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.