Thursday, February 25, 2010

the curse of annual day functions

Never again.

You hear me? Never again.

It wasn't even as if it was my own kid's Annual Day*. The kid's closest friends invited him to theirs and we said ok. After a mad scramble to get there on time, we found - what's new - that the event wouldn't begin until an hour later (we were waiting upon the Chief Guest, Saroj Khan**).

It was pure torture: kids reciting their rehearsed speeches in a way that doesn't seem to have changed in 30 years (I half expected the girl to spread out her skirt in a half-curtsy like those St. Ann's kids of my youth were taught to do...oh god! that's the cue for my migraine to return. Make note of all triggers, Space Bar); tinsely props, Bollywood, Bollywood, Bollywood.

I can't even go on - I'm so depressed. But the Principal or Director or whoever, feeling she needed to justify all the classes reassigned for rehearsals, the days spent at the venue, and the holiday they would have the following day, reeled off dubious statistics to prove that involvement with 'art' increased a child's 'performance' in school four-fold.

After an hour of this, and after one of the kid's friends had done with her performance, I said we were going to leave.

In the parking lot, we found ourselves locked in by other cars that were not even left in neutral. We sat in the car for an hour listening to the radio and watching the moon. Then, as some cars started going over the verge and out, and the space around us cleared somewhat, I did the same thing. Never done it before, mind you and never want to again. I worried about the axle, the wheel, all kinds of things, but really didn't want to hang around until 10pm for the owners of the cars around me to return.

Like the raven said, "Nevermore!"


* At the kid's school, Annual Day = each class doing their act under the big tamarind tree at the back. Only the parents of that particular year are invited, and it's all painless and over in an hour. This is what I call civilised. Plus, there's no moralising about Life and Courage and Country and all that.

** Yes, the choreographer. What can I say?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


As you may have noticed, things look nearly the same but have changed. I have not labelled all posts, so if there appear to be only five posts about cinema, and so on, don't be alarmed.

I will get to it some day.

Today I have a migraine and I am going to make it worse by going and reading Grisham or some such writer.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Matt Shears: Poems for Everyone

Poems for Everyone
Matt Shears

& now, the graceless refrains corroborate.
& such infinities.
Where the voice that told you what the voice will tell you had told you what the voice would voice when voiced.

The compound eye, the fly.
Out among the cathedrals / mosques / synagogues and so on, barking dogma.
The full-fledged fields, thoughts of some harvest.

& now, the graceless refrains corroborate.
The bird of the word aflight, amidst the Panopticon, fearful night.
How important the weather.
They appear like innocent bystanders examining the quotidian with kitchen utensils.
How to prune the loons.
O Wisconsin.

& now, the graceless refrains corroborate.
What has the Internet made of my overactive imagination?
I lament the lament of forgotten blue skies, that pyrotechnic display that I saw in your eyes that fateful day at the County Fair so many pumpkins ago.
They propped you up, Vladimir!
And Victor, my Victor, ‘tis verse not poetry, you know.
Foucault as psychopomp.

Wittgenstein as psychopomp.
& then Michel Foucault fought Ludwig Wittgenstein!
Cocktails, little forgotten disasters, Lunesta®.
The way they want to neutralize experimental poetry, you know.
Such infinities.
Dionysian mountainsides, the uniqueness of ice crystals.
French New Waves.

& now, the graceless refrains corroborate.
& now they do, do they, said the self-conscious,
& now they do, hunh, said the quizzical, the doubters, the self-assured,
& now the graceless refrains presuppose “grace” and “gracelessness” as well as an absent song and the idea of a refrain including all of its connotations and historical usages and the author is soooooo dead said the critically savvy
& now the graceless refrains corroborate corroborated the believers, the true believers, the chosen ones,
& now the graceless refrains corroborate, and I, too, am a victim said the others and the others among the others among the others.

Let me tell you about my otherness, I hollered toward the visible rooftops of someone else’s worldview.
(& now the graceless refrains corroborate etc.)
I am a rough, too, a hullabaloo, a bugaboo.
I am an interstitial relationship, an interesting font selection.
A deconstructed smorgasbord.
Real live animals.
Free ringtones and everything.

& now the graceless refrains corroborate.
O we who joined the ranks of the few,
O we who so bravely departed,
we who could not explain our choices,
we who dismissed the present as a fiction,
we who dismissed the past as a fiction,
we who dismissed the future as a fiction,
we who dismissed fiction as a fiction,
we who dismissed dismissal as a dismissal,
we who fictionalized nihilism as nihilism fictionalized us, O.

From Absent Magazine: Issue 04: Matt Shears: Poems for Everyone

Other poems by Shears here. And an interview here.


So while Falsie linked to the Dale Smith poems from a previous issue on Twitter, I'm quite excited about this one.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

From there to here, from here to there

1. You know what freaks me out? To log into my mail and find an old friend who is no longer alive, listed as available to chat on my sidebar. I'm guessing it's family using that old and supposedly defunct id, but WTF?! What could there be to check in that mailbox?

Something similar happened after a Facebook friend passed away recently. For the first few days there were quotes from poems, a lot of 'missing you' and 'thinking of you' notes which, though futile, were at least understandable. Less comprehensible were the flowers gifted and sheep thrown at and Farmville products peddled on his page. WTF?

We're entering a new age of joblessness.

2. Sustainable Aircraft must be read. Read everything, but especially read Michael Scharf and go through all of Linh Dinh's piece Street Reading.

3. Are you a poor Indian writer? Kuzhali Manickavel has some advice for you. If you leave praise you might get elected to be a unicornperson. (Alternatively, you could just leave her all your money.)

4. from the Archives of Things I Have Seen First-Hand: the ability some people have to extrapolate one or two casual, incomplete conversations into coherent world-views in their retelling of it. This is the way one random student collared on his way out somewhere becomes a Student, and his ill-considered remarks become representative of something else altogether. This, dear readers, is how opinion is formed. (This is also how we went through journalism class and something-something research while studying mass comm. Only, you don't expect grown-up professional folks to follow the same methodology).

5. About the storytelling session last night: the place was done up beautifully. More people came than we expected, what with the 'Seige' - as all the papers are calling it - still taking place elsewhere in the city and all.

Learnings include:

Never read first if you can read last. People are always coming in late and will either entirely miss your reading or you will be distracted with shifting seating arrangements, people waving to each other to indicate saved places, or the sound test will take place only during your reading.

Never assume that storytelling means story reading. Know your own story well enough to be able to tell it without the help of the book. If your story depends too much on how you've written it and the precise order of words or even the specific use of those exact words, it is a bad story to tell children who are easily distracted with the balloon-lamps and the candles and the bean bags lying around.

Don't use your own child as a benchmark. Everyone's vocabulary is unique and variable, as is their lived experience, and what works for one child or a group of at most three children will not necessarily work for a larger group.

Get a copy of Mooshak e Kaghazi and watch before future storytelling sessions for children.

Loud is not necessarily more communicative. Kids get subtlety - really, they do.

On the other hand, as a storyteller, you're competing with TV serials and video games, and whatever strategy you're using to replace volume, it'd better be a good one.

That's all, folks.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Two Minutes Older: Poets Are People Too

Recently, while discarding books from my overcrowded shelves, I found my copy of Daddy Long Legs. The book had a quotation inscribed in it – a fragment of a poem that read, I say, chicken unlimited,/ your kisses taste like wine/ but I am too old for this sort of thing. As a line addressed directly to my eighteen-year-old self, the sentiments were patently and entirely false, but even now it never fails to make me smile.

Poets are supposed to be mini-shamans or at least act as barometers of our emotional landscape. Everyone knows the charge of finding one’s feelings exactly expressed in poem or song. Sometimes the words are repositories of memories and sometimes they tell you in advance what it will be like to experience something, perhaps in the future. In Eunice de Souza’s ‘October 30, 1987’, the poet writes:

For you I wrote

“I don’t need words

any more.”

Now garrulous

with memories.

That’s the whole poem. When I read it first, there was no question of really understanding what it might mean to know someone so well that it didn’t need words to communicate with them. The idea also, that one’s store of memories of a person could be so vast and sufficient that they provided all the conversation that was necessary, was something beyond my experience. The poem was a sort of battery storing the charge of an emotion I would understand only later in my life.

There are two reasons why people who do not write poetry have truck with poets: one is – naturally – for the poetry itself. The other reason is to find out for themselves, first-hand, what makes this creature called a poet, tick.

In recent times, it has become absurdly easy to satisfy this very natural curiosity: every year there are at least three or four poetry festivals. In Chennai in December every year, there is the Poetry with Prakriti festival; once a year, Kritya has an international festival of poetry, though not always in the same city or town. The Jaipur Literary Festival also accommodates poets among all the other literary luminaries who attend. What is more, these festivals are free to the public.

Though there have always been poetry meets and mushairas, perhaps what is different is the kind of questions people ask. In the February issue of Poetry magazine, the German poet, Dürs Grünbein writes that there are some questions people inevitably ask him. One of them is: ‘Can you really live off it?’

The short answer to the above question is, of course, an emphatic ‘no’. To the questioner that must be nearly as unsatisfying as being told that the poetry books on display at the reading are not for free. (For the long answer you’d need to read the article online. It’s called ‘Why Live Without Writing?’)

There are all kinds of things people want to know about poets. In the online magazine, The Smart Set, the poet Kristen Hogatt has a column called Ask the Poet. It is a rash invitation to people to ask her all kinds of questions. Such as: What do poets wear to the office? How much does it cost to be a poet? What do poets eat for dinner? Do poets bathe frequently? Do I need a poetic license in order to be a real poet? If so, how and where can I get one? I'm sad. I just learned that my own country didn't score very high on the annual Happiness Index. I'm thinking of moving to Denmark. What does a poet do when he or she gets sad like I am? How many poems are left? There have been thousands of years of poetry writing; when will we have it all?

I feel deeply grateful that no poet I know in India has ever been asked to undertake the task of answering these kinds of questions. A really frightening one involved Fermat’s Last Theorem. Surely this is not what Shelley meant when he said poets were the unacknowledged legislators of the world?

Me, I’d rather that people read more poetry to find answers to really important questions – though even there I can’t guarantee they’d find any solutions to mathematical problems.

(An edited version of this in Zeitgeist, the Saturday edition of The New Indian Express.)


Still extremely frazzled with deadlines both self-imposed and unavoidable, so blogging will continue to be this list of announcements for at least another couple of weeks. Apologies in advance.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Scholastic Aviva Storytelling Night, Hyderabad

I'm taking two stories along: one for the younger kids and one for the older, and will decide which to read depending on what kind of kids turn up.

I wrote 'The Do-nut-nut-nut Oven' for my son's 6th birthday, but I mostly figure it'll be okay for eight-year-olds. I've never read 'Hide and Seek' out, so I'm hoping there'll be plenty older ones!

Let's see how it goes.

Monday, February 15, 2010

qs for those who watched mnik

Is it at all likely that KJo and SRK knew the film was so bad it would flop, and so got the SS et al to manufacture a ruckus; and gullible defenders of free speech etc that people are, everyone turned out to watch a film they might otherwise have had the good sense to ignore?

Or am I just a paranoid droid?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Name calling

No, this is not a blinding obvious word-play on Khan, I promise.

This is about American Idol last night. Did anybody else rotfltao (ok, not so extreme; maybe just cackling in between other thoughts) when this girl called Didi Benami came up to sing?

(No, I don't remember what she wore or sang, or whether she was any good. How does any of that matter? She is memorable only for her awesome name).

I'm putting this name down in my dairy for use at some point somewhere. As Dr. Zhivago said, 'it's a gift.'

Friday, February 12, 2010

Unhappy Hipsters

Weird, self-possessed girls, a double-bicycle dangling like an exclamation point, a distraught house owner being reassured, a pink (very pink) womb...'ll find them all at Unhappy Hipsters.

Go, go, go!

(But come back when there's something here, huh?)

[Via a friend on FB]

Monday, February 08, 2010

in a couple of days

Sorry about the lack of response on comments etc. Will be back in a couple of days.

(Is it just me, or is everything hurtling?)

Update: I am, of course, using this time usefully. What this means is that I'm tagging old posts, doing up to 25 a day (this could take me one month or more), after which I plan to prune the sidebar, discard most links and house-keep a bit.

No, this does not mean I am jobless. On the contrary.

So if your feedreaders go a little crazy, just ignore.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Two Minutes Older: The Language of Stone Spells R-u-i-n

Rabindranath Tagore said of the Sun Temple at Konark, "here the language of stone surpasses the language of man." I have to say, I think I disagree.

The Sun Temple was built in the 13th century by King Narasimha Deva I, and celebrated a resurgent Hinduism. It is in the form of a chariot – Surya’s own rath drawn by his seven horses. Its twelve pairs of intricately carved wheels also act as sundials that chart the sun’s daily progress across the skies. But the really amazing thing about the temple is not the 2,000 and more artisans’ work – exquisite though it is – or the 12 years and more it took to build, or even the drain it proved to be on Narasimha Deva’s exchequer: such demonstrations of faith and power were par for the course where temple-building was concerned.

What is really amazing is that no kind of mortar or cement was used to construct the temple. It appears to have lasted eight centuries on perfect balance and muscular faith.

It should be no surprise, therefore, to find that the temple is now in ruins, after a lifetime of conquests and plunder. I was warned to expect many carvings to have lost their sharpness, but nothing prepared me for the scale of the damage: of the many buildings that once surrounded the main temple, only two remain - the Nata Mandir at the entrance and the Bhog Mandap at the rear.

At the Nata Mandir, I notice what I would see again and again all over the temple*: cracks that have been sealed with a pinkish-red mortar injected under pressure; fallen stones that have been replaced so that sculptures of graceful forms sometimes end abruptly in blank stone. Of the two horses that remain, only one is whole; the second horse stands on what is effectively a crutch and looks indescribably obscene.

The inside of the main temple has been inaccessible for decades. A sign outside says that to preserve the structure from collapsing, the interior has been filled in. Even the steps that lead to the upper levels, through which one could look down, are now blocked. This is where the final shock is administered: two sides of the temple are under repair. With the ASI in charge, this means a network of steel scaffolding that looks more permanent and indestructible than the temple ever could have done.

Apparently, this is how a World Heritage Site must be preserved.

But to move on to another aspect of the horror story: on the day I visit, several classes from a Kendriya Vidyalaya are also there on an educational trip. Crocodile lines crawl over every path. The air is unruly with the chatter of a few hundred children armed with tiffin boxes, water bottles and badminton rackets. Elsewhere, below the erotic sculptures, a group of young men are hiding their embarrassment by posing as superheroes, nudging each other and giggling. A group of tourists from Gujarat is being lectured by a guide. Almost everyone wants to be photographed against the wheels. One man yanks at a stone elephant’s trunk.

A little away from the temple, a big banyan tree has spread. I sit on a stone under its shade and consider the temple: many stones and sculptures have been transported to a museum nearby; the more recently fallen ones that are lying about are closely guarded. What is left is being preserved as if against its will.

I can’t help wondering why the attempt is being made. It might make sense to acknowledge that beyond a certain point, restoration is not just pointless but impossible. What’s being done in the name of protecting heritage only seems to have advanced the depredations of time and the weather. The ‘language of man’ is pernicious and extreme and surpasses the speech of the stones.

I imagine what the temple could be: a silent place that no one visits, flanked by reclaiming forest and receding sea, free to stand in the sun. It might be the one way to restore to the temple something of the grandeur it once had and which it still attempts to hold on to amidst the crowds.

(An edited version of this in Zeitgeist, the Saturday edition of The New Indian Express.)


*For more about the restoration story see this and this.

Friday, February 05, 2010



Not in OT: