Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On Every Street

This post is unique for two reasons: I don't usually write (or read, or twitch, or scratch, or doodle) whilst listening to music. It demands my full attention - if it's music of my own choosing, of course - and any less would be sacrilegious (which, while it oughtn't bother this a-religious [not irreligious; there's a world of difference] bum too much, well, does, because it's music, goddamnit). Today, I'm trying to write as On Every Street (the song, not the album) plays in the background. The second reason is that I'm giving myself only two listenings (10 minutes and 8 seconds) to get this done with. If I don't keep myself amused, who will?

What brought this post on, to get back to the point I never made in the first place, come to think of it (this is like the debate on whether the Rukhmabai case of 1884 was for a 'restitution' of conjugal rights or an 'institution' of them in the first place - hah - who says history doesn't move in mysterious ways?), is this - I think this song has one of the finest build-ups I've ever heard. It ranks way, way up there, alongside Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Take a Pebble, Part 1 of The Wall and possibly Brothers in Arms in terms of the way these numbers draw you in, and when you think you've got them sussed out, gobsmack you into tomorrow with a build-up that actually takes you/them to a plane you wouldn't have imagined possible. The dynamics of Knopfler's playing - and I say this having heard most everything DS has ever done, a lot of his solo stuff, and having seenheard him live - blow me away; in his hands, the guitar becomes more eloquent than, than - Martin Luther King, I tell you! His attack, his tone, the finger-picking style? Of course, the musicians he plays with - bloody brilliant each one -help some; the way they play 'together' is testament to their genius, sure, but also how keenly they feel each rise, swell, drop in the riff at hand, in the movement, in the music of their/his creation.

Ok. I cheated, but only by a minute. I'll end here and post this before I change my mind. More in another piece sometime? Of course, it'd have been smarter to pick the epic Shine On (13 minutes and counting) to exercise (exorcise, even?) this little idea. What can I say? Knopfler hath mee (in keeping with the Keatsian conceit) in thrall.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Jazz is gossip.

Jazz is gossip.

There. As always, I spent it on the title. I’m wondering if I should sully the obvious (insert self-congratulatory slap on the back here) truth of that line by giving it an entire post – surely it would work better as a stand-alone, tightly-condensed little aphoristic gem? (Yes – this is more of that obnoxious self-congratulatory behaviour on display, but cut me some slack – is it a gorgeous formulation or what? I’ve been so pleased with myself ever since I hit upon it, I can’t stop smiling. Widely. Rather stupidly – there. That’s your recompense.)

It came to me when I was driving home one night, listening (as I often do), to that seminal album Time-Out (1959), by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. It features the extraordinary Blue Rondo a la Turk, Kathy’s Waltz, the seminal (and therefore only song most people have heard by these splendid musicians) Take Five, Pick Up Sticks, Three to Get Ready, Strange Meadow Lark and this rather stunning little thing called Everybody’s Jumpin’. It’s this last that got me thinking, and in the fond hope that it might have the same effect on some others, I’m (ever so helpfully) attaching a link here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3aqw0RY384

It started out like this. As ever, I was humming the ‘home riff’ or point of departure (and by virtue of being aforementioned departure, also, importantly, point of re-entry into the song proper) when it dawned on me that I was in a curious space; an interstitial one pregnant with possibility, where it felt (in keeping with this metaphor) that something was being born. In my head, since I can only thinkreadwritedreamsee in text, I called it a phrase. Once established, by virtue of all the musicians consenting that this indeed *is* ‘home’, each one started venturing out by way of soloing; there began the game of Chinese Whispers. It became obvious that what informed the soloing was the acknowledgement – sometimes the merest hint of it sufficed – of this starting point, from where it cast further and further afield; the home phrase took on a cultural afterlife all its own, before, inevitably winding back to the source, but only to elaborately take it into another space.

Consider now, reader dearest, how the informal ‘web’ that underpins culture works. You hear something. In repeating it, you add/subtract/explicate/repudiate/play with it, to make for a ‘better story’ (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), and before you know it, it has become something else. Rumour or ‘hearsay’ is thus born. Circulate it – in a perambulator, if you must, for it is an infant yet – and you’re staring at the beginnings of that most monumental of all things – gossip.

Can classical music be equated thus? My head says no, my gut quite the opposite. Perhaps it is a more codified exit-point, but isn’t any form of improvisation essentially, structurally, a deviation from an established norm? To me, it is gossip yet, but perhaps the kind of thing you’d hear in the corridors of power – the Rajya Sabha, the Assembly. It hasn’t the playfulness, the levity, the vivaciousness of office gossip – the valued information exchanged over the coffee dispenser. The knowing look you give the boss you’ve just heard about, as you slide into place to dash off yet another infernal reportarticlelecture (insert output of labour of choice here). No. For that you want some jazz. Of course you do. Everybody’s jumpin’, after all.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Even Cowgirls Get The Blues*

I’ve heard tell that distance can induce psychosis of a sort.

That you can feel bipolarly giddy with excitement one moment;

Decidedly devastated the next.

This really is a tango for one not two;

like a complex arrangement rendered for solo guitar

The other stands no chance

For how do you 'hear'

when a word is merely seen?

Things do not always 'se repondent'; not always can you see

the collapsing of categories

long known,

long held

to correspond.

And this

in a love which speaks different tongues.

Sweet, languorous ecstasy.

Something meant,

Something heard.

Something pierced

Out of turn.

These are the perils of a love
faceless, nameless, sometimes woebegone.

* This title comes from the work of an author I love much, Tom Robbins. Anything else isn't his fault.

Friday, August 5, 2011

I told you so

I've been telling anyone who will listen that Ahmedabad is not a safe city for women; not by a long shot. Most don't believe me, putting down my 'rants' to paranoia or arguing that other cities are 'worse' - what sort of lame-ass logic is that? Unsafe is unsafe, whichever fucking way you look at it. Am I supposed to feel better because the odds of my being molested are higher somewhere else than here? That these odds exist at all is worrisome enough in my opinion. That's all there is to it as far as I'm concerned.

That there's been something sick - brought on, no doubt, by the repressive attitude "conservative" Gujarati society has towards sex and sexuality - rearing its ugly head in the male gaze that looks, judges and thinks it can possess any female form it finds not corresponding to the 'norm' (their definition/imposition, not mine) has been obvious for some time. I've been followed/chased/harassed variously when out with friends on two-wheelers and in my car. I've been groped (when I was 15, in broad daylight, in the middle of this motherfucking city), pinched and otherwise abused in most ways you can think of, but there's a difference between those days and these, and that difference is in the outrageous blatancy with which the Ahmedabadi/Gujarati male (lowest of the low, fucking cretinous vermin) now feels he can think/look/touch/do what he will with a sense that nears entitlement! He's always been a pervert, this bastard, but at least he looked suitably embarrassed if you caught him out while he was staring at your breasts - not so anymore.

The latest in a long, long line of incidents (which, as you might have guessed) has brought on this post is this: I am a musician. Our band gigs regularly at a lovely place in Gandhinagar - we've been playing there for 11 years - and it's surrounded by a bunch of schools (NID, NIFT, DA-IICT), which means we've always had a lovely audience. Now, a woman musician in this 'ere city is a rarity, so I'm used to having a lot of cameras shoved in my face, week after week, month after month, year after year, even when the other guys are soloing. Most times, I just gesture to the wielder to get the cam out of my face. Which he (90% of the time it's a 'he') grudgingly, but mostly, does. The other night however, I had a drunk motherfucker come and try sticking a camera up my dress! I was sitting on stage, playing, when I noticed this son of a bitch bend real low and try to shoot up my legs. Charming, nein? I swore at him on the mic, and Antoine came and pushed him out of the way, after which the guys in my band swooped in and pushed him clear out of the area, but the nerve of this man amazes me - *this* is that sense of entitlement I'm talking about.

This would have been unthinkable here a few years ago; in a public place, on stage, and I'm *still* not safe? The audience tried to kick the shit out of him, but my band-mates managed to push him out, hand him to security and save his ass from being whooped by all present. I heard someone even grabbed his phone and smashed it to pieces. I'd have loved to've punched his fucking lights out.

Whence this brazenness? Where are these slime-balls coming from and who in God's name gave them to believe they could get away with being such dipshits?

En bref, listen to me when I say that Ahmedabad is getting to be (and has been, for most of my life anyway) a nightmare for women.

This time, it really gives me no pleasure whatsoever to say 'I told you so'.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Isn't it a pity?


Isn't it a pity? Isn't it a shame?
Two years on, and we're back. Down on our knees. As emasculated, impotent and pointless as ever we were. So 'they' have had a go at Bombay again. There is more 'rage' among the masses this time. Channelised where, you ask rightly? Towards whom? Well, Chidambaram, in this instance it would appear. Of course, how he could have done anything differently or averted this tragedy we don't know. Neither do the masses agitating against him, but such is life.

As Chavan said, we're probably better equipped to "respond to" and therefore limit the extent of the carnage this time round, but we're clearly not in a position to ensure it doesn't transpire at all. Having said that, is anyone? Is any place truly secure? What sort of state infringement and machinery would it take to make that happen, and is such an accost (for it would most decidedly be one) to our person and space (read: additional security at airports, stations, cinema halls and how this will translate into more detailed searches, longer security checks etc.) going to be readily acceptable to us in the name of a nebulous 'greater good' which, while we may fuzzily aspire to it, isn't exactly or immediately experiential or palpable?

There are fewer casualties this time. AND, they didn't attack the Taj, that symbol of all things Bombay (I'll never forget the time this ridiculous woman reporter waxed eloquent about everything the hotel/building stood for in Bombay's scheme of things even as people were still being hacked to pieces inside it. She made me lose much more than just respect for television journalists; she made me despise their very fucking creed). I wonder how long it will be before they start talking about the Opera House. I also wonder whether they'll remember that people dying - even nondescript, everyday ones like you and I -is slightly more worrisome than the damaging of even the most iconic structure.

The Indian Mujahideen this time. The LeT the last. And still we don't, as a nation state, wake up to the factiousness being caused by our treatment of large swathes of our own population? I lost a lot of faith in the justice of our political/state machinery after we caused a civil war-like situation with our inept and completely fascist handling of the so-called Reds; the Maoists. There appears to be no room for the tribal, the other, the minority/ies in our monolithic conception of what comprises 'development'. This is costing us. Dearly.

Do not for a moment read this as an apology for violence - of any which kind - perpetrated either against the state or by it. Recognise the anguish that underlies it, informs and perpetuates it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sailing in full light

Have you ever
do you want to;
do you know you can sail in full light?

The moon is a fine thing
as image and metaphor goes,
but have you ever
do you want to;
did you know you could sail in
full light?

Now the water beckons;
no rock or albatross here:
The sea. The white. The siren
and you.
She says their song is a plea for help:
"Only you; only you can save me"

It works every time.

Now do you want to?
Now that you know you can?
Now that you know
you know you can sail
full light.

Monday, March 7, 2011


This is an exercise in...what, Harmony? Well, something. I'll see if I can conjure up a suitable answer ere this post ends. I've spent this day - all of it - in the Dreaming. Yes. THE Dreaming. Land of Morpheus, Oneiros, he whom I love madly. I've been awake - or so I think/believe/am given to understand - the whole time, but it certainly hasn't felt like anything I've known before.

Today, I have sleep-driven, sleep-walked, sleep-talked, sleep-eaten, sleep-dra/u/nk, sleep-messaged, sleep-chatted, and am now in the process of sleep-writing/typing (this last to satisfy the purist in me who likens writing only to pen {ink [black] of course} and paper).

Aside: on why it must be ink. Ink on my fingers reminds me of the physicality of the act of writing. It plays with me, and I with it. It is the war wound I wear - proudly - after having toiled to create. It reminds me also that I have a hand. And fingers that extend from it. It forces me to reckon with my own corporeality, and in so doing, reminds me that this hand can touch. Or feel, even. There is a sensuousness inherent to the materiality of pen and paper. A sensuousness that cannot be conjured; that I cannot muster, whilst tapping on this 'ere keyboard, and seeing letter follow letter as this sentence slowly, achingly, flashes into being on my monitor. There. See? It was almost poetry. Till I got to the word monitor. It hasn't the magic of paper. Of pen. Of ink. Of ink on my fingers.

As ever, with me, the entree turns into the main. Dommage? I think not. Ca coule, non?

And now I must leave you, cher lecteur, to see if I can sleep-sleep; the only thing I haven't tried yet.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Of forked tongues and other miscellanies

I like the title of this post. It is suitably obscure, but sounds like it ought to mean something pretty worthwhile if you take the time to 'stop, traveller', and unravel it. It probably doesn't, but you've got to admit it's pretty effective - you're reading this, aren't you?
And thus ends her first exercise at consciously "grabbing eyeballs" (aside - journalistic/marketing jargon is pretty bloody inane, quite apart from being ridiculously violent, non? {H gives herself a pat on the back at this point for being neither a journalist nor a market, well, er?} anywho,)

Today, she will speak to you of translation. Of tongues having been forked, of writers straddling cultures or falling between stools. Read Bhabha and Rushdie if you like these gorgeous (borrowed) metaphors.

It all started when my ridiculously intelligent friend and erstwhile office-mate Adrienne Shaw who has a Ph.D. in video-game narratives and can be read at http://goodonsalad.wordpress.com/ asked me if I could think of a Hindi equivalent for 'game' and 'gamers'. I could only come up with 'Khel' and 'Khiladi', but said that there was an inherent physicality associated with these terms, in that Khel-as-Play was more aligned to Sport than to the realm of fantasy, which is, as she explained, something of a key-stone in the gaming pantheon.

It got more interesting and political yet when I posed the same question to Antoine. I asked what the French terms for game/gaming/gamers were, since I couldn't think of any (What with having learnt French just to read Baudelaire and everything. I know. Sue me.). The best I could do was 'jeux' for game, but it carried to my mind the same connotations as Khel. His answer surprised me some. He says the French - a race so ridiculously pleased with their patrimoine, of which language I'm sure bears the heaviest burden - actually just refer to these concepts using their standard English terms. Sacre Bleu and other such exclamations. (Notice how I *don't* use an exclamation point there. It's in the little things, I tell you.) My first reaction was to think that this was because of the obvious fact of the sub-culture in question being one borrowed and 'imported' into their semiosphere, but here I was proved wrong. Instead of this being a recognition by one West that here was a construct/creation of another West, taken on in total, it turns out that the usage of the English forms was the proverbial middle finger being shoved in the face of the man, the machine, the academie. Mainly, because they try to expurgate (in a display of blatant anal-ness and much to the general hilarity of onlookers) their language of any "outside/uncouth" influences, evinced also in near-draconian legislations like the Toubon Law.

The use of one language, so, in the mouths of those accustomed to not speaking it (and this is not language-as-a-marker-of-mobility or 'upwardness', mind), becomes a weapon of subversion-assertion-signification. If you concede that your mouth/tongue (And this is beautiful, really: 'langue' doubles up as tongue and language in French, a fact I've been enamoured with {and how many 'facts' can you be enamoured with, I ask you?} since the day I learnt it) moves in different ways when you speak a different language, and assume the world-view that comes as the legacy of it, then you begin to realise the import of language on identity and its formationcreationappropriation.

Translation is a difficult proposition - the eye that sees, the ear that hears and the mouth that enunciates are involved in a process to render the unfamiliar unfamiliar yet, but not alien. Literal translations are a lost cause because they can't "say" what the original does in an altered world-view. Signifiers are lost because this isn't the semantic system they stem from. Oh, it's hard work. I have much respect for the anthropologist-translators (and all translators need necessarily be anthropologists) that I know. In homage, I give them (and you, lecteur), my little (very) labour of love. My first and only translation to date.


Nature is a temple whose living pillars

Sometimes transmit perplexing messages;

It is these forests of symbols man traverses,

And they observe him with a familiar gaze.

Like distant echoes which, travelling from afar, are confused

Into a several yet profound unity,

As vast as the night, but with day’s clarity,

Smells, colours and sounds correspond.

These are smells as fresh as the flesh of an infant;

Soft like an oboe, green like the prairie,

- While others, corrupt, rich and triumphant,

Possess of the infinite

As do amber, musk, benjamin and incense

- They sing of the transcending of soul and sense.

And for those of you who read French, here is the incomparable original. By the man who made me want to...

learn French (you're filthy animals for thinking it was going anywhere else)


- Charles Baudelaire

La nature est un temple ou de vivants piliers

Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;

L’homme y passe a travers des forets de symboles

Qui l’observent avec des regards familiers.

Comme des longs echos qui de loin se confondent

Dans une tenebreuse et profonde unite,

Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarte,

Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se repondent.

Il est des parfums frais comme des chairs d’enfants,

Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies,

- Et d’autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants,

Ayant l’expansion des choses infinies,

Comme l’ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l’encens,

Qui chantent les transports de l’esprit et des sens.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Where she laments


To put things into perspective, I have to preface this post by stating that I am not prone to displays of outrage brought on by any contact with visuality in its manifest forms. I don't cry out loud or rage against any machine when I watch the news (hah) or documentaries or films. There's been just one exception to this rule. I saw Parzania. Alone. Late one night. I shouted, screamed, pulled my hair near-out of my head and couldn't bear to finish the movie. This is because it rang too close to the truth; too close to home, for comfort. I lived through 2002, you know.

Today, upon hearing that Binayak Sen's bail petition has been denied, I was on http://kafila.org looking for Shiv Visvanathan's open letter to Manmohan Singh so that I could re-post it in a bid to stoke that all too pernicious thing we call public memory. I found, instead, this little animated film on his extra-legal arrest and a reconstruction of the events that led to it.
I now want to cry again.
I want to rave, rant and shout out loud that what is being done to Binayak Sen is a travesty.
But I'm not stupid. I know it will do no good. I've been emasculated-castrated, and I don't even have balls, me, except metaphorical ones. How on earth did it come to this?

I'm too shaken up to write anything cogent or witty or even half-way articulate. It's all I can do to finish this post here and go simmer in the dissent that is my only consolation as a member of a civil society which is not civil (or civilised, even) proof of which comes from its mournful silence and apathy in the face of this - and every other - siege on the democratic right to a life of dignity.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Fevered musings of a Saturday afternoon; or the G(u)ilt of Gilt; or Her on her Best Religious Behaviour

Any Saturday - all Saturdays, even - are splendid. This is a priori, and not for us mere mortals to question. The one I'm thinking about in particular was no different, except that instead of seeing me at home, in bed for most of the day before I go sing for my supper all evening, this one saw me in Koh Samui, sitting in the shade of a giant Buddha, surrounded by a sea so green, it made my heart ache with longing. Thinking. Writing. Playing.

Here are a few scribblings, in no particular order.

We take turns
you and I
playing at the air
to each other's sea.

The religious is the secular here; the everyday.
Consider this Big Buddha:
I consumed and meditated at his feet.
Of the two states of being,
I have a little white dress to show for the former.

Lists of a Saturday afternoon

Worship comes in many shapes:
ringing, singing, throwing, clicking
with a smile
a laugh
a grimace
fervent ardour

What do gold, pink, yellow, blue, orange, red and maroon have in common?
Colours apart, the tones build, come together to create the aspect of the Buddha.
All religions need bells, colour; sound and light
to bedazzle - dare I say it - bewitch.
As religions go, this is a happy one -
Throw things at the deity, and he won't smite you with a bolt of lightning.
At least not immediately.

Isn't that saying a lot?
Theirs is not an angry God; not one born of the desert.
His are aqueous transmissions.

It seems fitting
to write
on yellow here.
Gilt~G(u)ilt~Y as charged, m'lord.

Of Sound

Some ring but half-heartedly.
Is it better than not ringing at all?
All the ostentation serves to evoke is its lack:
If every binary only works in conjunction,
This opulence evokes starkness, non-being, non-time.

After all, faith,
that most deadly of all things,
is g(u)ilt-laden.

Is it wrong to catch someone's eye in a temple?
What does it mean to be asked to "dress respectfully" whilst the heroes of yore
ride their murals and tigers topless?
What is the connection between my legs - bare - and how I feel about the Buddha?
If it is so as to not distract the monks,
Why, let them look the other way, I say.

As always

As always,
It is in the aspect of the fingers:
They point~arch above and away.

Palms close differently, hands join differently

Thailand is big on its hands:
This avatar's perspective is broken by his outsized one -
It is held straight, forward, palm-first, up and out,
bidding you 'stop', traveller
bidding you peace
These statues are modern-day P(eace)-olicemen.

An observation

Does one approach him wide-eyed, hair amiss, dress askew?
Or does he like his devotees well-coiffed and contoured?

By all means, comb your hair
In the shade of the Buddha
Pose for your picture
Against the sea;
Why, it's sunny today, and the islands look stunning.

Comb your hair
in the shade of this giant Buddha.
Just don't say you did it for him.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In Praise of the Step-mother

I've loved Llosa for as long as I can remember. Two people I love more, however, are this bizarre mother-daughter jodi who go by the 'tags' Hazel and Dio (rock enthusiasts will be pleased to know that Dio is, indeed, named after Ronnie James Dio, before we realised that DioN might have been more appropriate {although infinitely less rock 'n' roll} given that SHE was a, well, not to put too fine a point on it, a SHE.)

Someone threw Dio away. They put her into a plastic bag when she was barely a couple of days old, and threw her into a waste-bin. The person cleaning it out found her, bawling, I'll wager, and called Dhun and Hazel, knowing that if anyone in this city so sickeningly apathetic could help, it was these guys. And that person was right. They took Dio in. They nursed her to health - slowly, painstakingly - waking up on the hour, every hour, to feed her when she couldn't feed herself. It was hard work, but Dio turned Hazel into a veritable mother-figure. THE mother-figure.

Complications abounded. Dio cannot really see or hear - she has only about 10% vision and hearing - but she's a little fighter. She's hung in there, and many many scratches, bruises and bites later, so has my Hazel!

This, therefore, is a little tribute; my little tribute, in praise of this step-mother. Would that all mothers were as devoted, unflinchingly caring and full of gumption as you :)

PS. Did I mention that Dio was a cat? Would this story have bothered you less if you'd known that from the start? Shocking. Like I said, we live in apathetic times.