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.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

David Bowie: "Look up here, I'm in heaven"

Did you know he was ill? I didn't know he was ill. I only knew there was a new album, because that's what all the tweets from the weekend were about. 

But look - there was Lazarus and it wasn't even a clue, it was goodbye. 

All these people who die close to the dates when they were born, these perfectionists, they hurt.

If you grew up in the 70s and 80s, it was impossible not to know Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane/Bowie. Do you remember the music stores in them days? How there were LPs and the new-fangled cassettes but also! posters!

There was a certain kind of person who had Freddie Mercury posters and David Bowie posters and - flamboyant though those images were - the people tended to get lost in the noise of Wham! or MJ and others.

That's the icon. That knowledge or image, music, persona, performance - all of it was retrospective. (When I think of Bowie, I think inevitably of Tilda Swinton and Derek Jarman). My relationship with Bowie's music was not visceral but I can't imagine my childhood without it. He was a part of my process of becoming someone I half-understood I wanted to be.

Yesterday, twitter was (as a friend put it) a wall of grief. There was great stuff: anecdotes, interviews, quotes, replies to fan letters, and of course the music and the images that went with them. 

I'm linking to two things only among all the amazing stuff. This post by Brian Philips on what David Bowie meant to young people:

 With Bowie, you never had the sense that he was in anyone else's negative space. Obviously he was, in all sorts of complicated and complicatedly evolving ways, but his special trick was to make himself *seem* like a perfectly free self-invention, a creation out of thin air. The spaceman stuff made sense for him because his job wasn't to be a freak, it was to present an idea of sanity as it might exist if it had been allowed to develop without all the distorting repressions of our world. I think that's why his weirdness always seemed so comforting to weird people. His strangeness wasn't sickness so much as the suggestion of a higher sort of health.
 And this poem by Tracy K. Smith:

Don't You Wonder, Sometimes?

By Tracy K. Smith
After dark, stars glisten like ice, and the distance they span
Hides something elemental. Not God, exactly. More like
Some thin-hipped glittering Bowie-being—a Starman
Or cosmic ace hovering, swaying, aching to make us see.
And what would we do, you and I, if we could know for sure
That someone was there squinting through the dust,
Saying nothing is lost, that everything lives on waiting only
To be wanted back badly enough? Would you go then,
Even for a few nights, into that other life where you
And that first she loved, blind to the future once, and happy?
Would I put on my coat and return to the kitchen where my
Mother and father sit waiting, dinner keeping warm on the stove?
Bowie will never die. Nothing will come for him in his sleep
Or charging through his veins. And he’ll never grow old,
Just like the woman you lost, who will always be dark-haired
And flush-faced, running toward an electronic screen
That clocks the minutes, the miles left to go. Just like the life
In which I’m forever a child looking out my window at the night sky
Thinking one day I’ll touch the world with bare hands
Even if it burns.
He leaves no tracks. Slips past, quick as a cat. That’s Bowie
For you: the Pope of Pop, coy as Christ. Like a play
Within a play, he’s trademarked twice. The hours
Plink past like water from a window A/C. We sweat it out,
Teach ourselves to wait. Silently, lazily, collapse happens.
But not for Bowie. He cocks his head, grins that wicked grin.
Time never stops, but does it end? And how many lives
Before take-off, before we find ourselves
Beyond ourselves, all glam-glow, all twinkle and gold?
The future isn’t what it used to be. Even Bowie thirsts
For something good and cold. Jets blink across the sky
Like migratory souls.
Bowie is among us. Right here
In New York City. In a baseball cap
And expensive jeans. Ducking into
A deli. Flashing all those teeth
At the doorman on his way back up.
Or he’s hailing a taxi on Lafayette
As the sky clouds over at dusk.
He’s in no rush. Doesn’t feel
The way you’d think he feels.
Doesn’t strut or gloat. Tells jokes.
I’ve lived here all these years
And never seen him. Like not knowing
A comet from a shooting star.
But I’ll bet he burns bright,
Dragging a tail of white-hot matter
The way some of us track tissue
Back from the toilet stall. He’s got
The whole world under his foot,
And we are small alongside,
Though there are occasions
When a man his size can meet
Your eyes for just a blip of time
And send a thought like SHINE
Straight to your mind. Bowie,
I want to believe you. Want to feel
Your will like the wind before rain.
The kind everything simply obeys,
Swept up in that hypnotic dance
As if something with the power to do so
Had looked its way and said:
                                                     Go ahead.
  RIP, eh.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

The Sideways Door: January Prompt Column

The first column of the new year and I thought I'd make it, you know, epic. The prompt is to write an epic simile into the poem. Read the column here.

I'm actually excited to see what people will come up with, so please write, submit and let people know, yeah?

Monday, January 04, 2016

Project for a Failing

I thought of what I wanted to say yesterday as I was walking and then came home and watched four hours of TV instead. Now I have a migraine, and what might have been a long, zigzaging post will probably be another mealy-mouthed, hasty scrawl.


Just read this piece by Rebecca Solnit. I feel old reading it but it also feels so right about technology and time and haste.

I have reconnected via Facebook to old friends who might otherwise never have resurfaced, and followed grassroots politics and movements. And I’ve wasted countless hours on it that I could’ve spent going deeper, with a book, a film, a conversation, or even a walk or a task. Meanwhile the quality of my emails deteriorated; after many years of marvellous correspondences it became hard to find anyone who still wrote anything resembling a letter. Everyone just dashed off notes about practical things, with maybe a little personal stuff in the mix, and you can’t get epistolatory with someone who won’t receive it with enthusiasm, or at least I can’t. A gratuitous clutter of bureaucratic and soliciting emails filled all our inboxes, and wading through that clutter consumed a great deal of everyone’s time.
Previous technologies have expanded communication. But the last round may be contracting it. The eloquence of letters has turned into the unnuanced spareness of texts; the intimacy of phone conversations has turned into the missed signals of mobile phone chat. I think of that lost world, the way we lived before these new networking technologies, as having two poles: solitude and communion. The new chatter puts us somewhere in between, assuaging fears of being alone without risking real connection. It is a shallow between two deep zones, a safe spot between the dangers of contact with ourselves, with others.


The park,  where I was walking and thinking thoughts, is dying of neglect. It's not hot enough yet to account for the wilting plants and brown lawn in the one section where there is a lawn. I'm told the maali who tended to all of this died a few days ago and now there is no one to water the plants. No one else employed by the GHMC for the care of the park will multitask. The GHMC will not appoint anyone else because municipal elections are round the corner and they are too busy trying to garner votes to actually do any of the stuff they're elected to do.

This is one park. Elsewhere in the city, other things moulder in their varieties of ways.


Failing. Project for. 

I imagined that this year, I would try to make my living by other means. Like, imagine if I could make money from just listening to people. Not like a counsellor, but more like a priest at the confessional.

In fact, I am imagining a lovely trellis in between, maybe some kind of verdigris wrought iron thing. My supplicants will sit facing me, though, because eye contact, even through a grill, is a wonderful thing and frankly, the only thing separating this experience from the evesdropping that I do regularly on the internet.

Of course, I must get paid for listening to people. 

I will offer no advice, prescribe no penance. This might bewilder the folk who come expecting absolution or achievable goals. 

I don't know what to tell them because I am forbidden from speaking (except to mention rates per hour).

Maybe I can offer fortune cookies filled with doom and gloom?  I can manage those. And baking is so therapeutic.


Here's a sunbird smashing herself against my window. This, then, is the new year.