Saturday, March 18, 2017

Derek Walcott


Last night on twitter, there was a lot of poetry and quiet celebration, because 87 is a good age and Derek Walcott has left behind poetry that matters. And plays.

Aisha said on twitter that it's impossible to read The Prodigal in pieces and in principle I agree, though I've personally never read it any other way, not having the book.

So here's my favourite portion from it* [from here]:

Reading the extracts from The Prodigal, I'm struck by how lightly Walcott carries off the high tone - that exultant register where it's possible to sustain the use of adjectives and make it seem necessary and just right.

And of course, among the peripatetic wanderings, there's the interrogation of age and what is allowed to oneself and what the testimonies of art amount to - 'no History left, just natural history'. Of this natural world, Walcott turns out to be a masterful historian and maybe the art of being that poet is testimony enough.


* Since I can't copy paste, I ought to have typed it out but I'm too lazy.

I ought to warn KM though - there are a lot of lizards scattered through these poems, okay?

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Letters to a Young Farmer

Via Michael Pollan on twitter, these interviews with some of the authors of an anthology called Letters to a Young Farmer.
One of the major themes in your letter is the idea of pursuing diversity and complex relationships. Why is that important?

One of the reasons farms have gone to mono-speciation and segmentation and segregation is forced simplicity. But as we know, ecology is not simplistic; it’s complex. You can either have simplicity and externalized cost, which are simple in the short term, or you can have complexity and not have externalized costs, which takes a long-term view.
I don’t want to make it sound like if you go to diversity, it’s going to be simpler or better, but in the holistic scheme of things, it is simpler and better. You don’t have to have a refrigerator full of pharmaceuticals; you don’t have to take the pesticide exam and be certified as chemical applicators; you don’t have to have a door on the farm with padlocks on it so nobody will get in there and eat something. When you embrace ecological and financial diversity on your farm, in my view, you’re embracing actually a simpler life than trying to fight against nature every day by being simplistic.
Joel Salatin, whose words quoted above, talks about instant gratification, and says, "You’ve got to give it a go for 10 years. And you can’t Google experience", which is true; but he seems to think only Millennials are susceptible to the lure of having everything at the touch of a button.

I don't know what everyone's beef with Millennials is. Do the rest of us not want things as soon as they appear? Do we not borrow against the future to pay for what's new now? And really, whose fault is this encouragement of instant gratification?

If anything, it's the Milennials who realise they've been bequeathed a world that's an utter disaster. They're perfectly aware that it's down to them to make all the sacrifices their parents and grandparents refused to. And they're the ones going to be left holding the toxic baby they've been handed. If they want an occasional bit of instant gratification so that they know what it used to feel like to have it available all the time, I don't blame them.

I mean, don't confuse millennials with hipsters, okay?

As another contributor, Nancy Vail says, "Embarking on the path of farming is an act of hope in a time when there’s so much that we could despair about". Such an un-hipster life-choice, no?

All that said, I like the idea of combining Rilke with Fukuoka, so I support the idea of this book. If only I could find someone to buy it for me. 

Monday, March 06, 2017


A character has arrived and I ask him his name. He says I can call him what I like. Insists on it, even.

I am flummoxed. This is so much pressure, this business of naming.

Once I used to have lists, back when there was another male - a real, live one - to be named. Now I have nothing. 

What if I string syllables together and come up with something ludicrous just because this character is only in my head? What do I do with my resistance to ordinary names? How many syllables in a name tip it over into pretentiousness? Do I name this character after I get to know him better? Does that mean people - even not-real ones - ought to grown into their names instead of just being given one, and which they, all their lives long, try to inhabit without awkwardness?

I have so many questions. I should begin making a list. (Of questions; not names).

So far, this character seems unfazed. Will report progress if there is any.


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

'Treatise on Hank Mobley' - Sean Singer

Treatise on Hank Mobley

   - Sean Singer

Mobley talked about revolution.
Asterisk, palladium, forever unjaded.

He talked about two lives—the one we learn with
and the one we live after that.

Mobley slowly moped,
as if he was impersonating himself

in order to annihilate it.
Mobley referred explicitly to everyday life,

“I put my heavy form on them, then I can
do everything I want to do.”

Think of Leeuwenhoek,
smaller and upside-down

through his own lens,
to capture the place as a sound,

yet in making that sound,
tightened the grasp on the material

that supported his question.
Mobley talked about what is subversive about love.

When the door to a room closes,
the light, orange as a feather, under.

Mobley was positive about the refusal of constraints.
Strung out, his rung in the ladder broke, as

anyone who can swing can get a message across—
People who talk about revolutions

and not these things
have corpses in their mouths.

(from Guernica)


Checking my feed reader after ages, I saw a poem by Singer in someone's rather long post about books they've blurbed. There were these lines: 'Become Ashtabula, taxonomic, a burned running, a fur peeling, a pure feeling, an orange./ Become an admirer.'

So I went looking for more poems. And up here's one of them.


Been feeling partially synaesthetic since my three-day migraine last week. I can't remember when I last had one that was so very bad/intense. I felt a little shifted, displaced in my head and body. Maybe I'm imagining the synaesthesia - okay, I definitely am - but I want to mix things up, tangle all the signals and make a mess.

I am also in the grip of spring fever. I know autumn is the more fashionable season but here, spring is autumn with a newer sun: the leaves are falling and scrunchy and things smell dusty and - all right, instead of fruit and harvest there are flowers and drunken bees and new leaves so green you want to say tender again and again but only secretly and to yourself so no one accuses you of not even being ironic.

It's easy to forget the world, draw up a chair and watch things grow.


Memo to bite my tongue.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Queue tale

My stuff is getting billed. There's some mix-up about one of the things, so we're just standing around waiting.

From behind me, a voice says, "You've stopped dyeing your hair. It looks good - suits you."

It's a male voice. I turn around. No one I know - a short, paunchy middle-aged man in specs with grizzled hair. I slowly look at him, not quite up and down, but with a curl of the lip.

"Can I say the same thing to you?" I ask.

A look of some delight and a lot of confusion. "Of course!"

"Good," I say and turn back to the counter, where, thankfully, things have been sorted out and billing has resumed.

After a moment, he speaks again. "I'm sorry if I intruded into your private space."

"Thank you. You did."

I leave without looking at him again. I feel more angry than witty or triumphant and later I wonder at how easily I let that anger go just because I remembered that he apologised. Then I feel a bit annoyed at myself.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Like Bellow's Herzog

These days I feel like Saul Bellow's Herzog. I compose letters and mails to people in my head and - this goes without saying - I never send any of them.

When I do send a mail to a person on my ever-growing list, it never turns out the way it exists in my head. It shrinks, becomes more mealy-mouthed and conventional, more stripped of warmth and intent. Anyone reading such a mail would naturally wonder why I bothered and very likely ignore it.

I choose to think this signifies something. A retreat. A re-gathering of resources. Perhaps. 

See Bellow's lines:

"Not able to stand kindness at this time. Feeling, heart, everything in strange condition. Unfinished business."

Yes, let's call it unfinished business. For which withdrawal and disengagement is necessary. Or, at any rate, an absence from being everywhere, in order to be only within myself.


Tuesday, January 03, 2017

'The ancient story of the sun going down': RIP John Berger

The year begins with the ending of a rich and productive life. John Berger, who died yesterday, was 90. 

As 2016 ended, I said to myself, 'At least this isn't the year John Berger died.' As 2017 begins, he has.

And yet, I don't feel the shock and grief that many deaths the previous year brought. I feel gratitude for his work, for his clarity and compassion and for his quest to live and write ethically.

There are many, many things about his life and work that is easily found on the net, so I won't link to anything.

Instead, here's a poem:

Each Pine at Dusk

John Berger

Each pine at dusk
lodges the bird
of its voice
perpendicular and still
the forest
indifferent to history
tearless as stone
in tremulous excitement
the ancient story
of the sun going down


Okay, that was meagre. To fill it out, I will (naturally) need to talk about myself. Of being a very young 21 and encountering Ways of Seeing as a bunch of cyclostyled (yes!) excerpts at Sophia. Though I had already begun to train myself to see visual media more critically, it was Berger who was the first to thoroughly train my eye to work in tandem with my mind.

Then there was Once In Europa. It's a book to re-read today, for sure; but when I first read it, I was editing my first (and only) 'feature film, in Bangalore. We worked in a room off the projector room; the corridor outside was populated with monkeys; the manager of the state-owned theatre found it hard to believe that a woman was a director but frankly incredulous when he found that the editor was also a woman. We stayed in a clean lodge somewhere in Seshadripuram and I discovered a part of Bangalore through sitting and standing in buses to and from Jayanagar.

It was in this month and half (or however long it took) that I was reading Berger, in the few in-between times that were all we had before exhaustion and sleep took us. I don't think there were any even slight parallels between the world of the book and the life I was reading leading. And yet, it is in the dna of my poetry; I'm not sure how, but I know it - and Berger - is.

In recent years, when my mother's reading has outpaced mine in a way that still astonishes me, I've given her his books and she has devoured them. I have, perhaps, been more sceptical of his recent work (that A to X book; what is it with Berger and letters of the alphabet?) but I would never deny the power of his early work.

I need to look for his films now (Ways of Seeing is available on YouTube, by the way). 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goodbye to all that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 26, 2016

His last christmas: RIP George Michael

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

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

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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