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.

Yes.

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
          1.
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.
          2.
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.
          3.
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
SHINE SHINE SHINE 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.

video
 


Friday, January 01, 2016

Resolutions: 'Work' by Raymond Carver

Work
Raymond Carver

Love of work. The blood singing
in that. The fine high rise
of it into the work. A man says,
I'm working. Or, I worked today.
Or, I'm trying to make it work.
Him working seven days a week.
And being awakened in the morning
by his young wife, his head on the typewriter.
The fullness before work.
The amazed understanding after.
Fastening his helmet.
Climbing onto his motorcycle
and thinking about home.
And work. Yes, work. The going
to what lasts.

~

Up there is my resolution (such as it is) only minus the motorcycle, the typewriter and the young wife.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Sideways Door: Decemeber Response Column

This month, being about shapes and concrete poems and poems that rely hugely on formatting, I anticipated some work while putting up the column. I didn't realise it would take quite as long as it did but finally it's up.

Here it is.

That's it from me for this year. I'll see you all on the other side. Be good! (And have a happy end of year.)

Monday, December 21, 2015

Let sleeping forces lie

So another Star Wars film. 

At the IWP, one of the writers, a young one, was gobsmacked to realise that I had seen the earliest three in the theatre! "I'm sitting here talking to someone who has seen the original films in the theatre," he exclaimed. I mean, I'm glad he sounded astonished.

(Me, I felt my age for the first and only time that entire time there).

Even if you don't belong to my generation, your popular culture has probably been shaped by those films in a particular kind of hippy-meets-scale feeling that is, somehow, materially different from what Star Trek was doing (that's another discussion right there, but I'll just say I'm with Neil deGrasse Tyson on this one).

I was also thinking of how, when my son was around six, we went to a DVD library that existed at the time and asked to borrow the Star Wars films. I was looking, naturally, to the beginning - Episode IV: A New Hope - and said so. Well, I said I wanted to start from the beginning, so the girl handed me The Phantom Menace.* [footnote alert!] I smh'd hard then but what else is a TV-bred younger generation ignorant of the Jedi universe to do?

Anyway. 

I will probably watch the film eventually and don't care particularly about spoilers, so there's a vast archive of essays on Star Wars old and new which - if you also don't care or have already seen the new film - you can find here: The Anti-Star Wars Reader [via Sunday Reading 141]

In that list is a piece by Sam Kriss in which he says many many quotable things, but I'll just put the bit that I'm really worried about - the fact that it's been directed by JJ Abrams:
I’ve not yet seen The Force Awakens, but [...] [b]ased on the experience of the later James Bond films, and Abrams’ previous efforts with Star Trek, it’s very likely to be a dull soup of knowing, pseudo-pomo references to the original trilogy, to keep the fans happy; where the prequels tried to extend the story, the sequels will probably only recapitulate it.

I'm expecting a lot of nudge-nudge wink-wink, and - going by Anthony Lane's review - I'm going to get it:
The plot of “The Force Awakens” is itself an exercise in loyalty. Start with an eager but thwarted youngster, toiling away in the sands of an unregarded planet? Check. End, pretty much, with an eager and unthwarted pilot, zooming down the narrow canyon of a spaceship, with his wingmen taking hits on his behalf and a tiny yet crucial target in his sights? Check. In short, we are back where it all began, clinging to the form of “Star Wars” (1977)—or, as it was later rebaptized, “A New Hope.” What’s going on here? Is Abrams a chronic nostalgist, bowing so low to the fan base that his nose is rubbing against the floor? Or has he wisely concluded that, if it ain’t broke, he should not be fool enough to fix it?

I mean, Anthony Lane seems to approve of this film where he didn't the earlier ones, but I remember the hot mess that the Trek reboots were in Abrams' hands, where he recycled one Trek movie over two instalments and stitched plot points from other episodes with the fine motor skills of a Frankenstein. 

Also he's on record as not having been a fan of Trek and not wanting to do this one either, for fear that he'd be known as that sequel guy (which....yeah) so all things considered, I think I'll just say it's rather sweet of Lane to give this film a pass.

When I watch this film, I'd prefer to do it in the company of those with a low threshold for bullshit and in possession of a large tub of snark.

~

Bonus: Exhibit 3 from my post-STiD disappointment [scroll down to end of post].

__

*"A prequel only gains its meaning from the fact that it’s viewed after and in relation to the original," Sam Kriss says, in the piece linked to later in my post, while making a defense of Episodes 1-3 for telling it like it is.


Sunday, December 06, 2015

The Sideways Door: December Prompt

Gosh we're almost done with this year, aren't we? Tail-end and what a wagging tail it is.

Speaking of tail-ends, I've said this on this blog before - and I suppose it's a kind of spatial synaesthesia - but things that normally don't have shape can be given one by the imagination. 

So that's what this month's Sideways Door prompt is: poems about shape and form.

Though what's really occupying my mind is the Chennai (and TN) floods.

That's for another post, though.

Friday, November 27, 2015

randomised keyboards

So I was doing some netbanking this morning and discovered that the virtual keyboard, which is usually the standard issue Qwerty, had suddenly become a random one.

I stuck my face close to the screen, searched they keyboard and picked out the first letter of my password. 

The keyboard randomised its letters and numbers. And this happened with each keystroke.

I mean, I understand it's a great idea for security reasons (or so I imagine? I someone going to tell me it's all rubbish?) but it's a pain in the retina to try and figure out where each letter and number is every time. This particular password didn't have any capitals otherwise I'm sure I'd have discovered more difficulties. 

*

Speaking of eye trouble, I have decided that one reason I have written so little this year is because I cannot read my notes. 

I write 'em well enough, but when I write, my handwriting tends to be frugal and cramped, as if I were running out of paper and no more forests were available for pulping into papyrus.

End result: I can't make out what the heck I was saying, so I don't bother looking at notes once I've done making them. And it's not as if my mental retentive powers have compensated or anything. 

All this means that if I can't read my notes, I can't write.

(Or so I tell myself).