Sunday, October 23, 2011


it has been a while since i wrote my last blog. these days i am busy, working on my research writing. in fact the last month was bad and harrowing. i was sick for about twenty days at a stretch. the ritual of recovery brought me closer to my friend sudip who nursed me during those bad hours.
the silence of illness also gave me time to think. i mused over psychological display of personality. i thought over my infantilism and prolonged pretension of boyhood.
i come from a middle class joint family which began disintegrating during my teenage years. in my early youth the disintegration was complete and i had to create and recreate several defence mechanisms in order to cope with the experience of disintegration. the near ones started to behave like aliens. i remember to have hidden myself behind a wall listening to my father and uncles quarrelling.
once the disintegration became deep, i realized that i must keep alive the love and care for the persons who have now turned half demons. enter my pose as an infantile, boyish man. this personality helped me believe in the possibility of an eternal childhood - a moment when i would be loved by all in my joint family. i could congeal myself in an everguarded sense of innocence.
over the years this defence mechanism has become so strong that i can be completely at ease in front of the people i dislike and yet put up a smiling caring face. the ego has developed deeper roots. i mean the guilt of duality does not exist anymore.
i guess my early expereince with heartbreak has to do a lot about this evolution of strong defences. i have created intense sense of outward hygiene as a result of this. therefore i have a cleanliness fetish.
the only problem i find now is the problem of speaking aloud my troubles. i can write but cannot speak. the self hides behind mirrors that are exact;y not mirrors but letters of display.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Onam that was!

Yesterday was Onam - a Malayali harvest festival. Onam is a big harvest festival in Kerala. Floral decorations, traditional dresses, and traditional food served with payasam as dessert are common things. It’s basically a vegetarian festival. You are supposed to eat several vegetable curries and fried menus along with rice and sambar. Onam would mean boat races, traditional dances and family gatherings. Onam would mean retelling of the Mahavali myth. But Onam for several diasporic Malayalis mean food, tradtional dress and soppy programmes of dance and music. Like the post Durga puja celebration of Bengalis, I have seen Malayalis celebrating Onam with a variety programme evening that reminds you of middle age pageantry. Everybody has to perform some nonsense in these shows.
King Mahavali. The myth associated with
Onam is related to this King.
But it was Onam yesterday.
In the afternoon my friend Sudip took me to a dingy restaurant at Nampally to have Onam lunch along with two Malayali friends. Well actually there were nine of us from various states of India trying out onam. I did not like the food. I felt it was hideous. 
After the lunch I asked our Malayali friend about the food. He said he liked it because it reminded him of home. Another girl who was with us said it was all nice except that they were not served properly. I realized that they could never be the right judge of onam food. Wearing traditional dresses, remembering family members constantly, physically displaced from Kerala, their judgment of onam food is bound to be nostalgic and in all probability any semblance of onam menu would be nice for them.
At dinner our mess served onam special and it was bad.
Were the onam meals badly prepared? Was it that I lacked the taste to appreciate the food? I guess both. I also heard that what we had in the name of Onam was nothing compared to what Malayalis have back home. i heard that there would be several more curries and vegetable fries. Whatever may it be I am sure most of the vegetables would be prepared in the same vein as those of fried beans and beans with coconut.
Actually, yesterday, I didn’t see the point of celebrating onam.

Harvest days are long gone and personally I am removed from farming so many times that I cannot even count. In Kerala harvesting has taken a new turn. There are very few vegetable farm lands now, most have turned into cash crops and poultry. And yet Onam like all other regional festivals in India is a farmer’s festival. I guess the food served in onam completely lacks meaning for urban Malayalis as well as for me. We celebrate it because it is part of our growing up and nothing else. I cannot appreciate this pre modern food menu of vegetable mishmash because it is completely beyond me. Point is the menu does not answer the question: why am I eating this? The vegetables do not give you any pleasure at all. Neither does the menu challenge your digestive system. I have a thesis for this. When a culture is colonized and recolonized as the Malayalis have been then it is worth holding on to extremely private practices of culture which would not be touched by modernism or colonialism. Onam is that private undercurrent, saved for generations from outside pollutions. So no innovation, no new menu. It is a cultural freeze. It serves the food which has been served in pre modern harvest times. It is without meat, without strong flavor, syrupy and slurpy. I cannot connect to it because it does not question my taste buds like a nice hot kabab or an Aloo Dum.

It also might be that Onam reminds me of the pre modern undercurrent within me. I might hate Onam because it is messy. My experience at the restaurant had been bad because it lacked hygiene. Eating Onam food might be messy in front of several people because you have to literally lick your hands – a connotation which in modern times has become linked to obscenity. Eating Onam, for me, then might be an uncivil behaviour.
Back at the university Anushree, my old friend, was not wearing traditional dresses. She said she did not have anything new to wear. I got it then. Onam if not anything is part of a wide consumer culture that is all around us. A blog post at Kafila told me more. Onam is basically shopping for many Malayalis. We Indians (cheap that we are) have turned every damn festival and every damn religious gathering into a money spinning ritual.  Onam is also about the joint family. It’s the time of the year when you gather around and get close to your family. But with joint families breaking up in Kerala I don’t think Onam holds on to familial relationships beyond your nearest ones: mother, father, sister, brother or if you are married, your wife and children. Otherwise Onam is about friends. In consumerist society often friends are more important than the immediate family. Friends have this weird habit of congratulating you at every step and taking you out on dinner or lunch to celebrate nothing. Together with a friend you can have the freedom to consume anything, anytime anywhere. My junior Upamanyu has made it a habit to tease me at every step with his absurd sense of consumption: “Oh new pen, let’s go and have lunch somewhere!” Oh new bed sheet, let’s go!” His absurdity proves the shallowness of consumer friendship in many ways than one. Onam I believe has become a consumer friendship even though the coating of harvest festival remains.

So that’s how it stands: I may never like Onam food again because it is related to several things I detest and reject. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

back on a plane

nearly two weeks ago i wrote my last blog. i was in Kolkata then trying out fuming coffee at the college street coffeehouse. the next few days after that entry were hectic. i had to run around the city, meet some friends and relations, and work out deals with my business partners. finally the last day dropped on me like a broken egg on sauce pan. my father woke me up early morning and i had to slumber heavily to the airport for my flight back to hyderabad.
the airport looked emptier probably for the less amount of traffic in the monsoon months. the security did not let my father in. they were blocking "outsiders" from entering airport this freedom ( read August) month. i had to rush in, waving an untimely good bye and a shake of hands, father melting away in the haze of the morning.

i remembered the older avatar of Dum Dum airport as i went through a series of security checks.

i was a little child of six or seven when i boarded a plane first. those were really elite days in the airport. no one spoke words more than what were necessary and flying was a luxury you could afford if your father's office paid the air fare. aeroplanes fascinated me then. watching these things flying would fill me with an awesome dread.
In those days the Dum Dum airport was cleaner. people spoke in english, wore suits and costly saris. there was a small canteen where sandwiches cost eighteen rupees. the air hostesses were cool pretty women who gave you heart breaks. and yes it was only indian airlines then. the hostesses i remember would pamper me because i was a  fluffy koala kid.
deep down i have always associated the Dum Dum airport with my forbidden introversion. its cleanliness, its elitism as spaces of high hygiene, superior aesthetics, something that is incompatible with the Kolkata i have grown up with.
but that Dum Dum for better or for worse is no more. Dum Dum is now like any other over crowded unclean shopping malls in the city. only the air condition helps. the wonder is suddenly gone.

i board a kingfisher air craft where over worked air hostesses wear garish make ups. the worst part is their smile. i can't stand the mechanical good byes and "welcome aboard"s. they look like cheer leaders to me. i guess the old classy feeling of flying on plane is gone with the large down cut in the plane fares. However, even though i enjoy the benefits of flying  because of this reduced fare, i still cherish the Indian Airlines classiness.

in Kingfisher flights the air hostesses do not show you the security drill. supermodel Yana Gupta appears on a small screen attached to the seat in front showing you the drill. i switch off the screen. i can't stand heartless show of concern. i remember Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation.The 
fast food industry teaches emotional drills to its employees: you can never be pissed off with your customer, always smile etc. i think the air hostesses in these new airlines are like that, drilled to smile, drilled to hide their inner anger.

i spend the flight sleeping. when i was a kid i would always feel like looking out the window for possible movement. now i generally take the aisle seat just to avoid that inner rush of kiddishness, of peering out and looking for wonder where there isn't any.

given my introversion i long for those quiet "leave me alone" days of flying experience when i would have to read out for my mother the basic instructions on " how to ask for a glass of water on an aeroplane". my mother would later boast how smart i have become.

a smart kid who somehow grew to choose a bad aisle seat to get bumped by air hostesses every time they passed by.

Monday, August 8, 2011

yesterday at kolkata

i am in kolkata now.
yesterday our esteemed Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had arranged a holiday for every state department. yesterday was Rabindranath Tagore's death anniversary. this year being the 150th year of Tagore's birth is being celebrated in style by the genteel Bengalis, therefore this holiday to commemorate Bengal's vintage style icon. so there were day long programmes: songs, dances, dramas on every makeshift stage at every street corner.
yesterday was also a day of rains. parts of this ancient city drowned raising fears of terrible traffic jams.
yesterday i had fishes after a long time. pomfret fried lightly and cooked until the masala enters its body and parshe (not the hydrid ones but purebred ones caught from sweet water ponds) done in mustard sauce.

yesterday i was at the legendary coffee house in college street. i sat there sipping two cups of hot coffee and read a book (nightrunners of bengal by john masters, a mutiny novel for those who do not know). i drew some doodle figures and stared at the people around me. yesterday being a holiday coffeehouse wasn't busy. young couples came in with their charms. there were middle aged men and women sipping their coffee alone watching people.

yesterday was a day of memories. i remembered several of my old associates (god bless them) while walking through the streets of this city. at the college street i visited my old chai shops and book stores and YMCA canteen and sweet shops and Medical College. i saw a complex game of football on the wet playground inside Presidency College. (why were the players avoiding the wet parts of the field i don't know, specially when the wet parts were near the goal posts.)

finally i boarded a train at central station and rattled home. opposite me sat a series of glum looking creatures. i don't know why underground metro railways in kolkata makes you melancholy. i guess it is the stuffiness of the underground or maybe the lack of scenery outside.

at the end of the day this melancholy got into me. The only image of the city that stayed was the face of lenin soaking under the rain, forgotten as if, looking sharp as usual, carved on a cement slab with red background in front of Hindu School.  like this sooty dark city, he too was probably waiting for thy kingdom come. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

the unusual poet and a book about a dying teacher

Two unusual scholars have gifted me two unusual books. both these scholars are elderly, both are bengalis and both are connected to EFLU. i don't know how and why they have picked me as their friend but that they have is my biggest fortune. i like meeting people at various stages of their evolution and these two scholars are in their own devastated way at a stage of evolution when enthusiasm is the biggest life force. without the enthusiasm they might just give up, fall flat, look for meaning in a Hiroshima after the atom bomb. 
their enthusiasm for life and literature reminds of my graduation days when i thought i might end up as another Rushdie any day. their energy to read and absorb literature is rare in India where half way through you give up studying literature and look for call centre jobs. 
it strikes me suddenly that the lives of these scholars are other way round. i mean generally we study and after that we look for a job. but my two friends gave up their jobs when they were 35 or 40 to start studying anew. 
i find this amazing. i find this urge to renew oneself, to at least to make an effort at reclaiming the residual aesthetic sense in you, to at least make an attempt at putting the clock back, unrusting yourself , a superb habit. 

sajalda in my room
first let me tell you something about Sajal Dey. he had been a medical representative with established pharmaceutical companies in india. he gave up his job to study russian in EFLU. now he is in shantiniektan doing a phd. by the way he is domiciled in shantiniketan and his wife is a professor of Viswa Bharati.

my second friend is Kingsuk Basu whom i met few days ago while having my lunch at the mess. he had been a globe trotting software consultant. now he is going to complete his M.A. in Spanish at EFLU through distance mode. he lives with his wife (a French teacher) in Kolkata.

Sajalda is a poet. i have his book of short poems. i like his sense of rhythm. i like the sudden drama in his momentary ideas. he has published the book with lot of care. the care of a passionate man. he also gave me Tuesdays with Morris by Mitch Albom. here an old sociology professor and his favourite student talk about love, compassion and friendship. the professor is dying and the student is accompanying him to his journey towards his end. their sympathy for each other constantly  reminds me of the love we lack.

Dag hammarskjold
Kingsukda  loves to read poetry. i remember to have discussed Rilke's Duino Elegies the first day we met. impressed, he had handed me a thesis he had xeroxed somewhere on chinese poetry edited by ezra pound. i confess i have not read it yet. probably i am afraid of connecting myself to poetry. i confess i have been too poetic for a long time. i confess i don't want to relive the emotional miseries poetry brought for me. 
kingsukda has also introduced me to Dag Hmmarskjold, a swedish diplomat who kept a personal diary. The rescuers found the diary clung to the dead body of Dag after a plane crash which killed this remarkable man. he was a UN diplomat running across the world looking for possible solutions to battles in Arab-Israel and Africa. Kingsukda wanted me to read his diary (published and edited by an eminent poet) to understand the gloominess in the movies of Bergman. "Since Bergman was also Swedish you'll find similarities in their gloomy vision," Kingsukda said. "I know about Sweden and i know how hard living can be under the snow. it's too much of  melancholy," he would add. 

i still don't like bergman but i like Dag's poems because his fears, anxieties, momentary philosophies are like our own. a man desperately trying to pursue the world to come to some sense and then losing out, yet smiling and then waking up in the morning and saying hello to himself in the mirror, the first thing in the morning. his poems are like the vaporized guilt of a diplomat. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Once there was a canteen!

that neglected mythical canteen,
now a board for displaying posters
 Once upon a time and a very long time it was, there was a canteen inside a university.  the name of the canteen began with m and ended with i. and for some reason nobody called it canteen but cafeteria (even though the old timers preferred to call it canteen.) morning and evening and night the canteen bustled with activity. students and teachers came to eat the same food day after day and were never tired. neither did the cooks ever get tired of cooking the same food again and again.

everybody agreed that the food in the canteen was disgusting and yet everybody ate there out of some strange love for the place.

inside of the canteen,
once a hot spot now a mere shadow of  its (in)glorious past.
 there sat prakash kona exclaiming "Hi Buddy" to every one. there sat the foreigners gorging plates of chicken 65. just outside stood the chai shop. and if you were lucky enough you might see Syed Syed, or Partha or Susie Tharu sipping their last tea before calling it a day. it was here that the students sat and discussed philosophy  and dreams. it was here where the hearts were taken or broken over cups of tea. it was here that on Saturdays you got chola batura or double ka meetha. it was here where you got curd rice in hot weather and fruit juice in deep summer.

it was the canteen which kept alive the students who rebelled against the mess. it was here where we all had tea when nothing seemed to work. it was here that important ideas flew into our head while eating alone.

all that is gone now. some chairs and tables remain and that derelict chai shop laughs at our loneliness.
this morning around 6 o clock i took pictures of the canteen. i felt like a character out of that Walter De La Mare poem (the listeners) i had read in class ten.
the traveller came, smote on the door thrice. no answer came. undaunted the traveller left a message to the emptiness inside:

'Tell them I came, and no one answered,
  That I kept my word,' he said.

 emotions apart, the canteen must open for better or for worse. at least the chai shop must be there in place. i heard the canteen people left because the students misbehaved with them. if it's true then it's a grave thing to have happened.
i can only suggest the university students to be patient and to be very careful while dealing with people. don't anger them man. it's like the old saying: if you spit at the sky it falls on you.
that chai shop now under the archaeological department of EFLU

Monday, August 1, 2011

that mess of ours!

today i had to eat outside. it was impossible to eat at the basheer mess where hundreds of young kids were being given their room keys. they stood there looking disappointed with the sluggish hostel administration. i felt so awkward to eat snugly in front of them that i ran away to that abhorring veg restaurant sanman at tarnaka and had my roti there.
but from what i hear at the hostel i think this might well turn out to be a routine.  rumour has it that there are more than 800 students in basheer mess this semester. the women's mess authorities are not allowing the men to eat in their mess and hence this extra load. this means that there would be huge lines, unimaginable chaos and mad grabbing for food.
it is just so shocking.
for the past few months we research scholars were the sole pigeons pecking grains at the mess. and now all of a sudden this huge crowd, mismanagement, and gender discrimination and bad food. it feels like waking up to see your house gone.
some of my juniors complained that  the authorities were putting four or five kids in one room. disgusting.
most new single sitters are not furnished. what was the hostel authority doing all the while? i also heard that the authorities even sent away the new m.a. kids because the rooms were not ready yet. i can only fume at this.

while returning from sanman i met vasvi, nirmala and others. they had a small meeting it seems in order to discuss the ways to proceed with our protest against the malfunctioning administration.

  i wish them all the best.

noukadubi/kashmakash and a mistake named rituparno

this one is the worst of the lot, believe me, i am not joking at all! this is the worst rituparno has produced till date.
he began with a children's film: hirer angti (the diamond ring) in 1994. this was followed by a suffocating art film : unishe april (19th april). in bengal, if you speak in an affected way and discuss intellectual stuff you become quite popular. hence our rituparno spoke affectedly and discussed intellectual nonsense and became popular. as was expected he could not be stopped from making movies.
with chokher bali he began his tryst with the bachchans. he had cast aishwarya rai in a complex role and began a trend of casting wrong people in promising movie roles. rai was so bad that even the spot boys were looking for places to hide.
 rituparno recipe : lot of good dresses, use of vintage furniture to create atmosphere, pretty girls, sex scenes with intimate dialogues, lot of crying, nobody should smile, everybody is so serious that you can even hear a grass grow, bad dubbing, pointless dialogues, all the dialogues are delivered in same pitch and oh yes horrible use of music.
but bengalis love this combination called rituparno. a bengali culture that consumes flopsy tv serials loves rituparno. so noukadubi is a goddamn hit.
if i am the editor i would be scissoring off that first fifteen minutes in noukadubi. nothing happens apart from a pretty raima sen sashaying like a period mermaid. And why is jishu sengupta reading aloud his letter? is this a radio drama? please remind rituparno that he has a goddamn camera in his hands.
if i am the editor i would chop off that horribly shot post wreck scene. jishu and riya are supposed to have survived a boat wreck following a gale. but both of them dawdle on the beach like some cartoon characters ready for next shot. why is riya's make up so good even after the boat wreck?
well i can go on, but let's stop here. i hope rituparno makes more such artsy nonsense for bengalis.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

What's in a meeting!

as i write this a general body (GB) meeting is in progress downstairs at our mess (which is the basheer hostel mess at EFLU). the girls have called the meeting to discuss the recent whim of the administration to impose strange norms on them. well they have been protesting for a while but the administration has been rude and silent as ever. today at the GB they questioned the efficacy of an admin that was failing to keep its promise of providing better infrastructure. 
well things have gone really wiry now. 
few days ago the provost in charge of the girl's hostel decided to turn all the single sitter rooms into double sitter which meant that the research scholars were to give up their privilege of living alone quietly and share the room with others. the research scholars naturally protested. the men panicked in men's hostel thinking that their turn would come next. GBs happened nothing came out. protests happened, the media came. 
the provost was unrelenting. the m.a. kids arrived after vacation but were handed their room keys only when they signed an undertaking to abide by the rules. more protests followed. 
the acting VC behaved rudely with the students. 
and now this GB to mull how to go ahead with our demands. 
what are our demands?
1. why is the hostel infrastructure so bad?
2. why don't we've a proper VC in place?
3. why is the admin being so insensitive to our demands?
as i write my good friends mir and binayak have barged in with the proceedings of the meeting. it has been decided that there would be mass protest from tomorrow. protests would be innovative: posters, large painting canvas, media mobilization, signature campaign etc.

hope to see some action soon!!!!

my good friend mir says write eloquently about woman leadership. well it's true, the women have been leading this agitation. they organised rallies, sit in protests and negotiated terms with the authorities. binayak says it's quite unprecedented and he is so proud of the whole thing. i guess he is not being over enthusiastic.  i guess we're not disappointed in the end. 

shawarma at hyderabad

i first had shawarma at hyderabad almost a year ago. the mayonnaise and the roasted meat put inside the softly baked bread rattled the virginity of my tongue. i realized that the shawarma had the perfect combination of food experience i was looking for: the soft bread, concentrated garlic mayonnaise, followed by meat roasted crummily. i got addicted to shawarma.
later i realized the shawarma joint i was frequenting was not known in hyderabad for serving good shawarma. this was a humble shop beside the sitaphalmandi station, just few paces from the university where i still live. the joint's owner had perpetual trouble getting a shawarma cook. the days i frequented it were probably the days when it did the best business. he had procured a cook from jharkhand. his name was azhar.
Azhar was the eldest son in a family of about five children. he had worked at several places before abandoning himself at the shawarma shop beside the sitaphalmandi station. frustration was written all over him. i guess the shawarma he cooked smelled of his frustration a lot. azhar became a friend as my frequency of visits to the joint increased . he said he wanted to learn english and for that he needed a nice book. i bought him a book -  a cheap hindi to english edition. i don't think that did him any good.
he left few days later never to appear as a cook again. the shop was closed.
i tried other options. banjara hills, koti, tolichowki. tolichowki was the best. but somehow i still missed the flavor. i asked my arab friends about shawarma and they were poetic in praise of their shawarma back home. but hyderabad, they felt, was not at all good for shawarma. be it majid the palestinian, horaibi the yemeni or bakhit from Uzbekistan, nobody liked hyderabadi shawarma.
meanwhile the shop at sitaphalmandi opened again. this time the cook was a muslim boy from my city kolkata . he said he disliked his work. he said " are dada, hum to mohabbat se chale aaaye". i was happy inside of me, thinking i might get the flavor of depression back in my shawarma. i was wrong. this guy was mechanical and had no love for what he cooked.

well how could he?

the shop was surrounded by squalor. there was a slum nearby, prostitutes hung around, beggars looked for alms. the setting was just like a regular fallen corner in any indian city. earlier i used to like the meanness of eating an exotic food in a squalid locality. but i guess my ideas changed. i stopped going to the shop.
the joint down shuttered some months ago and as of now remains closed. the cook has left i guess.

yesterday i had shawarma at himayatnagar. it was too happy a place. moreover the meat was little stale. i will try befriending the cook sometime, maybe he can put some amount of his depression into what he cooks.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

lucian freud's, o lucian freud

frankly i had never heard of this freud. he was the grandson of sigmund freud until july, 2011, when he passed away. lonely to the core of his bones, lucian freud was a portrait painter. and what a painter was he! the first time i stumbled upon his works i was blown off by the gothic sadness of his paintings.
he painted the queen in 2001 and england was furious. In the portrait Elizabeth II wasn't a happy grand dame smiling at children but a scraggly vulnerable face as if summoned by devil for the final judgement.
he painted a number of obese women naked, grisly lards of flesh hanging form their skeleton, too depressed to carry on their lives, or as if they just lost it.
and then the anger in his self portraits hits me with  a melancholy foreboding of peter starsdedt's mulberry dawn. it's the artist's sense of inability and wrath and angst.
i guess he was too much an insider, i guess he was trying to look at humanity at the moment it affected its worst pose. and that pose is the moment when your recognise your hubris and you die for a moment. looking at his portraits, i think, they are stills that freeze anagnorisis. it's a kurtzian feeling i guess, conrad would,ve been happy.
check out some of his paintings here: