Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Sea

1. Here, the sea sits in front of my window. There is a vast spread of forest land that stretches between the road in front of the house and the lining of the ocean creek. A single winding road leads off from the obstreperous main street to the inside of the forest. I wonder several times a day if I should walk into the grove and find my way along the path. The trees are dense. They look uninhabited. No cars - nor people either - are ever seen inside it. The road is always empty. I did once see something black and conspicuous move slowly down the road towards the mouth of the creek, but I couldn't be sure it wasn't a dog.

2. In the far distance, the water looks like it has shifting consistencies - mostly it is clear and blue, but in other places it looks like it has a (somewhat thick) brown surface lining. I don't know what this is, but it could be the sun reflecting off the water. Near the other port, the sand seems chaotic and in a state of flux in the water, probably ruffled by passing ships.

3. The ships are decrepit and crowd the shore line. Some of them look quite out-of-use, but this must only be a passing phase, because shipping is expensive business, susceptible to market fluctuations, as we were so graciously informed by those in that shipping office.

4. The ferry that carries those to the island with the caves is calm and composed, it never gets shaken up by the sea. The morbid imagination balks at this placidity. If you want to sit on the upper deck, the ferry guys will bluntly tell you, trying to look serious and convincing, you have to pay ten rupees extra.

5. At home, the breeze barges through the house at all times, lifting the billowing bedsheets and curtains even as you lie on the bed. Sometimes, it is so strong, you find yourself struggling to switch off the fan in this scorching summer heat. Once outside, the heat mitigates anything the sea breeze has to offer, but inside, it is completely different. You feel a persistent, moving wind stir through the house, blowing at all times. I believe the monsoon is expected on the 5th of June, and I cannot wait to see what it will have in store.

6. As I leave the city today and head to Goa, I wonder what other sea there will be.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sunday

A long-view of a week.
Entwined somewhere in
bundles of today,
with prognoses about tomorrow,
are mildewed stories about yesterday -
This fortuitous holiday
at the end of a bus-ride
is only some two hours away.

Somewhere, phones continue to beep
unwarranted messages and
unspoken ones too.
The list is endless -
many things
intersect and jostle in the air outside on their way to our phones.

We are fighting
still; our little skirmishes.
Casualties sit still,
with prophylaxes at hand,
against memories of our knees far away.
We grow knobbly now,
and buckle sometimes,
only to catch ourselves unawares -
We smudge our momentary weakness.

We criss-cross paths
on our way to the kitchen and back
(where travelers eat) -
listless for news,
suddenly stricken with
happy gasping;
pangs of small mirth
seize our bellies.

When will we have finished our shifts to minister to another Sunday?

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Other Side of Silence

Silence is a historical phenomenon. Those who do not post opinions publicly, or have not in the past done so, become historical accidents of speech - presumed inarticulate and unrecorded.

However, there is another more incipient silence that mars us. This is the silence that sits predominantly in most academic classes, across ages, batches and years of teaching. This silence is a disconcerting silence. The professor is left discombobulated, unaware of the thoughts and feelings of those who sit in front of him or her. The students are uncomfortable speaking. After class, they burst into disjointed conversations.

It is this silence that seeps into our notebooks, either untouched, or cluttered with names and dates and titles. The notebook is also a record of silence. Even as you messily scribble notes and opinions and dates of publication, you are acutely aware of how incomplete it is. You reluctantly ascribe opinions to names. You masquerade, hide behind published critiques, quietly chiding yourself for the inadequacy of your personal store of knowledge, this too a body of knowledge populated by people who have already thought and written before you.

In this transience, you are a passive curator, a receptacle for others' intellectual accomplishments. You are their reader. They are footnotes to your notes.

As a student of Literature, I feel aligned with those others who study what are broadly called the Social Sciences. Our methodologies differ, but our ways and means share a remarkable affinity. Our forms of learning, our lectures are transactions in public discourse, repetitions of ideas that have already been thought and passed down the ages. It is impossible, indeed undesirable, to escape the cyclical gyre. It is in the nature of formalized information – opinions and matters of disputation largely – to be passed down the ages. This is our canon, our indomitable canon writ large over aeons of syllabus-making soirees. It is this canon that rules the lines of our textbooks, rendering all that is beyond its inestimable good judgment mute and inconsequential.

The silence in class, I have come to believe, is not a silence that betrays a lack of understanding. In fact, it is quite the opposite. All that is transacted in class is understood not only sufficiently, but understood well. We amass our armoury of critics and critical statements, puncturing a deep hole in the abyss of incomprehension we otherwise believe we are surrounded by. In fact, our methods are so well programmed, one would be hard-pressed to not have any such critical clusters in their essays and examination answers. If you asked me, I could promptly rattle off a liturgy of names allocated for each text, systematized into a neat array of famous critics and their even-more-famous opinions: for Woolf, I have Gilbert & Gubar, Jeremy Tambling; for Conrad, I have Edward Said, Raymond Williams and Chinua Achebe; for Beckett, I have Vivian Mercier, Eva Metman, Martin Eslin et al. For every text, for every question that shoots like an arrow into my fortress of critical material, I apparently have names and shields so daunting that the arrows must bend and succumb to mass repetition.

The silence that is generated by this armoury is an overwhelmed silence. It is silence that says, ‘Too much,’ a silence of resignation. It is not a silence of indifference, which it is so often misinterpreted as. Professors unfamiliar with your class return to the staff room with bitter recriminations about the dull-ness of her previous class. The silence is stifling. But she doesn’t know that it is a silence of overfed children, who are always at the ready to regurgitate everything so far swotted, always tired and despondent in between periods of mass repetition.

The silence is one of self-inflicted damage, in which every student and academic in the world is complicit. It is the silence that you surrender to in order to be acknowledged, to be heard later on. When you scream incoherently your own notions, you antagonize everyone in class. But when you repeat the programmed armoury of critics and reading-lists stuck in your throat, you are heard without reservation. You are finally accepted into the echelons of intellectual goings-on. You are finally one of us, a sentinel to our vanguard of canonical writers.

It is in the nature of our lives and forms of knowledge to study others’ thoughts. It cannot change. When we study what we study, it is necessarily with our considered and consented subservience.

We are servants to our textbooks, servants to our reams of knowledge, servants to our syllabi. We are all servants of history - the history of everything that has already been said.

We walk in the corridors of academia, brimming with texts and more texts, carrying them around on our backs like heavy loads. And yet, there are no other means of academic interaction, or at least none that are credible.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It Cannot Be Done

The most important thing is perhaps the moment. It is difficult to distinguish the moment from those preceding it. I don't know if this is a good thing. It can make you hesitate, think over a decision a number of times. It can make you inhibited.

But most of all, the moment is ephemeral. Once it is gone, it is difficult to retrieve. It passes, and you are left unsatisfied, drained, worried, encumbered. Thinking back to the moment, you feel like you couldn't express yourself adequately then. Thoughts remained unsaid. Principles remained unspoken.

If you plunge into the moment, you may be left with a bitter after-taste, reconsiderations, recriminations, re-checks, resurgent feelings of stupidity. Either way, the moment is dangerous. It can take you anywhere. It can change you all of a sudden.

Had such a moment today. An assignment. I said I had finished it satisfactorily. Had done my utmost to complete and present things when done. He said that he needed details. I provided them, to the best of my memory. He said he needed more details.

More details.

It isn't sufficient to do one's work - the panopticon has too many peep-holes. Each one of them must be satisfied with a daily report of happenings and goings-on.

Everyday you assuage the bulging horror of angry, unhappy eyes. Everyday you are reminded of the inadequacy of pulling them, the eyes, to you.

So, ulltimately, when the moment comes, you must learn to gracefully leave and say it cannot be done.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Amitabh Bacchan

When you protest, you can protest on someone's behalf by actively defending him. This would include defending his stand/opinion in public or in private, or simply defending the fact that so-and-so has the right to express it, regardless of the repercussions it may have. You defend the fact that expressing your sentiments ought not to jeopardize the security of an individual. On the other hand, you can also defend someone by recognizing the shortcomings of the diffident's points of view. When cars and buses and taxis are ransacked by mobs in Mumbai, you stand up and say that this course of action is illegitimate.

When you do not make any statement at all, it is either because you are undecided, or you are indifferent to the problem, or you passively accept the fact that what has happened is justified. If, however, in addition to this, you write about the prowess of an individual associated with the problem, i.e., the head of Shiv Sena, at a time of distress and violence, you condone his actions. Timing is never incidental. To play the fool by making side-comments is irresponsible and, frankly, even more devious.

Interview with Raj Thackeray

One of the most disturbing interviews this week. I don't know what Raj Thackeray means to say when he begins almost on a prescient note of threat and retribution - people should watch what they say about Mumbai. This unsettles the mind. It's impossible to reconcile the two extremes. One is a contradiction in terms. How are you expected to respond to the comment made by you if we, the viewer, or the interviewer, must feel threatened by the force of your dire warnings - if we are to watch what we say about Mumbai? It is pointless to argue then, the interview itself is pointless. If questions aren't forthcoming, then the discussion is unilateral. We are not here to hear you speak, Mr. T, we want to ask you questions, so that you may retract the riots that you have instigated. It is next to impossible to watch our words. The next few questions anticipate some sort of response - something to go on, something to indicate to the viewer what might be his party-motivations. But they disappoint drastically. He says that every state must have the right to preserve its own language. That doesn't respond to the question. The question is, why can't you engage those you disagree with in debate, why is the first and instinctive response always mob violence unleashed in the streets? It is hard to listen and absorb it, every contradiction grates the mind. He sways back and forth in the black arm-chair. The movement distracts and makes listening unnecessary. The body speaks clearly already, far more articulately than his words. The interviewer asks another question, Why do presume to deny the fact that you instigate violence on the streets, there are so many examples, like when you attacked the IBN Lokmat office. T grins contentedly and laps up the opportunity, So that's what you're after, why don't you come straight to the point? The interviewer retracts like a child upbraided, foolishly told off to not pursue matters of self-interest. But is it self-interest? Why must the interviewer feel ashamed for having brought up the attack on his institution? How can T presume to dismiss the question, insinuating that we are wrong to even bring it up. That it is justified for him to dismiss questions that are personally-relevant. The grin on his mouth widens into an ever-seeping petulance. A quarrel between two children. T marvels at the expose - Look, he says, look at him trying to demand answers for what he's suffered. The questions now dwindle to an end. There is nothing more that one can say when you're stonewalled. Accusations remain dangling in the air. Nothing more to be had. No more answers. No rationale. No motives. Only one long petulant glare of defiance and disregard.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Antonin Artaud - from No More Masterpieces

"One of the reasons for the asphyxiating atmosphere in which we live without possible escape or remedy, and in which we all share, even the most revolutionary among us, is our respect for what has been written, formulated, or painted, what has been given form, as if all expression were not at last exhausted, were not at a point where things must break apart if they are to start anew and begin fresh."

[...]

"Masterpieces of the past are good for the past: they are not good for us. We have the right to say what has been said and even what has not been said in a way that belongs to us, a way that is immediate and direct, corresponding to present modes of feeling, and understandable to everyone."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Labels We Use

Recently, some people instigated a conversation about what our three years here have been like. Obviously, these moments of retrospection are not entirely without bias. A lot of your memories become part of one big nostalgic blur, indistinguishable, mitigating those rough edges, the moments of dullness and stupidity. This is what one generally finds is the case. Immured in a last-minute box of mementoes, write-ups and paraphernalia, we forget to cast that last, crucial circumspect look at all that has been terrible, incongruous and plain insufferable. This is not to say of course that this is what we should carry with us when we leave. That would be self-defeating. Instead, this is what really constitutes the better part of our judgment – our ability to recollect, meticulously, those things that have not gone too well. The conversation that took place reminded me of one such excoriated detail of life. Not that it doesn’t happen all the time. In fact, it’s something that happens on a daily basis presumably, on a scale and magnitude truly inconceivable, but we don’t like to think about it. It’s safer relegated to the recesses of our under-graduate memories, never to be retrieved again. But I wouldn’t like to not put on record the seriously dangerous levels of extant labeling and libeling here. Some people, of course, have mastered the unenviable art more adeptly than others. From day one, it has been an interminable cycle of ‘So-and-so is a pseudo’, ‘So-and-so is a dope-head’ and ‘So-and-so is loose’ and ‘So-and-so is a snob’. Probably the most condemnable (and commonly used) label is ‘So-and-so is shady’. First of all, it’s an absolute mess. Various labels apply to individuals simultaneously and in some (more repugnant) cases, all of them are the collective brain-children of individual label-manufacturers, dolts propagating them at break-neck speed. It’s not something that one gradually gets acclimatized to. The first day itself is witness to an onslaught of labels mindlessly hurled in all directions by overzealous seniors who cannot contain the overwhelming impulse to regurgitate their personal opinion of others in college on unsuspecting first-years. After that, one can only imagine how the pace redoubles with time and ultimately reaches insurmountable heights. A friend, in that conversation, used the word ‘shady’ again. Perfect! This was probably my last opportunity to get it out in the open. The word is bandied about so often, I had to clarify what it means. Obviously, we seem to think that the word is legitimated by the fact that we use it. By this I mean that every person who uses it assumes that he or she authenticates it by simply labeling someone else with it. Ergo, using the word is giving yourself that harmfully erroneous and deceptive sense of authentication. The assumption is that the more someone uses it, the more he or she is distanced from that category and is therefore more acceptable. This self-congratulatory, self-validating gesture is near hypnotic. The more you run around like a headless chicken labeling others ‘shady’, the more you delude yourself into ratifying your own importance. Now, this friend who mentioned it is someone I like and enjoy being around, and her usage of the word probably has something to do with its doctrinaire, hypnotic proliferation – it’s used so often, you don’t even think twice about it - but what is particularly repugnant is the fact that some people use it to refer to others they don’t even know or have never even spoken to, as if they were a sanctioned authority to denigrate others arbitrarily based on nothing but an effulgent need to gratify a fledgling, pitiably crippled ego. It is strange, but it happens ever so often. The most contorted aspect of this is the fact that the ‘shady’ people have their own circle of friends, people who would not consider them ‘shady’, who, in turn, would refer to the original labelers as ‘shady’. Not in retaliation, as it were, but impulsively, of their own accord. So the acrimony is mutual. And doubly erroneous. Apparently, it’s not even relative anymore. Everyone is ‘shady’ regardless of the people to whom they are close, with whom they share their lives; people for whom, eventually, others unknown to them would fittingly deserve the label. Even the more garrulous people are ‘shady’ because, I am sure, there must be people out there who don’t know them and consequently think they are ‘weird’. The other label of course is ‘snob’. Let’s keep that aside, because it barely needs dissection. To put it simply, for the person who uses it, all those who do not know or make fatuous conversation with him or her are ‘snobs’. The underlying assumption is, only those who speak to you are people who are ‘nice’ and hence not ‘snobs’. The other remarkable, and slightly more hilarious, phenomenon is the ‘hot or not’ label. This, however, is not something I feel fit to comment on, because I think it abounds in the world outside, other than in the incestuous labeling-pogroms of college. But sometimes, and you know when it happens, people do it so blatantly, you’d think they were brought up on it. Besides the giggling that accompanies it, you also notice the way they look people over as they pass by or simply sit in the metro. There is something primarily wrong about it, and it is this (I don’t mean to be facetious): those who do this kind of thing really ought to take one good, long and lingering look at themselves first. If there’s any ounce of honesty in them, much diminished as it may be, they’ll probably realize how unconscionable their assuming the right to label others is. Now, one can say that all of this is exaggerated and generalized, but the fact of the matter is, we know generalized observations have greater credence in this area. Some might also say that there are certain common standards that apply to one and all, and that these may be used to label individuals in whatever way:To hell with these liars.

The Group Grimace Social Energy

Something has been growing heavy on my mind for a long time now. It started in the first year at university. Every subsequent year has incrementally added to the impression. Now, I am almost certain. Certain that this is probably true. And there is nothing I can invent to refute it. Of course the context is specific to college years, and below, in descending order of numbers and ascending strength. It’s been my experience that whenever someone, a new person, comes into contact with a certain group of people, the experience has a certain bitterness. Bitter is a very particular word, but for want of substitutes, it will do. I don’t know where this stems from, or if at all it’s something that comes from either one side or the other. There is something almost automatic about it – sui generis. The new person enters a group sitting around and talking at a table in the café, or a party, and intuitively tries to fall in with the conversation, or the atmosphere. He or she tries to say something prefatory. Something relating to the talk at the table. He or she sits down, speaks to others, or maybe not. But ultimately, a few people secede and make some clandestine remarks and gestures. A grimace sometimes, sometimes a look of annoyance, frowning eyebrows et al. The littlest unfamiliar gesture, the littlest idiosyncrasy enervates those two. They feel beleaguered by this addition to their sitting party. It’s an added egg in an overladen nest, and they skip off to bitch on a separate bough. I’ve felt the same about certain people. Unconsciously even. A girl particularly with her gesticulation and twanging tone never fails to make me grimace. Outside the café. A word or two snidely to our common friend, and I’m off. It’s enervating, no doubt. But why the restlessness? Why the unspoken acrimony? And more often than not, it doesn’t even need a good enough reason (which is not to say, of course, that my disliking this girl for her twanging South Delhi tone is reasonable). Some people, particularly girls, most from the second year (I presume), have this deliberate, and tedious, look on their faces when someone else traipses along to sit next to them at the dhaba tree. It’s fallacious. Worse off, I’ve begun to do the same thing when unwarranted, people come to park their seats at the same spot. We’re getting worse than the territorial pye dogs on campus. Who knows? – tomorrow, we could barking viciously at each other, too. I thought that maturity would inevitably come to me in college. I would be spontaneous and my behaviour would be unhindered. But this is a den of intensified aberrations of insecurity, a den of mutual hostility, a forever pungent air – a tenuous thread that easily snaps – and snapping, scathing, razor-sharp, embittered scissors abound.

Idle conversation

Last night, a chat-conversation with someone unknown from my friends-list. I did not know the person, and am pretty sure I never added her in the first place. When I randomly add people, it’s because they’re either part of some group that I’m interested in, or because they look interesting. The last is pretty incriminating, but, hey, who would I be kidding? It’s unfortunate that one’s profile picture doesn’t essay a character exegesis of its subject, but I’m not responsible for this misfortune – the system deems it fitting. Initially, the chat tottered on the brink of being rude. I said, who are you? She said, I don’t know, you tell me. I said, well, you added me. She said, I never did. I said, then how the hell are you here? She said, I don’t know, you tell me. That’s it. Closed it. Got pinged again – she said, why would I add you? I said, no idea. Closed it again. That’s when I thought I would ‘revise’ my friends-list, but she intervened. She said, anyway, it doesn’t matter. The rest of the conversation followed. The central problem is, a networking site can do this to you. It makes you vulnerable to people you wouldn’t expect, people who can ask you incredibly irrelevant questions and leave you dangling. It comes attached with a rude, brusque, unpleasant arrogance, an arrogance that leads you to delude yourself into presuming that you know people whose profiles you have access to. There are times when some of your friends in real life get cocksure because they think they know you inside-out, they gloss over your feelings, but you deal with it anyway, because they do, in fact, know you, and you like them. Imagine how repugnant it is when some mere profile picture with name attached presumes to act the same way.