Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goodbye to all that

Goodbye to the musicians, the film makers, the actors, the writers, the politicians, the scientists, the environmentalists.

To the ones who were on the threshold of life, the ones who had to flee, the ones who died too young.

Goodbye to the deaths, the accidents, the illnesses, the life changes in each one of your lives.

Goodbye also, to the good things: whatever they were, and however various, small, briefly overwhelming. (We are all unhappy in the same ways; the ways of happiness are more slippery and indescribable).

Goodbye to the warmest year, month on month, since ever. Goodbye to the polar icecaps.

Goodbye to the friendships and the relationships that ended. To the ones who went away, to the things that were completed.

To the things you gave away, gifted, sent on, shared out, distributed.

Goodbye, 2016. We thought you'd never end.

Hello, 2017. We're watching you (even as we're being watched).

Monday, December 26, 2016

His last christmas: RIP George Michael

It's getting to the point when I'm afraid to count the ones that remain. I have words but I can't say them, because it's Bowie, Prince, George Michael, all those people who made my 80s teen years what they were.

Today I will make a Wham!/George Michael playlist and listen. There's one week left in the year but I can say with certainty that 2016 is childhood's end.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi

Yesterday, a classmate from school got married for the first time. This is unusual and calls for a celebration. For which reason, many of my other classmates who are still in India, will have flown to Delhi to be there to...I guess celebrate.

Despite the heading of this piece, it's not like he and I are - or were - best buddies. We are friends in the way that all classmates are friends decades after they spent any actual time with each other: when I'm in Delhi, I call him and if anybody else who's around and free, we all go out for a drink and hang out for a while. If he comes to Hyderabad, I don't know about it. There was another friend's wedding a couple of months ago and I know he came to that, but I wasn't in town.

I didn't go, not just because I can't, at the moment, but also because I feel that the time for attending Delhi weddings is firmly behind me now. I just can't. 

Finally, I wasn't actually invited. I got to know through another close friend who lives in Delhi. She invited me over enthusiastically, said if I stayed with her we'd have a blast through the week-long festivities and so on. At the time I said, maybe, yes, okay, it'll be fun, why not.

But still no invitation from the person getting married. I believe invites were issued on Facebook and WhatsApp and other social media I will never sign up for. I shrugged and let it slide. I had things to do.

Later, towards the end of November or the beginning of this month, I finally bit the bullet and called my classmate to offer congratulations. There was no reply. Later, one message: he'd been abroad, missed my call, these were the dates of the wedding and reception and it would be lovely if I could come.

You already know the end of this story, such as it is, because I already told you I didn't go. 

But I did wonder about how there were going to be days of celebration (per my friend, before demonetisation was announced) or if those things had changed (I'll bet they didn't, though). It all felt rather Roman and my mood wasn't quite consonant with celebration, even for such delusional things as marriage. (What, after all, is left to us if not a happy state of collective delusion.) Still and all.

And lately, as misanthropic as I have become, I find the company of most the people I spent my teen years with rather trying. The thought of flights through fog-paralysed airports, wedding-level clothes, gifts, conversations through clenched teeth while huddled around angeethis, the dampness of the grass seeping through one's inadequate footwear was just too much for my already actively anxious imagination.

I spared a few moments to wonder who went, where they stayed, what the reunion must have been like. What did they talk about? Mostly I have uncharitable scenarios in my head, so I won't air them. I am sure they were all genuinely happy to see each other and happy for my friend who, at a time when many of our contemporaries might have daughters of marriageable age (if they're traditionalist), was getting married for the first time in his life.

In my head I wish him every happiness. I haven't been close enough to know, as I did a couple of months ago when my other friend (whom I mentioned earlier) got married. She had very clear ideas about how she wanted her wedding to go, from the priestess who would preside, to the family's hand made decorations - I know every member of her family, including young ones, were involved and enthu - and it truly seemed like a joyous occasion. 

I hope that's what my classmate's wedding was like, even if I didn't see it or its preps up close. Because that's a good way to get married.


Saturday, December 03, 2016

Book (loot)

This post exists to cheer myself up. (I typed 'cheet' by mistake. Make of that what you will).

A couple of weeks ago, a second hand bookshop here that I haunt from time to time, was selling books by the kg for a limited time. I was worried. I assumed they were going out of business (like AA Hussain a few months before) and were clearing their stock. 

Turned out I was wrong and they were doing this just for fun.

So went and I won't bore you with the details or even how much the loot weighed. Here it is. There are some books missing, notable among them a Joan Aiken (Wolves 1) and perhaps other things that have already scattered to different bookshelves in the house.

I am especially thrilled with the Ugresic, because I stupidly gave away a book by her some years ago. By mistake.

I should mention that only all the books from the Kingsolver on are part of the loot. Mimus was a gift.


It's list time. Soon, just to reverse the cheering up I'm doing, I will post a mini recap of this year. Until then, at least there were good books. 

Off the top of my head - because I really don't keep a Books Read list like I ought to - there's: Elena Ferrante, NK Jemisin's Broken Earth Parts 1 & 2, Sean Borodale's Bee Journal, Lisa Suhair Majaj's Geographies of Light, le Carre's Pigeon Tunnel, Eric Kastner's Emil books.

(These aren't all the books I read; just the ones I'll remember as having made a difference to me).

There must be more, but if I can't remember them, they're either doing their work in silence or they've fallen on fallow ground.


(Checks self to monitor level of cheered-up-ness. Detects no appreciable difference. 

Exit, pursued by the other list wanting to be made.)

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Things We Said Today

First of the month, I call the local medical store to read out a list of meds for my mother. (Actually, this is the first time I'll be doing it so don't look at me like the I'm the world's most organised daughter.)

So I'm making a list, a master list of whatever she's likely to need at any point, so that I can just look at my phone instead of hunt for a name through the popped out pills on the ruins of a pad. Or, indeed, her medical file.

"Is this thing for your cholestrol or your BP?"

"The yellow thing is for the BP. I think. The other one is in the bubble-shaped thing."

I say a sharp thing or two about a wilful return to illiteracy that I am not proud of. I take the meds to her and ask her to clarify. She does, and I make my list.

As I continue making the list, I ask her, "What the name of that probiotic thing you have?"

I am losing words just as she is, and I know there's a word for it that I can't remember. 

No, it's not illiteracy.


Friday, November 11, 2016

'I'm ready my lord' - RIP Leonard Cohen

I'm shaking with the news of this death though with the new album it seemed imminent.

It's like he waited to deliver to the world the darkness we wanted and then left. Another artist who timed his exit impeccably and with bitter irony.

If Bowie signalled the beginning of a terrible year, I hope Cohen's signals the end of it. I hope we've sunk as low as it's possible to go. But I'm not sanguine because only a fool can believe there isn't worse in store.

Hineni, hineni. I'm ready my lord.'

Rest in peace, Leonard.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Memory Bank: Weird Conditioner

Since I seem to be raiding my memory bank these days and since friends seem to think I am 'blogging again', here's another one.

This conditioner I have just bought smells of sickly sweet flowers that don't exist in real life, but in an alternate reality where 'floral' means this smell. 

When I smell it, I think of Mills and Boons swollen with having been in bathrooms through hours of bathing, through power cuts in the peak of summer and when you tried to choose MBs that were set in winter or in exotically cold countries but failing which you read what you got.

One MB with its wavy pages smelled like this conditioner when I opened it. It had an 80s cover, which mean that that wave that was not meant to be in the pages, was on the top third of the cover. 

It might have been that Charlotte Lamb one where the innocent girl falls in love with a much older painter and is betrayed by him after what I now realise is a statutory rape. Some years later, once she recovers from the heartbreak, she goes to art school and starts dating a boy who seems oddly familiar and if you know MBs at all, you'll know how this ends.

Those wavy waterlogged pages, though. They're the only reason I don't throw away this conditioner. And a constitutional inability to throw away things that are still useful.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Evesdropping (music memories)

The bathroom has a ventilator high above where, if we're not vigilant, pigeons will roost and begin their endless, gulping noise. 

That bathroom, from my childhood had a window instead of a ventilator. Luckily, because one time we forgot our keys and they sent me in through one of those bathroom windows.

My bathroom was upstairs. (I realised only in a late adulthood what luxury it denoted to say 'my bathroom'). I was an unusual child in that I spent a lot of hours there, making alchemical concoctions that I would innocently offer to robbers who would, of course, drink it and die or at least be in great pain.

I must have been ten when the younger brother - much younger - of a colleague of my father's visited his family who lived a few doors down from us. All the older girls called dibs on his time and I was old enough to be jealous but too young to expect to make the same claims on his time. 

One evening, returning home, I saw him making a long, reluctant goodbye to a girl who was my neighbour and whom I disliked for the way she made sly fun of me. I hurried upstairs to my bathroom, which was strategically above where they were standing. Luckily, the window was open. I was careful not to turn the lights on and I tiptoed to stand where no streetlight would fall on me if they were distracted enough to look up instead of at each other.

I can't remember anything I heard, if I heard anything at all. Their voices were a murmur and I think I grew hot with rage, though no doubt this is an invented memory of an emotion. Most likely I tried to fidget noiselessly and held my breath a lot and strained to hear anything at all. I didn't dare actually peep.

What annoyed me most was the bad taste this young man was displaying. Just a few days earlier, he had made me feel very grown up by discussing music with me. He asked me what I listened to and I, conscious of my parents' fledgling collection of records* that included the respectable but too obvious Beatles (I was, at this point, on the verge on my lifelong Beatlemania), the Savages (I think? The album art was red and black. ETA: No, I'm obviously wrong but what in heavens name was that album?!), Jim Reeves (which I knew not to acknowledge, so there was hope for me) and many carnatic LPs, said I listened to carnatic music. 

The young man, I was sure, was mocking me when he gravely replied that his music tastes weren't quite so advanced and I suddenly remembered something I needed to do.

A few days ago my son, who was in Delhi briefly on his way elsewhere, was at an old friend's place. He called to say he was having a great time and they were listening to Jim Reeves. I was horrified. Jim Reeves?! Yes, he said. He sounded somewhat taken aback. And George Baker, he added. Don't know him, I replied promptly. Una Paloma Blanca? he asked.


Where on earth are you finding this music, I asked. Apparently my friend has a new record player and her mother has dug out all these ancient LPs - I really should call them vinyl now, shouldn't I? - and hence all the Jim Reeveses and George Bakers. 

Now that I think of it, most of my parents' peers and friends had odd collections, dependent, I suppose, on what was popular and saleable. This meant Harry Belafonte, Jim Reeves and stuff like that, to support the other stuff that people also bought. If I remember good records, it was in the houses of those who travelled abroad often, and/or whose children had specific and sophisticated taste in music. Most of the rest of us who owned a record player bought what we could get and thus was our music taste formed.

Of course, this narrative can't account for the sudden and thrilling popularity of Osibisa in my town but that must be another story, one that needs to rely more on research and less on a faulty memory.
*For an awesome radiogram that my father had made and which looked mostly like this.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Oh, just because

Because it's October.
Because there's a nip in the air mornings and evenings and the sky hangs with gold dust.
Because I made a garland out of December poo in October.
Because the rains have gone or are in hiding.
Because there was purple and red.
Because a classmate is getting married (in December) for the first time and this is possible.
Because there will be saris.
Because I am home alone, only not.
Because the kid wrote a poem that was published in a journal.
Because of vetiver.
Because I wrote two letters yesterday by hand, both long.
Because I slept well last night (and apparently these days that's worth mentioning).

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

(A Short) Song of Myself

There are things I've failed to link to and - by some miracle, since I seem to be blogging again - here are a couple of things I've been doing.

Some time in the summer, Janice Pariat asked me to send her some poems, there: irreverence, so she could curate six poets' works for Poetry at Sangam's July issue. Because I haven't really been writing much, it was a struggle to find anything that was unpublished, much less truly irreverent. I sent her something anyway, and here they are: 'Untitled' and 'Three False Starts and a Conclusion'.

Earlier even, in the year, I was one of the poets participating in the Poets Translating Poets marathon that the Goethe Institut had been doing since 2015. In February, the carnival made a pit stop in Hyderabad, bringing German poets Sylvia Geist and Tom Schulz, as well as Jeet Thayil (Hyderabad was where the anglophone English poets were going to meet the German poets). 

We worked for four days translating each others' poems and it was intense and for me a little bit scary, never having translated anything before. But as the days went on, it was also very energising.*

Once that part was over and the readings happened at Kala Ghoda in Feb, it all subsided for a bit, though we knew there was more in the pipeline.

That happens now. Since the summer, poets have been travelling to Germany, to literature festivals where they read with the poets they've translated and been translated by.

This is one of the four readings I'll be doing in Germany is September. There are others in Dresden, Leipzig, and - after Berlin - Hamburg.**

(All things considered, I've stretched out a very short song into a long one.)


*In my usual fashion, I assumed this was a signal that I would be unusually productive in my own writing. I never learn.

**Needless to say, if any one reading this is going to be in Germany between the 14th and the 23rd of Sept, mail me! 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Not Who but How to Move the Cheese

In Monday morning frivolity, this entire thread on cheese and the replies that follow (which I am still reading), for your delectation.

But first, here's the problem:
For complicated / irrelevant reasons a friend has suddenly acquired 18 pounds of Red Leicester cheese. It is good quality. However (again, complicated reasons) the cheese must be moved, used or transformed into something else within the next 72 hours or so.

My friend lives mostly on his own, so can't have a cheese party, and does not want the neighbors finding out about this cheese anyway so cannot invite them. He can't eat it all in this time for health reasons (18 pounds). There are no food banks nearby he can donate to, and moving the cheese is problematic anyway (though not impossible). He can cook, though not to a great extent. It would be a shame for this cheese to just be disposed of; what else could he do with it? Are there recipes that can use up 18 pounds of cheese and transform it into (preferably) foodstuff that are not cheese-centric?
Via the amazing Aisha, who is off in Ireland watching Mohenjo Daro (and is also probably looking through cartons of papers).

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Suddenly there are links

Hello. It's been a long time, been a long time, been a long time. There are things I've been reading and liking on twitter and then I thought of this place so here are links to things.

1. Bezwada Wilson, who won the Magsaysay Award recently, in an interview with Business Standard (behind the paywall, unfortunately. I'm not even sure how I managed to read the whole thing, but I did, via someone on twitter) strongly critical of the PM and the Guajarat Govt and it's police. Words to the effect of how the PM saying 'don't shoot them, shoot me' is silly theatrics because the ruling party, being a majority, should be perfectly capable of making sure the rule of law is obeyed. He also talks about the protests in Una, among other things.

2. Madhusree Mukerjee's review of Sonia Faleiro's 13 Men. Faleiro's book is an investigation into the reported gang rape of an adivasi girl in Subalpur. Mukerjee, who also investigated the event in depth, has several critiques to make of Faleiro's book.
As it happens, I have also investigated the case at length, and studied the available documents in their original script (English and Bengali). I concluded, however, that the official story, which is also Faleiro’s, is about as believable as the tiger story in Life of Pi. It’s such a thrilling story, though – such a perfect fit with mainstream notions of rural primitivism, which we, as the ‘modern’ and the ‘enlightened’, are striving to eradicate – that it effortlessly assumes the mantle of truth. A rape may have indeed taken place (it is hard to know for sure) but the evidence adduced to convict all 13 men, and even more significantly, to condemn systems of justice that are crucial to adivasi identity and autonomy, is exceedingly thin. In what follows I will tell both stories, including some evidence that Faleiro left out, and let the reader decide whether justice has been served or ravished.
3. Arul Mani, entertaining as always, on Brahman Naman (a film I should watch, I think). It's the kind of writing that still needs some kind of a long form blog platform, thank god. No tweeting or tumbling this kind of a piece.

This, we find, is Ash, a girl whose braces seem to glint only to reflect how dazzled she is with Naman. Her face is forever a flower opening out in mute offering. In these opening moments she is framed in the humiliations of the gaze that the boys direct at her. Being interested and available is one disability. Being quite unlike the more pneumatic creatures who gallop in slo-mo through their imagination is her other disability.

And yet this derisory gaze is a bit of a red herring. The same camera is ambiguous about whether the crucial answer that wins them the quiz (Mills and Boon) comes from Naman, or from her.  She is a trouper, and does not let being whacked aside like a rubber ball deter her from trying again. The film eventually allows us to step aside and see her as she is.

This rara avis of those benighted times we shall call the pioneer-hudugi. Who stood out not because she wore shady matching-matching outfits as she zipped past on a Kinetic, but because she was expert at ignoring pecking orders, and scaling walls, real and metaphorical, in those very outfits. I have known several, and learnt, slowly, to treasure and admire the superior fire that they carried within. Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy plays exactly such a pioneer-hudugi to note-perfection, reaching deep to find awkwardness and a kind of raw grace. Her Ash wears the wrong clothes, sourced from the wrong regional language films, and says the wrong things (‘It’s an honour to quiz with you, Naman.’) but brings dil [20] and a sure sense of self to the small job of climbing out of the well that the disdain of the boy-talent in her world consigns her to. The film is as much about her as it is about Brahman Naman.
 Also, there are a million footnotes.

4. After ages and ages, Adoor Gopalakrishnan has a new film, Pinneyum. In an interview today in the Hindu, he is asked if he watches new films. And he says:
Only if they have something special. I don’t have the patience or time to sit through most of them.
Mm hmm.

4. Oh,ok. Looks like that's it for now. There were other things but those are to say and not to link to, so that's another post. 

5. ETA: Oooh! Via Nilanjana, this essay on Saki by one of my favourite contemporary children's writers, Katherine Rundell (If you haven't read Rooftoppers and The Wolf Wilder, rectify this immediately). This is probably the heart of Rundell's essay:
To read a Saki story is to hire an assassin. There have been many attempts in the last hundred years to re-create that specific Saki feeling; the pleasures of laying waste to convention combined with the quickening promise of something wilder in its stead. Nobody has yet managed it entirely, but in the pursuit of Saki a great deal of gleeful choler has been produced. If you were feeling ungenerous, you might compare the writing of an introduction to an animal marking out territory (the same could be said of writing essays for literary publications), and so it is with the list of writers who have introduced Saki’s work: Noël Coward, A.N. Wilson, Tom Sharpe, Will Self. Coward’s use of Sakian humour, though, is constrained by his urgent pursuit of the next punchline; Sharpe’s has a seaside postcard quality that has dated more in forty years than Saki’s has in a hundred. Saki is often said to ring through the novels of P.G. Wodehouse, but Wodehouse turns his raw material into something far gentler than Saki did; there is kindness in Saki but not sweetness, and in a truly Sakian Wodehouse story, Bertie would be trapped under a piece of vintage furniture and torn apart by the dog Bartholomew. Coward and Saki do both give off-kilter advice, and they are at their most archetypal when laying down the law. Coward renders schoolboy humour urbane: ‘Never trust a man with short legs; his brains are too near his bottom.’ Saki is calmly outlandish: ‘Never be flippantly rude to any inoffensive grey-bearded stranger that you may meet in pine forests or hotel smoking-rooms on the Continent. It always turns out to be the King of Sweden.’ The work in Coward’s quips is audible; in Saki’s it is undetectable. As with Donne, Nabokov and Spark, the mechanisms of wit are unseen and so inimitable.  
Oh, an Tipu Sultan's man-eating mechanical tiger puts in an appearance.


Friday, July 15, 2016

Monsoon Summer

Out one window, the smell of concrete being mixed. Out the other, the green smell of crushed vegetation.

a wasp is throwing itself against one of these window panes. Guess which one.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Abbas Kiarostami, RIP

So many deaths this year and each one feels like a blow, feels personal; and 2016 keeps on giving, mostly by taking away.

Abbas Kiarostami, who died yesterday,  has slipped several knives in the gut with his films over the years, and he did it again by dying so untimely. 

I don't even know what to say. I feel a frisson when I think of the time he delivered the Aravindan lecture at IFFK and we got to listen to him and to watch Five, with him somewhere in the theatre. 

I also feel a huge sense of loss. Escape Artist had both Forugh Farrokhzad and Abbas Kiarostami at its heart.

Here's a poem from his collection Wolf Lying in Wait

Monday, 4th July, 2016. RIP, Kiarostami.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Cryptic #8

Half a life or none.

That is the question. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Ghosts of Spaniards Past

So here we are, one decade old.

I'm coming out of a 26 hour power cut that feels as metaphoric as it was literal. I feel wrung out.

I composed a post in my head in the early evening yesterday when I was still optimistic and thought that the power would be back in an hour or two. Sadly, that post, along with my brains, has been composted. I no longer recall what I might have wanted to say.

But here's a thing I must celebrate: the sheer bloody - mindedness of this blog and how it's survived all the shinier attractions of facebook, twitter and tumblr makes me preen a bit.

( Can one preen while being bloody - minded? I don't know the etiquette for this situation.)

As for the rest, I've shown myself like an annual ghost but I can't guarantee further appearances.

When I started this blog, I sensed that I was on the brink of terrible and wonderful things. At that time, words and the people who dealt in them, were my refuge.

Ten years on, I can feel the wheel turning and though I can spot the terrible times in the near distance, I don't know if they're accompanied by the wonderful or I don't have the ability to recognise it if I saw it.

This time, there's an absence of words. I don't know what might replace them.

So, I guess what I am doing is spinning my imminent absence in one more way.

If you're reading, hello and thank you.

Spaniard out.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Symptoms of Heat: #9

When the head is a heat sensor. When every shift in light and temperature is registered in the quality and grade of ache. When it can predict hailstorms in a nearby district. When the hair stands up with nothing to provide static. When oil cools the scalp by drawing out the heat, evaporating. When the eyes feel like they're setting, like eggs gently poached.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Statutory Spring Post

I mean, I'm being all cheerless and weary in the title, but this has to be my favourite season of the year. 

We were near Tank Bund a couple of days ago, and the Golden Tabibuia were blazing in full bloom. In other places, the Tabibuia Rosea. I spotted lost trees that have made space for things entirely urban. 

Some trees are still shedding dusty leaves, diagonally when there's a blessed breeze otherwise in a dry rattle downwards. Like a classroom full of children working at their own pace, each tree is bare or in full leaf, moving to its own clock. 

I'd like to say that the ones that are no longer bare have fresh, new leaves. Sadly, they are dusty and look older than their days. No brown-green of mango, neem and peepal, no pale green, translucent leaves of the pungamaram.

It's also unseasonably hot. This city has been 38C and slightly higher for the last four days. Night temperatures are in the region of 22C. It's spring only in name. No breeze, no mild turning, the beginning of a season that now lasts for most of the year.

But look up and there are still bees, and flowers that should last until the next full moon.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

RIP: Lee-Eco

It's a grim two months of reaping and, given that a particular generation must grow old and die, more in store this year.

Harper Lee, Umberto Eco, RIP.

These two bookended my teen years, with To Kill A Mockingbird at the beginning of it and The Name of the Rose at the end. In between, all the space their individual books provided to seek out and delight in the extraordinary: a particular voice or way of being in the world, a dimly grasped idea that a murder mystery was just an excuse for a lot of complicated things. And somewhere, the feeling that though reading these authors and others like them set me irrevocably apart from the rest of my peers, I didn't mind it much at all.

And whatever retrospective adjustments I may have made to how I think about these two writers, with their passing they take away one part of my teenage self. 

(I also find myself anxiously watching for news of Godard and Herzog.) 

Friday, February 12, 2016


Checked my blog stats by chance on a day when there was an inexplicable spike in the number of visitors. Like, over a 1,000, which never happens. It's not like I've posted much, let alone anything controversial or even topical.

The evergreens are those poems and choruses that everyone comes for: Edwin Morgan, Anouilh's Antigone, Marachera, a couple more things. More recently, it becomes evident that board exams are round the corner and people are looking for things on schools. So Shantamma, that post about conversations about schools and Rishi Valley keep getting read.

But otherwise? *shrug* Who knows why anyone still reads this blog? (This is not ingratitude. I'm glad the three or four of you who still check in are around).


'Spike' also reminds me of reading at the University of Hyderabad with Kazim Ali. I read my ghazal, in the last line of which is the word 'spike'. Kazim, following a train of thought set off my poem, suddenly decided to read a new one he'd written, and which he had to read off his laptop. It had something to do with the word 'spike' but the only thing I remember about it is that was preceded by a story about a sect of mystical men who swear to wear trousers with drop-crotches, to catch any babies they might have.

Yes. I am not dreaming this up. I was not on anything.


That ghazal I wrote, it was one of the poems I sent in for a couple of German poets to translate. This is the Poets Translating Poets project that the Max Mueller Bhavan has been doing all of 2015. Hyderabad was the penultimate stop, and in January, Jeet Thayil, Jameela Nishat, A. Jayaprabha and I translated poems by German poets Sylvia Geist and Tom Schulz. We each had to translate a minimum of four poems and submit four for the Germans to translate.

I thought it would be fun to give them a ghazal. Sylvia took it on. She said she avoids rhymes and form in her own poetry because it comes too easily *envy* but was thrilled to work on it in translation.

I don't have enough - or indeed, any - German to judge the results. They'll be up on a website eventually, and you lot can do the needful. Instead of talking rhyme words and form, I remember googling images for that office object newspapers and restaurants use, to spike bills and memos and things. 

For some reason, it was particularly important to have the right image in one's head before attempting a translation.

The whole exercise was fun, exhausting, but I'm still wondering if it was useful. As a first pass at something, sure. But as a final translation? I feel process ought to be privileged over product, but what do I know?


The other thing that's spiked is the temperature. Early Feb and we were already at 36C. Night temperatures are at 22C. Our year is one unending summer punctuated by a few days of deluge and a week or so of mild chill and mist.

My wrists already have mild burns from any encounter with the laptop. This summer - now - I intend to go offline as much as possible, return to pen and ink (okay, not ink; but some reasonable substitute), and try to get accustomed to having nearly no electricity.

We have to be the only people in this city to not have an inverter or a generator. Plan to keep it that way.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The Sideways Door has closed

I've decided to close The Sideways Door.

Even up to the time I wrote the column at the end of January, I had no idea I meant to, so soon. I had said in an earlier column that the month in which I get no responses is the month in which the Sideways Door will close.

As it happened, I didn't wait for that disaster. 

I don't have one reason why; just a state of mind that makes it difficult to produce words and a general fatigue will thinking up prompts. It seemed like the right time - to leave when people will miss something.

So this door's closed, but you know what they say about doors and windows. Thanks to all those who wrote, shared, read and enjoyed (I hope) the columns and the poetry.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"Hatred in the Belly" or How We Celebrate the Day We Got a Constitution

Yesterday in the post, a copy of Hatred in the Belly published by the Ambedkar Age Collective.

It's a book I've only dipped into but I would recommend it to anyone interested in the debate around the appropriation of discourse about caste. 

Okay, let me rephrase that: when Arundhati Roy wrote ... actually, what was it that she wrote? An introduction? An essay appended to the beginning of Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste?

Begin again: A couple of years ago, Navayana published what it called "The Annotated Critical Edition" of Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste. [I won't link to the Amazon page; you can google it for yourself and have a laugh at how A.Roy is listed as the Illustrator of the book. This after people protested how online retailers were listing Roy as the AUTHOR of the work. Can we talk about appropriation?]

Round Table India and many other dalit writers, artists, academics had lengthy critiques about this shameless appropriation [see above] and - worse - shoddy reading of Ambedkar's work which, for some mysterious reason, gave more footage to Gandhi than it did to Ambedkar.


All of that excellent material online, but nothing available to people with no knowledge about Round Table India.

So the Ambedkar Age Collective gathered and curated a lot of the material into a book that goes against the grain of what a mainstream publisher would call 'saleable'. It has illustrations, poems, essays, conversations, transcripts of social media interactions - it attempts, in fact, to bring offline, the nature of discussion and debate conducted online.

With a brief Introduction by Kuffir Nalgundwar and Anu Ramdas [who can be found on FB] that provides a context to how the book came to be, it begins with a poem that says in essence what I think the rest of the book will elaborate via different approaches:

But what I don't understand is
this one thing - 
In the name of 'solidarity'
Will you do just anything you like?
Using the parachute of your social privileges
Will you land and install yourself ahead of this caravan too?
And tell us
How to walk?
How to think?

This is especially relevant when you notice that in the wake of Rohith Vemula's death at the University of Hyderabad on the 17th, and through the subsequent protests and debates, how many articles that have appeared in the mainstream media have been by savarna journalists explaining caste to the rest of the world. [With no links, because who wants to give them more airtime, and off the top of my head, there's been Ananya Vajpeyi, Shiv Vishwanathan, Mohan Guruswamy, Manu Joseph, PB Mehta.]

Against that, there've been some great pieces by Meena Kandasamy, Yashica Dutt and her Dalit Discrimination tumblr and this especially moving piece by Rohith Vemula's transgender friend, Karthik Bittu Kondiah

Why I mention all this in the context of Hatred in the Belly is that while it may not be news to most people that discrimination and atrocities against dalits continue, it might be news that in the recent amplification of these atrocities, there is an attempt on the part of savarna 'intellectuals' to hijack the narrative and to curate the discourse about caste.

When, really, it would just be better to shut up and listen.

(As a minor aside, when I tried to make this point in the lead up to a recent poetry reading at Lamakaan - which was billed as an evening of protest poetry, coincidentally scheduled a few days after Rohith's suicide - I got caught in a hilarious but also frustrating correspondence with the manager of Lamakaan, who thought I was saying I didn't want to bring up the matter of the suicide during the reading. Nope. I was saying this was the best time for me to not read and that they should get a dalit poet to read instead. But, as I said, that is another story that shall probably never be told).

And let's not forget that today is Republic Day. Automatically a good day to think about Ambedkar, his writings, and the interpretation of it by those to whom he spoke in his lifetime.

Oh - and go get Hatred in the Belly. You're unlikely to see reviews of it in the papers or elsewhere. When I'm done reading it, I will write about it here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

David Bowie: "Look up here, I'm in heaven"

Did you know he was ill? I didn't know he was ill. I only knew there was a new album, because that's what all the tweets from the weekend were about. 

But look - there was Lazarus and it wasn't even a clue, it was goodbye. 

All these people who die close to the dates when they were born, these perfectionists, they hurt.

If you grew up in the 70s and 80s, it was impossible not to know Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane/Bowie. Do you remember the music stores in them days? How there were LPs and the new-fangled cassettes but also! posters!

There was a certain kind of person who had Freddie Mercury posters and David Bowie posters and - flamboyant though those images were - the people tended to get lost in the noise of Wham! or MJ and others.

That's the icon. That knowledge or image, music, persona, performance - all of it was retrospective. (When I think of Bowie, I think inevitably of Tilda Swinton and Derek Jarman). My relationship with Bowie's music was not visceral but I can't imagine my childhood without it. He was a part of my process of becoming someone I half-understood I wanted to be.

Yesterday, twitter was (as a friend put it) a wall of grief. There was great stuff: anecdotes, interviews, quotes, replies to fan letters, and of course the music and the images that went with them. 

I'm linking to two things only among all the amazing stuff. This post by Brian Philips on what David Bowie meant to young people:

 With Bowie, you never had the sense that he was in anyone else's negative space. Obviously he was, in all sorts of complicated and complicatedly evolving ways, but his special trick was to make himself *seem* like a perfectly free self-invention, a creation out of thin air. The spaceman stuff made sense for him because his job wasn't to be a freak, it was to present an idea of sanity as it might exist if it had been allowed to develop without all the distorting repressions of our world. I think that's why his weirdness always seemed so comforting to weird people. His strangeness wasn't sickness so much as the suggestion of a higher sort of health.
 And this poem by Tracy K. Smith:

Don't You Wonder, Sometimes?

By Tracy K. Smith
After dark, stars glisten like ice, and the distance they span
Hides something elemental. Not God, exactly. More like
Some thin-hipped glittering Bowie-being—a Starman
Or cosmic ace hovering, swaying, aching to make us see.
And what would we do, you and I, if we could know for sure
That someone was there squinting through the dust,
Saying nothing is lost, that everything lives on waiting only
To be wanted back badly enough? Would you go then,
Even for a few nights, into that other life where you
And that first she loved, blind to the future once, and happy?
Would I put on my coat and return to the kitchen where my
Mother and father sit waiting, dinner keeping warm on the stove?
Bowie will never die. Nothing will come for him in his sleep
Or charging through his veins. And he’ll never grow old,
Just like the woman you lost, who will always be dark-haired
And flush-faced, running toward an electronic screen
That clocks the minutes, the miles left to go. Just like the life
In which I’m forever a child looking out my window at the night sky
Thinking one day I’ll touch the world with bare hands
Even if it burns.
He leaves no tracks. Slips past, quick as a cat. That’s Bowie
For you: the Pope of Pop, coy as Christ. Like a play
Within a play, he’s trademarked twice. The hours
Plink past like water from a window A/C. We sweat it out,
Teach ourselves to wait. Silently, lazily, collapse happens.
But not for Bowie. He cocks his head, grins that wicked grin.
Time never stops, but does it end? And how many lives
Before take-off, before we find ourselves
Beyond ourselves, all glam-glow, all twinkle and gold?
The future isn’t what it used to be. Even Bowie thirsts
For something good and cold. Jets blink across the sky
Like migratory souls.
Bowie is among us. Right here
In New York City. In a baseball cap
And expensive jeans. Ducking into
A deli. Flashing all those teeth
At the doorman on his way back up.
Or he’s hailing a taxi on Lafayette
As the sky clouds over at dusk.
He’s in no rush. Doesn’t feel
The way you’d think he feels.
Doesn’t strut or gloat. Tells jokes.
I’ve lived here all these years
And never seen him. Like not knowing
A comet from a shooting star.
But I’ll bet he burns bright,
Dragging a tail of white-hot matter
The way some of us track tissue
Back from the toilet stall. He’s got
The whole world under his foot,
And we are small alongside,
Though there are occasions
When a man his size can meet
Your eyes for just a blip of time
And send a thought like SHINE
Straight to your mind. Bowie,
I want to believe you. Want to feel
Your will like the wind before rain.
The kind everything simply obeys,
Swept up in that hypnotic dance
As if something with the power to do so
Had looked its way and said:
                                                     Go ahead.
  RIP, eh.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

The Sideways Door: January Prompt Column

The first column of the new year and I thought I'd make it, you know, epic. The prompt is to write an epic simile into the poem. Read the column here.

I'm actually excited to see what people will come up with, so please write, submit and let people know, yeah?

Monday, January 04, 2016

Project for a Failing

I thought of what I wanted to say yesterday as I was walking and then came home and watched four hours of TV instead. Now I have a migraine, and what might have been a long, zigzaging post will probably be another mealy-mouthed, hasty scrawl.


Just read this piece by Rebecca Solnit. I feel old reading it but it also feels so right about technology and time and haste.

I have reconnected via Facebook to old friends who might otherwise never have resurfaced, and followed grassroots politics and movements. And I’ve wasted countless hours on it that I could’ve spent going deeper, with a book, a film, a conversation, or even a walk or a task. Meanwhile the quality of my emails deteriorated; after many years of marvellous correspondences it became hard to find anyone who still wrote anything resembling a letter. Everyone just dashed off notes about practical things, with maybe a little personal stuff in the mix, and you can’t get epistolatory with someone who won’t receive it with enthusiasm, or at least I can’t. A gratuitous clutter of bureaucratic and soliciting emails filled all our inboxes, and wading through that clutter consumed a great deal of everyone’s time.
Previous technologies have expanded communication. But the last round may be contracting it. The eloquence of letters has turned into the unnuanced spareness of texts; the intimacy of phone conversations has turned into the missed signals of mobile phone chat. I think of that lost world, the way we lived before these new networking technologies, as having two poles: solitude and communion. The new chatter puts us somewhere in between, assuaging fears of being alone without risking real connection. It is a shallow between two deep zones, a safe spot between the dangers of contact with ourselves, with others.


The park,  where I was walking and thinking thoughts, is dying of neglect. It's not hot enough yet to account for the wilting plants and brown lawn in the one section where there is a lawn. I'm told the maali who tended to all of this died a few days ago and now there is no one to water the plants. No one else employed by the GHMC for the care of the park will multitask. The GHMC will not appoint anyone else because municipal elections are round the corner and they are too busy trying to garner votes to actually do any of the stuff they're elected to do.

This is one park. Elsewhere in the city, other things moulder in their varieties of ways.


Failing. Project for. 

I imagined that this year, I would try to make my living by other means. Like, imagine if I could make money from just listening to people. Not like a counsellor, but more like a priest at the confessional.

In fact, I am imagining a lovely trellis in between, maybe some kind of verdigris wrought iron thing. My supplicants will sit facing me, though, because eye contact, even through a grill, is a wonderful thing and frankly, the only thing separating this experience from the evesdropping that I do regularly on the internet.

Of course, I must get paid for listening to people. 

I will offer no advice, prescribe no penance. This might bewilder the folk who come expecting absolution or achievable goals. 

I don't know what to tell them because I am forbidden from speaking (except to mention rates per hour).

Maybe I can offer fortune cookies filled with doom and gloom?  I can manage those. And baking is so therapeutic.


Here's a sunbird smashing herself against my window. This, then, is the new year.


Friday, January 01, 2016

Resolutions: 'Work' by Raymond Carver

Raymond Carver

Love of work. The blood singing
in that. The fine high rise
of it into the work. A man says,
I'm working. Or, I worked today.
Or, I'm trying to make it work.
Him working seven days a week.
And being awakened in the morning
by his young wife, his head on the typewriter.
The fullness before work.
The amazed understanding after.
Fastening his helmet.
Climbing onto his motorcycle
and thinking about home.
And work. Yes, work. The going
to what lasts.


Up there is my resolution (such as it is) only minus the motorcycle, the typewriter and the young wife.

Happy New Year, everyone.