Friday, August 31, 2007
In David's words, "Anyone interested in marvels of language who has not encountered Christian Bök's called Euonia, is hereby encouraged to give it a look. It's a work in 5 chapters -- each one relating to one of the five vowels of English."
Via Mumpsimus I've discovered Wainaina's blog. The latest entry is a story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. There are interesting links on the sidebar as well.
I'm going to take off for a couple of days. Urgent deadlines, departures and arrivals, chaos. See you soon.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Daaram invites you to a reading from my book of poetry, A Reluctant Survivor on Thursday, 30th August at 6.30 pm.
Directions/Address: Naik Estate ICICI Bank Lane Adj. to Airport Lane Begumpet Hyderabad - 16. RSVP: 27765503.
Just as well, really; because watching Lifted made one feel the way Remy must have felt after chomping on cheese and strawberry and watching the stars dance in his head. Too much attention to the review would have spoilt the joy of the unexpected.
What is really amazing about the film is that - leaving aside all the details of the story - it is about the big guy saying, "Okay, here's all the tech backing you could want. Now show me what you can do." And the short film does show, in no uncertain terms, what it can do.
It says quantities about Pixar's confidence that while it graciously accepts the homage paid to it in the film - where the big guy has to come to the little one's rescue and save the day - it acknowledges that the little guy has what it takes to one day do the big feature, that his talents are worth showcasing, that just possibly some people might leave the theatre having enjoyed the starter more than the main course.
That's one of the reasons why I love Pixar.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
In the morning, I discovered most of the lights blinking sleepily. They were dim to almost off, and nothing worked.
Hence my absence. Just back from watching Ratatouille with my son. More tomorrow.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Falstaff's story here. Black Mamba's here. Anjoy (and contribute!)
“Don’t open it until I’ve left. Promise?”
She looks at me strangely but she promises.
She’ll open the letter tonight. I haven’t known her for long but I know her well enough.
When I see her again, I’ll know if she’s read the letter. I wonder how long it will take for her to figure it out? Wish I could see her face as she’s reading it.
As she reads one line and goes on to the next, finding that it makes no sense; that it doesn’t follow. Will she read it twice, three times? Will she shake the single sheet of paper in frustration? When will it occur to her to read a line and flip the page over to continue reading? And then again and again, until the page turns and turns in her hands.
I was never going to see her face as she read the letter. But tomorrow when we meet, she will grin – I’m sure of it – and very likely cuff me with that ridiculous pink and white bag she carries everywhere. I will look injured and ask why I’m being physically abused in this manner, and she will say, just.
That’s one letter you’re not going to tear up, lady.
The letter that he wrote?
Here it is.
Or rather, here it isn't.
But go read.
(but why Hyderabad? Why not Philly? Hanh? Philadelphia Cream Cheesy.)
Update: The worst hell there is, 2: two film tickets.
Good good! Hope other people are writing letters as well!
As in, "It goes to the extent of preposterity so that we talk about it. And then we find our own ways to develop our country."
So what ya gotta do is, exaggerate the outcome and thus raise the dust; then using all the resultant air pollution, you rebuild your country out of not-so-thin-air. Writing histories of these brave deeds is what constitutes preposterity.
*What a lovely word it is. It combines the past in the 'pre', the future in the 'post' (though it recalls the past at the same time) and hankers for a time before posterity.
Monday, August 27, 2007
But worse than these guys are the people who comment, and lazily use the space to make lists a mile long.
Now here's the challenge I'm setting myself. I'm naming 25 films that these two haven't mentioned (commenters' favourites don't count. They should have done a post on their blogs). I'm excluding Copeland's list because it's a list of nominees and not his personal favourites. It appears to have had a nominating committee and other complex procedures, including votes and things.
So here goes. Excluding only English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu films, the top 25 in no particular order:
Viridiana - LUis Bunuel
Stalker - Andrei Tarkovsky
Ashik Kerib - Sergei Paradjanov
Night Train - Jerzy Kawalerowicz
Man of Marble - Anrdezej Wajda
Fireman's Ball - Milos Forman
Nine Months - Marta Meszaros
Elektra - Miklos Jansco
Love Film - Istvan Szabo
Dark Habits - Pedro Almodavar
Triumph of the Will - Leni Riefensthal
Fitzcarraldo - Werner Herzog
Alice In The City - Wim Wenders
Winter Light- Ingmar Bergman
Notre Musique- Jean-Luc Godard
Last Year At Marienbad - Alain Resnais
A Man Escaped - Robert Bresson
Lucia - Humberto Solas
Memories of Underdevelopment - Tomas Guttierez Alea
Flowers of Shanghai - Hou Hsiao-Hsien
In The Mood For Love - Wong Kar-Wai
Hana-bi - Takeshi Kitano
Autumn Afternoon - Yasujiro Ozu
Take Care Of Your Scarf Tatyana - Aki Kaurismaki
Red Desert - Michaelangelo Antonioni
Dammit! That's 25 and there's still more to go.
I hadn't even begun India: Subarnarekha, Titash, Goopy Gyne, Tukaram, Amma Ariyan, Firingoti.
Haven't mentioned so many directors, even, so many countries (Iran, and Kiarostami, without whom any list is pretty meaningless.)
I also note how few comtemporary directors' work I've chosen, which either means their worth is not yet certain, or that I'm conditioned by a text book idea of cinema's top films.
The trouble with such exercises is, it always leaves you feeling you've done no one justice.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
She thinks how they’ve known each other for such a short time, how something’s ended that’s not even begun. The only letter he’s ever going to write her and now he wants oaths and declarations of faith.
Promise, she says. That night she opens the letter and reads it.
In the two days that are left before he leaves, they will almost certainly meet. How should she behave and more importantly, what should she do? And is it at all possible that he cannot tell careful nonchalance from ignorance?
Here’s what you do: what’s in the letter? And what will she, he or they do, now that she’s read it and he’s (still) going to leave?
You could write the letter out, do anything with the situation (just please don’t write execrable verse about it).
Post it on your blogs and I’ll link it up.
(Yeah, this means I can be lazy.)
Saturday, August 25, 2007
It being a Saturday, one would have expected many people out in the Necklace Road area, where one blast took place. But it's been raining and that might have kept people away.
More as and when.
10.15 pm: 30 people or more dead. NDTV says
Hyderabad Police Commissioner Balwinder Singh said the toll at Lumbini Park, overlooking the picturesque Hussain Sagar lake, may go up as it was teeming with week-end crowd.
The police cordoned off the areas and sounded a red alert across the city and conducted searches at railway stations and bus depots.
Meanwhile, the BJP seizes the opportunity to put in a good word for POTA. Typical.
Friday, August 24, 2007
There's a fine sense of completion when I chanced upon this. Here's Kassabova on James:
Perfectly balanced and lethal like a Russian ice-skater, Clive James pirouettes through conversation, as he does on the page. There’s never a dull moment. From Shakespeare’s sonnets (“You should always carry a copy of the complete Shakespeare with you”) to The Sopranos (“It’s appalling. I love it”); from the diaries of war witness Victor Klemper to the uses of the baseball cap, which, worn back-to-front, is “the international sign of the idiot”; from the misguided utilitarian politics of playwright Brecht to Czech émigré Milan Kundera’s “unbearable lightness of not being there”; from singing along to the arias in a Tosca production (“You’re lucky – this is the best Scarpia you’ll ever see!”) to commenting on a group of female guests in his Berlin hotel: “There’s a Convention for the World’s Ugliest Women here.” Careless about his own appearance, he is meticulous about the appearance of others, especially women. But nobody’s perfect.
Or, how on earth can Hermione, who loves books and practically lives in the library, tear out pages from books instead of referring to them and making notes in another book (taking care as she is doing so, to write down the name of the publisher, date of publication, pages numbers and so on)?
This last is especially inconceivable for me, having been brought up to worship - if I worship anything at all - books. I always flip through entire books before I borrow them from the library, to see if they have pages missing and I’m indignant when they show signs of damage.
So I can forgive you your gasps of horror when I tell you the evil things I’ve done with books that don’t belong to me. Ok, let me rephrase that: I’ve never damaged books but I have caused or induced other people to do terrible things with magazines.
(Yes, that does make me less culpable, doesn’t it?)
In college, for some reason that I can’t immediately recall, I was avoiding S. We’d set up several dates and I’d cancelled each one on the flimsiest grounds. A normal guy, more or less as callow and clueless as I was, would have given up. But S, being older, wiser and infinitely more interesting for it, didn’t. Two days after I said, for the nth time, that I couldn’t meet him, I got a letter by post.
It was not the usual small yellow envelope; it was intriguingly large and I opened it carefully. Inside were several pages that had been torn out of a magazine. It was good, thick paper; not from one of the cheap glossies. I opened the pages that had been folded once, turned them over and gasped. It was an extract from Tom Robbins’ Skinny Legs and All. The dance of Salome bit. I started to read, ignoring until much later the little post-it note stuck on the first page. In it, I later found, S declared that he didn’t usually vandalise magazines, even for girls who stood him up. But he was the eternally forgiving sort, he said. That explained why he went against his instincts or upbringing, whichever was stronger. I can find it in me to regret some things from that time, but not those pages, which I still have somewhere.
Some years later, at the Institute, it was diploma time. It was also birthday time for me, and A asked me what I wanted. We were always broke, you understand, so it never even occurred to me to ask for something anyone might need to buy. Just days before, I’d been in the library, reading some film magazine (by which I do not mean Stardust). I can’t remember what this magazine was, but it had two pages, back-to-back, of the psychedelic Beatles posters in it.
I coveted them. I wanted those two pages more than anything else and I was even willing to consider hiding in some dark corner and ripping those pages out. But better sense prevailed. Besides, I did not want to ruin the posters by tearing them out badly. This was an operation of great delicacy and planning.
We weren’t allowed to borrow magazines from the FTII library. How to sneak this magazine out so I could use a good paper cutter to cut the pages evenly?
So when A asked what I wanted for my birthday, I told him.
The library people almost laid out the red carpet because this was probably the first time A was entering the library. All eyes were on us as I took him to the magazine stand, took out this one (I had half expected it to have disappeared. Malign forces frequently conspire to take away that which is most desired) and sat at a table.
A had to take the magazine out but how? No bags allowed. Eagle-eyed librarians all around. We walked through every aisle pretending great interest in every unlikely book – books about microphones, stuff like that.
“Put it in your t-shirt,” I hissed.
“No! I can’t lift my clothes in here. They’re all looking at us.”
“Please! There’s no other way you can take it out.”
“I’ll bring a cutter in here tomorrow and cut them out somewhere.”
“Tomorrow the magazine will be gone. Someone will take it away and say read the new ones that have just come. Please! You promised!”
Hard to do all this in the regulation library undertone. But I managed.
“Ok, fine. Just remember, I’m doing this only because it’s your birthday.”
A hid behind a shelf while I guarded one side of the aisle and he quickly tucked the magazine into his jeans.
“Done? Let’s go.”
Suddenly A was more calm and nonchalant than I was. He insisted that we browse for a while longer. I looked at his t-shirt and it was clear to me that we were going to get caught. I nearly said, put it back. Never mind about the posters.
Guilt vied with greed and greed won. Naturally. We left without getting arrested or grilled. Nobody even noticed.
Back in my room, we examined the two pages with a surgeon’s eye. A fished out a paper cutter from his bag. I turned away, unable to look.
Two minutes later, I was the proud owner of four posters - John and George on one page and Paul and Ringo on the other.
“Happy Birthday,” A said.
I wouldn’t do it myself, ever. I hate vandalising books.
My conscience? Clean as a whistle. Did you doubt it?
Thursday, August 23, 2007
'Achcha I got a mail from some _____, ' he says to the person at the other end. 'He said, cheque de. What cheque de? Means what?'
Some explanation forthcoming from the other end.
'Oh ho. Shah Rukh Khan, aa? Chek De!'
And to his friend sitting next to him, 'Film anta. Chek De. Punjabi.'
PS: You'd really have to know how Telugu works for this to be funny.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Someone Else’s Life
It was a day of slow fever
Snow fell like angels’ feathers
I listened carefully to doubts and revisions
Then night came and I was quickly
The street was deserted and dim.
and I could not recall
and why I lay alone now
Urdu literature’s luminary writer Quratulain Hyder — who jostled for
creative space with the language's other grand dame Ismat Chughtai — passed away at her Noida home early Tuesday morning . She was 81.
Born in 1927, this Jnanpith awardee was one of India’s most prolific pens —
both in Urdu and English. She won Sahitya Akademi Award for her collection of short stories Patjhar ki Awaz (The Sound of Falling Leaves) in 1968. She won the Padmashree and Ghalib awards in 1984. The Urdu Academy in Delhi conferred upon her the Bahadur Shah Zafar Award in 2000.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Monday, August 20, 2007
Schedule here. All films at 6.30 pm at the Prasad Preview Theatre, except on Saturday and Sunday, when there are two films and the first one starts at 6 pm.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
I'm not paying attention because of what I see below the dialog box that is waiting for my password to be typed in. It says, 'Forget me'.
I feel strangely forlorn. There is nothing I would like better than to ask the computer and several people I can think of, to 'forget me'.
Two days ago, to shake my son out of an uncharacteristically sad mood, I fished out photographs from just before the time he was born, to about when he was five. This was when I more or less stopped taking photographs of him obssessively.
I had my reasons, I suppose, for wanting to remember each moment. There was a time when I needed to convert each experience into memory as soon as it happened, to mediate it with something esle so that it became manageable.
But as he became visibly lighter hearted, I sank into...what can I call it? Not depression, not nostalgia - oh god, not nostalgia. Something darker. Looking at those photographs, seeing myself as I was seven years ago, just before I was setting off to hospital, only sometimes with some trace on my face of what was to come after; or where I'm bathing my son, or holding him as he chomps on the chin of a soft toy he's been given, I can't bear to see them again.
I'm watching myself. This I realise. I'm not really looking at my son, because there he is in the photographs, and here he is now, and whatever it is he is thinking cannot be as important as the memories that are being made right now.
But me - when I look at these photographs, I'm searching my face for signs of foreknowledge, for signs that I knew how things would bring me to where I am now. All I could find - what did I expect? - was ignorance. Complete and serene ignorance.
This is what I hate about looking at this period of my life. I hate having to look at that face from all those years ago, apparently happy. But I know differently. I know that such apparent peace is deceptive. I know what I was thinking; I remember what happened just before. Sometimes the the memory of what happened minutes after or days after a particular photograph makes me squirm. Nearly everything in those albums makes me want the earth to swallow me up.
Why did I record all of this so assiduously? I want to tear all these photographs up, like I do my letters. (In all, I have about ten letters that people have written me. Nobody is going to get famous because of the letters I've preserved).
Later that evening, I'm walking down a road I haven't been on for more than twenty years. I used to jump over a wall and go to a friend's place at the corner of that road, to play. I didn't know then that some day I would know someone else who would live in that house.
The house is different both on the inside and out, but it is the road that bothers me. It is narrower than I remember it but this no longer surprises me because everyone knows places are larger in our memories. It is dusk and the the sky is just dark enough to make the parijat glow. I look at each house carefully to see what I remember. I remember nothing except a few names of girls. What grabs hold of me here is more than the sum of my memories.
Coming as it does so soon after the photographs, I feel this more keenly. The evening presses down on me and I want to disappear or be anywhere but here.
There should be a way to discard the past so comprehensively that it can never confront you again or take you by surprise. There should be a way to walk down a road you've been on many times and see only the one that is there now. There should be a way to look at old photographs and know that you have been forgotten.
So reading this on Amit's blog this morning just totally made my day (plus being told that I don't have to go and judge Day 2 after all. Once is fun. Two days in a row is cruelty to adults).
When we got home, my son announced that he and Julio were going walking.
"Not now, Devon. Go in the living room. Chris and I need to talk to you."
He gave me a puzzled look."Can Julio come? Or is it a private talk?"
"No, Julio can take part. I think that's actually best."
Another puzzled look and he complied. When he and Julio were seated on the sofa, Chris and I launched our attack.
"Crystal, do you want to start, or should I?"
"Oh, babe, I think you should. I ... I can't."
Devon and Julio look at each other and the snickering begins. Bait taken.
With a grave look on his face, Chris began."Devon, son. I want to talk to you about condoms."
My son and Julio fell all over each other, gasping for air and high-fiving one another.
"Dude! I totally knew that's what this was! Oh, my God! We so pulled this off!" Devon said.
Hook. Line. Sinker.
"Devon. This is a serious matter. You need to be a little more receptive to what we're trying to do, here," I said.
He and Julio straightened themselves up and gave us their utmost, completely insincere attention.
"Mom, it was a joke. An inside-"
"No, no, I think it was more than that. I think it was your way of asking for information without actually asking-"
"Shut it. And listen," I commanded. "Chris, continue."
"Devon. Your mom and I have been talking and we really want you to be safe. We know things happen and you're human, you have all these urges and hormones and....stuff."
The boys begin squirming and looking thoroughly uncomfortable. Inside joke, indeed.
"So, to make sure of that," Chris says as he reaches into his pocket and my child begins to turn an alarming shade of red, "we picked you up some protection
for you and your partner."
He drops these into Devon's lap.
"One for all five of them."
As Chris and I sit smugly and watch, my son goes from amused to embarrassed to horrified to flinging them off of his lap and shrieking like a little girl, all in under two minutes. It was a thing of beauty.
That's not all, however.
Somehow I'm no longer moony about little boids flying the nest and all. There's much to look forward to and I'm waiting! And when the day comes, I will also take photographs and preserve resultant embarassment forever. There's already lots of very useful stuff handy; I only have to gather more. Thanks Amit!
Thursday, August 16, 2007
TFA PHOTOGRAPHY AWARDS 2008
TOTO FUNDS THE ARTS (TFA) in association with TASVEER invites entries for its first annual awards for young Indian photographers.
Two cash awards ofRs. 25,000 each will be given in January 2008.
The spirit of the Toto Awards is to identify promise and encourage young talent. THEREFORE, if you are less than 18 or older than 30 on 1 January2008, or live outside India, read no further!
The submissions should comprise a minimum of 12 and a maximum of 36 photographs, either in colour or black and white, or a mix of the two.
1. The photographs should comprise still images. Video photography will not be accepted.
2. They should be high resolution (print quality): 350-600 dpi.
3. The submission should be made on CD (three copies) along with hard copies of five photographs of your choice. These should be in reasonable size, i.e. easily visible, but not larger than A-4.
4. The photographs could be on one theme or an assortment of themes. Your choice.
5. Submitted material will not be returned.
Entries should reach TOTO FUNDS THE ARTS (TFA) by 30 September 2007 at the latest.
TOTO FUNDS THE ARTS (TFA),
H 301 Adarsh Gardens,
8th Block, 47th Cross
,Jayanagar, Bangalore 560 082
If you have any further queries, please write to email@example.com
THE FINE PRINT: Entries must be accompanied by a signed statement confirming the applicant's date of birth, whether the applicant's work has been published in print and/or exhibited in any forum (give details), and also affirming that the submitted work is original.An independent jury will be appointed to decide on the awards. The decisionof this jury will be final and not contestable in any forum.Please note: We reserve the right to use your photographs (if necessary) to publicise the awards and in any inhouse materials such as a newsletter.Otherwise, the copyright rests with the photographer and your submission will be put to no other use without your express permission.TOTO FUNDS THE ARTS (TFA) is a not-for-profit public trust set up in memoryof Angirus 'Toto' Vellani, who was intensely passionate about music, literature and films. TASVEER is a new organisation committed to showcasing contemporary photography.
Via separate emails from Sarita Vellani and Anjum Hasan.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Last month, Tsai and his production company, Homegreen Films (set up by him and his producer Leonard Tee), received a letter from the Malaysian censors informing them that I Don't Want To Sleep Alone had been banned.
Despite Tsai having been careful about how he portrayed the character of his Muslim actor, Norman Atun, and the edits they made specially for the Malaysian release, somehow the censors still took offence with the film.
The censorship board's reasons were that Malaysia was depicted negatively in the film, with beggars and immigrants populating Kuala Lumpur and the hazardous haze (caused by open burning) enveloping the city. They said Malaysians were also portrayed as cold and heartless. It is Visit Malaysia Year 2007 after all, so they felt it wasn't appropriate for the film to be shown.
An appeal was quickly made against the ban and just a couple of days ago, the appeals committee of the censorship board finally said yes to the film's release ... but with a few conditions.
The film will only get a limited release in arthouse cinemas, while five cuts are to be made. The cuts involve scenes where actor Lee Kang-sheng's bare buttocks can be seen, Norman is cleaning Lee as he lies injured and clad only in his underwear, Norman washes his underwear, Lee and actress Chen Shiang-chyi are kissing and where radio reports of open burning can be heard in the background.
Producer Tee said they were happy that the appeal was successful, but worried about the five cuts. He said they would make another appeal against those cuts. Meanwhile, Tsai voiced his concern as well, stating that he could not see how a story about love and compassion could be seen by the censors as something negative. He also said he is still trying to make up his mind whether to accept those conditions put forth by the censors.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
If I am not mistaken, this is the same Section under which a case against Chandramohan was booked.
I'd like to laugh it off like I did last time. I'd like to say, the thing to do is for everyone to go out a buy or borrow a copy of Shodh and read it. I'd like to believe this will shame the MIM and every element of every lunatic fringe into silence.
But of course we all know this a special kind of blindness, one born of the confidence that if one only acts, things will fall into place and the world will right itself again. It is analogous to the egregiousness of a Rang De Basanti (about which more in a couple of days) where a bunch of ill-informed layabouts believe they have only to commit murder and fess up for the light of revolution to be lit and for a tranformation to occur in the country.
Are we deluding ourselves into believing that the MIM and the 20 crore Muslims they claim to speak on behalf of has actually read even one book by Nasreen in its entirety, and been offended by it? Do we really believe that reading the books they claim cause offense is the answer to the intimidation they practice?
The MIM don't case about the books Nasreen writes. The Hindu Right doesn't care how Chandramohan depicts gods. Most of them won't recognise art if it came and sat on their faces.
They protest and fling furniture about because it suits their purpose to create a climate of fear. A climate where people like me will not tell everyone about a screening of Janshn-e-Azadi because we did not have a strategy in place to deal with the cops when they arrive. They do what they do because they know how willing the State is to side with them in supressing anything remotely controversial.
In all seriousness, I don't know what the answer is. I know it is nice to say things like 'not silence but more speech' or to believe that one has only to speak up every single time these things happen and all will eventually be well, but I don't feel so certain about that any more.
This is not to say that we shouldn't speak up; of course we must. But we also have to be aware that by the time the occasion comes for us to speak up, the event is usually past. We only react; we never find a way to allow ourselves the space where a Nasreen can release her book without mishap or where a film can be screened without being confiscated.
The whole country has protested the attack on Nasreen, including the newly elected Vice President of India. And yet the cops have registered a case against her (after, mind you, having treated her to lunch) while Owaisi and the other MLAs can be almost certain of getting away with their attacks and death threats.
What is clear is that we can no longer take for granted a space where one can speak as one likes. We know that these freedoms may exist in theory, but that in practice, they have been eroded to a point where they can be denied us even in theory. This is dangerous. And we are complacent because we are naive about how we imagine we can counter this.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
While introducing his film Jashn-e-Azadi, Sanjay Kak said, "In 2003 I went to Kashmir after 14 years. I was disturbed by what I saw and also by how much I did not know. Kashmir is not invisible but it is totally hidden."
This sense of a place that is elusive is one that strikes you most as the film begins, with shots of the water reflecting denuded trees in winter, a tall pole on which a raven sits, and the illusion of inversion and the world turned on its head. Boats come in and out of focus and nothing is clear. We remember this sequence not only because of the unsettling images but because in all the poetry that punctuates the film, mirrors, reflection and the act of seeing play an important part.
Days away as we are from the 60th year of India's independence, asking questions about what freedom means or whose freedom we are talking about seems almost redundant. We are loud in our glee, although if we were to be questioned closely we would be hard put to it to remember the narrative of our independence.
Watching this film reminds us that not everyone feels a part of this triumphant parade of India's freedom. The Independence Day 'celebrations' of 2005 shown in the film are of a bleakly empty square, with only a few army officers and plenty of flags. If there are people, they have stayed firmly indoors and want no part of the ceremony of raising flags and releasing doves. As the film begins, we are immediately disturbed by how much we cannot see.
But soon enough many things become clear. We know in a very short time that the presence of the army, of violence and of sudden eruptions of conflict is pervasive. Everywhere there are guns, everywhere people are stopped, checked and can be arrested or taken away.
Indeed the whole film is a litany of grief, fear and suspicion: every story is one of disappearance, loss, trauma, nightmares, sudden arrests and torture. In every small town and village, as the film follows the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, which is conducting a first-of-its- kind survey of lives lost, stories are told of young men who have given up their livelihood to join the insurgency; who have continued with their lives but have been taken away for questioning and have never appeared; of bodies that have been found in forests, unidentified and unclaimed. One village had more than 400 orphans. A psychiatric clinic had hundreds of people waiting outside - most of them suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The film makes no historical points: very briefly, through titles, it outlines the position of Kashmir before and after India's Independence - touching significantly on the land reforms that followed, where every peasant and every landless person was given lan - and the disenchantment in the late '80s that led to the armed insurgency. No reasons are given for why the insurgency turned militant; instead the film examines the idea of martyrdom as one meaning not only 'sacrifice' but also an 'act of witnessing'.
At every funeral of militant leaders, or of young men, hoards of people chant and demand freedom. These cries for freedom are so insistent through the film that the irony of an election where only 9% of the population in one constituency come to cast their votes is not only stark, but bitter. In contrast, an important sequence shows Yasin Malik, who is collecting signatures, speak eloquently about the right of the Kashmiri people to self-determination. The arguments he makes sound like the ones leaders might have made during the 1940s, when the struggle was against the British.
But hidden at the edges of this narrative is the one of the Kashmiri Pundits who fled the valley from the late 80's onward. In this 2 1/2 hour film, the issue comes up just before the intermission. Kak calls up a Kashmiri pundit, a poet, who has chosen to remain. He wants to hear a poem the poet has written, and in the midst of the recitation, the call is cut off. The intermission begins and by the time it is over, there's a discomfort, a feeling of a narrative interrupted; it can't but be deliberate. When the film resumes, we don't immediately return to the question fo the Kashmiri pundits, but when we do, Kak calls the poet again, who recites the entire poem and says that though his family has left for Delhi, he has chosen to remian, though he remians in strict retirement, seeing nobody and having nothing to do with the world and all its violence.
A few minutes more in the sum total of the engagement with the issue of Kashmiri pundits. If one is inclined to be charitable, this could be interpreted as a narrative of the valley and those who live in it. But it is impossible to talk about choice, or volition with any sincerity, because the reasons why one entire religious community felt it had to leave is never examined. This is important, because though it is not an omission, it has caused every screening to be either interrupted, disrupted or disallowed on the strength of its supposed bias against the Kashmiri pundits.
When Kak was asked about this, he said that he wanted to talk about Kashmir beyond the three issues of Pakistan/India, Islamic militancy and the exodus of the pundits. To the extent that he limits himself to the narratives of those who remain, it is an eloquent narrative. But the film raises the inevitable question about the power that the majority necessarily arrogates to itself.
Everywhere in the film, is the question of majority: the large number of insurgents in the '80s against the larger might of the Indian army; the majority Muslim population versus the minority Hindu population that left; the 700-800 odd (invisible) insurgents against the overpowering presence of the Army now.
But it would be a mistake to range yourself on any one side of these binaries because how you experience majority depends on where you are. This becomes obvious when you consider that historically Kashmir was ruled for centuries by a Hindu minority. And when you consider the presence in the valley in the last few years, of the tourists.
Some of the most shocking images in the films are of the tourists, as they pose with vile plastic flowers, in a Republic Day imitation of an 'ethnic costume'. Kashmiri photographers dress these tourists up and photograph them, take them on sled rides in the snow and listen as the men rave about this 'paradise on earth' that 'these stupid people have ruined'. With every shot - as a person belonging to the majority, smug India, where you have never had to question the term 'Indian' or 'freedom' - you cringe as you watch.
And then, near the end of the film, tourists pose with flowers until some army men arrive. Then, taking advantage of their presence, some young ladies start to pose with guns. One girl wears a camouflage scarf over her head and brandishes a gun. This is a shocking image, more deeply shocking, even, than the men on the sled who throw their hands out in ownership of the valley. This is shocking because this indicates not only a sense of entitlement that the average Indian feels, but the ease with which s/he feels an opposite perspective can be contained or silenced with a legitimised military presence. Insurgency born out of a call for freedom by the Kashmiri is unacceptable, but an Army presence enforcing India's right to Kashmir is.
In these circumstances, the idea of majority needs to be redefined not by the parameters of location, but by entitlement. Tourists see what they want to see and the Kashmiris aid them in their distorted vision for either reasons of economic necessity or because generating a pleasant fiction is safer or makes them less visible. But such an experience of ownership is suspect and deeply discomforting.
The other disturbing issue is of the Army on its PR campaigns: when they distribute radios to villagers, who accept them and the snacks provided afterwards in silence and with their heads down; or the children in an orphange who sing 'Sare Jahaan Se Achcha' while officers smile and pat them on their heads.
Kak highlights the irony of these events by having on the soundtrack the song from the film, Leader, playing over images of flag hoistings and trucks moving in city squares and mountainous road: 'Apni azadi ko hum hargiz mita sakte nahin. Sar kata sakte hain lekin sar jhuka sakte nahin' Whose voice are we hearing? India's? The people of Kashmir? When we ask for peace, why do we remember bloodthirsty songs that celebrate martyrdom?
The use of this song would be heavy-handed irony were it not that it forces these questions on us. We have to ask, as 60 years of India's Independence approaches, how people experience freedom. Who speaks and on whose behalf? What is the cost of that Independence won 60 years ago and who will pay and for how long?
PS: This was the screening I couldn't talk about until after it was over for security reasons. Talima Nasreen had been attacked just the day before and the police would have been glad of any excuse to stop the screening of any film they were told was controversial. This was why I did not announce it on the blog, the reason why it was an invitation only event, and why only about 20 people saw the film.
The irony is not lost on me. We ought to have publicised it widely and used the opportunity to bring up the issue of freedom of expression and censorship. Sometimes the censorship we practise on ourselves is more pernicious because of its self-serving logic (I'd rather that 20 people saw it than that 50 came and couldn't.) Mea culpa.
Friday, August 10, 2007
And now, Mr. Akbaruddin Owaisi, the leading light and hope of the MIM, the new generation, as it were, is quite happy with his partymen:
Akbaruddin Owaisi, MIM’s leader in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly, said his party was not worried about the case against its MLAs and activists. “She brought disrespect to Islam and we taught her a lesson,” he said.
And this in the Times of India:
"The partymen are ready to make bigger sacrifices if anyone tries to play with Islam and what it stands for. When M F Husain drew some paintings, some felt it was insulting to their religion. But no one who vandalised the exhibition where Husain’s paintings were on show were arrested or punished." he said.
MIM MLA Akbaruddin Owaisi said neither he nor the party had any regrets over the incident. "Everyone seems to be very concerned over the freedom of speech and literary freedom of a person who is not an Indian citizen. But nobody is bothered about the 20 crore Muslims of our country who have been deeply hurt by the provocative writings of this woman," Akbaruddin told TOI.
Ah. So we should not be concerned about the freedom of speech of someone who is not a citizen of India. We should not be concerned about the rights of those who do not belong to our country, our religion, our caste, our gender.
Anybody who presents a perspective that sits uncomfortably with the majority's idea of itself is automatically to be silenced because clearly, so many people together cannot make themselves heard or present their case without the help of stools and missiles and weapons other than words.
(Let's not even ask if each one of the '20 crore Muslims of our country' have read all of - or even any of - Nasreen's work.)
Every time this happens, I'm amazed at the majority's lack of faith in the strength of its own ideas. If all it takes is one book release, one film screening, one painting, to destabilise the cherished ideas of a community or ideology, what is it worth?
And if to defend one's world view means assaulting another person when they do speak, or denying them the spaces in which to make themselves heard, what we have is not a democracy; what is frightening is the number of people who concur silently with these folks and say, 'she deserved it' or 'he deserved it.'
Note also the way in which people selectively becomes activists when their actions chime with one's agenda and 'terrorists' when they don't.
This has been on my mind even before this happened for reasons I cannot talk about until tomorrow.
More about this tomorrow, then. In the meanwhile, this old post.
Update: It was only when I read Amrita's post that it occured to me to say a few words about the MIM's antecedents. The Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen was founded early in the 20th Century, and supported the Nizam's rule, and later a possible merger with Pakistan rather than with India. Their support of the Razakars, and more especially of the charismatic Qasim Rizvi had much to do with what is usually called the Police Action but more accurately was a military operation codenamed Operation Polo, in 1948 in Hyderabad.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
If one can have favourite poems from collections, then mine is one called 'Kleist in Paris', which I can't reproduce here because it's too long. But here's another one:
A zero sum game, our extravagant happiness,
matched or cancelled
by the equal and opposite unhappiness of others,
but who was counting as you came walking from your car,
not off the bus,
early for once, almost violent in your severity,
both of us low on our last, stolen day of the month,
uncertain, rather formal,
a day of headaches, peaches and carbonated water,
by the stone pond whose ice you smashed as agirl...
or how we wound up
jubilant, a seesaw at rest, not one foot on the floor.
Of this (and another) poem Hofmann says,
I think the tension in my stuff, or the “jokes”, as I’m apt to describe them, the pervasive irony – everything is more or less than what it seems – the collisions between words and dictions, “dicke Luft”, “approximately nowhere”, “iron hotel”, what have you – is absolutely characteristic. It’s not a function of balance, though. I probably have contempt for pre-ordained balance! If balance happens to result, as I guess it sometimes does, like in that poem, ‘Fucking’, it’s an ironic balance. In my poems, if things are resolved or cancel each other out, that’s almost the least important thing. What matters much more is the sense of colossal “mental fight”, as the wretched hymn says, totting up these listing, Babel-like lists to reach a tiny residue, salt, a firefly, slabs of cake – or, alternatively, an oxymoron, or a mingled and surprising assertion, an early departure, a pair of scissors in our pockets, or “Do you think I’m real?” The way these endings are “produced” from the poems is what makes the poems interesting, if they are. Each poem is a calculation, a kind of improvised piece of algebra, a thinking in images. The improvisation, the surprise, is what guarantees them. If this book is different from earlier books, it may be because I’ve discovered “middles”. I’ve always liked beginnings and endings before, but this is the book with added “middle” – all those torrential, asyntactical compilations of things...
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
The judges issued a list of 13 books (smaller than the 18 of recent years) containing only one expected title: Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach. That novel instantly became William Hill's 3/1 favourite to win the prize.
British author Edward Docx, 33, is the youngest on the list and has been included for Self Help, set in London and St Petersburg. Debut novels in the list include The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies; Gifted by Nikita Lalwani, who lives in London; What Was Lost by British author Catherine O'Flynn and The Gift of Rain, set in 1930s Penang, by Malaysia-born Tan Twan Eng.
Winnie and Wolf, AN Wilson's story of the relationship between Winifred Wagner and Adolf Hitler, and The Reluctant Fundamentalist, about a Pakistani living in the US after September 11, by Pakistan-born author Mohsin Hamid, who lives in London, are also nominated. Hamid's second novel was described in the Guardian as "cleverly constructed fable of infatuation and disenchantment with America".
So that's McEwan and Hamid in the list, that I've read. Sould be interesting, no?
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
rather than post (more) inanities, I shall return once my life is my own.
unless I go quietly mad first. because my life consists right now of watching terrible films and framing large and meaningful questions to accomodate them.
see y'all soon. like the weekend if i'm lucky or early next week if i'm not.
Monday, August 06, 2007
And I notice that the 'account has been suspended'. What could have happened? What was 'pink luggage tag' really code for? Who suspended the account? How can I (should I wish to) contact billing? What fraud was committed in my name?
This is all Veena's fault. While she's been paying undue attention to train timetables - a useless occupation if there ever was one, since everyone knows trains never run on time - someone has been messing around with that tag.
Suddenly I don't much fancy pink luggage tags. Cheshire Cat can have it with my compliments.
But that's not what I was going to say. All this talk of poetry, and inadequately articulate reviewing reminded me about this conversation in Phalanx between poets Anjum Hasan and Vivek Narayanan. (Vivek did you send me a link?). Please read.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
Yesterday, Ramachandra Guha was in conversation with Jyotirmaya Sharma about his book, India After Gandhi at the Kakatiya. A sudden downpour saw us walk in five minutes before the scheduled time of the event; as it happened JS and RG were also caught in the same traffic and walked in at the same time.
For some strange reason, five star hotels seem to think 'air conditioning' means refrigeration. The minute I walked in to the hall, I knew I was inadequately clad. For the next two hours, instead of a thermostat, someone had deputed a flunkey to turn on and off the air conditioner until everyone felt they had the flu.
Ram Guha has a charming habit of using his hands a lot while speaking but I felt dizzy watching his hands churn the air and move in continuous circles. Jyotirmaya asked his questions slowly and clearly and I would even say ponderously if I weren't worried about this turning up in google searches. Thank god for aliases, but hasn't my cover been blown?
I wonder why the questions never live up to the wit and erudition that writers invest their answers with. People asked about the 'what if's' that Ram Guha said historians have been taught never to ask: 'What if Gandhi had lived to the 1970's?' someone asked. (he'd have to be cryogenically preserved or something, but Guha was more polite than that). Someone else wanted to know about nationhood, whether population was the real probloem, about Sonia Gandhi, and what would have happened if the Congress hd been dismantled like Gandhi wanted it to be after Independence.
It was all very interesting but not having read the book, I can't say very much more. Luckily for us, Jyotirmaya opened the floor to questions provided that they were questions and not monologues or statements (people may have even clapped when he said this. I can't be sure). This was ruthlessly enforced, which was just as well.
This evening Jagdish Mittal will talk and release some book. God --I need to be better informed than this.
In other news, The Hindu Literary Review has this report on my book. Sigh. Oh, and since I'm beating my own drum with such insistence, Khushwant Singh in The Telegraph. Only, I'm not a film magazine editor; just a plain old editor. The kind that used to hang metres of celluloid around one's neck. you know? Darzi-ishtyle.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
Or maybe I should sleep. I feel very sorry for myself.
Friday, August 03, 2007
Born in Belgrade in 1938, he knew war as a child. “Germans and the Allies took turns dropping bombs on my head while I played with my collection of lead soldiers on the floor,” Simic told The Cortland Review. “I would go boom, boom, and then they would go boom, boom.”
And he said in the Times today: “I’m sort of the product of history; Hitler and Stalin were my travel agents.”
(via too many blogs to enumerate.)
So many Simic poems one could point to, but go read this one.
Now is the time to air deep thoughts about what the job of a Poet Laureate is, why India doesn't have one, and what we would do if we did.
Thursday, August 02, 2007
Parade day, a day like today, meant bright uniforms in red, green, orange and yellow. It meant fields with chalk lines, and bands and drums. It meant pennants, birds circling high in the air, too high to be named. And sweets that were handed out in small packets. We searched for the most coveted one: a green and white wrapper with, I think, a strawberry on it.
That was then. Parades now mean Ursula le Guin's story, 'The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas'.
I rarely brag about my son, but this piece of grossness has to be shared.
We were at the bus stop a little while ago waiting for his school bus. I noticed, with horror, that he had not only failed to koplichify after his breakfast, and thus had breadcrumbs at the corner of his mouth, but also seemed to have forgotten to wash his face. Sleep goo at the corner of his eyes.
I took it off while he squirmed and struggled, and showed it to him on my nail.
"Looks like dalia," he said.
"What will happen if we cook and eat it?"
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Charlie Chaplin, d. December 25 1977.
Howard Hawks, d. December 26 1977.
Anybody else got any inputs?
The Bangalore University is an hour away from where I'm staying. But first I have to take my life in my hands and walk over the flyover to the CKS office to pick up the remaining copies of the book so that I can return it to the SA later. Mamta's already kind of apologised in case nobody turns up. Term's just begun, the new students aren't yet around, but the older ones will definitely turn up. As we go into Mamta's department, someone from the English Dept. says it's unlikely they'll be able to make it because of some faculty meeting.
Before walking in to the classroom where I will read, I'm made to sit in the office of the HoD. He is sitting and signing files, while next to him sit two professors. They pass my book around and flip through it. One prof. reads a very short poem and takes issue with my use of the word 'your'. 'Why your?' he asks. 'make your exit now. Is it the audience or who?' Profound question but I think I answer it by choking on my thimbleful of very sweet tea.
I've decided I'm unable to make polite conversation. If someone asks me a question, I answer. Anyway they're all talking in Kannada, and the effort of keeping up is beyond me. I need to recruit my strength for the reading. Mamta leaves and I feel bereft. How will I manage alone in a room which now has five Kannada professors and no whose hand I can hold?
It's time to go and start reading. The classroom is a regular college-type one, with benches that seat two or three, laid out in dishevelled rows. This classroom, however, is unique. At the corner, to my right, is a washbasin full of water, and a tap that drips. Through the reading this tap will drip and drive me crazy.
Mamta introduces me in Kannada. I smile and nod, I'm sure at all the wrong places. This is such a bad idea. I've no idea how much worse it's going to get. It's better to not know too much.
I start reading. Mamta's warned me that the Kannada students speak no English, and I can see only blank faces in front of me. Two poems in and a student start scribbling notes to Mamta. Things start to change. The next poem I read, the prof. who had trouble with the word 'your' starts to translate for the benefit of the students. Another prof. from the back takes issue with his translations and a heated discussion begins. I gather that he is objecting to a prosaic translation; the first prof. hotly challenges anyone to do a better job. Some comments fly back and forth and after a sudden, awkward silence, Mamta signals me to continue.
I have the CKS reading's list of poems in front of me, but I abandon it and start to flip randomly through the book to see what might take their fancy. Not that it matters, because after I read, Mamta translates. This is how the rest of the reading will play out: I read, Mamta attempts to do a Kannada version on the fly. Mostly, I can tell, it's a gist and not a translation. I'm not sure how this helps any of the students.
Then the profs walk out, apologising as they go. Classes etc. I wish I could follow them. This whole reading, punctuated by the dripping tap, is bizarre. What if the washbasin overflows and pandemonium breaks out? Finally it ends. Luckily there are no questions. They troop out, we troop out. The day's only half-way done.
At the other end of the day lies the TFA Crossword reading.
Jeet Thayil, who edited Fulcrum's special issue on Indian poetry titled Give the sea change and it shall change, introduced Mukta Sambrani and Mani Rao. (follow the links on their pages to read poems).
Mukta and Mani both read so incredibly well. Their poetry is dense, edgy and very, very powerful. I was absorbed and could have sat for more than the 20 minutes each they got.
Ah, yes: the questions. The usual questions that people get asked:
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Do you write to schedule? So many hours a day?
Do you work at midnight? In the morning?
Do you type directly on the computer or do you write in a diary?
(Jeet interrupted to ask Mani a very important question: do you often get called a poetess?)
The not so usual ones were about tradition, performance, attachment to one's own work.
Later they, some other friends and I went out for dinner. We stuck with coconut water and vegetarian food and Jeet was disgusted! 'Call yourselves poets?!' he asked.