Saturday, March 17, 2012

bloomsbury in pop culture produced now about then

In Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach (Vintage, 2008: 40), one of the two protagonists - while a history student at UCL in the early '60s - thinks: 

Social change never proceeds at an even pace. There were rumours that in the English department, and along the road at SOAS and down Kingsway at the LSE, men and women in tight black jeans and black polo-neck sweaters had constant easy sex, without having to meet each other's parents. 

In the first episode of White Heat (BBC 2, now), all the scenes featuring student unrest later in that decade seem to have been shot in the space in front of Senate House, between Birkbeck and SOAS.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Brits in India. Again.

In Trishna, Michael Winterbottom has achieved nearly pitch-perfect casting right from the guide to the Jain temple in an opening scene to the school assembly at the very end (if, like me, you are wondering how Trishna (Freida Pinto) learned English, that closing scene is your answer - as is mention of the Thar English Medium School in the credits; you know how cranky I get about foreign directors who are inattentive to the politics of language.) I haven't read Tess of the d'Ubervilles, so unlike most reviewers I can't say anything about (in)fidelity to the text. There are two very quick but cheekily intelligent moments in the film. Jay (Riz Ahmed) spends a lot of time lying around reading cliched things like the Upanishads and the Kamasutra (yes, we're all reared on a diet of scriptural sex), but in one scene he is reading William Dalrymple's White Mughals. A feudal hotel-owning BBCD with a love-slave employee reads himself into a book written by a gora in India about 18th century goras in India with bibis and harems. In another scene, Trishna's immense nuclear family crowd around a TV set that is playing 'Twist' from Love Aaj Kal (you have just enough time to catch sight of someone in the uniform of the Queen's Guard gyrating behind Saif Ali Khan): a British director making a film in and 'about' India nods at a desi film sequence shot in a London market. Two countries talking to each other.

This can't really be said of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Inoffensive, and possibly for that reason unmemorable, the film has the virtue of signposting its exoticization of India and claiming to be about nothing more than how a bunch of ageing Brits view India. The premise of using attitudes towards India as a story-telling device to build the personalities of British characters is a familiar one (remember Mira Nair's Vanity Fair, although India -the place - is mostly off-stage in this tale, with characters either eagerly looking forward to going there or horrified at the prospect: her credits contain salaams to Edward Said, whose Culture and Imperialism - with its thesis about the mutual cultural constitution of core and periphery - almost certainly informed the making of that film). Dev Patel has clearly been working on his accent. Perhaps a bit too much. How can anyone with a posh mummy like Lilette Dubey end up sounding like that?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

free associations 1

writer's block is a big fat block wooden block sitting on table block block thoughts blocked clogged arteries phlegm i cannot seem to write anything about anything important is that how you even spell phlegm is this how gertrude stein wrote? Gertrude Stein! Now that's a thought. I went to see Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, in Paris, in UGC Danton (cinema) - I am so in awe of Danton, Demoulins and Robespierre after reading Hilary Mantel's brilliant A Place of Greater Safety that I entered the goddam cinema with something approaching reverence, but this is not the point - the point is that the cinema in which I watched Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris features in the opening credits of the film and there is something incredibly interesting about being able to watch the space in which you are sitting on a smaller space on a screen while sitting within that space: the whole can be consumed visually while sitting within the whole. You are in it, but you are also bigger than it while sitting inside it. This makes me think of Osama bin Laden having videos of himself made watching himself on TV. At what point does this kind of obsessive self-reflexiveness cease to make sense? For example, could there have been a good reason for Osama to have made videos of the dude making videos of Osama watching himself on TV? My earliest memory of a visual representation of a problem such as this comes from the first barber shop to which my Dad took me to have my hair cut. The 'waiting room', a rectangular space that must not have been larger than 6 feet by 2, contained two benches at either end behind each of which were mounted large mirrors. Facing each other, the mirrors reflected everything between them to infinity. It was the first moment in which I got the sense that the universe was very large.

Monday, May 02, 2011

After OBL

Hello blog readers (are you still here?), 

Sorry I've been away. My attention span over the last year shrank to the size of a Facebook status update. I am not yet twitterbrained, but it'll only take the world's first REAL twitter revolution (which has not yet happened) to convert me. Apparently punditry is about telling the world what will happen next when you haven't the faintest idea yourself, so here goes. I am:

- incredulous that Pakistan could not have known. The government is in a strange position. If it claims too much credit for the strike, it gets into trouble with homegrown Islamists and sets itself up for retaliation. If it claims not to have known anything about the strikes, it looks weak and its sovereignty meaningless. If it claims not to have known that OBL was in Abbottabad not very far away from the national Military Academy, it looks incompetent. If it keeps quiet, it looks dodgy (this is the worst option). 

- concerned that India will cite this strike as precedent for its own unilateral strikes on terrorist suspects in Pakistan. This will not happen yet, but if we see another Mumbai '08, or if for some reason, the pressure to avenge Mumbai increases, something on these lines cannot be ruled out.

- disgusted by the cheering crowds in the US. I can understand the desire for retributive justice (even if I cannot condone it), but this is yet another nail in the coffin of rule of law, supposedly that great foundational Western value (gawd, I sound so quaint - but wait! so are the Geneva Conventions). A former State Department official in a BBC interview was emphatic that the death of OBL was a much better outcome than if he had been captured alive because otherwise where would he be held? how would he be tried? In other words, dude, due process is too difficult! This is a country that doesn't support international judicial tribunals, makes a fuss about trying Khaled Sheikh Mohammed in a New York court, doesn't want to treat people captured in war as prisoners of war with Geneva Convention rights, doesn't want them to be held on US territory (hence Guantanamo) so that US law and US international legal obligations do not apply to them, basically wants to create black holes so that rights of the accused/detained simply become unimaginable. Hello Mr. Carl sovereignty-as-exception Schmitt. Fuck off, basically anyone against arbitrariness since Aristotle.

- anticipating that we will soon hear defences of Guantanamo Bay and torture as a means of extracting information from detainees. If information about the courier whose movements ultimately alerted US special forces to the house in Abbottabad was in fact obtained from Guantanamo detainees as has been reported, expect philosophers to dust off their vile ticking bomb scenarios (would it be moral to torture a terrorist if you could avert a massive terrorist plot as a result?). The prototypes have been tested in classrooms - oh and in books (hello Michael The-Lesser-Evil Ignatieff - you winning in Canada?).

- amused that I am getting slightly breathless emails from students asking if the syllabus, readings and/or exam questions have changed. Er...the answer to that question is an emphatic NO. This may also be the answer to the question of whether anything in the world has really changed today, beyond Obama's re-election prospects. How much does al Qaeda matter to jehadi terrorism? As far back as 2004, Jason Burke's excellent book on the subject had already delineated three kinds of terror plots: those completely masterminded by a hardcore group called al Qaeda (e.g. the Kenya and Tanzania US embassy bombing plots); those in which the hardcore functioned as a sort of venture capitalist, providing a moderate level of funding and assistance to terror entrepreneurs who operated in relatively independent cells (e.g. 9/11); and those in which cells operated completely independently with figures like Osama in the hardcore serving as a source of ideological inspiration, but little else (e.g. Madrid). If Osama's most important role by 2004 had become that of symbolic inspiration, it is one he is well (maybe better?) positioned to play in death, given the emotive power of martyrdom. And who cares that his body was dumped in the sea? Expect shrines and relics and furtive gatherings of people at a certain compound in Abbottabad.

Osama bin Laden was not killed today. He was killed on January 14, 2011, when the people of Tunisia overthrew their dictator of 23 years in a non-violent and secular struggle; and he was killed again on February 11, 2011, when the people of Egypt did the same to Hosni Mubarak, who had not been dislodged by almost three decades of jehadi terrorist plots and all the hot air that Ayman al-Zawahiri could muster. I have this vision of Osama bin Laden banging his foot into the floor in impatience, like Rumpelstiltskin, as he watched the Arab Spring unfold on his...ok apparently he didn't have Internet. 'I was supposed to rouse the jahil masses from their slumber!' he would have yelled. 

He is survived by his 51 brothers (I didn't check).

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Sex and the City 2


Unlike everyone else, I don't hate Sex and the City 2. This may be because unlike everyone else, I had seen nothing of the series or SATC1 before I went to see it. Forget about low or no expectations, I was blissfully unaware of what expectations it might have been appropriate to have. A New Yorker cartoon a few issues ago suggested that there were four possible ways of reviewing anything: good in a good way, bad in a bad way, good in a bad way, and bad in a good way. SATC2 falls into that last category, and it's revealing of professional critics' general cantankerousness, that none of them (or at least none of the ones I've read) have managed to extract anything of value from the film. Liza Minnelli's rendition of Beyonce's Single Ladies - only slightly less shocking than, say, finding your grandmother karaoke to Lady GaGa - ALONE makes this film unmissable. On a more serious note, the hyperdefensive postcolonials have pounced on the numerous orientalist stereotypes that the film trades on, failing to recognise the ways in which the film critiques those stereotypes in its own inimitably frothy style. Thus, even as the four girls are horrified at burqa-clad women having to lift their veils to eat french fries, Miranda is realising that her misogynistic boss who lifts his hand to stop her from speaking at meetings has trouble dealing with successful women. Carrie is literally told to shut up by a scathing (fictional) New Yorker review of her latest book, accompanied by a caricature of herself with her mouth taped shut. In these silly and blindingly obvious ways, for the first time (maybe?!), American pop culture has finally internalised the critique that third world feminists and feminists of colour have long made of white western feminism: that in its eagerness to rescue brown women from brown men halfway across the world and its superior self-positioning with respect to those women whom it unremittingly sees as victims, it misses the universality of patriarchy and its distinct manifestations in their own cultures. Indeed, far from rescuing brown women, the SATC crew are themselves rescued by brown women from an ugly confrontation featuring Samantha, condoms and lots of angry brown men. Whisked away into the privacy of female only space, C, S, C & M learn that upper-class brown women are not very different from them in the clothes that they wear or - in a wonderful moment parodying Reading Lolita in Tehran - the self-help books that they read. In a sly move, perhaps betraying the extent to which poststructuralist feminist valorations of resistance have permeated the zeitgeist, the film ends up endorsing the burqa as a device of cunning, under cover of which the feisty foursome escape the angry mob incensed by Samantha's libido. If you are a socialist feminist, there is not much in this movie for you - barring Miranda and Charlotte's one sentence incredulous admiration for women who succeed in juggling work and family without the aid of expensive childcare. But then, to expect more from a story set in the professional classes of Manhattan would be - how should I put this - stupid. To understand the disappointment of critics and SATC fans alike, I am now working my way through the series, thanks to a box-set loaned to me by N&D. Now that's what I call research.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cahiers de Paris

So I fled marking hell today. Vive l'Eurostar. Some British eurosceptic allegedly raised concerns about the construction of the Channel tunnel on the grounds that rabid dogs could make their way into England. I'm not sure who this was (google for a reference), but he's probably in power now. Anyway, I'm staying in the lovely Marais, which is delightful and quaint and Jewish and gay and untouched by Haussmann, whom I have taken a dislike to before even seeing the boulevards. (Suddenly, New Delhi is beginning to make sense: India Gate = Arch de Triomphe; Louvre = Rashtrapati Bhavan; Rajpath = Champs Elysees; Lutyens = Haussmann; Paris feels like an urban planning textbook.) But more on that later. Today, I 'se promener'd. To an English speaker, this is a weird, fussy, camp verb for an action as simple and matter of fact as walking/strolling. But in these lovely sun-dappled streets with independent stores that don't look like they're part of chains to my untutored eye (I could be so wrong), and cafes galore (most of the restaurant sits on the pavement), I am taking great pleasure in 'se promener'ing. Je me promene, Tu te promenes, Il se proment. Etc. 

I am ticking things off a list. Gently, because I am coughing and sneezing far too much for comfort and thinking, disturbingly, of Mimi dying of consumption in La Boheme. Fortunately, Lemsip will save me. Also, I am determined not to tick things off lists as it violates the spirit of 'se promener'ing. Notre Dame: too touristy and not particularly impressive EXCEPT - here's a story. My father is a civil engineer and many of his buildings dot the Bangalore skyline for good or ill (although since he is not the architect, you cannot credit or blame him for the design; rather, for the fact that they are still standing.) Possibly the most tense moment of his career came when something didn't quite work out the way it needed to and the building needed some hastily erected buttresses to make sure it, well, stood. Ever since then, buttresses have acquired very stressful connotations (engineering pun intended) in my mind: afterthoughts, damage control, meant to prop up something that cannot stand on its own. Until Notre Dame, whose flying buttresses are its most dramatic and joyous architectural feature, giving the whole building the illusion of movement as if the upper storeys were reaching down to grab the lower ones and lift them off to some higher place. The irony is that the great dame's buttresses were also a panicky afterthought.  

In the evening, I found myself at the Open Cafe on Rue des Archives with all the gay South Asian men in Paris. All three of them. M was giving a Mexican friend a back massage and then the Mexican suggested that he transfer his attention to me because he had to leave. I didn't think I needed a back massage but submitted anyway. It turned out that M had lived in Hackney and after many years working for an airline, had decided to set up shop in Paris as a yoga teacher. M's friend G was a fashion designer, who lived near the Louvre and worked only three days a week (rich boyfriend). G retained a camp bitchy South Delhi brattishness, making him extremely recognizable and enabling me to warm to him instantly. We decamped to a midnight Moroccan joint where we got talking to another table of boys and girls. Everyone was French and from somewhere else - Indochinois, unspecified Africaine, and E who claimed to be Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese and looked like he could have been distantly related to Shashi Kapoor. We moved again to Raidd Bar, which is packed to the gills with a clientele drooling over half-naked bartenders who occasionally get more naked and take a shower in a cubicle mounted in a wall (no touching). The shower is broadcast live on screens to other parts of the bar.


***


21/5: At breakfast over a croissant and cappuccino at a street cafe in the Marais, I overheard a table of two elderly men and one woman talking animatedly (in French of course; everyone speaks French in this place, not just the sophisticated people). At one point in the conversation, one of the men banged his hand on the table and said 'Maimonides', and then he repeated this several times over in various parts of the conversation. Look, I don't live here so I don't know if people talk about Maimonides on a regular basis, but it made me happy to see that non-left bank intellectual types were talking about Maimonides (how utterly condescending of me). I have not yet made it to the left bank and, frankly, I cannot understand why anyone would name river banks right and left. It's an anti-dyslexic world out there.


The Centre Pompidou begins to be fun even before you enter it. In this city of monochromatic architectural beauty, Pompidou is a riot of colour and architectural innovation. All the functional aspects of the building (pipes, ducts, elevators, escalators) are exposed - what my father calls 'truth in architecture' - and colour coded, so that the building looks like it has been assembled by a kindergarten class under strict colouring instructions from their teacher. As it turned out, the place was full of school groups of tiny children rolling around on the floor, looking at magnificent works of modern art, scribbling on worksheets and crying 'regarde regarde!' in their perfectly formed accents. As I climbed up the escalators to the permanent exhibit on the fifth floor, I saw the Eiffel Tower by accident (which is really the best way; I always worry about iconic structures; they almost never have the desired effect in the flesh, so to speak, when you have already (deja - I love that word) consumed countless representations of them). Of course I had forgotten my camera, but I assure you it was a good moment. Lots of flying buttresses everywhere.


I saw a LOT of stuff in Pompidou over the next six hours (no I don't generally last that long, but this place is something else). All the great masters (they are almost ALL masters with the possible exception of Sonia Delaunay - in the contemporary art section on the fourth floor, the Guerrilla Girls' posters rage: 'Less than 3% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 83% of the nudes are female') Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Duchamp, Mondrian, Malevich, Kandinsky, Dali, Giacometti, Miro, Rothko, Pollock. It's striking how many of these guys get less retrained as they age - cf. Picasso's La Pisseuse, which does exactly what it says on the tin. I made a mental note to read Edward Said's book on 'late style'. Some of the work in the contemporary art section was quite subversive of the very practice of museum curating. One work in particular by Jana Sterbak entitled 'Vanitas' was utterly unforgettable. A dress made of flesh, Sterbak describes how it arouses disgust on the first day it is exhibited, when the meat is raw and smells. Gradually as it dries out and becomes more leathery, it begins to be more acceptable. Curators (and presumably the world at large) treat artists like this: the living ones are tricky, the dead much easier to handle.


The best thing about Paris is the time between things, when you sit around in cafes (interior? exterior? dans le soleil? so many choices...) and people-watch. Pompidou has a lovely great big forecourt that slopes gently upwards away from the building, so that the structure feels like it's located in the pit of a giant amphitheatre. There are lots of people lying in the sun, snacking, watching performers of varying levels of ability. The highlight today is a girl playing the didgeridoo and accompanying herself with a variety of different maracas-like instruments. She's emphatically not one of the usual drugged out white rasta types farting noises out of a pipe. In fact, she's so exceptionally good, I could imagine clubbing to this kind of thing. Behind her, a man blows gigantic soap bubbles into the air while people who look far too old to be enjoying this sort of thing run after the bubbles and burst them (I'm rooting for the bubbles). A tramp is belting out rock and roll numbers on a guitar in a voice that sounds like Bob Dylan might have if his nose had been pinched shut with a clothes peg (well, Dylan sounded like that anyway), providing much comic amusement.


I got a text from M asking if I wanted to come up to Montmartre, where he lived, to check the place out. I detest looking like a tourist when I'm doing touristy things, so of course I jumped at the chance to be shown around by a local. When I got out of the metro at Chateau Rouge, M said 'Welcome to Dalston'. The resemblance was unmistakable. (I'll skip the descriptions of vibrant immigrant communities, in the same way that I will give you no accounts of iconic monuments.) Chateau Rouge is to Montmartre what Dalston is to...no, let's try that again because there is nothing quite like Montmartre anywhere in the world. It's hilly. Lots of dramatic level differences, bridged by staircases. The houses are pretty in a paysanne sort of way - cobbled streets and ivy-covered cottages that would look perfectly humdrum if they were in the countryside, except that this is the middle of a world city. THE CATS ARE FAT. We skipped the cemetery and the tourists, although the latter were unavoidable as we neared the Sacre Couer. Which is a truly weird architectural jumble (by the way, it's superbly odd to walk around Paris and find poststructuralist terms like 'bricolage' in the names of shops: you almost expect Levi-Strauss to be sitting behind the cash register). Sacre Couer in my really humble opinion was built by Dali. It looks like a perfectly normal cathedral that was elongated, so that the domes have a shape that has no word, or no word that I know.


We walked around aimlessly, nibbling on crepes, till M spotted a white couch lying abandoned on a pavement (what we would call in London, inexplicably, flytipping). M decided he could use it in his yoga studio, which we were not far from, but couldn't be bothered hauling it there. If I had to live my life again, this is the part I would change: I offered to help him carry the couch. Those of you who know Montmartre will appreciate how difficult it can be to carry a couch, first uphill, and then down one of those famous staircases (lovely to photograph, a bitch to carry furniture up or down). Actually, none of you will understand this because those who you who know Montmartre would also be smart enough to hire movers. Needless to say Mr. fighting fit yogi picked up his end of the couch and charged ahead with me huffing and puffing in pursuit.


My 'reward' for this exertion was a 1.5 hour yoga class (my first ever). The studio is located in one of those gorgeous apartments buildings that need a paragraph of their own (this comes later). It's small (a yoga class of 15 maybe?), but was built by collapsing two ridiculously tiny apartments into one unit. One of these had an adjoining toilet, but the other - to my astonishment - did not. It would have been inhabited, M told me, by the sans papier. So they live here, in the middle of fancy, touristy Montmartre. I've always been indifferent to yoga neither expressing interest in it nor taking a position against it. Actually that's not entirely true. I've always felt unable to engage with yoga from any but one of two positions, both of which make me uncomfortable: either as ancient Indian ritual, or as faddish yuppie trend (darling, I'm so stressed I have to finish this transaction in time for yoga class at 6). But I'm at a point in my life where I'm trying to be a little less pre-judgmental (you wouldn't believe that reading any of this blog, but it's true). So I gave it a shot. Imagine what Mimi might have felt like if you had put her through a yoga class somewhere in Act 3. But I have new respect. Doors have opened in my mind. And there was something poetically just about a Pakistani Muslim taking an Indian Hindu through the yoga asanas appropriate for a debutant on the loveliest street in Montmartre.


***


22/05: Somewhere in A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemmingway writes that the paintings in the Luxembourg museum 'were sharpened and clearer and more beautiful if you were belly-empty, hollow-hungry.' 'I learned to understand Cezanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when I was hungry', he says. Unfortunately, I didn't take Hemmingway's advice when I went to the Louvre. After a late start and a heavy lunch on linguini avec des gambas dans le soleil, which made me drowsy, I made my way to the Louvre. On the way, I made the tremendously exciting discovery that ugliness exists in Paris - in the form, specifically, of the Forum des Halles. A gigantic tumour-like structure covered entirely with  large mirror surfaces, this is a shopping mall that makes Mota Royal Arcade and Fifth Avenue in Bangalore look like architectural jewels. Let's just say that the International Criminal Court needs to enlarge its understanding of crimes against humanity. But its existence serves the valuable purpose of making Paris feel like a normal place, and reassuring those of us from elsewhere that the French are capable of spectacularly bad aesthetic decisions.


I don't think I was prepared for how big the Louvre was. The building is so enormous that it isn't possible to see all of it from any one vantage point. It must say something about a country that its most monumental building - in many ways the focal point of its capital city - is turned over to a celebration of culture, rather than, say, housing the head of state. The Louvre was exhaustive and exhausting and I decided to see just one gallery. Said's Orientalism begins with a reference to Napoleon's expedition to Egypt in 1798-99, notable for its accompaniment by an army of personnel we would now call academics. For Said, this is a moment in which we can observe the Foucauldian nexus between knowledge and power: to rule them, you have to know them. So it seemed appropriate to begin with the Egyptian antiques. There are close to 20 large rooms of these alone. The wooden coffins for mummies are particularly beautiful and there is a room with scores of these lined standing up on either side of a staircase. Gigantic sphinxes and chunks of statues and temples fill some of the other rooms and - thinking back to the British Museum's comparable collection - I could only think 'pauvre pauvre l'Egypte', although this opens up complex questions about the appropriate basis for claims to cultural heritage, decisions about who is best placed to curate that heritage, etc. I missed an account of how the Louvre had come to acquire these magnificent objects, a story that would have been as interesting as those about their original use. There is another section of the Louvre that presents the history of the museum, but I suspect that something is lost when that is ghettoised into a separate gallery that the majority of visitors may not encounter. The everyday objects made me laugh because many of them looked like the junk in my great-grandmother's house - low wood and cane footstools, brooms, coir mats.


Exhausted and overwhelmed, I staggered into the blinding heat of the Jardin des Tuileries and the monumental Paris of the 1st and 8th arrondissements. This part of the city was not built for walkers without sunglasses, and as I fell into this unfortunate category on this fiercely sunny day (funny, how many of my holidays are spent wanting, and then wanting to escape, the sun), I found myself scurrying for the trees. Haussmann is not winning my love. Well, I should qualify: the boulevards are not for me, but the apartments are a different story. Please get in touch if you wish to bequeath one of your high-ceilinged first or second floor pads. Actually I'll even take one of the top three floors high up in the Mansard roofs. I gave up at Concorde, turning right, only to stagger into the equally imposing monumentality of the Eglise de la Madeleine, built on the orders of Napoleon along the lines of an ancient Greek temple to commemorate his victories, but eventually consecrated as a church by his successor Louis XVIII. You only have to know that it was once suggested that it be used as a train station, to understand how un-churchlike it looks. I figured it was time to go home.


***


23/05:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

here and there

In India After Gandhi, Ram Guha notes that India is Europe's past, but it is also Europe's future. He's talking about nation-building, or at least the construction of larger conglomerate identities out of a multitude of more local ones. Watching British MPs scurry around to form a government, the sentiment seems more appropriate than ever. Westminster utterly lacks the vocabulary, let alone the stomach, to deal with hung parliaments: common minimum programmes, anti-defection laws, cooperating at the centre even as you fight in the regions (witness Douglas Alexander's squeamishness about working with the SNP). I had a similar thought when everyone was up in arms at Rowan William's suggestion a few years ago that one might have to consider the introduction of shariah law in some areas  of social life - a controversial suggestion no doubt, but the outcry that greeted it seemed blissfully oblivious of the fact that British imperial policy in many parts of the world was precisely to permit religious law to remain in force in many places, leaving a legacy of pluralistic 'personal law' systems in many former colonies. When the British chatterati does look more widely at modes of governance elsewhere, the frame of reference is still European. There is a virtually total historical and geographical amnesia in the public discourse about the sorts of institutional innovation that has taken place elsewhere (read: outside the white world) - innovation that is relevant because it has often taken place within institutions that attempted to closely replicate Westminster, but quickly had to adapt to govern the very different societies for which they were intended. Of course Indian parliamentary democracy leaves much to be desired, but LOOK at it - even if to criticise the way it works. Put it in your goddam comparative politics textbooks because it might just save you the trouble of reinventing the wheel. 

Here's something else that irritates me. When viewers were treated to the spectre of people waiting to vote in queues snaking around polling booths and reports of voters being turned away because of time deadlines and insufficient ballot paper came flooding in, David Dimbleby shook his head in disgust and said 'this is Third World politics'. Dude, we have electronic voting machines. 600 million+ voters and we have a pretty good idea of what's going on the next morning. The hassled UK election commission official who confessed, perhaps in an unguarded moment, to a 'Victorian' electoral system was on to something. Sometimes it doesn't pay to be first mover.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

if the earth shakes when women are promiscuous, it stands to reason that it must erupt when lesbians become head of state.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

volcano

blue skies, no planes. the world before those loony wright brothers came along. here's what i want to know: why can't the US military just plug the goddam volcano? isn't this what the unilateral provision of public goods supposed to be about? oh, and the chinese are too bloody free-riding to do any of the heavy-lifting themselves. verily, a historical moment stranded between two hegemonic orders.

Monday, April 12, 2010

i have a cover i have a cover i have a cover.

A Single Man

The US between the end of the Second World War and 1968 brings to mind terrible and terrifying associations (Trumanesque belligerence, McCarthyism, feminist rollback), but watching A Single Man, I was reminded of how much I LOVE the aesthetic of the period. The impossibly beautiful house in which George Falconer (Colin Firth) lives with his impossibly beautiful boyfriend (Matthew Goode), the cars, the buildings, and just THINGS (pencil sharpeners, bread boxes, spectacles, doorknobs, telephones, cash registers). Firth was a revelation as the grief-stricken Falconer, hollowed out by the death of his partner - perhaps because I have only ever seen him in romantic comedies (Pride and Prejudice, Love Actually, Bridget Jones's Diary and Mamma Mia!). Oddly, I have a similarly one-dimensional view of Julianne Moore, who plays Falconer's friend Charley, having only ever seen her play women frustrated by the social and sexual mores of the 1950s and 60s (Far from Heaven, The Hours and now this). Other thoughts? None, because I was so busy focusing on the furniture. I have trouble with films that ooze so much aesthetic gorgeousness that they anaesthetize the pain of their narratives (remember Frida?).

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Vatican

Religion religion every-bloody-where you look. There is an interesting similarity between the behaviour of Ratzinger, in not acting on revelations about sex abuse within the Catholic Church for the 'good of the universal Church', and that of Boutros-Boutros Ghali when he was head of a different sort of universal church. In his excellent book Eyewitness to a Genocide, Michael Barnett writes that when the UN force commander stationed in Rwanda in the early 1990s, General Romeo Dallaire, requested reinforcements upon receiving intelligence that Hutu militias were about to attack a contingent of largely Belgian peacekeepers with a view to provoking a withdrawal of international forces so as to clear the ground for a 'final solution', Boutros Ghali did not relay the request to the Security Council. Apparently, the reason he failed to do this was because he thought the request for additional troops would be denied by the permanent five - particularly the US, which having just suffered losses in Somalia (remember Black Hawk Down?), would have been loath to send more troops into an African civil war in which it had no interests - and that this in turn would undermine the credibility of the organization and BBG's own position within it. It's interesting, and to me odd, how these guys manage to weigh actual, concrete lives - now scarred or sacrificed - against some abstract notion of moral and political capital. Or perhaps they aren't utilitarians at all, making no attempt to weigh what are admittedly incommensurable values against each other. Deontologists are so much more likely to be fanatics, yes?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Canterbury

I had to give a talk in Kent Law School today, so of course I wandered over to Canterbury Cathedral: head? heart? nerve centre? which organ is the best metaphor for what this place means for the Anglican Communion? The first thing to note is that (surprise, surprise) the church has made plenty of aesthetically ugly accommodations with capitalism, starting with the grotesque 1970s pastiche conference centre that is about 5 steps away from the cathedral and ending with the gift shop that is - wait for this - IN the nave! Yea, they sell buttons and badges and fridge magnets in the goddam church. On a more pleasing note (I am punning effortlessly here), the choir was hard at something that sounded like the theme music from Jaws, making the whole place feel like the belly of a giant carnivorous whale (I suppose I should say shark, but it was too big to be a shark). I was most interested in where Becket was murdered and buried in 117X. The shrine was destroyed on the orders of Henry VIII in 153X (for an entertaining account of associated events, see Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall) - today the spot is marked only by a burning candle. You can also see the exact spot at which he was, um, murdered in the cathedral, as T. S. Eliot and no doubt plenty of others before him put it. Three hundred and something years later, when Henry was going mad for a male heir + younger, prettier wife, Canterbury Cathedral went from being just another church in Christendom, to being the [insert throbbing organ] of a new religion: the Anglican Communion, the foundation of which has been immortalized in the following ditty (composed presumably by a snarky Papist): 'Don't speak of the alien minister, Nor of his church without meaning or faith, For the foundation stone of his temple, Is the ballocks of Henry the Eighth.' Indeed, 'ballocks' are still at the heart of a struggle within the Anglican Communion, so intense that it is threatening to tear the beast apart. As liberal churches within the communion move to ordain women and, more controversially, homosexuals, as priests, conservatives have been splitting off from these churches and allying with apparently like-minded churches in Africa to block such progressive moves at the decennial Lambeth Conference. Indeed we are now witness to the spectre of conservative dissident US Episcopalians placing themselves under the authority of African bishops (it's hard to think of any other sphere of life in which a US authority places itself under the jurisdiction of an African one). Thanks to their demographic weight, the Anglican churches in Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda threaten to shift the centre of power in the worldwide Anglican Communion, perhaps relegating Canterbury to the status of a sleepy cathedral town in the not so distant future. No, this is not what I predict will happen. It's just a nice sensationalist note on which to end a blog post. As I walked out of the cathedral, I could not help but wonder that the deep structures of English Euroscepticism are evident in this much earlier split from the Continent. They want their own of everything, these aloof island people.

Friday, February 05, 2010

New York Philharmonic

The New York Philharmonic's rendition of Schubert's 'Unfinished' Symphony No. 8 in B minor at the Barbican this evening really made the world stop. The first movement of this magnificent work is - how do I say this? - not like life, but life itself. Moments of such gorgeous tranquility, and then the phone rings. A parent dies. A friend kills herself. You are in the abyss, the forces close in over you and then, just when the sky is darkest, a lone oboe promises the dawn and the strings bring it closer, like an army of ants pulling away the covers. But the terror keeps coming back...

Alban Berg's Three Orchestral Pieces: There's a problem here. Not with the orchestra, which was brilliant, but with our time in which the visual has become so all-powerful and overwhelming as to have chased out the aural. All through the first two and a half movements, I could only think about Tom and Jerry or Lawrence of Arabia, so that I either saw mice scurrying into holes and cats' heads being flattened, or Bedouin tribes charging down hillsides as Peter O'Toole looked into the distant, shimmering desert. It was only when one of the percussionists brought a truly gigantic gavel-like instrument down on a hard block of wood (the programme notes warn that Berg 'takes Mahlerian transformation and exaggeration to an extreme' and the orchestra does not disappoint) that the aural finally displaced the visual so that the music occupied all of my brain.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Bliar

I didn't expect to hear anything new when Tony Blair appeared before the Chilcott panel, but what really leapt out at me was the admission that 'the crucial thing after September the 11th is that the calculus of risk changed'. For me, this is tantamount to an admission that nothing (or nothing very much) changed on the ground. What had changed was the tolerance of Western states for the position in which they found themselves vis-a-vis Saddam. Or, to be very clear, if Saddam [why is this the only head of state we seem to be on a first name basis with?] had 5 or 50 units of unspecified WMD before 9/11, he continued to have 5 or 50 units after 9/11 (or none, actually), we continued to believe that he had 5 or 50 units, but we acted as if he had 50,000 because the notion of the posession of even 5 or 50 units by someone we had no control over had become intolerable. In addition, the government lacked the confidence that the country at large would share this risk assessment (namely, that it was ok to bomb the shit out of a country if one was unsure of what was going to happen next). Hence, the dredging up of an unrelenting stream of half-stories ranging from the alleged purchase of uranium yellowcake from Niger, to alleged links with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden (who, by the way, had in 1991 offered the Saudis help to push Saddam out of Kuwait), to the alleged ability to deploy said WMD in 45 minutes. Now Tony Blair effectively tells us the discovery of these 'facts' were not crucial to his decision to go to war on Iraq. The invasion of Iraq was basically the diplomatic equivalent of a hike in risk premiums.

The other really interesting semantic distinction to emerge from the enquiry so far is that between 'lie' and 'exaggeration'. I can appreciate that a certain kind of exaggeration may not be a lie, but at some point when exaggerations become very big or the relative consequences of small and large exaggerations very disparate, the category distinction between 'lie' and 'exaggeration' collapses. BLIAR is not a spelling mistake (actually it's the way a lot of South Indians would pronounce his name anyway). 

life in code

getting out of bed is hard after a 'defeat'. and yesterday was utterly sordid. a real defeat. there is some real freudian 'civilization and its discontents' thing going on here. a chafing against society, civilization, discipline, regimes of health (food, exercise), the protestant work ethic. every 5-10 days, like clockwork, my whole being rebels against all of this - it's really quite magnificent and if i were a true poststructuralist, i would cheer - and before i know it, i am back in an ocean of bad behaviours and sin. then guilt, expiation, stability, smugness, and the fall. i am beginning to be fascinated by this. sometimes i wonder if the badness is actually functionally necessary (indulgence, reward) to maintain some sort of meta-sanity - which is to say that if i didn't indulge in it, life would be intolerable. it feels very dialectical.

on the other hand, a lot of people dont function like this. as a child, there seemed to be a certain sort of sameness to my parents' lives. i didnt observe them go through mood swings like this. it feels very adolescent. maybe some people just make their peace with civilization, and others don't. or maybe only those of us who have the luxury of spending so much fucking time thinking about ourselves, observing, analysing, feeling, talking to others about our feelings, our days, our selves, our therapists, our navels...maybe if there were kids to feed, struggles to fight for (REAL fighting, not my anodyne watching and commenting from the sidelines), partners to support...

i have to go back and write my lecture. THANK GOD i am sitting in an office and there is nothing to do but go back to writing my lecture. and the door has a glass window in it. some day i will write about how the panopticon saves us from ourselves.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

coffee

Having grown up in a coffee-growing part of India, when I first left home to take up residence in this nation of tea-drinkers, I thought Nilgiris coffee would be the single most utterly irreplaceable aspect of my diet that I was leaving behind. This prospect filled me with so much dread that I would regularly transport several kilogrammes of coffee powder halfway across the world, taking up much of my precious 23 kg luggage allowance (sometimes exceeded it, so that I once had to pay for its weight in gold). I also brought with me a stainless steel coffee filter so that I could brew the coffee in exactly the same way that I would have at home. But it never quite tasted the same. The water and milk were different, but the biggest problem was that in the 20 or so minutes that it took the coffee to percolate from the upper to the lower chamber of the filter, the decoction turned stone cold at my new Arctic latitude. Reheating decoction is a bad idea because it changes the taste, so I was forced to discover the  virtues of a french press. I once saw Mysore coffee selling at £7 (then Rs. 560) for 500g in the Oxford Covered Market, but the idea of buying it at that price just seemed wrong. I'm most acutely aware that I live in an imperial metropolis when I survey the coffee sections of a local Tesco or Sainsbury, featuring coffee from Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Tanzania. You really feel like you live in the centre of the world. Over last weekend and this, I discovered two delightful independent coffee shops in East London: first, Climpson & Sons at the uber-cool Broadway Market and, yesterday, Tina, We Salute You tucked away in the no-man's land between Newington Green and Dalston Kingsland (you really have to look for it in the vertex formed by Mildmay Road and King Henry's Walk; there isn't even a sign hanging outside but LOTS of people seem to know about this place; verily a marketing mystery; don't miss the egg whisk lights which are also the frontispiece for their website). Independent coffee shops in London seem to employ a disproportionate number of Australians. They also don't really care about seating. Just truly exceptional coffee. There's also something called a disloyalty card explained here, which entitles you to a free coffee from one of the world's best baristas, after you've sampled the wares of 8 of East London's best coffee houses. I haven't picked it up yet, which means I have to go back to these two in addition to visiting the other six. 

Saturday, January 16, 2010

pandora's box

ಅಧ್ಯಾಪಕರು: ಕೆಳಗಿನ ಪದಗಳು ನಿಮ್ಮ ಸ್ವಂತ ವಾಕ್ಯಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಉಪಯೋಗಿಸಿರಿ. ಮದುವೆ.
 ವಿದ್ಯಾರ್ಥಿ: ನನಗೆ ಮದುವೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಇಚ್ಹ ಇಲ್ಲ.
ಅಧ್ಯಾಪಕರು: ಏಕೆ?
ವಿದ್ಯಾರ್ಥಿ: ಏಕೆಂದರೆ ಸರ್ಕಾರ ನನ್ನ ಸಮಲಿಂಗ ಸ್ನೇಹಿತರಿಗೆ ಈ ಹಕ್ಕು ಕೊಡಲಿಲ್ಲದಿದ್ದರೆ, ನನಗೂ ಇದು ಬೇಡ.
ವಿದ್ಯಾರ್ಥಿ ಎರಡು: ಅಯ್ಯೋ! ನಿನಗೆ ಗೊತ್ತಿಲ್ವಾ? ಕೆಲವು ಸಮಲಿಂಗರಿಗೆ ಮದುವೆ ಬೇಕಿಲ್ಲ. ಅವರನ್ನು 'ಕ್ವ್ಯೀರ್' ಅಂತ ಕರೆಯುತ್ತಾರೆ.
ಅಧ್ಯಾಪಕರು: ಬಾಯಿ ಮುಚ್ಚು! ನಿಮ್ಮೆಲ್ಲರನ್ನು ಏನೋ ಹುಚ್ಚು ಹಿಡಿದಿದೆ.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Last Sunday: ASC and I head to Vortex to hear renditions of Arabic and Sephardic jazz. Real discovery of the evening is Orquestra Mahatma, described here as one of British jazz's quirkiest groups. A combination of Latin, East European and Middle Eastern sounds. Like an evening at Barden's Boudoir that I once described as everything from Bulgaria to Baghdad (the former Ottoman empire - not inappropriate to Dalston) except all from one group. Spell-binding stage chemistry. Three utterly different individuals completely in synch with one another. Percussionist Paul Clarvis enjoys himself so much, cannot stop smiling, like a kid who's just discovered a trick and can't stop doing it. Violinist Sonia Slany (younger version of Helen Mirren) is the serious one and coaxes a sound out of her instrument that is so deep, I had to stare to make sure it was not a viola. Stuart Hall, on strings of various kinds, deadpan some of the time and really getting into it as the evening progressed. I really wanted to buy their CDs, but they didn't seem to have any around with these three performing, so am holding off till I can find 'em elsewhere. Not sure what the name's about. Reminded me of the samba school in Rio called Filhos de Gandhy - at carnival, they troop out in white clothes, bejewelled turbans and, um, tambourines and everything else that a good batteria needs. Gandhi was very visual (the clothes or lack thereof, the massive numbers, Dandi and the fistful of salt raised from the sea, charkha spinning) but he wasn't big on sound (apart from the speeches of course). On the contrary, all those fasts and days of silence suggested the very disavowal of sound. I'm amused by the noise he's inspired.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Peter Carey is obsessed with illegality. True History of the Kelly Gang is about the Robin Hood-like figure of Ned Kelly. You know how when you know so little about something, the first things you read assume a kind of monumental importance: they become 100% of what you know about that thing, and every subsequent piece of information has to be located in relation to what you got out of that First Source. At the time I read True History, I knew almost nothing about Australia (my keywords would have been James Cook, aboriginals, Ayers Rock, Mabo v Queensland, Kylie, Neighbours...that's it. I probably wouldn't have reached 10). I had no idea why Aussie-English rivalry was so fierce (I put it down to Freud's narcissism of minor difference). For a while, everything I knew about Australia came from this one novel. Then Oscar and Lucinda, which is about two gamblers (read in Bangalore because I thought it would be nice to read something about a place that was very far away, till I almost fell off my chair when one character was described as having a gait appropriate to someone carrying piles of books on Merton Street), Theft, which is about, well, the theft of a painting. And now The Tax Inspector, which is probably the strangest of his books that I've read so far, featuring tax evasion and child abuse and general slow-burning apocalypse. I try to resist reading everything I pick up as some form of national allegory (postcolonial writers are assumed to be able to do nothing else - never the universal, only the story of their locale - cf Jameson, Ahmad) but with Carey, it's almost as if he wants you to do this. Illegality, transgression of the law - being constitutive of Australia itself - suffuses all of his books. I haven't yet read My Life as a Fake and His Illegal Self, but their very titles seem to reinforce my feeling about this.

Friday, December 25, 2009

post-bad places

Finished Coetzee's Disgrace on the place. Spare, gut-wrenching prose. Like Waiting for the Barbarians - although maybe a little less so - he really drags you through the dust. There are no (false) silver linings. Sometimes I wonder if there is something about the continuing privilege of the white South African in there. Those who can leave have the privilege of not finding any redeeming feature in the new configuration of things. But of course he is mostly writing about the predicament of the white South African in Disgrace. The most enduring image for me in the whole book is David Lurie helping Bev Shaw treat a goat with an infected scrotum infested with white grubs. It reminded me of the horse head in Gunter Grass's Tin Drum, being eaten away by maggots. Post-apartheid South Africa, post-Nazi Germany. Something about the body having been sapped of its vitality by the rot within.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

'adverse weather conditions', weddings, love, language

One more euphemism and I will scream. Actually, I'm already screaming. The weather is not the top story in either the NYT or the Washington Post, even though the weather on the North American eastern seaboard is much worse than anything here. In fact, British weather makes the front page of the NYT in its pictures of the day section, one of which features the ongoing chaos at Kings Cross St. Pancras as the Eurostar groans to life again. It just goes to show: it's not what you get from the sky that makes the news, it's how you deal with it. Can I suggest that for its next major grant, DFID forget about the heart of darkness out there and focus on the heart of incompetence in here. Suggested project: 'Adapting to "adverse weather conditions": Learning from the Canadian experience'. Yes, money, but one gets the feeling that whatever mitigation cost-benefit analyses were made in the past, the regularity with which things are grinding to a halt as a result of the 'wrong amount' of snow suggests that something needs to change here. Why the angst? I need to get on a plane for the most important wedding of my life that is not my own (now there's a riddle for you).

***

I blog erratically. Today, mostly because I am trying to stay awake. What was your best read of 2009? Mine was probably Jamie O'Neill's At Swim, Two Boys (thanks DR). I have always been fascinated by the year 1916, particularly India and Ireland in 1916.
Ireland and India were the two British colonies that already had relatively well developed independence movements by the beginning of the twentieth century. Irish nationalists had been impressed by the Indian revolt of 1857 and they perceived in the Bengal famine of 1874 an echo of their own imperial history of the 1840s. Ireland in turn was a beacon for anti-colonial nationalist movements the world over, pioneering many of the techniques of agitation that would be attempted elsewhere (the term ‘boycott’, for example, comes from Captain Charles Boycott (1832-97), who was a land agent for the estate of Lord Erne in county Mayo during the Land League agitation of 1873). In 1916, the Indian nationalist movement was radicalised by the creation of the Indian Home Rule League, modelled on the Irish equivalent, by the Irish theosophist Annie Besant. Her arrest by the British government in India the following year became a cause célèbre, precipitating the convergence of different factions of the nationalist movement. Following her release, Besant became president of the Indian National Congress. Early twentieth century Dublin and Bengal were characterised by remarkably similar conversations between distinct strands of anti-colonial resistance: constitutional agitation, a vigorous and articulate cultural nationalism, mass-based passive resistance in the form of strikes and boycotts, punctuated by more sporadic acts of revolutionary terrorism and insurrection. 1916 was also the year that James Joyce and Rabindranath Tagore published A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ghaire Baire respectively (in book form - both had been serialised before). For more on why you should read those two books together, see chapter 4 of my forthcoming book (yes, I'm becoming a publicity whore).

Now, O'Neill has written into the literary landscape that Joyce made famous, a love story between two boys - Jim Mack, the son of a cornershop owner, and Doyler, a half-lame worker in the city's sewage works (such as they were), both fifteen - set against the backdrop of the Easter Uprising. You don't have to be a 1916 geek to enjoy this story of love that has begun to have a name (Oscar Wilde has been tried and sentenced and everyone in this story operates in the vaguely chilling shadow of that event), but it is a name that the boys do not use for themselves. I'm tempted to say that this is a love of the inarticulate kind we saw in Brokeback Mountain, but actually this is a book that is full of language, words that mean many things, and much Irish dialect (though nowhere nearly as difficult to read as Joyce because - luckily for us English speakers - some of the central characters are from the Catholic aristocracy who, nationalist as they may be, need their Erse translated for them; fortunately, it's all done very credibly so you don't feel like O'Neill was just trying to expand his market - although it would be interesting to know if the Irish literary world has been wracked by the same angsty debates about language and audience that have been so much the lifeblood of English literature and criticism in India.) In this tumultuous time when all Irish are called upon to make a stand for God or Country and often both, it's hard not to be moved by the Joycean spirit that wraps itself around all three boys at the heart of this story. Listen to Jim Mack, who made me cry at pg. 389:

'We'll be asked to fight for Ireland, sure I know that.'
[His friend MacMurrough] 'But what is Ireland that you should want to fight for it?'
'Sure I know that too.' He raised a shoulder, his head inclined then turned: an attempt to shrug shake and nod, all the same time. When he was shy or self-conscious of something he would say, his body would often fail him. 'It's Doyler,' he said.
[MacM]: 'Doyler is your country?'
'It's silly, I know. But that's how I feel. I know Doyler will be out, and where would I be but out beside him? I don't hate the English and I don't know do I love the Irish. But I love him. I'm sure of that now. And he's my country.'
...
The boy looked up from under his lashes. The color had tipped his cheeks. 'I think a little bit of it too is yourself, MacEmm.'
[MacM]: 'Me? My gracious.'
'Though I don't suppose you'd want me fighting about it. But I don't know anybody else I could talk these things with. I used think I'd burst with all the words in my head. I can talk things now. I don't know but it's like we have a language together. It's great with the swimming, but it's better again with the talking. You're a part of my country too now, MacEmm.


I guess I have this language and I am a part of this country too. I am going to this wedding and I am going to use this language. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Buy my book.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

(picnic, lightning) in Lolita (1955), is like [Time Passes] in To the Lighthouse (1927). In both, a mother dies in parentheses.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Operation Green Hunt

'Structural violence: that’s an imaginative vacuum. For most urban Indians, the lives of tribals and dalits has no meaning, no face, no flesh. Our books no longer write of it, our films no longer evoke it, our journalists no longer cover it. It’s not just the poverty; it’s bumping into a face of the Indian State you have never seen before: brutal, illegal, rapine, pimped out to serve the interests of a few. Unless one travels into the silent smoky hole in the heart of this country — the remote jungles of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh; the desolate corners of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and Rajasthan, one cannot feel the dread of this question: How will Operation Green Hunt solve this? You might stealth-march a mythic army of COBRA commandoes into this imaginative vacuum, but how will that dissolve the “two categories of human beings” our nation has created? Operation Green Hunt may kill several hundred ‘informed revolutionaries’ and several thousand of the despairing poor who have taken up arms, but how will it address the birth of new anger — anger born out of bombing an old wound?'

Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

portrait of the nation in the current conjuncture


from this photo series

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The STD clinic is the contemporary manifestation of the Catholic confessional. Health advisers are the new priests. Virtue, honesty, confession - what you did, with whom, when and how - are rewarded with salvation (life, or an extended lease on it). Vice - not just the commission of it, but the failure to take responsibility for it - brings down the hellfire of STIs (all of which, incidentally, sound like Biblical cities). The discourse of medicine has replaced the discourse of religion. Of course Foucault told us this long ago. I'm off to say my hail Marys.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Must go to Scotland before they start demanding visas.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Peter Galbraith goes public on fraud in the Afghan elections.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

a day in the life of me

woke up. breakfast (toast with guava jelly, coffee). read OUP instructions. formatted 4 chapters. panicked about not having applied for copyright permissions (note to other authors: apply for permission well before you finish writing!). narrowed it down to 2 extracts. joyce estate administered by notoriously difficult grandson. don't want to get into pangas with him. edited the extract down so that it would qualify as 'insubstantial'. down to one. vikram seth. think he'll be nicer (his publisher might not be). we'll see...cleaned house, lunch, cleaned more, talked to my mum, cleaned even more, replenished coffee supply, went for a run, showered, cooked, ate, watched barkha on we the people (should we ban books - duh, no - manish tiwari always starts statement with ultra-condescending voice as if talking to lovable but demented child, then gets heated up and never stops talking; soli nice; harish salve bit irritating; nilanjana (possibly of kitabkhana fame?) wonderfully reasonable; jayashree (?) bit too relaxed for a banned author; shahid somebody who claimed credit for urging rajiv to ban satanic verses (asshole); marxist historian said all the expected things; gujarat minister said all the expected things. coffee, email, blogging. might fall asleep reading palash krishna mehrotra's eunuch park (brilliant - will write more about this soon). annoyed that 'palash krishna mehrotra was born in mumbai in 1975 and was educated at st stephen's college, delhi, the delhi school of economics and balliol college, oxford.' i feel less special with every passing day.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

turd ways

I have been wondering whether it might be reasonable to posit an equivalence between the BJP's recent expulsion of Jaswant Singh and the CPI(M)'s treatment of Somnath Chatterjee in the wake of his refusal to toe the party line during the July 2008 no-confidence motion in Parliament. In the former case, the BJP denied the right of a party member to exercise his constitutional right of free speech. In the latter, the CPI(M) seemed to have lost cognisance of the understanding that the Speaker is supposed to be above (beyond?) party affiliation for the duration of his tenure in that post. The CPI(M) decision upset me more because I (used to?) care more about what it does generally, and because its actions betrayed a lack of understanding of constitutional and parliamentary conventions. Most of the time I'm quite pleased to see the BJP engage in fratricide, but Indian political discourse loses something very precious every time parties suppress internal dissent and ban books. Vidya Subrahmaniam notes that the Congress has rewarded Shashi Tharoor despite his (gently) critical comments on the Nehru-Gandhis. The cynic in me wants to say that the Congress doesn't face similar issues because it has no ideology. Congressmen have long understood that they enjoy freedom of speech subject to unquestioning loyalty to the Caesarist high command.

On the subject of banning books, I was pleased to note that our esteemed CM Yedyurappa has decided not to ban the book in Karnataka because (i) banning books only increases sales; (ii) no Kannadiga has been insulted in Jaswant's book (no comment on the parochialism of our freedom). On an unrelated issue, I was perplexed (but not unpleasantly) to note that Yeddy has also promised to rehabilitate the surviving descendants of Tipu Sultan. This seems to be a matter that has been in the administrative pipeline for sometime. I just wonder if the definition of 'pseudo-secularism' includes throwing crumbs to the descendants of long-dead kings even as you deny the rights of the living to express their religious identities. Burkhas became an issue in Karnataka last week when a girl in a Mangalore college was 'banned' from wearing one, setting the stage for a confrontation between Ram Sene-types masquerading as French secularists and 'Islamic' organisations taking the line that 'Muslim girls are duty bound to wear hijab'. Want to inhabit the space between? Buy my book in 2010. (Bah, middle ways again. I'm really not wedded to them. Terry Eagleton once asked, 'what's the middle way between Jews and Nazis?')

Thursday, August 06, 2009

delhi

i am in infrastructure nirvana. broad flat roads with many lanes, flyovers, effortless underpasses with no crazy gradient changes and zigzag dividers, leafy tree-lined avenues, roads down which it is possible to go both up and down (for those of you wondering why this is something to be grateful for, try negotiating bangalore's ever-modulating system of one-ways), a metro (as yet untried by this blogger, but knowing it exists is a great source of excitement), buses of many different kinds, we shall ignore the auto-drivers from hell (but a new supreme court-imposed quota has reportedly artificially jacked up the price of renting autos, inducing virtually all drivers to become professional extortionists to recover their investment), addresses that can be found. any comments about heat and dust will make me sound like a ruth prawer jhabvala novel, so i shall desist from making them. middle-class indians like myself, i am beginning to think, are obsessed with infrastructure. i would hazard the claim that in few other middle classes anywhere in the world do drawing room conversations routinely turn to the state of infrastructure in the city. everyone from the professional urban planner to the irate housewife has a view: on how much of a shortfall there is, how it should be made up, whose fault it is that it hasn't, and so on. decisions about which city to live in are made on the basis of who wins the infrastructure wars. the reason is quite simple: we, the rich, can buy everything except infrastructure.

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