Thursday, November 30, 2006

Crustimony Proseedcake

“Well,” said Owl, “the customary procedure in such cases is as follows...”
“What does Crustimony Proseedcake mean?” said Pooh. “For I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words bother me.
“It means The Thing To Do.”
“As long as it means that, I don’t mind,” said Pooh humbly.

“Centenary Hall?” I asked the watchman.
He pointed towards what could have been the driveway, or the volleyball field beyond, or a derelict car park.
Aap meeting ke liye aaye?” he asked. “Hau,” I replied feeling as pleased as I had the first time I said the word when I came back to Hyderabad. Each time I say it, I feel like I’m truly home.
“Meeting Shahjehan Hall mein hai, saab.”


The meeting was indeed in Shahjehan Hall, but the name was much grander than the place. Chairs were jostling with tables, which were placed in neat intervals through the not very large hall. Nothing else in the place was as neat; the dias, a good deal higher than the floor of the hall, was filled with broken chairs thrown anyhow. Tattered and faded blue curtains hung limp by the wings; along the walls were portraits of principals past, all of them scratched, peeling or hung askew.

We were in Nizam’s College, in the Assembly Hall. The students had been writing their exams here, but now two people were industriously disarranging the chairs and pushing the tables to the side. Someone else was setting up a mike next to a long table and another flunkey had in his hands a tablecloth of a shade of green rarely seen outside hospitals.

I waited for someone to notice me. One of the two men shifting chairs turned and beamed.

“I hope I’m not too early,” I said.

“My dear young lady, you can never be too early! Have a seat.”

The Poetry Society of Hyderabad was meeting for the six hundredth and something time. Started some time in the thirties, it is one of the oldest poetry societies in the country, one that has met with no break since its inception. It has hosted at various time, Rabindranath Tagore, Sarojini Naidu and god knows who else.

People started to trickle in. In a very little time, I began to realise that my mere presence brought the average age of the gathering down to about 55. The eagerness of the Secretary’s greeting seemed less sinister. I had handed in my form and offered to pay up then and there, but he seemed reluctant to take the money just then.

“You see, we have to put the application up to the Committee, and after they approve you can pay.”

The customary procedure is that one attends three meetings before even asking for an application form. I suppose they need to check if you dribble the tea or sneak a biscuit for later, when the reading gets too much. I thought I was exempt. I had attended Brian Mendonca’s reading in August, and I read in September, for heaven’s sake! But rules are rules, etc, and I submitted happily. I had only a hundred bucks in my purse anyway.


I was looking forward to this meeting. Brian’s reading had gone very well. People really seemed to enjoy his stuff. My reading – with two other poets – went off even better. I noticed someone having to stand at the back because there weren’t enough chairs. People clapped after some poems, and I was very gratified by this show of good taste. This evening one Dr. K was going to give a lecture on Modernism. It all seemed very intellectual and I wondered what I’d been doing for three years.

The Irani samosas kept us occupied until Dr. K arrived. He began his lecture with the Romantics. Now, I’ve no wish to diss a man who must have spent a fair amount of time putting the lecture together, but this was incoherent stuff. I thought the talk was supposed to be on Modernism, but he spent more than half his allotted time on Keats and Wordsworth, with no real explanation for why he thought it was important to talk about the Romantics in the context of Modernism.

Also, he seemed to think that we needed to be entertained. While this is not an unreasonable assumption to make when you’re standing in front of a class of undergrads who have to listen to what you are saying, it is insulting to assume that people who turn up voluntarily for your talk have to be tricked into absorbing something of value.

Maybe he thought we were Bears Of Very Little Brain.

So while he waved his hands around like windmills to explain how the daffodils might have looked to Wordsworth, I watched the Secretary trying hard to separate xeroxed copies of poems to distribute.

This caused a bit of a stir. While Dr. K talked, people handed around poems to each other, compared pages to see what was missing from their set, and noisily passed around duplicates to those who didn’t have that particular page.

The inevitable phone rang, of course. This hardly needs to be said anymore. If there is anything that requires a degree of silence, you can be sure that someone will have (a) set their phone to Loud (b) put it in the deepest recesses of their most complicated purse/cargo pants (c) been gifted a phone that very morning, and not know how to turn it off without the help and advice of at least three other people. (3a)This is once they begin to realise that it is their phone that is ringing, and not some unnamed antisocial in the gathering.


I have to say, though, that he chose some very good poems.

The Panther – Rilke (he didn't mention who the translator was)

A Carafe, That Is a Blind Glass – Gertrude Stein

The Red Wheel Barrow -- William Carlos Williams

The Steeple Jack – Marianne Moore

Paradoxes and Oxymorons – John Ashbery

And one of my most favourite poems,

The Snow Man – Wallace Stevens.

This is not counting the annoying Daffodils; and To The Skylark, which he tried to quote from memory and at which he failed spectacularly (he said, and I couldn’t believe my ears, “unpremeditated strains”!!!).

But if you left out his closed readings, which were very undergrad, and looked at the poems, you could lose yourself in the poetry. Which was fine by me.

So the next meeting I attend, we will sing rousing Christmas carols as a change from all this high-brow stuff. All this modernism and no rhymes and deliberate confusion. We’ll show ’em all that much joy can had by rhyming ‘holly’ with ‘jolly’ and ‘way’ with ‘sleigh’.


the mad momma said...

:o) you get to do such lovely things in hyd. I miss the space and the place and the time...

Anonymous said...

nice to see these things happening in hyderabad...

reg. modernism and romantics, it must have been the way romantics helped shift focus towards the subjective and the irrational and took poetry away from the more "classical" idioms.

and I really liked all the poems you listed, specially the ashberry and the stevens, both of which i hadn't read before!

Space Bar said...

TMM: yes, we do, don't we! :D

Alok: I can string out a dozen reasons why a study of the Romantics would be pertinent to an understanding of Modernism. My point is the Dr. K didn't. Which was rather remiss of him, considering that his talk was supposed to be on Modernism!

Come to think of it, he didn't even attempt a definition!

Cheshire Cat said...

Modernist poetry, and no sign of Milne? There's something wrong here, the dates are certainly right. He's more whimsical than Stein, funnier than Ashbery, his punning puts Stevens to shame, and even if Rilke had been a genius, he would have been hard-pressed to come up with a phrase as musical as "crustimony proseedcake"...

Space Bar said...

CC: heh! indeed! though you'd have to go to wodehouse for some nastiness on the milne front (what was that golf story where the chap tries desperately compose poetry and comes up with a rabbit going hoppity-hop hoppity-hop?)

Cheshire Cat said...

Milne asked for it, he was Very Mean indeed to poor old Plum. I don't remember that particular story, but it's so much fun when one can actually identify who's being skewered.

My favorite Milne is his fairy tale for adults, "Once On A Time". A lucky find; it ought to be more widely known.