Thursday, May 21, 2009

the wounded buffalo and other objects

With which image I will be leaving for a while.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What these elections were about

According to Abi.

(My personal favourite: 'Three hour fast')

And Rahul, I'm still trying to figure out how you made *that* sound easy. I'm speechless.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

India counts (the votes)

I'm following results here [via Shivam]. Mainly because it cuts the chatter (aren't the talking heads on TV unbearable?).

At 9.10 am, Andhra Pradesh's trends.

On another note, the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti people are being kept under K. Chandrasekhar Rao's careful eye. Just as a matter of general interest to the readers of this blog, the TRS Bhavan's rooms are all pink (desolated to say I can't find a link).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Binayak Sen

Two years ago today, the Chhattisgarh police arrested Dr. Binayak Sen for "collaborating with the Maoists". Today, he is in urgent need of medical help, which the government is refusing to provide. (These are the same governments, by the way, that will fall all over themselves to get an arrested politician straight into five star hospitals at the slightest raised pulse rate.)

There are protests, letters to the Prime Minister, online activism of every kind including the donation of one's profile picture to the cause, on Facebook. I have to believe that some of this, at least, must help.

Meanwhile, at least check out the Binayak Sen site, and read this article by C.P.Surendran (thanks, Vivek):

Dr Sen’s case is representative of the major failings of the Indian state, be it democracy, development or speedy justice. And none of it, typically, figures in these general elections. That no political party including the morally high-horsed Left has succeeded in mainstreaming these crucial issues is proof of a real problem.

But equally Dr Sen’s case also showcases a dire possibility that the worst can befall the best among us. Take care. One of these days you and I are just as likely to swell the rolls of the under trials. Don’t ask why. Shit happens. And in such an eventuality, unlikely as it may sound, the shame of our fate may outlive us, which was Josef K’s last thought as well as the knives went in.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Black Currant ice cream

The first time I had black currant ice cream was at Dollops. Ice cream shop down the road, exotic purple ice cream and dark bits of fruit on the tongue, like the grape peels on those stick ice creams on Marina beach.

Later, a Dollops wheel at another ice cream parlour. You spun the wheel for ice cream, sauce, topping and one other thing - I forget what. Weird combinations. Always tried hard to avoid the peanuts and cashew and manage the black currant and chocolate syrup.

Why don't they make black currant ice lollies? I'd like a puple tongue instead of an orange one for a change.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

from 'Shedding Life'

Miroslav Holub's essay, 'Shedding Life', from The Dimension of the Present Moment is one I've been returning to again and again. It must have been pretty central to him as well, because he named a later collection of essays after it.

I can't post the whole thing (I shouldn't) so here's an extract:

The blood corpuscles were caught in tender, massive nets of fibres formed from fibrinogen, stimulated by thrombin that was formed from prothrombin. A long sequence of events occurred one after the other in the presence of calcium ions, phospholipids from blood platelets, and thromboplastin, through which the shot arteries were trying to show that the bleeding should be stopped because it was bad for the muskrat (though in the long run it didn’t matter). And in the serum around the blood cells, the muskrat’s inner life signals were probably still flickering, dimming and fading out: instructions from the pituitary gland to the liver and adrenals, from the thyroid gland to all kinds of cells, from the adrenal glands to sugars and salts, from the pancreas to the liver and fat tissues – the dying debate of an organism whose trillions of cells co-exist thanks to unified information.

And, especially because of the final chase, the adrenalin and the stress hormone corticotrophin were still sounding their alarms. Alarms were rushing to the liver to mobilise sugar reserves, alarms were sounding to distend the coronary and skeletal muscle arteries, to increase heart activity, to dilate bronchioles, to skin arteries and make the hair stand up, to dilate the pupils. And all that militant inner tumult was abandoned by what should obey it. Then there were endorphins which lessen the pain and anxiety of a warrior’s final struggle, and substances to sharpen the memory, because the struggle for life should be remembered well.

So there was this muskrattish courage, an elemental bravery transcending life.

But mainly, among the denaturing proteins and the disintegrating peptide chains, the white blood cells lived, really lived, as anyone knows who has ever peeked into a microscope, or anyone knows who remembers how live tissue cells were grown from a sausage in a Cambridge laboratory (the sausage having certainly gone through a longer funereal procedure than blood that is still flowing). There were these shipwrecked white blood cells in the cooling ocean, millions and billions of them on the concrete, on the rags, in the wrung-out murkiness. Bewildered by the unusual temperature and salt concentration, lacking unified signals and the gentle ripples of the vascular endothelium, they were nevertheless alive and searching for whatever they were destined to search for. The T lymphocytes were using their receptors to distinguish the muskrat’s self-markers from the non-self bodies. The B lymphocytes were using their antibody molecules to pick up everything the muskrat had learned about the outer world in the course of its evolution. Plasma cells were dropping antibodies on the bottom of the pool, releasing their digestive granules in an attempt to devour its infinite surface. And here and there a blast cell divided, creating two new, last cells.

In spite of the escalating losses, these huge home-defence battalions were still protecting the muskrat from the sand, cement, lime, cotton and grass; they recognised, reacted, signalled, immobilised, died to the last unknown soldier in the last battle beneath the banner of an identity already buried under the spruces.

Update: Here's his 'Five Minutes After the Air Raid'.* I've actually blogged a poem or two before. Please search, no?:

In Pilsen,
Twenty-six Station Road,
she climbed to the Third Floor
up stairs which were all that was left
of the whole house,
she opened her door
full on to the sky,
stood gaping over the edge.

For this was the place
the world ended.

she locked up carefully
lest someone steal
or Aldebaran
from her kitchen,
went back downstairs
and settled herself
to wait
for the house to rise again
and for her husband to rise from the ashes
and for her children’s hands and feet to be stuck back in place.

In the morning they found her
still as stone,
sparrows pecking her hands.

–Miroslav Holub, “Five Minutes After the Air Raid”, transl (I think) by Ewald Osers.

*Falsie, in some discussion some time ago, this was the poem I was referring to. At the time I couldn't remember where the image of stairs and open sky came from.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Knight-Errant Spaniard

There are some books on the shelves of bookstores that seem to have been made and put on this earth only for you. In this sense they are like your soul-mates, those proverbial other halves of your self, the holy grail of an eternal search that all embark on, consciously or otherwise.

The first inkling you have that you are searching is when you browse and find a book you think you might want but are unconvinced you ought to own. This book is usually not in its first youth; it has probably made its way from high visibility down to the obscurity of the bottom two shelves in a poorly-lit corner of the store. Despite its age, it is remarkably well-preserved, not quite the wall-flower, but unlikely to put itself forward in an unbecoming way.

Once it has got your attention, however, it seems to know it and the knowledge gives it power. What this means is that whether you want to or not, at every subsequent visit to the bookstore, this book will draw you to it if only so that you can make sure that it is still available. When you find that it hasn’t been bought, there is relief followed by a tinge of regret as you pick it up, turn it and flip a few pages, that even though no one wants it, neither do you – at least not yet, not enough.

This is when the book begins to vamp you. You will find on some hasty, urgent trip to pick up another book you’ve ordered, that this one, though on the same shelf, is on display; which is to say that its cover is now a siren call you find you cannot resist. You pick the book up. You see fine lines at the edge where it has been handled by other hands than yours. These are both a reproach and a badge of the book’s loyalty to you. It tells you that if you do not buy it, no one else will. You feel ashamed and check the back for the price; you even flip open the front and back cover to see if there are any discounts announced. You might eventually ask the lady at the counter what so many Pounds work out to in Rupees (you’re usually too distraught to do the math yourself).

Somehow the scales have tipped. From being something you might not really want, the book has become something you must have but have to earn with the ardour of your longing, with penance and abstinence. You make promises to yourself: if I don’t buy a book for three months, I will come and buy this one. Or, the minute Tehelka pays me I will buy this book. Such promises are a measure of your good faith because they combine improbability with determination and hope. You are now officially a suitor who is courting the book.

This is when the book punishes you for being cavalier these months (or years) past. It disappears among the discount books from where, in panic and possessiveness, you rescue it and secret it into some obscure shelf which you are certain no one ever visits. Every customer now is a potential threat; if there is one most coveted book in the whole bookstore it is this one – your one – and it must be guarded, with your life if necessary. You review your bank balance and consider splurging whether you can afford to or not. Only old-fashioned virtues like honour prevent you from such a suicidal course; the love of a good book has to be earned, you tell yourself. It will be worth the wait.

One day you find your efforts rewarded. The book is where it has always been but it looks festive. You pick it up eagerly and you pay. You might be trembling slightly, you might pull it half out of the bag so that you can look at the cover at traffic lights but you wait until you’re home before you actually open it to read.

And how do you read this book that you have waited so long to own? Not in a rush. Not as you would gulp a glass of cool water on a hot day. You savour each sentence it holds, read it twice over. You pause to examine the numbers on the page and where – or even whether – the title appears. You admire the edges and the quality of the paper. You mourn the slight yellowness of it and wish you had allowed the book to grow old on your shelves. Though you care somewhat about the author, you care about this particular book more. Yes, you want the book because of who wrote it, but it is this book that was yours before you brought it home and as you read you’re aware of the book both as the meeting of minds – yours, the author’s and the book’s – and as playground, where the pages learn the touch of your hands and you learn reverence and awe at how much it has to give you.

At night you keep the book within reach so that, even in the dark, you can reassure yourself of its presence. Sometimes you wake up to find your hand on it as if you had been administered an oath in your sleep that you intend to honour even when awake.


What this means is that I have finally bought Sebald’s Austerlitz. The only other time I did this dance with a book was when I was in college and dithered over whether or not to buy the copy of Tom Robbin’s Another Roadside Attraction at The Bookshop in Khan Market. I did. And I never finished it. Everyone is allowed one mistake. I have only just recovered from that one and I’m glad I have.


An aside for Alok:

From John le Carré’s The Secret Pilgrim:

“If you’ll cover me and give me the resources, of course I’ll do it,” I said.

“So get on with it, then. Keep me informed but not too much – don’t bullshit me, always give me bad news straight. He’s a man without qualities, our Cyril is. You’ve read Robert Musil, I dare say, haven’t you?”

“I’m afraid I haven’t.”

He was pulling open Frewin’s file. I say “pulling” because his doughy hands gave no impression of having done anything before: now we are going to see how this file opens; now we are going to address ourselves to this strange object called a pencil.

“He’s got no hobbies, no stated interests beyond music, no wife, no girl, no parents, no money worries, not even any bizarre sexual appetites, poor devil,” Burr complained, flipping to a different part of the file. When on earth had he found time to read it? I asked myself. I presumed the early hours. “And how the hell a man of your experience, whose job is dealing with modern civilisation and its discontentments, can manage without the wisdom of Robert Musil is a question which at a calmer moment I shall require you to answer.” He licked a thumb and turned another page.