Thursday, October 06, 2016

Turn! Turn! Turn!

Tuesday, 18 June 2001 is when I began writing this blog. Phew. It's 2016. Way past June. And I wonder whether the me of June 2001 imagined or even thought it worth imagining to see how long this venture would persist. From there to now, we have traversed careers, continents, and possibilities. It is now the 6th of October 2016. And now it might be time to be back here, talking of all the things I continue to love and care about. Writing, food, people, books, animals, and things. And love. And poetry. And astonishment. So yes, we will be here for a while now. And so it begins...

Against Entropy

The worm drives helically through the wood 
And does not know the dust left in the bore 
Once made the table integral and good; 
And suddenly the crystal hits the floor.
Electrons find their paths in subtle ways, A massless eddy in a trail of smoke; 
The names of lovers, light of other days 
Perhaps you will not miss them. That's the joke. 
The universe winds down. That's how it's made. 
But memory is everything to lose; Although some of the colors have to fade, 
Do not believe you'll get the chance to choose. 
Regret, by definition, comes too late; 
Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.

-- John M Ford


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Measure of Life

Preity Zinta has taken to twitter to "admit" that yes, she has gotten married to Gene Goodenough. And asked that the jokes begin. But this random bit of internet trivia, of a no doubt important event, brought me back to the experience of my not good enough week.

I was having a not good enough week. The days I have noticed seem divided, into much more than good enough, in fact, the soul and substance of life, and never will be good enough. Between these two extremes, I waft pendulum-like waiting for some balance. And why, pray, are things not enough or too much to feature in any category of measure? And why does my appetite, vacillate between the vamana's, unsated and unfulfilled, and obscure Roman emperors, vomiting it all out to make room for more? Part ennui, part the truth of meaninglessness, part the excess of hysteria, and part summer, it is a heady cocktail. But a large part of this, is life.


Kanhaiya Kumar is back in the world, and produced what in my mind is the Amitabh Bachchan of recent speeches. And yes, this is a compliment. That one can rouse sentiment in skeptics is no small achievement. But like all else, one sees the speech, and not the life. The surface mirrors nothing. It is, after all, the surface. And yet, it is not nothing. The everyday is made of surfaces, and the sooner we start looking at it, the sooner we abandon the pursuit of meaning and the future at the cost of the present moment. And yet, can we look at the present moment as situated in the past and future? What forms of vision do we need to cast our nets wider?


I finished reading Part I of Knausgaard's "My Struggle". It is everything people say it is. It is a life, and a set of unfinished moments. It is memory, and it is truth. It plods, and yet it moves. This is, also, a good time in life to read this book, for as James Wood says, in this interview, "It's a tragedy of getting older." 


One of the things that intrigues me about the book is its seeming masculinity. Or at least its desire for such. The more years of feminist theory I teach, the more I become interested in masculinity. This of course may be the poverty of my discursive inhabitation, that I still do think only in binaries. But to temporarily escape this charge, let me reiterate that I'm interested in the -ities and not in their pre-determined attachment to male and female bodies. In the same interview, Knausgaard says, "I'm very well aware of the fact that women are objects in this book, because that's how it is for me, and I wanted to show that. I'm aware of me doing it. Every time I see a woman, I think, How would it be to have sex with her?....These are things that you not supposed to say. We are told, This is wrong, that is wrong, we shouldn't think this way. But the difference interests me a lot- the difference between what you should do and what you really do."

The beauty of located thought, of course, is that the two can and do co-exist, and it is not a battle of wills, but a different set of locations. That I understand gender as fluid, but inhabit my body as woman, are not contrary sets of assertions in the world, one being normative (in feminist theory, at least), and the other phenomenological. These are different histories, and different compulsions. They come with costs, and rewards, and at all times, we inhabit them simultaneously. And I think Knausgaard does himself and gender an injustice by performing naivete. 

In other phenomenological worlds, I had myself a rather hedonistic dinner. Turmeric and lemon couscous with parsely and almonds(again), tomato and cucumber tzatziki/ raita, roasted bell peppers and zucchini, and pan-seared paneer, marinated in galangal and chilli paste. And wine. It was one of those more than good enough days. 

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Another False Start

Things come back into being like the longing for old, and summarily interrupted friendships. Sheepishly. I wonder why I haven't been here for so long. Because even as I write, I realize the pleasure that flows into every word, and the little gleeful anticipation of these sets of rituals, this writing of self and world. I think I am now back, having cheated on this space with other glitzier ones. After having consumed all the possible pleasures of other kinds of displays of self that will no doubt continue in their own parallel universes, I think I find the need to be back.

I am writing a book. Or at least I think I am writing a book. It is an academic one, out of which I am attempting to squeeze out a narrative. After all, the impetus for the book emerged from narrative, and from the stories of call centre workers. Yet, there are other compulsions, other ways in which one seeks to be visible to people other than those that speak in the book. And these are ethical questions that I wrestle with. Wish us all luck.

On other fronts, being off Facebook is unsurprisingly cathartic. Someday when I have exhausted the number of projects that clutter my desk, I will think about Facebook, and its remarkable ability to render ugliness, beauty, and all wonder into two-dimensional status messages for consumption. And I am so guilty of it all. I consume myself, even as I consume others. In the month that I have held back from this aforementioned daily buffet, I find myself calmer, and more willing to be hesitant about the world. It's nice.

But yes. More here. More soon.

What other things can I tell you about that will possibly help us share some beauty, and some temporary kinship? Here are my top three:

-- I was incredibly lucky to attend the Kenyon Review Writers' Workshop last summer. To have a week to craft a piece a day is both laborious, and immensely luxurious. I knew this all along, that much like the annoyance that is math homework, one has to write everyday in order to get anywhere. But I forget. And remember at the moment of crisis. Just like the night before exams. This is my attempt to not forget. Some of these pieces that emerged from the workshop have been published in 3quarksdaily. Go have a look see. I write about the new yearanthropological sartorialistscall centre love, and an almost love, so go take your pick. And follow the website anyway.

-- The Chennai Photo Biennale has been on since February 26, and what a joy it is to have these bourgeois pleasures. And these moments of knowing the world haltingly. I was reading this rather long but rather nicely written article on the stupefactions of the permanently connected world, and contrasting it with my evening yesterday of walking slowly by pictures sans captions, stories untold, and petrified people and locales. Such a lovely break from constant presence and movement. If in the city, do check it out.

-- Cooking is part of this life again. A fog has lifted. For lunch today, I had a turmeric and lemon flavored couscous plate with roasted carrots and yellow zucchini, feta, almonds, and mint, with a tomato salad dressed with lemon and olive oil. For dinner, I had varan bhat. And let me not distract myself with the pleasures of this food not the Gods, but of the mortals. For this mellifluous combination of lentils, asafoetida, sugar, salt, and ghee which makes us grateful for this life.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ennui

Tentatively, sparingly, I move towards my second post of the year, willing it to be substantial, lest it turn out like Kejriwal's tenure. And I will write about the wrenching quality of the question, a question, many questions.

The year is not yielding any answers. Even list-making has lost its fervour. And nostalgia has been squeezed of all import. Writing is vapid.

We have ennui. And what is ennui but a temporary hiatus from the world? Too much stimuli, too many loves, too many hates.

I need a skill. I feel an invisible Anait pressing down my back. For those not in the know, Anait is the heroine of one of those old Armenian stories in Russian storybooks that we of pre-1991 India devoured. King Vachagan meets Anait when out in the countryside and is impressed with her intelligence. He wants to marry Anait but she will not have him unless he learns a skill. After all, how long will kingship last? Perhaps she of a feudal Russia was prescient. So Vachagan learns to weave carpets. And when in trouble, he sends word to Anait by weaving her a carpet that she recognises. He is rescued, and she vindicated. I, therefore need a skill. Rescue notwithstanding, I need to be apprenticed. Perhaps I will learn how to develop film. Or blow glass. Or weave baskets. And not talk so much.

Is it me, or skilfulness both disappearing from the world and rapidly being fetishised? This winter, on a visit to Jaipur, we watched a craftsman make a block printing woodcut in minutes. He ran a practices hand over chisel and wood and turned to us with a crooked smile and handed it over. In the next room, another craftsman dyed alternating portions of the cloth. When my father asked him if he enjoyed his work, he unequivocally declared its boredom. We are all bored. Of skill as much as lack thereof.

Only theory makes sense. And helps make sense. Of love, and loss, and desire, and impossibility.

Yesterday, I spent all day reading Girard and understanding triangular desire. The holy trinity of mediator,  subject, and object. Simply put, it means this. A likes C because B likes C. You see, A actually likes B and therefore must like all that B likes. But because in many cases, there is only one C in the world, A will eventually end up fighting with B over C. Or in Chandler's words, the messer becomes the messee. Actually, no, that doesn't apply. But you get the drift.

Also, yesterday, my friend and I tried indulging in intellectual activites at the haughtiest colonial establishment in town. We were summarily told, "No writing in the bar madam." Clearly, this city will not a Hemingway produce. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Portending Year

January the 13th is so much less filled with expectations than January the 1st. Or so one would like to think. My posts grow sparse, my thoughts concurrently numerous, and their continuity unending and threatening to never solidify. Even perfunctorily. So then I put off writing. I change sheets, I mess with tablecloths. I play house. Floors sparkle, glasses even more so. Pressure cookers whistle comfortingly as I tell myself to put food before writing, and pontification and waiting over clear ink. Or typeface. Facebook posts make up for the paucity of action. Indicating that wee bit of thought that convinces one that the life of writing is not yet on the wane. Terrible. I know. And yet not terrible enough.Happy sort of new Year y'all.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Five Reasons I Go on Walks

I will work late tonight. Today, in the day, as I stared at my to-do list, churning lists in my head, and going over endless futures too-quickly truncated by virtue of an attention deficit memory, all I wanted to do was go for a walk.

So come evening, I graded papers, wrote letters, and then, a-walking I went. 
I was accosted by Aravanis, striking looking transsexual women, who demanded money that I did not give. The one with the fieriest eyes stood her ground. She stared into my eyes, I into hers. She left. I sidled away.

I espied mannequins in saris with the pleats tightly in place over cold flesh, columns and columns of boxes made of aluminium foil, stacked on the sunmica and oil stained counters of CRP hotel, cane boxes by the dozen, electronic stores full of employees with eyes glued to the television, a discrete corner of a rundown building announcing "The Immaculate Centre for English Education", and a scary plastic rabbit with a wastepaper basket emerging from its distended stomach, looking out seemingly unseeing from the threshold of the Coronet hotel.


I saw a store called Eden selling its plants. Trouble in paradise much? I noticed a shiny Waterworks store that was the opposite of E.L.Doctorow's book about New York City in 1871. As hopeful as Doctorow is cynical, as flush with the marvel of modernity, as its eponymous book is sharply critical. 


And now I'm back, trying to make sense of this walk and other walks, because after all, nothing exists in real life unless written about now, does it?


In this quest for sense-making, I made a list. I like lists. This one is called "Five Reasons I go on Walks". 


(a) It is perhaps not incidental that I am also reading two books about walking. Teju Cole's brilliant, meandering, and yet very difficult to read book (also in New York City), "Open City" and Christoph Simon's "Zbinden's Progress". Both books are in the first person, narrated by walking protagonists. Cole's hero walks and narrates the city. Simon's Zbinden talks about walking. I must confess that as much as I would mildly recommend both, I will also confess to a caveat. The romance of walking, to me, is much more embedded in writing about walking than in the act of walking. Or in other words, one of my primary reasons to go on a walk (and really, no irony, pathos maybe, but no irony), is to write about walking.


For those attracted to said romanticism, I would highly recommend W.G.Sebald's "The Rings of Saturn". A year or so ago, in a very quiet cinema theatre in Madison, Wisconsin, I saw a movie inspired by this book. It takes viewers on a walking tour of Suffolk in the English countryside along the very same routes that Sebald's protagonist (himself perhaps?) takes. The movie was marginally haunting. But it took so much away from the inwardness of Sebald's walk. Suddenly the projection of his world was out there and it was so less promising than its description and its timbre in the author's head. Instead of his living, breathing view of the countryside, the movie replaced it with a ghost walking through a post-apocalyptic landscape. 


(b) On a slightly related, but perhaps completely unrelated note, am also re-reading David Foster Wallace's, I must relucantantly admit, rather lucidly brilliant commencement speech delivered at Kenyon in 2006. Read it for yourself. But here are a couple of spoilers. This is what he says about a liberal arts education.


"It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience."


And another; "...how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out."


"It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:


"This is water."


"This is water."


Sometimes I walk, just to drag myself into consciousness, into the present. Sometimes I walk to remind myself that my head hurts because I live in it far too long to do anyone any good. I walk to be aware.


(c)  One of Lydia Davis' stories reads thus:


Often I think that his idea of what we should do is wrong, and my idea is right. Yet I know that he has often been right before, when I was wrong. And so I let him make his wrong decision, telling myself, though I can’t believe it, that his wrong decision may actually be right. And then later it turns out, as it often has before, that his decision was the right one, after all. Or, rather, his decision was still wrong, but wrong for circumstances different from the circumstances as they actually were, while it was right for circumstances I clearly did not understand.


That's the end of the story. Yes. I know. 



A walk is like a short story. Like one of Lydia Davis' stories. It is inward and it is outward; it is that strange lucid world formed at the cusp of our seeing, feeling body and our rapidly firing sense-making synapses. It is our deepening present, it is our self-filled world, closer than ever before and yet strangely self-less.

(d) We live in times when points of view are being corralled into one camp, and one side. Danger abounds. Our histories are being compacted and our futures prepared. In such times of dense, thickening ignorance, I walk to remember difference. To see the city in all its manifestations, its variedly colored, aesthetically dissenting facades, and in its differential pasts and ongoing fighting presents imprinted all over its peeling faces. 






(d) At day's end, the fury of all my unfulfilled worlds presses down upon me. It is a strange, tense, weight. This world is strange; its sins accumulate. Things reach howling, searing pitch by end of day. How can they not?How after all can one manage days of of searing loss, of scouring desire, of bottomless and savage cruelty day after day? It all happens around us, and in the happening we erode. So every now and then, when it all feels too much and the external pressure far outweighs my internal resistance (and yes, I've drawn borders between myself and the world. Lacan was right.), I go for a walk.