Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Queue tale

My stuff is getting billed. There's some mix-up about one of the things, so we're just standing around waiting.

From behind me, a voice says, "You've stopped dyeing your hair. It looks good - suits you."

It's a male voice. I turn around. No one I know - a short, paunchy middle-aged man in specs with grizzled hair. I slowly look at him, not quite up and down, but with a curl of the lip.

"Can I say the same thing to you?" I ask.

A look of some delight and a lot of confusion. "Of course!"

"Good," I say and turn back to the counter, where, thankfully, things have been sorted out and billing has resumed.

After a moment, he speaks again. "I'm sorry if I intruded into your private space."

"Thank you. You did."

I leave without looking at him again. I feel more angry than witty or triumphant and later I wonder at how easily I let that anger go just because I remembered that he apologised. Then I feel a bit annoyed at myself.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Like Bellow's Herzog

These days I feel like Saul Bellow's Herzog. I compose letters and mails to people in my head and - this goes without saying - I never send any of them.

When I do send a mail to a person on my ever-growing list, it never turns out the way it exists in my head. It shrinks, becomes more mealy-mouthed and conventional, more stripped of warmth and intent. Anyone reading such a mail would naturally wonder why I bothered and very likely ignore it.

I choose to think this signifies something. A retreat. A re-gathering of resources. Perhaps. 

See Bellow's lines:

"Not able to stand kindness at this time. Feeling, heart, everything in strange condition. Unfinished business."

Yes, let's call it unfinished business. For which withdrawal and disengagement is necessary. Or, at any rate, an absence from being everywhere, in order to be only within myself.


Tuesday, January 03, 2017

'The ancient story of the sun going down': RIP John Berger

The year begins with the ending of a rich and productive life. John Berger, who died yesterday, was 90. 

As 2016 ended, I said to myself, 'At least this isn't the year John Berger died.' As 2017 begins, he has.

And yet, I don't feel the shock and grief that many deaths the previous year brought. I feel gratitude for his work, for his clarity and compassion and for his quest to live and write ethically.

There are many, many things about his life and work that is easily found on the net, so I won't link to anything.

Instead, here's a poem:

Each Pine at Dusk

John Berger

Each pine at dusk
lodges the bird
of its voice
perpendicular and still
the forest
indifferent to history
tearless as stone
in tremulous excitement
the ancient story
of the sun going down


Okay, that was meagre. To fill it out, I will (naturally) need to talk about myself. Of being a very young 21 and encountering Ways of Seeing as a bunch of cyclostyled (yes!) excerpts at Sophia. Though I had already begun to train myself to see visual media more critically, it was Berger who was the first to thoroughly train my eye to work in tandem with my mind.

Then there was Once In Europa. It's a book to re-read today, for sure; but when I first read it, I was editing my first (and only) 'feature film, in Bangalore. We worked in a room off the projector room; the corridor outside was populated with monkeys; the manager of the state-owned theatre found it hard to believe that a woman was a director but frankly incredulous when he found that the editor was also a woman. We stayed in a clean lodge somewhere in Seshadripuram and I discovered a part of Bangalore through sitting and standing in buses to and from Jayanagar.

It was in this month and half (or however long it took) that I was reading Berger, in the few in-between times that were all we had before exhaustion and sleep took us. I don't think there were any even slight parallels between the world of the book and the life I was reading leading. And yet, it is in the dna of my poetry; I'm not sure how, but I know it - and Berger - is.

In recent years, when my mother's reading has outpaced mine in a way that still astonishes me, I've given her his books and she has devoured them. I have, perhaps, been more sceptical of his recent work (that A to X book; what is it with Berger and letters of the alphabet?) but I would never deny the power of his early work.

I need to look for his films now (Ways of Seeing is available on YouTube, by the way).