Sunday, September 29, 2019

2624 : Reading List 2019 : #28 Disgrace by JM Coetzee

This must be my 5 or 6th reading of the book. And every single time I come back more humbled and more sobered.
I feel each of us not more than 60 seconds away from disgrace. Its true. I really think and mean it.

And this book is how about a professor, who is "disgraced" deals with his life. With equanimity and yet being disgruntled.

How life kicks you in the groin when you have already been felled. How it takes just one mistake to start a spiral. It takes just one mistake for all your friends to desert you.

And its easy to ,make some one else the fall guy (in this case the lead protagonist).

I love this book and if I could rate this 18 on 10, I would. Totally worth a read. Many many times.

Brings my total 2019 read to 5047 pages.

Image from washingtonpost

2623 : From Lucy Ellmann's Man or Mango

Loved this first chapter from the book (Man or Mango?). Totally sets the tone. Phenomenal !!

3rd Jan 1876 -- I immersed an ant in water for half an hour; and when was then to all appearance drowned, I put her on a strip of paper leading from one of my nests to some food. The strip was half an inch wide, and one of my marked ants belonging to the same nest was passing continually to and fro over it to some food. The immersed ant lay there for an hour before she recovered herself; and during time the marked ant passed by eighteen times without taking the slightest notice of her.

2622 . : There is a new love in town....

And she goes by the name of Lucy Ellmann.
She is 62 years old and I completely smitten by her Booker Prize nominated book Ducks, Newburyport. Its a book written with no full stops and pretty much its a stream of consciousness. 

Initially a very difficult read (actually I have finished 200 of the 1100 pages), and its still quite a drain on my brain.

But strangely....and I really mean it, strangely....I am totally in love with the book. Totally.

Think of it as 1100 pages of inside jokes. Author's jokes. You have to piece the joke together and thats the reward (as in once you get the joke).

I dont know when and how will I finish this book...but I so look forward to the book never ending at all. Its marvellous....just to read another person's thought stream....and share the inside jokes.

Images from TLS

Saturday, September 28, 2019

2621 : Movie : Dhobi Ghat

I must be on the last people on earth to have seen this 2010 movie. I kind of liked it. Its unpretentious and is layered. What worked for me was Prateik and Monica Dogra. Absolutely loved Miss Dogra and her music too.
She is quite something when it comes to acting. Strong, sassy and completely honest.

Aamir Khan as always is horrible. He is easily the piece from this movie that we could trash. Constipated and zero effort at real acting.

Images from StarsUnfolded

Finds a place on my overall ranking

Friday, September 27, 2019

2620 : Movie : Wild Tales

If you have not seen Wild Tales yet...go for it.
A fantastic story telling exercise. Totally gripping. Totally wild and so surreal (and yet relatable).

Strange disconnected tales of revenge, that you will most definitely love. Absolutely go for it.

On my overall list of ranking, comes up right near the top (again).

2619 : Movie/Miniseries - Unbelievable on Netflix

I watched the whole series and was hooked completely onto it. Easily one of the best series I have watched in recent months. It starts with rape, but hooks you on by genuinely making you feel the pain of the victim's. Its a bit like Delhi Crime - which makes you sympathetic to the Police. Here you rooting for both the victim and the police.

The series scathes and hurts. It makes you wince. And the actors (are so believable)....all of them. I especially fell totally for Merritt Wever. God - if there was ever one character who I was rooting was for her. Totally made me want her to win.

On my overall ratings scheme, this one series goes right near the top. Totally worth the time and even a re-run.

The Kominsky Method
Tabula Rasa
Orange Mittai

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

2618 : Cold brew

There is a new poison in town and its called cold brew coffee. Before I wax eloquent, I started actively drinking coffee only in 2013. And picked up speed in 2017 really.

Now I drink 2-4 cups of coffee a day. I started experimenting with cold brew in 2018....and now I cant stop. In 2018 it was Starbucks cold brew, and now it is home brewed.

I love both medium and dark roast in cold brew.

There is something intensely calming in a cup of cold brew, while the rest of the world around you burns or aims to singe you.

A happy glass of home brewed lovely coffee is what I need in my solitude. And yes, I do drink coffee sometimes just before bed. Call it madness, but I value and treasure my solitude more than the shit mess that nutritionists try and garble down our throat.

More to come on this love. Keep reading.

Monday, September 09, 2019

2617 : What my mother taught me about crows by Nandini Ramnath

I wish I could write like this. I wish I could write this. By "this" I mean this. An article from Scroll that I loved quite a bit.

Reproduced here for easier reading. If it is indeed a copyright violation, let me know. If you don't need scroll regularly, please do - it will keep you sane. Scroll here. I don't know who Nandini Ramnath is, but will happily grab coffee with her, to learn some of her wisdom. Such writing can only be the outcome of deep wisdom.

Article below. First Person :What my mother taught me about crows - and life.

My mother loved crows, and they loved her right back. Or so I liked to believe, especially when the birds swooped down with unfailing regularity on her window sill to fill their bellies.
Whenever a human appeared at the window of the apartment she shared with my brother – one of the remarkable maids who took care of the matriarch with memories as wispy as her hair, or me, the visiting daughter hoping to hoodwink the crows into thinking that I was my mother – the birds flew in like heat-seeking missiles, their beaks half-open, their eyes wide with expectation and alarm.

I liked to fool myself that my mother and I were quite different, even though I resembled her closely. I had inherited her features, many of her neuroses, and her love for shopping and BEST bus travel, but not her vitality and courage. I am more like my bookish father, a photograph on the mantelpiece whose face I now struggle to remember.
Mother was a determined optimist, floating from one illness to another without being burdened by self-analysis. For her, the body and the mind were two different things. If one influenced the other, it was only the kind of psychobabble that I liked to spout.
But we both loved crows. I devour videos about them. I follow the Twitter accounts of scholars of corvid science as also the bearded gent who looks after the ravens at the Tower of London. Whenever I see crows in Bombay, which is all the time, my senses become sharper and my eyes get a mildly maniacal glint. My dream is to hold a crow, stroke its glistening head and give it a name.
Research tells us that crows retain memories of human faces, but not that crows have a weakness for older people with silver strings on their scalps. Why else would the birds ignore my beseeching outstretched palm, but hover around my mother when she shuffled to the window?

Crows don’t trust younger people, I once concluded, probably because of some Jungian collective consciousness thing.

There was, however, that one crow that used to show up every morning at my brother’s bedroom window and spend a few seconds regarding him silently with a mixture of gravity and love. An old inamorata, perhaps, or my departed father?
There was also the bird that used to appear on my mother’s window sill between 1.30 pm and 2.30 pm, when she was glued to yet another melodramatic television drama about simpering daughters-in-law, ghastly mothers-in-law and abusive husbands.
I remember a warm day, when my mother and I were having a post-prandial bonding moment. She was watching a serial about a snivelling, screeching family.
Look at that horrible woman, her head should be smashed in, said my mother calmly, flicking some rasam-stained rice off her nightie. The cupboard was heaving with beautiful saris, purchased at handloom stores and craft exhibitions, from butter-tongued travelling salesmen and sad-faced weavers. But since my mother barely ventured beyond the front door any more, the saris now nestled in the cupboard with naphthalene balls and perfumed sachets for company.

I spotted the crow out of the corner of my eye. It was sitting at that peculiar angle that made it hard to tell if it was watching my mother or the febrile images on the television set. In the old days, when my mother’s health hadn’t restricted her mobility so severely, she would walk in slow motion to the kitchen and return with a fist of cooked rice. The crow would patiently wait, jerking its alert face from right to left but always refusing to confirm in which exact direction it was looking.
Mother would place the rice on the platform below the window sill and retreat a few respectable steps. The crow would gobble up some of the grain and summon its co-conspirators. A murder of crows would attack the rest of the rice and flee the scene in a matter of minutes.
Mother would talk to the crows in Tamil, and some of them would look at her with the blank, intelligent look unique to the corvid class. Their genders were indistinguishable, but I noticed that at least one of them would stuff its beak with rice and fly away, presumably to feed young ones nestled elsewhere.
Perhaps it takes a mother to understand another.

The crows had followed us from our old house to the new one. In our old house, they would feed on freshly cooked rice out of my mother’s hand. Thanks to my industrious brother, the new apartment was larger and higher up, with ample air and sunlight. It had CCTV cameras in the corridors, brats who called me Aunty and dogs that couldn’t take the heat and stank up the elevators.

My brother had spent months getting the place perfectly designed. The tiles matched the walls, and the furniture was in consonance with everything else. If these objects could talk to each other, they would.
In my mother’s bedroom, there was a corner for various gods and a framed photograph of my father, who had left too early. There was a bed, cupboards, a hard-working television set, and drawers stuffed with pillboxes, massage oils, laxatives, antidiarrheals, surgical gloves, rubber sheets to cover the mattress, insulin-checking equipment, nebulisers, syringes and adult diapers. And the window sill, with its potted plants and its daily visitors.
As the years passed, my mother was unable to shuffle from one room to the next unaided. Her spine was a question mark. Her mind was a whirl of the present and the distant past. When I gazed upon my mother for long, which was very often in the final days, she looked like an aged cat with her kinky hair, her soft skin, and her eyes, which had become bigger after her sockets shrunk in terror of old age.
My mother had reduced in size too. When the heat got to me every now and then, I would think of her as one of those characters in a cartoon film that gradually diminishes after having nibbled on enchanted cake. One day, I would walk into the room and my mother would fade into the hot air that clung to the walls and be reincarnated as a crow.

I don’t believe in rebirth or, for that matter, religion, but my mother never lost her faith even after her gods had forsaken her. Although she was too weak to light a stick of agarbatti or put a flame to the soot-lined brass lamp in the religious corner, she always invoked her deity when the lights came on in the evening and never failed to call upon the one above when her body and mind dealt her yet another blow.
My mother also kept invoking her own mother, and I reminded myself never to pick up the habit when I got that old.
Sometimes, the crows got bold. They sat on the sill and cawed at my mother in frank disapproval. Get up and feed us, they seemed to be saying. My mother would tilt her head in their direction, smile her toothless smile and command me to get off the phone and fetch the rice.
Look who has come, she would say. My babies are here.
It was now my turn to visit the kitchen, scoop up a fistful of rice and return to the window sill. I tried to adopt my mother’s friendly manner and use the same terms of endearment in Tamil. The crows were not fooled. They looked at me with a mixture of disgust and terror and flew off, returning only after I had withdrawn from view.
They don’t like me, I whined once.
They will someday, her mother replied, her eyes on the television.

The time came when my mother dissolved into the ether. Having lived through the death of one parent, I knew what to expect. There would be the sudden memory stab in the middle of a meeting or a movie; dreams about missed trains and walking naked; anger at the way the cards had stacked up; relief at the end of the suffering; fear over the beginning of another stage of life.

I would haunt the same bazaars as my mother had in search of imaginary bargains, have fleeting, familiar conversations with taxi drivers and shopkeepers, and travel to the other end of the city for a particular brand of phenyl. I would invoke my mother when my heart or head hurt. I would complain about her in my head, and I would miss her.
After my father’s death, an elderly neighbour shuffled in to say, you won’t feel it just yet, you will eventually. I learnt the hard way that the neighbour wasn’t being imposing or presumptuous. Philip Larkin had it right: our parents, who never leave us alone when we want them to, manage to shape and scar us through their absence.
The final disappearance of the shrinking woman made the room seem larger than before. It had its own set of smells, distinct from the odours of the kitchen or the impressive aromas that floated out of my brother’s personal cabinet. It sometimes smelt of irregularly washed hair and medicine. The pillows would need to be beaten up to remove the dent made by the small head that had rested on them for what seemed like an eternity.
The shelves of the cupboard heaved with her saris, as carefully curated as a Klimt collection. I had been itching to throw away the saris for years, but my mother’s barks and long-winded anecdotes about their provenance had prevented me. Since I didn’t wear saris, the ones I liked could be diced into cushion covers, shorts or curtains. That way, she would always be around. Some of the silk saris were frayed, but I knew a store that would pay cash for them (my mother would have approved, and then got a higher price than I could ever have managed).

The apartment has since been remodelled, and the feeding post is no longer around. I have kept the custom alive in my own apartment. Every morning, when the kitchen window opens, an expectant crow swoops in and summons me. I obey.

The other day, as I was pottering around in the kitchen, I saw a black shape out of the corner of my eye. There was a crow on the window sill. It was boldly perched halfway on the inside. Its beak was half-open and its eyes were wide and demanding. It stared at me, and I stared right back.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

2616 : The charade(s)

Love it how human beings try and put their best foot forward in any new relationship. And then with time, both (her/him and me) become like monkeys. Monkeys who will pull you back into the cage.

And this cycle repeats. Ad nauseam.

Almost as if, we were filling time. I am a monkey too. So I am judging myself more than others.

I will have a half assed estrangement with someone who is more than a brother to me. I will treat my best friend as if she is a mud headed bumpkin. And yet, I forget that sometimes all it takes is a bit of compassion and kindness and maybe acceptance.

And...coming back.....the charades we play with our "new" friends is charming...right? Here I am broken to the core with deep estrangement all around me....but you serenade a new friend. The foolishness of it strikes me as charming.

Hence "charming charades".

With new friends we are always "so interesting". "I listened to Stravinsky's Oedipus". "I love Salman Rushdie.". "I gag on George Carlin".



Who are we fooling? I am the fucknut who is a disaster of a friend. I am the one, they warn you about - "he will turn turkey" one day. Actually I do "croc" impressions too :-).

2615 : Struggle with something precious

I have been struggling with someone precious in my life. To him, all I would say is.....we all drift, unless we take the effort. And when you have drifted miles away, we are almost in different suns.....the more I think, we are like Rama from Arthur Clarke. Drifting and rudderless.  We are now each at the mercy of gravity (which in our case might be death).

Love the melancholy of how Dire Straits puts it in.

There's so many different worlds
So many different suns
And we have just one world
But we live in different ones
Now the sun's gone to hell and
The moon's riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die

2614 : Oedipus

Last chorous of Oedipus: Call no man happy until he is dead.

From JM Coetzee's Disgrace

2613 : Hard work

The skull followed by the temperament, the two hardest parts of the body.

From JM Coetzee, Disgrace

2612 : Emptiness and the origin of sound

The origins of speech lie in song, and the origins of the song in the need to fill out with sound, the overlarge and rather empty human soul.

- From Disgrace by JM Coetzee

2611 : Have been struggling to read

Call it a reader's block, if there is any shit like that. In the last month I have started about 9 books all at around 25%.

So the right phrase is, I am struggling to finish a book.

And then yesterday on a whim, I returned to the book which is on my all time list - Disgrace by JM Coetzee. My 7th read maybe....lost count.

And just the first night I was at over 33% of the book done.

Something about Coetzee, the thin veil around internal violence and turmoil, that I find almost addictive. My real life is like a Coetzee character - rounded on the out, and jagged on the inside.

Broken, jagged and square pegged - that's what I have become.

and.....drifting back....Coetzee is just plain magic.

And.....I might just finish Disgrace and Elizabeth Costello this month (again)!!.

Friday, September 06, 2019

2610 : This could be heaven (Heaven for everyone)

Freddie Mercury singing this ballad (I believe its a ballad :-)) always gives me hope. In the distance there is a light, and the song celebrates that light.

I don't think this song found a mention in his movie (and I can't fathom) why they missed such a powerful song.

Go grab a listen if you have not done so yet. Signature Freddie vocals, signature queen guitar riffs, signature queen chorus, overall a brilliant song.

Monday, September 02, 2019

2609 : BB King

Listen to the “Best of” BB King the early morning and you have a glimpse of what bliss might look like.

The sun is not yet out, but we are “Riding with the King”.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

2608 : Sounds

A small poem inspired and slightly altered from the Bhoomi song in Chekka Sivanta Vaanam

(The wind bears) the sound of the earth gurgling and turning,
and the attention also spins to the massive roar of the oceans churning,

You cannot miss the cacophony of the men vs men spewing blood and flaming strong,
In all of this, how do we hear the sparrow's tweet of a mating song?

2607 : Essay - Politics of identity

Essay : Politics of Identity (20190820) - 1050 words

I am fascinated with identity. Identity seen as a mirror of my/our “definition”. Race, gender, name, belonging, family and the entire associated similar ilk, are all proxy attributes of our identity.

It’s my unbridled fascination with identify as a driver of human motivation, that brings me closer to the work or implicit support I endorse to the LBGTQ or the “Dalit” movement within India.

And then a few days ago Kashmir happened. What happened in Kashmir? Kashmir is now via “article 370” abrogation, inducted into India formally as a “state”. So what was it earlier? Kashmir has enjoyed the status of “special territory” within India since 1947. When I say “Kashmir”, I actually refer to “Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh”. What changed (and I repeat), Kashmir is now completely subsumed into the Indian definition of a “country”. Kashmir’s identity has changed.

Side story. Not long ago, I knew someone who was from Kashmir. He was young (about 22 when I met him). More importantly, he was from Kashmir. Most importantly, he was a Muslim from that valley. Here is a young person who read complex French Classics (not Saul, but almost there), and made me feel intellectually as if I had missed the bus completely. The more time I spent with him, the more I realised that he was completely weighed down in his life. Was it being thunderstruck by unrequited love? Natural guess, given his age. It took me a good 2-3 months of trying to pry him to get him to open up. He was miserable about the state of valley. And he personally felt persecuted, just as much as he felt the valley had been accosted.

He viewed the world around him with deep suspicion, and when I say “world”, I mean to impute it with “everyone and everything” outside of him. So he almost assumed and believed that it was him versus an antagonistic universe. Imagine that as an inverted messiah complex. Probing and insight, revealed that he held the society around him as responsible for the plight of his people, for his state of summary, there was an assault happening (in present continuous) on his identity and we all were complicit and tacitly involved in that travesty.

Specifically he did not have a single grouse, but it was the continuous jerking around of his family, his valley and his people - that was the monster which could not be packed into the egg again. And the monster was growling at him, and he did not have a ready repose....because, he felt his limbs were tied, his mouth was stuffed, and his fingers blotted out - never would his vote count.

What makes a 22 year old, have such rage and anger? It’s difficult for me to imagine or comprehend it. It really is. I cannot fathom what drives him to such a point of despondency. One of the primary reasons for that is my complete lack of identity or belonging. I am a free radical. Belong to nothing. And just like atheism (which I am part of too), which sounds intellectually sexy, in reality, the lack of the belief (and belonging) is a vacuum that sucks your life force away. The point being, anyone who does not have a strong sense of identity will always struggle to relate to this 22 year old’s angst.

Another side story. In recent years, I have gotten to become great friends with Israelis, (who are Jews too), but more importantly they are Israelis who live and breathe Tel Aviv. Meeting these human beings reminds me, that they are just as flesh and bones as I am, they have the same failings, the same prelibation as any of us....but....they differ from us in one stricking aspect. They carry a perpetual open wound the size of a crater. Just that, this wound never heals, its an endless pit that grows like a chasm. It feeds on the wounds of me, my family, my caste, my region, my land, my community, my nation, my language and hence my identity. It (the wound) blisters every day, like a ritual of renewal, and grows to include one more inch, one more person and one more grieving member into its identity.

The Israelis, the Gaza Strip, the Kashmiris - they are not isolated. They are the norm. their identity is the bulwark around their neck. It sometimes amplifies them to be giants, and at other times, it drowns them to the bottom of the pit.

So. It’s easy to judge identity. My identity is a actually a non-identity. A “liberal” identity is nothing but a neo foolish one. I dont belong or believe. Hence I dont partake the pleasures and the pain of the universe.

To those with a real identity though, their collective defines them. Their coterie defines their purpose. It’s identity that helps us win wars, its identity that helps us even create wars, its identity that sometimes makes us falter, its the same identity that will eventually lead us through to the altar.

Now you see why I am fascinated by it. It’s (identity) the meat on our bone. It’s the fuel for our fire. Just that, in this game, we willing offer our own meat to the fire.

A small (arguably irrational....remember rationality is just a perspective) part of me, wants to question identity. Are we all not almost the same. We share over 99% genes and roots with our  human brethren. We share more than 95% with most animals and this earth. We share so much and yet, we belong to where we believe we belong. This belief makes us hack another army to death, just so that “my people” will rule and live.

Our genes are wired for survival. Is it possible that identity is nothing but our genes expressing their desire to perpetuate themzselves instead of the nearest other (who we share 99% with).

Is it possible, that in this battle, all that matters is the perpetuation of the gene? Is that the only purpose of our life. Gene expression? Are we nothing more than programmed containers?

On days when I ponder and meditate on this, I feel completely alone, isolated and a logical conundrum. On days like today, I could really do with some identity.