Friday, June 29, 2007

Milles cinema

The Guardian has a list of 1,000 films that they believe 'best sum up the dazzling achievement and variety of the movies.'

As all lists should be, this one is subjective, baffling ( how else do you explain the presence of a very ordinary film such as Back To The Future on the same page as The Big Sleep?) and expansive.

It's fun, but don't start counting just yet; you'll either lose count, or realise when you've reached C (Part 1) that something you passed over in B was actually a film you'd seen but didn't recognise because you were too busy skimming just the titles.

For instance, The Chess Players you pass over, until you remember the Satyajit Ray under the title. Then light bulbs go off in your head. Please note that they don't accord French films with the same treatment: Belle de Jour is still Belle de Jour as is Les Enfants du Paradis. But Fear Eats the Soul is not automatically Angst essen Seele auf and so on.

(I'm exaggerating, of course; many titles are better known in their English avatars and they've sensibly kept to the recognisable ones in most cases).

Shall have to go through the list slowly and count. Many favourites in there.

Via email from Peter

from Random Descent

Jayanta Mahapatra is a poet I turn to often. If you haven't read Random Descent, do. 'Predicament' is characteristically bleak, speaking of beginnings that never complete themselves and endings that, if they come at all come when one is not looking and in silence.

Jayanta Mahapatra

Dear Runu, everything moves here
but nothing really comes.
The children play their games,
but they belong somewhere else.
In the mirror the image stays:
the sky, the street, the park.
The branches ache, heavy with fruit,
the birds vanish, ageing with silence.
But as always, nothing comes.
The geckos chuckle on the walls,
mushrooms sprout on damp earth,
and when I awake,
it is neither day nor night.
Perhaps when something comes
I am asleep, and like a lie of living,
it keeps dancing on my bed.
It has been so since long;
all of them feel bound to say something,
anything comforting.
But they do not come, pushing
each other out of their fear.
Even an old song is lost
as it approaches this silence.
There is just the lonely mirror,
feeding on life, on shadows of the past.
And absence is like a child's puzzle
abandoned to an indifferent adult world.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

'tastes in the numinous'

Not sure I've ever made this clear enough on this blog, but I'm a Harry Potter Fan. I have decidedly low brow tastes (to act as a foil for my more refined ones) and though I can see the holes in the books clearly enough I love every one of them and have read them all several times.

Which is not to say that I don't see the point in A.S.Byatt's essay when she says there's no place in Potterverse for 'the numinous'; but I also feel vindicated by Berubé (as if one needs a meta-reason to enjoy what one does just because it is not 'literary' enough or does not nourish the soul enough. More thoughts on this after I return from watching Jhoom Barabar Jhoom):

I am charmed by Rowling’s insistence that the world of magic is also a world of petty bureaucracy and qualifying exams, featuring a school in which brilliant professors are hounded from their jobs merely because they are werewolves, and in which students experience the ineffable and the inexplicable while they engage in the routine business of scratching out essays—on parchment, with quills, no less—on the history of magic and the intricacies of herbology, potions, transfiguration, charms, and the “soft” elective, Muggle Studies (which presents nonmagical peoples, muggles, from the muggle point of view). Jamie is charmed by all of this, too, even if he doesn’t understand all the ironies involved in depicting the world of magic as a world like our
own, in which witches and wizards are more likely to cite the statutes of the
Department of International Magical Cooperation or the proper standards for cauldron thickness than a passage from The Tempest. (A. S. Byatt strenuously objected to this aspect of the series, arguing that Rowling’s world “has no place for the numinous” and “speaks to an adult generation that hasn’t known, and doesn’t care about, mystery.” I would reply that there’s simply no accounting for tastes in the numinous, except that in this case I fear Ms. Byatt has merely engaged in the
harmless readerly pastime of Aggressively Missing the Point.)

Read the rest here.[pdf file].

PS: Bérubé's entire article is in the context of his son Jamie, who has Down's syndrome, understanding narrative and concepts that are supposedly too complex for children suffering from the disease.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Biryani alert!

My friend Dipta has done what I thought was impossible: he's made me long to turn meat-eating again! I read his entire post with my mouth watering and with a firm resolve to visit Paradise soon, if only to eat their veg biryani and make the owners join the list of Forbes Richest People.

Not even the gruesome note on which he ends his post made me feel slightly queasy:

No roundup of Calcutta biriyanis is complete without a mention of the annual Eid feast at the Saturday Club, organised by the Club's Muslim waiters. They get in bawarchis from Lucknow and the goats are walked down as well. Gentle souls would cringe but apparently the long walk improves the meat quality of their thighs. It is meant for a private gathering - only the Club members and their guests can attend - but let me very confidently state that this is the only perfect biriyani I have tasted.

Ew! Go read!

Monday, June 25, 2007

not rockin' the boat

The thing about living as an almost-recluse is that when you meet people - real, live, flesh-and-blood people - it goes to your head and you never want to blog again, because how does this compare with the intoxication of that? So yesterday, I drove for what seemed like miles and miles in the rain, to give a copy of my book to a friend who was going to Singapore and had promised to deliver it to someone.

The book was for a very dear friend whom I haven't seen in years. When I was still in boarding school, and birthdays meant a few sad, hand-made cards, he sent me, by regular post, a card with a gift inside that might have induced swoons if I'd been of the swooning kind.

The card had Snoopy sitting on his kennel, with dark glasses on. You might easily have thought this was going to be one of those World-Famous-Fighter-Pilot ones; on the inside, though, Snoopy was raising a glass of champagne, and saying, "Here's lookin' at you, kid." I knew what that referred to! I'd only recently watched Bogey and Bergman! (ok, my heart may have been beating a little faster than usual, causing some breathlessness, but no swooning.)

The envelope had some brightly coloured doodles: 'sun' said one, just in case I might have misunderstood what a bright yellow blob with uneven rays might have meant. 'Flowers' said another (a third, mere sqiggles a child could have made, said 'Art') It made you smile because you understood, somewhere in your sixteen-year-old heart, that it took confidence of a different order to announce what it was that was being said, on the envelope of a birthday card.

Inside, tucked into the card, was Dylan himself. All I knew of the man in those days was Tambourine Man and Blowin' in the Wind. This came as an eye-opener to me. It's not a song; it's not even in the liner notes of The Times They Are A-Changin'. But it's in the book of Dylan's lyrics.

Today, I was reminded of it because Falstaff's blog has just turned two, and he's pointed to Beckett in celebration.

Thoughts of birthdays led to thoughts of that long-ago birthday when Geraldine was given some sound - if cynical - advice.

Here's what he said:

Advice for Geraldine on Her Miscellaneous Birthday

stay in line. stay in step. people
are afraid of someone who is not
in step with them. it makes them
look foolish t' themselves for
being in step. it might even
cross their minds that they themselves
are in the wrong step. do not run
nor cross the red line. if you go
too far out in any direction, they
will lose sight of you. they'll feel
threatened. thinking that they are
not a part of something that they
saw go past them, they'll feel
something's going on up there that
they don't know about. revenge
will set in. they will start thinking
of how t' get rid of you. act
mannerly towards them. if you don't,
they will take it personal. as you
come directly in contact face t' face
do not make it a secret of how
much you need them. if they sense
that you have no need for them,
the first thing they will do is
try t' make you need them. if
this doesn't work, they will tell
you of how much they don't need
you. if you do not show any sadness
at a remark such as this, they
will immediately tell other people
of how much they don't need you.
your name will begin t' come up
in circles where people gather
to tell about all the people they
don't need. you will begin t' get
famous this way. this, though, will
only get the people who you don't need
in the first place
all the more madder.
you will become
a whole topic of conversation.
needless t' say, these people
who don't need you will start
hating themselves for needing t' talk
about you. then you yourself will
start hating yourself for causing so
much hate. as you can see, it will
all end in one great gunburst.
never trust a cop in a raincoat.
when asked t' define yourself exactly,
say you are an exact mathematician.
do not say or do anything that
he who standing in front of you
watching cannot understand, he will
feel you know something he
doesn't. he will take it as a serious
blow. he will react with blinding
speed and write your name down.
talk on his terms. if his terms
are old-fashioned an' you've
passed that stage all the more easier
t' get back there. say what he
can understand clearly. say it simple
t' keep your tongue out of your
cheek. after he hears you, he can
label you good or bad. anyone will
do. t' some people, there is only
good an' bad. in any case, it will
make him feel somewhat important.
it is better t' stay away from
these people. be careful of is all temporary
an' don't let it sway you. when asked
if you go t' church, always answer
yes, never look at your shoes. when
asked what you think of gene autry
singing of hard rains gonna fall say
that nobody can sing it as good as
peter, paul and mary. at the mention
of the president's name, eat a pint of
yogurt an' go t' sleep early...when
asked if you're a communist, sing
america the beautiful in an
italian accent. beat up nearest
street cleaner. if by any
chance you're caught naked in a
parked car, quick turn the radio on
full blast an' pretend
that you're driving. never leave
the house without a jar of peanut
butter. do not wear
matched socks. when asked to do 100
pushups always smoke a pound
of deodorant beforehand.
when asked if you're a capitalist, rip
open your shirt, sing buddy can
you spare a dime with your
right foot forward an' proceed t'
chew up a dollar bill.
do not sign any dotted line. do not
fall in trap of criticizing people
who do nothing else but criticize.
do Not create anything. it will be
misinterpreted. it will not change.
it will follow you the
rest of your life. when asked what you
do for a living say you laugh for
a living. be suspicious of people
who say that if you are not nice
t' them, they will commit suicide.
when asked if you care about
the world's problems, look deeply
into the eyes of he that asks
you, he will not ask you again. when
asked if you've spent time in jail,
announce proudly that some of your
best friends've asked you that.
beware of bathroom walls that've not
been written on. when told t' look at
yourself...never look. when asked
t' give your real name...never give it.

Nostalgia and rains are a dangerous combination. Here's lookin' at you, KT (if you read my blog at all!).

Thursday, June 21, 2007

before I go, Animated Dwarf Porn!

I think I'm CD.


the rains are here!

Yesterday, as I was waiting for the school bus to arrive, I watched the rain fall in a most curious way: where patches of water reflected the grey sky, the drops turned dark as they fell; and where the road showed through, the drops gleamed like mercury.

I wish I could have photographed it, but I wasn't about to risk my lens or camera in that downpour.

So here is an approximation, swiped from somewhere.

See y'all after the weekend. Need to shake off the depression of summer.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Drusya Film Festival June 14-July 17

I hate film festivals in my own city. It usually means that though I know I want to watch several films, I won't be able to. The best festivals are those to which you go having taken a week or ten days off, and where you can watch all five films a day if you have the stamina, and at least three a day if you don't want to be eaten by guilt.

Drusya Film Foundation has decent schedule of films. There are no retrospectives or focus-on-an-artist categories, but there are several films I want to watch (the film schedule can be reached by clicking on a link to the right of the main Drusya page), among them Contempt, the Teshigahara and the Imamura. And I won't be able to. Or at least, it looks unlikely.


But for those of you who have the time and the inclination, the festival is on every evening starting 5.30 pm at the Hari Hara Kala Bhavan in Secunderabad. (And may the traffic choke you.)

PS: Can either Shweta or Ludwig please tell me how the Hari Hara Kala Bahvan intends to pull off three screenings a day when the screenings atart at 5.30 pm (and very possibly later)? Do they have three screens? Are they a secret multiplex? Do they give you special spectacles to wear that will divide the screen into three portions and you can watch Homi Bhabha - Scientist in Action (22 mins), Percy (110 mins) and La Regle Du Jeu (110 mins) at the same time? Or do you come staggering back to your on-the-right-side-of-the-flyover homes at one at night with the prospect of waking up bleary-eyed at six in the morning haunting the remainder of your night? Do tell.

strictly disposable

A Question About Women

What is it about women
and fruity lip gloss,
you ask me.

She probably thinks
you like strawberries,
I say, to myself.

To you I offer as an explanation,
my preference for glitter
to sidestep the matter of fruit

and cover up—neatly, I think—
my incomprehension at the questions
that sometime lovers choose to ask.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Nostalgia Challenge

Cheshire Cat, in his comment on this post claims all of us have the bad taste to feel nostalgic about the crap we read when we were kids.

I've been trying to come up with examples to counter his outlandish theory, and I'm not sure I can find anything, really. I mean, re-reading Enid Blyton makes me cringe. I know I don't need to go back to Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys to know how bad they can get, ditto the Bobbsy Twins and Biggles.

Anyone who had the slightest fondness for Commando d'you feel about them today? And those Indrajal comics and the occassional Walt Disney stuff we could lay our hands on?

Wait...there's one book that I loved when I was kid that I still have: Tales From A South Indian Village it was called. I remember loving that one. And Sujata and the Elephant. But god knows what I'll make of them now. (Note to myself: read the kozhakattai story again)

So here's the deal: is there anything you guys have re-read recently, a book or comic, that deserves the nostalgia with which you remember it?

Caveat: you can't include anything that counts as kiddie stuff that you read later in your life and liked. Or stuff that you've discovered now for your kids or anything like that (for those of you who have kids! I mean, my son has SO many amazing, fun books that I've found now that we never had when we were growing up. Where was Dr. Seuss when I was five?!)

Let me know if you can think of anything. Go to it!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Beware the Spaniard!

Conspiracy theories!

Yikes...I'm really jobless today!

young adults?

Anybody who gets blurbed by Ursula K le Guin has my deep and enduring respect. So when I saw the cover of Vandana Singh's book, Younguncle Comes To Town (published in India by Young Zubaan) I picked it up* without a second thought.

And make no mistake, this is a fun book to read. It has monkeys that wear shirts and read books upside down, babies that eat them (the shirts, not the monkeys or the books, though the last wouldn’t surprise me), a mother Who Talks In Capitals, and other eccentric characters. Also, any book for young people that doesn’t contain an edifying moral automatically has my support.

My only quibble, really, is the categorisation: why is this a book for Young Adults? If literature for Young Adults is meant for those between 15 and 18 years of age, this is the wrong book for them. Can you remember what you were reading when you were 15? It sure as hell wouldn’t be something like Younguncle. I was done with Gone With The Wind and all the trashy Jeffrey Archer type novels at 12. Between the years of 15 and 18 I – and I’m sure many of you – did your heaviest reading. If at 15, you’re not ambitious about the range of literature you want to absorb, you’re going to spend your adult years reading (mostly) comforting pap.

I think adults routinely underestimate the understanding of, to use the current terminology, Young Adults. The kind of books they categorise as being fit for this age groups is pathetic. Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea series is supposed to be for Young Adults, and admittedly has some complex ideas; but I’d still put it firmly in the Children’s Books slot.

The mistake adults often make, I think, is in assuming that people of that age want to read about characters that are also of the same age. But anyone who remembers their own adolescence knows that what one wants cleared up is not the teenage years, but the complex and often incomprehensible world of adults, in which one inevitably has take one’s place.

Younguncle, in the Zubaan edition, also has a very kiddie typeface for the numbering of pages which seems to reflect their confusion about what they really mean when they say Young Adults. And lovely though the book is, a seven year old could enjoy it as much as I did. What does that say about categories?

* Of course, I had a vested interest in finding out what kind of stuff Young Zubaan publishes, but that is another story

Thursday, June 14, 2007

blood, gore, conquest and the spoils of war

Actually, we're talking children's books here. I was reading an Amar Chitra Katha after a long time, and I was appalled at its contents.

Not only was it terribly drawn, it told a story in the most unimaginative way possible (this happened, then that, then the other), with little room for word play, fun or the shadow of a thought.

Krishna and Narakasura is the story of how Krishna kills Narakasura after the hapless devas, unable to defend themselves against the son of Bhoomidevi, run to him (as the always do) and beg him to save them and all mankind.

The summary on the inside cover has this little gem of interpretation:

Many who celebrate the festival of lights – Deepavali – believe that they are commemorating the death of Naraka and the consequent emancipation of all
good spirits. In South India, the story of Naraka is laced with a ‘woman’s lib’ edge. As told over there, it is Satyabhama who took up arms against the Asura when, during the battle, Krishna had closed his eyes in momentary exhaustion. The Puranas apparently have no knowledge of this.

'[L]aced with a woman's (sic) lib edge'?! Gosh, how enlightened. I mean, given this huge concession to the representation of women in our puranas, the text and illustrations go on to show Satyabhama (Krishna's consort of choice on this expedition) as petulant and frightened by turns, mere arm candy, clinging on to Krishna's forearm, his chest and at times his bow and arrow and no doubt making it more challenging for him to dispose of said villain. Woman's lib? What's that? We'll show you how things really happened!

Also, pardon me for quibbling, but according to the first page of this katha, "In his varaha avatar, Vishnu lifted Bhoomi Devi from the depths of the ocean. Soon after that, a son was born to Bhoomi Devi. He came to be known as Narakasura."

Far as I can remember the Dasavatara, it is Matsya, Kurma Varaha. So Narakasura was born after the third avatar had done his job and the man terrorised the world for several more avatars until Indra ran to Krishna? The poor man had to stand in queue and wait his turn to be demolished?

The illustrations are also hideous - why did I never realise this when I was a kid? When Krishna agrees to take on Narakasura, he notices Satyabhama sulking - though how he could tell, I don't know. She looks sour and bad-tempered in every panel that I can see. So Krishna decides to take Satyabhama along on this dangerous mission. No doubt he thought it would be a fun aand educational trip for her. Broaden her intellectual horizons, like.

So, "without uttering a word, he caught the pleasantly surprised Satyabhama by the waist..." How we're to deduce this, I don't know, because they're in mid-long shot with Satyabhama's less-than-lovely profile turned to us; and Satyabhama's body language is not all it could be. Krishna is lunging at her. I'm suprised that she was only suprised and not scared out of her wits.

Fiftenn of the 31 pages are about the battle that ensues, a large number of pages being devoted to the conquest of the elements. If this is how ACK cuts to the chase, they need better illustrations and a sense of humour or something. Why would any kid read this when there are any number of exciting graphic novels out there which can supply them with the requisite gore and a good script? Even Tintin and the Shooting Star, or Explorers on the Moon, which are heavy on explanations, make for more exciting reads.

But what is really hilarious is the complete absence of irony the story displays at the end. At the beginning we are told the Narakasura is a Bad Man because he plunders other peoples' wealth and steals their women and elephants. This is clearly Not Done. At the end, after vanquishing the asura army and killing Narakasura, Krishna inspects the palace in the company of Narakasura's son. You'd think he'd rescue the 16, 100 women (the puranas are, apparently, very clear about the number) Narakasura had captured and set them free, wouldn't you? Erm...actually, what he says is, "Have the damsels sent to Dwaraka, properly escorted."

The spoils of war. Good when Krishna wins a battle, but bad when an Asura does.

This is the right time to, perhaps, examine what makes an asura and asura. Or what constitutes right and wrong, good and evil. But Amar Chtra Kathas have always glided over these questions, preferring to spend one half of their pages on battles and gore, decapitations and destruction. Where's the time for anyone to ask questions?

I used to feel nostalgic about ACKs, even though I knew they perpetuated a lot of nonsense in the name of tradition and keeping our myths alive and current. Now, I'll glad to read them only when I want to vent some spleen. Or find out What Happened To The Navels.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

critters and things

dreadfully, dreadfully tired. been up since half past four, post!

Jaipur, on the lawns of whatsisname's palace where the Lit Fest happened. Yes, it's from that long ago.
The next five are the world outside my window. I have yet to get a handle on the macro feature of my camera.

Now this beauty was at my son's school. Ludwig, that's a kite, right?

And another variety of said item above. Sankranti this year at Husain Sagar.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

RIP Ousmane Sembene

Filmmaker, writer, and giant of African cinema, Ousmane Sembene, died on June 9.

Wish I could say more...I've only watched his last film, Moolade, which left me wanting to watch his other films.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Please veil it back again

I could have gone to the Hyfic's screenings of Woyzeck and Nosferatu; I could have watched the Federer-Nadal match. Instead, I decided to - don't ask me why, I've been asking myself the same question again and again - watch a play.

Now, that's not such a bad thing, unless it happens to be English Theatre in Hyderabad, and happens to be a terribly written play, with stilted dialogues and no drama or anything else to recommend it, called Unveil The Sun. You will notice, from the review I've linked to, that the reviewer of the Delhi Metro Plus seems to think it's a pretty darned good play.

Now, the play, written by Amrit Kent, is timely because it is about Rumi in a year dedicated to his 800 Birth Anniversary. Unfortunately, the play is a series of very short scenes with - at least in this production - several drastic set changes required between each scene. It started with a Quwwali performance and every once in a while had very bad Kathak dancers dancing to Mukesh (played back on tape, and stopped every now and then with a slow screech). Then some dude we couldn't see took over and some Nritta happened to the accompaniment of dizzying changes of light gels, no doubt signifying ecstasy and bliss.

The guys playing Rumi and Shams were, luckily, fairly decent actors, but not even they could save the production from being endless and boring. Tickets were priced at 300 bucks, which, considering the school-level production values, were terribly steep. During set changes, everyone used torches to see their way around on the set. This was actually the most interesting part of the play; if you were close enough, you could hear them curse at each other in fierce whispers and if you weren't, you could spend a pleasant ten minutes imagining their conversations, and hoping someone would drop heavy furniture on someone else's foot.

My favourite part of the play was watching Rumi deep in existential angst, staring soulfully outside the window of his madarsa, straight at a Tata Indicom poster tacked on the sidewall of the stage. Put spirituality in perspective, that did.

Paying It Forward Back

"What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?"
I never know what you are thinking. Think."

I think we are in rats' alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.
A Game of Chess, The Wasteland, T.S.Eliot

My friend Surabhi has named me as one of the five Thinking Bloggers she reads. Flattered though I am - and I am flattered, considering that this is the first award I've ever received in my life, ha! - I'm extremely nervous about accepting any such thing.

Strings attached, you see. I have to name five more bloggers, who in their turn have to name five more and so on. I hate memes. I can't think of anyone whose blog I might tag, who would appreciate the dubious honour.

Why dubious? Because, really, everyone who passes this along does themselves a disservice by implying that Making Them Think is a difficult thing, a feat achieved only by a chosen few or five.

And why I'm nervous is, this feel uncomfortably like I'm all dolled up for a birthday party and have been made to take part in a game of Passing The Parcel, and as the parcel lands in my lap and I fumble with it with clumsy fingers, I can see from the corner of my eye that the person in charge of the music is going to stop and what I have in my hands is not an innocent cushion, but a very hot potato that is shortly going to bring all kinds of humiliating tasks in its wake and which causes me to mix my metaphors with a fine disregard for compatibility in the larger scheme of things, and which makes me certain that whatever Surabhi may have thought while passing this on to me, at the end of this, she will have changed her mind.

So, I'm not passing this on, I'm passing this back. Stifle those gasps of horror. What happens if the same three or four people get tagged again? Does one tentacle of this monster get cut cold? Does one possible outcome in all the possible futures of thinking bloggers close forever? What disaster will happen?

Let's find out, shall we?

So, instead of Paying it forward, like whatzisname, I'm paying it back.

Sur, TMM, Banno and Anita. And Appa for perspective. My reasons for tagging the first four shall remain mysterious and private.

And excuse my while I go wear my thinking cap.

Saturday, June 09, 2007


Note from one acquaintance, after announcement of book:

"Hi, Met B today.If you can give your book to him, I'll go through it. Can send it back. Will come to Zentrium Reading. Do let me know."

Please note that my book costs all of Rs. 50.

For fifty bucks, you can get
  1. one cup of coffee at the average CCD, Barista
  2. a slice of pizza
  3. a movie ticket at Sterling or Sangeet, and a parking ticket
  4. a spare button on a Wills Lifestyle-type shirt
  5. or you could be returning to the city and needing to take an uto from Secunderabad station, and you find an auto and you have fifty bucks in your wallet and you say rather bravely where you want to go, but you know you're going to have to get off once fifty bucks is reached on the meter and walk the rest fo the way and you chew your nails down to the quick and start on the fingers, staring anxiously all the while at the meter that jumps with joy at every bump, of which there are many, and look outside to see where you have reached at thirty bucks and you shake your head in hopelessness as you count the change and figure whether if you stop opposite HPS with a few bucks left, you can have a quick mirchi bajji somewhere and by the time you're done considering, your fifty is UP!

But this lady wanted me to lend her my copy, so she could 'go through it'.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

World Environment Day Blues

Sometimes, a thought or an event needs to be made strange for real understanding to come. Sometimes, a ‘What If’ gives us a perspective from some far off future, into the present. Sometimes, things need to be taken away from us for us to appreciate its value.

In Frank Herbert’s Dune, the planet Arrakis has no water. What water there is, is carefully preserved so that the wealth of the tribe is counted in moisture. When Paul Atreides and his mother find themselves among the Fremen, they have to wear what are called stillsuits: clothing that preserve and recycle the body’s own water content.

Reading this book many years ago, I was fascinated and horrified. You mean one has to pee and crap in the stillsuit? Sweat into it? Wait a few hours and take a sip from a small pipe to the side of one’s head, knowing that it is mostly what’s left after the rest of it has been filtered out? How bad are things that one would need a stillsuit to survive?

Later, when someone dies and Paul spontaneously cries, the Fremen are shocked and moved at the tribute. He’s giving water to the dead, they whisper. On a bone-dry planet, to be profligate with tears which could have been recycled, must be as foolhardy a gesture as it is grand.

I was thinking of Dune this morning, as I read the newspapers report the words of wisdom falling from the lips of socialites. ‘I never have a tub bath’, someone said. ‘I don’t understand how people turn the AC and the fan on and then cover themselves with blankets’, someone else is quoted as saying.

True. And valid. But I was also struck by how fragmented our responses are. One a designated day we make noises. On other days, we watch as trees are cut to accommodate more roads, and mutter furiously under our breath as we struggle past concrete heaps and carbon monoxide perfumed traffic snarls.

In Hyderabad, the Municipal Corporation waters the trees on road medians at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Even in summer. If they ever learnt about trees, they left that knowledge behind as useless and irrelevant long ago. So if the water, as hot as any to be found in the bathrooms of those using solar heaters, is poured over young saplings and two-year-old trees, and the roots get scalded, we can’t see it and we don't care.

In any case, all these trees on medians and on the sides of the road have electric and other cables overhead. Once the trees reach a certain height, they have to be cut, so that there are no disasters with the cables. So, does someone send a person who neatly lops off branches and knows how to prune trees? No. they send a bunch of people with steel rods hooked at the end. No one climbs ladders or uses axes. There are too many trees to be taken care of before the rains come. So they send up the hooked rod, snag a young branch and yank. These trees are green, so they don’t break; they tear. All along the roads, trees have brown lines ripped into their sides, where the branches were torn off of left hanging drunkenly until someone wanting firewood comes and finished the hacking. Over time, the trees have grown to look diseased. They reach a height of about four feet and then the trunks are knotted with years of having branches hacked off. Branches learn to grow sideways to catch the light. Our trees are ugly and stunted.

A couple of decades ago, the residential school I was studying in, was having acute water shortages. The school had persuaded the government to lease the surrounding areas for the school to reforest. Saplings were planted on the little hillocks surrounding the main areas of our school. But it wasn’t enough to merely plant the trees; one had to see them through to adulthood, as it were.

Every evening for a year, at the time we would normally be playing football or basketball, the whole school would turn out – still wearing sports gear though no one was playing any games – and make a winding line from the back of the Dining Hall up into the hills. Aluminium buckets filled with water would be carefully handed over up the line and somewhere at the end of it, someone would water the saplings. For one hour every evening, for an entire school year, sports meant hauling buckets of water and watering plants. I hear those saplings are now good, strong trees and what used to be a barren, brown landscape is now fairly transformed.

But that was easy in a place where we were surrounded by greenery, where the connections between trees, rainfall, and water resources were crystal clear. In our cities, ‘nature’ consists of flyovers and roads, blue plastic sheets whipping in the breeze and earth movers turning the earth inside out. Here, it’s easier for a child to tell a Skŏda Octavia from a BMW than it is for her to tell a croton from a coleus. This is our environment. What would we celebrate or vow to preserve on World Environment Day?

I have a gigantic rain tree outside my house. It is not a part of my house; it belongs to the road. If the PWD decided tomorrow that the road needed widening, they could cut that tree down, because it is on a portion of the road that I have no rights over as an individual. I often wonder how I would protest. Would I do a chipko? Would I heroically hug the tree while others sniggered and watched the MCH persuade me to leave? Would the MCH promise to plant more trees and look after them, in the way they would comfort a small child with the promise of an icecream to compensate the loss of a beloved toy? Or would I dash off letters to people concerned, and send it by registered post (acknowledgement due) and wait anxiously for a response I know won’t come in time to save the tree?

And this is one tree. How many trees would I be willing to do this for? Would I hug a tree I didn’t know as well as I know this one? In other words, we know we have to take personal responsibility for our actions, so that it accumulates potential. But how much is it worth when it is done out of sync with other goings on?

I don’t feel very hopeful at all. I can imagine a day, not too distant, when we will need books or videos, or virtual reality, to show our children what trees used to look like. Already most children don’t know what sparrows look like; some have never seen a butterfly in their lives; bees scare the bejabbers out of them. One day we will be poised on the edge of a moment when the last tree is gone but the consequences of that final act are still a few years off. And for those who come after, giving water to the dead might indeed be an awesome tribute, prodigal and wasteful and grand – a gesture they can never allow themselves in their lifetimes.

I can only hope I won’t live to see it. it’s much easier reading about it in a sci-fi novel.

Monday, June 04, 2007

A Lizard's Tale

Sorry, this is another cop-out. It's a poem I wrote for my son last year. He's afraid of the dark and of being left alone in it. I'm clearly getting mushy and senti in my old age, so do forgive.

A Lizard’s Tale

Yukio in the house,
grows fat on fleas
and flies and juicy moths.

Every morning
he crawls behind the owl
in the picture, and falls asleep.

Fat Yukio, lonely now
wanders on the walls at night
looking for friends

and ignoring the moths
that beat their lazy wings
at him, cheekily.

“What if I am
the only lizard left in the world?”
he asks owl.

Owl blinks awake and
mumbles, “Go back out.”
How, wonders Yukio.

One morning he leaves
a careful trail of droppings
near the front door

and in a while hears
the household amazed and confused
by such daring.

The door stays open while
they rush for brooms and pans,
flits and swats.

Yukio darts out
and sleeps under a cool pot
until evening comes

and brings with it
long, lovely lizard.

Friends now, no longer alone
or the last lizards in the universe,
Yukio and Mishi together.

Why Yukio and Mishi, you ask? Well, this was after I watched for a second time the beautiful Last Life In The Universe by Pen-ek Ratanaruang. You'd have to read the last part in the Wiki entry to see why a lizard, why Yukio, why why why.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Sad Spaniard

All motherhood is a continuous act of letting go. I knew that, or was learning it at every stage; well enough to know that every age marks another thing you no longer need to do for your child. And it's not always a wrench. School means free time in which to work, uninterrupted by the latest discoveries and inventions of a six year old. Time alone is a relief.

Then why do I feel like I'll go mad if there is another moment of utter stillness? After two weeks of answering every five minutes, the question, "How many more days for me to go to Bombay?" I thought I would be happy that the question had answered itself in the grandest possible way: with flight and arrival. But I'm not.

Today is my son's seventh birthday, but the first one where he and I are in different cities. I've been waiting to call, but he's asleep. When he wakes up, there are things that have been planned. When I call, maybe he will be too busy - as he always is when he has to speak on the phone - to talk for long.

It's been years since I've shed the selfish conviction I had held before I became a parent, that a child's birth day is about the mother: after all, I reasoned, she's the one who does all the hard work; it is she who should be celebrated. Of course today I don't feel like invoking the right I'd assigned to myself in a more foolish time; but I can't help a small wail in my head that says, 'what about me?'

But I'm not feeling sorry for myself, let me hasten to add. This is more a feeling of being bereft, of not knowing what to do with all the free time that one craved, of a strange kind of emptiness.

Oh well. I'm considering it from his point of view, though, and suddenly things look much sunnier. One birthday week in Bombay, followed by another family thing when he's back home. Time was when I used to be so excited by my own birthday that I'd remind people a few weeks in advance so they'd remember to wish me. The week preceding my birthday was Birthday Week. This must be like that - a whole couple of weeks of excitement and a conviction so deeply felt that it needn't even be articulated, that one's presence in the world makes it a better place and an event worth celebrating at the appropriate time.

Oh yes.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Signs of the times

I'm being lazy, I know. But in extenuation, I've spent the whole of the previous day pickled, so though I want to write sensible things, I cannot. So, from an email, here are...that signs of the times. Some of them are quite possibly apocryphal.

In a Bangkok temple:

Cocktail lounge, Norway:

Doctors office, Rome:

Dry cleaners, Bangkok:

In a Nairobi restaurant:

On an Athi River highway (this is the main road to Mombasa, leaving Nairobi):"

On a poster at Kencom:

In a City restaurant:

A sign seen on an automatic restroom hand dryer:

In a cemetery:

Tokyo hotel's rules and regulations:

On the menu of a Swiss restaurant:

In a Tokyo bar:

Hotel, Yugoslavia:"

Hotel, Japan:

In the lobby of a Moscow hotel across from a Russian Orthodox monastery:

A sign posted in Germany's Black Forest:

Hotel, Zurich:

Advertisement for donkey rides, Thailand:

The box of a clockwork toy made in Hong Kong:

In a Swiss mountain inn:

Airline ticket office, Copenhagen:

A laundry in Rome:

Coming up, though, are some thoughts on Agee's landmark essay, Comedy's Greatest Era, which appears now in Agee on Film.