Jun 30, 2014

वो जो उस रात जले थे
वो कस्बे कहाँ हैं ?

सुनाई देता था।



Feb 16, 2014

You are 
Even if your device needs a charger 
Human 

There is this foamy ball 
You will be supposed to press during the day 
During stress 

As of now it is early 
The cubicles are empty 
LAN cables tangled 

If you receive a message on the phone
You will touch the foamy shape 
And open your inbox 

You think 
The tsunami videos you watched last night 
The average number of beers you drink in a day 

Your device needs a charger
You are irrespective of your devices 
Human 

So 37 unread emails 
You click on New E-mail 
And type this 

There is no one to send it to 
Some of the cubicles are now manned
You cannot know if there is a nice wind outside 

You make a list of tasks today 
You are now short of Vitamin D
Although there was a time when you were bright  

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Does it bore you that we will always be elsewhere as today?
I know everything about you and also that you are nothing to me
Bombay bemused by February rain and I am at my desk
Gaping at stacks mixing Fiction Non Fiction
And wiping my nose with the back of my hand
And feeling a cool breeze cleave through the window
And this.

Last night I watched a mushy movie
And I sensed what you did last night and that you are nothing to me
I wish you a paradise of smartphones and alpine visages and normal menstruation
I wish your hair would turn mahogany or any color you want and that you will learn to close your mouth while sleeping
To be honest all sadnesses are but minor crimes
And when last night I licked the air as if it was you...     You are but air to me
It is a minor crime to lick the air in Bombay.

The distant sound of a mason's hammer pattering mixes with the breeze
And I know all that you hear and heed and you are nothing to me
It has been so long that I have used a hammer...        I have never used a hammer
In the sky now there is no blue no discernible cloud
Just a luminescence...        Well
I want to bite someone's ass light a match look at the mark
I want to hammer a nail on all that has always been glass.

Feb 5, 2014

Notes on '12 Years A Slave' by Steve McQueen

1. What is it that always appears a bit wrong when cinema - or any narrative art - tackles the greatest crimes of humanity (especially torture) from the perspective of the victim? Is it the imposition of drama to an experience that is prima facie robbed of narrative, and employs more the register of physical pain than the psychic anguish that the most serious drama can offer?

2. 12 Years A Slave is - among many other things - an attempt to mutate the physical pain of the victim to the psychic pain of the viewer. Here a paraphrasing of Elaine Scarry's arguments regarding physical pain might be useful: My pain is the best approximation of certainty for me, and your pain is the best approximation of doubt.

3. My first reaction as a viewer is to doubt Solomon Northup's pain in torture. I do not deny the event, I do not deny its hideousness. But I am forced, by my very disposition, to doubt the pain.

4. But most indifferent viewers do not understand this doubt as inescapable psychological necessity. They equate it with their inability to relate to the story in its entirety, and dismiss the film as beautiful but irrelevant. Of course we are distant from the specter of American slavery, both in time and in cultural context. But it is not because of this that we cannot relate. We cannot relate because we doubt the physical pain, doubt its existence. Its loudness and its repetitiveness becomes a banal thing to us.

5. What we do relate to is the character's psychological anguish. That Solomon was a free man, that he had a beautiful American life, that he is now condemned to sub-human conditions and has memories of better times to haunt him - these are the things that help us relate. But these raise different questions altogether.

6. Because: Why Solomon's perspective? What of the others who do not have the notion of an unjustly lost Eden? If the crime is total, one that we understand as such, why this artifice of choosing someone like Solomon, and not, say Patsey, who 'Did not have a single comfort in her whole life.'

7. Because: Is not Solomon's anguish also amenable to perfunctory viewing?

8. The real story is that of Patsey, a girl slave who is raped by her male slaverer and beaten (for that) by the slaverer's wife. She has an innate sense of Life that is not dependent on a past. When a group of slaves are ordered to dance in the middle of the night, she is the only one who dances as if she enjoys it (and she suffers for that). Every little ray of life that comes her way, she tries to see a universe in its illumination. She is desperate, she even seeks death, but she is unavoidably alive. Hers is the bigger tragedy. For her the Gods have to answer forever. The director's loses artifice around her. Her physical pain hurts more psychologically because it is an attack not on her life but on Life itself. We still doubt the reality of the pain, we can't help that, but something else that is pivotal to our being is challenged by that pain.

Jan 31, 2014

SILENT HOUSE by Orhan Pamuk


Silent HouseSilent House by Orhan Pamuk
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Turkey as a polyphonic narration, as a multitude of ideas and desires. (The concordance of this notion with Indians' notions of India is the reason why Pamuk sells a lot here.)

Patchily done. Almost juvenile at times in its experimental vigour, although extracting, in some places, traces of a genius that Pamuk would later come to wield at will.

The heart of Pamuk's best novels - the return of the exiled man, or a man's quest / search for a woman, or both of these together, as in Snow and My Name is Red - is missing here. The problem is that none of the characters are vying for normative happiness, one that Pamuk romanticizes so beautifully in later novels, one that his best characters are willing to - contradictorily, of course - risk their lives for. Pamuk's later novels get their appeal from the fact that the main characters' desires are NOT warped products of neurosis or psychosis, but of a mixture of Turkish huzun (melancholy) and simple poetic impulse. It is the latter that he does exceptionally. Alas, here there is no melancholy, no poetry. Everyone save one is a bit mad, everyone save one is an insomniac. Any insertion of Pamuk's key themes are just that: insertions. Pamuk's seems to be struggling in trying to find the balance between trying to write psychological novel and a political novel. He has still not figured how both can be done simultaneously.

View all my reviews

Jan 26, 2014

Notes on "The Place beyond the Pines," by Derek Cianfrance (2012)


1. I watched Derek's first movie, 'Blue Valentine' a couple of years back. It had given me chills. Derek had a way of making domestic scenes unforgiving, and for rendering the tension between the two main characters at a generally-close-to-unbearable level. This time, he transfers those skills to a modern epic that is as much a rumination on masculinity as it is a treatise on the concordant levels of moral ambiguity in the illiterate downtrodden, who are tempted to out-and-out crime and its resulting misery, and the upwardly mobile, who find their own infractions and traumas no matter what. The result is a movie of great ambition, and an execution very nearly matching that ambition.

2. Bobbitt's cinematography takes the cake, and is somewhat remindful of his excellent work with Steve McQueen.

3. The acting is phenomenal. Ryan Gosling plays a troubled troublemaker, and our desire to understand him and continue to see him play the grim loner surpasses even the simple facts of the story. His Adonis-is-the-daredevil charisma overshadows the veritable performances of others, excellent in their own right. Especially Bradley Cooper. Gosling and Cooper do seem to be the future of Hollywood for the next two or three decades.

4. There are three stories conjoined with a killing. The story of the kiled man and the story of the killer make the first two. The generational leap, where the progeny of the killed and the killer meet, is the third and the most inferior one of the three. But without it the epithet of the epic could not be ascribed. All three stories are near-full in themselves, and yet unimaginable without the other two. You will sympathize with all the characters, whatever be your rational judgment regarding their actions (except corrupt cops, which is alright). One cannot not wish that it was also a book, for it is a story that could be excellently written by both commercial and serious writers.

Oct 20, 2013

On 'Axolotl' by Julio Cortazar

Read the first story 'Axolotl' from the Julio Cortazar's collection 'Blow-Up and Other Stories,' translated from the Spanish by Paul Blackburn. I've no clue of Paul Blackburn's reputation as a translator. (It is perhaps noteworthy that Cortazar's most famous work, the novel 'Rayuela,' was translated into English as 'Hopscotch' not by Paul Blackburn but by the illustrious Gregory Rabassa, who rode that success and went on to translate Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 'One Hundred Years of Solitude'). 'Axolotl,' I claim, must not have been an easy story to translate. This is because Cortazar is attempting something quite stupendous here - a slowly culminating identity switch between the human narrator and the axolotl that the former has gotten into a habit of watching through an aquarium in Paris' Jardin des Plantes. The narrator is enamored with the physical features of the unique creature, its immobility, and most of all its unlidded eyes. He apparently finds in it a metaphor for his own situation in the world, though that metaphor is never really made clear, obviously intentionally. You, the reader, are invited to make your own connection with the exotic creature, amply described here in its biological splendour. The pivotal point comes when the identity switch finally takes place, when the sentence that presents it, presents it. I present the crucial paragraph, where the narrative voice flips over - note how what begins in a human voice transforms into the voice of the animal by the final line:

...Outside, my face came close to the glass again, I saw my mouth, the lips compressed with the effort of understanding the axolotls. I was an axolotl and now I knew instantly that no understanding was possible. He was outside the aquarium, his thinking was a thinking outside the tank. Recognizing him, being him himself, I was an axolotl and in my world. The horror began-! learned in the same moment -of believing myself prisoner in the body of an axolotl, metamorphosed into him with my human mind intact, buried alive in an axolotl, condemned to move lucidly among unconscious creatures. But that stopped when a foot just grazed my face, when I moved just a little to one side and saw an axolotl next to me who was looking at me, and understood that be knew also, no communication possible, but very clearly. Or I was also in him, or all of us were thinking humanlike, incapable of expression, limited to the golden splendor of our eyes looking at the face of the man pressed against the aquarium.
One notices in this paragraph a deliberately constructed confusion regarding the subject of each sentence which, I claim, appears a bit rugged around the edges than it must have in the original Spanish. The crucial line is... But that stopped when a foot grazed my face,... for it is here that the identity switch is presented, using the physical wake-up call of an axolotl foot (the axolotls are in a group inside the aquarium, and the foot is the foot of a neighbor) grazing an axolotl face. It is after this sentence that you know that the narrative voice has left the narrator and picked a new host, the axolotl inside the aquarium. No wonder that the next paragraph starts with these lines.

He returned many times, but he comes less often now.
Despite the irrecoverable losses in translation here, which I've only attempted to speculate here, rather than delineate, 'Axolotl' survives as a delightful story for the aspiring writer. i say this for two reasons, one technical, the other ontological.


  1. The technical reason is that in 'Axolotl,' an aspiring writer can clearly make out the language trickery that goes behind the mutation of the narrator. By the end of the story, the object of narration becomes the narrator, without any obvious schism in the manner of the story. Cortazar achieves this with the deliberate subjective confusion that I've mentioned earlier. The nuance, of course, is in managing the confusion without being altogether confusing. Repeated readings will reveal the restraint Cortazar employs.
  2. The ontological reason is that 'Axolotl' is a solid demonstration of literature's capabilities and of the exclusive power held by art that is formed of nothing but words. I claim that what 'Axolotl' achieves, it achieves only through its existence as a written short story. The same story would have been absurd, or even vulgar, cinematically. It becomes art when presented as something that needs to be read. 'Axolotl,' by achieving what can only be achieved by a pen on paper, reaffirms faith in the artform itself.

Sep 19, 2013

Salaried Professional

You cannot see a grave from the clouds,
and vice-versa,
the seeing happens in vitro.
A horizon is the genitalia of the world.
You should want to eat it
even if you are a salaried professional,
even if your device needs a charger.

Sep 18, 2013

Chipped

Something in the air: the maker's colors peel off the pencil; instead of Nataraj a wound.
There is no way to google the exact color of your cushions.
You didn't know the word crocus till you saw it in Celan.
Inside your room grows no familiarity, only the heap of unread books.
For three years now you've tried to anagram your name; yourself is nothing spectacular jumbled.
Let's say disaster happened,
courteously.
In your city a god will be drowning tonight.

Jul 28, 2013

Untitled Project #3

Chapter 1 - Futile discourse on what constitutes the end to a story

The nuances in an ending are many.

There is the problem of agency. Just who shall bring about the end to a story? And how should this agency contrast with the agency that propelled the middle of the story? Or the agency that began the story?

There is also the problem of inclination. What I mean by inclination might be better explained by using something akin to mathematical lingo. If the resident mood of the story was a function, in which direction is this function differentiated at the end. Does the ending spike the mood in one direction, or does it do so in the reverse? How big is the spike?

And if we are to stick to mathematics, we might as well pose the question: When does an ending begin? Is it the last sentence? The last para? The last third? When does a part that is not the story's end end, and the end begin? This line of inquiry - well, it's a quarry. For the ending of the pre-end is also an end, and so on and so on, till one reaches the beginning of the story.

Let's dump this approach. Let's just conclude - hastily if it requires a hasty conclusion - that there is a bona fide entity called a story ending, or the end to a story, and that it is distinguishable (with some efforts) from all that is not the end to a story, and that even stories that do not have a middle will have suchlike end, and that even stories that do not have both a beginning and an end will also have suchlike end, all of which consequently may mean that the ends of some stories maybe as big as the stories themselves.

I think we just reached where we began.

Anyhow, let it be known that the end of a story may very well precede its conception. Also: the end of a story maybe the only reason for its beginning.

Chapter 2 - Arguments

(1)

On a stony pathway by a stream my foot slipped a bit and fell in a tiny pool of water and she behind me clapped her hands in angry desperation, for she suspected that my socks would be wet now, my twin layered woolen socks, and this big anger of hers at that little failure of mine made me angry too and I said “Never, ever, be angry at me for something I cannot do,” and then we crossed the stream and I added “I felt very violent, I felt like hitting someone,” and that made her feel extremely sorry and I continued my bad mood for another half hour.

(2)

In a cosy room with double blankets on each of the two single beds I got a hard-on looking at her sitting on the other bed with her face wrapped in a cinnabar scarf and she reading an electronic Anna Karenina and I moved over to her bed and we lay in a spoon position, me behind her and she reading, and I moved my hands over her thigh and then her lower abdomen and then her crotch, but then she told me she did not want to make love in that filthy room with single-ply walls with constipation burdening her duodenum and what she really wanted to do was to read; and this refusal made me angry and I said “You are never ready for it, are you?”, and after some time we kissed and reconciled but we did not make love that night.

(3)

While walking a sinewy path through a rhododendron forest I told her of Slavoj Zizek and explained to her what the philosopher calls white man’s guilt and I went on to say (like Zizek) that all white philanthropy stems from this sense of guilt and she said it was not guilt but compassion that led to philanthropic acts and I felt she did not quite understand me and that made me angry because I thought I had said things quite clearly and I went on to say “Surely you’re not convinced that it is only and only compassion and no ounce of guilt borne out of the history of oppression that has led to Western humanitarian aid action in poorer countries,” and she finally agreed with me, though her agreement now did not matter much nor did it satisfy me much and I remained pissed though I realized it was not right to be pissed.

(4)

After some minutes she told me that she did not quite understand how such philosophy can ever help an individual because an individual always has to make do with the system he finds himself in and I replied that her stance eventually boiled down to whether an individual can change a system and I said “Zizek is also one man,” and it sounded silly to me as soon as I said it and this time she agreed with me silently and I did not feel angry at all.

Chapter 3 - The pen, about to fall

The pen rested very close to the edge of the desk, its ball-point tucked inside the tapering transparent exit. It waited for a punching thumb, feeling burdened with unwritten words that might as well be unformulated. It waited with some guilt too, for it had a history of rendering, randomly and without warning, some unsavory dribbles of icky ink each time it was put to use, dirty blue blotches which were liable to smearing on paper, and to producing stains on thumb and middle finger. The owner of the pen, I, I who is weary of words but also inseparable from them, am frustrated by this amorphous blueness which has spoiled the aesthetic of every virgin sheet of paper I've scribbled on. The blemishes divert my attention from the true meanings of my words to the general disappointment of looking at sullied unruled paper, an effect which I find very disconcerting. I have, as can be deduced from the proximity of the pen to the edge of the desk, abandoned the pen.