Friday, January 29, 2010


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


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.

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