Friday, February 18, 2011

Khaali Haath Shaam Aayi Hai

Recently, I had the good fortune of translating a beautiful song for a dear friend who isn't Indian. I wanted to introduce her to non-classical Indian music which could very well represent what it once was. I chose this song.

This song is a splendid piece of poetry by Gulzar-sahab sung beautifully by Asha Bhosle-ji. The music is by Pancham-da. Dusky beauty Rekha is quite perfect for this song. The movie is Ijaazat. The YouTube video below is slightly out of sync though that doesn't spoil the song itself. There are other versions which would require you to sign in (wonder why, though).

Khaali haath shaam aayi hai, khaali haath jayegi
aaj bhi na aaya koi,
aaj bhi na aaya koi, khaali laut jayegi
Khaali haath shaam aayi hai, khaali haath jayegi
khaali haath shaam aayi hai

Empty handed has the evening come, empty handed it will depart.
Today too, none has come
Today too, whom I await hasn't come
Today, having not come, emptiness will return.
Empty handed has the evening come, empty handed it will depart.
Empty handed has the evening come.

aaj bhi na aaye aansoon
aaj bhi na bheege naina
aaj bhi na aaye aansoon
aaj bhi na bheege naina
aaj bhi yeh kori raina(2), kori laut jayegi

Today too tears do not well
Today too my eyes aren't moist
Today too tears do not well
Today too my eyes aren't moist
Today too they will be blank(2), and to the void return.

khaali haath shaam aayi hai, khaali haath jayegi
khaali haath shaam aayi hai

Empty handed has the evening come, empty handed it will depart.
Empty handed has the evening come.

raat ki siyahi koi,
aaye to mitaye naa
raat ki siyahi koi,
aaye to mitaye naa
aaj na mitaye to yeh(2), kal bhi laut aayegi

This night's dark stain (siyahi is actually ink but can be interpreted as a dark stain too)
Can be wiped if only someone would come
This night's dark stain
Can be wiped if only someone would come
If not wiped tonight(2), it (the darkness) will return tomorrow.

khaali haath shaam aayi hai, khaali haath jayegi
khaali haath shaam aayi hai
aaj bhi na aaya koi, khaali laut jayegi
Khaali haath shaam aayi hai, khaali haath jayegi
khaali haath shaam aayi hai

Empty handed has the evening come, empty handed it will depart.
Empty handed has the evening come.
Today too, none has come, hence, emptiness will return.
Empty handed has the evening come, empty handed it will depart.
Empty handed has the evening come.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Poem Published

Not that it is a new poem but still, published on real paper (not a printout!). My stance on publishing still holds! ;-)
I thank Sinu for the fantastic art work he brought out for this poem. I must have been a nag to work with, what with all those editing and endless deliberating over details.

In spite of all his hard work the actual print in the book has lost all the details and I am disappointed, but that's just me hunting for reasons to be disappointed. Since this image below is a low resolution of the final draft and since the image in the book is different (in the details), this cannot count as copyright violation. Given that the poem is this blog's! :-)

Nevertheless, I would urge you to buy the book (details at No, I get no royalty so there is nothing for me to gain. I think you should buy the book since the poems are decently good, since the artwork is pretty neat for some of the poems, since this is one of a kind visual-poetry project and since this is being organised and run by a bunch of youngsters who deserve the support and encouragement to carry out such work and constantly improve. I think every purchase would only add fuel to their excitement and that is a good cause.

Please click on the image below and study the details on the wall. Sinu has absolutely weaved magic here. The shadow, the scribbles on the wall, the state of the books, the table. Amazing illustration. No, I don't look even wee bit like the guy at the table.

For the love of me

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Education Of A Writer

To the hurried soul, I offer my sympathies and the following list:

1. Book of Disquiet
2. Don Quixote
3. Hamlet
4. Mrs. Dalloway
5. Ulysses
6. Ada or Ardor
7. Century of Humour
8. Complete Works of Saki
9. Niels Lyhne
10. Dead Souls
11. Jane Eyre
12. Golden Bowl

For the cultured ones, I have a tale to offer. Suffer me for the aging through this story might prove worth it.

I recently brought upon myself a terrible onus and couldn't sit still without completing the descended task. It was at once presumptuous to accept responsibility for collating the list and due justification, and stimulating to study the tell of putting together such a necessary array. I cannot sufficiently describe the torment of the past few weeks and it is not imagined pain. It was visible to those who looked long enough including the two squirrels outside my window.

While the education of a writer is vital for everyone, as vital as is the education of a reader or a cook, not everyone is out to be an author nor needs to. A cook is not your award-winning chef, but basically someone who knows their way well around the kitchen to cook up a delicious meal. So be it with everyone being a writer. This is largely missed in the current education system as is missed the vital training to be a cook. I can't say much about the making of a reader because we do read (technical and academic books for exams) but how much do we pause (which is the most vital element in all reading) is a number I can never ascertain. We certainly aren't trained to read like a writer as Francine Prose recommends.

All my appreciation for literature came well after my school days though I have been reading since I was nearly 6 or so. My father considered it best to start putting together a library in the hope that we would organically fall in love with words. I don't think that that is what got me to read. The tales of the world were Siren calls. The possibility of tales in Russia, India, Japan and every faraway land brought an extra tinge of blue to my sky. Having read these tales, I simply had to know how to tell a tale. I also loved the smell and taste of words as they danced their way out of my mouth. So, in summary, the ability to read, write, count and cook are vital for life and the ability to see is vital for love.

So I wish to fill the gap left for ages in the complete education of a man destined to love the letters. Be forewarned, this is not for the basic education of a writer but for one who enjoys writing and wishes to be well rounded. Nevertheless, a student well into his teens could also benefit from this journey. One might ask if this is a journey all genres of writers should take and I am tempted to say yes. And I will. Yes. I think every passionate writer will benefit manifold by embarking on this journey in true earnest. While true education of a writer starts early from rudimentary combining of letters to constructing coherent sentences to being able to say what one means, such a journey, as described in this post, is best started when one has had some experience in this world and has managed to muster a vocabulary sufficiently strong to reduce the shuttles one might need to make between book and dictionary. This varies from one individual to the other. For some, that age might be 18 and for others it might be 12. Let us leave it to an opportune moment in that window of half a dozen years.

Before I introduce the apostles, I must re-introduce the reader to the one who motivated me to assemble this list. Gustave Flaubert's words ring euphoniously true in my head. The frequent reader of this blog would be familiar with the following quote:

Commel'on serait savant si l'on connaissait bien seulement cinq a six livres: "What a scholar one might be if one knew well only some half a dozen books."

I thought that 6 might be just a little less and 12 would be a better number (coincidentally, there are 12 months). Given an average life of 48 years beyond 18, that allows for 4 repetitions of each of these books. I would consider that sufficient pilgrimage for this lifetime.

I shant be going into the details and deliberation on each book. That I will present in a longer and more serious article. Nevertheless, I shall pause long enough to let the reader know why I picked each of these books and what one can expect from each.

  1. The Book of Disquiet - Fernando Pessoa. If there is one book that you must read from this list and expect to gain a lifetime's education in seeing, feeling and converting them as approximately as possible into words, then it is this book. Pessoa is an unheard of author and this book is originally in Portuguese. I have a translation by Richard Zenith and it is splendid. Pessoa is extremely sensitive to the world around him without being too absorbed in himself. His reflections are unique and extremely well articulated. His choice of words are splendid making you chide yourself for not having thought along those lines.

  2. Don Quixote - Miguel de Cervantes.This book is highly recommended by all the lists compiled to identify the best literary books. I have read it in parts and found it delightful. Cervantes' ability to weave in humour while making an important point distinguishes him from all those snobbish writers who believe that to be light is to betray literary worth. This too is a translation of the original in Spanish.

  3. Hamlet - William Shakespeare. This needs no introduction though it was difficult to pick one from amongst the bard's works. I cannot consider myself well equipped to jostle my choice against the opinions of another. I wanted to pick a serious work of his with some of his best lines. After a fair amount of research, I settled for Hamlet.

  4. Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf. Her very opening is splendid enough to keep re-reading this delightful tale. Ms. Woolf's writing is spectacular and very British. That adds to the beauty of it all. I have enjoyed her stream of consciousness writing and the blog's reader would have seen some samples of my own.

  5. Ulysses - James Joyce. This is one book I have picked purely on the advice of Nabokov. He strongly recommends this and considers Joyce to be one of the few genius writers in the English speaking world. I have immense respect for Nabokov and willingly took his advice.

  6. Ada or Ardor - Vladimir Nabokov. Perhaps no list of mine could be complete without the magic of Nabokov. This work is his personal favourite and having glanced through it, I can see why. The delightful play of words in the setting of a strange family. One will do well to enjoy the fruits of the hypertexting labour that is Ada Online.

  7. Century of Humour - Edited by P. G. Wodehouse. Towards the end of this post I shall explain my statistical basis for choosing this book. But there is reason beyond that as well. This book compiles some excellent short stories and humourous ones at that. Mr. Wodehouse's choice is pretty good and none of the stories are remotely disappointing. They are best not pitted amongst themselves but studied individually to learn the craft of weaving humour into literature.

  8. Complete Works of Saki - H H Munro. This was my first love. I have spent hours leaping across empty rooms reading his lines with summoned baritone. Saki made me fall in love with words and the magic one can conjure with them (when rightly employed - don't blame me for spells crashing down on your head). I cannot, out of loyalty and certainty, exclude this book from my list. I believe that a young student should be introduced to Saki and made to gargle his phrases. Never spit it out! If only we had teachers who could understand Saki and bring home his worth.

  9. Niels Lyhne - Jens Peter Jacobsen. Another popularly unheard of writer. He is Danish and comes highly recommended by none other than Rilke himself. I have also read his stories and another friend of mine, a more disciplined and beautiful reader, vouches for the goodness of this particular book. I willingly submit to the wisdom of Rilke here and to my meagre experience with Jacobsen's works.

  10. Dead Souls - Nikolai Gogol. Another Russian master. I have read his short stories and Taras Bulba. I was convinced and converted. He is an excellent writer and this particular book is a wicked take on the feudalism then present in Russia. He is an amazing writer of great talent (and I subscribe to Nabokov's distinction between a genius and a talented writer. More on that, later).

  11. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë. This book is amazing in its passion and language employed. I might have picked Jane Austen's works but I felt that I needed both the power of language and the passion of a writer to be visible on the pages. After due deliberation I chose Jane Eyre. It also came in gold gilded pages to me from someone with a golden heart.

  12. Golden Bowl - Henry James. This is the climax in James' career and style. I did my research on this book and his other works before deciding to include this one. The complexity in the story and the style makes it belong to this list. James Wood (author of How Fiction Works) too feels that Henry James brings an eye which isn't the detailed microscopic eye of Nabokov, but of a fabric vital to writers.

In collating this list I had a few broad criteria. I needed literature representing a good segment of the English speaking world. I was willing to include translations as long as they didn't exceed 33% of the total list (Book of Disquiet - Portuguese, Don Quixote - Spanish, Dead Souls - Russian and Niels Lyhne - Danish). I also wanted to have shorter works but didn't want them to exceed 25% of the list (Book of Disquiet, Century of Humour, Complete Works of Saki). I also wanted humour to be an integral part of the list (Don Quixote, Century of Humour, Complete Works of Saki).

Believe me when I say that I rummaged through a list of over nearly twice as many books including translations (Glass Bead Game - German, for instance which finally lost out as did The Master And Margerita - Russian). Of course, you must have noticed that I haven't added Madame Bovary (French) by Gustave Flaubert himself. I had included it initially before realising that Lydia Davis' translation was something I needed and it wasn't really available here. That is why I restricted the translations to 33%. Translations are a funny beast. They gain their strength both from the original author as well as from the translator but their weakness comes solely from the translator's abilities. I read Ms. Davis' article about her experience in translating Madame Bovary and I decided to wait for the book to arrive. Perhaps Niels Lyhne will make way for Madame Bovary.

The route on this journey is simple. Read through each book slowly and patiently. If there is a word whose meaning you do not understand, find it out. Keep a notebook (or several of them with one per author) and collect phrases that you like along with the name of the book and page number. In another notebook, try to use these phrases in at least five different situations/scenarios. If a sentence is long, break it down into bite-sized portions and understand how the coherence is maintained over the length.

After each chapter or 30 pages, write a paragraph about anything (or a similar topic as in the book) in a style nearly identical with that of the author. The paragraph should appear as if the author him/herself had written it in his/her younger days. Study where you possibly differ. Do not rush to create your own style of writing. Start my imitating and you will hear a clear voice soon.

Apply counter styles to the author you are reading. Periodically in your study, use shorter sentences where s/he uses longer and conversely without losing meaning. This allows you to create similar impact without losing literary value. Shortening a sentence is not the same as summarising. Please bear in mind that the effect and taste has to be maintained. Where the author is grand, be direct (you might think that the effect is then lost, but not necessarily) where s/he is terse, be verbose.

Study the spell of phrases and styles in a dark room. Read the words aloud in three different styles - in dry monotone, with due theatrical intonations and with the simplicity of someone reading it the first time. Study the effect it brings and understand what breaks through the barriers of the reader's ability (to read in different tones).

Combine random but fairly representative paragraphs from each of these authors to notice how they mingle and depart. This helps study the choice of words for the desired tell.

And last but surely not the least, practice writing, every single day. Keep building your vocabulary (there are several sites which will deliver you a word per day). Use them differently in unexpected settings. Create games where you can study the possibility of using fruits to describe the weather and metals to describe moods and so on. Enjoy every one of these authors and enjoy writing, too.

There might be other books that are great. There might be other works of the chosen authors that might be better. All that I have mentioned belong to the genre of fictional prose. Questions are bound to be raised - "What if I care only about poetry?" "What if I wish to be a sci-fi writer?" "What if I like John Updike better?" "What if I wish to write like Jack Kerouac?" The only answer I have is to once again recommend this study with an assurance that you will be a different person at the end of it and will be able to write as you please and read whomsoever you want. This is not the only list of books you should be reading. Read any other book too. Poetry should be read and studied regularly too (and I might put up a separate list for that) but I do not distinguish severely between prose and poetry beyond Coleridge's pithy summary:

I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is, prose, --words in their best order; poetry, --the best words in their best order.

Compiling any list is a task fraught with debate and I am tired. I can assure with all my life's breath that these books, when studied well, will make a wonderful person and writer out of the reader. That is a certainty (please read Sir Quiller-Couch's Art of Writing to understand why). If after appropriate study you do not find your writing significantly (not marginally) enhanced and affected, do let me know and I assure you that I will not utter a word from that day. I will also take this post down.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A dream

The terror, the sheer and ample terror, of waking from a dream one vaguely recalls meeting during the waking day on a street corner. Such a dream has no ingredient of frightening proportions but its near reality ushers a lacing of fear which others lack in their entirety.And in its recall, I am aware of the starkness of my room standing suspended in the architecture of this world and the world of dreams.This room has housed both my life and the dream I just awoke from. While still quivering from the tell of the dream I am shaken by a thought. My very room, my very life, my dream and my troubled awakening are part of another dream from which someone hasn't woken up. This is not merely the intense fever of awakening or aloneness in the room kept company only by the half-unhinged noise of the window.Its compelling truth adrenalises me into rooted seatedness on my bed. Not a muscle trembles out of turn from the dreamer's dream where I sit. I find no way to convince myself that I am not vassal to the mechanics of dreams and the visceral actions of some sleeping soul.In neither accepting or rejecting it, there is peace and a calm which makes inaction the most righteous action.Sitting on my bed, I don't stop my perspiration for I don't have the script to the other's dream. I stare at the wall in front of me.Even a wall has so much to reveal when approached with such attention albeit a coerced devotion. In slowly learning my wall, I tire.And slowly that wall ripples its way under me, as per the script, and my muscles receive the cues they had feared to take all this while.I swim back into my previously undone sleep with a a fleeting fear of the resumption of that dream. And I hear a yawn or I yawn in the dream.

The Disease of Distrust

To not believe, to distrust, is oppressing for with it I invite villains of my own creation. These very people I, then, include in my world. The weight of it, perhaps, is not for display. But with each chance (and, pray, what is that?) encounter, I abrade myself further under its tell. For in disbelief there is nurtured a relation which is fed by the other's dubious ways, his misdeeds, his lies, his wants & his deprivation. Fed on such a poison, slowly, word by word, act by act, such a relation soon becomes impervious to truth, halting on the venom of the past.And I, honourable I, master of no such misdeed, no mistake clinging to my overcoat, no lies trickling down my chin, I am accomplice.I, to whom you relate, hold on firmly, countering every twist of yours, braiding disbelief into a taut cable. And Fate walks the tightrope.

Undecorated Deeds

Could someone accept my deeds, my watering their wilting plant & merely smile? Not tell the neighbours about it & not buy me flowers? Why must a simple deed have seismic repercussions? Why must it marshal emotions & gratitude of the tangible kinds? Can it not be a sunrise?For simple deeds are indeed sunrises and sunsets, bringing warmth to the onlooker and making you mortally incapable of returning the favour.When I lock your gate behind you or wipe the windshield of a long parked car, receive them as deeds to be done and not coupons to redeem.I have nothing to show you or impress you with. In performing my deeds which you call human or some such grand word of the day, I am myself.My deeds are of the same flowering quality of Spring's buds - they simply blossom, whether a chronicler lurks behind a park bench or not.In performing them, I am not leaving you indebted to me nor do I wish to woo you. My works mark negligible valuation in my scheme of worth.Yet I perform them as the sun rises in spite of charring all the sonnets written to its ochre praise. They are not an end in themselves.

Redundant World

Once the clear possibility and doability of some endeavour is ascertained, then its actual execution is essentially redundant. There appears no rational compulsion to actually perform what one knows one can perform if the thrill is in unraveling the adventure.There is a point when the mind is aware of all the resources required, all the people to be summoned & all throaty incantations memorised. It soon divines the precise order in which all of them should be combined in the broth of time. I aver that, at that point all thrill ends.Like a child cheated by legerdemain dissected, and hence, inclined to scratch out a magic show from his party, we stop dead in our tracks.What can be done is now well understood, its ingredients listed alphabetically with measurements in the metric system. What more is left?Hence, by extrapolation, we realise that all that has come to be has, in spite of possessing a clearly documented method to achieve it.We always knew how to build railroads, but built it anyway. We knew how to assemble the watch, but proceeded to manufacture it anyway.In our knowledge there hasn't been sufficient wetness to grant us salve to calm our passionate nerves and relax our industrious muscles.Since we exhausted all the thrill in learning the what, how, when and what-ifs, there appears very little rational need to have proceeded.Thus, upon maturer reflection, we arrive at a retrospective view of the world assembled without rational compulsion & with no passion left.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

A little experiment

I had decided to try out a different version of Project 365 that was doing the rounds. I thought I would write a post on this blog, one for each day of this year, for no reason other than the want to do something seemingly vivacious.

After one month of adhering to it, I realise that while its possibility is not to be doubted, its value raises some questions.

I wish this blog to be where matters are delved into in depth. This calls for more deliberate composition as well as sufficient research and analysis. This places a great demand on time which seems to be more energetic in running away as I grow tired through the day. I am a poor manager of time too, but how vain a want to be able to manage time.

I seem to be more active on Twitter. Perhaps the demand that 140 characters places on me fits the allowance of a day's work. Nevertheless, it is disappointing to fight with fictitious needs of a post-a-day and of satisfying length. The quarrel itself is my creation and whining about it might not hold your attention. Hence, I have decided (and my trunk of decisions spilleth over) to train the longer, more involved works to this attache and shorter quicker works to the Twitter chalice.