Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Post for the Old Year

Going to Sleep

Now that the day wearies me,
My yearning desire,
will receive more kindly,
like a tired child, the starry night

Hence, leave off your deeds
mind, forget all thoughts;
All of my forces
yearn only to sink into sleep.

And my soul, unguarded,
would soar on widespread wings,
to live in a night's magical sphere
More profoundly, more variously.

-- Hermann Hesse

Friday, December 24, 2010

Long Distance Love

That I don’t know how you take your coffee or you, how I take my tea (cream, no sugar, strong) should not be reason enough to question love. Or should it?

That I don’t know how your stubble feels in the morning or you, how I curl up at night should not be cause to end this enterprise. Or can it?

How does love begin? In ritual? In habit? In forms unknown? In lives remembered? In movement familiar? In the present? In the future? In the notion of time or the absence of reason? How, when, why, where?

I’m afraid I must now go to bed. But let’s do this again tomorrow.


Chagall, Marc
Four Tales from the Arabian Nights
Plate 6: "So she came down from the tree"
Color lithograph 14 1/2 x 11 inches; 1948
Pantheon Books: New York

Monday, November 01, 2010

Red Earth and Pouring Rain

It is evening and it is quiet. I have found myself, strangely, earnestly, eagerly awaiting rain. Perhaps just sound. Perhaps a whiff of water seeping into soil. Perhaps even a word of faraway skies and precipitous clouds. The promise of rain.

I first read this poem in Vikram Chandra's book of fantastical kings, faraway lands, and typing monkeys. I won't spoil it by adding my own narrative yet, but this is how it goes.

What He Said

What could my mother be
to yours? What kin my father
to yours anyway? And how
did you and I meet ever?
But in love
Our hearts have mingled
like red earth and pouring rain.

-- Cempulappeyanirar
("Kuruntokai 40"; translated by a.k.ramanujan, in "The Interior Landscape: Love Poems from a Classical Tamil Anthology".)

The poem belong to the period of classical Tamil literature known as the Sangam era, dated roughly between 600 BC to 300 AD. The poet's name also translates to mean "red earth and pouring rain".

This post was written on the 1st of November. Today it is already December. This morning, I had a conversation with a friend who told me about waiting for rain. So I suppose it's time to publish this.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Weather Report



Constable, John
Rainstorm off the Coast at Brighton
c. 1824-28
Oil on paper laid on canvas
8 3/4 x 12 1/4 in (22.2 x 31 cm)
Royal Academy of Arts, London

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Dog and I

This conversation has become stilted, and boring, and repetitive. And I really am not sure what I can do about it. Well actually I do know, but am not doing it. The answer, my absent friends, my silent readers, my peeping tom-mers is, merely, simply, to write. And I will. I promise. More often, more plentifully, less morosely, more effusively.

I live in Madison now and it's beautiful here. My thoughts are fewer because activity is relentless. As is laziness. It's been a rather interesting transition. There are things I have done that I could list and it would seem like a lot, but it isn't. Somehow I have done them; slowly, carefully, cheerfully. With a LOT of help from people. From friends, from roommates, from mentors, from colleagues, from family. I really am nothing without the people around me. And this I gratefully confess.

It's been a month and some and I now know my house. And my office. And the route from home to office. I know the parking garages on campus. And I have a favourite lunch restaurant. It's called Buraka. Their injera makes me long for dosas. I have cooked for people. And entertained at home. And built myself a winter wardrobe consisting of a ridiculous winter jacket and knee-high boots, both of which will threaten to obliterate my physical presence and replace it with a walking snowwoman. I have hosted guests. I have found a yoga studio and begun to take dance lessons.

I have met people. I have phone numbers.

The rituals of place-ness are in place. Soon I will tell you that I live in Madison. Right now, all I say is that I just moved into Madison from Austin.

Madison is on an isthmus bordered by two lakes, Monona and Mendota. It is rather quaint, and tiny, and pretty. The Fall colors are still changing, and I am surrounded by glorious yellow light filtering through glorious yellow leaves. The branches have been looking sparse over the last few weeks though. Winter's slowly creeping in, and the days are getting shorter and my sleep schedules longer.

But before I stretch this any further, have I told you that my house often hosts dogs? And how wonderful they are? So I'll leave you this beautiful fall evening lit by half carved pumpkins, and populated by chatter from passing strangers, with a little photograph...of the dog and I....

Friday, September 10, 2010

Time to Write

It's time to be back, don't you think? Enough of a break already! I am now 1200 miles north of where I used to be and much colder than I ever used to be. Literally, not metaphorically. People here are true to caricature, incredibly warm. In a good way. The curmudgeonly part of me sometimes longs for NYC, or other rude places, but only in an ignorant, aspirational sort of way. At the core of it lies a small-townness that I can neither disavow nor fully accept. One that seeks familiarity and is quite at home with warmth, even as it brings back traumas of excessive involvement and a society of soap operas. Ah the travails of middle-classness. Digression aside, I am in Madison. And I'm going to stay for a bit.

Here are some places I saw on the way.

First there was Austin, which was incredibly hard to leave.



Then R and I went to Little Rock, Arkansas. Why? Well, because it was on the way. And because we wanted to see Clinton Street. Oh, and it has good beer. Really good beer. And goat cheese pizza. And we played chess at the bar. Ok enough about Little Rock, but here's a picture of the beer.



And then there was St.Louis, ah lovely St.Louis, ah beautiful arch, ah wonderful urbanity.





And then the Mississipi...from a chopper...yes, I know...



And one last....



And then we got to Lafayette, Indiana after much wading through (more) cornfields



...where much fun was had and much potential romance kindled. If you don't believe me, ask S and M about R and N. And that's all I will say about that.

And finally, to Madison...



....where I currently reside, teach and tango.

Along the way, R taught me how to

(a) Tailgate trucks
(b) Drink frappucinos and pine for iced tea
(c) Drive at eighty miles an hour

I taught R how to
(a) Really know Amitabh Bachchan movies; like really
(b) Yell at trucks; cuss sometimes
(c) Make uninformed, irrational, and unrealistic consumption propositions

A pretty good trade I think.

Now that I'm back on solid ground, come back you people. Say hello.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

On the Loss of Familiarity

M called and is bringing tacos. As I sit waiting for breakfast and coffee, the fog is slowly clearing. This morning is one of few that will never quite be reproduced in familiar form. These summer weeks that I have lived year after year, hoping for some form of change, sometimes wistfully, at other vociferously, are apparently going to change. My home will be different, my routes strange, and my acquaintances sparse. I will no longer be able to walk into a coffee shop and find O or V or C or even one of those vaguely known faces that I smile at but cannot put an initial to; I will no longer be a well-trod footstep.

This is a loss. It is minor. But in a world of catastrophes that are so large that they only have minor impact, the minor losses are hard. Not very much so, but slightly difficult to comprehend and it is their minor incomprehensibility that bothers and pinches. Like a stone in my shoe.

So this morning, in a bid to banish what is after all, a small, niggling pain, I will have tacos. And listen to Kishore Kumar. And type a blog post. I will gather into my consciousness a few, familiar, markers that will travel with me. Food, music, words. In a life mostly ordinary, this is all one can do. And it is enough.



Pierre August-Renoir
Gypsy Girl
1879
Oil on canvas
73 x 54 cm
Private collection, Canada

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Abstractions for a moody night

I have many things to say. But I'd rather make up stuff instead. Or pretend to be wise. Or write in choppy sentences. So here are many random things, just for you. Make of them what you will. Perhaps with a few drops of moonshine.

- A moment interpreted does not a teleology make

- I wish I could swim calmly without splashing around so much

- There are surprises around the corner and you will find them if you stop steeling yourself so much against any such possibility

- Truffles are good at room temperature

- Sometimes one finds the words just like one chooses food in a restaurant. In exactitude.

- My advisor said to me; "You write very well; but sometimes I find myself scratching my head thinking what exactly does she mean?"

- This moment is filled with descriptions of a thousand pages. This is how it is sometimes. And those thousand pages will not be written. This is how it is all the time.

- Should I write a book called "Notes on Love in a Foreign Country" ?

Where should we go now?



Paul Delvaux (Belgian, 1897–1994)
Small Train Station at Night, 1959
Oil on canvas; 55 1/4 x 67 in. (140.3 x 170.2 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Winds of Change

I haven't been here in a while. But that's because I have been everywhere else. Five cities and two countries. And a couple of stops in-between. Not to mention many worlds. It's been really quite a fantastic, phantasmic month. And I have written a dissertation.

In the middle of all the seriousness, I also found laughter, grinning teeth, endless merriment and mindless joy. I climbed a hill, played games, flirted some, flirted some more, wore new clothes and ran in the rain. Much cheese and no irony. And such good food. Varan with dollops of ghee, piping hot pepper rasam, crispy bhindi, light as gossamer rotis, viscuous onion sambar and endless cups of filter coffee. Also kulfi, also puran poli, also many sticky laddoos.

And then I came back and wore a sari, all pinned up and defended a dissertation. And it was good. Really.

So now, I sit counting time, making lists, drawing roadmaps and checking plans. For I must move. To a new city, a new life, and a new community. Most exciting.

Do watch this space. But until then, this is how I feel...



Shimmering Substance; Jackson Pollock
1946, Oil on canvas, 30 1/8 x 24 1/4 in.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Show me your picture?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Song for the Rain

somewhere i have never travelled

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

-- e e cummings

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Dances on Trains

There is a trick I use to lighten work. You might want to try it.

I play a song. One-two, one-two.
In my head I begin to dance. In perfect rhythm, in perfect beat.
Then I begin to mouth the words. Silently.
The song and I become one; the song is I and I am song.

And as I dance in my head, sometimes I leave my desk, stand tippy-toed and slowly begin to move. First the feet; up and down. Then the shoulders, back and forth. Then the hips, sideways left and right, on a beat of two alternating with the shoulders. Then my arms move, jangling in misdirection, sans the grace or the discipline of my other body parts. The fingers twiddle, I make believe that I am playing the music.

Soon the room is shining. Every corner moves as does the world.
Space becomes a mere word, time immeasurable.

Then I add color. I imagine red, and jade, and gold.
And kohl-ed eyes and perfect curls.

You could take a picture. You really could.

And then the riff fades. My hands flop down, my shoulder step back and heave down, my hips settle down. I walk straight back to the desk. And here I am again.

But here’s something for you anyway.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Stuck

Once in a while, I find myself in a place that seems alien, like it has nothing to do with what I know of myself. At such times, things will not be defined and all truth is negotiable. At such points, I have a physical feeling like my head is going to explode. Into smithereens (what a nice word). And at such times, I wonder what it is that I cannot make sense of. Because truth be told, this is a nice place to be at. And I am sufficiently intelligent. To know that meaning does not come from without. And that the truth is always available. Just not "my" truth. So the task really is to make peace with that which is known. Clearly. Even if it challenges an important sense of self. Or what one holds dear. Or what one finds comfort in. Even if it leaves a gaping hole. One must scream and be done with it.



-- Edvard Munch, The Scream

Monday, May 24, 2010

So many stories

I am drawing a family tree. From my uncle I am extracting names from long ago pre-colonial times, when the states were not linguistically separated and India perhaps only a selective idea. I am learning about grandmothers and great-grandmothers, about virile men and stubborn women, about fiery events and legends equal parts fate and magic.

Here is one of them.

A woman fought with her daughter. I would like to think it was because the daughter yelled at her. Because she would not cut down on her salt intake. Or because she stood sullen and refused to change when her daughter said that the colour of her sari did not match the colour of her blouse. Or because she told her daughter that she ought to tak better care of her children. Or maybe it was far more serious. Maybe her mother was ill and she wanted her to go to a doctor. Maybe she had not visited her in a long time and they had grown distant. Maybe it was because she and her daughter had never got along anyway.

In any case, as a result of the fight, the woman walked into a well and threatened to stay there and die. Someone managed to coerce her out.

The woman was 95 and her daughter 76. After coming out of the well, she proceeded to live for eleven more years and died at the age of 106.

Her name was Meenakshi.

I am her great-great-granddaughter.


With genes like these...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisi

And I wish time were malleable. Like the squeaky soles on my red shoes. And pliable desires.
I wish time were in stock. Like spare batteries and countless flashlights. And unending hopes for life and sunshine.
I wish space were boundless. Like spring flowers on hilly countrysides. And an expansive sense of the world.

It's been an interesting few weeks. Soon I will move. But before that much has to be done. Quietly, I make my lists, dot my i's and cross my t's. It is time to be quiet. It is time to be good.

Stay here all of you. Send me a word, perhaps some advice and most definitely some sign of presence. Maybe we will all be quiet together. And just maybe we will sing. Perhaps even dance. I don't know for sure. But until then, do stay.

Monday, May 03, 2010

An ode to Spring

It is beautiful here today and I sat out in the sun and watched the birds and the flowers. You cannot be here right now, so here's a missive just for you. For Spring. For happiness. For I miss you.

The Word

Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between "green thread"
and "broccoli" you find
that you have penciled "sunlight."

Resting on the page, the word
is as beautiful, it touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent you from some place distant
as this morning -- to cheer you up,

and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing,

that also needs accomplishing
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds

of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder

or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue

but today you get a telegram,
from the heart in exile
proclaiming that the kingdom

still exists,
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,

- to any one among them
who can find the time,
to sit out in the sun and listen.

-- Tony Hoagland

(Courtesy the Wondering Minstrels, who, thank goodness are back!)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

For your wide-eyed wonderment, I give you:

(a) A kaleidoscope
(b) Soap bubbles
(c) Trees
(d) An iguana
(e) Jasmine flowers
(f) Red
(g)Tulle
(h) Shiny faces on train journeys
(i) Late afternoon sunlight

and...

(j) A camera

Now please make me a story?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Imagination and its Disuse

I am on the verge of resolving a quandary of intellect. For ages now, my dissertation has been making minor breakthroughs. I have pieced together bits and nuggest and chunks and jujubes to make what some might say a minor contribution. But, as people across the border from have been saying for a while, ya basta.

I mean really, enough already. This is not supposed to be work weighed down like this. It needs swiftness of purpose and fleetfootedness of feet. It needs flexibility. It needs sleight of imagination. It needs oomph. And I'm going to give it some.

In the hope this this will inspire some thought, here is a piece from a parallel project, one that came out of the dissertation process, but will not go into it.

My house - January 2007

My new studio apartment was all of 400 square feet. My landlords were easygoing and seemed to genuinely treat me like an adult. The space seemed like a canvas for me to fill, inhabit and enjoy. The apartment was on the first floor; the French windows opened out onto a large patio, which overlooked the street. It had a daybed to double up as a couch and a sideboard that could serve as my bookshelf. A frugal wooden table divided the kitchen area from the living room and in-built shelves lined one side of the kitchen counter. A small refrigerator stood guard on the other end and the tiny bathroom was tucked away to one edge behind the sideboard.

I made a list of things I needed. Cupboards, lamps, rugs, floor cushions, soft board, bedcovers, curtains, plates, glasses, wine glasses, cutlery, knives.

On the first day, I took my friend’s advice and stocked my refrigerator. The cheeky salesman at the corner store, a young boy, bantered and flirted as he offered to deliver my large order to the apartment. In relief and gratitude, I dropped off my list and he came by later in the day with milk, eggs, butter, bread, rice, lentils, spices (coriander, cumin, chilli powder, anise, fennel, mustard, turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves) and Nutella. Later in the day, he brought soap, shampoo, cleaning liquids and washing powder; Lux and Sunsilk and Vim and Surf. He gazed amused at my apartment and its messiness. As I set things down, I caught a whiff of my mother’s kitchen. This kind of “turning into our parents” I could deal with, I thought.

The next item required some serious thought. In the tiny alcove between my refrigerator and the bathroom was enough space for a tiny cupboard; the kind one might read about in children’s books where everything is neatly ordered, small people sized and beautiful to boot. While I enjoy walk-in closets as much as the next consumptive person, there is something so much more interesting about a cupboard. Its musty insides seem to speak of long-forgotten clothes hidden away only to come out in surprising moments of boring lives. One of my favorite activities as a child was to open my parents’ cupboard, to sift through photographs and enchantingly obtuse paperwork (bills, identity cards, old letters where my grandfather writes in equally obtuse longhand to my newly wedded mother). Opening the locker required special permission and parental supervision. So once a week I would sit under the watchful eyes of a parent and work my way through jewelry, gold and silver, tiny and large, ornate and ugly.

So I wanted myself a cupboard too. For this errand, my scooter would suffice. Riding onto the busy street, avoiding faster motorbikes and looming smoking trucks, I made my way to a cane store in the middle of the city. I had passed this store many times on my rides through town and always wondered at the variety of furniture it stocked. Sofas, lamps, bookshelves, coffee tables, chairs, tables, beds, all woven exquisitely from cane and rattan. Cane furniture, I’ve been told, is difficult to clean. Dust settles in the gaps between the strands and makes a home. But cane makes me think of colonial bungalows and gracious hosts and sunlit patios. So I walked in and spoke to the proprietor, a middle-aged man with a lovely moustache. Together, we designed an alcove-sized cupboard and a high-backed chair. He even offered to make a cup-holder for the chair. The furniture would be delivered within two weeks, he assured me. I took with me a an exquisite oval lampshade to hang from the ceiling.

Some things came with me from my parents’ place. An old National Panasonic that my parents had bought the year I was born took pride of place on a rickety cane chair by the door. It played Radio Mirchi, the city’s single FM channel all day long. To this day, I know the lyrics of all the Bollywood film songs released in 2007. I also brought with me books, comics, and cassettes. My comics had been bound meticulously by my father years ago and had been lying in the attic for too long. For a year, they came back to a bookshelf.



In this apartment, I hosted dinners, threw parties, shared drunken secrets, and interviewed respondents. Here, I cooked, talked, gossiped, sang and danced. In this tiny studio of four hundred square feet, people tended to stay. I was never short of company or music.

I had to dismantle everything when I left.

Monday, April 05, 2010

A Song in my Head

For some reason, I've been thinking about this:

Watch from 1:06



I never realized that Jeremy Brett plays Freddy Eynsford-Hill in My Fair Lady.

"Tell her that I'll wait," he says.

Waiting as both metaphor and ontology behoves comment. In other words, what does waiting stand for and what does waiting in itself do/ mean if it were to be a metaphor for all of life?

One waits in order that one can have something/someone to wait for. It is the postponement of life as we know it, because it gives nothing of itself in the present. It is a transference of possibility to the future. It is also a proclamation of hope with the concurrent acknowledgement of emptiness in the present. A universe of equal parts life and limbo.

Monday, March 29, 2010

I am yet to do what my last post promised, but it will have to wait. Am currently working on a chapter on language, so have lost all enthusiasm as I wade through endless literature and data.

But today, we should talk about being sensate. I was on a mindless blog trawl looking at posts over the last few years and I realize the ones that evoke the most immediacy are ones that talk about sensations. About physical feeling (I suppose that's a little oxymoronic since all feeling is physical; what would anxiety be without the tightness in the chest, what would happiness be without the feet in flight?) . Taste, touch, smell, sound. The ones that are the most delicately ethnographic.

In life as in work, things work best when I work through the body. Through its unbelievable capacity to process externalities into sensation. So much so that one wonders where the body ends and where the world begins.

(Complete citational aside: I cannot claim to understand either phenomenology or Deleuze. But for those who the above sparks interest, I would recommend looking them up. Muriel Barberry's delightful novel "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" has a pithy explanation of phenomenology along with a rather terse dismissal on Pg.59

"All of phenomenology is founded on this certainty; our reflective consciousness, the sign of our ontological dignity, is the only entity we have that is worth studying [or as the concierge Renée puts it, our ability to know that we are scratching ourselves when we are scratching ourselves which nevertheless does not stop the itch], for it saves us from biological determinism.
No one seems aware of the fact that, since we are animals subject to the cold determinism of physical things, all the forgetting is null and void."

I am not so sure about this, but we'll save that longdrawn response for sleepier times)

Back to the body. Just so I can remember this thought and add to a much needed immediacy I am going to situate this post.

As I type this, my fingers feel the warmth of a a partially white keyboard. My nails feel like impediments, but comfortably so. The sun is sparkling on the screen, but I am too languorous to move. My legs are stretched out on the soft, striated, dark blue couch and I am surrounded by the smell of coffee. The money plant on the red coffee table is refracted through the water and its roots look large, green, full and promising. My toe-nails are crimson. The Decemberists are singing a ballad. I think I will go for a run today.

Write me back your current state?

Monday, March 08, 2010

Words, Words, Words

For those few of you who may have followed this blog for a while, one and only one thing might have stayed common across the seven years or so that we have spent together. Words. Duh.

It's true, I admit it. I love words. Before this blog. During. And hopefully after.

Words make me go weak in the knees. One syllable and you will pass muster; two may get you a nod; three might merit an elevator chat; four will move you into conversation; cross five and now we are seriously talking.

Words to me have force, real force. Not force like the way words signify some meaning that's out in the world, but rather words that create meaning as they go along. Maybe one word, maybe a chain of words. Maybe words that are clearly connected to meaning, maybe words that only describe what they seek to mean, maybe words that paint for us a state wherein we are abe to imagine what they mean to say. Are you with me?

Let's try something, shall we? So I demonstrate more clearly what I am so clumsily trying to argue?

a. Lie down and look at the ceiling (no really)
b. Close your eyes (again, really)
c. Make a mental image of your state of mind.
d. Now describe to me what your state of mind is.
e. Tell me what the image was.

Leave me comments and, I will tell you more....my next post will use your states of mind to talk about language, the world and self.

On other fronts, I have begun to talk like an academic...damn!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Here are some words; why don't you make me a sentence?

Sentient. Pocorn. Terrible. Scarlet. Umbrella. Tower. Bookshelf. Street. Reproduction. Repercussion.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Argh, ugh, damn, damn, damn, damn

Blistering barnacles, thundering typhoons and murdering mimosas.

Damn damn damn.

Ugh, argh, double argh.

(Yes, this has become one of those ranty, boring, diary-like, teenage chronicles.)

Okay sorry, now we are done.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Writing

I am writing notes to Peter. And stop asking me if I am writing the dissertation. If you still want to know, yes I am. I can multi-task like that.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Staring at Photographs

Sometimes I am mad at my digital camera. For capturing a life so full. And emptying it.

My parents have an old red suitcase. It has stainless steel snap locks and is red. And it spills over with pictures. From three decades ago. And every alternate year since.

One random sepia tinged picture where my mother looks thin as a reed and innocent as morning light. One tattered polaroid with my father and his friend staring straight into the camera with a fervor I cannot reproduce in my most inebriated moments. And no pictures for the next few years. One can only imagine the life that slipped past the image. Until it regroups again in another photograph; black and white and not so yellowed this time around. Many unidentified children of monochromatic clothes and white teeth. I am in the middle and my teeth are bright too. My dress looks black and white, but I know that it was red. As poppies. Red was all I wore then. Then in the next set, we all look grown up and everyone around me is too. My parents look grown up. Even though they were probably then as old as I am now. The years look as though they are flowing gently. In my memories and in these photographs. These capricious accounts. These sometimes memoirs.

To say that I am nostalgic for the past is an oversimplification. I do long for a past. But not for its experience, not for its lives. What I am attached to, sometimes melancholically, are the suddenly remembered images and textures of the past. A texture and an image that are never available to the present. One only sees the present in the future when it has already slipped into the past.

The present is meaningless, a mere jujube. The present is the realm of the tactile and can be lived by any distracted person.

(Do read: "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction", Michael Taussig's "Tactility and Distraction" and Roland Barthes' "Camera Lucida")

Monday, February 08, 2010


-- The Storm, Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)

Try To Praise The Mutilated World

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June's long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You've seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you've heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth's scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the grey feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

-- Adam Zagajewski; translated by Renata Gorczynski

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Rigor Mortis -- A story in many parts

Part V
(Go here for Parts I, II, III and IV)

Sandhya came home shell-shocked. Not that there wasn't an easy explanation. She knew that children sensed things faster than adults. That Maya must have sensed Ranjeeta's mood. That she must have caught her staring into the distance frequently. Or seen her eyes glaze. She must have wondered about Ranjeeta's vacant smile. Any one of those gestures that adults dismiss as moodiness or inconsistency or a plain lack of sociality. Maya must have known better.

But nothing explained the violence of her reactions. Or her willingness to transfer Ranjeeta's pain onto her fragile body. And involuntarily at that. Nothing explained her sensate body. For Sandhya who had learnt to separate mind from body, Maya's inability to watch out for herself was scary. She feared for her child.

After that however, Maya returned to her quiet self.

At six, she was an unusually precocious six year old. When she spoke, she did so in complete sentences. Many days, she did not speak at all. She nodded when asked if she was hungry and shook her head when Arun wondered aloud if she had done her homework. Sandhya wasn't sure if she had a rich inner life or just an unflappable countenance.

Arun and Maya shared a unique relationship though. He would come home from work and sit next to her at the dining table. She would not talk. He would. One by one, he would narrate the inner workings of his day. The desk he sat at, the people he met, the students who dropped into his office, the flowers blooming outside the university. And Maya listened to him and beamed for the half hour that her father let her into his life. For otherwise, Arun was a self-contained man. To his daughter and to his wife.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

After a long time, reading is invoking in me, what is my only form of primeval joy. Beauty, joy, wide-eyed glee. I am galloping through some wonderful articles. It is too late at night and morning will come shortly so I cannot say everything about them that I want to. However, this much I will share. I am glad. I have increasingly begun to fear that I will bore myself to death; but now I know that there are other ways to write than mine.

(P.S Here is an abstract for one: "The Egg Men", Burkhard Bilger, New Yorker, Sept 5, 2005, pp.110; apologies for the teaser. But here's the other full article: Little Wing)

On a completely unrelated aside, when I am a diva-esque academic, I want to dress like Annalisa Cranell.

Ignore the part below; this is for me.

Keywords: Habits, Bombay-Pune trains, routines of work, searching for order, Stern's gardens, egg men and addicts and workaholics and adrenalin junkies, safety, order, America and strangeness, a stranger in a strange land, comforting objects, objects making us human -- Danny Miller, beautiful objects and homes, signature designs on the bedside table, imagined audiences.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

In my rapidly aging mind, I have turned immobile. I have internalized the rules and have begun to take them seriously. The journey so far should tell me that the rules are all wrong. That there are a few good things one can do and that is really about it. So in an effort to sanity, let me write mine down. And forget the rest.

(a) Be good to people -- give as much as you can
(b) Speak softly and listen harder
(c) It is not worth it to be angry and resentful; really
(d) Reach deep inside for stability; this is all one gets
(e) Work hard, it really helps
(f) People you love, matter

Tell me your six?

(P.S My horoscope today quotes Ben Okri ""Beware of the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world." )

Monday, January 25, 2010

In the manner of an acceptance speech

I give you....

"Ahem, well, actually, you know, I don't know, I love my fourth standard English teacher and...thank you?"

I mean, what do I do? I always thought awards and speeches were a little plebeian..until I received one, of course.

I am a little short of words today, but I must thank miapan who was kind enough to make my week by giving me this.



Thank you miapan. It's difficult for me to appreciate your gesture without slipping into cliche. But it does mean a lot to me that you would care to come by ever so often. Very grateful.

And now for some much in excess sentimentality. This blog is an old friend. It takes everything I have to say with nary a complaint. I am not maudlin enough to anthromorphize it (yet! a few beers and we can do that too), so I'd rather talk to all you visitors who peep in and are generous enough to comment or remark or just simply, take it in. You remind me that connections can exist, albeit in the most dissipated form, held together by just a word. I am rapidly losing faith in the ability of the pen, of words bandied in such insousiance that they might as well have not been said. After all, in a world as strange as this, what is a word? And yet :)....so thank you.

The rules demand that I pass this on. So ye five, go do something nice with this.

(1) Random Harvest: Gouri is a published author, cook, dabbler extraordinaire and purveyor of all things Puneri. Guaranteed to make you think/ laugh/ chuckle/ quiet down.
(2) Mexiroccan: My fellow graduate student, fieldwork, mixed-up connoisseur of all things worth my while. They will be worth yours too. Blogs about Mexico, identity, life, school, dogs.
(3) Mentalie is quite simply, quite mad. Candid, quirky, observant and obsessive. This is my regular fix.
(4) Rambling nothingnesses: Anna mol blogs about movies, people, thoughts, life and just simply the everyday. Every once in three posts, something she says will make you stop in your tracks.
(5) And lastly, because I doubt he will pass this on since he doesn't blog no more, In Between Lives: Magnificently funny, a little wicked, and always clad in complete and elegant sentences.

And for the necessary fine print:

- Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving blogger/ friends/ both.

- Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.

- Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to This Post, which explains The Award.

- Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to Mr. Linky List.

- Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

Alright, am done, say no more.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A little secret from long ago

I played with a pug today and wished that life were simpler. To give it due credit, it never claimed to be.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Did he really say that?

In David Brooks' article on Haiti, which is objectionable on so many levels that I would have to abandon my dissertation to construct a thorough refutation, there is one I will talk about here.

Brooks writes:
"As Lawrence E. Harrison explained in his book “The Central Liberal Truth,” Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile."

Voodoo religion. Summarized in one line. With no sense whatsoever of either its complex construction, its practice, the meaning it imparts to people who practise it or its striking similarity to every framework of religious philosophy known to the living world! God, rituals, lesser-than-God holy figures, a hunger to know what will happen in the future, communicative possibilities from the other world to this one, and finally, palliative mechanisms that assure you that this world is meagre, and that it and everything that it subjects you to will pass; as will you.

I am strangely upset more by this than anything else that Brooks' paternalistic tone advocates. I do not actively practise any religion, I bear no allegiance to any one over the other and I am more confused than certain about the value it brings to the world we live in. However, I do not dismiss it and I certainly do not pit religion/ tradition against atheism/ modernity. Further, I do not claim to redeem people from their God-fulness to my Godlessness.

Lastly, it is bad analysis to make an uncomplicated connection between the bulwarks of religious philosophy, and day-to-day practice. All religions underline transience. Yet, people everywhere seek to preserve life, earn money, plan for a better future and keep themselves and their families healthy and happy. Across the world, we hold onto our bodies for dear life, some more than others. Religious philosophy offers suggestions, ways of thought, and perspective in times of uncertainty and tragedy. For now, it might certainly serve the people of Haiti to be able to hold onto the voodoo religion than intellectual and imperiaist analyses of economic development.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Rigor Mortis -- A story in many parts

Part IV
(Go here for Parts I, II and III)

And in many ways, Maya over the years, exhibited such signs of environmental osmosis. She was a sensate child.

At the age of six, she came back home, stony-faced and grief stricken. Sandhya could get nothing out of her. She refused to eat and went to bed on a glass of milk. This continued for the week. Every day, Sandhy would try and coax her into speaking and ask her if something was wrong. Maya wouldn't tell, or rather, Maya couldn't tell. All she could say was that she couldn't eat, nothing would go down and that her body hurt.

Then one day, she came home ravenous and asked for cookies and cake and bread and cheese. Relieved, Sandhya gave in to all her unhealthy insistences. Maya gulped down her cookies and told her all about school. About the class and her mathematical tables and the new swings in the playground. "Was Ranjeeta m'aam happy with your homework?" Sandhya asked. Maya replied straight-faced, "She didn't come today, and we will have a new teacher next week". Sandhya said, "Why? What happened to her?". "I don't know," Maya replied, "she wasn't in class today and Mrs.Raman came in and announced that somebody else would take over from next week."

The next day at the parent teacher meeting, Sandhya discovered that Ranjeeta had committed suicide.

Monday, January 11, 2010

We are back to our non-cooking self. As in we do cook. But to eat. Not to use our digital camera.

How is the new year treating the rest of you guys?

Mine has me off to a tail-on-fire start at work. But instead of concentrating on the impossibly large loads of writing I have been condemned to produce, I am guest blogging.

Do go check out my post on Notes to a Young Man About Town, a daily advice column that the very talented mentalie and agent green glass have let loose on the unsuspecting male populace about town.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Cavalier Cook - Numero Uno!

It's a brand new year. And a lovely day to boot. I am sitting on my couch, staring at a few crates of beer bottles and a dozen empty bottles of wine. Some cake, some madeleines and a year's supply of olives. There are flowers too. How beautifully we have sashayed into 2010.

This is the last post for now from the cavalier cook. It's been such a busy week and so exciting. I would wake up every morning and chalk out time to cook, photograph, write and then post. I'd look forward avidly to what my fellow bloggers had conjured up for the day. I'd peer curiously to see which kind people had come by to peek into my kitchen.

I planned a whole week ago for today's recipe given that it was pretty much the only risk I planned to take. I hope those of you who stayed back enjoy this. I made this in morning and let it rest in the refrigerator all day.

I was hosting a party on the evening of the 1st and wanted to hang up my apron quickly so I could stop obsessing over food photography and get to being hostess. The party was beautiful and I love my friends and am one happy couch surfer today. But yes, the main business for the day.

Guava Cheese Flan



I was introduced to this dessert in a tiny Cuban restaurant in Hoboken and have since then been waiting and waiting to try it. This last week gave me the chutzpah; ah well, okay foolhardiness to give it a try and serve it to a gaggle of uber critical graduate students (mind you, these guys practise criticism as a profession). To their credit, they were kind and mellow; blame it on the beer. I liked how it came out though. And I am uber critical. So I would strongly recommend trying it. The recipe, not the criticism.

Today I am rather lazy. So all I can tell you is I followed this recipe to the T, barring one crucial faux pas. My cream cheese had a little salt in it. Which I discovered after dunking half the container into the mixture. Didn't show though. So it was all good. Moral of the story: Ignore instructions, do not look at container labels and when it turns out well, pretend to be the coolest ever.

And here are more pictures.



And one last slice



All done, apron hung, kitchen cleaned.



Thank you Nupur, for being a host, chef and blogger extraordinarie. Thank you all my fellow runners, with your kind comments and wonderful recipes and good cheer. A very happy new year and I hope to see you all sometime in the year.

And today. I am thinking about: New Year Resolutions

Ten for 2010
(a) Drink more water
(b) Write letters; yes use that archaic tool called the pen
(c) Finish the dissertation
(d) Watch a movie a week
(e) Swim once in a while
(f) Listen
(g) Wake up early (earlier than 9 am)
(h) Run
(i) Breathe
(j) Live

Listening to: Today is an O.P.Nayyar day. You know; the horse trotting, chugging along kinds.