Sunday, December 30, 2007

new beginnings




Buoyed by the optimism of January, the new year always feels like a crisp, blank page I can write anything on. Here's wishing all of you a fantastic 2008. I hope the optimism lasts all through the year.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas everyone!

He pushes his feet in to the scuffed black boots before styling his beard with Brylcreem. Brylcreem. Like she couldn’t have been more original this year. He couldn’t wait for tomorrow when he could shave the damn thing off. Tomorrow. It seemed like such a long way off. All those houses, all those gifts, all those chimneys to get down. And those reindeer, farting in his face and pretending like they had no control. The ministry had rejected his application for a car. Again. Environmentally unfriendly they said. As though all that methane was good for the planet. Sure, there were days he thought of quitting but the perks were good. 364 days a year off. Free milk and cookies on the one day he had to work. Some would even say he was famous, not in a Paris Hilton kind of way, but still. You shouldn’t complain so much he tells himself as he settles down in the sleigh. Life could be worse. You could be the Easter Bunny.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"I wouldn't even piss on this"

It was one of Mohammed's favourite things to say when creatives showed him work that was below par. That, and 'BOLLOCKS'.

I remember the day I joined Enterprise Nexus. I was 21, had spent a year in advertising and had never heard of the man. My CD at the time couldn't believe it. 'You haven't heard of Mohammed Khan? Have you had your head in the sand all these years?' he asked incredulously.

But in a way, not knowing anything about him made my life easier. I wasn't scared of Mohammed, I never got nervous about showing work to him and I didn't tremble in my seat whenever he walked by. I hadn't heard the stories about how he reduced senior, award winning art directors to tears or how he once tore a layout and scattered the shreds of paper from the second floor landing to the level below. I still don't know what truth there is to these stories, perhaps no one other than Mohammed does.

I learned a lot about MK in the two years I spent at Enterprise. That to receive praise from him was like nothing else. (He once blew kisses at me over a layout and called me a genius. Bliss) That to have him sigh in disappointment over your work was much worse than to have him yell at you. That he could be avuncular, flirtatious, witty and scornful all in the span of half and hour. That you could spend all week painstakingly writing headlines for a campaign but he could whip his pen out and write 4 headlines in 5 minutes that you could spend a lifetime trying to craft and not come close to. That writers must use proper pens and write on beautiful paper. That poor grammar and typos showed that one didn't care about their work and there was nothing worse than that.

They weren't all good moments. I have to admit there were times when I hated him. When it was 3am on a Saturday and I was at work writing lines while I imagined him tucked in bed sleeping soundly. When he made me rewrite an entire campaign only to decide afterwards that he liked the original one better. When he made me write down a recipe that his cook dictated over the phone for one of his friends . I really did hate him that time.

While I still do the occasional bit of freelance I have moved on from advertising. But Mohammed's rules of writing still stay with me today. I write all my first drafts long hand with a proper pen on nice paper. One can and must edit, edit, edit and edit some more. One can always do better and must strive to. And most of all, that one must enjoy writing.

Enjoy retirement Mohammed.

(Errors noted, and corrected.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

3 cashmere socks ... my true love gave to me

The tree looked forlorn without the gaily wrapped Christmas presents huddled around its base. She surveyed the living room; the carpet littered with shreds of wrapping paper, cracker halves and long snake like strands of curled green ribbon. They were all outside, he was teaching the children how to ride their new bicycles. They had already tired of their other presents. She sipped her sherry and stared down at the socks. A set of three. Pink, blue and yellow. Cashmere. Socks. Socks. Socks. She repeated the word over and over again in her head till it lost its meaning. It was like a joke out of one of those awful romcoms she used to watch. She picked up the leather bound first edition she had gotten him. The leather bound first edition she had driven four hours North to procure. The leather bound first edition she had to wait an extra two hours for while the antiquarian bookstore owner ate his lunch. Socks. 8 years of marriage and three children. Socks. Was he really that obtuse? Or was he trying to tell her something. Were the socks some kind of scrambled, coded message that she was supposed to decipher? What did they mean? ‘I don’t love you anymore’ ‘I’m having an affair’ ‘What do you expect, you’ve gained 30 pounds in the last 2 years’ ‘I’m an idiot’. He had been overjoyed with his present of course, and hadn’t even had the grace to look ashamed or sheepish or anything when he handed over his present to her. After he left the room she had rummaged about inside the socks, turning them inside out, vainly hoping that there was something inside – a locket, a ring… something. But they were empty. She shivered. The flames of the fire meekly flickered in the later afternoon light. She stood up and walked towards the grate, book and bottle of sherry in hand, muttering her husband’s name over and over again till it too lost all meaning.

Monday, December 10, 2007

mid day melodrama

My 2008 diary arrived in the post today. I used to order my annual diaries from Tulika, but to my great disappointment they have discontinued their Celebrate India series, forcing me to turn elsewhere. Last year, in Brussels I purchased a ridiculously overpriced Herge Diary filled with gorgeous reproductions of line drawings, coloured illustrations and Tin Tin covers reprints from the master’s drawing board. This year I went with something from Mslexia, a writer’s magazine I subscribe to. Small and compact, the Mslexia diary comes packed with submission deadlines for prestigious writing competitions, guidelines and other handy information.

So today, I filled in reminders of birthdays and anniversaries in the year to come. There were the regulars – siblings, parents, in-laws and best friends. New entrants – people I’d met in the last year or so who have come to mean a great deal to me, and then there were those I left out. Friends I am no longer in touch with, people I have slowly drifted away from over the years. It saddened me for some reason, not including them in the diary. Leaving a dated box empty was all it took to exclude them from my life.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Lost in retell

Growing up, my father would often remind me that I came from a family of illustrious Sanskrit scholars. Whether this was to make me work harder at my conjugations and declensions or to take the language more seriously than as an easy means of scoring high marks, or to impress upon me our family’s academic lineage, I still do not know, but the weight of this legacy often made its presence uncomfortably felt. My father himself was a student of the language, and Kalidasa was quoted over our dinner table as normally as the price of onions was bandied about in other homes; and, it was not uncommon to see my father leafing through a yellowing, tattered copy of Abhignana Shakuntalam with a satisfied smile on his face. One of his favourite passages in the book, however, was by the German poet, Goethe.

“Would’st thou the young year’s blossoms
And the fruits of its decline
And all by which soul is charmed
Enraptured, feasted, fed,
Would’st thou the Earth and Heaven itself
In one sole name combine?
I name thee, O Sakuntala ! and all at
Once is said”

Luckily, modern retellings of classical stories are supposed to be unfettered by the ghosts of the past. So, it was with an open mind that I set off to watch Little India, the Trestle Theatre Company’s interpretation of Shakuntala’s and Dushyanta’s romance, and their son Bharata’s search for his father many years later. Trestle is known in the UK for its masked, highly physical performances often staged in collaboration with a diverse range of artists, participants and organisations on a local, regional, national and international level. Though not a masked production, this re-imagining of Shakuntala’s story was born through collaborations with the Indian theatre company Little Jasmine and incorporated elements of kalaripayattu, konnakol or vocal rhythms and a series of bharatanatyam hastas.

Shakuntala was played by the lovely Audrie Woodhouse whose lithe body and expressive eyes seemed well suited for the role of the part celestial forest nymph. Though she nimbly executed the kalari movements there was a sense of everything being told to the audience many times over — through dialogues, kalari and mudras — so much so that some scenes plodded along. Sartaj Garewal’s Dushyanta was comical at times, shouting out dialogues and executing a series of Bruce Lee like kung-fu moves. The play bill claimed that Garewal was an exponent of Fujian White Crane Kung Fu and apparently he was rather eager to prove this to be true. Unfortunately he chose to show us his prowess at rather inopportune moments, such as after the death of his father, pounding his fists against the stage floor while executing what appeared to be martial art push ups. Ashwin Bolar completed the cast as a Bharata who spends much of the play on all fours, skulking about in corners, coveting his father’s ring and then subsequently losing it in the river in a manner not unlike but not half as compelling as Gollum. (Yes, yes Shakuntala is the one who loses the ring, but this is a modern retelling and such things may be overlooked)

But it was difficult to over look other things. The dialogues seemed to have taken inspiration from a 1970s potboiler (“You mean my father is alive? You lied to me?” “He is dead to me!”), the mudras were sloppily executed and the kalari seemed to have been incorporated willy nilly (At one point Dushyanta engages in a kalari tussle with the recently spurned and pregnant Shakuntala.) And save for a few strobe disco lights and the sound of traffic piped in when Bharata ventures to the big bad city in search of his father the ‘modern’ angle was all but missing for me. This is a shame, for the story is ripe for retelling with characters facing predicaments modern day audiences can relate to — a single mother, an absent father and a rebellious teen. But it felt as though mere lip service has been paid to these themes. I couldn't help but wonder how the story would have fared had it been set on a gritty council estate.

Watching the story unfold on stage I was torn between the urge to cringe and laugh, and succumbed quietly to both temptations in turns. And sadly it wasn’t just me. I watched the play with an audience of hip, South London teenage drama students who sniggered frequently and not so quietly. And it would be unfair to blame it on callow youth, for I watched A Disappearing Number (on the life of the mathematician Ramanujan) with a similar audience, but they were spellbound and awed into silence by a superior act.

Like A Disappearing Number though, the sets of Little India were simple and innovative and deserve mention. Comprising predominantly of a canvas slung between two posts that served variously as hammock and hovel, at one point it sweetly transformed into the ring swallowing fish.

No doubt, Trestle was well intentioned in its efforts but good intentions do not necessarily translate in to a good production. One wishes Trestle had focused more on the story for though myths are often simple tales at heart, they can be rather tricky to tell, and Little India lost its essence under all those kalari kicks and rhythmic vocals. My theatre companion that evening, a noted classical dancer had a wry theory about this: “It’s another border raid: you want something different, but your coffers run empty, so you just plunder the next village or kingdom or art form and carry away bounties, often, beauties you don’t know what to do with except display them — and your cleverness! Then you end up making a spectacle of yourself instead of a cross-form, cross-art spectacle!”

Perhaps the next time I want a retelling of this story I will return to my father, a late Sunday afternoon and his yellowing copy of Shakuntalam. Thankfully, some spaces are still inviolable.

****

This appeared in the Arts section of today's Newindpress on Sunday.

Friday, December 07, 2007

If you read one thing today then read

This profile/interview by Jabberwock of my favourite author, Anita Desai!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Raymond Carver's Principles of a Story

I've been struggling lately... What's a good short story? Is it ok to offer the reader a glimpse into a world and then draw the curtains just when they're getting interested? Can you do that with every story?

My writing group suggested I go back and re-read the stories I've written till now in an attempt to identify patterns and problems. A bad idea. It's left me even more confused and makes me wonder - is there a point to any of these stories? Can I even call them that?

Then I do what what is the last (and sometimes first) resort... I google: How to write a short story.

And I find this.

Ps. I am still confused but at least now I have some very inspiring three by five cards up on the wall.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

silly

The squirrels here are different from the ones back home. Back home they are tall, lean and hungry. Their long whip like tails flicking about, decorated with three white stripes. Here they are short and rotund, their bushy tails sans decoration resembling my father’s shaving brush from long ago. The squirrel outside my window would not look out of place in a top hat and coat, monocle perched precariously, gold fob peeking out. He is unmindful of the fine, steady drizzle and the pigeons that hobble-bobble around him. Perhaps he is looking for his lost white stripes.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

just another random memory

When I was in class 6 I had a mathematics teacher called Usha Aggarwal Miss. She terrified me. Usha Miss was convinced I was a makku in mathematics and took great pleasure in conveying this opinion in front of the entire class. Convinced she was right, I decided my only course of action was to fall sick five minutes before maths class was scheduled to start. Headaches, stomach aches, dizzy spells – there was no ailment to large or small for me to suffer from. Of course I didn’t fall sick every day, just once or twice a week. I would inform Usha Miss of my predicament in a well rehearsed trembly voice. If it was a good day she would imperiously flick her hand at the door and it would take all my strength not to skip out of the classroom to the school infirmary. If it was a bad day my pleas would be ignored and I would be directed to the blackboard and asked to solve sums.

The infirmary consisted of a series of dank, musty rooms furnished with little other than beds fitted with maroon rexine mattresses. On some days all the beds would be full and I would be told to sit on a corner stool while other girls lay still on their backs. We weren’t allowed to talk to one another but through silent signals we conveyed our relief. Reciting Wordsworth, remembering the year the Battle of Panipat was fought, marking mountain ranges, rivers and areas with high rainfall on outline maps of India – we had all evaded our demons.

My favourite bed was one that faced the double doors leading to the busy main road. Fitted with window panes that had not been cleaned in decades, it offered a hazy, cobwebbed view of the outside world that never failed to thrill me. Buses, autos, men and women all passed by propelled by the need to be somewhere and do something important. To my 11 year old self they all seemed so grown up and glamorous. I remember thinking ‘One day I will be out there, with places to go and things to do. I’ll be free.’ I would then close my eyes and imagine this older self, breathing in the smell of wilting cotton balls and medicine far past its expiry date. If only my grown up self had known that adults have no infirmary rooms to escape too.

I stopped running away from maths after class 6 thanks to a series of kinder teachers who didn’t think I was a makku. I also learnt that one could sit in the middle rows of the classroom and be invisible.

It’s funny though. All these years later I can still smell the medicine and see the maroon rexine beds… but for the life of me I cannot remember what Usha Aggarwal looked like.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Finally, something other than a phone bill

Look what arrived in the post today.



A copy of 'From There to Here: Sixteen true tales of Immigration to Britain' and an invitation to the launch party.




(Falstaff, please note presence of a computer. Charu, I tend to write all first drafts longhand.)


And look at the first story.




Those interested can purchase a copy here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

'A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction'

Finally.

 


And a nice view doesn't hurt.

 
Posted by Picasa


After writing at the dining table, on the sofa, in bed, on trains and buses I finally have a space to call my own. Of course, I have acquired this space in what one could call a dry spell. Writing I mean.

Monday, November 19, 2007

bus stop hallucinations

She does not know how long she has been waiting at bus stop C. Her feet are numb, her forearms ache and her palms burn at those places the twisted carrier bag handles meet flesh. It is early evening. Or late afternoon. She cannot tell. The effort required in lifting her arm and pushing back a woollen coat sleeve to look at her watch is daunting. The sky is inscrutable, a shade of purple interior design magazines like to call Aubergine. Aubergine. How sexual, exotic and desirable they make the squishy brinjal sound. She enjoys these little mental detours. They take her mind off waiting for the bus and wondering how long she has been waiting. Minutes, hours, days…. Weeks? Why is no one looking for her if she has been missing for weeks, waiting for the H17 at bus stop C? It has been raining for some time now. The wind tugs the hard pelts of water about on an invisible leash so that every now and then a droplet or dozen lands on her face. Mixing with the tears. She is not crying because she is sad. Oh no. It is the wind. It stings her eyes and makes them water. She makes no attempt to wipe the tears away, opting to produce a few of her own so that passers by get startled when they see her: a woman with plastic bags in her hand crying at the bus stop. Has she been alone at the bus stop all this time? Of course you have silly, who wants to share a bus stop with a crazy crying woman? This means there is no one to ask when the bus will come. Perhaps the bus has come and gone and she, intent on startling passers by and wondering about the sexuality of aubergines (colour not vegetable) has missed it. Perhaps it slipped away as she stared at nothing just as he had crept away while she slept. He did leave you a note she reminds herself, it wasn’t as though you woke up and he was gone. A note. And his toothbrush, a half empty box of Wheetabix and the garbage. She still had the note, toothbrush and box of Wheetabix. The garbage she had to throw away after a month. ‘It stank’ the neighbours complained. They were probably still upset about their cats. It had been an accident. She hadn’t meant to. There she went again. ‘Focus’ she tells herself, ‘you’re here to catch the bus’ and wonders what colour the interior design magazine would call the block of red trundling by.

Question

In a recent edition of the Guardian Book Club podcast with Jeanette Winterson, the author tells a story from her early life. On revealing that she had fallen in love with another girl Winterson was issued an ultimatum by her mother: stay and be straight or leave the house. She chose the latter, and as she walked out of the house her mother called her back. Winterson, thinking that perhaps her mother had changed her mind turned around only to be asked

"Why be happy when you can be normal?"

The interviewer John Mullan and the audience laughed spontaneously, and so did I. But later on when I was thinking over it, I realised that it's a question we are all asked and often ask ourselves. Not overtly. Not aloud. But quietly. And persistently. It's the raised eyebrow when we tell people our choices. It's that moments hesitation before we take decisions. The tone of disapproval in conversations. Why are you doing this when you could do that and be safer?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

mid blog crisis

obviously i am having issues with my blog. from retro martini swigging typists to a serpent that says 'blog?' instead of ... I don't know... 'hisss?' I guess this is the blogging equivalent of getting a tattoo. or a red sports car.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

freelancing

I am seated in another's chair
Brushing away strands of his silvery hair

I am bored so I chew my nails
and throw the crescents in a pail

It's not yet lunch but my stomach rumbles
thinking of luscious raspberry crumbles

My ideas have been turned in to turd like lumps
who shall save me from this dump?

Friday, November 09, 2007

shoeflower

I don’t know what it was that made me think of them, but yesterday as I washed up after lunch at the kitchen sink and looked at the Autumn leaves swirling down to the ground I was reminded of the small cement patch at the rear of my house in Madras that Amma calls the garden. It’s had its ups and downs over the years, the malli took off spectacularly for a while and the parijatham has been going strong for some years now. But I will always associate my mother’s garden with the hibiscuses that flowered there. Bright red, palest orange with whitish centres, baby pinks. Every morning they’d be plucked - some still buds – by my mother before neighbours and early morning ramblers could snake their hands over our compound wall and pluck a few for themselves. The buds would be dropped in water and those that had bloomed would be placed in a bowl set aside for her daily prayers. After they had wilted they would be preserved and every weekend the dried, blackened petals would be boiled in water and the sticky goop produced be added to the shikai that was pounded in to our heads by Meenakshi, our diminutive but freakishly strong house help.
When I moved to Bombay there was no place for a garden, not even a small patch of cement in our first apartment. The second was no better but the living room had a massive window that was fitted with an ugly grill our where the landlord had left behind some potted plants. Taking that as a sign, I decided to turn it in to a garden of sorts. For one the creepers and hanging baskets hid the ugly grill while still offering a tantalising glimpse at the old crumbling Parsi mansion opposite our flat. There was a plant nursery on the grounds of the mansion and one of the first things I bought there was a red hibiscus plant. I can still remember my joy at the first signs of a bud. A great achievement for someone who had in the past managed to even kill a money plant. My hibiscuses were small and petite, not big and blowsy like the ones that grew in my mother’s garden. They hardly ever produced enough goop for a shikai bath but every morning I would open the window while I had my coffee and check to see if there were any flowers for my prayers.

I still can’t think why I was reminded of them yesterday. I hadn’t thought of them before. Not in three years almost. And now I can’t stop thinking about them.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Friday, October 26, 2007

moving

Having recently moved house (yes, again)I had to undergo the rather painful job of packing, cleaning, unpacking and cleaning some more. As I ripped apart the many, many boxes we lugged with us I wondered how I would answer the standard question asked of celebrities in inane magazines "What is the one thing you would take with you if your home burned down?" Not exactly the most cheerful thought I agree, but hey, it was raining and cloudy and I tend to get like that when the weather is on a downward spiral.

So what would I take? Most of you are thinking 'Her shoes'. No, not really. I mean I really love them but most of my shoes are replaceable. Not my clothes, no wardrobe means new wardrobe. My notebooks perhaps with my many scribblings and doodlings? Probably. But what about all the irreplaceable seemingly meaningless bric-a-brac that crowds my existance? The little post it notes my sister wrote me years and years ago that I have saved? Those black and white photographs of my mother when she was about six? That letter. What about my sambhar stained copy of The Best of Cook and See? My stuffed mouse (not a 'real' stuffed mouse) who has been by my bed side since I was 9? The more I thought about it, the more I worried. I'd need another moving truck to get everything I wanted to save in a fire out of there. Traumatised by this notion I went and checked that the fire alarm was on.

So I ask you, what would you save in a fire?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

smells like kate moss

I kind of get the whole 'buy Stella McCartney/Karl Lagerfeld/Victor & Rolf for less' thing. Some women want to feel like they're wearing designer clothes without having to fork out the down payment for a small house. I find it a lot harder to understand 'let's queue outside H&M/TopShop from 5:00am to buy aforementioned clothing lines' but then maybe some people think it's a fun thing to do. Or maybe they're addicted to recreational drugs. I also understand using a celebrity for endorsing your brand, though I personally have never wanted to go out and buy Himalaya Herbal Oil because Govinda tells me to.

But what I really don't understand is celebrity 'designed' clothing and perfumes. The idea that by wearing an outfit Kate Moss 'designed' you will somehow be magically transformed in to Kate Moss is a preposterous one, yet so many people buy in to it. Are women that unhappy with the way they look and smell? I want to meet the people who are buying Heidi Klum inspired bags from Accessorize, Penelope Cruz's favourite jacket from Mango and Shilpa Shetty's perfume (imaginatively called S squared) and ask them WHY? Desist! Stop trying to look like these women, you never will. Even with reconstructive plastic surgery. And stop buying their perfumes. They all smell terrible, I know this as I am constantly sprayed with Love Kylie and Covet every time I walk by the perfume counter of a department store. Whatever happened to classic scents? The ones our mothers wore and that we sneakily spritzed on to ourselves when she was out. Anais Anais, Chanel No 5... even the overpowering 80s power trip smell of Opium is better than smelling like Britney Spears(eww btw). And are these women's lives really so much better than ours that we aspire to them? Let's see, a supermodel in an on again off again destructive relationship with a cokehead musician, a ex pop princess who shaved her head off and frequently walks in to public urinals barefoot... why do we think they have it better than we do?

Me, I'm sticking to the Opium. The shoulder pads I assure you have been relinquished.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

rani muthu

Every birthday her father would tear the small grey square of paper from the daily sheet calendar and hand it to her. She would stare at the line drawing of Lord Muruga, beatific smile and Vel in place. Nalla neram, rahu kaalam, raasi palan. She would fold it and place it in her diary. She is too far away from home this year. There is no sheet. Only a memory.

(ps. I googled for rani muthu, and found this post by neha mami!)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Handicap

It had been holding him back all his life. He was sure of it. It was the reason why he never had any friends in school, it was why his college applications were rejected – each and every one of them, it was the reason why he couldn’t find a bride. His name, he decided, was the reason why he was an unhappy, unsuccessful, single, balding, wedding caterer. 35 years old and all he had to show for it was a long list of complaints from families whose weddings he catered. Why were they all so sure it was his badamkheer and akkaravadisal that had caused the food poising? And it wasn’t his fault that he had misplaced the list of food allergies the groom suffered from; the swelling didn’t show that much in the reception pictures. He sat up suddenly, a difficulty given his stomach (but what was one to do with so much leftover food?). He would change his name. Yes, that was it. All the other successful caterers had powerful, impressive names. Mountbatten Mani. Arusuvai Natarajan, Nalabhagan Narayanan. He would take on a new name. No more of this change I to Y and add another S he’d been trying all these years. He would get a brand new name. One that made people stand up in respect when they heard and read it. One that would make stupid fathers think twice before rejecting his offer of marriage to their bucktoothed daughters. Oh yes. A new name. One that had no connections with his old life. Stalin Sundaramoorthy? Haryana Hitler? T. Nagar Tipu? Maybe a combination? Tipu Stalin? He felt powerful just saying the name out loud. He got up and waddled towards the kitchen. Yes, his life would be different. But first, a cup of badamkheer.

Friday, October 12, 2007

hibernating

So around this time last year I quit my job. Actually around this time last year I was in Madras on an extended vacation celebrating the fact that I had quit my job. Anyway, it’s been a year. I wish I could say that things are just where I thought they would be one year later. That I’m thoroughly convinced I made the right decision. That I write prolifically from morning till late afternoon every day. I can’t think of a third one to make it sound nice. See what a failure of a writer I am? But I think the first two are enough. There are days when I wonder if I did the right thing. Perhaps it was arrogance to assume I was anywhere near good enough to quit a well paying job to write full time. When I see other people surge ahead in their careers I look at my notebook of jottings and think, that’s all I have to show? There are hours, days and weeks when nothing happens. Nothing moves. I am in the midst of such a time. I tell myself it is the winter, that once I’ve adjusted to eternally grey days I shall start again. But what if I don’t? What if all there ever was was 9 stories and nothing more. See I can’t even tell the truth… seven stories and two basic ideas. Maybe it was all a mistake. And maybe it is the first step. After all, these are the first words I have written in two weeks (not counting emails, changing my facebook status and some freelance copywriting I’ve been doing. Sell out!)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

overheard on the all stations to moorgate last evening

Violet haired girl with many piercings and a Care Bear backpack (you can't make these things up) gets on the train at Hadley Wood. Her phone rings.

"No, I don't want to meet Alex, he's a twat. No offence an all. Just don't like im"

Conversation at other end (CAOE)

"Yeah but... no I don't want to"

More arguing on whether to meet with friend and Alex the twat. Sudden sharp intake of breath.

"What she slapped you?"

CAOE

"Where? Around the face?"

CAOE

"I can't believed she slapped you? where?"

CAOE

"No not that where, as in where? around the face? Did she slap you around the face? No I get that, but where? Around the face."

CAOE

"God I can't believe she slapped you around the face. Bitch. Who does she think she is? I can't believe that. You don't go slapping people around do you? No it's wrong, that's what it is. You don't slap people period. she's going to get slapped one of these days. I might do it"

Monday, October 08, 2007

It's hard to make me smile at the moment

And it's even harder for an advertisement to make me smile. And since the latest Sony Bravia commercial has accomplished such a feat, I think it only fair I mention it (it's also a good excuse to blog, seeing I have nothing else to blog about). I've enjoyed the previous two winning Sony Bravia commercials, though I preferred the second to the first... some ad pundits waxed lyrical about the coloured balls one, going as far to say as they remember exactly what they were doing when they first saw the spot... really? to me the only thing worth remembering is when I last ate. But that's just me. The second spot I loved, because it reminded me of those 80s film songs where those colour bombs would go off as junior artists danced in the background while the hero and heroine did many costume changes(often to match the colours of the colour bombs)

But this commercial is sweet, goofy and like I said it makes me smile.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Who writes this crap

And no I'm not talking about what appears on this blog, we all know who writes that.
Check out this website for a daily dose of bad writing. My favourite is the description of Tiramisu from some restaurant menu...described as 'the memorable rendezvous is made more comfortable by magic'. Indeed.

Monday, October 01, 2007

at the joo

She stared at the creature, her eyes running over its long graceful neck covered in a jigsaw like pattern, the pieces not quite fitting together. The zoo was almost empty that morning. The wind blowing with a ferocity usually reserved for December, whipping the rain about on an invisible leash.

If only she had evolved from fish and not from monkeys she mused. Then she could have flip flopped about gasping for air when he took her away from home, insisting she be thrown back in her tank. But all she could do was fix accusing eyes upon the rapidly expanding bald patch on the back of his head as she served him dinner every night.

“Why don’t you go out today? Explore the city?” he had said that morning, leaving £30 on the dining table as he took his lunch box. “St. Pauls, Madam Tussauds – they have Shah Rukh and Ash there now you know” She had winced inside. Ash. As though he knew her intimately. More intimately than his own wife who he insisted on calling by her full name. Drawing out each syllable in that unbearable nasal twang of his.

But she had come to see the giraffe instead. When she told him where she had been it would annoy him, and that was reason enough. But she was glad she had come here. The faint smell of animal dung, popcorn and candy floss. The shrill squawks of brightly plumed birds and the grumbling retorts of the other animals. Why, if she closed her eyes she could pretend she was home.

The giraffe stood so still, she was unsure if it was real or not. She did that sometimes too. She would sit motionless on the sofa, convincing herself she wasn’t even there. That she just did not exist in this cold miserable excuse of a country. The giraffe looked sad. How she knew what the giraffe face for sad was she was not sure. But she knew. After all, how could anything be happy in this place? Giraffes. They were from Africa weren’t they? That’s where they were meant to be. Ambling along the … she racks her memory for 7th standard geography… pampas? No… steppes… plains. Something. Ambling along somewhere in Africa. Not fenced in, looking over a street somewhere behind Regent’s Park. Did its skin, intended for sub Saharan heat protect it from the cold? Or like her flimsy Garden sari, did it let the biting wind in? She wondered what would happen if she magically let the animal out, like they showed in the movies. The idea filled her with a sudden rage, why should she let the stupid thing out? It was dumb enough to let itself be caught and brought here. It could help itself. It wasn’t a child anymore. What excuse did it have to look so sad? The rage passed. She sighed and walked on, her legs shivering under her flimsy Garden sari.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Beyond the Infinite

In A Mathematician's Apology GH Hardy said “The mathematician's patterns, like the painter's or the poet's must be beautiful; the ideas, like the colours or the words must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in this world for ugly mathematics.”

A mathematics professor of mine often echoed Hardy’s sentiments on returning scored examination sheets, "Your solutions must be beautiful, as should be the way you arrive at them."



Forget beautiful, my answers were barely fit for the circus freaks department. I struggled with mathematics throughout school and college, battling with imaginary numbers, arguing against the need for calculus and unable to predict when Ram and Shyam would meet should they decide to start running in opposite directions on a circular track from different points at varying speeds at the same time. No one could ever answer why they couldn’t agree upon a designated place at a predetermined time though.



So it was with some trepidation that I booked my ticket for A Disappearing Number, the latest offering from London based theatre company Complicite. Known for inventive productions with stories based on unusual subject matters Complicite’s latest offering takes as its starting point one of the most compelling collaborations of all time – that between prodigy Srinivasan Ramanujan, and the Cambridge mathematician G H Hardy who later called their involvement "the one romantic incident" of his life. Conceived and directed by the company’s Artistic Director Simon McBurney and with an original score by Nitin Sawhney the play is currently being staged at London's Barbican theatre.


Simon McBurney first came across Ramanujan’s story 11 years ago when writer Michael Ondaatje recommended Hardy’s memoir, A Mathematician’s Apology. “I read it and became very excited, because it wasn’t just about mathematics, but about the nature of the imagination,” McBurney told The Sunday Times “As I began to read more, I discovered that great mathematicians worked through an extraordinary sense of instinct and intuition and, above all, imagination – that mathematics was created, throughout history, by leaps of the imagination.”



A Disappearing Number began without preamble; there was no dimming of lights and no polite voice asking the audience to switch off cell phones. Instead a woman came breathlessly striding across the stage and began to write number series on a large blackboard. 1 4 9 16 25 … 1 2 3 5 7 11 … 1 2 4 6 8 … She proceeded to fill the board up with more numbers and formulae, some familiar from my wasted years as a student of mathematics. The squigglier the figures got the more my heart fell. Was the entire play going to be epsilons, integrals, sines and cosines? Similar thoughts were no doubt filtering through the minds of other members of the audience as nervous laughs and coughs broke out. Thankfully, our fears were unfounded.



A middle-aged mathematician desperate to make a difference sets off to Madras in search of inspiration from her hero, Ramanujan. Accidentally locked in a lecture hall for the night, a man mourns the death of his lover, left only with a series of enigmatic digits – her telephone number. It is 1913 and GH Hardy seeks to comprehend a genius whose work is influenced not by rigid logic but by intuition and spirituality. Said genius, Ramanujan feverishly pursues some of the most complex mathematical patterns of all time, whilst yearning for vendakkai stranded in the midst of a cruel English winter. “I’m not interested, really, in this story as one particular, specific touching tale,” McBurney says, “but in a rather larger metaphorical application of what it implies, of how creativity consumes you – how it’s an extraordinarily human activity, this absolute compulsion to understand, but at the same time this compulsion to understand can have tragic consequences.”


Elements of new media, classical dance, graphic art, live and recorded audio swirl about the simply designed sets. A revolving screen acts as a time machine of sorts, taking us from the present to the recent and distant past. There are moments when different stories play out together simultaneously, voices and lives overlapping. It’s an unsettling experience at first, but one soon gets used to the story’s arrhythmic rhythm.

It’s easy to see why Ramanujan’s life makes for such compelling storytelling. This is a mathematical genius who fails his exams and lost a college scholarship. Here is a man whose pursuit of numbers dictated that he embrace logic and yet chose the divine: claiming to take advice from the family deity Namagiri. It is a story of a humble Port Trust Authority clerk from Kumbakkonam who finds himself in upper crust predominantly white (and racist) Cambridge. It is about a devout Hindu Brahmin and an atheist Englishman setting aside their differences cultural and spiritual, for their common love of numbers.

Almost a century after Ramanujan set sail to England at the invitation of a fascinated GH Hardy, the story of their collaboration still enthralls. Last year, David Freeman’s off Broadway play A First Class Man received critical acclaim. The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt a fictionalized account of the relationship between Hardy and Ramanujan was published this year. Two films are in development: one based on Robert Kanigel's 1991 biography, The Man Who Knew Infinity; the second an Anglo-Indian venture, to be co-directed by Dev Benegal (English, August and Split Wide Open) and former Cambridge student, actor and director Stephen Fry.

Soon after the play commenced, an actor appeared on stage to tell the audience "I am an actor playing Alex. And she is an actor playing Ruth. But the maths is real. It's terrifying, but real." McBurney has taken on a theatrical subject many would find daunting and fashioned from it a brooding meditation on love, longing and identity. If only my younger self had known that beauty in numbers does indeed exist.


(An edited version of this piece appeared here, today)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

night prowl

I'm feeling cold so there's a cheap Ikea throw wrapped around me, which I am desperately trying to also cover my feet with. The washing machine is shuddering away in the background as though it too is cold . Every now and then it starts violently, perhaps it knows I'm nodding off in front of the screen. I can hear some of our neighbours, the creaking of floorboards and shutting of doors. A baby cries somewhere in our apartment block. My stomach growls. 'I just fed you' I hiss. It continues to protest.

Thank God BBC Radio 3 didn't commission me to write about my city at 11:00pm. It would have involved lustful speculations about chocolate hob nobs and frequent moaning about the cold. I am an old lady trapped in a not so young body. Instead they got Tessa Hadley to write about Cardiff. Hat tip to Anand for putting me on to BBC Radio 3 Arts and Ideas podcast.


R3Arts_ The Essay_...

An old piece that wasn't published, and given that it is no longer topical, probably never will be. so, i choose to inflict it upon those who still read my blog. I hardly blog these days, so to those who still take the effort to come by, thank you.



Smooth alabaster skin, toned arms, pendant nestling seductively in the cleavage and a provocatively held fishing rod. Last week, the bar was raised for aspiring topless models everywhere when Vladimir Putin was photographed sans shirt while apparently fishing. I say apparently, because on showing the image to angling experts, I was told Mr. Putin was holding his rod incorrectly. This was no photograph taken by a cheeky paparazzo hiding behind bushes while the Russian Premier took much deserved time off from pondering over which oligarch to send to Siberia next. No, no. Mr. Putin seemed rather aware of the cameras, and I say this on studying his rather proud grin and the distinct way in which he thrusts forward his manly assets. Perhaps Playboy should consider him as their Ms. October?


While Mr. Putin was baring all in Russia, Heidi Klum and Britney Spears both appeared to have misplaced their shirts and bras in a campaign for Jordache Jeans and a spread for Allure magazine respectively. While Ms. Klum has just deposited baby number three with husband, singer Seal (known for regaling fans by balancing a ball on his head and clapping), no-hair-no-underwear Spears has two little boys with former husband K-Fed, whose name sounds like it should be painted across the side of a courier van. While Ms. Klum holds a riding whip in some of her pictures (didn’t you know, sporting equipment is the season’s must have accessory) Brit-brit seemed happy to keep her hands empty and crossed over her chest, making it all the easier to grab those chicken nuggets between shots. But the message was loud and clear in both sets of pictures – ‘Sure we’ve had kids but look how hot we are’. Klum annoyingly admitted to ‘eating everything and loving muffins’ and said that ‘running behind her kids keeps her healthy’. Great, the last thing we need is another crazy Hollywood diet. As if Atkins and the South Beach diet weren’t bad enough, men and women everywhere are now going to start gorging on muffins, procreating like rabbits and gasp, wear lederhosen.


The images have received mixed responses. While men stare gawping at Klum and spears apparently at a loss for words, women have been more verbal. New mothers complained especially, saying the images of Klum and Spears put pressure on them to lose weight, when all they really wanted to do was give their crying children Benadryl and see more pictures of bald Britney. ‘This is the last thing I need to see right now’ a new mother said ‘I just have to look at muffins and I put on an extra three pounds’. Ok the last line was from me, but I promise you these are feelings shared by millions of women everywhere. Women long for a simpler time, when motherhood meant trackpants with elasticised waist bands and muumuus covered in dried baby sick. This new Hollywood version of motherhood as propounded by the likes of Victoria Beckham and Liz Hurley is all about skin tight white jeans and pilates and is not doing the rest of us any favours.


Mr. Putin’s topless pictures seem to have garnered little or no opposition though. In fact, it has been greeted with much cheering from balding men of a certain age who can no longer hold back the overwhelming force of middle aged spread. Men everywhere have dropped their shirts and picked up a fishing rod. I saw one buying a pint of milk at the newsstand this morning. Mr. Putin, joins Tony Blair (hairy mobs - that’s man -boobs alert) and Antonio Berlusconi as the latest political pin up boy, though I doubt their pictures will be adorning female locker room walls any time soon.


Meanwhile, the South Block rumbles with rumours that Laloo Prasad Yadav has installed a state of the art gym, and is orchestrating a photo shoot clad only in a dhoti and milking his cows. A show of hands for who would like to see that one. Thought so.

Monday, September 24, 2007

To the idiots in the audience yesterday

Why were you there? Why did you buy tickets to this sublime evening of music if all you were going to do was sit to my left, before and behind me and talk. Not whisper the occasional comment in your friend's ear. But talk. Animatedly. With hands fluttering about, so that the dim lighting caught the dazzle of the diamonds fastened to your bracelet and the varnish painted on your nails. What you were talking about I do not know. And why you couldn't conduct your conversation some other place is anyone's guess. When the person seated between us put his finger to his lips like a kindergarten teacher you kept silent for all of 5 minutes before starting again. What part of 'Shh' do you not understand?

Lady behind us, what IS in that infernal bag of yours? Your brains? Do you have rattle about in it for half an hour?

And all of you coming in late. What is it about 'Concert begins at 4pm' that you do not understand. Sure, they started 15 minutes late. But to come in after an hour! And then to glare at people as you step on their feet enroute to your seat, doesn't that seem a bit much to you?

And you there, two rows down. Actually, you and your entire family. Have you come to the wrong place? Did you imagine you were going to see KANK, SHANK or some other preposterously long drivel. Is that why you've brought along a large bag of popcorn, a family sized pack of Kit Kats and bottles of cola that annoyingly go 'Fzzz' when you open them. You, young man, with your arm around the girl's shoulder. Must you nuzzle her neck forcing her to break out in to a not so quiet giggle. Do you have to try on your friend's glasses and then say in a stage whisper 'I can't see anything.' Yet you forget that the rest of us can hear everything.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

looking for a silver lining

I know technically it's not winter yet, heck I don't think we're even allowed to call current abysmal weather Autumn. We are in limbo weather wise. But still, there's that definite drop in temperature, the sun has taken a holiday and I might as well stop waxing my legs. There are only two things one can look forward to in winter. One, is the ability to eat as many packets of chocolate hob nobs as one likes, secure in the knowledge that all sins will be covered by layer upon layer of thermals, woolens, jackets and scarves. Which leads quite naturally to the other thing to look forward to... shopping for winter wear. That is the high light of November for me: searching for the perfect coat, boots, gloves, sweaters and scarf. In fact it's all I can think about at the moment. Along with chocolate hob nobs of course.

In the current Style Issue of the New Yorker, Patricia Marx writes about shopping for winter clothing in New York City. Here is an abstract, you'll have to buy the issue to read it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

the cold addles my brain

sink full of dishes
spider under my bed
socks split like brothers at a fair
but with no happy reunion in the end

the sirens call of hob nobs
late light and early dark
yellow stripes and pink polka dots
the spider's got my socks

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

is that me?

A new blog template means I open my blog page, don't recognise it, think I've come to someone else's blog and then retype my url.

Does that happen to people who have had their noses done? Or had new boobs put it? Do they catch their own reflection and think to themselves 'My, doesn't s/he look good' and walk on not realising it is themselves?

Decongested update

The short story I read here, is finally up on the Decongested website. (The biog was written a very very long time ago, when I actually did blog regularly!)

Monday, September 17, 2007

talisman

The cold nips at her exposed ankles. If only she could retract her feet in to her track bottoms the way her hands magically disappeared inside the sleeves of her worn sweater. Outside the sun shines, lulling her in to a false sense of summer. She has surrounded herself with bright, yellow things. Like talismans, she likes to think. Sunflowers. The glass bowl filled with Seville Oranges. Even her woefully inadequate flip flops. But she knows the mental solace they provide is fictional. When she was a child, she suddenly fell ill. She became thin, was depressed (though of course, that word was not used. It did not exist in her family's vocabulary)and was scared to go out. Her hair fell and her skin became yellow. The doctors prescribed vitamins and told her to eat walnuts. But nothing worked. Her mother finally took her to the Muslim at the corner of Mundakanniamman koil street. She remembers the wise bearded man and how he looked at her, studied her. His quiet cluck that summoned a woman shrouded in black from inside who placed a platter covered with a checkered cloth on the floor and disappeared. The man had slowly removed the cloth and studied her again before removing a large green chilly, which he circled around her head clockwise and anticlockwise, three times each way. He then snapped it in two and threw it in to a bowl of clear water . At his bidding she looked at the bowl and watched the water turn a bright yellow. The man then took out a small silver charm strung on a black thread and whispered at it before he tied it around her neck. She still remembers her fear, thinking her mother had married her off to the old man.
She was fine after that. Her hair no longer fell and she no longer feared the unknown black weight that had pressed down upon her. She wore the talisman till the black thread snapped of its own accord.
If only she had such a talisman now. Instead she tries to take her feet inside her track bottoms.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

neighbours

She first noticed the creaking when they were watching television. It was on a Saturday. Mid morning. Reruns of that effete film director's coffee show. Or was it a chat show? She can't remember. His guest, an auburn maned starlet with long legs and a coquettish laugh was evading questions about her love life. They heard it right after another one of her annoying simpering giggles. creak creak creak. It went on for about five minutes and then stopped. And then started again. They had stared at each other, embarrassed. He then turned the volume up. They did not speak about it.

She heard it again the following Tuesday at 1:45 in the afternoon. She was eating lunch and watching Dr.Phil. A mother was sobbing while her fifteen year old daughter talked of sleeping with strangers in motel parking lots. creak creak creak. She stopped eating and looked up at the ceiling. Saturday morning was alright, but on a Tuesday in the middle of the afternoon? What were they, animals? What were they trying to prove?

She began to listen out for the creaking. She watched the television muted and with subtitles so she didn't miss anything. She wondered if someone was running a brothel out of their flat. When she met her neighbours at the mail box or near the communal dumpster she studied them discreetly, wondering who it could possibly be. The slightly older, fake blonde who shopped at Ann Summers? No, too obvious. The woman in complete purdah? Was she wearing Agent Provocateur garters underneath the metres of billowing black? Was it the teenage boy who she once saw buying Top heavy Mamas at the newsagent?

"We need to move out. The owner is selling up" he casually mentioned one evening over dinner.
"Move? But why?"
"I told you, he's selling the house."
"Can't we buy it?"
"What, this dump? You hate this flat"
"It's grown on me."
But the asking price was too high so they began to look at new flats, but there was always something wrong. Too small, too old, too ugly.

And then they saw it. Parquet flooring. A garden. Spacious. Light filled. The agent looked at them smugly, knowing he had found a winner. He looked at them grinning.
"Well, what do you think?"

He began to nod, enthusiastically, but she cut in
"I don't like it"
They looked at her as though she were mad.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"It's too quiet for me"

Monday, September 10, 2007

in memory of...

Her feet ache. She wants to stop walking but he marches on ahead, oblivious to her whimpers and moans, pointing out things that mean nothing to her. He names the various ferns and shrubs that have taken over, smothering the ground with the fecund growth. She stops walking, standing in the middle of the path, wondering how long it will be before he notices that she is not with him. She sits on a worn wooden bench. She hates these days out. The annoyingly cheerful fresh air and smug blue skies. He is about twenty yards ahead now and he still has not noticed. She reads the inscription on the plaque.



Why on earth would anyone want a park bench in their memory? What purpose could it possibly serve? Buildings, a prominent square, a tree lined street, a museum wing - these were things to leave one's name on. But a park bench? A few insignificant planks of wood screwed together in the middle of a gnat infested park? Wouldn't it be better to leave behind nothing at all?

Stretching her feet out before her she rests her hand on the small developing bump and wonders what she will leave behind. She thinks about the three chapters of the novel she has been writing for a year. The debt that was silently growing like a cancer. This child. A mismatched collection of chinaware scavenged from charity shops.

She opens her bag and takes out a pair of tweezers. She scans the pathway quickly before inscribing her initials and the date into the soft wood of the park bench.
Just in case.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Does any one know of...

Blogs dedicated to Indian classical dance? If so, please leave links in the comments section or email me at mailshoefiend@gmail.com

Also, if anyone is interested in writing about classical dance or knows someone who is, again please drop me a line! Or two!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

My first published (and paid for) piece of fiction

The Aldgate Fast has been published in Pulp's September Fiction offering.

Away from her

I rarely write about books or movies. But after watching Sarah Polley's directorial debut 'Away from her' starring Julie Christie I felt I had to.

Based on Alice Munro's short story 'The Bear Came Over the Mountain', Away from her tells the story of Fiona's (Julie Christies) descent in to Alzheimer's, and her decision to be admitted in to a facility before she becomes a burden on her husband. Fiona slowly develops an attachment to another patient and becomes estranged from Grant (Gordon Pinsent) who thinks she's punishing him for a former affair. Julie Christie is as gorgeous now, if not more so, than in Dr. Zhivago. The film is subtle, compelling and moving, do watch it if you can.

(Also, if you like short stories read Alice Munro's Runaway.)

Saturday, September 01, 2007

India Now

Long after the cheering crowds and pageantry have deserted parade routes across India and the tricolour has been brought down and folded away, London continues to commemorate 60 years of Indian Independence and celebrate all things desi with India Now. A three month long love affair with India, it's been is billed as 'the most comprehensive festival of culture from the subcontinent ever to be staged in the capital'.

The rest of my article on the India Now festival is here. Here are some pictures I took at The Trafalgar Square Festival.


 

 

 

 



And at the British Library

 

 
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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Whatever happened to using breasts for world peace?

US Americans, 'The' Iraq and how the US should help South Africa and Asian countries so that they can build up their future... listen and learn.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sunday, August 19, 2007

saints, shoes and sunsets ... on the beach, barefoot in Barcelona

 
 
 
 
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Saturday, August 18, 2007

seems so far away now...

Minimalist hotel rooms and Gaudi...two ends of the spectrum...
 
 
 
 
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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

dreams of freedom

The flag hung limply in the still afternoon heat. The rose petals that had fluttered to the ground as the tricolour unfurled now lay crushed and brown. He scanned the quadrangle, filled just a few hours earlier with singing and saluting children, the grand sounds of a band and shouts of 'Vande Mataram'. He jostled the sticks of his broom in to place before bending over and running them across the ground in sweeping strokes. The country was 60 years old they were saying. He wondered how old he was - a year or two over 60? He worked his way across the ground in straight lines, pausing every now and then to catch his breath and massage his aching knees. How much longer would he have to work like this? There was a daughter to get married and a son who wanted to go and work in Dubai . The latter alone needed a down payment of Rs.50,000. He had about Rs.15,000 in the bank and there was the peon in the headmaster's office who got him this job. That was another Rs.10,000 to think about. Sitting on his haunches, he allowed himself to think of the future. No debts, children married and supporting their parents, perhaps he could even go back to his village and buy a sari for their family deity. It was a long standing dream of his. His eyes swept the ground and came to rest on a small yellow object a few feet away. Crawling forward he picked it up. It was one of the sweets they had given the children. He brushed the dust off it it and opened the jewel like wrapper, staring at the treasure that lay inside. He looked around him, but the ground was empty. Smiling, he put the chocolate in his mouth and savoured the burst of intense sweetness. Picking up his broom, he continued sweeping the ground in precise straight lines, wondering when he would reach the end.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

i heart raymond carver

I'm dipping in and out of this collection of Raymond Carver stories. The stories are not very long, but he manages to reel you in, often in the first few lines. The characters are fascinating, and I am often left wondering about them long after I have read their stories. I love these small glimpses in to people's lives and thoughts. He hints at the past, suggesting things or planting ideas in your head. If he were alive, I would be his groupie.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

raji chitti is

a character from one of my stories I no longer need... not for now anyway
*

Rajeshwari had turned mad in her late teens. No one could explain why. She had come home from school one day crying and red cheeked, refusing to tell anyone what had happened. Soon after that she began acting strangely. She developed an appetite that put the heartiest of men to shame. She was found outside the local wine shop, jostling with lorry and rickshaw drivers demanding to be served. She answered back, would be morose and then all of a sudden as though a light had been switched off she was back to her old mild mannered self.
Unable to cope with her affliction (or find a prospective groom who hadn’t heard of it) in the small town they lived in, Sita’s grandparents and her Chitti moved to the city and boarded with Sita’s family. Sita’s parents had been told that the young girl was depressed, that she was bored of small town life. But when Rajeshwari Chitti started talking in strange voices – as a young child, a drunkard, sometimes an old crone who spoke only in riddles – they realised there was more to her problem than a mild depression. Sita had been six or seven when her mother’s family had arrived. In the six months they lived with them she would often be woken up in the middle of the night by her family’s frantic shouts as they searched for Rajeshwari who disappeared in the middle of the night. The house (and the entire street) would be roused as they went in search of her, finding her curled around the thick trunk of the mango tree that grew in the Xavier’s courtyard fast asleep or sitting on the water tank shouting at the moon. The neighbourhood delighted in this of course, the last excitement they had had was when Chandru had failed his board exams. The Mamis would all congregate at Sita’s house the morning after such incidents, headed by Janaki Mami to counsel and console.
“Don’t worry, once she gets married, everything will be alright” Janaki Mami would opine, before slipping away with Indra’s mother to discuss all they had seen, heard and said.
And so, following the common wisdom that marriage was the panacea Rajeshwari needed, she was married to the first young, unsuspecting bank clerk they could find. But a year later and she was not cured. In fact she had become worse, adding to her repertoire of voices and disappearing acts a sudden aversion to sleeping and bathing. Her husband who had soon realised his wife’s problems were more serious than the fact she had had a sheltered upbringing (as the family insisted after she tore his silk shirt and scratched him on their wedding night) complained to the family that they had to stop her nocturnal, noxious wanderings. A priest was called and consulted and after scrunching his eyes shut and flaring his nostrils he determined that 4 spirits were residing in Sita’s aunt’s body. An exorcism was arranged and a small donation of Rs.30, 000 was made to the temple trust. The exorcism took place at Sita’s house. She had spent most of the time hiding her face in the fragrant pleats of her grandmother’ sari, too afraid to see what visuals accompanied the piercing screeches that echoed throughout the house. The exorcism had not helped and Rajeshwari Chitti had died not long after it after losing her balance and falling from the water tank. The Priest acquired a new moped.
“But she died a married woman’ the ladies of the neighbourhood had stated ‘What more
could a woman ask for?”

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Children in poverty

Newsround on CBBC tell's the real stories of children living in poverty through a series of beautifully animated shorts. (Link via ammani)

Friday, August 03, 2007

guilty as charged

the guilt of not writing is worse than the guilt: of eating three chocolate bonbons too many and not jogging for a whole week and going to sleep with your make up on and eating a whole tub of ben and jerry and pretending like you can't see the guy who's selling a Big Issue and not getting up for the pregnant lady because you stupidly wore high heels that have not been broken in and then assuage your guilt by convincing yourself that she's probably not pregnant and that if you did offer her your seat she would get affended the guilt of not writing is worse than: saying you have a headache when you don't and not answering phone calls from friends because you're watching Frasier or reading Harry Potter and watching bad reality shows and pretending like you don't and serving paneer butter masala from M&S and passing it off as your own and lying about who ate the last chocolate bon bon.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

On Anna Karenina

The hidden moralist in me felt Anna deserved to be separated from her son, after all, what mother would would leave her husband and son for a toyboy? But a few chapters later I would be convinced that we all deserved to seek out true love and to hell with the kids and the consequences. There were times when I disliked Anna and times when I sympathised. She was needy, selfish and vain. Kitty whinged and Levin was morose and jealous. Stepan philandered and Karenin was both Saint and Devil. Dolly was a do-gooder. I loved it. It's been a while since I read a book where most of the main characters were so flawed.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

kill all your darlings

Is some very sound advice that appears in The Copy Book. While it is easier to be brutal with one’s copy for an ad or brochure (mostly because the axe – or should I say mouse - wielding art director is always pointing somewhere and saying ‘Your copy has to end there’ and that's that) I find it impossible to discard phrases, sentences and sometimes entire paragraphs from my short stories. Also how much advice should one listen to ? Should I be allowed to say ‘No, I like the way this has turned out and I’m not changing it’ at such a nascent stage of my writing or should I take on board all that I am told?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

nerves

I was suitably wired up thanks to copious amounts of coffee before the story reading at Foyles on Friday night. Like some bad actor in an equally bad sitcom I kept tugging at the collar of my shirt and asking everyone around me 'Is it hot in here?'
But the intimate audience of forty that sent out friendly, non threatening vibes, and the presence of friendly faces in the audience, including my husband and a friend from my writing group, put me at ease. I'll link to the story when it goes up on the decongested site. Those of you that came, thanks so much. It meant alot to me!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

John Cleese and slug death



The gravel pathways of recreation ground have become a cemetery. The rains have laid waste to hundreds of able bodied slugs, leeches and snails. Their damaged bodies lie in a pool of sticky mucous, antennae reaching out for a helping hand. You stare hard at the path , keeping an eye out for potential invertebrate land mines, dreading the squelch and burst of gunk. You hear the crunch of heavy boots. You look up. It's the John Cleese lookalike bird watcher with his poncy binoculars around his neck. You always nod and smile at him. But when he returns the head nod, it is never really a nod. It is a nod in reverse. An imperious head tilt if you will. As though he is acknowledging the presence of lesser being. He looks up, binoculars at his eyes in a flash. The squelch is unmistakable. Serves him right.

(Image courtesy: Getty)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A guest post by TCC - cow tree and boy

Early in January, the class teacher Saradmabal sporting her trade mark stern, mirthless look gave out the English essay papers. Ramaswamy tried to sink lower and lower in the last bench. His name was the last to be called out. Saradambal held his answer sheet in her hand. The front benchers noticed a a shudder pass through her body.

"Ramaswamy", she snapped. "You will get your paper tomorrow. But first I need to see your mother. Please bring her along"

Ramaswamy 's mother was keen on her son's education and was ever ready to go to school and discuss his progress with the teachers. In small towns like the one they lived in the teachers were often neighbours and sometime even relatives. Ramaswamy’s mother knew Saradambal, a sour faced woman who she used to meet every now and then in the temple.

The next morning mother and son walked up to the school. As they approached the classroom the roll call was in session.

Saradambal noticed Ramaswamy and his mother at the entrance.
"Vango, vango. Nan than vara sollirunden"

"Enna teacher, ivan nanna padikkarana illaya?"

"Atha solla thane koopittu anuppinen. English essay paperla periya zipher vangi irukkan. Padichu padichu solli kuduthen. Matha pasanga ellam correcta ezhuthi nalla mark eduthanga. Ivan mattum kala vaarittan"

"Ennada Ramaswamy", mother turned to him. "Eppadida ippadi?"

"Amma, athu vandu amma".

Saradambal intervened "Ida parungo. Testukku oru week munnaleye, cleara solli kuduthen. Essay examila rande randu topics than. Onnu vandu coconut tree; innonnu cow. Ithile eadavadu onna pathi than essay ezhuthanumu. Randu subjecta pattiyum padichu padichu essay sollikkuduthen. "

"Pinna enndada. Yenda kadankara, sariya ezhuthala?"

"Amma nan sariya than ezhuthinen amma"

"Enna teacher, onnum puriyalaye. Avan ennadanna sariya ezhuthinengarane"

Saradmbal turned to Ramaswamy " Nan kekkaren. Yen da, testukku munnale yenna sonnen. Randu subject than. Athila ethavathu onnu than testukku keppa. Sonnena illaya?"

"Amam teacher"

"Yennenna subject. Gnapakam irukka?"

"Yes teacher. The coconut tree; illati the cow"

"Seri, tesulla ennatha patti essay ezhutha sonna ?"

"The cow", teacher"

" Nee ennatha pathi ezhuthine"

"Cowwa pathi than, teacher"

"Ithila coconut treeya pathi allava ezhutheerukke"

"Illa madam, ithu cowwa pathi than"

This conversation was becoming more and more like the vazha pazha scene in Karkattakaran and Rajeev's mother decided to intervene.

"Enna madam. Onnum puriyalaye. Avan cowwa pathi than ezhuthinen nnu sadikkarane. Neengalo vera vidham sollaryale"

Saradambal was not amused by the Senthil act from Rajeev. She opened the test paper " Mami, please wait. I will read your son's essay Neengale sollungo"


The Cow
'Cow is a domestic animal. It has four legs. It eats grass and gives milk.'


Saradambal paused dramatically before moving on.

"It is usually tied to the coconut tree in the back yeard. Almost all houses have coconut trees. Coconut trees are very useful. They have many uses................................................................................................................."


Ramaswamy’s mother went home, promising to look into the matter. But she was actually very impressed with her son's essay.

"Amma,", Ramaswamy explained to her in the evening. "Oru subject than amma padichen. Yedukku time waste pannanumnu. 50 paisa koyina toss panninen;Cow varumnu edirpathen, coconut treeya pathi kettu tholacha. Nan pathen. Randukkuma oru mudicha pottu, coconut treeya pathi ezhuthinen. Ithila ennamma thappu "

Saturday, July 21, 2007

So long, farewell...

I was torn between racing through the book to read the desperately awaited end and savouring each and every word, knowing this was the last installment. I finished the seventh and final Harry Potter about fifteen minutes ago. I don't particular care for reviews when it comes to Potter, so I won't be reading any to find out what others thought. All I can say, is goodbye Harry Potter and Co! It was fun while it lasted!

Two in one!

Straight girl in gay central

“Wetter than a lesbian at Wimbledon”; that’s how comedian, television personality and openly gay Graham Norton described the weather on the day of London Pride. But nothing was going to put a dampener on the city’s spirit – not the weather, not the two car bombs found in the capital the previous day and certainly not the heightened levels of security. In its 35th year, the annual London Pride Day comprised of a parade through central London, a political rally and some great entertainment – all carried out with the sole purpose of raising awareness about the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) community. Hundreds of thousands of people turned up to celebrate sexuality – their own and that of their friends and loved ones.

My first and last brush with sapphic love had been in the 7th standard when a classmate at the all girls’ school I attended wrote me fervent letters on Hello Kitty embossed paper and bought me Amul chocolate bars and glitter pens. I, of course, thought she was being overly expressive, returned the gifts as I wasn’t allowed to accept presents unless it was my birthday and ate the chocolates. I now realise her feelings may have been based on more than just a shared dislike of march-past practice at the YMCA ground. It was with these fond reminisces in my head that I arrived at Baker Street, where the Parade was scheduled to start at 1pm before setting off down the famous shop lined avenues of Oxford street, Regent Street, Piccadilly and Leicester Square. I followed a group of pinafore wearing Dorothy’s (some with a 7o’clock stubble) along the not so yellow brick road to where the parade was assembling.

Pouring rain, men dressed as Diana Ross, music, rainbow striped everything, Wonder Woman and Marilyn Monroe holding hands – it was like a scene out of a very bizarre dream. A disembodied voice shouted ‘Watch out’ and I stepped back just in time, making way for a group of buff young men sprinting along in nothing but body glitter and metallic red briefs. Further ahead, a group of pensioners who appeared to have taken inspiration from pink cotton candy and inflated prophylactics for their outfits vied for camera attention with a group of Roman gladiators and toga wearing Caesars. Was this the city of Westminster or the sets of Carry on up the Forum? The floats represented everyone from the NHS to Nationwide and the Mayor of London’s office to the Metropolitan Police. An iconic rainbow flag that seemed to flutter on forever was held aloft by volunteers while a rag tag percussion band made sure the weather didn’t rain on the parade. This was the kind of weather that Londoners are forever whining about; and today they were out dancing and singing like it was a sunny summer’s day.

With the rain still pelting down I found myself a part of the parade and not merely a spectator as initially planned. A large, black man wearing a spangled pink ball gown and zooming about on roller skates was pouting and posing for my camera and I was so taken in with him (her?) that I didn’t see the looming parade heading toward us. While Diana Ross managed to make a quick exit on his skates I was swept up by the parade and its revellers. After years of standing behind the barricades and cheering passing parades on, here I was a part of one. People called out ‘Good for you!’ and took my photograph (Mom, if you see me splashed across some newspaper under the heading ‘Lesbians show their pride in London’ I can explain) It was all rather wonderful, until a volunteer noticed me and said “Oi! You shouldn’t be here!” I wondered how she knew. Is there a pheromone lesbians give off that other lesbians can pick up on? Or am I so boringly heterosexual that it’s practically tattooed across my forehead? I briefly considered challenging her but then thought better of it and jumped over a barrier near Selfridges, my fall cushioned by the crowds that thronged the sidewalks of Oxford Circus – there were those who had come to see the parade (including two grannies equipped with folding chairs, brollies and a thermos), shoppers and plenty of bemused tourists - I overheard a middle aged uncle explain the spectacle to his sari clad, Birkenstock wearing mummyji as a fancy dress parade.

And in a way it was. With the Icons theme out in full force and paraders set to outdo one another, everyone from Liberace to Madonna circa 1984 was present and the scantily clad angel look was a hot favourite. If this parade had been in Madras I can bet that the look of the day would have been The Boss - Badshah not Bruce. I bumped in to a group of Asian transvestites dressed to kill in shimmering chiffons and ornate blouses that would have given Jackpot Khusboo a complex. The head of the group, a towering presence gently complained of how their sari borders and pallus were getting soiled in the rain! Next to them, kilt wearing Scots, biker boys and a busload of desis dancing to ‘Kajra re’ poor Lord Nelson looked decidedly drab and out of place at Trafalgar Square where the rally was held. Perhaps a rainbow striped boa would have perked him up a bit. The stage at Trafalgar Square saw performances by Darren Hayes (formerly of Savage Garden) while the Leicester Square stage was the venue for this years Drag Idol contest hosted by the delightfully named Titti La Camp and Lola Lasagna.

But Pride London wasn’t just about having a good time. Amnesty passed out literature that berated Russia and Belarus for not recognising the rights of GLBTs. Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London recounted that when London Pride first set out decades ago, the Royal Parks committee said that Regents Park (the chosen venue) was meant for families and not homosexuals. From there to having the capital’s busiest thoroughfares shut down for the day shows how far this event has come. I spoke to A, a young Indian bisexual who attended the event with her girlfriend “It was my first Pride Parade but I’ll definitely be back next year” she said, “I felt encouraged enough to hold my girlfriend’s hand in public for a couple of minutes. The sight of a girl here with her mother made me wish that someday I could tell my mom and that she'd be proud of me in spite of or because of my choices.” While we do have our Miss. Koovagam contests, I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before a parade and rally like this would make its way down Mount Road or Marine Drive.

As I returned home, boots soaked through and arms aching, I had only complaint - not a single person hit on me. Next year, I’m busting out the Silk Smitha outfit.

An edited version of this appeared here.

*




A little more mirchi this time round?

Poor Gordon Brown. After years of waiting for Tony to clear out of Number 10 so that he could move in with his fooze ball table and plans for world domination, his day finally arrives. As the new Prime Minister stood outside one of London’s most famous addresses waving at the cameras with his lovely wife, how could he have possibly known that news so colossal was just around the corner, that people no longer cared about his plans for the NHS? No, it wasn’t about Miss. Hilton’s exit interview with Larry King (now that she’s no longer jail bait, who cares that she was curled up in to a little ball crying?) or the startling news that Russia plans to annex 460,000 square miles of the Arctic. In fact it was reports that the Spice Girls were planning a comeback. My first reaction when I heard the news was that of any sensible person – I ducked. Once I was convinced that there was no imminent danger of being assaulted by indecipherable bits of lyric like ‘zig-a-zig-ah’ I emerged from beneath my dining table – a foolish place to have hidden anyway. It’s made of glass.

Do we really want the Spice Girls to get back together? And just when we thought we’d put the nineties behind us too. Sure, as a decade they weren’t as bad as the 80s (printed tights and baggy t-shirts… or was that just me?) but the thought of all-PVC outfits and red, knee-high, lace-up, pleather boots gives me sleepless nights.

I can see why the Spice Girls might want to make a come-back though. Since the group split in 2000, they’ve all gone on to not so successful solo careers and not the best media coverage. Posh is better known as the wife of David Beckham, her many fashion faux pas and an ever shrinking, orange frame. Attempts at a fresh start in L.A haven’t gone her way, with the crew of her reality show reportedly calling her mean and rude (maybe if she ate real food she wouldn’t be so crabby). Poor Scary Spice was dumped by Eddie Murphy on television chat show (and no, she wasn’t on the show with him) and none of the girls’ solo albums have set the charts alight. So in many ways a reunion will be an attempt to recapture their glory days and salvage their reputations. Or will it? I foresee some teething problems.

First of all, there’s the name itself. Can we still call them the Spice ‘Girls’? Now I’m not being ageist or sexist (I think it’s high time the Beach Boys changed their name to the Beach Mamas) but they all seem to be more women than girls to me. Perhaps the name needs a rethink – though Spice Ladies doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, I’ll agree. I’m sure some overpriced branding agency will come up with something, though my only recommendation is to not go to the same people who came up with the London 2012 Olympics logo. Band name aside, there’s also the small matter of their own personal monikers. Can we still call Posh, well Posh? According to some quarters, the lady is anything but stylish while others (her PR agency mostly) insist that her style quotient has risen stratospherically. Who are we to believe? Baby Spice now lives in with her boyfriend Jade Jones and is expecting a baby of her own this summer. And Ginger Spice spent most of her time away from the girl band as a blonde.

So perhaps the Spice Girls need a bit of an image overhaul before they contemplate making a comeback. They could take some pointers from Madonna who thankfully hasn’t stuck to the taffeta wearing street walker look she favoured back in the day (though I slightly prefer it to her last look – Flashdance meets a purple highlighter). Much of Madonna’s success can be attributed to her ever changing look, dalliances with religion (remember the ‘I am Esther’ Kaballah period?) and experiments with interestingly shaped underwear. And according to some, the woman can sing. That always helps.

The girls will no doubt be encouraged to stage a reunion tour after the success of Take That’s sell out concerts last year. But will fans want to be reminded of a time when they wore Doc Martens and embroidered jeans (replaced in the noughties by *gag* glitter jeans)? Will the ‘girls’ be able to get away with lyrics like ‘I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna really really really wanna zigazig-ha.’? Is girl power still relevant? Can Geri still carry off a Union Jack dress?

I’m sure we’ll find out the answers to all these questions of global importance once their tour kicks off. But one thing is for sure - The Spice Girls might need to grow up a little. Their fans most certainly have.


An edited version of this appeared in the latest edition of the NewIndPress Sunday Magazine.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Decongested

I'll be reading my short story Birthday Blues at Foyles , Charing Cross on Friday, 27th July at 7:00 pm as a part of the Decongested line up. Entrance is £3, £2.50 concessions. Those who would like to come and cheer loudly to save me from embarrassing silences are welcome!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Monday, July 09, 2007

Podding along

80GB is a lot of space. And lets face it, I don't have enough music to fill 80 GB - it's not like I'm not trying... every other week I head to our local library and return home arms loaded with books I have every intention of reading (I will too finish Anna Karenina before I turn 30)and a selection of Cd's. At 45p a pop it's a great way to try new music or as some like to say 'broaden my 80's nostalgia cluttered horizons'. If I hate what I've got out... it's OK. It only cost me about half a quid. Add to this limewire (it is legal right?) and I'm slowly but surely filling every little byte my Ipod has with music.

To aid my mission I recently turned to the services of the Itunes PodDirectory, as many of you know a pretty comprehensive listing of podcasts. So for the last couple of weeks I've been ignoring some of the maestros on my Pod and have turned me ears (and eyes) over to these guys

Books on Guardian Unlimited
Some great author interviews here plus serialisation of Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver (which I am yet to listen to)


Penguin Podcast

Interesting podcasts that look at trends in publishing, features soon to be published Penguin books and interviews with authors and publishers.

The New Yorker
Short stories featured in the New Yorker read aloud by well known authors with an interesting q&a session at the end. But I really love the animated cartoons - some of them are great!


Mark Kermode's film reviews

Just listen to his 20 minute rant against Pirates 3 and you'll know why he's so good.

From our own Correspondent
BBC Radio 4 correspondents from across the world report on the stories that don't make it to the front page news. Always interesting.

Woman's Hour
Also from BBC Radio 4, Woman's Hour covers everything from breast cancer to Nancy Dell'olio to rows over mums dropping kids off at school in their PJ's.

And here a few new ones I've just subscribed to today. Can not vouch for them as I haven't seen or heard any of them yet, but do check them out

Tate Shots
Vodcast from the Tate Modern looking at what else - modern and contemporary art.


Suggestion or links to other podcasts are welcome.

All links are for podcast urls.