Sunday, December 16, 2007
Go read. Just another sign (in case you ever doubted it) that life in this vale of sorrows is DEEPLY unfair!
Friday, December 14, 2007
The following was developed as a mental age assessment by the School Psychiatry at Harvard University . Take your time and see if you can read each line aloud without a mistake. The average person over 40 years of age cannot do it!
1. This is this cat.
2. This is is cat.
3. This is how cat.
4. This is to cat.
5. This is keep cat.
6. This is an cat.
7. This is old cat.
8. This is fart cat.
9. This is busy cat.
10 This is for cat.
11. This is forty cat.
12. This is seconds cat.
Now go back and read the third word in each line from the top down and I betcha' you cannot resist passing it on.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
ICE Campaign - "In Case of Emergency"
We all carry our mobile phones with names & numbers stored in its memory but nobody,
other than ourselves, knows which of these numbers belong to our closest family or friends.
If we were to be involved in an accident or were taken ill, the people attending us would have our mobile phone but wouldn't know who to call. Yes, there are hundreds of numbers stored but which one is the contact person in case of an emergency?
Hence this "ICE" (In Case of Emergency) Campaign ..
The concept of "ICE" is catching on quickly. It is a method of contact during emergency situations. As cell phones are carried by the majority of the population, all you need to do is store the number of a contact person or persons who should be contacted during emergency under the name "ICE" ( In Case Of Emergency).
The idea was thought up by a paramedic who found that when he went to the scenes of accidents, there were always mobile phones with patients, but theydidn't know which number to call. He therefore thought that it would be a good idea if there was a nationally recognized name for this purpose.
In an emergency situation, Emergency Service personnel and hospital Staff would be able to quickly contact the right person by simply dialing the number you have stored as "ICE."
For more than one contact name simply enter ICE1, ICE2 and ICE3 etc. A great idea that will make a difference!
Let's spread the concept of ICE by storing an ICE number in our Mobile phones today!=
Please forward this to all yr friends and nears.. It won't take too many "forwards" before everybody will know about this. It really could save your life, or put a loved one's mind at rest ICE will speak for you when you are not able to. This is released by WHO for the benefit of mankind....
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Meanwhile, my travel agent (I'll post a link to his company web-site some day soon -- he's become a buddy over the years quite aside from being possibly the friendliest person ever to survive in his line of business!) sent me a kilo of fresh tasty almonds (unsalted) in a pressed-glass bowl that looks as if its designers put some effort into making a pleasing, durable object. It makes the point about the holiday season in the right way. Can't go wrong with almonds!
And for those who like to combine their word-game-playing skills with a spot of good-samaritanism, here's a useful link: Free Rice. Fill that bowl! You'll enjoy it -- and maybe someone else will too.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
But what caught my attention and caused me to clip the item out of the paper -- NOT something I do often -- was that she is a sex-worker, living and working in Kerala, who had written her autobiography and got it published.
Now her autobiography, originally in malayalam has been re-published in English, by by Madras-based WESTLAND(I'll post a link here when/if I find one). I picked up copies at my friend (and Westland editor) Nilanjana Roy's home and speed-read my way through the book last night. It's not long -- 143 pages -- and its translation doesn't feel right -- but I would say it makes complusory reading.
It is, in many ways a shocking book -- NOT because of what it says about the life of a sex-worker but for what it reveals about the lives of so-called "ordinary" Indians. Jameela's story is one of extraordinary resilience -- but how can I use this word "extraordinary" without qualifying it? Alongside her story, like the bystanders whose faces enter the frames of photographs of filmstars posing in public places, are all the others with whom she interacts. They are all equally resilient, long-suffering and strong -- surely as extraordinary, if measured against the yardstick of the lives we read about in novels or learn about through movies. Against the backdrop of Jameela's account, however, "ordinary" and "extraordinary" cease to have much meaning -- she shows us that the huge majority of "ordinary" people have "extraordinary" experiences, in which case they are no longer extraordinary in the sense of unusual, but merely the norm -- the norm that is never acknowledged on its own terms, the norm that is pixelled out of the record by the "India Shining" mythologizers.
Jameela's life and the lives of the huge majority of those amongst whom she lives -- not just sex-workers, but the tradesmen, the rickshawallas, the policemen, the small hoteliers -- are marked by unrelenting insecurity, hampered by such extremes of heartlessness that it is really difficult to understand how they can bear to face up to their realities -- yet the very fact that they do, is a clear indication that it is I who am mistaken, as I judge these lives against the smug certitudes of my own (and of others like me).
The malayalam edition of her book was snapped up -- 13,000 copies were sold in the first 100 days, according to the introduction of this book. It is not a salacious book -- no-one reading it, I believe, is likely to get any cheap thrills from it. To some extent, I miss the spice that has been (I think deliberately) left out. Then again, I can see that a book like this needs to be super-decorous in its appearance and the language of its presentation, in order to avoid being driven underground by its subject-matter. How ironic that less provocative books -- lacy fictions built on middle-aged fantasies -- are decked out like scarlet ladies, while this one, about and by a scarlet lady, looks as meek and saintly as a vegetarian recipe book!
Saturday, September 29, 2007
[posted from Nilroy's home]
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Anyway -- just in case it isn't clear -- I DID like the book. Quite a bit. I've already bought my first give-away copy and plan several more and my house copy is "travelling".
The three long short stories ("novellas"? Am never very sure when a short story becomes a novella. I would call these short stories) that make up the book certainly aren't cute and cuddly. Each story involves American characters interacting with Indians, in India. Neither culture is presented with its best foot forward. The overwhelming characteristic that comes through is greed -- interlocking neatly in some ways, and then, disastrously NOT.
What I always like about Theroux's prose is the clinical precision of his observations. He uses his characters like the subjects of a dissection, aimed at exposing one or two obscure glands, while he describes the ethos that surrounds the operation with a casual, throwaway flair. Ultimately, however, the "story" is secondary to the descriptions.
The picturesque India of tourist brochures is almost wholly obscured behind the maelstrom of crowds/dirt/beggars that assaults the senses of visitors from quieter, cooler climes. Many Indians regard this view of India as false and "colonial" (the epithet that Indian reviewers hurl at any foreign author who is less than enchanted by the subcontinent). I would call it "unsentimental" rather than colonial. Theroux's is the ultimate unsentimental gaze -- he reports on emotions without drowning in them -- and I thank him for his cool detachment.
Go on -- buy the book -- read it -- and pass it on. Especially to anyone planning a trip in this direction ...
Monday, September 10, 2007
AMAZINGLY SIMPLE HOME REMEDIES (don't try any of these
1. If you are choking on an ice cube, don't panic.
Simply pour a cup of boiling water down your throat
and presto. The blockage will be almost instantly
2. Clumsy? Avoid cutting yourself while slicing
vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while
you chop away.
3. Avoid arguments with your partner about lifting the
toilet seat by simply using the sink.
4. For high blood pressure sufferers: simply cut
yourself and bleed for a few minutes, thus reducing
the pressure in your veins. Remember to use a timer.
5. A mouse trap, placed on top of your alarm clock,
will prevent you from rolling over and going back to
sleep after you hit the snooze button.
6. If you have a bad cough, take a large dose of
laxatives. Then you will be afraid to cough.
7. Have a bad toothache? Smash your thumb with a
hammer and you will forget about the toothache.
8. Sometimes, we just need to remember what the rules
of life really are: You only need two tools: WD-40 and
Duct Tape. If it doesn't move and should, use the
WD-40. If it shouldn't move and does, use the duct
9. Remember: Everyone seems normal until you get to
10. Never pass up an opportunity to go to the
11. If you woke up breathing, congratulations! You get
12. And finally, be really nice to your family and
friends; you never know when you might need them to
empty your bedpan.
*Don't know what the DARWIN AWARDS are? Prepare to grin ...
Thursday, September 06, 2007
Constrained writing is a literary technique in which the writer is bound by some condition that forbids certain things or imposes a pattern. For example:
Gadsby is an English-language novel consisting of 50,000 words, none of which contain the letter “e.”
The 2004 French novel Le Train de Nulle Part (The Train from Nowhere) by Michel Thaler was written entirely without verbs.
Cadaeic Cadenza is a short story by Mike Keith that uses the digits of pi as the length of words.
Never Again is a novel by Doug Nufer in which no word is used more than once.
Alphabetical Africa is a book by Walter Abish in which the first chapter only uses words that begin with the letter "a," while the second chapter incorporates the letter "b," and then "c," etc. Once the alphabet is finished, Abish takes letters away, one at a time, until the last chapter, leaving only words that begin with the letter "a."
Mary Godolphin produced versions of Pilgrim's Progress and Robinson Crusoe Words of One Syllable.
One famous example from the Chinese language is The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den which consists of 92 characters ... all with the sound shi!
Meanwhile! My life has recently been overtaken (yet again!) by ... hold your breath ... FACEBOOK. I am resisting it in small ways -- for instance, I don't spend the WHOLE day online, but only 15 hours out of 24. Quite restrained, wouldn't you say? I've not signed up using my name as a (possibly feeble) means of keeping my presence there discreet but I realize this is a bit idiotic considering the site is really a form of existential striptease in which the participants hang all the wet and sticky bits of their lives out on the clothesline of the web for all to see. Since I need to reserve my sticky bits for exposure in my books, I simply can't afford to do any of that! So if some of you avid Facebookers want to catch up with my FB persona you're going to have to post messages to me and if I feel like it, I'll respond with a link and handle.
Saturday, September 01, 2007
For all kinds of Heart-Related Surgeries, Free of Cost please contact:
Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences
EPIP Area, Whitefield,
Bangalore 560 066,
Telephone: +91- 080- 28411500
Fax +91 - 080- 28411502
You can visit Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences online for further links and/or to clear up any doubts you might have about the authenticity of the institution. There are probably hundreds of people out there who might benefit from this information, so I figure it's worth passing on!
And meanwhile, on the subject of good works, I thought I'd share this list of Very Special People that MSN created. While I don't like their title for the list -- 10 Amazing Women You've Never Heard Of -- because in the first place I HAVE heard of some of them (at least five) and in the second place it seems a strangely condescending inclusion principle -- I must admit that I was impressed by the list and was glad to have pictures and brief bio-data to remind me of them.
I was going to post a picture to accompany the list, but decided against it on second thoughts. If you're curious, go click the link!
Monday, August 27, 2007
SOoooo okay. Back to mortality. Or, as it turns out, IMmortality. There's a book with this catchy title -- HOW TO LIVE FOREVER OR DIE TRYING by Bryan Appleyard -- which suggests that immortality may not be such a far-fetched idea after all. This review from TIMES ONLINE is what got me thinking that I'd like to read the book.
NOT because I especially want to live forever. But then again ... maybe I'm just saying that coz I KNOW I won't? I mean, the methods discussed in the book are not likely to be available to people of my age and decrepitude but (according to the book's author) there may already be people alive now who will become eligible for the use of new technologies which will enable them to ward off death indefinitely. They wouldn't be immortal in the mystical sense -- i.e., a falling grand piano would put an end to their days as thoroughly as it would anyone else's days -- but at least they would not be succumbing to mere old age 'n' tumours.
I must say, it would be rather horrid to be living alongside jerks who, when you say something like "Well ... after all, all things come to an end .." can riposte with, SPEAK FOR YOURSELF, MICROBE!
But really: can you imagine what it might be like to live for ...oh ... 1000 years? One major casualty, it seems to me, would be temporal vows and promises. I mean, who would want to swear Eternal Love if there was the slightest chance a relationship would really last for more than 50 or 60 years? Imagine being stuck with the same spouse for 10 times the normal life span! Yow.
Diamonds would no longer be anyone's best friend ...
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
PALMS IN THE MIST, OrchidRetreat
This is just a very brief teaser-trailer about my recent trip to Sikkim -- it was a sudden trip that blew up out of the monsoon mists of last week, while I was still in Madras with my Mom -- oo! I haven't posted anything about THAT trip either (except that I watched APOCALYPTO on my laptop while I was in Madras, and posted about that)!! Hmm. Well -- let's just say, I went to Madras on the 2nd, stayed till the ninth, returned to Delhirium and left for Kalimpong/Gangtok on the llth! Returned just yesterday evening, tuckered out but very pleased with the way the trip turned out.
It wouldn't be fair to blog about the trip before I write my report for OUTLOOK TRAVELLER, the magazine responsible for despatching me to the mountains -- so of course I won't. But it won't harm anyone if I post the addresses of the two charming resorts at which I stayed: The Orchid Retreat in Kalimpong and The Hidden Forest Retreat in Gangtok, Sikkim.
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Mel Gibson’s APOCALYPTO took me by surprise. For some reason, I believed it was a science-fiction film -- apparently, I had managed to miss seeing any trailers. The billboards I saw in Boston managed to conceal the fact that it’s a tale of lyric violence set in the jungles of South America, in “the twilight of the mysterious Mayan empire” (from the DVD case cover), probably the late fifteenth century.
I was intrigued by it. On the one hand, it held my attention. On the other hand, I found little distracting thoughts buzzing like flies across my field of vision all the way through.
The story concerns a warrior (Jaguar Paw) belonging to a tribe of jungle-dwellers who find themselves being brutally raided and taken prisoner by another tribe. It isn’t very clear whether these others are soldiers belonging to the rulers of an urban clan or whether they are urban beings themselves, who round up jungle-dwellers as part of their normal weekday occupation.
Whatever the case, they force-march Jaguar Paw and all the able-bodied members of his tribe who survived the raid, to the local metropolis. Its skyline is dominated by tall pyramid-shaped temples where the priest and his patrons are indulging in the practice for which South American cultures have become infamous in the gaze of Western pop culture, i.e., tearing out the still-beating hearts of sacrificial victims in order to offer their blood to the gods. Jaguar Paw narrowly escapes this fate by means of a handy total solar eclipse whereupon he and the surviving clan members are given a chance to run to their freedom – that is, if they can first survive being pelted with arrows, bolas and spears by the urban warriors while sprinting across a stretch of open ground before reaching the safety of the jungle.
Jaguar Paw manages to make it to cover, but kills the lead warrior’s son in the bargain, thereby earning the privilege of being chased by ten of the warrior-urbs. The chase takes up the final third of the movie, with the pursuers being picked off in each of several different ways: a jaguar in one case, a poisonous serpent in another, at the foot of a great water-fall in a fourth, a hornet’s nest in a fifth and so on. MEANWHILE – and this of course is the reason that Jaguar Paw is so frantic to get back to his ravaged home – his heavily pregnant wife awaits him, at the bottom of a (highly convenient) deep stone cavity into which he managed to lower her and their young son just before being taken captive.
And so to the distracting thoughts: how authentic is any movie set in an “exotic” culture, when the director and producer (and much of the cast) are outsiders to that culture? For all that this film was lush with detail, with jungle, with able-bodied warriors, and for all that it was refreshingly free of the presence of a Western narrator/adventurer who would typically provide the viewer with a familiar reference point for all the action onscreen, the story was pretty much formula Wild West: the hero is the chief’s son, he’s got a romantic monogamous bond going with his doe-eyed little wifey, they have one son in hand and another child on its way – and of course, it’s never possible to see a pregnant woman but she’s got to deliver onscreen – so we get to confirm that it IS a son, what else – and the hero's got to kill/outrun the bad guys so that he can walk off into the verdant jungle with his true love and their kiddies.
Should I applaud Gibson for attempting a film that treats hunter-gatherers as heroes in the Western genre? Or should I be appalled at his transformative vision, that taints everything he sees with the urgencies and values of his own culture, that forces a narrative attractive to his own taste upon a people who cannot challenge his interpretation with their own – because (a) they were exterminated by the colonizing westerners who appeared upon their shores and (b) even if they were available today in their pristine form, the technology for story-telling that is used in making films would be too distorting for them to tell their own stories to a film-going audience while maintaining authenticity and finally (c) even if, by some miracle, an Ancient Mayan film-maker were to be found who could make a stirring block-buster about his/her own vision of reality ... which distributor would pick it up or release it?
So even though I felt a genuine sense of pleasure at the risk-taking creativity involved in a project of this sort, I couldn’t help playing a favorite little mind-game of mine, in which I transpose clothes and characters from one culture onto scenes featuring some other culture. The first time I thought of doing it was while watching a Discovery Channel program about Kalahari Bushmen. One of the closing shots showed a couple of the tiny bushmen kneeling to drink water from a stream – rather than cup the water with their hands or use some sort of utensil, they instead leaned down and drank with their mouths to the water, just like a pair of antelope.
In that instant, an image flashed in my mind of two pin-stripe suited businessmen – London bankers, say – kneeling down and drinking in the same position ... we do all belong to a single species of hominid, do we not? ... Two suburban housewives, in their flowered housecoats and their hair tied up in jumbo rollers. Two fat sari-clad women, with their hair coiffed in shining black coils, complete with jewels and flowers. A flock of tourists with their cameras dangling from their necks and their straw hats pushed back onto their necks – you get the picture? I transpose urban characters onto scenes involving non-urbans, just to get a sense of perspective, to see whether it looks strange or not (and of course it does).
So with this movie, for instance, I tried to supplant the wife with a small blonde female – Reese Witherspoon, say – and of course, the scene changed character immediately. I didn’t have to do anything else – just the substitution of a white, blonde woman in the place of Jaguar Paw's wife immediately made the woman in the movie look like the subject of some type of perverse humans-as-wildlife docudrama. She was even shown to be struggling to stay alive as water begins to fill into the well in which she has been sheltering. In the most grotesque way, it brought to mind the dreadful experiment, recorded in pictures in a lab, of a wretched little rhesus monkey mother, being made first to drown in a long narrow receptacle with her baby – initially she places it on her head, as the water begins to fill, to give the baby a good chance of jumping to safety – but ultimately, when she knows she can’t save herself as well, she places the baby underneath herself and stands on its head (at least, that’s what reportedly happened in that particular instance).
Well, in Apocalypto of course the mother never places the baby underneath – she’s too busy giving birth!! – but it’s a pitifully demeaning image, all the same (even though it is undoubtedly meant to seem heroic).
I’m almost completely ignorant about South American aboriginal cultures, but I didn’t need to know anything to guess that what we saw was most likely an amalgam of anything vaguely resembling Mayan/Aztec/Incan cultures, because who except for scholars would know any better (it leaves one wondering why scholars’ opinions are so routinely disregarded … ) – for all that it seemed highly authentic, the chances are it was just a grab-all bag of cultural effects.
So .. ummm … what was the point of the film, again? Let us now praise modern civilization? Let us now hate Ancient Mayans/Ancient Warriors? Let us now revere monogamous love bonds coz they give us the incentive to run without stopping from the seriously psychotic hunter-warrior types who are hunting us? And then again, let us now fear monogamous love bonds coz they mean we can’t just die peacefully and quickly like the rest, but have to keep running until the Spanish ships arrive in time to distract the two remaining pursuers while we manage to FINALLY save our reproductive partner seconds before she drowns in an unprecedented flash flood ...
So yes, it was very beautiful and very violent – and also extremely disturbing on the cultural plane. I am sure the publicity handouts must have said that it was meant to honour the noble savages of the South American jungles, etc etc – but in the end, we’re surely left thinking that however handsome/charming/clever/brave/fleet-footed/proud they were, aren’t we glad-shitless-that-we’re-NOT-them?
Saturday, July 21, 2007
I wrote this a couple of weeks ago but what with all the travelling and other mundane stuff, I didn't get around to posting it. I realize that MB is entirely unknown to large sectors of the universe but to those of us who grew up with her, she is the Peerless One. This long ramble is probably fit only for those who know her well and since it's full of spoilers, perhaps unsuitable to would-be new readers. The Penguin edition which I got for review is a must-have addition to anyone's library -- despite atrocious proofing errors (particularly in the first book -- apparently because the RetroRevival series is created directly from a scanned version of the original text)It is also the only source of a paperback version of the final book.
I've always known that Modesty Blaise occupied a very special place in my personal pantheon of fictional idols. Still, it was only when I read the final book of the 13 volumes of Penguin India's Modesty Blaise Retro-Revival series that the depth of my feeling for her reached out and punched me in the tear ducts.
As any MB fan knows, the thirteenth book (COBRA TRAP), is the one in which Modesty and her peerless partner Willie Garvin, shuffle off their perfectly proportioned, superbly coordinated and much-scarred mortal coils. I had always assumed that it was a novel, but no, it's the title story of a collection of five shorts. The book was first published in 1996 and like fans everywhere, I've been aware of it for all these years. But I'd never read it nor did I particularly want to. It's been a while since I felt much curiosity about Modesty and Willie and the last time I read one of her novels was really a long time ago - in the eighties, I think (LAST DAY IN LIMBO).
So when I received the complete set of MB books from India*, sent for review in OUTLOOK magazine, I was mildly amused at the prospect of re-immersing myself in that world of fast-paced adventure. It was only going to be a 250-word review so I didn't plan to read all 13 books before my deadline. I read the first six, wrote the review, sent it off and settled down to read the remaining seven at my leisure. My plan was to blog about the whole series at length, once I'd read the lot.
But here I am, at the end of the fifteen-day cycle - one book a day, with a break in the middle to write the review - feeling most uncharacteristically wet around the gills! It's VERY weird. Because, let's be clear - this is a comic-strip heroine. While she certainly has gorgeous legs and elegant combat skills and the books are thrilling to read, they are by no means showcases of deathless prose, nor (I'm sure) were they ever meant to be. They're adventure-thrillers centred upon a pair of tremendously likeable characters and that's all, that's everything.
So why this upwelling of grief? Why do I care? Why does the fictional death of a fictional heroine affect me so much?
It's like this: I first met Modesty in the comics' pages of the Bangkok World, in Thailand, when I was a short, dumpy, lonely, unhappy 12-year-old. Forty-two years later, I am only slightly taller, exactly as dumpy and though not quite as lonely or unhappy, long shadows remain of all the cumulative confusions dating from those three years in Thailand. Perhaps that's part of the reason why Modesty made such a deep impression upon me: I met her when I most needed an anchor and she didn't let me down. She was only a tiny, black-clad figure in a comic strip, but she imparted to me - and no doubt to millions of other confused youngsters like me around the world - important lessons about self-empowerment and self-reliance.
She was no steely-eyed vigilante, spy or detective. When she drew her sights upon wrong-doers it was because they had crossed paths with her and caused her to notice their moral deviance. She had strong loyalties and even stronger friendships. And though it may have been tempting to regard her as a standard-bearer for a certain kind of sixties' era feminism, in truth she was too much of an original to fit within the boundaries of any "-isms".
As a female character, perhaps her most striking quality was that she was resolutely heart-free. She had lovers a-plenty, entering into her romantic entanglements with enthusiasm and flair, but her heart was always her own absolute preserve. We never saw her moping over a paramour or listening anxiously to the ticking of her biological clock. The prospect of rape didn't terrify her, nor did she obsess over unpleasant sexual encounters once they were over. She was astoundingly talented in several arenas of the martial arts and yet she was never merely a warrior: she didn't fight for the pleasure of combat or for blood-lust, but because she had her favourite causes and she liked to save the lives of those who entered her field of influence. She wasn't a tedious old harangue-hag and she had moments of tremendous fun which included such commonplace pleasures as tobogganing or eating icecream at a village fair or going for a swim.
Reading the novels now, all these many years later, I found the old allure stealing up on me as I went from book to book. I had read perhaps five of them earlier. Now I saw how well-turned the stories are, even though they follow a repeating pattern: there's the preamble in which the cast of characters is assembled, the gradual build up of hostilities, the immersion in some impossibly complicated and sinister situation, ending with a rousing dénouement complete with duels to the death and hair's-breadth escapes from all manner of near-fatal encounters. There are the little details of texture and atmosphere, the stylish touches in Modesty's clothes and the off-beat tastefulness in the choice of wine, music or art. It'll be Braque and Miro on the walls, rather than Picasso. It'll be Frank Zappa playing in the background - so specific, such a very precise flavour that nothing more is required to describe the mood of that moment - rather than the Beatles or the Stones.
There are the exotic locales and the broader-than-usual palette of culture: Modesty, for example, merely passes for Anglo-European without necessarily belonging within the category. Her precise ancestry is a mystery that's never revealed. She may well, for instance, possess some Arab blood, what with her rich black hair and warm complexion. In today's world, that makes her practically revolutionary. Willie is Cockney and speaks with an accent, though we're told he can pass for any type of Englishman, when he chooses. And both villains and friends are drawn from a spectrum of European "types". Some are awful caricatures but I don't really care. Modesty's world encompasses a larger sector of the planet than just New York, London, Paris or Athens and that's part of what I love about the series.
Of course it's possible that one reason I don't mind the caricatures too much is that there are almost no Indians (I detected only one major character who happened to be Indian: a henchtwit by the name of Mrs Ram, described as a "Punjabi". She was indeed pathetic and I'm very glad she passed into oblivion with no-one to mourn her**) and therefore no specific antibodies for my literary T-cells to target. American characters were mercifully thin on the ground: I find that many English authors produce clod-like geeks with idiotic speech-mannerisms when they attempt American characters and I always find myself wincing when I encounter them in English books. But one of Modesty's most steady boyfriends is an American millionaire (John Dall) with Native American ancestors and her only enduring female friend is a Canadian girl (Dinah) who sprouts the occasional "honey" to prove her transatlantic credentials. So I am inclined to forgive the excesses.
Here's a quick run-down of my personal thumbs up/down/sideways:
As the curtain-raiser it offers not only a very satisfying introduction to MB and WG, but includes an essay by the author about the provenance of MB's character – to the extent that there was any provenance. The book has dated only mildly and I find it attractive that the author/editors chose to leave it untouched. We can judge for ourselves the fact that we HAVE travelled some distance from those days when a woman like Modesty had to explain to an ex-lover that he doesn't own her, has no rights over the choices she makes with her body and that he's better off allowing her to take the lead when facing down a bunch of villains. Not a huge great distance but … still. It's also amusing to watch how much M and W used to smoke – I had forgotten that! It seems to me they smoke less and less as the books progress and I think (though I might be wrong) that there's no active smoking after DRAGON'S CLAW. Leads me to wonder whether or not PO'D is a smoker and whether he still smokes.
This is the one I liked best of those that were new to me. There's a rough edge to it which is what I always liked about Modesty's adventures – she doesn't kid around. When she shoots the ex-boyfriend it doesn't have the quality of phony high-drama as in the Tomb-Raider movie. Modesty does it because she must and then it's over he's the one who makes a big deal about the element of being one of her ex- s, not she. She doesn't fret, she doesn't agonize.
There's often a teasing edge of mysticism in MB's world and this is the book in which it is most manifest. I quite liked it, especially the deliciously camp quality of Lucifer's delusions. I thought MB's kindness towards him was quite exceptional exactly what makes her such a sterling character. The old-couple villains were just over the edge of unbelievable, I thought, but then again, the puppets were a good touch – bizarre, improbable, but funny too. I liked the huge shifts of locale. Didn't anticipate the dolphins … But I must confess it was very difficult for me to accept Stephen Collier as boyfriend material. He's sweet but … uh-uh. Didn't work for me.
A TASTE FOR DEATH
Thumbs up. Good villain, great scene in the desert fort. I liked the way Dinah's gifts came gradually into use – the way that we're introduced to them, we're allowed to wonder why she's with us and how she can possibly, as a blind person engage fully in an adventure and then of course we're rapped over the knuckles for thinking within the box. Once again, I liked the cross-planetary stretch – from South America to the Sahara and even though I anticipated the pilot's defection (he reminded me of Knut, in Tintin – even though Knut is a good guy). Since I happen to be an amateur dowser, I didn't need to suspend my belief in Dinah's abilities (well, not the dowsing aspect). Loved the pearls!
THE IMPOSSIBLE VIRGIN
I'd read this before and remember liking it, but this time around I found Pennyfeather too utterly insufferable. I remember him from the strips too and never approved of him as a b.f. – my bias, no doubt. Tall stringy spaced-out chaps don't appeal to me I associate them with messy personal habits and sloppiness in general and I didn't enjoy the notion of him sharing a bed with Her Exceptionalness. Of course, there's the famous appendectomy – and MB's frightening loss of mental alertness due to drugs, but the pace of events became a little too jerky for me towards the end and I lost concentration. I just wanted to get it over with.
PIECES OF MODESTY
Hmm. Didn't much like the shorts. They were … well … too short. Perforce gimmicky. But then again, they were useful for covering a few broad stretches of narrative at a gallop. I liked the last three better than the first three.
THE SILVER MISTRESS
Read this before and enjoyed it once again. I have never forgotten that final scene in the cave. Always thought Tarrant must've enjoyed having a good old grope and in an excellent cause, i.e., his own survival. In this instance, I found the way in which MB reverses the odds so that they are no longer overwhelmingly against her, more convincing than in some of the other books. Fighting in the water, covered in grease while the rascally opponent struggles for breath -- totally cool. Also loved WG's javelin throw at the end. I didn't much care for Quinn, though I could understand his type of confused young man -- a relic of the hi-jack era (remember that silly joke about carrying a bomb on board in order to alter the percentage risk of there being TWO bombs onboard?) -- but I always approved of the manner in which MB went to bed with him, entirely as a healing enterprise. That is the first time I had ever encountered a character doing that -- and I can't, off-hand, think of any instances since.
LAST DAY IN LIMBO
Yesssss … I remember reading this one. Very neat switching of locales, I liked all of that back-reference to Bermuda-Triangle-type mysteries -- an attempt to explain them. Once again, I was fascinated with Modesty's ability to ride over the whateveritwas sexual abuse – so all right, this is fiction: but OTHER fictional characters spend whole lifetimes struggling with a single instance of sexual abuse. How come we accept that Modesty can overcome her stuff? What is the quality of resilience that permits her to do what others cannot -- while remaining credible?
THE XANADU TALISMAN
This was a bit of a stretch, but I liked it anyway. Loved the old pack-rat in the mountains with the the Pahlavi Crown in his cave! I've seen that crown, the real one, in Teheran, so I felt an odd, goose-bumpy connection. Of course old Pennyfeather was on hand to bumble around, but the fight scenes were hot, I thought. And we don't see Pennyfeather again, after this story, thank goodness.
I sort of guessed about Solon, but not the how/why. I wasn't convinced about the artist because I never really believe in the Glory Of Art when it appears in novels. There's a forced quality about it that I don't understand I've noticed it in a few other books a kind of annoying reverence. It's like Art takes the place that is occupied, in other books, by Religion the kind of books I don't read. But I liked the method of escape and the way it was set up. Didn't go for the bible-thumping assassin. Too camp for my taste.
DEAD MAN'S HANDLE
Ummhumm. Didn't like the nympho-satyr couple and the villain was a bit hackneyed now that we're down to the 12th book. Poor Willie's brainwashing was quite interesting though and I liked the way he struggled to overcome it though, of course, we KNEW he would, so that wasn't suspenseful but it was amongst the best moments in an otherwise slightly stale book. Maybe if I hadn't already beentheredonethat, it would have been different.
What can I say? Despite all the fore-knowledge and mental-preparation, the actual curtain call just floored me. Flat out. I read the first four stories, drew in a deep breath and plunged in to the final one. And … it STILL laid me out. I actually couldn't read it straight through. I kind of meandered in and out of it, hopped-skipped-jumped and landed at the end in a crumpled heap. Had to go back to it later the same day to get all the details straight (you know … the setting up of the plastic explosives, the timing of the train's movement, all that stuff).
It's ridiculous! But there we are. It really and deeply affected me.
Though I began this essay immediately after finishing the books, this is now several weeks later. I can look back languidly to the first few moments of shock, grateful now for the distance. Nevertheless, I still feel very sad. I have been telling myself that it isn't really sadness, that there's a completeness here that is very much in tune with the whole of MB's character -- this is PO'D telling us that we must be clear-eyed till the end – and that there IS an end.
Other fictional characters live on in their fictional infinity, despite our absolute knowledge of their mortality. They are allowed to be immortal on our behalf. Look at the others -- Tarzan swings on! James Bond shakes his martinis unstirred! Doctor Kildare twinkles roguishly at the nurses! From Little Nemo to Li'l Abner, even when they vanish from the newspapers, they don't vanish from their fictional mortality.
Okay, okay – so Sherlock Holmes died and so did Poirot. Superman has died several times, I think? And Batman has made at least two attempts -- at this moment, I no longer know whether or not he was left with a viable heartbeat at the end of the Dark Avenger. Yet none of those deaths were sad –- not for me, anyway -- so much as interesting, inevitable and quite satisfying.
Why was Modesty's death so hard to take? It was surely beautiful, after all. Very cool, in its way, neat and surgical. We could all wish for such completeness and poise at the final moment. It was strangely intimate too, in some way that is hard to define. I realize now I'm not going to discuss the final page -- those of you reading this either already know what I mean or you'll have to go there and find it for yourselves -- because it's rather too "inner-space" to talk about openly, in this glaring, world-wide web-stage. There's a quality of poetry and transcendence that doesn't belong in an adventure series, dammit! And yet even that is managed in the same rough-elegant style as all the rest: a slice of wry with a twist of poetry laid lightly across it.
So all right. Maybe I've got to tell myself that these aren't tears at all, just … appreciation. That's right, appreciation. Here's to you, MB! Thanks for all the fish.
*they arrived by DHL, in TWO DAYS!! I was blown away - and when I expressed amazement to the cute young guy who delivered the package to me, he said, smiling wide: "Yup, that's us - King of International!"
** Reference was also made, in the same book (DEAD MAN'S HANDLE) to a "Patel", but he remained colourless enough to ignore.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
It's not a very large puzzle, which is part of its charm -- even a jet-lagged oxygen-depleted middle-aged entity such as me was able to complete it in the course of one evening -- and that, of course, was VERY satisfying.
But anyway, I thought it was an appropriate image with which to kick off my WelcomeBaq message to myself at this blog -- it's been three and a half months since I went away. When I look back, I realize that I managed only a very meagre output of blog-posts, despite several fervent promises. Ah well. That's one of the (few) drawbacks of being a guest -- spending 24 hours mainlining the internet looks like anti-social behavior.
My final week was spent in London, where I had a whirl of a time -- I have three uncles and five cousins' homes to visit -- not counting the homes of cousins' children!! -- and this time I had a couple of friends to take in as well. So I was BIZZY. Yes. I had my little Oyster Card with me and it certainly smoothed the passage in and around the tubes. Laughter and good food flowed in all directions. One of my cousins tells me that he knows "all about me" because he reads this blog -- to which I say "HAH!" I am very discrete about what gets posted here! As he would know, if he's reading this ... For instance, I try to avoid mentioning names and addresses because One Never Knows who might be trawling these depths.
There was a minor pleasantness on my way in to London from Heathrow -- the man standing behind me in the taxi queue engaged in a moment's smalltalk and something about him inspired me to suggest that we share a cab into town -- which pretty much halved the fare for both of us. So THAT was fun -- he seemed charming and interesting and well-travelled all at once, so that the distance from the airport was telescoped into an amusing 20 minutes of conversation. No, we didn't exchange telephone numbers and/or addresses -- he knows my surname and I know his first name -- and there the story ends! What fun.
On Tuesday, I spent the WHOLE DAY making mutton biryani at my cousin's house and in the evening, a record crowd (for me! Since I am not famed for being a feeder of people) of 12 people were in for dinner (nine of us were expected but the remaining three came in as sudden dinner guests, brought in by my ever-generous uncle) -- and there was enough left over for THREE MORE HUGE PORTIONS! And this, in spite of at least a few second helpings. On Wednesday, I was over at my North Circular Road uncle's house for lunch and in the evening, at my other cousin's home, which was at that moment over-flowing with handsome young men, all home from (variously) university and school, so it was all rather heady -- and I haven't even mentioned the wine, here. Many wonderful photographs of Greece were shared and much ice-cream downed.
The next day was, if possible, EVEN MORE hectic. I ran home to base camp to have a shower and changed, then went out to a delightful lunch at a restaurant called E&O with A and T, and of course S, whose treat it was. The food appeared in several snack-sized nibbles but tasty and crisp (oo -- Fusion Asian, is what I'd call it) and immediately after that, I visited another uncle-cousin home -- and here the cousin who reads my blog should smile at my reference to his home, even though HE was not there -- where my Baltimore cousin and family were visiting ....
Ah. Well. I am running out of ways to avoid mentioning names, and so I shall stop trying. Let's just say, a hugely familial time was spent. On Friday, I had a charming outing with a friend (and one time English professor from college days) visiting London from Bombay, at the Victoria & Albert museum. First we shared a gigantic meringue -- no exaggeration, it was the size of cantaloupe, cut in half -- served with clotted cream, and a French-pressed coffee. Yum. Then we visited the show, SURREAL THINGS (Dali, Magritte, Max Ernst, Schiaparelli et al) -- good fun and a number of old favourites were on display. After which we wandered out, bought ourselves sandwiches from an Marks & Spencers and ate out in the open, buffeted by a wind that reminded me of a friendly, but over-active Great Dane puppy -- all around us, skirts were flying up and sandwich wrappers being boosted off the picnic table-tops, in the grounds of the Science Museum.
Goodbye visits on Saturday and on Sunday, after a final pig-out at a Chinese buffet in Chiswick, I left for the airport, six hours ahead of schedule. And I STILL had to wait two hours in queue. Be warned, O Traveller-of-Today! Remain within your permitted weight limits! I had to repack my backpack, which was 2 kilos over the 6 Kg limit, snarlgrowlhowl. But it could have been worse, and no harm done.
The flight was eventless, I watched a vaguely interesting movie called REIGN ON ME (Don Cheadle, Adam Sandler) and arrived without mishaps or sorrows, at 11 a.m. Virgin Atlantic was my steed on this trip and as always, I was quite satisfied with their service -- it's smooth and cool and the 50-movies-on-tap-in-Economy is a huge bonus, thanQ! I just LOVE being able to choose what I watch! Even when I'm too sleepy to catch more than one on the way ...
So! There we are. Only one mishap: I left my cellphone on the flight from Boston to London. It's the Nokia I use in the US, not my UK/India Nokia but the OTHER one, that looks like a cross between an armadillo and a TV remote -- so I doubt anyone's going to be trying to use it or run off with it. But ... yes, of course, I have been kicking myself regularly ever since. I blame it on the air-hostess who omitted to remind passengers to CHECK, PLEASE CHECK ALL YOUR BELONGINGS ...
My shins are sore.
Friday, June 29, 2007
Okay, here's the story: I heard this tune maybe thirty-one years ago, in a club or discotheque -- it went straight to the bedrock of my being and remained there, WITHOUT A NAME, for all this time. Every so often, I would hear the sweet-hot saxophone solo playing somewhere in the distance and something would turn over inside me -- and I would still not know the name of the song.
Cut to ... ten days ago. At a FedEx counter in Long Island, NYC. I had to mail my passport to the British Consulate and was a bit tense (I HATE mailing my passport anywhere. I am convinced I will never see it again, etc etc). But the man behind the counter was exceptionally calm and confidence-boosting. Just as I completed the address on the mailing envelope, BAKER STREET began to play on the radio. On an impulse, I asked the man whether he knew the name of the tune and he said, after a slight pause "... uh, that's ... Baker's Street."
Ahhhhhh! Heavenly relief!
I have been sneaking off to YouTube to hear it every couple of days ...
Meanwhile, in Newport ... no, I've NOT been sleeping, even though I've certainly not been posting daily activities either. The past few days have been so pleasant I've been feeling too much like a seagull soaring on an updraft to write about it! But today's my last day and I thought I'd enter a few notes.
Day ONE (Sunday 24th June): I had a hilarious time baking bread -- it was a mess! I did everything wrong! And it STILL PRODUCED EDIBLE LOAVES! This is the amazing thing. I mean, when I say I did everything wrong, it was essentially a case of paying the wrong kind of attention to temperature. Instead of just planning in advance to ensure that the yeast was correctly set up to eat its sugar quietly and fluff itself up, I instead soaked it in milk that wasn't quite hot enough, then tried to keep it warm by placing it over a pan of boiling water, so that it got scalded, then I used it anyway and made all the same mistakes again with the dough. The wretched lump of flour-water-salt just sat in its bowl, looking miserable, while I attempted to keep it warm by repeatedly over-heating it so that its outer skin became leathery.
Finally, recognizing that this wasn't going anywhere, I shaped two short batons and stuck them in the oven, expecting that the result would be two very hot batons, now converted to stone. Surprise! The dough DID rise a little bit and it developed a nice little crust and though the interior was not aerated half enough, the sliced results were quite tasty and edible. I am now convinced that bread will make itself regardless of what abuse the would-be baker subjects the dough to ...
For dinner that day, G pan-fried some shrimp with garlic and pesto and we ate them with angelhair pasta. Delish.
It was my turn to make something for dinner and I chose Shepherd's Pie. It came out effortlessly well -- I mean, if I had to quibble, I'd say it could have been a little more moist. But otherwise ... really. It's embarrassing.
G went out to the beach with a friend, in the afternoon. I made another two loaves of bread. And this time, realizing that room temp wasn't warm enough, I got the sequence of warmings and risings correct and ... ta-daaaaaaaaaaa! Two beautiful loaves! All nicely shaped and fragrant. At night, emboldened by this success, I went on to an encore using a packet of spice for CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA. It was totally easy and the only thing that wasn't quite perfect was that it took a little longer to wrestle into place than I would have preferred. But it was okay. With brown basmati rice.
G and I went to a local establishment called
THE ACCIDENTAL ARTIST where we both had a delightful time decorating unglazed pottery which would later be kiln-fired for us to pick up a few days later. I did two mugs and a square platter and G did two mugs -- but I could probably have spent a whole week in there and not had enough! As some of you know, decorating ceramic is one of the things I can do obsessively ... And at an excellent price: $7 for a walk-in individual, $5 each for two or more people who come together. Over and above that, you pay only for the unglazed mug, dish whatever -- a mug is $8, for instance -- and that's ALL. You pay nothing extra for the paints you use, or the brushes or the length of time you spend there. I was AMAZED that the place wasn't teeming with people. G and her sister and mom had all been there before, so she knew the routine. It was really FUN. Alas, I will not be here to collect the pieces, so they'll remain in Newport, awaiting my return. But I don't really care. The painting is what I'm interested in and the results are a secondary thrill.
In the evening, I followed a recipe I got off the internet but through my friends in Delhirium, Sunita, Sonal and Amit, for RISOTTO as made by JAMIE OLIVER. It's so simple and delicious, you'd have to be brain-damaged to get it wrong. I made tons, so we definitely have enough food now to last till when M and S return from their holiday in Maine -- reportedly excellent.
The previous day I went over next door for a visit with Y and R and their mom, Mrs A -- and had a fun time chatting. So I went over again today to talk with the mom, who is an old Newportian, from an old Portuguese family and full of wonderful stories. Also G made OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES yesterday, for delivery to Y's grandson T today, for his birthday. The cookies are called VANISHING COOKIES because they're so good and I'll testify to the fact that they vanish ...
In the evening I taught G how to play a great card game called RUSSIAN BANK and in the afternoon we went down to the Wharf to have lunch at a local eatery called PANERA. It was good, and later we walked a little further to the Gateway Centre to buy my bus ticket back to Boston ... sadness!
And that brings me up-to-date. Got to end this now or I'll never get anything done before I bundle all my belongings into the two tiny bags I've been travelling with for these past couple of weeks. My sister S sent me thrilling birdie gifts -- including a funny little clock that wobbles on a spherical orange base and the DVD of PAN'S LABYRINTH, which I watched last night (alone, coz it's DEFINITELY not PG-13), awash with tears but in a sad and beautiful way, because it's that kind of movie.
Oh -- and OF COURSE we went for walks in the morning, and to the grocery and ate tons of icecream -- yes, the ice-cream scoop is limp from overuse! -- but that's all standard stuff.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Just so you know, I am currently reporting from Newport, having arrived here yesterday after a very pleasant stay in Baltimore with my cousin and family plus SNOWY, their totally darling little Maltese -- he looks like a curly white lamb except of course for his button-black nose and pink tongue! He barked himself hoarse when I arrived and then became extremely friendly (though he continued barking, because he wanted to play).
My cousin's elder child celebrated her 13th birthday with a day-spend at home with six other girls, a pizza-extravaganza for lunch with a chocolate-chip cake made by her Mum, followed by the Nancy Drew movie -- however, my cousin, his nine-year-old son and I peeled off to see a DIFFERENT film -- The Fantastic Four, starring Jessica Alba looking super-pouty at all times, even when she's smiling.
Friday evening we went out to the harbour, where the birthday girl had her first Frappucino -- my cuz and I had our millionth and millionth-and-a-halfth respectively -- while the other two had icecreams from Marble Slab. I blush to confess that one taste of the icecream convinced me that we could well afford to share another single scoop -- and she came back with a giant serving, that required the combined efforts of all three adults to finish! It was butter pecan with extra pecan (and something else too, but I've forgotten what).
In the morning on Saturday, I got a gift from the family -- THE ideal gift for me: a pocket-electronic Crossword Puzzle selection from the New York Times!! Naturally I opened it right away and we attempted to solve the first of the puzzles en route to the train station, but didn't get past the first few clues because I was too distracted by worries about time. My train was scheduled for 9.52 and we got to the station a shade past 9.30 -- and I still needed to pick up my ticket. BUT ... I needn't have worried. Through the marvels of technology, it was a breeze: I had already bought the ticket online the day before, so now all that was needed was for me to pop my card into the ticket-machine, confirm that the information contained in the reservation was correct and -- out came the ticket! It was totally cool.
The journey was a little over six hours long, passing through New York, New Haven et al, arriving in Kingston, Rhode Island on time, at 4.15. I was collected at 4.30 -- got home at quarter to five and then, not much later the five of us walked down to a Hibachi restaurant near the waterside, to have MORE DESSERT!
That was, of course, post-dinner, which was a yummy bar-B, outside in the front yard, with hamburgers and a highly recommendable shrimp item -- individual servings of fresh shrimp, loosely wrapped in foil, with garlic paste, pesto and butter (but you can add whatever you like to the packets) then left on the grill to cook -- along with pasta and salad. For dessert at the restaurant I had mixed berry cake, S and M had something called a "bombe" which was three flavours of sorbets brought together within a thin shell of white chocolate, L had a green tea sorbet and G had a chocolate mousse cake. I also got a gift package of very cute stuff -- optical-illusion card, optical-illusion notebook and optical-illusion novelty pen, with a box of very cute matches with ERASERS instead of striking heads and a tiny fold-out silver-foil lotus (well, actually, I think it's a Night Blooming Cereus) -- you have to see this to understand what I mean -- it starts out looking like a small flat item which unfolds to the size of maybe a five inches across, complete with a corolla of stamens inside!
After this feast we wandered slowly through the tourist-traps by the waterside -- the sky was still very light, at 8.30 in the evening and the air was just like pale iced tea with a touch of lemon in it -- delicious.
I'll be here for the rest of the week, so if I'm industrious, I'll blog the events of the day as we go along. If not ... I'll ... ummm ... probably be sleeping!
Happy Whatever! It's great to be 54.
OH! And the RAINBOW SWEETS telephone number: 802-426-3531 -- remember: some items can be ordered over the phone ...
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Isn't this the most attractive little bird? She's called a SEABRIGHT (don't know if that's one word or two separate) and she's a variety of bantam. I spent a good half hour chasing her all around the garden, trying to get her to pose and finally managed this picture. I don't know if the image that appears on-line will do her justice, but she always looks to me like a doodle in black ink on very white paper. Hen-a-doodle-dooooooo!
So yes, I am still in Vermont. I always start taking pictures just before I'm about to leave because right uptil then, it seems sort of silly to try and tie down images when reality is streaming past at the rate of thousands of interesting things to look at per second/minute/hour etc. Just yesterday, for instance, we went to my favourite restaurant -- RAINBOW SWEETS of Marshfield of course -- and had a huge dinner, topped with a dessert that can only be described as sublime -- chocolate, almond and cherry torte. OOOhhh. And it was still warm ... aiyayaiieeeeEEE, as they say in Asterix in Spain.
I had planned to post the telephone number of Rainbow Sweets here, but I forgot to bring it downstairs with me, and am currently immobilized in my seat here with the laptop on my lap and the very precariously connected telephone lead plugged in -- why do they make those little plastic connector jacks so fragile that the spring-clip loses its ability to remain locked into its socket? So that people like me, who use laptops are forever sitting in rigor mortis when we're online, in terror of twitching so much as an eyelash and thus losing the connection?? Anyway. As a result of this problem, I do not dare get up to fetch the number now, but will do so tomorrow morning.
The reason it's worth posting the number is that a few items can be ordered by telephone -- and I thought it would be worth sharing this important information with the world. Of course, the main attraction at RS is Bill, the proprietor and raconteur-extraordinaire of the establishment. Wonderful as the food is, it's Bill's outstanding charm, humour and kindness as a host that makes the experience one-of-a-kind. Where else can you go with small children and -- the youngest diner is as charmed and happy as everyone else? Truly, Bill is a rare and wonderful being.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
A little background about GENERAL ASSEMBLY. I began writing the play late last year (around November, I think, or October latest), at the invitation of Neera Jain, commissioning editor at Ratna Sagar, in Chandigarh. She wrote to ask if I had any existing plays that would be suitable for High School students (in India, i.e.) and when I said I didn't, she wondered out loud (by e-mail) if I'd be interested in writing one for a selection she was putting together. Her selection criterion was simple: she wanted a "classic play".
Well! That set me a challenge, didn't it? Because of course we both knew that no can (or should) SET OUT to write a classic-anything. The only reasonable approach is to write something that is true to one's beliefs and experience -- if it turns out to appeal to the tastes of a large number of people over a long period of time, and if the reason for that appeal is not mere vulgarity then ... MAYBE ... the thing might turn into a popular classic over time. But without the element of time and the opinions of large numbers of people, whatever else it is, it's not a classic.
So anyway. I LIKE challenges, so I said to Neera that I'd think about it. I had two ideas and began working on both (in the sense of, I began both) then settled on GA. Initially the complete title was "... of the GALACTIC UNION" but I preferred the shorter title ultimately. I completed the first draft in January this year, sent it off to Neera and after she returned it with comments, I added in the construction of the bomb -- resulting in the current version. Then I sent it off again and for a while it seemed like Neera would be able to use it in her anthology but ... that's not how it turned out.
Instead, what happened was two things: one, I gave it to Scholastic for an anthology of contemporary plays for young people that THEY were putting together -- general editor Sayoni Basu, collection editor Anushka Ravishankar -- and it was accepted for publication. Two, I brought it along with me to Boston, in March. I had been very kindly invited by Claire Conceison (Assistant Prof., Dept of Drama and Dance), at Tufts, to present an illustrated lecture about ... umm ... my journey as an author/illustrator.* At the time I met Claire, I offered her GA to read, saying that I would be very thrilled if I could hear a reading of the play, perhaps by some of her students.
And that's what happened.
Cut to: a meeting between me and Brendan Shea, the young final year student who offered, in his FINAL WEEK at college -- it has to be an indication of his confidence and sense of preparedness for his exams, that he even had time to spare on such a project! -- to direct a rehearsed reading of the play, at TUFTS, scheduled for just after the exams. Brendan had read HARVEST, so he'd already had a little exposure to my work and I think we both enjoyed the meeting at Starbucks, at the Arlington Centre. It was a surprisingly cold but very sunny morning, and I was practically an icicle by the time I walked into Starbucks that morning, but the pleasure of the meeting was enough (well JUST ABOUT) to keep me warm for the walk back to my niece's apartment, about 10 minutes north. (memories of major brrrrrrrrrrr ...)
Cut again to about one month later. May 14th was the day chosen for the reading. I got to the auditorium about an hour before it was due to begin, which gave me a little time to talk to the cast of fourteen -- here I have to pause to say that this would be the very first time I would hear the play being read with one voice per part. It's got a large number of characters -- in line with Neera's initial commission, which asked for a play that would cater to a large number of students -- and though my two nieces and I had read it out loud in Madras in January/February, I hadn't seriously expected to round up the full complement of a dozen voices at any time on my own.
The reading was held at Tufts U's Balch Arena Auditorium, which, as its name suggests, is the kind of auditorium in which the audience sits in tiers around a central pit. In this case, Brendan chose to seat the audience on one side of the pit, while the 12 main readers stood in a semi-circle facing them, with music stands on which they placed the scripts from which they read. In keeping with the play's requirements, there were four animal-shaped cut-outs (in white construction paper) arranged in front of the semi-circle -- well, three, actually, because FLIT, the dragonfly was posed enigmatically at the back, along the edge of the upper balcony, facing the audience. The remaining two readers sat to one side, one of them reading stage directions/announcer's voice and the other awaiting his turn as RAUF.
Here's the list: (sent to me by Brendan)
ANNOUNCEMENT/STAGE DIRECTIONS - Katie Clark
RAUF - Will Shaw
MITTOO - Brian Smith
AKU-AKU - Armen Nercessian
NANOOK - Brendan Shea
MUSTAFA - Laur Fisher
ASTRID - Caitlin Johnson
ALPHA - Erica Finkel
VIJAY - Luke Yu
YOKO - Molly O'Neill
TONY - Dave Adler
ANDY - Timothy Wagner
WORKS-AT-CASINOS - David Jenkins
MARIA - Stacy Davidowitz
If you've read this far, there's a chance that you're starting to wonder about the play ... So here's a quick overview: it's set in some future time (okay! okay! No groans from the audience please! Maybe it's a little more obvious now why this play wasn't included in a collection of "classic" plays ...), and all the action takes place in the common room of the delegation from Earth, at the General Assembly of the Galactic Union, taking place on some (unknown) other planet. The eleven human members of the delegation are locked in argument, as time counts down till the moment when they will make their presentation. Part of the point of the play is the squabbling -- the fact that the delegates are unable to present a united front or to agree about their agenda. There are a few animals who have been included as part of the delegation and eventually it is one of the animals that is chosen to address the assembly. The play ends with that speech.
When my nieces and I read the play out loud amongst ourselves, it helped me get a sense of the general flow of conversation and ideas; I also read it out loud to my friend Sunita at her home in Delhi, because she was kind enough to indulge me in my whims and out loud to my mother (in Madras, during the same period that my nieces and I read it -- we couldn't read it FOR my mother, because she would have found it difficult to follow three separate voices reading together) on account of her waning eyesight. But hearing a reading with one voice per part is really the ONLY way to be reasonably sure that the conversation overlaps in an intelligible manner, that there isn't too much bunching of activity and that characters have enough time to develop their points of view for the brief (half hour) duration of the piece.
So ... what can I say? It was wonderful to have an opportunity to hear the whole thing, in separate voices. It seemed to me that each of the actors put in just the right kind of energy into their performance -- special mention must go out to MITTOO and WORKS-AT-CASINOS here, for their virtuoso farting (mouthed, of course!) -- and it certainly allowed me to hope that if the play is ever performed, it'll gallop along with enough chuckles to keep it afloat till it gets to the end.
I especially enjoyed the pre-reading discussion with the cast and if I have any regrets it is that we DIDN'T opt for a post-reading talk-back. That was my choice -- but I realized almost at once that if only we'd had it, I would've had an opportunity to thank the cast and Tufts U for the reading. I thought that the cookies-and-sodas after the reading would give me ample opportunities to chat -- but that's not the same as being able to say a formal (and sincere) thank you. All I can do to make up for that lapse is, if/when the play is ever published as a stand-alone item, I will mention this reading. I can't be sure it'll ever happen, of course, but I have a notion that it would be really quite amusing to publish the play with illustrations (by me) of the different characters, suggested props and ideas for improvising costumes/set with a minimum of expense and fuss. The human characters are meant, of course, to represent the many different races and nationalities of our planet, but highly exaggerated, so there's much scope for zany dressing up.
For the moment, of course, the first published appearance of the play will be in Scholastic's collection, due out sometime next month (I think). I haven't heard from Sayoni recently, but I'll post links once I have more information.
*I was planning to blog about it, but didn't get around to that either. There's a reason for all these missed opportunities ... but at least as regards the workshop, I thought perhaps it would be a little teeny bit smarmy for me to report about myself here. That's not really the purpose of this blog.
Monday, May 14, 2007
Reproduced as publicity clips only with permission from Penguin Books India. Not to be reproduced or transmitted thereafter without permission. Penguin Books India will be publishing The Complete Garth (as a 5-volume box set later in the year), under licence from Mirriorpix UK, for sale only in the Indian subcontinent and Singapore.
As promised, here is an up-date about the Penguin Books India publication of the ENTIRE GARTH SERIES, in a hard-cover boxed set: pub. date is scheduled for Oct/Nov and all 16,000* strips are going to be available for the astounding price of Rs 8600!! This is such a steal -- esp when you consider what the average graphic novel is priced at -- and it represents literally decades-worth of strip-stories. The CEO, Penguin Books was kind enough to permit me to reproduce the above strip from the series -- believe me, those of you who have never read GARTH, it is a series to die for -- and those of you who HAVE known him over the years, I need say no more. It's going to be a love-fest. Yum to the max.(*I miswrote this earlier, as 1600 -- which wouldn've been laughable, since the strip ran for many years)
AND ALSO ...
Today is special for me for another reason altogether -- it so happens that my most recent play, GENERAL ASSEMBLY, will be presented as a reading this evening at TUFTS UNIVERSITY in Boston, directed by Tufts alum BRENDAN SHEA. It's a short piece, about half-an-hour long and I wrote it with (Indian) high-school students in mind. However, at tonight's reading, it'll be performed by University undergrads (that's my assumption -- I'll confirm when I know) with a full cast of 12 members! I've never heard it read by twelve voices, so this IS going to be fun for me.
It was originally commissioned by Ratna Sagar for a high school text, but they felt it was a too non-classical for their collection (and of course they are right: it's set in the future, on a planet far, far away from our own!). Then SCHOLASTIC (India) accepted it for their own anthology, which will be out very shortly, perhaps as soon as a month from now. I'm kind of hoping that I will eventually be able to publish a stand-alone version of the play, complete with drawings of the costumes I have in mind for the characters -- it's meant to be a bit of a romp! -- but no firm offers at this moment.
TUESDAY MORNING -- the reading went off VERY well last night and I was very happy with the result. I will blog about it at greater length later today.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Here's a document I received with details. It's entitled
THE EVENTS SO FAR:
9th May 2007
Exam and evaluation work in progress
At around 3:30 in the afternoon, Niraj Jain storms into the Faculty of Fine Arts. He has a section of the media with him, and soon after calls the police who arrive in about two minutes, by which time they have manhandled Chandramohan. A final year MA student from a small village in Andhra Pradesh, Chandramohan is a BC, his father is a carpenter, and he studied at the JNTU, Hyderabad, and is one of the three Gujarat Lalit Kala Academy Awardees of 2005-‘06
Police whisk away Chandramohan and his friend Venkat Rao without producing an FIR or a warrant, and without having taken permission from the in-charge Dean, Dr. Shivaji Panikkar or the Vice-Chancellor of the University.
While all this is happening, Niraj Jain abuses and threatens Dr. Panikkar, other staff, and the students of the Faculty. Even though the Dean had informed the Vice-Chancellor and other authorities of the events taking place on campus, no help was forthcoming from their side. None of the higher authorities visited the Faculty.
The police order the removal of the ‘offensive’ pictures. All the while Niraj Jain and his associates roam freely in the campus threatening staff and students alike.
The police ACP, T. R. Parmar order that the offending five works be taken down and sealed. This was communicated to the Vice Chancellor, and the sealing process begun. Niraj Jain and associates want to tear down the works and vandalise them. Towards the end of the sealing process, the in-charge Registrar, Mr. Beedekar arrives, during which time the students have drafted a complaint to the Police Commissioner, who directs them to lodge a compliant at the Sayajigunj Police Station. Initially the police refuse to register the compliant, but after some time they accept it, but as of today, it has not been lodged as an FIR. Following further negotiation with the Police Commissioner , it has been lodged in the Police Bhavan, in order for consideration as an FIR.
The Dean’s statement was also taken. Only late at night was a copy of the FIR against the student, under Section 153A, released. The student body’s compliant has to date not been acknowledged. The Center for Social Justice has appointed a lawyer who agreed to handle the case.
10th May 2007
Chandramohan was produced at court at about 10:30 a.m., along with a representative of the student body posting bail and a lawyer. A large contingent of VHP activists were also present, who jostled and intimidated him. Therefore the judge asked him to be removed to the Baroda Central Jail, where he has been lodged ever since. When the police produced the FIR, two new sections, - 293A and 293B, had been added to it. The case was adjourned till 3:30 p.m. Again the VHP crowd gathered following which the hearing was postponed to 2:30 p.m. the following day, on which day the judge did not turn up. So the student was remanded to another two days in jail, since the next two days were Saturday and Sunday.
The student has been lodged with other under trials and has not been ill treated in any way.
Students and Staff approach the Vice-Chancellor to submit a memorandum bearing the following two important points:
The University must file an FIR against Niraj Jain for disrupting the exams.
Extend all legal help to the student in custody.
Instead of a response to these demands the Vice-Chancellor wanted an unconditional apology from the staff and the students of the Faculty of Fine Arts, for offending their sentiments tendered to the public. It was rejected by the staff/students body on the grounds that it would be tantamount to accepting that they have committed a wrong, whereas that was patently not the case.
No help was forthcoming from the University authorities till the end of the day, except for the Vice-Chancellors contention that an FIR could be lodged by the Dean in his personal capacity, a proposition that was again not acceptable to the students/staff of the Fine Arts Faculty.
11th May 2007
It was decided by the students that an exhibition dealing with the long history of Erotica in both Indian and Western art would be put up in order to inform the press and the public. This exhibition was set up around 2 to 3 in the afternoon. Many came and visited the exhibition. It was suggested that the staff members leave the campus as the situation was becoming increasingly tense and volatile, but a section of the media would not allow that to happen, following which the staff had to lock themselves into the art-history department. At around 4:00 p.m the Deputy Registrar issued a verbal request that the exhibition be closed down, which the Dean refused to do as it was a decision taken by the students and was a peaceful protest drawing from the academic curriculum. A written order followed, and was received by the Dean and Faculty members, but work on the exhibition carried on. The Pro Vice Chancellor then arrived at the venue, accompanied by some members of the Syndicate of the University. They requested Dr Panikkar to close down the exhibition, then ordered him to do so. When it became clear that the Dean would not bend to their will, they had the exhibition locked. The argument put forward by the Dean was that, since, in spite of the number of times that the students had invoked the help of the University authorities in the matter, and insofar as no help had been extended to them, how could he, as the Dean, be sure that their actions were in the best intentions and for the good of the University? The Dean reiterated that he would stand by the students and staff in the matter. The authorities went ahead with the sealing of the exhibition as well as the Regional Documentation Center. BJP corporators who had come to see the exhibition were very abusive to the women staff, going so far as to say that they would like to see their nude pictures on the wall.
A suspension order was pasted on the Dean’s Residence door at 10:00 p.m. No reason has been given as to his suspension. As per the local media, the Dean of Management Faculty, professor Maheshwari, has been given charge of the Fine Arts Faculty. Teachers have gone on mass casual leave in protest of the University’s decision.
Meanwhile, I've receieved the following list from ZIGZACKLY of locations where solidarity protests are being staged:
Date and time for all: 14th May, 6p.m .
New Delhi - Rabindra Bhavan
Mumbai - Jehangir Gallery
Vishakapatnam - Faculty of Fine Arts, Andhra University
Cochin - Kashi Art Café
Hyderabad - Fine Arts, S N School, University of Hyderabad
Bangalore - M G Road, opposite Gandhi statue
Santiniketan - Kala Bhavan
Guwahati - Press Club
Thursday, May 10, 2007
And ... the squirrel slipped off!! Not right away, I'll admit: he/she initially managed to cling to the feeder, but a moment later appeared to be struggling and then leaped down. She (I think it's a she) tried again -- but now her paws were greasy and she couldn't get up the central pole on which the feeder is fitted.
Then a stalking two-tone predator (ibid.) interrupted her attempts and she (the squirrel, i.e.) scampered off to safety.
Of course, in a couple of days the oil will have evaporated, leaving a sticky residue to which the squirrels will adhere. And soon, there will be a bird-feeder with some very angry squirrels stuck to it ...
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
I don't suppose these images need much elaboration ... Your basic squirrel enjoying a shade-break while being ogled by a peeping-kittie.
This is a very rare example of a picture I managed to take before the main actors got bored of posing and moved away.
In the second picture, the squirrel has a, "Hmmm. Something not quite right here ... dunno what exactly but ..." expression on his/her face.
Friday, May 04, 2007
These two pictures were what I took THIS AFTERNOON, in my sister's beautiful home in Sayre, PA. The photograph looks like some kind of optical illusion but it's just two separate photographs taken from the same angle, of the mirror across the room from where I'm standing. The second picture is a zoomed version of the same situation, but taken in such a way that it looks as if the frame of mirror is the frame of the photograph (but isn't. You can see the lower edge of the mirror in the bigger pic, and match it to the lower edge of the mirror in the previous image)
The thing behind me is a large oil-painting I did seven years ago, which my sister bought last year and installed in my niece's home-bedroom (which doubles as the guest bedroom) and I can't get over HOW NICE it looks in this warm, gorgeously pink and tangerine room. It's like the painting has come to life in this setting -- and for all five years of its existence before this period, it lived in my mother's house in Madras, completely unnoticed (despite its size) in the small spare room at the back of the house.
I took these photos so that I could send them to a long-time cyber-buddy (Pauline) but then I was so pleased with the way the painting looked that I decided to share it here, with my extended network of bods and buds on the net ...
In other news, I find that Sharanya Mannivanan has tagged this blog for a THINKING BLOGGER award -- you'll need to go to her blog (link above) to see what this means, since I don't see myself doing whatever it is I need to do in order to acknowledge the tag correctly -- but it was very kind of her, esp considering how lazy I've been for the past several weeks (months). I don't know why that link isn't showing up the right way, but it isn't and I'm too full of pizza just now to fix it. Mebbe tomorrow. *
Much to talk about -- but (see excuse above for reason why I won't just now) not tonight, Josephine.
*umpteen days later, I have finally fixed it. Maybe. But the link-thingie STILL isn't working properly. I hate having to type in the "href=" stuff manually. I always leave out something or the other and get strings of error messages before the thing falls into place. I suppose I'm not getting a job as a programmer anytime soon.
Monday, April 23, 2007
Sunday, April 22, 2007
I was hoping to post a picture of my current position in reality, but AOL isn't offering me that option on account of its glacially slow local server. I'm about to try again, but I don't have much faith in the system coz it's been bumping me off on a regular basis all fortnight -- I could whine about this and complain that THIS is the reason I haven't been posting regularly ... but I won't. Coz I hate whiners and complainers.
Anyway, WHATEVER. It's been a wonderful two weeks so far (it'll be two weeks on Tuesday), and I am about to take a break from it (meaning, from VT) to visit my sister in the teeming metropolis of SAYRE, PA, where she lives (three traffic lights! And one movie house). That'll happen at the end of the week, and though I'm still working out the exact details, it's likely to mean a brief transit through NYC -- too brief, alas, to meet up with most of my friends, but it WILL give me a chance to catch up with my Long Island buddies V&C, whose warm and welcoming home used to be my portal into the US for all the years when NYC was my arrival point.
And now I am going to end this maiden post on New Blogger coz I'm nervous about losing the connection altogether. Thanks AOL! Always great to log in with ya! (snort)
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Monday, March 26, 2007
Chilled and sweetened whipped cream OR ice-cream
Chunks of fruit – we used tinned peaches and dried cranberries. But any mouth-sized chunks of strong-flavoured fruit would be equally good: mango/sweetened strawberries/bananas – even dates, maybe
Crumbled praline – we didn't use any but I think it would be great
Nuts – we used chopped walnuts
Dessert toppings – we used butterscotch syrup, but there's always chocolate, Cointreau, Kahlua, whatever … you could even flame a bit of brandy and pour it on!
AND FINALLY ….
Pani-puri puris – about six per head.
Set the chilled whipped cream (or softened ice cream) in a bowl and place that bowl inside a larger bowl filled with ice. All the other ingredients might be served in little bowls, the puris in a basket – and everything within easy reach of the diners. It's your basic mix 'n' match pani-puri experience EXCEPT … it's sweet! Lots of teaspoons, quarter plates, paper napkins and perhaps finger bowls too might be good.
What we did: punctured the puri, stuffed it with chopped nuts, a chunk of peach, a big dollop of ice cream, a goosh of butterscotch syrup – then POP! In the mouth and down the hatch.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
I think I also liked it coz I liked the author photograph. This is a terrible confession to make. But it's a cool photograph, just like the book. I have no idea whether the original item (i.e., the author) looks anything like his picture or whether he consciously set out to look a little bit like Paul Theroux or whether anything about the picture is authentic. Author photographs are supposed to enhance the saleability of a book, but most often, I find, I react so badly to the highly posed and perhaps PhotoShop-enhanced likenesses leering out at the reader, screaming READ ME! READ ME! that nowadays I automatically assign a bad-mark to such books. If the book happens to be worth reading then, okay, the black mark gets erased. But if it begins to stink, then every little dot and comma that annoys me gets added to the black mark like a rolling snowball of disappointment.
It will probably not come as much of a surprise to hear that I haven't published pix of myself alongside the author-info in my books -- caricatures, yes, but not photographs (at least I don't think so -- I've forgotten whether or not the MOUSE books have pix of me on the inside back-flap). I wouldn't buy a book that had a picture of me on the back cover! I look like a podgy middle-aged nerdette, someone completely incapable of producing anything readable.
So I don't know: do author-pix help or hinder the sale of a book? Dunno.
MEANWHILE, here's another link*, this time to a short piece I wrote in CITY LIMITS after visiting
Anjolie Menon's recent exhibition.
*(and it happens to feature an ancient photograph of me, at least 10 years out-of-date. I no longer look anything like it! I think it was Kurt Vonnegut (or someone pretending to be him) who made the point that we might as well enjoy the way we look now because we'll only get worse, not better. This is all very well, but I can STILL never get used to the way I look now, whatever it happens to be. It's as if I've never gotten over my adolescent antipathy towards myself)