Thursday, January 30, 2003

Kochi on Sunday, again.

- Norman Rockwell, Breaking Home Ties

Sunday, January 26, 2003

Who is Dave Barry?

‘Dave Barry has been at The Miami Herald since 1983. He won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1988. Barry writes about various major issues relating to the international economy, the future of democracy, the social infrastructure and exploding toilets.’

The other day I walked into an airport men's room, which was empty except for one man, who appeared to be having a loud, animated conversation with a urinal. Ten years ago, I would have turned right around and walked briskly back out of there. One rule my parents stressed when I was a child was: ‘Never stay in a restroom with a man who talks to the plumbing.’ But of course as a modern human, I knew that this man was talking on his cellphone, using one of those earpiece thingies… So anyway, there I was, in this restroom, standing maybe six feet from this guy, both of us facing the wall, him shouting at his urinal about some business thing involving specifications, and at some point he said—I swear this is a direct quote—‘I am handling it.’…

Visitors’ guide to Florida:

MASS TRANSIT: Miami is blessed with a modern, interconnected light-rail transit system. If you figure out how it works, please let us know.

TOURIST ATTRACTIONS: Probably our biggest tourist attraction is naked Europeans on the beach. To find them, walk along the beach until you start seeing people without any bathing suits; these are your naked Europeans. When you see them, act cool. Don't stare or shout: ‘Hey! You people are NAKED!’…

I am not a fan of ballet. … I KNOW I AM WRONG. I know that ballet is a beautiful artistic form that requires great dedication and skill. I'm just saying that I, personally, would rather watch a dog catch a Frisbee. My problem—and it's MY problem, NOT ballet's problem—is that, because I am culturally unsophisticated, all ballet looks to me like—even though I know there is MUCH more to it—a troupe of mincing mimes. … I admire the skill involved. It's just that, after I have watched dancers mince around for, say, eight minutes, I have had my ballet quota for that particular decade. The only time I truly enjoyed ballet was years ago, when I attended a performance… At one point—I estimate it was 14 hours into the performance—a male dancer and a female dancer were onstage doing the Mince of Passion, and the male did what a man must do in BalletLand to show a woman that he truly loves her; namely, hoist her over his head. He then attempted to prance offstage with her, but her tutu apparently obscured his vision, and he pranced her, headfirst, smack into the shrubbery. She went in as far as her shoulders. The male had to yank her out, back up, re-aim, and prance off, trying to maintain an expression of passion, though you could tell from the female's face that the affair was OVER. I wanted to shout: ‘Encore!’ … I even enjoyed some of it, although not the costumes worn by the male dancers, which left nothing to the imagination, if you know what I mean, and if you don't, what I mean is they looked like they were smuggling dead squirrels in their tights. I don't want my daughter seeing that! …

A fun page: jokes from the late night shows of Leno, Letterman, et al.

As we prepare for this war with Iraq, President Bush wants to make one thing perfectly clear: This is not about oil. It’s about gasoline.

It was so cold that priests were groping each other.

It was so cold today that in the park I saw squirrels throwing themselves at an electric fence.

The other night the Golden Globes were held. Winona Ryder didn’t win anything but she did leave with three awards.

TV critics are now saying that reality TV has gone too far due to a recent episode of “Fear Factor” where contestants had to eat a horse rectum. The episode upset viewers and also upset the horse.

State of the Art:’ Yardley’s opinionated survey of modern American literature (The Washington Post, 14.7.02).

What one must first understand about American literature is that it is un-American… because literature is something with which we as a nation are inherently uneasy. The first European settlers were can-do men and women, more inclined to action than reflection… We borrowed our language from the English, but we have little patience for polishing our prose as they do and none of their quaint affinity for bookishness.

… I am positive that it was [Ring Lardner’s] You Know Me, Al: A Busher’s Letters Home, as well as the many Lardner short stories that followed over the next decade and a half, that showed other American writers how to get the American vernacular down right.

… [William Faulkner’s masterful novels are] the noblest individual achievement of American literature.

… Bellow and Malamud are among the most important writers of the 1950s, a far more productive literary decade than is often acknowledged. A lot of noise was made over writing of little weight—J.D. Salinger’s immensely popular, vastly overrated The Catcher in the Rye, James Gould Cozzens’s By Love Possessed, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and the entire oeuvre of the Beats…

… The intellectualization of American fiction produced one indisputable giant, Vladimir Nabokov, and a great deal of work—always ambitious, sometimes brilliant, often obscure and self-indulgent—by Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, Stanley Elkin, William H. Gass, Robert Coover, Don DeLillo and others less widely known, almost all of them white men and many of them academics of one sort or another.

…that echt minimalist, Raymond Carver, the Jehovah of the writing schools…

…it has been a half century since an American writer published a novel that indisputably deserves to be called great: The Adventures of Augie March, by Saul Bellow. It is one of only 11 American novels published in the life span of this newspaper [ie, from 1877] that, in my judgment, warrant the same distinction: Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, Wharton’s The House of Mirth, Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Light in August and Absalom, Absalom!, Ellison’s Invisible Man and Nabokov’s Lolita.

Jonathan Yardley on war literature.

…there are a few classics—Tolstoy’s monumental War and Peace, of course, Stephen Crane’s masterly miniature, The Red Badge of Courage, Joseph Heller’s wildly uneven but indisputably influential Catch-22, perhaps Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird, perhaps John le Carre’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.

…what may well be the greatest literary ‘war story,’ Shakespeare’s Henry V

On Mary McCarthy:

‘Mary’s smile is very famous. When most pretty girls smile at you, you feel terrific. When Mary smiles at you, you look to see if your fly is open.’ - Dwight Macdonaldslq

Wine, women and weapons: The strange ride of Kim Jong Il.

From Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an Opium Eater:

I was stared at, hooted at, grinned at, chattered at, by monkeys, by paroquets, by cockatoos. I ran into pagodas: and was fixed, for centuries, at the summit, or in secret rooms; I was the idol; I was the priest; I was worshipped; I was sacrificed. I fled from the wrath of Brama through all the forests of Asia: Vishnu hated me: Seeva laid wait for me. I came suddenly upon Isis and Osiris: I had done a deed, they said, which the ibis and the crocodile trembled at. I was buried, for a thousand years, in stone coffins, with mummies and sphinxes, in narrow chambers at the heart of eternal pyramids. I was kissed, with cancerous kisses, by crocodiles; and laid, confounded with all unutterable slimy things, amongst reeds and Nilotic mud.

Marcus Boon’s book The Road of Excess examines the use of drugs as an aid to writing. The following passage from Sartre is also alleged to have been written under the influence:

But it should be noted that this regulatory totalisation realises my immanence in the group in the quasi-transcendence of the totalising third party; for the latter, as the creator of objectives or organiser of means, stands in a tense and contradictory relation of transcendence-immanence, so that my integration, though real in the here and now which define me, remains somewhere incomplete, in the here and now which characterise the regulatory third party. We see here the re-emergence of an element of alterity proper to the statute of the group, but which here is still formal: the third party is certainly the same, the praxis is certainly common everywhere; but a shifting dislocation makes it totalising when I am the totalised means of the group, and conversely.

Because Sight & Sound mag’s much publicized recent list of the top ten films did not throw up any films from the recent past, they did a quick survey of British critics to compile the top ten of the last 25 years, ie 1978 and later. Best film: Coppola’s colossal piece of ‘Method filmmaking’ Apocalypse Now, and Best director by a long way: Martin Scorsese.

Saturday, January 25, 2003

A couple of weeks back Death reminded me of his presence. He gave prior intimation of his intention to rendezvous with a friend of mine. [S] uncharacteristically left office early on a Friday after reporting to me that he was feeling a little unwell. Monday brought news that he was hospitalized. On Wednesday, as I searched the faces of the occupants of the intensive care unit at the hospital, I failed to recognize the man I had known for the last six months. Outside, the doctor explained how blood was washing in tiny showers the surface of his brain as he lay unconscious. The next Monday, the drowsy eyes of his colleague who had spent a sleepless night interrupted by memories of the former high spirits of [S] gave me the answer to an unasked question. An hour later, the same man while attending a phone call told the voice on the other side to hold on to himself and calm down. He placed the phone down and mumbled something I did not understand. But the message was conveyed as he stood there staring blankly at the floor. There was one more sojourner in the undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns.

In the evening, witness to a cremation for the first time, I watched as flames returned what was once [S]’s body, now bereft of the force that through the green fuse drives the flower, to the elements.

‘Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed, we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life…’

Like someone has noted, death has nothing to do with the departed and everything to do with those left behind. It is a cruel fate to have to watch helplessly as a loved one slips little by little into the dark. You realize that the hand he extends to you for help cannot be grasped because it is not corporeal. My heart went out to those relatives of his whose desperation was tearfully evident.

It may be perverse to note here that humankind’s attempt to hang on to breath with the help of science and medicine seemed to me perverse. But maybe everything except Death is perverse. Life, light—are they not perverse? Life is a becoming—it is against the grain. Death is being; where there is no attempt to change; when the destination has been reached; when there is nowhere else to go to.

While on the subject, I may also call attention to the American poet William Cullen Bryant’s ‘Thanatopsis’—one of the finest poems on Death.

‘And millions in those solitudes, since first
The flight of years began, have laid them down
In their last sleep—the dead reign there alone.
So shalt thou rest; and what if thou withdraw
In silence from the living, and no friend
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
Will share thy destiny.’

And that final admonitory stanza!slcw

The Srikrishnamangal Ezine, Edition III. Say hello to my friend K Anantanarayanan, the editor. He has just retired from his day job, but continues with obsessive enthusiasm to pursue such interests. He can always be depended on for a discourse on the universality of the great mythologies, the niceties of Advaita philosophy, the case for Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s films to be declared prescription sedatives, and, his current fave, India’s cricketing fortunes (There is even a rumour that he has voluntarily retired with two years of service left, so that he can follow the kismet of the Indian team in South Africa without having the big boss calling him up and ordering him to report for duty immediately.). Sadly, he will be shifting to Thane in a couple of months. It has been a privilege, a pleasure, and yes, at times an exasperation, to know and interact with him for many months now.

One quiet salon, ain’t this? It’s been a month since the last post—the longest silence in this blog’s career so far, I think; but I could rest assured that anyone who were to stumble into here would be greeted by the fine piece that the previous post is—my fave of Fobbin’s poems.

It may be that the most apt advice to any habitual blogger would be: Get a life! Happily, I got myself one. Thus the month-long silence. ‘So, what happened?’ you may ask. ‘Discovered amour? Found peace in the benign smile of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar? Joined kick-boxing classes?’ Let me reign in your adventurous imagination and inform you that the bland fact is that I spent most of the time sifting through piles of paper to the soundtrack of the BBC World Service. Being the sole occupant of what is termed a ‘2BHK’ apartment, I have now managed to fill one bedroom with crumpled sheets of paper waiting for the garbage man, and another with neatly sorted out piles of paper in various categories. The exercise was also a Proustian journey through the labyrinths of my memory. Coming across a cryptic note on a yellowing fragile sheet of papyrus that I have preserved for years for reasons I have forgotten can produce unexpected existential dilemmas. This cleaning up of cobwebs of my mind had been intended for a long time. For some reason the last few weeks have seen in me the kind of confidence I have lacked for this endeavour for years even.

William James, the hero of Pragmatic philosophy, has said somewhere that wisdom lies in knowing what to ignore. Pragmatic. (How easily a word can carry the weight of a whole philosophy!)