28.2.13

28

the fog is gone. the grass is wet from early morning dew. all the flowers in this park are just beginning to open up for the sun. the birds are leaving their nests, loudly, calling out to dawn. winter is slipping away from between my fingers. 

the roads are grey, being swept clean of the leaves they collected all night. there are people here in neon vests, chattering away by themselves about the state of the world. cars are stopping by the gate just there to buy themselves chai and biscuits. night is slipping away discretely. 

your hands are in mine, cold and numb. i turn the key and drive away, leaving our winter's night alone.

27.2.13

too tired to blog today, so i'm just going to post blog ideas i had through the day.

1. i'd like to live in fitzgerald's paris.

2. i was reading tender is the night by f scott fitzgerald on the flight today.

when my flight was landing, all i could think of was our night in the french riviera: five bottles of moscato wine, cheap chinese food and watching airplanes take off and land in the distance. 

3. one of the reasons i am afraid of growing old - i don't like hands that are halfway wrinkled. 

24.2.13

believe me blue

tell me a story about falling in love.

i want it to be cheesy, bordering on sappy. i want it to have a favorite kind of chocolate and flowers and that kind of thing. i want it to have hand-holding and moments under starry skies.

i wouldn't mind if there was heartbreak in the middle, as long as the ending is happy.

make it magical for real, with things inexplicable and mysterious. make it so i know it could happen to me tomorrow, but make it so i'm not too disillusioned if it didn't.

tell me a story about beginnings for endings and journeying for wandering.

tell me a story about falling in love. 

22.2.13

cross posting*

Aisi at freeze-dried along with Aishwarya S has started a challenge called the South Asian Women Writer's Challenge where they've asked participants to read and review books written by South Asian women.

I've signed up for Level 2 which is read 6 and review 3.

This month, I've already read Adi Parva by Amruta Patil and Love Stories by Annie Zaidi. I definitely want to write about the very beautiful, very evocative Adi Parva (every panel of which I want to own as a poster or a print). On my list for next month is Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie. Kuzhali Manickavel's Insects Are Just Like You And Me Except Some Of Them Have Wings has been on my list for more than two years now. I just haven't gotten around to it out of sheer laziness.

I can't think of more writers I want to read just yet.

From Bangladesh, I have only read Tahmima Anam. I haven't read any fiction from Sri Lanka at all (whether written by men or women, unless Ondaatje counts). From Pakistan, I've only read men: Mohammed Hanif, Mohsin Hamid, Daniyal Mueenuddin and Hanif Kureishi. It's not something I had thought about before now. 

Suggestions as we go are welcome.
Also, please go and sign up for it if you can!



**
*cross-posting does not count as cheating. this counts as a post. okay? okay.

what the water gave me

Dive in.

Let the temperature of the water shock you.

Don't stop. Keep swimming.

Swim till your arms hurt. Swim till your breath stops. Swim till your feet cramp and tell you you need to stop.

Don't stop anyway. Stretch your arms while you're swimming. Breathe deeper while you're swimming. Your feet aren't important, you don't need them when you're swimming.

Stop when your head is spinning too much. Stop when you don't have to scream anymore. Stop when the music in your head is calmer. Stop when you want to. Not because you have to.

Stop in the middle of the pool. Roll over. Hum to yourself. Fall asleep on your back. Let the water hold you up.

Let go.

crap tv rules my life

I am a Grey's Anatomy fan.

It wasn't ever something I was proud of, let's be honest. What with the crappy dialogues and the really this-is-like-Sun TV-on-crack plots and all that. But then I was reviewing my life's TV choices (yes, unemployment does that to people), and I decided, well, I'd better start admitting to the crap I like. So I sat down and made a list of the crap TV that I genuinely like but don't like to admit or I don't like but watch religiously.

1. True Blood. Which I'm not even slightly proud of. On my good days I like to pretend it's ironic love, for vampires and what not. In truth, though, I love it because I genuinely think it's awesome.

2. Suits. Which I only watch because I used to like it.

3. Scandal, which I watched about a season and a half of. I can't say I liked this show ever, but I watched a lot of it with much dedication. That ought to count.

4.  Come Dine With Me. Which was possibly my favorite show on Indian television until BBC got pulled off the air. Those middle class Brit people brought true joy and laughter to my life.

5. Las Vegas. Yes, it's true. I like this show if only for all the pretty people on it. Or for the show itself. You know. What ever.

6. Mogali Rekulu. It qualifies as a television show. I watch it nearly three times a week. I even have favorite characters. I can sing the whole damn title song. I need to put it on this list. That's all.

So what shows do you think are crap but love anyway?

21.2.13

i don't agree

I spent a large part of my day yesterday watching a series of interviews on News Laundry called 'I Agree.' It is a series of interviews in which a journalist (Abhinandan Sekhri) engages with people who have slightly controversial opinions on a lot of things: ranging from Amy Chua to Mohammed Ahmed (the Secretary of the Jamaat e Islami Hind) and Jai Bhagwan Goel (leader, Rashtravadi Sena and one of the main accused in the Babri Masjid case). While the journalist himself is often quite smug and sarcastic and doesn't seem to be agreeing at all, even trying hard not to laugh out loud, the show is fantastic.

What I am trying to figure out for myself while watching these interviews is this: what sort of thought process does a person who believes in very, very patriarchal or communist things go through?

Between Mohammed Ahmed, Ram Madhav and Jai Bhagwan Goel, the interviews span a range of extreme right views on topics such as from the roles of men and women in society, religion, marriage, homosexuality, schools, clothing, love and valentine's day, cricket, films and so on. The views expressed are nothing new to anyone living in India. That they exist and are being taken up as causes by some of the biggest political and religious groups in the country is not what shocks me. It is that they morally sanctioned by hundreds of thousands of people who see them as the unquestionable correct way.

Some things are just plain ludicrous. Jai Bhagwan Goel, for example, talks about how he doesn't believe in the concept of elections. Anyone who does something that goes against the grain of Indian morality (as prescribed by him) is anti-patriotic and either Pakistani or a Pakistani agent. (By his count even Bal Thakeray doesn't measure up to his great standards and is indeed an agent of Pakistan). Obviously, it goes without saying or problematizing that 'Pakistani' is the bottom of the hierarchy, and the absolute worst thing that an enemy of the state could possibly be.

Sekhri points out in nearly every interview that there is only one issue over which all these right religious groups come together: homosexuality.

Mohammed Ahmed puts their ideology about it quite well. He says that men and women are complementary in nature, and anything that goes against this is unnatural. Be it a man doing chores at home, or a man doing a man. He goes on to talk about many related things based on the beauty of this complementary relationship between men and women. He says that marital rape is impossible because men and women have carnal needs and that there can be no such thing as marital rape because there is now an "understanding" between them. Men and women living in together must be treated as rapists because their sex isn't sanctioned by marriage. He also goes on about modesty of women's clothing, chastity and why there should be no co-educational institutions.

These views are stated in a casual sort of way, in a way that assumes righteousness and morality. All of them are backed by political power, threats and bullying (although all of them in their interviews also say that they are non-violent and have never instructed their cadre to raise a hand on anyone). In my opinion, these views are only extreme manifestations of everyday views that regular middle class people have.

I know people in my own family who think that all muslims should be treated with hostility, for example. Or that girls and boys should have minimal interaction. Or that women should not wear short clothes. Or that this love-shove is a huge farce and all women should be married by the time they are 25. These aren't unintelligent people in the least - quite the opposite. Some of them are even high powered executives working in top echelons of multi-national corporations. So really, how do people arrive at these opinions and can anything be done to change them?

20.2.13

I don't have any excuses for slacking off.

I've been not busy in the slightest.

I have, in fact, spent the last couple of days doing experiments with my body to see how much a human being can sleep in one day. As it turns out, my body can sleep a LOT.

The downside of sleeping 16 hours in a day is that it makes you really, really drowsy, unproductive and slow.

So I spent today recovering from oversleeping yesterday.

I'm going to go now and swim away my sins, and then drink every calorie I could possibly lose swimming.

So not considering this post as a real post, I promise three posts tomorrow: One about my supreme discomfort with Aman Sethi's A Free Man, one about my inexplicable love for Grey's Anatomy and one about a bunch of interviews I watched on Newslaundry today.

17.2.13

sunday

i'm wearing my bright orange shorts today for the first time since barca. i have beach sand in my pockets and everytime i put my hands in them, i can only think of that blue, blue water. 

i spent the day listening to my father crib about losing all our mangoes in the farm to last night's rain. 

now i'm looking forward to my aunt's chamagadda pindi miriyam. 

that's my hungover, over-slept drowsy post of the day. :)

16.2.13

snapshots.

(i)

he is selling jasmine. 

he is crouched on his knees with his blue, checked veshti pulled up all the way above his boxers. he knits the jasmine together with his dark hands, a lesson in contrasting colours. his fingernails are all pale and white, the colour of bone. 

only the little finger on his right hand has a nail that is an inch long, lacquered in bright pink. 

(ii) 

she is selling roses.

she is calling out incessantly, but the words she is saying are incoherent. a straw basket is balanced precariously on her head while she tucks in her cloth purse full of money into the breast of her blouse. she is wearing three green glass bangles on each hand, any of which might break any moment. 

on her ankles, are bright silver rings, about a centimetre thick and jangling with her feet. 
 

15.2.13

hashtag mylifekindasucks

I'm not a fan of most social media fads in the universe.

Facebook, for example, I'm a reformed addict. I hate it but I couldn't get myself to stay away from it. I don't understand (/refuse to understand) the point of putting your life up for everyone to see. What I understand even less is wanting to know what everyone is up to every day of their lives.

I found myself stalking people I had met probably once by chance, looking at pictures of their vacations with parents or their nights out with friends or what not. I found myself being incredibly affected by little things like my once-friend-twice-removed's valentine's day gift from her husband. I found myself stalking people I had never met but who had open profile settings only because they were open. 

More importantly, I found myself not doing anything of worth with my time. So I quit. I deactivated my account some nine months ago. I told myself that if anyone wants to really get in touch with me, they would do it the old way - text, phone call or email.

Sure, I keep reactivating it for a few hours at a time once every couple of months. But these were for necessary reasons, like looking for events, concerts, plays or lectures I was planning to go to (all the anti-rape protests in Delhi I found were on facebook), looking up people I have a crush on (important OKAY!), looking at pictures of people's birthday parties or engagements or the like. But the important thing was, that I always felt ugh at the end of my facebook interaction and I always deactivated my account instead of logging out. (I do miss Poke though. It was the most amazing tool to annoy people with!)

Twitter, I understand even less. What the hell is 140 characters! What is the point?? I mean - what is it?

Is it just a way to keep track of people you know? Is it like a whole bunch of constant status updates? (Those are generally quite hilarious, but I still don't get it!) If you're twitter-stalking a stranger, does this mean you're really stalking them considering they want you to read their stuff? (I do twitter-stalk tons of celebrities and TV people and journalists and authors and Manmohan Singh. I'm normal too on most days). I know that people sometimes put up links, and that makes a little sense. But sharing thoughts on books or TV or films or music or politics or life in general, in 140 characters - I just don't get it!

More mind boggling than anything, what the hell is a hash tag?! Seriously. Can someone explain it to me? Because I have tried to understand. And I've been on many twitter pages to figure this out. (Twitter pages? Is that what they're called? Feeds?) Sometimes they creep into regular conversation. Or emails. Or (as of this morning) newspaper articles. The only use of the hashtag that I have understood yet is Neil Gaiman's Keep Moving stories. That was the first time I thought twitter actually could be kinda cool. But I really really don't understand the context or usage of a hashtag.

So I guess that makes me kinda un-hip. And terribly uncool. And inaccessible. (Being off facebook feels like my year long experiment when I went without a mobile phone.) And everything important reaches me few days late. (This is also a good thing. I only heard of Gangnam style a month after it went viral). 

But it gives me more time to do other things on the internet. So there's that.

14.2.13

blueprint

i have to plan for love.

whether i want to marry
where i want to live
what books i want for gifts
what if i want a millionaire?

i have to plan

for love to come for me
in a smile and a song
in a cup of coffee and a kiss
in an email, a text or a postcard.

i have to

plan for love in advance.
what poetry will i read to you?
which crappy show will we hate?
will we argue about politics?

i have to plan
for the love i want

but love it seems
has no plans for me.

13.2.13

regular* valentine's day rumination

this year, i feel like e e cummings.

(partly because i've been obsessed with this poem all week; but also because it's that kind of year - i don't feel like doing something cheesy or ironic. i just feel like being sappy.)

if everyanything happens that can't be done

e. e. cummings 

if everything happens that can't be done
(and anything's righter
than books
could plan)
the stupidest teacher will almost guess
(with a run
skip
around we go yes)
there's nothing as something as one

one hasn't a why or because or although
(and buds know better
than books
don't grow)
one's anything old being everything new
(with a what
which
around we come who)
one's everyanything so

so world is a leaf so a tree is a bough
(and birds sing sweeter
than books
tell how)
so here is away and so your is a my
(with a down
up
around again fly)
forever was never till now

now i love you and you love me
(and books are shuter
than books
can be)
and deep in the high that does nothing but fall
(with a shout
each
around we go all)
there's somebody calling who's we

we're anything brighter than even the sun
(we're everything greater
than books
might mean)
we're everyanything more than believe
(with a spin
leap
alive we're alive)
we're wonderful one times one

**

*i considered saying random valentine's day rumination for a long time. because that's what hip blogs do. in any case, for the sake of almost-accuracy, i decided to go with regular. other valentine's days here, here and here

journal entry on a vacation

I'm in Pondicherry, at a resort with a swimming pool with a tree.

 I've been sitting here in the sun for about a day. Reading NW (Zadie Smith), yes I know what I say about her. I may want to take it all back because this book is pretty awesome.

I've also been eating strawberries with fresh, creamy ricotta.

Is this the life?

This is the life.

11.2.13

we're everyanything more than believe

The human mind has an infinite capacity for imagination and lies, but very little for truth or fact. Everything we see, do, hear, feel, say, believe in and remember is made up in our head most meticulously and systematically, using layers and layers of sensory perception through a process that is nearly impossible to map or replicate. All of it is assembled together neatly by our brain, dumbed down to the level we understand, and handed to us on a platter. Essentially, as a species, we are constantly lying to ourselves. 

For all of us, it happens by itself. It keeps going, constantly altering and readjusting the vastness of reality to suit our perception. To say that comprehension is an incomprehensible process is redundant. The smallest look at the history of either philosophy or science will tell you that the human mind has always asked questions of both comprehension and what is being comprehended. It is, nevertheless, a statement that sounds witty and impressive. It is, also, a lie. 

I fell in love with a man a while ago. He sits by me by a swimming pool by the sea while I write this. He has the most perfect feet. I could spend an eternity simply describing the shape of his perfect toes. They are bony and delicate, but not feminine in any way. His toenails are pristine, almost as if he gets a pedicure a day. When he isn’t paying attention to anything, his toes cross themselves: the big toe over the second toe, just like crossing fingers.  I could say that I fell in love with him just for his toes. That wouldn’t be too much of a lie. 

When I fell in love with him, I wasn’t aware of his condition. I suppose I fell in love with him regardless. There is not much about it that hinders his daily existence or, for that matter, our love life. It ought to bother me, repulse me in some way; make me question the very fabric of reality and so on, but it honestly doesn’t. At the very worst, it makes our sex fabulous.

I have come to understand his condition in this way: He constantly disintegrates and reintegrates himself with the world. For a few moments, days, weeks, year or so (it is difficult to time things that are out of sync, so to speak, with what we perceive as reality), he ceases to exist. 

It begins with moments of sheer panic. My stomach lurches, with a tiny little tug. I feel like everything has gone out of focus, like I am distracted for a second or so, like I have forgotten my keys inside the house before I locked it. The very next moment, the world readjusts itself and he is there again. Those are the only kinds of metaphors I could use for it. In the moments that he is gone, there is no him. There never was and there never could be. In these moments, I only know there is indeed something amiss, but what exactly is amiss, I have no way of knowing. 

It took me a long time to figure out what was happening. In the beginning, I didn’t even know what was gone. It was just a feeling of something missing, I guess. By the sixth or the seventh time, I learnt to recognize the signs. The anxiety. The paranoia. The insecurity. Constantly fiddling with my things. Crossing and uncrossing my toes, as if in anticipation. I learnt to diagnose what I was missing. I learnt to know who was missing. 

When I first told someone about this, her reaction was spontaneous. “You’re making him up!” she said, “He can’t be real!” 

I laughed along and questioned myself. Real people don’t stop being real, obviously. Real people don’t disintegrate into nothingness when you stop thinking about them. 

But then he would turn up. Him, with his perfect toes and his crooked teeth and his quirky accent and his terrible sense of humor. Even if I tried, I couldn’t make up the jokes he manages to come up with. He takes me away to these exciting and exotic places by the sea. He shares my breakfast and makes me coffee. He reads over my shoulder and turns the page before I finish reading. He has the most absurd opinions about politics. And then there is, I cannot emphasize this enough, our fabulous sex. 

So I started to look for other people with a similar condition. I turned to the most obvious resource: the internet. After two months of searching, I found one other man with a sister who had a similar problem. Later, a father with a teenaged son with the same condition. Over these past months, this little group grew. We talked to each other, trying to figure out how to deal with it. We found dozens of others who knew and loved people who were maladjusted to reality. We even found a kid who knew a maladjusted tiger. 

In most of our endeavors, we try to understand what it must be like to be someone whose entire self decides to unravel and disintegrate. Most of the human body is made of space, so the obvious assumption is that the physical body dissipates and comes together seamlessly enough. What interests us more is the suspension of the human mind. We assume that these people we love have minds that are much less capable of lying and imagination, hence unable to grasp reality and recreate it for themselves. 

We assume that truth, essentially, sets them free. 

**

title of the story from a poem by e.e. cummings:


we're everyanything more than believe 
(with a spin
leap
alive we're alive)

we're wonderful one times one 

:)

paint my face rainbow because it's a gay kind of day

Hyderabad had its first Queer Pride last week.

And I wasn't there! :(

I feel like I'm missing out on all the important developments in the world. Bah.

10.2.13

questionsaboutthestateofmymind

I'm a little behind on my posting, but I have limited access to the internet PLUS I'm on a vacation!

I know there's a no-placeholder-posts rule, but I need to read to articulate this properly and all the things I want to read for this are in my bookshelf in Delhi. I've already written about my personal discomfort with religion here. I may not be religious, and I may not believe in God, but there are circumstances and situations in my life that sometimes demand some things of me that may be religious in nature.  

I have been thinking about my own responses to these situations and where they come from. In most cases, I do these things because I don't have the patience to not do them. I tell myself that some battles are not really worth fighting, especially if they end up hurting people I love (like my parents or my grandparents) for no good reason. In some others, I bargain with myself about certain things: I turn up late for a pooja, because there is more to these things than simply ritual. They are spaces for socializing with people and meeting people who I will otherwise not see. I have a very large immediate family and these social gatherings are the only times when all of us are generally under the same roof. 

I constantly negotiate religion, and it continues to be a part of my own identity. So the questions I have been asking of myself recently have much to do with this losing battle I am fighting with religion. 

How much of my own morality and ideology am I willing to cede for the sake of making someone in my life happy? Where do I hold my ground? Why is not being religious so very important to me? What compromises am I comfortable with? Why? What am I not willing to accept, and of these, what am I willing to fight against? How would I fight, if I had to? Obviously this negotiation with religion most times coincides with my being a woman. On what grounds do I negotiate these issues? In what ways do I articulate them to myself? (Also, simply out of intellectual curiosity, how does a religious person negotiate their religious identity? What battles does one fight when one is religious?)

So. Many. Questions. None of which I have answers to yet. 

8.2.13

if you could reinvent my name if you could redirect my day i wanna be the king of spain

It was on an uncharacteristically cold and rainy morning in Barcelona, Spain that I fell in love with traveling.

None of the friends I was traveling with are football fans so it bothered my football crazy brother and my assorted football crazy male friends that I was going all the way to Barcelona and hadn’t even heard of (I had to google this to know how to spell it) Camp Nou. But our agenda for Barcelona was clear: party hard, get drunk, stay drunk. Even our hostel was called ‘Chill Groove’! (Admittedly, in retrospect, picking a place called ‘Chill Groove’ without really reading too many reviews was a bad idea).

When we packed for Barcelona, we packed for the beach. I had a bright orange pair of shorts and a white pair of shorts and my friends had similarly bright and exciting pairs of shorts in their bags. We packed for the sun and 23 degrees in our faces. We carried sunscreen, fancy shades and prayed for lots of mojitos, tapas to die for and general drunkenness.

But nearly the whole time we were in Barcelona, it rained. Except for the morning we were meant to leave (on which day I decided to sleep in while my friends went to the beach to watch the sunrise which looked amazing in the photographs), we didn’t see the sun at all!

So it was on a rainy morning with squishy shoes and wet socks and a broken Paris umbrella that I fell in love with Barcelona and travelling. One of the only merits of staying where we were was that it was right in the centre of the city, behind Placa Catalunya. This meant that I was in the part of Barcelona which was known for its Gothic architecture, or Old Barcelona. I, of course, didn’t know this until I came back. Whatever I saw that morning was absolutely unexpected, terrifically stunning and made only prettier by grey, overcast skies.

I set out by myself with an iPod in my pocket and a map in my bag. I had a playlist specifically for this purpose, and obviously it started with King of Spain (the version by Tallest Man on Earth) on repeat. After thirty minutes of this song, I changed it to listen to as many versions of Besame Mucho that I could find.

Harry Connick Jr. was singing Besame Mucho when I walked into the lane with the Barcelona Cathedral. There, I spotted a relatively dry bench, bought an expensive cup of cappuccino and sat. Eventually, I realized that there was an old man with a guitar singing in front of the cathedral. So I pulled off my earphones, and I was more than just stunned. On my rainy morning alone in Gothic Barcelona, the man in front of the Barcelona cathedral was singing Besame Mucho!

I walked around Barcelona for another hour or more until I caught sight of the sea. I had breakfast there – a Spanish omlette and orange juice; just when the sun peeked out for a bit. On my way back, I took as many quaint little lanes as I could find, got well and truly lost, then found my way back before my toes turned numb and my clothes started dripping colour. In every lane, I found something that I fell in love with: A window display of clothes, a cathedral, several dozens of gothic buildings, musicians, artists, beautiful men and women everywhere saying “OLA!” with a smile in their most warm, musical tone.

Later that day, we shopped a lot and then we spent the night club hopping, looking for the best mojito Spain could offer us all over Las Ramblas. But for me, my Barcelona love was in the moment with the old man singing Besame Mucho, in front of the Barcelona Cathedral. It is in the rains in the quaint lanes with the buildings and the grey.

It is this feeling of wonder and excitement at new things and little things and strange and unexpected things that I fell in love with on that rainy morning in Barcelona. It is this, exactly, that made me fall in love with traveling. 

7.2.13

In Which I Am a Snob

At the outset, let me say that I am all for people wanting to make a change in the world. I think it is important for everyone to think about the way the world is today and what we can do to make a difference. Even if not to go out of our way to make a change in other people's lives, small lifestyle changes in our own lives is also necessary, possibly even more so than the larger changes. It is, indeed, in these small changes that the larger changes lie. 

Having. Said. That. More important than it is, to simply think about the way the world is today, is the need to do so critically. It is not enough to wake up one day and say "I want to be the change I want to see in the world." You have to go about trying to understand what it is this change you want to see in the world is. For which, (and this is where I am possibly a snob), you have to read

For every single grand or little idea that you have, there are hundreds of people who have had ideas around it. Have written about it.  Have worked on it. Every single little tiny idea that exists in the human brain has history. And while I'm not saying that you need to know the genealogy of everything you want to say or do, I *do* think that just a brief look at the debates and the discussions that people around the world have had on this idea give a person perspective.

I find (as do most people I know in academia) that it is extremely difficult to carry out a conversation with people outside of academia. With someone who is in a university, regardless of whether you agree with each other or not, whether you study physics or sociology or urdu, whether you care about the topic in discussion or not, whether you're left or right or center or liberal or believe in post-postmodernism; I think it is much easier to engage.  

The obvious explanation, of course, is that we-grad-students-in-academia live in a bubble. We live in cloistered spaces where we all know what we're supposed to think and what the other opinions are supposed to be and we know our own opinions and where we come from and what the counters to those opinions are and what one is talking about when one is saying something as random as socially necessary human labour (excuse the examples i'm reading marx). 

So when I have a conversation with someone who is not from a university, I am at a loss. I don't know what to expect from the person I am trying to talk to. I don't know how to argue. I don't know how to discuss things. I just don't know where they are coming from.

Which brings me to what I started with. Added to my university snobbery is my I-work-in-development snobbery. So when I meet people who, from the goodness of their hearts, want to do something to bring a change to the world but have really no perspective at all, I get pissed off. 

I know that it is not right of me to get pissed off. I know that it's not my place to tell people how to think about their initiatives or judge the work that they are doing without even giving them a chance. I know these things. I can't help but ask these questions that I was trained to ask. Where are you coming from? What do you mean by this? How do you see people? What do you mean by community? Are you thinking about gender at all? 

It irritates me when people who want to or DO work in the field have not even thought to ask questions of why they are doing what they are doing. 

There are hazaar a thousand* ways to think about your neighbour employing a child in her house, for example. Ranging from 'She is doing the kid a favor by employing him' which I would rate as extreme on one end to 'I am going to call the police' which would be the extreme at the other end; there are all sorts of responses. Which response you have obviously derives from how you think about children, rights, labour, poverty, development, the role of the state, community, freedom, education, I could go on and on. Even if you don't think of these things when you're tackling something as small as child in neighbour's house, I don't mind. What I do mind is if you make an initiative out of children in neighbour's houses without thinking about these things. 

Because if not anything else, I believe that change needs to come from the grassroots. If you're coming up with an initiative of any sort, it is important to think about who you are working with and why. It is important, especially because you have the money and you have the sanction of the people who are supporting you; so you need to be sure you're not making a scapegoat of the people you are working with. You need to question and theorize every aspect of your work if you're planning to work on changing other people's lives. And an absence of such theorizing can be very very harmful if you don't. 

The bottomline of this post, I suppose, is don't ever venture into a conversation about, say, queer fiction, if you're talking to someone who may not necessarily know that you could punch them in their face if they say something random like "but gays are just pretending."


*wink.

A Zephyr Song - Part 3

(iii)

stealth

Sapphire was definitely beautiful and brave and all of those good things. I suppose much of it came with being a spoilt fifteen-year-old girl with twelve older brothers. She was adept at most things that even boys twice her age weren’t good at. She could scale any wall in their town in less than ten minutes, for instance. She could make a stone skip in the river for as long as she wished. She could shoot an arrow bang on target even from a mile away.

She was also a bit of an idiot, most of the time. She never knew when to shut up or run away. She always, always got caught stealing. She was clumsy and when she wasn’t climbing something, her fingers were made of butter. Her lies were the most obvious of them all. But the only thing about herself that she would come to regret was that she never did learn the art of being stealthy.

Immediately after she saw the stranger go into his room, Sapphire made arguably the most idiotic decision of her life.

She decided to spy on him.

She went about it systematically. She sneaked out of the house in the middle of the night. She climbed into the stranger’s room from the window on the outside. She landed with a soft thump. She cursed under her breath, very, very softly, before she tiptoed behind the curtain. She made sure the hem of her night dress was safely behind the curtain. She then went about looking for a nice enough spot to peek out of.

She gasped at what she saw.

Around what should have been the body of an old man sleeping, there was swirling blue. There were more colours at the edges of the blue, radiant and bright. Something that seemed to her like dense fog hung around the blue, as if protecting it. All of this was in constant movement in no particular direction, like leaves falling from a tree on a windy afternoon.

At all of this, Sapphire gasped very, very loudly.

In a flash, the blue congealed into what she understood as the stranger in their house. He was looking in her direction. And he was very, very angry.

“Come out of there before I kill you,” he snarled.

She stepped out from behind the curtain, and her skin started to tingle. She suddenly felt extremely out of her depth. It was as if this man in front of her wasn’t a man at all, but something else entirely. Something she definitely didn’t understand, or even wanted to understand. There was a terrible rage on his face. She was shivering and her knees were shaking at the sight of it.

“You are mine,” he said in a voice so low, it was a wonder she could even hear it. “I will come for you in a year and a day when the flowers bloom.” His mouth wasn’t even moving, so how could she hear him at all? Why was there a blue around her, and why couldn’t she move?

“I will come for you in the Spring” he said, and then, he disappeared into the blue.

Fate is rattling dice in his hands, amused at what is happening.

The Moon wasn’t sure what to make of this.

The Wind finally had a plan.


(iv)

spring song


She dreamt that night.

She dreamt she was riding the clouds. She dreamt she was the scent of the meadows. She dreamt she was bringing lust to lovers, a muse to poets, hope to the weary. She dreamt she was the wetness of the earth; she was mating trees with trees, she was the bitterness of fruit and the freshness of dew. She dreamt she was bringing life.

She dreamt she was free, in a way that she had never known.

She dreamt she was bound, in a way that she had never sought.

When she woke, she remembered only music. She knew she had a beautiful dream – she remembered pretty women dancing with flowers in their hair.

She woke with a song.

5.2.13

getting happy

I don't feel like writing today.

It could be because I didn't feel like reading today. I didn't read for class. I didn't read the Arendt book that I've stuck myself with. I didn't read the blogs I read everyday. I didn't read the newspaper. I didn't look at my webcomics. On days that I don't read, I don't really feel like working at all on anything.

But they say that you have to write, especially on days that you don't feel like writing. They say that these days are the real test. That talent comes easy, but it is work that makes it consistent. Or like F. Scott Fitzgerald put it in a letter to his friend Frances, "You have talent — which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point."

This is also the real reason for my taking Blogathon seriously. One of my resolutions for this year was to write everyday. To write consistently, a thousand words a day at least. It may not be something important. It could just be a long email to someone, or a journal entry, or a rant like this one about not wanting to write. 

I haven't managed everyday, yet. But I can already feel it make a difference. I think more about length and structure even with non-academicky things. In my formatting OCD-ness, I now have an additional paragraph length element. (I get finicky when the size of my paragraphs is uneven. Just like how I get finicky when my paragraphs aren't justified or there is an extra space in a sentence.)  

Maria Popova (again, yes, I love this blog!) also once did a post on the daily routines of writers. It was most fascinating, because pretty much all of them had a similar discipline to their writing. Most of them seem to have one thing in common: They use their daily routines as a way to "moor" themselves.  

Murakami, famously, writes early in the morning and then runs a lot and swims a lot. I did this when I was writing my dissertation: I swam, a mile everyday. I needed it, more than anything, to not be stressed. But eventually, it also became where I structured what I was thinking and the section I was writing that day. 

I don't feel like reading today, but reading is what keeps me grounded. It gives me a sense of purpose, a sense that I have done something with my day. So even if I haven't been able to write everyday yet, I think what bothers me about today is not that I haven't written, it is that I haven't read. 

But writing helps me think. Often, I write simply to organize what I am thinking - to give it some sense of form. (I don't know if this happens to everyone - I always end up with a very different argument, structure and sometimes even content from what I begin with. And the longer a paper is, the variance is that much larger.) 

Stephen King says: "Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy."

So here I am. Getting happy. 

A Zephyr Song - Part 2

(ii)

vayu of the east

It was a new moon’s night, the night he came to Sapphire’s town. She had heard of men like him. Travellers, gypsies, vagabonds. People without homes. She had always wondered what one of them looked like. Of course, she had been warned against talking to them. Her mother told her all about them. They tell you stories about beautiful things, then put you in a sack and take you away. “I’m warning you, Saf,” her mother always told her, “Never talk to strangers who aren’t from this town.”

But this man looked harmless. He was old, and many of his teeth were missing. He knocked on their door that night asking for warmth and shelter. He was wearing a shawl around his shirt, and his shoes hardly looked hardy. His teeth were chattering, and as he was talking, it was clear that he was frozen to the bone. Her mother had always been wary of layabouts, but on that night, even she couldn’t have said no.

He sat with them around their fire and ate whatever their mother had cooked. There was simply soup for dinner that night. Tamarind and tomatoes, cheese and garlic. They ate it with much enthusiasm. If not for anything else, it kept the cold at bay. Her brothers were telling them about the bandits on the northern road. Their neighbours had lost some cattle to them. Soon after dinner, the stranger offered to tell them a story. Her brothers couldn’t wait to get to bed, but Sapphire wanted to hear it. For her, they stayed. For her, they listened.

“There was once a storm by the Northern Sea that lasted twelve days and twelve nights. It was as if the sea and the storms had become one and wanted to ravage every land it could. They say it is the greatest storm that ever set its eyes upon the world. They say the Sea knew no mercy then. They say they have never called the Sea their mother since. They have a different God now: one whose name they had never known, one who came to them only to save them.

He came to them from the East on a day that was unremarkable and calm. He had no name when he came to them, they say. He was lost and confused and the air of the sea had made him sick. So they nursed him and cared for him and taught him their tongue. He had no name when he came to them, so they gave him a name of their own, they say. He came to them from the East, they say, so Vayu they named him. The Wanderer from the East. I have never known a name so fitting.

Three years and twelve days, he stayed with them. He made their home his home and their songs his songs. He could read the tides as well as any of their own. He could read the winds even better. He never set sail in a single ship or wet his toes in the foam of the sea; but he knew the seas as well as any of their own. Twelve days and three years, he stayed with them, but his skin was as burnt by the sun as any of their own.

The storm began with the setting of the sun. The storm began in the North. The storm began with a call of thunder and a clap of lightning. The storm began with no ceremony. The storm began when the skies darkened to grey and black and the moon was in the sky. The storm began in the sea.

For twelve days and twelve nights, the storm was the sea and the sea was the storm. For twelve days, the storm crashed homes and drowned crop. For twelve nights, the sea crashed homes and drowned people. For twelve nights, the storm moved from town to town bringing them rage and despair. For twelve days and twelve nights, neither sea nor storm abated.

On the morning of the thirteenth day, Vayu could watch no more. Emerging from his broken home, he walked to the sea. Wearing nothing at all but the rain, he walked into the storm. Into the eye of the storm he looked, and with the anguish of his loss and the anger of his people, he confronted them both.

“It is I you are looking for, so take me and leave the rest,” he said.

The sea only darkened in response, and the storm became rougher.

“It is I you want vengeance from, so TAKE ME IF YOU DARE!” he bellowed to the sea.

The storm was now him and he was the storm. He called to storm like a father to a son, and the storm could do nothing but answer.

The tide was now rising and the waves were as high as houses. But the storm belonged to the sea no more.

In his anger, in the storm, he called to the wind and the wind could do nothing but answer. The storm was now him and he was the storm.

He took the storm on the eastern wind, leaving his people behind. The storm died away with the eastern wind, taking the Wanderer from the East with it.

He walks with the Keeper of the Winds now, they say. Not like a servant or a captive, but like a friend.

He wanders now, they say, with the Wind itself.“

When the story ended, the house was still. Sapphire’s eyes were bright as fire and her brothers were stunned into silence. Their mother, the only one with a sense of propriety, thanked the man and escorted him to his room. She handed him a bottle of water and wished him a good night.

The Moon was full and high in the sky.

Fate stands still in the shadows, afraid to make his move.

The Wind laughs, for the night was not over yet. 

** 

Read in full here

3.2.13

Mixtape

by Praveen K, Devaki Neogi, Archana Sreenivasan, Manoj A Menon, Tina Thomas, Sachin Somasundaran, Jasjyot Singh Hans, Pratheek Thomas, Prabha Mallya.
Manta Ray Comics.


I remember when I first read Hush. In a tiny bookstore that was discretely playing some blues, I sat on a stair just looking at the first couple of pages. Eventually, the pages started to turn. Page after page, I kept thinking that I must put it back in the bookshelf – That if I read anymore of it, I’d be teary eyed and awkward in an almost cramped public place. But I read it anyway, because not reading wasn’t much of a choice.

I say “read”, because I am not sure what the better word for it would be. Obviously I bought it before I left the store. I needed for it to stay in my cupboard, even though I couldn’t say if I would really read it again. (Not because it wasn’t beautiful. It was. It’s just not the kind of story that I can bear myself to, again for the lack of a better word, experience for a second time)

When I got an email telling me that they were coming out with more of these comics, I was curious. Curious, because I had assumed Hush was what it was because of what it was dealing with. In its own way, it was a silent story about silences. But the very concept of whole stories being told without words, it was something that I was really excited about. So on the first weekend since the email that I had to myself, I bought the book.

Mixtape is, quite literally, heart-wrenching. But this time, I was prepared. I locked the door to my room. I made myself a cup of cocoa. I put on an extra pair of socks and snuggled into my blanket. And the book, it didn’t disappoint. (Even if it got over quicker than I wanted for it to).

It opens with Silver Spider, a story about a boy who does the sort of thing boys do and a story about a spider that doesn’t do the kind of thing that spiders do. I thought it was brilliant and twisted and dark and (yes, it’s true) funny! Stoopidkidsalwaysthinkingtheycangetawaywithstuff. Ha.

And then, well, and then. I was sitting there all pleased and stuff. I drank some of my cocoa and turned the page. I would have said that some warning would have been nice. But in all honesty, I was warned. Just a look at the cover would have been warning enough. The second story, Rather Lovely Thing. I don’t even know what to say about it. It took my breath away.

I wish I could say that I did justice to any of the stories that followed. I wish I could say that I was as moved by them.

I was clearly more impressed by them: Voyeur, worked a fun, sexy plot. I loved the irritation and rage on the man’s face. I loved how you’re expecting some sort of showdown. I’d like to think that I was the real voyeur. And I can’t say it enough, twisted and funny.

‘My Beloved’ seemed a little out of place. The art itself, for starters, was so much more full of detail than the rest of the stories. I’m not yet sure if I liked it. I feel like, as a plot, it had much more potential. I thought the first half was working up to something entirely different.

This little book packs quite a punch. I like the direction that it is taking Indian comic books to. I like that we’re growing up from Amar Chitra Katha, and Kari is not the singular standalone piece of work that was doing something amazing and downright brilliant. I like that I can look forward to things like Mixtape on a regular basis. (May I say, that Twelve in my head is already awesome?)

So go. Buy it. Make a cup of cocoa. Read it. If you don’t fall in love with it, I’ll give you your 55 rupees back.

**
(Regular programming resumes tomorrow. Story is getting written. It is in need of some editing.)

2.2.13

A Zephyr Song - Part 1

(i)
sapphire

I find in the wind, entrails of long forgotten stories. This one is thousands of years old, a story of the wind itself; but a story of love lost and sacrifices made – A story that follows doubt and anger; a story about what comes after endings that are happy, a story that you may know, but a story that was never loved. It is a story of the times when gods were men, and men were gods. Children who dreamed of becoming heroes actually did, in those days. This is a story of one such child.

It was a warm summer’s day, the day she was born, in a town that was small but prosperous and a home that was large but poor. She took her name from the silver blue of her eyes, Sapphire, but her mother would tell her that the jewel was named for her. She was spoilt and she was naughty, but she was beautiful and she was brave. The last of thirteen siblings, she was everybody’s favorite child.

There was a story they told about the seasons, in the town where Sapphire was born. Those were times when the seas were rough with minds of their own, and storms would come to take what they pleased. Years would pass with nothing but Winter; but when Summer would come, the Sun was always unforgiving and angry. People and trees would love nothing but Spring; but the Spring was never allowed to stay. Rivers would wait, and clouds would wait, and the bees would wait, and the ants would wait. But when Spring would come in Winter’s stead, Spring would always leave before the fest.

They told a story about Grey Winter and Blue Summer, siblings who never fought with each other. Sapphire would never believe them when they told her that Summer would only last for a few months a year, and Winter’s snow would melt away willingly. Spring smelt like flowers and the rain, and Autumn was red and yellow and purple all over. Then came the dark days. For reasons unknown, the siblings fell out. Some said it was the lust for power, some said it was lost loves. But for reasons that were never shared, the seasons dropped out of sync.

The Gods did all they could, it is said. They bullied and bargained like Gods know how, and when all this failed, they reasoned and negotiated. Eventually, they took sides: Rain and Lightning went with Winter, as did Beauty and some others; Fire and the Sun, War and Despair, these took Summer’s side. Love simply left. The fickle Wind played them both, making the best of their situation. The Moon was undecided as usual. Fate stood in the shadows laughing.

This was Sapphire’s most favorite story. She would make her brothers tell it to her every night. She would fight and argue with her friends about it. She would make her mother tell her about the Spring. With her friends, she would come up with the most elaborate schemes to bring the siblings together again. In all these schemes, Sapphire was the hero. In all her dreams, Sapphire was the child who would glue the world back together again.

The Moon was always watching her, but her interest waxed and waned. The fickle Wind was always listening.

Fate stood in the shadows laughing. 

***

This a story in what I plan as five parts. Hopefully, I shall write one part a day.  "I" is the Storyteller from here: The Adventures of The Storyteller: Blurb

1.2.13

what if

poetry
is in
its evoking