Thursday, February 28, 2008


Poor man. Now hush and let him recover.


A Serpent in Paradise

Yesterday, to celebrate Black Mamba's visit to Hyderabad, BM, Ludwig and I went to Paradise.

Paradise even has a tree. It grows through several floors and instead of apples, what you get there is biryani. Which, though you wouldn't know it reading the previous sentence, doesn't grow on the tree.

When BM called, I asked her if she had a cellphone.

"No," she said. It was a long story, apparently.

"Then how will I recognise you?"

"I'm wearing pink."

No, really. That's what she said. This after Veena assured me that actually BM didn't like pink, therefore I should be sure to wear it when we meet.

So. Many parcels exchanged hands and Ludwig turned up and we went off to sample Paradise biryani. BM was very thrilled with the fingerbowls at the end of the meal and was indignant when I sent away mine untouched (I rolled up my roti and ate the sabzi with a fork. What can I say?)

Before that we went for a drink and were invited by young man with very straight hair to flirt with one of three VJs of our choice. BM won a White Mischief glass and Ludwig and I won coasters. His said, "take me home?" and mine said, "Take a shot. Ask him out." But this was after the exchange, because Ludwig flatly refused to ask any man out and I declined to sound as paavam as the coaster made me sound. Turned out, though, that we had several of these things inside. We were also promised free drinks as a reward for answering four stupid questions but the drinks never arrived. Instead those guys got our email ids. Good thing we've all created special ids for just this sort of thing.

There are a couple of photographs but I'm too lazy to post them.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Taare Zameen Par for adults, and for children

Also on Open Space.

I watched Taare Zameen Par with my son in the first week of its release. Though I had read a little bit about the film, I deliberately stayed away from the reviews so that I could view the film with no preconceptions. Like every other adult I know, I enjoyed the first half more than the second for generally similar reasons: I liked the unhurried exposition, the ‘real’ situations and unprettified locations but most especially the child actor playing Ishan, Darsheel Safary.
My seven year old son, on the other hand, abandoning his popcorn and drink, spent the entire time until interval with his face half turned into my shoulder, sobbing and insisting that we should leave immediately because this was a terrible film. It appeared that other children in the theatre were similarly afflicted: I heard at least two other children in our row crying loudly from time to time. If the adults accompanying these children also felt teary, they were keeping a tight rein on their own emotions in order to comfort their children and not distress them further.
After the interval, though, everything changed. With the appearance of the art teacher Nikumbh, played by Aamir Khan, the turnaround from unbearable reality to easy denouement was rapid and clearly more palatable for my son. He laughed and clapped his hands and was aware – as he hadn’t been in the first half – that what tension there was, was temporary and that all would be well at the end.
Adults know this about representation: that what we see is at least once removed from reality; that though a film is set up to appear like the world as we know it, it is just a film; though when pressed we can rarely explain in greater detail what we mean by that statement. But this, in fact, is exactly what we offer our children as comfort: ‘It’s just a film. Please don’t cry - they’re just acting. It’s not real.’ And we say these things as a sort of short hand for what is, after all, a very complex mode of negotiating our ideas of reality and representation.
Classically, all dramatic art holds the suspension of disbelief in delicate balance with verisimilitude. Things should correspond with the world as we know it just enough so that we can accept other things we have never experienced for at least the duration of the act. The payoff is a graph of emotions along a path charted in advance by the director. At various points in our cultural histories one or the other of these two factors has been given greater valence.
But in the more fantastic films that are the staple for children of a certain age, disbelief is suspended with greater ease: talking animals and objects, the magical and the absurd are par for the course. They are asked not to recognise the duplication of the world in representations of it, but to see how the strange can be familiar. The bitterness of separation, rejection or loneliness is sweetened with the distance that fantasy offers in exchange for the time in which to process what is not pleasant. In the words of Mary Poppins, just a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down.
Two things made Taare Zameen Par interesting to watch in the company of a child. One: though the film is about a child, it is not made – at least in the first half – for a child to view. The experiences that Ishan goes through frequently cut too close to the bone for a child watching the film. How is a child, who has been harried to complete her homework or taunted by classmates, to know that what Ishan is experiencing is ‘not real’? In the eyes of the child, there is no ‘problem’ that has a ‘solution’ in such a film; there is only a world as incomprehensible and unmanageable as their real one. To be told, then, that what appears to correspond so directly with their lived life is ‘not real’ is a patent absurdity - a contradiction so large it is not easily digested.
After the interval, when Nikumbh helps to identify Ishan as dyslexic, it seems like a cheat to an adult because it fails to answer the question of what one is to do with children who are not dyslexic but in every other way like Ishan has been portrayed. To a child watching the second half of the film, however, this is an unexpected reprieve. It arrives on their horizon as information usually does to the very young: as entirely new but easily accepted and accommodated in their constantly expanding world. Ishan’s dyslexia and the astonishing (to an adult) ignorance of the condition displayed by the teachers and parents explain much of what has happened in the first half. For the child viewer, the film ends satisfyingly, with adult repentance, due acknowledgement of Ishan’s talent and his right to take his place in a world that has a place for him.
In this sense, Taare Zameen Par is actually two films: the first one is heartbreakingly ‘real’ in that it pushes the limits of verisimilitude; the second one demands that we suspend our disbelief with equal elasticity. The transition is not easily made but it would be a mistake to dismiss the second half of the film as a cop-out for this reason. At the very least it raises some interesting questions about how children view films differently than adults and how narratives need to be designed when both adults and children are the intended audience.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

(Poem for) Space Bar

By Heather McHugh no less, in the latest issue of Poetry.
What can I say? I'm deeply flattered.

And while you're there, do read this older article by her. Wonderful.

(poem link via email from Equivocal. Thanks!)

Monday, February 25, 2008

‘Blood is unreliable’

In subtitling films of another language, the translator has the difficult task of having to use words accurately and sparingly. A conversation on screen can be an assault of speech, but the corresponding subtitles have not only to be only a sentence or two, they have to be memorable enough so that the few seconds they are on screen are sufficient. On their part, audiences have to train themselves to read the subtitles off the bottom of the screen while also processing all the other visual and aural information.
Writing a graphic novel must be somewhat like translating the subtitles of a film: the graphic novelist must find a balance between text and image so that the one does not overwhelm the other. While there are no constraints on time as there are in cinema, in a graphic novel words must be telegraphically precise. Or so one would imagine.
Amruta Patil’s first graphic novel, Kari, is emphatically not stingy with words. On average, every page carries at least the equivalent of one paragraph; often there is only one panel on a page and a whole couple of paragraphs of text. Not being a graphic novel aficionado, I have no preconceptions and this does not put me off; on the contrary, I am struck by how text and image interact more vividly. In Kari, the text does the work of a voice over: the voice is poetic and introspective; often the text sits perched atop a single panel as if poised for flight. This is not a fanciful conceit: Patil’s work frequently invokes images of flight and falling, and the thin edge of indecision on which her eponymous heroine teeters.
Kari begins with two women on the terraces of their respective buildings. They step off, one after the other. Ruth’s fall is broken by a safety net and she survives only to leave the city, flying out. Kari falls into a sewer and survives.
Reborn (or ‘twice-born’ as she once refers to herself, the phrase uninflected by irony), Kari begins her double life: as a writer in an ad agency and as boatman at night – who will restore life to the sewers, help it breathe and ease the passing of whatever the city discards. Kari’s world is at once mythic and impossible, grotty and real - her flatmates and their boyfriends, separated from each other by carefully placed bookshelves; Kusumtai whose disapproval of everyone except of Kari is loud and acerbic; her commutes on the train – these belong to the visible world, the one that we can all accept without question. But the other world that Kari inhabits – the one containing the absent Ruth; the side roads that open out sometimes on her way from the station to work, and lead to mysterious houses and old ladies; her duties as boatman; even her ad campaigns for Fairytale Hair – these are shadow worlds that might be real or might not. Patil’s use of colour in this context is significant: except for one or two episodes depicting artifice or pure joy, she rarely uses bright colours. Her drawings are mostly black and white, punctuated by nearly-black blues, acid green, rust or dun.
Kari is concerned with birth and death. Not just the character, but the novel itself. As boatman, Kari is midwife to those who make the crossing from birth to death willingly or unwillingly. She comforts both her colleague at the agency, Lazarus, and the discarded foetuses she finds in the sewer in the same way: with gentleness and honesty. Two chapters towards the end are significantly titled ‘The Umbilical’ (which is also the title of Patil’s blog) and ‘The Boatman’. Birth – the untimely, the difficult, the reluctant and the painful – is separated from death only by a page. In the penultimate chapter, Kari is witness to Angel’s death. Kari, whose attraction to the dying Angel just avoids being voyeuristic (Angel says to her at one point, ‘Looking for your fix of decay again? Go play with people your own age, Kari.’) turns up in time to listen to ‘Angel’s drowning breath’ and watch her slip away. With delicacy, Patil shows only Kari receiving Angel’s call and then, once she is dead, taking away her cat, leaving Angel’s immaculate apartment.
Patil’s images are distinctive, with thickly drawn outlines and a strong use of vertical and horizontal lines. She references Klimt in one of two memorably bright panels. But that is a rare reference*. Most of her panels are the equivalent of close shots or close-ups. One chapter, where Kari recalls how she met Ruth for the first time, reminded me very strongly of a scene in Chungking Express (this scene also, coincidentally, takes place in a station), where two people walk towards each other in a signature Kar-wai/Doyle step-printed, slow motion style and there is instant recognition. ‘Whatever love laws have to be broken, the first few seconds suffice. Everything else is a matter of time and incident’ the text under these images goes. It might be a voice over straight out of a Wong Kar-Wai film, except he would have been talking about the loss of love rather than the finding of it.
Kari ends on a fairytale note, invoking the ad campaign that Kari and Lazarus worked on and won awards for: ‘In a faraway city where the palette was pure and bright, Ruth stirred in her sleep, and smiled.’ But the accompanying image – a full-page illustration that is neither in colour nor hard-edged and exact – seems to say something else. If this is a promise, it is an unstable one, an invitation to step off the ledge once again. If Patil indeed intends to have a sequel, it will be interesting to see where she will take this.
A short graphic story can be found here. It appears to share several concerns with Kari and makes for an interesting juxtaposition, though I’m not sure which came first. ** (link via Ultrabrown.) Amruta Patil’s website is here.
* There are other echoes in Kari. Does the Boatman have webbed feet, I want to know. Do the inhabitants of the Crystal Palace – Kari’s flat – fly out the window at night? Is their furniture suspended from the ceiling? Jeanette Winterson seems to stand at Patil’s shoulder, watching the quality of her prose with approval. There is one reference to A Confederacy of Dunces in the book, a facet to Kari’s character that I wish Patil had explored more.
** The quote that is the title of this post comes from this story.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

'more music about makeup'

The Mumpsimus is a man after my own heart. In his Obligatory Oscar Post he says:

...the Oscars are a ridiculous ritual and by my fascination with them. They are, as somebody (I don't remember who) once said, the Superbowl for gay people, and I have often dreamed of tailgating the ceremony whilst wearing my pink feather boa. (Or maybe Tayari Jones's coat. Except I think I somehow look like Rudy Giuliani in that picture.) And yet I also agree with a lot of what A.O. Scott said about them: "The Oscars themselves may be harmless fun, but the idea that they matter is as dangerous as it is ridiculous."

So I'm going to give up on matter for the moment, and instead indulge in harmless fun by offering unsolicited and utterly useless opinions on films I have seen and not seen.

I would love offer unsolicited advice and useless opinions - in fact that is all I do on this blog when I do do it (doesn't that sound like a silly song?). I realise, though that this year will forever have the distinction in my mind for being the Year In Which I Have Not Seen A Single Oscar Nominated Film.

I can't believe it myself. And it's true; I haven't. This is tragic.

So go read Mumpsimus. I have to say, though, that he hasn't, after all, aired any opinions on films he hasn't seen. Instead he's done what any right-minded person would do: rooted for the one film in any category that he has seen.

ps: he has nice things to say about Tony Leung Chiu-Wai in Lust, Caution. Ha!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

word du jour

Punk.Puncture. Punctual. Punctuate.


The man grinding the coffee beans is not in uniform. As a concession to the demands of his job he has pasted a Coffee Day sticker on his breast pocket.

Will it wash away? For how many days will he wear that red checked shirt? How many stickers does he have? Will each of his shirts have a sticker on the breast pocket?

Friday, February 22, 2008

The A to Z of Space Bar

Shouldn't that be, A-Z-but-don't-forget-the-Space-Bar-after- each-letter tag? Whatever.

First of all, I have to say how mysterious this tag is. It appears that one should not mention the people who're being tagged. Instead, one goes to the blog of the victim, um, that - and leaves a comment on a post, any post. One also takes care that no other tags are taken up on one's own blog in the meanwhile, so that when one of the tagees come to see what they've been tagged with, they don't add confusion to the mix of emotions that are roiling in their breasts.

But Dipali has tagged me and I'm being ungracious, so ignore all snarkiness and go on to the main stuff.

Okay, so this tag. I apparently have to answer 26 questions. Someone's gone to a lot of trouble to compose each question with one letter of the alphabet. So in celebration of which, here goes (I haven't actually read any of the questions, but I'm going to answer them as if this was some kind of personality test thingy and I have to say the first thing that comes into my head):

A -Available?
For what?

B-Best friend:
These days, it'd have to be the comp, no? How paavam am I?

C-Cake or Pie?
Cake, but only if it's deepest darkest chocolate. And then only a little bit.

D-Drink of choice:
Wine. Or single malt. (we are talking alcohol, aren't we?)

E-Essential thing used everyday:

F-Favourite colour:
Pink! Pink! Did you doubt it?

G-Gummi bears or worms:
Worms. Nobody loves me, every HATES me, I'm going to eat some wer-er-erms.

Hyderabad. How halliterative his that?

Books. I buy 'em even when I Can't afford 'em.

J-January or February:
February. Lovely, lovely month. And it passes so quickly.

K-Kids and names:
erm...what? What about them?

The Universe. And Everything. Including salmons of doubt every now and again, when the restaurant at the end of the universe shows no signs of service, mostly harmless or otherwise.

M-Marriage date:
Can I give my divorce date first? Working, like, in reverse order?

N-Number of siblings:

O-Oranges or apples:



R-Reason to smile:
That another day's done. Sufficient unto the day and all that.

When it's summer I want the rains. When it's the rains I want the winter sun. When it's winter in Hyderabad, I'm happy. Everywhere else I'd want summer again.

T-Tag three people:
Oops. Ought I to go back and strike out all that I said?

Now who have I not tagged? Gah. I hate tags. Ok, here goes:

Mukul. Ludwig. Szerelem.

U-Unknown fact about me:
Who knows? It's kept its secret really well.

V-Vegetable you do not like:
Can't think of any. I like all vegetables. Even karela.

W-Worst habit:
Biting the skin off my fingers. The nails disappeared a long time ago.

X-x-rays you have had:
When my collar bone broke, ditto my right hand; ditto my left foot; a tooth; lungs.

Y-Your favorite food:
To the exclusion of all else? Nothing especially. I'm not a foodie.


I now feel like a celebrity who's been interviewed for the books page of The Asian Age.

Grandma's stellar advice

The Deccan Chronicle runs a weekly column that is not so much agony aunt as agony grandmother. The questions more often than not have to do with marriage trouble and the answers are mostly conservative and pretty much what you'd expect from a grandma stereotype: with emphasis on 'family values' and not rocking the boat.

Today's column, however just tipped that steady boat from inoffensive to obnoxious:

Q: I am a 26-year-old married woman. My marriage was arranged with my husband last April and I have not been in a happy state since then. His family had lied to us about his educational qualifications. While I was told that he is an MBA, my husband is a B.SC graduate. Further, my in-laws had told us that he earns Rs 25,000 but in reality he earns only Rs 10,000 per month. My husband has a tendency to lie and has even attempted to beat me when he gets angry. I am currently five months pregnant. I don’t want to live with him and yet when I think about my unborn child’s future, I’m not certain about divorcing my husband. Please advice.

Young lady,

A: It is unfortunate that your in-laws lied to you about your husband’s qualifications and salary. You are justified in feeling cheated. But having said that let me assure you that qualifications alone do not guarantee success or money in life. It also depends on an individual’s aptitude level and capacity for hard work. While I do understand your feelings of betrayal, it would be prudent on your part to handle the situation wisely now that you are pregnant.

You say your husband has attempted to raise his hand on you, while I definitely don’t condone his behaviour, are you sure you are not provoking him by making constant digs at his degree or salary? Perhaps, your condescending attitude is getting him on the defensive and forcing him to lie to you. Why don’t you try changing your approach by being more tolerant and accepting? If he is a decent guy he will definitely change his stance. Give it your best shot and see if things work out for the two of you. Sometimes, things do get sorted out with time.

(all emphases in the 'answer' mine).

I don't know which part makes me most annoyed. This thing about 'provoking' men to bad behaviour of all kinds is unfortunately too prevalent to be dismissed or laughed off or justified by pointing out to her face-saving 'I do not condone' line. When members of the judiciary and other persons who ought to know better say the same thing, this is par for the course. It is still outrageous.

And we're talking about someone who lied about qualifications, salary and who beats/threatens to beat his wife. There's still room for doubt about whether the guy's 'decent'?

What the fuck?

Oh, you know what the most ironic thing is? The header for this piece is called: Tips For A Happy Marriage.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Castro's Tears

So Castro, with a fine disregard for round numbers, has stepped down.

There's no time like now to tell you about this wonderful film called Castro's Tears: in which Theo, a lefty oddball who collects the bodily fluids of his political heroes, goes to Cuba in search of something of Castro's that he can collect. Not buttons or flakes of dandruff, you understand, but fluids.

In his attempts to get to at least one meeting that Castro will be attending, Theo and his film crew land up at ICAIC (for permissions); consult a local santera to find out if they will succeed; and finally lay their hands on a drop or two of Castro's tears.

All faux but great fun. It's an old film, but don't let that stop you from watching it if you can.

Kitab Gossip

The Kitab Fest 2008 just got spicy with allegations and accusations; mails in support of, mails in the interests of. Brit vs. Indian, Bombayite vs. Rest-of-India - all kinds of bugaboos are being invoked. Some are withdrawing from the fest. Others have volunteered to referee dawn duels (with provisos).

Read all about it!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Short Film About Talking

In her dreams she has many conversations. At first there’s just the two-tone call, like a doorbell she ought to answer but can’t. But as people wake up they drop in to say hi and catch up. The morning slides from sleepy to frantic. Windows open out onto a world she cannot see. The screen is voluble but silent. Only the urgent drum of gtalk and msn punctuates her sleep.

Later, when a film is complete, this is how they design the soundtrack: with chat alerts to indicate that someone has spoken. The sound recordist spends his days in the studio listening to conversations constructed out of these few sounds. In time each arrangement seems to say something different. They talk about this obsessively: the frequency of pings, the most effective arrangement, even the silences that could mean so many things. She knows every sequence by the notes that rise and fall, crowd or thin out.

Just before she goes to bed, she looks at the timeline to see the audio track, dramatic and ragged, insistent to the last. In her dreams she listens to people talking, their voices clear as bells, and looks for windows and words.

For Falstaff

Do the folk at xkcd know you?

Please pass your mouse over the image to see what else the guy has to say.

with no reserve (price)

Is anyone else nauseated at the thought of all these players being bid for and everyone else salivating like well-hydrated vultures?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Nominees for Asian Film Awards 2008

My friend, Shanker Raman has been nominated in the Best Cinematographer category at the 2008 Asian Film Awards, for the film Frozen.


Also among the other nominees are - hold your breath - Deepika Padukone for OSO (Best Acress) and Vishal Dadlani and Shekhar Ravjiani (Best Composer[s]) for ditto.

Shanker called yesterday to say he's off to Hong Kong and did I want anything.

"I want Tony Leung Chiu-wai. But if you can't kidnap him, make sure you get me a photograph."

"Ok. I'll have a photograph taken with Tony boy and send it to you."

"Who wants a photograph of you? I want only...

- and here my voice took on a low, beatlemaniacal quality

...only Tony Leung Chiu-wai."

"You can edit me out, no?"


"You're right. You can't edit me out of your life."

"Shut up. Listen. I don't mind if you just touch him and then don't wash your hands until I see you next. Oh, and while you're there, please get me a copy of Lust, Caution."

"M will have something to say to me if I don't wash my hands for the next few months. Mail me a list of films you want."

Bah. Just when I was ready to talk about Tony for a bit longer. Excuse me while I go look at his filmography. I have a list to compile.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Strange Numbers

Five million hits in one year.

Doesn't it shock an' awe you, stagger and send you into a trance which is compounded of both disbelief and longing?

In fact how many hits did you have at the end of one year? Did it include more than four zeros?

Strange Maps, the blog with the wonderful maps that I discovered via Swar, has had more than 5 million hits in the last one year.

I don't know whether to go into deep depression, push up the numbers there some more or just stay on my blog and keep a sharp eye on the numbers.

I think I'll get a (real) life instead. Now that might be a strange map to include in the atlas.

RIP Ichikawa

He was 92.

More about his work on Strictly Film School and Senses of Cinema.

News via

Patience Agbabi: '69 BPM'

69 BPM

Patience Agbabi

My love’s at a delicate frequency

pulsing between lust and envy, seven

inches of raw vinyl emotion with

no gossamer/featherlite protection.

I listen to the foetal position

umbilically connecting with her

as she hits that top note twice in one bar.

My lover is a twelve digit number

a foreign tongue. Only I can fathom

its syncopated rhythm, postmodern

ménage à trois, she, me, BT. This is

the oral sexual revolution. Love

French kissing at 69 bpm.

The last dance in cheap yellow light. Over

and out. I couldn’t hear my heart beat, break.

Too much interference, too much distance.

From Transformatrix.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

search and/or destroy

I've just realised that I haven't done the blogger thing and done a post about searches that bring people here. Mostly because they're boring searches, like image searches for raindrops or banyan trees (what's with people? Really!)

But right this moment (8.42 pm my time) someone from the Ivory Coast landed up here while looking for:

"doc"of grandpa's looking for little girls 2007 in yahoo and hotmail.

No, seriously. I shoulda been one of the three investigators or five findouters (and dog). Instead, I'm just baffled. I haven't the clue.

Unseasonal Tales #1

4am. A sudden, long roll of thunder wakes me up. I unlock my cellphone to check the time. And groan. I went to sleep only a couple of hours ago. I stagger to my computer to turn off the UPS, which is going to go into a terminal beep any second now. The second I hit the bed, the electricity goes off. I feel so smug at my prescience that I can no longer fall asleep. What the heck. I have to wake up in an hour in any case.

10am. I was looking forward to today. I was going to pack my son off to school after more than a week and get down to some serious work. Instead of, for instance, blogging. But no. After making his lunch by candlelight, waking him up and nagging him until he moved his butt fast enough; after sitting in the car waiting for the school bus; after returning home and heaving a sigh of relief, I get a call. His teacher wants me to pick him because the school's policy is, no school for two weeks for those with chicken pox, never mind what the doc says. Rain is beautiful
only when you don't have to drive in it. But all's not lost. There's electricity, at least for now. After six hours, the rain's finally let up. And I can tell you haircut stories.

The year was 2003 and the month was January. If the year was new, it didn't feel like it. Instead it carried with it all the sourness of the last few months. December had been the worst. I had finally quit my job(s) and hooked off to Goa early in the year with an old friend who had become - though I didn't know it until it was too late - unbelievably weird. Returning to Delhi, to an empty flat with too many doors and windows, I wanted to run away again.

In those days, my lifeline to sanity was S. So I called and he said, Come to Bombay, no? I'll look after you. You can chill, watch movies with us and sleep.

So I went. If S was shocked to see how I looked, he concealed it admirably well and cooked for me and cooed over me. I drifted through the first couple of days, catching, every once in a while, a glimpse of K's and S's life: hand modeling, scripts, some talk about an impending Vipassana course at Igatpuri. When should I leave, I asked S. Stay as long as you want, sweetie. I'll go only after you leave. Somewhere in my head, I was ready to make some decisions.
One morning, S and K, watching me hunt for a bun-pin/pencil/anything that would hold my hair away from my face, asked if I had ever considered having a haircut. I immediately felt mid-way down my back to see if all was intact. What had they done while I was asleep?!

K started telling me about this place called Juice. Some talk about how all the guys in DCH had got their haircuts there. I was deeply suspicious. How much does a haircut there cost, I asked. About 5-600 if it's a trainee, but I'll ask, said K. I don't want one, I protested. But I may as well have shut up, because before I could work myself up into the necessary state of indignation, an appointment had been fixed. With a trainee, for 6pm, Juice, Bandra. Being broke, and not really in the market for a drastic change of look, I piped down only after S said he's sponsoring the haircut, so would I please shut up now.

At least, he didn't say it quite like that. He said, as he stubbed out a cigarette in an overflowing ashtray, I'm going to quit smoking. Oh? I asked. Vipassana. There's some hash left. You want some?

Now, considering I was in as austere phase in my life, which included, among other things, no alcohol or cigarettes (the vegging had happened earlier) I can't really remember why I said yes. Perhaps because what it would be like would be not very different from what it already was like, just, maybe, more muffled. Muffled was good.

Yes, I said.

In a very short time, the Rizlas were laid out and S asked me to roll. Now, I can do emptied out cigarettes and suchlike but I've never managed to roll a decent joint with papers. And this was not 'joint' as in singular; this was one gigantic lump of leftover hash that S would throw away in a few days if we didn't finish it now. And it needed three papers.

K declined to participate. I looked at this huge cone of paper and was already beginning to feel giggly. Half an hour later, it was time to leave for Bandra. We were in Kandivli, and were going to go by train. So naturally, I wore the most frivolous skirt and top and three inch heels. And a bag that a child could have snatched from my nearly nerveless hands. But I was filled with deep affection for the world that I knew would return my love several times over. No one would touch my bag.

At the station, no sooner had S got our tickets than he saw a train arriving on the far platform. Come on! he said and we all started to run. Up a flight of stairs, down another one and all along the length of the platform up to the ladies compartment at the end. I don't know why it had to be the one at the end, and not the one in the middle but I was happy to follow where S and K led. Just in time K and I made it and S must have hopped on elsewhere.

All that adrenaline - I could hear my heart beat in my ears and listened as it matched the train's heartbeat. I ought to have been amazed by how I'd run all that way without once tripping over the three inch heels or twisting my ankle. It didn't occur to me to ask why we had to run or why we couldn't have waited for the next train. If this was drifting, it was of a very energetic variety and if I had been on the Titanic I might have yelled into the waves.

At Juice, the girl looked at my hair and started a long discussion with me about what kind of a haircut I wanted. Just take it all off, I said. She looked shocked. I thought I'd said something very witty but choked down the giggles. At some point between her analysis of my hair and K's responses on my behalf, we decided I needed to get a shampoo.

Now, I don't know about anyone else, but shampoos at these places are most uncomfortable. But this time, even with my head jammed into place I didn't want it to end. Heck, I didn't want anything that was happening at any given point in time to end, but was happy enough to move on to the next thing when it happened and didn't want that to end.

Finally, when I sat in the chair looking at the mirror, I was ready to say several interesting things. My hair may have been just one of the things I wanted to talk about, but I cannot be sure because I was at once voluble and sleepy after the shampoo. The girl listened and if that was a small smile quickly suppressed, it didn't matter because I was smiling back at her and we were now complicit. I closed my eyes and let her get on with it. The scissors snipped and snacked at my ears and I could feel every lock of hair as it fell away from my head and curled up on the floor. One time the girl told me to keep my legs uncrossed and evenly placed on the floor so that both sides would be cut evenly. She's a trainee I said to myself, we have to make allowances. I hope to heaven I did not say it aloud. Some haircuts take a very short time, but this was not one of them. It seemed to go on and on and on. Every small change it made to my face was fascinating.

Eventually it was over. The girl blow-dried my hair into a small bouffant and brushed the small bits of hair off my shoulders. I turned around and saw K's and S's faces.

That was when I felt, for the first time in months, deliriously happy.

And the hash may or may not have had something to do with it.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Bombay Diaries: Part Three

In pictures, mostly, since it's already more than a week ago. The only thing to be said, very emphatically, is that I'm glad I didn't have to moderate any sessions. There's no way for a moderator to be rude and interrupt those who will not stick to their given time.

In the circs, I read two poems in the place of the five or six I'd planned. What the heck. It's always fun to read and folks appreciate it when you keep it short. No?

But pics. Needless to say, these are all of Fresh Off The Shelf Part 1, which Chandrahas moderated. When Part 2, moderated by Sampurna, came up I was on stage and not taking pictures.

and...we're back!

sofa sogoo, I say. The telephone wire's been strung up from a tree like a flimsy lantern and I have connection, at least temporarily. Let's hope it lasts.

How many blogspots were they again, in my bloglines? 520?! Wtf! (this is not counting those whose blogs I don't have on bloglines because I visit them everyday anyway.)

Saturday, February 09, 2008

A Catalogue of Disasters: Part [lost count here]

Sorry about the silence. Here's why:

You know that septic tank story? The one where the garden gets ruined in the interests of our health and general well-being? Well, the pit was dug. Three feet down, there was clay. Which seeped and oozed and behaved like primordial slime (do I mean primordial?).

The man in charge spends ten days - count 'em - holding his head in his hands staring at the pit and thinking deep thoughts. In the meanwhile the slime continues to ooze with vigour. We protest. The man in charge tells us he's working as fast as he can (read: to met with one galvanised iron bucket between them, emptying out the pit).

In the meanwhile, I go to Bombay and return, only to find overcast skies. Any desire I may have had to sing Cloudy! Cla-ha-how-dy! deserted me rapidly. There was also the chicken pox, you see.

Wednesday afternoon, small portions of the it started embracing the slime below. One sewage pipe was exposed and we pleaded and ranted at the man in charge. That night, after a mild drizzle, the side wall of the pit collapsed; the sewage pipe burst; the whole thing went down, taking the telephone line with it. (Yes, I'm typing this from a cyber cafe -the things I will do for this blog are unbelievable. This is also the time to admit that I feel like several limbs have been cut off and all caffeine and other mild substances I abuse have been withdrawn from me.)

All night, the pit filled with the sewage of th entire road.

The next morning was emergency. We've dealt with that. But all Thursday night bits of the pit, trees and plants continued to fall. The pit inched closer to the house. Yesterday we decided to abandon pit and close it up. I know, I know. We were fools, what can I say. Other solutions will be found but there's no phone or any possibility of it until the end of the month almost, so though I will blog, it won't be about Part Three of the Bombay Diaries, or about Kari, whch I wanted to review.

So perhaps I will tell the haircut story after all.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Bombay Diaries: Nepean Sea Road. Kala Ghoda

With visions of being stuck in rush hour traffic, I wake up really early, watch the sun rise as I sit with a cup of tea. I have three bags to carry, with assorted things, every one of them necessary. I convince myself, with no great difficulty, that I need to take a cab to Kuntal's place on Nepean Sea Road.

I haven't seen Kuntal and Nandita in years and I haven't seen their daughter, Meha, at all. The last time I visited them at their home was back when they were staying in Bombay Central, in a building I still remember for being almost one flat thin. Nandita says, as soon as she sees me, "Your hair looks different every time I see you!" I realise I haven't seen Nandita for at least five years in that case, because I've pretty much looked like this since the time Shanker took me to Juice at the end of 2003 and made me get a haircut. (That is another hilarious story. Or does it only seem hilarious to me because I was very high?)

My first view of their house is misleading: I see Meha in her room, the floor scattered with puzzle tiles. At first she is a little shy but soon she's showing me her toys and books. The rest of the house is very zen: all white and wood, with touches of grey. It's a gorgeous house, with even a sliver of sea visible between the gaps of other buildings.

Looking out the window, I see an old house, its terrace littered with dry coconut fronds. The terrace is the kind with broken tile, with unexpected touches of colour. It's an intriguing house, basically a curved triangle. Sandwiched between highrise buildings, it looks like it's been made in the spaces that have been left over from those constructions, but it is clearly older (or perhaps just ill-maintained) than those buildings. I'm wondering what the inside must look like, with those odd corners.

There's a certain amount of work to do before lunch, and Kuntal and I get on with it. Four hours later (this is why I stopped doing film. Can you believe the amount of time it takes to get the simplest thing done?!) there's an enormous spread laid out, though everyone else has eaten. I stuff myself, firmly pushing the thought of saris and blouses out of the way.


The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival is going to start on a solemn note, with memorial readings for those writers who had died in the previous year. I will be reading to remember Revathy Gopal. In the interests of not appearing to festive (I'm wearing red), I've brought along a sari in back and beige, which I change into shortly after lunch. It's a good job I always carry safety pins, because I needed them. In a while, I say bye to Kuntal, Nandita and Meha (who is one photogenic kid!) and head out.

They're still setting up. Which means that though the major installations are already up, the banners announcing the festival are still being unfurled. A girl at the Help Desk, the inevitable phone at her ear, interrupts her conversation to talk to the woman who's asking her something. She's clearly useless where she is, because she is shrugging and the woman turns around with a flounce.

Elsewhere, people with cameras are bustling around the mosquito man (sorry, no photo!) and the giant wheel made of inverted bicycles with dabbas strung on the handlebars. There are also brightly painted Revas, an Ambassador covered with fur just like those annoying tissue boxes. I think of giant germs and supress a shudder.

Crossing the road, I step into the cool garden of the David Sassoon library. The chairs have been set up. The stage is being set. Two wrought iron benches have been painted a bright green and every once in a while someone touches it to check if the paint has dried. I carefully select a plastic chair to sit on and survey my surroundings. The arrangement with the books, the light stand on which a man is trying to put coloured gels without toppling the whole thing over. A little kitten scurrying under the chairs. I whip out my camera but the kitten, being skittish, is totally uncooperative and comes out, looking very unphotographable.

In a minute, Chandrahas arrives and he tries to get the kitten to model but it is useless. I was to meet Sampurna early, but I'm told she's at Jeet's poetry performance workshop, so I head out for some nice, orange Irani chai with Chandrahas. By the time we return, the place is looking very socialite, with people hugging and kisses colliding in the air and raining on unsuspecting people.

I meet Jeroo there, who has survived cancer and had been talking to Revathy. Gopal, who I'm meeting for the first time since Reva passed away. Amit is also there, and it's a relief to meet him, after all the solemnity. He recommends en exhibition that's called, I think, Terra Kutta, but the chances of my catching it are pretty slim (sorry Amit!)

It turns out that Revathy's reading is not on first, as it said in the schedule. The first memorial reading is for Kersey Katrak. Maia Katrak talks about her father and Usha Katrak reads out a poem of Kersey's. She reads well and though there are very minor breaks in her voice, she is not overcome. The mike is passed around to others in the audience who want to say a few words.

They should vet these people, really they should. One man took the mike at the very end and claimed that Kersey was mad (only people in advertising think that's a genuine 24 karat compliment) and how he won't be missed, not one bit.

Next up is Jeet, talking about Shakti Bhatt who passed away very unexpectedly on 31st March last year. She was only 26. It's hard to talk about listening to those who speak of the dead in remembrance. Nothing one could say is adequate and one teeters on the edge of voyeurism while even listening. To report it feels slightly obscene.

We're up next. I'm reading after Skanda, Revathy's son, and before Sampurna. I've chosen four poems to read: 'Lines On Meeting a Cousin, Long Lost', 'Just a Turn in the Road', 'Carved in Stone' (which I've posted on this blog before) and 'Reclamation'. By the time I'm through, I'm trembling just a little bit. It's hard to understand why because Revathy's long gone and I've read these poems many times since. It's sad, also, that these strong poems will only every be read in light of her death, each phrase of longing and loss sounding like a premonition. There ought to be another way to celebrate her life without referring to her death.

There's another reading, for Qurratulain Haider, but we do what others before us have done: move away once the person we've come to remember has been memorialised.

Neeraj is there and I haven't seen him for several years. We head out for a drink. Mondy's is crowded with people actually waiting outside for a table; Gokul is also crowded but the AC place inside has a few tables free. I can see why. As soon as you step in, you could put your hands out and grab a slice of the air before stepping out again. I endure it for the duration of one quick drink and am grateful to be out in the fresh air again. For a few minutes I feel a cloud of smoke and stale alcohol follow me.

Finally we go into some place, the name of which I cannot remember. (Have I ever said how low my alcohol tolerance is?) I think I'm talking too much but that always happens after a reading. The place is quiet and nice, though Neeraj says it isn't always like this. There's a sign I want to photograph (and I assure you that I wasn't drunk when I took the photo; there was not enough light.) Neeraj says its a good job there aren't too many people otherwise I might have had sone tough asking to see what I'd photographed. Apparently the joint's not exactly a drop, but a place where deals are made. In a while I can see why but my mouth is sealed. I'm constantly surprised by the kind of people who read my blog.

Some time in the middle of all this, I've called home and I feel relieved to know that my uncle and aunt have come for the weekend from Chennai to hold the crumbling fort. As always, relief is tinged with guilt and I instantly start making heading home noises.

Nearing Wadala, I notice that the refineries are in Sunday mode because all the chimneys are silent. Why do I sleep so well in Bombay and so badly in Hyderabad. Nothing - not even the loud music downstairs and the call to the cops that I'm told about the next morning have awoken me.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Bombay Diaries: Friday

3am: Father has a temperature of 104◦. Acute shivering. Ice packs and much anxiety. Should I cancel? I decide to go but only after much persuasion.

7am: I feel pretty hellish myself. Not even the thought of
being on Kingfisher for the first time snaps me out of my settled gloom.

10am: Bombay. I'm fairly certain the cab at the airport has a rigged meter. Who has such snazzy new seats and such a cruddy cover for the meter?

11am: I'm right. I was rooked but taking up the issue means going out again to a cop shop and I'm not feeling good enough.

11:15am: Wadala. With gorgeous views of the refinery. (Which refinery? I never found out in the three days I was there.) And an unexpectedly large park downstairs. I nap. In between making plans for the following day with Kuntal, and reading.

The rest of the day passes in a blur of sleep and food, a walk. The walk is gorgeous, the light is magic and I didn't take my camera with me. The small blue flowers which you will see in another post looked nearly bleached white and I remember that they're the same ones we used to bleach with Sulfur Dioxide.

11pm: None of the phone calls I've made home reassure me. Everyone sounds wretched. Yet I sleep the sleep of the good. The refineries belch fire all night long.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Back, but...

Just got in from Bombay, to find a row of disasters, bookended by

  1. The possibility that my son has chicken pox. All red rashes, mild fever, some itchiness and all;
  2. Rain. The pit's all dug, nothing has happened since the days they all had so much fun burying the plants under soil. So there's plenty of space for disasters to happen.
As a result, it will take some time before I can get back to blogging proper, though there's always much to say after a trip.

When I look at the posts lined up for me to read on my feed reader I begin to wonder why I ever started reading blogs in the first place. I should stop now.*

*On the other hand, I come back only to blog about all this before several other things. So it just goes to show.