Friday, December 25, 2015

The Sideways Door: Decemeber Response Column

This month, being about shapes and concrete poems and poems that rely hugely on formatting, I anticipated some work while putting up the column. I didn't realise it would take quite as long as it did but finally it's up.

Here it is.

That's it from me for this year. I'll see you all on the other side. Be good! (And have a happy end of year.)

Monday, December 21, 2015

Let sleeping forces lie

So another Star Wars film. 

At the IWP, one of the writers, a young one, was gobsmacked to realise that I had seen the earliest three in the theatre! "I'm sitting here talking to someone who has seen the original films in the theatre," he exclaimed. I mean, I'm glad he sounded astonished.

(Me, I felt my age for the first and only time that entire time there).

Even if you don't belong to my generation, your popular culture has probably been shaped by those films in a particular kind of hippy-meets-scale feeling that is, somehow, materially different from what Star Trek was doing (that's another discussion right there, but I'll just say I'm with Neil deGrasse Tyson on this one).

I was also thinking of how, when my son was around six, we went to a DVD library that existed at the time and asked to borrow the Star Wars films. I was looking, naturally, to the beginning - Episode IV: A New Hope - and said so. Well, I said I wanted to start from the beginning, so the girl handed me The Phantom Menace.* [footnote alert!] I smh'd hard then but what else is a TV-bred younger generation ignorant of the Jedi universe to do?


I will probably watch the film eventually and don't care particularly about spoilers, so there's a vast archive of essays on Star Wars old and new which - if you also don't care or have already seen the new film - you can find here: The Anti-Star Wars Reader [via Sunday Reading 141]

In that list is a piece by Sam Kriss in which he says many many quotable things, but I'll just put the bit that I'm really worried about - the fact that it's been directed by JJ Abrams:
I’ve not yet seen The Force Awakens, but [...] [b]ased on the experience of the later James Bond films, and Abrams’ previous efforts with Star Trek, it’s very likely to be a dull soup of knowing, pseudo-pomo references to the original trilogy, to keep the fans happy; where the prequels tried to extend the story, the sequels will probably only recapitulate it.

I'm expecting a lot of nudge-nudge wink-wink, and - going by Anthony Lane's review - I'm going to get it:
The plot of “The Force Awakens” is itself an exercise in loyalty. Start with an eager but thwarted youngster, toiling away in the sands of an unregarded planet? Check. End, pretty much, with an eager and unthwarted pilot, zooming down the narrow canyon of a spaceship, with his wingmen taking hits on his behalf and a tiny yet crucial target in his sights? Check. In short, we are back where it all began, clinging to the form of “Star Wars” (1977)—or, as it was later rebaptized, “A New Hope.” What’s going on here? Is Abrams a chronic nostalgist, bowing so low to the fan base that his nose is rubbing against the floor? Or has he wisely concluded that, if it ain’t broke, he should not be fool enough to fix it?

I mean, Anthony Lane seems to approve of this film where he didn't the earlier ones, but I remember the hot mess that the Trek reboots were in Abrams' hands, where he recycled one Trek movie over two instalments and stitched plot points from other episodes with the fine motor skills of a Frankenstein. 

Also he's on record as not having been a fan of Trek and not wanting to do this one either, for fear that he'd be known as that sequel guy (which....yeah) so all things considered, I think I'll just say it's rather sweet of Lane to give this film a pass.

When I watch this film, I'd prefer to do it in the company of those with a low threshold for bullshit and in possession of a large tub of snark.


Bonus: Exhibit 3 from my post-STiD disappointment [scroll down to end of post].


*"A prequel only gains its meaning from the fact that it’s viewed after and in relation to the original," Sam Kriss says, in the piece linked to later in my post, while making a defense of Episodes 1-3 for telling it like it is.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

The Sideways Door: December Prompt

Gosh we're almost done with this year, aren't we? Tail-end and what a wagging tail it is.

Speaking of tail-ends, I've said this on this blog before - and I suppose it's a kind of spatial synaesthesia - but things that normally don't have shape can be given one by the imagination. 

So that's what this month's Sideways Door prompt is: poems about shape and form.

Though what's really occupying my mind is the Chennai (and TN) floods.

That's for another post, though.

Friday, November 27, 2015

randomised keyboards

So I was doing some netbanking this morning and discovered that the virtual keyboard, which is usually the standard issue Qwerty, had suddenly become a random one.

I stuck my face close to the screen, searched they keyboard and picked out the first letter of my password. 

The keyboard randomised its letters and numbers. And this happened with each keystroke.

I mean, I understand it's a great idea for security reasons (or so I imagine? I someone going to tell me it's all rubbish?) but it's a pain in the retina to try and figure out where each letter and number is every time. This particular password didn't have any capitals otherwise I'm sure I'd have discovered more difficulties. 


Speaking of eye trouble, I have decided that one reason I have written so little this year is because I cannot read my notes. 

I write 'em well enough, but when I write, my handwriting tends to be frugal and cramped, as if I were running out of paper and no more forests were available for pulping into papyrus.

End result: I can't make out what the heck I was saying, so I don't bother looking at notes once I've done making them. And it's not as if my mental retentive powers have compensated or anything. 

All this means that if I can't read my notes, I can't write.

(Or so I tell myself).

The Sideways Door: November Response Column

This month, The Sideways Door had a disappointing crop of precisely one submission. And it's not even the first time this has happened. I have said in my latest column that TSD will close when there are no submissions in any given month. 

But I wonder whether I should wait to have that particular ignominy come to pass, or if I should just close the door on my way out in a month of my choosing.

Watch this space; I'll let you know when I know.

Fwiw, here's the column.

Friday, November 06, 2015

The Sideways Door: November Prompt

This month, I dusted off a prompt I'd written but never sent it. I guess now I'm in the mood to read poems with myth at their heart.

Here's the prompt.

I also discovered last week, while curating the @genderlogindia handle and posting poems by women poets, that I may have got the name for my poetry column from a poem by Ursula le Guin without realising it. That is to say, I didn't quote it when I wrote my first column more than a year ago, when I spent a little time talking about doors on their sides.

Oh well.

So. Please write and send in poems. This month I'm allowing 40 line poems.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Sideways Door: October Response

Yes, I seem to be changing it up here by posting this column all by it's lonesome. Actually, I never do post the column here, do I? I just link to it. 



From today for the coming week, I will be curating the @genderlogindia handle on twitter. So heads-up!

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Sideways Door: October Prompt, September Response

I'm at all certain why I arrange these posts this way, with this month's prompt and last month's response all in one column, but whatever.

Here's October's prompt column, in which I am fascinated by pebbles and by what Syrian sculptor, Nizar Ali Badr has made of them.

September had a thin crop of submissions - one, to be absolutely truthful. I thought people would want to give life advice in pithy sentences but apparently not. You'd think, in an age where were celebrate the 140 characters allotted to us, we'd be pros at the aphorism.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed for this month.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Leaves of grass

As we were leaving from a place yesterday, we noticed this deep maroon flower. "Cotton family," my mother said, authoritatively, and I took her word for it.

I got into the car. My mother gestured for me to return. She was bent over that 'cotton' plant but for some reason now, she kept saying "grass". 

I looked at her blankly. 

"Marijuana!" she said, as to someone particularly slow.

Oh! I looked. And sure enough, those leaves. 

 I have to say, at this point, that I have never actually seen a marijuana plant. I don't know what it looks like in situ, or what kind of flowers it has. I just know the shape of the leaves.

We stood indecisively over it (I really couldn't tell you why. In addition to our general ignorance about the plant in its raw state, we were also pretty unlearned in processes. And we'd finished admiring the flower early on in our acquaintance). 

A couple of people gathered around us.

"What is this plant?" we ventured to ask.

"Gongura," the lady replied. Apparently it can be cooked and eaten.

Well, of course, I thought. (Also irrelevantly, I thought of brownies).

I took a couple of photos and plucked a flower with a leaf attached. It withered on the dashboard before we got home.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Book Release: Karthika Nair's Until the Lions in Hyderabad | Monday 28 September

Karthika Naïr's Until the Lions, a re-imagining of the Mahabharata in the voices of its marginal characters, will have its Hyderabad release tomorrow. Details below.

It is a fantastic book and if you're in Hyderabad, and free in the afternoon, do try and make it.

Monday, 28 September, 4.30 pm.
School of Humanities Auditorium, University of Hyderabad.

This reading is a part of The Park's New Festival's events in Hyderabad, in association with the Prakriti Foundation.

I will be in conversation with Karthika.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Reading list

Possibly the most fun thing I've read recently is Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown. It has one of the best character names of this decade (Georgiana Without Ruth) and the most magnificent last chapter this side of Georgette Heyer.

In fact, if you've ever wished for one last, undiscovered Heyer, this is the book you need to read. There's adventure, magic (which, all right, Heyer didn't have; but then there's magic and there's sorcery) and some truly laugh out loud moments that are pure comedy and timing.

All in all, it was a joy to read.


Having done with the Cho, I flitted and sipped and left many things unread. I enjoyed Jo Walton's The Just CityI am wondering if I should jump on the Elena Ferrante bandwagon. 

There's a book in every space I occupy. Michael Pollan in one place, Anne Carson in another, Nabaneeta Dev Sen in a third. And yet, I think the book I will begin today and carry everywhere with me, is George Eliot's Romola. [see pic]

I found this copy in Jan this year, at the Hyd Lit Fest's second hand book stall, along with a right loot of good stuff, all of which I failed to catalogue. And, I guess, I'm in the mood for some proper historical fiction. 


Oh - the other thing I'm carrying around with me everywhere is Karthika Nair's soon-to-be-released Until the Lions, her re-telling of the Mahabharata from several perpectives not limited to women. 

It is magnificent and I am looking forward to being in conversation with her on the 28th at the UoH. Details of all Park Festival events here. Do come if you're in town.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

The Sideways Door: August Response & September Prompt

Thought I'd wait until August blew over. 

Here's my response to August's villanelle submissions.

And this month, I rewrote my entire column at the last minute, changing the prompt entirely. Yup. I thought short and sweet was the answer to the tribulations of the last two interminable months.

Here's September's prompt.

Get working!


A thing I've noticed (since they've begun tracking this stuff at The Daily O) is that more people share the prompts on Facebook than they do on Twitter. I wonder why. I mean, of course I wonder, because I'm not on FB and twitter is where I tend to hang out. And all kinds of stuff gets shared on twitter, so I wonder why the prompts don't.

Not important.


I've been reading a bunch of stuff and staying offline and it feels good. Yesterday I called precisely two friends after ages and it struck me as odd later that I apologised to my virtual world for not being around, but it took real effort to do the same thing when I tried it on my present-right-here friends. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015


My life this last week has been: 

Travel trauma due to bus sickness.

Epic laptop crash resulting in loss of many things including Office, rendering all necessary documents unopenable.

Network connectivity issues.

I am not a fan of sitting in front of two laptops (this one and the old one my son is supposed to use) trying to figure out how to write and send off stuff that needs to get to people in good enough time.

Naturally, this means a bout of extreme bad temper. Kindly excuse while I get over it. 

(Wait. In nine years I have never needed a tag that said disasters? How?)

Thursday, August 06, 2015

The Sideways Door: August prompt, July response

Oh hello, blog.

The Sideways Door for August is now up. I kind of drag Dr. Seuss in there and I am not sorry at all.

Last month's response column went up ages ago and I don't know where my head was at, I seem to have forgotten to post links here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

the vampiric old south

I am fifty pages from the end of Harper Lee's Go Set A Watchman and - not being in the best of moods this month - I cannot bring myself to finish it. I read five pages or a section, want to fling the book across the room and then I just stop reading instead of whipping myself into a frenzy.

Yes, it's that bad.

Alternatively, I want to do a Vanessa Place-lite* and cherrypick the egregious bits and blog or tweet them, one hot mess at a time. I mean, there's an art project in there, right? One that will get me attention and a place on some important jury?

I may write about it but I doubt it. There's nothing others haven't said before and I don't really have anything to add except maybe notice in public that it's the money the book was always going to make that made this a "good" idea, in a year such as 2015 has been.

You should go listen to Prince's Baltimore instead as antidote.

Oh, also - I happened to turn the TV on and watched to the grim and bitter end the ridiculousness that is Joel Schumacher's A Time to Kill. I mean, it has a star cast but what are you going to do about the cliches, the white saviourness and the background score? Just how clueless are these guys?

I'm done ranting. I have a column to write and friends to meet and cats to feed. Oh yes, I must do a post about them. 


* I'm making the Gone with the Wind comparison deliberately, seeing as how much the grown-up Scout, or Jean Louise as she is now known, shares with the honourable Ashley Wilkes, going all Götterdämmerung on Maycomb county.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

two things

Two things I read this morning seemed just right for the moment, day, time.

1. From July's issue of Asymptote, Jose Eugenio Sanchez's poem 'czeslaw milosz gets off the train at fuengirola', these lines:

there was nothing on earth that I wanted
as if I existed only for the perishing of land and men

there is no witchcraft in my words
I speak silent as a cloud
or tree

2. Next, from Sheridan Hay's The Secret of Lost Things, very early on in the book (page 15-16 to be precise):

The orange, red and yellow heads worked against melancholy; their unopened leaves, like little green tongues, reproached me. I picked a few red ones, Mother's favourite colour, and put them on top of the box.

I knelt down to inspect a large, open leaf, almost a perfect circle. A silver drop of water balanced on its surface, shiny as a ball of mercury. Carefully, I picked the leaf and spun the bead of water inside its green world - a tiny ball of order, isolated and contained. Focusing on the drop relieved an increment of anguish, about the same size, near my heart.

"Help me," I prayed to the water drop. "I want Mother. I want it all back. I want my life." 
there was nothing on earth that I wanted
as if I existed only for the perishing of land and men

there is no witchcraft in my words
I speak silent as a cloud
or tree
- See more at:

José Eugenio Sánchez

José Eugenio Sánchez

czeslaw milosz gets off the train at fuengirola
- See more at:

José Eugenio Sánchez

czeslaw milosz gets off the train at fuengirola
- See more at:

José Eugenio Sánchez

czeslaw milosz gets off the train at fuengirola
- See more at:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Second Half

Now that the first two weeks of this month are done, I feel I can say this. July is so difficult. Every single day of the first half of it is somebody’s birthday or death or something significant. I remember everyone’s anniversary, sometimes two people sharing the same day. I have known these people almost all my life, or for a large enough portion of it to call them significant.

But I don’t call or talk to any of them. Well, if they’re dead, I can’t. It should make me want to talk to those who are left, to – oh, I don’t know – make some gesture that says we’re sharing the same world. I don’t. I remember all of them on their day and then I stay silent. My phone stays silent. It always does.

And it’s lonely. Because I remember them and their special days but I have nothing to say to them and the thought that is might be reciprocal is also a little frightening though I may not always/even now be able to admit it to myself.

And every day the evidence of how little time is left piles up. It paralyses me. That is a different thing than silence though I suspect I am only now learning to tell the difference.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

The Sideways Door July Prompt

I wrote this month's column and then realise I'd left out Serafini. So I had that put in. It's a strange time of the month and year. Naturally the prompt reflects that.

Here is is: All kinds of strangeness. Am looking forward to entries this month.

I also forgot to link to the June's response column, so that's here.

Friday, July 03, 2015


Whatever happened for the last eight hours, it was not sleep. It was an inventory. A low-grade counting off of processes.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

No title

I need to get through the next seven days.

(KM, look away now.)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Scroll VI

My last column for Scroll on poetry was up some time last week. 

Here it is.

It's too beautiful outside to be online, so.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Sideways Door June Prompt

Better late than never - counting today, there's 10 days left.


Yes, I continue to be fascinated by borrowing, conversing and writing back.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Sideways Door & Scroll V

Having mush for brains in the middle of this heatwave means that I forget to post things when they're out.

The Sideways Door's May response was up a few days ago. You can find it here.

I have been writing a series on poetry for Scroll and the penultimate column is up today.

How to write new ones is the real question. I'd rather fill a bathtub with ice and hide in it, rather like Tom Cruise (aargh!) in Minority Report.

Sunday, May 24, 2015


For the first time ever, I have missed this blog's anniversary. I began this thing nine years ago on the 21st and I'm rather surprised at myself. 

Maybe I should even change my description and all.

Then I remember that after all I forgot to announce the blog's ninth so.

Let's have another kind of ninth, huh?

And just for fun, the flash mob version.

[Belated] happy anni, Spaniard.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Scroll IV

The latest in my series on Scroll is now up. I was thinking of Tony Leung; I admit it.

Everything else - I can hardly bear to be on my laptop. It's so hot my wrists burn. Coping with summer takes more energy than I have.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Sideways Door: May Prompt

Perhaps I am sick of sitting in one place using just the tips of my fingers. Or I'm fed up of driving and driving in this heat, doing tasks rather like a worker ant, with no tangible result. Whatever the reason, this month's prompt comes out of that sense of wanting to reconnect with using one's hands.

Here it is: 'The sweetest dream that labor knows'. 

(I have been itching to correct the spelling of the word 'labor' here and on Daily O but since it's a quotation, I'm leaving it.)

Monday, May 04, 2015

Catching up with April: Links to columns

The last two weeks of April were hellish. Two friends died within the space of a few days. Anxieties both specific and general tied in with what appeared to be disaster upon disaster made me want a cave rather badly.

It meant I was offline a lot and did not link to my columns as they appeared. 

So here - rather belatedly, especially now it's time for the next prompt already - are the two things that appeared while I was away.

The April response column at The Sideways Door, in which I wrote about the poems people wrote when they woke up from a deep sleep.

And Part III of my series for Scroll on what makes me write poetry. Or something.

I'm hoping May will be better than April was, but not holding out too many hopes. At any rate, not having watched Avengers, I have Thoughts on what I think the film is, and if I am not too traumatised by this week, I may even air them.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Ibn 'Abd Rabbih: from 'The Unique Necklace'

The internet is a strange and wonderful resource and among its wonders is The New Inquiry's Sunday Reading. This week's SR has a contribution by kitabet that I went and read, because who doesn't like cats, especially when their paws have been dyed with henna?

Exploring David Larsen's blog, I found his translations from Ibn 'Abd Rabbih's, I suppose it's an anthology? called 'The Unique Necklace'.

Here's a short portion from that post, because it's not a single poem, but a collection of responses in verse.

Read the whole post here

from The Unique Necklace

by Ibn 'Abd Rabbih translated by David Larsen

Abu 'l-Bakhtarī said: The tales I used to hear of Abū Fahma, a madman of Baghdad with a gift for poetic improvisation, led me to seek him out. Our meeting came about in a lane of the city, where I said to him, "How are you today, Abū Fahma?" He replied in verse:

  "Today I awake at the edge of a cliff. Through you
      the way lies open to the wellsprings of my ruin.
   I see you turning, but not toward me.
      Whose heart is least corrupt you least attend.
   O you whose absence prolongs my lovesickness:
      it is a sickness with more regret in it than love."
Abu 'l-Bakhtarī said: At this I withdrew from my sleeve a small bouquet of narcissus, and pressed it on him with my wishes that God prolong his life. He stood smelling them for a time, then delivered these verses:

  "On my wedding day, there came from the South great spattering
      clouds decked out with rain so black that they were brown.
   Then kicked in the East Wind with its fecundating showers,
      and the curtailment of our nuptials was hard to bear.
   Our babe was born still. Labor pains came on,
      and there was parturition, and that was the issue.
   Springtime wove a shroud, and as one hand
      the dew and breeze gave color to its fabric.
   It was [this] flower's composite yellow, white petals
      cupping ornaments of unsmithed gold 
   on emerald columns raised aloft with the morning,
      like unto the sun in eye-like beauty." 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Li-Young Lee 'To Hold'

Today's poem is Li-Young Lee's 'To Hold'. On my laptop is a folder of poems that I've read somewhere of the other and liked enough to copy down. Often, I've not provided myself with a link or a bibliography; bad habits. 

This is one of those poems. It's also easy to see why I liked and saved it. There's an audio version here read by the poet.

To Hold

by Li-Young Lee

So we're dust. In the meantime, my wife and I
make the bed. Holding opposite edges of the sheet,
we raise it, billowing, then pull it tight,
measuring by eye as it falls into alignment
between us. We tug, fold, tuck. And if I'm lucky,
she'll remember a recent dream and tell me.
One day we'll lie down and not get up.
One day, all we guard will be surrendered.
Until then, we'll go on learning to recognize
what we love, and what it takes
to tend what isn't for our having.
So often, fear has led me
to abandon what I know I must relinquish
in time. But for the moment,
I'll listen to her dream,
and she to mine, our mutual hearing calling
more and more detail into the light
of a joint and fragile keeping.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Swar Thounaojam 'A sentry converses'

So it appears that I haven't posted a poem in some days. This must be remedied.

I was on twitter when Swar tweeted about the Indian army molesting women in newly-under-AFSPA Arunachal Pradesh, when I remembered her poem from a Guardian poetry workshop some years ago.

Also, that workshop happened to be about writing letters and my poetry prompt last month at The Sideways Door was about letters unsent on never received. 

Finally, that workshop was by Kate Clanchy, whose book Meeting the English sounded interesting (but I found I couldn't finish it. I am thinking of giving up my library membership altogether, since I never seem to begin or finish the books I borrow.)

Enough of coincidences; they have nothing to do with the poem, which I've always found powerful. 

           A sentry converses 

           by Swar Thounaojam
Ibungo, how is your urn?
Does it still hold you?

First they put a garage over you
Then a plot of chives and shallots
Now it is a tea stall
and underneath the bench, on which I sweat sipping my tea,
is you - 14 months old and gone for 12 years.
Your mother cried she gave you the greater love.
So good you and your brother
were such unthinking children
and that you died.
Loud, unlike love is such drivel to grow up with.
You were too young to know you had a big head.
So let me tell you - you had a gigantic head
and never cried.
First, people said you were a good-natured child.
Then you became too odd - a never-crying child.
You were shown to doctors, who showed
you were wrong somewhere.
They were about to fix you properly
When you just left.
I think of you often,
wishing you were my real brother:
I could have claimed your death as my valid sorrow
and rig people to explain
my unsound quiet with it.
Now I will beat my heels,
right where the spade struck first to bury you.
There, can you hear it?
Ibungo, you never grew up to know me.
But remember this is your Che, your big sister,
Guarding your life.