Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Poems in Wasafiri and Kritya

Five poems in Wasafiri and three in Kritya (you'll have to scroll down a bit for mine.)

Wasafiri, however, is not an online journal. Those of you who live in England, or whose libraries subscribe to it, will be able to have access to it. It's the Winter 2007 issue.

reminder to myself

Apart from that rather cynical note I put up the other day, I haven't really reacted to Tehelka's November 3 issue ( I hesitate to use words and phrases like' expose' or 'the story of our times' because of the ways in which they are used and overused.)

There are several reasons for this:

1. We've known for five years now what happened in Gujarat. There's no way to ask the 'why now' question without losing all nuance (this is a more important point that anyone realises from the way I've said it; because some arguments get appropriated by people one is emphatically not in sympathy with, one usually stops asking them.) A more important question would be 'what now' but no one seems to be willing to answer that.

2. While we do need to be reminded time and again about atrocities that happen everywhere, in the hope that we will be induced to not repeat them, surely the way in which we respond must change with time? If we reacted the first time, in the aftermath, with horror, what should our reaction be after five years? Anger at the way in which nothing has been done? A cold, factual approach that outlines what has, actually been done so far and strategise what one ought to do next? Or a fresh round of horror that seems suspiciously like whipping ourselves up so that we know we can feel the pain of others?

3. My own, very personal view is increasingly despairing. I don't believe that we can change other peoples' minds with our words. Yes, such stories are important; the films that have been made after Gujarat are important; but see what they've all achieved. The people who see/read and understand the scale on which things happened are powerless and continue to be so. If we ever had the moral strength to force action on the basis of what is right, we seem to have forfeited it a long time ago.

I was going to say, it's best under the circumstances, to shut up. I was going to say, the sooner we all destroy ourselves the better it will be.

Then this morning, I visited a blog I read with great interest and link to frequently. On bloglines you don't get to see all the things on a blog's sidebar; this morning, I saw this quote by Wim Wenders that Jim has up on the side, and I changed my mind:

The most political decision you make is where you direct people's eyes. In other words, what you show people, day in and day out, is political. . . . And the most politically indoctrinating thing you can do to a human being is to show her, every day, that there can be no change
I did believe that (I secretly still do, I think). The only thing is, because it's so easy to believe, it becomes inherently suspicious. I'd like to question why I think nothing can change people, when obviously so much has, in the past. Why do we, today, want to find everyone's ulterior motive?

I'm often reminded of Rashomon when I ask such questions. After a screening of the film once, in the discussion that followed, we were asked which version of the story we thought was the true one. It was clearly a trick question, because the most important point about the film is that truth is a matter of perspective. But one girl was emphatic in her assertion that Mifune's version was the true one. She thought that it rang true, this story of corruption and deception. This is how people are, she said - gullible, duplicitous and vile.

It's an unfortunately seductive view to take of the world because so much supports it. It's harder to recall the other people and events that demonstrate that not everything in the world is like this.

This is why I'd like to raise my voice now and say that whatever one can do - sign petitions, watch the elections with groups that are present, write in places where people will read and discuss these things - one should do. And think how much worse things might have been if people hadn't been doing precisely these things through every such event in our histories.

Other such posts: Mumbai Mon Amour, The Dishonesty of Parzania, Beginning with the protest and ending with the loo.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

on defenstrating a person you've never met

Facebook Lesson # 2:

Add as many friends as quickly as you can. In a very few days, you will cross some magical line and you will once again be effectively alone. (When you have more than, I think, six friends you can't even see them on your page unless you go looking for them. And who does that on Facebook, right? They just go on adding new ones.)

Facebook Lesson # 3:

This comes as a revelation to me. The only thing worth doing on Facebook is throwing sheep, defenstrating and biting people so they turn into vampires/werewolves/zombies.

Seriously. It gives my life a sense of purpose.

Lesson 1 here. How wrong I was. How soon I learn.

sneeze guards at salad bars

and other exciting career options.

Why do career cousellors not use this very useful graph? They should.

Monday, October 29, 2007

"Five years. People don't remember a thing..."

"Five years. People don't remember a thing here that happened five years back unless they're reminded of it."

Guess who said that.

No, not Tarun Tejpal, no editor of any newspaper, no one who yelled their heads off on The Big Fight. (Harsh Mandar may have tried to say something very like it, but if he did no one could hear him).

Billy Windsor. Who's Billy Windsor, you will ask. I will tell you.

Billy Windsor is temporary editor of the nauseating Cosy Moments, waiting for the big break in P.G.Wodehouse's Psmith Journalist. Wodehouse wrote the book in 1915. In it, Psmith helps Billy Windsor do a big story on cheap tenements and the big guys who make big money off the misery of the inhabitants. Nothing new there: politicians, gangs, cops that come after the gangs have all killed each other.

They find out that the owner of the ironically named Pleasant Street tenement is a guy who is running for City Alderman, and used to be Commissioner of Buildings. When a building he'd allowed collapsed, five years earlier, he lay low; now all that's blown over and he can come back and be Alderman, provided no one gums up the works for him. Billy and Psmith are trying to do precisely that. It is in this context that Windsor says, "People don't remember a thing here that happened five years back unless they're reminded of it."

Not unnaturally, I was reminded of the contents of the latest issue of Tehelka while reading all of this. Sure, tenement buildings do not compare with genocide, but remember that the book was written in 1915, before the term 'World War' was coined; before trench warfare and weapons of mass destruction became commonplace; before every dictator was also a butcher on a grand scale.

Then, as now, there was the default cynical view that one only needs a little time before everything - even the most horrifying crimes - can be forgotten; that a little relentless spin will transform a very culpable, unrepentant monster into a messiah for development; that the state machinery will side with said monster, never mind what they know to be the truth.


Friday, October 26, 2007

QC does a 1000!

For the two or three of you who didn't already know, Questionable Content has it's 1000th post up, with nekkid lediss, risqueness and business as usual.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Creature Discomforts

On Asthachal hill, my son is off exploring while I take statutory photographs of beautiful sunsets. I do a double take as he turns tails and runs back.

Turns out there are more than 200 monkeys in RV now. According to some Class 8 boys, they push open mesh doors, come into their rooms, steal clothes and contraband food.

My son is hearing his first horror story.

Many days later, on our first night in Bangalore, I hear him mutter to himself in bed.

'In Rishi Valley there were monkeys. In Hosur there were rats. Here there are many dogs.'

He forgot the mosquitoes but what does he know about what's really dangerous.

I'm aware, of course, that I either get my 'look' wrong while juxtaposing these two photos together or getting the order wrong; ideally, the monkey should come first - on the left - and the boy running second. If I'd done that, it would look as if the boy was running towards the money, which is all wrong.

But I wasn't thinking of blogging this while I was taking the photos, so what to do. If I was doing my editor thing, I'd grumble about camerapersons who make mistakes while shooting and expect the editor to make it all right on the table.

Of course, I could have flipped the running image. But I'm lazy like that. That's why I stopped editing.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Rishi Valley

Fourteen Year Later

Our Volvo bus from Hyderabad is late by about an hour. I’ve been up for an hour and a half watching the dawn slide off the railway tracks that cross and re-cross the road on which we are. It is the old meter-gauge railway line that’s no longer used.

At 7.15 the bus drops us off at a village with an unpronounceable name. A van from Rishi Valley is waiting for us. We enter the mouth of the valley and watch Lion Rock standing sentinel as it always has done. As I point out landmarks to my son, the driver realises I’m an ex-student and becomes chatty.


As I go through the routines of bath, breakfast, assembly I’m filled with a sense of relief. I had imagined that this place would be strange, smaller than I remembered, darker and more inadequate. It most certainly isn’t that; but this feeling inside me as I let the silence seep in, is not nostalgia. Nostalgia is inherently false and tarnished. Nothing can live up to it. Being back here is not an act of remembrance; it is of a return. Something umbilical ties me to this place. It is home, so I do not resent the changes that have taken place in the time I’ve been away. In fact, I delight in rediscovering the old and marvelling at the new. I’m amazed that I’ve forgotten nothing: every tiny ritual – the silence bell before lunch, the day divided by the ringing of the big bell – the routes, names, paths and activities.


From the Principal’s office one can see Boat Rock – a fanciful piece of granite perched on top of a hill. Excepting only our talk, the silence is complete. If the leaves rustle, or if there is a snatch of birdsong, it is so fleeting as to be almost unnoticeable. Perhaps it is only my citified ear, used to more noise, unable to detect sounds in lower registers. Given time, I might be able to separate all of this. Even the new lab being constructed just outside the senior school building seems to rise without any sound.


There’s been a lot of construction going on in the school. As we walk around, I can see the lab coming up and at least two other buildings on the way to the Big Banyan Tree. There is steel and cement lying about; there are construction workers. But they seem to work silently. I don’t know how they do it. No construction in the city seems to take place without a large amount of noise and dust.

In the fourteen year I’ve been away, several new buildings have come up. I’m not sure how old each of these buildings is but they seem to merge seamlessly with not only the old buildings but also with the trees around them. I had imagined that the place would have had to be scraped and raw on the surface; to go through a necessary phase of ugliness before turning beautiful. But these buildings, held safe within the nest of surrounding trees, don’t look like they have disturbed a single thing while they came up.


On the first day I drag my son to every single place I urgently need to see: the Big Banyan Tree, the Junior and Senior Schools buildings, the new library, Asthachal (which now no longer takes place because of the mosquitoes) and a short way up Cave Rock hill. I want to see everything at once so that I will have time to see it all again, at leisure. By the end of the day, my son is exhausted. His seven year old legs have walked more than ten kilometres all told, and he’s ready to pass out. This happens every single day that we are there. We walk and walk and walk until he gets cramps in his legs and at night he’s asleep almost before he’s changed into his night clothes.


The Big Banyan Tree was rumoured to have died. This is the tree that J Krishnamurti saw and decided he wanted his school be where the tree was. When we were in school, the area surrounding the tree had been cemented up to allow for performances under the tree. Stone benches were laid out around in semi-circles.

The benches still stand, but the cement has been removed. It appears that they were choking the tree and because the tree couldn’t put down its aerial roots it was dying. There must have been other reasons. Whatever the problems, the tree seems to be reviving now, though it looks more sparse and bleak than it used to.

The first evening there is a dance performance. We used to have ML Vasanthakumari living on campus and the Bharatanatyam performances used to be full-length ballets done in collaboration with Kalakshetra. MLV Akka, naturally, used to compose the music for the whole ballet and sing. (I’m trying hard not to say those were the days!)

Now, however, there is no one with the stature or the inclination to do things on such a grand scale (this is a separate post altogether, this business of the education at school) and so the children put up several individual pieces, moving from Allaripu to Jatiswaram to Tillana.

The performance is in the open air, just outside the auditorium. Between each dance, the sky drops like velvet on us and I can’t remember seeing as many stars in the sky in the last 14 years. The Milky Way is clearly visible, as is Scorpio. I used to be able to name more constellations but now I can’t remember any. All around me the children take this utter darkness for granted and worry more about the dog in their midst.

The performance is, I’m afraid, rather mediocre. I feel disinclined to excuse it because they’re children. If you’re learning dance, at least the first thing you ought to get right before you’re allowed to perform, is your posture. Not one person dancing that evening got that basic thing right. Half-way through, I decide not to put my son through this any more and we leave.


The second evening, there is a film. Nothing we want to watch, so we hang out with Vidya. Vidya and her husband, Kartik, run the rural medical centre. It is a much bigger set-up now than it ever was. This is separate from the ‘hospital’ meant for the school.

Vidya seems to do work outside of her responsibilities at school. She has some slides she must examine and write reports on before sending them off to Madras. My son has a lovely time looking through the microscope, playing with Kartik’s dinky cars and reading Asterix comics.


Sunday is a packed day. There are matches in the afternoon – handball for the girls and football for the boys – and folk dance before dinner. After dinner, the school has arranged for a reading from my book, in the Library.

The girls match is sharper and more exciting than the boys’ football. There, the boys kick the ball with more enthusiasm and less skill, with no idea of how they’re contributing to the game. This same spirit of happy mediocrity I notice once again during folk dance.

I remember more dances than I thought I would but I notice that they’re dancing them differently. I must be getting old, but I can’t but call it a corruption. Every step, separate and purposeful is elided over and made into one continuous sloppy movement. Sunil, who is now in charge of folk dance, can’t tell the difference because he doesn’t know most of these dances. They were taught when we were in school and he wouldn’t know a right step from a wrong one. But I do and I can’t bear to watch my favourite dances being butchered the way they are. We leave for dinner and wait outside the dining hall.


After dinner, nearly all of the senior students turn up, in addition to the teachers. The mezzanine of the library, which has been built for such purposes, is full. I had asked earlier if I could sell copies of my book and the school had said I could.

When I stop, it is nine. After only a few questions that the teachers start to ask, there are several kids with their arms up in the air. The questions come rapidly for the next hour, some of them very interesting ones and some others that are usual but don’t sound annoying coming from these children.

One boy asks me if I feel weird hearing English read aloud. I say no, but I want to answer this at greater length. I remember that sense of embarrassment when hearing ‘My heart is beating’ from Julie. I know what he means, in a way.

There’s a question someone else asked me that I know is important but I can’t remember it now. Maybe it will come back later.

At the end of the reading, I find I’m six copies short. I tell the school office that I will courier the copies when I return.


The next day, it’s time for us to leave. The taxi arrives at 10 and after some minor wrapping up and saying all our goodbyes, it’s time to leave. As the taxi turns on to the main road, I realise that I haven’t taken a photograph of Lion Rock at all. I hope that it will be there the next time I return and make a vow to not let another 14 years slip by before I make another visit.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Giornale Nuovo

It's weird to come across a blog on the day it decides to retire. I've spent the last half an hour or so there, and I'm following, especially, the adventures of Pulcinella, but the rest of it is pretty amazing too.

I'm reluctant to reproduce the illustrations here, since misteraitch, who wrote the blog, doesn't seem to have permission either.

So just go look. And say goodbye.


In Defence of Madeleine and The One Dollar Dickens

Sometimes the naming of things is the stuff of myths. It is the act of creation, the bringing into being by forming sound, shaping destinies with a few well-chosen syllables.

This is why mothers spend months agonising over lists of names, why people go into five star hotels for entire weekends and subsist on coffee and liqeur chocolates so that the right name can be found for a product.

But sometimes, if you cannot find exactly the right name for something, it is better to leave it unnamed.

Or so I think.

When I asked Anindita how she thought of names for her poems, I had this in mind. She turned the question back to me, and I said that mostly I don't title my poems; I just pull out the first line and stick it in the title. But really, there are so many ways to name a poem.

Sometimes the title comes first

At Koshy's, Anjum was telling us about this restaurant where she's had lunch. It was called Madeleine. She'd told me about this place earlier that afternoon, and I had said, Madeleine, as in Proust? Again, at Koshy's, Jeet drew a line between the restaurant and the author. See what I mean? there's something to be said for the names you choose.

Earlier, Anjum had expressed her dissatisfaction with the food; now that Zac was drawing broader brushstrokes and comparing the crepes unfavourably with the dosas at the nearest local place, she was compelled to find nice things to say about it.

Which was when I said the first part of the title of this post.

'Hey! There's a poem in there!' Anjum said.

A couple of days later, on email, a friend told me about a couple of Dickens found on the pavement for a dollar each. One Dollar Dickens has a ring to it, doesn't it? Another poem there.

Sometimes you spend more time on finding the title

The poem writes itself easily enough. But somehow, making the first line do all the work is not an option. You feel that if only you had the exact, right title, it would do something more for the poem.

So, like Pirandello's characters, you set out in search of a title - each word in your first line with a bundle tied at the end of a stick, all its worldly belongings in there, with a song on its lips and sturdy footwear on its feet for the long dusty road ahead.

Sometimes the title is the first line

There's a Roger McGough poem about this. I just can't find it. The title is the first line and the first line of the poem is really the second and so on.

Ideally, the first line ought to be in bold, or typographically, but not physically, separate from the rest of the poem.


there are times when you're not sure which came first because it doesn't matter - everything is organic and whole, and yet clever (not a dirty word here) and perfect.

Yes, no?

Sunday, October 21, 2007


We were supposed to have lunch with Sarita, who was organising the reading. I was cool with the idea, sort of, because I was staying reasonably close to wherever they were likely to choose (unless it was some Udipi in JP Nagar or something). But - given the traffic - the thought of turning up in town five hours ahead of a reading because you couldn't go back and return unless you had Scotty to beam you up and back and forth was enough to give you an asthma attack, we decided to meet at the coffee shop attached to Crossword two hours in advance of the reading.

My son and I, always unpunctual, turn up at half past four instead of five. Turning down the aisle with the DVDs, we bump into Sarita, who seems like a soul twin cut adrift - I've never met anyone else who turns up for everything as early as I do and who lurks furtively until it's time to show face. But Sarita is early, we find out, because she needs to get things organised. As we sit in the coffee shop, we see Crossword altered: shelves are carted away, big backdrops appear, as do tables and more chairs than are likely to be filled.

Anjum Hasan joins us soon. Her husband, Zac, had broken his leg a few months ago but will be coming for the reading. I'm secretly gratified, because given the nature of his fracture, I know what an effort it is for him. We've things to discuss, and I'm happy I'd chosen what I was going to read and timed it earlier in the morning. I will be reading two long poems instead of the usual one and I'm more than a little worried about my cough. What if I bend over and start hacking and gasping as if I was being turned inside out, just as the most solemn and breath-consuming poems are about to begin? And with two hours ahead, there's a lot of talking to be done.

People turn up. The chairs fill up. Except for JJ, none of the people here today came for my first reading in Bangalore, so there are no familiar faces. A couple of old school mates - one of them, at least completely unrecognisable (it's a good thing I was told her name. I'd have had trouble remembering) - and a friend from Hyderabad being the only exceptions. Anindita comes in wearing a pink kurta. Practically the first thing she says is, I was wondering if you'd be wearing your pink sari! (I'm not. Why would I repeat clothes? Jools, yes; but not clothes).

It's past seven and the place is more full than I'd have thought - about 35 people. We've spent the previous hour trying to find things for Sanjay - the face of TFA - to say about us. He wants the dope. Anindita and I are reticent. I think Anjum should introduce me, as does Sanjay, but Anjum doesn't want to. She wants to sit and enjoy the reading, and I don't blame her. Finally, armed with the few impersonal lines he has, Sanjay invites us on stage and the reading begins.

Anindita goes first. She said to me that she was nervous but she doesn't look it at all. She has a bunch of printouts that she reads from. We have a lectern, which is better than just a mike. I like to read standing up, but never know what to do with my hands. A lectern is like a table cloth - much can happen unseen behind it.

Anjum had suggested that I should start the questions, because of the awkward silence that drops on everyone straight after the reading is over. I write down the names of the poems, though frankly, not much else registers. I'm looking at my list, wondering frantically if it's too short - I thought I had 20 minutes, but Sarita says I have 30. Midway through Anindita's reading a fly buzzes around her face and the mike. But Anindita handles it really well, shooing it away and re-reading a few lines. Two other things I remember: spontaneous applause after her poem, 'Medusa' and one poem that starts with the 'Dover Beach' line, 'The sea is calm tonight'. Oh, and the Ghazal she ends with.

My turn. I have my notebook with the reading order, and I start. I'm aware of a comment someone made the day after my reading in Rishi Valley, that I ought to give a little more time between poems, for the listener to absorb the words. I rarely say anything by way of explanation - a point that came up in the after-reading interaction at Crossword - so I move from one poem to another almost without pause.

I'm reading very different poems than usual. I've done ten readings in the last three months and I'm sick of the poems in the book. Nearly the only considerations I have are that the listener hasn't heard anything before and I owe it to her to read as if for the first time; and the ways in which I change the reading order gives me a chance to reshape the manuscript, as it were, so that unusual juxtapostitions emerge. But the second is only for me; the audience can have no reason to be interested in reading orders.

Mid-way through my reading, the music, which had been turned down early on, starts to get loud. In the middle of 'Hospital Catalogues', which is practically my showpiece poem, I'm competing with whatever the crap it is on the speakers. As I'm reading, I notice Sarita whispering to Jeet, who gets up and goes away somewhere; other people turn around. I'm surprised I don't stumble through my reading. There's something to be said for knowing one's poems 'by heart'.

I end with the last poem in the book. It's one I've never ever read before, because I've always thought it was too long to hold anyone's interest when read aloud. But I'm surprised to find that it does hold the audience, except for one little bit midway though the third section.

So to the inevitable awkward silence. But since I'd promised to start, I do, with some questions to Anindita. The discussion moves elsewhere. Anjum, who refused to ask questions unless she really had something to ask, had something to say about the choice of subject. She asked it of me, with regard to 'Hospital Catalogues' but I think it was meant for both of us. (Later, at Koshy's we continued to talk about this intermittently, through other conversations. But this is another story.)

This was one post-reading discussions that threw up some interesting points, among them the uses of irony in poetry; the importance (and the lack of) good writing about poetry in India; and the inevitable question about form.

After the signing (and collecting of book coupons!) we severally repaired to Koshy's to wet our whistles. The best compliment I got that evening was when Anjum and Zac both said that I read very well, with a range of emotion and pitch. Yay!

Oh...did I say that in the hours before the reading I had plenty of time to exhaust my bank balance in the buying of films? Derzu Uzala on half-price, Gone With The Wind (I had to own it, you know), and Once Upon A Time amongst other purchases. Sigh.

Those of you who were there - this is the time for you to say what you thought!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

No Bangalore without Koshy's

The day after the reading, I've agreed to meet Jeet at Koshy's. Some of us had met there the evening before for the after-reading drink, but Koshy's is the kind of place you can hang out at every day, sometimes more than once a day (as happens frequently when I'm in Bangalore).

Sitting at Koshy's is a strange experience. Whichever way you turn, you get the feeling you're in a different place, as if the architecture of the place alters subtly with each view. At night it fills with cigarette smoke, and looks like something out of an old Hollywood movie; in the morning it is part old-fashioned club - with occassional glimpses of the cooks through the door leading to the kitchens; part Udipi joint, with the men at the next table having a hurried bun and chai; part upmarket Irani, with a couple at the table in front doing the whole bacon-eggs-grilled tomatoes-toast-coffee-in-pot and cigs between every fifth mouthful thing (Wait. Was this a Sunday?'s a Friday. What do these guys do anyway. No, wait. This is Koshy's. No one asks these questions here.)

I have a book coupon for 500 bucks, to be used at Premier Book Store, as a prize I won for some writing thing. JJ, who had duly handed me the coupon the previous evening after the reading, is at Koshy's (again) but this doesn't surprise me: I've only ever seen him at Koshy's (when he's not at my readings!), looking as unchangeable and serene as a portrait.

But the coupon. After all my vows and oaths about not going to bookshops while in Banaglore, I find myself in a position where I have to. And I odn't have to worry about ruining my precarious bank balance in the process.

At some point during the previous evening, Jeet had told me about a copy of Brodsky's Collected Poems that he'd found at a book store (not Premier) where it was on sale. And because, by a piece of mathematical sleight of hand I'm particularly proud of, I considered myself richer by Rs. 500, I ask Jeet to lead me to the Brodsky.


So, this is what happens. We walk to Sankar's, pick up the Brodsky for Rs. 375 (can you believe it?!), walk to Premier, which Jeet assures me has a pathetic collection of poetry, and I find (and buy) Scandalize my Name by Yusef Komunyakaa and Hello: A Journal by Robert Creeley.


That still left me a little money to buy my son (who was with me through every minute of this trip and behaved angelically), The Adventures of Timpa: The Red-Hooded Gang. Had any of you even heard of Timpa? I hadn't!

So, wondering only how I was going to fit everything into my already bursting suitcase, we got dropped off at my friend's place, with that retail-therapy glow I've heard so much about.

Coming up next: The reading!


Black Mamba has very rightly guessed that if for no other reason than that it's in pink, I'd appreciate this:

Let's see...who gets the pink potato after me? Sur, Question, Question, Exclamation and Banno.

In Reverse

I'm going to feel like Merlin in T.H.White's The Sword In The Stone, but my entire trip's going to be recounted in reverse. And so to begin at the end, I've just returned.

Yeah. That's it for the moment. I have no idea why I still have this terrible cough at the end of one month, almost, but I do and I hate it and it's got to the point when my cesearean scar hurts every time I cough and yes, it's too much information, but if I have to suffer I don't see why you can't have a little more info than you might want to have.

So, more later tonight or tomorrow, about Bangalore.

PS: Replies to comments also later tonight, yes?

Monday, October 15, 2007

TFA Reading, 18 October

Toto Funds the Arts
is pleased to invite you to a reading by the poets

Sridala Swami, from her recently-published debut collection
A Reluctant Survivor (Sahitya Akademi)


Anindita Sengupta, from her recent work

Venue: Crossword Bookstore, ACR Towers, Ground Floor, 32 Residency Road, Bangalore - 1

Date and time: Thursday, 18 October 2007 at 7.00 pm

Sridala Swami, a film editor from the FTII, Pune, has edited documentaries, short features and commercials. Her poetry has been published in the online journals Nthposition and Museindia, and in Chandrabhaga, The Little Magazine, New Quest and Wasafiri (forthcoming, Winter 2007).

Three books for very young children, Phani’s Funny Chappals, What Shall We Do For A Cradle? and Kabadiwala are due to be published by Pratham later this year. Her first collection of poems, A Reluctant Survivor, was published by The Sahitya Akademi in June 2007. Swami lives in Hyderabad and writes poetry and fiction.

Anindita Sengupta is a 29-year-old freelance writer and journalist. She is interested in development, gender rights and new media. Her poetry has appeared in the online journals MuseIndia, Talking Poetry and an anthology published by Delhi Poetree.
So, you know, come one come all and stuff like that. I hope I'm completely well by the time this reading rolls around. And I'm considering reading more recent poems in addition to stuff from the book. What do you think? Vivek did point out that the poems I said I'd never read before sounded more fresh when read than the ones I'd read a thousand times before.
Update: This is kind of sticky until the 15th, so all new posts below this one.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Au Revoir and All That

Off tonight to Rishi Valley. Taking a bus, which I've never done before and which should be an adventure. When we arrive it will be morning and we shall be able to see Lion Rock and be ready in time for a breakfast of cold omlettes and banana jam and gigantic slices of bread piled up on a plate and milk with skin on it (though I shall be allowed the coffee). And we shall listen to children singing songs at Assembly and then wander off to do our own thing for a while. Siiiiigh.

See y'all soon!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Packing It All In

Things I absolutely, absolutely, absolutely have to take:

Some copies of the book, for Rishi Valley.

My pharmacy. Especially Odomos. (And oh my god, looking at that old post reminded me about the torch. Shit on toast with jelly beans on top); toiletries; contingency thingies (this appears to be the bulk of my packing. Girl Guides need to learn a thing or two from me).

Gifts for sundry people.

A jhola for the bus, so my handbag* needs to go in my suitcase.

This time, my camera.

Things I can jettison:

All the rain things mentioned in the last packing post.

Maybe my extra sandals.

Things that make me deflower my fingers:

How many books do I take? Will I even have time to read? Where will I keep them?

Can I ditch the camera battery? What if it dies on me? Should I take my SLR instead? But that will occupy way more space.

Shouldn't I keep, like, 20% space free for things I might acquire in these ten days? (Big Note To Myself: Do not visit either Blossom or Bookworm in Bangalore, and most especially not Select.)

Should I take one empty bag along, in case one suitcase breaks, or bursts at the seams?

Do I really need to travel? Can't I just stay at home and read travel blogs instead?

*A new one, a lovely steely shiny green-grey. BM you listening?

Monday, October 08, 2007


'Twicities' is the title of a spam mail I just got. I was trying to think of a word that described a rather complex experience, and I realised there just wasn't one. And 'twicites' kind of covers it, if what you want to describe is the feeling of expecting a certain quality of air in a city you are going to visit and not finding it there but instead return to find exactly what you had imagined, right where you had been. It's a portmanteau word.

Delhi in early October is borderline festival time. Now is when markets get into the act, stocking up bangles and bright, gaudy clothes; now is when the smoke from chaat shops settles in the air like fine dust, and when Alstonia flowers make the air sharp with their fragrance. There's something about the light that is warmer in the day and deceptively mellow in the early afternoon, when the promise of warmth exceeds the deliverance.

But Delhi wasn't like that. Hyderabad is. No Alstonias, I admit, but the mornings come with a heavier dewfall and at 11 in the morning there's nothing more pleasurable than following that one patch of sun on the front steps and watching the goosepimples rise on your arm. Our brief winter has begun.


In three days we will leave for Rishi Valley. I haven't visited for the last 14 years and I fully expect to be disappointed. Which is why I cannot explain the excitement at the thought of seeing all the old landmarks, the old rituals of food and play and school. Of course things will have changed; what has not? I might enter every room knowing I do not have a legitimate reason to be there; there will be rooms I cannot enter because I no longer have the right to - like the lab, or the AV room, or...or...the mridangam room, for heaven's sake!

But I'm looking forward to it all the same. I imagine I will do what I used to, which is wake up really early, go for a walk before getting ready for the whole breakfast-assembly-meeting faculty routine. My son will definitely want to look at the Arts and Crafts Department and do some batik or something. I shall walk around my old haunts and mourn the ways in which they've changed (what's the point of going back to school if you can't compare it unfavourably with how it was in your time, and condemn the morals and methods of the present generation?). I shall walk and walk and walk and end the day in a state of pleasant exhaustion.

Or so I imagine. And if nothing else happens as I've imagined it, I shall come back to this post to remind myself of what a good time I had anticipating my visit.


Which brings me to one final announcement (which shall also be made separately just before I leave), which is that I will be reading in Bangalore on the 18th at the Crossword Bookstore, Residency Road, courtesy the Toto Funds The Arts, who are hosting the reading. Anindita Sengupta and I will read together.

After this reading, I'll be happy to take a break for a month before I need to travel again. Sigh.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Almost Island

Almost Island is a new literary magazine edited by Sharmishtha Mohanty, with Vivek Narayanan as Consulting Editor. The first issue of the magazine is now up, so please go read, browse, and submit keep your eyes open for news about submissions!

In her editorial, Sharmishtha Mohanty says:

Almost Island would like to be concerned with writing which does not have a purpose outside itself. In times where information is seen as revelation, Almost Island would like to publish work which is in no way sociological, or a travel guide to a foreign culture, or a substitute for historical or anthropological knowledge. Literature seeks wholeness, not fragmentation, and information is never whole.

Almost Island will seek work which is philosophical, internal, individual. It will seek work which either threatens, confronts or bypasses the marketplace by its depth and seriousness and form. This market is not one where the seller faces the buyer, both having walked miles, a once a week give and take of goods, honour, and guile. This market has a lot to learn.

This first and monsoon issue of Almost Island concentrates on prose and its many possibilities. The word prose here is not as distinct from poetry, but as distinct from verse, which seems to be the only separation possible. I have included work which may have already been published elsewhere but deserves to be more widely read.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Spiritual Dyslexia

I've never been more unprepared for a reading. A whole day before I left for Delhi, I was running a temperature, which I was constantly supressing with paracetemol. Was I even in Delhi? There's no way to tell - it felt like Anycity. I remember crossing that gigantic Hanuman at Karol Bagh. And then I remember my anonymous room, lying down on the bed with the fan almost off because I was feeling cold when it was 38 centigrade outside. And I remember the plaster of paris lines on the ceiling that ran on and on, around and around senselessly. I felt like Mr. Biswas the night of his breakdown.

But somehow, once Sampurna was there, I drummed up the enthu to plan the reading, because we were reading for the first time together. We each read for 15 minutes and then did a jugalbandhi. I did not wear pink. We sat at a conference table and Rukmini Bhaya Nair said several nice thing about us. I felt like I was back at the Upper Conference Room in college, about to present a paper or participate in an elocution competition.

But people came - Vivek, though he wasn't well; Annie, Jai, with red eyes that he assured us had nothing to do with eye flu. The Mad Momma, some old school and college friends; Keki, though he wasn't well either. More than I expected and fewer than I hoped, but that's always how it is.

I'm still not well. Can you tell? I'm rambling, almost certainly I am. And I'm leaving again on the 11th, when all I want to do is be ill in peace and sleep.

More later, folks, and will definitely try and do a podcast. How does one do one?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Delhi, 4th October

You know what's coming, don't you?

The Sahitya Akademi is hosting a reading from A Reluctant Survivor and Sight May Strike You Blind on

Thursday, 4th October

at 6pm at

the Sahitya Akademi Auditorium , Rabindra Bhavan, 35 Ferozeshah Road, New Delhi - 110001.

Tea at 5.30 pm!

Sight May Strike You Blind by Sampurna Chattarji, and A Reluctant Survivor, by Sridala Swami, are both first books of poetry in English, published by The Sahitya Akademi under The Navodaya Series. The reading will be chaired by Rukmini Bhaya Nair.

RSVP: 011-2338 6626-28

So you know what this means, don't you? Blogging will be - has been - slow. But I hope to see some of you there. And more when I'm back, 6th night.