Thursday, December 10, 2009

Travel Tales From India

Travel Tales From India

Plagarism and HT

Travel Tales From India

Media and plagiarism/ theft, courtesy HT. I'm changing my subscription, but i suspect they all do it... its really depressing.

Thanks, mad momma, keep up the good fight.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Kolkata: A Travel Argument

Kolkata lies at the confluence of a variety of influences. Many cities do, but the interesting thing about Kolkata is that a visitor can see many of these influences while walking around. British colonial architectural influences are foregrounded by street-side homegrown Chinese food, Hindi speaking taxi drivers ferry all, the north Indian kebab is adapted, spiced, and served up in the delicious ‘roll’.

Because the palimpsest of Kolkata is open to the view of the visitor, it is wise to remember that the city is about both the journey and the destination. So go and see St Paul’s Cathedral and the Victoria Memorial, but don’t forget to walk around Park Street and Free School Street. Browse the bookshops on College Street, see the figured wrought iron and green shuttered windows of North Kolkata, sample Bengali confectionary. The city, you will see, looks both forward and back with equal ease.

This is the place from which the British ruled a large part of South-East Asia for close to two centuries, and the seat of a cultural influence that has been significant in the making of modern India. This new India is visible in the streets, shops and cafes, but surrounded by an old world charm that makes most visitors to feel that almost any length of time is too short for an adequate exploration of the city.

Don’t worry about walking around, people on the street are friendly, and some knowledge of Bengali, although useful, is not essential. Many locals understand English, and Hindi also forms part of the popular linguistic repertoire. In keeping with the local ethos, getting directions, or what-to-see-next type of advice from strangers on the street is never a problem -- so do visit Kolkata, it’s an unique experience—a big city with the heart of an old world town.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

gross bisons

So apparently people want to know about the gross bisons, why they're gross, and why i'm talking about them.

To all these people, i have this to say:
Write it, really fast, and see what you get

its like this. Several years ago, i lived next to a friend called Emmanuel... well, in the interest of truth i would have to say that i lived over him, and my footsteps, and taste in music plagued him for a year, but well, we basically lived in each other's pockets. It was great.

Emmanuel had the most amazingly neat and well organized house, so after i'd succeeded in reducing my own house to the pigsty that was its natural state, i'd go hang out at his. Now, his mother, in France, sent him lots of very pretty postcards, which would be kept on his dining table, until he got around to organizing them, putting them up etc. So i would sit at this table and talk with him, and occasionally look at these postcards in fascination.

The pictures were always beautiful (they were usually pictures of the french countryside, around the areas Emmanuel grew up, and where his mother still lived), but it wasn't really the pictures i was interested in. It was the writing, which was in french, and so almost completely alien to me. There's something truly fascinating about handwriting in another language, its like a code that is lost on you. And Emmanuel did not mind my fiddling with the cards, so this became something i'd do whenever i visited him.

The only thing that mystified me was the signature line on most of these cards. It seemed like his mother always mentioned the gross bisons before she signed off.

This was somewhat surprising to me. But i am urban after all, and i grew up in a largely brick and concrete area in South Kolkata. What did i know about bisons, gross or otherwise? Perhaps cows or other bovine livestock were called bisons in french? perhaps they were getting into a garden of some sort, where they had no business? perhaps they were very dirty? I mean, who knows? What i saw in the postcards was this verdant green countryside, in Europe. A world so entirely different from any i had known that it was unwise, in my mind, to be surprised by anything that may be ordinary in that world.

But still, the meaning of the recurrent and apparently filthy bisons continued to elude me, and in the consistent nature of unsolved mysteries, haunted the margins of my imagination. So one day, i asked Emmanuel. And i report on my memory of this conversation, which took place almost half a decade ago.

Me: so, sweetie, what are these gross bisons?

E: Which ones? aren't bisons extinct in North America? (very well informed boy, this)

Me: No, not here, the ones your mum keeps talking about

E: My mum keeps talking about bisons? How do you know? (His mum speaks only French)

Me: (quite embarrassed now, wishing i hadn't started this, but still plagued by the bison mystery) In the postcards

E: (clearly totally confused) My mum talks about bisons in the postcards? which ones?

So I pick up a representative bison signature and take it to where he is standing, at the stove.

He took one look at it and laughed for about ten minutes, really hard. His face went red. I stood there, postcard in hand, feeling, well, very stupid. Then he could finally speak, still choking

E: Thats french, debo, its not 'gross bisons'. its 'gros bisous'

Me: (unwilling to commit any further) um

E: It means many kisses. She's my mum, see, so thats how she signs off. Its not cows. You're such an idiot (informed, as i said)

Me: hm. I see. ok, that makes more sense. (Quickly diverting topic) Do you have anything i can eat?

E: (unwilling to let this go) You thought my mum was signing off about bisons? Really, debo.

Me. um. food?

And thats the story of the gross bisons:)

BTW this ones for Emmanuel, who i haven't seen in WAY too long. E, gross bisons to you.

is it worth it?

Actually, i see all the information available about her and conclude that engaging with her ideas will make me so angry that it wont be worth it.

i'll give you a sample. Apparently she came across the Jeffrey Kripal piece about Ramakrishna and Vivekananda maybe being sexually involved, and this shattered her world view because she's worshiped them since she was a child (i.e. people you feel strongly about must never behave in ways that you will disapprove, particularly historical figures who have minds the size of the universe and basically, and rightfully, in my opinion, don't give a shit what you think)

I quote the piece to which i refer:

"Invading The Sacred - By Aditi Banerjee

In college, I was exposed to Jeffrey Kripal's "theory" of Sri
Ramakrishna as a homosexual who had homoerotic feelings about (and possibly abused) Swami Vivekananda. It was presented to me not as speculation but as an academically established and authoritative truth. All my life, I had looked upon Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda as holy saints who had revived Hinduism during colonial rule in India. I had a picture of Sri Ramakrishna and Sarada Devi to which I daily offered aarti, and I eagerly read Swami Vivekananda's complete works--one of the few compilations on Hinduism widely available in English that is written from a Hindu perspective. They had been my portal to Hinduism, but I felt shaken by these academic allegations. Instinctively, I knew such claims were baseless, and yet, these claims were made and vouched for by bona fide professors with Ivy League credentials, so they could not be completely wrong.

Could they?"

Ok, shes:

1. Definitely NOT like me

2. Believes sex (possibly homosexual sex?) is dirty

3. Does not believe that gods should have sex (odd, since she's a Hindu, seems to me thats a lot of what our gods do, and good for them too)

4. Still believes that challenging ideas with Ivy League credentials is a subversive act. No, seriously, this is a little shocking, considering the rest of the planet does it on a regular basis, with thought and action.

Also, she inhabits a very self-congratulatory community, favoring hindutva, on which such ideas are bandied around, with a deep seriousness:

And i quote again:

"Tavleen Singh wrote a nice little piece on Invading the Sacred in todays IE Like Tavleen, I am a sceptical of Indians starting the fight back in India
I re-emphasize - if this is going to be turned around it will have to start in the West. Even Herculean intellectuals such as Sita Ram Goel or Ram Swarup could not turn the tide in their own life-time. The following problems apply

1- In India - there is institutional sanction to certain beliefs - aka 'JNU Knows Best'
2- Institutions that propagate said 'only truths' have all been taken over by leftist intellectuals- e.g the ICHR, NCERT etc.
3- Leftist intellectuals believe in two essentials - no original intellectual endeavor on their part;and verbal terrorism on anyone doing original thinking (KS Lal, SR Goel, Ram Swarup, Arun Shourie, Gurumurthy, Bhyrappa - need I go on?)
4- To keep their own backsides stuck to gilded chairs in said institutions - the leftist borrow heavily (also known as 'inspiration' to the likes of Anu Malik) from Hindu studies in the West. They rehash the same works - with many footnotes added to make it look scholarly
5- The Western gurus of Hinduism are prejudiced (by missionary cant) when not hampered (by lack of growing up Hindu). It is easier for them to walk the easy path and merely keep repeating nonsense.

Hindus in the West have some advantages.
1- They are educationally more accomplished having come through the immigration sieve (Rajeev calls it the Innumeracy of the Indian Leftists vs. the Numeracy of the IIT-ians).
2- They are more susceptible to organizing under one umbrella - given that they are a mionority.
3- They have access to a better judicial system from which to launch the challenge.
Once you get a critical mass of successes there - it will inspire the millions back home to take up arms. Heck the ones back home - they love to celebrate Sunita Williams- so I am sure they may like it when Hindus start being anti-establishment rebels."

These comments caused much congratulation for the writer, and serious discussion.

Oh and on a funny note, she's worried that if she does not embrace her status an an 'American Hindu', Hinduism will die:

"Why? Why have and adopt a Hindu-American identity? First, because it is necessary for the survival of the religion. Religions that are stagnant and refuse to change with the times, to adapt to the society in which they are living, die away."

um, theres the population figures. How many people do you think are afraid that hinduism will die out?

No, i am not going to engage with this person. It would be a waste of my time.


Friday, October 30, 2009

the frameworks of objection

The controversy around the Doniger book continues. I am following it, as far as i am able, because this whole discursive space has become fascinating for me. Outlook, which printed the initial interview with the author, the interview responsible for my initial interest in the (then forthcoming) book, has now printed a piece by Aditi Banerjee, who claims the following:

1. The Doniger book is not the definitive take on Hinduism
2. Doniger herself is a bad scholar
3. All the people who criticize her are not Hindutva (like Aditi herself, I assume)

So i'm going to go down the article by Banerjee, taking her points, and not necessarily refuting, but engaging with them. I am doing this because i see someone like AB as a counterpart in the West, someone who did not perhaps grow up seeing Hindu (with the tensions that have become integral to the area) as a particularly primary identity, but has felt the need to reclaim it as she has grown older. In doing this, i will refer to blogposts she has put up on the internet, and try to distinguish her experiences from mine.

In other words, this is as much about myself as it is about her objections to Doniger. Am thinking this will be an interesting exercise, starting with the next post.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Vatavaran: The individual as the locus of change

So the environment film festival called Vatavaran, organized by the Center for Media Studies (CMS) started yesterday. The good thing about living in Delhi is that this kind of thing happens, and regularly. A lot of it is free, which is always an incentive to attend.

The artwork, which has been done by the students of Shriram School is really worth checking out. Theres a crocodile made mostly out of paper mache egg trays, hanging lights made of used CDS and plastic cups, trees made of the little leaf bowls you eat phuchka or chaat out of. The look of the festival, overall, is very hip, and strikes exactly the right note. Its quite clear who the targets of behavior and attitude change are: younger, middle and upper middle class people. As good a place to begin as any.
They (or Oxfam, one of the sponsors) have commissioned a video by Euphoria, and Palash Sen singing about ordinary people joining hands to make a change was the starting moment of the festival. ok video, when you think of the target audience. all the mandatory elements - smiling rajasthani women, smiling rural schoolchildren, smiling farmers -- everything that our urban young may think is out there.

I thought the shindig was beginning at seven, and so, unusually for me, got there at about 650. Unfortunately, the space of time from 7 to 830 was crashingly boring. It was a inaugural ceremony. Have you been to an inaugural ceremony in Delhi lately? Its all about hierarchy. People can't stop talking, mainly about themselves. NO one says, well we're here to see movies on climate change, so lets get on with it, and let the media speak for themselves... oh no, that would be losing an opportunity to hear their own voices, so the most yawningly trite things were said, over and over again by different people. All of who, I am sure, drive very large cars, live in very large houses, and have generally very ecologically harmful lifestyles. So we heard from someone who will represent us at Copenhagen, speaking in a hindi overlaid with amrican accent, the head of HSBC bank, Farooq Abdullah (who, i was both amused and happy to see, took potshots at the American Center person wrt clean technologies the west will not give India at reasonable rates).
The representative from the American center spoke for several minutes, and said nothing you couldn't get, in much more nuanced and sensitive detail, from any picked-at-random issue of Down to Earth magazine. The only original:) advice was that apparently one very powerful way to tackle climate change is through advertising (????). Nevermind.

The single most interesting moment of the inaugural ceremony was when they showed clips from the work of awardee Krishnendu Bose, maker of films on ecology. I've heard only peripherally about his work, and was very impressed by the spliced sample they showed. Needless to say, this very short exposition of his work was cut short so the crashingly boring speeches could go on. But MEM to myself, have to check out his films.

So all that was ok, if somewhat monotonous and way too long. But what i found most interesting was the fact that the entire rhetoric of ALL that was said (and i do mean ALL) was that the individual, read you and me, is the locus of climate change. There was NO (and i mean NONE) mention of the role of large corporations, and only brief references to the role of nations, or implementable legislation.

So you're devastating the planet if you drop a napkin on the road, but the fact that major corporations, supported by the infrastructure of globalization and capital based power are pumping millions of liters/ kilos of the most noxious pollutants into the environment found absolutely no place. The politics of development (and i do mean POLITICS) and how it plays into clearing mile after mile of irreplaceable forest had no mention.
Not that i support dropping napkins on the road, but i do think that in the scale of things, a napkin does less damage than oil corporations and the various pharmaceutical and lumber conglomerates. Not a word was spoken on this subject, in an HOUR AND A HALF OF CONVERSATION DEVOTED TO CLIMATE CHANGE.

Convenient, innit?

And oh, by the way, the movie was great: 'Home' 01.33.00/ English/Yann Arthus-Bertrand/ France. Do watch if you can get a hold of it. Spectacular, and very relevant. They could have shown it twice, instead of having the speeches, it made the point better than all the speakers lined end to end:)

Needless to say, about 20 people watched the film. Everyone else left with the powerful people of the boring speeches.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Mountaintop Shrine

So let us see, this temple is on top of a mountain. A significant mountaintop, for several reasons, including its position like an island in the air among many significant peaks. Nanda Devi has been worshipped for as long as anyone knows, and from behind her blazes out the sun at six in the morning. Other watchers of the mountain shrine include Chaukhama, Neel Kanth, Hathi Parbat, and the Kedar and Yamuntri-Gangotri peaks. The shrine stands small and gray-white on a rock on this mountaintop 14,000 feet closer to the sun. The top is itself no larger than a medium sized house, and the shrine the size of a quite small storeroom.

The first time I saw the mountaintop shrine of Chandrashila I was a little disappointed by its lack of grandeur. No one expects a Tirupathi in clouds, and the shrine was oddly compelling, but the lack of hindu fervor was a little marked. Hindu fervor often manifests itself in too much material consequence, sometimes trodden underfoot, and generally writing over a place its unmistakable presence. Well, none of that here. Just quiet, and cairns, and the clouds rolling in occasionally, blotting out everything you can see. In fact, when the clouds do roll in, which is anytime after about 9:30 in the morning (I was there in October), you could be anywhere: on a bugyal with miles of rolling grassland, on rocky territory 2,000 feet below, really anywhere. But youre not. You're in an area the size of a house, and if you step wrong, it’s a long way to fall.

What is interesting to me is that the 'real' temple, Tunganath, with all the accouterments of hindu fervour, is about 1,000 feet below Chandrashila, on the same mountain. Well protected by what may be called a house rock, it is easily reached by foot or hoof in a matter of a few hours from the nearest roadhead, Chopta.

Thats strange, i thought, why would the really important temple be placed lower than a lesser shrine? Just looking at it in terms of the rhetorical positioning of religion, the old shrines are always the geographical apex, you walk up to the gates of a god, not down.

Of course, one may argue that if youre building a shrine to whichever god at over 13,000 feet above sea level, in the middle of the Himalayas, you would be looking for a sheltered spot, and not someplace like Chandrashila, mercilessly open to the elements. Perhaps you would be right too. But the fact this argument overlooks is that this is religion. Faith is a very very powerful thing. If the temple that currently stands at Tunganath stood, for the sake of argument, atop Chandrashila, there is very little doubt in my mind that the shining path would find its way to the mountaintop. This would make not just good religious practice, but also, lets face it, excellent business sense. But the main temple does not stand at Chandrashila, and I have a hypothesis about that, but need to argue it out at some length (even with myself) so bear with me please.

Ok, first, the position. Apparently, it not uncommon in the area that the shrine to a deity stands below the apex point of a mountain. There's a parallel example relatively nearby: Madhmaheshwar.

I believe that the temple of Madhmaheswar is not on the ridge, but some below. What is significant, though, is that the top of the ridge is called 'bura' Madhmaheswar. In several languages, 'bura' means old, and the nomenclature of the location can be taken to mean that the location on the top of the ridge was a worshipped spot before the shrine lower down was built. If this is the story of Madhmaheswar, is it too much of a stretch to imagine that Tunganath and Chandrashila have a similar relationship? That Chandrashila is in fact the older (and possibly original) shrine, much pre-Hindu, and that Tunganath, the hindu temple came later? It’s all about how old these places are, relative to each other, and as far as I can see, there isn’t much information about Chandrashila at all.

A temple is after all simply a physical marker of a location that is considered a repository of spiritual power. That power may be derived from any of a number of sources. It may, for example, be attached to the image or god to whom the shrine is dedicated, or it could mark a geographical spot already considered 'jagrata' . The concept of something being ‘jagrata’ brings into question the chronology of possible sacredness; was the spot regarded as extra-ordinary before the advent of a shrine that marks the spot, or was a physical item that in a sense ‘carries’ the sacredness placed at the spot, therefore consecrating it?

Given the history of Hinduism on the subcontinent, it would not be a stretch to surmise that at least some of the current sacred places in the mountains function somewhat like palimpsest. So an older location, sacred to local people for centuries, may be appropriated into the Hindu fold, and become a Hindu sacred place. The somewhat limited reading I have on the subject says that there are several examples of this sort of appropriation within the space of religion. In Bengal, for example, Manasha, or the goddess of snakes/ protector from snakebite is commonly understood to be pre-hindu. Stands to reason, really. Snakes have probably inhabited the lush Bengal countryside longer than contemporary Hinduism. There are some other examples of such forms of appropriation from Southern India. In the mountains of Garhwal, the god they call Bhairon Devta is also possibly pre-hindu, although as completely appropriated as Manasha.

So there is more than the possibility that the moon-shrine at Chandrashila is older than the Ram story overlay that is currently available. It’s called Chandrashila, for one thing, which translates almost perfectly as ‘rock of the moon’, and there are competing local legends about it. One says that the moon meditated there (hence the name). The other says that Ram (of the Ramayana) meditated there to get the favor of the gods/ not being Brahmin, he was (naturally) disadvantaged from the godly point of view. The moon story sounds older, simply because a pantheistic pre-hindu mountain society would be more likely to worship the moon than it would some north Indian male kshatriya from the plains.

Hinduism is famous for its ability to mutate, include and change to suit time and place. Witness the linga at the Tunganath shrine. The original linga, on view at times of lesser pilgrim activity is really a quite powerful looking piece of rock. Bent somewhat to one side, it has veinlike striations and what may be described as a distinct head; rubbing ghee and pouring milk on it is quite the experience.

Altogether, a little too real a lingam for public consumption. So the processes that expunge such older preoccupations have decreed a cover-up. At Tunganath, this takes the shape of a silver plate with a stylized depiction of a face (presumably Shiva), and a snake. Very pretty, very smooth, very clean. No veins or heads in view.
At Chandrashila, this is what you see

That’s Ram, by the way. He’s got a mangalsutra around his neck. What actually interests me is the red fabric covering the background completely. What does it cover? Is there some sort of a depiction of the moon there? Is she identifiable? But I’m running ahead of myself here, so let me take a couple of steps back.

Our guide said that your blood freezes if you spend the night on Chandrashila, even in a tent. Strange, considering people spend days not so far below the peak of Everest (something our guide knows). There’s a sense of local people not wanting you to be at the peak after dark, and the mountaintop itself is kind of strange. Apart from the temple, this is pretty much all there is

Cairns. Built by locals when people die, or to appease the mountain gods, or for prayer fulfillment. The point being that cairns are put on mountaintops because mountaintops are considered sacred, and this one, oh this one is clearly special. So special, in fact, that the later Hindu overlays of legend and religion did not build a large temple, did not divert pilgrim traffic there; something that Hinduism has consistently done to older forms of religion/ icons it has co-opted. In fact what practicing Hinduism has constantly wanted to do is to wipe out the traces of older forms of religion, and replace them, as completely as possible, with its own prints.

And this is where it gets confusing for me. There has been a process of erasure, clearly, but why has this place not been co-opted as completely? Could it be that there is something somewhat unpleasant, perhaps fearful associated with the original legends of Chandrashila?

Please be aware that I’m pretty much thinking aloud here. I have no facts or documents to back my claims. But it is possibly the lack of such concrete information that is allowing a story to be woven from the air. The mountain air may be thin of oxygen, but it is thick with story and legend, so see this as a story, if you wish.

And so, with that apologia, back to the hypothesis.

I think that there is something powerful associated with Chandrashila, possibly something so powerful that mainstream Hinduism thought it was better left alone.
Look at some of the things we do know, or can extend our knowing to:

1. If Chandrashila is older than Tunganath, it is VERY old. We don’t know that much about seriously pre-hindu rites and religious practices, mostly due to deliberate efforts on the part of later cultural re-inscription.

2. What we do know about very old religions, such as the Incas and the Mayans, is that old religion tends not to be pretty. Prettifications and cleanups are a concomitant of the modern world.

3. The mountains that watch Chandrashila are all very important, very jagrata peaks.

4. People who live at the mercy of the elements have historically worshipped those elements. The mountains give, and the mountains take away. Propitiation for protection.

5. Propitiation involves giving. The more serious the need for propitiation, the more serious and valuable the given thing.

Which brings us to the explanation that would pull together several of these seemingly disparate threads: the local unwillingness to allow outsiders to spend the night there, the fact that Chandrashila is not a major mainstream Hindu shrine, the physical evidence of its importance in local lore, the half-hearted Hindu overlay…

Could the god of Chandrashila have been a blood god?

Reclaiming Hinduism with Irreverence

Outlook magazine interview with Wendy Doniger, about her new book The Hindus: An Alternative History. Read the interview, I intend to buy the book.

So much sex in our past, and then a total cleanup. No wonder we're all fucked in our heads...

I'm trying to provide the link here, but can't figure out why the link is not appearing. Anyway, its on the Outlook website.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Ant Fortress

How to keep food safe from ants in the summer?

1. Take a plate, dinner plate sized, steel is ideal
2. Gently pour water, so there is as much water as the plate can hold, less a little space for displacement
3. Put an upside down bowl at the center of the plate-with-water (thats why you needed to leave place for displacement of water)
4. Place the item/s of food you wish to protect on another plate
5. Balance this second with-food plate on the upside down bowl

Watch the ants try to figure out the moat (they cant). Experiment with a drawbridge. Release little crocodiles...

This is not my idea, i learnt it from my grandmother; except the last line, thats all mine:)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

home again

Home again. Really:)

Saturday, February 28, 2009

International Baniyadom

From HT, Business, sat, feb 28 2009

'Ryanair may charge for toilet use. London. Irish carrier Ryanair, Europe's largest budget airline, might start charging passengers for using the toilet while flying, cheif executive Michel O'Leary said on Friday. "One thing we have looked at in the past and are looking at again is maybe the possibility of putting a coin slot on the toilet door so that people might actually have to spend a pound to spend a penny in the future" he told BBC television'

Now i'll tell you why this is such a sound business move:

1. You got people by the balls: they don't have a choice

2. It opens up the possibility of additional revenue creation: you can charge for toilet paper by the half foot, for example, or soap by the drop ('petit, medium or grande drop, ma'am?')

3. It creates incentive to use the loo as little as possible, so people will, for example, not drink water in flight

4. If people need less service in-flight (no asking stewardesses for water), then you can also cut in-plane staff salaries

5. If people pay to use the loo, they may think of it as a higher-value place, and perhaps treat it with more care: this means less organizational spend on cleaning supplies

6. On the other hand, people may actually use the toilet even worse than they already do. IF that happens you will need to hire labour for cleaning. You can then probably apply to the government for a tax break as a source of job creation during these bad times

but mostly its point 1. you got people by the balls. Its very easy to make money if you have that.

Who says that it takes centuries of labour division hardening into socio-economic systems to produce a people who can extract the maximum out of what they have:)))

the Really Big Upside-Down Bowl

I have friends in the mountains now, at Binsar. They left on thursday morning and changed buses at Almora and heard about the leopard who kicked the sanyasin on the foot and is dead now (leopard or sanyasin? don't know yet) and walked their feet off.

It was very hard to see them go, i love the mountains. it took upto last year to start going again/ and now i keep wanting to go. Its more than wanting actually, sometimes it gets to be a need/ sometimes you can and sometimes you cant/ but nevermind about that.

City person that i am, mountain nights always seem to be a little unreal/ like i got dropped into a world that has no resemblance at all to the world i know. It sounds, smells, looks, feels/ wraparound unfamiliarity/ and the only response is to just float in it, and fear it wisely/ to stand at the border of light and look out/ into all that you are just too insignificant for the universe to inform you about.

The night sky in the mountains is an extraordinary, humbling, mesmerizing thing. I was sitting here in Delhi and thinking about it, so i sent a message to one of the boys at binsar. It said 'your phones off. i was going to ask you to take it out and describe the sky to me'

He messaged back '...Orion is moving from east to west along with the rest of the galactic arm. Above Almora a solitary wisp of cloud, or vapour hangs like a signature. If you stare long enough at a particular patch of sky you can make out nebulae and star clusters thousands of light years away. And, of course, see shooting stars, the most surreal of things...'

Thank you.
Good Night.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Arbitrariness: word of the day. It means that those who can, need provide no excuse or justification for behaving the way they do. It is their prerogative to think, act (upon) and speak the way they choose. Apparently, this is like a badge of honor, like a knighthood: ‘arise to the brotherhood of the Arbitrary. You may now do as you please-- to yourself, but, more importantly, to others’
NB: to be strongly distinguished from the kind of behavior that leads you to wander around the house picking up random objects and thinking stray thoughts. That needs no official sanction, thankfully

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


According to Ionescu, S., M.M. Jaquet, and Claude Lohte (1997). The mechanisms of defence. Paris: Nathan University

Idealization ‘is the most mature form of denial’.
They also go on to say that idealization represents ‘the most elaborated form of denial in fantasy’

HA. Always knew that. So much for the fuckin’ icons.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

On Republic day rehearsal traffic jams

Why is it that nations, in the practice of national identity building/ within the general ambit of governance/ must at the same time cause so much inconvenience to their citizens?
So I'm thinking that part of this is that it’s more or less inevitable. Think of it. Nation, Nationhood, national identity. All very abstract. Try to hold it and there’s really nothing there/ what does the nation look like? Vaguely like a webbed plus sign. But that’s on a map. And we all know that the maps not the territory. Umberto Eco has something quite wonderful on that, in a volume of essays called /how to travel with a salmon/ but anyway we digress.
What does the nation look like?
It looks like the symbols that in very complex interactional ways build our idea of what the nation is. Yours is different from mine of course, but there’s enough in common for there to be a sort of common denominator.
Very good. Problem being how do you govern that? Building homogeneity out of heterogeneity is a difficult thing; and besides peoples regular lives really do take an astonishing amount of time and energy.
So you have governance, the task of which is to build a highly abstract and complex notion in the minds of people who really don't have the time. And the large shows become inevitable. You have to have the pomp, the festival, the glamour / in both senses of glamour, really: the page three sense and the older faery sense/ and what you have as a concomitant is an understanding that the show implies presence/ not just of some kind of collective national identity but of /shall we say (and i have to do this in Bangla, sorry) Bharikki in the identity politics of the region.
Let me try and explain Bharikki. It’s one of these words like abhimaan in Hindi. Very difficult to translate anything close to well in English. Bharikki is weight, relative weight that is. So if you have the quality then people will treat you with respect, and you'll be able to put in serious bids for the UN Security Council. Yeah, that’s with a capital S and a C/ MS Word just didn’t let me type lowercase on the SC/ They’re getting you in caps all around the world, that sort of bharikki.
So you have to put up the show. It has to be enormous because of the enormity of scale of the idea you are implying. You have to, like all creators of identity have a point in the time space continuum to treat as sacred/ very important concrete of identity, dates. Independence Day, Republic Day, days of identity definition. All of which really follows and is no problem/ except this identity building exercise has to, apparently, take place on my way to office in the morning.

They're preparing to gleam for Republic Day. Its all very crisp and cool and neat blocks and lines, and attractive men in uniform. But while attractive men in uniform are a very pleasing thing, they do take a lot of time to march across the particular (only) about two hundred square yards of Rajpath i have to cross in the morning.
The unfortunate thing about peoples real lives is that they are prone to take a lot of energy. So much in fact that even though i deeply acknowledge that there is an aesthetic point to winter morning sunshine on severally colored regularity, i would still really prefer not to be late for work. Me and lots of others i guess. I sit in my car and look around at fellow stuck-in-this-damn-jammers and wonder how many people out there were thinking of ways in which this situation could be avoided. Alternate road routes mostly, probably, but i'm willing to bet that some involve governance and some engineering. And some of the plans may be viable. They should have a contest.
‘Send, with stamped self addressed envelope enclosed, 500 word essay on “System to Avoid Traffic Jam at Rajpath during Republic Day Parade Rehearsal”'.
Truly, they should. There’s an urgent problem to be solved and some very interesting people out there.
In the meantime, i’m still resenting being late for work.