Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Upcoming reading from Escape Artist in Delhi and Bangalore

I should have done this last year, but it's not too late. Readings from Escape Artist are happening in Delhi first and Bangalore next, in the course of the next ten days. 

Heads up!

In Delhi

Friday, 20th Feb, 6.30 pm, The Toddy Shop, Hauz Khas Village

That's the day after tomorrow! If I don't have your email or number, consider this an invitation.

In Bangalore

Thursday, 26th Feb, 6.30 pm: Atta Galatta, Koramangala.

Friday, 27th Feb, 6 pm: Alternative Law Forum, Infantry Road.

Come to both, either; bring your friends.

See you soon!


In other reminders, two days left for submissions to The Sideways Door.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Karachi. A murder.

Of crows. Tsk. What were you thinking?

This is from my hotel window on the last evening. 

There will probably be one more photo post and then I'm done talking about my trip. Mostly because I'd like to let the experience steep in silence but also because the series is now in serious danger of becoming exotic and banal all at once.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Karachi: Cricket

On a day when India and Pakistan are playing in the World Cup, there must be cricket photos.

These are at the Aga Khan University Medical College, where Kavery and I had gone to do a reading with writers from the University.

AKU cricket

AKU pavilion

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Faiz Aman Mela

Tomorrow in Lahore there is to be a Faiz Aman Mela, to celebrate the 104th birth anniversary of the poet. We were told about it on our hasty trip around the city and we regretted the lost opportunity.

Here is a poster marking the event, caught in passing, as we caught everything else, from the window of a car.

Lahore: Faiz poster
Aur bhi gham hai zamane mein mohabbat ke siva.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Doha Diary: Layover

We had over eight hours in Doha and Qatar Airways were obliged to give us a room. It took an hour for the paper work and travel to, but we had plenty of rest and a shower and tea and felt somewhat human by the time we returned to the airport.

In the interval, we saw glimpses of Doha from the bus and from our respective room windows. I got construction.

Doha: View from my room

Kavery got a mosque and kids playing football. That's the luck of the draw. 

Doha: View from Kavery's room

(That aged look to the photos is merely badly washed window panes.)

On our way to the hotel, we found our driver speaking with a strong Malayali accent and - because that's how these things happen - I was speaking to someone in Tamil for the first time in ten days*. 

Oh, and the guy at Reception was Pakistani and I got to hear someone say, one more time, 'Koi maslaa nahin." The gap between experience and nostalgia gets shorter and shorter.

Before all that, however, there were timely reminders that it was time to return.

Lahore: Paradise takeaway
 If there is a Paradise...


*Excluding conversations with my mother, of course.

The Sideways Door: February Prompt Column

I'm back home and have realised that while I tweeted the prompt column while in Karachi, I failed to post it here.

So with one week left for submissions, here is The Sideways Door's February Prompt Column: The Direct Deed.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Lahore Diary: Goodbye Lahore

We came, we saw, we left.

This is the short version.

The long version is: police verification early, a hasty breakfast bolted down, workshop with some fantastic kids, a hasty lunch, shopping at Liberty and Beech Tree/Khadi, a grabbed dinner, an early night. Followed by a more leisurely morning, with a little walk, a day out in the old city and some strategic re-packing. 

Now, for dinner in a couple of hours, followed by another early night because of - you guessed it! - an early flight.

You will ask Neruda-like questions and perhaps I ought to give you Neruda-like answers but I will say it with photographs. They will tell you how I saw the city just as clearly as what it was I was able to see.

Now? Of course not. Once I'm back.

Lahore, hello-goodbye.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Lahore Diary: Late night, early morning

The flight attendant says it's 16C out at 11pm. I am sceptical butsomewhat reassured though I wonder what I'm doing with the coat in my lap.

The woman next to me on the flight is Air Blue crew and she's not on duty but obviously feels she has a calling because even from the middle seat next to me, she's directed people to their seats, told people how to stow their laptops correctly so there's place for everyone else, and has asked me if she could have my aisle seat - I refuse, naturally - but continues to officiously sidle out to speak to those actually on duty. At the baggage carousel, she raises her eyebrows at the baggage porter on duty, as if she could get him to conjure our luggage by doing so.

Outside, we're met and though it's dark, to me the air feels like early winter in Delhi and I am overcome with a wave of nostalgia. I conclude that it's the air, just that right amount of bite in it that's on this side of sharp.

In the parking lot, a scatter of broken windshield glass is another sign that after all, familiarity is unavoidable. Perhaps it's unnecessary to avoid it; it's enough to mark it when it happens.

We stop for bread, I borrow my friend's phone to text home though I'm fairly certain it won't go - no text messages have, so far. LUMS is not far and even in the night, it's easy to see that it's going to look like a posh version of JNU. All red brick, trees, clean lines of roads and students confident in their right to the place.

Skipping lightly over the bits where I can't sleep and still have to (have to) wake up early for police verification, I discover the early morning is gorgeous with the sunlight slanting over the peepul outside my picture window. We're on the ground floor and in this brief moment before the day begins properly, I can look out at this natural component of institutional beauty and admire it.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Karachi Diary: Goodbye Karachi, Hello Lahore

It's been six days since we got here. In an hour or so I will be at the police station for paperwork before I leave for Lahore. There will be other ends to tie up and then it's a new city and a new air.

I've made so many friends in these few days and if I stop to think about how wonderful people have been, I will want to behave in an extravagantly foolish manner to accurately express how I feel.  

I arrived in Karachi in the dark, on a night when the full moon had not yet set and was hanging over the airport like a paper cut out. Tonight we will see Lahore for the first time, also in the dark. 

It's apt - this slow revelation, this adjustment of the eyes and the senses to something new.

Goodbye, Karachi. Hello, Lahore.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Karachi Diary: Sleeplessness & solitude

I can't remember when I got a good night's sleep this last week. It certainly wasn't on the day I landed but in the days since, though I've had an opportunity or two, I can't say I've caught up on lost sleep.

For one thing, rising early is a hard habit to break. I'm up with the azaan no matter when I go to bed. Unfamiliar beds, the light all wrong, snoring neighbours heard loud and clear through remarkably thin walls - many things make a good night's sleep impossible.

But mostly it's the reluctance to wind up the hanging out. 

Yesterday, over different conversations, I said and heard others say how important solitude is to them as writers, how they are essentially people who are not just happy to be alone but actively prefer it.

And yet, at lit fests and in the days here before this one started, there's scarcely an hour in the day where we've been free to just stare out at the water, read, make desultory notes in the journals I'm sure we've carried with us assiduously everywhere, even moving it from bag to bag where necessary.

At the festival, there are more crowds than at Goa or Hyderabad during the festival and it's rather scary to be amongst so many people. I scurried away to my room between sessions and was immensely grateful for being able to do so. 

I intended to spend last night alone in my room. I managed to get two hours to myself. This is not a complaint.  

When I'm home, I go for days without speaking to another person except my mother. My phone is always on silent and if there were a way to mute construction sounds, where I live would be the perfect place.

But when I travel, I don't expect to be left alone and I am happy to pack in all the conversations I don't usually have, into those three or four days when I see other people. 

And I don't know how other writers do it but I'm generally socially awkward so making conversation is hard in the company of people who tend naturally to silence. Asking questions is one way in but by themselves they don't constitute a conversation. I've been finding it interesting to watch how we all construct our public personhood via the few anecdotes we recycle for public consumption, how little or how much we give away even in broad, potentially fraught subjects such as politics.

I tell myself there's a time for solitude and that time is not now. I'm trying to be an accurate recording device but without my batteries recharged with enough sleep, it's hard.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Karachi Diary: Placeholder

My S10 is more than ten years old and is now on its last legs. The photos it can manage are grainy, even in adequate light. There were reasons I couldn't bring my SLR but since the reason I'm not blogging in words today is because there's barely time to sleep, let alone process things and blog about them.

So here's the creek by our hotel. Early morning and at around sunset.

Creek. Early Morning. Karachi.

Creek. Sunset. Karachi

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Karachi Diary: hearsay, reflections

Familiarity is a defense. It must be, because that way of accessing a new place is so much easier. Karachi looks like Delhi, feels like Bombay, sounds like Hyderabad. The air, the trees, the shops, the colonial architecture. I feel at home. This feels like home. I don't feel like I've come to another country.

Even in the most unambiguously foreign place, I'm certain I'd be looking for the familiar in order not to think about how huge and hard to understand a new place is. It's easier to keep up the pretense in a country like Pakistan, because actually so much is familiar and laid over transparently over what is not. The country through a car window.


You'd think nearly 70 years would be enough to make us very, very different - at least in the way we speak. But we're not quite like the Canadian French yet. Or at least my ear is not attuned to differences in usage and speech.

My speech is almost unconsciously shifting. It becomes more Delhi and less Tamil-inflected Dakhni. I am waiting for someone to say the equivalent of 'Greater Klaash' so I feel really at home.


Photos in another post.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Karachi Diary: Day 2 night

By rights I ought to misspell night, to be even-handed and impartial. Surely I must suffer from typing thumbs late as I clearly do early? Or, ealry.

Anyway. I am exhausted but I must report that I will shortly have things to say about donkeys.

That is all.

[for now].

Ok, fine. I'll tell you one thing: there are many of them on the roads and they are all uniformly adorable and just half an hour ago, I saw two donkey carts transporting really large steel rafters and someone should rescue donkeys from such cruel and unusual punishment, though it's mainly the rescue story that I will save for later.

Another thing about one donkey I saw: it was hurried along by the cart driver with a paper bag rattled by its ears. Dried beans? Something truly scary?

The third and final thing [for now]: there are donkey markets. We will probably not get to see it though. Sometimes I feel that the most useful and interesting things are the ones that you never get to see when you're travelling elsewhere. It's all heresay and anecdotal evidence. Produce the donkeys, I say, and I'll believe there's a market for them.

Just to prove that I am done with donkeys for the moment, I have to tell you that I saw the sweetest tree of kettles in a crowded market lane in between somewhere busy and somewhere posh. Like, you know shoe trees? Only, this was a kettle tree. Even in the almost-dark I could tell there were blue ones and green ones and they hold maybe two cups of water and I want one and I probably will not manage to get one and how can I leave Pakistan without a tea kettle.

No, I'm not tipsy - what kind of a question is that? - just exhausted and I had silly thoughts and instead of getting out my notebook and the pen I have handily tucked away into it, I thought it was right and just that I take out my laptop, connect to an iffy wifi and tell you these things instead of keeping it all quiet and private.

Until tomorrow, then, good night.

One of these days I will have coherent, thoughtful things to say about my trip. But not now.

Karachi Diary: Day 2 ealry morning

The early morning needs to be said because I was up at 4.40 only to realise that my phone died in the night and my alarm would not work. I
ve made myself tea and am waiting for the crows to tell me it's properly morning before I call my mother.

In a couple of hours, we'll be grabbing breakfast on the run, on our way to Habib University, where I meet four young poets and Kavery 15 young fiction writers. I have given them a huge set to look at and my night's anxieties included lying awake wondering what I would do if they forgot to bring the poems with them.

I have been teaching middle school children for too long.

Outside my window the lights along the creek are blazing orange. In Hyderabad the sun might be about to rise but here it is still not dawn.

I have  little time to gather myself and my thoughts before the morning comes. If I look at this moment for too long, or sideways, I might find I am like a person in my own poems.

Maybe I should call home now.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Karachi Diary: Day 1

Before Karachi, there was Hyderabad. Hyderabad, India, as I'm growing used to specifying; not Hyderabad, Sindh.

At the Hyderabad Airport, first the man at the ticket counter and then the man at Immigration, took a long look at my Pakistan visa. They called their superiors, claimed they were too new and had no experience in handling Pakistan visas. They took copies of my documents. They asked me to say what I did and where I wrote. I wrote out a list of places where my work has appeared. (This blog did not feature in this list).

It is now nearly 6pm in my lovely hotel room in Karachi. I have just returned from my police verification where there were more copies of documents made, more genial questions. This seems worth noting, that at none of these places were people actually hostile. They were merely taking note of where I was coming from and to and acting accordingly.

Of the 24 hours between the ticket counter in Hyderabad and the police visit in Karachi, I can tell you very little. Moments of anxiety that come with any form of international travel: will I make my connecting flight? What time is it there? (there being unspecified) Will my baggage arrive? In one piece or several - bite your tongue on that thought!

The lack of sleep. I have slept for maybe four hours in the last 36, in snatches of two hours or so. I am light-headed with lack of sleep and yet I daren't lie down just now. There are still things left to do before tomorrow and if I sleep now i will probably be up at 2am and in no condition to do anything tomorrow.

But these are not the things you want to know.

You want to know about the airport at 4am, with the unexpectedly cold breeze, the yellow full moon setting, the hordes of people with rose garlands wrapped in plastic, waiting for their people to emerge from the maws of immigrations.

You want to know how wonderful and gleaming the roads seem after Hyderabad, how they're still shiny at noon and later, though clogged with traffic as any road might be in this part of the world.

And how the air feels like Bombay and the trees feel like home though there are some I cannot identify. My friend says to me, "If you find someone in Karachi who can name these trees, let me know." I can name ashoka, neem, peepul and banyan, but there's a shrub-like tree that reminds me of something I can't remember the name of. Then, in conversation about habitat, it occurs to me: it must be a variety of mangrove tree. I've seen leaves like it in Pichavaram. 

There was shopping. I have a list of requests but it seems likely that I will buy even half of what people say they want. One, because there will be no time, and two, exhaustion does not sharpen the eye. Nothing I saw pleased me enough.

The place where I bought shoes, though. They gave us chai and chatted with us and gave us discounts. They called me their mehmaan. I can see I am going to get called this often, and I preen a little inside when they do.

Then the sea. A sight of the creek from the hotel room, a quick drive by the beach - not enough but it will do for now.

Tomorrow and the day after, I will do a poetry workshop with people at Habib University and Kavery Nambisan, who is also with me on this trip, will do a fiction writing workshop with other young people.

That and other things in the next post. If I continue now, I will scatter words here and there more for sound than sense. I'm not even going to read over what I've written because I might not reach the end of it. Please excuse typos and incoherence. I will gather myself by and by.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Spaniard Goes West

A little more to the West as Calculus might have said.

I am off to Karachi for the Lit Fest and after that, to Lahore for two days. Of course, it's impossible to make the short hop from Bombay to Karachi in the civilised hour or so that it should take, so I will be jetlagged with a day-chewing couple of flights, but hey - I'm westward bound!

Unexpectedly, for me, I think I will blog as often as time permits. I won't be able to take my SLR because baggage rules about one bag are very strict and I really can't stuff a camera into my laptop bag. There will be another camera, though it's old and the images it produces are rather grainy but that can't be helped.

What has been interesting has been the reactions of people to the news in the last two days. 

"Why are you doing this?!" one person said. "You'll never get a visa to the US again." 

"Karachi? Oh! Oh!" said another friend. The second oh was both exclamatory and silent. I could tell.

Another misheard me and was puzzled. "What?" I asked, maybe a little aggressively. When she asked what I'd said and I repeated myself, she said, 'Oh, Karachi! I thought you said Karate."

One friend of my mother's has just been and back and she had much advice to give me. We've made a date to compare stories once I return. Another sounded wistful; she had tried so hard to visit her sister for a whole year and at one point it looked like the visa might come through. But then it didn't and her sister died.

Visas. Let's not talk about them.

Let's talk about PACKING!

(Actually, let's not. You lot know me and know it was and continues to be epic. One day, I will inaugurate a new genre of travel writing that is almost entirely told via the packing for it.)

Maybe let's talk about shopping instead? Or things I absolutely must do and see in both these cities?

Suggestions, please!