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.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Symptoms of Heat: #9

When the head is a heat sensor. When every shift in light and temperature is registered in the quality and grade of ache. When it can predict hailstorms in a nearby district. When the hair stands up with nothing to provide static. When oil cools the scalp by drawing out the heat, evaporating. When the eyes feel like they're setting, like eggs gently poached.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Statutory Spring Post

I mean, I'm being all cheerless and weary in the title, but this has to be my favourite season of the year. 

We were near Tank Bund a couple of days ago, and the Golden Tabibuia were blazing in full bloom. In other places, the Tabibuia Rosea. I spotted lost trees that have made space for things entirely urban. 

Some trees are still shedding dusty leaves, diagonally when there's a blessed breeze otherwise in a dry rattle downwards. Like a classroom full of children working at their own pace, each tree is bare or in full leaf, moving to its own clock. 

I'd like to say that the ones that are no longer bare have fresh, new leaves. Sadly, they are dusty and look older than their days. No brown-green of mango, neem and peepal, no pale green, translucent leaves of the pungamaram.

It's also unseasonably hot. This city has been 38C and slightly higher for the last four days. Night temperatures are in the region of 22C. It's spring only in name. No breeze, no mild turning, the beginning of a season that now lasts for most of the year.

But look up and there are still bees, and flowers that should last until the next full moon.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

RIP: Lee-Eco

It's a grim two months of reaping and, given that a particular generation must grow old and die, more in store this year.

Harper Lee, Umberto Eco, RIP.

These two bookended my teen years, with To Kill A Mockingbird at the beginning of it and The Name of the Rose at the end. In between, all the space their individual books provided to seek out and delight in the extraordinary: a particular voice or way of being in the world, a dimly grasped idea that a murder mystery was just an excuse for a lot of complicated things. And somewhere, the feeling that though reading these authors and others like them set me irrevocably apart from the rest of my peers, I didn't mind it much at all.

And whatever retrospective adjustments I may have made to how I think about these two writers, with their passing they take away one part of my teenage self. 

(I also find myself anxiously watching for news of Godard and Herzog.) 

Friday, February 12, 2016


Checked my blog stats by chance on a day when there was an inexplicable spike in the number of visitors. Like, over a 1,000, which never happens. It's not like I've posted much, let alone anything controversial or even topical.

The evergreens are those poems and choruses that everyone comes for: Edwin Morgan, Anouilh's Antigone, Marachera, a couple more things. More recently, it becomes evident that board exams are round the corner and people are looking for things on schools. So Shantamma, that post about conversations about schools and Rishi Valley keep getting read.

But otherwise? *shrug* Who knows why anyone still reads this blog? (This is not ingratitude. I'm glad the three or four of you who still check in are around).


'Spike' also reminds me of reading at the University of Hyderabad with Kazim Ali. I read my ghazal, in the last line of which is the word 'spike'. Kazim, following a train of thought set off my poem, suddenly decided to read a new one he'd written, and which he had to read off his laptop. It had something to do with the word 'spike' but the only thing I remember about it is that was preceded by a story about a sect of mystical men who swear to wear trousers with drop-crotches, to catch any babies they might have.

Yes. I am not dreaming this up. I was not on anything.


That ghazal I wrote, it was one of the poems I sent in for a couple of German poets to translate. This is the Poets Translating Poets project that the Max Mueller Bhavan has been doing all of 2015. Hyderabad was the penultimate stop, and in January, Jeet Thayil, Jameela Nishat, A. Jayaprabha and I translated poems by German poets Sylvia Geist and Tom Schulz. We each had to translate a minimum of four poems and submit four for the Germans to translate.

I thought it would be fun to give them a ghazal. Sylvia took it on. She said she avoids rhymes and form in her own poetry because it comes too easily *envy* but was thrilled to work on it in translation.

I don't have enough - or indeed, any - German to judge the results. They'll be up on a website eventually, and you lot can do the needful. Instead of talking rhyme words and form, I remember googling images for that office object newspapers and restaurants use, to spike bills and memos and things. 

For some reason, it was particularly important to have the right image in one's head before attempting a translation.

The whole exercise was fun, exhausting, but I'm still wondering if it was useful. As a first pass at something, sure. But as a final translation? I feel process ought to be privileged over product, but what do I know?


The other thing that's spiked is the temperature. Early Feb and we were already at 36C. Night temperatures are at 22C. Our year is one unending summer punctuated by a few days of deluge and a week or so of mild chill and mist.

My wrists already have mild burns from any encounter with the laptop. This summer - now - I intend to go offline as much as possible, return to pen and ink (okay, not ink; but some reasonable substitute), and try to get accustomed to having nearly no electricity.

We have to be the only people in this city to not have an inverter or a generator. Plan to keep it that way.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The Sideways Door has closed

I've decided to close The Sideways Door.

Even up to the time I wrote the column at the end of January, I had no idea I meant to, so soon. I had said in an earlier column that the month in which I get no responses is the month in which the Sideways Door will close.

As it happened, I didn't wait for that disaster. 

I don't have one reason why; just a state of mind that makes it difficult to produce words and a general fatigue will thinking up prompts. It seemed like the right time - to leave when people will miss something.

So this door's closed, but you know what they say about doors and windows. Thanks to all those who wrote, shared, read and enjoyed (I hope) the columns and the poetry.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"Hatred in the Belly" or How We Celebrate the Day We Got a Constitution

Yesterday in the post, a copy of Hatred in the Belly published by the Ambedkar Age Collective.

It's a book I've only dipped into but I would recommend it to anyone interested in the debate around the appropriation of discourse about caste. 

Okay, let me rephrase that: when Arundhati Roy wrote ... actually, what was it that she wrote? An introduction? An essay appended to the beginning of Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste?

Begin again: A couple of years ago, Navayana published what it called "The Annotated Critical Edition" of Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste. [I won't link to the Amazon page; you can google it for yourself and have a laugh at how A.Roy is listed as the Illustrator of the book. This after people protested how online retailers were listing Roy as the AUTHOR of the work. Can we talk about appropriation?]

Round Table India and many other dalit writers, artists, academics had lengthy critiques about this shameless appropriation [see above] and - worse - shoddy reading of Ambedkar's work which, for some mysterious reason, gave more footage to Gandhi than it did to Ambedkar.


All of that excellent material online, but nothing available to people with no knowledge about Round Table India.

So the Ambedkar Age Collective gathered and curated a lot of the material into a book that goes against the grain of what a mainstream publisher would call 'saleable'. It has illustrations, poems, essays, conversations, transcripts of social media interactions - it attempts, in fact, to bring offline, the nature of discussion and debate conducted online.

With a brief Introduction by Kuffir Nalgundwar and Anu Ramdas [who can be found on FB] that provides a context to how the book came to be, it begins with a poem that says in essence what I think the rest of the book will elaborate via different approaches:

But what I don't understand is
this one thing - 
In the name of 'solidarity'
Will you do just anything you like?
Using the parachute of your social privileges
Will you land and install yourself ahead of this caravan too?
And tell us
How to walk?
How to think?

This is especially relevant when you notice that in the wake of Rohith Vemula's death at the University of Hyderabad on the 17th, and through the subsequent protests and debates, how many articles that have appeared in the mainstream media have been by savarna journalists explaining caste to the rest of the world. [With no links, because who wants to give them more airtime, and off the top of my head, there's been Ananya Vajpeyi, Shiv Vishwanathan, Mohan Guruswamy, Manu Joseph, PB Mehta.]

Against that, there've been some great pieces by Meena Kandasamy, Yashica Dutt and her Dalit Discrimination tumblr and this especially moving piece by Rohith Vemula's transgender friend, Karthik Bittu Kondiah

Why I mention all this in the context of Hatred in the Belly is that while it may not be news to most people that discrimination and atrocities against dalits continue, it might be news that in the recent amplification of these atrocities, there is an attempt on the part of savarna 'intellectuals' to hijack the narrative and to curate the discourse about caste.

When, really, it would just be better to shut up and listen.

(As a minor aside, when I tried to make this point in the lead up to a recent poetry reading at Lamakaan - which was billed as an evening of protest poetry, coincidentally scheduled a few days after Rohith's suicide - I got caught in a hilarious but also frustrating correspondence with the manager of Lamakaan, who thought I was saying I didn't want to bring up the matter of the suicide during the reading. Nope. I was saying this was the best time for me to not read and that they should get a dalit poet to read instead. But, as I said, that is another story that shall probably never be told).

And let's not forget that today is Republic Day. Automatically a good day to think about Ambedkar, his writings, and the interpretation of it by those to whom he spoke in his lifetime.

Oh - and go get Hatred in the Belly. You're unlikely to see reviews of it in the papers or elsewhere. When I'm done reading it, I will write about it here.