Saturday, September 30, 2006

“The horror! The horror!”

The GRAFTII recently paid tribute to the film editor Renu Saluja, whose untimely death in 2000 deprived the Hindi film industry of one its best editors. The book, Invisible: The Art Of Renu Saluja, was released at Crossword a few months ago, but somehow, all of seemed very far away to me. It wasn’t until Praba Mahajan mailed me a few days ago that I started to remember my own (very brief) association with Renu.

In the years that I studied at the FTII, the editing students of the FTII had about thirteen exercises to complete, in addition to all the work that they did as a team – the song sequence, the documentary and the diploma film. One of the exercises that was given us much later in the year, more or less at the time we were also editing our diplomas, was a scene from Khamosh. This was, in effect, a workshop exercise, because every year, Renu Saluja, who edited the original film, would come down and supervise out edits.

Now, Khamosh was shot using film like toilet paper (to borrow, I think, Ketan Mehta’s slightly unusual way of putting it). Which meant that every shot had numerous takes and the whole scene was shot from every conceivable angle. In the scene we had to edit, a shoot out is happening on a road, and six (five? I’ve forgotten!) bullets are fired. Several things happen almost simultaneously, and our job was to bring all of this together.

The thing that Renu was most celebrated for was her ability to construct scenes radical ways and interpret them so that something that even the director had not conceived of was realised on the editing table. This is a unique gift, not given to even the most competent editor. In this exercise that she had set, our job was one of not only construction, but also interpretation.

We had several fragments of action, and there were an infinite number of ways in which they could be ordered, so that a story was told. The crucial question, “And then what happened?” had several answers, all of them potentially the right one. Of course, this was possible only because we were editing this out of the context of the entire film.

So we were to have already assembled the scene before Renu arrived. She usually stayed for a few days, looked at one rough edit, made suggestions and stayed until she had seen all ten editors’ final versions of the scene.

The day she was to arrive, we were all nervous. Here was this famous editor who had worked with every single major director of the previous decade, and she was going to be sitting next to us when the lights were off and the Steenbeck flickered to life. What could we construct that would compare with that experience?

It would be facile to say that Renu was gentle and genuinely appreciative of every unusual or new way of ordering the scene. She was all of that, but there was, in our minds, a gap between her enormous skill and this pleasant person that was not entirely bridgeable in the space of a few days. When she stopped the Steenbeck to go back and look at something again, my heart stopped. When she said, “Ah, you’ve chosen that take, have you?” I searched my memory frantically to try and remember which other take I ought to have chosen. Was this the wrong one?

But the point of the exercise, as we learnt, was that there was no right or wrong; no one way to do anything while editing. It was the equivalent of a sentence that can be punctuated in a number of different ways to produce different meanings. And it was the single most liberating piece of knowledge I acquired at the Institute.

But I digress.

The horror that I alluded to in the title is about to make its appearance right about now.

Did I say we used to edit in the dinosaur years? This meant that we had to mark on the Steenbeck the shots that were ok and separate them from the ones we didn’t want to use; we had to use the synchrometer to match the relevant sound takes with the shots we’d chosen; go back to the Steenbeck to mark where the cuts would be; come back to the synchrometer to make the cuts and splice the film (ok—editing lesson over).

Next to our editing tables where the synchrometers were, were bins on which we hung the strips of film that were not actually in the scene. The bins were essentially a huge bag hung on a steel frame, to hold the film so it would not trail all over the floor and get scratched. At the top, like an old four-poster bed, was a piece of wood with nails in it, so that we could hook out film easily on it. From here we suspended all the bits of film where the claps are, the flashframes, the portions before and after the fragments that went to construct the sense of the scene. With Khamosh, we discovered, this amounted to a lot of film hanging in the bin! When the entire exercise was over, we had to neatly roll up the film and put it away in cans.

The last evening that Renu was there, everybody was feverishly working late into the night to finish up so that she could see everyone’s edit before she left. I had finished showing her my exercise and she had no problems with it, so I only had to pack up and leave. But I was infected with everyone’s urgency. I could have left the clearing of the bin until the next day, but I wanted to finish it up right then.

So under Renu’s watchful eyes, I started to unhook pieces of film and roll it up. But there was so much of it! Everything tangled up, curling, twisting and impossible to separate unless I heaved the whole thing on the floor. I had a growing roll of film in my hand, almost reel length, and that meant I was in effect using only one hand.

Renu silently watched me struggle, and occasionally went across to someone else’s table to talk to them about something. I was almost in tears. I should have thrown the whole thing back in and left it for another time when I was less tired. Instead, when Renu was at a Steenbeck, I found a giant pair of scissors and started to hack at the film at the point where the tangles were most intransigent. I didn’t care if I was cutting the film mid-frame! I just used the scissors until there were deep red marks between my thumb and index finger.

Just then, Renu emerged from the editing room and stood transfixed at the door. Totally absorbed in my mutilation, I was unaware that she had returned. I paused to take a break. And I realised that Renu was looking at me in utter horror. Her eyes were enormous behind her spectacles and she was speechless.

I had no idea what to do. Should I drop everything and flee and hope that she wouldn’t recognise me the next time she saw me? Should I apologise? After such a massacre, what forgiveness? What could I say?

After a few seconds, Renu recovered. She sat on a stool next to my table and calmly continued to watch me. Having started, I had to finish. And I did, trembling all the while. At the end, Renu said, quite mildly, under the circumstances, “If you ever come to assist me, you can’t do this, you know.”

I’m not sure what I said in reply. The only thing I knew was that I would never. Ever. Ever. Ever go and ask to assist her on a film. So many of the editors today who are doing great work -- Sanjib Dutta, Hemanti Sarkar, Jabeen Merchant – assisted Renu. But I never did. The memory of what I did still haunts me.

That was the last time I saw Renu, unfortunately. There was so much more to learn from her. And she could have edited so many more films had she not been snatched away. But all those regrets are best consigned, like discarded pieces of film, into the bins that we no longer see in editing rooms.


Lovely film, but I don't feel like writing about it at length.

In fact, I only have one burning question: Just how did Ayesha Takia sign the maafinama at the end? I didn't see a pen anywhere. (If it comes to that, how did one forlorn piece of paper, said maafinama, survive a night in the desert without moving more than a couple of feet away from where it fell, so that it was easily found the next day?)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Swashbucklin’ Spaniard

There’s a particular summer vacation I remember more than any other, not least because it was the big one after my class ten exams. It was too early to start worrying about the results and too late (much too late!) to do anything about sundry eff-ups one made in the exams.

In the meanwhile, there were a delicious two and a half months, and I was home, in Hyderabad, after some years in other god-forsaken towns. I was doing French, falling in and out of love, and had just met the most wonderful person: a neighbour down the road, Bernadette Kao. She had two young kids and a large collection of books. The first was not a recommendation, but the second—oh, but the second!

There is something special about borrowing books from friends; libraries are very worthy places, but unless it is a school or a college library, chances are you will find a limited choice of books chosen to represent either a country or some special interest.

So when Bernadette told me I was welcome to borrow as many books as I liked, my joy, to coin a phrase, knew no bounds.

(Be warned: this is a long, long post)

Every three days, I’d land up at her place and take back enormous piles of books to read. what I especially enjoyed reading were Bernadette’s Recommendations (-: why does that sound familiar :-)

In one lot I had The Monkey King by Wu Ch'eng-en, Paul Zindell’s The Effect Of Gamma Rays On Man In The Moon Marigolds (yes, I chose it for the title, but the guy won a Pulitzer for it!), and among many, many other books, Rafael Sabatini’s Scaramouche.

For those who haven’t read it, Scaramouche is the story of Andre-Louis Moreau, a lawyer who, in the process of avenging his friend’s murder, becomes many things on the sidelines and in the anonymous centre of the French Revolution. This is how the book begins:

"He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. And that was all his patrimony."

A few paragraphs later, “you perceive him at the age of four and twenty, stuffed with learning enough to produce intellectual indigestion in an ordinary mind.”

(All quotations off the top off my head; please forgive any missing words here and there)

Very soon, Andre-Louis is witness to the foul murder of his friend, Philippe, in a one-sided duel. The murderer being the very powerful Marquis de le Tour d’Azyr, it is impossible to get anyone in a position of authority to see that this is murder. Remember, this is on the eve of the French Revolution; Andre-Louis goes off to tilt against the windmills of the legislature. Finding the windmill intransigent, he vows to see what he can do with the wind, having taken an oath on the body of his dead friend to pursue the evil Marquis whenever he can with Phillippe’s ‘dangerous gift of eloquence’.

In short order, Andre-Louis raises the wind, flees to escape the consequences and joins a touring company of actors whose tawdry productions they claim are descended from nothing less than the commedia delle arta. Here, he becomes what he sees is the role he is destined to play all his life: that of Scaramouche – artful, sly provocateur, always ready to stir things up, always ironic, detached and always playing a part.

Since that long-ago summer when I first read Scaramouche, I’ve re-read the book several times. Oddly enough, no school or college library had a copy of the book. In college, one friend dug it up from an aunt’s bookshelf. I annexed the book, got the whole thing xeroxed and held on to my friend’s copy for a good, long while.

In at least one exam paper every year, a line from Scaramouche, suitably modified, would make an appearance (Shoma, ‘fess up! You mugged up ‘the vision that pierces all husks and shams and claims the core of reality for its own’!); and no, we didn’t exercise ourselves too much about whether this constituted plagiarism.

The first copy of Scaramouche I owned was given me by an ex-boyfriend. We were wandering around Daryagunj, when I found what I had come to think of as my edition; the one I first borrowed from Bernadette. It had a white cover, with a man dressed all in white, pointing a sword at some person unseen (I knew who the person was!). It was a Pan edition, yellowed with age. That day, the book acquired this triumphant and ungrammatical inscription: ‘remember it was me who gave you this book.’ Sigh.

Years later, another friend in another city, gave me what amounted to a farewell gift, since I haven’t seen him since then. It was a first edition, which he most fortuitously found at Select Book Store (off Brigade Road, Bangalore). It used to belong to one Charlie Shipp, back then in December 1921. For what must be a well-thumbed romance, it is remarkably well preserved, 85 years after it first saw light of day.

Then, in 2003, I decided to return to Hyderabad permanently. There were some unpleasant threads to tie up (what was that Vikram Seth poem? ‘Uncomprehending day, I tie my loss to leaves and watch them drift away’) and that took some time. By the time I came back home, I was exhausted and depressed. My mother had a gift for me: the new House of Strauss edition of not just Scaramouche, but also Scaramouche The Kingmaker and Captain Blood. The inscription on this edition of Scaramouche says, “The one book to lift your spirits and make you smile again.”

This way of unembarrassed writing is clearly catching!

And why would I apologise? I love the book and I’ve read it hundreds of times; I know large parts of it extremely well. It is melodramatic, romantic, ironic, passionate and swashbuckling by turns. And what rousing speeches there are! Sometimes, I feel that someone only has to put a sword in my hand and I will acquit myself fairly well purely on the strength of what I’ve read in the book!

Rafael Sabatini was Italian by birth, but chose to live in England and write in English because he thought that ‘all the best stories are written in English’. He wrote other books that were not as well-received as Scaramouche was when it was published in 1921. These were the years between the wars. Much had changed, but much was yet to change.

If it was ironic that Sabatini’s reputation was made by a story that was clearly revolutionary in intent, but written in a language whose speakers were the inheritors of an Empire on which the sun never set, it is an irony that no one would appreciate more than Andre-Louis Moreau – Scaramouche himself.

As for me, I am eternally grateful to the man who gave us this amazing book.

For other books by Rafael Sabatini, go to Project Gutenberg. Personally, I think the best things he wrote were the ones I’ve mentioned above, though I feel fond of King In Prussia and Anthony Wilding – the last because the edition I have is a WWII Armed Forces Edition with a print that’s almost too small to read.

Monday, September 25, 2006

More on Nykvist

In the comments section of Alok's blog, I'd made a remark about how I remember the great cinematographer. I hasten to clarify that I've never met him; after all most of our encounters with those behind the camera remains with their work.

The only time I've ever seen Sven Nykvist was in the film made by the Swedish Film Institute called Directed By Andrei Tarkovsky (Directed by Michal Leszcylowski, who was his editor on Sacrifice). In this film, in the final sequence, a house burns down, utterly and completely. The crew had prepared and rehearsed for this; there were tracks, lots of people and much coordination required. During the take -- all of this was being documented by Leszcylowski -- Nykvist was showing signs of some distress. The house, in the meanwhile, had caught rather nicely and was beginning to burn. Soon, it became apparent that more than some minor thing had gone wrong; the film in the camera had got stuck and none of the apocalyptic destruction was being recorded.

Picture Nykvist: a giant of a man, hanging his head in shame while being berated by Tarkovsky, who is a whole head shorter than him.

This is how Tarkovsky recounts the incident:

"We had no technical or other problems during shooting, until one moment near the end, when all our efforts seemed on the point of coming to nothing. Suddenly, in the scene in which Alexander sets fire to his house-a single take lasting six and a half minutes-the camera broke down. We discovered it only after the entire building was ablaze, burning to the ground as we looked on. We couldn't put the fire out and we couldn't take a single 5hot; four expensive months of intense hard work for nothing. And then, in a matter of days, a new house had been built, identical to the first one. It seemed like a miracle, and it proved what people can do when they are driven by conviction-and not just people, but the producers themselves, the superpeople."

Am I being gleeful? Far from it. It would be simplistic to look at this in terms of ordinary human failing; but when you think of the perfection of the images in, say, Persona or Autumn Sonata, an incident like this one makes the achievement of that perfection more poignant.

I was pointed to this link by Praba Mahajan after she stumbled upon my blog. Thanks, Praba.

Do please go and read. I will quote from it later, since The U. of Calgary site is temporarily down.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Panta Rhei*

A friend mailed and said, "There is an occasional nip in the night air that reminds us that summer is over. Am waiting for the fall colors..."

So in the month of last possibilities, as we hang on the cusp of what has gone and what is to come, here is Miroslav Holub:


And it is all over.

No more sweetpeas,
no more wide-eyed bunnies
dropping from the sky.

Onlya reddish boniness
under the sun of hoarfrost,
a thievish fog,
an insipid solution of love,
and crowing.

But next year
larches will try
to make the land full of larches again
and larks will try
to make the land full of larks.

And thrushes will try
to make all the trees sing,
and goldfinches will try
to make all the grass golden,

and burying beetles
with their creaky love will try
to make all the corpses
rise from the dead,


(Translated by Stuart Friebert and Dana Habova)



Seven cities contend to have harboured his cradle:
Smyrna, Chios, Kollophon,
Ithaké, Pylos, Argos,
Like a lamb he strolls

through marine pastures,
unseen, unburied,
unexcavated, casting no
biographical shadow.
Did he never have trouble with the authorities?

Did he never get drunk? Was he never bugged,
not even when singing?
Did he never love fox terriers, cats,
or young boys?
How much better the Iliad would be

if Agamemnon could be proved to bear
his features or if Helen's biology
reflected contemporary facts.
How much better the Odyssey would be

if he had two heads,
one leg,
or shared one woman
with his publisher.
Somehow he neglected all that

in his blindness.
And thus he towers
in literary history
as a cautionary example
of an author so unsuccessful
that maybe he didn't exist at all.

Translated by Ewald Osers from Poems: Before & After by Miroslav Holub, published by Bloodaxe.

*Panta Rhei: All things flow. See Heraclitus.

Friday, September 22, 2006

In safe hands

So much indignation can only be generated over the loss of liquor.

"A Major-General of the Indian Army has been cashiered and sentenced to three years’ rigorous imprisonment after a military courtmartial pronounced him guilty of stealing and smuggling supplies of rum meant for soldiers. Maj. Gen. Gur Iqbal Singh, an artillery officer, who was removed from his command as GOC of the 6 Mountain Division at Bareilly nearly 10 months ago, has been found guilty of misappropriating huge quantities of Army liquor and selling it in the open market.

Maj. Gen. Singh will be stripped of his rank, sacked from service and handed over to the civilian authorities to serve his prison sentence. The officer, who had allegedly been siphoning off liquor supplies meant for sale through the Army’s canteen stores department outlets for months, was nabbed through a joint military intelligence and civil police operation, in which two liquor-laden trucks were impounded at Dehra Dun last October."

Now we know what moves the armed forces. Rest of the story here.

RIP Sven Nykvist

Bergman's shadow twin, almost.

"In 1997, during the filming of Woody Allen's Celebrity, Nykvist was diagnosed with having progressive aphasia - a rare brain disease that causes words to become mixed up and eventually leads to complete loss of speech.
With his condition rapidly worsening, Nykvist was forced to retire, a tragic irony for someone who spent his career communicating visually rather than verbally. The warm-hearted Nykvist, with his handsome Viking appearance, whose favourite novel was Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, commented in the 1990s, "It has taken me 30 years to come to simplicity. Earlier, I made a lot of what I thought were beautiful shots with much backlighting and many effects, absolutely none of which were motivated by anything in the film at all. As soon as we had a painting on the wall, we thought it should have a glow around it. It was terrible and I can hardly stand to see my own films on television anymore. I look for two minutes and then I thank God that there is a word called simplicity."
· Sven Nykvist, cinematographer; born December 3 1922; died September 20 2006"

The rest of the obit here and a slideshow of some stills here. Both links to the Guardian via Alok.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

And while I'm at the Guardian

Here is a poem that Jen Hadfield selected for her Anti-praise workshop in April.

Rapprochement: a Lunch Poem by Ryan Ruby


Among liberals, it is a truism that one ought not judge entire
on the basis of a few offending individuals: the nation of

for instance, is not as boorish as the wait staff at the Café
de Flore, nor are
all Americans as barbaric as its patrons; a father's sins

to him alone, and you should not think poetry dead because
woman returned
your youthful hymns to her beauty with corrections in ink the
color of desire.


The exception to this rule is the goose,
which is despised even by its fellow fowl
for turning serene riverbanks, lakeshores
and other polite, pastoral settings
into enraged Hobbesian landscapes
complete with the tuneless gridlock bugling
of black-shirted paramilitary skeins
armed with psychopathic, lunging beaks


And so,
it is with particular relish
that I sit at the Café de Flore,
fork in hand,
and remember how,
as a boy of four or five,
I was viciously attacked
attempting a charitable
breadcrumb offering
to a goose
not unlike the one
that is now a circle of paté
on my small, civilized, porcelain plate.

The rest of the anti-praise poems here.

Mad Portuguese and Englishmen: Alentejo Blue digested

John Crace digests books to a nice mush for you.

Here's an extract (yes, even digested books still have enough juice for extracts; for the bare bones, go to Digested read, Digested at the bottom of the page).

From Monica Ali's Alentejo Blue:

"Gosh it's hot," Joao said to himself, vividly creating an image of the harsh, sunburnt Portuguese countryside. As he dragged his 84-year-old body out into the forest to relieve himself, he stumbled across his friend, Rui, hanging from a tree. "Change comes to us all," he thought deeply.

Heh. Read the rest of it here.

More digested reads here.

Gothic Gult*

Cities change. No one will dispute that. But no city changes faster than Hyderabad. A three-month absence will throw you out—landmarks will have completely disappeared, new buildings will disorientate you, statues that once lent their names to areas will have been shunted off to some newer place, while the old traffic islands where they once stood are a mere hole in the ground.

My friend who is a gaming fiend, says that this is one of the things you learn from playing some game or the other: that cities have to alter themselves to accommodate more roads, more ways of getting from one place to the other; the places where you stay, in the meanwhile, become more remote, if more easily accessed.

But Hyderabad is more than just a growing city.

If Delhi has Punjabi Baroque, we have Gothic Gult. Wander down any road at random in the Jubilee Hills area and you will see houses that are nothing less than palaces. You might be forgiven for thinking these structures are the product of some lunatic, raving mind on speed. Corinthian columns? Check. Corners of terraces rising up to steep points, with a little window in it for (un)easy viewing? Check. Driveways that sweep upward and lead right up to the front door? Check. Stained glass? You bet. Oh, and electric fences, remote controlled gates, feng shui compatible water bodies, mirrors and champa trees at the entrance. Also fish tanks that circle the house so that if you step out at night without a torch, and you stock your fish tank with piranhas…

One garage for five cars. Miniscule quarters, almost on the road, for the servants, so that on the day the MCH turns up to widen the road, the main house at least will be spared. And before I forget—about five feet worth of space for plants, all carefully chosen by a landscape artist for maximum colour, general unavailability and a corresponding fragility. Most of this is accounted for by planters on the terrace, that leave brown stains on the walls when it rains.

In one corner of Jubilee Hills – and this place is actually at the top of a hill – is a castle that is a replica, one is told, of some castle in Germany. Complete with moat and drawbridge. Would I kid you? (The correct answer to that is ‘No’). Ok, so the moat is the size of an open drain and the drawbridge is down at all times, but if that disappoints you, there’s always the ivy. Masses of it creeping darkly up the walls. Until a year ago, you could see this castle from almost any place in Jubilee Hills; now, it is obscured by another, more ugly building. This new one is – as yet – an undifferentiated mass of cement that is still climbing. It makes me think wistfully of the days when the castle seemed obscene.

There’s a road film here somewhere. I just know it. Now where are my friends with the PD whatzitsname?

*For a more detailed explanation about the term "gult" please go here.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Penelope’s Descendants: The Cry Of Winnie Mandela

There is something exhilarating about reading an author you have never encountered before, whose work draws you in so immediately and holds you so completely as Njabulo S. Ndebele’s The Cry Of Winnie Mandela does. It starts with a speculation:

Let’s begin with the blurb of an imaginary book about a South African woman during the years of struggle against apartheid. It reads:

So what does a woman do in the absence of her husband, who is in jail, in the mines, in exile, or is dead, or away studying, or spends most of the time on the road as a salesman, or who, while not having gone anywhere in particular, is never at home because he’s just busy fooling around? This woman has seen all kinds of departures, has endured the uncertainties of waiting, and has hoped for the return of her man. Departure, waiting and return: they define her experience of the past, present and future. They frame her life at the centre of a great South African story not yet told.
This book tells the stories of four unknown women, and that of South Africa’s most famous woman, who waited.

Thus, Ndebele has written the blurb to the book you are about to read. Deftly mixing speculation with fact, the book starts with Penelope, who waited nineteen years for Odysseus to return, and whose act of waiting is a frame within which the reader experiences the lives of four nameless South African women and their largely interior lives. One waits for her husband who goes away to work and never gets in touch; one works and supports her husband while he studies in some other country to become a doctor; the third waits for her man to return from exile, but his return is nothing like she’d imagined it; and the last one’s waiting is different because though her husband is physically present, he is absent in every way that matters.

But none of this would have been effective or even unique has Ndebele not taken this several steps further. These stories are mere outlines, a sketch of an intention. At the heart of the book, these women meet. Not for real—they aren’t even real, except as types—but they meet and form an ibandla, a commune of people, who meet ritually and talk or share their lives.

You must surely know something definite about them now. Each is an illustration of a thought. Yet, they all seem to be struggling to wriggle out of the cocoon of thought, seeking to emerge as fully-fledged beings. Seemingly, that’s what happens when thought, under the pressure of memory and narrative, steadily gives way to desire.
Is it possible that our four descendants, as instances of thought turning into desire, can find themselves together in a room? Why not? The intangibility and randomness of imagination permit them absolute mobility. In this universe our descendants travel where they want, taking whatever shape they want, listening to whatever wanders in their ears.

I’m struck by several things in this passage: the beauty of the line, “Seemingly, that’s what happens when thought, under the pressure of memory and narrative, steadily gives way to desire.” Then there’s the gentle setting up of a counterpoint to the narrative of waiting, in the last sentence. This segues imperceptibly into something a little harder to take in a novel so restrained and academic in tone, but which become perfectly acceptable to the reader when it happens: the four women invite Winnie Mandela – the most famous South African woman who waited – to join the ibandla and witness their interpretations of how she endured and why she did some of the less palatable things she has been accused of doing.

In the sections that follow, each of the women view Winnie Mandela through the lens of their experiences of waiting and ask her questions they attempt to answer on her behalf. Ndebele uses extracts from real letters written or published; from books and biographies and weaves them skilfully into the narrative. And most radically, Winnie Mandela finally speaks. In the longest chapter in the book, Ndebele gives eloquent voice to Winnie Mandela – there’s much that I’d like to quote from this section, but I’d land up quoting the entire chapter!

Indeed, the whole book is full of sentences you’d want to mark or remember, or pencil in for future reference. If only this has been my own copy, it would have things written in the margins of every page.

Here’s one last, rather longish passage:

Yes. First, before he comes back into my life, he must reappear in the same way he disappeared. This is the beauty of it: the beginning of his journey towards me, if he’ll be willing to take it. This means, I’ll watch him
come to my house through a door he will find so different he has to have a question about it; he’ll walk in upright through a door. There’s no way he cannot ask the question, whether to me or to himself: how did the door come to be different? Yes, the door to my house is my door. Then what?
Here I must slow down and savour the thought. You see, we have always tried to provide the solutions to problems that have not yet occurred. The reflex thought that you live with every day is that one day when your man returns, you have the emotional obligation to embrace him. You rehearse in your mind the reflex embrace of welcome. Simulating naturalness to perfection. After all, didn’t you miss him so much? No. Resist. Stay away from the trap of obligation. Turn obligation into serene detachment. Become a woman with her thoughts. A woman who observes. A woman who observes her man of long ago come in through her door. A woman of detachment who observes and holds on to her options, which suddenly rush at her like a tidal wave. Savour the passion of enormous possibility.
A woman of detachment, who observes, is a woman who finally realises that what she really missed about her man was no longer him, but the idea of him. So one day, when the idea comes back in through the door, you think it’s him. It could be a fatal mistake. Hold back and observe. Keep those arms folded over the cushion of your breasts. Don’t even ask where he has been. Ever. A nostalgic, sentimental, thoughtless embrace and a silly question about where he has been are a deadly combination that will see your options disappear as you begin to enter his history at the expense of yours. If you ask him where he has been, your question will become his door to his house. And you’re finished, my girl. That’s when you begin the great response. Responding to him as you slowly enter his house until you are completely swallowed up by it. And being there, you’ll never relax in it; not knowing when he may throw you out if it.

I could go on; but do read the book if you manage to find it. I’m going to read it again before I return it.

Njabulo S. Ndebele is currently the Vice-Chancellor of The University of Cape Town. The Cry Of Winnie Mandela was published in 2003. His book, Fools and Other Stories was made into a film.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Babylon Burning

Nthposition has come out with another copyleft chapbook of poetry.

Check it out.

And one poem:

Ray Hsu

The garden.
The detached
The intruders.
The theft
of our bodies. The burning
weight. The living
The cold past
the gate.
No disaster is disappointing

(crossposted on Writers Against Terrorism)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Off for a few days

Not that I've been around so you'd notice.

In the meanwhile, check this out.

(Photo courtesy: Shanker Raman. No idea where he got it from.)