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
repeats
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.



 

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Book (loot)

This post exists to cheer myself up. (I typed 'cheet' by mistake. Make of that what you will).

A couple of weeks ago, a second hand bookshop here that I haunt from time to time, was selling books by the kg for a limited time. I was worried. I assumed they were going out of business (like AA Hussain a few months before) and were clearing their stock. 

Turned out I was wrong and they were doing this just for fun.

So went and I won't bore you with the details or even how much the loot weighed. Here it is. There are some books missing, notable among them a Joan Aiken (Wolves 1) and perhaps other things that have already scattered to different bookshelves in the house.

I am especially thrilled with the Ugresic, because I stupidly gave away a book by her some years ago. By mistake.






I should mention that only all the books from the Kingsolver on are part of the loot. Mimus was a gift.


*

It's list time. Soon, just to reverse the cheering up I'm doing, I will post a mini recap of this year. Until then, at least there were good books. 

Off the top of my head - because I really don't keep a Books Read list like I ought to - there's: Elena Ferrante, NK Jemisin's Broken Earth Parts 1 & 2, Sean Borodale's Bee Journal, Lisa Suhair Majaj's Geographies of Light, le Carre's Pigeon Tunnel, Eric Kastner's Emil books.

(These aren't all the books I read; just the ones I'll remember as having made a difference to me).

There must be more, but if I can't remember them, they're either doing their work in silence or they've fallen on fallow ground.

*

(Checks self to monitor level of cheered-up-ness. Detects no appreciable difference. 

Exit, pursued by the other list wanting to be made.)

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Things We Said Today

First of the month, I call the local medical store to read out a list of meds for my mother. (Actually, this is the first time I'll be doing it so don't look at me like the I'm the world's most organised daughter.)

So I'm making a list, a master list of whatever she's likely to need at any point, so that I can just look at my phone instead of hunt for a name through the popped out pills on the ruins of a pad. Or, indeed, her medical file.

"Is this thing for your cholestrol or your BP?"

"The yellow thing is for the BP. I think. The other one is in the bubble-shaped thing."

I say a sharp thing or two about a wilful return to illiteracy that I am not proud of. I take the meds to her and ask her to clarify. She does, and I make my list.

As I continue making the list, I ask her, "What the name of that probiotic thing you have?"

I am losing words just as she is, and I know there's a word for it that I can't remember. 

No, it's not illiteracy.

 

Friday, November 11, 2016

'I'm ready my lord' - RIP Leonard Cohen

I'm shaking with the news of this death though with the new album it seemed imminent.


It's like he waited to deliver to the world the darkness we wanted and then left. Another artist who timed his exit impeccably and with bitter irony.




If Bowie signalled the beginning of a terrible year, I hope Cohen's signals the end of it. I hope we've sunk as low as it's possible to go. But I'm not sanguine because only a fool can believe there isn't worse in store.




Hineni, hineni. I'm ready my lord.'








Rest in peace, Leonard.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Memory Bank: Weird Conditioner

Since I seem to be raiding my memory bank these days and since friends seem to think I am 'blogging again', here's another one.

This conditioner I have just bought smells of sickly sweet flowers that don't exist in real life, but in an alternate reality where 'floral' means this smell. 

When I smell it, I think of Mills and Boons swollen with having been in bathrooms through hours of bathing, through power cuts in the peak of summer and when you tried to choose MBs that were set in winter or in exotically cold countries but failing which you read what you got.

One MB with its wavy pages smelled like this conditioner when I opened it. It had an 80s cover, which mean that that wave that was not meant to be in the pages, was on the top third of the cover. 

It might have been that Charlotte Lamb one where the innocent girl falls in love with a much older painter and is betrayed by him after what I now realise is a statutory rape. Some years later, once she recovers from the heartbreak, she goes to art school and starts dating a boy who seems oddly familiar and if you know MBs at all, you'll know how this ends.

Those wavy waterlogged pages, though. They're the only reason I don't throw away this conditioner. And a constitutional inability to throw away things that are still useful.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Evesdropping (music memories)

The bathroom has a ventilator high above where, if we're not vigilant, pigeons will roost and begin their endless, gulping noise. 

That bathroom, from my childhood had a window instead of a ventilator. Luckily, because one time we forgot our keys and they sent me in through one of those bathroom windows.

My bathroom was upstairs. (I realised only in a late adulthood what luxury it denoted to say 'my bathroom'). I was an unusual child in that I spent a lot of hours there, making alchemical concoctions that I would innocently offer to robbers who would, of course, drink it and die or at least be in great pain.

I must have been ten when the younger brother - much younger - of a colleague of my father's visited his family who lived a few doors down from us. All the older girls called dibs on his time and I was old enough to be jealous but too young to expect to make the same claims on his time. 

One evening, returning home, I saw him making a long, reluctant goodbye to a girl who was my neighbour and whom I disliked for the way she made sly fun of me. I hurried upstairs to my bathroom, which was strategically above where they were standing. Luckily, the window was open. I was careful not to turn the lights on and I tiptoed to stand where no streetlight would fall on me if they were distracted enough to look up instead of at each other.

I can't remember anything I heard, if I heard anything at all. Their voices were a murmur and I think I grew hot with rage, though no doubt this is an invented memory of an emotion. Most likely I tried to fidget noiselessly and held my breath a lot and strained to hear anything at all. I didn't dare actually peep.

What annoyed me most was the bad taste this young man was displaying. Just a few days earlier, he had made me feel very grown up by discussing music with me. He asked me what I listened to and I, conscious of my parents' fledgling collection of records* that included the respectable but too obvious Beatles (I was, at this point, on the verge on my lifelong Beatlemania), the Savages (I think? The album art was red and black. ETA: No, I'm obviously wrong but what in heavens name was that album?!), Jim Reeves (which I knew not to acknowledge, so there was hope for me) and many carnatic LPs, said I listened to carnatic music. 

The young man, I was sure, was mocking me when he gravely replied that his music tastes weren't quite so advanced and I suddenly remembered something I needed to do.

A few days ago my son, who was in Delhi briefly on his way elsewhere, was at an old friend's place. He called to say he was having a great time and they were listening to Jim Reeves. I was horrified. Jim Reeves?! Yes, he said. He sounded somewhat taken aback. And George Baker, he added. Don't know him, I replied promptly. Una Paloma Blanca? he asked.

Oh. 

Where on earth are you finding this music, I asked. Apparently my friend has a new record player and her mother has dug out all these ancient LPs - I really should call them vinyl now, shouldn't I? - and hence all the Jim Reeveses and George Bakers. 

Now that I think of it, most of my parents' peers and friends had odd collections, dependent, I suppose, on what was popular and saleable. This meant Harry Belafonte, Jim Reeves and stuff like that, to support the other stuff that people also bought. If I remember good records, it was in the houses of those who travelled abroad often, and/or whose children had specific and sophisticated taste in music. Most of the rest of us who owned a record player bought what we could get and thus was our music taste formed.

Of course, this narrative can't account for the sudden and thrilling popularity of Osibisa in my town but that must be another story, one that needs to rely more on research and less on a faulty memory.
__
 
*For an awesome radiogram that my father had made and which looked mostly like this.