Monday, January 31, 2011

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The World of Twitter

"Your tweet was over 140 characters. You'll need to be more clever"

While many find fault with Twitter and the culture it has heralded, I, a late entry into the maddening party, find immense brilliance in it. Undoubtedly, you need to sift through it all but it is a labour well worth the time. I was fortunate in having found a few to start with and piggy-backed on their recommendations to pick more. Nevertheless, I decided to cap the people I follow to 20 else it would be unsustainable for me.

But logistics apart, what Twitter offers is something vital for the education of writer (and there will be a more elaborate post regarding that, shortly). What it mandates is the need to be terse and clever. Verbosity is, at times, the reflection of laziness. Grandiloquence brings, often, a delayed sigh which economy might usher in sooner. Though 140 sounds arbitrary it does fit well into a breath, leaving just enough room for delight.

How does that help in the education of a writer, you might ask. Very simply in demanding that he inspissate his lines till the essence and effect are retained. A quote escapes me which was about elegant design and removing parts till you can't remove anymore. I think this is valuable training for a writer. While a writer must know how to festoon words to create a grand celebratory night sky of lights, brevity is a vital skill too. This is so because he might not have the luxury of space, time or, what is becoming rarer, reader's attention. Since literature can't be compromised by these constraints, one must learn the art of punching with an inch's trajectory (Bruce Lee style).

Raised in the words of Saki, Poe and Maupassant effusion was my religion. Along came Nabokov and Shakespeare who had little time for concision or its importance for a writer. They were greats and could be excused. Ms. Woolf ensured we walked long winding corridors of magical words before we paused to catch our breath. How then could I revere the void of words?

I thank my dear one for introducing me to Olivia Dresher (@OliviaDresher). But it was to be several months before I became active on Twitter. Ms. Dresher's list introduced me to more talented writers and thinkers. The unimaginable joy of picking the best from them! Soon I had a good list of poetical, fictional and philosophical tweets to follow. Somehow faced with a twitter client, words pour in ways I never thought possible. When Ms. Dresher said " You always surprise me. " it was an accolade immensely satisfying and unexpected.

Nevertheless, Twitter can get addictive and tempt the writer into short bursts of cleverness. It might soon weaken the muscles which could hold sentences for greater lengths through a dizzying array of emotions. A writer must be both a sprinter and a marathon runner before he forms or meets his style. With that clarity, loads of discipline and an ounce of blessing a writer is definitely on the right path to goodness.

Ms. Dresher also introduced me to Fernando Pessoa who is a genius. He is the true representative of the balance I prescribe above. His fragments in The Book of Disquiet are terse icy splinters which splice open every nerve in your body. They also contain long and melodious sentences which one can waltz with. Study him, my friends and you will have a companion for life.

Some gems I collected from the Twitter-world:

you ask me why / I write / I write because / you don't fit / in this pen - myearthgirl

skinny-dipping in your eyes / I come up dripping / your eyelashes tickling my toes - myearthgirl

Good old memories tease me in a language i no longer understand. - Shakti Shetty

We abbreviate the eternal. - gammaword

Sullen dusk / broods / in darkness. - expatinCAT

hear the music / it stabs your heart / that melody you can't shake / like the face of an old lover / or the one you wish for - rasmithii

What is there to say when no one really wants to know? - OliviaDresher

he threw me into the trunk of his madness & tossed in a couple of words so that i could breathe. - LiliacSin

We can't bear to look at the severe unity. No, we can't bear to look closely. - SalwaHafiz

swallow lies or suffocate on truth - silence_litost

I give my unasked questions to the wind. The wind knows what to do with them. - OliviaDresher

The haunting company of the past, the sobering aloneness of the present. - OliviaDresher

Leave out the beliefs, and that's what's left. - OliviaDresher

Poetry: where words are best friends - OliviaDresher

Not everything is an end or a beginning. Some things just float by. - OliviaDresher

Oh! and just so that you know, no sentence in this post is more than 140 characters long.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Finest Video I Have Seen In a While

I thank my friend Kartikeya for sharing this with me. This gorgeous video has all the longing and love, the magic and flow that is impossible to create with real people. I especially loved the video at 1:30 where only her hand on his chest is visible. Simply remarkable. Kartik, I owe you an ice-cream! I really wish I could dance thus with someone. Endlessly.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Beautiful Portraits


This site has some amazing portraits (mostly, unsafe for work or to be displayed to your parents, whichever is scarier). I am not sure whether all of them have been shot by the same person but the collections is simply superb. Enjoy the array! Once again, if you are uncomfortable with aesthetic nudity then you should not click on the picture above but simply enjoy this one that I have picked.

What I liked about this pic vis a vis the others was the sheer musculature. As in, look at her shoulder blades symmetrically placed on either side of her austere bun.. The slight line of her spine is barely visible against the black. Her hair shines just enough to create lines and curves of a different kind. And then those thighs, while perhaps not sensuous enough when uncoiled, are splendidly voluptuous when pressed against the calves. The dark outline of this meeting is beautifully curved near the knee and the triangle of the knee itself is simply perfect. A beautiful body. A beautiful picture.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Across Seasons

That leaf which didn't

Fall in Autumn, would it still

Carry Summer's dew?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Seeing without seeing

Q: That which occurs when we are confronted by all sorts of shapes and forms is called ‘perception’. Can we speak of perception taking place when  nothing confronts us?

A: Yes.

Q: When something confronts us, it follows that we perceive it, but how can
there be perception when we are confronted by nothing at all?

A: We are now talking of that perception which is independent of there being an object or not. How can that be? The nature of perception being eternal, we go on perceiving whether objects are present or not." Thereby we come to understand that, whereas objects naturally appear and disappear, the nature of perception does neither of those things; and it is the same with all your other senses.

These are a pair of questions asked in Hui Hai's text called The Zen Teaching of Instantaneous Awakening. The entire text is beautiful in what it presents to the mind and soul.

I was repeatedly called to this paragraph when in my own personal experience I noted something. I was reading a prayer out of printed text. This particular prayer I am familiar with though I don't know it well enough to recite it by heart. Nevertheless, when I recite it my mind wanders all over the world in places I have perhaps never been an never shall be. But my eyes continue to flow over the text and recite them without my having to be conscious of what I am reading. And once I complete the prayer I re-run the entire episode through my mind to realise that I don't recall having read a single word though I did recite it all. To play voyeur to the mind is perhaps my most favourite means of passing time.

So here my eyes see though my mind doesn't seem to see and my tongue recites as if there is a direct connection between eye and tongue. With the mind having seen nothing, it might be inferred that there was nothing to be seen. Nonetheless, the eye did see and the tongue did recite. In other words it was as if nothing confronted me but I still perceived. This is certainly not what Hui Hai is implying but these incidents made me re-think our notion of "mind", "perception", "brain", "sensory organs" etc.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Slippers swapped in the

Dark - Suddenly, my feet have

Forgotten to walk.

Monday, January 24, 2011


The full monsoon moon -

How I wish I were like you

Fitting each puddle.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

One Liners

I like how boats and shores connect: a bold thrust into the cleaving sands and then all is still.

You can't love me until you love my words.

Silence is only beautiful when all is explained and understood, else it is a deafening roar with possibilities and "maybe"s

Standing on the bridge I wonder whether there are more yesterdays or more tomorrows, so I'd know which way to go.

Stone-skipping questions across the Lake of Life has only shown me how each are lost near the horizon.

Every puddle has your voice screaming - "Come on! Jump in. It will be fun" And I walk away, like you did.

A dog is your best teacher and lover. For everything else there is a book.

Dreams of you under the sun are less warm than dreams of you under the stars.

Kiss me. Now. Stop. Wait. Kiss me again. Stop. Kiss my collar bone. Stop. Let's talk because I don't feel you. I can't hear you. Stop. Stop.

Making love one word at a time

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Living Life For History

I am often the best historic character that the avid historian would have liked to pursue. Forever in my every move I leave behind hints to the "Why?" and the "What else?". There is lesser delight in living than in playing to this lean picture of a historian frothing at his mouth with excitement as I make choices and burn bridges. His sheer delight when he finds the crumbs I dropped to lead him to the inner workings of my mind and then lead him on to other alcoves of my psyche is quite a reward found largely missing in a life lived for a single audience. Thus I seduce him with stray excerpts of conversation about the adventure I am about to undertake, or the sin I am about to commit which none shall know and he can pride in being the only one who figured it out after onerous pondering and research. My every moue will have him wait with bated breath wondering on whom will the fires of wrath descend.

This historian feels my pain because he wants to know more. He exults in my victories for he doesn't want the adventure of the scent he is tracking to die down. He assiduously records my every move and my every thought. He gives my life's every single act a voice of a narrator who himself will find a voice a few centuries hence. Such is the voice he lends that if I were witness to my life retold, I would aspire to live like that all over again.

Friday, January 21, 2011

In the Voids

On a long Winter

Night - Between howls of stray dogs.

Poetry of silence.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Slowing Down

Pause long enough

O'er the frozen lake
I could rush home or watch the
Fish beneath my feet

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Villa Blanche Bistro - Assagao, Goa

Villa Blanche. I thought it was to be pronounced as Villa Blanc till the sweet voice over the phone told me it was Villa Blanche. That is what you get for trying to be French when the only thing closest to being French about your birthplace (Madras) is Pondicherry. Well, zat vaas ye pun.

Villa Blanche is one of the few places in Goa you go to (and hence, the Tamilian name to that place - go-aa?) for a fine experience. Food, per se, is fantastic nearly throughout Goa. You get wonderful food even at shacks and roadside hole-in-the-wall type places. In a completely rundown place where perhaps very few people would come, there was (and still is) a place called Tilve Bhojanalay. You would think that such a place would serve below-average food since the clientele was rare and the locals. Correction, monsieur! That is one helluva place to eat food and, if you are vegetarian, a place where you have no choice but to eat their thali which is good nevertheless. In short, Goa is fantastic for good food.

Back to Villa Blanche (I so wish). This is a quaint blue and white house in Assagao. I could give you the route to this place, but it wouldn't make sense. Call me when you are on the junction from where you can go to Vagator and Anjuna and Assagao. Yes, it is to the north of Panji (or Panaji or Panjim). There when you take a right and go to this place called Tamarind house (or House of Tamarind or something to do with Tamarinds) you need to give me a call. If you don't, then you need to keep going straight and turn left and go to a bunch of rumblers and turn right. Or call Yogini for directions. Yogini is the charming hostess of Villa Blanche who was suspicious of me and my camera. She thought I was a journalist. Her dog, Mufti, thought I was sweet. Sweet journalists don't exist and hence, I am only going to choose "Sweet".

When we reached Villa Blanche, I was delighted to find it nearly match the picture I had in mind. Warm sunlit roads led up to this blue-and-white house. The house opposite it is also nice though (as I recall) it was in red. It wasn't noisy. There were a few bikes parked outside and I heard a tingling laughter come from behind the leafy barricade of the bistro. There is a quality of laughter that not everyone possesses - the ability to infect another with a smile. The mere sound of it, a distant view of it, and the observer helplessly smiles. Not all laughter is of the soul. We walked in, bowing through the arches of wild plants, and landed right in the midst of the cheerful Villa Blanche with Yogini smiling looking pretty in her spaghetti blouse and short skirt. She clearly carried the cheer of the place. She asked us where we were from and when we told her how we had heard about her place she was proudly disappointed to know that people all over India were familiar with her place. She gave me the picture that she would have preferred to be less popular but also acknowledged the renown her place was earning. I had come to taste the creation at this place to figure out whether it was just tall talk or the place really had something to offer. I must say it was well worth all the praise it had received.

I found the place like a hidden oasis. Bright colours without being gaudy marked the place and its decor. The canopy above looked like some torn parachute and made me wonder whether Villa Blanche really fell out of the sky. There were chairs and tables (topped with tastefully done mosaics) and there were also ground level seating options. We picked the latter since the tables were all occupied. I suppose we were the only Indians there (discounting the cooks and helps in the kitchen). Yogini continued to eye me suspiciously as I walked around shooting tables and hanging trinkets.

J was busy arranging cookies into small polythene bags and tieing them cutely with red and green ribbons. She was one of the most lovely-skinned ladies I had met in Goa. The attention she gave to her work impressed me even more and her sweet smile and lovely chin made me sigh. Yes, J was quite a beautiful lady without trying to be so. She was wearing the plainest frock and had tied her hair in a simplest crochet/woven net. She didn't wear any jewelery around her neck and the necessary pen clung to the cloth of her dress. She was from Germany (which perhaps explained her efficiency and accent). She will be J for this post as her name is not announced or associated with Villa Blanche and I don't know whether she would like her name spelled out here.

"Not all cafes and bistros are about the food" which isn't what I am using to say anything about the food at Villa Blanche. If the food is bad no matter what the ambience is, I will never go there again. Hence, I have to tell you that I often go to a place more for the ambience and the warmth than for the food. Hence, you find me describing the place more than the food itself.

Nevertheless, Villa Blanche offers good food but the ambience and the warmth of the place supersedes the quality of food. The food is lovely and fresh. Indians who do not like European, esp. Mediterranean, food should not even consider Villa Blanche (though there was tofu and peanut satay on the menu too). The food is for a mild palette and that is what I loved about the food. The salads were fresh and the feta soft and salty. The dressing was deliciously light though the addition of sprouts seemed like a local adaptation (though I might be wrong there). I am told that the non-veg was good too. My main course was plain rice with fried tofu and peanut satay. Mild and nice though I had cool it down before Mufti darling could bite into them (before his master, Marco, ordered him to go "unter" a table). For dessert I had a cheesecake which was made according to a "grandmother's recipe". It was delicious. My friend simply kept emitting sounds of pleasure with each dish he had.

The crowd that came there was a mix of all sorts though most would be classified as a group to which Yogini belongs - Hippies in Goa. I was introduced to an Italian designer and her friend who looked like a tempered Johnny Depp out of the Pirates of the Caribbean. The people there brought more life to Villa Blanche than any other single element. The decor was great, food was good, location was nice, colours were tasteful but it is the people that made it a place one would like to re-visit and I think that is the magic that Yogini and her partner have managed to create at Villa Blanche.

Contact Details:

Yogini (Mob: +919822155099), Badem Church Road, Assagao.

More pictures here:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The workings of a teen mind

This is a sketch I had made in my early- mid-teens. I am not sure what spurred me to do that but I suspect Max Brand and his works to have inspired me. You would need to click on the image below to view details.

Knife of my youth

Monday, January 17, 2011

Thumbnail Humans

Isn't it a lot easier to write online to an unknown audience who conveniently only have one side of the story (mine) and can, hence, be more willing to offer me their sympathies which is often what we all need, especially, when we are running through a rough patch - a pink slip, a broken marriage, bankruptcy, death of a near one? I used to spend a lot of time on blogs but most of them wrote random stuff. Soon I found blogs that were more like an online journal with personal minutiae brought out and embarrassingly disclosed. Nevertheless, blogs require a certain amount of thought and the temporal distance inherent in writing a post ensures for some mellowing down. Twitter allows for lesser reflection before one gives vent. One can verily have a quarrel with one's sibling and get online to call them names. A heart-broken woman can tweet endlessly about her suffering. An unemployed middle aged man can spew all his venom against the new economy (never for once thinking that his potential recruiters might be reading his tweets). It is not merely about the damage one can do to one's reputation but the palpable, though invisible, damage such venting does to one's own mettle.

Conversation with real people is medicative. There is inherent balance in it in the pulling and pushing of thoughts, in the need to clarify and justify, in the sheer physicality of it all and the bonding it creates. Conversations with pets/animals at least provides the latter two and sometimes a woof or a whimper makes us go "I know, I know, he didn't really mean that but still..." which might lead to clarifying certain thoughts. If you have a keen and articulate friend, you are blessed and can be assured that during your difficult times you have someone who might guide you properly. If you have a friend who is nothing more than a yes-man, then you are less blessed, though the repeated yes's might make you want to stop and ponder over how you could be perfectly right on all counts. Whatever be the nature of the companion, real conversations are helpful because it allows you to emote and share what you can't do well in words or every attempt to do so appears shabbily inaccurate at best. I am sure all of this was known to the dear reader.

What amazes me is the infinite trust we are willing to place in a faceless person and the boundless comfort we have in standing virtually naked before a virtual audience by baring our all. I would suspect that the Christian custom of confessions has something to do with this (where one can reveal all under the perforated assurance of anonymity) though even in that there was a humaneness to it. I wonder what would happen if Churches started an online anonymous confession service (a virtual chat with the priest). This might seem less strange given that that is what Fragments
is assured to the confessor though I doubt whether it would feel the same without the Father's voice saying "I understand, my child". The intimacy of real conversations and relationships does not exist in the networked world.

What we readily get from the virtual world is what our body readily gets from French Fries - an instant high/gratification. The ability to just "Like" someone's status on FB, to RT "such a f*&^d up day! Feels like yesterday and tomorrow" or just comment on a blog post where someone weeps his/her heart out is instant gratification for both parties without a tenth of the effort of actually going and meeting this person and connecting over coffee or in the park. Can this be done for all the 2734 friends one has on FB? No, and it is anyway stupid to have 2734 friends on FB, according to me given that you probably are in regular touch with not more than 30 of them and consider less than 5 of them as your closest friends. The ability to make friends instantly (all it takes is a "Add as friend" click or importing contacts), the ability to comment on their status with a "Lol" (which frankly means nothing to me) and the ability to ignore them for a long time but claim that they are on your "Friends" list is the relationship equivalent to French Fries and Coke.

Speed definitely has a role to play. Most people equate writing letters with sending email. They are not the same. Emails suit the purpose of quick correspondence to convey important details. For personal connections, I still consider emails ersatz. Unfortunately, I have no friends who share that opinion so writing emails is the only way I can stay in touch (though I end up calling my dear ones). Speed ruins all semblance of being organic. Tomorrow when they invent seeds which sprout into beanstalks the minute they are dropped into the earth, try convincing real gardeners that there is no difference between the old-fashioned way of growing plants to the whoosh-whoosh-there's-a-rose-for-you type of gardening.

Every single day I am reminded of what Gustave Flaubert said about being intimately involved with just 6 books (Commel'on serait savant si l'on connaissait bien seulement cinq a six livres). How lame it would be to gather the import of an entire tome on a tweet (and yes, I saw the Twitterature book and fell ill)! So be it with relating to an individual. I cannot imagine being intimate with someone over tweets and blog posts!

But you object and correct me in my thought; you say "No, E, it is not that they seek intimacy, but just a mode to give vent to what they feel which they perhaps can't say to a real person. An audience, is perhaps just a fringe benefit" and I find that unacceptable as an explanation for various reasons. Any implement (implement is also a noun) which provides you a quick escape into a psychological thumb-sucking state, eats away into your maturity and mettle. You are more likely to seek that than face reality or do what it takes to tackle your situation. Drugs, sex, binging, drinking and video-games are similar such seemingly innocuous (though not drugs) avenues of escape. I think it is more imperative to address the conclusion that what needs to be said cannot be said to a real person. Why? What is it that can't be said? Can it be presented differently? Why would no one understand? Why will they be offended? Why would it make matters more complex? If you were told that your tweets and posts would be sent straight to those very same people, would you stop writing? To turn the last question around and tackle the point about "fringe benefits" - If there was no one on earth to read what you write, would you still tweet or blog?

I am not concerned with the world of business and the impact such micro-journalism have on the way the world's thought is shaped. I care two hoots (actually less). Business will do anything it takes to get an extra buck and it is not in my lifetime or yours that we will find businesses revisiting that foundation. I used to find popular blogs excessively boring because all they did was add a few links to the latest talk happening elsewhere and add a line or two of their own. They were the least effective aggregators of sorts. Artists who use their site for showcasing their work are also a different category whom I am not concerned with in this post. I am more concerned with what this speed, this veil, this connectedness, this sheer reach and distance brings to the human mind.

This post started when I observed the content of tweets and some posts. They were rich in their presentation but embarrassingly personal in their content and it made me wonder as above. When I started writing this post I chanced upon a post which is essentially a book review. What I loved in the samples from the book was the phrase "Moments of more may leave us with lives of less". Sheer poetry and insight.

Say what you will, I have deeper respect for a writer who doesn't allow his personal life to shadow their artistic produce or knows how to channelise it into richer more meaningful content which doesn't make the reader sympathetic but merely a recipient of perspective. I have consciously stuck to that protocol on this blog and have often had the happiest posts come out during my saddest times and conversely and in other combinations too. It makes me shudder to imagine sharing my personal life with an audience I haven't known for long and my concern is not a result of my need for privacy as much as it is the incongruency of sharing things with people I don't know.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Drifting Pithiness

The only warm hearth we can always return to is our childhood memories

At every opportunity to not know, I shamelessly choose to know.

The patient sheet of paper - never asking me to shut up.

If only she could love me and not the image of me I wanted her to once love.

On the pavement, my body feels and holds the rush of every vehicle and in that incessant throb, a deep calm and quietening...

Such a pitiful heart which mistakes attention for love

How different is day from night!? My life is not of my plot; my dreams are not of my design.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Woman too young

I am distracted the minute she comes and sits on my lap, naturally leaning on my chest while I read from the book. She doesn't smell of milk as she once did and she doesn't smell of a woman she is yet to become. Somewhere between those incarnations of her being, she is this, a soft weight on my thigh and a load of easy trust on my breast. I read a few sentences before kissing her on her head. She looks up and smiles before dropping her eyes back to the book and holding it firm. We finish reading and then discuss something about her brother and then her best friend before we start pillow fighting. I bite her unshaped knee and she squeals. After a while we are tired and rests her head on my stomach while I stare at the ceiling. Will this, our relationship, influence the man she loves tomorrow? Though it is play for us, I believe each trusting and joyous relationship, every sample of what feels good in the innocent heart, every instance of dependability and faith raises a woman's hopes of finding the same in that relationship she foolishly invests her all in. She will learn, I am sure, and when we meet next I cannot bite her knee and she will describe her friends as "cool".

Friday, January 14, 2011

Mohabbat hi na jo samjhe - Talat Mehmood

There are songs which are hardly recalled without a memory so strongly associated with it that I often wonder whether that song could have ever been heard elsewhere. One such song is "Mohabbat hi na jo samjhe" which clearly reminds me of H-467 (apartment number) with my National Panasonic stationed atop a wooden reaper L-angle stand in the corner. There my father would play Talat Mehmood songs for himself, though I strongly suspect he wanted us to hear them and have them play in our heads for decades to come. I don't recall him ever getting into a protracted discussion about the merits of classical music (or anything, for that matter) but slowly infused our lives and consciousness with material which have, although I repeatedly deny it, influenced our tastes significantly. Sometimes I feel all I need is a son and a daughter (or two daughters) with whom I can revisit this entire world and recreate it for them without making it their world.

Shakespeare, Talat Mehmood, Ghazals, Yesudas and many more threads wove into the fabric of what I am without being all the fabric I have - like a beautiful butter-white silk stole floating in the air and when you thought that that was all, you find a glistening thread of gold woven into in, unknown till then, but surely there.

"Mohabbat hi na jo samjhe" is a ghazal where the poet has chosen (or was told) not to embed his name in it. Noor Lucknowi wrote this gem of a ghazal which at once satisfies the wants of a movie as well as of a poetry aficionado. The music director is C Ramachandra and the movie is Parcchaayin (Shadow).

Love in Urdu has several words which each focus on a different facet of it - mohabbat, ishq, pyaar, chaahat, aashiqui and much more. English too might conjure words to watch like love, affection, caring but they tend to make the intent clear. Clearly pyaar is placed on a higher pedestal in this ghazal. Some poets would regard mohabbat as being the epitome of love. The movie Aashiqui felt differently. Hence, I don't think any translation could do justice to what the poet might have felt or wanted to say.

Mohabbat hi no jo samjhe, woh zaalim pyaar kya jaane

Nikalti dil ki taaron se, jo hai jhankaar kya jaaney.

For one who understand not passion, what would she, of love, know.

From the strings of the heart, what would she, of such music, know.

Usey to qatl karna aur tadpaana hi aata hai

Gala kis ka kata kyun kar kata talvaar kya jaane.

All she knew was to annihilate and torture

Whose neck and why it was cut, what would a sword know.

Dava se faayda hoga ke hoga zeher-e-kaatil se

Maraz ki kya dava hai, ye koi bimaar kya jaaney.

Would one benefit from salves or from the poison that kills

The cure to such ailment, how would any lover know.

Karo fariyaad sar takarao, apni jaan de daalo

Tadapte dil ki haalat husn ke deewaar kya jaaney.

Lament hoarse, bang your head against the wall, give up your life

Such a suffering heart's anguish, what would the wall of beauty know.

This song sung in the silken voice of Talat Mehmood is beautiful in the way it lingers in one's mind, humming in the slightest moment when all is still and none occupy it. Such is the fabric of this music that it fills my veins and brings warmth on a cold Winter evening.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Necessary distances

Watch a city from afar, from over a lighthouse or a distant hillock - the entirety taken in a glance without the details like an acquaintance who allows you to gaze at her from your apartment before she turns around the corner. Arrays of light and movement abstracted into festoons of vaguely familiar aesthetics lining and defining the contours of what might otherwise be a dark lump on the horizon. The skyline and sounds bear a calming incongruity which allows us to know just enough to like these Hong Kongs and Torontos and Bombays but without divulging details which might make us judge them. To not know is to retain the hope of continuing to like someone. Cities were meant to be seen from a distance, either psychological or spatial.

Farther away...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Completeness is a utilitarian want for something we'd rather have. Nature doesn't wait for the perfect apple to be formed or the most complete sunrise and though I do not call upon everyone to mimic Nature (oh! how I wish someone could), it is imperative of every artist and creator to observe Nature long enough to realise that this urge and need for completeness is utilitarian. No painting is every complete or completely exacting. A tree on the landscape received just a smudge of the brush, the face in the crowd didn't even get a nose, the claw on that cat was not drawn with the shades necessary, still they appear beautiful. A poem without subscribing to anyone's sense of completeness can still be beautiful.

A machine needs to be completely functional and properly oiled. Tickets need to be completely booked. Your order needs to be completely placed and the parcel completely received. Art and beauty cannot subscribe to a want for completeness.

Cracked and beautiful...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

With all my being

Cold... cold...
Her memory is
Like the Winter breeze o'er lakes -
The sighing within.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Without fail my lovely R drops me an email and writes:

Dear E,

Remembered you on this day of Marghazhi 1st - you, your blog, your post, pic of andal in post, your amma's pongal description, your narration of this month's speciality...

Still lingering from 2008.....

and I can't help smile. R has this amazingly simple and innocent way of touching people's lives that I feel amazed, honoured and flattered (all at once) to know that there is some post that has touched her. Here it is and here too (just realised I had two posts). The former is a post I wrote back in 2007 (for a Margazhi that started in 2006). This post is dedicated to this dear friend of mine.

I wonder what aspect of Margazhi I can capture in this post and am at loss of words. Such a quandary is not a result of little else to speak about regarding a month when the God Himself is said to descend to the Earth. Surely one can say enough about the music, the rituals, the distant chants streaming through orange street-light. While there is so much to write I choose to pick one aspect of Margazhi which I haven't yet understood myself. This post will be unlike the earlier one in being less nostalgic and more reflective.

Andal, in essense, created Margazhi and the entire pavai tradition. While girls her age might pine for the handsome boy down the street, Andal sought none other than Sriman Narayana Himself. Sets quite a high bar. Her 30 paasurams fit well into the month of Margazhi with Margazhi Thingal being the first paasuram. The paasuram goes as follows:



Margazhi thingal madhi niraindha nannaalaalAndal
neeraada podhuveer podhumino naerizhaiyeer
seer malgum aayppaadi chelva chirumeergaal
koorvael kodundhozhilan nandhagopan kumaran
Aeraarndha kanni yasodhai ilam singam
kaar maeni cengan kadhir madhiyam pol mugaththaan
naaraayanane namakkey parai tharuvaan
paaror pugazha padindhelor empaavaay.


On this day (commencing) the month of Margazhi

Which is like a moon in full resplendence,

Come quickly, young girls, oh so decorated,

And we shall bathe in the river. Oh girls with good qualities

And the prosperous ones from Aayarpadi (Gokulam), come.

Come for the sake of the son of Nanda,

One with a sharp pointedness in destroying all evil

One who wears fragrant garlands

And is the young lion of Yashoda

The dark hued, one with lotus (bud) shaped eyes

Whose face is as brilliant as the sun and moons (kadhir, madhiyam pol mugatthan)

That Narayana will Himself grant us deliverance

Let us sing praises to Him and worship Goddess Pavai who will grant us our wish (to unite with Him)

Of course, I paraphrase. Nevertheless, the intent is as stated above in the translation. Interpretations and extrapolations are possible and are left to the committed few.

I have heard this paasuram sung for several years without fail and I wonder at the immense love and clarity Andal must have had in knowing that Sriman Narayana is all she would ever need or want. Such single-minded devotion is not a decision or a resolve but a whole-bodied way of being. Neither you nor I could suddenly be impassioned into deciding that come tomorrow and we shall be as devoted to the Lord as Andal was. Devotion is not a decision for it come without religion (which is a decision or, as is often the case, a conditioning). Devotion is clarity and (for the lack of a better word) completeness.

I have never felt that though I know it and like one listening to a beautiful song sung in a language I don't understand, I listen to the paasurams sung and wonder how could someone love anyone (even the Lord) so much? The tales of Hanuman are also testimony to such love (and with that example, one realises such love to be clearly asexual). Personally, I consider Hanuman to be the best and most honourable character in the whole of the Ramayana for he could realise the Lord while the Lord himself was unclear about his nature.

Andal's love for Krishna is legendary and tales of Andal are told to young children (well, no more given that Nick and Cartoon Network have better tales) and girls dream of loving someone like that. But then they grow up and in that act there is inherent tragedy.

Margazhi is fragranced with the love of Andal and one can feel the conviction, the clarity and the sheer devotion of it all in her paasurams. Margazhi is when the Lord is most pleased. Margazhi is when the Lord nodded to Andal's question (10th paasuram): For a young delicate girl who has undertaken such a vow (of paavai), won't you open the door to your abode?

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Saturday, January 08, 2011

A Trunk of Life - Sonnet

The weight of memories...

I open my ever-unfastened trunk

And out falls sand-castles of summer tours

When more of hope could easily be shrunk

With lesser delusion 'twixt my contours.

Postcards in a file marked "Love, Jennifer",

A View-Master with reels of all I'd dreamed,

Plans that Fate returned, burned to a cinder,

And relationships more sour than they seemed.

And in the half I hold erect, are smiles

Bequeathed with every alien gesture.

Packed, too, many walks through sanguine dawn's aisles

And many a run through verdant pastures.

All this I pack and walk out through the door

Over the threshold my trunk weighs no more.

Friday, January 07, 2011

The ritual of an oil bath

Saturdays were always dreaded. No kid likes to have to sit for an hour, forbidden to touch anything, with a strange feeling of something snaking down your neck - something growing, silky and wet. Oil baths were the most boring ordeals in our house. I hated them from the bottom of my heart because it meant over an hour of sitting through the neck wringing torture of having powerful arms rub the oil into your head - yes, you read it right - into your head. I always felt dad hoped the oil would seep in and perhaps make our hair better or brains work like well-oiled machinery. Oil baths were painful.

They also had their own recipes.

Olive oil was always good but the real veneer only came with gingely oil. If you really wanted it good there was gingly oil boiled with turmeric, black pepper and betel leaves to create a concoction that would give you the finest skin on earth. Didn't quite happen though it could be worse.

The oil had to be cooled but dad, who was the chief superintendent of oil baths, preferred it warm (which was always hot) when he'd rub it into our bones.

Oil baths started from Friday evening with us not planning anything for the first half of Saturday because we had to have a serial oil bath. The bathroom floor was always slick by lunch hour. We (mostly I) would whine about it just being a week since our last wash and dad not even listening to it. I didn't have bad dreams though I think all the bad dreams I can recall might have been through my Friday night's sleep.

Saturday arrived like soiled cotton wool dropping from a mechanic's hand - just this time it wasn't grease but gingely oil. We had two cups, stainless steel, marked for this anointing - one for holding the oil and the other for mixing the shikakai (soapnut) powder with water. This had to be brought to a consistency which made it nearly drip from your fingers but not really pour off. Now that I think about it, perhaps what I really hated was the shikakai powder (Tamilians call is seehakai).

Shikakai burns. Whichever sensitive part it touches, it burns. God forbid it gets into your eyes (and how long can you ask a child to close his eyes and not know what's going on around him), and you can run all over the house and bump into things (because you have shut your eyes tight) only to be caught by the firm hands of someone (dad) and spanked (dad) and hear a voice scold him for being tough on the kids (mom).

Oil baths are, hence, split into two parts: not touching anything (when you are all oiled up) and not opening your eyes (when you are washing the oil off with shikakai). Find me a kid who can spend over an hour not touching anything and 30 minutes with his eyes shut and I will find you nirvana.

Perhaps I assume you understand the travails. Maybe I should explain.

Oil baths start with the deep massaging of oil into your head. While strong hands rub them hard on your scalp you need to hold your neck firm. You cannot slacken as your head might go in and get stuck between your lungs (yes, I knew what lungs were then). There would be brief pauses when I would get to relax my neck but brief was not long enough. I would beg for a timeout and find something to divert attention but soon I had run out of tricks. The hands kept pressing the oil into (or rather out of) my head. The justification was the rubbing vigorously would draw out all the heat from my system and cool me down. Buy me an ice-cream I say! Nevertheless, I could actually feel the heat leave through my head. I never mentioned it for fear of encouraging my father. Trust me when I say that you would hear a soft buzzing when he was done and you just might topple over if someone touched you. My cerebellum was tipsy!

Why start with the head? Because they need to "soak" the longest in oil. Why? Don't know. Maybe because the brain simply needed that much time to realise it was drenched in oil. Then came the face which was delicately handled lest the components get mixed up. Then came the arms. Ladies and gentlemen, there is no known technique to lengthen your arms other than the oil rub ritual. My dad would hold one end of it (the loose end) and with his other hand create a C-shaped vice with his forefinger and thumb and run that up and down the length of my arm. I could hear the shuttle whoosh back and forth over the loom of my hand. Soon my arm would be so hot I could nearly see a mirage near the bend of my elbow.

Eventually we'd cover one part at a time till I was too exhausted to even stand up. Somehow, my father had the energy to bathe all the kids on the block. Once coated in a fine film of oil from head to toe, we had to marinate in it for another 30 minutes or so. That was mandatory else the oil would have no effect. Dad would also pour a couple of drops of oil into our ears to helps clean the inside. French fries wouldn't feel so oily as we did.

Nice and shiny

Then we were ushered into the bathroom one by one and washed clean with shikakai. We had to use hot water because oil washes off well in hot water (like the grime in your skillet). So a few mugs of hot water, then a full rub-a-dub-dub of shikakai face pack (more like body pack) and then more hot water to wash it all off.

When we emerged from all of this we were too drained to appreciate the cooing by our mother about how fair we had become and how polished we look. We had enough energy for lunch and then dozed off in the noon heat.

Dad thoroughly enjoyed his oil baths. I am told that when my enate grandfather came to meet my agnate one and my father (to propose a wedding with his daughter), my dad was well oiled and busy washing clothes. How that picture impressed the gentleman (may his soul rest in peace) is beyond me, but it did and he was happy to get my mother married to my father (which is obvious). Dad never missed his oil baths.

I would always wonder what there was to it. It would be like explaining the joys of sitting on the banks of the Ganga (without hurling pebbles in) for hours. No child would like it, but like appreciating Shakespeare, one grows into it.

Today (actually, tomorrow) when I ready myself for an oil bath I realise how wonderful it is. For an hour or so, I have an entire room to myself where I enjoy rubbing oil all over. I sing songs or imagine dialogues with friends. I cannot touch anything so no surfing the web or answering phone calls. I ponder over human behaviour and the world in general. I might holler across rooms and have trite discussions with mom. I quieten my mind and observe that stillness. I design recipes and plan tours while vigourously rubbing oil over my shins. Then I let it all marinate, the thoughts, the whole week's exertion, the voices of people on the street below, the doubts, the fears, the music, muscles on the back of neck and slowly trace that gradual unctuous snake traversing down my spine, that excess oil which makes its way into my life on Saturdays.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Pictures from Goa - 1

I realised I had quite a few pictures to share from this trip and it wouldn't make sense to bundle them all together and throw them over slow and/or unreliable connections. Hence, I am going to share them in buckets of 20/21 each in the hope that it would ease your experience.

After clicking the image below, if the images aren't refreshing fast enough (i.e. if you are on a slow connection) please click the "Slow" button in the bottom left corner of the slideshow or visit the album directly. Once you have set the speed, please click on the "Full Screen" button in the bottom right corner.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Points of view

Deserted playground -

Even the jaunty marbles

Have lowered their gaze.