Monday, March 31, 2008

Word of the Day


A word that nearly achieves symmetry had not something invisible inserted itself in the middle producing subtle distortions. Working inward from the two 'm's at the ends, the 'aw' and the 'uh'; the soft 'l' and 'n'; the 'ih' for the 'eh' and finally, the face off between the 'b' and the 'd', belly to belly.

Moly. Belly. Abdomen. Denum.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

the flags of incompatibility

Via Veena and Alok, this article about relationship compatibility based on literary tastes. Somewhere down the page, this: 'Naming a favorite book or author can be fraught. Go too low, and you risk looking dumb. Go too high, and you risk looking like a bore — or a phony.'

It reminds me of the time I was at the Institute and we were being ragged. Yes. I was the only girl in my batch and I was being ragged less than anyone else. The entire ragging thing at the Institute was actually like an elaborate mating ritual, because at least a large part of it - for the editors - was an issue of compatibility.

What happened in them days was this: the editing course was for two years, while all other courses were for three. This meant that the batch ahead of you had their unit of director-cameraperson-sound recordist in place but no editor. Every editor in the new batch was not only being assessed, they were being wooed by every director so that their unit would be complete.

Wherefore, editors were rather closely questioned about several other things, among them literary and cinematic tastes. What films you liked said everything about you that your potential director needed to know. What answer you gave was very, very important (assuming you'd already made up your mind about who you wanted to work with for two years).

So a few nights into the ragging, my (future) director, along with the cameraman, sat down with me to do The Talk.

"So. What's your favourite film?"

This was crucial. I had already decided I wanted to be this guy's editor. He was well enough read, for a start. I looked at both of them and made a quick decision.

"When Harry Met Sally," I said.

Silence for a second and they burst out laughing.

"At least that's honest," director man said. Actually it wasn't. At that point, my absolute favourite film was either Hiroshima Mon Amour or one of several Bergman films. But I knew I couldn't say that because that would be pretentious. On the other hand, to say Harry Met Sally could be construed as meaning that I (1) was unpredictable in my tastes; (2) was being ironic; (3) didn't care what conclusion anyone drew from my tastes in film.

Whatever. It worked. But there's a catch. If someone falls for your cynical manipulation of a situation without making it clear that they know what you've just done, can you respect them?

I reserved judgment until he told me who his "director" was.

Every final year direction student had to analyse, in the final year, the work of a director. If someone chose Tarkovsky (there was always one of them every year) you knew what to think and you tried your best to avoid them. Mine, as it happened, had chosen Buñuel.

I never regretted my choice of director and I hope the feeling was reciprocated.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Ariosto of the East

Ursula le Guin thinks Rushdie is 'own Ariosto now, our Tasso, stolen out of India':

But, like all serious fantasy, Rushdie's story erases this division by making us realists inhabit, for the span of our reading, the realm of Imagination, which is controlled by but not limited to observation of fact. This is the land of story: the child's world, the ancestral, pre-scientific world, where we are all emperors or enchantresses, making up the rules as we go along. Modern literary fantasy is given a paradoxical intensity, sometimes a tragic dimension, by our consciousness of the other kingdom we inhabit, daily life, where the laws of physics cannot be broken and whose government was described by Niccolò Machiavelli.

Some boast that science has ousted the incomprehensible; others cry that science has driven magic out of the world and plead for "re-enchantment". But it's clear that Charles Darwin lived in as wondrous a world, as full of discoveries, amazements and profound mysteries, as that of any fantasist. The people who disenchant the world are not the scientists, but those who see it as meaningless in itself, a machine operated by a deity. Science and literary fantasy would seem to be intellectually incompatible, yet both describe the world; the imagination functions actively in both modes, seeking meaning, and wins intellectual consent through strict attention to detail and coherence of thought, whether one is describing a beetle or an enchantress. Religion, which prescribes and proscribes, is irreconcilable with both of them, and since it demands belief, must shun their common ground, imagination. So the true believer must condemn both Darwin and Rushdie as "disobedient, irreverent, iconoclastic" dissidents from revealed truth.

The essential compatibility of the realistic and the fantastic imagination may explain the success of Rushdie's sumptuous, impetuous mixture of history with fable. But in the end, of course, it is the hand of the master artist, past all explanation, that gives this book its glamour and power, its humour and shock, its verve, its glory. It is a wonderful tale, full of follies and enchantments. East meets west with a clash of cymbals and a burst of fireworks. We English-speakers have our own Ariosto now, our Tasso, stolen out of India. Aren't we the lucky ones?

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Brick Moon

The Brick Moon (1869) by Edward Everett Hale is now available in pdf. Here's a nibble at it:

I have no sort of objection now to telling the whole story. The subscribers, of course, have a right to know what became of their money. The astronomers may as well know all about it, before they announce any more asteroids with an enormous movement in declination. And experimenters on the longitude may as well know, so that they may act advisedly in attempting another brick moon or in refusing to do so.

It all began more than thirty years ago, when we were in college; as most good things begin. We were studying in the book which has gray sides and a green back, and is called “Cambridge Astronomy” because it is translated from the French. We came across this business of the longitude, and, as we talked, in the gloom and glamour of the old South Middle dining-hall, we had going the usual number of students’ stories about rewards offered by the Board of Longitude for discoveries in that matter,—
stories, all of which, so far as I know, are lies. Like all boys, we had tried our hands at perpetual motion. For me, I was sure I could square the circle, if they would give me chalk enough.

More works by Hale at Gutenberg.


Some things are not wrought by prayer

And one of those things is expecting your daughter to stay alive when she is severely diabetic and you think praying at her instead of taking her to hospital is sufficient treatment.

Police are investigating an 11-year-old girl's death from an undiagnosed, treatable form of diabetes after her parents chose to pray for her rather than take her to a doctor.

An autopsy showed Madeline Neumann died Sunday of diabetic ketoacidosis, a condition that left too little insulin in her body, Everest Metro Police Chief Dan Vergin said.

Apparently the girl had never been to a doctor after she took some shots when she was three. Wow! No booster shots? She never needed a tetanus shot even?

An interesting thing about this news report is the clever salting of it with apparently unrelated information. All of it adds up to a picture that is supposed to be as easily identifiable as a MacDonald's sign: such as, that the girl was home schooled; or that her father was a former cop; that the girl was 'known to wear her straight brown hair in a ponytail'. This, and the detail about the basketball hoop in the driveway - which I admit had me puzzled for a bit - are all very, very clever touches.

Wonder what will happen to the parents.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Very Small Objects

When I was seven or eight, I used to line our garage with treasures I'd collected, mostly stones of different shapes, sizes and colours. Sometimes there were marbles, bits of broken bottles or other glass, feathers, lumps of clay I thought I'd baked by burning some dry leaves over it.

In time, the tiny parapet in the garage that was my display area was no longer enough. I annexed the edges of steps, the bottom drawer of a desk in my parents' room (that neither they nor I could open after a while) and the left over spaces of bookshelves.

Hopping from one blog to the next and chasing elusive links, it gave me much joy, therefore, to come across someone who seems to have given much thought to the naming and classification of Very Small Objects.

There is, however, a whole universe of easily overlooked and forgotten things that remain unclassified. Once noticed, these Very Small Objects seem to exist in every niche and corner in staggering numbers and varieties. We encounter these objects every day hidden in plain sight. They fill our pockets, cabinets, and corners. They populate our environments and make our machines work. They come from our plants, our pets, and even from our own bodies.

Because these objects come from diverse sources, and because they are comprised of non-living and never-living things, they cannot currently be grouped together under any existing classification system: systems in use today describe and name living things, metals, and minerals in isolation from each other. Current systems also eliminate man-made objects from their catalogs of the natural world, ignoring the fact that “nature” has been profoundly affected by human by-products. Man-made objects have long been filling up our world and reshaping the very nature of “nature.” These man-made objects can often be quite indistinguishable from other “natural” Small Objects, particularly after long periods of exposure in harsh environments.

I have begun to address these glaring exclusions and oversights by creating a new system of classification to describe and categorize all Very Small Objects, regardless of their origin or composition, within a single comprehensive system.

And pay close attention to the Naming of Objects. It appears to take into consideration such fascinating criteria as Status, Component, Point of Origin, Apparent Purpose or Function, Colour, Shape, Texture and Visual Comparison.

Yes. Go look.

Another Fifth Beatle* Gone

Neil Aspinall.

Born in Prestatyn in 1941, Neil was in the same year at Liverpool Institute as Paul, and the year above George. His first memory of George was George asking him, behind the bike shed, for a drag on his ciggie. He studied to become an accountant but came back into contact with Paul and George through his friendship with Pete Best, at one time the Beatles drummer.

Neil was living at the house of Pete's mother, Mona, who ran the Casbah, the little club where the Beatles then played as the Quarrymen. Neil started working for them as a part-time roadie in 1961, running them to local gigs in an old van for five shillings per man per gig - £1 a night.

One of the more dramatic events in early Beatles history, known well by all true believers, occurred in 1962 when Pete Best was sacked as drummer and Ringo took over. There were demonstrations on Merseyside, fans campaigning for Pete who was looked upon as much handsomer. Pete went on to slice bread for a few pound a week while the Beatles went on to be the most famous group in the world.

What never came out at the time was that Neil was having an affair with Mona, Pete's mother. In fact they had a son who was born that same year. Neil, only 19, was caught in a terrible emotional turmoil, with Pete sacked by his new best friends and Mona, his lover, furious at how Pete, her son was being treated. John did tell me this gossip, sniggering, in 1967 when I was doing their biography, but said don't repeat it.
That's a lot of history he's taken with him. RIP.

* If the term needs any explanation at all.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


It's been raining since noon yesterday. After a few hours of no electricity, everything and everyone has moved beyond resignation into quiet enjoyment. The tabibuia tree has shed all its flowers; the new drains are doing a good job of holding up; if the roads are flooded it's not apparent from my window.

In fact, what with the airport having shifted and the sudden and huge silence over the air and the chatter of the birds, we could be somewhere far away from the city.

Lying awake at 3 in the morning, watching the night turn into dawn, I realise that everything is perfect.

And Sur, there are your yellow frangipanis. (km, if it's any consolation, the mangoes are dropping like flies in the unseasonal rains.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008


I've been meaning to post a Tenebrae so here it is:


Geoffrey Hill

He was so tired that he was scarcely able to hear a note of the songs: he felt imprisoned in a cold region where his brain was numb and his spirit was isolated.


Requite this angel whose
flushed and thirsting face
stoops to the sacrifice
out of which it arose.
This is the lord Eros
of grief who pities
no one; it is
Lazarus with his sores.


And you, who with your soft but searching voice
drew me out of the sleep where I was lost,
who held me near your heart that I might rest
confiding in the darkness of your choice:
possessed by you I chose to have no choice,
fulfilled in you I sought no further quest.
You keep me, now, in dread that quenches trust,
in desolation where my sins rejoice.
As I am passionate so you with pain
turn my desire; as you seem passionless
so I recoil from all that I would gain,
wounding myself upon forgetfulness,
false ecstasies, which you in truth sustain
as you sustain each item of your cross.


Veni Redemptor, but not in our time.
Christus Resurgens, quite out of this world.
‘Ave’ we cry; the echoes are returned.
Amor Carnalis is our dwelling-place.


O light of light, supreme delight;
grace on our lips to our disgrace.
Time roosts on all such golden wrists;
our leanness is our luxury.
Our love is what we love to have;
our faith is in our festivals.


Stupefying images of grief-in-dream,
succubae to my natural grief of heart,
cling to me, then; you who will not desert
your love nor lose him in some blank of time.
You come with all the licence of her name
to tell me you are mine. But you are not
and she is not. Can my own breath be hurt
by breathless shadows groaning in their game?
It can. The best societies of hell
acknowledge this, aroused by what they know:
consummate rage recaptured there in full
as faithfulness demands it, blow for blow,
and rectitude that mimics its own fall
reeling with sensual abstinence and woe.


This is the ash-pit of the lily-fire,
this is the questioning at the long tables,
this is true marriage of the self-in-self,
this is a raging solitude of desire,
this is the chorus of obscene consent,
this is a single voice of purest praise.


He wounds with ecstasy. All
the wounds are his own.
He wears the martyr’s crown.
He is the Lord of Misrule.
He is the Master of the Leaping Figures,
the motley factions.
Revelling in auguries
he is the Weeper of the Valedictions.


Music survives, composing her own sphere,
Angel of Tones, Medusa, Queen of the Air,
and when we would accost her with real cries
silver on silver thrills itself to ice.


And there's also this one I like very much.

(Virtual) Magpie Spaniard

A few months ago, I was talking to a friend about some article I had read somewhere (I couldn’t remember where) by someone (I wasn’t sure who) about something or the other.

“I feel like my mother,” I said bitterly to this friend, convinced, as all women are, that this metamorphosis from individual into clone of parent was inevitable. “I can’t remember anything about what I’ve read, much less where I read it.”

“That’s scary,” said friend and ordered another vodka.

I blame Bloglines.

I can’t remember (see?) who introduced me to the thing but now I hate to travel because I dread returning to find thousands of unread posts from over 80 feeds. These thousand odd posts, you must remember (since I can’t), do not include those posts that I save to read later. As of this morning the posts I have already read but have saved for reasons I can no longer remember, now number 1035.*

How did this happen? How did I allow myself to turn into this collector of bright shiny but ultimately useless virtual objects? Every few days I get anxiety attacks. Will I ever return to those posts and see why I needed to save them? I scan each feed and delete articles. When I get the numbers down to below a thousand I feel a sense of great achievement, but this is increasingly becoming harder to do because apparently there are so many brilliant people out there whose words I cannot bear to have vanish into the ether.

What I do now is delete entire feeds. This is a good thing because though it may not make a difference to the number of posts I already have saved, what it means is that I get rid of potentially saveable posts from even appearing on my horizon. I’m really not sure why I need so many of these things – poems I want to keep; photographs; some phrases I have to come back to…

Talking of which, I really am that Thieving Magpie: a compulsive stealer of phrases. I read something I like and I have to have it for later use. What’s that? Why don’t I just write it down, instead of saving a whole post in which one phrase will be buried? What? Now I have to keep pen and paper on a desk that’s already cluttered with CDs and staplers and assorted drawings and string and paper weights?

This is not to say that I don’t carry around a diary for just such things as found phrases and the products of my own fevered imagination. I have a diary in every bag I carry ( I don’t always have a pen, but that’s another story) . And one in the bathroom and one by the bed. Yes. Some of my best thoughts come to me just as I've either soaped myself or when I’m about to drop off to sleep, so there’s a torch and a diary and a pen (but no water-proof pages). It’s an entirely different matter that what was so brilliant in the middle of the night is all dross in the morning. We do not deal in such clichés. Let’s just say that the morning brings hard work and the night brings much too much illumination for proper sleep.

So this morning, I was making coffee and supervising the milk and packing lunch at a quarter past five when I had the most amazing insight into human nature. It was stunning in its clarity and originality. I was certain that this thing was too large to disappear; I could hold on to this thought while wondering at the same time whether I had already put salt in the pulao or not.

This is the trouble with having nothing in the kitchen to write on except the calendar. I forgot what I totally, totally understood about people before sunrise this morning.

So much for what all this sustained waking up at dawn is supposed to do for your memory. There's a connection between this and why I have so many posts saved on Bloglines. I just know it.

*I thought of writing this post when the number was a beautiful one, like 1111 but I …

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Anthony Minghella


All very sudden this is. I was just reading about his directing The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and just last night there he was (or his name was) on screen, as producer of Michael Clayton.


In Which Lust, Caution is Ignored

Or at least, nearly. What that means is, that while Tony Leung Chiu Wai (siiiiigh) won the Best Actor Award at the Asian Film Awards, the film was ignored in every other category.

Also note that Vishal Dadlani and Shekhar Ravjiani have won the Best Composer(s) Award. While I liked OSO, I'm not sure it had award-winning music. But what do I know?

Oh, and Shanker did not win anything*. Does this mean he won't take photos of Tony for me?

*The award went to Pen-jung Liao, who's shot Lee Kang-sheng's Help Me, Eros. So I guess I don't mind that much...

when in doubt...


I regret the absence of birds. But there are bees - they will have to do.

Monday, March 17, 2008

dream home

I'd like mine to look like this.

More here. [Via]

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Short notes on Sweeney Todd

1. All the gushers were censored. Every time the knife sliced someone's throat, there was a jump of a few frames, the sound went up and down to cover up and bodies slid into the pit below. So no Old Reliables were seen at Hyderabad.

2. I have realised that what I like best about Tim Burton films is the title sequence. Whatever else he does or doesn't pull off, the title sequence of every film is a carefully structured piece of work describing process. It's a whole factory floor out there, in the first few minutes - an intricate assembly line manufacturing an almost-human, or chocolate or pies filled with dubious meat (I can't remember the beginning of Sleepy Hollow).

3. I still can't decide whether I liked the film because of its essentially transgressive script (that has nothing to do with Burton) or because Burton avoided cutesification. No one is innocent - not even Johanna (who says she never has dreams; only nightmares). Even the recognisably Burton-esque Picnic Scene is ironic because impossible.

4. And what a tree that was in the Picnic Scene. No, km?

Not such a fun Tamasha

You know how we're unthinkingly in favour of the Preservation of Our Dying Art Forms? How we mourn the passing of every small form of song, dance, language, music, painting and architecture? Would we still demand it if we knew the price it extracted from the remaining practitioners?*

Read this:

The name Vithabai Bhau Mang Narayangaonkar works magic in Maharashtra even today. A gifted tamasha artiste, she entranced Marathi audiences for several decades with her rustic voice, robust repartee and earthy charm. Vithabai died on January 15, 2002. I had met her in Narayangaon, near Pune, a few years before the end came. She was 70 and battling a heart ailment, but still cheerful.

The walls of Vithabai’s two-room dwelling were a memorial to the past, with photographs of her performing on stage during her youth and accepting national and state honours from important public figures.

The Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee had announced a donation of Rs 25,000 to help meet her medical expenses, and there were others who had put in their generous bit. That the cheque from the Congress state unit bounced is a different story. Like all tamasha artistes, Vithabai knew by instinct that the generosity of the high and mighty does not last long. Still she preferred to be grateful for life’s small mercies.

It was I who felt guilty seeing her in such a poor state, almost bedridden. Vithabai herself was matter of fact, and had carefully preserved the cheque: “Just in case an MPCC member happens to visit again, I will show him the returned cheque,” she quipped.

The choicest abuses were reserved for the man she had called her husband since her early teens. He would drink, beat her up and take all the money she earned through her performances, which were held even when she was pregnant.

On one occasion, her husband had booked her to perform when she was nine months pregnant. Vithabai talked about this particular performance to all and sundry, and when she told it to me I wondered whether as a Maharashtrian I should be more ashamed than proud of our patronage of the tamasha because of what this incident revealed.

The nine-month pregnant Vithabai took the stage as usual. She was performing together with her two teenage daughters so when she felt the labour pains coming, she conveyed to them that they should prolong their part of the performance, and quickly went to the makeshift green room where she delivered a baby boy. The delivery was quick, she said, and so she just wrapped the newborn in an old sari after cutting the umbilical cord with a sharp stone, had a bath with cold water, wrapped her traditional nine yard saree tightly around her waist and within an hour was back on stage to entertain the audience, whose lusty whistles compelled her to continue the performance.

“Believe me, it was the artiste in me that has kept me alive till today. Who knows how I survived this life with all its ups and downs,” she said. Despite the accolades accorded to tamasha, Vithabai was certain that “one life as a tamasha artiste is enough. No singing and dancing in the next birth for me”.

It's an Omelas kind of dilemma.

Actually, I suspect we will, so long as it doesn't impinge on our consciousness.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

poetry, readings, community and attendance

All this talk of poetry and list porn - one ought also to point folk to the posts at Caferati (all seven of 'em) where several people introspect about why poetry readings have such thin attendance in India.

First of all, I'm not sure that's true. I've found surprisingly large numbers at different readings. But even assuming that there are only three or four people in the room, surely the quality of the engagement between reader and audience should matter more?

Sampurna feels one can always tell when a reading has been good; Vivek feels one ought to aspire to community rather than merely aiming for numbers.

In the comments, Dilip makes an extraordinary statement that sounds suspiciously like he's advocating 'readability' - whatever that may be ('How do I write so I get read?'). CP (I suspect Surendran?) wants poets to drop the persona and get poetry ambassadors - preferably a 'cricket star or a Bollywood hero'. Falstaff wonders why we're talking about readings at all when one can engage just as well (if not better) with reading poetry off the page.

Lots of stuff there. Go read.

And I will turn off my computer and start writing longhand so I won't get distracted. (

Jahaji Music and These Errors Are Correct

Surabhi Sharma's Jahaji Music in Hyderabad, on Friday, 14th at EFLU, 6pm and Saturday, 15th at HCU, 10 am.

Surabhi Sharma's feature length documentary film Jahaji Music is a record of the evolution of chutney music in the Caribbean.
From the mid-nineteenth century Indian labourers arrived in the Caribbean on boats, bringing a few belongings and their music, the beginnings of a remarkable cultural practice. More than 150 years later musician Remo Fernandes travels to the Islands to explore collaborations and create new work.
Jahaji Music is a record of a difficult, if unusual and complex, musical journey. It is an attempt to make meaning of aspects of contemporary culture in Trinidad and Jamaica, even as we witness the nature and possibilities of artistic collaboration. The film endeavours, through it all, to weave a story of memory, identity and creativity.
Duration: 1 hour 52 minutes

Jeet Thayil's new book of poetry, These Errors Are Correct, on Saturday, 15th at Lodhi - The Garden Restaurant, 7pm.

Tranquebar Press
invites you to celebrate the launch
of These Errors are Correct,
a new collection of poetry by

Jeet Thayil

With a performance by Sridhar/Thayil
Lyrical jazz

Jeet Thayil: Vocals/Arrangement/Guitar
Suman Sridhar: Vocals/Arrangement/Production

Date: 15th March 2008
Time: 7 p.m.
Lodi – The Garden Restaurant
Lodi Road
New Delhi 110 003

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Great Poets of the Twentieth Century

The Guardian's seven part series will include works by Sassoon, Eliot, Auden, Larkin, Plath, Hughes and Heaney.




And Todd Swift's take on the series:

What is worth noting (though Eyewear in principle supports the mass distribution of poetry to newspaper readers at all times) is that this is completely a list taken from Faber and Faber's stable of poets. Now, they also publish Frost, Dylan Thomas and Wallace Stevens, in the UK, so Faber's top ten would still have been very admirable. And one might have added Lowell, Moore, Berryman and even Thomas Hardy, and they'd have been Faber, too. Ditto for W.S. Graham. Yeats seems curiously missing here - isn't he the greatest 20th century poet? Where is Hart Crane, or Langston Hughes? Other women, besides the iconic Plath? Post-colonial "voices"? An Australian, an Indian, a Canadian...

'An Elephant with a Mozart Soul'

From a conversation between Errol Morris and Werner Herzog in The Believer:

WH: [...] And at the end, after having killed seven or eight or so coeds, hitchhikers, he killed his mother and put the severed head on the mantel and threw darts at it. And then there happened to be some leftover turkey in the fridge from Thanksgiving. And he called the lady next door, the neighbor, and asked—am I correct? Yeah, asked her if she would like to pick up the turkey leftovers, and she walks in and then he killed her as well, and put her in a closet. And then he fled in his mother’s car and crisscrossed the West until he ran out of money and ran out of gas. And in Pueblo, Colorado, he kept calling the police. [To Morris] You know better what happened there. I think they thought he was kind of gaga and didn’t believe him.
EM: He desperately tried to turn himself in to the police by making repeated phone calls from this phone booth. Now he would have had a cell phone. So I guess it’s easier now for serial killers to turn themselves in. And the police kept hanging up on him. They just—
WH: And he was down to his last quarter to make his last call, and then two detectives actually picked him up at this phone booth. I remember their names because they sound very German: Schmidt and Grubb. And Schmidt and Grubb took him to the police station, and what was smart of them was, they just randomly turned on a tape recorder and Kemper spoke for six hours, pretty much nonstop.

Via Linkastic which actually doesn't have the link! While you're there, do read the entire issue; it's a film special. Gah. You can't, obviously, because barring only this interview and another article, the rest is only for subscribers.

Previous post on Herzog.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Again Jackpot!

Though not as exciting as last time,* I still managed some nice stuff.

To wit:

Charles Causley: Collected Poems

Maurice Lindsay: Collected Poems 1940-1990

Chris Wallace-Crabbe: I’m Deadly Serious

Ian Crockatt: Flood Alert

Kathleen Jamie: The Queen of Sheba

Andrew Motion: Salt Water

Douglas Brooks-Davies (ed): Jane Austen: Poems and Favourite Poems

Hugo Williams: Billy’s Rain

Geoffrey Hill: Canaan

Elaine Feinstein: Gold

Peter Reading: Marfan

Robert Crawford: Spirit Machines

Donald Davie: Poems and Melodramas

Tom Bryan: North East Passage

Maura Dooley: Explaining Magnetism

Alan Jenkins: The Drift

Keki Daruwalla: Crossing of Rivers and Keeper of the Dead

Thom Gunn: Boss Cupid

Peter Redgrove: Assembling a Ghost

Tony Lopez: Data Shadow

Thom Gunn: Shelf Life

Alan Riach (ed.): Hugh MacDiarmid: Selected Prose

Christopher Isherwood: Exhumations: Stories, Articles, Verses

Bruce King: Derek Walcott and West Indian Drama

Clive James: Brilliant Creatures

John Banville: Ghosts

And two E.F. Benson books (Cat, wonder if you've read him).

* The exciting part was in turning up early enough so as to avoid lines and then realise that I'd forgotten my library card (having transferred everything but that to the bag I was carrying); then attempting to charm the staff to let me in without it; failing; making a mad dash back home - thank god it was a Sunday - getting the wretched card and returning with two minutes to spare and to take my place in a long, snaking line.

PS: I must be the last person in the world to realise this, but staying away from the blog - and everyone else's blogs - makes for some astonishing increase in productivity. I think I shall stick with this.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Rukmini Bhaya Nair: 'Love'

Apropos of all this kiddiness that come upon this blog like chicken pox, I thought I might have an awwww moment here. (it's more than aw, of course).

Since I'm reading Ayodhya Canto sright now, here's Rukmini Bhaya Nair's poem from it.


my son, not quite seven, said

It was a bad day at school
Six children cried

Why? Were they sick? Did teacher scold?
Which six?

Ishita – two times Ishita!
Actually, three times Ishita!
I can’t tell you about it

Why not?

Neha started it
Rahul and I ran away
It was a madhouse!

A madhouse? Viraj, tell Amma, please.

You’ll scold me. It was in the break
Teacher wasn’t there

Okay, don’t tell me! You don’t have to tell me.

They were talking about


My not-quite-seven son looks sheepish, then mulish

Yeah, love.

But why did everyone cry? Love is nothing
To cry about! Love’s a happy thing
Viraj, you know that

dear god, how we lie to our children
my son, named for procreation

amalgam of wild Aryan rituals
my son, the first Vedic man
stares at me

his glowing rhesus eyes
full of candour, of trust

my son says

Neha said Trinanjan loves Lori
And then Trinanjan started crying
Ishita loves Subir. Everybody says she loves Subir
Even Devika loves Subir
And Ishita cried

Actually, Trinanjan loves Lori, but Lori
Doesn’t love Trinanjan
So Trinanjan cried

And you, Viraj, whom do you love?
You know.
No, I don’t. Who?
And Neha? Does anyone else love Neha?

She loves me.
That’s lucky. How do you love Neha, Viraj?
Do you play with her? Is she your special friend?

No, I just love her.

Viraj, why didn’t you cry?

I was brave

yes you were brave, Viraj
you don’t know just how brave
you’ll have to be

it’s a lonely business – this love
you were the first man, you ought to know

and then I think how primitive
this thing is, how old
what fires have burned for it
what fantailed dances it inspires

neatly segmented into periods, subjects
Hindi, Maths, English
and something mysterious called E.V.S.
but all that method, that learning
those iterated aisles of desks
rows of little chairs
then come to this –
a break at high noon
at recess

Love breaks into that gap in the day
it holds its own classes

Erich Segal, sentimentaliser of a generation
you knew love was about crying, Ryan O’Neal
had to love Ali McGraw, if it was really


you knew about the accusations, the guilt
but you had no inkling that all the schmaltz
the romance, begins with this instinct
for pairing
with recitations, incantations

Neha began it. It was a madhouse.

Trinanjan and Lori, Viraj and Neha, Ishita
and Subir, Subir and Devika, have they all
entered the madhouse?


is not never having to says things
it is to say things, show things
over and over and over again
with all the desperate jazz at your disposal

see, that’s Romeo on his bum guitar
and that’s the moon, shameless mauve
riding the tide – and Neha
you can make out Neha
stirring her amateur brew

O Viraj, step back, step back
from the red-bottomed langur turn-ups
from the aggrieved jackal cries
from the kingfisher’s Dionysiac blue

you are too young for a tragic hero
too young to die of natural causes
O Viraj – you are just too young for words!

words, even words
can tear you apart –
if those are all you have

but today my son Viraj, not quite seven
is indifferent to danger

he is brave

merged with the brilliant sky, the earth’s
dark quilted bracken
he has become his first self –
three thousand, twelve thousand
a billion years old . . .


More poems and essays and so forth here.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Three Conversations About Schools: Part 2

Thinking about this issue of schooling in India and privilege, I was reminded about some conversations I've had with some people that have stayed with me through the years.

The first one happened several year ago. I was having lunch with Jeroo Mulla, in the staff room of the Sophia Polytechnic. I'd studied there a few years before, but it was the first time - though not the last - that I was having lunch in the staff room. For some reason, I was telling Jeroo about Rishi Valley and the kind of school it was. No exams, no emphasis on competition and so on. She questioned me closely about methods and number of students.

"Where are the students from?"

"Well, from all over the country. Hyderabad, Nellore, Bangalore, Bombay..."

"Where is the school, exactly?

"Half an hour away from a small town called Madanapalle."

"Do children from Madana - what did you call it? Do children from there study in Rishi Valley?"

I knew where this was headed. "Some."

"What about fees?"

I told her. At least, I told her what it had been back when I was there.

"See? This is the problem. It's all very well for such schools to exist, but it's all for the privileged people. What about the children in the villages you were talking about? When will they have access to a Rishi Valley kind of school?"

At the time, I had to say I didn't know. Now I can offer something else in reply. But it is problematic in a different way that I will come to shortly.


The second conversation happened in a half-serious way. What happened was this. I was dissatisfied with the Waldorf Steiner school that my son was going to. So I went to the only other school in Hyderabad that I could imagine putting him in - Vidyaranya. It is a private school run by a trust set up by Shanta Rameshwar Rao. Shantamma, as she is universally known, is not only an educationist, but also a writer of children's books. This was a day or two after the admission formalities had been completed and I was in her office to ask her something. A parent came in to plead and beg that her child be taken into Vidyaranya.

After explaining that 1. there was no place in the school; 2. the child lived too far away and that the parent should put the child in a school close by; 3. that there was nothing different about the school so why was she so eager to have her child only in this school, (all of which made no difference to the lady in front of her,) Shantamma finally snapped.

"If you want your child to be in a good school, then start one. What do you think I did?"


Finally, in December this year, I found out that the Krishanmurti Foundation had been trying to get Ranjit Hoskote to give a talk in the KFI schools. When he was here in January, I asked Ranjit about this. He told me that they had been trying to get him to talk to the students about Krishnamurti.

Whatever initial shock I experienced wore off pretty soon. I realised that during my visit there in October, that the school in carefully avoiding indoctrination of any kind, was in complete self-denial about why they were a Krishnamurti Foundation school in the first place.


All of these conversations are a kind of context for the whole issue of privilege, schooling and education.

Make no mistake: any child for whom school-going is a given is privileged. Every one of us, no matter what our upbringing, background, economic well-being or social standing, is privileged to have completed our education uninterrupted by early (and illegal) marriage, economic necessity, work, natural disaster or war.

And yet we're dissatisfied with schooling as it is today. With good reason.

Potential students vastly outnumber schools.

Not every school is good, so parents are willing to have their children travel up to an hour each way so that they can be in 'good' schools.

'Good' is often - though not always - measured by the exam-preparedness of students. Sometimes, especially in cities like Bombay and Delhi, the measure of a good school is its age; it's record in having produced influential and/or wealthy people; and whether it qualifies as a Public School.

Plenty of schools have teachers who could do with some more learning themselves. But teachers - especially for primary schools - are hard to get. So schools make do with what they have.

So parents take what they can get, and so the admission circus that is played out every year in Delhi and Bombay.

But this is to assume that schooling is the same thing as an education. It is emphatically not. Schooling is, almost by definition, a way of making same; of ensuring that children are 'schooled', trained, to behave in a certain way, ingest a certain amount of information and be ready to recall it at need. And finally, it is training to fit into a certain social milieu that requires a certain kind learned social behaviour. Schools teach children to take their place in an adult world that is similarly constructed: where a person goes to 'work' for a certain number of hours a daya dn then leaves it behind to come back to 'their' life. That we rarely question this pattern of living is a measure of the success of our schooling.*

Not all of this is meant to be read pejoratively: there is value in training one's mind; and much of what is necessary is learnt behaviour.

Then what is education?

Every alternate school worth its salt attempts to answer this question. Depending on the emphasis of the answer, each educationist's strategy for teaching becomes different. To my mind, education begins before schooling and never really ends. The job of a school that is interested in more than curriculum and the things that qualify as extra and co, is to open a child's mind to more than the acquisition of information, and keep it open: to questioning, to experiences and to ( this is going to sound extraordinarily corny) life.

Does the average school offer more than a timetable for unit tests and examinations and days upon days of divided time? Of course not.

What is the alternative? Either a parent ought to concede that there's little to choose between schools; or move to a place where there's a school that chimes with one's own philosophy of education; or be prepared to redress the imbalance by starting a school that will teach children the way one thinks they ought to be taught

(and then be prepared for the deluge of other parents wanting admission; of having to decide between taking everyone in who comes and having 40 students per section and a minimum of six sections per class, or having an admission process that is necessarily exclusive; of finding teachers who agree with one's philosophy of education enough to join up and then stick around year after year; of finding a place, buildings, facilities, transport; and at the end of all administrative static, to keep the flame of the idea alive so that it lights up the lives of children as one hoped it would.)

Falstaff said, in his comment to the previous post, that"the challenge... is figuring out what to do with privilege rather than denying it." Will come to that in the next post.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Privilege and Education: Part 1

Just a pointer to these two post: one by The Mad Momma, who is worried about whether the school her son has got admission in is the right one for him. The second is Dipali Taneja, who remebers her own childhood and schooling in this perspective.

Say the word 'education' and my antennae are up. There's much to say about this question of schooling and schools, versus what one might call an education. Some of it I've said as a comment to Dipali's post. But more thoughts coming up in a bit.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Blog Concept

Taking off from this post by ??!, and also following a conversation BM, Ludwig and I had at (or should that be 'in'?) Paradise, regarding Blogs We Wish Existed, here's a blog concept that someone can have for free.

What happened was this: the guy came to take the order and I asked for the Paradise Special Mutton Biryani. The guy looked at each of us carefully and then said, it will be enough for three people. Are you sure that's what you want to order? Considering that there were three of us at the table, this ought to sound weird; but my respect for these folks and their grasp on the Physiology of the Individual went up by several points. We quickly ordered a normal biryani and other veg stuff for me.

Which brought us to the endlessly interesting topic of, how do single people cook for themselves? Ludwig related an incident, with tears in his eyes, about the time he asked the vegetable seller for three green chillies and she laughed at him. Take them, she said as she dropped them in his trembling palm and he hid them in his kurta pocket.

We complained to each other about how hard it is to buy just two tomatoes, five onions, one quarter of a cabbage; how impossible it is to find bartans in which to cook miniscule quantities of food without either burning it or drowning it in oil. As we shared stories of fridges stuffed with old food that we didn't even dare to look at, we grew more excited and voluble. Ludwig - who clearly felt more than BM and I, said rather bitterly, that even dabbas were out, because the woman in his building was rather like an atomic reactor who could not be stopped once she was set off. Dabba after dabba would line every shelf in his fridge, and lie uneaten as he went and drowned his sorrows (and stomach bugs) in beer.

Label the dabbas, I suggested. Like expressed milk. That grossed Ludwig out.

So my point is this:

Can someone please start a blog that tells you where to get stuff enough for only one person; that tells you how to cook for one person eating one meal; ingredients, measurements, strategies?

Now restaurants have it easy: they can decorate one plate for one person, but they have large quantities of the stuff backstage. What does a person living alone do, who does not want to eat even vengaya sambar for more than one meal?

Great idea, no? Go to it (and, on second thoughts, send back 10% of the royalties).