Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Mahmood Farooqui & Danish Husain have uploaded two parts of their performace, Dastan-e-Sedition, on YouTube. Though, as the note says, the performance is actually longer, the two parts work excellently well.

Here they are:

Part 1

Part 2

For a context to what, where etc, read this piece on Kafila.


It occurred to me while watching this, how much one's appreciation depends not just on one's having previously watched other danstangoi performances, but also on a general awareness of contemporary politics, poetry and modes of speech (that very sarkari, sanskritised declamation dropped in the middle of what is usually a chastely urdu performance is one instance).

Monday, May 30, 2011

Arul Mani on P.G. Wodehouse

Arul Mani writes divinely about Wodehouse in Caravan:

Who reads Wodehouse in India and why?
For a long time, I knew nobody who did actually read Wodehouse. Undergraduate boredom caused me to insert myself into Bangalore’s quizzing scene in the late 1980s, and that is where I came across live Wodehouse fans for the first time. Their conversations began unexceptionably—which book was their favourite, Wooster or Blandings, and so on—but deteriorated rapidly after that into mantric call-and-response routines. I remember very clearly an exchange between two grizzled veterans where one raised his snout to the sky to bellow the words, “Forty- five minutes if it lasted a second?” and received in no time the response, “Heppenstall’s sermon on Brotherly Love!” I don’t know if this has anything to do with anything, but both men were Bengalis. The former respondent then assumed the same quivering-nostrils attitude to deliver the even more puzzling phrase, “Begins in a low minor of two quarter-notes in four-four time, and ends in a shower of accidental grace-notes?” upon which the other smote himself in the chest and decimated all eardrums in the vicinity with a lusty rendition of “Pig-hoo-o-o-o-ey”, the infallible pig-calling formula that Lord Emsworth is taught by a kind soul. Their exchanges were punctuated with bursts of shrill laughter that began as fairly domestic whinnies before tailing off into hyena-sounds.

The Wodehousian in India is typically either some archaic monster that causes terror each time it digs its dactyls deep into a shuffle-bag of plum metaphors and phrases, or it is a pip-pipsqueak, an accumulator of period mannerisms and verbal tics.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron, RIP

Gil Scott-Heron. RIP.

Where Did The Night Go

Long ago the clock washed midnight away

Bringing the dawn

Oh God, I must be dreaming

Time to get up again

And time to start up again

Pulling on my socks again

Should have been asleep

When I was sitting there drinking beer

And trying to start another letter to you

Don't know how many times I dreamed to write again last night

Should've been asleep when I turned the stack of records over and over

So I wouldn't be up by myself

Where did the night go?

Should go to sleep now

And say fuck a job and money

Because I spend it all on unlined paper and can't get past

"Dear baby, how are you?"

Brush my teeth and shave

Look outside, sky is dark

Think it may rain

Where did

Where did

Where did

From I'm New Here. XL Recordings. Feb. 2010.

Also, the Guardian obit.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Fifth Face/ Letters

Given that I have never held a job down for more than a year; that I've never even done the same kind of job for too long; that I never know what the next week holds for me, let alone what my plans are for the next year, five years is a commitment I never thought I could make.

Maybe the lack of thought or planning is what kept this blog running for so long. Yes: it's been five years and it's not just a face I'm going through. Let's call it several faces. The blog has crossed the enthusiasm of infancy and is probably settling down into a late middle-age of scattered thoughts and conversations that are held more with oneself than with anything recognisably person-like. This, despite the comments I still get that I sometimes forget or just don't respond to.

But I want to talk about is letters. Letters have always been something everyone in my family has looked forward to with pleasure. My grandfather stayed in touch with a friend in Canada until one of them died. My mother used to write letters to people she'd never met, c/o the names of their own or city, or some absurd approximation of an address. And she'd get replies from them. It was astonishing and joy-giving. The letters were always kind and warm; sometime long and delighted. And these letters were from strangers.

I know what it's like to receive these letters because I didn't have to infer the contents from the expression on the face of my mother; I was allowed to read the letters for myself.

Letters were public property.

Family letters - some of them artfully and well-written - were also public property. They spoke about other people, they asked after everyone, they gave news about happenings. They were not private.

I am wondering where and when I got the notion that letters were intensely private things meant only for the mutual knowledge of sender and receiver. Given that I had never in my life experienced a 'private' letter, one that the receiver would rather not share with everyone, I have no idea when it became clear to me that letters were also a kind of very private and confidential conversation, and to share these kinds of letters wouldbe to betray a confidence or inadvertently give even close family members a glimpse into aspects of your own character that you wanted to protect from their gaze or scrutiny.

School? Possibly, but I can't imagine how. School was where I wrote letters home and of course they were both public and private, in that I knew that the only people who would read them would be my parents, and so I could say things to them without worrying about who else might read my confidences (there weren't many of those, I admit).

Of course, the reverse didn't apply. One didn't allow even one's closest friends to read letters from home, though one might occasionally read out particularly funny bits to them. The letters were put away, under the mattress or in a locker and forgotten about until end of term.

Back home, of course, during vacations, letters came that were no longer public. When the postman rang, I would run to get my letters before anyone else got hold of them. My parents never did open my letters but I was convinced they might. (Though I did have to train famiy in general to not read my letters once I'd finished with them, because, really, even thoughI'd read it first it didn't mean they could read it now.)

I have no idea if this seemed strange to my parents. It must have. As far asI know, they didn't correspond with friends, who are probably the only kind of people who commit confidences to paper. Family was business, sociologically speaking, and letters from any member of family was common property - even the most hysterical, harsh, intemperate or savage letters. And there were a few of those over the years.

Passing lightly over the kind of letters I wrote and received from people who I met every day, and with whom I exchanged letter-notes (sometimes in particularly exigent situations, one posted letters locally), I found myself in a place of letter drought. The only letters I got were unpleasant official communications or impersonal requests for something-or-the-other. Once a year or more infrequently, there might be a letter or poastcard from someone I wanted to hear from.

All private conversation had shifted online. These were necessarily truly private, because my parents were useless with the computer and I got online long after I need have worried about shared or discovered passwords.

There was no room for the inadvertently read letter. Until a few days ago, I had no way of knowing what my feeling on the matter would likely be. Recently, though, a friend wrote to me back home and my mother - perhaps inadvertently - opened it. I found out about it and, because there was no immediate sense of outrage, I sat down to examine what it meant.

Perhaps I no longer have my earlier sense of inviolate privacy with regard to my letters. Perhaps I knew that whatever the letter contained, I wouldn't mind my mother reading it. Perhaps, that it would contain nothing private? Or that - of everyone I know who misses the pleasure of receiving and reading letters - my mother's joy in opening a letter, the ritual of it, would be the most acute and I wouldn't/couldn't deny her that, especially since she abhors emails?

Or maybe I've grown used to airing the most private thoughts in public  knowing they're both always available and quickly forgotten. Like everything else, this also is practice.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Zong! M. NourbeSe Philip

All this week, I've been doing everything else I can in order not to write. Coming across this extract from M NourbeSe Philip's Zong!, I can't help but feel I'm not entirely wasting my time if I'm reading new things and instead of just producing a lot of decontextualised and slightly sterile shit.

Here's an explanation of how Philip worked with the text of the Zong judgement:

The text of the legal decision of the Zong case, Gregson v. Gilbert, runs to some five hundred words. Relying entirely on the words of the reported text, but through a variety of techniques such as whiting and/or blacking out words, fragmentation and reversals, I use this word store to create the manuscript, Zong! Fragmenting and mutilating the text mirror the fragmentation and mutilation that slavery perpetrated on Africans and African customs and life. In deliberately changing the story of the legal text, I engage in a similar duplicity that the actors in the Zong case engaged in to convince themselves that it was perfectly allowable to murder Africans in order to collect insurance monies. Further, in dropping below the objective legal text as given, to search out the emotions: “negroes want sustenance...negroes want water,” I subvert the rationality–the murderous rationality, if you will–on which the law is based.

In its potent ability to decree what is is not, as in a person being no longer human but thing, the law approaches the realm of magic and religion. The conversion of human into chattel can be considered an act the equal of transubstantiation which converts the eucharistic bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
I'm sure it's a technique that's been used before, but the results - as they must be in each case - are startling and incredibly moving. The repetitions, the stuttering pronouncements spaced out across the page, are painful even if you don't know what erasures have had to be committed in order to produce this text. Only the knowledge that violence has been done upon a text - even if it is only a text - gives some sense of redress.

This text and others appears in Fascicle, where I can see I will have to spend a lot of time.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

'Jean-Paul Belmondo' by Valzhyna Mort

Jean-Paul Belmondo*

it begins with your face of a stone
where lips repose like two seals
in a coastal mist of cigarette smoke
you move through the streets—
listing them
is as useless as naming waves.

                            (that city is so handsome for a reason—)you whisper:
                        it was made out of your rib)

it continues with my
          skidmarked by a dress
body. i stand on the border
on heels like my sixth toes
and show you
where to park.

that very night
lying together
                        in the dogs yard
       —flowers are biting my back!—
you whisper:
          the longer i look on the coins of your nipples
          the clearer i see the Queen’s profile.

for you, body and money are the same
as the chicken and the egg.
the metaphor of “a woman’s purse”
escapes you.
stealing, you like to mumble:
a purse is a purse is a purse is a purse.
a real purse in your hand is worth
two metaphorical purses over your mouth.

they tell me
          you are a body
                        anchored to the shore by its rusting blood.
your wound darkens on your chest like a crow.
i tell them—as agreed—that you are my youth.
an apple that bit into me to forget its own knowledge.

death hands you every new day like a golden coin.
as the bribe grows
it gets harder to turn it down.
your heart of gold gets heavier to carry.

your hands know that a car has a waist
and a gun—a lobe.
you take me where the river once lifted its skirts
and God, abashed with that view,
ordered to cover that shame with a city.

its dance square
shrank by the darkness to the size
of a sleeping infant’s slightly open mouth.
i cannot tell between beggars’ stretched hands
and dogs’ dripping tongues.
you cannot tell between legs—

that dance square is a cage
where accordions grin at dismembered violin torsos.
beggars lick thin air off their lips.
women whirling in salsa slash you
across the chest with the blades
of their skirts soiled with peonies.
Poetry (December 2009).
[image from]
Also read 'crossword', from Poetry.


Sometimes I underestimate serendipity. Reading these two poems this morning just when I was asking myself what I was doing on a campus an hour from any city, with only two towns nearby, where the nothing that happens might be the subject of any one of a hundred East European films from the 70s, my day becomes more bearable.


*Update; this post has nothing to do with the fact that the man was awarded the Palme d'Or . Just coincidence.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

on improvement

That these days, when I finish a poem, I no longer even want to mail it off to someone in a fit of euphoria and madness.

That I actually print poems out and leave them lying around so that I can pick them up by chance and look at how they look and sound elsewhere than on a screen.

That sometimes - though still not often enough - I can bring myself to take apart a promissing poem completely in order to make it better. It still gives me the shudders but I know I'm capable of it, where earlier I would try to tinker and fix but never - never - entirely do it over.

Monday, May 16, 2011

reaction shot

Walter Kirn on the most talked about reaction shot of the [insert exaggerated time scale here]:
Examine the picture closely. Start with Obama, the leading man, who looks less like a stalwart head of state than a grumpy hostage of circumstances. He seems to resent the fact that this high-stakes dice roll forced on him by the collective, by history, might well break him as an individual, reversing the lucky streak that got him here. Less distressed but appearing slightly bored is the vice president, whose face wears a second banana's dull disengaged look, since the best he can claim if things go well tonight is an assist, and if things go poorly, whatever, he won't lose sleep but he might feel less like waking. As for the general with the laptop, he's a model of disciplined on-task professionalism lightly salted with ironic fatalism. He understands in a wise old soldier's way that victory is just defeat turned shiny side up and every battle short of Armageddon is important to the combatants but is finally only a skirmish. Then there's Hillary, the stunned control freak with her right hand clapped over her mouth. She'll later pretend that the gesture was a nothing, an innocent attempt at cough suppression, but what most observers see and can't not see is a workaholic bureaucrat suddenly confronting the blunt force impact of foreign policy on the fragile human skull.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The last screening

Last night, I watched films made by the students of the Dept. of Film & Media Studies here. The theatre was packed; there was a programme sheet - quite a long one, including excerpts from radio dramas and documentaries. After announcements, the films began.

I was struck by how apolitical the films were. It's so rare to see documentaries in India that are about not very much - just pleasantly made meanderings - that it made me restless to sit through many of the films. Not even a docu about the space left by a demolished building in Glasgow that is now a community garden for organically grown vegetables did more than state the fact of its being there.

Some of the dramas were not bad - Male Seeks Female was sweetly funny, well-acted, but just so....pheeka. And so white. Strikingly so. As if this corner of the world had magic powers to eclipse the rest of the world. At the same time, one radio docu gave a glimpse of Scottish nationalism via linguistic pride by talking about centuries of oppression.

Formally, I noticed a tendency to use the quick dissolve instead of the cut; depend on music more than necessary; pay little attention to framing or lighting. The exception was the film Chapters, which in which the framing and lighting - though derivative of the Ivory-Merchant kind of filmmaking - was genuinely beautiful and thoughtful. The film took its time to allow the character/s to emerge and was confident in its pacing.

The outstanding film in the selection was A Bunch of Gentlemen - the only drawback in the film being the title (which is a quote from one of the character that should not have ben used). We're introduced to a few old men who say their pieces to camera, about how they came to playing golf. We see them as they make their shots, walk across the greens. They're witty, sweet old men, and as their anecdotes move one into the other, we gradually realise that each one of them is talking about when their eyesight began to fail them. The Oldest Member (of course there is one; this is a golf story!) says how he realised he couldn't see very well when he was about 58, but he still continued to drive until ten years later; how, one day when he was driving he couldn't see a damned thing, which is when he pulled over to the kerb and hasn't driven since that day.

This is when you realise that all these men, whose eyes look where they're supposed to when they're talking to camera, whose faces register expressions that could be reactions to what the interviewer was saying, are all blind. And they play golf.

It's a amazingly controlled, gradual revelation, done with no ta-da!s or flourishes. Someone could theorise surprise versus shock all over again using this film as study material.

There are some lovely little shots that prefigure the blindness that the film later reveals. It's a perfectly shot, genuinely funny and memorable film. It is also the kind of film that makes one ask, if these guys can make this kind of a film, what were all the others doing?


The post-script to this is that - per announcements made at the beginning - this was the very last screening to student films by the Dept. of Film & Media Studies at Stirling. 'Restructuring' means many departments have now become schools of this or that subject (School of English Studies, for instance) under the Dept. of Humanities. While no one knows exactly what this means, it seems safe to say it definitely means no more large scale screenings of student films. What happens to the films and radio dramas themselves it not yet  clear.

So regardless of everything else, I'm glad I got to see what this year's students had to show.

Friday, May 13, 2011

from 'Meridian'

From Paul Celan's 1960 Büchner Prize speech, more famously known as 'Meridian':

 And from Jacket 40, excerpts from the recent book The Meridian: Final version - Drafts - Materials. [pdf].

The first extract shows portions of the bit I've reproduced here, in the process of being shaped; and fascinating it is too, to see the final form - the language becoming shape - emerge.

There was a whole post I had in my head about this but with blogger down, and being unable to post for the last several hours, it's gone. Yes, I should have written it out anyway but I didn't.

I think it began with marvelling at how little I've moved away from initial positions in essentials. Or perhaps it had to do with recognition, or finding truth in that which only confirms (rather than challenges) one's own views.

I hope it wasn't the last though I suspect there may be an element of that.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Two poems in Mascara Literary Review

One poem has changed considerably in the time since I submitted; the other has appeared in The Poetry Society's Silver Jubilee issue but Mascara has very kindly decided to carry it regardless.

'Chromatography' and 'Of Clairvoyance', in Mascara Literary Review.

This demi-hemi-semi paradise

Of the one month and one week I've spent in the UK, this little sliver of a weekend I spent in London packed in more than all the rest of my time here. I realised, also, that I probably spoke much more in two days than I have in one month.

Included: All's Well That Ends Well at the Globe (we were groundlings!). China Miéville's Embassytown launch. The Tate Modern. Other book shopping. Friends. Baby talk. And suchlike, etc.

I consider the week seized.

Friday, May 06, 2011

This is probably not the time to say, 'eternal summer gilds them yet'

Apparently April was the hottest one on record in the UK. There have been forest fires, and the rain since yesterday has been greeted with relief (even by the faculty, which was not happy about missing the sunshine, what with having to correct papers & end of term blues).

But until Wednesday, I have say this place closely resembled a Wodehousey rural idyll. Castle, lake, ducks, swans, small boats, idle men, energetic women, libraries (no Anatole, regrettably, and no ice to steal).

It allows me to make this blog a visible sign that keeps offline such rage, disbelief and annoyance I might feel about the rest of the world.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

The Age of the Spaniard

Yesterday I returned from a day trip and was dropped off somewhere in the precise middle of nowhere. After the drama of the lost keys and all, the day was fun, (and there was whisky), but as I began walking towards what I hoped was the city centre I was beginning to feel my age. My knee hurt from where I'd twisted it the previous day; my heel hurt, as it now does, nearly all the time and I felt faint with hunger, not having had lunch.

I considered my options. One of them was - seriously - to lurch and sway across the road strategically until someone stopped and offered me a lift. They may have thought I was drunk, which was one reason why I restrained myself. The other reason was that there were really no cars on that road. Besides, I'd already nudged my luck once that day and had taken a lift to the station in the morning from a stranger.

I am proud to report that - as befits someone of my age and decrepitude - I did not weep tears of frustration and thwartedness.

After several stories in between, I finally arrived at the grocery store on campus, where I thought I'd reward myself with some beer. At the counter, the girl looked at me, looked at the beer and said, 'Can I see some ID please?'

Assuming that she thought I wasn't from campus, I showed her my temporary uni ID.

'Is there an ID you have with your date of birth on it?' she asked.

I began to understand. No, I said, but I told her my age. The girl at the next till burst out laughing. The first girl ducked her head in embarassment and put the beer away with my other purchases.

'It's a compliment,' the other girl said, assuring me that I didn't look the age I claimed I was. I offered to show them my gray hair. (ok, maybe I didn't).

I was finding it hard not to giggle. Suppose they began to doubt my claims all over again? I did not have proof-of-age ID.

I paid, hurried out and stood on the bridge. I peeped over and giggled at the swans.

Luckily for me, a swan was doing what I have discovered the creatures frequently do: it was flapping its way frantically across the water, trying to take off. Unable to gather the requisite momentum to take off, it skid to a halt, and as if to prove that it was still the dignified bird people wrote and sang about, it unfurled its wings into a heart, preened, and arched its neck gracefully.

That, you see, made my giggling plausible. And not undignified.