Friday, April 30, 2010

Will To Do

Or, saving PJ's butt. 

One hour of your time is what Priyanka Joseph needs, between now and 6 May. This is a part of her thesis, details below.

Do consider signing up and participating. Also check out the Will To Do site


From Priyanka's mail:

Hi there!

My name is Priyanka, and I'm working on my capstone thesis right now for my Public Administration Masters degree.

I'm studying the effectiveness of online training to increase cross-cultural dialogue and civic engagement in real-time among youth in South Asia and the U.S. It would be brilliant if you would join us!

All I need is 60 minutes of your time. In return you get a fantastic no-cost experience and a certificate of participation :)

To participate in this online discussion, all you need to do is take the following steps:

  •  sign up at this link. 
  • Next, email me at or via the internal messaging system available at that link and inform me of 4 date and time options that work for you-- this will allow me to sort you into groups of 7 (minimum) to 10 (max) for the purpose of online discussion. I'm following this method as I am dealing with 200 people in different timezones.
  • Next, I send you a guest password for accessing the link and a consent form.
  • The day before the discussion, I send you the outline of the discussion for easy guidance.
  • Once the online discussion is over, you complete a questionnaire and inform me of the address to which to send your certificate of participation.
Criterion for participation is as follows:

  • Participants need to be between the ages of 17 and 40.
  • Participants need to be able to have a basic grasp of the internet and computers, and conversational English. We apologize for the exclusion, and will ensure that translation factors into the next steps of Will to Do.
  • Participants welcomed from the following countries: Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, United States.
  • Participants need to have access to a working internet connection.
I'd love to hear from you about this! Please do pass this on and get your friends, family and colleagues to join! The deadline for holding the various cohorts of this discussion is still May 6, 2010.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hospital Catalogues #9: (This is not a poem)

1. The Indignation of Space Bar

When we walk in, a guard makes a swishing pass and hands us a token and a form. The automatic doors remain respectfully open while I try to figure out why we need all this to enter a diagnostic centre. Inside, I tell the person at Billing that we are here to consult Dr. V and am told to take a seat.

A few minutes later a secretary-type person in a blue sari comes and asks if we are here on a repeat visit. I say again what I said at Billing. She tells me that things have changed since we visited last (I already figured that, thanks) and that we now need to register, Rs. 50 valid for 3 months, all doctors.

What? WTF?!

This is one notch up the corporatisation of hospitals: earlier, you just had to register once and they gave you a patient number and a file, which you got to keep no matter how many times you visited. Now, some Hospital Management type is clearly earning her daily wage by thinking up new schemes to make the place more money: 50 bucks every quarter.

Will they give us a new file three months and another registration fee later?

Unless you're some extremely ill person, it's unlikely that you will need to visit a diagnostic centre more than a couple of times a year. Heck - even middling-ill people need diagnostics only once every three months. Any other time lapse needs a hospital.

"Yes, they need to make money. Fair enough," says our doctor, when we go in to see him. Right. After their cut of his and other doctors' consultation fees, and the tests, they still need that 50 bucks for the file and letting us sit in the AC for 15 minutes.


(Not that I was pinched for 50 bucks, you understand. It's not my makkhi-choosiness that's under discussion here, but theirs.)

2. Deja Vu

Hospitals (and diagnostic centres), like malls, have a continuous subterranean growl that never goes away no matter how many plastic plants they festoon the place with or how hard they try to make it look like nature's waiting room.

The first thing my mother has to wait for is a blood test. I know I'm equally worried because I know how hard it is to find a vein for her. I tell her, anxiously, to start a torniquet even before her name's been called, so it's not as agonising as it usually is.

I hate needles. My dreams turn into nightmares when they make an appearance, all dancing eyes and sprouting blood.

I sit outside - grateful for the tiny space inside that bars my anxious hovering - and watch other people emerge with their arms folded at the elbow. I think I detect a whiff of blood behind all the alcohol.

With my father, I used to force myself to watch. I think it was because it was better to be inside, where the blood was being drawn, than outside where the smells from the canteen mingled sick-makingly with other hospital smells.

Fasting blood sugar tests done, I miss that very same canteen most sorely, where my father used to have pongal, or masala dosas.

When you step into a hospital, kiss goodbye to a couple of hours of your life. And always carry a notebook.

The woman in a blue sari passes by and I smile gratuitously at her. In two minutes, she comes half-running to say she's arranged for my mother to skip a long queue for the ECG. I feel very pleased with myself - clearly, I haven't lost my touch. I am the Machiavelli of the hospital waiting lounge, armed with a file and a smile.

ECG and X-Ray done, we prepare to leave. I ask the woman-in-the-blue-sari when the results will be ready. "This evening," she says. I tell her I will return tomorrow in the morning, since we have to see the doctor anyway. She tells me that we don't have to get a token, since it will be a repeat visit.

I smile. It costs so little. And ask her her name. I leave with another name it will take time to forget: Padma, Nagalakshmi, Kasturi, Nasreen and now Ashwini.

And to think I considered just dropping in to say hello to my father's doctor.

As we leave, I notice for the first time, that there are many old and not-yet-opened machines outside, either waiting to be discarded or inventoried. I hope I never have to know, first or second hand, what they're for.

3. Oh, it's nothing serious

Just a frozen shoulder.

But I knew the routine last night: all medical files, credit card, insurance number, charged phone. I suppose I'm glad I know what to do.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Sexy Motherpucker. Also known as gift. I can't help feeling, though, that if I do use it, I might end up looking like Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her.

I have lovely friends.

'Made in the UK for the Soap and Glory Cosmetics Co.'

Yes. Soaps and Glory.

You're welcome.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

which is preferable?

35C and 81% humidity or 43C and 18% humidity? (I didn't make that neat inversion up.)

Me, I'm thrilled to be back where hot means all the moisture is sucked out of you without your having to go to the trouble of sweating it out.

Yes, I'm back.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Two Minutes Older: Being Watched

“We develop in the child a desire for truth, decorum, courtesy and high-achievement,” the flyer for yet another international school says. Further down the same page, in bold red, is what the school is advertising as a Unique Feature. I am sceptical, because under Sport, they have claimed to offer carom facilities to the students. And chess. (Why did they leave out book cricket, I wonder?) Maybe this unique feature really means the children will have a bedside lamp so they don’t have to spend a fortune on batteries for their torch?

I find I'm wrong.

Unique Feature: We intend to set up CCTVs and web cams so that parents can see their children online from offices or houses, during day care hours. The intention is that the parent may be reassured of the child’s well being and also provide a platform for the parents to actually view their child learn and socialise.

This is so many kinds of wrong that I am thankful to see this is, so far, only an intention. Maybe prospective parents will be as outraged as I am and this surveillance of under-18s will come to nothing?

On the other hand, who knows about parents these days? Though Facebook’s terms of service say only those who are 18 years and over can use the social networking site, I find many children as young as nine on it. They get around this by providing a false date of birth.

Parents go through some traumas about whether to allow their children access to or forbid them from entering the virtual world. But once they’ve caved and allowed their minor children into social networking or other forms of interaction online, I don’t think any parent is going to jump through too many ethical hoops before s/he decides to ‘supervise’.

It’s a flexible word: it could mean anything from adding your child as a friend on Facebook to checking their email, to following their every move online because you’re really worried about stalkers and other online predators. It appears that even with children, privacy must be sacrificed to safety.

Once the necessity of something is acknowledged, it becomes easier to be persuaded about the means. Terror threats? Of course our malls and stores and airports need to be watched. Naturally, streets and stations, ATMs and hotels should have CCTVs. Of course we need to be x-rayed. You think it’ll help if every single thing about me – including my biometrics, where I’ve travelled and how many bank accounts I have – is accessible with one identification (such as the UID)? Sure! If you assure me it’s for my own good.

As adults living in a fearful world that looks increasingly like something Philip K. Dick might have dreamt up, I can’t help wondering if there isn’t some kind of perverse vengefulness at work here: we’re watched all the time. Why not our children? It is for their own safety. For their own good.

What could surveillance possibly add to the school experience? What are they going to do – haul up the chalk-thrower? suspend the one who passes notes? send emails home complaining that so-and-so was caught sneaking coffee into her milk during breakfast and they have the footage to prove it? Can it be that parents and teachers think this is a good way to prevent child abuse, assault and so on? (Have they watched Dibakar Banerjee’s Love, Sex Aur Dhokha?)

Any ‘truth, decorum, courtesy and high-achievement’ the students of this school might attain is likely to be false because they’re too busy trying to be someone else for the camera. Isn’t adolescent self-consciousness bad enough without this?

I might be overreacting. But it’s been thought of and that is sufficient for the idea to gain traction some day. It won’t take much to convince us that our trust in our children must be backed by evidence. Or to believe that the world is a complicated and dangerous place, and schools no less so, and that such measures are necessary.

The power that adults wield over children is vast enough. The least we can give them is some privacy in which to come into their own selves in their own time.

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

Won't be accessing mail for a few days now. Will respond to comments when I return.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Happy New Year

Pachidi time.

The last time I made the pachidi, it turned out to be a disastrous year. Does this mean I should never, ever, ever, never again make pachidi?

Not this year, at any rate. What are mothers for, right?

Happy New Year, folks.

Update: My mum's pachidi this year was low on sweet, though th emango from our tree tried hard to redress the imbalance (for some reason, the raw mangoes from our tree have never been even faintly khatta). The neem flowers I plucked from the University roughly a month ago were generous with their bitterness.

This must mean something; pachidi making is a delicate tight-rope act between prophecy and wish-fulfillment. I wonder what the year will bring?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Independent People's Tribunal

This seems to have dropped off my radar. About the IPT, Dr. Vandana Shiva says:
“Last year a broad coalition was formed that has worked to put this tribunal together. The IPT will create a dialogue so that the adivasis of India can be brought in the debate. This is the reaction to the lie that Maoists are angry about being left out of India’s economic miracle as promoted by media in our co-citizens that This is not true. They are angry because they are being exploited and they are bearing the price of our development. The areas where the present “Operation Green Hunt” is going on is the most bio-diverse in the country. The sustainable livelihood of the people in the area is should be respected”.

The IPT met in Delhi between the 9th and the 11th of this month. Testimonies and reports are here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

I have just begun to read these posts, so (maybe) more soon.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Stuttering Element

Please welcome No. 117 on the Periodic Table: Ununseptium.

But Sam Kean at 3QD says we should 'be prepared for disenchantment.'.

Annie Finch's Kegels for Poets

= joy!
When your meter muscles get regular and varied exercise you will find that it actually turns you on poetically. You will better be able to identify and distinguish your lyric G-spot and creative muscles in addition to stimulating your poetic clitoris without even touching yourself! As you perfect these exercises and strengthen the muscles you’ll begin to notice that you can isolate distinctly separate groups of metrical muscles in your poetic floor, including your dactylic, anapestic, trochaic, and iambic muscles. This kind of awareness enables you to isolate your poetic clitoris, for instance, and stimulate yourself poetically at any time. It’s an excellent trick for getting yourself “juiced up” for a hot inspirational experience or important occasional poem. You may even be able to train yourself to have amazing poetic orgasms in this manner. Meter exercises increase blood flow to the poetic region, which aids in the increased flow of inspiration and helps engorge the creative area. With increased blood supply and stronger muscles we prep ourselves for better, stronger and more amazing poetic orgasms. Our lyric G-spot is directly energized and stimulated.

Men – Every bit of the above applies to you, too. Having strong PM muscles aids in stronger lyric erections, lasting longer, increased libido and they help massage the Inspirational Prostate, too.

The whole thing here.

While reading, try not to mix up your epic similes with your extended metaphors.


In other news, it's So. Fucking. Hot! Over 40C every day for the last week or so, and 42.4C yesterday. If I've disappeared it's because there's been an incident of spontaneous combustion and someone should come and pick up the pieces.

Or do I mean put out the fire? I need to go do Kegels.

Friday, April 09, 2010

'Hiking Down From A Hillside Sky, V: Bob Arnold


(and taste it melt)

To watch this world, lend a tongue
I straighten my sweaty back
For no reason other than snow
While the flakes open bigger
Echo over the pasture
The splitting wedge & hammer
No bird call, nothing flying
Valley fog quiets everything
Thin snow falling

Yes, there's a trick there. The whole thing here

I remember the first time I was just struck dumb at the obviousness of it, when Ron Silliman said in one post that our very act of writing poetry, their order, their punctuation, is an unquestioning following of convention (I'm paraphrasing freely here; and it's an old post that I can't even begin to dig up but it's something he's said in many ways over the years). It follows that where the poet strikes out along a new path, the reader must attempt to follow. This is a fairly easy inversion here, writing backwards, but I think it works well, what with the conceit or returning and everything..


April and not one single poem or post about poetry? Not good! Put your hands up those of you doing NaPoMo.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Five days with DFW

And two interviews about the book.


Earlier, DFW.

Monday, April 05, 2010

On Privacy

The NPR is not an exercise undertaken under the Census Act 1948. It is being carried out under the Citizenship Act of 1955 and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003. Why should that matter? Because there is an express provision regarding `confidentiality' in the Census Act, which is not merely missing in the Citizenship Act and Rules but there is an express objective of making the information available to the UID Authority, for instance, which marks an important distinction between the two processes. Section 15 of the Census Act categorically makes the information that we give to the census agency “not open to inspection nor admissible in evidence.” The Census Act enables the collection of information so that the state has a profile of the population; it is expressly not to profile the individual.

It is the admitted position that the information gathered in the house-to-house survey, and the biometrics collected during the exercise, will feed into the UID database. The UID document says the information that data base will hold will only serve to identify if the person is who the person says he, or she, is. It will not hold any personal details about anybody. What the document does not say is that it will provide the bridge between the ‘silos' of data that are already in existence, and which the NPR will also bring into being. 

Paul Duguid in The Nation:

The contrasts suggest to me that, while we should continue to resist the intrusiveness of government in the American way, we would be wise to import a little more suspicion of corporations from the other side of the Atlantic. One reason is that companies are not only collecting information about us but also processing it in ways that lead to "decisional interference." Search engines make money by matching our desire to buy with someone else's interest in selling. They are coming to know so much about us, however, that they are increasingly in the position to shape our desires in the interests of their paying customers.

Not long ago, Schmidt wrote cheerfully in the Wall Street Journal about the new digital devices on which we are all expected to be reading soon. "The compact device in my hand delivers me the world, one news story at a time," he wrote. "Even better," he went on, "the device knows who I am, what I like, and what I have already read." It may well know. The question is, Who else is it telling?

That question raises concerns not only about what and how Google is selling us but also the cozy relationship between government and private corporations, for corporations increasingly gather private information that the government wants. Sometimes they are directly complicit. AT&T provided a handy room at the heart of its network for the National Security Agency to monitor huge portions of Internet and telephone communications. Yahoo and Sprint have found ready buyers in government agencies for the data they accrue.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Two Minutes Older: I Know What To Do This Summer

April rolls around and a sizeable portion of the country wonders what to do with the summer. One slice of those with disposable incomes and children scouts around for summer camps, swimming lessons and any manner of activity that will ensure the continued absence of their offspring for a part of the day. Others – also with disposable incomes but with children optional – begin to look for vacation cool-spots.

Vacations once meant the inevitable trip to what is sometimes still called ‘the native place’. This usually meant dusty train journeys sometimes followed by bus journeys to places like Mettur, Kancheepuram, Kumbakonam or plain old Chennai. Once in a rare while, it meant exotic places such as Kashmir or Rajasthan.

Maybe it’s because these exotic vacations were always attended by disasters such as flat tyres, missed flights and bookings that we found cancelled just as we gratefully collapsed in the hotel lobby, that I am now a very jittery and reluctant traveller. I don’t travel if I can help it and I am puzzled by this passion Indians suddenly have to see every place on this planet before it is either submerged by the sea, or destroyed by war, natural disaster, disease or plain old economic development.

It hardly needs to be said that travel of a certain touristy kind is partially responsible for the disappearance of whatever it is the traveller has come to see: those swirling mists now carry not the scent of pines or eucalyptus but of garbage; that ancient temple will always tell you that Ravi loves Sujata (whatever the current state of their relationship may be) and the ads promise you that everywhere you go will be just like where you left.

The seasoned traveller takes these paradoxes in her stride but I am not one of them. Of late, I find more things to offend me and make me indignant about the consumption of places and people. In the documentary film, Jashn-e-Azadi by Sanjay Kak, one sequence shows a bunch of people posing with army jawans, sometimes with guns slung awkwardly over their shoulders, sometimes with borrowed army caps, but always with big, happy grins on their faces. Are they really unmindful of what it means to pose for those kinds of photographs in present-day Kashmir?

I can’t decide if vacationers are especially good at wilful blindness or if it’s just me who is morbidly sensitive. I suppose it depends on why one travels. If travel is one way of enlarging one’s experience then surely the traveller must engage with the place at also the human level? Places aren’t just mountains and sea or food and handicrafts.

When I think of the chattering busloads standing on the suicide points scattered across the hill stations of this country or bargaining hard over a mekhla-chador or bastar toy, or even making a mini-pradakshana around the swimsuit-clad woman lying on a beach in Goa, I can’t help remembering Pablo Neruda’s sprawling, incantatory poem, ‘Spain in our Hearts’. The last section of the poem, ‘I Explain A Few Things’, sets up a series of questions the speaker of the poem is supposedly asked: “You will ask: and where are the lilacs?/ And the metaphysical blanket of poppies?/ And the rain that often struck/ your words filling them/ with holes and birds”. The answer, after a several detours, is stirring and unforgettable:

Come and see the blood in the streets,
Come and see
The blood in the streets,
Come and see the blood
In the streets!

The inevitable question, if one does see the blood in the streets is, it possible to be unaffected and continue to look for beauty or peace or the gods or the past or whatever it is one is looking for, as if nothing were happening now? Where can one safely travel without being crass or insensitive?

Since I don’t particularly want to wring my hands in public, let me also confess that I don’t have answers to these questions.

What is clear to me is that I won’t be going anywhere this summer. Instead, I will travel with a remote and a bowl of murmura. If there’s no electricity, there’s always a stack of books to hand. 

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

Friday, April 02, 2010

kind of blue

 "Turnbull’s Blue—Antwerp Blue—Berlin Blue—Prussiate of Iron—Chinese Blue—Saxon Blue—Blau de Berlin"...

...but see for yourself.