Sunday, September 05, 2004

vogon poetry and the art of bicycling as video games...

The prelude is always vogon poetry - a tribute to Sikander

Vogon Poetry is poetry written by Vogons, a fictional race in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Vogon poetry is of course, the third worst in the universe. The second worst is that of the Asgoths of Crea. During a recitation by their poetmaster Grunthos the Flatulent of his poem "Ode to a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found in my Armpit One Midsummer Morning" four of his audience died of internal haemorrhaging and the president of the mid-galactic Arts Knobbling Council survived only by gnawing one of his own legs off. Grunthos was reported to have been "disappointed" by the poem's reception, and was about to embark on a reading of his 12-book epic entitled "My Favourite Bathtime Gurgles" when his own major intestine, in a desperate attempt to save humanity, leapt straight up through his neck and throttled his brain. The very worst poetry of all perished along with its creator, Paul Neil Milne Johnstone of Redbridge, in the destruction of the planet Earth. Vogon poetry is mild by comparison.

Listening to it is a similar experience to torture as seen when Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect are forced to listen to the Vogon captain's poetry prior to being thrown out of an airlock.

Oh freddled gruntbuggly thy micturations are to me
As plurdled gabbleblotchits on a lurgid bee.
Groop I implore thee my foonting turlingdromes.
And hooptiously drangle me with crinkly bindlewurdles,
Or I will rend thee in the gobberwarts with my blurglecruncheon,
see if I don't!
- Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz

Knock softly on a door
And turn away
When you're glad that he voices inside
Can't hear you
and your arrythmic interior monologue
played by a percussion orchestra on drugs.

'Be still my beating heart' meets
'Destiny knocking on the door', con brio
And you're glad that it's not just Beethoven
Who could filter out the flotsam cacophony of the exterior world.
But so can the lovers inside
Friends you suddenly don't want to meet.

The heart a sudden vaccum that nature abhors
As you jettsion a history of (be)longing
While descending
the steps.
The atmosphere a sudden crushing weight.
You equalize the pressure
By pumping air into the tires
Of a bicycle
dusty and deflated with neglect.
Your sweat drips.

Monday evening, I cycled through the streets of Zakir Nagar, as dusk gradually deepened.
Ashoka Park is a green border, beyond which the relative regulation of the DDA, and of rich men fencing off their Punjabi baroque castles in New Friends Colony, ends. And begins the chockful teeming maze of streets of Zakir Nagar.

Zakir Nagar might look like a faintly timeless urban place, with its haphazard firetrap architecture, its winding lanes, its reckless rickshaws and endless pedestrians might look like everyone's image of usual Indian chaos... but Zakir Nagar is not timeless.
in fact, most of Zakir Nagar is about ten-twelve years old, a late-ish modern, largely Muslim almost-ghetto, built largely, as it were, on the ruins of the Babri Masjid.

(Those who live in Zakir Nagar, pardon the hyperbole.)

So no, it's not historical. And no, it's not chaos either. Cycling through the crowd at a pretty good clip, dodging, wheeling, braking, steering, following, overtaking - and still having the time to smile as the children who scurry six inches past your front wheel run to dangle from the back of a passing rickshaw, I realise how compeltely i'm liberated here from the logic of flyovers and six straight lanes - urban planning that expects you to zip past every place expect where you have to go, so that the city remains pretty scenery that whizzes past the window, and nothing more.

Zakir Nagar probably gives a shit... i don't think the residents here are particularly happy about being almost totally ignored by Delhis' flyover/grid pattern/green area development schemes. Its not the sort of place where you can call 'South Delhi' type friends, though that's what Zakir Nagar comes under. But I am almost delirously happy as I cycle through, constantly alert and exhilirated - decolonisation of the mind happening on the bicycle. I grew up in wide-streeted suburban Lucknow, with a distatste for winding lanes, and could not stand the crowds of the Old City. The ideal town of my imagination was somewhere in North India yes, but a North India which was architecturally a clone of the American Mid-West.

.. and you realise that as soon as you are in the scenen totally, ....... it's like cycling through zakir nagar ia an acade video game, only real. and when you play/ride it like that - it's one hell of an experience. you're in it, literally and metaphorically - totally, man...

.... all of this was written back in the beginning of July, saved as draft, and never got back to...

I was about to write about how Zakir Nagar, and bicycling as a video game, is liberating, and takes you away from the 'geometries of power' that operate in planned Delhi, surveillance Delhi....

Zakir Nagr is on the banks of the river, so as evening faded away... i was on the grassy banks of the river, in the light/time that is called 'godhuli' in Hindi (the dust of cows coming home) as bufalloes were reluctantly herded out of the the river, as small children yelled 'sister fucker' to each other in distant curlew calls, as the traffic passed swiftly over the toll bridge in long shining candles reflecting on the river... I thought of many things.

I thought of the ox-herding pictures in zen buddhism, and the quiet sadness at the threshold of wisdom i was experiencing as i sat on the grassy banks of the dark, oily river was very, for lack of a better word, Zen.

I thought of Ravi Agarwal, environmentalist and photographer, and his desire to work on the Yamuna...

When Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed the hungry crowds, it was magic for them. They were farmers, fishermen, attuned out the rhythms of ecology and production, and a food surplus appearing out of seemingly nowhere would have been an act of awe and wonder. Today, for all our connection/awareness of the realities of production, Jesus could just open a supermarket and no one would blink.

But what of the fish? The fish still live, in polluted rivers, in fouled ponds. The environment, for a fish, is not a dim, distant concept, but a lived, struggling, reality. In legend the Yamuna is the sister of Yama, the god of death. The pollution of the river might make that seem an apt naming. But there are still fish in the river, part of an ecology, constantly struggling, evolving. And we are connected to this life through our acts of consumption. Not just through supermarket shelves, but from the fresh catches of fishermen displayed on the roadside. The moment of consumption is the paradoxical, tenuous moment of ecological connect...

Then the light faded completely, and I left.

On the way home, I got a bug in my eye...

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