Monday, December 31, 2007


Returning from Chennai, reading Don Paterson's The Book of Shadows, I come up for air when the flight lands. Everything I read, from flight safety instruction manuals, to highlighted quotes in newspaper articles, sounds like an aphorism - fleeting yet certain:

"In the event of a water landing, your seat cushion can serve as a flotation device."

"Education is the dream for the children of most people who are exiled to India's margins, even if it is in government schools."

"Time heals so well it erases us; we are its wounds."

Yes, well. That's the year, over and thank god it is too. I would express my joy at the event more fervently if I wasn't certain that to do so would be to invite more catastrophes.

Happy New Year to all of you as well.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Readings in Chennai, 28th and 29th December

Off to Chennai today for the Poetry with Prakriti readings. My readings are:

Friday, 28th:

11am: Forum (Padmanabha Nagar main road Post office turn from Besant Avenue towards Shastri Nagar)

6pm: Landmark (City Centre)

Saturday, 29th:

11am: Apparao Galleries (7, Wallace Gardens, 3rd Street, Nungambakkam)

6.30 pm: Subway Nungambakkam.(Wallace Road turn from Nungambakkam hIghroad or M.G.Road after Taj Coramandel)

I have no idea where any of these places are*. I'm hoping that others will not be as ignorant and will know where to come!

See y'all soon!

Regular blogging resumes, despite the imminent end of the year, on Sunday.

* I still don't. I've just c/p'd the directions and addresses from a mail!

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Modi wins.

That is to say, the Congress has conceded defeat, and the BJP has around 123 seats as of this writing, with Modi leading in his constituency. But it's clear that he's all set to become CM. Again.

Not that I'm surprised or anything. If anything (else) were needed to convince me that people are, in general, incredibly foolish, it didn't need this to do it.


Shivam, now please tell me what made you think he would lose.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Anne Stevenson

Beach Kites

Anne Stevenson

Is this a new way of being born?
To feel some huge crescent personality
burgeoning out of your shoulders,
winging you over the sand, the sluggish sea?
Mile upon mile of contaminated Wash is
tucking a cold March sky into the horizon.

You can drive no further.
Look down at the thrashing water,
the upfalls of its reach
failing, failing again to take the cliff —
sandpipers hunch on the geomorphic ledge —
rock face and wave force, story without speech.

But it's one thing to pause at the cutting edge,
another to face the evolving beach, the gap
where the road stops and the dunes heap
and the wind blows fiercely in the wrong direction.

One gaudy comma ascends... another... another...
the air is rocking alert with punctuation.

Grey sickle cells cluster under a microscope.

A jumbo wasp, a pterodactyl, a peacock feather
jockey for space against moon-parings, rainbow zeppelins,
prayer flags — imagination battling with imagination,
spotted species chasing the plain — as out they float,
strong men steering their wild umbilical toys

away from their girlfriends in the car park, who
leathered from heel to neck in steel-studded black,
headscarfed against the wind, seem coolly resigned
to an old dispensation, a ritual of mating
that puts up again with the cliff-hanging habits of boys.
Is this a new way of writing?
The heroes off flying or fighting, the women waiting?

From Stone Milk

Also see.

'The Lion, The Unicorn and Me'

It takes just one year for a tradition to begin. The minute the sun comes around, patterns reassert themselves.

So, in keeping with a tradition that I declare has just begun, and which I will no doubt regret inventing in the years to come, Christmas story!

This time, by Jeanette Winterson. This is from her story, 'The Lion, the Unicorn and Me' published today in The Times:

The angel wrote it down.

Then it was my turn.

“He'll make as ass of himself,” whispered the Lion.

I did. I am. A proper ass. Present position: underdonkey. Previous history: Small underdonkey. Special Strength: Can carry anything anywhere. Weaknesses: not beautiful, not well-bred, not important, not clever, not noticed, not won any prizes...

The Angel wrote it down, and down, and down.

Then the Angel gave us a tie-breaker. Could we say, in one sentence, why we were right for the job?

I love donkeys.

(This is where I should be doing that meme about so many things you didn't know about me. Donkeys are my favourite animals. So now you know.)

Go read.

Last year's story here.


I have so many posts scrunching up in my head. But they're all, without exception, long, dissertatious (so I make up words. so what?) and take time to do. It's getting to the point when, if I have a New Year Resolution to make, it will be I Will Write Proper Posts For My Blog, Sparing No Effort However Great And Arduous.

(I've been re-reading Winne the Pooh. How did you guess?)

Among the things I've been meaning to write is an entire series of posts on crime fiction. Starting with P.D.James.

I will. I will.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ultra Violet

My guest post.



I use the word emoticons but

my navigator waves

a stern red line under it

and frowns.

It seems even emotions need

a grammar of their own

Monday, December 17, 2007


My piece on Vikalp. In Blogbharti's new Spotlight Series.

Go read.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Pink Thoughts in a Pink Shade

Since the year-end list making time is upon us, I thought I'd avoid books and films in favour of flowers. Pink ones. All from, or near, our garden.

So, in order of appearance (I shouldn't have centered them. Sorry about that.): Tabibia, Balsam, what I used to think of as Periwinkle but now I know it isn't, Bauhunia, I don't know, Bougainvillea, ditto, a variety of Hibiscus that turns pink(er) as evening comes, Geranium, Tabibia (close up), Roses, Bougainvillea, Coleus, Frangipani, Rose, Tacoma, something with pink leaves, Coleus, Anthurium, Penta, Rose, Hibiscus, that thorny cactus like plant but hybridised for bigger flowers, Hibiscus, more pink leaves, Bouganvillea, a kind of Orchid, Impatiens, Bouganivillea.


Oh - click for larger image.

Update: I find that it's tabibuia and tecoma. Who knew I had to have a Telugu accent to say the names of (some) flowers?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Genre Bending

This is hilarious!

But that's nothing compared to life at Sather & Stirling, where no one is quite what they seem and everybody has something to hide. Lois soon finds herself swept up in blackmail plots, missing persons, and sinister filing schemes, with a predatory boss and duplicitous co-workers, to boot. Armed only with her wits and her copy of the Standard Secretary's Desk Reference, Fourth Edition, Lois must prove that she has what it takes to make her way in the business world. But surely there's time for a little bit of love and self-discovery along the way?

That, my friends, is Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary. By someone called Monica Nolan. In other words, it's a real book.

I must confess, when I read the blog to which I've linked, I assumed that it was a joke. Which would have been more fun. A book that no one ever wrote, but which was so deliciously ripping-off and hoaxish...


Writing Challenge! For the Holiday Season! Bring on the exclamations!!!

What you have to do is, take a genre - any genre - crime, romance, sci-fi, wild west, spy, kiddie, rom-com - heck, even porn, if you feel like - or any combination whereof (you could choose kiddie crime in space, for instance. But I would be enormously relieved if you left out any combination that included kids and porn) and bend it until it takes on weird and wonderful shapes.

What you write has to be the long blurb that tells you most of the story. And it shall be linked to here when it's done.



Go, the game, of which Kawabata said, "Go is to Western chess what philosophy is to double entry accounting."

And this is the game he describes in his book Meijin.

I love complicated games so long as other people have to play them. Me - I fling the chess board and men the minute I'm beginning to lose. Which is usually five minutes into the game.

[Via Vitro Nasu, which is a blog I really like.]


Poetry with Pragati Day 1:

  1. Anjum Hasan – Apparao Galleries
  2. Vasantha Surya – Goethe Institute –
  3. Anjum Hasan – Subway (Besant Nagar) – 4.30 pm
  4. Vasantha Surya – The Park - 4.30 pm
  5. Amadou Lamine Sall – Alliance Francaise – 6.30 pm
Amadou Lamine Sall, the Senegalese poet, has just been to Hyderabad. He will be inaugurating the PwP Festival this evening at The AFM, 24, College Road, Chennai.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Poetry with Prakriti: Chennai, 15th-30th December

The Prakriti Foundation is organising a Poetry Festival in Chennai starting tomorrow. Participating in Poetry with Prakriti are approximately 30 poets. Each poet will read at four different venues, over two days, making this the largest poetry event in the country to date. I think.

Venues include Fab India, art galleries, Cafe Coffee Days (this is the thing that really worries me. I've been to Caferati read meets at CCD's and they're not reader friendly), institutions and book stores.

The saddest thing about the festival, for me, is that I won't be there for the whole thing. Most poets, it turns out, are going to be there for the two days that they are reading and maybe one extra day. The exceptions are, of course, the poets from Chennai.

I would have liked to hear Anjum Hasan, Arundhati Subramaniam, Gieve Patel, Sukierhtarani, Kutti Revathi, Vasantha Surya, Meena Kandasamy, Sharanya Manivannan, Jeet Thayil, Tishani Doshi and Vivek Narayanan read. Old friend, Siddharth Menon will also be reading but on the same days I am, at different venues. What to do.

Which reminds me:

I am reading on the 28th and 29th of December. That's Friday and Saturday. At the moment, three of my four readings have been scheduled; the fourth venue is still uncertain.

All other details, including the schedule, (some) poets' bios and poems to be found on the Poetry with Prakriti site.

If you're in Chennai, come for at least one reading! And if you're a blogger I haven't met but have interacted with (and, well, even if I haven't), please come say hi there? I remember someone leaving frustratingly mysterious messages here after the Bangalore reading.

Glow Cat

Cats that glow in the dark.

And exactly how are they supposed to hunt at night if their prey can see them miles away? And how is this going to help 'endangered animals like tigers, leopards and wildcats' survive if they are cloned to look like phosphorescent ghosts?

Oh. I get it. All creatures great and small can run away screaming, thus leaving the big cats safe and starving.

Human ingenuity is a wonderful thing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

All Rights Reserved

Via Harriet this article by Wendy Cope in The Guardian, where she rails against the free availability of poetry - especially her poems - on the internet:

Often the offending websites are the responsibility of well-meaning enthusiasts, who have no idea that they are breaking the law. Neither do the people I meet every now and then who say: "I liked your poem so much that I sent copies of it to all my friends." I'm supposed to be pleased. I've learned to smile and say thank you and point out very politely that, strictly speaking, they shouldn't have done that. They should have told their friends to buy the book. Or bought it for them.

I sympathise, a little bit. Someone's written something that's taken them many years to put together and they most certainly don't want the whole made available to everyone without benefiting from the exchange in any way.

On the other hand, everyone who writes wants to be read and remembered, wants to 'enter the language', as A.E.Stallings says on Harriet:

I am sure she is legally correct. But at the same time an internet chat board or blog or list serv is not an anthology out to make money. It is a conversation. Is not dialogue impoverished without recourse to quotation? Without being well-versed? Does not such quotation, when properly credited as to its source, constitute fair use? (though I imagine that is a legal concept that varies from country to country...) Imagine what it would do to poetry dialogue on the web if we hesitated to use real life examples.

People talk about poetry because they love it. To make every discussion of poetry pay-per-view is to make it invisible. And god knows, it's seen little enough as it is. Surely it can only benefit the poet to have her work where it's available?

I'd like to agree with Stalling when she says that if people read a few poems they like, they're more likely to buy the book. Then I remember the woman who wanted to 'go through my book' and return it, instead of buying it; I'm reminded of the Paterson book I xeroxed and sent to Equivocal because not only was a second copy of the book not available, it would have been unaffordable to buy two copies when the one could be xeroxed and shared.

Does someone lose out by it? It depends on what you call loss. Sure, someone did not make a few bucks on a sale. But they had one more person - perhaps more - who read their poetry.

Wendy Cope might be indignant at the money she might be losing but it seems frankly stupid to worry about who makes a few bucks once you're dead. Unless we're willing to put the production of art on an exact and equal footing with other kinds of products, it seems futile to think of it's worth only in monetary terms.

Non omnes moriar and all that.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Avatar with Rosemarino and Garlic

I'm talking about Roberto Benigni in Jim Jarmusch's Down By Law. I like him better here than when he's shouting buon giorno principessa! and climbing over chairs to grab at golden statuettes.

Watch. And I'll be back with a longish post tomorrow.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

In which Spaniard is comforted by Quan Tick

It is only now, after more than ten rather stressful days, that I can say with caution that things ain't all bad. In other words, I can sit around and begin to feel sorry for myself for missing the film festival.

Thinking about all the great films I'm missing, and determined to put salt on my wounds, I looked for news of what was happening in Trivandrum. I admit I was not looking for comfort. I had thought it would be roses, roses all the way for those attending the opening and I could settle down to half an hour of deep envy.

Instead I find India Glitz determined to make me crack a smile.

12th International Film Festival of Kerala will feature the retrospectives of world famous film makers Pedro Almodovar and Quan Tick. The Almodovar package will feature 13 films of the famous director which includes all his important works like Law of desire, Labyrinth of passions, Talk to her, Volver, Women in the verge of a nervous breakdown, Bad education, all about her mother, high heels, Flower of my secret, What I have done to deserve this?, Live flesh, Dark habits and Kika.

Quan Tick, the first of the Korean directors to bring the country's cinema to the world market will also be having a retro which will feature his eight films. This will be the first time; Quan Tick is having a retro in any of the festivals in India.

Who is Quan Tick, you might ask. Don't. Just enjoy the punctuation. I feel like my grandfather who used to read Churchill's dubious histories for the sheer pleasure of the language.

Friday, December 07, 2007

fifteen years ago, yesterday

Actually, I'm not sure why I wanted to post about it at all. December 6 was like any other day when I left at 6.15 in the morning for college. Bus, train, bus, canteen and the first cup of coffee. Classes. If something was different, if there were premonitions of disaster, I did not sense it in the morning. Neither did anyone else, I imagine.

In the afternoon, some of us were in the studio, doing radio practicals or something like that. By then there were more rumours than we knew how to make sense of. Those of us who were in a city that was not ours, wondered how we would get back to the places we were staying.

But we were the lucky ones. We were in town, we had classmates who were friends, who took us back to their homes, where we stayed for the next ten days (and again in January, for a couple of weeks). We played darts, gossiped into the night, blew contraband cigarette smoke outside the bedroom window, carefully ignoring other kinds of smoke that filled the air.

I did not have to go back to Kalina, to the flat I was sharing with a friend, which had one electric heater that almost never worked; to the road lined with trucks selling scrap metal, with the one cheap dhaba where the truck drivers ate; to where, when we did return days later, we didn't know how to ask our landlord if he and his family were okay and what they did and worse, whether they had begun counting their losses.

Fifteen years ago I was, as I still am, as most of us are, used to looking at the world through the prism of my own concerns. A few days after the riots were over and we were back at SCM, Antoine had a party at his place. I don't know if any of us felt the absurdity of it, but we all turned up. I met Sur there for the first time and many others. My life was complex and traumatic and none of it had anything to do with what had happened elsewhere in the country in the first week of December.

But in class all we ever talked about was what happened and what it mean for us as people, as a city as a country. We looked at headlines, where they were places, in what order and why. I don't know why it never occurred to anybody until then, but it suddenly became clear to us in the last month of 1992 that Bombay was never the cosmopolitan city it claimed to be. We became aware of how many places were already ghettoes, how easy it must have been for whole communities to be found and destroyed. We watched the Newstrack report where the mobs swarmed onto the top of the Masjid and brought it down in the space of a few hours.

In the weeks that followed, we gathered old clothes, paid visits to areas like Jogeshwari and continued doing what we used to do and now had to do with no perceptible change. I'd liked to say that that year damaged something that was whole before but I'm not sure I would be right to make such a claim. Sure, we noticed now how people in Bombay displayed their rat-infested flats and kitchens that stank of poor drainage and proudly declared that these buildings had only Hindus in them, but if it signified anything at all, it signified a loss of our private innocence and not a change in the world around us.

I'd like to draw clear lines through then and now and draw neat conclusions about what such events mean. But I can't because what I saw of it and what I remember of it has less than nothing to do with what really happened. I was insulated from the worst of it and it would be stupid to start speaking on behalf of those who were. So, yeah, I guess there really is nothing to say about it that does sound egregious and/or pompous.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

'Great product. Lousy packaging'

Via Mumpsimus, this fine product from Amazon, which appears to be getting mixed customer reviews. One Jimbo Jones is not very happy:

I bought a can of this about 4.5 billion years ago, give or take a few million years, but when I went to use it today I noticed only half of it was still in the can. I swear I put the lid on tight. I'd give it more stars if it came in a better package.

PS: I was going to start writing a post about 6 December and got side-tracked. Later tonight, I think.

When In Doubt...

...make announcements.

One: Friday, 7th December. Delhi.

Zubaan and Penguin Books India cordially invite you to the launch of Lunatic In My Head by Anjum Hasan on Friday 7th December 2007 at 7 pm at The Attic, 36, Regal Building (above The Shop), Sansad Marg, New Delhi – 1.

The author will be in conversation with novelist Siddharth Deb, author of Point of Return and Surface.

Please join us for tea at 6.30 pm.

Seating on a first come first served basis.

RSVP: Bharti Taneja: 2649 4401 ext 327.

Anita Roy: 2686 4497, 2652 1008

Two: The French Embassy-Krishnakriti Fellowship 2008-09.

Embassy of France in India The French Embassy - Krishnakriti
Fellowship 2008-09
Kalakriti Art Gallery
Do you have the passion to be among select few?
The Embassy of France in India and Krishnakriti present a golden opportunity for qualified artists and students to complete a 6 month internship in the art capital of the world.

Shortlisted candidates will be offered the opportunity to travel to France and study at premier art institutes under fellowship program.
  • Click here for details and application form.
  • Click here to download the poster.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Street-level Scene

The mini-market has one vegetable shop, one grocer who also does milk deliveries early in the morning, one defunct barber shop, a medical shop and the Jubilee Wine Spot. The ‘market’ stands at the corner of one main road and a lane leading off to a quiet residential area. This used to be a lazy kind of market once, but not any more. Ever since the liquor shop moved here, there is a bustle at the beginning of every month. The first Sunday sees crates of beer being delivered. By mid-morning, there’s an informal party of men crowded around the shop, which has large supplies of namkeen, plastic disposable glasses, plastic pouches of water and small change.

Drinking is a serious business here. The men talk among themselves but they are rarely raucous. One or two plug a bottle of beer to their lips and detach themselves from the bottle only when there’s nothing left in it. By late afternoon, the crowd disappears. If they have any money left, it has been consumed or invested in more alcohol for later.

Parked just outside the wine shop at around four in the afternoon, waiting for others to finish what they have to, I have a good view of two men on the pavement, right next to the large blue MCH rubbish bin. They are both ragged, both bleary-eyed and very, very drunk. On the pavement beside them is an empty bottle of cheap rum: only an optimist would consider tipping the bottle for a few fugitive drops of liquor. As I watch, a remarkable altercation is in progress.

The men are sitting close together. The older one in the dhoti and shirt tries to put his hand in the breast pocket of the other man. Each has one affectionate hand around the other’s shoulder but the second hand seems to live independently of the first. With careful imprecision, the one tries to reach for the contents of the pocket and the other defends his pockets from assault. It looks quite companionable.

The younger man finally sneaks out a ten rupee note from his pocket and crumples it up in his fist tightly the way children do. The older man, unable to reach or prise open the other’s fist and increasingly desperate, reaches for the younger man’s crotch. The younger man tries to retaliate in kind. There is something hilarious and sad about the seriousness with which they try to grab at the other's crotch.

Though neither has sufficient control over his movements, the whole thing seems rehearsed: it has the slow, coordinated rhythm of a dance class, the utter concentration of one who is attempting to remember the next step while doing this one perfectly.

A young girl returning from school stops to watch. She stands quite close to them but they are oblivious. The ten rupee note is the most important thing in their blurred, circumscribed world. The older man is now almost lying down on the pavement with the younger one half on top of him. One hand searches frantically for something with which to defend himself. He finds a large slab of granite and tries to pick it up but from where he is, it is too heavy to lift. The girl, having watched enough, moves away.

The younger one now has the money back in his pocket, which he has twisted and is holding with one hand. The older one has the slab of granite in both hands but manages to shift it to one while holding the younger man with the other. Now the battle shifts to who gains control over the stone. In all this time, neither has uttered a word or let out a sound.

The boys from a nearby supermarket have come to dispose of several large cartons full of garbage. One boy is on a cycle while two others try to stuff too-large things into the MCH’s meagre bin, spilling plastic and thermacol over the side. They stand around and look at the two drunk men on the pavement and laugh. The one on the cycle practices cycling in tight circles. Once the others are done, they all head back to work.

A boy from the liquor store – no more than 13 years – comes to pick up empty bottles. He bends down to pick up the bottle of rum but the two men temporarily abandon their private fight to defend the bottle from marauders. The boy goes away, having picked up a few plastic cups. He seems unsurprised and incurious. The younger man picks up the bottle and takes a hopeful swig.

There must have been something in it because in a moment he is retching and sick. He holds his head in his hands and sways back and forth. Long lines of spit fall to the road. The older man strokes his back and after a few moments ruffles his head. They straighten up and say a few words to each other that have all the brevity of code. But they understand each other. The younger one looks around.

I, who have been looking at them directly, suddenly look away, pretend to be looking in the rear view mirror but I can see them from the corner of my eye. The man looks at me for a moment. His eyes are bloodshot. Eventually his eyes slide away and I can turn my head slightly to see what is happening.

Nothing is that hasn’t happened in the last fifteen minutes. They resume their intimate dance, oblivious of everyone and everything and will no doubt continue until either the one decides to share the ten rupee note or the other steals it and buys whatever liquor can be bought for that sum.

We leave but the next morning when I pass that way I glance at the pavement for signs of bodies lying lifeless, or passed out or in another tableau. But there is nothing. Just the garbage bin, a few sweepers and a liquor store that hasn’t yet opened for the day.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Rainer Maria Rilke. Sonnets to Orpheus (trans. Stephen Mitchell):


Be ahead of all parting, as though it already were
behind you, like the winter that has just gone by.
For among these winters there is one so endlessly winter
that only by wintering through it all will your heart survive.

Be forever dead in Eurydice-more gladly arise
into the seamless life proclaimed in your song.
Here, in the realm of decline, among momentary days,
be the crystal cup that shattered even as it rang.

Be-and yet know the great void where all things begin,
the infinite source of your own most intense vibration,
so that, this once, you may give it your perfect assent.

To all that is used-up, and to all the muffled and dumb
creatures in the world's full reserve, the unsayable sums,
joyfully add yourself, and cancel the count.

Monday, December 03, 2007

kids, careers

Via Crooked Timber, on Scatterpool:

Because I have never regretted putting my children first in those years. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly regretted some of the ways I handled the situation, and I can feel as jealous and resentful as the next person when I compare my professional status with that of the men who “passed” me while I was on the mommy track. But not the core decision to put the children first. That decision had negative consequences for my career, but it had positive consequences, too. As they say, few people in the cancer wards say, “Boy, I wish I’d spent more time working.” Spending time with my children was, in fact, its own intrinsic reward, and my relationship with them now that they are adults continues to be rewarding. I do not mean it was always fun or inspiring. Children can be very selfish and annoying, and it is traumatic when they have problems you cannot fix. More than anything else, parenthood taught me that I am deeply imperfect, that I am capable of doing things that I disapprove of and that hurt other people. But I grew and deepened as a human being from these very struggles and disappointments. I became less self-centered, less self-righteous, and more open to and forgiving of the struggles and disappointments of other imperfect people. I feel good about my ability to sustain a rich relationship with my children despite all our imperfections. I also learned a lot from hanging out with stay-at-home moms about choosing priorities, having a sense of perspective about life, helping each other out in a pinch, and norms of reciprocity.