Tuesday, September 27, 2005

No one’s afraid of Tobias Wolff.

Nirschel [a.k.a *censored*, the president of this prestigious college] introduced the visiting writer this evening: A man named Tobias Wolff, known to all freshmen only because his book was prescribed as “common reading”, which is an endeavor to give yank kiddies a Higher Idea or Theme to think about [yes, its Bush’s idea. I checked].

He told us how Wolff had now joined a galaxy of famous writers who had visited RWU. He then named Salmon Rushdie. Name familiar yes? I thought so too. In fact, so sure was I of a resemblance, that I drew a possible portrait [like when policemen ask you to identify the bank robber from memory]. Here it is:

Right. Then Nirschel went on to describe Wolff, the man: his life, his jack-of-all-trades existence, which apparently included him being a parrot-trooper. I wondered at this new animal-- what could it possibly look like? Since the same notepad was in front of me, the fingers came up with the following:

Of course, Nirschel may have meant what he said in all good faith. I however, have my suspicions. Parrots tell fortunes. They dont jump off planes, yes? But then Nirschel is from New England. And everyone speaks...erm.. different.

The good thing is that with no further ado, the Wolff was brought on stage. What I love about living writers is that they look exactly like their pictures-- Ol' Bill Shakespeare for instance, probably in all good faith, wore a blonde toupeé. But how can he argue against a hundred paintings and postcards?

Yup. So Wolff looks exactly like this:

I was all prepared to sniff at this shining-pate-in-black-polo person. I had read his book, and though I recognized a pleasant read, I was unimpressed at the fact he called it a work of fiction and yet it sounded more like "creative non-fiction"-- a term broadly used to describe those stories where plot and characters are entirely non fictional, and where names are changed to protect privacy.

[And where there is more sex, and nods of recognition in the local grocery store than actually happened. Thats the creative part. But I digress]

In spite of all my mumbling, I sat there with pen and pad-- as you can tell-- waiting to hear what this man had to say.

He first said he applauded the common reading program, as it gave students a common language with which to communicate with during the first couple of days as freshmen.


The common words of communication thanks to the book were-- "Dude, did you get through that book?" "whacked, man. See ya at lunch".

Sure he was happy about common reading. His book was chosen, sales boosted, et al... but someone shut the cynic up. There were more important things he said.

Like how he wouldn't read from his novel.

Ave, Wolff.

He did however, go on to talk about the how and why of writing his book.
He opened by mentioned Frost's Road not Taken. He calmly went on to disclaim the theory that the poem is a celebration of individual choice, the riding of the rough path towards hard-worn success. He said, no-- see how Frost says 'the passing there/ had worn them really about the same'? He's saying both paths were similar. I quote Wolff: the famous last lines [I took the one less travelled by/and that has made all the difference] are "...about the lies he's going to be telling later on".

Go Wolffy.

Wolff's point was that when we--especially writers-- look back on our lives, we tend to dignify it, give it meaning beyond what it had at the time. And that's the danger in writing from one's own memory.

Wolff laid great emphasis on what he read as a child. Which consisted of books about Collies by a man named Albert Payson Terhune. Wolff told of a storyline that included a dog finding his way from Jersey to France to save his wounded master in WWII...

Ahem. No, the fingers froze in shock, nothing was doodled.

Certifiable, Wolff jokingly said. The audience half-laughed along with him, gazing at him in disbelief. He quickly brought them back by saying:

"The one great influence is the book that kept you up as a kid-- Sticking a towel underneath the door to hide the fact you were awake from your parents".

He had them back in his pocket with that one.

Wolff used to write vast amounts of stories-- Whenever his classmates needed to turn in a story, he would give them one of his. Yes, the teacher noticed once. Gave a classmate a C for one such story, a thing Wolff was told 30 years later. He said he still felt hurt because of that. When he asked why the C, his classmate told him that the teacher has said yes the story deserves an A: but it's Jack Wolff's story, not yours.

Wolff then smiled, crossed his arms and said he felt pride hearing that, even after all these years. Human, this bald pink trim man in a black polo.

He then made two interesting points about the craft:

1. Imitation is usually spoken of derogatorily. However, it is through imitation that we learn our basic skills; in the same way do we sharpen our writing skills.
He mentioned how Louis Armstrong was brilliant because of endless rehearsal and study [he pronounces it it looiss, not louie as in jungle book, which made me grin. Damn yankees]. He claimed Tolstoy, Hemingway and the collie dog man as influences.

2. He claims to infuse real life into fiction, to give it "spiritual geography"; he feels it fills out the story. Which is as good an argument as I've ever heard for the case of drawing on personal experience to write a story. He called it the melding of the personal with the imagination. He said, "scrutiny of one's life can take you to strange places". And then he quoted Eliot saying-

And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
~T. S. Eliot
[Four Quarters, Little Gidding, pt. 5.]

The audience filed out, waiting for the shining head to appear in the conference room and autograph books for 30mins. I walked away, the Who bashing it out on my ear drums.

Aye, Eliot. Aye, Wolff. You go your way, and I will go mine. As we all will.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Salute the Fallen

Midst the children, the families, the torn fabric of home and society... beyond the stained skirts of a god who left in a car a while ago... midst the stupidity and waste and pain--

Fakher Haider was beaten and shot in the head. One less report will get across to the world from Basra. He leaves behind a wife, three children, and a city that looks to never be peaceful again.

This is what the NYTimes had to saw about him:

A lean man with a quiet voice and a shy, curious smile, Mr. Haider was a Shiite and a member of the Tamimi tribe. Although his English was limited, he was brave and resourceful in his work with reporters. His extensive tribal connections were a great advantage in his journalistic work, both in Basra and in the marshes of southeastern Iraq.

He fought in 1991. He wrote for a newspaper. He told his wife not to worry, and gave her a number to call.

Each to his own tribe.
I'll stand and watch the sunset over where they buried him.

لن يذهب تضحيتك في تافهة

Saturday, September 17, 2005

God is Dead

The Madman.

Have you ever heard of the madman who on a bright morning lighted a lantern and ran to the market-place calling out unceasingly: "I seek God! I seek God!" As there were many people standing about who did not believe in God, he caused a great deal of amusement. Why? is he lost? said one. Has he strayed away like a child? said another. Or does he keep himself hidden? Is he afraid of us? Has he taken a sea voyage? Has he emigrated? - the people cried out laughingly, all in a hubbub.

The insane man jumped into their midst and transfixed them with his glances. "Where is God gone?" he called out. "I mean to tell you! We have killed him, you and I! We are all his murderers! But how have we done it? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun? Whither does it now move? Whither do we move? Away from all suns? Do we not dash on unceasingly? Backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions? Is there still an above and below? Do we not stray, as through infinite nothingness? Does not empty space breathe upon us? Has it not become colder? Does not night come on continually, darker and darker? Shall we not have to light lanterns in the morning? Do we not hear the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God? Do we not smell the divine putrefaction? - for even Gods putrify! God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him!

How shall we console ourselves, the most murderous of all murderers? The holiest and the mightiest that the world has hitherto possessed, has bled to death under our knife - who will wipe the blood from us? With what water could we cleanse ourselves? What lustrums, what sacred games shall we have to devise? Is not the magnitude of this deed too great for us? Shall we not ourselves have to become Gods, merely to seem worthy of it? There never was a greater event - and on account of it, all who are born after us belong to a higher history than any history hitherto!" Here the madman was silent and looked again at his hearers; they also were silent and looked at him in surprise.

At last he threw his lantern on the ground, so that it broke in pieces and was extinguished. "I come too early," he then said".

~Friedrich Nietzsche. The Gay Science (1882), sections 125 and 343.

Bush asking for a wee break.

Fund-raisers based on ethnic and racial lines [still cute that Jackson gets to hold the banner for all black musicians, but there you go. The world still loves eccentrics]

Yes, you madman who shut your mind when you first-kissed a horse in public. I awknowlege you. Gods of wooden faces and painted smiles we will become, for we have destroyed our old ones.... yet, must this be the only answer?

Must look beyond. Have to look beyond.

In a bearded man smelling of old age, I find my answer.

"We know who they are. They are the thugs of the Saddam regime who are trying to avenge their loss after losing power and the nice, affluent life they had... But history will not go back. This is our destiny, and no matter how many are killed, whether hundreds or thousands, we shall not turn back."

~Dhia Edeen Ahmadi, Shiite cleric, Baghdad.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

On Why Comparing N'Orleans and Mumbai is Stupid

A few days ago, I received a forward.

Otherwise known as an annoying thing that threatens you with death if you don't forward it to at least 5 people OR promises you money from microsoft if you do.

Contrary to my modus operandi, I read through this one before deleting it.

At this point I should say I received it at a time when I was in great mental turmoil over an issue I was composing a blog-post on. That issue's posted here, but since I found the forward strangely relevant, I forwarded it to a 100 people in my address book, in order to do a little research. These people live all over the globe--many in this country, many back in India, and those in Australia, the U.K and the middle east. The email read as follows:

"nches of rain in new orleans due to hurricane
> katrina- 18
> inches of rain in mumbai (July 27th).... 37.1
> population of new orleans... 484,674
> population of mumbai.... 12,622,500
> deaths in new orleans within 48 hours of katrina...100
> deaths in mumbai within 48hours of rain.. 37.
> number of people to be evacuated in new orleans...
> entire city
> number of people evacuated in mumbai...10,000
> Cases of shooting and violence in new
> orleans...Unnumbered
> Cases of shooting and violence in mumbai.. NONE (In
> fact people went out of way to help each other)
> Time taken for US army to reach new orleans... 48hours
> Time taken for Indian army and navy to reach
> mumbai...12hours
> status 48hours later...new orleans is still waiting
> for relief, army and electricty
> status 48hours later..mumbai is back on its feet and
> is business is as usual
> USA..."world's most developed nation"
> India..."third world country"

Im not the forwarding kind. And this bit is in bad taste-- we can be better than this, surely?-- and misses one or two very crucial facts. The first being [thanks, david] that n'orleans is under sea level. Mumbai isnt. And the second, that Mumbai was hit by torrential rain, not a hurricane. Doesnt take much more than 8th grade geography to tell you those two things are very different.

But I forwarded it out coz I needed to know-- what were the reactions to such a piece going to be? Surely many miscellaneous backs were patted, in private or public. But were there any other reactions? If so, what were they?


The fact is, if a hurricane ever did hit Mumbai, the situation would be as bad as it is in billoxi or n'orleans. I would like to think that the Indian government would move in faster to help-- somehow, Im not too sure. God knows I never want the situation to arise where I will be forced to find out.

The fact remains however, that there were no reported cases of violence in Mumbai. And none along the south-east coast either, post 26th December. I heard of no raped women or children. I heard of no "looting" or murder. Drunken brawls, coz the men said their boats were gone, their nets destroyed, what else did they have but the arrack? No one had to patrol the refugee camps though. Anarchy translated into a few fights for food packets the first week. But then due to such generous supply, those died down quick.

But perspective again-- The fact is India survives on a network of families and friends, the kind that America does not know of. Those affected by both the mumbai rains and the tsunami found refuge in the homes of their extended families, an uncle of a cousin, friends of their father in a town nearby. And unlike America, no one in India waited for red cross to step in. Families and individuals all across the country reached out with food, information, shelter and medicines. People collected clothes. People coveyed food packets.

But housing plans kicked in only a month or so ago. Those displaced by the tsunami have been living in refugee camps, blue tents, their relatives' houses all this time. No one could put the fishermen back into the sea a month after the tsunami. No one could relocate all the families and start rebuilding lives immediately.

They wont be able to do these things in billoxi, n'orleans or any of the other cities soon, either.

The victims of Katrina are very different from the victims of the tsunami. They live in America, they have lived steeped in the hot soup of media representation, the need to join the rat race with the rest of the country and finding themselves prevented from doing so due to the bottom rung they stand on. And here, there is no belief in Karma. America unlike India, has no ancient history of society rumbling on like a well-fed elephant, all its different parts and levels working in some strange harmony. It is a country that has instead been founded on the principle of "life liberty and the persuit of happiness" only to find that they are denied all three because they dont have a sufficient bank balance.

There is no such thing as humility of position in yankville. There is such a thing as anger at being kept down, anger at being marginalized.

I'm curious about the reactions to the Katrina disaster though: In countries around the world, including the U.K, Europe and India, everyday people are being quoted saying they think its a shame America can't handle its own disasters, and has to ask Red Cross to intervene internationally to provide aid [The BBC carries the article here]
Apart from all the arguments one could have-- What makes people refuse to see the misery, and state socio-political reasons for their hard-heartedness?


By the way: a few of the reactions that found their way to my inbox, from those 100 people:

Here are some of them:

"This one's been doin the rounds.. kinda weird that we chose to pat our backs on this, considering all the loss of life and livelihood.. my 2 pesos!"

"and again yesterday 2 hours of rain was enough to make the city come to a standstill for some time...I am also impressed at Mumbai's ability to bounce back...but these repeated disruptions in life doesnt speak volumes abt Mumbai's infrastructure....."

"My hope is that in this 21st century we drop the post-colonial labels of first world/third world and realize that the measuring stick used to assign those labels was dictated by a few self-important nations which moving forward will no longer dominate the international scene. This is a hard thing for many in the U.S. to accept, but economic forces will force us to wake up".

" I agree to this -
Cases of shooting and violence in new
Cases of shooting and violence in mumbai.. NONE (In
fact people went out of way to help each other)"


MC Vikram and LudaK are at it AGAIN!!!

Run for your lives. And your mp3 players, because you will want this song.

How many out there have had just waaaaay WAAAAYYY too much of Gwen stefani's "hollaback girl"? Its lyrical brilliance? THANKYOU!!

The boys who made "well-come to India where the cows eat HEYYY and they drive autorickshaws everyday" famous, apparently decided they had had enough of her sh*t being bananas, too.

Thus presenting: 'Curry and Rice girl', courtesy fobbed out entertainment [click on the banner the moment you hit the site]

Go luda, go luda...


Sunday, September 11, 2005

Mr. vishnusami at the gates of the madras museum, on pantheon road*

Welcome to the museum, please keep in line
only those who nicely did the guest book sign
will be allowed to see culture, thanks to very-nice me.
(& since its culture, you must be of Indian identity)

All people dead, only words here
(and pliss no drinking of wine or king-fishy beer)
tradition! Our people's heritage.
...here people? No-
Gone due to drought, war, & bad drainage.

But they dont fool me-- not bad toilets:
brain drain!! western job markets!
you want to see pictures of dance? or maybe swami trance?
we have many gods, right now all on holiday.
..You are going? but this is your culture, you must stay!!


This wrote itself in response to the worthy Mr. Soeb Fatehi's exercise on caferati, which read as follows:

'Write four lines . . .
maybe five or even six . . .
and tell us what you feel after reading the quote below.

Poet John Ciardi once asserted, "Tell me how much a nation
knows about its own language, and I will tell you how much
that nation cares about its own identity."'

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Moonwalking: a pantoum for d.i*

Playing together, my shadow and I,
We glide and threaten the cold sidewalk:
Something waits under this night sky.
A moon on a metal stick smiles, pulling on a white sock,

We glide and threaten the cold sidewalk.
Beyond, a bigger face shines through a taller stick.
A moon on a metal stick smiles, pulling on a white sock,
Growing swaying fingers holding it with fingers thick.

Beyond, a bigger face shines through a taller stick.
A lamp at every angle lights a night full o’ stories,
Growing swaying fingers holding it with fingers thick:
I write them with this ember-rolled pape o’ mem’ries.

A lamp at every angle lights a night full o’ stories,
We guide each other, this muse and I.
I write them with this ember-rolled pape o’ mem’ries--
Strange muse, who leaves me ash with which to lie.

We guide each other, this muse and I
Scrawled my initials yesterday: for years it will stay
Strange muse, who leaves me ash with which to lie.
Unscrubbed this wall, letters for meaning only my way.

Scrawled my initials yesterday: for years it will stay
And a smear stays on the cold stone embankment
Unscrubbed this wall, letters for meaning only my way.
Siva’s eye glowed smiling an instant

And a smear stays on the cold stone embankment
The night watches, with its lamps held high.
Siva’s eye glowed smiling an instant
Playing together, my shadow and I.

*we're studying pantoum writing in CW class. My professor is of italian-american parenthood. The pantoum is malayan. And d.i, a wonderful soul on caferati (Ryze)convinced me to try the form with original lines and rhyme. Much thanks, my friend.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Killers say sorria como se fosse verdade

I do like this band. And this song. Catchy. Pounds into your head, like a fast car ride on the freeway at 8:05pm, the only light coming from the dashboard, the ciggarette ash and the sad lights groaning by outside.

Mail me if you want it.

And lookie- found the italian translation of it.

The Killers - Smile Like You Mean It (tradução)-- Sorria como se fosse verdade

Guarde algumas expressões, você sabe que só tem uma
Mude seu jeito enquanto você é jovem
Garoto, um dia você será um homem
Ah garota, ele te ajudará a entender
Sorria como se fosse verdade
Sorria como se fosse verdade

Relembrando o pôr-do-Sol no leste
Nós perdemos a noção do tempo
Sonhos não são o que costumavam ser
Algumas coisas foram deixadas de lado

Sorria como se fosse verdade
Sorria como se fosse verdade

E alguém está chamando pelo meu nome
Do fundo do restaurante
E alguém está brincando
Na casa em que eu cresci
E alguém irá leva-la
Para as mesmas ruas que eu levei
nas mesmas ruas que eu levei

Sorria como se fosse verdade
Sorria como se fosse verdade
Sorria como se fosse verdade
Sorria como se fosse verdade

Oh no, oh no no no
Oh no, oh no no no

Dancing with Katrina

I must beg forgiveness.

Swept up with word-weaving, a few days ago, I once said something about clouds and their playmate katrina. Made for delightful, aery-faery imagery.

That was till I saw the posts on this blog.

Yes I have seen destruction like this and this. It was in early january. And there was a boat on top of a building, and another one standing at 75 degrees, upright, put there by no human hand.

Go visit the blog.

And pray.

For the one thing interesting about this kali yuga is that no one is spared. Its not the stars and stripes: its poor people who are afraid of insurance, medical, the future, laundry and for their families.

Pray, god dammit. Lets all of us.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Of Internetly holding hands and reaching forth

Griff will forever be right: the potential in people coming together in cyberspace to help each other in times of need or great disaster can never be underestimated.

Article in todays washington Post: here, with text below--

Good Samaritans Turn To Web to Help Victims

By Yuki Noguchi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 2, 2005; Page D04

The Internet is spreading more than just information about Hurricane Katrina, it's giving people in the far corners of the United States the power to offer storm victims tangible help in the form of jobs and housing.

From Richmond to Alaska, Americans are filling Web logs and Internet sites with personal pledges of relief.

"My Metal Stamping/Tool & Die Company has job openings we can offer in unskilled, or skilled, position," a Chicago man posted on the popular site Craigslist, along with his name, phone number and even the offer of a studio apartment at subsidized rates.

There was an offer on Nola.com, the Web site of the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, of a live-in nanny job in Staten Island, and the site had a listing from a Houston temp agency looking for information technologists. One posting called out to displaced diesel mechanics in Mississippi and Alabama: "We have a mobile home for a family of 4 or more and steady work."

The Wyndham hotel chain used Craigslist to post a notice to all its displaced employees, explaining how they'll be paid over the next 60 days and how to arrange places to stay, as well as including tips for putting children in out-of-town schools.

Some of the most personal offers are for housing, such as a posting from Renee Kapalka of Madison, Ohio.

"[W]e have a huge basement which can serve as an apt. and have lots of love to help you through these horrific times -- email me," she posted on Hurricanekatrinasurvivors.com, Craigslist and Nola.

Cash donations flowed to traditional philanthropic channels like the American Red Cross -- nearly 1 million people visited the organization's Web site on Wednesday, more than 32 times the average amount of traffic, according to consulting firm ComScore Networks Inc. But it remained unclear whether individual job and shelter offers were reaching the homeless victims stranded without phone or Internet service.

"I just feel like it's our calling," said Kapalka, who's become a news junkie, reading every detail about the hurricane. "For whatever reason, every time I see those heartfelt stories, I just get chills; I start crying," she said. After consulting with her husband and three daughters, Kapalka made her huge furnished basement available for six months "or whatever it takes."

Similar offers abounded. Nola.com, which has a "Homes Available" link on its home page, posted offers from far-flung areas: "virginia home for family"; "alaska home has room for 4"; "Small Room in Chicago burbs." Yesterday afternoon, the list of offers on that site alone grew at a rate of about one a minute.

Craigslist highlighted the list of cities affected by Katrina in red, where similar postings -- "Housing in NJ for Katrina victims" and "2br -- Free Condo For Katrina Victims Durango Colorado" -- went up throughout the day. Other sites, like Katrinahousing.org, Openyourhome.com and others offered to match housing offers with victims' families.

Some postings specified preferences of single women and children. Others offered pet housing, or cautioned against cat allergies. Some sought to house children orphaned by the hurricane. Still others reached to members of their subcommunities: "will host Irish dancer and family" and "Atlanta Gay male couple has open guest room available for other gay/lesbian single/couple in need."

But as images of the exodus out of New Orleans and of the Superdome's tired and weary circulated on the Internet yesterday, Kapalka wondered whether her offer would ever reach a needy family.

"I haven't received any responses," Kapalka said. Not a single e-mail or phone call. "Maybe only a few people can get access to it," she said, "or maybe we're just too far."

Jennifer Drake yesterday posted a free-housing offer on Nola and on Hurricanehousing.org, a site hosted by political Web site MoveOn.org. She also is talking to a Mississippi woman she knows from on an online chat site, Frugal-families.com, about taking her into her Cincinnati area home.

"My husband and I said we're willing to do whatever it took. It's a natural disaster. It could happen to anyone. I just thought: What would I want people to do for me?"

-Washington Post, Sept 2, 2005.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

S.K on break-ups

S.K is the best person to go to if a break-up has just happened. As when you go to him for real estate advice, he will make you a cup of black tea, with lime juice squeezed into it.

Then he will point out various trees to you-- If he doesn't know its botanical origin, he will make up a genus and tell you a story of shah jahan and mumtaz associated with it.

S,K will not ask you to tell him anything. He will talk, though.

These are some of the things he will tell you.

First, take a crap. Not a long one, a short one. Go in, lock the door, sit down, shit, flush, wipe [if you are in a country sans health faucets], flush again, pull up your pants and leave.

Immediately-- especially if you have just wiped, he will tell you-- go take a hot bath. Water down the emotion. Don't stand too long underneath it though: the heat will make you sleepy, and if you fall asleep you will wake early the next morning, with an emotional hangover, which is worse than too much Kingfisher.

S.K says dont drink when your brain is busy. This is the only time he will ever agree with your father, who said my child, drink only in happy company and with friends. S.K says smoke or masturbate to calm down. So that you can think. Dont drink and think, he announces, with a smirk, proud that he comes up with better rhymes than the traffic police department.

Write down what you think, with paper, chewed pencil or a reynolds 045. Dont type right away, especially dont type to the name/place/animal/thing you just broke with. Or rather, just broke.

He says, ask-- did you start the taking apart of the jigsaw, did you smash the first coconut? In which case, S.K says, understand that you had good reason. Id swings the hammer knowingly, though Ego might dither. However, if you have second thoughts about the cookie-crumbling, then you have 24 hours within which to re-establish communication. Post 24 hours, doom will settle. Like the morning after pill, like a tetanus shot, 24 hours is all you get to glue things back together.

He will then pour more tea. Break ups, like house-hunting, tend to loosen the bowels, he says. Black tea and lime tightens them back.

Read Dostoevsky, he says. He will then hand you an old penguin paperback edition of 'Crime & Punishment' if you dont have one yourself.

Then, depending on who you are, S.K will draw a birthchart and show you if
a) you are meant to be in love and this is just a temporary mishap and someone will be here soon or

b) You were never meant to make dinner for two, only watch crows at sunset and go for walks in the rain, with a newspaper to cover your head.

S.K doesn't chickensoup.

He draws the stars as they are.

Write, he says. Write lots. Write till a painful red bump develops on the finger your pen rests on. Then, go to sleep.

And do not dream.