November 21, 2018 § Leave a comment
some ruminations on staying and leaving (and passing through).
recently i was wandering up a road leading from Ooty to the Cairn Hill forest reserve. we were sort of following the rail tracks outside Fern Hill station, and just as i remembered that it was about the right time for the Mettupalayam-Ooty toy train to pass, it came into view. i watched happily as it passed in a great blue noisy rush; we waved and children waved back. my father took a series of pictures.
it was a beautiful moment (i fucking love trains) and Fern Hill is a picturesque station, but twenty years ago my favourite part of the train journey was always the slow chug uphill through Lovedale. i would look at the green grounds alongside and picture the boarding-school kids in their storybook school. i was intimidated by them and i wanted to be one of them. with time i learnt about the existence of other boarding schools in India – all mystifyingly located in what i had mentally classified as ‘holiday locations’ (Nainital? Mt. Abu? Dehradun? que?????) but the school in Ooty never lost its shine for me.
a decade after, i would see these kids at the Chennai and Coimbatore airports around vacation time every year. they would be sitting in packs (having colonised the waiting areas near the gates) and noisily eating fancy snacks. by then i was a college student living far away from home myself, and should have lost my fascination – but of course i had not. on occasion i would want to tap one of the kids on the shoulder and say – “what is it like?”
things are always of course, both more and less than they seem. neither could i have conveyed exactly the question i wanted to, and nor could they have answered everything that i would have meant by such a question.
the school is about a hundred and fifty years old. what was it like for children of the British soldiers who were there first? what was it like for their parents working in towns far from home? and for these kids at the airport, what is it like to live amongst hundred year old ghosts? because of course, while all children grow up and leave Neverland, most of us can still hear the sound of the surf, though we can land no more. some of us went to competent schools in dumpy cement blocks in the plains. it was kinda hard to leave behind, but.. not that hard to leave behind, you know?
but for those children who grow up in the hills, what do they do with themselves when they need to leave for more..er.. prosaic locations, for such stupid reasons as to make a living?
my personal theory is that all people eventually do what they need to do to feed themselves, but hill children leave their Peter Pan ghosts behind in the hills.
to return to the title of this post (that was quite the ramble, huh? rambliest yet on this blog i think. i do surpass myself) my favourite book in the Raj Quartet is actually Staying On. on occasion, in my life, i have returned to places that i have spent years remembering – only to find on returning that the places have forgotten me. it is a discomfiting experience, if you are like me a professional nostalgist. when i read Staying On (where a British couple of modest means elect to remain in post-Independence India rather than return to England), i for the first time was forced to contemplate a worse circumstance than being forgotten by a place, viz.: being purposefully left behind by the place. Tusker and Lucy had left England behind, but the India they knew was casting them off like a slough. imagine living like that. imagine that.
Staying On is also set in a small hill-town, Pankot. it made me wonder what British alumni of Indian boarding schools feel when they visit many decades later. can your home outgrow you and leave you behind?
The other big theme running through Staying On is the couple’s unhappy(?) marriage. i suppose the title (of the book, and of this post) could equally well refer to this. on this theme i also highly recommend the fantastic The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler.
i just realised that (for whatever reason) some of my favourite books are about unhappy marriages; i think because so often they are simply a chronicling of everyone’s falls from their respective Edens. and what is more relatable than that?
February 23, 2017 § 4 Comments
i was watching Girls and wondering why it was so incestuous. was this not new york (noo yawk noo yawk…) where there were a thousand things and people a-foot a-live a-buzz a-vailable a-stir (ah-fuck it), only just waaaaiting to be met? why then was everyone always being pulled back into this tiny circle of tiny, tiny men. this stupid centripetality of sex and… something like love. love.
what is love? (baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me.. no mo)
actually that is not an interesting question. well maybe it is, but by far the more interesting one is – why bother? with anything, i mean, but especially the cultivation of love, because it is effort intensive and exhausting (the little prince is on the money with this). also my brain tends to joyblock me by asking inconvenient questions like – is this whole thing a scam for the fools? i am not a fool. show me the door to the other side, the real side*.
sooo friends, let us talk about what i feel** about love (or i will talk anyway, it’s still my blog) and – in gaiman-speak, its mirror image – loneliness.
* * *
what does it mean to say that one is lonely? is it that one is doomed to a lifetime of being incompletely understood? to always have language fall short of communication? to be paralysed by the idea that companionship is just a silly distraction in a solitary life?
and what should it mean when you meet someone who taps into your pipes anyway, but your loneliness rushes even deeper within you, seeking out other secret recesses to occupy? what does one do with such a persistent damp? how we are led astray by the wrong question – perhaps I should ask: what does such a loneliness do for us?
like an odd bird, my clever, unwise mind has consumed my days and spit the partially digested results out over, what, twenty years of staring questioningly at life (i have not seized the day exactly; standing diffidently next to it is more my speed). anyway, my mind says loneliness is life affirming; that it is a force in itself, not merely the lack of something. if it were only a lack, how could it resonate so much with life? tinggg-ing so often like a tuning fork, so many times a day? standing in a queue at the bank, eating dosai on the street, when it’s noisy at the beach, when it’s quiet in the night? ting tinggg tinggg tinggg tinggg. welcome, we are all alone here; aapke gairhaaziri mein bhi (aapke gairhaaziri mein hi) aapka swagat hai.
that is why nothing feels more alienating than being around people who neither experience nor cultivate loneliness. they can’t begin to imagine the weight of the uncertainties you’re willing to admit to them. as i see it, the experience of loneliness is a critical and necessary precedent to the experience of empathy and love.
having said which, what does it cost a body to carry a void, a lifetime’s worth of knowledge that other people will never be enough? the suspicion that all love is only a fearful clutching at straws? sometimes it feels like it costs too much. and still the hollowness within feels important to have – what else is there to remind us that none of us knows what the fuck we’re doing here? what is more unifying and human than a paralysing existentialist fog?
it seems to me that as long as one does not seek to self-medicate for loneliness, it can be a small but deep relief to have company in stumbling through the life fog.
the author therefore advises you all to suspend your various clever pessimisms just long enough to fall in love.
or, you know, whatever.
* while i am ambivalent on the subject of neil gaiman, i liked Coraline and deeply enjoy his fascination for the mirror image, also his commitment to scaring the wobbly bits off little children with these same ideas. if you want to follow this theme elsewhere, i also recommend Un Lun Dun by China Mieville.
**remember when i thought that i was too smart to live by feelings? o Ghost of My Past, i knew ye well, fool; truly a fellow of infinite jest. i now know a little bit more about brains, poor doomed bastards.
May 12, 2016 § 7 Comments
So I have been running. A little. The actual frequency is between how often I SAY I run and zero. Although I am usually good at conning myself or making excuses to stay in bed in the morning, I still sometimes get up and run. The motivation is not to lose weight (although I am large, i contain multitudes of banana chips (ok ok I want to lose a little weight)) but to get to know my own body.
For my whole life, other than a golden interlude in the early 2000s, my body has felt like a sack of meat that I drag around. It has felt like the betaal to my vikram. It has felt like a soft, useless obstacle between my SELF (lolzzzz) and my dreams of being a grounded, sexy human bean in TOUCH with myself. It has felt useless because it effectively has been useless. I can’t open jars that are screwed on tight, I can’t carry my own suitcases very far, I can’t climb a tree, I can’t jump into a pool and swim like I mean it, I can’t dance, I can’t run. I can’t even run. So a few weeks ago I went running on purpose and prepared myself to hate it. This was good, because I did hate it. But god, did I love to hate it. Didn’t I just look forward to the shortness of breath and the lung burn. Didn’t it just make me feel like the sack of shit that I am. Didn’t it just find the G-spot of my masochistic brain and stroke it without mercy, saying “you fool, you didn’t last five minutes. You fool, do you even HAVE leg muscles????” Endorphins? Fuck endorphins. This was pure self-hate driven motivational tomfoolery, my exact comfort zone. (thoo)
That is why I went on my second run. And then I went on my third. I’m not really in the business of holding myself to standards (#selflove) but I suspect that I will be going on my next run soonish.
I guess I could measure around my butt as well for another ‘success metric’, but so far I haven’t really wanted to. Maybe this is a win or something #accidentalfeminism (OR) I know better than to set myself up for failure.
Here’s another thing – I am convinced that really feeling one with one’s body (vom) is a quick cure for nihilism. I have been passively transforming into a nihilist because it’s easier to float away with those thoughts if you have never been anchored to the ground by the blood pulsing angrily through you after a run. Frankly, if the thought of whether-reality-is-an-illusion-and-what-mankind’s-role-is-on earth-and-what-the-earth’s-role-is-in-space-and-what-even-is-space-for never strikes me again, it will be too soon for me. It’s becoming a real quality of life issue, brah. If I make it six months without existential doubt, I will break a coconut for the gods I still believe in.
I have been thinking about physicality a lot these days.
Physical physical bodymeatlard bloodandbones smellandskinandweight fart. How remarkable we find all this meat-and-gristle sexy. How remarkable. But how much more remarkable than that, even, is fecundity.
I have always found the idea of pregnancy profoundly disturbing. Not of motherhood, you fool, just of pregnancy. A pregnant stomach is a… reproductive sac. A pregnant stomach is so blatantly, one-note-ly biological; there’s no metaphor to hide behind. Just… there it is. So lacking in cleverness, so disappointing and Xtina circa 2002 in its boring, on-the-nose vulgarity. I would be terribly weirded out if my body were to demonstrate its own fecundity; I think I like to picture myself as a sexless, disembodied ‘curiosity’ floating through the ether of life. just look at that word – ‘sac’ – wet. globulous. Febrile.
It bothers me that the maturity of my brain has not caught up with the maturity of my body. What is the motivation to have sex? the same as the motivation to pick at my fingernails or my nose I guess. Perhaps it’s a little more, but I don’t really want to think about that.
Maybe I should be used to my body betraying me; sprouting onward and outward since 2003 with unrelenting enthusiasm, while my brain and maturity have been idling like two Enfields in the sun, just waiting to chugga-chugga-chugga away from adulthood and towards Leh.
listen. listen to the King.
It’s hard to write without paranoia and with honesty; without shrouding everything in metaphors and alluding to things instead of just saying them. I feel exposed and a bit defensive. I guess it’s a good thing no one reads here anymore.
Let the record state that I wrote this post on MS Word, not in Notepad. All songwriters know it makes a difference.
September 19, 2014 § Leave a comment
at some point in your life, things seem to become strictly autobiographical.
Books that you read, eyes that you catch, things that make you happy —> all seem to build a straight line to where you come from. You could be reading something innocuous (for example, i was reading Gone Girl) and great big Feelings could suddenly come crawling, pawing out of the dark. Roiling quickly up into your throat and settling there. You are afraid that your nose will tip a little, your head will dip a little, that you will catch sight of another word and you will – lose your balance (lose your mind) – because then all your insides and bad-sides will come rushing and spilling out of you for everyone to look at. Spilling out of the hard forgotten, misbegotten knot of old lies in the pit of your (my) stomach. we can name this place The Abandoning. You know, like The Dreaming? My version of the Dreaming was The Abandoning. First i abandoned me, then i was abandoned, then i abandoned hope, then there was abandoned dancing. Worst/ best time of my life. Funny how opposites go together so often. Maybe because each needs the other to exist.
It seems both improbable and narcissistic for aaaaall these stories i read to jog similar memories out of me. How could i have so many relevant memories? Why can i relate so much? It seems that you can just keep beating my dead horse, and new dust will just keep on rising. what a bore.
I don’t want things to keep circling back to me. I worry i have developed a compulsive need to ‘relate’. I want books to start taking me outside my head again. The fuel inside my head is used up.
I wonder if there is still time to be someone else?
December 25, 2013 § 3 Comments
this year has not had that many people in it. you have done a bad job, girl.
literally all my effort goes into keeping a healthy flow of people around me, who will say/not say things which may/may not be interesting (but are usually calculated to be interesting and oftentimes that effort succeeds) – while i lie half-asleep and cock-eared, absorbing that noise and metabolising the general trend of it into something i can play with. we must keep the stimuli coming because we are not that original, you know? each of us is an information-processing machine that is wired a little differently from each other information-processing machine, so all the commentary we produce varies – but it varies only a little, because we are not that original. we are limited by everything we choose not to do.
i choose to not do a lot. it is my fault. i am lazy, insolent and far too pleased with myself to really improve myself. i have used my excellent seventh-sense to locate inspirational persons however, and i am observing them, combing their beautifully maintained fur and scratching under their chins while they look upon me with indifference and teach me how to do Life.
i don’t know at what point this place morphed into a book review place. what am i, the fuckin New Yorker? nobody needs my input. as the regular reader will have noticed, i like almost every book i read. i read, but not as much as i should and certainly not what i should. i read a lot and i like most of it. not very discerning. i do other things too, you know? sometimes i just stare at the covers of books and decide to buy pizza with that money
maybe (lookit me, so cautious) i’ll write about things i disagree STRONGLY with. or care STRONGLY about. that’s exercise for the brain, that is. i feel faint already. Uncle Peter! my smelling salts!
by the way, wordpress has drawn an angry red scraggle beneath ‘fuckin’ in that one sentence in that paragraph above this one; it looks like wordpress wants me to put an apostrophe there to note the lack of a ‘g’, but that would seem too effortful wouldn’t it? i didn’t put that ‘g’ there because i didn’t say it with a ‘g’ inside my brain. i do not need to include a sanctimonious little head-tip to grammar-sexuals because i hold no truck with the likes of those. do a little reading, man. language changes so quickly, man. let it flow, man. but just… read a little, man.
these days, i feel like telling a lot of people to ‘just read a little, man’. all this information right here, for practically free (for me. my WiFi is cheap as hell, may baby jesus bless my provider) and no one wants to read. can i just express a tiny prejudice here? i think you need to be read as widely as your sense of being will possibly let you, in order that you be a truly appealing human bean. there’s a great graph i saw somewhere (lies. i just made it up) which represents how reading works on people. i will reproduce that graph for you (i will draw it here) since i am good at graphs (i am horrible at graphs).
this subject of this graph is ‘readers’.
(My drawing is not a graph about reading. It is a picture of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant.)
what i am saying via that^ envy of all analysts and desire of all mathematicians – that beautiful graph – is that if you just keep readin’, just keep readin’, you will eventually hit this excellent place where you will be able to visualise the vast, craggy impossibility of accounting for all tastes and morals. it will be relaxing because you will finally internalise that you know nothing and that nobody knows anything and that we are only knocking on the doors of every leaf and man and child and puppy and galaxy to find anyone, anybody please, who might know more than us and save us from our bereft selves.
(some of us will be bitter from not finding that person. those of us will write bitter, interesting books.)
i am frequently exhausted by all the social media i consume. my feed is full of opinionated, dynamic people either dickswinging or grandstanding or pearl-clutching or taking offense because in the words of my main man:
“…rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honour’s at the stake.”
really, what price that honour, twitter? you all exhaust me.
to those of you to whom this rant applies: read some things.
to other people: download and watch David Tennant as Hamlet. what a gift that incredible man is. *inappropriate thoughts*
to me: quit reading rubbish and do some things.
November 9, 2013 § Leave a comment
i read today that a restaurant in mumbai is now serving bibimbap. this is exciting news and i have made a (mental) entry in the calendar (i don’t have) to put some in my mouth.
in my final semester in college i would eat two dinners – one at 8pm and another at 10.30pm just as the mess was shutting – to make sure that i would not be hungry later in the night. around midnight i would open tastespotting however, and after that all bets were off. it was during these months that i first read about the lovely and attractive david chang, googling his restaurants and reviews of his food for weeks on end. his brand of NuKorean food, so to speak, has become very famous and very trendy (i am sure for excellent reason) but why i am writing about him is because i remember reading a long blogpost about his bibimbap.
bibimbap – if you wiki it – has at its very heart a a bunch of meat. it seems that a proteinous protein – not, you know, a half-assed vegetarian protein – is dressed up very nicely, and there is often a process to be followed in the partaking of it. i was not at the time a non-vegetarian but somehow this did not prevent me from getting into descriptions of meat-foods and enjoying them – and one of the most notable of the descriptions i have ever read is that blogpost on bibimbap. it (the blogpost) was carefully, precisely written, with a prayerful focus on the food and the process and the effect of the process on the enjoyment of the food. i held that writer’s hand on his journey, man. we had a moment and all.
a real study, that post was. where are you now, post? how do i find you?
anyway, have you read any muriel spark? over a year ago i read the sublime the prime of miss jean brodie and since then, i’ve done what little i can to help her career along (i can’t. she’s dead.) by having this here muffin purchase for me her collected works. so i’ve been reading the comforters, which, as i suspect is true with everything spark has written, has a plot is just deliciously unobtrusive. the plot hangs softly through the novel like a sort of ectoplasmic scaffolding for the real story, which unfolds inside the characters’ minds. this is a truly attractive attribute in a book. maybe it is just how i approach books, because i have never been a fan of what is popularly described as ‘plot-driven writing’. that writing tends to be jerky and urgent and not at all hippie, and i am hippie, maaan. stop and smell the flowers, yaaaar.
the comforters i read on the way to office on a train, but not on the way back. on the way back i read milan kundera’s the joke. this book made me adjust how i read books, a little, because there were some things to get used to. i could not simply flip through at high speed, gathering not much more than a Sparknotes impression in my head. if you are reading this book, in the beginning there is this discomfortingly self-aware expaaaansiveness to get used to in kundera’s writing style; this tendency to pull the machinations of an increasingly frantic reality to a grinding halt while we look at the audience and lean against the wheel and smoke and reflect on our impressions of the significance, of the *synchronicity* of this moment, with the rhythm of our lives…
in the beginning i dismissed it as narcissistic and poorly edited writing, but i kept going. further in, i picked up on the book’s rhythm and began to see what it is about. each chapter approaches the conclusion with a sort of ponderous, tectonic certainty, and once you understand that, you begin to enjoy the little soliloquies as being what they are: a fantastic exercise in capturing the sense of time being eternally short in our physical realities while mysteriously managing to be in eternal abundance inside our heads. similarly also, of our realities being constrained by our positioning in time and space, but our – how do you say it – ‘inner selves’ living in lightheaded chimeras of the past, the dreamed past and just dreams.
about the title: you read the book and see. there is a joke that is told by one of us, but the joke that is played is on all of us.
as for dreams, there are some things said about dreams in martin amis’ dead babies as well, but you can take this book or leave it. martin amis is a neurotic, imperfect, clever writer, and as such is worth a read, but i think he lacks an imagination. in this book it felt like the plots and characters were disposable little conceits to him; just goats on the altar of his narrow Ultimate Point.
there are patches of clear, mercilessly articulated prose that you will be rewarded with if you sit through this book, but they will be secondary to the Much Bigger Point that absolutely must be made. and amis will make that point with a battering ram, he will wrestle it into the ground and kick its head in just to make sure, perhaps pee on it – because why not – with a bored violence that gets tiresome very quickly.
i’m a bit tired of words and things, actually. maybe go here for some other stuff i do sometimes.
May 9, 2013 § Leave a comment
one thing i would like to do sometime soon is eat a meal by myself. it has been too long. too, too long.
what i would like is to come in, sandy and lightheaded from a beach, to a restaurant with a small menu printed on thick paper. the pages would be worn at the corners where people have rubbed their fingers thinking should i get a drink. i would like to be seated against windows sweeping over a casuarina grove crusted with salt from the sea. i would like to sit in a chair – i would like to sit, oh almost sit – wait for the waiter to step behind me and gently push the chair in – i would like to sit in that chair and unfold my napkin into a cool, grey linen square over my lap. i would like to order a big glass of wine and hold it by the neck in between two fingers and feel the weight of the wine in the bowl.
i know without looking up at all, that there are long stemmed wooden fans pulling pina colada breezes in from the beach and whipping them into a warm, yellow summer up above me. i would like to close my tired, tired eyes and see the red stars explode hotly across the inside of my lids.
what i would like is to fill the entire world up with cotton and be small and quiet and spare and empty of all purpose but the decision to put a single spoonful of fruit