Of Cabbages and Kings

October 31, 2006

‘All art is quite useless’

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chinmayi @ 5:37 pm

“We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it.  The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely

– Oscar Wilde ‘The Preface to Dorian Gray

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Syllabi and kingmakers

Filed under: Across the Universe, Random musing, Uncategorized — Chinmayi @ 4:59 pm

A Guardian article on how Zadie Smith rubs shoulders with Jane Austen in the classroom, and on how if a book is made part of the A-level course reading, the sales automatically shoot up. Read it here – it has a whole bunch of interesting perspectives in it.

We hardly ever did anything modern as part of our ICSE examination system – our English teacher once mentioned ruefully, that they picked texts on which the copyright had expired so that the price and tampering* wasn’t too big a deal.

*The Board liked to edit all the naughtier bits of Shakespeare out. And if they couldn’t handle Shakespeare subtle little hints, one can only imagine what they would do when confronted with untamperable Alice Walker or for that matter, Zadie Smith.

The children behind the walls

Filed under: Random musing — Chinmayi @ 4:23 pm

The lady upstairs yells at her kids a whole lot. We live in one of those buildings that have a whole bunch of apartments crammed together. And while the builders had the  foresight to make the walls nice and thick, there are still ventilators and windows, through which other people’s private spaces can float in uninvited, to intrude on ours.

Anyhow so this lady yells at her children almost constantly. And if she were to be so kind as to do all this screeching in some other language, we would be blissfully unaware as to the details of the proceedings. But we’re not. She yells in English. And she says horrible things to them. She uses abuser-speak: she keeps telling them that it’s their fault that she hits them, and that they are so horrible that they bring out this violence in her…and so on. She is convincing tiny children that misspelling a word is wicked  enough to bring on a tirade punctuated with slaps. She is convincing them that they are so inherently wicked that they bring this demon out in her. It makes me want to cry to think of what this must do to those kids….it makes me want to cry to imagine the underconfident adults that they are going to become, the underconfident adults that have been taught that they are ‘bad’ people, and  who continue for decades to play out this role that one foolish mother created for them.

I wish I could call some kind of child helpline, but I can’t. I can’t do that when I know fully well that these kids, if they are rescued at all, will land up in some place where child sexual abuse is rampant, and food scarce…where there is no privacy and  where lectures on ‘values’ and random beatings are the order of the day.

And there we are. A whole bunch of rights but no way to know about them, no way to enforce them. A roof over their heads, three meals a day, classes at a private school  and they are considered priveleged. And everyday this woman tells them that they are stupid and evil. Everyday, this woman hits them and abuses them verbally. Everyday, she hits out at their souls a little and kills some part of them. Everyday, a lot of frustrated adults like this one, vent their ire at children and everyday, they get away with it. And that makes me really sad.

October 29, 2006

Of veils, shrouds and emancipation

Filed under: Across the Universe, Random musing — Chinmayi @ 4:55 pm

A classmate suggested that I watch a debate on burkhas and women that was aired on NDTV an hour back. Barkha Dutt was moderating the discussion – you can read her comments, titled Behind the Veil, here.

The Veil is a a pretty complex issue, fodder for several debates and spanning several controversies. Freedom of religion, invidual  freedoms, personal choice, feminism, mullticulturism and so on.

There’s been a lot of furore about how Jack Straw said that Muslim women must not wear the veil. Here’s the BBC report on what Jack Straw said, and the Guardian report on what that led to. Jack Straw’s remarks may have been harmless enough coming from a layperson, but are a little disturbing given the context – Aishah Azmi, a teaching assistant at a West Yorkshire school, was suspended for refusing to give up the veil. UK and the other western countries are steeped in terrorism-rhetoric and Islamophobia. And to refuse Islam the right to express itself, in this context, doesn’t seem entirely wise. I don’t know very much about Mr. Straw and his politics though so let’s let that part of it alone.

I have been at these discussions before – the right of a religious group to preserve its ways and identity v. the rights of women within the group to dress as they please. Is either desirable – to tell a woman that she should wear a veil, or to tell a women she shouldn’t wear a veil. Aren’t both, equally, an intrusive use of the person of a woman to fight a political battle?

Barkha Dutt pointed out, during the debate, that it isn’t only muslim women that wear the veil. Several Hindu women, in places like Rajasthan, are also compelled to wear it. The rationale for the veil, whichever religion or tradition imposes it, seems to be ‘it  is for your own good – so you won’t be raped’. Well, the blank noise project has been working at annihilating this myth – sexual harassment has nothing to do with the way you dress, statistics have proved it. So that’s a whole load of rubbish. But there are some women who enjoy the veil – the anonymity and security of it – how can we ask that they give it up?

Oh and Shabana Azmi recently said that Islam does not compel women to cover their faces, and that’s set of another chain of explosive reactions. What I gathered from the debate though was that the Quran prescribes a dress code for both men and women, and the dress code for men of course is conveniently forgotten. The Shabana-bashers are all skirting around these little details and insisting that Shabana has no right to comment on the Quran. Of course she has the right to comment – why do all these people find it so terribly difficult to remember that in our country, we have a little thing called Freedom of Speech.

In concluding this very convoluted little tirade, I shall say that I honestly find it difficult to understand people sometimes. Why do all the burkha-wearers insist that burkhas must be worn and why do all the burkha-rejecters insist that it musn’t be worn. Do we have no imagination? No capacity to understand why someone would want to behave differently from ourselves?

October 28, 2006

For sale: baby shoes, never worn

Filed under: Across the Universe — Chinmayi @ 5:59 pm

A six word story that Hemingway called his best work. It broke my heart.

Got this piece of intelligence and other attempts at six-word stories from Wired. An example:

Failed SAT. Lost scholarship. Invented rocket.
William Shatn

Read them all here

Ghazal

Filed under: Poetry — Chinmayi @ 5:47 pm

Even in prayer, we are so unfettered and self-examining;
In case the door of Kabla was not open, we would just come back
(instead of knocking and seeking admittance)

Everyone accepts your claim for being unique,
No idol, reflecting you as a mirror, can come face to face with you

The compliant which does not reach the lips leaves a mark on the heart;
The drop of water that fails to become a river is simply food for dust on
earth.

If, at the time of telling, blood does not flow from each eyelash,
The story would not be of love merely (but simply as) the story of Hamza.

If it cannot see the entire Tigris in a drop and the whole in a part,
Such an eye would merely be a child’s game, not the eye of a wise man
Ghalib

No coffee, no late nights

Filed under: Personal — Chinmayi @ 5:39 pm

The doctor says that I am exhausted. And stressed. I am an extraordinarily irresponsibly and lazy person – I can’t be exhausted and stressed! That’s for hyper finicky people in perfect crisp white shirts and plum lipsticks and heels, who work till 4 a.m. and obsess about hair and about dangling the perfect  looking guy on their arm, and making the perfect huge salary and so on. I’m a lazy creature with scattered looking hair, who likes to snuggle on the couch with a Wodehouse and a cup of hot chocolate for hours. How can I possibly be stressed!

So I have to give up coffee and junk food and late nights. I was tempted to ask my prudish doctor whether that meant that I can smoke (I don’t smoke) and drink (I do, but only once in a while). But I gave it up. The weather was lovely and I was anxious to get away from the sick people and into the smell of rain.

So I shall manfully try to give up my beloved coffee (though that’s only going to make me sleepier) and my late night reading and my junk food. It’s past eleven tonight and I’m going for a greasy sausage breakfast tomorrow, so this legend-of-tantalus ordeal that he’s putting me through will be implemented gradually, not immediately.

October 27, 2006

Fragments of music

Filed under: Random musing — Chinmayi @ 6:02 pm

A concert on Thurday. Slanting straight lines of yellow light cutting across shadows and wooden floors. Silent rows of people. A piano and a violin. A young woman and and old man. Tinkling and melancholy moaning.

 It should have been perfect – but it wasn’t. The music was broken and floated around in slightly disjoint shards, so you could see that if you pushed this bit a little and pulled that bit slightly, it would be beautiful. So you could hear strains of old and beloved piece fall together beautifully, and as your eyelids drop under the weight of the pleasure creeping over you, suddenly, it falls apart.

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Filed under: Personal — Chinmayi @ 5:10 pm

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October 24, 2006

Yayati

Filed under: Personal, Random musing — Chinmayi @ 7:15 pm

was one of those mythological stories [story here]. I heard most of my hoard of traditional stories from my grandmother. I don’t remember her telling me this one though, I remember reading it along with some other starkly ‘inappropriate’ ones in some book. I think my grandmother shrank from the prospect of answering questions like ‘Paati Paati, what is infidelity? And what did Yayati do exactly with his youth for so many years?’.

Girish Karnad wrote a play in Kannada on Yayati, and they recently translated that play into English – so I managed to see it.  He’s jammed bunches of interesting perspectives into it. For instance, seeing the Asuras, Devas and humans as castes , seeing reflections caste discrimination and caste stereotypes in the story. Then the entire rebellion bit about a son overburdened with his ancestors glory – a recluse who doesn’t want to wear the crown (though this is a very old theme). The self-absorption of an indulged-from-the-cradle king. The helplessness and lack of choice, of most of the women in the story. Philosophizing on life and death. And possibly more that I missed.

It’s a little distracting to have Bangalore-teenager voices being projected from the mouths of queens. I was fortunate enough to be sitting too far away to see any Bangalore-teenager face contortions that might have flitted across the stage. Some of the actors were pretty fantastic though – it must take an awful lot of self-control to be able to do a convincing and intimate love scene with over a hundred people gaping at you. The music was great too, though the audience kept rudely interupting with applause before the singers had finished.

 What still has me fascinated though, is the way Karnad took a simple mythological story and added all these textures and dimensions to it which make you see suddenly that none of those stories could possibly be close to as simple as they are made out to be. And that this very likely applies to every relationship, every action, every incident that we hear about – that light it up from another side, look at it through someone else’s eyes, and suddenly, it’s a different story…a different creature.

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