Saturday, February 12, 2005

perfect day, gone wrong...

there's a whimsical poem by robert frost that captures what yesterday was like. a day that came so close to perfection, as far as the weather and the light were concerned, that it excused the three hundred days of not quite upto the mark days that delhi has in a year...

happiness makes up in height what it lacks in length

Oh, stormy stormy world,
The days you were not swirled
Around with mist and cloud,
Or wrapped as in a shroud,
And the sun’s brilliant ball
Was not in part or all
Obscured from mortal view ––
Were days so very few
I can but wonder whence
I get the lasting sense
Of so much warmth and light.
If my mistrust is right
It may be altogether
From one day’s perfect weather,
When starting clear at dawn,
The day swept clearly on
To finish clear at eve.
I verily believe
My fair impression may
Be all from that one day
Not shadow crossed but ours
As though its blazing flowers
We went from house to wood
For change of solitude.

one day's perfect weather... spring in delhi at its glorious blossoming best, with cool winds, warm sun and rainwashed shining skies.
already sorrow to remember it, and know it past.

on my cycle in the morning, for one of the best interviews i've ever had.
back to a home filled with love and laughter.
in the evening, after work, walking through the shade and sunlight of the forested ridge, and to stand still and watch monkeys at play.
strung between trees, a thick black cable, carrying electricity or data across the hill and forest.
monkeys, all sizes, from the featherweight wizened faced babies, to the poderously heavy red balled alpha males, all trying to figure out this new slippery medium of arboreal horizontal mobility, as contrasted to climbing up trees...

different grips are tried, different weights are tested... some with worried deliberation, mostly with gay abandon. what happens when two monkeys come face to face on a cable suspension bridge? a monkey traffic jam? no, one monkey hangs upisde down while the other crosses over... no problem. are you reading this automobile manufacturers and delhi traffic police?

(for more details on monkeys on the ridge, read ranjit lal's delightful 'the life and times of altu faltu'...)

golden light and long shadows and the chirping of birds in the manicured lawns and massed flowers of the Universities various gardens...
a long conversation with gogo about madness, reality, the real world and the world of spin, post-modernity and ethics... and all without booze...
a sunset of blue sky and pink flaming horizon, and the thinnest sliver of new moon.. al-hilal. the red fort slipping by, seen through the bus window, silhouetted against the deep blue of twillight...

with the sun setting, the perfection of the day went away too. it was too good to last. all it needs is half an hour, happenstance and unforgiven grievances.
the world can change in half an hour...

and only sting could have written a hip hop song with french rap thrown in about a dog whose master/mistress acquires another 'un...

perfect love, gone wrong indeed...

Tuesday, February 08, 2005


was there one image that could capture the sting concert, held in the far north west of delhi two nights ago?


as sting sang 'englishman in new york' on stage, his magnified face projected on screen for those too far back and the strobe pyrotechnics of the lightshow dazzled the night, and the silent metro train went gliding behind, ever ten minutes or so.

one photograph could have captured it all. the global music superstar, in a world class show (with world class prices), with a world class metro rail behind it all.
delhi, captured in that photograph, is suddenly a 'global' city.

which feels very good, especially if you, like me swear by public transport, and have grown into adulthood listening to the man, and swearing by his music. delhi is now a global city, and even the Delhi Police seems to realise that, and didn't harass people too much at the show.

which all is very heady, and very disconcerting, becuase the slightly frumpy, down at heel city you have come to love has suddenly become a high society page three type - and you're not quite sure you like what's happened, and is happening.

what were the costs, what were the histories, what were the social forces behind that photograph of global delhi that i just described? the history of dispossessions, of the reshaping of the city....

yes, the concert was brilliant... two of the first three songs were direct references to the tsunami...
'message in a bottle', and 'all this time', about a burial at sea...

teachers told us
the romans built this place
they built the walls and the temples of an edge of the empire garisson town
they lived and they died
they prayed to their gods
but the stone gods did not make a sound
and their empire crumbled
until all that was left were the stones the workmen found...

oh yes,
i'm an alien
i'am a legal alien
i'm a stinglishman in new delhi...

Saturday, February 05, 2005

lost in, well, la mancha...

if there were readers of this blog missing my absence, my apologies.
i was 'lost in la mancha' writing and presenting a paper at a cervantes conference in delhi called
'lost in la mancha: terry gilliam, Holy fools, pirates and the Mullah'

meanwhile, visits to the blog remained unprecedentedly high via people looking for 'chudai'.
i am so thankful i used that word once in my blog six months ago...
to make a political point!

welcome back, non-chudai readers...

am attaching a short and wicked snippet from the paper, because ther whole 6,000 word lenght of it would be obnoxiously large to paste on the blog... political cervantes!!!

Does this ethical stand, this standing with the sons of Cain, redeem Don Quixote as a figure of hope, and not just an ‘annoying ethnocentric fool, a menace to society who acts out of his infatuation with … laughably antiquated aristocratic ideology…’, as EC Graf paints him? If not, then how is the figure of Don Quixote different from George W. Bush, who went to fight a war in Iraq because of WMDs which no one else could see? Speaking in terms of cultural archetypes, if a village somewhere in Texas is missing an idiot, then Houston, we have a problem. The figure of the Fool, in various cultures a trope of resistance to Power, has now become the very embodiment of Power. We need then, to retain the figure of Don Quixote as a profoundly ethical and even noble figure, as a Holy Fool, whether or not Cervantes intended him to be one. In speculations later on in the paper, I hope to indicate that Cervantes did perhaps intend something like this.

soon to come, a report on the sting concert tonight... for which i have just paid almost ten percent of my monthly income!
...and some thoughts on rana dasgupta's tokyo cancelled, and the importance of folklore for the twenty first century...

but meanwhile

After five years of living in this anarchic polyglot place, with the memory of an older Spain haunting its streets and its cafes, and interacting with Renegades who had turned their back on the New Spain, what might Inquisitorial Spain have felt like to newly returned Cervantes? What might he have thought of its grand chivalric history, as that history played out in the New World as a history of cruelty and terror? And in Spain, as a history of burnings – of books, of heretics, of renegadoes. We do not know what Cervantes thought. Just that he tried to make a living as a novelist and a playwright, and when that didn’t quite work out, he took up a job as a tax collector, and landed up in jail for a time because of an inconsistency in his accounting. The jail in which Don Quixote is supposed to have been conceived.

Sitting in his prison cell, perhaps bitter about the Spain he had chosen to come back to, might he not have remembered his time in Algiers, and a the famous story of Mulla Nasruddin riding his donkey backwards?

One day Nasruddin was riding his donkey facing towards the back. Nasruddin, the people said, you are sitting on your donkey backwards! No, he replied. It's not that I am sitting on the donkey backwards, I'm just interested in where I have been coming from more than where I am going.

An image that reminds us of Benjamin’s ‘Angel of History.’ ‘is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned towards the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling up wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; this storm irresistibly propels him into future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skywards. This storm is what we call progress.’

Did Cervantes sitting in his prison cell, thinking of the ‘progress’ Spain had made in the last one century think that perhaps the only way one could truly represent the history of this progress was to ride the donkey backwards, to have a character who like Nasruddin, would see the world turned upside down. A character who by provoking laughter at himself, as he and his trusty companion blundered through Spain, drew attention to the ridiculousness of this world turned upside down. Perhaps Cervantes’s complex fiction, that the novel is actually the work of an Arabic historian, Cide Hamet Benengeli, and that he is merely the ‘stepfather’ retelling a tale already told, alludes to this.

Perhaps not.

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