Saturday, December 29, 2007

In Anticipation

The new year cometh only too soon. 'Tis time that I sit down to resolve what is to befall. Here lies my concocted list for thy reading pleasure.

To turn this blog into a haven for narcissus and the pitiful likes of that young man.

To bear in mind that I am,before all things, a diva.

To write with prolixity and redeem myself from the pitfalls of my embarrassing past as a 'writer'.

To write more poetry, the kind that rhymes and makes sense.

To perfect the art of reviewing a book that has been reviewed several times before.

The Writer and the Coffee Bean


Virginia Woolf spectacularly mentioned, in 'A Room of One's Own', that a woman needed a room of her own and five hundred pounds a year in order to write. This was sometime in the early 20th century when post Victorian folks preferred the ritual of the 'English tea'. As a 21st century writer it is quite safe to say,'A writer(irrespective of genetic makeup) needs access to a cafe, a few bucks to buy some coffee and plenty of goodwill to appease the cafe owner'.

I don't mean to sound presumptuous but this is something I see every time I visit cafes belonging to the 'Barista' chain. I invariably see someone sitting at a corner scribbling away furiously;a future writer perhaps.On some occasions there are couples or groups of people heatedly discussing something and then scribbling away at what looks like the script for a play.Such people are never asked to leave, they order very little and they are probably the last ones to leave. I may be guilty of wishful thinking but I am not alone in my assumption and I have concrete evidence to support it.

It turns out that J.K. Rowling started her career by scribbling away on paper napkins at cafes. A lot of struggling freelancers meet fellow writers at cafes. Films romanticize the illicit relation between the writer and the coffee bean. So one must wonder how the writer fell for the coffee bean in the first place? Was it an outcome of an unspoken tradition handed down from one generation of writers to the next, or was it a mild form of substance abuse? The former is more likely because writers seldom deny allegiance or homage to their forerunners.I prefer the latter.

On a personal note; coffee only makes the mind more effective for the sake of software development with a tinge of self-imposed insomnia.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Wilde Man Doth Wander

One wouldn't expect Oscar Wilde to write 'The Soul of a Man Under Socialism'. It isn't common for a self confessed dandy to make politics his muse.It is better for folks who obsess with things such as beauty and aesthetics to refrain from soiling their hands with all the mud slinging of politics. It is quite apparent from Wilde's essay, that while writing it, he was more misguided than the man who claimed to declare nothing but his genius.

Wilde claims that socialism will burgeon a sense of individualism among people.He says; that since people will not be concerned with issues of property and ownership, they will invest more time in evolving themselves rather than in the acquisition of material resources.Wilde believes that socialism will encourage individuality from other strata of society apart from the rich.He argues that since socialism compels all people to be on an equal standing,the need for altruism(in Wilde's opinion, the sole cause for human degradation)will be completely eliminated.Thus people be more concerned with developing the artistic temperament and a questioning mind rather than helping others.

While Wilde's intentions for the betterment of the human condition are apparent; his ramblings are,as I mentioned earlier,misguided. He says, and I quote,'Individualism, then, is what through socialism we are to attain.As a natural result,the State must give up all idea of government.' Perhaps, Mr. Wilde attributes certain qualities to society that it doesn't possess. For instance, who is to decide what comprises the state? Mr Wilde decries the use of human beings for manual labour and thus thinks it will be better to use machinery to clean the streets and to work in mines. The machinery will be provided by the 'state', the same 'state' that doesn't govern.It seems to appear that people are only supposed to invent and create and while the state provides all the support and the environment.Even if the state were an abstract entity, who is to turn that abstraction into a tangible entity?

Mr. Wilde paints a utopic portrait of the same society that humiliated him for his 'individuality' and cared more about his sexual preference than his contribution to the arts. He probably forgot that the foundation of every human society(even the one he lived in) was based on power.Perhaps he was in denial about the territorial nature that is inherent in every human being.If society were as Mr. Wilde intended it to be;there would be no fashion,no mass media(something that he censures when he mentions journalism),no competition and above all things, there would be widespread unemployment among gossip columnists.Sounds almost perfect doesn't it? Then again, of what use is a perfect world?

Speaking of perfection, I am nevertheless willing to forgive that glitch in Mr. Wilde's argument thanks to his near perfect prose. I still respect what Mr. Wilde writes about art(three fourths of the essay concerns art, there is practically no mention of politics towards the end).One should treat 'The Soul of a Man Under Socialism' as a treatise on art and its definition and just forget that Mr. Wilde ever had a political view.Wilde's idea of socialism bears close resemblance to a subdued form of anarchy. I am inclined to agree with George Bernard Shaw who found Wilde's essay very witty and entertaining but that it had nothing to do with socialism. It is unfortunate that Wilde wrote the essay before the world could come to a collective agreement on the true nature of socialism.It is however amusing to note that this is one of his more celebrated works and that it was the anthem on the lips of younger Victorians.So much for a two hundred year long generation gap!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Looking Back in Awe

I finished reading 'The Brothers Karamazov' today. I will not write about it because I fear my words will taint those of a sublime genius.Fortunately; I have enough courage to admit that I am nearly devoid of an unshakable belief system thanks to the cross examination of such a system by Mr. Dostoyevsky.You haven't lived if you haven't read 'The Brothers Karamazov'. Amen!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Letter to the Artist

If we could all be dreamers,
Then we wouldn't try to cease
being lost in hopeless reverie.
If there could be rivers
Of endless expertise
We wouldn't swing between impression and integrity.

I watch your blood curl;
As it falls from the dagger that aligns
Expression with worthless lines
Of illusion, that unfurl
Themselves in the stealthy designs
Of a broken mind scattered across a million shrines.

If we could choose to sever
Reason from reverie
Eternal dreamers we would be.
If only we could endeavor
To merge what is stoic with all things free,
Art wouldn't be a necessity.

Friday, December 07, 2007

New Inhabitants in the Reading Room

I have two new gems in the reading room. 'The Brothers Karamazov' by Dostoyevsky (It's time I started calling the author Fyodor) and 'Love' by Toni Morrison. I have shelved 'Love' to a spot that is a tad difficult to reach because I find 'The Brothers Karamazov' extremely stimulating for the intellect. 'The Brothers Karamazov' must be the first Dostoyevsky masterpiece that I have read without shutting my eyes in despair.

Dostoyevsky argues about more things than just the usual grind (morality, hypocrisy and cruelty). He raves about the possible existence of God and Satan(I now believe I have the right to call him Fyodor, my agnostic soulmate),the right of a man to drink his cup of life and the usual tussle between matters of the flesh and those of the heart.I have never encountered 19th century Russian literature filled with so much blatant debauchery and so many twisted connotations.I like it!

Reading status:
Pages read:430
Pages left:610

P.S: I promise a blog entry that appears less histrionic and more 'processed'. The kind that one would expect from an adult.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The City of Joy

Whoever decided to call Kolkata(or Calcutta) the 'City of Joy' must have either possessed a smug sense of irony or one of complete denial. At first sight Kolkata seems far from 'joyous' to the naive visitor. If one steps out of a train at the Howrah station and makes one's way grudgingly into the taxi stand, one is hit by the hot stench of the city's odour.The taxi now moves out of the station, over the famous Howrah bridge(still a magnificent tribute to architecture) and drives into 'the city of joy'.The sights and sounds don't exactly exude a sense of rapture.Perhaps I'm searching for joy in the wrong places.

I was born in Kolkata,but raised in Bangalore.My relationship with Kolkata,after more than 20 years, is still rather vague in terms of sentiment.Since Kolkata is the land of my ancestors, I make trips to the city once in two years. Every visit feels like the first time. I don't seem to be able to make peace with the city, or its people or all that it represents.To me, Kolkata represents a thorn of masochistic pleasure; the kind that makes me throw back my head and declare ,"thank god I don't live here".

When I think of Kolkata, I reminisce about schoolgirls with oily braids and schoolboys wearing 'readymade' ties running across the street with their near hysterical mothers. I see married women, wearing their hair in tight knots, the hair parted to make way for 'sindoor'(the glistening red substance that is the mark of all married women).I see middle aged men, carrying jute bags and newspapers on their way to work in the cruel,scorching heat. I see citizens seated,with momentary airs of superiority, on the backs of threadbare rickshaw pullers; who jog breathlessly as they pull their passengers from one street to another.The most lingering and troublesome memory of all would be the one of elderly folk; sitting haplessly at street corners or in front porches of houses,the last sparkle of life glistening through thick cylindrical spectacles, how reproachfully they watch youngsters, tourists and strangers like me.I have often complained to my parents that there aren't enough young people in Kolkata. My mother always said, 'all the young people have left'.

Outsiders have always considered Kolkata to be steeped in art and culture. It is the land of the intellectuals. I love the art but haven't made peace with the culture and I am still searching for my one cup of joy.I know of people who don't want to leave the city at any cost, they say they are happy and will not find that kind of bliss anywhere else.Perhaps it is that small iota of joy that comes from being satisfied with less or from belonging to a city with a colossal history.Maybe it comes from the lights of Chowringhee, from scraps of the city's colonial past,from ancient houses that stand tall as a quiet testimony to neglect or from the collective spirit of human pride and generosity.Yet, how can there be bliss in the midst of so much suffering? Does joy come from suffering with dignity(something that the people of Kolkata do with tremendous panache)? Does joy come from being accustomed to hardship and indifference? Perhaps for the people of the 'city of joy', it comes from a fleeting sense of denial that makes everything seem acceptable.

My present state confirms that my premise is faulty. I am still looking for joy in the wrong places.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

When Divas Insult

The art of the insult isn't quaint
It takes enough nerve and grit
And imagination to paint
A picture as grim as a legal writ.

Divas imagine,they splurge, they dance
On thin invisible air.
Divas fly at the nearest chance
To be uncaring and unfair.

So when divas and insults meet
Sparks of debauchery fill common speech.
Divas storm the earth in a renegade fleet
Pushing propriety out of common reach.

But the world still chooses to smile,
As they follow in the ignorant bliss
Of malapropism coated with sugary guile,
Only to fall into the senseless,verbose cranial abyss.

Five Minute Love


I have been thinking a great deal about 'speed dating', probably an outcome of my love life that isn't even remotely abstract. What started as an experiment seems to be the path to bliss for a lot of people. There are two lines of people, they shift from desk to desk, like raw material along an assembly line, looking at strange new faces and trying to fathom if they ought to take the next step. Each encounter lasts five minutes, long enough to make a lasting impression I suppose!

A person has exactly 300 seconds to decide if the face in front belongs to a benevolent angel or to an anthropological error. Speed dating scores even lower than blind dating because there isn't enough room for stimulating conversation or even a misanthropic yet well meaning insult.Even for people who live a lifetime in a minute, speed dating can be quite a turn off if the prospective date doesn't.

I cannot bring myself to attend a speed dating extravaganza. It takes me a little more than 300 seconds to make an impression and a fair assumption about 'where it will go'. In my books speed dating holds the same importance as the average saccharine coated paranormal encounter.

It takes a little more than five minutes to fall in love.

To Dickens, An Old Friend

Charles Dickens always evokes a sense of nostalgia in me.My tryst with classic literature began with an abridged version of 'A Tale of Two Cities' (an edition made specially for children). I was only eight then, and I was astounded by the man's ability to tell a story.I probably learned more about the French revolution from Dickens than I did from my history textbook. I then went on to watch a film version of 'Oliver Twist'. In the seventh grade we had an abridged version of 'Great Expectations' as our reading text.I instantly fell in love with Pip and Estella and more importantly with the work of Dickens.I was ,quite understandably, miffed by the, on screen, modern day adaptation of 'Great Expectations' starring Ethan Hawke and Gwenneth Paltrow.By then I had enough of abridged versions of Dickens' work. So a year later I read 'David Copperfield', all eight hundred and twenty six pages of it. I have never felt as accomplished as I did when I read the last word on the last page of 'David Copperfield'.

As I got older and disillusionment befell(as it befalls all young people sometime or the other), I drifted away from Dickens.I found him too 'whiny' as I put it(or low brow as I meant it). How could you expect me to lap up Rand and Dickens at the same time? Dickens indirectly pleaded for social reform in an age where man and machine were treated as one and the same. He wrote of human cruelty and sacrifice with a simplicity that was nauseating at times. Dickens used humour and jest to cover up for the stark deficiencies in human character. Yet, like every child who drifts away from a favourite toy, I drifted away from Dickens. I moved on to darker pastures, to complexity, to things I couldn't comprehend but loved all the same.

A few days back,I saw the film version of 'Great Expectations' again(the one that I nearly loathed). I remembered Dickens with a sense of grief and regret. When we abandon old friends because they fail to fill a void, that same void gets filled, unconsciously, with a measure of guilt that is quite inexplainable. Maturity has taught me that we cannot expect people to voluntarily complete us. They can only help us seek completion if we allow them. Dickens had so much to say, it's just that I didn't listen closely enough.

For all that it is worth, here's to Charles Dickens - an old friend with a rare spark.