Tuesday, March 29, 2005


Wherever Sara Suleri writes Urdu, substitute Hindustani (rather than 'Hindi')… and she could be writing about all of us who claim Hindi as our mother tongue, but think/dream/write in English…

Speaking two languages may seem a relative affluence, but more often it entails the problems of maintaining a second establishment even though your body can be in only one place at a time. When I return to Urdu I feel shocked at my own neglect of a place so intimate to me: like relearning the proportions of a once familiar room, it takes me by surprise to recollect that I need not feel grief, I can eat grief; that I need not bury my mother but instead can offer her into the earth, for I am in Urdu now…

Sunday, March 27, 2005

meatless days

<>just finished reading sara suleri's meatless days.
and now all those little domesticities like
falling asleep on the living room divan and being led to bed
are suffused with aching poetry

a friend lent it to me in lahore.
reluctantly. her favourite book.
i managed to convince her by speaking
in song lyrics
The world is small
All the paths are known

I will meet you sometime
I will meet you somewhere

And ask you how you are...


chinatown, kuala lumpur

a very contented goan cat, in fontianhas, panjim

santa monica sunset... that's in goa!

Jangpura skyline

Se Cathedral in the bottom right corner...


Saturday, March 26, 2005

a letter to RD

Dear Rana,

<> This is a long delayed reaction to reading ‘Tokyo Cancelled’. Which I read while writing the Quixote-Nasruddin paper attached. <>

I remember being profoundly startled by recognition when reading the fifth story, the story of Robert De Niro’s secret son and Isabella Rosselini’s secret daughter, and the store on Madison Avenue. For the core of the story was a Kannada(?)folktale that AK Ramanujan had beautifully rendered into English prose – the story of the Flower(ing) Girl. The story of the flower girl being reincarnated into the world of Taxi Driver, land Mafias and the rapid growth and change of a modern hyper city…

It had powerful affect. As did a lot else of the book, with its foundlings and changelings and mythic elements; folktales for the twenty first century and its urban experience. What is really telling is that these ‘folktales’, as I would like to call them, come out of what is considered to be the forte of the novel form, an evocation of particularity, of time and place. What you do that really rocks is to make these folktales, with their mythic, ‘universal’ affect; out of very particular times and places and scenarios.

In the Quixote paper, what I was trying to do could be seen as similar – what I suggest, is perhaps in many ways ‘subversive’ to that most canonical of novels; because it indicates an origin in folklore to the character of Don Quixote, and to many ways of thinking challenges the ‘authorship’ of Cervantes

I think, Tokyo Cancelled is important because though your name is in big bold type on top of the cover, the book does challenge notions of the ‘author’. (Though I know I am sounding a bit like Mr. Liang on this one!) And also it indicates the possibility, in our times, and perhaps , the need - to narrate the stories of cities, and those who dwell in them, differently…

I found myself writing a novel once, set in Delhi 2007, when the Iraq war broke out. I could no longer see the point of writing about the future when it was already happening on the TV screen. I could not bring myself to write anymore. I gave up on fiction as a form of any relevance to the world we live in. But your book makes me reconsider. For fiction has its transformative and redemptive and magical powers; all of which are needed in this time we live in. Maybe it’s just the novel, as a form, which isn’t adequate anymore…

Hoping to continue this conversation,



Friday, March 25, 2005

slow motion 3

one of these days, i walked down a street,
suddenly transformed into a golden glowing
beautiful other world by the sun setting perpendicular
a great orange sphere splashing gold through the trees

and these days, on a perpendicular street
the balloons rain down as i walk past
five in fifty meters bursting all around
until the kids run out in my refugee lane

the festival of colours is upon us
and i see those balloons in slow motion
spinning through the near leafless trees
translucent, filled with light till
they sink into the ground and
burst into spreading darkness

sunsets are beautiful because they are analogous to balloons.

especially if they catch you by surprise

...happy holi

Thursday, March 24, 2005


yesterday in the afternoon
an amaltas flamed bright yellow
against the faded walls of the red fort

if a fire in the heat of the afternoon
could only burn away the centuries

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

lah-zee blogging

The excuse to post this was that part of the reason for my long blog silence was the junket to Malaysia... So here is a sneak preview of what I wrote, soon to appear in the April issue of Outlook Traveller...

… burn, burn , burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…

Not just yellow, but the whole vibgyor spectrum, not just spiders, but sea urchins, jellyfish and whole galaxies, spiraling, blazing down their welcome arms to earth – as visiting Indians are inspired to write the purplest of prose, and the crowd oohs and aahs at each mindbending explosion of light. The spectacular fireworks come towards the end of a spectacular evening. The celebration of the Chinese New Year Open House at Seremban, Negeri Sembilan. To where a Sikh guide has led us, in a ceremonial field in the heart of town, next to a Hindu temple that would seem right at home in Tamil Nadu. The evening is a carnival fair, a mela with a few high tech rock-concert screens thrown in. People come out for the big night dressed as informally as only Malaysians can. (Formal wear often means colorful Batik shirts that would make Mandela blush.) People laugh, talk, eat and drink and watch the show. It is crowded but no one pushes and shoves. Chinese girls have tikas on their foreheads, probably from the nearby temple. The opening act is the a heady percussion mix that Trilok Gurtu would have been proud of; Chinese, Malay and Indian drums melding different rhythms into a harmony. As the evening progresses, a lion dance is followed by a rendition of Asha Bhonsle’s ‘Yeh samaa, samaa hai yeh pyaar ka’ with Malay and Chinese boys and girls doing the tango in the background, dressed in bolero costumes…

The ‘Open House’ is a recent initiative of the Malaysian government, to celebrate the diversity of the country; and its many different ethnic groups. Every year, one province is selected to host the festival of one community. So last year, Penang hosted the Diwali Open House. This year, Seremban hosted the Chinese New Year. The Open House is a concept that that is meant to operate at an individual level too, with families opening their houses and their festivals to their friends and neighbours…

Malaysia is a historical land, but a very new country. Bahasa Malaysia was born out of local languages interacting with Arabic, Sanskrit and Chinese as they came in with the Indian Ocean trade a long time before Europeans sailed to this part of the world. But the modern Malaysian nation was born out of the melting pot created, perhaps unintentionally, by the politics and trade of the nineteenth century British empire; the coming of Chinese traders and Indian plantation workers. In Malaysia today, Malays make up a simple majority of the population at just over fifty percent of the population, an dominate the government and administration. The Chinese are about thirty percent of the population, and dominate business and trade. Indians, largely Tamil, make up ten percent of the population, and dominate the plantation business. To create a modern nation out of such disparate elements could not have happened without strife and tension, but that is remarkably absent from what the visitor sees. The visitor sees a society gloriously, obviously multicultural and tolerant. A society where mixed marriages are common enough for their offspring to have specific labels. Mixed Malay-Chinese children are ‘Nyonya’ (female) and ‘Baba’. Malay-Indians are ‘Chettiars.’ And Indians and Chinese are ‘Chindians’. One of Malaysia’s most famous designers, Bernard Chandran, is a Chindian....

Monday, March 21, 2005

dog-sitting in dogville, dogeatdog

spent the weekend house-sitting and dog-sitting for a friend in the far wilds of eastern Noida, (New Okhla Industrial Development Area, Gautam Budh Nagar, Uttar Pradesh, part of the National Capital Region) a strange territory of very empty roads, obnoxiously large and ugly fortified villas with football field size gardens, and on the vacant plots adjacent, the flimsy hovels of those who are here, temporarily, to build these ugly mansions. That, plus the construction dust flying along the empty, wide, very straight roads gives it a very, very 'Western' feeling... like all frontiers where someone stakes claim to the land and a lot of people can't, where the new is built, but something older is disposessed, where some people have God on their side, and other are stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea....

I vent purple, but then Noida does that to you... it is weird. Noddy International Public School with Richie Rich drawn on its walls next to children of construction workers playing in the dust, with very little hope of an education, .... fucking unfairly surreal.

But dogs are weirder.
Blackie, the dog we were going to, well, sit - spent half of our first day there sulking under the bed, being surly and uncommunicative, despite all attempts at communication. That is, till i sat in Salil's wheelchair and wheeled around a bit, at which Blackie immediately scooted out from under the bed and became my best friend...
Or like the shaggy streetdog in our Jangpura street, who never recognises me as I walk past, but is always running to greet us when we get home in the car...

Maybe they're on to something...

Friday, March 18, 2005

woo hoo!

i know i should be sober and controlled about this, but what the hell-

my film (it's also, equally, Akshay and Sakina's film - but that just doesn't have the same greedy, selfish ring to it, nu?)
so yeah, MY film on the forgotten twntieth century histories of the Purana Qila has now officially become part of the Delhi University History syllabus.
(So what if it's just for the subsys...)
Now all you DU fachchas will have to watch the film to passs your history subsies...

I just can't get over this!

Saala main to sahab ban gaya...

So for those of you who want to have a good start to the next academic year
Please order your copies of -
'The Past is a Foreign Country'
a film by Akshay Singh, Anand Vivek Taneja, Sakina Ali
31 minutes, DV cam.

Hee! Hee! Hee!

(Incidentally, this is just a hoax. Have you ever heard of anyone reading a book , forget watching a movie, to pass your subsies? I didn't... so don't get all worked up...)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

spanish fatwa

read about this on sepoy's blog - the spanish fatwa against osama bin laden...

... And though fatwas will perhaps forever be associated with the virtual death warrant passed on Salman Rushdie and the implacable ayatollahs of Iran, a refreshingly different fatwa got passed recently. On 11th March, 2005, exactly a year after the horrific train blasts that rocked Spain, Spanish cleric, Mansur Escudero, issued a fatwa that declares Osama bin Laden outside of Islam, based on his killing of innocent civilians on 11 March, 2004. The fatwa maybe ineffectual, but it is not insignificant. For Spain, in the year since the bombings, has proven to be quite a remarkable place. There has been virtually no violence directed against Spain’s largely immigrant Muslim community. Instead there has been a renewal of interest in the country’s own Islamic past and the Spanish government has promoted the teaching of Arabic and Islam. The Spanish King, Juan Carlos, has addressed the Moroccan Parliament – most of Spain’s Muslims are immigrants from Morocco, across the straits of Gibraltar. This is particularly poignant, for the expulsion of the Muslims from Spain in 1492, and the horrors of the Inqusition that followed, are among the darkest chapters of Eurpoean history. Many of those expelled from Spain after 1492 found refuge in Morroco…

All of which seems particularly poignant to me after reading up he history of the Spansih diaspora for the Don Quixote paper. Like being in a historical hall of mirrors, reflecting infinitely...

Seamus Heaney always seems so appropriate for times/events like these -

So hope for a great sea change
On the far side of revenge
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells...

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

slow motion, continued

the fan blades languid, moving air overhead at minimum speed, as if in homage to noir.
not summer yet, but getting there.

a bird flies in through the open door.
a pigeon, its beautiful, powerful wings beating incredibly slow... i count five beats from door to fan.

i am being shot on a bolex at seventy two frames a second, i want to scream out a warning, but there is no time and it's silent anyway, everything is incredibly slow and vivid but is over in a flash, relativity is doing its stuff with zeal...

there is contact between pigeon and fan blades, but not fatal.
since s/he was planning to perch, it was the tail feathers that got the chop.
the rest of her flew out of the door again in one piece,
as a slow confetti of feathers drifted onto the bed.

the piegeons are used to perching on the fan all winter,
disurbing my writing with their clanking claws and love talk
whenever i happen to be at home.

maybe they're attuned to the rhythms of ceiling fan usage like they're attuned to the seasons.
maybe the fans switched on far too early...
maybe,as the globe keeps warming, there will be more kamikaze pigeons
and feathers will drift down onto unmade beds
in the poetry of unnamed deaths...

return - spring.

no blogging for a long time.
but it is season for return.

it is spring, but time has slowed down.
it is spring, and time has slowed.

now all things appear in slow motion. burdened by cycles, by 'eternal return'.
muss es sein?
es muss sein.
each visual, each vision, needing a footnote.
life a bit like watching 'wings of desire'.

it is spring, and the leaves fall thick.
the leaves a thick pile every day.
on which the street dogs lie curled up every morning, against the vestigial chill of winter.
it is spring, and the new leaves burst forth on the never quite bare branches.
yellow and green existing together, the simultaneity of decay and regeneration, the poet's words/image given a poignancy that he could not possibly have seen, in climes he nver visited -
nature's first green is gold...

it is spring and time has slowed down. it holds still.
if leaf-fall and leaf renewal, yellow and green, autumn and spring
exist together...
so different from the fall and the long bare winters of lands to the north and the west...

for those who have the luxury of staring at trees
might it not make all the difference
between believing in reincarnation,
and beliveing in a long, quiet buriedness
a long bareness and absence of life
and a sudden rising up on the day of judgement?
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