Wednesday, December 31, 2014

'One sweet wind'

My resolutions, such as they are: 

1. Claim (more) words

2. Keep a record of how things shift.

3. Make poetry.

In the spirit of #3, and as a way of carrying myself over into 2015, I give you some Magnetic Poetry:

Happy New Year! (As always, be good).

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Things in December

** UPDATE 29 December: Mail from the organisers of the Urur-Olcott Kuppam Margazhi Vizha saying the concerts today and tomorrow (29th and 30th) have been postponed due to inclement weather.

Concerts will now take place closer to Pongal. **


A bunch of things I've noticed and thought I'd share on the blog:

1. PARI: The Poeple's Archive of Rural India.

P. Sainath probably needs to introduction to anyone in S. Asia but the thing he's done most recently may be something that's flown under the radar if you look to newspapers and television to give you the news. He's started the People's Archive of Rural India, a website that is both an archive and a resource for much that is invisible to urban eyes. 

Here's what the introduction says:

There is surely much in rural India that should die. Much in rural India that is tyrannical, oppressive, regressive and brutal — and which needs to go. Untouchability, feudalism, bonded labour, extreme caste and gender oppression and exploitation, land grab and more. The tragedy, though, is that the nature of the transformation underway more often tends to bolster the regressive and the barbaric, while undermining the best and the diverse. That too, will be captured here. PARI is both a living journal and an archive. It will generate and host reporting on the countryside that is current and contemporary, while also creating a database of already published stories, reports, videos and audios from as many sources as we can. All PARI’s own content comes under the Creative Commons ( and the site is free to access. Also, anyone can contribute to PARI. Write for us, shoot for us, record for us — your material is welcome so long as it meets the standards of this site and falls within our mandate: the everyday lives of everyday people.

There's already quite a lot up on the site and I'm sure it will swell with more accounts as the months pass. 

I have no idea if anyone reading this blog has anything they could contribute but here's the word out.

(As a complete aside, looking at the Creative Commons License, it brought to mind the first time I was introduced to the concept of 'copyleft' if not the actual word. I was in Sainath's office with a friend, back when he was the editor of Blitz, and we were discussing something - not sure what; god knows, there was plenty to discuss, with the recent riots in Bombay and everything; though, of course, I can't say for sure that that was the subject of our argument since I can't see what we could possible disagree about on that head - and after a brief argument, Sainath gave us a pamphlet he'd written about the subject. 

He pointed us to the copyright page and said, "Look at it." 

"What should we look at," we asked. 

"The copyright."

We looked and we were baffled. It said, or Sainath said, as he read it aloud for our benefit: "copyright humanity". 

 (Or some similar, large category. I can't be absolutely sure that the word was 'humanity').

It was sufficiently odd for us to solemnly hold the book open at the copyrights page but of course there were more discussions after. 

2. The Sundarbans Oil Spill.

If you've been reading the newspapers etc (see above) you will have no idea that there has been a disastrous oil spill in the Sundarbans. 

It's not only an ecological disaster - for the river, the mangroves, the Irrawady dolphins - but also a sociological one. Those cleaning up are mostly children. 

The person to follow in this matter is Arati Kumar-Rao, whose twitter and instagram give one a more clear picture on the scale of this disaster.

There's also a crowdfunding drive to raise money for the clean-up that, hopefully, will be done in a safer manner.

3. The Urur-Olcott Kuppam Margazhi Vizha December 29th & 30th

Speaking of crowdfunding, a week or so ago, there was a fund-raising drive to clean up the beach (very, very outside the parameters of the Swachch Bharat thingy, I feel I should clarify) the Urur-Olcott Kuppam fishing village in Chennai.

T.M.Krishna, with whom I was recently in conversation at the Goa Lit Fest, is the organiser of both this drive and the two day festival of music and dance that will take place on the 29th and the 30th. The intention, clearly, is to take the cultural wealth of the December Season in Chennai beyond the confines of the sabhas and make it less elitist and inaccessible.

Details here.

Now, I know plenty of people who clear their decks in order to be in Chennai during the music season. Their days are just packed and if picking one's way through the concert schedule could seem like managing an intricate war game*, I was always outside of it, even though, until a couple of years ago, I seemed to be in Chennai every year at the end of December. 

I mean, I might have gone to a Poetry with Prakriti reading or two; hung out with friends and gone to a lunch or two at some famous sabha. But I didn't really do this season pass thing, not just because the whole process seemed so daunting (so much easier to sit in front of Jaya TV), but because I also felt rather left out of the whole very inner-circle-ness of the season.

If I'd been there this year, I still don't know if I'd have made the effort, but it seems much more likely. What I would have done is academic; if you're in Chennai, you could consider going.

4. Film Festivals

There are no links, but reading an account of being at IFFI (the main GoI one and not the Kerala one), and talking to Cat yesterday, who said the Chennai Film Festival had some pretty good films, I have been experiencing a sharp pang for days spent watching four films a day, to immerse myself in fare that is not the pap being dished out these days as thoughtful cinema.

Yes, I haven't seen PK, I am not going to and already it makes me want to barf. Another friend, an anthropologist, said there's a 7-10 minute section that's practically an anthropology 101 and she'd show it to her students if she had any. Me, I think she should just get them to read any of Ursula le Guin's Ekumen books.

Since this is almost entirely a report of the thoughts of others, to which I may or may not have responded irl, I should also mention that a theatre critic in Australia, whose writing I really respect, watched Ceylan's Once Upon A Time in Anatolia (yes, a couple of years late, but so what?) and soon after watched the Xmas Special Doctor Who and I really, I watched her do it on twitter and was unable to stop her - that's the nature of the medium, huh?

But this also I thought with another, different kind of pang, that people no longer mail to ask me recs of films to watch at whatever film festival is up in their part of the world. Because I am really, truly, no longer in touch with cinema.

And that, of course, is terrible. There is no good reason for why this has happened, but when I consider that cinema has been my thing since I was 15, it astonishes me that I allowed things to get to a point when I haven't watched one good film in a theatre, with proper projection and sound (as opposed to on my laptop in some shady format and a variety of subtitles in .srt) as cinema should be watched.

That's one resolution made for me right there, while I wasn't really looking.

One more post before the new year, people!


*Though, wouldn't you know it, there's an app developed by TCS to sort this out for you.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Sideways Door: December's Response Column

The response to this month's prompt was overwhelming. My responses are now up here.

Happy Christmas again, everybody!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Coventry Carol

Once upon a time, I used to post Christmas stories here. ('All this was a long time ago, I remember').

This year, I  find I'm remembering the Coventry Carol from my childhood. It's my favourite. It's filled with seasonal gloom and sadness, don't you think? And apt, given Peshawar, given Assam. And then that ideal-sentimental sleeping infant, like a timeless version of the bloodied shoe and blood-spattered copybook. All the annual bloodletting the cold season seems to need. 

Oh hush. This is a lullaby.

Happy Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Word of the Day: Countermand


The fine futility, the impossibility of it. Things that cannot be countermanded: the year, the years, natural cycles, extinction.

Why do I think 'irrevocable', when I think 'countermand'? Why do I choose the word only to take power away from it?

Too wayward for this word.

Friday, December 19, 2014


These days when I travel alone, I seem to return with an injury to remember the place by. My hand still hurts, more than ten days after I fell and it tells me when it's cold. Like the coconut oil in the kitchen.

It's cold. 

Not cold like Delhi but cold for a house that thinks only of how to keep the summer out.

I'm glad of it, of the many cups of tea I can have, of the oranges, of days when it's okay to wander aimlessly around Shilparamam, following in the wake of kicked up dust that's somehow quite, quite different from the dust at Numaish. That place trails whiffs of cotton candy and chaat, that dust needs to be quietened with water.

I am watching the colours change. I am trying not to think. I am trying not allow my mind go to places it wants to visit. 

I dream of things I haven't for a long, long time. It no longer scares me, this dream. It's familiar. I am uninvolved. I want to be awake when I feel like that.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Sideways Door: December's Prompt

With just a week left to go for submissions to close, I have clearly been remiss in not posting this prompt column here. Serves me right if I get no submissions, right?

But better late than.

Here it is: The Sounds Around You.

The Almost Island Manuscript Contest

Everyone who reads this blog knows what a fantastic journal Almost Island is. Not only do they have great work online, they have also produced three of the most wonderful works in book form that I have seen in the last five years - Adil Jussawalla's Trying to Say Goodbye, Rahul Soni's translations of Shrikant Verma's Magadh and Sharmishtha Mohanty's little-reviewed, but beautiful Five Movements in Praise.

I've just got this mail from Almost Island, announcing their first ever Manuscript Contest, and I thought I'd put the entire contents of the mail, guidelines and all, up here for the benefit of my readers.

If you have something that is experimental, cross-genre, that you especially feel you can't place with regular publishers, this is your chance. 

Here goes:

Almost Island invites submissions to its first manuscript competition. Books of poetry, experimental prose and cross-genre works, in English or in English translation, by citizens or residents of South Asian countries are eligible. (A book is defined here for convenience as a minimum of 55 A4 pages.) 

The winner of the competition will be published by Almost Island Books, an Indian imprint with international distribution. The second and third placed manuscripts will be considered for publication in the journal. Preference will be given to works that are distinctive, assured and path-breaking. 

Till date Almost Island has published three books: the poet Adil Jussawalla's third collection, Trying To Say Goodbye, his first after a gap of thirty-five years; Five Movements in Praise, a work of fiction by Sharmistha Mohanty, and a translation of Shrikant Verma's Magadh by Rahul Soni. Read more about the books here:

Almost Island is an attempt to fill a particular lacuna: to champion great work, with relevance for Indian and international contexts, that may have been sidelined because it is too experimental, quirky, "difficult", strange or "serious". Obviously, to say this is not to impose any narrow aesthetic or tone -- we will look closely at anything that is original and distinctive.

Final judges for this year will be Adil Jussawalla and Eliot Weinberger, in conjunction with Almost Island editors Sharmistha Mohanty, Vivek Narayanan and Rahul Soni.

About the Judges

Adil Jussawalla has four collections of poems: Land's End, Missing Person, and the more recent Trying to Say Goodbye, and The Right Kind of Dog. A collection of prose, Maps for a Mortal Moon, selected and introduced by Jerry Pinto, appeared in 2014. Jussawalla has also edited, New Writing in India (1974), a snapshot of Indian writing in the sixties, across languages, which is still widely and closely read today. He was one of the founder members of the influential poets' publishing co-operative Clearing House, which brought out eight books of poems between 1976 and 1984. His poems have been translated into several Indian and European languages. He lives in Mumbai.

Eliot Weinberger's books of essays include Karmic Traces, An Elemental Thing, and Oranges & Peanuts for Sale. His political writings are collected in What I Heard About Iraq -- called by the Guardian the one antiwar "classic" of the Iraq war -- and What Happened Here: Bush Chronicles. The author of a study of Chinese poetry translation, 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, he is the translator of the poetry of Bei Dao, the editor of The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry, and the general editor of a new series, Calligrams: Writings from and on China, jointly published by Chinese University of Hong Kong Press and New York Review Books. Other anthologies he has edited include World Beat: International Poetry Now from New Directions and American Poetry Since 1950: Innovators & Outsiders. Among his many translations of Latin American poetry and prose are The Poems of Octavio Paz, Paz's In Light of India, Vicente Huidobro's Altazor, and Jorge Luis Borges' Seven Nights and Selected Non-Fictions. His work has been translated into over thirty languages, and appears often in the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books. He was born in New York City, where he still lives, and has been a frequent visitor to India since the late 1970s.


The deadline for submissions is March 1, 2015.

The winner (and shortlist) will be announced on July 1, 2015.


Open to citizens and long-term (at least five years) residents of South Asian countries (i.e. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan).


1. Entries must be original work in English. Translations are also acceptable if they have not appeared in English before.

2. Manuscripts must be substantially unpublished. If individual poems or portions of the manuscript have been published before, or are forthcoming in journals, the first page of the manuscript must contain a detailed and accurate listing of which pages have already been published before, or are forthcoming, and where.

3. Only one entry per person is permitted.

4. No simultaneous submissions, please. We plan to make all decisions public by July 1, 2015

5. Winners of the competition must be open to a possible editorial process with the editors of Almost Island before they are published. Almost Island reserves the right to not publish the winning entry until it is deemed ready.

6. There is no contest fee.

How to Apply

Submit the full manuscript of poetry or prose by email to

Please take note that our submissions window will open on December 15, 2014 and close on March 1, 2015.

Make sure to follow these instructions:

(i) The subject line of the email should be as follows:

[SUBMISSION] Your Name - Manuscript Title

(ii) The body of the email should contain: the title, number of pages, author's or translator's name, physical address, email address and phone number.

(iii) Attachment 1: Each submission should be accompanied by a self-signed and scanned attestation that the author or translator is a citizen, or a resident of a South Asian country for five years or more (please specify which, how many years, etc). Shortlisted writers will later be asked for concrete proof of eligibility.

(iv) Attachment 2: The manuscript should be one single document in PDF format.

(v) The main body of the manuscript should not contain the author's name or any identifying marks, etc.

(vi) Poetry entries must be single-spaced in a standard 12-point font unless otherwise necessary.

(vii) Prose entries must be double-spaced in a standard 12-point font unless otherwise necessary.

Submissions that do not follow these instructions will be rejected.


Almost Island reserves the right to disqualify or reject any entry that we determine, in our sole and absolute discretion, does not meet all the above criteria. 

Almost Island reserves the right to declare no winner for the contest if the judges find no entry strong enough for publication.

The judges' decisions are final and binding.

Further queries and questions can be sent to

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Same Other: Photos on Hamburg by Serish Nanisetti & Sridala Swami

Five years ago, I went to Hamburg for five days and came back with hundreds of photographs I had to pare down to a manageable 50 to exhibit. It was a crazy time and some of that was described in these posts.

This year, the Goethe Zentrum Hyderabad celebrates 10 years of its existence and, as a part of those celebrations, is having a retrospective of some of the things they have done in the city this last decade.

So, in celebration, what was Posting the Light: Dispatches from Hamburg, is now leaner, with 20 photographs and some text, and has merged with Serish Nanisetti's photographs (which juxtapose Hamburg and Hyderabad) and it all looks very wonderful.

All hasn't been smooth sailing, though. One important photograph - so important that I nearly didn't want it to go to someone else - can't be a part of the exhibition even though I'd wanted to include it. I asked the person who has it, if I could borrow it and he said yes. He was to send it to the GZ but he claims that his driver took it to Nalgonda instead. Ya, right. 

Serish has a gigantic image - photographs printed on canvas and I wanted to see it very badly yesterday, but it hadn't yet arrived by the time I left. 

I have no idea how it's all going to be ready by this evening, but - in the words of Geoffrey Rush - it's a mystery.

Here are the details. But in short, The Same Other opens at 5pm, Journalists Colony, 11th December 2014.

This is what the place looked like in the afternoon yesterday. It'll look different today, I promise!

Prepping for The Same Other December 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Scenes from The Goa Lit Fest: Part II

My body clock has re-set itself to a different kind of a life in the last four days. Though I wake up at half past five, I look draggled and my eyes feel gritty from lack of sleep. I feel like those clothes the neighbours have left out overnight, limp with dew and (I was going to say a word but it would be inaccurate, so).

Goa had a different light. One morning, in the swimming pool, I watched the sun rise over the treeline and I can't remember when I ever stood in water and watched the sun rise. Probably never.


It was so much warmer in Goa. Post-breakfast, I wanted to flee to the leeward rooms at the ICG (if I wasn't at a session). I needed to check my column, see if the formatting was as it should be, and so I was in a friend's room to use her laptop. She had trees and shade on her balcony and she opened it out so we could all sit there. Me, I wanted the AC because it was already SO HOT. 

Once we repaired indoors, I arranged myself on the other bed and admired the trees outside. "I'm very disappointed in you," said K. "What kind of an RVite are you?" 

What can I tell you? I wanted the way the inside felt with the AC on, to match the way the outside looked. I'm shallow like that.


Talking about shallow, M was raving about a book of poetry he'd bought - the design, the cover, the illustrations, probably even the paper. "What the poems like?" I asked, not unreasonably. 

He hadn't read them. (Yet).


R & I went to the Gitanjali Gallery, which had a show (Simply Complex) by Pierre Legrand. In a lane nearby, the Gallery has another building where they display art. It's an old, Goan Hindu house but it looked so familiar in its architecture: floors that clearly used to be red oxide, but now are a mosaic of broken tiles; a central courtyard, with room looking inward (and with windows looking in rather than out); a backyard with a lovely swing, looking out onto the backs of neighbouring houses. We sat on the swing and talked about writers' residencies and how fantastic they would be in a place like that. Walking back in, I noticed a painted over piece of metal in the door that said 'Panjim Municipal House' and a number. There was also a CC TV camera high up on the wall.


At the market, R wanted prawn pickle, and it was a Sunday and the place selling it was going to close at 11.30. It is one of those old covered market places, with several ways in and out and if you don't keep a sharp look out for what's what, you could be cirlcing around yourself within minutes. 

We stopped, for the fifth time, to ask where this famous shop was. While the shopkeeper gave directions, I was busy trying to photograph two sleeping cats who looked absolutely adorable yin-yanged around each other. 

"Hurry!" the shopkeeper adjured us. "The place will close in a few minutes." And indeed, when we got there, the assistant seemed eager to give us what we wanted, so he could be done for the day, even though there were at least three other people waiting, with baskets laden with their Sunday shopping. 

On the way back, we paused for a minute to examine the still sleeping cats. "Take them!" the shopkeeper said. We took a photograph instead.


I've been reading Iain Banks' Raw Spirit, which is a book-length distillery tour in Scotland, but so funny and memorable that I was reading out bits from it to my son. 

So, because the single malts were so cheap in Goa, and because I had to raise a toast to Banks' spirit, I had a Lagavulin 16 years. 

Now, I would say that that marked me out as a drinker with taste and discrimination, but somehow, I got the feeling that some of my fellow writers didn't agree. (That's because they didn't see me with the Lagavulin).


Okay, fine. I drunk texted someone on the last night. But I was relieved to find I was not indiscreet.


On the last evening, I met an old friend whom I hadn't seen for a dozen years, more or less. In five minutes, we got each other up to speed on the crap decade we'd had and were happy to be done with that precis. No need to get all 'first in precis, then it full' like the Mahabharata about it, what?


This young poet from Singapore was a rock star. At the Governor's Reception, he stood out with his performance and so was invited to read on the last night as well. 

Now that's a tough call, because by 5pm everyone has mentally packed their brains and attention spans and want to be entertained. To interrupt the music and ask the scattered audience in the open air to pay attention one again to poetry is a tough ask and usually, one's heart would be wrung for the poet in question.

We needn't have worried. Phone in hand (where his poems were stored), J began to perform and all murmurs died and people turned their chairs towards him to listen.

Did I say he was a rock star?


D's daughter, S, had acquired a parandi, which she wore with great dignity. I asked her if she didn't feel like swinging it side to side so it wrapped around her body  - it was that long - and she looked me askance. We adults must look completely mad to kids.

A refused to say hello on the first morning I met her at breakfast, but she said goodbye with alacrity. Luckily for my sense of self-worth, the next day she greeted me as she would a long-lost friend.

The other A looked adorably serious at all times, intent on whatever was in front of him - food, a sheet of drawing paper - but apparently that attention was less than total. Someone said a name aloud, and because he thought they were talking about him, he said, rather sternly, "My name is A." Oops.


I won't dwell on the bathroom door at the hotel I was originally put up. It is the stuff of nightmares. 


They were still selling t-shirts, mugs and badges with last year's GALF drawing by Amruta Patil. Don't remember seeing anything with this year's art but I could be wrong.


I return from every lit fest grateful for living in a city without the literary chatter that must be unavoidable in Bombay or Delhi. Until the moment I next see other writers and wonder how I lived without the conversations I cannot have where I live.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Scenes from the Goa Lit Fest

I didn't take a camera. This is the first thing worth noting, because there were so many things I wanted to photograph - the ship (breaking?) yard we passed from the airport into town, the buildings, the signs (I don't remember what they are now; photographic evidence would have helped) and - oh! all kinds of things that I have to work at remembering.


The Black Sheep Bistro in Panjim was a second home during the festival. I don't know what it says about me that I didn't even explore other places. Sheep-like? Don't say that.

But the cocktails! The Negroni! The food! And the company. There were photographs, but I'm not showing them to you.


Meeting old friends and making new ones. That unique way in which one misses friends recently made, that old hostel-like sense of intense, sudden friendships made, that appear more lasting and inevitable than our everyday acquaintances. We can say things we never could, in our daily avatars.


How our circle extends to at most a dozen 'kindred spirits'. How we make even our literary lives small and manageable because there is so little time, so much to talk about. 

(Or maybe it's just me).


The guys in the coffee lounge must have had many opportunities to evesdrop on our very indiscreet conversations. I wonder what they made of the things they heard. We must have sounded shockingly unliterary. 

On the last day, when I got up to read, I was overjoyed to see them in the audience. 


Three writers had their little children with them. The kids became friends with each other and there was a proper baccha party that began at breakfast and went on until the night ended. 

Every morning, there was also a workshop for children and as we sat at breakfast, we watched as school children in their different uniforms, looking shiny and eager, arrived.

One morning, the three kids stood on the sofa by the picture windows in the dining room, as the school children trooped past, and waved at them. Some of those children, looking self-conscious and slightly sheepish and too-old-for-this-sort-of-thing, waved back. 

It was hard to figure out who felt more on view, like creatures in a zoo.


With the best of intentions, I intended to go to the bird watching session one morning. I was up, but I didn't make it. In the four days I've been away, I've had word from my son, who has seen all kinds of birds and has been looking forward to my detailed, if ill-informed, report from this session. I don't know how to break the news to him that I preferred to rest my old bones instead of identifying birds, and picking shells and pebbles.


If I ever switch careers -which I am very liable to do - I have decided I must spend some time in my life being a personal shopper. 

For one thing, I am much better at picking great stuff for other people, and for another - as I found out when I briefly worked as a production assistant for an ad filmmaker in another lifetime - there's nothing more satisfying than spending other people's money.

This one evening, we left the ICG just in the nick of time to get to Wendell Rodericks' studio. They were about to lock up for the evening, but my friend AJ sent a few of us as the advance guard, to browse and faff around while the real shoppers turned up.

We did this, but perhaps not as convincingly as the people in the shop would have liked, because in a bit they started to turn the lights off. Luckily, I managed to persuade them to hang on for a few, and the rear guard appeared and sales were made.

I might have been a bit rude about how things looked on people.


More shopping happened. I bought a bottle of Amrut Single Malt, which is not available in Hyderabad. 

Let's not even talk about the books, okay? If clothes were not such an important part of being at a literary festival, I would travel with a half-empty suitcase just to accommodate the books I want to buy.


So a thing that happened was that some authors did not have their books available at the festival's official book store (Because of Reasons). These were first books, and needed to be there, so it was a bit of a bummer for them that people who interacted with them couldn't also buy copies of their books so they could, you know, get them inscribed and stuff.


My chosen method of inscribing my book has been puzzling many people.

I noticed that people had been buying my book but choosing not to get them signed. This has been puzzling me.

There may be a syllogism here but I refuse to see the connection - if, indeed, there is one.


In news unrelated to the festival, my son tells me that he has borrowed Purple Hibiscus from the library. This pleases me, not because he's showing the same signs of pretension I displayed when I was his age, but because this might mean that he has finally put behind him the tendency to cling to the books of his early childhood - the tri-annual re-reads of Potter and Riordan et al.


I miss everyone I hung out with. I want to pack them all up in a suitcase and bring them back home with me.

This feeling I am left with is what I love about festivals and residencies.