem Murr on living with a Poet (caps and all):

I find her reading in her office, and ask what her new poem is about.

"That starling we saw," she says, "the one trapped in the Amtrak station."


"And that's what it's about."

"So a tale of triumph," I say. "Little guy against the corporate machine?"

"No," she says. "Via negativa. Apophasis. I'm thinking of what it is not. That's the best way sometimes."

"What what is not?"

"What the starling is not." She points at her corkboard. "Why don't you just read it?"

I do, and for a moment I feel as if the top of my head has come off; immediately followed by the rather unpleasant sensation that someone is rattling a stick around in there.

"Whoa!" I say. "Deep." I pretend to stagger for a while under the weight of its profundity.

A little later on, Joseph Cornell makes an appearance. Being unashamed of admitting my illiteracy, let me admit here and now that I had to google him. I find that, though not a Surrealist, 'he admired the work and technique of Surrealists like Max Ernst and René Magritte'.

This is the kind of thing I love: chasing fleeting thoughts before they evaporate. This is when I remember that Magritte is famous for his painting, La Trahison des Images (ceci ne'st pas une pipe), or, The Treachery of Images (This is not a pipe).

Of this painting, Foucault said "Magritte knits verbal signs and plastic elements together, but without referring them to a prior isotopism. He skirts the base of affirmative discourse on which resemblance calmly reposes, and he brings pure similitudes and nonaffirmative verbal statements into play within the instability of a disoriented volume and an unmapped space. A process whose formulation is in some sense given by Ceci n’est pas une pipe."

Ah, yes. The theorist in an artist's space. The opacity could make you weep; our Poet who, if she doesn't exactly wail and gnash her teeth, has disastrously frank things to say:

She pushes the coffee table aside so she can see me, and with a little struggle, props herself up on her elbows. "Don't you understand?" she cries out with slurred despair. "They're coming for you, too. Fiction is the new poetry. They're going to start writing essays like, 'Can Fiction Matter?'"

"Who's coming for me?"

"The great monobrow! All those goddamn fundamentalists, hungry for the literal truth." She points at me.

In vino veritas.

Of course, Cheshire Cat, commenting on this post at Falstaff's, asks a question that would make Magritte proud: "wouldn't it be perfect if the Poet was fictional?"

Who says she isn't?!

Monday, July 09, 2007


i otter post. i know, i know.

i'm consumed by guilt. i have several half-baked posts that will give one indigestion.

forgive. and read, instead, some archy and mehitabel, those other lower case heroes and reincarnations.

pete the parrot and shakespeare
By Don Marquis, in "archy and mehitabel," 1927

i got acquainted with

a parrot named pete recently

who is an interesting bird

pete says he used

to belong to the fellow

that ran the mermaid tavern

in london then i said

you must have known

shakespeare know him said pete

poor mutt i knew him well

he called me pete and i called him

bill but why do you say poor mutt

well said pete bill was a

disappointed man and was always

boring his friends about what

he might have been and done

if he only had a fair break

two or three pints of sack

and sherris and the tears

would trickle down into his

beard and his beard would get

soppy and wilt his collar

i remember one night when

bill and ben johnson and

frankie beaumont

were sopping it up

here i am ben says bill

nothing but a lousy playwright

and with anything like luck

in the breaks i might have been

a fairly decent sonnet writer

i might have been a poet

if i had kept away from the theatre

yes says ben i ve often

thought of that bill

but one consolation is

you are making pretty good money

out of the theatre

money money says bill what the hell

is money what i want is to be

a poet not a business man

these damned cheap shows

i turn out to keep the

theatre running break my heart

slap stick comedies and

blood and thunder tragedies

and melodramas say i wonder

if that boy heard you order

another bottle frankie

the only compensation is that i get

a chance now and then

to stick in a little poetry

when nobody is looking

but hells bells that isn t

what i want to do

i want to write sonnets and

songs and spenserian stanzas

and i might have done it too

if i hadn t got

into this frightful show game

business business business

grind grind grind

what a life for a man

that might have been a poet

well says frankie beaumont

why don t you cut it bill

i can t says bill

i need the money i ve got

a family to support down in

the country well says frankie

anyhow you write pretty good

plays bill any mutt can write

plays for this london public

says bill if he puts enough

murder in them what they want

is kings talking like kings

never had sense enough to talk

and stabbings and stranglings

and fat men making love

and clown basting each

other with clubs and cheap puns

and off color allusions to all

the smut of the day oh i know

what the low brows want

and i give it to them

well says ben johnson

don t blubber into the drink

brace up like a man

and quit the rotten business

i can t i can t says bill

i ve been at it too long i ve got to

the place now where i can t

write anything else

but this cheap stuff

i m ashamed to look an honest

young sonneteer in the face

i live a hell of a life i do

the manager hands me some mouldy old

manuscript and says

bill here s a plot for you

this is the third of the month

by the tenth i want a good

script out this that we

can start rehearsals on

not too big a cast

and not too much of your damned poetry either

you know your old

familiar line of hokum

they eat up that falstaff stuff

of yours ring him in again

and give them a good ghost

or two and remember we gotta

have something dick burbage can get

his teeth into and be sure

and stick in a speech

somewhere the queen will take

for a personal compliment and if

you get in a line or two somewhere

about the honest english yeoman

it s always good stuff

and it s a pretty good stunt

bill to have the heavy villain

a moor or a dago or a jew

or something like that and say

i want another

comic welshman in this

but i don t need to tell

you bill you know this game

just some of your ordinary

hokum and maybe you could

kill a little kid or two a prince

or something they like

a little pathos along with

the dirt now you better see burbage

tonight and see what he wants

in that part oh says bill

to think i am

debasing my talents with junk

like that oh god what i wanted

was to be a poet

and write sonnet serials

like a gentleman should

well says i pete

bill s plays are highly

esteemed to this day

is that so says pete

poor mutt little he would

care what poor bill wanted

was to be a poet


Friday, July 06, 2007

Jalabee Cartel at B&C tonight

I first heard of the Jalabee Cartel at the Jaipur Lit fest, where they were supposed to be playing. They might very well have, but we didn't/couldn't go.

So now they're playing in Hyderabad, I want to see what they're about. Jeet said they're good. We shall see (hear) and report.

Those of you who are similarly curious, 6th July, at Bottles and Chimney, opposite the Airport, 8pm on.

Before and After

The reading went off amazingly well, thanks to those of you who asked. But who really wants to know the nitty gritties, right? So other gossip will happen.

After reading with The Little Theatre for ages, you'd think my own reading would be a breeze, wouldn't you? Actually, I was a nervous wreck. I couldn't sleep the night before, and the day gave me ample opportunity to finish chewing off what little skin I had left around each of my fingers. Afternoon came, and I regretted my decision to wear a sari. I had to drive through trauma-inducing traffic wearing yards of silk which kept getting tangled up in my footwear.

I'd offered to pick up Meenakshi Mukherjee, and arriving at her place, I asked my son to get out and carefully locked every door. A slow motion moment followed, when I slammed my door shut and simultaneously realised I'd left the keys in the ignition. 45 minutes to the reading and all the books are in my car, which is now locked. Of course, not having central locking, opening the car up by strictly illegal methods was a breeze. By this time, I'd calmed down and reach a state of zen.

At the Goethe Zentrium, a young reporter interviewed me. She was bright-eyed and I bubbled with enthusiasm and I think I wanted to be sick. Luckily she spotted Dr. Mukherjee and slid off to interview her.

Later, Dr. Mukherjee told me the girl wanted to know her opinion about Malayalam literature. Reporters ask such mystifying questions! But the girl was ticked off rather sternly, I'm told.

Dr. M: "Have you read any Malayalam literature?

Bright youg reporter: "Erm...Chemmeen."

Dr. M: "That was decades ago. What have you read recently? And why do you want to know about Malayalam literature in translation at a poetry reading from a book in English?"

I don't know if anyone else is surprised, but the reading wasn't covered by the newspaper she represented.

Another newspaper the following day 'spotted' several of The Little Theatre readers (who were reading with me) at the release. Anybody who hadn't been there could be forgiven for thinking that a poetry reading was the new P3 event to be seen at.

After the reading, I was idiotic enough to allow people to ask questions. One gentleman accused me of having no attachment to anyone. "There's a poem in which you say when the leaves drop there's no regret. That means people mean nothing to you. Could you say why you are like that?"

Later, while I was signing copies, the same gent came up to me and announced that he also writes poetry, but he writes - unlike me - mainly love poems. "Shall I recite one poem to you?" Being a basically nice person I mumbled something and he slunk away. I think.

So, reading over, we repaired to the Sailing Club to recruit our strength. Oh but that was fun. The rest of the evening passed in a fairly alcoholic haze, but I remember enough to state with conviction that it all ended brilliantly.

Monday, July 02, 2007

eros, thanatos and many things in between

Surabhi has just returned from a workshop she's been conducting, and describes the subject of the film the students made: a 300 year old Dutch cemetery now converted into a park with all the usual dramatis personae and then some.

Now there's a film I would love to see.

this park, like many that dot the city, is frequented by lovers, errant school boys, those who have no where else to go through the day, and the occasional family out with their tiffins. One man came to the park every morning. never carried a newspaper, never struck a conversation with anyone else. he walked five kilometeres to get there. He sat there until noon, when the park was closed down. stood on the road until two, when the park was opened again. He sat until six, and walked back home.

The whole thing here.

A Reluctant Survivor: Book release and reading 3rd July

That's tomorrow.

The book will be released by Dr. Meenakshi Mukherjee, followed by a reading of poems from the book by The Little Theatre.

This event has been organised by Akshara, in association with The Goethe Zentrium, Hyderabad.

Time: 6pm
Date: Tuesday, 3rd July.
Place: The Goethe Zentrium, Hill Fort Road, opposite Kalanjali.

Hope to see some of you there.

Spaniard Gets Lucky

Sitting in the car on the main road outside the airport, I keep a weather eye out for cops. This is a No Parking Zone, but so is the road leading in to Departure and Arrival. Parking, such as it is, is unaffordable. So I wait outside for the flight from Chennai to land, and my mother waits outside Arrival promising to call me once she's ready to leave. Thankfully it is a Sunday and there's nearly no traffic on the roads, making the one cop under the flyover lazy and lenient.

Cool dudes on motorbikes whizz past with no helmets on; cars go on the wrong side of the road with their headlights on because the road they want is just here, so who's going to go half a kilometre to make that turn? One enterprising crowd on a scooter stops ahead of my car to drop off the third man, who then skips across the road and rejoins them on the other side, out of the cop's line of vision.

Just then, a mail van drives by. I see it in my rear view mirror and cannot believe my eyes. Mail van on a Sunday? But it is a mail van, and I make a hasty wish. I've always wished on mail vans and looked out for black cars afterwards. Some years ago, black cars were a rarity and you'd have to wait for a long time to uncross your fingers - like looking out for the second star after you've wished on Venus, and you gave up because the stars just didn't turn up or it was dinner time or there was, more often than not, too much light pollution to be able to see anything but the first one. Wishes were not so easily granted. But now black cars are more common than a cold; it is the mail vans that are rare and joyful to behold as a consequence.

So I wished, hastily as I said, because there was no time to think what I really wanted. I just had to wish. A black Swift drove by over the flyover. I squinted to see it well enough to release the wish. Then, to my increasing disbelief and happiness, in the space of the next ten minutes, five mail vans drove into and out of the airport, with black cars either following them or driving past on the other side, sometimes just obscured by the van.

There's a lesson in here somewhere. I think this means that if I want something badly enough, I have to hang out outside post offices at clearance time, or at airports on Sundays. But wishes granted that easily can't be worth much. Surely life has to be more difficult?

For instance, if a black car follows the mail van, is it allowed? Is a wish released no sooner than it is captured, heard at all by whoever is supposed to make these things come true? Is there enough time? And what if you catch the same mail van and car several times, just because you can see it again and again - once in front of you, then in the rear view mirror, or perhaps out of each window as it passes, making a separate frame and therefore a new mail van.

And do blinks count?

And do you get greedy and make several different wishes on each passing van, or do you get desperate and wish the same wish again and again?

Half and hour went by, and then forty-five minutes. The flight still hadn't landed and the mail vans had all gone. I sat and watched the clouds scudding across the sky and the diffuse sun spotlighting the road every now and then.

And then the call came. Not the one that meant the mail vans had done their work, but the one that meant I no longer had to sit and outstare every passing weirdo who wondered what I was doing there on the main road.

I'm still waiting for the other thing to manifest itself. Clearly, plenitude means nothing. Wishes demand penance and long waiting. I feel lucky but maybe that's just Google. I'm considering being bitter and cynical when the next mail van goes by. And if there is no black car in sight, I've promised myself not to make a wish.