Friday, December 23, 2011

Goodbye 2011!

That's it for the year, folks!

Be good.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ron Silliman on Anthologies and year-end lists

Ron Silliman has a great post about the futility of trying to make top [insert number] lists, and anthologies speak for the diversity and complexity of poetry written in English today.

It is interesting to ask what community is represented by the poet who proposes him- or herself as the representative of some transcendent value (the way Jack Gilbert cast himself as the doomed spokesperson of beauty & inner nobility), but mostly it is very sad. The isolato in American literature is little more than a tribune for the most imperial and corporate of impulses, even when – as in Melville, as in Olson, as in Gilbert – he is conflicted & brilliant. If you are responsible to no one, you are in the exact same position that capital and profit play in the world economy. 

What might be noble in such attempts at outsider independence – a resistance to being used by others for purposes that one might find repellant – nonetheless reminds me of the flaw at the heart of Timothy Leary’s old slogan: Tune in, turn on, drop out. There simply is no “out.” It’s as identifiable a location in the game of life as any other. We are all of us on this planet together. You can choose which side you are on, but there is no “nobody’s side” to pick. That one already belongs to Mr. Murdoch, the Koch brothers & their buds. 

But even “represents a community” does not mean that we sing with the same voice, or to the same tune even. The problem with the Dove anthology is that of any “best of” collection. It is not that I’m in the book while Rae Armantrout is not, strange as that may seem, or Paula Gunn Allen instead of Judy Grahn or Sherman Alexie instead of Simon Ortiz, and it is certainly not that Dove actually included 175 poets. It is that she did not include at least 175 others for whom one can make at least as strong a case for representation. The Penguin anthology fails to represent America because the reality is far more complex than one book can articulate. 
It's interesting to think about this at this moment, not because I'm making lists as the year is about to end. It's interesting for me, because I plan to send out a manuscript some time soon, and I'm asking myself all kinds of questions about reputation and visibility and distribution.(Like I only have to make my choice for people to fall all over themselves to want to publish me. Ha!) I have no doubt that when (if) someone at a publishing house reads my manuscript, they'll be asking themselves questions that somewhat echo mine.

And that's when I realise how much I lucked out the last time round and how much the process is not going to be about poetry at all.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Spaniard Tilts at Bureaucratic Windmills

Actually, don't Get. Me. Started.

It's worse than sitting in a hospital waiting to see a doctor. At least there you can arrive at 8.45 for a 10.30 appointment and expect to get a decent breakfast and a place to sit indoors.

At the passport office, a whole day in the Inquiries queue earns you an appointment to see the RPO (other variations include DPO and PRO; one of the letters stands for Passport and the other for Officer. The third is irrlelevant) on a given date, with the (misleading and false) assurance that you don't need to wait in line; you just need to turn up at the given time and see the man in charge.


Anyone with a bit of sense interprets this as 'Be there as soon as you wake up'.

I have turned up at the passport office five mornings since November, at approximately 7.15 am. I stand in the Apoointments Only line, and if I'm lucky I'm number 6 or 7. More often, I'm 11 or 15. We stand in the sun, sit on bits of paper or move in and out of this line until 9 am, when a bunch of cops come out and organise the line in the usual way - with a red lathi. Fights break out in the other, longer line, where people have been waiting since last night. Agents work the line, picked out the susceptible and sometimes get caught. Money changes hands, often not even discreetly.

Remember: all this is only to make inquiries and show up for appointments; this passport office no longer takes applications, so these queues are not even in order to submit forms. They are for people who want to know why their passports haven't turned up after three, six, twelve months or longer.

Ten am sees us inside, with little chits of paper that decides in what order we see the RPO/PRO/DPO. These are meaningless, because there's another line of people that the cops call VIPs: they have letters from IPS/IAS/MLA type people.

If your serial number is 11, say, you can reasonably expect to wait until 2 pm to see the man, and you can almost certainly expect to be told that your file cannot be found. This is what has been happening to me for the last three appointments. I wait in line from 7.15 am only to be told, some six or seven hours later that I need to come back another day when they will have my file.

This, dear readers, is how Spaniard gets homicidal. Spaniard is A Knight with Very Little Patience. Oh, wait. I'm mixing books up, aren't I?

This is also why I have no energy and want to curl up in bed with a trashy book and oranges and chocolate. Escapism has a function if this is what short-term reality looks like.

(Anyone wanting to send me trashy books, oranges, chocolate, sympathy and valid passports, please get in touch).

So how's your end-of-the-year treating you?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

RIP Russell Hoban

So many people have died recently and their deaths have passed unremarked here, but this one I can't ignore.

Russell Hoban, RIP.

I *loved* The Mouse and His Child (and everything else of his that I've read which, I admit, is not very much) but I have been wanting to read his other, later books because they sound weird and wonderful. (I mean, just look at this. I want that book.)

Comfort in knowing there's still plenty to read, though.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Poet is In & Bhagat's toys are Taken Away

Mainly because I refuse to use the word 'random' to describe my posts, even though that is precisely what this is:

1. Approaching the question of poems and ownership from a completely different place, this post. Holly S. Morrison sits at a Farmer's Market (with a sign that says The Poet is In, as if she were in a Peanuts comic) and writes custom poems that people buy from her. And yet:

I browsed the honey and beeswax candles at a neighboring table while Holly began clacking away on her manual typewriter. And I found myself reflecting on her smiling response to the final question I had asked her: she doesn’t keep copies of the poems for herself. I found myself feeling an unexpected pang of jealousy at this detachment, this acceptance of letting poems go, as if I had encountered a monk making a sand mandala, or the street sax player in Joni Mitchell’s classic song, “For Free.”

Though I write for free and Holly writes for money, I only give away the writing of the poem; she relinquishes the right to keep the poem. Many contemporary poets might feel that selling poems devalues our art. But it seems to me that Holly’s approach to poetry also participates in the sublime economy Lewis Hyde describes in The Gift, the classic book that helped so many artists better understand their art and taught me, in my twenties, how to survive as a poet.

According to Hyde, the function of art is to participate in a sacred gift economy that links giver, receiver, and the spiritual world. Art’s gift offers contemporary humans an essential alternative to the deadening commercial system. But in practice, it’s not so simple for a poet to give away the gift of poetry nowadays. Those who receive our gifts tend to be limited to critics, students, or other poets; the gifts of a “professional” poet get tangled up in names, reputations, career obligations, and previous bodies of work.

By selling one-of-a-kind poems and not even keeping a copy, Holly moves poetry out of the literary economy in which so many contemporary poems are enmeshed. Instead, she moves it along into the lush marketplace of daily life where all of us can meet on a human footing, helping each other satisfy our needs for life’s irreplaceable gifts of food and beauty and meaning.

2. So there was the ToI Lit Carnival held recently in Bombay. Wish I'd been at the Mohammed Hanif, Mohsin Hamid, Chetan Bhagat session (I'd have been happy to have taken everyone else but Hanif out of the picture but hey - I'm sure I'm not the only one). It seems to have been pretty hilarious:

You know what? I can't quote anything specific from it. It is full of deliciousness, so go read.

Hint: Bhagat's toys are taken away.

Friday, December 02, 2011

'write six lines, drop five'


This is what I have been doing, among other things. I think I love year ends. They begin to accumulate just in time to dissipate.

Lucky girl, to lose so much, to regain so much.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Plug for Pâticheri

My friend Deepa Reddy has long tortured her friends on Facebook with photos of food. It was a pleasant sort of torture, for the most part, and I sort of missed seeing those photos of desserts and gorgeous plates.

Her pet project - a long time in the making - was to combine her love for food with her training as an anthropologist, and Pâticheri is the result.

Now that winter, such as it is, is nipping at Hyderabad's heels, I am seriously considering making some of those delicately-hued marshmallows. Chances are, though, that between reading Pâticheri and watching Masterchef Australia, all my aesthetic food cravings will be satisfied and I can go back to making a quick gothumai dosa.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Beaches of Agnès

Image from
The Beaches of Agnès by Agnès Varda. 2008.

Is probably the best film I've seen this year. Admittedly, I haven't seen too many; on the other hand, the year's almost over.

Toward the end, Varda sits in a room that looks Venetian-blinded. She sits on a rough stool made of film cans. Then you realise that the blinds are really film, celluloid hanging reel by reel. Her house of cinema is literal and, in the moment the instability and transience of material itself is made clear. She lives, as she says, in a house of cinema, but what does that really mean?

There were many, many lovely moments: not least seeing Godard without his dark glasses, Chris Marker's alter-ego, Resnais editing on an old Moviola, Jacques Demy aging before one's eyes. Also the mirrors on the beach, the art installation-nature of Varda's filmmaking, her self-appraisal that, for all its laying bare, slyly suggests that even spilling everything can leave you knowing nothing.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Review: I, Lalla

My review of Ranjit Hoskoté's translations of Lal Ded in The Sunday Guardian last Sunday.


I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Děd
Translated by Ranjit Hoskoté
Penguin India, 2011. Pp. 246. Rs. 450
The last time I checked, my TV had at least five channels oriented to religious discourse and bhajans. Hoardings advertising yoga camps or talks by gurus of all kinds assault our eyes every day. It seems to me that somewhere in the last half century, bhakti has become less the challenge to authority we have come to believe it is and more the default mode of engaging with religion, philosophy and spirituality. In such a context, I can’t but ask myself what the role of bhakti poetry is in contemporary South Asia.

Ranjit Hoskoté’s I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Děd goes some way toward answering or soothing my uncertainties. Hoskoté’s translations of the vŒkhs of the Kashmiri poet known variously as Lal Děd, Lalleshwari, Lal- ‘Œrifa and Lalla, has been two decades in the making and is a work of both scholarly depth and poetic exactness. His 77 page Introduction sets the context for his chosen 146 of the 258 vŒkhs attributed to Lalla, and is a fascinating essay in its own right.

Hoskoté’s thesis moves along interesting lines: he sees Lalla as not quite the bhakti poet that anthologists and literary historians claim her to be. He would like to see her, instead, as a poet ‘whose ideas straddled the domains of Kashmir êaivism, Tantra, Yoga and YogŒcŒra Buddhism, and who appears to have been socially acquainted with the ideas and practices of the Sufis’. (xix). What Hoskoté does is to closely argue for a figure whose biography contains the sketchiest details, but whose words demonstrate the variety and richness of Kashmir’s intellectual and social heritage of the 14th century CE. In contemporary terms, his introduction serves to place Lalla in a tradition that stands against the Vedantic mainstream.

That little is known of Lalla is not so much a loss as a freedom. The appropriation of Lalla began, in Hoskoté’s account, in the 1980’s, where both Kashmiri Pandit and Kashmiri Muslim scholars claimed Lalla for their own and attempted to purge her verse of what they saw as interpolations. Perhaps, given the turbulent times that the 80’s inaugurated, this is no coincidence.

Hoskoté declines to look for a pristine Lalla, opting instead, to see the vŒkhs (collected from various sources; the account of what these sources are make for engrossing reading) as a product of what he calls a ‘contributive lineage’. ‘Lalla, to me, is not the person who composed these vŒkhs; rather, she is the person who emerges from these vŒkhs’, Hoskoté says.

Yet, reading the vŒkhs themselves, shorn of context, can be a baffling and perplexing experience. Some of them fall clearly within a tradition that is familiar to readers of bhakti poetry and thus more accessible – VŒkh 13, for instance, gestures to the familiar idea of the seeker as lover and the sought as Friend, and the quest returning to the point of departure:

Love-mad, I, Lalla, started out,
spent days and nights on the trail.
Circling back, I found the teacher in my own house.
What brilliant luck, I said, and hugged him.

Other vŒkhs are more unyielding and require a context that Hoskoté provides in the notes to each vŒkh at the end of the book. This makes the book an experience akin, if not to wrestling with the Arden Shakespeare editions, with its wealth of annotations at the bottom of the page, then to reading the notes to The Wasteland, which provide a much-needed way into the text.

It is not impossible to read and experience these verses by themselves; but I would suggest that the notes enrich the text with their exposition and are crucial in understanding the philosophical traditions that Lalla claimed for her own.

 VŒkh 103, for instance:

Pressed in winter’s paws, running water hardens into ice
or powders into snow. Three different states
but the sun of wisdom thaws them down to one.
The world, all hands on board, has sunk without trace in Shiva!

 It is possible to read the exquisitely compressed imagery as the dissolution of self into the divine; but knowledge of Kashmir êaivism would add nuance to the vŒkh and separate it from the all-too-common tendency toward a new-age blurring of all philosophies into one indistinguishable mess.

Indeed, if Hoskoté did nothing else with these translations, it would be enough that he has insisted upon restoring complexity to the personality of Lal Děd and her words; unsurprisingly, that is not enough for Hoskoté, who has also managed to make Lalla’s words shine through the filter of his own considerable poetic skill.

If no other lines remain, for me the beginning of vŒkh 28 will: Remove from my heart’s dove-cote, Father/ the ache for too-far skies­, Lalla says, but it could have been something Hoskoté himself wrote.

Kolatkar once said to Arvind Krishna Mehrotra that ‘he was not done with a translation until he made it look like a poem by Arun Kolatkar’ (AKM, Introduction, The Boatride & other poems, Arun Kolatkar). Hoskoté doesn’t go quite so far, but his stamp is clear upon the continuum that is Lalla’s verse.

C. Rajagopalachari memorably said, in his introductory comments to the Bhaja Govindam as sung by M. S. Subbalakshmi:

‘When wisdom is integrated with life and issues out in action, it becomes bhakti. Knowledge, when it becomes fully mature is bhakti. If it does not get transformed into bhakti, such knowledge is useless tinsel. To believe that jnana and bhakti, knowledge and devotion are different from each other, is ignorance.’

Perhaps Hoskoté’s approach, in light of Rajaji’s remarks, is the answer to the question of bhakti as the default mode of approaching the divine in today’s world: to complicate the discourse with genuinely intellectual iterations of bhakti. Hoskoté’s translations certainly pose a challenge, inflected as they are with deep scholarship and political awareness.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Poetry Mohalla on Bol Hyderabad 90.4fm

With joy and tredpidation in equal measure, I give you...

Poetry Mohalla
on the University of Hyderabad's community radio, Bol Hyderabad 90.4fm.

A few months ago, I was asked to host a poetry programme on the UoH's community radio. At that point, it was mostly music. I was, of course, delighted, but I couldn't for the life of me imagine how I'd do one episode a week, week after week. I mean, sure, there's plenty of poetry out there and one can always read something out; but I also want this to be a programme where we talk about poetry.

At this point, a few hours away from the first broadcast, I don't know how the whole thing will go, but I'm hoping it will go well. There's a lot of exciting stuff lined up and I hope you will tune in every week to listen. If you can't, the episodes will soon be archived on the Bol Hyderabad website.

For now, these are the details:

Poetry Mohalla will air on Saturdays from 3 to 3:30 p.m. with a repeat broadcast at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays. You can listen to it by clicking on 'Listen Live'  here. 

I'm happy to take requests; if you want to record yourself reading poetry and contribute to the programme, please do so! You can mail suggestions, MP3s and feedback to 

There will also be another interesting programme that begins this weekend, called 'Caught in Passing', where there will be conversations with interesting people who happen to be passing through Hyd. This programmewill air on Sundays at 3 p.m. with a repeat broadcast on Thursdays at 7 p.m.

Friday, November 04, 2011

who steals my words steals [insert chosen word]

I wanted desperately to post on this when (or is that a 'but'?) I was busy. In the intervening four or five days, I have given myself repetitive stress injury thinking about this and now my brain is broken, fit only for romance novels I can finish in a couple of hours or a dizzy hour around the local park (which is only a park in disguise and is really a place to hide over-ground sewage pipes and overhead high-tension wires).

However, I still think I should be able to find these posts for ready reference at some point in the future, so I will first link and then modify with a couple of cryptic statements of my own.

First, the posts:

(Apparently something happened on Facebook but since I am no longer on it, all this happened as if on another planet. But news gets out, news gets out.)

(A few poet friends found someone on FB passing off lines from poems they, and others they knew, had written. As far as I can tell from the screen grabs, there was no attribution, but really - I know nothing about what it really was like on FB.)

Since this appears to have happened to other poets over several years, some of them wrote a joint post about it. You can find the post here. There's a follow-up post that selects some of the comments and responds to them, but you can find it for yourselves from the blog.

More interesting to me is poet Monica Mody's comment (who, along with Vivek Narayanan, raises some questions that I don't think the signatories to the post have thought about sufficiently). In follow-up, she's posted about this on Montevidayo.

Now, I promise I had plenty to say about this. But see opening paragraph: I have sprained my brain.

My own rather smashana vairagyam inflected view is that our poetry, as it is today, is neither strong enough nor lasting enough for this to really matter. In a few centuries, someone might make stupid movies about how one of us is really someone else. Even with Google’s apparently long and ineradicable memory, it’s not going to matter which one of us wrote which poem (or which part of a poem). What will live or die are the poems themselves. Between ‘live’ and ‘die’ you know which I think is more likely. 

Which is to say: Homer. Shakespeare. Kabir. Lalla. Calvin signing the snow. Signatures & stamps of ownership. Temporary immortality. Steve Jobs. Thermonuclear war. Bikhre Bimb. Single word quotation. Hive-mindedness.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

One poem in The The

My poem, 'A work of art is a problem' is poem of the week at The The Poetry. You can hear me read it here.

There's more I will say shortly about this poem in the context of other things. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 31, 2011

'In a party mood'

No time, but this is impossible to resist!

Via the lovely Ms. Baroque, I give you The Man In The Party Mood:

Oh yeah.

Aditi Rao wins the Srinivas Rayaprol Prize 2011

From the Rayaprol Trust announcement:
Twenty-six year old Aditi Rao has been declared the winner of the Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize for 2011. 

A writer, educator, and activist, Aditi has spent the last eight years traveling between India, Argentina, Mexico, and the United States; all the places, cultures, and languages she has encountered on this journey have had a profound influence on her writing and her life. Aditi currently lives in New Delhi, where she works as a consultant for non-profit organizations in the field of peace education, facilitates creative writing workshops at educational institutions, and carves out time for her twin passions of poetry and pottery. She holds a MFA degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College (New York).

The Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize was instituted by the Hyderabad-based Srinivas Rayaprol Literary Trust to recognize excellence in poetry written in English and is jointly administered by the Department of English, University of Hyderabad.  This year a jury, consisting of poet, fiction writer, translator, critic, and IIT-Madras faculty K. Srilata, Prof. Syed Mujeebuddin and Prof. Sachidananda Mohanty of the University of Hyderabad, selected Aditi Rao from a field of 200 poets in the age group of 20-40 years from all over the country.
I couldn't find Rao's poems anywhere else except on her blog. Here they are

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Two pieces of fiction in Ragazine

'Mistaken Identity' and 'Resurrection' can be read here.

There's plenty to post about but everything will have to wait until Tuesday. (When did weekends get so busy?!)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A question for my filmmaker friends

Question: Why are DVDs sliced off into chapters rather than into reels?

No, seriously. Why?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

le Carré

I'm re-reading Smiley's People, not just because I despair of ever seeing Tinker, Tailor in my philistine city, but because I need to reread le Carré from time to time. Why? That's harder to answer. For the primary pleasure of reading a sentence and being so awed by it that the book has to be allowed to rest for a moment while you look away, gather yourself and return to reading the sentence over again.

What le Carré slows down in his writing, I slow down even more while reading. In a recent interview, he said, when asked how he felt about being 80, "It was always in the contract, I just didn’t know they would deliver so soon."

Now he says he has to find out if he can still write. Just in case he finds he can't, there's always Smiley. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Delhi University takes Ramanujan's essay on the Ramayana off their syllabus

I'm a day or two late with this  (but hey - the essay is off the syllabus forever, so what's the rush?) but news is that Delhi University has taken Ramanujan's essay, 'Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation' off its syllabus.

Manan Ahmed has a lovely post about his first encounter with the text of Ramanujan's essay and concludes thus:
So, when I hear that the Delhi University has removed the essay from History syllabi, I feel the urge to grab my print copy, a chair, walk to the busiest intersection on campus, stand on the chair and start reading out loud his essay. Every word. Make them listen. They will be transformed. 
I empathise with the 'shout it from the rooftops' impulse, but tend towards Nilanjana Roy's view that it's easy enough to disseminate the essay - see how we've all linked to it? - but what is to be done about academic institutions, which ought to encourage and indeed, demand debate and discussion and the free exchange of ideas, but instead are always too ready to play the camel just before the last straw is placed upon its back*.

Note: I could wish that newspapers wouldn't call the essay 'controversial', even if they somewhat question the use of the word by putting it in scare quotes. It's many things - erudite, eloquent, clever - but it's not in the least controversial.

What is controversial is the wingnuts' demand that it be taken off the syllabus, and the Academic Council's slightly tubelit decision to comply.

* Um. What she said is:

"The damage might seem limited: what prevents a handful of history students from finding Ramanujan’s essay on their own, reading it and discussing it if they so choose? But the real damage is caused by the act of censorship, by the precedent the University sets when it says: this idea is dangerous, or controversial, or too explosive to be discussed. You expect academics and scholars not just to defend free speech, but to defend the work of a man who was probably one of the greatest writers and thinkers in contemporary Indian literature. You also expect them to stand up for the tradition that insists there were always many Ramayanas—that the oversimplified, often chauvinistic version of the epic that the right-wing has often put forward is not, by any means, the only one."

Friday, October 07, 2011

Review: Aatish Taseer's Noon

I've done another disappearing act, haven't I? Sorry about that. Too much happening elsewhere.

In the meantime, my review of Aatish Taseer's Noon in The Sunday Guardian on 25 Sept. I might have sounded kinder than I intended to; far as I was concerned, the cover was the most interesting thing about the book.


Aatish Taseer.
Fourth Estate (HarperCollins India), Pp. 239. Rs. 499.

Four stories comprise Aatish Taseer’s third book, Noon, and sandwiching these stories are a Prologue and Epilogue that speak more loudly than Taseer can have intended for the superfluity of much of this book.

Many reviews have pointed out the autobiographical nature of the narrative, drawing as it does on Taseer’s own earlier work of non-fiction, Stranger to History, so I will avoid rehearsing the resemblance characters in this book bear to real-life people (whether coincidental or not) and merely note that these reviews are right to find similarities.

Instead, I’d like to examine why Noon fails to evoke more than a lukewarm response. The four stories revolve around the life of Rehan Tabassum. In the first two stories, he is a child and in the next two he is the grown-up narrator. Rehan’s childhood has been spent with his mother Udaya, who has moved back to India after her brief, failed relationship with Sahil Tabassum. The first story covers their move to a barsati in Golf Links and the second is a rather pointless portrait of Amit Sethia, his wealth and insecurities and his desire for revenge upon the royal family of Gwalior for slights real and imagined.

If nothing else, ‘Dinner for Ten’ explains the privilege that the older Rehan is heir to, since it is Sethia and not his absent father in Pakistan who has supported him through an expensive education abroad and the visits to the new farmhouse on the outskirts of Delhi. This rarefied world that has refined itself enough to successfully conceal its parvenu antecedents is the subject of perhaps the most interesting story in the book, ‘Notes on a Burglary’.

In this story, Rehan is alone in the farmhouse that belongs to Sethia and his mother, when a burglary takes place. Of course, ‘alone’ is a shifty word, because in this instance it means alone except for the servants. A couple of laptops and a safe have been stolen and suspicion falls on the servants, especially the cook, Kalyan. A number of policemen come and go, while Rehan observes the effect the burglary has on all concerned, including himself. When it becomes clear that he has to be complicit in the methods the police employ to question the staff, Rehan realises that he has been given a power he did not ask for and does not know how to handle. ‘One did not have to go outside the law to stray: one could stray irrecoverably within the sphere of its enforcement,’ he notes.

There are some finely drawn passages in this story, which is why it becomes doubly disappointing when Taseer fails to build on the potential that is evident. In a series of cringe-inducing descriptions, Rehan refers to ‘that sweet, musty servants’ smell’; notes that Kalyan ‘spoke now like a servant, playing up his stupidity’. By the time Rehan says ‘But servants were often like this’, I suspected I had strayed into a kitty party where the chief entertainment was moaning about the household help or lack thereof.

The story ends inconclusively, just before the investigation is finished. Clearly, Rehan has lost interest in the people involved and is more concerned with his own views on privilege and responsibility, without having to demonstrate one jot of the latter quality. Some measure of self-awareness remains, with Taseer having Rehan say, ‘Complicity...was, in a sense, the most untraceable of the great evils. [...] I, with my palate still sensitive, found its taste new and strong, but my response, arising out of habit, was weak and familiar’.

In other words, dear reader, he ran away.

This is the great failing of the book: that at the precise moment when things get interesting and people and relationships are seen to be complex, the narrator runs away and flays himself for it. In other words, nothing is more interesting to the narrator than the workings of his own mind, and if the reader should happen to disagree, tough.

In the last story, Rehan crosses the border and goes to meet his father and his other family – most especially Isphandiyar, the half-brother who has a troubled relationship with their father. Here is an opportunity for Rehan to play the negatively-capable narrator – say Carraway to Isffy’s Gatsby – but he doesn’t, because Taseer cannot bring himself to acknowledge that other people might yield a better narrative harvest than Rehan.

One would have wanted to know more about the country Rehan is visiting but like so much else in the book, the really interesting details are absent and just out of reach: the sea in Port bin Qasim (Karachi), the faces of the protesters who are smashing shop signs while the brothers sit in a restaurant sipping drinks, even their father.

Taseer is often praised for his skills as a writer, and I must admit to being slightly puzzled. There are some nice observations, and turns of phrase that are more than competent, but one is as likely to find sentence constructions that are plain bizarre. But beyond the slippages in language, it is Taseer’s repetitiveness that is disappointing. Someone like Larkin could have worked within a narrow range to great effect, but Taseer doesn’t have a fraction of Larkin’s skills or insight.

Towards the end of the second story, Taseer says, ‘The door was open. A crack of light cleaved the massage room in half. They stood for a moment that way as long shadows and little people.’ But this is Noon, a time of harsh, flattening light: it ought to have had fewer shadows and bigger people.