Monday, December 31, 2007


Returning from Chennai, reading Don Paterson's The Book of Shadows, I come up for air when the flight lands. Everything I read, from flight safety instruction manuals, to highlighted quotes in newspaper articles, sounds like an aphorism - fleeting yet certain:

"In the event of a water landing, your seat cushion can serve as a flotation device."

"Education is the dream for the children of most people who are exiled to India's margins, even if it is in government schools."

"Time heals so well it erases us; we are its wounds."

Yes, well. That's the year, over and thank god it is too. I would express my joy at the event more fervently if I wasn't certain that to do so would be to invite more catastrophes.

Happy New Year to all of you as well.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Readings in Chennai, 28th and 29th December

Off to Chennai today for the Poetry with Prakriti readings. My readings are:

Friday, 28th:

11am: Forum (Padmanabha Nagar main road Post office turn from Besant Avenue towards Shastri Nagar)

6pm: Landmark (City Centre)

Saturday, 29th:

11am: Apparao Galleries (7, Wallace Gardens, 3rd Street, Nungambakkam)

6.30 pm: Subway Nungambakkam.(Wallace Road turn from Nungambakkam hIghroad or M.G.Road after Taj Coramandel)

I have no idea where any of these places are*. I'm hoping that others will not be as ignorant and will know where to come!

See y'all soon!

Regular blogging resumes, despite the imminent end of the year, on Sunday.

* I still don't. I've just c/p'd the directions and addresses from a mail!

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Modi wins.

That is to say, the Congress has conceded defeat, and the BJP has around 123 seats as of this writing, with Modi leading in his constituency. But it's clear that he's all set to become CM. Again.

Not that I'm surprised or anything. If anything (else) were needed to convince me that people are, in general, incredibly foolish, it didn't need this to do it.


Shivam, now please tell me what made you think he would lose.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Anne Stevenson

Beach Kites

Anne Stevenson

Is this a new way of being born?
To feel some huge crescent personality
burgeoning out of your shoulders,
winging you over the sand, the sluggish sea?
Mile upon mile of contaminated Wash is
tucking a cold March sky into the horizon.

You can drive no further.
Look down at the thrashing water,
the upfalls of its reach
failing, failing again to take the cliff —
sandpipers hunch on the geomorphic ledge —
rock face and wave force, story without speech.

But it's one thing to pause at the cutting edge,
another to face the evolving beach, the gap
where the road stops and the dunes heap
and the wind blows fiercely in the wrong direction.

One gaudy comma ascends... another... another...
the air is rocking alert with punctuation.

Grey sickle cells cluster under a microscope.

A jumbo wasp, a pterodactyl, a peacock feather
jockey for space against moon-parings, rainbow zeppelins,
prayer flags — imagination battling with imagination,
spotted species chasing the plain — as out they float,
strong men steering their wild umbilical toys

away from their girlfriends in the car park, who
leathered from heel to neck in steel-studded black,
headscarfed against the wind, seem coolly resigned
to an old dispensation, a ritual of mating
that puts up again with the cliff-hanging habits of boys.
Is this a new way of writing?
The heroes off flying or fighting, the women waiting?

From Stone Milk

Also see.

'The Lion, The Unicorn and Me'

It takes just one year for a tradition to begin. The minute the sun comes around, patterns reassert themselves.

So, in keeping with a tradition that I declare has just begun, and which I will no doubt regret inventing in the years to come, Christmas story!

This time, by Jeanette Winterson. This is from her story, 'The Lion, the Unicorn and Me' published today in The Times:

The angel wrote it down.

Then it was my turn.

“He'll make as ass of himself,” whispered the Lion.

I did. I am. A proper ass. Present position: underdonkey. Previous history: Small underdonkey. Special Strength: Can carry anything anywhere. Weaknesses: not beautiful, not well-bred, not important, not clever, not noticed, not won any prizes...

The Angel wrote it down, and down, and down.

Then the Angel gave us a tie-breaker. Could we say, in one sentence, why we were right for the job?

I love donkeys.

(This is where I should be doing that meme about so many things you didn't know about me. Donkeys are my favourite animals. So now you know.)

Go read.

Last year's story here.


I have so many posts scrunching up in my head. But they're all, without exception, long, dissertatious (so I make up words. so what?) and take time to do. It's getting to the point when, if I have a New Year Resolution to make, it will be I Will Write Proper Posts For My Blog, Sparing No Effort However Great And Arduous.

(I've been re-reading Winne the Pooh. How did you guess?)

Among the things I've been meaning to write is an entire series of posts on crime fiction. Starting with P.D.James.

I will. I will.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ultra Violet

My guest post.



I use the word emoticons but

my navigator waves

a stern red line under it

and frowns.

It seems even emotions need

a grammar of their own

Monday, December 17, 2007


My piece on Vikalp. In Blogbharti's new Spotlight Series.

Go read.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Pink Thoughts in a Pink Shade

Since the year-end list making time is upon us, I thought I'd avoid books and films in favour of flowers. Pink ones. All from, or near, our garden.

So, in order of appearance (I shouldn't have centered them. Sorry about that.): Tabibia, Balsam, what I used to think of as Periwinkle but now I know it isn't, Bauhunia, I don't know, Bougainvillea, ditto, a variety of Hibiscus that turns pink(er) as evening comes, Geranium, Tabibia (close up), Roses, Bougainvillea, Coleus, Frangipani, Rose, Tacoma, something with pink leaves, Coleus, Anthurium, Penta, Rose, Hibiscus, that thorny cactus like plant but hybridised for bigger flowers, Hibiscus, more pink leaves, Bouganvillea, a kind of Orchid, Impatiens, Bouganivillea.


Oh - click for larger image.

Update: I find that it's tabibuia and tecoma. Who knew I had to have a Telugu accent to say the names of (some) flowers?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Genre Bending

This is hilarious!

But that's nothing compared to life at Sather & Stirling, where no one is quite what they seem and everybody has something to hide. Lois soon finds herself swept up in blackmail plots, missing persons, and sinister filing schemes, with a predatory boss and duplicitous co-workers, to boot. Armed only with her wits and her copy of the Standard Secretary's Desk Reference, Fourth Edition, Lois must prove that she has what it takes to make her way in the business world. But surely there's time for a little bit of love and self-discovery along the way?

That, my friends, is Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary. By someone called Monica Nolan. In other words, it's a real book.

I must confess, when I read the blog to which I've linked, I assumed that it was a joke. Which would have been more fun. A book that no one ever wrote, but which was so deliciously ripping-off and hoaxish...


Writing Challenge! For the Holiday Season! Bring on the exclamations!!!

What you have to do is, take a genre - any genre - crime, romance, sci-fi, wild west, spy, kiddie, rom-com - heck, even porn, if you feel like - or any combination whereof (you could choose kiddie crime in space, for instance. But I would be enormously relieved if you left out any combination that included kids and porn) and bend it until it takes on weird and wonderful shapes.

What you write has to be the long blurb that tells you most of the story. And it shall be linked to here when it's done.



Go, the game, of which Kawabata said, "Go is to Western chess what philosophy is to double entry accounting."

And this is the game he describes in his book Meijin.

I love complicated games so long as other people have to play them. Me - I fling the chess board and men the minute I'm beginning to lose. Which is usually five minutes into the game.

[Via Vitro Nasu, which is a blog I really like.]


Poetry with Pragati Day 1:

  1. Anjum Hasan – Apparao Galleries
  2. Vasantha Surya – Goethe Institute –
  3. Anjum Hasan – Subway (Besant Nagar) – 4.30 pm
  4. Vasantha Surya – The Park - 4.30 pm
  5. Amadou Lamine Sall – Alliance Francaise – 6.30 pm
Amadou Lamine Sall, the Senegalese poet, has just been to Hyderabad. He will be inaugurating the PwP Festival this evening at The AFM, 24, College Road, Chennai.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Poetry with Prakriti: Chennai, 15th-30th December

The Prakriti Foundation is organising a Poetry Festival in Chennai starting tomorrow. Participating in Poetry with Prakriti are approximately 30 poets. Each poet will read at four different venues, over two days, making this the largest poetry event in the country to date. I think.

Venues include Fab India, art galleries, Cafe Coffee Days (this is the thing that really worries me. I've been to Caferati read meets at CCD's and they're not reader friendly), institutions and book stores.

The saddest thing about the festival, for me, is that I won't be there for the whole thing. Most poets, it turns out, are going to be there for the two days that they are reading and maybe one extra day. The exceptions are, of course, the poets from Chennai.

I would have liked to hear Anjum Hasan, Arundhati Subramaniam, Gieve Patel, Sukierhtarani, Kutti Revathi, Vasantha Surya, Meena Kandasamy, Sharanya Manivannan, Jeet Thayil, Tishani Doshi and Vivek Narayanan read. Old friend, Siddharth Menon will also be reading but on the same days I am, at different venues. What to do.

Which reminds me:

I am reading on the 28th and 29th of December. That's Friday and Saturday. At the moment, three of my four readings have been scheduled; the fourth venue is still uncertain.

All other details, including the schedule, (some) poets' bios and poems to be found on the Poetry with Prakriti site.

If you're in Chennai, come for at least one reading! And if you're a blogger I haven't met but have interacted with (and, well, even if I haven't), please come say hi there? I remember someone leaving frustratingly mysterious messages here after the Bangalore reading.

Glow Cat

Cats that glow in the dark.

And exactly how are they supposed to hunt at night if their prey can see them miles away? And how is this going to help 'endangered animals like tigers, leopards and wildcats' survive if they are cloned to look like phosphorescent ghosts?

Oh. I get it. All creatures great and small can run away screaming, thus leaving the big cats safe and starving.

Human ingenuity is a wonderful thing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

All Rights Reserved

Via Harriet this article by Wendy Cope in The Guardian, where she rails against the free availability of poetry - especially her poems - on the internet:

Often the offending websites are the responsibility of well-meaning enthusiasts, who have no idea that they are breaking the law. Neither do the people I meet every now and then who say: "I liked your poem so much that I sent copies of it to all my friends." I'm supposed to be pleased. I've learned to smile and say thank you and point out very politely that, strictly speaking, they shouldn't have done that. They should have told their friends to buy the book. Or bought it for them.

I sympathise, a little bit. Someone's written something that's taken them many years to put together and they most certainly don't want the whole made available to everyone without benefiting from the exchange in any way.

On the other hand, everyone who writes wants to be read and remembered, wants to 'enter the language', as A.E.Stallings says on Harriet:

I am sure she is legally correct. But at the same time an internet chat board or blog or list serv is not an anthology out to make money. It is a conversation. Is not dialogue impoverished without recourse to quotation? Without being well-versed? Does not such quotation, when properly credited as to its source, constitute fair use? (though I imagine that is a legal concept that varies from country to country...) Imagine what it would do to poetry dialogue on the web if we hesitated to use real life examples.

People talk about poetry because they love it. To make every discussion of poetry pay-per-view is to make it invisible. And god knows, it's seen little enough as it is. Surely it can only benefit the poet to have her work where it's available?

I'd like to agree with Stalling when she says that if people read a few poems they like, they're more likely to buy the book. Then I remember the woman who wanted to 'go through my book' and return it, instead of buying it; I'm reminded of the Paterson book I xeroxed and sent to Equivocal because not only was a second copy of the book not available, it would have been unaffordable to buy two copies when the one could be xeroxed and shared.

Does someone lose out by it? It depends on what you call loss. Sure, someone did not make a few bucks on a sale. But they had one more person - perhaps more - who read their poetry.

Wendy Cope might be indignant at the money she might be losing but it seems frankly stupid to worry about who makes a few bucks once you're dead. Unless we're willing to put the production of art on an exact and equal footing with other kinds of products, it seems futile to think of it's worth only in monetary terms.

Non omnes moriar and all that.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Avatar with Rosemarino and Garlic

I'm talking about Roberto Benigni in Jim Jarmusch's Down By Law. I like him better here than when he's shouting buon giorno principessa! and climbing over chairs to grab at golden statuettes.

Watch. And I'll be back with a longish post tomorrow.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

In which Spaniard is comforted by Quan Tick

It is only now, after more than ten rather stressful days, that I can say with caution that things ain't all bad. In other words, I can sit around and begin to feel sorry for myself for missing the film festival.

Thinking about all the great films I'm missing, and determined to put salt on my wounds, I looked for news of what was happening in Trivandrum. I admit I was not looking for comfort. I had thought it would be roses, roses all the way for those attending the opening and I could settle down to half an hour of deep envy.

Instead I find India Glitz determined to make me crack a smile.

12th International Film Festival of Kerala will feature the retrospectives of world famous film makers Pedro Almodovar and Quan Tick. The Almodovar package will feature 13 films of the famous director which includes all his important works like Law of desire, Labyrinth of passions, Talk to her, Volver, Women in the verge of a nervous breakdown, Bad education, all about her mother, high heels, Flower of my secret, What I have done to deserve this?, Live flesh, Dark habits and Kika.

Quan Tick, the first of the Korean directors to bring the country's cinema to the world market will also be having a retro which will feature his eight films. This will be the first time; Quan Tick is having a retro in any of the festivals in India.

Who is Quan Tick, you might ask. Don't. Just enjoy the punctuation. I feel like my grandfather who used to read Churchill's dubious histories for the sheer pleasure of the language.

Friday, December 07, 2007

fifteen years ago, yesterday

Actually, I'm not sure why I wanted to post about it at all. December 6 was like any other day when I left at 6.15 in the morning for college. Bus, train, bus, canteen and the first cup of coffee. Classes. If something was different, if there were premonitions of disaster, I did not sense it in the morning. Neither did anyone else, I imagine.

In the afternoon, some of us were in the studio, doing radio practicals or something like that. By then there were more rumours than we knew how to make sense of. Those of us who were in a city that was not ours, wondered how we would get back to the places we were staying.

But we were the lucky ones. We were in town, we had classmates who were friends, who took us back to their homes, where we stayed for the next ten days (and again in January, for a couple of weeks). We played darts, gossiped into the night, blew contraband cigarette smoke outside the bedroom window, carefully ignoring other kinds of smoke that filled the air.

I did not have to go back to Kalina, to the flat I was sharing with a friend, which had one electric heater that almost never worked; to the road lined with trucks selling scrap metal, with the one cheap dhaba where the truck drivers ate; to where, when we did return days later, we didn't know how to ask our landlord if he and his family were okay and what they did and worse, whether they had begun counting their losses.

Fifteen years ago I was, as I still am, as most of us are, used to looking at the world through the prism of my own concerns. A few days after the riots were over and we were back at SCM, Antoine had a party at his place. I don't know if any of us felt the absurdity of it, but we all turned up. I met Sur there for the first time and many others. My life was complex and traumatic and none of it had anything to do with what had happened elsewhere in the country in the first week of December.

But in class all we ever talked about was what happened and what it mean for us as people, as a city as a country. We looked at headlines, where they were places, in what order and why. I don't know why it never occurred to anybody until then, but it suddenly became clear to us in the last month of 1992 that Bombay was never the cosmopolitan city it claimed to be. We became aware of how many places were already ghettoes, how easy it must have been for whole communities to be found and destroyed. We watched the Newstrack report where the mobs swarmed onto the top of the Masjid and brought it down in the space of a few hours.

In the weeks that followed, we gathered old clothes, paid visits to areas like Jogeshwari and continued doing what we used to do and now had to do with no perceptible change. I'd liked to say that that year damaged something that was whole before but I'm not sure I would be right to make such a claim. Sure, we noticed now how people in Bombay displayed their rat-infested flats and kitchens that stank of poor drainage and proudly declared that these buildings had only Hindus in them, but if it signified anything at all, it signified a loss of our private innocence and not a change in the world around us.

I'd like to draw clear lines through then and now and draw neat conclusions about what such events mean. But I can't because what I saw of it and what I remember of it has less than nothing to do with what really happened. I was insulated from the worst of it and it would be stupid to start speaking on behalf of those who were. So, yeah, I guess there really is nothing to say about it that does sound egregious and/or pompous.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

'Great product. Lousy packaging'

Via Mumpsimus, this fine product from Amazon, which appears to be getting mixed customer reviews. One Jimbo Jones is not very happy:

I bought a can of this about 4.5 billion years ago, give or take a few million years, but when I went to use it today I noticed only half of it was still in the can. I swear I put the lid on tight. I'd give it more stars if it came in a better package.

PS: I was going to start writing a post about 6 December and got side-tracked. Later tonight, I think.

When In Doubt...

...make announcements.

One: Friday, 7th December. Delhi.

Zubaan and Penguin Books India cordially invite you to the launch of Lunatic In My Head by Anjum Hasan on Friday 7th December 2007 at 7 pm at The Attic, 36, Regal Building (above The Shop), Sansad Marg, New Delhi – 1.

The author will be in conversation with novelist Siddharth Deb, author of Point of Return and Surface.

Please join us for tea at 6.30 pm.

Seating on a first come first served basis.

RSVP: Bharti Taneja: 2649 4401 ext 327.

Anita Roy: 2686 4497, 2652 1008

Two: The French Embassy-Krishnakriti Fellowship 2008-09.

Embassy of France in India The French Embassy - Krishnakriti
Fellowship 2008-09
Kalakriti Art Gallery
Do you have the passion to be among select few?
The Embassy of France in India and Krishnakriti present a golden opportunity for qualified artists and students to complete a 6 month internship in the art capital of the world.

Shortlisted candidates will be offered the opportunity to travel to France and study at premier art institutes under fellowship program.
  • Click here for details and application form.
  • Click here to download the poster.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Street-level Scene

The mini-market has one vegetable shop, one grocer who also does milk deliveries early in the morning, one defunct barber shop, a medical shop and the Jubilee Wine Spot. The ‘market’ stands at the corner of one main road and a lane leading off to a quiet residential area. This used to be a lazy kind of market once, but not any more. Ever since the liquor shop moved here, there is a bustle at the beginning of every month. The first Sunday sees crates of beer being delivered. By mid-morning, there’s an informal party of men crowded around the shop, which has large supplies of namkeen, plastic disposable glasses, plastic pouches of water and small change.

Drinking is a serious business here. The men talk among themselves but they are rarely raucous. One or two plug a bottle of beer to their lips and detach themselves from the bottle only when there’s nothing left in it. By late afternoon, the crowd disappears. If they have any money left, it has been consumed or invested in more alcohol for later.

Parked just outside the wine shop at around four in the afternoon, waiting for others to finish what they have to, I have a good view of two men on the pavement, right next to the large blue MCH rubbish bin. They are both ragged, both bleary-eyed and very, very drunk. On the pavement beside them is an empty bottle of cheap rum: only an optimist would consider tipping the bottle for a few fugitive drops of liquor. As I watch, a remarkable altercation is in progress.

The men are sitting close together. The older one in the dhoti and shirt tries to put his hand in the breast pocket of the other man. Each has one affectionate hand around the other’s shoulder but the second hand seems to live independently of the first. With careful imprecision, the one tries to reach for the contents of the pocket and the other defends his pockets from assault. It looks quite companionable.

The younger man finally sneaks out a ten rupee note from his pocket and crumples it up in his fist tightly the way children do. The older man, unable to reach or prise open the other’s fist and increasingly desperate, reaches for the younger man’s crotch. The younger man tries to retaliate in kind. There is something hilarious and sad about the seriousness with which they try to grab at the other's crotch.

Though neither has sufficient control over his movements, the whole thing seems rehearsed: it has the slow, coordinated rhythm of a dance class, the utter concentration of one who is attempting to remember the next step while doing this one perfectly.

A young girl returning from school stops to watch. She stands quite close to them but they are oblivious. The ten rupee note is the most important thing in their blurred, circumscribed world. The older man is now almost lying down on the pavement with the younger one half on top of him. One hand searches frantically for something with which to defend himself. He finds a large slab of granite and tries to pick it up but from where he is, it is too heavy to lift. The girl, having watched enough, moves away.

The younger one now has the money back in his pocket, which he has twisted and is holding with one hand. The older one has the slab of granite in both hands but manages to shift it to one while holding the younger man with the other. Now the battle shifts to who gains control over the stone. In all this time, neither has uttered a word or let out a sound.

The boys from a nearby supermarket have come to dispose of several large cartons full of garbage. One boy is on a cycle while two others try to stuff too-large things into the MCH’s meagre bin, spilling plastic and thermacol over the side. They stand around and look at the two drunk men on the pavement and laugh. The one on the cycle practices cycling in tight circles. Once the others are done, they all head back to work.

A boy from the liquor store – no more than 13 years – comes to pick up empty bottles. He bends down to pick up the bottle of rum but the two men temporarily abandon their private fight to defend the bottle from marauders. The boy goes away, having picked up a few plastic cups. He seems unsurprised and incurious. The younger man picks up the bottle and takes a hopeful swig.

There must have been something in it because in a moment he is retching and sick. He holds his head in his hands and sways back and forth. Long lines of spit fall to the road. The older man strokes his back and after a few moments ruffles his head. They straighten up and say a few words to each other that have all the brevity of code. But they understand each other. The younger one looks around.

I, who have been looking at them directly, suddenly look away, pretend to be looking in the rear view mirror but I can see them from the corner of my eye. The man looks at me for a moment. His eyes are bloodshot. Eventually his eyes slide away and I can turn my head slightly to see what is happening.

Nothing is that hasn’t happened in the last fifteen minutes. They resume their intimate dance, oblivious of everyone and everything and will no doubt continue until either the one decides to share the ten rupee note or the other steals it and buys whatever liquor can be bought for that sum.

We leave but the next morning when I pass that way I glance at the pavement for signs of bodies lying lifeless, or passed out or in another tableau. But there is nothing. Just the garbage bin, a few sweepers and a liquor store that hasn’t yet opened for the day.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Rainer Maria Rilke. Sonnets to Orpheus (trans. Stephen Mitchell):


Be ahead of all parting, as though it already were
behind you, like the winter that has just gone by.
For among these winters there is one so endlessly winter
that only by wintering through it all will your heart survive.

Be forever dead in Eurydice-more gladly arise
into the seamless life proclaimed in your song.
Here, in the realm of decline, among momentary days,
be the crystal cup that shattered even as it rang.

Be-and yet know the great void where all things begin,
the infinite source of your own most intense vibration,
so that, this once, you may give it your perfect assent.

To all that is used-up, and to all the muffled and dumb
creatures in the world's full reserve, the unsayable sums,
joyfully add yourself, and cancel the count.

Monday, December 03, 2007

kids, careers

Via Crooked Timber, on Scatterpool:

Because I have never regretted putting my children first in those years. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly regretted some of the ways I handled the situation, and I can feel as jealous and resentful as the next person when I compare my professional status with that of the men who “passed” me while I was on the mommy track. But not the core decision to put the children first. That decision had negative consequences for my career, but it had positive consequences, too. As they say, few people in the cancer wards say, “Boy, I wish I’d spent more time working.” Spending time with my children was, in fact, its own intrinsic reward, and my relationship with them now that they are adults continues to be rewarding. I do not mean it was always fun or inspiring. Children can be very selfish and annoying, and it is traumatic when they have problems you cannot fix. More than anything else, parenthood taught me that I am deeply imperfect, that I am capable of doing things that I disapprove of and that hurt other people. But I grew and deepened as a human being from these very struggles and disappointments. I became less self-centered, less self-righteous, and more open to and forgiving of the struggles and disappointments of other imperfect people. I feel good about my ability to sustain a rich relationship with my children despite all our imperfections. I also learned a lot from hanging out with stay-at-home moms about choosing priorities, having a sense of perspective about life, helping each other out in a pinch, and norms of reciprocity.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Announcements, Declarations and Oaths (of varying strengths)

Actually, just a few announcements.

Today is the last day for submissions to the Poetry Competition organised by Prakriti (link to relevant post in sidebar).

Also, I am cancelling my Trivandrum trip due to various not-entirely-unforeseeable-circumstances. Blogging will range from erratic to non-existent. Sorry about that.

In the meanwhile, I'm afraid I won't be responding to comments for a bit but feel free to make them just the same.

See you all in a bit. And sorry to miss you at the fest, Praba and Mukul.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

La Donna e Mobile

As George Szirtes said in one of those endless Facebook forwards. But this one I enjoyed. Watch!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Passion Flower

After all the death and gloom on this blog, I thought it was time to sex things up a bit. Enough thanatos, already! Let's have some eros around here! Bring on the NC 17 rating!

So this is a passion flower from a creeper just outside our front door. This creeper doesn't bear fruits, so the flowers are strictly decorative (and deceptive) but they bring lines of ants and give out a heady, heady smell.

Here they are: don't they look dangerous?

(sorry about the one slightly-out-focus shot).

Monday, November 26, 2007

RIP Istvan Gaal

This is two months too late and as sometimes happens, I've been thinking of Istvan Gaal often these last two months.

I found out only because I was at the IFFK site to check if they've put up the list of retrospectives and homages (they have) and in the homages to all the directors who died this year, was Gaal's name. My heart sank. I googled for news of him and sure enough, he passed away on the 25th of September this year.

Gaal, like Zanussi, was one of those directors who visited the Institute often. He was incredibly generous with his time, staying for a month each year, at least, doing intensive workshops with the direction students. He was not a very tall man, but he looked tough. His spiky white hair and the inevitable white shirt were signals of a more exciting time on campus.

In my first year, the directions students had to write a script and take turns directing small parts of a half hour film, under his supervision. The students wrote a script that drew heavily from the plot of Wajda's Innocent Sorcerers. This was sheer laziness on their part, of course, because it meant two main characters and not much in the way of challenges they set themselves (sorry, Kuntal). I was the woman in the film, so I got to spend a lot of time with Gaal and the direction students.

Needless to say, everything about the film was a disaster: the acting (mea culpa), a story that was transplanted without contextualising it in any way; and, as happens with any workshop film, the sheer lack of cohesion because of ten students directing one film.

The following year, Gaal came back to do another workshop with another set of students. This time, I was supposed to edit the workshop film (in the end my diploma schedule coincided with the workshop film and I didn't, after all, edit it). If anything, this film was worse.

And despite these failures, Gaal returned to the institute for a third year. By this time I was finished with the place, married and that winter, Gaal was on the jury at IFFI in Delhi. We had been in touch, off and on, and I went to meet him at his hotel. He was reading Ouspensky and we talked about theosophy a little. He chatted with us about our diploma films (which were all at the festival that year). He told me, about mine, that it was a bad idea to adapt Kundera's story without deep thought about why one would choose such a story. This was a familiar argument coming from him. He believed very strongly that filmmakers should be deeply rooted in their own ethos and found it a little strange that our generation was so willing to attempt adaptations of single stories from Eastern Europe without being exposed to the realities that those writers had lived. Our experiences were second hand, stale and deeply false, he said. That year he mentioned Rajashri's diploma film as the only one worth talking about.

(This sounded rather extreme to me. Rajashri's film was about a rebel boy whose differences with his parents involved supposedly radical hair changes, and was a very ordinary film, full of very heavy handed humour and clunky camera work.)

Sitting over a pot of coffee that winter, though, we strayed away from cinema talk. I'd been married less than a year, and I was there with my (then) husband, a classmate and (how to avoid making this sound filmy?) the male lead in that terrible workshop film. Gaal had gifts for us from Hungary. He had got us chocolates and wine, and me a wonderful white-on-white embroidered blouse. I was overwhelmed (and tried hard not to be jealous when, later that year, Surabhi showed me the small bottles of perfume in gorgeous Hungarian crystal that he had given the direction students as a gift). We gave him a sandal paper knife. He said no, he couldn't accept it because to give anyone a knife as a gift meant blood had to be drawn. Finally, after much persuasion, he accepted it provided we accepted blood money in exchange. It all felt a little weird. Watching him tape up the four 50p coins that were our token money, I wondered if all of this was because of a language problem or because he couldn't hear us properly. He was always hard of hearing and wore a hearing aid; conversations with him were apt to be tangential and more than a little odd. I still have the taped-up money somewhere.

That was the last time I saw Gaal, though I did write to him a couple of times. Earlier this year, I wanted to write to him and I realised that I didn't have an address anymore. I vowed to write to the Hungarian Cultural Center and ask them to put me in touch again, but like all good intentions it never made the transition into action and now it's too late.

So at IFFK this year, I will make it a point to see Falcons and remember Istvan Gaal.

Another obit here. Mukul, do you have any photographs?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Those who read Euripides also read...Nancy Drew!

Linkastic sent me to this place called The Literature Map. All was well and good. I typed in the name of an author, any author, and watched as a dozen or more names jostled for space close to the person named. I found some other name among those present and spent a pleasant two minutes jumping from 'map' to 'map'.

Then I clicked on Mervyn Peake and found Aristophanes. That made perfect sense, but what do you think happened next?

Turns out the ancient world is more underpopulated than we thought. Like some devastated part of the galaxy, all the old stars had
clearly died and any map of that part of the world can only contain large silences. Aristophanes was accompanied by maybe ten names. I spotted Juvenal and clicked. Clearly, his gift for satire endeared him to no one. While everyone else were off eating bread at the circuses, he had only Aristophanes and Euripides to talk to.

What was left but to see whose names Euripides threw up?

To be fair, I could have chosen Pynchon or William Carlos Williams but I'm sure our brains are elastic enough to make the stretch between these names. But Euripides and Nancy Drew?

Now understand this is not Amazon, where someone who bought Euripides might very well also have bought a few Nancy Drews; they could very likely have been doing their Christmas shopping or been overtaken with nostalgia or something.

Someone please make a five-step connection to explain to me how this is possible.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Perfidy of Parents

I've been walking around the the house for the last few days using and discarding more hankies than I've ever seen (this was difficult, because I basically had to decide between destroying a small wood for the sake of one cold, or deal with having to wash up all those icky hankies every day. I finally decided martyrdom suited my mood better). I blow my nose every now and then with great energy and marvel at the amount of stuff my sinuses are able to produce. I wear sweaters, make myself mugs of green tea and breathe stertorously when I'm not gasping for breath. Everywhere I go I carry with me the smell of eucalyptus oil and the sick room. I feel like a person who, in a high fever, is dreaming of the time they will recover and feel the way they're told persons with fever will feel: clear and light like a nourishing soup.

Which is why one day later, I'm overcome with indignation every time I think of my mother. I was in the kitchen making myself some jasmine tea when my son said something funny. I can't remember what it was (it wasn't that funny) but just to humour him and because I don't insist that everybody should only be thinking of me when I'm ill, I cracked a faint, brave smile.

My mother was overjoyed. "Today is the first day you're looking well," she exclaimed.

How did she made the leap from one travesty of a smile to wellness and disgusting good health? How? I'm deeply offended. I think I'm going to bring out the tiger balm today.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Wishlist: Item #1

Not that anyone is falling all over themselves to give me gifts or anything, but this is just in case. You know how it is when you go crazy trying to figure out what to give someone that they don't already have or won't secretly hate while they smile at you and become extra effusive just to cover up how they really feel?

Well, tell people what you want.

I want this book. I haven't read it since 1994 and have only the most hazy memory of it. What haunted me more was the idea of such an undertaking, the magnificence and madness of the gesture.

At the end of November '74, a friend from Paris called and told me that Lotte Eisner was seriously ill and would probably die. I said that this must not be, not at this time, German cinema could not do without her, we would not permit her death. I took a jacket, a compass and a duffel bag with the necessities. My boots were so solid and new that I had confidence in them. I set off on the most direct route to Paris, in full faith, believing that she would stay alive if I came on foot. Besides, I wanted to be alone with myself.

Werner Herzog walked. From the 23rd of November that year to the 14th of December, until he reached Paris. I remember from the book that his shoes were not quite so solid by the end of the trip; I remember the endless snow, blizzards. I don't remember whether he succeeded in his purpose, whether Eisner stayed alive because of the sheer idiocy of his undertaking. What did he think he was? Some ancient shaking his bare fist at the heavens and making vows of shattering power?

But I want to read Of Walking In Ice again and I want to own it. So now you know.

Oh, it's out of print, by the way. Oh no, wait: it's been republished this year. Yay!

Update: Talking about shoes, y'all do know about when Herzog ate his shoe, right? Video here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Not On Spaniard's [T]Urf

But here, all things are possible.

I mean, just look at the other stuff, will you?


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Ursonate and The Compleat Beatles

Kurt Schwitters' Ursonate performed by Bok. This is the one you were presumably talking about, Equivocal? Ursonate text here.

Oh...the Beatles? Like this. Heh.

All this via.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Bakson. Bisy Bakson

Like Christopher Robin, I'm leaving a mysterious note and disappearing for a while. Of course somewhere in the recesses of my brain I'm hoping that I've only to announce a departure from my blog, however temporary, for the urgent clamour of posts waiting to be blogged to begin.

In the meanwhile, I have one question: what's with all the google searches for raindrops? Is there too much of it? Too little? What? That's practically the top search that brings new people to my blog. It makes me feel like I should start kicking pebbles and singing impromptu rhymes in celebration and retire to make daisy chains and look for ladybirds when I'm all fresh.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Poetry with Prakriti: Poetry Competition

All details here.

Age group: The contest will be open to entrants aged 16 years and above.

Closing date: 30th November, 2007.

Results will be declared on 30th December, 2007 – the last day of ‘Poetry with Prakriti’.

Theme: Poems have to be written around the theme of ‘Newness’.

Length: There are no length restrictions for submitted poems.

Number of entries: Entrants are allowed to enter 1 poem only.

Submission format: Entries will be accepted in both, typed hard copy form, or soft copy sent by e mail. All entries will have to be accompanied by a declaration of originality, and automatic disqualification will occur should a fraud be detected by the committee.

e-mail your entries to

More about the Poetry with Prakriti Festival in good time, though, of course since the link's up you can keep checking.

And enter poems! Hurry! This announcement's nearly too late!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Getting It Off My Chest

Long, semi-confessional post coming up. If that’s not the kind of thing you like to read, skip this post and wait for the regular stuff.

Advanced, interstitial lung disease, the report accompanying the X-ray says. I’ve done the hospital thing long enough now to know that what a report says now does not necessarily imply a death sentence; that it is a snapshot of how things are at that particular moment, subject to change. That’s the whole point, presumably, of medical advances: that even the most terminal sounding diseases can be treated. But I’m the first one to see the report, and it is not mine. It is my father who always either being investigated for something new, or treated for something already going wrong.

We’ve reached the stage where things can be managed but not – emphatically not – reversed. Whether it’s a matter of a few months or years is immaterial. Driving back from the hospital today, I said to myself that I had better face this question of death now, when I can look at it dispassionately. At least, after a fashion.

What does that mean, ‘facing this question of death’? It’s not even a question. If I want to get all easy-philosophical about it, I could say to myself that we’re all dying every day. Yeah, so?

Negotiating the traffic, I started to make a list of things I did not want to deal with from scratch after the event: phone numbers of ambulances, crematoria; procedures –how little I know about what to do; death certificates; transferring documents into the names of next of kin; paper work – endless amounts of paper work. At the same time, I was appalled at myself for being so disloyal as to even allow these thoughts. It felt indecent.

And then – the whole question of illness. A dear one’s illness at least has this advantage: it gives you time to prepare for the end. It is the opposite of the kind of death some people are lucky enough to have, which is sudden and mostly painless, not brought on by accidents, war, murder and all the other things humans are capable of. In those cases, the ones left behind have had no time to come to terms with anything, and they are condemned to live with the shock of it forever.

For those who suffer, whose bodies deal with the pain of disease every day, their families have the dubious advantage of having time to accumulate their losses, to count every decline as one step towards a certain end, so that when it comes it comes as no surprise; if things were very, very, bad, it might even be a relief.

I feel ambiguous about the role of medicine in all of this. At times I want to say, don’t mess with life expectancy; the body’s got to give out in some way and warding off terminal illnesses with invasive and painful procedures only prolongs the agony. At other times, I’m happy that such things are possible; when it’s clear that someone who wants to live is able to because of what is available. It’s not the middling cases I’m really talking about, though, where the benefits clearly outweigh the cost of it in every sense.

If it was I who was that sick, I’d know what I would choose: I would choose to die without being pulled back so I could live out one more day in pain. This is controversial, I know, which is why I’m saying only what (I think) I would do.

But right now, it’s not my death I’m thinking of. And thinking of it I am, let’s face that as well, afraid. In the whole recipe of fear, one ingredient is the thought of the inevitable grief. No one, we’re told, has ever died of a broken heart but who has counted the numbers of those that wish they had? I don’t want to have to experience the pain of it again and again and again everyone someone goes away permanently. These are times when I want to say, let it be me instead. Let other people deal with it.

And then I think of my son and I remember who those other people will be. And I can appreciate why the will to live is so strong in people that they will go through whatever they do – we’re all shields for someone else, cupping our hands around the fragile flames of their lives. What would happen if we took our hands away is something we are not willing to even contemplate.

So what I’m talking about is not the fear of dying; it’s the fear of living.

Now what can anyone do about that?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Intentions and Schedules

The IFFK has their list of films up. Films I intend to watch include the Weerasethakul, Hsien, Ratanaruang, Tarr, Menzel, Sokhurov, Kawase, Kitano, Sang-soo, in addition to the usual Winterbottom, von Triers, Mungiu and stuff.

I'm upset there's no Opera Jawa or I Don't Want To Sleep Alone (I know you said it was crap, Cheshire Cat, but I still want to watch it.)

Rumour has it that this year's Jury for the Competition section includes Jiri Menzel and Vera Chitylova, and Miguel Littin (whose Jackal of Nahueltoro was, frankly, a bit of a yawn). Menzel I can believe; he's going to deliver the Aravindan Memorial Lecture this year.


Rashid usually books all of us into a hotel in time for the Fest. This time, with memories of rats in the table drawer, tatty sheets and a suspicion that there might be a camera in our cupboard, we decided to avoid the place where we usually stay. So having found a new place, Rashid very kindly offered to do the booking as usual. However, the hotel doesn't do block/group bookings, he was told, so he passed around a number so that all of could book our own rooms for the Fest.

So yesterday, I call the number Rashid sent.

"Hello, I'd like ot book a single room, non-AC, please, for the 6th of December."

"Yes, madam. How many days?"

"9 nights starting the 6th."

"But I can't book you for so long."

"What?! Why not?"

"We don't do such long bookings, ma'am."

"I'm coming for the Film Festival. Others have booked rooms for the same duration and you've given them a booking. What's the problem?"

"Ma'am you are all cheating."


"First you all want to do block booking, we don't do block booking, ma'am."

"I know. That's why I'm calling to book separately."

"But it's a block booking only ma'am. So many of you are calling. I can't give you a room for such a long time."

"But I'm paying for it! Do you already have a booking? Is that what you're saying?"

"No, but I can't block the room for so long. Suppose some visitor wants it?"

By this time, I've given up trying to figure out where the guy learnt logic.

"How many days can you give me the room for?"

and before he can tell me,

"How do you expect me to find another room after a few days in the middle of a festival?!"

This went on for a while longer, until a phone began to ring in the background. Possibly, visions arose in the man's head of all the bookings he would lose just by continuing to talk to me.

"Ok, ma'am, I will give you this room, but please tell your friends not to call. I won't give booking for such a long time."

"This is a confirmed booking?" I asked. I was, not unnaturally, suspicious.

"Yes, yes, it is confirmed."

"Do I need to pay an advance?"

"No need. Just give your name and phone number. And time of arrival. And please, ma'am, tell your friends not to ask for a booking here. There is no place."

Sigh. "Ok. Thank you very much."


I am, of course, haunted by the thought that I will land up there and find I cannot stay for more than two days and then will either have to bum it on an extra bed in someone else's room, or trudge back to the ratty hotel and the guy at the reception who is unable to drop a bunch of keys in your hand without touching it.


Oh, and in the middle of this - or rather, at the beginning of all this - there will be a reading. I was hoping to have done with it on the 7th but that appears to be impossible. I only hope the reading doesn't clash with some important film, because if it does, and there's no repeat screening, I'm not going and that's final!


Update: The film list I'm talking about is, of course, the regular programme. It does not include, as yet, the special packages, homages, retrospectives and perspectives that are usual.

The Edward Yang tribute is confirmed. There's almost certainly going to be at least one film each of Antonioni's and Bergman's. And I hope to heaven someone's remembered to pick a few Ousmane Sembene films.

This means that I would need to perfect the art of splitting myself into several people so I can watch all the films I want to. Until I do, I need to work on getting myself on to a selection committee. Oh, wait. That would mean watching a lot of chaff to get to the wheat. Nah...I'll just drive myself crazy trying to decide what to watch. That's nearly one half of the fun of going to film festivals. (Another large part is deciding where to eat.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sundays meant

Sundays meant waking up late but not so late that you missed breakfast. Sundays meant newspapers you had time to read, coffee, omlettes, toast and oranges. You'd finish with everything else and dig a thumb into one end of the orange and breathe deeply. Coffee pots would be replenished time and again with great generosity and the sunlight would slide off the table.

Outside, people would be recovering from the exhaustions of breakfast: radios, knitting, books, shawls laid out on the lawns. Everyone had a favourite spot, a route which they took as the day progressed, following the sun like lazy boa constrictors.

At the back, pea flowers, ice flowers, dahlias and pansies would be in bloom. There would be time enough, in the evening, to catch the second shift of hot water. Until then, there were friends or roommates who would not be compelled to talk, the company of books, and the winter light in Delhi.
Image via.