Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Summer on my windowsill

Too often summer days appear
Emblems of perfect happiness
I can't confront: I must await
A time less bold, less rich, less clear:
An autumn more appropriate.*

*from Mother, Summer, I a poem by Philip Larkin.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011


In my room, the world is beyond my understanding,
But when I walk I see it consists of three or four hills and a cloud.*

For Virginia it was a pencil. For me a pint of milk, a freshly baked baguette and a box of cherries (that almost elusive fruit, a few days late and you miss its short and sweet season) are a good enough reason for putting on your shoes and going out for a walk. The art of writing maybe becoming redundant but food, especially good food, never will. Two blocks and a short climb up the hill is all it takes to reach the local co-operative. But it seems like journeying into another world.

To the tamed eye it is nothing but some modern apartment buildings, a handful of independent homes, a couple of restaurants and lots of cars parked on the roadside–a staple in American cities. However, it’s not quite American suburbia with all its attendant horrors. It is the 21st century version of big city living, with a glimmer of hope.

To the untamed eye it is, well, a walk to remember. After saying hello to the neighborhood pugs, all three of them, one takes a left under the watchful eyes of our resident crow and past the blooming rhododendrons and walks right into a wonderland- two “unkempt” gardens playing host to all sorts of wild things. There are masses of blue, white, yellow and orange wildflowers dancing cheek to cheek with giant peonies and poppies. There are bees, butterflies and hummingbirds darting from plant to plant. The house sparrows are feeding their young; the robin comes to take a look-see and whistles a tune. The chickadees are heard but not seen. The worms are busy digging and the creatures too small to be observed by the human eye are doing what they do best. Ten steps are all that it takes to move in and out of this world. Timed well it is ten steps enough.

Further ahead smoky-white clouds hang above the mountain tops that dwarf downtown's towers. Two young girls are picnicking over a bowl of salad on a patch of grass by the roadside, pink and yellow ribbons tided to their bicycle's handlebars. Stapled onto the wooden pole is a poster of a man with a ukelele held before his face. A little girl is discussing, what one supposes are, her big plans for the summer with her grandma, as she pushes her wagon along. A couple walk by hand in hand carrying a pot with a flowering tomato plant. The graffiti on the petrol pump wall reads PREPARE. For the end of oil the mind adds. There's a party on the second floor across the street. A kid on a skateboard swerves to the right. The cashiers from Trader Joe's are splitting a can of beer while the homeless man straightens his dog's bandana, smiles and asks, how's it going? It's 5:16 PM. The sun is at it's highest position in the sky and a walk is always well worth getting out of the house for.

*Wallace Stevens, Of the Surface of Things

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

When I paint my masterpiece

Someday, everything is gonna be diff’rent
When I paint my masterpiece*

Until then I spend hours at an end
watching light play tricks...
And it's not too bad a vocation. Until then.

*When I paint my masterpiece a song by Bob Dylan.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The Reading List

A book is opened that hadn’t been touched for some years and out falls an old reading list. Here is a select sample, in no particular order,

1. Levi-Strauss, C. 1986. The Raw and the Cooked
2. Bourdieu, P. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice
3. Trautman, T.R. 1981. Dravidian Kinship
4. Taussig, M. 1980. The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America
5. Saussure, F.D. 1966. Course in General Linguistics
6. Focault, M. 1971. The Archaeology of Knowledge
7. Barthes. 1967. Elements of Semiology
8. Evans-Pritchard, E.E. 1956. Nuer Religion
9. Beteille, A. 1977. Inequality among Men
10. Braithwaite, R. B. 1953. Scientific Explanation: A Study of the Functions of Theory, Probability   and Law in Science

The first thought that crosses ones mind is: wow! Did one really read all these books? Then comes the second even more amazing thought: All in the span of 7 days!  The third is a quiet little thought that sneaks in and out of ones head even before one can fully get hold of it. The fourth is almost redundant and not worth pointing out. The fifth is what one might address here.

Carefully considering all the evidence and taking into account the present state of affairs one is almost certain that these books were read. Quite simply because they had to be read. It was mandatory. No
matter what Prof. Uberoi said during the only lecture one remembers from that point in time, despite being volunteers, by virtue of choosing to join the course and then further on choosing to attend the
lectures, when it came to the reading list one had to complete it before the next tutorial; that dreaded event when a handful of us, like the proverbial three blind mice, ran after the farmer’s wife, so
to speak. What followed was in accordance with the theory, probability and law of science or mythology or proverb. The only difference being that we didn’t get to run around much and the farmer’s wife, though her knife was quite sharp, didn’t manage to cut off our tails. Everything about that exercise seems to be so dispassionate and far removed that one can safely declare one has no memories about it. But that wouldn’t be quite truthful, would it?

How did one do it? One may have been a volunteer but that was simply a manner of speaking. The reading list wasn’t voluntary. One had no right over choosing what to read and when to read it. The books were prescribed and were to be read within a certain (insanely inadequate) time limit. Sometimes it felt that even the sentences, the words that people walking up and down the corridors uttered, were also prescribed. There was a formula and the one who followed the prescription was sure to master it.

So, how did one do it? Nothing is impossible, in the world of speed reading at least. Anne Jones took 47 minutes 1 second to read 759 pages of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows. No mention is made of whether her pleasure of being the first to finish the book equaled the pleasure (she had 47 minutes before) of having another Harry Potter book to read. Well, speed-reading can be put to other mundane uses too. But the sixth and final question still remains: did one enjoy reading these books?

Friday, 3 June 2011

Fade I unto divinity

"Twould ease – a Butterfly –
Elate – a Bee –
Thou'rt neither –
Neither – thy capacity –

But, Blossom, were I,
I would rather be
Thy moment
Than a Bee's Eternity –

Content of fading
Is enough for me –
Fade I unto divinity –

And Dying – Lifetime –
ample as the Eye –
Her least attention raise on me –

'Twould ease a butterfly a poem by Emily Dickinson.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Rainful Days

Outside my window it rains. A thin, wispy blanket blows across the hills, the airplanes approaching land, the tall towers named after men long gone. Everything is melting into little droplets sliding down the windowpane. Pandora skips to Beirut softly playing:
All these saints that I move without
I lose without a name
All these saints, they move without
They moved without again
Well, all these places will lose without
They lose without a name

Nice. How everything ties up neatly.

Five years, four cities, three continents and I could be an expert on rain. And umbrellas. Only I have traded all my umbrellas for a sturdy rain jacket.

There is a silence that accompanies the gentle rain. I have known this rain before. This rain that is not like the Indian monsoon, which tends towards extravagance, but much quieter. There are no peacocks dancing or children splashing around in the puddles or young men and women rushing to meet the giant waves with only an umbrella in hand. This rain isn’t a short-lived heady celebration. It is the thing that remains when all celebrations are over. Here there is a kind of certitude, not like that of London, but something that comes when one understands what this too shall pass really means. Or, maybe because just yesterday this rain soaked view was bathed in a beautiful light that exists only in spring. And there is always a chance that it may happen again. Even today.

I hear the chickadees call from the blue house next door. The rain has stopped. No, this is merely a pause. And this too shall pass.

I reach out and pick up the book closest to my hand. I open a random page it reads: The beauty of a fleeting moment is eternal.**

*St. Appollonia from The Flying Club Cup by Beirut.
** The Monster Loves his Labyrinth: Notebooks by Charles Simic.