Saturday, September 10, 2005

Longish blogging hiatus: trip to Bhutan (yay!) and parents' obsolete version of Internet Explorer which loads blogspots' homepage in this strange way so that the sign in button doesnt appear and I'm forced to go to a cybercafe to blog in my own city!!! Fortunately, that is another thing to love in this city if you're computerless and mobileless - the ubiquity of STD booths and cyber cafes.

Bangalore...

...is 27 degrees centigrade. This is the optimum temperature at which human life is meant to be lived and despite the vast amount of concrete that has been poured into this city over the last couple of decades and the hundreds of trees that have been cut down, on this count at least there are few places in the world that surpass Bangalore.

Other favourite Bangalore things: coffee, Premier bookshop (which was so crowded today I couldn't even enter it), Koshy's, Cubbon Park, India Coffee House (notice how much of this centres around coffee - I am bringing back a year's supply), Mahesh Dattani (I am bringing back the collected works and toying with the idea of doing 'On a Muggy Night...'), Pecos, Casa's (in another era), Alliance, Cottons (where I know almost no one anymore), ART, Lumbini...sigh...which has gone and which the new buyers have stripped of every vestige of greenery. Where do theatre groups practise these days? And home, too, is moving, from Museum Road, where I have lived for 23 years, to Koramangala. Some of the change is good and much of it is wrenching, and I wish it didn't have to happen all together.

Delhi - V

On further reflection, have come to the conclusion that everything is hybrid. A central Asian visitor to the Mughal court would have written back home bemoaning (or perhaps lavishing praise over) the culinary exploits of these Turks-i-Hind. Some hybrids are just better than others though. Hmmph!

More food was had - move over Karim's (went, food was ok), hello Swagath (DefCol market): Chettinad chicken in a pepper gravy (to die for), prawn fried in some melange of garlic, butter and sesame, light hot Ceylon paranthas, mutton stew, fish curry, more prawn (this time deep fried, red hot) - sorry vegetarians, I'm sure there was something on the menu for you too, but I didn't notice! Tears came to my eyes for all sorts of reasons. How do I live without this stuff? Anyway, another 20 days in which to fill my hump before returning to the gastronomic Sahara that is the rest of the year. (Even the food on Kingfisher is much better than that on Al Italia, who for some strange reason decided they needed to give me a Hindu meal. This, it transpired, was actually a Jain meal, sans salt, onion, ginger, garlic and anything else that makes food worth eating - sorry Jains, but I would just not be able to do it!)

Four days in Delhi, full of food, politics, and friends. Yummy!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Delhi - IV

Ok I didn't get to meet Cherie Blair, but my sister did and even got an exclusive quote which had Reuters and AP running after her, but her silly editor deleted it and mangled the whole piece to the point where she was stuck at work till the wee hours and finally doubted whether she even deserved a byline. I am learning about the travails of journalists.

And activists - have had a couple of interesting and fruitful conversations with queer rights activists and hope to meet more today.

And have been eating the simplest, most classic, Mughlai food - butter chicken, daal makhni, parathas - I'm so sick of the stuff they serve in English curry houses, all that Sylheti-inflected cuisine, all that Zadie Smithified food. Hybridity is all very well and exciting and progressive and yes it is how newness enters the world, but sometimes, manytimes, it's good to get back to food that's cooked the way it has always been. Butter chicken in Ludhiana, I'm sure, is even better.

[But I'm doing that awful awful thing that NRIs often do - hybridity and newness wherever they happen to be, but 'home' must always stay the same, the way it was when they left it. Home must never change, for better or worse (or rather, any change is seen as 'worse'), and when it does, there is shock, disappointment and nostalgia - all of the past bathed in some sickly sweet sentimentalist glow. dear god, please help me not to become like this, love me.]

Spotted, yesterday, in a Barista in South-Ex: man wearing a CCCP cap and carrying a satchel with Nazi insignia on it. Complicated political statement, wot?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Delhi - III

Mostly spent in conversation with Meeto and Kamla, thanks to whom I am now loaded with contacts and ready to kickstart the next section of the thesis.

Went to Pegs and Pints in the evening - great music and dancing, but kind of dark, so not particularly conducive to meeting people. Still, the scene is clearly rocking despite s. 377. More power to that.

Now I'm off to meet Cherie Blair, whom my sis is interviewing and wants some help with. Life is so much more exciting these days.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Delhi -II

Watched Iqbal yesterdy and couldnt agree with Uma's review more - cheesy, but pulled all the right strings and I wanted to cheer all the way through. And loved the bit where Naseeruddin Shah locates dil in his head and dimaag in his heart, that whole reason/emotion thing that I have never quite agreed with. And couldn't help thinking of Billy Elliot - boy from the back of beyond bursting with ambition, triumphs against all odds, not very supportive father who eventually comes around - universal themes, different idioms.

Went for dinner to the home of a friend from law school who lives in one of these amazing commune-like setups. Met lots of people from law school and their friends - including one very inspiring activist from Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan (MKSS) who was hugely excited about the public employment guarantee that MKSS in association with scores of other organisations and movements has helped pushed through into law. Her enthusiasm was infectious and I am now determined to meet the legendary Aruna Roy.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Ideega Dehalige - notes from a cosmopolis III

It's great to be back, but the weather has completely de-romanticised all plans of what I would do in Delhi. Blinding white heat turns me bourgeois, the AC goes on and thoughts of Karim's are put off as life turns into the single-minded pursuit of staying cool (I'm talking about temperature not lifestyle). There is nothing subtle about either the climate or class shift inherent in moving between student life off stipend in the UK and vacation life in India. I feel only marginally less bratty than the Kartography lot and I did spend much of this morning looking at maps (again, no romance, I just don't want to get lost); was quite tickled to recall again that Panchsheel Enclave is in the vertex between Josip Broz Tito Marg and Gamal Abdel Nasser Marg. Barren non-alignment dreams preserved only in streets named during Nehru's lifetime. Now Tito's Yugoslavia is dead, Nasser's Egypt is, well, aligned, and Nehru's India...?

Read the India Today cover story about Rahul Gandhi - titled 'Is He Ready?', not a word about the leadership bankruptcy of the party, nothing about Rahul's ideas (about which precious little seems to be known), full of cloying little details about what he does in his spare time, and launched with an editorial by Aroon Purie putting it all in context for us by making telling comparisons with a cover story they did on Rajiv 24 years ago ('Will the cap fit?'). '[Indira's] son, Rajiv, was my classmate in school', Purie tells us, and Assistant Editor Priya Sahgal who researched and wrote the story 'was [Rahul's] senior at St. Stephen's and actually ragged him'. How cute, this mateyness between media and politics (sarcasm alert on).

Also cute (sarcasm alert off) are Rahul's dimples - all in all, this man is a good ad for miscegenation (if current romantic interests fructify - [awful word I know, but brevity, brevity...] - the kids will be half Venezuelan, one fourth Italian, quarter Kashmiri Pandit and quarter Parsi). I am back in the centre of the world. Delhi makes for an unlikely cosmopolis. As my great-aunt who has been married to a Sikh for several deacades once commented in exasperation: 'Delhi is full of Sardaars'.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Hmmm...

This is not a personal blog. This is a political blog. The personal is political and the political can be intensely personal (if it wasn't, why the hell would anyone care about it). What kind of blog is this?

My grandmother (who has just begun using a computer) sent me this poem. It was forwarded to her by my mother. As a family, we don't usually communicate via forwards! Anyway, here it is.

To Each His Own

I cannot change the way I am,
I never really try,
God made me different and unique,
I never ask him why.

If I appear peculiar,
There's nothing I can do,
You must accept me as I am,
As I've accepted you.

God made a casting of each life,
Then threw the old away,
Each child is different from the rest,
Unlike as night from day.

So often we will criticize,
The things that others do,
But, do you know, they do not think,
The same as me and you.

So God in all his wisdom,
Who knows us all by name,
He didn't want us to be bored,
That's why we're not the same

~Author Unknown~

Now I'm excited about going home.
(PS - this is like the inside of a Rupa Mehra card)

Blogging pause: packing, flight to Delhi, jetlag, Karim's.

Katrina, Crash and the US of A

This isn't at all a time to gloat about foreign policy misadventures. People are dying in New Orleans and people dying anywhere is horrific. As news reports galore have pointed out, this is a disaster with many dimensions: federal-local tensions (what to do and who should be doing it?), rich and poor states (response to New York v. response to Louisiana), race and ethnicity (who is disproportionately affected? who are the people less likely to have had cars in which to drive to safety?), tunnel-vision conceptions of security (terrorism above all else, with funding diversions - and consequent unpreparedness - reflecting this single-minded pre-occupation). Yet there are at least two foreign policy issues that seem relevant: (i) Iraq, in all sorts of ways - shuffling of resources to pay for the invasion, but also the stark fact that 35% of Louisiana's National Guard is serving in Iraq; (ii) Without making spurious scientific claims about Katrina as evidence of climate change, you have got to wonder what it will take to get the Bush administration to think seriously about the effect that climate change could have on life on this planet (even if Katrina has nothing to do with climate change, if this is what it's going to be like...)

If you watch one movie the whole of this year, let it be Crash. I was terribly pre-occupied with other things when I watched it, but even in my distracted state was riveted by the script. This is one of the most compelling portraits of the United States I have come across (in any medium). The portrait is smashed to smithereens through a series of 'crashes' and the resulting shards function as intersecting sub-plots. In putting these together, you are forced to confront the faultlines that run through the portrait - which, in the movie, are mostly racial and ethnic. What makes Crash an exemplary exploration of these themes is its complex, multilayered treatment of racism in all its variants - not just the (unfortunately classic) white LA cop who habitually pulls over (and violates) black people and the upper-class white woman who instinctively sees black men and Hispanic 'gangbangers' as a threat, but the black carjacker who refuses to rob black people and sees 'Chinamen' as ever so slightly less than human, the black cop who has less than flattering views about 'Mexicans' (a category into which he dumps his half Puerto-Rican, half-Salvadoran girlfriend), the Iranian shopkeeper who is almost uniformly suspicious of anyone not of his own kind. Yet this is a movie that refuses to serve up characters as objects of unqualified empathy or revulsion - the racist white cop is also a devoted son, the carjacker helps Chinese people almost despite himself, the Iranian shopkeeper is a struggling immigrant and a loving father - I don't want to give much more away. Crash is about America and its contradictions as a place of great compassion and cruelty, of hatred and humour, of mutual understanding and blank incomprehension.

Crash is shot through with uncanny coincidence as the character from that subplot interacts with one from this one in this other highly charged situation. There is a pattern of sorts in the trajectory of development of many of the characters - we are introduced to them, we see them go through a life-shattering experience, and we see them emerge on the other side as different people. Not transformed or reformed, but marked by the moment. If the movie is aiming for realism, the character development is a little too symmetrical. I actually think it is intended to be quite stylised (what particular style or mode I don't know - I'm not a movie critic!), and works when seen in this way.

Late Elizabethans

Since much rumour has been circulating here and on other blogs regarding the House, it seems appropriate to correct a few misconceptions. The House is not Victorian - the front half of it is reputed to be late Elizabethan; it has not four bedrooms but five; it does have a piano, but one that is horribly out of tune and insists on jangling its listeners with grating seconds when any of its keys are struck. The House does indeed have a cellar with an enormous hearth (which more informed visitors have speculated would once have served as the kitchen), a wine cellar (empty) and an overgrown backyard with crumbling remnants of 16th century walls. The master bedroom takes about 7 seconds to cross from end to end at an easy walking pace (in comparison with the 2 leaps that could have straddled my previous one). It overlooks Christ Church's (now) lush meadow and could well function as the king suite in a heritage B&B (detailed descriptions of the bed will not be furnished here - this has to be seen to be believed). Mention must also be made of the existence of priests' cubbyholes and other kinky architectural features, as well as a roof that permits high-altitude rambling amidst charming gables, eaves and chimney pots just behind the sheer dam-like presence of South Schools. The House stands on the cobbled stretch of Merton Street - the precise stretch of road, in fact, that Bill Bryson has described as one of the loveliest streets in Britain (barring the ugly residence of the Principal of Merton at my end of the road).

In this mini-Gosford Park (minus servants), I am expected to conduct research on subaltern social movements many of which declare themselves to be anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist and pro-sustainable development. This slightly discomfiting thought, added to the prospect of massive gas bills, has suggested the following course of action: to turn the house into a commune with a strict no-noise policy from 9 am to 6 pm. Occupants will start arriving in early October. Current occupants seem to have taken to the house like ducks to water - we are, after all, late Elizabethans.

Recommended reading: Richard Rodriguez, 'Late Victorians' (I can't find a link - somebody help!)

[With all the moving and cleaning and lack of an internet connection (till now), I have been totally cut off from news - apologies for the ivory toweredness of this post, oblivious as it seems to the horrific news from all over the world that I have only caught snatches of.

Watch 'Crash' - more on that soon.

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