Monday, February 27, 2012

When a treasure hunt became a quest for knowledge

In the last few days, all talk of treasure has vanished and it's all about the network of underground tunnels dating back to the time of the Nizams.

Kalpana Kannabiran, in The New Indian Express asks some questions that are on every parent's mind.

The Hindu has been steadfastly sceptical of the reasons for this sudden thirst for knowledge/treasure. In a section that appeared on Sunday that I can't find online, various people have been asked for their views, among them Achyut Rao (President, A.P. Bala Hakkulu Sangham), who points to the recent sacrifice (yes, really) of a 10-year-old boy in Adilabad, while someone was treasure-hunting. He says this in the context of the safety of the children on campus.

C. Rammanohar Reddy's piece today in the Hindu also states, for the first time, the threats uttered by officials. Anyone who thought this was a benign, academic quest by a benevolent and slightly fusty arm of the government will be shattered to find their trust misplaced.

Oh, and the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) has said this talk of treasure is all rubbish.

So the real - the only question - is: what do the affidavit swearers, the ASI, the Coal India person etc etc. really want?


The Hindu, Sunday, 26th February, 2012.

"First they came for the Boy Reporter & shelved him alongside Persepolis & Sandman, & I did not speak out, because I was not a Boy Reporter"

Ignoring the Oscars altogether (since they were awarding mimickry and nostalgia all the way through), let's turn our eyes upon China Miéville, who is in magnificent form with this post on Tintin in the Congo and its legal wrangle in Belgium:

When human rights lawyer David Enright asks for the book to be sold as an adult work, while explicitly, repeatedly, stressing that he does not advocate banning it, nonetheless, cometh the resentment-spewing dissemblers in the comments insisting that he is supporting ‘censorship’. This is a degree of point-missing so great it is hard to believe it is not performative.
(Indeed, an astoundingly small proportion of arguments ‘for free speech’ & ‘against censorship’ or ‘banning’ are, in fact, about free speech, censorship or banning. It is depressing to have to point out, yet again, that there is a distinction between having the legal right to say something & having the moral right not to be held accountable for what you say. Being asked to apologise for saying something unconscionable is not the same as being stripped of the legal right to say it. It’s really not very fucking complicated. Cry Free Speech in such contexts, you are demanding the right to speak any bilge you wish without apology or fear of comeback. You are demanding not legal rights but an end to debate about & criticism of what you say. When did bigotry get so needy? This assertive & idiotic failure to understand that juridical permissibility backed up by the state is not the horizon of politics or morality is absurdly resilient.)
There are a very few attempts to insist that Tintin au Congo is really not racist, but this is a hard line to take, given its shameful cavalcade of j***aboo grotesquerie & preening white supremacism. How then, can that, the key issue, the racism of a book that shows stupid, rolling-eyed & thick-lipped Congolese unable to string coherent language together or add 2 & 2, worshipping a white boy’s dog, considering him a ‘great Juju man’, be avoided?
i) One may admit that aspects are unfortunate, but simply refuse to engage with the question of racism.
One commentator, who proudly proclaims his predisposition to find against liberal do-gooders (& does so, though on utterly confused grounds), is forced to admit the book is ‘shockingly patronising & insensitive’. He simply ducks, however, the key question of whether it is racist. Similarly, Guy Staggs in the Telegraph stresses only that ‘campaigners claim that Tintin in the Congo causes offence’: indeed they do, & one might think the rightness or not of that claim is germane to the issue. Forlorn & unexamined, however, it goes, as Staggs segues blithely to allowing, questions of race ignored, that the book is not ‘a good read’.
As if that is what we were talking about. (This - It’s Not Racist It’s Just Not Very Good - is a sort of evil-twin variant of the more common How Can Little Black Sambo Be Racist I Read It As A Child ; I Loved It & What’s More I Understood Sambo Was The Hero (cf also How Can I Be A Sexist I Love Women In Fact I Prefer Them To Men aka How Is That Racist Having Natural Rhythm Is A Good Thing) position.)
ii) One can insist that the book’s attitudes ‘reflect its time’, as the court held.
There are two interesting points about this ultra-common defence for every undeniably racist (sexist, homophobic, &c) text in existence. The first is that it is historically bogus. Such ideas, like all ideas, were - are - contested. Certainly & obviously the mainstream shifts, the balance of forces alters, but the implicit or explicit claim that there were no dissident voices on supremacist agendas is a lie. To claim that everyone talked like Tintin about the Congo back in the day is (whatever other serious political arguments we may have with them) to slander, say, Felicien Challaye, Albert Londres, the French Socialist movement that declared at its 1907 conference that colonialism ‘relies on violent conquest and institutionalises the subjection of Asiatic and African peoples’.
The second point is that even if these attitudes do ‘reflect their time’ in the sense of reflecting a then-more-mainstream agenda, so the fuck what? The point about attitudes is that they change, in response to struggle, to a battle for ideas. The question here is whether or not Tintin au Congo is racist. Which it is. That may perhaps in part be because white supremacism was less contested back then - just as well we’re not back then, then, isn’t it? & that instead we live in now, when the resistance of those deemed unable to add 2 & 2 has forced the recognition that this kind of shit is shit. These days a ‘collective synapse’ should kick in ‘forged by mass movements … that have forced a lot of people, particularly white straight men, to have a clue.’

Read the whole thing.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Artist, War Horse, meh

Just back from watching The Artist and must confess to deep disappointment. And I say this not only because it's up for all those Oscars and has swept all the other awards until now into its little kitty. What was the fuss about, really?

Yeah, it has clever, nice tips of the hat to Sunset Boulevard ("I never loved you, Norma") and Singin' on the Rain, and ok, I get that the dog is cute, but dear god, what a waste of an opportunity! It's even reasonably clever in the use of limited sync sound, and the moments when it chooses to be self-referential ("I won't speak. I won't say a word" is the very first inter title, very appropriately) such as the restaurant scene when Miller - her back to Valentine - is being interviewed. Despite all that, it's a dull film.

I think the reason it failed is because it looks for inspiration and pays homage to a very self-conscious cinema at the adolescence of the sound era that harks back to its own (very-recent) history when it should have been looking to silent cinema. It had Murnau, Stroheim, Keaton (and yes, Harold Lloyd) to drawn on and it ignored all of them in favour of - what? No, really, what? - nothing very special.

Not even the gag that averted the suicide at the end raised a laugh in the audience (though I'll concede there were some chuckles) and that told me everything I needed to know. That laugh was supposed to be the post-climactic tension-relieving laughter and the hall was mostly silent. It's not that the audience didn't get it; it's that they clearly didn't care enough to need the relief of laughter afterwards.

Imagine the same scene in the hands of Griffith.

There were other annoying things about the film: Miller's inspired solution to the problem of a silent film star making it in the new world was not just implausible, it was also unbelievably providential. And the idea came to We are given no clue. And the nice, feudal driver who refuses to be sacked and turns up every time afterwards when he's needed most? Sickening. Even Valentine's shadow had a more independent existence.

I want to say, In those days we had films.

This was just a fast-fading nap-time dream.


I realise this might be the time to get War Horse out of the way. What can I say? It was vintage Spielberg. The kid loved it, it hit all the emotional and plot arcs we're told are necessary. It wrung my son's heart and elated him and I suppose that's a good thing. It was this generation's International Velvet.

Me, I was mostly unmoved. Actually, strike that. All those blood-red susets (which, as Baradwaj Rangan rightly pointed out, were pure Gone With the Wind) and backlit trenches that made war and its aftermath look immensely beautiful, made me ill. And all those good people! I mean, it makes you ask how there ever was a war when everyone was so fucking nice all the time.

For me, again, meh. (Though the kid loved the film).

Moon, Venus and Jupiter

The night sky's been pretty spectacular this weekend: on Friday, the moon, Venus and Jupiter in a long, straight row, but the moon set very early. It wasn't around long enough to photograph well, but we tried anyway..

Last evening, we sat up on the terrace with tripod all set up and torch handy, camera pointed up at the sky. The moon and Venus were there early. It took Jupiter another 15 minutes or so. I have to say we didn't catch sight of Mercury but maybe we just didn't recognise it.

So here are the (rather patchy) results of our stargazing.

Saturday, 25.2.2012. Moon, Venus and Jupiter, slightly over-exposed.

Saturday, 25.2.2012. M, V &J against the Madhapur lights.

Friday, 24.2.2012. The Moon, somewhere at the bottom, has almost set.

My review of Jussawalla's collection

in today's Sunday Guardian. I'll post the whole review here later.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Preserving the born-digital: "The future for digital storage is constant migration."

Since I'm not really done with the previous post, but think this deserves a dedicated one to itself, the article I linked to, on the question of preserving films that were 'born-digital':

The preservation of born-digital films is going to be the greatest challenge ever to face archivists.

Margaret Bodde, Executive Director of the Film Foundation

The new magical software has sometimes led to over-restoration. Grain has too often been polished out, creating a plastic sheen. Still, today no archivist can avoid using the new toolkit. The sadder story involves not restoration but conservation and preservation. A civilian might think: That’s simple. Just save film on film and digital on digital. But things are more complicated than that.

Let’s start with a movie like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which was shot with digital capture. After production and post-production, it was made available to theatres as both a Digital Cinema Package (that batch of files on a hard drive) and some 35mm prints. But there are several digital versions of the movie.

The Digital Source Master: This is the original sound and image “content” captured in specific formats, either tape-based or file-based, and those may come in many flavors. The Girl was shot with the Red One camera on the company’s proprietary format R3D. That material, along with sound recording, was converted to other files in postproduction. Any major film nowadays is likely to use many digital video and audio formats. This entire set of materials forms the Digital Source Master for a film and these assets are usually stored in the studio’s vaults. Along with them are, usually, film-based copies of the final product, often as separation masters.

The Digital Cinema Distribution Master, in standards specified by the Digital Cinema Initiatives. This is the finished film unencrypted and uncompressed, providing “content” at 2K and/or 4K resolution. Roughly speaking, this is the digital counterpart of a 35mm film negative.

The DCP, compressed and encrypted for theatrical playback. It is, again in some respects, the digital counterpart of an analog film print.

Eventually, The Girl will show up on the optical disc formats DVD and Blu-ray, not to mention streaming video, cable transmission, and web-based platforms. (Actually, it’s probably already available for Darknet download.)

Many studio films are housed in nonprofit archives too, and until recently those movies have been deposited and stored as analogue copies. But what will those institutions now keep? There are only three minimally acceptable formats: the uncompressed and unencrypted DCDM, the DCP, and a 35mm print. Suppose your film archive is lucky enough to receive both a DCP and a 35mm print of The Girl.

First, how do you access the DCP files? A DCP is typically encrypted to block piracy. When The Girl played theatres digitally, each exhibitor was provided an alphanumeric password that would open the files for loading into the theatre’s server. By the time you the archivist get the files, that key may have expired or been lost. Without the key, the DCP is useless.

Then there’s the matter of storage. The 35 print of The Girl can simply be passively conserved, following the motto, “Store and ignore.” But all digital material, no matter how minor, requires proactive preservation. The future for digital storage is constant migration.

Archivists estimate the life of any digital platform to be less than ten years, sometimes less than five. All hard drives fail sooner or later, and they need to be run periodically to lubricate themselves. Tape degradation can be quite quick; one expert found that 40 % of tapes from digital intermediate houses had missing frames or corrupted data. Most of the tapes were only nine months old.

Moreover, hardware and software are constantly changing. One archivist estimates that over one hundred video playback systems have come and gone over the last sixty years. Archives currently recognize over two dozen video formats and over a dozen audio ones.

Periodically, then, the DCP files of The Girl will have to be checked for corruption and transferred to another tape or hard drive and eventually to another digital format. Such maintenance takes time; shifting a terabyte of data from one system to another may need at least three or four hours. Ideally, you’d want several copies for backup, and you’d want to store them in different locations.

There are hundreds of other films like The Girl awaiting processing at major archives. About 600-900 features are produced in the US each year. Currently the world is producing about 5500 films per year. At some point, they will all originate in digital capture.

Besides access and storage there’s the matter of cost. Storing 4K digital masters costs about 11 times as much as storing a film master. You can store the digital master for about $12,000 per year, while the film master averages about $1,100.

How do the overall costs of digitizing mount up? Look at the situation in Europe. The EU countries produce about 1100 features and 1400 shorts per year. An EU archival commission, the Digital Agenda for European Film Heritage, estimates that to conserve one year’s output would require 5.8 PB (petabytes) of storage. In 2015, the costs of archiving that year’s output (without restoration) are projected to be between 1.5 million and 3 million euros. Beyond initial conservation, long-term preservation of that year’s output would consume, though migration and backing up, about 1900 PB and cost about 290 million euros.

The access problem is soluble. Your archive could be given an unencrypted DCP of The Girl and then create its own key to prevent copying. Or the DCP could be assigned a generic key, perhaps for a specified time period, that will open the files in a secure milieu. They could then be migrated to an format under archive control. On the matter of software, archivists are working on establishing standard preservation file formats and codecs. To deal with the other problems, you’d have to press for increased budgets and personnel to cover the new duties that digital archiving creates. But the costs, including training personnel on ever-changing platforms, are of tidal-wave proportions.

So there you are: first there's the ease of technology and then - as any editor will tell you - the sheer migraine it induces.


Not entirely related, but this: "Once you’ve found a way to conserve-preserve The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, what if you want to show it tomorrow? Or ten years from now? Or fifty?"

I feel they could have chosen another film as an example, because this just....makes me giggle.

The Archivist of the Ephemeral

The British Library here had a panel discussion and inauguration of an exhibition that's travelling across the country, about South Asians in Britain. Someone from the audience asked the panelists why they did their research only at the V&A, the National Archives of India and all the usual places. Why were they not looking for the more rare manuscripts, archives and material that was surely available in other places, the man wanted to know.

I was thinking of this when I read this article about the digital preservation of film (via The Valve), and about the fire that destroyed so much of the Film Archives at Pune. The whole enterprise of archiving anything seemed impossible, brave and quixotic.

Imagine you are on the threshold of your career and, with the thoughts of material success and respectability dinned into you, you still choose a life that is not just hard to justify as signifying 'success' in the usual way, but is actively futile and Sisyphian.

You become an archivist. You might as well have chosen to be a mortician.

There were children who had been invited to be placeholders yesterday. I don't know who was fooled by the tactic; certainly not the panelists, who took it with fairly good grace. (This is not meant to insult the intelligence of the children; they were clearly brought there with no preparation about the nature of the exhibition, or given a context for the discussion. I doubt they gave a hoot about Krishna Menon's Pelican Series of non-fiction, the first Asian woman to study law at Cambridge or the intricacies of a pre-Independence Indian being an  MP in the UK.)

It occurs to me that anyone interested in the archival is already a specialist with a specialist's peculiar interest in what is being resurrected.Who but someone interested in silent comedy is going to care that a 'not yet found' Harold Lloyd short was buried under the permafrost somewhere in Canada and has now been restored? Perhaps the only way to answer that question is by not putting the actual found film to the test, but to make, say, The Artist.

It's hard enough for a new generation to pay its respects to the one gone by via what is already available and accessible. I say this with a tinge of bitterness, because I'm finding it unexpectedly hard to get the kid to read Wodehouse. Wodehouse! This kind of behaviour is calculated to make me shake my head more in sorrow than in anger and moan about the present (de)generation....but I digress.

It's hard enough to get what someone older goes on about; how hard it is going to be to make anyone care about what is deeply past, unless they already care about it.

And therefore how doubly, triply admirable that so many people dedicate their lives to a monumentally impossible task: keeping the past alive in its primary forms.


In Praise Of Limestone
by W. H. Auden
If it form the one landscape that we, the inconstant ones,
Are consistently homesick for, this is chiefly
Because it dissolves in water. Mark these rounded slopes
With their surface fragrance of thyme and, beneath,
A secret system of caves and conduits; hear the springs
That spurt out everywhere with a chuckle,
Each filling a private pool for its fish and carving
Its own little ravine whose cliffs entertain
The butterfly and the lizard; examine this region
Of short distances and definite places:
What could be more like Mother or a fitter background
For her son, the flirtatious male who lounges
Against a rock in the sunlight, never doubting
That for all his faults he is loved; whose works are but
Extensions of his power to charm? From weathered outcrop
To hill-top temple, from appearing waters to
Conspicuous fountains, from a wild to a formal vineyard,
Are ingenious but short steps that a child's wish
To receive more attention than his brothers, whether
By pleasing or teasing, can easily take.

Watch, then, the band of rivals as they climb up and down
Their steep stone gennels in twos and threes, at times
Arm in arm, but never, thank God, in step; or engaged
On the shady side of a square at midday in
Voluble discourse, knowing each other too well to think
There are any important secrets, unable
To conceive a god whose temper-tantrums are moral
And not to be pacified by a clever line
Or a good lay: for accustomed to a stone that responds,
They have never had to veil their faces in awe
Of a crater whose blazing fury could not be fixed;
Adjusted to the local needs of valleys
Where everything can be touched or reached by walking,
Their eyes have never looked into infinite space
Through the lattice-work of a nomad's comb; born lucky,
Their legs have never encountered the fungi
And insects of the jungle, the monstrous forms and lives
With which we have nothing, we like to hope, in common.
So, when one of them goes to the bad, the way his mind works
Remains incomprehensible: to become a pimp
Or deal in fake jewellery or ruin a fine tenor voice
For effects that bring down the house, could happen to all
But the best and the worst of us...
That is why, I suppose,
The best and worst never stayed here long but sought
Immoderate soils where the beauty was not so external,
The light less public and the meaning of life
Something more than a mad camp. 'Come!' cried the granite wastes,
"How evasive is your humour, how accidental
Your kindest kiss, how permanent is death." (Saints-to-be
Slipped away sighing.) "Come!" purred the clays and gravels,
"On our plains there is room for armies to drill; rivers
Wait to be tamed and slaves to construct you a tomb
In the grand manner: soft as the earth is mankind and both
Need to be altered." (Intendant Caesars rose and
Left, slamming the door.) But the really reckless were fetched
By an older colder voice, the oceanic whisper:
"I am the solitude that asks and promises nothing;
That is how I shall set you free. There is no love;
There are only the various envies, all of them sad."

They were right, my dear, all those voices were right
And still are; this land is not the sweet home that it looks,
Nor its peace the historical calm of a site
Where something was settled once and for all: A back ward
And dilapidated province, connected
To the big busy world by a tunnel, with a certain
Seedy appeal, is that all it is now? Not quite:
It has a worldy duty which in spite of itself
It does not neglect, but calls into question
All the Great Powers assume; it disturbs our rights. The poet,
Admired for his earnest habit of calling
The sun the sun, his mind Puzzle, is made uneasy
By these marble statues which so obviously doubt
His antimythological myth; and these gamins,
Pursuing the scientist down the tiled colonnade
With such lively offers, rebuke his concern for Nature's
Remotest aspects: I, too, am reproached, for what
And how much you know. Not to lose time, not to get caught,
Not to be left behind, not, please! to resemble
The beasts who repeat themselves, or a thing like water
Or stone whose conduct can be predicted, these
Are our common prayer, whose greatest comfort is music
Which can be made anywhere, is invisible,
And does not smell. In so far as we have to look forward
To death as a fact, no doubt we are right: But if
Sins can be forgiven, if bodies rise from the dead,
These modifications of matter into
Innocent athletes and gesticulating fountains,
Made solely for pleasure, make a further point:
The blessed will not care what angle they are regarded from,
Having nothing to hide. Dear, I know nothing of
Either, but when I try to imagine a faultless love
Or the life to come, what I hear is the murmur
Of underground streams, what I see is a limestone landscape.

Monday, February 20, 2012

treasure hunting

Come on all you Indiana Joneses, gather your tool kits, your crystal skull cases, gold dust magnets and divining rods - there are treasures to be unearthed at schools. Here be natives! And WWII bunkers! And almirahs filled with jools!


This thing erupted over the weekend so it turns out that the kid has a loooong weekend. In the meantime, the football field, the hillside, the trees on it, the birds, everything is going, going, gone. All because some 'prominent' citizens, as yet unnamed, along with a couple of masons from the hotel next door (who claim to have seen with 'their own eyes'; why they forgot to say their 'own two eyes' history will leave unrecorded) claim there's treasure somewhere on the hill.

What this has to do with archaeology I don't know. Perhaps the government just failed to create a Dept. of Treasure Hunting at the time, and now has to farm it out to slightly-related departments.

Bah, I say.

In other news, the informants have claimed one fifth of the treasure under some 1878 act. Spaniard Smells a Huge, Stonking, Mutant-Sized Rat.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Two on Dyer's Zona

Geoff Dyer interviewed in Guernica.

ASH Smyth: So, a whole book about a single Russian movie. How did that happen? You make it sound like you were sitting watching Stalker one afternoon, for the twenty-fifth time or whatever, and then just found yourself in the middle of a paragraph of notes and realized that this was what you were writing, right now.

Geoff Dyer: Um, well, the exact story, which you might decide is too boring to tell, is that I went to hear this [Werner] Herzog talk at the BFI, and then picked up the program and saw they were showing Stalker, with a debate about Stalker, and then I was immediately thinking “Shit, I’d like to be on that panel!” And then I started thinking of ways in which I could surreptitiously get myself invited on, and then I thought “Oh, I’ll write something for the Guardian,” and arranged to do that. And no sooner had I done that—the guy said “800 words?” and I thought I’d just do that quickly—than I kept ringing him back asking for more and more words, but of course he can’t just say “Yeah, we’ll devote the whole of this issue to you!” and so it very quickly became a source of frustration. By then, I was really up and running. So I went with it, though I wasn’t thinking, at this early stage, that there’d be a whole book’s worth. I really didn’t know how much there would be to say. All I was aware of was that the saying was enjoyable.

ASH Smyth: So how did it happen, literally? Did you sit through it another n-million times? You say that you’d wanted to write it in 142 chapters, one for each take…

Geoff Dyer: Yeah, that was a little thing that sort of blossomed and then faded. I was working through it pretty much in order, but then there came a point when I did have the film going on a computer, just to make sure it was a reasonably accurate record of things. I felt it was important that I didn’t have things in there that were wildly wrong. Though I could see the attraction of that, given that part of the nature of the Zone is that you’re not sure what’s there. “Did that bird really disappear?!” I allowed myself a certain amount of leeway, but it’s pretty reliable.

And Jonathan McCalmont (who you should be reading whether he's talking Tarkovsky and Dyer or not):

Every time Zona reaches a particularly juicy point in Stalker, Dyer wrenches us out of the film and into a digression drawing on film theory, the history of film, the life of Tarkovsky or the life of Geoff Dyer. Sometimes, these digressions will go on for a number of pages before returning to the film itself and sometimes these digressions will be unpacked in a series of footnotes that can also go on for a number of pages before returning us either to the original digression or to the substance of the film itself. As a result of this somewhat unorthodox structure, reading Zona is an exercise in juggling book marks and flipping back and forth between different points in the book in order to a) follow Dyer’s unravelling lines and thought and b) remember how these vast digressions relate back to the substance of the film. Initially, I took all of this page-flipping to be nothing more than a product of the same authorial insensitivity that prompts academics to produce works that have all of their footnotes at the end of the text despite there frequently being hundreds of the fuckers. However, around the time I had two fingers jammed between pages of Zona and Dyer was encouraging me to flip forward thirty or forty pages, the penny finally dropped: Dyer is intentionally wrenching us out of the flow of the text. Far from being a bug, Zona’s tendency to spiral away from a train of thought or the text of the film is actually a feature, a deliberate aesthetic choice.

So that's another one on my wishlist, if anyone's listening. (How can one not read a man who goes to listen to Herzog and finds himself writing a book when thinking up excuses to appear on a panel to discuss a film? Also: "I’d seen that film The Return by…whatever the guy’s name is, but I hadn’t really thought about it much." *snort*.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


I can't even begin to explain why the idea of the words 'erasure' and 'poetry' put next to each other gives me shivers of delight.

Instead of notes to other people, I might reconsider what I'd do with the last book left me.


1. The context

2. The post where I found out about it

3. And an example of erasure poetry, in 17 year old Efrain's work below:

 4. The two poems he's used: 'Special Treatments Ward' by Dana Gioia (top) and 'The Obsoletion of a Language' by Kay Ryan (above).

Oh frabjous day! This might even induce me to write that War Horse post.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

And Yet It Moves

I have carefully avoided saying anything about JLF, Rushdie, and the whole free speech vs. censorship clusterfuck that chewed up most of the end of January. If I'm talking about it at all, it is to point everyone to the one piece that I want to keep and remember.

And the reason I'm doing this at all is because today - Valentine's Day - has been designated #flashreads for free speech day.

Whatever. When - if - you organise readings in the public spaces of your city, I hope you will take, along with the piece you plan to read aloud, some of the nuance of Deepa D's post (Deepa was at Jaipur). In fact, perhaps someone could read her piece out loud. I just want to say 'What she said'.

Here's some of it:
It's not Rushdie's fault or responsibility that growing up in a Hindu-dominant culture reading mostly English I had not been exposed to any writings about early Islam and the Prophet's life. Nor is it his fault that while cultural osmosis around me gave me sympathetic factoids and apocryphal anecdotes and reverant narratives about Krishna and Buddha and Mahavir and Nanak and even Jesus, so that I could understand how they fit into the context of religious veneration--the anti-Muslim bigotry around me was insidious and pervasive enough so as to strip any such dignity or familiarity away from Mohammad. I was lent Martin Ling's book by a Muslim friend at a time when I was just beginning to unpack how very communal and anti-Islam the default culture around me was. We discussed The Satanic Verses briefly; it was an emotional experience for him to try to explain his dislike of it. I am better equipped to empathy now, after having been exposed to how a wider world chooses to talk about and treat the gods and mystics that matter to me.

I defend the rationality of being offended by a misrepresentation of what one holds sacred. I defend the right of those in the marginalised, threatened or oppressed position in a hierarchy to challenge and question and reject those ideas and stories that reinforce the injustice being done to them.

But no matter how much value I may want ascribed to non-physical violence--be it economic, ideological, legal or cultural--I do not wish to downplay my rejection of physical violence. In the hours it has taken me to write this, I scroll up and compare my kneejerk irritation at the JKF (sic) Rushdie imbroglio to the aching empathy I felt for Rashid in Haroun and the Sea of Stories, exiled from the source of his stories. Free speech and it's consequent debates around book banning, censorship and the like is one thing. But bodies imprisoned or exiled because of threat of violence, translators stabbed, defenders beaten;** this is wholly more absolute injustice. I consider the written word sacred enough that though I have felt the desire to do damage to a book, I could never imagine ripping, or burning or physically harming even the most loathsome text. How much more sacred then, is even the most antagonistic human soul, the source for those words, enshrined in a fragile and totally irreplaceable body.

A banned book may be resurrected, a dead person cannot be.

For all my reservations, minor and major, with the various champions of these various causes, I don't want my doubts and disagreements to negate my fundamental support of people speaking out against what they (and I) see as injustice.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Advance notice: War Horse

Yes, okay, so I'm going to watch War Horse on Sunday. The kid is the excuse, but I promise to retain an open mind - by which I mean, I anticipate that I will dislike the film immensely (despite its few compensations) and will duly report my experiences.

I realise, with horror, that I haven't written about any films since May or June last year*. Not even just to be nasty.

So in anticipation, and as preliminary preparation, I thought I'd remind you guys what it used to be like here when I talked cinema: Slumdog, Dasvidaniya, about the Asian Awards and so on.

Thank god for people like Banno, I tell you. (Here, for instance, just for your reading pleasure, is Banno on Ghajini. )

I'm in danger of forgetting I ever used to have anything to do with cinema.

So, I promise to bring despatches back from the front. Stay tuned.


*Announcements, naturally, don't count.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Alice Walker on travelling to Palestine

I can't even pull a section to quote. Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Speak, Celebrity

Yes, more than one post - what's happening to me?

Had to - had to -  link to Speak, Celebrity. I landed there when someone linked to Samuel Jackson reading Neruda, and lovely it is too, but it wasn't long before I had three poems on loop from another celebrity whose Voice is...just... *swoons*

*and cannot answer eager, curious questions.*

Carson's interstitial poetry

I adore Anne Carson. I want Nox but I probably want her Antigonik more. I mean, just look at this:

Of course, I'm obssessed with Antigone, so that's another reason to get this whenever I can.

There's a general post brewing about theatre, triggered by Swar's comment here last month; one of these days, I shall actually sit and write it all down.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Screening of Partners in Crime

Paromita Vohra's new feature-length documentary, Partners in Crime will be screened at the Prasad's Preview Theatre and at the Department of Communications, University of Hyderabad. Details:

Date: 11th February, Saturday
Time: 3.30pm tea, screening 4pm
Venue: Prasad Preview Theatre, Rd No 2, Banjara Hills, Hyderabad

Date: 15th February, Wednesday
Time: 3:45 pm
Venue: Department of Communication, University of Hyderabad, Gachibowli, Hyderabad-500046

About the film:
Is piracy organized crime or class struggle? Are alternative artists who want to hold rights over their art and go it alone in the market, visionaries or nutcases? Is the fine line between plagiarism and inspiration a cop-out or a whole other way of looking at the fluid nature of authorship? Who owns a song – the person who made it or the person who paid for it? When more than three fourths of those with an internet connection download all sorts of material for free, are they living out a brand new cultural freedom – or are they criminals?
Metal heads who market their own music, folklorists who turn tribal aphorisms into short stories, music archivists who hoard and share everything they can get their hands on, anti-piracy fanatics who think piracy funds terrorism, a smooth talking DVD street salesman who outlines the efficiency of the illegal market, media moguls, lobbyists, “monetizers, downloaders, uploaders, the biggest hit song of 2010 and the small time nautanki singer whose song it was inspired by – these places and people throng the world’s bazaar in which the film is set. Partners in Crime takes you througha story about art, crime, love and money to check if the times, they may be a-changing after all.

For some reason, can't embed the Youtube clip, so here it is.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

'What he had to say was poetry'

I love this man.

To Murray Lerner, a middle-aged filmmaker from New York whose camera crews had documented every moment of the festival, the effect was hypnotic. Throughout five days of performances, he’d been too busy shouting out orders to stop and listen to the music. But Cohen’s words made him put down his camera and look up at the man on stage. Two hours earlier, Lerner was packing up his equipment, certain that the fires and the violence would lead to a massive stampede. He was ready to run for shelter. But now everything was still, and Lerner had no idea how Leonard Cohen had pulled it off. Standing beside Lerner, Joan Baez was equally baffled. “People say that a song needs to make sense,” she told the filmmaker. “Leonard proves otherwise. It doesn’t necessarily make sense at all, it just comes from so deep inside of him, it somehow touches deep down inside other people. I’m not sure how it works, but I know that it works.” Lerner nodded in agreement as he listened. It reminded him of something he’d once read T.S. Eliot say of Dante—that the genius of poetry was that it communicated before it was understood.

On stage, Cohen was done with the ephemera. He was smiling. He turned to his band mates frequently now, nodding his head encouragingly or saying a kind word or two. In his confidence, he decided it was time to speak honestly. He played a few basic chords and delivered a short speech-song.
“They gave me some money, for my sad and famous song,” he sang. “They said the crowd is waiting, hurry up or they’ll be gone. But I could not change my style, and I guess I never will. So I sing this for the poison snakes on Devastation Hill.” And then came a noisy, joyous rendition of “Diamonds in the Mine,” with Charlie Daniels singeing the strings and Bob Johnston, playing piano, pounding happily on the keys.

“He’s taking them on,” said Kristofferson, standing a few feet away with Lerner and Baez. “He’s taking the fuckers right on.”


Thursday, February 02, 2012

Wislawa Szymborska, RIP

All over my news stream today, that Wislawa Szymborska has died.

Image from:
In memoriam, then, because what else is there to say:

Evaluation of an Unwritten Poem 

by Wislawa Szymborska

In the poem's opening words
the authoress asserts that while the Earth is small,
the sky is excessively large and
in it there are, I quote, "too many stars for our own good."

In her depiction of the sky, one detects a certain helplessness,
the authoress is lost in a terrifying expanse,
she is startled by the planets' lifelessness,
and within her mind (which can only be called imprecise)
a question soon arises:
whether we are, in the end, alone
under the sun, all suns that ever shone.

 In spite of all the laws of probability! And today's universally accepted assumptions! In the face of the irrefutable evidence that may fall into human hands any day now! That's poetry for you.  Meanwhile, our Lady Bard returns to Earth,
a planet, so she claims, which "makes its rounds without eyewitnesses,"
the only "science fiction that our cosmos can afford."
The despair of a Pascal (1623-1662, note mine)
is, the authoress implies, unrivalled
on any, say, Andromeda or Cassiopeia.
Our solitary existence exacerbates our sense of obligation,
and raises the inevitable question, How are we to live et cetera,
since "we can't avoid the void."
"'My God,' man calls out to Himself,
'have mercy on me, I beseech thee, show me the way

 The authoress is distressed by the thought of life squandered so freely,
as if our supplies were boundless.
She is likewise worried by wars, which are, in her perverse opinion,
always lost on both sides,
and by the "authoritorture" (sic!) of some people by others. 
Her moralistic intentions glimmer throughout the poem.  
They might shine brighter beneath a less naive pen.  Not under this one, alas.  Her fundamentally unpersuasive thesis

(that we may well be, in the end, alone
under the sun, all suns that ever shone)
combined with her lackadaisical style (a mixture
of lofty rhetoric and ordinary speech)
forces the question: Whom might this piece convince?
The answer can only be: No one.  Q. E. D.