Friday, September 28, 2007

'nobody can inspire my wallet on a local train. But I can steal a line I hear from a commuter'

So says Sriram Raghavan on Rediff, defending charges that Johnny Gaddar is inspired by Tarantino.

I haven't seen the film yet, but he has a point; there's inspiration and there's 'inspiration' in the way many people making mainstream cinema use it - where it's shorthand for plagiarism. And I'd go watch the film if for no other reason than because he wrote that line in the title.

Via Jai

two space stories

From the Deccan Chronicle this morning. one weird call to arms in the name of peace, and one prediction from a long time ago coming true.

One

'Kalam predicts a space war', the headline says. We have all these space scientists, including the much-appropriated Sunita Williams, at the 58th International Astronautical Congress in Hyderabad, all wanting to discuss our final frontier and our ex-President wants to pre-emptively arm it so that we can 'deal with “celestial” disputes between nations and ensure peace in the outer space.'

"Multilateral approaches are required to ensure that the use of outer space is in conformity with international law and in the interest of maintaining peace and security and promoting international cooperation. Hence, I suggest creation of an International Space Force made up of all space faring nations wishing to participate and contribute to protect world space assets,” Dr Kalam said.

Right. We've seen how successful international organisations are at keeping the peace in the one world we know. Now let's repeat our infinite capacity for vileness, corruption and will to destruction elsewhere, shall we? I'm only hoping that by the time we get around to it, we'll have destroyed ourselves right here on earth.

Two

Astrophysicists have suggested a way to solve the water scarcity which future star trekkers would face in Mars and Moon — drink recycled urine and sweat. This would be the most viable alternative if astronauts and space tourists want to enjoy long sojourns in waterless Moon and Mars or if humans ever plan to set up colonies there.

Forty-two years ago, Frank Herbert called them stillsuits.

Brian is back!

Of the hundreds of posts I've saved in bloglines to read later, or come back to from time to time, at least 60 or more are the posts of Brian Sholis' Today In Letters. He blogged for four months and then disappeared for four more, and now he's back, yippee!

From the latest entry - Evelyn Waugh, September 27, 1944:

Yesterday we drove a great distance to see a battle. It was a splendid autumn day. The countryside is extraordinarily English, with little irregular woods & fields and hedges full of Travellers Joy and elderberries & blackberries & thorn. We picknicked on the side of a hill with a desultory, inconclusive little battle going on a mile below us & drove home by dusk & moonlight to find the telegraphist wandering about the farm without his trousers groaning as though in great pain.

Today has lasted about a week already and it is only 4.15 pm. We are like Chekhov characters.

There are plenty of gems in the archives. If I've given some of you (another) addiction to burn up your time, I shall consider the day seized.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Predictions

of the Nobel Kind:

1. SOME EASTERN EUROPEAN POET OR NOVELIST NOBODY HAS EVER HEARD OF.

PRO: When at a loss for new flesh, the Nobel committee goes back to incest. In the past 10 years, seven of the laureates have been European.

CON: The most common baby name in Europe is Mohammed. Aren’t all these white men dead by now?

(via Maud Newton)


Something fishy is going on here: Manorama Six Feet Under

This is not a review. Just a record of my appreciation for the fish that appear in the film, the only creatures who have an ample supply of water in an arid land:

to the important one named Shakuntala - at one point I remembered the ring that a fish ate in the original story and made up lurid scenarios where Shakuntala, in a meta-mythic twist, houses important evidence;

and the tankful of fish that Satyaveer (Abhay Deol) feeds every evening, that accomodate the suspiciously large Shakuntala, and that are found dead;

to the ugly, predatory ones in Rathore's office. This tank also contains one orange chinese dragon that throws its head back and lets out bubbles. Pay close attention to it in the penultimate scene;

and finally, the plug-in lamp in Brij Mohan's (Satyaveer's brother-in-law) house that has electric fish moving from side to side. If someone in the film had a computer, I have no doubt the screensaver would be the fish one everyone seems to be so fond of.

As we left the theatre, this abundance of marine life in a small town in Rajasthan did not go unnoticed; at least three people were discussing it with various degrees of earnestness on the way out. They - and you - should read Shakuntala Six Thousand Feet Above, at Passion For Cinema.

(The film is very good, by the way. Though comparisons with Chinatown are inevitable, it takes the template and makes something good of it - while paying homage to it in the film. I can't understand why the film hasn't done well so far. So much for adventurous, mature multiplex audiences.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Events in memory of Shakti Bhatt

Shakti Bhatt passed away earlier this year.

Several events coming up in the next few days, in her memory.

Thursday, 27th September (Shakti's birthday), a reading at

The British Council, 17, Kasturba Gandhi Marg, Delhi, at 7pm.

Her friends will read from her work and remember her with poetry, short fiction, and music. The Shakti Bhatt Foundation will announce the inaugural 2008 Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize.

Friday, 28th September "Open Baithak" Performance in Poetry & Art Series

British Council Delhi,

6.30 pm.

Sign up starts at 6.30pm. Open reading/performance start at 7pm. Each poet/performer gets 5 mins on the stage and is expected to bring in new work every time -- and also to delight the audience by doing risky and innovative things with it. You can read/perform in any language. Wheelchair accessible.

Baithak Theme: Love, Lies, Forgetting

Sunday, 30th September Caferati's First Annual Celebrating Shakti Bhatt Workshop.

The Attic, 36, Regal Building, 1st Floor, Next to Kwality Restaurant, Parliament Street, Connaught Place, New Delhi 110 001.

4pm.

One workshop focuses on Creative Editing for Creative Writers, and will be led by Urvashi Butalia and Anita Roy of Zubaan. The second workshop is on Indian Poetic Forms and H S Shivaprakash of JNU will lead a part of this workshop.

And finally, the details of the Shakti Bhatt First Book Award 2008, below. If anyone has any queries about any of these events, ask in the comments and it shall be forwarded to those concerned.

The Shakti Bhatt Foundation is a non-profit trust set up by her family to keep her memory alive.

It wishes to reward first-time authors of all ages.

THE SHAKTI BHATT FOUNDATION

announces the inaugural

2008 Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize

The Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize is a cash award of one lakh rupees.

A 3-member panel of judges will shortlist entries. The 2008 panel of judges includes William Dalrymple and Kamila Shamsie.

We invite entries in the following genres: poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction (travel writing, autobiography, biography, and narrative journalism) and drama. Open to first-time authors of all ages.

The book must be published between June 1, 2007 and June 30, 2008.

Only books published in India are eligible.

Publications must be in English or translated into English from an Indian language. Vanity press publications are ineligible.

Deadline for entries is July 15, 2008.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Wondermark

If some of you have already been reading Wondermark, that's great. If you haven't, here's a sample.

Succumbed

A few days ago, Equivocal sent me an invite to join the Fulcrum list on Facebook. I politely mailed him back saying I don't do Facebook, or Orkut or any of these evil time-swallowing things. I mean, I do enough with blogs and Ryze and other stuff.

Pity, he said. There are some really interesting discussions about poetry there.

I hate people who know what strings to pull. I've been getting these Facebook invites for months now and I've successfully ignored every one of them. But this one I thought I'd check out.

Before you knew it, I was staring at a page that asked me to fill out some stuff and there I was a fully paid-up member of the Facebook community. In the next five seconds, my mailbox was choked with friends' requests and network invitations and god knows what else.

So I complained to Equivocal, who said, rather gleefully for the zombie he claims to be, "I lied if I said this was harmless. I am a facebook zombie and you've just been bitten by me. Welcome to the world of the undead."

Bah. I continue to ignore any additions on my wall (wall?! What are these guys - Kilroys?) Anybody who wants to communicate with me can do so via email.

Do you know the things people spend their time doing? Sending people fortune cookies, chest bumps, and joining networks that campaign for the removal of the 'is' on the status message on one's profile page. Who wants to know who is massaging whose liver and who is trying to grow another brain? I mean I know I have better things to do - like refreshing my page a million times to see if there's are new posts on Bloglines, for instance. That requires much concentration and a large expenditure of one's mental resources.

Wait. There's more. I get a mail telling me someone's done some scrappy stuff on Orkut. BUT I don't do Orkut! I've never been there, never done that. So how could anyone do anything on a Orkut page that doesn't exist?

This is sinister. I check out the link to see what happens, and it turns out that I have an Orkut page. I have no idea how. I also seem to be born in a wildly improbably year but hey - why stop at one weird thing? (Can you tell how much this is upsetting me? I've never used so many italics except in posts that have film or book titles).

Just so everyone knows, I Don't Do Orkut.

Facebook I shall look at but I shall be as silent as the mountains.

Where's Ignatius J. Reilly when you need him?

And Equivocal, those discussions had better be outstanding!

ryhmes with brown

You know those colour rhymes we used to do as kids? Red, red, go to bed. Yellow yellow dirty fellow. That kind of thing?

You will be happy to know that kids these days are not as sappy as we appear to have been - I mean, did we really say green green fairy queen? What were we thinking?

Yesterday I found out that school playgrounds these days have a rhyme for brown.

Brown, brown
pull your chuddies up and down.

No kidding.

Apropos of rhymes, verses and children, Saturday's Poetry Society meet had someone present a worthy paper on children and poetry. The one high point of it was this poem by Robert Graves.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Alok's book tag

This one's been doing the rounds for some time, and when Alok lazily tagged everyone who's on his sidebar, or anyone who has ever commented on his blog, I thought, what fun, so long a sI can vary things a bit here and there.

So, here I go.

Total number of books owned

Let's start with the tough ones, why don't we. I don't know, but somewhere in the region of 3-4,000 is what I'm guessing.

I had a wonderful opportunity that I didn't take, to count about a year ago when I took out every book from every shelf, cupboard, kitchen shelf and coffee table there is, dusted all of 'em, cleaned the shelves, cupboards etc, put fresh paper and neem leaves (to keep the silverfish out), re-ordered books by author, genre, country and unavailability (most precious and out of print books were hidden away in top cupboards to discourage borrowing). At that time, I had piles of books all over my bedroom floor, so that the only way to get from this side to that was to climb over the bed.

Ok, so I'm bragging a little. But mostly I'm in a panic, because I'm remembering books I know I have but can't immediately recall where I've put them. Like that book without a cover that I picked up at Abids one Sunday more than a decade ago, called A Pocketful of Ribaldry. Once this starts to happen I'm in trouble, because it usually means waking up at 2am in a cold sweat and wondering if, in a fit of madness, I'd agreed to lend my copy of, say, The Film Till Now to the local film club.

(I'm kidding. I don't lend books. To anyone.)

Last book bought

The Speaking Tree by Richard Lannoy. At Fountain. Of course, the only Speaking Tree I knew anything about until five years ago, was that very annoying column in The Times of India. Then, when I was editing a journal which had a paper by Richard Lannoy, I heard of this book. Haven't started to read it; wonder if it might have dated in the 36 years since it was written. I shall find out, shan't I?

Last book read

We're not counting Greenwitch, are we? That took me all of an hour and a half. Let's see...ah yes. Kamila Shamsie's In The City By The Sea. This must be one of the few times I've started at the beginning of a writer's work (when they've written more than one book and one can choose, of course. I'm not talking about first books where, by default you begin at the beginning).

There's this lovely bit towards the end of the book, where the young boy, Hasan, is in a thoughtful mood. His cousin, Zehra, is not very encouraging; especially not of potentially purple poetry. I've been wanting to post this for a bit, so here it is:

‘There’s something really wonderful about this,’ he said. ‘I mean, its so simple, it’s moving, you know?”

Zehra raised her eyebrows. ‘Oh god, you’re going to turn into one of those boys who write poems entitled “For I Have Seen The Miracle Of Sunsets” at the age of sixteen and never have more than three words in a line.”

This three-words-in-a-line indictment is something I'm going to use very soon, somewhere. I can just feel it.

Five books that mean a lot to you

I'd rather amswer the question, What's your favourite colour. I mean, really! 'ean a lot'because of what the book's about, or because of how rare it is, or because of what someone wrote in it, or because what it cost you to buy it? All of these things make of a book something more tahn its contents. But whatever...

Eric Rhodes' A History of the Cinema.

In class 9, when reading history for fun was a very startling idea, we had to do a project on any subject of our choice. Three of us chose Film, because we thought it meant sitting and watching films for one week, and what could be more fun? We were right. But we also had a lot of reading to do, and history never read better. Every title, every name was a litany, an enchantment: Berlin, Symphony of a City. Murnau, Caligari, Kuleshov, Vertov, Einsentein, Pudovkin. Even today, I know I will recognise these films, should I ever manage to see them, just by their descriptions. I will know early Surrealist Cinema; I will see UFA in early German cinema and expand it in my sleep into Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft.

Scaramouche (first edition)

The long story here

Letters To A Young Poet, Rilke.

What can I say? There are some books that are like Bibles. I know some people who have claimed that Jonathan Livingston Seagull was their Bible. Thankfully, I am not of their number.

The Archy and Mehitabel Omnibus

For the longest time, when I was in college, one pavement seller, I think in F Block, CP, used to have Archy and Mehitabel. I used to pick it up each time, turn it over, read a poem or two and ask the guy how much it was. His answer never varied, no matter how pathetic I looked, and it was always unaffordable.

Two years ago, when my friend, Sampurna came to stay for a few days, I told her this story. What are the odds that among the few things she was carrying in her shoulder bag (for a stay of five days! How does anyone do it?!) was this book? And what are the odds that she would feel generous enough to give it away?

*CHEATING ENTRY AHEAD*

All the Saints, Edgar Wallaces, Sabatinis and some other books

No really. How to calibrate the worth of these rare - if low-brow - books? In this category are also the children's book you won't have even heard of: Chronicles of Pantouflia by Andrew Lang and At The Back of the North Wind by George McDonald; the Richard Armours - It All Started With Eve, It All Started With Columbus (though, to my eternal regret, not Twisted Tales From Shakespeare). And Sellar and Yeatman's wonderful 1066 And All That.

Who Do I Tag?

Anyone who wants to take it up. Just let me know, though and I'll link it up.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Opera Jawa

Was reading the September issue of Sight and Sound this afternoon, and saw Tony Rayns' review of Opera Jawa. The film was one of six commissioned by The New Crowned Hope Festival to celebrate the 250th birth anniversary of Mozart last year. (I Don't Want To Sleep Alone and Syndromes and a Century were also commissioned for the same festival.)

Tony Rayns says:

The sets and props in fact deserve a chapter to themselves; created by Indonesia's leading installation artists, they include a butcher's slaughterhouse with carcasses hanging above blood-red candles in the shape of human heads, television sets carved from stone and wispy white muslin dummies hanging by the roadside to represent the dead. No film has looked or sounded like this before.





Thursday, September 20, 2007

anywhere but here

This morning at the hospital, I was trying to recall what it was that Baudelaire said about hospitals. I had a dim memory of windows and changing beds.

Here it is:
Life is a hospital where every patient is obsessed by the desire of changing beds. One would like to suffer opposite the stove, another is sure he would get well beside the window.

But out of the whole piece, the most chilling thought is that of life as a hospital. One's whole life as a hospital! Who would we be from time to time? The security guard at the gate checking bags to see no one's sneaked in food from outside? The impatient receptionist explaining procedure for the first time? The doctor giving the uncomprehending family the bad news? The family, imagining they are only visiting but find that it's a life-long sentence?

And to think that so many people choose to spend so much time there. I can't even begin to imagine what it must cost to go there day after day.

Sigh.

Gang Aft Agley

I was planning to post nearly every day until I left for Delhi. But with hospital visits and general anxiety, I guess it ain't happening.

No disasters; at least not so far. But whatever.

Cat, KM will reply to comments eventually (feel free to carry on a discussion on that post, though, yes?). Dipali, long story another time, I'm afraid. Basically it means you have to trawl through old posts on Veena's and Black Mamba's (and perhaps Falstaff's) blogs.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

'Prologue' by Don Paterson

From Don Paterson's God's Gift to Women, his much awarded book, the first poem, 'Prologue'.

Prologue

A poem is a little church, remember,
you, its congregation, I, its cantor;

so please, no flash, no necking in the pew,
or snorting just to let your neighbour know

you get the clever stuff, or eyeing the watch,
or rustling the wee poke of butterscotch

you'd brought to charm the sour edge off the sermon.
Be upstanding. Now: let us raise the fucking tone.

Today, from this holy place of heightened speech,
we will join the berry-bus in its approach

to that sunless pit of rancour and alarm
where language finds its least prestigious form.

Fear not: this is spiritual transport,
albeit the less elevated sort;

while the coach will limp towards its final stage
beyond the snowy graveyard of the page,

no one will leave the premises. In hell,
the tingle-test is inapplicable,

though the sensitives among you may discern
the secondary symptoms: light sweats, heartburn,

that sad thrill in the soft part of the instep
as you crane your neck to size up the long drop.

In the meantime we will pass round the Big Plate
and should it come back slightly underweight

you will learn the meaning of the Silent Collection
for your roof leaks, and the organ lacks conviction.

My little church is neither high nor broad,
so get your heads down. Let us pray. Oh God

Don Paterson's T.S.Eliot Lecture here. The PIW bio and 'The Box' .

But what I really want to read is The Book of Shadows. (Vivek, you listening?)

I generally have some discomfort with the use of the word 'albeit', but maybe that's just me.

The Owl Jools



It's a long story, but Black Mamba was basically ready to have a heart attack when she heard about the owls on pink wool. This is merely to reassure her that all was tastefully done. Banno will vouch for it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Loot!

Monday when I headed into town to meet Jeroo, I also met Chandrahas. As he usually does, he suggested that I meet him at Crossword and then we would head to Strand.

I groaned. I mean, there's nothing I like better than looking at books, but the trouble is, if I look at them I want to own them. Like my mother with saris. Leaving her at an exhibition or Crafts Fair or Handloom thingy is the most dangerous thing you can do. Bank balances can become suddenly unstable. 'I'm broke, ok? I can't buy a single book,' I warned Hash. 'It's ok. I'm not going to buy anything either, he said.

Ha. (actually, he didn't. That sardonic laugh was myself. Best laid plans and all that).

See, I had to visit several kids later that evening and the following day. Kids need books to read. They have way too many toys. Browsing through the kiddie section at Strand, I found Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes by Margaret Atwood. I immediately coveted that book - it was so hilarious. And since I often use my son as an excuse for books I want to own, I hung on to it lest any of the marauding mothers nearby took a shine to it. After all, I've seen women in sari shops eyeing the one my mother has in her hands, and the second she puts it down, someone grabs hold of it. The trick is to grab and hang on, no matter how many other things you are carrying. And I was carrying my (black, please note, Falstaff) handbag, in addition to another one that had my camera, diary...but you get the picture.

So I grabbed and I hung on, though I regretfully intended to leave it behind. Luckily for my son, I found another copy of the same book. So, conscience clear, I bought both. One to gift, the other for my son.

Later, I discovered to my delight, that Smoker's Corner, an old Fort institution that had disappeared, had returned. With a morose and unhelpful owner who insisted on blocking with his rather bulky figure, every book you especially wanted to look at. There I picked up, almost despite myself, Roger McGough's Summer With Monika and John Yau's Corpse and Mirror. (They're okay. No big deal. Could have done without. But 20 bucks each.)

But the big one was the day I waited for Surabhi and Sanah at InOrbit. They were late, and the mall had a Crossword, and there was a sale. I went to the Poetry section, and before I could blink I had my arms full of Walcott, Don Paterson and Szymborska.

So it was that by the last day I was desperately broke. But, wandering around the Fountain pavement book shops, I found - and couldn't resist buying, I need hardly add - Richard Lannoy's The Speaking Tree. Oh, and the third book of The Dark Is Rising sequence, Greenwitch.

Sigh. Now you know why someone had to sit on my suitcase.

And if I disappear from my blog once again, you'll know it's because I'm either trying hard to earn some money, or because I'm staring at my bookshelves wondering what to displace so I can accomodate these new chaps.

Sensory Overload

What is it about Bombay? There's more of everything per square inch than you could imagine: more waterfalls (as you pass the tunnels between Pune and Bombay), more trains, more sweat, more potholes, traffic, people, and a stronger urge to resort to cliches to contain the experience.

I love Bombay only because I know I can leave it in a week and regain my sanity elsewhere. I can sit in buses that take three hours to get to town with equanimity, only because I know everything is temporary and therefore wonderful. Two days on the 84 and I recognise Elaben Bhatt's clinic as I cross it; I know the building in Khar, next to a nursery - the only one I've seen in Bombay in years, that has grass growing in its walls. I wonder whose building this is, because I can't help thinking of it in terms of Property. The other building somewhere else, where the High Court Receiver has planted signs some time in 1982.

On trains the handles sway and creak and the women talk and position themselves at the doors well in advance. Everyone knows Bandra because of the nala that continues to stink, though Vile Parle - Parla - no longer has the warm odour of biscuits as you approach the station.

The Sophia lane has an intimidating sign saying the side entrance is only for staff and students who have id cards. The way is marked by two railings painted white. The apartments on that road used to be that shade of white when I was at Sophia. I used to stare though the windows, hoping to see a life inside those rooms that was as vivid as in my imagination. The building is now an indeterminate grey. The roads are cleaner, and the hole-in-the-wall vada pau person has disappeared. Instead, steam rises from a dosa cart that seems to have been displaced from outside PMGP in Andheri East. No one is smoking - not even the boyfriends whose cars line the road leading to the gates of Sophia; not even women sneaking out during the break, away from the nuns' sharp eyes.

Everything in Bombay happens at once. Everyone in Bombay needs a tele-lens to make sense of the wealth of detail, to pick some things out and lose to a shallow depth of field all the other things: the pigeons that shit, the tipped over garbage can on the stairs, the newspapers piling up at the window, the kid in the red t-shirt who, every morning, climbs up the ladder to the sintex tank to check the water level. The chld in the flat on the ground floor whom you know only from his wrists that reach out for the katori, or the plate. The two pink floribunda roses that have lasted all week. The bricks in the subway that you need to step on carefully lest you topple over, which must be red but look only a lighter shade of grey than the walls.

And the things that you can't remember any more because other experiences have replaced them before they even registered: faces on streets, odd signboards, things people said. If it comes to that, people whom you knew ages ago, whom you ought to recongnise but can't and at whom you smile vaguely, hoping that's the end of the interaction, but know with a sinking feeling that they will come to you and call you by name and ask what you are doing these days.

Bombay is too much. I love it!

Theosophy Hall

An unexpected birthday party the evening before my reading made me more nervous than I realised. We were supposed to slip out of this particular engagement, but alas, Resul does emo blackmail very well, and there S, M and I were, with a huge box of chocolates for a kid we'd never seen, whose gender and age we were uncertain of (I don't live in Bombay; what's your excuse, S?)

Luckily for us, Banno, Dhanno and Teja were there. (This is actually an entire other story, so I will save it for later.) What I'd come to expect, after four days in Bombay, was that if anyone wanted to see/buy my book, they were almost certainly telling me they weren't going to be there for the reading. So when Teja said, I want two copies of your book, I was kind of expecting the three of them to take a long vacation starting immediately.

So it was with much joy that I saw Banno walk in to the reading just as it was, I believe, about to end. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The morning after the birthday party, I woke up at some unearthly hour, because I hadn't yet decided what I was going to read, in what order, or how. I hadn't timed my reading and had no idea how long it was supposed to be. The two glasses of wine from the night before were still, against all laws of digestion, sloshing around in my stomach and making me very, very queasy. And then disaster struck.

S, my bedrock in Bombay, the still point of the worst times of my life, S who was supposed to drive me to town so I could be calm and poised and cool and fresh and rested and you get the picture, staggers out of his room at 10 am. M and I are talking about when I will need to leave so that I'm at Theosophy Hall at 5 (a whole hour before the reading). He gets his cup of tea, and the phone. And under my indignant gaze, S makes an appointment with someone for 5pm in Andheri! I gensture wildly and say, 'My reading! My reading is today!' S looks faintly puzzled. When he hangs up, and I give him an earful, though I realise that nothing matters anymore and that I'll have to take a train after all.

So I did. And arrived in more than good time, to find that Sampurna's PEN meeting hadn't yet begun (we were supposed to meet after the meeting). We sat in the AC section of Sanman, waiting for Aspi and Ranjit to turn up. I pretended to merge into the background when they arrived, with little or no success. Luckily the meeting didn't last long, and seemed more like an excuse to come early and consume cheese sandwiches and batata vadas.

The Theosophy Hall is one of those old buildings that no one seems to be able to find any more. You have to say, where's the Alliance? Or, Where's the American Center, or something like that. It's an ancient building, with wooden staircases and an old lift. The third floor is actually a library, which also doubles up as the PEN's venue for readings.

The bookshelves are all floor-to-ceiling ones, filled with aged, crumbling books. Go closer and you realise that you can't actually take out anything, because there's a bar placed horizontally across every shelf. Unless you know exactly what you want and where you can find it, and the librarian is feeling especialy kind, you don't have a hope in Maitreya's dreams of ever checking out what's on those bookshelves. Aspi told me the library has some 8,000 books. Wonder who read one there last.

5.30 pm, the chairs come out. Some of them are bandaged with packing tape. Sampurna assures me that these chairs are the steady ones; the ones to watch out for are the ones that look solid. They tend to tip their occupants over. I move to a bandaged chair. Sampurna's right.

Sampurna asks me if I'm going to read 'Beastie Babies'. I say No rather emphatically. This prompts all those present to try their hand at reading the poem. It's quite interesting to see how the emphasis shifts with each reading. The Sahitya Akademi guy finally arrives and set up. People start to trickle in.

I may as well tell you who did turn up, and get it over with, because the list of those who didn't would fill a room as large as the Theosophy Hall. Chandrahas, Jugal, Rochelle, John, Maya (the last four all from Caferati), and Banno and Nishtha. Menka walked in just as I finished answering the last question. Peter decided to join us at Brabourne once and for all. Oh, and Rashid Irani and Kiran. And Praba Mahajan. And my son!

The reading went off all right, I think. Shall wait for someone else to talk about it. It lasted all of 25 minutes. At some spots I could feel the people connecting. As usual, I was in a daze. It wasn't until we were at Rashid's, consuming beer, that I felt remotely human. There was an impromptu reading which probably went off quite well on account of my being slightly high.

What finally amazed me is the effort that some people made to come for the reading. Peter and Menka came from New Bombay - and missed the reading, but at least we met. I can totally understand why it would not be worth anyone's while to travel for two hours to listen to ten or fifteen minutes of a reading. So thanks to all of you who did come!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Things I Consider Absolutely Necessary To Pack While Travelling

  1. A torch
  2. extra pencil batteries
  3. five sets of extra clothes in case it rains
  4. a collapsibile umbrella for me
  5. a raincoat for my son
  6. five books to read (three for the train and two just in case); this is in addition to the 40 copies of my book that I unashamedly packed because I knew none of my friends would turn up for the reading - and barring only a few, I was right - but would still want to get a copy, but would not, ever, bother to do the hike to Dadar and look for the Marathi Granth Sangrahalaya there.
  7. a hair dryer (you heard me)
  8. several zip pouches containing rings, toe rings, payals, necklaces, earrings, bracelets.
  9. soap, shampoo, conditioner, washing soap, nailcutter, floss, etc. etc.etc. Amazing how much space such tiny things can occupy.
  10. two extra pairs of footwear
  11. more toiletries than you could imagine
  12. a small pharmacy
  13. my camera (and no photos to show for it, since it stayed packed through the trip. Bah.)
  14. My spare specs

What I regretfully had to leave behind because, you know, the suitcase just wouldn't close, and my son's suitcase had no place, and besides none of my stuff in it would be accessible to me once we were in Bombay.

  1. the umbrella
  2. the hairdryer
  3. the sari (did I forget to mention this in the list above?)
  4. the second - packed - pair of chappals
  5. the batteries (but I replaced them with my phone charger, ha!)
  6. one set of clothes. I think. Unless I left it behind in Bombay. Oh my god! Which packing marathon am I writing about now?

Of course, I replaced all the books I got rid of, with others that I picked up. So net-net my suitcase actually weighed more when I returned. And needed someone to sit on it while I huffed and I puffed and I pulled the zip shut.

And of course, I didn't once need to use the torch. Neither did I cut my nails, or condition my hair (or blow dry it, if it comes to that), or use any other footwear except the sandals I was wearing.

And this was for a week's trip. I'm wondering what I'll do on my three day trip to Delhi. Pack two suitcases, I suppose: one containing all the things I can't carry in my hand luggage, which I will check in, and the other bag containing all the things I'm likely to need on the flight.

Like the blow dryer. Or some such.

UPDATE: I love Hannelore. It always helps to find someone who's got it worse than you.

Back, but...

...posts will take a while longer. My comp crashed and absolutely just got it fixed.

Bombay stories, reading news, weirdness etc coming shortly.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Reading from ARS at PEN 13th Sept

POETRY READING

by Hyderabad-based poet Sridala Swami from her debut collection
A Reluctant Survivor

Date: 13 September, 2007 (Thursday)

Time: 6.15 pm

Place: Theosophy Hall, 3rd Floor, 40 New Marine Lines, Churchgate, Mumbai.

ENTRY IS FREE

Ya well. I'm leaving today, so no blogging until I return.

Remind me to to do a post some day about the things I consider necessary to pack while travelling. Bah.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Booker Shortlist

Chesil Beach

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Gathering

Animal's People

Mister Pip (about which I've read nothing so far).

Update: forgot to mention Darkmans. Thanks Falstaff.

The news bit here.

The first three links to Veena's and Falstaff's reviews, written as a part of Veena's Booker Mela.

Now, to asnwer an important question some of you may be asking: what's with all this mega-linking, low-blogging, chitter-chattering nonsense.

The answer to that is, I'm off tomorrow until next Monday. So blogging will be irregular or desultory or like this only.

But more about that tomorrow.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

RIP Pavarotti

Luciano Pavarotti was 71. Since the early hours of today, my time, the papers online have been writing what were practically obituaries.

From Indra Sinha's blog, here's Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma. Of course the post is in an entirely different context; and Pavarotti is the second clip.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Where's the Full Metal Jacket?

This was in The Guardian today: 'Hefty fines for parents who allow excluded pupils outdoors'.

I didn't understand a word of it. What are 'excluded pupils'? Why are they outdoors? And how are the parents accountable?

Turns out that in England they've decided to fine the parents if a child who has misbehaved or has consistently been hauled up for bad behaviour and as a consequence been 'excluded' from school, is found wandering around outdoors during school hours!

Under measures from the Education and Inspections Act 2006, which come into force this week, the parents of excluded children found in a public place during school hours, without a good reason, will be fined between £50 and £100. Failure to pay could result in prosecution, which could lead to a £1,000 fine or a community sentence.

To back up the measures, the prime minister, Gordon Brown, told a press conference today that education would be a key area for the government over the coming months, with an emphasis on discipline, standards and improving school leadership.

I'm so appalled I don't even know where to start. So this is going to be semi-incoherent and half-hysterical and I shall instantly stop when I feel like my head's going to burst.

First off, no one's outlined the circumstances that might lead to 'exclusion' - what a civil word - from school. One sentence in the article mentions 'unruly behaviour'. This might range anywhere from throwing chalk at the teacher's head, to setting a desk on fire. You might need to suspend or expel them - let's say the words shall we? - but at a school surely several other things would have to be done first? What about counselling? Talking to and with the parents? A less severe and disciplinary approach that did not make going to school so terrifying?

These guys need to look again at their entire system of education. An article that, in a few paragraphs, talks about courts, contracts with parents after a child has been 'excluded', fines, and uses words and phrases such as 'discipline' and 'tough love regime', and a way to teach children to 'effectively resolve conflict, manage their anger and stand up for the rights of others' does not in any way encourage me to believe that the parents or educators or the government know what they're talking about.

They're talking about children for heaven's sake!

Why are they not asking what makes the children so angry? Or what they are conflicted about?

Of course the parents are partially responsible, but how does a fine help? I can tell you who it's not going to help: the kids concerned. The parents, after paying the fine, will go home and yell at the kids until they're blue in the face. Said kids will go and drown their sorrows illegally and vandalise a few park benches and as a reward they get to be 'excluded' some more.

Wonderful.

I really don't get what any of this has to do with education (not schooling, mind you). It sounds like a penal colony or some Victorian Era nightmare.

Sheesh.

Other posts on education: A RIVER Runs Through It; in which the adolescents write the darndest things. (this last seems so innocent in comparison. Those 'excluded' kids aren't even having this much fun).

Monday, September 03, 2007

'Purgmantonionitorio'

Yes, I will explain. Though it has something to do with what you think it is.

I was wrong about what I thought would happen when Bergman popped it. No such thing. It turns out Bergman and another distinguished gentleman who followed him soon after, referred to in the title, are both in Purgatorio. Ah...is everything illuminated? No?

This will explain:

Another figure emerges on the horizon, startling B into hushed whispers.

Bergman: But who? A new punishment? An ex-wife? (shudders) E-E-Elliott Gould?

His slow gait and aristocratic bearing reveal the approaching figure to be MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI. Even relieved in the afterlife of some of his stroke-induced disability, he's taking a long time to reach B.

Bergman: Fan ta mig, that bastard always did love long takes...

At long last, A reaches B They size each other up in silence, B's pout curdling into a scowl and A remaining courtly, impassive.



Heh!

Link courtesy rs's comment on Falstaff's post on Welsh Girl.

Alice in Sunderland

It's all very exciting, but I can't even begin to gather together the various strands of this post from CT.

So just go read.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Shifty Spaniard

There's nothing - and I mean nothing - I hate more than being asked what I do. I mean, really! Why does anyone want to know?

If I'm face to face with someone, and I'm my usual benign self, I tend to look shifty-eyed and start to wind one leg around the other like a bashful flamingo. If I'm feeling belligerent, I try hard to follow a friend's advice, and fix the questioner with a beady eye while saying, "I'm a housewife." I've considered saying hausfrau but sometimes I feel that might land me with more talking to do in the way of explanations and that goes very badly with the beady-eyed look.

To my eternal regret, I've never managed to say any of this. Mostly, I hem and haw and watch people look at me with vague sympathy. The trouble, I've realised, is that I try to be honest about the answer, as if people really are interested. I tend to assume that if they've bothered to ask a question, they really want to know the answer. I've yet to reach the zen state of treating such questions in the same way as one would pleasant enquiries after one's health.

If only one could answer a "what do you do" in the exactly the same way one would a "how do you do": with a "good, good! And you?"

As in,

"What do you do, Space Bar?"

"Good, good! Great! And you?"

It would be a wonderful, wonderful world. It would be a wonderful world.

Aha. But.

So this morning there was a birthday party at a pizza place. I dropped my son off and two hours later, when I went to pick him up, the party hadn't wound down. Some other mothers were there to pick their kids up, so we huddled in one corner. The inevitable question arrived. I wrung my hands like Uriah Heep and said, "I work from home."

"Ya? What do you do?" came the next question, with just the faintest suggestion of caution behind it, as if I might reply, "Tupperware. " In fact, note to myself: I should say Tupperware the next time.

"Freelance," I say.

And then, I do something I would never have done with an adult; with a child of four almost certainly, but never with an adult. I look at a point over the lady's shoulder and I say, with widened eyes, "Oh, look! They're having a balloon fight!"

Then other things happen, and I don't have to make more explanations. And it's time to leave.

Next time, I'm going to wear Sophia Loren sunglasses and make up the most improbable stories. After all, I have no compunction about telling the most shocking untruths about myself on train journeys where one has to exchange life histories and family ailments.

In the meanwhile, I know I will have nightmares tonight. In it there will be an old crone pointing her talons at me and and calling me a Hausfrau! in a cracked, shrill voice.