Monday, July 04, 2011

a few metaphors got displaced, there were new placeholders

When poetry of sign became poetry of signal,
a few metaphors got displaced
there were new placeholders

why talk about how beautiful he or she was,
when you could talk about how beautiful his neurons are, her cells were

Camus exhaled existentialism looking at the streetcar
but existence and desire might have shifted to the traffic signal

In Santa Barbara, on a sea fog night, you will see the traffic lights develop halos,
if the color red was almost pink, you could then compare the red traffic light poles to cotton candies

the critique of capitalism is no longer, some say,
in decrying that poetry in the ad jingle for a car or the coffee,
it is perhaps in writing a new poetry of the speed-breaker or maybe the microscope

When poetry of sign became poetry of signal,
a few metaphors got displaced
there were new placeholders

For Isabelle Stengers, Jean Baudrillard

Friday, October 08, 2010

an enormous ballon filled with helium

A much loved professor of mine once told me that almost everybody in his Tamil Brahmin family grew up to be a scientist and so he decided to be a social scientist, and when people asked what did he research within social science, he said "Scientists." He turned out to be a Science Studies scholar studying scientists. I want to hold on to this account and build an analogy with something that recently happened with a set of novels I bought. At a book sales here at Santa Barbara, I purchased four sci-fi novels - the list was almost a refresher course in sci-fi with Le Guin, Clarke, Banks and Bradbury paperbacks thrown in together with McEwan's novel Enduring Love.I started reading the first chapter of each of them. Here I was trying to re-read the science fiction canon and falling in love with McEwan's novel which actually is about a science fiction writer.

Enduring Love, among McEwan's novels, redoubtably has the most compelling opening and along with the openings in Raj Kamal Jha'sThe Blue Bedspread, Kiran Nagarkar's Sat Sakkam Trechalis, Garcia Marquez's The Autumn of the Patriarch, and Rosalind Belben's Choosing Spectacles, has been one that has for those ten minutes spent reading, made me loose myself completely in the text. Each of the openings of the novels mentioned also do share a common trait which makes me a bit wary about my choice - they are (with the possible exception of Belben's sinuous prose) emphatically visual and endearingly cinematic. Not surprisngly therefore one often sees McEwan's novels being adapted for movies. The nagging question (often talked about), which is almost a conundrum is whether the all-pervasive cinema, screen and television presence around us, has fundamentally molded the way we read novels and ostensibly shaped the way novels are written today. If this question has bothered you, the only balm I could offer is reproducing a few lines from the quietest of stylist McEwan's prose --

"What we were running toward? I don't think any of us would ever know fully. But superficially the answer was a ballon. Not the nominal space that encloses a cartoon character's speech or thought, or, by analogy, the kind that's driven by mere hot air. It was an enormous ballon filled with helium, that elemental gas forged from hydrogen in the nuclear furnace of the stars, first step along the way in the generation of multiplicity and variety of matter in the universe, including our selves and all our thoughts" (p.3)

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Conversations about Franz Kafka's The Trial often lead to discussions on the activity of Waiting. Often reading Kafka itself is like undergoing a waiting exercise for a 'probable' triumph of knowledge, only to realize it never was perhaps designed as such, and that there is knowledge in waiting itself. The 'waiting' theme/trick/idea, quite explicitly so, then can be seen in Beckett's work and also in Ha Jin's novel entitled "Waiting : A Novel" - reading them, it appears that waiting can become synonymous with almost leading life itself - the absurdity of mindless waiting becomes a joy - the reader's joy of reading it has to do with, at least to some extent, on the bet that perhaps the character/person doing the waiting enjoys him(her)self too.

There are others too - that charming writer of nothingness Javier Marías who through sleights and diversions arrests time, Milan Kundera who through his unbearably light novels meditates on where the pleasures of slowness have gone. And my two beloved philosophers - Paul Virilio who has dedicated his life to studying speed and Shiv Visvanathan who in some of his inimitable newspaper columns has asked us to re-feel "boredom".

S.K. caught me looking at this painting as I was circling through these thoughts and yet one can agree that waiting is not a joy always - the impatience of it as one sees in this painting. A tram or a train is yet to arrive, it has been hours in the line for bread, one cannot wait for a lover's next kiss, one cannot wait to see God...and yet we do like to wait sometimes, we do like to eat slowly sometimes if not drive slowly...we do like to get bored sometimes and not give in to switching on the T.V., we like to watch melodrama sometimes and not Action films.

Friday, May 28, 2010

You gave me a poem to write

You were going back
I would have to wait for the reason

You talked relentlessly about the weather
I noted that only old people talk about weather
You said you were old and you were re-starting your life at 27
I said I re-started when I was 24
You said 3 years is a crucial difference...

What really happened in a week?
I cannot possibly know

You were talking about the weather because you said to talk about anything else was painful
I could not guess what pain it was
You looked sad putting up a brave face
I was sad and did not know how I looked

Did you count the number of times we met?
I often term them as meets and not dates

Lately you often looked impatient in those meets
I was so glad to meet you that I deferred the Paul Austeresque investigations
You perhaps wanted me to enquire
I perhaps should have been less hesitant- more forceful in my inquiry
You guided our conversations to me, Tagore, Ray, Calvino, Madame Bovary ...
I never steered them away to you

You gave me a poem to write
I should have made you the poem of my life

To 'You' and Paul Auster

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

what kind of travel is that?

she wonders whether,
she ever will be able to write a poem
that is not about her
that has got nothing to do with her

it strikes her that
she has never written a poem
when she is sad...
she has written poems, also many sad poems
only when she is happy

happy with condescension
when she has heard girlfriends bitching about boyfriends on phone in public transport buses,
happy with tears in her eyes
when she has heard Mazzy Star, read Murakami, watched Ghatak

she writes poetry only because she has a blog -- her self-flagellating moment;
she writes poetry because she enters ennui and has a feel for the texture of metaphors -- more forgiving;
she writes poetry because she wants to be read by a boy in Romania under a mulberry tree -- day-dreams;
she writes poetry because she cannot travel, because she does not have a car -- pity;
'she' writes poetry because she wants to be 'he' for those two minutes -- what kind of travel is that?

For Müller and Flaubert

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

my father opened the window as we skyped and I heard the Dhak

The three pictures are of the construction site of the Pandal, I saw in the lead up to the Durja Puja. I never could see it completely built because I was not there for Puja. I had hurried back to Santa Barbara, a bit nervous about TAing for a silent film class, to get the class schedules and be done with all the formalities for getting a phone. However, thinking back I regret not having stayed back for the Puja -- my third successive year of missing it. As I write this post, and i know you (my readers) will realize, I should be careful about not lapsing into the all too familiar "longing and belonging" that not-so-often-great Diasporic writers are guilty of. And yet, perhaps I have of late been too harsh on them.

With the winter vacations having set in, there is immense time, especially since I ended up striking off all plans to go anywhere, partly because of meagre dollars and primarily because I cannot but remember. I write this blog, therefore, to fill time, the time it takes for a YouTube video of Kandukondian Kandukondian to buffer. I promise this is not going to be long. In fact, when I started blogging, people would say it was a way to make ones' narcissistic self reach out to others. Nowadays, trite smart facebook status postings serve that purpose/motivation well enough. Shorter the posts, better chances are they will be judged as being well written. The ecstasy of speed is doing overtime nowadays in all walks of life - scatter-brained and limping, I am always left looking for prosthetics. Forgive this aside.

Before I forget as to why I wanted to write about these pictures and memory, I must mention they are related to the conversation I was having with my parents today. All of these pictures have been taken from my second floor balcony adjoining the room from where my parents video chat on skype with me, on a static desktop pc. As they talked to me today, they opened the door leading to the balcony and I could hear the man coming to sell fish shouting Mach Mach. My parents talked for a while and then I asked them to wait because I needed to go the kitchen and set the potatoes to boil. When I came back to resume the conversation, I could hear the Kashmiri shawl and sweater sellers calling out to people in the apartments - it is winter time there too.

I came back to SB seven days before Puja - the pandal construction finished soon. I knew it when seven days later, my father opened the window as we skyped and I heard the Dhak.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

of fables by a sociologist

A first time experience of taking an AC bus from Jamshedpur to Ranchi brought more surprises : Samsung LCD TV showing Sunny Deol- Karishma Kapoor - Salman Khan - Tabu starer Jeet. The AC trip was partly spent sleeping in the comfort of the conditioner and the rest of the time was devoted to watching Jeet and having just read books on Ambient Media though I feel tempted to write about In-Bus entertainment, it is best saved for another entry. So, it was the journey from Ranchi to Jamshedpur with my friend who just passed out from IIM Ahemdabad in a ramshackle bus that felt more like a journey with lively conversations, the yet thought of pristine beauty of the land of forests (Jharkhand) enveloping our thoughts and the bus driver's occasional bravados with the steering wheel. Having more than two hundred common friends, the conversation often seemed like a report about the lives of our friends - small fact finding missions about their place of work, marital status etc. etc., a laugh about remembered idiosyncrasies , small surprises at changed attitudes, gentle judgements and twisted gossips.

And then some issues on which we have differed all these years. Chetan Bhagat - my friend who took to him since "Five Point Someone" and who believes I have not given Bhagat a fair chance blinded by elitism. I continue to find it difficult to get on with more than 15 pages of CB. Don't get me wrong, when Chetan Bhagat comes to public forums and says that the basic problem of our higher education system is not class 12 syllabi/board question papers but lack of good universities to catch up with the growing educated population, I love him. When Chetan Bhagat talks about the strategic pricing of his novels at Rs99 and making his ideas accessible to a wider Indian audience, I want to hug him. But when he says and then keeps maintaining that most so-called great English writers in India basically write to get a Booker prize or be read by international readers and not for Indian readers, I can't contain an annoyed chuckle.

The other contentious issue being the problem of Jharkhand, its continued underdevelopment despite having abundant mineral resources. My friend sticks to the dominant development paradigm as he keeps identifying the illiteracy of the tribals in Jharkhand as the main cause of their being fooled by activists, who he says, are ready to protest against any new industrial project in the state. What he is oblivious of and which i continue to emphasize, is his stubborn insistence to not see the tragedy of displacement such projects hold for the tribals. To continue to equate their "desire to live their lives in the intimacy of familiar soils, waters and trees" to "illiteracy" is an illiteracy of another kind.

We reached the Jamshedpur bus station and then took an auto-rickshaw to the XLRI management institute. Found ourselves immersed, the next few days and nights, in parties, having inimitable chicken rolls @ Dadu's, looking at the never sleeping Tata factory resembling thousand fireflies from the terrace and walking the campus seeing students gazing over Powerpoint presentations waiting in line for Chai. After returning home, I chanced upon this article written by a professor both me and my friend studied under. The writer is a sociologist who has never stopped inventing fables for our times. I wish we lend an ear to the wisdom in tribal stories and consider our education as always incomplete without these stories.