Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Don’t be Jack :: OR :: In defence of densely packed corks – vs – cheap tin foil caps

At the cost of sounding like a thorough phlegm-head [which, Irony will have you know is what I am a poster-girl for these sinus-swollen days] there are some very serious goings-on in the vast otherness that I exist amid – my home, the universe, the world, my country, my neighbourhood, Blogspot – weddings in the offing, State elections, nuclear deals, dwarfing stars, and daily updates [not necessarily in this order].

But I [as differentiated from them] like the delicately balanced simile this is, have been busy having my head soaked [and indeed bloated] in a deep deluge of insatiable ignorance. There is so much not to know, and I certainly haven’t reached the end of it.

While I’ve been busy, it seems much has happened.

So it should come as no surprise that of late I’ve been reproached for my 'abysmal levels of awareness and involvement in present goings-on’. That I say it should come as no surprise dear reader, must not be construed as a telling sign of my diffidence or the hint of an apology, instead it is an affirmation of what I have firmly believed all along – that keeping abreast of current goings-on makes Jack a weary, cynical and undeniably nosey boy. Everybody else’s business becomes the natural preoccupation of Jack’s curious mind, which soon finds itself so filled with irrelevancies that Jack rapidly transforms [in visage and thought] into a sour old incontinent bag of opinions.

Let me tell you how.

I’ve always maintained that a head filled with ignorance is like a good wine. Keep it as far away from the winds of change as a bottle in a dungeon rack, and the cork so tightly packed and soaked that centuries may pass but the wine remains true to its essence; full of delicious rot and sweet intoxication. This is pretty much how I’ve preserved my sanity, dear reader. Pickled it in the narrow and exclusive reserves of abstinence – from general knowledge and common sense – firm and unshakeable in foundation, bound by an impenetrable sheath of arrogant disdain, floating aloft seas of miscellaneous flotsam and jetsam that the tide brings in each day [which has such a tiresome, common, almost vulgar ring to it – ceaseless and bound by routine, like the motions of a very sprightly, eager set of bowels.]

As you’ve gathered no doubt clever reader, the defences of my head are more easily comparable to the well-packed, densely grained cork of an exotic wine that to retain its clarity, purity and distinctness of bouquet, must be shoved down [or up] the narrow neck of persistent non-involvement.

But consider this: what if the wine were protected by nothing more than a cheap tin foil cap which constantly echoed in sharp metallic tips and taps the clattering goings-on of the world? And what if one of these clatters were to puncture the tin?

Then, my friend, the wine would become infused with the poisonous air of awareness and shortly, one would have vinegar for a brain. Acidic, sharp [no doubt] and bloody sour, spilling involuntarily through the puncture over anything that’d dare accost it.

Is that how you would ever want to envision the texture of your mind? If yes, then you’d probably best use it in spicing up conversations at roadside chow stalls, or cleaning toilet bowls, or starring in The Shining [which is not a bad deal if you’re into that sort of thing.]

If not, then you’d best embrace ignorance and ennui. Post haste.

Don’t be Jack.


Posted, because after a month of abstinence and clarity I have nothing of greater importance to say. Because I care. Because you, fine reader, are that important.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Skype, Indra and me

In pursuance of my interest in [the writing of] Mr. Sinha, here’s a conversation that was published in the First City Magazine, November issue. The magazine published a concise version.

When First City casually suggested the idea of an interview with Indra Sinha, I didn’t hesitate a moment. “YES!” I bellowed, in capital letters. It was an excellent idea. After all, I’d blogged about him a couple of times and considered myself, if not an authority, at least a ‘fledgling two-post pimp’ of his work.

However, when FC mentioned this little detail of sounding Indra off on the idea of being interviewed by a single-letter non-identity, the absurdity of this enterprise came thundering home. “H” I said to myself “whatever made you think that he’s going to risk his reputation, and a few precious hours on a single-letter nobody whose blogposts have had nothing significant to say about his work, except that he ‘writes like butter’?” The Booker jury had been distinctly more eloquent and expansive in their argument in favour of the literary merits of his work, as had been many scores of journalists of considerably greater repute. “Wouldn’t he rather be interviewed by a First City writer?”

But the world functions in mysterious ways. Both First City and Indra Sinha were game.

I caught up with Indra online, hours before he was to leave his home in the South of France for England with his wife Vickie, to attend the Booker dinner. They were just back from buying cheeses and wines of the region for friends, yet unpacked, and unprepared for a 5am journey. Despite the paucity of time, he was sporting enough to play along with my whim of having an anonymous conversation with him as blogger H.

About Animal's People

19 year old Jaanwar [Animal] is an orphan who walks on all fours and hears voices in his head. His spine was twisted by the poisonous gases that entered his system that night when the evil Kampani's faulty valves let loose a stream of lethal chemicals destroying the quiet night air of Khaufpur – literally the City of Fear – taking the lives of his parents, and thousands of others, afflicting endless generations of Khaufpuris with inconceivable disabilities.

Sometimes quirkily outrageous sometimes poignant, Animals' People is about the Bhopal Gas incident in 1984, told in the unedited voice of Jaanwar, one of its more colourful survivors, in eccentric grammar, a bizarre punch of French phrases, Bollywood songs and his uniquely Indian brand of fruity oaths; as he offers up risqué observations about life, his chances of getting laid, his almost grudging desire to walk like a human, the Apokalis, the surreal lure of the derelict Kampani building, the Amrikans, his basti and his people.

Indra Sinha has spent 14 years writing for the Bhopal Medical Appeal, during which he's interacted with a number of people with varying perspectives on the Bhopal Gas incident. Animal's People, while it has taken inspiration from the resilient spirit of the people of Bhopal, is dedicated to Sunil, a 34 year old activist who committed suicide in 2006, after he'd had enough of the terrible voices in his head that refused to allow him hope for his people.

Our conversation
[Which I managed to get going after a technically disastrous, seriously embarrassing and unendingly long moment...]

H: “Dear Sunil, you thought you were mad, but a world without justice is madder", words that you wrote in your tribute to Sunil, in The life and death of a mad Bhopali child, seem to have set the tone for this book. In fact this notion of madness exquisitely holds the book together. Whether it's the apparently skewed dominance of Animal's obsessive preoccupation with his nether parts in his narrative, or Ma Franci's prophetic ramblings or even that the denouement is triggered by a datura-induced fit of madness… How much of Animal’s People was consciously constructed as a comment on this idea of madness?

Indra: I am not sure that one cold-bloodedly decides to construct a novel around this or that notion. It's a far bigger enterprise than that, and I can only speak for myself but I find that themes emerge rather than me consciously implanting them. Having said this I think the idea of Animal's madness, his "mad times", has been misunderstood as "magical realism" which really irritates me but it is my fault for not making it clearer. The boy sees things that aren't there...he hears voices in his head.

The kha-in-the-jar tends to appear to him at times of crisis... and we should not forget that it is Animal who is narrating all this... all we know of him is what he tells us... and what if he is barking?

I said in the Booker interview that I doubt if there is anything very magical about madness...but Animal is his own kind of realist. When asked to admit his voices are hallucinations not real, and to turn to religion, he says, "To deny what you do see and hear, and believe in things you don't, that you could call crazy."

And another thing! Animal talks a lot about madness and has many ways to talk about it. "Old woman you are fully hypped" "crazy as fishguts" "mad as a leper's thumbnail" and so on.

The language is itself mad and that was partly joie de vivre and partly design. A friend of mine is writing a very long and learned piece about the book's very strong alchemical theme... that also is linked to madness... so you are very perceptive.

H: alchemy seems to be another thing that you bring up quite often.

Indra: it would take a while to talk about what alchemy means in the context of this story.

H: I've been very eager to ask this next question... Almost all your characters are based in some measure on real people. Most often, these snatches of inspiration have been reason enough to model the physical resemblances of these characters on their 'real' avatars. Whether it's Ma Franci, or Zafar [based loosely on Shahid Noor] or the lawyer in the outrageous outfit, who's based on Melvin Belli down to his alligator skin boots. HOWEVER, the character inspired by your role in the Bhopal medical appeal is the hot-bod Elli Barber with blue denim clad legs that are fodder for many of Animal's fantasies [another give-away that her character takes inspiration from your role is that Animal calls her an "auto-riding superstar" a title that Sunil once bestowed on you]; this along with Indira Singh's enticing image on the site, seem to suggest that there is obviously some great private joke afoot here…

Indra: Zafar is most definitely not based on Shahid Noor, not a bit. But I did use some of the experiences of Shahid and my friend Sathyu when they were on waterless hunger strike.

H: Yes. Well that's what I meant really, by 'snatches of inspiration'.

Indra: Ma Franci... who do you think she is based on?

H: Well you spoke of this old lady that your daughter Tara once told you about… who'd gone back to the French she knew as a child and how all other languages were gibberish to her.

Indra: Yes, true, I have talked of that... have talked so f'ing much I've forgotten half of what I have have obviously done your homework.

I am most certainly not Elli! If only you could see me howling with laughter this end.

H: You most certainly did take 'snatches of inspiration' for her character from your own role...

Indra: only that scene really... and that was Sunil to me... "Indra, we can never really be friends."

Why not? I ask. "Because you are rich and I am poor" etc. Except he never wanted money from anyone... that was Animal... but Sunil told me he lived on 4 rupees a day. So really, the characters in the book are themselves and no one else. But in the long work that went into bringing them to life, bits of other people, ideas, mannerisms, bad habits, favourite phrases and oaths... all these can be found. You are right about Melvin Belli... Belli also means war of course... Mel Musisin is like Belli but google Musisin and see what you get.

H: Sure. I do not mean to say that they are directly based on real people. But there definitely are these glimpses or rather defining moments that are reminiscent of real experiences.

Indra: All writing is surely based on real experiences. How could one describe a hillside or a lake or a face if one had never seen such things and been struck by them? Even Plato could not have imagined his world of ideal forms had he not had his feet firmly upon Attic soil.

H: True. And I know I'm being insistent here, but really it is too tempting to see this 'link' between Indira Singh and Elli. Even just a tiny one.

Indra: Only there in your imagination. Elli's childhood came from a good friend of mine who grew up in Coatesville, PA.

The true Indira Singh story is the one I told you [here Indra’s referring to his email about the birth of Indira Singh: ”the Bhopal Chronicle is fully responsible for Indira Singh. About five years ago they ran a report on the website which I was then editing, but spoke of editor, "Indira Singh" and "her" approach to the serious matters of the day. Rather than correct them, I decided to play along, thinking that if the old buggers at the Chronicle thought they were dealing with a pretty girl they might carry our stories more often. So Indira was born in Photoshop, a combination of two rather lovely women whose pictures I found on a New York dating website. Indira duly appeared on (she's still there buried in its depths & more) (scroll down) And her departure as editor was also chronicled along with Dow's reaction.

During her editorship Indira received several invitations to dinner and one proposal of marriage.”]

Indra: And there's a spin on it in When the Bhopal Central Chronicle interviewed me recently, speaking over the phone as well as via email, they called me Indra Sinha in para 1 and Indira in para 2... So I have cruelly lampooned them.

Oh and by the way Indira has her own email address... you can email her from the matrimonials page and yesterday she received a proposal of marriage (so that now makes two).

Here’s a link to my bowdlerisation of the Bhopal Central Chronicle piece someway down the page. The Central Chronicle is an amazing paper, with journalism like that who needs to parody?

H: Have you had any response to Animal's success from Dow?

Indra: Not to my knowledge. Sir Howard Davies, chair of the Booker judges, said he thought Dow's public affairs people would be crawling all over

H: yes, I'd have imagined so too.

H: my next question's not a question really… it's more a remark, that I'd like you to respond to... I love the scatological overtones in your book. It's as if you want to rub the reader's nose in poo. Get them to drop their literary pretensions – their desire to be reading delicately wrought verbiage, to say: This is the texture of life. This is the texture of us. It binds us all. Now, read the story of Animal who is one of us. Yet, there are some who’ve criticised the book for a gimmicky overuse of this ‘trick’…

Indra: I think Animal loves to shock... sometimes the things he does and says are shocking, and sometimes he is laying it on thick... this for me is part of his character and part of the texture of narration... we shouldn't ever forget that everything we hear comes from the mouth of animal himself, who can hardly be unbiased, impartial or detached... he may be lying or simply wrong... unreliable narrator indeed.

The point about shitting alone is a serious one however.

You might find this of some use. It was an interview originally done with verve who had asked to speak to animal not me, but who didn't want to run the result.

Another thing that I find irritating is the comment that the style is not very "literary" as if literary simply meant high flown, lots of long words in delicately balanced sentences. There is not very much good literary writing of that sort. And what that actually means is that you are obliged to confine your storytelling to tales that can be told in that way which means that they are generally about clever, highly educated middle class people suffering various kinds of angst.
Rough hewn words have their own music and beauty... someone who had it in for animal on the booker forum slammed the entire book but then, to show that his was a balanced judgement, praised a passage (p 274-5) as being of the highest literary merit...singling out for particular compliment the phrase "with white and weeping sores".

The bugger didn't realise that this high flown stuff was a pastiche of Aeschylus in the Choephorae where Orestes is agonising over whether to murder his mother.

I had originally reworked this passage to use as a curse against the Greek CEO of Dow, William Stavropoulos in 2003... it amused me to give it to Animal, who truly hams it up...but the fellow on the Booker forum never even realised that this over the top oratory was being set up for a pratfall.

Wasn't Faulkner, who won the Nobel Prize, literary? But I defy you to find a high flown sentence in "as I lay dying."

H: That's beautifully put. Which is why I'm coming back to this: I know you've said it's animal's voice, but it's you who wrote it, you who gave a voice to it. You who had it published. So then why did you feel the need to apologise for this carefully assumed coarseness in Animal's voice recently, at the Edinburgh Book Festival? Thankfully, someone was kind enough to let you know that you seemed to be more "shocked" by it than anyone else.

Indra: I don't particularly like bad language on the page. I laughed at Irvine Welsh, or with him, and am not so prudish, but my own preferred style is at the other end of the spectrum. I love Nabokov who never wrote a crude word in his life, not even in Lolita.

Every story demands its own proper voice, and finding it is the key to the whole thing. This story didn't work when I wrote literary-like, in the third person... that's how it started...but it was dead until Animal appeared.

H: It's half charming half maddening to have you play this little hide and seek with us [me now] sometimes it's animal, sometimes it's you...

Indra: No this is all me. Unless you mean the interview... You have to realise that to me animal is a real person, as real as either of us, and I regard his voice as quite separate and distinct from my own... if this is a form of madness, then perhaps it cycles us back to your first question, for the person seeing things and hearing voices in his head is me.

H: no actually I meant all of it... it isn't really separate, is it? It doesn't really matter that the book's written and published. The voice still exists. Alive and forming its own opinions, in spite of you.

H: Tell me, I've always wanted to ask this of someone whose work is out there – often a result of years of effort – being summarised by a critic [many now, given the explosive prolificity of forums like blog] in a couple of days and some few paragraphs: how do you feel about letting such an intimate part of you be open to such close scrutiny?

Indra: I used to find it quite upsetting when someone clearly had utterly misunderstood something, or criticised me for not doing something the book never set out or pretended to do, or for doing something of which they disapproved for random reasons... nowadays I try to take it all with a pinch of salt... I've collected all the ones that either I have come across or other people have sent me on my website... there is some negative stuff there as well as positive... ultimately the book will happen inside the reader's mind...

At this point Indra was interrupted a couple of times, once by phone and another time to attend to the supper Vickie had laid out. It was getting late and I was feeling bad about keeping him from his last minute preparations. So I suggested sending him the questions on email.

Indra: Are you on the facebook thing? A friend told me to start an account and now I am in touch with people from the distant past and have friends I've never heard of.

H: No. I've this strange sort of snobbery about being on facebook. But now that it's out [this is the first time I've admitted to it] I'm sure I'm going to end up on it. Someday.

Indra: I would leave it except my two sons are there.

H: :) Well this question's really something that's got irritate-you potential. It's about your advertising past. Your interviews suggest that you're keen to shake off the celebrity associated with your image as an erstwhile advertising demigod. Why do you feel this need to dissociate from these past laurels?

Indra: Oh I don't shake it off... look at my website. I've never particularly liked being treated like a demigod as you put it, although I am not sure where you got that from. I did win a few awards and tended to write very long ads.

H: Well you're very respected and even Neil French in one of his interviews says he took inspiration from you. So.

Indra: Frenchie says he took inspiration from everyone.

H: How different was the experience of moving from copywriting to writing a book? Did you have to undergo some sort of shift in your head to be able to meet the demands of this form of writing?

Indra: It is completely different. Even my long 1000 word ads were miniatures compared to 100,000 or 120,000 words in a novel. The curves are long, character is everything whereas advertising tends to stereotype and caricature, one has to imagine very deeply and feel deeply - albeit the work I did for amnesty and the bhopalis involved a lot of deep alchemy… that word again.

Indra: Are you in advertising, tell me something about H, the mystery woman, to whom I am talking…

H: Well I've a whole range of very irrelevant experiences really. Mostly [to do with] film which I'm thoroughly disinterested in. No not in advertising. But I'm increasingly seeing merit in the terseness required of ad copy... What you say about characters is really interesting... because I've been meaning to ask you how your years in advertising have affected the way you relate to your subject? Do you still feel this need to 'summarise' characters? Size them up?
Indra: advertising has nothing to say about character and its terseness is usually just one appalling cliche after another. If you like minimalist prose, read Bruce Chatwin, his work is masterly and utterly beautiful. I like wordy writers like Nabokov, Lawrence Durrell...

H: I did once try to like Lawrence Durrell. Long back, in college. His sentences are unrelenting.

Indra: Nonsense. "We all live by selected fictions". What is unrelenting about that?

H: :) I'll obviously have to pick LD up again.

Indra: My advice, read him in this order: Prospero's Cell, Reflections on a Marine Venus, Bitter Lemons - then the four books of the Alexandria Quartet. Remember he was writing in the 30s and believed in art. Henry Miller was his idol, how do you get on with Tropic of Cancer for example?

At this point I started feeling bad about asking him more than we’d agreed to in the beginning. He had a journey to make, and here I was making irrelevant comments about Lawrence Durrell whose writing I had abandoned many years ago.

H: Indra, I will [reluctantly] let go of you now, as I know you must have a million things to look into. But I do look forward to continuing this conversation. Would you like me to mail you the remaining questions, or shall I check with you about when you can converse on chat. Perhaps I'll mail you the qs. And then you could decide whether to answer them by mail or take them up on chat...?

Indra: Oh I am just beginning to hit a stride... I love talking about writing and books and writers... it is the only thing other than human beings that I have ever deeply cared about.
Hah, you young people have no stamina. Well, you still haven't answered my personal question about you? But off you go if you need to... it must be very late.

H: No no… I'd be glad to continue! Haha.

Indra: Well I can do another half hour at most, so if you have more pertinent questions for your piece fire away, or else I am happy just to chat with you.

H: I shall get on with some more questions - it's the right thing.

Indra: Remind me of the name of your blog.

H: it's called Shout.

Indra: What inspired you to start it? And why do you hide your identity?

H: well I started because I needed to write. But I wasn't sure of how. In what tone. I wasn't aware of my voice [except the irritating whiny angsty voice that surfaced in my diaries]. And then I came across someone's blog and it made so much sense. Relieving actually.

Indra: I think the thing about writing is you have to leave yourself behind, or out of it, which you can't do until you've written through all your whiny angsts of course...

H: I agree. It's what I discovered.

H: while we're on the topic of blog, you have your own blog Footnotes – [though you’re not very mindful about updating it]. Do you find that blog is radically different [from writing for print] in how it engages [allows you to engage] with the written word?

Indra: I want to write better things for Footnotes than I have time for. I should loosen up and be more chatty... but I think I prefer writing to be a more private experience… I don't know what to do with the blog.

H: But I think you've adapted very easily to this chatty style you're talking about, on blog. But this thing about it being private… I agree. That's why I’m anon. And I enjoy being fluffy, without constraint or fear of judgement.

H: from what you're saying it almost seems like you feel a bit - dare I say - awkward about writing on blog?

Indra: Yeah, awkward is exactly right.

Oh I had a piece about an article my cousin had written in the Times Literary Supplement, a very interesting article about early European attitudes to America... I only just found out she used to be married to A N Wilson who was on the short list with me. Small world because Mohsin is a friend of a friend... we are both mates of Suketu Mehta (who wrote Maximum City)... I had a really sweet email from Mohsin last night... What are the chances of being longlisted for the booker with your second cousin and shortlisted with a friend?

H: Slim. And very fortuitous. :) Talking about Mohsin and Suketu... I wanted to ask you about this Indian identity thing. You left India when you were 17, your successful years as a writer in advertising were spent in England, you're married to an Englishwoman and you've been living in the South of France for several years with your family. [You're probably as much an 'Indian writer' as Dominique Lapiere is.] And you’ve [quite understandably] expressed mild discomfort at this annoying thing that the media tends to do – this business of slotting – when they call you an ‘Indian writer’. However, do you think that this identity as ‘Indian writer’ might have worked in your favour at the Booker forum, given the current trend in international forums to be overtly conscious of including ‘other ethnic identities’?

Indra: Well I sincerely hope not. They didn't need me after all, they had Nikita Lalwani. I don't like being categorised in that way and neither does for example Vikram Seth. But I suppose it doesn't help that both my fictions have been set in India and you can hardly get more Indian than Animal. However after this, I have told my agent and publisher I never intend to write another word about India again.

H: Indra, recent reports on the book sales of Animal’s People haven’t been as encouraging as one would hope. One factor could be that most bookshops don’t seem to have access to enough copies. Also there is this other matter of the visual appeal of the book. In fact, one blogger said about picking up your book from the Booker Longlist: “when I saw the book, I thought, not another depressing book from India”. Of course, later he goes on to say how the powerful and compelling the book was. Have you considered that perhaps the cover design could be responsible for it? Did you have a say in deciding what would go on the cover, or even the distribution?

Indra: ... I had one of my own, which I will show you in a sec.

H: About this cover... I'm curious. Really. I'd like to see what you'd originally planned. And will FC have permission to publish it?

Indra: Don't see why not...

H: this is INFINITELY better! it's a lovely cover.

H: My last two questions are about your style and process of writing... Writing obviously runs in the family, given that you and your sister Umi are writers, as was your mother, who wrote short stories under the penname Rani Sinha. In your book The Death of Mr. Love, it seems that the character of Maya, particularly her vivid and colourful idea of storytelling, is a sort of tribute to her. How much have your mother's stories and storytelling influenced your writing career?

Indra: well you have it really... Maya was based on an aspect of my was her life described there, the arty friends from that era in the 1950s before bollywood and vulgarity, the writers, poets, filled with books...she could also be bafflingly nonchalant about dreadful things. I don't think my style, such as it is, owes much to her...but Bhalu wasn't me, and Katy wasn't Vickie and Phoebe... [A friend] asked me to introduce him to Phoebe.

H: well… I'll admit I've been curious too.

Indra: Everyone is, and it is a singularly pointless curiosity because characters are never really real people to the life, they couldn't be, so trying to guess who is who is a complete waste of time and I grow tired of gently explaining this to friends who will insist on making these clever connections. Sathyu thinks Zafar is based on him, but they could hardly be more different. I don't think they would even like each other.

H: About evoking this curiosity, I think you are largely responsible for it. You have this way of being irreverent about fact and fiction. And sometimes it seems you do it intentionally to mock the reader into being a little more careful about not being bovine in accepting 'facts'.

Indra: I am sincerely sorry that I am so naughty.

H: haha. Something tells me you aren't. And I'm very glad. My mum once told me [I was writing some school essay, trying to be ironic] that I can never, and under NO circumstances EVER mess with facts. Obviously that misapprehension has been removed.

Indra: I think the way to look at it is that it is ALL fiction. Then you have no problem. If you really want to get into fact and fiction you should read the Cybergypsies, but it is a seriously weird book and I wouldn't really wish it on my worst enemy.

H: What do you enjoy most about the process of writing?

Indra: the process itself... the struggle, the breakthroughs, a telling phrase, some little insight that comes from the writing itself, the fact that the book comes through the writing of it and cannot be planned before in any real depth, the discovery of character, their little quirks, the interactions that drive the plot, weaving those together in a way that seems natural, and then breaking it with changes of pace or voice, all the million intricacies that constitute a novel, mostly the things that please me are things that only the author would ever notice... I talked about this in a blog piece... which is pertinent to the question you have just asked.

H: yes I know... about reinventing history.

H: Indra, my absolutely last question to you. What prompted you to take on this task of writing copy for the Bhopal Medical Appeal when Sathyu Sarangi approached you, considering you were already on your way to deciding your exit from the world of copywriting?

Indra: I was moved by his story and his honesty. He is one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. (And only bits and pieces of him went into Zafar.) I thought it wasn't a big deal for me to write an ad. It was a bigger deal to get it placed, but it had to be done. After that I learned the hard way that you can't just start a clinic, you have to keep fund raising for it, so it has now been 14 years. Simple as that.

H: Well I was going to say some very pretentious sounding things about how superb all this is...

Indra: but instead you will just drink a quiet glass of absinthe. Yes I know, me too.

H: Yes. Perfectly said.


If you’ve come this far, you’ve obviously enjoyed this conversation. So I suppose this is a good time to let you know that there’s more to come on Indra’s writing. Soon.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A word of caution to nugget seekers

If you’re looking for some great literary utterances, or even a string of lucid and edifying thoughts, let me warn you, they aren’t to be found here.

At Shout, as a policy, we don’t indulge/ massage/ feed brains. If anything, we’re quite happy to suck on yours [accepted with thanks at the comment box.]

This is the personal weblog of a self-professed bottom feeder, in the interest of bottom feeding [not to be construed as nibbling on nether parts] and has never pretended to be otherwise. Any coherence or smattering of perceived intelligence is to be overlooked as an unintended glitch or the result of an unlikely obsession [a recent one being with a certain sparkling shortlistee on the booker forum.]

If I were as sharp and dazzling as my paranoia insists you’re expecting, I wouldn’t be offering my opinion here under a single-letter alias, I’d sell it to you at posh seminars with my entire ancestry on a handout cv.


If you’re still around, good luck. There is much to muck around in and I’m sure you’ll have a promisingly thoughtless time here. 107 posts on nothing is consistent, if little else. Go on, nose around. I don’t mind, as long as you don’t burden me with sharp observations about the world and its clattering revolutions, in anticipation of an intelligible response.

In fact, now that we’re on the topic of intelligence, I’ll let you in on my thoughts on it. I dislike the term deeply. Its use reveals a revolting, discriminatory and self-aggrandising perspective that is despicable at best. It suggests an idea that a certain kind of verifiable, quantifiable grasp of reality is laudable. It assumes a standpoint, wherein the judge of another’s ‘intelligence’ is armed with the tools to qualify and quantify another’s capacity to process information.

It is presumptuous.

It is as insulting as the label “dumb”. To be called intelligent by someone is tantamount to being told that someone is able to sum up your mental processes. And what do they base this judgment on? A few words? A few actions?

Is it not extraordinary that someone thinks they have the right, or capacity to judge what your brain – the only faculty that helps you make sense of your life, drives your perception of the world, allows you your identity – is capable of?

The audacity.
The naivety.
The delusion.

There are as many kinds of capacities as there are beings in the universe, and each, unique as it is, is just one.

So before you call someone “intelligent” or “dumb” the next time, try assessing what your own head is able to retain and assimilate.

Well I did leave you nugget after all, didn’t I? Incredible me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

On why Jaanwar doesn’t need the Booker Prize

This is what the First City blog had to say about Animal’s People, one of the six books shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. The Prize was announced last evening in London. The winner is… well, inconsequential to this post.

I had commented in defense of the book in their comments section to the piece, but I deleted it for several reasons.

One is that I think it merits an entire post [long overdue now], and isn’t meant as a defense as much as it’s about my [selective] views on the book in the context of these remarks. So here goes…

On befriending Jaanwar [Animal]

“I used to be human once” is how he starts, hinting with his first words, that a genuine friendship between you and him is, if not impossible, a questionable proposition.

Jaanwar walks on all fours. His arse is higher than his head and he can smell out people who haven’t washed their crotches, in a crowd.

Jaanwar will have you know at the outset that he doesn’t value your opinion much. He’ll deliberately mislead you. He’ll pretend to trust you. He’ll have you buy into the ostensible innocence of his most outrageous deeds. He’s manipulative and he thinks it’s all well within his right to be so unreliable, because, after all, he isn’t human.

Jaanwar’s words are clever because he is clever. Chaalu. Street smart. You [Eyes] are meant to get beyond this cleverness. He’s very clear he doesn’t want your middle class friendship. It’s nothing but a burden to him unless of course it can either a.) help him walk straight b.) get him laid. At least that’s what he’ll have you know.

He’s telling you this story because it must be told. Because he has a duty. Because he has been infected, by the end, by your [Zafar’s] middle class notion of fairly won justice. So he thinks you will appreciate this story, because inexplicable as it is, that’s how, according to him, your world works.

The New York magazine had it spot on when they called it “scabrously funny”. Jaanwar is a wily mischief maker, and he’ll offer no apology for it. He, who shares an unspoken bond of mutual respect with scorpions, doesn’t care whether you think he's adopted an appalling trick of glorifying misery – his scabrousness as much as his disdain towards you and the many people who’ve expressed sympathy over ‘that night’ – or whether you feel pity. He is unmoved. Show him a miracle, not your sympathy or your hand in meaningless friendship.

He clearly wants to goad you [Eyes] over your assumption [which may well be a clichéd perception on his part] that all villains are bastards, and those that they perpetrate their villainy upon are allowed a meek dignity that comes with acceptance or then the haloed righteousness that must burn through nothing less than a raging rebellion. But it is possible, isn’t it, for someone to be both [in this case – a bit of] a bastard and the survivor of another’s bastardry.

Bhopal in a poor guise as Khaufpur

The metaphor was meant to be ‘ill’-disguised. Given that Bhopal does exist, that IS has spent 14 years writing and editing for the Bhopal Medical Appeal, and that Khaufpur is Bhopal, it would be unfair to suggest that setting it here is merely a gimmick designed to milk the most of Indian exotica. That said, the cover is a seriously unforgivable disaster, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for feeling this disgust, purely for its lack of visual appeal.

The Booker Prize

I’m not surprised that Animal hasn’t won the Booker. It is not ‘expansive’ enough in that it does not speak of generic things that are of interest or relevance to an ‘international audience’ [the definition of which is at best truly confounding] like American paranoia, sexual angst or dysfunctional social constructs; it doesn’t creep around sturdy, time tested pearls from English literature – either Biblical or non… and I’m sorry I cannot draw up any pithy observation about the fifth book.

And really, it doesn’t matter. The Booker forum has already brought it as far as it could in aid of what it [the book] set out to do – [get you past the cloying 1980s development sector imagery of the cover, and] be heard in what it tells you about the deep, alive and spreading roots of poison that Dow has sown in Bhopal, in the words of someone who continues to live with the repercussions each waking moment long before and well after we’re done dispensing our opinion on the literary merits of his voice.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Streaming odious

It’s so much easier to write when you’re bleeding thoughts. Contentment is a spoilsport.

Not to say that I’m contented. ‘Twould be blasphemy [even at my age] to admit to such a horribly common state of being. To be so unthinkably indistinguishable from people.

When I was a teenager, brimming with inconceivable potential, I bled poetry.

One poem, my first, was about a candle. Burning bright, shedding light etc.
Another was about Anger.
A third yet, was about Hate.
I’m not sure if I wrote one on Love, but there was one about a Kiss.
Another was addressed to God. But I never completed it because I realised it was either going to use up all my words, or none.

I also sang “Those were the days my friend…” [learnt at a private school we attended, run by an ancient, crumbling British lady in Calcutta], with a special, reawakened understanding of a time I hadn’t yet experienced, but could already look back into my past from. Confusing. I know. It wasn’t then.

I wore a frown. I hated everything with consummate passion. I brooded deeply and darkly and inexplicably. I wrote my diary daily, often in such moods. I curled the ends of my ‘d’s. And I moved in an aura of being perennially misunderstood.

Now, however, I find in times of distress I can only muster up mildly ironic and largely vapid jokes that are amusing solely to my head. I laugh. And my laugh lines are actually deeper than my frown.

How did I get here?
How did I regress so significantly?

It is a question that I do not wish to ponder. Clearly, I have lost the capacity to question the order, significance and point in Being with such consuming intensity as that from which my teenage brain drew much sustenance and succour.

So I will respond to a tag [or two] instead.

My P-list

This one is from my beloved soul sis in Pinoy land: I’ve to compile a list of seven words with P that are especially meaningful to me [I think].

1.) Pinoy is a word I’ve included in my dictionary very recently. Post Blogger. My first Pinoy awakening [I believe I have some Pinoy blood that has been stirred] was when I ‘met’ HB on blog. I have come to adore him, as I have come to love my sister in spirit Lizza and the sassy Barnsleyian Diva. The latest addition to this tribe is the enchanting Migs Bassig. Someday I am going to indulge the Pinoy blood coursing through my veins with the most debauched holiday across this fascinating archipelago of 7107 islands [can you believe it?] with this delightful extended family of mine.

2.) Potty is self-explanatory, and part of H’s uniform – head to toe. The other day, exhausted from spilling gin-and-tonic on the dance floor, my very vivacious [and possibly as inebriated] friend Go(ld)phish suggested a theme party – “we *slur* must preszhent ourszhelves aszh our online identiteeszh”. It was decided unanimously that I must attend as a deranged turd.

3.) Posterior and posterity: which for me are so close in meaning and colour, that it matters not which I use, and where. I have both in abundance. One – with due thanks to my paternal grandmother’s very insistent and domineering genes; and the other – creditable to a humongous and long-standing delusion of imminent greatness. Someday, both will get me stuck in something very murky. I am almost certain.

4.) Pig and pink: which are again very close in hue and weightiness. They have in different ways ruled a large part of my life, and I have been undeniably enslaved to both at various junctures of H-history [which is not a stutter]. Sometimes the [Golden] Pig has been the boyfriend. Sometimes the boyfriend has been a pig. Sometimes the pig is pink. And sometimes pink is pig. It is confusing and time consuming to differentiate between the two, and frankly, I don’t see the need.

5.) Pert. Sweet, short and sassy. Something that my posts never are.

I’ve completed the quota for my list of Ps. But for the record, I also like more literary sounding words like prosaic, probability, pernicious, pestilence, percolator and potential-packed. I also like double-entendre [which could perhaps sometimes start with a 'p' depending on how cleverly you enunciate.]

Five Nights

This one’s from Brothah HB.

I must recount five of my most remarkable nights. I will add here that this tag was actually about the five best nights, but I’ve taken the liberty to modify it a bit. These are nights that will remain forever imprinted in my memory for reasons that you should best judge for yourselves, fair readers.

1.) The night I discovered the Dehradoonis – an elderly couple from Dehradoon – were actually a pair of evil blood-thirsty ghosts. They had a lime green passenger bus into which they lured unsuspecting travellers who Mrs. Dehradooni, in all her tiny old-lady frailness, proceeded to disembowel with a large glinting carving knife, spilling great rivers of blood down lime green steps. I haven’t yet lived down the full horror of how I escaped their clutches. But what really traumatised me is the memory of my family howling with laughter when I recounted my brush with this evil couple the next morning.

2.) The night I discovered I was a Nazi. I had a ginger beard when it started. I was on a trawler, hunting down members of the Jewish resistance, much against my wishes, scouring the river, seeking signs of life amidst the densely packed stream of bodies floating along the current. I was labouring under a deep underlying sense of discomfort. There was something that I needed to be aware of. At one point I too was in the water, floating on my back beside a body. Suddenly its head turned, and a pair of very large, bulbous, angry eyes glared at me. I turned the other way, pretending I hadn’t noticed that ‘it’ was alive. Suddenly there was talk of breasts. I looked down to discover that I had a pair of breasts and no ginger beard. Those big glaring eyes still haunt me. As does the sudden discovery of breasts and no ginger beard.

3.) The night that Carlos cracked open the baby’s head like a lizard egg. I was playing with the baby, tossing it higher and higher in the air, when my hands missed and the baby fell on its head. Carlos said it had a clot that must be removed immediately for the baby to survive. He cracked its skull open and sucked out the clot from the baby’s brain. It survived. Then Carlos became a spy and a few years later turned into me.

4.) The night the big pink spider and the big black spider waged a war. I had to write a script, I was sitting in a room, fretting over my lack of inspiration when the pink spider – it was as high as the doorway with legs that looked like they were made of shiny pink plastic detachable links – appeared. I was so frightened I spent most of the night battling with it. When I had almost managed to wound it fatally, the enormous black spider appeared, carrying a distinct aura of evil. Suddenly it became clear to me that the pink spider was the good spider that was going to help me complete my script. Shit, I thought.

5.) The night I was pottering about on an empty stage. I was sad. I wanted desperately to be part of the play. As I walked from end to end, contemplating the futility of it all, my footsteps became faster and faster, lighter and wider, till I was suddenly airborne. I had grown a pair of delicate silken muslin wings and I flew blithely around the stage, happier than I’ve ever remembered being. My mother said “I knew you could do it. See it wasn’t so tough was it?” The Sibling and my father waved out to me as they cheered me on. The next day I was cast as the fairy princess in the play and the audience applauded with abandon.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Globe trotters

Waking up to a phone alarm is like dipping your toes in acid. You’re sharply aware of how it pierces through every membrane of dream, thought, eyelid, brain.

This morning my phone did a relentless little discordant vibratory jig very not in step with the alarm audio. It is certifiably the most pissing-off thing to wake up to such flagrant disregard for rhythm [this, despite my evident lack of any sort of aural perception.]

*Unnameable Cellular Phone Company*, bumshines, at least get the spurty vibrations right; those little ones which frivolously skirt around the longer ones, trying pathetically hard to sound useful. See, I don’t mind a continuous steady vibration. It is reliably annoying. But I don’t take kindly to such startling schizoid shudders thrusting obscenely at my pillow with mounting desperation, WHILE my head is on it.

This is particularly offensive and distressing on Disco Morning.

Disco Morning is the morning you wake up in keen anticipation of Disco Night.
Disco Night is the night you show them what you’ve got.

Thus, rudely awakened by an indecent alarm, I epilated.
I painted my toe nails toxic pink.
I ironed my happy shiny shirt.
I hemmed in my sequined belt.
I polished my black patent ho-pumps with a bit-o-spit.
I shined up my silver domina neck-piece with toothpaste.
I tossed my glitter face cream in my black bag.
I packed in the big glistering globe I had laboured over on Sunday.

There I was, ready to go to office.

I wished my parents a fond farewell aware that things would be different somehow the next time I saw them, knowing, as I do, that the universe can shift in keen though imperceptible ways by the flash of a disco globe.

I’m sitting in office. I have chewed my nails down to my knuckles, I have written out this post. Edited it endlessly. Cyberslacked my brain out of its obsessiveness. My pink toes are burning up; my trotters are convulsing with febrile flashes.

I have passed the day, somehow.

The time has come people. I can barely say bye.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Angst [is the turd prince of shitty titles, which is why it’s] over You

My blog, I’ve realised, is a load of scat and gas.

Mostly it’s depressing to fully comprehend how little I’ve managed to say through such a barrage of verbiage; for the rest it’s gut-drowning embarrassing.

But before you come bustling in with boisterous good cheer and a great clucking cacophony of protest and sympathy [see how formidably foul my mood is?] consider this:

How much do you really know about my much primped and preened and strutted head?


Be honest.

Gotcha potcha. Ha.

Before you scratch yours and wonder aloud, allow me:

All you really know, and after over a 100 reiterations of the same in as many ways as shit can be pasted on toast, is that it houses a brain which is divided in a left lobe and a right lobe, which by some stroke of genius, yours or mine, you’ve been conned into believing is a singularly extraordinary act of deviance.

The gleaming cherry on top, of course, is the Walt Disney cutesy personality each has.

Bravo H, what a fucking fucking idea.

But do you even know what I think about Bin Laden or Godhra?
Do you know what I think about the UN policy on controlling the spread of Avian Flu?
Do you know what I think about Pratibha Patil’s election to the President’s post?
Do you know what I think about the rising price of diesel?

No Ma’am. You just know that I speak in elaborate parables of shit.

Because honestly, I don’t think about these things. I just skip like a donkey, sing like a toad, hop like a rhino as I bumble heedlessly on this highway, feeling great gushes of overreaching achievement at every arse-analogy I can squeeze through my tear ducts.

So it should come as no surprise that suddenly, with a borrowed perspective that I chanced by on the internet the other day, I’ve become acutely aware of how nothing this is. This Shout. This hollow excrement of noise in cyberspace.

I’m aghast at what you must think. You dear reader, who’s lavished your attention, time and thought on our corner here.

Are you for real?

Or are you a kinky connoisseur of such trembling whiffles of flatulence as I’ve been passing for words here?

No. Don’t answer.

Because either way beloved reader, this is to say: I cherish you. Thank you for all the appreciation. This far into our relationship, I accept you for who you are.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Karma Chameleon

I’ve been written about if you please. Under an alias of course, because it has nothing to do with my achievements [when they be, if and ever]. Well, okay, not in the cold cash-like material sense, or even in the Nobel contribution to humankind sense but more for the unwitting abuse I’ve heaped upon my self. Once upon a time.

So the writer of this piece, she interviewed me, charmed my toes off and got me to say all sorts of droll things until I realised that I was saying them about myself. You see it’s all very well to have my fifteen minutes of fame, but thank you very much, I’ll have them when the Pulitzer committee chances fortuitously by this page.

So after having partaken of a genteel cup of earl grey with me, when she left carrying her cloud of charm quite suddenly out of the room, I retrieved my senses rapidly and sent her a pathetic little text, clinging to as much dignity as the abbreviated lettering of sms allows, saying “pl, change name. thank u v much”

To which she replied “ok” after a gut wrenching, swear-vocabulary exhausting four and a half minutes.

So yesterday when the magazine man came with the latest edition of The Magazine, I raced through it to discover that I’d been quoted, under a not real name that’s shuddersomely close to my real name. It is that obscene mispronunciation of my name that sets my teeth on edge and makes me a very very tight-lipped person [in all its florid interpretations].

But what really caught my eye and stopped me in my track [which, given that even during my most lucid moments I’ve the attention span of a split lizard, isn’t saying much] was this: appended to my thinly masked not real first name, was the name that has become my secret nemesis.

Secret, because we like to pretend we don’t notice these things. Nemesis, because two successive boyfriends-with-the-same-surname down it’s become difficult not to notice; especially since, in one of those incestuous quirks of history or quirks of historical incest [we might never discover which] we’ve discovered that this particular clan of ‘said surname’ are ALL related to one another.

So, this surname that reeks of historical quirks and axed-Xs now has the dodgy distinction of being the ONLY surname our little writer could trawl up from the cacophony of Indian surnames that clutter one’s surname consciousness – that little corner devoted solely to remembering and slotting people by their surnames [something that we excel at so excellently in these parts] – to attach to my not real name.


Then I figured, breathing deeply, exhaling impurity, inhaling goodliness, that there are so many widely, gaily, uniquely different reasons in the world to get pissy. Why blame one’s emotional orientation on a lovely little girl who was only trying to do her job?

See that’s the thing about little girls and little boys who dimple their sunshine smiles at you, setting the room aglow with gay showers of charm and sweetness. It’s difficult to remain pissy, even if they show you up for a deluded loon, armed as they are with damning evidence that “you said so yourself”.

Reminds me of a recent episode in my soon-to-be short-lived career as a filmmaker, when I showered similar meteors of charm in the decadent drawing room of my English teacher from college, conning her into the most atrocious self-lampooning interview I have ever conducted, as I sipped on delicately brewed Darjeeling tea from her stodgy English teacups.

Obviously, there is some great karmic cycle at work here.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Last Call for the Magic Carpet

It is the season for Adventure.

The moon told her so.

She knows what you’re thinking. That her mind works like trashy poetry. So? If it does.

It’s begun, this season of adventure, for her, soaked in the mellow light of a bloody moon, planted with a duck’s kiss.

Like a cloud veil, it’s crept into her dreams, lending them a delicate muslin haze. From a writer’s acid pen it’s seeped into her sleep, and poured into the lips of a duck.

This morning she awoke with the duck’s kiss on her lips. A moment earlier upon a staircase, depressing and under lit, the duck and she paused for a fleeting eternity, weak-kneed from running from the police. Someone robbed. Something lost. Trust misplaced. Suspicion unfounded. And two fugitives, trembling with buried words and bursting lungs, spiralling down this murky plot.

Against the betel-spit spattered walls of a dingy stairwell, finally, duck paused to make a clumsy confession. The words she could not catch, just the shapes he threw from his pleasing duck mouth. She, being older, wiser and the princess of her dreams, just smouldered her eyes and parted her lips to receive a volley of adorable duck shapes.

So, it’s begun. Exiting one world, riding the shifting shadows of nowhereness, swinging by uncertain adventures like a lunging langur, before she finds her footing surely, again, in now.

Till then, duck, she’ll adore you her dreams.

Meanwhile, may the carpet remain aloft and the adventures never cease.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Booker, a return to H and a Poster: in celebration of the Hundredth!

Ladies and laddies, it gives me goose bumps and suchlike bordering-on-obscene pleasure to announce that our very own [us being his one-post-pimp] Mr. Indra Sinha has been longlisted for the Booker Bleeding Prize! Woo. I could've been his mother right now. Or agent. Or nanny. Honestly, I feel all billowy-nostriled and choky-proud.

Mr. Sinha with Holly - 1999.

Such is my pleasure at this felicitous occasion that I’ve been making proud announcements across the breadth of my vastly limited social sphere.

Yesterday as mum was watching cricket and pa was forwarding bawdy jokes to family and friends to let them know we’re all well and able, among other things, to appreciate putrid internet humour, I burst upon this gentle familial scene with my breathless news.

H: “Indra Sinha’s been long listed for the Booker Prize!”

Ma raised an eyebrow. Should I know more about this Indra boy?

Pa put on his pissy-face. “Who’s this Indra chap?”

A legend to begin with, parents.
Oh sorry. Rephrase: A fifty plus, married man with several children and a dog, living at a reasonably safe distance in the south of France, who happens to be a writer.

Somewhere, deep in my head, I truly believe that my discovery of this star is intimately linked with the Booker Prize longlist in the Larger Scheme of Things.

It is with such idolatrous affection as only a fledgling poseur pimp can feel for a stalwart Madame running for Entertainer of the Year, and much skippety-twirly-go-round delight in my heart, I share with you, beloved readers, a most fortuitous coincidence – our own little cause for celebration at Shout – our 100th post, TA DA!

On this occasion, brimming as I am with goodwill spurred by Mr. Sinha’s success and my prolificity, I’ve also decided to be gracious about a certain tag that the lovely Pinay in Barnsley has clipped to my tail. Arse.

So it goes:

I must give you a glimpse of H. Preferably with a photograph or forty, and the correct spelling of my name, because David Airey says:

”Putting a face to the name of someone you haven’t met helps recognition and adds a more personal feel to your conversations.”

Given that I’m so anal about protecting my anonymity, obviously Mr. Airey and I do not share similar views on blogging and its effect on our social lives, making this tag a serious challenge to my staying-gracious-power. I mean, really, who asked me to go and stick my fingers in my nose and say, “Thank you very much, I’ll do it”?

But then again, I do like Madonna [of Barnsley.]


I thought hard. I wandered up all sorts of dusty galis, seeking to scavenge off bits of myself, wondering what to put here in a little self-pimping carnival – should I write you bits from my diaries as I grew… But my head leapt up at me before I could complete the thought. Shuddersomeshite noh! I’d rather be slow roasted on a skewer. Next I wondered if I should I treat to you a little biopic of how H transformed from a villainous looking child to a blimpy teenager and leave it there, for you to imagine the now-in-full-bloom scat-creature? Boooooooooring. After which my head threw up another sparkler – Should I write you a little fable?

Thankfully, I didn’t have time to respond to this last one.

For as I was contemplating all of this, I happened not to feel the ground shift, I happened not to see the sky curl up and I happened not to hear the beasts panic. What I did feel perhaps, and I can’t ever be sure, is the little oval heat of a soft kiss on my brow.

You can imagine the shock I received when I looked up to see that everything had turned around. My world. My head. My toes.

The pixel of my dreams had changed. Irrevocably.

So that’s why, in celebration, my dollies, here’s a magnificent poster that might tell you a bit about H, if you’re sharp. It’s been created by U, who is the photographer and designer of this piece of trash-art. He thought I was potty to suggest this Campbell soup, H-imprinted, self-adoring artwork. But you’d know why, right?

H. by U.

Yay! For returning to myself.
Yay! For Indra Sinha and his “scabrously funny” book that I hope will achieve more than what Sunil ever imagined.
Yay! For a spanking fresh start.

Monday, August 06, 2007

My ongoing affair with clichés – an update

These are a few of the very vomity-clichéd things I’ve done in the last few days which almost qualify Shout as a racy chick-blog, and its author as the tantalising heroine of a chick-lit bestseller – How H Got Soaked, Put On a Few Kgs And Got a Life. Almost:

Got Mughal-garden-waterworks drenched in the rain, which is a very delightful thing I’ve re-realised for the millionth time. I was walking, it was dark, I was alone and I was thinking about the rain and something else. Something else didn’t happen. But it rained. Violently. Suddenly. Joyously. I felt suitably psychic and all.

Missed seeing the moon fill out, very sorely. Sometimes rain clouds aren’t a good thing.

Bought myself a large box of dark immoral chocolates. I’d gone to M’s place. M lives next to The Chocolatier, at the heart of mini Bengal where fish and football are Religion – which has nothing to do with chocolate, save perhaps for a very large big clichéd advertising notion [mine] of being. So it goes.

Sat up all night and watched cheesy movies with M and talked and talked and talked – about all the usual things. Direction. Purpose. Where we’ve reached with both. And how the bastard at Chungwa cheated us of the shrimp in the shrimp talumein by putting chicken, which I’ve stopped eating. Bastard. That’s just how some relationships are. Comfortable.

Now I want my favourite cheap Sula white to complement the dark bitter-sweet and this big cocoa-fat cliché. And, while I’m asking, a throw-in miracle would be nice.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

[Vanquishing] Low Self Esteem

Keep your [under]pant[ie]s on, girls and boys; today’s lesson is about low self-esteem.

Low Self Esteem is a slithering, slimy, whiney bitch/ bastard. [Being of no specific gender, it reproduces more virulently than rabbits, rats or rashes.]
It can strike any time, without warning.
It usually attacks in one contiguous glutinous mass.

Lesson over, you may undress now.


I’ve been pottering about in my head, devising elaborate strategies on how to combat this Low Self Esteem thingummybobitch. But since it’s infiltrated my brain, severally, I figure there’s no point. I might as well acknowledge it with a conciliatory cup of earl grey and get on with the farkin’ business of plodding.

That’s just what I was doing actually, when one little girl who’s a writer where I work; a frolicsome sparkling beam of sunshine, said to me:

“H, this piece has been written beautifully. Your use of language is really beautiful.”

Now I could be bragging. I could. And beautiful is NOT a word I’d associate with myself or anything that I produce, biologically or otherwise; but let’s just put this most unbecoming cynicism aside for one moment, and consider this: I was feeling like Yama’s [pronounced ‘Yum’] toe jam all morning. Jaded. Defeated. Countless-ly trod upon by fate’s smelly feet; incompetent and ugly and fat and puffy eyed too, if you’re asking.

But after hearing this, I noticed in the bathroom mirror how flat my stomach is, how shiny my hair is, how evenly brown my nose is and how I can string a sentence or two without faltering. [This last I almost didn’t notice in the mirror, but being as I was engaged in my usual activity of impressing myself with a lengthy, well delivered speech upon the pot, I did.]

Low Self Esteem is obviously such a shallow bastard. Ha ha. Ha. And I’m feeling very sharp and dazzling again.

Okay, maybe not sharp. Or dazzling. But confident. Somewhat.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

This post is dedicated to Ads [not really]

There’s one place on the net that really cheers me up, every single time I visit it.

Ads of the World.

It could be because I’ve come across some really special work here. Special in ways that are hard to describe; special because it’s kept me smiling for days and days after; special, to me specifically, because it’s told me things that I’ve craved to know – of ideas and minds at work, of potential explored, of inclusion in forums like The Work and One Show; of hope for a certain luminous career.

Bizarre isn’t it? Advertising and hope, for me, sometimes go hand in hand.

But of course, like with all great ideas, some of the work here is terrible. It makes me want to slap up a bunch of shallow writers and art directors, who’re too busy jerking off on over-dosages of marijuana, whiskey and self-importance to even consider that their first job is to caress and love and adore and carefully fashion each word and image they send out into the world, so that it says exactly what they intend it to.

The other day I came across a series of ads. The copy looked lengthy. However, because of some of the comments [thank god for some people who love their trade enough to whet everything] I decided to read each one.

I’ll let you decide for yourself, what you think.

When our shoes wore out
Torture me
Money lender
May God forgive you
Crime against humanity
Life and death of a Bhopali child

Okay, maybe I won’t. As with all else on my blog, it gives me great pleasure to tell you what to think about these ads. Specifically about the person who wrote them.

Indra Sinha; he writes like butter. Read the last one especially, and you’ll know what I mean. He’s clearly among the finer writers I’ve read on the net [which shows how ignorant I am, because he's a legend, they'll have you know]. Really, Ivan deserves a thump on his back [because I might never have discovered Indra, who I first thought was a woman -- obviously, I can't say enough how ignorant I am, so let's just move on.]. And the best I can do with my newfound adulation for this star is to buy his books.

If you want to read more from him, here’s his blog.

And, whatever you do, don’t ask me why I’m giving him a plug, when he doesn’t need one from an itty-bitty inconsequential arse like me. I’ll just do a stomping raving Rumpelstiltskin on you.

Have an interesting, ejyoocative, smooth read my dollies; this is my early Diwali gift to you.

Friday, July 27, 2007

La La La Loyal

Loyalty. It means so many things, especially to anal-retentives like me.

One of them is to remain mummified in promises made and broken aeons ago, for fear of toppling beliefs and ideas that form the rock of ones foundation and consequently exposing oneself for a frivolous, unserious cad [cad-equivalent of woman in this case]. It is that over-burdening sense of self-censure that becomes, when stretched beyond the periphery of reason, one’s nemesis.

So I am stuck. With my anus-faced* nemesis.

And I’m twiddling my thumbs waiting for it to pass. But this time, it seems to be a particularly virulent bout that my daft, inept brain is battling with. The idiot. It keeps rising out of the molasses every now and can’t-recall-when with much working-upon, much coaxing and cajoling, and then, like a ludicrously lazy lumply glucose-deprived whale it just splotches right back at the slightest hint of inattention, raising volcanoes of shit that must be cleaned and scrubbed off the walls, just to rise and splotch back again. Disgusting, lumbering slow wit.

Sometimes I wish I could fly – in my head, would be a good start.

Just like everybody else.

Such a shimmering oasis, isn’t it? To be like everybody else. Just even somebody, as long as it’s else and not self.

How do they do it, this nebulous pack of otherhood?

How do they stay so unbound?

Unbound, frivolous and free.

Now I’m being a sicko.

See, that’s the three hundred and thirty third fallout of loyalty, my style. Perversely anal-retentive.

*which is such the cleverest pun on janus-face. Sometimes I impress myself. Deeply. To a distraction, even.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Another reason why you should read my blog


Spoiler ahead

[Since this is the season of spoilers, Potterkind and all, I’m having my own, with its own spanking disclaimer on why I must tell you about why I must pimp my blog here - disregarding your unspoken need to find these things out about me at your own sweet leisure. As you can tell, I hate people forming their own opinions about me. Especially at 'their own sweet leisure'.]

Now that I’ve explained things that needed explaining… here goes.

I never thought I’d say this. But I’m proud to be a schmoozer.

Ok. No. let’s do this again.

I’m proud to be a SCHMOOZER.

Oh nevermind.

Just read what Lovely Lizza has to say here, and you’ll know I’m not that sort of schmoozer. There, I said it. SCHMOOZER.

La la la la la.

I sing.

I cook.

I schmooze.

I suck. At the first two.

And because I’m generous, I will spare you dollies the agony of my list. [Which might perhaps include all you lovelies].

So, you bettah watch your manners now, ‘cause I’m pretty quick with this flipping thing.

Schmoozy kisses to y’all, then.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Where is G on Mendeleev’s Table?

Your waking mind can be such a deceiving, insidious monster. It can fool you into believing things about the seductive simplicity of its own power. Things as stupid, clichéd and untrue as 2 plus 2 equals 4.

Things like putting memories, and thoughts and people out of your mind.

But it never is as simple as saying I’m not going to let my mind dwell on this memory. Or that one. Or any one of those that made up a year and some, na?

After all, how much is one year of your life, really? Give or take some?

Nothing much, your mind will tell you. It will goad you into believing that you’re being a weak fool to be so stuck. Until, of course, the day that you discover with horror, the truth behind your inability.

The terrifying, overwhelming, colossal truth.

A truth that you could’ve only discovered by waking up in the middle of a dream, quite by chance.

A dream so inconsequential, that its essence is the boring detail that makes up the necessary but perennially unnoticeable continuum of each waking day.

Was the window of the car rolled up three quarters or three fifths?
Did the grey corduroy of the car seat look slightly greyer under the shadow of four sets of bums?
Were you secretly pushing and expanding your muscles in the back seat trying to greedily but subtly hog more space as you were squeezed in with three other people?

And if you realise that even at the heart of a numbingly boring dream, in the midst of noticing the grey of the car seat, the rolled-up-ness of the window, and the secret measuring of how much space you’re making by flexing your butt muscles, there is a deep dull sense of only one thing -- the one thing that you’re trying to escape in your waking moments; the one thing you’ve told yourself should be easy to get past if you just ignore the urge to dwell on it; then what?

I’ll tell you.

Then, suddenly it dawns on you that this dull ache, this consciousness of a singular thing is what makes up the fabric of your thought. It is the thoughtron that you will arrive at if you were to continuously divide your thoughts by themselves, down, down, down well into infinity, to finally arrive at the inner universe of singleness. Indestructible. Indivisible. Building block of your presently thinking self.

And with the deepest sense of terror, you realise that the essence of those thoughtrons is the letter G.

Like a Warhol poster of Campbell Soup cans spawning endlessly, it is the pixel of your consciousness. The letter G. The image G. Grey and Green. Buddha and Gold.

Then it makes sense. The sudden, breathless sightings where there could have been none, like the one at South Extension market, in a blue Benetton t-shirt, pausing a moment, hands cupped, head bent, to light a smoke.

Last night, I saw a baldpate. I couldn’t believe it. Luxurious golden locks reduced to a straggly rim already?! Wasn’t this supposed to happen in our forties, a decade and a half into togetherness? But I happened to notice it at a despondent moment in the course of one iffy night. Yet again.

Why must you be so unsure, even in my dreams? And why must I continue to dream?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Bloody, bloody Mary

Just so you appreciate this momentous exchange, I was born in September.

A bunch of us were squeezed around a corner table in the cafeteria, getting to know one another at the beginning of the first term. As always I was lost, somewhere, and I snapped back at this tremendous point in the conversation.

M: “No way! I’m not a virgin”.

Not quite sure of where this conversation was going (or coming from), but suddenly aware that this was probably a good point to enter it I said: “so, you weren’t born in September, hanh?”

Thankfully none of the others heard this. Only M did.

M: “No, I’m not a virgin, or a virgin!

H: “Oh. That. I just... er... get excited when I hear the word vir...gin...go...virgo. See, I’m a virgin… go. Virgo-virgin. As in, the Sun Sign, y’know. [and a virgin, but you needn't know that just yet. Especially not yet].”

On the 14th day of July, Today, we complete ten years since the Best Friend and I met, a couple of days short of a decade since this luminous exchange.

While much has changed [and we’ve grown into swan-like sophisticated women, is what I’d like to be telling you] I’m still a virgin. In the solid, Linda Goodman sense of the word, I am.

I’m also pleased to report that over the years the Best Friend’s learnt much more about me. In fact I think she quite likes me. I too now know pretty much all that there is to know about her, which is why, since we’ve exhausted the reservoir of exciting-discoveries-to-make-about-each-other, we thought we’d celebrate ten years of being best friends over a couple of bloodies and a rich, expensive, not-counting-calories dinner at an exclusive restaurant, to bring the swing back into things. To rediscover what a joy it’s been to have made each others’ acquaintance etc.

Of course, this is beginning to sound very Sapphic. This celebration of girlfriend-anniversaries and all, but then, I think a decade’s a good time to celebrate togetherness with anybody, especially if they become a best-somebody in your life, and better still, through 10 years. And even more so because they aren’t family, which means that they weren’t forced/ arm-twisted/ incriminating-blood-group-on-birth-certificate-black-mailed into remaining ever-lastingly bound to your affection. They actually chose to stay. Self-inflicted.

Wow. I need to blow my nose now.

So, about the best friend. She’s the smartest, bravest, un-funniest, quirkiest, most tolerant, and sometimes most unnervingly exasperating friend I’ve ever had.

I admire her.

I love her.

I feel like pulling her ears. Sometimes.

Like the time she marched through this really unsafe dark dingy deserted narrow gali in Bombay at an hour approaching midnight, in the sort of place that gives you the shivers even during broad daylight, and worse still, with me in tow. I argued with her. I thought I saw shadows lurking. I said it felt unsafe. I said I had a strong instinct for this sort of thing. I said everything I could to not go there. But instead of just arguing like respectable people, she scoffed at me, which is a very bad thing to throw in the face of women’s instinct. And so, belittled and defeated [did I mention that I simply CANNOT argue with her?] I followed, clutching my large yellow umbrella in shaolin readiness. And all this for what? Ask. Go on, ask, dammit. All this for some soggy-arsed, ridiculously overrated biscuits from a famous Bombay Irani restaurant, which happened to be SHUT when we got to it. To celebrate her birthday, no less.

With M, I have realised, there is no limit to being unreasonable.

With M, I have also realised that loyalty can mean unimaginable things. Especially with a pissy person like me, it can mean holding on to, loving, and supporting your best friend even if she’s the rudest, nastiest, most disagreeable person to have walked the very narrow, very fragile path of non-blood relationships. It’s really fascinating how she’s held on, considering that even I’ve been tempted, often enough, to say to myself, “Look H, really, it’s been an absolute ummm…errr.. I can’t say pleasure, but it’s been a bloody intense experience knowing you. I love you and all. I mean, there’s no doubt about that. But listen, I really don’t think this is working out. You get?”

I get. Dammit. I do get.

But M obviously has a heart of gold and the hide of a particularly well-fortified rhinoceros.

M also has the most fascinating self-authored dictionary of definitions. Not just any kind of definitions. Definitions that map the many wondrous stages that relationships or non-relationships go through. The subtle, inconceivable and often unfathomable distinctions that must be observed, noted and acted upon while doing useful things like labelling and indexing a relationship.

Often she has, not without a hint of scorn lacing her indignation, exclaimed exasperatedly.

M: “No, no no no no H! How many times have I told you, that doesn’t yet make him a boyfriend!”

Under her fine tutelage, I can now identify, with the ease of a somersaulting chimpanzee picking fleas off her knees, the 4,581 stages that must be transcended before a boy becomes a boyfriend.

On my part, I can proudly claim to have taught the Best Friend a thing or two about National Food Conservation. At first I did it by patiently being the [uncomplaining] dustbin that has over the years hoovered up all the food she’d order like a princess.

M: “H, let’s order this, this and that. And that. And then, let’s finish with this.”
H: “Is that all? Are you sure? I mean there’s me AND you. Have you accounted for all two of us?”

But obviously, such silently dignified, suggestive sort of remonstrations did nothing to improve her ordering manners.

I had to resort to harsher measures.

H [sternly]: “I’m not leaving this restaurant till you finish, M.”
M [whimpering]: “but they’ve turned off all the lights, and they’ve upturned all the chairs.”
H [coldly]: “I don’t care. Polish that off, or we’re going to be here to greet the morning staff too.”

Such is my patience. Such is my conscience. Such is my relentless commitment to saving the Best Friend’s soul from great volumes of embarrassment when she is accusingly stared down by hordes of hungry disembodied eyes in the Afterlife.


She isn’t just all relationship-librarian, food-waster and H-supporter. There are other endearing, respect-worthy, nostril-flaring-pride-inducing things about my best friend M.

She happens to also be one of the bravest, strongest, and most honest and committed fighters I’ve ever seen. She doesn’t resort to cheap things like yelling and getting pissy [like someone we know] and then settling back into complacency [also like the same someone we know]. She actually does constructive things about the things that move her, make her indignant, and get her blood racing.

Like the time she packed her bags and shifted overnight to Ahmedabad during the Godhra riots.

She went for a month, and returned after two years. She went as a volunteer with a well known NGO. Within a few days she branched out on her own [because she wasn’t satisfied with the commitment levels of the NGO] to bring together a spirited gang of riot affected widows, who, five years down, are not only earning their livelihoods more than fifteen times more successfully than they were earlier, but are also now confident advocates of their right to expression and freedom.

She did this without pay.

She did this without two square meals a day.

She did this, because she cares enough.

Obviously, I’d like to take credit for this, by association and all [you know how it is, being Best Friend to a Star - you become the mysterious source that finds clutches of anonymous fame in confirming rumours - I’m angling for that role].

However, being quite a well known household letter in international blogging circles myself, among all three of my very International readers, I think I’ll just settle for feeling lung-burstingly, heart-swellingly proud of her.

Here’s to surviving many crushes, almost crushes, almost relationships, not-by-a-wide-berth-relationships [and the fewer-than-my-two-big-toes reverently-unmentionable real proper relationship(s)] fortified by each others’ excellent counsel, and a certain dictionary-like invaluable tome of wisdom.

Here’s to loving The Bee Gees, Bloody Marys and Chilli Chicken [which is a proper-noun because it’s our National dish at our regular watering hole] with exactly the same intensity.

Here’s to ten years of being Best Friends! [This just called for an exclamation mark.]

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Sibling

Because I’ve known her all my life, and because no number of artistically, emotionally, poetically wrought words can do justice to what she means to me, here’s a short dispassionate essay, devoid of, as far as I could help, ‘weasel words’, that will give you a police-station artist’s sketch of this uncommonly gifted, wondrous creature.


The Sibling is a rare creature. There is only one Sibling in the world, in fact; which is why The Sibling is superlatively precious. Precious like my liver is, only that I don’t get to see my liver ever. I get to see The Sibling every once in a while, which is too far apart, and not very much more sociable than my liver. However, it makes The Sibling infinitely more popular, statistically.

The Sibling has a very distinctive and weighty opinion. On everything. One that is at all times to be considered, no make that: embraced, with deep and sincere gratitude. In fact, no one’s opinion ever counts like the Sibling’s opinion does.

The Sibling is entitled to every infraction in the book, because it is a well known fact that whatever the Sibling does, was, is and will always be for the best of mykind.

The Sibling is an authority on everything in The Known Universe, and I insist that I will have NO argument on that. Even from The Sibling.

The Sibling is a creature of exceptional grace and beauty, and has been known to attract innumerable compliments, men and disbelieving horrified stares when it has been known that The Sibling is a blood relative of mine - a sibling, no less.

The Sibling has been known for the following Great Acts of Courage and Altruism:
- Giving away her favourite clothes, make-up, books to me, without my asking [wistful/ admiring look does NOT count as asking].
- Doing my homework for me.
- Standing up for me, ALWAYS, against teachers, friends, parents and the World at large.
- Staging elaborate dance-and-song-shows on the neighbouring mattress, each time I’ve been ill.
- Swearing to support me unto my last breath.
- Entirely sponsoring [tickets and all] my
first ever trip abroad.
- Regularly assisting me in
pulling my head out of my arse, which is a tricky, anatomically challenging business.

The Sibling has been known for the following Not-So-Great Acts of things-other-than Courage & Altruism:
- Cutting my Barbie’s hair by trickery.
- Disowning me when I sang publicly at a school audition.
- Slapping me, severally, before peer-group audiences [but she did warn me, each time, I’ll have to admit, and no doubt it has contributed to my sterling character].
- Ridiculing me publicly over my drooling pink-affliction.

However, All Things considered, The Sibling is a dazzling, awe-inspiring, lifelong-allegiance worthy Princess.

The Sibling celebrates her birthday, every 12th day of July, which makes her a Crab, by Linda Goodman’s good oracular opinion.

So it is mandatory to join me, at this point, in saying “Happy Birthday Darling Beloved Sibling.”

This is where I SING [disregard the uncomplimentary detail about a certain school audition, and imagine a hauntingly beautiful voice trembling across continents, bearing good wishes and siblingly love.]

Happy Birthday to You,
Happy Birthday to You,
Happy Birthday
Dear Darling Sibling

Oh, and, The Sibling is second to none. She reposes on a pedestal with The Mother & The Father, snugly nestled between R & L-B-o-H.


The Sibling & I, aged 7 & 5.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Lexicon of …

There’s this little game we played the other day. Right & Left-Brain-of-H. We were in office. There was a pile of work gathering mass in that perennially unquantifiable state of to-be-done [Hell, I’m almost certain is just the sort of desk at which to-be-done can never, never get done]. Understandably, we were devastatingly bored. Make that: plain devastated. And so we thought of things that were worse that the work piling up on my desk. Things that were worse that the number 4. Things that make us both agree.

And since we’re both in that pale-faced, red rimmed, glassy eyed, moronic, blood-circulation-less, unrelenting stage of blog-addiction, this is what we couldn’t think beyond…

A lexicon. Of…

The most abused words on blog:



Random Rant

Random Ranting

Ranting randomly

By now, you’ve got the drift, no doubt, of how many types of non-sequential ways there are to launch tirades on weblog.

The daftest word on blog:


Presumably F*** [don’t ask me why I’m being so farkin’ moral, suddenly] & Ugly. Now why would you do that to two perfectly stand-alone-potent offensive words? Why would you make them sound so nothing-ish? And more importantly, what do you reckon it means anymore? I certainly haven’t a clue. Not unless, of course, you tell me that I’m a fugly bitch. Because then I am SO going to take offence, and, I’ll have you know that I’m NOT a bitch, ok? [Well okay, maybe sometimes, often, I am.]

The most S&M acronym on blog:

As is evident, there really isn’t much [more] to be said about this, than’s already been said.

But after mustering up this scant list, which amounts to nothing much if you’re cynical, we realised nothing had really changed for us.

It hadn’t made us feel anymore equipped to approach a certain terrifying pile of fast rising work that was threatening to snow down in Machu Picchu if it wasn’t addressed soon.

And, it certainly didn’t make us a better brain [than we already are].

So, the moral of this post is, don’t go bitching out non-[con]sequential linguistic preferences on weblog to feel better about yourself.

Apart from being an extremely, deplorably perverse form of self-gratification, it is futile.

Not because it doesn’t work, but because you’ll still have a pile of to-be-done at the end of it, however sharp, witty, sparkling you think you are. Make that: you are.