Adulthood:vastly overrated

If I were a character in a novel I would have realised this week that adulthood is here. I went to IIT yesterday to interview someone and remembered that the last time I was in an IIT hostel was when a lithe young man with big eyes was smuggling me up the stairs into his room.All the way till his room in the hostel with some riverine name he had his warm hand clamped over my mouth because I was giggling from stupidity and sleeplessness. I was wearing his shirt because my clothes had half of Besantnagar beach on it.Yesterday's legitimate entry in magenta salwar kameez with with a respectable inhabitant...most dull.

On the other hand, the isthri lady does not think that my being employed means I need my ironed clothes back. Today I have arrived in sad Sarojini nagar top and the oldest jeans in the world with a Pangea sized hole over my right knee.

The Job

Imagine that
the job were
so delicate
that you could
it. Impossible
work, really.

Like placing
pebbles exactly
where they were
already. The steadiness it
takes... and
to what end?
It's so easy
to forget again.

Kay Ryan

PS. As of today this is where I work.

Whining like a blogger

Everything is changing all over again. Suddenly I can't finish my current stack of books because I don't have the time! I didnt send an article to an anthology because I couldnt think! And I actually found clothes and shoes I like after a year of feeling like regurgitated owl food.  And it seems that I now have full-time employment. How did this happen? And all before I could watch the 22 Hitchcocks my generous demon master, the Internet, has showered on my squeaking head.

I want a song and I feel very let down by the lyrics of Bookshop Casanova. False hopes raised in my spinster heart, thou shall repine, thou Brit pop band.

Rattling links

benjamin zephaniah

I need to finish writing a 3500 word piece for possible inclusion in an anthology. However my brain is clouded over. Today is the day I post a set of links that have nothing to do with each other.

A link to the kindly poetry magazine that I made my first sale to. The poem is due to appear in June, I think.

I am thrilled to bits that Greenpeace India made this happen.

A link that I promised to post for ArchAngel who is holidaying in the Andaman: Would you have guessed that the Leonardo of condom design is a man called Alla Venkata Krishna Reddy?

And a link to a Benjamin Zephaniah piece ('OBE me? Up yours, I thought') that Polly gestured towards.

Sei Samay: Interesting Times

Before the Princess of Bela-Rus left town we went book shopping. She insisted that I buy Those Days (Sei Samay) by Sunil Gangopadhyay. I had read his Neera poems but I was dubious about reading a whole novel about the Bengal renaissance.The Princess prevailed. All afternoon she had wickedly recounted anecdotes about young Bengali writers and one hot young Bengali's author's florid (and almost floral) attempts at wooing her. Implicit in the purchase of the book was the hope that I would perhaps understand what makes nice young Bengali men join either the local quiz club or writers' club, venues to give their erudition an airing. (On the other hand...)

Sei Samay
is a brilliant account of a period in Bengal's history when both intellectual and political movements flourished. The novel begins after the death of Raja Rammohan Roy and ends with the ironic prediction of great things from Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.And the book is peopled by the giants of a time when Bengali, the language, was considered a declasse vernacular in which it was vulgar for educated young people to write in.

The novel is focussed on the lives of two extremely wealthy families, the Singhas and the Mukherjees who are neighbours and close friends. The younger son of one household, Nabin, whose birth is the opening scene in the novel, is an erratic genius is modelled after Kaliprasanna Singha who amongst other acts of brilliance translated the Mahabharata into Bengali when he was in his 20s. He also wrote Hutom Penchar Naksha, a extremely well-known satire of Bengali society. (The English translation of this title is supposed to have suggested the name of Sarnath Banerjee's recent graphic novel, The Barn Owl's Wondrous Capers.) Nabin's older brother Ganga along with his contemporaries, the first generation of gilded youth with an English education gets swept up in the extremely interesting times. Who were they? Who did they owe their loyalties to? Was opposing child marriage in fact being disloyal to their own? To do what their fathers did or forge their own uncertain paths? These are the questions that they try to answer in their eventful lives.

Notable among Ganga's friends were Michael Madhusudhan Dutt (who according to this novelist was bisexual, brilliant and a drama queen) and the awe-inspiring Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. In this novel Vidyasagar is irresistibly attractive, noble but without a trace of the self-righteousness of great men. In my favourite scene he returns to his village to tell his parents that has just been appointed to a very senior position in an educational institution. The village is startled to see this important entity playing 'chase' with the village children, even before he gets home.

Vidyasagar's social reforms were gargantuan but even as a very young man he was deeply concerned with Bengali as a language and wondered how to promote it when Bengali was reviled as a mean dialect with no future and certainly too limited for prose. In that sense he reminds me of the Mahadev Desai immense polymaths of those days, the kind who decided to translate some gigantic Sanskrit epic to clear their head from important social action, like you would do Sudoku!

Despite its preponderence of great personages, Sei Samay (at least in this translation) is basically a thrilling page-turner. Dancing girls, adultery, death, stabbing, couples being caught en flagrante derelicto, fainting ladies, star-crossed lovers, madness, epidemics...aah...every page has something for everyone.

Sei Samay
was a revelation in other ways. I had a whiff of why even many of my contemporaries refuse to read Indian Writing in English. In comparison to this cornucopia most of IWE seems anaemic in comparison.

I would like to pick up a single strand to try and capture the difference: food, a theme reviled for its nauseating appearance in IWE. In IWE food is an aesthetic device. Sometimes, it is used as a ridiculous plot device. For most it remains a pretty thing to dabble in. Food has a very strong presence in Sei Samay too but what a world of difference! No one in this novel spends any time frolicking in the kitchen to express themselves. Food is serious business. The thakurs and the babus display their power by hosting vast weddings and other social gathering so thatthe city talks of how many baskets of luchis and sandesh had been made.As the babus' fortunes decline they have to make decisions about turning away people who turn up at their gates asking for food. The vast serving staff of households save for the old age by stealing small portions of food everyday and selling it. And across the landscape of the book is a food theme no one writes about any more, that of hunger. The starvation of farmers who lose their land in the Permanent Settlement, the servants, poor relatives, of child widows on Ekadasi. Crooks grow fat and those who suffer, gaunt.

Aruna Chakravarthy's decade-old translation frequently is quaint but I was grateful for its quaintness. Sometimes phrases like 'he made her his own' fits beautifully into a novel full of palkis and rosy landscapes. What was even more amusing was the incredibly unselfconscious introduction. One of Sei Samay's major preoccupations is the link between the robustness of Bengali as a language and the identity of the people of Bengal under the British. Chakravarthy compresses a 907 page novel to 500 pages and says this is because “The English language lends itself, quite naturally, to greater precision than the Bengali.” Oh very well then!

We've been gilmored

I feel stupidly happy when the Gilmore Girls make a reference to the March of the Penguins. I nearly died when I saw Lorelai Gilmore watching The Daily Show. And yesterday's episode...aaah! It was yet another Friday dinner of the dysfunctional family. All fans will remember the endless tactics Lorelai and Rory have adopted in the past to deflect conversation with the older Gilmores to safe and humane topics. My favourite remains the Season 1 episode when Rory's father Christopher's stuffy parents arrive. When the conversation gets insuffereable, Lorelai announces, apropos of nothing, ' I hate President Bush!'

In this latest episode, Lorelai is browbeating her parents for a change and Rory is the one who wants to put an end to it. To my ever-lasting thrill she yells, "Bangalore! Bangalore! Bangalore!"

The Art of Travel

Alain de Botton's greatest gift perhaps is to quietly hold up love, happiness and kindness to eye-level. In his palm, belief systems and virtues lie docile and friendly, waiting for us to make the first move from behind our toy fortresses. Regardless of what de Botton writes, novels or erudite essays, his compass remains resolutely pointed to an ethical north, to the exploration of our everyday crises of faith.

In an interview in 2002 he said, 'I am very attracted to sincerity in writing. One of the favorite things I ever read about one of my favorite authors, Stendhal, was Lytton Strachey's remark that he combined the emotional intensity of a twelve-year-old schoolgirl and the penetrating vision of a high court judge. That's definitely a combination I admire -- and aim for.'

If you are a reader of the snotty ilk, who has nightmares of being seen in the self-help section, the de Botton will worry you. His prose is sign-posted with impending revelation in the way self-help books are. The names of his books indicate a strong engagement with the self-help genre:How Proust can Save your life, The Architecture of Happiness, Status Anxiety. So is it alright to be seen reading a de Botton, or is he going to be the Yanni of this decade?

Alain de Botton would be highly qualified to examine the question of why we worry about what we are seen to be reading. In his characteristic back-to-basics manner, he thinks that status anxiety of any nature is a manifestation of our desire to be loved. Yes, that boy you know, who will not be seen in public without product in his hair, he is asking for love too. This sort of pat analysis ought to be detestable despite the fact that it is well-written but it is not! de Botton returns to a time when philosophy was not the mystifying stuff that it became post Karl Popper. Philosophy with Alain de Botton is entertaining and relevant, if not particularly rigorous.

I just finished a lovely de Botton called The Art of Travel. In this book de Botton examines our desire to get away. To do this, he sometimes records, Proust-like, the minutae of our travel experiences. Equally smoothly he steps back to look at our motivations. To this end, he assembles a strange crew: Baudelaire, Wordsworth, John Ruskin,
Edward Hopper, Gustave Flaubert Alexander von Humboldt and Xavier de Maistre.

Of the lot, Humboldt
and Xavier de Maistre are at two ends of the spectrum. To quote:

"Two approaches to travel:Journey to the Equnoctial regions of the New Continent ;Journey around my Bedroom. The first required ten mules, thirty pieces of luggage, four interpreters, a chronometere, a sextant, two telescopes, A Borda theodolite, a barometer, a compass, a hygrometer, letters of introduction from the king of Spain and a gun, the latter, a pair of pink-and-blue cotton pyjamas."

And between the intrepid and eccentric, the book has an elegant phalanx of artists and writers all asking us why we lock our homes and leave.

What do they mean?

Reviews of the Zubaan anthology that are rather puzzling have appeared in Outlook and Tehelka this week. Let me know if you make sense of them.

Update: In my hurry to run off and see the Princess who is leaving tomorrow I forgot to mention that I am chortling about the reviews despite their cryptic nature.

Vagina Travelogue

Writing's still around. It has not left overnight as I keep thinking it will. Wrote 1000 odd words of new story on the way to see the Princess of Bela-Rus. Some of it was managed balancing on a fence, which made me feel particularly good.

I was disastrously lost at midnight on the way back home but the evening with the Princess was completely worth it. She is as funny and as replete with arcanae and anecdote as she used to be. We first met as interns in Delhi six years ago. The office was full of rats and fascinating women who threw hissy fits every half hour. On Day 2 we went to the terrace and stared glumly at the stars and the Qutb Minar. Half an hour later, we found out that each of us were in the first big relationship of our lives, were about to end said big relationship and that the boys in question were best friends. If we had needed any glue that coincidence would have been it. As it turned out, neither five years apart nor the absence of verbose, Wilde-eyed men in our lives has affected our ability to entertain each other.

The best story that the Princess told me on Sunday night had to be this one. I asked her about a common acquaintance we had had in Delhi. The common acquaintance was roughly our age, 22 or 23. She was incompetent and unable to hide it so got yelled at all the time. She was just back from a posh education in a notoriously demanding university abroad so her gormlessness was astonishing. I asked the Princess whether she knew where Gormless Girl was these days. She said that Gormless had also moved from Delhi to London. She was now married to the only boy she ever had a scene with and working in a due diligence firm. I said (this was the stage of the conversation when I was intoxicated by bitching) that I would never have associated the word 'diligence' with Gormless. I had to also admit that I did not know what due diligence meant. The Princess glossed it thus: 'She checks out stuff for people.' I doubted this seriously but the Princess was reminded of a good story about Gormless, back when both she and the Princess were colleagues in Delhi.

"You know, when she was still in Delhi working with me, her boyfriend came down from England. They wanted to exchange bodily fluids and she lived with family so he booked a room in the Taj. I get a call from her at 2 am. In those days I had a life so I was actually awake though uninterested in what she had to say. She says, 'It's going really, really badly.' "

The Princess who has higher standards of etiquette than Emily Post was horrified by the direction of the conversation but her response must have been adequately encouraging. Gormless continued: "It's really, really bad. He...can't find my hole." The Princess was now past horror and suggested, "Why don't you show him where it is?" "But, " Gormless moaned, "I can't find it either!"

So my question is this. Whatever due diligence actually is, what kind of checking is Gormless doing for that firm and how good could she be at it?

Goodbye Shakti Bhatt

There is no sane way of saying this. Shakti Bhatt, the closest thing to a golden child that you will ever see, an unflappable, funny, sexy,woman, loyal friend and owner of strange shoes is dead.

I have only known her a few months but I saw years ahead of us, keeping pace, as we both wrote and conquered the world. I would be published and famous. She would be that strange beast no one has seen before, a successful publisher with impeccable standards and a serious novelist. There was no way this could not happen because Shakti was fearless and ready to take up everything and more that the world offered her. In the first few months of my arriving here Shakti made Delhi seem like an eccentric village that could be dealt with, if one was ready to be amused and unafraid.

Goodbye, Shakti, we will all miss you very, very, very much.

More memories: Niranjana , Peter, Monica, Arun and eM

I know you have things to do and a life over the weekend. You don't really read my blog so you won't mind too much if I sneak in a little crowing. We are beginning to get a little noise, a little buzz, a little joy out of reviews and reports about the Zubaan anthology. First there was kind words from Al_lude, then there was a discussion on this blog. Then there were a couple of slightly strange news reports (one in the Hindu and one in the Times of India.) And now we have Jabberwock's review.
I feel the tiniest bit giddy but I am off to see the Princess of Bela-Russ, who has just arrived. Happy weekend!

Update: Review in Business Standard

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