Thursday, April 28, 2005

Dreams of Chocophilia

The reason I don't post so often when I'm away from base camp is, I believe, because I cease to be myself. It's been a constant theme in my life -- when I travel, I become someone else -- traveling isn't just a change of place, for me, but a change of myself. I mildly enjoy the changes, but then again, as soon as the change occurs, I become confused about who the "real" me is -- the dreaming-butterfly effect (that familiar old story -- You dream you're a butterfly -- which leads you to wonder whether you're a person dreaming that you're a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming you're a person) -- and if the trip isn't long enough for me to stabilize in the new place, I spend the whole trip in a suspended condition, neither wholly there or nor here (a cocoon dreaming that it MIGHT BE a cocoon ...).

Anyway, amongst the things I did in Madras was to read the latest Artemis Fowl book -- THE OPAL DECEPTION. Nice. I read it in one huge gulp, having raided that pearl of bookstores, GIGGLES BOOKSHOP in Madras' Connemara Hotel (part of the Taj chain, but with a character all its own, having been in existence since British days). The best part of going to Giggles is squeezing in through a narrow alley bounded entirely by books, towards the owner of the shop, the ever-effervescent Nalini Chettur. It always feels a teeny bit as if one is being swallowed whole by a supremely benign biblionic entity -- benign because at the end of the action, instead of being digested one is FED with books. Nalini not only remembers her visitors' tastes in reading, but always has New! Improved! selections of titles to offer.

For instance, I had no idea that there was a fourth Artemis Fowl book and was delighted to be shown this one. Amongst the books I bought (no, I am not going to walk back to my room and physically check the titles -- in me, laziness always wins out over the desire to preen): Jared Diamond's COLLAPSE; Alessandro Baricco's WITHOUT BLOOD (he wrote SILK, remember?); Best of 2004 Science Fiction Anthology; Arthur C. Clarke's TIME'S EYE; Bill Bryson's TROUBLESOME WORDS; Ian McEwan's SATURDAY; Philip K. Dick's WE CAN REMEMBER IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE (a collection of which the title story was the basis for Schwarzenwhatz-hiz-tit's Total Recall) and an odd, unexpected Kurt Vonnegut's BOGAMBO SNUFF BOX (no idea what it's like; apparently a collection of his previously unpublished work -- i.e., previously unpublished in a collection) -- and okay, DARN, I confess I DID have to drag myself across the house to go and check on titles and spellings after all. And have probably made several mistakes all the same. This senility, I tell ya ...

The Artemis Fowl was good -- I remember feeling the last two were straining to bring off their effects towards the end -- too much magical event and coincidence for a comfortable suspension of disbelief -- after all, there's only so much disbelief that can be maintained in a literarily-induced suspension, rather like the very small bit of paper that can be attached to the end of the typical commercially available helium-filled gas balloon -- as soon as the weight of magical/fantastical detail exceeds that limit, I begin to feel I am reading a catalogue of special effects, rather than a story. As it is, the Fowl books suffer from a curious flippancy -- as if the author threw in certain effects and characters randomly when he wrote the first book, then worked in justifications later -- the centaur Foaly, for instance, and the dwarf Diggums: these two characters support a disproportionate weight of denouement-processing, yet are clearly odd-balls within the fairy system (for instance, no other centaurs are described or mentioned -- or if they have been, not memorably). But this book worked for me right from the start, I read it at a sizzling pace and threw it down with a satisfied burp at the end.

Other pleasures: I got my first copy of DOUBLETALK in hand, while I was still in Madras -- a short-lived pleasure, because my sister Surya and niece Divya were leaving for the US the same night and they smoothly snatched my newest-born from my hands (ah cruel, cruel! An artist/author's life brims over with never-ending loss!!) on the pretext that I would take months to get around to posting THEIR copy of the book, whenever I got the bulk of my ten author-copies. I will post a link to the Penguin web-listing of the book as soon as it appears, some time in early May, I assume (that's when it'll be in bookshops). I could say that it looks good -- but then I'm just a tad biased.

A heads up for you, gt: you were amongst the characters who featured in the strip in those distant days and your early persona is now impressed upon the stuff of eternity ...

Oh there was so much else that happened in Madras -- the hard work of being a great aunt for instance: my new grand-niece has more personality per ounce of baby flesh than a whole city block -- or is that just because I spend very little time in the company of young humans and so don't realize that they're all like that? Well I didn't actually pick her up (except once, to pass her to my mother) because I am nervous of small humans. But I appreciated her from a distance.

There were daily dramas of the domestic-help kind -- but I'm going to avoid describing them here. Socio-political horrow (= a word that combines horror and sorrow, to make a term that is somewhat less serious than either of the original words) of the worst kind does not translate to great web-fare. Dunno why. A bit like discussing bowel-movements -- thrillingly important within the confines of one's own body's internal memos, but utterly unlovable outside it.

And industrial quantities of chocolate were consumed. Speaking of which: I returned to Delhonius to discover that a parcel had arrived from the family who stayed with us last year, while one of its members struggled to recover from a shockingly unexpected (which, like the Spanish Inquisition, it always is) episode of Gillan-Barre syndrome -- and the parcel contained not only a marvellously devised and beautifully sculped puzzle-box made of wood, but a Greenland-sized chunk of dark, nut-filled chocolate. It had not survived the three months of mail-journey in its pristine condition, having melted into its enswaddling envelope of jumbo-bubblewrap plastic -- HOWEVER, the fridge had restored it to edibility, so I was able to chow down very happily. What are a few impression-dimples of jumbo-bubble-plastic to the serious chocophiliast after all? Nothing!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Away Team

Has anyone noticed how uncomfortable it is to work at someone else's puter-station? Even when it's a cosy space -- which it very frequently ISN'T -- it's sort of weird to step into someone else's hot seat. I'm sure it's awful for friends/guests who stay over at my abode in Nude Elly -- coz I am the original See No Dust home-owner. So there is a disgusting film of Delhi's finest atmospheric distillate coating every horizontal surface which isn't specifically being used (I mean, for instance, there's never a speck of dust on the actual keyboard of the puter, coz that's a high-traffic arena. But the monitor has a totally natural, organic, gaze-guard of silica particles). It only gets cleaned away when it has built up in dunes high enough that I actually feel threatened by them.

I've been long overdue with this post (i.e., a new post) despite several interesting events to discuss -- I saw the dogme film DOGVILLE recently, for instance and wanted to post about that -- and I travelled to Madras this Sunday -- and saw, in quick succession: THE INCREDIBLES (thrilling), MYSTIC RIVER (interesting but bad print) and David Cronenberg's CRASH (totally ridiculous -- so much so that I am reconsidering my opinion of his EXISTENZ, which I thoroughly appreciated at the time I saw it). But just this minute, having read the comment left behind by gt to my previous post, I am captiviated by the challenge he offers regarding ladybirds. As he points out, the name LADYBIRD must surely cause severe trauma to MALE LADYBIRDS -- and he encourages visitors to this site to think up further examples of such cruel, gender-insensitive nomenclature. Another example he offers is -- though he admits it's not ideal, coz it's a vegetable and hence, for English-speakers, lacks gender -- LADIES' FINGERS (whoaa -- I've forgotten whether that's LADY FINGERS or LADY'S FINGERS or ... ) otherwise known as OKRA in the New World.

So the challenge is to look for nouns, preferably in reference to living creatures, which express a gender bias. One that occurred to me right away was: SEVEN SISTERS -- don't the poor things ever have brothers? Also known as Jungle Babblers (maybe they're the brothers!). And of course, my favourite gender-insensitive word, but NOT an animal species is: MANHOLE. No way we can gender-sensitize that one ...

I'm not inclined to pay attention to words of the HISTORY/HERSTORY persuasion -- we're looking for words where there's a real and obvious problem with referring to the male or female individual belonging to a species which has been actually named to exclude one entire sex. Your move, gracious visitor ...