Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sank or Set Things I Know About Her

I've been tagged. According to Lekhni, this is supposed to be an easy one. Ha! What's easy about trawling through the archives and being made to choose one post over another. Go read 'em all, I say! You don't be lazy so I can be.

Sigh. Here goes. These are the rules:

Post 5 links to 5 of your previously written posts. The posts have to relate to the 5 key words given (family, friend, yourself, your love, anything you like). Tag 5 other friends to do this meme. Try to tag at least 2 new acquaintances (if not, your current blog buddies will do) so that you get to know them each a little bit better.

(Cut paste this when you're tagged, so you don't have to, you know, make it up as you go along and play chinese whispers with the tag. And everyone cheats with the number of posts, so don't let it worry you.)

Family: When my grandfather died.

Friends: I've just realised I don't do friends often. I quote people without their permission, yes, but I rarely talk about them. I mean, what if they've been downgraded to acquaintance? Would I still want to talk about - or even to - them? Clearly, I do. Of course, I like it better when friends do things for me. That's what friends are for: stealing stuff and being ready to take the fall.

Me? I just want to disappear, you know. Leave no traces.

What's the next one? Oh, yes: My Love. how? The love of my life? Person? Passion? What I love? I love Rafael Sabatini. The colour pink. (hell, I'd make the word itself pink if I could but they have some ridiculous excuses for the colour). I love hanging around and doing nothing, just watching the wheels.

Like (why are Hate and Adore treated like step sisters? I demand we expand the tag.) What a lukewarm word. What do I like? Watching films? Can one merely like watching cinema? God knows. Haneke. Kiarostami. The way what's memorable is often just a fleeting moment. Lizards.

Phew. That's enough, no? Now to get all sadistic.

Here are the people I tag:

Veena (who is going to find everything easy. She'll just have to find one Scenes from a Marriage post and it will have everything in it.)

Black Mamba (who'd better spill some deep dark secrets before she turns up here!)

Falstaff (I have visions of him trawling through his 700 odd posts to find the right ones for the tag. All this when he's busy.)

! (No recipes. Not unless they involve humans you love. Oh, all right. Like will do. Oh - and about throwing prizes your way: will tags do?)

Cheshire Cat (this one is such a long shot, I couldn't resist. Most likely he won't do it at all. If he does, it will be so cryptic it will be a pleasure to read. And once that's done, there's no saying it will stay put on the blog.)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Kala Ghoda Contest Reminder and other things

The Flash Fiction, SMS Poetry, Flash Essay and Poetry Slam contests at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival are now open for submissions. Go here (and scroll down to the relevant posts) for more information.

You will notice that I am one of the judges for the SMS Poetry Contest. This means that if any of you are entering, I don't want to know anything about it.

I will also be participating in the KGAF on Saturday, 2nd February and Sunday, 3rd February, in two separate events.

On the 2nd, at 5pm at the David Sassoon Library, there will be memorial readings for those who passed away in the previous year. I will be reading from Revathy Gopal's work. Revathy was a dear friend, and I've posted about her here.

On the 3rd at 5pm, David Sassoon Library, is the Fresh Off The Shelf event, where people with books out in the preceding year will be in conversation with a moderator and read from their work.

Do come for either/both if you're in Bombay and you're free.

This is the last post from me until mid-Feb for these and other reasons. Things are really crazy as it is and I've just taken on some additional and very urgent work that I have to complete before I leave for Bombay.

So though the posts are queuing up in my head, they're going to have to be patient and be all Brit and stiff upper lip about it. It might help if some of you donated a newspaper or an umbrella to keep them occupied until I return.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

'I Pity The Garden'

This is pure masochism. Or perhaps not. Imagination makes big ogres of small events.
'I Pity The Garden'.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Heath Ledger found dead

Ok, I'll admit I'm shocked. Sure, overdoses, death before 30 and all that is practically the stuff of legend, but it still kicks you in the gut when it happens.

From the Guardian:

The actor Heath Ledger has been found dead at a residence in downtown Manhattan, according to a New York police spokesman. He was 28.

Police spokesman Paul Browne said Ledger had an appointment for a massage at the Manhattan apartment believed to be his home.

The housekeeper who went to let Ledger know the masseuse was there found the actor dead at 3:26 pm local time.

"We are investigating the possibility of an overdose," Browne said. "There were pills within the vicinity of the bed."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Elegy for a Garden

This is the hiatus. In less than an hour the men will come with their things to start digging up the garden. They will need place for the bricks, the bags of cement; a place for the spades and gadaparas. Arrangements will have to be made for close to one truckload of soil: we certainly cannot tip it over the side but neither can the plants that are left hold so much soil without being buried under the weight of it.

Today we lose our garden.

Fifteen years ago, when my parents built this house and moved in, there was nothing. I know, because yesterday I took out all the old photos to remember what this place looked like. My memory did not serve me well in this instance – I didn’t remember it as anything except an always green spot but I was wrong. Fifteen years ago, our house looked raw and white, unsoftened by any green because every one of the trees we now take for granted were little saplings being carefully nurtured. In the fifteen years that followed, the garden would change shape many times but at least some trees were left to grow and grow.

All gardeners know this: that there is no room for sentimentality in their work. We plant borders, watch them shift, change colour with the season, wilt and die when the time comes. We sacrifice one thing for another all the time: the paku tree was cut down because its roots were choking the drains; the white Bauhinia and the cherry because the one was too close to the house and was growing too big for safety and the second because of a disease. We even plan the rearrangement of our spaces as we would the moving of a bookshelf or the choosing a new curtain – with pleasurable anticipation.

All these years, when my mother has asked me to take photographs of her garden, of this flowering bush or that arrangement of pots, I have silently groaned and wondered how anybody could tell the difference. After all, everything looked green and colourful and pretty and I did not like taking pretty photographs. Yesterday, looking at those old photographs interspersed between other ones of faces that I couldn’t even recall, I remembered with astonishment, every rearrangement of the garden, exclaimed over forgotten trees and plants and named each one as I would an old and cherished friend.

Why is all this happening, you want to know.

When we moved to this place, we were one of three houses on the road. For the longest time, there was our house, the house opposite ours and two rain trees. The third house was up the road from us, hidden by a curve or some other topographical oddity and never impinged on our consciousness. People worried that we had moved to the back of beyond and asked solicitously after our safety and whether we ever felt lonely in this place that was supposed to be in the city but seemed so out of it.

In the last seven years or so, the city has shifted to accommodate us. Suddenly we find ourselves in its midst, with the entire unwelcome bustle nearly at our doorstep. Gradually, we were no longer the only two houses on the road, with the third a little further away. People came and built what looked like palaces, raising their houses to several feet above road level and erecting solar electric fences.

But the trouble really began with last year’s monsoon. Every time it rained, the water would run down the road and into the drains that could no longer take the additional burden of sewage. Because what we have in this area is not a proper drainage system, but a septic tank that is inadequate for so many houses. And because we didn’t know we would need to build our house on a small hill, and because we are at the bottom of the road, all the back pressure from the overflowing septic tank meant, all of the last monsoon, that our drains overflowed inside our house.

Having spent the last six months writing several letters to the people concerned, we finally came to the reluctant conclusion that the only way out for us was to withdraw from the municipal sewage system and have a septic tank all our own. We thought with dread of one more year of toilets backing up, of the front of our house flooding with dirty water, of the calls every other day to the sewage board, the waiting for the truck that would clean the area septic tank, the uncooperative neighbours who would see no reason to share the cost since they were unaffected.

Though the photographs make the garden look rather large, it isn’t, really. The front is all we have and we’ve crammed it with as many plants as our greed dictated. Once this is gone, there are a few trees remaining that we will not sacrifice: the mango, the two tall silver oaks that are the tallest trees in the area, one champaka and two frangipanis. That leaves the plants along the walls.

The roses have already been transplanted. The other plants that will certainly be buried under the unearthed soil have been rescued. The bench will be broken. We will have to move the pot with the guppies somewhere else.

This morning the men will come and dig up the garden to start building a septic tank. In a month’s time, there will be a large, square cement structure with two or three large pipes leading up, in the place of the cupias, roses, jasmine, begonias and cosmos.

Somewhere in my head I know that this is just another change, that large cement structures can be concealed by potted plants that will cover the grey with green. But somehow this change does not feel like the organic shifting that I’ve become used to. This change feels permanent and final: an exhalation of sour breath mingling with the sweet smell of mango flowers in the early summer morning.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Liklasa's Adventures in Munchen

Also known to the readers of this blog as Swar.

Swar's been in Munich for a few months now, learning German, photographing first snow and murals, trainspotting and meditating on rubbish bins, poetry and graffiti.

From her latest post:

I say this is FANTASTIC. If this had happened in Munich where we are paying the tax right now, I would consider myself lucky. Think of it: 500.000 balls bobbing around you in technicolor. I will never forget that moment. Ask a child.

The balls should have been left at Piazza di Spagna for at least a day or two so that people in Rome could come, see and remember for themselves how it feels like to be standing in the middle of a colourful ball meadow. Excited? Dizzy? Frivolous? Do you want to stamp all over the balls? Do you want to scoop them up and squeeze them? All your bloody primal instincts will jump out of you. Just the sight of the balls rolling down the steps and scattering all over make me so full of glee.

Go! Shoo! I'm gathering my thoughts for deep and mournful posts.

Oh, and while you're at it, please check out the blog on her sidebar called Strange Maps. Gorgeous lovely. I adore maps, don't you? (Veena, this one is for you!)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Free Graphic Novels

For those of you who are graphic novel maniacs, 17 of 'em absolutely free here. Including Gaiman's Sandman Volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Caferati/Kala Ghoda Contests

All of them are now up (I think). Do go look and participate.

Note that for the Poetry Slam and some other constests, you need to be in Bombay on the date to be able to participate, but the regular contests like SMS Poetry, Flash Fiction and (this year) Essay, are open to all.

Update: There's also a Open Book Pitch Contest now. If you've got an MS, or a pitch to make but don't know any publishers, this is where you can meet scouts from publishing houses, among them Harper Collins, Penguin, OSian's Literary Agency and MIlls and Boon (I couldn't resist; but it's true! Also watch out for a post on these guys).

Go! Go! Shake your little flubber booties!

Actually, it's "Loose Dried Fruit"

The things that translation software can come up with, I tell you!


Best photo tag

Szerelem's Best Photo tag was impossible to resist but I have to admit, in sorrow, that I haven't taken that many good photos in the last year.

Luckily, there is this photo from the 10th flo
or of a friend's flat in Gurgaon. I'm including it because I realise that I hardly ever take wide shots of anything; most of my photographs have increasingly tended to be close-ups or details.

But my absolute favourite is from last year's Jaipur Lit Fest (gosh it's already been a year and I'm not going this year, bah!).

And I kind of like this one too.

A Glutton for Punishment

If you are one, head over to km's post where there's a carnival with curd and other questionable substances (not excluding the stuff that dreams are made on) and contribute your bit.

Or just go groan.


A propos of nothing, will someone please explain to me this business of ROTFL? Who does that? Not even Buster Keaton films make me actually roll all over the floor losing control over my bowels.

If it's supposed to indicate that on a scale of 1 to 10, something you just said comes close an excruciating 9, it still seems a bit excessive to me. I mean, imagine that you've just made a mildly funny remark and as reward are greeted by the sight of an adult getting off their chair and proceeding to roll around the floor in a paroxysm of mirth. How astonished would you be (on a scale of 1 to 10, of course)?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Custom Stale

You know that old I Am The Walrus inspiration? The one that goes Yellow matter custard, green slop pie/All mixed together with a dead dog's eye/Slap it on a butty ten foot thick/And wash it all down with a cup of cold sick?

Well, last night's dinner was like that. What you do, after you've had a superlative meal of pongal and twenty other things - the kind of meal, in effect, that no one except insane bloggers would decline - is this:

Take a large (very large) vessel. Pour in the remains of the kozhambu (made with seven different vegetables in it) followed by the rest of the meal barring only the rice, the curd, the fried papad and the pongal, and place it on the gas. Heat on a low flame for half an hour or so. Eat for dinner.

What it looks like actually defies description so I think I'll leave it to your imagination.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Festive Restive

I lay in bed at 6am listening to my mother in the kitchen. Feeling pressured by all this excessive energy early in the morning, I got up. The smell of roasted rice and dal greeted me halfway down the stairs. But before I could reach the kitchen, my mother had disappeared somewhere.

Every available surface on the kitchen was occupied by cut vegetables and ingredients for pongal. The coffee was relegated to some corner and much effort had to be made to heat up some milk. The pongapanai was all decorated, with fresh haldi - leaves and root - and chandana-kungumam and all. If my mother was not busy in the kitchen, it meant she was doing some competition entry type kolam outside.


Can someone tell me why this business of varying the tedium of our days and celebrating every minor shift in the skies falls to the women? I mean, most of these festivals seem to be about eating different kinds of food not available during the rest of the year (with good reason. I mean, try making some of these things every day of the year) or waking up at the crack of dawn to stare at each others' very familiar faces in a different light, and somehow drumming up enough enthusiasm in the middle of wanting to murder somebody for making you lose sleep.

But coming back to the women question - seriously. Name one festival that requires the men to do most of the work: the cooking, decorating, feeding and cleaning up. No, don't talk to me about Rakhi: it's the women who fast until they manage to tie a little bit of thread around some fellow's wrist.

As for me, my idea of a festival is one that celebrates not having to wake up early and cram a days' worth of activity into the first two hours. But Pongal I remember with especial fondness: in Delhi during the old-style film festivals - the one that used to run from the 10th to the 20th of every other January - I remember some young men from Madras shivering in the wet and cold January morning, shouting pongal-o-pongal! to each other in their thin, miserable voices. Lines of people waiting to go in to the warm theatre looked at them curiously and wondered what all this waving of leaves and festive looking pots were about. Ah schadenfreude!

Happy Pongal, everyone. I suppose.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The T.S.Eliot 2007 Shortlist read their poems

I haven't heard 'em yet, but if you're interested, here it is.


Update: Sean O'Brien wins.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Gems from The Hindu our local papers

Time was when it was the ToI that provided one's morning entertainment. Now the Hindu has, with its elbow aggressively out, ousted the ToI.

Here, from yesterday's Metro Plus, is a portion of the review of a play performed as part of the Kalakriti Annual Arts Festival:

Jashoda, in order to feed a family of 17 members, agrees to be a wet nurse to feed the children of a rich person of the village. She remains to be pregnant through out her life to feed the rich man's children, by getting food and clothes in return, and in turn supports her family.

However, she suffers from breast cancer and the family including her disabled husband deserts her and she dies unattended. The pain with which she calls her children to help her, fall on deaf ears and ironically shows how the real mothers are ignored in society.

The play directed by Alok Gagdekar, an NSD product was presented well, though it seemed too loud at times and crude in depiction which put off the audience. It also showed a little amateurish portrayal of the play by the group. Such serious plays need more control on the emotions and should be more subdued.

The use of two artistes to portray Jashoda was meant to give the mirror image and also to highlight the character. The dance form used in the play and the narration style was NSD style of presentation. The settings were simple and apt for the play. The posters of heroines, goddesses as part of the setting ironically portray the society, who worships them, but not the real mother.

It remains to be seen how she 'remains to be pregnant' for the rest of her life. Fascinating.

Also, theatre reviews on the lines of such prescriptions as '
Such serious plays need more control on the emotions and should be more subdued' make me wonder if the people writing these reivews have any idea at all of what they're talking about. The ghost of Ghatak will have to down a few to get over it.

But as usual, I've saved the best for last:

The invitees who came with their family members were dumbfounded with the seriousness of the play that many of them walked out in the middle of the play, not understanding what the play was about?

Please note the question mark at the end. Luckily for the invitees (and family members) 'dumbfounded' didn't necessarily mean rooted to the spot as well. Out intrepid theatre reviewer must have been relieved to report that they had the use of their legs and could, thus, beat a strategic retreat.

Update: Can poetry be anything but soulful? What would our newspapers do if, for instance, some alien intelligence removed that word from our collective vocabularies?

And no, I did not read out poetry. Oh my god! Does this mean I should now believe every politician who comes along and says the media misrepresented their words/misquoted them/took their words out of context?

Please also note that Hoskote is clearly not photogenic enough for the ToI photographers; I would be grateful if someone could tell me who Reema Bannerjee is.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Ranjit's reading

Ranjit was supposed to Meet The Press at half past five. Like the unpunctual idiot that I am, I brushed aside his pathetic pleas for coffee and we were at the GZ by 5. Yes, I know.

The Press - such as they are - didn't show. Two young men from some channel did, but apparently waiting is made easier when it's a film star they have to meet. They left without speaking to RH.

Large crowds poured in, however, and the reading went off swimmingly. I humbled Ranjit* with my introduction (he said so), there were approximately 60 people at the reading and nobody asked any spectacularly stupid questions (this, in my personal opinion, is Not a Good Thing. How will we mark our readings except with the questions that are memorably dumb?)

Some people said I looked stunning, others said I looked elegant, yet others remarked upon my glittery footwear. Those who turned up too late for the reading - but just in time for the dinner afterward - asked if I also read my poetry.** One well-known (at least locally and in certain circles) poet/professor languished and flirted and spoke immense quantities of Parsified Gujarati.***

Three of Ranjit's poems were read out in German translation and though I don't know how accurate they were, they sounded fantastic. Swar, you'd have enjoyed it.

In effect, a good time was had by all.

Update: Some of the poems from The Randomiser's Survival Guide can be found here.

* This business of finding out that the most unexpected people - in this instance, Ranjit - read your blog, is unnerving. Especially if one intends to write about them. How much can one say without becoming either self-conscious or garrulous?

** Of course I didn't. I know that much of the contents of the preceding sentences was about ME, Me, Me, Baby, but even so, I wouldn't hijack someone else's reading (just their display table where the books are laid out. )

*** I know better than to mention names now. The last time I did that, it turned out that the gentleman had a Google Alert for his name and once he read the post, he knew who I was and called and I just wanted a ready made hole in the ground to sink into. See [*] above.

Which reminds me, Penguin Man - the Penguin books sales rep - gave us a few anxious half-hours by losing his way in the vicinity of the building in which the GZ is. Some birds, clearly, are never meant to go south in the winter.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Short Thoughts on Performance and Poetry

The Hindu Literary Review this week has - count them! - five articles on poetry, with at least one that only tangentially touches on the poetry. This is astonishing, because if poetry gets mentioned at all the Lit Review, it is when books are reviewed. At least one part of this issue's emphasis on poetry, I suspect, is because of the Poetry with Prakriti Festival.

In the lead article of the LR Rajaratnam says of Vivek Narayanan's readings, that he

strolled across the bookshelves in Landmark “assaulting” the unsuspecting public with his verses. His reading was experimental (as is his poetry), often defying notions of fixity and permanence. Laced with humour, cynicism and bold stylistic devices, his reading up-fronted the element of theatricality, avoiding passivity of objectification.

Now, I must confess that in Prakriti's enterprise of 'taking poetry to the unsuspecting public', this aspect of how one ought to approach a reading is the one that had me baffled. And location has nearly everything to do with this question. Art Galleries, for instance, are spaces where people are not likely to wander in without purpose; whereas bookshops or cafes definitely are. So it would have been safe for me to assume that the audiences at Forum or Apparao were there because they wanted to be and not because they were 'unsuspecting' and unaware of what was in store for them. That puts me, the reader, in control of the proceedings.

But what of Landmark? How ought a poet to approach an audience that is not traditionally arranged - in chairs in front of the reader, listening with rapt attention - but scattered, and though occupying the same space as the reading, wandering in and out of it through stages of attention and diversion?

Vivek's approach of refusing the stage and wandering around with the potential audience while engaging them in conversation before reading out a poem is one way. It is radical and different from regular performances where readers take the stage, either sitting or standing and either recite their poems from memory - as Anjum Hasan does - or read them out while occasionally notating their work with brief sketches of the circumstances of the poem or a few words about the poem itself.

I thought back to other readings. And the thought occurred to me that such a radical involvement of the audience is possible even while never leaving the designated spaces that divide audience from author.


I know most of my poems. I don't often need the book in my hand except as moral support and because I'm eternally pessimistic and expect disaster (what if I forget my poem!) This gives me ample opportunities to look at the audience. I know who has their eyes closed and their feet up but who will look up sharply when there's a sudden change in tone; I know the restless ones, the one surreptitiously checking text messages, or doodling; I know the ones who look at me while I'm reading but look away when I look at them.

It's this last bunch that I've been thinking of. Why would they look away? I've taught in classrooms and read other people's work in front of audiences, and in those cases nobody looks away when I catch their eye. Why, then, would poetry affect them this way?

Could it be because poetry occupies territory that appears dangerously personal (people often want to know of poets, how much of their work has its origins in the quotidian events of their lives) so that to speak it aloud and look someone in the eye while doing so is to say, 'You're a stranger, but I'm letting you into my life. Listen.'?

Does reading poetry impose an intimacy on the listener that is tolerable only to the extent that they maintain the illusion that they are distanced from it both spatially and emotionally? That is is okay for the audience to watch the performer, but the minute the performer watches the audience watching her, some barrier has been dissolved?

And what does this say about methods of performance and how to adapt them to locations where such strategies are not possible - such as Landmark, where eye contact is not possible except where it is imposed on the listener by other means such as Vivek adopted?

I don't know. Any thoughts?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Ranjit Hoskoté at The Goethe Zentrium on Friday, 11th January

Ranjit Hoskote will be reading from a new manuscript (The Randomiser's Survival Guide) at the Goethe Zentrium, Hermitage Building, Hill Fort Road, Hyderabad, on Friday the 11th of January at 6.30 pm.

In the poetry reading session, Ranjit Hoskoté will read from his new manuscript, a suite of 80 poems that follows his Vanishing Acts: New and Selected Poems 1985-2005 (Penguin, 2006).

Ranjit Hoskoté will be introduced by Hyderabad poet Sridala Swami.

So now you know.

All are, I need hardly add (since I'm posting it here), welcome. So Ludwig, Kuffir, Sheetal, Shweta, if you're reading this, please come!

I understand the poetry reading is going to be competing with the Nizam - the last one, the one who rears sheep in Australia - who will be opening something or the other. We will open only books at the poetry reading.


These invitations are something else: here I'm described as 'Hyderabad poet'. What does that mean? That I write about Hyderabad mainly? Do they mean 'Hyderabad based poet'? How does location matter?

The second funny invitation was for some Poetry thing that's happening at the Hyderabad Central University later this month. Yesterday, I found that I had been conferred a doctorate without my knowledge. Yes. I am Dr. SS and I didn't even know it. I wonder what my dissertation was?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Daemon Achaean

Via Jai, I land up at The Golden Compass website, where they do 20 questions for you to find out what your daemon is.

Mine, nicely named though it is, turns out to be a rabbit. Or a hare, depending on how charitable you're feeling.

I protest. I want to be something more breathtaking, majestic and romantic. I want a Heathcliff equivalent (my daemon must be a male, according to the rules.); not some waffling, timid creature always fishing out ineffectual watches from its waistcoat.

Here's your chance to rectify this iniquity. Go here and some questions and change my daemon for me, pretty please.

(I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel for posts here, aren't I? What will I post next? Quizzila personality tests based on what drink someone likes best? Bah.)

Nail Biting Finish

Blogging will be slow or non-existent. (Yes, I've said this before many times, haven't I?)

This time there's a very good reason. I have whitlow'd my thumb and now I can barely type. Do you know how difficult it is to hit the space bar with any other finger than the thumb?

I briefly considered taking a photograph of the infected nail for your collective edification but, you know, the dexterity involved in negotiating cameras, cables and what-nots is making me faint.

And I have much driving to do today. On the assumption that thumbs, like batteries, have only so much stored up energy, I need to save it all for the steering wheel.

Now I feel like some lower life form.


Monday, January 07, 2008

Kala Ghoda Competitions Part 1

The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2008 has so far announced two competitions: The Short Film Competition and the Lantern Competition.

The Latern Competiton submission date is the 10th (sorry about the late announcement!) and the short film on the 26th.


Expect more announcements shortly. I'm going to be the town crier for a bit.

Update: The Open Mike Sessions and The Open Screen Sessions.


Did you know that moths make a sound? Neither did I. This morning, I found a giant moth near the front door. It had either got in the night before, or earlier in the morning when it was still dark out and warm inside, when I'd gone to unlock the gate.

I fetched a broom and gave it a soft whack to stun but not kill it. That was when it made a sound and made me jump out of my slippers. It was a cross between a mouse's squeak and a door creaking in the wind: not so long drawn out, but sawn off at the start.

That's how I knew that though I'd made gathering gestures with the broom, I'd still left it behind. I picked it up more carefully the second time, and felt through the broom how solid the moth was. it had weight...did you know? If it sat on a leaf, the leaf would bend under the weight.

The moth squeaked a little more and tried to move. I wonder if it will survive. What - apart from lizards - eats moths?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The 2nd Hyderabad International Film Festival

Starts tomorrow. Schedule can be downloaded from here (Films and Schedules).

I won't be watching anything this year. In any case, barring only the Im Kwon-taek package there's nothing especially interesting.

But for those of you who intend to go, just remember that the films seem to be mostly at Prasads and Amravathi in Lakdi-ka-Pul, right next to Global Hospital. Parking will be a bitch and god knows what the screen, projection and sound will be like. Not that Prasad's is much better; when they're not working hard towards piercing your eardrum, they're turning off the projection before the titles have run.

Praba, if you're going to be here, please mail me.

Paternity Leave

In the context of this post see this one on Crooked Timber arguing for paid paternity leave.

In India, as far as I know, the only place that has a policy of two-week paid paternity leave is NDTV. This was way back in the late 90's even, with plans for a cr
èche at the workplace. Wish there were more places like that.


Preps for my two days at the Poetry with Prakriti Festival began days earlier. Either I am prescient, or just paranoid but I figured I'd have no time to decide what I would read if I didn't Plan In Advance. But being also naturally procrastinational, every morning for a week before I had to leave, I'd open the folder with my new poems, look at each one of them, trying to decide which I wanted to read (although I would, naturally, read from my book, I was sick of the damn poems in them.) Mostly I'd land up tinkering with them, checking mail, kicking vampire ass on FB and frittering my time away most satisfactorily.

Finally, with one night left, I sat down and made a plan of ALL four of my readings. I have to admit that this is one of the most satisfying activities ever. I can sit for hours rearranging the order of poems, finding in every new ordering strange confluences and connections.

I have to also say that my major trauma about packing this time included wondering how I'd pack all the copies of my book in a tiny suitcase in addition to all the things I consider indispensible.*

It's a good thing I'd taken all this trouble. Once in Chennai, I didn't have any time to even look at the list or the book or my new poems before any of the four readings. Don't ask.

Friday, 28th December. Forum Art Gallery, Adayar.

The first reading is always the most anticipated. That's because one has no preconceptions. I don't know how I will get there, what the place will be like when I do (though I do crane my neck when we reach Padmanabhanagar, hoping to identify the house in which I spent a couple of days each vacation in a high fever with tonsilitis).

What I do know is that at least three people I know will be there at this reading. Two of them are family; one of them is a school teacher I haven't seen for more than ten years, but who was pretty much in loco parentis through all my years at Rishi Valley.

Forum is a lovely little space, cool and green. There's an exhibition of Korean ceramics and stuff on but there's still enough space to accommodate about 15 chairs. I wonder if that's too many, going by the reports I've been hearing of readings so far. the mic is being set up and though I don't know it yet, this is the best sound I will have of all the four readings.

The first ten minutes are spent catching up with Uma akka and Dipali's old teacher, who appear to know each other. People start to come and settle down. The place looks reassuringly full. Sivakami, one of the organisers of the PwPF, and a poet in her own right, introduces me and I begin. The reading is informal, with people requesting me to read some poems again (I was trying out some stuff I'd never read before, primarily because I think some poems work better on the page. If I was going to experiment during this festival, this was clearly the audience to do it with.) The new poems came towards the end, though I did return to the book before I finished.

Reading over, people came to buy copies, get them signed and introduce themselves. I met Rahul, who stood at the door to the gallery through the reading, taking turns with his wife to hold on to their baby (who behaved very, very well), and a couple of Caferati folks.

Regrets: I wish that I'd read out 'The Twinning of Cities' here. I never did read the poem out, because it's a very long one and there was no other audience, in retrospect, that seemed attentive enough or responsive enough.

Cheshire Cat didn't come. Bah. (Since regrets, like joys, ought to be multiplied, or at least transmitted asap, Cat, you will like to know that I read out a recent poem called 'Mise en Scène' which is mostly a meditation on Kiarostami's films. Ha.)

Also, no photographs. I remembered only much later. After all the readings were done.

Intermission (Part 1). Vasanta Vihar, KFI.

Uma akka was waiting to whisk me away. We had already made plans for lunch. Siddhartha Menon (his bio, for some strange reason, has Vivek's poems and things), an old school friend who now teaches at RV and who was reading on the same days as I, at different locations, was also to come. Uma Akka and I went ahead, jabbering away as soon as we sat in her car. There was much to catch up on and we got on with the business of filling up the last decade or two. I can safely say that we got to only the introduction by the time we had to leave.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The KFI is a lovely old place, with the kind of white, cool buildings from early in the last century. Sid joined us shortly and many conversations took place but with the unhurried peace of the place itself. It turned out that because of my bio at the PwP site, Siddhartha had been reading my blog. Especially the post on Rishi Valley. We talked about some of the things I said in that post, and Uma Akka joined us with many things to say about the whole issue.

The most bizarre thing about the two hours or so I spent there was how many times people recognised me. It was, truly, weird. The office folk, the ones who deal with videos and books covers and photographs I can understand; but some other lady, someone who was obviously there to visit the study centre, came up to me after lunch when we were washing up, and asked me if I was the girl in the video, the one who said dah dah dah and K held my hand and said something something. I said yes, but I'm astonished. Not least because I can't have changed so little...can I? Come on!

This is also surprising because - I don't know if this happens to anyone else - but it's not often that I can recognise people outside their context. I see a doctor from the hospital at an art gallery, and I know I ought to recognise him, but can't. Or a parent from school who keeps looking at me at a movie theatre, expecting me to know instantly who they are. Now, if the doc had come to the gallery in his OT clothes or the parent had a sign saying S's Parent, it would be much easier.

Intermission (Part 2). Landmark, City Center. Atrium.

Vivek had more or less said he could not make it to any of my readings, but we were going to meet and hang out for a bit. He was already waiting, looking very spaced out. Turned out that he was only chewing over a few lines of something he was writing.

I hate malls. They are noisy and full of people I wouldn't want to meet anywhere. (Barring only friends I've agreed to meet at these places!). Vivek had several things to say about the sounds at malls.

He had mailed me one copy of The Book of Shadows earlier but it got lost in transit. Very sweetly, he undertook to make another copy and had brought it with him. We were like shifty mafiosi, effecting a complex exchange of goods in the most unobtrusive manner possible: books, poems, low-voiced conversations. Someone ought to speak softly at malls, after all!

We exchanged copies of our books which we'd agreed to sell at the others' readings. Vivek gave me two copies. (Vivek, you'll be happy to know that I sold both.)

Oh, and we had a mini reading right there. Since I'd never heard him read his poems, and he wanted to hear some of my new work, we sat and read stuff out to each other. It was more fun than the reading that followed, I can tell you.

Friday, 28th December. Landmark, City Center.

We went upstairs to check out the Landmark (Vivek was going to hear Siddhartha read at the other Landmark, in Nungambakkam) and watched the guy set up. Vivek left and I quietly panicked: the place had more crystal and watches and other stuff than books. I swear to you, it looked less like a bookshop and more like a mela. There were distinct sounds of people haggling. Or at the very least, having a fight over some goods.

The Landmark people had a raised platform with a lectern and a chair. I refused the chair but a photographer from the Hindu insisted that I sit in it and hold my book up and pretend to read. By this time, family had arrived, as had Eric, who though not an organiser, had heard nearly every poet read, sometimes more than once. He warned me that the cordless mike was a bad one and that I should take the other one. For some reason, this appeared to offend the person who was setting up the regular mike and he made a great show of disconnecting everything and beginning to walk off. Eric apologised; the manager cajoled the dude; my panic threatened to become a thing on a grander scale.

Family occupied four of the seven odd chairs arranged. Every reading is supposed to have a volunteer, and so far only Suresh, the guy deputed to escort me to and from my readings, was there. Is someone going to introduce me, I asked him. He didn't know but assured me someone else would be there soon.

Things more or less went downhill from there. Devika, from Prakriti Foundation, finally came, but I introduced myself to a bemused bunch of shoppers. Some girls giggled and hid in the aisles. A little earlier, they had come over, looked at the book and asked if it was meant for kids. Behind another bookshelf, near the entrance someone was enthusiastically applying packing tape on a large item that had just been sold and was clearly being gift-wrapped. I interrupted my reading to ask him to shut up.

It was the worst reading. Honestly. I was distracted by all the noise (though they had, mercifully, turned the music off), the comings and goings and the frank indifference of all these people to the reading. I don't mind having people who are sitting in front of me who don't care for the poetry; I will engage to catch their attention. But I can't read to a bunch of people who take a moment to stare at you with their mouth open and the minute you catch their eye, scoot behind the relative safety of a bookshelf. I bet they were reading Dan Brown there.

Thank god that was one reading done.

Regrets: Either I misplaced, or someone stole, six copies of my book. Bah.

Saturday, 29th December. Apparao Galleries, Nungambakkam.

No one in the area seemed to know where Apparao Galleries was. Not that it was a problem for me, but of all the people who came in at least three of four said they had trouble finding the place.

It's a sweet place. A little cooler and more distant than Forum but something about the place reminded me of the interiors of old houses in Mahim after they've had a fresh coat of paint. In the room where I was to read, there were several pieces of art displayed, at least one piece on every available table. I arranged my books with the piece- of- art as a prop. I'm not sure the gallery owner, who came in a little while later to ask if I needed anything else, noticed. I needed a mike, but didn't remember to ask until after she'd left.

Sharanya was there; a young man who had heard about the festival just the evening before and who, it turned out, knew several other people I did; a couple of Caferati folks (they were at every reading but the Landmark one!); and as a final and unexpected surprise, David. David and I have been exchanging mails for a couple of years now. He had read earlier in the festival but was supposed to be in Bangalore. I had no idea he had returned, and though he came after the main reading, things continued for long enough after for some good interactions.

This reading, I must say, was less planned. I didn't stick to the script, such as it was. Somehow, midway through the reading, I just flipped through the pages and read what I felt like, which was more organic and for me, fun. The discussion that followed was long-ranging and sometimes a little much, but everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Regrets: That I thought of calling Fowzia, my cameraperson friend from FTII days, too late. She would have come if only she had known. Of such things are true regrets made.

Intermission. Galloping Gooseberries and Amethyst.

Sharanya and I had planned to hang out, with a possibility of meeting Tishani later. Tishani said she'd met us as Amethyst, so Sharanya and I had lunch first. I've been reading Sharanya's blog for a few months now, it turns out for approximately as long as she's been reading mine. I'd read her poems on Soft Blow and had told Mani Rao about them. Our circles collided in several ways and we chatted through lunch and a couple of hours zipped by.

Amethyst is such a wonderful place! Why did no one ever tell me about it before? (see - this is why I hate going to Chennai. I always do the family thing and it's either weddings or funerals or endless visits to people whose connection to me I can never remember. So I don't know about places like Amethyst.) Through several lattes and conversations, at Amethyst, a man was changing cushion covers, and using one empty chair at our table to dump uncovered cushions. It was the most surreal event of my entire two days in Chennai.

Tishani - who I met at Jaipur last year (yes! It's officially 'last year' now!) turns up a little later and we gossip, chat and exchange notes on our respective readings. For the last twenty minutes there, I was deeply unhappy about the forthcoming reading at Subway, which I knew would be bad but which, with my head bloody but unbowed, I was determined to endure.

29th.December. Subway, Nungambakkam.

When I got to Subway Nungambakkam, it was at least 45 minutes early (no fault of mine, despite my pathological inability to be late or even just on time for anything; the car had to go elsewhere and I had to accommodate myself) and the 'temporary manager' was arranging chairs and tables so one portion of the place looked like a mini United Nations summit room. Long, oblong, with dreary chairs arranged conference-like. I told them to please change the arrangement. They asked me if I wanted something to eat or drink. I shuddered and asked for some water in a faint voice.

And then, I nearly had a heart attack. Arun, a friend of mine who is incapable of turning up anywhere on time (he came for the Landmark reading at half past seven, at least 35 minutes after all traces of an event had been removed), came in with a colleague. When I recovered my powers of speech I asked him how come, and he reminded me that the reading was supposed to be at 4.30. Turns out he didn't know it had been shifted back to 6.30 and was turning up for the 4.30 reading. I have to say, here, that this was the single most heartening thing about the whole festival: I mean, he must think I'm a rockstar, to be able to keep a bunch of people who want to stuff their faces with carbs and uncooked miscellany, enthralled for two whole hours. And I must be wiser than I realise, for omitting to tell him that the reading had been postponed for a couple of hours.

So Arun was there, and his colleague, and Sanjay from Prakriti. We waited for another quarter of an hour. Jugal, another Caferati friend, texted me to say he was searching from the place.

And then, the most dramatic thing of the entire two days happened (see, I think I feel kind of fond of the Subway reading, after all.): a man bustled in, folder under his arm, and proceeded to sit at my table (Danny you met your match. Danny says doc it's only a scratch). He introduced himself: a long name I can't remember but that's not my fault. It really isn't. He asked me what I do. I said, 'I write.' He looked startled and after a second took my hand and shook it for a full minute, saying the while that he really liked that answer. In a minute he had told me about how he also wrote poetry, only in Tamil instead of English; and had I heard of Vairamuthu? (I said I had) and how Vairamuthu had won something for which the reward was to read out a poem at a Republic Day function; how he had won that award the year after Vairamuthu; he showed me photographs of himself reading at some Kavi Sammelan; he took out a note pad and started to ask me to give him either my phone number or some other information.

This was when I jumped up and indicated that I wanted to start the reading. I requested him to move back one table, and addressed myself to all of four people (including the Prakriti volunteer). Other people sat at their tables while I introduced myself and looked very self-conscious. I can't think why: I was the one reading. Why were they looking embarrassed?! Some of them took off after two poems. Once again, I rapidly changed the selection of poems and reading order. Mid-way through, more or less in time for 'Hospital Catalogues', Jugal walked in. That really made things just that little bit easier, knowing someone who liked my work was there.

I read out a silly poem, just to entertain myself.

Read it carefully; it plays a starring role in what follows.

There were, surprisingly enough, a few claps from other tables when I was done. And a couple of questions. Arun, predictably, said he didn't understand a thing, though I don't really buy it. Jugal said my one sonnet was uncharacteristically abstract, in the sense that it wasn't as cinematic or visual as my other poems.

While I was signing copies of books, Folder Man returned. He showed me the note pad again, in which he had, during the reading, collected phone numbers of emails of those present in the audience.

He asked me for my email.

I said, 'Sorry, I don't give my email out to anybody.'

'You don't give your email out?' He was speechless. Then he recovered enough to say, 'You are very frank. I admire someone who says that.'

Continuing to look disbelieving, he says, 'I have never met anyone who says they hate rainbows.'

Then, after a minute, when I say nothing, 'I hope I never meet anyone again who says they hate rainbows.'

Exeunt Folder Man.

I suppose I should be suitably abashed.

Regrets: None.

*with some changes, of course. Took the hairdryer but ditched the umbrella. You know...on account of assuming Chennai had done with its rains the previous week, and I was with family and they'd better have something that would do. Also, I had stacks of inhaler paraphernalia this time.