Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sounds from a window

For slightly over two weeks, I have been hearing a man's voice from my bathroom window. It comes from some floor below, and is desperate. For the first few days, all I heard was his pleas to open the door - presumably to his family. At first, I thought I had imagined it. I was alone at home for a few days, and in such times the senses become extra-perceptive to imagined danger.
However, after a while, I could also hear the sounds of pounding on the door. It was certain that the man was caught in a room for more than a few days. I tried to imagine what could have happened. Was he accidentally locked inside the house? But then why did he call out to his family if he knew they were not there? Why does he not phone someone? Perhaps some kids from his family play a prank on him repeatedly and lock him in his room. But how could he fall for it over and over again unless he was very old and the kids very cruel? Of course, amidst all this - there was the most dominant explanation that the family had deliberately locked him in. And if so, there could be only one reason for it - mental instability. If that was true, was it not unsafe to have a potential lunatic living in the building where I spend a lot of time alone in my apartment?
No matter which scenario I expected, there was no excuse for my inaction. Upon confirming with my husband that it was not just me hearing those voices, we notified the guard. His response was equally inactive - he gave us his cell number and asked to be called when we heard the voice again. I have to admit that I did hear these voices again a couple of times, but it happened in the mornings when I was usually running for work, and I did not bother to call the guard. I was more and more convinced that the man hadn't got accidentally stuck in, and that to me diminished the emergency of the situation.
However today, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, when the pleas rose again - we called the building supervisor, who seemed as disinterested as the guard. He showed surprise, made some right sounds, and asked us to call the guard on duty. When we spoke with the guard, this one more knowledgeable than the other one - he confirmed what I had suspected all along. Just in the flat below mine, a family had moved in with a mentally unstable old man. This man sometimes ran down, shouted at people, picked up sticks and threatened to beat people up. The guards particularly had had a rough time with him. To avoid this, the family often locked him up in a room.
Of course to hear all this was not pleasant. I felt a strong anger at the family who had decided to bring a madman amongst us. They could never be the right judge of how dangerous this man could get. There would be a high probability that they did not even take him for an examination regularly. Perhaps not in many years. I was also mad at the building society for allowing such a man to live in the building without properly warning the residents. When I rented the place, I had to register myself in the police station and get a clean chit before shifting in. I thought of all my single friends who have the hardest time finding a place in the city which finds their single-dom too risky, and yet doesn't seem to mind madness. Isn't it illegal to keep such a man in a residential building without professional supervision? Is he not supposed to be in a medical asylum?
Apparently not. I still do not know whether there are laws in India pertaining to the mentally ill and the risk they pose to society. What I do know is that keeping these patients at home, often unsupervised, is a regular phenomenon. One of my uncles was a mental patient and he spent far fewer days in the hospital than he ought to have. Another cousin of my grandfather too was 'a bit off' as we called him, but the family's response to him was mostly to ignore him while the kids tried to remain as far away from him as possible. I still remember with dread the few times when these people would visit our place and I would be too scared to open my mouth.
Despite of familiar experiences, or may be because of them, the danger of this man living downstairs feels real. Though I am not worried about him getting homicidal and running after people with an axe (God forbid) - I shudder to imagine running into him in a small space like a lift. Or open the door sometime to him without knowing.
Sometimes, the 'chalta hai' spirit of the city wears me down to no extent. Especially when I realize that I am becoming a compatible specimen.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Reindeer Section - Where I Fall

Gary Lightbody's beautiful voice again.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Good Girl

Many times, a good Sunday is all about stumbling on a good movie playing on TV. Especially so if it is a movie you have never heard of. (Which also brings to mind the perils of depending too much on IMDB for movie recommendations. You end up missing some worth-a-watch movies that have not caught the user base’s fancy, or are not great enough to make into an elite must-watch list.)

My lazy Sunday yesterday became better with one such movie: The Good Girl (2002), where Jennifer Aniston plays a bored retail store clerk Justine. Justine has the trapped life synonymous with most of working class – an arid job which she has had for many years, and an indifferent husband Phil, who spends most of his time stoned on the couch, watching TV with his friend Bubba. Because she is bored, she craves for the opposite of her dull life. Thus the entry of a slightly eccentric and aloof ‘Holden’ as a new cashier in the store sparks her interest. Both characters are unhappy with the world, and this unhappiness brings them closer. Justine wants to conveniently keep this friendship as a mild distraction, but Holden is passionate, and insistent – and a flattered Justine gives in. They spend most of the relationship having passionate sex in a seedy motel. However, soon there are whispers in the store, and the Justine who is used to a quiet life, gets unsettled. Holden becomes more mercurial and demanding, sulking terribly when refused one of their secret trysts. To add to the misery, Bubba (Phil’s friend) sees the two of them going into the motel, and blackmails Justine into sleeping with him.
It is a rather well-knit story, in which Aniston slides in perfectly. It is hard to not sympathize with a girl who seems to walk limply beneath her unhappiness. She wants to escape her life, and you can see why. You can’t possibly grudge her this little romance, especially since you sympathized with a far less traumatized Laura in Brief Encounter. But at the same time, she is scared of Holden’s volatility, his youthful irrationality and even more of having to let go of Phil’s indifferent dependability. (He fixes her TV for her, holds her hand when a colleague dies – all the little things that seem to make many indifferent marriages work)
The movie is a work of contempt. Arteta/White (Director/Writer) do not seem sympathetic of the working class – they say as much in the stray characters, be it the Bible-reader Cornie, or the very-perked up Gwen, or the cretin Bubba. They even seem to regard Justine’s boredom and her distraction with contempt, looking at her as a sort of predator on Holden’s youthful passion. Yet, they depict her as a real person, and Aniston makes this person believable – regretful, indecisive, even a little evil and artful. A person, who sometimes, moved by a desire for freshness, is willing to blur moral boundaries. Arteta/White have also managed to get a comic touch in this otherwise depressive story of reality: through Cornie who curses non-believers with hellfire and the weird Cheryl, who is really ingenious in her marketing skills, but mostly with Justine's attempts to control the situation.
If you think Aniston can best portray only the spoilt and fashionable Rachel Green, this movie will certainly surprise you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Proust so amazing! I wonder what took me so long to start reading him. Although the idea of reading all seven volumes is intimidating, I think I will certainly enjoy the dips in memories. Remembrance of things past is not only a remarkable account of remembered life, it also a catalyst for revisiting old memories. Reading Swann's Way (part one) takes me back to some moments from my own life, forcing me to release those memories, churn them and work out what they effected. How they fitted into my child's perception. Perhaps a meaningless exercise, but dusting of some incidents is interesting.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Questions of Travel

Recently read a beautiful poem by Elizabeth Bishop at Five Branch Tree. I share part of it here:

Is it right to be watching strangers in a play in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life in our bodies, we
are determined to rush to see the sun the other way around?

The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?

To stare at some inexplicable old stonework, inexplicable and impenetrable, at any view, instantly seen and always, always delightful?

Oh, must we dream our dreams and have them, too?

And have we room for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

But surely it would have been a pity not to have seen the trees along this road, really exaggerated in their beauty,

not to have seen them gesturing like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
--Not to have had to stop for gas and heard the sad, two-noted, wooden tune of
disparate wooden clogs carelessly clacking over a grease-stained filling-station

(In another country the clogs would all be tested. Each pair there would
have identical pitch.)

A pity not to have heard the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird who sings above the broken gasoline pump in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque: three towers, five silver crosses.

Yes, a pity not to have pondered, blurr'dly and inconclusively, on what connection can exist for centuries between the crudest wooden footwear and, careful and finicky, the whittled fantasies of wooden footwear and, careful and finicky, the whittled fantasies of wooden cages.
Never to have studied history in the weak calligraphy of songbirds' cages.
And never to have had to listen to rain so much like politicians' speeches: two hours of unrelenting oratory and then a sudden golden silence in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:

"Is it lack of imagination that makes us come to imagined places, not just stay at home? Or could Pascal have been not entirely right about just sitting quietly in one's room?

Continent, city, country, society: the choice is never wide and never free. And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home, wherever that may be?"

The entire poem can be found here.
What is it that drives our wanderlust? Why do we rush from the sea of our city, to enjoy the waves of one 3000 miles away? Or gaze out to the horizon to wonder what lies at the other end? Or even enjoy to just drive out a 100 kilometer and feel respite. Is it simply fickleness? An inability to be part of a constant scheme?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Recapturing the past

I feel that there is much to be said for the Celtic belief that the souls of those whom we have lost are held captive in some inferior being, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate object, and so effectively lost to us until the day (which to many never comes) when we happen to pass by the tree or to obtain possession of the object which forms their prison. Then they start and tremble, they call us by our name, and as soon as we have recognized their voice the spell is broken. We have delivered them: they have overcome death and return to share our life.
And so it is with our own past. It is a labor in vain to attempt to recapture it: all the efforts of our intellect must prove futile. The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) which we do not suspect. And as for that object, it depends on chance whether we come upon it or not before we ourselves must die.

- Marcel Proust, Remembrance of things past, Swann's Way

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Paranormal Activity

A lot has already been said about the movie. So much so, that my knowledge of its existence came from none other than Times of India - the Mumbai Times section - no less. A movie shot with a hand-held camera, made within a budget of $15000, raking in millions at the box-office after its delayed opening in mid-October this year. (Mumbai Times, keeping with its decorum, hardly spent any space on the movie or what it was about. It quickly moved on to compare the tremendous box office performance of this low-budget flick to those on whom millions had been wasted - Mira Nair's mega movie a big case in point.)
Anyways, I read up about the movie, and was immediately intrigued enough to want to watch it. No better way to get through a difficult week than to scare oneself! And it worked!
Paranormal Activity is a story of a couple who have moved in a two-storied suburban house, and have been vaguely feeling a presence in the house. To confirm their suspicions either way, they get a big video camera and fix it on a tripod in their bedroom. The guy, Mikah, who seems a bit of a nerdy freak, insists on recording almost all of their lives together, and it is this footage that is presented to us as a movie.
From there unfolds a frightening but gripping tale. Every night, the camera captures some strange happenings and confirm the couples' vague feelings about a supernatural presence in the house. The girl Katie becomes increasingly frightened, while Mikah gets excited with the 'cool stuff' he is recording. The fear strains their relationship, and also seems to empower the demonic presence, whose actions seem increasingly bold and unstoppable.
The reason the movie is so frightening is because it feels very real. There is no special sound effect, no theatrical accessories to heighten the senses and put you on edge. The camera silently picks up strange activities, however small and the couple mostly see it only in the morning. At first, it is more the audience which begins to dread these nights than the characters, because to see even small things happen as people sleep peacefully is uncomfortably eerie. Very steadily, the tension begins to heighten and you feel a part of it. And the fear is very real because it seems it could happen to very ordinary, undramatic people, real people, you! Both the actors look very natural in the handheld camera, and the movie does feel like a home video - just a terribly scary one.
For some interesting facts -the entire movie was shot in 7 days, in the director's own home in San Diego. The cameraman was actually Micah (the actors' real names were used in the movie) - who had come prior experience of handling the camera from his college days. There was no script, only a plot outline. It is to the credit of both actors, especially Katie to bring alive a story without much technical assistance.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Postmodern Literature

LA Times has published a list of 61 essential postmodern list here. I have always been unclear as to what constitutes as post-modern, and this list makes the task easier by using specific criteria. Some of the key yardsticks used are: author as a character, blur between fiction and reality (duh!), comments on its own bookishness, self contradicting plots, etc. Now I don't know if these are sufficient criteria, but to me they do give pointers. You may argue that they should add the century of writing as another criterion. After all how can something written in the 19th century be post-modern? That it matches the meta-fictional or semi-fictional trend of post modern writers is purely accidental.
For those who can't access the links, here is the list. Though I must warn that this does not specify how each book fits into the criteria, and for that it is useful to visit the original link:
Kathy Acker's "In Memorium to Identity"
Donald Antrim's "The Hundred Brothers"
Margaret Atwood's "The Blind Assassin"
Paul Auster's New York Trilogy
Nicholson Baker's "The Mezzanine"
J.G. Ballard's "The Atrocity Exhibition"
John Barth's "Giles Goat-Boy"
Donald Barthelme's "60 Stories"
John Berger's "G"
Thomas Bernhard's "The Loser"
Roberto Bolaño's "2666"
Jorge Luis Borges' "Labyrinths"
William S. Burroughs' "Naked Lunch"
Robert Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy"
Italo Calvino's "If on a Winter's Night a Traveler"
Julio Cortazar's "Hopscotch"
Robert Coover's "The Universal Baseball Association, Henry J. Waugh, Proprietor"
Stanley Crawford's "Log of the S.S. Mrs. Unguentine"
Mark Danielewski's "House of Leaves"
Don Delillo's "Great Jones Street"
Philip K. Dick's "The Man in the High Castle"
E.L. Doctorow's "City of God"
Geoff Dyer's "Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling With D. H. Lawrence"
Umberto Eco's "The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana"
Dave Eggers' "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius"
Steve Erickson's "Tours of the Black Clock"
Percival Everett's "I Am Not Sidney Poitier"
William Faulkner's "Absalom! Absalom!"
Jonathan Safran Foer's "Everything Is Illuminated"
William Gaddis' "JR"
William Gass' "The Tunnel"
John Hawkes' "The Lime Twig"
Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter"
Aleksandar Hemon's "The Lazarus Project"
Michael Herr's "Dispatches"
Shelley Jackson's "Skin"
Franz Kafka's "Metamorphosis"
Milan Kundera's "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting"
Jonathan Lethem's "Motherless Brooklyn"
Ben Marcus' "Notable American Women"
David Markson's "Wittgenstein's Mistress"
Tom McCarthy's "Remainder"
Joseph McElroy's "Women and Men"
Steven Millhauser's "Edwin Mullhouse"
Haruki Murakami's "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle"
Vladimir Nabokov's "Pale Fire"
Flann O'Brien's "At Swim-Two-Birds"
Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried"
Harvey Pekar's "American Splendor"
Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow"
Philip Roth's "The Counterlife"
W.G. Sebald's "The Rings of Saturn"
William Shakespeare's "Hamlet"
Gilbert Sorrentino's "Mulligan Stew"
Christopher Sorrentino's "Trance"
Art Spiegelman's Maus I & II
Laurence Stern's "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy"
Scarlett Thomas' "PopCo"
Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five"
David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest"
Colson Whitehead's "John Henry Days"
I have read only a few from this list: Atwood, Auster, Sebald (my favorite), Calvino, 2666 (still on it), Labyrinths, Kundera, Murakami (I don't know how this book comes here!). Except for Murakami, I think every read has been a delight. Particularly Sebald and now 2666, which despite its length, is quite an interesting work.

Monday, June 29, 2009

By Night in Chile - Bolano

For those who believe in the Day of Judgment, the day of death is for making atonements. Even those who have different beliefs seem to feel a compulsion to explain their lives on the deathbed. I remember vaguely (or maybe it is only a romantic imagination) the last few words from the only two people I have seen close to death (not on their last days). Their words were incoherent, their eyes constantly focused on a distant point, which I like to believe were moments running from their lives. There were some regrets there, and a couple of confessions. None of them dramatic, but only to find freedom from some unnecessary weights carried for years.
Contrary to those words, the last words of Bolano’s priest (Urrutia) are very coherent. They are said for a purpose. Like others, he begins to speak to make atonements for his mistakes, but the atonements quickly relegate to justifications. Urrutia is a member of Chilean intelligentsia who has turned a blind eye to the happenings within his state, and given it’s tacit approval to the atrocities of General Pinochet. Through the memoirs of this spineless, opportunist priest, Bolano sketches the complicity and unconcern of this intelligentsia, which stands and holds literary parties above a torture chamber for prisoners, gives personal lessons to Pinochet and his team of barbarians, and remains sullenly silent against the crimes of the government.
In the priest’s feverish deathbed expressions, there often appears his nemesis: ‘the wizened youth’. The Wizened youth is either Urrutia’s moral self, challenging him to rise beyond his selfish interests or it is Bolano himself, criticizing the old literati who sit on their posteriors, while the country goes through turmoil. It is to this youth that Urrutia offers his peace speech – alternating between guilty confessions and defensive arguments for his complicity. In real life, Bolano admitted to being less than impressed with the Chilean or Latin American literature, which he perhaps perceived to be escaping into magic realism while ignoring the realities. This book is believed to be his stark criticism of the literary world, particularly singling out Pablo Neruda.
By making Urrutia a member not just of the literati, but also of Opus Dei, Bolano also indirectly blames the church for lending a strong support to an authoritarian government. The Church support itself is not surprising, considering the history of Opus Dei with Franco’s barbarian regime in Spain. Yet, to draw priests so shamelessly hand in glove with a killer, is a strong statement. In one part of the book, Urrutia travels to different European churches, and runs a long commentary about churches decaying with pigeon droppings and falconry. Such is the concern of the church, and of a literary critic.
It is an excellent work. One completely different from The Savage Detectives, the only other Bolano I have read. Each book stands on completely different pillars, and is still linked to the other with a wonderfully strong narration and interest in real lives. I do not completely subscribe to Bolano’s criticism – literature does serve a purpose, but that purpose is not always to hold the mirror to reality. Sometimes an escape offers a respite to the reader, draws him away into a world where life can exist. Literature expands beneath and beyond the obvious, and a failure to comment on the obvious is not necessarily literature’s failure. On a more practical note, literati too have to fear for their lives. But then, we cannot negate that tragedies don't often become horrific and draw an exclaim until written about. For this, some members of the writing circles need to offer discerning voices, publish rebellious material (even though clandestine), spend sometime in prison and lead some protests. Only then they seem worthy of the adoration shown them.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Wait seems to be the theme of the moment. I am waiting for the monsoons, which seem unmoved by the scorching days. I am waiting for things to progress at work, beyond which let me not say more. I am also waiting for getting out of the city to greener pastures (though I did come back from a hectic weekend - but that was 'hectic', so not quite what I am looking for).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mark Twain on Jane Austen

Am reading 'Who is Mark Twain', a brilliant collection of personal papers that Mark Twain left behind. The one on Austen is a crack-up. Here is an excerpt:
Does Jane Austen do her work too remorselessly well? For me, I mean? Maybe that is it. She makes me detest all her people, without reserve.
Is that her intention? It is not believable. Then is it her purpose to make the reader detest her people up to the middle of the book and like them in the rest of the chapters? That could be. That would be high art. It would be worth while, too. Some day I will examine the other end of her books and see.
All the great critics praise her art generously. To start with, they say she draws her characters with sharp discrimination and a sure touch. I believe that this is true, as long as the characters she is drawing are odious...
...Old Mrs. Ferrars is an execrable gentlewoman and unsurpassably coarse and offensive.
Mr. Dashwood, gentleman, is a coarse and cold-hearted money-worshipper; his Fanny is coarse and mean. Neither of them ever says or does a pleasant thing.
Mr. Robert Ferrars, gentleman, is coarse, is a snob, and an all-round offensive person.Mr. Palmer, gentleman, is coarse, brute-mannered, and probably an ass, though we cannot tell, yet, because he cloaks himself behind silences which are not often broken by speeches that contain material enough to construct an analysis out of.
His wife, lady, is coarse and silly.
Lucy Steele’s sister is coarse, foolish, and disagreeable.
Did you see how her characters drawn with sharp discriminaton are all 'coarse'?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Regal Walk

Spent a wild weekend at the Kanha National Park. This was my first trip to real wilderness, and it was a wonderful experience. Kanha is such a beautiful, varied place. And the tiger - it never looked so majestic in a zoo. (That's the only place I have ever seen it before)

Sunday, March 15, 2009


It has been raining through most of the weekend - the beautiful kind of rain which breathes life into everything. After many days of unexplained unhappiness, I feel suddenly an unexplained happiness.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


This brilliant book, amongst other things, is a good example of how intellectualism can mess up your life. The perpetual questioning of things that seem alright, questioning of the slightest inflection and intonation, questioning of an inconsequential moody denial. Questions about:
Why did she not want to come out with me, why is she suddenly comfortable with spending time by her self, why does she sleep on the sofa, why didn't she make up after our last fight, are her confidences genuine? Is her love dying?
An insistent urge to analyze every tiny bit, every deviation from consistency or every possible deviation from consistency. An insatiable desire to discuss these doubts with her and clear every question. To that point where she begins to question it herself -
Yes, there must be something wrong. Have I stopped loving him. Yes, that's right, I must have if he feels it so. Why did I stop?
- and then finding a reason somewhere.
This is what a modern-day scriptwriter does to his relationship. Continuously analyzing, agonizing, speculating reasons for what he thinks is a contemptuous attitude from his wife. He meets a producer who is his promise to a better future, but when the producer begins to make subtle and and then overt advances towards his wife, he is caught in doubt about how he must react.
The agonizing has a lot to do with his intellectualism. But the agony indirectly also raises questions on how a modern man is supposed to balance his id and superego, (or rather) the expectations from his id and superego. When another man tries to court his wife within social confines, is he expected to play the game and ignore the attempts, or like the provincial man challenge him to a duel of honor. As he worries in indecision, his id rebukes him, he begins to experience contempt for his inaction, and believes that his wife must hate him for it. A feeling that soon becomes contagious and spreads to the wife and rest of his social circle.
In a brilliant parallel, Moravia draws Ulysses into the story - the film-makers begin to make a modern-day adaptation of Odyssey (not the 'debasement' that Joyce did, by making great heroes into morose losers. as a character proclaims), but an adaptation which showed the Odyssey as Ulysess' attempts to stay away from his wife and her contempt. I am not sure if Moravia is cracking a joke on the psychoanalysts or is he too far gone to actually start analyzing every tale with a parameter of human consciousness. In either case, it lends an interesting touch to the book, especially by placing a parallel between a great hero and his regular protagonist.
Moravia's writing is excellent - in it there is much thought and consciousness, which though destructive in real life, is engaging. He seems to get into even the woman's head - without ever narrating the story from her perspective. As he describes her actions, they seem to carry an acute awareness of her thoughts and sentiments.
I saw the film adaptation Le Mepris immediately after reading the book. It is much different in form, but faithfully follows the theme. Godard has summarized the story events in 2-3 days, and more than agonizing, has followed the confusion over action and inaction - provincial and modern. The movie is beautifully subtle and silent against Moravia's excessive thought. I liked it a little less than the book, but adaptations always suffer from this malady.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Graphic Novels & Manga

Am home for a week, and could not resist the urge to finally visit Mumbai Landmark after a gap of almost six months. There were a few pleasant reshuffles there. On the Literary fiction side, the store has not added many authors - just a few more titles from some of theiold favorites. A huge section dedicated to Clezio (I find this over-the-top allegiance to the latest award winner a little vulgar). It has also expanded the Classics section to a degree, adding more titles from Dostoevsky, and more importantly, more titles from the Penguin Great Ideas and Great Journeys series. (From both I have high expectations, esp after loving the Great Loves series)

However, where Landmark has gone for a complete revamp is in its graphic novel section. From what was a small side-shelf earlier, the section now extends to 5-6 wall cabinets and 2-3 side shelves. From superheroes to Manga, from Alan Moore to Paul Auster - the collection is wide and rewarding. So far, my exposure to graphic novels had been restricted to Persepolis, not a bad introduction at all. However, sitting in Landmark for some time, I tried to get a sense of the Japanese art form - Manga, something that has been on my to-do list for sometime.

I read/saw one of the famous Manga artists: Yoshihiro Tatsumi's work Good-bye. A brilliant collection of short stories, drawing the despair of post-Hiroshima Japan. Each story attempts to depict alienation, a stronger and much longer lasting impact of the bombings. There is the strangely terrifying tale Hell, where a photographer takes a picture of a mother and son etched in the wall immediately after the bombings and is haunted by its memory for years. In another story, the Tibetan ritual of sky burials seems to invade the entire country, which finds itself full of vultures and death. I have not read the entire collection, and one of these days I plan to return to Landmark and complete it. (One disadvantages of the graphic novel is that they are still too expensive to add to the personal collection - 900/- for this collection - No way till I am into the genre!)
Tatsumi's variation of Manga is better known as Gekiga, which literally means dramatic pictures. (To distinguish its authors from Manga - which means Irresponsible pictures). Unlike Manga, which like comic books is aimed at children, Gegika was an attempt to provide a graphic book for adult readers. The distinction is the same as comic books and graphic novels, though now more and more comic books are crossing the threshold of children's themes to induct serious philosophy in even the superhero tales.

I bought another graphic novel: Paul Auster's City of Glass., which is a graphic adaptation of Auster's original story. I am now in the middle of reading this meta fiction (which is strongly reminiscent of Borges' short stories). It is a detective tale, where the detective gets drwan into a crazy case and begins to lose his touch on life and reality. The interplay of graphics and words is quite remarkable in this one - specifically a monologue from one of the characters, where, as he tells his life story, his words are shown to come out of various places: gramophones, basin sinks, some cave paintings. Not only do these graphics seem to concur with the bizarre tale, they also carry the distant echoing intonation of the voice. I have not read the original story, but am certainly enjoying this more expressive form.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Dhafer Youssef : Yabay

Stumbled upon this beautiful piece from Dhafer Youssef on Last FM. Listening to it for a while made me feel I was somewhere else, floating, dreaming.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Memento Mori

All photographs are Memento Mori. To take a photograph is to participate in
another person's (or thing's) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by
slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time's
relentless melt.

- Susan Sontag, On Photography

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Vivre Sa Vie

My introduction to Godard is fairly recent. I have only in the last three weeks begun to watch his films, and have been both intrigued and a little puzzled by his stylistic approach to film-making.
Not withstanding my confusion over his films in general, I found watching Vivre Sa Vie an absolute delight. Even in its title, the movie begins to show a certain contempt with popular notions: My life to live, It's my life - an aggrogant expression proclaiming choice. It appears that the director takes a small satisfaction in dismantling this myth of choice piece by piece in twelve parts of the movie.

The movie follows the life of Nana, in twelve short segments. We learn that she has left her husband and child, possibly to follow some vague dreams of becoming rich and famous. In the first couple of segments, her quirky nature begins to show, as does her alienation and almost complete isolation with the world. She is struggling to meet ends, unable to pay her rent - and takes up streetwalking to earn some money. While a lesser movie would have dramatized the difficulty of this decision to no end, Godard's version only subtly shows the discomfort through Nana's denial to allow her first client to kiss her on the mouth. Other than this single digression, she is not shown to be either in a moral conflict or in depression over her decision.
In the next sections, she meets Raoul who becomes her pander, marking her complete entry into the profession. As the scenes progress, she appears more and more alienated, robotically going through the motions. Perhaps at some point she realizes that this is not her life - she even takes a lover and makes a decision to leave the profession, again indicating that this whole track was a matter of choice, and she could leave it at will.
The movie ends in a sudden, surprising and shocking tragedy. A tragedy that was wholly unnecessary to the movie, but perhaps vital for Godard's stylistic build-up. Also, I cannot come up with an alternative ending, except for the kind of alienated supreme ending of L'eclisse.

The film is best known for its cinematic techniques - the use of twelve different parts, each with a title, or the use of camera angles and positions with majority of scenes being captured from behind or from profiles. Except for Nana, none of the other actors have to worry about facial expressions, as the faces are shown only briefly - almost as an afterthought towards the end of the scene. There is little dialogue in the film, and most sounds are external. All techniques which were supposedly made to shock the audience. But once the shock is over, they seem to be the perfect way to show a life. In fragments, not attempting to draw conclusions, and almost exclusively focused on the central character.

Nana's character is well pictured. She is poor, and does not want to be. She is not contend in being a wife and mother who struggles to subsist. She has dreams and is unwilling to completely give up on them. Even though she choses prostitution, it appears to her as a transient choice, without the permanence and irrevocability she associates with settling in a mediocre marriage or life. She doesn't ever look completely disappointed with the way things move, only because she continues to believe that there is a rainbow at the end of the cloud, until, in a while, she becomes habitual to the cloud and only feels a tiredness with it.

Anna Karina puts the perfect face to Nana. I was, at first interested in the similarity of her name to Anna Karenina. (I was, and still am quite moved by the story of Tolstoy's heroine who throws away a perfectly settled life to chase some phantom illusions and then gets trapped in the chase). I think the same dream repeats here, as it does in so many lives. Of running from stability towards another stability.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


It is back! What a relief. I was not there when my favorite bookstore burnt down in October, and I am a little disappointed that I am not there to greet its return. But yet, the news makes me look forward to return to Bombay with a little more zeal.
Welcome Back Landmark, you were missed!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

In Melbourne

Another trip to the land down under. Three more months of 'Out of the box' living :) I am quite proud of my first day achievements: having found the closest library and becoming a member, AND issuing a few books which have been on my to-read list for a while.
It is an interesting city - I landed yesterday to a bright evening at 9 pm, with temperatures soaring to 32 degree even that late. And today, I was shivering through most of dinner! I am told it has four seasons in a day - that just might be true. Will leave the exploration to the weekend.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Reading Hindi

It was with Hindi books that I began reading. Every evening, my dad would bring from his library a copy of Champak, which slowly grew to Nandan, Balhans, and gradually shifted to short story books. And yet, as soon as I got access to the series of Blytons, I almost completely ignored all Hindi writing. Of course I have all sorts of reasons - Hindi books are not easily available in most parts of India. No one from my peer group reads them and they are scarcely publicized, so I hardly get to know enough even to hunt for a title.
However, it was because of two reasons that I suddenly found myself interested in Hindi literature. One, I was directed to a website which not only has a reasonably good collection of Hindi stories, but also gave a good background on some of the famous authors and their signature works. Two, my parents are now living in Bhopal, a city which has a surprisingly good reading culture, especially in Hindi. So while they are still there and I continue to make those home trips, I intend to make good use of the easy availability of Hindi books there.
Recently I picked up quite a few books from the Book festival there. I have almost exclusively been reading Hindi in the last fortnight, and it has been interesting. Most of this reading has been short stories or novellas - it seems like Hindi writers are much more comfortable with shorter prose.
To begin, there are some very good stories on the website I pointed at earlier. Manu Bhandari's Yehi Sach Hai, on which Basu Chatterjee's movie Rajnigandha was based, is a beautiful story expressing the dilemma of a woman caught in the romantic notion of first love. Her confusion and dreaminess is remarkably handled by the writer.
In another story from Shivani - Lal Haveli, the National tragedy of Indo-Pak partition is explored with a personal perspective. The sense of loss and discontent is well expressed without any melodrama.
A very good short story writer that I have been reading is Nirmal Verma. His stories are mostly about loss and nostalgia, and continue to haunt long after you have read them. I have bought a collection of his stories called Gyarah Lambi Kahaniyaan (11 long stories), which is published by the Bharatiya Jnanapeeth (the most prominent publishers for Hindi literature). Out of these, I simply loved the stories Parinde and Andhere Mein, both of them set in small Himalyan towns, bringing the pretty isolation of winters to mind even in Bombay. I also enjoyed reading Dhaage, which is available on another Hindi website.
In the longer prose, Dharamveer Bharati's Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda is brilliant. It uses experimental narration technique, a little like My Name is Red and keeps the stories interesting. I had loved Shyam Benegal's movie adaptation of this book, and will try and watch it again now that I have read the book.

Another good book was Krishna Sobti's Mitro Marjani. Though there is not much to the story, the characterization of Mitro is remarkable. In the India of 1966, to conceptualize a woman who is outspoken and explicit about her physical desires even in a stiffling joint family, must have been challenging. Even Indian cinema waited as long as 2000's to have such an expressive female character (Bipasha's character in Jism)

Rahi Masoom Raza's Neem Ka Ped is very familiar to most of us who have spent enough time in front of Doordarshan. However, I remember very little of the serial. Besides, to read it as a story is altogether a different experience. It is a story of post-colonial India, about the shattering of the dream of Indian independence. The language is simple - I hate to read authors who introduce difficult words to appear more erudite. That seems to be a somewhat common trend in some Hindi books, particularly the translations from other languages like Bengali.

I wish Hindi literature, or all vernacular literature does not remain a rarity and could find more readers/publishers and sellers.