Wednesday, March 31, 2010

wound to do

'PRICES SLASHED,' said the gentleman. 'EVERYTHING MUST GO.'

'You're quite right,' said the elephant. 'Everything must, in one way or another, go. One does what one is wound to do. It is expected of me that I walk up and down in front of my house; it is expected of you that you drink tea. and it si expected of this young mouse that he go out into the world with his father and dance in a circle.'

'But I don't want to,' said the mouse child, and he began to cry. It was an odd, little, tinny, rasping, sound, and father and son both rattled with it.

'There, there,' said the father, 'don't cry. Please don't.' Toys all around the shop were listening. 'He'd better stop that,' they said.

It was the clock that spoke next, startling them with his flat brass voice. 'I might remind you of the rules of clockwork,' he said. 'No talking before midnight and after dawn, and no crying on the job.'
                                                                                       From The Mouse and his Child, Russell Hoban.

Remember this?

Next on the list (not that one, but just on my reading one): The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz.*


*It's taken me all this time, Cat. What can I say?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

guardian spirit of the waters

Odilon Redon, Guardian Spirit of the Waters, 1878. Art Institute of Chicago.

A friend on Facebook has this up as her profile picture and I just love it, nearly as much as the Serafini Pulcinella flying on the clothesline.

When things loom, is must be Redon.(One way or another, escape is indicated.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

where the questions are longer than the answers


Did your questions concern the allegations of Mr. Modi having had a direct role in some of the incidents of mass killing which occurred in Gujarat in 2002? Or were they also about his indirect role, via the breakdown of law and order and failure of his administration to prevent the violence?

I'm afraid I cannot be more specific as the information is privileged. We essentially went by the Jaffrey petition issues.
One of the questions raised by that petition was who took the decision to bring the bodies of the Godhra incident victims to Ahmedabad and to allow the Vishwa Hindu Parishad publicly to parade them. In your view, why is this question relevant? Did the SIT get a satisfactory explanation?
Since this is also privileged information, I'm afraid it would not be fair for me to comment on it.


Did Mr. Modi agree to furnish details about his personal phone records, movement log books, diary entries etc. so that the SIT could establish some sense of who all he might have been in contact with during that time, including details of his security cover during the carnage? There are, for example, reports he dispensed with his security for two hours on Feb. 28, 2002.

I won't comment on this, as this is a sensitive part of an ongoing inquiry.

Did the SIT specifically ask Mr. Modi about Zakia Jaffrey's charge that her husband, Ehsan Jaffrey, had called him up to ask for help on February 28 2002, and that Mr. Modi had abused him? What was his answer? Also, the SIT has said in the Gulberg mass murder case that the Jaffrey phone records are missing and may have been destroyed. Was Mr. Modi asked about whether he has any knowledge of this as CM and Home Minister?
I have no idea. But even if I knew Mr. Modi's responses, I cannot disclose anything.

And so on.  

Siddharth Varadarajan's interview with R.K.Raghavan, head of the SIT that questioned Narendra Modi on Saturday.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Heat Stroke

Warning for KM: Look away now!

Friday, March 26, 2010

solar, desertec

Not that they're (un)related. Consider it free-association.

1. M. John Harrison's  review of Ian MceEwan's Solar:

2.Desertec* (which had at least one journalist - from Bombay - drooling, back in October in Hamburg).


*Should I have said, Heart of Darkness?

Review link via someone's blog - can't remember whose now, but it's one of the usual lit suspects.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Arundhati Roy and Kafila

I was going to say more, but I think I need to re-read everything first. At any rate, it's good to see all this ferment.

What am I talking about?

Arundhati Roy's essay, 'Walking with the Comrades' in Outlook.

The responses at Kafila came quickly. First with Jairus Banaji, followed by the one that everyone is circulating all over the interwebs, Moonwalking with the Comrades. Finally, there's A Believer's Obeisance and a possibly related post, Rumours of Maoism.

[And earlier, on Tehelka.]

Update: K. Balagopal's article from early last year (what a loss his death is), 'Reflections on violence and non-violence in political movements in India'. *

Also, Falstaff's substantial exposition of his problems with Roy's essay.

*Thanks, Paromita.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Small Towns, Guns and The Mad Momma

The Mad Momma on growing up in a small town in UP (and about other things):

The last incident before I left for college  ensured that my boyfriend didn’t go alone anywhere for the month before the exams. Four of them (including my brother) were surrounded at our favourite coffee shop, by 40 guys pulling up in Maruti vans with chains and hockey sticks and guns. There was negotiation and politics and finally an uneasy truce was reached. One we couldn’t trust. He didn’t appreciate it but my brother was his best friend and picked him up each morning and dropped him home each night – brooking no further argument. It was the best protection he could have had. If you want to woo a girl, you can beat up her boyfriend but not her brother. Those are the rules. The honour among thieves so to speak.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spaniard discovers Dr. Space Baby

and Awesome Hospital, where they deal with awesomergencies on a daily basis.

Where was Dr. Dirtbike two years ago when I needed him?


Sunday, March 21, 2010


There were several fires, none of which were put out: on the road, leaves burning at ten feet intervals. At a large hotel, the incinerator drawing black lines. Where a large building is coming up, it might have been smoke but equally, it could have been granite dust. In the distance, unidentified columns of murky white - factory? burning building? Who knows. Too far away for effort or recognition.

Ways and ways to mark the seasons.


A shout out for Lamakaan.

Some friends have been months in preparation and it looks good. If you have a play you want to put up, a reading, screening or performance; if you want a space for rehearsals, this is to let you know that the folks at Lamakaan are open to hosting you.

(Lamakaan is on Road No. 1, Banjara Hills, opposite GVK One Mall (I really wish I didn't have to use malls as landmarks), and just off the main road. If you're coming from Masab Tank, it's the next left after the turn into Road No. 4.)

They opened with a performance by The Warsi Brothers (who, by all accounts, were warming up at around 2am). On Monday, 22nd, there's a reading of Sri Sri's poetry. The months ahead will have many exciting events.

Hyderabadis frequently moan about how accessible cultural spaces have vanished. Y'all can stop now. Or do your moaning at Lamakaan over Irani chai and samosas.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Two Minutes Older: Vegetable Love

One weekend afternoon as I was cooking, the oil ran out. I upturned the whole tin and waited for it to give up what oil it had left, drop by slow drop. As each drop gathered at the rim, backlit by the window in front of me, I started having semi-apocalyptic visions.

I thought of what it took to make even this much oil. It occurred to me that I, who laughed at those old jokes about where milk comes from (answer, according to the spoilt brat in the joke: the supermarket), did not know what it took to make the couple of litres of oil that we used every month. Whatever the process, I knew it used a lot of energy.

As I stood with upended tin of oil, the electricity went off and my visions scaled themselves up from semi- to full-blown apocalyptic ones. What if the world had no more electricity? What would we do for cooking oil? What would it take for us to produce a spoonful of oil for one meal’s tadka?

Field, oil seeds, planting, watering (without the benefit of pumps), harvesting, pressing – I felt exhausted just thinking about it and I wasn’t even taking into account the months of waiting we would have to endure in between all the hectic activity described above.

The waiting seemed to me the most exciting and frustrating part. A few months earlier, my son had planted the eye of a potato in our garden and every day he would drag my mother and me out to monitor its progress. As long as it was sprouting and growing visibly, it was clear that much was happening out of sight and below the ground. Once the leaves achieved a uniform greenness and height, however, he no longer knew how to tell if the potatoes were ready to harvest or not.

“Shall we pull it up to see how big it is?” I asked.

Naturally, I did not expect to be taken seriously. But I didn’t think my son would curl his lip at me either. This was the same boy, who, just a few months before, had thought that burying a body was a good way of preserving it so that we could take it out from time to time to remind ourselves about how it used to look when alive.

 Children grow up so fast, I thought to myself and we sighed at how long it was taking for the potatoes to grow. Three weeks later, unable to bear the suspense any longer, we harvested the potatoes.

This is what we got: five teeny, miniscule white and skinless potatoes. We fried them (while giving thanks that we could just go and buy oil instead of making it) and thought philosophical thoughts in the few seconds it took us to consume the result.

Since that time, I have been paying more attention to process in the natural world. I’d like to be able to say I sleep better because of this new-found enthusiasm for all things cyclical, but that would be going too far.

Let’s just say, it’s soothing to see the seasons change – to enjoy the rain of leaves in spring before the flowers come, to collect the flowers when they fall, to dry and powder them so that there’s natural colour for next year’s Holi, like a memory preserved and then relived*. It is even possible to welcome the thought of summer just because it brings with the heat the promise of watermelons, aam panna and khus sherbet.

There’s also a sense of anticipation and contentment that owes everything to the time it takes for things to happen. This is what Andrew Marvell must have meant by ‘vegetable love’ in his poem, ‘To His Coy Mistress.’ He, of course, was urgently wooing his beloved so for him time was a wingèd chariot hurrying near. We’re in no rush here, even though we may sometimes be impatient.

Every time we eat a papaya from our garden or spend an afternoon shaking down gooseberries from the tree and argue about whether to eat them up or pickle them, I consider not just the day but the whole year seized.

(An edited version of this in Zeitgeist, the Saturday edition of The New Indian Express.)

*Just so you know: epic fail. We forgot we left the flowers out to dry and when we returned from a week-long trip, they were burnt brown. 


Bonus photo, found on Jenny Davidson's blog and saved in that choking feedreader I've talked about for nearly a year for just such a contingency.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

From the Bestiary: The Cliché-headed Blurb-backed Monster


The blurb-backed monster made its debut here. In the last few days, s/he's grown heads made of clichés.

Please feed the monster in the comments*: lay out natural environment, food, enemies and so on.

Previous peeves include the use of phrases such as ROTFLMAO, but you'll just have to search, since I haven't tagged all posts.

Talking of peeves, my recent bugbears include 'relentless' and 'endless'. I only have to glimpse these two words to switch off - in most cases, it's a complete shut-down; but sometimes, if I like the writer, it's a temporary blackout that lasts a page (unless I really, really like the writer, in which case I can recover myself after about a paragraph or so).

Did I ever say I how discovered Serafini? Oh yes, I did.


*Let's make our bestiaries interactive. Maybe I can sell it to Facebook.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Monday, March 15, 2010

Toshi leaves her fortress

After all the fuss and tantrums, Toshi has left the fortress and decided to see for herself what it's like out here.

Welcome, kiddo.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

back to this

  • no milk. late coffee.
  • no yellow carpet of tababuia. 
  • bigger mangoes
  • the jerul greening my window
  • red and blue postcard of gods in their dream time and the promise of feet to come
  • reading copy of book two in bestselling series (more later)
  • unbelievable amount of mail i don't intend to read and a choking feedreader.
What else have I missed?

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Short Thoughts on Telangana

I accompanied my friend to four interviews he conducted with people to talk about Telangana. (I see no reason to name them.)

The last person we spoke to talked about touring all the districts and speaking with all kinds of people. I asked whether landlords, tenant-farmers, labourers and the landless in Telangana were united in their demand for a separate state and whether there really was no conflict of interest apparent to them. I was told in reply, that the people said, ‘Just let’s get these Andhra landlords out of here and we’ll take care of the Telangana ones afterwards.’

I don’t even know where to begin: is this a unified perspective? How many people would one need to speak to before a different opinion emerged? And if they did, would it be reported faithfully? Is there a qualitative difference between exploitation by Andhra landlords and Telangana landlords? (Our exploiters are better than yours.) Were people really willing to gloss over internal differences in the belief that a new state would somehow successfully address all these questions later?


One question that no one in favour of statehood for Telangana has managed to answer is, if it does happen, then what? By what methods will injustices be redressed, and will they only become possible after statehood? And specifically, on whose behalf are people speaking and why do they all appear to be long-time buddies if they really speak for many, many different kinds of views and people? (Which is to say, for a movement that claims to be diverse, why does its vocal component seem so uniform?)

I am suspicious of this tendency to say, ‘let’s get statehood first, and then let’s deal with other things later.’ What happens when that later comes? Whose opinions do you suppose will really be taken on board?


I am also suspicious of anything that causes people to feel fervour. All this fighting for a cause, all this shivery sense of being caught up in making history.

One of the people we spoke to said, protest is performance.

Apropos of which, one person reacting to my column said I had trivialised the whole issue, talking about the Complaints Choir. I don’t see that at all.

On the same day that my column on Telangana appeared, The Hindu carried a news report of a three hour long play that was in the form of a court hearing, where Telangana was filing for divorce from Andhra. At the end of the play, Telangana is granted divorce it seeks.

I don’t see why a complaints choir can’t be as political a piece of art as that play. It might not be as palatable to the pro-Telangana section, but I’ve been told there aren’t nearly enough voices being heard (in journals and opinion-making circles, I mean) on keeping status quo.

(Not that a complaints choir would automatically be anti-Telangana; in fact I’m a little surprised that it was read that way.)


I grew up in Hyderabad. If anything, I should consider myself a Telangani, because if I belong anywhere, it is here. I have felt the change in the composition of the city, mourned the loss of its Deccani speech more commonly heard in my childhood than it is now; the more leisurely pace of life; what I think nostalgically of as its cosmopolitanism.

I am also aware that such a nostalgia-driven view amounts to less than nothing as a political argument for statehood. Cultural identity is a problematic thing. In the last few weeks, I have wondered whether Telangana, with its cultural uniqueness argument, is most like Mumbai or Tibet: does it want to expel those it sees as not belonging to it, so that its unique identity (whatever that is) is preserved; or is it like Tibet, being flooded with outsiders and being homogenised in an demonstration of cultural hegemony?

It’s a flawed comparison, I see that. But I’m just trying to use it as a frame within which to try and articulate this bugbear of cultural identity. I think I’ll stick with aphorisms.


One really disturbing development is the presence of police and militia in the city. Most of it is around the Osmania University, but even on the roads, outside the houses of ministers and near the offices of political parties, I can't remember when there were so many men with guns and so much barbed wire.

I find the argument made by the state, that their presence is necessary on campus because the Maoists have 'infiltrated' the student body, specious and self-serving.

What I find even more disturbing is that civil society doesn't seem to care about what happens on campus or on the roads, so long as it doesn't disturb their daily lives.

This is not all but this is as much as I’m going to say on the subject.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Two Minutes Older: Mile Sur Mera Tumhara

For the last three months, I have avoided all talk about the one subject that is on the minds of even – if reports about human chains or suicide are to be believed – school children: I am talking about Telangana.

Then nearly a month ago, a friend visited. He was doing a project on federalism and wanted to research the Telangana movement. Having arranged all kinds of meetings for him, I thought it only right that I also be present as he spoke to lawyers, ideologues, students, activists, bloggers, dissenters and experts of all kinds including the friends I had gathered together at a dinner one evening. As he conversed with these people, I watched from the sidelines, occasionally asking a question or two to demonstrate that I was actually listening.

On the basis of this very scientific collection of narratives, I now have an opinion on Telangana that I am going to share with you.

The way I see it, Telangana is like Akira Kurosawa’s film, Rashomon. If you haven’t seen the film and know nothing about it, it is a complicated story-within-a-story. As the film begins, two people relate the events that took place a few days before. Their story is about a travelling samurai and his wife who are waylaid by a bandit. The wife might have been raped and the samurai is certainly left for dead and is found by a woodcutter, who is one of the two narrators of the story.

The film itself is a reconstruction of the central events, at the trial following the murder of the samurai, by four people: the bandit, the wife, the spirit of the dead samurai and the woodcutter. In each narrative, each of the characters displays different motivations and events play out slightly differently each time. It is not clear who one is supposed to believe or why.

The parallel is obvious. Listening to each of the people we spoke to, it was clear that everyone believed passionately in their perspective. There were those who believed in the spontaneous and democratic nature of the Telangana movement, its history and necessity. Some talked of the cynical wheeling and dealing that was taking place behind the scenes. For some the protests were a performance and the visible players were merely puppets for others holding the strings and biding their time. Others were convinced that statehood was one way of making sure that a different set of people got to make money. There were some who had travelled and spoken to people in every district of the Telangana region, and who told us of the different and differing smaller agendas that had brought people together under the umbrella of statehood.

Every one of those narratives only made the picture more perplexing. The comparison with Rashomon also made it clear to me that what I hear depends not just on who is saying it but who they think they are saying it to.

They did not know it, but at least one of those listening was (and remains) a resolute fence-sitter. Since no one has so far considered such a perspective on an important issue, I am here to offer it (unasked).

A year or so ago, another friend sent a link to a YouTube video. Since so much wisdom is to be found on the internet, I followed it like the sheep I am and found something called The Complaints Choir. The Complaints Choir is a group of people who gather together and sing out their complaints in perfect harmony. In the video I watched, they sang about toilet paper, jobs and neighbours.

In the spirit of providing a dose of humour to overheating sensibilities, here is my contribution to the Telangana issue: just as human chains and protests have their value in the political process, I suggest that getting things off one’s chest in song is equally invaluable.

I propose that those for and against Telangana get together and make a list of complaints they want to sing. They can rehearse until the Telangana Complaints Choir achieves vocal harmony even if they agree on nothing else. All the resulting levels of irony will make Rashomon seem like a simple story for children.

(An edited version of this in Zeitgeist, the Saturday edition of The New Indian Express.)


Yes, it's a not very serious take on Telangana. There will be another post to talk about other things that came up in those conversations we had.

Friday, March 05, 2010

On being the Vazir instead of the Vazir

 Assertions of cultural identity are really an attempt to convert minority into majority.



*What? It is exam time.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Tree of Gold

Spring in the air.

(to which Freddie Threepwood, I think, asked, "Why should I?")