Monday, November 16, 2015

Tour de France - Part XV

Suji waited desolately at the bus stop outside the school. She didn't have a watch to tell her how long she had waited, but the school bag was beginning to weigh heavier on her back and the sun inched lower in the sky. Why didn't the bus come? Or for that matter, why didn't she see any other buses? Could it be one of the sudden strikes that the French workers were famous for?

"I don't want to stand here. Let me try to walk home, I'm sure I could reach home before it starts to get too dark." Suji turned determinedly down the road and started trotting briskly, following the footpath, past the route that she usually watched from the bus window. Luckily, it was all mostly downhill.

She reached a small maze of roads and made a wrong turn. Looking at the high facades a bit uncertainly, she darted into the tiny storefront with the  'Coiffeur' sign and asked the man there, "Does this road  go down to the bridge?" "Yes," he replied, reassuringly enough. She pressed on, the heavy bag no longer weighing her down, now that she was back on the right path homeward.

The underpass to the Pont de St.Cloud came by soon enough. Suji watched cautiously for a break in the traffic and scooted through the dark little tunnel as fast as her legs could carry her. She emerged triumphantly on the other side, making it just in time to the sidewalk before a few cars started coming through, and turned around to see a Pedestrians Prohibited sign behind her. Oops.

But the main hill was past. Suji waited patiently for the traffic lights at the intersection beyond the bridge, then crossing into the sidewalk of the large boulevard that led to one of the side roads where she would turn for home.  Just as she had almost reached the end of the boulevard, she saw Amma rushing up to meet her. "You walked! All that distance! I just found out about the sudden bus strike and was coming to try and get you from school."

And Suji continued happily home, holding tight to Amma's hands.

P.S. The distance was about 3.5 km and took about an hour to walk.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Walking thoughts

The other morning I stepped out before sunrise. The skies were covered with a blanket of clouds, so I was disappointed not to see the familiar constellations, the triangle of Venus-Mars-Jupiter blazing in the east. I looked up at the leaf-lorn tree tops, and then just for a fraction of a second, Venus opened her eye in the clouds and winked at me. A little later, Sirius followed with the same benediction.
As I approached home, a strange white light streaked the eastern sky. How odd! It ought to have been a yellow light, portending the sunrise. The moon was still too early in its waxing phase to produce that kind of a light. What might this light be? And even as I watched it, it faded away back to grey nothingness.


This morning, I went out on the usual rounds. Not too many leaves remain on the trees, but the pear trees still show up with their greens barely starting to turn to red. The maples and oaks are done jettisoning their leaves, so colors have mostly turned from brown reds to brown and black. Except for the one tree that I saw, glittering with gems of red, orange and green, as the sunlight caught it exactly right. I was tempted to whip out my phone to capture the beauty of the moment. But the urge passed and I continued on my walk. The brightness of the sun hid behind a cloud, and the jewel-like beauty vanished.

I got home and opened up a page of Rumi who opines:
"Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don't claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent."

Wise words, and yet I infringe upon the advice, as I try to write of what I didn't feel like capturing in a photograph.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Parrot Saga - The End by Subha

Our pet parrot Sankaran despite living with me for 28 years,neither spoke intelligent words nor allowed anyone to touch him. But he was quite friendly and used to take food from our hands. I was so used to his voice I could easily make out what he wanted. It was like an infant whose mother could recognise its needs. I could understand what he was saying or feeling any time of the day. His happiness at talking with other birds and parrots who came and perched on the wire mesh in the work area was phenomenal, and he would flatly refuse even his favourite food if it was handed out to him when he conversed with them. He created such a racket. Our entire house would reverberate with his voice!

He was never sick, not even a single time during his lifetime and only four months ago did he show signs of ageing with a blister near his eye. Even then he was happy, angry and friendly as usual and did not show any signs of pain. He used to jump around seeing me. "Ki ki ki.." was his greeting the moment I entered my kitchen. I must give him a piece of coconut soon after I broke one. He loved Mysore pak, cake, mango and apples, hated rice, just like my younger daughter. He survived mostly on paddy, payaru (beans) and oranges which my husband used to give him every day

October 3, 2015 was like any other day. But not for him. He was fine till noon, eating his regular food, and walking back and forth on his wooden perch.
Around 2:30 pm, my maid saw him sitting on the lower perch, something that he never did for long intervals, coming down only to drink water. I could see him breathe with difficulty. I gave a piece of banana and pleaded with him to eat. He ate a tiny piece and looked at me sadly and intensely. Then  he climbed slowly to his usual perch on the high bar. By then it was 3:30 pm . I mixed some honey and water and gave it to him in a 'karandi ' (long spoon) . He hesitated a bit, and then drank most of it.

I checked him again around 5:30 p m when he was sitting and watching outside. I went for my evening walk and returned within 15 minutes as my mind was troubled. I spent sometime folding my clothes and then went to see him. To my shock, he was lying on the floor of the cage with his head in the upright position. He must have come down to the lower perch to lie on the floor of the cage. He must have left this world around 6 p m.

I was totally perturbed.

His earlier last look haunted me, as though he was trying to tell me " Thank you for everything, I am going to leave you today... "  I cried..... I later informed my daughters and the maid servants who took care of him during my absence.

It was a long night, raining cats and dogs throughout. I was waking up every hour. Next morning, on 4th October 2015, with a heavy heart I buried him in our yard and bade him farewell.


Your bird friends, other parrots, my children and grandchildren will miss you too.

Note (Sujatha): 28 human years translate to about 112 parakeet years. So he was a truly old soul!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

What's in a name?

A poet by any other must surely read as sweet... to badly paraphrase Shakespeare.

Except when said poet uses a female Chinese name Yi-Fen Chou to mask a pedestrian WASPish male name of Michael Derrick Hudson and submits the same poem only 9 times (instead of 40 as the WASPish) before it gets selected for publication.

The editor Sherman Alexie ( of Native American extraction himself) who was unfortunate enough to select the poem had this to say:

"But I had to keep that pseudonymous poem in the anthology because it would have been dishonest to do otherwise.
        If I'd pulled the poem then I would have been denying that I gave the poem special attention because of the poet's Chinese pseudonym.
        If I'd pulled the poem then I would have been denying that I was consciously and deliberately seeking to address past racial, cultural, social, and aesthetic injustices in the poetry world.
        And, yes, in keeping the poem, I am quite aware that I am also committing an injustice against poets of color, and against Chinese and Asian poets in particular.
        But I believe I would have committed a larger injustice by dumping the poem. I think I would have cast doubt on every poem I have chosen for BAP. It would have implied that I chose poems based only on identity.
        But that's not what happened. In the end, I chose each poem in the anthology because I love it. And to deny my love for any of them is to deny my love for all of them."
And throw into the mix the fact that Hudson 'borrowed' the Chinese pen-name from a classmate of long ago, whose family is now protesting the use of their daughter's name.

And that an indignant writer of Chinese extraction pens this op-ed on NPR complaining about the cultural appropriation that Hudson has committed, by trying to take advantage of the slightest of 'ethnic minority' affirmative action to corner more of a literary market already overcrowded with the output of white male writers.

Except that for a writer of Chinese origin, he calls Hudson names indirectly in a patently incorrect last line
" And so what about the pen name Yi-Fen Chou, used by Michael Derrick Hudson? If you know Chinese, you know it actually means "a piece of stink.""
The real name Yi-Fen translates approximately to 'righteous indignation' according to online translators.

So what to make of the output of Yi-Fen Chou vs that of Michael Derrick Hudson in the anthologies. Read the examples below to make out any differences. Is the perception of the poem different if you think the poem is written by someone of Chinese vs. WASP extraction?

Yi-Fen Chou in the Painted Bride Quarterly

"So here’s to all those pretty waitresses you’d break up over
who don’t really want to be

waitresses. You inchling! I over-tip three soggy dollars
and some silver and you’d think I’d screwed

an archduke’s monocle into my watery left squint, slapped
my thigh with an ivory walking stick

and strode forth in jodhpurs from the foxed
crosshatching and curlicues of an old English copperplate…

Toff! Blabbermouth! I sneeze green into a monogrammed
sky-blue handkerchief and elucidate my sorries over

another all-American soundtrack..."

Michael Derrick Hudson:

To think I used to be so good at going to pieces
gobbling my way through the cops

and spooking what’s left of the girls. How’d I

get so far, sloughing off one knuckle at a time,
jerking my mossy pelt along

ruined streets? Those insistent, dreadful thuds

when we stacked our futile selves
against locked doors. Our mumbles and groans!

Such hungry nights! Staggering through the grit

of looted malls, plastered with tattered
flags of useless currency, I’d slobbered all over

the busted glass and merchandise of America ...

Monday, July 27, 2015

Go Set a Watchman- The Review

Since everybody about knows now that Atticus Finch was just a tired old racist, from all the gazillion reviews and discussions out there, there are probably no other major spoilers in this review.  However, if you are planning to read the book, please take a look at the review after you have read it.

I must confess that on first read, I devoured the book avidly, looking for oddities in the book that might signal not-HarperLee's actual words, but was completely mesmerized by the first few chapters. This couldn't be anyone else other than Harper Lee, I decided. Words like 'enisled', references to 'Asquithian atttitude' couldn't have been used by anyone else other than her.

All the stage-setting was very nice, with gorgeous little episodes of childhood, then weaving back to a  grown up Scout/Jean Louise as a 20-something sophisticate returning from New York to  her family and beau in small-town Alabama. The pacing started to flag, crawling slower than a rabid dog moseying along a deserted street on a blistering afternoon.

Then, suddenly, wham.

The grand reveal occurs with Jean Louise eavesdropping on a meeting attended by Atticus, and she discovers him to harbor the racist attitudes only too common in that era, not being the shining knight that he was in To Kill a Mockingbird.

After much emotional drama and anguishing, interspersed with odd chapters involving trains-of-thought bitching about old classmates at a 'Coffee' thrown by redoubtable Aunt Alexandra, Jean Louise works out her angst and finally comes to some terms with Atticus, after a deus ex machina attempt at reconciliation initiated by her uncle John.

Etc., etc. It hardly matters when the rest of story starts to read more like a screenplay than an actual novel.

I finished the novel feeling - " Wow, it's over and it was quite a ride! Harper Lee seems so prescient and almost topical in her portrayal of race relations that still raise so many troubling questions about race and the justice system in this day and age."

Then the doubts started to niggle as I read a few more reviews and Facebook comments. I reopened the book and started to do random comparisons in style with the text from To Kill a Mockingbird.

1. TKAM has characters speaking in complete paragraphs in most chapters. GSAW has them speaking in very short sentences, which would definitely tie in better with a screenplay.

2. The 'moving scene' with Calpurnia moves the reader only if we think of it in context of the closeness of Calpurnia to Scout in TKAM, which doesn't fit right with the contention that GSAW's manuscript predates TKAM.

3. In the 'Coffee', one of the trains-of-thought has odd references for the era." When Jerry was two months old...toilet training should really begin...the cutest sweatshirt you've ever seen...little red elephant...Crimson Tide"  ( edited for brevity).
Sweatshirts as a male fashion staple did not come in vogue until around the early 1960's, having only been a mainstay for college athletes in the 1930s-50s. It most certainly would not be considered suitably 'cute' attire for the Diaper set that the moms of the 'Coffee' were discussing.
Consider that TKAM, written c. 1957 and published in 1960, mentions no sweatshirts for establishing the sense of contemporaneity. While GSAW is supposedly written before TKAM, it contains too many 'Look Ma no hands!' references of this kind and sounds more like a novel based on a screenplay, complete with costume research indicators.

4. In the climactic chapter where the big discovery of Atticus's real attitude to race comes, the language is laughably cliched.  "She felt sick. Her stomach shut, she began to tremble....Every nerve in her body shrieked, then died. She was numb." is too egregious to ignore. It reads like too many bad climactic scenes in too many dystopian Young Adult novels.

These are just a few examples. I suppose I could make a career out of analyzing each reference that sounded off color on second review. But that isn't the point of this review.

I come to bury the myth of Harper Lee's writing GSAW, not to praise her writing, after all.

It's my conviction that we are seeing another publicity/money grab by the publishing/media/entertainment conglomerates. Over 1 million copies sold without extensive marketing and publicity needed, for this is the 'output' of the legendary Harper Lee, or so the customer is led to believe.

The original writing of Harper Lee is still there, primarily in the first half of the book, but on closer examination, I land  upon too many odd little 'explanatory' snippets, oddities of style that indicate not-Harper-Lee.

 The publishers have pulled in an excellent team of ghostwriters and maybe even screenwriters to massage the original partial-at-best manuscript into a coherent book, but the dissonancies introduced by them are scattered all over. 

All we need now is for some academic to do a comparison of writing styles between TKAM and GSAW and find that approximately 60% of the latter is filler material. Or maybe not, for who would want to go against a media monster claiming a princess in sacrifice. The Cetus of the publishing/media conglomerate must have its Andromeda, after all.

Once the buzz over GSAW the book wanes, watch for the screen version to be announced within the next few months. It's very likely that the casting is already decided. Let me guess, Robert DeNiro will play a suitably aged Atticus,  while the line of actresses to play Jean Louise, Alexandra and Calpurnia is already too long out the door and is the only thing still preventing them from announcing the movie any time too soon.

Either way, the moguls and moneymakers will have their way and humongous profits in the end, and some of it might go towards keeping an old lady in Monroeville, Alabama more comfortable in her sunset years, and to line the pockets of a 'loving caretaker' lawyer into the bargain.

More links of interest: