Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Haiku

I used to dream of
Things I thought I did not have,
And then I woke up.

The neon at night
Lights up the dismal city
With unhappiness.

I think the horizon
Ends abruptly because I
Never look further.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

I Need to Write

I need to write;
Without rusted doors creaking,
Without a dozen voices wading
Through canals in my mind.
I need to write;
Quietly,sans distraction,
Without the deviating yelp
Of well meaning help.
I need to write;
To remember
The amber of the sky
As I turned pensive.
I need to write;
To recollect
The drone of verse
Turning indecisive.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Guilt Trip

Dear Diary,

Writing is a guilty pleasure,not because I derive so much from it but because I expect others to read what I write.I must be the embodiment of conceit and unfazed narcissism.There is no remedy to this condition.It is a case of the means justifying the end.I need to know that someone else is reading so that I may continue to write.I cannot deny the instant gratification I gain from the little comments I get on my blog, no matter how scathing or flattering.

Writers often use a self deprecation as a weapon to gain compliments.I prefer to use a garbled sense of humility instead.My Indian sensibilities make such things very easy and my aversion towards self deprecation is probably genetic.

I can go on and on; but I wish to save myself the embarrassment of having to use words like 'magnanimous' and 'illustrious'.

Yours truly,
A guilty writer.

P.S. Dear reader,I know I am supposed to apologize for the use of such utterly indiscreet methods of manipulation.However, since I am still the writer, I am only doing my job.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Two States

I did it! I came out of my shell,with an inching reluctance,took a look around and decided to crawl back in.Earlier this year, I had resolved to look beyond the lure of classic literature(when it comes to classic literature I am the proverbial moth that hovers around a flame).I've read non fiction,contemporary fiction,books on evolution,theoretical physics,self help and endless rhetoric. I miss the comfort of my familiar niche.I miss the lilt of the words and the archaic obsolescence of the writing.This feeling is reinforced by a recent reading of 'Two States' by Chetan Bhagat.

Chetan Bhagat is something of a poster boy for self confessed 'unsophisticated' writing.He is as colloquial as the 'big fat Indian novel' is allegorical.'Two States' is the saga of a couple who meet at business school,fall in love and nearly end up being star crossed lovers as they are from very different communities.The stereotypes are easily recognizable and the writing makes it almost possible to play the various Indian accents in your head.At times the book assumes the pace of three hour long Bollywood film.At some point I began to wonder if the lovers were going to burst into song and run around trees.

Bhagat has often been hailed as simplicity's answer to the 'great Indian novel'.Bhagat's style is unassuming and annoyingly simple.Unlike R K Narayan,whose style is unequivocally Indian in a quirky but lovable way,Chetan Bhagat's writing ends up being dry and predictable.If I want to hear the juicy account of a star crossed marriage,I needn't look beyond the ever prevalent and ubiquitous neighbourhood gossip.

As an afterthought;I should try Vikram Seth.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ahead of Time

Let us talk in slurs
That bear no meaning;
Till the lifeline of wit blurs
And relives its years of weaning.
Let us both reflect in repose;
And,casting stoicism aside,
Let our lofty ideals prepose
The underlying lethargy in our stride.
For who knows? In some lamentable eon
Our words;churlish and devoid of depth,
Like cherished relics of a time bygone;
Will hold all to ransom,with an empty threat.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Book Trail

I take a lot of pride in just knowing that each book in my collection is a vault of secrets.There are telltale signs that do more than just reveal where each book has been.There are some with what I like to call 'tears from the rain',or the after effects of keeping books in bags that aren't water proof.Others bear signs of insufferable suffocation,a consequence of stuffing a bulky book along with a plethora of necessities in a container.The 'fresh from the crop' variety are those that remain untouched;some laden with dust and slithering silverfish, and others spic and span from years of imprisonment in an airtight(or so I believe) bookshelf.

'Tess of the D'Urbervilles' is an exception.My mother gave the book rave reviews,she passionately maintained that it was 'more poignant than 'Jude the Obscure''.For an adolescent the impending appeal of a book increases exponentially when it bears the whiff of a century old scandal.My mother bought it as one would acquire a relic.I began to read the story of a maiden of aristocratic descent, born into poverty and duped into being scarred for life.Hardy's gradual narrative with rural overtones can tire the impatient reader.I read three fourths of it and moved on to Dostoyevsky(Hardy is rarely as intense and as dramatic).

Years later,I turned to Hardy again.I suppose it's safe to assume that in literary terms,age caught up with me.I re-read it and understood the melancholy and the dignified suffering of Hardy's people.For the first time,I saw the breathtaking splendour of the English countryside that formed the core of Hardy's work.I grew accustomed to his style and then I was mugged. My handbag,the one taken by the thief, had a copy of 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles'.

A few months later,my mother bought another copy of 'Tess' to make up for the loss of the first one.The new book is from a different publisher and it stands eagerly,in its unused yet familiar glory,waiting to be read again.When an old book goes missing,a new one arrives to take its place.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

See How they Run

"See how they run",a line from 'Lady Madonna' by the Beatles,reminds me of one of our domestic maids who came,worked and fled.When we moved to North Bangalore,like the average urban Indian family,we needed a domestic maid.This 'amma' (a term of endearment assigned to a lot of domestic maids) was recommended by nearly all of our neighbours. She worked in several other houses and had a reputation for being honest,pious and meticulous.

One could see amma cleaning the premises of the local temple,during the wee hours of the morning for absolutely no charge.She would then clean our house as all of us left early in the morning.She had a striking young daughter who was an excellent cook.The duo worked in our house during the evenings as well.Although generally reliable,she was also known for going on sudden pilgrimages and trips to her 'native town'.She also suffered from stress related health problems owing to the domestic work at ten different houses.

Her personal life was unimaginably complicated. She had a truant husband who happened to be an unemployed parasite in the bargain.He cheated on her and married his mistress.Amma paid for the wedding and she also funded his life with his second wife(bigamy among Hindus is illegal but not uncommon).The daughter was married to a man who epitomized the proverbial 'bum'. She had a school going son and had a kind of 'on and off' relationship with her husband. Every time the daughter separated from her husband she came to live with amma.

As a family they lived beyond their means.They had a refrigerator and a plasma TV.They splurged heavily on ornaments and religious functions and were always short of funds when it came to paying the school fees of the little boy.In due course of time the daughter went back to her husband and they kept five purebred dogs as pets. As amma's health was taking a turn for the worse,she decided to quit domestic work.She opened a convenience store in the heart of the slum and ran it with the help of her daughter.

Setting up a convenience store and living beyond one's means almost never go together.They needed an initial investment and a loan.Most domestic workers are unaware of facilities provided by cooperative banks and hence don't have bank accounts.Banks usually don't grant loans to 'slum dwellers' over issues related to getting a surety.Entrepreneurs like amma end up relying on wily creditors and dubious chit fund schemes to fund their ventures.When business doesn't go well and the chit fund fails to pay,they default on their loans.

Amma and family were no exception.Their creditors were after them.Things went on till the day they just disappeared.No one ever saw them or heard from them again.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bengali Names and Colonial Hangovers

What lies in a name? A hidden agenda or a colonial hangover? It is my luck to have a surname that differs from that of my parents even though both surnames are effectively the same.

Bengal bore the brunt of British,French,Portugese and Dutch colonists.It is also one of the last states to rise,sleepy eyed,from an extended colonial hangover.The signs of this are very obvious.There is the restaurant in Kolkata named 'Moulin Rouge',the Victoria Memorial-the house of colonial relics;then there are sprawling colonial mansions lining the banks of the Hoogly river on Kolkata's outskirts and of course shortened surnames.

My surname is Banerjee,short for Bandyopadhyay.I am quite accustomed to arched eyebrows and eyes brimming with questions every time I submit a form. My surname reads Banerjee and my father's reads Bandyopadhyay.Individuals with a tendency to be curious ask,sometimes politely and at other times pointedly,about the apparent discrepancy.My answer,that the British shortened Bandopadhyay and made it Banerjee because the latter was difficult to pronounce,is met with guffaws and sighs of relief.

Interestingly,my grandfather's surname was also Banerjee and at one point of time so was my father's.The education board in it's zeal to make a patriotic statement changed his surname to Bandyopadhyay when he was awarded his high school certificate.He lived with the name for the rest of his life and my mother acquired it by virtue of marriage.My parents decided to spare me the agony of having a last name that non-Bengalis find difficult to pronounce(that hasn't spared me the agony of having Bengali first name which is pronounced differently in all other languages).

When my friends ask me why I don't consider using the original Bengali name as my surname I have only one thing to say.Bureaucracy,a part of the colonial hangover.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Tales from the Crypt

My mother often narrates these stories about two women in her extended family.One who dared to live on the edge and the other who was shunned into complete obscurity.Although they make great case studies with respect to the general paradigm shift in the perception of women;to me they serve as a grim reminder of what my life could have been like in their time.

The first,a distant relative of my maternal grandmother,chose to become an actress. She starred in the Bengali version of 'Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam'(titled 'Sahib Bibi Golam' in Bengali) alongside Uttam Kumar,the then superstar of Bengali cinema.I did a little research on the internet;starting with Uttam Kumar's IMDB page and moving on to bits and pieces about the plot of the movie to conclude that this is she . Regrettably,very little is known about her. There are no photographs as the family had nothing to do with her,owing to her 'exploits' in the film industry.Bengal,in the days preceding India's independence,was superficially the capital of the 'forward thinking'.As I mentioned,'forward thinking' was a superficial tag.Acting was typically considered to be the forte of individuals with 'loose and questionable morals'.For a woman,a profession in the performing arts was akin to one in prostitution.It breaks my heart to think that she had to live the way she did;bearing all the burden of societal censure,being ostracized by her loved ones,and hopping from one man to another(as was believed about every other actress no matter how chaste she may have actually been).

The second,a relative of my great grandfather,languished because her horoscope was as horrendous as she was beautiful.It was decreed that she would be married to an alcoholic who would drink himself to death.Her father ensured that such would be her fate.He got her married to a man who was drunk nearly all the time and hired a bodyguard so that her husband wouldn't come near her.Thus she lived;till her husband died,leaving her widowed and destitute.Indian families rarely acknowledged widows and her family was no different.I sometimes try to picture her;moving around like a creature of no significance with her tonsured head bowed in shame,never daring to look another man in the eye.It is said that she died alone,her body remaining unclaimed till one of her nephews became aware of her plight and gave her a decent funeral.

I often recount these stories in my mind and I am thankful that I live in a different time.I am fortunate to live in a city where it is occasionally possible for a woman to shed the inhibitions imposed by gender, and think like a human being.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Illness

I lie still
Woe begotten,grief stricken.
The dust on the window sill
Stays unmoved,almost forgotten.
My eyes flicker;
Trying to grasp the intangible.
I start to bicker;
Attempting to list the interminable.
In all this time
I have danced,lingering on numb toes.
In all this time
I have wilted,confiding in bitter foes.
I conjure rhymes;
My senses flung upon some distant shelf.
My mind mimes
The trappings of my former self.
I wait for the day
When my life will again be trite.
For I cannot stand to sway;
Singular in diminishing might.

P.S. The after effects of the seasonal flu.When one desires to be healthy, it is more comforting to walk with both feet on the ground than with one's head in the sky.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It Helps to Miss the Bus

It literally helps to miss the bus.Especially if the nature of your search for an idea for a blog entry verges on the desperate.I spend three hours a day commuting to and from work and cover a distance of nearly thirty kilometers one way.People living in parts of the world, where long distance travel is trivial and the infrastructure makes one's burden a tad lighter,might scoff at the number.It takes a seasoned Bangalorean to understand that thirty kilometers nearly amounts to the first hurdle of a dreary pilgrimage.My employer is kind enough to provide transport,thus saving me the ordeal of inching through snail-pace traffic.The only catch here is that I need to be present at the bus stop at 6:50 am;something that my occasional tardiness doesn't permit.

When I miss the bus,I rely solely on the benevolence of Bangalore's ubiquitous transport provider the B.M.T.C. The Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation has buses coming in various colors,differing in the provision of air conditioning,comfortable seating and vehicle suspension.The B.M.T.C. has a set of air conditioned buses popularly called 'Volvo buses'(there are other buses manufactured by Volvo which have no air conditioning but only the air conditioned ones come with the 'Volvo' moniker).For the remainder of this article I will use the terms 'regular' and 'Volvo' to refer to the different types of buses.

Travel in a 'Volvo' comes at a higher price.While 'regular' buses are packed with a diverse mix of individuals,'Volvos' go nearly empty and house either 'IT professionals' or ignoramuses who have no idea that the tickets are priced higher than usual.One can't help but feel piteous towards these oblivious travelers who pay the price for ignorance with a quiet grimace.'IT Professionals' belong to a different creed altogether.In 'regular' buses it is common to see school children without shoes,construction workers with shovels,bangle sellers with stacks of their wares,poultry sellers carrying hysterical chickens,eunuchs looking enviously graceful in saris and I once saw a turban clad man carrying a primitive musical instrument.Going in a 'Volvo' is like moving through a delusional alternative world where everyone,barring the average ignoramus, is affluent.This is the world of IPods,Blackberrys,noise reduction headphones,designer clothes and accessories and accents that are a hodgepodge of the American and the local.

As one approaches the IT hub,the commuters turn unnecessarily 'hip' and the bus conductors,politely multilingual.Passengers are guaranteed the pleasure of being addressed as 'sir' or 'madam' as opposed to 'regular' buses where the average commuter is treated to a derogatory 'aye'.One can no longer see demure college girls struggling to keep their balance as the bus swings precariously.People flinch self consciously even to ask each other the time.

It helps,occasionally,to miss the bus and witness,with wonder,the great divide.An extra hour of travel with four bus changes is far more gratifying than staying put in the company shuttle that gets you to work in a jiffy.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Living to Write

It takes a little more than being well read to be a convincing writer.Feigning experience sometimes impedes the thrill of a riotous imagination.Writing that lacks the richness and the tangibility of reality starts off as something promising and turns frigid and limp towards the end.If all that is meant to be written has already been written,then new writers need to encircle a little more than what lies 'outside the box'.

Here are some of the things I intend to try before I write

Faith:If being an agnostic implies spending quality time on the fence then it is only fair that I give equal weight to the existence of a personal God as I do to the nonexistence of one.

Standardized tests for admission to business school: Writing one of these tests is very tempting;the cycle of preparation,rejection and acceptance appears nearly as lucrative for a book premise as the cycle of death,birth and reincarnation.

Appearing on the cover of 'Good Housekeeping': How else can I come up with something like 'Mrs. Dalloway'? One might assume that I intend to work as a traveling salesman in order to envision something of the magnitude of 'The Metamorphosis'.Fortunately,Kafka wrote about what was within and not without.

A visit to Calcutta:I must ensure that I travel either on foot or rely entirely on public transport.The suffocating humidity and immeasurable wealth of the city makes enough fodder for a thesis.

A visit to Paris:I need to convince myself that one needn't live in Paris in order to experience a personal renaissance.

Regular trips to government offices in India:I need to understand bureaucracy in order to capture the sheer joy of a life without it.

Going for a month without internet access:I believe that such a measure will bring forth a personal renaissance.

I urge my readers to suggest other things I can try before I write.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Little Quietude

Death makes us silent.The bewilderment of survivor's guilt and the sheer futility of repeated cross questioning leaves us tired,ambivalent and in a rut.Death leaves a glaring void;a finicky desire to remain rooted and not move on.I wanted to avoid posting this on my blog but I feel the need to purge in order to progress.

When I watched my father succumb to a long illness,I held a presumption about my ability to accept things without vulnerability and irrationality.I was wrong.Grief came in the most unlikely form and left me choking and overwhelmed with the myriad list of possibilities.Like that of never having a father to give me away on my wedding,or that of my unborn children never getting to know their grandfather and the cruel reminder that my widowed mother has to seek comfort in the faded memories of a marriage that lasted thirty four years.

I also lost my dog,a constant companion of twelve years,last week.Ironically,four months after my father's passing,in a way that was excruciatingly similar.My mind is filled with images that are brutally beautiful and poignant.I want to shun any trace of remembrance and start over as though nothing had happened in the first place;something of an impossibility when there are former belongings and photographs strewn all over the place.

I realize that this entry is a tad personal and pitiful.I wanted to share this as I know I am not alone in my tryst.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Unexpected Delight of 'Twilight'

The appeal of 'young adult' fiction lies in the nostalgic empathy it evokes in the 'mature' reader.'Twilight' was presented to me on the occasion of my birthday(I'm old enough to have a quarter-life crisis and wish that I was 15 again);I started reading it more out of curiosity than from the desire to fit in.'Twilight' makes me want to be 15 again. If only Stephanie Meyer had written it when I was 15.

Ms. Meyer's writing is akin to what a low-profile teenager with a growing flair for writing might pen in her journal.The over-descriptive text peppered with gushing accounts of every look,every touch,every accidental brush of the skin and the slow frustration of young love, ever reminiscent of that first high school crush;forms the substance that holds the reader,irrevocably glued, to the manuscript.'Twilight' sits comfortably,filling the void left by overused cliches in the romance and horror genres.

'Twilight' is surprisingly gripping and a lot less hilarious than I had anticipated it to be.It may be the substance for good satire,but even the unparodied original has its own share of charm.Stephanie Meyer is far from being a new age Jane Austen but she has certainly found herself a niche.'Twilight' may never qualify as one of the most loved books of all time but it is definitely one to be remembered.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

It Happens Only in India: High Tea in Disposable Cups

I miss reading books by English authors that had elaborate accounts of the ritual of 'high tea';perhaps a less cultured and studied version of its Japanese counterpart but nevertheless,treated as an integral part of the 'English' way of life.I attended a 'tech talk' at 'The Leela Palace';where the attendees were treated to a scrumptious assortment of goodies, good enough to keep the naive epicure satisfied.They called it 'high tea'.I was pleased to note that they had kept their word,unlike some other event organizers who skimp on their promises.

Educational institutions organize similar events quite frequently.It is understandable that universities must skimp in order to avoid budgetary and logistical nightmares.It is also an accepted fact that most people(disinterested students in particular) attend technical lectures at universities with the hope of getting the much coveted 'high tea'.The lengths to which people go to get free stuff is amazing; considering the fact that every lecture in an Indian university begins with a prayer,an invocation song and the ceremonial lighting of the lamp; and then moves on to the actual lecture(at least an hour long) followed by a question and answer section completely devoid of questions.Guests wait in eager anticipation for the announcement that sounds something like ,'please assemble outside for some high tea'.

So what does high tea look like in this context? There is a queue that originates at a flimsy wooden table(covered with a white tablecloth or a plastic sheet) ,runs for some finite distance and then diverges into two(and sometimes three)distinct lines.The point of divergence(or convergence depending on how you see it)is usually the location for a potential scuffle.As one approaches the 'tea table',one will see a large stainless steel dispenser,minuscule disposable cups made of plastic and biscuits(or sometimes a slice of cake per person).It is customary for people to gulp down the tea and gobble up the snack and return to wherever they came from;satiated and content with the fact that even though the lecture sounded like ancient Greek,they stayed long enough for high tea!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

It Happens Only in India: The ABC of the 'A.B.C. Programme'

A lot of acronyms come to my mind when I see the title of this entry,A.B.C. and B.B.M.P. in particular.For those living outside Bangalore the B.B.M.P.(Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagar Palike) is the city municipality corporation and the A.B.C. is the famed 'Animal Birth Control' programme launched by the B.B.M.P. to counter a certain growing menace. Let me dissect the nuances of the programme based on things I have learned and perceived over the years.

A for Animal- The animal in question is man's best friend,the domestic dog. A spate of events involving citizens,particularly children,being attacked by 'pariah' dogs, has made the city municipality sit up and take notice.It isn't uncommon to see the most fascinating variety of mixed breed dog packs lounging around outside butcher shops and dumpsters.Little children,and adults with juvenile tendencies,often find themselves in the vicinity of dogs at the height of all kinds of canine activity;like squabbling,eating and even mating(yes Indian kids learn early).It is a well accepted fact that even the most docile house pet turns hostile when disturbed.The B.B.M.P. realized this after a spate of unfortunate and gory incidents where toddlers were killed by street dogs.

B for Birth- The cycle of birth and death is inevitable,even for the Indian street dog.For a species to survive,it is necessary for the birth rate to exceed the death rate. This probably explains the population explosion of stray dogs,given the fact that each female has around ten puppies every six months.Let us remember that only a handful from each litter live to attain maturity but the cycle repeats and the doggy demographic expands.Clever females have their puppies around places where food is available in abundance.Do dumpsters and butcher shops sound like nice places to hang out? For dogs,yes. For people,no.

C for Control- The B.B.M.P. realized that it was a lot easier to launch an Animal Birth Control programme as opposed to running a 'Keep Bangalore Clean' campaign(running two campaigns at the same time would have probably been a nightmare).The 'knights of the ABC',as I like to call them, are B.B.M.P. employees who move around in dog catching vans; carrying nets,rods and other equipment to catch dogs.Sterilized canine veterans who have been there and done that,sit nonchalantly as their compatriots are bundled into cages.The unlucky ones are 'euthanized' and the lucky ones(mostly friendly puppies) are sent back within a day,sporting a small cut in the left ear to mark them as 'sterilized'. There are also a set of dogs who are only too well versed with the methods of 'the knights of the ABC' to get caught.These are the animals who give birth every six months and over whom the B.B.M.P. has no control!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

More Haiku

In The Spirit of the Flu:

I cower and hide
In times of disease,counting
Numbers of death's strike.

To Etta James:

Dark angel, swaying
Voice,ethereal in irony;
Sings till I'm silent.

To James Joyce

King of the abstruse,
Erring in speech,confounding
Them who understand.

To the Art of Haiku

Truant sentences
Entwined in structure,crushing
Minds of sane poets.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Growing Pains

I wasn't born a Diva. Being a Diva was something I acquired by trying to emulate the average Victorian heroine.I wasn't always a rambler.In fact my writing used to be a lot simpler. Allow me to illustrate with an example.

Here is something that I would have written as a six year old.It is titled 'My Pet'(based on a vague recollection of a similar 'composition' I had written when I was in school).

I have a pet dog. Her name is Jojo. She is twelve years old.She has brown fur and brown eyes.She likes to eat chicken,biscuits,ice cream and chocolates.She also likes to drink milk. She goes for walks everyday. She likes babies and barks at all the other dogs. I love my pet very much.

If that was then then this is now.'My Pet' as written by La Diva.

I often refer to my dog Jojo as my pet;perhaps out of conceit and sometimes due to the pressures of convention. Jojo and I are practically siblings.We've grown up together and lived under the same roof for a good twelve years.I've always maintained that a dog is like a sibling who never retaliates. I may have taken the canine trait of submissive 'human worship' for granted; but Jojo was,is and will always be the real 'Diva'.

Age has not marred the honey-like hue of her golden brown coat, nor has it diminished her fetish for chocolates,cookies,ice cream and chicken.Jojo can put the Atkins diet to shame by surviving on nothing but milk for days.Walking,as far as she is concerned,is a social event that involves hurling uncharitable curses at pariah dogs that throng the streets. She is nevertheless maternal towards puppies and little children.We share a bond that transcends the trials of adolescence and the perils of young adulthood.I sometimes wonder if she is secretly human.


I have always felt that children express profoundity by cloaking it in simplicity.Why must growing up be so painful?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Dance

I think this is what Zen is supposed to feel like.

I leap
Over endless peaks
Clothed in unbearably light infinity.
I dance
Till I am ground
To a halt.Reminiscent of sleep.
My feet aren't mine;
But my toes itch
Till I anoint them with balm.
I spin around the realm
Of my being,as I watch myself
Playing truant with eternity;
Teasing and tilting
The delicate balance
Of what I think I perceive.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Dear Diary

Dear Diary,

I picked up a copy of 'The Diaries of Kafka' from a bookstore yesterday.A friend who detests reading commented saying, 'it is a diary,it is someone's private property'.Yes,Kafka's diaries were his own till he died and his friend Max Brod decided to edit them and have them published(much to the probable chagrin of Franz Kafka;a tormented man writhing in his grave).The diaries are now available in large numbers,open to public scrutiny decades after his death.I'm not quite sure if Anne Frank or any other diarists, victimized by posthumous fame and the perils of posterity,find this amusing.

I'm positive that I should find such a thing revolting if my diaries were to be published instead of being burnt(or buried,whichever is ecologically beneficial).All the entries, driven by the most abject privation and desperation, may serve as fodder for a psychology class,but little thought goes into the quiet humiliation of the diarist.I realize that I am being hypocritical but Kafka's work cannot be read,it can only be felt.I am looking for a portal that will grant me that small glimpse into Kafka's world, so that I may understand the depth of his work.

I can make peace with the public circulation of my diaries once the content is comparatively abstruse.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

It Happens only in India: The Stampede for Stamp Paper

Perhaps 'stampede' is a rather impolite exaggeration of 'really long queue'.From the wee hours of the morning till the scorching hours of lunch time,frequent visitors to M.G. Road in Bangalore are treated to the sight of a line of people desperately queued up outside the State Bank of Mysore.It is one of the few banks that deals in foreign exchange and it is the only bank in Bangalore that sells stamp paper (the other is another branch of the same bank).I came to know,quite recently,that the fuss had nothing to do with foreign exchange and everything to do with stamp paper.

A bank employee hands out 'challans'(application slips) to the people lined up.Everyone in line has to,in a short time,become adept at the art of safeguarding one's position in the queue and filling in the form at the same time.Most people lean at dangerous angles against the wall of the building to achieve this feat. The challan has fields like 'denomination','amount' and many others; the most intriguing field being the one titled 'commission'. The 'commission' is usually a percentage of the amount and it varies with the nature of the stamp paper.There are a few veterans who know these figures by heart, irrespective of whether they know the mathematical calculation behind it or not.

Passers by throw curious and sympathetic glances at the people in line.The well informed mutter things like, 'This stamp paper thing is a pain'; the less informed claim in wonder, 'Such a long queue for foreign exchange!'. The average person standing in line checks his watch from time to time;getting more agitated as the hour nears 2:00 pm.

It is thus not surprising that there was a stamp paper scam. Just as every other annoying Indian phenomenon comes bundled with an associated scam.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Gathering Dust on the Bookshelf

An eclectic bookshelf,nurtured by three very different individuals, is bound to be quaint. The bookshelf at home has books written in English,Bengali,German and other tongues understood only by mathematicians and machines. There are corners of immaculate cleanliness and other corners laden with dust and reeling from neglect. My eyes scan every book and linger for a moment longer on each book plunged and squeezed in with good intentions and left untouched for no particular reason. Here is the list of books that have been both intentionally(yes there are books that I've been curious about but somehow the barrier set by the average mental block is indomitable) and unintentionally left out.

'Understanding Physics' by Issac Assimov- In school I hated physics not because I had anything against the subject but because of unavoidable circumstances. It was a bizarre combination of the Indian education system's obsession with 'learning by rote' and the fact that my mother is a teacher of college level physics.I was intrigued to find a physics book written by Assimov and this is why I sometimes yearn to read it. The pictures of energy levels of electrons add to the mental block. I hope to clear this hurdle and I am seeking help from Stephen Hawkins and Gary Zukav('The Dancing Wu Li Masters' or physics coated with eastern philosophy for dummies).

A collection of short stories by O Henry - I love O Henry and his sense of pun and irony. I sometimes pull the volume out,read one story and slide it back. The book remains untouched till the next time I see it. The neglect is unintentional but regrettable.

Two volumes of short stories by Guy de Maupassant- Too melancholic! I needn't say anything more.

'Gitanjali' by Tagore - I read about fifteen poems translated to English by Tagore. The emphasis on God was a little too much but the soothing verse offered solace. I feel ashamed when I see Tagore's scrawling handwriting in the Bengali script next to the English translation. I need to learn how to read in my own mother tongue first.

'Shirley' by Charlotte Bronte- A book my mother picked up at a book fair. The line 'As unromantic as Monday mornings' made it quite clear that it had nothing in common with 'Jane Eyre'. I may read it, sometime in the distant future.

A collection of five novels by Dickens- The only one I've touched is 'A Tale of Two Cities'. Even the facebook group 'I am a maniac for classic literature' failed to stir my interest in 'Hard Times' and the rest. I really don't know how to deal with Dickens and it simply breaks my heart.

'Mother' by Maxim Gorky - A book my mother bought at a Soviet bookshop when she was a young girl. She admits that she bought it only out of curiosity at a time when Bengal was enraptured by the 'promise' and fervor of communism. She never read it and the book summary makes me a little frightened.

'The Diary of Anne Frank' - I feel an inconsolable lump in my throat whenever I think of Anne Frank and start to read the first few entries. I don't know how to deal with Anne Frank either and it also breaks my heart.

After all this I still unashamedly buy and sell books as though they were shares!

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Observer

I sit in silence,
Like a hostile witness
Concealed cleverly
Behind blinds.
I dare not blink;
Lest my movement provokes
Any suspicion
Of impending lethargy.
I watch;
I do not implore
Against that which is unseemly
Or applaud
That which represents beauty.
Stillness is my forte,
Firm and rooted I stand.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

More Haiku

I keep my finger
On the tab of my future;
It kills my present.

The nature of lust;
Its inconceivable guile
Aids evolution!

I see your visage
Blurred to infinity when
Your comfort I seek.

Pursuing lost chance
Is like looking for ice while
Treading on hot coal.

P.S. I don't even know why I wrote the last one.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Books for Sale

This is a sequel to this entry about the sale of books to a second hand bookstore. During the course of the past month I have been trying to cleanse my life of all traces of redundancy. I am also trying to make space (physical space to stack new things and not just space in the metaphysical sense). I've been putting this activity off due to my excessively maudlin attachment to books. I got a wake up call yesterday(more like an obnoxious wake up alarm) when I brought home Homer and Dahl from Crossword (I couldn't resist opting for the Crossword membership card either).

So here's a list of books that are getting the axe. I will be selling them to Blossoms,my favorite second hand bookstore(and the only one that I know).

'Lolita' by Nabokov - I agree the book is well written and a pioneer in its own right.I loved Nabokov's 'love affair' with the English language and the terrain of the United States of America. However, I will never cease to find Humbert and his paedophilia disgusting and revolting. I would probably shudder to read it again.

'Atonement' by Ian McEwan - Loved the beginning,hated the way the end was written. Here's the entry detailing my love-hate relationship with the celebrated novel.

'The Da Vinci Code' - I will reiterate yet again that Dan Brown should write books on art History,Biblical conspiracy theories and speculation on religious orders without an element of fiction in them. I would have loved to cut out the portions of the book that are evident of Brown's fiction writing prowess and preserve the rest,but it's more work than I would like.

'The Sands of Time' by Sidney Sheldon- Racy but predictable read with a lame ending.My favorite part in the book was the front page containing a quote from Hemmingway about Spain.

The other books getting the boot will be all the Mills and Boon romances and some other books of a mushy nature.

I'm not selling my soul,I'm merely dragging it out of a rut.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of....Wishful Thinking

I started a fitness regime that comprises a combination of Yoga and Pilates as a part of the 'Self Improvement Plan' I make every year(In other words,I made a resolution at the beginning of the year).As a result, I've purchased a yoga mat and a set of hand weights;things kept at a strategic location so that I feel inspired to roll out the mat,grab the weights and get started.On the bright side, I feel a lot better and more energetic.On the flip side; sports shops are now on my list of places to visit while on a shopping spree(as though shoes,bags and clothes weren't enough).

I had a shopping spree inspired dream that took place in an RbK showroom.I usually don't visit RbK showrooms.I am more content with Addidas(so that I can swoon over Zidane jerseys) and Nike(I usually walk in with the hope that someday I'll buy an Arsenal jersey and cheer the gunners at the Emirates stadium).I vowed never to walk into an RbK showroom ever since Thierry Henry left Arsenal,joined Barcalona and had Rbk as his sponsor.

Allegiance to sports teams aside,my dream was relatively football free.The new fitness regime made me want to run to the nearest place and buy some 'exercise clothes'. I went from store to store till I landed at RbK. I found a pair of jeans that caught my fancy(what happened to 'exercise clothes'?).The jeans were well fitting and flattering (the wishful thinking starts here). To add to that, they were a part of a new line of clothing exclusively for women.I was then given an offer that I could buy a Tata Nanao (the cheapest version priced well over Rs. 100,000) at a 'discounted' price of Rs. 44,000! Amen!

I still remember the excitement with which I made out a cheque of Rs. 44,000(This was excluding road tax,insurance and registration fees.I sometimes wonder if I subconsciously crunch numbers in my head).I've just read 'The Secret' by Rhonda Byrne which says that one just has to ask and the universe will provide.Since then,I've decided never to dismiss nice and lucrative dreams as merely an outcome of wishful thinking.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Something in Common

What do socialism and capitalism have in common? Their implementation was highly flawed. The application of both lacked one thing; common sense.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Haiku for the Diva

Girl who thinks that she
With her work will change the world
Thrives in the unreal.

Lyrical,vain dreams
Crafted from nothing;to feed
The unwritten whim.

Soliloquy is
The forte of the poet
Who forgets to write.

I fly on the wings,
And abide by the rules of
Wretched vanity.

Damsel in distress,
Scribbling to carve pictures
In white and charcoal.

Damsel in distress,
Smudging brushes with ire
To paint her visage.

P.S. - A few things you already know about yours truly.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

It Happens only in India: Snail Pace Speed Post

Even the postal department isn't immune to computerization and its many pitfalls.I had the experience a few days ago, when I wheeled into the tiny neighborhood post office to send a letter via speed post.I realize that many of you are wondering how the postal department still holds its head high in times like these.Well it does;with the aplomb and alacrity of the tortoise who outran(or out-crawled?) the swift rabbit.

I did mention the pitfalls of computerization.Yes,even the post office has to deal with constantly crashing and seldom cooperating stubborn servers.It so happens that in this particular office,there is one counter to handle speed post and money orders.Every money order has to be approved(most people who make out money orders aren't aware of the postal code of the recipient.Every search for a postal code takes a good seven to eight minutes).The heat is sweltering,the post office can be likened to a dungeon housing sacks of letters.There are people trying to jump queues and others trying to chide them for doing so.Then there is the demure clerk sitting behind the counter, her shoulders slouched and her face pallid.Irate customers hover around the counter trying to cast a cursory glance towards the monitor.They move away in resignation;shaking their heads as they say,'slow server'.A senior postal officer tells the clerk to relax and not to hurry. These words of wisdom have a visible effect on her as she continues to stare at the screen.

It took me an hour just to pay for the postage and to get a receipt.On my way back, I started to weigh the pros and cons of faxing attested documents.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A Cup Full of Class

This entry is inspired by the sweltering yet tantalizing tea factory located on the hills of Ooty.One enters the premises and is swept away by the sheer force of the aroma of the 'ambrosial drink'.A swift tour of the factory,overlooking the machinery, culminates with a tiny cup of tea with a whiff of cardamom.There is a charming showcase with souvenirs lining shelves that are seldom touched.What struck me the most were two books; one titled 'Tea Poetry' and the other 'Tea,Scones and Cake' (I don't recall what the latter was called as I was already carried away by the former).

I asked one of the salesmen to show me the book of tea-inspired poems.I was struck by the blatant astonishment on his face. He handed me the book on scones and tea,his disbelief doubling when I insisted that I preferred the book of poems.It is quite common for people to buy tea at tea factories,rare for books to be sold at tea factories and even rarer for someone to buy books sold at tea factories.The man gently wrapped the book in a paper bag and then inside a cloth bag; giving me the bag directly instead of handing it to the clerks at the counter.

For someone who relishes wine-inspired poetry and generally uses coffee for inspiration, tea suddenly became the subtle liquor that brushes the senses lightly without much upheaval.The book carries a motley crew of poems, ranging from stiff upper lipped British reminiscence to the quaint Japanese haiku. It bears testimony of convoluted Chinese philosophy captured in Jasmine and the faint lamentations of a 'tea taster'.

If one can associate passion with wine and insomnia with coffee, one can comfortably attribute class to the delicate flavor of the so called 'Elysian' drink.How it calms the brimming soul of the fettered writer!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Constrained Liberation

The definition of personal liberty is subject to societal constraints. The boundaries of that definition are narrower for a woman.I wish I could say,with unwavering conviction, that my sisters and I are free; free to do as we wish within the confines of the legal system and free to indulge in things that our male counterparts take for granted. I don't think that the efforts of feminism are misplaced; but they still have a long way to go in making such freedom apparent, instead of letting it remain superficially glued to the edicts of constitutions.

One might argue that women today are far more liberated than their counterparts in the previous century.Women,in most countries,are allowed to vote,earn a living,own property and reap benefits that were once unimaginable.So does this mean that liberty isn't an absolute and that women ought to be 'thankful' that they are relatively better off now than women were before? It is like saying, 'the citizens of our city are relatively safe,if not completely safe,compared to people in other cities'. As far as I'm concerned there is not much difference between 'relatively safe' and 'unsafe', just as there isn't much difference between 'more liberated than before' and 'still not liberated'.

India was one of the first democracies that gave women the right to vote immediately after its independence.Still,given that it's been more than sixty years since that right was granted,women in India add societal constraints to define their sense of liberty.A 'free-thinking' woman in India must think twice before she refuses to marry young.She alone doesn't bear the brunt of the repercussions of such a decision, her parents bear it even before she does.A woman cannot be too intelligent,too opinionated or too 'talkative' for it is to her detriment. If she doesn't know how to cook she isn't adequately feminine.It also doesn't help if women cast aspersions on each other whenever convenient.How often are women expected to be domestically,politically and fashionably correct by their peers?

The dictates of traditional roles deal blows of death to the empowerment of women; and so does the self inflicted harm that outdoes the harm done by the opposite sex.The cause of feminism is misplaced in a world where women hurt each other and themselves as a rule of thumb.Feminine liberty is still a far cry away from where it should have been.It hurts to admit that womankind may have been partly to blame for this mishap.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Diva Writes Chick-Lit

I swear that if the recession strips away my income,source of nutrition and sense of dignity;I shall start to write chick-lit.

This isn't your run off the mill feel-good chick flick.It is probably the shortest one you will ever read and the first one to make you curse your designer accesories if you're a girl.Our heroine Shiela (incidentally 'Shiela' is Australian slang for woman) is your run off the mill chick lit heroine.Read further for her misadventures.

Shiela wants to skip along the sidewalk. She wants to step into the gurgling puddles that line the street,but she can't.She isn't sure if her present circumstances make such behavior seem appropriate.There is a slight drizzle after a thorough shower of rain;her patent leather Gucci boots, worth a quarter of her bonus, are dripping wet.The Louis Vuitton handbag,purchased after months of deliberation,is disintegrating from manhandling;the income tax department owes her a tax refund and there is a text message on her phone that says 'It's over'. The autorickshaws will not stop,there are no buses and definitely no good samaritans who will offer her a ride without taking undue advantage of her vulnerability.

The sudden change in relationship status is accepted without a sense of defeat.She will not tell her family about the juvenile split from a seemingly amiable boyfriend. Not when such news will grant them the incentive to introduce her to someone they have in mind.The cracks in a broken heart tend to heal with time, unlike the irrevocable damage done to designer goods made of patent leather. She calls her best friend.She realizes that it is a sign of propriety to wail over the loss of a presumably 'good catch', but she prefers to whine about the soaking boots. A home made remedy is suggested. The suggestion is taken with a tonne of gratitude sprinkled with a pinch of salt. The Guccis were gone for good. Was the sudden concern over the Guccis just a defense mechanism to avoid confronting the real issue? She didn't want to answer the question, she just wanted to skip!

Prudence can be a source of great discomfiture to those who want to burn the remains of a love affair gone sour. Shiela dourly wrapped her fingers around the bracelet he had given her on her birthday.She tugged gently at the beads without pulling the links apart.She treaded carefully into a cafe. She wanted to change the way she looked. At least she wanted to make it look like she was taking it well, and ghoulish eyes with smudged mascara weren't necessarily helpful.The door was opened even before she could grab the handle. Such a vision of perfection! A rare specimen of the opposite sex holding the door open for the benefit of a damsel with a diminishing morale. He tilted his head and smiled politely. She stared as he walked with his back towards the cafe,his demeanor reminiscent of Cary Grant.

She would stop him the next time. She would stop him and thank him for resurrecting chivalry. Yes! The next time! She would wear waterproof gum boots instead of designer disposables.

P.S. I now know why great writers prefer to starve!

Tweet Tweet

I am tweeting! Pop culture and the realm of social networking gives a different interpretation to my statement,albeit not very different from the meaning when taken in the ornithological context.Little birds 'tweet' for attention and so do 'Tweeters' who 'tweet' on 'Twitter'. While our avian counterparts are simply saying 'feed me mama,I'm hungry' with every tweet; we,as the most 'evolved' species, say different things like 'I am single! Date me!' or 'I'm sending updates to Twitter from my phone,I am like so connected!' or something as simple as 'Everyone's on Twitter and I am not socially irreverent enough to stay off it'. 'Tweeting' is on the road to outdoing it's predecessors 'Facebooking','Orkutting' and 'Blogging'.It takes a Web 2.0 junkie like yours truly to do the incorrigible; writing a Facebook status message that points to a Twitter update that says something about how I'm posting something new on my blog.

If the use of 'Twitter' is called 'tweeting' and if the use of 'Facebook' is called 'Facebooking' does it logically follow that programming in 'Lisp' (my latest fetish) called 'lisping'? I guess not. Such is the paradox of technologically inspired lingo.I admit that lisp has been around longer and is sometimes perceived as a tad archaic or just a tad 'geeky'; but apart from the reason that lisp coders may not want to use the adjective 'lisping' to describe what they do, I see no reason why a 'geeky' term should suffer such discrimination. There are several Lisp users with pages on Twitter, but they only 'tweet' they don't 'lisp'.One might argue that it is not the business of pop culture to embrace the idiosyncrasies of 'geekdom' but there wouldn't be any Web 2.0 if it hadn't been for the geeks in the first place.

The cruelty of pop culture aside,everyone seems to tweet for their fair share of attention. I've seen Twitter pages for 'The New York Times','BBC click' and about five pages for 'Lisp'.I too have my own Twitter page and I intend to add a 'Twitter' widget to my blog! I have no intention of rewriting the etymology of 'lisping' but I might spearhead the 'Give geeky terms their fair share of pop cultural exposure' movement.'Tweet tweet!'

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Impersonal

As a blogger, one is often given warranted and unwarranted advice on how to have an overflowing blog ticker.I've heard things from 'Why do your posts have so much text?' to 'Why don't you write about the people in your life?' to 'Why don't you make your blog more personal?'. The last one is the most tempting and the most vile. I am terrified at the prospect of turning this blog into one of those where the lines between reality and fiction become blurred to culminate into one maudlin memoir. There are less maudlin memoirs that end up on bookshelves but the last thing I want to do is turn myself into a memory logger.

When I started the blog as a whiny,self obsessed 'loner', I wanted attention and I got it.My friends confessed that they were seeing a side of me that they never had anticipated.It may come as a surprise to the proponents of the personal blog that the blog hardly had any followers till I rechristened and reinvented it to represent the chronicles of a diva who swirls around in half done endeavors.Even if life isn't a joke, I still want to cultivate the humor to laugh at it.A truly laudable personal blog takes integrity and conviction.A lamentable personal blog is one where the author finds her own anecdotes boring(I'm not trying to be sexist by saying 'her'. I suppose my male readers know better).

It took me a year to realize that the aegis of speculative fiction lets you run for cover when you need it.In the end I just happen to be a diva who loves speculation and wants to have nothing to do with the word 'lamentable' or its etymology.The blog stays the way it is!

P.S. I think I'm expected to say 'sorry' at the end of all this.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Tepid Sunset

Impatience in watercolor;something that comes effortlessly,something not hard to create. As a young girl, I offered myself comfort by assuming that Van Gogh wasn't a pacifist.At least he didn't leave traces of tranquility in his thick and vivid brush strokes.I invoke the same words of comfort now as I leave you a legacy of imperfection and restiveness.If you zoom in you might feel lost in the mesh of colors.Of course,I could give myself airs and call it post modernist impressionism.



P.S. - I still wonder if I should delete this.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

All in a Name

What lies in a name? A lot if you're human. Reading 'The Namesake' brought back memories of the many issues I had with my own name.I could see a bit of myself in the protagonist Gogol who has to struggle to come to terms with being a second generation immigrant with a peculiar sounding name.While I am not a second generation immigrant,I come close to being one in the Bengali sense.I am what Bengalis refer to as 'probashi', or a Bengali who lives in India but outside Bengal(the generic term N.R.I. is used for Bengalis living outside India).'Probashis', like immigrants,can never feel a sense of kinship towards their resident counterparts. They rarely fit snugly into the grind of their adopted homes and they end up creating an impenetrable microcosm that rarely offers escape routes to those already entrapped.'Probashis' are sometimes afflicted by the burden of bearing a Bengali name.

Bengali words are pronounced with rounded tones.There is a delicate line that distinguishes Bengali from Sanskrit and other Indian languages that are derived from Sanskrit.This disparity is as conspicuous to someone who doesn't know Bengali as it is negligible to someone who does.A Bengali name thus sounds quite different from its counterpart in almost any other Indian language.For instance my name is Anusree(often misspelled as Anushree). In Bengali it is pronounced 'o-nus-ree' which explains the absence of the 'h' in its English spelling.In other parts of India the name is spelled with the 'h' following the 's' and it is pronounced 'uh-nush-ree'.It thus follows that linguistic minorities are unintentionally subject to the erroneous rendition of their names,either in spelling or pronunciation.

Growing up I had to watch my teachers cringe every time they arrived at my name during roll call.I didn't bother to correct fellow Bangaloreans who happily called me 'uh-nush-ree' and spelled my name as 'Anushree'.I remember being unsure if my name was being called when my kindergarten teacher called my 'uh-nush-ree' on my first day at school.I felt embarrassed when people called me 'uh-nus-ree' in an effort to sound phonetic.There are numerous occasions on which I have been called 'Anusha','Anushka' and 'Anuri'; while close friends and other diplomatic folks call me 'Anu'. In a country where one can almost never get any work done at a government office, a name like 'Anusree' is a clear disadvantage.It isn't enough to spell my name twice in most cases.

I have given my mother endless grief over my dissatisfaction in this regard.She usually lists the alternatives and the rationale behind each one so as to drive home the fact that 'Anusree' was indeed the best option.Unlike Gogol, I don't intend to change my name (maturity aside,it is a bureaucratic nightmare). Over the years I have encountered names that are more than a mouthful and I am now content that my name pales in complication when compared to some of them.

p.s. - I was really flattered to find that 'Anushree' is listed in Namespedia

Thursday, February 19, 2009

An Acquired Indifference

When 'Slumdog Millionaire' swept up a fleet of Oscar nominations,a lot of Indians sat back and wondered whether all the attention was well deserved. There was restrained and unrestrained wrath from various quarters that included Amitabh Bachchan who wrote something in his blog about India not being a slum and Indians not being dogs.The success of 'Slumdog Millionaire' is attributed to its dismal depiction of life in India,the kind that fits the stereotypical notion of the 'Indian way of life' the western media likes to convey.(The same has also been said about 'The White Tiger', this year's Booker Prize winner).

I am not here to list the merits or the pitfalls of this seemingly one sided portrayal.I was struck by the workings of my own psyche as I watched the film.I walked out from it untouched,unchanged and without a whine or a word.I admit that it doesn't epitomize the pinnacle of cinematic brilliance but there were moments in the film that were as real as life on the streets of India. One can easily recognize the blinded child who begs for his living,the shrewd,smooth talking urchin who wants to pocket a quick buck, the lethargic,pot bellied police constable who beats up a convict to get answers,the little girl whose future is in the brothels and many of the others.I realized that I wasn't watching the film as an outsider with the objectivity of a curious novice,I watched the film with all the studied nonchalance of a veteran who has seen and heard too much to flinch. I suppose this sentiment is shared by many others who felt that the film was 'watchable with nothing new to show'.

The Indian press never fails to use the words 'lest we forget' after every national disaster or tragedy.It is a wonder that Indians forget nearly everything but they always remember to smile;something that has confounded multitudes of expatriates.Perhaps it is due to the indifference acquired from years of observation; like an heirloom making its way from one generation to the next,hardening with the passage of time. 'Slumdog Millionaire' is definitely not the most moving ode to the Indian slum. On the other hand; if Bollywood can churn out films that make us feel fulfilled, and the Indian art scene can wrench our tear glands dry, then maybe transnational productions that make us confront our indifference aren't as scheming as we think.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

When Technology Aids the Artist

Making self portraits is one thing and making a sketch of an animal is quite another.Eleven and a half odd years ago, I had accomplished the feat of making my dog Jojo sit absolutely still while I made a likeness of her in pencil.The picture was well appreciated by members of the family and got a B+ from my art teacher who said that I hadn't planned the layout of the picture well.Some five odd years ago we moved to a new house and all of the old artwork was banished to the loft along with an overflowing book collection.A few weeks ago,around the time I made a self portrait, I attempted to sketch a much older and wiser Jojo.She wouldn't sit still, she kept rolling over like a Diva(I acknowledge that she gets her Diva-like tendencies from me while I get my dislike for Bryan Adams from her).I decided to cheat by taking a little help from technology.What good are camera phones if they don't allow you to take snapshots of animals at their spontaneous best? This time I chose my 'photogenic and always pleased to pose pet' Toffee.Animals,unlike humans, have the charm of not being able to fake their facial expressions.Truant artists like me love to exploit this bestial trait to the fullest extent.Besides, it is much easier to replicate something from a camera phone than to use a live model.I give you 'Toffee in Black and White'.

The Red Carpet

'The Red Carpet' by Lavanya Sankaran was highly recommended by a friend of mine.It is a collection of 'Bangalore stories' as the cover suggests.This is the author's first book and for a maiden venture her attempt is decent yet fleeting as far as long term memory is concerned.

'The Red Carpet' is the kind of book you may want to read if you're waiting at an airport and don't want to gulp down yet another predictable bestseller.It can be particularly nostalgic for those who have seen Bangalore transform from the city known as 'the pensioners paradise' to 'India's silicon valley'.The characters include all the usual suspects and urban legends starting from the dapper chauffeur who wants to give his family a good life, to the scheming domestic maid who steals money from her employer's handbag to the U.S. returned yuppies who are caught in a clash of two cultures.The author herself is a U.S. returned, former investment banker educated in one of the 'hippest' schools in the city.Although her stories are quite authentic,they do not span the panorama of all that is 'life in Bangalore'. Her style is lucid,witty and entertaining. Had 'The Bangalore Times' been a tad more well written and observant of the pulse of Bangalore it would have sounded a lot like 'The Red Carpet'.

Nevertheless, I still see a hint of promise in this investment banker turned writer.She may not be Bangalore's answer to Jhumpa Lahiri but a little light reading shouldn't hurt.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Receding into Oblivion

A lot is said about the evils of recession and its cascading effects on sectors like IT,Finance and Real Estate.Very little is said about book lovers with an entrepreneurial spirit;the kind who open tiny bookshops round street corners.This is an ode of some sort to that spirit which sometimes wanes with the weight of the effort required to brace oneself in tough times.During the course of the past month I have become aware of the almost systematic demise of the minimalistic bookstore.I use the word 'systematic' as there seems to be a conspiratorial prophecy lurking behind the end of the proverbial 'shop around the corner'.

Tiny bookstores were dark and asphyxiating.They had books stacked haphazardly and precariously from floor to ceiling;as though the shop owner intended to replicate the leaning tower of Pisa by using nothing but books.One would,with intense apprehension,approach the shop owner and whisper the desired book title into his ears,lest the leaning towers crumble.One had to know what he or she wanted to read.Quite unlike shops of larger chains where readers flop down on bean bags and spend hours pouring over manuscripts before they even decide to buy something.The wizened owner of the shop around the corner always knew what to recommend.He knew every detail of the last book of even the most obscure genre.He didn't need a computer to find out whether a certain title was in stock, he merely glided over to the next decrepit shelf/stack and retrieved it as though he were Houdini.

The gigantic book chain is something like the cannibal that swallowed the tiny bookstore for lunch.I have no intention of sounding politically inclined but my lamentation is well justified.I lament the fact that I now need to go to some impersonal and impeccable store with sprawling interiors and sturdy shelves.It no longer seems blasphemous that such stores keep books by Sidney Sheldon and Archer under a section titled 'Indian fiction', or that I need to spell out the title of a book so that the salesperson may look it up in the database.I am now on a hunt for the last survivors of the endangered species of book entrepreneurs.Recession is too lame a reason to compromise on well recommended reading.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

To Ms. Blyton: The Lady who made me Write

The very first books I remember reading,after ruminating over fairy tales,were those by Enid Blyton.She was something like the J.K. Rowling for people who were children in the early nineties and before.While she brought out the silent sleuth in some of my friends,she brought out the writer in me.It was at the tender age of nine that I began writing what was intended to be my first book;a tale about a boarding school inspired by Ms. Blyton's 'Malory Towers' series.

Ms. Blyton's books had the quintessential quality of being unmistakably British.Little boys and tomboyish girls had faces covered with freckles and dainty pretty things were always pale English roses.Culinary feasts were described to the last delectable detail.There were always tables laden with sardines,potted meat,pies,scones,cucumber sandwiches and the works.Naughty boys always forgot to wash their 'grubby hands' and conceited girls brushed their hair till it shone.Enid Blyton,unlike several other writers,catered to a wide age group.It is quite rare to find someone who writes with equal panache for a five year old child as she does for an adolescent of twelve.Her characters climbed enchanted trees,flew around the world in chairs with wings,solved mysteries that left Scotland Yard red in the face,played tricks on each other in boarding school,suffered from pangs of guilt and envy and learned from their mistakes.Through her books she covered a gamut of experiences that every child either has or dreams of having.

One might accuse her of being a tad misconstrued and perhaps almost puritan in some of her views.Americans are described as shallow,narcissistic characters who need a little English 'sensibility' to be brought down to earth. In her books the perfect girl is one who wears no makeup,studies her lessons,never questions authority,shows no interest whatsoever in the opposite sex and is perpetually altruistic (we're talking about girls who are on the threshold of adulthood and about to enter college).She never ventured towards darker subjects like abject self doubt and the trials of conscience that plague angst ridden teenagers.It is unclear whether her female protagonists grow up to be pioneers or prefer to turn into Stepford wives.

Nevertheless,her work had this urging and inspiring quality that can goad a young girl into thinking,'What if I wrote like that?'.When we were children we saw ourselves as invincible creatures with an indomitable talent.Ms. Blyton helped fuel that presumption to the fullest extent.As a child I never moaned over the implications of my work,its desired impact on the present generation and its venerable quality for posterity.I simply wanted to write because Ms. Blyton showed me that she and I had something in common; we both loved telling stories.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Land Less Traveled

I envy writers who have pages brimming with accounts of travel and simmering visions of places and their people.I look over my work and see the dearth of a sense of belonging.If I were to write fiction,my characters would most likely be individuals without countries;the kind who dwell in mirages and lose all sense of possession once the mirage is dry.If writers are paid by the word then I stake my claim to bankruptcy even before I intend to bombard publishers with waif-thin manuscripts.

I see my own country as an alien would behold a foreign land.All that I have learned about India is through minute conclusions drawn over a series of observations made on life in Bangalore and Kolkata.The two cities represent two ends of an infinite spectrum and the void of all that is left in between haunts me.Nevertheless these pangs of self pity have brought to my notice that India is a land less traveled by its inhabitants.

Most Indians probably see the land as they see themselves,given the fact that many of them either live below poverty or are too busy chalking out a 'living'.We are a race that cannot feel pride as we're ignorant of what exists.There are some textbook writers who try to add a hint of romanticism to dreary descriptions of natural wealth.There must be some unspoken sentiment that hints that the average Indian stands still and wavers only occasionally to look beyond his/her immediate surroundings.

I am reminded of what Amitav Ghosh said about how one cannot feel like a writer unless one has seen the world.Drawing inspiration from a textbook is like plagiarizing a prescription and calling it science fiction.Little wonder then that the premise of the great Indian novel hangs precariously from the string that fastens the great Indian assumption.Those of us who don't like to assume,have nothing more to offer save anorexic stories of alienation.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Unsatisfactory Self Portrait

Last weekend I decided to while my time away by giving in to that faint artistic craving I feel when I look upon my untouched art supplies. I fished out a sheet of paper,a HB and a 2B pencil,a decrepit eraser and a drawing board.I sat facing my reflection in the mirror with not so much a sense of narcissism as with a sense of aesthetic censure.Self portraits are invariably deceptive.In this case it depicted the artist the way she wanted to be perceived; imperfect yet not quite herself.I seem to have got most of myself right.I wish I could boast of possessing a Parisian nose described by Victor Hugo as 'The despair of painters and the charm of poets'.My narcissism will only stop short of that kind of blatant gloating.Here's the fruit of my labor. I give you 'The Lost Diva'.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

For Eternal Memory

There are some who learn in a day what others may learn in a lifetime.There are events that memory won't allow you to erase.Someday in the future one might cast a cursory glance at one's reflection only to view an old,discarded version of themselves.So it dawned upon our protagonist 'X' after a certain day in his life that he would forge eternally to his very selective memory.

It was his first day of work.Six years of prayers muttered in resignation,mule like determination and one successful job interview had landed him there.As a teenager in Bangalore,he had gazed longingly at those buildings with darkened glass exteriors and the seemingly indomitable people who sauntered out of them with badges hanging round their necks.The building he entered was one of a multitude that swarmed the premises of a technology park.There was a prayer on his lips and a tie around his neck that occasionally suffocated him.He didn't care about asphyxiation.He remembered the tears in his mother's eyes and his father's grim blessing as they wished him well on this auspicious day.

He entered the lobby clutching a briefcase.He wore a crisp cotton shirt which would probably never crease,glistening black shoes and a tie that epitomized elegance.His hair was carefully oiled and combed painstakingly to one side.There were others waiting with him but the fact that he was the most dapper of them all gave him a sense of a competitive edge.What struck 'X' the most that day was what came next.

The 'freshers' were ushered into a board room designed to be aesthetically and acoustically pleasing.They were welcomed by a representative from human resources,a man without a tie.Of course there was no sin in not wearing a tie,perhaps this was the kind of place that was a little more relaxed.There were other employees who followed; directors,managers,a vice president and several others.'X' was now the most crestfallen with an impending sense of alienation.He imagined that they looked askance at him every time they saw him.Here they were; stalwarts in jeans and t-shirts and there he was, a fawning fresher in an uncomfortable outfit complete with a tie.

The lunch hour came quite soon as it usually does on the first day of work.'X' cringed every time he placed food on his plate.He wished he could pile food on his plate as inconspicuously as the veterans without looking like a conspicuous glutton.He was introduced to his new team after lunch.He felt like 'Forrest Gump' as he looked from his patent leather shoes to the sneakers his new manager was wearing.The informality put a bad taste in his mouth.He felt like he was culling himself one blow at a time every time he forgot to call his manager 'sir'. He could not recline in his new chair for it was too comfortable.He could not touch the bag of stationery he had been given,he wasn't accustomed to being given things without asking.He could not laugh at the jokes and participate in the afternoon banter between teammates,he wasn't familiar enough.All in all he felt like the caricature of an alien from a comic book nightmare.

Later that evening,he smiled blissfully when his parents asked him how his day was.He used the word 'awesome' to describe it to his college junior.He put his briefcase and patent leather shoes away.That night as he ran over the events of the day in his mind,it occurred to him that he wasn't alone.He finally rolled over to sleep and decided that perhaps the tie was a little too much.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

When Classic Literature meets Reality T.V.

I hold the belief that reality television would have spared classic writers the agony of starvation if it had come a couple of centuries earlier.Here's what reality T.V. would have done to some of my favorites.

Jane Austen- The undisputed queen of the love lorn.The witty producer behind the likes of 'The Bachelor'.There would have been a heavy demand for corsets,tea sets,pretty damsels and innuendos.

George Orwell- The mind behind 'Big Brother' and the relentless stalking camera.The contestants of Orwell's show wouldn't have felt the need to feign discomfort at the very blatant invasion of space.The necessity of having a celebrity version would have been close to nil as the regular version would have been invasive enough.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky - The relentless genius behind 'The Moment of Truth', with the exception that the questions would relate more to the strength human conviction than the wringing of filthy linen on T.V.

Franz Kafka- 'Existential Survivor'. Need I say more?

Ayn Rand- A force to reckon with.The lady who would make many a spine shudder with the ghastly 'you're fired' in the objectivist version of 'The Apprentice'.Donald Trump are you listening?

Oscar Wilde - Simon Cowell step aside you are nothing in front of Mr. Wilde! The judge on Idol who takes meanness to a whole new level.If you thought 'musical hara kiri' was a witty euphemism for bad singing, think again.It would have been the age of 'All good singers are good in the same way.Each bad singer is uniquely bad'.

It's a pity most writers live ahead of their time.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Multiplexes and the New Minority

The advent of the multiplex in India has condemned the friendly neighborhood movie hall to a slow and painful death.Gone are the days when school kids and college students queued up outside theaters to buy tickets well in advance.People wore their best outfits.While the traditional preferred to look immaculate with not a strand of hair out of place,the rest came with a carefully crafted 'bohemian' look.People bought modest little packets of popcorn and small cups of Coke.The ushers at the hall would check tickets with a practiced nonchalance as they admitted familiar and unfamiliar customers.People reclined in their seats and watched every advertisement and movie trailer with bated breath.An air conditioned hall was an added luxury and a balcony seat was considered truly elite.

Multiplexes are air conditioned by default.The concept of the balcony seat no longer exists.One can buy popcorn only in large buckets that never seem to finish and the coke glasses are also gigantic in comparison to their 'small hall' counterparts.There are no long queues outside multiplexes thanks to plastic credit and the internet.The ushers at multiplexes remind one of stern matrons in Enid Blyton stories; they stand with discerning expressions on their faces as they run metal detectors all over one's belongings.Most small time theaters have been torn down to make space for bigger multiplexes.The remainder of this dying breed are nevertheless valiant and standing unfazed.

The new minority are frequented by those who don't particularly enjoy watching movies at home and at the same time don't want to spend a fortune at a multiplex.The little halls are rarely full and it is possible to get balcony seats five minutes before a show.Audiences here lack the curt propriety of multiplex audiences.Screen heroes are greeted with standing ovations,comedians are treated to boisterous laughter and potential box office flops are subject to uncharitable banter and cat calls.Smaller movie halls also provide respite to secret lovers meeting incognito.

It is for us to see how many of these miniature stalwarts will withstand the ravages of time and intimidating theater chains.Here's to stuffy halls,unpretentious audiences and tiny helpings of popcorn.Long live the new minority!