Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Poles Apart

Every time I travel, I take a solemn oath to go on just as I normally do: wake up, do yoga...that kind of thing. But good intentions have a way of ganging agley and being hungover, I wisely avoided twisting and turning and would have given anything to see the world right itself in my eyes.

The Bangalore University is an hour away from where I'm staying. But first I have to take my life in my hands and walk over the flyover to the CKS office to pick up the remaining copies of the book so that I can return it to the SA later. Mamta's already kind of apologised in case nobody turns up. Term's just begun, the new students aren't yet around, but the older ones will definitely turn up. As we go into Mamta's department, someone from the English Dept. says it's unlikely they'll be able to make it because of some faculty meeting.

Before walking in to the classroom where I will read, I'm made to sit in the office of the HoD. He is sitting and signing files, while next to him sit two professors. They pass my book around and flip through it. One prof. reads a very short poem and takes issue with my use of the word 'your'. 'Why your?' he asks. 'make your exit now. Is it the audience or who?' Profound question but I think I answer it by choking on my thimbleful of very sweet tea.

I've decided I'm unable to make polite conversation. If someone asks me a question, I answer. Anyway they're all talking in Kannada, and the effort of keeping up is beyond me. I need to recruit my strength for the reading. Mamta leaves and I feel bereft. How will I manage alone in a room which now has five Kannada professors and no whose hand I can hold?

It's time to go and start reading. The classroom is a regular college-type one, with benches that seat two or three, laid out in dishevelled rows. This classroom, however, is unique. At the corner, to my right, is a washbasin full of water, and a tap that drips. Through the reading this tap will drip and drive me crazy.

Mamta introduces me in Kannada. I smile and nod, I'm sure at all the wrong places. This is such a bad idea. I've no idea how much worse it's going to get. It's better to not know too much.

I start reading. Mamta's warned me that the Kannada students speak no English, and I can see only blank faces in front of me. Two poems in and a student start scribbling notes to Mamta. Things start to change. The next poem I read, the prof. who had trouble with the word 'your' starts to translate for the benefit of the students. Another prof. from the back takes issue with his translations and a heated discussion begins. I gather that he is objecting to a prosaic translation; the first prof. hotly challenges anyone to do a better job. Some comments fly back and forth and after a sudden, awkward silence, Mamta signals me to continue.

I have the CKS reading's list of poems in front of me, but I abandon it and start to flip randomly through the book to see what might take their fancy. Not that it matters, because after I read, Mamta translates. This is how the rest of the reading will play out: I read, Mamta attempts to do a Kannada version on the fly. Mostly, I can tell, it's a gist and not a translation. I'm not sure how this helps any of the students.

Then the profs walk out, apologising as they go. Classes etc. I wish I could follow them. This whole reading, punctuated by the dripping tap, is bizarre. What if the washbasin overflows and pandemonium breaks out? Finally it ends. Luckily there are no questions. They troop out, we troop out. The day's only half-way done.


At the other end of the day lies the TFA Crossword reading.

Jeet Thayil, who edited Fulcrum's special issue on Indian poetry titled Give the sea change and it shall change, introduced Mukta Sambrani and Mani Rao. (follow the links on their pages to read poems).

Mukta and Mani both read so incredibly well. Their poetry is dense, edgy and very, very powerful. I was absorbed and could have sat for more than the 20 minutes each they got.

Ah, yes: the questions. The usual questions that people get asked:

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Do you write to schedule? So many hours a day?

Do you work at midnight? In the morning?

Do you type directly on the computer or do you write in a diary?

(Jeet interrupted to ask Mani a very important question: do you often get called a poetess?)

The not so usual ones were about tradition, performance, attachment to one's own work.

Later they, some other friends and I went out for dinner. We stuck with coconut water and vegetarian food and Jeet was disgusted! 'Call yourselves poets?!' he asked.

Mm hmm.


SUR NOTES said...

just come to bombay... will treat you better!

when is that???

Space Bar said...

septermber 13th reading organised by PEN at the theosophy hall. more details later.

SUR NOTES said...

oh bledddy hell! am not in town. bleddddddy bledddddy hell!