Sunday, August 05, 2007

A Most Unfair Report

That's fair warning I'm giving everyone.

Yesterday, Ramachandra Guha was in conversation with Jyotirmaya Sharma about his book, India After Gandhi at the Kakatiya. A sudden downpour saw us walk in five minutes before the scheduled time of the event; as it happened JS and RG were also caught in the same traffic and walked in at the same time.

For some strange reason, five star hotels seem to think 'air conditioning' means refrigeration. The minute I walked in to the hall, I knew I was inadequately clad. For the next two hours, instead of a thermostat, someone had deputed a flunkey to turn on and off the air conditioner until everyone felt they had the flu.

Ram Guha has a charming habit of using his hands a lot while speaking but I felt dizzy watching his hands churn the air and move in continuous circles. Jyotirmaya asked his questions slowly and clearly and I would even say ponderously if I weren't worried about this turning up in google searches. Thank god for aliases, but hasn't my cover been blown?

I wonder why the questions never live up to the wit and erudition that writers invest their answers with. People asked about the 'what if's' that Ram Guha said historians have been taught never to ask: 'What if Gandhi had lived to the 1970's?' someone asked. (he'd have to be cryogenically preserved or something, but Guha was more polite than that). Someone else wanted to know about nationhood, whether population was the real probloem, about Sonia Gandhi, and what would have happened if the Congress hd been dismantled like Gandhi wanted it to be after Independence.

It was all very interesting but not having read the book, I can't say very much more. Luckily for us, Jyotirmaya opened the floor to questions provided that they were questions and not monologues or statements (people may have even clapped when he said this. I can't be sure). This was ruthlessly enforced, which was just as well.

This evening Jagdish Mittal will talk and release some book. God --I need to be better informed than this.


In other news, The Hindu Literary Review has this report on my book. Sigh. Oh, and since I'm beating my own drum with such insistence, Khushwant Singh in The Telegraph. Only, I'm not a film magazine editor; just a plain old editor. The kind that used to hang metres of celluloid around one's neck. you know? Darzi-ishtyle.


Cheshire Cat said...

That wasn't a sincere sigh, was it? Perhaps you believe a poet should have nothing to do with sincerity?

And Khushwant Singh reviewed your book?? Now you know you've really made it, whether you like it or not.

Falstaff said...

Okay, remember what I said about needing decent poetry journals over a poet laureate? Add to that the need for decent poetry critics.

I mean seriously. "That things are not always spelled out and that she is not a slave to rigid metrics" Anupama R. says. I'm trying to remember the last book of poetry I read where everything was spelled out AND the person was a slave to rigid metrics. Pope perhaps?

As for Khushwant Singh and his "You don't have to be very erudite to compose verse because it is based on emotions, not learning" - will someone please have this senile old man put to sleep already?

Sorry, no reflection on your book obviously, and congratulations on the publicity, etc. Just wish it was being reviewed by people who actually cared about / read poetry and knew what they were talking about.

Cheshire Cat said...

I just think that, considering the lack of institutional support for poetry in India, positive publicity in any form should be welcomed. It might seem a no-brainer that decent poetry criticism is in order, but that might just restrict the (already limited) audience for poetry. A pat on the back from Khushwant, ignorant as he is, is surely worth more than a detailed and well-reasoned critique by one of the cognoscenti.

In North America, there seems to be an unending stream of MFA students who willy-nilly form the audience for contemporary poetry, which is surely not the ideal situation either...

Falstaff said...

cat: Oh, I agree publicity is a good thing in general, but surely I'm allowed to keep hoping for a perfect world. After all, I'm a poetry lover, I function on feeling, not erudition. Also, that insufferable boor blabbing about erudition is just a little hard to take.

Actually, I'm not sure if publicity from Khushwant Singh really helps. I guess it's a question of how many people who don't read poetry otherwise are going to go out and buy a book because they read about in Singh's column vs. how many people who do read poetry are going to think to themselves (as I would, if I didn't know better) okay, Khushwant Singh liked it, I'm so not touching it.

And don't get me started on MFA programs. Just don't.

Space Bar said...

Cat. it was a most heart-felt sigh. I 'm not saying it wasn't a well-meaning review, but in the same issue of the lit review just search for Arundhati Subramaniam's review of Imtiaz Dharker's book of poetry, and you'll see the difference.

But I do agree that any noose is good noose. I do. I do. (repeat several times to oneself quietly).

Falstaff: I know. But Khushwant Singh, for all his carefully cultivated appearance of being boorish, does know his stuff. If one is not dismissive and reads his columns carefully, it's not hard to separate the good stuff from the rest. And he has quoted a large chunk of a poem. Surely people can make up their own mainds? (And if they can't, they're probably not going to rush out and buy the book anyway, hoping instead that one day someone will come and drop it in their laps and turn the pages for them as they read).

Falstaff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Falstaff said...

space bar: Agree about the long quote. It's the one good thing about that piece.

Beg to differ on Singh. Anyone who says poetry is not about erudition doesn't know what he's talking about. Has this man ever heard of a little number called The Waste Land? Frankly that entire paragraph is atrocious. It's rambling, incoherent and full of poorly researched, careless statements. A twelve year old could write a paragraph with more logical sequence of thought.

Dipta Chaudhuri said...

Khushwant Singh reviewed your book?
Khushwant Singh reviewed your book?
Khushwant Singh reviewed your book?

I am superbly impressed...

Loved the Chaplin/Howard Hawks trivia.

Space Bar said...

dipta: :D looks like he did, doesn't it? does this mean you'll come for my reading in delhi?

you know what, guys? that bit in my post about i hope no one googles this etc? well, they did, and i wanted the earth to swallow me up or something. sigh.

equivocal said...

Well, I think KS can smell a good thing sometimes; only thing is that HE TOO has confused blank verse with free verse. AAAARGHH will no decent citizen say anything?