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.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Everybody's talkin' 'bout

Norman Mailer.

Dancing about Architecture

And who could do it better than Clive James?

I won't waste time trying to be funny about John Coltrane, because Philip Larkin has already done it, lavishing all his comic invention on the task of conveying his authentic rage. (For those who have never read Larkin's All What Jazz, incidentally, the references to Coltrane are the ideal way in to the burning center of Larkin's critical vision.) There is nothing to be gained by trying to evoke the full, face-­freezing, ­gut-churning hideosity of all the things Coltrane does that Webster doesn't. But there might be some value in pointing out what Coltrane doesn't do that Webster does. Coltrane's instrument is likewise a tenor sax, but there the resemblance ends. In fact, it is only recognizable as a tenor because it can't be a bass or a soprano: It has a tenor's range but nothing of the voice that Hawkins discovered for it and Webster focused and deepened. There is not a phrase that asks to be remembered except as a lesion to the inner ear, and the only purpose of the repetitions is to prove that what might have been charitably dismissed as an accident was actually meant. Shapelessness and incoherence are treated as ideals. Above all, and beyond all, there is no end to it. There is no reason except imminent death for the cacophonous parade to stop. The impressiveness of the feat depends entirely on the air it conveys that the perpetrator has devoted his life to making this discovery: Supreme mastery of technique has led him to this charmless demonstration of what he can do that nobody else can. The likelihood that nobody else would want to is not considered.

From 'Duke Ellington: The Supremacy of Swing' in Slate. Other chapters from Cultural Amnesia on Slate here.

More invective coming up shortly. It's the season for it, apparently.

Disclaimer: The thing about invective is one doesn't need to agree with it to be entertained by it.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Do the Math

This is what happens when mommies try to teach their kids to count. Someone's liable to get impatient, like.

When in line with five other really tired, hungry people behind you, that is SO not the time to teach your kids economics.


"I want a slushee. A pink one," Megan declared. The elderly cashier looked positively orgasmic with delight. Well, roll me in sugar and call me cookie, isn't that fucking precious.

"That will be ONE DOLLAR, AND EIGHTEEN CENTS!" the cashier hollered. Because we all know that if you don't understand the math? Holler. No speaka dee English? Holler. If Crystal has a migraine? Holler.

"Ok." Megan whipped out her Hello Kitty coin purse and with her tongue poking out, methodically began counting out pennies.

Sweet bleeding Abraham, someone fucking gut me and cover me in bleach. It will be less painful.

"And eighteen cents!" Megan declared after what seemed like an hour. The entire line behind her breathed a collective sigh of relief.

As I inched forward, using that "breathe down your neck so you'll move faster" mentality, the mother spoke.

"Now, your turn, April."

'The most pompous festival in India'

Excerpts from today's Hindu Metro Plus (Hyderabad edition):

"Deepavali, the biggest and the most pompous festival in India, is celebrated differently in different regions, but all treading the traditional path."

Vinita Pittie, Designer: "Within a period of one month we worship all the main female deities. We all do it, but don’t know why."


"The house is vacuum cleaned (our version of spring cleaning) and decorated passionately with oil lamps and flowers. ."


"...we bathe ourselves with a paste of haldi, gram, seasame seeds and other Indian ingredients. "

Deepika Reddy, Danseuse: "Since I’m also a guru, this is a good time for my students to seek my blessings and they come laden with boxes of sweets."

I think 'pompous festival' takes the paayasam, but I'm wondering which I'd choose for second place. I feel rather fond of people going around the house in a frenzy of passion, scattering flowers and spilling oil in the wake of vacuum cleaners.

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

'fevers and disquiet'

Look what Equivocal has gone and done. He's pointed people to Barthes over here:

The Uncertainty of Signs

(Whether he seeks to prove his love, or to discover if the other loves him, the amorous subject has no system of sure signs at his disposal).

I look for signs, but of what? what is the object of my reading? Is it: am I loved (am I loved no longer, am I still loved)? Is it my future that I am trying to read, deciphering in what is inscribed the announcement of what will happen to me, according to a method which combines paleography and manticism?

Freud to his fiancee: "The only thing that makes me suffer is being in a situation where it is impossible for me to prove my love to you."

Signs are not proofs, since anyone can produce false or ambiguous signs. Hence one falls back, paradoxically, on the omnipotence of language: since nothing assures language, I will regard it as the sole and final assurance: I shall no longer believe in interpretation. I shall receive every word from my other as a sign of truth; and he, too, receives what I say as the truth. Whence the importance of declarations; I want to keep wresting from the other the formula of his feeling, and I keep telling him, on my side, that I love him: nothing is left to suggestion, to divination: for a thing to be known, it must be spoken; but also, once it is spoken, even very provisionally, it is true.

Equivocal said, on Hash's blog, that Barthes' book will "painfully and accurately elaborate on all the things you know but are not willing to accept."

But see, I have a system of sure signs. I have auguries -palms, cards, pacts I have made with stars, birds, trains, (mail vans); and they all usually say the same thing. They all agree that the universe is conspiring to tell me what I already know to be true.

Version One: What can I do if the other insists on wearing dark glasses?

Version Two: Who needs to say anything with all that chatter of signs going on?


Ishaghpour on JLG

From the book Cinema: The Archaeology of Film and the Memory of a Century:

Youssef Ishaghpour: The difference from a historian's work, you spell it out in your film in a JLG/JLG quotation: "It isn't said, it's written, it's composed, it's painted, it's recorded," while a historian's work is essentially spoken. A historian can't allow himself to create "images," as you with montage and collage can bring together unconnected things, because a historian ought to be able to make a rational presentation of all the intermediate relations and mediations. Every time an image appears a mass of of connections, interferences and resonances spring up around it. When you raise the Liberation of Paris, there's De Gaulle's speech, there's your image of that epoch, of Resistence people in slow motion, of Duras with the song that mentions Marguerite, and a shot of her book La Doleur, there's the commemoration of the Liberation set up for television, and you talk about Debord, but also about Claude Roy who had taken the CNC set up by Vichy...I must be forgetting a lot of things, but if I remember right it ends with a scene from Pierrot le Fou concerning some of those same maquisards, who are said to be dead but of whose names and lives we learn nothing. There's always, at every moment, a polyphonic structure, you have up to ten or a dozen levels of different elements, several images and several texts, which don't always go in the same direction. And perhaps that's why it's
difficult for historians to accept. Because for them there's a fact and then another, in a relation of cause and effect, while with you it's like a sound in which one can hear not only the harmonics but also the counterpoints, in all polyphonic simultaneity, and even the inversions, but also the circular ripples going out from these things and the links that are formed at certain moments not directly, but as points of resonance and intersection between these ripples, which may be and sometimes are contradictory, as in music.
(from "History and Re-memorization", pp 25-26)

That's Ishaghpour in conversation with, who else, Godard; more specifically about Godard's monumental work, Histoire(s) du Cinema.

It illustrates, for me, the central problem of trying to understand Godard - that most cerebral of directors - and his work on an intellectual level.

At any given moment in a Godard film, you will be required to absorb several things at several levels: the music playing, the text that preceded the shot, the voice over, the conversations and all the other elements of the frame; to even attempt to separate and assign meaning to each of these elements as they occur is impossible, primarily because film, like music, occurs in time. And because time passes even as you become aware of it, you can only experience it without attempting to understand it in any other way than in the act of watching.

Who was it who said, "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture"? S/he might just as easily have replaced 'music' with 'Godard's films'!

Monday, November 05, 2007

K Post

For km, who wants to know more.

There are reasons other than pure laziness for having put off this post. What can I tell km about J. Krishnamurti that doesn’t land up sounding like the first line of Love Story?

The reason it is difficult to do this is because I’ve just been to Rishi Valley and seen most of the five-part talk that K had with my classmates in ’84. Memory - like hope - is a foul, deceitful thing; I had different memories of K until I saw those YouTube videos. I remembered the hair combed with careful vanity right across the head but had forgotten that his eyes had become rheumy with age. I didn’t remember that his hand shook so much; I had imagined them to be cool and steady. What can I say with certainty?

There’s a book cover with K walking near the old guest house, umbrella in hand. Did I ever see that, or do I remember it only because there’s a photograph to nudge me to believe it also as the evidence of my eyes? I don’t know. But I do know that there was RV before K and RV after K; a difference that was apparent even then, but more evident now, after the passage of two decades.
The first year that I was in Rishi Valley, everything was strange and new, everything was experienced with the same mix of eagerness and a total lack of surprise. December came – I think it was December, but I could be wrong – and Krishnamurti spent some weeks in Rishi Valley. He spoke expensively with the teachers; people came from all over the world to meet him; and he had three talks every year with the children.

We’d gather in the auditorium, happy to skip a class or two, and arrange ourselves on the mats laid out below the raised stage. He would arrive, escorted by his nephew, Narayan, and pause for a moment, do a namaste and get on to the stage. For every day of those three days, and the three years that I heard him speak, he would start in exactly the same way: he would look around at everyone and say, finally, “What shall we talk about today?”

It amazes me to recall now, that even very young children would say things like, “Pride” or “Competitiveness”. Did they really want to talk about these things? (K asks someone that, in the talks linked to above) Or did they imagine that’s what he wanted to talk about and they had better humour the founder of the school they were studying in? Even across the distance of these years, I remember that though there was no special reverence (of the kind devotees accord to their gurus, for instance) there was also no fear. The children chattered as they do, and fell silent, also as they’re capable of doing.

The first year, for at least two of the talks, no one spoke much; K did. I can’t remember anything of it at all, or of him or what he said or anything. The following year – the year in which all of us finally crowded on stage and made some kind of history – when he came and asked us what we wanted to talk about, I must have piped up. Because there I was, making my way up to the stage, and invited to sit right next to the man.

I’m afraid I can’t remember very much of what happened. There are three photographs at home, to mark the occasion. Someone always recorded the talks and he very kindly sent my parents those photographs. In one, I’m looking deeply serious, head bent. K has his hand on mine, urging me to think of something. In the second, I’m looking at him, still serious. In the last one, I have my trademark grin on my face, and K is smiling.

There was some talk about routines, which is as much as I can remember about a conversation from more than two decades ago. At one point during the conversation, he asked me to ‘look at the flowers’. I thought it was a general exhortation and continued to look at him, vowing the next time to spend time looking soulfully at flowers, creepers and the barks of trees. “Look at the flowers, my girl,” he urged me again and I woke up from my reverie, realising that he meant, look NOW.

Is it only now that I remember from that talk, that quality of listening with total attention, as if what you were saying was the most important thing in the world? Undoubtedly. What did I know then, of attention? He asked a question and I assumed he wanted an answer; I was the kind of person then, who was ready with an answer as soon as a question was asked – and worse – who always had a question to ask. It made me impatient when he said, as soon as he’d asked a question and I’d started to answer it, to hear him say, “Wait! Listen to what I’m saying. Did you understand the question? Really understand it?” Yeah, yeah, yeah, I understood it, and here’s my answer and isn’t that what you wanted, I used to think.

In that talk that was recorded, there was one section where he’s talking about classrooms and teachers. He said, as I remember from the talk, “If I was your teacher, and found you wanting to look at a lizard, I would say, ‘Let us both look at the lizard’ before we got back to what we were doing. His point was, that if you were distracted, forcing your mind back to something else would not take away the distraction; merely dilute the power you bring to what is considered more important.

At this point, or thereabouts, a classmate said, “Sir, you will make a very bad teacher!” there was utter silence for second. Then K broke out into a laugh and everyone else joined him with that immoderate laugh that signifies shock. How did the kid dare? But this was the point: neither then, nor later, were there any reprisals.

I wish I could say things were like that through my entire time in RV but they weren’t. the following year was K’s last in Rishi Valley. We didn’t know it then, but he must have; he was suffering from cancer and the talks he gave when we were in Class 9 were the last. He was visibly more tired. Just days before, one of our teachers had unexpectedly died. It was on all our minds. When he asked what we wanted to talk about, someone said, “Death.” “Is that what you really want to talk about?” he asked. He would have asked that anyway, but that year, no one took him up on it. Someone – someone very young – asked him to talk about himself. No one had ever asked him to get autobiographical before. There was patent disapproval from the teachers’ benches, but everyone else ignored it and the air was clamorous with demands for details of his life. He began, clearly reluctant. A few sentences later, he gave up. He said, “I’m sorry, I cannot do this. This is a waste of time.” We were back where we had begun, but half an hour had elapsed – nearly one class successfully wasted – and we didn’t really care. This was December ’85. A few months later, we were in class and one boy who, for some reason, wasn’t in class, passed by our window. In broad mime, he indicated that someone had ‘kicked the bucket’. Some minutes later, he brought a note in and there was a special assembly to announce that Krishnaji had died.

So there isn’t very much to tell, is there? It’s more difficult to separate influence from experience. We hardly saw him, but at least we did see him. We had three years in which he came and spoke to us; spoke to the teachers. That must have – has – made a difference. In the years since, people who go to Rishi Valley can’t differentiate it from any other boarding school because – and I appreciate the decision – the school doesn’t indoctrinate them in any way by subjecting them to compulsory talks or anything of the sort. If they come to K, they do it in the way that anyone else in the world does – though his books or talks, because no one else discusses these things seriously, without offering easy solutions.*
* And the famous quotation that illustrates this is the one he made at Sannen all those decades ago when he broke off with the Theosophical Society and refused to be their World Teacher:
I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organised; nor should any organisation be formed to lead or coerce people along
any particular path. If you first understand that, then you will see how impossible it is to organise a belief. A belief is purely an individual matter, and you cannot and must not organise it. If you do, it becomes dead, crystallised; it becomes a creed, a sect, a religion, to be imposed on others.

The whole thing here.
Update: An ex-Principal, Balasundaram, has this to say about Krishnamurti.

Crackers at Dawn

What is it about festivals that turns normal, sane people into hyperkinetic shopaholics/partyhoppers/pyromaniacs?

No, really. If people aren't making lists a mile long with interesting items such as 1) buy crackers; 2) soak diyas; 3) grind arisimaavu for kolam; 4) harass tailor for backless choli; and 5) put reminder for D's card party 9pm, they're doing all of the above. It's very very distressing.

The time I had a dim idea that I hated Diwali was when I was in college and we didn't have long enough vacations to make a long journey home. So I stayed back in the hostel with about ten other people for Diwali, and choked and hacked and coughed the night away, as Delhi went berserk (this was in the days before people became all eco-friendly about crackers). Our hostel being a few feet below road level, and the season generally being cold-ish, all the area's smoke used to pour into the narrow, ill-lit corridors of our hostel. By ten, our eyes were red and if we were foolish enough to wander the corridors, we looked like lost ghosts and felt like shit.

In later years, all the sustained and concentrated air pollution of the season gave me breathing problems that disappeared only when I left Delhi. For the first time in five years, this year I'm having trouble with my breathing at this time of the year. That's because Hyderabad is always ahead with the conspicuous consumption and invariably out of the loop when it comes to issues of pollution or the environment. Though the guys who sell crackers are not allowed to put up their stalls until two days before Diwali, the air's been rent with loud blasts for several days already. For the first time, this morning, I'm going to succumb and get on an inhaler.

I hate Diwali (along with New Year's Eve, Pongal, Holi, blah, blah, blah).

And that reminds me of another grouse: will someone - Veena or BM or some other Tam - please tell me which bright person first thought it would be a good idea to wake up at 4am, wake up the neighbourhood with a ladi, put oil and bathe with shikakai and all, get tricked out in new clothes, burst more crackers, eat leghiyam and bakshanam and call relatives all over the country all before sunrise?

Oh god. I hate all festivals.

km: I promise to catch my breath - really catch it properly - and do the K Post. Later today. Stay tuned.